Feb 23, 2014 9:56 PM EST
As teams around the NBA examined his availability, Kenneth Faried looked past the Denver Nuggets and into the swath of intrigued franchises that had gone revealing information of potential discussions in a desperate attempt. Reading about interested parties within the league inspired him, but only to the extent of privately reaffirming that welcoming organizations existed outside Denver.
Faried had grasped his talent and the outline of his potential in his growth a season ago, and a memorable 40-point, 10-rebound MVP performance in the Rising Stars game earned him praise from peers and a retired legend, Shaquille O’Neal. Wisely and inevitably, the Nuggets kept him beyond the trade deadline.
Through most of the season, Faried’s adjustments lurched: a gradual process under new head coach Brian Shaw, reduced minutes, the Nuggets’ commitment to him unclear and an apparent roadblock in his development as a franchise’s core piece. Earlier in the season, Faried had declined to comment on supposed deals. For once, a trading season served a player fresh reasons to feel desired again.
“I’m not surprised at all that my name was in trade situations, because I am a good player and people do want me,” Faried told RealGM. “It just makes me that much more aware of how many other teams want me and like me.”
How close Denver management ever came to consummating a deal is uncertain, and every round of speculation surrounding Faried had presented like a hopeless plea on the outside. His youth (24 years old) and blend of athleticism and ferocious knack for the ball make him a self-starter.
For the Nuggets, a potential trade for Iman Shumpert never made sense, and yet the New York Knicks continued trying and trying. Perhaps several other teams pleaded, too, untraced and unearthed.
Nevertheless, it’s led to the best stretch of Faried’s season, a reinvigorated month with three of his total five 20-point games. Ty Lawson has always carried the bulk of responsibilities on these Nuggets since the trade of Carmelo Anthony, and even Faried settled to take a backseat and conceded ownership of the locker room, of shots and pressure, to the 5-foot-11 point guard.
Not until Lawson’s recent rib injury was Faried challenged by family members to increase his production, to emit positivity teammates can gravitate toward. Not until now was Faried able to scan the roster and understand: This team is as much mine as it is Lawson’s, and maybe, just maybe I’m capable of solely leading a supporting cast. This isn’t a selfish, me-me-me conduct in mind, but a healthy, aspiring goal on a team absent of an absolute star.
“I feel like this is my team right now, at least maybe until Ty gets back, and even past then,” Faried told RealGM. “I feel like this is my team and I have to do whatever to help us win games. For me, I know I had to step into the role of taking over the team and putting the team on my back. I got to step up. The trade deadline came and went.
“Right now with all the injuries, the coaches are searching. I’m trying to be that guy they can stop searching and stop looking for.”
Under George Karl, the frenetic pace perfectly suited Faried, the high frequency of shooting allowing more rebounding chances. He’s been running and running like the best of end-to-end rim runners since his days at Morehead State. So Faried entered last summer focusing on his jump shot, and as he says now of his stroke: “My jumper is still a work in progress. No matter what, I could always improve on it, and right now I’m trying to work on getting the ball in the post. So when I do decide to face up and shoot my jumper, it will go down because I’m shooting with confidence.”
From adapting to new coaches to trade whispers, the most perplexing aspect of Faried’s season centers on his lessened minutes. Across this season, he’s averaged the least amount of fouls per game for his career, a testament to elevated discipline clearing the way for enhanced minutes for a big man. Or so Faried expected.
“I thought because of me not fouling as much I would maybe get more minutes,” Faried said. “I’m solidified as one of the guys who plays defense a certain way. Refs let me get away with a lot – more than they did my first two years. I thought I’d have more minutes, but you have your ups and downs. With a new coaching staff, I anticipated they may not know or they want to find their own way of coaching. New coaching staff, so they have to find your niche and find your role.”
The Nuggets unmistakably still have faith in Faried, whom they’d drafted as an unpolished forward in 2011, who nurtured into one of the NBA’s most active, tireless athletes. Faried had been Masai Ujiri’s selection, a steal plucked out of the back-end of the first round, when he experienced desire in a climate of oversight. Now, they’re all after Kenneth Faried with a lust even he detects.
