Morning Shootaround — April 17

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.

News of the morning

Clips get boost in backcourt | Spurs not expecting much from T-Mac | Players unsure Hunter will be back in Phoenix| Big decisions ahead for Raptors

Bledsoe, Billups give backcourt a boostThe Clippers have had Chauncey Billups in the lineup in just 21 games this season and heading into last night’s home game against Portland, he had missed L.A.’s last eight games. As well, third-year guard Eric Bledsoe had missed five games with a left calf muscle injury that slowed his energetic, up-tempo style. But both players were instrumental in the Clips’ romp of the Blazers, something that made Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro happy, writes Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

Billups brings the Clippers championship experience. He won a title with the Detroit Pistons over the Lakers in 2004, when Billups was named the Finals most valuable player.

“He’s a little bit older now,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said about the 36-year-old Billups. “He’s missed most of last season and a lot of this season, so that’s not as easy to do. We still expect a lot from him with his leadership. He can make shots, obviously. He’s another guy that can make plays.”

Billups had missed the last eight games with a strained right groin. He has played in just 21 games this season and is expected to play in a back-to-back game Wednesday night in Sacramento.

Del Negro said the plan is to play Billups about 20 minutes per game.

“He knows how to play and we have to get him into game condition as quick as possible,” Del Negro said. “He gives us another dimension out there making plays off the dribble, shooting the basketball. But he’s got to get out there and get his rhythm and chemistry with the guys.”

“[Bledsoe] changes the complexion of the game with his speed,” Del Negro said. “It’s just the versatility that he brings that is of value. We can’t always use it depending on matchups. But he’s been fantastic for us since he’s been healthy.”

Bledsoe had suffered a sore left calf muscle that kept out of five games. He seems to be just now getting his legs back strong again.

“He gives us an edge to us out there defensively and the speed he plays with,” Del Negro said. “We knew that was going to be a factor for us. I feel he’s back playing with a lot of confidence. He knows his energy and the way he plays is very important, especially with that second unit or if he’s out there with Chris [Paul], in how he uses his athleticism to pressure the basketball defensively.”

Spurs likely not expecting much from McGradyAfter parting ways with Stephen Jackson last week and dealing with a myriad of injuries to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker along the guard corps, the Spurs picked up Tracy McGrady last night. McGrady, who hasn’t played for an NBA team this season, is eligible for the playoff roster and provides some backcourt depth for the postseason. But how much will the former scoring champ impact the Spurs’ postseason rotation? Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has more:

With all the twists and turns during the 2012-13 regular season, it was only fitting that the Spurs gave us one more on Tuesday, signing Tracy McGrady to fill to roster vacated after the unceremonious whacking of Stephen Jackson.

It is the seventh NBA stop for the former franchise player, and eighth as a professional including his recent stint in the Chinese league. He dominated with Qingdao Double Star Eagles, averaging 25 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists — the type of numbers he put up as a seven-time All-Star before injuries sapped his athleticism.

McGrady won’t find it nearly so easy back in the NBA, where he averaged 5.3 points last season with Atlanta.

There’s some speculation that McGrady’s addition had been the end goal all along. But at this point, the most likely  explanation is probably the simplest: The Spurs excised what they viewed to be a cancer, and they needed a warm body to help pick up the slack on a Spurs bench that suddenly isn’t so deep.

That means chewing up whatever time is available behind starting small forward Kawhi Leonard. And from what Gregg Popovich has said recently, there won’t be much. Leonard, he said, could earn up to 40 minutes a night, leaving precious little for a floor-bound ex-star.

Still, they needed somebody, and with only days left until the playoffs begin on Saturday, the Spurs could have done far worse. His woeful playoff record notwithstanding, McGrady has experience, and he should be able to provide adequacy in a number of facets: Playmaking, rebounding, perhaps even a touch of scoring.

