A number of NBA teams held their annual Media Day extravaganzas on Friday, and reports poured in from across the country about who gained weight, who lost weight, who is healthy, who is ready to take a step forward, and who doesn't know quite what to expect from the coming season. Here's a round-up look at the various Media Day happenings and storylines, with a few season preview pieces mixed in for good measure.
• In a Q&A with Jason Friedman of Rockets.com, Dwight Howard discusses his health and lays out his goals for the season.
JCF: From a physical standpoint, is there any way to compare how you feel today versus how your body felt a year ago when you were still trying to work yourself back from back surgery?
DH: I’m so much better. My body feels a lot better. The little aches and pains that I was having for the most part of last season are gone already. It’s going to continue to get better. I’m very excited. I’m excited about the possibilities of what I’ll be able to do this season because my body is so much healthier. It’s a big difference. Last year I couldn’t really move the way I’m used to moving until the end of the season. Some of my bounce is coming back. I’m so happy about that.
JCF: Do you have individual goals that you’ve set for yourself this season?
DH: I just want to win a championship and Defensive Player of the Year and get back on top.
When asked specifically whether he'll be back for the regular season opener on Oct. 30, Westbrook said “I'm not sure.”
“I just wake up in the morning, get to my rehab and then go back to sleep and do it all over again,” Westbrook said. “I just take it one day at a time, man, and try not to look ahead. When something like this happens you have to take it slow. I mean, there's no need for me to rush into looking ahead on the schedule or anything like that. Just take it one day at a time and try to find a way to get back.”
Westbrook said he is now doing a lot of spot shooting and trying to get his rhythm back. He added that “on the first day of training camp I'll be on the floor.” The question is how much Westbrook will be able to do and how soon as the Thunder begins practice Saturday.
• Royce Young of CBSSports.com has one more follow-up from Kevin Durant, who recently made some waves when he said that Rockets guard James Harden should replace Heat guard Dwyane Wade in The Point Forward's Top 10 players of 2014.
"Dwyane Wade is a great, great player, man," Durant said. "I'm not discrediting anything he's done or nothing like that. I just voiced my opinion. He's a great, great player. Finals MVP and champion. I didn't mean to disrespect that or take that away or anything. I just voiced my opinion as of today. I love you D-Wade, man. It's just competition."
"I think I'm going to play the same way," Rose said. "I think the only thing that changed in my game is my confidence level. I think I'm way more confident in my craft, in my game. I worked out a whole year training my body. Going out there and showing people that I'm the same player but a more efficient player, that's what I'm trying to prove."
"I try to get it out of my mind as quickly as possible because it is in the past," Rose said. "At that time, I didn't train my body the way I train it now. I know that I improved every area on my body, so I should be more balanced than in the past."
• Adidas unveiled Friday a third colorway for Rose's signature sneaker, the "D Rose 4." The red design is dubbed "Brenda" because that's his mother's name and red is her favorite color. More information on the shoe and a look at its home and road colorways right here.
• Doug Thonus of ChicagoNow.com gives his in-person take on Bulls Media Day.
Perhaps it's the Bulls success, but media day was especially crowded this year, and the Bulls PR staff protected the non podium players from having to interact any more than the bare minimum with any press. I only got about two questions in with Mike Dunleavy, one with Jimmy Butler, and a few during the podium interviews and that was it.
It was my sparsest media day yet as a reporter.
That said, there's always a vibe you can pick up around the team on media day, and the vibe this year seemed to be pretty upbeat. The Bulls have a legit chance to win the title, and all of the players seemed focused on that goal. There were unending questions about health and minutes which were typically answered with vague notes about "we'll see how it goes".
He just would not say anything about wanting to be traded in the days following Howard’s decision to sign with the Rockets or in the months to come.
“I have no comment on any of these things,” Asik said. “I’m just going to do my job. That’s all I can say. You can ask as much as you can, but I’m not going to say anything about this.”
"From a personal standpoint, there's a lot less pressure this season," Lin said. "I've had such a wide spectrum of literally no expectations to having every expectation. Now it's kind of going back down to some lower expectations."
• Sam Amick of USA Today Sports eyes the Heat's toughest competition.
But on the long list of challengers, the Indiana Pacers might top the list. After putting a seven-game scare in the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, the re-signing of dangerous power forward David West, health of high-scoring swingman Danny Granger and addition of savvy post scorer Luis Scola means they're coming even harder this time. Scoring was one of the Pacers' few weaknesses last season, when they ranked 19th in offensive efficiency during the regular season (101.6 points per 100 possessions) and were 10th among the 16 teams in the postseason (101.3).
