Scroll down the New York Knicks roster and Toure’ Murry’s name is toward the bottom of the stats. Minutes: 6.9, points: 2.4, games played: 45, starts: 0. He’s logged a total of 10 minutes this month on a team that is currently out of the playoff standings, yet the 24-year-old rookie has an overwhelmingly optimistic outlook on his first season in the league.
“Everybody’s dream is to get to the NBA,” Murry told Basketball Insiders. “It just makes me feel great to say I play in the NBA and (my family and peers are) basically living their dream through me.”
He plays for those who supported him along the way and continue to each game in the pros. He also takes the court for those who always believed he could make it, but never had the chance to see him realize his goals.
The Long Road from Houston
Murry’s route to the pros was not a straight shot. It involved the roadblocks and detours of going undrafted, competing in Summer Leagues, playing overseas, grinding it out in the NBA Development League and earning a (limited) role on the Knicks. The progression of his basketball career had never moved at a rapid pace, though. His development built up over time, overcoming one hurdle after another.
Undersized for most of his teenage years, Murry often stood at his 5’10 reflection in the mirror wondering when he would hit the growth spurt his older brothers had experienced. College recruiters were beginning to eye their next prospects, and the guard believed his game was bigger than his stature. Murry’s family and friends echoed the same encouragement.
“They always told me it was going to happen and continue with my skills and get better,” he said.
Murry grew over three inches the summer heading into his senior year of high school at Klein Forest in Houston, Texas. He caught the attention of the Wichita State staff and committed in the first signing period. One hurdle down, many more to go.
After a four-year collegiate career Murry entered the 2012 NBA draft. Sixty picks came and went, his name was never called. He quickly joined up the Los Angeles Lakers’ Summer League team, refusing to miss a beat.
“It was just one bump in the road,” he said. “It was early in my career and you can’t get discouraged when one thing doesn’t go your way. Anything can happen when you become a professional in sports.”
A Tribute to Those He Lost
Giving up wasn’t in Murry’s pedigree. For every challenge he encountered, he was met with support to chase his passion.
Murry’s paternal grandmother Blanche always believed her grandson could make it all the way. She admired the way he held his own against his brothers in spite of his smaller frame. She sensed his determination and made sure to inquire about each of his games in middle school and high school.
“She always had a lot of passion,” Murry recalled. “She always enjoyed to watch me because I was so short growing up. I had two older brothers and they didn’t make it to the NBA, but she always knew that I was kind of like ‘the chosen one’ because I used to get beat up, I used to always struggle with my brothers, they treated me like the little kid. She was always just a big fan of me and always told me to continue to work hard and one day I would make it.”
Blanche passed away early into Murry’s high school career. The loss left a lasting impression, one that he thinks about each time he steps on to the court.
“It was pretty traumatic in my family because she was so close to everybody,” he said. “It made a big impact because she believed in me when I was young. When the NBA was 12 years later in my life, she always saw it in me.”
Lori Jones wasn’t technically family, but she might as well have been. Murry’s next door neighbor, she became like a second mother to him over the years. He grew up close friends with her son and she would shuttle them to school, cook them dinner, activities that created a bond over time.
A year-and-a-half ago, Jones passed away from a brain aneurism. The sudden loss rocked Murry’s world again, another person near to his heart who was not there for his NBA debut. He had her name embroidered in his sneakers to take her memory with him each time he plays.
“She would tell me all the time, ‘You’re going to be in the NBA and be successful. I can’t wait to see you in the NBA,’” said Murry. “I do it for her because I always wanted her to see me in the NBA and unfortunately she can’t, but I know she’s watching.”
He channels the emotions of the losses into another driving force. Over time, Murry has been able to transform his sadness into his push to succeed.
“A lot of people don’t have that motivation,” he said. “Any motivation I have, I put it in basketball.”
Hard Work Paying Off
Murry took the mindset that he would play wherever he needed to in order to put himself in the best position to achieve his goals. This included stints in Turkey and Israel, as well as a D-League championship last season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He was invited to the Knicks’ Summer League team in July, where he made a positive impression and eventually earned a spot on the regular season roster.
It didn’t take long for both veterans and rookie alike to take notice of his commitment to the pro game.
“He just works hard,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who played on the Summer League squad with Murry. “He’s always in the gym before everybody, two or two-and-a-half hours before practice, four hours before the game. He just has that mentality to just go out there and not worry about what anybody says. He’s just going out there to get better. … He always takes it personally when he’s out there. That’s what drives him and that’s what’s keeping him here.”
Injuries created an opportunity for playing time at points this season and Murry jumped at the moments. Raymond Felton was impressed by his focus when he was in the game, and even when he wasn’t.
