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Brandan Wright Excited to Help Memphis Push for the Playoffs

Brandan Wright spoke to Basketball Insiders about what he can bring to the Grizzlies once he is healthy.

Oliver Maroney

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Brandan Wright’s NBA career has been extremely consistent when it comes to production on the court. When he plays, he’s a true difference-maker. A versatile scorer who’s incredibly efficient in the post, Wright’s unique size and skill set make him a tough matchup for almost any forward in the league.

Coming out of high school, Wright was one of the highest ranked players nationally and he would continue that trend in college. He decided to attend the University of North Carolina where he would become one of the most effective freshman basketball players in the ACC. His first and only year at UNC, Wright averaged 14.7 points on 64.6 percent field goal shooting (an ACC freshman record) while also producing 6.2 rebounds, one assist and 1.76 blocks per game.

Wright decided to forgo his sophomore season to declare for the 2007 NBA Draft. With teams hungry for an efficient big man who could provide a lot of versatility on both ends of the floor, Wright ended up shooting up the draft boards and was eventually picked eighth overall by the Charlotte Bobcats. However, he was soon after moved in a draft-day trade to the Golden State Warriors.

Wright’s journey continued with the Warriors where he’d learn a lot under veteran head coach Don Nelson.

“I think it was the end of my rookie year when I was starting to stress,” Wright told Basketball Insiders. “Coach Nelson pulled me to the side and he said ‘I’ve been watching a lot of film of you from college. Every time you get into the paint, I want you to shoot the ball.’ That kind of stuck with me for a long time and now, five or six years later, I’m shooting 70 percent in two or three seasons. He said ‘when you touch that paint, shoot the ball,’ and I just rolled with it. Now, it’s been the strength of my career.”

Wright would end up being traded to the New Jersey Nets. After spending around three months with the Nets, he went on to sign with the Dallas Mavericks where he posted the team’s highest field goal percentage in his first season (2011-2012). From there, Wright would be shipped off to the Boston Celtics and then the Phoenix Suns during the 2014-15 campaign.

After that, Wright would become a free-agent, where he’d sign a three-year, $17.1 million contract with the Memphis Grizzlies back in 2015. But unfortunately, since the signing took place, Wright has only managed to appear in 12 games in a Grizzlies uniform.

After some post-surgery tibial tendinitis, Wright had been out for a number of months dating back to last season. But according to Wright, his rehab is progressing and he’s started to run on the AlterG (anti-gravity) treadmill. A positive sign of things to come for the 28-year old who feels like he has many NBA years ahead of him.

“The biggest thing is that I’m going to surprise a lot of people,” Wright told Basketball Insiders. “The Memphis fans haven’t really seen me play that much besides when I played for Dallas when we came here twice a year to play. So, I’m excited to get out there on the court and show them what I can do. I can play above the rim, I think I can guard pretty much anyone on the court, block a lot of shots, get up and down the floor really fast. Speed, athletic ability are the big things in my game and, like you said, I don’t think we really have anyone [that is like me]. JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin, they possess those types of skills, but I’m much taller and I’m much longer than those guys. So I think I bring an aspect that we don’t have and I think it’s going to be very exciting when I get out there. I think I’m going to surprise a lot of people with what I can do.”

Wright’s role with this team is undetermined at this point because he’s still working to get healthy. But a lot has changed since Wright was last on the court, including the hiring of a new head coach. Wright spoke about the differences between former coach Dave Joerger and current coach David Fizdale.

“Coach Joerger, he was a pretty good X’s and O’s guy,” Wright told Basketball Insiders. “He was pretty straight forward overall, I thought he was a real solid coach. Obviously, he had other opportunities he wanted to explore, he didn’t want to be in Memphis and he took advantage of that. But I had no issues with anything like that, I thought he was a solid coach. But, I think coach Fizdale has brought a totally different vibe. I think he’s supported more togetherness, not only on the court but off the court. He wants families to be together, he wants it to be close knit because he always talks about it takes all that stuff to win a championship. He’s had an opportunity to win two championships in Miami and he’s seen both sides of it. He’s seen where everything was good and they won a championship. He’s seen, in that last year, where everything was going separate ways and they got blown off the court by the Spurs. He’s seen all of that and he just wants us to come together. He’s seen what it takes and, the biggest thing about him is, I think he can instill confidence in a lot of us. He came here and told us ‘I had plenty of opportunities in the past of head coaching jobs I could have taken. When this job came open, it wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about any of those things. I looked at the current roster and said I can work with these guys, I think these guys can win big for us.'”

