Posts Tagged ‘Andrei Kirilenko’

Nets Look To Keep KG Fresh

.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – New Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd told the New York Daily News last month that he might not play Kevin Garnett in both ends of back-to-back sets this season.

“We’ve talked about it that there’s going to be (minutes restrictions). When you look at KG, probably no back-to-backs for him,” Kidd said Friday following press conference to announce the renovation of Nassau Coliseum. “Those are just topics we’re talking about, throwing around to keep these guy’s minutes down because we are deep. …you want to be fresh going into the playoffs.”

Most minutes played, NBA history
Player Seasons GP MIN MPG
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 20 1,560 57,446 36.8
Karl Malone 19 1,476 54,852 37.2
Jason Kidd 19 1,391 50,110 36.0
Elvin Hayes 16 1,303 50,000 38.4
Wilt Chamberlain 14 1,045 47,859 45.8
Kevin Garnett 18 1,323 47,801 36.1
John Stockton 19 1,504 47,764 31.8
Reggie Miller 18 1,389 47,619 34.3
Gary Payton 17 1,335 47,117 35.3
John Havlicek 16 1,270 46,471 36.6

KG is 37 years old, will be playing his 19th season, and ranks sixth all-time in minutes played. That makes this a logical plan, and it’s also easy to understand why Kidd, in particular, is concerned about the minutes of his oldest vet.

Just last season, Kidd — who ranks third all-time in minutes — was playing his 19th season, appeared in 88 of the Knicks’ 94 games. He clearly ran out of gas in the playoffs, missing the final 18 shots of his career. His 3-point shooting helped the Knicks win 18 of their first 23 games and his leadership was critical throughout, but his team needed him to make a shot or two in the conference semifinals and he came up empty.

The Nets would rather win 50 games and have Garnett fresh for the playoffs than win 57 and have him running on fumes when they face the Heat, Pacers or Bulls in a series. The Nets’ best chance at a championship is probably this season, so extra precautions should certainly be taken.

That’s why the addition of Andrei Kirilenko — who gives the Nets a quality starter when Garnett gets a night off — was so important. Though Garnett will be the most critical component to the Nets’ defense, this team is much deeper than the Celtics of the last couple of seasons, who suffered a huge defensive drop-off whenever KG rested.

Garnett’s mobility and athleticism has declined over the last few years. But his numbers from last season make it clear that he had no problem handling back-to-backs.

Over the last two seasons, KG played both ends of 35 back-to-backs (18 in ’11-12 and 17 last season). And in those 70 games, he shot better and got to the line more often in the second night. And he was only a slightly better rebounder on the first night.

Garnett in back-to-backs, last two seasons

Total MPG FGM FGA FG% PPG TS% FTA Rate OREB% DREB% REB%
First game 30.5 218 462 47.2% 14.6 50.8% 0.206 4.2% 26.1% 15.4%
Second game 29.5 231 440 52.5% 16.1 57.1% 0.275 4.9% 24.0% 15.2%

TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44*FTA)))
FTA Rate = FTA/FGA
REB% = Percentage of available rebounds obtained

KG doesn’t seem to have a problem with playing two straight nights. But this is about the long term and how he plays in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, not how he plays in Toronto on Jan. 11.

In playing those 17 back-to-backs last season, Garnett suffered a drop-off after the All-Star break. But he played pretty well in last season’s playoffs. In fact, he averaged almost 14 rebounds per game in the Celtics’ first-round series against the Knicks, grabbing more than a third of the available defensive rebounds when he was on the floor.

Garnett, 2012-13

Timeframe GP MPG FGM FGA FG% PPG TS% FTA Rate OREB% DREB% REB%
Pre All-Star 52 30.3 327 650 50.3% 15.1 54.4% .258 4.5% 25.0% 15.1%
Post All-Star 16 28.1 95 200 47.5% 13.6 50.6% .165 5.2% 28.9% 17.6%
Playoffs 6 35.3 30 60 50.0% 12.7 56.3% .283 5.5% 36.5% 22.6%

Garnett’s usage rate was down in that series, and although he’s still a great defender, there were times when the Knicks made him look his age …


.

