Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook

Derek Fisher has moved on from Lakers trade, embracing his new role in Oklahoma City

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Derek Fisher returned to Staples Center on Thursday as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, his first time back since the deadline day deal the Lakers made to trade him away exactly two weeks ago.

The return was a triumphant one, with his new team thrashing his old one 102-93, behind strong performances from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, particularly in the second half.

Fisher wasn’t necessarily signed for the statistical on-court production that now, at age 37, he’s unlikely to provide on a reliable or consistent basis. But he impacted the game a bit on this night, personally carving into an early 10-point Laker lead by scoring seven points in seven minutes in his first stint off the bench. This, after receiving two separate, sincere standing ovations from the crowd — one following a video tribute played in the arena just before tip-off, and another as he was subbed into the game for the first time with 2:04 remaining in the first quarter.

Before all that, Fisher met with a large group of media — crazy-large, really, for a regular season contest involving a player not named LeBron James — and talked about his emotions as he prepared to face his former teammates.

“My emotions aren’t really strange,” he said.  “You know, I’ve kind of been through this dress rehearsal before a few times with a couple different teams. It’s different compared to what I’ve been used to the last four or five years, but it’s a game. And I play for the other team now.”

Fisher said he has come to accept the trade now, and the fact that it happened at all wasn’t really the concern — it was the way it came about so suddenly that he said was the part that wasn’t all that pleasant.

“I know there have been a lot of statements made — including mine, I guess — about what I thought I knew about the situation, whether I knew I was going to get traded, how I was going to feel about it, what my role would have been had I still been on the team,” Fisher said. “I’m in a good place right now.”

“Initially it was more shock than just pure disappointment,” he continued. “I’ve been in this business for a long time, and, not just for me personally, but for thousands of guys that have played this game, I’ve always thought there were different ways to handle trade and waiver-type situations, where there can be some more communication — not necessarily far in advance, but enough to not have to find out from the mailman or at the post office that you’ve been traded.  And I’m not saying that’s what happened in this case, but I did wake up and I was traded. And that’s the part that shocks you more than anything.”

The prevailing belief in Los Angeles has been that those in power didn’t feel Fisher would adjust well to a reduced role on the team, moving further down the bench after the team acquired Ramon Sessions — a stance which was reiterated by Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak to reporters before the game.

“With Steve Blake and Ramon and Derek we have three point guards,” Kupchak said. “It’s not fair to the coach to get a young, ball-handling guard that you see as the future (in Sessions) and it’s not fair to the coach to have to choose between three players. It’s not fair to Ramon to come in and know he’s the guy pushing that guy to the bench.

“And the third thing is, Derek wants to play. And we felt making this trade that he probably would be the one not playing. And he would try to earn it, he would fight and scratch, but the odds were he would be the odd man out. That wouldn’t be fair to him.”

Fisher discounted this completely, saying essentially that his entire life has been about fitting in with the team concept.

“It goes against and flies in the face of — not just what I’ve been since I’ve been in the NBA, but the type of team player I’ve been in every group I’ve been a part of,” Fisher said in regards to possibly having to deal with a reduced role. “Team sports raised me, in a sense — outside of my mom and dad and family, I was raised on team sports. And that meant, and has always stood for, sharing and sacrificing and giving of yourself so that the group can succeed.”

Fisher genuinely seems fine with how things have shaken out, and has embraced his new situation in Oklahoma City. He specifically mentioned the fact that there was no “championship or bust mentality” as a positive, and said after his new team’s big win that the lack of that pressure has the Thunder playing in a free-spirited way that perhaps his former Lakers team hasn’t been able to in quite some time.

“It’s extremely refreshing and enjoyable to play on a team that’s really not playing with any additional pressure to have to do anything,” Fisher said. “We’re showing up every night just having fun and playing the game. To be on such a young team, it’s a lot of fun. The locker room is extremely different than what our locker room used to be like (in L.A.) in terms of preparing for games. But when that ball tips off, Kevin, Russell, Serge, Kendrick, Thabo — everybody’s ready to play. And it’s a good feeling.”

Carmelo Anthony gathers athletes, cops, kids in conversation

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States stands on the court as the American national anthem is performed before a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game against Argentina at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Carmelo Anthony spent the U.S. Olympic basketball team’s precious day off running a two-hour town hall meeting at a South Los Angeles youth center because he can’t sleep anymore.