“He’s a kid I feel like has a bright future,” Felton said. “He’s had a chance to play in some big games this year when I was out, Pablo (Prigioni) was out, so he’s going to be alright. I like his game. He’s really starting to pick up on the NBA style. I think he will (stick in the NBA) for sure because he works hard. He comes in every morning, every day, puts in that time. He’s going to be okay, I like him.”
Still Miles to Go
While it was a lifelong dream, Murry refers to playing in the NBA as his job — one that he doesn’t want to lose. He makes it a point to “stay on his Ps and Qs” and set a positive example for others.
Establishing his role in the league will take time and hard work, both of which he is eager to commit. For all the people who believed in the undersized kid from Houston, including those whose memory he plays for, his journey in the NBA is only beginning.
“It’s kind of like a real story when I look back on it,” Murry reflected. “It just shows you never give up, never get sidetracked because there’s a lot of things that can do that, and just know you can do it if you have a strong mental state and always believe in yourself. Even when you’re short, you’re skinny, always believe in yourself.”
Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.
Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.
Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.
That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.
Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.
Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.
“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.
“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”
In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.
What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.
From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.
There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.
So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.
Instead, he did the opposite.
“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.
“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”
Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.
Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.
Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.
Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.
I think not.
Death, taxes and the Spurs.
So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.
Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.
But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.
NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly
Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.
It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.
The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.
“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”
Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.
At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.
“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.
Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.
“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”
Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.
His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.
“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”
“Yep,” Bazemore replied.
“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”
Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.
“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”
With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.
Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.
Covington’s Contract Extension Adds Value On and Off the Court
Robert Covington cashed in for himself while also allowing the Sixers to potentially cash in this summer.
The Philadelphia 76ers are keeping their X-factor in town for the foreseeable future.
Wednesday night, hours before the Sixers were set to tip off against the Los Angeles Lakers, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Covington and Philadelphia were finalizing a contract extension for four-years and $62 million.
But what the Sixers did to preserve their financial flexibility for the future, while still rewarding Covington, was potentially what makes this deal so valuable. In addition to his current $1.57 million salary this season, the Sixers will renegotiate an additional $15 million into Covington’s salary for this year.
As Wojnarowski reported, that chunk of change the Sixers coughed up this season allows them to still have $25 million in salary-cap space next summer. Along with paying a large portion of the deal upfront, the four-year extension Covington will wind up agreeing to pays him around $45 million over the duration, as reported by The Athletic’s Derek Bodner.
For Covington, coming from his undrafted status out of Tennessee State, to being sent down to the D-League after a short stint with the Houston Rockets, to a team-friendly Sam Hinkie special four-year contract with the Sixers back in 2014, now finally culminating in a big payday as one of the NBA’s premier 3-and-D players, is nothing short of an amazing story.
It’s duly noted what Covington brings to the table for the Sixers on the court. After leading the league in deflections last season, along with his ability to guard 1-4 spots on the court, Covington secured votes in the Defensive Player of the Year race. This season, without sacrificing any of his defense (registering the same 105 defensive rating as last season), Covington is experiencing a renaissance on the offensive end.
Along with averaging a career-high 16.5 points per game, Covington is shooting an absurd 49.5 percent from deep on 7.2 attempts per game. Believe it or not, he has made more threes than Stephen Curry and is shooting a higher percentage from beyond the arc—Covington is 50-of-101 from three-point range, while Curry is 47-of-121.
It’s only the second week of November, but that is nonetheless impressive, and a testament to how on-fire Covington has been this season.
Playing along Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and another sharpshooter like J.J. Redick gets Covington open looks. He’s learned to maximize those opportunities.
Now, with his new extension, Covington is just as big of an impact off the court, as well.
By renegotiating his salary for this season, the Sixers are left with enough money to be serious players next summer when some marquee free agents will hit the open market. It was a stroke of genius for the front office, and also a rare occurrence, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks pointed out that a move similar to this has occurred just seven times since 1998.
As reported last season, the Sixers made a significant push to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers at the trade deadline. Part of that package included Covington. Although they love Covington in Philadelphia, they believed giving him up for George would have been worth it. Obviously, that didn’t pan out, but the good news now is that the Sixers will have the cap space to pursue George should he opt for free agency this summer.
It’s been no secret that George would like to test the open waters and find the best fit for himself. Although George is playing alongside the most talented players he’s ever had by his side with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, he is just one of many impact free agents on the market.
Covington’s brilliant extension gives Philadelphia the option to meet with a player like George, and not only offer him the promise of playing with budding stars like Embiid and Simmons, but with quality starters like Covington. And if George isn’t amenable to the possibility, someone else might be.
On a personal level, Covington embodies “the process” in Philadelphia. From his humble beginnings to now being a multi-millionaire whose efforts are being handsomely rewarded, his story is a good one.
Not only for him, but for the Sixers, too.
Yes, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid hold the keys to the Sixers’ championship hopes, but once again, Covington is proving to be the X-factor.
This time, he’s extending his intangibles off the court as well.