OKC team to buy Tulsa 66ers of D-League

The National Basketball Association announced today that the Professional Basketball Club, LLC, owner of the Oklahoma City NBA franchise, has reached an agreement in principle to purchase the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Development League from Southwest Basketball, LLC. Oklahoma City becomes the third NBA team to purchase an NBA D-League affiliate, joining the Los Angeles Lakers (L.A. D-Fenders) and the San Antonio Spurs (Austin Toros) as sole owners of their affiliates.

“As owners of the Tulsa 66ers, we will be able to oversee the team’s business operations and provide a valuable developmental vehicle for some of our young players,” said Clay Bennett, chairman of Professional Basketball Club, LLC.  “We have received tremendous support from Tulsa for our NBA team in Oklahoma City and we are excited to be a part of the NBA D-League in the Tulsa area. It’s going to be a great partnership.”

Oklahoma City will oversee all aspects of the organization, including implementing the offensive and defensive systems the 66ers run in practices and games, and hiring all business and basketball staff. Oklahoma City will also have exclusive rights to assign its players with one or two years of NBA experience to the 66ers. The 66ers will play their home games in the new SpiritBank Event Center in Bixby, OK.

“As the third NBA team in as many years to purchase its own NBA D-League team, Oklahoma City and Clay Bennett are demonstrating the value the NBA D-League is creating for fans and NBA teams alike,” said NBA D-League President Dan Reed.  “Fans and families in Tulsa will enjoy the affordable, NBA-caliber entertainment experience resulting from the deep integration with a nearby NBA team, while Oklahoma City will benefit greatly from the ability to closely manage its top prospects’ development with the 66ers.”

The 66ers saw meaningful contributions from NBA-assigned players Nick Fazekas (Dallas Mavericks) and Ramon Sessions (Milwaukee Bucks) last season. Following his time with the 66ers, Sessions became the first player with NBA D-League experience to earn an NBA monthly award when he was named April’s T-Mobile Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month. Head coach Joey Meyer, who is the winningest coach in NBA D-League history with 175 regular season wins, guided the 66ers to a 26-24 record during the 2007-08 season.

Prior to moving to Tulsa, the 66ers were known as the Asheville Altitude, one of the founding NBA D-League teams which began play in 2001.  As the Altitude, the club won NBA D-League Championships in 2004 and 2005.

“We are excited to have an exclusive affiliation with our NBA D-League team in Tulsa.  It provides a unique and valuable opportunity to have consistency and synergy in how we develop some of our young players, coaches, and staff,” said Sam Presti, general manager for the Oklahoma City NBA team. “Its close proximity will also provide us great convenience and flexibility.”

The acquisition of the 66ers by the Professional Basketball Club, LLC signals another success on the heels of the three-year old NBA/D-League assignment system.  Since the inception of the NBA/D-League assignment system prior to the 2005-06 season, NBA teams have assigned 84 players a total of 130 times, including 19 NBA teams assigning 31 players to D-League rosters during the 2007-08 season.

Additionally, 30 percent of the 2007 NBA Draft class has spent time in the NBA D-League, including first round selections, Daequan Cook (21st overall), Morris Almond (25th overall), Aaron Brooks (26th overall) and Alando Tucker (29th overall), who were assigned to their respective team’s D-League affiliate, while a total of 18 players earned Gatorade Call-ups from 11 NBA teams last year.

Bobcats re-sign Emeka Okafor

Charlotte Bobcats General Manager Rod Higgins today announced that the team has re-signed restricted free agent forward/center Emeka Okafor to a multi-year deal.  Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“It was important for us to get a deal done,” Higgins said. “Securing Emeka demonstrates that Bob Johnson and the rest of our ownership group are committed to building a winning franchise in Charlotte. Any time you have a player who consistently ranks among the NBA’s best in rebounding and shot blocking, you want to keep a guy like that around.”

The second overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, Okafor earned 2004-05 NBA Rookie of the Year honors, becoming just the third player from an expansion team to win the award.  The 6-10 Okafor has played in 248 games over four seasons with the Bobcats, averaging 14.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots.

“This is a great opportunity for me to continue my NBA career with the franchise that selected me back in 2004,” Okafor said. “The Bobcats and the entire Charlotte community embraced me from day one, and it’s exciting to enter this season with a Hall of Fame coach and teammates who are committed to winning.”

Okafor is one of only four NBA players to average a double-double in each of the last four seasons, along with Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.  He is the Bobcats all-time leader in rebounds, blocked shots and double-doubles, and ranks second in scoring, field goal percentage and minutes played.  Okafor will enter the 2008-09 season with active franchise-record streaks of 93 consecutive games played and 92 consecutive games started.

Okafor averaged 13.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots during the 2007-08 season, while shooting a career-high .535 from the field and playing all 82 games for the first time in his career.  Okafor ranked sixth in the NBA in rebounding, tied for 10th in both blocked shots and double-doubles and 12th in field goal percentage.  He was one of 13 players in the NBA to average a double-double for the season.

