Tag:Celtics
Posted on: October 22, 2010 6:40 pm
 

Source: Melo not afraid to test new CBA


The NBA's labor talks have been big news in the days leading up to the tipoff of the 2010-11 season. Cutting player salaries by one-third ... contraction ... doomsday rhetoric from the commissioner to the union and right back at him. Oh, and by the way: the Heat play the Celtics Tuesday.

All of this affects some 400 players, 30 billionaires, and you ... the fan. But it affects one player perhaps more than any other: Carmelo Anthony.

The Nuggets star is days away from starting the season with a team he no longer wants to play for, and that's his own choice. But the dilemma is this: If Anthony can't compel Denver to trade him to a team of his liking, he has to be prepared to stare $65 million in the face and say, "No, thanks."

Or does he?

That is one of the unspoken uncertainties inherent in the NBA's labor fight. If the league insists on imposing a hard salary-cap, and if it follows the NHL model of rolling back existing contracts to make them fit the new system, Anthony's three-year, $65 million extension offer from Denver is a mirage.

An NHL-style rollback would result in Anthony's extension (if he signed it) and every other existing deal in the league being reduced to fit the new model.

Maybe that is why a person familiar with Anthony's strategy told me that Melo is fully prepared to spend the entire season in Denver without signing an extension and then take his chances under the new deal.

"Carmelo is not afraid to go into next year and test the CBA," the person said.

That seems like a bold statement, but in a way, maybe it isn't. What would be the point of begrudgingly accepting an extension with a team he doesn't want to play for just to get the money under the current deal when the new deal may very well wipe it out anyway with a rollback?

My former Newsday colleague, Alan Hahn, covered the 2004-05 NHL lockout and has been all over this angle as it applies to the NBA labor talks.

Several sources involved in the Anthony trade discussions continued to maintain Friday that the Nuggets will likely decide to move him after Dec. 15, when numerous players become trade-eligible -- thus widening the field of assets at Denver's disposal. But no team is going to take Anthony on a rental basis. More to the point: If Anthony believes there's a chance he'll have to accept a pay cut anyway under a hard-cap system with rollbacks, why not wait it out and sign with the team he really wants to play for, the Knicks?

It's a risk, sure. It's a lot of money to leave on the table -- or maybe it isn't, depending on how determined owners are to slash player expenditures. And based on commissioner David Stern's statement Thursday that owners want to take a $750 million to $800 million bite out of payroll -- a one-third reduction -- they seem sort of serious.

Stern was asked Friday for the second consecutive day about all things labor, this time on his preseason tipoff conference call with NBA media -- which typically is a chance for the former deli worker-turned-sports titan to spread his unique brand of sunshine on the masses. One of the more interesting questions was about Anthony and other stars trying to force their way to other teams, and whether that's good or bad for the sport.

Stern said it didn't bother him "in the least," so at least he's consistent. In the months leading up to the free-agent summer of 2010, Stern applauded the free-agent rights players had negotiated in the CBA while pointing out that the system was built to give the home team an advantage by paying more money.

Well, the system didn't work in the case of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, who took less money than their existing teams were offering to team up with Dwyane Wade in Miami. That was their right. And the home-team advantage won't exist in the hard-cap world Stern's owners are trying to create. A hard cap will only lead to more player movement; just look at the NHL, where Stanley Cup champions are routinely blown up soon after the victory parade.

"The players have no obligation to sign a contract," Stern said Friday. "And I remember these guys -- what were their names? -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who actually asked to be traded; Patrick Ewing, who asked to be traded. Here we have a player who's keeping his options open. That's his right under the collective bargaining agreement, and I don't think it's fair to hold him to a higher standard."

I agree. I never had a problem with LeBron leaving Cleveland; it was the way he did it that bothered me. I have no problem whatsoever with Anthony deciding to bring his talents somewhere else. If there's a risk involved in that strategy, that's on him.

Stern embraced one concept Friday that may help in this regard, and it's one that I suggested here back in July : an NFL-style franchise tag.

"I think that the franchise player is an interesting concept," Stern said. "I think it's going to come up in our collective bargaining."

A franchise tag would build in protections for teams hoping to keep their stars under a hard cap. The players' union opposes all of it -- the hard cap because it would limit salaries, and a franchise tag because it would limit player movement. For the time being, we're stuck with a system that both sides enthusiastically agreed to only five years ago -- and one that has Anthony, one of the game's biggest stars, stuck in a self-imposed limbo.

Posted on: October 14, 2010 12:55 am
 

NBA's new rule causes technical difficulties

NEW YORK – Last season, the Celtics had one of the most gifted technical-foul accumulators in NBA history on their roster. With 14 techs, Rasheed Wallace was one behind teammate Kendrick Perkins and the Magic’s Dwight Howard for the league lead.

So after pushing the limits of on-court indecency on their way to the NBA Finals, the Celtics now have the equally impressive distinction of defining how quick a tech trigger is too quick under the league’s crackdown on griping about calls. On Wednesday night, Jermaine O’Neal discovered that under these rules, pillow talk can get you T’d up.

O’Neal was called for a foul while defending Knicks center Timofey Mozgov with 4:39 left in the second quarter of the Celtics’ 104-101 victory. O’Neal described the following exchange with official Zach Zarba.

“I walked up to him and he said, ‘Jermaine, walk away,’” O’Neal said. “I said, ‘I can’t talk to you now?’ Just like that. Soft, bedroom voice. And he gave me a tech. … To me, that’s too quick. Way too quick.”

Seconds later, noted loudmouth Kevin Garnett was whistled for a tech by referee Kane Fitzgerald, and then for another one, resulting in an ejection. Those two extremes, seconds apart in a preseason game played just a few city blocks from NBA headquarters, highlighted the problem David Stern has with his latest attempt to sanitize the league.

“I see what the league is trying to do with the consistent talking to the refs all the way down the court,” O’Neal said. “I can understand that aspect of it. But when guys walk up and ask, ‘What did I do?’ We should be able to do that.”

Officials from the NBA’s officiating department were on hand for the Knicks-Celtics game Wednesday night to explain the new threshold for technical fouls to the media. I got the shpiel last week in Miami, and this is my interpretation: What Garnett did certainly warranted two techs and an ejection. What O’Neal did warranted an explanation and that’s it.

This is what the NBA is wrestling with on the eve of its most anticipated season of the post-Jordan era. Stern went after the players with a dress code years ago, and he’s got the barber sheers out for all the haircuts owners have in mind for players in collective bargaining. Now, Stern is out to strip the players of more control by stopping the constant bickering about calls. If anything is more inherent to basketball than complaining about calls, I don’t know what it is. But this is where we are.

Until both players and referees adjust to Stern’s latest new world order, we have a mess – a needless controversy of the NBA’s own making, as if the league isn’t good enough at unintended controversy and conspiratorial hooey, especially when it comes to the officiating.

“It’s going to make it look like it’s about the officials,” O’Neal said.

Zarba, Fitzgerald and Kevin Fehr were on a roll Wednesday night, as if they were the Big Three everybody came to see. But it isn’t their fault. According to O’Neal, the look in the officials’ eyes after dishing out four techs to O’Neal, Garnett and Mozgov in a matter of minutes was, “I’m just doing my job.”

And they weren’t the only ones. I counted 12 techs in seven preseason games Wednesday night. I didn’t go to the videotape, but I’m willing to bet that a good number wouldn’t have been techs a year ago.

“I think they’re going to have to take a second look and see how it affects the games and especially the stars,” the Celtics’ Paul Pierce said. “You know people pay good money to come out and see the stars play. Even though we have to play by the rules, I think there has to be some kind of leniency. When a guy turns and just looks at you for a technical, that can cost you a game. That can cost you a player coming out of the game. I think that’s something they’re going to have to look at real hard. This is an emotional game and players are going to use emotion and that’s not going to stop.”

There is a middle ground to be found here, and it isn’t Pierce’s position. (It certainly isn’t Celtics Hall of Fame announcer Tommy Heinsohn’s .) But whatever it is, someone had better find it before the story of Miami’s dynamic duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade is overwhelmed by the story of technical fouls.

“Our research shows that fans think NBA players complain too much,” NBA vice president Stu Jackson said on a recent conference call. Just wait until they find out what fans think after watching highlight after highlight of players getting T’d up and tossed during the first week of the regular season.

