Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Bennett’

Morning Shootaround — March 31


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Struggling Pacers have hit rock bottom | Knicks finally ready to close in on 8th spot | Win or lose, Lakers facing crossroads this summer | The age of analytics or overload? | Haywood says one-and-done kids hurt NBA game

No. 1: Struggling Pacers have hit rock bottom after loss to Cavaliers — The Indiana Pacers have officially hit rock bottom. Sure, it’s a strange thing to say about a team that currently occupies the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. But there is no other way to describe what the Pacers are going through after watching them get taken apart by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their current state of affairs is not conducive to a long and productive postseason run. And after warnings being sounded from every direction, including Pacers’ boss Larry Bird, the struggles continue. Their lead in the standings over the Miami Heat has dwindled to just one game. And the Pacers have no explanation for how things have unraveled the way they have. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star paints the picture:

On Sunday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena, the Pacers searched for their first road win since March 15 but could not find it. Then, after the 90-76 defeat, they searched for something to explain this most mystifying late-season plunge that has left them holding a scant one-game lead over the Miami Heat.

Again, the Pacers couldn’t find it.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Paul George, only after raising his head from his hands.

“I’m lost right now,” Lance Stephenson muttered under his breath. “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know,” David West said, the words struggling to escape from his gravelly voice, “what else we can do.”

The Pacers may not know what’s behind this latest stretch of basketball as they’ve lost five straight on the road, but know this – they have reached the lowest point of the season.

“Yeah, I would say,” West answered. “For us to be playing like this just as a group, just to be so out of sync and out of sorts – we just got to find an answer. Something happened and all of us are sort of searching for what that is and why we’re playing the way we’re playing and why we’re looking the way we look when we’re out there on the floor.”

Indiana, now 52-22, has played on the offensive end as if it’s an agonizing ordeal to simply put the ball through the hoop. For the fourth consecutive road game, the team could not eclipse the 37-percent shooting clip.

“We had trouble catching passes and trouble knocking down open shots,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys are out of rhythm right now. We got to figure it out. That’s what we gotta do.”


VIDEO: David West talks about Indiana’s loss in Cleveland

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No. 2: Knicks close in on playoff spot — One huge road win could very well be the tipping point that allows the New York Knicks to finally catch and pass the struggling Atlanta Hawks for that eighth and final playoff spot they have been eyeing for months now. The gap has been closed, after the Knicks’ stunning win on the road over the Golden State Warriors. The way they did it, with Carmelo Anthony struggling through a 7-for-21 shooting night and with J.R. Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tim Hardaway Jr. and others stepping up, only makes the stretch run more intriguing for the always dramatic Knicks. It’s down to one, as Marc Berman of the New York Post explains:

It’s down to one.

With Atlanta in free fall, the Knicks are lucky to be alive. And so they are very much, closing to one game of the final playoff spot with a 89-84 upset victory in a surprising defensive struggle over the Warriors at Oracle Arena, when they shut down Stephen Curry twice in the final 30 seconds.

The Knicks used rare gritty defense and a 15-0 run late in the second quarter to keep their postseason dreams alive. They had lost 10 of their last 11 games in Oakland before rising to the challenge — and bottling up Curry on the final possession.

“Our defense finally stepped up,’’ coach Mike Woodson said.

The Knicks moved to 2-2 on their five-game West Coast trip. With eight games left, the Knicks finish up the Western trip Monday in Utah. The Hawks face the Sixers.

“If we head home, get [Monday] night, it will be a great road trip,’’ Carmelo Anthony said. “We control our own destiny. I just hope we win and bring the same mindset and focus into Utah.’’

The Knicks had allowed 127 points in Los Angeles, including a 51-point third quarter, and 112 in Phoenix before buckling down in Oakland, where team president Phil Jackson continued to stay away.

Smith, who has been rising as a secondary scorer, finished with 19 points at halftime on 8 of 11 shooting and wound up with 21. Anthony finished with just 19 points but had four in the final 1:30. He shot 7 of 21. Amar’e Stoudemire was a beast on the boards, finishing with 15 points and a season-high 13 rebounds.

‘For us to bounce back after that loss in Phoenix, We did a great job tonight,’’ Anthony said. “It says a lot we can put this stuff behind us quickly.’’


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about the Knicks’ big win in Oakland

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No. 3: Win or lose the Lakers facing dilemmas at every turn at season’s end — As enjoyable as that win over the Phoenix Suns might have felt for Lakers fans who have endured an unthinkable season, the sad facts of this season remain. No matter what they do between now and the end of this regular season, this summer is setting up as a critical crossroads for the franchise. There is so much uncertainty that some of the starch is taken out of any of the good vibrations Chris Kaman and Co. provided with that surprising rout of the Suns. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times sets the table for what the Lakers are facing:

The Phoenix Suns were in town and handed the Lakers much more to ponder beyond another surprisingly rare and easy victory.

The Suns couldn’t control Chris Kaman, lost Sunday’s game by a 115-99 score and offered the perfect time to explore some big-picture questions involving their past employees.

What will the Lakers do with Coach Mike D’Antoni?

What will happen with Steve Nash, who won two NBA most-valuable-player awards in Phoenix under D’Antoni? And what of Kendall Marshall, a first-round bust of the Suns who found plenty of playing time with the Lakers?

The answers in quick succession as of now — undetermined, staying and staying.

The Lakers have a dilemma with D’Antoni, who coached the Suns for five successful seasons. They still owe him $4 million next season and don’t want to look like a franchise with a coaching turnstile.

But Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol don’t support his small-ball offense and Lakers fans don’t support him, period.

So the team will decide fairly quickly after the April 16 regular-season finale — pay him to not coach the team, just like Mike Brown, or try to make it work next season.

General Manager Mitch Kupchak said last week he thought D’Antoni was “doing a great job under the circumstances,” but how great would obviously be revealed in coming weeks.

Nash sat out another game, which is no longer surprising for a player who appeared in only 12 this season.

For financial reasons, the Lakers currently plan to keep him next season, The Times has learned, eating the remainder of his contract ($9.7 million) in one swoop instead of waiving him and spreading the money out over three years.

It would give them more money to spend in the summers of 2015 and 2016, when they figure to be active players in the free-agent market amid such possible names as Kevin LoveLeBron James and Kevin Durant.

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No. 4: The new age of analytics … overload or advantage? – It’s one thing for fans and pundits alike to debate the merits of advanced statistics, or analytics (if you will). It’s something altogether different, however, when players, coach and front office types are still haggling over the merits of that information and what it means in the overall matrix of the game. In Boston, where the advanced metrics movement got its start in the NBA, there is no better context than the one painted by All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, former Celtics coach and current Clippers boss Doc Rivers and Celtics president and brain waves guru Danny Ainge. Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe provides this illuminating take on where things stand by framing the debate:

Rondo has savant-like math skills and a well-documented interest in advanced statistics. But he has his doubts about SportVU.

“I don’t think it means anything,” Rondo said. “It doesn’t determine how hard you play. It can’t measure your heart. It can maybe measure your endurance. But when the game is on the line, all that goes out the window.”

Rivers, on the other hand, considers himself a proponent.

“There’s a really good use for it,” Rivers said. “There’s a use for us, each team, depending on how they play and how they defend. You can find out stuff.”

And while Ainge is also a proponent, he remains cautious.

“You have to be careful with how you utilize the information that you have,” Ainge said. “It is sort of fun and intriguing and I understand why media and the fans are intrigued by it all, but I think it’s blown way out of proportion of how much it’s actually utilized.”

