Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Wiggins’

Five teams already looking ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The start of the playoffs is just over the horizon and there will be plenty of unexpected bounces before the 2014 NBA champ is crowned in June.

But you can’t blame a handful of teams from already taking an early peek at what will surely be better times ahead next season:

 


VIDEO: Joakim Noah joins Arena Link after a recent Bulls win

Chicago Bulls – There’ s still plenty of havoc to be made by Joakim Noah and his “no tanking here” gang. Sitting in the No. 4 spot in the East, the Bulls are already shuffling their hooves at what could be another rip-snorting first-round series against the Nets and possibly a chance to put a few bruises on the Pacers or two-time champions from Miami down the line. But while it’s unrealistic to think Chicago can go all the way this season, the title hopes are back in view next October. Starting, of course, with a healthy return by Derrick Rose, the Bulls get their former MVP and most talented player back onto the court to supplement a lineup that has Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.

While the dealing away of Luol Deng didn’t sink the Bulls in the standings, it brought a first round draft choice that the Cavs had picked up from Sacramento. They saved $20 million on Deng’s contract next year, can amnesty the vastly overpaid Carlos Boozer and be at the front of the line to make a recruiting pitch to head of the class free agent Carmelo Anthony. The lure of Phil Jackson‘s zen magic will probably make it tougher to get him out of N.Y., but if he really wants to make a run at a title instead of just being hero-worshipped, Melo would jump at the chance to join the Bulls where a recuperated Rose gives them the 1-2 punch that is almost necessary these days to be elite. As much fun as they’re having now, the real excitement could return next season.

 


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young, Jarvis Varnado discuss the progress and potential of Nerlens Noel

Philadelphia 76ers — It can’t get worse than losing a record-tying 26 games in a row, can it? It will still be only Year Two in general manager Sam Hinkie‘s long-term building project for the future. But at least next season the Sixers will be able to put a team out on the floor that has more than just Michael Carter-Williams, Thad Young and Tony Wroten as real NBA talent that could be part of something positive down the road. Hinkie has cleared out the payroll, but it’s far too early for the Sixers to even give a thought to luring free agents to Philly. They’ll have two lottery picks — their own and the Pelicans’ spot from the Jrue Holiday trade — and go digging for bargains with another pair of picks in the second round.

Of course, there’s the big bonus of finally getting big man Nerlens Noel into the lineup, after he sat out all of this season with a torn ACL. Noel has been champing at the bit to play now, but the team will hold him back till summer league and then turn him loose. Hinkie is positively giddy about what a bulked-up, more physically fit Noel will be able to do. The Sixers are not even dreaming of playoffs, just putting the building blocks in place.

 


VIDEO: Andrew Nicholson talks about staying positive in Orlando

Orlando Magic — Two years ago, Rob Hennigan dealt away Dwight Howard and the instant reaction from many corners was that the rookie GM had been fleeced. Of course, the way things turned out in L.A., Philly and Denver, it seems that Hennigan was the one doing the fleecing, picking up Nic Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo, who are now main parts of a young roster on the rise. Mix in last year’s top draft pick Victor Oladipo with Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson and while the Magic are again near the bottom of the standings with the third-fewest wins in the league, there has been a method to Hennigan. The jury is still out on making Oladipo a point guard, but he’s clearly a talent.

Hennigan is following in the footsteps of his mentor Sam Presti in OKC, constructing a roster that is flexible in terms of both talent and salary. The Magic are not beholden at this point to a single individual and are willing to be in the trade market for any upgrade that makes sense at any position. Then toss in the potential of adding an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to the lineup and the Magic are suddenly a team back in the spotlight with a new franchise star and a future that could lead back to chasing the playoffs maybe even as soon as next year in the Eastern Conference.

 


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo is adjusting to life in the NBA and U.S.

Milwaukee Bucks – As bad and depressing as things got for the Sixers during their 26-game losing streak, the fact is they were never able to drop below the Bucks in the standings. This is the worst team in the league, but it doesn’t have to be this way in 2014-15. For one thing, it’s about timing in the draft. The Bucks have been fortunate enough to win the lottery twice in the past, getting Glenn Robinson with the No. 1 pick in 1994 and Andrew Bogut in 2005. “Big Dog” had had his moments and Bogut is playing nicely these days for the Warriors, but neither was ever the kind of game-changer than can take a franchise to the top.

