Dec 09, 2013 3:23 PM EST
MILWAUKEE – Within an offense catering toward inefficient isolation sets a season ago, Brook Lopez had seen critical possessions gone astray under motionless one-on-one plays, under the watch of Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo. For Lopez, there was a private belief that a more spirited offense best benefited the Brooklyn Nets, and that had been part of the lure of Jason Kidd.
Early in training camp, Kidd sold his Nets on a lively offensive system, Deron Williams pushing the fastbreak as Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce spread the floor, as Lopez and Kevin Garnett fill the lane. Injuries haven’t allowed those players to bring Kidd’s vision to fruition, but mostly no one has shown the assertiveness to save these Nets – no one but Lopez.
After pouring in a graceful 32 points on 11-for-13 shooting – on effortless jumpers and disciplined post-ups – in the Nets’ 90-82 win over the Bucks on Saturday night, Lopez nodded about his continued maturation into the decisive, go-to scorer Kidd desperately needs with a depleted roster. A year ago, Lopez would always speak as the ultimate role player citing a need to get others a flow on offense, before himself. A year ago, the skilled seven-footer was pushed away from the block far too often and at times resisted constant feeds inside.
“I’m just trying to be more patient on the block, patient reading all the options to attack,” Lopez told RealGM. “There’s a lot more ball movement, and everyone on the floor is getting a lot more opportunities.”
Compared to last season?
“It was very stagnant last year,” Lopez said.
Despite everyone’s talk about Kidd’s issues as a first-year coach, despite the Nets’ fumble on the hire of Lawrence Frank, the fact remains that Williams has played just nine games and has performed below his past All-Star state. Andrei Kirilenko has missed all but four games, occurring setback after setback in his back, and the injury list goes on and on.
For all the missed games from players this season, none drowned the Nets more than the seven that Lopez missed last month. They had a 1-6 record to show for the 12 days Lopez had to sit out because of a sprained ankle, and it’s no coincidence this sluggish team has gone 4-4 when the 25-year-old scores at least 20 points.
Kidd hasn’t gained sympathy throughout the NBA for his spilled cup incident, nor for his handling over the hiring and demotion of Frank, but give him this: He’s committed to fully utilizing the guy – Lopez – whose previous coaches instead accommodated to players around him.
“Brook lets the ball come to him, and then he finds the open guys,” Kidd said. “That’s what makes this team special, because it’s not just Brook. It’s everybody moving the ball.
“We’re going to slow it down. We’re going to try to get the ball inside.”
The trick Kidd used for the late stoppage of play against the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 27 opened him up to everyone’s shots at his coaching acumen, how it was an amateur move. Yet, players league-wide applauded the rookie coach for pulling the stunt to give his team an edge, and it demonstrated the mentality that Kidd had as a player – win at all costs.
The second-year player involved in the cup job, Tyshawn Taylor, admits he was caught off guard when Kidd told him that night, “Hit me.” Here was a respectful, dedicated Taylor, lost in the moment.
“I really didn’t know what was going on,” Taylor told RealGM. “I’ve seen the video, but I wasn’t really paying attention when that happened. His words got caught on camera, but with a whole crowd, a packed arena, I couldn’t pay attention.”
No matter. The Nets’ season won’t be decided by the cup situation, as much as Kidd agreed he should have known better, especially in this media age. They know the importance of the rest of this month, and Lopez pointed specifically to the next three games – at home against the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers, then at the Detroit Pistons. “But it’s on us to string together the wins,” Lopez said.
From stagnancy to all sorts of movement around him, Lopez is establishing himself with more force now, and this had been part of Jason Kidd’s coaching pitch about a revamped, passing offense. For all the missteps, yes, the future Hall of Fame point guard has come to understand: not much stops Brook Lopez in the post anymore.
Dec 04, 2013 7:28 PM EST
As a promising athlete out of a self-destructing area in Washington, D.C., Tre Kelley saw friend after friend fall victim to violence, fall into the disaster everyone expected from them. At 11, Kelley picked up the phone to the news that his mother had been murdered cold – the most significant tragedy among a long list of friends in jail, critical condition or deceased.
Just this year, 28 now, Kelley became numb to the fact his father passed away, and all these events lead him to ponder questions about his life. Looking back, he wonders: How did I make it out of Northeast Washington, D.C., out of a growing line of deaths there, and into professional basketball with the NBA D-League’s Austin Toros now? He left physically unscathed, but he desperately wanted a story to take home about how he persevered through the shattered lives of his close ones.
“For me to still be here, it’s a great blessing,” Kelley said by phone. “For me to be fairly young and still have an opportunity to achieve my goals, it says a lot. Anything that goes on in life – the failures, people losing jobs – you just can’t compare to losing your mom, losing your dad and losing friends in the street. You can’t compare losing games to those things.
“Nothing compares to getting those calls, hearing those words from my family members when I found out that I lost my mom, lost my dad. It all allows me to drive myself and make a great story out of this. It really drives me.
