Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Bass’

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Celtics’ unclear outlook on roster | Nash opens up on career, more | Bulls ‘unlikely’ to make a trade soon | Report: Spurs eyeing Udrih? | Clips’ Crawford still improving

No. 1: Celtics have unclear outlook for trade deadline — The Boston Celtics have some role players (like Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace) and a superstar (Rajon Rondo) who might interest other teams come trade-deadline day on Feb. 20. But they also have a stockpile of future first-round picks and a general manager in Danny Ainge who is going to be shrewd about any deal he may (or may not) pull. All together, that means the situation for the Celtics’ roster as it approaches the hubbub of trade talks is anything but clear, writes Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:

But as much as the Celtics long to apply what went right during the last two weeks to their hopes when the season resumes next Wednesday in Phoenix, something here is blurry.

The trade deadline arrives on Feb. 20, a day after the Phoenix game and a day before the Celtics make their annual visit to the Lakers. Danny Ainge is more open to a deal than most general managers in the NBA right now, though his paramount goal is to stay under the luxury-tax threshold.

For that reason, don’t expect a major name to don green anytime soon, though a few names may indeed leave.

According to a rival general manager, Ainge’s perceived mission is to hold onto his nuclear stockpile of first-round draft picks — nine, possibly 10, in the next five years — and take back as little salary as possible.

“I don’t watch TV. It’s been like that my last eight years as a Celtic. There’s only two guys who have been in rumors,” Rajon Rondo said in apparent reference to Bass and Jeff Green. “It’s just part of the game. We have a pretty young team, but we don’t talk about the trades.”

Indeed, some players predictably backed away from the discussion as if it was radioactive.“Wrong person. I’m not the GM,” said Gerald Wallace. “Wrong person. That’s the pastor or the priest you want.”

Long considered easily moved thanks to his expiring contract and value to a playoff team, Humphries said, “I don’t know. You just enjoy the break and if you get that call, you get that call. Otherwise, it’s see you Wednesday in Phoenix.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens admittedly has never prepared a team under the cloud cover of a trade deadline. But per usual, Stevens is all about that next game.

“Well, I want them to get rest,” he said. “If they’re dinged up I want them to get healthy, I want them to feel good when Monday rolls around or Tuesday rolls around, but at the same time I want them to continue to think about what makes us good and what makes it when we’re not as good.”


VIDEO: David Aldridge discusses which teams may or may not be looking to make deals

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No. 2: Nash discusses nearing the end of his career – Two-time MVP Steve Nash has seen better days — especially since he became a Los Angeles Laker. Injuries have marred his stay in Hollywood and even when he has played, an inconsistent lineup this season (particularly the loss of Kobe Bryant to injury) combined with an overall rebuilding team has made the twilight of Nash’s NBA days hard. Grantland.com’s Bill Simmons has an interesting look at Nash, particularly as someone who is friends with the All-Star off the court, and has a great video in which Nash talks frankly about his career nearing its end:

Steve Nash wears no. 10 for the Lakers, but it’s really 9.3. Next season, that turns into 9.7. Those are the numbers Lakers fans see. They see a walking cap figure.

Those numbers are part of following hoops in 2014, no different from knowing someone’s stats, nicknames or shoe brands. You want to know what your team spends and how much it might be able to spend. Many times, that transforms players from human beings into salary pawns. I look at Gerald Wallace and think, $30.3 million through 2016. Knicks fans look at Amar’e Stoudemire and think, Off the cap summer after next. Phoenix fans see Emeka Okafor and think, $14.5 million, expiring, what can we get for him? Pistons fans look at Josh Smith and think, I have 54 million more reasons to handcuff Joe Dumars to a radiator in my basement.And Lakers fans look at Steve Nash and think, 9.3 this year, 9.7 next year.

Now, imagine you’re me. You’re sitting home on some random night watching hoops when the phone rings. It’s one of the five or six best point guards who ever lived, a two-time MVP, one of the most entertaining players of the past 40 years. He’s talking candidly, telling you about his myriad problems, vowing that he isn’t done yet. And then he says he’s been documenting this latest comeback with his production partner, Ezra Holland, and that 30 for 30’s talented-and-then-some visionary Jon Hock had gotten involved,and that maybe Grantland could get involved, too. At that point, I was waiting for him to say “Baba Booey” and hang up. Nope.

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No. 3: GM Paxson: Bulls ‘unlikely’ to make deadline moves – The name Carmelo Anthony has been batted about by some hopeful Chicago Bulls fans as a star player they hope their team will acquire. That conversation — and any others regarding the Bulls and trades — is likely to remain just that, hopeful, as Bulls general manager John Paxson said yesterday that Chicago isn’t expected to be too busy in the coming days as trade deadline nears. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com has more:

Bulls executive vice president John Paxson said Wednesday that it’s “unlikely” the Bulls will make a move before the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

“We’ve got the trade deadline a week from now,” Paxson said. “You have to put yourself in the other team’s position — people don’t just give up great players. So we obviously talk and keep our eyes and ears open, but to anticipate something’s going to happen, I don’t think that’s likely, to be honest with you.”

There has been plenty of speculation about a potential trade for the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, but neither Paxson nor general manager Gar Forman made it seem as if a deal for Anthony, or any other star player, is in the offing over the next week.

“I think it’s still early,” Forman said. “But this time of year we’re in contact with all 29 teams. You’re trying to get a feel of what’s going on in the landscape, what’s going on around the league, and see if there are opportunities with other teams where it could be a win-win situation for both teams.

“Obviously at this point nothing’s presented itself, but we’ll continue to look at things for the next week till the deadline comes.”

“With that said, we do think we’re well-positioned going into the summer,” Forman said. “We’ve got the possibility of a couple first-round picks. We’ve got the possibility of some flexibility. Like I’ve said all along, the core of guys that we have we like, so we think we’re well situated going into the summer and into the future.”

Forman said he is taking — and making — lots of calls this time of year.

