Kurt Helin

PBT Extra bold prediction preview: Will Mike Conley become All-Star?

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Mike Conley should be an All-Star.

The Grizzlies’ point guard is one of the most underrated players in the NBA and is playing at an All-Star level. He’s smooth running the pick-and-roll, is a good floor general, and is arguably the best defensive point guard in the game. He is crucial to what Memphis does.

So is this the year he breaks through and makes the All-Star team? That’s the topic in this latest PBT Extra NBA preview edition with Jenna Corado.

I hope it happens but the reasons he may not are Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, and Tony Parker. The Western Conference is loaded with good point guards.

Popovich was easy, best call to take over USA Basketball

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“All roads led to Pop. It’s as simple as that.

That was how USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo described the decision to make Spurs coach Gregg Popovich the next head coach of USA Basketball. He will take over for Mike Krzyzewski after the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

It was that simple. Other guys could do a good job, but there was not another Popovich on the list.

Why is that?” Colangelo continued, posing a question to himself at a televised press conference in San Antonio Friday. “It’s because of who he is, his character, his leadership, he’s a winner, his self-sacrificing attitude in terms of being a military guy, he’s respected by everyone in the basketball world.”

There was no doubt — not even among other NBA coaches who might have had their eye on the job — that Popovich should get the first call from USA Basketball. I think there are three main criteria needed to be an effective Team USA coach — be someone the elite players will sign up to play for, be familiar with the International game and its nuances, be someone who can rise above the petty politics of agents and shoe companies — and nobody checks those boxes as well as Popovich.

This maybe should have been his job before, now he was the perfect guy for it.

The only question was could the frosty relationship between Colangelo and Popovich warm up. Their tensions date back to 2004, when Mike Krzyzewski was ultimately selected over Popovich to take the USA job. It wasn’t the selection of Coach K; rather it was Colangelo’s comments to the media that Krzyzewski was more “enthusiastic” about the job than Popovich, that he wanted it more. That rubbed Popovich — a former Air Force man who tried out for the 1972 Olympic team and was an assistant on the 2004 Olympic team — the wrong way. He wanted the job badly and felt Colangelo misread him. That was the first snowfall in a relationship that became cold.

They warmed it up this last summer on the California coast.

“We met this past summer in Carmel, California, and had a great, great opportunity to talk about a lot of things,” Colangelo said Friday….

“I had a short list, it started and ended and with Pop. So when we met we talked about a lot of things. The past, the future, and more importantly where are we going going forward.”

Popovich was humble and fairly understated about the task ahead of him. He will be 70 at the time of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but he’s excited about the challenge.

“In all of our lives, if you can keep challenges in front of you it’s a good thing,” Popovich said. “I’m not ready to plant tomatoes day in and day out.”

He’s not going to have to garden — or focus on his wine label — for a few more years.

PBT Extra bold prediction previews: Pelicans take step forward, not leap

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You don’t have to sell me on Anthony Davis. In the next three years he will take over the mantle as the best player in the NBA. He will be in the mix for the MVP award this year — at age 22.

You don’t have to sell me on how Alvin Gentry helps the Pelicans, not only the offense but I also think he improves their struggling defense.

But I don’t see the Pelicans making a huge leap forward this season, as Jenna Corrado and I discuss in this latest PBT Extra. The issue isn’t Davis and Gentry, it’s everything around them. Jrue Holiday is on a 15 minutes a game limit until January; Norris Cole, Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik, and Alexis Ajinca are out injured to start the season. Add in a rough schedule to start the season in New Orleans and a slow start is not out of the question.

Report: Derrick Rose to make preseason debut for Bulls Friday

Derrick Rose
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I guess his vision has cleared up.

Derrick Rose wanted to play for at least a few minutes in the Bulls’ preseason finale on Friday night, and new coach Fred Hoiberg was on the same page. There was just one little problem — Rose was still suffering from vision problems related to the broken orbital bone around his eye, an injury he suffered that required surgery. Rose couldn’t play with one eye shut.

Apparently those have clear vision because he will play Friday night, reports K.C. Johnson at the Chicago Tribune.

Derrick Rose indeed will make his preseason debut Friday when the Bulls play host to the Mavericks in a neutral site home exhibition, their last.

More importantly, both Rose and coach Fred Hoiberg said if Rose’s left eye reacts favorably to game conditions, he’s on track to play in Tuesday’s regular-season opener against the Cavaliers.

“It opens it up even more,” Rose said of the possibility of playing in the opener. “Every day my eye is improving. We’ll see how tonight goes. Everything I need to work on, this gives me a couple days to really work on it so I’m prepared for Tuesday.”

