His reputation restored after a positive season with the Celtics, Kris Humphries was predictably working out when the Washington Wizards called on him to address the media nearly a month after he was acquired in a sign-and-trade.
While his lone season in Boston was not a success team-wise, Humphries upgraded his image with his professionalism and improved his game under coach Brad Stevens. Humphries became more than a rugged rebounder; he expanded his shooting range, improved his passing, and showed he could defend centers.
While other veteran teammates such as Keith Bogans passed on the opportunity to mentor the younger Celtics, Humphries played in pain, such as attempting to work through a knee injury during a meaningless game at Cleveland in April.
Humphries was then rewarded with a three-year contract with the Wizards and an immediate chance to win with a team some consider a dark horse to win the Eastern Conference. Washington is loaded with a re-signed Marcin Gortat, Nene, John Wall, Bradley Beal, and the recently signed Paul Pierce.
“You look at the success the Wizards had last year, and really with their style of play and to be able to come into the game, run, rebound, and run the floor a little bit and do the things I’ve done,” Humphries said. “And to be part of an organization on the rise and just come in in great shape and run out with some of the top point guards and still improving. It’s exciting.
“A guy like Paul Pierce with a championship under his belt, a Hall of Fame player and on top of that everything else, John, Bradley Beal, the guys that are returning that are young and looking to improve. It will be fun to come and try to help be a part of a deep run.”
Humphries has had his share of off-the-court drama, including his short marriage to Kim Kardashian and then gaining a reputation as an aloof player during his several NBA stops. The Celtics weren’t sure what to expect when they acquired Humphries in the Pierce-Kevin Garnett deal in July 2013, but he ended up playing 69 games, averaging 8.4 points and 5.9 rebounds as a part-time starter.
The experience was positive, but at 29 Humphries wants to return as an asset on a winning club. He gets that opportunity in Washington.
“When you’re on a team like this, everything you do is important and you feel important,” he said. “Whatever you do on a winning team, it’s magnified. You feel better about doing stuff when you’re working toward something. It’s a little tougher when you’re playing the right way, making the sacrifices, and your team doesn’t have a chance to make the playoffs. Being in this situation was great and I couldn’t ask for a more up-and-up team.”
Stevens made a profound impact on Humphries. He gave him more responsibility than expected. While the Celtics were in the midst of a rebuilding plan with Stevens going with Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, Humphries was inserted at center mostly because of the injury and ineffectiveness of Vitor Faverani, and Humphries didn’t complain despite being undersized nearly every night.
“I played a lot of [power forward] and [center] last year. It was a unique situation in Boston, new coach, a lot of new players, it was a different situation,” Humphries said. “I kind of did everything and I am comfortable doing everything. Whatever they ask me to do.”
When asked why he approached last season with such professionalism, Humphries said, “I have a lot of respect for the game of basketball. I have respect for Coach Stevens and Danny Ainge and everyone over there. Coach got me better in a lot of areas of the game. When you are in a losing situation, you’ve got to play hard to get better, and the ball in our offense ran through the big guys a lot, different actions that Brad Stevens had in his offense.”
Humphries has maintained a bond with Stevens.
“I talked with Brad all the time this summer and it’s one of those things where, ‘Man, you got me a lot better,’ ” Humphries said. “Handling the ball, making plays, things like that. I’m grateful for that and I’m grateful for the opportunity to keep playing in a lot of situations like the one I was in. Sometimes teams say, ‘We’re rebuilding, we’re going with the young guys,’ and Brad and Danny didn’t do that. I’ve seen it the other way before.”
Stevens had to split playing time among his big men to give some younger players opportunities, so Humphries averaged just 20 minutes per game in 2013-14, 15 fewer than two years ago with the Nets.
“I think I showed I could be really efficient in the time that I’m playing,” he said. “Because it wasn’t like I logged a ton of minutes. There are definitely things I am going to take [to Washington], but I know the time that I am out there, I can be efficient.”
Colangelo keeps faith regarding Team USA
It’s been a difficult ride for Team USA as the Americans prepare for their Aug. 30 World Cup opener against Finland. Paul George, who broke his leg during an exhibition game, said he doesn’t regret his Team USA experience, and team director Jerry Colangelo is trying to remain positive and stress the importance of offseason international competition for NBA players.
“I think the players are better for the experience and playing in this environment with us, the training camps, the competition, I think they end up being better people, better players,” Colangelo said. “They take this cultural change back to their respective teams and that’s a plus and the NBA is the ultimate recipient.”
Colangelo seems especially concerned about the team’s lack of big men with Dwight Howard not participating, leaving Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins. Team USA likely will have to rely on guard play to prevail in Spain.
The US played an intriguing exhibition on Saturday against Brazil in Chicago.
