Kobe Bryant says he is the best one-on-one player ever

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Kobe Bryant circa 2013 is a lot more mature person than Kobe Bryant circa 1997. As you would expect. He’s been through the battles, he’s calm under pressure, he picks his spots better.

But don’t challenge him. Like to a game of one-on-one.

That’s the sense you take away from a great Q&A by Steve Palmer at ESPN. Good stuff where you learn Kobe loved “Django” and hates dog… poop. We’ll go with poop on a family site.

But the best part was when Palmer started asking about playing guys one-on-one and Kobe gave a series of great answers.

• On if he could beat Michael Jordan: “I’m not sure, but he would win some and I would win some in a seven-game series. It would probably come down to the last few shots.”

• What about beating LeBron? “LeBron is a terrific all-around, five-on-five basketball player who’s an all-time great. But I’d get him… LeBron is a terrific all-around, five-on-five basketball player who’s an all-time great. But I’d get him.”

• Who would give him trouble one-on-one? “Kevin Durant is the guy that would give me the most trouble. With his length and ability to use the dribble, he’d be tough.”

• What about Tracy McGrady? “I played T-Mac. I cooked him. Roasted him. Wasn’t even close. Ask him, he’ll tell you. When I was about 20, we were in Germany doing some promotional stuff for that other sneaker company and we played basketball every day. We were in the gym all the time. We played three games of one-on-one to 11. I won all three games. One game I won 11-2. After the third game he said he had back spasms and couldn’t play anymore.”

As Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated said on twitter, if you think Kobe never lost a game of one-on-one, you should ask Brian Shaw about that. As a first and second year player Kobe used to challenge all the veterans and the way I heard the stories he didn’t always win.

Still, the quotes are vintage Kobe. You should go read the entire interview. But this was my favorite part.

Cuban to donate $10 million to women in workplace programs as part of Mavericks’ harassment deal with NBA

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The environment for women on the Dallas Mavericks’ business side was described as “Animal House” or like a Mad Men episode. One employee reportedly watched porn at work and showed the pictures to co-workers. Reports of misogyny and predatory sexual behavior ran wild, and if women wanted to report it, well, former Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery was one of the worst offenders, and the head of human resources was just trying to cover it all up.

Franchise owner Mark Cuban said he was unaware, and now that lack of knowledge of what was going on under his own roof going to cost him. A lot.

When all of this became public, started by a Sports Illustrated investigation, the Mavericks hired an independent investigator and that was overseen by the league, not the team. The results of that were released in a report Wednesday, along with the restrictions on the Mavericks.

Cuban will contribute $10 million to “organizations that are committed to supporting the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence.”

In addition, Dallas must:

• Provide the league office with quarterly reports regarding the recommendations outlined in the report and their implementation;
• Immediately report to the league office any instances or allegations of significant misconduct by any employee;
• Continually enhance and update annual “Respect in the Workplace” training for all staff, including ownership; and
• Implement a program to train all staff, including ownership, on issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.

Cuban had already hired Cynthia Marshall as a new CEO, and she implemented a massive overhaul to improve the organization’s workplace culture. The league requirements primarily follow up to make sure those steps take place and the situation is not allowed to slide back.

Cuban himself, however, was not aware of the situation, according to the report. From the NBA: “The investigators found no evidence that Mr. Cuban was aware of Mr. Ussery’s misconduct. None of the 215 witnesses who were interviewed stated that they informed Mr. Cuban of Mr. Ussery’s actions, the investigators found no documentary evidence of such a communication, and Mr. Cuban stated that he did not know about the conduct.”

The NBA did not take away draft picks from the Mavericks, keeping the penalties on the business side. The reports showed that the basketball operations side — including players and coaches — were not part of the problem and were not accused of harassment.

But there was plenty of harassment on the business side. From the NBA:

• The investigation substantiated numerous instances of sexual harassment and other improper workplace conduct within the Mavericks organization over a period spanning more than twenty years.
• That included improper workplace conduct toward fifteen female employees by the Mavericks’ former President and CEO Terdema Ussery, including inappropriate comments, touching, and forcible kissing.
• Two acts of domestic violence perpetrated by former Mavs.com reporter Earl Sneed, including one against a team employee.
• That there was a “lack of internal controls” and that “the Mavericks executive leadership team failed to respond adequately” to multiple situations.

That this was allowed to go on is despicable. You can be sure it had 29 other NBA teams looking at their business and making sure any issues were dealt with fast.

Reports: Jimmy Butler requests trade from Timberwolves; wants to play for Clippers, Nets, Knicks

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Tom Thibodeau went all-in on Jimmy Butler, trading  Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn plus swapping first-round picks (which became Lauri Markkanen) to land the wing. On the surface it worked, Minnesota got 16 games better and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, while Butler averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.

However, in the locker room things were not smooth. Butler is a Tom Thibodeau guy, and Karl-Anthony Towns is not, which led to tension between the two stars. Throw in Andrew Wiggins regressing after getting a big contract and nobody being happy with Tom Thibodeau grinding the starters into the ground, and you had one unhappy locker room.

How unhappy? How frustrated is Butler heading into a contract year? In a meeting with Thibodeau Tuesday in Los Angeles, Butler asked to be traded, reports Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

The Timberwolves put a five-year max rookie contract extension on the table in front of Towns on July 1, but he has yet to sign it. The Butler situation is reported to be the key reason. Once Towns signs the deal, he is the player in Minnesota with the power, and that’s not ideal for Butler or Thibodeau.

