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Posts Tagged ‘Al Horford’

Kobe, Curry lead in initial All-Star voting returns

HANG TIME HQ — The All-Star Game may be heading north of the border this season, but in the initial voting returns, the West is winning.

The first voting results for the 2016 All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto, were announced today, and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has a commanding lead in overall totals. Bryant has 719,235 votes in the initial returns, the most of any NBA player. Bryant, who announced earlier this season that this will be his final NBA campaign, is on track to make his 18th All-Star appearance.

The second-leading vote-getter early on is Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who has 510,202 votes. Curry was last season’s leading vote-getter, and went on to win the NBA MVP award as his Warriors won the NBA Championship. This season, the Warriors have gotten off to an epic start, winning 27 of their first 28 games. His teammates Klay Thompson (4th) and Andre Iguodala (7th) are among the West’s leading guards, and Draymond Green (5th) and Harrison Barnes (14th) are among the West’s leading forwards.

Cleveland’s LeBron James leads the Eastern Conference with 357,937 votes, while his former Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade trails James by roughly 57,000 votes. Indiana’s Paul George (283,785), who missed most of last season after a compound leg fracture, trails only James among Eastern Conference forwards. Detroit’s Andre Drummond (148,278), averaging 18.2 ppg and 16.1 rpg, and who has never made an All-Star appearance, is currently in third place.

The 2015 Eastern Conference All-Star roster was dominated by the Atlanta Hawks, who sent coach Mike Budenholzer as well as four players (Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague). In the initial returns this season, only Millsap is among the Eastern Conference leaders, 13th among forwards with 10,501 votes.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win | Suns throw in towel against Denver | Hawks starting to soar | Butler wants to lead Bulls

No. 1: Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win Wednesday night the Dallas Mavericks visited Brooklyn, which meant the return of Deron Williams to the borough where he formerly played. But with Williams out injured, leave it to the 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to post a performance worthy of the Big Apple. Not only did Nowitzki pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth all-time in scoring in the NBA, but he also hit the game-winner in overtime to give the Mavericks the victory. And as Eddie Sefko writes in the Dallas Morning News, in some ways it was business as usual for Nowitzki

“Way back when I was a skinny 20-year-old, bad haircut, bad earring, not the most confident guy,” he said, before stopping, clearly thinking about the enormity of having only five players ahead of him on the all-time scoring list.

“Sounds pretty good, huh?” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

And the way he passed Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday couldn’t have been more fitting. He nailed a midrange jumper early in the second quarter against Brooklyn, took congratulatory hugs from teammates and coaches, then, a couple hours later, slipped to the basket for the winning layup in a 119-118 overtime victory that the Mavericks needed a lot more than Nowitzki needed any milestone.

Along the way, the Mavericks needed a lot of help from a guy who’s only 23,607 points behind Nowitzki on the scoring list.

J.J. Barea had a career-best 32 points, including several key 3-pointers, paying big dividends for coach Rick Carlisle starting him in place of the injured Deron Williams.

“I think the coach threw me in there early to give us a little energy early and I got in a rhythm and was able to help my team out big time,” Barea said. “I wanted to get to 30 (points in a game) before I finished my career.”

But even he knew this night was not about him, even though he’s never had a better statistical night. He hit his first eight shots and finished 13-for-20 and also dished out 11 assists.

“I’ve been through all the battles with him and seen him break all kinds of records,” Barea said. “But this one is amazing.”

Nowitzki started fast with six points in the first six minutes. Early in the second quarter, he got the ball on the left wing and wasted no time, pulling up and nailing an 18-footer for the record.

“It was a special moment for me,” he said. “I saw the whole team getting up and everybody gave me a hug and I’ve obviously been blessed in this organization for a long, long time.

“There have been a lot of great players who didn’t score as many points because they were cut short by injuries. I’ve been lucky. And we got the win. It would have felt really salty flying home with a loss.”


VIDEO: Arena Link — Dirk Nowitzki

***

No. 2: Suns throw in towel against Denver The current Phoenix Suns feel light years removed from just two seasons ago, when they unveiled a small ball lineup that raced through the Western Conference and nearly earned a playoff berth. These days they are in flux, with forward Markieff Morris recently assigned to the bench. Last night the Suns lost at home to an undermanned Nuggets team, as Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, while Morris evoked Robert Horry … and not in a good way…

In one of their more advantageous scenarios of the season, the Suns posted another dreadful loss with play so frightful and no signs of stopping. The bow on Wednesday night’s stocking of coal came when Markieff Morris added to a season of distraction by harkening back memories of Robert Horry’s towel toss at Danny Ainge by tossing a towel toward coach Jeff Hornacek in Wednesday’s fourth quarter.

The Suns lost 104-96 at Talking Stick Resort Arena to a Denver team playing a night after losing at home to the last-place Los Angeles Lakers and was missing five players (two starters) with no backup point guard available.

That is not all that surprising any longer for a team that has gone 5-14 since Nov. 22. How the Suns fell behind by 22 points, rallied to lead by three, started each half with new lineups and lost is now of less interest than Morris’ towel toss.

Much like Horry on a 10-21 Suns team in 1997, Morris was upset about being pulled from the fourth quarter from a 12-19 Suns team. With 9:47 to play and Denver leading 84-75, Morris was taken out of the game and he threw the towel while barking at Hornacek. Hornacek picked up the towel and threw it back Morris’ way with his own upset words for him.

“He’s mad about not playing,” Hornacek said. “I look at the stat sheet. He’s a minus-13 in 12 minutes. So there, I took him out. … He thinks he’s better than that. Show me.”

Hornacek said the Suns staff will discuss possible discipline for Morris, who has created a stir since the offseason when he asked to be traded after his twin, Marcus, was dealt. Markieff did not arrive in Phoenix until it was required for training camp. He lost his starting job earlier this month.

In January, Marcus also engaged in a shouting match during a game with Hornacek. He apologized publicly and to Hornacek after the game.

“That’s between me and ‘H’ (Hornaceck),” said Markieff, who made 2 of 8 shots and had one rebound Wednesday. “It’s not for media. It’s something between me and him that happened. We’ll talk about it.”

***

No. 3: Hawks starting to soar They won 60 games a season ago, including a 19-game win streak, but thus far this season, even with a winning record, the Hawks have mostly flown under the radar. That may be changing now. Wednesday night the Hawks got their fifth win in a row with a convincing home victory over the Detroit Pistons, and the Hawks are now in second place in the Eastern Conference. As Brad Rowland writes for Peachtree Hoops, the Hawks hacked Andre Drummond and got a big night from Jeff Teague to get the win…

The game was highly competitive early on, with Detroit taking an 18-14 advantage after a 7-0 run. That momentum would not last particularly long, however, as Mike Budenholzer employed the aforementioned “Hack-a-Drummond” strategy freely from that point forward, and that seemed to turn the tide. Dennis Schröder exploded for seven straight points to end the opening quarter (11 in the period), and in a flash, the Hawks were in control.

The “big” spurt was yet to come, though, and it appeared to close the second quarter. Atlanta raced to a 26-9 run to end the half, with Jeff Teague taking things over, and he finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds before the break. That big run netted the Hawks a 61-45 lead, and on the defensive end, Atlanta was quite effective in holding the Pistons to just 33% shooting (27% in the second quarter) in addition to the poor free throw shooting from Drummond.

