During Masters’ week Curry, other NBA players have eyes on Augusta

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — It was April 7, 2003. Exactly 18 years ago Wednesday, Syracuse defeated Kansas to win the NCAA men’s basketball national championship. The biggest win in school history, the biggest win in the Hall of Fame career of Orange coach Jim Boeheim.

A couple of hours after the game ended, Boeheim made a phone call.

Even after the biggest win of his life, Augusta National was on his mind.

“I had a deal with a guy that if we won the national championship, he’d get me onto Augusta National,” Boeheim said. “It was like 3 in the morning, right after the championship game, and we called to make sure it would happen.”

And it did.

This is the lure of Augusta National. If you find your way onto the grounds — either as a patron for the Masters, or in the even smaller club of people who can say that they played the course — it’s a memory for life. And in recent years, basketball coaches and players seem to have become particularly fond of the chance to be where the Masters happens.

“It’s a special place, obviously,” said Golden State guard Stephen Curry, who has played Augusta National a couple of times. “There’s a lot of history there. You get to watch the tournament every year, you feel like you know every hole if you’ve been there before or not. And if you get to play it, it’s even that much more special to have that experience and walk those same grounds.”

Curry half-seriously considered walking off Augusta after his first hole there; he made birdie, so he technically could have said for the rest of his life that he was under par on the course where they play the Masters.

To him, Augusta has “a majestic nature.”

“It’s pretty awesome,” Curry said.

The Warriors don’t have a game Thursday, so Curry will get to watch a good deal of the first round, at least. And he won’t be the only NBA guy finding time to watch plenty of golf throughout the rest of this week, either.

“Hypothetically, if I could play there, it’s probably what the kids want to do when they want to go to Disney World with a pass and no other people there, no lines to wait in and free food and free toys and gifts,” Miami forward Andre Iguodala said playfully, because he didn’t want to actually come out and confirm that he’s played Augusta National. “That’s what it’s like … I would imagine.”

Iguodala has played there; the 2015 NBA Finals MVP for Golden State got on with Curry and some other members of the Warriors’ organization on an off day a few years ago. Iguodala left with such respect for the course that he even changed the way he practices golf; he’s tried to find ways to account for uphill, downhill and sidehill lies, which are all part of the charm and challenge at the Masters.

“You have a lot of respect for guys who win that tournament,” Iguodala said, noting that nobody has a lucky win at Augusta National. “You’ve got to go get it.”

For some in basketball, Augusta National is a place to compete.

For at least one other, it was a place to contemplate whether a career should end.

Roy Williams retired as North Carolina’s coach last week, after 18 seasons with the Tar Heels and three national championships.

He prepared to tell his team, and the rest of the world, the news by coming to Augusta National and playing 36 holes. And even at the news conference where he made it official, he made sure to publicly and proudly point out what he had done at the home of the Masters, that he shot 88 one day, 87 the next, and finished with pars on five of his final six holes.

“Between every shot, I wasn’t really thinking about hitting the golf ball,” Williams said. “I was thinking about how I was going to tell my players and getting through this press conference. So, I knew then, that if you can’t even think about golf when you’re at Augusta National, the decision that I felt about not being the right person any longer, that was pretty much confirmed.”

Even those who are relatively new to the game get Augusta National’s significance.

Grant Hill spent almost two decades in the NBA, played his college basketball at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, and has an Olympic gold medal.

But yes, to him, Augusta was a huge deal.

“I’ve only been once and had the good fortune of visiting Butler Cabin with Jim Nantz,” Hill said, referring to his Final Four television broadcast partner. “Quite a treat, and I just started playing golf maybe four years ago.”

Boeheim had been to the Masters as a patron in 1997, when Tiger Woods won the green jacket for the first time.

He’s been back to play it twice since, the first time in large part because of that national-title win.

“We stayed there, played 36 holes and played the short course,” Boeheim said. “It’s one of the few things that’s better than you anticipate, even though you anticipate an awful lot. The day we played there might have been only two or three groups on the golf course. It was unbelievable.”

He’s played many of the world’s top courses. His tip for Masters patrons: Follow featured groups on the front, because most people head to the back and find seats around those greens. And one detail that stands out from his past visits to Augusta National only shows the reverence he has for the place.

“That first year Tiger won, I stayed and watched the ceremony,” Boeheim said. “When it was over, I had to walk back across the golf course to where I parked. And there wasn’t a piece of paper anywhere on the golf course. Not a wrapper. Nothing. If you throw paper down on the ground at Augusta, you know you’re going to hell. You won’t make it to heaven.”

Yes, that’s how much he reveres the home of the Masters.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.