Posts Tagged ‘Anderson Varejao’

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.

Bynum Vows To Return To Form With Cavs



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Andrew Bynum is well aware of his skeptics … those who don’t believe that his work ethic can match his physical tools and the crowd that believes we might have seen the best of him already.

We are going to serve as his motivation this season in Cleveland, which is exactly what I wanted to hear from the Cavaliers’ big man during his introductory news conference this morning.

Shut me up. Shut us all up, big fella. And show us that we are wrong about you.

Show us that you are indeed the All-Star you claim to be. Show us that you are one of the top big men in basketball. Because showing us is the only way you will convert the masses.

The Cavaliers have provided the platform. General manager Chris Grant was by his side, clearing the path for Bynum to speak his peace and then get ready to work (bright and early Monday, according to Bynum). Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, who is familiar with Bynum from their season together with the Los Angeles Lakers, will be there to do whatever it takes to help Bynum succeed.

But in the end, if Bynum plans to return to form this season, the onus is on him … fragile knees and all, his critics be damned.

“I feel like for me getting my career back on track and really playing a full year is my only goal with this season,” Bynum said about his goals for the 2013-14 season. “I really feel like I can accomplish it. Work ethic-wise, I come in every day and I work hard. I don’t really — I feel like it’s a little bit unfair at times, but that’s just something that comes with the territory. Obviously, you take that and use it as motivation to come out and prove everybody wrong.”

Bynum insists the scathing reviews of his work ethic have been off base at best and totally unfair.

“Completely,” he said. “I worked really hard to get where I am, and I continue to work hard. I’ve had injuries in the past, and there is a lot to be said for people who think that way. But I think if you get to know me and you look at how hard I have worked to get where I am now, that that’s kind of nonsense.”

This player, who boasts franchise-big man talent, just signed a two-year deal that could be worth some $24 million (only $6 million is guaranteed) provided he delivers on all of the hype he talked up this morning. And he very well could return to form. He could be the dominant force he was during his last healthy season, in 2011-12, when he averaged 18.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg and 1.9 bpg en route to his first All-Star nod.

That Bynum, alongside a healthy Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Anderson Varejao, Earl Clark, Tyler Zeller and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, among others, is a solid start. That could be the nucleus of a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

“This is definitely a playoff team,” Bynum insisted. “We have new talent. We have Jarrett Jack, we have Earl Clark who had a phenomenal year last year. I can’t wait to play with Anderson, honestly. I haven’t played with — he brings a kind of energy and passion to the game that I really haven’t been around. Obviously, I played with Kobe [Bryant], but just from a guy who is willing to sacrifice everything for the team, I think that goes leaps and bounds inside the locker room. So I’m really excited about this roster. We definitely have the opportunity to go.”

But for those of us finding it hard to shake the images of Bynum on the bench all last season with the Philadelphia 76ers, the doubt remains. He’s 305 pounds right now, way over his usual playing weight of 280. And we haven’t seen how his knees will respond to his latest round of procedures, rest and rehabilitation.

Bynum said he was in shape and ready to go last season, only to have those recurring knee issues torpedo his season and the Sixers’ plans to build a contender around him. Bynum claims he was as shocked as anyone at the way things played out in Philly.

“Yes, I was completely surprised. I had every intention of playing and I showed up,” he said. “I was ready. I was down in playing weight, I was in shape. It’s just an unfortunate situation that it didn’t work out for me there. Again, going forward here, we have a great plan. I’m going to stick to it, and will I be ready. I have been doing a bunch of non-weight bearing exercises just to protect my knees,” he said. “Going forward, we’re going to do some final screening and really strengthen my body so that I’m able to play. That’s something that’s going to be new for me this year coming here. I haven’t really had that in the past, and this organization has really laid it out for me to succeed.”

The Cavaliers have all of the pieces in place. It’s up to Bynum to show the basketball world that he has moved on from all that has gone down in recent seasons.

He’s saying all the right things. He swears he used his lost 2012-13 season to observe the game from a different perspective, to see where he is needed and how he can best benefit his new teammates and franchise.

