Kurt Helin

Tributes pour in for Craig Sager in the wake of his passing

1 Comment

Craig Sager was beloved around the NBA. And still is. For his professionalism, for his sense of humor, for how well he took the ribbing about his suits, and for his spirit for life.

Sager passed away Thursday at the age of 65, having lost his battle with Leukemia. The tributes to him have been pouring in, both in traditional forms and on social media. What you see below is just a sampling.

“I — along with the entire NBA family — am deeply saddened by the passing of Craig Sager,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “Craig was as vital to the NBA as the players and coaches. A true original and an essential voice on Turner Sports’ NBA coverage for 26 seasons, Craig chronicled some of the most memorable moments in league history and was a ubiquitous presence with his splashy suits and equally colorful personality. Craig earned widespread respect for his insightful reporting and inspired so many most recently with his courage. Our hearts go out to his wife, Stacy; his children, Kacy, Craig Jr., Krista, Riley and Ryan; and his friends and colleagues.”

The NBA players union released this statement: ““Craig Sager was a one-of-a-kind reporter who embodied the spirit of the game of basketball in a truly colorful fashion. Through his work, he was able to connect players, coaches and fans to the game we all love. The passion and fight he displayed during his battle with cancer is an inspiration to us all. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Sager family at this extremely difficult time.”

#RIP Craig Sager. You lived your life full of love and full of fun. That's how you live your life.

A post shared by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

“Craig was a great reporter, a wonderful person and an absolute joy to work with,” said Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss in a statement. “He put up a valiant and courageous fight, but unfortunately, cancer won. He will be terribly missed.”

“I am saddened to hear of the death of Craig Sager,” Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird said. “He was as identifiable with the NBA as any player or coach. The league will not be the same without him. The Indiana Pacers express sincere condolences to his family.”

“I am truly saddened by the news of the passing of one of the NBA’s great personalities in Craig Sager,” Timberwolves coach and GM Tom Thibodeau said. “I always enjoyed our interactions together and, like many, looked forward to seeing what particular suit he had on that given night. I will remember Craig for his infectious smile, his will and determination and the upbeat spirit he lived his life with every single day We will forever be Sager Strong.”

Remembering Craig Sager’s greatest moments (VIDEOS)

1 Comment

Thursday nights on TNT are never going to be quite as colorful again.

Craig Sager, the very smooth and wildly dressed sideline reporter for TNT, has lost his battle with leukemia and passed away at the age of 65. He will be missed.

But we also want to celebrate a life well lived, one in the public eye where his personality drew you in, where he was the consummate professional, and where his suits always made for great banter with players and coaches.

What was his greatest interview? The Starters of NBA TV did a fantastic compilation, which is above. My personal favorite is this one with Kevin Garnett.

Gregg Popovich was brilliant in welcoming Sager back to the sidelines after one of his rounds of battle with the disease.

Of course, what we remember more from the Sager/Popovich meetups were ones like this.

Or this.

A life-long Cubs fan, Sager got to see his team win the World Series. And, he got to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”

Three things we learned Wednesday: Labor peace comes to NBA. So everyone gets night off.

1 Comment

It was a big day off the court in the NBA Wednesday, and that’s where we learned the most.

1) There will be peace in our time — NBA owners, players tentatively agree to new Collective Bargaining Agreement. There will be no lockout this time around. With both the owners and players swimming in the flood of cash from the new television deal, nobody wanted to screw up a good thing, so the two sides agreed to a new NBA CBA far earlier than anyone can ever remember. Give some credit to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players’ Association director Michele Roberts for not letting the old scar tissue of their predecessors impact the new talks. While both the players and owners need to ratify the deal, that is seen as a formality.

This is a seven-year deal, and while we don’t know all the parameters here are the key things we do know.

• This is the big one — the roughly 50/50 split of revenue will remain (the players get between 49-51 percent of “basketball related income” depending on if the league meets revenue goals). This is always the ultimate stumbling block and everything else is secondary. The fact the two sides agreed on this split quickly — in part because the rising tide of the new national television contract has floated all boats — made the rest of this relatively straightforward.