KG is absolutely going to help the Nets defensively. You will find more examples of him playing great pick-and-roll defense than you will of him getting beat. And it should be noted that all the above plays took place toward the end of the first half in which he played the most minutes all season. Garnett averaged just over 14 first-half minutes in his 74 (total) games last season, but played 21:29 in the first half of Game 5.

In addition to giving Garnett nights off, Kidd will also have to manage his minutes in-game. Though his free throw rate and rebounding improved, KG’s shooting declined after he played 20 minutes last season.

Garnett, 2012-13

Min. played in game MIN FGM FGA FG% PTS/48 TS% FTA Rate OREB% DREB% REB%
0-20 1,411 310 600 51.7% 24.4 54.8% .207 4.9% 24.5% 15.1%
21+ 611 112 250 44.8% 22.5 50.4% .308 4.0% 28.7% 16.9%

It will be a interesting balancing act for Kidd.

Though the regular season isn’t the priority, seeding is often critical. Brooklyn got beat in a Game 7 at home in May, but home teams have still won about 80 percent of all Game 7s. With how good each of the best teams in the Eastern Conference could be, we could certainly see more Game 7s next Spring. And a few games in the standings might be the difference between finishing first and finishing fifth.

More than anything, the Nets need to get better defensively and Garnett is the best defensive player of the last decade. But as we saw in Boston the last few seasons, he needs to be on the floor to make an impact. While the Celtics’ defense suffered when he stepped off the floor, it didn’t if he was on the floor and had logged big minutes. In fact, their DefRtg (points allowed per 100 possessions) was better when KG was on the floor and had played at least 20 minutes (95.7) than when he had yet to play 20 (96.4).

Where Have All The Shot-Blockers Gone?

.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The demise of the true center is typically lamented by the dearth of low-post skill on offense, but we can’t ignore its effects at the other end, too.

You know what they say about every action: there is an equal and opposite reaction. Among other things, the evolution of the face-up, jump-shooting “big”, and the age of the drive-and-kick 3-pointer have taken a toll on the art of shot-blocking. With seemingly fewer one-on-one, low-post defensive opportunities there is an equally diminishing chance to deliver an opposite reaction.

There are tremendous shot blockers in the league. Thunder power forward/center Serge Ibaka will attempt to become the first player to lead the league in shot blocking three consecutive seasons and average at least 3.0 bpg in three straight seasons since Marcus Camby did it from 2006-08. Ibaka’s 3.65 bpg in 2011-12 was the highest since Alonzo Mourning‘s 3.7 in 1999-2000.

Bucks rim protector Larry Sanders could cross the 3.0 barrier. Indiana’s young, old-school center Roy Hibbert made a significant jump last season to 2.61 bpg, fourth in the league, from 1.97. A healthy and happy Dwight Howard could surge to 3.0 for the first time in his career.

Still, today’s drooping block numbers are eye-popping when compared to prior decades. Blocks weren’t recorded as an official statistic until the 1973-74 season. That season, five players averaged at least 3.0 bpg, led by Elmore Smith (4.8 bpg), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3.5), Bob McAdoo (3.3), Bob Lanier (3.0) and Elvin Hayes (3.0). In the seven officially recorded seasons in the 1970s, two players averaged at least 3.0 bpg in a season five times.

In the ’80s, it was seven of 10 seasons, and at least three players averaged at least 3.0 bpg four times. Utah’s 7-foot-4 center Mark Eaton still holds the single-season record of 5.56 bpg in 1984-85. The ’90s — with shot-swatters such as David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Shawn Bradley, Theo Ratliff, Shaquille O’Neal and Mourning — marked the salad days of shot-blocking.

Every season during the physical, hold-and-grab ’90s saw at least two players average at least 3.0 bpg. Eight times at least three players recorded 3.0 bpg or more. Four times the season leader topped 4.0 bpg, and two more times the leader finished at 3.9 bpg.

