Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Jennings’

Tale of the tape: Two Brandons

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t won much this season, but they did win this: Their summertime swap of Brandons.

The July 31 deal was bigger than just that, with Khris Middleton adding to the Bucks’ haul (Viacheslav Kravtsov was just ballast) . But at its core, the sign-and-trade was about a swap of and preference in combo guards Brandon Knight and Brandon Jennings. Jennings had exploded on the scene in Milwaukee in 2009-10, scoring 55 points in his seventh NBA game. That immediately triggered second-guessing in New York, where the Knicks had drafted Jordan Hill two spots ahead of Jennings, and kick-started Milwaukee’s “Fear The Deer” season in which they finished 46-36, reached the playoffs and might have made some real noise if not for center Andrew Bogut‘s arm and wrist injuries from an ugly spill late in the regular season.

Brandon Knight (Bucks) and Brandon Jennings (Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Brandon Knight (Bucks) and Brandon Jennings
(Allen Einstein/NBAE)

Jennings’ quick start as a scorer, however, hurt his game, in the opinion of some NBA scouts. His shoot-first inclinations calcified, despite unimpressive accuracy numbers (39.4 percent shooting, 35.4 on 3-pointers, in four seasons with the Bucks). He also had difficulty finishing at the rim.

Yet Jennings stayed bold with his shot, showing less interest in setting up teammates. That led to some locker-room frustration, even squabbles, especially when Jennings could respond to an All-Star snub by averaging 14.5 assists for a week but was down at 5.7 for four Bucks seasons.

He hit restricted free agency ready for a change. Milwaukee was ready too, agreeing to a swap for Knight while Jennings landed a three-year, $24 million deal in Detroit.

Knight had heard many of the same criticisms in two seasons in Detroit: Not a true point guard, a ‘tweener, and so on. But the Bucks liked his size, his skills, his age and his salary, and despite the presence of other guards (Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal, O.J. Mayo, Nate Wolters, later Ramon Sessions), flipped the keys of their offense to the south Florida native.

Knight showed a lot of Jennings’ tendencies for the Bucks without generating hard feelings. He has shot the ball 200 times more than any teammate, despite his 41.7 percent success rate, and he leads the team in 3-point attempts (306) if not accuracy (32.7). He’s their leader in assists, too, but with an average (4.9) lower than Jennings averaged in his four Bucks seasons. Ditto for Knight’s turnovers (2.6), higher than what Jennings coughed up while there.

But he’s two years younger than Jennings, two years away from unrestricted free agency and a lot more affordable. Coincidentally, Knight is only the second player in Bucks history to lead the team in both points and assists in his first season with the club. The first? Jennings.

Bucks coach Larry Drew talked up Knight before a game against Miami last weekend.

“There was always the big question, could he play point? I still think that Brandon is a very young developing player,” Drew said. “Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Did I know that Brandon was actually younger than Michael Carter-Williams?’ … You think about that. We think of Michael Carter-Williams as a really young terrific NBA player. He has a chance to be Rookie of the Year. It seems like Brandon has been around for a few more years.

“Brandon wants to get better, he wants to learn. We challenge him at that point guard position – that’s such a vital position in our league. He’s still making mistakes, and that’s something we have to continue to work with him on. But after all that’s been said about him from the very beginning, particularly when he was in Detroit, I thought he came into this thing very positive. And I know he was in the mindset of wanting to prove something.”

With their seasons nearly complete and their teams’ series ending earlier this week. it seemed like a good time to tell the tale of two Brandons with a tale of the tape:

Essentials:
Jennings: 6-foot-1, 169 pounds. Born Sept. 23, 1989 (24). No. 10 pick in 2009.
Knight: 6-foot-3, 189 pounds. Born Dec. 2, 1991 (22). No. 8 pick in 2011.
Comment: It’s hard to beat Jennings’ elusiveness and quickness, but Knight is fast, too. And the Bucks feel his size is better suited to playing the defense that, in time, they think he’s capable of providing.
Advantage: Knight.

Team W-L record
Jennings: 27-48, fourth in the Central Division.
Knight: 14-61, last in the Central.
Comment: With nearly double the victories, this might be classified as a blowout for Jennings. Then again, winning 27 gets you a lottery spot same as winning 14, except that Milwaukee might land a guarantee of no pick worse than No. 4. The Pistons will need to get lucky to leap ahead of the Bucks.
Advantage: Jennings (c’mon, winning games still matters).

Basic individual stats
Jennings: 15.7 ppg, 7.8 apg, 3.0 rpg, 34.3 mpg, 2.6 turnovers, 1.3 steals. 37.7 FG%, 34.5 3FG%.
Knight: 17.5 ppg, 4.9 apg, 3.5 rpg, 32.9 mpg, 2.6 turnovers, 1.0 steals, 41.7 FG%, 32.7 3FG%.
Comment: Jennings’ assists numbers are a personal high, reflective of the scoring talent around him – Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Rodney Stuckey – and Detroit’s presumed desire to win and play right at least early in the season. Knight has self-nominated as the “someone has to score on a bad team” guy.
Advantage: Even.

Advanced individual stats:
Jennings: 107 offensive rating, 112 defensive rating, 35.1 assists %, 44.6 eFG%, 16.3 PER.
Knight: 104 offensive rating, 113 defensive rating, 27.1 assists %, 46.8 eFG%, 16.4 PER.
Comment: A little credit here, a little debit there, it’s awfully close. But then you notice that Jennings’ PER, effective field-goal percentage and offensive/defensive ratings all have gotten worse from two seasons ago (18.4, 47.6%, 106/107) and, two years further along than Knight, he’s headed the wrong way.
Advantage: Knight.

Head-to-head
Jennings: 20.5 ppg, 10.3 apg, 2.8 rpg, 40.9 FG%, 50.0 3FG%, plus-13.4 ppg in four games against Milwaukee.
Knight: 15.3 ppg, 5.8 apg4.3 rpg, 32.1 FG%, 21.4 3FG%, minus-14.6 ppg in the four meetings.
Comment: Jennings left Milwaukee with a fair amount of baggage, even bitterness. It figures he would have more to prove, more of a statement to make, than Knight when facing his former team. And sure enough, Jennings did. The Pistons went 3-1 against the Bucks this season.
Advantage: Jennings.

Contract
Jennings: $7.7 million this season, another $16.3 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Knight: $2.8 million salary this season, $8.3 million the next two years.
Comment: On a per-points, per-assists, per-anything basis, Knight already is a better buy than Jennings and figures to stay that way for another two seasons.
Advantage: Knight.

Morning Shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Mar. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ariza’s huge game | McHale approves of age limit | Fredette joins Bulls | Jennings thinks Cheeks deserved more time | Cuban favors D-League over college

No. 1: Ariza’s huge game — Trevor Ariza took over in the first quarter of Saturday’s game between the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers. He scored 24 points with six three-pointers to help the Wizards open up a 13-point first quarter lead against a sold-out Philadelphia crowd. Ariza finished with a career-high 40 points, with eight three-pointers, and helped teammate John Wall collect his own career-high of 16 assists. J. Michael from CSN-Washington has more on Ariza’s career-night:

Trevor Ariza left the floor early during warmups at Wells Fargo Center because it was too cold. An NHL game had taken place earlier and several players, including Andre Miller and Chris Singleton, could be seen blowing into their hands and rubbing their arms in an attempt to generate heat.

Ariza didn’t take long. He just went to the locker room and waited until the opening tip in Saturday’s 122-103 rout of the Philadelphia 76ers when he scored a career-high 40 points, 24 coming in the first quarter when he made his first six three-point attempts. A free agent after the season, each time Ariza swishes a three it should come with the sound effects of a cash register.

“It was cold early but the fans and the excitement and all the things that was going on here made me feel a little bit warmer,” said Ariza, alluding to the sellout crowd that was primarily there to witness the retirement of Allen Iverson’s No. 3 jersey at halftime. “The flamethrower was out there.”

“You want to see the guy that has put in work, doing the extra sacrifice to help our team, guarding the best players on any given night, to have one of those big nights,” said Wall, who tied a career high with 16 assists. “You try to reward him for that. That’s what I wanted, for him to get a 40-point game.”

Marcin Gortat had another double-double with 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Even he wasn’t impressed by his own performance. He could only talk about Ariza.

“It was a one-man show,” Gortat said. “My rebounds and John’s assists, I don’t think they count.”

***

No. 2: McHale approves of age limit — Houston Rockets coach and Boston Celtics great Kevin McHale agrees with new NBA commissioner Adam Silver that the NBA should enforce an age limit to help avoid college one-and-dones. Sam Amick from the USA Today has more:

The Houston Rockets coach has a unique vantage point on this front. He spent four seasons at the University of Minnesota before beginning his Hall of Fame NBA career and later transitioning to a post-playing career as an executive (Minnesota Timberwolves) and head coach (Timberwolves, Rockets). McHale could see this situation from all sides, it would seem, and so it was that Silver went seeking his counsel leading up to his February ascension into former commissioner David Stern‘s seat.

The advice, which McHale reiterated this week in an interview with USA TODAY Sports, was to push hard for the end of the one-and-done era.

“I’m totally against it,” McHale said. “I understand (the argument) that it’s America and everybody has a right to work. I understand that. But the guys aren’t ready. (When) you’re 16 years old or 15 years old, they don’t put you into doggone smelting or anything. Man, the NBA is a man’s league, and I think a lot of these young guys come in early and their careers would prosper if they stayed (in college).

“I’d like to see us do the three years out of high school or 21 (years old), like football. I just think it would help the colleges. I think it would help the kids. And I know they don’t think so, because they want to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get in the market. I’ve got to make all my money and all that stuff.’ But you don’t make money if you have a three-year career, if you come in at 18, 19, and you’re not ready.”

As Silver said at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, the owners’ proposal to raise the league’s minimum age from 19 to 20 was negotiated with the players during the 2011 lockout but ultimately tabled as a B-list item to be resolved at a later time. Silver argued in a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports that owners and players alike would reap the benefits of increased profits as a result of raising the minimum age.

McHale, not surprisingly, agrees. What’s more, he thinks players would approve of the change in a vote.

“Why would a bunch of NBA players vote to say, ‘Yeah, I want guys coming in to take my job?'” McHale continued. “They would say (have a minimum age of) 28 if you’re an NBA player, you know what I mean? So 21? I just think it would make it a better product, and I think it would help the kids. I really do.

“I think they’d learn leadership. I think they’d learn more responsibility. … When you get in the NBA, this is your job and you have to be really professional. But a lot of guys who come in just aren’t ready for that. It’s hard to do a man’s job when you’re 19.”

***

No. 3:  Fredette joins Bulls — Jimmer Fredette has not experienced a smooth transition from college to the NBA. He struggled to find playing time in Sacramento and many have already written off the 10th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft as a bust. But after clearing waivers, he now has a chance to start fresh in a much more developed system in Chicago. Teddy Greenstein of The Chicago Tribune has more:

Fredette officially cleared waivers Saturday and has agreed to sign with the Bulls for a prorated portion of the veteran’s minimum contract, sources said. Fredette is shooting a career-best 49.3 percent from 3-point range and is expected to attend Sunday’s matinee against the Knicks.

The Bulls hope Fredette will provide them with what they desperately need: scoring.

“The more shooting you have, the more it opens up the floor,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We want to open things up to attack off the dribble, with our cuts, things of that nature. We feel that is an area of need.”

Fredette, seeking to revive his career heading into free agency, can point to how the Bulls helped resurrect D.J. Augustin, whom the Raptors dumped. Since joining the Bulls, Augustin is averaging 13.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in 30.6 minutes.

“There are a number of guys who are good, and sometimes, as you see with D.J., it’s an opportunity to step in and add to what a team may need,” Thibodeau said. “Whoever we sign, if we do sign someone, we want to play to their strengths and cover up their weaknesses.”

The 6-foot-2 Fredette is not a strong defender, but the last time he got extensive minutes, Feb. 12 at Madison Square Garden, he torched the Knicks for 24 points on 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range.

