Another setback for Nets’ Lopez


VIDEO: Kings vs. Nets highlights

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Brook Lopez made it through three preseason games. Specifically, Lopez’s right foot made it through three preseason games.

The Brooklyn Nets announced Thursday night that Lopez suffered a “mild right midfoot sprain” in the first quarter of the Nets’ Global Games win over the Sacramento Kings in Beijing on Wednesday. Nets medical director Dr. Riley Williams III said that Lopez is “likely to be out for approximately 10-14 days,” which puts his status for the Nets’ first game (Oct. 29 in Boston) in doubt.

Lopez apparently played through the injury, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds and two blocks in 21:28 on Wednesday. He averaged 18.0 points and 5.7 boards in 23.4 minutes in three preseason games, shooting 13-for-17 in the restricted area.

But the numbers don’t mean anything if Lopez can’t stay healthy. That right foot has had three surgeries on it and has allowed the 7-footer to play just 96 games over the last three seasons. This injury was not a break; Lopez’s x-rays and CT scans were clear. And it’s possible that Brooklyn is being extra cautious given the time of year and Lopez’s history.

But this is clearly a setback for a player trying to reestablish himself as an All-Star and a team trying to stay in the top half of the Eastern Conference. The Nets have some depth up front, but Lopez is a player that few teams can match up with. And he continues to show a fragility that has, unfortunately, plagued many big men in this league.

Instant-replay tweaks, rules changes announced for 2014-15

An average NBA fan can go years, maybe even an entire hoops-viewing career, without witnessing an instance of one team playing with too many men on the court.

But that potential predicament got a lot of attention in the new instant-replay and rules modifications announced Thursday by the NBA. So woe to the team whose sixth man doesn’t wait for someone to sub out before subbing in.

Here is the rundown of changes and tweaks recommended by the NBA’s Competition Committee at its offseason meetings and approved by the Board of Governors. They’ll go into effect beginning with Friday’s preseason games:

Expansion of Instant Replay Rules

  • Officials may utilize instant replay whenever they are not reasonably certain a team had an improper number of players on the court while the ball was in play.

Modification of Instant Replay Rules

  • Instant replay triggers that are currently in effect only during the last two minutes of regulation and the entire overtime period(s) instead shall be in effect only during the last two minutes of regulation and the last two minutes of overtime period(s).
  • Officials may now conduct an instant replay review whenever they are not reasonably certain as to which team should be awarded possession after a ball becomes out of bounds or whether an out of bounds in fact occurred during the last two minutes of regulation and the last two minutes of overtime period(s).  Previously, officials could only use replay if they weren’t reasonably certain as to which of two players on opposing teams caused the ball to become out of bounds.
  • Officials are now permitted to utilize instant replay whenever they are not reasonably certain whether a foul that was called meets the criteria of a flagrant foul.  Previously, the foul had to be called a flagrant on the floor in order to utilize instant replay.
  • Officials are now permitted to utilize instant replay whenever they are not reasonably certain whether a foul that was called meets the criteria of a clear-path-to-the-basket foul.  Previously, the foul had to be called a clear-path foul on the floor in order to utilize instant replay.
  • Officials may now utilize instant replay any time they are not certain when any player (offensive or defensive) without the ball was fouled relative to the timing of a successful shot.  Prior to this change, officials could only review the timing when an offensive player without the ball was fouled.

Rules Changes

  • If a team has too many players on the court while the ball is in play, (i) the offending team would both be assessed a non-unsportsmanlike technical foul and lose possession if it had possession at the time the violation was discovered, and (ii) the non-offending team would continue to have the option of either accepting or nullifying the game action that occurred during the violation.  Previously, if the offending team had possession, it would keep possession of the ball despite the violation.
  • Teams may freely substitute players whenever any timeout is called.  Prior to this change, there were limited circumstances in which a team couldn’t substitute for certain players at timeouts.
  • The shot clock will no longer be reset to five seconds when a held ball is caused by the defense with fewer than five seconds remaining on the clock.

One notable change is that referees no longer will have to label a foul as a Flagrant 1 foul to trigger replay access, at which point they determine if the contact was a Flagrant 1, a Flagrant 2 or merely a common foul. The simple act of labeling the foul in advance, and then “reversing” that decision, often generated needless reactions from players, coaches and crowds.

It’s worth noting, too, that two other areas of potential replay use were not among the changes announced for the 2014-15 season. There still is no provision for a “challenge” system comparable to what the NFL and MLB have for coaches and managers. And out-of-bounds reviews still offer no remedy when an uncalled foul – contact that caused the ball to go out – is seen in the replay.

Five questions for OKC after Durant’s surgery


VIDEO: Coach Scott Brooks describes how the loss of Durant impacts the Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Durant had surgery on his fractured right foot on Thursday, the team announced. He will be evaluated in six weeks. By then, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be 16 games into a most unusual season.

Durant’s injury obviously will have wide-ranging effects, from whom coach Scott Brooks will start at small forward, which could determine who then starts at the vacant shooting guard spot, to which players with previously limited roles are in line for significantly more playing time.

Durant last season averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists and led the Thunder in 3-point shooting percentage. He won the MVP. So there’s plenty of making-up to do.

