Archive for June 4th, 2013

Masai Ujiri is returning to the Raptors as general manager and bringing with him a “passion to win.” He has a lot of work ahead, joining a team that has missed the playoffs for five straight seasons.

Ujiri was introduced Tuesday at Air Canada Centre after his hiring last week. He was an assistant GM with the Raptors for three seasons before leaving for the Denver Nuggets in 2010.

“I love this place,” said Ujiri, the first African-born GM in North America’s four major sports. “I’m pumped. I’m excited. This is a stage that I’ve always wanted in my life.”

Ujiri, who was born in Nigeria, was the NBA executive of the year with the Nuggets. He succeeds Bryan Colangelo, who remains the Raptors’ president in a nonbasketball role.

“It’s going to take patience,” Ujiri said. “It’s going to take will. We’re going to instill passion - a passion to win.”

Reported by the Associated Press

erik spoelstra

Other than being widely known by just the first syllable of their surnames, the coaches who will match wits in these NBA Finals may seem like polar opposites.

Of course, they would probably disagree with that assertion.

Miami’s Erik Spoelstra wears sharp suits and is a stats guy; San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich often skips the tie and would immeasurably prefer to answer questions about wine than anything about himself. Both are intensely private, but even during an NBA Finals loaded with star power - the “Big Three” from Miami, the “Big Three” from San Antonio, a four-time MVP in LeBron James, a four-time champion in Tim Duncan - the coaches will share misery in one way.

To their chagrin, Spo and Pop will be in the spotlight.

“It’s easier to talk about how they are similar versus how they are dissimilar,” said ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, a former NBA coach who is part of the broadcast team for the series that opens Thursday in Miami. “They are both going to the Hall of Fame. They both have tremendous respect from the coaches they coach against, and they both have a level of humility that I believe shows NBA coaching in the most positive light possible.”

Reported by the Associated Press

Jon Lee gets second look from Celtics

The Celtics need for point guard depth might be answered in June’s NBA Draft, and they stayed local to get a look at what is out there for future prospects.

Former Northeastern point guard Jon Lee finished his second workout in the past week today with the Celtics in Waltham. Lee missed the first nine games of this past season for the Huskies with a foot injury, but returned to average 13.4 points and four assists a game. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound left-handed point guard worked out for the Celtics on Sunday and was ecstatic that his first and second workouts with an NBA team before the draft were with Boston.

“I went in there and I gave it my all,” Lee told the Herald. “It was an awesome experience.”

Reported by Tom Layman of the Boston Herald

Kobe Bryant

Stitches removed, out of a cast and with nearly six weeks of rehabilitation under his belt since surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg, Kobe Bryant is still hoping for a return by the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2013-14 season opener.

“I hope so,” Bryant said in a sit-down interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com on Monday. “That’s the challenge. With the tendon, there’s really only but so much you can do. There’s a certain amount of time that they deem necessary for the tendon to heal where you don’t overstretch it and now you never get that spring back.

“So, you just have to be patient, let the tendon heal, and then when that moment comes when they say, ‘OK, we can take off the regulator so to speak and now it’s on you to train as hard as you can to get back to where you want to be,’ that’s going to be a good day.”

Before that day is likely to occur, there will be another date on the calendar that holds particular significance for how Bryant’s Lakers will look next season: July 1, the day Dwight Howard can begin to hear competing offers as a free agent.

While Howard reportedly has strong interest in the Houston Rockets and could be courted by Dallas, Atlanta, Golden State and Cleveland, Bryant is in no rush to be the first to pitch the All-Star center to come back to L.A.

Reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles

Jason Kidd

Jason Kidd’s wife had just given birth to twin girls, so he was a late arrival to Nets training camp in 2001. Still, he attended the team dinner the night before the real work began. Coming off a typically dreadful 26-victory season, Nets coach Byron Scott addressed the players. When he was finished, Kidd asked if he could say a few words.

“He said, ‘We’re going to the playoffs,’ ” Lawrence Frank, who succeeded Scott as coach, recalled yesterday after Kidd announced his retirement following 19 brilliant NBA seasons. “The guys in the room didn’t know what they were hearing.”

“Nets” and “playoffs” were two words that prior to Kidd went together like “jelly” and “liver.” Kidd soon repeated the promise to the media. People thought Kidd was nuts.

“The minute he walked in the door, you could feel the entire mood change,” Richard Jefferson said. “You could feel the air in the gym completely change.”