The timing of this is brutal for the Timberwolves. Ideally, they would like to get this resolved before training camp opens next week, but that’s likely not enough time. They are not going to recoup what they gave up to get Butler, not even close, but they need to get something back. Butler wants to go to the Nets, Clippers, or Knicks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Minnesota is under no obligation to send Butler where he wants to go, they need to get back the best deal they can. However, leaking this could discourage other teams from jumping in the mix. Other teams — the Sixers, the Lakers — may want to get in on the bidding next summer, and could even reach out about a trade (the Sixers have the assets to make it interesting if they wanted, the Lakers would have to trade Brandon Ingram right now because all those veterans on one-year deals can’t be moved until Dec. 15).

However, if the report that Butler is willing to talk contract extension with those three teams — which at its max is $29 million total less than he could sign for as a free agent with another team — could encourage the Clippers, Knicks, and Nets to go big and try to get a deal done. This could move fast.

Pelicans stay one small step ahead of their shortcomings catching up to them, per usual

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

On Feb. 16, 2017, I published an article about how difficult it’d be for the Pelicans to get Anthony Davis a star teammate.

Three days later, they traded for DeMarcus Cousins.

How did that happen? A few months before Cousins became officially eligible, the Kings got got squeamish about giving him the super-max extension both sides had seemingly agreed upon. Sacramento lacked the organizational prowess to navigate a difficult situation by doing anything other than rushing to trade Cousins, who was still under contract for another season-and-a-half. In the process, the Kings tanked Cousins’ already-limited value even further. New Orleans had Sacramento target Buddy Hield and was willing to surrender a future first-rounder.

The Pelicans were in the right place at the right time.

That wasn’t the case this summer, when Cousins left New Orleans for the Warriors. And maybe that’s OK.

The Pelicans are a fringe playoff team in this loaded Western Conference. They couldn’t necessarily afford to wait on Cousins’ torn Achilles to heal. Every win matters to them – especially as they move toward inflection points with Davis.

Though I’m grading only this offseason, we can still note how New Orleans’ prior errors made the Cousins timing so tricky. Better-positioned teams wouldn’t stress him missing the start of the season if it meant getting a star at a big discount (though, to be fair, we don’t know whether Cousins would have accepted the taxpayer-mid-level-exception salary he’ll earn in Golden State from the Pelicans, who could have offered more).

It was a similar story with Rajon Rondo, who signed with New Orleans last year after finding an unwelcoming market. Because of their lackluster roster, the Pelicans offered the starting job Rondo coveted. So, he took a one-year deal, exceeded expectations then left for a raise in a glitzier market this year.

New Orleans replaces Rondo and Cousins with Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle. Whether or not that’s an upgrade is difficult to discern and made the Pelicans’ grade the toughest to assign this year.

Rondo fit well into New Orleans’ ball-movement system, and he stepped up defensively in the playoffs. But the Lakers’ offer to him ($9 million for one year) was steep. Still, Payton must take significant steps forward to match Rondo’s production. Maybe the 24-year-old will.

The Pelicans surged after Cousins went down last season, including sweeping the third-seeded Trail Blazers in the first round. So, in a sense, Randle is just an addition. He, Davis and Nikola Mirotic should form a nice big-man rotation with varying skill sets.

But Randle (two-year non-taxpayer mid-level exception with a player option) and Payton (one-year, $3 million) are locked in for only one season. If they play well, New Orleans will just have to hope everything lines up again next offseason. If they struggle, New Orleans will have even bigger problems.

In the meantime, the Pelicans have enough to deal with. They traded their 2018 first-round pick to get Mirotic last season. Randle got the entire mid-level exception, and Payton got nearly all of the bi-annual exception. That meant filling out the roster with several minimum contracts containing varying guarantees. Signing Tyrone Wallace to an offer sheet was a nice idea, but the Clippers matched, leaving New Orleans with Ian Clark, Jahlil Okafor, Jarrett Jack, Darius Morris, Troy Williams, Garlon Green and Kenrich Williams. Maybe there’s a diamond in the rough.

That’d be nice for the Pelicans, who know all too well about playing from the rough.

They just keep trying to plug holes, because it’s too hard to build a strong foundation around Davis. New Orleans might have done well enough this year, but the same issues loom next year.

Offseason grade: C

After hip surgery, Isaiah Thomas not 100 percent for start of Denver training camp

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Isaiah Thomas didn’t want to have surgery at first — he was coming up on a contract summer and the point guard who was fifth in the MVP voting just two seasons ago wanted to prove he was still the same guy. That he deserved to get paid. But after missing the start of the season in Cleveland with a torn labrum in his hip, getting traded to the Lakers, never being himself and being a below average player last season, Thomas decided to get the surgery on his hip last April. He eventually signed a minimum contract with the Denver Nuggets.

He is still not 100 percent at the start of training camp, coach Mark Malone said on Altitude TV, via Chris Dempsey. Sam Amick adds that it may be a while before we see Thomas in action.

That has the Nuggets adding to their training camp roster in the short term.

The Nuggets are a team looking to make a playoff push this season (and if Paul Millsap can stay healthy and improve the team’s defense they should make it, even in the brutal West). Thomas — a healthy Thomas — boosting the Denver bench is part of that. However, Thomas is the poster child for why one doesn’t play through injuries or rush back on the court, there is potential long-term damage that is hard on the body and can be hard on the wallet.

Denver can wait, and if Thomas can be Thomas whenever he gets back, it could be a good fit in Denver.