NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Rondo expected to play Friday vs. Lakers — From yesterday’s trade (which sent de facto point guard Jordan Crawford to Golden State) to an assignment (and recall) to the NBA D-League, things are clearing in Boston for Rajon Rondo to make his season debut. Coach Brad Stevens said Rondo enjoyed his (albeit) brief stint working out with the Maine Red Claws and, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, Rondo is expected to play between 18 and 20 minutes when he does debut. ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg reports that Rondo was actually active for last night’s game against Toronto, but didn’t log a minute:
Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is still expected to play Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, although he would be limited to 18-20 minutes according to coach Brad Stevens.
Stevens, who would not say if Rondo was in fact going to play Friday, did have Rondo on the bench dressed in uniform on Wednesday night.
However, Stevens made it clear after Boston’s 88-83 win over Toronto that there was never any plan to play Rondo against the Raptors.
Not even when the game got tight in the fourth quarter and the Celtics were in desperate need for someone to do what Rondo does best – pass the ball.
Up by three points with less than a minute to play, Boston had to call its final time-out because Jeff Green could not in-bound the ball immediately.
Coming out of the timeout, there was never any thought about putting Rondo out on the floor in that situation.
When asked if Rondo would have played if it were an emergency, Stevens quickly shot that down as something considered.
“Well we were up three points with no timeouts trying to get the ball in-bounds and one of the best passers in the world sitting right next to me, so, no,” Stevens said. “He would not have been. I told [assistant coach] Jay Larranaga he was next, and [assistant coach] Walter [McCarty] was right after him, depending on what we needed. So that’s the way we were going to roll tonight.”
And here’s Forsberg’s report on Rondo as well:
Thin on bodies, the Boston Celtics activated Rajon Rondo for Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors, but the point guard did not play and is still targeting Friday’s visit from the Los Angeles Lakers for his 2013-14 season debut.
“[Rondo is] going to go through and do some [pregame] shooting, and there is a chance that he would suit up tonight,” Stevens said before the game. “But I don’t see a chance that he would play tonight, that it would be more about getting back into that rhythm of pregame activity.”
“I think [Rondo] enjoyed it because they kept score. His team usually won,” Stevens said. “But it was more about getting up and down the floor more than anything. I got asked the other day, if and when he comes back, if there would be a minute restriction, and the answer is yes. We’ll cross those bridges with exact numbers when we get there. And go from there. But he looked pretty good.
“[The D-League workout] accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. I have not talked to anybody, including Rondo, since the workout was over. I watched it for a few minutes, and then I left. Because I needed to — obviously, we’ve got a lot going on around here, but we have a game tonight.”
No. 2: Oden happy to get his first NBA minutes — You’re probably already well aware that Greg Oden got his first NBA regular-season minutes since 2009 in the Heat’s blowout loss to the Wizards last night. And, as our own Sekou Smith framed it after the game, this is the first of several big baby steps for the former No. 1 overall pick. But what you might not know is all the details leading up to Oden’s activation and debut last night, which ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh details below:
Greg Oden was smiling about basketball again.
It took him four years to get back to this place. Four years, two microfracture surgeries, a broken knee cap and a battle with alcoholism later, Oden sat at his locker grinning in front of a pack of reporters. The former No. 1 pick in 2007 had played in a regular-season game again, the first time in 1,503 days.
No one really saw this coming. On the morning of Wednesday’s game, the Heat didn’t even know that Oden would make his season debut. They didn’t even think he’d be activated on the roster.
But around noon, a spot opened up for Oden. The Heat traded long-time reserve center Joel Anthony to the Boston Celtics along with two draft picks.
Toney Douglas, the former Golden State Warriors point guard whom the Heat traded for, would not arrive in the nation’s capital in time for the game.
So, Oden’s time had come. The Heat players found out about the trade over lunch and shortly after, Oden got word: he’d dress for the game.
“I didn’t know if I was going to play or not,” Oden said. “But I got out there and I did. And I’m happy I got the chance.”
Why bring Oden in then?
