The T-Mac In Winter

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SAN ANTONIO — Tracy McGrady is a shockingly young man. He will not turn 34 until May. He’s younger than, among others, Adrian Beltre, Tom Brady, Bradley Cooper and Kate Hudson. He’s too young to be President (not that this seems an especially viable career option) and he’s younger than all but one of the Backstreet Boys.

Still, everything about Tracy McGrady screams oldness.  I think this is probably because he was drafted by Toronto right out of high school, so we have known him for a long, long time. His started in the NBA in 1997 – that year he was teammates with Tim Kempton, who was once teammates with Cedric Maxwell, who was once teammates with John Havlicek who was once teammates with Bob Cousy. When you can be connected to Bob Cousy through only three teammates, you have been around a while.

Also, athletes – and particularly brilliant young athletes like McGrady – age differently from the rest. There was a time when Tracy McGrady seemed limitless. He could absolutely fly – who could forget the time he dunked over 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley (“He just sucked the gravity right out of the building!”). He was an unstoppable scorer, twice leading the league in points-per-game (since 2000, his 32.1 points per game in 2002-03 is third behind Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson in 2005-06). T-Mac was a breathtaking player who could do ridiculous superhero things.

Now, well, he can’t. He knows that. He’s still amazing when you compare him to, say, the best basketball player you know. But he’s not THAT player, not even close to THAT player – he’s aged, he’s been hurt, he’s grown tired, he hasn’t been an NBA regular in a long while. This season, he played his basketball in China. When asked how the basketball is played there, he breathed the deep sigh of a man who has seen pretty much everything. “Physical, man,” he said. “Physical.”

McGrady was at the San Antonio Spurs shoot-around Wednesday, working out for the first time for his new team. Nobody – not coach Gregg Popovich, not the Spurs players, not even McGrady himself – has any expectations about this relationship. He’s a wildcard. He might work his way into a certain role — maybe as an emergency point guard. He might play in certain situations like when the Spurs need an energy burst. He might not play at all. The Spurs signed him because Stephen Jackson was cut and they figured, hey, why not? Maybe the Spurs remember when he scored 13 points in the final 35 seconds to lead the Yao Ming Rockets to a shocking win over San Antonio in 2004.

“I don’t know if they remember that … I do know my Asian fans remember that,” McGrady says. “Every year, they have like a day to remember it.” Everybody laughs, but McGrady doesn’t. “I’m serious. They do.”

Wednesday, McGrady goes through a basic workout – lots of weaving, a few shots off screens, some basic education on the Spurs Way. There’s no way to catch him up on nearly everything the Spurs do, not this late in the season, but there’s also no reason for that. McGrady knows how to play basketball. He is a seven-time All-Star, and this is his eighth pro team if you include the Qingdao Eagles in China. Whatever the Spurs need from him, sure, he will find his way.

What is striking is how much the workout takes out of him. He admits that he got back from China two months ago, and he spent the bulk of those two months playing with his kids and sitting on the couch. All around him, Spurs players run around and barely sweat. But after a few sprints, McGrady breathes heavy. After a few more, his shot begins to fall off the front rim. He talks to the basketball (“C’mon girl, get in there!”).

If there is a knock on McGrady’s great career, it is that his teams never once won a playoff series. It is a sensitive point with him (“I can’t do it myself,” he says softly). He know that here in San Antonio, at the end, after he thought his NBA days were over, he gets a chance to be part of one of the best teams in the league. He gets to play with Hall of Famers and a Hall of Fame coach. Sure, he would like to taste victory, even as a role player, even if he never gets off the bench.

So, he’s pumped up about it. He works through the rust and the pain. The Spurs coaches put him in a baseline drill … basically, he is to set a screen, then sprint full speed to the corner, catch the ball and drain a three-point shot. The drill will go on until he makes three three-pointers.

And so, McGrady takes a step, a skip, runs into the drill. He sets the screen, sprints to the right corner, catches, fires, swishes the shot.

“Great shot,” the assistant coach yells. “Go!”

And Tracy McGrady runs out again, sets another screen and sprints full speed to the other corner, catches the ball and shoots the three. This one too, swishes.

Before the coach can say another word, he’s in motion again, back to the screen spot, a pause, and then all out to the corner, he catches, he jumps, and he fades away from the basket as he lets it go. This one swishes as well. Three shots, three swishes, just like old times.

“Terrific Tracy,” the coach yells. “Great job. Go shoot some free throws.”

Tracy McGrady smiles a little bit. He still can put the ball in the basket. Then he bends over, grabs his shorts, inhales and exhales and holds on for dear life.

Timberwolves to unveil new logo at final home game

AP Photo/Jim Mone
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The Timberwolves’ were the trendy pick for a breakout team this season with Tom Thibodeau coaching Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.

Instead, Minnesota fell flat. At, 28-42 the Timberwolves will miss the playoffs for the 13th straight year – the NBA’s longest active postseason draught.

But they’ve shown progress lately and could carry that momentum into next season.

It’ll be a fresh start in at least one way.

Timberwolves release:

The Minnesota Timberwolves begin a new chapter in their franchise history by unveiling a new team logo as part of Fan Appreciation Night at Target Center on Tuesday, April 11. The Wolves will conclude the home portion of their regular season schedule that evening by hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder at 7 p.m.

The logo will be unveiled during a special halftime show and all fans in attendance will receive a commemorative t-shirt with the new identity featured.

While the new identity won’t fully take effect until the 2017-18 season, the unveiling marks only the fourth identity in the franchise’s 28-year history.  The announcement is also the beginning of an eventful summer as the Wolves brand continues to evolve. There will be several future announcements regarding the unveiling of the new team uniforms, new court designs and additional events throughout the coming months.

