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NBA PM: Who Are the League’s Next Superstars?

Which players will emerge as the next superstars in the coming years? A look at five players who have a legitimate shot.

Alex Kennedy

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Who Are the League’s Next Superstars?

The NBA does a terrific job of marketing its superstars. Athletes like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul among others are household names and extremely marketable.

With no helmets, hats or visors blocking faces on the court, basketball players are easily recognizable. This can lead to players becoming huge celebrities and being extremely visible even when they’re not playing the game that made them famous. Even during the NBA offseason, you will still see these superstars constantly on your television screen – some examples include Griffin pitching GameFly, Paul endorsing State Farm, James selling McDonald’s and Durant repping Sprint.

Of course, before one gets to that point, they must experience success on the hardwood. The players mentioned above are all in their prime, with Durant and Griffin being the youngest at 25 years old, and they’ve solidified themselves as the league’s elite players.

Who are some of the players that will be part of the next wave of NBA superstars? Here’s a look at five players who seem poised for superstardom:

AnthonyDavisInsideOnly1Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans – The 21-year-old Davis has quickly become one of the league’s best two-way players. Despite being just a few years removed from high school, he is an All-Star and one of the most productive players in all of basketball.

Last season, Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.3 steals. He ranked 14th in the NBA in points per game, 10th in rebounds per game and first in blocks per game. His efficiency rating (26.5) was fourth in the NBA behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kevin Love.

Yet, it still seems like Davis has room to improve. Perhaps it’s because we’ve seen that he’s capable of being even more dominant, like when he averaged 24.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.4 blocks in the month of March last season. It’s likely only a matter of time until Davis is in the Most Valuable Player discussion each season. Few players can make an impact on both ends of the floor like Davis, especially 21-year-old players who only have just two years of NBA experience under their belt.

With so many key players withdrawing from Team USA before the World Cup in Spain, Davis seems poised for a huge role with the national team. He was a member of the 2012 Olympic team in London as an injury replacement for Blake Griffin, but he was at the end of the bench and didn’t contribute. He had just been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and was just happy to be there.

Now, he may be Team USA’s most important piece. People know that Davis is good, but the World Cup is his chance to make a statement and show that he’s one of the best players on the planet. In Team USA’s first exhibition game against Brazil over the weekend, Davis was the squad’s leading scorer and he finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. The World Cup could be his coming out party.

The Pelicans don’t play on national TV much, so Davis hasn’t gotten the exposure and recognition that he deserves for his impressive first two seasons in the NBA. That will likely change very soon, and all eyes will be on Davis as he emerges as one of the league’s marquee players. He should continue to make huge strides in his third professional season and, if the Pelicans can remain healthy, he might also make his postseason debut in the 2014-15 campaign.

AndreDrummondInsiderOnly1Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons – In case there was any lingering doubt, Drummond proved that he’s a beast during the final month of the 2013-14 season when he averaged 18.4 points, 17.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 64.2 percent from the field. He was unstoppable, and he’ll likely pick up right where he left off when the 2014-15 campaign gets underway.

The Pistons realize just how good Drummond is going to be, which is why they’re building around him and clearly making him the face of the franchise. Drummond just turned 21 years old last week, which is a terrifying thought for the rest of the league. Averaging 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for a season is impressive for any player, but it’s remarkable when that individual wasn’t even old enough to legally order alcohol.

Now, the Pistons have hired Stan Van Gundy as their new head coach and president of basketball operations. This should be excellent for Drummond’s development, as Van Gundy is one of the best coaches in the league and understands how to use a dominant interior presence. Keep in mind that he coached Shaquille O’Neal in Miami and Dwight Howard in Orlando, and experienced success with both.

Based on Detroit’s offseason moves, it seems that Van Gundy wants to use Drummond like he used Howard in Orlando – surrounding him with shooters, running the offense through him and forcing teams to pick their poison. If you double-team Drummond, you’re leaving a shooter open. If you stay on the shooters, you’re leaving a poor defender alone in the paint with Drummond. The Magic used this strategy – coupled with great defense – to win many games throughout Van Gundy’s tenure in Orlando and went all the way to the 2009 Finals even though they weren’t the most talented team on paper.

With Van Gundy, an increased role and the continued development expected from a 21-year-old, Drummond certainly seems poised for a monster season. It’s amazing that Drummond slipped to No. 9 in the 2012 NBA draft. The Pistons clearly got a steal, because their young big man has the physical tools and freakish athleticism to eventually be a superstar.

There aren’t many dominant centers in the NBA these days so when Drummond realizes his full potential and reaches his prime in a few years, he’ll be a headache for opposing coaches and big men.

KyrieIrvingInsideOnly1Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers – It’s easy to forget that Irving is just 22 years old. After all, he has already made the All-Star team twice (winning the MVP award in last year’s game) and he’s widely regarded as one of the league’s best point guards. He’s also one of the more exciting players in the NBA, as he can humiliate opposing defenders with his crossover, speed and ability to get buckets from anywhere on the court.

Entering the 2014-15 season, expect Irving to be even better. With LeBron James and Kevin Love joining the Cavaliers, Irving’s job just became much easier and he may take his game to another level. In his first three seasons in the NBA, he was asked to do an awful lot in Cleveland without much help.

Now, he goes from never having played with an All-Star to teaming up with James and Love, who were ranked second and third among all NBA players in efficiency rating for last season. For a point guard, it doesn’t get much better than running down the court with James on one side and Love on the other. Any floor general would love to play with those two stars, and James and Love are excited to play with Irving as well since he’s the best point guard either has played with in the NBA.

Irving should thrive alongside James and Love, improving as a distributor and putting up points with ease now that defenses can’t focus their attention solely on him. Cleveland is going to get out and run much more under new head coach David Blatt and their fastbreaks are going to be a thing of beauty.

Irving’s points per game may go down a bit since he’ll be sharing the ball with his new teammates, but he should be more productive overall and (barring an epic collapse) he’ll make the playoffs for the first time in his career.

Irving is a special talent, and now he has the weapons around him to really show what he can do. Cleveland will play on national television 29 times during the regular season, which should help Irving build his brand and win over casual fans who may not have been as familiar with his game.

In recent years, there was a lot of speculation about Irving’s future and whether he was happy in Cleveland. Now that he has signed a five-year, max extension with the Cavaliers over the summer, that talk will go away and it’s one less distraction that Irving has to worry about. This was an excellent offseason for Cleveland, and Irving should benefit greatly from the sudden influx of talent. He’ll finally have help and he’ll get to perform on basketball’s biggest stage since all eyes will be on the Cavaliers.

DamianLillardInsideOnly1Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers – Lillard has exceeded all expectations in his first two seasons in the NBA. A few years ago, Lillard was playing for little Weber State, toiling in obscurity in Ogden, UT since he didn’t receive any scholarship offers from major programs when he was in high school. Now, he has taken the league by storm and become a household name quicker than even the most optimistic Blazers fans expected.

Last season, Lillard made his first All-Star appearance and averaged 20.7 points, 5.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 82 games, which earned him a spot on the All-NBA Third Team. Lillard helped Portland win 54 games and make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference.

Lillard further elevated his game in the postseason. In the Blazers’ upset victory over the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, he filled the stat sheet, averaging a remarkable 25.5 points, 6.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals. Not to mention, he hit the incredible series-ending shot in Game 6, which helped make him an even bigger star.

The 24-year-old has been outstanding in his first two professional seasons and his best basketball is likely still ahead of him. Lillard works extremely hard and he’s one of the most humble players in the NBA thanks to his upbringing and the fact that he flew under the radar for so long. He has always had a huge chip on his shoulder, and he is determined to become one of the most productive players in the league.

Prior to last season, he told Basketball Insiders that his goals for the 2013-14 campaign were to lead Portland to the playoffs, make the All-Star squad and make an All-NBA team. Some critics felt this was unrealistic and mocked him, but he silenced his doubters when he achieved all three goals.

Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge form an excellent one-two punch for Portland, which should keep the team in the postseason for years to come as long as they remain in town and stay healthy. If his first two seasons in the NBA are any indication, Lillard’s future is extremely bright and it’s safe to say he’ll be a superstar in no time.

JohnWallInsideOnly1John Wall, Washington Wizards – Wall made huge strides last season, averaging 19.3 points, 8.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals while leading Washington to the postseason for the first time in five seasons.

He was one of the best point guards in the league statistically, finishing the season ranked first in the league in total assists (721), sixth in total steals (149) and 13th in field goals made (579).

Wall made his first All-Star appearance last season and started to receive recognition as an elite-level floor general. He showed that he could take over games with his scoring ability, make his teammates better with his playmaking skills and lock down the opposition with his perimeter defense.

The Wizards were able to upset the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs and steal two games from the Indiana Pacers in the Conference Semifinals, and Wall was a big reason for the team’s success.