Ainge’s point was echoed by several analytics officials employed by NBA teams who corresponded with the Globe on the condition of anonymity.

Naturally, none of them could speak in specifics about how their teams use the data, but many said that numerous challenges — such as how many variables can affect a player on any play — keep this from being an exact science.

“Our sport is just not a pretty sport for isolating things,” one official said.

Above all, several officials emphasized that how the discussion is framed is key, as analytics are often discussed publicly in black-and-white terms — “they’re great” or “they’re pointless” — when reality is in the middle.

One official wrote in an e-mail, “People don’t understand the limitations of the data and only focus on the articles that are written about it and the way it is ‘sold’ by the NBA and the teams that use it. Some of the data is much more along the lines of trivia as opposed to something that can be useful for an NBA team. But make no mistake, there’s plenty of good stuff in there, too.”

Another said, “The underlying data, I think, is incredibly valuable in the way that diamonds or gold under a mountain are valuable, but it takes a lot of effort and infrastructure to get at it and then take advantage of it.”

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No. 5: Haywood: These one-and-done kids aren’t ready for the NBA – Few people can offer the perspective on the one-and-done dilemma that Spencer Haywood can. He changed the landscape for early entrant candidates in 1971 when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, after he starred for two seasons at the University of Detroit, and allowed underclassmen to enter the professional ranks. In an op-ed for the New York Daily News Haywood explains why one season on a college campus is not sufficient preparation for anyone with aspirations of joining the game’s elite. In short, Haywood believes the one-and-done rule has to go, mostly because the NBA game is suffering because of it:

I jumped to the ABA in what would have been my junior year and won the ABA Rookie of the Year and MVP honors with the Denver Rockets. I had a fair amount of seasoning before I challenged the system. I wouldn’t have been able to handle the rigors of the NBA on and off the court after my freshman year.

The NBA is now strewn with underclassmen, most notably players who have left after their freshman year, who have yet to make a significant impact.

Look no further than last year’s NBA draft, when five freshmen — Anthony Bennett, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Steven Adams, Shabazz Muhammad — were selected among the top 15 overall picks.

How many are difference-makers for their respective teams? None.

How many are averaging double digits in points and minutes? None.

The high scorer among this group, McLemore, is averaging 7.5 points per game. The other players are all averaging less than five points and 12 minutes. Noel is out this season due to a knee injury.

Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers, clearly needed more seasoning at UNLV and I told him as much before he made his decision to declare for the draft.

I live in Las Vegas and I saw most of his freshman year. I wish he would have listened. His NBA rookie season has been marred by being out of shape, injuries and failing to live up to the expectations of being a No. 1 overall pick. Averages of 4.1 points and 2.9 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game aren’t exactly what the Cavaliers had in mind when they selected him with the top pick.

Will these players ultimately have long and meaningful NBA careers? Time will tell. But all of them would have benefited by staying at least one more year in college.

The first 30 years after the court ruled in my case, there were only three players who came out of high school early: Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby. Moses bounced around a few teams before becoming an all-time great, but Dawkins had a stagnant, underwhelming career because he wasn’t trained well enough and Willoughby had a marginal eight-year career with six teams.

If you look at the current generation of players from Kevin Garnett to Kobe Bryant to Dwight Howard, only one player was able to make an immediate impact right out of high school — LeBron James.

The NBA is a man’s league. The transition from college to the NBA is huge, on and off the court. The players are faster, stronger and smarter. You’re playing an 82-game schedule, not to mention preseason and if you’re lucky, the playoffs. Suddenly, you’re a teenager going up against the likes of James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George — all men — on a nightly basis.

One and done players need the extra year to successfully transition off the court, too. A lot of these players are still acquiring life skills: Critical thinking, time and money management, self-discipline, moderation and simply learning to say no.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After a season filled with turnover issues, the Thunder finally seem to be getting grip on their most glaring flaw … LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trail Blazers turn the tables and secure a much-needed win over their nemesis from Memphis … After missing 16 straight games is Kevin Garnett finally on his way back to the rotation for the Brooklyn Nets? … The Cavs, who are also chasing Atlanta for that eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, are hoping to get Kyrie Irving back sometime this week

ICYMI of the Night:  Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Johnson doesn’t normally make a fuss when he does his business, but Sunday was a milestone day for the seven-time All-Star, who surpassed the 17,000-point mark for his career …


VIDEO: Joe Johnson hits a career milestone by reaching the 17,000-point mark

Report: Biceps injury could sack season for Irving

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com




VIDEO: Kyrie Irving suffers a biceps injury in last night’s loss to the Clippers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving might have played his last game this season.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ star suffered a biceps injury on his left arm late in the first quarter of a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday night and could be done for the season, according to Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Plain Dealer.

More will be known after Irving is examined today, but the fear is that he could have yet another season curtailed by injury. And Irving has a peculiar injury history that seems to impact him season after season. If he gets sacked again this season, that might be the end of the Cavaliers’ last-ditch effort to make a play for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference chase.

Irving’s future, however, isn’t in question. The MVP of the All-Star Game last month in New Orleans, over leading MVP candidates Kevin Durant and LeBron James, the Cavs have surely seen enough from Irving to know that he’s a building block for years to come. That said, his injury history is hard to ignore. More from the Plain Dealer:

Irving, the Cavs All-Star point guard, left the game with a left biceps injury late in the first quarter, and he left the arena with his left arm in a sling. He is scheduled to have an MRI on Monday in Cleveland, but two NBA sources indicated the injury could be severe enough to end his season in the worst case scenario.

That would be a blow to the Cavs, 26-41, clinging to their fading playoff hopes in spite of being 4.5 games behind eighth-seeded Atlanta with 15 games left, as well as to Irving, who worked extremely hard last summer in order to prevent the sorts of freak injuries that have plagued him throughout his career.

He has missed just three games this year with a left knee contusion, and even played through a broken nose suffered when he was elbowed by the Timberwolves’ Corey Brewer at Minnesota on Nov. 13.

Unfortunately for him, that wasn’t the case in his first three seasons. Last year, he missed 11 games with a fractured left index finger, three with a hyperextended right knee and a total of nine after suffering a sprained left AC joint. He played through a broken bone in his jaw that was protected by a mask. Before last season, he broke his hand when he slapped a padded wall in frustration during a summer-league practice.

His rookie season, he missed 13 games with a concussion and a shoulder injury. His one season at Duke was limited to 11 games because of a toe injury.

This is setting up as a potentially huge free agent summer for the Cavaliers, depending on which players make themselves available. James and Carmelo Anthony could headline a bumper crop. The Cavaliers have assets and cap space to work. Having a healthy Irving coming off of his best season as a pro would make the Cleveland an even more appealing destination.

So the results of Irving’s evaluation today could very well have long-lasting ramifications for not only the young point guard but also the entire organization.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving’s banner season included his first triple-double last month

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Motivated LeBron backs up Rushmore talk | Latest loss strikes a nerve with Lakers | Bennett’s big night lifts Cavs | No comeback for Rose, Noah problem for Bulls

No. 1: Fired up LeBron fuels Mount Rushmore talk himself – Agree or disagree all you want with LeBron James and his assertion that he’ll be on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore when his career ends, you have to like what all of the chatter is doing for his game and the Heat’s season. The Heat might not be on their way to another 27-game win streak, but James has found the motivation needed to overcome the rough patches of this season. LeBron is feeling his words right about now, Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com writes, he’s walking the walk and backing up all of his own talk:

James’ seasonal slogan might just as well be what he said Tuesday, “I’m feeling good right now.”

