Game Notes: Raptors 116 – Celtics 109

Here are some at-the-buzzer observations and analysis from The Gondola about the Raptors’ third preseason game of the year:

  • I thought it was interesting that Boston’s first points were a three-pointer by Brandon Bass and Toronto’s first points were a long two by Amir Johnson.
  • DeRozan oozing confidence. Hit a three-pointer early in first quarter from just to the left of the tip of the arc and nailed another tough three early in the second half. Avery Bradley is noted for being a strong defender but he had problems slowing DeRozan down throughout the game. Even a larger Evan Turner had his share of issues. DeRozan finished with 18 points with relative ease.
  • Boston started game 3-10 from the field and finished the first quarter shooting 42% (8-19) from the field. Throw in five turnovers and it’s the kind of defensive effort which had to make Dwane Casey smile after he blasted his team’s effort on the defensive end against the Sacramento Kings.
  • Raptors went on a 11-5 run when they went small with DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams and Kyle Lowry at the end of the first quarter. The scoring spark was expected, but a pleasant surprise was seeing how that trio shared and moved the ball among themselves as well as with Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough.
  • Things fell apart in the second quarter as Toronto allowed Boston to shoot 5-7 from the field to start the quarter. This helped Boston steal the lead back at 37-36. Things didn’t get get better before the half ended as Boston went 12-19 from the field in the second quarter. Avery Bradley was one of the main benefactors for a lethargic defensive effort from Toronto as he went off for 17 points in the second quarter. Ouch.
  • Jonas Valanciunas had six rebounds in his first 10 minutes of playing time. He finished with nine boards in 22 minutes.
  • Kyle Lowry picked up his fifth foul early in the third quarter. Weird considering Lowry rarely found himself in foul trouble. Perhaps he was pressing too much against Boston’s relatively inexperienced point guards.
  • Greivis Vasquez grabbed the opportunity and score 13 points in his first 15 minutes of burn. He finished the game with 13 points in 19 minutes.
  • Terrence Ross has bulked up this season which will help him defend larger wing players. However, James Johnson is an even better option on the defensive end at this point. Casey has a lot more options now than he had against the Nets last year in the playoffs.
  • I loved Kyle Lowry picking Kelly Olynyk’s pocket in the fourth quarter. Despite having five fouls, Lowry went after the steal and it resulted in two easy points for the Raptors. It also gave the team a much-needed bump in energy.
  • Toronto put the clamps on Boston defensively in the fourth quarter. After allowing 93 points through the first three quarters, Toronto held Boston to six points through the first seven minutes of the quarter (a 26-6 run). Boston only scored 16 points in the fourth quarter.

LeBron James Says Another Title Likely Would Have Kept Him With Miami Heat


Ira Winderman
Sun Sentinel
Displayed with permission from MCT Information Services

MIAMI — In an interview to air Friday on CNN, LeBron James acknowledged that with three more victories in June he likely would have remained with the Miami Heat instead of signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers in July as a free agent.

In the interview with Rachel Nichols for the network’s Unguarded program that airs Fridays at 10:30 p.m. EDT, James said a third consecutive Heat championship likely would have preempted his eventual return to Cleveland. The Heat instead lost 4-1 in the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs.

“It’s a greater chance, for sure,” he said. “I mean, it would be hard to leave back-to-back-to-back championships and try to go for four. But, obviously, you really can’t live and think of what may have happened. For me, I’ve always been a person [to] kind of live in the moment.”

He said seeking his third championship after switching teams will present new challenges.

“I understand what it takes to get there,” he said of his four-year Heat tenure, which included four trips to the NBA Finals and championships in 2012 and ’13. “I understand what it takes to win. It’s so difficult. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”


Danny Ferry Gathering Support From Around NBA

Chris Vivlamore
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Displayed with permission from MCT Information Services

Danny Ferry is gathering support from around the NBA as the embattled Hawks general manager has seen his character questioned in recent weeks following the latest firestorm that has engulfed the franchise.

“For over 30 years I have had the pleasure to call Danny my best friend,” said Nets general manager Billy King, who had Ferry in his wedding party. “He has been there for me through my toughest times as well the good. Danny, I feel as a GM, is always looking to build a team that the city he represents would be proud to support. He thinks team first as he leads.”

Ferry is on an indefinite leave of absence after it surfaced this month that he said Luol Deng had “some African in him” during a conference call with ownership and management about potential free agents in June. The comment set off an organization-wide investigation that uncovered a racially inflammatory email written by co-owner Bruce Levenson in 2012. It resulted in the controlling owner and his Washington partners agreeing to sell their stake in the team.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with several African-American coaches and front-office personnel around the NBA who have worked with Ferry to get their reaction to the comment. The support Ferry has received during the past month may not ultimately save his job with the Hawks. CEO Steven Koonin disciplined Ferry and intended to keep him in the position. However, Ferry asked for and was granted the leave on Sept. 12. NBA Commissioner has publicly said he does not believe Ferry should be fired but later said the leave of absence was appropriate. The final decision of Ferry’s future in Atlanta may well rest with the new controlling owner.

Those who spoke with the AJC spoke said they felt compelled to say that the comment was out of character. Ferry has declined comment since issuing a statement upon his leave of absence.

Ferry resigned as Cavaliers general manager after ownership fired head coach Mike Brown in 2010. Four years later, Brown is coming to his defense.

“I cannot say enough about Danny Ferry and the opportunity he gave me as a first time head coach,” Brown said. “The relationship we had at work and away from work, will be hard for me to duplicate going forward. The roller coaster ride of emotions we experienced together were easily navigated because of the blind trust we had for one another personally and professionally. We might not always agree with one another, but we could always count on having each other’s back by being on the same page when it was time to make a decision.

