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NBC’s Joe Posnanski: What Dell, Stephen Curry mean to Charlotte

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The NBA All-Star Game is coming to Charlotte in February 2017.

That summer, Stephen Curry will be a free agent.

If you thought there was pressure on LeBron James to return to Cleveland — or on Kevin Durant to return to Washington D.C. in the summer of 2016 — wait until you see the questions rain down on Curry in 2017 at the All-Star Game.

Curry’s father Dell was one of the first heroes of the Charlotte Hornets (along with Muggsy Bogues), and Dell is still beloved in that city.

It’s where Stephen Curry grew up, developed that ridiculous quick release and shooting range out to the South Carolina border.

Over at NBC’s SportsWorld site, the incomparable Joe Posnanski delves deep into the Currys and Charlotte.

In his 10 years in Charlotte, (Dell) Curry became the quintessential Hornet. To this day, in team history he has played the most games, scored the most points, made the most field goals, taken the most shots (by almost 3,000), committed the most fouls. And he and his wife Sonya were always around town, too, doing charity stuff, appearing at fundraisers, holding basketball camps. Owning a Curry jersey in Charlotte in those days was practically a city ordinance.

And his oldest son, Steph, came of age in Charlotte right in the middle of the Dell Curry Era…

“He was just this little, small-type kid,” (Steph’s) high school coach, Shonn Brown, would say. “You could see he could already shoot the ball and he understood the game.”

“Tiny,” says Brian Field, who at the time was an assistant coach for Providence Day, one of Charlotte Christian’s rivals. “I mean, he was good — he was one of the better players. But he was so small. He was winging it from the hip because there was no other way for him to get the ball to the rim.”

This is the enduring memory of the young Steph Curry: An almost impossibly small and slight kid firing shots from his side. “He could hoist it up there pretty good,” Brown says. “He had really good accuracy making shots. It was something to see, him making shots from all over the place when he’s just firing it up there with all his might. Well, what would you expect? His father was a shooter.”

It is from there the legend of Curry came — he could play, but not enough to impress Virginia Tech or any of the powerhouse college hoop programs that litter North Carolina. But things were changing. Curry was already working hard on his handles; then he changed that low, slinging shot into the work of art we know today.

And then came the shot change. Steph Curry had developed his side-slinging shot to the point where it was the best high school shot in the city. But in Steph’s junior year, Dell Curry pulled his son aside and told him that he had to move up the release point, that his shot would be too easy to block at the next level. At the time, Dell was an assistant coach at Charlotte Christian, and he told Brown that he was going to guide Steph through the shot transformation. Changing that shot was, in many ways, the toughest thing Steph Curry has done in basketball.

“I made some suggestions,” Brown says. “But then I thought, ‘Why am I getting into this?’ Let the shooter take over. He’s an NBA veteran and a great shooter, and that’s his son. They got after it, I can tell you that. They shot everywhere — at school, at home, at the downtown arena, everywhere.”

Do yourself a favor, go read the entire story — Posnanski is to sports writing what Curry’s shot is to the NBA. It’s more art than practical craft. He tells a great story.

And there are few stories as fun as Stephen Curry’s rise.

Report: Boston offered Marcus Smart as part of package for No. 3 pick, Philly said no thanks

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics
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If you’re looking for a couple of teams you can expect to be active on draft night, start with Denver and Boston.

Denver has been dragged into the DeMarcus Cousins sinkhole, but the Celtics are circling that situation and would be interested if the Kings’ owner decides to move him.

But that’s not all the Celtics are doing, they tried to move up to the No. 3 pick, reports Broderick Turner at the Los Angeles Times. It just didn’t work.

The executives said the Celtics were looking to trade point guard Marcus Smart and the Nos. 16 and 28 picks in the first round to Philadelphia for center/forward Nerlens Noel and the No. 3 pick. But the 76ers, the executives said, weren’t interested.

I wouldn’t be either. Now, Smart and the 16 for just the three, maybe I listen if I’m in Philadelphia, at least until I remember I can draft D’Angelo Russell with the three, and he’s better than Smart. But I’m not moving the No. 3 and Noel for Smart, essentially.

One thing to remember, the offers that were made last week and over the weekend are the first part of the negotiations. Most of the time the talks wither and die, but occasionally the sides find some common ground and things get serious.

Still, nobody makes their best offer early; it will be Thursday night before anyone shows their cards — for example, what Boston would surrender for the No. 3 pick, and what the Sixers would take to move it. Most likely the talks between these teams are dead.