• The college one-and-done rule will remain. For now. Both sides will continue to look at the issue. Nobody likes it much, but the players want the age limit gone, the owners want it bumped up to 20, and neither side apparently was willing to give up enough on other issues to move the needle. It’s a negotiation, if one side really wants the limit moved they are going to have to give something else up.

• We should just call this the Kevin Durant Rule: Teams can now choose a “designated veteran” and offer said veteran a much larger and longer extension (maybe up to six years) than could previously be done. That extension can be a full max deal (35 percent of the cap) even if the team does not have cap space. However, the player must meet certain criteria, for example having made an All-NBA team. This is not like the NFL’s designated player rule where the player is locked in once selected, this is simply a larger incentive for him to stay. The first test cases with this will likely be Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins (the question in both of those is would the player take it or is he willing to make a little less to get out of town).

• The NBA players’ union now will handle negotiations for player-likeness rights (such as those used in video games). This is something the union wanted and was that last-minute snag in negotiations the past couple of weeks. While the players agreed to the 50/50 revenue split, the player likeness licensing is a place the union can make more money, and this is a growing area of revenue.

• The preseason will be shortened by three or four games, allowing the regular season to start a week to 10 days earlier. That additional time will be used to reduce the number of back-to-backs (see item No. 1 above) and nearly eliminate four games in five nights situations.

• Under the old deal, some salary cap exceptions were locked in — for example, the rookie scale pay numbers — and did not change. Now all those exceptions (which also includes the veteran minimum, mid-level exception, and so on) will be tied to the salary cap. As it goes up or down, so will those numbers.

• The scaled salaries for rookies will increase.

• There will be some changes to cap holds that will make it harder to do what Kawhi Leonard and Andre Drummond did with their rookie deals, delaying signing an obvious max extension to allow the team to use that cap space to put a better team around them. In the short term, like this coming July, the cap hold increases could make it difficult for the Warriors to keep Andre Iguodala and other role players around Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (both of whom are up for massive new paydays).

• The NBA and players’ union will form a committee to study the use of wearable tracking devices — which monitor heart rate, physical fatigue, and much more — during games as well as practices. Teams want this data and cite health concerns — they say they can prevent more injuries if they know a player is more fatigued than he lets on. Players are concerned the data will be used against them in contract negotiations. The sides will try to find a middle ground.

• The NBA will create a fund to help with medical expenses and more for retired players who need it, particularly older ones that have been out of the league for some time.

• NBA teams can have up to three “two-way contracts” that will pay between $50,000 and $75,000. This is something the NBA borrowed from the NHL. These players will have two salaries on the books, their D-League salary and an NBA salary (the minimum, most likely) and will get pro-rated portions of said salaries depending on where they are playing. Teams will be able to move the player between the leagues much more freely.

• There will be changes to the NBA’s domestic violence policy which will clarify the disciplinary procedures in dealing with domestic violence incidents. This will include fines and suspensions, but also will go beyond that and include counseling and other steps to end the cycle.

2) To celebrate the new CBA, the league’s biggest stars were given the night off. Apparently. Wednesday night saw a large number of big stars being rested. And yes, it’s December 14th, we’re not a third of the way into the season yet, and rest is a big talking point. Which is not what Adam Silver wants.

The most discussed rest was Cleveland, where Tyronn Lue sat LeBron James Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving for the second night of a back-to-back, home-and-home with Memphis (Marc Gasol also sat out that game, due to injury). I get why Lue did this — studies show a player is three times more likely to be injured on the second night of a back-to-back and Lue isn’t playing for the regular season, he’s focused on having all his key guys healthy and rested when the playoffs start. He is looking at the schedule, his big picture goals, and choosing rest. From his perspective, it’s the smart play. But this was Cleveland’s one trip to Memphis this season, there were fans that bought tickets just to see LeBron James, and he did not suit up. The league did not put it’s best product on the floor. That is bad optics for the NBA.

Also on Wednesday night, the Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins and the Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge were rested. The new CBA will stretch the season out by a week to 10 days, which will reduce the number of back-to-backs and ideally reduce the number of nights stars are rested. But it will not eliminate the problem, and there is no easy answer here for a league trying to balance player safety and giving the fans what they are paying to see.