“Where I come from, people just don’t make it out of there, man. It’s a rough, rough place. You just don’t get a chance of making it out, and I’ve heard so many bad tales about people who had a chance to go to college on a scholarship, and they throw it all away.”
Once the Memphis Grizzlies waived him in the 2010 training camp, Kelley played parts of two seasons overseas where he starred in Europe, and where he scored two 50-point performances in China. Through it all, his sights remained on finding a way back into the NBA, so he decided to return to the Development League with Austin.
Kelley was a consistent, sure scorer in his collegiate career at South Carolina, but he’s grown as a passer averaging his most assists as a pro so far this season. Within an Austin organization well run by the San Antonio Spurs, Kelley has nurturing coaches, a stable system, and he knows this made him a viable NBA hopeful last season.
In Kelley’s mind, this new season represents another chance toward a call up, another reason to prove himself for his rugged old neighborhood.
“I’m really confident in getting called up, because I feel I’ve worked really hard,” Kelley told RealGM. “I’m really focusing on keeping my body in shape, keeping my game sharp. The Toros are a great organization, and I really appreciate the Spurs and Austin. I want to stand out every game, whether it’s points or assists or defense, and I think that’s what you have to do in the D-League.
“There’s no basketball like the NBA in my eyes. From the practices to the games, the margin of error it has compared to other leagues, no league can compare to the NBA. It showed me how professional basketball is. Any time you get a chance to play basketball at the highest level – even in training camp – it helps you.
“I’ve played overseas, played in the D-League, and basketball is just not the same as the NBA.”
For Kelley, teammates and coaches in his brief NBA time had taught him lessons he still implements now, a know-how of techniques to take care of the body, a clearer grasp about the intricacies of running a pro offense. Lionel Hollins had a lasting impact on Kelley, stiffening the six-foot guard’s mindset.
“The guys in Memphis, the way they work, the way they prepare for games and help their bodies recover after the games, that was my best experience,” Kelley said. “After I left there, they went to the Western Conference semifinals and they’ve been a great team ever since.
“Just seeing the work that those guys put in, I definitely learned a tremendous amount from those guys. Especially when you’re trying to make it back to the NBA, I learned exactly how the game is played from them, from coach Hollins.”
From the death of his parents to close friends getting lost on the D.C. streets, Kelley understands those NBA cuts from Memphis and Oklahoma City – as well as Miami in 2007 and 2008 – are such distant, minor disappointments for him. Instead, he remembers grasping that basketball scholarship to the University of South Carolina, in a way he saw people squander. Through every traumatizing event, Tre Kelley’s still chasing a life that so many around him couldn’t.
Nov 12, 2013 8:48 PM EST
Nate Wolters was minutes into being drafted into the NBA in June, and the franchise that selected him with the No. 38 pick – the Washington Wizards – had already traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers. For 15 minutes on draft night, Wolters believed this would be his new team, that he’d report to the Philadelphia organization within the next few days.
“I thought I was going to Philadelphia, and my agent texted me, so I never thought I was going to Washington,” Wolters told RealGM. “It was kind of surreal when I think about it.”
Palpable relief and enjoyment filled Wolters, and he learned soon that it took a second trade to place him in a strong circumstance. Less than a half-hour later that night, John Hammond and the Milwaukee Bucks’ front office pulled off a deal to acquire Wolters.
“I’m happy I’m here,” Wolters said. “It’s definitely a pretty good situation.”
As it turns out, the Bucks executed a shrewd move in dealing for Wolters, and the 22-year-old has the look of a steady, reliable point guard long into his NBA life. He doesn’t lean on his athleticism, but rather his elusive craftiness and smart decision-making, especially as a cautious passer early in his career.
Four years at South Dakota State crafted Wolters into a confident ball handler, and he concedes he’s continuing to surprise people. He’s put up a staggering 34 assists to five turnovers through six games as a pro, a first-year player’s model of a nearly perfect quarterback rating. His coach, Larry Drew, and veterans have been enamored by his work ethic, his wise approach already. As Drew says, “Nate’s a gamer.”
Yes, injuries to Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight have allowed Wolters to take a larger role than he imagined this rapidly, but he’s limited a category – turnovers – that most rookie point guards pile up.
“I’m taking care of the ball pretty well, but I’m also being careful trying not to make mistakes,” Wolters said. “It’s a really small sample size, so we’ll see how it goes moving forward. We’ve got a lot of good players too. I’m learning what I can do, what I can’t do.”
Growing up in Minnesota, Wolters had been fond of Steve Nash and carefully watched his calculating approach, and he laughs when someone mentions that he could emulate his game after the two-time MVP. Even so, Wolters has layers of the court vision that Nash perfected and he still tunes into games Nash plays with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“When Nash is on, he’s one of my favorite players to watch,” Wolters said.
Wolters made his NBA debut at Madison Square Garden and remembers an early sequence when he crossed over his defender, drove to the rim, and was met by Tyson Chandler who bothered his shot release. He quickly learned: This isn’t college basketball anymore. These are physical big men lurking for him.
