Posts Tagged ‘Anderson Varejao’

Air Check: Driving Dentists Crazy

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.

Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.

Air Check is where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.

Mouthguards are for guarding mouths

When Stephen Curry loses his mouthpiece in a game in Phoenix in December, Suns analyst Eddie Johnson makes it clear that he’s had enough. Apparently, defenders aren’t the only people Curry drives crazy …


VIDEO: Golden State’s Stephen Curry should watch his mouth

He’s right. I remember watching Baron Davis dribbling up the floor several years ago with the ball in his right hand and, for some reason, his mouthguard in his left.

All the catchphrases in Cleveland

Cavs play-by-play man Fred McLeod can get excited sometimes. But he brings some wit with his excitement. Here’s example No. 1, when Matthew Dellavedova hits a big 3 against the Blazers …


VIDEO: Announcer Fred McLeod loves him some Cavs

A Delly Trey. Very nice.

And here’s McLeod’s call when Anderson Varejao makes a hustle play against the Hawks …


VIDEO: More Fred McLeod, announcer extraordinaire

With Varejao being from Brazil, I’m fairly certain that was Portuguese coming out of McLeod’s mouth before he went back to speaking English. A little international culture for the folks watching in Cleveland and on League Pass.

The team of McLeod and Austin Carr were featured in Air Check last month. They’re a duo that has grown on me quite a bit over the last couple of years.

Countdown On Asik Deal Continues

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

HANG TIME, TEXAS — If all goes according to plan, Omer Asik’s time in limbo should end soon as the Rockets sift through final offers for the disgruntled big man. The team has reportedly set a self-imposed deadline of Thursday.

According to various reports and different sources, the most likely places for the 27-year-old center to wind up in are Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland or Atlanta, with the Knicks making a late and outside bid to get into the mix.

Asik — who had a breakout year as a starter a year ago averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds– has wanted out of since the moment that Dwight Howard chose Houston in July and the Rockets have been looking to move him since coach Kevin McHale’s experiment with a Twin Towers type lineup ended on Nov. 13.

General manager Daryl Morey spread the word that he would entertain offers from Dec. 15-19 and make his choice. The reason for that narrow window is that Dec. 15 was the first date that players acquired during the offseason were eligible to be traded. Dec. 19 is the last date that any players obtained by the Rockets would be able to be dealt again at the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

Reports have had the Rockets seeking everything from a pair of first-round draft picks to forward Jeff Green of the Celtics to forward Paul Millsap of the Hawks.

Millsap is believed in many circles to be the Rockets’ No. 1 target, a perfect fit to play next to Howard on the front line. But the Hawks may be reluctant to surrender a high-return player after they just signed Millsap over the summer to a salary cap-friendly two-year deal for $19 million.

Discussions of Asik going to the Cavaliers for Anderson Varejao have supposedly cooled in recent days with Cleveland not warm to the idea of paying Asik’s $15-million salary next season.

The top two suitors could be the Celtics and the Sixers. That could produce a three-way deal.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics have entered the names of Green and Brandon Bass into discussions. The Sixers’ most likely to be traded are Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner.

While Green is averaging more than 16 points and four rebounds a game for Boston, the 12-14 Celtics, despite leading the Atlantic Division, are in a rebuilding mode. It wouldn’t hurt to unload a contract that still has $18.4 million due through 2016. If Hawes makes his way to Houston, he could come off the bench at center and also be valuable to the Rockets as a “stretch-four” with his ability to shoot from the perimeter.

Sources around the league have indicated the Rockets would be willing to include point guard Jeremy Lin in any trade. But the fact that he is due virtually the same $15 million pay as Asik next season is a heavy burden for any one team to absorb. That would probably mean a three-team deal to make it happen.

However, if the Rockets were able to move both Asik and Lin and take back only expiring contracts and draft choices, it is possible they could have enough salary cap space to offer another max-level contract to a free agent next summer.

Schedule A Part Of Cavs’ Struggles


VIDEO: The Starters chat about the struggling Cavs

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – We’ve probably done enough dissection of the struggling Brooklyn Nets, whose main problem is the health of three of their top six guys. So let’s move on and try to figure out what’s wrong with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavs didn’t have nearly the expectations that the Nets did, but they’ve been a lot more healthy and were a team we all expected to take a big step forward this season, compete for a playoff spot, and show potential free agents that this was a team you’d want to join. They have a new coach, a couple of new veterans, and a developing young core surrounding a star point guard in his third season.

But here they are at 4-11, tied with the Nets, having lost seven of their last eight games and ahead of only Milwaukee and Utah in point differential per 100 possessions. Their four wins have been by an average of 3.5 points and their 11 losses have been by an average of 13.0. So their point differential is that of a 3-12 team and it hasn’t been late-game luck that’s done them in.

There are trade rumors involving Dion Waiters, who they drafted with the No. 4 pick (ahead of Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond, among others) just 17 months ago and their No. 1 pick from this year has shot 21 percent and is receiving DNPs. If things don’t turn around soon, this will be the ugliest situation in the league (if it isn’t already).

So how does it turn around?

Mike Brown, with help from a healthy Anderson Varejao, has made a difference on defense, where the Cavs are allowing 4.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. They’ve defended the paint better, they’ve done a better job of keeping their opponents off the free-throw line, and they’ve rebounded better. Considering where they were last season, it would have been near impossible to regress in those three areas and they still have a long way to go on defense, but progress is progress.

On offense, the Cavs have regressed. In fact, only three teams – Utah, New York and Milwaukee – have taken bigger steps back on that end of the floor.

Most regressed offenses (points scored per 100 possessions)

Team 2012-13 Rank 2013-14 Rank Diff.
Utah 103.6 12 92.2 30 -11.4
New York 108.6 3 98.2 24 -10.4
Milwaukee 100.9 21 93.4 29 -7.5
Cleveland 100.8 23 94.1 27 -6.7
Oklahoma City 110.2 2 103.8 9 -6.4

The Cavs have shot better (and more) from 3-point range, but they’re not getting to the basket as much as they did last season and they’re shooting worse when they get there.

Cavs shooting from restricted area and 3-point range, last two seasons

Season RFGM RFGA RFG% %RFGA 3PM 3PA 3P% %3PA
2012-13 1,238 2,211 56.0% 32.0% 547 1,581 34.6% 22.9%
2013-14 170 329 51.7% 26.2% 106 302 35.1% 24.1%

%RFGA = Percentage of total FGA from the restricted area
%3PA = Percentage of total FGA from 3-point range

Kyrie Irving‘s 3-point percentage has dropped quite a bit this season (he’s 1-for-12 in his last three games), but he’s taken more of his shots from the restricted area than he did last season. Inside, the issue is the Cleveland bigs, who don’t exactly dominate the paint.

Andrew Bynum has shot 7-for-24 in the restricted area, Tristan Thompson has also shot less than 50 percent near the basket, and Varejao has turned into a jump shooter. He has taken 40 percent of his shots from mid-range, up from 23 percent over his first nine seasons. Overall, the Cavs have attempted 33.2 percent of their shots from mid-range, in a virtual tie with the Wizards for the highest rate in the league.

Turnovers are another issue. Last season, the Cavs had the sixth lowest turnover rate in the league, coughing up the ball only 14.3 times per 100 possessions. This season, they’re turning it over 17.1 times per 100 possessions, the eighth highest rate in the league.

Irving’s turnover rate is about the same, but Jarrett Jack has the second highest turnover rate (behind only Victor Oladipo) of guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game. A few other rotation guys have seen their turnover rates increase.

At this point in the season, schedule has to be taken into account. The Cavs have played the eighth toughest schedule in the league (accounting for location and days of rest). They’re one of only two teams (the Nets are the other) that has yet to play two consecutive home games and eight of their 15 games have been against the league’s top 10 defenses. (They’re 3-4 and scoring 101.5 points per 100 possessions against non-top-10 defenses.)

After they visit Boston on Friday (7:30 ET, League Pass), the Cavs get their first homestand, hosting the Bulls on Saturday and Nuggets on Wednesday. Amazingly, they won’t get their first homestand of more than two games until late January, but they’ll have a couple of practice days in the next week and only two of their next 10 opponents rank in the top 10 defensively.

So, just by virtue of their schedule, the Cavs should see their offense improve. And hey, they’re only two games out of a playoff spot.

But there’s still some fixing to do on offense. They have to cut down on their turnovers, take better shots, and hope that Bynum can be more effective as the season goes on.

One Team, One Stat: Three Seasons Worth Of Bad ‘D’ In Cleveland

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next is the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team poised to make a big jump this season.

The basics
CLE Rank
W-L 24-58 28
Pace 95.0 12
OffRtg 100.8 23
DefRtg 106.9 27
NetRtg -6.1 27

The stat

3 - The Cavs are the only team to rank in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last three seasons.

The context

There are a few reasons Mike Brown is back in Cleveland, but a primary one is how poorly the Cavs played defensively under Byron Scott. Scott wasn’t blessed with the most talented or most veteran-y rosters in his three seasons — Alonzo Gee played 37 more games than any other Cav in Scott’s tenure and Anderson Varejao played just 81. But you don’t have to be that talented or experienced to play decent defense, and Cleveland wasn’t anywhere close to decent.

Cavs defense, 2012-13
Category CLE Rank
Opp2PT% 51.1% 28
Opp3PT% 37.2% 25
DREB% 72.6% 25
OppTmTOV% 16.1% 7
OppFTA Rate .304 28

As you can see from the table to the right, the one thing the Cavs’ defense did decently last season was force turnovers. Otherwise, they were bad across the board. Their opponents shot well from everywhere, they didn’t rebound well, and they fouled too much.

The Cavs were particularly bad at protecting the rim, allowing their opponents to shoot 64.1 percent in the restricted area, the third-worst mark in the league. They lacked rim protectors, but the problems started with breakdowns on the perimeter and continued with poor weak-side help.

Here are some defensive lowlights from a March 31 game where the Hornets (a mediocre offensive team) shot 18-for-27 in the restricted area and scorched the Cavs for 112 points (on about 93 possessions)…


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In comes Brown, who had the Cavs in the top-seven in defensive efficiency in three of his five previous seasons in Cleveland. Of course, Brown had LeBron James, as well as a healthy Varejao. In fact, the two seasons where the Cavs didn’t rank in the top seven defensively under Brown were the two seasons in which Varejao didn’t play a full season.

Cavs defense under Brown

Season DefRtg Rank vs. Lg. Avg. Varejao GP
2005-06 102.6 14 -0.8 48
2006-07 98.9 4 -4.8 81
2007-08 103.7 11 -1.1 48
2008-09 99.4 3 -6.0 81
2009-10 101.5 7 -3.4 76

Varejao’s health is key and it’s great news that he was cleared to play this week. It’s hard to expect anything out of Andrew Bynum at this point, but he could provide a defensive lift as well.

Still, if the Cavs want to challenge for a playoff spot, they will need improvement from their young bigs, as well as those wings that failed to help from the weak side in some of the examples above. So it should be no surprise that Brown is focusing on defense for the first few days of training camp.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTmTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Updated Progress Reports On Injured Stars

By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com

Many of the NBA’s biggest names finished last season saddled with injuries, unable to help their teams make a playoff push. They’ve spent the offseason focused on a quick return to the court, so they don’t have to watch any more games in a suit.

Here are updates on seven players’ fight to return to the hardwood:

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Four

The Lakers’ superstar spent his summer traveling the world, recruiting Dwight Howard and attempting to recover from a nasty Achilles tendon rupture which halted another stellar season. The initial recovery timetable for his injury was set at 6-9 months. It seems Bryant is on track for the short end of that timetable as recent reports (albeit from Bryant himself) say he will be ready for the start of the regular season in late October. His availability for the preseason appears to be unlikely, though. Bryant mentioned earlier this summer that his surgical procedure was “different […] and because of that the recovery has been different.” At some point we just have to stop being surprised by the incredible things the 35-year-old Bryant can do.

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

Philadelphia 76ers v Chicago Bulls - Game One

It has been nearly 18 months since the former MVP tore his left ACL during a first-round playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Disappointment surrounded his inability to return during the 2013 playoffs caused many fans (and Bradley Beal) to question his mental toughness. Whatever, Rose is on the court again and he now says he’s “100 percent” after this offseason and feels comfortable doing all of his usual tricks. The wait for his explosive return appears to be almost over. Rose should be ready for Bulls’ training camp, which begins Sept. 30.

Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

New York Knicks v Boston Celtics Game Four

Rondo will return to a completely different Celtics team whenever he recovers from a right ACL tear suffered in January. The latest update reports Rondo still has no recovery timetable and he may not be ready for the start of the regular season. This would be a disappointment for Boston fans. Outside of Rondo, the Celtics do not have much top-level talent. But the Celtics still will be an interesting team to watch under the direction of new coach Brad Stevens. It would not be a surprise if Rondo is traded to a contender once he is able to prove he is fully recovered.

Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers

Milwaukee Bucks v Cleveland Cavaliers

The Brazilian big man was having the best season of his NBA career before it was cut short by a potentially dangerous blood clot in his leg. Fortunately for Varejao, he fully recovered and was recently cleared for all basketball activities. The Cavaliers’ success this season will be determined by the health of Varejao and his new frontcourt partner, Andrew Bynum. The Cavs may find themselves back in the playoffs if these two and All-Star Kyrie Irving can stay off the injured list.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook Visits Oklahoma Tornado Victims

Westbrook suffered a torn meniscus after a nasty and unfortunate collision during the playoffs which ruptured the Thunder’s title hopes. His recovery from surgery appears to be going well and teammate Kevin Durant recently said he expects Westbrook to be back for the start of the regular season. That noise you hear is everyone in Oklahoma City screaming with excitement.

Channing Frye, Phoenix Suns

Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns

The sharp-shooting forward suffered an incredible scare nearly a year ago when a preseason physical revealed he had an enlarged heart. Frye missed the entire 2012-13 regular season but recently said he has been cleared to play this year. He will return to a completely revamped Suns roster in the beginning of a massive rebuild, so his veteran leadership will be a welcomed addition. He could also be a valuable commodity to contending teams around the trade deadline in February.

Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers - Game Six

The emergence of Paul George may have made many forget how dominant Granger has been. The former All-Star, who averaged 25.8 points a game in 2008-09 in grabbing the league Most Improved Player award, attempted to return from lingering patellar tendinosis last season but was quickly back in a suit after his knees did not improve. Indiana head coach Frank Vogel recently said Granger is “on schedule to return” and seemed optimistic the 30-year-old forward will be at full health. His addition to the Pacers would make them an even tougher matchup for the Heat.

New Coaches: Five That Fit

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HANG TIME, Texas – Sometimes it’s the big things, a change in philosophy or overall team strategy that’s required to make a difference. Sometimes it’s just a new attitude, a new voice that’s needed in the locker room.

With a baker’s dozen new coaches ready to roam NBA sidelines — at least one in every division — this season, some will find the task a heavier lift than the circus wagon that holds the elephants.

Others will pick up their new teams immediately. Here are the five coaches who’ll make themselves right at home in their new digs and have the smoothest transitions:

Doc Rivers, Clippers – The veteran of previous stints with the Magic and Celtics definitely has the least room for improvement in the win column, since the Clips already won a franchise-best 56 games and their first-ever division title a year ago. But the little brothers of Staples Center won’t really shed their “second-class-citizen” image until they make a real run in the playoffs and that’s where Rivers’ experience will pay off. While they will still dance to the tune of Chris Paul’s talent on the court, Rivers will get them marching to a more serious, professional beat at both ends of the floor and in the locker room. They have to be more than just a group that jumps into the passing lanes to get steals on the defensive end and thrives on Lob City dunks on offense. He knows what it takes to win a championship and will put his stamp on the team early so we’ll notice the difference.

Mike Brown, Cavaliers — Let’s face it. Other than a fat man in an undersized Speedo, there wasn’t a more uncomfortable fit anywhere than Brown coaching the Lakers for a year and a smidgen. But now he’s back in Cleveland in a familiar role with a young team that is trying to build something special around an All-Star talent. OK, Kyrie Irving isn’t LeBron James, but he is the kind of lead horse that can pull the wagon. The truth is that these Cavaliers have a deeper collection of all-around talent than ever surrounded James, from Anderson Varejao to Tristan Thompson to Jarrett Jack to No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett and maybe a rehabilitated Andrew Bynum. Brown will emphasize what he knows best — defense — to give the Cavs a toughness and identity that, assuming Irving stays healthy, will have them back in the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left.

Jason Kidd, Nets – If it was so easy, the Naismith Hall of Fame would be filled with plaques of many more All-Stars who took off their uniforms one night and slipped easily into the role of head coach the next. There will be plenty about the nuts and bolts of the job that Kidd will have to learn as he goes along. But it helps that as point guard he already possessed some of the coaching genes. It also helps that he’s walking into a locker room filled with veterans names Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko, who are all looking to erase recent seasons of disappointment to come together and win a championship. Kidd won’t have to sweat the small stuff with this bunch. Garnett, Pierce and Terry have all won rings before and know the sacrifices that have to be made and the work that must be put in. In fact, Kidd’s toughest job might be holding them back and limiting regular season playing time. Since he’s in the glare of the New York media, any mistakes along the way by the rookie coach might be magnified, but he’s played a good portion of his career there and knows how to survive.

Mike Budenholzer, Hawks – After nearly two decades in San Antonio and the past six seasons as Gregg Popovich’s right hand man on the Spurs bench, this was finally the right time and the right place for Budenholzer to make the move into the No. 1 seat. For one thing, the Hawks are certainly not bereft of talent, even after the departure of Josh Smith. Free agent Paul Millsap will fill in capably. For another, it’s not as if there is the burden of having to live up to decades — or even one or two seasons — of greatness. But mostly it was time because Budenholzer was hand-picked by general manager Danny Ferry, his old Spurs buddy, as the start of a plan to finally have the Hawks build something special and to do it the right way. The Eastern Conference has gotten stronger at the top and it will be much tougher for Atlanta to break through against the likes of Miami, Indiana, Chicago and Brooklyn. But Budenholzer and Ferry won’t be impatient, are in this for the long haul and will have each other’s back. There’s no rush this season.

Maurice Cheeks, Pistons – After previous stints as head coach in Portland and Philadelphia, Cheeks spent the past four seasons as Scott Brooks’ assistant in Oklahoma City getting prepared for his third chance. The understated Cheeks knows his stuff and knows what he wants and could be just the right personality to get the newly acquired, up-and-down pair of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to deliver every night. The real heat is on general manager Joe Dumars to build the once-proud franchise back up after a half decade of serious slippage has had the Pistons way outside of even playoff contention, let alone the championship conversation. Cheeks will have Chauncey Billups back with his championship pedigree as an extension on the court and if he can keep the young big man tandem of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe moving ahead together, the Pistons could bring some joy back into The Palace with a run at a playoff spot.

Qualifying For ’14 World Cup Is Wide Open

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Eurobasket has just begun and we’ve already had plenty of surprises across FIBA’s regional tournaments, with teams looking to qualify for next year’s World Cup of Basketball.

In Asia, defending champion China was knocked out in the quarterfinals. In Africa, Nigeria and Tunisia — the two teams that repped the continent in last year’s Olympics — both failed to make the semis. And in the FIBA Americas tournament, Brazil lost all four of their first-round games and was sent home after blowing a 10-point, second-half lead to Jamaica on Tuesday.

Thus far, 10 teams have their tickets punched for Spain (see below). Another 10 (four from the Americas and six from Europe) will receive automatic bids in the next 17 days. Later this year, four wild-card berths will be awarded, giving teams like China and Brazil a shot.

And if Brazil is awarded a wild-card berth, they certainly have the potential to rebound from this year’s performance and make some noise at the World Cup. They have four big men in the NBA: Nene, Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Vitor Faverani (signed by the Celtics this summer). But none of the four was in Caracas this week, leaving Marcelo Huertas without a competent big man to run the pick-and-roll with.

Their 0-4 performance was still a shock. Brazil gave the U.S. its toughest game at the 2010 World Championship and finished second to Argentina at the 2011 FIBA Americas tourney.

But give credit to Jamaica for it’s comeback, led by former Cav Samardo Samuels, who led all scorers with 21 points and who hit all nine of his fourth-quarter free throws. A pair of freebies by Akeem Scott won the game for Jamaica in the final seconds.

Brazil’s ouster gives Canada a better shot at one of the four automatic berths. The Canadians are without Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk, but went 3-1 in the first round. They still have some work to do, as the eight teams remaining in Caracas will play four games — Thursday through Sunday — against the teams they’ve yet to face, and after that, the top four teams in the standings will qualify for the semifinals and next year’s World Cup. Canada’s most important game could be Saturday against the Dominican Republic.

The lack of NBA players participating has made the FIBA Americas tournament wide open. And the same may hold true at Eurobasket, which tipped off Wednesday in Slovenia. With Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez on board, Spain is still the clear favorite. And France, with Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw, is a lock to get one of the other top six spots.

But after that, things will get interesting. And Exhibit A is Finland’s tourney-opening victory over Turkey, the team that made a fantastic run to the gold medal game in 2010 and has a frontline of Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova and Omer Asik.

If you need a basketball fix with another month to go before training camp, there’s plenty of international hoops for you over the next three weeks. NBA TV will have some games, and the others can be seen on ESPN3.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 FIBA Americas champion
12 FIBA Americas 2nd place
13 FIBA Americas 3rd place
14 FIBA Americas 4th place
15 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.

Summer Dreaming: Executive Of The Year

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HANG TIME, Texas – Never mind that the weather map says it’ s hurricane season. This is the time of year when there are nothing but blue skies over every NBA franchise from Miami to Portland to Los Angeles to Toronto.

Draft picks have been chosen and brought into camp. Free agents have been signed and trotted out for the TV cameras. Trades have been made to fill holes in the lineups. It’s a time for championship planning among the elite class and fantasizing about moving up by the wannabes.

But the truth is that, despite so much spin doctoring that comes out of all the front offices, there are a handful of team presidents and general managers that made the most of the offseason. That’s why we don’t have to wait till next April — or even the season openers — to know who’ll be taking bows for their work. They’re our summer dreaming picks for Executive of the Year:

Daryl Morey, Rockets – Unless Dwight Howard wakes up one morning and declares it was all a mistake — that he really loved having Kobe Bryant as a playmate, that he thoroughly enjoyed Mike D’Antoni’s offense and that he never, ever meant to leave those clever recruiting banners in L.A. — this is as sure a thing as Usain Bolt outrunning a lead-boot-wearing Charles Barkley. If Howard stays healthy, he and fellow All-Star James Harden will team up to make the Rockets instant challengers for one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference and could even be a dark horse contender to advance all the way to The Finals. But before they even chalk up one “W” in the standings, Morey has put a headlock on the award simply by making the Rockets franchise relevant again for the first time in years. After drifting on a sea of anonymity and mediocrity since the star-crossed Tracy McGrady-Yao Ming pairing came undone, the Rockets are back in the spotlight. A year ago, they were on national TV once. Now they have 10 appearances on ESPN, nine on TNT, one on ABC and even made it into the Christmas lineup with a date at San Antonio.

Billy King, Nets – It’s like walking into a casino with a sack full of money, walking straight to the roulette table and plopping it all down on red. Or black. Either way, it’s a 50-50 gamble and you live with the results. King certainly has the cushion and the endorsement of Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokorhov and the understanding that paying the luxury tax bill of nearly $100 million is no problem. Still, it takes considerable nerve for King to bet it all on the hope that a 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 35-year-old Paul Pierce, 35-year-old Jason Terry and a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd can take down the two-time defending champs from Miami along with the rest of what has become a strengthened Eastern Conference lineup. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson were enough to make Brooklyn a postseason sports destination for the first time since the Dodgers left town, but now it’s the old Celtics who’ll be expected to show them how to win a series or more. To get Andrei Kirilenko to walk away from a guaranteed $10 million to sign a cut-rate deal was probably the second-best move of the entire NBA offseason, trailing only Dwight Howard’s move to Houston. Kirilenko adds a tough defender and a slashing finisher to a lineup that hopes to have Brook Lopez improving on his first ever All-Star season. If he’s accomplished one big thing already, King has jumped the Nets over the Knicks as the headlining team in New York, which is signficant.

Chris Grant, Cavaliers – Things have changed considerably since that first summer on the job as GM when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the temptation might have been to turn out the lights and simply declare the NBA party in Cleveland over. Grant has steadily reassembled the franchise one piece at time to a point where people are whispering that it’s not out of the question to think James could return next summer when he becomes a free agent. Before that, the Cavs figure to have a resurgent seasons between their splendid young point guard Kyrie Irving and all the other pieces that Grant has put around him. Anthony Bennett may have been a bit of a surprise on draft night, but should fill a need on the front line and free agent signee Jarrett Jack will be both a firecracker lift off the bench. Of course, the big bonanza would be if free agent Andrew Bynum can overcome the knee injuries that left him notable only for sitting on bench modeling outrageous hairstyles last season in Philly. A return to the form that once made him an All-Star with the Lakers makes Grant a genius and, even if Bynum falls short, the Cavs have not made a long crippling financial commitment to the gamble. And don’t forget to give Grant credit for not listening to the suggestions that he should have traded Anderson Varejao. The Cavs will likely make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference and, depending on how bright the future looks next spring, could turn the head of a familiar figure to come home.

Joe Dumars, Pistons – Let’s face it. The Hall of Fame guard-turned-GM has taken his fair share of abuse through recent seasons for allowing the once-proud franchise to drift way out of the playoff picture and even have trouble drawing crowds to The Palace. Was it a curse for making Darko Mlicic the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade? Then there was that disastrous free agent splurge on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in 2009. But lately Dumars has been making a comeback, drafting a pair of big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond who have the potential to anchor the Pistons front line for years to come. He made his biggest play in signing free agent Josh Smith, hoping that the stat-line filler can step into the role of No. 1 option and even team leader. Then Dumars traded for Brandon Jennings with hope that he can be both reined in and unleashed and brought home former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups to show him how. Mo Cheeks gets his third shot as a head coach and it’s all a mix that could put the Pistons back in the playoffs.

Dell Demps, Pelicans – The easier path for Demps would have been to keep Nerlens Noel when the big man fell into his lap at the No. 6 pick and keep on selling a theme of acquiring young assets and building for the future. But with a new team name, new franchise colors and a new owner (Tom Benson) writing the checks, it was a time for a new and bolder direction. The young and oh-so-slender Noel was deemed too much duplication on the front line with 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis and was trade to Philly for 23-year-old guard Jrue Holiday, who puts the only All-Star credentials in the New Orleans lineup. Demps then kept dealing to bring more firepower into the lineup with former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. Of course, that immediately brought talk of a crowded backcourt with Eric Gordon still on hand, but Demps and coach Monty Williams are betting that a three-man rotation cannot only thrive, but put some punch into what was a thoroughly mediocre offense last season. Assuming Davis takes another big step forward in his second season, the Pelicans could contend for one of the final playoff spots in the West.

PREVIOUSLY: Comeback player | MVP | Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player

HANG TIME, Texas – Officially, the NBA has not recognized a Comeback Player of the Year since the 1984-85 season.

But these are the dog days of August, this is just an exercise in summer daydreaming and that means, well, we can pretty much do whatever we want.

Besides, it’s so rare that we have so many big name players on the mend, several with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.

So grab a seat in the shade and let’s run my top candidates for a make-believer honor — the 2013-14 Comeback Player of the Year:

Kobe Bryant, Lakers – Yes, it’s still all speculation at this point, and even Bryant has said that he’s not sure he’ll be ready yet for opening night. But if, at 35, he somehow gets back onto the court less than a year after tearing his Achilles’ tendon and manages to come close to being the beast of his former self, Kobe will have eclipsed Adrian Peterson as a modern medical marvel and raised his already considerable legacy way past Michael Jordan‘s “flu game.”

Dwight Howard, Rockets – Can a guy who averaged 17.1 points and led the league in rebounding (12.4 rpg) last season really be considered a comeback candidate? He can if he’s this guy, who could only have taken more abuse if he’d played every game with a “Kick Me” sign taped to the back of his jersey. A return from back surgery and an in-season shoulder injury contributed to Howard’s lost season in L.A. A healthy and happy season in Houston could produce fireworks.

Derrick Rose, Bulls – He hasn’t played in an NBA game since April 28, 2012 and he may not return immediately to his old MVP form on opening night. But there are reasons to expect that Rose will want to use this season to make a loud statement about himself as a competitor and warrior. First of all, he is both of those things. Second, he heard all the sideline critics complain that he was soft or afraid or something less than a team player by not returning at the end of last season. If anyone has a point to prove about who he is, it’s Rose.

Kevin Love, Timberwolves – Flip the calendar back 12 months and there was so much for Love to anticipate in the year ahead, especially coming off his success at the World Championship. Not the broken right hand in training camp. Not breaking it again in January. Not the surgery on his left knee that ended any chance of a late return. Love averaged 18.3 points and 14 rebounds in the 18 games he played. Teammates Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger all suffered injuries in a lost season for the Wolves. Now it’s Love who’s champing at the bit to lead the comeback that could get Minnesota into the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Rajon Rondo, Celtics – When he gets back out onto the court, should we start calling him “Domino?” After all, think of all the dominoes that fell after he tore his ACL and had to be shut down for the season in January? That’s the way former teammate Paul Pierce views it. Rondo’s injury ended the Celtics’ real hopes of being playoff contenders or at least spoilers. Rondo’s injury likely led to the trading of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets. Rondo’s injury led to coach Doc Rivers wanting out of a rebuilding project. Rondo’s injury brought rookie coach Brad Stevens to Boston. Now Rondo gets to be the big dog who runs his own show and there’s no doubt he’ll bark loud.

Danny Granger, Pacers – On a team that already pushed the Heat to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals and is feeling more confident from the experience, how much of a boost could they get if the former All-Star forward can return to form? Granger played only five games last season after having surgery for patellar tendinosis. He said he expects to be back in the starting lineup. But even if he winds up coming off the bench, a Pacers team that sometimes had trouble putting points on the board will welcome the help.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder – Sure, it happened in the playoffs. Sure, he had never missed a single game in his NBA career until that night when he had the run-in with the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley. That doesn’t make it any less significant. The loss of Westbrook ended any real hope of the Thunder getting back to The Finals and maybe it quieted some of the carping complainers who love nothing more than to pick at the flaws in his game. Will the torn meniscus slow down any of his freakishly physical play or seemingly superhuman sorties to the rim? Doubt it.

Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers — With all the attention focused on free agent Andrew Bynum and No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett, the return of Varejao to the Cleveland lineup could be just as critical at making a run at the playoffs. The 30-year-old was averaging career highs of 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds in 25 games last season before tearing a quadriceps muscle in January and then requiring further surgery when a blood clot developed in his lung. Coach Mike Brown says the perpetual motion machine might start at power forward and that could get him back to making a run at his first All-Star berth.

Andrew Bynum, Cavaliers – If any player ever needed a comeback, it’s the big man who was a key part in the four-team trade between the Lakers, Magic, Nuggets and Sixers in the summer of 2012. Those chronic knee problems that had always made his future a big question mark in L.A. kept him on the sidelines but not out of the limelight all last season in Philly. He showed off flashy hairstyles. He went bowling. He just didn’t play. Now that Jan. 7 cutoff date to be on the Cavs roster that guarantees the other half of this season’s $12.25 million contract should be some real motivation.

PREVIOUSLY: MVP | Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Progress Reports on Injured Stars

By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com

The NBA offseason is a time for most players to relax and mentally prepare for the upcoming season. But for those recovering from injury, it’s all work as they try to get back into the game.

Here are 10 key players rehabbing this summer, with best guesses on when they are expected to return.

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Injury: Ruptured Achilles tendon (April 13, 2013)

Progress: Bryant’s 2012-13 season came to a sudden end when he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the Lakers’ stretch-run toward the playoffs. The initial diagnosis for his injury was 6-9 months, but recent reports have suggested the star could be back by the start of the 2013-14 season. This would be the best of news for the Lakers, who will struggle to win without Bryant.

ETA: It’s not hard to imagine Bryant being ready by the start of the season. But it’s downright easy to imagine this injury staying with him all season.

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

Injury: Torn ACL in left knee (April 28, 2012)

Progress: If you go by some of what you see on Twitter, then Derrick Rose was ready to return two months ago during the Chicago Bulls’ series against the Miami Heat, but he chose not to because he’s not “competitive enough.” Thankfully, the saga surrounding Rose ended when the Bulls were eliminated in five games and Rose was allowed to have the entire summer to continue his rehab. A video surfaced earlier in the week of Rose dunking on an eight-foot hoop. It seems likely the former-MVP will be ready by the start of training camp.

ETA: Reports signal Rose is comfortable on the court again and has regained his muscle memory, so expect him back for the entire 2013-14 season.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Injury: Lateral meniscus tear in right knee (April 24, 2013)

Progress: Westbrook underwent surgery on his right knee in late May after he tore his lateral meniscus during the first round playoff series against the Houston Rockets. The recovery time initially called for Westbrook to be back for the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Based on the amount of recent videos of Westbrook dancing, it would appear he will be ready.

ETA: It would take an unlikely setback for Westbrook not to be ready by training camp. But don’t be surprised if this injury inititally diminishes Westbrook’s level of play.

Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

Injury: Torn ACL in right knee (January 25, 2013)

Progress: Rondo’s knee injury in late-January knocked him out for the rest of the 2012-13 season and proved to be the last time he would play with future Hall-of-Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and be coached by Doc Rivers. Rondo is reportedly right on schedule for his recovery, but the team he is preparing to return to is moving in a completely new direction. It will be interesting to see how Rondo handles his new leading role on the team and if he can get along with new head coach Brad Stevens.

ETA: All signs point to Rondo being ready for the start of the season.

Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

Injury: Surgery to remove scar tissue in left knee (April 8, 2013)

Progress: Kevin Love missed the beginning of the 2012-13 season with a broken hand sustained by doing knuckle push-ups. After he returned from that injury he played 18 games before he broke the same hand again. Before he could return for a third time, he became bothered by left knee pain and chose to have season-ending surgery to remove scar tissue in his knee. The normal recovery time for this surgery is 4-6 weeks, so Love should be right on schedule to return for training camp.

ETA: Love will most likely be ready for the start of the 2013-14 season … unless he decided to do more knuckle push-ups.

Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers

Injury: Knee complications beginning in 2010

Progress: Andrew Bynum underwent his first knee surgery on July 28, 2010 with the Los Angeles Lakers. Last year, knee troubles caused the  center to miss the entire season after he was acquired by the Philadelphia 76ers in a summer blockbuster trade. The washout of a season was initially due to a setback Bynum suffered while bowling. Now a part of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bynum says he will be ready by training camp. But it’s important to remember he said those same words last season, too.

ETA: Few will believe the big man is back until they see the big man back, but it seems likely he will be healthy for the start of the season.

Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets

Injury: Torn ACL in left knee (April 4, 2013)

Progress: Similar to Rondo, the team that Gallinari is set to return to is a lot different than the one he left. Gone are Andre Iguodala, head coach George Karl and general manager Masai Ujiri. But new head coach Brian Shaw should help to inspire the team and a healthy Gallinari would certainly help. The initial timetable for his return was the middle of next season, but recent reports suggest he may be back sooner than that after the surgery was simpler than expected.

ETA: The best-case scenario for his return seems to be December.

Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers

Injury: Blood clot developed in left lung following surgery (January 10, 2013)

Progress: Varejao was having his best NBA season when it was unexpectedly cut short after doctors discovered a blood clot developing in his left lung. This potentially fatal condition was quickly treated by surgery, but it caused Varejao to miss the remainder of the season. Varejao should be fully prepared to return by the start of training camp.

ETA: It would be a surprise if Varejao isn’t ready to step into the front line of the improving Cavs by the start of the season.

Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers

Injury: Patellar tendinosis in left knee since the 2012 offseason

Progress: Granger attempted to return midseason last year but was able to play in only five games before he had to undergo another surgery. His absence allowed All-Star Paul George to emerge as the go-to star for the Pacers, who reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals before falling to the Heat. Still, Granger’s offensive firepower would be a welcome addition off the bench.

ETA: While recent reports suggest that the former All-Star should be ready by training camp, lingering knee injuries are nearly impossible to predict.

Greg Oden

Injury: Lingering knee injuries since 2007

Progress: Speaking of lingering knee injuries, here’s Greg Oden! The first overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft is reportedly ready for a comeback after being out of the league for the entire 2012-13 season. He’s receiving heavy interest from several NBA teams. There’s no way to predict what Oden has left in his knees, but if he can stay relatively healthy for the majority of next season then his extreme size and skill will be a huge benefit.

ETA: There have been limited reports on Oden’s recovery progress, but the amount of interest he’s received from teams must signal that the big man is on track to return for most of next season.