Gary Payton talks Lillard, D-Will and guarding Jordan

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We look at today’s NBA as almost a new golden age of point guards — Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and the list goes on and on.

It’s a very different era from when Gary Payton was at the peak of his career. Back then Payton could body up on Michael Jordan or Tim Hardaway to defend them — he could hand check, hook them a little, be physical with them on the perimeter. Today, any little contact on the perimeter is whistled as a foul.

It’s a different world, one Payton is not sure he could be the same player in. Of course, the reverse is true of today’s best point guards in his era, the legendary Sonic said.

“It would be very hard for me to adjust because I was very aggressive,” Payton told ProBasketballTalk. “I was an aggressive basketball player. I probably wouldn’t be on the floor too often because I would have to be aggressive. Today you would have to adjust by being a finesse basketball player and just scoring. I don’t know….

“A lot of these players are very explosive and I couldn’t have been pressing up on them. But in our day these guys would have had a lot of problems because we can hand check, we can hold you, we could do a lot of things and you couldn’t go nowhere. We would have been doubling up and jumping out and a lot of players would have been getting hit. It just would have been a little bit different.”

Payton now spends time at his California home, working on his charitable foundations that help youth in Oakland where he grew up. He’s working with Nike to re-release “The Glove” signature shoes, but updated (kind of like Nike did with Penny Hardaway’s shoes recently). And Payton’s working to launch Thuzio in Los Angeles, a company that sets people or organizations up with athletes to come speak at an event or just go to a dinner party.

Payton also is watching a lot of basketball. And what point guards is he watching?

“I like Damian Lillard because he’s from Oakland, California, and he’s a phenomenal basketball player,” Payton said. “He should be the rookie of the year, he’s playing very well right now for Portland and I love his game.

“I’ve been watching Deron Williams for a long period of time now and I like him. He is the epitome of an old-school basketball player. He just goes out there and gets it done, he’s not about being fancy, going through your legs three or four times, pulling up in your face. He just gets it done. He just gets what he has to get, gets his assists, gets his rebounds, gets his points and just gets his team to win.”

Payton talked about a number of other topics with PBT as well (which you can hear more of in his own words in our Friday prodcast):

• On being nominated for the Hall of Fame: “It’s showing a lot of people have respected the things I’ve done in basketball and it’s showing I’ve done a lot in basketball. And I’m really happy for it. Not a lot of people can get in the Hall of Fame, it’s a great honor. I hope that I can make it.”

• On the NBA possibly returning to Seattle soon: “I don’t like to talk about it until it is done. Hopefully it will be there, hopefully it will come back. The Seattle people deserve it very much, they’ve been going on without basketball for seven years now and hopefully that can be done. It would be a great deal for the city of Seattle.”

• On defending Michael Jordan: “What you’ve got to understand is Michael Jordan couldn’t be stopped he could just be contained because he was a great offensive player. He could get to the free throw line. He could jump over you. He had great moves, he did a lot of things.”

“What I tried to do was tie him up, to get a little frustrated, and hopefully I could do that and it worked sometimes. But he would still get his 25-30 points because a guy like that, when he shoots the ball as many times as Michael Jordan does you can’t stop him. He’s going to make baskets and get to the free throw line. So I just tried to contain him. Just tie him up, don’t let him get the ball easy, don’t let him get in his comfort zone, make things difficult for him and try to get him frustrated where he’ll foul you and get in a little foul trouble, then something good will happen for me.”

• Payton is working with John Wall and helping the Wizards guard adjust to the NBA.

• On his charity work: “I work with kids now, try to get them out of the neighborhood, try to get them scholarships, because their families and their parents can’t give them enough money to get out. I give five scholars scholarships a year. In Oakland I have a youth center.”

• On the recent trash talk incident between Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett, and report KG said something about ‘Melo’s wife: “That’s just disrespectful. It’s just the same thing where you can’t say something about somebody’s mom, or their father that was just sick and died or something. There’s just a fine line that you go to.

“You can talk the stuff but this this is nothing but a game. When it gets personal and people get their feelings involved then these guys can do anything. They start wanting to see you off the court and things like that. So we got to keep it a little bit under control.”

• And he was clearly excited about Thuzio and getting to mean fans through it: “It’s a good thing with Thuzio because it gives fans a lot of the memorable things with athletes that they really, really wanted to meet for a long time. There’s people who are like ‘Wow, I wish I could meet Gary Payton.’ Now Thuzio is giving you the opportunity to do that. You can come and have me as a coach, you can have me as a dinner partner, that is something that can be memorable for someone for the rest of their life.”

Adam Silver: It’s on U.S. government whether American companies, like NBA, operate in China

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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Politicians have repeatedly criticized the NBA for its involvement in China.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver is defending his league.

Sopan Deb of The New York Times:

Senators have power to affect the United State’s foreign policy, including where American companies are permitted to operate. The NBA shouldn’t face unique scrutiny for acting like a business, seeking to maximize profit, within legal parameters.

Silver is generally right: There is value in exposing American values to countries with authoritarian regimes. Basketball can be a good vehicle for doing so. Those connections can inspire change for the better.

But the league has repeatedly failed to uphold American values it espouses in its dealings in China. That warrants criticism and leaves Silver’s response quite lacking.

Adam Silver: Next NBA season will likely start in 2021

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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The NBA said next season would begin on Christmas at the earliest.

But get it straight: That’s a best-case scenario.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, via CNN:

My best guess is that – even though, as you said, it will be the 2020-21 season – is that season won’t start until 21. We said a week or so ago that the earliest we’d start is Christmas of this year, but the more I’m learning – even listening to Dr. Fauci this morning – I continue to believe that we’re going to be better off getting into January. The goal for us next season is to play a standard season – the other part of your question – 82-game season and playoffs. And further, the goal would be to play games in home arenas in front of fans. But there’s still a lot that we need to learn in terms of rapid testing, for example. Would that be a means of getting fans into our buildings?

February seems like a reasonable expectation. But so much is changing with our handling of coronavirus. Predictions are weak at this stage.

Of course, the NBA wants to play a full 82-game season with fans at arenas. That’s how to most directly maximize revenue.

But when will it be safe for fans to attend games? How long will owners and players be content to wait while making practically no revenue? At some point, will it be better to play games and draw some revenue?

Assuming next season begins on a date the NBA doesn’t want to use as its start date going forward, how will the league get its annual calendar back on track if not reducing the schedule length? Fewer off days? Shorter offseason?

Like with many things, coronavirus creates many difficult complications.

The time Shaquille O’Neal slapped Kobe Bryant

Lakers stars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal
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Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant fighting is stuff of legend in their highly productive (three championships!) and oftentumultuous relationship.

Now, that incident during the 1999 lockout is getting detailed like never before.

Jeff Pearlman’s “Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty,” via ESPN:

On one particular day, both O’Neal and Bryant arrived at Southwest College, ready to play. It was the first week of January, not long after the Kobe-is-the-next-Jordan piece ran in L.A. Magazine. Some other Lakers were in attendance, as was Olden Polynice, the veteran center who’d spent the preceding four and a half seasons with Sacramento. He was hoping the Lakers would sign him to a free agent contract, and had been told that Mitch Kupchak, the team’s general manager, was planning on showing up. Though they’d battled for years, Polynice and O’Neal enjoyed a friendly relationship. “All I wanted to do was go there and play with Shaq,” Polynice recalled. “The Lakers were my favorite team as a boy. It would have been a dream. I wanted to show Mitch I was serious.”

The players straggled in, loosened up, stretched, shot some jumpers. They proceeded to divide into teams — some guys over here, some guys over there. O’Neal and Polynice — dueling 7-footers — were on different sides. “Kobe was on my squad,” Polynice recalled. “Opposite Shaq.”

It was just another run, until it was no longer just another run. As he was prone to do in pickup, O’Neal called a series of iffy fouls whenever he missed a shot.

Miss.

“Foul!”

Miss.

“Foul!”

“I’m tired of this s—,” Bryant finally said. “Just play.”

“One more comment like that,” O’Neal snapped, “and I slap the s— out of you.”

A few possessions later, Bryant drove toward the rim, leaned into O’Neal’s body, and scooped the ball beneath his raised arm and into the hoop. It was a pretty move, but nothing otherworldly.

“F— you!” he screamed at O’Neal. “This is my team! My motherf—ing team!”

It felt edgy. Everything stopped. “He wasn’t talking about the pickup team,” Polynice recalled. “He was talking about the Lakers.”

O’Neal wasn’t having it. “No, motherf—er!” he screamed. “This is my team!”

“F— you!” Bryant replied. “Seriously — f— you! You’re not a leader. You’re nothing!”

What did he just say?

“I will get your ass traded,” O’Neal said. “Not a problem.”

Several of the participants stepped in to separate the two, and the game eventually continued. But it no longer felt even slightly relaxed or friendly. “We probably went up and down the court two more times,” Polynice said. “Kobe goes to the basket, scores, screams at Shaq, ‘Yeah, motherf—er! That s— ain’t gonna stop me!'”

O’Neal grabbed the ball in order to freeze action.

