HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We don’t have to wait for the games to start to know what time it is.
If there are sneakers squeaking across a hardwood floor and there’s at least one coach hollering instructions or blowing a whistle (love the teaching going on in Philly, above), it’s the right time here at the hideout.
And on Wednesdays, that means a morning peek at the goings on around the league as training camps have tipped off from coast to coast. Enter this season’s first installment of the Hump Day Hoops Roundup:
A POSITION CHANGE FOR LEWIS?
Magic power forward Rashard Lewis struggled in the Eastern Conference finals against Boston, a series the Magic saw slip away when they couldn’t combat the Celtics’ size and strength in the low post with just Dwight Howard carrying the lion’s share of the load. Now comes word that Lewis might be splitting his time this season at both power forward and small forward, a move that might have changed the course of that Magic-Celtics series, had it been done then.
Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel with the details: Coach Stan Van Gundy has said he will spend the weeks before the Oct. 28 regular-season opener trying to determine if the team is better off with Lewis at small forward.
The Magic’s version of The Great Experiment will have repercussions for the rest of the roster. If Lewis remains the starting power forward, either Quentin Richardson or Mickael Pietrus or maybe even J.J. Redick will serve as the team’s fifth starter. If Lewis starts at small forward, then either Ryan Anderson or Brandon Bass will start at the other forward position.
Either way, Lewis figures to receive plenty of time at both forward spots in the days and weeks ahead. One reason Van Gundy didn’t play Lewis at small forward during the Boston series was that Lewis had barely played the position during the year and the team wasn’t comfortable with him playing there. Making such a dramatic change in the middle of the playoffs might have done more harm than good.
Indeed, when asked Tuesday how the team would differ with Lewis at small forward, Dwight Howard responded, “Well, Rashard’s been playing the ’4′ for so long, I don’t remember him playing the ’3.’ “
For Lewis, the biggest adjustment would come on defense. He would go from guarding bulky bruisers such as Boston’s Kevin Garnett to possibly guarding dynamic wing players such as Miami’s LeBron James.
“The concern with him playing the ’3′ is never at the offensive end,” Van Gundy said. “But it’s whether he can guard the ’3s’ on the move in this league and chase through screens . . . It’s a different set of expectations.”
This is a no-brainer for the Magic. Lewis isn’t a great defender by any stretch. So whether he matches up at small forward or power forward on defense shouldn’t make that big of a difference, so long as Howard continues to protect the paint in Defensive Player of the Year fashion.
‘MELO MEGA-DEAL IS OFF, FOR NOW
We need to make sure we have this straight: the four-team mega deal involving Carmelo Anthony and a proposed move to New Jersey is off. But the Nets are still pursuing a deal that would deliver Anthony to Brooklyn (in a couple of years)? That’s the way it is as of right now. Of course, just five days ago the ‘Melo-to-Jersey fire was being stoked from all directions. So obviously, things could change in an instant. But again, as of right now, there is no deal to speak of.
Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post with more: In a surprising turn-of-events, Melo did make himself available to the media after Denver’s practice – the first of training camp -– though the small forward didn’t say much about the trade talks.
Asked by our guy Mark Kiszla if it’s possible Melo wouldn’t give 100 percent at practice Melo said sternly: “(Expletive) No. I love the game too much to disrespect the game like that. Anytime I step on the court, I’m going to give it my all, regardless of what’s going on, what’s the situation. I’ve been through so much in my short career so far, earlier in my career, and still was able to perform on the court. Going through bad stuff, facing adversity. This is not adversity. This is basketball. People want me, trade talks and rumors and all that stuff, this is basketball. I focus on basketball, it’s something I know how to do and I love to do. As far as my effort on the court, nobody can question that.”
Melo’s contract expires at the end of this year. A source had previously said, back when all this trade stuff started, that he wants the three-year, $65 million extension offered by Denver –- but wants to use it with another team in a bigger market. Melo is a free-agent-to-be, which would normally be enticing, except that the current collective bargaining agreement expires this summer –- and the new one could affect players’ salaries.
“It’s scary,” he said. “Of course it’s scary. There’s a lot of anxiety to see what’s going to happen. Hopefully we as players and the owners can come to an agreement that suits both, players and the owners. We shall see. It is a little scary.”