“I think it’s both,” Forman said, when asked he was taking more calls or making them. “And I’m not trying to be evasive, but we’ll make some calls to get a feel on some things that might be of interest to us and then we also receive a lot of calls on our players.”

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No. 4: Report: Spurs may try to re-acquire Udrih – Back in the 2004 Draft, the San Antonio was a year removed from its last championship run of ’03 and were looking to add some point guard depth. With the 28th pick in that Draft, the Spurs took Slovenian guard Beno Udrih to serve as a backup for budding star Tony Parker. Udrih lasted three seasons in San Antonio before the team dealt his rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves and then, days later, signed a free-agent deal with the Sacramento Kings. Since then, Udrih has bounced about the league, making stops in Orlando, Milwaukee and now, New York. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that the Spurs might try to get Udrih back in the fold before next week’s trade deadline:

The defending Western Conference champion Spurs offered point guard Beno Udrih a chance to return to San Antonio this summer, but he declined, signing a free-agent deal instead with the Knicks.

Now that Mike Woodson has banished Udrih and he has asked for a trade, the Spurs might be a candidate for the Slovenian point guard who has two rings from his time in San Antonio.

Former Knicks general manager Scott Layden, now in the front office of San Antonio, was at Wednesday’s game scouting the Knicks.

Woodson sat Udrih again, despite the fact J.R. Smith declined to play because of an ill-fitting mask and Iman Shumpert didn’t play the second half because of a hip flexor problem.

Udrih did not play in his ninth straight game and for the 11th times in 12 games. His agent, Marc Cornstein, met with Udrih before Wednesday’s game. The Wizards also have interest in Udrih.

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No. 5: Clips veteran Crawford says his game is still maturing — After 14 seasons in the NBA, you’d think that Clippers shooting guard/crossover maven Jamal Crawford wouldn’t be able to do much to improve his game. Most players that deep into their careers kind of are what they are, good, bad or indifferent. But in a great interview with BasketballInsider.com’s Alex Kennedy, Crawford talks about how he’s improving as his career continues, his Sixth Man of the Year Award hopes and his dreams of a championship:

“It’s weird, but I feel like I’m still getting better,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders with a laugh. “Now that I’m 14 years in, some people have been like, ‘Why are you still playing?’ A lot of guys start to plateau at that point or start to [decline], but I feel like I’m still getting better. I love the game of basketball. I’m entrenched in it every single day whether I’m playing it or watching it or talking basketball. For me, it’s still fun. It’s fun to work and see yourself get better. For me, I feel like I can do this for a very long time; God willing, no major injuries.”

This season, Crawford is putting up numbers on par with the best seasons of his career. He’s averaging 18.6 points, 3.3 assists and one steal, as well as the second-highest efficiency rating of his career (17.8). His 29.2 points per 48 minutes rank 12th in the NBA and second among shooting guards (behind only Houston’s James Harden). Crawford is also one of the top clutch players in the league, averaging the third-most points per fourth quarter (6.7 points).

Crawford is the favorite to win this season’s Sixth Man of the Year award, which would be his second Sixth Man trophy after winning it in 2010 as a member of the Atlanta. However, he’s focused on a bigger goal: winning a championship.

“It would be a wonderful honor,” Crawford said of winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. “Whenever you can get an award, I think it means that your team is successful and you’re having a pretty good season with that. I’m not against it by any means at all, but I’m not playing for it. I’m just playing to win. I’m having fun playing basketball and learning more about the game from my coaches and teammates. It’s still fun for me, especially to see improvement and to see how I can get better. I’m playing to win, and that’s the only thing that really matters to me. Everything else that comes with it, I’ll take it in stride. It would be a total team accomplishment. No matter what awards you win in the season, all that matters is winning the championship.”

Crawford has been extremely impressed with Coach Doc Rivers and his staff, and he credits them for his success this year.

“He’s been unbelievable,” Crawford said of Rivers. “Watching him all of those years in Boston and even back in Orlando, I knew he was good, but you don’t know how good he is until you’re around him every single day. That’s what we’re experiencing with him now and he’s unbelievable. … I worked really hard over the summer to improve, but I think a lot of it is that Doc has put me and my teammates in positions to be successful. I think I’m a much better player thanks to him and his staff, and a more well-rounded player as far as rebounding, defending, making plays and scoring; I think I’m the best player that I’ve ever been and there’s a direct correlation between that and the arrival of Doc and his staff.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy likes Jazz swingman Gordan Hayward, but doesn’t think he’s a max-contract player … Great look at the 20 things we’ve learned so far in the season’s first halfKyrie Irving is ready to put on a show at All-Star weekend … In case anyone thought otherwise, ex-NBA swingman Raja Bell confirms he’s officially retired … After a slow start to the season, Tim Duncan is warming up and hitting his stride

ICYMI of The Night: If this dunk vs. the Lakers last night is any indication, Kevin Durant is all warmed up for showtime at the All-Star Game …


VIDEO: Kevin Durant gets loose on the break for a power jam

Money Talks, Asik Doesn’t Walk

Omer Asik's "poison pill" contract may have backfired on Houston (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

The “poison pill” in Omer Asik’s contract may have backfired on Houston. (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

HOUSTON — Follow the money. It’s an adage that’s been around as long as Deep Throat whispering to Bob Woodward in a garage.

The Rockets’ efforts to trade discontented center Omer Asik by their self-imposed deadline this week have ended in large part because other teams are leery of the structure of the Turkish 7-footer’s contract and the cash payments due. As a result, even though the official NBA trade deadline is not until Feb. 20, a league source said Asik could wind up staying in Houston for the length of his deal.

Asik signed a three-year, $25 million contract with the Rockets in the summer of 2012, which included a so-called “poison pill” final season salary of $15 million that was put in place to discourage his previous team, the Bulls, from matching the offer. Even though the money can be spread out evenly over the deal and applied to the salary cap at $8.3 million in the 2014-15 season, many of Houston’s would-be trade partners balked at laying out so much cash for a 25-30 minute per game player.

