HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Raise your hand, you twisted souls, if you’re ready for another episode of the Dwight Howard-Stan Van Gundy show.
Even Hawks fans, a group starved for both star power on the roster and stability with the coaching staff, are wary of the potential pairing of these former Orlando Magic stalwarts in the ATL. Their deteriorating relationship marred their final season together in a situation that was anything but magic in Orlando.
But when the coaching carousel kicks up this time of year, and a half-dozen or so different teams are picking over the same small pool of elite coaching candidates, all things are possible.
Van Gundy, and his brother, Jeff Van Gundy, are going to be on short lists everywhere, along with Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown and whoever the assistant coach(es) du jour might be.
What looks good on paper and sounds sweet in theory, however, doesn’t always hold up in reality. Multiple reports of Stan Van Gundy being pursued by the Hawks, who have announced that they will explore all options in determining who replaces Larry Drew (if they replace him), make perfect sense. Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in the process of rebuilding his roster and needs a coach on board before the Draft.
“I have great appreciation and respect for Larry and how he led our team this season,” Ferry told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday. “At the same time, it is my responsibility and in the best interests of the Hawks organization to consider all of our options, and talk with other potential head coaches before making a decision about who will lead our basketball team. Larry and I have had open communication about this approach. If Larry and I continue to work together, we ultimately will be a stronger organization because of our discussions and this thorough process.”
That’s an eloquent way of stating the obvious: that the Hawks plan on moving on from the past nine years (Drew was an assistant under current Knicks Mike Woodson during his six seasons with Atlanta before Drew spent the last three season its coach). And it’s understandable. No one will blame Ferry for making a clean break from the Hawks’ recent past, provided he upgrades the coaching situation and the roster with all of that $33 million in cap space and the four Draft picks the Hawks will be armed with this summer.
The burning question remains, then, is Stan Van a legitimate upgrade?
He did take the Magic to The Finals in 2009, the Miami Heat to the Eastern Conference finals (2005) and did the same with Orlando (2010). But he was shown the door in both places after his star players grew tired of his grinding ways. Weighing the pros and cons of Stan Van being the face and voice of your franchise heading into a huge free-agent summer is a risky proposition for the Hawks, one that Ferry is surely aware of as he continues to sort through the process of finding the right coach.
There are five other current openings around the league, with another one (Los Angeles Clippers … ?) still looming. With a bevy of candidates, we take a look at who fits best where and why …
Atlanta Hawks: Mike Malone, assistant coach Golden State Warriors
In a realm where it’s often who you know as well as what you know, Malone can check those boxes with the Hawks. He’s done stellar work with the Warriors, helping guide them into a prime time position this postseason under Mark Jackson. He also worked under Mike Brown in Cleveland when Ferry ran that franchise. Malone is a nuts-and-bolts coach who won’t come with the baggage of some of the more recognizable candidates for the job. He’s universally respected and will likely be on the interview list for every opening out there.
Brooklyn Nets: Jeff Van Gundy, ABC/ESPN analyst
No available coach has a better handle on the rigors of guiding a team in the New York area. Van Gundy’s Knicks history, along with his work on ABC and ESPN broadcasts, has kept him in the forefront of a lot of people’s minds. He’s got the coaching chops required to manage a complex and talented roster that clearly needs a guiding force to reach its potential. His former partner in the booth, Mark Jackson, has done wonders in his first coaching stint in Golden State. Van Gundy could work similar magic with a Nets team that underachieved this season.
Charlotte Bobcats: Larry Drew, coach Atlanta Hawks
Drew worked alongside Bobcats owner Michael Jordan when they were both in Washington, so there is plenty of familiarity there. He also impressed many around the league with the work he did in an impossible situation in Atlanta the past three seasons. Even with constant changes on the roster and in the front office, Drew coached the Hawks to three straight playoff appearances. He would walk into a situation in Charlotte that looks a lot like the one he walked into with the Hawks nine years ago. That blueprint for thriving in the face of adversity could come in handy for the Bobcats.
Detroit Pistons: Jerry Sloan, former coach Utah Jazz
The Pistons have a roster filled with talented young players in need of guidance and direction. That’s the idea fit for a disciplinarian like Sloan, who could work wonders with bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in particular. Sloan’s Jazz teams were known for being the model of consistency. He won with superstar talent (Karl Malone and John Stockton) and kept on winning after they retired. The Pistons have had their greatest success in recent years under another veteran coach, Larry Brown, and could return to relevance under Sloan.
Milwaukee Bucks: David Fizdale, assistant coach Miami Heat
With the Big 3 in Miami, most of the attention has been strictly on the players. But Erik Spoelstra‘s key hire since taking over as coach in Miami was luring Fizdale away from the Hawks. He’s considered one of the brightest up-and-coming coaching candidates in the league and has done fantastic work with the continued development of both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Luring him away from a championship situation in Miami won’t be easy for the Bucks or anyone else. But Fizdale has designs on running his own team and working with Bucks GM John Hammond would be a good place to get that first shot.
Philadelphia 76ers: Stan Van Gundy, former coach Orlando Magic
After the emotional roller coaster that was the Doug Collins experience, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and the rest of the Sixers’ young core need a savvy veteran to deal with, not a first-time coach who would have to transition to a new gig in a city known for chewing up the strongest of personalities. Stan Van gives the Sixers a bold personality to lead the way and an absolute technician of the game to help push the right buttons for a team that needs the sort of stewardship he tried to provide in Orlando.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: As our own Steve Aschburner wrote about before last night’s Knicks-Bulls tilt from Chicago, coach Tom Thibodeau has once again done an amazing job of keeping this Bulls team together all season long. Aside from the scotch-tape job he has done with Chicago’s lineups all season, Thibodeau apparently is the master when it comes to ending a foe’s opposing win streak. The Bulls already had Miami’s 27-game run on their kill list and last night, they added the Knicks 13-game run to it. Nate Robinson was at his best last night, dropping in 35 points and coming up with the hustle plays and backbreaking shots that are a hallmark of his game when he is on.