3) There were games Wednesday night, too, where John Wall, Hassan Whiteside had huge nights. There were some monster stat lines around the NBA Wednesday night. James Harden racked up a triple-double leading Houston to its eighth straight win. There were some monster stat lines on Wednesday night — Houston’s James Harden had a triple-double of 15 points, 14 assists, and 11 rebounds to lead the Rockets to a 132-98 win over the Kings — that is eight straight wins for the red-hot Rockets, who hit 22 threes in that game.

Then there was John Wall, who had 25 points, 10 assists, and seven steals to get the Wizards a big win over the Hornets.

Also, Hassan Whiteside had 26 points and 22 rebounds leading Miami past Indiana at home.

Good news: Ben Simmons is out of walking boot. Still going to be a while before he plays.

Getty Images
3 Comments

It’s not just Sixers fans, we all want to see what Philadelphia looks like with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on the floor together. Nobody wants to see that more than Brett Brown.

The good news along those lines: Simmons is out of the walking boot he’s had since foot surgery following a fracture before the season.

The bad/expected news: It’s going to be a long time still before he takes the court.

From Jessica Cammerato of CSNPhilly.com.

Ben Simmons made another step toward his return — in sneakers. The first overall pick took free throws for the first time without a boot on Tuesday…

“He walked out on the court in sneakers and he shot free throws,” Brett Brown said after practice. “That is significant to me. Then he walked over to my office and sat down looking like he was healthy. There was no boot, there was nothing earlier that he was wheeling.”

Simmons is still just standing and shooting, that’s a long way from playing in an NBA game, but it’s progress. Brown was also cautious, saying the Sixers are not going to rush his return. Simmons has said he wants to play this season at some point.

Brown intends to use the 6’10” Simmons as a point guard who will have the ball in his hands often and handle a lot of the shot creation. At Summer League in Las Vegas, he showed the kind of passing gifts that few players possess, the kind that can’t be taught. Simmons and Brown have spent a lot of “classroom time” in the film room, but learning to be a playmaker in an NBA game is something that has to be learned by doing ultimately.

Hopefully, Simmons can start that process later this season.

Report: Kings’ Rudy Gay likely to be traded before deadline; Thunder, Rockets interested

1 Comment

That Sacramento’s Rudy Gay could well get moved before the trade deadline is no secret. The Kings’ front office has held out hope their squad can get back in the playoff mix in the West, and the team is currently the nine seed, 2.5 games back of Portland. Without Gay, the Kings’ second-leading scorer, they are not catching anyone. However, Gay has expressed a desire to leave, and if they don’t trade him before the deadline they will lose him this summer for nothing. The idea the Kings will change his mind is fantasy. As the trade deadline nears in February, the Kings will have to make a call.

Around the league, other teams expect Gay to be moved. In his latest podcast at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, Adrian Wojnarowski broke it all down (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“The one player who is going to have to move between now and the trade deadline is Rudy Gay. I don’t think the Kings can make the same mistake New Orleans made last year with Ryan Anderson. Ryan Anderson was pretty clear he was not going to re-sign there and they lost him for nothing. Especially for a team so devoid of assets, they couldn’t let him walk for nothing.

There’s no question Oklahoma City. Indiana has had interest in him. Houston has had some peripheral interest. I don’t think they have the pieces to trade.”

Oklahoma City needs more scoring, and while Gay does that in an old-school way — heavy on isolation and midrange shots (although he’s hitting 34,9 percent from three this year) — he can get them buckets. It’s easy to see where that would fit with the Rockets, as well, and he’d make a good reserve in Indiana. The question becomes what goes back to the California capital? The Kings previously had interest in Cameron Payne, but that may have faded with his latest injury.

The Kings should be active on the trade market between now and the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Omri Casspi has been made available, and other GMs think a change of scenery is what the stretch four needs. Also, Kosta Koufos and maybe Willie Cauley-Stein are available at the right price. I know none of those are the guys most fans want to pry out of Sacramento, but right now DeMarcus Cousins is not available — and he doesn’t expect to be traded.