Here’s five questions the Thunder face with their regular-season opener 13 days away:

1. Who will replace Durant in the starting lineup?

Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are the two main candidates. Lamb, the 6-foot-5 wing, is also a candidate to start at shooting guard, although Brooks seems feel most comfortable with the second-year, defensive-minded shooting guard Andre Roberson. Roberson has started all three preseason games, and if he maintains the starting spot — which he manned last season when Russell Westbrook was out and Reggie Jackson took over point guard — that would allow Lamb to start at small forward. Jones is a 6-11 forward and a rare Thunder first-round pick who has yet to earn much beyond spot work in his first two seasons. His shooting range is improving and he’s athletic, but he’d have to prove he can guard NBA wings. The bigger issue with Jones here is he’s not much of an offensive threat, or at least we can’t claim that he is or could be because we just haven’t seen much of him. Without Durant and with Roberson at shooting guard, the Thunder will desperately need scoring threats around Westbrook. That would seem to give the edge to Lamb, an inconsistent shooter to be sure, but a player the Thunder hopes can become a valued slasher and 3-point shooter. His long, lanky frame can also be beneficial on the defensive end.

2. Since OKC needs scoring threats in the starting lineup, what does that mean at center?

Brooks is an extremely loyal coach and he loves to stick with his guys through thick and thin. That is obviously the case with center Kendrick Perkins. For everything you might think Kendrick can’t do — or no longer does well — Brooks will give you two things he loves about him. But Perkins’ starting days should be coming to an end. Even before Durant’s injury, Brooks claimed the starting position was up for grabs. Well, second-year center Steven Adams is grabbing it. He’s been excellent through three preseason games, averaging 18.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.7 minutes. Those are numbers Perkins couldn’t touch even during his heyday in Boston. Not that Stevens could sustain such lofty production, but he continues to show he has great hands to catch-and-finish, he’s developed a nice rapport with Westbrook and he’s not afraid of physical play. Perkins has been out since the start of training camp with a quad injury, which makes only more sense for him to come off the bench as he rounds back into shape. Get ready Thunder fans who’ve been clamoring for Perkins to sit, Adams is making it possible for you to get your wish.

3. How will this affect Russell Westbrook?

Twitter is full of smarty-pants suggesting that Durant’s absence is the point guard’s green light to jack up 40 shot a night. Maybe in his dreams, Westbrook sees himself running circles through defenses like stationary pylons, dunking at the rim, slapping his imaginary guns into his imaginary holster after splashing endless 3s and draining his trademark high-rising free-throw jumper at will as teammates stand and golf-clap his virtuosity. Back in reality, Westbrook just might surprise the masses who doubt he can be a team player. But that’s been the goal even before Durant’s injury. The Thunder, like most teams, want to move the ball, get more players involved, be more, well, Spurs-like. At the start of training camp, Westbrook addressed the topic and even said: “There should be something that you see new from us.” Maybe it was just talk, but Westbrook seems sincere when he talks about getting everybody involved. Maybe Tuesday’s preseason win against Memphis, the first game without Durant, was a preview. Westbrook played 26 minutes and scored 14 points with 12 assists. He took just 10 shots and OKC scored 117 points in a 10-point win. If this is the model for how Westbrook will approach the season, the Thunder could well be a better team when Durant returns.

4. What about Reggie Jackson? He says he badly wants to start. What does this do for that cause?

Not much. Brooks has already declared Westbrook as the best point guard in the NBA, so he’s probably not going to then move Westbrook to shooting guard to allow Jackson to start at the point. As for Jackson starting at shooting guard, it makes OKC small in the backcourt and Jackson’s playmaking and scoring punch is too valuable off the bench. But surely Jackson sees the bigger picture. He’s eligible for an extension at the end of the month, which might not happen (and it’s probably beneficial for his value not to sign an extension), and would make him a restricted free agent next summer. Even coming off the bench, Jackson is going to play starters minutes and finish games. Without Durant he instantly becomes a top scoring option, so he could set himself up for a big scoring season, which will only inflate his value next summer. If Jackson decides to mope about not starting over a less accomplished player such as Roberson or Jones, or even Lamb, the Thunder will have trouble. But Jackson has never shown to be that type of player.

5. Is there a wild card on the Thunder roster?

His name is Anthony Morrow. As Brooks mentioned at the start of training camp, the team actually has a player with a higher 3-point percentage than Durant. The Thunder could have used him last season, but better late than never. Morrow has never been able to stick with any one team during his career, but the Thunder offers a unique situation where he really can solely focus on shooting 3s (and mix in a little defense). With Durant out, defenses will focus on Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka, who has become one of the best mid-range, pick-and-pop shooters in the league, and if Morrow can knock down 3s at his career rate of 42.8 percent, he could certainly see more minutes than his career average of 23.7, at least until Durant returns. Through three preseason games, Morrow is averaging 16.7 points and is 8-for-14 from beyond the arc. He’s also managed to get to the free-throw line, making all 14 of his attempts. Morrow’s accuracy could be the single most effective weapon in replacing Durant’s scoring.

Kerr finally gets his chance with Curry


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew analyzes the transition of Steve Kerr

OAKLAND – They have joked about it for months now, Steve Kerr and Bob Myers, Kerr and Larry Riley, and Kerr and Stephen Curry, over the phone and in person, through the years and over international borders in an outcome so strange it comes with a laugh track.

A little more than five years later, everyone has unexpectedly met here, Kerr as the new Warriors coach, Myers as the general manager and primary recipient of what didn’t happen, Curry as the All-Star point guard, and with Riley still part of the organization as director of scouting. Roles have changed. Lives have changed.

One thing has remained true, though: Kerr has never been so happy to lose.

He was the Suns general manager in June 2009 and wanted Curry in the draft. Badly. There was phone call after phone call between Kerr and Riley, his Warriors counterpart. There were internal conversations among Phoenix management about the risk of trading 26-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire coming off three consecutive seasons of at least 20 points and eight rebounds — and the risk of keeping Stoudemire with free agency a year away and growing health concerns.

The Warriors were very interested, intrigued by the chance to get the known of a proven power forward over the uncertainty of a scoring point guard from mid-major Davidson. They also really liked Curry and, in fact, doubted he would be on the board when Riley picked seventh. Arizona’s Jordan Hill was the fallback, probably for both sides, for the Suns if a deal had been arranged and for Golden State to keep if no deal was in place.

It got close, but never imminent. The Warriors were not going to trade for Stoudemire unless he at least showed strong likelihood of re-signing as a free agent the next summer, and Riley had yet to so much as ask the Suns for permission to have the conversation. And if Golden State and Stoudemire did talk, the result would have been the same. He was not going to commit to anything at that point other than showing up, playing hard and keeping an open mind about the future, an understandable stance that almost certainly would have ended the talks bouncing between Phoenix and Oakland.

Plus, once Blake Griffin (Clippers), Hasheem Thabeet (Grizzlies), James Harden (Thunder) and Tyreke Evans (Kings) were picked and the Timberwolves followed with the infamous Ricky Rubio-Jonny Flynn double dip of points guards at five and six, Curry was still available at seven. Riley’s stance hardened. No longer was it just weighing acquiring Stoudemire as a possible one-season rental while also sending out Andris Biedrins and big salaries as cap balast, it was believing Curry would be special. Riley would be demoted to director of scouting and replaced by Myers in 2012, but also secure a positive place in Golden State history by not biting on the tantalizing lure of an athletic power forward that put up numbers.

The Warriors took Curry seventh and he turned into a star. The Suns kept Stoudemire one more season and 23.1 points and 8.9 rebounds and played it right to not get into a bidding war with the Knicks in 2010 free agency.

And….

The Warriors ended up hiring Kerr to coach. To coach the entire roster, obviously, but with Curry as the best player and one of the main attractions of choosing Golden State over the option of working for long-time friend and coaching mentor Phil Jackson with the Knicks.

How life could be different if Kerr got his wish in 2009.

“I may not be here,” he said.

It was one of the first things they talked about after Kerr was hired in May, when he was home near San Diego and called Curry on a postseason golf outing in Mexico. Kerr couldn’t bring him to Phoenix, the new coach told his point guard, so Kerr would come to Curry.

“He’s said a couple times, ‘You know, I really wanted him,’ ” said Myers, an agent in 2009. “Obviously any coach that has the opportunity to coach this team, that’s one of the first things mentioned, if not the first, which is, ‘I get an opportunity to coach that guy.’ And not just his talent on the floor, but who he is as a person. It makes perfect sense to me. I’d want to coach him too if I was a coach. We’ve joked around about that.”

Because they can now. Now that Kerr finally has Curry on his side.

Can LeBron’s new ‘mates stay healthy?

cavs

If the Cavaliers hope to win a championship this season, they’ll need both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the floor for the majority of games. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Injuries unfortunately are making headlines again this preseason with seemingly a bushel of six-to-eight-week-type setbacks, Kevin Durant‘s right foot and Bradley Beal‘s left wrist being two of the most recent and most prominent.

Injuries to key players certainly can derail a season. Last year, Dwyane Wade‘s status was of constant concern to the Heat, and although he said otherwise, Wade seemed to labor through the NBA Finals. His ongoing knee maintenance and uncertainty of his availability week to week, and sometimes even game to game, was also the primary reason why it made sense for LeBron James to take his talents back to Cleveland and join a younger cast.

Wade missed 58 games over the last three seasons, 28 last year and there’s no guarantee this season he’ll be able to match the 54 games he played. But be careful. In Cleveland, the seemingly indestructible James (he’s never missed more than seven games in any of his 11 seasons) is paired with two All-Stars with something of an injury track record.

All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving on Wednesday already sat out his third consecutive preseason game with a sprained ankle. In the first quarter of that game, Kevin Love left and did not return because of a stiff neck, an injury that isn’t believed to be serious.

Irving has missed 49 games over the last three seasons, pretty comparable to Wade, who has much more mileage on his body. Love missed 80 games over that same stretch with 64 coming during two different stretches of the 2012-13 season due to a twice-broken hand. He originally broke his right hand in the preseason by, he says, doing knuckle pushups. He returned earlier than expected, played 18 games, and then re-broke the hand. At the end of that season, Love had surgery on his left knee to remove scar tissue.

Love missed just five games in his final frustrating season with Minnesota, and Irving gave the 33-win Cavs 71 games, missing 11. If new coach David Blatt can get anywhere near that availability from each player he’ll be ecstatic.

It’s just impossible to know. Some players seem to be more susceptible to injury than others. Maybe their bodies just aren’t as durable and their body parts succumb more easily. Irving is just 22 years old, but his list of injured body parts from one year at Duke through three seasons in the NBA could fill a medical encyclopedia: toe, biceps, shoulder, hand, finger, jaw, knees and now ankle.

Does it make him injury prone, or snake-bit? Does it mean he’ll always be one misstep away from trading in his uniform for a sport coat and a spot on the bench? Or is he just as likely to play all 82 games this season as he is to miss 10 games, or 20 games?

As Durant, who had missed only 16 of 558 regular-season games through his first seven seasons, said just 12 days before the Oklahoma City Thunder medical staff informed him he fractured his right foot and will miss up to two months: “You can get hurt walking outside. You hear that a lot, but you can get hurt anywhere. Freak accidents happen. But I’ve been playing this game so long that I know at any moment that something can happen.”

Love logged 36.3 minutes in 77 games last season. His injury history isn’t as ominous as Irving’s, but again, injuries are fickle. Love was already a bit banged up before the neck issue after he banged knees with Jabari Parker the night before.

As a rookie, Love played in 81 games. The next season he missed 22 games after he broke his left hand after banging it against a teammate’s elbow (does one of the league’s best rebounders and sweetest shooters have weak hands, or inexplicably bad luck with his hands?). In 2010-11, he missed nine games and then 11 the next season.

Health of course is a must for all teams. But for the championship-dreaming Cavaliers, already feeling a slight pinch from the injury bug, the ability for Irving and Love to remain on the floor with LeBron in their first season together is critical.

Is it possible? No one can answer that.

Measuring ball and player movement


VIDEO: Spurs Season Preview: Year in Review

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With the way the San Antonio Spurs eviscerated the Miami Heat defense on their way to the largest point differential in Finals history, ball movement has become a hot topic around the NBA. (You could say that the Spurs have spurred a ball-movement movement.)

The Cavs, Knicks, Nets, Pacers, Thunder and Warriors are among the many teams who have given lip service to moving the ball better this season. And why not? More movement should make your team tougher to guard and give it a better chance to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

In the past, there wasn’t a great way to measure ball movement. We had assist ratio (AST/FGM), but an assist could be recorded without a lot of ball movement, a lot of ball movement doesn’t necessarily lead to an assist, and assigning assists is ultimately at the discretion of the official scorer.

Now, we have SportVU. And the presence of its cameras in every arena can give us a much better picture of how much teams really move the ball … and move themselves. The cameras track every movement on the court, both by the players and the basketball.

The Spurs are the first team that come to mind when discussing ball movement. But they ranked fourth in passes per possession last season, according to SportVU, behind Charlotte, Chicago and Utah.

Those three were all bottom-seven offensive teams, though. One reason they passed more often is because they often went deep into the shot clock without finding a good shot. The Jazz took a league-high 21 percent of their shots in the final six seconds of the shot clock. The Bulls (20 percent, fourth highest rate) and Bobcats (17 percent, 10th highest rate) took a lot of their shots in the final six seconds too.

Ball movement

20141016_passesTo account for that, SportVU can look at passes on a per-minute basis. And to simplify things, it can isolate passes and player movement in the frontcourt on possessions that lasted more than six seconds (to eliminate fast breaks).

When we do that, we see that the Spurs do moved the ball more than any other team, more than 15 times per minute. The Bobcats were still near the top of the list, but the Jazz (14.1) and Bulls (13.9) ranked ninth and 11th respectively.

The league average was about 13.6 passes per minute (one every 4.4 seconds), and the Golden State Warriors are at the bottom of the list at 11.7 passes per minute, a number which might change with a new coach.

The Sacramento Kings were just above the Warriors at 11.9 passes per minute, but interestingly, ranked high in terms of player movement.

Player movement

20141016_distanceNot surprisingly, the Spurs were at the top of this list, too. Not only is the ball moving in San Antonio’s offense, but so are the players. Tony Parker is passing off and circling under the basket before getting the ball back at the top of the key. Tiago Splitter is setting multiple screens on most possessions. And Danny Green is running from corner to corner to get open while his defender is focused on the ball.

The Bobcats, Sixers, Wizards, Jazz and Bucks also ranked in the top 10 in both ball and player movement. The Warriors, Pistons, Knicks and Thunder, meanwhile, ranked in the bottom 10 in both.

The anomalies

There was a decent correlation between ball movement and player movement, but there were teams that ranked high in one and not the other.

The Kings and Pelicans each ranked in the top five in player movement, but in the bottom five in ball movement. New Orleans ranked third in the league in drives, but was the team most likely to shoot on those drives.

On average, about 65 percent of drives would result in a drawn foul or a shot by the driver. Tyreke Evans (70 percent), Eric Gordon (79 percent) and Austin Rivers (82 percent) were all guys who drove a lot, but not for the purpose of finding an open teammate.

The Kings’ offense featured a lot of cutting, but not a lot of passes. Isaiah Thomas led all starting point guards in seconds (of possession) per touch (5.45). And DeMarcus Cousins (1.95) led all power forwards and centers in the same category.

On the other side of the ledger were the Clippers and Lakers, who ranked high in ball movement (eighth and fifth, respectively), but low in player movement (22nd and 25th).

The Clippers’ offense is a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls and a solid helping of post-ups, each of which draw extra defenders to the ball and create open looks for other guys. But those other guys aren’t moving that much when they’re not involved in the primary action. The Lakers, with far less talent, often swung the ball around the perimeter until somebody had enough space to launch a three.

Is better ball movement the answer?

The Spurs move the ball beautifully, move themselves often, ranked sixth in offensive efficiency in the regular season and took it to a new level in The Finals. But the Spurs are special.

There is no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency. Three top-10 offenses — Oklahoma City, Phoenix and Toronto — ranked in the bottom 10 in ball movement (passes per minute in half-court possessions). And five bottom-10 offenses — Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Utah, Charlotte and the Lakers — ranked in the top 10.

If you have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, you don’t need to move the ball that much. And if you have the combination of Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, you’re going to get some great shots by just running a pick-and-roll. If you don’t have enough talent, it’s not going to matter much how much you move the ball.

The same goes with player movement. As noted above, the Clippers ranked 22nd in player movement (team distance per minute in half-court possessions), and they had the No. 1 offense in the league.

You might think that better ball movement allows you to better sustain your offensive success in the playoffs, when you’re facing defenses that know all your players and aim to take away your primary actions. But last year, there was no correlation between teams that moved the ball well in the regular season and those that improved offensively in the playoffs.

Again, the Spurs are special.

A dozen age old keys to the season

Back when the Rolling Stones sang Time Is On My Side, they surely weren’t thinking about NBA players deep into the second decades of their playing careers. All that running, jumping and end-to-end athleticism clearly make the NBA a young man’s game. Still, by the time things shake out next spring and the playoffs begin, a virtual roster full of veterans will have played a big part in the success or failure of some seasons. Here are the dozen graybeards (listed oldest to youngest) who’ll make a difference … one way or the other:

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash, 40, Lakers — The former two-time MVP is having a hard time limping to the finish line of his career. After playing in just 15 games last season, there was hopeful optimism that he and teammate Kobe Bryant could turn back the clock together. But recurring back problems have coach Byron Scott thinking more about starting Jeremy Lin at the point and bringing Nash off the bench.

Ray Allen, 39, unsigned — Is there a playoff team on any corner of the NBA map that wouldn’t want to have one of the great pure shooters in league history on the bench next spring? From Cleveland to San Antonio and every point in between, they’ve been trying to get him onboard. He’s still weighing whether he wants to play at all. The winner in this sweepstakes gets a bonanza.

Andre Miller, 38, Wizards — It’s not like the advancing age is going to make him any slower or look less athletic. Now with Bradley Beal sidelined, there will be more opportunities for the veteran to show that he can do all of the good stuff, like the drive and pass to Kevin Seraphin that produced the game-winning dunk over the Pistons earlier this week. He’s that old neighbor down the street who knows how to fix everything and is handy to have around.

Tim Duncan, 38, Spurs — Coach Gregg Popovich treats him as delicately as Grandma’s heirloom china during the regular season and hasn’t played him for more than 30.1 minutes per game since 2009-10. We keep saying that he’s got to fall over the edge eventually, but then he went out and was the driving force behind the Spurs’ championship run last spring. Would you really bet against him doing it again?

Kevin Garnett, 38, Nets — For the first time in 19 seasons, K.G. looked old and tired and not engaged last season as he averaged a career-low 6.5 points per game as a role player. Everybody’s saying Year 20 is probably the last, but Garnett is saying he feels physically better and intends to return to his aggressive ways and have an impact again. Expectations are lower across the board for him and the team — and that could be a good thing.

Vince Carter, 37, Grizzlies — Back when he was chinning himself over the rim to win the Slam Dunk Contest back in 2000, who thought the uber-athletic Carter could still be a factor 1 1/2 decades later? But here he is, changing teams from Dallas to Memphis as he’s aged into a racehorse that can still give you 25 solid minutes per game and knock down clutch 3-pointers to boot.

Manu Ginobili, 37, Spurs — So close to retiring due to injuries following the Finals loss in 2013, he came back to shine through a remarkably healthy championship campaign. But for a guy who continues to play recklessly, the next back or knee injury is always just a cut or a jump away. If for any reason he’s not fully fit next spring, the chance to finally repeat will diminish greatly.

Jason Terry, 37, Rockets — The former Sixth Man of the Year when the Mavericks won their 2011 championship, the Jet has lost more than a little of his lift and cruising speed. But he’s bound and determined to show there’s something left in the tank and on a Houston bench that is thin, he’ll get called on by coach Kevin McHale. Don’t underestimate his veteran leadership in a locker room where Dwight Howard and James Harden are not fully comfortable in the role.

Paul Pierce, 37, Wizards — What they lost in defense from free agent Trevor Ariza, the Wizards could make up for in Pierce’s willingness and ability to make the big shots late in games. No question that John Wall and Beal are the engines of the offense. But Pierce could go a long way in showing them how and when to step on the gas.

Kobe Bryant, 36, Lakers — Probably not since Ronald Reagan moved into the White House will an old guy with so many miles on him attract so much attention. It would be one thing if Kobe just wanted to come back and play. But he’s Kobe and that means the alpha dog will settle for nothing less than his snarling old self. Virtually nobody thinks he can do what he used to do and, of course, that’s exactly what will drive him.

Pau Gasol, 34, Bulls — Never the sturdiest guy on the court during his prime, he’s missed 55 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. But he still has skills and now he has Joakim Noah alongside on the front line in Chicago to do the big banging. Assuming Derrick Rose can come back anywhere close to his previous form, this could be a perfect situation for Gasol to slide in as a secondary weapon. If that happens, the Bulls are in the fight to win the East.

David West, 34, Pacers — Is this the thanks a fella gets for spending his career as a dutiful professional who comes in every game to get the job done? First Lance Stephenson bolts in free agency to Charlotte. Then Paul George suffers the horrific injury while playing for Team USA. The Pacers enter the season in big, big trouble, which means West, the veteran forward, will be asked to shoulder the burden on a nightly basis. It doesn’t seem fair or doable.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Players support shorter season; MJ mystified by such talk | Report: C-Webb joins group looking to buy Hawks | Smith, Van Gundy talk 3-pointers

No. 1: Nowitzki, James support shortening season, not games; Jordan puzzled by such talk — This Sunday, the NBA will experiment with a shorter-than-usual game as the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics will take part in a 44-minute preseason contest. News of that upcoming game has led to debate all over the internet (and on this very site) about whether a shorter game would be beneficial to the NBA as a whole or not. Two prominent stars in the game — LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki — think shortening the length of the season, not games, would be the most beneficial change that could happen. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin and Tim McMahon have more:

“I think you don’t need 82 games to determine the best eight in each conference,” Nowitzki said Wednesday. “That could be done a lot quicker, but I always understand that it’s about money, and every missed game means missed money for both parties, for the league, for the owners, for the players. I understand all that, and that’s why I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon.”

James, speaking before the Cavs hosted a preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, was adamant the length of games isn’t what should be at stake. And he said most of his fellow players are in agreement.

“No. It’s not the minutes, it’s the games,” James said. “The minutes doesn’t mean anything. We can play 50-minute games if we had to. It’s just the games. We all as players think it’s too many games. In our season, 82 games is a lot. But it’s not the minutes. Taking away minutes from the game is not going to shorten the game at all.

“Once you go out and play on the floor, it don’t matter if you play 22 minutes — like I may be playing tonight — or you’re playing 40 minutes,” James added. “Once you play, it takes a toll on your body. So it’s not lessening the minutes, I think it’s the games.”

Nowitzki and James were piggybacking on the point made by Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra when asked about the league’s experiment with a 44-minute game, which will be played by the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics on Sunday.

…”Honestly, I never was a big fan of back-to-backs even when I was 20 years old,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old entering his 17th NBA season. “I think that you should never have to play at the highest level there is two consecutive nights and flying in between. You obviously make it work. We have the best athletes in the world, we feel, but I think it hurts the product some. Last year, some teams get here for the fourth game in five nights and we’ve been sitting here on rest and just blow them out.

“I don’t think it’s good for the product, but I also understand that 82 games is where it’s at. It’s a business, and everybody’s got to live with it.”

James said more analysis on the potential impact to the business side seemed to be in order.

“It’s something that we definitely will have to sit down and try figure out if that’s the case, that may happen,” James said. “Obviously I don’t know the numbers right off the top of my head, but that would create less revenue. We all know that without even seeing the books that less games, less concession stands and less selling of tickets and all of that.

“But at the end of the day, we want to protect the prize and the prize is the players. We have to continue to promote the game, and if guys are being injured because there are so many games, we can’t promote it at a high level.”

Nowitzki would like the league to look at the possibility of allowing fewer timeouts, especially at the end of games.

“It’s such a fun, fast game,” Nowitzki said. “Then there’s one action and they score, OK, there’s a timeout and you sit for two minutes. There’s another action, they score, tie it up [and another timeout is called].

“There’s no other sport where it’s interrupted so much at the end. That’s something that I would look at. Both teams are like, ‘They have another timeout? Are you kidding me?’ That’s a little much, but other than that, I think the game’s great.”

After the NBA’s best and brightest of today had that to say about the schedule, the greatest player of the NBA’s last era, Michael Jordan, said he was shocked that superstars would want to play less games. ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard has more:

“I love both of those guys, but as an owner who played the game, I loved playing,” Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets, told ESPN.com during a telephone interview. “If I wasn’t playing 82 games, I still would’ve been playing somewhere else because that’s the love for the game I had. As a player, I never thought 82 games was an issue.

“But if that’s what they want to do, we as owners and players can evaluate it and talk about it. But we’d make less money as partners. Are they ready to give up money to play fewer games? That’s the question, because you can’t make the same amount of money playing fewer games.”

Jordan also didn’t see the point in shortening games by four minutes.

He said the league informed its clubs of its intention to play a 44-minute game but that it was not presented as something the league is seriously considering instituting in the regular season.

“I would never shorten the game by four minutes,” Jordan said, “unless guys were having physical issues.”

Jordan said basketball players generally don’t incur the same long-term physical ailments as football players so he can’t understand the talk of a shorter season or shorter games.