Parker, Popovich can’t agree on return date — Up until March 1 against the Sacramento Kings, Tony Parker was in the midst of an MVP-type season. But that night in San Antonio, Parker severely sprained his left ankle and missed 22 days before returning to play (and star) in an OT win over the Jazz. He looked just like his old self for a while, but then suffered a neck injury in a loss at Oklahoma City on April 4 and has been out of the lineup since. Parker is hoping to come back soon, but the exact date on that, according to Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News, depends on who you ask:
On his way to the team bus after a loss to the Nuggets in which Gregg Popovich would not allow him to play Tony Parker, the Spurs’ All-Star point guard, made a promise he hopes the coach will allow him to keep on Friday night.
“I’m playing Friday,” Parker said without breaking stride as he focused on Friday’s game against the Kings at the AT&T Center.
For a team disheartened all the more by the pre-game news that forward Boris Diaw has been ruled out of action for two to three weeks with a sprained lower back (technically, a sprained lumbar facet), Parker’s vow was music to his teammates’ ears.
The Spurs leader in points scored and assists, the five-time All-Star hasn’t played since an April 4 game at Oklahoma City in which his most recent injury, a sore neck, resulted in his lowest output of the season: two points, on 1-for-6 shooting.
Parker will have to convince Popovich he is completely recovered from a variety of ailments if he wants to suit up against the Sacramento Kings Friday. The Spurs coach said he would re-visit the issue with Parker after a Friday morning shootaround.
“We’ll see how he feels,” Popovich said after Wednesday’s game in Denver.
In the wake of a published report saying the organization privately hopes Doug Collins doesn’t return next season as 76ers coach, his agent claims it will be Collins’ call.
“The relationship with Doug, me and Sixers management has been terrific,” said John Langel during a Thursday afternoon telephone conversation. “What they told me beyond this season and as recently as today and yesterday is how long Doug stays here is Doug’s decision.”
Langel denied rumblings that the story, which cited multiple unnamed NBA sources, in Thursday’s Philadelphia Inquirer originated from Collins’ camp.
Sixers spokesman Mike Preston said, “We are aware of the report and will not comment on a column loaded with innuendo and speculation.”
In October, Sixers majority owner Josh Harris announced the team had picked up a fourth-year option (for the 2013-14 season) on Collins’ contract. It is believed to be worth $4.5 million.
Sixers CEO Adam Aron has repeatedly — and as recently as last month — said management would like for Collins to coach the team beyond next season.
Harris is expected to meet with the media next Thursday, the day after the end of the regular season.
Report: Bulls likely to add Mirotic in 2014 — Back in the 2011 Draft, the Chicago Bulls pulled off a trade that day with the Houston Rockets to pick up Real Madrid star Nikola Mirotic. Since then, he’s been stashed overseas and is developing his game while Bulls fans salivate over the prospect of having a talent like Mirotic on the roster soon. Bulls fans should get their due soon, though, writes ESPNChicago.com, as the Bulls are poised to add Mirotic to the roster come 2014:
Chicago Bulls fans eager for Nikola Mirotic to join the team that drafted him with the 24th pick in 2011 will likely have to wait until the summer of 2014, general manager Gar Forman explained.
“You’re slotted in the first round, and I think the slot for No. 24 is $1.3 or $1.4 million,” Forman said Thursday on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “Well, he makes a lot more money than that right now over at Real Madrid. So the way the CBA is written is after three years then you’re no longer slotted. Then you can use whether it’s exception room or cap room in order to pay a guy.
“So there’s no possibility this summer because next year will be his third year. But after next year, the summer of 2014, then we’ll be able to start some negotiations as far as a buyout possibly with Real Madrid or negotiate with him to come over here.”
The 6-10 forward has been compared to Dirk Nowitzki and Danilo Gallinari.
“He reminds me of Dirk and a little bit of Gallo, just a little bit,” said Memphis center Zach Randolph, who played against Mirotic in an exhibition game. “But I can see the Dirk comparisons. I can see why, definitely.”
Some thought Mirotic could play small forward, but Forman said he’ll be a power forward.
“We’re really, really excited about him,” Forman said. “We built a relationship with him, we’re in constant communication. John (Paxson) and I went up and saw him this fall when he played at Memphis and at Toronto in a couple NBA exhibitions, and we think the ceiling there is incredible.
“He’s probably a four, but he’s very, very skilled. He shoots it from 3, can handle it, good mobility. And he’s a tough, tough kid.”
Report: Stern my decide on Kings’ future — Originally, the Sacramento Kings’ future was to be decided at the April 18-19 Board of Governors meeting, but after groups from Sacramento and Seattle gave their presentations on April 3, that deadline was pushed back (as our David Aldridge reports). More developments have come along (as our Scott Howard-Cooper reports) and the future of the Kings remains very much in doubt. Sam Amick of USA Today, though, says that Commissioner David Stern could be the deciding vote in whether or not the Kings move or stay put:
When David Stern announced he would retire next February, his 30th anniversary as NBA commissioner, he likely thought he had seen it all.
But here he is, in the 11th hour of a tenure that has been historic and memorable in many ways, directing traffic in an unprecedented affair, this fight for the Kings between Sacramento and Seattle, that will leave a lasting note on his legacy. And with a week left before the Board of Governors meetings in New York, when a vote on the matter likely will take place, this much has become abundantly clear: Stern still wields considerable influence, and strong signs persist that he’s doing all he can to keep the team in Sacramento.
For all of Stern’s talk of playing a merely advisory role, the growing sentiment from all sides is the commissioner, who has always been clear about his distaste for relocation, is determined to avoid having a sixth team change cities on his watch. And he remains powerful enough to pull it off. The story line is sticky, of course, because of the way the league moved the Seattle SuperSonics to the Oklahoma City in 2008 and the widely held assumption that Stern was hellbent on returning the NBA to Seattle before he retired.
This is a good problem to have for Stern and his successor, deputy commissioner Adam Silver. They clearly are smitten with the potential global impact that could come with Sacramento’s lead investor, Indian software tycoon Vivek Ranadive, but might have a hard time denying Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his deep pockets. Rumors of expansion as the potential solution to satisfy both sides persist, but Stern has said consistently it is not an option at the moment. The reality remains that one city will go home unhappy.
