Gary Payton talks Lillard, D-Will and guarding Jordan

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We look at today’s NBA as almost a new golden age of point guards — Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and the list goes on and on.

It’s a very different era from when Gary Payton was at the peak of his career. Back then Payton could body up on Michael Jordan or Tim Hardaway to defend them — he could hand check, hook them a little, be physical with them on the perimeter. Today, any little contact on the perimeter is whistled as a foul.

It’s a different world, one Payton is not sure he could be the same player in. Of course, the reverse is true of today’s best point guards in his era, the legendary Sonic said.

“It would be very hard for me to adjust because I was very aggressive,” Payton told ProBasketballTalk. “I was an aggressive basketball player. I probably wouldn’t be on the floor too often because I would have to be aggressive. Today you would have to adjust by being a finesse basketball player and just scoring. I don’t know….

“A lot of these players are very explosive and I couldn’t have been pressing up on them. But in our day these guys would have had a lot of problems because we can hand check, we can hold you, we could do a lot of things and you couldn’t go nowhere. We would have been doubling up and jumping out and a lot of players would have been getting hit. It just would have been a little bit different.”

Payton now spends time at his California home, working on his charitable foundations that help youth in Oakland where he grew up. He’s working with Nike to re-release “The Glove” signature shoes, but updated (kind of like Nike did with Penny Hardaway’s shoes recently). And Payton’s working to launch Thuzio in Los Angeles, a company that sets people or organizations up with athletes to come speak at an event or just go to a dinner party.

Payton also is watching a lot of basketball. And what point guards is he watching?

“I like Damian Lillard because he’s from Oakland, California, and he’s a phenomenal basketball player,” Payton said. “He should be the rookie of the year, he’s playing very well right now for Portland and I love his game.

“I’ve been watching Deron Williams for a long period of time now and I like him. He is the epitome of an old-school basketball player. He just goes out there and gets it done, he’s not about being fancy, going through your legs three or four times, pulling up in your face. He just gets it done. He just gets what he has to get, gets his assists, gets his rebounds, gets his points and just gets his team to win.”

Payton talked about a number of other topics with PBT as well (which you can hear more of in his own words in our Friday prodcast):

• On being nominated for the Hall of Fame: “It’s showing a lot of people have respected the things I’ve done in basketball and it’s showing I’ve done a lot in basketball. And I’m really happy for it. Not a lot of people can get in the Hall of Fame, it’s a great honor. I hope that I can make it.”

• On the NBA possibly returning to Seattle soon: “I don’t like to talk about it until it is done. Hopefully it will be there, hopefully it will come back. The Seattle people deserve it very much, they’ve been going on without basketball for seven years now and hopefully that can be done. It would be a great deal for the city of Seattle.”

• On defending Michael Jordan: “What you’ve got to understand is Michael Jordan couldn’t be stopped he could just be contained because he was a great offensive player. He could get to the free throw line. He could jump over you. He had great moves, he did a lot of things.”

“What I tried to do was tie him up, to get a little frustrated, and hopefully I could do that and it worked sometimes. But he would still get his 25-30 points because a guy like that, when he shoots the ball as many times as Michael Jordan does you can’t stop him. He’s going to make baskets and get to the free throw line. So I just tried to contain him. Just tie him up, don’t let him get the ball easy, don’t let him get in his comfort zone, make things difficult for him and try to get him frustrated where he’ll foul you and get in a little foul trouble, then something good will happen for me.”

• Payton is working with John Wall and helping the Wizards guard adjust to the NBA.

• On his charity work: “I work with kids now, try to get them out of the neighborhood, try to get them scholarships, because their families and their parents can’t give them enough money to get out. I give five scholars scholarships a year. In Oakland I have a youth center.”

• On the recent trash talk incident between Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett, and report KG said something about ‘Melo’s wife: “That’s just disrespectful. It’s just the same thing where you can’t say something about somebody’s mom, or their father that was just sick and died or something. There’s just a fine line that you go to.

“You can talk the stuff but this this is nothing but a game. When it gets personal and people get their feelings involved then these guys can do anything. They start wanting to see you off the court and things like that. So we got to keep it a little bit under control.”

• And he was clearly excited about Thuzio and getting to mean fans through it: “It’s a good thing with Thuzio because it gives fans a lot of the memorable things with athletes that they really, really wanted to meet for a long time. There’s people who are like ‘Wow, I wish I could meet Gary Payton.’ Now Thuzio is giving you the opportunity to do that. You can come and have me as a coach, you can have me as a dinner partner, that is something that can be memorable for someone for the rest of their life.”

Thon Maker, all 7’1″ of him, sat in economy class to get flight going

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If you are six-foot or taller, economy class on a modern airline feels cramped. But at least the airlines make up for it with a delicious full meal a bag of peanuts and a free movie.

Can you imagine a 7’1″ guy in economy?

The Bucks’ Thon Maker did it on a recent United flight and the passenger next to him Paul Kuzma posted about it on Facebook (hat tip to onmilwaukee.com).

Well, a missed #United flight found me on a rebooked one. After ending up in an upgraded Economy Plus (yay!) middle seat (not so yay!), volunteers were asked one by one, row by row, if one would relocate to the last row of the plane, middle seat….

My heart leapt again when I came to the last row and BOTH the middle AND aisle seats were open! I stowed my gear in the middle seat area but sat in the aisle seat, hoping.

Alas, it was too good to be true! Moments later, a 7’1″ tall young man who could not even stand completely straight in the aisle of the plane made his way our direction. My heart sunk, not for me, but for him! I saw him emerge from an Economy Plus window seat!

I told him I was so sorry, knowing this would be uncomfortable for him. He nonchalantly said it was worth it to get this delayed flight going. He had practice to attend in the morning and had a 2+ hour drive to get where he was headed after landing….

