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Ball Don’t Lie and Neither Does Wallace as Pistons Coach

Rasheed Wallace is making his presence felt as an assistant coach with the Detroit Pistons this season.

Jessica Camerato

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The outbursts have been replaced by outpourings of knowledge; the volume of his voice listened to intently as opposed to being blocked out in past years.

With a new role in the next stage of his career, Rasheed Wallace has transformed from agitator to mentor, dominating foe to willing coach.

“Playing against him, he was always going to trash talk a little bit,” said Charlie Villanueva. “I used to always try not to feed into it, but it was hard not to. He was just constantly talking. Now as a coach, you’ve got to respect him. His resume speaks for itself.”

Last April Wallace finished his NBA career after 16 years in the league, compiling a total average of 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. During this time he won a title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004 and earned four All-Star selections.  In September he joined the staff of the Pistons, where he had spent more than five seasons, as a player development coach. Just months later Wallace, 39, was promoted to an assistant coach role by interim head coach John Loyer following the firing of former head coach Mo Cheeks.

Some of the Pistons, like Villanueva, recall their own hard fought battles with Wallace on the court. Others entered the league toward the end of his tenure when injuries restricted him to the bench. Regardless of their personal encounters, players of all levels of experiences are benefiting from Wallace being on their sidelines this season.

“He’s won before so you respect that and you listen to him and what he has to say,” said Jonas Jerebko. “He’s been in a winning situation before. He was just like any other coach who’s come in, but he’s been in our shoes and he’s been really successful. That’s something we all want to get to, so we’ve just got to listen to him.”

This group of players would like to return the team to the winning ways it achieved during Wallace’s time on the court. He won a title his first season with the Pistons and reached the playoffs every year on the squad, including three conference finals and a trip to the NBA Finals.

Wallace left the Pistons as a free agent following the 2008-09 season. The team has not advanced to the postseason since then, finishing below .400 the past four years. This season they are 25-39 in an Eastern Conference in which the final playoff spots are still within reach for many struggling teams.

It is not a race to the postseason, though. One of Wallace’s focal points has been developing the Pistons young bigs. Andre Drummond, 20, and Greg Munroe, 23, are benefiting from time spent with him.

Drummond is having a breakout sophomore season as a consistent double-double threat (45, to be exact). His numbers have jumped to 13.2 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Monroe is averaging 14.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.

“I like hearing his voice on the sidelines,” said Drummond. “Whenever you do something wrong or whenever you do something right he lets it be known that he sees it. It’s a motivation. Hearing him on the sideline constantly talking, it gets me going.”

The Pistons rank first in the league in offensive rebounds (14.5 per game) and is tied with the Indiana Pacers for seventh in boards per game (45.1).

“He’s been great, very energetic,” said Monroe. “The passion for the game is there and he’s shown that throughout his whole career. He still has the passion and obviously and the knowledge and experience is there, especially his championship experience. He’s been great, he’s been showing as much knowledge about the game as much as possible to us, and I know it’s been a great help for me.”

With his first season in a coaching role nearly completed, Wallace has made a strong impression in a short period of time. The players have been feeding off his energy and have developed an appreciation for his enthusiasm … and the way in which he expresses it.

“He’s very vocal. Very vocal,” said Villanueva. “He’s just going to tell you what it is and he’s going to do it ‘Sheed Form’ – his way. He’s a very good guy, means well, very passionate for the game.”

Adds Monroe, “One thing about him that people probably misunderstand is whenever he speaks he has a purpose. He never speaks just for the sake of it. He’s never loud just for the sake of being loud. He doesn’t really have outbursts. He speaks what he thinks and most of the times, he’s speaking from experience.”

And while he may have left his infamous “Ball don’t lie!” eruptions in his playing days, he’s never at a lack of words as a coach.

“If somebody airballs he screams, ‘Close the door!’” said Josh Harrellson. “He’s always cracking jokes and being a funny guy.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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