He has the occasional frustration with a wayward loss, such as over the past weekend in Utah when he played a dud game. He’ll get a little irked when it’s mentioned that Kevin Durant may have closed the gap on him for best player on the planet status. But, generally, James has been skipping on air since he stood on top of the podium after Game 7 in Miami last June holding both gold trophies with that “what can you say now” grin across his face.

The mindset will eventually be challenged but not for awhile. Until then, James will be feeling quite good about himself.

That was at the root of why he was willing to declare in a recent interview with NBA TV that, “I’m going to be one of the top four that’s ever played this game, for sure. And if they don’t want me to have one of those top four spots, they’d better find another spot on that mountain. Somebody’s gotta get bumped.”

When James listed what he felt was the current NBA Mount Rushmore, he named Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson. It is hard to decide which would create more conversation, James’ statement or his choices of the peer group.

Feeling so good about himself and put at ease by interviewer Steve Smith, James continued by claiming that he’d been cheated in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting the past two years.

“To be honest, I feel I’ve been snubbed two years in a row [on the award], and I’m serious,” James said. “And that’s one selfish thing about me … I feel like I should have won it.”

Yes, that is James insisting that he’s not getting enough credit for something. He’s just letting it all go. In the golden era of his career, he clearly figures, why shouldn’t he? He fears no reprisal and, at least now, isn’t too worried about any opponent.

“We’ll play anybody, it doesn’t matter,” James said as he was basking in the win. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We’re not running from anyone.”



VIDEO: LeBron James talks Mount Rushmore with Steve Smith

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No. 2: Latest loss strikes a nerve with Lakers – Steve Nash exiting a second straight game with a nerve issue is problem enough for the Los Angeles Lakers. But dropping yet another game on their home floor is perhaps even more troubling for the Lakers, a team quickly falling down the rabbit hole of this season. Tuesday night’s loss to the Utah Jazz marks the Lakers’ sixth straight home loss at Staples Center, once a fortress of solitude for the team … but no more. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times explains just how severely off track things are for Kobe Bryant‘s crew:

Home bitter home.

The Lakers used to consider Staples Center a haven of victories, a bedrock of five championship runs since the building opened in 1999.

Now they might as well play at a local park.

They lost to the lowly Utah Jazz on Tuesday, 96-79, falling to 8-15 at home and losing six consecutive games at home for the first time since 1992-93.

It’s the cherry on top of several scoops of problems.

Steve Nash left the game for good at halftime, felled again by the same nerve irritation in his back that sidelined him almost three months.

The nerve damage starts in the back and presents itself in his hamstring, making it feel as if it’s strained or pulled.

Whatever euphoria he felt last Friday — 19 points and five assists against Philadelphia on his 40th birthday — was almost absent after Tuesday’s game, though he tried to be upbeat.

“I think I need a little more time to get over the hump,” he told The Times.

He considered sitting out before tipoff but knew the Lakers were short-handed without six injured players.

Nash didn’t look quite right while he played, totaling two points and two assists in 17 minutes. He made one of four shots in his 10th game this season.

The Lakers are shrugging. They don’t know exactly what to do.

“I imagine it’s day to day. I don’t know anything else,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said of Nash’s status. “I haven’t really talked to him.”

Nash’s injury dented some mild excitement the Lakers felt before the game. They were expecting five of their six injured players back shortly after this weekend’s All-Star break.

The lone lingering one, though, was Kobe Bryant, who might be the last Lakers player to return, according to a person familiar with the situation.

He continues to have swelling and pain in his fractured left knee and figures to trail Pau GasolJordan FarmarJodie Meeks and maybe even Xavier Henry in getting back to the court.

***

No. 3: A breakout night for rookie Bennett lifts Cavaliers – It’s taken a while, months basically, but Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Anthony Bennett has finally decided to join the party. Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft had his breakout game in a win over the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night in Cleveland. It was a much-needed breakthrough for Bennett, whose season has been anything but spectacular up to this point. While Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo have all moved past him in the Rookie of the Year race, Bennett is doing well to just ease his way into the public consciousness right now. Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Plain Dealer explains:

Rookie Anthony Bennett drilled a 3-pointer and threw his arms up into the air to celebrate late in the Cavaliers 109-99 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night at The Q.

“I was just having fun,” said Bennett, who registered his first double-double with career highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds in 29:45 as the Cavs avenged a 124-80 loss in Sacramento on Jan. 12 and improved to 19-33, winning three in a row for the first time since Dec. 7-13.

When was the last time he had fun on the basketball court?

“I don’t remember,” Bennett said. “Today?”

The timing was bittersweet as Bennett, whose selection as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft has been widely criticized, and his slow start undoubtedly contributed to the firing of general manager Chris Grant last week.

“I’m sure Chris Grant is smiling at home, and deservedly so,” said Sacramento coach — and former Cavs assistant under Mike BrownMike Malone, whose team dropped to 17-35.

Bennett, who had shoulder surgery before the draft last summer and was unable to participate in summer league, has been coming early to practice and staying late, working to regain the form that made him a star last season at UNLV.

His teammates celebrated with him after Tuesday’s breakout game.

“He played a heck of a game tonight,” Kyrie Irving said. “It was awesome. I was a fan.”

Added Luol Deng, who led the Cavs with 22 points, “He’s going to get it. These kind of games are going to come more often.”

***

No. 4: No return for Rose this season, Noah problem for the Bulls? – Hoops fans in Chicago have played this game before and lost, so there is no reason to dive in again this time. Derrick Rose, no matter how many times he hits the floor to shoot before the Bulls play, is not coming back this season. It is NOT happening … right? But if All-Star center Joakim Noah has his way, the dream of a Rose return is still alive. That said, if Noah keeps up his current ways (a triple-double Tuesday night in a win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks), it’ll be much easier for Bulls fans to stomach another season without Rose in uniform. Joe Cowley of the Sun Times delivers the details:

The door was closed — slammed shut months ago by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau when he said Derrick Rose was lost for the season after tearing his right meniscus Nov. 22 and undergoing surgery.

On Tuesday, center Joakim Noah wedged his size 18 foot into that door, keeping the dream alive for a small minority that believes in unicorns, dragons and quick Rose recoveries.

Asked if he thought Rose could play this postseason, Noah said, ‘‘That’s not my decision. That’s nobody’s decision. It’s all about how he feels. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to be supportive.’’

It went by many different names last year: ‘‘The Return,’’ the Rose watch, the story that wouldn’t die. But in the end, the Bulls never ruled Rose out for the season in his recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, so hope stayed alive until the final minutes of a Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.

The consensus on ‘‘The Return II’’ has been that there wouldn’t be one. But Noah’s comments came on the same day Rose was going through shooting drills with reporters watching, and the story gained legs again — little ones.

‘‘He’s working really hard,’’ Noah said. ‘‘He’s always around the team, being a great leader, showing support to his teammates. Just watching him work every day, I think, is extra motivation for us to go out there and go harder.

‘‘He’s doing a lot more than shooting around. He’s in the gym nonstop, just working on his body getting better. That’s what it’s all about. He’s a big part of this team. He has that mentality of having no regrets. Just give it everything you got. If you can go, you can go. If you can’t, you did everything you could to make it.’’

