NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Thompson breaking Hawks’ hearts again — Thanks in large part to a monstrous performance in the 2015 playoffs, Cleveland Cavaliers big man Tristan Thompson netted himself an $82 million payday last summer. His work on the offensive glass against opponents during that 2015 run was something to behold. He averaged 11 or more rebounds in every round from the semifinals on and in the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta, he averaged 4.3 offensive rebounds alone. As the Cavs took a 1-0 lead in their East semifinals series with Atlanta last night, Thompson was up to his old tricks writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:
While LeBron James (25 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 5 steals), Kyrie Irving (21 points, 8 assists) and Kevin Love (17 points, 11 rebounds) occupied their regular starring roles against Atlanta, Thompson kept setting them up with opportunities to succeed.
“When teams play great defense for 24 seconds and he comes up with those rebounds, it’s just demoralizing to a team because now they have to come out and guard us again,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue of Thompson. “That’s what he’s done for us the last two years. We know what he does and we know what he brings and he knows who he is.”
Thompson let the basketball world know who he is last spring, filling in for the injured Love as the undermanned Cavs made it all the way to the Finals. He was particularly effective against Atlanta in last year’s conference finals — averaging 11.8 points, 11 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in the series while racking up a plus-46 over the four games — and only continued that effort to begin the conference semifinals this year.
Atlanta, which led the league in defensive field goal percentage this season, is used to getting stops. But those stops become watered down if Thompson keeps generating possessions.
“If you help, then he’s active on the boards,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I know it’s more important that we make them miss first. That’s our priority and then we have to have all five guys in there competing, getting after it. Credit to him. He’s a good player. He plays off their penetration and shots well.”
Is it something about the Hawks that unleashes Thompson’s game?
“Every series is different,” Thompson said following the game as he shared the podium with James after adding eight points, two assists and two blocks to his rebound total. “Against the Hawks, in terms of [Paul] Millsap and [Al] Horford, we kind of weigh about the same amount, the same active bigs — for me it’s just staying with it on the glass.
“The first half I only had two offensive rebounds, but I’m just going to keep hitting the glass every possession, and as the fourth quarter, third quarter hits — that’s when I try to use my technique to be able to create second possessions for my teammates.”
Thompson, at 6-foot-10, 238 pounds, is indeed in the same size range as Horford (6-10, 245) and Millsap (6-8, 246), prompting teammate Richard Jefferson to suggest that Atlanta had “two Tristans” when previewing the series. It wasn’t lost on anyone that Jefferson was comparing two of the Hawks’ best players to someone considered to be a bit player for the Cavs.
“Just take the challenge,” Thompson said. “Horford and Millsap are both All-Stars and two terrific players, very good players in our league, so for me as a young guy I want to take advantage of an opportunity. I guess it’s extra motivation just because you’re playing against guys who are All-Stars and very talented. Just try to come with my hard hat and make it tough for them.”
James, who passed Michael Jordan in career postseason wins on Monday with 120, was asked if Thompson serves as the Dennis Rodman to his MJ as he sat beside him.
“I think what Dennis did for the Bulls — on the floor, make sure we note that part — Double T does for our team,” James said, referring to Thompson’s nickname.
While surely Rodman might have picked feather boa over Stetson as his flashy fashion choice, there weren’t rebounds just falling from the sky into his hands, either.
“Just giving us extra possessions, defending guys that are sometimes bigger than him, defending guys that are sometimes smaller than him,” James continued. “We know that every night he’s going to give us everything that he got, and a lot of it sometimes doesn’t show up in the box score. But what he does on the glass is huge for our team.”
No. 2: Bird undecided on Vogel’s future — Since taking over as coach of the Indiana Pacers late in the 2010-11 season, Frank Vogel has posted a losing record once (a 38-44 finish last season), made the playoffs in five times in 6 1/2 seasons and reached two Eastern Conference finals, too. After the Pacers were ousted in Game 7 of their first-round series with the Toronto Raptors, Vogel’s future as coach came up … and he doesn’t have a ringing vote of support from team president Larry Bird just yet, writes Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star:
Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird said Monday he hasn’t decided whether to bring back coach Frank Vogel for a seventh season, telling IndyStar: “It’s no secret — I want us to score more points.”
What Bird has to decide, he said, is the best way to achieve more offense in a league headed in that direction: Change the roster, change the coach or change both.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Bird said.
He doesn’t know when, either. Bird said he will make the decision after meeting by conference call with Pacers owner Herb Simon, but he said no call has been arranged.
Vogel earned his bones as a defensive-minded coach, teaming with assistant Dan Burke to make the Pacers especially stingy on that side of the court. Vogel has said he is comfortable coaching the faster style Bird prefers.
As for Bird, he said he doesn’t blame the Pacers’ point total in Game 7 on Vogel.
“Hey, that’s on the guys,” Bird said. “They’ve got to make plays. George Hill (19 points) played well, Monta Ellis scored (15) points, Paul George (26 points) did what he does. But who’s that other guy?”
Bird was asked: As team president, it’s your job to provide “that other guy,” right?
And Bird said: “We need to score more points. If Frank comes back, what can we do to get better offense? It’s on all of us.
“Frank’s a great guy. He’s going to be fine no matter what happens. If he’s back, he’ll be fine here. If he’s not, he’s not. We’ll see.”
No. 3: Warriors back Green’s status as superstar — The accomplishments piled up by Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green this season are likely too numerous to mention or remember. Among them: ranking No. 1 among frontcourt players in assists, making the 2016 All-Star Game, rannking second in the NBA in triple-doubles and more. Sounds like superstar stuff to us — and to ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss, who wrote a flattering feature on Green’s star turn. But a postgame comment from Green’s teammate, center Andrew Bogut, sparked some Twitter uproar about Green’s place as a star. As Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group notes, Green’s teammates weren’t about to hear that noise:
Center Andrew Bogut instigated the notion after the Game 1 victory over Portland when he called Green “the best all-around player in the league.” The article, written by ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss, was actually complimentary to Green’s superstar credentials, but Bogut said he actually took some heat on Twitter for making the statement.
“He’s not the best scorer, he’s not the best shooter, but the things he does in every aspect of the game is what makes him one of the best,” Bogut said. ” I said it yesterday and I’ll stick to it — I got some criticism for it — but I think he’s one of the best if not the best all-around players in the game. Honestly, I don’t see a lot of superstars defending multiple possessions like he does or defending post-ups, grabbing rebounds, setting screens, being one of the smarter guys on the court and then still knocking down shots. He just knows how to play.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr agreed.
“I’m not sure what that term (superstar) means,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the guy with all the endorsements. Draymond doesn’t have all the endorsements yet, but the way I would phrase it, is he a top 10 player in the NBA? Draymond is, 100 percent. I think if you asked all of the coaches in the league, they would agree with me on that.
“There are some obvious ones that you think of immediately,” Kerr added. “Draymond hasn’t been mentioned that often in that conversation but he should be. He absolutely should be when you think about what he does for us at both ends.”
No. 4: Batum wants to stick with Hornets — Shortly after the 2015 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets swung a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers that netted them Nicolas Batum. Little would they know how big of an impact Batum would have on their season. His perimeter defense, slashing style and 3-point shooting freed up other players on Charlotte — most notably, star guard Kemba Walker — to shine as the Hornets bounced back and made the 2016 playoffs after a dismal 2014-15 season. Batum is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but in yesterday’s locker clean-out session, he sounded like he wanted to be back in Charlotte for years to come. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer has more:
Small forward Nic Batum, the Charlotte Hornets’ most attractive free-agent-to-be, said Monday he has “unfinished business” in the Queen City.
Translation: He’s predisposed to re-signing with the Hornets if the salary numbers are competitive.
“We should be playing tomorrow (in the Eastern Conference semifinals) and we’re pretty mad about that,” Batum said of Sunday’s Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat.
“So this is unfinished business.”
Batum had a career year with the Hornets after the trade that acquired him from the Portland Trail Blazers in June. Coach Steve Clifford said Monday there’s no question Batum is the top priority among five unrestricted free agents who were in the Hornets rotation this season.
The other four are Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin (assuming he exercises his opt-out), Marvin Williams and Courtney Lee.
Batum said throughout the season how much he enjoyed the responsibility and freedom Clifford gave him to be a focal point of the Hornets’ offense.
“When I came here they let me know they wanted me to be one of the (top) two options with Kemba” Walker, Batum said. “I liked that. I like that they trusted me.
“It was a pretty cool year. First time I got to play like I want to in eight years in the NBA.”
So is he predisposed to remaining a Hornet?
“Why not? I don’t know (what will happen in) a crazy summer for a lot of people. But why not?” Batum said.
“I want to talk to them first, for sure. July 1 will be a crazy day, but will Charlotte be my first call? Yes.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Los Angeles Clippers super-sub and unrestricted free agent Jamal Crawford wants to stick with the team … Add former Sacramento Kings standout Corliss Williamson and ex-Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek to the long list of names interviewing for the Kings’ coaching vacancy … Forget Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — how do the Portland Trail Blazers stop Andrew Bogut? … Former Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott said he felt ‘a little blindsided’ by his firing … Speaking of the Lakers, how about this offseason advice from Magic Johnson? … Expect Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts to get a new deal very soon …