Anthony has nothing to be scared about. He’ll command max dollars wherever he plays for the foreseeable future. But it’s good to hear that ‘Melo is concerned about his fellow-man.
JOSH SMITH TEAM CAPTAIN?
Don’t laugh. It’s true. Hawks coach Larry Drew is showing just how different his regime will be from his predecessor Mike Woodson‘s, by designating Josh Smith as a team captain alongside All-Stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford. If Smith takes to the role the way Drew hopes, this could turn out to be a true stroke of genius — especially with the league’s expanded rule on technical fouls in place. Smith has also earned the right to operate as one of the Hawks’ team leaders. He’s as responsible as any player on the roster for the Hawks’ rise the past three years.
Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal Constitution provides more details: The erratic, emotional forward prone to demonstrative outbursts when things don’t go his way? The first Hawks player who came to mind when you heard about the league instructing officials to crack down on expressions of displeasure? The player who sometimes gives up on plays when he’s frustrated by officials?
Josh Smith as captain?
“That was something that was concern of mine, as well, then I was thinking about it,” L.D. said. “I had a conversation with him about that. He told me, ‘Look, Coach, I spent time this summer talking to myself about that. I know I have to do a better job in that.’
“I’m hoping that with this responsibility that he will look at things a little differently. It puts him in a different light. Some of those behaviors that he has had on the floor, you just can’t do that anymore. I am hoping that giving him more of a responsibility will steer his thinking in a whole different direction.”
By naming Josh captain and saying he needs to change his on-court demeanor, L.D. is putting very public expectations on him. Smoove said he’s ready for the responsibility.
“I have to take a different approach to this season,” he said. “I definitely have to carry myself in a whole different fashion because when you are captain you have to be more of a leader. I have to lead by example. I am an emotional player, obviously. Everybody knows that. But [I] just kind of have to hold my emotions together and just play basketball and stay positive throughout the game, no matter what happens.”
If Smith makes the same sort of strides this season that he made last season, all three of the Hawks’ captains could be in Los Angeles in February for All-Star Weekend. They’re not the “Big 3″ you see in other places, but they’ll be a formidable group and an absolute factor in the Southeast Division along with Miami and Orlando.
THABEET’S HALL OF FAME TUTOR
It’s no secret that we spend an inordinate amount of time here at the hideout discussing the Hang Time Grizzlies of Memphis. We predicted a playoff push last year (didn’t happen) and expected big things from rookie big man Hasheem Thabeet (didn’t happen either). So we’re 0-for-2 right now on our Grizzlies. But there is reason for optimism on both fronts, especially where Thabeet is concerned. He’s getting help from a Hall of Famer (Bob Lanier) that knows a thing or two about operating in the low post.
Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal on why Lanier has been enlisted to “help salvage/tutor/rescue the Grizzlies’ draft pick”: “He comes in and out of town to work with me,” Thabeet said. “He told me, ‘Work hard, it brings the greatness out of you.’”
The franchise would settle for goodness at this point. Competence, even. But Thabeet has unquestionably put in the work this summer, which has to come as a relief to discerning Grizzlies fans.
It was hard enough to watch Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry and a bunch of other rookies picked after Thabeet flourish last season. It was truly infuriating to watch Thabeet seem to handle it all so cheerfully.
He tweeted about this and he tweeted about that. He tweeted from a mall in Dallas during All-Star weekend. Memphis fans wanted him to be hiding his head in shame, or fuming that he hadn’t played well enough to be included in the Rookie-Sophomore game.
“He was naive the way a lot of young players are naive,” said Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “They think it’s just going to be the next step. But this summer, he’s completely changed the way he’s approached the game.”
Some days, Thabeet worked with Lanier. Other days, he tried out his new moves during pick-up games. The Grizzlies even flew a track coach in from Atlanta to work with Thabeet on his quickness. “I went on two trips to Africa,” Thabeet said. “Otherwise, I was here. I was in this gym the whole summer.”
Nobody is promising this will turn Thabeet into the next Dikembe Mutombo, by the way. But a little less Yinka Dare would be encouraging.