In 2006-07, Okafor averaged 14.4 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks and was the only player in the NBA to rank in the top 10 in rebounds, blocked shots and double-doubles.  He blocked a career-high and franchise-record 10 shots on January 12, 2007, against the Knicks, setting a Madison Square Garden record and tying the NBA record of eight blocked shots in a half.  Okafor averaged 12.9 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in an injury-shortened 2005-06 season.  Despite playing in just 26 games due to an ankle injury, he still ranked second on the team with 16 double-doubles.

After becoming the first draft pick in Bobcats history, Okafor averaged 15.1 points and 10.9 rebounds in 2004-05, leading all rookies in both categories. One of 11 NBA players to average a double-double for the season, he ranked third in the league in offensive rebounds, fourth in rebounds and double-doubles and 14th in blocks.  Okafor was a three-time winner of the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award en route to Rookie of the Year honors.

Timberwolves hire Dean Cooper as assistant coach

The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced the team has hired Dean Cooper as an assistant coach. Cooper will join assistant coaches Jerry Sichting, J.B. Bickerstaff, Ed Pinckney and Brent Haskins on Randy Wittman’s staff. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“I’m really looking forward to joining Randy’s staff and working with a team that I think is definitely on the rise,” Cooper said. “Being in the league nine years, I’ve always thought highly of the Wolves organization and I’m excited to be a part of what they’re trying to build.”

Cooper joins the Wolves after spending the previous nine seasons with the Houston Rockets, most recently in the role of Vice President of Player Personnel. His responsibilities included the evaluation of draft prospects, free agents and potential trade acquisitions, and the coordination of the team’s national and international scouting.

Cooper began his NBA career as Houston’s video coordinator/scout in 1999, working two seasons in that capacity before being elevated to assistant coach on Rudy Tomjanovich’s staff for the following two seasons. After serving as an NBA personnel scout for the Rockets in 2003-04, he was promoted to Director of Scouting for the following three seasons before transitioning into his most recent role.

“In his time with the Rockets, Dean has proven himself to be a great basketball mind and an extremely hard worker,” Wittman said. “He’s very knowledgeable and passionate about the game and I’m excited to have him on my staff moving forward.”

A native of Belding, Mich., Cooper attended Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich. Before joining the Rockets, Cooper spent four years coaching in the collegiate ranks. He worked two seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater before taking a similar position with the University of Buffalo. Cooper began his coaching career at the high school level, spending five seasons at Belding High School and three years at Caledonia High School. In the offseason, Cooper is an active participant in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program, the league’s global basketball outreach platform that promotes leadership, education, sportsmanship and healthy living around the world.

Bulls re-sign Luol Deng

The Chicago Bulls announced today that the team has re-signed forward Luol Deng to a multi-year extension. Per team policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed.

“Signing Luol has always been a priority for this organization and we have always felt that he was a big part of our future.  We are very happy that Luol will now be with us long term as we continue to grow as an organization,” said Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson.

Last season, Deng (6-9, 220) averaged 17.0 ppg (second on the team), 6.4 rpg and 2.5 apg in 33.8 mpg, while shooting .479 from the floor, including a career-best .364 from three-point range, and .770 from the free throw line.  Set to begin his fifth season in the NBA, the 23-year-old Deng holds career averages of 15.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.96 spg, 33.3 mpg and shooting averages of .480 from the field and .763 from the line.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of this organization for the long term.  Chicago is where I have always wanted to be,” said Deng.  “I’m looking forward to getting back on the court with my teammates and helping this team get back to the playoffs.”

Originally drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the first round (seventh overall) of NBA Draft 2004, the Bulls acquired Deng’s draft rights in a draft-night deal for a future conditional first-round draft pick, the draft rights to Jackson Vroman (31st overall pick in NBA Draft 2004) and cash considerations.

Rumors Talk: On Louis Williams

Lou Williams impressed me a lot last season. I’m still not sure if he’s worthy of being a full-season, full-time starting point guard, but at the very least he’s a terrific backup. In a season or two he’ll probably be ready to start for 5 or 10 of the league’s teams, which would have been crazy to suggest a mere year ago. The kid just flat-out works hard, and he’s more skilled than many thought.

Williams would make a great addition to the Cavs and has more upside than Daniel Gibson, who remains a shooter that isn’t a true floor leader. Gibson, whose nickname “Boobie” still just seems wrong, a better, younger Damon Jones. I like Gibson, but as a backup, not a starter. Williams, to me, should keep emerging and become someone’s starter.