This is the way Joe Borgia, the NBA’s vice president of referee operations, explained it in the media seminar held last week prior to the Heat’s preseason opener in Miami. Demonstrative and continuous displays of emotion will not be tolerated under the new rules. Players will be allowed to display emotion in the heat of the moment, as long as it isn’t over the top – and as long as they get under control and walk away. To drive home the point, the league has raised the fines for technicals, too.

But Borgia also said that give-and-take between players and refs would be allowed to continue in a civilized way. In other words, what O’Neal did Wednesday night should have been allowed. If a player simply is asking for an explanation of a call, he is supposed to be entitled to the explanation. Just no follow-up questions, and no aggressive displays of emotion.

Pretty simple. But to no one’s surprise, neither the players nor the refs understand where the line is yet. That’s a sign that the line needs to be moved.

“I think officials will have a better feel on it,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “J.O., I was very surprised because he never raised his voice. He didn’t walk away, but it wasn’t anything demonstrative. We’re going to figure it out; it’s just going to take some time. When you talk to the officials, they don’t get it yet. They’re trying to figure it out. It’ll get figured out by Game 1.”

There was an effort a couple of years ago to crack down on the players’ excessive complaining. It was a story for a while, and then things went back to business as usual. With the players wielding all the control in free agency this past summer, and with a potentially ugly CBA fight under way, the days of zero tolerance are here.

The players will adjust. Once they do, the refs will give them more leeway. There has to be give-and-take. Every call and non-call on an NBA court can be debated and reviewed all night. Some disagreement is OK, if done respectfully. A lot of it isn’t OK, and that’s the part Stern is trying to get his referees to eradicate.

“It’s about all of us,” Rivers said. “It’s not just the officials. It’s the players and the coaches. We’ve got to keep trying to make this a better product. And so if people smarter than me have decided that this is what we need to do, then we need to do it and we need to adhere to it. I don’t think it’s that hard.”

No, it shouldn’t be. And ultimately, it won’t be. As long as what you're seeing so far in the preseason isn't the norm.
Posted on: September 29, 2010 7:43 pm
 

Doc defends LeBron

NEWPORT, R.I. – Doc Rivers was not among those watching LeBron James’ nationally televised “Decision” in horror. He’s an old-school point guard who’s come to accept the new-school ways of the NBA.

“I think they’ve gotten a lot of criticism that they didn’t deserve,” the Celtics coach said Wednesday of the Miami Heat’s free-agent coup. “I don’t understand. I think LeBron did everything legal, right? He played it out until he was at the end and he could be a free agent. It didn’t bother me that way. I guess I’m an old-school guy, but it really didn’t bother me in that way. But it bothered a lot of people. For whatever reason, it did.”

And it shouldn’t have, Rivers said – especially for those former players who would’ve done the same thing given the opportunity.

“We did it, but we did it through trades,” Rivers said. “There were 23 teams when I played. Everybody had a Dream Team for the most part. The reason why a lot of guys didn’t leave is because they had two or three Hall of Famers on their team already. LeBron was in that one place for seven years. So it’s not like he didn’t give it a shot. That’s what I don’t get; it’s almost like he never gave them a chance. He was there for seven years. Some of the guys that have been giving criticism wanted to be traded from their teams back in their day, too. It’s just interesting.

“Listen, I’m kind of in between because I’m an old guy but I’m coaching these guys, and it is a different league in that way,” Rivers said. “It is scary that a guy can sort of hold everybody prisoner that way, but it’s in his rights. It’s the way the collective bargaining [agreement] is, so he can do whatever he wants to do. And by the way, there’s not a lot of LeBrons. There’s not a lot of players who would be able to do that. There’s not even going to be one a year, and it’s not going to be anything to that magnitude.”

Superstar team-building, though, won’t stop in Miami. Chris Paul already has made noise this summer about wanting out of New Orleans so he can team up with other superstars. The Carmelo Anthony saga is stalled for now, but his desire to leave Denver and pull a LeBron isn’t going away.

Though Rivers’ played in the ‘80s, few current NBA coaches are more in touch with what he calls “the AAU generation” than he is. He’s living it not only as a coach, but also as a father of two highly recruited players – sons Jeremiah, a point guard at Indiana, and Austin, who has all the top programs fawning over him.

