LeBron remains 'optimistic' about NBA season


LeBron remains 'optimistic' about NBA season

From Comcast SportsNet Tuesday, August 9, 2011
AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- LeBron James stood before 360 third-graders on Monday, telling them their futures are bright. Plenty of ominous signs notwithstanding, he believes the same is true for the NBA. In an interview with The Associated Press, the Miami Heat forward said he is not considering offers to play internationally during the NBA lockout -- with one catch. He's committed to the 2012 Olympics and trying to help the United States defend the gold medal he helped win at the Beijing Games. "I'm optimistic that we will have a season this year," James said. "Very optimistic." A little anxious, too. He's working out twice a day, trying to erase some of the sting that's still there after the Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals. "Right now I've just been focusing on being a better player, working on my game every single day," James said at a news conference before the AP interview. "Like I said, the Dallas Mavericks were a great team and they deserved to win that championship. And I'll just use that as motivation coming into this season." He's also trying to deliver on his vow to be even better whenever the Heat resume play, saying he's been in Houston at times this offseason to learn post play from one of the game's all-time greats, former Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon. "I look at what he was able to do throughout his career," James said. "Unbelievable talent. Multiple champion. Just to see how he was able to dominate in the low post, for me as an individual, I just try to look at some of the things I feel I need to get better at and hit home at it. Our team becomes better if I continue to get better and that's what it's about." So even with signs of major trouble afoot in the NBA -- union chief Billy Hunter told a conference of attorneys in Baltimore last week that he would bet against there being a 2011-12 season "at this moment" -- James remains hopeful. He said he understands why someone like star guard Deron Williams would feel compelled to seek a deal overseas and why Kobe Bryant appears to be flirting with the notion. It's just not for him, he said. "We all love the game of basketball so much," James said. "And the love of the game is always going to be there. Guys love the game." The Olympics count as a motivating force as well. And in time, he hinted he may even try recruiting some of his NBA pals in an effort to convince them to play in London next summer. Not yet, though. "I love representing my country and doing it the way I love to do it and that's playing the game of basketball," James said. "So I would love to be a part of the 2012 team traveling to London and defending our gold medal." James was in his hometown Monday to open "Wheels for Education," a program he's doing in conjunction with corporate partners State Farm, HP and Nike to provide hundreds of third-graders from Akron Public Schools academic tools they need. The program will follow those kids through their high school graduations in 2021, and James wants the initiative to continue growing annually -- plus even sees a chance to take it beyond his hometown, maybe to South Florida, maybe even internationally. Doused by rain on his 2-mile bike ride through Akron with 22 children ambassadors for the program pedaling alongside him, James said it still resonates deeply within in when he hears screams of joy in his hometown. Some people carrying signs in support of James showed up at the event more than two hours beforehand, hoping just for a glimpse of the two-time NBA MVP. "He just lives in Miami," said Doris Thomas, who brought her grandson. "He's one of us. He's Akron." The kids all get a laptop, a backpack with school supplies, and a bike. "I believe LeBron is a better person than he is a basketball player," Akron Mayor Donald Plusquellic said. "And I believe he's the best basketball player that ever lived. So that puts it in perspective, because he cares. He gives back. He doesn't have to do this. Riding around the city street, taking a chance on falling or something, giving back here and having some jerk yell something like they yell at me ... there's a sincerity inside of him." Monday's event was part of a busy two days for James: On Tuesday, a new 240,000 clubhouse -- some of the 3 million generated from his Decision' show last summer -- at Akron's Boys & Girls Club will be named in his honor, and later that night James and four of his high school teammates will be added to the athletic Hall of Fame at their alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. "I'm just using what I have, using my ability, for better and good," James said. James touched on a variety of other topics in his interview with The AP, including: -- How he finds motivation to work, even with many people expecting the NBA season to be delayed, at least: "I believe that Billy Hunter and the owners and (NBA Commissioner) David Stern are going to work toward having a season this year. And I'll be ready for it." -- His upcoming trip to China, which starts later this week: "I look at it as an opportunity for me to go there and to continue to see the growth of the game of basketball. I've been there, I think this is going to be my fifth time being there and every year I continue to see the growth of the game and how inspired they are by the game of basketball. And mostly the game is played outdoors. That's another thing that I hit home ... when I grew up, that's all we had." -- How he is still overwhelmed by the reaction when he makes appearances in Akron and around the world, especially from kids: "It's very humbling that not only I can get a great reception here in my hometown but also when I travel abroad I get the same reception. It was never like a dream of mine, but at the same time, it's very satisfying to see that these kids love the way I play the game of basketball and respect the way I play the game of basketball every night." James seemed completely relaxed. He was surrounded Monday by nearly his entire inner circle: Longtime girlfriend Savannah Brinson, his mother, his two sons, many of his closest friends and advisers, even former teammates like Damon Jones. He urges fans to relax as well. James had a message for NBA fans, suggesting they not abandon hope for the season. "Stay positive," James said. "The game of basketball, we all love it. And we're going to try everything in our power to make sure that this game stays at a high level. And for me personally, I do it because of the fans. Every night I go out on the basketball court, I try to showcase my talent at the highest level because of the fans. They are our league. Our fans are our league."

