Ky Bowman is running five-on-five. The rookie from Boston College is looking into the eyes of one of the greatest guards in NBA history in Stephen Curry. On his right is All-Star D’Angelo Russell. This isn’t a dream. This is Bowman’s NBA initiation.
Draft night began as a disappointment for the All-ACC guard but ended up with a call from the Golden State Warriors and a two-way contract. Bowman could have been drafted that night, perhaps shipped to a franchise with a fraying culture or little recent success.
Instead, Bowman is on the Warriors’ roster, trying to prove himself worthy of a full-time NBA contract, learning the culture of a franchise that’s enjoyed incredible success, moving into a sparkling new arena and returning three All-Star players.
Bowman left Boston College hoping to be a first-round pick. As he slipped into the second round on draft night, the Warriors contacted his agent, guaranteeing they would sign him if he went undrafted.
“Of course everybody wants to get drafted on draft night, that’s emotional, but just going to a team that really cares for me and hopefully I can be part of and impact with my style of play [was important],” he said. “I talked to [Golden State] right after the draft. I knew that call was going to come in.”
The Warriors aren’t the Warriors of a few years ago. Kevin Durant got hurt and bolted for Brooklyn. Klay Thompson is expected to miss most of the season while recovering from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament. Shaun Livingston retired. Andre Iguodala was traded. DeMarcus Cousins and Quinn Cook signed with the Lakers.
So it’s Curry and Russell along with Draymond Green as the leaders. The Warriors suffered last season from their lack of bench depth, and there is opportunity for Bowman. Two-way contract players can spend as many as 45 days with the big club during a season. Any more time would require a full-time NBA deal.
“They know what it’s like to win, how to get there, so just knowing you’re coming into an organization that’s going to really take care of you and know your worth [is a good feeling],” he said.
Bowman wanted to join BC teammate Jerome Robinson in the 2018 draft but didn’t get enough positive feedback on his draft prospects and decided to return to school for his junior season. He entered 2018-19 knowing it would be his final one with the Eagles. He had decided beforehand to enter the 2019 draft, regardless of team success.
“I just knew that it was that time to make a move; I gave BC as much as I could and I think everybody at BC supported me for that,” he said. “I wanted to show what type of person I was away from the basketball court. I think BC helped me establish that.”
Without Robinson, a first-round pick of the Clippers, Bowman had to face double teams and constant defensive pressure. He averaged 19 points and shot 37.4 percent from the 3-point line for the 14-17 Eagles.
Bowman played in the NBA summer league against fellow rookies and free agents, but the pickup games at the Warriors’ practice facility with Curry and Russell are a little different.
“A lot of people don’t get here, it still doesn’t feel real, but it’s an honor to get here,” Bowman said. “I’m trying to embrace every moment, trying to pick up things from the guys who are here. Even when I am guarding [Curry] learning different moves that he’s doing, things I’m trying to work on to become as good as a player.”
The pristine practice facility in San Francisco is a long way from Havelock, N.C., where Bowman started as a football player before becoming a basketball star.
“It all starts with being undrafted, knowing I got a lot more to prove to the teams that didn’t draft me and to show the kids back home that you can make it if you put your faith and your work into it,” he said. “I’ve just been praying and working every day and every night, being in the gym on nights that people [hang out]. It was a commitment to myself to be successful.”
Bowman and Robinson still talk often. They will be associated with BC basketball for the rest of their days as the duo that helped bring respect back to the program.
“I think it’s always going to be like that because we’ve been through so much together,” Bowman said of his bond with Robinson. “Going 2-18 [in the ACC], it’s something we always built and worked on at practice. The hard games, losing by 2, losing by 8. We were able to pull off some of the games and [each] being from North Carolina we had that chip on our shoulder and still have that chip on our shoulder today.”
FRONT ROW SEAT
Rivers: No hiding Ballmer’s style
With all of the stories surfacing about the Donald Sterling years, including his suing of 68-year-old Bill Fitch for not pursuing another NBA job after being fired, it reminds Clippers coach Doc Rivers how truly different his current owner is.
