The Market For Lance Stephenson
A lot of NBA players have had a career that can be compared to a roller coaster ride, filled with highs and lows. That holds true for Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson more than most, though.
The 24-year-old was a high-profile recruit in high school, but joined the Cincinnati program with some off-court concerns and a little bit of baggage. After a solid freshman year in which he averaged 12.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists, Stephenson opted for an uncertain future as a pro over the chance to play his way into the first round as a sophomore with an expanded role. His inconsistency on the floor, and red flags off of it, caused Stephenson to fall to 40th overall to the Indiana Pacers.
In his third year, Stephenson exploded into one of the league’s most productive shooting guards. This is after two years of staying out of serious trouble and accepting a minimal role without causing any issues. The Pacers took a gamble on him that the rest of the league wasn’t willing to, and it paid off for them.
But, when it came time to pay Stephenson, resurfaced character concerns brought his stock down. From a statistical standpoint, he was worthy of a max contract that players less effective than him were receiving. But no team was willing to make that kind of commitment to him. The Pacers offered him a five-year deal, but at $44 million it was well short of what Stephenson felt was his true value. They followed up that offer by quickly signing C.J. Miles and making it clear to Stephenson that the deal on the table was as good as it was going to get.
With his future as unclear as ever, Stephenson waited for free agency to play out and eventually saw the Hornets emerge as his most serious suitor. They were a young team coming off of a surprise playoff run in need of an upgrade at his position. It seemed like a match made in heaven by the basketball gods. The deal was for less money overall than what the Pacers’ offered, but for slightly more annually. It was also just a two-year pact with a team option for the third year, giving Stephenson the opportunity to hit free agency again as a more mature and proven 27-year-old when the cap should be close to $20 million higher than it is right now.
Yet, so far, it hasn’t been working out. The Hornets have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league, with Stephenson earning the same honor, if you want to call it that, from an individual standpoint. There have already been rumblings that the two sides could be interested in a split, but according to Shams Charania of Real GM, they’re remaining committed to each other right now. It’s a small sample size, but Stephenson is playing better through three games here in the month of December, but what’s ultimately going to determine his fate is where things stand come the trade deadline in February.
With an annual salary of $9 million and the ability to shed his contract after next season, Stephenson is actually a good value contract even based on his underwhelming production so far. His potential to turn things around and get back to the level he was playing at with the Pacers makes the idea of acquiring him even more enticing, assuming the Hornets don’t ask for the moon and the stars in return.
It’s going to take a team in a real unique situation to be willing to take on Stephenson. According to Charania, there are four or five teams out there that have expressed interest in Stephenson to the Hornets. The Brooklyn Nets jump off of the page as they proven veterans they’re willing to let go of and young talent to pair them with as well. Stephenson is a Brooklyn native and the Nets have a clear track record of being willing to take risks. The nearby New York Knicks need talent any way they can get it, but it’s hard to imagine a team with all of their issues looking at Stephenson as a possible solution.
The Dallas Mavericks were one of the other teams involved in the final bidding for Stephenson. In the end they spent their cap space on Chandler Parsons, though, and they never seemed too sure about pairing up Monta Ellis with Stephenson in what would be a potentially explosive (in a bad way) combination. With how well Ellis has been playing right now and other more pressing needs, they don’t seem like a likely destination anymore.
Stephenson would be really intriguing on the Atlanta Hawks, and they have the expiring contract of Paul Millsap that matches Stephenson’s outgoing salary of $9 million, but they’re playing so well right now and that’s a major shake up to make when the chemistry is so strong. If they’re really honest in their valuations of themselves, though, they have to know they’re a piece away and that Millsap could be gone at season’s end.
Also disappointing so far this season, the Denver Nuggets have a long-term hole to fill at shooting guard unless Gary Harris becomes the answer or they re-sign Arron Afflalo. If they’re not sure they’re willing to pay the price to do so, swapping him for Stephenson makes a lot of sense.