“And, toward the end of my first tenure with the Cavaliers, Danny never wavered in his belief in me.”

Magic Johnson sent out a series of posts on Twitter on Tuesday after the two had a lengthy meeting at Ferry’s request. Johnson, who immediately called for Ferry to be fired, said his apology was sincere and that he deserved a second chance. Ferry has also met with Atlanta community and civil and human rights leaders.

“I’m glad that Magic sat down and talked to him,” King said. “That was one of the problems I had. Everybody was attacking him without knowing him. Magic probably met him but he didn’t really know him. That’s what happens. You have to know the person before you label him something. Like Donald Sterling, everybody knew that’s who he was. That’s why so many of us came out so strongly (in support) because we have a long history of knowing (Ferry).”

Melvin Hunt, who was an assistant coach with the Cavaliers during Ferry’s tenure, also came to the defense of Ferry.

“I know this guy, I know him,” said Hunt, now an assistant with the Nuggets. “Danny’s ability to both appreciate and welcome differences was another strength of his when leading our organization. Not only did he know the importance of variety and diversity, he looked for it. Our staff over the years covered the full spectrum of diversity.

“I have said this many times. Danny Ferry can be accused of many things, but I would never use racist. Knowing his parents intimately and his upbringing, I am confident that Danny is anything but driven by a person’s color or ethnic background. I believe Danny made a mistake that he should not be characterized by.”

Tim Duncan categorized Ferry’s comment as a mistake but said he is not a racist in an interview with a San Antonio radio station Wednesday.

Duncan spoke to KZDC and defended Ferry. The two were teammates on the Spurs for three seasons. Ferry also served in the organization’s front office on two different occasions with Duncan as a player.

“Knowing Danny, he’s not what everybody’s saying about him,” Duncan told the station. “He’s not a racist. … He said something absolutely wrong and he regrets it. He’s not a racist. I know him well enough to feel comfortable saying that.”

It’s Lonely At The Top

NBA: Kevin Durant-MVP Press Conference

Most NBA teams have their media day either this weekend or on Monday so the 2014-15 NBA is officially on the cusp of starting.

After a thrilling summer which saw LeBron James bolt South Beach, Kevin Love got his wish and was traded from Minnesota and a handful of young players are poised to enter the NBA after one of the deepest NBA Drafts in recent memory, fans can soon start to watch their favorite players and teams show their worth on the court.

There are plenty of story lines to track and plenty of fun teams and players to track this season. And, if you need some help getting a grasp on how the NBA landscape has changed over the summer, there are sites you can go to for your free NBA picks.

Still, despite the flurry of roster moves this summer, there are only a handful of teams that have legit chances to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this coming June.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the sexy pick to win it all after adding LeBron James and Kevin Love while not needing to trade Kyrie Irving.

James is arguably the top player in the NBA while Love posted monster numbers last season and is arguably the top big man in the NBA.

Irving was named MVP of the All-Star game last season and this summer he put on an impressive performance leading America to a gold medal at the World Championships in Spain.

Still, despite having a roster built around three all-stars, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have issues protecting the rim and getting key defensive stops with the roster as currently constructed. Teams aren’t able to win championships by playing games like video games where they just need to outscore opponents.

The Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards are all one (or two) injuries away from having their seasons decimated.

It’s lonely at the top, and it appears once again the Eastern Conference likely won’t have any teams that can truly threaten the big boys in the Western Conference.

And from the Western Conference, it looks as though the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers are the only teams who can truly compete for a championship this season.

The Spurs are reigning champs, but it’s only a matter of time before Tim Duncan starts showing his age. Another question mark for the Spurs is if Tony Parker can stay healthy for a full season and extended run into the playoffs.

Oklahoma City is lurking as the alpha dogs in a stacked Western Conference. If Russell Westbrook can stay healthy and Serge Ibaka can take another leap forward, the Thunder will probably earn the top seed in the West.

Oh, and they also have Kevin Durant who is the current MVP of the NBA.

But like any NBA season, it’s a battle of attrition and unfortunately injuries will play a huge role in determining what team is the last one standing.

Personally, my money’s on the Thunder.

Ryan Anderson And Kyle Korver Show Their Support For “To Write Love On Her Arms”


To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) recently launched their “No One Else Can Play Your Part” campaign in conjunction with National Suicide Prevention Week (9.8-9.14) and World Suicide Prevention Day (9.10).

The goal of the campaign, according to founder Jamie Tworkowski, is to tell people “that their life matters, and their story is significant.”

NBA players Kyle Korver and Ryan Anderson have already joined by posting pictures on social media wearing the t-shirt.

Yao Ming The Philanthropist Wants More Freedom To Spend

Jonah M. Kessel / China Daily

Peter S. Goodman
Displayed with permission from International Business Times

TIANJIN, China – Yao Ming thinks China needs more freedom — at least in one regard. The former NBA basketball star complained here on Thursday that his charitable foundation is hampered by Chinese rules limiting to 10 percent the share of contributions that can go toward expenses such as salaries for executives, office space and travel.

He contrasts those strictures to the rules that apply in the United States. “They have more freedom,” he said, during an appearance at the World Economic Forum. “They can set up their own rules and principles for donations.”

In China, “the government regulations are quite tight,” Yao added. “We don’t have enough flexibility.” As a result, he said, his foundation “can’t recruit the most excellent people.” He carefully added, grinning: “It doesn’t mean the people we have aren’t excellent.”

Americans may be surprised to hear their relatively liberal mode of philanthropy held up as a model. Major charitable efforts have come under scrutiny for reportedly spending more than half of their contributions on expenses.

Yao’s comments drew looks of mild surprise from a room full of Chinese and foreign fans, many of whom used smartphones to take pictures in brazen — and delighted — disregard of multiple announcements forbidding photos.

Known globally as China’s breakout basketball sensation, the statuesque Yao — all seven-foot-six of him — has long served as a de facto Chinese cultural ambassador. He also occupies a seat in the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, not traditionally a place for decrying lack of freedom in the Middle Kingdom.

But, as he reflected on his years in the United States, where he anchored the Houston Rockets basketball team for parts of eight seasons, and where he still counts numerous friends, Yao said that Americans enjoy an edge when it comes to philanthropy.

The nonprofit Yao Ming Foundation was launched in 2008 following the catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan province, in southwestern China. Under Yao’s guidance, his foundation has subsequently devoted funds to rebuilding schools in the affected area.

Yao has also led high-profile conservation campaigns, traveling to Africa to decry the killing of elephants for ivory that has flowed in large part to China.

“I was shocked by feelings I could not carry back with the photographs,” he said here, as he recalled a visit to an elephant orphanage where he encountered a 10-day-old baby whose mother had been killed in the ivory harvest.

Yao has also urged Chinese consumers to eschew shark’s fin soup in response to overfishing and has helped raise funds to spread awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Yao’s protestations about the limits on the spending of foundation contributions presented an apparent contrast to the spirit of charity advertised on his website, which notes that he and his wife, Ye Li, “have committed to paying the Foundation’s administrative costs so that 100% of any contribution from the public is directed to the charitable cause.”

“What we lack is flexibility,” he said Thursday. “We all want to hire people with the highest expertise, but we have no ability to recruit the top people.”

From Hoop Dreams To Hopes For Cures

Kevin Durant

September 10, 2014
Displayed with permission from PR Newswire

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Sept. 10, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — 11-year-old Kyle Markes passed away of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on December 24, 2013, just days before he was set to be his idol Kevin Durant’s special guest at an Oklahoma Thunder game on Christmas Day.

Every three minutes, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Almost 150,000 Americans will be diagnosed with these cancers this year. More than 1.1 million Americans are living with, or in remission from a blood cancer. Leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among children, adolescents and young adults younger than age 20.

Kyle was not one of the lucky ones.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and Behind the Bench, The National Basketball Wives Association (BTB) are determined to call a foul on cancers. They are forging a partnership to raise $1 million for blood cancer cures, with its annual NBA All-Star Weekend and “Touching A Life” Gala, February 13, 2015, in New York City. The prestigious All-Star Gala attracts popular NBA players for a star-studded evening of inspiration, philanthropy and entertainment. At the 2015 event, Kevin Durant, or one of his OKC Thunder teammates, will give the “Heart of Courage” award to Kyle’s mother, Jackque Markes.

“The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is honored to join forces with this committed, passionate group, whose efforts will shine a spotlight on the urgent need to raise funds to find cures for blood cancers and ensure patients have access to treatments,” states LLS President and CEO and Chief Mission Officer, Louis J. DeGennaro, Ph.D. “It’s especially fitting to launch our partnership during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, as we aim to create awareness for blood cancers, the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. We’re privileged to work with Behind the Bench to reach the influential and generous NBA community with our call to action. Together, we can make an impact on cancer treatments and cures, not someday, but today.”

As the first national player/wives organization, the non-profit Behind the Bench, The National Basketball Wives Association, formerly known as Women of the NBA, was established in 1993, by Deborah A. Williams, Ph.D., to address the challenges facing players’ families, especially the women and children.

To kick off the NBA wives’ activities for the 2015 Gala, Behind The Bench: The National Basketball Wives Association is set to donate laptop computers to children at Harlem Hospital in New York City, in a special community service event on September 11, 2014. This program was inspired by a child who wanted to communicate with her brother, her bone marrow match, while she was hospitalized.

“We are so pleased to announce our partnership with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in conjunction with this very special community service initiative at Harlem Hospital, which provides a lifeline to the outside world for these hospitalized children,” states, Kristina Ratliff, Behind the Bench president. “As the leading organization comprised of current and retired NBA players’ wives and life partners, we work every day to improve the lives of families, especially children like Kyle.”

“This community service event at Harlem Hospital demonstrates that Behind the Bench shares LLS’s commitment to providing comfort and support, along with medical treatment, to children with cancer and other illnesses,” states Michele Przypyszny, executive director of the New York City Chapter of LLS.

“In our 65 year history, LLS has invested more than $1 billion in research to advance cancer therapies and save lives. Survival rates since the early 1960s have doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled, thanks to research and access to better treatments. In that time, cures for many patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and Hodgkin lymphoma have been achieved and the five-year survival rate for children with ALL jumped from three percent in 1964 to approximately 90 percent in 2014. But there is more work to be done. Despite this progress, more than one third of blood cancer patients still do not survive five years after their diagnosis. With no means of screening or prevention for most blood cancers, we must focus on cures in order to achieve our goal of a world without blood cancers,” states DeGennaro.

“Harlem Hospital Center is honored to receive this generous gift from Behind The Bench: The National Basketball Wives Association. Their donation of laptops, assisted by the KINfolk organization, to the children of Harlem Hospital Center will go a long way towards improving our pediatric patients’ experience while they are in our care. We are proud of our strong performance across many areas of quality and patient safety, and we remain committed to providing high quality healthcare to the Harlem community and all the New Yorkers we serve,” says Denise C. Soares, RN, MA, Senior Vice President, Generations+/Northern Manhattan Health Network, Executive Director, Harlem Hospital Center & Renaissance Health Network, New York City Health & Hospitals Corporation.