Those numbers haven’t been sniffed. Since the close of the ’90s, only four times in the last 13 seasons have at least two players finished a season averaging at least 3.0 bpg  (and largely credit Ben Wallace and Ratliff early in the 2000s for that). It hasn’t happened since 2005-06 when Camby (3.29) and long-armed small forward Andrei Kirilenko (3.19) finished one and two, respectively.

The lowest league-leading shot-block averages have all come since the turn of the century, and two of the three lowest have been posted in the past five seasons. Andrew Bogut‘s 2.58 bpg in 2010-11 is the lowest season leader of all-time. Howard’s 2.78 bpg the season before is the second-lowest and his 2.92 bpg to lead the league in 2008-09 is better than only the 2.8 bpg put up in 2000-01 by Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and Bradley.

Could 2013-14 be the season we see one, two or even more players join Ibaka in 3.0 territory? Sanders is trending that way and Hibbert and Howard are candidates, but it’s hard to envision Tim Duncan surpassing last season’s career-high of 2.65 bpg.

Maybe 3.0 is a stretch for most. Only five players averaged between 2.45 bpg and Ibaka’s 3.03 last season.

Here are my five players that could vault into this season’s top-5 (but may not necessarily get to 3.0):

1. Derrick Favors, Jazz: The 6-foot-10 power forward is going to see his minutes jump as he moves into the starting lineup with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap gone. Favors averaged 1.7 bpg in 23.2 mpg off the bench last season. He’ll go up against more elite front-line players this season, but it’s not a reach to suggest he could average 2.5 bpg.

2. JaVale McGee, Nuggets: With Washington in 2010-11, he finished second in the league at 2.44 bpg, but his minutes dropped dramatically the past two seasons in Denver under George Karl. The 7-footer should be in for quite a change with Brian Shaw taking over for Karl and ownership wanting to see McGee earn his money on the floor. More minutes are in his future. Are more blocks?

3. Brook Lopez, Nets: Last season was the first of his young career to average more than 2.0 bpg (2.1) and that number could be on the rise this season playing next to Kevin Garnett. If KG doesn’t teach Lopez a thing or two about defending the post, he might just frighten the 7-footer into protecting the rim at all costs.

4. DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: Potential is running thin for this 6-foot-11 center from Texas A&M. Entering his sixth season, it’s time to mature and play big in the middle for a team that will need it to contend for the West crown. He took a step back last season and under Doc Rivers he’ll need to prove he’s worthy of more minutes. He can do that by swatting basketballs.

5. Anthony Davis, Pelicans: The youngster just looks like a shot-blocker with those long arms and all. He’ll head into his second season healthy, accustomed to the NBA game, smarter and stronger. He’s got great natural instinct, athleticism and a desire to dominate defensively. During his one season at Kentucky, he averaged 4.7 bpg. The 20-year-old blocked 112 shots in 64 games as a rookie. Expect more.

Summer Dreaming: Executive Of The Year

x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropping Dimes Again A Priority For D-Will

.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Trivia time: Which point guard, Jason Kidd or Deron Williams, has finished more seasons with a double-digit assist average?

Answer: It’s not the NBA’s No. 2 all-time assists leader. Kidd finished his 19-year career with three (1999, 2000 and ’08). Williams, after eight seasons, already has four, all of which came from 2008-11. Kidd, now Williams’ coach with the Brooklyn Nets, wants to make it five.

“I’m going to push him. I want the best for him,” Kidd told the New York Daily News on Sunday after signing autographs at the Nets’ merchandise store in Coney Island. “When we sit down and talk about goals, team goals and also individual goals, I’m going to push him and I want to get him back to double-digit assists.”

Williams’ pace faltered the last two seasons with various impediments to blame, from former coach Avery Johnson‘s isolation-heavy offense (ask Kidd, who played under Johnson in Dallas, about that) to the extra weight and injury woes the three-time All-Star carried into last season. The Nets extracted Johnson from the equation early on last season, and Williams managed to get healthy and shed some pounds during his free time over All-Star weekend. He was a far more productive player in the second half of the season.