Rumors Talk: On Rockets getting Artest

I’m picturing the Rockets lineup now of Rafer Alston, Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest, Luis Scola and Yao Ming and love it. That team is worth watching, and on paper, if everything goes according to plan they’re as good as anyone in the West. Of course, what’s on paper doesn’t always translate to reality. I think at worst the team stays as good as they were last year, minus that Earth-shattering 823923-game winning streak, much of which came while Yao Ming was out injured.

Like last year, the West is a mix of terrific teams without a clear favorite. I guess the Lakers have to be considered the best, especially since they played well last season, reached the Finals, and get to enjoy a (presumably) healthy Andrew Bynum, who should keep improving. I’m still not sure about their rotation, however. Should Lamar Odom play small forward, alongside Pau Gasol and Bynum? Yes, if the team wants their best players on the court at all times.

Anyway, as for the Rockets, aside from making lots of wacky statements and seeming a bit nutty off the court, I think Artest knows how to be a winner and is basketball-smart enough to fit in well with what the Rockets do, especially since he trusts coach Rick Adelman.

The best of the West remains a mix of teams, but the Rockets definitely improve a bit with this deal.

Weapons charge against Chris Wilcox dropped

The Fayetteville Observer reports: A concealed weapon charge against NBA player Chris Wilcox was dropped Wednesday in Bladen County Superior Court, according the Bladen County Clerk of Superior Court Office. An aiding and abetting of DWI charge was also dropped. Wilcox was represented in court by Tabor City lawyer Dennis Worley. Wilcox did not attend the court proceedings, said a court official. Worley and Assistant District Attorney Scott Ussery, who handled the case for the District Attorney’s Office, could not be reached for comment.

Dave Bing may run for mayor of Detroit

The AP reports: Businessman and former NBA great Dave Bing says he’s seriously considering running for mayor of Detroit because of scandals surrounding the incumbent and other problems in the city where he played for most of his Hall-of-Fame career. Bing said Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s legal and image troubles, a federal probe into a sludge recycling contract and Detroit’s underachieving public schools, are hampering the financially strapped city’s ability to attract business, investment and people. Reports of a physical confrontation last week involving Kilpatrick and a sheriff’s deputy who was trying to serve a subpoena on a mayoral ally only adds to Detroit’s growing embarrassment, Bing said. State police are investigating the incident.

Lebron donates cash to Obama

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports: LeBron  James has lavished a little more than 0.1 percent of his 2008-09 salary of $14.4 million on the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, according to Federal Election Commission records. In June, the Cavaliers star donated $20,000 to the Democratic White House Victory Fund, a joint committee set up by Obama and the Democratic Party for the presidential race. Supporting a political candidate is a risky move for an athlete who has a $100 million contract with Nike, and depends on shoe sales for part of his income. But in this case it’s not foolish, according to one sports marketing expert.

Hawks sign Randolph Morris

The Atlanta Hawks have signed free agent center Randolph Morris to a contract, it was announced today by General Manager Rick Sund.  Per team policy, terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

“Randolph’s signing gives us additional size and depth along the frontline, with Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia,” said Sund.  “He has the opportunity to grow as a player and we look forward to assisting with his future development as an NBA player.”

Morris, a 6-11, 260-pound big man from Atlanta’s Landmark Christian High School, saw limited action in two NBA seasons with the New York Knicks after entering the league as a free agent from Kentucky in 2005.  In 23 career games in New York, he averaged 2.6 points and 2.0 rebounds in 10 minutes of action.  He played in 18 contests a year ago (with two starts) and recorded 3.1 ppg and 2.1 rpg (.362 FG%).  He tallied career highs of eight points in two games in 2007-08, once against the Hawks on March 16.

“We can certainly use a player like Randolph, whose addition will give us much need depth at the center position,” said Woodson.  “We like what we saw of him during our summer league workouts, and we believe he will continue to develop his skills to become a talented player in our league.”

Prior to becoming the first player in NBA history to go from the NCAA tournament to the NBA in the same week – a five-day span – Morris declared his eligibility for the 2005 NBA Draft following his freshman year at Kentucky, but did not sign with an agent.  After he went undrafted and decided to attempt a return to Kentucky, the NCAA forced him to sit out the first 14 games of his sophomore season (2005-06).

At the same time, the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibited him from re-entering the Draft, giving Morris free agent status throughout his 2006-07 (junior) season with the Wildcats.  As a collegian, he finished with 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds, and shot .578 (FGs) over 23.6 minutes in 89 games (with 79 starts) in three seasons for Tubby Smith, as Kentucky went to the NCAA Tournament in each of his three years.  His best campaign came in that final season when he recorded career-highs of 16.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting .592 in 34 games.

Named to the 2004 McDonald’s All-America Team after a standout senior season at Landmark Christian HS in Atlanta, Morris was an AAU teammate of current Hawks forward Josh Smith and Orlando center Dwight Howard on the Atlanta Celtics squad that won the 2003 title.  He was born January 2, 1986 in Houston, TX.