Wall still has room to improve, but that’s expected since he’s only 23 years old. He needs to do a better job protecting the ball, as he averaged 3.6 turnovers per game last year. That number must go down, and it should as Wall has said that the game is slowing down for him and he’s more in control as a floor general these days. Wall is one of the fastest and most athletic guards in the NBA, and he’s still learning how to use that to his advantage without being reckless and out of control.

Also, he must continue to work on his three-point shot. He made significant progress from beyond the arc last season, hitting a career-high 35.1 percent of his three-point attempts after shooting 29.6 percent in his first NBA season, 7.1 percent in his second season and 26.7 percent in his third season. Wall needs to keep that number up, because the long-range threat certainly helped him elevate his game in 2013-14 since it made him much harder to guard.

Last season was huge for Wall and he made the leap from good player to All-Star, which the Wizards were banking on when they gave him a max contract extension last summer. He proved that he’s worth every penny and he should keep improving as he continues to develop.

Last year, Wall put up numbers very similar to Chris Paul (who averaged 19.1 points, 10.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals for the Los Angeles Clippers). This shows how far Wall has come as a floor general and he’s not even in his prime yet, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Honorable Mention – Players like Bradley Beal, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Andrew Wiggins could eventually develop into superstars, but they’re currently a notch or two below the players listed above and are bigger question marks. These players have a ton of potential and have shown glimpses of brilliance, but it remains to be seen how good they’ll become.

Beal is one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA and the position is relatively weak compared to the past, so it’s possible that he could become one of the league’s elite two-guards at some point in the future.

He’s only 21 years old, so the sky is the limit for Beal and he and John Wall should give Washington one of the league’s best backcourts for years to come. However, whether he’ll emerge as a franchise player or superstar is still up in the air.

Beal did play very well during the Wizards’ postseason run last year, elevating his game and averaging 19.2 points, five rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.6 steals. However, it’s still too early to put him on the same level as the above players and label him a superstar-to-be.

Antetokounmpo is obviously still very raw and his stats don’t jump off of the page. He averaged just 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, .8 blocks and .8 steals as a rookie, partially because he was adjusting to the NBA competition and partially because he only played 24.6 minutes a night. It seems that head coach Jason Kidd plans to use Antetokounmpo much more and increase his role during the 2014-15 season, so Milwaukee’s main one-two punch will be Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker this year (and for many years to come, if all goes as planned).

During the Las Vegas Summer League, Antetokounmpo was a monster. He has grown to 6’11, but that didn’t stop him from playing point guard for the Bucks – something that Kidd is experimenting with and plans to continue. Antetokounmpo averaged 17 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, one steal and one block in Vegas, and he made his presence felt all over the court. He’s a matchup nightmare since he’s ridiculously tall, long and skilled.

Giannis has an incredible work ethic and he has the potential to be one of the best two-way players in the game. Keep in mind that just two years ago Antetokounmpo was in Greece playing against very weak competition and receiving little guidance. Earlier this year, an NBA executive told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that in Greece Antetokounmpo was essentially playing at the “YMCA level, playing against 35- and 40-year-old guys a lot of days.” It’s why he slipped to No. 15 in the 2013 NBA Draft, and it makes the fact that he held his own against the best players in the world at 19 years old even more impressive. Antetokounmpo has all of the physical tools to be great. The question is, will he realize his full potential and be able to make the leap to stardom?

Wiggins has been labeled a potential superstar since he was in high school. He was the most hyped up prep player since LeBron James, and he wowed talent evaluators with his amazing athleticism and ability to make an impact on both ends of the floor.

In his lone collegiate season at Kansas, he showed flashes of greatness and averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and one block in 35 games. However, he was inconsistent and didn’t always dominate the competition as expected. He could have 41 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four blocks against West Virginia one night and then four games later have just four points and four rebounds in Kansas’ opening round NCAA Tournament loss to Stanford.

With that said, there’s no doubt that Wiggins has a ton of upside and he played well enough to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. It looks like Wiggins will be dealt from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Minnesota Timberwolves later this month, but that actually may help him become a star. In Minnesota, he’ll have the chance to emerge as the face of the franchise, whereas he would’ve been a role player in Cleveland as he deferred to James, Irving and Love. Wiggins will have every opportunity to succeed and put up huge numbers with the Timberwolves.

However, it’s far too early to consider him a future superstar just yet, as he hasn’t played a single minute of NBA basketball. The potential is there, but he has a lot of developing to do before he is on the same level as the five players mentioned on this list.

Catching Up With Kyle Lowry

Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler chatted with Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry recently at the 2014 adidas Nations. Lowry talked about his offseason, how the Raptors can build on last year’s success and much more in this exclusive video interview:


 

 

 

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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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