Associated Press

Newly empowered Kevin Pritchard ready to use aggressive approach on Pacers’ revamp

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Pritchard spent the last six seasons speaking his mind privately.

He shared his crazy ideas with Larry Bird, occasionally agreed to disagree with the boss, and might have even tried to persuade Bird to be more aggressive with player moves. Now, the Indiana Pacers are about to see if Pritchard can live up to his word.

“I think you have to be bold in this position,” Pritchard said earlier this week after being given the team’s president of basketball operations job. “I like interchanging pieces, I like moving around in the draft, I want to be aggressive, I want to make deals.”

Pritchard’s attitude may be just what the Pacers need as they enter a transformational offseason.

He has played this game before, though his wheeling-and-dealing ways cost him the general manager’s position in Portland after a little more than three seasons. But the man who was hired to replace Bird acknowledges he’s not the same guy who was fired on draft night in 2010.

Pritchard credits Bird with teaching him about the importance of continuity. After returning to his home state in 2011, Pritchard said he understood that great minds don’t always have to think alike – until a final decision is made and then everyone must present a unified front. He developed an affinity for Bird’s ability to speak plainly, bluntly and meaningfully, and he’s even changing his mind about the thought of Lance Stephenson playing point guard.

But Pritchard still intends to be aggressive with trades, in free agency and with a budget that even made Bird reconsider his plan to step down as the team’s lead decision maker.

“After seeing next year’s budget, I almost want to stay,” Bird joked on Monday. “I think he’s the right guy.”

While the Pacers have a pretty good notion of what they have in Pritchard, it’s the Indiana native who is waiting to see what cards he’s dealt.

Former All-Star point guard Jeff Teague, forwards C.J. Miles and Lavoy Allen, and backup guard Aaron Brooks can all become free agents. Four-time All-Star Paul George has one year left on his contract and could become trade bait if he refuses to commit to playing in Indiana next season. Pritchard said he expects to keep George well beyond 2017-18 and will do almost anything to make it possible.

That will require Pritchard to put a better supporting cast around George, who has made no secret of his desire to bring the Pacers their first NBA title.

Pritchard, born in Bloomington, Indiana, grew up in suburban Indianapolis, and understands.

“This team has been to the playoffs 22 of the last 29 years and we want to be successful,” Pritchard said. “The message (from George) was that he wants to win. We want to win. So we’re on the same page.”

The conventional wisdom last summer, after the Pacers acquired Teague and forward Thaddeus Young in trades, was that they might be on the cusp of returning to the Eastern Conference finals. Instead, they needed to win their last five regular-season games just to make the playoffs, and were swept by defending champion Cleveland in four games.

So Pritchard will begin the revamp from inside the organization.

He’s encouraging promising center Myles Turner to come back bigger and stronger. Pritchard wants Stephenson to get healthy so he can energize the Pacers in a way others cannot. Of course, Pritchard wants to re-sign Teague and George, and he wants the Pacers to get back to some of their more traditional traits.

“Look, we have to be a tougher team,” Pritchard said. “We won at home last year, but when you look at what it takes to win on the road, you have to be physical and you have to play tough. So toughness is what I want to add to the team. We used to be known as a lunch pail team, and we have to get that back.”

And now it’s Pritchard who must finish the job.

“As the No. 2 guy, you make all sorts of recommendations and some are crazy, and then you move into this role,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s OK being the No. 2 guy, too. But Larry and I have had a lot of conversations and he just said `It’s time for you.”‘

 

Adam Silver on sports gambling: “My sense is the law will change in the next few years”

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This isn’t new ground for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. He has called legalized sports gambling in the United States “inevitable” and advocated in the New York Times for the federal government to put in a framework to control it. He’s not been shy about telling the heads of the other major sports leagues what he sees coming. Mark Cuban has Silver’s back on this one.

The commissioners of the four major sports were all on hand for a panel called “GameChangers: Creating the Future of Sports” in New York on Wednesday, and Silver’s position hasn’t changed, reports ESPN.

“My sense is the law will change in the next few years in the United States,” Silver said when asked about gambling.

He also stressed the importance of in-game wagering to fan engagement, noting, “People want to bet throughout the game … It results in enormous additional engagement with the fans.”

I’m not sure about “the next few years” timeline. I would rather be forced to watch The Emoji Movie than try to predict what the current Congress will do, but with its current conservative makeup legalizing sports betting seems unlikely.

But in the next decade or two… it feels like Silver may be right. The Supreme Court is taking up the case of whether the federal government can block states — in this case, New Jersey specifically — from allowing sports gambling. That could open the door for other states to follow.  Governments state and federal will not see it as a moral issue so much as a new revenue generator — they can tax it. So it will happen. Eventually.

With that Silver is right, professional sports leagues need to be prepared for that reality. The NBA seems to be out in front of that, ready to ride the wave when it crests. For now, they are just paddling around waiting for the right wave to ride.

Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis: “My prediction is John Wall will sign his extension”

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John Wall is one of the handful of NBA players who qualifies for the new designated veteran “super max” contract extension — and the Wizards want to give it to him. A four-year, $170 million extension of his current deal is on the table (it would kick in after the two years, $37 million on his current contract).

