Anthony Bennett Gets A Second Chance
One would think that the life of a recent No. 1 overall draft pick would be all gumdrops and candy canes, with massive success raining down quicker than it would for lesser players and talk of MVP trophies and endorsements rushing in like a torrent every day.
It’s what is happening to Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis right now. Derrick Rose and LeBron James have been there before, too, and it looks like only a matter of time before Andrew Wiggins joins them.
However, Wiggins’ Minnesota teammate, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, has had no talk of All-Stardom and very little NBA success to date.
Does that mean it’s time to give up on the guy? Bennett himself will tell you he’s got a whole lot more to give this league than what we saw in his rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Missing the whole summer last year kind of set me back,” Bennett said right before the start of his first season with the Timberwolves. “I missed a lot of the pre-draft stuff, the combine and going right into training camp overweight. I wasn’t really myself, so I basically had to play catch up the entire year, trying to lose weight, learn the system, get my conditioning up and getting used to the new team. Everything was just kind of piling up.”
He worked at it, but never really got up to speed, averaging a scant 4.2 PPG and 3.0 RPG, good for a PER of only 6.9. Put simply, it wasn’t a strong season, but if you’re caught tying your shoe when the gun goes off at a race, there’s no way to catch up to the greatest athletes on the planet, no matter how fast you run.
This offseason, upon finding out he’d be traded to Minnesota, Bennett immediately hooked up with his new teammates and made sure that his sophomore campaign wouldn’t be quite so stressful and disappointing.
“A month before training camp Shabazz (Muhammad), Gorgui (Dieng) and I went out to Los Angeles and we were just working out with our trainer up there,” Bennett said. “We basically didn’t do anything with a basketball and just focused on our conditioning, getting our body right and eating well so when I came into training camp I was feeling great.”
The move to Minnesota has been an unexpected do-over for Bennett, who looks like a completely different player on a team that is stockpiling young guys. The expectations are lower, and Wiggins is the main attraction. That means the spotlight is completely off of Bennett, and that may be the best thing for him right now.
“Being a part of the young group of guys we have now where everyone is just committed to work is great,” Bennett said. “Even the vets are working really hard teaching the new guys the way around the league. I can probably say that I’m in one of the best situations that I can be in at this point in my career.”
He got there, of course, as part of the Kevin Love trade, which was odd in that it took a month to consummate. Like the rest of us, he knew it would happen long before it actually did, but riding out the wait was different for one of the guys actually involved in the swap.
“I kind of knew about a month before it happened, but you have to keep things like this on the down low,” Bennett explained. “My agent told me. He basically told me that this is the news and it might or it might not work so just keep your head up and just keep working.
“The trade talks were going on for a while, but when it just started happening, neither I nor Wiggins had any idea of what was going on. I was in Toronto and I guess he was in Los Angles working out, so we kind of just stuck to the ground when the rumors started coming up.”
From the moment the deal went down, Bennett knew he was heading to a better situation, mostly because his new organization was so welcoming.
“As soon as I got the news that I was traded, everyone welcomed me with open arms,” Bennett said. “Everyone from the rookies to the second-year guys all the way down to the vets, there is just so much you can learn from them, and even the coaching staff. It was just a real pleasure meeting them all, and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
He’s only averaging 14 minutes through the first couple games of the new season, but he’s scoring more efficiently and clearly is in much better shape. There aren’t any All-Star whispers yet, but his move to the Twin Cities has been a big step in the right direction. He just hopes he continues making the same positive progress throughout the new year.
Taj Gibson Hopes Bulls Can Live Up to Expectations
After watching the Chicago Bulls decimate the New York Knicks on Wednesday, only to watch New York turn around and knock off the new-and-improved Cleveland Cavaliers a night later, it would be easy to go ahead and crown Chicago as the cream of the Eastern Conference’s crop.
Taj Gibson, who looked unstoppable in the opener and should contend for Sixth Man of the Year this season, warns that fans need to temper their expectations this early in the season.
“It’s a good thing that people are talking about us, but we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Gibson said. “We have guys who have won championships, and they tell it to us straight, that we have a long way to go.”
No doubt about it, the Bulls are an incredibly deep team and there should be high expectations for a roster featuring so much talent. Gibson and his teammates just don’t want to get ahead of themselves.
