Morning shootaround — Oct. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook could miss 4-6 weeks | Cavs fall flat vs. Knicks | Smith calls out Faried | Brown rips Sixers’ rebuilding plan | Report: Cavs, Varejao closing in on deal

No. 1: Westbrook could miss 4-6 weeks — All those questions about the depth of the Oklahoma City Thunder? The chatter is about to get even louder. The Thunder’s star point guard, Russell Westbrook, suffered a hand injury and had to leave the game last night against the L.A. Clippers. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper provided some context to what the injury might mean for OKC, and then comes this news: according to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, Westbrook could miss four to six weeks as he heals up. The loss of Westbrook, combined with Kevin Durant already being out with a foot injury, spells trouble in Oklahoma:

The early indication is that Russell Westbrook could miss four to six weeks after fracturing the second metacarpal in his right hand Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

It could keep the Thunder’s electric point guard sidelined through mid-December and add him to an already ridiculously long list of injured Oklahoma City players who are expected to miss the season’s first month.

The projected recovery time would cost Westbrook 15 games on the low end and as many as 21 contests. He would rejoin the lineup between Nov. 28 and Dec. 12.

Westbrook is scheduled to undergo further tests Friday in Oklahoma City.

“It’s just really pretty unbelievable. You’re kind of just shocked almost,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison of his team’s injury-riddled roster. “It’s not funny at all, but you almost have to laugh about it just because it’s so many guys.”

In all likelihood, the Thunder will go into its home opener Saturday against Denver with just eight healthy players. Only one is a point guard. Joining veteran Sebastian Telfair are Collison, Perry Jones, Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson, Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Lance Thomas.

Under the league’s hardship rule, however, teams can be granted additional roster spots and exceed the maximum of 15 players if they have been depleted by injuries. At least four players must be injured for at least two weeks and must miss at least three regular season games for a team to qualify.

Oklahoma City, which the league recently denied the hardship exception because it had not yet met the games missed criteria, certainly will be eligible now with Durant, Anthony Morrow, Mitch McGary and Grant Jerrett all set to miss Saturday’s game against the Nuggets.

With Westbrook now out for an extended period, the Thunder could soon add two players to its roster, bringing the team’s total number of players to 17.

Still, the Thunder needs help. Now.

The eight remaining players consist of one borderline All-Star (Ibaka), two defensive-oriented big men (Perkins and Collison), three largely unproven players who possess promise (Adams, Roberson and Jones), one journeyman (Telfair) and one training camp survivor (Thomas).

“It’s unfortunate the way it is right now, but that’s the way it is,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We have to figure out how we can improve and get better from all of our experiences. And this is going to be a tough one, but the good teams, good players bounce back through adversity.”

Westbrook ironically was the Thunder’s healthiest player before Thursday. Of course, Westbrook missed 36 games last season after undergoing three surgeries on his right knee in 2013.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook suffers a hand fracture against the Clippers

 

Thunder lose Westbrook to hand injury


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook injures his right hand midway through the second quarter against the Clippers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The injury issues continue to pile up for the Oklahoma City Thunder just two games into this NBA season.

Kevin Durant is already out for anywhere from six to eight weeks after fracturing his foot, an injury that required surgery, in training camp. Russell Westbrook left Thursday’s loss to the Clippers with a “small fracture” in his right hand, according to Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who disclosed the diagnosis after the game in Los Angeles. Westbrook will be reevaluated on Friday.

Westbrook appeared to hit his hand on the elbow of Thunder big man Kendrick Perkins as they both went after a rebound in front of the basket midway through the second quarter. Westbrook went to the locker room and did not return before the halftime break. He was later ruled out for the rest of the game, per TNT’s David Aldridge.

This after a 38-point, six-assist effort on opening night in Portland Wednesday.

The Thunder now face the prospect of playing an extended period without either Durant or Westbrook. In their six years in Oklahoma City, they’ve played exactly one game without one or the other. At this point, there’s no timetable for Westbrook’s return.

One Stat, One Play: Space for LeBron


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Space for LeBron

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Cleveland Cavaliers led the preseason in offensive efficiency, even though LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love only played together in two of their seven games.

They’re a safe bet to lead the regular season in offensive efficiency too, and some smart people believe that they have a shot at being the most efficient offensive team in NBA history.

When you have James, Irving, Love, and some guys that can knock down shots, you’re going to score a lot of points. You could probably take away Irving or Love and the Cavs would still finish with a top-three offense.

But there’s one aspect of the Cleveland offense that I still have a question about. It’s regarding who else is on the floor, and how much space the Cavs will provide for one of the best finishers the league has ever seen.

20141030_restricted

The above video is the first installment of “One Stat, One Play,” and it deals with James’ trips into the paint.

Cavs hit hardwood lab in search of chemistry


VIDEO: LeBron James says he isn’t nervous about his first game back with the Cavs

CLEVELAND – As scary old Halloween movies fill our flat-screens with images of mad scientists and dungeon laboratories this time of year, we’re never far from reminders about chemistry’s importance.

NBA teams, either.

Those that have it – like the San Antonio Spurs and others – know it and trust it. Those that don’t – most lottery teams and assorted underachievers – wish they did. And then there are newbies, like the Cleveland Cavaliers. With their shiny new ingredients and lofty expectations, the Cavs at the moment are like a start-up pharmaceutical firm, seeking FDA approval as they hit the market on the fly.

Forward Kevin Love, hours before tipoff of the Cavaliers’ opener against New York Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena (8 p.m. ET, TNT), was asked about his team’s chemistry after the morning shootaround session.

“It’s been a pretty smooth transition,” Love said. “We all have been able to get along. Doesn’t matter if we’re rookies like Joe Harris or 15, 16 years in like Matrix (Shawn Marion) or Mike Miller. So we have good continuity off the floor. The problem is we just have to get on the floor together. No matter what, our first month of training camp, it is only a month.

“Seven, eight preseason games isn’t going to do it. So it’s going to take us a little longer than that. Hopefully our talent and our execution and our discipline will help us get over the top our first several games.”

Basketball at its best is five men on a string, offensively and defensively. The string? That’s Xs & Os, sure, but it’s also familiarity, trust and chemistry.

Love said he’s curious to see how the Cavs pieces fit, same as many fans.

“And I’ll keep saying this, it’s going to take a little bit of time. Like anybody in their first 10, 20 games,” he said. “But once we figure out our niche and what works for us, we’re gonna go to that.”

LeBron James has gone through this before. He developed into a leader in his first Cleveland stint, learned how to defer while leading with Miami and now shoulders the primary responsibility for knitting together this new group.

“It just comes natural,” James said. “For me as a leader and just as a person that’s very outgoing, it just comes natural. There’s no book to how to build chemistry. Just you either have it or you don’t.”

That might seem a wee blithe, but then, James did sound and say he was awfully relaxed heading into this latest, much-anticipated chapter of team building and championship chasing.

“I’m very relaxed right now. I’m actually sleepy,” James said at about 11 a.m. ET. “I’m ready to go home and lay down. It’s my [nap] bedtime, what I do on a game day. Once the hours kind of count down and the minutes count down to game time, it gets a little more warmer in here, the excitement will begin.”

There weren’t any jitters on the eve of this Cleveland reset for the NBA’s best player. He stayed home and flipped around, watching as many of the league’s 12 games as he could.

“I love the game of basketball so it was great to see so many teams playing and I knew it was our time after last night,” James said. “For me, none of us should take this moment for granted. This is probably one of the biggest sporting events [in Cleveland] ever.”

New Cavaliers coach David Blatt talked of team chemistry almost clinically, as if he’ll be working in a lab coat on the sideline Thursday. Blatt will be making his NBA debut at age 55, after 33 years playing and coaching basketball internationally.

“Simplify. Designate,” Blatt said, specifying the surest ways to fast-track some chemistry into a “Hi, My Name Is…” group of players new to each other.

“Lock in on a minimal number of things and try to grow from that point. Stick to principles, stay fundamental and willing to stay the course, and ultimately to grow. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Blatt said he would happily let James address the team in their pregame meeting. And James said that, after his nap, he would tabulate the results of his informal Twitter poll of fans whether he should go back to the chalk-toss ritual of his first stay in Cleveland.

Knicks face tough schedule with rough offense


VIDEO: Bulls vs. Knicks

NEW YORK – The New York Knicks have admitted freely that the Triangle offense would take time to learn. Exhibit A: Their 104-80 loss to the Chicago Bulls in the first game of the season on Wednesday.

The Knicks’ offense looked slow, robotic, disjointed, clumsy, and just flat-out brutal. They only had 12 turnovers, but there were some ugly ones, like passes going straight out of bounds because guys weren’t on the same page.

And the shots …

20141029_nyk

There was an occasional layup off a back-door play on the weak side, a Triangle staple. But most of the Knicks points were not a product of the offense, but of their ability to improvise after things broke down. They still have some talented offensive players on the roster.

But when Samuel Dalembert and Quincy Acy combine to take four 15-20 footers in the first quarter, something is very wrong. The Knicks took 21 shots from the restricted area and 17 3-pointers. They took just as many shots (38) from mid-range, with another nine from the similarly inefficient area of the paint outside the restricted area.

It wasn’t as old-school (and bad) as the Lakers’ shot chart on Wednesday, but that kind of shot selection isn’t going to win you many games. You can credit the Chicago defense some and also note that New York was without starting point guard Jose Calderon (strained right calf). But the offensive disfunction was just as clear in the preseason against lesser defenses and with a healthy Calderon.

UPDATE: The Knicks announced Thursday afternoon that Calderon is out 2-3 weeks.

“We’re going somewhere,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said after Wednesday’s game. “But at the beginning of where we’re going, it’s going to be difficult to get wins.”

Knicks president was a little more blunt. “Not ready for Showtime, were we?,” he responded when asked by the Daily News for his reaction to Wednesday’s performance.

20141030_nyk_schedNot at all. If the offense was bad, the defense was worse. But with the personnel the Knicks have, the defense probably won’t get much better over the course of the season, so the pressure is on the offense to start functioning, because the wins and losses count now.

And the Knicks play a tough early schedule as they try to look a little less disjointed every game. They will help Cleveland welcome back LeBron James on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT) and then head back home to face East playoff teams Washington and Charlotte.

Their worst opponent in their first eight games is probably the Pistons, but that game is in Detroit, on the second night of a back-to-back for the Knicks. The eight games are all against East teams that could push New York out of a playoff spot, and the stretch includes three back-to-backs.

So you have to wonder when the Triangle will start to work, at least to a point where the Knicks have a chance to score consistently against NBA defenses.

“There’s not a calendar date,” Fisher said when asked about his team’s learning curve on offense. “It really just depends on our team and our players and our willingness to stick with the process.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jackson: Knicks ‘not ready for showtime’Rose pleased with his first game | Rondo becomes fan of Parker’s game | Williams, Hollins blast Nets’ defense | Finding a bright side in Lakerland

No. 1: Jackson: Knicks weren’t ‘ready for showtime’ — The New York Knicks’ season opener was high on expectations, but by the time Wednesday night was over, it failed to deliver on any of them. From the vaunted, new triangle offense being put in place to talk of more dedication on defense than was shown in 2013-14, the Knicks more or less failed to deliver on their promises in a 104-80 home loss to the Chicago Bulls. After the game, Knicks president Phil Jackson didn’t mince words about his team’s performance. The New York Post‘s Peter Botte has more:

The Knicks certainly weren’t telling false tales when they maintained throughout training camp that their newly installed offensive system − via team president Phil Jackson and first-year coach Derek Fisher − continues to be nowhere close to peak, or even acceptable, efficiency.

With another daunting test awaiting them Thursday against LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Cleveland, the Knicks opened the Jax-Fisher era by flunking geometry in ugly fashion. They shot just 36.5% from the field − including 3-for-17 from three-point range − and were overmatched at both ends in a boo-filled 104-80 blowout loss to the Bulls in their season opener at the Garden.

“Not ready for Showtime, were we?” Jackson replied when asked for comment by the Daily News outside his waiting car after the game. “I can’t tell how long it will take.”

Seven-time All-Star and $124 million man Carmelo Anthony scored just 14 points − somehow the team-high − on 5-for-13 shooting, and surprise starting power forward Amar’e Stoudemire added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Knicks, who played without expected first-string point guard Jose Calderon (calf).

Still, Fisher, making his coaching debut following an accomplished 18-year playing career, and the Knicks continue to preach patience as they iron out the intricacies of the famed triangle offense and their new defensive principles.

“I guess my assessment of tonight is we’re going somewhere, but at the beginning of where we’re going it’s going to be difficult to get wins,” Fisher said. “We have to fight really, really hard to win games. It won’t be because we’re executing perfectly or playing perfect defense. It will be because we’re working hard and playing with energy and effort.”

“We have to ask ourselves about energy and effort and we just got to get better at that,” Anthony said. “I’m not embarrassed. We lost and tip your hat off to Chicago for playing extremely well on all cylinders. We didn’t play well, but embarrassed, no, I’m not embarrassed. We will get better. I believe that. I know that. And we got another shot at it (Thursday) night.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony discusses the Knicks’ woes against the Bulls on Wednesday

 

Barea continues Mavs’ reunion

One piece at a time, the Mavericks seem to be getting the old gang back together.

First Tyson Chandler. Now point guard J.J. Barea returns to reminisce and help their buddy Dirk Nowitzki try to get back that championship spark from 2011.

To a roster that already includes Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris and Raymond Felton, Dallas now brings back the point guard who started the last three games of the NBA Finals win over Miami.

The Mavs cut Gal Mekel and will have to pay him $1.76 million and signed Barea to a $1.31 million deal.

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News caught up to Donnie Nelson:

“We could not be more excited to have J.J. back in a Mavericks’ uniform,” president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “He was a key contributor in bringing a championship to Dallas. A player with his experience and leadership will be a great addition to our team.”

Is there draft hope after Randle injury?


VIDEO: The TNT crew on the impact of Randle’s injury

Nobody ever wants to see a 19-year-old talent like Julius Randle crumble to the floor in a heap and have to be lifted by several of his teammates onto the stretcher. Nobody ever wants to hear the official news that the surgery performed on his broken right leg will force Randle to join Steve Nash on the sidelines for all of this season.

The brightest hope is that Randle can fully recover and make the same kind of triumphant comeback as Blake Griffin, who fractured his left knee in the preseason finale and had to miss what should have been his rookie season in 2009-10 with the Clippers.

With Wayne Ellington, Ryan Kelly and Nick Young also on the shelf, the Lakers already are guaranteed to miss 166 player games due to injury this season before the tipoff of Wednesday night’s second game at Phoenix. A year ago, L.A. led the league with 319 games lost.

The simple fact is the Lakers cannot overcome the loss of their No. 7 pick in the draft. Considered the most NBA-ready player in the 2014 draft, the team was bringing him along slowly, letting him come off the bench, but expecting the rookie to carry a bigger and bigger role as the season progressed. He was a very big part of whatever hope Kobe Bryant had of fulfilling his own bounce-back fantasy and whatever chance coach Byron Scott had of keeping his team relevant in the deep waters of the Western Conference.

Suddenly last season’s horrid 27-55 record — the worst by the Lakers in 50 years — might not even seem reachable. But buried in that rubble could be the slightest glimmer of a silver lining.

Remember, the Lakers’ 2015 first-round draft pick that is supposed to go to Phoenix as part of the deal that brought in Nash is top-five protected. Without Randle’s size up front, the bottom may just have fallen completely out on the Lakers and it’s not unreasonable to think fall into one of the prime lottery spots.

Emmanuel Mudley, Jahlil Okafor or Karl Towns in purple and gold with a rehabilitated Randle a year from now?

At dark times, you’ve got to search for light.

MJ’s Hornets going back to the future

CHARLOTTE — Give him the ball and get out of the way.

For years, that was the first ingredient to the recipe for success that helped make Michael Jordan the first true global icon the NBA ever produced. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen.

Fast forward 30 years and it’s the same ingredients for the owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan and the entire management team have rebranded the former Charlotte Bobcats, bringing the buzz back to this city in an unprecedented fashion for the start of the 2014-15 season.

After taking over Twitter on Tuesday (above), MJ held court in a different way, hosting eight reporters from around the country for lunch at Time Warner Cable Arena just hours before the Hornets home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.

He didn’t need any fancy introduction. He simply walked in, grabbed his seat in the middle of the room and said bring it on.

Like I said, give him the ball and get out of the way …

Q: Are you a better owner today than you were when you first took over, and if so, how did that come about?

MJ: Uh, you have to define what better is really. Am I a more experienced owner? Yes. Am I an owner that made mistakes? Yes. Am I an owner that made good decisions? I like to assume so, yes. But it’s amazing what winning does. I always considered myself an owner that was dedicated to doing the best job to bring the best team here to the city of Charlotte. And with that comes a lot of criticism based on wins and losses. And based on the wins and losses over the years I’ve been in ownership, people have questioned that. Now that we’re winning, people are giving their opinions about that from a different perspective. I’ve always considered myself a very successful owner that tries to make sound decisions. And when you make bad decisions, you learn from that and move forward. I think I’m better in that sense. I’ve experienced all of the different valleys and lows that ownership and successful of business. If that constitutes me being a better owner, than I guess I am.

Q: How tough is it to know when to insert yourself as an owner and when you let your “team” do their business on a daily basis and not interfere with that process?