Monroe, Drummond rising for Pistons — Detroit is in the midst of a fourth straight season of winning less than 40 percent of their games and have a 50-plus loss season for the third time in four seasons. But in the midst of a losing campaign and more rebuilding, the Pistons have found some hope in their frontcourt tandem of rookie big man Andre Drummond and second-year center Greg Monroe. Richard Hardy of HoopsWorld.com has more on the Pistons’ developing duo and the prospects for a brighter future in Detroit:
After selecting Andre Drummond in this year’s draft, the Detroit Pistons had a potential log-jam at the center position. Just two years earlier they had selected Greg Monroe. Both players have shown that they deserve to be starters in this league and rather trading one of them, the Pistons opted to move Monroe over to power forward, hoping that the two can player together.
“We’ve put Greg in a situation where he’s playing a different position than he’s used to,” Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank said. “He’s responded very positively and we just want him to continue to progress in these last 16 quarters of basketball.”
At 6’11 and 250 lbs, Monroe is deceptively quick. Frank believes that in time Monroe can thrive at the four, regardless of what teams throw at him.
“Greg’s ability, with his size and skill level, to put the ball on the floor and make decisions is critical,” Frank said. “His low-post game continues to expand and he’s continuing to gain more and more confidence in his 15-foot jump shot. Defensively, when you look at the last 10 to 12 games, he’s had some really good individual defensive challenges that he’s responded to.”
Although Drummond and Monroe are similar in size, Drummond insists that their games are radically different.
“I do all the dirty work,” Drummond said. “Greg is the fundamental guy. He has the ability to hit the jump shot and he can pass the ball really well. He does all the active stuff and I clean up around the rim. We complement each other and for me, the game is easier when he’s out there.”
Monroe has been impressed with what Drummond has been able to do in such a short amount of time in the NBA. Although he agrees with Drummond about them being different players, he also sees similarities in their games.
“Andre is someone who’s very comfortable around the rim,” Monroe said. “He can run the floor and he’s a better passer than people give him credit for. I think both of us are pretty unselfish and we both have a ton of room for growth moving forward.”
ICYMI of the night: Chris Anderson, formerly of the Nuggets, has just been getting victimized by his old teammates. The latest to slam on him? None other than Washington’s Nene … :
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Detroit Pistons are a franchise that’s going younger, but might they have found their point guard of the future in 31-year-old Jose Calderon?
Detroit was the third wheel in the trade that made it possible for Memphis to ship Rudy Gay to Toronto. Career-long Piston Tayshaun Prince, the last remnant of Detroit’s 2004 title team, went to Memphis and Calderon, a career-long Raptor, and his $11 million expiring contract landed in Detroit.
The Pistons created additional cap room by taking on Calderon’s expiring deal and sending out Prince, who has nearly $15 million coming to him over the next two seasons. However, Detroit, with young building blocks such as Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Brandon Knight and Kyle Singler, might not be viewing the eight-year veteran Calderon simply as a money saver before letting him pick his next destination in free agency.
The Calderon trade created even more financial flexibility for the Pistons going into the summer trade and free-agency season but Joe Dumars, the team’s president of basketball operations, has made it clear that Calderon is not just any player on an expiring contract which pays a base salary of about $11 million this year.
Dumars has said he is interested in re-signing Calderon but neither side will discuss much beyond that; the Pistons won’t break the bank to keep Calderon and he isn’t painting himself into a negotiating corner by vowing to stay.
Calderon has impressed his new team with his steady play, averaging 12.3 ppg and 7.8 apg while keeping his turnover rate right about the same as it was this season with Toronto despite playing with unfamiliar teammates and garnering little practice time.
He’s increased his shooting percentages in his first 12 games with Detroit to 50.0 percent overall and 51.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s averaging 31.8 mpg and that has pushed Knight, a second-year player, to shooting guard. He received six of Calderon’s 18 assists in Wednesday’s road win at Washington.
Those 18 assists quickly put Calderon in the Pistons’ record books next to Isiah Thomas, Mayo reported, as the only Pistons players with as many as 18 assists and as few as two turnovers in the same game since 1974.
The Pistons, who continue a three-game road trip tonight at the New Orleans Hornets, are 5-7 with Calderon, which isn’t terrible considering Detroit is 23-37 overall and seven games back of eighth-place Milwaukee.
Who is the one player who alternately infuriates you with boneheaded plays and thrills you with the occasional good ones.
Steve Aschburner: Can I answer TimDuncan and call it good? Y’know, yo-yo … No? OK, my 2012-13 winner of the Nate Robinson Award would be … yeah, Nate Robinson. Let’s face it, they could name the trophy after him, awarded annually to the player who drives his coach the battiest. Robinson has been a necessary evil for Tom Thibodeau in Chicago, gobbling minutes that would normally go to rehabbing Derrick Rose and chronically dinged Kirk Hinrich. All his charms and all his flaws have been on display in large helpings — reeling off eight points in a row one moment, firing up his turnover machine the next. He’s always Ornette Coleman, stubborn free-jazz improviser miscast in whichever of the 30 Duke Ellington orchestras employs him. A careful study of November video will reveal that, yes, Thibodeau did have more hair back then.
Fran Blinebury: Josh Smith, Josh Smith and Josh Smith.
Jeff Caplan: Considering Nuggets coach George Karl can’t bring himself to play JaVale McGee enough so that the 7-footer can average more than 18.8 mpg, I’d have to say McGee owns this category. Despite being remarkably athletic with all kind of potential and flashes of brilliance at both ends, the fact is that Kosta Koufos has started all 57 games he’s played and averages four more minutes a game than McGee.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Josh Smith. Shot selection, defense. Shot selection, occasional rebounding. Quite the weighted scales back and forth. That’s a yo-yo guy.
John Schuhmann: This is a difficult question to answer, because, by principle, I don’t like guys who make “boneheaded plays.” Marcus Thornton certainly made a case for this distinction with his performance in Miami on Tuesday. And he’s more efficient than similar gunners like Jordan Crawford and Nick Young. But my answer is Andre Drummond. He can play out of control and has had some JaVale-esque moments this season, but, as a pretty raw rookie, he’s proven to be an impact player on both ends of the floor for Detroit. He could be a monster within the next couple of years and I think there are probably already a few teams that regret letting him slip to No. 9 in last year’s Draft.
Sekou Smith: You obviously haven’t watched Shaqtin’ A Fool lately. Nuggets center JaVale McGee is the runaway winner in this category. Few players in the league are capable of making as many jaw-dropping plays, both good and bad, as McGee. The Nuggets have gotten more of the good out of him, which bodes well for them come playoff time. A shot-blocker and shot-maker of his size in a postseason scenario, when games inevitably slow down and turn into half court battles, can be invaluable.
HOUSTON –Andre Drummond can’t change the past. He can only change opinions.
Panned in the lead up to the 2012 NBA Draft, Drummond was billed as a big man with superstar talent but a motor that didn’t match. It’s one of the reasons the 7-footer lasted until the ninth pick, where the Detroit Pistons cashed in with what has turned out to be one of the steals of the entire draft.
Drummond’s work through the pre-All-Star Weekend break of his rookie season has been an eye-opener. In addition to that potential superstar talent, he’s shown off a motor that more than matches. In fact, he’s been lauded by Pistons insiders for being even better than they had hoped in terms of his work ethic and the energy he brings to both practices and games.
A stress fracture in his back will cost Drummond at least a month, and that includes his participation here this weekend for the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge. But it won’t deter him from his goal of silencing those who questioned his character and game before the Draft.
“”I think coming into a situation where the game is as fast-paced as NBA games are was beneficial for me to pick things up and move forward,” said Drummond, who averages 7.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in just 19.7 minutes a night. “My coaches and teammates helped me move adjust and nip some of that stuff people had against me in the bud. I think Detroit is a great city, the fans are definitely great out there, and having the right environment to g to work in makes a big difference.”
Drummond is just 19 and with his combination of size (he’s just shy of 300 pounds with just six percent body fat) and skill along with the physicality he brings to the floor, the notion of him being a dominant big man in the league alongside the Pistons’ other budding young frontcourt star Greg Monroe.
The injury to Drummond is setback, but by no means the end to what has been a promising rookie season.
“I want to maintain the effort and energy bring every day and continue to get better,” Drummond said. “We have plans on being a playoff team [someday] and I want to be a big part of helping make that a reality.”
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: How about the Spurs last night? Taking care of one of the East’s elite — Chicago — without any of their Big Three (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker)? Impressive stuff, no doubt. However, our pick this morning is the Nets-Pacers game. Deron Williams sat this one out while undergoing treatment for his bothersome swollen ankles. The Nets could have folded up shop after being down 76-72 with 1:38 to go. But Joe Johnson came up with a big shot to force overtime and Brook Lopez showed his All-Star stuff as Brooklyn won in one of the NBA’s toughest places to do so, Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Media to blame for Kobe-Dwight rift? — Before the 2012-13 season, most of us thought the Lakers might be a daily part of the conversation about a run at the championship. Instead, the Lakers have been a daily part of the conversation as we all attempt to figure out why they can’t even reach .500, let alone talk about a title. From Mike Brown‘s firing to Mike D’Antoni being hired, from Steve Nash‘s injury to Pau Gasol‘s injury and from Dwight Howard‘s back woes to conflicts between Howard, Kobe Bryant, Nash and others on the team, what’s happening off the court has been much-discussed in Lakerland. According to Bryant, though, any drama that exists between Kobe and Howard is something that the media has made up. Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more from Bryant on this issue and more:
If Bryant wanted to call out Dwight Howard for resting his injured shoulder for three games last week despite being medically cleared to play, he would’ve just done so. Instead, Bryant claimed his call for “urgency” was misinterpreted as a call-out and turned into a “manufactured conflict.”
“I didn’t say anything wrong. I didn’t say anything to hammer him over the head or take a run at him,” Bryant said before the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice Monday. “That was actually manufactured. I’d own up to it if I took a run at somebody.
“Urgency is something we’ve been trumpeting, we’ve been beating that drum since the beginning of the season when we started struggling.”
The comments Bryant is referring to came from an interview he gave to ESPNBoston.com’s Jackie MacMullan before the Lakers played the Boston Celtics last Thursday. Howard had sat out the previous three games, and the Lakers had just learned they would be without injured forward Pau Gasol for at least six to eight weeks.
Bryant did not say the quotes in the story were taken out of context. Rather, he took issue with the controversy that spiraled from them and the perception of a rift between himself and Howard.He said that he reached out to Howard to make sure he understood it wasn’t his intention to call him out.
Bryant has been with the Lakers for 17 seasons and has grown somewhat immune to the noise generated by Los Angeles’ media. But even when he hears it, Bryant said he’s learned it doesn’t have to be a negative thing.
“It actually helped us keep our edge, keep our intensity,” Bryant said of the controversy that always hovered over his championship runs with Shaquille O’Neal. “It gave us something to kind of build towards. But like I said, there was actual conflict though.
“At least the Shaq stuff was actually warranted. This is just comical.”
The situation escalated over the weekend, however, when Howard’s father took exception to the comments, as well as coach Mike D’Antoni’s handling of the the issue.
Asked Monday whether he could’ve done a better job handling the situation, D’Antoni said:
“We’re not going to play out what we do in the locker room or how I should coach in the media,” D’Antoni said. “That’s been our problem. Everybody wants a story. Everybody wants to give a story. The story is whether we win or lose and how we play.
“We will sit down with a player, we sit down with players all the time. I’m not going to play it out through the media. I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think any team I’ve been on has ever done that, and I’m really surprised here in L.A. that seems to be the norm. … That’s not good.”
D’Antoni bluntly stated that he doesn’t believe the Lakers have a “communication problem.”
“Most of the time when there’s a communication problem, it’s because the message being received is not the message you want,” D’Antoni said. “It’s not that they don’t know what they need to do, how we need to act as a team, whatever. If you don’t like the message, then you go say there’s a communication problem.”
If the Mavericks don’t make a trade before the Feb. 21 deadline, Mark Cuban insists it won’t be due to a lack of effort.
President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle have both gone on the record recently with predictions that the Mavs will stand pat. Cuban acknowledges that could be the case, but he continues to actively search for opportunities to upgrade the roster of a 22-28 team while keeping the Mavs’ future in mind.
“It takes two teams to trade,” Cuban said Monday evening. “There’s a lot of deals we would make [laughs], but nobody seems willing to do what we want to do. You never know, but nothing imminent. The bank’s still open.”
The bank is still open, but Cuban will be very judicious when determining whether a deal is worth sacrificing space under the salary cap this summer. Tampering rules prevent Cuban from coming out and saying it, but the Mavs aren’t bowing out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes unless they can acquire a building block in the next week and a half.
“It’s gotta be something really, really, really good,” Cuban said. “It’s got to be a futures type player that we can build around or really adds a lot.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean an established All-Star. It just has to be a player the Mavs project to become an All-Star, or at least one of their top three players. Cuban points to the Mavs’ acquisition of Steve Nash back in the day as an example.
“There’s been lots of players we picked up over time that weren’t All-Stars that turned into cornerstones,” Cuban said. “We’d take those. They don’t have to be proven. They’d have to be someone we think it’s just a question of time or system or coaching or whatever.”
Bynum switches timetable on return — The Sixers have done an admirable job of hanging around the Eastern Conference playoff picture (they’re three games behind Milwaukee for the No. 8 seed) despite not having Andrew Bynum all season and recently losing Jason Richardson for the rest of the season. Hope had come to Philly once Bynum finally started working out with the team recently and going through some drills. A post-All-Star break return was penciled in just a few weeks ago. But Bynum’s return is apparently being pushed back — again — as pain in his left knee is growing, writes Jason Wolf of USA Today:
Andrew Bynum has eased up on his workouts after experiencing “a lot of pain” in his left knee and is unsure if he’ll make his Philadelphia 76ers debut this month.
“I think I worked well for two days on the court and then I got a lot of pain,” Bynum said Monday, “so we backed down a little bit today. I’ll probably go on (the anti-gravity treadmill) tomorrow.”
There is no official target date for Bynum to join full-team practices, or for him to play in a game. But earlier this month, the one-time all-star center told reporters that he was hoping to appear in his first game with the Sixers “around the all-star break.”
Bynum was asked Monday whether he was still planning to play in a game this month.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “It’s all going to depend on if we get a setback or not. Right now, I think things are going well. I’m losing weight and staying on the court for as long as I can.”
But he also said the pain in his left knee “limits me from continuing to go.”
“I don’t know if it’s normal soreness, or if I’ll have to play with it,” Bynum said. “I don’t know what it is. It’s not anything that I haven’t felt, so it’s not new. And it continues to kind of go away over time, so it’s all good stuff. No swelling.”
Pacers can’t wait to see Granger again — Indiana is in the thick of the upper half of the Eastern Conference thanks to a 13-8 stretch since Jan. 1 and the emergence of Paul George as an All-Star. Still, Indiana has fallen on a little bit of hard times, losing two straight and seeing its 15-game home win streak come to an end after an upset loss to the Raptors on Feb. 8. Good news is on the horizon with Danny Granger expected to suit up for the first time this season on Wednesday. He’s expected to resume his role as a starter, displacing Lance Stephenson. While there’s a tendency among Pacers fans to not upset the apple cart, writes Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, this is the best move for Indiana long term:
This idea that Granger should be a high-scoring sixth man, this notion that the Pacers shouldn’t mess up a good thing by moving Lance Stephenson back to the benchd…
An hour before the Pacers’ 89-84 overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets Monday night, Vogel said he’s initially going to use Granger off the bench in order to get his legs back under him, but once he’s in basketball shape – that should take a week – he’ll be back in the starting lineup.
And that’s that.
Because the stats here don’t lie: Once George Hill took over the point guard spot late last season, the Pacers had the most productive starting five in the NBA. They’ve been very good with Stephenson – check out my new favorite website, 82games.com, to see the numbers – but they were the best in the league with the old starting five.
“Obviously, there’s some merit to having one of those guys coming off the bench, much like with San Antonio and Manu Ginobili or Oklahoma City when they had James Harden, but that (original lineup with Granger) was dominant,’’ Vogel said. “That’s something we’re looking forward to getting back to.’’
Pacers fans should be forewarned: It’s going to take some time. For one thing, Granger hasn’t played in months. He is a notoriously slow starter, even when he’s healthy, and it’s going to take a couple of weeks before he’s fully re-acclimated back into the team. My guess is, as soon as Granger struggles – and he will – there will be a hue and cry to restore Stephenson to the starting lineup and relegate Granger to the bench.
And no, they won’t.
For two years, Stephenson looked like a lost cause, an immature kid with little hope of finding his way. He wasn’t getting it done on the court, and he was no treat as a teammate in the locker room.
Then, the light came on.
And just in time, given Granger’s injury. Would the Pacers be where they are now without him?
“He was finding his way early in the season and finding it well, but I’m not sure if he really understood he belonged,’’ Vogel said. “When he struggled a couple of games on the West coast, we sat down and I reiterated and illustrated to him how important he is to being a big part of our success. That may have been the moment when the light came on for him, and he’s been on a tear since then.
“I think he’s being smarter with his passing. He’s a homerun passing kind of guy. That’s his DNA, that’s what his instincts are. But now, more than in the first two years, he’s reined it in and kept it under control. If he makes a fancy pass, it’s a safe, fancy pass, which is something we welcome. And defensively, he’s continuing to grow. He’s staying disciplined in our defensive scheme. He’s chasing guys, he’s negotiating through screens; he’s still a work in progress, but he’s much better than he was the first two years.’’
Granger can’t return quickly enough. After a nice run of 15 straight home victories, the Pacers have now lost two straight home overtime games, the latest one to a Deron Williams-less Nets team playing the back end of a back-to-back. Paul George and David West, their two best players, shot a combined 3-for-21. This was the kind of game the Pacers couldn’t afford to lose, not with so many Eastern Conference bunched up around the 3-4-5 seed.
Irving gets first Three-Point Contest challenger — Cavs All-Star guard Kyrie Irving is going to be mighty busy during All-Star weekend. He’s not only in the league’s showcase event, but he’s on Team Shaq in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge on Friday evening and will also participate in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest on Saturday evening. Irving’s coach, Byron Scott, wants to get a preview of sorts of how Irving will do in the Three-Point Contest, so he’s challenged him to a post-practice 3-point shootout, writes Bob Finnan of the News-Herald:
Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said he challenged point guard Kyrie Irving to a 3-point shootout after practice on Tuesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. Scott wouldn’t say if the media would be invited to this must-see event.
Irving has been invited to the Three-Point Contest during All-Star weekend in Houston. Scott competed in the event twice — a last-place finish in 1987 and a third-place performance in ’88.
“I challenged him today,” Scott said. “We’ll go around twice. He’s talking a lot. I think I have a good shot at (beating him). My only problem is if I get tired.”
It’s almost turned into an endurance test. Sixty seconds of constant shooting is more than people realize.
“We’ll have fun,” Scott said. “Basically, it’s to show him how the contest is done.”
Irving said he read where Scott challenged him.
“That’s something a third-place winner would do, go behind my back and challenge me,” he said. “The challenge is supposed to be tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it. I’m getting up early and doing my pushups.”
They have nothing riding on the contest — yet. By the time they get to the end of practice on Tuesday, trash talk could escalate. Don’t be surprised if some cash is bet.
Pistons get creative with Drummond’s rehab — Detroit’s standout rookie, Andre Drummond, is going to be out a month after suffering a back injury. Leave it to Detroit’s longtime trainer, Arnie Kander, to come up with an innovative way to get the Pistons’ big man back on track. The method of choice? Beating a drum during practices, which will serve a two-fold purpose, writes Terry Foster of The Detroit News:
Andre Drummond beat the drum slowly and softly Monday before the Pistons game against the Charlotte Hornets at The Palace.
And that wasn’t good enough for strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander.
“You got to work now,” Kander told Drummond. “Let’s go.”
Drummond saw that Kander was serious and pounded on his drum a little quicker. But he was not the second coming of Buddy Rich.
The Drummond drum beat served two purposes. It is helping his sore back get better and it also is a way for Drummond to keep connected with his team. He will be with teammates every day during his rehabilitation. Step one was beating on a drum that he carried with him throughout the game-day practice.
The idea is to strengthen his core by keeping his back straight while he taps on the drums. Drummond injured his back last week and is expected out four to six weeks.
“He is our Ringo Starr,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. “I think it is very important that when you are injured in all professional sports to remain engaged. Sometimes in sports when you are injured, you become invisible. I think it is important that we integrate him in everything we do and he integrates himself. Mentally you are preparing like you are playing, but physically you can’t play. So you prepare yourself as best you can.”
Drummond’s spirits were up Monday. He joked with teammates in practice and poked his head in during a media scrum with guard Will Bynum. He also participated in a simple drill that helps stretch teammates.
Frank said the injury is especially rough on Drummond because it is his first injury — and he might not be able to handle things as well as a veteran who has been injured before.
“This is his first time going through anything like this,” Frank said. “A veteran guy kind of understands the nature of it. But when you are 19 years old and this is your first injury you can become invisible sometimes. You know that happens sometimes. You not only can become invisible but it is easy to not just take care of yourself 100 percent. When you are young guys don’t know.”
ICYMI of the night: So many great dunks by the Clippers last night … thankfully, we’ve got them all in one tidy highlight that is a must-watch:
Also on TNT tonight — before the big Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics game — Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal will draft the teams for the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, a game between some of the NBA’s best rookies and sophomores that will be held on Friday night of All-Star weekend (Feb. 15 onTNT, at 9 ET).
Steve Aschburner: This is easy. I take Kyrie Irving with my No. 1 pick because he’s the best player on the board. I take Kenneth Faried No. 2 because he has only one gear — he can only play with a high-revving motor, which puts him way ahead of anyone else in an exhibition like this. Plus, I like “sophomores,” who don’t want to lose to the newbies. But that said, I take Damian Lillard with my No. 3 pick because this will be his chance to make a Rookie of the Year statement on a huge stage. Two point guards? Bah! I remember the havoc caused by AllenIverson and StephonMarbury down the stretch in the 2001 All-Star Game.
Anthony Davis, by Noah Graham/NBAE/via Getty
Fran Blinebury: 1.) Kyrie Irving — All-Star games are all about scoring points and nobody here can do that better than Irving, who’s already good enough to also be playing in the main event on Sunday. 2.) Anthony Davis — The No. 1 pick in the Draft has trailed Damian Lillard from opening night in the Rookie of the Year race in an up-and-down season. But he’s got all the tools to the foundation player for the Hornicans/Pelinets and can use this chance to strut his stuff at both ends of the floor. 3.) Chandler Parsons — Never miss an opportunity to suck up to the hometown crowd in an All-Star Game. And he’s the kind of excitable guy who could rise to the occasion.
Jeff Caplan: Kyrie Irving: Look around, the NBA is the League of the Point Guard right now and this kid is phenomenal, already an All-Star in just his second season. I know I’m not alone with this pick (Damian Lillard is a solid choice, but I think a distant second right now) because Irving is so dynamic with the ball and is a scoring machine. Get him some offensive help and his assists will go up. I love that he’s deadly from 3-point range (41.2 percent) and is an excellent free-throw shooter (86.2 percent in first two seasons). Anthony Davis: To go with a top-notch PG, you need a big man that can get the job done on both ends of the floor. As the 6-foot-10, 220-pound Davis matures, he’ll be a double-double machine. He’s shooting 53 percent from the floor, 72 percent from the free-throw line and he’s averaging 1.8 blocks a game, a number that will surely rise as well. It’s been a relatively quiet season for Davis after a ton of hype as the No. 1 pick, but this kid is going to be really good for a really long time. Kawhi Leonard: Now you need a solid wing to go with the point guard and center and I can’t think of a more well-rounded player than Leonard. He plays the game the right way, which is why he’s fit like a glove in San Antonio. He’s going to give you excellent defense on every possession and his offensive game is really nice, too. His numbers (9.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg) would be more impressive on a team that wasn’t loaded with offensive weapons. Still, what’s tremendous about this kid is he can put it on the floor, shoot the mid-range jumper and, hugely important, he he can really pop the 3-pointer — he’s shooting it at a nearly 40 percent clip — while shooting 48.4 percent overall.
Scott Howard-Cooper: 1. Kyrie Irving. Because he’s not just one of the top young players in the league. Irving is on his way to being a star in any age group. 2. Anthony Davis. Interior defense, rebounding, the ability to handle pressure or accept a complementary role, plus an underrated offensive game. 3. Klay Thompson. If I have Irving and Davis, I next want someone who will make defenses pay from the perimeter. I thought hard about going with Bradley Beal off his breakthrough shooting in January, and because I was a Beal guy to begin with, but the injury and Thompson’s longer track record swayed me to Golden State.
John Schuhmann: My first pick is Kyrie Irving and I don’t have to give you a reason. My second pick is Andre Drummond for his size and athleticism. He can finish at the rim offensively, protect it defensively and run the floor with my franchise point guard. And my third pick isKawhi Leonard for both perimeter defense and shooting. I think he’d be the best complement to the other two.
Sekou Smith: Kyrie Irving is an easy No. 1 pick in a game like this, given the nature of the game and the fact that he’s the best player available. But we’re trying to build a team here and that means I need balance, which makes Kenneth Faried my no-brainer choice for pick No. 2. There other guys who are true centers in this game, but none of them operate with a motor that can match what Faried brings to the party. If Kyrie needs someone to run the floor or fill the lane, Faried will be there. Rebounds, defense and pure energy in its rawest form is what you get from “The Manimal.” My third and final pick is Klay Thompson, the best pure shooter in the game. He can just line up and pick his spots and wait for the dish from Kyrie and see if he can’t break the 3-point shooting mark for this game.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Points, rebounds and assists are nice, but plus-minus is the most important stat in basketball.
You win games by outscoring your opponent, and plus-minus reflects how much a team has done that in a player’s minutes on the floor. If you’re not scoring points yourself, you can help your teammates score and also prevent your opponent from doing so.
But in basketball, with nine other guys on the floor affecting what each player does, plus-minus always needs context, and lots of it. Who is a guy playing his minutes with? Who is he not playing his minutes with?
Furthermore, sample size is important. Single-game plus-minus can help tell a story about key sequences or the impact of a player or two on a particular night. But if you really want to get a good idea of how a team performs when a player or group of players is on the floor, you’ve got to look at a large chunk of games.
At this point in the season, we can get a pretty good idea of where teams are strong and weak. Through Wednesday, 224 players have logged at least 500 minutes for one team this season. And when you measure how efficient their team’s offense has been with them on or off the floor, you come across some interesting numbers.
Damian Lillard is the real deal, but he isn’t the best offensive player in the league. Still, the offensive drop-off that the Portland Trail Blazers have suffered when Lillard has stepped off the floor has been greater than the drop-off that any other team has suffered when a specific player goes to the bench.
Measuring the difference in a team’s offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) when a player is on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor, here are the league’s five biggest difference makers, as well as one at the bottom of the list.
For all of them, the discrepancy between their team’s offensive numbers with them on and off the floor is as much about the guys replacing them as it is about what they’re doing themselves.
1. Damian Lillard, POR
4. LaMarcus Aldridge, POR
Breaking news: The Portland Trail Blazers have an awful, awful bench. Their starting lineup is good offensively, but not great, scoring 104.3 points per 100 possessions. They have lineups with three or four starters on the floor that are better. But they have no suitable back-ups for either Lillard or Aldridge. When both have been off the floor (just 127 minutes), Portland has scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions.
Smartly, Terry Stotts has staggered his starters’ minutes pretty well. Of the Blazers’ 13 most-used lineups, 12 include at least three starters. Out of necessity, three Blazers (Nicolas Batum, Lillard and Aldridge) rank in the top 15 in minutes per game.
2. Lance Stephenson, IND
Speaking of bad benches, Stephenson’s differential is more about how awful the Pacers’ bench is than how well he’s played. But “Born Ready” has certainly improved in his third season and the Pacers’ starting lineup has been ridiculously better offensively with Stephenson at the two (109.1 points scored per 100 possessions) than with Gerald Green there (95.8).
The biggest offensive difference between Stephenson’s time on the floor and his time on the bench is turnover rate. Stephenson commits less turnovers than Green, but he also plays most of his minutes with George Hill, who takes care of the ball as well as any point guard in the league.
3. Kobe Bryant, LAL
It’s pretty simple: Bryant is a great player and Jodie Meeks is not. And at 34 years old, Bryant is getting into the paint more than he has since Shaq was his teammate. He’s also playing almost 39 minutes per game. Either way, defense is a bigger issue for the Lakers.
What’s interesting is that Metta World Peace is actually eighth on this list at +10.9 and No. 1 in on-off-court differential (+20.1) when you combine both offensive and defensive impact. World Peace has benefited from playing most of his minutes with Bryant, but the Lakers have been fine offensively (103.4) and excellent defensively (95.5) in the 150 minutes that World Peace has played with Bryant on the bench.
Overall, despite their 15-16 record, the Lakers have the eighth-best point differential in the league, because they’ve won a handful of blowouts.
5. Joe Johnson, BKN
There’s a reason Johnson is tied for the league lead in total minutes with Kevin Durant. The Nets have staggered Deron Williams‘ minutes with Johnson’s as much as they can, but Williams hasn’t been able to carry the bench nearly as well as Johnson has. In fact, the Nets have been outscored by an awful 15.6 points per 100 possessions in Williams’ 197 minutes without Johnson on the floor. In contrast, Brooklyn is a +8.2 per 100 possessions in Johnson’s 293 minutes without Williams on the floor.
MarShon Brooks was supposed to be the guy who spells Johnson, but he’s barely played. And when he has, he’s been a ball-stopping disappointment.
The Nets have also been 4.0 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Johnson on the floor than with him on the bench, so don’t point the finger at iso-Joe for the Nets’ struggles, but do worry how he’ll hold up playing so many minutes at the age of 31, with three more years on his contract after this one.
223. Greg Monroe, DET
At the bottom of the list is the Pacers’ Ian Mahinmi (-14.7), but we addressed Indiana’s bench issues above. What’s much more interesting is Monroe’s place just above Mahinmi. Monroe has been one of the only bright spots in Detroit recently and further development could have turned him into an All-Star this year.
Monroe’s shooting numbers are down from his first two seasons, but his on and off-court numbers are mostly about the Pistons having two entirely different lineups. The Pistons’ starters are a defensive unit and just not very good offensively. Point guard Brandon Knight is still early in his development. Wings Kyle Singler and Tayshaun Prince aren’t guys that can create shots for themselves or others, and power forward Jason Maxiell has limited range.
The Pistons’ bench, on the other hand, is a group of gunners, led by point guards Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey, that plays free and loose. It’s a complete contrast in styles. The Detroit starters play like the Pacers and the bench plays like the Rockets.
Furthermore, rookie Andre Drummond has been an athletic and energetic revelation. And only 127 of Drummond’s 664 minutes have been played with Monroe.
DALLAS – The Detroit Pistons have crashed as hard as the Michigan economy over the last few years and the combination has resulted in a lot of eerily quiet nights inside The Palace at Auburn Hills.
“It is strange for sure,” Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva said before the Pistons dropped a 10th road game in 11 tries Saturday against the Mavericks. “The fact that my first five years in the league, seeing that place sold out every game; every time we went into Detroit it was sold out. It just shows how hard the economy hit, but I think it will bounce back. It’s just a matter of time.”
For now, there are more empty seats than filled ones at Pistons games. But to pin Detroit’s turnstile problem mostly on a rotten economy is to discredit die-hard Pistons fans that have grown weary of throwing good money at bad basketball.
Entering tonight’s eighth home game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit’s average attendance is 12,392 and ranks last in the league — behind Sacramento, New Orleans and last season’s worst team, Charlotte. Take away the home-opener crowd of 16,646 and the average dips to 11,683. On most nights the actual attendance is much less.
FROM FIRST TO WORST
The Pistons rank last in the league in attendance this season. A look at the club’s average attendance over the last 13 seasons
“It’s not weird because it’s not a situation where it’s been drastic, where this season it was packed and the very next season it was nothing,” said Tayshaun Prince, a career Piston and last remaining member of the 2004 title team. “It didn’t just hit rock bottom at one point. When things are going so well for a long period of time and then all of a sudden when things hit, then they started to veer down, veer down, veer down.”
From 2002 through 2009, not coincidentally the last time Detroit made the playoffs, the Pistons ranked No. 1 in attendance in six of those seven seasons, routinely boasting sellout crowds of 20,000-plus. The one season they weren’t No. 1, they were No. 2. The run included the ’04 championship and a repeat Finals appearance under Larry Brown, and four other East finals appearances, one prior to Brown under Rick Carlisle, and three more after Brown under Flip Saunders.
Since Saunders won 59 games in 2007-08, but lost in the East finals for a third consecutive time, Detroit has rolled through coaches Michael Curry (39-43) and John Kuester (57-107), with Lawrence Frank now in his second season and trying to rescue a 5-13 start that opened with eight consecutive losses.
Detroit hasn’t won more than 39 games in any of the last four seasons and average attendance has steadily declined from the top spot in ’08-’09 to eighth to 18th to 28th and now to rock bottom.
“It’s not on the fans to come out. It’s on us to put together a product every night that fans can be proud of,” Frank said. “Detroit has always shown great support, not just for basketball, for all their sports teams when they’re competing at the highest level. You’re used to seeing a lot of fans out there, but we’re appreciative for the fans that do go. Obviously, we understand the economic crisis and what hit, and Detroit obviously was hit harder than most. But from the beginning, it’s going to be on us to put together something that the fans can be proud of and want to support.”
To Frank’s point, and further proof that tough economic times alone doesn’t kill attendance, the Detroit Tigers have averaged more than 30,000 fans in each of the last six seasons. Even the Lions, amid another last-place season, are averaging more than 63,000 through six home games, better than 98 percent capacity. Both clubs play in relatively new downtown venues and some debate if the Pistons would be better served leaving their suburban digs some 30 miles north of the city.
But that ignores the club’s attendance track record over much of the last decade and before that when the Pistons shared the Pontiac Silverdome with the Lions.
So how close are the Pistons to rising up again?
“I think it’s real close,” impressive third-year center and leading scorer Greg Monroe said. “We have to find a way to come out every night and just play hard and outwork teams. I think we’re very close to doing that, but it’s going to take games to get the actual body of work to say we are doing it consistently.”
It’s hopeless to still lament the Darko Milicic draft and the free-agent millions thrown at Villanueva and Ben Gordon. Monroe is surrounded by a roster that might not contend for a title, but is at least intriguing for its youth. Second-year guard Brandon Knight and rookies Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond join Monroe as possible long-term core pieces. Veterans Jason Maxiell, Corey Maggette, Rodney Stuckey, Prince and, yes, Villanueva, should help to at least make a push toward playoff contention in a mediocre Eastern Conference.
No progress was made on that front during the recent two-game road swing through Memphis and Dallas with two more double-digit losses (nine in 11 road games). It was a disappointing development coming after the season’s first flirtation with momentum, a modest two-game home win streak that gave Detroit four wins in six games.
They put on an offensive show for the few souls that came out, beating Portland, 108-101, and then drilled Phoenix 117-77. That beat down drew an announced crowd of 10,517, about 300 more than the previous night.
Even the league’s top draws haven’t delivered bigger crowds. The Celtics drew 12,214 and 12,784 came to see three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“It’s been tough,” Maxiell admitted. “The last couple years the crowd’s been trimming down. We’re trying to bring the crowds back with some big entertainment. The guys that were here a couple years ago know how it was when we were winning, and we’re trying to bring them back.”