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The Shop: Porzingis, Posers & Posters

Jabari Davis and Lang Greene are joined by BBallBreakdown’s James Holas for this week’s barbershop conversation.

Jabari Davis

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Alright folks, thanks for joining us back in The ‘Shop for another discussion. Allow us to welcome in James Holas, a writer, podcaster and analyst for BBALLBreakdown, Blazers Edge and PressBasketball.com.

Jabari: Thanks for joining us today, James. Having finally gotten the chance to see and appreciate what Kristaps Porzingis looks like in person, I think it’s necessary to start things off with him. I’ve kept tabs on his progress and watched a quarter or half here and there, but last Sunday night was really something else. Not to be a prisoner of the moment, because I would like to see D’Angelo Russell at full strength when they square off at MSG on February 6, but Porzingis was the best player on the court (26 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks) at Staples Center for at least that night.

The Knicks are rolling right now (11-5 in their last 15), Porzingis is continuing to develop and impress, Derrick Rose is back in the mix and looking as good as he’s looked in years, Carmelo Anthony is at least buying into positive run they’re on… so why is Uncle Phil ruffling feathers and seemingly poking the bear with his readdressing of previous comments at LeBron, while seemingly taking jabs at Carmelo and his offense?

James: Man, I’m just glad I got invited to the big boy’s table today! First of all, let’s pump the brakes on New York “rolling.” Looking inside the numbers gives us a different perspective. Wins are wins and 11-5 looks dandy, but over the last 15 games, the Knickerbockers sit at a decent ninth in offensive rating, but a gross 24th in defensive rating, per NBA.com. Their -1.6 net rating over that span would be 18th in the league for the season. Good wins over the likes of Detroit and Charlotte are diminished by losses to the woeful Wiz and lowly Suns. They haven’t exactly faced a Murderer’s Row: beating up on the Timberwolves (27th in defensive rating the last 15 games) and this iteration of the Hawks (26th in offensive rating over this same 15-game span) ain’t “rolling.”

Now, on to Phil Jackson. The Zen Master is adding another layer of drama to the always tumultuous Knicks saga. The franchise is like a VH1 celebrity; even when things are going well, they somehow have to get themselves in the headlines for some nonsense. Phil Jackson has a long history of stirring the pot. It’s mind boggling- the guy JUST SAID how wrong he was for speaking on other teams’ players, but he can’t help himself.

Phil is known as a Machiavellian manipulator, a strategist who’ll needle even his own guys to gain an advantage. But in the case of LeBron, the Cavs are miles ahead of the Knicks; there’s no advantage to poking at the King unless he thinks getting his squad drubbed by 32 at the Garden could be some sadistic motivation for NY. The only answer I have for why Phil is stirring the pot is “Because he’s Phil.”

Lang: My man J-Holla is in the building. We’ve both been at this for a minute now, but this is the first I believe we’re linking on a project – directly. Welcome and respect to you my brother.

Let’s get to it. Kristaps Porzingis, in my opinion, has a higher career trajectory than D’Angelo Russell at this point; a seven-foot guy pulling off crossover pull-up jumpers from outside the three-point line? Check. Three-point range. Check. Handles? Check. Ability to grab 15+ boards on any given night? Check. He is plain ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I think Russell has high growth potential, as I’ve said countless times, but despite being more gifted than Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams or Nick Young he hasn’t done much to truly separate himself from them this season. This would be equivalent to Porzingis splitting time with Lance Thomas in New York. We’ll see if D’Angelo can change my mind when the Lakers invade MSG.

James nailed Phil Jackson. I just can’t get behind Phil’s statements on LeBron’s crew. The comments had too many undertones from an ugly era in our nation’s history for my taste. But let me add this about his needling of Carmelo Anthony. I absolutely love it. The Knicks haven’t beaten many elite teams and his meddling is just a way to ensure guys are staying humble. Phil is needling Carmelo because he wants his franchise player to change his game for two reasons:

1. To start compensating for the effects of Father Time because, make no mistake, Carmelo has lost a bit of zip off his fastball.

2. He understands the Knicks’ future truly rests on the shoulders of Porzingis. Period. By the time the Knicks are title contenders, if it happens, Carmelo will be the face of the franchise, but Porzingis will be the actual workhorse.