Feb 13, 2014 8:32 PM EST
Anthony Davis had commenced his film studying last Friday afternoon, immersing into the nuances of Kevin Love, when everyone from friends to peers, teammates to family started percolating inside his phone. His first All-Star selection spread within the NBA, a flourishing 20-year-old star replacing a forever legend in Kobe Bryant, but Davis felt so strange about it all.
In his mind, Davis had to refrain from allowing his mind to wander into the distance about playing in the All-Star Game, about the parties and media availabilities sure to limit his family time. New Orleans hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Davis remembered his Pelicans teammates talking among each other of running with the opportunity on national television.
“I couldn’t focus on the news at all right there and then,” Davis told RealGM. “I had to get ready for a big game and get prepared for the game. After, I opened up my phone and saw a lot of congratulatory texts, so it was fun for me. But I had a game against Kevin Love, one of the best power forwards in the league.”
Love torched the Pelicans for 30 points and 14 rebounds just over a week earlier, a performance that Davis watched from the sideline because of a finger injury. Davis had gone to his Twitter that Friday afternoon, reposting some congratulatory messages his fans had sent, but promises the only way he could maintain focus was tucking away his phone.
So the film watching continued, and the tedious process of reviewing video has become increasingly vital in Davis’ preparation habits. He won the gold medal with USA Basketball in the Olympics two summers ago, nurtured into the program’s workout and film routine before his rookie season. How to handle this entire past summer was placed solely on him.
“I watched a lot of film, much more than my first year, to realize what opponents are doing and how to counter that,” Davis said. “You can see tendencies and new ways to react. Now, the next step is to keep countering, keep learning.”
With the depth of talent in the Western Conference, deserving candidates (Goran Dragic, Tim Duncan) on playoff teams, Adam Silver and the league office surveyed the choices and decided upon Davis last Friday morning. Beyond his extraordinary statistics for a second-year player – 20.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.1 blocks per game – Monty Williams admits: “Anthony has carried us most of the season.” For scouts, his athleticism is scary, his two-way abilities difficult to scheme.
The Pelicans have understood the significance of placing a sturdy center next to Davis, and Alexis Ajinca gives the coaching staff intrigue as a starter, with his size and offensive instincts. New Orleans is still searching for a player in the frontcourt and has one roster spot open, and a safe option could be Lou Amundson – who played 18 games with the organization this season before his release, and is continuing dialogue with other teams.
After practice on Tuesday, Davis had engaged in the Pelicans’ own dunk contest, ultimately facing Ajinca and constructing a pass bouncing off the wall and into a windmill slam. Anthony Morrow served as the hype man, and their posting of the dunk onto social media begged the question: Could Davis enter the dunk contest in the future?
“I don’t know, man,” Davis told RealGM. “Alexis called a dunk, then I called one. Alexis brought it over his head for a dunk, and then A-Mo said, ‘You have to one-up him, champ.’ I wasn’t expecting to make that dunk off the wall, and it blew up. I don’t know. I don’t know, man.”
Davis paused for a couple seconds, considering the possibilities his entrance would require, and widened a bright smile. “If LeBron [James] gets in it, I’ll get in it. I don’t got the legs that I used to. I don’t know if I’d get in it. It’d be fun to do, but I’ve already got a lot of commitments.”
Now, Davis returns to New Orleans and his first experience of a weekend complete with responsibilities. He cites Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry and LaMarcus Aldridge as model leaders on burgeoning teams. From family he visited after the Pelicans’ win in Milwaukee Wednesday, he received encouragement and advice on how to stay fresh. His first All-Star Game comes on Sunday, and Davis is treated as a little brother to most from his month as a teammate on Team USA.
“It’s probably loose for everybody else, but not for me,” Davis said. “Last year at the Rookie Rising Stars game, it was considered a loose situation and I got yelled at by coach. I don’t want to do anything unusual out there.
“I want to take in as much as I can, and bring it back to the team and make us better.”
Feb 10, 2014 12:40 AM EST
Part of the Houston Rockets’ successful free agency pitch to Dwight Howard had been to orchestrate his own locker room again, revitalizing a personal pride in the process. No more tense future Hall of Famers uneasy about the incumbent star, no more day-to-day scrutiny over his smile and leadership, his free throws and hook shots.
