Brandon Jennings, Joe Dumars

Brandon Jennings says Pistons could become Lob City, pledges to change his game

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As he sat down for his new conference to introduce Brandon Jennings, Joe Dumars muttered, “Oh my god.”

I don’t know what Dumars was referring to at that moment, but I cant think of a better way to describe the experiment he’s conducting with the Pistons.

Jennings at point guard with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in a supersized front court.

Oh my god.

“We could bring the Lob City to Detroit this year,” Jennings said.

Or they could be a mish-mash of talent, too undeveloped and/or too stubborn to fit together. Or anything between.

Either way, Dumars succeeded in significantly upgrading Detroit’s talent level this summer, a necessary step as he enters the final year of his contract while serving as general manager for an owner whose impatience for making the playoffs is showing. When the Clippers dubbed themselves Lob City, they had championship dreams. The Pistons’ goals are much more modest, merely reaching the postseason after missing it the last four seasons.

That’s a sad state for the Pistons, a franchise with three championships in the last 25 years. The goal in Detroit has never been a title ever year, but challenging to make the playoffs – the way Dumars phrased it today – sounds relatively pathetic.

But after four pathetic seasons – really five, counting a 39-43 year that resulted in an especially lopsided first-round sweep – this is where the Pistons are. It’s too soon to aim higher, but with the talent the Pistons now have, it’s at least possible to see this road leading to, with the absolute right breaks, reasonable discussions of championships.

Jennings, who cited the Pistons’ multiple titles, must understand this, though he brushed off an attempt to tie himself to the Pistons’ previous greatness. Asked about the Bad Boys shirt he wore to the Drew League, Jennings said, “I just liked the shirt. That’s all.”

Dumars, the shooting guard on those 1989 and 1990 championship teams, patted Jennings on the back – a playful threat. The threat to Dumars’ job is a little more real, and he’s hoping for a pat on the back from Pistons owner Tom Gores after the season.

For that to happen, the Pistons probably have to make the playoffs. For that to happen, Jennings probably must refine his game, something most gunners aren’t inclined to do.

“You’re going to see a whole different player,” Jennings said. “…I definitely have to change my game.”

Oh?

“The things that I was doing in Milwaukee, I won’t have to do here, take all the bad shots,” Jennings said. “Now, I can just actually be myself and be who I was five years ago when I was in high school, playing AAU basketball.”

As he spoke about the need to become a different player, Jennings said, “Of course, I have that chip on my shoulder.”

Again, championship aspirations remain very distant in Detroit. But there’s still a strong connection there with both the Bad Boys – the NBA’s ultimate castoff team – and 2004 championship team, which featured Chauncey Billups (bounced between the Celtics, Raptors, Nuggets, Magic and Timberwolves before finding a home in Detroit), Richard Hamilton (judged by Michael Jordan to lack the proper winning attitude), Tayshaun Prince (fell to No. 23 in the draft despite a standout Kentucky career), Rasheed Wallace (kicked out of Portland for being a bad seed) and Ben Wallace (undrafted and cut by the Celtics).

Did Dumars target players like Smith and Jennings, because they’re viewed as having an edge about themselves?

“We’re not afraid to go down that road,” Dumars said. “That doesn’t dissuade us at all from going up to guys like that. As a matter of fact, we like guys like that.”

Jennings gives the Pistons a better point guard than Brandon Knight, and that’s the most important reason he’s on the team. But Jennings also gives Dumars a chance to save his job with his type type of player. The Pistons have aligned themselves on a course that has worked for them in the past.

Nationally, the Pistons’ season is about really talented players trying to make it work together. Locally, the season is about Dumars’ attempt to keep his job.

Jennings makes both storylines a lot more intriguing.

51 Q: Tom Thibodeau can coach, is he ready to run a franchise?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 12: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls yells to his players in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bulls 106-101. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves were probably not going to get Tom Thibodeau without the promise of organizational control. After his contentious relationship with the Bulls’ front office led to his exit after five seasons in Chicago, he took a year-long sabbatical from coaching and observed how other organizations run their operations from both a coaching and a front-office standpoint. He was in high demand as a coaching free agent and could essentially name his price, and if he wanted personnel control too, he could have it. That’s what ended up happening in Minnesota, and Thibodeau will be the latest test case in whether the two-in-one model works. Thibodeau’s coaching ability is indisputable. How he’ll fare as an executive is a different question entirely.

