NBA PM: Is Luis Scola Phoenix’s X-Factor?
When the Houston Rockets made the decision to set their sights on rebuilding through a youth movement, one of the veteran casualties was power forward Luis Scola. Scola, of course, was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, but wound up starting the NBA portion of his professional career in Houston after the Rockets acquired his rights via trade. It was a move that the Spurs later regretted, as Scola proved to be one of the toughest competitors at his position during his time with the Rockets. Scola loved playing in Houston, and had plans to one day retire as a Rocket, but now he’s reworking that plan as a member of the Phoenix Suns.
“I loved it there,” Scola told HOOPSWORLD. “Five great years. I thought it was going to end in a different way, but now I’m happy here, it’s a good place. Everything is in place for me to succeed and have a good year. I’m trying to build what I had in Houston in Phoenix so hopefully I can achieve all those things in Phoenix too, and have a good career here and maybe retire here. I don’t know, it’s too soon but that’s what I’m trying to do.”
For Scola, there’s a great deal more involved in moving than just slipping on a new uniform. He gets involved in the entire community surrounding his team, and Suns head coach Alvin Gentry believes he is already well into that process.
“I think so, his family is here, they’ve engrained themselves into the community, the schools and things like that,” Gentry said. “He’s one of those guys, and we’ve talked about this, he loved Houston and he loved being there. But he’s here now and I think he’s got everything invested in the Phoenix Suns, the Phoenix area, the community, the schools and everything. That’s kind of who he is, I think.”
Scola believes integrating into a new city is a vital step in finding success in a different NBA venue.
“Well, the quicker you do that, the quicker you can perform on the court,” Scola said. “After you practice or play a game and go home, if you have a lot of stuff to take care of at home, then your mind will be split into a hundred different subjects. You have to find a way to put everything in place, the quicker, the better, so then you can focus on basketball. When you get a new team, there’s a bunch of changes that you have to deal with: new coach, new culture, new places, the city, how you find your way around, where you buy stuff, all those things. The quicker you figure it out, the more time you can focus on the more difficult things like adapting to a new game plan, new teammates, new culture and all that.”
One thing that has helped Scola adapt to the Suns’ system quickly is the fact that he is again playing with Goran Dragic, who was his teammate in Houston. The two have worked so well together that Gentry has worked some of their Houston plans into his system.
“Yeah, it’s very exciting,” Scola said. “I think he did a great job last year. We were struggling so when he came into the starting lineup, he gave us a spark. We started winning, we started playing well and we went all the way into the final week of the regular season to try and make the playoffs. We didn’t make it because of a bad stretch to end the final week of the regular season, but he had a great year in the final year of his contract and now he’s in Phoenix and I’m in Phoenix (laughs). It was a little bit of a coincidence, but I’m happy to be playing with him again.”
For his part, Gentry is thrilled not only with Scola’s play, but also the impact he can have on the young players at his position in Phoenix.
“I think what you see is what you get,” Gentry said of Scola. “He’s going to give you maximum effort and it can be in a practice after a back-to-back or it can be in the seventh game of a playoff series. I think he just knows one way to play and that’s all out. He’s just a true professional. I guess if there has been one thing that I’m really impressed with is he’s taken a lot of young guys like Markieff [Morris] under his wing and he’s talked to them about certain things like positioning, angles and things like that. I think it’s really helped the young players, the young forwards that are on our team.”
It’s a role Scola has come to cherish.
“I wish I could be a rookie and a young guy at 22 years old, but those days are long gone,” Scola said. “I’m thankful for being around a little bit and playing a little game, I think there are always some things I can say that can help. We’ll see if I can help the team and help the players with stuff besides the actual playing part.”
The Suns have a lot of new pieces and a lot of young, unproven talent. To make the playoffs they’re going to have to overachieve, in the view of most pundits. Whatever success they have this season, however, you can bet that Scola’s contributions will play a significant role.
Chase Budinger: We’ve Got To Step Up
The news couldn’t be much worse for Minnesota Timberwolves fans as the last days of preseason play out. Already missing point guard Ricky Rubio, who is recovering from an ACL injury, the team recently lost Kevin Love, who broke his hand while doing knuckle push-ups. With their best two players on ice, the Timberwolves are going to need several other players to help carry the team.
“It means the rest of us have to step up in their absence,” Chase Budinger told HOOPSWORLD. “Kevin Love, it is a big loss for us, I think he was averaging 24 [points] and 12 [rebounds]. That’s a lot to make up, but I think we’re up for the challenge. I think we’ve got enough players because we are a very deep team, it just means the rest of us have to step up each and every game.”