Howard never wanted to step on the toes of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and Steve Nash and any Los Angeles Laker, but he’s never one to lead from the shadows, either. There, Howard was simply one of the guys. Yet beyond his individual greatness and double-doubles, everyone from Howard’s past understood he also brought jubilating jokes and his own concepts about controlling the environment and managing roles.
With the Lakers, Howard’s cries for increased touches and his ability to forge winning relationships always felt empty and strained, and Houston management knew it. The Rockets’ hierarchy understood opposing suitors had tried to tarnish elements of Daryl Morey’s roster, and countered with reason no one will match the closeness of this group, with vows a franchise star’s run of the organization starts with no insecurities or differences within his own locker room.
“I don’t have to say, ‘I need the ball,’” Howard told RealGM. “The guys here know what we have to do to be successful, to play inside out. We have young guys, and they want to accomplish some things in this league also. I understand that. I understand that we need everyone. If I can make sure that guys are happy, that they’re getting the ball and getting a rhythm, it makes it tough to beat us.
“My time, my shots will come. I want to make sure guys around me are elevated. Me being the oldest guy on the team as far as seasons, I have to understand that I have to show these guys the right way to go.”
Interacting with teammates isn’t a fabricated assignment anymore, and Howard jokes and praises, greets and acknowledges everyone from James Harden and Chandler Parsons to Robert Covington and Isaiah Canaan. Omri Casspi had been minding his own business leaving his locker after a recent road game, and Howard approached him from behind and applauded the minutes he’s provided. Then, Howard smiled wide and added, “That’s a nice sweater, too.”
Early in the season, Howard called for the basketball sometimes, but he noticed repeated requests could create discouraging traits among younger players. He stayed away from the dispiriting rah-rah with the Orlando Magic, creating ball movement and energy and not stagnation, and he didn’t plan on paving a new trend now.
Across the first week of February, Howard’s back has strengthened, his game has sharpened to the tune of 30 points, 10 rebounds and over two blocks per game and his lines of communication are as alive as ever within the team.
From defensive schemes to offensive sets, Howard talks to everyone, “All the time. Our dialogue doesn’t end.”
Howard scans the Western Conference standings, and he sees unsustainable starts from some. As teams such as the Portland Trail Blazers cement cushion in the playoff chase, a part of him is reminded of those old Cleveland Cavaliers’ 60-win seasons only derailed by dwindling staying power, hobbling to the finish line of a postseason.
“A lot of teams start out hot and cool off,” Howard told RealGM, “and I told our guys that we want to stay consistent all season and then make the big push right after All-Star break going into the playoffs. That’s when the opportunity comes.”
And this much is certain: These Rockets’ talent won’t will them into a championship, but it’s delivered through cohesive, collective efforts blended with the star powers of Howard and Harden. Everyone must believe in the purpose of his role. This late in a season, a player moping and pouting – as Omer Asik’s actions portray – must be addressed.
As his former Bulls coaches and teammates say, Asik was so hard working and selfless, his willingness to separate himself from Houston’s structure came as a surprise. They don’t envision a whiner in the Turkish seven-footer, someone who sacrificed minutes behind Joakim Noah for two No. 1 seeds with Chicago.
The Rockets have asked for significant assets in trade talks centered on him, but Howard knows Asik could viably back him up in case of injury or foul trouble, in a way Marcin Gortat had for three seasons. For now, Asik returned from a 31-game absence Saturday night, and Kevin McHale will increase his stamina and solidify his backup center capacity over the next month.
Howard believes in patience with emerging players like Terrence Jones and wants to be part of the process with them, and a leading stature within a team – within a locker room – feels so justifying to him. He’s far, far from the pressures of Los Angeles, the heavy eye of Kobe Bryant and the passionate directions gone unanswered. In this way, Houston didn’t promise Dwight Howard winning, as much as it promised the comfort and attainment of his own locker room to lead again.
Feb 03, 2014
As superstar players applied supreme caution healing from significant knee surgeries, Leandro Barbosa was steadfast and sought an unconventional technique – training with Brazilian soccer players, consuming their conditioning exercises.
