Posts Tagged ‘Andre Miller’

Wall managing to move Wizards ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Sans Nene, Wizards roll to 3-1 lead over Bulls

WASHINGTON — Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal hit the shots. John Wall hit the open man.

Trevor Booker and Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster ran the floor. John Wall ran the show.

Funny thing is, Wall was far more flashy and flamboyant, far more noticeable on Friday in Game 3 — double crossover dribbles that left defenders cross-eyed, one-handed slam dunks on breakaways, even a missed layup following a 360-degree spin that might have been the most breathtaking move of the night.

Of course, the Wizards lost Game 3 and they needed a different Wall on Sunday, one who was less soloist standing apart from the orchestra and more conductor standing in front of it.

No-no Nene. No-no problem, because Wall managed the way the Wizards played at both ends of the floor the way a surgeon manages an operating room.

“That’s a good word,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “That’s exact word I just used in there with the team. I think this series he’s managed the game.

“He understands who needs the ball, where the need it, who has got it going, where to attack and be aggressive himself and then, the most important thing for us against this team, is taking care of the ball. When we have six turnovers for the game and two in the second half, if we can get a shot every time down the floor, I’ll be really pleased with where we are at in the game.”

Where the Wizards are at following their 98-89 win in Game 4 is holding onto a 3-1 lead over the Bulls and on the cusp of their first playoff series win since in nine years. In fact, Washington as a franchise has not held a 3-1 lead in any series since the 1978 Eastern Conference finals over San Antonio when the Bullets went on to win their only NBA championship.

Let’s not get too far ahead in the hyperbole since the Wizards have not yet even closed out Chicago. But the majestic learning curve is evident for the 23-year-old point guard in his fourth professional season getting his first taste of the playoffs.

This was a day full of emotion and import for the Wizards and they treated it from the start almost like it was a Game 7 with no margin for error.

“It was a must-win for us,” said Gortat. “Because if we lost this game, it means that winning the first two on the road in Chicago meant nothing.”

The were playing without their rolling ball of thunder power forward Nene, who got himself suspending for head-butting and trying to twist Jimmy Butler’s head like a grape off the stem on Friday night.

It was a game and an atmosphere so big that 57-year-old team owner Ted Leonsis got into the act by wearing a Nene jersey at courtside. It was a situation and a loss to their lineup so big that the Wizards had to make up for it by making all the small plays.

There was Gortat, scrapping, battling, hustling to keep balls alive off the glass even when he couldn’t make layups. There was Ariza doing everything he could to be disruptive at the defensive end when he wasn’t filling up the bucket for 30 points. There was veteran Andre Miller spotting Webster sealing off a smaller defender D.J. Augustin and finding him with a perfect lob pass. There was Drew Gordon slapping a sure dunk out of the hands of the Bulls’ Carlos Boozer. There was Booker making a desperate fourth quarter save by leaping over the end line and heaving the ball back over his head to Wall. There was Wall jumping into passing lanes for steals and deflections.

This is the way it often happens with the young prodigies, who have talent oozing out of their pores, but have to harness it for the sake of the team. In four NBA seasons, we have seen what Wall can do. Now he is learning what and how he must do it if his team is going to advance. It’s why a young Isiah Thomas used to go to the NBA Finals as a spectator to mine the nuggets of how Magic Johnson and Larry Bird became champions. It’s all a process.

“John is learning what we are playing for and understanding now what we are playing about,” said the veteran center Gortat. “You can’t trip in the playoffs too many times.

“Hopefully the playoff situation will teach these guys — John and Bradley — something and next year in the regular season they are going to perform like that every game. Because it really shows what they’re made of. These two guys are extremely talented, extremely competitive and hopefully they will play like that every game.

“I see the difference. John especially is learning what it means to lead. There are many nights when we will need him to score and do all of those great things. But every night we need him to be in charge.”

Managing to move ahead.

After trial by fire, Nuggets coach Shaw eyes next season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with Brian Shaw

DALLAS – Thirteen first-time NBA coaches will head into summer with experiences each will never forget, from Brett Brown coping with a bare-bones 76ers squad to Jason Kidd unlocking a star-laden Nets team whose luxury tax payment alone will nearly double the Sixers’ payroll.

Then there’s Brian Shaw. The Denver Nuggets coach, a disciple of Phil Jackson, took over a 57-win team coached by a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, an 1,100-game-winner and one of the league’s all-time great innovators. George Karl might have led the Nuggets out of the first round just once in nine seasons, but he won a lot with a fun, energetic style.

Shaw inherited a team that lost its two premiere wing runners, Andre Iguodala, also a defensive stopper, and Corey Brewer. It wasn’t long into the season before Shaw lost veteran backup point guard Andre Miller to a power struggle and banished him from the team.

Then there were the injuries: Dino Gallinari never returned from last season’s ACL tear, JaVale McGee lasted five games, then Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and trade newcomer Jan Vesely. Point guard, leading scorer and top assist man Ty Lawson has missed 14 games; 12 each for second-leading scorer Wilson Chandler and reserve forward Darrell Arthur.

“A lot of people talk about the first-year head coach stuff and he [Shaw] hasn’t shown any of that at all,” Nuggets top assistant Lester Conner said. “He’s set the foundation. It’s been an injury-riddled season for us and the way he’s handled it, it’s like one of the best coaches in the league, and he is. He doesn’t have the tenure like some of them have, but if you look at our game and how we play and look at how we compete, if you were blindfolded, you wouldn’t think that there was a fisrt-year head coach. He’s been in a lot of wars as far as championships with Phil, so he knows what it’s like. He’s handled the media well, he’s handled the Andre Miller situation well. He’s done a great job.”

However so, the Nuggets are on pace to not make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Yet it seems things could be a whole lot worse than Denver’s 32-39 record attained through stretches of feast or famine and seemingly always banged-up bodies.

“One of the things one of my mentor’s, Phil Jackson, always preached to me was believing in your system and what you’re doing out there,” said Shaw, who communicates with Jackson once every week or two throughout the season. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in great situations with great teams that have had the ultimate success at the end of the season, and so I believe that I know what it looks like, I know what it takes, what kind of work ethic goes into it and what kind of habits need to be developed by our players.”

Lawson, the fifth-year point guard seemingly on the precipice of making an All-Star team, and under contract through 2017, said he stands behind Shaw “100 percent,” and went so far as to make a bold prediction for a healthy — knock-on-wood — 2014-15 campaign: “I think we will definitely be good, maybe top four in the West next year.

“I look at [our] record and think about all the injuries we went through, especially [Chandler], me, Nate, everybody went down,” Lawson continued. “We had a lot of different parts.”

Shaw, 48, spent 10 years with the Lakers and then Pacers working toward this opportunity. He came in with no misgivings of the challenge and made no promises. He did have a vision, and a plan to transform Karl’s freewheeling Nuggets into a team that could execute in the halfcourt through inside play without fully stifling the run-and-gun style.

But Shaw his concept initially led to confusion. Frontcourt players interpreted it to mean they’d receive an entry pass every time down the floor and would be allowed to go to work. That frustrated Lawson, whose game is predicated on his speed and ability to drive to the rim.

“Ty was frustrated early on until we really were able to clarify what that meant, that inside play could be a small guy posting up, or if it was just penetration and getting into the paint,” Shaw said. “So now I think what you see is Ty flourishing (18.1 ppg, 8.9 apg), Kenneth [Faried] (12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg) is really starting to come into his own; they’ve had their best numbers since they’ve been in the league. [Timofey] Mozgoz has had a chance to play and is developing, so I think they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ten players are under contract for next season. Gallinari is expected to return and McGee will make another run at ditching his “Shaqtin’ A Fool” persona and becoming a legitimate NBA starting center.

As his first campaign draws to a close, Shaw is coaching the players still standing with an eye toward next season.

“Everybody now has an understanding of exactly what I expect of them, how we want to play and what we want to do going forward,” Shaw said. “Obviously there are some guys that are on the roster right now that are going to be here next year and some that aren’t, but for me, I’ve said that this is going to be a year of discovery to really understand what it is that we have to work with.”

