Blogtable

Blogtable: Four-Player Race For MVP

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: MVP Race | Post-All-Star Sloppy Play | Statue-Worthy Players



VIDEO:  The Starters: MVP choice

> It’s a four-man race for Kia NBA MVP (Curry, James, Harden, Westbrook). In your eyes, what does one of these players have to do in the final six weeks of the season to separate himself from the rest of the pack and secure the MVP crown?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comFirst, don’t kick anyone in the store and get oneself suspended from a big game. That’s definitely a no-no in the MVP handbook. Second, don’t miss a quarter of your team’s games and, if you do, make sure it wins often enough whether you’re around or not to nail down a Top 4 seed. The ability to impact the game at both ends is nice and, oh yeah, bonus points for making one team The Finals favorite in its conference, then switching teams and making that one The Finals favorite in its conference. Now whom shall I choose?…

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThere are no set bars to clear, bases to touch.  In a tight race such as this with a handful of candidates, I’ll likely give my vote to the best closer.  Can Curry take the Warriors into the playoffs as the overall No. 1 seed?  Can Harden keep the Rockets in the mix for a top 3 finish?  After a slow start, it would be very impressive if LeBron could get the Cavs to leap all the way to No. 2 in the East.  Now that the question of making the playoffs has pretty much been answered, Westbrook would turn heads if he could help the Thunder leap as high as No. 6.  I’m looking for a finishing kick to seal the deal.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comNothing other than play better the final six weeks than they have the previous months. That’s the challenge: Who will go from an MVP-level of play to an even higher level in the clutch, when players and teams are supposed to be peaking and playoff seedings are on the line? That is particularly important for Westbrook, with every bit of supporting evidence critical after missing the large chunk of time. It might be easier to overcome that deficit other seasons. Not so much in this one with, as you mentioned, several deserving candidates.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: In the case of James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, assuming their level of play stays the same, it’s how high they can elevate their teams in the standings. Steph Curry can’t take the Warriors any higher than first place, so he must stay consistent. This could be a photo finish involving Curry and Harden, the two most likely finalists, and if the Rockets finish within 5 games or less of the Warriors, I’d say the trophy is Harden’s.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: All of these guys have great individual numbers and all have made big impacts on their team’s numbers. I think it’s Curry’s award to lose at this point, but James and Harden aren’t too far behind. Harden has been carrying the Rockets all season and we all saw how bad the Cavs were when James took his two weeks off. But both might have to hope that Curry and the Warriors hit a slump between now and April 15.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com​In my eyes, which are working better than ever, it’s all about how you and your team finish. Crazy individual numbers will certainly help solidify the point for all of these guys. But Harden has the best chance to separate himself if, after his one-game suspension for the below-the-belt jujitsu kick on LeBron, he continues to blaze opposing defenses the way he has all season. For him to continue his torrid pace all season while others have come and gone from the scoring race, helps him separate from this pack. Sure, it’s perhaps a shallow way of looking at it. But when you’re checking all of the other boxes, that extra scoring punch could push Harden over the top.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe only thing LeBron should need is to keep Cleveland in play for the No. 2 seed in the East. It’s this simple: His return turned a hopeless franchise (for four years running) into a title contender. Furthermore, his current teammates have gone 2-9 in James’s absence this season. No rival has made a bigger impact on his team.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about post one signature game? Each one of the guys mentioned have been tremendous this season, so good that I’m not sure they have a lot of room to get much better, at least on a nightly basis. It’s a tight race for the trophy, tight enough that I’m not sure which player has the jump on the award. But what might help push someone over the top is one huge game, maybe on a Thursday night on TNT or a Sunday afternoon on ABC. LeBron scoring 50? Steph Curry hitting a dozen threes? Something like that just may be enough to swing the voters their way.

Blogtable: What’s With The Recent Sloppy Play?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: MVP Race | Post-All-Star Sloppy Play | Statue-Worthy Players


> Since returning from the extended All-Star break, scoring is down, shooting is down, and turnovers are up. Did the long break throw players off rhythm? Or are other factors contributing to the recent sloppy play?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMy hunch is, what we’re seeing is a result of a) the season’s dog days, and b) teams limping along without injured players. Some folks in Chicago believe that Derrick Rose lost “it” over the long break, never got “it” back and somehow got hurt or became more vulnerable over the extended layoff. But the Bulls star can seemingly get hurt tucking his little boy into bed, so there’s no reason to legislate over that. I find it hard to believe that a few extra days off could have, collectively, such a drastic effect.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comI think you’re reaching to blame the extended All-Star break. This is only a small sampling and these are just the vagaries of the long season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt’s just fun with numbers at this point. If we get to the end of the season and the pattern holds, maybe you’ll be on to something. If the same thing happens again a year from now, then it becomes an actual discussion. Now, though, it’s a trend of the moment.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: There’s no scientific data to support a link between the long layoff and the sluggish play, so we only have our assumptions, flawed or not. I suspect the layoff might’ve had something to do with it but also this: Injuries, coupled with a half-dozen teams that waved the white flag and turned their roster over to young and inexperienced players to get a read on their long-term value.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are five teams with starting point guards who were thrown into unfamiliar offenses, and Milwaukee and Phoenix are two teams that have seen pretty big drops in efficiency after the break. But I think it’s mostly the long layoff. Offense is generally at its best with one or two days of rest, where players can maintain a rhythm and level of sharpness. We’ve already seen things pick up the last couple of days.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com​There is no way you are getting me to hate on the extended break. We’ll just have see some numbers suffer, because that break felt great. I don’t think the longer break throws off anyone’s rhythm. I think any break from the normal bump and grind of the season, any break of more than 72 hours, automatically causes a potential hiccup for most guys. I can live with that now and going forward. It’s a small price to pay for a few extra days of All-Star breakage.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe days off didn’t help for the short term. But this is also the equivalent to the month of August in baseball, when teams are searching for inspiration with the playoffs still many weeks away. The extended break was a new idea, and in future the teams and their players may develop better ideas on how to handle it; but overall this is not a big deal.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogAsk Schuhmann. By that I mean, I haven’t seen the stats, and anyway, if you dropped the stats into my lap I wouldn’t even know what to do with them. Maybe a long break contributed in some way, but I don’t think everyone forgot how to shoot or lost their shape in a couple of weeks. But I do know that historically, this is the time of the season when a bit of ennui creeps in and teams start to look forward just a bit. With the playoffs just around the bend, to me it’s understandable if eyes drift a bit toward what lies ahead.

Blogtable: Statue-Worthy Players

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: MVP Race | Post-All-Star Sloppy Play | Statue-Worthy Players



VIDEO:  Bill Russell statue unveiled in Boston (2013)

> The Hawks this week will erect a statue of Dominique Wilkins outside Philips Arena. In your opinion, who’s next in line to be immortalized in bronze?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d prefer to discuss what the next lofty tribute will be, now that statue-izing has trumped jersey number-retiring and perhaps even Hall of Fame immortalizing. How shall the really, really, really, super-special stars be honored to separate them from the proliferation of bronze figurines standing around outside sports arenas? Naming rights to the buildings themselves? Perpetual blimps that hover over the hero’s city on game days or, heck, why not 24/7/365? How ’bout team nicknames: the Boston Russells, the Chicago Jordans and so on? Maybe we need something on a grander scale, sized like the Collosus of Rhodes or the Statue of Liberty, only it’s Shaquille O’Neal standing astride the I-10 near downtown L.A. As you can tell, I don’t really care who gets the next statue, and no offense to ‘Nique, but we’re rapidly approaching the day when even Paul Mokeski and Chris Gatling get them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe most obvious answer is Isiah Thomas, leader of the two-time champion Detroit Bad Boys and the best “little man” to ever play the game. But I’m also taking a stand for the pre-MTV generation and saying it’s long overdue for the Wizards to honor Wes Unseld. Go ahead, kids.  Look up those old videos of the 6-foot-7 Unseld using his brute strength and gritty determination to set teeth-rattling picks, rebound and throw some of the best outlet passes to start a fast break ever.  The Hall of Famer played 984 games, all with Baltimore/Washington franchise, leading the team to four Finals and the 1978 title, when he was named MVP of The Finals.  For 13 seasons, Unseld helped put the Bullets on a pedestal in the NBA and it’s time the franchise returned the favor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Jerry Buss. The statue debate has become particularly passionate in Los Angeles anyway, a new level of status symbol beyond having a uniform number retired, and Buss clearly deserves that ultimate tribute. He was more than an owner. He steered his franchise to the unique glamour personality that lives on today while maintaining a championship level on the court from generation to generation. Buss was such a shrewd businessman and innovator that he became one of the few owners to make the Hall of Fame. It’s not just the Lakers who wouldn’t have been the same without him. Basketball in Los Angeles wouldn’t have been the same. The NBA wouldn’t have been the same. Bronze that man.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Kinda surprised David Robinson and maybe also George Gervin aren’t bronzed already in San Antonio, given what they’ve meant to basketball and the community. I’d vote them, plus Allen Iverson in Philly and Isiah Thomas in Detroit. But we might have to wait until Staples Center makes room in the crowded courtyard for Kobe in 5 years or so.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Tim Duncan, the anchor of five championship teams and at least 16 50-win seasons, is going to be the most deserving once he retires. For now, I’d say it’s either Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. And since Barkley’s best was split between Philadelphia and Phoenix, a Ewing statue in the Madison Square Garden lobby would be most appropriate.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com​Having grown up in Bad Boys country during the 80s and 90s, I’m going with Isiah Thomas. Getting bronzed in Detroit (Auburn Hills for you sticklers) would be a huge step in a reparations program that should be underway for Isisah getting screwed out of his spot on The Dream Team. It’s tough to make up for one of the most egregious slights in the history of organized sports, but it would be a great gesture. Isiah delivered titles to Detroit during the most competitive era the NBA has ever seen. He went up against the giants from two decades and put the Pistons, Detroit and the entire state of Michigan on the basketball map (how’s that for 80s/90s slang?) and deserves to be recognized for doing so.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI’m not big on this idea that great athletes are automatically deserving of statues. Aren’t there more important contributors to be idolized? But if Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia are building them for their champions from the 1980s, then surely Detroit ought to be designing one for Isiah Thomas.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI am of a younger generation than some of my fellow scribes, so my thoughts will probably swing a bit more current than some others here. I’d like to see a Shaq statue in Los Angeles, and a Kobe one not long after that. Dirk has to get one in Dallas when he walks away, right? But those said, how about the Sixers erecting a statue of Allen Iverson? They’re doing their best to lose games and not be good right now, why not throw their fans a bone and build a monument to The Answer right there outside the stadium, or even downtown somewhere?

Blogtable: Bulls Future Without Derrick Rose

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Cavs And The Trade Deadline | Kevin Garnett’s ReturnBulls Without Derrick Rose



VIDEO: Derrick Rose injury

> Tough blow for the Bulls, with Derrick Rose sidelined again and possibly out for the season. What’s Chicago’s next move? And what does the long term future look like now?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comBetter call Nate. Nate Robinson might be the best the Bulls can do, if they can plug him into the role he filled as Rose’s surrogate in 2012-13. Otherwise, this news is a gut punch to the team and to Chicago fans, and clearly even worse to Rose. If, somehow, some way, this meniscus tear were cleaned out rather than stitched up, the medical experts say Rose could get back in time for the playoffs. That might keep a glimmer of hope alive, though it’s not the way he and his “camp” have done things with the previous two injuries. They favor longer vs. shorter rehabs, and they’re probably thinking about Dwyane Wade’s meniscus-deprived knee issues. Just so they and everyone else knows, going the long route likely will slam shut this roster’s championship window. And frankly, the city is ready to move on from Rose and this Groundhog Day marathon screening.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comCircle the wagons, batten down the hatches, bar the door.  Get down, get gritty, sink your teeth in on defense, roll with Aaron Brooks and don’t feel sorry for yourselves.  In other words, just another ordinary day with Tom Thibodeau.  In the short term, the Bulls will still be a tough out for any playoff opponent, but obviously slip down in the pecking order for the Eastern Conference title.  In the long run, when you lose your franchise player for the third time in four years, it’s probably time to look at a re-boot at the point.  The pressure will be ramped up even more to keep free agent Jimmy Butler next summer.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: There is no next move. At least not this season, because losing Rose is a huge blow and losing him now, immediately after the trade window closed, adds to the hurt. The only thing the Bulls can do is play through it. The good news is, they have before, just not at a championship level. Depending on the matchup(s) and the health of other teams, I could still see Chicago winning a playoff series or two. That’s a tough group with an excellent coach. As for the long term, this is the moment for me that says once and for all the Bulls cannot rely on Rose to get through 82 games and an entire postseason. Hopefully he proves me wrong. But the future has to include finding a starting point guard.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It won’t be easy for the Bulls to lift their morale off the floor, but that’s the first order of the day. Next, they must find a replacement ASAP and hope he can do for them what Nate Robinson did a few years ago and D.J. Augustin did last year. As for the long-term answer, nobody knows yet because Rose hasn’t gone through recovery. But let’s not try to kid anyone here: The Bulls can no longer resolve around Rose.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m guessing that the next move is signing Nate Robinson for the rest of the season and hoping Rose can make it back for the playoffs. They’ve already taken steps to be less dependent on Rose this season, and there hasn’t been much of a drop-off when he’s been off the floor. But the defense (which hasn’t been up to the Bulls’ standards in the first place) will suffer with a lot of minutes for Robinson or Aaron Brooks, and the offense with suffer from too much Kirk Hinrich, who’s had a rough year. Long-term, they just have to hope for the best, because they’re paying Rose more than $41 million over the next two years, a tough number to work around when you’re not willing to pay the luxury tax.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com​It’s a wicked blow for Rose as well as for the Bulls organization and a passionate fan base that believed Rose would lead them back to a championship level for the first time since the Jordan era. Next up is to get Nate Robinson on the line and give this unit some security and a spark. There isn’t much more you can do in the short-term because you don’t know exactly how Rose will respond from this latest bit of adversity. The long-term future changes dramatically now. The prospects of a Rose-led Bulls team hoisting a Larry O’Brien trophy one day is hard to imagine given the grueling road he’ll have to travel to ever come close to playing at a MVP level again.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe team that expected to own the Eastern Conference playoffs can now hope only to remain competitive with the Hawks, Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards. The Bulls will put up a good fight, will probably fall short of the NBA Finals, and then will go into a summer facing no good options: It’s either continue to build around a star who has been unreliable physically, or else trade their 26 year old league MVP for pennies on the dollar – knowing full well that Rose could suddenly enjoy a long run of good health for his new team. It is an awful predicament with no certainty whatsoever.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI saw reports last night that depending on the severity of the injury, there’s a chance Rose could return for the postseason. So I suppose first of all, the Bulls should wait exactly how long Rose is out. In the short term — meaning through the end of this season — I think Chicago does what they always do: The soldier on and they grind and they leave it all on the floor. And then they probably lose in the first or second round of the playoffs. Longer term, and it hurts to say this considering all Rose means to the city and the franchise, but at some point I wonder if they consider moving Rose, giving him a fresh start elsewhere and giving themselves a more reliable piece without the injury history.

Blogtable: Kevin Garnett’s Return To Minnesota

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Cavs And The Trade Deadline | Kevin Garnett’s ReturnBulls Without Derrick Rose



VIDEO: Kevin Garnett goes back to Timberwolves

> Kevin Garnett is back in Minnesota. Is this a feel-good move to brighten a dismal season, or is this a significant step toward making the Timberwolves a legitimate contender in the West for years to come?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Can I pick “C. Neither A nor B?” Actually, it might be a little of both A and B – it has been a miserable NBA season in Minny and Garnett, as a tone-setter and occasional blowtorch, can help to mold some of the Wolves’ young talent. But to me, this is about Garnett transitioning to his post-playing days, likely to buy a chunk of the Wolves’ franchise. And it’s about Flip Saunders solidifying his base, too, with his growing equity in the team. KG is one of Saunders’ “guys” and all signs point to them both presiding over what has been a country-club of an organization. Remains to be seen if they get the ultimate results on the floor, though.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comUnless a secret part of that deal to accompany K.G. back to Minnesota was Mr. Peabody and his Wayback Machine, this is nothing but pure nostalgia.  The significant step was trading for Andrew Wiggins.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Feel-good. A lot of this will depend on whether Garnett retires or not, and whether he stays in Minnesota if he continues, but there is little chance to make any real impact in what remains of 2014-15. Maybe he reaches the young Wolves a little about a snarling attitude. That can be helpful. He’s obviously not in the picture for when they plan to become a playoff regular, though. At the same time, I don’t think the deal is about brightening a dismal season. While it would be a nice full-circle conclusion to his career, if this is it for KG, grinding out 20-something games isn’t an antidote for fans. Besides, Minny has some bright moments to brighten the season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It’s totally a feel-good moment, nothing more. Garnett is too old to be a factor on the floor, and in terms of leadership, that tends to be over-rated, especially if the designated leader does a lot of barking but is unable to lead by example. I think the real impact of his arrival will be felt if he and Flip Saunders manage to buy controlling interest from Glen Taylor. And even then, the KG/Saunders group will need a deep-pockets guy, and that guy may want to call the shots, turning KG into nothing more than a frontman.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s a feel-good move for the most part, but that doesn’t mean that KG can’t help. His offense has fallen off quite a bit over the years, but he can still make an impact on defense, where the Wolves currently rank last, both with his presence and his leadership. Gorgui Dieng, in particular, could really blossom with a mentor like KG.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comEasy. Even when young KG was in his prime in a Timberwolves uniform they were not a legitimate contender in the West, save for the 2003-04 season. So let’s not overstate the significance of KG’s return at this stage of his career. It’s a symbolic move that could lead to good vibrations in Minnesota if Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and some of those other youngsters take to the leadership and mentorship that is clearly on the way. KG learned from one of the best in Sam Mitchell when he was going through the same stage of his career. If he does half the job for the young boys that Mitchell did on him, this is a win-win for all involved.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This is about turning Andrew Wiggins into a meaningful star who may benefit from a winning example in spite of his team’s losing record. If Garnett weren’t there, then who in Minneapolis would be showing Wiggins how to become a leader? The perception changes from pessimism to optimism that the Timberwolves are now headed in a constructive direction.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI tweeted the other day that I wish KG returning to Minnesota had some practical value, but instead it feels more like just a fun concept. Maybe he will provide a stern voice in the locker room, teach the bigs how to get away with things in the post, show the young guys how to take care of their bodies, and force the young players to make everyone wait 90 minutes after each game before coming out to talk to the media. But I don’t know if KG’s presence will ever pay dividends for this collection of players, as odds are by the time the young guys are old enough to make an impact, they’ll be somewhere other than Minnesota. But I bet they sell a lot of jerseys the next few years.

Blogtable: Did Any Team Do Better Than Cavs At Trade Deadline?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE:  Cavs And The Trade Deadline | Kevin Garnett’s Return | Bulls Without Derrick Rose



VIDEO: How teams are integrating new players after trade deadline

> You’ve had a week to absorb the flurry of trades made on deadline day. But did any team outdo the Cavs, who traded for Shumpert, Smith and Mozgov back in early January?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Cavs win. Arron Afflalo and Mo Williams were nice pickups by Portland and Charlotte, respectively. Goran Dragic sure got what he suddenly wanted, and that was a key addition for Miami, though not as big as Chris Bosh’s substraction. But Cleveland needed rim protection and a viable “big,” and got precisely that in Timofey Mozgov. It needed to move Dion Waiters for chemistry and sanity, and it did precisely that, too. Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith brought much-needed qualities, too, and are better players on a contender, under LeBron James’ watchful eye (that was mostly for J.R.).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: No.  It’s only fair to give a month or so to let trades settle in and I like what OKC did by strengthening its bench, though the continued nagging injuries and another minor surgery for Kevin Durant will slow the evaluation period.  Over the long run and assuming that Chris Bosh makes a full recovery, I like the addition of Goran Dragic in Miami.  Meanwhile the Cavs have gone from staggering around aimlessly to becoming the team to beat in East since making their deals early.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I thought the Heat and the Trail Blazers had particularly good days. Miami took an important step for the future by acquiring Goran Dragic, assuming, and probably safely assuming, it re-signs Dragic. They can look to him as the starting point guard for years to come. Portland got deeper without giving up a key asset. While Dragic/Heat was more about the long-term for a team that isn’t in the championship mix, Arron Afflalo/Trail Blazers is an immediate boost for a roster that should be looking at a postseason run.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I wouldn’t say the Thunder out-did the Cavs but in due time their haul might pull equal. We’ll see. Enes Kanter, D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler and Steve Novak were all necessary additions and three of them, or maybe all four, could figure somewhat prominently in OKC’s post-season. Two long-distance shooters, a backup point guard and an offensive-minded center can only help. The new Cavs have the benefit of time, since they arrived earlier, so we’ve already seen their impact. Here’s a suggestion: How about OKC and the Cavs meet up in the NBA Finals? They can settle the issue there.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. No team more directly addressed their needs than the Cavs, who improved a bottom-10 defense by adding Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert, and added some much needed depth on the wings (where they were counting on a rookie second round pick at times) with Shumpert and J.R. Smith. The addition-by-subtraction move of sending Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City can’t be ignored either. Oklahoma City reinforced its bench at the deadline, but that deal had a lot to do with Reggie Jackson’s unwillingness to be there, and the Thunder didn’t need a trade as much as they need a healthy Kevin Durant. The Heat addressed a real need at point guard, but Goran Dragic could opt out this summer and the Chris Bosh situation takes away the pick-and-pop big that would have made Dragic especially tough to defend.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I don’t know if they “outdid” them or not, but I love what the Thunder did in remaking their bench with the additions of D.J. Agustin, Enes Kanter, Steve Novak and Kyle Singler. They did jettison one of my favorite players in the league in Reggie Jackson, who clearly had to go somewhere to run his own team (and Detroit is a great landing spot for him). With rookie big man Mitch McGary stepping up and Kanter showing some early signs, the Thunder have a young big man rotation (that also includes my main man Blunt Force Trauma himself, Steven Adams) that should be the envy of the league. It might not take this season but a year from now, a healthy roster with these guys holding down the middle, looks formidable.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comWhat is interesting about the moves by Cleveland and Oklahoma City is that both teams are trying to win the championship right now. I’m guessing it will be easier for the Thunder to integrate Enes Kanter and the array of new shooters. But if Perkins and Shumpert are able to instantly improve the defensive focus and toughness, then the upside may be higher in Cleveland.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To be honest, I still don’t think I’ve processed everything that happened at the trade deadline, which felt like an elaborate set-up for the greatest all-time edition of “Who He Play For?” While I like what Houston managed to do, adding a backcourt defender (Prigioni) and an elite wing athlete (McDaniels), A lot of the other trades felt like they were targeting the future. So from that standpoint, I think Cleveland made out the best. I was bullish on the trade at the time, because they added three quality players to a team that already had a lot of quality players, who’ve had an immediate, tangible impact. And they may not have made a trade at the deadline, but picking up Kendrick Perkins just continues to elevate their overall talent level.

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Blogtable: Thankful for a break

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEO: Blake Griffin is expected to miss at least a few weeks as he recovers from surgery

> It’s an extended All-Star break this season, with most teams getting at least 7-8 days off between games. Which team needs this break the most?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIt’s easy to look at teams’ records over their past 10 games or so and point to the one(s) limping into the break at 3-7 or 2-8. But there’s no assurance stepping away from the court will fix anything. My answer is Sacramento – the Kings look like they’ll have a new, permanent coach in George Karl, clearing their air and bringing changes for what’s left of this regular season. 

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Rockets and Clippers in the Western Conference can use the break just to keep the clock ticking on the rehab times of Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin. But the Rockets have demonstrated all season that they’re still capable of riding James Harden to wins and DeAndre Jordan showed the good things that can happen when he stepped up Monday night. But the team that could benefit most is Miami. The time off will help Dwyane Wade’s hamstring recover and to make sure Hassan Whiteside’s ankle is 100 percent. The Heat will need them both healthy for the stretch drive if they’re going to hold onto a playoff spot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Clippers and Trail Blazers come to mind first. Not because they have hit a bad stretch, although that too, but because of the prominent injuries. Blake Griffin may be back soon and LaMarcus Aldridge gets a few days to rest his injury, too. Being able to heal without missing a game for a week or so is a help. That would be the case anyway, but especially in the cage match that is the Western Conference standings.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Clippers. They just finished up a tough Grammy road trip and when they return from the break, 11 of their next 14 games are against teams with winning records. Oh, and did I mention Blake Griffin needs perhaps three weeks to heal from elbow surgery? Done, then. Doc Rivers needs this time to help them regroup, find a system to use in Griffin’s absence, and also to study who might become available at or after the trade deadline to improve the bench.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comWith a lot of guys picking up injuries in the last couple of weeks, there are a lot of teams that could use the break to reduce the number of games those guys miss. And obviously, the most important of those guys is Blake Griffin, not only because he’s a great player, but because the Clippers’ bench is so awful. He’s still going to miss a lot of games after the break, but every little bit helps and seven days off is seven days closer to Griffin’s eventual return.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe rest that comes with this extended All-Star break will be enjoyed by all 30 teams. But no one needs the time to fine tune things more than the Oklahoma City Thunder. They need to take a deep breath before making their second half playoff charge. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook need a little practice time with Mitch McGary, the Thunder’s second-half X-factor, and they need to make sure they get everyone the needed time to recharge their batteries for what is going to be an absolutely wild ride to the finish.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThere must be a dozen title and/or playoff contenders who are going to benefit. But I’m going to focus on the Thunder, who are fighting with the Pelicans and Suns for the final playoff spot and can use these extra days to renew the health of Kevin Durant.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogUm, all of them? Honestly, I can’t think of a team that doesn’t need a break, except for maybe Atlanta and Golden State, who have been so hot they may not want to disrupt their rhythm. I guess one team that may appreciate a rest more than most is Oklahoma City, which faces an uphill task the rest of the way as they try to fight their way not only toward finally getting everyone healthy but also up and into the postseason. And unlike most teams on the outside looking in, the Thunder will the hunted not the hunters, so they’ll have to do this with a target on their backs. Rest up, Thunder. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Blogtable: Future title team in East

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEOBrandon Knight has proven vital to the Bucks’ revival this season

> If you had to pick which Eastern Conference team will be closer to an NBA title in three years, who would you pick: Bucks, Celtics, Sixers or Knicks?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Milwaukee. New York will buy stars, Boston has tradition, Philadelphia is rounding up high draft selections, but I’ve seen up close the changes in the Bucks culture with Jason Kidd and his staff on board. Kidd isn’t a great media guy but he apparently clicks with those in his locker room. The Bucks have several boxes already checked if they keep their guys (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker at forward, Brandon Knight in the backcourt), and more depth than the other three. This isn’t the old Milwaukee culture, either; new ownership has lit a fire under this franchise, with grandiose plans that center on a championship-contending team in a sparkling new arena, with retail and residential development and on and on. The Bucks are thinking of themselves as the little franchise that can.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThis is like asking which three-legged horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby in 2018. Of course, in thoroughbred racing so much is about bloodlines. So without counting in a lottery win by any of the teams this season, I’ll saddle up with a Sixers roster that in three years could include a healthy core of Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric and Michael Carter-Williams and have the potential of Secretariat. With a foundation of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the continued good work of coach Jason Kidd, the Bucks will have a California Chrome chance. In three years, Danny Ainge’s master plan for the Celtics that began with Brad Stevens as coach could have his team looking like Smarty Jones. And the Knicks, well, that’s why they have glue factories.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Bucks. I don’t know that I would have said that at the start of the season, but Milwaukee has proven that it has the best building blocks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker showed they are real building blocks, not potential in the distant future. They are both better — based on what we saw from Parker in the court, not on his game at this very moment — than any prospect on the other teams you mention. The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, but if the topic is three years from now, ‘Melo may be hanging on. Ask again in mid-July. If Joel Embiid looks good in summer league and the 76ers have a good draft and/or add a veteran contributor in trade or free agency, I could see Philly getting close to the front of the line.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Bucks, only because I can see more evidence of them turning the corner right now than the Sixers, Celtics and Knicks. The Bucks have at least 2 players with high ceilings, Giannis and Jabari Parker (assuming he returns OK) and a few others with decent ceilings (Khris Middleton, John Henson, Knight). They also own their picks and Jason Kidd seems like he’s made for coaching. Man, if Larry Sanders starts taking his maturity pills … 

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Bucks. They have two young stars – Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker – with high ceilings, more length and athleticism beyond those guys, and a defense that already ranks in the top five. I do like the potential of all the young guys the Sixers have already acquired (with one more top-seven pick on the way), and coach Brett Brown has proven that he can coach defense, too. But there are still more questions to be answered in Philly than there are in Milwaukee.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There is so much that could happen between now and the next three years. Milwaukee appears to be closer than the others to the playoffs, but there is no guarantee they will be anywhere close to sniffing a NBA title. Based on history alone and Danny Ainge’s penchant for rolling the dice on smoething big on the trade and free agent front, I’m going with the Celtics. You have to take risks when you’re talking about contending, and no one is more willing to do that than Ainge.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Based on what we know today? It will be the Bucks. They have a young emerging (and inexpensive) roster with at least two future stars and new owners who are promising to adorn their franchise with the best of everything. The big question is whether the owners will be wise enough to recognize what they have in GM John Hammond – or will they want to hire their “own guy?” (If it turns out to be the latter, then I’ll retroactively change my pick to the Celtics.)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Milwaukee. Only because the Celtics, Sixers and Knicks are all rebuilding with no clear direction to where they are going. At least the Bucks have their core of Giannis, Brandon Knight and, when he gets healthy, Jabari Parker. They have a coach who has shown he can communicate with these players, and new ownership committed to raising everyone’s circumstances. One of these other franchises may come across a pot of gold eventually, but right now they’re still searching for the ends of their rainbows.

Blogtable: Memories of Popovich …

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEO: The Spurs’ superstars reflect on what coach Gregg Popovich has meant to them

> He has 1,000 victories, multiple Coach of the Year awards, five NBA Championships … what’s the one thing (listed or otherwise) that stands out most in your mind about Gregg Popovich’s NBA coaching career?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’ll count down my top three Popovich thoughts. At No. 3, his maneuver to land Tim Duncan largely has been forgotten,but it was a tank job before people even called it tanking; David Robinson was hurt, so Popovich gassed then-coach Bob Hill and took over the coaching reins to make sure the Spurs had a legit lottery shot at their all-time franchise guy. Second, few coaches intimidated me as much when I first started covering him – I felt his early attack mode was driven at least partly by his own discomfort in those media exchanges – but now that we know each other, I look forward to the conversations (not mere interviews) we can have. And my No. 1 thing is Popovich’s resiliency. He went from defensive grinder to offensive innovator in mid-career to adjust to his roster, and he somehow turned the ultimate defeat in 2013 into the inspiration for yet another title with a group whose window allegedly had slammed shut.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: His unwavering dedication to doing whatever is in the long-term best interest of his players. It has cultivated an atmosphere of belief, loyalty, respect and those five championships.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comNone of the above. Nothing speaks to his greatness more than the accomplishments you listed, but I have ways been struck by the emotional more than the tangible. Pop’s ability to know which players need more maturing and which can handle his fury (Tony Parker) is a quality that brings out the best. He has developed younger players, plugged in veterans, completely changed his team’s style of play and hired great assistants because Gregg Popovich knows people as well as he knows an X or an O.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, it’s hard to ignore his championships or longevity, both of which will be written on his coaching tombstone once he retires. But the other thing that strikes me most is his ability to avoid the relationship issues that hurts so many coaches, even the successful ones. With few exceptions, maybe Stephen Jackson in his second stint with the Spurs, I can’t think of any player who ran afoul of Popovich. That’s hard to pull off for a guy who isn’t afraid to, um, express himself.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Popovich often tells his players, “Get over yourself” and he clearly listens to his own advice, because, though he’s won multiple championships, he’s always been open-minded and willing to adjust as the game and his team have evolved. As Tim Duncan got older Tony Parker got better, the Spurs went from relying more on post-ups to relying more on pick-and-rolls. They picked up things from offenses from Europe and from Mike D’Antoni to eventually evolve into the machine we saw in last year’s Finals. And in the summer of 2012, they took a step back and used analytics to figure out how to get back to being a top-five defensive team, which was the biggest reason they got back to The Finals and, on their second try, won a fifth championship. Popovich is an old-school coach in many ways, but he’s smart enough to know that he’ll never stop learning.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The thing that stands out most in my mind about Pop is that he has always found a way to get the best out of guys who someone else either never believed in or gave up on. Boris Diaw is one of the best examples. I watched Boris struggle with his first steps in the league when the Hawks could not figure out what to do with him (was he a point guard or not?). The Spurs have gotten the very best out of Boris, thanks to Pop’s no-nonsense/tough-love approach. He’s a master at the most important part of the coaching game, getting you to operate at your absolute best, no matter what.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He established the standards of teamwork while bridging the NBA toward its ultimate future as an international league. The day will come – many years from now, but it’s definitely on the way – when Americans will account for less than half of the league’s players. Popovich showed that NBA teams could win not in spite of the international players, but because of them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: That he’s had exactly two head coaching jobs in his life. One at a Division III college, and then the one in the NBA where he’s won five titles and three Coach of the Year awards over two decades. Without naming names, there are coaches who bounce around and get opportunity after opportunity, and sure, sometimes it works and they finally find the right fit. But watching Pop’s success, and that of a guy like his longtime assistant Mike Budenholzer crushing it in his first head coaching gig, it makes me think that maybe there are times when it’s worth it to give the new guy a chance.

Blogtable: The Suns should root for …?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Cavs’ resurgence | Phoenix should root for …? | Atlanta’s final destination?



VIDEOA challenging stretch of games lie ahead for the Thunder

> The Thunder and Pelicans play a home-and-home set this week (Wednesday and Friday). If you’re the Phoenix Suns, who you rooting for here?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: You always root for the team that’s closer to you in the standings, so you root for OKC now and, if the Thunder start to make a real move, for New Orleans later. Overall, though, I think OKC poses the greater threat to Phoenix by virtue of its two stars (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) vs. one (Anthony Davis) but even more so because of the pressure on and expectations for the Thunder. Desperation is great motivation, and OKC should be desperate to salvage its season lest someone slam its championship window shut.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Definitely the Pelicans. The last thing you want to see if you’re the Suns is for the Thunder to get on a roll. With Durant and Westbrook, OKC has greater firepower and greater potential. We keep thinking that sooner or later the Thunder will rip off a long winning streak. The Suns need to have more weeks on the calendar pass before that happens and hope that OKC just runs out of time. On the other hand, the Pelicans have more weaknesses and inconsistency to their game to believe they can run the table for a long stretch.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comOKC to win one of the games in 12 overtimes followed by a dreadful travel delay for both, then New Orleans to win the other in 14 overtimes followed by travel hassles that are even worse. With fire alarms going off all through the night in the hotels of both road teams. That’s my rooting interest if I’m the Suns. It’s too early to scoreboard watch beyond hoping the competition is as worn out as possible for the second half of the season. I think Thunder when it’s OKC-Phoenix, I think Pelicans when it’s NOLA-Phoenix.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe Pelicans must’ve started eating whatever the Hawks were having because suddenly they’re pulling a surprise, beating the Raptors, Mavericks, Clippers and the 19-game-winning Hawks in the last two weeks. That said … if I’m the Suns, I’d take my chances of being chased by Anthony Davis than Russell and Durant. OKC is the more desperate team, in terms of making the playoffs. New Orleans would just be happy to be there.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Pelicans. They have a two-game edge in the standings and they’ve been playing a lot better than the Thunder, with seven wins in their last eight games against other teams in the West’s top 10, along with an impressive victory over the Hawks on Monday. But the Thunder are playing solid defense and just can’t seem to put the ball in the basket. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, I think they can figure out how to do that in the next two months. They’ve also won 12 of their last 14 games at home and have the West’s most home-heavy remaining schedule (20 home, 14 away). So, as Tony Montana would say, “C’mon Pelicans!”

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Pelicans. The Suns have enough drama in their lives just trying to hold on to that playoff spot that they couldn’t snag last year. They don’t need Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and the Thunder making things even more difficult. The Pelicans, playing better of late with Tyreke Evans finding his groove, don’t scare you the way the Thunder can when they get rolling. The Suns need to handle their own business, of course. But the Pelicans don’t make you nervous in the same way the Thunder can when they are playing desperation ball down the stretch of the season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: You are rooting for New Orleans – but in vain, I fear. With more than two months still to play, OKC has plenty of time to get hot and become the most dangerous No. 8 seed in memory. That’s the most likely outcome, so long as the Thunder are healthy, and regardless of their home-and-home vs. Anthony Davis.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogA split? Can both teams lose? The Suns are in a tough spot, with two good teams breathing down their necks with the postseason not all that far away. As great as the Pelicans looked in dismantling the Hawks earlier this week, they’ve struggled to play with that kind of purpose consistently, which to me is mostly a reflection of their youth and inexperience. OKC may be hovering at .500, but they seem oddly calm considering the circumstances, and not really close to hitting the panic button. So if I’m the Suns? I root for the Pelicans to get these two games on the Thunder, then hope that the Pelicans fly closer to earth down the stretch.