To begin the second half, the Hawks quickly increased the lead to 22 points, but the margin settled into the mid-teens for much of the remainder of the contest. In truth, Atlanta didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, including a third quarter in which they allowed 50% shooting to Detroit, but the Pistons were never able to seriously challenge on the scoreboard until the closing minutes.

Detroit managed to climb within an 8-point deficit within the final two minutes of game action, using an 11-4 run to force a timeout from Budenholzer with 1:52 left in the game. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Hawks managed to salt the game away for good using a Jeff Teague basket (that was actually a goaltend from Andre Drummond) to push the lead back to 10 with 41.1 seconds remaining and that was the end of the threat. From there, Atlanta put away a 7-point win and the winning streak reached five games in pleasing fashion.

It was a big night from Teague, and that was the biggest individual story. He has struggled, at least relatively, to this point in the season, but this may serve as a “breakout” from the 2015 All-Star, as he finished with 23 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while keying everything Atlanta did offensively. In support, Paul Millsap added 18 points and Al Horford chipped in with 15 points in his own right, but this night was about Teague and a strong team effort on the defensive end.

***

No. 4: Butler wants to lead Bulls As the Chicago Bulls try to right the ship and find some offense to go along with their defensive prowess, reports of unrest continue. According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, as the Bulls consider roster moves, some players aren’t thrilled with Jimmy Butler‘s attempts to position himself as the leader of these Bulls…

While Jimmy Butler won the self-appointed leadership role unopposed, not everyone associated with the Bulls is a supporter.

One source told the Sun-Times that there are several players that often simply laugh when told of Butler’s latest thumping-of-the-chest leadership proclamations, and while Derrick Rose seems to be completely detached from the situation, his camp is very annoyed by all things Butler these days.

A veteran that is behind the Butler push, however? Well, it just so happens to be the one player in the locker room with two championship rings.

“I don’t mind those comments,’’ big man Pau Gasol said, when asked about Butler declaring himself the leader throughout this season. “I think those comments are positive. Those comments and attitudes don’t raise my eyebrows. I think it’s good certain guys want to take ownership and say, ‘Hey let’s go.’ ‘’

Gasol said that Butler worked his way into that role of leader, and was obviously paid like it this offseason, when the Bulls gave him a five-year, $92.3 million contract extension.

“I don’t disagree with it,’’ Gasol said. “I think Jimmy is obviously one of the main guys here.’’

He’s more than that. He’s the future. His deal is guaranteed through the first four years, with a player option of $19.8 million following the 2019-20 season.

Basically, last man standing of all the veterans on the roster.

Gasol has a player option at the end of this season, and there continues to be more whispers that he’s done with the Bulls experiment, while Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks each come off the books when this season comes to an end.

Rose and Taj Gibson are free agents after next season, while the Bulls own the $5.175 million option on Mike Dunleavy for the 2017-18 season.

The likes of Gibson, Noah and Gasol might not even see the end of their current contracts, as several sources indicated that the Bulls are taking calls on all three players as the trade deadline draws near.

Noah’s value has taken a hit this week with a small tear in his left shoulder, and the center told reporters on Wednesday that he is looking at a two-to-four week window now. Not the best news for a player that was starting to look like his old self.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA debuted a new public service announcement campaign against gun violenceSteph Curry says he’s the best player in the worldKobe Bryant and Kevin Durant exchanged shoes after playing against each other … Mark Cuban says Rick Carlisle’s threat to trade players was a motivational moveAlan Anderson looks to be out for a few more weeks. Meanwhile, John Wall has his own set of injury issuesNik Stauskas says he’s the hardest working guy on the Sixers … The Houston Rockets are trying to help former players stay on top of their health

Young Jazz still trying to turn corner


VIDEO: Derrick Favors powers Jazz to close road win in Atlanta

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Moral victories will sustain you for only so long in the NBA.

Sooner or later, signs of growth and glimpses of what could be have to backed up with something much more substantial than just the hope of what’s to come.

The Utah Jazz are living that reality these days. They are a team loaded with intriguing young talent, a group still trying to find its way together as they chart a course from the lottery to the playoffs while still working to shore up deficiencies on the roster and in their make up.

They shocked us with their work to finish the 2014-15 season, going 15-9 during the stretch run after the All-Star break, suggesting that this season might bring a true breakout effort from coach Quin Snyder‘s crew with a nucleus of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and defensive menace Rudy Gobert anchoring the middle of an improved frontline.

But the road has been a bit tougher than expected early on this season, courtesy of a rugged early schedule and the offseason loss of point guard Dante Exum for the season with a torn ACL.

That’s what makes nights like Sunday, when they outlasted the Atlanta Hawks 97-96 at Philips Arena to finally score a road win after three straight losses on a four-game trip, so sweet.

All that potential in action, and with a result to match. It’s all you can ask for when you’re trying to turn a corner. The Jazz sit at 5-5 after their first 10 games with every intention of living up to their own hype.

“I feel like we are ahead of where we were last year,” Hayward said. “We’re in a good place. I know that’s seems like a strange thing to say after you lose three in a row. But two close games and then kind of drained on that last one. But we are moving in the right direction. We just have more experience, another year with [Snyder] and all of the experiences from the tough games we played last year. We’re learning how to win games and trying to figure out where you can succeed in this league.”

Learning how to win games like this one will only help the Jazz in their pursuit of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Sunday’s win over the Hawks was their first this season in games decided by five points or less (they were 0-3 previously).

They shot a season-high 51 percent (39-for-76), outrebounded the Hawks by seven and Favors, an Atlanta native, led five players in double figures. Gobert recorded his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds, to go along with his three assists, three blocks and two steals as the Jazz finally put together a complete game against an elite opponent.

A little good fortune never hurts, of course. All-Star forward Paul Millsap missed a wide-open 12-footer in the game’s final seconds that would have won the game for the Hawks.

The hard work to get to that point, though, was rooted in the preparation for moments exactly like this one, Favors insists. And that preparation has been years in the making for the most experienced members of this Jazz team, where a 24-year-old, six-year veteran like Favors qualifies as an elder statesman.

“Everybody is more comfortable with the roles and guys are going out there playing with more freedom, without looking over their shoulder every time they make a mistake and worrying about the coach taking you out and crazy stuff like that,” Favors said. “It’s experience, too. This is my sixth year. Gordon’s been here six years. Most everybody else is in their second or third year. There is so much you have to learn. We’ve been through it as individuals. But now we have to go through some things together, as a group. And that’s what makes you stronger.”

This Jazz team still has glaring issues, of course, namely its struggles at point guard. Raul Neto is the starter and Trey Burke, a prized lottery pick two years ago, is the backup and playing well in that role.

But with the game on the line in the final four minutes Sunday, the Jazz worked without either one of them on the floor. It’s a formula they have been using all season, going with Alec Burks, Rodney Hood and Hayward as the primary facilitators with games on the line.

It’s a dangerous way to play in a league where quality point guard play has never been more valuable. And when you’re a team attempting to make the leap from the lottery to the playoffs, it’s a potentially fatal flaw.

The Hawks played without their All-Star point guard Sunday night, Jeff Teague, who sat out with a sprained ankle. And they lost starting small forward and energy man Kent Bazemore when he turned his ankle with 2:20 to play.

But there’s no need to apologize for a little luck, not when every bit of it and every lesson learned along the way will be useful on this journey.

“It was very important. We were very close to winning the first two games of the road trip. We lost each game by a couple of possessions,” Gobert said of what the Jazz took away from these early lumps they’ve endured. “But we were able to win the game tonight. We want to make the playoffs, so we need to put some wins together.”

Playoff talk in November is just that, talk. And no amount of bluster, internal or otherwise, will fuel the Jazz the rest of the way.

“We know it was a trendy thing to talk about us expecting to be a playoff team and a team on the rise or this and that,” Favors said. “But I don’t think you can own any of that until you actually get there. So anybody talking about us turning a corner … we haven’t turned a corner until we make the playoffs.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 28


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Barnes halts extension talks with Warriors | Kobe’s new era begins | Hawks get a wake-up call in opener | Williams, Matthews embrace Dallas reunion

No. 1: Barnes breaks off extension talks with Warriors — Just a week ago, the Detroit Pistons and center Andre Drummond decided to table contract extension talks until the summer. Another pick from Drummond’s 2012 Draft class, Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes, is apparently doing likewise as well. USA Today‘s Sam Amick reports on why Barnes is holding off on an extension for now and why his move isn’t a surprise given the upcoming salary cap jump in the NBA:

Fourth-year forward Harrison Barnes broke off extension talks with the Golden State Warriors on Monday night nearly a week before the league-issued deadline of Nov. 2, and no one should be surprised that a deal won’t get done here right now.

Crazy as it might sound, Barnes — who wanted to focus on the start of the regular season and who will be a restricted free agent next summer — is well within his right to want an annual salary in the $20 million range. The league’s salary cap is soaring like a Six Flags roller coaster in the coming years, meaning players with huge upside like him will come at a far greater cost than before. Barnes and his agent, Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management, have this security blanket covered in dollar signs on their side here.

The Warriors, meanwhile, have a one-of-a-kind locker room where there is a positive culture and across-the-board cohesion to protect. It was just four months ago, remember, that they gave fellow fourth-year player/starter Draymond Green a five-year, $82 million deal to return. It was a generous deal, to be sure, but one can only imagine how Green — the 35th pick in the 2012 draft who was deemed the “heartbeat” of this team last season by head coach Steve Kerr — might have felt if Barnes (who was the seventh pick in the same draft) wound up making more than him to stick around.

Sure enough, the annual salary that the Warriors are known to have offered Barnes in a four-year extension and that was turned down — approximately $16.4 million — would put him right alongside Green in that regard. That wasn’t a coincidence.

“The deal has to work for Harrison and the organization,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. “And I always — maybe it’s my background (as a player agent) — but I always respect the position that an athlete takes in these situations. And now, representing the organization, we’re going to make the decision the best decision for us.

“I would not say (they’re) disappointed, would not say frustrated. Like I said, (Barnes) has conducted himself tremendously well — as has his representative — and I think we ended the discussions in a very healthy place, if that’s possible. And I say that will all sincerity.”

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 29


VIDEO: Stephen Curry looks ahead to the upcoming season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors ready to get back to work | Kobe has more questions than answers | Hawks back to chasing the process | Knicks and Anthony return, with expectations low

No. 1: Warriors ready to get back to work Last season, in Steve Kerr‘s first year as a head coach, the Golden State Warriors struck gold, winning the franchise’s first NBA championship in four decades, thanks largely to the play of NBA MVP Stephen Curry. After winning the NBA Finals, the Warriors clearly enjoyed the offseason, as members of the team popped up all over the media landscape, often with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow. But as our own Scott Howard-Cooper writes, at media day yesterday the Warriors reconvened in the Bay Area ready to get back to work defending their chip

Day 1 of the new season as defending champion and reigning MVP, and Curry already has a challenge: Show he got enough down in the alleged offseason to be ready to again drive the Warriors into June.

Teammate Andrew Bogut, noting the Golden State whirlwind since beating the Cavaliers in the Finals, said, “It feels like the championship parade was last Tuesday.” And he played for Australia in a tournament to qualify for the Olympics but mostly got to recharge. Imagine how fast the summer streaked by for Curry. He played in a POTUS foursome — Curry shot a 76 — had another daughter, hit China, the Philippines and Japan to promote Under Armour, and chatted with Jimmy Fallon in L.A. and Jimmy Kimmel in New York. And there were more talk shows, more appearances to help open the practice facility at Davidson, his alma mater, more other long days.

“All that stuff is fun, but at the end of the day I’m still the same person, still do the same stuff in my spare time that keeps me grounded, keeps me normal,” Curry said Monday as the Warriors officially reconvened for media day in advance of opening camp Tuesday at their practice facility. “Me and my family had an opportunity to get away and spend time with ourselves and just try to be as normal as possible. It’s obviously been different, especially here in the Bay Area. Going out and doing things, you get recognized a lot more. The world’s kind of gotten smaller. But for the most part, the way that we kind of live and do our daily routine, we find time to get away from the game and the noise. That’s helpful to handle all the good that’s gone on on the court and everything we’ve been able to accomplish.”

This now becomes about all the Warriors figuring out how to handle the champion’s spotlight, but no one more than Curry and his new status of superstar-in-demand. There are the many reasons to feel good around Warriors Ground. He is a tireless worker who puts a priority on being ready to play. He is 27, young enough to have the recovery powers that will eventually elude him. He has a coach, Steve Kerr, with a firm understanding of finding opportunities to cut back on players’ minutes. And Curry is mature enough — thanks in part to a father who lasted 16 NBA seasons — to understand the importance of rest.

Except that it doesn’t matter how Curry felt Monday. April matters, and there is no way to predict how his summer in a shrinking world will hit him when the next playoffs begin. (A lot will depend on the other Warriors. They recorded so many blowouts last season, becoming just the eighth team in league history to outscore the opposition by an average of double digits, that Curry was able to rest a lot of fourth quarters. That undoubtedly made a difference in the 2015 postseason.)

***

No. 2: Kobe has more questions than answers Kobe Bryant is in the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, but as he prepares for his 20th NBA season, there seem to be more questions than answers. For many months now, it has been assumed that this will be Kobe’s final season in the NBA. But now, on the even of training camp, as our own Shaun Powell writes, despite reports that Kobe plans to finish his career as a Laker, Kobe is either playing coy, or perhaps he honestly doesn’t know what the future holds

Here’s what we can surmise about Kobe at this very moment: His bread and butter move isn’t a step-back jumper or a floater in the lane or a 25-footer with a hand in his grill. His signature move is a shrug.

“Not sure,” he said. “Big question mark.”

That’s his stock answer right now to the most pressing training camp questions involving him and, to a lesser extent, the short-range view of the Lakers, who did not and could not surround him with enough championship-level talent here in what could be his walk-away season. Once again, then, Kobe is one of the league’s most fascinating players even if he isn’t the best or among the best anymore.

Maybe it’s just Kobe being coy, or maybe, as he insisted, he’s as stumped as ever.

“I’m as excited for this season as I’ve been any season,” he said, before adding that it’s also the most unsure he’s ever felt in an NBA uniform. He has played only 41 games the last two seasons mainly due to a repaired Achilles and suddenly, the most durable of stars appears vulnerable. He’s also on the final year of his contract which, of course, invites heavy speculation about retirement next spring.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” he said.

Or maybe you can go another route, as his former coach Phil Jackson did when he volunteered to throw a log on the fire by suggesting Kobe could play in another uniform next season.

“Everybody’s going to have an opinion,” Kobe said. “That’s his opinion.”

And Kobe’s opinion?

“Hell if I know.”

***

No. 3: Hawks back to chasing the process Last season the Atlanta Hawks caught the NBA by surprise, reeling off 60 wins and taking the regular season Eastern Conference crown. This season they return with not only the element of surprise removed from their arsenal, but with their style of pace and space basketball exposed for the rest of the NBA to scheme against. As our own Sekou Smith writes, the Hawks understand last season was only a step in the pursuit of a larger goal

A historical season, for the franchise and the city of Atlanta, is just history now. There will be no chasing the ghosts of the recent past and no measuring this season by the last, at least not around here, where the Hawks are as married to the process of the present as any team in the NBA.

“Last season was just a step,” All-Star shooting guard Kyle Korver said Monday during the Hawks’ Media Day session at Philips Arena. “It was a giant step, a huge step and great for this franchise and the city, but just a step. We didn’t win a championship, so it’s not like we accomplished our ultimate goal.”

Winning it all would have been considered crazy talk around here before last season. Yes, the Hawks have been an Eastern Conference playoff staple for years but never a serious contender.

But one season, one colossal season where seemingly everything fits into place, can change wild expectations into a reality at the tip of your fingers.
“We don’t have any doubts about who and what we are,” All-Star point guard Jeff Teague said. “We’ve worked hard as a group the past few years and this is the result of that hard work. We know who we are and what we’re capable of. We’ve shown what we can do. And now it’s about consistency.”

The Hawks return four All-Stars — Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Teague — and other members of their core group that are entering their third training camp under Mike Budenholzer, who added the permanent title of President of Basketball Operations to his official title during offseason that saw the Hawks get a new ownership group.

The departure of defensive ace and emotional leader DeMarre Carroll (Toronto via free agency) is the only significant departure the Hawks will have to deal with heading into the start of training camp Tuesday at the University of Georgia. And even that comes with the added boost of producing some competitive fire from the players vying to replace him, a group that includes Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr.

It’s just the sort of training camp wrinkle Budenholzer is looking for to shake things up for a group that is confident in the body of work produced in his first two seasons, but still hungry for bigger and better things going forward.

“I think there is going to be a team effort to bring the energy and the competitiveness and the edge that a guy like DeMarre Carroll brings,” Budenholzer said of replacing Carroll. “So I don’t know that there is going to be any one individual who does that. But I think there are guys on our team, the core group that’s been here, they are probably going to raise their level of energy and intensity. But when you have Thabo and Kent who have both been here and I think are both elite wing defenders and have have proven that in the NBA, it may look and feel a little bit different, but I think their ability to have a similar impact is something that gives us a lot of confidence.”

***

No. 4: Knicks and Anthony return, with expectations low Carmelo Anthony missed more than half of last season after knee surgery, which was a major reason the Knicks finished with a franchise-low 17 wins. Now Anthony is healthy, and Knicks team president Phil Jackson has made several moves to fortify the roster, as the Knicks’ rebuilding project begins the task of actually getting off the ground. How long will it take Anthony and rookie Kristaps Porzingis to help mold the Knicks into a team with more wins than losses? As our own Lang Whitaker writes, at media day yesterday Anthony was quick to point out that it’s too early to have expectations at this point

“It’s going to take some time to kind of figure out what our expectations are,” says Anthony. “It’s good not to have any expectations at this time. It gives us a chance to kind of have a fresh start, and get our identity and where we want to end up. It starts tomorrow. I don’t think you’ll be hearing about expectations from any of the guys right now. It’s too early at this point.”

This isn’t to say Anthony thinks the Knicks shouldn’t have any aspirations whatsoever. As he enters his 13th season, the 31-year-old Anthony has been to the Conference Finals just once (in 2009 with the Nuggets), and still hopes to change the narrative advanced by some that while he’s clearly a gifted scorer — averaging 25.2 points over his career — he’s not much more than just a bucket collector. With Anthony under contract with the Knicks for at least three more seasons, the clock is ticking louder and louder on the prime of his career.

“My window is open,” he says. “I don’t think it’s closing. For the most part, coming into this year, I think we get a chance to write our own destiny right now. That’s a good thing — we can start off fresh, start off with a clean slate. We can write whatever story we want to write, whether good or bad. I think guys are excited about that, to have a chance to start off fresh, to put the past behind us and move forward.”

A large part of New York’s future looks to rest in the hands of first round draft pick Kristaps Porzingis, the 19-year-old seven-footer from Latvia that the Knicks drafted fourth overall. Porzingis has clearly learned how to appeal to area fans, with several vague but laudatory maxims down cold: “Best city in the world,” Porzingis notes. “No better place to win.”

According to Porzingis, he and Anthony played one-on-one, “for like a week straight, every day. As I played against him, he was showing me all his moves, and I was just trying to learn from him, asking him how he did this, how he did that, how he moves his feet, all that kind of stuff.”

(By the way, rookie, who won the bulk of these games? “Melo is Melo. He beat me more than I beat him.”)

After being selected 4th overall by the Knicks in the 2015 Draft, Kristaps Porzingis got off to a solid start in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Anthony said he hopes to be a “big brother” to Porzingis, and he clearly sees some similarities in his own journey to the NBA: Anthony entered the league as a 19-year-old in 2003 after being the third overall pick.

“I’ve showed everybody I support Porzingis,” Anthony says. “As long as me and KP know our relationship, that’s all that really matters, and it doesn’t matter what somebody might speculate out there. As far as him coming into this season, I kind of feel bad for him, because there’s so much pressure on him at this point, and this guy hasn’t played not even one minute in the NBA… I don’t think he knows what he’s about to get himself into. So I’ve got to kind of be that wall for him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: When LeBron James and his Cavs teammates met up in Miami this summer, they used the informal workout as a motivating sessionKevin Garnett still hates playing centerJimmy Butler says the Bulls belong to everyone … How the Clippers ended up signing Josh Smith … The Orlando Magic and Evan Fournier have reportedly had initial discussions about a contract extension … The Lakers have hired James Worthy to help coach their big menSteven Adams can’t wear a headband

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rubio thinks Wiggins will be big time | Also, Kawhi is thinking big, too | Horford talks Dominican hoops | Burke ready and able

No. 1: Rubio thinks Wiggins will be big time — There’s lots of optimism in Minnesota about basketball, and it doesn’t center on the Lynx for a change. No, the former WNBA champs could take a back seat, popularity-wise, to the Timberwolves this season. Over the last two years, since the Kevin Love trade, the Wolves have gradually stockpiled assets and young players and believe the best is yet to come. This represents a change for a franchise that really hasn’t been on radar since Kevin Garnett left for the Celtics. Anyway, Ricky Rubio is in Manila doing promotions and was asked about the Wolves. He didn’t hold back and saved his best props for Andrew Wiggins, as Naveen Ganglani of Rappler reports …

The 6-foot-4 Rubio, who averaged 10.3 points, 8.8 assists, and 5.7 rebounds a game last season with an effectiveness rating of 15.24, said that health will be a big factor in order for the playoffs-starved franchise to reach their goal.

“If we stay healthy, there’s no doubt that we’re going to have a chance,” said Rubio, who’s about to enter his fifth year in the NBA — all with Minnesota. “We [all] have to be there to do that, and dream big.”

Wiggins is the key factor. Good enough to win last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year, the former Kansas Jayhawk averaged 16.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per contest in his freshman campaign as a pro.

What’s more impressive than his statistics or athleticism is that he’s already displayed a great feel for the NBA game despite being just 20 years old, making pundits believe he can one day blossom into a top-5 player in the league.

His point guard is thinking even further.

“I think Wiggins is going to be an MVP one day,” said Rubio, who missed a large chunk of last season due to a severely sprained ankle injury.

***

No. 2: Also, Kawhi is thinking big, too It’s pretty common for players on the verge of stardom thinking they’re ready to take the next step, but in Kawhi Leonard‘s case, he might be on to something. Lots of the attention this summer in San Antonio was generated by LaMarcus Aldridge defecting from Portland and, to a lesser extent, David West from Indiana. And yet, lots of the Spurs’ upcoming season will depend on Leonard and whether he’s ready to be an All-Star. To hear him say it, he is. And Leonard doesn’t say much. But he has plenty of confidence in himself and is big on the Spurs, which is why he decided to stay and sign an extension. This is what Leonard told David Zink of the Press-Enterprise

Moreno Valley’s Kawhi Leonard usually lets his game do the talking.

But Saturday morning, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year delivered an important message to the young athletes who attended his basketball camp at the Moreno Valley Conference and Recreation Center.

“I want the kids to know that it’s not a myth that somebody from their city plays and wins in the NBA,” said Leonard, who helped Riverside King High to consecutive CIF-Southern Section titles in 2008 and ‘09. “I just want to influence them to work hard and do whatever they want to do in life, whether it’s to be a basketball player or scientist … if they believe in themselves they can do anything.

“That’s why I have this camp.”

On Saturday, about 90 boys and girls spent the day at the free camp rubbing elbows with one of the great, young NBA talents.

Quiet and unassuming, Leonard, 24, is a relentless competitor who has taken the NBA by storm, carving out his spot among the elite players while playing in a San Antonio Spurs system that values hard work and unselfish play.

“Winning just rubs off on you, once you see Manu (Ginobili), Tony (Parker) and Tim (Duncan) wanting to win every game.”

Now that’s he’s reached a new plateau professionally, Leonard says he’s ready to make another big leap.

“I want to to be an (NBA) all-star and MVP of the regular season,” said Leonard. “I’m trying to be one of the greatest players so whatever level that consists of is where I want to take my game.”

***

No. 3: Horford talks hoops in the Dominican — Al Horford is the elder statesman of the Hawks, who won 60 games last season and reached the East finals for the first time, so he’s more qualified to discuss the state of the franchise than anyone else. He also won a pair of championships at Florida under Billy Donovan, now the coach of the Thunder, so while conducting a clinic with Basketball Without Borders, Horford let it fly about those two subjects and more to Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated

The NBA and FIBA’s Basketball Without Borders program held its first-ever camp in the Dominican Republic this week, and along for the ride was Hawks big man Al Horford, for whom the events held added weight.

Horford was born in Puerto Plata, lived in the country until the age of 14 and continued to visit every offseason to see family and help run basketball clinics. His father, Tito, also taking part this week, was the NBA’s first Dominican-born player. The Basketball Without Borders traveling contingent also included Mavericks forward Charlie Villanueva, whose parents are Dominican, and Horford’s former Florida teammate Corey Brewer of the Rockets.

SI.com caught up with the All-Star center in the midst of his trip for a window into his experience and his take on a busy off-season for the Hawks, who are preparing to follow up on a 60-win campaign and the franchise’s first-ever trip to the Eastern Conference finals. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

SI.com: Given that you grew up in the Dominican, how meaningful is it to be a part of the first-ever camp there, and especially to be there with your dad?

Horford: It’s a pretty awesome experience. We’re very grateful that the NBA has brought this caliber of camp to the Dominican Republic, and we get to have an impact in the community as well. I’m excited, my family and I, this has been a week-long celebration, just being able to teach kids, spend time together and make a difference down here.

SI.com: As a kid, you chose basketball over baseball. Obviously baseball’s still the main thing there, but do you get the sense that interest in basketball has changed over the years?

Horford: No question. Baseball’s our dominant sport, obviously, but more and more, you’re starting to see kids from a very young age start to play basketball and really be interested in the game. There’s a big following here. People follow us, they know what’s going on in the NBA, and people here want to play basketball. It’s funny, you drive anywhere in the city, you’ll see courts and people out there playing at all hours of the day. It’s pretty impressive.

***

No. 4: Burke ready and able There’s been plenty of worry in Salt Lake City over the knee injury suffered by Dante Exum, which will likely sideline him for all of the 2015-16 season. But Trey Burke says, have no fear. With the Jazz down a point guard, Burke feels it’s time to start carrying himself like a veteran and help fill the void of Exum, who was expected to see increased playing time in the Utah backcourt. Here’s Burke discussing Exum and the clang to Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune

Trey Burke was sitting on the concourse at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday afternoon, signing autographs with a silver marker when a fan struck up a conversation with the Utah Jazz guard.

“Now for the most important question,” the man said after a while. “Utah or Michigan?”

Burke smiled and said he’d be rooting for his alma mater when Jim Harbaugh and company visit Salt Lake City on Sept. 3.

After some lighthearted razzing, the man chuckled and turned to the woman at his side and said, “He’s the perfect point guard except that he’s from Michigan.”

The couple laughed.

Burke, too.

He knows he has been far from perfect since he led the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament championship game, won college basketball’s player of the year award and became the first point guard drafted in 2013.

“I haven’t hit the goals that I have for myself,” Burke said between fulfilling autograph requests and posing for pictures at a community fair. “But I feel like they’ve been two solid years. I’ve been learning a lot, especially over this summer and last summer. But I know I have a lot of room to improve and I’m willing to work on those areas.”

Burke knew he was facing a crucial year ahead even before knowing that starting point guard Danté Exum could miss all of next season with a torn ACL. Burke had shown flashes over his first 146 games in the NBA, but he also struggled for stretches when he was getting beat on defense or missing too many shots. So as he prepared to his third season with the Jazz, Burke said he was as motivated as ever to prove himself.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Glen Davis believes the Clippers would’ve beaten the Warriors in the Western Conference finals even though the Clippers have fewer banners in Staples than Taylor SwiftCan the Rockets really sign Kevin Durant? … They love LeBron in the Philippines.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Griffin backs a 66-game season | Horford says he’s ‘very happy’ with Hawks | Next challenge for Valanciunas

No. 1: Griffin says 66 games is ideal NBA season length — The 2011-12 NBA season was a 66-game slate that some considered the perfect amount of games for the regular season. Since that lockout-shortened season, the NBA has resumed its regular, 82-game schedule and shows no signs of changing that anytime soon. CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger recently caught up with several of the NBA’s stars and, in a Q&A session, asked them what the ideal length of a season would be. Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin was the lone player who voiced support for a shorter season:

If money were no object, what would the ideal length of the NBA regular season be?

Griffin: Sixty-six, spread over the same amount of time [as the current 82-game season]. Fatigue and injuries, and better product. If you have less games, less back-to-backs, the product’s better. The fans will appreciate it more. You see those college guys playing so hard, but they play 36 games in the same amount of time we play 82 almost. I just think it would be a better product.

John Wall: I just enjoy playing. I enjoy loving the game, so it doesn’t matter to me. I think [82 games] is cool … if you get more breaks. They did a great job of giving us more time at the All-Star break, giving us a couple of more days.

