The Fundamentals

» September 29, 2009 6:56 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “Give him whatever nickname you like, but on his first day in a Cavaliers uniform, Shaquille O’Neal was one big realist. That tact from the team’s biggest off-season addition should give the team’s fans plenty of reason to be optimistic as the Cavs begin two-a-day practices Tuesday morning. Coming off an All-Star season, most believe the future Hall of Famer O’Neal still has some gas left to help the Cavs over the postseason hump and to their first NBA championship. The biggest variable other than O’Neal’s health is whether he can coexist with the resident Most Valuable Player, LeBron James. O’Neal did his best to put that to rest at the team’s annual media day Monday, putting himself and his brand-new role in stark perspective. ‘I’m 37 years old; it isn’t my time anymore,’ O’Neal said. ‘I had my time, and I did what I did. I’m not one of those players that always thinks it is his time. It would not be advantageous for me to take 30 shots a game when you have a guy like [LeBron]. We’ll get him the ball and let him do what he does, and when he drops it off to me, I’ll do my job.’”

Terry Pluto of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “James said the goal is indeed an NBA title. He said anything but that ‘is a disappointment.’ He promised he is already ‘a much better player’ than when he walked off the court after the Cavs were eliminated by the Magic in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Orlando, Fla. ‘I stay in the gym, I do a lot of shooting and working in the interior, in the post,’ he said. James is coming off his first Most Valuable Player award. After six years with the Cavs, he has won everything except an NBA title. He believes he can combine with O’Neal to change that. He talked about how Kobe Bryant won a title with Pau Gasol, how Tony Parker and Tim Duncan have produced championship to San Antonio. Then he mentioned the combination of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in Boston. ‘When you have a 1-2 punch like that, then they have to double-team somebody,’ said James. ‘Now, we have another guy they have to double-team.’ So what will it be like face this new edition of the Cavaliers? ‘It can be scary,’ insisted James.”

Joe Freeman of The Oregonian:  “Last year at the Blazers’ media day, Oden spoke whisper-soft, in a monotone voice, and answered questions mostly in cliches. Monday, he was engaging, sometimes-humorous and honest, revealing new sense of confidence and purpose. The first thing he did when he sat down to address a throng of media was crack a joke. As he progressed to a live radio interview, Oden mockingly pushed teammate Martell Webster out of line at a food buffet, pretending to attack the spread. This was after Oden boldly stated that his goal was to be an All-Star this season. There’s no question that a looser, less stressed and seemingly liberated Oden roamed the Rose Garden on Monday. So where did this transformation come from? It all started on June 16, when assistant coach Bill Bayno arrived in Columbus, Ohio, to put Oden through a relentless and meticulous offseason workout. Four times a week, twice a day, Oden underwent a series of rigorous basketball drills designed to expand his offensive game, polish his shot-blocking and rebounding ability and improve his conditioning.”

Howard Beck of The New York Times:  “Eddy Curry’s torso is tapered, but his broad shoulders still bulge and twitch with the muscle memory of old burdens. He has spent months shedding pounds and sorrow, but that is only a modest beginning. Curry arrived four years ago as the Knicks’ greatest hope, a powerful, agile young center with vast potential. He begins training camp Tuesday as a reclamation project, attempting to restart a career derailed by injuries, ambivalence and personal heartbreak. ‘My life is still a work in progress,’ Curry said Monday when the Knicks gathered for their annual media day. ‘But it’s nothing like it was. I’m happy right now.’ For the first time in years, Curry will take the basketball court with a healthy, well-conditioned body and a relatively clear psyche. He has lost more than 40 pounds since last season, when a combination of injuries and indifference caused him to balloon to 365 pounds. Perhaps just as critically, Curry has cleared away much of the personal and emotional baggage that haunted him last season.”

Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post:  “Maybe J.R. Smith will start. Maybe he won’t. This was never a clear-cut decision. Even should be in the eyes of Smith’s biggest fans, it isn’t with the person who matters most – his coach. And this is what Nuggets coach George Karl says on the subject of inserting J.R. Smith into the starting lineup this season: ‘I’ve never said that J.R is gonna start. I said that we would go to that avenue, that’s the next step for J.R. My general thought is I think we’re more into keeping the bench together. And the bench being Chris (Andersen), (Anthony Carter) and J.R., and messing with the starting lineup (rather) than messing with both.’ Karl is a creature of habit, especially when that habit gets his team to the Western Conference Finals. The fact of the matter is the Nuggets had arguably the best season in the team’s NBA history last year, winning 54 games and nearly getting to the NBA Finals, with Smith playing a huge role off the bench. So is Karl willing to jeopardize taking the next step to the Finals appease outsiders? Or even Smith, to a degree? No. Not right now.”

