NBA Training Camp Primer: News and Notes from Day 1
Thanks to the first day of NBA training camps, the media also had its first opportunity to swarm the league's biggest stars and follow some of its best stories—none better than how close Dwight Howard is to playing alongside his new teammates in an actual game.
Of course, 29 other teams produced some noteworthy news of their own. As organizations transition from adding the right pieces to assimilating and improving those pieces, there's no better time to reflect on the offseason and look forward to the real season.
We'll be keeping track of the biggest stories coming out of training camp each day, and there was plenty to highlight after day one.
Even Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter made some news. How often did we get to say that last season?
Here's a rundown of the biggest stories to emerge thus far.
Dwight Howard Planning on Playing in Preseason
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Though his time frame for return seemingly changes daily, the most recent assessment of Dwight Howard's progress is the most optimistic yet. Forget the season-opener; he might see some action before that according to Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears:
Dwight Howard says he hopes to play in some preseason games after taking part in entire light @lakers practice but remains cautious.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) October 2, 2012
The best part about this news is that it's the opposite of a setback. So long as Howard's return date isn't getting pushed back, it means good things for his ability to actually stay on the court when he returns.
Also, it looks like Howard should have some extra time to build chemistry with his new teammates, meaning he could get off to a slightly quicker start this season than some might have expected. Sure, it won't take him long to master catching hold of Steve Nash's lobs but getting used to habits and styles always takes some time.
Dwight Howard Looking Good so Far
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Dwight Howard still isn't cleared for five-on-five action, but he was able to participate in a first day of training camp that didn't include any full scrimmages.
ESPN Los Angeles' Brian Kamenetzky reports that the superstar center is looking good so far:
All that established, I'll now say this: Between what we saw and what he and his teammates said Tuesday afternoon in El Segundo, Dwight Howard doesn't look like a guy too far off from game play. Certainly in the portion of practice we were allowed to view, Howard was running comfortably, working through 5-on-none offensive possessions as the Lakers install their new Princeton system.
It remains uncertain when exactly Howard will be available for game action, but his contributions in practice are certainly a positive sign. The Lakers will certainly find ways to survive without Howard for a few games if they need to, but there's no question fans and management alike would like to see what he can do sooner rather than later.
So far, they're liking what they see.
Pau Gasol Warns Bynum That Being the Guy in Philly Will 'Lead to More Pounding'
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The upside to Andrew Bynum's trade to the Philadelphia 76ers is that the 24-year-old will become a more prominent scoring option after spending the first stage of his career in Kobe Bryant's shadow. That should translate into a bump up from the 18.7 points he averaged in 2011-12.
It should also translate into a greater physical toll, at least according to former teammate Pau Gasol (via CBS Sports' Ken Berger):
More touches mean more double-teams, too, Gasol said. If you're the main guy, the defense is going to work extra hard to take that option away. The first option is what they want to try and take away and make somebody else be the second or third option. Like I said, it's more pounding. It's more physical fatigue. We'll see. It's going to be interesting.
And Gasol should know—he spent his first seven-and-a-half seasons as the Memphis Grizzlies first option and lone All-Star caliber big man before teaming up with Bynum in Los Angeles.
The prospect of more grueling game action is of even greater concern for Bynum, given his extensive injury history, but the skilled seven-footer is coming off a season in which he missed just six games. He'll have every chance to prove those durability issues are a thing of the past, but he'll have to endure plenty of defensive attention in order to do so.
Dwyane Wade Ditches Jordan Brand After 9 Years
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On the heels of rumors that Dwyane Wade would ditch his endorsement deal with Nike's Jordan Brand shoes in order to sign a deal with Chinese manufacturer Li-Ning, it now appears the Miami Heat superstar is one very fashionable step closer to doing just that.
The Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman reports that Wade and Jordan Brand have severed ties, just days before the team heads to China.
Though Wade wouldn't be the first NBA player to represent a Chinese brand, he'd instantly become the most prominent. It makes you wonder if this is a sign of things to come for the league's big names or just a guy cashing in while he still can.
Ray Felton Named Starting PG for Knicks
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In news that shouldn't come as much surprise, New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson will have Raymond Felton start at the point this season, replacing Jeremy Lin and doing his best to get both Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire plenty of good looks.
The 28-year-old is coming off his worst all-around season since he was a rookie, and he's acknowledged as much, even explaining that he didn't come into the 2011-12 season (with the Portland Trail Blazers) in especially good shape.
The good news for Felton is that the most successful stint of his career was the 54 games he spent with the Knicks in 2010-11, though those games were played under Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun style of play. Given that the Knicks' only other option was starting 39-year-old Jason Kidd, giving Felton the chance to bounce back and rediscover his form is looking pretty good right now.
Royce White Not at Rockets Training Camp Due to Anxiety Issues
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Rookie Royce White hasn't made it to the Houston Rockets training camp just yet, and he's been perfectly candid about the reasons why (via FOX 26 Sports' Mark Berman):
We are trying to figure out a plan for me to be healthy and successful long-term, White said. It's not really anything that's going on right now. It's more of trying to take a pro-active approach and trying to put together a solid plan.