Believe it or not, the San Antonio Spurs would be one of the few organizations that would have enough confidence in their program’s structure and the character in their locker room to look past a lot of the fears that scare most teams away from Stephenson. They made inquiries on J.R. Smith earlier in his career and also traded for Stephen Jackson when concerns about his coachability were at their peak. But, coming off of a championship run with their chemistry as good as it has ever been and all of their significant pieces returning, there’s basically zero chance they’d even consider the possibility. If there was the belief in the front office that they were a piece away, though, they’d be monitoring Stephenson’s situation.
The three teams that seem most likely to trade for Stephenson are the New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers. The Pelicans and Kings are in need of a boost for a potential playoff run at the two guard spot, the Pelicans especially. Meanwhile, the Lakers are in shambles with Kobe Bryant ripping his teammates in practice today as they sit near the bottom of the Western Conference. All things seem to be on the table in that situation.
So, while the Hornets and Stephenson are committed to each other right now, there’s definitely a market for him that they could cash in on if things continue to go as horrifically wrong as they have during the first quarter of the season.
The Shoe Game’s Best Kept Secret
When it comes to shoes in the basketball world, the brand name and look trumps just about everything. The Crazy Lights by adidas and the first basketball-playing approved low tops by Nike created some stir about performance, but really, when basketball players of all ages are looking for a new shoe to hoop in, the decision making process doesn’t include much other than who endorses the shoe, how it looks and, of course, price.
The major shoe companies have somewhat of a lock on the market. There’s not a lot of room for grass root, up and coming smaller companies to carve their niche. However, Ektio is doing so by providing a shoe that helps you in a way that no other shoe does. Put simply, every time you wear Ektio’s you play with the support and preventative care that you would have to get taped or wear and ankle brace to receive otherwise.
Rick Barry, a Hall of Famer and the father of one of the most talented and accomplished families in the sport of basketball, dealt with ankle issues in his career, and in short order after checking Ektios out, became one of their biggest believers.
“I got a call from [Ektio creatore] Dr. Katz,” Barry said to Basketball Insiders. “He called me about the shoe. I said, ‘That’s really interesting, if it really works I wish I had it when I played cause I had a number of ankle sprains in my career. Send me a pair and let me see what I think.’
“I said wow. This is pretty good. I got my youngest son to wear it. Kids can be picky, but he wore it and I saw it prevent him from breaking his ankle. He’s a very high leaper. He came down so awkwardly there was no way for the shoe to help protect him from spraining his ankle because it was such a crazy fall on someone’s foot that his foot was totally turned over. The doctor said to me, ‘I can’t believe your son didn’t break his ankle. He had no instability in it. For him to have turned it over and have a sprain and not a break, I’ve never seen this.’
“I said ‘Wow’ and I told him about the shoe and he said that’s the reason. To be honest I wish he could wear it in college now instead of the fact that they have a deal with a shoe manufacturer and has to wear their stuff. I make him take them to school and tell him, ‘If you’re not going to get taped have the Ektios on to protect yourself.’ He didn’t have them on or get taped and he sprained his ankle. I’ve seen first hand how it works and it’s pretty cool.”
“For the dollar you spend for a shoe today, it’s probably the best bargain out there. None of these [other] shoes, regardless of the price, do anything to protect you from a sprained ankle and it’s the most prevalent injury that occurs in the game of basketball so isn’t it worth it if you’re serious about the game to wear the only shoe that has patented technology to help protect you from the most prevalent injury in the game. It makes no sense if you’re serious about the game to not wear this shoe. I’d be wearing it today, if I had a contact with a shoe company and they brought this to me I would go to them and say, ‘Hey you guys need to go buy the rights to this because this is the shoe I want my name on, this is the shoe I want to wear.’ If they wouldn’t do that I’d say, ‘Fine I want out of my contract and buy the company because if I was playing today I’d be able to afford it.’”
After talking to Barry about the product, I had to try it for myself. I grew up playing organized basketball every year from when I was 5-18 years old. However, at 26 now, my playing days are pretty far removed. One of the excuses I always blamed that on was my fear of getting hurt and spraining my ankle specifically, because I dealt with several of them during my playing days and know how troublesome they can be to recover from. Dealing with a sprained ankle is a nightmare, but in school I had ample time to rest and rehab them – a luxury that I no longer have in the real world. But, the safety and comfort that Ektio provided me convinced me to get back out on the hardwood a couple times a week. I kept a weekly diary over the last month to detail my own first-hand thoughts of Ektio’s revolutionary product.