The powerful, 6-foot-3, 209-pound Williams averaged 7.7 apg last season, his lowest mark since his rookie year. That came after averaging 8.7 apg in his first full season (albeit a lockout-shortened one) with the Nets.

But the Nets of the last two seasons are hardly the ones Williams, 29, will lead into a 2013-14 campaign full of lofty expectations. An roster-wide talent upgrade should naturally increase Williams’ assist total, perhaps even allowing him to rival 2008-09 when he averaged 10.7 apg and finished second in the league behind Chris Paul (11.0). Since then, D-Will has steadily moved down the ladder when ranking the top playmakers at point guard.

The blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics that delivered Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry (coupled with the free-agent acquisition of Andrei Kirilenko), significantly enhances the Williams’ scoring options and should dramatically increase the team’s 3-point shooting.

The Nets ranked 17th in scoring (96.9 ppg), 13th in overall shooting percentage (45.0 percent) and 17th in 3-point shooting (35.7 percent). Brooklyn’s starting forwards consisted of a declining Gerald Wallace (39.7 field-goal percentage, 28.2 percent from 3-point range) and garbage man Reggie Evans (47.9 percent but on just 3.3 shot attempts per game). Kris Humphries, who started 21 games, shot 44.8 percent from the floor.

Evans can now move to a more sensible role off the bench. Wallace and Humphries are replaced by Pierce, who shot just 43.6 percent from the field last season but a solid 38.0 percent from 3-point range, and Garnett, who hit roughly half of his shot attempts last season (49.6 percent). Add those two to shooting guard Joe Johnson (37.5 percent from beyond the arc) and the offensively gifted 7-footer Brook Lopez (52.1 percent), and Williams should be operating in the halfcourt with a well-spaced floor. It should make double-teaming by opposing defenses both difficult and dangerous.

Terry didn’t have an inspiring first season with the Celtics after a prosperous career in Dallas, but he make 37.2 percent of his 3-pointers, right at his career average (37.9 percent). Kirilenko, a crafty worker without the ball, shot 50.7 percent last season with Minnesota.

Kidd, who fashioned 11 seasons averaging at least 9.0 apg, is promising an up-tempo offense that should benefit Williams’ game. And now with more scorers as targets for Williams, who is on pace to join the 10,000 assist club ( John Stockton, Kidd, Mark Jackson, Steve Nash and Magic Johnson) if he plays another eight seasons, the opportunity is there for him to get back to being a double-digit dime machine.

Incoming scorers
(from 2012-13)
Outgoing scorers
(from 2012-13)
Player PPG FG% 3pt FG%
Player PPG FG% 3pt FG%
Paul Pierce 18.6 43.6 38.0 Gerald Wallace 7.7 39.7 28.2
Kevin Garnett 14.8 49.6 12.5 Kris Humphries 5.8 44.8 0
Jason Terry 10.1 43.4 37.2 Keith Bogans 4.2 38.0 34.3
Andrei Kirilenko 12.4 50.7 29.2 Jerry Stackhouse 4.9 38.4 33.7
Shaun Livingston 6.3 48.0 0 MarShon Brooks 5.4 46.3 27.3

Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Leftovers Make A Free-Agent Dish?

HANG TIME, Texas – OK, let’s say it’s the middle of August, we just won the entire Powerball lottery and, in a grand farewell gesture, outgoing commissioner David Stern says he’ll let us buy a new NBA franchise.

We can play our home games on Maui or Mars. We can have our team wear those tight-fitting jerseys with sleeves, just like the Golden State Warriors or even sprint up and down the court wearing Capri pants, if we choose.

There’s just one catch. The only players available to fill out our roster are those still dangling on the list of unsigned free agents. Now that Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala, Andrei Kirilenko and even Greg Oden are long gone, is it too late to put together a respectable team? Or even one that could outperform the infamous 9-73 record of the 1972-73 Sixers or the 7-59 mark of the 2011-12 Bobcats?

So for all those last-minute bargain hunters who don’t start their holiday shopping until Christmas Eve, here are the Leftovers:

Antawn Jamison, Forward – The 37-year-old veteran is coming out of the lost season with the Lakers where he played 21.5 minutes per game and showed that he can still shoot enough from the wings to score in double figures. After 15 years in the league, he’s still a reliable enough producer and ranks higher in efficiency rating than even two regular members of the starting lineup for the two-time champion Heat (Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier). The Leftovers will have to put points on the board somehow.

Lamar Odom, Forward – You’ve got to have faith that Odom hasn’t simply lost the spark and lost interest after his past two dismal years. Following the horrible flameout in Dallas, last season was supposed to be a shot at redemption as a key role player and solid influence in the locker room with the Clippers. Odom was particularly ineffective in the first-round playoff loss to Memphis. The birth certificate says he won’t turn 34 until the start of next season, but the odometer has racked up more miles than an old pickup truck. The Leftovers will keep believing that you don’t simply forget how to pass, rebound and do the little things and give Odom another chance.

Cole Aldrich, Center – After being taken with the 11th pick by New Orleans in 2010 and traded to OKC on draft night, Aldrich has never been able to establish himself as anything more than a space eater at the end of the bench for the Thunder, Rockets and most recently the Kings. Aldrich finally got onto the floor for 15 games in Sacramento at the end of last season and pulled down a respectable four rebounds in 11 minutes of playing time per night. He’s the epitome of the old adage: “You can’t teach height.” That’s why he’ll keep getting chances and the Leftovers are hoping that this is the one that will pay off.

Mikael Pietrus, Guard – We’re going to plug the swingman into our lineup in the backcourt and hope to ride that streaky outside shooting and penchant for playing in-your-face defense for production at both ends of the court. He played just 19 games last season with the Raptors before tendinitis in his knee forced him to the sidelines for good in the middle of March. But he’s too young (31), too athletic, too active, too disruptive on defense and potentially still too good not to have him on our side.

Sebastian Telfair, Guard – In a league where it has become increasingly critical to have an elite level point guard running the offense, you don’t simply find them in the discount bin. There’s a reason why the Clippers have gone from pretender to contender and his name is Chris Paul. From a free agent list that ranges from 35-year-old Jamaal Tinsley to 25-year-old Rodrigue Beaubois, we’ll split the difference and take the 28-year-old Telfair. He’s never lived up to the advance hype because though he’s quick and small, he can’t finish at the rim and has only recently become dependable as a mid-range shooter. His size hurts on defense, but he puts out the effort and when you’re a Leftover that’s good enough.

Clips, Nets Pressure Haughty Neighbors

h

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In every metropolis boasting a pair of pro teams in the same sport exists an indisputable historical hierarchy.

The Yankees rule the Mets; the Giants squash the A’s; the White Sox won a World Series in the past century, yet the Cubs own Chicago; and Los Angeles will bleed Dodger Blue no matter what name the Angels give themselves. The Jets fall in line behind the Giants and, of course, the Nets bow to the Knicks while the Clippers kiss all those Lakers’ rings.

“They have a great chance to compete for a title,” Knicks Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith, speaking of the intruding Brooklyn Nets, told reporters at his charity golf event. “But we’re still the marquee team in New York.”

True, and as mentioned above, indisputable.

But… on both coasts, the NBA’s two most valuable franchises are being pressured like never before by their once-laughingstock, suddenly serious neighbors. The billion-dollar Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets’ black-and-white color scheme have proven popular in the borough, while owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s deep pockets [which could shell out upwards of $70 million in luxury tax alone after next season and could pose significant cap/roster issues down the road] have delivered a team that, on paper, looks to have surpassed the Knicks as title contenders.

One of the Nets’ newest members said Thursday it’s time for the apple to turn in NYC.

“Everybody knows how much I disliked the Knicks when I was with the Celtics, but I think it’s grown to another level,” Paul Pierce told ESPN. “I think it’s time for the Nets to start running this city.”

