GARY WASHBURN I SUNDAY BASKETBALL NOTES
A knee injury prevented Wayne Selden from making his TD Garden pro debut last Monday, but the Roxbury native still gathered tickets from teammates to distribute to family members.
It wasn’t the way Selden wanted Monday’s game to go, although the Memphis Grizzlies guard was able to return Friday night against Denver. This was supposed to be Selden’s breakout season, a chance to play for a team that needs youth, and after two years of toiling in the G-League, Selden was supposed to finally get his chance.
But injuries have limited him to 21 games, and with the Grizzlies playing out the string, he may have to wait until next season to truly make an impact.
“I talk about getting better,” he said. “It’s not gone exactly how I wanted it to go, but even last year I wasn’t in the same situation I was in now, so I’m just trying to keep getting better.”
Grizzlies interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he knows how hard Selden worked in the offseason.
“It’s tough, especially in moments like this where there’s opportunity to be had,” Bickerstaff said. “We’re looking for some consistency on the wing spots and there would have been opportunity. In this league, it’s about opportunity. There’s very few guys in this league that’s superstars right away. For him, he just hasn’t been able to go because of the injuries.”
But the visit to Boston was big for the former University of Kansas standout, who played at the Garden as a prep player.
“First time really playing in the Garden. It’s a dream come true,” he said. “As a kid I always wanted to play on this floor one day and get here, so it’s really a dream come true.”
Boston’s prep basketball reputation is not as storied as other cities’. Players such as Trail Blazers guard Shabazz Napier, another Roxbury native, and Selden carry fierce pride in their hometown. Selden not only wants to pump at that tradition but reach out and help kids in his community.
“Coming from Roxbury, I always wanted to play here and get on this floor,” he said. “I’ve been here for plenty of games, been here for the high school championships, so I always wanted to come here and play on this floor. I feel like I’m an example, me and Shabazz are examples of being able to achieve and being able to make it out and get to this level . . . motivation for kids coming up in Roxbury, kids coming up in the neighborhood. I feel like we’re a good motivation to see that somebody has done it and somebody can do it and they can do it. That’s a big thing because we were at the Tobin [Community Center] just like them.”
Selden, 23, said he once met Paul Pierce at a celebrity game at UMass Boston but wasn’t exposed to NBA players or the Celtics’ community efforts in his youth. He wants to bring more programs to the Roxbury area.
“Not as much [being exposed to the community efforts], especially where I was from,” he said. “But just getting an opportunity to do so and be those guys that do that, that do come back. I’m the guy that shows up at the Tobin. Just being able to be that guy.
“It’s tremendous [to give back]. It goes back to trying to put that inspiration, motivation in them to succeed. Not just to make it to the NBA, just to make it in general.”
The Grizzlies are in a rare rebuilding mode because of multiple injuries and the unexpected firing of coach David Fizdale. So for their young players, it’s been a learning experience. With teams in the Western Conference fighting nightly for playoff position, it will be tough for Memphis to gain any positives other than playing well mostly in defeat.
Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the players should be motivated because they are trying to make an impression for next season, when the Grizzlies will have a lottery pick and a healthy Mike Conley back.
“They’ve got the same incentive they’ve always had,” Bickerstaff said. “We’re not just giving out minutes. If you want to play, you’ve got to earn your minutes. We have moments where we get discouraged because we’re young and haven’t been through those moments a lot. You can see the emotional swing. Guys have a responsibility. They have a job to do and every day we expect them to do that time. No matter what the circumstances are, every minute will be earned.
“If you’re not doing the things we need you to do and you don’t support your teammates, you come take a seat. As a group, as a coaching staff, the responsibility lies on us. How do we motivate them every single day and how do we push them? We haven’t stopped working. We’ve done more with our young guys to show them we’re not quitting either. Sometimes as coaches you throw in the towel, so it starts with our leadership. And we work and that will show on the court.”
The Grizzlies entered the season with playoff expectations and started 5-1, including wins against the Rockets and Warriors. But Conley went down with a heel injury, the Grizzlies then lost their chemistry, Fizdale was fired, and the rebuilding began.
“The tough part about development is that there’s stages to it,” Bickerstaff said. “It is a work in progress. When you watch all the work the guys are putting in, it’s promising. It is a work in progress, but the guys’ dedication to it, they’re commitment to it, the effort they’re putting in, it will show itself. It will take a little bit of time. We’ve got a bunch of young guys, if you go through our season, that have had huge impacts on our games. It’s a compliment to all of them.”
Said guard Wayne Selden: “We’ve got a young group and we’re trying to get better. So it’s just coming out and playing basketball. We know this isn’t the end of the road. This season is going to be over in how many games, but we have to keep progressing. The growing pains, the struggles, we go through it together.”
Meanwhile, 33-year-old center Marc Gasol, in his 10th year with the team, is growing impatient at the losing ways but is trying to focus on the long term.
“Every day matters to him,” Bickerstaff said. “Whether it’s practice, drill work, 3-on-3, he’s trying to win. The games come on the same thing, he’s trying to win. He’s trying to do everything in his power to lift his team. He doesn’t care how many points he scores, the only thing that matters to him is wins and losses. We understand and appreciate guys that are that way, but no doubt about it, it’s frustrating for him. He has his moments, but one of things that he’s done is embrace the young guys.
“You watch him put his arm around guys, you watch him teaching guys, working with guys, and he’s starting to work on his game and doing things that will help him move forward. He’s human and those moments do come up, but he’s spent more time focusing on growth than the situation we’re in.”