Draymond Green: I don’t know if you can necessarily say there’s a better way because it’s never been done. Within the course of the 82, some people catch their stride, as you saw the season before last year. The Spurs caught their stride in like the last 35-40 games. If you’re not playing 82, do they catch their stride? Are they world champions? Who knows? So it’s kind of hard to judge. I think it’s a slippery slope when you get to assessing that because, yeah, what was the lockout year, 66? So you saw that, but you also saw three games in three days, which you can’t judge off that, either. And then there’s going to be an unhappy party, because the owners aren’t going to make as much money, which means the players won’t make as much money. So I think it’s a slippery slope. At the end of the day, our league has done great. Is that something to really tinker with? Probably not. Is there really a reason to? Yeah, guys get tired. But are you going to get tired if there’s 65 games? Probably so. I just think that’s a tough subject.

Chris Paul: Money is an object, though. When we were kids playing AAU, we’d play five games in a day and wouldn’t think twice about it. I don’t know what the right number is. We’ve been playing 82 for a while though, huh? As far as I can remember. That’d be tough [to change].

Kenneth Faried: I think 82 is the proper length. We’ve been playing this game for so long and it’s been 82. [Michael] Jordan played 82. They played more preseason games, so they cut the preseason games and training camp down, which is good for us. But at the same time, these guys before us were playing 20-plus years and they were playing 82 and still being All-Stars and still having big names — Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and those guys. So guys who’ve done it before us, they’ve already paved the way, so we just have to follow in their footsteps as much as we can.

***

No. 2: Horford says he’s ‘very happy’ with Hawks — If you thought this summer’s free agency period was full of news, wait until next summer. Several big names will be hitting the market, Atlanta Hawks All-Star big man Al Horford among that group. In a chat with SI.com’s Jeremy Woo, Horford reflected on Atlanta’s successful 2014-15 campaign, its offseason moves and his own future with the team going forward:

SI.com: Looking back, how would you describe last season?

Horford: It was a great season for our team. I felt like everything started to come together as far as coach’s system. I feel like we really all were able to sink in and play the way he wanted us to play. And it showed—[it was] the first time we made it to the Eastern Conference finals in Hawks history. Now, we’re looking to build on that and try to be the best team we can.

SI.com: Have you had the chance to go back and watch any of the Cleveland series? [The Hawks were swept in four games.]

Horford: Honestly, no. They obviously dominated us, they were the better team. I don’t need to see that, I know what we need to do, I know we have a lot of work ahead of us. Our whole team. So this is the time to do it. Individually, I’m working on my game and trying to get better for the upcoming season.

SI.com: How big was it for the Hawks to be able to keep Paul Millsap?

Horford: It was very important. I think that was the priority for us, to make sure we brought Paul back. Being able to add Tiago Splitter and Tim Hardaway, really was big. Unfortunately, we lost DeMarre [Carroll, who signed long-term with Toronto]—he’s such a great player, but it was the type of thing he couldn’t turn down, and it’s what’s best for him and his family.

SI.com: What will it take for the team to sustain that success?

Horford: Being healthy, that’s the number one thing for our team. For the most part, we were healthy as a team last season. Two is to be able to keep playing the way we play, being a good defensive team, sharing the ball on offense. We had a lot of success doing those two things, and even though they’re simple, that’s what carried us.

SI.com: Considering the new additions to the team, what are some of the things you look for as far as fitting in?

Horford: I think for them, it’s just being able to get comfortable with the system. We’re just looking for them to impact the game and impact winning, and when you have a guy like Tiago Splitter, an experienced big man, I feel like he’ll be able to help us right away. Tim [Hardaway] I feel like has a lot of potential, and I’m very excited to see him playing in the system. I feel like he’ll be able to help us a lot.

SI.com: Lastly, I know you’ve said you’re waiting after the season to figure out your contract situation. What led you to that decision? [Horford will be a free agent in 2016.]

Horford: For me, I’m very happy in Atlanta. It’s one of those things where I don’t want any contract talks to be a distraction for my team and me. I feel like my focus this year is for us to build and be better. Since we can’t do anything right now, we’ll wait until the season’s over and then we can start talking about all that.

 

***

No. 3: Valanciunas gets his deal … now he needs to play some ‘D’ — Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is one of the more promising young big men in the NBA. In his three seasons in the league, Valanciunas has grown steadily as an offensive threat and rebounder, but his defense and rim-protection are lagging behind in development. The Raptors gave Valanciunas a $64-million contract extension yesterday, providing the big man with a secure future in Toronto. As Doug Smith of the Toronto Star reports, though, Valanciunas’ value relative to the deal will show up in how he defends going forward:

Whether or not the new contract extension signed by Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas makes good economic sense is secondary to one fact not in dispute.

There is vast room for the 23-year-old to improve as a player, and whether he makes $16 million as season or $16 a season won’t matter a lick if his development stalls.

Everyone connected with the Raptors knows it, and it was the underlying theme to the day when the Lithuanian big man inked a four-year, $64-million contract extension with the only NBA team he’s known.

“It depends on me,” he said during a hastily called news conference at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday afternoon.

“I have to get better defensively.”

If he can — and there’s no physical reason he shouldn’t be able to — it will make things vastly better for the Raptors and coach Dwane Casey, who barely used Valanciunas in the fourth quarter of any game last season because of perceived shortcomings.

“Everyone in the whole world knew we fell on defence, and how can we get it back to where we were and hopefully better is by maybe doing something different,” general manager Masai Ujiri said.

“That’s coaching, and it’s left to coach Casey and we’re confident he’s put together the right people and he’s identified some of the issues.”

The deal is another step in an expensive summer of moves for Ujiri. Coming off the four-games-and-out playoff elimination at the hands of the Washington Wizards he’s added DeMarre Carroll (four years, $60 million), Cory Joseph (four years, $30 million), Bismack Biyombo (two years, $6 million) and Luis Scola (one year, $3 million) while saying goodbye to Amir Johnson, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez.

The general manager has a window until Oct. 31 to think about a contract extension for Terrence Ross, and has at least thought about the possibility.

“We’ll keep monitoring and see how things get done, if anything happens,” Ujiri said. “We’ve had a little bit of discussion.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge has reportedly changed agents … Golden State Warriors rookie forward Kevon Looney (hip surgery) will be out 4-6 months … Former All-Star forward Carlos Boozer could be playing in China next season … Good Q&A with Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic …  The 2004 Detroit Pistons will be a part of NBA2K16’s classic teams this year

Morning Shootaround — July 13




VIDEO: Should the Thunder have matched the offer sheet for Enes Kanter?

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas | Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? | Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC | Jack ready to replace Williams | Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns

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No. 1: Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas — While other members of his Draft class are adjusting to the rigors of the NBA during their respective summer league debuts, Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is drawing rave reviews from every direction after his initial steps in the Las Vegas Summer League. There is a reason he sticks out, according to Rob Mahoney of SI.com:

The product on the floor at the Las Vegas Summer League is, by the tyranny of literal definition, basketball. It’s just a form of basketball so far removed from the NBA’s version as to complicate player evaluation. The best and worst performances alike come with the caveat that summer league is a world all its own: The talent level is lower, the continuity is nonexistent, and the context of play is altogether distinct.

The true standouts in Vegas, then, are those who demonstrate the kinds of skills that can cut through the divide. Count Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay among them. A combined 14 assists (including 10 on Sunday against Sacramento) in his first two summer league games doesn’t do him justice. Mudiay is such a smooth playmaker that he gives a makeshift offense of make-good prospects an actual rhythm.

Mudiay sees the game in a way that allows for that. There are prospects all across the summer league pool with rotation-quality speed or handle. Mudiay has both, stands a solid 6’5″, and has the vision to see all of a possession’s opportunities. Whenever his drives bring multiple defenders to the ball, Mudiay monitors even those options that might first seem unavailable: The half-defended roll man, the zoned-up shooter on the weak side, or the cutter caught in a crowd. His every step and spin revises those possibilities.

“I learned so much in China,” Mudiay said.  “Just slowing the game down, seeing where everybody’s at, knowing where everybody’s at. That really helped me.”

Just before the defense can settle, Mudiay creates. A cross-court pass will zip into the pocket of an available teammate from a difficult angle, bringing his drive-and-kick to a potent conclusion. Rare are those point guards who can not just find and exploit openings, but also keep defenses guessing. Mudiay has some of that spice—the ability to look past a good first option into a great (but challenging) second option. Corner shooters and hard rollers are going to love him.

“I can score when I need to but at the same time, [the Kings] were giving me wide open lanes,” Mudiay said. “Me finding my teammates, that was the main important thing. I found my teammates. How ever the other team’s playing me, that’s how I’m going to play.”

***

No. 2: Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? — In this summer’s free agent landscape, spending $1.4 million on a rotation big like Andrea Bargnani would appear to be a pretty good bargain for the Brooklyn Nets. Our John Schuhmann is not as confident in the addition of Bargnani as the decision-makers in Brooklyn:

It seems like a low-risk move by the Nets, who apparently stole Bargnani from the Sacramento Kings, who had offered him more than the minimum. But at this point in his career, it’s unclear what Bargnani has to offer any team who dares to pay him anything.

Bargnani has long been a bad defender. Of 386 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the nine years since Bargnani came into the league, only three – Ryan Gomes (108.9), Hakim Warrick(108.9) and Charlie Villanueva (109.5) – have had a higher on-court DefRtg (the number of points a player’s team allows per 100 possessions) than Bargnani (108.8).

He’s not a good (or willing) passer; His assist rate (7.4 assists per 100 possessions used) ranks 351st among those 386 players. And he’s a terrible rebounder for his size; he’s grabbed less than 10 percent of available rebounds when he’s been on the floor.

Bargnani is supposed to be a shooter and a floor spacer. But he has shot just 30 percent from 3-point range over the last four seasons.

He did shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks last season, but that was on just 41 attempts. And that’s the real issue. Bargnani doesn’t shoot many threes (or really space the floor) anymore.

In his first four seasons in the league, Bargnani took about one mid-range shot (between the paint and the 3-point line) for every 3-pointer. But over the last five seasons, his mid-range-to-threes rate has doubled.

Bargnani is a decent mid-range shooter. But even over the last five years, his mid-range shots (43.3 percent, 0.87 points per shot) haven’t been worth as much as his threes (31.8 percent, 0.95 points per shot).

Bargnani doesn’t shoot well or often in the paint. And if he fancies himself a shooter and/or a floor spacer, he can’t be taking twice as many mid-range shots as 3-pointers. Last year’s rate of more than 4-to-1 is just awful.

Speaking of awful, last year’s Knicks went 17-65. And they were at their worst, getting outscored by 17.5 points per 100 possessions (16.5 points per 48 minutes), when Bargnani was on the floor.

The Nets needed another big to back up Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Before Sunday, their only centers were Lopez and Willie Reed, who has never played in a NBA game.

But there were better options out there than Bargnani, who hasn’t been good at his one good skill in several years. It’s especially strange that a team looking to make moves with cap space next summer would dedicate any 2016-17 money (even if it’s a player option for the minimum) to a player like Bargnani. And my goodness, his relationship with an old-school, defense-first coach like Lionel Hollins will be fascinating to watch.

The good news for the Nets is that they didn’t give up three draft picks to get him.

 

***

No. 3: Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC — Now that the Thunder have matched Portland’s $70 million offer for Thunder restricted free agent Enes Kanter, it’s time for the big man to prove his worth on a healthy team that is ticketed for big things during the 2015-16 season. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman paints the picture in Oklahoma City:

 

The offense should be no problem. Kanter was superb offensively with the Thunder. In 26 games, Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 5.0 offensive rebounds per game. He shot 56.6 percent from the field. He scored inside; he scored outside. And Kanter wasn’t a black hole. He averaged a career-high 1.3 assists per 36 minutes. Serge Ibaka’s career high is 1.1.

But defensively? Total disaster. Historic, in many ways. The Thunder was so glad to have a healthy body, especially a big body who put the ball in the basket, that Kanter’s defense was glossed over. But it was bad. To borrow a phrase from Chris Paul. Bad, bad, bad.

When Kanter was traded from Utah on Feb. 19, the Thunder ranked ninth in NBA defense — 99.7 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz ranked 26th, 104.9.

In two months, basically a third of a season, Utah caught the Thunder. The Jazz finished 13th in NBA defense, 101.3 points per 100 possessions. OKC was 15th, 101.8.

The Jazz improvement wasn’t just addition by subtraction. It was addition by addition — 7-foot-3 Rudy Gobert moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz was transformed. Utah was 19-34 with Kanter; the Jazz was 19-10 without Kanter.

The Thunder’s defense suddenly cratered with Kanter playing 30 minutes a night. The final 17 games was without Serge Ibaka, which will sink many a defense, but still, that doesn’t explain the total collapse.

A new defensive statistic is really telling. Defensive real plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on team defensive performance. It might be the closest thing we have to a rock-bottom defensive value.

Kanter ranked 469th out of 474 NBA players measured. Read that again. Kanter ranked above only Sacramento’s Derrick Williams, the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, the Lakers’ Jabari Brown and Brooklyn’s Bojan Bogdanovic.

Kanter ranked last among 71 centers. The worst defensive center in the league was the guy the Thunder has committed to paying $70 million.

And it’s not like 2014-15 was an aberration. The season before, Kanter ranked 61st out of 62 centers, ahead only of Milwaukee’s John Henson.

Again, offensively, Kanter is a jewel. He ranked seventh among NBA centers in offensive real plus-minus, ahead of stars like Chris Bosh and Al Horford and Dwight Howard. So Kanter is the total package offensively. But that defense will kill you, as we learned down the stretch of the star-crossed season recently completed.

***

No. 4: Jack ready to replace Williams — The departure of Deron Williams in Brooklyn leaves a gaping hole in the lineup at point guard. Veteran Jarrett Jack insists he is ready to replace Williams, if that’s what Nets GM Billy King and coach Lionel Hollins need him to do. Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News has more:

Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson always planned to attend NBA summer league in Las Vegas as a team-building experience.

But addressing reporters late Saturday night in Cox Pavilion, circumstances had obviously changed.

Deron Williams, the former face of the franchise, was waived Saturday afternoon — the Nets agreeing to buy out the remaining two years and $43.3 million of his contract for $27.5 million.

The move allows the Nets to duck under the luxury cap threshold and increase their salary cap space for 2016-17.

But Williams’ departure also creates a job opening at point guard.

While coach Lionel Hollins and GM Billy King danced around questions of who will take over the role, it’s assumed that Jack, a well-liked veteran who started 27 games last season and came up big in late-game situations, will play the part with perhaps newly acquired Shane Larkin also pushing for minutes.

“If that’s the position they want me to fill, I’m definitely very ready to do so,” Jack said. “It’s not my first rodeo as far as being thrust into the (starter’s) role if that were to be the case. So it’s something that’s not foreign to me and (I’m) definitely ready for the challenge.”

Jack said he spoke to Williams on Friday about his exit out of Brooklyn.

Williams is expected to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks after he clears waivers on Monday.

“He was in good spirits, going back to his hometown team, thought he might have needed a change of scenery, you know, which is cool,” Jack said. “In professional sports, happiness is a thing that we don’t get to control a lot. It seems like he’s happy with the new situation and I’m definitely happy for him and hope he does well.”

***

No. 5: Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns — All the moves made this summer in Phoenix have Eric Bledsoe believing that the Suns are a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. That means his commitment to the Suns and to improved leadership are crucial to the cause. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

Eric Bledsoe is known for doing impressive things during the NBA season.

Bledsoe’s offseason sounded impressive too but the work and dedication was out of sight until he showed up for training camps looking like the “after” photo in a fitness advertisement.

This is the offseason where Bledsoe’s dedication goes beyond fitness. He has had a presence in everything the Suns have been doing.

Bledsoe pledged to spend his summer in Phoenix rather than the usual return to his hometown, Birmingham, but his engagement has gone beyond a permanent address in the Valley.

Bledsoe has been working out at US Airways Center. He attended draft workouts. He held a youth basketball camp. He was part of the Suns’ recruiting group that pitched LaMarcus Aldridge. He came to Las Vegas on Saturday to join the Suns’ summer team workouts and watch their NBA Summer League games.

To Bledsoe, it is all part of becoming a playoff team.

“I just thought it was important to be around this summer to put the work in and to show that I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “I was working out with some of the newer guys and I built relations with Archie (Goodwin), T.J. (Warren) and Alex (Len)during the season. I told them I’d come here and check them out to see how much they’ve improved.”

Bledsoe hesitates to proclaim that the team is better than last season yet with “work still to be done.” He did say that the team is in “a better place” than at the end of last season, citing better health, relationship building and the potential to win.

Aldridge was considered a lock to sign with San Antonio this offseason but Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and new Suns center Tyson Chandler were part of the Suns group that at least swayed him momentarily.

“I’m out here to show I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “However I can possibly help the team get better, that’s what I’m going to do. Recruiting-wise, they needed me to get one of the top free agents. We missed out just by a hair but we got an even better post player (Chandler) and I think he’s going to help Alex. He’ll help defensively. He’s got the mentality of a player who’s won a championship and had a whole bunch of success in this league. It’ll help rub off on everybody else, especially the young guys.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks and John Henson are closing in on extension talks for the big man … New York Daily News reporter tries out for but fails to make Nets’ dance team … Zaza Pachulia is going from the oldest to a relative youngster in his move from Milwaukee to Dallas

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 203) Super Team Redux

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Maybe one superstar, one healthy, game-changing true superstar is all you need.

That one transcendent star might be just enough to get you into the building to compete for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Or at least that is the story they are telling today in Cleveland, where LeBron James has guided the Cavaliers back to The Finals for the first time since 2007.

He didn’t promise this when he returned home last summer, at least not right away. But the Cavaliers are here now, awaiting either the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets in The Finals next week.

And since we have a few days to ponder it, what does this feat for LeBron say about today’s NBA and what it takes to scale the mountain?

An hobbled Kyrie Irving and an injured Kevin Love should have been a recipe for disaster in the conference semifinals against Chicago. That was not the case. LeBron rendered that point moot with stellar work night after night and did the same against the Atlanta Hawks in the conference finals sweep. Can he do it again? We shall see.

In the meantime, let’s talk about the theory of a Super Team and whether or not that’s what you need to compete for it all, to win it all. Recent history is split on that (LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were 2-2 in the big series).

History says there are no guarantees for Super Teams, as our very own Rick Fox would know, having witnessed a Super Team meltdown of his own with the Los Angeles Lakers’ monster squad of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton — the one coached by the Zen Master himself, Phil Jackson. The same star-studded crew that fell to the ultimate team, the 2004 champion Detroit Pistons.

Mix it up with us on Episode 203 of The Hang Time Podcast: Super Team Redux …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: LeBron James leads the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Atlanta Hawks and into The Finals for the first time since 2007

Blogtable: Your view on Matthew Dellavedova?

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: Can LeBron pass MJ? | Your view on Dellavedova | Recruiting target for Celtics?



VIDEOIs Matthew Dellavedova scrappy, dirty or somewhere in-between?

> Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova is: A) a dirty player; B) a scrappy player; C) somewhere in-between.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll take C. Dellavedova doesn’t go out intending to hurt opponents, but he does play recklessly in a way that can jeopardize other players’ well-being. His leg clamp on Taj Gibson‘s leg in the East semifinals showed Dellavedova is no innocent – he knows how to be sneaky and get under foes’ skin – and his repeated involvement in incidents and mishaps is no coincidence. That said, a lot of too-cool players in this league would be well-served if they brought as much energy and assertiveness to their games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Somewhere in between, though I would come down more on the dirty play side who is hiding behind LeBron’s skirt.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: A scrappy player. The pattern is troubling and has me leaning toward a dirty player, more than I would have imagined before. But I think dirty is about intent, and I don’t think Delly has been trying to hurt anyone. He has seemed more out of control, attaching himself to Al Horford like that, but not intentionally injuring opponents.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and call him scrappy, but his grace period is over with one more questionable collision with a player. I wonder: LeBron was so vociferous in his defense of Delly, but suppose it was LeBron and not Al Horford who got hit? Or LeBron and not Kyle Korver? Or LeBron and not Taj Gibson? What would LeBron say then?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Somewhere in between. He plays hard, values every possession, and makes the most of what he’s got. When you do that and you’re not as coordinated as the average NBA player, you’re going to get under the skin of your opponent.  He’s First Team All-Irritant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Can I go with D, all of the above? Seriously, Delly doesn’t deserve the nefarious tag of being “dirty.” That’s a loaded statement and doesn’t mean the same thing it did in the NBA of old. That used to be a badge of honor. It has a totally different meaning in the can’t-touch-him defensive era that we live in now. All that said, there is a certain brand of justice for guys who play the way Dellavedova does, and it’s called a screen that loosens your Chiclets. You return fire for his “hustle” play with a pick that rattles his skull. And if LeBron James or anyone else wants to cry foul, remind them that whoever set the screen is just hustling and playing hard and doing whatever it takes, within the rules, to help his team win.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He isn’t dirty. Just about any retired NBA player over the age of 40 would tell you so: I’m betting that (1) they would respect him for seeking contact and diving for 50-50 balls, and (2) they would complain about a culture that condemns those plays as dirty.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I hesitate to call him “dirty,” because that means we aren’t judging his actions but his intent, and nobody out there can read his mind, no matter how much they yell on Twitter. So without tagging him as “dirty,” I will say this: When a network is able to put together a package of clips on any given topic — like, in this case, some questionable plays — there’s probably some meat on that bone. Dellavedova is the kind of guy you love to have on your team and hate to play against. And as long as he’s playing alongside LeBron James, he’s got at least one high-powered advocate making a case for him.


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