Kyle Markes never met his hero Kevin Durant. But Durant has written Kyle’s name on his sneakers for every game as reminder that we must keep driving to the hoop for cancer cures in his honor.

About Blood Cancers
Leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes and myeloproliferative neoplasms are types of cancer that can affect the bone marrow, the blood cells, the lymph nodes and other parts of the lymphatic system. These diseases are related in the sense that they may all result from acquired mutations to the DNA of a single lymph- or blood-forming stem cell. With blood cancers, abnormal cells multiply and survive without the usual controls that are in place for healthy cells. The accumulation of these cells in the marrow, blood or lymphatic tissue interferes with production and functioning of red cells, white cells and platelets. The disease process can lead to severe anemia, bleeding, an impaired ability to fight infection, or death.

About The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society ® (LLS) is the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer. The LLS mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. LLS funds lifesaving blood cancer research around the world, provides free information and support services, and is the voice for all blood cancer patients seeking access to quality, affordable, coordinated care.

Founded in 1949 and headquartered in White Plains, NY, LLS has chapters throughout the United States and Canada. To learn more, visit Patients should contact the Information Resource Center at (800) 955-4572, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.

About Behind the Bench, The National Basketball Wives Association (BTB)
BTB is a global non-profit organization dedicated to empowering, inspiring and positively impacting the lives of children and families of global communities. To date, Behind the Bench has donated over $2 million to both national and local non-profit organizations. Each year BTB hosts its annual conference as well as host the “Touching A Life Luncheon” during NBA All-Star Weekend. This annual luncheon recognizes local individuals and organizations in support of their communities. Our past honorees have included notable dignitaries such as Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, Patti LaBelle, Janet Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal, Cookie Johnson, and Calvin Johnson, Jr., amongst many others. To learn more visit

International Basketball Not The Same As American Game


Displayed with permission from The Washington Times

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – The ball was bouncing away, threatening New Zealand’s last-chance possession, though if a player could just dive on the floor and corral it, any NBA fan would know what to do.


Nope. Couldn’t.

That’s not allowed in the international game.

It is acceptable for trying to win to be secondary to losing close – but better not be too blatant if your priority isn’t winning at all.

Turkey trailed by six in the final minute of another contest, and when its opponent inbounded the ball, surely the Turkish bench would scream out the obvious instruction.


Nope. Wouldn’t.

Welcome to basketball, international style. Same name, not quite the same game as in America. Not in the way the sport is played, officiated, or strategized.

“It’s similar, but in anything, you take something from the East Coast to the West Coast in the United States, it’s a little bit different,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Being a successful coach in international tournaments requires more than just a good playbook. Sometimes it takes a good calculator.

Mike Fratello learned that the hard way.

In his first tournament coaching Ukraine in 2011, his team was eliminated by a point differential tiebreaker. So the longtime NBA coach wasn’t particularly surprised when Turkey opted not to foul in the last 30 seconds of its first-round matchup with the Ukrainians, settling for a six-point loss rather than try to prolong the game and risk losing by eight.

“We know from our first year that we did not advance to the next round because of point differential,” Fratello said. “We were tied with two other teams, Georgia, ourselves and Bulgaria, the three of us tied with 2-3 records. Georgia moved on because of point differential. So it’s huge here, it really is.”

Unfortunately for the TV analyst known as the “Czar of the Telestrator,” Fratello still isn’t a math major. His squad was again ousted on point differential even more painfully, falling short by one point.

Lose close, lose big, whatever. Sometimes, all that matters is losing.

Teams seem more than willing to tank games – to purposely lose – for what coaches feel would be a more favorable matchup.

Spain appeared to do it against Brazil in the 2012 Olympics, moving the Spanish to the other half of the bracket so they didn’t get the Americans until the gold-medal game.

And that seemed the mission for Australia in its final game of group play against Angola, when the Australians rested regulars, played defense with the intensity of a Spanish siesta, and blew a big lead in falling 91-83. That dropped them out of position to face the U.S. until the semifinals, with an intent that looked so obvious that FIBA has launched an investigation.

When it happened, Slovenia’s Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns blasted them on Twitter. But despite his anger, the Slovenians eventually blamed themselves for not double-checking their path and their math.

“Like I said, this is our fault. Other team, they calculate, we didn’t,” said Dragic’s brother, Zoran.

As for the game itself, there are other differences:

– The FIBA version is shorter than the NBA’s by eight minutes, with a closer 3-point line and a different ball.

– Only coaches can call timeouts – U.S. guard Kyrie Irving forgot that in an earlier game – and only when the ball isn’t live, negating the ability to regroup if a possession is going poorly.

– Traveling calls. Americans get whistled for the violation plenty in international competition, either because they’re too slow to adapt to the way referees see it, or too quick for the officials to think their moves are legal.

Some changes have been made to bring the games together – the FIBA key that was formerly a trapezoid is now also rectangular. NBA president Rod Thorn said there have been discussions for decades about how to adopt a universal set of rules, like soccer.

“What we found over the course of time, even though we’ve still gotten a lot closer, is that it was so hard for them to change certain things because of all the different federations … that they have,” Thorn said. “They’ve been doing things a certain way for so long they didn’t want to change, and it was just much more difficult – a lot of their federations had no money, couldn’t institute changes that cost anything.”

NBA owners have resisted some change, too.

One of the most notable rules they oppose is the international game allows defensive players to swipe the ball off the rim, which in America is basket interference. Thorn said the 3-point arc was moved in at one point, but league officials felt it was too close.

Still, the games are much more similar than when NBA teams competed in the former McDonald’s Open tournaments in the late 1980s. The games were so different that Thorn said they were officiated under a mixture of rules, rather than require the international clubs to learn the NBA’s illegal defense rules.

He represents the U.S. on a committee that meets annually with FIBA rules officials to discuss further changes to the game. But there may never be a uniform one.

“I don’t know if it’ll get to be the same,” Thorn said, “but I think it’ll continue to get closer.”

Favorites To Win The 2015 NBA Championship


This was the perfect summer for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they welcomed home prodigal son LeBron James while adding Kevin Love.

Still, I don’t think the Cavs deserves this distinction as the favorites to win the 2015 NBA Championship.

When James bolted to South Beach and took Chris Bosh along with him the team got thumped in the NBA Finals the first season Miami’s Big 3 played together. That team had more depth than Cleveland does and, most importantly, they also had rim protectors (Joel Anthony, Bosh and Udonis Haslem) and strong post defenders (Bosh, Haslem, Erik Dampier, Anthony and Jamaal Magloire).

Right now Cleveland’s rotation of bigs include Anderson Varejao, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and the corpse of Brendan Haywood. While they have three talented bigs in Varejao, Love and Thompson, none of those players are known for being post defenders.

Even worse, none of those three players will strike fear into opponents slashing to the rim.

Rookie big man Dwight Powell might turn out to be their best post defender this season.


So, who are the Favorites to win the 2015 NBA Championship? You can be rest assured the eventual champion will be a Western Conference team.

The San Antonio Spurs are the reigning champs and they look to be the early favorites. However, all bets are off if this is the season the Father Time finally catches up to Tim Duncan.

What the Spurs have in their favor is the fact Gregg Popovich is one of the all-time great coaches the NBA has seen while the team has Tony Parker in his prime and Duncan showing flashes of greatness.

Oklahoma City tried to make some waves this summer when they flirted with Pau Gasol signing as a free agent. While Gasol eventually landed in Chicago, having Steven Adams play more minutes this season – and cut into Kendrick Perkins’ – will help.

The Thunder have three stars in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Durant is the current MVP of the NBA while Ibaka is one of the elite post defenders in the NBA.

Plus, Oklahoma City took San Antonio to six games in the Western Conference Finals last season.

While the Cavs are the flashy pick to win the title this year, the logical pick would be the Spurs or Thunder.

Bruce Levenson Will Sell Atlanta Hawks


By Chris Vivlamore
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Displayed with permission from MCT Information Services

Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson announced Sunday that he will sell his controlling interest in the team.

Levenson cited an “inappropriate and offensive” e-mail he sent two years ago in the abrupt announcement.

“If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be,” Levenson said in a statement released by the team. “I’m angry at myself, too. It was inflammatory nonsense. We all may have subtle biases and preconceptions when it comes to race, but my role as a leader is to challenge them, not to validate or accommodate those who might hold them.

“I have said repeatedly that the NBA should have zero tolerance for racism, and I strongly believe that to be true. That is why I voluntarily reported my inappropriate e-mail to the NBA.

“After much long and difficult contemplation, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the team, the Atlanta community, and the NBA to sell my controlling interest in the Hawks franchise.”

According to Levenson, Hawks CEO and part-owner Steve Koonin will oversee all team operations during the sale process.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a release Sunday that Levenson informed him of his decision Saturday night.

“Following Bruce Levenson notifying the league office this July of his August 2012 email, the NBA commenced an independent investigation regarding the circumstances of Mr. Levenson’s comments,” Silver said in his statement.

“Prior to the completion of the investigation, Mr. Levenson notified me last evening that he had decided to sell his controlling interest in the Atlanta Hawks. As Mr. Levenson acknowledged, the views he expressed are entirely unacceptable and are in stark contrast to the core principles of the National Basketball Association. He shared with me how truly remorseful he is for using those hurtful words and how apologetic he is to the entire NBA family – fans, players, team employees, business partners and fellow team owners – for having diverted attention away from our game.

I commend Mr. Levenson for self-reporting to the league office, for being fully cooperative with the league and its independent investigator, and for putting the best interests of the Hawks, the Atlanta community, and the NBA first.”

Greg Monroe Signs Qualifying Offer With Detroit Pistons


Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press
Displayed with permission from MCT Information Services

The Detroit Pistons’ worst nightmare this summer came to fruition Friday.

Forward Greg Monroe, a restricted free agent, signed a one-year, $5.5-million qualifying offer, a person familiar with the situation confirmed to the Free Press. The person requested anonymity because the deal had not been announced by the Pistons or Monroe’s agent.

By signing the offer, Monroe’s days with the Pistons appear to be numbered. He has gambled millions in guaranteed salary so that he can become an unrestricted free agent next July.

The news was first reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, citing unnamed league sources.

Monroe and the Pistons couldn’t agree to a long-term contract extension during the summer or work out a sign-and-trade agreement with another team.

The Pistons moved from their initial five-year, $60-million offer to one that was slightly better on a per-year basis than the four-year, $54-million contract forward Josh Smith signed last summer.

New president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy repeatedly had said that signing Monroe to a long-term deal was his No. 1 priority of the off-season.

The Pistons, however, were unwilling to offer Monroe a maximum contract, even though they were willing to make him their highest-paid player.

Monroe had until Oct. 1 to accept the qualifying offer, at a figure set by NBA rules.

By turning down guaranteed millions, Monroe is taking the chance he will not get hurt this season and his play will do nothing to decrease his long-term value.

Monroe’s decision also hampers the Pistons’ ability to trade him. He has veto power over any trade, and if he is traded, he would lose his Larry Bird rights, an exemption that allows teams to exceed the salary cap when signing their own players.

