Morning Shootaround — April 10

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Entering last night’s home game against the Suns, the Rockets needed only to win to clinch their first playoff berth in four seasons. A game against one of the West’s worst teams seemed to make that goal even easier to reach, but Phoenix showed plenty of fight all night and had the game tied with 9.1 seconds to play. The Rockets had their shot to lock up their postseason dream in the hands of All-Star James Harden, who took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that bounced off the rim … but as that was happening, the Suns’ Jermaine O’Neal went up through the net and touched the ball on the rim. The result? A goal-tending call … which meant a Rockets victory … which meant a playoff berth clinched … which, in turn, makes it our one to watch this morning.

News of the morning

Jay-Z looking to become NBA agent | James expects to rest down stretch | Blazers, Hickson ready to part ways | Lowry sounds off on first season in Toronto

Jay-Z looking to sell stake in Nets, become agentThe Nets have perhaps the most famous minority owner in all of the league, rapper Jay-Z. Although the hip-hop mogul owns less than 1 percent of the team, he was reportedly instrumental in the design of the Nets’ uniforms and has been a key figure in the team’s mostly successful first season in Brooklyn. But Jay-Z is never one to rest on his laurels and is thinking of getting into the agent game, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, and may soon sell his stake in the Nets to do so:

Entertainment mogul and rapper Jay-Z has started the process of divesting his small share of ownership with the Brooklyn Nets to extend his Roc Nation Sports representation business into basketball, sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Selling his share of the Nets is a necessary prelude for Jay-Z to obtain his National Basketball Players Association certification as an agent.

NBA rules mandate that no one individual affiliated with a player representation company can have an ownership stake with an NBA team.

Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company has partnered with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to launch a sports representation business that recently secured New York Yankees star Robinson Cano.

The process is expected to be completed in time for Roc Nation to compete for players entering the June NBA draft, but there’s no guarantee of the timing, sources said. Those within Roc Nation and the CAA alliance aren’t “chasing a clock on this,” one source said. “This isn’t about one draft, but taking the long view of the business.”

Rival agents are anxious over the possibilities of Jay-Z on the recruiting trail, believing the lure of his iconic business and cultural standing will have a major impact on attracting top prospects and current league stars.

CAA and Jay-Z are taking time to carefully formalize the arrangement on the basketball end, sources told Y! Sports, and are sensitive to making sure he exits the Nets partnership in a way that is respectful to the organization.

LeBron likely to rest down stretch of seasonFans planning on seeing the Heat — and their vaunted Big Three — between now and the end of the season might want to save their money. Already the Heat have been without Dwyane Wade (knee) for five straight games and Chris Bosh sat out last night’s win over the Bucks as he recovers from the flu. LeBron James did play against Milwaukee and had his usual stellar night, but even he is likely to rest some games as Miami comes to the end of their season, writes David J. Neal of the Miami Herald:

LeBron James said Tuesday morning he would be a scratch for some of the last six. Dwyane Wade will travel to Washington for Wednesday’s game, but is no lock to play. Center Chris Bosh called in sick Tuesday and could miss Wednesday’s game at Washington, too.

“He has flulike symptoms, so unless he gets dramatically better [he won’t travel],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before Tuesday’s game with Milwaukee. “It’s something we talked about. I don’t know if we will bring him around everybody.”

Spoelstra said Wade is day-to-day with his knee and ankle injuries. Wade went through Tuesday’s morning shootaround and worked out later in the day.

James said he’s “getting back to form” and his hamstring has “reacted well the last few days.”

But as for the last six games…

“I want to play, but I’m going to go against myself for the first time in my career,” James said. “OK, probably about the third time in my career. I sat out a few games when we had it locked up in Cleveland as well, to really use those games to get healthy as well.”

James started Tuesday with point guard Mario Chalmers and forwards Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem.