Don’t expect a lot of mask-wearing Rose Friday, likely two or three five-minute stretches at most. He’s not going to play a ton in the opener Tuesday against Cleveland either, expect a lot of Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks (matched up against Matthew Dellavedova and Mo Williams, the Cavaliers are without Kyrie Irving to start the season).

It may be a slow start, but this is good for the Bulls, a team with a lot of talent and a lot of questions. Getting Rose and Jimmy Butler on the same page and flowing. They need to figure out the frontcourt rotation that works best — Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic appear destined to be the starters, with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson coming off the bench, but that will be mixed and matched a lot during the season.

Fred Hoiberg has a full season to keep everyone healthy and figure out how the puzzle pieces fit together.

51 Questions: Is this Kobe Bryant’s final season?

Kobe Bryant

PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is this Kobe Bryant’s final season?

Kobe Bryant does not want a Derek Jeter-style farewell tour.

Even if Kobe were sure this coming season — his 20th in the NBA, all with the Los Angeles Lakers — was to be his last, he’d be coy about it just so it didn’t become a thing (although, he can only slow that so much). He doesn’t want opposing teams presenting him with a rocking chair before games.

Still, the question still hangs over the Lakers: Will this be Bryant’s final NBA season?

Nobody knows.

That includes Bryant himself.

If there is one thing Kobe fans — really all hoops fans — should root for it that on April 13, Bryant will be healthy enough to run out of the Staples Center tunnel with his teammates and take part in warmups before the Lakers take on the Jazz in their final game of the season. For the past few years, the end of Kobe’s season has been determined by injury — which each time left Kobe determined to overcome that, outrun Father Time a little longer, and leave the game on his own terms. Another serious injury would pretty much answer the question about his return.

If he gets through the season healthy, then he gets to make his own decision.

He will have options.

• He can decide to walk away. I think this is the most likely outcome. We all know the mythology of Kobe’s competitiveness — much of that myth is true — and it will be a challenge for him to move on from the game. Having been around him, I believe him when he says he doesn’t want to play for any other franchise. I also think Kobe will get to the end of this season and see some hope in the direction the Lakers are headed (with D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle) but realize they are still years away from title contention (and that’s if things go right). There is not a good enough Lakers short term, so he will choose to walk away. He is a man with a business plan, charitable foundations, and a platform for his life after basketball that few players have when it’s over. He can transition.

That said, a lot of people who know Kobe better than I — Phil Jackson, Jerry West, long-time Lakers beat writer (now with Bleacher Report) Kevin Ding, among others — think he will continue to play.

• He can choose to re-sign with the Lakers. If Kobe wants to stay a Laker, the Buss family will welcome him back — he is worth too much to them financially not to. Kobe sells season tickets, he fills the luxury boxes, he draws television ratings (and that massive local cable deal the Lakers have is ratings dependant). But there are questions with this approach. First, would Kobe be willing to take $10 million (give or take) a year, Tim Duncan style deal to give the Lakers’ flexibility to go after big name free agents? Would those free agents still come to L.A. the shadow of Bryant looms over the team? (For a lot of elite players the answer there is no, even though they would never say that publicly.) Finally, will Kobe accept a role that has fewer minutes and more mentoring, as his skills decline with age, and the Lakers try to transition to their next phase?

• He can choose to sign with another NBA team. This one comes up around NBA circles when you discuss Kobe’s future, and there two schools of thought. The more common one is that he joins Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher in New York as a member of the Knicks, playing in the nation’s other major market in a sort of reunion tour. This makes no sense for the Knicks in their effort to rebuild, and I’m not sure you can play Kobe and Carmelo Anthony together for heavy minutes, but relationships play a big part in how decisions are made in the NBA. The other option you hear is he takes a big pay cut to join the Warriors (Jerry West is there), Thunder (with Kevin Durant back), Spurs, or some other contender to chase ring No. 6. I doubt any of this happens because Kobe is too protective of his brand — and part of his brand is being a Laker for life. Plus, can you see Kobe agreeing to be option No. 4 on a team?

• He can choose to play in China for a season. Because of his years of work, taking trips for Nike there every summer — he has his own Chinese-language website and a charitable foundation — Bryant is huge in China. He could go there, play only once or twice a week in games where defense borders on optional (have you ever watched a CBA game?), put up numbers and sell a lot of shoes. It would be good for the Kobe brand. But that would also mean a lot of time away from his family, something that is very important to him.

We don’t know what path Kobe will take — Kobe doesn’t know what path he will take.

All we can hope for is that he is healthy enough to choose his own path.