Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki reaches cusp of NBA’s 30,000-point club

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DALLAS (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki chuckled at the memory of he and Steve Nash trying to sneak in a few shots between YMCA games inside the closest thing the Dallas Mavericks had to a practice facility nearly 20 years ago.

He also recalled a trying rookie season with the Mavericks that was compressed by a lockout, playing on three consecutive nights as a teenager and sometimes sitting out the entire game even when healthy for one of the worst franchises in pro sports.

The 38-year-old German can smile about it all now because he sits on the cusp of an exclusive club , needing 20 points Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers to join four Hall of Famers and a future one, Kobe Bryant, as the only NBA players with 30,000 points. Julius Erving reached that milestone with his ABA career included, while Nowitzki will be the first international player in the group.

“There was some doubt creeping in,” said the bearded father of three, recalling the baby-faced version with floppy bangs. “I’m glad I stuck with it and tried to get better. I’m glad we grinded it, barely took any time off in the summer, always trying to add something.”

Nash retired three years ago, forced out by back issues that limited him to 15 games his final season. Nowitzki looks better every day in his 19th season after being slowed early by a sore Achilles tendon. He’s already said he plans to make it 20.

Together, the best friends revitalized the Mavericks after a decade of losing. So it stands to reason that if Nowitzki were to take a moment to reminisce, his playmaking point guard would come to mind as he prepares to join a list that includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.

Not only did the Mavericks lack a practice facility that was theirs exclusively in the late 1990s, Nowitzki said they didn’t have catering after games or even food after practice. That’s why he and Nash had their favorite hangout – the Loon.

“We had to go to Chipotle after practice every other day,” he said. “And after games, everything was closed so we’d hit the Loon for a chicken sandwich or a burger and a beer for recovery. You can get away with a lot of things when you’re young.”

Nowitzki and Nash separated before achieving their greatest successes. Nash went to Phoenix as a free agent and won consecutive MVPs in 2005-06. Nowitzki took it the next year after beating Nash and the Suns the previous season for his first trip to the NBA Finals.

Dallas lost to Miami in that 2006 series, but beat LeBron James and the Heat five years later for the franchise’s only title. That’s the first thing Miami coach Erik Spoelstra thinks of when asked about Nowitzki and the looming milestone.

“What else do you need to accomplish in this league?” Spoelstra asked. “In the toughest, most pressured moments, he played his best. His game is timeless. When he’s playing anybody but us, I like throwing the game on and seeing Nowitzki play.”

Once former Mavericks coach Don Nelson moved Nowitzki to power forward, the smooth-shooting 7-footer redefined what’s known as the “stretch four” position, forcing teams to guard him at the 3-point line. But it was more than that to owner Mark Cuban.

“Put the ball on the ground, spin moves, finished at the rim, rebound and took it coast to coast, rebound and took it for a pull-up 3,” Cuban said. “There were big guys that could shoot 3s but they weren’t putting it on the ground and leading a fast break.”

Nowitzki won his championship by adding a one-legged fadeaway jumper that TV analyst Charles Barkley called unguardable and four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant worked to mimic.

These days, Nowitzki defers to Harrison Barnes in the Dallas offense. The Mavericks gave Barnes a max contract when Durant went to Golden State in free agency.

Barnes, who has a chance to be Dallas’ first 20-point scorer since Nowitzki in 2013-14, has enjoyed the closer view of his neighbor in the home locker room.

“You look at his body, his athleticism, you’re like, `OK, there’s no way this guy has 30,000 points,”‘ Barnes said with a smile. “It just speaks to his consistency, year in, year out, Hall of Fame players next to him, not Hall of Fame players next to him, going out and doing what he does all the time.”

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since taking the title almost six years ago, cycling through dozens of roster moves to try to give Nowitzki another shot at a title. Cuban watched all those players come and go.

“When you get a new guy on the team, you’ve seen Dirk but never really watched Dirk,” said Cuban, who bought the team during Nowitzki’s second season in January 2000. “And that jumper, you see how smooth it is and you see it go through the net. And you start to see guys really start to appreciate them and realize just how incredible he is or the competitive streak he has. There’s just no way to put into words.”

There’s about to be another way to put it into numbers.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Report: Gregg Popovich met with Kawhi Leonard in San Diego

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Don’t count the San Antonio Spurs out of the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes just yet.

We have been waiting on pins and needles to see whether or not Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would meet with the apparently disgruntled Leonard this week before San Antonio approaches Thursday night’s NBA draft.

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania, Leonard and Popovich met on Tuesday night in San Diego where Leonard has been working out.

Via Twitter:

For what it is worth, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reporterd that Popovich has not yet met with Leonard, but is traveling to Southern California to meet with the Spurs forward. Even further, Leonard has reportedly requested a trade to Los Angeles from the Spurs, specifically to the Lakers.

Via ESPN:

Leonard wants a trade to Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers over the Clippers, league sources said. He has privately maintained that he no longer wants to play in San Antonio, and will eventually alert rival teams considering trades for him that his intentions are to sign in Los Angeles — preferably with the Lakers — when he can become a free agent in 2019, league sources said.

Leonard had told confidants that he did not want to sit down with Popovich and has been purposely difficult for the Spurs to reach recently. Among the issues, Leonard is angry over what he believes was the Spurs’ mishandling of a quad injury, and remains irate with public comments out of teammate Tony Parker and Popovich that he felt were not supportive of him, league sources said.

We had to know this was coming. San Antonio wasn’t going to let Leonard dictate the terms of his departure from Texas all by himself. Although Leonard has put the Spurs in a tough situation given his reported open request to play in Los Angeles, no doubt both parties would be better off from a basketball perspective if they were together. San Antonio apparently doesn’t want to make a deal with a Western Conference team, either.

Since the Spurs were trying to get in touch with Leonard before Thursday’s big selection night, it could be a signal that Leonard is on the move. Several teams, including the Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers are rumored to be interested in Leonard’s services.

Rumor: Cavaliers could have trade interest in Kemba Walker

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to do everything in their power to retain LeBron James. They are also doing everything they can do to prepare themselves for if James decides to leave Cleveland once and for all.

Last week we heard rumors about how the Cavaliers were trying to prepare an offer to snag Kawhi Leonard away from the San Antonio Spurs. That move could be seen either as an intent to entice James to stay, or as a replacement for The King.

Now, we have rumor that the Cavaliers could be interested in acquiring an Eastern Conference point guard, presumably to help LeBron next season.

According to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, the Cavaliers have inquired to the Charlotte Hornets about the availability of point guard Kemba Walker.

Walker, 28, just became the Hornets all-time leading scorer this last season. The University of Connecticut product has just one year left on his current deal at $12 million, and could be both a good rental for a season as a means to bolster another James Finals run, or as a focal piece moving forward.

As is the issue with any package for Leonard, a trade to the Cavaliers from Charlotte for Walker really depends on what a third trade partner can bring into the mix. Not many of Cleveland’s young players have performed well enough to be used as trade bait for marquee guys. That necessarily means that Kevin Love will be the main trade bait, and it is tough for many teams to have interest in the sharp-shooting forward given many already have that position filled.

We are just 48 hours away from the 2018 NBA Draft and no doubt rumors like this will continue to heat up as we get closer to 4 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night.

Michael Porter Jr. compares himself to Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo

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It has been rumored that Michael Porter Jr could be the player the Sacramento Kings draft at No. 2 overall on Thursday night in the 2018 NBA Draft. Meanwhile, according to Porter himself, there is good reason for his sudden leap up the draft boards.

Speaking on CBS Sports Radio on Monday, Porter said that he thought the players he most compared to right now were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Tracy McGrady.

Of course, the context here is that Porter was prompted to give a current NBA comparison, and as a shooter and physical player, he was unlikely to compare himself to a role player. Still, it’s a bold statement from Porter to say that he is akin to the second best player in the league at this moment. Durant has a skill set that hasn’t been replicated or really seen in the NBA, so it’s tough for anyone to really compare themselves to him.

Here is the quote, transcribed thanks to Deadspin:

Right now, I’m a little, I’m a mix of Giannis and KD. You know, I like going to the hole a little more than KD does, I like bumping into people a little more physical than KD. But I also, you know I like to shoot the ball more than Giannis. So that’s what I like to compare myself to. Then also Tracy McGrady. I get compared to him a lot and I like that one a lot too. You know, those are three amazing players. So it doesn’t feel bad to be in the same conversation as them.

In a recent interview with Dime Magazine, Porter said that he thinks Durant is the best player in the league, particularly when he plays against LeBron James. So really, Porder compared himself to the best player in the league.

The Missouri product has a litany of both character and injury questions. Rumors are abound about how well he will fit into an NBA locker room, and he famously decamped to Missouri Lorenzo Romar was fired in Washington.

Porder sat out most of the year with a nagging back injury, and had to call off some of his draft workouts because of a hip issue. Porter has tried to downplay his injury concerns, and has said that former Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy told him to remain patient through injury.

The draft is less than 48 hours away, and most believe that taking Porter at No. 2 is a huge risk for the Kings. We will see just how confident Sacramento is about Porter’s ability to become an NBA teammate and stay healthy here soon enough.

Michael Jordan will still have input on Hornets draft day decisions

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan hired proven general manager Mitch Kupchak this offseason to help turn around a franchise mired in mediocrity since he became the Charlotte Hornets’ majority owner eight years ago.

But that doesn’t mean the highly competitive Jordan won’t have input on personnel decisions, beginning with the NBA draft on Thursday night.

Kupchak said in a pre-draft news conference Tuesday that he’ll have final say in who the Hornets select before quickly adding, “well, with the exception of one person – and obviously that’s ownership.”

Kupchak has won 10 NBA championships, including seven as an executive with the Los Angeles Lakers – so he knows a thing or two about building a winning roster. But he’s quickly learning that Jordan, who many consider the best NBA player ever, is still very much a hands-on owner when it comes to the players he employs.

And Kupchak understands that.

“There is a huge business component to our relationship,” Kupchak said.

Kupchak said he has communicated with Jordan on the phone and via text throughout the draft evaluation process. The 55-year-old Jordan arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina on Monday and the two have been studying tape on potential draft picks since.

The Hornets, who have failed to make the playoffs three of the past four seasons, have the 11th overall pick in the draft.

Kupchak has known Jordan since he was a freshman at the University of North Carolina.

However, Kupchak said that while they both are former Tar Heels, he never had considered Jordan a friend prior to being hired this past offseason to replace Rich Cho as Hornets general manager.

Since then they have had dinner together and gotten to know each other a little more.

He said the relationship has changed for the better.

“Hopefully when all is said and done, our other relationship, which is our friend relationship continues to grow and is not altered in any way,” Kupchak said. “There are no favors being done here. We’re friends and I think we’ll remain friends, but the bottom line in this business is success and winning games.”

Kupchak was rather forthcoming in the team’s pre-draft press conference Tuesday, saying the does not expect to trade the 11th overall pick.

He also said he expects that the handful of top-notch big men will be off the board by the time the Hornets make their selection.

“Right now I think the best player on the board is the player we are going to go after – and I’d expect that player to be a guard or a wing,” Kupchak said. “… I think we expect that we will be looking at guards and wings, but we will see.”