“I expect him to play and I expect him to contribute every game,” said Hollins. “I expect him to be a factor.”
A factor is all our Grizzlies need. The vastly underrated Marc Gasol has the starting position on lock. But he needs some relief and a 7-foot-3 shot swatter like Thabeet could come in handy.
ROCKETS’ BROOKS ISN’T SMILING
The Houston Rockets have more issues than just Yao Ming‘s 24-minutes-a-night schedule. They have an unhappy point guard on their hands in Aaron Brooks. Brooks assumed he would parlay a Most Improved Player Award-winning season into a new deal, or at least it would generate some discussion of a contract extension. But it doesn’t appear to be in the Rockets’ plans. The Rockets have five players — Brooks, Yao, Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes and Jared Jeffries — playing out the final year of this contracts this season.
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle provides some details: The Rockets have not extended the contract of a veteran since trading for Tracy McGrady in 2004. With the NBA in the final season of its collective bargaining agreement with the players, Kevin Durant is the only player from Brooks’ draft class to have received a contract extension.
“We’re not doing extensions,” [Rockets GM Daryl] Morey said. “Quite a few guys on the team are up for extensions. Just policy-wise, we’re not doing it.
“Obviously, every player would want an extension. I don’t blame them for that. All we can do is the best for the Rockets. They’re doing the best for themselves. Make sure they know the reason we’re doing it has nothing to do with how you value the player or anything like that. It’s just we’re trying to keep ourselves as flexible as possible going forward.”
Brooks, who averaged 19.6 points and 5.3 assists last season, will earn $2,016,692 this season, ranking 10th among Rockets players. Depending on the rules of the next CBA, he would be a restricted free agent next summer if the Rockets make a qualifying offer.
“Every player gets his time to get his money,” Morey said. “The money a player makes really doesn’t always – I’d say more than half the time – correlate to anything bottom-line based. It correlates to when they became a free agent. It correlates to who else is a free agent when they became one. What was the market at that time?”
Lowry, Brooks’ backup at the point, will earn $5.75 million this season in the first year of a four-year, $23.5 million deal.
“I’m happy for Kyle,” Brooks said. “He’s a great player, and I’m happy for him, but something could have been done. We could have discussed something, but I guess that’s just the business of basketball.”
Durant could end up being the only member of Brooks’ Draft class to receive a contract extension, though we suspect the Hawks’ Horford could be get something done before the deadline. Still, with so many uncertainties surrounding the CBA talks, we understand why so many teams are proceeding cautiously with non-max players.
NO PLANS TO PLAY SUPERMAN
Speaking of McGrady … after one day of camp the veteran swingman insists his surgically repaired left knee feels great. That’s great news for Pistons fans who are dreaming of a return to form of one of the league’s most explosive scorers of the past decade. But McGrady also acknowledged that he’s not sure how his knee will hold up to the rigors of training camp and the grind of an 82-game season. Truth be told, no one is quite sure how the Pistons’ T-Mac experiment will turn out.
Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press explains: The seven-time All-Star signed a one-year deal in the off-season. But it was too early to tell how his surgically repaired left knee was feeling because it was a no-contact practice. The team planned to conduct a full-contact practice later in the evening.
“We’ll see how it responds tonight when we get up and down and do a little contact,” McGrady said. “I’ll probably have a better answer for you.”
McGrady, 31, is about a year and a half removed from microfracture surgery that limited him last season — first with the Houston Rockets and later with the New York Knicks.
Questions about his health caused a lack of demand for his services this summer. That’s why he became available for the Pistons to sign a deal for the veteran’s minimum in August.
McGrady said he feels better than he has in years and is under no limitations.
“For me, I’ve learned to be smart about it. I’ve tried that,” McGrady said when asked whether he would he try to fight through any discomfort. “It didn’t work for me so it’s a long journey.
“It’s still relatively early so if I feel something I’ll just notify our trainer and we’ll treat it and we’ll see what happens, but I don’t look for that to be the case.”
Even with our long history of pounding on McGrady, we plan on giving him the benefit of the doubt this time around. It’s a such a fantastic investment for the Pistons, who signed him for the minimum in August. If he produces at all, the Pistons will have snagged one of the steals of the summer.