Monroe, 24, was drafted by the Pistons with the No. 7 pick out of Georgetown in 2010. He has averaged 14 points and nine rebounds in four seasons.

Last season, he averaged 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds, playing in all 82 games. But it was a far from smooth season because the Pistons failed to mesh playing big men Monroe, Smith and center Andre Drummond at the same time.

Long Journey Leads McGhee Back To Norman

Displayed with permission from The Washington Times

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) – Aaron McGhee hadn’t seen Lloyd Noble Center until this month since he cleaned out his locker in the spring of 2002. The arena hasn’t changed much, but the area around it has transformed in the 12 and a half years since.

“Campus, everything around it, even just coming here from Oklahoma City, to see the development all around,” McGhee told The Norman Transcript. “It’s a lot different around here.”

Oklahoma opens its arms to all former players when it holds the Legends Alumni Weekend. McGhee was one of the featured honorees as the University of Oklahoma celebrated all 1,000-point scorers in the program’s history.

McGhee wished he’d come back sooner. His home is in Frisco, Texas. It’s only a three-hour drive. But most of the time since McGhee left school has been spent, literally, a world way.

Everyone who dreams of playing professional basketball hopes to do so in the NBA. However, only a select few get to live it.

Most do what McGhee’s done. Apply for a passport, pack the bags and head overseas.

He’s made a living playing professional basketball for 12 years. It’s taken him to Russia, Spain, South Korea, Puerto Rico, China, Philippines, Israel and Ukraine.

“I never would’ve thought I would’ve seen half the things I’ve seen traveling the world,” McGhee said. “It’s been amazing. I’ve been truly blessed.”

It took a while for the appreciative feelings to set in.

McGhee figured he was destined for a career in the NBA. That thought was validated when a couple months after aiding the Sooners’ Final Four run, he was named MVP of the 2002 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. At the time, it was the NBA’s combine.

But the 6-foot-7 forward never found his way onto a NBA roster. Some bitterness came with the slight.

“It bothered me for a while,” McGhee said. “Not getting a fair crack – I felt – to get into the NBA, yeah, it bothered me a little bit. But I learned to let it go.”

He hasn’t signed with a team for this coming season. At 35 years old, the option to retire looms. It was obvious at an alumni game this month at Lloyd Noble Center that talent is still there.

McGhee buried 15 footers at the same rate he did in his final University of Oklahoma game in 2002.

It’s easy to tell at the alumni game which players are still active and which ones are making a living doing something else.

Former University of Oklahoma players and 1,000-point scorers Tony Crocker and Cade Davis have followed McGhee’s path.

Both were headed out of Norman this month to begin voyages to faraway lands. Crocker is off to Israel. Davis is bound for Greece to play for the same team Crocker was with last year.

“Yeah, Cade asked me all about the team and money and the league,” Crocker said. “He’ll have fun. He’ll like it. It’s in a good part of Athens. He’ll love it.”

They’re both getting the same experience as McGhee. Getting paid to play the game they love and seeing the world.

It requires patience and an adventurous spirit.

“It’s a different road because you do bounce around from place to place. You never know how the team will fare and where you’ll wind up the next season,” Davis said. “It’s a waiting game. You have to wait for the next opportunity to present itself.”

Those opportunities have limited their chances to return to Norman. But the alumni weekend is always going to be there when the basketball adventures end.

A New Breed Of Basketball Players Are Chasing The American Dream


Michelle FlorCruz
Displayed with permission from International Business Times

POTTSTOWN, Pennsylvania — A gym in suburban Pennsylvania doesn’t sound like the most obvious place to be for a young Mongolian-Canadian student with dreams to make it big in sports. But that’s where Jacob Tala spent all of July, perfecting his basketball game.

“You know, we’re descendants of Genghis Khan,” Norma Tala, Jacob’s mother, says excitedly, keeping a watchful eye on the court. She erupts in applause as her son sinks a basket against the Philadelphia Vipers. His purported ancestor’s famous drive to conquer seems mirrored in Jacob’s bid to make it big in a foreign land. He wants to be a basketball star in America, and if he makes it, he will have a small basketball academy in Pennsylvania to thank.

The 17-year old is one of the kids from 12 countries spending part of the summer at Alexander Basketball Academy, a monthlong sleepaway camp for international high school talent from countries ranging from Denmark to China.

Tala is one of the emerging international players who are changing the face of the sport in America, some of them originally from countries, like Mongolia, where basketball has been catapulted rapidly from an oddity into one of the most popular sports.

His parents have achieved the immigrant dream: After leaving their native Mongolia, they are naturalized Canadians, and are currently living as expats in Shanghai, China, where Jacob’s father, Tony, is a successful businessman. Now Jacob, the elder of their two children, is chasing a dream of his own: playing Division I college basketball in the U.S.

Three summers at the camp have transformed “two-point Tala,” a moniker he got after scoring only two points in his entire first summer session, into a prospective collegiate-level basketball player.

The place where he morphed into a contender for American basketball is Alexander Basketball Academy, held on the perfectly manicured grounds of the Hill School, 40 miles (70 km) outside of Philadelphia.

Every summer John Alexander, the camp’s 33-year old owner, and his fellow coach Kevin Breslin, an entertainment basketball player for the Washington Generals — the team that famously tours with, and loses to, the Harlem Globetrotters — bring 45 young men here for a shot at college-level play.

For most international prospects, getting into the American college-basketball system and reaping the benefits of college-level play and exposure is not easy. Typically, NBA scouts only pluck out players who have already had experience in their respective national leagues and have grown a thick enough skin to survive a transition to the NBA. This means young players like Tala would never get in front of an NBA international scout.