“The first time I ever met Danny Ainge was when we made the All-Star team, and that was like six years in the league,” Rivers said. “I shook his hand before the game – begrudgingly – but I didn’t know him. I didn’t know any player. I knew the players on the Hawks and every player from Chicago. That’s it. Our kids, Jeremiah and Austin, they talk to each other every night – from the guy they played with in California and everything else – and they all know each other. And they all talk about; they’re doing it now, in college. They say, ‘Hey, let us two go here.’ It’s just different now and we’ve got to get used to it.”
Posted on: September 29, 2010 7:25 pm
 

Rivers on KG: 'He'll make or break us'

NEWPORT, R.I. – A year ago, Kevin Garnett was visibly limping up and down the court during training camp, trying to hide the fact that he still wasn’t fully recovered from a knee injury that sabotaged the Celtics’ title defense. On the second day of practice Wednesday, Garnett had no limp, no brace, and no signs of being the kind of defensive liability he was last season.

“Night and day,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I wish he would take a break in practice, but that’s another issue we’ll have to solve. He’s explosive again, especially defensively.”

Rivers must have felt like he was standing in a time machine Wednesday when Garnett grabbed a rebound, threw an outlet pass, and still beat his teammates down the floor. I didn’t see it with my own eyes – that portion of practice was closed to inquisitive observers – but Rivers’ account was believable.

“He couldn’t do that last year,” Rivers said. “Even if he could, he didn’t think he could.”

For the Celtics, it’s simple: To have any chance of getting past Miami to take another shot at the Lakers, they need Garnett to be the old Garnett – or, rather, the young Garnett. If nothing else, Rivers will settle for the healthy Garnett in his bid to get the Celtics back to No. 1 in the NBA in field-goal defense; they slipped to No. 9 last season.

“He’ll make or break us,” Rivers said.

That’s because during the Celtics’ surprising run to the Finals in June, Tom Thibodeau’s infamous defensive schemes were compromised and watered down due to Garnett’s lack of mobility. Gone were the days when Thibodeau could take full advantage of Garnett’s agility – not to mention his reputation as the best defensive player in the league – by letting Rajon Rondo attack the ball with halfcourt and midcourt traps supported by Garnett.

“We literally didn’t pressure the ball up the floor [last season],” Rivers said “When you think about it, you have Rondo on the floor and Kevin to shadow and we couldn’t do it last year. That was a huge concession for our defense, and it put way too much pressure on our defense. Teams were running their offense at 18-20 seconds. Two years ago, they didn’t get into their offense until 12 or 10. That was a huge difference for us.”
Posted on: September 24, 2010 5:27 pm
 

Preseason Primers: Los Angeles Lakers


With one of the NBA's biggest stars, Carmelo Anthony, possibly on the verge of being traded, the offseason still hasn't ended. But it ended three months ago for the Lakers, who celebrated their second straight championship, made a couple of mundane moves, and got ready to do it all over again. The defending champs didn't make a Miami-like splash this summer, but they didn't need to. And the moves they did make clearly made them better. Word is that Kobe Bryant, entering his 15th season, can't wait to go to work. Miami won it all in July, but the Lakers are the undisputed Kings of June until proved otherwise.

Training camp site: El Segundo, Calif.

Training camp starts: Sept. 25

Key additions: Steve Blake (free agent), Matt Barnes (free agent), Theo Ratliff (free agent)

Key subtractions: Josh Powell (free agent), Jordan Farmar (free agent).

Likely starting lineup: Derek Fisher, PG; Kobe Bryant, SG; Ron Artest, SF; Pau Gasol, PF; Ratliff, C.

Player to watch: Andrew Bynum. As you can tell from his name being omitted from the training camp starting lineup (which matters only for scrimmaging purposes), Bynum is hurt again. Well, not so much hurt again, but rather still hurt – or better yet, not recovered. After the praise Bynum received for playing through a significant knee injury during the Finals, he’s receiving equal parts scorn for delaying surgery until after he completed a planned trip to the World Cup. Both were deserved. Coach Phil Jackson said Friday that he can’t see how Bynum will be ready for the start of the regular season.