Week 1: First thing I must say is that this is not your average shoe. I’m admittedly lazy, that’s why I haven’t played in so long, so it’s a bit of an adjustment to go from slipping on shoes with pre-tied knots to going through the loosening and tightening process that comes with wearing Ektios. If you’ve ever had your ankle taped, though, or gone through the process of lacing up a brace every time you play, it takes significantly less time to get these on than either of those preventative measures. They’re a little bit heavier than the shoes I’m used to wearing and playing in, but I hardly felt waited down or immobile.
I won’t go into details at the risk of embarrassing myself, but my unanticipated return the court was far from glorious. The score was probably 3-2 before I started feeling exhausted, but I almost forgot midway through that I was actually testing new shoes. Within a few plays, I was comfortable in them as if I had been wearing them forever. The shoes passed their first test, but I didn’t have the endurance or stamina to test them with hard drives to the rim, trying to explode and finish in traffic or much of anything really outside of running, turning it over and call phantom fouls.
Week 2: Either the competition was down or I’m getting some of my touch back, because this week I felt a lot more effective and capable out on the court. I didn’t do anything of note to make it seem like I had any real ability to play basketball last week, so nobody really noticed me or my Ektios. Now that I’m making some things happen, people are starting to ask me about the shoes. Wearing the Alexios, the third generation of Ektio basketball shoes which you can see below, I got a lot of compliments and surprised faces when I told them that it wasn’t a major brand shoe. I got even more when I explained the benefits to them, and how much I liked playing in them. I’m pretty accustomed to putting them on now and I’m able to do so a lot faster than I initially was. Also, I’d like to think I’ve put some miles on them at this point, and the material has held up really well. They still have that new aura to them.
Week 3: My first-hand experience of how beneficial Ektios really occurred this week. It was almost like déjà vu to the final practice before the first game of my senior year. I fancy myself a decent leaper (I’ve dunked more than just a donut in my lifetime) who can finish above defenders. Back in 2005, during a 3-on-2 fast break drill, I came right down on the foot of a teammate trying to take a charge and contest the shot. My ankle rolled and the feeling of pain was so intense and gut-wrenching that I can still remember it to this day. Although I didn’t miss any time, it was weeks before I was back at 100 percent and I had to wear a brace the rest of the year. This time, in almost the exact same fashion on a fast break, there was someone set and squared up as I was filling the lane and looking to finish in transition (yes, people try to take charges in pickup games where I play at – I hate it too), I came right down on his foot and felt my ankle starting to roll – only it couldn’t. The protection wouldn’t allow it. I was filled with fear and expecting pain, but it never came. In seconds, I was running back up the court and incredibly thankful that I had the Ektios on. Without them, the fears that kept me away from the game so long, would have come to fruition.
Week 4: In as true of a sign of full disclosure as I can provide, laziness took back over for me. I played a lot of basketball in my life, and just lacked the desire to keep playing after three weeks and a sprained ankle scare. I have a lot of respect for how much work it takes to be good at the game of basketball, and the competitor in me just couldn’t continue to take the court while knowing that I wasn’t putting in the work I needed to in order to have the kind of success I wanted. So, I decided to put the Ektios to a different test that they don’t market themselves for: wearing them out socially. I combined them with a nice pair of jeans and a button up with a similar color scheme. I used “I’m trying out these new shoes” as a conversation starter for why I was out that night, and was once again really impressed with the feedback and compliments I received. Not only will these be my go-to hooping shoes if I ever get that itch again, but they’re in my regular shoe rotation from this point on.
NBA All-Star Voting Underway
The NBA and Sprint will tip off NBA All-Star Balloting 2015 today in New York City, the official host city of NBA All-Star 2015. Balloting begins at 2:00 p.m. ET.
This afternoon during rush hour, the NBA and Sprint will celebrate the start of balloting with voting fan stations outside of Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center. NBA Legends Darryl Dawkins, Earl Monroe, Gary Payton, and Mitch Richmond will greet fans and commuters and encourage them to cast the first votes at the special NBA-themed voting booths.
NBA All-Star Balloting 2015 presented by Sprint gives fans around the world the opportunity to vote daily for their favorite players as starters for NBA All-Star Game 2015. The official NBA All-Star Ballot presented by Sprint will include all current NBA players for the first time ever. Fans will continue to select two guards and three frontcourt players when choosing the starters for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, but can now vote for any current NBA player.
As part of the NBA’s all-digital program, fans can vote on NBA.com, through social media networks including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblog in China, via SMS text, and the NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint applications.
New to this year’s program is SAP, which will integrate daily stats into the online ballot. Fans can sort players on the NBA Ballot by their current stats from NBA.com/stats powered by SAP HANA. SAP will also host a new feature on NBA.com/stats called the SAP NBA All-Star 2015 Game Predictor. After fans vote, they will be able to see how the East and West starters they picked would match up. The game predictor will compare player statistics and compute a game score based on the fan’s picks.
How to vote:
• The NBA.com ballot is available in 11 languages on NBA.com/asb. Voters can fill out one full ballot per day on NBA.com/asb from a desktop or mobile browser.
• Twitter voting allows fans to tweet a vote for 10 unique players each day throughout the All-Star balloting period. The tweet, retweet, or reply must include the player’s first and last name, along with hash tag #NBABallot.
• Facebook voting allows fans to post a status from their personal Facebook accounts. The posts must include the player’s first and last name, along with hash tag #NBABallot. Fans can post votes for 10 unique players per day.
• Fans can use Instagram to vote by posting an original photo, using #NBABallot and the player’s first and last name in the photo caption. Fans can vote for 10 unique players per day.
• SMS voting by texting the player’s last name to 6-9-6-2-2 (“MYNBA”) on any wireless device. Fans can vote for 10 different players per day, per phone number, via SMS voting by sending 10 separate SMS messages, each one with a different player’s last name. Message and data rates may apply.
• NBA fans can also access the ballot and vote through the NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint applications, available on Android and iOS. Fans can fill out one full ballot per day, through the NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint application, the most comprehensive app in the marketplace for NBA fans.
Balloting concludes on Monday, Jan. 19, and starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 22, during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com at 7 p.m. ET, featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the San Antonio Spurs at the Chicago Bulls (8 p.m. ET) and the Brooklyn Nets at the Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET).
About NBA All-Star 2015
NBA All-Star 2015 in New York City will bring together some of the most talented and passionate players in the league’s history for a global celebration of the game. The 64th NBA All-Star Game, which will take place Sunday, Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden, will reach fans in 215 countries and territories in 47 languages. TNT will televise the All-Star Game for the 13th consecutive year, marking Turner Sports’ 30th year of All-Star coverage, as well as the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 13 and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Saturday, Feb. 14, which will both take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Other events at Barclays Center include the NBA Development League All-Star Game presented by Kumho Tire and the NBA Development League Dream Factory presented by Boost Mobile on Sunday, Feb. 15, airing on NBA TV. Madison Square Garden will host Friday night’s ESPN-televised Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.
NBA Daily: Five Second-Rounders Looking For Rookie Season Role
Although far from guaranteed, there are five recent second-rounders who could work themselves into important roles in 2018-19.
After months of speculation, rumors and workouts, the NBA Draft and their respective summer leagues are finally well in the rearview mirror. With training camps up next, franchises can begin to flesh out their rotations and decide the early season fates of their newly-arrived rookies — even if their selection didn’t come with as much fanfare or hype.
And although draft day studs like Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III are nearly guaranteed to contribute immediately, much of the class’ future is still up for grabs — a statement particularly true for those that followed the first round. Whether it was a strong summer league showing or a picture-perfect landing spot, here are the five second round draftees poised to leave a mark in 2018-19.
Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dallas Mavericks
2017-18: 5.2 points, 2.9 rebounds on 57.4 percent shooting
Much as been made of the youngest Antetokounmpo’s controversial decision to come out this spring, but his faith was rewarded by Dallas with the draft’s final selection. Back in June, our Spencer Davies dove into Antetokounmpo’s time at Dayton and it’s not difficult to see why the Mavericks took a swing on the raw 6-foot-11 prospect. Over four games in Las Vegas, Antetokounmpo averaged five points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game on 58 percent from the floor — which, of course, is not eye-popping but could foreshadow a role moving forward.
Between Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan and the ever-talented Luka Dončić, Antetokounmpo will not be called upon to carry the scoring load at any point. On a two-way deal, the Mavericks have the luxury to develop the Greek-born stopper in the G-League until he’s ready to make a difference — but for a defensive-minded Rick Carlisle, that day could come sooner rather than later. With Dwight Powell and Ray Spalding fighting for minutes at power forward, Antetokounmpo could be an option at the three, where Barnes has just Dorian Finney-Smith behind him.
For a franchise that ranked 18th in DEF RTG (107.4) last season and will strive for their first postseason berth since 2016, giving spot defensive specialist minutes to Antetokounmpo seems like a win-win partnership.
De’Anthony Melton, Houston Rockets
2016-17: 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals on 43.7 percent shooting
After missing an entire season due to an improper benefits scandal at USC, Melton serendipitously fell to the Rockets way down at No. 46 overall. At 6-foot-3, Melton has a shot to contribute on both ends immediately as an above-average defender and a microwavable scorer. During his Las Vegas debut, Melton tallied 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, four assists and a summer league-leading three steals across five contests — albeit at an improvable 38 percent from the floor. As a tenacious playmaker, Melton should get ample opportunity to impress with a franchise looking to avenge their brutal Western Conference Finals defeat last spring.
On top of learning from one of the best point guards in league history, there also happens to be little competition for Melton in the rotation. In July, the Rockets signed Michael Carter-Williams, a former Rookie of the Year winner that averaged just 4.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists in 52 games for Charlotte in 2017-18 — and, well, that’s it. For a three-point bombing franchise like Houston, neither guard fits particularly well in that regard, but Melton’s 28.4 percent clip in one season as an 18-year-old still projects better than Carter-Williams’ 25 percent mark over five years.
Chris Paul missed 24 regular season games last year, but the Rockets are still willing to head into training camp with a second-round rookie and Carter-Williams holding down the backup point guard slot — that alone says far more about Houston’s faith in Melton than anything else.
Élie Okobo, Phoenix Suns
2017-18: 12.9 points, 4.8 assists on 39.4 percent from three
Outside of Džanan Musa and the aforementioned Dončić, the Phoenix Suns’ Élie Okobo entered draft night as the most promising overseas prospect in the bunch. Okobo, a 6-foot-2 Frenchman, could feasibly become the Suns’ franchise point guard by season’s end. The playmaking 20-year-old has just Brandon Knight ahead of him on the depth chart, a formidable NBA point guard, but one that does not fit Phoenix’s current rebuilding plan. Admittedly, his statistics won’t jump off the page just yet — 2.3 points, 3.5 assists in four summer league contests — but the potential for Okobo is certainly here.
While it’s worth noting that Okobo didn’t score in three straight contests after his impressive debut, he appears to be a suitable backcourt partner with franchise cornerstone Devin Booker. Whether he’s connecting with a backdoor cut in stride or hitting difficult running floaters, there are plenty of positives to take thus far. With a postseason appearance looking unlikely for the Suns, it’ll make sense to give Okobo the reins before long — even if they can’t move Knight’s contract worth $15.6 million in 2019-20.
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Needless to say, Mitchell Robinson could be an absolute treat for the New York Knicks.
For much of the pre-draft process, it looked like Robinson was a shoo-in first rounder, with many speculating that he even received a promise from the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 overall. Once the first 30 picks came and went without Robinson — who elected to pull out of the draft combine in May — the Knicks were more than happy to scoop him up. Across five summer league contests, Robinson averaged 13 points, 10.2 rebounds and a competition-leading four blocks per game on 67 percent from the field.
