No. 1: Nash says Warriors could be best team in NBA history -- Former two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash knows a thing or two about great teams, having been a part of several such squads while he was on the Phoenix Suns during his playing days. He also saw plenty of fantastic teams prevent he and his Suns from ever getting to the NBA Finals. As a consultant for the Golden State Warriors, Nash sees first hand what the group of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the rest can do in practice and knows history may be on the horizon for them. Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:
Nash has been around Golden State enough recently to wonder how long it would take the most heralded group of players in NBA history to coalesce. So on Tuesday night at Oracle Arena, when the Warriors steamrolled the Clippers in their second preseason game, he was surprised.
“Practice has been pretty sloppy, so last night was something I don’t know if coaches could’ve predicted before the game,” Nash said after practice Wednesday. “We’re thinking, ‘Man, this is going to take a while. We may get punched in the face a few times here.’”
Golden State’s 120-75 blitzing of Los Angeles underscored the team’s potential. When spreading the floor and performing at top efficiency, the Warriors are unmatched. Nash, a future Hall of Famer, conceded that they “potentially could be better than any team in NBA history.”
In each of the nine seasons between 2001-02 and 2009-10, Nash was the catalyst behind the team that led the league in offensive efficiency. The 112.7 points per 100 possessions his 2009-10 Suns averaged were more than any team scored in 30 years until Golden State averaged 115.2 per 100 possessions last season.
“If they keep sacrificing themselves every few possessions, or every possession, it’ll be beautiful music,” Nash said of the Warriors. “If they can get through that process of change and find that cohesion, they’ll have no ceiling.”
Last fall, Golden State hired Nash for a part-time job with few requirements. It is a chance for him to lend his expertise to a new generation of NBA players without sacrificing his other interests.
Nash flies from his Los Angeles home to Oakland for a few days most months. His conversations with close friend Kevin Durant reportedly were a big factor in the Warriors signing the former Oklahoma City forward.
Toward the end of the Warriors’ past three practices, Nash was seen working with Durant. It is a relationship that could be vital in a season that hinges on how well Durant will mesh with his new teammates.
“It’s a team obviously with an embarrassment of riches,” Nash said. “At the same time, it’s a work in progress.”
No. 2: Report: Lowry planning to opt out of contract -- Kyle Lowry was dealt to the Toronto Raptors in the summer of 2012 and since then, has only increased his value in the NBA. He's become a two-time All-Star, was a third team All-NBA selection last season and has accomplished most of these feats since signing a $48 million deal to stay with Toronto back in 2014. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Lowry plans to get back in the free-agent market next summer -- but he doesn't want to leave the Raptors:
Out of the uncertainty of a year ago, Lowry has been voted an All-Star starter for a second straight year, delivered the Raptors within two victories of the NBA Finals and earned Olympic gold with Team USA. Within a year, Lowry had gone deeper into an improbable career transformation: From journeyman malcontent to a franchise guard, from his bags packed for a trade to New York in 2013 to a burgeoning Canadian sporting icon, Lowry has never had so much opportunity, so much leverage.
Lowry plans to opt out of the final year of his contract, he told The Vertical, passing on a $12 million salary in 2017-18 to join a point-guard marketplace that will include the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul and Golden State’s Steph Curry, who has already said he plans to re-sign with the Warriors.
As an organization, the Raptors have richly rewarded those responsible for the franchise’s unprecedented success: From DeMar DeRozan’s five-year, $139 million extension in July, to the extensions and high-end raises for president Masai Ujiri and coach Dwane Casey, Toronto conducts itself as a legitimate big-market powerhouse.
Lowry, 30, loves the life he has there, the contending core, the endorsement opportunities, the manic fanbase and the chance to someday raise his No. 7 into the arena rafters. Somewhere on the summer market – Philadelphia, New York, perhaps the Clippers, should they lose Paul – there will be an offer in the neighborhood of a max deal for him. Nevertheless, Lowry’s preference is a painless, fast, five-year deal to stay in Toronto, to take him into his mid-30s with the Raptors.
“If you’re that franchise’s guy, and you’re the guy that they’ve been rolling with, and you’ve given that franchise everything you have, yeah, I think [the talks] should be easy,” Lowry told The Vertical. “I think it should be a situation where a guy shouldn’t have to talk to another team. DeMar didn’t have the chance to talk to another team. …
“For me, I think that at 12:01 a.m. on July 1 – something should be close. If not, I’m open to seeing what else is out there.”
