Michael Carter-Williams

Michael Carter-Williams’ family prepared him for this moment


He’s the guy everybody around the NBA wants to talk about.

When Michael Carter-Williams was selected No. 11 by the Philadelphia 76ers this rapid success wasn’t expected. It was thought he could develop into the point guard of the future there in a few years (they had just traded away Jrue Holiday). He was tall, had handles and a good court sense, but there were real questions about his shooting and efficiency.

Carter-Williams was ready for it and it was because of his family — his mother, Mandy, played at Mary Washington College; his father, Earl, played at Salem State; and his step father Zach (Mandy remarried) was a college player and high school coach.

How all that shaped Carter-Williams is detailed in a fantastic profile at CSNPhilly.com by Gordie Jones.

Zach also became Michael’s “basketball guy,” according to Mandy, working him out ceaselessly on the family’s backyard court. It’s not like she shrank into the background, though. More than once she rained instructions down on her son from a second-floor window. More than once she badgered him from a courtside lawn chair.

“It’s not something you usually see with a mother and son,” she said, “and I guess that’s where you could say the relationship is a little bit different, because I’m screaming, ‘Follow through!’ … ‘Bend your knees!’ … ‘Jump!’ … ‘Nothing lazy!’

He pushed back against that to a degree — as any teenager would — but out the other end came a very polished player and one who is close to his family.

Then he went to play at Syracuse, but there were a lot of lessons to learn there, too, about being humble and focused.

Michael committed to Syracuse as a high school sophomore, but scarcely played his first year on campus, trapped behind the perimeter triumvirate of Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters and Howard Triche. Carter-Williams called that season “really hard.” Mandy went so far as to say it was “probably the toughest year for Michael in his life.”

“Michael wanted to transfer,” she added, “and we talked him out of it.”

Actually, that’s not entirely true, she then admitted. It was more a case of she and Zach listening to their son’s complaints and giving their blessing to a transfer, and Michael doing an abrupt about-face. No way, he told them, was he going to cut and run.

Carter-Williams was a star at Syracuse his last season but lessons about playing through mistakes and learning had been engrained him — lessons that are paying off big under Brett Brown in Philadelphia.

There are a lot of hard lessons still to learn as a pro, but Carter-Williams put himself in a position. He is being talked about as a Rookie of the Year, and while it is insanely early for that he fits the profile that can win it — a guy with the ball in his hands on a bad tea asked to do some scoring and make plays (think of Damian Lillard last year). Victor Oladipo and others will be in the mix, but Carter-Williams has injected himself into that conversation.

And he seems like he has the mentality, the personality to handle it and everything else that comes his way.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.