With only a few spare hours Monday before jetting off to continue the Americans’ pre-Olympic tour, Anthony gathered basketball stars, community leaders and police officers to speak with teenagers and young adults about the importance of respect, communication and safety. Roughly 200 people came together for the meeting, and Anthony believes everyone left with something to contemplate.

“We really got a lot of messages out of today,” Anthony said. “Hopefully we can continue this dialogue, and we created something today that will continue on.”

Anthony shares many Americans’ profound disquiet with gun violence after this year’s series of increasingly dismaying shootings. With both the men’s and women’s Olympic teams in Los Angeles at the same time, the New York Knicks star recruited fellow Olympian Tamika Catchings and other like-minded athletes at the Challengers Boys and Girls Club to begin a badly needed nationwide conversation.

“There were some very, very powerful messages that were being talked about,” Anthony said. “Not just amongst us as athletes, but among the youth. The youth really spoke out today about how they feel about their community, how they feel about police officers, how they feel about relationships and how we can mend these relationships.”

Anthony’s awakening interest in social activism was piqued after he spent a day watching news coverage of the latest shootings earlier this month. He awoke in the middle of the night and wrote a 280-word Instagram post declaring that the “system is broken” and calling on sports figures to lead change.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, I have to get my athletes, my fellow athletes, to step up and use their voice and use their platform in the best way they can,” Anthony said.

Two weeks ago, he took the stage at the ESPY Awards with Chris Paul, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The four superstars decried violence and called for open conversation on racial issues.

Anthony backed up the group’s words before Team USA left Los Angeles following an exhibition game on Sunday night. He plans to keep finding ways to facilitate communication after this gathering led to frank discussions.

Catchings recalled young adults telling police officers about the fear they feel when approached by officers with their hands on their guns. One young woman told officers: “Just smile! A smile goes a long way.”

“Definitely tension, and definitely some tears,” said Catchings, the three-time Olympic gold medalist and former WNBA MVP. “One young lady said that when she got off the bus and saw the (police) uniform, right off the bat, she was scared.

“But coming into this environment and hearing everything, she (said), `I doubted if I really wanted to be a part of it, but I’m so glad I came, because now I feel like I’m walking away with so much more than I thought I was going to get.’ When you have conversations like that and you get feedback like that, we know we’re going in the right direction.”

The community leaders invited by Anthony echoed his confidence in the importance of communication, particularly between police and young black men. Deputy Chief Bill Scott of the LAPD brought a large group of officers to join the meeting.

“Many of the kids in our group said, `We’re thrilled to be here,”‘ said Calvin Lyons, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles. “`We have a higher level of respect for the officers because of what they’re sharing.’ There was no fear.”

Anthony hopes to be a three-time Olympic gold medalist at this time next month, possibly capping a remarkable international career with another title in Rio before he heads back to the Knicks. He knows his work in American communities will go on much longer than even his NBA career, but he welcomes the challenge.

“We know that nothing is going to happen overnight,” Anthony said. “But what we wanted to do was create something that we could start right now, and continue on when we leave here today.”

Timberwolves new CEO knows exactly what he’s getting into

This 2016 image provided by the San Francisco 49ers shows Ethan Casson posed at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. In 1998, Casson called sports teams all over the country asking to get a foot in the door. The Minnesota Timberwolves answered, giving him an entry-level position. Almost 20 years later, Casson returns to the franchise as the team's new CEO hoping to help a team that has struggled on the business side almost as much as it has on the court. (Terrell Lloyd/The San Francisco 49ers via AP)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) In the winter of 1998, Ethan Casson started calling professional franchise after professional franchise, begging them to get his foot in the door in any capacity.

One night, a human resources employee for the Minnesota Timberwolves picked up the phone and Casson talked his way into a meeting. He flew from the East Coast, met with several Timberwolves executives and, during the third quarter of a game against the Golden State Warriors, was offered an entry-level position on the business side of the operation at $24,000 per year.

“To think that what started as a cold call of me begging an HR person to let me come in and prove my worth 18 years later turned into me coming back as a CEO is amazing and certainly very special to me,” Casson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Casson had to sell his car and some other possessions to raise the money to pay for his move from Boston to the Twin Cities, but the leap of faith has paid off. Six years after he left the Timberwolves to climb the ladder with the San Francisco 49ers, he is returning as CEO to breathe new life into one of the NBA’s struggling operations.

Timberwolves President Chris Wright remembered the impression Casson left in those first face-to-face meetings.

“I told him we’re going to find a place for you in this franchise because you are exactly the type of person that we want build this franchise around,” Wright said.