Now with the deepest lottery in a while, it seems that Milwaukee is in a can’t-miss position. GM John Hammond is said to be setting his sights on center Joel Embiid, who could anchor the middle of a lineup with exciting rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, who hopefully can get his head back into the game and save a career that could go off the rails. Hammond unloaded the contracts of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the trade deadline and would probably like to jettison O.J. Mayo. Brandon Knight has been up and down, but shows that he can score. Rookie Nate Wolters has probably exceeded expectations and creates optimism for the future.

It’s Antetokounmpo who creates the most excitement with his raw talent and potential. Whether they go with Embild with their first pick or Wiggins, Parker, Julius Randle or Dante Exum, this time the Bucks could get the game changer they need at a time when owner Herb Kohl is trying to sell the franchise. This could be a lineup worth buying and watching next season.

 


VIDEO: Dwight Howard explains why he likes it in Houston

Houston Rockets — Yes, yes, yes. The Rockets are already a top four seed in the rugged Western Conference and have flexed their speed and muscles and shooting prowess against some of the best teams in the league this season. The pairing of Dwight Howard with James Harden has given Houston the 1-2 All-Star punch that was expected. Yet even with some folks tabbing the Rockets as a dark horse threat when the playoffs begin, the truth is their best days are still ahead. Wheeler and dealer GM Daryl Morey knows that his job is not yet done and that’s why he’s played the payroll and salary cap like a Stradivarius and will again have the Rockets in position to make a run at at the biggest names on the free agent market this summer. If he deals Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik ($15 million each next season), the Rockets could offer close to the max.

Howard and Harden are still getting to know each other and this team might need to experience the pain of a playoff loss to get recommitted and take things to the next level. The Rockets could also use another scorer/defender on the wing to go toe-to-toe nightly with the elite contenders. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony? Let us saddle you up as part of the posse, pardner. Of course, it’s unlikely that James is going anywhere. But Anthony would have to have give long and serious thought to Houston if he decides that the magic of Jackson isn’t going to turn the Knicks around in the next year or two. Put Melo in a lineup with Howard and Harden and the 145 points the Rockets rung up the other night against the Lakers could become a nightly occurrence. If not Anthony, Bosh could return home to Texas. The Rockets made a free agent pitch for him several years ago and his adaptable skills could fit in nicely on the front line.

The Rockets will be different next season. They always are. And with Howard and Harden as anchors, now different means better. The start of next season can’t come soon enough in Houston.

Four Awarded World Cup Berths

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – FIBA announced Saturday that Brazil, Finland, Greece and Turkey have been awarded wild card berths to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, to be played Aug. 30-Sept. 14 in Spain.

The four teams complete the field of 24 (see the full list below), which will be drawn into four groups of six on Monday.

Brazil played awful at the FIBA Americas tournament last summer, but was without all four of their NBA big men (Vitor Faverani, Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Vareajao). If they have point guard Marcelo Huertas, two of the bigs and a shooter or two, they will be one of the better teams in Spain. As the U.S. has won 36 straight games in international competition, Brazil has come the closest to knocking them off. Brazil is also the host of the 2016 Olympics, which was certainly a factor in their selection.

Greece is the last team to beat the U.S., pulling off the upset in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship. They had top-five finishes in four straight Eurobasket tournaments from 2003 to 2009 (winning in 2005), but the best players from their golden years aren’t playing anymore. They still have a solid roster, but lost in the round of 16 at the 2010 World Championship and also failed to make the quarterfinals at last year’s Eurobasket.

Turkey played great as the home team in 2010, going 8-0 before falling to the U.S. in the gold medal game. But (though most of the roster was sporting fabulous tans) they were a disappointing 1-4 at Eurobasket last summer.

Finland went 5-3 at Eurobasket, with wins over Turkey and Greece. And their wild card big was apparently aided by Finnish video game developer Rovio, which promised to provide free advertising for the national team and the World Cup if Finland was selected. So if you’re angry that Andrew Wiggins won’t be playing in Spain next summer, be angry at Angry Birds.

