Posts Tagged ‘Al Jefferson’

Morning shootaround — Nov. 22

VIDEO: The Fast Break — Nov. 21

Cuban lets loose | Deron Williams rebounds | Fast-improving Favors is officially a Utah favorite | Warriors not stressing over record

No. 1: Cuban lets loose — The most sought-after interview in the NBA never changes. It’s significant time with Mark Cuban, the Mavericks owner and the maverick owner who always speaks his mind, which he can literally afford to do. Cuban is always entertaining and forthright and pretty much on-point with his thoughts on basketball or really anything you ask of him. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe managed to get some time with Cuban and we’re all better off for it:

He remains the most entertaining owner in the NBA, and he’ll offer an opinion on anything he is asked, making him one of the most transparent figures in sports.

Cuban was asked about the firing of Kevin McHale by his rivals, the Houston Rockets. Cuban has had very public feuds with Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, especially when the Mavericks nabbed swingman Chandler Parsons from the Rockets with a mega-deal in July 2014.

“I like Kevin, I feel bad for him personally, but the rest of it? Whatever,” Cuban said. “I mean, we’ve been in a high-expectation position before. We go to the Finals, we started 0-4 [in 2006-07], and it’s ‘what’s wrong?’ and we came back to win 67 games and lose in the first round.

“So I’ve said it before, the hardest thing for an NBA owner to do is hire a coach. The easiest thing to do is fire a coach. The reason it’s hard to hire a coach, coaches are great at date-face, they know exactly what your weaknesses are and they know exactly how to sell to those weaknesses, so it’s really difficult to pick it right and it’s 90 percent luck.”

Cuban recently signed his coach, Rick Carlisle, to a five-year extension.

“If the hardest thing to find is a good coach, you marry him, you put a ring on it,” Cuban said.

Asked about the escalating salary cap that will kick in next season with the new television contract, Cuban said, “It’s going to change a lot. More from a strategy perspective, it makes the value of draft choices go through the roof because they’re pegged at a certain price. Minimum contracts will go through the roof. Anybody that signs for the mid-level, the value goes through the roof.

“It’s going to be a lot of tough decisions. And in reality, if everything sticks to the projections that we come up with, the cap will go down after that. So that changes what you do as well.

“It will be really interesting. There will be some guys that will get way paid. When guys are making $30 million-plus, it’s going to be tough to have more than one of them.”

Cuban said he has no issues paying players such exorbitant salaries because that is the price of a championship.

“What’s a championship worth?” he said. “I always look at it as a team. The biggest mistake people make in this business is they say this player is worth ‘X.’ That’s never the case. When you insert that player as one of 15, if he can increase the value of [the team], he’s cheap.

“I remember back when we [acquired] Erick Dampier [in the middle of a $49 million contract] and everybody said we were idiots. Without that big body, we don’t go to The Finals, and we still should have won that Finals if it weren’t for three blind mice [i.e. the officials].”


No. 2: Deron Williams rebounds — OK, there’s no sense in proclaiming him the leader for comeback story of the year, since Paul George is way ahead and probably won’t look back. But Deron Williams is experiencing somewhat of a rejuvenation in Dallas after being dumped by the Nets and declared finished as a productive player. He’s hardly in All-Star form, yet the Mavericks are surprisingly flourishing right now and Williams is one of the reasons. Last season in Brooklyn, he was on the bench in tight games in favor of Jarrett Jack. But now, the ball’s in his hands and the Mavericks have confidence in him. More importantly, Williams has confidence in himself. Here’s Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News with the details:

He was a crunch-time beast Friday as the Mavericks weathered a hard push from Utah, steadied themselves behind their point guard and whipped the Jazz 102-93 at American Airlines Center for their sixth consecutive victory, matching their longest streak of last season.

At 9-4, the Mavericks hit the road for a three-game trip starting Sunday at Oklahoma City.

Williams finished with 23 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. His 3-pointer after a nice feed from Raymond Felton with two minutes to play put the Mavericks up 95-87. He added to that cushion with a pair of free throws — running his streak to 35 without a miss this season — as the Mavericks finished off the Jazz, who fell behind by 20 but got as close as five down the stretch.

Williams missed almost all of training camp with nagging injuries and had a knee problem early in the regular season. He has rounded into form nicely of late. He took over the Boston game on Wednesday with 11 fourth-quarter points and was every bit as dominant against the Jazz.

Williams isn’t quite ready to pronounce himself as the Mavericks’ closer, but he’s certainly sent a message that he’s capable of doing so.

“Everything’s coming together,” he said. “It’s still early. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But I definitely feel more comfortable out there. I’m getting opportunities in the fourth. I’ve had a chance to have the ball in my hands at the ends of games, and I can make plays not only for myself and others.”

It’s a nice feeling, one that Williams hasn’t enjoyed often enough in recent seasons. He got overlooked or overshadowed too many times in Brooklyn.

“There were times when I did a lot of standing, a lot of watching,” he said. “And that takes away your aggressiveness. That’s not what I’m good at.”


No. 3:Fast improving Favors is a Utah favorite — Interesting thing about Deron Williams: He cost the Nets a lot, and not just $100 million. Remember, the Nets surrendered a promising teenage power forward named Derrick Favors to get Williams, and years later, it’s clear that Utah came out ahead. Favors’ game is maturing and he’s becoming a double-double guy, following previous Jazz low-post beats who collected doubles, Karl Malone and Al Jefferson. The sixth-year forward spent time with Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune, who offers this:

“I think last year was my first time having fun again, playing basketball,” Favors said. “I got comfortable with talking to the coaches. I felt more responsible and got more comfortable as a team leader. I have more responsibility offensively and defensively. I feel better in my role, and I think that’s made me open up a lot more.”

As the Jazz prepare to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, Favors is shining in his role as a difference-making power forward.

Favors, in his sixth season out of Georgia Tech, is averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game, to go with 1.5 blocks. He’s been a hub offensively in the post and on the perimeter when he drifts to 15-18 feet from the basket. Defensively, he’s been almost spectacular, not just blocking shots, but in pick-and-roll coverages and defending the perimeter against stretch power forwards and smaller guards.

Beyond the numbers, Favors is playing with an edge previously unseen. For the first time in his career, he’s showing emotion on the floor, scowling after snatching rebounds, celebrating after baskets. People are noticing. Whispers around the league suggest Favors could have a shot at the All-Star Game, if he continues to play well and if the Jazz find consistency in the win column.

Yet, he remains unfazed.

“I think I’ve played well, but I feel like can play a lot better,” Favors said. “As far as offensively, I feel like I can play better, like there’s more stuff I can do. As far as being an All-Star, you never know. You never know how stuff works out, as far as how political the process is.”

So, how has Favors been able to explode? He said the maturation has been six years in the making. He came into the NBA a raw specimen, a 6-foot-10 athletic man-child with few refined skills.

As the No. 3 pick of his draft, Favors was supposed to dominate from the jump. He didn’t, and needed time to adjust, something the then-New Jersey Nets decided they didn’t have enough of. So Favors was brought to Utah in the Deron Williams trade.

Favors was stung by that trade, and to this day plays with a chip because of it. He felt discarded, unwanted at a young age, and was stung by the criticism of him needing development.

The result today is a Favors with an offensive game that’s becoming more well-rounded by the year. He has a consistent jumper. He’s effective with his back to the basket. He’s always been great rebounding the ball for points and he’s becoming a better passer.


No. 4:Warriors not stressing over record — How did we make it this far in the Morning Shootaround without the obligatory Warriors mention? OK, here it goes. The Warriors can tie the NBA record for fastest start tonight against the Nuggets and maybe you’ve heard about that. Well, if you believe the Warriors, they’re taking this historic start in stride, which is in their best interest. Nothing makes these guys sweat, which is easy to avoid when you have Steph Curry on the squad, hitting jumpers, and others filling in. Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle is with the gang and filed this observation:

The Warriors go for 15 wins in a row Sunday night, and they’ll have to descend about 2 miles in order to reach Pepsi Center’s mile-high altitude. This is a team that is locked in and loosey-goosey, a dangerous combo.

Luke Walton, the interim head coach, was talking Friday night about the Warriors’ team vibe. Apparently, behind closed locker-room doors, these fellows laugh a lot. Walton recalled a pregame moment from last season’s NBA Finals. The Warriors were coming off a loss, they were in trouble, looking beatable in Cleveland.

Steve Kerr and his assistants were huddled in their own locker room minutes before show time, mapping last-minute strategy. They were also wondering about the emotional state of their players.

From next door in the Warriors’ locker room, peals of raucous laughter rang out.

Kerr said to his staff, “I guess they’re going to be all right.”

They were. They are.

In this expert’s opinion, the Warriors will not go 82-0 in this regular season. But whatever losses they suffer won’t be due to the pressure finally getting to them.

One of the key elements Kerr brought to the Warriors — and it remains solidly with them even during his absence from bench — is that, dammit, you’d better have fun.

That’s why the Warriors end many practices with a wild free-for-all shooting contest, as mature as a food fight.
Kerr’s philosophy is that this is dead-serious business, but it’s basketball, played best with a soaring spirit and childlike exuberance.

“Fun, that’s the No. 1 priority,” Draymond Green said Friday night. “That’s what coach Kerr has preached from Day 1: Have fun. Got the best job in the world, we come to play basketball for a living, with guys that we like.”

So the streak is not weighing on you?

“Absolutely not. Not at all.”

Of course, it’s easier (I’m guessing) to have fun when you never lose. There will be sterner tests ahead of the Warriors’ joviality. Right now, they’ve got the top down and they’re enjoying the ride.

But enjoying it too much? If Kerr were speaking publicly these days (no timetable on his return, by the way, but indications are that his recovery is progressing) he would likely express some concern about his team getting a little too loose.

Kerr wants the Warriors to be lightning-fast and creative, but not sloppy and careless. He convinced his team last season that it’s possible to be fast and smart.

The last three games, team leader and floor general Stephen Curry has crossed over into Kerr’s concern area, to the point where Kerr kidded Curry about how much money he’s losing to his mom in their ongoing turnovers bet.

Curry averaged 3.9 turnovers last year as the league MVP. He said before the season that, because of the team’s maturing and his own off-season training, he expected turnovers to go down. Sure enough, through the first 11 games, Curry averaged 3.1 turnovers.

But the last three games Curry turned the ball over seven, seven and six times. Too many.

Walton said Curry’s recent turnover flurry was partly due to opponents’ scouting and scheming for Curry’s tendencies, and the Warriors’ coaches and Steph would need to counter.

But some of it is just Curry’s attack/create mentality. He’s not looking to make crazy passes just to show off, but he is constantly seeking a higher level of basketball, which steepens the risk-reward curve.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Gregg Popovich is amazed that folks in San Antonio want to name schools after him. … Dwyane Wade is getting older and he’s getting smarter. … Lance Stephenson was supposed to help the Clippers, remember? What happened? … Toronto must find a way to minimize the absence of Jonas Valanciunas, out with a broken bone in his non-shooting hand, and good luck with that. … Meanwhile, Brandon Jennings is getting close to making his return.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 9

VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Sunday, Nov. 8


Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG | Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night | Thunder embrace their true identity | Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times

No. 1: Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG — His first points in 1996. The 61 he dropped on the crowd in 2009. Some of Kobe Bryant‘s greatest memories have come on the floor at Madison Square Garden. He added 18 more in what could very well be his final time playing on that floor Sunday in a loss to the New York Knicks. Lakers coach Byron Scott admitted that he and Kobe have spoken about the fact that his 20th season could indeed be his final season in the league. If so, the farewell tour took a decided twist at MSG, where our very own Lang Whitaker was on hand to witness what could very well be Kobe’s final call at the Mecca:

Following Sunday’s game, Kobe reminisced about that first appearance at the Garden — “It was like one of those VHS tapes when someone hit the fast-forward button and the TV was moving really fast.” — as well as that ’98 All-Star game — “In the locker room, I look to my right and there’s Stockton, and I look to my left and there’s Drexler.”

“I don’t think you understand how much I watched this building growing up,” Bryant said. “I mean, Frazier and Monroe and all those teams, DeBusschere and Reed and all those guys. I was like, truly, truly a fan of watching all these games. Then the Bulls, obviously, and the Pacers battles, and all that stuff. To be able to come here and have the performances I’ve had in this building, it feels extremely, extremely fortunate.”

Accordingly, Bryant is still respected like few opponents at MSG. Even Sunday, whenever he pulled up for a jumper, there was roar of anticipation. When Bryant pump-faked on the wing with three minutes left and the game in the balance, several fans sitting behind him leapt to their feet in anticipation of a big bucket, one that never came.

These days, the riddle the Lakers find themselves trying to unravel is exactly what they want and need out of Bryant. Do they need a volume shooter who occasionally flirts with a 40-point game? Or is the best course for the franchise to focus on the future? The Lakers used a lineup in the fourth quarter on Sunday featuring Kobe playing alongside a seven-year vet (Roy Hibbert), a second-year player (Jordan Clarkson), and two guys who, for all intents and purposes, are rookies (D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle).

“I think they’re developing extremely well,” Kobe said of the younger players. “They continue to improve reading on both ends of the floor, actually. My communication with them has been very tactical. The little things.”

“All he has to do is be himself,” said Bryant’s long-time teammate Metta World Peace. “He doesn’t have to do anything extra. He don’t have to be what his fans want him to be. He don’t have to try to prove to the media that he can still jump over the rim, or he don’t have to prove to anybody that he’s not who he was a couple of years ago. All he gotta do is enjoy us, just be a part of us, and we’ll be a part of him. We’ll do it together. It’s not about any individual on the team, it’s about us. As long as we continue to have that mindset, we’ll be fine.


No. 2: Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night — If you’ve overlooked a struggling Detroit Pistons team in recent years, now might be a good time to end that practice. The Pistons, 5-1 and off to their best start in eight years, look for real. They’ve got a wild card in point guard Reggie Jackson (who led the team with a career-high 40 points, 26 in the fourth quarter, in Sunday’s comeback win in Portland) and an absolute double-double monster in center Andre Drummond (29 points and 27 rebounds in the win). Drummond is averaging 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds, the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1970-71 to do so through the first six games of a season. He joins Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to record three 20-20 performances in the first six games of a season. Drummond is elevating his game, and his name, into the realm of giants with his start to this season, as Rico Beard of the Detroit News explains:

Another night with a double-double — and in the case of Sunday night’s 120-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, an almost-absurd 29 points and 27 rebounds. It’s becoming common for the fourth-year center, who boosted his jaw-dropping averages to 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds through the first six games.

He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three games 20-20 games in the first six games of a season.

On the offensive end, he displayed a fluid jump-hook and was a menace on the offensive glass, with nine, fueling the Pistons’ double-digit comeback, for their second win on the six-game West Coast trip.

“Andre’s numbers are phenomenal. I just told somebody if he didn’t get a rebound the rest of the trip, he’d be in the top three or four in the league in rebounding — he’d be averaging over 12 a game,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “What he’s doing on the boards is phenomenal; he was just swallowing the ball down the stretch. It was an incredible turnaround.”

But even as Drummond started to get more comfortable — hitting 14-of-19 from the field, Reggie Jackson started to break out, scoring 26 of his 40 points in the final period. Van Gundy said he wanted to get the ball to Drummond more, but with Jackson on a roll, there wasn’t a need.

All season, Drummond has focused on team success rather than individual stats, but with his All-Star-caliber numbers, it’s hard to ignore.

“Whatever night we win is a great win,” he said. “Individually, I’m just doing my part to help my team win, no matter what the numbers are — 5 rebounds or 20 rebounds. As long as we win the game, it was a good night for me.”

With his third game of 25 points and 25 rebounds, Drummond leads all active players, surpassing Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson, who have two apiece.


No. 3: Thunder embrace their true identity — Playing to your strengths is always the best plan for a team adjusting to a new coach and a new system. And the Oklahoma City Thunder are certainly still adjusting to Billy Donovan and his system. But as long as the strength in Oklahoma City remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the most explosive scorers in the game, and a lineup filled with quality scorers, there’s really no mystery as to what will make the adjustment period tolerable for a team with designs on competing for a championship this season. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman witnessed the Thunder’s offensive burst Sunday in a win over the Phoenix Suns:

Russell Westbrook entered at his customary time, early in the fourth quarter, and joined a unique but increasingly more customary lineup.

At shooting guard: Dion Waiters. At small forward: Kevin Durant. At power forward: Serge Ibaka. At center: Enes Kanter.

“Dangerous, man, dangerous,” Waiters said. “Lotta guys out there that can get buckets.”

When the group convened at the 7:56 mark of the fourth quarter, the Thunder led by 12. When the next substitution was made, at the 4:22 mark, the Thunder was up 22. In a spurt of fastbreaks and feathery jumpers, that offense-heavy five-man group sealed a much-needed 124-103 win over the Suns.

Westbrook started it with a layup off a nice Waiters assist. Then the favor was returned, with Waiters nailing a 3 set up by Westbrook.

Then it was Durant’s turn to take over. KD had 21 points at the time. He had 32 before the night was done.

Seven of those came within a 90-second span midway through the fourth, when he sandwiched a 3 and a 13-foot baseline turnaround with one of those patented Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaways, uncontestable for 6-foot-1 Eric Bledsoe, who found himself stuck on Durant in the high post.

As he sauntered back down the court — his team on a 14-3 run, KD on a personal 7-0 run — Durant laughed and chirped at Bledsoe.

“E-Bled talks a lot of (stuff),” Durant said. “And I’m a (stuff)-talker myself.”

Durant followed his mini-spurt by turning from scorer to facilitator. His fourth assist of the night set up Kanter for a 12-foot jumper. Then the next possession down, the 12th of Westbrook’s 13 assists led to a Kanter dunk.

In less than four minutes, that five-man pairing rattled off a dominant 15-5 run, breaking away to a 22-point cushion. During the run, Ibaka, who had 10 himself on this night, was the only one who didn’t score.

“Everyone can score the ball crazy,” Kanter said. “Never played with a lineup like that.”


No. 4: Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times — Desperate times in Memphis require desperate measures from Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who is trying to figure out why his team cannot seem to find a rhythm this season. Joerger’s response, at this early stage of the process, will be to tighten the rotation. Something had to give and the first thing is the rotation, despite some insisting that it might be Joerger who was on the hot seat. But the Grizzlies are experiencing an identity crisis that Joerger will solve by tweaking his rotation. Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal details the looming changes:

Suddenly uncomfortable in their own skin, where do they stand?

The grit is all but gone.

The grind seems as fleeting as a gotcha moment.

Memphis (3-4) enters the final outing of a five-game trip perplexed as to how to get its mojo back. The Griz take more than a two-game losing streak into their game Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.

The Griz still are experiencing an identity crisis as they try to salvage a West Coast swing, having lost three of four. Last week began with an unfathomable 50-point loss to Golden State. Memphis beat Sacramento but dropped its next game to Portland.

That Memphis fell behind Utah by 21 points before an 89-79 loss last Saturday has coach Dave Joerger on the verge of shaking up the lineup because he can no longer stand by and watch his players not compete.

“I’m going to tighten the rotation,” Joerger said without saying which players will have minutes reduced.

However, Joerger did give a clue as to which way he’s leaning, based on his substitution pattern in that Utah game.

Joerger has routinely inserted Jeff Green for Tony Allen with the first substitution. But against Utah, Matt Barnes was the first to spell Allen, and Green later came in for Courtney Lee.

Joerger has increasingly grown fond of a lineup that has Barnes and Green at the wings. In fact, that combination was on the floor most of the fourth quarter. Allen didn’t play at all and Lee played just 94 seconds in the quarter.

“I was pleased with our effort overall,” Joerger said after the Grizzlies’ latest debacle. “We can get better. We know we can get better. We will get better and will keep plugging away.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James offered some constructive criticism to Kevin Love (egos checked at the door) and it worked. … Phil Jackson wanted more emotion from Derek Fisher and got exactly that in Sunday’s win over the Lakers. … Charlotte’s Kemba Walker is a traveling man. … The Miami Heat’s second unit proves to be first rate. … The Washington Wizards have been extremely generous, but vow to end their frivolous ways with the basketball. …


ICYMI: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson helped lift the Pistons to their fifth win in six games with yeoman’s work Sunday in Portland …

VIDEO: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson go off for the Pistons in a comeback win over Portland

Morning shootaround — Sept. 27

VIDEO: Boston Celtics media day


Jared Sullinger gets fitness tips from Lucas | John Wall won’t be shy about approaching Kevin Durant | Hassan Whiteside doesn’t want to be a one hit wonder | David Lee has a ring, now wants respect in Boston

No. 1: Jared Sullinger gets fitness tips from John Lucas — The one theme you hear every year around this time is “so and so has lost x-amount of weight.” It’s usually met with a ho-hum, although in certain situations, a drastic fitness shakeup is a rather big deal. Al Jefferson of the Hornets recently revealed he has given up fried chicken which allowed him to drop pounds, and now here comes Jared Sullinger and his weight-loss pledge. Although, in this case, it comes with a twist: He was whipped into shape by John Lucas. Sullinger is at a crossroads in his young NBA career; better fitness could make him see a breakthrough season. Here is Chris Mason of the Boston Herald with the details …

Sullinger’s weight has been a talking point since the Celtics drafted him three years ago, and it came to a head last season when he was reportedly tipping the scales at 300 pounds. The C’s want to see their 6-foot-9 forward around 260. For Sullinger to stay in green, something had to change. His family and Lucas saw that.

“(Lucas) personally came down and he told me ‘ you’ve got all the talent in the world, but you’ve forgotten what working hard is,'” Sullinger said. “For somebody to come all the way from Houston to Colombus Ohio, to stop whatever he was doing, he was there for me, and that’s what made me go and workout for John.”

Lucas is no stranger to interventions. The former Houston Rocket almost lost his entire career to drugs.

While he was in the NBA, Lucas was an alcoholic and a drug addict. In 1986, the guard tested positive for cocaine, and was released by the Rockets after a decade in the league. Lucas volunteered to go to rehab, straightened his life out, and now helps other basketball players do the same.

Sullinger doesn’t have a problem with drugs, but he’s had his career threatened by his weight.

“I think John’s biggest thing, with everything he went through – being the first NBA player to be kicked out of the NBA (for) drugs – I think John’s biggest focus was to not let me make the mistake. Sometimes, it’s not always drugs, it can be other things,” Sullinger said. “And he wanted to just clear my mind and understand that I could be whoever I want to be, I’ve just got to make the right choices.”

Sullinger was sold.

He went to Houston to workout with Lucas four different times in the offseason, for a total of eleven weeks. Sullinger was put through a series of unorthodox basketball workouts, and his exercising was coupled with a strict diet.

“I went from boxing, to swimming, to on the court basketball, to running track. I did so many other sports – other than basketball – there was one point where I was down in August for two weeks and I didn’t touch a basketball. He wouldn’t let me be on the basketball court and we just got in shape other ways,” Sullinger said.


No. 2: John Wall won’t be shy about approaching Kevin Durant — OK, take a wild guess about who will be subject to a Free-Agent Watch this season? Yes, it’s Kevin Durant and the obvious choice, besides OKC, competing for his services is the hometown Wizards. Durant learned the game in the DC suburbs and makes no secret of his love for his home base. Besides, the Wizards will have enough cap room next summer and they have John Wall, who’d be a capable replacement for Russell Westbrook should Durant bolt OKC. The odds have Durant staying put, but if so, it won’t be because Wall didn’t try to convince him. CSN spoke with Wall on a video story; here’s a snippet …

“There’s gonna be an opportunity to throw a pitch at him to try and get him to come back home,” Wall said. “But knowing him he’s really going to be focused on taking care of Oklahoma City this season, and I’m going to be focused on taking care of the Washington Wizards.

“When the time is right and he can get away from all that, we’ll probably have some conversation and throw a pitch.”


Rather than reveal the rest, take a few seconds and listen for yourself.


No. 3: Hassan Whiteside doesn’t want to be a one-hit wonder — What can a surprise performer do for an encore? We’ll all be watching and wondering about Hassan Whiteside, the journeyman big man who came out of nowhere to bolster the Heat in the wake of LeBron James‘ departure. There will be lots on the line for Whiteside, most notably money; he can cash in big time next summer, when he’ll be a free agent and the salary cap will rise. Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel spoke with him…

By now, we all know the story. Last year Whiteside rose from D-League reject to the talk of the NBA. After being out of the league, he captivated the media by sharing tales of growing tired of eating rice while playing in China and witnessing car-bombings in Lebanon.

He endured these sometimes-uncomfortable experiences abroad, and spent time in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Des Moines, Iowa, before earning another shot in the NBA. And Whiteside took advantage of the Heat’s gamble by averaging 11.8 points and 10 rebounds in 48 games.

As he prepares for an encore performance, Whiteside will no longer have the surprise element. No more playful stories about his unlikely path here. No more candid talk about his rating on the NBA 2K video game.

All everyone is focused on is whether he can produce All-Star numbers, a situation Whiteside is comfortable with.

“There’s never any pressure on me,” Whiteside said. “There were people who never believed in me anyway, so I don’t expect you to start believing in me now.”

The 7-foot Whiteside sounds as if he’s spent the summer listening to uplifting Journey songs on repeat. He expects the success “goes on and on, and on, and on.” A year older, his boyish attributes evident when he arrived last December are long gone. His shoulders are less like a clothes hanger and more like Dwight Howard.

Most days, he’s worked out twice daily at AmericanAirlines Arena. Some of it is fine-tuning. Some of it is adding new dimensions he hopes will surprise competitors.


No. 4: David Lee has a ring, now wants respect in Boston — After grabbing a championship ring in Golden State, where his role was reduced with the emergence of Draymond Green, David Lee is looking for a recharge in Boston. It wasn’t too long ago when Lee was a double-double guy who could get 25 points or 15 rebounds on any given night. He still believes he’s that type of player, and recently spoke with Chris Forsberg of

The Celtics believe that Lee, acquired this offseason in a swap with the Golden State Warriors, can help a young and impressionable team take a step forward in large part because of his NBA experiences, particularly after winning a title last season.

“I don’t think David wants to think of himself as old, because he’s not — he’s still a young guy in a lot of ways,” said Stevens. “But I think that, any time you have guys that have seen it and been there, I think what they can share is important. And the challenge is being able to share that within what you’re doing because he’s got a transition to make with regard to learning me and learning how we’re trying to play and learning our guys that he’s playing with and everything else. I think he’ll make that transition smoothly. He’s a really bright guy. And I will encourage him to be open in communicating to all those younger guys because I think that’s important.”

The Celtics are hopeful that Lee, a two-time All-Star who was averaging nearly a double-double at 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game just two seasons ago, can not only provide leadership but get back to being an impactful player a season after he accepted a reduced role to aid Golden State’s title hunt.

Lee moved to the Boston area a month ago to get acclimated and joined many of the team’s younger players for what he playfully called the “preseason to the preseason” with daily workouts. While Boston brought back 10 total players from last season’s squad that utilized a second-half surge to earn the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, Lee has begun trying to establish himself as a veteran leader despite learning a new system.

“I think, for me, it’s just about being myself,” said Lee. “I’ve been in the league a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things, both good and bad. And I think that I’m a guy that, a lot of times, leads by example. I’m a hard-working guy and I think that’s something that’s good for the young guys to see, when their veterans are hard-workers, because at that point they have no choice but to fall in line and do the same. For the veteran guys, it sets the tone, both in training camp and preseason as the season goes along.

“I’m just going to be myself. I think I’m a pretty likable guy and a guy that can set a good tone by my work ethic.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer sat for a Q&A and addressed Al Horford’s free agency next summer … Gerald Wallace waived by the Sixers … Tom Thibodeau is sitting in on Bobcats practices … the Sixers thought about chasing Jimmy Butler last summer, but didn’t.


Morning shootaround — Sept. 10

VIDEO: Day 9 of the FIBA Americas tournament


Report: World Peace, Lakers inch toward deal | Favors enjoying life in Utah | Sefolosha rejects deal in nightclub case | Jay Williams’ laments of youth

No. 1: Report: World Peace closing in on Lakers return — Metta World Peace made the basket that helped lock up the Los Angeles Lakers’ last championship. But, he hasn’t played for the Los Angeles Lakers since 2012-13 and hasn’t been in the NBA since a 29-game stint with the New York Knicks in 2013-14. However, it is looking more and more like a Los Angeles reunion is in the works for World Peace, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Free agent Metta World Peace has begun to work out daily at the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice facility, inching closer to a return to the franchise on a one-year contract, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

World Peace, 35, started participating in informal workouts with Lakers players this week at the team’s facility in El Segundo, Calif., and is expected to continue through the start of Lakers training camp later this month, league sources said. No deal has been agreed upon, but there’s an increasing expectation that will happen this month, league sources said.

World Peace had been in the Lakers’ practice facility earlier this summer, too, working against 2014 first-round pick Julius Randle, sources said.

World Peace has been out of the NBA since the New York Knicks waived him during the 2013-14 season. He played last season in China and Italy. Lakers officials are growing in the belief that World Peace, formerly Ron Artest, has evolved into a mature veteran who can impact a young roster with his toughness and resolve, league sources said.

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — June 14

VIDEO: John Schuhmann and Sekou Smith preview Game 5 of The Finals


Embiid suffers injury setback  | Warriors still waiting for Splashier Splash | LeBron not thinking about contract right nowLeBron’s workload is unreal according to experts | Report: Jefferson opting in with Hornets

No. 1: Embiid suffers injury setback — So what are we to make of the latest flash coming from Philly? Nothing good, that’s what. It appears the Sixers’ plan to wait on last year’s No. 1 pick Joel Embiid will result in more waiting. The club announced that Embiid’s surgically repaired foot is slow to heal and there is no timetable for his return. That’s a severe blow to the Sixers, who were counting on Embiid making his debut this season after missing all of last season when he had the surgery shortly after the draft. And because they secured the No. 3 overall pick in this month’s draft, they’ll likely miss out on the top two big men, Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns. Here’s a report from Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

General manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement that a recent CT scan, performed in Los Angeles, revealed less healing than anticipated at this point.

“Our priority remains providing Joel with every opportunity to ensure he has a long and successful NBA career,” Hinkie said. “And as such, these findings cause us to pause and reassess his current activities. Together with Joel and his representatives, we will continue to consult with the experienced team of doctors who have been an integral part of his evaluation, while also engaging in dialogue with a broader set of experts and specialists.”

There is a chance this injury could hinder Embiid’s career the way it has for other 7-footers. Like Embiid, Yao Ming suffered a stress fracture in the navicular bone, in 2008 and again in 2009. Yao eventually was forced to retire in 2011 because of the injury.

The news could influence the Sixers’ plans in the June 25 NBA draft. The team was expected to target Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell with the third overall pick to pair with power forward Nerlens Noel and Embiid. Now, the team could go after a post player for insurance if Embiid is unable to play at a high level.

*** (more…)

Al Jefferson may be done for the season

INDIANAPOLIS — The Hornets are considering shutting down center Al Jefferson for the final seven games of the season, coach Steve Clifford said Friday night after continued soreness in the right knee forced Jefferson from the game in the second quarter.

Charlotte’s leading rebounder and No. 2 scorer has had the knee drained three times in the last 10 days with little, if any, sign it will get him through the final week and a half. Friday, Jefferson played only 12 minutes of the 93-74 loss to the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“To me, he’s dragging that leg around and then he compensates,” Clifford said. “He’s a big man. He’s disappointed. But he’s injured.”

Asked if the team may take Jefferson out of the lineup for the rest of the season, Clifford said, “The problem with the injury is that the only way it’s going to get better is if he rests it for a significant amount of time, so it’s not like two days or three days are going to help that much. So I could say possibly, yeah.”

The Hornets’ disappearing playoff hopes may be part of the decision as well. At 32-43, they are two games behind the Heat for No. 8 in the Eastern Conference, in 11th place, and without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and now may lose Jefferson for at least the immediate future, and maybe longer.

Jefferson was not available for comment after the game Friday.

Blogtable: Upset-minded team in East?

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

BLOGTABLE: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?

VIDEOPaul George is holding out hope he’ll be able to return for a potential playoff run

> If I told you a sleeper team was going to pull off a major upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which team would you tag to make that prediction come true: Bucks, Pacers, Hornets or Heat?

Steve Aschburner, Pacers, though I say that without trying to predict the first-round matchups. Indiana already is a different team that most foes have faced this season, and if Paul George is able to return and blend into what’s already working, the Pacers could bite a top seed in the behind. Now, if they wind up eighth and Atlanta stays at No. 1, that’s a tall order because the Hawks came close to upsetting them a year ago and are better now. But given the Pacers’ pride and desire to salvage what had been a mostly lost season, I’d take them very seriously.

Fran Blinebury, The Bucks with their stingy, No. 2-rated defense, 3-point shooting ability, rising youth in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams and the been-there-done-that smarts of coach Jason Kidd. They could be a we-having-nothing-to-lose handful.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Maybe I’m just getting caught up in the good vibrations of the moment — stringing together wins, Paul George back on the practice court — but I’ll go Pacers. Same problems scoring, but Indy defends and rebounds. Tough not to like that as a starting point for an upset, obviously depending on the matchup. I’d put the Bucks a close second.

Shaun Powell, Honestly, I don’t like any of their chances, but I’ll go with the Bucks. They’ll likely have a better seeding and therefore a more evenly-matched first round. Plus, they’re young with fresh legs that’ll come in handy in late April, and their coach, Jason Kidd, has been there and done that in this league.

John Schuhmann, Indiana is the clear pick. The Pacers have been the best team in the league (both in regard to record and point differential) since Feb. 1. They have a great defense and an offense that has improved with a healthy George Hill in the starting lineup and Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench. They have a coach and a roster with playoff experience, and maybe one of the league’s best players coming back. But I would still have a hard time picking them against Atlanta, Chicago or Cleveland. 

Sekou Smith, I’m tagging the Pacers and relishing the idea, based on the standings at this moment, of a Cleveland Cavaliers-Pacers No. 2 vs No. 7 first-round matchup. Talk about a major upset, this one would be colossal. Paul George comes back. Roy Hibbert rediscovers the All-Star within. Coach Frank Vogel gets his revenge for last season’s meltdown and the team’s staggering fall from grace. Doing it at the expense of long-time foe LeBron James would only add to the intrigue of a storybook scenario for the Pacers … and it is indeed an absolute fantasy. I don’t think there are any upsets to be had in the first round. Not based on what we see in the standings right now.

Ian Thomsen, The Pacers are the East’s poor-man version of OKC. Based on their current trend with their best players – including Paul George – returning to health, then no one at the top of the standings is going to want to see Indiana.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: I have a hard time pegging the Pacers as an underdog, even as long as Paul George is out. This is a team with guys like Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola — quality NBA veteran players. I know that they’ve been without George this season and have dealt with other injuries, but if anything, to me the Pacers have the pieces to be better than they’ve been for most of this season. And then it’s not if George returns, it’s which George might return — I don’t expect to see the George who was one of the best players in the NBA, because that will take time to find and get back to, even just mentally. But I do think if they can get back any version of George that provides depth and is able to knock down an occasional open jumper, that could be a huge postseason help.

Upset-minded East teams
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or

Hornets’ Jefferson out for a month

Problems for the Hornets continue to mount with the news that Al Jefferson has a strained muscle in his left groin and will miss at least four weeks. The team announced the news in a statement Tuesday night.

The injury sidelined Jefferson in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game against the Bucks. While it was immediately clear that Charlotte’s starting center and leading scorer and rebounder would miss some time, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, the exact severity was not revealed until after an MRI exam was performed. It was just the latest blow to a 10-22 team that’s been unable to come close to meeting expectations.

From Bonnell:

Even before Monday, Clifford said Jefferson was “laboring” through games. An 18 points-per-game scorer, Jefferson totaled six points in 28 minutes Monday, shooting 3-of-12 from the field.

The Hornets run their offense through Jefferson, one of the top low-post scoring threats in the NBA. In his absence they will have to rely more heavily on guards Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson to carry the scoring load.

“The ball-movement aspect will have to be a bigger part of it,” Clifford said. “We’ll still post up some – you have to throw it in there sometimes – but the post-up part of it won’t be as big a part of our offensive game.”

Charlotte was already struggling on offense, ranking No. 28 in shooting and No. 24 in scoring heading into Wednesday’s game at Houston and now has lost 18 points a game. Bismack Biyombo is the leading candidate to start at center against the Rockets.
Shooting guard Lance Stephenson has missed the last seven games with  pelvic strain. There is no indication he is close to returning.

Talking numbers with Steve Clifford

VIDEO: Hang Time with Lance Stephenson

PHILADELPHIA — The Charlotte Bobcats were one of the most improved teams in the league last season. No team improved in defensive efficiency more than the Bobcats, who allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions in 2013-14 than they did in ’12-13. Their change in point differential (plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions) was just a hair behind that of the Phoenix Suns.


Offensively, the Bobcats started out horribly but improved every month. They ranked 29th in efficiency in October-November and 13th in March-April.

Head coach Steve Clifford deserves most of the credit for the defense. The Bobcats had nowhere to go but up after ranking dead last in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, but they became just the second team in the last 16 years (the ’02-03 Nuggets were the other) to jump from the bottom five to the top 10 on that end of the floor.

The Bobcats are now the Hornets, and they now have Lance Stephenson. They’ve also swapped Josh McRoberts for Marvin Williams at power forward. Both of those moves could change their offense quite dramatically. spoke with Clifford on Wednesday about his team’s numbers, the addition of Stephenson, the importance of floor spacing, and managing his time as a head coach.

(Most of the questions were asked in a one-on-one setting after Charlotte’s shootaround on Wednesday, while a few follow-ups came in Clifford’s pre-game media scrum before the Hornets’ preseason opener against the Sixers.)

An aside: During the pre-game scrum, as Clifford was talking about the departure of McRoberts, Al Jefferson walked by, heading toward the Hornets’ locker room. When Clifford saw Jefferson, he cut off his own, unrelated sentence to say, “and that’s why we got to get the ball to the big fella.” Jefferson called back, “My man! That’s why you’re the best coach in the game!”

Offense Last year, your team ranked high in ball-movement stats (passes/possession). Do you see Lance affecting that?


Steve Clifford: I think so, because watching him on film from last year and also being around him since the beginning of September, his pick-and-roll game … he can score it, but he also hits every option. He hits the roll man a lot. There aren’t that many guys that can hit the roll man, make a shot and also hit the other perimeter players. So I think that will be part of it.

The other part of that, maybe, is that we post the ball a lot more than most teams do, and post-up basketball takes usually more passes, because you got to find a way to get the ball there. Have you put in new staff for Lance specifically?

Clifford: We’re starting to, now. A week in, we’ve just concentrated on those kinds of things, ball movement, secondary offense when the play breaks down, stuff like that for early in camp. We’re starting now to get more sets in. What’s the biggest advantage to having a second guy who can create off the dribble?

Clifford: I think it just puts so much more pressure on the defense. When you have more guys on the floor who can play in a pick-and-roll or are good at drive-and-kick or whatever, if you get an advantage on one side of the floor with a pick-and-roll and the ball moves to the other side, the defense is just more spread out. There’s more room to attack. Last season, your offense got considerably better as the season went on. What was the key to that?

Clifford: Part of it, to be honest, was we made a really good trade, where we picked up Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour. And then we signed Chris Douglas-Roberts as a free agent. If you look at it, where our offense got a lot better was we shot more threes. We didn’t shoot a significantly better percentage, but we shot like 5 1/2 more threes per game. People don’t realize that how many threes you shoot is a big deal, too.


Also, our offensive rebounding numbers went way up. And that was basically Cody [Zeller], MKG [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] and Biz [Bismack Biyombo]. Over the last third of the year, we scored almost two points more per game on offensive rebounds. And there were some other smaller things, but those were the two biggest things. Was the increase in 3-point shots something you were looking for, or was it a benefit of the new additions?

Clifford: I just think if you study the league and what wins, the three things that yield over a point per possession the last, I think, nine years are … the best possession is if you get fouled, the second best possession is 0-3 feet, and the third best possession is a three, in particular the corner threes.

It’s every aspect of offense, but in this league, your shooting is your spacing. That’s why I think Marvin was such a key signing for us. You can see it in practice. There’s a lot more room for all the other guys when he’s out on the floor vs. the other four men. And Cody’s improved shooting has improved our offense too.

So there’s different ways you can do it. But you got to have shooting. Look at San Antonio. Look at The Finals. If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there. In Orlando, the two great years we had … we had four good years, but the two great years we had, we literally never played anybody, besides Dwight [Howard], who couldn’t shoot threes. And it’s hard to guard.

McRoberts vs. Williams and MKG’s new J But does the ball movement suffer without Josh McRoberts?


Clifford: It’s different from the standpoint that Josh, No. 1, shot a decent percentage from three, but it’s not his game. It’s not how he naturally wants to play. Josh more wants to drive the ball, so we didn’t have that spacing on the floor, as good as he was. He’s more of a driver and a passer, where Marvin is a spot-up shooter. So what I’m hopeful of is he will create as much offense in a different way. Going back to “If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there,” how much has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist increased his value to you or raised his ceiling just with the work he’s done on his jump shot this summer?

Clifford: I want to make sure [to clarify], I think if you can’t shoot, it’s tougher to play in those games. If you look at it, there’s really nobody out there that couldn’t shoot.

Now, I think that he, potentially, has changed his future in this league, with the work that he did with Mark [Price]. He’s one of the few guys that has real value for a team, even when he wasn’t shooting, because he’s an elite defender. To me, he has instincts, both in individual and team defense, that not many guys possess. So he has the ability to guard the best scorers and make it hard on them. Not many guys can do that. But this, to me, potentially changes his whole future. Defenses are still going to challenge him, though.

Clifford: Absolutely. The other challenge, and he knows this, it may be 60 games, it might be a year, because these guys play one way their whole life. The biggest part of the game is when the ball’s coming to you, shoot-drive-pass and how quick you do it. And he’s always driven it or passed it. Now, he’s got to, when he’s open, be able to shoot it, and do it without hesitation.

And that’s going to take time. You can’t play one way for 21 years and then all of a sudden work hard over the summer to add this component to your game, and then have your decision-making be easy. The only thing I know is that when he didn’t play last year, we weren’t nearly as good. He’s a good player no matter what.


Balance and priorities as a head coach Do you put more emphasis on offense in camp, knowing that you already have a top-10 defense, or do you feel like you still have to start with the D?

Clifford: We’ve actually done a lot more offense, but since we came back from Asheville, the last three or four days, we’ve really gotten back to defense. Obviously, you can’t take anything for granted. We’ll have two new starters. We worked hard at our defense last year. We’ll have to do the same if we’re going to play that well again. Is there enough time to do everything you want, both offensively and defensively, in camp?

Clifford: Never. You always have to make sacrifices somewhere, right?

Clifford: That’s coaching. You never feel like you’re spending enough time on everything. Those are the choices you have to make. I’m fortunate I have such a veteran staff. We talk every morning about what are the most important two or three things for today, because ultimately, you can’t be good at everything. You got to be sure you’re zeroed in on the right things for your team to play well. How much can you add in as the season goes on?

Clifford: Quite a bit, especially if you have the veteran teams who’ve been around and done a few things. Last year, we added a lot of offense as we went along. We didn’t mess around a lot with our defense. What did you learn from your first season as head coach?

Clifford: The time management part of being a head coach vs. being an assistant is much different. That was one thing that I struggled with last year. In what way?

Clifford: Things seem to pop up all the time. So you get to late afternoon and you had those three or four things that you needed to do, this film, that film, whatever. And man, it seems like some days, you get to like 4:00 and you haven’t done any of it.

And then, I feel like I have more of a comfort level. Last year, I always felt like I was swimming upstream, always behind. I think I’m more organized this year, simply because I have a way to do it on game day that I’m comfortable with. And again, I have such an experienced staff, I rely on them so much and they help me a lot. That helps in all those areas too.

Clifford’s assistant coaches: Patrick Ewing, Stephen Silas, Bob Weiss, Mark Price and Pat Delany. Is there a balance between working on strategy and managing the players and their personalities?

Clifford: Definitely. To me, that [managing the personalities] is the priority. So some of that film work might take a back seat to making sure you’re on the same page with one of your guys?

Clifford: Absolutely. I would say that the communication piece, so that we’re all trying to be on the same page and knowing roles and all that stuff, that’s always the priority.

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.