Quicken Loans Arena is rocking.
It’s the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers home opener, which means it’s the first time the folks in Cleveland can fully embrace LeBron James’ return to the city.
The Cavs jump out to early double-digit lead and the fans inside “The Q” are going crazy, giddy with hope and excitement.
With one minute and 30 seconds remaining in the first quarter, unheralded rookie Travis Wear checks into the game to replace franchise cornerstone Carmelo Anthony.
Wear’s defensive assignment? A guy named LeBron James.
Wear holds his own, as the Knicks end up spoiling James’ homecoming party by beating the Cavs. Wear finishes with two points, two rebounds and two assists in 13 minutes. More impressively, he limits James to 0-for-4 shooting from the field when he is LeBron’s primary defender.
Considering the predicament Wear found himself in a couple of months ago – or even just a couple of weeks ago – securing a spot on an NBA roster seemed implausible. Playing important minutes in an NBA game and guarding James would have been nothing more than a pipe dream until recently.
The road to the NBA wasn’t supposed to be this rocky for Wear.
He was a five-star recruit in high school. He was selected to compete in the 2009 McDonald’s All-American Game his senior year, playing alongside future NBA stars such as DeMarcus Cousins, Lance Stephenson and Derrick Favors. Wear accepted a scholarship to University of North Carolina (playing alongside his twin brother, David), but transferred to UCLA after an unfulfilling freshman season at UNC. Wear, a California native, played well under coach Ben Howland after arriving in Los Angeles. Wear was the team’s second leading scorer in 2012. However, last season, his final at UCLA, he got off to a slow start. Wear missed the first three games of the 2013-14 campaign after undergoing an appendectomy. He came off the bench in his first six games back under new coach Steve Alford and Wear never seemed to find his rhythm. He finished the year seventh on the team in scoring, averaging 7.2 points and 3.2 rebounds as a senior. It was an inauspicious end to his college career.
As a result, Wear wasn’t even invited to the NBA’s Draft Combine, denying him a valuable chance to prove his worth to the assembled scouts and executives.
Undaunted, Wear continued to work out relentlessly and was hoping to be selected in the second round of the 2014 draft. Draft night ended without his name being called.
Still, Wear kept the faith.
Last Sunday, prior to the Knicks’ home game against the Charlotte Hornets, Wear thought about his arduous and unlikely journey from undrafted afterthought to NBA player.
When asked about his thought process before and after the draft, he admits he was disappointed, but he believed it all happened for a reason.
“Yeah, we thought the (the second round) was a possibility for sure and that’s what I was hoping for,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “Obviously that didn’t happen, but I mean I honestly wouldn’t change anything.”
Wear also acknowledges that some people advised him to seek employment overseas, but he remained committed to his NBA dream.
“Yeah, overseas was definitely an option, but I thought I could play here,” Wear said. “I thought I could play in the NBA. I thought my skill set would translate into this league.”
This is the crux of why Wear truly felt confident he could overcome the immense odds. Plenty of players rise to national prominence playing college ball, but flame out in the league. Some guys who put up undeniably impressive numbers in the NCAA, can’t cut it in the NBA. For others, the opposite is true.
“Being bigger and being athletic I thought I’d probably be able to play a little more on the perimeter at this level,” Wear explained. “It’s a little bit more fast-paced game, I thought with my athleticism and the way I shoot the ball, it would be valuable to an organization.”
Still, Wear was keenly aware that he would have to put in a tremendous amount of work (and receive a little bit of luck) just to secure an invite to an NBA training camp, let alone a guaranteed NBA contract.
Fresh off the disappointment of draft night, Wear got on his grind.
“I just showed up in the gym everyday; myself, my brother and our trainer, a guy that’s been training me forever (former University of Arizona star guard) Miles Simon,” Wear said. “He knew the player I was. I knew the player I was. I knew if I kept my head down and kept working that someone was going to see how good I am, and what I could do and how my skill set could benefit a team at this level.”
Wear was eventually invited to play for the Atlanta Hawks in the Las Vegas Summer League. However, after just one game with Atlanta, Wear’s agent informed him that another team was interested in his services. That team was the New York Knickerbockers. Wear and his agent decided to immediately join the Knicks’ contingent out in Las Vegas.
“I mean, yeah, (the Knicks) showed interest in me through the draft process, and they basically had their eyes open towards me,” Wear said. “It just so happen to work out that I was able to get picked up halfway through summer league. We switched to New York and it’s seemed to all work out since.”
