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Generous to a fault? Paul, Wall challenging trend of assists vs. rings


VIDEO: John Wall recorded 21 points and 17 assists vs. the Wolves

John Wall has been making a case through the season’s first seven weeks to be considered the NBA’s best point guard, a title that he’d be wresting away from veteran Clippers playmaker Chris Paul. But Wall might want to heed that old saying about being careful what he wishes for, because that title might get in the way of an even greater goal the Washington Wizards’ guard has for him and his team.

Within the feature on Paul by Michael Lee, the Washington Post’s NBA writer, was some cause for pause, as far as how the league’s elite point guards have fared in their quest for championships. There’s a trend at work that doesn’t just seem at odds with Paul but with any of the players typically thought of as the game’s greatest playmakers:

Since Magic Johnson won back-to-back championships in 1987-88 and finished first and second, respectively, in assists, no player has ranked in the top five in helpers and won a title. Johnson is also the last point guard from a championship team to average at least 10 assists per game in the regular season.

[Isiah] Thomas and Jason Kidd are the only championship point guards in the past 25 years to average at least eight assists. In that time, John Stockton, Gary Payton, and Kidd held the subjective crown as the league’s best floor general, led their respective teams to the NBA Finals and failed to win it all. [Steve] Nash reached the conference finals three times but never made it to the ultimate stage. Aside from Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo, most of the championship point guards have been the non-intrusive, move-the-ball-and-get-out-of-the-way variety, such as Avery Johnson, Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher and Mario Chalmers.

Paul’s postseason record seems to support the, what should we call it, trend? Theory? Pattern? As Lee notes:

In his first nine seasons, Paul has never reached the conference finals, let alone the NBA Finals. It doesn’t matter that only Michael Jordan, George Mikan, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon have a higher career postseason player efficiency rating, Paul’s 22-31 postseason record diminishes his greatness in the eyes of those who value rings over everything else.

“That’s just the world we live in,” Paul said with a shrug. “It comes with it, but what can you do? Keep playing. I don’t know what else to say. We’re playing. I know I’m going to compete, day in and day out. Trying to get one.”

Heading into Wednesday night’s action, the assists leaders among point guards were Wall (10.6 apg), Rondo (10.6), Ty Lawson (10.3) and Paul (9.7) – all above that demonstrated cutoff of eight per game. Meanwhile, guys such as Kyle Lowry (7.6), Stephen Curry (7.6), Jeff Teague (7.0), Mike Conley (6.2), Damian Lillard (6.1), Tony Parker (5.3) and Kyrie Irving (5.2) are safely below it, and Russell Westbrook (6.8) and Derrick Rose (6.7) would be too if they qualified for the leaders board.

Should Wall and Paul stop passing the ball so much, in an effort to avoid the distinction? That doesn’t seem to make sense. But it is an unexpected quirk that might say a few things about defending against attacks run by elite point guards and the value of guys who seek out their own shot. That other old saying, the one about cutting off the head of a snake, might come into play.

Buss siblings open up about Bryant, Lakers’ mistakes, team’s future

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Would the Lakers consider trading Kobe Bryant if the season continues to be a struggle? (NBAE via Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Lakers headed into the weekend with an unfamiliar and uncomfortable 6-16 record. Their three-game trip to San Antonio, Minnesota and Indiana was bound to be memorable, with Kobe Bryant closing in on Michael Jordan‘s NBA points total. But it also figured to be more of the same as far as struggles – the Lakers were dragging on the road with them the league’s worst defense (114.6 defensive rating) and a mediocre offense (106.5 offensive rating) too dependent on Bryant. And for all his skills and achievements for the storied franchise, and his profanity-laced blistering of teammates in practice as presumed motivation the other day, coach Byron Scott‘s crew has played better with Bryant off the floor than on it (a minus-18.8 swing per 100 possessions).