Hickson, Blazers set to move on separatelyBy the time J.J. Hickson arrived in Portland on March 21, 2012, his NBA stock couldn’t have been much lower. The Kings had dealt for him before the 2011-12 season with hopes he’d shore up their front line, but Hickson mostly disappointed in Sacramento. After arriving in Portland, though, Hickson’s numbers rose dramatically as he averaged 15.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg in 19 games with the Blazers. This season, it’s been even more success for the big man, as he’s averaging a double-double (12.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg) for a thin Portland team. Despite the success he’s had in the Rose City, though, it’s unlikely the unrestricted free-agent will be back in the Rose City next season. Jason Quick of The Oregonian has more on Hickson and his future:

  There are no hard feelings and no regrets, but it appears these are the final days that JJ Hickson and the Trail Blazers are together, with both sides acknowledging this week that the writing is on the wall.

The Blazers, who have given up the most interior points in the NBA, want to find a more defensive-oriented center next season, while Hickson – a power forward who bit his tongue and played as an undersized center for the Blazers – wants to start, and is eager to test his market value when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Blazers general manager Neil Olshey this week said he is not ruling out keeping Hickson on the roster, but he doubts the team will have the role, and the money, to pacify Hickson’s desires next season.

“For us to make a jump next season, JJ can’t be our starting center,’’ Olshey said, referencing the Blazers’ 47.4 points allowed in the paint per game, an NBA high. “I’m not saying he can’t be part of the roster. But we need to find a starting-caliber center who protects the rim and gets defensive rebounds at a high rate and that has a presence. And we have to do a better job at defending the paint. So you have to ask: Is it likely there is enough minutes to commit the kind of dollars JJ will command, when clearly there are other positions that need to be upgraded? Probably not.’’

The Blazers figure to enter the offseason with $11.8 million in cap room. A large chunk, if not all of that money, will likely be used to lure a defensive-minded starting center or to absorb the contract of a starting center in a trade. That leaves Hickson on the outside looking in when it comes to meeting his desires to find a team that can both give him chance to start as well as award him a raise from his $4 million salary this season. If he stayed in Portland, Hickson would play behind franchise player LaMarcus Aldridge, who plays close to 40 minutes a game.

Andy Miller, who represents Hickson, said Olshey hasn’t flat-out told him Hickson is not in the Blazers’ plans, but Miller said he is under the impression that the Blazers will move in a different direction than Hickson.

“I think Neil has been fairly candid to me as far as where they stand,’’ Miller said. “I don’t feel confident about the situation. Earlier in the season there may have been mood swings and perspective swings where I felt the tide swinging, to where I felt that this would be more than a rental for both sides. But lately, I haven’t felt that way at all. He definitely hasn’t misled me.’’

In the end, it was probably a win-win scenario for Hickson and the Blazers. Hickson, who was picked up off waivers last March after Sacramento released him, got an opportunity to resurrect his career, while the Blazers found a capable center to buy time for rookie Meyers Leonard to develop.

“I think JJ has had a remarkable season,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “He showed a lot of people what he can do. The most important thing is he sustained a certain level, for the most part of the season, with his energy and his rebounding. The mid-range jump shot, I think, is the biggest area where people questioned whether he could make it, and he turned into a very capable mid-range jump shooter. And he accepted his role. I didn’t call a lot of plays for him and he found his offense through the flow of the game. Although it was frustrating at times for him he accepted it and thrived in it.’’

Hickson said having a chance to start will be at or near the top of his offseason priority list.

“That’s just me being a competitor,’’ Hickson said. “I think everyone in this league wants to start, so of course I want to start, of course I want to play a lot of minutes to help my team as much as possible. That’s definitely one of the factors going into free agency – whether I start or not. Other than that, I’m just looking to win ball games and have fun doing it.’’

Hickson is not sure it would be fun playing center again next season. He said it was difficult enough playing the position this season.

“It was hard to play center. but I took it with a grain of salt and did what I had to do for the team,’’ Hickson said. “I felt like I laid it all out on the line. I definitely was playing out of position, but I sacrificed my position for the coaching staff and my teammates to play a position that my body is not made up for. And we all knew that going into the year I was an undersized (center) and that I would have to play that much harder to make up for what I didn’t have physically.’’

