Philadelphia 76ers

Off social media, Nik Stauskas seeking light at the end of the tunnel

Off social media, Nik Stauskas seeking light at the end of the tunnel

Atop Nik Stauskas' Twitter page -- the one he visited only occasionally this season -- is an unattributed quote: "When you master your mind, you master your life."

The Sixers' backup wing endeavored to do that in his third NBA season and second with the team. He sought out the counsel of a sports psychologist before the year got underway. He swore off social media once it began and for the most part stuck to that vow.

The result was tunnel vision. No longer did he allow negativity to seep in, to sap him. No longer did others' slings and arrows knock him off-stride.

That led in turn to incremental improvement -- he averaged 9.5 points a game on 39.6-percent shooting (36.8 percent from 3), all career highs -- but leaves us all with a question, now that the offseason is upon us: Where, exactly, is he tunneling to?

And when will he see the light?

It's possible he will remain a useful reserve next season on a team that surely will look very different from the current one. Or that he will slide another seat or two down the bench, or even out of town. Hard to say.

Coach Brett Brown clearly believes in him; he said recently that Stauskas has "as much 'game' as anybody on our team, in the wings," and late in the year he was even employed as the backup point guard. (Brown also said that in practice he has "ruthlessly" addressed Stauskas' weaknesses, notably on defense.)

Yet Stauskas knows he has to be better, that he has to keep tunneling.

"There's still things this year, just consistency-wise, that I haven't been as great (at) as I would have liked to (be)," he said recently. "Just for me to continually see a little bit of progress, it's like the light at the end of the tunnel."

So to speak.

"That gives me hope," he continued, "if I keep putting in the work, things will continually get a little bit better."

He doesn't turn 24 until October, remember, and just three years ago Sacramento used the eighth overall pick to draft him. Acquired in a larcenous trade from the Kings before the '15-16 season -- a Sam Hinkie special, to be sure -- he is a bright, aware guy. He's done some TV work in his native Canada and is toying with the idea of one day becoming a motivational speaker.

Truth be told, though, he might be too bright, too aware. Too apt to hear every barb, internalize every slight.

He first sat down with a sports psychologist while at Michigan, where he was named Big Ten Player of the Year in 2013-14, his second and last season there. He discontinued those sessions his first two NBA seasons, then reached out once more before this one began.

"I felt like if I was going to make the kind of strides I needed to make," he said early in the year, "I was going to have my mental game on point and it be really sharp."

That's also what led to his social media embargo. 

"I just felt like it wasn't healthy for me anymore," he said. "There was a lot of negativity out there. I was focusing on it a lot and it was bothering me."

He hasn't had a Facebook account in a while, and a scan of his Twitter page shows he limited his activity to a single retweet between Oct. 8 and Dec. 24. He emerged from hibernation on Christmas Eve, when the Sixers were in Sacramento, in part because he was seeking out a gym where he could get some shots up, but then disappeared from the social media platform once more. He has had a handful of retweets since Christmas, but his only original post came on Jan. 10 and it concerned Joel Embiid's All-Star campaign.

There has also been an Instagram foray or two, Stauskas said, but nothing too extreme.

"It was actually kind of good the first month, where I was completely off both of them," he said. "It was good to just clear my mind and get away from that kind of stuff. But it wasn't too difficult (to avoid). It was more of like getting rid of a habit, and once you get rid of it, it's just easier not to go on as much."

He hails from Mississauga, Ont., just outside Toronto. Never was a hockey guy, though. Had a court in the backyard where he used to go at it with his brother, Peter. (One game of one-on-one grew so heated that when it ended, Peter chased after him with the shovel they used to clear the snow away.)

Vince Carter was the Raptors' star at the time, and when Nik was 8 or 9, he recalled going to an open practice. A guy came up to him as he sat in the front row of the stands and asked if he wanted to engage in a shooting contest with Carter, and Nik couldn't get out on the court fast enough.

"I made my first three or four shots," he said. "I think he took it a little bit seriously after I made my first couple shots."

"I remember that," Carter said earlier this season. "We talked about it when he first got in the league."

Carter, now 40 and with Memphis, is wrapping up his 19th season. When the Sixers played the Grizzlies in the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 23 -- a 104-99 Grizzlies victory -- he and Stauskas actually guarded each other. (Stauskas outscored him, 10-7, though neither shot well.)

"It's crazy," Stauskas said. "That was like one of my childhood heroes. ... I would have died if you would have told me when I was a kid I was going to get a chance to actually go up against him and guard him."

Now Stauskas is seeking something more, after a season that didn't meet his expectations -- in part, he said, because he always likes to "dream big and set the bar really high."

He will do so again this offseason while splitting time between Toronto and Philadelphia.

And, of course, maintaining his tunnel vision.

"You can never sharpen up your mental tools enough," he said.

The rest, he can only hope, will follow.

Donald Trump starts war with sports, and athletes have united

Associated Press

Donald Trump starts war with sports, and athletes have united

OAKLAND -- As President Donald Trump lurches closer to certified insanity, he is unwittingly doing the country a great service that, should we survive his dangerously whimsical term, will bring us closer to realizing our potential.

