Rookies get introduction NBA perils off the court

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Kentucky-Rookies.jpgJohn Wall is learning that life in the NBA is challenging on the court — in his first Summer League game against Golden State Wall pushed the ball on the fast break, got into the lane, made a lightning quick spin move and tried to lay the ball in, only to have Reggie Williams come flying over him and block the shot.

The challenges off the court can be worse.

The average guy drafted plays five years in the league — they are done by age 27. That’s a lot of life left, especially players who never imagined a life off the court. While the players will make good money in the league, there’s more ways to blow it all than there are NBA groupies. And there are hotels full of groupies.

These rookies will find friends trying to mooch and steal off them, seemingly well-connected people with business plans that could shred their public perception, family members looking to leech off them (or worse yet want to take over their finances or marketing), and countless other ways for them to get into trouble. NBA players have to learn to navigate this minefield.

While we were looking at photos from the NBA’s rookie day photo shoot, the NBA was trying it’s own scared straight program. A day-long class designed to be a dose of reality for players about what really lies ahead for them off the court. The Washington Post talked with John Wall about his experience there.

Wall said the importance of image and public perception was hammered home during a presentation by NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver. Silver showed a poll from fans that revealed that NBA players have the greatest image problem of athletes in the three major sports.

“That ain’t good,” said Wall, who has been conscious of his image since he was 14 and joined the D-One Sports AAU program. His coaches and now advisers Brian and Dwon Clifton had a strict policy of no cornrows or tattoos. Wall, who had braids at the time, was initially reluctant, but came around at the urging of some of his friends.

“When I first cut my hair and all that and didn’t get any tattoos, that was the main thing, having a clean image coming into this,” said Wall, who admits that he has been tempted to get a tattoo to honor his late father on his chest. “That’s what they want, to help you to be more marketable. And if you don’t stay in the league a long time, it helps you get jobs after this.”

Wall is a lucky one — a guy who came to his stardom relatively late in high school, not a guy picked as a future top pick from age 10 on. He comes off far more grounded than most.

To make sure the message doesn’t go completely in one ear and out the other, the NBA brings in guys these players know, such as Alonzo Mourning.

Mourning, the former Georgetown star and NBA champion with the Miami Heat, congratulated the rookies on making it to the league but wanted them to understand that being a basketball player is “temporary” and told them that success wasn’t guaranteed, using the example of former No. 2 overall pick Jay Williams, whose career was derailed when he was injured in a motorcycle accident after his rookie season with Chicago.

“As fast as you come in this league, this league will spit you out of here,” Mourning said. “I knew there was a clock that started as soon as I came into the league.”

The messages in the meeting cover a lot of mines — how to handle pressure from friends and NBA peers, taking care of their money, sexual health, avoiding drugs, gambling regulations and more. Maybe the most important — and maybe most overlooked — is how to say no to family members looking to be given money and more. Many of these players are close with family members and trust them unconditionally, and it costs many of them.

The message doesn’t always sink in; there will be hard lessons to be learned. Just like on the court. But the rookies come away with a little more knowledge of what lies ahead, and that’s at least a few mines avoided.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.