Players unsure if Hunter will coach Suns next seasonWhen the Suns parted ways with coach Alvin Gentry in mid-January, some drama ensued. Assistant coaches Dan Majerle and Elston Turner quit the team shortly thereafter once word came down that fellow assistant Lindsay Hunter — and not Majerle or Turner, who had more experience as assistants — would be the Suns’ new interim coach. Those two might want to consider themselves lucky as Hunter hasn’t set the world on fire as coach. He is 12-28 as interim coach and the Suns are 2-8 in their last 10 games. All of those facts would seem to not bode well for Hunter returning to the Suns, a topic many players were mostly mum on. Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic has more:

Luis Scola and Goran Dragic were asked whether they would recommend interim head coach Lindsey Hunter returning next season. Both players punted the topic.

“That’s a tough question,” Dragic said. “ … I’m here to play basketball. It’s not my decision to make.”

Dragic did say he liked Hunter’s approach to practice.

Alvin (Gentry) was a great coach for the veteran players; he knows when to give them a day off, but for our team we have a young team and we really need to practice hard every day,” Dragic said. “When he (Hunter) took over the team I think we maybe had one or two days off. I think it should be like that.”

Scola said he thought Hunter did “a great job. Circumstances were bad and he did as good as he could. But I don’t make those decisions. I’m just a player.”

Would a third coach in less than a year be unsettling for the team?

“I think it would be a sign of things being bad,” Scola said. “But things are bad.”

Suns owner Robert Sarver declined comment when asked about Hunter’s future, and Hunter said no time has been set for a postseason meeting with either General Manager Lance Blanks or President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby.

Off-court decisions loom for RaptorsAnother season draws to a close in Toronto tonight and the Raptors are once again on the outside of the playoff picture. It has been five seasons since Toronto made the postseason and seven since it finished with a record above .500. Needless to say, the team is in need of more overhauls and changes, although many of those could happen to non-roster positions. Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun explains how the fate of GM Bryan Colangelo, the direction of Maple Leaf Sports and more could shape the Raptors’ future:

As another Toronto Raptors season crawls to its conclusion, a franchise teetering on irrelevance has a series of enormous decisions to make.

There may not be any one right answer for Tom Anselmi and the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, but there is almost certainly a wrong one.

The decisions, as they seemingly do at the end of every Raptors season, revolve around the general manager, Bryan Colangelo, and the coach, Dwane Casey. Colangelo has an option year remaining on his contract. Casey has one year left on his deal.

And the team is forever paddling in circles, creating the occasional wave, but ending up nowhere in the end.

The decision for Anselmi and the board isn’t in any way obvious, with the largest issue being the relationship between Colangelo and Casey. Colangelo did his best to distance himself from his coach early in the season and there has been all kind of internal speculation that the two can’t possibly work together again.

Here’s the dilemma for Anselmi and the board: Do they use the option year on Colangelo’s deal and enable him an eighth season as general manager? Or do they have enough faith in Colangelo to reward him with a new contract, which would be based as much on blind faith and the fact he gives good board meetings as anything else?

Whatever determination is made on Colangelo’s future puts Casey’s future in a rather distant place. If one doesn’t believe in the other — and we saw what happened how effective it was when Brian Burke allowed Ron Wilson to continue on when they were philosophically opposed with the Leafs — then what sense is having Colangelo back with Casey as coach?

Colangelo apparently tried to fire Casey at least once during the season, insiders say, but wasn’t given the go-ahead to do so.

Colangelo hasn’t helped himself by his annual summers of bad decisions. There are only so many Landry Fields and Hedo Turkoglus and Jason Kaponos and Jermaine O’Neals you can miss on.

Casey, as coach, didn’t help himself by following up a decent first year with a scrambly second year and an absolute inability to compete in close ones.

So far, Anselmi has revamped the entire front office of Toronto FC and he played good soldier when some of the ownership decided to fire Brian Burke with the Leafs. Now he has a chance to go 3-for-3 in his first year on the job as president and chief operating officer.

“It’s not like we’re going to make an out of the blue decision. There’s been conversation going on all season long,” said Anselmi. “Is it any more complicated than usual? I don’t know. Either Bryan’s going to be in place and making decisions or someone else will be in place and make the decision on the coach. Leadership is very important to us.”

The Raptors’ season ends tonight. There is no meeting yet scheduled for the MLSE board. A decision on Colangelo is expected by early May.

ICYMI of the night: Plays like this one from Chauncey Billups to Blake Griffin might be a good example of why coach Vinny Del Negro is glad Billups is healthy again:

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