Wear played sparingly in Vegas, averaging just 2.5 points in 5.7 minutes of action over two games.
However, thanks in large part to his hard work and promising play in practice, Wear piqued the interest of the Knicks’ coaching staff. On September 9, the Knicks extended training camp invites to Wear and fellow undrafted free agent Langston Galloway.
Still, it was tough for Wear to be overly optimistic. The NBA is a numbers game, and the Knicks already had 15 players with guaranteed contracts. The odds of Wear securing one of those precious roster spots were still very slim, at best.
Although NBA training camps start in early October, a month prior to opening night, most teams have informal workouts with most of their players in the weeks and months leading up to camp.
This is where Travis Wear stamped his NBA ticket.
New players talented enough to gain entrance into the highest league in the land earn their NBA credentials in a variety of ways. Some star during March Madness and parlay their NCAA excellence into the first or second round of the draft. Other impress at the combine in Chicago. Still others, who may have slipped through the cracks, dominate summer league action in Las Vegas.
For Wear, it was in a mostly empty gym in sleepy Tarrytown, NY where he first truly served notice to his future teammates and himself that he belonged, and actually had a chance to crack the Knicks’ opening night roster.
“When I first got here, and we played open run for a couple weeks, some of the things I was doing on the court, I just thought I was playing really well,” Wear said. “I thought, ‘I think it’s going to be a stretch right now, but I’m giving myself a chance. I’ll give myself a chance just by showing up and playing well and working hard and doing what I’m supposed to do.’ After a couple weeks I definitely thought that it was a possibility.”
When asked if there was a specific moment, a play, or one particular day that changed the odds from highly improbable to possible, Wear explains that it was more an accumulation of progressively positive plays and days over a number of weeks.
“When I first showed up and we were playing pick-up, there were some days where I played very well, and I would call back home, and be like ‘You know what, I played very well today…’, and they were just telling me to keep doing that, give yourself an opportunity, a chance,” Wear said. “Again, I was just taking everything day-by-day honestly. I don’t look too far ahead, I don’t think about the past, I just kind of stay in the present.”
When he finally got confirmation he had made the roster (the Knicks ended up trading away swingman Travis Outlaw to clear a roster spot), Wear felt a jumbled combination of excitement and relief, but quickly adjusted his mentality to begin preparing himself for the next task at hand: proving he deserved his roster spot and that he could help his new team right away.
Feeling privileged to have the opportunity to showcase the skill-set that had impressed the Knicks’ coaching staff, Wear made his NBA debut at Madison Square Garden, playing a few minutes in New York’s home opener versus Chicago. But his most significant playing time of the season came the next night in Cleveland.
Surprisingly to some, Wear seemed unfazed by the bright lights and the daunting task of guarding the greatest player on earth.
“Playing at this level, you want to come in with the correct mindset that you belong,” Wear said. “So I sit on the bench every game and just evaluate matchups. I’m expecting to go in, but if I don’t get in, I’m thankful to be here at the same time. So it definitely is a little bit eye opening but at the same time you take it as, it’s just competition. New York vs. Cleveland, New York vs. Chicago, that’s all it is, you’re just trying to win.”
Still, entering the league as a rookie and being matched up against the players you had only seen on TV is obviously an adjustment. Asked if there was one player that he was most looking forward to sharing an NBA court with, Wear responded: “Honestly, if you would have asked me that question a week ago, I would have said LeBron James. After having that happen already, you see a new guy every night that you’re like, ‘Oh wow, we get to play against him tonight!’ So every night is basically just so exciting and so fun.”
The Dallas Mavericks game is another date Wear will have circled on his calendar.
“I used to be a big Dirk (Nowitzki) fan when I was little,” Wear said. “You know, I haven’t even seen him in person, and I’d like to watch him play in person, and hopefully, at some point, guard him. And growing up in LA, I can’t wait to play the Lakers and the Clippers.”
Obviously, Wear is not content to just stick around and eat up a roster spot. His objective is to continue improving and finding ways to help the Knicks win games. In order to do that, Wear fully understands he has to make significant strides on the defensive end of the floor.
“I think that offensively I have a skill set to be at this level; obviously there’s stuff that I need to refine, and things like that, but defensively it’s an adjustment,” Wear said. “Guys at this level are so much bigger, stronger and faster, that you’re going to have to work to play your angles a little bit better, and adjust to the physicality, adjust to the arm bars. On the perimeter you can’t use your hands as much, so just adjusting to all of that will take time.”