The Timberwolves had a solid offseason after a rumored draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler fell apart. Given Thibodeau’s history of stubbornness and intractability, it was a valid fear that he’d take the same approach to roster-building as his former mentor Doc Rivers has in Los Angeles, simply bringing back all of his old mainstays from the Bulls days. With Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich on the market, the opportunity was there to get the band back together, spending too much money in the process and hindering the development of maybe the most promising young core in the NBA in the name of more wins in the short term.

But Thibodeau didn’t do that. Instead, he and GM Scott Layden plugged some holes with value deals. Getting Cold Aldrich for three years at $22 million gives them a more than serviceable backup center, and they landed Brandon Rush on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to provide some outside shooting. They didn’t do anything to sacrifice long-term flexibility and didn’t sign anyone that will get in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine getting plenty of playing time.

The idea of a coach making personnel decisions is a dicey one for several reasons, not least of which being that it’s harder to have the emotional detachment to trade a player if you see them every day in practice. But the Chicago team Thibodeau inherited in 2010 was a readymade contender that needed a coaching upgrade. This Minnesota team isn’t there yet, and even his ability to get more wins than expected out of any roster he’s given won’t make them truly competitive in the upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff picture, at least not yet. So far, his moves reflect an understanding of that reality.

The first big roster decision Thibodeau will have to make during the season will be the point guard situation. Thibodeau loves Kris Dunn, whom he drafted at No. 5 overall in June, and Dunn provides shooting that Ricky Rubio does not. If Dunn takes the starting spot in training camp, Thibodeau will have to look long and hard at moving Rubio. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could also wind up on the block, depending on how the rotation shakes out, and how Thibodeau fares at getting a return on his trades will be worth monitoring.

With that said, it’s pretty hard to screw up a core that includes Wiggins and Towns, and Thibodeau seems to know what he has in those two. As long as he can put complementary pieces around them and keep their development up to pace on the court, this experiment should prove to be a success.

Julius Randle lacerates hand, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Julius Randle
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury in his first NBA game.

His third pro season includes an even earlier setback.

Lakers release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t sound as major and happened well before training camp. Even if he needs twice as long to heal after his announced reevaluation, he’ll be ready for the preseason.

The key is getting Randle fully recovered. His ball-handling ability for a power forward is a key facet to his game, and a cut in his hand could impede it.

NBA rookies name Kevin Durant their favorite player

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses with his new jersey during the press conference where he was introduced as a member of the Golden State Warriors after they signed him as a free agent on July 7, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant faced tremendous backlash for leaving the Thunder for the Warriors.

But not from NBA rookies.

In the league’s annual rookie survey, a plurality of first-year players voted Durant their favorite player:

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State — 29.7%

T-2. Carmelo Anthony, New York — 9.4%

LeBron James, Cleveland — 9.4%

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City — 9.4%

T-5. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio — 6.3%

Kobe Bryant (retired) — 6.3%

Paul George, Indiana — 6.3%

Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers — 6.3%

T-9. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota — 4.7%

Others receiving votes: Vince Carter, Memphis; Stephen Curry, Golden State; Marc Gasol, Memphis; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland

This is the third straight year Durant has claimed the top spot, matching LeBron and Kobe for combined wins in the six years this question was asked of rookies:

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This is further evidence: If you resent Kevin Durant for exercising his right to switch employers after nine years with a company that acquired him by producing an awful product, you’re out of touch. Follow the kids’ lead and get with it.

Jason Terry: Luke Walton ‘utterly declined’ my offer to provide Lakers veteran leadership

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 19:  Guard Jason Terry #31 of the Dallas Mavericks takes a shot against Luke Walton #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 19, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Before signing with the Bucks, Jason Terry said he reached out to multiple contenders.

He also spoke with the Lakers.

Terry tried to leverage his relationship with Lakers coach Luke Walton, who also played at Arizona (though their time there didn’t overlap).

Terry on SiriusXM NBA Radio.

I called my good friend Luke. I told him if he needed any help, veteran leadership, in that capacity – Lakers – with an ability to coach at the end of my deal, then that was something I would be looking forward to. He utterly declined, and I respect him for that.

Gotta love a guy who announces to the world his pitch of providing veteran leadership was “utterly declined.”

The Lakers should be just fine with Jose Calderon and Luol Deng.