Posts Tagged ‘Boston Celtics’

Morning Shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: ‘Melo to explore ‘options’ in free agency | LeBron backs off vs. Cavs | Bynum suffering from swollen knee | Rondo struggling with how to lead rebuilding Celts | Pau backs Jackson’s move to N.Y.

No. 1: Report: Bulls, Rockets top suitors for Anthony — As Phil Jackson was introduced as the Knicks new team president yesterday, one of the main topics of conversation was the future of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony intends to opt out of his contract this summer and test the free-agent waters and while the Knicks can offer him more money than any other team on the open market can, rumors have bubbled up about him being interested in leaving. In a review of the Knicks’ addition of Jackson, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski says that two teams — the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets — are in the lead to make a big push for ‘Melo this summer:

Jackson has limitless resources to construct a front office, coaching staff and roster. Everything’s on him now. James Dolan won’t be cramping Jackson’s style in those big free-agent meetings, because it will be Jackson playing the part of Miami’s Pat Riley now. Throwing his rings on the table, selling management credibility born of coaching genius.

And make no mistake: One of the most important things Jackson offered on Tuesday was a nod toward his old Chicago Bulls nemesis and GM, Jerry Krause, whom, he said, set a standard for thoroughness and legwork in the evaluation of talent. All of them mocked Krause, but no one – not Jackson, nor Michael Jordan – would’ve had multiple titles without him. Or maybe even one.

The NBA is a talent business, and the Knicks’ most important asset, Carmelo Anthony, will welcome listening to Jackson’s pitch on the future. Anthony heard part of it in the news conference when Jackson went out of his way to suggest the Knicks star’s freewheeling, isolation-scoring days are done.

Anthony has free-agent options, and two have risen above everything else: Chicago and Houston, sources with direct knowledge of his plans told Yahoo Sports. The Bulls have an easier path to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign Anthony, but the Rockets believe they can shed the contracts necessary to offer a third near-max deals alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources said.

“He’ll give New York every option,” one source with knowledge of Anthony’s plans told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. “But he has options – and he’s going to explore them all.”


VIDEO: Phil Jackson talks about his desire to keep Carmelo Anthony in New York

***

No. 2: LeBron backs off a bit after epic start vs. Cavs — After the first quarter of last night’s Heat-Cavaliers game from Quicken Loans Arena, LeBron James had 25 points on a 10-for-11 shooting performance in the first quarter. In short, it looked like James was headed for another record scoring night just weeks after he set the team mark for points in a game with 61 against the Charlotte Bobcats. But a funny thing happened as the game went along: James tapered off his field goal attempts and worked to get others involved. While he still finished with 43 points, ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst notes how James chose to back off against Cleveland after his hot start:

LeBron James had the hammer raised on his former team Tuesday night, the chance to inflict another lasting scar with the sort of record-setting performance that would hang on the books for years.Maybe it was mercy, maybe it was maturity and maybe there was just some pride from the injury-ravaged Cleveland Cavaliers. It was hard to figure exactly what happened, but James uncharacteristically stood down and perhaps allowed a chance at a record to pass and left satisfied that his Miami Heat took a 100-96 victory.

James, who possesses a flash-drive memory, easily remembered Allen Iverson scoring 54 points on the Cavs back in 2001 when he was a teenager in nearby Akron. It was a vendetta that night, Iverson upset the Cleveland crowd had mistreated him in his view in an earlier visit and he was determined to make a statement.

Iverson’s angry night still stands as the Quicken Loans Arena record and it was so within James’ grasp. James himself carries the date Dec. 2, 2010, around in his head like a family member’s birthday because of the rancor he encountered in the building in his first game back after signing with the Heat. He mentions that date numerous times a year, usually when brushing away someone insinuating he’d run into a hostile crowd that particular day.

He referenced that date again Tuesday, in fact. But James doesn’t seem to have the same desire to strike back as Iverson. If nothing else, James played almost 400 games in his life in the building and never eclipsed 50 but was halfway to that number just 12 minutes in.

“With that type of start, you see if you can go for 70,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s just human conditioning to think like that.”

And it’s human conditioning for the coach to let his player try. Instead of sitting James to start the second quarter as normal, Spoelstra sent him to the floor to continue the streak.

Then something odd happened. James backed off. He started passing up open driving lanes. He started looking for teammates inside. He started calling plays for teammates, especially looking to get Ray Allen some open looks. He eased off the pure attack mode he seemed to be reveling in only moments before.

“When I started the game off, I felt like I could have went for 50 or 60,” James said. “But you can’t really dictate what’s going to happen.”

James would take just eight shots the rest of the game, which is simply incomprehensible after one starts 10-of-11. He took just three shots in the entire second half when the Cavs, who were also without All-Star Kyrie Irving because of a biceps injury, were pushing back and trying to pull an upset.

Just imagine how many shots Iverson might’ve taken had he started a game 10-of-11, much less a game in Cleveland during his prime.

James did reach the 40-point mark, getting there with some late-game free throws when the Cavs starting intentionally fouling him to stop the clock to keep comeback hopes alive. In all, he had 43 points on 14-of-19 shooting. It was barely above normal: James averages 17.5 shots a game and most of the time he’s sharing the load with Wade.

“He’s not a selfish player, never has been,” said Chris Bosh, who was the Heat’s main offensive weapon in the second half as he scored 12 of his 21 points despite a little scare when he twisted his right knee in the third quarter.

“He’s still had [43], that’s pretty good. Some guys probably don’t have the maturity to handle that but he did a pretty good job of playing a complete game.”


VIDEO: LeBron James gets off to a quick start in Miami’s win in Cleveland

***

No. 3: Bynum dealing with swelling in knee — The Pacers have to be more than pleased with what they’ve seen from center Andrew Bynum in the two games as the big man is averaging 11.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg while shooting 40.9 percent. But it appears they’ll have to wait a while to see him on the court again as knee swelling will keep him sidelined as the Pacers travel to face the Knicks tonight, writes Scott Agness of Pacers.com:

Andrew Bynum won’t join the Pacers on their trip to New York, but instead will stay in town to treat swelling in his knees that are causing him pain — and to miss games.

“The knees are still swollen so he’s going to stay behind to get some work in here and some treatment here,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said following Tuesday’s practice. “We’ll see where he’s at when we get back.”

Bynum, who was in practice gear but didn’t participate on Tuesday, admitted there’s some concern for his recent setback. After scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds in exactly 20 minutes of work Saturday night in Detroit, Bynum has experienced significant swelling in his right knee to the point where he underwent an MRI and had it drained Monday afternoon.

“This one is a little concerning for me because it caused a lot more fluid,” he said. “I haven’t had that much fluid in there since like the (2010) Boston Finals in L.A.”

That was almost four years ago.

“It’s not fun,” Bynum added. “It is what it is at this point.”

Doctors analyzed the MRI Tuesday morning, according to Bynum, and he expects to know more Tuesday afternoon.

As Vogel has said, they knew what they were signing up for. But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to deal with.

“[It's] not really disappointing at all, to be honest,” he said. “We knew he was going to be in and out of the lineup. He’s got some problems with his knees, we’re well aware of that, and we’ll be excited with what he can give us when he’s in there.”


VIDEO: Andrew Bynum talks about his knee injury

***

No. 4: Rondo struggling to lead Celts during rebuild – After Monday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Boston Celtics have an 0-15 road mark against the Western Conference, a feat no other Celtics team had accomplished. If nothing else, that’s proof of a rebuilding season in Beantown as Boston tries to figure out its direction for next season and beyond. Star point guard Rajon Rondo is the de facto leader of these Celtics, who are comprised of many players on expiring contracts, and as Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe points out, Rondo is finding it tough at times to lead a group with an uncertain future:

There’s always some degree of uncertainty as the front office works to reshape the roster.It’s an unsung challenge for rookie coach Brad Stevens to keep his players united even though they know they might be on unsettled ground.

Likewise, it’s an unsung challenge for the team’s captain, Rajon Rondo.

And around the time Rondo returned to action in January after missing nearly a year following a knee injury, former Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he brought up this topic with his former point guard.

It’s not unusual for the two to talk, even with Rivers now coaching the Los Angeles Clippers. They have history, with Rivers coaching Rondo from 2006-07 until last season.

“I speak to Doc all the time,” Rondo said. “I’ve talked to him on the phone. I’ve talked to him after games, text-wise. He gives me advice all the time.”

“Everybody is not going to buy in, because all they hear is that they’re all getting traded because they’re in the middle of a rebuild,’” Rivers said he told Rondo. “So you’re going to go in there and talk about, ‘Hey, let’s buy in as a team,’ and half of them are going to say, ‘I’m not even going to be on this team.’ ”

“Well, the first concern is to make it through the trade deadline,” Rondo said.

Indeed. The Celtics made two swaps before the deadline. And though he involved in numerous rumors, Rondo wasn’t moved.

But the roster is by no means settled.

The Celtics figure to be especially active this summer, and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck recently told the Globe, “This June there could be some fireworks.”

Technically speaking, only Rondo, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk, and Jared Sullinger are on guaranteed contracts for next season.

Jerryd Bayless, Kris Humphries, and Avery Bradley will become free agents, though Bradley will be restricted, meaning the Celtics can match any offer he receives.

“For the most part, guys are playing for contracts,” Rondo said. “It’s not a matter of being here. It’s a matter of staying in the league.”

That pressure can weigh on a player.

“If a guy is not under contract, obviously he wants to play well every game,” Rondo said. “He wants to make all his shots, do all the intangibles.

“I’m not necessarily saying that a guy under contract won’t do all those things, but obviously it’s amplified when you’re playing for your life or you’re playing for your career.”

Leading a locker room in which players might be playing for their career is new for Rondo, but Wallace recalled being in that situation in Charlotte.

In 2004-05, his first season there, the team was rebuilding (it finished 18-64) and most of the players were set to become free agents. Ideally, Wallace said, players buy into the system, but that’s easier said than done.

“It’s a big challenge,” he said, “because even though you don’t want to think about that, once you start losing, you start thinking about your career — ‘Oh, I’m up next summer, I’ve got to figure this [expletive] out.’