“I can bring leadership, I can bring experience, and myself and the young team around me, we’re in an interesting opportunity to all rise together and really do something special.” Bynum said. “We have the talent, and now all it’s going to take is the work. I think everybody with the team, especially myself, we’re ready to put that in. Going forward, I want to get back to the All-Star level. I want to just work extremely hard and get this team into the playoffs and really make some noise. I think the Cleveland fans deserve that.”

Talking the talk is one thing.

Walking it is another.

Shut me up this season, big fella. Shut us all up!


Fearless Cavs Offer Bynum 2-Year Deal


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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – From Dion Waiters to Anthony Bennett and now Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant is fearless.

In a copycat league, he’s decided to go his own way and usually in dramatic fashion.

We’ve come to expect the unexpected from Grant in the Draft, both Waiters in 2012 and Bennett last month were surprising picks at No. 4 and No. 1 overall, respectively.

Grant doubling down on Bynum in free agency though, with a reported two-year deal that could be worth some $24 million with incentives, pushes the envelope to the brink.

Yes, there is a team option on the second season and plenty of incentives. So Grant has covered himself in ways the Philadelphia 76ers could not when they acquired Bynum in that blockbuster Dwight Howard trade last summer from the Los Angeles Lakers. The fact that they are even entertaining the risk of adding Bynum to a roster that was ravaged by injuries last season (most notably to Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao) tells you how desperate the franchise is to rise from the ashes of The Decision and move back into playoff territory.

Grant obviously isn’t alone in his risky business this summer. Bynum has face-to-face meetings scheduled with the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks this week, following Monday’s visit to Cleveland. I don’t care if he works out for these teams or not, entertaining the idea of adding him to your team (I don’t care what the price) is an extremely dicey gamble.

Bynum has experienced more highs and lows than your average 25-year-old should-be-dominant low-post monster. He’s got two championship rings, but also has only played more than 65 games just once in his eight seasons in the league. The talent is undeniable. Players his size and with his skill-set are rare.

I’m just not sure that being on the NBA’s endangered species list warrants the sort of pursuit we are seeing. The Mavericks and Hawks are desperate for big man help as well, and they could both use a healthy Bynum in the worst way.

How much are they willing to risk to take that chance?

A colleague and good friend suggested that the risk isn’t as great as some (me) are making it out to be.

“The second year is an option, right?” he wrote. “Makes it less of a gamble if they can drop him next summer and still have space for LeBron [James].”

Yeah, that sounds great until you remember that the Cavaliers cannot continue to play the waiting game year after painful year. After all, they were supposed to win a title or two before LeBron won anything in Miami, a prediction that came crashing down in the worst way.

I’ve heard all of the arguments to the contrary …

What if Bynum’s knees hold up?

What if he reverts back to the form he showed in his final season with the Lakers, when he averaged career bests in points (18.7), rebounds (11.9) and minutes (35.2) to go along with 1.9 blocks?

What if at 25 he’s still got five or six great years left in him, in those knees?

What if? is a loaded phrase lottery teams use to justify off-the-track decisions that usually come back to bite them in the end.

That’s a phrase the Cavaliers should avoid at all costs if they are intent on becoming the playoff team that gambler of a general manager of theirs believes they could be this season.



Blogtable: ‘Cats, Cavs, Wizards




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


Week 10: The best team in the NBA | Show us you’re worth it | Best, worst: ‘Cats, Cavs or Wizards


At the end of the season, who has the best record: Charlotte, Washington or Cleveland? Worst?

Steve Aschburner: Ah yes, the single-digit sweepstakes, the NBA equivalent of lobsters trying to claw over each other to get out of the pot. My guess for the final ranking of the Eastern Conference’s three worst teams is 1) Cavaliers, 2) Wizards, 3) Bobcats. Cleveland has two guys – Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao – who have played at an All-Star level, something neither Washington nor Charlotte can boast. The Wizards are anticipating a bump when point guard John Wall returns, though their head coach – Randy Wittman – probably is shakiest of the three fellows leading these clubs. The Bobcats remain in developmental mode, with victories nice, but playing time and seasoning as higher priorities for their young players. No team, frankly, is playing less to win this season than Charlotte – and that mission likely will be accomplished.

Fran Blinebury: With a healthy Kyrie Irving back in the lineup, I like Cleveland in this race of bottom dwellers. But that’s assuming the Cavs don’t unload Anderson Varejao at the trade deadline.  The worst of the bunch is clearly the Wizards, a train-wreck of a franchise that long ago went over the basketball cliff.

Jeff Caplan: I want to say Cleveland will have the best record of three solely because of Kyrie Irving. He’s a phenomenal talent, but he has so little help. So I’m picking Charlotte to have the best record of this woeful trio. Even though they lost 18 in a row, as crazy as that sounds. I think they have a better overall roster and the pain from  the seven-win season remains with them. As for the Wizards, I am impressed how hard this team plays yet nets so few results. Unless John Wall returns soon and is spectacular immediately, this group will remain in the cellar.

Scott Howard-Cooper:  Washington. There, I said it. The Wizards need to make up four games to move to the front of your illustrious pack. That is very much within reason because (a) they are planning to have John Wall and Nene healthy the second half of the season, and (b) the Cavaliers and Bobcats are the competition. Cleveland will challenge for the lead as well. Worst: Charlotte. While the long losing streak is not a true read – the Bobcats are better than that – the roster has more holes than the others.

John Schuhmann: I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was asked this exact question at my holiday get-togethers. Such a hot topic in the streets! Cleveland will finish with the best record of the three, because Kyrie Irving is the best player on any of these teams and the Cavs have played the toughest schedule in the Eastern Conference thus far. And Charlotte will finish with the worst record of the three, because they’re just awful on both ends of the floor. The Wizards have been good enough defensively to keep them in some games, and maybe John Wall will be back soon.

Sekou Smith: Based on the presence of Kyrie Irving alone the Cavaliers should be the pick. But the Bobcats, even with that nasty losing streak on their first quarter report card, still sit ahead of both of the Cavaliers and Wizards in the standings right now. As much as they’ve been ridiculed here and elsewhere for their struggles, it’s hard to see how two teams that couldn’t make up ground on a team in the midst of a staggering 18-game losing streak are all of a sudden going to pass the Bobcats up now that the worst is presumably over. And to their credit, the Bobcats battled during that losing streak. They were not just taking beatings without putting up a fight. That kind of intestinal fortitude will come in handy over the next three and a half months of action.

A Six-pack Under The All-Star Radar



HANG TIME, Texas
— All-Star.

It’s a word that explodes rather than rolls off the tongue. It’s the gaudy label that usually gets attached to the players who crackle, pop and send sparks flying like an electricity transformer that’s been struck by lightning.

But what of the players who spend their long careers quietly humming through the power lines and rarely getting noticed?

The patron saint of the overlooked is Eddie Johnson, who played 17 seasons with the Kings, Suns, Sonics, Hornets, Pacers and Rockets, 1,199 games and scored more points (19,202) than any player in NBA history without once being selected to play in the All-Star Game. He still ranks in the top 50 all-time scorers in the league, ahead of Hall of Famers Gail Goodrich and Scottie Pippen.

Sitting at Johnson’s right hand is Derek Harper, who played 16 seasons with the Mavericks, Knicks, Magic and Lakers and retired in 1999 ranking 11th on the all-time steals and 17th in career assists and never got a single chance to take an All-Star bow.

So with a nod of appreciation for their efforts and in honor of Johnson and Harper, it’s time to take a look at a six-pack of current players who have been flying under the radar and might be due some All-Star love before they’re gone:

Jamal Crawford, Clippers, 13th season — All those years of playing for bad teams in Chicago, New York, Golden State and Portland with the only two playoff seasons of his career mixed in with the Hawks has built up and often well-deserved reputation as a mad gunner who’ll take any shots as soon as he’s in the building. But consider those teams, consider that he was often cast in exactly that role to provide big points off the bench. Now he’s in a perfect place in reserve with the best-in-the-NBA Clippers and is having the time of his career.

Al Jefferson, Jazz, 9th season — He’s learned to use those big hands to become a very good passer out of double-teams, but his strength is still as a low post scorer from the left block. His scoring average is down a bit over the past few seasons because he doesn’t have to carry so much of the load with an influx of talent. Nothing at all fancy about the way he plays, but shows up every game to put in an honest night’s work and produces. Playing the bulk of your career in Minnesota and Utah will never help anybody’s profile. He has deserved his due.

Kevin Martin, Thunder, 9th season – How foolish now does anyone feel who wondered if this guy would be able to step into the hole left by James Harden’s departure in Oklahoma City? There’s no beard and he doesn’t have the explosiveness, but having already proven over a seven-year span in Sacramento and Houston that he could carry an offense, now he fits like a hand inside a custom-sown glove with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He’s shooting a career-best-by-far 45.5 percent on 3s, 93 percent on free throws and, most important, has not caused OKC to miss a beat.

Andre Miller, Nuggets, 14th season — How does a guard you’d never want taking a shot with your life on the line keep moving ahead in his second decade in the league? But using his slick veterans moves to get to the rim himself or to use his amazing passing skills to get up his teammates for layups or dunks. Either way the result is usually an easy finish. In every one of his seasons there have always been other point guards who were faster and quicker and could fill up the basket more. But a guy with his smarts and productivity should have taken one All-Star bow by now.

Josh Smith, Hawks, 9th season – Because he’s still only 27, because he can still make your jaw drop from either a stupendous or stupid shot, the NBA world has managed to turn right by Smith. That’s despite his putting together a career stat line — soon to be 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists and 1,000 blocked shots — that will rank him among the all-time greats. There are signs that he’s finally learning and other times when his shot selection still makes you cringe. If there is a current player who can eclipse Eddie Johnson as the best to never play in a single All-Star Game, it’s J-Smoove. But at 27, maybe there’s still plenty of time.

Anderson Varejao, Cavs, 9th season – For the early part of his career he was merely the one-trick pony who threw himself around like a bucking bronco just let out of the chute. But now Varejao is leading the league in rebounding at 14.4 per game, also averaging a career-high 14.1 points and therefore is tied for fourth place in double-doubles with 16 in his first 25 games. While the big question around the league is whether a would-be contender will be able to pry him away from the rebuilding Cavs, the other is if Cleveland’s place near the bottom of the standings will cost Varejao his earned recognition as an All-Star?

It’s Not The End Of the World, But…

HANG TIME, Texas — Go ahead, take another look at that Miami logo.

Maybe the Mayans weren’t predicting the end of the world for Dec. 21, 2012, but the beginning of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh raining down on the planet in the fiery start to the Heat dynasty. Just missed it by six months.

Of course, if the Mayans were so good at predicting the future, there might still be Mayans.

Or as the famous Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz once reassured: “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia.”

That said, there are a few things we wouldn’t mind seeing wiped off Planet NBA permanently:

P.A. screamers — We don’t need a courtside announcer to bellow that there are “Dos Minutos!” left in the game or to screech that it’s proper fan etiquette for the home crowd to make sure the visiting player is shooting “Two nooissssy free throws!” Doing the basics of the job would suffice, such as pronouncing names correctly. Though it’s too late for the former 7-foot-6 All-Star center of the Rockets, we would like you to become just the slightest bit worldly and understand that last basket was scored by Yao, not Ming. And we can only hope that more than a few of you to learn that it’s not RAY-jon Rondo.

Back-to-backs — In the days of private charter jet travel, computer programs and individual game tickets that cost in the hundreds — and even thousands — of dollars, there is no reason to keep selling an inferior product. When one team is rested and the other is flying in from having played the night before, it is the fan who is negatively affected most. Yes, some teams are different than others, but there is no reason that gap should be widened or closed by an uneven playing field. Since neither players or owners will accept the financial cutbacks necessary to play a 66-game schedule, there is another way. Eliminate virtually all of the preseason, start the regular season two weeks earlier, run the schedule two weeks longer and eliminate the exclusivity window that restricts the number of teams that can play on Thursdays. In addition to competitive balance, it’s time the paying customer doesn’t sit through a night where one team looks like the zombies from “The Walking Dead.”

Whining about Hack-a-Shaq – There are few things more deplorable than watching a supposed All-Star center stand at the foul line and struggle to make 50 percent of his free throws. The one thing that is worse is listening to the apologists who want to outlaw the intentional foul. If a batter in baseball can’t hit the curve, should he be allowed to request only fastballs? Try hypnosis, green tea, reciting poetry and going to your happy place while standing at the stripe. Or just shut up and stay in the gym until you learn to perform a fundamental part of the game.

Mascot skits — We understand that it’s not just a game anymore, but a full “entertainment experience.” Yet there are too many of the furry/silly mascots who don’t grasp the fact that their primary job is supposed to be generating enthusiasm for the team. When the home team is on a 10-0 tear, the visitors are disorganized and forced to call timeout, that is the occasion to keep the crowd cheering and whipped into a frenzy, not trot out a corny routine that you hope will one day get you an invite to “Inside the Actors Studio.”

Pointless fastbreaks — How many times will we be forced to watch a team come down the floor with a 2-on-1 or even 3-on-1 advantage and see a pass back outside for a 3-pointer rather than taking the ball all the way to the hoop? The analytics crowd can have their effective field goal percentage. A lot of folks would prefer to see a guard handle the ball in the middle of the floor and dish to a wingman for a simple layup or dunk. Wasn’t it good enough for Magic Johnson and Larry Bird?

Offensive basket interference — In effort to have the game played by the same rules all around the world, it’s time the NBA went with the international community and made any ball live and in play once it hits the rim. It means the ball could be swatted off the rim by a defender or tapped or pushed down into the basket by an offensive player. The play requires not just leaping ability, but timing and skill and does not happen as often as you might think in international play or in the NBA D-League, which is experimenting with the rule. For the anti-Hack-a-Shaq crowd, it could even help Dwight Howard with his free throws if a teammate was there to clean up his misses.

All-Star voting outrage — It’s time that the purists stopped the annual carping that accompanies the release of each round of vote totals. We know that Anderson Varejao, Greg Monroe, O.J. Mayo and Stephen Curry are having the kind of starts to this season that merit attention and admiration. But the All-Star Game is purely a popularity contest and, let’s face, it, everybody wants to watch LeBron, Carmelo, Kobe and CP3.

Sweet 6 Could Make All-Star Debuts

HANG TIME, Texas — Every year when the first batch of NBA All-Star vote totals is announced, it is often reminiscent of one of Capt. Renault’s famous lines from “Casablanca”: Round up the usual suspects.

We could pretty much count on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony being in the starting lineups on Feb. 17 in Houston even before the first online ballot was ever cast.

There are other questions, of course. Will the resurgent Tim Duncan make a return to the Western Conference team after his 12-year streak was broken last season? How many votes will Derrick Rose get, even though he’s been rehabbing his knee and hasn’t played a single game? Will a groundswell of “Linsanity” put Jeremy Lin onto his home court in Houston?

But the most interesting question — and the hottest debates — usually come down to the players that are trying to break out under the All-Star Game spotlight for the very first time.

So, we present a six-pack of the most deserving candidates to take their All-Star debuts this season:

Stephen Curry, Warriors – Nobody’s writing him off as being too fragile anymore, worried that the ankles just won’t hold up. Now in his fourth season, the sweet shooting guard is having his best year. He’s averaging career highs of 20 points, 6.5 rebounds — numbers among point guards that are eclipsed only by OKC’s Russell Westbrook. Perhaps most significant, he’s playing 37.2 minutes a night, having not missed a game. He’s showing the quick release and the accuracy from 3-point range that everyone predicted coming into the league and, now that he’s finally healthy, Curry is playing the role of leader on a 14-7 Golden State team that has been virtually without center Andrew Bogut.

James Harden, Rockets – The Beard exploded into the headlines by scoring 37 and 45 points in his first two games for the Rockets almost before he learned the names of his teammates. It was widely acknowledged that Harden had been sacrificing a big piece of his game and potential stardom by coming off the bench for the Thunder. But did everyone think it was a piece the size of Greenland? At 24.7 a game, he is fifth in the league in scoring, trailing only Bryant, Anthony, Durant and James. He also kicks in 5.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game and, quite frankly, does about anything he wants in the Houston offense, raining in 3-pointers or getting all the way to the rim off the dribble. Just by pulling on the uniform, he’s made the Rockets relevant again.

O.J. Mayo, Mavericks — Who would have predicted this when the Grizzlies held the door open and told him not to let it him on the way out last summer? The Mavericks may have struck out in their bids for the high profile names in Howard and Deron Williams, but likely scooped up the free agent bargain of the offseason in Mayo. He ranks 10th in scoring at 20.8 per game, a career best. He’s also shooting at a 48.7 clip, including a sizzling 53 percent from behind the 3-point line. With Dirk Nowitzki sidelined while recovering knee surgery, the Mavs were desperate for someone who could fill up the basket every night and be able to make the big shots down the stretch every night. With a consistency and a concentration of focus that always eluded him in Memphis, Mayo has done it all.

Joakim Noah, Bulls – It might have been easy for the Bulls to simply resign themselves and tread water while waiting for the return of Rose. But Noah is a splasher and he’s responded along with teammate Luol Deng by tirelessly attacking every game as coach Tom Thibodeau has significantly raised his playing time and the level of expectation. Noah ranks seventh in the league in rebounding (10.8), seventh in blocked shot (2.3) and also averages 1.4 steals, all of which has helped give the Bulls the most efficient defense in the NBA and has to put him high in the early conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s also averaging 13.6 points and 4.3 assists at the other end of the floor.

Josh Smith, Hawks – He’s flown beneath the radar for so long that it has somehow become acceptable to take what he’s done for granted through eight seasons and counting. By the time this one is over, J-Smoove will likely have 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists and 1,000 blocked shots with the same team. That will put him on a select list with Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Julius Erving, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett. All but Ewing have at least one MVP award to their name and Smith is the only one who has never appeared in the All-Star Game. It took him a little while to get rolling this season, but Smith now has things in gear. He was just named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for averaging a double-double (21 points, 12 rebounds) in leading the Hawks to a 3-0 record. He is their leading scorer in a 12-6 season that has Atlanta No. 3 in the East standings.

Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers — How is it that the best center in the Eastern Conference could be on the trading block? It has to do more with the Cavs’ miserable 5-17 record rather than any of what Varejao has brought to the table. He’s averaging a career-high 14.8 points and leading the league with 14.9 rebounds per game. Varejao is tied with Memphis’ Zach Randolph for the league lead in double-doubles with 15, and for the 11 games when Kyrie Irving was injured and on the shelf, he might have been the only reason to watch the Cavs. Of course, every G.M. in the league has been watching and with Cleveland in full rebuilding mode, seeking draft picks and young players, there’s a good chance he’ll change uniforms twice this season. That is, of course, assuming he’ll switch into an All-Star jersey for the first time in Houston.

Thibs On Asik: “He is Like Yao Ming”

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – How much does Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau miss having Omer Asik at his disposal now that the rebounding machine is plying his trade in Houston?

Apparently a whole lot.

What else would lead Thibodeau to compare Asik to Yao Ming, the Rockets former All-Star center whose career was cut short by injury.

Now before you go snatching your own hair out over this one, here’s a little context from Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“In a lot of ways,” Thibodeau said, “he is like Yao Ming.”

In a lot of ways, he is quite different. Yao, who worked extensively with Thibodeau with the Rockets and in the offseasons in China, was blessed with an uncanny shooting touch and well-honed offensive moves. Asik is the backbone of the Rockets’ defense, largely on the strength of quick feet for a 7-footer, but has a relative lack of offensive skills.

Yet a day before Asik was set to face the Bulls for the first time [Today] at Toyota Center, Thibodeau, who spent four seasons as a Rockets assistant, saw what Asik and Yao had in common.

“Very, very bright,” Thibodeau said of his former big men. “(Asik) has size, intelligence, great feet, drive and a willingness play for the team. He reacts quickly, anticipates, and he’s relentless. He’s a multiple effort guy. He’s a 7-footer, smart, driven. He will get better.”

… “O’s the best defensive center I’ve been around since I’ve been in the NBA,” Rockets acting head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “When Andrew Bogut was healthy, he was special, too, but I would put Big O in his class, and that’s a big compliment to Big O because I thought Bogut was a great defensive center.”

Sometimes it’s hard for us to see the resemblance. But the compliment from Thibodeau to his former big man is one that shouldn’t be dismissed as silly.

Asik has a legion of admirers in the coaching community and front offices around the league. He has embraced parts of the job that many of his big men brethren abandoned a long time ago in favor of expanding their shooting range to beyond the 3-point line. He’s a throwback in the way that the true purists of the game love above all else.

Asik has a skill — rebounding — that is just as critical to a team’s dynamic as scoring or facilitating. His role for the Rockets is as clear-cut as James Harden‘s. Asik averages 12.3 rebounds, third best in the league behind Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph and Cavaliers big man Anderson Varejao. The only one of the three who is just as accomplished offensively, as Yao was during his playing days, is Randolph.

To his credit, Asik is averaging a double-double this season (10.8 points to go along with those rebounds). So he is still very much a work in progress. Yao finished his career with averages of 19.1 points and 9.2 rebounds, with highs of 26.6 points and 10.7 rebounds. Asik might never be that kind of scorer, but he’s already a more proficient technician on the glass.

And who knows, maybe some day those comparisons to Yao won’t seem quite as far-fetched as they do (without the full context) right now?

Film Study: The Cavs’ Bad Defense

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters combined for 52 points in a road win over the Los Angeles Clippers last week, we started to see some real potential in the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Since then, the Cavs have lost four straight games. And on Tuesday night, they took over as the worst defensive team in the league, having allowed 107.8 points per 100 possessions, eight more than the league average.

The Cavs’ defense actually ranks in the top eight in forcing turnovers and defensive rebounding. But it has major holes on the interior, despite the presence of Anderson Varejao, an excellent defender.

Highest opponent FG%, restricted area
Team OppFGM OppFGA OppFG%
Cleveland 152 199 76.4%
New York 76 116 65.5%
Chicago 114 178 64.0%
Boston 120 189 63.5%
Sacramento 140 222 63.1%

Through Tuesday, 11/13

Through Tuesday’s loss in Brooklyn, the Cavs are allowing their opponents to shoot a ridiculous 76.4 percent in the restricted area

Now, you will notice that teams 2, 3 and 4 in the table to the right all finished in the top five in defensive efficiency last season. And there’s more to defense than keeping your opponent from shooting a high percentage near the basket.

But you will also notice how big of a difference there is between the Cavs and every other team when it comes to defending the rim. Their opponents are shooting almost 11 percent higher than any other team’s opponents and more than 18 percent higher than the league average (58.2 percent).

To make it clear how bad that is, note that only one player (Dante Cunningham) took at least 100 shots from the restricted area last year and shot better than 76.4 percent. He was 89-for-116 (76.7 percent).

On Tuesday, the Nets shot an amazing 24-for-28 in the restricted area, recording 60 points in the paint, their highest total since April of 2010.

A look at the film makes it easy to see why, because the the Cavs’ defensive breakdowns were obvious, plentiful, and almost comical…

Problem: No hustle. Spotlight on: Alonzo Gee

The Cavs are allowing 19.7 fast break points per 100 possessions, second only to Milwaukee. Part of the problem is turnovers, and part of the problem is … well, just watch Alonzo Gee after Irving misses a shot in the paint…

 

 

When Kris Humphries grabs the rebound for Brooklyn, Brook Lopez is at the foul line and Gee is at the 3-point line. And when Lopez scores on the opposite end of the floor, Gee has barely cross the mid-court line.

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