Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Bynum’

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 28


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clips set to add Granger | Playoff run won’t affect ‘Melo’s decision | OKC’s Brooks shakes off latest stats talk | Bynum plays 3-on-3 at practice

No. 1: Clips reportedly set to add Granger; where do other players fit best? — Late last night, news broke that recently waived Sixers forward Danny Granger was set to sign with the L.A. Clippers for the stretch run of the season and the playoffs. Our Sekou Smith has more on that report and also chimes in with some possible destinations for other name free-agents like Jimmer Fredette, Caron Butler and Metta World Peace.

Phase 2 is the buyout market, when teams lock up veteran help at an area of need when teams start purging their rosters of players that were moved last week or veterans on lottery-bound teams in search of work with a contender. And that means we switch our focus from superstars who were rumored to be traded (yes, you Rajon Rondo and Pau Gasol) to those players who were actually moved or probably should have been (guys like Danny Granger and Caron Butler, headliners in the buyout market).

Now it’s just a matter of matching the right player with the right team …

The race for Butler’s services has turned into a battle between two teams that could very well end up battling for the ultimate prize this season. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, are the leaders for Butler. They both have a need for a quality veteran to help work on the perimeter. Butler’s career began in Miami and he has institutional knowledge of how to operate in the Heat’s system. He could slide right into the mix with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and crew and fit in well. But the chance for more meaningful minutes might actually come with the Thunder, where Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could use another wise vet with a championship ring (Butler won his with Dallas) to help with some of the heavy lifting.

The rumblings of a Fredette move to the Bulls started early Thursday, courtesy of a report from ESPN’s Marc Stein. It would be an odd marriage considering the Bulls’ defensive-minded focus and Fredette’s allergy to anything defensive during his time with the Sacramento Kings. But if Fredette wants to continue his playing career in the NBA and not abroad, proving himself as a contributor and key component for a rugged playoff outfit coached by Tom Thibodeau would do wonders for his cause.

The Bulls need the scoring help, particularly on the perimeter and from a shooter with Jimmer’s range. And he’ll get a chance to learn the fine art of true team defense playing for a coach and a team, led by All-Star center and defensive backbone Joakim Noah, that could very well save the No. 10 pick from the 2011 Draft.

World Peace has nine NBA lives. Who’d have thunk it a decade ago when his career was hanging in the balance? This is admittedly more of a guilty pleasure exercise for us than it is a necessity for the Spurs, but the potential World Peace and Gregg Popovich chemistry experiment is one that would keep social scientists up at night trying to figure out how it works. Metta proved during his run with the Lakers that he was capable of folding himself into the fabric of a championship outfit. He could do it again with the Spurs and Pop, who has made an art form of integrating veteran role players into the right spot in the rotation.

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No. 2: Making playoffs won’t be enough to sway Anthony’s decision — Give the New York Knicks some credit for their performance last night against the Miami Heat. Although they ultimately were routed by Miami 108-82, New York kept the game close through three quarters behind a 29-point night from Carmelo Anthony. But Knicks fans shouldn’t hold out hope that a miraculous run to the playoffs is going to affect Anthony’s decision to re-sign (or not) with the team this summer. Al Iannazzone of Newsday has more on ‘Melo and the Knick superstar’s thoughts on how the postseason will factor into his future:

Although Carmelo Anthony said he supports Raymond Felton, Felton’s arrest was just another low point in a season that could affect whether the superstar forward re-signs with the Knicks this summer.

“A lot of things are going to be thought about when that time comes,” Anthony said before the Knicks faced the Heat Thursday night. “Off the court, on the court, just a lot of things are going to have to be put all on the table.”

The Knicks’ blowout loss to the Heat dropped them to 21-37 and 51/2 games out of the last playoff spot in the East.

But just making the postseason — and the way the Knicks have been playing, that is a long shot — might not be enough to keep Anthony, who said, “Everything that can go wrong for us is going wrong.”

Anthony has said he wants to meet with Knicks officials after the season and see what their plan is about building a team that can consistently contend.

“I don’t think about it like that, that I want to make the playoffs before I make that decision,” Anthony said. “That decision is going to happen regardless. That time is going to come. Me making the playoffs is something that I want to do, something that I never experienced before, not making the playoffs. That’s a different motivation.

“Coming into this season, we felt like we could make the playoffs and we could do something. Unfortunately, we’re in this situation we’re in right now, fighting for our lives, fighting for a playoff spot. But us making the playoffs and then that decision don’t even have anything to do with it.”

After scoring 44 points Tuesday in a loss to the Mavericks, Anthony said, “You kind of ask yourself is it worth it?”

He was referring to how much he is scoring as the Knicks continue to find ways to lose. He had 42, 44, 35 and 44 in the four games before last night and the Knicks lost three of them.

“He’s been so solid this season for our ballclub and I don’t think that’s going to ever change, regardless who’s around him and where he plays,” Mike Woodson said. “I just wish our season would have been better.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James put on a scoring display in Miami

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No. 3: Brooks not worked up over OKC’s low shot-contesting rate — As our own John Schuhmann pointed out in a great post on this very blog the other day, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the worst team in the league when it comes to opposing foes’ jump shots. The post goes on to point out that despite that flaw, the Thunder are still a great defensive team and that shoring up that one aspect of things would make them even better. Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks responded to the post in a sense and as Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman notes, Brooks isn’t too worried about how well — or poorly — his team contests shots:

According to the new SportVu data, OKC ranks dead last in the NBA at contesting opposing jumpshots.

A contested jumper, according to NBA.com, is defined by a shot taken at least 10 feet away from the hoop in which a defender is within at least four feet of the shooter.

Entering Wednesday, OKC only contested 23.8 percent of such shots. The league average is 30.9.

“We’ve been one of the better defensive teams the last three years,” Scott Brooks said, brushing off the number a bit. “… I do focus exclusively on defensive field goal percentage and last I checked a couple games ago, we were second in the league.”

Entering Wednesday, the Thunder was tied for second in the league in that category, allowing only 43 percent shooting. And in many other defensive metrics, the Thunder ranks near the top.

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No. 4: Bynum plays 3-on-3 in Pacers practice — With Indiana’s recent acquisition of Evan Turner at the trade deadline drawing the latest buzz, the notable player the Pacers acquired a few weeks earlier — ex-Cavs center Andrew Bynum — has had time to fly under the radar a bit. Bynum is still mending from various knee injuries and has been slowly becoming more and more active at team practices, notes David Woods of the Indianapolis Star:

Andrew Bynum practiced three-on-three Thursday, and coach Frank Vogel said he was optimistic the 7-foot center would be ready to play soon. Soon doesn’t mean a week from now, the coach said.

“The goal is to get him to the point where he’s able to play every night,” Vogel said. “We don’t want him to play one game and sit three games.”

Bynum signed with the Pacers as a free agent Feb. 1. Vogel has said a priority is improving the condition of Bynum, who missed the entire 2012-13 season with knee injuries and last played Dec. 26 for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“We know what we can expect from him when he’s healthy and in shape. He’s one of the best centers in the NBA,” Vogel said. “We’ve seen flashes of that in practice that he’s shown here.”

Pacers.com writer Mark Montieth, in a recent mailbag offering on the website, has his view on when Bynum might hit the court:

Q. Does anybody know when Andrew Bynum is expected to play? – Matt

A. If they do, they aren’t saying. Bynum is practicing with the team, and has begun to participate in some of the “live” or contact portions of it. Coach Frank Vogel takes a conservative view, saying it might be a few more weeks before Bynum plays in a game, while Bynum talks as if it won’t be that long.

The training staff will do its best to get him healthy and in shape before then. He still would have at least a month of regular season games to get into a rhythm.

It’s interesting, though, that Ian Mahinmi is playing so well recently. Suddenly, the need for a backup center seems less pressing. But if the Pacers have three capable centers heading into the playoffs, they’ll be residing in the lap of luxury. It would be kind of like owning three models of a Bentley. The longest three.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Veteran Bobcats guard Ben Gordon is likely to be bought out soon, but there has been a snag in the process … The Nuggets’ locker room was apparently like a library after Denver was routed by Brooklyn at home last night … Speaking of the Nets-Nuggets game, ICYMI, Nets center Jason Collins scored his first bucket since his return and, after the game, met with the parents of Matthew Shepard and gave them his jersey … By beating the Raptors in triple-OT last night, the Wizards have already passed their win total from last season

ICYMI of The Night: Mask or no mask, LeBron James is a force to be reckoned with as he drives the lane


VIDEO: LeBron James drives hard down the lane for a power jam vs. the Knicks

‘Indiana Pacers 2.0′ Begins Now


VIDEO: Reggie Miller talks about the Pacers trading Danny Granger

MILWAUKEE – Once the shock subsided, the speculation began: If suddenly former Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger works out a buyout from the Philadelphia team to which he was dealt at the NBA trade deadline Thursday, he conceivably could sign with the Miami Heat. Or the San Antonio Spurs. Or the Dallas Mavericks or some other playoff team.

If that happened -– particularly if he landed in Miami –- the Pacers in their championship quest this spring could find themselves staring right at Granger, their longtime leading scorer and face of the franchise with a new, sizable chip on his shoulder. Imagine Granger hitting a game- or series-clinching shot that spoils Indiana’s marvelous season…

Gulp. The possibility is so ironic, so emotional, it’s almost unthinkable. It would be like Ray Allen in Game 6 – only against the Celtics.

Know, though, that the Pacers’ locker room is a gulp-free zone.

“We’re competing for a championship,” Pacers All-Star wing Paul George said. “Not a friendship.”

George considers Granger exactly that, a friend and former mentor. He ascended to Granger’s status and beyond while the veteran was waylaid by injuries for more than a year, and he hated to see him go in the deal for the 76ers’ Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. But friendships and relationships criss-cross this league in endless connections, via countless paths.

The chip that matters most to George, the one that could define his and the Pacers’ season, is the big one that comes only in June. The line to that is straight and true.

Said George: “It’s bigger than… Y’know, everything on the floor – I’ve got friends in the league and people I looked up to in the league – but when it comes to a ballgame, that’s where [our business] is.

“I think Larry [Bird, Pacers president] made the best move for this team. We all wish Danny could be here. But Larry knows basketball and if that’s the move Larry wanted to make, we’re all behind him. … We understand we’re ‘all in.’ “

People talk about chemistry and how tight the Pacers have been, circling their wagons first in an overlooked-and-underloved way that works so well for teams in flyover markets, then in the flatly stated goal of the postseason’s No. 1 seed for homecourt advantage. They’ve grown – up and together – the old-fashioned way, step-by-playoff-round-step the past three years.

They’d done it in spite of Granger’s setbacks, allowing him enough time to return and search for value he could bring off the bench. Only now he’s gone, Bird deciding that Turner’s livelier game offers more. Who’d know better than Bird that chasing championships isn’t for softies?

“Danny was one of the main reasons I came here,” power forward David West said. “So the idea that he’s not going to be around what we’re trying to do is a little tough to deal with. But it’s a part of the business. And if he happens to go to a team whether it’s in the West or the East, if he doesn’t stay in Philly and we’ve got to compete against Danny, then we just have to do it.”

Welcome to Pacers 2.0, a group that added pieces Thursday and, as it did, steeled its resolve. They might seem to have a lot of variables in play, too many given their impressive first half this season: a 9-6 record since Jan. 20, the Andrew Bynum experiment that’s just begun, the loss of Granger and the indoctrination of Turner and Allen.

But it gives them chores, a to-do list to take their minds off Miami in a tightened race for the East’s best record. With the promise of something special.

“Y’know, this is a starter-owned team, so there’s not variables in that regard. It’s just the parts that are around them,” coach Frank Vogel said. “I think there’s room to improve.”

Bynum practiced Friday briefly, after spending his All-Star break in Indianapolis working on his game and conditioning. There’s no penciled-in date for his game debut, but Vogel said the slack in his team’s schedule this week will mean more practice for the 7-foot center, adrift when he signed Feb. 1 after a spotty half season in Cleveland and a lost year with Philadelphia.

Evan and Allen didn’t join Indiana in time to face and beat the Bucks Saturday but are expected to play Tuesday against the Lakers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It will be on them, especially Turner, to shake off the cobwebs of Philadelphia’s 15-42 for a team with a mirror record and ambitions.

“He’s going to have to be able to adjust early and find his way,” said George, who went eight picks after No. 2 Turner in the 2010 Draft. “I think we’re going to do a great job of pulling him in and helping him along the process.

“He’s a good friend of mine, so I’ll be one of the first people to help him through this process. … In big games, he’s one of those guys who can impact it in so many ways. He guards on the other end, he has the ability to make shots and can get into the paint at will.”

Bird surely did his homework on Turner, a talent with spotty production in his first three-plus seasons who has been putting up numbers for a bad team. George knows him well. And West did a little reconnaissance, having played at Xavier for the same coach – Thad Matta – Turner had at Ohio State.

“We’ve got a little background on him,” West said. “I definitely talked to coach.”

Turner got a taste of the playoffs in his first two seasons. But he’s never had an opportunity like this one.

“That’s what I’m banking on,” West said. “Those guys have been in tough situations and they’re coming to a winning and strong basketball culture. Hopefully it helps them thrive and gives them some pride. I know Turner’s a competitor. He’s given us trouble when we’ve played against him in the past.

“Hopefully he knows the plan here is to play into June.”

Bird’s Famous Fire Drives Pacers’ Granger-Turner Trade


VIDEO: Get the latest on the Pacers-Sixers trade deadline deal.

All that Mt. Rushmore talk over All-Star Weekend, and the “No Vacancy” sign it flashed at so many of the NBA’s legendary players, might require some reconnoitering after all.

This Larry Bird, the one we got Thursday afternoon at the league’s trade deadline, is the one I’d want chiseled on my mountainside.

Anyone who has forgotten, and perhaps some tender fans who never knew, the razor’s edge that Bird brought to the court as a Hall of Fame player for Boston (and to the bench in his subsequent Coach of the Year work for Indiana) got a crash course in arguably the day’s most stunning move. Bird, the Pacers’ president, agreed to a deal sending veteran forward Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for wing Evan Turner, big LaVoy Allen and, according to various reports, a future second-round pick.

One of the East’s two big dogs, one of the four A-list contenders (as of Thursday morning) to win the championship this spring – and it wasn’t enough for Larry Joe Bird, cutthroat competitor. Despite Granger’s elder statesman status in their locker room, despite what seemed over 2013-14′s first half to be a pat hand, Bird felt the Pacers needed more. And just as with the addition a few weeks back of Cavs center — and potential slacker and even cancer – Andrew Bynum, in the name of winning and matchups, Bird didn’t blink – he fixed something that others didn’t realize was broke.

Broke, at least in terms of chasing down a Larry O’Brien trophy, anyway.

The sentiment of welcoming Granger back into the fold this season, after his knee injury a year ago and a calf issue in the fall? The payoff that he surely felt, again being part of the year-by-year march toward a title (even if his new bench role didn’t fit perfectly after those years of solid service as Indiana’s leading scorer)?  Set aside. Weighed and rejected.

Less than two months from now, the Pacers will hit the postseason ready to accept nothing less than a trip to the Finals. Approximately three months from now, most everyone expects to see them locked in a death match with the Miami Heat, the two-time defending champs through whom the challengers must go.

“I didn’t think Granger would last that long, especially after Paul George became who he was,” said LeBron James before his mathcup with Kevin Durant and the Thunder. “It wasn’t surprising at all. I think they got a very good player. Obviously Granger is a really good player. He hasn’t found his niche after coming back after the injury, but I think Evan Turner is a really good player for them.”

This move was about money, sure, as almost all NBA transactions are these days. But it also was about facing the Heat, with a younger, livelier wing (Turner) and an extra big (Allen) for Indiana’s showdown with James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest.

Granger is a superior 3-point shooter, in particular, with greater range and a quicker more efficient game overall, but he wasn’t thriving off the bench (35.9 FG%). His numbers per-36 minutes were 13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists, compared to Turner’s 17.9, 6.1 and 3.8. Defensively, Granger brings more bulk and willingness.

The 6-foot-7 Turner, a fourth-year draft mate of Indiana All-Star Paul George, has been logging heavy minutes for the Sixers, getting 15.4 shots per game and playing at a 13.3 PER level, compared to Granger’s 10.4. Turner can be a restricted free agent this summer – though not the Pacers’ top priority, with Lance Stephenson also hitting the market – and might not welcome a dip in playing time and scoring chances while trying to boost his price tag.

But the league knows what Turner can and can’t do for a team headed nowhere; he can open some eyes and maybe wallets by helping the Pacers, from both ends of the court, get where they want to go.

That’s what this season is all about for Indiana, that’s what Bird – the guy who often said he hates to lose more than he likes to win – is all about, too.

Bynum Joins Pacers, Passion Still TBD


VIDEO: Bynum meets the press in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS – Andrew Bynum mindlessly flipped a basketball from hand to hand as he spoke with reporters after his first shootaround as a member of the Indiana Pacers. Back and forth, back and forth, the sound of the ball slapping softly into his palms provided a backbeat to his words.

It served, too, as a metaphor for a casualness Bynum has brought to this season and the does-he-or-doesn’t-he concerns about his passion for the sport.

“People have their opinions,” Bynum said, keeping beat with the ball. “I don’t respond to it. I just go out and play.”

Sometimes, anyway. The 7-foot center, signed by Indiana last week as a backup big with low-risk, medium-reward possibility, has played 24 NBA games in the past 20 months. They all came with Cleveland through Dec. 26, after which Bynum was suspended for a team infraction and then traded in the deal that delivered Chicago’s Luol Deng to Cleveland. The Bulls cut Bynum to avoid the $6 million he would have been owed had he stayed, and his next destination was in play, but rather mildly so, until Pacers president Larry Bird met with him (and management ponied up a reported $1 million for what’s left of the season and postseason).

Much was said about Bynum’s desire, or lack thereof, to play in the NBA. The preps-to-pros lottery pick eight years ago was an All-Star in 2011-12, averaging 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds while shooting 55.8 percent. He was a valued contributor at age 21 to a Lakers title in 2009 and again in 2010.

Even though Bynum just once had played more than 65 games in a season, he was considered the centerpiece of the four-team trade that shuffled 12 players and six draft picks in August 2012. But he never played a lick for the 76ers, and things between Bynum and the Cavaliers, despite a reasonable contract and some highlights, turned sour. He averaged 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 20.0 minutes, shooting 41.9 percent. His true shooting percentage, after six years of 59.5 percent or better, was just 45 percent.

Now he’s in Indiana, joining a team that, at 38-10, had the NBA’s best record without him. Bynum’s task, frankly, seems to have something in common with the doctors with whom he’s become so familiar: First, do no harm.

“I think that’s good,” Bynum said after his orientation of light shooting and meet-and-greet with new teammates at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “Obviously when you have the staff they have here and the legend, Larry Bird, things run correctly. It’s a lot easier to fit in here and be positive when the entire atmosphere is already that way. Obviously there are some great locker-room leaders here, and that goes a long way.”

While the ambitions for Bynum are modest – back up Roy Hibbert and provide a little more scoring in the paint than defensive-minded Ian Mahinmi – key Pacers such as David West and Paul George have stressed the importance of Bynum blending with them, rather than the group accommodating him.

Signing him to keep him away from arch-rival Miami might be more legit than Bird lets on – “That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve heard,” Bird said – but the Pacers will brook no distractions or prima donnas.

George said he considers Bynum, assuming he’s healthy, to be an extension of Hibbert. The All-Star starter said he likes the move for Bynum’s sakes, as well as what it showed about Indiana’s front office.

“It’s real huge. I think both parties saw the positives out of this,” George said. “Him coming here, it was a chance for himself to be a part of something great here, get back into the flow of things basketball-wise. For us, it’s great to have a talent that huge come back and be a part of this team, and help us [try to] win a championship.”

Head coach Frank Vogel, who already has quelled Danny Granger‘s return-as-distraction worries, called his concerns about Bynum “very minor.” “We’ve got a strong culture here,” Vogel said. “We believe Andrew’s a good person, a good guy and a hard worker. And [we] think it’ll fit, think it’ll work.”

For Bynum, that means staying behind through All-Star Weekend to get into basketball shape while George, Hibbert, Vogel and the coaching staff all head to New Orleans. The big man said he had been “eating right” since being cut loose by Cleveland but didn’t sound as if he’d been a gym rat, or even in the gym at all.

Vogel said the timetable from there is vague. “Just put it at a few weeks,” the coach said. “We’ll come back from All-Star break and see how practices go over the next week or two after that before we start deciding if he’s ready. We want him to be comfortable.”

Motivated would be nice, too. The Pacers might be a better fit for Bynum because they’re accustomed to playing through Hibbert in ways that the Cavaliers struggled in their dalliance with a low-post big. But intangibles are going to play a part as well.

“We just talked about, that he is still hungry and he wants to work,” Vogel said of Bynum’s sales job on him. “And I believe that. He had a bad situation the last place he was at, and believe it will work here. I think we both need each other.”

Said Bynum: “The atmosphere over there [in Cleveland], it wasn’t one that just kind of promoted positive energy and wanting to come in and really … it was just tough, at the end of the day. There’s nothing really more to be said about it. They did everything they could for me. I went there I worked hard, got myself into shape. And that was a goal.”

The Pacers have their eyes on something way loftier than the Cavs. Bynum might not feel any urgency to make a market for himself this summer – he already has been paid more than $70 million in his career. But either he’ll help Indiana in the next few months or he’ll be moving again, employed thanks to someone else’s flirting with potential.

Flip, flop, back and forth, the basketball moved Friday, hand to hand.

Cavs Fire GM Chris Grant; Griffin Takes Over On Interim Basis

From NBA.com Staff Reports

The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the most busy and active teams in the 2013 offseason, signing free agents Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack to contracts as well as drafting former UNLV star Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall in the 2013 Draft. All those moves were supposed to help Cleveland reverse a three-seasons (and counting) playoff-less drought.

But, that hasn’t been the case for the Cavs and the man who oversaw many of those offseason moves, general manager Chris Grant, is reportedly out of a job. According to Yahoo!Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Grant has been fired after nearly four years on the job:

The team confirmed the reported move this afternoon and said that Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin will serve as acting GM. As well, team owner Dan Gilbert issued the following statement regarding Grant’s firing:

“I would like to thank Chris Grant for his eight and a half years of service with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the last three and a half as General Manager. Chris always conducted himself with class, integrity and was motivated by what he believed was right for the organization. We wish Chris and his family the best in the years to come.”

“My entire focus the past eight years has been on trying to build a team that can contend and win and provide Cleveland fans the success that they deserve,” said Grant. “I have a tremendous appreciation for the players that are here and the coaches that I have worked with, as well as our front office. I thank them for all of their dedication and commitment to the Cavaliers.”

Gilbert went on to address the current situation and the path ahead:

“This has been a very difficult period for the franchise. We have severely underperformed against expectations. Just as this is completely unacceptable to our loyal and passionate fan base, season ticket holders and corporate partners, it is also just as unacceptable to our ownership group. I can assure everyone who supports and cares about the Cleveland Cavaliers that we will continue to turn over every stone and explore every possible opportunity for improvement to shift the momentum of our franchise in the right direction. There is no one in our entire organization who is satisfied with our performance, and to say that we are disappointed is an understatement. We all know the great potential of our young talent, seasoned veterans, as well as our recent all-star addition. We believe a change in leadership was necessary to establish the best possible culture and environment for our entire team to flourish.

“There is no move, nor any amount of capital investment, we will not make if we believe it will improve our chances of competing and winning in this league for both the short and long term. The fans of this great city have invested too much time, money and effort for the kind of product we have recently delivered to them. This must change,” concluded Gilbert.

After last night’s loss to the short-handed L.A. Lakers, Cleveland is 12th in the Eastern Conference and 5 1/2 games behind Charlotte for the eighth and final playoff berth. Grant has been at his post as Cavs GM since June of 2010 and oversaw the team’s hiring of Byron Scott as coach in 2010 (as well as his firing after the 2012-13 season) and brought back Mike Brown as Cavaliers coach last summer.

ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst has more on the Cavs’ firing of Grant:

The team is mired in a disappointing season and a six-game losing streak that has dimmed playoff expectations that were set down before the season by team owner Dan Gilbert.

The 38-year-old GM just last week shouldered some of the blame for the Cavaliers’ poor season and addressed the team’s “unacceptable” lack of effort after a 1-4 homestand.

“We’re all accountable for it, including myself,” he said at the time. “It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing to our fans. The fans deserve better.”

Grant’s major moves since last summer have not worked including drafting Anthony Bennett with No. 1 overall pick, free agent signings Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum, and a recent trade for Luol Deng has failed to turn the team’s season around.

Grant was a driving force in re-hiring coach Mike Brown last year and the team has not responded to the change. Recently their lack of effort in games has brought Brown under fire as well. Wednesday the Cavs lost to a injury-depleted Los Angeles Lakers team that finished the game with only four healthy players.

The Cavs focused on the draft after losing LeBron James in free agency in 2010 and Grant worked to get six first round draft picks over the past three years. But other than Kyrie Irving, who was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, those picks have failed to turn the team around as they are on pace to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

Grant, who was named general manager in 2010, had one season left on his contract.

Under Grant’s watch, Cleveland has gone 80-199.

Pacers Go From Hunter To Hunted




VIDEO: The Pacers overcome a long-standing issue of winning in Atlanta

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The first 41 games of any NBA season serve as simply the warm up, an appetizer if you will, for a team with legitimate championship aspirations. A seasoned crew like the Indiana Pacers know as much and prepare accordingly.

A tone is set, goals are started and the heavy lifting begins.

For the Indiana Pacers, switching the flip from those first 41 games to the next 41 and beyond requires another tweak to the system. Busting out of the gate in the first half of the regular season and setting a wicked pace shifts them over from the hunter’s side of the bracket to the hunted side.

They can continue to play with that collective chip on their shoulders and envision Eastern Conference finals scenarios against the Miami Heat all they want. But they also have to be prepared for a new reality: nearly every foe they face is taking that same approach against the Pacers themselves, who own both the East’s best record and the league’s best winning percentage.

Fatigue, mental or physical, is no longer an option.

A night off? Forget about it.

Now that the bar has been raised and set, the Pacers have to chase their own heightened expectations in addition to all of the other goals they’ve already set forth.

“We still haven’t played out best basketball and obviously we don’t want to play our best basketball right now,” Pacers forward and team leader David West said after Indana beat the Hawks Tuesday night at Philips Arena.

“We’re a motivated group and we’re able to adjust to whatever. Obviously, after All-Star break the games become that much more important. I think from our standpoint, we have enough guys and enough weapons in this room to handle whatever comes our way. Our bench is getting stronger. And we feel like whatever teams throw at us, we can handle it. But we have to be able to take some pressure off of [Pacers All-Star] Paul [George] and make sure he doesn’t feel like he has to do it all by himself.”

Aside from Lance Stephenson, who is having a true breakout season of his own and forcing coaches and opposing players to reconsider how they deal with him, no other Pacer but George has had to deal with more changing coverages and wrinkles being thrown at him.

The All-Star starter has blossomed into a legitimate MVP candidate. He’s also one of the league’s most difficult defensive matchups because of his ability to play basically all over the court on both ends. He’s seeing defensive schemes designed to stop him that he hasn’t in previous seasons as a result.

“That’s the best indication of what the postseason will be like,” George said. “We’re going to get teams that know everything we want to do and they’re going to be physical with us. I think it’s just great preparation.”

Dealing with the bumps and bruises, that daily grind, is a part of the process for coach Frank Vogel‘s team. It’s what Vogel has been preparing them for the past few seasons, the physical and emotional toll of being an elite bunch day after exhausting day of the season.

“That’s just a part of our DNA,” George said. “There’s no pill we take. It’s just how we approach the game and how we approach the process. We do everything from a toughness standpoint.”

The fabric of the Pacers’ locker room — and their collective chemistry — will no doubt be tested as they add Andrew Bynum to their mix. The former All-Star big man comes with a hefty amount of baggage, not that his new teammates seem at all worried.

When asked how long it would take for Bynum to realize he is no longer in Philadelphia, Cleveland or even Los Angeles, where he was allowed to do basically as he pleased, George didn’t hesitate.

“I think the second he walks into our locker room he’ll realize that,” George said. “This team is as close as it gets. I don’t know how it is in other places and with the other groups [of players] he’s been with. The biggest thing is he’s probably just used to winning. He came into this league at 18 or whatever and to a team that was always a dominant team. And I’m not downplaying any other program he’s been with, but I think it’ll be a great atmosphere for him because we’re a winning program and we’re so close.”

That’s another thing that is sure to be tested for the Pacers now that they are on the other side of that dividing line. There’s no telling what sort of adversity that they’ll have to face the rest of the way. They need only look at the road traveled three years ago by the Heat team they’re trying to dethrone.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of Miami’s crew began their time together with unreasonable expectations. They were certainly humbled a time or two along the way to their back-to-back titles. It takes a certain toughness to weather the tough times and keep your DNA, as George put it, intact.

“I think our group has matured over the last couple of years to the point where we are good with setting goals for ourselves and handling that,” West said. “We want to obtain the No. 1 seed in the East, there’s no secret there, and we’re approaching every single game like it’s the most important game of our season. Because that could be the one game of the season that costs us what we want. So we’re going to remain focused, keep pushing one another, keep pushing on the defensive end and if we do that, we feel like we can win as many games as remain on the schedule.”


VIDEO: David West dominates as the Pacers take down the Hawks

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns exploring deal for Gasol | Allen gets Super Bowl title, NBA next? | Heat not worried about Bynum in Indy | Rockets have dynamic duo in Beverley and Lin

No. 1: Suns exploring possibilities for Gasol deal – Since the Phoenix Suns have already shown us that they don’t have any idea how to tank properly, they might as well swing for the fences in the Western Conference playoff chase. And that means exploring all of the possibilities for a potential trade for Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol. They’ve been searching for some big man help since trading Marcin Gortat, and Gasol is apparently available. The Suns have the assets to make the deal happen, as reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

One option for the Suns, by virtue of their $5.6 million in available salary-cap space, is swapping the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor for Gasol, even though Okafor’s $14.5 million salary this season falls well shy of Gasol’s $19.3 million.

The Lakers engaged in similar trade discussions in late December and early January with Cleveland in a proposed deal that would have sent Gasol to the Cavaliers for the partially guaranteed contract of ex-Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who then would have been waived to help L.A. save roughly $20 million in salary and luxury-tax obligations.

Those talks, though, broke down because of the Lakers’ insistence on receiving another asset of value in addition to the significant financial benefits, only for L.A. to see Cleveland successfully switch gears and trade Bynum to the Chicago Bulls for Luol Deng.

A trade for Okafor’s expiring deal would not save the Lakers as much as a deal for Bynum would have, but it would come with undeniable financial benefits. The $4.8 million difference between Gasol’s cap number and Okafor’s would immediately drop the Lakers less than $3 million away from the league’s luxury-tax threshold, meaning one more smaller deal before the Feb. 20 trade deadline could conceivably be enough to take them out of tax territory completely.

There would also be salary savings involved because insurance began picking up 80 percent of what remains on Okafor’s contract once Phoenix passed this season’s 41-game midpoint because of a long-term neck injury that has sidelined the nine-year veteran all season.

The Suns are known to be shopping Okafor’s contract aggressively in advance of the trade deadline as a means for whoever acquires the 31-year-old to potentially save more than $5 million in salary payouts thanks to the insurance coverage.

***

No. 2: Allen trying to double up on title this year?– It doesn’t get much sweeter than Sunday night for Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, whose NFL team pummeled Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl in New York. Well, it could actually get a little sweeter for Allen if the Trail Blazers find a way to get to the same stage come June and get a shot at winning a Larry O’Brien Trophy. Don’t laugh. Because as Kevin Garnett famously told us in Boston, “anything is possible.” Seth Prince of the Oregonian poses the question and fans in Portland respond:

The fourth time was the charm for Paul Allen, who achieved his first world championship as an owner tonight as the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
He also led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, as well as the Seahawks to the Super Bowl XL in 2006. All of those seasons ended with Allen’s teams losing.
It raises the question, do you think he’ll be able to bring an NBA world championship to Portland with the Trail Blazers? Let us know in the comment thread below and share how you think he’s matured as an owner through the years.

***

No. 3: Heat not worried about Bynum joining the Pacers – If they are worried at all about Andrew Bynum joining an Indiana Pacers team that has already shown an ability to challenge them, the Miami Heat aren’t showing it. They’re acting like the Pacers’ acquisition of Bynum,  a player they reportedly pursued as well, means nothing in the chase for Eastern Conference supremacy. Perhaps it’s easy to feel that way when you still have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to lean on, not to mention Chris “Birdman” Andersen and even a getting-stronger-every day Greg Oden sharpening his skills. Whether they are just playing the role or not is a question that won’t be answered unless the Heat and Pacers square off in the playoffs. In the meantime, David J. Neal of the Miami Herald takes the temperature of the Heat now that Bynum is wearing blue and gold:

The Heat locker room publicly shrugged Saturday at the signing and likely did so privately aside from a few witty jokes. This is a team that believes, correctly, that while time and pain have improved Indiana, whether or not the Heat complete the championship hat trick relies largely on itself.

Can Dwyane Wade be Dwyane Wade again for an entire Eastern Conference final? The Heat can get through the rest of the East with Wade on a maintenance plan or having games where he’s an above average player. It will take an extra game here or there, which you never like, but that’s not a problem against any two teams not named Indiana put together.

Against Indiana, Miami will need six or seven games of the future Hall of Fame Wade to get the job done. Bynum neither helps nor hurts in that regard.

Can Chris Bosh continue to be that helpful omnipresence, having a hand in most wins even if that hand’s not doing what stat-minded fans and media wish it were? Bosh draws Hibbert and Bynum out of the middle with his range, then makes them work and getting up and down the floor.

The Heat knows it’s about the three-point line, both defending it and scoring from behind it. If the Heat’s snipers misfire, that lane gets packed like Miami Beach streets during Art Basel and those penetration-and-ones dwindle to not often enough.

Hibbert’s Metallo, the super-strong villain with the kryptonite heart. Great against Superman, not the most useful guy against the rest of the Justice League. Hibbert hurts no team more than he does the Heat, yet still, the Heat find ways around and over him. Bynum’s Hibbert Lite at this point.

Most ridiculous is the idea Indiana signed Bynum to keep him from the Heat. Although the Heat has nothing against height, it already has a big guy with unreliable lower limbs, one who showed tremendous determination just to get back to being able to take the floor. Greg Oden embodies the diligence, grit and good citizenship the Heat likes to think of as its franchise hallmarks. Oden might not be a problem for opponents the way it hopes, but the Heat knows he won’t be a problem for them in the locker room or after midnight.

***

No. 4: Rockets have their own dynamic guard duo in Beverley and Lin – Phoenix, Golden State and Oklahoma City aren’t the only Western Conference playoff teams that can boast of having guard rotations loaded with talented players at the same positions and making it work to their advantage. The Houston Rockets have their own version in Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin, a pairing that hasn’t been seen healthy and attacking like they were in the preseason until now. And it’s a sight to see for Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who has been looking for a spark from his point guards. They give the Rockets the sort of balance needed with All-Stars like James Harden and Dwight Howard on the other side of the scale. Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle discusses the finer points of the two-point guard system the Rockets are tinkering with:

Right from the start of training camp, Rockets coach Kevin McHale liked what he saw when guards Pat Beverley and Jeremy Lin were on the court together.

He saw them complement each other all through the preseason and was excited about what they would bring to the Rockets.

Then came the injuries. Beverley, 25, was hurt in the first game of the season (bruised ribs) and was sidelined. The two-point guard experiment was put on hold.

When Beverley came back, the two flourished, providing a mix of Beverley’s stifling defense and Lin’s attack-minded offense. Then came a knee sprain and back spasms for Lin, 25, then a fractured hand for Beverley.

Now that both have recovered from injuries and are back on the floor together consistently, McHale sees flashes of the preseason.

“I like those two playing together,” McHale said. “I thought earlier in the year, they were our best combination on the floor. Those two have a nice symmetry between them. They both enjoy playing with each other. They are very respectful for each other, and they work to help each other.”

When the two play together, the Rockets are 15-7. When they start together, the team is 5-1.

In the Rockets’ 106-92 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night, the two were balanced. Lin had his first career triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists; Beverley went scoreless but had 10 rebounds, eight assists and a career-high five steals.

“Pat was unbelievable,” guard James Harden said. “Then Jeremy came off the bench and gets a triple-double. Those two are playing really good basketball together.”

Beverley averages 32 minutes per game; Lin plays 31. Much of that time they are on the floor together.

“I think we play really well together,” Beverley said. “We played together last year. We know each other well. We know each other’s games, and I think it works really well.”

Lin said when he and Beverley are in the game at the same time, they bring the Rockets the fast pace they seek.

“I think it just sets a tempo,” Lin said. “We push the ball hard. Just having two point guards out there definitely changes the tempo.”

That tempo and the mix of the two point guards’ strengths bring a different dimension to the Rockets.

“We have wanted to play them together all year,” McHale said. “I like that combination. With injuries, we haven’t been able to as much as we have wanted to.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant showed off his otherworldly scoring abilities in January, but also shined as a facilitator/passer as well for the mighty Thunder  … Kings coach Mike Malone is still trying to coax his team into being a defense-first outfit … The Chicago Bulls are open for trade business but All-Star center Joakim Noah is what we in the business call untouchable … Pacers boss Larry Bird insists the signing of Andrew Bynum was about two things, “he’s big and he can help us.”

ICYMI of the Night: Celtics fans have been waiting all season for Rajon Rondo to look like, well, Rajon Rondo. With only one game on the slate yesterday, Rondo had a perfect opportunity to take the spotlight and he did so …


VIDEO: Rajon Rondo dominates against the Magic

Morning Shootaround – Feb. 2


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Deng surprised by the mess in Cleveland | Bird discusses the Bynum signing | Stephenson frustrated about All-Star snub | Wall tries new shoes

No. 1: Deng surprised by the mess in Cleveland – Luol Deng said all the right things about his new team when he was traded in early January. He wanted to be a veteran leader for the young Cavaliers and everything seemed hunky-dory. Now less than a month later, the problems within the Cleveland locker room have become apparent to Deng, as reported by Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

It’s been a true culture shock for Luol Deng since he’s been a Cleveland Cavalier over the past 26 days. Not in a good way, either.

Deng has seen how a team mired in losing since LeBron James left town wrongly caters to its young star players, even as they continue to undermine head coach Mike Brown at almost every turn. In Chicago, where Deng broke in and played nine-plus seasons, there is a winning culture where players are expected to act like professionals and understand that they will suffer the consequences if they step out of line.

As Deng recently told one close friend, “the stuff going on in practice would never be tolerated by the coaching staff or the front office back in Chicago. It’s a mess.”

But since then, he’s seen players get thrown out of practice, take off their uniform tops at halftime and threaten not to play, mouth off to Brown and generally act like spoiled brats. Entering Saturday’s game at Houston, the Cavs had lost seven of their last 11 games since the Deng trade.

***

No. 2: Bird discusses the Bynum signing– The Indiana Pacers recent signing of Andrew Bynum was a surprise to many people around the league. Bynum bolsters an already strong frontcourt for the Pacers and even though he was recently released by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pacers believe he will be a key player in helping them win an NBA Championship. However, Indiana team president Larry Bird quickly refuted any talk that the Pacers only signed Bynum to keep him away from the Miami Heat, as reported by Mark Montieth at Pacers.com:

“I ain’t worried about next year,” team president Larry Bird said following the Pacers’ game-day shootaround on Saturday. “We’re in the now. We’re going to do everything we can to go as far as we possibly can.”

Bynum flew to Indianapolis from Cleveland on Friday and had dinner with Pacers officials that evening, including Bird and coach Frank Vogel. Asked the primary impression Bynum made at the gathering, Vogel said “overall enthusiasm.”

Bird said he wasn’t concerned with Bynum’s reputation.

“You hear all the negativity,” Bird said. “I never judge a person (based on what others say). I like to find out on my own. He’s big, he can help us and that’s all that matters.

“The way these guys roll around here, they can handle themselves. That never really entered my mind. They’re big boys. If Andrew can come in here and help them, it will be much appreciated.”

Bird scoffed at the notion that the Pacers might be signing Bynum merely to keep him away from Miami or other contending teams.

“We don’t have the money to throw around and let them sit on our bench,” he said. “That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

***

No. 3: Stephenson frustrated by All-Star snub – Staying with the Pacers, guard Lance Stephenson isn’t too happy about his recent lack of invitation to the 2014 NBA All-Star game. Stephenson has a case, too. He’s averaging 14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game to become a significant contributor for the team with the best record in the league. Stephenson planned to take out his anger about the snub on his matchup last night, Joe Johnson. As reported by Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Heading into Saturday night’s game against the Nets – and with an All-Star snub still boiling in his mind – the 23-year-old Pacers guard told the Daily News he’s motivated to unleash his anger on Joe Johnson and the Nets.

“I already had a chip on my shoulder and it made me even worse,” Stephenson said about not making the Eastern Conference reserves. “Now I’m going to kill everybody who is in front of me.”

“Like I said, whoever made it in front of me or whoever is in my position who people think whose in front of me, I’m definitely going to go after them,” Stephenson said. “You’ll definitely see that tonight – me going after (Johnson).”

Despite his anger towards the All-Star snub, Stephenson said he understands that he’s young and there’s a new selection every year. The 23-year-old has a chance to be the best player to come out of Lincoln High in Coney Island, even after all that hype for Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair.

***

No. 4: Wall tries new shoes – A lot of NBA players are superstitious. This is no surprise. However, the lengths to which John Wall went last night to create perfect comfort for his feet were a little tedious. No matter the lengths, Wall’s decision worked as he helped the Washington Wizards snap the Oklahoma City Thunder’s ten-game winning streak. From The Associated Press:

The first half ended with a case of stars stumbling. Kevin Durant lost the ball to John Wall, and Wall then missed an open fast-break layup at the horn. It was Durant’s fourth turnover and Wall’s seventh miss in a row.