There were originally 15 applicants for the four wild card spots, but reports had China, Italy, Germany and Russia bowing out. That certainly thinned out the field, but not enough to get Canada into the tournament. Given their NBA-level talent and their numbers from last year’s FIBA Americas tournament, the Canadian National Team (managed by Steve Nash and coached by Blazers assistant Jay Triano) is clearly the biggest snub.

In addition to Wiggins, Canada has a deep core of young talent (Anthony Bennett, Tyler EnnisCory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk, Tristan Thompson). It would have been great to see that group in Spain this summer, but they only have themselves to blame for not qualifying. After going 4-1 to start last year’s tournament (Bennett, Olynyk and Wiggins didn’t play), they dropped their final three games (by a total of 18 points) to finish sixth, with only the top four teams receiving automatic bids.

So Canada should be rooting for the U.S. in Spain. If the U.S. wins gold at the World Cup, they automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympics and have no need to send a team to the 2015 FIBA Americas tournament, where the top two finishers will receive automatic Olympic bids. But if the U.S. doesn’t win gold this summer, there’s one less spot available for a team from North, South or Central America. There will be an additional qualifying tournament in 2016 before the Olympics (for three more berths), but given the relative strengths of the Americas and Europe, Canada’s best chance at the ’16 Olympics is probably next summer  … as long as the U.S. isn’t there.

Amazingly, Canada had the best defense and best point differential of last year’s FIBA Americas tournament. Here are efficiency numbers from last summer’s FIBA events (FIBA Africa, FIBA Americas, FIBA Asia, and Eurobasket) for all 15 of the original wild card applicants…

2013 stats of wild card applicants

Team OffRtg RK AdjO ORK DefRtg RK AdjD ORK NetRtg RK ORK
Nigeria
109.4 1 +18.5 2 93.8 9 +2.9 41 +15.6 5 9
Brazil
94.9 9 -10.2 58 107.4 7 +2.3 38 -12.5 8 54
Canada
107.0 5 +2.0 26 97.6 1 -7.5 10 +9.5 1 12
Venezuela
103.7 6 -1.4 36 100.2 2 -4.8 12 +3.5 6 22
China
110.7 3 +12.4 5 90.2 3 -8.0 9 +20.4 3 6
Qatar
98.8 7 +0.6 32 99.1 7 +0.9 31 -0.3 8 28
Bosnia
101.4 14 -1.3 35 103.0 11 +0.2 30 -1.5 9 29
Finland
97.8 18 -5.0 42 101.1 6 -1.6 21 -3.4 14 36
Germany
106.0 6 +3.2 21 107.7 19 +4.9 48 -1.7 10 30
Greece
110.6 1 +7.8 9 104.0 13 +1.3 33 +6.6 4 17
Israel
98.3 17 -4.4 40 101.2 7 -1.6 22 -2.8 12 34
Italy
105.2 9 +2.4 25 102.5 10 -0.3 28 +2.7 6 23
Poland
95.5 21 -7.3 51 107.9 20 +5.1 49 -12.4 23 52
Russia
97.8 19 -5.0 43 104.5 15 +1.8 36 -6.8 19 42
Turkey
103.5 12 +0.7 30 113.3 24 +10.6 59 -9.9 22 48

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
AdjO = Points scored per 100 possessions, compared to event average
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
AdjD = Points allowed per 100 possessions, compared to event average
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
RK = Rank within that event
ORK = Rank among 65 teams in four events

As you can see, Brazil was the worst of the group and Turkey was pretty awful too. But apparently, if you didn’t automatically qualify, it didn’t really matter what you did last summer.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

Team Qualified
Angola FIBA Africa champion
Argentina FIBA Americas champion
Australia FIBA Oceania champion
Brazil Wildcard
Croatia Eurobasket 4th place
Dominican Republic FIBA Americas 2nd place
Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
Finland Wildcard
France Eurobasket champion
Greece Wildcard
Iran FIBA Asia champion
Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
Lithuania Eurobasket 2nd place
Mexico FIBA Americas 3rd place
New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
Puerto Rico FIBA Americas 4th place
Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
Serbia Eurobasket 7th place
Slovenia Eurobasket 5th place
Spain Host
Turkey Wildcard
Ukraine Eurobasket 6th place
USA 2012 Olympic champion

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 144) Featuring SI.com’s Seth Davis

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Digging into the history, life and times of John Wooden, the man, the myth and the legend, is an undertaking any lover of the game would relish.