Chemistry check: All the tension over Jackson’s future was relieved when the Zen Master decided to return for one more season. His unique ability to handle strange personalities (he has a few on this team) and his knack for getting under the opponent’s skin will be needed in a big way. If the Lakers started the NBA arms race by acquiring Gasol a couple of years ago, the Heat went nuclear by teaming Dwyane Wade with LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Suffice it to say, a certain Laker who wears No. 24 took note. Sources say Bryant’s competitive fire – always an inferno – has burning even hotter with the prospect of this challenge.

Injury watch: Besides Bynum, Bryant will be limited as he continues to recover from a laundry list of ailments that hindered him throughout last postseason. Lamar Odom is coming off a busy summer with Team USA, and Jackson plans to take it easy on him in camp. Luke Walton (back) will miss significant time, perhaps the entire season.

Camp battles: The Lakers really only face their usual battles with drama, with Kobe’s moods, and with Artest’s Twitter ramblings. Once Bynum is healthy, the rotation is pretty much set.

Biggest improvement: Mitch Kupchak watched LeBron’s decision only out of curiosity; the Lakers weren’t landing any marquee free agents this summer. But they did improve in a key area that will prove to be of utmost importance the deeper they get into the postseason. Their bench got a lot better. Blake is the best backup Fisher has had in a while, and his presence will allow re-signed Shannon Brown to be used more in a scoring role. Barnes brings Artest-like toughness to a second unit that also includes Odom, Ratliff, Blake and either Brown or Sasha Vujacic (until he’s traded.)

Biggest concern: They’re the two-time defending champs, so there are no glaring weaknesses. The biggest concern, as always, is Bynum. He is forever the wild-card for the Lakers. When it’s time to play the Spurs, Mavs, Celtics or Heat in May and June, the Lakers will go as far as Bynum can take them.
Posted on: September 20, 2010 11:04 am
 

Preseason Primers: Celtics


Ah, it seems like The Decision was only yesterday. This week, CBSSports.com will be rolling out our team-by-team training camp primers, which can be found here in the BergerSphere and in the informative, snarky, rollicking neighborhood known as the Facts & Rumors blog . I'm starting with the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics. You know, the Vintage Big Three. (I'm so 2008.) In keeping with the cloak of secrecy surrounding the Miami Heat's training camp, you will need a security clearance to find out when we're dropping the camp primer on the South Beach version of the Big Three.

Boston Celtics

Training camp site: Newport, R.I.

Training camp starts: Sept. 28

Key additions: Shaquille O’Neal (free agent), Jermaine O’Neal (free agent), Von Wafer (free agent), Delonte West (free agent)

Key subtractions: Tony Allen (free agent), Shelden Williams (free agent). • Likely starting lineup: Rajon Rondo, PG; Ray Allen, SG; Paul Pierce, SF; Kevin Garnett, PF; Jermaine O’Neal, C.

Player to watch: Kevin Garnett. Getting the Big Ticket back to health is of no small importance for the defending Eastern Conference champs. During the Celtics’ surprising run to the NBA Finals, KG finally started to move around better and was able to log substantial minutes without any obvious consequences. Will Garnett ever get back the explosiveness that he possessed before his knees started breaking down? No way. But if he can lose the limp and get some of his lateral mobility back – which he showed glimpses of during the Finals – his impact on the Celtics’ success cannot be overstated.

Chemistry check: Under Doc Rivers’ leadership, the Celtics have been more adept than any team in the league at incorporating new (and mostly zany) personalities into an established locker room. If the Celtics can withstand the potentially disruptive additions of Stephon Marbury, Nate Robinson and Rasheed Wallace, then bringing Shaq into the fold should be easy. But it’s worth wondering how enthusiastic O’Neal will be if asked to accept a secondary role – first to Jermaine O’Neal, and then to Kendrick Perkins once Perk recovers from his knee injury. Prediction: If Shaq didn’t make waves in Cleveland with the way Mike Brown underutilized him, there’s no way he causes trouble for Rivers. One thing about Shaq is that he respects those who’ve earned it. As for Delonte West: If anyone can harness his talents and help him get his personal life under control, it’s Rivers.