Asik averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds while starting all 82 games for the Rockets last season. But he has repeatedly asked to be traded ever since the club signed free-agent center Dwight Howard in July. Coach Kevin McHale tried Howard and Asik together as a Twin Towers combination in the starting lineup to open the season, but pulled the plug on the experiment after eight games when there was little chemistry or effectiveness at both ends of the court.

After Asik begged off playing on Nov. 14 at New York and then repeated his trade request, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey stepped up his efforts to make a deal, talking at times to the Sixers, Celtics, Hawks, Bucks, Cavaliers and others. A deal that would have brought Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a draft pick to Houston was discussed more than a week ago and rejected by the Rockets.

Evidently, the more that Morey pressed to move Asik, the more other teams expressed their reticence and began to lower their offers.

A hint that no deal was forthcoming may have come from McHale both before and after Wednesday night’s 109-94 win at home over the Bulls. On two different occasions, the head coach made reference to “when Omer gets back.” Asik has been sidelined since Dec. 2 with a severely bruised thigh that eventually caused a fluid build-up around his knee.

The Rockets would like nothing more than for Asik to accept his role as Howard’s backup, giving them a chance to keep a good rim protector on the court at all times. However, that will require a significant attitude adjustment by the 7-footer who has pouted openly and made no secret of his desire to go to a team where he could be a full-time starter.

There is nothing to stop Morey from continuing to peddle Asik around the league. And the market could percolate as the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches. But it is that clever contract with the $15 million final year payout that landed him with the Rockets that could keep them stuck with him.

Rockets Weigh Final Bids For Asik

Chicago Bulls v Houston Rockets

Wednesday night could have been Omer Asik’s last game as a member of the Houston Rockets.

HOUSTON — Omer Asik spent what figured to be his last night as a Rocket once again in street clothes, looking dapper and rested at the end of the bench. When a 109-94 whipping of the Bulls was complete, he was the first one out of the locker room, hugged a few friends on his way out the door and had nothing to say.

All of the action was taking place behind the closed doors of the front office as auctioneer Daryl Morey weighed the offers for the discontented center ahead of his self-imposed Thursday deadline.

The rumor mill had the Celtics as the frontrunners to land the 7-footer with an offer of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a first-round draft pick, a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports. The teams were said to be haggling over the draft pick, which would be protected to some degree in the 2014 lottery.

Such a trade would fulfill Morey’s desire to get a backup center, a shooter and a draft pick. However, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald wrote that Celtics president Danny Ainge made that offer a week ago, but was turned down at the time by Morey.

The Rockets general manager sent word out around the league on Dec. 6 that he would entertain offers for Asik and choose the package he liked best by Dec. 19, the last date that any players obtained are eligible to be dealt again by the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Since that time, Morey had talked with many clubs, including the Sixers, Cavaliers and Hawks. The Knicks and Trail Blazers were also said to have expressed interest.

Asik has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a thigh injury that eventually caused swelling around his knee.

With Paul Millsap the ideal acquisition for the Rockets to put on their front line next to Dwight Howard, it was interesting to note that Morey began following the Atlanta forward’s official Twitter page — @paulmillsap4 — a short time before the Rockets tipped off against the Bulls on Wednesday night. It is certainly not out of the question that the social media conscious Morey was just having fun dropping a red herring.

If the deal with the Celtics should prove to have legs, it would reunite Howard and Bass, who played together for two seasons in Orlando. At just 6-foot-8, Bass would certainly be an under-sized backup for Howard. He does not have range out to the 3-point line that the Rockets crave, but can knock down mid-range shots to open things for Howard around the basket.

The Celtics could perhaps sweeten their offer by substituting forward Jeff Green for Bass. But Green’s contract, which has two more seasons at $18.4 million due, is not the kind that would normally appeal to Morey, who values keeping salary cap flexibility for his next deal, which is always just around the corner.

Curiously, both before and after the game coach Kevin McHale made references to “when Omer gets back.”

But as the 7-footer headed for the tunnel exit from Toyota Center, there was little reason to think that he’d ever return as a Rocket.

Goal For Celtics, Lakers Should Be Same

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant's return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant’s return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Lakers and Celtics own one of the most glorious rivalries in all of sports. Through the decades they’ve battled one another with teams as different as their respective coastlines.

Yet this version of the Lakers just might be better off accepting the Danny Ainge philosophy: “Making the playoffs is not a goal.”

The Celtics’ president of basketball operations said he needed to explain that a little bit, so I will, too.

Yes, the franchises’ strategies seem completely at odds. Ainge made the tough call to finally bust it up and trade Kevin Garnett and Boston’s beloved Paul Pierce and start from scratch, even with a new rookie coach. Ainge’s commitment to recovering All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is even in question. The Lakers meanwhile locked up their living legend, Kobe Bryant, for another two years and $48.5 million.

But just as Ainge is looking forward, it’s Kobe’s next two years I’m looking at, not this one. It’s during this time that I implore Kobe to not go nuts trying to sneak into the postseason as he did a season ago. But, as was predictable, that will be difficult.

After the Lakers pulled out an 88-85 win at Charlotte on Saturday night, their first W following three consecutive Ls with Kobe back from his awful April Achilles injury, No. 24 went all anti-Ainge, tenfold.

“I want to win a championship,” he told reporters. “I want to be playing in June.”

The inconvenient truth — and it’s really no secret to most — is that these Lakers are no closer to contending for a championship than Brad Stevens‘ plucky squad. They don’t defend or rebound well and they’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut either (ranking 20th in offensive efficiency). Tuesday night’s narrow win at Memphis, a struggling team playing without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, made the Lakers 2-4 with Kobe and 12-13 overall. Essentially the same record as the 12-14 Celtics.

Ainge views the Celtics’ applaudable start (and his comments came when they were 10-14, still a better mark than most expected) as a byproduct of a laughable Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, which they somehow lead and therefore occupy the No. 4 seed. Boston is 9-7 against the East and Ainge cringes thinking about making the playoffs with a losing record in this anomaly of a season and losing out on Draft position, in this coveted Draft.

The Lakers, predicted by most to miss the playoffs with or without Kobe, should view their 12-13 mark as a byproduct of a rugged West. L.A. is 5-3 against the East and 7-10 in its own conference after nipping the depleted Grizzlies.

It can even be argued that when Rondo, Boston’s last remaining player from its recent glory years, returns from his ACL injury that he will join a more talented collection of teammates than the ragtag bunch Kobe inherited. That’s bad news if you’re in the West.

Think about Kobe’s crew: Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Hill and conflicted pal Pau Gasol, the only other remaining member of the 2010 title team. Jordan Farmar (a role player on the ’10 team left before re-signing this season) could return from injury soon and Steve Blake will be back in a month or so. No one can be sure about Steve Nash. To think this crew can leap into the West playoff fray with any hope of advancing would seem reckless California dreaming.

Rondo, if he’s not already traded, will join Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk. Depending how Ainge proceeds with the roster, Brooklyn would seem the only hope from keeping his team built for the lottery from maddeningly backing into the division title.

Ainge knows, and Kobe should, too, that the 2008 and 2010 Finals aren’t walking through that door.

But Kobe doesn’t do lowered expectations, not when he’s got five rings and hungry for a sixth. But for this one season, making the playoffs at all costs can’t be the goal.

“We will get better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the 122-97 loss at OKC, Kobe’s third game back. “Just check in on us in a couple weeks and see where we are.”

It’s hard to see these Lakers in the top eight, whether in a couple weeks or a couple months. The roster presents little opportunity to make a blockbuster, game-changing-type trade. If L.A. did sneak into an eighth or seventh seed like last season, it would only serve as first-round fodder for the Thunder or Spurs, while valuable ground would be lost in the race that matters more — Draft slotting.

L.A. has already accomplished its two prime goals for this season: Kobe is back, and his autograph is fresh on a new contract. Now general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni must make sure that his raging competitive drive doesn’t take him off the cliff of physical limitation. They must evaluate their young talent and determine who can help most over a two-year championship push.

Then, with a stroke of Laker luck, nab a difference-maker in the Draft and follow with smart free-agent acquisitions to form a solid nucleus for Kobe’s sunset drive.

These are the goals. Making the playoffs is not.

Countdown On Asik Deal Continues

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

HANG TIME, TEXAS — If all goes according to plan, Omer Asik’s time in limbo should end soon as the Rockets sift through final offers for the disgruntled big man. The team has reportedly set a self-imposed deadline of Thursday.

According to various reports and different sources, the most likely places for the 27-year-old center to wind up in are Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland or Atlanta, with the Knicks making a late and outside bid to get into the mix.

Asik — who had a breakout year as a starter a year ago averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds– has wanted out of since the moment that Dwight Howard chose Houston in July and the Rockets have been looking to move him since coach Kevin McHale’s experiment with a Twin Towers type lineup ended on Nov. 13.

General manager Daryl Morey spread the word that he would entertain offers from Dec. 15-19 and make his choice. The reason for that narrow window is that Dec. 15 was the first date that players acquired during the offseason were eligible to be traded. Dec. 19 is the last date that any players obtained by the Rockets would be able to be dealt again at the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

Reports have had the Rockets seeking everything from a pair of first-round draft picks to forward Jeff Green of the Celtics to forward Paul Millsap of the Hawks.

Millsap is believed in many circles to be the Rockets’ No. 1 target, a perfect fit to play next to Howard on the front line. But the Hawks may be reluctant to surrender a high-return player after they just signed Millsap over the summer to a salary cap-friendly two-year deal for $19 million.

Discussions of Asik going to the Cavaliers for Anderson Varejao have supposedly cooled in recent days with Cleveland not warm to the idea of paying Asik’s $15-million salary next season.

The top two suitors could be the Celtics and the Sixers. That could produce a three-way deal.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics have entered the names of Green and Brandon Bass into discussions. The Sixers’ most likely to be traded are Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner.

While Green is averaging more than 16 points and four rebounds a game for Boston, the 12-14 Celtics, despite leading the Atlantic Division, are in a rebuilding mode. It wouldn’t hurt to unload a contract that still has $18.4 million due through 2016. If Hawes makes his way to Houston, he could come off the bench at center and also be valuable to the Rockets as a “stretch-four” with his ability to shoot from the perimeter.

Sources around the league have indicated the Rockets would be willing to include point guard Jeremy Lin in any trade. But the fact that he is due virtually the same $15 million pay as Asik next season is a heavy burden for any one team to absorb. That would probably mean a three-team deal to make it happen.

However, if the Rockets were able to move both Asik and Lin and take back only expiring contracts and draft choices, it is possible they could have enough salary cap space to offer another max-level contract to a free agent next summer.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Celtics getting in Asik trade mix? | Granger, Pacers set return date | Dalembert’s role dwindling in Dallas | Lin to miss next game

No. 1: Report: Celtics getting into Asik sweepstakes? — In case you missed it over the weekend, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled their name out of the hat as a team interested in acquiring Rockets center Omer Asik. (Basically, the Cavs would be interested in being part of a three-team deal for Asik, but don’t want him coming to Cleveland.) So where will Asik end up? ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that the Boston Celtics have emerged as a potential suitor for Asik, joining the Philadelphia 76ers (who remain the favorites to land Asik):

There is no hard proof yet to support the theory — first presented in this tweet from my USA Today colleague Sam Amick — that the Houston Rockets already have a trade framework in place to solve their Asik conundrum and are only waiting to see if someone else out there steps up to beat the mystery offer between now and Houston’s self-imposed Thursday deadline to deal Asik.