At halftime, Wall changed his shoes. Maybe that was the difference.

Wall, the newly minted first-time All-Star guard, scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, and the host Washington Wizards took advantage of a rare subpar night for Durant and snapped the Oklahoma Thunder’s 10-game winning streak Saturday with a 96-81 win.

“I didn’t like how I played on the road trip in my white shoes, so I tried the red ones,” Wall said. “They didn’t work in the first half, so I got rid of them and went back to my old white ones, and they kind of helped me out. I’m kind of superstitious.”

Wall also had 15 assists and 6 steals and went 7 for 11 from the field after halftime, more than making up for the 0-for-7 first half.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jeff Van Gundy thinks Tracy McGrady might try to play baseball? … J.R. Smith took time to check out Chris Andersen‘s tattoos … The NBA broke out new Adam Silver basketballs last night … Luis Scola throws the ball off Paul Pierce‘s back to seal a win for the Pacers … John Wall and Damian Lillard reportedly invited to participate in the 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk contest.

ICYMI of the Night: If the report of Lillard being invited to participate in the Sprite Slam Dunk contest is true, then he sure gave the world a justification for the invitation against the Toronto Raptors last night.


VIDEO: Lillard Soars

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.

Free-Agent Barometer: Boom or Bust

Back in the hot fun of summertime, when there seem to be more dollars available than grains of sand, every free-agent signing is made to feel like a day at the beach.

Now, as we approach halfway mark of the season, it’s time to take the temperature:

GLOWING


VIDEO: Relive Dwight Howard’s signing with the Houston Rockets

Dwight Howard, Rockets — There are times when he is too passive and does not demand the ball enough from all of the inexperienced hands in the Houston lineup. But a healthy, happy Howard has been everything the Rockets hoped for when they forked over $88.5 million to lure him away from the Lakers. There is a bounce to his step and joy to his game that had been missing since the 2008-09 season in Orlando. With him in the middle and playing off James Harden, the Rockets are on track to eventually becoming a championship contender.

Andre Iguodala, Warriors — Don’t try to pigeonhole him or stick on a label as an elite defender or a greyhound that thrives in the transition game. He is simply a wonderful all around player that can do whatever is necessary in any situation. He was the spark that lifted the Nuggets a year ago to a franchise-best 57 wins and he’s moved to Golden State to become a difference-maker for the Warriors. For all of the (deserving) All-Star accolades to Stephen Curry and attention paid to Klay Thompson, Iguodala is the one that makes this fun and entertaining team truly dangerous.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — When it finally came time for the Hawks to cut the cord with Josh Smith, they went for his polar opposite. Not at all flamboyant, never trying to things outside his job description, Millsap comes to work every night and never leaves his team feeling shortchanged. His two-year, $19 million contract might have been the best free-agent bargain of the summer and he’s fit right in perfectly on the frontline in Atlanta. He’s blue-collar ways in the low post and on the boards has been needed even more since Atlanta lost Al Horford for the season.

Al Jefferson, Bobcats — One thing rookie coach Steve Clifford knew was that for the Bobcats to pick themselves up from their semi-permanent residence on the Eastern Conference floor, they needed a low-post presence to get some hard-fought points in the paint. He suffered an ankle injury in training camp and started slow, but once Jefferson got his legs under him, he’s averaged 16.8 points and 10 rebounds. It’s no coincidence that Charlotte (16 wins) is a sure bet to surpass last season’s 21-win campaign.


VIDEO: NBA Action catches up with Mavericks guard Monta Ellis

Monta Ellis, Mavericks — We won’t go as far as Dallas owner Mark Cuban to say that the jury is still out on whether Ellis or Howard is the free-agent catch of the season. After all, we’re pretty sure Cuban would make a 1-for-1 swap right now. As coach of the Warriors years ago, ex-Mavs coach Don Nelson called Ellis selfish. But the once shot-happy Ellis has reined some of his tendencies and found a comfortable home in Dallas. He’s averaging 5.8 apg and his upbeat production is keeping the Mavs alive in the West playoff race.

Kevin Martin, Timberwolves — Every team he’s played on throughout a 10-year NBA career has gotten efficiency and production. He’s one of those players who can give you 20 points a game on a minimum number of shots due to a knack for drawing free throws. There have been many things lacking for Minnesota during another underachieving run, but Martin has come through with the kind of numbers — 19.3 points per game — that were expected.

SUNBURNED


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses where Andrew Bynum may end up next

Andrew Bynum, CavaliersSigning him to a two-year, $24 million contract (that was only half-guaranteed in Season 1) was supposed to make it a no-brainer for the Cavs. Of course, the no brain place continues to be between Bynum’s ears as he quickly alienated teammates, the coaching staff and the entire organization. He had a pair of 20-point games with 13 and 10 rebounds. But his biggest positive effect was as a payroll-slashing trade chip that eventually brought in Luol Deng.

Josh Smith, Pistons — Don’t let Joe Dumars near your piggy bank. Four years ago, the general manager wasted a Brinks truck full of money to bring in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and put the Pistons into a deep hole. This time Dumars dug deeper with his idea that he could give $54 million for four years to Smith and put him into a super-sized front line with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Smith has clashed with coach Maurice Cheeks, found himself sitting on the bench at the end of games and still takes bad shots at a high rate. Is anybody surprised?

Chris Kaman, Lakers — The money spent by the Lakers — $3.2 million, one year — could probably have been scraped up out of the sofa cushions in the luxury suites at Staples Center. But no matter how you slice it, the thought that Kaman was going to return to L.A. and help the Lakers in their most trying season was laughable in hindsight. Kaman has never found a way into the rotation, has frequently expressed his displeasure with coach Mike D’Antoni and now spends more time lobbing verbal bombs in frustration than tracking down rebounds or shooting.

IN THE SHADE

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans — With Jrue Holiday out of the lineup indefinitely with a stress fracture in his leg and the team still reportedly trying to trade Eric Gordon, this would be the time when Evans can step up and really shine. He’s been far from a bust and doggedly fought to keep himself in the Pelicans’ lineup despite the fact that he keeps reinsuring a sprained left ankle. But that $44 million, four-year contract raises expectations for more than 12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. At this point, the jury is still out.