Yet even with the fortification of the frontcourt, the Pacers' push will come down to Paul George and his ability to rise to the next level — again. The small forward who went from midmajor Fresno State to a five-year, maximum-level deal in three years is fully capable of becoming an even bigger pain in James' side, what with his two-way talents that are among the best in the game.
• Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk has a comprehensive round-up of Pacers Media Day, which includes the news that Danny Granger is still rehabiliating from a knee injury that cost him most of last season.
• Ken Berger of CBSSports.com weighs in on the Knicks' decision to oust GM Glen Grunwald right before the season.
James Dolan's Knicks clearly are feeling the pressure, shaking up their front office on Thursday when they ousted GM Glen Grunwald and replaced him with former longtime Madison Square Garden executive Steve Mills. Dolan had no trouble looking past Mills' tumultuous prior reign as the president of MSG Sports during the Isiah Thomas era, and it's no surprise why. Since leaving MSG, Mills has been working with high-profile athletes as a wealth-management consultant. His strong ties to star NBA players and those who wield the most influence with them‚ including power brokers connected to Carmelo Anthony's agents at Creative Artists Agency‚ could help the Knicks retain Anthony as a free agent next summer and attract a high-level sidekick or two down the road.
• Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal reports Anthony's response to Grunwald's ouster.
"I was shocked. I never heard about it and nobody knew it was coming." Was playing pickup game when he was told.
“I really can’t say this team is going to be fourth or seventh or 12th,” Ujiri said in a one-on-one interview in his corner office days before his first training camp as general manager of the Raptors. “I can’t do that. I want us to have growth, big-time growth, and improvement so that we can actually know what we have on this team. And then we can move from there.”
Now, a week from the start of training camp, Ujiri’s done stirring. He’s going to watch the drink settle.
“Rather than make some crazy decisions, we want to see what we have,” Ujiri says. “We’re not signing players on long term deals now. We’re going to . . . see how we start off the season and go from there. I know it sounds very simple, but I think right now simple is best for us.”
There is no talk of a tank in order to take a long shot at Andrew Wiggins, or as Ujiri elliptically refers to him, “the kid from Kansas.” There are no playoff promises.
“Honestly, how I view it, a computer can’t tell talent, it just can’t,” Gay told NBA.com during a phone interview Wednesday from the Toronto Raptors locker room following a workout with teammate DeMar DeRozan. “When it comes down to it, it’s all about winning, and however you get the win. According to analytics, you either [have] to shoot a 3 or get to the foul line, and it’s not good for people like me that live in that mid-range area.”
• Henry Abbott of TrueHoop reports from Sixers Media Day, which sounds a little bit less lower-profile than most.
The gym was full of players, being grilled about the upcoming season, and no one had any bravado. This season, there are no rivalries, no playoff aspirations, none of the normal "just maybe, if the stars align" thinking.
There are also no autograph seekers -- you could walk into this event off the street without a credential, as it happens -- because there are no stars. Who's the team's best player? Evan Turner? Thaddeus Young, maybe? Based on his high potential and cheap contract, Noel may be the key asset, but there isn't even much confidence Noel will play anytime soon -- projected as the top overall pick, the defensive big man fell to the sixth pick because he's coming off major knee surgery.
The Wizards had hoped to enter training camp injury-free but were blindsided by the loss of Okafor, the team’s defensive anchor and leading rebounder from last season. Okafor, who is out indefinitely with a neck injury, played a critical role in helping the Wizards finish fifth in the NBA in field goal percentage defense. But in his absence, the Wizards will have to rely on the contributions of three players who regressed last season (Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely and Trevor Booker) and a 15-year veteran forward who was limited to just 10 games last season (Al Harrington). Seraphin, a skilled offensive big man, declined playing for the French national team last summer so that he could stay in Washington to work on improving his game and his body. Vesely, a high-energy 7-footer, participated in summer league in Las Vegas and had a breakthrough performance for the Czech Republic during the European basketball championships. Booker, a rugged but undersized forward, focused on getting healthy after a difficult campaign. Harrington, a bench scorer with an outside touch, has worked himself back from a knee injury that held him back in Orlando. Wittman can experiment with different lineups based on matchups, but the Wizards will need someone to emerge from this bunch – or look for other options in the trade market until Okafor returns.• BrightSideOfTheSun.com reports that Suns rookie Alex Len is back on the court participating in pick-up games after ankle surgery.