However …

While strong rumbles persist that the Philadelphia 76ers are the team most likely to go along with such an arrangement, given the close ties between Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Philly counterpart Sam Hinkie, there’s fresh talk in circulation about another potential co-conspirator.

The Boston Celtics.

The advice offered to us on Sunday was stern: Keep an eye on Boston. The Celtics possess two players in different salary ranges that would presumably fit in useful ways next to Dwight Howard: Jeff Green and Brandon Bass. The Celts also have a spare first-round draft pick or two to plug into any trade equation to sweeten the deal for Houston, amid rising suspicions around the league that Morey’s Rockets are going to find a way to come out of the Asik saga with at least one future first.

The same Rockets who happen to have a GM (Morey) and coach (Kevin McHale) who have long-standing relationships with Celts president Danny Ainge.

So, yes, I’d say you should keep an eye on Boston.

Question here that must be asked loudly: Can Houston, in whichever Asik trade it ultimately chooses, really afford to take back a player possessing substantial long-term money like Green (two seasons at $18.4 million after this one) or Philly’s Thaddeus Young (two seasons at $19.4 million after this one) when it knows it’s going to have to give an extension bump to Chandler Parsons as soon as Parsons is eligible for the raise his play merits via extension?

Which is another way of saying you shouldn’t be surprised if Young gets routed to a third team should the Rockets and Sixers officially join forces to construct an Asik deal, as some observers have been expecting all month.


VIDEO: TNT analyst David Aldridge addresses the Omer Asik rumors and more

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No. 2: Pacers, Granger set target return date — Just last week — before the much-anticipated Heat-Pacers showdown in Indianapolis — injured Pacers forward Danny Granger said he pondered returning for that game, but ruled it out so as not to put the spotlight on himself over the team. On Friday, Granger ruled himself out of the Pacers’ home game with the Charlotte Bobcats, but said he was closer than ever to a return. Indiana now is hoping for an early Christmas present as Granger is planning on a Dec. 20 return, writes Scott Agness of Pacers.com:

Might this finally be the week that Danny Granger makes his anticipated season debut? That’s the plan right now for the Pacers.

“I was waiting for the Danny Granger [question],” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said more than four minutes into a post-practice interview. “I finally have news on Danny Granger. We’re going to target next Friday for a hopeful return to see how this week of practices goes.”

Until now, the Pacers stayed away from publicly announcing a timeline after the initial diagnosis. Now, both Vogel and Granger appear giddy about the possibility of him playing Friday when the Houston Rockets are in town. Coincidentally, the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.

“I had a good practice today,” Granger said. “It’s really just fine-tuning my game, honestly. Making sure my timing is on, making sure I know all the plays. That’s a big thing when you haven’t played in awhile. I know the plays but I haven’t repped through the plays like all the other guys constantly get a lot of reps through the plays.”

Granger said he and coach Vogel are always on the same page, and that both agreed that he needed more practice time before putting on his game uniform.

“Me and Frank talk after practice — he’ll call me in or he’ll call me over,” said Granger. “Just because I said ‘Hopefully I can play on Friday,’ I was thinking hopefully. And then when I came and I practiced, and I dribbled the ball off my foot twice and I shot an airball on a layup, me and Frank met again and I’m like, ‘I’m not ready,’ and he was like, ‘No, you’re not ready yet.’ ”

Now in his ninth NBA season, Granger has typically been a slow starter. It’s fair to expect that again, though he doesn’t anticipate it.

“In the past in preseason, I always would tinker with different things in my game,” he explained. “I always used it as a time to do the things you’re good at, but just experiment with other things and notoriously I would always have a slow start. I’m trying to avoid that this year.

“I don’t know if (fans) think we’re just machines that you just turn on and all of sudden we’re playing in rhythm. Every basketball player is a rhythm player. It’s takes awhile. That’s why we have a preseason.

“I’m hoping the practices that I’ve been getting now, and the playing that I’ve been getting now is very similar to what I will do in a game. Obviously, when you get in a game you got adrenaline that you have to account for and that changes things a little bit. Just me practicing fullcourt, playing everyday, playing one-on-one, shooting a lot of shots, doing ball handling drills, I’m hoping that’ll be my time where I can get some of these kinks out.”

The team’s medical staff continues to keep a close eye on Granger.

“They’re not out of it,” said Vogel. “They’re still very much involved because part of the final process of recovery from a calf strain is, is his body going to respond to the extra work? Is the calf going to flare up? They’re still checking it everyday and not ruling him 100 percent healthy until they see he can go through added work and the calf can still respond the right way.”

Should Granger step onto the floor Friday night, as hoped, it’ll be his first regular-season appearance since March 3, when he left the game (also against the Bulls) due to soreness in his left knee, which kept him out all but five games last season. The knee is really good, according to Granger, and he’s motivated more than ever to return to game action.


VIDEO:
Danny Granger addresses is potential return on Dec. 20

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No. 3: Dalembert’s role dwindling in Dallas — The Dallas Mavericks signed big man Samuel Dalembert in the offseason in hopes of seeing him provide the kind of interior defense and paint protection that Tyson Chandler gave the Mavs during their run to the title in 2011. That hasn’t been the case so far, though, as Dalembert has gone from starting 16 of Dallas’ first 19 games to seeing his minutes cut as coach Rick Carlisle has given DeJuan Blair the starting job. Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News has more on how the return of Brandan Wright may force Dalembert even further out of the rotation:

The return of Brandan Wright had a ripple effect on the Mavericks’ interior rotation, though it’s difficult to draw conclusions from Saturday night because Dallas was playing without Dirk Nowitzki.

On this night, at least, Samuel Dalembert dropped to fourth-team center, behind starter DeJuan Blair, second-teamer Brandan Wright and late third-quarter sub Bernard James.

Dalembert started 17 of Dallas’ first 18 games, but Saturday marked Blair’s sixth straight start. Dalembert did not play.

Dalembert, who as a free agent signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract over the summer, is averaging 6.7 points and 6.5 rebounds.