Lowry on first season in Toronto: ‘Very disappointing’The good news for Toronto this season? After last night’s victory in Chicago, the Raptors have won 30 games — their most since the 2009-10 season (also known as Chris Bosh’s final season North of the border). The bad news? The Raptors will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season and will do so despite somewhat overhauling their roster in the offseason by paying big bucks to sign free-agent point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry has had, at best, an up-and-down season in Toronto as injuries and an early-season logjam at point guard with Jose Calderon created an ambiguous-at-times role for Lowry. After the win over the Bulls, Lowry sounded off on his first season in Toronto, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star:

To say it’s been a tumultuous first year in Toronto for Kyle Lowry would be one of the great understatements of the season.

He has lurched from starter to backup to starter, working for another new coach with teammates that changed frequently over the course of the season and it’s no surprise that he answers quickly and emphatically when asked what it’s been like.

“For me personally? Very frustrating, very disappointing.”

And very up and down.

When he first arrived at the cost of a lottery draft pick and a spare part, Lowry was famously “given the keys” to a franchise that fully expected him to lead it to the playoffs.

He was lauded as a “pit bull” of a defender and a leader, a point guard with scoring skills who would give the Raptors a different look they wanted from their own court leader.

It hasn’t actually panned out that way: Lowry’s been criticized by his coach for gambling too much on defence, he was injured and lost his starting job when he got healthy and the team not only floundered terribly at the start of the season, it’s basically limping home in much the same fashion.

Lowry has not by any stretch of the imagination been the sole reason for the team’s struggles but he’s the out-front guy, the major acquisition of last summer, and in that regard it’s been a huge disappointment.

He has not openly clashed with his teammates or his coaches but the overriding sense around the team is that he’s not the happiest of campers.

His own words reflect that when he’s asked what he’s learned in his first season with Toronto.

“Things just have to be different, things aren’t always going to go the way you think they should go or they may not go the correct way to you, but you’ve got to fight through adversity and keep focused on the biggest prize,” he said this week after a practice here.

Lowry’s tenure as the team’s starting point guard was cemented when the Raptors dealt away Jose Calderon weeks before the late-February trade deadline in order to acquire Gay, who arrived trumpeted as the break-down wing the team desperately needed as well as one of Lowry’s best friends in the world. The Lowry-Gay-DeRozan triumvirate hasn’t exactly thrived after getting off to a torrid start.

“It’s been a challenge for Kyle to come in and not only come into a new culture and a new situation but come in with an established veteran like Jose running the show and knowing the offence, knowing the defensive concepts and trying to fit in,” said coach Dwane Casey. “It’s been a challenge

“But he’s a veteran, he’s worked at it, he’s tried to do what we’ve asked him to do, to . . . understand what guys can do and can’t do offensively and definitely defensively.”

Lowry has one year left on a contract that will pay him $6 million next season, although only $1 million of it is guaranteed if the Raptors want to cut him adrift this summer. But having already dealt away Calderon and without significant money to spend in the summer, it seems inconceivable that he won’t be back.

And Lowry, as everyone connected with the team is, remains confident in the pieces that are in place.

“I’m confident in all my teammates, I think they’re all confident in me and I think we’re all confident in each other,” he said. “We’ve got some young pieces, some learning to do to get better in the summer. . . . We had a disappointing year but we’ll bounce back.”

ICYMI of the night: When we see this off-the-glass dunk LeBron James assists himself on, we are left wondering if the Bucks were playing defense or were watching to see what the reigning MVP would do …:

5 Comments

  1. […] Morning Shootaround — April 10 Jay-Z looking to sell stake in Nets, become agent — The Nets have perhaps the most famous minority owner in all of the league, rapper Jay-Z. Although the hip-hop mogul owns less than 1 percent of the team, he was reportedly instrumental in the design … Read more on NBA.com (blog) […]

  2. JMatheson says:

    Just an FYI the Raps acquired Lowry in a trade this past off season not “by paying big bucks to sign free-agent point guard.” It’s the same trade that see’s the Raps lottery pick going to the Thunder this year.

  3. […] Jay-Z looking to become NBA agent | James expects to rest down stretch | Blazers, Hickson ready to part ways | Lowry sounds off on first season in Toronto […]

  4. Duv says:

    So happy for my Rockets. Houston, we have playoffs!

  5. Skeeta B says:

    His momma already fussing, cuz she says I encourage his actions…lol….all I do is play with him (toss him, wrestle him, toss him around in my arms)…