Dane Delgado is a writer for NBC Sports.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

This story about Dirk Nowitzki yelling at Mark Cuban is hilarious

dirk nowitzki
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Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest Dallas Maverick ever. The team is his, and he will be associated with the franchise as much as any player from here on out.

The relationship between Nowitzki and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is one of mutual respect, if not outright friendship. The two have worked together to create a tenable situation for each of them, which has allowed Dallas to go after free agents in multiple seasons while Nowitzki has waited to sign a contract (often for less money than he would have been worth.)

So it’s reasonable to think that these two guys like each other and they banter back-and-forth.

Meanwhile, author Ian Thomsen’s book “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA” has several stories about Nowitzki, including one in which he went after Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

During an appearance on Zach Lowe’s podcast, Thomsen and Lowe recanted one anecdote from the 2010-11 season between the billionaire and the German superstar.

Here’s Lowe talking about the incident, via ESPN. Just a warning, it’s NSFW:

There’s a lot about Cuban in the book and how the players learn to tune out when he’s yelling at them during the games. And another moment from that season … they screw up a possession … Dirk inbounds the ball and Cuban’s yelling at Dirk because because he had just made a mistake or something happened.

And apparently everyone on the team remembers this: Dirk passed the ball back into play with one hand and as he pulled out his mouth guard with the other hand he shouted, “Shut the fuck up!” at Cuban.

No doubt the ability to have that kind of firepower, to hand it right back at Cuban is the dream of several rival fanbases around the NBA.

You’ve got to love Dirk.

Kyle Kuzma on hometown of Flint: ‘It pretty much is a third-world country’


Kyle Kuzma is one of the best young players on the Los Angeles Lakers. He is also a native of Flint, Michigan, a city which is still dealing with significant issues regarding its water supply.

Along with guys like Rasheed Wallace, Kuzma is one of several NBA players hoping to help the beleaguered Midwestern town. Speaking to ESPN this week, Kuzma said that he was trying to do all he could to bring awareness and change to the area.

Flint has had issues with lead in its water since 2014, and has been in a declared federal state of emergency since 2016. In his opinion, Kuzma thinks that Flint has been abandoned by the federal government and perhaps America at large.


“It is just kind of sad for me, how America has let a city of its own deplete and kind of die,” Kuzma said. “We help third-world countries out, but we have a city that doesn’t have [clean] water. It doesn’t make sense. That is definitely one of the frustrating things. But that is why I am not a politician.”

“I am trying to do a lot,” Kuzma said. “Not so much now because I haven’t really made enough money [yet] to really make some things happen. … My thing is to keep spreading awareness.

“During election time, [the water crisis] was such a big deal. And once that kind of went away, Flint went away. I want to try to keep it alive and really keep pushing it forward until I can do bigger and better things here.”

Kuzma went on to state that he believes he can create a larger change in his hometown area much like Lakers teammate LeBron James has done for the city of Akron. The Lakers guard started making inroads in that department, holding a basketball camp for local kids who also received backpacks with bottled water inside.

If you would like to join Kuzma in helping to support the residents of Flint, one of the best ways you can do that is to contribute to the Flint Water Fund.

Damian Lillard roasts fan who chided him for lack of workout videos


Summer in the NBA is sort of an odd place. We wait for confirmation of players switching teams, then most of what we see is either about players having fun, or players hitting the gym.

For some fans, they only want to see one or the other. While the more mature NBA fan probably understands that players are unique, dynamic individuals with lots of time on their hands, some diehards have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees.

Social media has made it so that fans are able to go after players who they think aren’t keeping up with an offseason regimen. But of course, that allows players to respond to fan concerns.

That’s exactly what happened when one Twitter user complained at Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard for not working out enough. The Twitter user hadn’t seen video of Lillard working out, so they assumed the Blazers star wasn’t hitting the gym.

He was wrong, and Lillard let them know about it.

Via Twitter:

This seems like an extremely basic fact, but the idea that Lillard isn’t in the gym because people see him enjoying his life — like a normal human being — is patently insane. But the summer is long and the heat makes fools of us all, I guess. That and having to watch early-season NFL games.

The interaction did make for some good Twitter banter, at least. What a goober.

Lillard went even further, posting … uh, whatever this is:

Pat Riley says LeBron James subtly asked him to replace Erik Spoelstra in 2010


Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James is one of the best to ever play the game. He has multiple championships to his name, and now it seems as though he might take a different direction in the Sunshine state with regard to his career.

But just a decade ago, LeBron’s legacy was not so certain. In fact, James was a bit of a villain after the disaster that was “The Decision” and his new perceived persona with the Miami Heat.

That transition is the partial subject of a new book by Ian Thomsen, who appeared on a recent edition of Zach Lowe podcast to discuss some of the subjects at hand. Titled “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA” Thomsen’s book has been getting excellent reviews, and based on his conversation with Lowe it certainly seems worthwhile.

One of the best excerpts that Lowe and Thomsen discussed was a story from Pat Riley about James subtly asking for the Hall of Famer to replace young Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

If you don’t remember the context, this rumored rift between LeBron and Spoelstra started when the Heat began the season just 9-8 in 2010. During a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 27 of that year, LeBron was seen bumping into Spoelstra going into at timeout after Dirk Nowitzki hit a jumper over Chris Bosh to put Dallas up by double-digits late in the third quarter.

Here’s a quote from Lowe’s podcast, where Lowe is quoting a passage of Thomsen’s book that is spoken by Riley:

[I] asked how things were progressing. They just said, “We’re not feeling it, or something like that.” We talked about the typical things we have to do, have patience, all that stuff.

And I remember LeBron looking at me and he said, “Don’t you ever get the itch?”

And I said, “The itch for what?”

He said, “The itch to coach again.”

I said, “No I don’t have the itch.”

He didn’t ask any more questions and I didn’t offer any more answers but I know what it meant and I always go back and wonder what he was thinking at that time. He walked out scratching at his leg like it was itching.

The story that LeBron wanted Spoelstra out of Miami is not a new one. It was a rumor at the time a decade ago, and much as you might expect we have only come to see its verification some time later, with all concerned parties satisfied with their eventual result — two championships.

This is perhaps the best thing to come out of books like these. The inner workings of the NBA, often rumored, don’t come to light while players are still involved with parties they may take issue with. It’s only with the passage of time, and perhaps physical distance, that players and coaches are willing to speak with reporters to get the real story on record. That’s how we get to know about things like this, and it’s great.