Sam Smith's NBA news and notes | 12.09.2013

-- Luol Deng is a son of Africa. The Bulls All-Star forward is a native of what is now South Sudan. He famously revealed a shirt of Africa in his first All-Star game introduction when some other players were dancing in their introductions. He was a refugee in the civil war and frequently returns to the continent for charitable work. It resonates even more for athletes like Deng given Mandela’s great love of sports and how he employed sports as a way to unite and unify. It’s a message Deng often delivers himself inspired by Mandela’s life and in many ways defines his pro game.

So few people here really could understand the pain players like Deng have gone through with the passing of Nelson Mandela.

“He was an example in uniting people,” Deng said the other night after the passing of Mandela. “I know (many) saw the movie, Invictus (about Mandela embracing the team regarded as reflecting the apartheid in the nation), a great example of how sports was used to unite the nation. To rally everyone behind the team a lot of black people were not interested in and not given an opportunity to participate. But he rallied everyone together believing that we are all one nation and all equal. You see that in sports where people work together for a better outcome and he used that example.”

There’s been much written and said and reported about Mandela since his death last week. In some respects he could be the one of the greatest men in the last century and even longer, something of a Messiah. His remarkable patience and ability to forgive without rancor reflects the best lessons of Jesus Christ. He is a figure like Abraham Lincoln in his country for his ability to break through hatreds to embrace freedom and dignity, though perhaps even more so without violence. It’s debatable whether the modern world has known a more powerful model for rights and change.

“I can’t think of anyone who went through what he went through, to go to prison for 27 years and come out and your kids are grown and married with kids, and come out and still have the same beliefs,” marveled Deng. “To have that mindset to keep going. A lot of us would easily have given up. He never had negative thoughts of anyone. He said he left everything behind because if he maintained grudges against everyone he’d still be in prison even though he’s not there.

“You read in the Bible everything that Jesus went through and forgiving everyone and what we are taught to do and he lived it,” noted Deng. “I can’t imagine being in prison for two days for something I don’t deserve and yet 27 years. I’m 28. That’s my whole life and everything I’ve been able to accomplish in my life he spent that many years in prison. Imagine what goes through his mind and yet to forgive all those people and come out and lead all his people. It’s something I cannot imagine.

“We don’t have many people like that in our lifetimes,” noted Deng. “They are special. I said when I heard the news when he gets to the gates of heaven everyone will be there clapping and God will have a big smile to receive him. That’s how I view it.”

-- The biggest trade talk that hasn’t happened yet involves former Bull Omer Asik. Though the Kings have been shuffling the deck the most for now. There was a report last week the Rockets want to trade Asik within the next few weeks so they can use whatever they get in trade for another trade, if necessary, before the February trade deadline. There are certain 60-day restrictions. ESPN speculated the 76ers as a possibility given their new general manager, Sam Hinkie, comes from Houston and they have players like forward Thaddeus Young. But they have Nerlens Noel from this draft and he basically plays center. They’d seemingly have the same issues Asik does with Dwight Howard and a question whether Asik would want to resign. Actually with Noel, it might make sense to resign perimeter big man Spencer Hawes, having a career season averaging 15.7 points, 10 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. I’d heard this one which made sense: To Sacramento for former and popular Rockets Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson. That would have enabled DeMarcus Cousins, who prefers to face up and shoot outside, to play with Asik and give the Kings a heck of a lot of size defensively and perhaps make them a factor in the Western Conference. The Raptors broke that up Sunday acquiring John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez along with Patterson and Hayes for a package built around Rudy Gay, the greatest player no one wants. That likely puts Kyle Lowry out the door next with the acquisition of a point guard, though the belief is the Raptors now want to keep DeMar DeRozan in removing fellow high volume shooting Gay. The Kings are athletic with Gay, recently acquired Derrick Williams and Cousins. But I can’t wait to watch Cousins watch Gay shoot. The athleticism should come in handy as they all race to the ball with the likes also of shooters Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Ben McLemore and Jimmer Fredette.