Right now, the toughest off-the-court adjustment for this California kid is missing family and friends and also dealing with the blustery winter weather on the East Coast.
“It has been little cold, and winter is gonna get me a little bit, but the transition hasn’t been bad at all,” Wear said. “The hardest thing has been trying to talk to family sometimes because of the time change. But I also have family out here, which has been great. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with them, and it’s been fantastic.”
As he settles into his new role on his new team, Wear still pushes himself to improve on a daily basis, but recognizes how fortunate he is to have traversed a road less traveled and end up in the NBA. As result, the humble rookie has very modest expectations when asked about any individual objectives he hopes to accomplish during his first season in the league.
“I don’t have any personal goals, to tell you the truth,” Wear said. “My goal is probably trying to put on this uniform for every game, honestly; that’s basically the only personal goal I have.”
Considering the odds and obstacles Travis Wear has had to overcome to earn the right to wear that jersey, it’s not surprising to learn he’s determined to keep it on.
NBA Daily: Rich Cho Out As Charlotte Hornets GM
The Charlotte Hornets opted to not move forward with GM Rich Cho and are expected to pursue former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.
The fateful moment for Rich Cho came days after he was hired as GM of the Charlotte Hornets in June of 2011. With the NBA Draft coming just nine days later, Cho started work on a three-team trade that would land Charlotte a second top-10 pick to pair with its own ninth pick, which was used to draft franchise cornerstone Kemba Walker.
In that draft, Klay Thompson went 11th to the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard 15th to the Pacers. Of the 17 players selected after Bismack Biyombo, who went to the Hornets with the seventh pick, 12 are regular contributors on current NBA rosters. The Orlando Magic are currently outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions with Biyombo on court, a rotation-worst.
Today, Hornets owner Michael Jordan announced that Cho is out as Charlotte’s GM.
“Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization,” said Jordan in a press release. “We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”
While the failure to obtain Thompson, Leonard or any of the numerous impact players in the 2011 draft will always mar Cho’s record, falling to the second pick in the 2012 NBA Draft will continue to haunt Charlotte. Despite a brutal 7-59 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, which set the record for lowest win percentage in an NBA season (.110), the New Orleans Pelicans won the right to the first overall pick and selected Anthony Davis.
The Hornets selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second pick. Although the 2012 Draft wasn’t nearly as deep as 2011’s, the Hornets still left players like Bradley Beal (third) and Andre Drummond (ninth) on the board. Either would have been an outstanding compliment to Walker, who remains with the team despite rumors of his availability leading up the the trade deadline.
“I feel like I’m going to be in Charlotte,” said Walker at his All-Star media availability. “So that’s where I’m at, that’s where I’m playing. So I never really sat and thought about any other teams.”
Walker made his second All-Star appearance after Kristaps Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL injury.
“I wish K.P. hadn’t gotten hurt,” said Walker. “Everybody hates to see guys go down, especially great players like him. But when I was able to get the call to replace him, it was a really good feeling.”
Another fateful moment in Cho’s tenure came during the 2015 NBA Draft. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Boston Celtics offered the 15th and 16th picks, a future protected first rounder from the Brooklyn Nets and a future first from either the Grizzlies or Timberwolves in exchange for the ninth pick, which Cho used to draft Frank Kaminsky.
“If it was such a no-brainer for us, why would another team want to do it,” Cho asked rhetorically in defense of the Kaminsky selection, according to Lowe.
Years later, it’s evident that the Celtics dodged a bullet when both Charlotte and the Miami HEAT rebuffed its attempts to move up and draft Justise Winslow. The latter has not panned out while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the players Boston subsequently obtained with Brooklyn’s picks, have developed into starters.
Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports reported in the first week of February that Charlotte may target former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for a high-ranking role in the organization. Kupchak, like Jordan, is a former UNC star. Kupchak would join Jordan’s UNC teammate and Charlotte assistant GM Buzz Peterson.
The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA
The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.
When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.
With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.
One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.
Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.
“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”
Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.
When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.
“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”
He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.
Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.
He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.
“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”
While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.
He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.
It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.
“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”
NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger
Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.
Playing For Something Bigger
The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.
By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.
“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.
“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”
Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.
“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.
“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”
Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.
“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”
With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.
“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”
With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.
If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.
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