“It’s not like football,” he said. “We don’t really have to worry about concussions and some of the physical damage that football players deal with after they retire. I can understand football players wanting to play fewer games from a physical standpoint. But basketball’s not the same. I’m not diminishing the fact that we go through a grueling season. But I wouldn’t want to shorten the game or play 15-20 fewer games.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki explains why the NBA should think about a shorter season

 

Blogtable: LeBron’s MVP challenger

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


> Kevin Durant is likely out of the MVP picture, making LeBron the clear frontrunner. Who is your darkhorse MVP candidate?

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t think Durant is out of MVP contention simply because he’ll miss games — if OKC were to sputter along below .500 without him, then win at an .800 clip with him, that would make all the MVP case he’d need. But I’ll play along: If James doesn’t win his fifth MVP, I’m guessing Chris Paul pushes the Clippers to something special out West and snags it. Media voters love imbuing point guards will all sorts of bonus intangibles that say “valuable” (which is why Chicago’s Derrick Rose could get back in the conversation, too).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m not sure you would label Chris Paul as a dark horse. But in the  second year under Doc Rivers and with the door opened by OKC, the Clippers could make a run at best record in the West/league and that could push CP3 over the top. Way outside in dark would be Anthony Davis, if he can somehow lead the Pelicans into the playoffs.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comStephen Curry. I’ve been a believer since the day Steve Kerr was hired that Golden State is going to have a fun and loose squad that will play the same way. They’ll maintain the defensive principles, but Kerr will usher in a much more appealing, go-go offense that is going to play right into Curry’s hands. He’s set to go bonkers, folks, and the Warriors (health be with them) will follow.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: On the assumption that by darkhorse you mean “Anyone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant”: Anthony Davis. The problem for Davis is that this will depend a lot on his teammates — the Pelicans are in position to make the playoffs, but if they miss, AD MVP would be a hard campaign to win. The problem for the rest of the league, meanwhile, is that he is ready to burst to the next level. He is established as a superstar into the next decade. The only question is whether that future arrives in 2014-15.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose would likely split the vote in Chicago, while Blake Griffin and Chris Paul would do the same in L.A. The Spurs are too balanced and the Pelicans won’t be good enough for Anthony Davis’ candidacy. So I’ll go with Stephen Curry, with the idea that the Warriors will improve offensively (into the top seven in efficiency) and win 50-plus games again, with Curry averaging something in the range of 25 points and 10 assists.

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI don’t know that “darkhorse” is the right word to use for what Russell Westbrook will be this season, but he’s my guy. With Kevin Durant out of the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup for up to two months, Russ West will have the MVP platform that has eluded him the past couple of seasons. He’s certainly played like one at times. But there has always been the Durant factor that kept him from getting the sort of MVP love his production deserved. I know his performance comes with the high-risk, high-reward factor that has always driven his biggest critics a bit crazy. But he won’t be denied if the Thunder can stay afloat in the West without Durant the way they did last season when Westbrook was recovering from his knee surgery.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about Russell Westbrook? For basically his entire NBA career, Westbrook has been judged almost solely based in relation to the production of his teammate, Kevin Durant. But with Durant gone, we may finally get to see maximum Westbrook, where he can take as many shots as he wants and drive to the basket as often as he wants. Durant and Westbrook account for the bulk of OKC’s offense, so without Durant there’s a lot of making up to do. But if the Thunder manage to not just survive but thrive without Durant, it could go a long way toward proving Westbrook’s value to his squad.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: My dark horse is… Kevin Durant. I don’t see him out of the race, even if he’s going to miss the first 20 games of the season. But he’ll have 62 more games to show everybody he deserves the prize. He’s getting closer and closer to LeBron and I’m sure he’ll continue to do that when he’ll be back. If I have to pick a name different from LeBron and KD, then I’m going with Chris Paul: the Clippers have a new spirit thanks to Steve Ballmer and he can be the guy who guide them at the top of the West.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Tony Parker could win it! It can go down like the Oscars: you know, when an actor wins the award not for the movie that he just made, but for those he had done before that. If that’s the case, then Tony Parker could win the MVP trophy, one season after the spectacular things he did with the Spurs. It’ll help his cause if San Antonio will wrap up another 55+ season and finish at the top.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’m going with Blake Griffin. His offensive repertoire expanded last season and with more improvement in his game this season he should be a top candidate. There’s more tricks to his game than just dunking, he’s now a legitimate post presence and has an expanding jump shot. The next evolution of his game could be a 3-point shot. Griffin attempted 44 threes last season, hitting just 27 percent of them, but it appears that he’s testing out a 3-point shot in the preseason. Last week he showed glimpses of an expanding shot from the corner, an element that will give his game and the Clippers’ offense a new dimension. Speaking of the Clippers, they’re a legitimate contender to win the West and that generally helps when the MVP is voted on.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Blake Griffin of the Clippers. He was in the running last season, and now is one of a real top candidate. His shooting skill seems like better than last season and he can score more points by jump shot from the perimeter this season. Kevin Durant’s injured and LeBron James will share the ball more than Heat era. So I think Griffin has a big chance to get MVP, if he keeps his condition.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Chris Paul. I really believe the Clippers’ point guard, the best in the league, has to elevate his game this season if the Clippers are to go to the next level. Doc Rivers’ arrival changed the Clippers for better, but until Paul takes his game to a whole new level, these Clippers will continue to stumble in the poststeason. I think somewhere CP3 realises this as well. He will want to come out aggressive and leave his stamp on this season through an MVP performance.