Then comes the Kincks with the No. 4 pick and… watch out.

Vlade Divac again denies he will trade Cousins; meanwhile rumors continue to swirl

DeMarcus Cousins
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Meanwhile, while a storm rages outside his door and his coach tries to undercut his position and trade their best and most popular player….

Vlade Divac’s official position has not changed — he does not plan to trade DeMarcus Cousins. Not to the Lakers, not to the Nuggets, not to the Celtics, not to anyone. Here is the latest, something he told Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee:

What this actually means is Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadivé has not yet changed his mind. It is Ranadivé that is Cousins’ biggest backer in the organization and the guy who would have to sign off on any trade.

The interesting part here is Divac denying that Karl is pushing for a trade. Tell that to people around the league if you want to hear them laugh.

Karl is trying to win over the hearts and minds of the Sacramento front office and get them to trade Cousins. Aaron Bruski of NBCSports.com (he’s written for us at PBT) summed it up well, talking about former King GM Pete D’Alessandro, who was pushed aside for Divac.

The first leaks about a Cousins trade were about the Lakers which, as Ken Berger of CBSSports.com notes, is where his agent wants him to land. But it’s not the most likely option, or even likely at all (unless the Lakers are willing to sacrifice the No. 2 pick and Julius Randle for Cousins).

Cousins’ agent, Dan Fegan, would like to steer his client to the Lakers, who can offer Julius Randle and this year’s No. 2 pick — though rival teams doubt the Kings would send Cousins to a division rival. The Knicks are another team on Cousins’ list, but all the Knicks have to offer is the fourth pick (which, bear in mind, can’t officially be dealt until the Knicks use it, since their 2016 first-rounder already has been traded).

Whoever is available at No. 4 — Justise Winslow, Kristaps Porzingis — and Tim Hardaway Jr. likely is not enough to get a Cousins deal done. Boston is interested, always has been. What Karl wants may be his old running mates from Denver, Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler (no deal for Kenneth Faried will happen until after July 1, when his new contract kicks in). Beyond just Cousins, pretty much everyone on the Kings roster is on the block, at least if Karl has his way.

But any of that has to get by Divac and Ranadivé. So far, no dice.

Jahlil Okafor tells PBT he’s ready to learn from Kobe, prove he can play defense

NBA Draft Prospect Jahlil Okafor Workout
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LOS ANGELES — Not everybody wants to play with Kobe Bryant. Some players see him dominate the ball for long stretches of the game, followed by overcompensation with overpassing — followed by frustration from him if this strategy doesn’t work. He’s demanding of his teammates and himself. That has worked to the tune of five titles, but it can wear guys down. So some choose to play elsewhere.

Jahlil Okafor is not going to have a choice — he is a borderline lock to be selected by Kobe’s Los Angeles Lakers with the No.2 pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft. (He’s their guy, unless the unlikely happens and the Lakers trade the pick.)

Okafor is pumped at the idea of spending a season (or two, or…) learning from one of the game’s greats.

“I think I can learn a ton,” Okafor told NBCSports’ ProBasketballTalk. “He’s been in the NBA a while, he came into the league early — I think he was younger than me when he came into the league — so I want to pick his brain and learn as much as I can….

“It’s all about he wants to win. So do I.”

Okafor has had two pre-draft workouts with the Lakers, and both reportedly went well.

“I like the staff, I like the coaches, I like Mitch Kupchak, it was a great vibe…” Okafor said of the workouts. “I saw a fit (with the Lakers), but I saw a fit with all the teams in the top five, the top six.”

The one thing that came out of workouts, both with the Lakers and other teams, is that Okafor has slimmed down and looks more mobile and lighter on his feet. Okafor confirmed he’s dropped some pounds.

“When my ankle got 100 percent healed — throughout the college season I was not 100 percent … I was playing on a bad ankle — when that healed, I was able to pick up my workout regimen more than when I got hurt,” Okafor said “I was able to work out three times a day, and, as a result, my weight went down.”

Okafor is sharing his story heading into the draft as part of the American Express Home Court Advantage Rookie Draft Desk Series. That is done in partnership with the NBA and includes Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Frank Kaminsky. The best part of the page is the roundtable, where all four sit around and talk about their stories and how they got to the cusp of the NBA Draft.