Camp battles: Boston has plenty of frontcourt depth. What Rivers will be looking to establish in camp at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., is a dependable backcourt rotation. Tony Allen, who became a defensive stopper of sorts during the playoffs, is a big loss. Rivers will be counting on Daniels, Robinson, West and perhaps someone who isn’t on the roster yet to give him quality minutes behind Rondo and Ray Allen.

Long shots: The Celtics recently worked out Adam Morrison, Rashad McCants, Cuttino Mobley and Trenton Hassell. There isn't much room at the inn, but it's a sign of how badly Boston needs some backcourt depth. Mobley, who has been cleared by doctors to resume his career after retiring due to a heart ailment, is the longest of these long shots.

Biggest strength: Experience. From the championship in ’08, to Garnett’s injuries, to Glen Davis’ shirtless, bloody fistfight in a moving car, to Rondo’s growth as the undisputed leader of the Big Four, to Perkins’ series-altering knee injury in the ’10 Finals, the Celtics have been galvanized by experiencing ups and downs together. Rivers’ decision to return for another season, coupled with extensions signed by Pierce and Ray Allen, has set the table for one more run with the Celtics’ core group before age catches up to them.

Glaring weakness: The glass-half-full version of the above says experience, exshmerience: The Celtics are too old for this stuff. But that’s what everybody thought last year when Boston played .500 ball from Christmas Day to the end of the regular season. At that point, my preseason Celtics-Spurs prediction for the Finals was looking about as dead in the water as the Celtics were. As it turned out, I was only half wrong. I wouldn’t advise counting them out until someone beats a fully healthy Celtics team in a seven-game series.


Posted on: August 3, 2010 4:58 pm
Edited on: August 4, 2010 10:46 am
 

The Big Shamrock (UPDATE)

Shaquille O'Neal is about to take his talents to South Bay -- Boston, that is. The 38-year-old, 15-time All-Star is close to agreeing to a deal with the Celtics, a person with knowledge of the agreement confirmed to CBSSports.com.

Shaq, soon to be known as the Big Shamrock -- or, fill in your favorite nickname -- is on the verge of accepting the veteran's minimum starting at about $1.4 million, the person with knowledge of the deal said. The number of years was still being worked out Tuesday, but Comcast SportsNet-New England -- which first reported the Shaq-to-Celtics news -- said O'Neal is seeking a two-year deal. In all likelihood, the second year would be a player's option.

As Royce Young pointed out , the fit is ideal for both O'Neal and the Celtics. Shaq, who struck out in his bid for a fifth championship last season with LeBron James in Cleveland, wants one more shot with a veteran-laden, contending team. The Celtics, who already have added another O'Neal (Jermaine) to bolster their frontcourt, needed another experienced big man to help them navigate the early part of the regular season while Kendrick Perkins recovers from a knee injury sustained in the Finals against the Lakers.

Shaq had significant talks with the Hawks about bolstering their young roster with his experience, but the Celtics are a better fit. The no-nonsense, winning culture that Doc Rivers has created will be the perfect environment for Shaq to thrive with whatever abilities he has left in the tank. Based on his increased production in the playoffs, it appeared to me that Shaq had more to offer last season than former Cavs coach Mike Brown was willing to give him a chance to provide. Rivers, however, will have to wrestle with the glaring deficiency in Shaq's game at this stage of his career -- the same issue that caused Brown to skimp on his minutes last season: Shaq's defensive abilities have declined far more than his offensive talents.

Rivers will have to figure out a way to incorporate Shaq into the Celtics' team defensive concepts, a task that won't be easy with the departure of associate head coach Tom Thibodeau, architect of Boston's defense during the Big Three era. But once Perkins is back, Shaq's presence will give Rivers more flexibility with his front line in the playoffs than he's had in recent years. When he needs a basket on the block, he can go to Shaq. When the situation calls for a defensive presence, he can go with Perkins.

When he needs a free throw from either one, forget it -- but hey, nobody has a perfect plan for next season other than the Miami Heat. At least Shaq didn't wind up there.