This is no ultimatum out of Lowry, no threat: It is simply the reality of a robust market, where All-Star players reaching the conference finals are compensated accordingly now. Ujiri makes no negotiating promises in public, but understand: Toronto hasn’t lost a player that it’s been committed to keeping. History’s on Lowry’s side here.
“Kyle has been at the forefront of the Raptor movement,” Ujiri told The Vertical. “How he goes, we go. He has helped establish a culture that will grow even more. We really appreciate that. He is a winner, and we want to win.”
Lowry spent his USA Basketball summer with Kyrie Irving, whom he had a hellacious battle with in the Eastern Conference finals. “A future MVP,” Lowry said, but the Eastern Conference has been about one player – one mountain – for the past decade: LeBron James.
“Somebody has to break through against them – and him,” Lowry told The Vertical. “To beat him, it takes a lot. It takes a whole lot. He is LeBron James. You’ve got to beat him.
“You’re always chasing Cleveland. You were chasing Miami before. You’re chasing the team that’s the conference champion and now the NBA champion. They have the guys, have LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and a trophy.”
No. 3: Pacers acclimating to up-tempo style of play -- The Indiana Pacers moved on from coach Frank Vogel in the offseason and hired his assistant, Nate McMillan, as part of a multi-faced approach to juice up the offense to the liking of team president Larry Bird. Indiana played a fairly up-tempo game last season (they were 10th overall in pace in 2015-16), but the team's first preseason game was an eye-opener to just how different life may be under McMillan. Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star has more:
In their first of six dress rehearsals, the Pacers played at a faster pace than last season under former coach Frank Vogel. They shot the ball 104 times and attempted 34 3-pointers. They scored 58 points in the paint. Yet what impressed McMillan the most was how the Pacers committed just 11 turnovers, a low number given the number of possessions they had against the Pelicans.
“We did a good job of attacking the basket and we had 25 assists, so we’re moving the ball,” McMillan said after Tuesday’s game. “That’s what we wanted to do and I thought our guys committed to that.”
Several Pacers after Tuesday’s game mentioned how the increased tempo was different for them – and how winded they became at times.
George pointed out another difference. It was a rarity when McMillan called a play. George said he thought McMillan called just five plays – all either after a timeout or when the Pacers inbounded the ball from the baseline – during Tuesday’s game when he was on the court.
“Everything was just free flow and we’re still trying to figure that out,” George said. “We’ve been so used to a set or calling of plays and now we’re getting that freedom. I think that’s going to take some time, but once we get it, we could easily be a 115-point team a night.”
Several veterans agreed with George that the Pacers are not close to how potent they can be on offense. But they appreciate how McMillan is putting faith in his players – and their talent – by having them learn one another without a set of plays to get them organized.
Throughout training camp, McMillan has had his players scrimmage with a 14-second shot clock, 10 fewer than allowed. McMillan’s experiment has forced the Pacers to play faster, think faster and react faster than usual.
That mindset and style allowed the Pacers to accomplish McMillan’s goal Tuesday of having his team score at least 110 points against the Pelicans.
“If we have a free flow where we’re not coming down pounding the ball or we’re not coming down looking to call plays, it puts us in attack mode every possession,” George said Wednesday. “Coach is fine with us getting a good look with 23 on the clock or two on the clock. It’s on us to push the tempo and get good looks.”
The style and pace Tuesday was effective for Al Jefferson, the Pacers’ oldest player. Listed at 289 pounds, Jefferson is far from the fastest player on the team. But he ran against the Pelicans and he kept running until he became tired, which was what McMillan asked of him.
No. 4: Spurs' Green had LASIK surgery in offseason -- San Antonio Spurs 3-point marksman Danny Green has seen his shooting percentage from long range trail off since hitting a career-best 43.6 percent of his 3s in 2011-12. Last season, he connected on 33.2 percent of his 3-pointers, although he did up that mark to 50 percent in the playoffs. Green recently had LASIK surgery to help his vision and is hoping that -- and other things -- will help his game in 2016-17, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com:
San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green refuses to visualize potential eyesight issues as the culprit in a subpar 2015-16 campaign, in which he finished with the second-lowest three-point shooting percentage of his career (33.2).
Still, that didn't stop the eighth-year veteran from undergoing LASIK eye surgery shortly after the team's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.
"My eyesight wasn't that bad to begin with," Green said.
Perhaps that's true. But Green knocked down just 30.1 percent from three-point range during the 2015 calendar year; this, after connecting on better than 40 percent from long range over his first four seasons in San Antonio.
San Antonio waited and waited throughout the season for Green to shake the slump. Then, it appeared Green's struggles were finally subsiding when in January he nailed 49.1 percent from long range. But after the All-Star break, Green watched his three-point shooting percentage sink to 27.7 percent.
Then, surprisingly, Green found his shot again in the playoffs; hitting 24 of his 48 attempts from three-point range.
"I'm not gonna say it was [vision issues]," Green said. "I got the procedure done, [and] it helps. But that wasn't the reason why I was shooting poorly. Some seasons, you have good ones. Sometimes, you have bad ones. Sometimes, it's due to adjusting to chemistry. Sometimes it's due to injury. Sometimes, you just don't shoot it well. Sometimes, it's mental.
"For me, it's just really building that confidence back up mentally, physically staying healthy, fitting into this system and jelling with these guys as fast as possible so that I'm adjusted well, and can pick and choose my spots so I don't shoot as poorly as I did last year."
Green's plus-2.9 defensive rating in ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM) led all shooting guards, as he blocked 2.4 percent of opponents' 2-point attempts.
"I just beat him up, and say, 'What have you done for us lately?'" Gregg Popovich joked. "I'm not sure that [LASIK surgery is] gonna [be] a significant factor in his recovery. He'll be fine. He always plays good defense. So he'll make more shots this year. It just happens. It's called sports. Sometimes, hitters don't hit."
No. 5: Randolph to serve as a sixth man this season -- The "Grit 'n Grind" era of the Memphis Grizzlies is defined by several things, one of the foremost being bruising play from Memphis' bruising frontcourt tandem of All-Stars Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. As Memphis shifts into a new era with coach David Fizdale, Randolph will still continue his bruising ways -- but just not as a starter anymore. Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com has more:
Coach David Fizdale launched the promotional campaign on Wednesday for Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph's Sixth Man of the Year bid.
It essentially started immediately after Fizdale revealed to reporters that Randolph, a two-time All-Star entering his 16th NBA season, would transition to a reserve role on a permanent basis during the final year of his contract with the Grizzlies.
"Zach's coming off the bench this year," Fizdale told reporters after practice Wednesday, a couple of days after JaMychal Green started the preseason opener instead of Randolph. "We've talked about it. He's been incredible about the whole situation. He's embracing that role. Like I told him, I said, 'Most likely, no one's going to pay you to be a starter from here on out, so let's audition you for what you're going to be for the rest of your career.' And it really clicked with him.
"We're going to go after Sixth Man of the Year. I want to highlight the hell out of him in that second unit. I need him to be a leader in that second unit, and he's really embraced that."
Randolph, a major factor in Memphis' six consecutive playoff appearances, said he has no issue with his new role.
"I feel like I can be a starter, of course, and carry a team like I did last year," Randolph said. "But I'm being positive and staying ready. If Coach wants me to play 10 minutes, I'll come in and play the hardest 10 minutes."
Randolph said he appreciated Fizdale's direct approach in explaining the decision to him.
Fizdale, a longtime assistant with the Miami Heat before being hired by the Grizzlies, has made playing at a faster pace an emphasis in Memphis. It's difficult to do that if the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Randolph and 7-foot-1, 255-pound center Marc Gasol continue to be paired together consistently.
"Let's not dance around it and act like it's not there," Fizdale said. "Playing Marc and Zach together is not a formula for pace, so why even mess around with it? And that's why I went directly to [Randolph]. And I'm not saying I won't play them together throughout the year, because some of these teams are so bruising that, yeah, there will be moments throughout the game that I have to match up both of my big guys against theirs. But to start the game, going into games, we're going to make sure that our pace and our speed is at the right level that it needs to be at to play our style of play.
"But at the same time, Zach has an extremely valuable role on this team scoring off the bench. Everybody's talked about that in the offseason: 'What kind of second unit do they have? They can't score.' Well, guess what? We can score now. We've got a legitimate, bona fide scorer in that second unit with Zach Randolph."
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr doesn't foresee Stephen Curry making 400 3-pointers this season ... It sounds like it may be a while before Cody Zeller is able to play again with the Charlotte Hornets ... Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris has a groin injury that will reportedly keep him out 4-6 weeks ... Brandon Jennings sure seems to like being a Knick ... Speaking of the Knicks, second-year forward Kristaps Porzingis reportedly has a mega-deal in place as an adidas pitchman ... Former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett is trying to maintain a positive attitude as he career takes another turn ... Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside could provide some stability for the team in 2016-17 ...