NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Rondo may return before All-Star break — New head coach Brad Stevens has the short-handed Boston Celtics playing slightly above expectations so far this season at 13-24. While that record doesn’t seem too impressive, the Celtics are only two games out of the playoffs and 5.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors for the Atlantic Division lead. The return of All-Star Rajon Rondo would certainly help the Celtics’ playoff push (if they don’t sell at the trade deadline) and it sounds like the guard may be back soon, as he told reporters during shootaround prior to the Celtics’ game last night in Golden State and as reported by Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe:
“It may be this month, next month. It’ll be before All-Star break,” Rondo said.
Rondo suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee a year ago. He had surgery in February 2013, performed by Dr. James Andrews, and has been rehabbing since.
“I haven’t had any swelling,” he said. “I’m wearing my brace. At times when I play, it doesn’t feel like I have it on. No setbacks. It’s just, I’m taking my time.”
At this point, conditioning remains a key hurdle.
“I’m just trying to get back into shape,” he said. “I haven’t played ball in 12 months. You can do all the cardio, treadmill, running you want, it’s still different from basketball shape.”
Rondo didn’t rule out a possible stint in the NBA’s Development League, either.
“I might go practice with them when I get back,” he said. “Still just not sure yet.”
Since he was first cleared to participate in full-contact practice in December, Rondo said, he has made considerable progress.
“I feel 10 times better,” he said. “I feel more confident, stronger, more explosive. What I’m doing in the weight room, it’s productive.”
He also said he’s getting more comfortable with his teammates, many of whom haven’t played with him before.
“I’m getting a feel for them, they’re getting a feel for me,” he said. “I’m hitting a couple guys in the face or the chest, not knowing the ball is coming. The biggest thing is, I’m always telling guys, always be ready, even though it may not seem like the ball is coming to you.”
Still, the hardest part, he said, is “just not playing.”
“I don’t even like to watch the game anymore,” he said. “It’s frustrating. You see things that you just can’t help. It’s only a matter of what you can do from a vocal standpoint on the sidelines.”
No. 2: Report: Love to join Lakers in 2015? — Although the Minnesota Timberwolves’ commanding win over the Charlotte Bobcats last night helped ease the sting, things have not been going too well for them as of late. They’ve failed to win a close game this season (now 0-10 in games decided by four points or less) and after Wednesday night’s heartbreaking loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kevin Love called out the poor body language of some of the team’s bench players. Now, to make matters worse for Timberwolves fans, a league executive believes Love is destined to become a Laker in 2015. This rumor seems to always swirl around each season which gives credence to the recent report by CBS Sports’ Ken Berger:
Love, in his sixth season and the second of a four-year extension (more on that later), has yet to make the playoffs in Minnesota. The team’s highest win total since drafting Love fifth overall in 2008 was 31 last season.
When time came to sign Love to an extension during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, [David] Kahn declined to give Love a five-year, 30 percent max deal under the newly minted Derrick Rose rule. Love had to settle for a four-year deal in which he demanded — and received — a player option after the third season.
That opt-out is coming in July 2015 and will be a guiding force in every decision that the new GM, [Flip] Saunders, makes between now and then. Essentially, Saunders will be faced with the same predicament that encumbered Masai Ujiri in Denver with [Carmelo] Anthony; Otis Smith in Orlando with [Dwight] Howard; Kevin O’Connor in Utah with [Deron] Williams; and, once upon a time, Danny Ferry in Cleveland with [LeBron] James.
So what do Saunders and the Timberwolves do about Love? Play their hand to conclusion and hope for the best, as Ferry did in Cleveland and Smith did in Orlando? Or get out in front of the problem, like O’Connor did in Utah?
There’s no clear answer, and no guarantees that one strategy will work better than the other. It’s worth noting, of course, that Love shares the same wanderlust for a bigger market that led to Williams’ departure from Utah. He also shares the same agent, New York-based Jeff Schwartz.
“They should trade him,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “No one thinks he’s staying. Everyone knows he wants to go to the Lakers.”
But not all executives agree, and while none would wish Saunders’ dilemma on his worst enemy, there’s another situation that bears comparison to Love’s. That would be the one involving LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers.
No. 3: Rockets, Nets discussed Williams trade — The Brooklyn Nets have finally found their chemistry in 2014 as they’ve won five-straight games, including an impressive win over the Miami Heat last night. However, this recent surge by the Nets has been without star point guard Deron Williams, who is out with an ankle injury. This fact, plus the recent report by Ken Berger of CBS Sports that the Houston Rockets and Nets briefly discussed a deal centered around Williams, may cause some in the Nets’ front-office to consider Williams expendable (it’s important to emphasize that this deal was reportedly just discussed and didn’t gain much momentum):
Among the interesting tidbits floating around the D-League Showcase in Reno, Nev., this week involved the possibility of the Rockets pairing Dwight Howard with Deron Williams in Houston — an arrangement that now seems farfetched if not impossible.
Remember that the thrust of the Nets’ multiple attempts to acquire Howard in a trade two seasons ago was to team him up with Williams, who the franchise was trying to re-sign. Both players were on board with teaming up, but the Nets were never able to satisfy Orlando’s trade demands. Howard, of course, wound up getting dealt to the Lakers and famously bolted LA for the Rockets as a free agent this past summer.
But the subject of a Dwight-Deron duo was broached again in recent weeks, with the Rockets and Nets briefly delving into the particulars of a deal that would’ve sent Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to the Nets for Williams. It made sense on many levels. The Nets would’ve gotten an insurance policy at center for the often-injured Brook Lopez (who has since been injured again and is out for the year). The Rockets would’ve solved their own center problem, as Asik doesn’t want to remain in Houston. They’ve been trying to get off the Lin contract, and the Nets are one team that wouldn’t mind his $15 million balloon payment next season. All the better to stick it to the Knicks.
But the the idea never gained any traction and was shelved. Now, it’s probably dead for good with Williams undergoing multiple injections in his chronically bad ankles this week.
No. 4: James accuses Kirilenko of flopping — The aforementioned Heats-Nets game saw LeBron James foul out for the first time since 2008. That’s a mighty long time and James had a postgame reason for his early disqualification, as reported by Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News:
“I thought [Andrei] Kirilenko flopped a few times,” said James, who fouled out for just the sixth time in his career. “To be honest, I thought he flopped and he got the call. I thought the last one that fouled me out (against Shaun Livingston) could have been a foul for sure. … But Kirienko definitely flopped on me a couple times and got the call.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry did what Stephen Curry does. … European football logos designed for each NBA team … Lakers may drive head coach Mike D’Antoni to the bottle … Nick Young questions the Clippers’ ability to win in the playoffs. … Kobe Bryant didn’t look too happy on the bench during the Lakers’ blowout loss to the Clippers.
VIDEO: Williams throws it down