Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson headline Basketball Hall of Fame finalists

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TORONTO —  The 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame class is shaping up to be star-studded with Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming.

But today’s announcement – which named Shaq and Iverson as finalists – omitted Yao, who was nominated through the international committee. That didn’t stop Yao and Shaq from taking jabs at each other during the announcement ceremony.

“I feel very excited and very honored to be nominated,” Yao said, then mentioned Shaq and added, “I’m just worried when we stand on the podium together, can it handle our weight?”

And Yao Ming, he used to travel all the time when he’d shoot that fadeaway,” Shaq countered later.

Some Hall of Famers were already on the stage — Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Oscar Robertson, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Spencer Haywood, and Bill Russell among others — and both Iverson and Shaq acknowledged the trail those guys blazed for the players to follow.

“I want to thank all the guys on the stage, except Rick Barry,” Shaq joked. “He came to LSU and wanted me to shoot free throws underhanded. I can’t do it. I’d rather shoot zero percent than shoot free throws underhanded… And Dick Bavetta, I don’t like you either, you gave me 10 technicals and threw me out of the game twice.”

No matter the nomination process, I still expect Yao to make it, but in a departure of previous procedure, his enshrinement wasn’t announced today.

Who would join him?

Here are the four NBA finalists, via the Hall’s release:

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL [Player] – A four-time NBA Champion (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006), O’Neal played 19 years in the NBA averaging 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.  A 15-time NBA All-Star (1993-98, 2000-07, 2009), O’Neal led the league in field goal percentage for 10 seasons (1994, 1998-2002, 2004-06, 2009) and ranks seventh on the NBA All-Time scoring list. He was named NBA MVP (2000), NBA Finals MVP three times (2000-02) and NBA Rookie of the Year (1993). At Louisiana State University (1989-92), O’Neal led the country in rebounding (1991) and blocked shots (1992) while earning unanimous First-Team All America honors (1991-92). O’Neal is an Olympic gold medalist (1996) and a member of the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

ALLEN IVERSON [Player] – A nine-time NBA All-Star (2000-06, 2008, 2009), Iverson played 14 NBA seasons averaging 26.7 points and 6.2 assists per game. A three-time All-NBA First Team selection (1999, 2001, 2005), he led the league in scoring average four times (1999, 2001, 2002, 2005), steals per game three times (2001-03) and minutes per game seven times (1999, 2001-04, 2006-08). Iverson was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 1997 and NBA MVP in 2001. The Hampton, Virginia native attended Georgetown University (1994-1996) where he set the school record for career scoring average and earned consensus First Team All-America honors (1996).

KEVIN JOHNSON [Player] – After playing for University of California Berkley from 1983-1987, Johnson played12 years in the NBA and holds the NBA Finals single-game record for most minutes played with 62.  Johnson is the first player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 10 assists, a .500 field goal percentage and two steals per game for an entire season.  In 1989, he earned the NBA Most Improved Player award. The three-time NBA All-Star (1990, 1991, 1994) is also an All-NBA Second Team member (1989, 1990, 1991, 1994). Now the mayor of his hometown of Sacramento, CA, Johnson was a major advocate of keeping the Sacramento Kings NBA team in the city when it was at high risk of moving.

DARELL GARRETSON [Referee] – Garettson, a native of Long Point, IL, served as an NBA official for 27 years, officiating 1,798 regular season games, 269 playoff games, 41 Finals games and five All-Star games. He was instrumental in organizing and heading the first union for referees, the National Association of Basketball Referees. He is widely considered the individual who shaped modern basketball officiating with a three-person crew and a focus on “refereeing the defense”. He served as NBA Chief of Officiating Staff and Director of Officials (1981-98) and is the only person to have served as a staff referee and Chief of Staff simultaneously.

Shaq and Iverson are locks. Johnson’s inclusion makes me more uneasy than anything. No offense to Garretson, but the Hall of Fame features too many referees already.

The other finalists:

TOM IZZO [Coach] – A native of Iron Mountain, Michigan, Izzo has led Mighican State to seven NCAA Final Four appearances (1999-01, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015). With 18 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, his team won the NCAA National Championship in 2000. Izzo has coached Michigan State to seven Big Ten regular season championships (1998-2001, 2009, 2010, 2012), four Big Ten Tournament championships (1999, 2000, 2012, 2014), and 13 Sweet Sixteen appearances. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year three times (1998, 2009, 2012), NABC Coach of the Year twice (2001, 2012), Clair Bee Coach of the Year (2005) and Associated Press National Coach of the Year (1998).

BO RYAN [Coach] – A native of Chester, Pennsylvania, Ryan has been named the Big Ten Coach of the Year four times (2002, 2003, 2013, 2015) while coaching at University of Wisconsin. Prior to Wisconsin, he coached at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (1999-2000) and University of Wisconsin-Platteville (1984-1999) where his team won four NCAA Division III Championships (1991, 1995, 1998, 1999). Ryan led Wisconsin to four Big Ten regular season championships (2002, 2003, 2008, 2015), three Big Ten Tournament championships (2004, 2008, 2015), and the NCAA Final Four twice (2014, 2015). Ryan is a recipient of the Clair Bee Coach of the Year Award (2007), NABC Outstanding Service Award (2009) and Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award (2013).