“He’s shown his moments,” said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “I just don’t think he’s been in a position where he’s been expected to perform to help a team win since his first or second years.”

Last season, the Mavericks signed Chris Kaman to a one-year, $8 million contract and anointed him the starter. Though he wound up starting 52 games, his minutes decreased as the season wore on and so, it appeared, did Kaman’s effort level.

In other words, rather than inspiring Kaman, cutting his minutes seemed to have an adverse effect. Are the Mavericks concerned the same will happen with Dalembert?

“No, I think Sam is the exact opposite,” Cuban said. “Sam is figuring out how to contribute. I think he’s disappointed in himself. I don’t think he thinks he’s playing well. He wants to get better.”

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No. 4: Rockets’ Lin expected to miss game vs. Bulls — A knee injury in November kept point guard Jeremy Lin from the Rockets’ lineup for six games. Although he returned to play in Friday’s win over Golden State, he suffered a back injury when he collided with Warriors big man Andrew Bogut. Lin sat out last night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings and seems sure to miss Houston’s date with Chicago this week, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets’ injury issues took another unexpected turn when guard Jeremy Lin developed back spasms following a collision Friday with Golden State center Andrew Bogut.

Lin missed Sunday’s loss and is expected to be out Wednesday against Chicago, having played two games after missing six with a sprained and bruised right knee.

Lin said he ran into Bogut on a screen in the first half, but kept playing. He played 21 minutes in that game and returned in the final minutes after Pat Beverley fouled out.

In addition to leaving the Rockets short-handed, it took away another game for Lin to work his way back from the six games out.

“I only played him 14 or 15 minutes in Portland because you could tell he was out of rhythm,” assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said. “The game kind of dictates your substitution patterns, … but I certainly made an effort against Golden State to get him more minutes. He needs to get in a rhythm.

“We’re disappointed that he’s out, not nearly as disappointed as he is, I’m sure.”

Guard James Harden left Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle. With Lin and center Omer Asik out, Rockets players have been out for a combined 43 games. The entire roster was out for a combined 50 games last season.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Heat might be looking to work a trade for the Celtics’ Jordan Crawford … Good look at how rookie point guard Trey Burke has proven to be worth the Draft-day gamble for the Jazz … Magic rookie swingman Victor Oladipo got some preseason pointers from fellow a guy he long looked up to: fellow D.C.-area star Kevin Durant

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: You all know we love Kenneth Faried around these parts, so here’s the latest must-see alley-oop from “The Manimal” last night …


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried gets up high to finish off the Randy Foye alley-oop

Game 6 Comes Down To Melo’s Mentality

NEW YORK – More important than the color of the clothes the New York Knicks wore to Game 5 was the color of their shot chart. It was very red.

For the second straight game, the Knicks couldn’t buy a bucket. They’ve played well defensively in their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, but their offense has come to a screeching halt.

The Knicks ranked third in the league offensively in the regular season, scoring 108.6 points per 100 possessions. And when they were playing well, both in early in the season and late, their success was all about the points they were scoring.

Knicks efficiency

Timeframe W L OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Oct. 30 – Dec. 16 18 5 111.1 2 102.3 16 +8.8 3
Dec. 17 – March 17 20 21 104.6 11 103.8 15 +0.8 11
March 18 – April 17 16 2 114.6 1 104.4 17 +10.2 3

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Whether they were winning or losing, the Knicks’ defense was rather mediocre all season. So it’s nice that they’ve held the Celtics to the lowest postseason efficiency among the 14 teams that didn’t get swept. But Boston is a bad offensive team, and against most opponents, the Knicks need to score a lot of points to win. So it’s not nice that only the Lakers – who were missing the fourth leading scorer in NBA history – regressed more offensively from the regular season to the playoffs.

Most regressed offenses (OffRtg), regular season to playoffs

Team Reg. Season Rank Playoffs Rank Diff.
L.A. Lakers 105.6 8 90.6 16 -15.0
New York 108.6 3 96.3 13 -12.3
Milwaukee 100.9 21 91.5 15 -9.4
Boston 101.1 20 91.7 14 -9.4
Denver 107.6 5 102.4 9 -5.2

Not only has the Knicks’ offensive regression made this series a lot more interesting than it was five days ago, but it’s also a bad sign regarding their ability to get past the Indiana Pacers – the league’s best defensive team – should they meet them in the next round.

So, as they head back to Boston for Game 6 on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Knicks have some problems to fix. The issues are painfully obvious, and they start and end with a lack of ball movement.

The Knicks ranked dead last in assist rate in the regular season, assisting on just 52.7 percent of their field goals. That number is down to just 43.6 percent in the postseason. While isolation basketball was a big part of the Knicks’ offense most of the year, it has completely taken over in these last two games, in which the Knicks have assisted on just 23 assists of their 63 field goals (37 percent).

Knicks possessions mostly start off with the right intentions and they will run the first few actions of their offense, most of the time. But the Celtics’ defense is designed to take away those primary options. And far too often, New York’s possessions devolve into isolations once Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith get the ball.

Now, both Anthony and Smith are great one-on-one players, but they’re better players when they’re shooting off the pass or creating for others. The problem is that they’re stopping the ball, allowing the Celtics’ defense to load up, and turning their teammates into bystanders. With as much time as the ball has been in their hands in this series, Anthony (six) and Smith (six) have combined for just 12 assists.

The Knicks’ best offense has come from Raymond Felton in the pick-and-roll. But there just hasn’t been enough of those possessions. Now, sometimes a Felton pick-and-roll gets snuffed out, and the Celtics’ defense certainly deserves a lot of credit for how poorly the Knicks have played offensively. But it’s clear that Anthony and Smith are trying to do too much by themselves.

Smith obviously deserves scrutiny for his intentional elbow to Jason Terry‘s head that got him suspended for Game 4, and for how poorly he shot in Game 5. But Game 6 (and then maybe Game 7) is all about Melo.