Morning shootaround — March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook bangs knee; Durant scores 51 | Gasol leaves in walking boot | Knicks make it eight straight | Nash dishes 11 dimes | Bynum out indefinitely


VIDEO: Closer look at Durant’s 51-point performance

No. 1: Westbrook gets scare, Durant scores 51 — In a wild game at Toronto, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook left in the third quarter after banging knees with Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. It was Westbrook’s right knee, the one he’s had three surgeries on since initially tearing the meniscus in the first round of last year’s playoffs. He immediately reacted to the pain and slammed his palm on the floor. He was assisted off the floor as the Thunder held their breath. More will be known as Westbrook is re-evaluated in Oklahoma City today. The Thunder won the game in dramatic fashion, 119-118, in double overtime. Kevin Durant capped a remarkable night with his seventh 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds to go, giving him 51 points. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman has the details:

The official word is a right knee sprain, and the plan is to re-evaluate him Saturday in Oklahoma City.

Although Westbrook didn’t return to the Thunder’s thrilling 119-118 double-overtime victory over the Raptors, he was in great spirits after the game and said he doesn’t expect to miss any time. He left the Air Canada Centre walking just fine, without crutches or even a knee brace, just a routine black sleeve hidden under his pants.

And judging by Westbrook’s demeanor and that of his teammates and coach Scott Brooks, the injury didn’t appear to be serious.

“I feel good, man,” Westbrook said. “I’m pain-free. I’m just going to, (Saturday), get it looked at and go from there.”

The injury occurred with 7:37 remaining in the third quarter.

Westbrook made a slight jab-step beyond the 3-point line on the left wing. As Westbrook held his left foot in place as his pivot, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry inadvertently bumped into Westbrook’s right knee while closing out.

Westbrook’s knee bent inward, and he immediately called a timeout, slamming the ball to the court upon doing so.

“You’ve been hurt before, you kind of get nervous like I did,” Westbrook said of his reaction.

After briefly attempting to walk off whatever pain or discomfort he was feeling, Westbrook was helped to the locker room by Thunder center Hasheem Thabeet and trainer Joe Sharpe. He remained in the dressing room for the duration of the game as the Thunder battled back from an eight-point deficit inside the final minute of double overtime.

Kevin Durant hit the game-winner, a 3-pointer from 31 feet with 1.7 seconds remaining. He then forced Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan into contested fadeaway from the right baseline. It fell short as the clock hit zero.

Durant finished with a game-high 51 points, his second 50-point game this season, and added 12 rebounds and seven assists.

“We couldn’t go another overtime,” Durant said. “So I had to live with whatever happened.”

***


VIDEO: Gasol injured in Grizzlies’ loss in Miami

No. 2: Gasol sprains left ankle — Midway through the third quarter, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol hobbled off the floor with a sprained left ankle and left the American Airlines Arena floor in a walking boot. It was a double whammy for the Grizzlies, one of the hottest teams in the NBA since Jan. 1. Not only must they wait and wonder about the health of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, they lost a lead they had held for most of the game as the Heat pulled out the victory. More will be known on the severity of Gasol’s injury, but one thing is certain — Memphis needs its big man in the final month of the regular season to ensure it makes the playoffs, let alone have a chance to return to the Western Conference finals. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has more:

Memphis’ bigger issue seemed to be executing without Gasol.

The 7-footer left with 6:34 left in the third period. He was hurt earlier on a non-contact play. Gasol appeared to roll his ankle as he turned to run. Gasol left the arena wearing a walking boot and he’ll be re-evaluated Saturday before the Griz face the Indiana Pacers for the second game of a back-to-back.

“It made it tough, but we tried to play small and stretch them out,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “I thought we did a good job of getting it to Zach. He had a heck of a game.”

Gasol had been a force, too, and not just because of his 14 points and six rebounds.

“We were using him to make the second and third pass,” [Mike] Conley said. “He was playing point forward. The whole scheme went through him.”

The game was knotted at 68 entering the fourth quarter after both teams exchanged large scoring runs in the third. Memphis allowed a 12-point advantage to disappear in the final few minutes of the third.

***

No. 3: Knicks keep playoff push alive — The Knicks handed the Philadelphia 76ers their 23rd consecutive loss, but the bigger news was that New York kept its playoff hopes alive despite already having 40 losses as the calendar turns to spring. But that’s the beauty of the Eastern Conference, folks. And with the Atlanta Hawks losing, the Knicks moved within three games of the eighth and final playoff spot. And guess what? New York’s upcoming schedule offers even more hope with games against the hobbled Cavaliers and Lakers followed by the Kings. Peter Botte of the New York Daily News has the story:

With new team president Phil Jackson returning to his California home following his triumphant Garden return two nights earlier, the bench nearly coughed up a 17-point lead in a game the Knicks had controlled with five minutes left. But [Mike] Woodson turned back to his first unit in the final 30 seconds, and the Knicks just barely did what they had to do to survive and advance Friday night against a team that now has dropped 23 straight games, holding on for their season-best eighth straight win, 93-92, over the dreadful Sixers at Wells Fargo Center.

“We didn’t have no choice at that point. I felt like we had a very comfortable lead. It happened. Them guys never quit,” [Carmelo] Anthony said about having to return to the game after it looked like his night was finished. “You could just see the lead dwindling, possession by possession. You go from up (17) and you look up and we’re only up two with a couple of seconds on the clock, so hopefully we didn’t have to come up with a prayer.”

***

No. 4: Nash shines in return — Maybe 40-year-old Steve Nash has something left after all. Fighting injuries all season, the two-time MVP made yet another return Friday night just a week after being declared done for the season. The Los Angeles Lakers still lost to the Washington Wizards, but the aging wizard for L.A. put on quite a show, dishing out a season-high 11 assists to go with five points, four rebounds and three steals in 19 minutes. He came off the bench for the first time since March 9, 2000 with Dallas, snapping a stretch of 975 consecutive starts, reports Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“Just to feel good and feel like you can make a play for your teammates and put pressure on the other team and move freely,” Nash said. “It’s why I love this game and that’s why I’ve kept fighting and trying to work in case I got another opportunity.”

Nash said he came out of the game in the fourth quarter after tweaking his back but remained hopeful he could play Sunday against the Orlando Magic. Lakers guard Xavier Henry also hurt his left wrist and said he would have an MRI exam on Saturday after X-rays were negative.

Nash made his first appearance since Feb. 11, when he suffered a recurrence of the nerve irritation in his back that has limited him to 11 games this season. There was concern in that Nash might never play another NBA game.

Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters March 13 that Nash would not return this season because it didn’t make sense for him to push his 40-year-old body with so few games left.

Then Jordan Farmar strained his right groin in practice Monday, opening the door for Nash.
After entering the game to warm applause late in the first quarter, Nash quickly found Hill for a jump hook and made a couple of behind-the-back passes on the way to collecting five assists in his first six minutes.

D’Antoni said Nash probably would continue to come off the bench unless he “gets to a certain point and gets that good” because of limited practice time and the Lakers wanting to be cautious with his body.

Nash has one more season and $9.7 million left on his contract but could be waived by Sept. 1, allowing the Lakers to spread out his salary over three seasons.

He would prefer to prove over the next month that he’s ready to play one more.

***

No. 5:  Swelling puts Bynum on ice — If the Indiana Pacers truly signed big man Andrew Bynum to keep him away from the Miami Heat, well the Heat’s training staff will probably be sending a thank-you card. Experiencing continued swelling and soreness in his right knee, Bynum will be out indefinitely, the team announced Friday. Bynum signed with the Pacers on Feb. 1, but has played in just two games. On a strange note, although not so much when it comes to Bynum, he reportedly got his hair cut at halftime of Friday’s game against Chicago. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star has more on Bynum’s injury status:

Bynum has played in two games with the Pacers, averaging 11.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in just under 18 minutes per game.

Though the Pacers expected to play Bynum in short spurts, last Saturday he reached 20 minutes against the Detroit Pistons. Since then, Bynum has been on the inactive list.

On Tuesday, Bynum, who did not participate in practice, said after the session that his swollen right knee needed to be drained.

“This one is a lot more concerning for me because it caused me a lot more fluid,” Bynum said.

Now days later, Pacers coach Frank Vogel answered “no” when asked if there had been any progress with Bynum’s knee since the return from Detroit.

“There’s still swelling,” Vogel said on Friday. “I really don’t have anything new. Other than it’s swollen right now, we’ll give you an update when we’re ready to.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Heat present Mike Miller his 2013 championship ring as Grizzlies visit Miami … Tony Parker says he will play five or six more years with Spurs then play for French team he owns … Andre Miller says Nuggets made him out to be the bad guyKevin Garnett is unsure of return from back spasms … Bobcats ask Charlotte for $34.1 million to improve arena.

2014 Trade Deadline Wrapup


VIDEO: Trade Deadline: Pacers and Sixers Trade

The Indiana Pacers provided a little excitement at the end of what was an underwhelming deadline day. There was a flurry of action on Thursday, but none of it all that meaningful. But then, after the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline had passed, news broke that Indiana had acquired Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for Danny Granger and a second round pick.

Now, Turner’s per-game numbers are somewhat inflated by the Sixers’ pace. They lead the league at 102.5 possessions per 48 minutes. He’s generally been a disappointment as a former No. 2 pick in the Draft. And though his efficiency has increased *this season, he still ranks 161st of 196 players who have attempted at least 300 field goals with a true shooting percentage of just 50.4 percent. His free throw rate has gone up, but is still below the league average, and he has shot 29 percent from 3-point range.

* Over the summer, we pointed out Turner’s ridiculous mid-range-to-3-point attempt ratio of 3.1 last season. It’s down to 2.3 this year. Still pretty bad (James Harden‘s is 0.5), but not quite as mind-boggling.

As much as Granger has struggled in his return from almost a full season off, he’s shot better (49.5 percent effective FG%) than Turner (47.1 percent) on catch-and-shoot opportunities.

But Turner can’t hurt the Pacers’ bench offense, which has struggled again this season. While Indiana’s starting lineup has scored a solid 106.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Pacer lineups have scored just 99.5. And with C.J. Watson (better suited to play off the ball) as their back-up point guard, they could certainly use another guy who can create off the dribble.

A few other contenders and next-level squads made moves at the deadline, but they were relatively minor. The Warriors added bench help, the Spurs added depth at the wing, the Rockets added some athleticism, the Clippers shed salary, and the Heat created an open roster spot. Nobody made a move that will move the needle all that much. Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Rajon Rondo are still where they were 48 hours ago.

And that’s good news for Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, who remain the clear big four in the NBA hierarchy.

– John Schuhmann

Below is a live blog of how things went down on deadline day.

Highlights: Pacers swap Granger for Turner | Spurs get a wing | Clippers shed salary | Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade | Andre Miller to Washington | Bucks, Bobcats make deal | Kings sticking with McLemore | Heat unload Mason | Hawes to Cleveland

Brooks approves move to Denver, 3:55 p.m.

Aaron Brooks had the ability to veto his trade to Denver, but he’s agreed to the deal.

Pacers swap Granger for Turner, 3:33 p.m.

Spurs get a wing, 3:09 p.m.

Clippers shed salary, 3:00 p.m.

Will Brooks approve trade?, 2:30 p.m.

From our Fran Blinebury

Aaron Brooks would have to approve any trade and said yesterday that he wouldn’t. He wanted badly to stay in Houston.

The Rockets have reportedly agreed to send Brooks to Denver for Jordan Hamilton, but because Brooks signed a one-year contract and his early Bird rights would disappear upon being traded, he can veto the deal.

Clippers anxious to deal, 2:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

The Clippers continue to be very proactive in hopes of closing a deal before noon in Los Angeles, with Reggie Bullock turning into a name of the moment around the league.

This is no surprise. For one thing, Bullock is one of the few available Clippers trade chips. For another, Bullock has a real future for a No. 25 pick, a rookie averaging just 8.5 minutes a game because he is a young wing on a team in win-now mode but a 6-7 guard-forward who improved his shooting every year at North Carolina and can defend. He is not an All-Star in waiting, but he is a legit prospect who can bring something in return when L.A. is not expecting to add a starter.

The quest is to bolster the rotation for the playoff push. The Clips are anxious to make a move. If they leave today empty, the next step will be to hope a player of value is bought out and can be signed as a free agent. That is one reason the basketball operations headed by Doc Rivers has kept the roster at 14.

Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade, 1:40 p.m.

Jack should have his bags ready, 1:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

Still a strong sense from teams that Jarrett Jack, while not the big name of Luol Deng or the medium name of 2012 first-rounder Tyler Zeller, is the most likely Cavalier to be on the move today.

Jack has two more full seasons left at $6.3 million per, a big number for someone shooting 39.3 percent and probably a backup wherever he goes. But he has playoff experience, loves the big moment (sometimes wanting it so much that he forces it) and has the additional value of being an available point guard. There is also the versatility that Jack can play shooting guard.

The 39.3 percent? He was at 45 the last two seasons, in New Orleans and Golden State, and 40.4 on threes in 2012-13 with the Warriors. Interested suitors now have the easy explanation to write off the current troubles: He plays for the Cavaliers, so of course there’s going to be problems.

Andre Miller to Washington, 12:40 p.m.

The Washington Wizards’ offense falls off whenever John Wall goes to the bench. They’ve scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and just 92.8 with him off the floor. So they were in the market for a back-up point guard, and they got one…

Bucks, Bobcats make deal, 12:37 p.m.

Kings sticking with McLemore, 12:35 p.m.

From our Scott Howard-Cooper

Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, bothered to an extreme by the rumor, took the unusual step of going out of his way to speak to media members to shoot down a rumor, insisting they had not offered rookie Ben McLemore to the Celtics as part of a package for Rajon Rondo. In what has been a rough transition to the NBA, with McLemore shooting 36.5 percent and unable to hold the starting job earlier in the season, management didn’t want him to start wondering about the team’s commitment.

More than McLemore’s availability could have been shot down, though. Not only are the Kings fully invested in McLemore and rightfully see a high ceiling despite the slow start, there is no way a rebuilding organization gives up two first-round picks, their 2013 lottery selection and Isaiah Thomas, the reported offer, for Rondo early in the comeback from knee surgery and with one full season left on his contract. Whether bad rumor or Celtics dream, it was never going to happen.

Miller to Washington?, 12:15 p.m.

Clippers and Cavs talking, 11:50 a.m.

Sessions for Neal swap?, 11:45 a.m.

Heat unload Mason, 11:20 a.m.

Deng is available, 11:15 a.m.

Earl Clark, Henry Sims heading to Philly, 10:45 a.m.

Clark is technically under contract for $4.25 million next season, but that doesn’t become guaranteed until July 7, 2014. Sims’ $915 thousand salary is also non-guaranteed. So the Sixers are basically getting back two expiring contracts. Anderson Varejao‘s health was a reason for the trade…

Zeller on the block, 10:00 a.m.

Hawes to Cleveland, 9:55 a.m.

Cleveland is over the cap and doesn’t have an exception that can absorb Hawes’ $6.6 million salary, so there has to be a player or two heading back to Philadelphia.

Teams after Andre Miller, 9:45 a.m.

Jimmer on the block, 9:35 a.m.

Ainge talks, 9:30 a.m.

The Race For Jordan Hill, 8:50 a.m.

The Los Angeles Lakers have the fourth highest payroll in the league and are 18-36 after getting waxed at home by the Rockets on Wednesday. Dumping Jordan Hill for nothing can lower their luxury tax payments quite a bit, and there are a couple of teams willing to take Hill off their hands. As we wrote yesterday, the Nets are looking to strengthen their bench, and have a disabled player exception that can absorb Hill’s $3.5 million salary.

But so does New Orleans, whose frontline has been decimated by injuries.

The Gary Neal deadline, 7:50 a.m.

Gary Neal makes just $3.25 million and the Bucks don’t want him. Yet somehow, trading him is a complicated process.

UPDATE, 6:09 a.m.

Report: Rockets making push for Rondo: Like many teams in the league right now, the Houston Rockets are interested in acquiring Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. And, like a lot of teams in the league right now, the Rockets are having a hard time coming up with the framework for a trade that is to the Celtics’ liking. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Houston’s potential unwillingness to give up Chandler Parsons is what may be hanging up a deal.

Report: Kings eyeing Cavs backup guard Jack: A day after sending shooting guard Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn for veterans Reggie Evans and Jason Terry, Sacramento might be looking to make another trade. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Kings have expressed interest in working a trade for Cavaliers reserve guard Jarrett Jack.

Thibodeau would be surprised if Bulls make deal: Echoing the words of GM Gar Forman and team president John Paxson a little less than a week ago, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tells the Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson he’d be stunned to see the team make a trade today.

Saunders shoots down talk of Love on trading block: A smattering of Kevin Love stories came out yesterday, from a snippet from a new GQ interview in which he talks about having fun playing for the Timberwolves to a tweet from Peter Vescey that made it seem as if the All-Star wants out from Minnesota. But Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders shot down all that talk with one tweet last night, writes Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press.

Report: Lakers’ Young safe from being dealt: ICYMI last night, the Lakers shipped veteran point guard Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for youngsters Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. In short, L.A. is continuing in its rebuilding efforts, but according to BasketballInsiders.com, it seems unlikely that the team’s No. 2 scorer, Nick Young, will be dealt today.