Jan 31, 2014
With tremendous earning potential in the offseason, Eric Bledsoe could very well be motivated by returning as soon as the removal surgery permits, by proving his worth before free agency. No matter: The Suns believe in Bledsoe, and the front office has made clear it will match any offer someone could give him in July.
Jan 27, 2014
Paul Millsap had anticipated a prosperous collaboration with Al Horford, a cleverly run offense by Jeff Teague – not Horford’s second major torn pectoral injury in two years, Teague lost to an ankle injury for now, and, most of all, a charge to be “Do it all Paul,” as teammates call him.
Jan 17, 2014
From the moment he arrived to the Grizzlies, Zach Randolph imagined a cooperation with Marc Gasol defying NBA odds. An unorthodox, once ball dominant power forward, and a forgotten Gasol brother.
Jan 09, 2014
Not every 23-year-old rising star accepts his role being teetered. Astute and understanding, Klay Thompson held a calm demeanor as coaches debated the best course of action in camp, displaying exactly the type of self-starting and ego sacrifice the Warriors now integrate within their culture.
Dec 16, 2013
Aside from Derrick Rose, Tom Thibodeau has been the best thing that happened to this management core, a wise and franchise-altering hire three years ago, and now they shouldn’t let his future in Chicago spin and swerve and jeopardize in front of the NBA.
Dec 13, 2013
From 1997 to now, nothing has changed, as Gregg Popovich states exactly right: Tim Duncan is still the base of everything for the Spurs. As well conditioned as a year ago where the Finals were nearly in hand and still breaking records and chasing history at 37 years old.
Dec 02, 2013
Out of Boston and onto Brooklyn, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett understood leaders would be newly cultivated. As much as anything, Avery Bradley heard from them that being a foundational part of the Celtics’ rebuild wouldn’t be easy – that there’s a preciousness to patience, to discipline.
Nov 18, 2013
Derek Fisher has witnessed leaders forget about individual benchmarks and forfeit time away from the court for his five NBA championships. He’s pursuing a sixth now and in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Fisher knows there’s a commitment to fill any vacancy on the floor.
Nov 07, 2013
Andrew Bynum has played four games as part of a comeback with an established Cavaliers organization that prepared itself to fulfill his rehabilitation. Through it all, a clear truth washed over Bynum: His rehab promises to be ongoing as he talks to RealGM about the state of his health.
Oct 14, 2013
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has evident traits to translate into an elite player. He’s lengthy, relentless in drives to the basket, and displays a visible passion in both high and low moments in a game. His first season didn’t match the expectations of the Bobcats’ No. 2 pick, and yet MKG remains a willing learner at just 20.
Oct 06, 2013
As Derrick Rose went further and further into his comeback, George Hill had grasped an unmistakable trend with what was transpiring between his team’s defense and the 2011 MVP. In many ways, he sought the collisions to reassert that there will be no change in his fearless driving style.
Jul 28, 2013
Just last year, Larry Sanders had been toiling as a lost player, but he has played himself into the USA Basketball program and now comes out of it wiser after being around some of the best coaching minds.
Jul 23, 2013
John Wall has seen NBA players come into the USA Basketball program over the summers to absorb the experience and competition, only to turn it all into a career season in the fall. He wants to take from this week’s minicamp a similar impact, but there’s a desire to show the coaches and officials that he’s a rising guard, too.
Jul 18, 2013
Skill and talent, scoring and athleticism have never been issues for Eric Gordon. Health has. He knows that, and just three years ago it seemed he was on the cusp of the All-Star game. As a growing leader, Gordon has tried to mend fences with the Pelicans this summer.
Jul 16, 2013
Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer called Jeff Teague late Saturday afternoon. Together they delivered a message Teague wanted all along out of the organization that drafted him in 2009 and thrust him into a 2011 playoff series against Derrick Rose that he still credits as outline for his potential.
Jun 21, 2013
Pat Riley smoothens all around the Miami Heat: LeBron James’ decision, the talent around him. Heat executives call Riley the fabric of Miami’s structure, and the architect has a vision of this ride going on and on.
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