“Everyone feels like we have something special, but also everyone feels that we need to stop playing around and get things going right,” Gibson said. “You can have all the talent in the world, but you have to come ready, and that’s one thing about teams that have high expectations. Everyone is praising us about what we can accomplish, but just like there are great champions and heavyweight boxers that always tend to slack off a bit, our job is to just stay focused, hungry and go out there and do our job.”
Of course, even the most successful heavyweight boxers and even NBA champions aren’t necessarily humble. There’s a swagger that players and teams need to win at the highest level, but Gibson feels like there has to be a balance between confidence and humility.
“You have to be humble and check yourself, because in reality we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Gibson said. “This is our first year together with this group even though we have a lot of pieces that have been here a long time. We have to be humble and just continue to work hard and go out there with that underdog mentality because know we have that bull’s-eye on our back this year. A lot of teams are going to be gunning for us, so we have to have that mentality of being humble and go out there and make people respect us.”
After one game, league-wide respect is there. Now, Chicago has 81 more games this season to keep it.
NBA Daily: Rich Cho Out As Charlotte Hornets GM
The Charlotte Hornets opted to not move forward with GM Rich Cho and are expected to pursue former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.
The fateful moment for Rich Cho came days after he was hired as GM of the Charlotte Hornets in June of 2011. With the NBA Draft coming up just nine days later, Cho started work on a three-team trade that would land Charlotte a second top-10 pick to pair with its own ninth pick, which was used to draft franchise cornerstone, Kemba Walker.
In that draft, Klay Thompson went 11th to the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard went 15th to the Pacers. Of the 17 players selected after Bismack Biyombo, whom went to the Hornets with the seventh pick, 12 are regular contributors on current NBA rosters. The Orlando Magic are currently being outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions with Biyombo on court, a rotation-worst.
Today, Hornets owner Michael Jordan announced that Cho is out as Charlotte’s GM.
“Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization,” said Jordan in a press release. “We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”
While the failure to obtain Thompson, Leonard or any of the other numerous impact players in the 2011 draft will always mar Cho’s record, falling to the second pick in the 2012 NBA Draft will continue to haunt the Hornets. Despite a brutal 7-59 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, which set the record for lowest win percentage in an NBA season (.110), the New Orleans Pelicans won the right to the first overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and selected Anthony Davis.
The Hornets selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second pick. Although the 2012 Draft wasn’t nearly as deep as 2011’s, the Hornets still left players like Bradley Beal (third) and Andre Drummond (ninth) on the board. Either player would have been an outstanding compliment to Walker, who remains with the team despite rumors of his availability leading up the the trade deadline.
“I feel like I’m going to be in Charlotte,” said Walker at his All-Star media availability. “So that’s where I’m at, that’s where I’m playing. So I never really sat and thought about any other teams.”
Walker made his second All-Star appearance after Kristaps Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL injury.
“I wish K.P. hadn’t gotten hurt,” said Walker. “Everybody hates to see guys go down, especially great players like him. But when I was able to get the call to replace him, it was a really good feeling.”
Another fateful moment in Cho’s tenure came during the 2015 NBA Draft. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Boston Celtics offered the 15th and 16th picks, a future protected first rounder from the Brooklyn Nets and a future first from either the Grizzlies or Timberwolves in exchange for the ninth pick, which Cho used to draft Frank Kaminsky.
“If it was such a no-brainer for us, why would another team want to do it,” Cho asked rhetorically in defense of the Kaminsky selection, according to Lowe.
Years later, it’s evident that the Celtics dodged a bullet when both Charlotte and the Miami HEAT rebuffed its attempts to move up and draft Justise Winslow. The latter has not panned out while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the players Boston subsequently selected with Brooklyn’s picks, have developed into starters.
Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports reported in the first week of February that Charlotte may target former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for a high-ranking role in the organization with Cho’s contract set to expire. Kupchak, like Jordan, is a former UNC star. Kupchak would join Jordan’s UNC teammate and Charlotte assistant GM Buzz Peterson.
The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA
The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.
When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.
With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.
One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.
Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.
“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”
Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.
When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.
“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”
He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.
Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.
He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.
“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”
While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.
He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.
It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.
“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”
NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger
Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.
Playing For Something Bigger
The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.
By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.
“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.
“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”
Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.
“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.
“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”
Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.
“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”
With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.
“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”
With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.
If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.
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