Healthy Smelter gets second chance with 49ers


Healthy Smelter gets second chance with 49ers

SANTA CLARA – Wide receiver DeAndre Smelter is healthy and he’s back for a second opportunity to prove himself.

Smelter was inactive as a rookie last season as he rehabilitated from a torn ACL that cut short his final year of college ball. And the 49ers never really got a chance to see what he could do during the offseason program and training camp due to a hamstring injury.

After he was waived in September, Smelter went unclaimed and never signed with another team. The 49ers brought him back this week to take a spot on the team’s practice squad.

Said 49ers coach Chip Kelly, “It was one of those deals is that you never saw enough of him to really make an accurate decision on, ‘Hey, can he really contribute and help? So, let’s give him an opportunity when he’s healthy.’”

The 49ers drafted Smelter (6 foot 2, 227 pounds) despite his limited college exposure to a passing offense. He played 25 games at Georgia Tech, which runs the triple-option offense. In his final college season, he caught 35 passes for 715 yards and seven touchdowns.

He was considered a project when he began practicing with the 49ers during his first training camp. But he never was healthy for a long enough period of time to develop.

“It was a real serious hamstring injury,” Kelly said. “You feel bad for the player because he’s put so much time and invested so much time coming in and being on IR the first year and getting ready to show us what he can do but then really didn’t have a chance to show us what he can do.

“It happened before our first preseason game, so we never really got a chance to see him in action.”

The 49ers on Tuesday waived wide receiver Dres Anderson from the practice squad to create the opening for Smelter.

Kelly already sees Kaepernick improvement

Kelly already sees Kaepernick improvement

SANTA CLARA – In his second week handling the bulk of the team’s first-team practice snaps, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has shown noticeable improvements, according to his coach.

“Yeah, you can see that,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said Thursday. “I think he played three snaps in the first game, but his last extensive playing time was in the San Diego game, which was our last preseason game, which was over six weeks ago. What you’re trying to do is get him into a rhythm.”

Kaepernick replaced Blaine Gabbert as the 49ers’ starting quarterback a week ago. He will make his second start of the season on Sunday when the 49ers face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium.

“I think for any quarterback you’re just looking for consistency,” Kelly said. “The chemistry or the relationship that’s where the receivers are, knowing where, as they come out of their break, where they’re going to be. Is one guy a little bit sharper out of his cut? Is one guy a little bit deeper out of his cut?

“Obviously reading the defense as you go, but just getting a little bit more consistent, a little bit more familiar because he is getting more snaps. Sometimes when you’re the two that’s difficult because you’re not getting as many snaps.”

Kaepernick completed 13 of 29 pass attempts for 187 yards with one touchdown and no interception in the 49eres’ 45-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills. The game was played in 22 mph wind.

In speaking about Kaepernick’s attributes, Kelly said he believes his quarterback has the necessary throwing touch and anticipation.

“I think he does have anticipation. He does have the ability to throw guys open,” Kelly said. “There’s certain balls you have to put some touch on to throw and I’ve seen that displayed in practice. I think one of the things that’s difficult in terms of grading Colin just from the first game that he played in Buffalo is I don’t think anybody was really accurate. But a lot of that had to do with the weather.

“So, hopefully, back here in the friendly confines of Levi’s, we’ll be in a little bit better situation, a little bit better weather in terms of us throwing the football.”