On a team-friendly four-year deal worth just $1.8 million in 2021-22, Robinson already looks like a bargain. But beyond his first-round talent at a second-round price, there’s a real chance that Robinson can contribute for New York right away. Following the recent news that Joakim Noah will be stretched if the Knicks can’t find a suitable partner by training camp, that leaves exactly two centers left on the roster: Enes Kanter and Robinson. The 7-foot-1 prospect is a natural replacement for the departed Kyle O’Quinn, while the newly-minted David Fizdale should love Robinson’s shot-changing impact defensively.
Even if Robinson shuttles back-and-forth to and from Westchester throughout the season, he could still seamlessly slide into the Knicks’ rotation from day one.
Jevon Carter, Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18: 17.3 points, 6.6 assists, 3 steals on 39.3 percent from three
Earlier this week, Matt John put forth an excellent case for what should be a comeback season for the Grit-And-Grind Grizzlies — but there’s one second-rounder still currently flying under the radar. Despite a stellar final season at West Virginia, Carter dropped into Memphis’ lap and there are few that so elegantly fit the franchise’s identity without effort. As the reigning back-to-back NABC Defensive Player of the Year, Carter should split the backup point guard minutes with newcomer Shelvin Mack, if not more by season’s end.
The additions of Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson and Omri Casspi, along with renewed health from Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol, will have Memphis eying the postseason once again — but Carter will likely be a fan favorite long before then as well. During his lengthy summer league initiation, Carter pulled in 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals over seven games. Although his 35 percent clip from the floor could use some restraint, he won’t need to shoulder offensive responsibilities with the Grizzlies.
Carter’s hard-nosed style of play will enhance an uncharacteristically poor Memphis defense from last season, with his years of extra experience allowing the bullish ball-stopper to drop into the rotation from the get-go.
With franchises focused on their high-ranking lottery picks, many second round draftees (and their often non-guaranteed contracts) will never carve out a consistent NBA role. But from backing up future Hall of Famers to filling a hole in the rotation, it should surprise no one if Antetokounmpo, Melton, Okobo, Robinson and Carter earn some big-time opportunities in 2018-19. Last year alone, Semi Ojeleye, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell all quickly found their niche at the professional level — so who will it be this year?
NBA Daily: Poeltl Looking Forward To New Beginning With Spurs
Spencer Davies looks at the under-the-radar portion of the DeMar DeRozan-Kawhi Leonard trade and how Jakob Poeltl is already embracing the change.
One month ago, a superstar-swapping trade between the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs was agreed upon.
The deal—which once again sparked a national debate about player loyalty—sent a reportedly disgruntled Kawhi Leonard to The North in exchange for Masai Ujiri’s franchise cornerstone, DeMar DeRozan.
Longtime Spur and veteran sharpshooter Danny Green was also moved to Toronto, while San Antonio acquired a protected future first-round draft pick and 22-year-old big man Jakob Poeltl.
Remember, Poeltl was an integral piece of a talented Raptor bench that produced a better net rating than their starters, as well as nearly all five-man groups in the league.
While the majority of pundits have gone back and forth about who won the trade, few have mentioned the ninth overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. Being involved in the transaction admittedly caught Poeltl “a little bit off guard.”
But entering his third year as a pro, the seven-foot Austrian is embracing the change and a brand new start with one of the most well-respected organizations in sports.
“That’s one of the things I’m most excited about, just the fact that this program has such a big history in developing players,” Poeltl told reporters in his first media appearance since the move. “I’m really excited for the process. Gonna be a lot of work, but I’m looking forward to it.”
From what he has heard from players who have been a part of the Spurs in the past and those who are currently there, it’s an unselfish group of people. They consider it a family environment.
“Everybody is just in it together,” Poeltl said. “From the very top to the very last guy on the bench or in the gym. It’s really like a great atmosphere, at least from what I’ve heard. So I’m looking forward to actually experiencing it myself.”