Thibodeau said Rose was running on the treadmill, but when asked if that was a new development, he quickly said no.

‘‘Still nowhere close to practicing or anything like that,’’ he said, ‘‘but he’s doing well overall.’’


VIDEO: The Fan Night Top 10 delivers a dazzling array of highlights for your viewing pleasure

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Charlotte Bobcats, following the lead of the Phoenix Suns, are simply playing too well to tank … Portland forward Nic Batum can’t fight it anymore, gives up the kudos to Kevin Durant as the best (one-on-one player in the league) … The streak continues for Kyle Korver, thanks to his work in his old stomping grounds … The Miami Heat’s core group is doing the heavy lifting right now and might have to the rest of this season

ICYMI of the Night: NBA TV’s Steve Smith dives deep with LeBron James in this exclusive interview, and yes, there’s more to the interview than the Mount Rushmore talk …


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about what motivates him with NBA TV’s Steve Smith

Chris Grant Doomed By Draft Record


VIDEO: The Lakers beat the Cavs, 119-108

Somebody had to take the fall Thursday for 16-33 and losing the night before even as the Lakers ran out of bodies. It certainly wasn’t going to be owner Dan Gilbert, and it wasn’t going to be players – when getting traded away from the Cavaliers is a reward, not being held accountable. That left general manager Chris Grant to get the termination notice.

In the real perspective, we’re not close to knowing the actual damage of Grant as head of basketball operations, particularly with the draft, and maybe not close by years. If it turns out Dion Waiters really is more problem than production, it is not just a miss in 2012, it’s also the current scrutiny on 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett compounded because the Cavs will have known they had a problem at shooting guard and passed on Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore. A bad decision is one thing, something that happens to every team, but not reacting to it would be the real blight.

It is not too soon, though, to see that the draft was his downfall. Signing Andrew Bynum went bad but was pretty low risk with the chance for a huge payout, hiring Mike Brown as coach may have been more Gilbert and the latest in the infinite timeline of GMs taking the hit for an owner, and trading for Luol Deng could still work out as long as Deng re-signs. This is about June decisions.

That would be the case even with staying judgment on 2013. Bennett has had a historically bad start – 30.1 percent from the field the first 38 appearances – but writing off a prospect before the All-Star break of his rookie season, after an injury, while in that atmosphere, is just too knee-jerk. If he’s this bad a year from now, pile on. But Bennett was regarded by many front offices as a top-three talent before the draft and deserves more time, and it’s not exactly like this was a field overflowing with good options, as 2013-14 is proving out for a lot more teams beyond the Cavaliers.

Even with that benefit of the doubt, the unavoidable truth is that Grant had every break, had four choices in the top four the last three drafts, and still delivered one standout, Kyrie Irving, and one other starter, Tristan Thompson. Grant got an unprotected pick from the Clippers in a trade that beat long odds to draw to No. 1, he was the benefactor of another lottery win two years later in an amazing sequence of luck, he got Deng because the Bulls were looking to pare salary and the Cavs had Bynum as a trade chip, but still 16-33 at the time of the firing.

In the 2011 draft:

No. 1: Irving. Grant got the obvious one right. No matter how many tried to create late buzz for Derrick Williams as a possible alternative, Duke point guard Irving was clearly the guy.

No. 4: Thompson. This was an obvious intersection moment at the time that continues to this day. The Cavaliers could have had Jonas Valanciunas and were in better position than anyone to wait the extra year Valanciunas would spend in Europe, with Irving in the fold as a sign of progress in addition to a feeling of resilience around the franchise in wanting to bounce back from the open-heart surgery without anesthesia performed by LeBron James.

Thompson was not a terrible choice, a hard-working 23 year old and already in a second consecutive of flirting with a double-double. But Valanciunas would have been the answer at center, a tougher position to fill than power forward. The Cavaliers have been playing catch up ever since, trading three picks, though none of consequence, to take Tyler Zeller at No. 17 in 2012, then trying for Bynum, and now getting inside production from Anderson Varejao.

The Grant disclaimer is that it has turned out to be a bad lottery for a lot of people with mistakes almost every other direction he could have turned – the top 10 was Irving, Williams, Enes Kanter, Thompson, Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette. It really has played out as Thompson or Valanciunas in a draft flooded with misses, with Klay Thompson lasting until 11, Kawhi Leonard to 15, Nikola Vucevic at 16 and Kenneth Faried at 22, not to mention Chandler Parsons at 38.

In 2012:

No. 4: Waiters. Anthony Davis (Hornets/Pelicans), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Bobcats) and Bradley Beal (Wizards) were gone. A lot of teams had Waiters around the middle of the lottery, so it’s not like moving two or three spots up from the consensus is a reach by the Cavaliers. Waiters was seen as a talented scorer who could fit well alongside Irving to cement the Cleveland backcourt for the next 10 years.

Not only has he not worked out, but Harrison Barnes (No. 7 to Golden State) was still on the board and in that range in what would have been an answer at small forward, likewise Andre Drummond (No. 9 to Detroit) at center. And that’s removing Damian Lillard (No. 6 to Portland) from the conversation because Cleveland was set at point guard.

And, 2013:

No. 1: Bennett. Bringing a player who needs shots to be effective to a team that would have Irving and Waiters commanding the ball was an invitation for trouble from the beginning, apart from Bennett’s other troubles. Those became part of the Cavaliers’ troubles that this week landed on Grant as part of a troubling draft record.

Cavs Mired In Self-Made Mess




VIDEO: Kyrie Irving sits down with TNT’s Craig Sager to talk all things Cavs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This is what happens when you try to outsmart the system without the right parts, when you think you’ve come up with a formula for an equation that doesn’t actually have one.

All of the lottery picks, risky free agent acquisitions, financial flexibility, spread sheets and advanced statistical and analytical data on the planet won’t save a NBA executive or coach from that wicked reality when the bill is due.

Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant found out the hard way today when he was relieved of his duties and replaced, at least on an interim basis, by his former assistant and now “acting general manager” David Griffin. The Cavaliers are a mess, one of their own making, and Grant — despite keeping a low public profile by GM standards — found himself on the firing line, and rightfully so. Organizational and institutional arrogance will get you every time.

And there is no quick fix, no easy way out of this tire fire for the Cavaliers. There is only the painful and very public walking of the plank for Grant as Griffin, and whoever succeeds him, tries to salvage whatever they can from the wreckage that is the past four years and steer the franchise back onto solid ground.

You can’t blame All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving for being anxious about the direction of the franchise after yet another season goes sideways before Valentine’s Day. He’s not the one who chose Mike Brown, who had already been unceremoniously dumped in his previous stint with the franchise because he couldn’t get the franchise over the championship hump, to usher in the new era of Cavaliers’ basketball. He didn’t draft Dion Waiters or Anthony Bennett when everyone in the league would have gone elsewhere with those top picks. He didn’t sign Andrew Bynum or engineer any of the other moves that have come post-The Decision. Whether it was his call or not (most anyone with a lick of wisdom about this situation knows that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert‘s voice was heard on each and every decision), Grant owns all of those moves.

Trading for Luol Deng was a nice move, but it didn’t happen soon enough. It came after the air of inevitability about this particular Cavaliers team, a woeful 16-33 in a depressed Eastern Conference that they were expected to make a playoff statement in, was already established.

Gilbert made his intentions for the immediate future clear in a statement released by the team:

“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.

This is the latest example of a franchise assuming that there is a template for the type of success enjoyed by the likes of the San Antonio Spurs translating to every other market. It takes stars, superstars usually, and just the right fit to launch an outfit from the lottery to the upper echelon of the league. The players come first, then the success. That’s the way it’s always been and always will be. Assuming that some set infrastructure is supposed to come first is where the Cavaliers went wrong.

They were spoiled during the LeBron James years. They foolishly assumed their fabric had as much to do with those teams making deep forays into the playoffs year after year as James did. Maybe they realize now that there is no chicken and egg debate here. You either grow your superstar and surround him with the right pieces to reach his potential or you make mistake after mistake — the Cavs, before and after Grant joined them (he was an assistant GM first) made plenty of those while LeBron was on his way up — and eventually watch things come apart at some point down the road.

James didn’t depart his native Northeast Ohio because he hated snow or tired of the comforts of home. He went to Miami to win and because the Heat, and Pat Riley, offered a surefire path to the one thing all of the all-time greats covet most, and that’s a Larry O’Brien trophy.

I knew where this thing was headed the moment Gilbert’s now infamous post-Decision promise that the Cavs would win a title before James and the Heat was unearthed to the public.

The risky move to sign Bynum over the summer, when the Cavs were one of a handful of teams with cap space and assets to make big moves, was one that alerted the players already on the roster that Grant and his staff were grasping for anything to make a splash.

It turns out that the Bynum signing was every bit the useless play I thought it was. All it did was increase the tension in an already fragile relationship between Irving and Waiters. The Cavaliers’ locker room culture wasn’t strong enough to absorb and force a cat with Bynum’s baggage to conform, the way he’ll have to in Indiana now if he wants to stick around with a contender for the remainder of this season.

Their Central Division rivals to the north in Indianapolis are a shining example of what the Cavaliers could have and should have been able to do during the time that has passed since LeBron’s departure. They took risks in drafts, free agency and trades and in hiring Frank Vogel as their coach to manage what has become one of the most complete and balanced rosters in the league.

It certainly helps to have Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard at the helm while going through the rebuilding process. But that’s still no excuse for the Cavaliers taking such a cavalier attitude towards conventional wisdom over the course of the past five or six seasons.

In a results-oriented business, the Grant-led Cavaliers simply never showed enough to warrant him making it to the final year of his contract. And now that same mess he inherited will be passed along to Griffin and whoever else follows. Whether or not Irving, Deng and any of the other players acquired on Grant’s watch will be around to see this thing to the finish is anyone’s guess.

But there are some certainties involved in this process, no matter how many perceived assets the person calling the shots is working with. You can go off on your own and decide to reinvent the game if you want, you can take players that don’t fit and squeeze with all your might to try to make it work. You can look past fresh new faces in the coaching ranks in an attempt to right a past wrong or what have you, but you can not and will not circumvent the system. It just doesn’t work.

If you don’t believe it, ask Gregg Popovich how that all would have worked in San Antonio if he didn’t have Time Duncan to build around; or Sam Presti in Oklahoma City without Kevin Durant.

The superstar players come first, then the structure around them. And it all has to fit together.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 30


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Parker might listen to free-agent offers | Durant gets fired up vs. Rockets | More minutes on horizon for Bennett? | Redick nearing return?

No. 1: Parker not opposed to leaving Spurs one day — Much like teammates Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, point guard Tony Parker seems destined to join that duo as a life-long Spur. But Parker, responding to an ESPN.com report that says the Knicks have interest in pursuing him once he becomes a free agent in 2015, isn’t so sure he’d stick with San Antonio no matter the cost. While Parker says staying with the Spurs is his top choice, he told the San Antonio Express-NewsJabari Young that he’s also open to testing the free-agent waters should things not work out as he hopes in San Antonio:

Tony Parker to the New York Knicks?

Unlikely, but Parker wouldn’t rule it out. In fact, he wouldn’t rule out going anywhere if certain circumstances aren’t in place.

A report last week by ESPN.com said the Knicks hope to target the All-Star point guard in 2015, when Parker is set to become a free agent. Told of the report, Parker smiled and said he hadn’t seen it, but is keeping all his options open.

Parker made it clear though, his first choice it to remain in San Antonio as long as he could.

“If I can yeah”, Parker told the San Antonio Express-News. “The history here, they always take care of the guys. They did it with [Tim Duncan] and Manu [Ginobili], so hopefully they take care of me. At the end of this year they have to guarantee my year after, so, technically, maybe, I’ll be a free agent this summer.”

The 31-year-old Parker, who is averaging 17.8 points and 6.0 assists this season, signed a four-year, $50 million extension in 2010. He is owed $25 million in the last two years of his contract, but the final year is partially guaranteed for $3.5 million if he is waived by June 30, 2014 and fully guaranteed for $12.5 million after that.

Said Parker: “I just don’t want a guarantee, I want an extension, too.”

Even if Parker remains in San Antonio for the final year, his decision to stay beyond 2014-15 will depend on his coach and teammates.

Who knows when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will hang it up, though it may not be too far away, and Duncan has a $10 million player option next season, which is the final year of his deal. Will he be around beyond that?

“I want to stay positive,” Parker said, “but if it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out. My wish is to stay here and play my whole career here, but if there is no more Pop or Timmy or Manu, I’m not against going somewhere. I’m not against that.”

Parker being targeted is nothing new, though, and he always expresses his desire to remain in San Antonio for the remainder of his career. But what if the Spurs and Parker don’t reach an extension, would Parker seek a trade?

“I don’t even think like that because I think Pop and [Spurs General Manger R.C. Buford] they always take care of their guys,” Parker responded. “They did it with Timmy and Manu, so I don’t see no reason why they’re not gonna do it with me.”

***

No. 2: Durant shows fire in win over Rockets — In late October, Kevin Durant told The Oklahoman he wasn’t going to be as ‘obsessed’ about winning a championship as he was a season ago. The Houston Rockets would like to argue otherwise. Durant, in the Thunder’s first game against a contender since losing Russell Westbrook (again), simply dominated on Sunday night against Houston. OKC’s star was going full-tilt, as usual, on offense, but as longtime Thunder observer Darnell Mayberry notes, there was an added passion to Durant’s game:

Perry Jones III hadn’t been in the game 90 seconds.

But Kevin Durant didn’t like what he was seeing.

And so the Thunder star called over his second-year teammate, pulling him off the lane during a free-throw attempt despite OKC owning a 15-point lead.

“Wake your (blankety blank) up,” Durant barked at Jones near the scorer’s table.

No one needed to give Durant a wake-up call.

But it wasn’t just the numbers that defined Durant’s night.

It was the pep in his step, the look in his eyes and the fire and intensity with which he played. He took his game to a higher level Sunday in a showdown he knows could turn into a playoff rematch this spring.

From chewing out an up-and-coming teammate to a second-quarter stare down of old nemesis Francisco Garcia when things got too physical on the low block, Durant was dialed in the whole way.

He harassed an official when he drew a foul call and it was called on Terrence Jones instead of Dwight Howard.

He squawked at the Rockets bench after hitting a jumper over former teammate James Harden, a play he orchestrated the entire way when he called for a screen that would force Harden to switch and be left isolated on the right wing.

“He feel like he got to come and set the tone, and he doing that,” said Kendrick Perkins. “I’m liking the mean KD; giving stare downs when he’s dunking on people. I’m rolling with that.”

Durant, meanwhile, is too politically correct to speak on it publicly, and so he downplayed the source of his efforts after the game. But all throughout the summer, when Houston commanded the league’s attention with its blockbuster acquisition of Howard and caused many to wonder whether the Rockets had surpassed the Thunder, Durant grew testy each time the topic was brought up. The focus, Durant always said, should be on the Thunder. That’s the way he wanted to keep it.

With Sunday’s performance, Durant did his part to make sure it stayed that way.


VIDEO: Highlights from Kevin Durant’s monster game vs. the Rockets

***

No. 3: Bynum’s suspension opens up minutes for Bennett — ICYMI somehow over the weekend, things aren’t going so great for the Cavaliers in their attempts to restart Andrew Bynum‘s career. On Saturday, the team suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team and by Sunday, rumors were swirling that the Clippers and Heat were interested in landing the one-time All-Star center. As Cleveland navigates its future with Bynum, one player who could benefit from the fallout is rookie Anthony Bennett, writes Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal. Lloyd has info on that, plus some news on what is next for the Cavs and Bynum, too:

Andrew Bynum’s removal from the Cavaliers clears two spots in Mike Brown’s rotation. One will go to Tyler Zeller, the other to Anthony Bennett.

The top pick in the draft has played sparingly to this point, but no longer. The Cavs are committing significant minutes to Bennett moving forward, which is why Mike Brown acknowledged Sunday that he needs to give Bennett time to play through inevitable mistakes.

“I have to continue trying to have patience with him,” Brown said. “This is an opportunity for him to go out and play some minutes and show what he’s capable of doing.”

After saying that, he only played Bennett 11 minutes in the 108-104 overtime loss Sunday to the Golden State Warriors after playing him 19 minutes in the loss to the Boston Celtics on Saturday.

“I’m still clueless about this whole thing,” Bennett said. “I’m still trying to learn a lot. I can still learn from my teammates, from the coaching staff, watching film. I just feel like this whole league is all about learning, just going out and playing.”

He has played a fraction of the minutes other top picks in last summer’s draft are receiving. The Cavs hope more consistent minutes will mean more production.

Brown has juggled Bennett’s role from power forward to small forward and now back to power forward, which seems to have further confused the rookie. When he switched Bennett back to power forward, Brown said there is still the possibility he could see minutes on the wing. For right now, Brown likes some of the things Bennett is doing away from the ball. He just wants the rookie to slow down and show some composure when he has the ball.

In terms of Bynum, it looks like the Cavs will have to move quickly on a trade if they want to spare themselves having to pay the majority of Bynum’s salary this season:

Bynum’s suspension was lifted Sunday, but he is still excused from all team activities. He was docked one game’s pay (roughly $110,000). The Cavs have until Jan. 7 to trade or release him or they will be responsible for the balance of his $12 million deal.

If they can’t find a deal by Jan. 7, a league source confirmed the team is considering holding onto him anyway. They would have until June 30 to trade or release him before his $12 million deal for next season becomes guaranteed.

Bynum’s locker hadn’t been cleaned out yet at Quicken Loans Arena. Among the items left behind was a pair of headphones. He is also still part of the pregame introduction video. The team did not hand out his Fathead on Sunday, as was previously scheduled. They also did not hand out game-day programs, called “Tipoff Tonight,” because he was featured on the cover.

To make up for the Fathead issue, kids 14 and under received a certificate to redeem for future Fathead packs.


VIDEO:
Coach Mike Brown talks after the Cavs’ OT loss to the Warriors on Sunday

***

No. 4: Redick nearing return for Clips? — As one of the marquee additions to the team in the offseason, the Clippers’ J.J. Redick got off to a solid start for Los Angeles before a torn ligament in his wrist sidelined him for 6-8 weeks in early December. He’s been rehabbing the injury ever since and Clippers coach Doc Rivers tells Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times that Redick could be on his way back to the lineup soon:

Clippers rookie swingman Reggie Bullock, who is out with a sprained right ankle, has been working out and is making progress.

Coach Doc Rivers said Bullock shot some during the team’s shoot-around before Saturday night’s game against Utah.

“Yeah, he’s getting closer,” Rivers said.

J.J. Redick, who is out with a broken right hand and torn ligaments on the right side of his wrist, now has a soft cast on his hand and not the hard cast anymore.

Redick, a right-handed shooter, has not been shooting the ball yet.

“He’s close too, would be my guess,” Rivers said. “I think it’s a couple of weeks, maybe.”

.***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Blazers rookie C.J. McCollum is getting closer and closer to his NBA debut … The Knicks might be closing in on a deal with big man Jeremy Tyler, a move that could result in the cutting of Chris Smith … The Wizards’ Bradley Beal is a much better shooter when Marcin Gortat is on the courtBlake Griffin has been playing some MVP-type basketball the last few games

ICYMI Of The Night: Maybe there are times now, what with Russell Westbrook being injured, that Kevin Durant misses his old teammate James Harden. But he made a point to see him up close again when he dunked on him last night


VIDEO: Kevin Durant drives in and dunks over ex-teammate James Harden

76ers’ MCW Doesn’t Play Like A Rookie


VIDEO: The Spotlight is shined on rookie phenom Michael Carter-Williams

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Is it too early to just go ahead and hand Michael Carter-Williams the Rookie of the Year trophy? Maybe, but who would argue?

It’s usually way too early to play the re-draft game. We typically reserve that for a couple years down the road to re-evaluate the order of the picks. The superb all-around play of the Philadelphia 76ers first-year point guard in his first 11 games has been as special as it is confounding as to how enough teams didn’t see this coming from a 6-foot-6 prospect that would allow him to drift all the way to No. 11.

No. 1 would be more like it. OK, so the Cleveland Cavaliers already have Kyrie Irving (and we won’t get into Anthony Bennett‘s start here), so No. 1 was out of the question anyway. But Orlando? The pick of Victor Oladipo at No. 2 was a solid choice, argued by no one, but the Magic are trying to train him as a point guard and there’s going to be some lumps along the way.

The Utah Jazz took Michigan point guard Trey Burke, the 6-foot college player of the year, at No. 9. We’ll have to wait a bit to make any declarations on Burke considering he broke his right index finger the third game into the preseason and has played in just two games, both coming off the bench, although that could change as early as tonight when the Jazz play at Oklahoma City (7 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Carter-Williams has simply soared above all other rookies and is a primary reason why the rebuilding 76ers shocked the league with a 4-2 start and 4-4 before he got hurt. In the four games he missed, Philly went 1-3.

He had the Sixers, still a surprising 6-9, scrapping Saturday night in a 106-98 road loss at the East-leading Pacers, going for 29 points, six rebounds, three assists and seven steals. The last stat, the steals, has been an eye-opener all season. He’s got 12 in the last two games and Carter-Williams started his career by nabbing nine against the Miami Heat.

He’s on pace to set an NBA rookie record for steals. Carter-Williams already has 33 — 20 more than Oladipo, who is second among rookies — which puts him on pace to finish with 234 if he plays in all of the Sixers’ remaining 67 games (he missed four games already with a foot injury). Dudley Bradley holds the rookie record of 211 in 1979-80 (Ron Harper had 209 and Mark Jackson had 205 in the 1980s).

At 3.0 spg, Carter-Williams already ranks among the league’s top thieves. He’s tied atop the NBA with Ricky Rubio in steals per game, and in total steals he ranks third, one behind Chris Paul, who has played three more games, and 12 behind Rubio, who has played in four more games.