Players discuss their trade deadline-day experiences: The folks over at BasketballInsiders.com caught up with a couple of notable players — including Dwight Howard, Kyle Lowry and Chris Kaman — to have them share what it’s like for a player to go through trade deadline day. Nice little read here this a.m.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for All-Star Saturday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mavs not looking to change | Noah aims for championship | Mile-high reunion? | Cavs looking to deal

No. 1: Mavs not looking to change – At 32-22, the Dallas Mavericks are in a decent position at the All-Star break. They would be the sixth seed in the Western Conference if the season ended today, but they’re only two games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies for the ninth seed and no playoffs. Despite this vulnerability, General Manager Donnie Nelson isn’t looking for reason to shake-up the roster, according to an interview he recently did with KRLD-FM 105.3 in Dallas:

“We’re always looking for ways to improve. Now with that being said, all of the parts are pretty intricately intertwined. To get, you got to give and right now the team is looking good and we’re not looking for reasons to change, but if something presented itself, obviously we’ll look at it.”

“This year’s draft we’ve got Boston’s pick, which is going to be at the very top of the second (round), and with the depth of the draft, sometimes it’s as good as a first-round pick. We got the ability to take that and take our other second-round pick and certainly maneuver and move up. So if that comes to pass, it’s not the absolute worst thing in the world, and we’ve always been aggressive during draft time and (owner Mark Cuban is) not opposed to do whatever it takes to do to make the team better — and we’re creative, as you know, so it’s not like an Earth-shattering situation that we can’t overcome.”

***

No. 2: Noah aims for championship – This story is no surprise. An uber-competitive athlete wants to win a championship. No, the surprise here is Joakim Noah stills expects a championship to be possible with the Chicago Bulls, even after two-straight years of disappointment due to injuries to Derrick Rose. As reported by Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times:

‘‘My ultimate goal is to win a championship,’’ he said. ‘‘I believe we’re going to win a championship in Chicago — and I want to win it with Derrick Rose. That’s the ultimate goal, and I’m going to do everything I can to put us in a position to play in those big games. And when our time will come, whenever that is, it’ll be the best party in the world.’’

‘‘I know I wouldn’t be here without my teammates,’’ Noah said. ‘‘I’m a guy who scores off opportunities. You look at the play of Taj Gibson, D.J. Augustin, Kirk Hinrich, Carlos Boozer coming back from his injury to give us huge minutes. Just everybody — the whole team. Even Derrick — just seeing how he’s approaching his rehab. Really killing it. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

‘‘I think we’re the hardest-working team in the NBA, on the court or off the court. The way we practice. The way we carry ourselves. I’m proud that we have that identity — when you play the Chicago Bulls, we’re crackin’. We’re going to the offensive glass every time. We’re playing defense. We’re the first to the floor. I’m proud to be a part of that.’’

‘‘Derrick’s voice means so much to our team,’’ Noah said. ‘‘When I see him talking to Jimmy Butler during a game . . . or Tony Snell . . . he talks to me all the time . . . it just gives me confidence. He has that much impact on our team.”

‘‘He’s our star player. And he’s a good dude. That’s why it was hard to see him go down again. But he’s a warrior. He never lets up, and I think the way he’s working right now, it makes me hungrier that I know our time will come.’’

***

No. 3: Mile-high reunion? – The beef between Andre Miller and head coach Brian Shaw may soon be quashed in Denver, as the Nuggets reportedly struggled to find a trade destination for the disgruntled point guard. However, it seems Miller is still not too keen on a reunion. Reported by Ken Berger of CBS Sports:

Miller hasn’t played since Dec. 30 following a public confrontation with coach Brian Shaw. Despite concerns about the 37-year-old’s tendency to put on weight, Miller has lost 12 pounds since being banished from the team, one league source said.

The difficult prospect of smoothing things over between Miller and Shaw has become a possibility given the Nuggets’ lack of point guard depth and trade deadline conditions that one executive described on Saturday as “a very difficult market.” Even though Miller’s $4.6 million salary for next season is fully non-guaranteed, it has still been difficult for Denver to find a team willing to give up assets to take on what’s left of his $5 million salary for this year.

However, Yahoo Sports quoted a person connected to Miller as saying the point guard does not want to stay with the Nuggets under any circumstances. “It’s a burned bridge,” the person said. “… The relationship is irreparable.”

The ideal scenario for Denver would’ve been to move Miller to a contending team that needs point guard help, thus being able to receive an asset in return. Dumping his contract on a team that can absorb it, such as Philadelphia, wouldn’t give the Nuggets the return they are seeking in a trade.

Though the Kings had extensive talks with Denver about acquiring Miller in December, those talks have cooled given that the Kings have fallen far out of the Western Conference playoff picture.

***

No. 4: Cavs looking to deal – The Cleveland Cavaliers have suffered through a disastrous first half to the season. Now with a new General Manager, and sitting just three games out of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Cavaliers have their eyes on deals to make the team better right now. As reported by Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer:

Expect David Griffin to make some type of trade by Thursday’s deadline. The interim general manager believes the Cavs are close to a playoff team — three games out of the final spot thanks to the current four-game winning streak. Griffin also would love to have the interim title taken away from his name, and he works for an owner (Dan Gilbert) who wants his general manager to be aggressive.

The Cavs are looking for outside shooting. A big problem is spacing. Teams tend to clog the middle on the Cavs because they don’t have a power forward — or even a small forward — with 3-point shooting range. Former General Manager Chris Grant saw the same weakness, which is why he tried very hard to sign Kyle Korver and Mike Dunleavy last summer. But free agents took a little less money to sign elsewhere — Korver with Atlanta, Dunleavy to Chicago.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Robert Covington was named the D-League All-Star Game MVP. … Rodrigue Beaubois is receiving interest from the Memphis Grizzlies and Washington Wizards. … Chris Bosh on winning back-to-back Shooting Stars competitions: “It’s tough dealing with expectations, but that’s what champions do. We just find a way.”

ICYMI of The Night: If you missed All-Star Saturday Night last night, or even if you watched every second of it, make sure you check out the Top 10 plays:


VIDEO:  The top plays from the skills events Saturday Night

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Conley goes down in Grizzlies win | Pacers to sign Bynum | Bulls getting calls about Gibson | Irving taking responsibility?

No. 1: Conley goes down in Grizzlies win — The Memphis Grizzlies have won 10 of their last 11 games and have the league’s best defense since Marc Gasol’s return. But they lost starting point guard Mike Conley to a sprained ankle in Friday’s win in Minnesota. They should be OK without him against the Bucks on Saturday, but they visit Oklahoma City on Monday and have a huge game against eighth-place Dallas on Wednesday. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has the story from Minneapolis:

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley sat in the trainer’s room rather than at a station alongside his teammates in the visitor’s locker room.

He wore a walking boot Friday night after the Grizzlies’ 94-90 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Target Center. Conley, who also had crutches near his side, hobbled home after the Griz polished off a sweep of their three-game road trip that included wins at Sacramento and Portland.

However, a trek that got Memphis to within a half-game of Dallas for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff standings hardly ended on a happy note.

Conley didn’t look or sound as if playing Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks in FedExForum would be an option. He might need several games off given the severity of his sprained ankle.

“I turned it pretty good,” Conley said. “It’s tough for me to put weight on it now. (Saturday) is looking real iffy. We still have a lot of games ahead of us. We obviously want to finish out these last several games before the all-star break with some momentum. We’ll see how long this will take.”

***

No. 2: Pacers to sign Bynum — It’s been over three weeks since the Chicago Bulls waived Andrew Bynum. And it looks like he finally has a new home. ESPN‘s Brian Windhorst tweeted Friday night that the Indiana Pacers plan on signing Bynum, though a deal is not yet in place. The Indianapolis Star‘s Candace Buckner first reported that Bynum and his agent were in town to talk to the Pacers:

Free agent center Andrew Bynum and his agent are in Indianapolis.

Bynum has been a free agent since being released by the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 7 after a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers. According to earlier reports, the Indiana Pacers were one of several teams to reach out to Bynum.

Bynum’s agent David Lee told The Indianapolis Star that he and Bynum were in town. According to Lee, Bynum and the Pacers have not reached a contractual agreement.

“(Bynum) has not signed as yet,” Lee said on Friday night.

Bynum, the 7-foot mercurial center, played in only 24 games this season, averaging 8.4 points on 41.9 percent shooting for the Cavaliers. Bynum missed all of the 2012-13 season with knee problems and last March underwent surgery on both knees. Besides his health, Bynum’s commitment has also been called into question.

***

No. 3: Bulls getting calls about Gibson — The trade deadline is less than three weeks away and chatter is starting to pick up. The Chicago Bulls already made a major move (sending Luol Deng to Cleveland), but would need to make another one if their ultimate goal is to add another star (like Carmelo Anthony) this summer. Shedding Taj Gibson‘s salary (and waiving Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause in July) would give them the cap space for a max free agent. And other teams would certainly be interested in Gibson’s services. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Bulls have received calls about Gibson and what they do with him will be a clear sign of the direction they’re looking to go:

And while Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy have been churning in the trade rumor mill for more than a month, Taj Gibson’s name is the one that is picking up, and could determine how serious the Bulls are in clearing space for a max contract to land the likes of a Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James.

According to a source, the Lakers, Wizards and Bobcats have each inquired about Gibson, but they were preliminary talks in which the Bulls did not like the return.

If they do move Gibson, however, it will definitely signify how determined the Bulls are to give Derrick Rose a second superstar to play along with.

With Carlos Boozer and his 2014-15 $16.8 million contract likely amnestied this summer, moving Gibson is all but a necessity if the Bulls want to stay under the luxury tax and add a max deal. Gibson will make $8 million next season, $8.5 in the 2015-16 season, and $8.95 in his final year of the deal.

While Anthony told the Sun-Times this week that he hasn’t put any thought into joining the Bulls, there are basketball executives who think differently, as ESPN reported on Thursday.

But to land Anthony or James, it will cost the Bulls Gibson, and is a growing possibility in the next three weeks.

***

No. 4: Irving taking responsibility? — There’s been talk this week about Kyrie Irving being unhappy in Cleveland, with coach Mike Brown and with the roster the Cavs have built around the 2011 No. 1 pick. But of course, Irving’s unwillingness to play defense and lack of leadership are two of the reasons the Cavs are 16-30 right now. So it was good to hear him seemingly accept some responsibility for his team’s struggles on Friday, as Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal writes:

Kyrie Irving conceded this season has been more difficult than he imagined, he’s upset so much attention has been placed on his contract and he admitted he doesn’t always have all the answers to what is plaguing the Cavaliers this season.

“I needed this. It was more or less a wake-up call,” Irving told the Beacon Journal following practice Friday. “I got away with so much my first two years. It wasn’t a breeze, but everything came easy. This is the first year where every single night it’s going to be a challenge. That’s one of the things I’m getting used to and I’ve accepted.”

Irving came under fire throughout the week, particularly after a Beacon Journal story last Sunday questioning the progress he’s made this season, followed by an ESPN report Thursday that Irving wants out of Cleveland.

“Everybody has all these rumors and stories they’re coming out with and it’s all based on me,” Irving said. “It’s not really about me. It’s about the team and what we’re going through as a team together. Obviously, some things will be put on me and I take responsibility for that, but all that extra stuff that comes with it. … It’s the business. I understand that. But that’s one of the things I wish I could change. It’s definitely not about me, it’s about my teammates and what we can accomplish.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nate Robinson had ACL surgery on Friday, which means that the Nuggets need to figure out what they’re doing with Andre MillerKyle Korver has declined the NBA’s invitation to the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest … Wesley Matthews would go, thoughRajon Rondo likes the idea of being a free agentKemba Walker suffered a setback in his return from a sprained ankle … and Lance Stephenson says he’s “mad” about not being selected as an All-Star.

ICYMI of The Night: Terrence Ross looks ready to defend his dunk title:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Terrence Ross takes flight and posterizes Kenneth Faried.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving: ‘I’m pretty happy’ in Cleveland | Miller, Nuggets to mend fences? | Warriors get big boost from Green, Barnes

No. 1: Irving tries to quell rumors of his desire to leave — Every week on ESPN.com, NBA reporter Chad Ford does a weekly chat with fans about various league topics. The issue of Kyrie Irving‘s long-term future with the Cleveland Cavaliers came up in the discussion, and Ford said that Irving has been “telling people privately he wants out of Cleveland.” After Cleveland’s 31-point loss in New York last night, Irving addressed the concerns about his future, writes Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal:

Kyrie Irving said he enjoys being in Cleveland and playing for the Cavaliers, but stopped short of saying he’ll take a max contract offer if he’s presented with one this summer.

“There’s been so much so-called reports coming out that I don’t want to be here. That’s what you guys get paid to do, but that’s just so much negative attention,” Irving said following the Cavs’ 117-86 loss to the Knicks. “I know we’re struggling, but it’s not about me. It’s about our team. It’s about us fighting every day for each other and me fighting for my teammates.

“Yes, I’m in Cleveland. I enjoy myself. I enjoy going out and competing at the highest level for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about me and it’s not about this controversy, ‘Do I privately want out when my contract is up?’ I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be here for a long time. I’m not saying anything to tell the future, but I’m pretty sure the relationship I have with Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court. I enjoy being here.”

When told he can sign a lucrative contract this summer, Irving said, “I’m aware of that,” but stopped short of saying he’d sign here long term.

“It’s still too early to say. I’m still trying to get through this season,” he said. “Everybody is trying to antagonize this team and put it on me. I’m here for my teammates, I’m here for Coach [Mike] Brown and the coaching staff and I’m going to play my heart out every single night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.”


VIDEO: Cavs GM Chris Grant talks about the state of the team at midseason

***

No. 2: Miller, Nuggets may try to mend fences — Ty Lawson has a shoulder injury. Nate Robinson has a sprained ACL. Those two facts leave the Denver Nuggets’ point guard depth in a precarious state and could lead to exiled guard Andre Miller returning to the fold. Miller hasn’t played in a game for Denver since an Jan. 1 incident in which he yelled at coach Brian Shaw during a game. Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post has more on what’s next for Miller and the Nuggets.

The Nuggets’ situation at point guard has thinned to the point of extinction if Ty Lawson is not able to play Friday night against the Toronto Raptors. The paucity of players at that position has the Nuggets considering all of their options … perhaps including asking exiled playmaker Andre Miller to play.

In addition to Lawson, backup point guard Nate Robinson was diagnosed with a sprained ACL in his left knee, suffered Wednesday night against Charlotte.

“We will explore whatever we need to explore to help us out in this situation,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said Thursday. “We have 15 players on the roster.”

Miller is one of those players, but he hasn’t played since the incident Jan. 1 when he yelled at Shaw during a game. Miller has been excused from all team activities ever since and the Nuggets are actively trying to trade him, though nothing is imminent. The NBA’s trade deadline is Feb. 20.

But the Nuggets need bodies at Lawson’s all-important position, and Miller is one right in front of them.

“He’s one of the 15 guys on the roster,” Shaw said. “So, yeah, it’s an option that probably will be explored.”

It is a longshot, to be sure.

Miller has been away from the Nuggets for a month, and outside of an injury there has been no move by either side to orchestrate a return to the team. Shaw and Miller still have not talked to each other since the incident, but Shaw insists he would have no problems coaching him if the situation were to arise.

Nothing like that would even take place without an extensive conversation among all levels of team management. General manager Tim Connelly recently has been out of the country.

“I’ll get together with the front office and discuss whatever options we may have,” Shaw said.

***
No. 3: Warriors’ x-factors prove difference vs. Clippers — Over their last nine games, the Golden State Warriors had a 3-6 mark and suffered losses to contenders such as Oklahoma City and Indiana to go along with ones to Denver and Minnesota, among others, as well. Last night’s romp of the L.A. Clippers seemed to be just what Golden State needed and the combination of Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes provided a key spark that the Warriors will need more of throughout the season, writes Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:

In a blast from the recent postseason past, Barnes exploded for a few dunks and knifing drives early against the Clippers as the Warriors built a large lead.

If Barnes finds a comfort zone and plays like that for the rest of the season … the Warriors will be a much deeper, much more dangerous team.

But generally this season, the Warriors’ second unit has been broken offensively without Barnes at electric top form — and he has looked harried and uncertain.

They’re the Warriors’ double X-factors. Barring a major trade, they’re the franchise’s best hope for this season and largest open question.

For now, coach Mark Jackson is giving both his full support, and he makes it clear that though they’re both bench players, they play two different roles.

Heading into Thursday’s game, Green was averaging just over 19 minutes a game, up from 13.4 minutes as a rookie.

Barnes was averaging 29.3 minutes, after averaging 25.4 minutes his rookie season.

The first Warriors reserve player to get into the game was Barnes — for Klay Thompson. The second was Jordan Crawford — for Andre Iguodala.

The third reserve to check in was Green — for David Lee.

And almost immediately after getting into the game, Barnes started rocketing to the basket for easy baskets; he had 10 points at halftime — his first double-digit game since Jan. 15, eight games ago.

“When you believe in somebody that doesn’t mean you just believe in them when they’re rolling,” Jackson said before the game. “The Harrison Barnes that showed up 12 games in the playoffs started the whole year — that guy didn’t play 82 nights.

“We believed he had that in him and I still do. So he will play his minutes, he will get his calls, he will get his touches, and he’s going to be just fine.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant says he plans to play until he’s 40 … How will Lance Stephenson react to his All-Star Game snub going forward? … The Philippines wants to naturalize Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee for their national team … Famous NBA fan Jimmy Goldstein got a picture of David Stern’s retirement party cake. Pretty cool

ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Cavs-Knicks game at MSG became the J.R. Smith highlight show with two big dunks and a crossover on Tristan Thompson that’ll live on for a while …:


VIDEO: J.R. Smith drives on Anthony Bennett and finishes with a jam


VIDEO: Off the outlet pass, J.R. Smith gets fancy in transition with a reverse slam


VIDEO: J.R. Smith crosses up Tristan Thompson, then hits a jumper

Morning Shootaround – Jan. 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Knicks interested in Miller | Turkoglu impresses Doc | Report: Toronto plans to keep Lowry | Drake Night a success | Meeks nears court incentive

No. 1: Report: Knicks interested in Miller — The New York Knicks are finally hitting their stride and much of their recent success can be linked to the return of point guard Raymond Felton. Felton has missed a lot of time this season with a lingering groin injury, which conceivably could return at anytime. The success the Knicks have experienced with solid point guard play makes their reported interest in the Denver Nuggets’ disgruntled Andre Miller reasonable, as ESPN’s Marc Stein reports:

You’ll recall that the Knicks were originally at the front of the queue trying to trade for [Kyle] Lowry in mid-December when the Raps were shopping him hard in the wake of the Rudy Gay deal with Sacramento. The Knicks are now said to want to work their way into the bidding for Denver’s very available Andre Miller, but the same problem that doomed New York in the Lowry chase a month ago — limited assets to offer — doesn’t bring much hope.

***

No. 2: Turkoglu impresses Doc — Longtime NBA veteran Hedo Turkoglu has made it known to contenders that he still wants to play in the league after he was waived by the Orlando Magic a little more than a week ago. He’s received interest from both teams in Los Angeles and recently put on a show for Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers, according to Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles:

The Clippers also brought in forward Hedo Turkoglu for a meeting and a workout Thursday. They liked what they saw but don’t plan on signing him anytime soon. The Clippers would have to cut a player to make room for any new additions.

“He made shots from everywhere,” Rivers said of Turkoglu. “He looked good. It was a good workout, but we’re not doing anything anytime soon, but he did look good.”

***

No. 3: Toronto plans to keep LowryAfter the Toronto Raptors traded Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings, reports out of Toronto suggested that it was the first of many deals as new general manager Masai Ujiri planned to tear-down the current roster. But since the trade, the Raptors have surged and now lead the Atlantic Division with a record of 18-17. Now reports say the Raptors plan to keep point guard Kyle Lowry, who recently made his first appearance on our Kia MVP Ladder. From ESPN’s Marc Stein:

For the first time, there are certifiable rumbles emanating from Toronto suggesting that the Raptors might well keep point guard Kyle Lowry for the rest of the season. Word is new GM Masai Ujiri continues to resist locking into any sort of firm position — leaving open the possibility of a Lowry deal if the offers suddenly get sweeter — but team officials appear to be growing increasingly comfortable with the idea that it’s better to go for what would be just Toronto’s third playoff berth in 13 seasons rather than try to do the absolute uber-tanking it would take from here for the 17-17 Raps to get [a top draft pick].

***


VIDEO: Drake announces Raptors starting lineup

No. 4: Drake Night a successThe Toronto Raptors made a great decision when they decided to name rapper Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham their global brand ambassador. The first of what one would assume will be many Drake Nights was held at the Air Canada Center last night. Drake announced the starting lineup, wore this amazing suit and sat courtside next to the Raptors bench. Best of all for fans who attended the game, the Drake Night shirts which were given to each fan at the game are now selling on Ebay for $150+. Erik Koreen of The National Post writes a great recap of the night:

The great thing about Drake — and there is no irony in the use of “great” here — is the dichotomy that defines him. Sometimes, he is just so darned earnest, such an emotional open book. To the openhearted, that is wonderful; to the jaded, it is a bit embarrassing. And then sometimes, he is able to wink at that.The guy has a sense of humour about himself, which is a large part of his appeal. He charms you into liking him. If he took himself as seriously as it seems he does in his confessional lyrics, it would be absurd. The fact that he embraces the mockery, and even takes part, puts the hip-hop artist standing in as the Toronto Raptors’ global brand ambassador just on the right side of tolerable.

As soon as you want to give him, and this whole idea of him representing the Raptors, the benefit of the doubt, the preposterousness of the whole arrangement looms again.

“Tonight isn’t a Drake show. It has nothing really to do with Drake,” Drake said before Drake Night, an evening that was a glorification of Drake’s brand, only tangibly related to the Toronto Raptors’ 96-80 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

“It has nothing really to do with me. I’m just going to be sitting there. The fact that people want to come out, participate, get a free t-shirt: if that’s what it takes to put people in the stands, than every night could be Drake Night if you want.”

To be fair, Drake was  involved throughout the whole evening, not content to just sit in his courtside seats. That was a frequent criticism of Jay-Z during his short tenure as a minority owner of the Nets. Drake took over from long time public-address announcer Herbie Kuhn to introduce the Raptors’ starting lineup. Within, Drake shouted out Scarborough Town Centre, noted that Kyle Lowry kind of looks like Chris Tucker and called head coach Dwane Casey “dashingly handsome.” (“That’s not what my mirror says,” Casey said after the game) He was clearly having some fun.

During the first quarter intermission, Drake joined the team’s cheerleaders and second-string mascot, Stripes, to toss t-shirts into the sold-out crowd. At halftime, Drake’s official DJ, Future the Prince, played a brief set. After which, Drake gave out some branded Jordan sneakers, as most of the sold-out crowd looked up at the 27-year-old star in awe. Most importantly, he was visibly into the game as DeMar DeRozan took it over in the third quarter.

“I think we’re just trying to give people something exciting to look at and give them an atmosphere that’s just a little bit more invigorating,” Drake said.

***

No. 5: Meeks nears court incentiveMost NBA contracts are laced with incentives. Play this many minutes, get this much money. Start this many games, get this much money. It’s a typical practice and allows teams to have some confidence that they won’t pay a player too much for limited contribution. It also allows a player to earn his worth. In Los Angeles, Jodie Meeks is more than halfway towards some pretty nice incentives from the Lakers, according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:

Injuries have opened up an opportunity for Lakers guard Jodie Meeks, who has started 30 of 37 games this season.

Meeks is now more than halfway to hitting an incentive in his contract that would reward him with an additional $200,000.

According to his agreement with the Lakers, Meeks has a base compensation of $1.45 million for the 2013-14 season.

If he averages at least 20 minutes through a minimum of 70 games, Meeks will earn an additional $100,000.

Meeks hit a similar incentive last season, averaging 21.3 minutes a game to bump his $1.4-million salary to $1.5 million.

Should Meeks stay at 25 minutes a game or higher, he’ll be rewarded with an additional $100,000.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Josh Smith hit a game-winning runner for the Pistons … The Wizards-Rockets game was lengthened due to two rain delays … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak wants Nick Young to be a Laker for a “long time”Taj Gibson threw down a huge dunk over Bismack Biyombo

ICYMI of The Night: Brandon Jennings dished out 16 assists in the first half against the Phoenix Suns last night. Although it’s disappointing he only finished with 18 dimes (still a Detroit Pistons franchise-record), this one to Andre Drummond off the backboard makes up for the second half slump:


VIDEO: Jennings to Drummond off the window

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith’s future with Knicks uncertain | Report: Miller back in Nuggets’ lineup? | Manziel signs with LeBron’s marketing firm | Should foes wear KD’s shoes?

No. 1: Smith’s future with Knicks in limbo – The NBA handed J.R. Smith a $50,000 fine for his shoe-untying incidents over the last week, but that was apparently just the start of a bad week for him. According to Frank Isola of The New York Daily News, the Knicks are losing patience with the mercurial shooting guard with coach Mike Woodson refusing to address any questions about Smith either before or after last night’s eventual victory over the Miami Heat. Smith was benched for the entire game and spoke briefly with reporters after the Knicks’ win about whether or not his time in New York is coming to an end:

As crazy as this sounds, Smith once believed that he would spend the rest of his career with the Knicks, which either proves he’s a big dreamer or incredibly naïve.

Patrick Ewing didn’t retire a Knick. Neither did Charles Oakley or John Starks. Of course, two better examples for J.R.’s purposes would be Latrell Sprewell and Stephon Marbury.

The motto is “Once a headache, always a headache” until you get on Dolan’s bad side and the ugly divorce begins.

“Honestly I don’t even know,” Smith said when asked if he has a future with the club. “At one point I was, for sure, and now it’s rocking the boat.”

No one rocks it like Smith, Dolan’s onetime golfing buddy whose list of transgressions is as numerous as the tattoos that cover his body. The latest screwup was harmless in some ways but also incredibly foolish, especially after the NBA warned Smith not to untie an opposing player’s sneakers like he did to Shawn Marion on Sunday in Dallas.

To be fair, it was reported to be a warning, but in J.R.’s world, warnings are open for interpretation. So here it goes:

“Yeah, pretty much. They warned me, but it wasn’t one of those warning where you go ‘Oh damn,’ it was one of those warnings where you really don’t know the outcome of it. You don’t even know if it was a warning or what it was. But at the end of the day it doesn’t really change anything now. We won. We beat Miami, a championship team, so you can’t complain.”

Woodson refused to address Smith’s status before or after Thursday’s victory, which only added to the confusion. That is a Knicks specialty, of course.

Smith claims he arrived for work, albeit $50,000 poorer, fully expecting to play against Miami. He also claims that Woodson never addressed the fine or the benching with him.

“That’s the most misleading part of it,” Smith said. “I can see if I was told, but there was no conversation about it. But it is what it is. We got the ‘W.’ ”

This doesn’t make Smith a martyr, the way Dolan famously turned Sprewell into one more than a decade earlier. Still, it wasn’t handled well, and it was pretty weird seeing Smith seated within 15 feet of actress Katie Holmes and Smith’s enabler, Dolan.

Dolan is trying to distance himself from Smith the way Holmes ran away from Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology. Dolan should have been smarter last summer when he foolishly signed Smith to a three-year contract when the team knew the guard was headed for knee surgery.

Smith has never been right physically, and his conduct deteriorated rapidly last week once the club informed him it was cutting his younger brother, Chris. J.R. tweeted a reference to feeling betrayed, and a few nights later in Houston, he took an ill-advised shot in a tie game because he mistakenly thought the Knicks were losing.

On ESPN Radio in New York on Thursday, Smith’s former coach in Denver, George Karl, said it perfectly: “He’s going to wake up some day and he’s going to realize that he’s thrown away some great opportunities and great years because of this mockery that he brings to the game.”


VIDEO:The Inside the NBA crew discusses J.R. Smith’s benching vs. the Heat

***

No. 2: Report: Miller could get back into Nuggets’ lineup — Since his on-court outburst against coach Brian Shaw on Jan. 1, the future of Nuggets point guard Andre Miller in Denver has looked more and more like he was headed out of town. The Nuggets have reportedly had several trade offers for Miller (the Kings seem the most interested in him), but the player may not end up leaving Colorado after all. Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post reports that there is a slim chance Miller sticks around with the team:

There is a chance that embattled Nuggets guard Andre Miller could find himself back in Denver’s lineup in the near future.

A league source indicated that there is a slim chance, but one nonetheless, that Miller could suit up again. Miller has missed four straight games after being dismissed from the team for a mandatory two games for his part in an on-court verbal confrontation with coach Brian Shaw in the Nuggets’ game against Philadelphia on Jan. 1.

Miller worked out on the Nuggets practice court as recently as Thursday, keeping himself in as good a shape as he can while he sits out. The Nuggets continue to explore deals to trade the veteran, but have been unsuccessful to this point.

Any Miller return would come with the understanding that playing time still would be scarce or non-existent. Miller’s beef is with his declining role, which bottomed-out in the first “Did Not Play – Coaches Decision” of his career in that game against Philadelphia.

Afterward, he left quickly and hasn’t been around the team since.

Shaw still has not spoken with Miller since the incident, but has said before that he could definitely co-exist with the point guard.

He re-iterated that point after Thursday night’s game against Oklahoma City.

“I’m willing to coach anybody on our roster that’s willing to play and do what the best thing is for the team, whatever role that is,” Shaw said. “And so right now he…is dealing with what he wants to do. But in the process, my concern is what’s best for the Denver Nuggets and right now that is continuing with the guys that are here right now and just looking ahead to our next opponent and what we need to do to prepare for that.”


VIDEO: Inside the NBA’s crew discusses the Andre Miller situation

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No. 3: LeBron’s marketing firm to represent Johnny Manziel — Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy last season, announced this week that he was declaring for the NFL Draft. Manziel is expected to be a first-round pick — perhaps taken very early in that round — and as such, he is starting to get his life together for a professional career. As such, the man known as “Johnny Football” has hired LeBron James‘ marketing firm to handle his publicity efforts, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

LeBron James has gotten into the football game. More to the point, he has gotten into the Johnny Football game.

The Miami Heat forward confirmed before Thursday night’s game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden that his marketing firm will represent former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

James said the relationship with his LRMR firm was the product of an ongoing relationship.

“They reached out to me when he was going through a lot of off-the-field things, that I thought was just overblown,” James said of the former Texas A&M quarterback. “He’s not the only college kid that’s ever went to a frat party, or the only college kid that ever had fun. But obviously, he’s Johnny Manziel so it’s blown out of proportion.

“When the opportunity was brought to me, I basically just told him, if he’s willing to listen, if he’s willing to take my advice then I’m willing to give it. And throughout this whole season, I would text him weekly before the games and after the games. I didn’t know it would lead to us being together now because of business, but I was happy to help him.”

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No. 4: Should foes wear Kevin Durant’s shoes? — Three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, not surprisingly, has his own line of shoes from Nike that have become popular with players not named Durant around the NBA. Apparently, wearing his shoes when facing him has become a big point of contention for some around the league, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, and was an issue Nuggets coach Brian Shaw went in depth on before last night’s Thunder-Nuggets game from Denver:

Denver has at least two players who routinely wear Durant’s line of “KDs,” forward Wilson Chandler and center Timofey Mozgov.

But should players wear them against Durant?

“We were actually having a conversation about that with the players,” said Nuggets coach Brian Shaw. “When I came (into the NBA) in 1988, shortly after that, (Michael) Jordan started with his Jordan One. They only made them in red, white and black, Bulls colors. I remember Nike wouldn’t let you wear his shoes. They only let him wear it. You could order them through your account, but you couldn’t wear them in games.

“And then, when they started making different colors, they started allowing guys to wear them in games. Obviously, the most important thing is that it’s a shoe that fits your foot and (if) you’re comfortable in it then you’ll want to wear it. But I always thought that that gave; like being on the Lakers, when guys would wear Kobe (Bryant’s) shoes when we were playing against them, he always would, in his mind, feel ‘I got him because he’s wearing my shoes.’ So the guys who do wear KD’s, we were talking yesterday, ‘Are you really going to wear those tomorrow when we play him?’ So it was a debate back and forth about the comfort of the shoe as opposed to what message it sends when you’re wearing a guy’s shoes.”

Durant downplayed the potential psychological advantage angle.

“I’ve seen a few guys wear my shots,” he said. “It’s flattering to me. I don’t really look at it as an advantage at all. More so, it’s just cool seeing “KD” on other guys’ shoes, because I’ve grown up watching people wear Jordans and play in Jordans. And now, to have my own signature shoe and have my peers wearing it, it’s pretty fun to see.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nets guard Deron Williams will miss the next two games and possibly the team’s game to London … Cool preview of this Saturday’s “Inside Stuff” with Kevin Love, who gives you a taste of how he works his rebounding magic … ICYMI, the Rockets’ mascot, Clutch, does an awesome job of scaring Houston’s players … Does Eric Bledsoe actually want to stick around with the Suns?

ICYMI Of The Night: We love Kenneth Faried around here, but he got banged on last night by the Thunder’s Reggie Jackson


VIDEO: Reggie Jackson throws down a power jam on the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 7


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kings interested in Nuggets’ Miller | Report: Deng balked on extension with Bulls | Report: Clips looking at Turkoglu, Vujacic | Z-Bo, Grizz excited about pending addition of Lee

No. 1: Report: Nuggets discussing trades for Miller — As we reported in this space yesterday, the Nuggets and Andre Miller seem destined for a parting of ways. The Denver Post reported yesterday that the team is actively looking for deal the point guard and Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski has some news on prospective teams, which could include the Sacramento Kings:

Guard Andre Miller has possibly played his final game for the franchise, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After a two-game suspension turned into an indefinite exile on Monday, the Nuggets are motivated to move Miller within the next 24 to 48 hours, league sources said. It has become clear to rival executives that Denver is moving quickly on engineering trade scenarios and completing a deal.

Sacramento Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro – a longtime Nuggets executive – has been at the forefront of trying to acquire Miller, league sources said. The Kings plan would be to use Miller as a mentor for the franchise’s talented young point guard, Isaiah Thomas.

Denver general manager Tim Connelly has had conversations with multiple teams, including Sacramento. Miller is owed the balance of his $5 million this season and a partial guarantee of $2 million in 2014-15 on his contract.

Connelly and Miller’s agent, Andy Miller, have been in regular communication about the next steps for the franchise and point guard.


Miller, 37, had a 239-consecutive-game streak end in the loss to the Sixers, and endured the first “Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision” of his 15-year career.

The frustration that started on the floor on Wednesday night extended into the postgame locker room, sources told Yahoo Sports. Before the bubbling over on Wednesday, Miller had recently addressed some issues to Shaw in a locker-room meeting forum, league sources said.

Connelly spoke with Miller for approximately an hour late Wednesday at the Pepsi Center, and the team suspended Miller on Thursday for its next two games.

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No. 2: Report: Deng turned down extension with Bulls days ago — As you probably heard, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls pulled off a trade last night that sent disgruntled Cavs center Andrew Bynum and three future Draft picks to Chicago for All-Star forward Luol Deng. The Bulls moved Deng in part because he was an unrestricted free agent this summer and also, as our David Aldridge points out in his excellent breakdown of the deal, to lessen their immediate salary-cap burden. Over the summer, Deng and his representatives couldn’t reach an agreement on a contract extension and, according to Yahoo!Sports.com.’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Bulls and Deng tried to hammer out an extension again before the Cleveland trade took place, but Deng didn’t want to sign:

Within days of the Chicago Bulls unloading Luol Deng for salary-cap relief and a first-round draft pick, the All-Star forward rejected a three-year, $30 million contact extension, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

Deng, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, turned down the deal on Friday, clearing the way for Bulls management to complete a deal with Cleveland for broken-down center Andrew Bynum and a package of draft picks on Monday night.

The Bulls and Deng’s representatives had informal talks about an extension over the summer, but Chicago never made a formal offer.

The Bulls were unwilling to pay Deng, 28, market value in the $12 million-to-$13 million-a-year range over four or five seasons. Deng spent nine-plus seasons in Chicago, where he often played hurt. Chicago is committed to re-signing shooting guard Jimmy Butler to a lucrative contract extension this summer, and after the loss of Derrick Rose for the season, the Bulls made a move for the long-term.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the Bynum-for-Deng swap

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No. 3: Report: Clippers mulling veterans Vujacic, Turkoglu — The shoulder injury that star point guard Chris Paul suffered last weekend could potentially keep him out of the L.A. Clippers’ lineup for as long as six weeks. That means the Clips’ depth is going to be tested and as L.A. prepares to weather a bit of a storm without him, the team is thinking about adding free agents to the roster. The Clips, according to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, have an eye on Hedo Tukoglu (who was recently waived by the Orlando Magic) and ex-Lakers and Nets guard Sasha Vujacic. Adding either of those players, though, would possibly force the team to part ways with Stephen Jackson:

The Los Angeles Clippers are looking hard at well-known veteran free agents Sasha Vujacic and Hedo Turkoglu as they try to fill the playmaking void created by Chris Paul’s shoulder injury, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Clippers could make a new 10-day signing as early as Tuesday, with Vujacic and Turkoglu currently at the forefront of L.A.’s thinking.

Paul is expected to miss up to six weeks after suffering a separated shoulder Friday night in Dallas. The Clippers are still without starting shooting guard J.J. Redick, who is making progress in his recovery from hand and wrist injuries but is believed to be out for at least another week.

The Clippers, though, would have to open up a roster spot before making any further signings and face an immediate decision on Stephen Jackson, whose minimum-salary contract will be guaranteed for the rest of the season if he’s still on the Clippers roster beyond Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Vujacic, 29, has been working out in Los Angeles for months in hopes of getting back into the NBA after the former Lakers guard from Slovenia spent the previous two seasons playing in Turkey.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, confirming his interest in Turkoglu, said before Monday night’s game against the Magic, “I just like him. He’s out there and we should look at him. I’ve always liked him. He can shoot and play [small forward and power forward].”


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks about the state of the team before Monday’s game vs. Orlando

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No. 4: Grizz, Z-Bo happy about addition of Lee — While the trade between the Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder has yet to be finalized, the folks in Tennessee are getting excited about the pending move. The deal — which will send Courtney Lee to the Grizz, Jerryd Bayless to the Celtics and Ryan Gomes to the Celtics (where he’s expected to be waived) — is thought to give some new life to the Grizzlies’ renewed playoff hopes. Michael Cohen of The Commercial-Appeal has more on the trade and how Zach Randolph and others are reacting to it:

It was late Sunday afternoon when the Grizzlies found out Jerryd Bayless was leaving, the players beginning to bubble with confidence after a convincing and reassuring win over Detroit. The 112-84 victory marked the end of a successful three-game road trip, protecting the flickering flame that is Memphis’ playoff hopes for at least a while longer.

Strengthening that postseason belief was the impending trade involving Bayless, one that sends the reserve guard to Boston in exchange for sharpshooter Courtney Lee. The players learned of the deal on their flight home after beating the Pistons, the atmosphere onboard equal parts sad and salutary.

“It’s very encouraging when you see the front office try to get better and see what we need to improve at,” Zach Randolph said Monday, before the team’s practice at FedExForum. “That’s what you’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do. We want to be a top-echelon team.

“This season is far from over. For us to say that we’re out of the playoff hunt and we won’t make the playoffs is ludicrous because we still have a chance.”

The trade between the Grizzlies and Celtics is still not official, and coach David Joerger was unable to speak about the imminent deal Monday morning. But point guard Mike Conley said the players “knew something was going on” during the flight back from Detroit, prompting them to enjoy Bayless’ company for what they understood was likely the final time. The trade was a business transaction to make the team better, even if its members lost a friend in the process.

“We talked to him then and took that plane ride back and hung out as much as we could,” Conley said.

For the better part of a month the Grizzlies have toiled in inferiority, dropping five consecutive games in mid December before finally putting together a pair of wins against the Knicks and Jazz — two of the NBA’s worst teams. Since then, victories and defeats have alternated in agonizing fashion, with each step forward giving way to a disillusioning step back.

But the 28-point throttling of Detroit and a disposing of the Suns three days before has breathed life into a franchise one season removed from an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. The offense is more fluid, the bench more productive and now, thanks to the likely addition of Lee, a major hole filled: shooting.

Lee, who is shooting 44.2 percent from beyond the arc this season, joins a team ranked last in the league in 3-pointers made per game (4.9) and 18th in 3-point percentage (34.9). When asked if he would welcome more potency from beyond the arc, Randolph could barely contain himself. He grinned, then laughed, then stammered away with excitement. “Oh man, gosh, come on,” he said complete with a beckoning gesture.

Adding to Monday’s festive mood was a positive update from Joerger on Marc Gasol. The all-star center has been cleared for “light, light on-court action,” following an MRI to evaluate the sprained MCL in his knee that has sidelined him since Nov. 22.

Gasol was at practice Monday sporting a black brace on his left knee and he appeared to be in good spirits in the training room. There is no timetable for his return, but that he is on the court at all is a welcomed sign of progress for a team in need of a lasting spark.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After the Bulls release Andrew Bynum, they will have 12 players and be below the tax line. They’ll have to add at least one more player for about $520K … The Salinas Bros. may soon see their long-standing annual TV rights payout from the NBA end soon … The Magic have suffered 86 losses since the start of the 2012-13 season, but last night’s to the Clippers might have been an all-time lowRonny Turiaf was more than happy to be back on the court at last for the Timberwolves

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Blake Griffin with an in-game, alley-oop windmill dunk. There’s nothing more to be said here …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin’s in-game, alley-oop windmill jam vs. the Magic