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NBA Training Camp Primer: Latest News, Notes and Chatter from Around the League

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2012

NBA Training Camp Primer: Latest News, Notes and Chatter from Around the League

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    Kobe Bryant needs the preseason as much as he needs a backup—which is to say, hardly.

    So it should come as no surprise that just days after missing two Friday practices with a sore foot, the 34-year-old icon skipped a preseason contest on account of a strained shoulder—or so we're told. You get the idea Lakers head coach Mike Brown just might be trying to make amends for playing Kobe nearly 39 minutes a game last season after maintaining that he hoped to do otherwise.

    But while Bryant is enjoying the view from the sidelines, most of the guys in this league don't have the luxury of playing it safe. They have to actually, ya know, get better.

    Even LeBron James is getting better after adding a new move to his repertoire, and Jeremy Lin is getting better too, albeit in the sense that he's still working himself into form after season-ending knee surgery.

    Yes, training camp is about improvement, and a few other things.

    We're keeping a close eye on those things and making sure you do too. Here's a look at the very latest buzz emerging from training camps around the league.

Jeremy Lin Not at Full Speed Just Yet

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    Jeremy Lin has something else you weren't expecting: news that he's not quite recovered from the knee injury (and subsequent surgery) that ended his fairy-tale season with the New York Knicks.

    Though there'd been no previous indications that the 24-year-old was in anything but perfect condition, it turns out he's still not where he wants to be (via the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen):

    My speed and my explosiveness and my agility (are not) there yet. I’m still trying to recover from knee surgery and get to where I was pre-surgery. I probably won’t get to play too much. Hopefully, as the preseason goes on I’ll get to play more and more to build that endurance.

    Of course, his physical progress is only one part of the equation.

    After playing with a number of different lineups in NYC on account of injuries throughout the rotation, Lin now faces the prospect of playing alongside a first-time starter (Omer Asik), three rookies and a host of talented, young prospects.

    In other words, things might not go entirely smoothly from Day 1. 

    Then again, if there's anyone who thrives with a cast of overachievers, it's Lin.

Kobe Skips Preseason Game vs. Portland with 'Strained Shoulder'

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    Is it just me, or does it seem like the Lakers are just looking for excuses to rest Kobe Bryant?

    Not that they shouldn't—he could probably use it after posting 38.5 minutes a game last season.

    But just days after the Lakers legend sat out Friday practices with a sore foot, the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding explains why Kobe sat out Wednesday's preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers:

    Kobe's strained RT shoulder occurred yesterday at practice, Lakers say. But he was dunking on asst Chuck Person late in individual workout.

    — KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) October 11, 2012

    Ah, a shoulder strain—riiiiight (wink).

    By the way, Lakers practice sounds hilarious. Who knew there was a "dunk on the retired Rifleman" drill? I'm guessing that's the one Mike Brown gives Kobe when he's had a bad day and needs to take out some frustration—strained shoulder or otherwise. 

    After that, it's on to Brown serenading his go-to scoring option with Daniel Powter's "Bad Day." And if Kobe's still feeling down? Pau Gasol knows just what he needs.

    But hey, after spending the last couple of days prematurely confronting retirement, no one can blame Kobe for just wanting to hang out with Dwight in the stands—oh, and he needed to rest that strained shoulder...of course.

LeBron Busting Out the Skyhook

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    LeBron James' third MVP season was pretty good and all, but you couldn't help but think he was missing something...something like an unstoppable skyhook to complete his suddenly remarkable post skills.

    Not to fear.

    ESPN's Michael Wallace reports that James isn't quite done making improvements to his game:

    A year ago, LeBron James adopted elements of Hakeem Olajuwon's Dream Shake. This time around, the Miami Heat star forward is implementing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's patented skyhook.

    It might not rival the additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in Los Angeles, but it proves we haven't necessarily seen the best of the Miami Heat just yet. Having Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis around will be nice, but the reality is that the biggest improvements in Miami will come from within.

