Kurt Helin

Watch Gregg Popovich thank, try to say goodbye to Tim Duncan


Gregg Popovich will be the first to say that he would not be who he is and where he is without Tim Duncan.

So it was not easy for Popovich to say goodbye to Duncan in a press conference Tuesday — one Duncan did not attend.

“We’ve been saying it for 19 years and he really only cared about doing the best job he could basketball wise and being who he was for his teammates and being somebody who loved his family. That’s really who he is. So this is the furthest thing from his mind.”

Popovich was effusive with his praise.

“To spend time with Timmy is really sublime in many ways. People don’t know about his cleverness….

“But his teammates have and that’s why his teammates love him, because he’s been the best teammate anyone can ever imagine.”

For Juwan Howard and others, summer league is a coaching audition

Associated Press

For someone like Juwan Howard Jr., summer league is a chance to experience his dream job.

Same goes for his dad.

Juwan Howard played 19 seasons in the NBA, but this summer he’s been a rookie again. Howard, the Miami Heat assistant coach, is serving as the team’s head coach for summer league – a job that comes with long hours, little sleep and a chance to learn what it really means to oversee a roster.

“My goal is to get better and better as a coach,” said Howard, whose son of the same name is also on the Heat summer roster. “This is my first time being a head coach at summer league. I’m happy that I had two years experience as an assistant so I had an idea as far as what it would be like … but I want to be the most well-prepared coach as I grow, year after year until I get my chance.”

Such is the quest for plenty of people who were on the sidelines in Orlando and Salt Lake City, and now in Las Vegas this summer. Everyone is getting experience in this hectic few weeks of games – that goes for players, referees and coaches, many of whom are hoping that what they do now might eventually get them into the NBA job they want.

“This is an experience you can’t really get during the regular season,” said Utah assistant Johnnie Bryant, the Jazz summer league coach. “You can go work camps and it’s kind of not really real, per se. To have NBA referees, to have NBA fans in the building, NBA players out there on the floor – there’s no better experience than actually coaching summer league.”

The vast majority of summer league head coaches are assistants in the NBA. Some have been college head coaches, like Detroit’s Bob Beyer, the former boss at Siena. Sacramento coach Dave Joerger coached the Kings’ first games in Las Vegas before handing off the proverbial clipboard to move into more of an overseeing role, and newly hired Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton has been on his team’s summer sideline as well. San Antonio’s Becky Hammon made headlines last summer for being a female coach, and then she guided the Spurs to a title.

There is also something to the notion that when someone like Howard speaks, guys who are on summer rosters and looking for jobs will listen. Howard doesn’t need to be working; he signed contracts worth more than $150 million in his playing career, and the guys on Miami’s summer team are more than a little aware of who is taking time to teach them the nuance of the game.

“He’s new to head-coaching,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “But when he says something, you know he’s been through it. When I got drafted by Miami he was the example they would use as a professional. So his credibility, you can’t question it.”

Howard wasn’t the only coach with an elite-playing pedigree this summer. Basketball Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing – a longtime NBA assistant who has been a candidate for bigger jobs several times in recent years – was Charlotte’s summer-league coach again, as he continues to wait for that opportunity to one day be a head coach for real.

“I use every day to develop myself as a coach. Right now I’m the head coach, so that feels good,” Ewing said. “It’s all about learning. I keep on learning. I try to learn every day, with every chance I get, and just try to be the best coach that I possibly can be.”

Howard can totally relate.

He could be golfing or relaxing this summer. Instead he slept through July 4 fireworks that were going on not far from his window in Orlando because he had been up most of the night before working on sets and out-of-bounds plays, and confessed that it’s not uncommon for him to get only about four hours of sleep a night because his mind is spinning.

“I love basketball,” Howard said. “This is a passion of mine, from the time I was in sixth grade. I feel like this is my calling. I always said when I was done playing that I wanted to stay around the game. And before I arrived in Miami I always said front office, front office, front office. That might be something I explore later on, but for now I want to be in the trenches with this organization. I want to be a coach.”

AP Sports Writer Kareem Copeland in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

Kevin Durant on Russell Westbrook: “Our relationship probably won’t ever be the same again”


The level of tension between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook often was overstated — they got along well. They weren’t Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble close, and the two alpha’s had some tension on the court at points, but their relationship was better than plenty of other star duos in the league.

Notice I said “was.”