That’s not going to happen, but there’s no doubt the spotlight will shine brighter than ever on the Nets with Pierce and Kevin Garnett joining Deron Williams, as well as in L.A. where notoriously cheap owner Donald Sterling has seen the light in his advanced age, and where there’s now a three-to-one superstar ratio favoring the Clippers [Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, coach Doc Rivers] over the Lakers [Kobe Bryant].

If the upstart Nets and Clippers get off to hot starts and the Knicks and Lakers don’t, the establishment will be subject to a changing-of-the-guard, 24/7 news-cycle grilling.

In key measurements of popularity and franchise value, the Nets and Clippers are gaining ground on, if not stealing fans and dollars from, their virtually impenetrable big brothers. In 2012-13 merchandise sales, the Nets, who have long languished in this department, spiked to No. 4 [with help from hipsters taking to the color scheme] behind the Knicks, Lakers and Heat.

The Clippers checked in at No. 8 for a second consecutive season, not coincidentally the two seasons with Paul on board. And it was the Clippers, not the Lakers, joining the Heat as the only two teams with two players [Paul, 9th, and Griffin, 10th] ranked in the top 10 for jersey sales.

Attendance has jumped for both clubs, too. The Nets ranked 30th, 28th and 30th during their final three seasons in New Jersey, drawing barely more than a half-million fans in 2009-10. They ranked 13th last season, their first in Brooklyn, attracting more than 704,000 fans to Barclays [capacity 17,732], nearly 95 percent capacity, compared to the 780,353 that caught the Knicks at typically sold-out MSG [capacity 19,033].

After the Nets acquired Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry in the stunning trade with the Boston Celtics and signed Andrei Kirilenko, the club announced almost a month ago it had sold more than $3 million in new full season tickets, bringing it close to burning through its allotment.

At Staples Center, where 16 Lakers championship banners hang, the Clippers officially outdrew their co-tenant in each of the last two seasons, actually playing to more than 100 percent capacity. Capacity at a Clippers game [19,060] is slightly more than a Lakers game [18,997] and the Clippers benefit from two home against the Lakers [both drew more than capacity -- 20,179 and 19,768, while both games with the Lakers home games drew the usual Lakers sellout of 18,997].

All in all, the Clippers increased their total attendance by more than 118,000 from 2009-10 and by more than 50,000 from 2010-11, the season before Paul arrived.

It makes for a more valuable franchise. According to Forbes’ January valuation report, the Lakers and Knicks became the NBA’s first two billion-dollar franchises last year with New York valued at $1.1 billion and Brooklyn a close second at $1 billion.

The previously depressed Nets and Clippers made headway. Spiked by the move to Brooklyn, the Nets came in at No. 9, a 48 percent change from the previous year [when it ranked No. 14]. Forbes estimated the Nets’ value jumped from $357 million to $530 million. The Clips’ value increased from $324 million [No. 20] to $430 million [No. 18], a 33 percent change.

While all this won’t threaten the Knicks’ and Lakers’ air-tight thrones, for two long-wallowing and overshadowed franchises, these are rare power moves in a promising, and profitable, direction.

Summer Dreaming: Sixth Man of Year

.

HANG TIME, Texas — Nothing says it’s summer like an ice cream cone (mint chocolate chip, if you’re buying) on one of those blazing afternoons where it’s so hot that your tongue has to lick into overdrive to keep the tasty treat from running all the way down your arm.

That’s kind of the role of the sixth man in basketball, to pop off the bench and get right to work cleaning up the mess. As the dog days of August continue, we’ll leap ahead once more in our summer fantasy with my five picks for the 2013-14 Sixth Man of Year.

Andrei Kirilenko, Nets He’s 32 years old and it’s been a while since he was the Jazz’s do-it-all player known as “AK-47.” Durability issues dot his past couple of NBA seasons — he spent 2011-12 with CSKA Moscow — but with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in Brooklyn now, Kirilenko won’t be expected to rack up big minutes. That will leave him free to pass, cut and get plenty of easy baskets from Deron Williams on offense and to cut off the angles, hit the boards and block a couple of shots per game on defense. He’ll accept his role and make the most of it. He left $10 million on the table in Minnesota for a chance to win big in Brooklyn and could be a key ingredient if the Nets’ big offseason gamble is going to pay off.