“We were down by 30,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
As if there weren’t enough Heat surprises, Oden came out in the second half with the rest of the starters, subbing in for Shane Battier who watched the third-quarter’s opening minutes from the bench. The aggressive approach ensured that Oden wouldn’t get stiff like he did after four minutes of action in the preseason game in New Orleans. Oden rode a bike during halftime and Spoelstra gave him the nod.
Oden’s final line in eight minutes of action: six points on two dunks and a pair of free throws along with two rebounds. Not captured in the box score were several altered shots and screens.
“It felt good, just being able to be back out on the court,” Oden said. “Honestly, the big thing is, to be able to have now that connection now with my teammates. I’ve been here, I’ve been around, but when you’re not playing, sometimes deep down you don’t really feel part of the team as much. I’m happy I can do that now.”
LeBron James said he didn’t even know that Oden was playing until he saw his fellow No. 1 overall pick lacing up his basketball shoes just before the game.
“Oh, you active?” James recalled asking Oden. “I had no idea.”
James assisted on Oden’s second dunk of the game out of a pick-and-roll, something we’ll probably see many times again if Oden can stay healthy. But it was Oden’s first dunk that James couldn’t believe.
“How is this possible that every time you sit out long periods of time, you decide to come back and you keep getting a dunk on your first attempt?” James said. “That’s pretty cool, man. Hopefully he can continue to stride, getting three minutes a half to five minutes a half to 12. He can be a big plus for us. Obviously in the short amount of minutes tonight, he was pretty good for us.”
No. 3: Cuban wants one last fine from Stern — Since becoming owner of the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, Mark Cuban has racked up plenty of fines from the NBA for his outspoken nature regarding officiating, the league office and, at times, commissioner David Stern. With Stern set to retire from his post in about a month, Cuban told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that he wants to get one last fine from the outgoing league boss if for nothing more than old times’ sake. (Worth noting: Cuban may get his wish sooner than he thinks. He walked on the court to berate the officials after the Mavs’ loss to the Clippers last night … fast-forward to the 2:08 mark to see what we mean.):
In an interview with ESPN.com this week to reflect on David Stern’s 30-year run as NBA commissioner, which ends Feb. 1, Cuban said he has been telling Stern for months that he is determined to get dinged one last time before his longtime foil leaves his post.
“We talk about it all the time,” Cuban said. “I’m going to have one final fine before he leaves.”
The outspoken owner made the comments in a lighthearted manner before the Mavericks went to Los Angeles on Wednesday night and suffered a disappointing 129-127 defeat to the Clippers that prompted a heated Cuban to walk onto the floor after the final buzzer at Staples Center and chastise the referees who worked the game.
As Mavs owner, Cuban has been assessed 19 league fines that were made public, 13 of which were triggered by either criticizing referees or interacting with them in ways the NBA deemed inappropriate.
Cuban has paid in excess of $1.8 million in fines during his 14 years of Mavs ownership. The most expensive of those sanctions was the infamous $500,000 that Cuban was docked in January 2002 for declaring he wouldn’t hire then-NBA head of officiating Ed Rush to manage a Dairy Queen. The most recent was a $50,000 fine assessed in January 2013 after Cuban responded to a home loss to New Orleans by tweeting: “Im sorry NBA fans. Ive tried for 13 years to fix the officiating in this league and I have failed miserably. Any Suggestions ? I need help.”
Yet Cuban has mostly praise for Stern with slightly more than two weeks to go before Stern’s longtime deputy Adam Silver takes over and the longest tenure of any commissioner in North American professional team sports comes to an end.
“One reason that I truly respect David is that he followed the rules,” Cuban said. “He didn’t want to be king. He wanted to be successful and make the NBA successful. He was less concerned with his legacy than with creating results for the NBA. He knows that the results will stand the test of time and define his legacy.”
Cuban said he would give Stern “an 85 to 90″ out of 100 when grading his three decades in charge and said his only bone of contention with the commissioner during his time in the league — besides the state of officiating — was the amount of money invested in China at Stern’s behest in the continued pursuit of globalizing the NBA brand.