Michael Wallace of the Miami Herald:  “For the first time that I can recall, there seemed to be some legitimate optimism from Spoelstra when he talked about one of the most pressing questions facing the team this preseason.Who’s at Small Forward? Or, rather, who will be starting there when the games start to count? Asked specifically Monday if he envisions Michael Beasley starting at small forward this season, Spoelstra almost went there with a complete, unwavering answer. But he couldn’t help himself. Instead, he gave the closest thing to a definitive response to that specific question as he has since this Beasley-to-small-forward issue first gained wings at the end of last season. With Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Jermaine O’Neal locks to return to their starting roles, Beasley seems poised to slot in at small forward. All of the posturing and mixed messages in rhetoric this offseason from Spoelstra and Riley were necessary because Beasley (left) still has to earn it.  But …  ‘I have a lot of things penciled in right now,’ Spoelstra said when asked if Beasley is starting material. ‘I would say it would be surprising for him not to step into a significant role this season.’”

John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune:  “Every year at media day since Paul completed his rookie season we’ve heard some variation of it, heard that New Orleans cannot afford to run Paul into the ground or allow Paul to do it to himself. Because a little less of Paul could mean a lot more for the Hornets. And every year Scott and New Orleans have failed to find adequate relief; even when Jannero Pargo and Speedy Claxton were around, they shared as much backcourt time with Paul as they were given to rest him. Each year, Paul’s minutes have risen, from 36, to 36.8, to 37.6, to 38.5. True, his play and statistics similarly have ascended, to the point he’ll be a legitimate MVP candidate for the next eight years (it says here he should’ve won it two seasons ago, when the Los Angles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant did). But you can have too much of a good thing. Finally, maybe, the Hornets will be able to use less. ‘I think so,’ Scott said Monday at the New Orleans Arena hours before the team trekked to Lafayette to hold the first week of training camp, beginning today. ‘I’m really comfortable and more confident this year that I’ll be able to do it with Bobby (Brown) and Darren (Collison). They’re going to be fighting it out for the backup role.’”

Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:  “Though he never set foot on Muscle Beach this summer, Rajon Rondo is especially proud of his latest 11 pounds. ‘All muscle, all muscle,’ the Celtics point guard said yesterday, glancing with pride at his enlarged biceps. ‘I’m weighing 184.6, maybe 186.7. I’m 23, I’m eating better, and I worked harder in the weight room. Weights, eating three meals a day and no McDonald’s.’ No contract extension, either, though that might change. General manager Danny Ainge said yesterday that he started talks last week with agent Bill Duffy on a contract extension for Rondo, who is entering the last year of his rookie deal. If the two sides don’t reach agreement by Oct. 31, Rondo will become a restricted free agent next summer. For now, anyway, Ainge doesn’t sound worried. ‘We had a good conversation last week to kind of kick things off, but I’m not going to address that at all,’ said Ainge. ‘We have until Oct. 31. Our intention is to have Rondo as our franchise point guard for a decade, and I think Rondo wants to be here for a long time as well.’”

Eddie Sefko for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:  “When his life turned upside down five months ago, Dirk Nowitzki had no choice but to show his human side. … ‘When it all went down, I thought ‘I’m going to be thinking about this for the rest of my life — and every day it’s going to be in the back of my mind.’ But I still had a job to do.’ With his personal life in shambles, Nowitzki averaged 34.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 4 assists in the conference semifinals against Denver. ‘Right after that series, we were all disappointed because we lost, but we were happy about the growth and development of him going through something like that,’ guard Jason Terry said. ‘That was tough. And how he handled it shows what kind of his leader he is. At the end of the day, Dirk is the heart and soul of this organization. He’s the face. So he’s going to have this year 12 guys coming right behind him, putting out our best effort knowing that our guy is going to be there, too.’ The people who matter in Nowitzki’s life — family, teammates, close friends — have seen him come through this ordeal stronger than ever. His focus — laser-focus, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban calls it — is more respected than ever.”

Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:  “With Bosh planning to exercise an option to become a free agent at the end of the 2009-10 season, how he plays and how the team around him performs will determine if he has any long-term future in Toronto. It will be the elephant in the room between now and whenever the season ends. ‘I don’t think it’s a distraction, it’s something that can be looked at maybe as a positive,’ said president and general manager Bryan Colangelo. ‘He’s coming into a situation where he’s got to perform and if he performs, this team’s probably going to perform and that means we’re going to have a helluva year and a number of things are going to go right and he’s probably going to look at this as a good situation to be in. If all the things that we’ve done addressing the areas of concern work out, then obviously it’s going to play a factor. If we get off to slow start or there’s a period of time in the year where we’re struggling, that’s going to be the first question that everybody asks and I can understand that.’ For his part, Bosh is not about to change his public stance about his future. He won’t sign a contract extension but he won’t rule out coming back; this is truly a ‘show-me’ season for him and the team. ‘It’s all about the feeling and being happy,’ said Bosh, who put on about 15-20 pounds over the summer, weighing it at somewhere near the 250 mark this year.”