This entire season has pretty much been a referendum on Anthony’s game and career. He has famously made it out of the first round only once and had a putrid 17-37 postseason record prior to these playoffs.

Things went so well in the regular season. Anthony led the league in scoring and, more important, led the Knicks to their best record in 18 years. With some veterans around him to show him the way, he learned to trust his teammates, make quicker decisions in the Knicks’ offense, and avoid being the ball-stopper that he was previously.

But things have changed in the playoffs, especially over the last couple of games. Anthony has seemingly regressed back to his old self, playing a style that’s not going to get it done against the best defenses in this league. He’s the second-leading scorer in these playoffs, but has been anything but efficient, shooting 39 percent from the field and 8-for-28 from 3-point range, where he has missed his last 15 attempts. As tempting as it is to go one-on-one with Brandon Bass 25 times a game and as impressive as those fadeaway, contested 20-footers look when they go in, the rate of success on those plays just isn’t good enough.

The Knicks are the better team here. But they’ve put themselves in a bad spot and will feel even more pressure if they can’t finish the series off on Friday. The path back to the win column begins with a change in Anthony’s mentality. These Celtics aren’t quite the Celtics of old, but you still don’t beat them by yourself.

Melo’s Regression Helps Celts Stay Alive

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BOSTON –
In a season of improvement, this was a day of regression.

This was Carmelo Anthony‘s year. Though the numbers don’t really show it, he matured this season, learned to trust his teammates, and learned how to be a great scorer without stopping the ball so much. He made quicker, smarter decisions.

On Sunday though, with his New York Knicks trying to close out the Boston Celtics, Anthony seemingly turned back the clock and played like it was 2011 again. He tried to beat the Celtics by himself, and his regression helped Boston stave off elimination with a 97-90, overtime victory. The series now heads back to New York for Game 5 on Wednesday.

Anthony’s regression basically trumped Raymond Felton‘s podium game. The Knicks’ point guard continued to tear up Boston’s pick-and-roll defense, tying his season high with 27 points, 16 of them as the Knicks came back from a 20-point deficit in the third quarter. As great an on-ball defender as Avery Bradley is, he couldn’t stay in front of Felton, who gave the Knicks their only lead of the game with a pick-and-roll, pull-up jumper with just over a minute to go in regulation.

The Knicks even had success when Anthony ran the pick-and-roll. Their 5-0 run to tie the game in the final minutes of the fourth quarter came off two Anthony/Tyson Chandler pick-and-rolls, one that produced an open Iman Shumpert 3-pointer, and another that got Anthony an easy drive to the basket.

But too many times, Anthony preferred to play isolation basketball. And too many times, he forced bad shots. In fact, on the two Knicks possessions that sandwiched Felton’s go-ahead jumper, Anthony ran five different isolations (thanks to three offensive rebounds from his teammates). Those five isolations produced four missed shots, two missed free throws, and zero points.

This wasn’t the worst game of Anthony’s career. On an afternoon when his team was struggling to score, he was able to get to the free throw line 20 times. Eleven of those trips helped keep the Knicks within striking distance in the first half.

But Anthony finished the game 10-for-35 from the field and 0-for-7 from 3-point range, adding seven turnovers. Of his 35 shots, 19 came from mid-range, the least efficient area of the floor.

“He missed some shots,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said, “but as a team, we couldn’t make shots.”

But Anthony missed more shots than any three of his teammates combined. He had just two assists, and the Knicks had just 10 as a team.

It was a bad game, nothing more than that. The Knicks’ 3-0 series lead afforded him such, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself going forward. He’ll also have J.R. Smith back from his one-game suspension, though Anthony wouldn’t admit that Smith’s absence played a roll in his own tunnel-vision.

“I missed him out there,” Anthony said of Smith. “But J.R. being out there doesn’t change the way I shoot the basketball. Those are the shots I’ve been taking the whole series. They weren’t falling tonight. My mother always said, ‘There’ll be days like this.’ We’ll take it for what it’s worth, put this one behind us, and get ready for Wednesday.”

If Smith’s absence wasn’t a fact, the Celtics’ defense was. Boston had no intention of rolling over and seeing their season end any earlier than it had to. They dug in and made the Knicks work for their baskets.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers went back to his original starting lineup, believing it would be better defensively, and Brandon Bass proved him right. Before eventually fouling out, Bass took on the Anthony assignment and defended the league’s leading scorer about as well as you can.

“He was the star of the game, as far as I’m concerned,” Rivers said of Bass. “He just defended, and did it over and over and over again.”

“The more he does it, the fresher Paul [Pierce], the fresher Jeff [Green] can be offensively for us.”

Pierce and Green were indeed fresh offensively, combining for 55 of the Celtics’ 97 points. Kevin Garnett hit two big jumpers down the stretch and Jason Terry scored Boston’s final nine points in overtime. It was the definition of a team win for the prideful Celtics.

But none of that would have mattered if Anthony didn’t try to beat them all by himself.

“I was trying to win the basketball game,” he said. “It would have been a great feeling to close it out here in Boston, so I was trying to do whatever I could to win the basketball game. I was just trying to be aggressive. I missed a lot – a ton – of shots today.”

For Celtics, Return Home Doesn’t Necessarily Bring More Offense

 

BOSTON – Down 0-2 to the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics are in a desperate situation. If they don’t win Game 3 on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), they can start packing for their summer vacations.

The good news is that the Celtics were a much better team at home than they were on the road this season. In terms of winning percentage, only three teams had a bigger home-road discrepancy. And in terms of point differential, only five teams had a bigger discrepancy. One of those five was the Knicks, so that’s more good news.

Biggest home-road discrepancy, NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions)

Team Home Rank Road Rank Diff. Win% Diff.
Denver +11.7 3 -0.5 10 +12.2 0.463
Charlotte -4.8 29 -16.5 30 +11.7 0.220
Utah +5.1 12 -6.4 20 +11.5 0.415
Washington +3.0 14 -8.5 26 +11.5 0.366
New York +10.5 6 -0.3 9 +10.8 0.195
Boston +5.9 11 -4.6 17 +10.5 0.334

Here’s the bad news: The difference between the home Celtics and the road Celtics has been mostly on the defensive end of the floor, where they were 9.0 points per 100 possessions better at TD Garden than they were elsewhere.

Celtics efficiency, home vs. road

Location OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Home 101.9 22 95.9 3 +5.9 11
Road 100.3 18 104.9 14 -4.6 17
Difference +1.5 22 -9.0 2 +10.5 6

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Over the course of the season, Boston was an elite defensive team in Boston and a mediocre defensive team outside The Hub.

Why is that bad news? Because the Celtics were pretty darn good defensively in New York, holding a team that scored almost 115 points per 100 possessions over its last 18 regular season games to just 100 per 100 in the first two games of this series. It’s hard to believe they can defend much better than that going forward. The Knicks scored 32 points in the third quarter of Game 2, but the Knicks are going to have their 32-point quarters, no matter who’s defending them.

If the Celtics are going to win at least one of these next two games, they need something close to a 32-point quarter for themselves … or at least something close to a 40-point second half. But playing at home hasn’t given them much of a boost on that end of the floor. They’re really a bad offensive team no matter where they play.

Back to some good news: 82 games of regular season data says that the Knicks aren’t nearly as good defensively as they were in the first two games. They regressed and ranked 16th on that end of the floor this year. And New York’s defense was 4.2 points per 100 possessions worse on the road. In particular, they didn’t force turnovers or defend the 3-point line as well as they did at Madison Square Garden. And those are two areas where the Celtics really struggled in Games 1 and 2.

The Celtics also have some guys who shot better at home. Jason Terry, in particular, seems to like the gym on Causeway St.

Celtics effective field goal percentage, home vs. road

Player Home Road Diff.
Jason Terry 59.4% 45.6% +13.8%
Jeff Green 54.4% 47.7% +6.7%
Brandon Bass 50.3% 46.7% +3.6%
Paul Pierce 51.7% 48.8% +2.8%
Chris Wilcox 71.6% 72.2% -0.6%
Kevin Garnett 48.6% 51.0% -2.4%
Courtney Lee 50.0% 53.4% -3.4%
Jordan Crawford 44.0% 48.9% -4.9%
Avery Bradley 40.0% 48.2% -8.3%

Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA

So there is some hope for the Celtics to break through offensively, take care of the ball, make some shots, and score more than 25 points in the second half on Friday.

If they don’t, you can break out the brooms.

Game 2: Knicks-Celtics’ Changes Afoot

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NEW YORK – They say that every game in a playoff series has its own personality. And a couple of rotation changes should give Game 2 of the Knicks-Celtics’ series (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, TNT) a new look.

The Knicks hope to have Pablo Prigioni back from a sprained ankle for Game 2. And if they do, he will start and join Raymond Felton in the backcourt. The Knicks went 15-1 with the two point guards starting together in the final month of the regular season.

The Knicks have been incredibly efficient offensively, scoring almost 120 points per 100 possessions in 298 minutes, with Felton and Prigioni on the floor together. And after a game in which they scored 85 points on 88 possessions, they could certainly use an offensive boost. After assisting on just 13 of their 32 buckets in Game 1, the team hopes that Prigioni will bring better ball movement.

But the lineup change could have an adverse effect on the other end of the floor. Woodson said Sunday that if Prigioni is back, Felton will guard Paul Pierce to start the game (the original plan had Prigioni been healthy in Game 1), with Iman Shumpert defending Jeff Green.

Shumpert was guarding Pierce to start Game 1, and the Celtics posted Pierce on three of the first four possessions. When the Knicks doubled the post, the Celtics got a jumper for Kevin Garnett and a layup for Avery Bradley.

Mismatches on Pierce were a big part of the Celtics’ offense all day Saturday. Later in the first quarter, they ran the same play several times to get J.R. Smith switched onto Pierce at the foul line. And they had some more success with Pierce posting Jason Kidd on a few possessions midway through the second.

With their lineup change, the Knicks will be handing the Celtics a mismatch from the start. And Boston will obviously go to Pierce in the post early and often. New York will send double-teams, and it will be up to Pierce’s teammates to make them pay.

Green was a pretty good corner 3-point shooter (45.7 percent) in the regular season, but didn’t attempt any shots from the corners on Saturday. As a team, Boston was just 1-for-5 from the corners, an obvious area for improvement in Game 2.

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Doc Rivers plans on making some rotation changes of his own. He went only eight deep in Game 1, using just three guards — Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry — off the bench. The trio combined to shoot 0-for-7.

Rivers said Sunday that we could see a big man off the bench — presumably Chris Wilcox or Shavlik Randolph — on Tuesday. If it’s Wilcox, it will be the first playoff appearance of his 11-year career.

We’ll have to see if that results in less minutes for Brandon Bass or if Rivers plans on playing with two bigs more than he did in Game 1. The Celtics were a plus-1 (and particularly strong on the defensive glass) in 21 minutes with both Bass and Garnett on the floor on Saturday, and a minus-8 in 27 minutes with one of the two on the bench.

The Celtics weren’t very good defensively, allowing 104.7 points per 100 possessions, in 396 regular season minutes with Bass and Wilcox on the floor together. And the Garnett-Wilcox pair played just 73 minutes.

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Rivers also wants to see a bigger role for Crawford. Amazingly, Crawford didn’t take a single shot in his 10:46 on Saturday. And it surely goes without saying that it was the first time in the gunner’s career that he’s played at least 10 minutes without taking a shot.

The Celtics probably don’t want to get to the point where Crawford’s shooting determines the outcome of any particular game, but he can help make the Knicks pay for double-teams on Pierce if he’s aggressive and looking to make plays for his teammates as well as himself. He can also take some of the ball-handling duties from Bradley.