Among rookies, none come close to Carter-Williams’ across-the-board production. He leads all first-year players in scoring at 17.3 ppg; Oladipo is next at 12.8 ppg. His 7.4 apg are tops with Milwaukee’s Nate Wolters next at 4.7. His 63 total rebounds rank third among rookies and tops among guards. His 10 blocks rank third among rooks; the top three are all centers.

Perhaps most impressive about Carter-Williams is simply the smoothness and poise of his game. He’s not rattled by the competition and he demonstrated that in the first game of his career against the two-time champion Heat with a near quadruple-double: 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals. Against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls he went for 26 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and three steals.

He’s already produced three double-doubles, and as he improves his shooting percentage (40.0 from the floor through 11 games, although 36.2 percent from 3-point range), his scoring average will rise. He posted consecutive games of shooting at least 50 percent from the floor for the first time this season in his last two games.

Perhaps it is too early to simply anoint Carter-Williams as the Rookie of the Year, but the young man groomed two seasons at Syracuse is certainly stating his case with authority.

It’s Getting Late Early In Cleveland

Kyrie Irving, Mike Brown and the Cavs are trying to figure things out. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

Kyrie Irving, Mike Brown and the Cavs are trying to figure things out. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

Some Cleveland fans might have assumed that the drama around the Cavaliers left town about the same time The Multiple MVP Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned packed up and vamoosed. Mike Brown probably figured nothing could top the start of last season in L.A. for hyperventilating and zaniness, seeing as how he was terminated just five games into the season.

But they all would be wrong – Brown has even admitted it – because the first three weeks of 2013-14 for the Cavs has been dripping with turmoil and uncertainty, much of it only leaking out publicly in the past 24-48 hours.

An ESPN.com report Saturday disclosed that Cleveland’s players held a closed-door, players-only meeting after their 29-point loss at Minnesota. The comings and goings of players from center Andrew Bynum in his endless knees rehab to shooting guard Dion Waiters and his alleged blue flu have cut into those players’ opportunities and continuity, while having a trickle-down effect on the rest of Brown’s rotation.

Then there’s the protection mask point guard Kyrie Irving has had to don – and the speculation that it had more to do with physical manifestations of the Cavaliers’ internal strife than inadvertent contact with Minnesota’s Corey Brewer.

Jason Lloyd, who covers the Cavs for the Akron Beacon Journal, went to the unusual lengths of enumerating a 41-item list Saturday night, pegged to Irving’s 41 points in the 104-96 overtime victory at Washington but needed on merit to clear the air a little in northeast Ohio.

Consider a few of these nuggets:

1. There have been a lot of wild stories flying around regarding the Cavs’ players-only meeting Wednesday at Minneapolis and what did/didn’t happen. Here’s what I know.

2. Mike Brown entered the locker room to begin his postgame speech when Kyrie Irving interrupted and asked him to leave the room so the players could talk. Brown was happy to do so and Irving started things off.

3. The meeting was intense – the Cavs played terrible and lost by 29 points – but two players who were in the room both privately said some of the speculation has been overblown and it wasn’t combative, nor was Dion Waiters a target of the meeting. The players weren’t very happy, but no specific player was singled out.

And:

6. As for Waiters and this illness, Mike Brown said he has been to the doctor twice and has a prescription. I’ve heard whispers Waiters knew he was going to get demoted to the second team. Did he know that and make up this illness? Is he really sick? The only one who really knows the answer to that is Waiters.

7. No one on the team has really seen or heard from Waiters since Wednesday’s game. He didn’t attend Friday’s shootaround because of this illness and didn’t make the trip to Washington for tonight’s game. No one I talked to really knows how sick Waiters is or what all this is about.

And:

14. [Irving] obviously didn’t do a very good job of that last week when he blew past Mike Brown during the Chicago game, but I’ve been told numerous times that was an isolated incident between coach and player.

15. One player said Irving has never reacted inappropriately to a critical comment a teammate has aimed toward him.

16. All that being said, Irving has done well the last few days. He called the meeting in Minnesota on Wednesday and Brown raved about his ability to command the huddle and keep the guys together during Saturday’s win. More importantly, he finally shot the ball the way he is capable of shooting.

And:

20. Andrew Bynum is starting without really practicing with the starters. C.J. Miles has started the last two games at shooting guard without really practicing. Earl Clark shifted to power forward tonight without any practice there.

21. Brown told Clark on the flight Friday night to Washington he was going to use him at power forward. They went over a few things on the flight, talked more about it Saturday morning, but that was about it.

And that’s cherry-picking through barely half of Lloyd’s list of talking points.

A 3-7 start prior to Saturday’s OT outcome wasn’t in Cleveland’s plans when it staked out an Eastern Conference playoff berth for itself next spring. Neither, for that matter, was the meager production from No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett – modest, sure, but not this meager. Waiters might not be healthy but he certainly isn’t happy, based on news reports, and Irving has struggled with both his shot and his leadership ability.

Offensively, the Cavs have been a mess, ranking 29th with an offensive rating of 96.2. Last season, under Byron Scott, they were 19th. They have a lot to iron out, and it’s not clear if newcomer Jarrett Jack’s agenda – resolve stuff, now! – actually was served.

After Saturday’s game, Jack tried to smooth things out for reporters:

“Things happen. We’re able to talk amongst one another. You can have a disagreement. That’s very much OK. It’s not against the law. But the whole thing about it is, if you’re going to have a talk or any conversation, a resolution should be the reason for having it in the first place. That was the whole reason why we called the meeting, had the discussions. I like the place that we’re in right now.”

Cleveland’s next game isn’t until Wednesday when it faces Washington again, so it’s hard to know what’s what. Or who’s sick, who’s cranky and who’s getting under whose skin.

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…)

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rose suffers minor injury | Bennett tunes out his critics | Brown gets new view of Spurs’ dominance | Crawford impressing in Boston

No. 1: Rose suffers minor hamstring injury — The Bulls and star guard Derrick Rose are still trying to work their way back into their dominant form of a few seasons ago. Last night’s win over the Cavaliers was a big step in that direction as Rose and Co. romped past the Cavaliers to get Chicago back to .500. But in the process, Rose sustained what he termed a minor injury to his hamstring late in the game, writes Sam Smith of Bulls.com:

There are a lot of sentences with “Derrick Rose” and “injury” that are no laughing matter. The one Monday late in the Bulls 96-81 pulling away victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers made you smile.

Because this time Rose was joking about it.

Whew!

Rose sustained what he and the Bulls afterward termed a minor strain in his right hamstring, apparently on an impressive transition drive late in the game that split the Cavs’ defense and put a knife in their spirits. It was part of 9-1 run featuring Rose and Mike Dunleavy that broke open the game after the Cavs got within 78-75 with 4:55 left.

“Right away,” Rose said with a smile when asked if he knew it was a hamstring issue and not a knee problem. “I think I’ve been in the training room long enough, around trainers long enough, to know everything about my body.

“It’s irritating,” Rose added with a laugh, “but just getting them (injuries) out of the way early. I should be fine.”

Rose laughing and smiling. That’s good.

“I really don’t know (what happened),” said Rose. “I remember running down the court, really didn’t feel anything until I came down. Then went back to the bench (as the Cavs called time out). They were asking me about it. Coming back in, there was a play where someone knocked the ball out of bounds (good Rose defense on Irving funneling him to Gibson who blocked his shot). They said I wasn’t moving good enough to be on the court. They subbed me out.