“When you get in the lane, it’s not 6-7, 6-8 guys, like in college. It’s seven-footers,” Wolters said. “I have to be a little more crafty, and it’s a harder finish, a lot harder to get shots off in the lane. Those lessons and this opportunity will definitely help as my career goes forward. There’s a lot to learn still, but each game I feel I’m getting more comfortable.”
From an under the radar collegiate career at South Dakota State University to the second round of the NBA draft, the first trade, then another, was so surreal for him. Fifteen minutes after the 76ers landed him from the Wizards, the Milwaukee Bucks pushed to acquire Nate Wolters, and they brought a guard hardened out of the Midwest a little closer to home.
Nov 10, 2013
C.J. Miles is off to the best start of his career, averaging over 13 points and supplying Mike Brown with a potent shooter to surround Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack. The Cavaliers held an option on the final year of Miles’ deal this season, but exercising it was a formality and he’s cozied into playing part in the team’s core.
Nov 04, 2013
Rudy Gay reached a peak three seasons ago, and at 27 now he hasn’t attained the individual or team milestones that his gifts were expected to bestow. Three games into the Raptors’ season, his shooting is pedestrian and he admits he’s hastily searching for an offensive rhythm.
Oct 15, 2013
As a career journeyman with seven teams, Stephen Graham had earned three multi-year contracts, but the NBA’s lockout in 2011 prevented him from working out for organizations in the summer and he eventually landed in the D-League and overseas.
Oct 08, 2013
Under Impact trainer Joe Abunassar, Dexter Pittman participated in workouts to increase his stamina, elevate his conditioning, and heard perspectives from the NBA veterans who would work out inside the facility.
Sep 25, 2013
Bobby Simmons has maintained his basketball training while managing his business ventures in Chicago. At 33 now, Simmons still believes he has basketball left to offer a team in the NBA.
Aug 07, 2013
Kevin Garnett and Ron Eskridge, his old teammate and coach, always told Ronnie Fields he would grace the NBA one day. It never happened: a fractured neck derailed his senior season and kept him out of critical games, there was a supposed fallout of his personality, and no opportunity came.
Jul 24, 2013
In DeAndre Jordan’s mind, interest from other NBA teams meant he was desired in a way perhaps the Clippers didn’t feel as well at times this offseason. As the Clippers pursued Kevin Garnett, Jordan was ready to move on if they pulled off a deal – and he took all the supposed interest as respect out of other franchises.
Jul 22, 2013
The Suns know assisting has always been easeful in Kendall Marshall’s game, but now both sides understand the importance of developing a respectable scoring game – built around a reliable jump shot. Marshall has discussed with the new coaching staff how an ability to hit shots can improve the team’s offense.
Jun 20, 2013
Jarvis Varnado will play on Miami’s summer league team in July, a critical moment for him to prove his standing to Heat management. He is confident the Heat will keep him through his non-guaranteed contract next season, but he also understands the burden of continuing to make strides.
May 07, 2013
Alex Len was wise not to jeopardize his future for a short-term gain. And most of all, he knew he could have challenged his ankle to perform in workouts, but then this stress injury promised to linger and leave him needing surgery anyway.
Apr 29, 2013
The Bucks' offseason all revolves around Brandon Jennings, and he’s already made clear he wants to win and the Bucks would be inclined to add veterans and try to pile up picks for next year’s draft.
Apr 26, 2013
LeBron James waited and waited in his recruitment for Ray Allen, waiting for a response to the pitches he has made over the years. The possibility started out as friendly, subdued offers, but it always stayed with Allen. When his career with the Celtics deteriorated, Allen finally came back to James with the message both men wanted, and, yes, the time is now.
Apr 03, 2013
When Sam Presti beat the trade deadline to acquire Ronnie Brewer, he had a vision of another wing defender the Oklahoma City Thunder could use in critical moments on Manu Ginobili or Kobe Bryant, and, ultimately, LeBron James.
Mar 05, 2013
The Jazz have had painful moments this season out of a partial youth movement while competing for the playoffs, and as a rookie, Al Jefferson was a 20-year-old drafted into the same hybrid situation.
Mar 03, 2013
From Tom Thibodeau’s strict system to Dwane Casey’s schemes, John Lucas III values the styles of both coaches. He’s forever grateful for the way he grew under Thibodeau, receiving his first true platform to exhibit his game, and enjoys the chance now with Casey’s Raptors.
Mar 03, 2013
For Andrea Bargnani now, there’s always something new – from criticism inside and outside the Raptors to continued discussion about his capacity living up to the No. 1 pick Toronto used on him in 2006.
Feb 11, 2013
Jose Calderon has already injected the Pistons with a new sense of confidence. Lawrence Frank marvels about Calderon’s calmness and leadership, and the coach has begun to rely upon him to smooth over the offense and, more importantly, rub his knowledge on Brandon Knight.
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