-- Another guy who came back too soon. You have to come back at some point, but it was clear Kobe Bryant Sunday was nowhere near ready in the Lakers’ loss to the Raptors. He obviously lacked explosion and quickness, which is hardly surprising coming off his Achilles rehabilitation. Bryant looked heavy, slow to react on defense and in a slow process for the team to adapt. Coach Mike D’Antoni acknowledged it “will take awhile” for Bryant. That’s natural, but it’s toughest on the great players like that with so many expectations, so much competitive drive and in the past the consistency that defines greatness. Bryant had nine points on two of nine shooting and eight rebounds and sounded positive and in good humor afterward on just being back. It is impressive, though, to return in eight months at that level, even if it’s not his, from that injury. Bryant admitted he’s still unsure of what he’s able to do. … In addition to the impressive part of making a three in a record breaking 90 games for Kyle Korver, teams do not like having records set against them. Hall of Fame coach Don Nelson basically had every player guard Dana Barros at the same time to stop his run at 89 straight. "I’ve heard it," Al Horford told the Atlanta Constitution. "‘You’re not going to get a three-point shot off tonight.’ It gives credit to what he’s been able to do. That is an impressive streak.” … They’ve labeled them “Ginobelli” in San Antonio as Manu Ginobili and former Bull Marco Bellinelli mostly play together and NBA.com stats show they are the best duo in plus/minus for the Spurs while playing together. Said Belinelli, having a career best season leading the league in three-point shooting at 56 percent (Korver is second), to the San Antonio Express: “We understand each other really well. We just play good together. We love to move the ball, make the extra pass, try to be smart and score easy baskets. For sure, it’s a lot of fun. Everybody knows he’s good. But when you spend time with him every day in practice, on the court together, you can really understand how good he is. I think every game Manu has some magic stuff.”

-- A lot of teams are watching former lottery pick point guard Kendall Marshall, off to a strong start in the D-League. … There was a report in Brooklyn media that, ”Those close to the Nets intimate that Pierce has lost his passion, still stunned from his departure from Boston and the only team he ever knew. Pierce won’t face the Celtics Tuesday night because of a fractured right hand.” Many will say there’s that $15.3 million he’s still collecting. Be a pro. Again, it’s still speculation. And many speculate Pierce will opt to finish his career back home coming off the bench for the Lakers next season. Which may make him happy. … There have been nine players traded in the last two weeks and the only one you’d maybe want considering contracts and talent is perhaps Vasquez. … Pretty amazing Knicks box score Sunday with the four starters other than Carmelo Anthony combining for 10 points in 99 minutes with the backcourt of Iman Shumpert, who is a bumbling mess by now, and Ray Felton scoreless in 51 minutes. How’s that possible at home? Those are generally the kind of losses that get a coach fired. The Knicks supposedly have dangled Shumpert as a star type player in trade. In his last nine games, he was scoreless twice and had games of two and four points as well, averaging 6.3 points in that nine-game stretch in 27 minutes per game on 37 percent shooting. Which is the definition of a star in New York. … Jared Sullinger says a big part of the Celtics surprise start is their commitment to defense. Said Sullinger to the Boston Herald: “I think you’ve got to put a big chunk of that on Brandon (Bass) and a big chunk of that on assistant coach Ron Adams. Ron Adams was the defensive coach and assistant coach in Chicago, and obviously Chicago plays some tough defense, and he knows his stuff. Also I think Brandon really, as far as the bigs standpoint, took on that role of talking to us and teaching us defensive principles.” More Sullinger: A lot of guys expect us to tank for (Jabari) Parker or (Andrew) Wiggins . I don’t know why people keep talking about tanking. We have competitors around here. We don’t care if Jeff (Green) averages 20 or I average 8. We just want to win, and show everybody that they can kiss our butts about that tanking stuff.” So there. No word if the league will fine him, as it does coaches and GMs, for talking about college underclassmen.

-- Suddenly, the Central Division is the division of giants as the Pacers have Roy Hibbert and Davis West, the Cavs have Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson, and the Pistons have Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. … Kyrie Irving is shooting barely over 30 percent in catch and shoot, according to NBA.com, and even without coming off ACL surgery. … It never sounds good for the coach when his top player, like John Wall did after a loss to the Bucks last week, said the coach didn’t quite have it right. Wall told the Washington Post about Randy Wittman’s view the players were “unforced” early: “That’s his opinion,” Wall said. “We didn’t play great in the first half, but it’s two halves to a basketball game. We came out in the second half and had a chance to win the game.” The Wizards briefly reached .500 for the first time since drafting Wall in 2010. Now that’s what you call progress. Talk about your franchises: The last time the Washington franchise won at least 50 games was in 1979. Many are now blaming it on Robert Griffin III.

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