For best-selling author, CBS analyst and SI.com college hoops expert Seth Davis, it was a literary pilgrimage a lifetime. And the end result, WOODEN: A Coach’s Life (Times Books, Jan. 14) is masterpiece on arguably the greatest coach and teacher in the history of sports.

We dive in on all things Wooden with Davis on Episode 144 of the Hang Time Podcast. While we had him we also discussed the current state of the college game, the NBA stars of the future incubating in college right now (Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and the rest) and a host of other topics with one of the foremost authorities on the college game.

In addition, there’s discussion about Hollywood Rick hanging at the Golden Globes, the three-team deal between the Warriors, Celtics and Heat, the Heat’s White House visit (and President Obama‘s defense of Mario Chalmers), the Knicks’ J.R. Smith problem, Bleacher Report‘s Ric Bucher suggesting the Clippers are better off without Blake Griffin and a host of other hot topics around the league.

Toss in Sounds of the Game and the latest installment of Braggin’ Rights (you already know who leads the pack) and we should have all of your bases covered.

Check it out on Episode 144 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring SI.com’s Seth Davis.

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: The Heat visit with President Obama at the White House

Blogtable: An Outrageous Pick For ’14

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


Fixing the lottery | A 2013 highlight | One bold prediction for ’14


Paul George, the NBA's new scoring champ? (Issac Baldizon/NBAE

Paul George, the NBA’s new scoring champ? (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Now, Nostradamus: Give us an outrageous (but realistic) prediction for 2014.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Somehow, some way, perhaps even in spite of a playoff berth and maybe the Atlantic Division title, the Toronto Raptors are going to wind up with top prospect and Canadian product Andrew Wiggins when the smoke clears from the 2014 Draft.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDwight Howard shoots a perfect 20-for-20 from the free throw line in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and the Rockets beat Miami for the championship.  Oh, you said realistic?  He makes 19 of 20.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Lakers finish with the worst record in the Western Conference and win the Draft Lottery.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comPaul George wins the scoring title. Nobody would have predicted it at the start of the season, and I don’t know if many would even now. But George hasn’t reached his peak and still should be in the MVP conversation. Watch the upward trajectory continue in the second half.

Kobe Bryant (by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Kobe Bryant (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t know how outrageous this is considering the state of the Eastern Conference, but … the Charlotte Bobcats will not only win their first playoff game, but they’ll win four to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kevin Durant will snatch the MVP trophy away from LeBron James this year. He’s tired of finishing second. I’m tired of hearing about him being tired of finishing second. And I suspect plenty of other people are, too. No one can dispute LeBron’s impact on the game night after night. But 2014 is KD’s year to take that trophy and perhaps a few others down the line …

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogKobe Bryant returns and has at least one 50-point game down the stretch. I’m on record thinking that Kobe will (eventually) come back healthy. And if the Lakers are in full-on rebuild mode, why not let Kobe get as many shots and points as possible in pursuit of the all-time scoring record? The Lakers might not be fighting for a title, but fighting for something is always better than fighting for nothing.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: If Indiana can maintain home court advantage right through to the 2014 Finals and have no injuries, the Pacers can win it all. Remember, it was these same Pacers who pushed the Miami Heat to seven games in the 2013 East Finals. Now with Danny Granger back, a stronger bench and home court advantage, they can go the distance.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: The 2014 NBA Finals will have a rematch of the 2012 edition and the OKC Thunder will win the Larry O’Brien trophy in seven games against the Miami Heat.

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 138) Featuring Inside Stuff Co-Host Kristen Ledlow



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For those of you old enough and bold enough to admit it, Inside Stuff was your gateway to the NBA growing up.

Long before NBA TV and League Pass, before mobile apps and smart phones, there was Inside Stuff on Saturday mornings to help feed your insatiable appetite for all things NBA (yes, Ahmad Rashad was the man of the hour on Saturday mornings during our formative years).

Kristen Ledlow, the new co-host of Inside Stuff with Grant Hill, is doing her best to bring that feeling back for the next generation of NBA lovers.

She drops by for her first visit to the hideout on Episode 138 of the Hang Time Podcast, where we discuss everything from  Kobe Bryant‘s return to practice with the Los Angeles Lakers, the work LeBron James is putting in without Dwyane Wade in the lineup for the Miami Heat, the simultaneous meltdowns by both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, the players’ only team meeting in Cleveland and plenty of news, notes and observations from around the NBA.

You get all of that — not to mention the latest edition of Sounds of The Game and this week’s update of Braggin’ Rights (there is a tie at the top that does not involve Lang Whitaker) — on Episode 138 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Inside Stuff Co-Host Kristen Ledlow:

LISTEN HERE: LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business, Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


Cavs Sticking By Bennett As No. 1 PIck Endures Slow NBA Start


VIDEO: Greg Anthony on Anthony Bennett’s tough start to season

Gilbert Arenas famously kept a “hit list” of the teams that let him slide into the second round of the 2001 Draft, a perceived slight that he turned into a large chip on his shoulder and eventually three All-Star appearances. Other players scan the names of those selected ahead of them and commit themselves to proving the scouts, the experts and even those rivals somehow wrong for the draft order.

But when you’re taken No. 1 and you’re expected to be best in show, who do you use for motivation? If the target is on your back, where do you aim?

That’s just one of the snags on Anthony Bennett‘s slow start with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season.

“You look at your own resume at the end of the day,” said Cavs guard Jarrett Jack, a veteran and something of a guardian these days for the 20-year-old from Toronto who, somewhat surprisingly, heard his name called before all others last June. He has not heard his number called much since.

“Regardless if you’re a valedictorian, summa cum laude or if you were just a ‘C’ average student,” Jack was saying before Cleveland’s game in Chicago the other night, “you gave it everything you had and that’s kind of where the chips fell. So many people put up a measuring stick that’s not for them. Go out there and do what’s comfortable for you.

“People push you into believing you’re something that you’re not. Not to say he isn’t or he is, but it’s very, very early. In the season and in a lot of people’s careers.”

Bennett unexpectedly popped up at No. 1 – where a lot of the same experts and scouts expect to see his countryman, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, next June – for a bunch of reasons. from team needs to Nerlen Noel‘s prolonged recovery from knee surgery. Fast starts by Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams (No. 11), Orlando’s Victor Oladipo (No. 2) and Boston’s Kelly Olynyk (No. 13) have grabbed most of the early rookie spotlight.

Cleveland, gifted in the lottery with the top pick, went in with dual agendas: add another long-term piece like Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, while chasing a playoff berth. General manager Chris Grant settled on Bennett decisively – they phoned in their choice 15 minutes early to draft HQ that night – and haven’t wavered. (By the way, if Bennett somehow weren’t available and the Cavs kept the pick, they likely would have taken Ben McLemore, who went No. 7 to Sacramento.) (more…)

Wiggins Not A Lock For No. 1 In The Draft

There may come a time when Julius Randle of Kentucky or Jabari Parker of Duke or Australian Dante Exum will ascend to No. 1 on the Draft board in some NBA front office, because Kansas hype machine Andrew Wiggins may be the clear publicity leader but does not enjoy the same cushion in actual ranking heading into what he says will be a one-and-done career. That time could even come by tonight as four teams collide in Chicago for what is either the Champions Classic (NCAA description) or one of the great scouting moments in history (NBA read).

Yes, it is Wiggins’ race to lose as the young college season really ignites with No. 1 Kentucky playing No. 2 Michigan State (7:30 p.m. ET) — the first matchup of top-ranked teams since Memphis-Tennessee in February 2008 — and No. 4 Duke facing No. 5 Kansas (9:30 ET) with a large representation of NBA executives and scouts at United Center. But, no, it is not close to being over, no matter how much attention the son of former Bull, Rocket and 76er Mitchell Wiggins is generating.