Change. That was the word. Kidd changed everything about the Nets. The sad sacks became NBA finalists, not once but twice. There were better teams, but has there ever been a more entertaining team than the group that featured the blinding quickness of Kidd and Kerry Kittles in the backcourt, Jefferson and Kenyon Martin up front?

Reported by Fred Kerber of the New York Post

demarcus cousins

Michael Malone walked into the interview room, sat next to majority owner Vivek Ranadive and didn’t dance around the overriding issues:

Defense and DeMarcus Cousins.

That’s where it starts, with a two-step outline. For the Kings’ annual appearances in the NBA lottery to end, Malone insisted, the defense has to be a factor instead of indefensible, and Cousins has to reward his new bosses – who are planting their feet firmly on his side of the fence – and fulfill his immense potential.

“At the end of the day, these players are all going to have a choice to make,” Malone said during his introductory news conference Monday. “You’re either going to embrace the change or you’re going to resist.”

As he approaches his fourth season, Cousins remains the great divide, which makes him Malone’s No. 1 challenge. There are those who believe Cousins will benefit from the ownership and organizational changes and mature into one of the game’s most dominant big men. But there are those who stare at his 6-foot-11, 270-pound frame, are scared off by his frequent outbursts and expressive demeanor, and wouldn’t let him near their foxhole.

Here, though, they’re all in. Malone wants Cousins as his cornerstone. Ranadive wants Cousins on the floor and in his foxhole, and he wants Cousins to become a familiar figure in his native India.

“I’d like nothing better than a billion Indians to know who DeMarcus Cousins is,” Ranadive said.

Reported by Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee

Set your alarm. Get out your wallet. The hottest ticket in Miami goes on sale at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

That’s when individual tickets go on sale for Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. Game 1 is Thursday at 9 p.m. and Game 2 is Sunday at 8 p.m.

As one would expect, “ticket inventory is limited and tickets are expected to sell quickly,” according to the Heat.

Be prepared to pay: Tickets range from $155 to $890.

Reported by Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald

lebron james

For James it will be a chance to win title No. 2 to go with his four MVP crowns. He doesn’t need validation anymore after winning last year, but when it finally comes time to judge his place among the league’s all-time greats, the number of rings he ends up collecting will figure in the equation.

It’s been three full seasons now since he announced his departure from Cleveland in the much-derided ”The Decision” television special. Much has changed since then, and James credits Miami’s loss to Dallas in the finals two years ago with making him both a better basketball player and a better person.

If he was a half-hearted leader before, he’s fully in charge now. On Monday morning he delivered an inspirational address to his teammates, urging them to lay everything on the line to make sure the season didn’t end early. He and Wade also met to plan strategy for the deciding game, and James told Wade he would take defensive responsibility for Indiana’s Paul George, who averaged 21.5 points in the first six games.

It turned out to be a pivotal decision, with George getting just 7 points on 2 of 9 shooting before fouling out.

”Ever since I lost in the finals to Dallas my mind frame changed that offseason,” James said. ”I just wanted to get back playing the game I love and have fun and play at a high level.”

Reported by Tim Dahlberg of the Associated Press

Manu Ginobili

Ginobili and the Spurs are gearing up for the franchise’s fifth appearance in the NBA Finals, where they will meet the defending champion Heat starting Thursday in Miami.

Not since Hall of Famer George Gervin finger-rolled his way into the hearts of San Antonio fans during an 11-year career have the Spurs had a player as popular as Ginobili. Duncan, Tony Parker, David Robinson and Sean Elliott all hold a special place in fans’ hearts, but Ginobili has become one of the city’s own.

”I don’t know how we connected at first,” the Argentine said. ”I just know that they kind of adopted me from the first minute I got here. Maybe it’s my Latin roots, Spanish speaking, or maybe it’s my type of game. I guess it was a little bit of everything.

”But it really helped me, especially early in my career. Now I’m a developed player, I’ve been everywhere and now I’m more used to it. But at the beginning, when I had so many doubts, I was the new guy in the NBA, the uncertainties and all that, having 18,000 people supporting me and cheering you up was a big help.”

The 6-foot-6 guard has given Spurs fans plenty to cheer about - and groan over.

He averaged 20.8 points and 5.8 rebounds during the postseason in guiding San Antonio to the 2005 NBA championship…

”It’s great to have had this opportunity to keep playing,” Ginobili said. ”I feel better. If we had lost in the first round, I wasn’t even back. After three weeks sitting, then four games, five games and the season’s over, you go back home with a really bad feeling about the season. But since the way things have turned out, to tell you the truth, I even forgot what happened during the season. I’m feeling good now. We’re in the Finals, so who cares? No one is going to remember I missed 20 games during the regular season.”