In an honest interview with SINA in China (Durant is on a Nike-fueled tour through Asia) Durant said he and Westbrook’s relationship is now forever altered. Via Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group:

“I just told him, I let him know how I felt. And you obviously, our relationship probably won’t ever be the same again, but it’s something I wanted to do and I expressed that to him. Hopefully, he respected it.”

There will always be a bond between the two on one level — they were the stars that brought basketball to Oklahoma City, won over fans, and racked up a lot of victories.

But it’s honest of Durant to say things are going to change. Just like the people you get along with at your job, once you move to a new gig that relationship is altered. Adding to it in this case, Durant and Westbrook are going to face off on the court against each other a few times a year. Durant knew that was part of his decision.

Durant also said he’s adjusting to the increased attention he got with the move. And he’s not worried about his critics, or those who say the Warriors will struggle with all those stars and one basketball.

“We don’t have any selfish players on the team..I think everybody’s expecting us to play selfish.”

Ben Simmons has gift of vision, passing; also a long way to go to fulfill potential


LAS VEGAS — When Ben Simmons got the ball in his hands and started to drive, there was a palpable rise in excitement inside the Thomas & Mack Arena Tuesday night. Fans leaned forward in their seats. When he’d make a pass, there were “oohs” and “ahs” of anticipation.

Which were usually followed by a missed shot from a Sixers a teammate. Simmons had six assists Tuesday night in a Philadelphia loss to Golden State, but he could have easily had another half dozen.

What matters right now you can feel the excitement the No. 1 pick brings to the court. His passing skills and court vision are better than advertised — and that was seen as the strength that set him apart. Sixers fans are going to love watching him play.

But he’s also got a long way to go to fulfill that promise. He was called a bit of a project at the draft, and that assessment is correct, too.

Through five Summer League games in Utah and Las Vegas, he is shooting 37 percent from the floor. He doesn’t have counters to his go-to moves, ones better defenders will take away once real NBA defenders are on him. He hasn’t attempted a three. You can see the potential on defense with his length, but he has a lot of learning to do on that and as well.

Philly management — more than the fan base — may be tired of waiting around for wins, but patience is the order of the day with Simmons.

“There’s no immediate fix planned for anything with a player who is 19,” Sixers Summer League coach Lloyd Pierce said. “He’s still growing into his game and now he’s jumping into the NBA where he’s got to learn a whole new set of players and tendencies, how defenses are playing him. We’re just trying to get him out there, see what he can do. We want to see how the players play with him, we want to see how he plays with the other guys. And that’s not something that is going to happen right away.”

Simmons has the gift of vision that only a few players — LeBron James, Ricky Rubio, etc. — have with their passing. It led fellow draftee Denzel Valentine to compare him to a mini-LeBron. Which is unfair, but welcome to being a No. 1 pick.

“I play like Ben Simmons,” he said. “I try not to compare myself to other players. There are guys I look at and try to take parts of their games into mine.”

His strength right now is in the open court.

“Transition, I’m a point forward, so if someone can get me the ball I can set plays up,” Simmons said…

“Whatever they give me I take,” Simmons said. “Every time I’m out there I try to contribute, whether it’s passing, scoring.”

Simmons admitted hitting a bit of a wall, getting tired and losing a little offensive focus in the fifth game Tuesday night. It’s pretty common at this point in Summer League — and coaches across the board are quick to point out it’s not going to get easier. Players, including Simmons, have to push through it.

“He’s a special talent, a phenomenal player, he can pass the ball, he can attack in transition, so we want him to stay aggressive,” Pierce said. “We want him to continue to flourish with the things he already does. And he’s done that.

“Sustainability, to do that for 48 minutes, for 82 games, is going to be a challenge. We want to see him bring it every night because a lot of people will be expecting him to do so.”

Wild sudden-death double-overtime win for Trail Blazers in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS — It was as wild an ending as you’re going to see.

The Utah Jazz were down four, 89-85, with 4.2 seconds left in overtime. Portland had the game won, and the coaches were yelling from the bench “don’t foul.” Sure enough, Luis Montero — who played in a dozen games for the Trail Blazers last season — fouled Utah’s Spencer Butterfield in the act of shooting a three with 1.9 seconds remaining.

Butterfield makes the first two, but then intentionally missed the third and Trey Lyles picked up his 29th and 30th points of the night with the tip in at the buzzer.

It’s 89-89 headed to a second overtime — which at Summer League is sudden death. First bucket wins.

Utah won the tip, got the ball to Lyles who drew defenders when he drove, but his kickout pass caromed out of bounds. That’s when Portland’s Pat Connaughton ended it from deep.