The Extra Pass: Gerald Green doesn’t regret moment of his winding journey to NBA stardom

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LOS ANGELES — Gerald Green won the 2007 NBA Dunk Contest.

Doc Rivers, then Green’s coach in Boston, regrets letting him even enter.

“He’s just young and winning a dunk contest at 18 in the NBA, I don’t know how healthy that is,” Rivers said (Green was actually 21 at the time). “You get all this stuff. He had a lot on his plate. I always say the biggest mistake I made with him was letting him do the dunk contest. I know that sounds crazy but it’s tough when you get all this stuff and you’re trying to get him in footwork drills and he’s like ‘Wait a minute I’ve got a commercial tomorrow.’ Now he’s fought his way back and is terrorizing the league with his skills and it’s great.”

Drafted straight out of high school the last year any player could be, then bouncing around the NBA — and Russia and China — Green is back in the Association and has truly arrived at age 28, starring with the Phoenix Suns. He and his game have matured. He is averaging 15.7 points per game — having scored 33 recently against Atlanta and 41 against Oklahoma City — and is a leader on team that is the biggest surprise in the league.

Green also is pointed to by some as the poster boy for raising the age limit to 20 — he wasn’t ready for the NBA on or off the court when he entered the league straight out of high school, at least so goes the argument. He’s always had the athleticism, the question was him knowing how to use it, how to be a professional.

“It was more maturity with Gerald, he just needed time to grow up,” Rivers said Monday night before his Clippers took the court against Green and his Suns. “That doesn’t mean he was a bad guy, he was just young. So young that he was eventually out of the league young. The fact that he fought his was back was great. There are cases where you would love guys to go to college, but I still side on the other side, I still think you have a right. You have a right to make a mistake.”

Green doesn’t think he made a mistake — he doesn’t think he’d be the player he is now without the experiences he had, good and bad.

“If I had the choice I would do the same thing over again, come out of high school” Green said. “There’s no better preparation than going straight to the NBA… I think the NBA is the best teacher.”

Green spent a couple of years under Rivers’ tutelage, then was traded to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Garnett trade.He ended up in Houston and Dallas, never really finding his game and confidence, never fitting in at an NBA level. He then went to Russia and after that played in China — in those stops where he was the best player on the team and was relied upon to put up a lot of points he really grew up. He matured into the guy helping spark the Suns.

If you think time in college — Green was likely to go to Oklahoma State University — would have helped Green grow up faster, well, Green thinks you are wrong.

“A lot of guys that go to college then go to the NBA and aren’t successful,” Green said. “College doesn’t make you become a better pro. You being a pro makes you become a better pro. You got to put in the work, you got to be professional when you get to the professional level, you got to do all the little things, you got to watch film, you got to lift weights, you got to do all the little things that make you a better player.”

That is the argument Mark Cuban made recently saying guys should consider the D-League over college. However, Green said if he could not have gone straight to the NBA he likely would have gone to college, saying to him it was the same thing as the D-League.

At the root of the argument about raising the age limit is maturity — on and off the court. The NBA wants its players to develop more before they land in the league and would prefer they did it on somebody else’s dime.

“We see it, a lot of guys who play one year in college and then they come out, it’s tough. You have to teach these guys a lot of things,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We look at the game and things we think are common sense as coaches, as guys who played in the league before, we saw that as rookies… but back then only a handful of guys came out early, guys played college three, four years. They got a pretty good idea of how to play the game before they came in the pros. Now we have to do a little more teaching, be a little more patient with mistakes they make. So raising the age might not be a bad deal.”

A lot of coaches, pretty much every owner and general manager feels the same way.

New commissioner Adam Silver has made raising the age limit a priority, although he has to negotiate that with the players union and that body still lacks an executive director. When the time comes, Silver and the owners are going to have to give up a little something to the players to get them to sign off on the new restriction.

Green is a poor poster child for the argument. First off, he was 21 when he won the dunk contest — maturity is not simply a matter of chronological age, it is a lot of factors that come together at different times in different ways for people. Certainly college can help that maturation process, but it can also happen outside that environment — on the court players would mature faster in the NBA with no restrictions on practice hours and a higher level of competition to challenge them. It just takes NBA coaches being more into player development (and look at the best teams in the league, ones like San Antonio and Indiana, and you see great player development focus).