Hornets coach Steve Clifford is back after missing 21 games with health issues. Upon his return, Clifford was specific about what put him out of commission, acknowledging he was working too much and was placing less emphasis on his well-being. He promised that wouldn’t happen again.
“I feel good. Not crazy adjustments, but the neurologist told me it wasn’t that I had to do my job differently, it’s that I had to live differently,” Clifford said. “The issue was sleep more than anything else, and I sleep more. I had just gotten into a thing over the years where kind of the Van Gundy-Thibodeau way, nobody sleeps much. There’s no more 5 a.m.’s. I don’t come in as early. I’m delegating more and I have to because frankly it scared me and I’m not going to go through that again.”
Clifford is a coaching lifer. He is a grinding coach who spent countless hours on game plans and preparation. But it was affecting the rest of his life.
“I stay in the office a little bit less. I don’t take work at home at night,” he said. “I don’t watch games at night. But that’s about it. It’s just more sleep, training my body to sleep, and slowly I’m getting back to a more normal routine.”
The Hornets already have removed general manager Rich Cho because the team has underachieved the past few years, but Clifford, confidant to owner Michael Jordan, appears safe. And if it doesn’t work out in Charlotte, Clifford may never get another head coaching job because of the trend of teams seeking the next Brad Stevens, a young, charismatic coach with an analytics background who can serve as the face of an organization.
Clifford, on the other hand, can walk around downtown Charlotte mostly without being recognized.
“First of all, I think it’s probably cyclical like anything else. It’s always going to depend on management,” he said about what teams look for in a coach. “This league has changed a lot. We talked about that this year in the head coaches’ meetings. There are more people within management now. There are more aspects of that. There are more people involved, some analytic background, some people who don’t have as much basketball coaching or playing background. I think that changes things also. For any level, there’s no one way to become a coach. You don’t need a certain degree. It’s find a general manager or management team that you fit the bill for and having a way to communicate with them effectively.”
Clifford was a longtime assistant before being hired by Charlotte. He is well respected around the league, a vigorous worker who is demanding of his defense. He waited 12 years for his first NBA head coaching opportunity, and perhaps his work ethic and health problems were a product of not wanting to waste his opportunity.
“In this league, when you get your chance you have to make the most of it if you want another one,” he said. “When you have a background like mine, I’ve never had a year professionally I didn’t enjoy. I feel like I’ve been blessed. I was an assistant at BU for four years, I loved it. I was not a guy whose goal was to be an NBA head coach. I was a high school coach. I loved it. So I never, and I mean this truthfully, when I was with the Lakers I loved being with the Lakers, Kobe [Bryant], [Steve] Nash, Dwight [Howard], [Pau] Gasol, Metta [World Peace], it was great. If I got a chance to be a head coach, that’s what I wanted. But it wasn’t the end-all.”
Clifford appears safe in Charlotte, especially if the Hornets were to sneak in and reach the playoffs. The Hornets have been besieged by injuries over the past few years, and after all, it wasn’t Clifford who drafted Cody Zeller or Frank Kaminsky, or signed Nicolas Batum to a $120 million contract extension.
But with a his renewed emphasis on health, and a team that has played well of late, Clifford plans to be around for a long time. He wants to stay in the NBA. He wants to coach, and guys like him are good for the league.
“I think ambition was my weakness, but I loved being an assistant and the way this goes, I’ll be an assistant again,” he said. “I’ll enjoy it again. It’s a great league. With my background you don’t take for granted when you to come and watch these guys do what they do every night. That’s just the way I feel. Every story is different. Everybody has different things they are looking for.
“I love to coach, but I want it to be in this league. I don’t want it to be going to the Peach Jam or going to Orlando to watch an 18-year-old dribble between their legs 30 times and miss a 12-footer and everybody is happy. I want to watch pro players play, that’s what I enjoy.”
The Timberwolves finally parted ways with former first-round pick Shabazz Muhammad after nearly passing on re-signing him last summer. With the additions of Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, and Taj Gibson, there was little space for Muhammad to produce, and it was likely better for both sides that he found a new home. It was a disappointing ending for Muhammad, who was tabbed as a potential franchise cornerstone when he was drafted 14th overall in 2013, one pick ahead of Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Muhammad became mostly a scorer off the bench but never seemed to fit into the Timberwolves’ defensive system and suddenly became a 25-year-old, one-dimensional scorer who was not adept at shooting 3-pointers. Can Muhammad resurrect his career? The Bucks, a team that desperately needs offensive punch, are apparently ready to take a chance on Muhammad . . . There will be some coaching openings when the season ends, likely in Orlando, where Frank Vogel has been unable to turn around the Magic, and in Phoenix, where interim coach Jay Triano has the Suns again headed for the lottery. There are two prime candidates waiting for calls. Former Nets and Bucks coach Jason Kidd may be the favorite to take over in Phoenix, where he starred for five seasons as a player. And David Fizdale got a raw deal with the Grizzlies. He comes from the Erik Spoelstra coaching tree and likely will get another chance soon. Sacramento, Chicago, and Detroit are also jobs to watch in the offseason. How long will Pistons management deal with Stan Van Gundy as team president with an empty new arena and lackadaisical play from a so-called revamped roster? The Blake Griffin experiment hasn’t worked out well in Detroit. His numbers are down across the board, including from the 3-point arc, where he has become more dependent as his athleticism has declined. In Sacramento, the Kings continue their perpetual rebuilding mode, but there has to be a question as to whether the organization took a positive step under coach Dave Joerger. After signing Zach Randolph, George Hill, and Vince Carter in the offseason, the Kings expected better than 19-43 and a chance at the league’s worst record.
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