It was against that backdrop that Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss, two of late Lakers owner Jerry Buss‘ six children and the two most heavily involved in running the team, sat for a joint interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com. In their answers to Ramona Shelburne, the Buss siblings gave a thorough state-of-the-Lakers snapshot. Here are a few excerpts:

There’s been a lot of talk that this season is going so badly that you should trade Kobe. Set him free, so to speak. Is there any chance that happens?
Jim:
No. I love Kobe Bryant. I think L.A. loves Kobe Bryant. I don’t envision him going anywhere. I don’t see it.
Jeanie: I don’t want to see Kobe Bryant leave. But we understand the realities of the sports world. Take Shaq, for example. He was traded and played for several other teams. But once he retired, he asked us to retire his jersey. He wanted to be remembered as a Laker. So while I get attached, I know what the realities are in this business. It’s never going to change what we’ve accomplished together. But I don’t look forward to the day that Kobe Bryant’s not in purple and gold.

Your 2015 first-round pick is owed to Phoenix as part of the Steve Nash trade unless it’s in the top five. There is already talk that you should tank to try to keep that pick. How do you respond to that?
Jim:
It will never happen here, period. The question is insulting. Our fans understand there’s a process. They believe in the process — the coach, Kobe, the draft pick [Julius Randle] and the flexibility we have going forward.
Jeanie: The teams that use tanking as a strategy are doing damage. If you’re in tanking mode, that means you’ve got young players who you’re teaching bad habits to. I think that’s unforgivable. If you’re tanking and you have young players or you keep a short roster, you’re playing guys out of their position or too many minutes, you’re risking injury. It’s irresponsible and I don’t think it belongs in any league.

Jim, in 2012 you made some decisions that were praised initially — trading for Steve Nash and acquiring Dwight Howard — but they didn’t work out and you were criticized. Is that what you mean as far as owning up to your decisions?
Jim:
Do I deserve all the glory if it works? No. Do I deserve all the blame if it doesn’t work? No. But I’m accountable for it.
Jeanie: With the Steve Nash situation, I think we did everything in good faith. We sacrificed to get him by giving up draft picks. We made sure he was one of the top-15-paid players at his position, and we hired a coach that specifically suited his style of play. So from our point of view, we did everything right. You go in with good intentions, and it didn’t work out.

Jeanie, you have been on record as saying that the Lakers let Dwight Howard down. What did you mean by that?
Jeanie:
It came down to hiring a coach. [The Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni in November 2012.] When you have a big man and a guard, you have to decide whom you’re going to build your team around. The choice was to build it around Steve Nash and what suited Steve Nash instead of what suited Dwight Howard.

It sounds as if Jeanie has a difference of opinion on who should have been hired as coach.
Jim:
I’ve been on record as saying [hiring D’Antoni] was my dad’s decision. I know that makes Jeanie uncomfortable, but I’d sit down with him for hours going over Laker decisions. In my opinion, he was sharp.
Jeanie: [Interrupts] Dad was in the hospital. I would always run things by Dad, too. But he was in the hospital, not feeling well, and that is why he counted on us to make the decisions. So I agree that he would have input, but he needed my suggestion or Jimmy’s suggestion or [GM Mitch Kupchak’s] suggestion because he was confined and did not have access to all the information that we did.

Jim, you were quoted in the L.A. Times last year as saying that if you can’t turn the Lakers around in three years, you’d step down. Why did you say that?
Jim:
That’s been the plan all the way through. If I don’t get to that point, then I’ve derailed it somewhere. I’ll stick to that, and I have no problem sticking to that because everything is on track for us to be back on top.

Jeanie, what did you think when you read that?
Jeanie:
There’s no reason to worry because he feels confident that he’ll be successful. So really, there’s no reason to announce a timeline. But I think that, just like any business, if you’re not meeting your expectations in an organization, you should expect a change.