As soon as Poeltl got to San Antonio, he gazed at the championship banners hanging inside of the gym and quickly realized the expectations he’ll have to fulfill this season are a little higher than where he came from.
“It’s crazy, it’s different,” Poeltl said. “Obviously in Toronto, we didn’t have banners like that. Like we’re on a good way there, but this program here has some tradition to it. Over the last 20 years been a great basketball team. Obviously, you can tell by the championships and all the accomplishments.
“It’s a little bit of pressure, too. Like we’re trying to live up to that. There’s obviously a very high standard here, so we’ve gotta come in and put the work in and really show what we’ve got on the court as a team.”
Poeltl hasn’t wasted any time in immersing himself into the culture. In fact, he’s been working out at their practice facility since he arrived and feels like there’s a “natural chemistry” already with his new teammates.
In the weight room, Poeltl came across the forever face of the Spurs and future Hall-of-Fame forward, Tim Duncan. The conversation between them was short, sweet and casual. Basketball wasn’t brought up, as that will likely be saved for another time when the season approaches.
Duncan still sticks around and helps in practices from time-to-time, but he won’t be there every day. Somebody else who will be, however, is Pau Gasol, a fellow international center that Poeltl looks forward to learning from.
Though those two will be able to give veteran advice and priceless pointers, Poeltl’s most crucial teachings will come from the Spurs lead general—Gregg Popovich. Like with Duncan, on-court discussions were not the focus of their first interaction.
“We went to dinner,” Poeltl said. “We didn’t really talk too much basketball. It was more just like trying to get to know each other, like a first impression. I think there’s more than enough time for us to talk basketball and really learn what the Spurs are all about on the basketball court.
“But it was a really good conversation. Like I really enjoyed it. He’s a very down-to-earth type guy for if you think about what he’s accomplished in his career. He’s really cool.”
Once training camp comes and the dialogue does take a turn towards the hardwood, Poeltl will be all ears. As it stands now, Poeltl’s niche is the hustle guy. He picks up the scraps, corrals offensive rebounds and dives after loose balls, but don’t pigeonhole “role player” to his name. He plans on doing more in San Antonio.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Poeltl said. “I think I do a lot of the little things out there—set good screens, be in the right places, making good reads off of my teammates and making plays for my teammates at the same time. Obviously like for me, that’s my role right now and I’m really enjoying that.
“I’m working on my game every single day in practice and I’m trying to develop more offensively and defensively so I can take on more responsibilities in the future.”
Moving on from the team that drafted you to another can be difficult. Luckily, Poeltl isn’t coming alone.
“Obviously it helps to have a familiar face like a guy that I’ve played with over the last three years,” Poeltl said of DeRozan. “Like I know how he plays basketball, he knows me. I think we play well together.”
In the two years they have played together, Poeltl has noticed DeRozan fine-tune his game. Although he is first and foremost a pure scorer, his all-around offense is getting better.
DeRozan’s reads on the opposition are crisper, as are the adjustments he makes due to that. He understands when to take games over and has involved his teammates more and more with each season.
It’s no surprise that the four-time All-Star guard is coming to the Spurs with a statement to make. All he’s done since being drafted is improve and devote himself to his second home in Toronto. He hasn’t uttered one favorable comment towards the front office he feels betrayed him.
Witnessing the kind of player DeRozan is when he’s pushed, Poeltl expects we’ll see a whole other side of him unleashed this year.
“It’s a little bit scary, to be honest,” Poeltl said. “Because I know what he can do when he has a chip on his shoulder, when he gets that extra motivation. I think he’s gonna be ready.”
Poeltl doesn’t have quite that big of a score to settle with the Raptors.
He’s just ready to give his all to an organization in a blue-collar town that matches the kind of work ethic he’s had since he started playing the game.
“That’s kinda how I’ve been for my whole basketball career,” Poeltl said. “Just get the work done.”
NBA Daily: Can an Anthony-D’Antoni Marriage Work for Houston?
Shane Rhodes lays out how the Carmelo Anthony-Mike D’Antoni pairing could work this time around in Houston.
It’s official: Carmelo Anthony has joined the Houston Rockets after putting pen to paper on a contract. In doing so, Anthony will join a gifted offensive team helmed by former Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni.
Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.
Back in 2011, when Anthony joined the New York Knicks via a blockbuster trade with the Denver Nuggets, a younger D’Antoni was in the midst of his third year with New York. While he didn’t exactly have a sterling record with the Knicks prior to the acquisition (89-129 before), things improved little upon Anthony’s arrival in the Big Apple (31-38 after). The two butted heads constantly and, after just a year (and an ultimatum forced on the Knicks by Anthony), D’Antoni was out the door; he resigned from his position and pursued work elsewhere.
Now, together once again, questions remain about how their relationship and, ultimately, their offensive styles will mesh in Houston. D’Antoni has already come out and said things will be different this time around, but nothing is so certain in the NBA; what is stopping things from going south as they did for the Knicks, who, despite a bevy of talent, just couldn’t make things work?
It’s important to understand where things went wrong in New York in order to look at where they could go wrong in Houston.
From the jump, the two weren’t exactly the best fit. Anthony wanted to play the way he had his entire career — heavy isolation, high usage basketball — while D’Antoni’s offense was spread out, predicated on ball movement, and closer to what we see in the modern offense.
Those two styles aren’t exactly conducive to the success of one another.
The Knicks finished the season 42-40, going just 13-14 in Anthony’s 27 games with the team. The two continued to be at odds with one another into the next season until, after leading the Knicks to an underwhelming 18-24 start, D’Antoni resigned. While things improved under Mike Woodson in 2012 — Anthony posted the highest usage rate of his career while the Knicks won 52 games — they quickly devolved into disaster and the Knicks, once again, found themselves in a hole that they are still trying to climb out of.
Now, on to Houston. This isn’t the same D’Antoni; he has changed and so has his offense. While ball movement still plays an integral role, D’Antoni has put much more of an emphasis on isolation plays in order to better fit the profile of his current roster.
The Rockets posted historic offensive numbers with James Harden and Chris Paul running the show, but did so unlike D’Antoni teams of the past. Gone are the days of the seven-seconds-or-less offense; the Rockets played at a pace (97.4 possessions per 48 minutes) that was middle of the pack, while their assist total came in at just 26th in the league, third worst among teams that made the postseason last year. Despite that, Houston managed to post the highest offensive rating (114.7) in the league.
While those stylistic changes should aid Anthony as he looks to rebound next season, they alone don’t make this the perfect fit for the Rockets. Anthony will never see the touches that he was once accustomed to in New York or Denver. He isn’t the same player he was five years ago, either; as his athleticism has declined, so too has Anthony’s ability to get past his defenders, leading to tougher, lower percentage shots that could sink the Rockets come the postseason.
The only thing that really holds Anthony back now is his own stubborn ignorance of those facts. He refused to adjust last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder because he still has “so much left in the tank.” Anthony posted some of the worst numbers of his career last season and, while Billy Donovan isn’t the offensive wizard that D’Antoni is, things should only get worse as Harden (36.1 percent usage rate) and Paul (24.5) dominate the ball if Anthony remains unwilling to change.
So, while his words may hold true, Anthony is no longer in a position where he needs to put the team on his back in order for it to be successful. Houston already has a well-established hierarchy, and Anthony is merely a column meant to buttress what is already in place. If he can’t come to accept that, the chance Houston is taking on him could backfire tremendously.
Still, Houston needs someone to eat the minutes vacated by the departure of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency. While he may not be able to match their defensive exploits, Anthony is still more than capable of filling their shoes, or even providing an upgrade, offensively. That potential upgrade alone could make the move a worthwhile one for the Rockets, who came just minutes from dethroning the Golden State Warriors despite the loss of Chris Paul in the Western Conference Finals.
For things to truly work out, however, Anthony must be willing to accept a change in his role, a diminished one in an offense that isn’t hurting for star power or shot takers, but one that desperately needs role players. If Anthony can adapt, he could be exactly what they need to challenge the Warriors. If not, Anthony’s arrival could blow up in D’Antoni’s face just as it did with the Knicks.