“It had to be on the drive,” Rose thought. “Stuff happens. I’ve just got to play through it and come back healthy. I should be ready (for the Raptors Friday). It’s nothing big at all. I’m still able to walk around, move around the way I want to. Just a little sore.”

“He’ll be evaluated further,” added Thibodeau. “When he gets reevaluated tomorrow (Tuesday), we’ll have more information. It appears to be minor.”

Rose then went out for Hinrich with 3:15 remaining and the Bulls leading 83-76.

***

No. 2: Rookie Bennett tuning out his critics — The No. 1 pick of the 2013 Draft, Anthony Bennett, hasn’t had the best start to his NBA career. Heading into last night’s game against the Bulls, he was a putrid 1-for-21 from the field (4.8 FG pct.) and registered a DNP-CD against Chicago due to concerns over a nagging shoulder injury. The rookie has been the target of some criticism around the web and in the media, but luckily, the Cavs’ veterans and coaches aren’t letting him listen to the noise. USA Today‘s Sean Highkin has more on Bennett:

Bennett entered Monday’s game against the Chicago Bulls having made one field goal this season, in his fifth game. But despite the early struggles, the former UNLV star is staying patient.

“Coming in No. 1 in the draft, everybody has high expectations,” Bennett said Monday. “But in this situation, I don’t have to produce right away. There are a lot of other young talented players in my position that can help me along the way, so I’m just here for the learning experience. Later on in the season, hopefully I can do my thing.”

Bennett, an undersized power forward, is competing for minutes in the frontcourt with veterans Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao as well as promising third-year forward Tristan Thompson.

“We have that luxury, we don’t have to play him (right away),” Brown said. “So we’re just helping him along slowly, and we know that once he figures it out he’s going to be great.”

Veteran point guard Jarrett Jack also preached patience.

“This kid is, like, 19,” Jack said. “How many people realized who they were or what they were doing at 19? How critical all of us could probably be of them, not just professionally but also socially. I’m sure there’s a laundry list of things people could dig up.

“But I mean, that’s the part about this business, is that people get to come to your job and critique you. That doesn’t really happen anywhere else. Imagine being a doctor trying to perform surgery, and I’m standing in there like, ‘Oh, that was terrible.’ And you’re 19 on top of that. So that’s just a part about this business that you have to learn.”

After Bennett’s fourth consecutive game without a made basket, he tweeted that he was going to take a break from social media. “Going ghost for a bit, think it’s be best for me at this point,” he wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted.

“I just ignore everything,” Bennett said on Monday. “My focus is on the team right now. I can tune it out. I just thought it was the best decision for me, to stay away from my social media. I don’t even know the last time I’ve been on Twitter. I deleted it (from my phone).”

***

No. 3: Brown gets good look at familiar system — Sixers coach Brett Brown honed his craft as a member of the San Antonio Spurs organization for 14 seasons as an assistant coach under the legendary Gregg Popovich. Brown knows all too well how efficient the Spurs’ system is at churning out wins season after season and, in his first season as a coach against it, got an even better look at just how brutally efficient it is in Philly’s loss to San Antonio last night, writes Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

he Spurs were off on another one of their patented tears early in Monday’s 109-85 victory at Philadelphia.Tony Parker was going all Cuisinart on the 76ers’ young defense, slicing and dicing his way to the basket. Danny Green was knocking down 3-pointers like it was June in Miami. The ball was ping-ponging around the Wells Fargo Center, moving almost audibly, the way it does when the Spurs’ offense is humming.

Somewhere, Sixers coach Brett Brown had seen all this before.

“It’s a machine,” said Brown, a Spurs staff member for 11 seasons before taking the Philly job last summer. “That thing just moves along and chugs along, and they’ll bang out another 50 (wins) this year and be amongst the NBA’s best again.”

Though Popovich looked forward to dining with Brown after arriving Sunday night, the game wasn’t one he had circled on his calendar.

It’s no fun, he said, coaching against a close friend.

“You have a weird feeling either way,” Popovich said. “If you win, you sort of feel bad. If you lose, you’re sort of happy for the other guy. Which is also a weird feeling.”

It was an odd feeling, too, for Spurs backup guard Patty Mills, who also played for Brown on the Australian national team. Before the game, Mills joked he had nothing to say to his former coach.

“He’s the enemy now,” Mills said.

And a dangerous one, if you had asked the Spurs beforehand.

The Sixers (4-4) are clearly rebuilding, with Brown saying before the season he counted about six sure NBA players on his roster. But Philly was good enough to shock defending champion Miami on opening night and good enough to beat Derrick Rose-led Chicago after that.

It quickly became clear Monday the Spurs weren’t about to join the list of elite teams to be ambushed by the 76ers.

***

No. 4: Crawford shows off his ‘steez’ in Celtics’ win — Throughout his NBA career, Jordan Crawford has mostly been viewed (and used as) a scoring option off the bench — nothing more and nothing less. The Celtics swingman has found a new life and role under coach Brad Stevens, who has made Crawford his starting point guard of late and is enjoying the spoils that come with that (four straight wins) while Crawford gets to show off his multi-faceted game, writes Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

Jordan Crawford can’t hide it.

Even when he’s placed at point guard, handed the keys to the Celtics offense and asked to color within the lines, he can’t hide it.

Jordan Crawford can’t keep his “steez” — the word he uses to describe his style, his “steelo” — holstered for too long. After his 10 assists in last night’s 120-105 C’s win over Orlando, the man renowned more in other NBA stops for his willingness to shoot from angles unknown even to Pythagoras was asked about his court vision.

“Y’all just now noticing that, huh?” replied Crawford, the steez dripping from each syllable.

“I was blessed with court vision. When a teammate’s open, you find him.”

He’ll tell you he’s just a basketball player, but he’ll say it in ways far cooler than we could. He’ll tell you that people who’ve criticized his game just don’t look past his manner to see the real Jordan Crawford.

Brad Stevens seems to get him. Instead of reining in Crawford and using him as a potentially explosive scoring weapon off the bench, the new coach has made the hyperactive kid the hall monitor. Stevens has empowered Crawford, making him the starting point guard four games ago.

What’s not debatable is that Jordan Crawford is looking better and better with the ball. He shot early when the openings were there, scoring 12 of his 16 points in the first half and taking just five shots in the second.

He still sometimes dribble-dribble-dribbles a bit much, but there isn’t a coach who wouldn’t take 10 assists and no turnovers.

“He’s really doing a great job,” said Stevens. “He’s got a lot of confidence out there. He’s always been a guy that had good confidence about him, but I think the thing that I’ve been most pleased with through really the entire time I’ve been around him is his consistency.

“That’s an area in which you have to really embrace if you’re going to be a good point guard, because everybody’s depending on you to be reliable on a day-to-day basis.”

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Until the playoffs draw closer in Clipperland, don’t expect to see Antawn Jamison in games anytime soon … The Hawks’ Kyle Korver is closing in on the all-time record for games played with at least one made 3-pointer … The Pelicans are expected to bring back former big man Lou Amundson … ICYMI, great story detailing some of the little-known facts about Michael Jordan‘s ‘flu’ game in the 1997 Finals

ICYMI Of The Night: Somewhere in the greater Milwaukee area, Bucks guard Brandon Knight likely knows exactly how Marvin Williams feels after getting dunked on so viciously last night …


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson goes up strong, posterizes Utah’s Marvin Williams