For Wright, he’s getting closer to returning and the Grizzlies have a good chance to make the playoffs. When Wright returns, he knows he’ll be put in a position to be successful and help the Grizzlies.

“Just, when you’re out and you’re injured, you’re able to see the game in a different view,” Wright said. “You’re always able to learn more. I think with me being out, I’m able to see where I can really help the team, the things I could do to help elevate us. We’ve had a great start thus far, we’ve had a little bump in recent games. We won last night, but we recently had lost three in a row and I think four out of five before that. But, you learn so much, you look forward to getting out there and doing whatever it takes to help your team win.”

The dynamic of adding Wright into this team gives the Grizzlies a lot of promise moving forward. The Grizzlies rank dead last in field goal percentage and Wright’s efficiency will certainly help the team in that area. His career average of 60.8 percent shooting from the field would be good for first among active Grizzlies’ players this season. Not only that, but his diverse offensive skill set should draw opponents’ attention and open up the paint for guys like Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and others.

Wright’s main focus is getting back onto the court, but he has several goals in mind for this team.

“Obviously, you just want to give [the fans] a championship, that’s the easy answer,” Wright said. “But, the honest truth is, I just want all of our guys to be healthy at the same time. We’ve struggled the last couple of years with health. We had some bruises here, we hadn’t had a complete team yet. The championship, that’s a given, that’s what we all strive for, that’s what we all play for. But we just want to give the fans and this organization a good, clean, bill of health. You’re going to get knocked up every now and then, bruises here and there, whatever bumps, and guys are going to miss time. But, hopefully, we just come together and have a nice little stretch where we have a complete team and we can really show this league what we can do.”

Wright sounds genuinely excited to come back and play. It’s clear that he is anxious to get back onto the court and start helping his team in their push to the playoffs.

“I’m just trying my hardest to get back,” Wright said. “I think the biggest thing for the Memphis fans who haven’t seen me play yet is they’re going to be thoroughly surprised. When I get back on the court and I get rolling, they’ll see what I can do for this team. I’m just excited. I get real anxious sitting at home, I can’t even sleep at night sometimes. I’m just thinking about the things I can do for this team to help it succeed. I think it’s going to be real pleasant. I think it’s just going to be great.”

While Wright’s journey hasn’t been perfect due to injuries and setbacks, he’s taken that experience as a chance to evaluate his team and his potential role in it. Now, it seems like he’ll soon be ready to help Memphis make a deep postseason run. With a new coach, veteran core and improved depth, the Grizzlies may be able to surprise some people as they build on their early season success.

Oliver Maroney is an NBA writer for Basketball Insiders. He is based in Portland and covers the league as a whole.

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NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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Q&A With Cavaliers Rookie Cedi Osman

Basketball Insiders caught up with Cavaliers rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Spencer Davies

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Monday afternoon, Basketball Insiders caught up with rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Basketball Insiders: Your first experience in the NBA, making the transition from international play and Euroleague—has it been what you’ve expected?

Cedi Osman: I mean of course it’s different rules and stuff and a different type of basketball. In international, it’s like more slow, but here it’s like always up and down, a lot of fast breaks.

Actually that’s the kind of basketball that I like. When I was playing overseas, I was also running a lot, up and down. I was that guy who was bringing the energy, so it was not hard for me to adjust to this basketball.

BI: With Euros in this league, it’s a growing amount. What does that tell you about the talent pool over there?

Osman: There’s a lot of talented players overseas—like really, a lot. Like you said, when you look around the NBA there’s a lot of European players. Starting with Dirk Nowitzki, he’s a big legend. He was the one who chose to do Europe [to show] what he can do. I can give you the example of two Turkish basketball players—Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur, he won one championship. I mean, there’s a lot of European players.

BI: Definitely. So how well do you know Hedo and Mehmet?

Osman: With Mehmet Okur, I was talking a couple times. I saw him one time in summer league this year. I talk to Hedo also because he’s president of Turkish Basketball Federation, so I was talking to him also.

BI: You’ve gotten some crucial minutes with the bench in the last couple of games. The same thing can be said when you played in New York and against the Hawks, too. What’s allowed you and that group to click together?

Osman: I always try to think positive. When I’m getting there on the court with the second unit, I’m trying to bring the energy because I’m the youngest one with Big Z [Ante Zizic] together.

Whenever I get on the court I’m trying to bring the energy on both sides of the court—on defense and offense—and I’m trying to run the floor the fastest that I can. Trying to guard players that are really good. And that also just improves my basketball [skills] a lot. I’m really happy that I am a part of this team and it’s also really important for me that I’m getting these crucial minutes.

BI: In a recent interview, you said that you don’t have a reason to be scared. You’re “cold-blooded.” Why do you feel that way?

Osman: I was playing overseas professionally since I was 16 years old…actually, I started getting paid when I was 12. [I’ve been] playing professionally for a long time. I played with a lot of good players. I’ve played also [with] former NBA players like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic who was on the same team.

I know, yeah this is the best league in the world, but I don’t have a reason why to be scared because I was working for this—to come here, to give my best and to be stable to stay for long, long years. That’s why I said I don’t have a reason to be scared, because I know that I can play here.

BI: When you’re on the floor, what do you expect out of yourself? You said you want to get up and down the floor and give it to both ends, but is there anything outside of that, maybe mentality wise?

Osman: Of course. Not just as a rookie, but every time I get on the court like I said, I want to be always that guy who brings the energy. Also like, when we’re going bad or when we have a bad game, I want to change the momentum of the game. That’s what I’m working for a lot. We have great players and I have a lot of things to learn from them.

That’s why I said I’m really happy to be a part of this team, because we’re one of the best teams in the world. I hope that we’re going to win a championship in my first year. That would be a big thing for me.

BI: What kind of things have the coaching staff tried to help you improve in practice?

Osman: There’s a couple defensive plays that’ll be different. There’s also defensive three seconds. That was a bit of adjusting for me because in Europe you can always stay in the paint no matter what. There’s no defensive three seconds. Here it’s different, so it was a little bit hard for me to adjust in the beginning, but now I don’t have any problems and coaches are really helping me a lot.

BI: This team isn’t fully healthy yet, obviously with Isaiah Thomas coming back, Tristan Thompson coming back and Iman Shumpert down the road. That might affect playing time for some. You’ve gone to the G-League and played with the Canton Charge once before. You had a lot of minutes in that one game and did a really good job there. Is that something that you’re prepared for? Would you mind playing there again if that’s the case for you?

Osman: I was the one who asked for Canton, to go there, because before Shump got injured I didn’t have a lot of playing time. I said that I want to play whenever we have an off day, whenever I can go to play there, to run a lot, to try to do my thing. See that I’m working here before practices. That’s why I asked to go there. I talked to [Cavaliers general manager] Koby [Altman] and he said he supported me about that and that would be good for me.

BI: You have your own hashtag—#TheFirstCedi—can you explain the inspiration behind that and what it means?

Osman: So I’m working with one agency in Turkey and they’re doing a really good job about myself, my profile, my brand (laughs). They’re doing a really good job. “The First Cedi” is because my first name is Cedi and a lot of people are calling me Jedi, so that’s from Star Wars. The First Cedi—because in Turkey, ‘C’ reads as a ‘J’ so Jedi. First Jedi, that’s why.

BI: That’s pretty funny. Are you a Star Wars fan?

Osman: Yeah. I watch. But because it’s like old movies and that kind of stuff, but now new movies are better.

BI: It’s a locker room full of veterans here in Cleveland. Do you feel comfortable with everyone?

Osman: Definitely. I feel really comfortable. We have—I don’t want to say veteran players—but they are so good and they are big, big professionals. I have a lot of fun with them—locker room, when we go on the road, team dinners and that kind of stuff. It’s pretty cool.

The thing is, like it’s my first appearance. Overseas I’m coming to America and I was thinking the adjustment would be a little bit hard for me, but it was actually the opposite. From the first day that I met those guys, they helped me a lot.

BI: Is there anyone that you’ve gotten especially close to? You mentioned Big Z earlier.

Osman: Me and Z are pretty close. We’re speaking the same language. We played in the same league in Turkey. But like, I’m close with everybody. With Channing [Frye], we are always talking about the games and that stuff.

BI: Playing with LeBron—can you put that into words?

Osman: Look, it’s…(pauses), it’s something crazy. Because I was playing a game—obviously 2K—before when I was younger, I was playing with him and that stuff. Of course, it was my dream to be an NBA player, to play in the NBA. But when you’re playing on the same team with [Derrick] Rose, LeBron James, [Dwyane] Wade, Kevin Love, [Isaiah Thomas], it’s crazy.

I didn’t imagine that I would play with those players. And then, I just realize when I’m playing with them, the only thing that I can do is just work a lot and learn from them.

BI: When you hear these guys talk about you in a good light and coach Lue gives you praise, how does that make you feel?

Osman: That’s something really incredible. I mean… from the first day, from the media day when LeBron was in a press conference, he talked about everybody. But he talked also about me and he knew about Euroleague and that kind of stuff, so I was really happy. I was really proud and I was really happy about it. From the first day, he was so close to me. Not just him, but everybody.

BI: What do you think people need to know about your personality? Is there anything that hasn’t been said?

Osman: Actually, nothing special (laughs). I’m the guy who always smiles and with a lot of energy, always being positive talking to everybody, making a lot of jokes, trying to be friendly with everyone and the most important—I’m trying to be a good character.

BI: Last one—based off of this conversation alone, you’ve picked up the English language so easily. Who’s helped you on that side of things?

Osman: I actually had a lot of American players overseas on my previous team—it was Jordan Farmar, Jamon Gordon, Derrick Brown, he also played here, there was Bryant Dunston, Jayson Granger. I played a lot with Dario Saric, too, Furkan Korkmaz. Those were guys that were always talking English.

Just talking to them all the time. When they talked, I would just listen to them. I wasn’t listening to what they talked [about], but just for what kind of words they were using and what kind of sentences, the way they were talking. That’s how I learned English.

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James Johnson: The Latest Product of Miami’s Culture

James Johnson speaks to Michael Scotto about his success within Miami’s culture.

Michael Scotto

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James Johnson went from an NBA nomad to financially set for life.

Over the summer, Johnson signed a four-year, $60 million deal with Miami, as first reported by Basketball Insiders. The deal included a fourth-year player option.

“It really meant everything to me,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “To be in a situation in my life to overcome so much, and to finally get something like that where it’s long-term, where it’s somewhere I really want to be too, it was just all-in-all the best scenario.”

Johnson was drafted No. 16 overall in 2009 and spent time with four different teams, including two stints in Toronto, before his career year in Miami last season. During that span, Johnson also spent time in the G-League for the Iowa Energy (2011) and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (2013).

Despite being nomadic through the first eight years of his career, Johnson never doubted his talent nor the hope that he’d find the right organizational fit.

“No, I never doubted myself,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “I never doubted the Lord neither. I’m a big firm believer of that. Every team I was on I always enjoyed my teammate’s success. I always was a real part of practice players and being a scout guy. My whole journey is just to figure out and experience all the other aspects of this game that we play. It says a lot where I can start helping other guys out like the rookies now and guys that are not getting any minutes right now, things like that. I’m a big testament to just staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”

After playing for the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings, and Memphis Grizzlies, what set Miami’s culture apart?

“Just their want-to, they’re no excuses, act like a champion on and off the court, and just that mental stability of always teaching you, not just drills, not just coaching just because they’re called coaches,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “They really inspire, they really help out, and it makes you want to be in that work environment.”

Johnson credits his relationship with President Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra for helping him fulfill his potential.

“It’s great, its nothing like I’ve ever experienced before,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a little new still, but the freedom to be able to go into their office and just talk about normal things, you know, is one of the big reasons why I never want to leave this place.”

While playing on a one-year, $4 million deal, Johnson averaged a career-high 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. Johnson also shot a career-high 34 percent from beyond the arc.

Looking ahead, can Johnson continue to improve at age 30 and beyond coming off his best year as a pro?

“I got paid, so there’s no pressure of playing for the money,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s really playing for the wins, playing for your teammates, and playing with a pure heart, not going out there with any agendas, not going out there looking to live up to something that everybody else wants you to live up to. For me, it’s just gelling with our team and making sure our locker room is great like I was mentioning. Go out there and compete and trust each other.”

Johnson has put up nearly identical numbers through the first quarter of this season, averaging 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 27.6 minutes per game. Johnson is also shooting a career-high 36 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s my ninth year, and I’m just happy to be able to be part of the NBA for that long,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders.

Looking ahead, Johnson hopes to maximize years 10-12 in Miami during the rest of his contract and the remaining prime of his career.

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