Reported by Raul Dominguez of the Associated Press

Frank Vogel

Head coach Frank Vogel said his Indiana Pacers had nothing to be ashamed of on Monday, despite having fallen short of the NBA finals after pushing the Miami Heat to a decisive game seven in the Eastern Conference playoff series.

Indiana came up 23 points short in fact, losing 99-76 after a blistering second quarter from the defending NBA champions and Vogel admitted the mood in the locker room was despondent.

“They are disappointed. They felt like we could have won this series and they wanted to win badly,” he told reporters.

“So disappointed but also encouraged about the future. I told them to keep their heads extremely high. We accomplished a great deal.

“No one in the world gave us a chance to get this far … we overcome a lot to grab the nation’s attention.

“Everyone in this country knows who the Indiana Pacers are now. We represent all the right things - class, character, hard work, old-school basketball, playing the game the right way,” he added.

Reported by Simon Evans of Reuters

dwyane wade

LeBron James top-scored with 32 points as the Miami Heat reached their third straight NBA Finals with a 99-76 win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday, but it was Dwyane Wade’s return to form that gave coach Erik Spoelstra the most pleasure.

Wade has been struggling with a painful knee injury throughout the playoffs and it showed in his production, with the guard failing to register 20 points in any of his previous 12 games.

But his 21 points on Monday, combined with nine rebounds, gave Miami the additional boost they needed in the Game Seven decider.

The aggression was back, the confidence to drive to the rim and with it, the Heat looked a more complete unit following their Game Six setback.

“That’s just Dwyane being who he is. He has an uncanny way, when you count him out and you need him most, when the competition is fiercest, he’s going to be there for you,” Spoelstra told reporters.

Reported by Simon Evans of Reuters

Heat to play Spurs for NBA title

miami heat

No more sitting out stars, and for the San Antonio Spurs, no more sitting around.

Finally, the NBA Finals matchup is set, and the Miami Heat will either win a second straight championship or the Spurs will go a perfect 5 for 5 in the title round while denying LeBron James a ring for the second time.

The Heat earned their third consecutive Eastern Conference title on Monday night, beating the Indiana Pacers 99-76 in Game 7 of their series. So it’s Heat vs. Spurs for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, a series that will begin Thursday in Miami, on the same floor where the Heat and James finished off Oklahoma City to win last season’s title.

Miami is looking for its third championship, San Antonio its fifth. And for James, it’s a chance to erase a memory that has stung him for six years.

His first trip to the finals came when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007, and it was ugly - the Spurs winning in a four-game sweep for what was their fourth title. San Antonio has not won the West since, so maybe it’s fitting that its return comes against James, albeit with the now four-time MVP in a different uniform.

”Obviously, I needed more,” James said. ”Our team, we were really good, but we weren’t great. And that was a great team. We lost to a better team. So I understand that we needed more. We continued to get better over the years, but we never got to that level.”

Reported by Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press

lebron james

Their season, their legacy, their reign atop the NBA was all at stake, and the Miami Heat responded in a manner befitting defending champions - with a blowout.

LeBron James scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds, ailing Dwyane Wade matched his postseason high with 21 points, and the Heat ran away from the Indiana Pacers 99-76 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference series on Monday night.

In the NBA Finals for the third straight year, the Heat will play the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 on Thursday in Miami.

”They’re just an amazing group of guys,” Heat managing general partner Micky Arison said after handing the East trophy to Chris Andersen. ”They’ve given us an incredible season so far, but it’s a long way from over.”

It could have ended on Monday, of course. The Heat had alternated wins and losses with the Pacers in the first six games of the series, and were coming off their worst offensive outing of the year in Game 6.

They responded with a rout, despite shooting just under 40 percent, well below their norm.

”By any means necessary … we took care of business,” James said…

Roy Hibbert scored 18 points for the Pacers, who got 14 from David West, 13 from George Hill and 10 from Lance Stephenson. All-Star Paul George was held to seven points on 2-for-9 shooting and fouled out early in the fourth quarter…

By halftime, it was 52-37, with James scoring 18 points, Bosh and Wade combining for 17 and Allen adding 10 more. And what had to be most troubling to the Pacers at halftime was their 15 turnovers, a number Vogel said earlier Monday would spell trouble if his team committed that many in the entire game…

Miami’s Norris Cole and Indiana’s Jeff Pendergraph were ejected with 2:17 left after exchanging some heated words.

Reported by Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press

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