***

No. 5: Pau backs Knicks’ signing of Jackson — With Phil Jackson officially entrenched as the Knicks new team president, he’s got his work cut out for him in trying to turn New York into a stable franchise again (as our John Schuhmann points out). But for now, many folks are commending New York on getting a person of Jackson’s caliber to lead the charge and one of those backers is none other than Lakers power forward Pau Gasol. Gasol won two championships and made three Finals trips under Jackson when both men were in L.A. and Gasol told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin he backs the Knicks’ latest personnel move:

The New York Knicks officially announced the hiring of Phil Jackson as their new team president Tuesday, and will reportedly pay him $60 million over five years for the job. It may have been an unprecedented payday for a front office executive, but it also qualifies as a sound financial decision by the Knicks in Pau Gasol’s eyes.

“I think the Knicks are fortunate to have him,” the Los Angeles Lakers big man said after practice Tuesday. “I know they gave him a big contract and a big investment, but I think he’s worth every cent of it.”

Gasol, who played under Jackson in L.A. from 2008-11 and reached three NBA Finals while winning two championships in the process, said it will take some adjusting seeing Jackson working on the opposite coast.

“It’s weird,” Gasol said. “It’s weird to see him with a Knick logo behind him in the picture today. But I know he’s in a good place.”

Gasol said he still sees Jackson “regularly” since the 11-time champion coach retired from the sidelines following the 2010-11 season, but will have to curtail that contact because of Jackson’s new role.

“Apparently we can’t really talk to each other from now on since I’m going to become a free agent and he’s an executive for another team, so it’s under rules that we can’t communicate,” Gasol said, referring to the league’s tampering clause. “He can be penalized. So, our communication has been cut off until July 1st.”

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who was hired over Jackson last November, said Jackson will do a “great job” in New York, but also detailed the challenge the former coach will face. D’Antoni coached the Knicks from 2008-2012 before being unceremoniously showed the door, so he knows the pitfalls associated with the franchise more than most.

“It’s a big job anywhere,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think just New York. I think it’s a big job anywhere to turn it around. I think you have to look at the cap room and what they have and how quick you can do it? Can you get lucky? So there’s a lot of things. I know that there will be a lot of effort put into it. Good, sound decisions. And you hope — well, I’m not a Knick now so I don’t hope — it works out for him. But it’s a tall order for anybody at anywhere at anytime. This league is not easy to get on top. And we know in New York, you’re either winning or you’re a failure. So, it will be tough but they got a good man and he’ll do a heck of a job.”

D’Antoni does not believe that Jackson’s coaching resume will automatically translate to front office success.

“I don’t think one correlates to the other,” D’Antoni said. “I think they’re two completely separate jobs. It’s like turning a great player into a coach. It’s a different job. So you don’t know if they can do it or not. I think that obviously he’s got a good basketball mind, so he’ll approach it a different way and let’s see if it works out. I think there’s a lot of great qualities there, so there’s no reason it doesn’t. But there’s no reason it does. So we’ll see what happens.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: As our Scott Howard-Cooper reported last night, the Hall of Fame is weighing a potential change to the voting format … A detailed look at what it might take for Chicago to bring over prized foreign talent Nikola Mirotic to the NBA next season … A groin strain will sideline Lakers guard Jordan Farmar for at least two weeks … Cool little chat with Pacers coach Frank Vogel about his game day routine and more … Blake Griffin doesn’t think he has much of a chance in the MVP race this season … The shared grandfather of the Magic’s Tobias Harris and the Suns’ Channing Frye was a Tuskegee AirmanMo Williams has been playing better since LaMarcus Aldridge has been out of the lineup … Quick guards have been giving the Raptors fits of late … Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas may get some rest down the stretch of the season

ICYMI of the Night: Wizards swingman Trevor Ariza is in the midst of a great season, to be sure. But sometimes even a great season needs a little luck, as demonstrated by his wild fadeaway bank shot last night in Sacramento …


VIDEO: Trevor Ariza nails a wild off-the-glass fadeaway jumper

No longer in college, Celtics’ Stevens grinds through long rookie season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Celtics lost to the Mavericks on Monday night and have an 0-15 road mark against the West

DALLAS – When the Boston Celtics play the Miami Heat on Wednesday, it will be the 69th game of Brad Stevens‘ maiden season as an NBA bench boss.

That’s already essentially one-third of his six-year body of work — 215 regular-season and postseason tournament games — as the coach at Butler. Of the 13 first-year NBA coaches this season, Stevens is the only one making the leap from the college game and thus is the lone coach breaking into the rigors of the 82-game regular-season march. Ten first-timers served as NBA assistants. Cleveland coach Mike Brown had head coaching experience and Brooklyn’s Jason Kidd retired last season after a 19-year playing career.

If players in their first year out of college hit a rookie wall, what about coaches in their first year out of college? Not really, Stevens, 37, said. Although he noted the excessive losing in this so-far 22-46 season throws up its own kind of wall. At Butler, he won no fewer than 22 games and four times won at least 27 games. He lost 49 games combined, or 8.2 on average per season.

Particularly taxing this season, he said, is losing on the road, where the Celtics are 8-25. Monday night’s loss at Dallas cemented an 0-15 road mark against West teams, making this squad the only one in franchise history to go winless on the road against the West. In college, you flew back to campus and crawled into your own bed. Now it’s late-night flights to the next destination, beginning preparations for the next opponent, busing to the team hotel and finally setting the alarm clock for an early morning buzzer.

“It’s tough to lose,” Stevens said.”The flight feels a little bit different if you win. You sleep a little bit more soundly; you sleep with one eye open when you don’t win. Hey, it’s a miserable deal, right? Unfortunately we’ve experienced a lot of losses this year, so we’ve had more nights like that than the happy flights.”

What else has taken some getting used to?

“The lack of practice time is a little bit eye-opening, but the biggest thing is just the extra possessions in a game,” Stevens said. “It’s 50 more times Kevin Durant can touch the ball, 50 more times Anthony Davis can touch the ball, Dirk Nowitzki can touch the ball.”

Of course the college game is 40 minutes compared to 48 minutes in the NBA, so naturally there are more possessions at the pro level. Fifty more possessions is a bit high, but not by all that much. Stevens’ Bulldogs averaged about 66 possessions per game in his last two seasons there. His Celtics average about 96 possessions and that only ranks 17th in the league.

“What’s really amazing are the level of some of those guys,” Stevens said. “Some of those guys are at such a high level that even compared with the 350 best players in the world, they’re on a level way, way up there.”

It’s enough to make a rookie coach have plenty of nights when he’s sleeping with one eye open.

Luckless Celtics go 0-15 on road vs. West

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Nowitzki, Mavs fend off stubborn Celtics

DALLAS – Not even St. Paddy’s Day could bring Boston a little road luck. This charmless Celtics crew gobbled up 21 offensive rebounds and in the third quarter held the Dallas Mavericks to 14 points, yet it was still only good enough to find another silver lining rather than that elusive rainbow.

The unlucky C’s played without point guard Rajon Rondo, whose surgically repaired right knee still isn’t ready for back-to-back action. Twenty-four hours after losing a 121-120 heart-breaker in overtime Sunday night at New Orleans, Boston clawed and scraped its way back against Dallas from deficits in each quarter and as large as 15 points, but ultimately came up short in the final minute, 94-89.

“To come in here and have a chance, I feel like a broken record talking about silver linings,” first-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “But that would be one.”

The loss burdened this bunch with a piece of unwanted Celtics history as the only club in franchise history to go winless on the road against the Western Conference — 0-and-15.

“It’s not something we shoot for and it’s not something we’d like to do,” Stevens said. “The West is clearly better than the East, I don’t think anybody would argue that, but at the same time we’ve had our chances in a couple of those games.

“It’s frustrating. Most of the season has been frustrating.”

Boston’s best chance to beat the West went down the tubes Sunday night when Pelicans forward Anthony Davis clubbed them for 40 points and 21 rebounds. The chances were there Monday night, too, as the Celtics, wearing their green sleeved uniforms with shorts bearing a clover on each leg, quickly erased a nine-point deficit in the second quarter and briefly led 37-33, their largest lead of the game. They scored six points in the first eight minutes of the third quarter to fall behind 64-49 and then finished it with a flurry, a 12-zip run to make it 64-61 at the end of three.

“I never thought that,” Mavs guard Monta Ellis said when asked if he thought it was over when the lead swelled to 15. “They’ve been playing like this the whole season. They always play the whole 48 minutes so we knew they were going to come back and make a run.”

Before long the Mavs were back up 10, 76-66. But the Celtics weren’t going down without flashing some more Irish fight during their last stand out West. With 5:02 to go, Avery Bradley drained  a corner 3 to make it 78-74. They closed to 82-80 and then 90-89 after Bradley bumped Ellis near midcourt without a call, stripped him and streaked in for the score with 21.6 seconds to go.

Down 92-89 with 19.8 seconds to go, Jerryd Bayless, who scored 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, attacked the basket off a broken play coming out of a timeout. He put up a tough shot between two Mavs defenders, missed it off the glass, but got the rebound. He went back up, but Vince Carter met him with a swat.

“It [the play] got messed up because they switched it,” Bayless said. “They switched the play and they started denying Sully [Jared Sullinger]. But we were able to get, I thought, a good look, but it didn’t work out.”

As luck would have it, it was Carter’s first blocked shot since February. Game over.

The Celtics, losers of five in a row to fall to 22-46 overall and 8-25 on the road, have lost their 15 road games against West teams by an average of 10.7 points. They’ve lost by as many as 31, 24 and 23, but the last nine have come painfully by single digits.

Their previous trip out West could have been soul-crushing, a four-game whitewash that included a three-game sweep by the West’s three worst teams — the Lakers, Kings and Jazz.

“We’re not giving up,” Bayless said.

It’s just with points so hard to come by for this team, especially when Rondo doesn’t play, it makes it extremely difficult to win on the home floors of the other conference.

“I’m frustrated obviously by our lack of success; I am not frustrated by our effort,” Stevens said. “Our effort was pretty high-level again. They’re really giving it everything they have.”

On all days, they just needed a little bit more luck.

Morning Shootaround — March 8


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played March 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers’ woes start from within | Other side to that coin was Rockets’ paybackPhil Jax rumors blow up in New York | Pierce sees Rondo as the next, well, him | Noah bored by whines about “tampering”

No. 1: Pacers’ woes start from within – To hear Indiana coach Frank Vogel, his team’s claim on the NBA’s best record this season put a target on the Pacers’ backs, turning them into every opponent’s favorite target. While that might be true to some extent, the slump in which Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West & Co. find themselves now – after suffering their third consecutive loss in the 112-86 rout at Houston Friday – owes more to what Indiana isn’t doing at either end of the court the way it had through the schedule’s first four months. Only the Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers have avoided a three-game losing streak now, with the Pacers turning to post-game meetings and some mirror-gazing to check theirs, as ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst wrote from Houston:

The Pacers have now lost three in a row for the first time all season and fallen back into a tie with the Heat in the loss column for the best record. But the chase for that top seed, which has been a Pacers priority all season, was not on their minds as midnight passed in that quiet locker room.

“We haven’t talked about the [No. 1 seed] in awhile,” Hibbert said. “We just need to win games at this point. Something has got to change. Something is going to be addressed.”

There were warning signs even when the Pacers were on a five-game winning streak recently as they had to work harder than expected to beat bottom-feeders like the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks.

“Every team we play is playing above themselves,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys can talk about being the hunted but it’s a different thing to feel it. These teams are coming at us with great force and we’re going to have to rise to the challenge.”

Teams running up the score against the Pacers is not normal. But over the last 10 games their league-best defense has not been league best.

They are allowing 46 percent shooting and 100 points per game in that span. In the first 40 games of the season when they distanced themselves from the rest of the league, they allowed just 41 percent shooting and just 88 points a game.

“We have to get back to what the Indiana Pacers used to be,” George said. “When teams came to play us, they knew it was going to be a long night.”

***

No. 2: Other side to that coin was Rockets’ payback – Twenty-six points isn’t 34, the number Houston’s players had in mind as a way to avenge their 33-point smackdown by Indiana in Indianapolis in December. The Rockets “only” pushed their lead to as many as 32 before settling for the final margin. But as Jonathan Feigen wrote in his Houston Chronicle blog, team and individual payback was very much in play, as the league’s hottest team in calendar year 2014 starts to sniff its potential:

“That’s all we talked about, every time out, every possession, how they blew us out,” Dwight Howard said. “We didn’t want that to happen. We wanted to get payback.”

Yet, as the Rockets put together a stretch [James] Harden would call their best on both ends of the floor, he could have been thinking of much more than just the third-quarter run to a 30-point lead.

“Always wanted to get back against them,” Harden said after scoring 16 of his 28 points in the knockout punch of a third quarter. “The third quarter was probably the best I’ve seen us play offense and defense in one quarter. We were rolling. These last weeks we’ve been rolling on both ends.”

At that moment, as the Pacers called time out the rout was certain, Harden could have been celebrating his own turnaround against the Pacers. When Harden was done for the night before the third quarter had ended, he had made 10 of 17 shots, including 4 of 7 3s. In his seven previous games against the Pacers, he had made 28.4 percent of his shots, just 24.6 percent in his three games against them with the Rockets.

He could have been thinking off the credibility the Rockets had added to their 2014 rise to a 22-6 record, the NBA’s best since New Year’s, a season-best seven-game home winning streak or their 12-2 record since the start of February when the only losses were in the second half of back-to-backs.

Had he thought of it with the pairing of a win against Heat to go with the blowout of the Pacers, he even could have been marking their season-long dominance of the Eastern Conference in Houston, with the Rockets 14-0 against Eastern Conference teams.

In many ways, however, he might have just enjoyed the clearer-than-ever signs of how much the Rockets have progressed in the months in between.

“We’ve been playing well since the beginning of the New Year,” Harden said. “We kind of got a feel for each other now. We’ve gotten better. We’ve gotten healthy.

“When we hold the ball and let them set up defensively, then they’re great. But if we play fast like we did and make plays for each other, it’s hard to beat.”

***

No. 3: Phil Jax rumors blow up in New York — The man had taken sabbaticals before. He roared off on his motorcycle after helping Chicago win its sixth NBA championship in eight years in 1998 and sat out the following season before acquiescing to coach Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers. He stepped away again in 2004-05 to recharge and get healthy, then came back for six more seasons and two more Lakers championships.

But Phil Jackson is going on three years now off the NBA stage and out of the daily sports spotlight, so it’s totally understandable that he might be getting a little restless. That restlessness might or might not – remember, we’re talking both rumors and Jackson weighing multiple options at this point in his life (age 68) – land him in New York, running or coaching the Knicks. Here’s some of what ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne wrote on the topic:

 Phil Jackson is “ready to go back to work,” a source with knowledge of his thinking told ESPN.com on Friday.

The former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach has spent the last couple of years working to improve his health — which included several surgeries and a successful fight against prostate cancer — and writing a book. But the itch to return to the NBA in some capacity is strong.

While Jackson has made it clear to any team that has approached him that he prefers a front-office role that would allow him to shape and mold a franchise the way Miami Heat president Pat Riley has, he is open to the possibility of coaching for a short period of time if it was necessary in a transition period for a franchise with championship aspirations, the source said.

He would not consider any coaching position that did not have a significant guarantee of personnel power as well, sources said.

***

No. 4: Pierce sees Rondo as the next, well, himPaul Pierce, the beloved forward who returned to Boston again Friday in the jarring black-and-white of the Brooklyn Nets, has seen this Celtics movie before. He knows what it must be like for former teammate Rajon Rondo, who is used to better times and has to endure the losing and no longer sees respect or fear in foes’ faces. But Pierce doesn’t worry about the feisty Celtics playmaker because he sees better days ahead, per A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com:

“They’re a young team,” Pierce said. “They got a mix of some veterans, some young guys developing. They’re only going to get better.”

And a significant part of that improvement in Pierce’s eyes, is point guard Rajon Rondo.

Rondo continues to look more and more like the four time All-Star that he is, and not the player on the mend from a torn right ACL injury in January of last year.

On Friday, he had a team-high 20 points to go with nine assists and seven rebounds.

“Rondo is ready to lead,” Pierce said. “He’s leading them right now, moving them into the next generation of Celtics. Their future is going to be very bright.”

But in order to fully appreciate what awaits them at the end of the journey, first they must navigate a path that, for now, will be difficult when it comes to winning games.

Seeing the big picture when he was a young player in Boston wasn’t easy for Pierce who admits Rondo’s better prepared for what lies ahead than he was.

“Rondo understands,” said Pierce, adding “He understands a little more than I did at the time. When I first got here (in Boston), I was in rebuild mode, made the playoffs and went back to rebuild mode. Same with him (Rondo). He came in, we were rebuilding. We went through a phase where we were winning. Now he’s back in rebuild mode, but he’s still young enough to see it out to still be in his prime. I know the Celtics are going to do whatever it takes, to get back to that top level again.”

***

No. 5: Noah bored by whines of “tampering” – So what if it was true that, at some point during All-Star weekend, Chicago center Joakim Noah teased, suggested or even downright pleaded with New York’s Carmelo Anthony to consider signing with the Bulls this summer rather than the Knicks or the Lakers? If that’s “tampering,” the SEC needs to throw a net over the entire NBA for insider trading violations. After the summer of 2010, when Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together after huddles and strategy sessions great and small … after the Rockets’ Chandler Parsons inundated Dwight Howard with text messages daily leading up to his choice of Houston over the Lakers … the reports that Noah told Anthony he’d be best off by choosing Chicago seem like so much trash-talking or idle banter. Knicks coach Mike Woodson needs to focus on Xs, Os, Ws and Ls, too, more than on some alleged he-said, he-said distraction. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times addressed some of what seems much ado about nothing:

Noah was asked about the Anthony rumor after the morning shootaround and never denied it, but he chalked it up as nothing more than March gossip.

“What are you talking about, the gossip going on?’’ Noah said.

“You want me to address that? I don’t feel like addressing it. I really have nothing to say.’’

When asked if the story was accurate, Noah said, “Doesn’t matter. What does that have to do with our team now? It doesn’t matter.’’

[Coach Tom] Thibodeau did take exception to Knicks coach Mike Woodson telling a radio station that Noah broke league rules and was tampering.

“You know, legally, nobody can recruit anyone,’’ Woodson said.

“To me, it’s just a bunch of nonsense,’’ Thibodeau said. “We don’t pay any attention to it, just get ready for [the next game]. . . . It’s all nonsense. We’re just concentrating on our next opponent.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Whew! They must be breathing easier in Milwaukee now, knowing that veteran Drew Gooden, on his second 10-day contract with Washington, won’t have vengeance on his mind when the Wizards visit Saturday night for the way the Bucks warehoused him last season (while paying him a whole lot of cash). … If Sam Malone could do it, maybe Paul Pierce could too: Open a bar or restaurant back in Boston when his playing days are over. Pierce was pondering the future Friday night. … Will Saturday’s clash with UNC be Jabari Parker‘s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, or might he return for his sophomore year rather than enter the NBA Draft pool? OK, we’ll play along. … Knicks center Tyson Chandler didn’t really mean to mock Kevin Love‘s defense, Chandler said via Twitter a day later. … Patty Mills listened to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — wise move, Patty — and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Bucks buyout Butler | Reports: Clips in lead for Granger | Report: Grizz add Udrih | Celtics resolve Rondo dispute | Pelicans’ Davis injured vs. Mavs

No. 1: Report: Bucks buyout Butler; Thunder favorites to sign him — As of yesterday, there were rumblings that the Bucks would soon be buying out the contract of veteran small forward Caron Butler as Milwaukee continues its rebuilding process. Per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Butler has received his buyout and will soon be able to potentially sign with a playoff-bound team in a few days:

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat have emerged as frontrunners to sign forward Caron Butler, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After securing a contract buyout from the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday morning, Butler is expected to clear waivers and become a free agent.

San Antonio and Chicago are in pursuit and plan to make pitches for Butler too, league sources said.

The fact that Oklahoma City stopped pursuing Danny Granger has led many in the NBA to believe the Thunder are confident in their recruitment of Butler.

The acquisition of Butler could be a tremendous boost to the Thunder and Heat’s pursuit of an NBA championship. Despite initial reports that Butler was destined to sign with Miami, Oklahoma City has a strong chance to land Butler, sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Heat are competing to lure Butler back to where his career started as the 10th overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, but the ability to fill the gap as a complementary scorer to Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has made the Thunder an attractive destination, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

***

UPDATE, 1:19 p.m. ET: Granger is reportedly having phone conversations with several of the teams pursuing him, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports.

No. 2: Reports: Clippers favorites to add Granger — The portion of Danny Granger‘s career with the Philadelphia 76ers lasted all of roughly six days before he and the team came to an agreement on a buyout deal of his contract yesterday. As our David Aldridge reported first, several teams — including the Heat, Mavs, Clippers, Rockets and Bulls — are interested in adding the former All-Star, but it appears the Los Angeles Clippers may have pulled ahead of the pack. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has more on L.A.’s interest:

The Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as the frontrunners to sign forward Danny Granger, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Once Granger clears waivers in the next 48 hours, the Clippers’ ability to offer him significant playing time and championship contention under coach Doc Rivers makes them the most attractive destination, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Still, the San Antonio Spurs remain a viable possibility for Granger, league sources said. The Spurs are selling Granger on a modern-day variation of the Robert Horry role in San Antonio, league sources said. Granger is expected to speak with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford in the near future, sources said.

Beyond the Clippers and Spurs, the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks have shown an inclination to pursue Granger and are expected to have conversations with him, league sources said.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelbourne report that Clippers officials met with Granger’s representatives during last night’s Clippers-Rockets game in L.A.:

The Clippers are widely regarded as the team best positioned to provide Granger the playing time and the championship contention he craves.

And they’ve stepped up their pursuit of the former All-Star, sources told ESPN.com, at least partly due to growing concern within the organization about the status of guard J.J. Redick, who has missed the past nine games and is out indefinitely with a back injury.

To potentially further increase L.A.’s need for another front-line player at the wing positions, Jamal Crawford left Wednesday’s win over the Rockets with a calf injury. Crawford has been starting in place of Redick and has played a huge part — alongside star forward Blake Griffin – in keeping the Clippers among the West’s top four teams while star guard Chris Paul was out with a separated shoulder.

The Clippers, at the behest of coach Doc Rivers, have already made multiple in-season signings, including Stephen Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu and Sasha Vujacic, to try to spruce up his perimeter rotation.

Rivers quickly confirmed his team’s interest in Granger before Wednesday’s victory, saying “Of course!” when asked if L.A. would like to sign him, but then added: “That’ll be up to Danny.”

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that Granger, after playing in Indiana for the first nine seasons of career, is determined to hear out all of his suitors before making a commitment, with the other two teams in Texas – Houston and Dallas – also trying to wedge their way into contention alongside the Clippers and Spurs by registering bids of their own.

But sources also indicate that Granger is likely to verbally commit to a team before he formally clears waivers Friday at 5 p.m. ET and becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Sources say teams interested in Granger have been consistently told in recent days that the free agent-to-be — if he were to surrender his Bird rights by securing his release from the Sixers — would be looking for a new team that could offer not only a shot at a championship but also guaranteed playing time.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about Danny Granger (fast-forward to the 7:40 mark)

***

No. 3: Report: Grizz pick up ex-Knicks guard Udrih — The Memphis Grizzlies suffered an injury scare to starting point guard Mike Conley before the All-Star break. Thankfully, rookie Nick Calathes stepped in admirably and kept the team afloat in Conley’s absence. Conley is now back and starting again, but Memphis made a move to further shore up their point guard corps, writes Marc Stein of ESPN.com, but adding recently waived Knicks point guard Beno Udrih:

The Memphis Grizzlies have claimed veteran point guard Beno Udrih off waivers, ESPN.com has learned.

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that the Grizzlies put in a successful waiver claim to acquire Udrih, who was released Monday by the New York Knicks.

The Grizzlies, sources said, turned their attention to acquiring Udrih for their backcourt after attempts to strike a deal with Jimmer Fredette – who is about to secure his release from the Sacramento Kings via buyout — proved unsuccessful.

Sources say veteran forward Metta World Peace, who was also waived Monday after he and Udrih negotiated buyouts with New York, cleared waivers Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET and is now an unrestricted free agent.

***

No. 4: Celtics pass on talking with Rondo about absence — The last few days or so in Boston, the drama (if you even want to call it that) with the Celtics has been about point guard Rajon Rondo‘s unexcused absence from Boston’s game in Sacramento last week. The first response to the issue by Celtics president Danny Ainge was to say a discussion with Rondo would definitely take place. Then, yesterday, Ainge said a discussion with Rondo would take at some place in the future. Now, according to ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg, Boston has handled the matter internally and it is a dead issue:

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he’s talked with point guard Rajon Rondo about the player’s decision to not accompany the team to Sacramento last week, but said the team is handling the matter internally and Stevens stressed his goal is to simply move forward.

With the Celtics playing the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday, Rondo was not scheduled to play against the Kings as he eases his way back from ACL surgery. But rather than fly with the team, he remained in Los Angeles where the Boston Herald reported that he celebrated his 28th birthday with family and friends.

Rondo, who Stevens said informed of his decision to stay behind before the team departed, rejoined the Celtics in Utah and played in Monday’s game against the Jazz.

“We’ve sat down and talked. We did that Monday,” said Stevens. “In my mind, I’m moving forward. Then when [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] gets back in town, they can meet and go from there.”

Stevens was asked if he thought Rondo should have accompanied the team to Sacramento.

“I think the biggest thing right now is for me to move forward and for us to move forward from that,” said Stevens. “Obviously, it’s something that is a great question to ask, something that I’ve certainly spent a lot of time thinking about. But at the end of the day, I’ve passed that point.”

For his part, Rondo downplayed the incident after Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, suggesting it was being overblown in the media.

“I haven’t really read much about it. I heard a lot of comments,” said Rondo. “Nobody knows the story, so [the media can] keep making up every story you guys possibly can.”

So what is the story?

“It’s my business,” said Rondo. “It’s my choice.”

***

No. 5: Banged-up Pelicans see All-Star Davis get injured — New Orleans’ season has hardly gone how it thought it would after an offseason roster upgrade and a nickname change. Injuries have wreaked havoc on the Pelicans with Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans all missing significant chunks of the season with injuries. Things got worse for New Orleans last night in Dallas as All-Star big man Anthony Davis hurt his shoulder and left the game. Our Jeff Caplan has more on the Pels’ injury woes:

New Orleans’ dreadful injury situation worsened Wednesday night with All-Star forward Anthony Davis spraining his left shoulder in the second quarter at Dallas, the first leg of a five-game road trip.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he didn’t ”know much right now” regarding the severity of Davis’ injury, but it was bad enough to keep him out of the remainder of New Orleans’ fifth consecutive loss, 108-89, to the red-hot Mavericks. When Davis left with 4:13 to go, Dallas led by one, 37-36, and had just made a run to dig out of a 28-20 hole.

Davis played just 12 minutes, 37 seconds and exited with six points, nine rebounds, two blocks and one sweet bounce pass to a streaking Eric Gordon for a layup. Davis hurt himself when he jumped straight up and extended his arms attempting to rebound his own miss against Mavs center Sam Dalembert. Even on replay it’s difficult to discern exactly how the injury occurred, but Davis quickly grabbed the upper part of his left arm, squeezing it as if trying to pinch away the pain.

He attempted to stay in the game, but less than a minute later checked out and headed to the locker room. He returned to the bench during the third quarter with his left arm appearing to be immobilized underneath his warmup jersey. He did not speak to the media after the game.

Davis’ name now moves next to point guard Jrue Holiday, sixth man Ryan Anderson and center Jason Smith on the injured list. Those are four of the Pelicans’ top six scorers. The latter three could all be done for the year. New Orleans can only hope that’s not the case for their 20-year-old face of the franchise who is having a marvelous sophomore season averaging 20.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg and leading the league as the lone player topping 3.0 bpg (3.02). Still, at 23-34 and 10 games out of the final playoff spot, the Pelicans won’t rush their star back until he’s ready.

“That’s life,” Williams said shaking his head earlier in the day as he discussed his team’s crippling injury plight that has robbed it of a playoff chase. Four months ago, that was the goal.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis suffers shoulder injury vs. Mavericks

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili had his foot rip completely through his shoe mid-game last night … Portland’s bench came through with a big effort in last night’s win over the Nets … Might the Cavs have some interest in signing Jimmer Fredette once he gets waived by the Kings? … Diante Garrett — not the Suns’ Goran Dragic or Jazz rookie Trey Burke — was the standout point guard in last night’s Suns-Jazz game … The Magic are reportedly looking for their own NBA D-League team to run

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Two words for you — Gerald Green. Now, do your part and hit the play buttons below …


VIDEO: Gerald Green puts down a nasty open-court flush


VIDEO: Gerald Green puts up a monster reverse dunk on the Jazz

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Sixers, Granger mulling options | Ainge, Rondo chat delayed | Turner impresses in Indy debut | Blazers’ Robinson hurts knee in Denver | Report: Butler, Bucks working on buyout

No. 1: Report: Granger, Sixers still talking over future — Another day, another day closer to a buyout for Danny Granger with the Philadelphia 76ers? Team officials and the small forward continue to talk over what the next move will be: a buyout in the coming days or, perhaps, Granger sticking with the Sixers for the rest of the season. ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne and Marc Stein have more on what may come next for Granger:

Newly acquired Danny Granger and the Philadelphia 76ers continue to discuss a possible buyout, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that a buyout consummated before Saturday’s midnight deadline for Granger to be waived and remain eligible to appear in this season’s playoffs with any team he subsequently signs for remains the most likely outcome.

But sources also said Granger continues to weigh other options, including staying with the 76ers for the rest of the season, as the deadline draws near.

Sources said Tuesday the San Antonio Spurs and Granger share a mutual interest if the former All-Star comes to a buyout agreement with the Sixers by the weekend.

It’s believed the Los Angeles Clippers will be another leading suitor for Granger’s services should he become an unrestricted free agent next week.

***

No. 2: Ainge says Rondo chat likely won’t happen soon — As we reported in this space yesterday, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is expected to be called into team president Danny Ainge‘s office to explain why he didn’t travel with the team to a game in Sacramento. Apparently that conversation is still going to happen … it just won’t happen for a few more days. Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald has more on the issue:

Though Danny Ainge plans to talk to Rajon Rondo about the guard’s decision to celebrate his 28th birthday in Los Angeles last Saturday while the team flew to Sacramento for a game against the Kings, the meeting might not take place for a week.

Ainge departed on a college scouting trip before the team’s return to Boston. Though the president of basketball operations still plans to discuss the issue with Rondo, he won’t return until next week.

A team source stressed that “it’s not that big a deal around here,” though Ainge hasn’t ruled out fining Rondo for not receiving official permission. The guard, who still is not playing on the second night of back-to-back games as he returns from ACL surgery, was not scheduled to play Saturday night in Sacramento. He chose to remain in Los Angeles for a birthday celebration that was attended by his wife, children and mother.

Rondo, who rejoined the team Monday in Utah, told the Herald he had talked with management about staying behind in Los Angeles, and that there was nothing further to discuss. Ainge, however, said he planned to discuss the matter with Rondo once the team returned yesterday.

***

No. 3: Turner fares nicely in Indy debut — Before last night’s Pacers-Los Angeles Lakers game from Indianapolis, coach Frank Vogel said newly acquired swingman Evan Turner would come off the bench and play roughly 20-25 minutes in his Indiana debut. For the record, Turner played 26 minutes and 11 seconds and finished with 13 points and six rebounds in the Pacers’ 118-98 romp over the Lakers. The feeling after the game, according to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, was that Turner’s debut went about as well as it could:

Turner had the green light to be himself in the Pacers’ 118-98 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. During an offensive torrent when the Pacers (43-13) created season highs in field goal makes and attempts as well as bench points, Turner finished with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

“He’s just a good basketball player,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He has good savvy, good IQ. He understands his teammates. He picks things up quickly and like I said, he looked comfortable.”

Turner, whom the Pacers received in a last-minute trade deadline deal last week for Danny Granger, took as many shots as starter Lance Stephenson. He played 26 minutes of mostly offensive-oriented basketball while still working through the details of the Pacers’ league-best defense. However, as seven Indiana players finished in double digits – led by Paul George’s 20 points – Turner fit right in with a bench unit that produced 50 points.

Turner was admittedly nervous before the game, and even when he heard the applause from many of the 18,165 fans – in spite of their team’s woeful record, many Lakers (19-38) fans still showed up. And he started out looking like a new kid in class. In his first action, Turner set a solid screen that aided in the Pacers’ score off the inbounds play. Then on his first run through a half-court set, Turner stretched the floor and raced back on defense even before a shot went up from the inside. A West moving screen foiled his first touch, then Turner grew confident.

Of all people, Turner understands Indiana’s offensive principle – the man with ball creates the score and when help comes, he shares it – because with the 76ers, his role was to be that man with the ball.

“In Philly,” Turner said. “I could (pass) the ball at the rim.”

So, yes, Turner knows how to shoot. He took those opportunities whenever he caught smaller defenders like Jodie Meeks or MarShon Brooks and backed them down for turnaround midrange shots on the baseline.

“He’s still got to adjust,” David West said. “He’s got to figure out how to play with us. He’s going to have to figure out on the fly here. He’s smart, heady, composed.

“He’s got to get used to the level of talent we have. Guys he can defer to as opposed to feeling he has to do too much.”


VIDEO: Evan Turner discusses his first game as a member of the Pacers

***

No. 4: Blazers’ Robinson suffers minor knee injury — Portland’s frontcourt depth has already been thinned by a recent minor injury to All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and ones to Joel Freeland (MCL, out several more weeks) and Meyers Leonard (ankle, out 2 more weeks). It wasn’t a great sign last night, then, when one of the last few healthy big men, Thomas Robinson, suffered a knee injury in Denver. Luckily for the Blazers, reports Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, Robinson merely has a left patella strain:

Thomas Robinson suffered a knee injury in the first half of Tuesday’s game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets.The team is listing it as a left patella strain and says he is day-to-day.

Robinson, 22, sustained the injury when he went up for a dunk attempt. Something occurred on his way down. He was only able to play three second half minutes due to severity of the pain.

“I tried to go back in there but I couldn’t,” he told CSNNW.com. “It was something I’ve never experienced before on this knee.”

His diagnosis is good news, considering how defeated Robinson looked in his locker room stall after the Trail Blazers won 100-95.

Robinson scored 2 points and pulled down 5 rebounds in 14 minutes of action against the Nuggets.

“I’m worried, he said before finding out the results. “I’m just going to rest and put some ice on it and get some rest and hopefully I’ll be able to go tomorrow.”


VIDEO: The Blazers hold off the Nuggets in Denver

***

No. 5: Report: Bucks on verge of buying out Butler — Wisconsin native Caron Butler was plenty excited in the offseason to return to his home state and play for Milwaukee’s squad (as this great video documents), but things haven’t worked out how Butler or the Bucks have hoped. With the team in the midst of a clear rebuilding season, Butler is expected to be bought out of his deal so that he can sign with a contender before the March 1 deadline. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has more: 

Milwaukee Bucks swingman Caron Butler is scheduled to complete a contract buyout Wednesday that sets him up to become an unrestricted free agent by the end of the week, according to sources close to the talks.

Sources told ESPN.com that Wisconsin native Butler, who is earning $8 million this season on an expiring contract with his home-state Bucks, is on course to be released by Milwaukee on Wednesday and thus clear waivers Friday, well in advance of the Saturday midnight deadline by which time he must be set free to be eligible to play in the playoffs with another team.

The two-time defending champion Miami Heat, sources said, will be at the front of the line to sign Butler, who spent his first two seasons in the league with the Heat and is expected to verbally commit to a team before clearing waivers.

Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal-Times also confirms that the Bucks and Butler are working on a buyout:

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jason Collins’ No. 98 jersey was reportedly a top seller at both the NBA Store and its website … The Knicks are set to sign ex-Cavs forward Earl Clark and ex-Lakers and Suns guard Shannon Brown to 10-day deals … According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, ex-Bucks star Junior Bridgeman has shown interest in investing in a part of the team … Speaking of Mr. Bridgeman, Pistons guard Chauncey Billups explains how Bridgeman’s off-the-court business savy has influenced him

ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Raptors’ Tyler Hansbrough looked like one of the poor guys trying to stick with “Uncle Drew” (aka Cavs All-Star guard Kyrie Irving) during one of his forays to the court for a game of pickup hoops …


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving crosses up Tyler Hansbrough en route to a layup

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 25


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sixers expect decision on Granger soon  | Celts to ask Rondo about Sacramento absence | Big Baby to debut Wednesday? | Knee injuries may force Billups to retire

No. 1: Sixers’ decision on Granger buyout coming soon — Newly acquired Sixers forward Danny Granger has yet to suit up in a game for Philadelphia, and questions remain as to whether or not that will actually ever happen. According to Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com and Christopher A. Vito of the Delaware County Daily Times, the Sixers and Granger are working to resolve his future with the team, which may soon lead to a buyout of Granger’s contract so that the veteran can sign with a contender before the March 1 deadline.

Here’s Lynam’s report on Granger, who sat out last night’s game against the Bucks:

Danny Granger, who was acquired in a trade with Indiana last Thursday, is in Philadelphia but is not at the Wells Fargo Center for the Sixers’ game against the Bucks tonight.

“The discussions and meetings are continuing on with Sam [Hinkie],” Brett Brown said prior to tipoff. “I spoke with him yesterday and that really is the latest update.”

Brown called his discussion with Granger a “private meeting” giving no indication if Granger had any thoughts of playing for the Sixers for the remainder 25 games after tonight.

A buyout of his contract is thought to be the topic of discussion but that is speculation based on Granger not yet being with the team despite having passed his physical.

“In the next short period of time, maybe even in the next 24 hours and announcement will be made on the direction our situation with Danny Granger will go,” Brown said.

And here’s Vito providing another angle (and a great Brett Brown quote) on Granger, too:

Danny Granger’s status with the 76ers remains unresolved, though it appears both sides could be working toward a buyout arrangement.

Granger is not with the Sixers. He was not at Wells Fargo Center for Monday’s game against Milwaukee, Sixers coach Brett Brown said, and there was no locker room stall arranged for the ninth-year forward.

“He’s in the city of Philadelphia. Go find him,” Brown said. “He’s got a fake wig and sunglasses on.”

Granger finished his physical examination Sunday, meeting with Brown after doing so. He also sat down with Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie sometime over the weekend.

Brown wouldn’t divulge what was discussed when he spoke with Granger.

Acquired from Indiana at the Feb. 20 trade deadline, Granger does not seem to have any interest in playing for the foundering, rebuilding Sixers. If he seeks a buyout of the remainder of his expiring contract, it’d be for roughly $4 million. Brown insists that “there’s still more going on with the discussions,” however.

“He most definitely wants to play basketball this year,” Brown said of Granger, the one-time All-Star. “The obvious stuff is assessing his goals at this stage of his career. He’s a player and he wants to play. Just trying to sort out what’s going to be best for both parties has yet to be determined.”

But Granger and the Sixers are at a critical juncture: the 30-year-old Granger has to be signed by a team by March 1 to be included on that club’s playoff roster. That gives him and the Sixers a small window within which to complete the buyout process.

There have been multiple reports that Granger, upon his release, will opt to sign for a championship contender like Miami or San Antonio.

If Granger’s brief tenure with the Sixers plays out the way it looks like it will, the Sixers will have come up almost completely empty-handed on their deadline day deal with Indiana. They acquired Granger and a 2015 second-round draft pick from the Pacers, in exchange for forwards Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. And since the Pacers are expected to contend for at least another few years, that second-rounder from Indiana will likely fall between the 50th and 60th overall choices.