EDDIE SUTTON [Coach] – The four-time National Coach of the Year (1977, 1978, 1986, 1995) and eight-time Conference Coach of the Year (1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1993, 1998, 2004) is the first coach in NCAA history to lead four different schools in the NCAA Tournament. Sutton currently ranks seventh among Division I coaches in all-time victories and has recorded only one losing season in 37 years of coaching. He coached Oklahoma State University from 1991-2006 and tied the conference record for wins by a first-year coach with 24. Sutton guided his teams to three Final Fours, six Elite Eights and 12 Sweet Sixteen appearances.

CHARLES “LEFTY’ DRIESELL [Coach] – A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Driesell is the only coach in NCAA history to win 100 games at four different schools and just one of four coaches to lead four schools to the NCAA Tournament. He is the only coach in NCAA history to be named Conference Coach of the Year in four different conferences. He currently ranks eighth among Division I coaches in all-time victories with an overall coaching record of 786-394 (.666). He received the NCAA Award of Valor in 1974 after saving children from a house fire and was inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

JOHN MCLENDON [Coach] – A native of Hiawatha, Kansas, McLendon was the first coach to win three consecutive national championships, leading Tennessee State to NAIA National Championships in 1957, 1958 and 1959. He compiled a collegiate coaching record of 522-165 (.760) and was named NAIA Coach of the Year in 1958. He was the first African-American coach to accomplish many feats including winning a national tournament (1954), winning a national championship (1957) and winning an AAU national championship (1961). He was the first African-American coach to coach in a professional league, the ABA. Already enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a “Contributor,” he is now named a finalist by the North American Committee as a coach.

ROBERT HUGHES [Coach] – Hughes coached high school basketball in Texas for 47 years during periods of both segregation and integration – for which he was a great advocate. He ranks first on the all-time wins list for boy’s high school coaches and has compiled an overall high school coaching record of 1,333-247 (.844), leading his teams to 35 district championships and five state championships. He served as head coach of the McDonald’s All-American Game West team (2001). He was named the NHSCA National High School Coach of the Year (2003) and recipient of the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award (2010). He has been inducted into the Texas Basketball Hall of Fame (1993) and High School Basketball Hall of Fame (2003).

LETA ANDREWS [Coach] – Andrews has coached high school basketball for over 50 years and is the all-time winningest high school coach, male or female. She has coached five high schools in Texas since 1962 and has led them to 16 state Final Four appearances, plus a state championship in 1990. Andrews also served as Head Coach of the McDonald’s All-American Game West team (2004). She was named the NHSCA National High School Coach of the Year (2007) and recipient of the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award (2007). She has been inducted into the High School Basketball Hall of Fame (1995) and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2010).

MUFFET MCGRAW [Coach] – McGraw is a three-time Consensus National College Coach of the Year (2001, 2013, 2014) and five-time Conference Coach of the Year (1983,1988, 1991, 2001, 2013). As the coach of Notre Dame women’s basketball since 1987, she ranks seventh on the active coaches win list. She has led Notre Dame to 22 trips to the NCAA Tournament, including 13 NCAA Sweet Sixteens, seven NCAA Elite Eights and seven NCAA Final Fours (1997, 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) with one National Championship in 2001. In 2001, 2013 and 2014 she was named the Naismith Coach of the Year, Associated Press College Basketball Coach of the Year, WBCA National Coach of the Year and USBWA National Coach of the Year.

SHERYL SWOOPES [Player] – A six-time WNBA All-Star (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006), Swoopes played 12 WNBA seasons averaging 15 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. A five-time All-WNBA First Team selection (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005), she was also named Defensive Player of the Year three times (2000, 2002, 2003) and WNBA MVP three times (2000, 2002, 2005). As a member of the Houston Comets, Swoopes won four WNBA Championships (1997-2000). While setting an NCCA championship record for points scored with 47, the Brownfield, Texas native won an NCAA Championship with Texas Tech (1993). Swoopes is a three-time Olympic gold medalist (1996, 2000, 2004) and a member of the WNBA All-Decade Team.

WAYLAND BAPTIST UNIVERSITY [Team] – Coached by Hall of Fame nominee Harley Redin, the Wayland Baptist University women’s basketball team won 131 consecutive games from 1953-58 and 10 AAU National Championships overall (1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1975).  Rosters included exceptional players such as Marsha Sharp, a three-time AAU All-American Patsy Neal, two-time FIBA World Championships gold medalist Katherine Washington, co-captain of the 1980 United States Olympic team Jill Rankin, and AAU national tournament MVP Lometa Odom. Coach Redin and team sponsor Claude Hucherson, as well as five players have been enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. The team as a whole was recognized as Trailblazers of the Game in 2013.

Kurt Helin contributed to this story from Toronto.

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.