It is definitely linked with my anxiety sure, but it's not so much as far as my anxiety now. Basically what happened was my doctor, we discussed it, and it was decided the way the plan was now just wasn't logistically healthy.
In other words, the absence appears to be largely preventative in measure rather than a reaction to something going on at the moment.
The organization's silence on the matter seemed to speak volumes, especially given that White's been so open about it. This could be a sign of things to come for the Rockets, who already have a roster stocked with young talent attempting to adjust to the pro game.
On the one hand, there are perfectly legitimate reasons for why White's taking the cautious path recommended by his doctors. On the other hand, life in the NBA isn't easy—there will be plenty of circumstances that don't seem all that "logistically healthy" as White put it.
The Rockets are sure to remain patient for now, but they also have to focus on their bottom line, which means putting the team in a position to win. That could come into tension with putting White in a position to play.
Enes Kanter Drops an Amazing 51 Lbs
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The Salt Lake Tribune's Bill Oram reports that Utah Jazz center Enes Kanter came into training camp 51 lbs lighter, a significant transformation for the talented 20-year-old.
After being drafted with the third-overall pick in 2011, there are already high expectations for Kanter, but he hasn't had much opportunity to impress or disappoint either way. He played just over 13 minutes a game last season, and so long as he's playing behind Al Jefferson, he probably won't see much more than that.
Should Jefferson wind up injured or traded, at least we know Kanter will be physically prepared to log heavier minutes.
Now the only question is whether his game is ready for the action.
Paul George: 'I'm the X Factor' on Pacers
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The Indiana Pacers had a charmed breakout season in 2011-12, at least until the Miami Heat got in the way. To give those Heat a run for their money next time around, this team knows it has to get better.
But with only some relatively minor tweaks to the roster this summer, much of that improvement will have to come from within—especially from young players like starting shooting guard Paul George (via the Indy Star's Mike Wells):
I feel like there's a lot riding on me, George said on the eve of training camp opening today. I like the pressure. I like to be in the situation I'm in. I worked hard the whole summer to get better at my game. I'm the 'X' factor.
The 22-year-old made strides in his sophomore campaign, developing a consistent three-point stroke and averaging 12.1 points and 5.6 rebounds.
He's already making a significant impact on the defensive end too, thanks in large part to his exceptional length and athleticism. From here, the challenge for George will include becoming more of a playmaker and diversifying his scoring ability to include a mid-range game and more trips to the free-throw line.
If he comes through with that kind of improvement, George could quickly become one of Indiana's first two options on offense.
Zach Randolph: My Knee Is 100 Percent
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The Memphis Grizzlies didn't make any significant additions during the offseason, but getting a healthy Zach Randolph back will certainly feel like one.
The 31-year-old power forward missed over half of last season with a partially torn MCL, but he kicked off training camp with the claim that he's perfectly fine now. That could pay huge dividends for a team that was forced to use Randolph in smaller doses when he returned to the floor last season, playing him just over 26 minutes a game a year after he averaged more than 36.
A healthy knee should also mean a return to the starting lineup for Randolph, who was frequently used as a sixth man toward the end of 2011-12.
Whether the news means the Grizzlies will have any chance of hanging around with contenders in the Western Conference remains unclear, but it goes without saying they have absolutely no chance without him.
Josh Smith Not Worried About Playing This Year Without Contract Guarantee in ATL
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Though an imminent extension for Atlanta Hawks star Josh Smith is looking increasingly unlikely, the 26-year-old power forward isn't showing any signs of angst (via the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Chris Vivlamore):
My mindset is making it to the playoffs, Smith said. I’m not worrying about any contract discussions. I think the team and I are on the same page. We know what we are going to do. My main concern is making the playoffs and winning basketball games.
As per the league's contractual bargaining agreement, Smith could sign a five-year deal this summer as opposed to the three-year extension to which he'd be limited prior to June 30. In other words, you won't hear Smith worrying about the long-term given that waiting really serves his best interests.
Of course, he may also want to take a wait-and-see approach given the Hawks uncertain future. After trading Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets and moving forward with a quasi-rebuilding effort, it's still unclear how close this team is to returning to those conference semifinals it frequented for three-straight years prior to 2012.
Before getting carried away with potential free-agent destinations, we should recall that Smith is from Atlanta and still young enough to see the organization's renewal through.
He's coming off his best season yet, averaging 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks—important contributions during a season in which Al Horford missed 55 games. Whatever happens going forward, Smith will once again play a significant role this season now that Johnson's gone.
Monta Ellis to Terminate His Contract Early and Become Free Agent in 2013?
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Despite some suspicion that Monta Ellis will forego an $11 million player option and become a free agent in 2013, the 26-year-old scorer really didn't have much to say about the matter at training camp.
Losing Ellis would be a jarring blow to a franchise that's short on star power and struggles to attract premium free agents. It would be especially tough to stomach given that the shooting guard was acquired in exchange for All-Star center Andrew Bogut.
Yes, Bogut struggled with injury, but that doesn't mean Milwaukee wanted to lose him just to rent Ellis for one-and-a-half seasons.
In just 21 games with the Bucks, Ellis averaged 17.6 points and 5.9 assists, trying his hand at a small backcourt tandem with Brandon Jennings after doing the same in Golden State with Stephen Curry. He's struggled to attract the kind of recognition afforded to similarly productive stars, and it wouldn't be surprising for him to investigate teams with better prospects of contending in the near future.
Steve Nash Agrees with Kobe's 'The Lakers Are My Team' Sentiment
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Kobe Bryant left absolutely no doubts about who the Los Angeles Lakers belonged to on the opening day of training camp, so it shouldn't come as any surprise his teammates are already on the same page—beginning with Steve Nash (via ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin):
This is undoubtedly Kobe's team. He's been here his whole career. He's won championships. And he's the best player on the team. We got to be there for him every day, so it's essentially our team as well.
Of course, we shouldn't be especially surprised to hear Nash defer, but it's still impressive coming from a future Hall of Famer who doubled Bryant up in the MVP award category.
It should also come as a reassuring gesture given the speculative concerns that Bryant and Nash could struggle to share the ball given their propensity for handling it so early and often from one possession to the next. That might sound absurd given Nash's legacy as one of the league's all-time great passers, but he's no stranger to dominating the ball before making those passes as he gets to spots on the floor, creates passing angles and waits for plays to develop.
It remains to be seen just how the dynamic will play out on court, but at least we know the intent is there.
Knicks GM: It Just Cost Too Much to Keep Jeremy Lin
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Just in case there were any lingering doubts about why the New York Knicks let Jeremy Lin slip through their fingers, general manager Glen Grunwald set the record straight (via ESPN New York's Ian Begley):
Basically, it comes down to the fact that Houston made a commitment to him that we weren't prepared to make, Grunwald said on Monday, making reference to the 3-year, $25.1 million offer the Rockets made to Lin last July. But I'm very happy for Jeremy that things worked out for him personally and for his family and I wish him the best.
That contract was especially cumbersome given that it was backloaded and set to pay Lin nearly $15 million in the third year.
With Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler already making the lion's share of New York's salary commitments, another pricey star just wasn't in the cards. Whether you think Lin was a sure thing or a still-unproven commodity, the risk posed to cap flexibility going forward was too great for the organization.
And with a window of opportunity situated around a veteran core, spending that kind of money on a 24-year-old who could still use a little bit of polish was too much for the Knicks' brass to stomach.
Derrick Rose About 2 Weeks from Cutting in Drills
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No one can blame Derrick Rose for his lengthy recovery after tearing his ACL in the playoffs and going under the knife shortly thereafter.
He's making excellent progress, but there are still hurdles to clear—sharp movements being one of them (via ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell):
Right now, I'm not at that stage, where I didn't start cutting yet, Rose said during media day interviews. I'm about two weeks away from that, where I'm starting to cut.
Rose went so far as saying that he was "scared" of making cuts, indicating that his return to the floor will also require mental adjustments. That's not at all uncommon for athletes instinctively inclined to avoid re-injury and protect parts of their bodies they perceive as still weak or vulnerable.
The former MVP said his ACL was "good," though, and remained positive about his outlook on the season and his ability to return and make a difference. The Chicago Bulls remain a talented and well-coached squad, but they desperately need Rose back in action before making a serious run in the postseason.
Looming Contract Extension Deadlines for Brandon Jennings and James Harden
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James Harden and Brandon Jennings have a lot in common.
The two guards are both left-handed shooters, versatile scorers only beginning to discover their primes and 23-year-olds who've already made names for themselves. They also have contract decisions to make soon, and the outcomes of those negotiations could be quite different.
For his part, Harden is optimistic he'll reach a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder by the Oct. 31 deadline, completing the puzzle for a young team attempting to retain its core. The 2011-12 Sixth Man of the Year isn't just a spark off the bench—he's a vital third option on offense who takes some attention away from stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Jennings' chances of finalizing a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks may be a different story. The Journal Sentinel's Charles F. Gardner reported in August that the point guard wanted to finalize an extension, but there's apparently been no movement on that front thus far.
The Bucks may be willing to let the market dictate how much he's worth and hash things out over the summer.
Rudy Gay to Use Olympic Snub as Motivation This Year
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As if there weren't already more than enough disappointment to go around after losing a tight first-round series to the Los Angeles Clippers, forward Rudy Gay also feels like he has something to prove after failing to make Team USA and compete in the 2012 London Summer Olympics (via CBS Sports staff):
They can word it however they want. Being left off, being cut, whatever, Gay said. I feel like that's one of the things I can keep in my mind to make me move on.
A little extra motivation wouldn't be a bad thing for Gay.
He's been nothing if not consistent over the course of his six-year career—perhaps a little too consistent. He's averaged just about 20 points a game ever since his second season and steadily shot between 45 and 47 percent, but he's yet to have a breakout season that would rank him among the league's superstar talent.
More importantly, he attended just his first postseason in 2012 and struggled with his outside shot through those seven games against the Clippers.
More than anything, Memphis just needs Gay to take games over from time to time. At the moment, he looks more like a complementary scorer playing the part of a first option, and that won't be good enough to take this club to the next level.