“[Anderson] Varejao, [Tiago] Splitter, and Nene, that’s a pretty formidable front line when you think about it,” Colangelo said. “This team of ours because of some depletion is going to be long, not bulky. It will be versatile. It will be quick and a lot of great shooting, but the question will always be how do you match up against Spain with the Gasol brothers and [Serge] Ibaka. Well, they have to match up with us, too, and we’ll see how it goes. You have to be flexible and adjust, that’s why coming out of camp we’re going to carry some extra bigs here just to take our time.”
Colangelo was able to lure NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard into the program briefly, but he withdrew a month ago to allow his body to rest. Kevin Durant followed suit two weeks ago.
“Our philosophy is to go with core players and that’s changed from competition to competition,” Colangelo said. “So we could go seven or eight and say those are the core guys and how do we complement them? What should we carry? An extra big? A specialist like a shooter? That’s where [Kyle] Korver has an opportunity. An energy guy like [Kenneth] Faried? He’s the energy bunny. That doesn’t say they are the best players for those spots but they are role players. That’s why I think it’s a neat opportunity for guys that fall into that category.”
Colangelo said the plan is to carry 15 players until Team USA finishes with its two exhibition games next weekend in New York, then make three cuts before heading to Spain.
“We’ve been doing this since 2005 and it’s a little bit of a machine,” he said. “I think it’s well organized and Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] is just an organized individual to begin with. It’s a great way to get our foundation for every competition.”
If LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Howard, Durant, George, and perhaps Jabari Parker show interest in playing in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Team USA could have its most talented squad since Colangelo reenergized the club nine years ago.
“People always make comparisons,” he said. “How is the team going to compare to our team in 2010? I’ve got to say based on where Durant and [James] Harden and [Stephen] Curry are, we have veterans but they’re young. We’ve got some specialists who could serve in a role capacity. We have a rising star in Anthony Davis. When I look around and look at the people who are here, there’s a lot of talent, no question about that.”
Rivers is now free to focus on basketball
The Clippers will enter this season as one of the favorites in the Western Conference and without owner Donald Sterling hovering over the franchise. Steve Ballmer officially purchased the team last week, meaning coach Doc Rivers can concentrate solely on basketball.
For the Clippers, one reason for relief is Blake Griffin’s decision to skip Team USA training and take the summer off to rest a sore back. Rivers, who doesn’t discourage his players from playing for their country, said he was pleased with the decision.
“I was happy about it, honestly,” he said. “The back issue is not an issue but the back is always an issue, you know what I mean? So I wanted Blake to play in [the World Cup] and then I didn’t want him to play in it at the same time. And the same thing with [DeAndre Jordan]. They invited both and both turned it down. It’s nice. They’re still young and will hopefully get another opportunity to play on the US team and represent the country. But I think both are really thinking about our season and I think our entire team didn’t like the way we lost last year and they want another kick at the kettle.”
“[The Paul George injury] could have [scared guys],” Rivers said. “Honestly, injuries happen. That was as gruesome of an injury as I have ever seen. I don’t know if I have felt more worse, just the timing. You know you’re doing something for free and then something like that happens. I felt awful for him. I also felt awful for the Pacers’ franchise. They lose [Lance] Stephenson [who signed with the Hornets] and Paul’s their guy and they are going to have a season without him and so that’s hard. I feel bad for everybody involved.”
The Clippers reached the Western Conference semifinals last season but blew a 10-point lead with three minutes left in Game 5 against the Thunder. The reeling Clippers then lost Game 6 at home, losing the series, 4-2.
“Listen, Oklahoma beat us, I don’t care what anyone says,’’ Rivers said. “We had all the other ‘stuff’ but I’m not going to allow the other guys to use that as an out why we lost. We gave away Game 5 and we obviously had our issues with the calls and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, I told our guys we put ourselves in that position for the officials to make a call that could go either way and that was our fault, that wasn’t their fault.
“So whether the other stuff had an impact, I don’t know. I just know that was our fault and so we have to come to terms with that. We have the talent to be a championship team but we haven’t proven it.”
Rivers has kept tabs on the happenings in Cleveland and the return of LeBron James and the potential addition of Kevin Love.
“If everything that is reported is true, they’re going to be really good,” Rivers said. “But the same way I always looked at it when I was in the East, I really didn’t care much about the West because you’re only going to play one team [in the playoffs] and I look at it the same way in the East. I’m glad LeBron stayed East and if Kevin Love goes East, I’m glad he’s going East. Their new version of the Big Three is pretty good. Kyrie [Irving], Kevin Love, and LeBron James is pretty darn good.”
James, Love, and Irving will be the latest Big Three compiled to win a championship, like the Celtics in 2007 and the Heat in 2010.
Rivers was asked whether the Celtics should be credited with beginning the modern Big Three trend.
“I guess we did,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t know if we did it intentionally but teams followed suit for sure, like Miami. But San Antonio, you can make a case they started it with [Tim] Duncan, [Manu] Ginobili, and obviously [Tony] Parker. You can make a case they really started it, but we got the pub.”
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.