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans The career path is not supposed to go from winning Rookie of the Year to having your scoring average decline in each of the next three seasons. But after languishing in Sacramento, much of it his own fault, Evans is getting a chance to shine in New Orleans. Yes, the backcourt is crowded with ball handling scorers. All-Star Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon are likely to start, which could work to Evans’ benefit by making him the main offensive option off the bench. At 6-foot-6, he didn’t like playing small forward with the Kings, even though it could be required in a pinch for the undersized Pelicans. Evans says he’s ready and willing to embrace the sixth man role and with his dynamic talent, he could really shine.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers With a healthy Danny Granger returning to the lineup, it’s quite possible that the Pacers could ask Stephenson to accept a bench role. Depending how the mercurial one accepts it, Indiana could take a big step toward closing the gap with the Heat by having a rotation of wing players that can match up with anybody. There are so many different specific parts of Stephenson’s game that you can pick apart, but his overall energy and attitude played a big part in the Pacers getting to the Eastern Conference finals and pushing Miami to a seventh game. He and Granger will both be free agents in 2014, so this gives Stephenson a chance to show that he’s the one the Pacers should keep.

Jarrett Jack, Cavaliers He makes the move from a young Warriors team that was trying to break into the Western Conference power structure to the same kind of young, hungry and talented bunch in the Eastern Conference. This is certainly Kyrie Irving’s team, — at least until LeBron comes back — but the future MVP candidate needs a backup and Jack is not just capable, but explosive. He was third in voting for the award last season (behind J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford) and is likely to pick right up in Cleveland from where he left off in Golden State. Remember, last season he became the first bench player to score 30 and deal 10 assists in a game since Magic Johnson in 1996. Fast company.

Jeremy Lamb, Thunder The deck is cleared and the stage is set. The ball will come to him for open shots and Lamb has to knock them down. Simple, huh? Well, the game is always going to be easier when a couple of your teammates are named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The second-year man who saw little playing time outside of Tulsa in the NBA D-League last season is no James Harden coming off the bench at this point. But he should step into the void left by Kevin Martin’s departure and get plenty of opportunities to make defenses pay. He’s a long shot in his first year with significant playing time, but is worth keeping an eye on for the future and will likely have played a big role if OKC makes a run for best record in the league.

PREVIOUSLY: Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Conspiracy Theories Follow Nets

It came up again, not surprisingly, Thursday as Andrei Kirilenko was officially introduced as a member of the Nets, complete with the two-year free-agent deal that has become the stuff of international intrigue.

Talks of a conspiracy theory was an easy jump to make the instant Russian Kirilenko signed with the Nets, owned by Russian Mikhail Prokhorov, at a massive pay cut. AK-47 opted out of his 2013-14 Timberwolves contract worth $10 million for $3.1 million in Brooklyn, plus a second season at a player option. It was actually easy long before this, the way the NBA had no real chance to follow the money in the former Soviet Union. The natural connection with Kirilenko brought it to the forefront, but truthfully, there likely would have been concerns about secret deals with a non-Russian player at some point.

It was so easy that several executives – anonymously, of course – made accusations without evidence, at least evidence they would be keeping to themselves.

That’s when it became a problem. Speculation from media and fans is one thing, but being called a cheat by opponents is another. But there they were, as originally detailed by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

“Let’s see if the league has any credibility,” one owner said. “It’s not about stopping it. It’s about punishing them if they’re doing it.”

“There should be a probe,” an Eastern Conference GM added. “How obvious is it?”

How convenient to be able to accuse someone of the serious charge of circumventing the salary cap without having to show your face. Or hand over evidence.

What I would give to be in their office the day another team drops the same insinuation on them.

History has shown that assumptions are a bad idea and that owners from the United States are perfectly capable of breaking rules. But Kirilenko faced the insinuation Thursday in a conference call with reporters, saying, as detailed by Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“I can’t do anything with what people think. I’m coming from the facts,” said Kirilenko. “I can’t change it. I can’t control it…. Those type of rumors I can’t control. And I guess it comes from the history because of the Russian KGB. It makes it a little funny. What can I do?”