VIDEO: Sixers coach Brett Brown talks about Danny Granger’s future and more

***

No. 2: Celtics plan to ask Rondo about Sacramento absence — Last Friday, the Celtics took on the Lakers in Los Angeles with Rajon Rondo in the starting lineup at point guard. Rondo finished with six points, six rebounds and 11 assists in 34 minutes of work in a 101-92 loss. After the game, the Celtics were due to take on the Kings in Sacramento the next night, but Rondo did not play in the game. The official word was the Rondo didn’t play so he could rest his still-recovering knee, but he did not accompany the team to Sacramento and it may have created an issue the team has to address, writes Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

The Celtics are not taking it as a major issue, but the team is still hoping to straighten things out with Rajon Rondo after his decision to stay in Los Angeles and not accompany the team to Sacramento for Saturday’s game.While some were displeased by the move, for which Rondo did not receive official permission, others pointed out he was not scheduled to play in the game anyway (on the second night of a back-to-back), and that he may have simply been making some assumptions based on precedent. Multiple sources say he remained in LA for a birthday celebration. He turned 28 on Saturday.

The captain didn’t want to get into the matter before last night’s 110-98 loss to the Jazz.

“We already talked about it,” Rondo said. “There’s nothing to talk about.”

That doesn’t appear to be the case. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said yesterday he is still looking into the situation.

“I plan on talking to Rondo when he gets back into town,” he told the Herald. “I’ll find out more about what went into it, and then we’ll handle it internally. We handle all of those kind of issues internally.”

Among that which could have factored into Rondo’s thinking was he had been left home from the trip to Milwaukee for the Feb. 10 game on the end of a back-to-back as he returns from a torn right ACL. Then there was the birthday plan.

“His wife and kids were with him in LA, and there were some other people who came in,” a source said. “I think he felt obligated to them, too, and what they had planned for his birthday.”

***

No. 3: Davis expected to make Clips debut Wednesday — The L.A. Clippers signed veteran forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis yesterday in what they hope is a move to provide more frontcourt depth for a run to the Western Conference finals and beyond. Davis is happy to be reunited with coach Doc Rivers, who coached him when both men were in Boston, but he sat out last night’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that Davis is expected to get into the Clips’ mix sometime this week:

Glen Davis arrived at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans after signing with the Los Angeles Clippers but will not play Monday night against the Pelicans.The Clippers said Davis will take a required physical exam Tuesday and should play Wednesday at home against the Houston Rockets.

“We were on the phone with him and just told him what we offered and I’m sure the other guys did that,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I do think that it helped a little bit that we have a relationship. He knows me and I know him. I think that’s the situation he wanted to be in and that’s good.”

Davis, 28, reached a buyout with the Orlando Magic on Friday and was waived. The Brooklyn Nets had also shown interest in Davis, but decided to sign Jason Collins, feeling that they were out of the running on Davis.

“I just really felt the Clippers were heading in the right direction,” Davis said. “They’re young, they got a great coach, a great point guard, a great rising star like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and guys that you can build around and I feel like I’m one of those types of guys, a glue guy.”


VIDEO: Glen Davis explains why he signed with the L.A. Clippers

***

No. 4: Knee woes may force Billups to retire — If he never plays another minute in a Detroit Pistons uniform, Chauncey Billups‘ legend and legacy with the team is complete. That’s a good thing to realize as it seems his career may be nearing its end sooner than expected. Billups has been out since having minor knee surgery a few days ago and his timetable to return is 2-3 weeks. But according to the Detroit Free PressVince Ellis, Billups’ knee injury problems may lead him to retire early:

After Chauncey Billups finished speaking to the media late Monday night, he was asked if Father Time had him up against the ropes.

Billups just smiled and said: “The gas light is on. I don’t know if there’s 15 miles or 30 miles left.”

His response caused an eruption of laughter — the only laughing going on in the Detroit Pistons locker room after the latest loss — a 104-96 loss to the Warriors.

Billups, 37, spoke to the media for the first time since he had minor left knee surgery several days ago.

The diagnosis is 2-to-3 weeks of rehab before a possible return, but Billups said he isn’t going to rush back.

So with only one year left (a team option) on his deal, is retirement a possibility?

“It all kind of just depends how this feels, how things are with the knee,” Billups said of a return next season. “If the knee is fine, sure I would like to come back. But if it’s not, I don’t want to come back to this.

“It’s tough to do this and we’re not a winning team at this stage. It’s tough to do that, but hopefully in a perfect world and my knee is fine … I feel like if my knee was fine we probably wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chinese league star Lester Hudson is drawing some interest from a couple of contenders as the playoffs’ stretch run nears … Wizards seem likely to sign veteran big man Drew Gooden to a 10-day deal as they try to offset losing Nene for 4-6 weeks to injury … Clippers may have some interest in bringing the recently bought out Metta World Peace in for a deal, but don’t expect to see MWP in Brooklyn … The Jazz are simply better when Derrick Favors plays

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Dirk Nowitzki played hero last night against the Knicks with a game-winning buzzer-beater at MSG. That was great, but we also don’t want to overlook a pair of behind-the-back passes leading to power jams, the first one from O.J. Mayo to Brandon Knight and another from Brandon Jennings to Greg Monroe


VIDEO: Brandon Knight finishes strong off the O.J. Mayo feed


VIDEO: Greg Monroe puts down a power flush off the dish from Brandon Jennings

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 22




VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING
More time out for Kobe | Surprise: Rondo unhappy | Clippers lose, Paul hurt | Terry won’t join Kings

No. 1: Kobe on shelf at least three more weeks — It seems the calendar is starting to run out on Kobe Bryant’s season. Despite the Lakers star’s insistence that he intends to return to the lineup, his body may have a different opinion. Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports continued problems with the injured left knee and team doctors say it will be three more weeks before Bryant is evaluated again:

Missing three more weeks before another evaluation brings the calendar to March 14, at which point there will be only 17 games left in the regular season for the Lakers.

And even if Bryant is cleared for contact drills at that point, he would assuredly need some additional practice time before he could make a return.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni was asked if Bryant would return at all this season after the Lakers’ 101-92 win Friday night over the Celtics.

“I don’t know,” D’Antoni said. “That’s out of my hands. We’ll see. I have no answer to that one.”

Teammate Pau Gasol simply offered his support.

“I know it’s tough for him and it’s been a very tough year for him,” Gasol said. “I just hope that he gets healthy. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer. If that means he might not play this season, I’m sure he’ll stay positive and look ahead. So, the main thing is he’s got to be healthy.”

***

No. 2: Rondo annoyed by constant trade talk — The trade deadline came and went and Rajon Rondo is still wearing the green and white of the Celtics. But that doesn’t mean the All-Star point guard is happy with his name constantly being linked with other teams. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald says Rondo’s less than full commitment could be a problem:

“I mean, it gets annoying at times,” Rondo said. “It’s been like that the last eight years though.

“Still, like I said, this is what I do for a living. It’s not who I am. I play basketball for a living for the time being, but I’ll be 28 (today) and have a long life to live. So I have a lot of things going outside of basketball for me right now, and it’s part of what happens when you’re an NBA player.”

He is approaching the last 27 games of the Celtics season with a certain equanimity (though he will approach tonight’s game in Sacramento in street clothes, not yet ready to play in a back-to-back as he returns from a torn ACL.) He is pleased with how most of this is going, and he spoke up for his coach.

“I mean, obviously not our record, but guys like playing for Brad,” Rondo said. “He’s a very positive coach. He’s encouraging. And you want to play for a guy that’s encouraging you to do the things out on the court that’s better for yourself and for the team. Any time you have a person in your corner with a positive outlook on things, it’s a good thing.”

We cannot be sure of what goes on beyond our view, and there is evidence that Rondo is both better with his mates than we know and a little too dour at times. But you’d have to believe that if Rajon Rondo fully realized and embraced his power to effect positive change, it would be an extremely good thing for the Celtics.

And it might be enough to render moot that next round of questions in May.

***

No. 3: Same old wrong: Grizzlies top Clippers and CP3 injures hand — It is starting to get repetitive. The Clippers go into Memphis and lose another close game and now, according to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, Chris Paul has another injury to contend with:

To make matters worse for the Clippers, All-Star guard point Chris Paul suffered a sprained right thumb late in the fourth quarter while trying to get a rebound against Marc Gasol.

It already had been a tough night for Paul. Although he had 18 points and 14 assists, he missed nine of 13 shots. In two games since the All-Star break, Paul has gone five for 23 from the field. And the Clippers have gone 0-2.

Paul had missed 18 games because of a separated right shoulder, but came back to play in two games before the All-Star break.

Now he is struggling with his shot and has another injury to deal with.

“I can’t catch a break,” said Paul, looking down at his swollen right thumb.

***

No. 4: Kings won’t try to fit Terry into lineup this season — Don’t expect to see Jason Terry in the Sacramento line down the homestretch of the season. The Kings say they are not looking to buy out the veteran point guard, but want him to rehab at home in Dallas as they concentrate on their young players, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee:

Terry, 36, instead will rehab in Dallas in preparation for next season. Terry had left knee surgery in the offseason and hasn’t felt right all season, coach Michael Malone said.

Terry was acquired along with forward Reggie Evans for Marcus Thornton on Wednesday.

Terry is averaging a career-worst 4.5 points on 36.2 percent shooting this season. Knee problems have limited Terry to 35 games this season and a career-low 16.3 minutes per games.

The Kings indicated they did not plan to buyout the remainder of Terry’s contract, which has one more season on it worth $5.45 million.

Even if Terry were with the team, playing the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year would not have been a top priority.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James and broken nose will be a game-time decision on Sunday vs. Bulls … Anthony Bennett says less thinking and just playing is making for his improvement … Teenager threatens Knicks owner James Dolan

ICYMI of The Night: Memphis’ James Johnson channels Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter with this off-the-backboard jam …

VIDEO: James Johnson does it all by himself

2014 Trade Deadline Wrapup


VIDEO: Trade Deadline: Pacers and Sixers Trade

The Indiana Pacers provided a little excitement at the end of what was an underwhelming deadline day. There was a flurry of action on Thursday, but none of it all that meaningful. But then, after the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline had passed, news broke that Indiana had acquired Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for Danny Granger and a second round pick.

Now, Turner’s per-game numbers are somewhat inflated by the Sixers’ pace. They lead the league at 102.5 possessions per 48 minutes. He’s generally been a disappointment as a former No. 2 pick in the Draft. And though his efficiency has increased *this season, he still ranks 161st of 196 players who have attempted at least 300 field goals with a true shooting percentage of just 50.4 percent. His free throw rate has gone up, but is still below the league average, and he has shot 29 percent from 3-point range.