He’s unifying the previously disconnected and energizing the formerly apathetic. He’s even shaming some of those previously beyond shame.

It is because of Trump’s rage, unleashed in a span of less than 24 hours, that the NBA champion Warriors were more united Saturday morning than they were Friday afternoon.

After a speech in Alabama urging NFL owners on Friday to fire any “son of a bitch” who dared to protest peacefully to shine a light on injustices, Trump woke up Saturday and turned his Twitter ire upon Stephen Curry and the Warriors, conceivably the most wholesome representatives of American sports.

“That’s not what leaders do,” Curry said after practice Saturday.

“We know we’re in a fight,” Warriors center David West said. “And we’re going to continue to fight for our right to be human beings.”

But by advocating the job loss of peaceful protesters and then informing the Warriors they are not welcome at the White House -- because Curry said he’s not in favor of going -- we can only hope Trump has flung open a door of activism that never closes.

Trump’s radical combo ignited mighty blasts of blowback from players and coaches and commissioners of the NBA and NFL.

Among the many NBA figures issuing statements in one form or another, with varying degrees of condemnation: LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, the players association and commissioner Adam Silver.

“The amount of support I saw around the league this morning was amazing,” Curry said.

Among the many NFL figures who were moved to comment: Seahawks players Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett, Broncos lineman Max Garcia, 49ers owner Jed York, New York Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, Packers boss Mark Murphy, the players association and commissioner Roger Goodell.

Trump has, in short, started a war with American sports.

His strike began with the comments made Friday night that were directed at Colin Kaepernick and others who have declined to stand for the anthem. Trump’s aggression intensified Saturday when he went after Curry in the morning and Goodell in the afternoon.

How did we get here?

The Warriors on Friday announced their plan to meet as a team Saturday morning to decide whether they would accept from the White House the traditional invitation extended to championship teams. Though it was fairly certain they would not, they left open the slightest possibility. General manager Bob Myers had been in contact with White House.

Curry at the time said he, personally, did not wish to go, and then he carefully and patiently expounded on his reasons.

Trump responded, at 5:45 a.m. Saturday, to tell the world that the Warriors would not be invited and, moreover, that Curry’s resistance is the reason.

And all hell broke loose.

The Warriors came back Saturday afternoon with a statement that made clear there no longer would be a team meeting on the subject, that they were disappointed there was no open dialogue and that they will instead utilize their February visit to “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion -- the values we embrace as an organization.”

“Not surprised,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Trump’s decision not to invite the Warriors to the White House. “He was going to break up with us before we could break up with him.”

Trump has fired upon every athlete in America. He is waking up this country in ways we’ve never seen or felt and, my goodness, he’s doing so at a level we’ve needed for centuries.

“Trump has become the greatest mirror for America,” West said. “My cousin . . . she brought that to me. Because there are a lot of things have been in the dark, hidden, and he’s just bold enough to put it out on ‘Front Street.’"

NBA Notes: Warriors spurn White House; Knicks agree to trade Carmelo Anthony to Thunder

USA Today Images

NBA Notes: Warriors spurn White House; Knicks agree to trade Carmelo Anthony to Thunder

SOMERSET, N.J. -- President Donald Trump denounced protests by NFL players and rescinded a White House invitation for NBA champion Stephen Curry in a two-day rant that targeted top professional athletes and brought swift condemnation from league executives and star players alike on Saturday.

Wading into thorny issues of race and politics, Trump's comments in a Friday night speech and a series of Saturday tweets drew sharp responses from some of the nation's top athletes, with LeBron James calling the president a "bum."

Trump started by announcing that Curry, the immensely popular two-time MVP for the Golden State Warriors, would not be welcome at the White House for the commemorative visit traditionally made by championship teams after Curry indicated he didn't want to come. Later, Trump reiterated what he said at a rally in Alabama the previous night -- that NFL players who kneel for the national anthem should be fired.

The Warriors said it was made clear to them that they were not welcome at the White House.

Curry had said he did not want to go anyway, but the Warriors had not made a collective decision before Saturday -- and had planned to discuss it in the morning before the president's tweet, to which coach Steve Kerr said : "Not surprised. He was going to break up with us before we could break up with him."

Others had far stronger reactions (see full story).

Knicks agree to trade Carmelo Anthony to Thunder
NEW YORK - Carmelo Anthony won't be at Knicks training camp after all. He'll be in Oklahoma City, joining Russell Westbrook and Paul George in a loaded lineup.

The Knicks agreed to trade Anthony to the Thunder on Saturday, saving themselves a potentially awkward reunion next week with the player they'd been trying to deal since last season.

New York will get Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a draft pick, a person with knowledge of the deal said. The person spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the trade had not been announced.

The Knicks had said just a day earlier that they expected Anthony to be there when they reported for camp Monday. But it was clear they didn't want him anymore and he no longer wanted to be in New York, where he arrived with so much hype that was never fulfilled in February 2011.

He rarely had a championship core around him in New York but jumps right into one in Oklahoma City along with Westbrook, the NBA MVP, and fellow All-Star George, who was acquired from Indiana this summer.

Anthony will see his old teammates soon: The Knicks open the regular season at Oklahoma City on Oct. 19 (see full story).