Like Tala, the rest of Alexander’s recruits are largely unknown within their countries, let alone internationally. While the NBA is busy looking for ripe talent, the Alexander operation spends its time growing it. “The camp is for students that would probably never have been seen,” Alexander says. For inexperienced kids from around the world, even just getting a chance to be scouted is “unfamiliar territory,” he says.

In four years of operation, Alexander has established himself as a pioneer of a new method of international recruitment. With the help of a dozen coaches, most of whom played college basketball themselves, the Academy houses and trains four teams divided into two levels. Golden Dragon athletes are players with basketball experience and fundamentals, but who need the finesse and exposure to play at a college level; and the Red Dragons, the camp’s younger group, usually are rising high school freshmen or sophomores who are still working on gaining time on the court and learning fundamentals.

Collectively, they are known as Global Squad — and Alexander was once just like them.

Along with his two brothers, Jeremy and Joe, he used to be a high school student playing basketball overseas in China, pursuing hoop dreams long before the now basketball-crazed country was a blip on the NBA’s radar. The process is personal for the three brothers, who went through the same struggles to get noticed by American college scouts while living as expats and playing at the International School of Beijing.

Though they excelled on their Beijing team, they quickly realized college basketball programs weren’t going to notice them in China. After moving back to the U.S., John and Jeremy were able to secure spots playing Division III basketball at Washington College, while Joe, the youngest and the best player of the three, earned a spot on West Virginia’s Division I team. The process wasn’t easy — Joe had to do an additional year of prep school to eventually get noticed by West Virginia. In 2008, his dreams were realized when he was drafted to the NBA by the Milwaukee Bucks.

His brother John says his business is born from his first-hand experience of the setbacks and tribulations of a young player who wants to make it in America and can’t rely on NBA scouts, the people who according to Grantland columnist and former Ohio State basketball player Mark Titus “occupy the most dreaded position in the business.”

Today, while some American high school students are opting out of the NCAA’s famously stringent rules by looking for opportunities overseas, Alexander spends his time developing a business that helps student-athletes overseas go in the opposite direction. For now, John is the Academy’s only permanent, full-time staff member, putting in the legwork year-round, sending information to college scouts, and flying overseas to various international high school basketball tournaments. On these trips John watches kids play and seeks out young talent with the potential to succeed.

That’s how the academy found Jacob Tala, who in 2012 was a 5’7 combo-guard who had just finished the eighth grade at the Shanghai American School. “Have you heard about the Legend of Jacob Tala?” asked Christian Matthews, a former Washington College forward who began coaching with Alexander in 2012. Sitting at a local watering hole where the academy’s personnel gather, fellow coaches chimed in: “You gotta hear this!”

The freshman was the youngest player and one of the smallest at camp that year. At first, Tala stood out for the wrong reasons. “To be totally honest he was a chubby kid. Just wasn’t very good,” Matthews said. That was the summer when he scored exactly one basket. But Tala wasn’t discouraged. He was hungry. He became a gym rat, spending hours before and after school, year round, on the hardwood court, most times by himself. Over the winter holidays his high school gym would close, but that didn’t stop him either. “I would just play outside in the rain and the snow, alone, until it got dark,” he said.

The following summer, Tala came back to be on the Academy’s Red Dragon B team, and showed exponential growth. He was his team’s leader in points and three-pointers, scoring 104 points by the end of the month. Suddenly his dream of going to an Ivy League university and playing for its basketball program was not so far-fetched.

He would be following in the footsteps of Global Squad alumni like Nasser Al-Rayes, a 6’9 Qatari-American center who found himself playing for CalTech, where he enrolled in the mechanical engineering program after leaving the academy. This summer Al-Rayes returned to camp, working as part of the staff, taking game stats for his former teammates and also doing some scouting of his own for CalTech. According to Al-Rayes, two of this year’s Global Squad athletes, Brandon Rogers, a Tokyo-based American, and Yujin Yamamoto, from Osaka, are likely to join him in Pasadena next year.

Cross-cultural and academically successful, these athletes are a unique breed of basketball players, and they are a good indication of the direction where U.S. basketball is headed: abroad. One-third of this year’s first-round NBA draft picks were foreign-born, including the No. 1 pick, Canadian Andrew Wiggins.

International players have grown to be a significant part of the NBA. 39 different countries and territories were represented on NBA rosters during last year’s opening games, a record high for the league that has Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Manu Ginobili and Hakeem Olajuwon among some of its most famous and prolific players.

Some of them, like shooting guard Nik Stauskas, a Canadian of Lithuanian origin, came to the NBA from the U.S. college system; Stauskas played for the University of Michigan.

Hoping to follow a similar path, this summer the Global Squad attended four tournaments, and were easily the most popular teams everywhere they went. Globalized basketball players are still unusual enough to turn heads in America.

Kasper Christiansen, a 6’9 Copenhagen native, for example, is hard to ignore. Aside from his imposing stature, Christiansen has Division I prospects, with schools like Davidson and Michigan — the alma mater of eighth-round pick Stauskas — already asking about the Danish small forward. But at just sixteen, Christiansen still has a long journey ahead of him to be ready for the NCAA, let alone the NBA. By the end of camp, he already had his sights on next year, vowing to bulk up and fill out his tall frame.

Christiansen is hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow Dane and Academy alumnus Peter Moller, a combo guard who is beginning his collegiate Division I career this fall at Liberty University, a program he picked over those at George Washington University, Northeastern and Ohio.