Steve Ballmer purchased the Clippers from Sterling when the longtime owner was forced to sell after audio recordings surfaced of him making racist remarks. Along with paying $2 billion for the team, Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO, has brought undeniable enthusiasm and excitement to his post. He cheers, slaps high-fives, pumps fists, and acts like a diehard fan, something rare for an NBA owner.
“There’s no person with more enthusiasm,” Rivers said. “One thing I’ve learned is that everybody wants to win. [Celtics co-owners] Wyc [Grousbeck] and Pags [Steve Pagliuca] want to win just as much as Steve Ballmer. But Steve wears it on his sleeve. He’s outwardly emotional. Most of us, especially the higher they are, tend to learn to hide their emotions and play the poker game. Steve would be just a god-awful poker player. You know exactly the hand he’s been dealt.”
Training camp is approaching and the Clippers are 7/2 favorites to win the NBA title, according to Vegasinsider.com. (The Celtics are 25/1.)
With Paul George and Kawhi Leonard joining a Clippers squad that reached the playoffs last season, expectations are soaring. But Rivers has refrained from making any predictions because he has yet to see his team even practice once. That will occur next week.
“Every team has their flaws and I see a couple of ours that could be possible,” Rivers said. “But we haven’t played yet. Do we have enough at each position? You can list spots where you can look at us and say, ‘I don’t know if they can do it without this.’ But we’ve learned that can be not true. We can be better than we think or worse. The one thing I do believe, if we didn’t have something, we have the management team that will try to figure out a way of getting us that. I do feel confident in that, as well.”
Rivers made a splash hire for his coaching staff in former Cavaliers coach and Celtics assistant Tyronn Lue. Lue was a Clippers assistant for two years before taking a top assistant job with the Cavaliers and then their head coaching job. He led Cleveland to the title in 2016. Rivers said he wants to add as much talent to his staff as possible, even trying to lure Larry Brown and Pete Carril out of retirement the past few years.
“Dave Wohl from the start, from my first year of coaching, told me don’t be threatened by somebody else’s knowledge,” Rivers said. “Bring them in if you think they’re going to be a contrarian to what you say, bring them in and make it work. I’m glad I listened to him on that because I think we do get a little insecure and scared. It really taught me a lesson in that.
“Rex [Kalamian] is a superstar no one knows, and we have so many guys that work. We had a couple of new guys last year and they couldn’t believe how many arguments we had in our meetings. And when we walk out, everybody is on the same page because that’s what we get out of each other.”
With the additions of Leonard and George, there is more pressure on Rivers than in any of his previous Clippers seasons. This summer was a prime example of the changing culture in Los Angeles, that premium players wanted to play for the Clippers rather than the Lakers. The Clippers also opened up a remodeled practice facility, and Ballmer has plans to open a new arena in Inglewood.
“I have two goals, I’ve achieved one and I haven’t achieved one,” Rivers said. “One was to make this a place where people want to come. People don’t look at it as anything but positive. And people think they can win here, that was part of the one goal. The second one was actually winning. That’s the goal we haven’t achieved.
“What I realized is you have to do the first one first before you can get to the second. Now we have that, now we have to go do it.”
Rivers refused to say that this current team is the greatest he’s ever coached. That distinction will continue to be held by the 2007-08 Celtics. Rivers recalled when he knew that team was special.
“In Rome, the first exhibition game in the first quarter, I turned to Thibs [assistant coach Tom Thibodeau] and said, ‘We’re going to be hard to beat.’ What stood out with that group, it was not the talent, it was the will,” Rivers said. “That team played hard. That’s what stood out to me. What every coach that has won a title will tell you is that the one thing you have to do is play hard and together. Names don’t win titles. A collection of guys don’t win titles. Playing hard and playing together wins. I know that not doing it right — playing hard and together — you’re not winning crap. Especially this year.”