It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. For some, college is perfect. For others the D-League makes the most sense. For a handful of others playing in Europe might be the call.

There is not one path to maturity. And there is not one path to NBA stardom.

Certainly not for Gerald Green.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Ben Simmons reverses course, withdraws from Australia’s Word Cup squad

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ben Simmons‘ new contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers came with bad news for Australian basketball fans: The Melbourne-born NBA All-star won’t play for the Boomers at the World Cup.

Hours after Simmons and the 76ers agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, Simmons said he preferred to spend time with his new teammates in September instead of travelling to China for the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 World Cup.

“I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I’ve made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China,” Simmons said in a statement.

“Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Simmons had been selected for Australia’s World Cup squad and had earlier indicated he planned to play the tournament in China.

He now plans to play only for the Boomers in two exhibition games against the United States in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24 at a stadium that is expected to be sold out – 50,000 fans – for each game. He also said the Olympics next year in Tokyo remain on his schedule.

“I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games,” Simmons said. “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Australia’s World Cup lineup is set to feature San Antonio’s Patty Mills, Joe Ingles of Utah Jazz, Phoenix center Aron Baynes, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, Detroit center-forward Thon Maker and Simmons’ 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden.

 

Just a reminder, after draft and free agency Wizards have still not named official GM

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When Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM back in April — to the joy of Wizards fans everywhere — it was expected they would have a new head of basketball operations in place by the draft.

Nope.

So by the start of free agency, to guide the Wizards through this tumultuous summer?

Nope.

Tommy Sheppard has been doing the job on an interim basis, and as Jeff Zillgit of the USA Today points out a lot of league talk in Las Vegas was about why Leonsis just hasn’t given Shepard the job.

Team executive after executive had the same question when the Washington Wizards’ unresolved top front-office job opening came up. “Why not just give Tommy the job?”

Tommy is Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards’ longtime exec, who has been running basketball operations since owner Ted Leonsis decided not to bring Ernie Grunfeld back. Sheppard ran the draft, free agency and the Wizards’ Summer League team, but he doesn’t have the full-time job.

A couple of more prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at points. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

At this point, after Sheppard has built the team for this coming season, is Leonsis really going to bring in someone else?

The Wizards have decisions to make. This is a young roster not ready to be a threat in the East, but with Bradley Beal and the injured John Wall (likely out for the season after tearing his Achilles), they also are capped out. So far they have turned away calls from other teams about a Beal trade (nobody is calling about a Wall trade with his max contract extension just kicking in).

Come July 26 the Wizards can offer Beal a three-year, $111 million extension, both sides are talking and the offer is expected to be made. That’s when the big decision comes — if Beal doesn’t sign that offer the Wizards have to look at trading him. Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards, but there was plenty of informed league speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and may not sign the extension, essentially forcing his way out. It’s something to watch in the coming weeks.

It probably would be nice to have a locked-in head of basketball operations by then, but who knows what Leonsis will do.

Cameron Payne reportedly agrees to partially-guaranteed contract with Toronto

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Cameron Payne was the starting point guard at one point early in the season in Chicago (until Kris Dunn returned), it didn’t last long, and by the middle of the season he was waived. The Cavaliers picked him up in a limited role at the end of the season.

Payne played for Dallas at Summer League and needed to impress there to have a shot a roster spot for next season. He did, averaging 20 points per game on 51 percent shooting, and he had one 32-point game.

The Toronto Raptors will bring Payne and let him compete to be the third point guard, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Raptors have Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet at the point, there are not a lot of minutes to be had there. However, both men are in the final year of their contracts. Plus, he brings some pregame dancing that every team needs.

The Raptors now have 16 potential NBA contracts coming into training camp, which means there will be cuts. The fact Payne has a decent guarantee his first year means he’s going to get a real look.

Payne, the No. 14 pick of the Thunder back in 2015, has struggled to find a fit in the NBA. While his skill set should fit the modern game, he doesn’t quite shoot or distribute well enough to earn a coach’s trust. He will try to change that with Nick Nurse.