“It was a great opportunity for myself and with the three other guys I was with — Frank, D’Angelo, Karl — it’s great to share our stories and really let the fans see us, and present us as we really want to presented,” Okafor said. “I really enjoyed it and the other guys did as well.”

The one knock on Okafor heading into the draft has been his defense at Duke. This has morphed online for some fans who now think he’s terrible on that end, which is not the case. He does need work, but there are mitigating factors. Besides the ankle injury, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wanted to run the offense through Okafor, so at the top of his list of instructions was to stay out of foul trouble. That does not lead to aggression.

Okafor isn’t worried about his defense.

“I thought I played well on both ends of the floor,” Okafor said. “My coaches did as well, they didn’t have any complaints and we won a national championship. I was so a bad defensive player, Duke was a bad defensive team too — that one was put out there — but somehow we win a national championship.”

As PBT’s Draft Expert Ed Isaacson noted during our draft podcast, if you have someone with the footwork of Okafor there is no reason to think he will not be able to defend. It’s just a matter of focus and practice, but the work ethic and fundamentals are there.

“That’s something Coach K said, I move my feet so well that I could definitely handle the defensive end,” Okafor said. “As the season progressed I improved, and Coach K was happy with me.”

And the Lakers and their fans will likely be very happy with him, too.

The one constant in Sacramento: Dysfunction

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors - Game Two
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There was once a time when the Maloof brothers were seen as model owners — mostly because they inherited a good team and GM — and the Sacramento Kings were title contenders. Those were the glory days when Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac had the team within a lucky bounce of the NBA Finals. Everyone just ignored the fact George Maloof was thinking of moving the team to Anaheim, winning cures all ills in this league.

Now that time seems eons ago.

After their financial fortunes had turned off the court (they doubled-down on Las Vegas at the wrong time), the quality of ownership from the Maloof family faded fast. In-fighting within the family and looking to save money became the modus operandi. By the last couple years, the franchise was a mess off and on the court, and almost was sold and moved to Seattle.

Vivek Ranadive and his partners swooped in to buy the team and put together a stadium deal that will keep the Kings in the California capital. For that he should be lauded by the team’s fans. But he is a hands-on owner who has made some very curious decisions over time — firing Mike Malone mid-season, the 4-on-5 basketball experiment, and hiring the inexperienced Vlade Divac as GM without telling anyone in the organization.

The Kings had deep pockets again, but dysfunction is still the franchise’s calling card.

That dysfunction was on full display Monday.

First came the report that the Los Angeles Lakers were trying to put together a three-team trade, involving the Orlando Magic, which would bring DeMarcus Cousins to Los Angeles.

Those rumors that would not die about Cousins being available brought a response directly from Kings’ owner Ranadive himself, speaking to Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“We have zero interest in moving Cousins, so I don’t know where that’s coming from,” Ranadive said when asked about an ESPN.com report in which a Kings-Los Angeles Lakers-Orlando Magic trade scenario was discussed. “But if you like, you should talk to (Kings vice president of basketball and franchise operations) Vlade (Divac), because I know Vlade feels exactly the same way. And I’m deferring to Vlade on everything. We have no interest in moving him. From my perspective, it’s really simple: we feel that he’s a one-of-a-kind player, and we have a group of players right now and we’re going to build on it.”

Usually, if an owner says no, the answer is no.

But not in Sacramento. George Karl — the up-tempo coach Ranadive wanted, but a guy with a reputation for trying to push around the front office wherever he’s been — has forced the Kings’ hand. He wants Cousins out. From Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Karl has been recruiting Kings vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac and multiple players on the Kings’ roster to unite with him in making the case to owner Vivek Ranadive that Cousins needs to be traded, league sources said.

Karl and members of the Kings front office have made it clear to opposing team executives and coaches that they hope to soon have a formal ownership authorization to actively shop Cousins, sources said. Kings officials, including Karl, have discussed potential deals informally with other teams, but no other front office has felt comfortable that any deal can happen until Ranadive is fully on board.”

How does Cousins feel about Karl?

Now come reports that before Divac came was given the wheel, former GM Pete D’Alessandro had been polling people in the organization “Karl or Cousins.” They saw it coming, just not the owner.

All this leaves the Kings in a tough spot. Again.

They have a just hired, big name coach and a 24-year-old franchise player who would be combustible if forced to work together come training camp. Which most likely means Ranadive will come around to Karl’s way of thinking and trade the center — a deal that will be put together by a raw GM in Divac with limited front office experience.

The faces change, but dysfunction remains the Kings’ calling card.