Yes, Phil is setting up the Knicks to be destroyed by the Cavs in a potential playoff series. But I also think he’s trying to light a fire under Carmelo, who has typically bought his “can” when going head to head versus Bron-Bron.

Jabari: I can’t even lie, while I have absolutely NO dog in the fight, part of me is pulling for the Knicks to somehow stay healthy enough to make a deep run so that we can get some type of showdown in order to make things a bit more interesting come April and May. Speaking of fun matchups, how good did that come-from-behind win by Minnesota on the road in Chicago feel to Tom Thibodeau? Not just because it must be nice to get a win your first time back into a building as a coach after being fired 16 months earlier, but also because his team really needed to start finding a way to win ball games in general.

Was this all about winning one in a big moment for your coach, or do you guys think a game like that can be the springboard this young group has needed in order to get going?

James: If this was a CBS special I’d say it was both, and the Wolves would rip off a crazy win streak and all would be well in Minnesota. But I’m gonna be the Darryl Downer by pointing out how the Timber Pups threw up on their shoes the very next game by letting the Rockets erase a 12-point lead in a little over two minutes to hang an L on them.

Reality is, the Bulls aren’t very good. Since the nice 8-4 start, Chicago is 5-9 in its last 14. If you’re a believer in net rating (the difference between a team’s offensive rating and defensive rating) being a bellwether of team performance, well, Chi-Town’s -3.6 net rating is good (bad?) for 20th in the league in that 14-game span.

And there’s no magic formula that will lower Thibs’ blood pressure over these Wolves; young teams take time. Not days or months, but teams need years to gel and learn. I was swimming against the grain all summer about Minnesota; I respect Thibs as a coach, but he stepped into a fully formed playoff team in his start with Chicago, this Wolves team still is learning to totter around and you can’t expect them to run with the big dogs yet.

So yeah, I’m sure nabbing a win over Chicago might have earned a smirk from Coach Thibs and some strutting in the Wolves locker room, but now it’s back to the grind for Minnesota

Lang: After years of talking to guys around the league, one narrative holds true and that’s how much trust is gained when guys overcome adversity together. Everyone can high five, wave towels and make dance moves together when you’re winning by 20 points a night, but it’s when you have to dig deep, go into that dark place and overcome adversity when you look at the guys next to you in the foxhole and start believing in them. I’m not sure the Chicago game does it alone, but it is games like those where guys typically gain that belief, that trust and that needed cohesion to get to the next level.

Jabari: Fair enough, and I tend to agree with each of your points on the Wolves, although I will openly acknowledge that my prediction of them winning more games than OKC is looking dumber and dumber with each passing week, so, perhaps, I was doing a bit of wishful thinking!

Alright, just a couple more topics before we get out of here for the day. Let me get your “They LIED to us” leaders in the paint at this point. So far, I have the Pacers (is the George Hill for Jeff Teague swap the actual culprit?), Blazers (with the Western Conference being a bit down so far to start the year, their slippage is even more suspect), Wizards (are they turning it around or setting their fans up for further heartbreak?) and Minnesota (we’ve covered this). Which teams do you guys have and in what order?

Lang: You know who lied to me, man? The Miami HEAT. They’re not on your list, but I have to include them here. When you turn your nose up at TWO future Hall of Famers, you better believe in what you’re doing. I get Chris Bosh’s health situation, but letting Dwyane Wade walk in free agency over a couple lousy million dollars is haunting the team. I love Pat Riley and the “mafia” he’s built down on South Beach over the years. He consistently gets mentally tough and high-character guys – dudes willing to leave it all on the court, dudes who put it all on the line. But Riley haggled D-Wade over a few million then turned around and matched the Brooklyn Nets’ $50 million offer sheet on Tyler Johnson.

Factor in Wade’s departure with Bosh’s absence due to his health and it elevated Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside into leading role positions neither were equipped to handle – as of now. Whiteside has the potential to be a franchise-leading man, but he’s still pretty green … playing behind Bosh and Wade provides air cover during tough times.

Remember, this team was one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals last season. One. Game. Away. Now they’re headed to the lottery with a first class ticket.

James: Can we get the Orlando in there too? Toss big bills at Bismack Biyombo, bring in Serge Ibaka, still scraping the bottom of the barrel.