Brett Pollakoff of FanHouse:  “With Shaquille O’Neal having been dealt to Cleveland over the summer, the starting center spot for the Suns was suddenly up for grabs. It was a two-man race between second-year big man Robin Lopez and the newly-acquired Channing Frye, who was signed in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Suns’ head coach Alvin Gentry confirmed to the media on Monday that he’s giving the nod to Frye. ‘I would say that if I had to do it today that Channing probably will be the starting center,’ Gentry said. ‘But we will go to camp and that will take care of itself.’ Gentry and the team’s general manager, Steve Kerr, are both excited about the prospect of Frye drifting out to the three-point line to open up the floor for Amar’e Stoudemire. ‘I just think with Channing out on the floor, he’s a great three-point shooter,’ Gentry said. ‘He spaces the floor, and with Amar’e rolling to the basket, then I think that has to be a decision that the defense makes: ‘what do I do, do I help? If I don’t help, then Steve gets Amare the ball.’ So I think Channing at the three-point line can be very effective for us.’”

Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:  “The biggest off-season change to the Suns was an attitude makeover. The Suns are excited about the season, as shown by nine players arriving in August for informal workouts and players recently going bowling together and joining Amaré Stoudemire in his suite at Sunday’s Cardinals game. ‘Joyous,’ Suns guard Steve Nash said to a question about how he felt. The inquiry was meant to probe his health but his emotional response is indicative of the team’s lighter air. ‘It’s got to be better,’ Nash said of the atmosphere after a season of unrest, meetings, self-pity and disappointment. ‘We have to have a better vision from the outset. When you’re not clear on who you are, it’s hard to have a great chemistry. Last year, we had a lot of uncertainty. This year, we’re going to be much clearer on who we are and how we have to play and that’s going to allow us to build a chemistry and belief in one another. ‘When guys aren’t sure if they’re in the same movie, it’s hard for it to be a successful one.’ … Gentry’s camp priority is to establish consistent defensive principles with on-ball effort and rotation recognition that could put the Suns’ defense among the NBA’s top half. ‘Happy players play better,’ Gentry said. ‘The anxiety is not there. If you’re pretty content in what you’re trying to accomplish, it becomes easier to convince guys to go that extra mile.’”

Jason Friedman of Rockets.com:  “Part of Houston’s strategy to compensate for the loss of Yao is centered on pushing the pace and taking advantage of the speed, quickness and athleticism GM Daryl Morey has added to the roster over the last two years. But Adelman also took time to clarify exactly how he intends to employ that up-tempo style of play. ‘I’ve read a lot of things and heard things about how we’re going to be this ultra fast break team,’ he said. ‘In my years, I haven’t seen very many all-out fast break teams. (The NBA) is too well-coached and too well-scouted (for that to be successful). But you can be a very good up-tempo transition team and that’s what we want to do. We want to get the ball up the court quicker than we have in the past. We don’t want to walk it up. More times than not, we want to get four guys past the half-court line early so we can get into our offense earlier and get the defense on their heels so that this group – and we are very active and we have guys who play very hard – if we can get guys up the court and attack the defense before they’re set, then we’ll make things happen and be successful.’”

Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:  “A club that will resemble a traveling all-star show now with Vince Carter on board already has heard the team slogan for this season — and it embraces no egos: Grab A Handle. That’s Orlando Magic General Manager Otis Smith’s catch-phrase. And it’s no coincidence the slogan came about with the arrival of Carter, who has more all-star nominations (eight) than Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson combined. ‘We’re not asking any one guy to carry any part of the whole load. We’re asking everybody to grab a handle,’ Smith said. ‘Just grab a handle. Because trying to win a title is a grind.’ While Coach Stan Van Gundy wants to see the Vince Carter who has torched defenses night in and night out, Smith has reminded Carter of the cautionary tale involving Rashard Lewis. The pressure to impress bothered Lewis early in his first season after the Magic signed him two years ago. ‘Guys come in and think the weight of the world is on their shoulders, expected to do so much,’ Smith said. ‘Vince is coming in from New Jersey and coming back home. Rashard went through it a few years ago. We have Dwight and all the build-up. If you just do your part, we’ll be fine as a team.’”

Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times:  “From corner to corner, banners denoting the Boston Celtics’ 17 N.B.A. championships hang like badges of honor in the team’s practice center here. They snake around the building until reaching a blank one, recently installed by Coach Doc Rivers. Even if the writing is not on the wall yet, the mission is clear. The team is built to win now. And with an encouraging prognosis of Kevin Garnett’s surgically repaired right knee, the prospects are better than for the Celtics’ decimated roster during last season’s playoffs. … The bone spurs on his knee were larger than he expected, he said, although he did not address many specifics of the injury. His operation was complicated because there was concern that the removal of the spurs could damage nearby tissue. Garnett, 33, spent the bulk of the summer rehabilitating his knee in Las Vegas with his teammate Glen Davis and resumed playing five-on-five last week. ‘No setbacks,’ he said, knocking on the practice court’s parquet floor for luck. Rivers said Garnett would face no restrictions when the Celtics held their first practice Tuesday. ‘I’m just going to throw him out there, and then I’m going to try and talk him out of some of the drills,’ Rivers said.”

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:  “He’s not ‘The Kid’ anymore. Playing with youthful enthusiasm and keeping himself in premium condition perhaps has extended Kevin Garnett’s career, but it couldn’t prevent a troublesome bone spur from growing in his knee the past few years. Garnett admitted yesterday as the Celtics met the media before today’s official opening of training camp that his right knee injury last season was more severe than expected. What was anticipated as a one-month rehabilitation turned into him missing most of the second half of the 2008-09 season and the playoffs. … ‘I think last year did one thing for us. If anything it humbled us,’ said Garnett, who may well have been talking about himself. It showed that team is everything. Not one or two players can get things done. ‘I’m eager to see how we come in, our minds and how we all are in camp and everything. This is all bonding. This is the time where all the guys that we haven’t played with – ’Quis [Marquis Daniels], Rasheed [Wallace], and all the new guys we have – we try to put the pieces together and see how they fit.
‘But yeah, we’re humbled.’”

Tom Knott of the Washington Times:  “The hibachi has been placed in storage. Agent Zero, the alter ego of Arenas, has been retired. The entertainer who was Arenas is no more. And no more blogging, either. Or so Arenas said. He also said he is done with being interviewed the rest of the season. He may even keep to that vow through training camp in Richmond. You just never know with Arenas, powered by a disarming openness and a 100-watt smile. The 27-year-old Arenas undoubtedly has been impacted by all his time on the shelf. He would not be human if he did not have doubts and frustrations from the ordeal. And he won’t know where he truly is until he is on the floor in the regular season. Asked if he were satisfied with his recovery, Arenas said, ‘The season hasn’t started yet.’ If he has a goal, it is to play in all 82 games, a condition he has been able to meet only once in his career. Antawn Jamison pronounced Arenas physically fit after playing with him in the pick-up environment the last month. ‘He’s definitely healthy,’ Jamison said. ‘He has that swagger about him.’ Jamison is reluctant to the notion of Arenas becoming sober-minded, knowing that people cannot change the core of who they are, and Arenas is the eternal class clown. ‘He says he’s serious,’ Jamison said. ‘We’ll see. Off the court, he seems like he’s maturing a bit. As long as he is out there on the court, that’s all I’m concerned about.’”

Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle:  “Rockets training camp begins today, and Tracy McGrady was asked Monday how and where he plans to spend the next few weeks after general manager Daryl Morey announced the star guard would be held out of action while continuing rehabilitation until late November. ‘I’ll stay at home since they won’t let me practice, sit on my couch and watch TV,’ he said with a straight face before grinning. ‘Nah, I’ll be here working. I’m back.’ McGrady said he feels better, seven months removed from microfracture surgery on his left knee, than he did at any point during the 2008-09 season, when he was limited to 35 games and averaged 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and five assists. … Because of the injury, he said he grew frustrated because he wasn’t in top form. As a result, he said he started to fall out of love with the game. He heard the questions and the doubters. Then he moved to Chicago, where he lived the past seven months. McGrady said that under the guidance of trainer Tim Grover, he was pushed, from a physical and mental standpoint, like never before. At times, the workouts were so strenuous, he said, he blacked out. But he never gave up, and McGrady believes he might have dispelled a nagging myth along the way. ‘He had to apologize to me,’ McGrady said of Grover, whose high-profile clients include Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Gilbert Arenas and Dwyane Wade. ‘You can read a lot in the press about ballplayers, read things on the Internet about how hard they work. You just don’t do some of the things I’ve done on the basketball court without working hard. I don’t give a damn about how much talent you have. You have to work hard. That’s the huge misconception about myself.’”


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