Alexander Basketball Academy Danish athlete Kasper Christiansen is one of the camp’s most promising players, with Division I school’s already expressing interest in the forward. John Alexander

As for Tala, the legend continues. This year, just over a week into camp, Matthews and his assistant coach, current Washington College forward Sean Flanigan, noticed Tala was consistently outplaying his Red Dragon teammates. So they bumped him up to the next level: the Golden Dragons, one of the Academy’s two advanced squads, training to be scouted by college recruiters.

Tala still has a lot of work ahead of him to achieve his dreams of playing at a Division I program, but the prospects are there, and Alexander says that some Ivy League programs have already expressed interest in the rising junior.

In the meantime, Tala is keeping a level head.

“When he moved up to the Golden Dragons, you know what he said to me?” Matthews recounted. “He shook my hand, looked at me and said, ‘Coach, it was an honor.’ That’s the type of kid Jacob Tala is.”

Cleveland Cavaliers Welcome Kevin Love to join with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving


Jason Lloyd
Akron Beacon Journal
Displayed with permission from MCT Information Services

As another dreary season concluded in April, one wide-eyed team executive stood in the back hallways of Quicken Loans Arena gushing about the possibilities in front of the Cavaliers this summer.

“This thing is teed up,” he said. “It’s ready to go.”

It was difficult to believe given the 33-49 finish to the season and all the uncertainty surrounding the franchise, but as the Cavaliers welcomed Kevin Love on Saturday, all of their most far-fetched wishes came true in what has been perhaps the most magical offseason in franchise history.

The construction of the NBA’s newest Big Three is complete. Love is officially a member of the Cavaliers, a team that once again appears to be a wrecking ball across the league.

The much-anticipated three-team deal involving the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers was completed Saturday, the first day Andrew Wiggins was eligible to be traded after signing his rookie contract.

As expected, the Cavs shipped out Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a 2014 first-round pick (which previously belonged to the Miami Heat) in exchange for Love, a three-time All-Star whose 26.1 points per game last season was a career high and ranked fourth in the league (directly behind LeBron James).

“Kevin joining the Cavaliers represents a very special and unique opportunity for our team,” Cavs General Manager David Griffin said in a release. “At only 25, Kevin has already firmly established himself as one of the NBA’s elite players and his talent, versatility and fit are major parts of our team’s vision for success.”

Love, who turns 26 in two weeks, is a fierce rebounder and arguably the best stretch 4 in the game. He has averaged 19.2 points and 12.2 rebounds for his career, but he struggles defensively and was never able to carry the Timberwolves to the playoffs in the competitive Western Conference in any of his six seasons there. That is no longer an issue. Not only is Love moving to the weaker Eastern Conference, but now he’ll also have fellow All-Stars James and Kyrie Irving as teammates.

Love’s arrival had been rumored for weeks. The Cavs and Timberwolves agreed to the framework of a deal weeks ago, but had to wait a month after signing Wiggins. ESPN reported the Phoenix Suns made a late push for Love, but were rejected.

In Wiggins, the Timberwolves are getting a 19-year-old with star potential, but there are also plenty of executives across the league who question if he’ll ever reach superstar status. Cavs executives preferred Jabari Parker to Wiggins throughout the draft process, but were overruled on draft day by ownership.

Nevertheless, the Timberwolves were believed to prefer Wiggins over Parker, so everyone walks away happy.

The Cavaliers are ecstatic to get Love, who could be the final piece needed to end the city of Cleveland’s 50-year title drought. He completes a stunning offseason that began with Irving’s max contract extension and exploded when James announced he was coming home.

The addition of Love means the Cavs have soared from 10th place in the East last season to heavy favorites to win the conference and advance to the Finals for the first time in seven years.

In order to make the trade possible, the Cavs had to surrender the No. 1 pick in each of the last two drafts. That meant including Bennett, who stumbled through a disappointing rookie season marred by injuries and shattered confidence. Bennett arrived at summer league last month slimmed down and searching for the swagger that made him a top pick out of UNLV.

He was blocked in Cleveland by Tristan Thompson and now will be blocked in Minnesota, at least for one season, by Thaddeus Young. The Timberwolves sent Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute and the pick acquired from the Cavs to Philadelphia for Young, who will replace Love and step in immediately as the Timberwolves’ starting power forward.

Love’s arrival in Cleveland would seem to make a reserve out of Tristan Thompson, who is eligible for a contract extension this summer. Thompson and Shawn Marion, who previously agreed to play for the Cavs this season, appear to be the top two reserves now on a Cavs team loaded with shooting and depth.

Defense remains a concern, but for now, the Cavs can celebrate a stunning turnaround and one of the greatest summer makeovers in league history. They also have room for at least one more small trade if it presents itself.

They acquired the non-guaranteed contracts of Malcolm Thomas, Erik Murphy and John Lucas III from the Utah Jazz last month. Since they didn’t need any of them to complete the deal for Love, the Cavs could acquire a $4 million player through a trade to bolster a frontcourt that still needs a rim protector and insurance policy in case Anderson Varejao gets injured.

Thomas, however, can’t be traded for another month because of complicated salary tax rules.

The Cavs also announced the signing of second-round pick Dwight Powell on Saturday. Powell was acquired in a draft-night deal with the Charlotte Hornets. The day, however, belonged to Love. Both James and Irving tweeted out welcome messages to Love.

James has been vacationing recently in Greece, while Irving is en route to Spain for the FIBA World Cup. He was officially appointed to the roster early Saturday morning, joining Derrick Rose and beating out Damian Lillard for the point guard job.

Love was also expected to be part of Team USA before withdrawing, citing his uncertain future. That future now is clear. He’s a member of the Cavaliers, the newest powerhouse in the NBA.