What will officials focus on next season? Delay of game, players going out of bounds

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Every year the NBA season starts with the league instructing the referees to focus on something new. It’s usually image related.

So what’s the random focus going to be this year? Ken Berger at CBSSports.com gave us a preview — delay of game after made baskets and players standing out of bounds.

As far as points of emphasis, the one that will come into play the most is delay-of-game violations when offensive players redirect the ball (i.e. toss it to the ref or bounce it out of bounds) after a made basket. League officials say it happened 214 times during the playoffs last season. Blowing the whistle on such shenanigans will speed up the game. Another good one: A team will lose possession if an offensive player goes out of bounds and does not return to the court immediately (with exceptions, of course, for injury and other circumstances that can’t be avoided.) Seems like a small thing, but this is a tactic that the Denver Nuggets started using a couple of years ago to further spread out the floor and confuse the defense. Last season, league officials say 11 teams used the tactic.

While it may seem like bouncing the ball to the ref is the polite thing to do, it’s an intentional tactic to give the defense another second or two to get back. Teams used it against teams that even liked to run after makes.

There will be some increased replay use as well this year, but I like the moves because it gives the referees more discretion to make the right play.

For example, they can still only review block/charge calls in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime, but now they can reverse the charge call if the player is outside the restricted area. They can also review now to see if a foul called off the ball happened before a shooter started his motion (this makes sense, if you are calling a foul off the ball you are not watching the shooter by definition).

What we will not see is the one thing I hope the league gets to soon — centralized replays. The NHL does this, having dispassionate officials in the league office look at the review and make the call, leaving the referees on the ice out of the process. The technology exists and it can lead to more consistent calls, or it should.

While we wait for that, look for referees to be all over the delay of game and out of bounds calls for the first couple months of the season, then the attention on the issue will fade away. That’s another NBA tradition.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.

Report: R.C. Buford moving on from Spurs GM role, Brian Wright taking over

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For 15 years, through championships and an unparalleled run of playoff berths and success, R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich seemed to work as one brain. Popovich was the coach but also team president, Buford the GM, and together they built an NBA powerhouse.

Buford is moving on from that role. Or, more precisely moving up into a new management role, and assistant GM Brian Wright is taking over as GM, reports Jabari Young of The Athletic.

After a little more than 15 years serving as GM, Buford is getting prepared to bequeath the role to assistant GM Brian Wright, league sources have confirmed to The Athletic. Wright will report directly to Buford, who will officially get a new title that some around the NBA believe will be a role helping to oversee Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

When the Spurs initially hired Wright in 2016, he stayed behind the scenes and focused mainly on scouting. But sources have informed The Athletic over the last year Wright has been more involved, even fielding calls and packages for the trade of Kawhi Leonard the previous summer.

Wright came to the Spurs from the Pistons a couple of years ago. That said, don’t expect a big change in how things are done in the Spurs front office. For one thing, Popovich is still there. Also, Wright has an excellent reputation around the league as being smart and a straight shooter. On top of all of that, Buford will remain his ultimate boss, although Buford’s role will change into one of more of a business manager for Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

Young hints there could be more changes coming. Obviously, the biggest would be when Popovich decides to step back in his dual roles as coach and president, but there could be shifts in the assistant GM ranks as well.

Just don’t expect the Spurs to stop being the Spurs.

Exclusive video preview: Dwyane Wade joins America’s Got Talent as guest judge

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Dwyane Wade is retired. He’s got some time on his hands.

But if he wants to spend quality time this summer with his wife, Gabrielle Union, he’s got to get on the set of America’s Got Talent, because she is a judge on the hit show. So, Wade did exactly that and steps in this week as a guest judge.

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Next week… it’s going down on @agt

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In the video at the top of this page, you can see an exclusive of Wade and the rest of the AGT crew watching and judging an insane danger act out of India, a sneak preview of the show airing on NBC this Tuesday night (8 p.m.).

Wade knows talent on the court, but we’re going to see what talents impress him on the stage.

Kings hire WNBA’s Lindsey Harding as assistant coach

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Sacramento Kings have hired former WNBA player Lindsey Harding as an assistant and player development coach on Luke Walton’s staff.

The team also hired Stacey Augmon and Rico Hines on Friday.

Harding played nine years in the WNBA before working as a pro personnel scout and then player development coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.

She becomes the latest woman to serve as a coach in the NBA, joining others like Boston’s Kara Lawson, San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, Dallas’ Jenny Boucek and Cleveland’s Lindsay Gottlieb.

The Kings have a history of hiring female coaches, notably Nancy Lieberman and Boucek.