Casson’s first stint with the Timberwolves lasted 11 years. He worked his way up to senior vice president of corporate partnerships and met his future wife here before leaving for the 49ers in 2010.

When he arrived in the Bay Area, the once-proud 49ers were in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought. Their revenue had dropped to near the bottom of the league and they were playing in an outdated stadium that couldn’t compete with the shiny new ones popping up around the league. He leaves after helping to secure a 20-year, $220 million naming rights deal with Levi’s for the new stadium and rebuilding the franchise’s business operations.

The Timberwolves have not made the playoffs since 2004, the longest active drought in the league. That futility has contributed significantly to plummeting revenue and a dwindling season ticket base.

“I’m not saying it’s apples to apples, but I certainly feel I’ve been on a six-year journey that involved a lot of similar themes,” Casson said. “And I’ll apply all of those lessons to this next phase of my career.”

Casson replaces Rob Moor, the longtime CEO who stepped aside to work more closely with Wolves owner Glen Taylor’s other business interests. At 42 years old, Casson is part of a youth movement coming into the organization. Taylor also brought in 41-year-old New York real estate mogul Meyer Orbach and 35-year-old Chinese entrepreneur John Jiang as minority owners, and he hopes the three of them help bring a new perspective and energy to the business side that mirrors the vibe youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are bringing to the team.

“I was very aware and respectful that taking on this role wasn’t about coming in and fixing things that were broken,” Casson said. “I don’t look at opportunities like this as somethings not working. I look at it as an opportunity to reset and plot out a different course or a different version of a course that moves the business forward.”

The challenges are real. The Timberwolves’ competitive dormancy buried them in a crowded sports marketplace. Tickets have been hard to sell and the NFL’s Vikings, the NHL’s Wild and MLB’s Twins are competing for the corporate dollars.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” said Wright, who is entering his 25th season with the Wolves. “I’ve tried to do it what I consider the best way for the franchise given all of the different sort of environments we’ve found ourselves in over the last 12 years as we’ve not been making the playoffs. And I think Ethan is going to just bring a completely fresh, new look to all of that and lead us in the direction we need to be as a club in the 21st century.”

The Wolves have one of the most promising young cores in the league, a brand new practice facility in downtown Minneapolis and have begun renovations on the dusty Target Center.

“There’s a lot of momentum in and around the organization that made it very exciting for me as a fan and now as someone who is coming back as CEO,” he said. “That will come and go. The renovation will eventually be complete. The team will stabilize and be competitive. You still have to make sure the business model is sustainable and drivable. That’s what we’re going to be.”

Joel Embiid arm wrestled Justin Bieber in a club? Yup. There is video.

THERMAL, CA - APRIL 16:  Professional basketball player Joel Embiid attends the Levi's Brand and RE/DONE Levi's presents NEON CARNIVAL with Tequila Don Julio on April 16, 2016 in Thermal, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Tequila Don Julio)
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Joel Embiid is officially 7’0″ tall and 250 pounds, although when you see him in person now that number seems low, he looks thicker and stronger.

Justin Bieber is a 5’9″ waiflike person.

So of course, they arm wrestled at the club Hyde in Los Angeles. It went about as you’d expect. Here is some video, hat tip to Dan Devine at Ball Don’t Lie (arguably the best arm wrestler in the NBA media).

If you’re about to make an “at least Embiid didn’t get hurt” joke, be more creative.

Hopefully, we get to see what Embiid can do on the court this fall, where the competition will be a lot tougher than any Canadian pop star.

Larry Sanders asks in Twitter poll what team he should play for next season

Larry Sanders
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Larry Sanders is talking about getting back into the NBA. He walked away in 2015 to say he needed to deal with anxiety and depression, to find a balance in his life. Recently he told Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders this:

“But I feel like I’m in a much better place right now and I’m equipped to be able to put myself in that situation again.”

But where? A lot of teams could use an athletic big who averaged 1.4 blocks per game over the five years he was in the NBA, although with the conservative nature of NBA front offices they will not want to take much risk (Golden State reportedly thought about it and decided not to offer him a contract).

Sanders decided to ask Twitter where he should go, putting Twitter’s poll feature to good use.

The question becomes, where is there mutual interest from any of these teams?

If Sanders and his agent can win a team over in an interview, the contract will be small and the number of guaranteed years is not exceeding one (if even that). From the perspective of an NBA team, Sanders has to prove himself again.

But never underestimate how many chances big men get in this league.

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)