Pierce Ready To Embrace A New Reality

a

a
BROOKLYN, N.Y. –
It’s unclear which idea is easier to believe: A tornado of sharks or Paul Pierce playing for the Brooklyn Nets. The former (“Sharknado”)was just a terrifically bad TV movie, while the latter became one step closer to reality on Thursday as the Nets introduced Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry on the floor of the Barclays Center.

We forget that it was just three years ago that the New Jersey Nets completed one of the worst seasons in NBA history and that the following season, they were starting Travis Outlaw at small forward. Since then, general manager Billy King has turned Devin Harris into Deron Williams, Courtney Lee into Joe Johnson, Outlaw into Pierce, and Kris Humphries into Garnett, all while keeping a young and talented All-Star center in Brook Lopez.

And it’s not like this new team is only five deep. They should have one of the better second units in the league with Terry, Andrei Kirilenko and Andray Blatche also in the fold. And with franchise hero Jason Kidd taking over as coach, Nets fans might feel the need to pinch themselves.

Pierce looked like he needed to do the same. After 15 years with the Boston Celtics, the idea of playing for another franchise was not easy to swallow. And it was clearly written on his face as he sat on that dais that he wasn’t 100 percent ready to start repping Brooklyn. As evidenced by the amount of Boston media that made the trip down, this day was almost as much about the end of an era in Boston it was about the superteam that Nets have put together.

But it was Pierce who sold Garnett – over a 90-minute phone call – on the idea making this change. He knew where the Celtics were heading when they were discussing Doc Rivers‘ departure earlier in the summer and he knew that he’d be making  a big adjustment whether he stayed in Boston or not.

“You sort of kind of felt it coming,” Pierce said. “You figured if Doc was going to be leaving, you figured that was going to be the end of an era of me, Kevin and [Rajon] Rondo together.”

And though he still clearly needs some time to get used to his new reality, Pierce said Thursday that he’d rather be winning in Brooklyn than rebuilding in Boston.

“When you get that taste of success, you get that good meal or a taste of something good, you don’t want to go backwards,” he said. “That’s how I felt. I think Doc felt the same way. Kevin felt the same way. And that’s why all of us put ourselves in these situations where we can try to win.”

So here they are. Two guys that have bled green for the last six years wearing the black and white of a franchise that has seemingly reinvented itself twice in the last 13 months. And if you had any doubts that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov wasn’t afraid to spend money, realize that he just flew across the world in his Gulfstream to show up late for a 90-minute press conference.

But even Prokhorov knows that it takes more than a willingness to pay $80 million in luxury tax to win a championship.

“In the NBA, money, it’s important,” he said. “But you can’t buy a champ only spending money. The most important is to put pieces together and to create championship contender.”

The next step is getting Brooklyn’s Big 8 together on the floor. Right now, they’re a great team on paper. But so were the Lakers last season. Garnett and Pierce will be 37 and 36 years old respectively when the season starts, and LeBron James still resides in Miami.

For the Nets to challenge the Heat this season, they will need to stay healthy, play defense and develop chemistry. Pierce and Garnett did just that in Boston six years ago. But though they came a few minutes away from another championship in 2010, they’re still seeking a second ring.

“I felt like the difference in the years we spent in Boston when we won vs. when we didn’t,” Garnett said, “was just how we dealt with each other and how we communicated with each other.

“That’s going to be the biggest question mark for this team, how well are we able to jell and how quickly are we able to jell.”

The good news is that Pierce and Garnett bring six years of chemistry with them, and having a partner in this transition was critical for both of them. Though leaving Boston was difficult, they know that they have the potential to win big in Brooklyn. They wouldn’t have come if Williams, Johnson and Lopez weren’t already here.

It’s just a shame that we have to wait more than three months to see how all of this will work out.

“I’m here to try to create some kind of legacy here in Brooklyn,” Pierce said. “It’s sinking in and I’m liking what I feel right now.”
a