In all seriousness, O'Neal's presence in Boston could represent the Big Antidote to Miami's Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The only glaring weakness in the Heat's rotation is at the center position, so Shaq-to-Boston makes even more sense when you consider that. And we won't have long to wait to see it happen, with the Heat and Celtics reportedly opening the 2010-11 regular season on Oct. 26 in Boston.






Posted on: July 16, 2010 12:03 am
Edited on: July 16, 2010 6:47 am
 

Summer League Buzz

LAS VEGAS – After the whirlwind of being the No. 1 pick in the draft, signing his $25 million endorsement contract with Reebok, and doing other things that No. 1 picks have to do, John Wall is back where he’s most comfortable: on the court.

That’s where he was Thursday night, as I was typing this: in a courtside seat with his knees wrapped in ice, texting with abandon and watching former Kentucky teammate Eric Bledsoe play for the Clippers against the Trail Blazers in an NBA Summer League game. Earlier, Wall had 21 points and 10 assists in his third pro game, an 88-82 victory over the Mavericks. Wall is now 3-0 since the Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the East Regional Final.

“I was excited to play that first game and get into a rhythm and start winning games for my team,” Wall said Thursday night.

Though he didn’t shoot well (4-for-19), it was arguably Wall’s best game since arriving in Vegas. He’s averaging 21 points and 9.3 assists, but the best number Thursday night was in the turnover column: three, after committing eight in each of his first two games.

“I’m trying to get better at everything,” Wall said.

Wall said he’s spoken “once or twice a week” with his future backcourt mate, Gilbert Arenas, since the draft, and hopes to work out with the Wizards’ former franchise player before training camp. Wall is used to playing with top talent – three of his former Kentucky teammates are making their NBA debuts in Vegas this week – but finding a comfort zone with Arenas will be his most important on-court relationship to date.

The Wizards, so far, couldn’t be happier with how Wall is handling the first days of his NBA career. “No diva factor,” is how one source described him. That’s exactly what the Wizards need after enduring the nightmarish fallout from Arenas’ firearms incident and suspension.
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The Hawks continue to be the most likely landing spot for free-agent center Shaquille O’Neal, but even Atlanta – which could use Shaq’s ability to sell tickets – is balking at his asking price. The Hawks, after retaining free-agent Joe Johnson with a six-year, $124 million contract, may not be able to get ownership to approve offering O’Neal the mid-level exception starting at $5.8 million.

The Celtics and Mavericks have been monitoring the O’Neal situation, although one person with knowledge of the Celtics’ plans said they’re “not very” active in their discussions about turning Shaq into the Big Leprechaun. The Knicks’ reported interest in Shaq is lukewarm at best, sources say. But if O’Neal is willing to lower his price – say, to the bi-annual exception of $1.9 million – his market would expand considerably. One Eastern Conference GM said if the right team gets O’Neal, he could be “the key to the East.” The thinking is this: The only weakness on Miami’s superteam is in the middle, where Shaq could do some damage.
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Hornets officials have begun their search to replace fired GM Jeff Bower, but have not gotten back to several coaching agents involved as to which of their clients will be getting interviews. Former Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard would be good fit, especially considering his relationship with Hornets coach Monty Williams – a former Portland assistant. But a person familiar with the state of the Hornets’ search said several potential candidates haven’t been informed of where they fit on the team’s list of priorities. Meanwhile, ESPN.com reported that Spurs executive Dell Demps interviewed for the job Thursday.

As for Pritchard’s former employer, the Blazers are believed to have zeroed in on Thunder assistant GM Rich Cho, whose strengths in data analysis have wowed the Vulcan Inc. cronies who have owner Paul Allen’s ear. The Vulcanites, as they’re not so fondly called, are wielding plenty of influence in the power vacuum created when Pritchard was fired on draft night, sources say.

The Suns’ search for a day-to-day GM is on hold until former player agent Lon Babby officially is installed as team president. Babby, sources say, will take control of the search, which is believed to be wide open.
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As impressive as Wall was for the Wizards Thursday night, he wasn’t even close to being the fan favorite in the game. That honor went to Jeremy Lin, the former Harvard standout invited to play on the Mavs’ Summer League team. Lin, trying to become the NBA’s first American-born Asian player, showed a real flare for getting to the basket and was impressive with 13 points and a plus-14 in 27 minutes.


 
 
 
 
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