But from this list, I think the Pacers are at the top, at least for me. I have a lot of faith in Paul George’s talents, and while I knew that essentially swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague was a downgrade, I underestimated how much Hill’s defensive chops masked Monta Ellis’ ineptitude.

After that, it’s Portland; this is my “I told y’all” moment. The Blazers are a victim of their own moderate success last season, and their front office made the egregious mistake of actually wanting Evan Turner.

Ah, the Wizards. I figured John Wall’s pride, the signing of “boards & blocks” Ian Mahinmi and the more modern thinking of head coach Scott Brooks would elevate Washington back into the Eastern Conference’s upper-middle class. They’ve been a little better of late, but everything I listed doesn’t matter if your guys can barely stand to be on the court together, and your bench stinks.

And lastly, the Wolves are another of my “told ya” teams. I spent the summer shaking my head at “Minny should win 50” talk.

And let’s throw the Bulls, Lakers and Knicks in the mix for their fraudulent first couple of weeks; they had their fan bases all amped up like they were, y’know, GOOD.

Jabari: Ha! Only thing about the Lakers is while they had the unrealistic folks thinking they would automatically jump into being “back” after, like, 20 games, an overwhelming majority of the folks I interact with on Twitter understood it wasn’t going to be as simple as the old “easy button” when it comes to learning how to win. You simply don’t go from zero to 100, no matter what the song says.

Last one and it involves the dunk contest. Accepting the fact that it wouldn’t happen because of liability and injury concerns, but I’ve argued for a minute that adding a dude beneath the rim to contest the dunk for one attempt per round would take it up another level. You’d get all the stylistic dunks and all that, but then you’d also have the opportunity for some ridiculous poster shots similar to the ones recently given to each of the Lopez brothers by Jabari Parker and Larry Nance Jr.

I want a field of Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine, Larry Nance Jr. and Terrence Ross. Big men contesting options are Rudy Gobert (because I equally enjoy him swatting cats and getting dunked on) and Hassan Whiteside (because I think he’d legit take it seriously). Tell me why it’s a crazy idea.

Lang: Jabari, you’ve been on that West Coast moonshine I see. Ha. I like the originality of the concept, but in this social media era, there’s no way these guys are going to risk their respective reputations by getting dunked on during All-Star weekend. Could you imagine the memes? Could you imagine the Vines? Could you imagine the Twitter mentions? Could you imagine the Facebook shares? The posters, the YouTube highlight packages? I could go on and on. Why risk it? Why risk getting 720’d by Zach LaVine? The fans wouldn’t want Whiteside to be successful and actually get a clean block. I can’t see it.

But what I can see …

I’ve been saying this for some time now. I would love to see old school versus new school. Take the rookies and have them go against some of the recently retired guys. I’m talking about some of the players who can still move, but can no longer put together an 82-game season. Or, splice some of the old school guys with the rookies/sophomores. Could you imagine Allen Iverson running the break with Karl-Anthony Towns? But old school versus new school is probably the better option. Some old school who may still be able to get a few buckets: Derek Fisher, Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis, Danny Granger, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kenyon Martin and Jason Richardson immediately come to mind.

James: I legitimately laughed out loud at this dunk idea; me and my boys always bring up how dope it would be if they added a defender to the dunk contest.

But Jabari, why is it a bad idea? YOU’RE TRYNA GET SOMEONE KILLED. It’s one thing to get caught slippin’ in-game: 10 men on the court, the crowd “OOOOHs,” but the game keeps rolling.

In a dunk contest? No seven-foot NBA player worth his contract is gonna stand there, one-on-one, with the world watching and Shaq, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley waiting to clown, and let Zach LaVine embarrass them! You might see the first Belly-to-Belly Suplex during an All Star event, the big men would go to any means necessary to shut a dunk down.

Jabari: Lang, you need to come out here more often, because it AIN’T the ‘shine that we’re known for out here! Like I said, I know it won’t happen…but I’d certainly be ALL about it if they did. Just like I want them to bring back the ‘old timer’s game’ they’ve had variations of. But that’s another conversation for another week. We definitely appreciate James (@jholashoops) for joining us this week. I can assure you this won’t be his last time joining the discussion.

As always, you can tweet your thoughts to Jabari (@JabariDavisNBA) and Lang (@LangGreene).

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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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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