Juan Carlos Campos, NBA Mexico: The theory would indicate that yes, LeBron James has a clear and relatively easy path to be the league’s MVP this year. With that said, I think that Stephen Curry is more than ready to take the leap into super stardom and compete hand to hand with “King” James to be named the most valuable this season. Already in the pre-season he’s shown signs of that – just ask Kobe Bryant.

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain: Blake Griffin. The Clippers and Cavs have the best roster and Blake has improved his game to an amazing level: he can dunk, shoot, rebound, assist … If LeBron relaxes a bit in Cleveland … the MVP goes to L.A.

Blogtable: The NBA’s best backcourt

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: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


Stephen Curry (left) and Klay Thompson enjoy a taste of gold medal at the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Stephen Curry (left) and Klay Thompson enjoy a taste of gold medal at the FIBA World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

> Lots of talk this preseason, little resolution: So, which team has the best backcourt in the NBA (when everybody’s healthy)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Since you didn’t specify “starting” backcourt, I’m going with the team entry and saying the San Antonio Spurs. They’re the only defending-champion backcourt in the entire NBA. (That said, I’d love to hear Lance Stephenson answer this in an unguarded moment about himself and Kemba Walker. Would anticipate bravado and entertainment.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If they’re healthy and it’s June, I want Parker and Ginobili. Over the full 82 games, give me the dynamic talent, youth and sheer brashness of Curry and Thompson.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: It’s really hard not to designate Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for this distinction, but there’s a good reason why Suns management and ownership caved and paid Eric Bledsoe all that money, right? The Bledsoe-Goran Dragic combo is my pick, just a couple of hard-nosed, hustling, penetrating, 3-point shooting, defensive-minded point guards sharing the same backcourt. In the 38 games they played together (Bledsoe missed 39 games with a knee injury), they had a 108.4 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and 97.4 defensive rating, plus a True Shooting percentage of 55.7.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comGolden State over (in no particular order) Washington, Toronto and Phoenix. That’s if you’re asking about starters. If that qualifier is off, Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili should be in any conversation that has to do with best tandems, and not just in the backcourt. The Warriors get the edge because not only are Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson electric scorers, but Thompson is the kind of defender that can check multiple positions and Curry has improved as a distributor to where he is dangerous with the pass as well.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ll take Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry is one of the two or three toughest matchups in the league, as one of the best shooters in the world, with the ball in his hands all the time. Thompson is another great shooter and a solid wing defender. But there are a ton of other backcourts — Brooklyn (if you count Joe Johnson as a two), Chicago, the Clippers, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, Toronto and Washington — who you could consider if you’re putting together a top-five list.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Everyone wants to claim top honors, even backcourts that have yet to play regular season minutes together. All things being equal and with each group at their best, I don’t know you could be more explosive and more dynamic than the group the Golden State Warriors can throw at you. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are two of the best shooters/scorers in the game. Adding a wild card like Shaun Livingston to this already potent mix (which also includes swingman Andre Iguodala) makes this the most dynamic crew in the game, in my opinion.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: There are three pairs of players that to me jump out as being above the rest, and I mean that in terms of their offense and their defense. in no particular order: Golden State (Curry and Thompson); Toronto (Lowry and DeRozan); Washington (Wall and Beal). If I had to pick one from that trio of duos, I’d probably go with Curry and Thompson, even though Curry’s defense can lapse below average. But I think Wall and Beal aren’t far behind them, and have the advantage of youth on their side.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Love the question! Reminds me of my NBA Jam years. Boomshakalaka! The best NBA back-court is the “Spash Brothers”, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The make a great duo, they play excellent together (in Golden State, in Team USA) and they make a deadly one-two punch from beyond the arc.

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain: The Warrriors with the ‘Splash Brothers’ Curry and Thompson are in the top right now. More points than any backcourt in the last regular season.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: Easy W for Golden State here. The Splash Brothers are too good together to be compared to other backcourts: high shooting and passing skills, very high basketball IQ, they can win the games by themselves or play with their teammates. I think the Wizards’ Wall-Beal backcourt can have a chance to get close to the Splash Brother this year, but they both have to improve their respective overall game.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: The Splash Brothers! They scored more points per game than any other backcourt, had the best 3-point percentage and outscored their opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions when they were both on the floor. They can also exploit opponents in a number of ways. Curry may be the best shooter in the game and can hit all types of whacky shots off-the-dribble, his passing game seems to improve all the time and when he gets strong defensive coverage, he dishes it off to Klay. Thompson shot 41.7 percent from deep on 535 attempts and have improved as a perimeter defender, making up for some of Steph’s defensive lapses. Klay’s offensive game has expanded as well, including post-ups, slashing and even handling and penetrating. I just wish he’d pass more!

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I don’t see any reason why we should look at anyone else other than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for the Golden State Warriors. Former head coach Mark Jackson already anointed them the greatest backcourt ever.  Those two guys played a big part in Team USA’s win at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in the offseason as well. The ‘Splash brothers’ can light up at any time, turning an entire ballgame on its head.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors. Their shooting skill is one of the most dangerous in the league. They can shoot from every area on the court and make clutch shot.  Curry can handle the ball and Thompson can defend. Additionally, they can pass. If they played a 2-on-2 tournament, I think they’d beat all other teams.