McHale questions if Harden can be pass-first player | Millsap undecided on opting out | Bulls, Wade have monitoring plan | How Lin landed in Brooklyn
No. 1: McHale doubts if Harden can be pass-first player — Former Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale will spend this season as an analyst for NBA TV and TNT broadcast. McHale was fired by the Rockets early last season in a campaign that eventually ended in a first-round playoff exit and dashed championship hopes. McHale spoke with the media recently in a lead-up to the 2016-17 season and had some thoughts on the notion of his former star player being more of a distributor this season. Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com has more:
Former Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale isn’t sure James Harden can morph into a full-time point guard.
Harden is moving into the role under new coach Mike D’Antoni, and while he did lead shooting guards with a touch rate of 85.1 percent last season, McHale wonders whether Harden can become a facilitator first.
“You are who you are a lot of times,” McHale, who will analyze games for TNT this season, said during a Tuesday conference call with reporters. “Can you change and be a facilitator first? I don’t know. Kevin Garnett, a guy I go way, way back with — Kevin Garnett was always a pass-first player. He was a pass-first player his first day of practice when he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“James is a scorer, and at the end of the day, you do fall back on what you are. James is a scorer at heart. Can you change that? … Can you be something that you’re really not for an entire 82-game season? He’s a great facilitator, great passer, and he has great vision — he really is a scorer as a basketball player.”
No. 2: Millsap undecided on opting out — Since he came over to the Atlanta Hawks in free agency in the summer of 2013, Paul Millsap has transformed himself from solid role player with the Utah Jazz to a three-time All-Star with the Hawks. Millsap re-signed with the Hawks in the summer of 2015 on a three-year, $59 million deal that has an opt-out clause for 2017-18. As the Hawks gear up with a new-look squad for 2016-17, Millsap told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore he isn’t sure what he’ll decide to do come opt-out time:
The three-time All-Star power forward has a player option for the 2017-18 season worth $21,472,407. It would seem likely that Millsap will opt out and become an unrestricted free agent based on an increase in the NBA salary cap. However, Millsap said he will see how this season plays out before making up his mind.
“I haven’t decided anything, no,” Millsap told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday.
Millsap, 31, was an unrestricted free agent in 2015 and decided to return to the Hawks with a three-year, $59 million contract that included the player option. He is scheduled to make $20,072,033 this season.
Last week Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry said he would opt out of the final year of his contract worth $12 million and become an unrestricted free agent.
Retaining Millsap is a priority, according to according a person in the Hawks organization. The Hawks did discuss possible trades involving Millsap during the summer as they juggled the signing of Dwight Howard and the free agency of Al Horford.
Millsap was the Hawks best player over the past two seasons. He averaged 17.1 points, nine rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.7 blocks in 32.7 minutes in 81 games last season.
“I think the plan is to see how this season goes and go from there,” Millsap said. “I can’t predict what is going to happen. For me, it’s focus on basketball. Get through this year, try to get a championship for this team first of all. We’ll deal with all that during the summer time when we have all our options on the table.”
No. 3: Bulls say monitoring Wade’s health mostly about feel — Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade played in 73 games last season, his most since 2010-11 after a myriad of injuries had sapped him of games in both the regular season and playoffs. Wade is feeling healthy as training camp finishes up with his new squad and according to Vince Goodwill of CSNChicago.com, Wade and the Bulls will be in continuous talk throughout the season about his status from game to game:
There’s been plenty of aging veterans who’ve been All-Stars and MVP’s or simply critical pieces to great teams, but there’s no true blueprint for the Dwyane Wade plan for this season.
Aside from Wade taking a practice day off last week, Wade and the Bulls are walking into this new relationship based off feel and communication, mostly leaving things to Wade to be honest about how he’s feeling some days compared to others.
Fred Hoiberg doesn’t have an example of anyone from his playing days and neither does Wade, but it seems like both sides will have to be cautious if they want Wade’s body to be in prime condition in the event the Bulls make a run at the playoffs.
“I give Dwyane credit, he does a really good job of understanding his body and when he needs a little time off during practice, we definitely give it to him,” Hoiberg said.
“Right now our plan was not to play him at the end of third quarter against Indiana, he wanted to go out there and get a couple minutes,” Hoiberg said.
One wonders if Hoiberg will have to exercise foresight during the regular season, to go against his instincts of letting Wade be Wade to look at the big picture and suppress his playing time.
“It’ll be a lot of communication,” Hoiberg said. “And we had that last week in a one day practice where he was a little stiff and we had a conversation and the decision was made to hold him out of practice and he took the day completely off and got off his legs and had a really good day of practice the day leading into the preseason game.”
As confident as Wade is about the evolution of his game, he’s also realistic in the moment, well-aware of the balance he has to walk between getting in rhythm during the meaningless preseason games and not burning out too quickly.
With the Bulls having a three-game in four-night stretch starting Friday — a rarity on the preseason schedule — Wade joked “I won’t be playing all those. I guarantee you that,” while also adding he wants to maximize his playing time along with using the time to get to know his teammates at the ground floor.
“Just being smart and understanding I am turning 35 this year (in January 2017),” Wade said. “As much as some days I feel great. Some days I feel 34. So I have to be smart and I want to be out here with those guys most of the nights we put on those uniforms, so same thing I did last year. I know my body. I’m just trying to be smart about how much I push it.”
No. 4: How Lin landed with the Nets — New Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin has had a career path few can match: undrafted out of Harvard, then a little-used player in Golden State, then the “Linsanity” era in New York followed by so-so to down seasons with the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers. His stint last season as a backup guard for the Charlotte Hornets helped him a bit, but as Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com details, Lin’s road to his summer payday with the Nets was once again a tough one:
On July 1, 2016, as he contemplated his basketball future with nearly a dozen others inside a room in his hometown of Palo Alto, California, Jeremy Lin ended up pulling an all-nighter.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Lin said. “I was too excited.”
After meeting with the Brooklyn Nets and New Orleans Pelicans at the start of the NBA’s free-agency period at 9:01 p.m. PT, the unrestricted free-agent point guard sat down with his agents, family members and close friends to decide his future.
Hours of discussion and prayer followed.
At 7:02 a.m. PT, Lin announced on Twitter that he was signing with the Nets, reuniting with Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn’s head coach who had been Lin’s mentor when Atkinson was an assistant with the Knicks.
Lin said he made up his mind sometime in the middle of the night.
“This is where I want to be,” said Lin, who inked a three-year, $36 million deal with Brooklyn that includes a player option in the final year. “I feel this is the best place for me to become the player I think I can become. I want to see how good I can become and be a big part of an organization, and that’s what they gave me here.”
And to think, most teams didn’t want anything to do with him last offseason.
Exactly a year earlier, after a season gone wrong with the L.A. Lakers, Lin had no suitors.
He felt the way he had felt before “Linsanity,” when he was simply trying to hang on for his NBA life. His joy for the game had evaporated.
“I couldn’t even get the minimum from certain teams,” Lin said. “That showed me how low my market value was. Obviously, I was offended. I just couldn’t understand it.”
The Nets had targeted Lin with their mini-midlevel exception, sources said, but according to Lin, “they were never legitimately a contender in terms of where I wanted to go.”
“I could count so many players that had a higher market value and a higher contract. It was just like, ‘Wow,'” said Lin, who was the 246th-highest paid NBA player last season, according to ESPN contract data. “I didn’t realize that my value had dropped so much during my one season with the Lakers.”
“If you look at the season with the Hornets and my season with the Lakers, statistically, they’re pretty much the same,” Lin said. “And maybe it’s perception or whatever happened with the Lakers, and the fact that we were getting blown out on national TV consistently — I don’t know what it was. Was it fair? Do I think I’m worth more than that? Yeah, I think I’m worth more than the veteran’s minimum.”
Lin proved as much with the Hornets. His value had been restored.
Atkinson won’t take credit for the Nets landing Lin. But the truth is, he should. After all, Lin has admitted he wasn’t really considering Brooklyn until Atkinson came aboard.
Atkinson and Lin go back to their days in New York when Lin wasn’t known yet and Atkinson was an assistant trying to develop end-of-the-bench players.
Early on, Atkinson wondered, “Is this kid any good?” Especially after Lin got torched in a 3-on-3 practice game by another assistant coach while the Knicks were on the road. But the two kept after it, their bond growing stronger with every workout.
The offseason after “Linsanity,” Atkinson and Lin reconvened in Palo Alto for nearly a month to work out. During that time, Atkinson — who brought his family with him to the West Coast — learned of Lin’s backstory: from underdog high school state champion to Harvard to undrafted D-Leaguer. They went to the local mall and ate the same deli sandwiches Lin had enjoyed as a kid.
“I really got to know him and started to appreciate him more,” Atkinson said. “It was really a friendship. Your coach is usually your mentor, but we’d go out and mix it up a bit, playing a lot of one-on-one during my younger days. I think he liked my energy.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr says star guard Stephen Curry (flu) is healthy but will need about two weeks to get up to speed again … Last night, the Miami Heat paid tribute to deceased Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez … ICYMI, Atlanta Hawks center Tiago Splitter (hamstring) to be out 4 weeks … Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid continues to impress in the preseason … New Memphis Grizzlies sixth man Zach Randolph hit four 3-pointers in the team’s preseason win last night …