Or as one front-office veteran, while still putting Wiggins at the top of his list, said when asked whether the Kansas freshman is locked in as the first selection in June: “I think in the media’s mind he is. But just in talking to one of our guys around the league, he said Wiggins was the third-best player in their practices. The media has Wiggins way ahead. I just don’t think the NBA has him way ahead.”

Rating Wiggins the No. 3 prospect in Kansas workouts is not exactly a body slam because teammates Joel Embiid and Wayne Seldon are tracking to the lottery and possibly the top eight or 10. But it’s a valuable perspective and a chance to take a deep breath as the chase begins in earnest tonight with several subplots (NCAA version) or headlines (NBA understanding) in the best measurement to date.

It’s not just Kansas vs. Duke, but Wiggins vs. Parker, wing vs. wing, highly touted freshman vs. highly touted freshman and a great opportunity for both. If Wiggins plays well in the possible only pre-Draft combine in Chicago he will probably see — every expectation is he’ll skip the real combine come next May — his claim to No. 1 becomes stronger. A standout night from Parker puts in a bid for a new No. 1.

The NBA is always more concerned with what a prospect is doing in the second half of their season and into the NCAA tournament than who performs best in November. But this gathering of so many potential lottery picks and first-rounders, in many cases head-to-head, is such a rare single-day scouting run that it can’t help but register on the Draft Richter scale. It is a better evaluation than most Final Fours, unless this turns out to be a preview of the actual Final Four.

Kansas has Wiggins, Embiid and Seldon, while Duke has Parker, Rasheed Sulaimon and Rodney Hood. Michigan State has Gary Harris and Adreian Payne. Kentucky has Randle, Andrew Harrison, James Young, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, plus Aaron Harrison and Marcus Lee hoping to push into the top 30 (with a team manager, bus driver and corridor-sweeper of Rupp Arena in the mix, too). It’s early, but it’s an important night for the future bank accounts of a lot of people on the floor of the United Center. That makes it an important night for all the NBA.

Canada Market Booms as NBA Takes On World; ‘Down Under’ Next?

L

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Chances are good next June that for the second consecutive year, the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft will have honed his skills and built his street cred on the asphalt courts of … Toronto, Ontario. And with Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins as a favourite to take the maple-leaf baton from UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, we might want to refer to the heated jockeying for position among likely lottery teams as tanquing, for this season anyway.

A rising interest in Canada in the NBA is the primary reason behind tonight’s game in Montreal, when the Boston Celtics (with first-round pick Kelly Olynyk, a 7-footer from Kamloops by way of Gonzaga) face the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Bell Centre. A year ago, the NBA staged its first-ever NBA Canada Series preseason games in that country (Knicks-Raptors in Montreal, Pistons-Timberwolves in Winnipeg) and the only thing surprising about that was that it took so long.

The Raptors, obviously, have been playing preseason games there since they entered the league via expansion in 1995. So did their newbie cohort Vancouver Grizzlies for six seasons, until their move to Memphis in 2001.

The NBA’s and basketball’s roots in the nation are undeniable. The man who invented the game in 1891, Dr. James Naismith, was a Canadian, after all. And what is accepted as the NBA’s inaugural game was played at Maple Leaf Gardens between the New York Knicks and the Toronto Huskies, who lasted one season in the precursor BAA.

Sixty-seven years later, the NBA has just the Raptors’ as its single toehold in Canada, and it stages its preseason games there much as it does in exotic lands like Taiwan and Brazil, with a missionary zeal that creates festivals of NBA basketball, stirring casual interest rather than relying on hardcore devotees of the league. The Grizzlies are gone, and expansion even in U.S. cities appears to be low on commissioner David Stern‘s or presumptive replacement Adam Silver‘s lists of priorities.

Beneath the surface, however, there may be something building.

(more…)

Blogtable: New Coach, New Direction?