Ex-Celtics coach a fan of Stevens
The impact of each participating in the ABCD program in Boston is that it has turned Doc Rivers and Celtics coach Brad Stevens into friends.
“He’s a great basketball mind; we call each other during the season,” Rivers said. “I called Brad several times last year to ask his opinion about certain guys, certain players, certain situations. He does the same with me. It’s just on game day, we don’t talk anymore. Once that’s over, we can go back and be friends again.”
Building a title-contending team, Rivers said, had to start with adding players who were workmanlike and passionate.
“A year ago we knew we were not going to win a world championship, but what we thought we could do is get a lot of agitators, tough guys, very like-minded guys,” he said. “We thought if we could get that first and then go out and see if we can get guys, we already have the agitators. Pat Beverley is an agitator and so is Trez [Montrezl Harrell]. It’s what Red Auerbach told me every year in Boston, you can’t have enough agitators.”
The pressure is on. The Clippers were one of the league’s most exciting teams earlier this decade and it resulted in nothing but a Western Conference finals collapse against the Houston Rockets when they blew a 3-1 series lead. Two years later, the Clippers broke up that club.
“If you don’t win after two or three years, it gets stale,” Rivers said. “I felt that was in LA. We had three great years of winning games but we didn’t win it and you could feel the erosion. When you get a team you’d better try to win it now.
“I say it all the time, the pressure’s the privilege. You want expectations all the time. You don’t want to run from them. You want to raise them if you can. It will be interesting with the Celtics. I don’t know what theirs are.”
Rivers watched the Celtics go through a plethora of issues last season, looking so flawless in their playoff sweep of Indiana and then melting down against Milwaukee. It was a disappointing season.
“They could win the East, like anyone else can,” Rivers said. “The East is still open. We could win the West. The West is hard. It’s hard winning in any conference. I thought the road would be easier [last year]. Brad and I talked several times about team chemistry.
“Brad had a young team. They have that first year where they go to the Eastern Conference finals and the next year, the assumption of winning is a dangerous thing. Young players assume we’ll be back next year and the same thing will happen and you find out that that’s not so. Experience will be invaluable. You’ll see [Jayson] Tatum and [Jaylen] Brown, those guys will be much better because of it.”
Look for Team USA to try to procure early commitments from several NBA players for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. It would be a quick turnaround for several players who are expected to make long playoff runs considering the Olympics begin July 24. That will allow for a short training camp that could occur during the height of free agency, which begins July 1. Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, neither of whom have ever played in the Olympics, have already committed. Players such as LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook are likely to be the first players invited to camp. The questions remain: Does the 35-year-old James want to make one final Olympics appearance? Would Leonard even consider playing for his former coach, Gregg Popovich? Would Irving seek to resuscitate his image with Team USA after the Boston fiasco? And would George, Westbrook, and Harden, all north of age 30, be interested in the summer grind of the Olympics? There should be plenty of talented players vying for spots, and some likely to have regrets after skipping the World Cup in China and watching Team USA finish seventh . . . The NBA G League will hold a tournament for its showcase in Las Vegas in December. Why should this information be important to NBA fans? Anything the NBA wants to try, it generally experiments with in the G League. Commissioner Adam Silver has floated the idea of a midseason tournament for years. The G League will invite all 28 teams to Las Vegas, seed them based on records through 12 games, and put the top four teams in a championship bracket where they will compete for the title and a $100,000 prize. This adds more incentive to the early games of the regular season and allows teams to play in a playoff-type environment. Each team is guaranteed two games over the four-day period with 14 games per day on two courts. The G League Showcase has turned into one of the premier scouting grounds for NBA executives. Eventually the NBA would like to have 30 G League teams with each NBA team having one affiliate. With the Atlanta Hawks adding the College Park Skyhawks and the New Orleans Pelicans agreeing with the Erie BayHawks, the lone teams without an affiliate are the Trail Blazers and Nuggets.