Wall has yet to sign it. He said at the time it was offered he wanted to talk about it with his family and see what the Wizards did this offseason. He’s not unhappy, he just wants to be sure before he locks himself in with Washington through his prime.

Washington owner Ted Leonsis told Candace Buckner of the Washington Post he thinks Wall will sign.

Maybe, but there’s not a lot of motivation for Wall to sign right now. Wall can bet on himself that he will make the All-NBA team again next year — there’s a deep class of guards but if he stays healthy he stands a good chance — at which time he’s still eligible for a designated veteran “super max” contract extension that would be five-years, roughly $200 million (and would kick in after the one year on his current deal).

That delay would also keep pressure on the Wizards to find ways to improve the roster. Washington is largely capped out and didn’t make any major moves this summer other than re-signing Otto Porter to a max extension (they matched a Brooklyn offer sheet). Washington is good, likely the third or fourth best team in the East, but a notch below Cleveland and Boston right now. Wall wants to push them to get another star and help Washington move up into contender status — he pushed for the Wizards to chase Paul George and have him replace Porter (a deal that was never going to happen, but you can see what Wall is thinking about being one star player short).

Ultimately, I think Leonsis is right, Wall will sign. It’s just a matter of when. Does he take this deal now, or wait until next summer and do it?

Chicago billboard calls for Bulls to fire Gar Forman, John Paxson

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Gar Forman split Executive of the Year with Pat Riley the same year Riley lured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to the Heat.

Forman’s stock has fallen quite a bit since.

The Bulls general manager – who works with executive vice President of basketball operations John Paxson in a duo (once affectionately) called GarPax – is facing increased scrutiny. The latest: A Chicago billboard organized by Bulls fans and paid for by GoFundMe donators.

GarPax’s recent missteps have been troubling. The breakup with Tom Thibodeau was messy and felt personal, especially with Fred Hoiberg succeeding him. First-round picks – Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott and Marquis Teague – have yielded little dividend. The Jimmy Butler trade was almost unbelievably lousy, even after the Three Alphas plan with Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo fell flat.

But it’s also worth taking a step back. The Bulls have won 59% of their games, made the playoffs seven of eight years and never had a losing season under Forman. This somewhat feels like Chicago fans having unrealistic expectations.

The most important question owners should ask when weighing whether to retain management: Who will best guide the team forward? Prior results should matter only to inform that question.

Based on overall body of work GarPax has a case for staying on the job. The tandem built a 62-win conference finalist around Derrick Rose then saw his injuries sabotage the run. But GarPax has also trended the wrong direction, failing too often (and too often predictably) since Rose declined.

Would the Bulls hire someone who will do better than Forman and Paxson if they fired those two? Maybe, and it’s a discussion worth having. But the answer isn’t as simple as I suspect the people behind this billboard would believe.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks on Otto Porter: ‘He’s a max person in my mind’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Otto Porter is a quiet, complementary piece to the Wizards’ talented young core. He is also now Washington’s highest-paid player.

At least temporarily.

Guards John Wall and Bradley Beal garner most of the attention as Washington has made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs three of the last four seasons. But for now, Porter makes the most money after the Wizards matched a four-year, $106.5 million max-contract offer sheet the forward signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

There might be questions if the 24-year-old Porter is worth that money. But the Wizards believe he is a good fit alongside Wall, 26, a four-time All-Star, and Beal, 24, one of the league’s top shooting guards.

“You just use that as motivation just like John and Brad did,” Porter said at a news conference Wednesday. “They set the bar high. I’m going to set my bar, high, too.”

Porter entered this offseason as a restricted free agent, and when agent David Falk couldn’t agree to terms with Washington on July 1, he chose to shop his client’s services. The Sacramento Kings showed interest, but the Nets were the most serious and made a run at Porter.

“They felt like they wanted to test the market to see if there was something more out there, and they did,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said. “But it wasn’t a big decision because all along we said we wanted to keep our young core together.”

It probably won’t be long before Wall surpasses Porter as the Wizards highest-paid player. Wall was named third-team All-NBA this past season, and the point guard is eligible to sign a $160 million, four-year super max contract any time before the 2017-18 season begins. Wall will not become an unrestricted free agent until 2019.

Re-signing Porter was a top priority for Washington this summer. The No. 3 pick in the 2013 draft out of Georgetown, Porter had a breakthrough season. He ranked fourth in field goal percentage among small forwards (51.6 percent) and fifth among all NBA players in 3-point percentage (43.4 percent).

Porter’s ability to fit seamlessly with Wall and Beal without needing the ball in his hands is a huge plus, too, according to Grunfeld. At 6-foot-8, Porter’s length also plays a significant role in the Wizards’ defensive concepts. His skillset was so valuable to Washington the Wizards surpassed the NBA’s luxury-tax threshold by matching the offer sheet.

“I never look at Otto and judge him by the stat sheet,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “He does so many little things that the stats don’t show. He dives on the floor for a loose ball, he sets screens. He makes the extra pass to the corner, offensive rebounds.

“You can never have enough high-character guys that are committed to each and that’s what he is,” Brooks said. “He’s a max person in my mind.”