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


League Pass hero | Indiana worries | Phoenix, Boston, Philly, Sacramento


Of these teams with new coaches and green rosters — Phoenix, Boston, Philadelphia, Sacramento — which holds the most short-term hope? Long-term?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Sacramento is my short-term choice, because their roster is the closest to being ready for prime time and I think they’re the most eager of the four to win now. Long-term? Tradition favors Boston. Phoenix is the most proven free-agent magnet of the bunch. But my hunch is, the franchise that pops up highest in the 2014 Draft will be the one with the most legitimate shot over time.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Short-term I’ll go with Boston just because the Celtics sport the best player — Rajon Rondo. Long-term, the easy answer is whoever wins the Andrew Wiggins lottery. I’ll take Philly as the long-term pick. Assuming Nerlens Noel can fully recover, the Sixers already have two key young pieces and should be dreadful enough to add two more high lottery picks in 2014, including the best odds of landing Wiggins. It’s also a vote of confidence in the long term leadership pairing of GM Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Short-term hope: Sacramento. The good vibes are rocking Sac with the team being saved and new ownership, management and coaching staff delivering refreshing new attitudes. I like the addition of Greivis Vasquez to run the point, and if — IF DeMarcus Cousins adds a screwed-on-tight head to his new extension, well, maybe a new day will dawn in California’s capital. Long-term hope: Boston. This is a tough one, but the Celtics have an All-Star point guard on the roster and that’s huge. Rajon Rondo seems committed to see through this rebuild (as long as GM Danny Ainge is, too). Ainge did well to get 7-footer Kelly Olynyk in the Draft as a potential pillar. Boston is a franchise capable of attracting major free agents and Ainge also has a nice haul of future Draft picks to hand over to coach Brad Stevens.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Short term: the Kings. Partly because there will be real signs of progress this season and partly because the Suns and Sixers are clearly at the bottom of their conferences while the Celtics need to first prove they can locate the ripcord on the parachute. Boston may not yet be recovering.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Short-term, Sacramento is the best team. Unlike the other three rosters, they have several guys who actually belong in an NBA rotation. And with Greivis Vasquez running the point, they might actually pass the ball this season. Long-term, the Kings could certainly regret giving an underachiever like DeMarcus Cousins a $62 million extension. And as bad as they’ll be this season, the Sixers have the most hope long-term, because it’s very likely that they’ll have four Lottery picks between the 2013 and ’14 Drafts. Two they picked this year – Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams – have the tools (size and athleticism) to be very good players someday. They may turn out to be busts, but the hope is certainly there.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The most short-term hope for success is in Sacramento, where the talent of DeMarcus Cousins awaits coach Mike Malone and his staff. You can still build a team around a franchise big man, if that is indeed what Cousins is (destined to be). There is a lot to work with on that roster, which is loaded with talent at several positions. I’ve been high on Malone for years and believe he’ll infuse a certain strength and confidence in Sacramento that has been lacking in recent years. But if Cousins isn’t who his cheerleaders think he is … well, that’s why they are the short-term winner. Long-term — and I honestly feel crazy saying this — but that train wreck we saw last season and all summer in Philadelphia is clearing up slowly but surely. Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams could be an absolute steal from the Draft. With a healthy Nerlens Noel and the right pick in the lottery of the 2014 Draft, the Sixers will have a chance to piece together the core of a playoff contender for years to come. Of course, things have to fall into place on several fronts. But as far as long-term potential, the Sixers will have the flexibility to go in several positive directions in the future.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Short term, I’d say Sacramento. We know the Kings have a really good collection of young players, led by DeMarcus Cousins, rookie Ben McLemore, Greivis Vasquez and I have to think the ending of the craziness that accompanied the arena uncertainty the last few seasons can only be a good thing. If organizations look for strength and leadership from the top, the new ownership in place in Sacto would seem to be a harbinger of good things to come. Long term, I guess Philly has a chance to build something stable and above-average. They are going to be a mess this season, but a Nerlens Noel/Michael Carter-Williams inside-out presence gives them something to build around. And hey, that 2014 Draft should be a lot of fun!

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italia: I’ll go with the Kings short term and Celtics long term here. Unlike the other teams, Sacramento is not at stage 1 of its rebuilding plan. They just changed their coach and lost a player via sign-and-trade (Tyreke Evans), but added Greivis Vasquez, the second best assist man in the league last year, to a young, talented group. If DeMarcus Cousins finally grows up, they can continue to develop into a playoff team. I pick Boston for long-term because it’s the Celtics we’re talking about. It’s a transition year for them, but I’m pretty sure Danny Ainge has a great plan to bring the historic franchise back where it belongs.