MJ: In some ways it is very similar to a game. When you feel like you can make an impact and give some insight, some leadership, you do that. You kind of read the scenarios. For me to make good sound decisions I have to understand every facet of what’s happening within the building and within the team. These guys keep me up to date and inform me of all the decisions that need to be made. I dissect that and when the decision is made we collaborate and I ask for their opinion, they ask for my opinion and then at the end of the day we have to formulate a plan and then ride with it. That’s kind of the formula that happens underneath this roof. But it all starts with me. The criticism starts with me. And if things go well, everybody always look a bunch of different ways. But if things go bad, they always look to the top. And I understand that, which makes me get more involved. I understand all the decision-making that has to be done and get a grip on all the things that have to be done.

Q: What do you understand about the role of an owner now that you didn’t understand as a player?

MJ: It’s a big team and you want the team to understand exactly what the focus is. You want to be able to relate from top to bottom. And it’s a bigger responsibility. When you’re the leader of an organization, they look for you in a lot of different ways. And you have to exert that kind of confidence, determination and effort. And the decision-making process, so that has been the process for me over the last four years of ownership … learning the process and applying my personality, thoughts, wishes and leadership whenever necessary so that when the time comes we can make sound decisions. It’s about implementing systems and things that work for this organization. And what may work for this organization may be totally different for other organizations … understanding the dynamics of that. And it’s believe me, it’s been fun. It’s been hard, but I’ve had fun doing it.

Q: You’ve tried different things as an owner, different people in different positions. Why does the combination right now — owner, general manager and coach — in terms of what you want to do?

MJ: Things have fallen into place. The business and the basketball are working hand in hand. And they both have different dynamics. The business has certain things they to do to make sure we maximize all the energy and effort that we have on our team. Same thing on the basketball side. They have to understand how to get the returns on free agency, the Draft and all of the guys we have on our team and somehow, collectively, form the overall product and keep the business thriving and growing. And that’s where I think the last couple of years things have started to happen. The business has really been strong. Our guys beating the bushes to get the community back involved, to get the corporate sponsors back involved. And all of those things back working in a positive way the basketball back to where we are restructuring with coaches and players and things of that nature and now you have both of them on the same page and both of them working in hand in hand to where everything started to turn into a prosperous situation. And it makes me look like a genius. Sometimes it happens that way.


VIDEO: One-on-one conversation with Jordan, Part 1

Q: How different are you this time around compared to when you were with the Wizards, how have you changed?

MJ: It’s been a gradual change. With the Wizards, it was the first time I’ve ever been into the operations standpoint. I had different leadership, different perspectives, different initiatives, different roles, expectations from an organization standpoint, which I had no control. My initial responsibility – Fred [Brown] was there, he can tell you – it was trying to get from where we were to a much more positive sense. That had a lot to do with the financial aspect. And I felt like we did that. A lot of things happened – me going back to play, and in doing so we didn’t understand some of the dynamics of being a general manager in terms of selecting personnel, finding the right mix, finding the camaraderie, the continuity from a basketball sense. So that was a learning curve for me. Coming here in a similar role, I utilized some of those experiences to try to enhance, from a basketball sense, and once again I wasn’t in control of the overall goal of the organization. I was following that leadership. Not that I’m making an excuse, but it changed. Now I’m in control of everything. I can put my own DNA, I can put my own twists, I can put my own demands and start from a different leadership position. And those previous situations helped me set those type of standards for that type of leadership and obviously my participation in all of that. And I think that I’m better because of that. It was a well-traveled road, probably one of the roads I wouldn’t have suggested for myself, but yet I’m much better today because of that experience.

 

Report: Jazz’s Kanter to become free agent in 2015


VIDEO: Enes Kanter shines in Utah’s preseason win over the Thunder

In a perfect world, the Jazz would have been able to sign center Enes Kanter to a contract extension that makes sense for both sides.

Of course, we’re all still looking for that perfect world, along with a winning lottery ticket.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the 22-year-old big man and third pick in the 2011 draft, has ended talks with the club and will become a restricted free agent next summer.

“We have mutually agreed with Utah to concentrate on the season and look at our options again in the summer,” agent Max Ergul said in a telephone interview. “Enes likes Utah and the organization very much, and now he can concentrate on continuing to grow as a player and helping them win.”

It could prove to be a costly move for the Jazz. Big men always always draw extra attention and extra money as free agents.

This is a Jazz team that’s coming off having to fork over a four-year, $63-million deal to match an offer sheet from Charlotte on Gordon Hayward last summer. A lot of teams will be keeping their eyes on Kanter this season and, if he steps his game up to the next level, they’ll be digging deep into wallets once more in Utah.