    Now that James is spending more time at the power forward position so that the Heat can space the floor with perimeter players (and allow Chris Bosh to play center), those additional post moves will come in handy.

    Sounds like someone isn't quite ready to part with those MVP honors just yet. The continued evolution won't hurt LeBron's chances at another title either.

Damian Lillard off to a Fast Start

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    Don't hand Anthony Davis that Rookie of the Year Award just yet.

    In his first preseason game, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard racked up 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds in just 24 minutes of action against the Los Angeles Lakers.

    More importantly, he received some high praise from a guy who knows a thing or two about excelling at the point (via CSNNW's Chris B. Haynes):

    Lakers G Steve Nash says he likes @dame_lillard's poise out on the court. Says he can be a special player in this league. #Blazers

    — Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) October 11, 2012

    Lillard was a standout performer in the Las Vegas Summer League as well, taking home co-MVP honors after showing off some of his electric scoring ability.

    Though there are plenty of talented rookies vying for recognition this season, the Weber State product will have plenty of opportunities to produce thanks to Portland's desperate need for a point guard. With the team going through something of a rebuilding phase, new head coach Terry Stotts will lean on Lillard heavily as the team's best scoring option alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum.

Andrew Bogut Status Uncertain for Season Opener

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    Don't make too much of this. With an injury history that no one would envy, Andrew Bogut just hasn't been very fortunate when it comes to staying on the floor.

    For all we know, though, he could go the next five years without missing a game. There's nothing stopping him.

    First, though, he'll have to recover from the fractured ankle he suffered back in January. He's almost there, but he's also trying to be patient (via CSNBayArea.com's Matt Steinmetz):

    After the trade, obviously you want to be out there. That’s the dangerous thing about these injuries. I can’t let what other people are thinking and wanting affect the injury. I need to come back 100 percent. I want to be out there. I’ve thought of many scenarios, and I want to be 100 percent ready for that first game.

    After the career Bogut's had, you'd want to be 100 percent too. The last thing he needs is anything even remotely resembling a setback, and the Golden State Warriors are clearly on the same page. This team isn't getting to make or break its postseason chances in November. It'll need the 27-year-old center down the stretch regardless of how quickly youngsters like Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes develop.

    Bogut has averaged over two blocks a game in each of his last three seasons and over nine rebounds over the course of his career. There's no substitution for his interior presence, especially not on this roster.

Suns Desperately Missing Locker Room Leadership

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    Well, we all saw this coming.

    Take away storied veterans Steve Nash and Grant Hill, replace them with up-and-coming unknowns Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley, and what do you have? 

    A team that could be very talented—and terrible.

    The Arizona Republic's Dan Bickley reports that the Phoenix Suns are missing the veteran leadership that kept them afloat in recent years, making special note of emergent center Marcin Gortat's cluelessness:

    They also have a center in Marcin Gortat who is cocky, uncensored and prone to saying silly things. He said he wants to wear No. 13 in the future, unaware of where that number should hang. He said he'll actually thrive without Nash. And on media day, he said something that made observers truly roll their eyes.

    "Obviously, the main leader in the locker room is Jermaine O'Neal, who is already in charge of everything," Gortat said.

    And no, I don't think Gortat was being sarcastic about the O'Neal bit—though if he was, all the worse for this locker-room dynamic. It goes without saying that Beasley isn't leadership material at this point, and Dragic really hasn't had the opportunity to cultivate that kind of presence (though he will soon enough).

    That leaves guys like Jared Dudley to fill the void, and that's not especially reassuring.

    Phoenix could look pretty good in another year or two, but for now this is a club with a lot of upside and a lot of questions.

Some Good Brandon Jennings News for Bucks Fans

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    Milwaukee Bucks fans couldn't have been especially pleased with Marc Stein's claim that the organization was "unlikely" to extend 23-year-old Brandon Jennings before the Oct. 31 deadline. 

    The up-and-coming point guard reasons to be a key piece to the team's future, and he's coming off a season in which he averaged over 19 points. For a club that's short on star power, this isn't the guy you want to lose to free agency.

    The good news is the Bucks don't need to extend him now in order to retain him in the long term (via The Warrior's Ryan Ellerbusch, though he has since deleted this tweet):

    #Bucks GM John Hammond on chances resigning Brandon Jennings: "They’re very good." He seemed confident they could match another team's offer

    — Ryan Ellerbusch (@RyanEllerbusch) October 11, 2012

    In fact, as per the collective bargaining agreement, the team can actually offer Jennings more money and more years once the season's over. Though looming contractual uncertainty isn't ideal, this route may actually make the most sense going forward.

Kobe Still Believes in Fish

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    Before you count Derek Fisher among the nation's 7.8 percent unemployed, remember that he's precisely the kind of veteran addition teams are inclined to make once head coaches have gotten a better feel for their rosters and what those rosters need.

    The 38-year-old can still play, but he's also in fine position to embark upon a coaching career—maybe sooner than he'd anticipated.

    Former teammate Kobe Bryant still believes in him though (via ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne):

    Kobe Bryant on Derek Fisher, who hasn't signed with a team yet: "I'm pretty confident he'll find a team. Every team needs a guard like him."

    — ramonashelburne (@ramonashelburne) October 11, 2012

    Every team except the Lakers, that is.

    Unlike so many other unsigned free agents (or defectors like Tracy McGrady), Fisher brings a lot of leadership to the table and all those intangibles you associate with players getting a bit long in the tooth. If Fisher doesn't latch on with a club imminently, look for him to hang around and join up with a team once injuries begin taking their toll on the season.

Jason Richardson Likely to Start over Nick Young for 76ers

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    Before we get all caught up in what Andrew Bynum will mean to the Philadelphia 76ers, let's not forget the additions of Jason Richardson, Nick Young and Dorell Wright.

    All three have experience starting, and all three are capable scorers—but chances are only one of them will get to start for head coach Doug Collins. According to PhillyBurbs.com's Tom Moore, that means Young and Wright are likely headed to the bench:

    Richardson is expected to join Evan Turner as the Sixers’ starting wing players this season, beginning with Thursday night’s preseason opener in Orlando.

    “I’m thrilled (with Richardson),” Collins said. “He’s a great pro.”

    The 31-year-old has bounced around since 2007 after spending his first six seasons with the Golden State Warriors. Though he struggled a bit during his most recent stint with the Orlando Magic, Richardson averaged over 19 points in 25 games with the Suns as recently as the 2010-11 season.

    Of course, he was taking 15 shots a game at the time, and that's probably not happening in Philly given the squad's depth. But if Richardson can get back to shooting around 47 percent, the 76ers won't miss Andre Iguodala for long.

Nene Still Not Practicing

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    While Nene was struggling with plantar fasciitis during the Summer Olympics, The Washington Post's Michael Lee reported, "the Wizards expect Nene to have ample time to rest and be ready for the upcoming season."

    Those expectations have changed.

    Lee now reports that Nene's availability is at the mercy of the trainers. Head coach Randy Wittman didn't have a clue when his starting big man would return, meaning the Wizards are now missing two starters (including John Wall) and working with two new faces in Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.

    If you're trying to figure out where this team will get its offense from, don't bother. Rookie Bradley Beal and 23-year-old Jordan Crawford will get a lot of touches until this squad is once again operating at full capacity. Other than that, Wittman will have ample opportunity to see what he has in young prospects like Shelvin Mack, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely.

    Nene—who averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in 11 games with Washington last season—might be back in time for the regular season, and he might not. There is, however, always a chance his foot condition rears its head again this season.

    That acquisition of Emeka Okafor is looking pretty good right now.

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