NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Lance is the Hornets’ hobby now — His talent is undeniable. His persona is irrepressible. And now Lance Stephenson is the Charlotte Hornets’ hope and challenge, a budding, two-way star who might reach his All-Star potential with his new team or yield to some distracting ways with the validation of a new three-year, $27 million contract via free agency. Al Jefferson, the Hornets’ main man up front, will find out (if he doesn’t already know it) that Stephenson is an adept passer and managed to deliver the ball to Indiana’s Roy Hibbert better than anyone else on the Pacers roster. He also might find out why David West, Paul George, George Hill, Hibbert and Rasual Butler stayed so busy keeping Stephenson on task and occasionally talking him down from emotional ledges. Here is some Jefferson quotage on Charlotte’s strong summer move courtesy of ProBasketballTalk.com:
“I’m excited about Lance,” Jefferson said in the hall outside the Hornets locker room at the Thomas & Mack Center, where he had shown up to watch Charlotte eliminate New York from the Summer League tournament. “We’re all going to be on the same page as far as defense, and defense dictates the offense.
“But Lance is a playmaker. That’s the reason he led the NBA in triple-doubles last year. He’s got this nastiness about his game that you want on your team. I was really excited to hear he signed with us and he wanted to do that. I think he’s got a lot to prove, and he wants to show people he can be a great superstar in this league.”
No. 2: It’s about Klay’s defense – One of the head-scratching snags in what many see as a helps-both-teams deal between Golden State and Minnesota that would deliver Kevin Love to the Bay Area is the valuation of off-guard Klay Thompson. Thompson became an issue in the haggling early – beyond, as many saw it, his actual capabilities with either team. Turns out, it’s his defense that has been getting short shrift from many of the so-called experts. Golden State’s roster isn’t built to withstand the loss of Thompson’s backcourt defense as long as Stephen Curry is back there handling so much of the offensive load. As USA Today’s Sam Amick writes:
In short, they’re not willing to ditch the defense.
Their recent refusal to include guard and Timberwolves target Klay Thompson in the deal is rooted in this reality, as losing Thompson would not only leave Curry overexposed defensively in the backcourt but is compounded by the fact that Love — much like incumbent power forward David Lee, who would head to Minnesota if this deal got done — isn’t exactly known as a two-way player. From Lacob on down, this is a major part of the Warriors’ internal analysis and something that belies all the initial speculation about how this Kerr era might be defined.
Thompson, meanwhile, left a lasting impression on his bosses with the way he played in his most recent postseason. Kerr wasn’t part of the program just yet, but he had a front-row seat as a TNT analyst and was just as impressed as the rest of them.
“Klay guarded Chris Paul the entire Clippers series,” Kerr, who spoke about Thompson but did not discuss the Love situation, told USA TODAY Sports on Friday. “He has allowed Steph to conserve some energy at the defensive end, and to slide over to a shooter. The versatility that we have defensively between Klay and (new point guard) Shaun Livingston and (small forward) Andre (Iguodala), it’s really important for us…We’re excited about our roster.”
In addition to becoming a scorer on the rise (18.4 points per game last season on 44.4% shooting overall and 41.7% from three-point range), Thompson’s task of guarding the other team’s point guard is significant here. The Warriors need Curry to continue playing like the face of their franchise that he is, but overburdening him with a backcourt partner who doesn’t live up to Thompson’s standards defensively is seen as a major threat to this crucial component.
No. 3: The L-Train runs to Brooklyn — Run was the operative word when Lionel Hollins, most recently head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies who spent last season in media gigs, got the call from the Brooklyn Nets to come a-interviewing. Jason Kidd, last season’s coach, had torpedoed his position with a failed power play that sent him in the recoil to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Nets wanted to fill the void fast, and that’s how Hollins went about landing the job. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe had other nuggets from the erudite and candid Hollins that makes him an asset not just to Brooklyn but to NBA reporters’ notebooks:
“Yeah, it was sudden,” Hollins said of the call from Nets general manager Billy King. “Saturday I was sitting at home with no job and Sunday night I’m flying to New York, Monday I’m having dinner with Billy and his staff, Tuesday I’m interviewing, Tuesday night I’m on my way home, and when I get home contract negotiations had already started, and Wednesday it was a done deal.”
The Nets still have talent but there are questions. [Brook] Lopez is coming off yet another foot injury. [Deron] Williams underwent ankle surgery during the offseason and there are murmurs that he is in decline. [Joe] Johnson will be 33 when the season begins and the salary cap-strapped club has made no major offseason acquisitions.
“I think that [Lopez], Joe, and Deron are the three big names in the nucleus, and KG [Kevin Garnett] if he decides to come back and play will certainly be in that mix, and I look for him to start and play,” Hollins said.
Hollins has spent the past few weeks trying to find housing in Brooklyn, reaching out to players on the roster, and assembling a staff.
“Yes, I was surprised by the fact that it did open,” he said of the Nets job. “It’s not something that you think. But I always say that every year you go through and all the job opportunities fade away and then something happens where somebody decides to resign, or somebody does what happened in the Brooklyn case. It’s not like I was dead to coaching — I’m watching TV, I worked for NBA TV, I worked for NBA Radio, and so I never shut down from looking and thinking about the game and what I would do in certain situations. It just flows. It’s what I do.”
No. 4: Giving World Peace another chance — Metta World Peace‘s greatest NBA success came under Phil Jackson in Los Angeles. The New York Knicks already are on the hook to MWP for $250,000 this season, residue of his brief (29 games, one start) stint with them under coach Mike Woodson in 2013-14. So now that Jackson is running the basketball operation in New York and former Lakers guard Derek Fisher is the head coach, it doesn’t take a super-computer to calculate the likelihood of World Peace (who had asked for his release from the Knicks) being invited to training camp on a make-good deal. Marc Berman of the New York Post did some of his customary pot-stirring on the topic:
“[World Peace] has the utmost respect for Phil and Derek,’’ his agent, Marc Cornstein, told The Post. “There’s a history there. They know he’s out there.’’
The Knicks are trying to add another good-sized small forward to the roster. After Carmelo Anthony, only rookie Cleanthony Early is a true small forward. During summer league play, Early is trying to prove he is ready to be Anthony’s backup, but hasn’t shown he can create his own shot.
The World Peace camp has expressed interest to the Knicks. Under the buyout, the Knicks already are paying World Peace $250,000 for next season. If World Peace were invited and made the team, he’d be eligible for the veteran’s minimum, $1.4 million.
The Queensbridge product was disillusioned with his ballyhooed return to New York, which ended with a buyout Feb. 22 after he was buried in Mike Woodson’s doghouse and needed his left knee drained five times. Woodson didn’t like his offbeat act after signing him last July.
If he doesn’t an invite to the Knicks’ training camp, he may become the assistant coach for the Palisades High girls basketball team in Los Angeles.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Lakers had hoped to bring back Kendall Marshall but Milwaukee stymied that plan. … Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving is like a lot of other Clevelanders: Excited about this LeBron guy. … Coach Doc Rivers showed his loyalty by bringing Delonte West to summer league, but the Clippers have “1,000 guards,” so West’s NBA comeback might have to happen elsewhere. … Former Wizards’ big Jan Vesely is headed back to Europe, and no one in the NBA is stopping him. … Don’t expect to see Kosta Koufos on the Greek national team. … It’s not quite of Kevin Love-Klay Thompson proportions but Golden State faces a decision on Nemanja Nedovic.