I’m glad these uniforms are coming out next year. I always enjoy when a style change coincides with a team changing on the court, and it seems the Timberwolves could truly do that.

Shaq on flat-earth claim: ‘I’m joking, you idiots’

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After Kyrie Irving claimed the Earth is flat, he doubled down and insisted he truly believed that.

After Shaquille O’Neal claimed the Earth is flat

Shaq on Art of Charm (hat tip: Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports):

The Earth is flat. Would you like to hear my theory?

The first part of the theory is, I’m joking, you idiots. That’s the first part of the theory.

This world we live in, people take things too seriously. But I’m going to give the people answers to my test. Knowing that I’m a funny guy, if something seems controversial or boom, boom, boom, you’ve got to have my funny points on, right? So now, once you have my funny points on, that should eradicate and get rid of all your negative thoughts, right? That’s what you should do when you hear Shaquille O’Neal’s statement, OK? You should know that he has funny points right over here, and what did he say? The guy had, boom, boom, boom. Add the funny points. You either laugh, or you don’t laugh. But don’t take me seriously. When I want you to take me seriously, you will know by the tone of my voice that I’m being serious.

Shaq is excellent at drawing attention to himself. The only surprise is that he didn’t keep this ruse up longer.

If Irving is pulling our collective legs to put the focus on him, at least credit the Cavaliers guard for maintaining the story longer. That Shaq lasted only a few days is revelatory.

Earl Watson, amid UCLA rumors, says ‘main focus’ is with Suns

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At least the college-coaching rumors surrounding the Celtics’ Brad Stevens and Thunder’s Billy Donovan are about an actual vacancy: Indiana.

With Suns coach Earl Watson, it’s a step removed.

But here’s the gambit: UCLA coach Steve Alford is an Indiana alum, and many believe he’ll fill the Hoosiers’ opening. That’d leave UCLA in the market for a new coach – maybe Watson, an alum.

Watson, via Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic:

“There’s no doubt that I love my school,” Watson said. “It took me out of a poverty situation and gave me hope. The school is an amazing place. I feel like it saved me. But I also feel like (former Memphis coach) Hubie Brown saved me in another way. Playing for the Utah Jazz, they were there during a difficult part of my personal life and they helped me a ton. And then, of course, the San Antonio Spurs, after the death of my brother, the love they gave me is what I needed most, and that love is genuine. So you have different points in your life where people and groups come into your life and none of them are family and they impact you for the positive.”

At the same time:

“I’m more focused on creating value for our (organization), to give management and ownership many options to build a championship contender here,” Watson said. “What I mean by that is, building the value of the young players so that their value and their game and their confidence give them the option to be financially secure in this league when they become free agents; giving our ownership the option to build around them or give ownership and management the option to make moves because their value is so high to put us in contention quicker. That’s all I can do is build value. The winning will happen. There’s a lot of questions with our program, but one thing I do realize is these players are playing amazing for their age. I love them, they’re like my little brothers. My main focus is here.”

There’s little evidence Watson is a good NBA coach. He’s 31-73 in a season and a half in Phoenix, and his players have looked especially undisciplined.

That said, the Suns are very young. Maybe they’d look even more undisciplined under another coach.

Watson’s player-development experience could suit him well for college. As little as he’s done to prove he’s a good NBA coach, he hasn’t done much to prove he’s a bad NBA coach, either.

If Alford bolts, Watson’s history with UCLA probably warrants an interview if he wants it. But if I were the Bruins, I’d also consider other candidates.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim keeps fabricating NBA draft stats

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Sophomore forward Tyler Lydon declared for the NBA draft, which Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim seized as an opportunity to spew more nonsense.

Connor Grossman of The Daily Orange:

Boeheim cautioned Lydon about jumping into the NBA Draft now, knowing he lacked the “monster year” it would’ve taken for him to get lottery pick consideration.

“He didn’t demonstrate this year that he can be a lottery pick,” Boeheim said, “but next year I know he can be. That’s what I told him. I think he can come back here and demonstrate that he can be a lottery pick.

“I think it’s a better way to go to the NBA. You make money, they draft you high, they play you. Half the picks between 20-30 are out of the league within three years.”

We don’t yet know whether anyone drafted in 2014 or later will last more than three years in the NBA. So, let’s examine the prior 10-year period: 2004-2013. I exempted Nikola Mirotic, who jumped late to the NBA and is in his third season right now (even though I’d be shocked if he’s not in the NBA next season).

In that span, 22% of players picked between 20-30 were out of the league within in three years.

That’s not even half of Boeheim’s stated figure.

A third of those picks who washed out so quickly were international players. NBA teams are pretty good at scouting and developing college players, who face fewer hurdles in translating to the to the league. So, Lydon being projected to go in the first round means something.

The most recent college player picked in this range to fall out of the league, Perry Jones, got paid for a fourth season. Even the cases that count for Boeheim are poor examples.

And who’s to say Lydon would develop into a lottery pick if he stayed another year at Syracuse? The only guarantee would be missing an opportunity at a year of NBA earnings. Lydon’s stock could fall, a precarious possibility for someone who doesn’t excel at creating shots. Lydon can develop with an NBA team, maybe even spending time in the D-League – while earning far more than the college-sports cartel allows.

Boeheim’s self-serving approach is painfully evident. He enriches himself on the backs of young college players, and when the most talented among them leave early, that hurts his stature. So, he makes up bogus figures in attempt to get what he wants.

It’s shameful.