“Say another motherf—ing word,” he said, staring directly at Bryant.

“Aw, f— you,” Bryant said. “You don’t kn–”

Smack!

O’Neal slapped Bryant across the face. Hard.

“His hands are huge,” said Blount, who was playing in the game. “The noise was loud.”

Here is Polynice’s recollection: “Then Shaq swung again at Kobe, but he missed. S—! I run over and grab Shaq, because I’m big enough to do so. And Shaq keeps swinging, but everything’s missing because I have his arms. I’m grabbing on to Shaq, holding on for dear life, yelling, ‘Somebody grab Kobe! Seriously — somebody grab him!’ Because I’m holding Shaq and Kobe’s taking swings at him. At one point Shaq gets an arm loose and he pops me in the head. Seriously, no good deed goes unpunished. And I’m telling you, if Shaq gets loose he would have killed Kobe Bryant. I am not exaggerating. It was along the lines of an I-want-to-kill-you-right-now punch. He wanted to end Kobe’s life in that moment.”

Bryant was undeterred. “You’re soft!” he barked. “Is that all you’ve got? You’re soft!” Blount begged Bryant to stop talking. “You’re not helping,” he said. “Just shut up.” The altercation was finally broken up when Jerome Crawford, O’Neal’s bodyguard, walked onto the floor and calmed his friend down. O’Neal was furious. “You can’t touch him in practice,” he wrote of Bryant. “He’s acting like Jordan, where some players thought you couldn’t touch Mike. Whenever somebody ripped Kobe, he’d call a foul. After a while, I’m like, ‘Listen, man, you don’t have to start calling that punk s—.'” As he walked from the court, Polynice looked at a shaken Kupchak and said, loudly, “You should sign me just for that.”

This book sounds good. Even the extended excerpt is compelling. What a closing line from Olden Polynice.

Bryant said that fight brought O’Neal’s respect. Of course, they still had their differences. But they won through their squabbling. That commitment to team success and the success itself have endured.

Players see similarities between Brad Stevens, Erik Spoelstra

Brad Stevens Erik Spoelstra
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Jae Crowder will tell anybody who asks that the Miami Heat are extremely well-prepared for whatever comes their way in the Eastern Conference finals.

He can say the same about the Boston Celtics, too.

Crowder and fellow Heat teammate Kelly Olynyk are both in the East title series for the second time. Their first time was in 2017 — when they were Boston teammates under coach Brad Stevens. And it isn’t hard for Crowder to see the similarities between Stevens and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

“Oh, the No. 1 thing that sticks out to me is the attention to detail,” Crowder said. “Both coaches have preached that and pushed that with their teams, respectively. You need that at this level. You need that at this time of the year, because both teams really know exactly what they’re trying to get to. It’s just about the level of detail that you’re doing it and how much you’re imposing your will.”

The Celtics lost that 2017 series to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and neither Olynyk nor Crowder ever played for Boston again when that postseason run ended. Crowder was traded in the summer after those 2017 East finals, part of the deal that brought Kyrie Irving from Cleveland to Boston. Olynyk left Boston in the same summer, signing a three-year contract with Miami with a player option for next season tacked on as well.

Stevens remains fond of both players, and even now — with the Celtics trying to beat the Heat — he says he’s happy for Olynyk and Crowder.

“I think they’re both great competitors, great people,” Stevens said. “They impact winning. It’s not a surprise they’re doing it again.”

Spoelstra has a bit of familiarity with a key member of the Celtics, albeit on a different level. The Heat made a big push to sign Gordon Hayward in 2017, even getting him to visit Miami on what became a bit of a whirlwind free-agent tour that summer. Hayward ended up signing with Boston; that was largely why Miami got Olynyk that summer, because the Celtics had to rescind the qualifying offer made to him in order to help clear the space needed to sign Hayward.

“We loved the meeting with Gordon,” Spoelstra said in 2017. “There’s a reason why we recruited him.”

All the moves have worked out for everyone involved. Most of the Celtics who were on that 2017 team aren’t there now, so it’s not like Olynyk and Crowder are facing off with their old team — just their former franchise.

“I mean, there’s definitely similarities … they’re two of the best coaches in the league, and to be successful in this league you’ve got to do some of the same stuff,” Olynyk said. “But they do have their differences as well and that’s what makes them unique and that’s what makes our two teams different.”

Miami leads this year’s East finals 2-1 going into Game 4 on Wednesday night.

“I think the similarity is definitely just the attention to detail that they both coach with, and they push it to their groups tremendously,” Crowder said. “I think that’s a hell of a compliment to both coaches.”