* Over the summer, we pointed out Turner’s ridiculous mid-range-to-3-point attempt ratio of 3.1 last season. It’s down to 2.3 this year. Still pretty bad (James Harden‘s is 0.5), but not quite as mind-boggling.

As much as Granger has struggled in his return from almost a full season off, he’s shot better (49.5 percent effective FG%) than Turner (47.1 percent) on catch-and-shoot opportunities.

But Turner can’t hurt the Pacers’ bench offense, which has struggled again this season. While Indiana’s starting lineup has scored a solid 106.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Pacer lineups have scored just 99.5. And with C.J. Watson (better suited to play off the ball) as their back-up point guard, they could certainly use another guy who can create off the dribble.

A few other contenders and next-level squads made moves at the deadline, but they were relatively minor. The Warriors added bench help, the Spurs added depth at the wing, the Rockets added some athleticism, the Clippers shed salary, and the Heat created an open roster spot. Nobody made a move that will move the needle all that much. Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Rajon Rondo are still where they were 48 hours ago.

And that’s good news for Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, who remain the clear big four in the NBA hierarchy.

– John Schuhmann

Below is a live blog of how things went down on deadline day.

Highlights: Pacers swap Granger for Turner | Spurs get a wing | Clippers shed salary | Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade | Andre Miller to Washington | Bucks, Bobcats make deal | Kings sticking with McLemore | Heat unload Mason | Hawes to Cleveland

Brooks approves move to Denver, 3:55 p.m.

Aaron Brooks had the ability to veto his trade to Denver, but he’s agreed to the deal.

Pacers swap Granger for Turner, 3:33 p.m.

Spurs get a wing, 3:09 p.m.

Clippers shed salary, 3:00 p.m.

Will Brooks approve trade?, 2:30 p.m.

From our Fran Blinebury

Aaron Brooks would have to approve any trade and said yesterday that he wouldn’t. He wanted badly to stay in Houston.

The Rockets have reportedly agreed to send Brooks to Denver for Jordan Hamilton, but because Brooks signed a one-year contract and his early Bird rights would disappear upon being traded, he can veto the deal.

Clippers anxious to deal, 2:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

The Clippers continue to be very proactive in hopes of closing a deal before noon in Los Angeles, with Reggie Bullock turning into a name of the moment around the league.

This is no surprise. For one thing, Bullock is one of the few available Clippers trade chips. For another, Bullock has a real future for a No. 25 pick, a rookie averaging just 8.5 minutes a game because he is a young wing on a team in win-now mode but a 6-7 guard-forward who improved his shooting every year at North Carolina and can defend. He is not an All-Star in waiting, but he is a legit prospect who can bring something in return when L.A. is not expecting to add a starter.

The quest is to bolster the rotation for the playoff push. The Clips are anxious to make a move. If they leave today empty, the next step will be to hope a player of value is bought out and can be signed as a free agent. That is one reason the basketball operations headed by Doc Rivers has kept the roster at 14.

Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade, 1:40 p.m.

Jack should have his bags ready, 1:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

Still a strong sense from teams that Jarrett Jack, while not the big name of Luol Deng or the medium name of 2012 first-rounder Tyler Zeller, is the most likely Cavalier to be on the move today.

Jack has two more full seasons left at $6.3 million per, a big number for someone shooting 39.3 percent and probably a backup wherever he goes. But he has playoff experience, loves the big moment (sometimes wanting it so much that he forces it) and has the additional value of being an available point guard. There is also the versatility that Jack can play shooting guard.

The 39.3 percent? He was at 45 the last two seasons, in New Orleans and Golden State, and 40.4 on threes in 2012-13 with the Warriors. Interested suitors now have the easy explanation to write off the current troubles: He plays for the Cavaliers, so of course there’s going to be problems.

Andre Miller to Washington, 12:40 p.m.

The Washington Wizards’ offense falls off whenever John Wall goes to the bench. They’ve scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and just 92.8 with him off the floor. So they were in the market for a back-up point guard, and they got one…

Bucks, Bobcats make deal, 12:37 p.m.

Kings sticking with McLemore, 12:35 p.m.

From our Scott Howard-Cooper

Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, bothered to an extreme by the rumor, took the unusual step of going out of his way to speak to media members to shoot down a rumor, insisting they had not offered rookie Ben McLemore to the Celtics as part of a package for Rajon Rondo. In what has been a rough transition to the NBA, with McLemore shooting 36.5 percent and unable to hold the starting job earlier in the season, management didn’t want him to start wondering about the team’s commitment.

More than McLemore’s availability could have been shot down, though. Not only are the Kings fully invested in McLemore and rightfully see a high ceiling despite the slow start, there is no way a rebuilding organization gives up two first-round picks, their 2013 lottery selection and Isaiah Thomas, the reported offer, for Rondo early in the comeback from knee surgery and with one full season left on his contract. Whether bad rumor or Celtics dream, it was never going to happen.

Miller to Washington?, 12:15 p.m.

Clippers and Cavs talking, 11:50 a.m.

Sessions for Neal swap?, 11:45 a.m.

Heat unload Mason, 11:20 a.m.

Deng is available, 11:15 a.m.

Earl Clark, Henry Sims heading to Philly, 10:45 a.m.

Clark is technically under contract for $4.25 million next season, but that doesn’t become guaranteed until July 7, 2014. Sims’ $915 thousand salary is also non-guaranteed. So the Sixers are basically getting back two expiring contracts. Anderson Varejao‘s health was a reason for the trade…

Zeller on the block, 10:00 a.m.

Hawes to Cleveland, 9:55 a.m.

Cleveland is over the cap and doesn’t have an exception that can absorb Hawes’ $6.6 million salary, so there has to be a player or two heading back to Philadelphia.

Teams after Andre Miller, 9:45 a.m.

Jimmer on the block, 9:35 a.m.

Ainge talks, 9:30 a.m.

The Race For Jordan Hill, 8:50 a.m.

The Los Angeles Lakers have the fourth highest payroll in the league and are 18-36 after getting waxed at home by the Rockets on Wednesday. Dumping Jordan Hill for nothing can lower their luxury tax payments quite a bit, and there are a couple of teams willing to take Hill off their hands. As we wrote yesterday, the Nets are looking to strengthen their bench, and have a disabled player exception that can absorb Hill’s $3.5 million salary.

But so does New Orleans, whose frontline has been decimated by injuries.

The Gary Neal deadline, 7:50 a.m.

Gary Neal makes just $3.25 million and the Bucks don’t want him. Yet somehow, trading him is a complicated process.

UPDATE, 6:09 a.m.

Report: Rockets making push for Rondo: Like many teams in the league right now, the Houston Rockets are interested in acquiring Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. And, like a lot of teams in the league right now, the Rockets are having a hard time coming up with the framework for a trade that is to the Celtics’ liking. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Houston’s potential unwillingness to give up Chandler Parsons is what may be hanging up a deal.

Report: Kings eyeing Cavs backup guard Jack: A day after sending shooting guard Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn for veterans Reggie Evans and Jason Terry, Sacramento might be looking to make another trade. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Kings have expressed interest in working a trade for Cavaliers reserve guard Jarrett Jack.

Thibodeau would be surprised if Bulls make deal: Echoing the words of GM Gar Forman and team president John Paxson a little less than a week ago, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tells the Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson he’d be stunned to see the team make a trade today.

Saunders shoots down talk of Love on trading block: A smattering of Kevin Love stories came out yesterday, from a snippet from a new GQ interview in which he talks about having fun playing for the Timberwolves to a tweet from Peter Vescey that made it seem as if the All-Star wants out from Minnesota. But Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders shot down all that talk with one tweet last night, writes Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press.

Report: Lakers’ Young safe from being dealt: ICYMI last night, the Lakers shipped veteran point guard Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for youngsters Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. In short, L.A. is continuing in its rebuilding efforts, but according to BasketballInsiders.com, it seems unlikely that the team’s No. 2 scorer, Nick Young, will be dealt today.

Players discuss their trade deadline-day experiences: The folks over at BasketballInsiders.com caught up with a couple of notable players — including Dwight Howard, Kyle Lowry and Chris Kaman — to have them share what it’s like for a player to go through trade deadline day. Nice little read here this a.m.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Howard happy in Houston as L.A. return looms | Report: Kings trade Thornton to Nets | Report: Knicks interested in Lin? | Report: Celtics eyeing Utah’s Hayward | James all business in win over Mavs

UPDATE: 1:03 p.m. ETDENG, SHUMPERT ON MARKET?

A few new names are starting to surface in the trade rumor mill, with the biggest being Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Luol Deng. According to ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, Deng, whom the Cavs acquired in a December trade with Chicago as they jettisoned Andrew Bynum, is on the block. Team officials are reportedly concerned they might not be able to re-sign the unrestricted free agent forward this summer:

As they evaluate the team and look to make a deal to help it secure a playoff berth, Cleveland Cavaliers officials are making recently acquired Luol Deng available ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, multiple league sources told ESPN.com.

The Cavs traded three future draft picks and Andrew Bynum to the Chicago Bulls to acquire Deng on Jan. 7. But the deal hasn’t worked out how either side hoped.

Cleveland isn’t determined to trade Deng, but with his impending free agency a concern, new general manager David Griffin is testing the potential market for the veteran forward. Getting value for Deng may be a challenge because his contract expires in June. He cannot be packaged with another Cavs player in a deal due to trade rules, though trades can be structured in a way to get around this issue if teams are motivated enough.

Sources say the Cavs are concerned about being able to re-sign Deng this offseason, as he’ll be an unrestricted free agent for the first time. Several teams with cap space, including the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, are expected to be interested in Deng.

Apart from Deng being put on the block, the Clippers and Knicks might also be working out a deal that would send guard Iman Shumpert to Los Angeles. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has more on the trade that point-guard hungry New York might be working on:

The Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks are discussing a deal centered around guard Iman Shumpert, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

In proposed deals, the Clippers would send the Knicks a package that includes point guard Darren Collison for Shumpert and point guard Raymond Felton, sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Knicks are shopping Shumpert hard, and the Clippers have been receptive to listening on a potential deal, league sources said.

The discussions and proposed players are still fluid, league sources said, and a deal isn’t close to being reached. Nevertheless, Shumpert is an object of interest for the Clippers and the recent return of All-Star point guard Chris Paul makes Collison more expendable.

***

No. 1: Howard hoping it is ‘Rockets’ time’ to shine — No need to get into all the gory details here, but suffice it to say, Dwight Howard‘s one season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t work out how either he or the team expected. After joining the Houston Rockets via free agency last summer, Howard has slowly but surely found his footing and is looking more like the dominant force he once was as a member of the Orlando Magic. As the Lakers host Howard and the Rockets tonight (10:30 ET, ESPN), Howard said he’s plenty happy in Texas and talks about how he’s moved on from L.A. Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more:

Dwight Howard isn’t regretting leaving the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s happy in Houston and confident he made the right decision last July to spurn the Lakers’ five-year, $118 million offer for the Rockets’ four-year, $87.6 million deal.

But on the eve of his first game against his former team at Staples Center, he did admit there were things that could’ve changed the outcome.

“There’s a couple things that could’ve been done, but that’s over with now,” Howard said with a coy smile Tuesday afternoon. “I’m in a better place, our team is doing great and the Lakers, they’ll come back. But hopefully this is the Rockets’ time.”

Howard’s Rockets won seven games in a row heading into the All-Star break. The Lakers (18-35) are lottery bound after losing seven straight home games. Their .340 winning percentage is the franchise’s worst since 1959-60.

“I think I still might follow them on Twitter, that’s about it,” Howard said, when asked whether he’d been following the Lakers season. “I don’t pay attention to what’s on TV and what’s being said. I just focus on my team.”

His new team is on a roll, sitting in a tie for third place in the Western Conference at 36-17 after a torrid February. Howard is averaging 18.8 points and 12.5 rebounds this season, nearly identical numbers to what he put up last season in L.A. (17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds).

But Howard has noticeably improved each month as he continues to recover from back surgery in April 2012. Howard averaged 25.8 points on 65.7 percent shooting from the field in February after scoring 18.8 points a game on 54.9 percent shooting in January.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale attributes that to health and chemistry with his new teammates.

“Dwight’s one of those guys, I think he plays better when he’s having a good time and is comfortable,” McHale said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a guy who plays better when he has a joyfulness about him.

“When I watched him last year, he just looked out of sorts the whole year. He didn’t look like the guy that I’d seen in Orlando. Now what caused that? I would say 70 percent of that was physical with the back and probably 30 percent of that was environmental. I guess it was a funky environment around here.”


VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks about his first return trip to L.A. to face the Lakers

***

UPDATE: 1:49 p.m. ET — KINGS, NETS PULL OFF TRADE

Per our own David Aldridge, the Kings and Nets have completed a trade that sends Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn in exchange for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry, confirming a trade first reported on by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski

No. 2: Report: Kings’ Thomas has sprained wrist; trade talks for Thornton heat up — Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas is in the midst of a career-best season, averaging 20.2 ppg and 6.3 apg. But he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury of late and an MRI reveals he has a wrist sprain that he’ll play through, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Aside from that, though, the Kings are apparently heating up trade talks to help their guard depth, with Marcus Thornton at the center of those discussions:

Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas has strained ligaments in his shooting wrist, an MRI revealed, and further complications could lead to him missing time, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Despite the recent diagnosis, Thomas has been determined to play through the pain, sources told Yahoo Sports. Nevertheless, there could come a time in the near future when Thomas could need to consider procedural remedies for the wrist, sources said.

The wrist issue is considered “a short-term nuisance,” one source said, and will have no long-term bearing on Thomas’ career.

In the aftermath of the Kings’ trading of Greivis Vasquez to the Toronto Raptors in December, Thomas, who is 5-foot-9, has flourished as Sacramento’s starting point guard. Thomas will be a restricted free agent in July and has expressed a strong desire to remain with the Kings as a centerpiece of the franchise’s rebuilding with center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Rudy Gay.

As the NBA trade deadline approaches on Thursday, the Kings are in a state of upheaval. Sacramento’s talks with Brooklyn on a deal to acquire guard Jason Terry and forward Reggie Evans for Kings guard Marcus Thornton have progressed to a serious stage, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Kings are discussing a trade of guard Jimmer Fredette with several teams, sources said.

***

No. 3: Report: Knicks interested in Lin? – Remember back in the 2011-12 season when Jeremy Lin took New York by storm with his inspired, out-of-nowhere play for the Knicks? Apparently, the Knicks themselves haven’t forgotten about it either — even after Lin left N.Y. for Houston as a free agent in the summer of 2012. According to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford via a podcast with fellow ESPNers Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe, the Knicks are reportedly interested in re-acquiring the point guard. Keep in mind, too, that yesterday New York was linked in trade talks that might net it point guards Kyle Lowry or Rajon Rondo, too:

The New York Knicks are interested in trading for Jeremy Lin.

The Knicks let Lin sign with the Houston Rockets in the 2012 offseason.

New York has been searching for trade possibilities at point guard.

Lin’s contract expires after the 14-15 season, which preserves their cap flexibility for 2015.

***

No. 4: Report: Celtics interested in Jazz’s Hayward — This is one trade rumor that isn’t that hard to understand if you can play a simple game of connect the dots. Before he was Utah’s leading scorer, Gordon Hayward was a star at Butler University from 2008-10 and helped the Bulldogs to the NCAA championship game in 2010. His coach at Butler? Brad Stevens … who is now the first-year coach of the Boston Celtics. A Hayward-Stevens reunion has been much talked about when it comes to Hayward, who will be a free agent this summer and could pair up with his old coach in Boston. But according to CSNNE.com’s A. Sherrod Blakely, the Celtics are interested in trying to get Hayward sooner than that:

The Celtics have expressed some interest in acquiring Utah’s Gordon Hayward, a league source tells CSNNE.com.

Hayward, who starred for Celtics head coach Brad Stevens while at Butler, will become a restricted free agent this summer after he and the Jazz could not come to terms on an extension this past fall.

The biggest challenge appears to be finding assets currently on the Celtics’ roster that are appealing to the Jazz.

Despite Utah’s desperate need for a point guard, there’s little interest in Rajon Rondo primarily because they don’t anticipate he’ll re-sign with the club beyond his current contract which is up in the summer of 2015.

Jeff Green is another option, but the Jazz aren’t all that interested in him, either.

It would appear the one thing that might nudge Utah towards giving serious thought to dealing Hayward, would be if the Celtics were willing to part with at least one of their stockpiled first-round picks.

But two league sources, both having had recent conversations with the Celtics, told CSNNE.com on Tuesday that Boston is “very reluctant” to part with any of their first-round picks in facilitating a deal.

In fact, Boston appears focused on adding more picks or assets with any deal they strike between now and the trade deadline.

***

No. 5: James all about business in win over Mavs — As part of NBA TV’s interview with LeBron James, one of the questions asked of him was who would be on his theoretical NBA Mount Rushmore. James told the interviewer, Steve Smith, that he saw himself as being one of the NBA’s four all-time greats when his career is over and since then, that comment has sparked much debate about all-time greats and LeBron’s place among them. More talk on that topic last night before the Mavs-Heat game from Dallas might have also motivated James as he dropped 42 points in Miami’s win. Our own Jeff Caplan has more from Big D: 

As news cycles go, Mt. Rushmore is burning Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman deep. James didn’t ask for it, but he did say it and now we, the media, can’t stop asking anybody associated with a round, orange ball whom they’d put on their own Mt. Rushmore.

Shawn Marion, the 6-foot-7 Mavericks small forward who did a magnificent defensive job on James during the 2011 Finals — and is just the type of savvy veteran (and a free agent this summer, to boot) Miami loves to place around its King sculptor — said after Tuesday morning’s shootaround that James wouldn’t be on his Mt. Rushmore, at least not yet.

By the time the news of this injustice got back to James during his pregame media session in the visiting locker room about 90 minutes before he buried Dallas with 42 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a 117-106 win, it came to him in the watered-down context that he flat-out didn’t make the cut on Marion’s Mt. Rushmore.

James was already in something of a foul mood, having decided to reveal a stern demeanor to show his teammates that the league was back open for business, and so was he. Less than 72 hours after rocking the stage with the The Roots at a New Orleans warehouse party, and 48 hours after playing in the All-Star Game, the Mt. Rushmore recurrence again put LeBron in a mood to scale the mountain.

“I really don’t care what people say or what people think, that’s not for me or my concern,” James said. “I think, once again, it was blown out of context. But, I feel like when it’s all said and done, my personal goal is that I can be one of the greatest to ever play this game, and I won’t sell myself short and I won’t continue to stop believing and saying and thinking what I believe in as far as personal goals. So, it doesn’t matter what Shawn Marion says, or what anybody says about the way I play the game of basketball.”

Is Mt. Rushmore becoming bulletin-board material? James was asked.

“I don’t need bulletin board material,” he answered. “My bulletin board material is the name on the back of my jersey and the name on the front of my jersey; and the youth and the kids that I inspire every day, every time I go out on the basketball court. And I witnessed that Saturday when I had my foundation event in New Orleans, when I was able to give back to a Boys And Girls Club and see over 30, 35, 40 kids smiling the whole time by my presence being there. My calling is much bigger than basketball. While everybody else focuses on just basketball, I’m focused on bigger and better things.”

He wasn’t finished: “And, you know, nobody can still guard me one-on-one.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about Miami’s win in Dallas

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could the Kings be looking to part with star point guard Isaiah Thomas? … Celtics veteran forward Brandon Bass is plenty prepared to hear his name discussed in trade rumors … Gerald Wallace of the Celtics remains miffed at the Bobcats for trading him 2011Chris “Birdman” Andersen surprised fans and reporters last night by getting rid of his trademark mohawk. But after the game, he told Heat.com that it’s not gone, but merely “trimmed down” … Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger wants Mike Miller looking for his shot more on offense … Pacers center Andrew Bynum has been impressing coach Frank Vogel with his dedication to work out and improve himself … Bucks get swingman Carlos Delfino back in the mix soon

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Two posters served up last night, one by Nene (on Jonas Valanciunas) and another one from Gerald Green (on Kenneth Faried) …


VIDEO: Nene goes up strong and draws a foul from Jonas Valanciunas


VIDEO:Gerald Green posterizes Kenneth Faried with an alley-oop jam