‘Melo denies he’d waive no-trade

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The Knicks have lost 10 games in a row and Carmelo Anthony is doubtful for Friday’s game. (NBAE via Getty Images)

 

A friend of many folks here at the Hang Time HQ who cashed paychecks from the New York Post once shared a conversation he’d had with a high-ranking editor. “Don’t be afraid to be wrong – big!” the boss had told him. The message was clear: Better to snag a sensational story and headline to drive sales (and nowadays generate clicks) than to miss it by worrying about pesky details. Such as, oh, accuracy.

If one believes New York forward Carmelo Anthony, the inescapable conclusion is that the Post was wrong – big! – in its story that the Knicks’ scoring star was willing to waive his no-trade clause to get out from under this horrible season so far for Madison Square Garden’s NBA royalty.

Real truth, of course, might lie somewhere in between. For instance, Anthony, his agent Leon Rose or someone close to them might have floated the angle to the Post just to see what it might trigger, inside or outside the Knicks organization. In that case, the first story wouldn’t necessarily be wrong; it just would have gotten spun since being published.

But for the record, as far as the Post’s competitors were concerned in that occasionally vicious media market, Anthony said he was pursuing no such escape hatch when he spoke at the team’s shootaround Friday morning in Boston. He had a shot at freedom and serious NBA play as a free agent this summer, but turned down Chicago, Houston and Dallas, among others, because New York could pay him more (five years, $124 million). Besides, it’s improbable that any of the contenders would rip up their rosters to send back players to match Anthony’s full-retail price tag.

Here are details from Newsday, the team owned by Cablevision, the same company that owns the Knicks:

“I don’t really know what to say to that,” Anthony said during the morning shoot around as the Knicks prepared for Friday night’s game against the Celtics in Boston. “I guess it’s just what happens when you hit the wall of adversity and everything is a snowball effect. I guess it comes with the territory. Whether it’s fair or not, it comes with the territory. You know the cure to all of this is winning, and that’s what we have to do, win some basketball games. I’ve been here before, I’ve lost some games and had all types of things written about me, written about the team. It’s going to happen.”

“Come on, man. After all the work I did to get here and get back here, if I was to get up and want to leave now, that would just make me weak, make me have a weak mind. I’ve never been the person to try run from any adversity or anything like that. So I’m not going to pick today to do that.”

The Knicks have lost 10 games in a row and Anthony is doubtful for Friday night’s game against the Celtics with a sore left knee. J.R. Smith, who has a sore heel, is doubtful as well.

Under NBA rules, players that signed this offseason can be traded starting on Monday. It’s highly unlikely Anthony will be one of them.

LeBron (sore knee) a game-time decision for Thursday’s clash

OKLAHOMA CITY — The early season showdown between would-be East and West superpowers could be on hold.

That’s because general soreness in his right knee has made LeBron James a game-time decision for the Cavaliers tonight against the Thunder (8 p.m. ET on TNT).

James, who did not miss any of the Cavs’ first 20 games this season, was not available to the media following the Thursday morning shootaround because he was getting treatment on the knee.

“It’s another opportunity for somebody to step up, losing LeBron,” said forward Kevin Love. “This will be a great opportunity to see ourselves against one of the best Western Conference teams, despite their record. But it’s just another opportunity, as I mentioned, for other guys to step up, if he’s out. If not, we’ll go at full strength.”

“Obviously, there will be a big piece missing if he doesn’t play,” said guard Kyrie Irving. “But right now he’s in our lineup and he can go get it tonight.

“It will be a good matchup for all of us. But if he can’t, then we’ll have to adjust and take it upon ourselves. Our bench has to play big. Everybody, including myself, has to go out and play bigger to fill that void if he can’t play. We got to make it up.”

Nets’ Williams, Hollins unfazed by speculation of shake-up trades

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Brook Lopez (left), Deron Williams (center) and Joe Johnson are all signed to max deals. (NBAE via Getty Images)

 

CHICAGO – Deron Williams didn’t seem too rattled by trade speculation and neither did his coach on the Brooklyn Nets, Lionel Hollins.

Williams, along with teammates Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, reportedly is available for the right offer as the Nets contemplate a shift in direction. It’s an uncomfortable position, as is the team’s 8-11 record, but Williams didn’t sound eager to flee, either.

“I’m not worried about it,” Williams told reporters after Brooklyn’s shootaround Wednesday at the Moody Bible Institute. “I’m a Net until they tell me otherwise.

“It’s a business. … I don’t see any problem. Brook has dealt with it, so I don’t see any problem for him., and I don’t think Joe is worried about it.”

Hollins shrugged off the media reports, too. He already was facing the prospect of playing the Chicago Bulls without Lopez (sore back) and Johnson (flu symptoms), who did not make the trip, and wasn’t going to worry about not having Williams until he didn’t.

“As long as you live in one neighborhood, you don’t live in the other neighborhood,” Hollins said. “All the NBA is, go play. There’s always a lot of yikkety-yak.”

Hollins didn’t think the speculation would be a distraction to the Nets any more than such chatter bothered him when he was a player.

“If I’m on your team, I’ll play for you,” he said of his approach. “If you trade me, I’ll go play for them. When all 30 teams don’t want you anymore, that’s when you’ve got a problem.”

Nets reportedly considering big trades

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Veterans Brook Lopez (left), Deron Williams (center) and Joe Johnson are all inked to maximum contracts. (NBAE via Getty Images)

 

Off to an 8-11 start with a roster clogged with high-salaried players, the Nets have put Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson on the trade block, ESPN.com reported Tuesday.

Additionally, according to the story, talks have re-started on a deal that would send Andrei Kirilenko to the 76ers in a salary dump for Brooklyn and the chance for Philadelphia to add a draft pick before likely waiving the veteran forward.

From ESPN.com report by Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk:

The exploratory discussions with various teams are the strongest indication yet that the Nets are looking to shake up their roster after a tumultuous 2013-14 campaign in which they started 10-21 under rookie coach Jason Kidd. They rallied to reach the playoffs and beat the Toronto Raptors in a first-round series despite another season of ups and downs for Williams and the injury-plagued Lopez alongside Kevin Garnett and the since-departed Paul Pierce.

Yet sources insist that the Nets haven’t abandoned their recent “win-now mentality” and aren’t merely looking to dump salary. Brooklyn’s hope, sources said, is to construct a deal or two that bring back sufficient talent that enables the Nets to remain a playoff team.

The Nets have built their team around Williams, 30, and Lopez, 26, dating to the February 2011 trade to acquire the former from the Utah Jazz. Both have since signed maximum contracts alongside another max player in Johnson, whom Brooklyn acquired in the summer of 2012 to help fend off the Dallas Mavericks and re-sign Williams when he was a free agent.

Lopez would probably have the most trade value as the Nets gauge interest, a scoring center with the easiest salary to handle among the three, except that he continues to be bothered by injury problems, most recently with a back strain.

Brooklyn has been blown out its last two games, both at home. The latest was the 110-88 loss to the Cavaliers on Monday.

 

Wilt’s USPS stamps get XXL unveiling

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Big man, big numbers, big legend, big stamps.

It’s only fitting that the two Forever USPS postage stamps commemorating basketball Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain may barely fit on some envelopes. Chamberlain himself barely fit on the NBA scene and in a life that ended too soon at age 63 in 1999.

The man posted stats in his career from 1959 to 1973 with the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers that were downright Babe Ruth-ian. He seared his exploits into America’s collective sports memory: scoring 100 points in a game, amassing 31,419 points, averaging 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds while snagging 14 All-Star appearances. And with his outsized personality, Chamberlain entertained fans who generally either loved or hated the big man, depending on their team allegiance.

Now he’ll make a little more NBA history, as the league’s first player to appear on a USPS stamp. After a six-year campaign begun by longtime Philadelphia Tribune sportswriter Donald Hunt, Chamberlain will be honored on Friday with two events in his hometown on the official release date of the XXL stamps.

A luncheon featuring NBA executives, former players and community and corporate leaders will be held starting at 11:30 a.m. ET at the First District Plaza in Philadelphia. Among those scheduled to speak: Mike Bantom, a Philly native, ex-player and current executive VP of referee operations for the league; former Philadelphia players Ollie Johnson and Wali Jones; Monte Johnson, a teammate of Chamberlain’s at Kansas, and Sixers’ statistical maven Harvey Pollack, a keeper of the Chamberlain flame and the man who recorded all 100 points on that night in March 1962.

At halftime of the Oklahoma City-Philadelphia game, the stamps’ official first-day dedication ceremony will be held at the Wells Fargo Center. The stamps will go on sale in the arena when the doors open at 6 p.m.

Chamberlain’s sisters Barbara Lewis and Selina Gross are scheduled to appear at the halftime ceremony, along with Jones, Pollack, Sixers adviser and Wilt confidante Sonny Hill and Hall of Famer Julius Erving. Highlights of the big man’s career will be featured on the video boards throughout the game.

The stamps are proportioned appropriately for Chamberlain – over two inches tall, dwarfing most USPS first-class stamps. Artist Kadir Nelson of San Diego and art director Antonio Alcala of Alexandria, Va., created and designed the stamps.

To learn more about the stamp project and Chamberlain, go here and here. And for more background on Nelson, check out this.

Cunningham, Pelicans reach out to each other in time of need

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Dante Cunningham spent the past two seasons coming off the bench for the Timberwolves. (NBAE via Getty Images)

The Pelicans are struggling to keep their chins above the .500 mark water line in the rugged Western Conference playoff race.

Dante Cunningham was battling to keep his professional career afloat after a charge of domestic assault was filed against him last April.

So perhaps it is fitting that the pair has drifted together in search of mutual benefit.

The 27-year-old forward is expected to join the Pelicans for tonight’s game at Golden State (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

“It’s such a relief,” Cunningham told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I just knew that with the time and the situation that was going on, I kind of had to wait it out and get the right opportunity.”

Cunningham was charged in April with felony domestic assault after his girlfriend at the time accused him of choking her and slamming her head against a wall. She also accused him of sending her threatening messages. The charge was dropped in August after an investigation uncovered inconsistencies in her story.

He was a free agent after his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves expired at the end of the 2013-14 season. But even after Hennepin County authorities dropped the charge, many teams were reluctant to consider signing him after the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal rocked the NFL. Cunningham said he had preliminary talks with a few teams but didn’t get any firm interest while the charge was being investigated.

The Pelicans were one of a number of teams to look at Cunningham, and last week they scheduled a workout. As talks progressed, team officials reached out to the NBA to try to determine whether Cunningham would face any kind of discipline for even being accused of domestic violence.

“We have commenced an independent review of the matter and the charges that were subsequently dropped against Mr. Cunningham, but at this point we have no basis to conclude that he engaged in conduct that warrants discipline from the NBA,” league spokesman Mike Bass said.

The Pelicans are desperate for some offensive help with guard Eric Gordon sidelined by a torn labrum. They had moved Tyreke Evans from small forward to the backcourt and used Darius Miller in the frontcourt. But that didn’t work and Miller was waived.

Cunningham, who spent the past two seasons coming off the bench for the Timberwolves, not only has to get back his game legs, but will also have to survive the increased scrutiny that has surrounded the topic of domestic abuse.

You can’t blame many teams that might have had an interest in him from backing away on Cunningham because of the intense focus on his situation specifically and how much the public’s view of domestic abuse in general has changed just in the past year with so many high profile cases.

Yet the sports world is filled with opportunities, from Michael Vick and Ray Lewis in the NFL to Latrell Sprewell and Metta World Peace in the NBA as players who were given a second chance and eventually made it a good move for their respective teams.

Out of desperate times can come hope and that’s where the Pelicans and Cunningham now are together.

Losing streak now deep-sixed, Philly starts anew


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams leads the Sixers to a 85-77 win over the Wolves

The Sixers are now just eight games out of the final playoff spot with four months of play left in the Eastern Conference. So, there’s still time.

Hey, don’t laugh. This is a rare moment of optimism, when the moons are aligned correctly and the basketball Gods are smiling and merciful and the Timberwolves were strategically placed on the schedule in the nick of time. So why not show the Sixers a little love, now that they’re streaking in the right direction?

The gorilla on their back is now a little chimp after an 85-77 victory Wednesday in Minnesota finally gave the Sixers the right to celebrate, although interestingly enough, they didn’t exactly pass around the bubbly after the buzzer. Being 1-17 isn’t a reason to suddenly go giddy, even if the Sixers dodged what surely would’ve been a date with infamy for their next game against OKC and a chance to have the NBA record for consecutive losses to open the season all to themselves.

Anyway, it really isn’t about losing, per se, than it is about growing and maturing and getting better. That’s what the Sixers are all about this season. Sometimes that isn’t reflected in the win-loss column, nor does it really matter. Seriously: Is there a big difference between winning 22 games and 16 games? Not really. Either way, you’re not going to the playoffs and your fans are only casually locked into your fate.

Success for the Sixers will depend on the number of players they can call assets when April rolls in. When you’re rebuilding in such a drastic way, the season is all about finding bodies to keep and develop, or use in a trade. The big picture is what counts, the small stuff isn’t sweated.

On that note, where do the Sixers stand? Michael Carter-Williams, who nearly got a triple double against the Wolves, is accounted for. He may or may not be their point guard of the future, but he’s definitely an asset. The same might be said for K.J. McDaniels, who is dropping hints of potential and could be a second-round steal. Nerlens Noel has a hill to climb before he can be counted on with the ball in his hands, but while his offense is under construction, he can sharpen what he does best: block shots. And Tony Wroten is averaging almost 18 points a game because he finally learned how to stretch his shooting range beyond 10 feet.

So that’s a start. That’s what the Sixers should focus on, not the standings, because they literally can’t win that game. Will they be better in March than in December? Can they find a few diamonds in the rough — OK, maybe a few pieces of silver — and carry them over into next season?

Losing is hard on everyone. Brett Brown is a proud coach and his players are weary of being punch lines. So, yes, Wednesday night in Minneapolis was one to savor. The Sixers dodged a date with infamy for now. Maybe they’ll win again before Christmas.

More losing is coming, maybe even a longer losing streak. Such is life when the organization decided to use this season as a six-month draft combine. In the end, if the Sixers in two years are contenders, who will even care?

 

 

 

Timberwolves honor co-pilot of Lakers’ scary 1960 ‘miracle landing’

Harold Gifford, a co-pilot on the Minneapolis Lakers’ harrowing winter flight that narrowly avoided disaster nearly 55 years ago, was honored Wednesday night by the Minnesota Timberwolves during their home game against Philadelphia.

Gifford, 90, a retired World War II pilot and aviation professional who lives in Woodbury, Minn., wrote about what could have been a league-altering, NBA air disaster in his 2013 book, “The Miracle Landing” (Signalman Publishing).

When the Lakers’ DC-3 plane suffered mechanical breakdowns during a blizzard on Jan. 17, 1960, on a flight back to the Twin Cities – the electrical system shut down, its radio went dark and the instruments and windows in the cockpit began to freeze over – it was Gifford and fellow pilot Vern Ullman who found a cornfield in tiny Carroll, Iowa, that served as an emergency landing strip.

The Wolves were scheduled to honor Gifford and guests during the first half of Wednesday’s game at Target Center as part of their “Heroes of the Pack” program. The tribute caught the eye of Lakers part-owner and president Jeanie Buss, who has become friends with Gifford in recent years.

Buss took to Twitter Wednesday to note Gifford’s tribute in Minneapolis: