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News, notes and nonsense from NBA training camps

Sam Smith looks at some of the talent still available that could be a good fit at the end of a team’s roster and shares news, notes and nonsense with the first week of training camp in the books

"Are the Bulls better off with Kyrylo Fesenko, or Mehmet Okur, Erick Dampier or Greg Oden? All three big men are without teams," writes Sam Smith. "[There] still are a number of talented players who’d be good fits at the end of a roster."
( Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

There are a lot of familiar names in training camps hoping to catch on. The Bulls have Marko Jaric and Kyrylo Fesenko, and when the Grizzlies open the Bulls preseason schedule Tuesday at the United Center, they should have former Bulls hopefuls Kyle Weaver, Flip Murray and Ronald Dupree on the roster. Among those in camps also are Kelenna Azubuike in Cleveland, Sundiata Gaines in Indiana, Ronny Turiaf with the Clippers, Rodney Carney with Miami, John Shurna with the Knicks, Jermaine O’Neal and Othyus Jeffers with the Suns, Adam Morrison with the Trail Blazers and Jamaal Magloire with the Raptors.

But just because a player is in camp doesn’t mean he’s necessarily competing for one of the last roster spots. That’s because there’s a pretty high level of talent waiting, apparently for a better offer. But if it doesn’t come, then what?

Are the Bulls better off with Fesenko, or Mehmet Okur, Erick Dampier or Greg Oden? All three big men are without teams. What about Mickael Pietrus, Kenyon Martin, Derek Fisher, Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard, Michael Redd, Yi Jianlian and Ben Wallace? OK, they’re better off without Wallace. But there still are a number of talented players who’d be good fits at the end of a roster.

Meanwhile, after the first week of training camps—and with maybe a dozen teams traveling around the world in the NBA’s attempt to finally wrest the Priceline gig from William Shatner—here’s a look at the news, notes and nonsense of camp:

Several coaches on final year of their deals

-- The big story in Memphis has been the wife of Peyton Manning and Penny Hardaway being added to the new ownership group of Robert Pera that includes singer Justin Timberlake and former congressman Harold Ford Jr. Former player Elliott Perry also is part of the group. No mention yet of anyone from Elvis’ estate, but the star studded cast hasn’t meant great news for coach Lionel Hollins. Hollins was in line for an extension with his contract expiring this season. But outgoing owner Michael Heisley, who will not be part of the new group, apparently decided to let the new group decide on an extension. Pera could be approved this month. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s extension was big news, but quietly there are at least a half dozen coaches reportedly finishing contracts this season. They are believed to include Alvin Gentry in Phoenix, Vinny Del Negro with the Clippers, Avery Johnson in New Jersey, Scott Skiles in Milwaukee, Byron Scott in Cleveland, Larry Drew in Atlanta and possibly Tyrone Corbin in Utah. Which could make for quite a few job openings. And, of course, if the Lakers don’t win the Finals in a sweep, Mike Brown will probably be in deep trouble.

Durant explains training with LeBron

-- Kevin Durant got some criticism for spending another offseason session of workouts with LeBron James. Yes, more of that postgame hugging. Don’t guys today hate to lose? “He was the first guy that called me and I said ‘Hey, why not?’” Durant told the Oklahoman newspaper. “I've been friends with him since I was in high school, and to play on the same team with him after we lost to them in the Finals that was the toughest thing. Just seeing him every day after they beat us, that was tough. But I had to let that go and just focus on Team USA and that's what I did.” But Magic Johnson and Larry Bird did famously start practicing together in the summers after finally getting together for a commercial shoot. But they never hugged. … How quickly they forget. Before the Suns have a chance to retire Steve Nash’s No. 13, Marcin Gortat is asking to wear the number, which he wore in Orlando. … The Warriors have quite the dilemma with the question of an extension for Stephen Curry given his injury issues. Yet, they traded Monta Ellis to accommodate him in the backcourt. It doesn’t seem a confident sign they want to table extension talks until after the preseason games to see how his ankle holds up. Yes, that’s quite the sample for a four year extension. Curry missed 40 of the 66 games last season and then had his second ankle surgery. … With injury prone Nene out again, Emeka Okafor is quietly emerging as the Wizards inside presence. … It probably didn’t help Andris Biedrins that 14 Warriors players were doing voluntary preseason workouts. Biedrins, who said he was working hard on his own, has fallen behind rookie Festus Ezeli on the depth chart. … Kyle Korver is listed as starting small forward for the Hawks, and it was a wild ride getting there. Korver and his wife, Juliet, who is pregnant with their first child, decided to drive across country this summer from New York to California with a swim in each ocean and the idea of finding a new home. Initially, he headed toward Minnesota, where a deal seemed at first, then Portland. But then went away. So he got to California and just as he arrived the deal with Atlanta was completed. So he drove to the airport and flew to Georgia for his physical. Now that’s what you call long distance.

Will Wallace stick with the Knicks?

-- There’s plenty of joking about Rasheed Wallace at 38 joining the ancient Knicks, who would be the oldest ever team in the NBA averaging more than 32 if Wallace makes the team along with 40-year-old Kurt Thomas, Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby. Wallace, by the way, showed up at his first practice wearing his jersey on backward. He is considered a long shot to make the roster, though. Perhaps the most interesting element of Wallace’s return is his minimum salary. Here’s a guy who grossed more than $150 million in his career to rank among the top 15 highest paid players in NBA history. Yes, Rasheed Wallace made more than Michael Jordan. So why come out of retirement, especially when you had a professed hatred for the media, referees and NBA executives, for a minimum salary? Because it’s the lesson most players don’t take seriously when they start playing. Rasheed Wallace finally is a role model: You have to have something in life to look forward to and somewhere to go. Even a misanthrope like Rasheed Wallace. I suspect this time around, if he sticks, we’ll find even Rasheed Wallace has a softer side. … The Celtics quietly may have had the best offseason, in the East, anyway, with much attention to the return of Jeff Green from heart issues and adding Jason Terry, another former championship player. Green, by the way, has made an amazing recovery and has looked sharpest with the Celtics opening preseason in Turkey Friday. But it will be Courtney Lee starting at shooting guard for the departed Ray Allen. Though this is his fourth team in five seasons, Lee, a good defender, finished last season strong starting for Houston. That enables Terry to come off the bench and with backup Avery Bradley gives the Celtics a strong defensive perimeter they believe can shut down Miami. … Nene’s plantar fasciitis which has him out in camp apparently was exacerbated during Olympic play, further raising questions about NBA players participating in the future. The Spurs are concerned about a slow start with six players having gone to London. Coach Gregg Popovich is ready though, asking on media day to another vacuous question, “What is this, the end of the third quarter (When the national TV sideline reporters ask their vapid questions. … Maybe it’s Joakim Noah’s version of working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but Erik Spoelstra told South Florida reporters he talked with Paul Westhead this summer regarding ideas about speeding up the Heat’s play. If LeBron James were willing to do that, watch out. The guess is the Pat Riley philosophy there never would allow that. Spoelstra said he talked with Billy Donovan about repeating. Too bad Phil Jackson apparently is off limits to Riley’s Heat as he knows something about that. … James, meanwhile, has effectively created the new position of point power forward, another evolution of the game. Eventually as he gets stronger, that should be where Durant plays.

NBA news and notes

-- Interesting to hear Deron Williams say as camp opened how dysfunctional and childish the locker room was last season with gags and joking after bad losses. But now all that has now changed. We’ll see as the often surly Williams usually was the leader of the Nets’ selfish play last season. Was coach Avery Johnson not allowed to say anything to keep free agent Williams? . … Aaron Gray still is in line to start at center for Toronto. … Jason Kidd is supposed to back up Ray Felton at point for the Knicks, though I’d have to see Kidd settle for that no matter what he says. … Jonny Flynn and Terrence Williams, both top 10 draft picks, are in the Pistons camp even though the team already has 15 players on guaranteed contracts. … The Warriors finally decided it wouldn’t work, and now it’s the Bucks’ turn with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. Said Jennings to Milwaukee writers: “Everybody doesn't want it to work. Everybody thinks it can't work. But we came to an agreement (he and Ellis) we'll sacrifice whatever just to win.” Added Ellis: "Whatever it takes. If that means I have to sacrifice, if that means I have to go from averaging 20 points to 15 points. If I need to get my assists up to nine or 10, whatever it takes for this team to win, I'm willing to do it. It's just win. This is not Monta Ellis. This is the Milwaukee Bucks." Scott Skiles can only hope on the final season of his contract. … “Life happened,” was Tyrus Thomas’ explanation at media day about last season, when he fought with his coach again (this time physically) and was benched. Thomas is playing for his sixth coach in seven seasons this year, which can’t make new coach Mike Dunlap too happy about job security. Thomas says he’s up to 245 and this will be his season with Dunlap emphasizing transition. For as long as he’s coach. With the Bobcats and Thomas is fellow former Bull Ben Gordon. The last time they played together, they combined for more than 30 points per game. The Bobcats will take that. … No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis will be the favorite for rookie of the year. But with John Wall out to open the season, rookie Bradley Beal in Washington could have a big start with offense needed. … Not much talked about, but two players who could have major impacts this season are Antawn Jamison with the Lakers, who’ll likely finish games for erratic Ron Artest, and pain free Rashard Lewis with Miami, said to be strong hitting threes for the Heat in camp. Playing off LeBron James at power forward, Lewis could get plenty of open shots. … With the opening of camp, there have been many traditions. Like optimism and Stephen Jackson asking for an extension. “Every day when I walk in here I’m hoping they’ll call me in and say, ‘Jack, here’s your extension.’ I think I deserve it, but at the end of the day I’m still happy to be here and all I can worry about is what I can control, and that’s my play,” Jackson, 34 and coming off his least productive season in 10 years, told the Express News. … Injury prone Chris Kaman with a back strain on the first day of practice with Dallas. Much is made of the patience and professionalism of Tim Duncan, but you rarely hear complaints from Dirk Nowitzki with the constant turnover and refusal to spend on long term contracts with the Mavs since they won the title. … Sore right knee for Eric Gordon. Uh oh. … While much has been made already about Houston rookie Royce White’s anxiety disorder and permission to bus to certain games, the larger question may be whether he has an NBA game. He’s an unusual talent for a big man, but at about 6-8 and 260 he has no shot and prefers to control the ball with the dribble and play like a point guard. Hard to see where he’ll merit much playing time. … The Jazz’ Enes Kanter dropped 30 pounds and is trying to push Al Jefferson out of the starter’s job. Kanter said he tweeted pictures of his abs this summer because he is proud of his new look.

-- The big October surprise may be whether the Thunder signs James Harden. It would seem crucial for the Thunder, but it would be a substantial luxury tax hit for a small market team. With the extension for Serge Ibaka, the Thunder now has three players making at least $12 million through 2015-16. The thinking of many is the Thunder with the acquisition of Hasheem Thabeet would love to offload Kendrick Perkins and his approximately $9 million salary for the next three seasons, perhaps with an amnesty. Perkins for now is coming off wrist surgery. Teams have until Oct. 31 to extend fourth year players like Harden and Taj Gibson before they become restricted free agents next summer. The Kings have indicated they won’t offer an extension to Tyreke Evans. … Onetime Bull Cliff Ray is back on the bench as a big man assistant with the Kings. … Grant Hill turned 40 Friday, but still doesn’t seem as old as Kurt Thomas. How did the Knicks let him slip by? Hill’s with the Clippers and his has truly been a remarkable career with enough All-Star appearances, career stats and college and Olympic titles to be a first ballot Hall of Famer.

-- You think the Bulls have scoring questions. Kevin Martin is the only player on the Rockets’ roster with a career scoring average in double figures. Wonder what secret stats sabermetric GM Daryl Morey is using now. … With DeJuan Blair testy on Spurs media day and apparently having little role, there’s much less criticism of the Bulls selecting Taj Gibson ahead of him. Eddy Curry could take Blair’s place. … The names popping up most to succeed Mike Kyzyzewski as Olympic coach are Popovich, Doc Rivers and Doug Collins, the latter deprived of the 1972 gold medal in that disputed ending. … Once the silent center who on media day declined interviews, Tim Duncan has been challenging Popovich for top quips. Duncan noted that Tony Parker being injured as a bystander when rapper Chris Brown got into a fight in a Cannes nightclub “really upped our street cred. That’s what this team is all about.”

-- Vince Carter at 35 says he’s been working with the Mavs’ rookies and hopes to become a coach when his career ends. … New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis, serving an eight-game NFL suspension in the bounty case, helps run the Hornets’ basketball operations department with Dell Demps with the team’s purchase by Saints owner Tom Benson (insert your joke here) . … The Bulls open the season Oct. 31 at home against Sacramento. Depending on whether Tyreke Evans is a point guard (they tried playing him at small forward last season), Jimmer Fredette is fourth string point guard also behind Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Thomas. You’d want to watch the Kings for trades. Fredette worked this summer with Derrick Rose’s trainer, Rob McClanaghan. … Former Bulls No. 1 pick James Johnson is with the Kings now, his third team in the last three years. … Ricky Rubio, coming off ACL surgery, says he hopes to play in December, nine months after surgery. But it could be January for precautionary reasons. Rubio said he often feels like he can do more, but the team and doctors hold him back…Brian Scalabrine joined the Celtics broadcast team for their preseason trip to Turkey. Fans were said to be chanting for him to enter the game. … Ty Lawson said as the Nuggets opened camp he believes they are the best team in the Western Conference. George Karl must have loved that. Lawson also said the team’s new jerseys are “swagged out.” I’m asking Noah for a translation.

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