Even when Love was healthy, the Timberwolves were struggling to some extent as they worked to define roles for new players. Now that job becomes even more difficult, making each game and each practice even more important.
“It’s an adjustment period for us,” Budinger said. “We’ve got a lot of new faces on the team, it’s going to take us time to get used to playing with each other. We got to take each practice and each game very seriously because we’ve got a lot of new faces and we’ve got to learn the new system. We’re still learning a lot right now.”
The Timberwolves had something very specific in mind when they added Budinger to the mix. Last season they struggled with three-point shooting, ranking just 22nd in the league in spot-up offense, and Budinger’s knack for draining the trey is expected to help. He will also help the team’s miserable transition game, where they ranked just 25th in the NBA last season.
“It’s one of my main strengths – shooting the three, shooting a corner three,” said Budinger, who is shooting 42 percent from three this preseason. “I consider myself a pretty good three-point shooter, as well. I’m definitely going to come in and try and help that position out. I’m also a slasher. I can get out in transition and get some easy buckets that way, shoot the ball, rebound, get some offensive and defensive rebounds.”
Stepping into the Rick Adelman system has been easy for Budinger, since he played for Adelman in Houston before Kevin McHale took over as head coach last season.
“They’re two different types of coaches,” said Budinger. “McHale really emphasized defense and preached it every day in practice. That’s all he really cared about during a game. Rick Adelman has his offense that he is known for, so they’re two different types of coaches, McHale is more vocal, Adelman is more quiet. They’re different personalities and that goes along with every coach in the league, they’re all going to be different.”
The biggest adjustment for Budinger, it seems, will be off the court. Having grown up in California, played college ball in Arizona and then playing in Houston to start his career, the frigid climate in Minnesota will be something to adjust to.
“It’s definitely going to be a little bit of a change for me,” said Budinger, smiling. “I think I’ve only lived in warm weather my entire life. This will definitely be an adjustment period for me living in Minneapolis, but it’ll be fun though.”
There’s no question that Budinger is a solid addition to the Timberwolves’ squad, or that he excels in some areas where the team needs help. He’s not someone who can replace much of what Love or Rubio would do, but he is someone who can help the team tread water while they wait for their heroes to return.
Danny Granger Still Safe in Indiana
As the Indiana Pacers prepare for what should be their most successful season in years, there is one question that keeps popping up among those who take a long look at the team.
Have the Pacers gone as far as they can go with Danny Granger as their star?
“I don’t believe that,” Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard told HOOPSWORLD. “I don’t buy that at all.”
The way Pritchard sees it, Granger was forced to play a role he was not naturally fit for when the Pacers made him their focal point.
“Danny was put into a position a few years ago where he needed to score a lot and now we don’t need his scoring as much, we need his overall game and he’s a heck of an overall player,” Pritchard said. “That’s what we need out of Danny and he gives it. He’s shown to be very unselfish, he’s given up a lot of his offense to be a better defensive player last year. We got the fifth-best record in the league last year, you don’t just say, “We don’t need him.” That’s a bunch of baloney. I don’t believe that.”
All eyes in Indiana are now on Roy Hibbert, sporting his impressive new contract, and Paul George, who has star potential written all over him.
“I think our growth has to be on those two, partly,” Pritchard said. “I also think George Hill has to expand his game. He’s now a starter, we expect a lot out of him. What we like about him is that he really plays both ways, he can really defend and he makes great decisions on offense. We need that sort of calming influence and he gives it to us.”
There is still plenty of room for the Pacers to grow, despite their success last season. Most of that growth will come internally, but don’t expect Granger to be used to add another significant piece down the road. He is still very much at the heart of what the Pacers are looking to do.
HOOPSWORLD Season Previews
The 2012-13 NBA season is rapidly approaching and there are plenty of early storylines emerging.
Can the Miami HEAT repeat their championship quest from last season? Is this the final championship run for the aging Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs? Will Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks finally put all of their talent together and join the league’s elite? Can the new-look Los Angeles Lakers, now boasting Dwight Howard and Steve Nash unseat the Oklahoma City Thunder as Western Conference champions? Is this the year the Minnesota Timberwolves reach the playoffs behind All-Star Kevin Love? Likewise, the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors are poised to make playoff runs of their own, but can they seal the deal? Are the Dallas Mavericks toast, or will their new group of hungry veterans surprise us all?
The HOOPSWORLD team has these questions and more all covered and you can find season previews for all 30 NBA teams by following this link.
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