“He’s always been receptive [to me]. We kind of have two relationships. There’s the public relationship about the officiating. And then there’s the business side. On the business side, we get along great.
“On the officiating side, that’s probably the one thing I’d say he’s failed miserably on, but I understand where he’s coming from, because he doesn’t have a horse in the race. Win, lose or draw, as long as the business of the NBA is good, he’s happy. I obviously have a completely different perspective, and that’s where we clash. He doesn’t care who wins. That’s the difference, because I do.
“But on the business side, we’ve agreed far more than we’ve disagreed.”
No. 4: Sixers’ Noel OK’d for ‘limited on-court work’ — The last thing we told you in this space about Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel, it was that Philly’s coaching staff was working on a ‘total rebuild’ of his shot. In addition, Sixers coaches were warning fans that Noel may not even take the court this season. Some of that news has changed, however, as ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman reports that Noel has been cleared by the team for some on-court work and he could play within 4-6 weeks:
The Philadelphia 76ers have cleared rookie center Nerlens Noel for “limited on-court work,” but several benchmarks remain before he can return to game action, the team announced Wednesday night.
“After careful consideration and numerous discussions with our medical and performance teams, the consulting physician and rehabilitation staff, and Nerlens’ representatives, some of the restrictions on Nerlens have been lifted and he is now able to participate in limited on-court work,” 76ers president and general manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement.
“There are several benchmarks Nerlens still must meet, and during that time we will closely monitor his progress and regularly evaluate his status. Our goal remains the same, which is to give Nerlens every opportunity to ensure a long, productive NBA career.”
Noel, who suffered a torn ACL in February while playing for Kentucky, visited Dr. James Andrews in Florida last week.
“He is doing excellent, and the team is taking good care of him,” Andrews told ESPN.com on Wednesday.
Andrews said he was unable to provide more information because of privacy laws, but sources told ESPN.com that Noel, the No. 6 pick in this past June’s NBA draft, could return to game action within the next four to six weeks barring a setback.
“He tested really well, and his knee looks great,” one source said. “Dr. Andrews suggested he be cleared to do on-court drills, but the team still has to clear him.”
CSNPhilly.com reported that Noel was seen playing one-on-one against assistant coach and former NBA big man Greg Foster on Tuesday.
No. 5: Howard won’t participate in Dunk Contest — Back in 2008, a young Dwight Howard — then with the Orlando Magic — burst onto the national scene with his performance in the Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Since then, Howard’s star has risen and fallen, and with the All-Star weekend being back in the Big Easy, there was some thought that Howard might give the Dunk Contest another try. That’s not going to happen, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
Howard, who won the 2008 dunk contest at New Orleans Arena, said the NBA invited him to dunk again this season in New Orleans, but he declined.“Couldn’t do it,” Howard said.
Howard, 28, said he would participate again, “If I wasn’t so old. I’m getting up there in age, man, I tell you. I got a lot of years.”
Howard, however, said he had thought about that night just because with the return to New Orleans.
“It was a night to remember,” Howard said. “It was probably one of the best memories of me being in the NBA being in the dunk contest here in New Orleans. The fans were amazing here. Every time I come in this building, I get chills thinking about it.”
“I remember that whole experience,” Howard said. “Being here, the fans were amazing. I saw in past years, nobody tried to really engage the crowd. I like to entertain. I tried to really engage the fans, give them something they’ll remember.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Veteran guard Keith Bogans has been ‘excused’ from team activities with the Celtics … In an interview with an Italian media outlet, Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari isn’t sure when or if he’ll return this season … Fantastic read about Blazers guard Wesley Matthews and the strained relationship he has with his dad … Clippers coach Doc Rivers can’t help but marvel at Dirk Nowitzki‘s career … Ex-Spurs forward Richard Jefferson sounds a little bitter about all the hype Kawhi Leonard is getting in San Antonio
ICYMI(s) of The Night: On a 12-game night, it’s tough to find the best plays because so many of them stand out. But today, we’re going with a pair of nice backdoor alley-oops — one from Nicolas Batum to Damian Lillard and another one from Giannis Antetokounmpo to Larry Sanders: