NBA’s rookie transition program presents information in a compelling way in order to promote real discussion

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The NBA has held its Rookie Transition Program for first-year players coming into the league since 1986, in an attempt to provide an extensive support system during an educational event that takes place over the course of three separate days.

Seminars cover a wide range of topics — family demands, relationship management, financial management and personal development are just some of the subjects discussed, and sessions related to character, image, driving safety, sexual health, nutrition and stress attempt to give players all the knowledge they need to have a successful start to their professional basketball careers.

While the program obviously has the best of intentions, at first glance, and perhaps viewed slightly out of context, some of the information may have seemed to have been presented in a way that was unsavory.

An article that appeared in The New York Times Style Magazine contained some of these details, and one in particular involving a potential domestic violence scenario struck a chord, especially in light of what the NFL is currently experiencing.

But in speaking with Greg Taylor, Senior Vice President of Player Development for the NBA who runs this program, it became clear that cherry-picking a detail or two that may seem negative on the surface doesn’t come close to explaining how it all works.

“So essentially, in that specific session, what we’re trying to do is really talk through and educate the guys on what constitutes good decision-making,” he said. “And so we talk about good decision-making being alignment between your heart and head. So objectively, am I doing something that makes sense and is smart to do, and then emotionally, am I doing something that sits good with who I am as a human being.

“So what we try to do is to use very compelling movie clips and articles and situations to really very bluntly put out some of the challenges and decisions that we feel the guys will have to make. And then we have a Q+A, we open it up for a really robust discussion — both in the larger group of more than 50 guys in one big lecture hall, and then we break up into smaller groups of 10 or 12 that are much more intense conversations.”

Taylor estimates that the discussion portion among the players attending the program accounts for 50 percent of it, the point being that he wants the players to learn from one another, and come to the right conclusions themselves.

“We know, just like any young person, that our ballplayers learn in very different ways,” he said. “Some people want written material and to sit in a room by themselves, some people want the opportunity to get up and move around for an experiential fit, some people like movie clips, where we kind of debate and move forward. Compelling is just meant to imply that we take a good amount of time to select which movie clips or articles or information that we share in hopes of inspiring a conversation that’s going to be real that the guys can learn from. It’s not meant to trigger the actions and responses that we think leads to a strong learning moment and a strong level of dialogue amongst the players. Our goal really is to get the player in the small groups to talk openly and honestly about their understanding and their reaction to the clips, and really almost educate each other. That’s what’s been most compelling about it.”

Taylor understands how some may view the way information is presented as questionable, especially without seeing it implemented in the program’s broader overall setting. But as he explained, the discussion that comes out of it is invaluable in terms of getting the players to see how their decisions may be affected in real-life situations.

“Essentially what we were trying to do was to say, here’s a situation and a scenario — how does this sit with you emotionally, how does it sit with you intellectually, and what are the decisions you would make moving forward — now break up into your smaller groups and talk more completely so that you can be clear about the next step,” Taylor said. “Taken out of context, it does sound random, I would say, but if you were privy to the entire session — the framing of decision-making, and the framing of five or six very provocative and compelling movie clips — all of them are driven towards, let’s talk about what a good decision in this situation would be and look like.”

Even if the situations presented were uncomfortable initially, Taylor believes the dialogue that resulted was a powerful teaching tool that made it all worthwhile. He plans to continue that strategy moving forward while educating the league’s incoming rookies in the future.

Wes Unseld Jr., Kenny Atkinson reportedly top list for next Chicago coach

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Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the two guys at the top of Chicago Bulls basketball operations, fired a coach in Jim Boylen that the team owner liked. Which means they have to nail the next hire.

Chicago in on to the second round of interviews and four names stand out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bulls are narrowing to finalists for their head coaching job and expect to conduct final interviews soon, sources said. Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham and former Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson are among the coaches who have had strong interviews so far.

Atkinson has a more proven resume after what he did in Brooklyn, but the other three are top assistants who have earned their shot in the big chair. Unseld Jr. is a hot name right now because his team is still in the bubble and playing well — he’s Mike Malone’s lead assistant on the Denver Nuggets — but every name on this list is qualified.

Whoever lands the job will head a team with plenty of potential but also plenty of questions. The Bulls have quality young talent on the roster — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter — but do they are fit together? How good Chicago is next season may depend more on the growth of White and the health of Markkanen than it does on who gets selected as coach.

Expect Karnisovas to spend a year putting his stamp on this roster and moving players around. First, however, he’s got to find his coach.

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

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Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.

The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.

Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCARincluding the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.

Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.

Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

NBA executives pick Luka Doncic as best player under 25 to build around

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Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.

Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.

Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.

“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”

It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:

Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).

An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.

Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.

“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”

One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.

Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse earning $8M salary on extension

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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.

What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.

That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.

But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.

He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.

After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.

Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.

Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri