NBA @ 2: Magic a Favorite for J.R. Smith?
The Orlando Magic may have emerged as a leading suitor for guard J.R. Smith.
Smith, who signed in China during the lockout, is expected to be available as a free agent on February 16th. Once he receives a Letter of Clearance, he’ll be free to sign once again in the NBA.
While players cannot always be taken by their word on their Twitter feeds, but guard J.R. Smith has six teams listed on his profile: New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Magic.
Orlando is in a difficult spot, trying to find the means to entice center Dwight Howard to stay beyond his current contract. While the organization may look to trade him before the deadline, it’s ultimately the last thing they would like to do.
As previously detailed (http://www.hoopsworld.com/nba-2-rondo-for-gasol-a-possiblity), multiple sources have indicated that Smith is looking for more than a minimum contract. He also wants the opportunity to showcase his talents in a significant role.
That would theoretically take both the Lakers and Clippers out of the running, although don’t put it past Smith to have a change of heart. The Lakers might provide Smith with the most media exposure. The Clippers have former teammates who are all pitching in to try and sway his opinion (Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin).
Additionally, sources have told HOOPSWORLD that the Pacers do not intend to sign Smith, despite having easily the most money to offer out of any team the NBA.
The Knicks may be the best combination of showcase (they can start him), media attention and salary ($2.5 million available).
Meanwhile the Bulls have some interest as well and their $1.9 million Bi-Annual Exception to spend. Chicago (along with the Miami HEAT), would probably be favored by most pundits to make the Eastern Conference Finals.
While the Magic already have two shooting guards in Jason Richardson and J.J. Redick, they also have the advantage over most suitors with about $4.9 million of their Mid-Level Exception (MLE) still available.
Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, a team cannot use their full MLE to climb to $4 million over the luxury tax. Currently the Magic are under; any investment in Smith would put Orlando above the threshold.
Orlando would also have to waive an additional player to make a roster spot, perhaps center Daniel Orton who has played all off three minutes for the Magic this season after missing his rookie year with a knee injury. Other possible waiver option might be DeAndre Liggins or Ish Smith.
The Lakers, Clippers, Pacers and Bulls each have open roster space. The Knicks would have to make room, perhaps Mike Bibby.
Oddly Smith does not list the Minnesota Timberwolves who have interest, $2.5 million to spend, a starting role and possibly a chance to sneak into the playoffs.
Fascinating Basketball Documentary “Elevate” Released on DVD
“There is an unwritten rule which is about not forgetting where you come from,” - Amadou Gallo Fall
Tuesday marks the release of the film Elevate on DVD. Elevate follows the journey of four teenagers from West Africa with hopes of coming to America to play basketball.
In her directorial debut, Anne Buford follows Amadou, VP of Development for NBA Africa and founder of SEEDS Academy, to Dakar, Senegal where 25 hand-picked “kids” are given room, board, education and training.
“Their goal is a scholarship to a U.S. prep school. The dream is a shot at the NBA,” says the film.
When Fall was young, he was discovered by a Peace Corps’ volunteer which would in turn lead to a full college scholarship. While he never made it to the NBA as a player, he developed a successful career in management (recently with the Dallas Mavericks before moving on to NBA Africa).
“You’ve got to have an interest in sending back the life so others can take it up,” says Amadou in the documentary.
Elevate captures Fall’s efforts to pay it forward, although Buford actually spends very little time with him directly in the film. Instead Elevate focuses on the fruits of Amadou’s program, represented by four students who make their way to America: Assane Sene 7’0″ (Virginia), Aziz N’Diaye 7’0″ (Washington), Byago Diouf 6’3″ (Carroll College) and Dethie Fall 6’9″ (Roanoke College).
The players are from an area of the world where the per capita income is $980 annually. The film shows them thrust into a world vastly different from their own in both climate to culture.
Sene is granted a visa to attend South Kent School (Connecticut) and he’s overcome with emotion. When he takes his first steps into the chilly New York City air, fresh off the plane, he shivers at the alien environment, “So cold.”
Assane’s gaze at the New York skyline belies the enormity of the adventure he’s undertaking.
Anne, formerly the Communications Director for VOGUE Magazine and sister of San Antonio Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford, had decided it was time for a career change and was inspired to study film.
“I was ready to go to film school,” recalled Anne in a telephone interview with HOOPSWORLD. “A friend of mine said to me, ‘Don’t go to film school. Make a film.’”
R.C. had interacted with Fall through NBA circuits, even taking guardianship of a young man going through the program, and thought Amadou’s work in Senegal would make a fascinating subject.
“I said ‘I think this is a really interesting story about a man that really cares and kind of put his life’s mission behind helping these people’ and she took it from there,” recalled R.C.
Anne, who had been exposed to basketball through her brother’s career with the University of Kansas and Spurs, quickly found the topic of her documentary.
“April of 2005, I met Amadou and two weeks later I was on a plane to Senegal for a SEEDS Academy basketball camp with 15 NBA scouts,” said Anne. “I never really made a film but it’s like anything, you can figure it out. I had enough knowledge to be dangerous.”
The end result is compelling and touching as the players allow the cameras to capture both painful and wonderful moments.
“To get people who are in a vastly uncomfortable setting, whether this be in the privacy of their home or in their vulnerable moments,” said R.C. “I think she did a great job of earning their trust and letting them into a part of their lives.”
Rather than taking a dogmatic approach, Anne brought a sensitive touch to the film.
“I don’t try to judge. I kind of lay things out there and let people make their own decisions,” said Buford. “I don’t want to be someone who editorializes about my point of view because then it makes it about my point of view and not about the story of the boys.”
Naturally it was difficult on some level for the students but then the entire experience was transforming.
“The only thing worse than having a camera follow you around all the time is being seven-feet tall and having a camera follow you around,” said the director.
For the individual players who star in the film, their basketball journey continues. Buford stays in touch, especially with Sene, who recently suffered an injury.
“I think I text with all of them every day,” said Buford. “[Assane] hurt his ankle a couple of weeks ago and I was there when he came out of surgery. We are all family.”
N’Diaye appears to have the best shot of the four to eventually land on an NBA team.
“Aziz, he’s a very old soul,” said Buford. “He’s very serious but he’s really fun and he’s very focused. He said to me at one point, ‘Life isn’t always what you want it to be.’ I just thought ‘Wow, you’re 22-years old’ or even 21 at that time, and that’s so eloquent.”
For Amadou Gallo Fall, he’s giving his students the opportunity to achieve their dream.
“When Amadou first started SEEDS,” said Buford. “He thought, ‘If I can get these kids into school in Senegal and give them life skills, they’ll be better prepared.’”
“It just put a bigger sense of responsibility, realizing that this thing is not just about me,” says Fall in the film. “Now how can you take it back home?”
Buford wanted to honor that spirit in her film.
“It was really important for me to make it good because I felt like my brother had opened doors for me. I had followed these boys around with a camera for a bunch of years,” said Anne. “I wanted to make a film that SEEDS was proud of that showed the work that they did. That’s what I feel like I’ve done. To have people watch it? And to like it?”
Anne achieved her goal in making a film that not only tells a basketball story but a very human story. The young men from Senegal may have come from a very different background than the typical American viewer, but if anything the film shows that the similarities are universal.
“My sister certainly exceeded anything that I could have dreamed for her project,” said R.C. “She’s had a great time developing a relationship with these boys and I think that’s the most important thing that she would say that she got out of the film.”
Buford’s passion project Elevate can now be found on DVD.
Spurs on the Rise . . . Again
The Spurs were hurt early by the injury bug when Manu Ginobili broke his hand in early January.
Ginobili was an All-Star just last season but got through just 4 1/2 games before sitting out until this past Saturday.
Yet still Coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs managed to thrive, which has been the case almost each and every season dating back some 14 years. Currently the Spurs are 19-9, with the fifth-best record in the league.
One of the franchise’s biggest strengths has been its international scouting where they found Argentinian Ginobili deep in the second round of the 2002 NBA Draft (57th) and Tony Parker (Belgium/France) with the 28th pick in 2001.
With Duncan, the trio has gone on to win multiple titles.
General Manager R.C. Buford defers credit to Popovich for his approach to both people and coaching.
“I think that as much as anything that we’re fortunate that we have a coach who views people for who they are, not where they’re from and I think that we’ve tried to look at basketball players as being basketball players no matter where they’re from,” said Buford. “Fortunately I think we’ve been able to find terrific people with common values that have worked well together from a vast array of homelands.”
The Spurs have also strived to bring in players with the right mindset, who recognize the value of team. In March, the team will retire the jersey of renowned defenseman Bruce Bowen.
“We believe that character is important,” said Buford. “It transcends sports, it’s important in real life.”
It remains to be seen how the Spurs will fare in the postseason give youth and athleticism of teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, but experience can play a big factor and the Spurs are a seasoned, veteran squad still armed with tremendous upside once the playoffs do finally arrive.
The Spurs play Tuesday in Detroit against the Pistons.
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