I had to ask how in the world he ended up in the last row. He also had missed a flight and was rebooked on this one. He was assigned his original FIRST CLASS seat. He had settled in there when a flight attendant told him the person who had paid for that seat on THIS flight had shown up, albeit very late. They had to move him to Economy Plus.

Once there for a while, his story mirrors mine. Requests were being made for someone to move to the last row and no one was volunteering. So he volunteered, wanting the flight to begin.

He couldn’t even fit his knees into the Economy seat! Every time the snack cart came by or someone had to use the restroom, he had to get up and move out of their way.

The entire flight, there was not a hint of resentment in his voice. He was even happy to allow me a picture with him and an autograph. Class act, Thon!

Somewhere a cranky old NBA player is saying “we always used to have to fly commercial…” and sorry old man, but that doesn’t make it easy or right. There’s a reason NBA teams moved away from that (and it wasn’t to save money).

Good on Maker for being willing to sacrifice when plenty of other normal-sized people couldn’t be bothered.

And if the name Kuzma is familiar, the author says his is the second cousin once removed of the Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the Kyrie Irving trade

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Is LeBron James more likely to stay in Cleveland now?

Are the Boston Celtics contenders? Are they better set up for the future?

There are a lot more questions that come out of the surprise Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick. It’s a deal that is a big win for Cleveland, they got more than they should have expected in return. However, this is in no way a bad deal for the Celtics.

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break it all down in this latest PBT Podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Clippers reach deal with Michael Winger to be new GM

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We knew this was coming, now it’s about to be official.

Former Oklahoma City Thunder assistant GM Michael Winger is about to take over as the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers. They offered him the job last week, now the sides have agreed to terms, and he will sign a deal soon, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Oklahoma City Thunder executive Michael Winger has reached an agreement in principle to become the general manager of the LA Clippers, league sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Doc Rivers is no longer the guy with the hammer in Los Angeles, he will just be coaching the Clippers (and still getting $10 million a year paychecks, in case you think he’ll just walk away). The power structure now has Lawrence Frank at the top as the President of Basketball Operations, with Winger doing to work under him. The Clippers are expected to hire Trent Redden, one of David Griffin’s former right hand men in Cleveland, to work under Winger as an assistant GM. The Clippers also are expected to hire another assistant GM soon.

Frank, Winger and crew take over a team in transition. Chris Paul is gone, but the Clippers locked up Blake Griffin on a max deal this summer, they got a good veteran point guard in Patrick Beverley from Houston, and they signed Danilo Gallinari. They picked up some good young players in the CP3 trade such as Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker (who they now need to develop). The Clippers should be in the mix for one of the final three playoff slots in the West next season, but that doesn’t answer the bigger picture questions. Are the Clippers a team rebuilding for the future on the fly? Are they looking to stay good and relevant until they can get their new building in Inglewood constructed? Are they a year or two away from a total rebuild?

Steve Ballmer ultimately gets to make that call. It will be up to Winger to execute it.

Kyrie Irving trade doesn’t change LeBron James’ plans. Probably.

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The Kyrie Irving trade to Boston was really about LeBron James.

Irving wanted out of LeBron’s shadow in Cleveland and asked for a trade. Cleveland got in Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder two guys who can help them win next season and chase a ring (and the Warriors) while LeBron is in Cleveland. It also gave the Cavaliers the Brooklyn Nets pick next draft and Ante Zizic, players that could help Cleveland rebuild if LeBron leaves next summer as a free agent.

What this trade doesn’t do is change LeBron’s calculus.

Probably.

LeBron can opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent next summer, and he almost certainly will do that. Even if he wanted to stay in Cleveland, he’d opt out to sign a bigger, longer deal.

What has not changed with this trade is the sense around the league is LeBron has one foot out the door — good luck finding anyone who thinks he’s likely to stay a Cav after next season. He seems ready to move on to the next chapter and challenge, having brought a ring to Cleveland and it looks like this era and team has played itself out.

However, what LeBron has done well is leave his options open, something he has done very intentionally sources tell me. Maybe he wants to go to Los Angeles to enjoy the weather, be close to his business interests, and chase rings with Lonzo Ball and whoever else the Lakers can land in free agency (such as Paul George). Maybe Blake Griffin is on to something and he wants to be a Knick. Maybe a lot of things, the point is LeBron left his options open to make whatever call he wants.

Including staying in Cleveland. Even if it’s a longshot right now, a season is a lifetime in the NBA and attitudes shift.

With this trade, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East, and Crowder gives them the kind of shooter and wing defender the team desperately needed in a matchup with the Warriors (they need more like him). The reality is that if the Warriors are healthy, maybe the series ends in six games instead of five (and that’s a big maybe), but Golden State is still clearly superior. However, the Cavs will be in the Finals, they will get their shot — and stuff happens. We’ve seen it before, a player misses a game (let’s say due to a suspension for kicking) or another has an injury and is not quite 100 percent, and the door opens — then LeBron and Thomas can bust right through it. If the Cavaliers are in the Finals, they have a chance.

Win a ring, or even if the Cavs look like they can legitimately win a ring, LeBron will take it into consideration. That’s where the Brooklyn Nets pick comes in — maybe the Cavs can draft an elite player to add to the mix, or maybe they can trade the pick to get another top veteran player to come to Cleveland to round out the team.

That’s a lot of ifs. LeBron still is more likely to leave then stay next summer. His thoughts, his calculus does not change. What this trade does is give the Cavaliers a slightly better shot at a ring (even though Thomas has some serious defensive issues that can be exposed). With that there’s a chance.

The trade also gives Cleveland options if LeBron looks like he’s leaving. They have a little more flexibility, too.