Guard Kirk Hinrich said adding a top-flight shooter such as Fredette would make defenses “play honest.”

The Bulls entered Friday night 27th in 3-point shooting (34.1 percent), 28th in field-goal shooting (42.7 percent) and last in scoring (92.7 ppg).

***

No. 4:  Jennings thinks Cheeks deserved more time — The Detroit Pistons (23-36) have struggled this season after an offseason which saw them sign Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to large contracts. Another part of their offseason overhaul was the hiring of Maurice Cheeks to be head coach. This job proved to not be secure as Cheeks was fired after just 50 games, which was not a decision Jennings agreed with, reports Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

Although there would certainly be some Pistons players who weren’t unhappy to see former coach Maurice Cheeks go, Brandon Jennings isn’t one of them — and Cheeks isn’t out of sight, out of mind for the starting point guard.

“I don’t have a problem with John (Loyer), just with the whole thing of changing coaches was one of the more difficult things for me,” Jennings said at Houston’s Toyota Center, while nursing a sore right big toe that caused him to miss the second half of Wednesday’s game in San Antonio.

“John was our assistant, so I know a lot about him. It was just a personal problem with Mo leaving.”

Jennings and Cheeks would often watch film together, and Jennings had a coach who could teach him the nuances of playing the position, given Cheeks’ stellar career.

Cheeks was fired on the morning of Feb. 9, mere hours after Jennings posted perhaps one of his best games as a pro, certainly atop the list in efficiency — 35 points and 12 assists with only two turnovers against the Denver Nuggets.

He echoed literally the thoughts of most folks who believe 50 games was nowhere near sufficient time to judge a coach, let alone one with Cheeks’ experience. It came as a shock to many around the NBA and Jennings’ head is still spinning.

“You give a coach half a season with new faces and new chemistry, that’s not enough time,” Jennings said. “I felt like he was in a losing situation. We were winning and now we’re playing like the old Pistons, in the beginning.”

Considering the Pistons have lost six of eight since Cheeks’ firing — albeit against better competition — Jennings doesn’t buy into the school of thought of Cheeks being the problem with their season.

“To be honest, I don’t think the team is tripping. It’s still the same,” Jennings said. “Not much has really changed, if you ask me.”

The two have talked a couple times since the firing, and Jennings hasn’t flourished under Loyer, although it doesn’t appear as if his responsibilities have changed too much. Aside from the first game following Cheeks’ firing, Jennings hasn’t shot over 40 percent in a game — and has three games where he hasn’t scored in double figures, including Wednesday, when he played only 13 minutes.

“I think I have been thinking too much,” Jennings said. “That’s with everything. Dealing with the coaching change and everything going on. Now, we keep slipping out the playoff race and you get worried.”

Jennings was open and candid about the high expectations that have given way to the disappointment surrounding the team to date. He thought his arrival in Detroit would mean the mediocrity from his days in Milwaukee was long gone, but clearly, there’s something missing with this team.

“If we don’t make the playoffs, it’ll be very disappointing and kind of embarrassing,” Jennings said. “The fact that myself coming here, Josh (Smith) coming here, we make these big moves and we don’t get it done — it’ll be real disappointing.”

***

No. 5:  Cuban favors D-League over college — Mark Cuban has rarely been afraid to speak his mind, so it’s no surprise he has a unique view on the age limit discussion. Unlike Kevin McHale, Cuban believes players would be better trained with a year in the NBA Development League over a year in college. Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas has more:

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes it’s in the best interests of elite prospects to play in the NBA Development League instead of spending one season in college.

“I think what will end up happening — and this is my opinion, not that of the league — is if the colleges don’t change from the one-and-done, we’ll go after the one,” Cuban said. “The NCAA rules are so hypocritical, there’s absolutely no reason for a kid to go [to college], because he’s not going to class [and] he’s actually not even able to take advantage of all the fun because the first semester he starts playing basketball. So if the goal is just to graduate to the NBA or be an NBA player, go to the D-League.”

Under the NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement, players must be one year out of high school and 19 years old to play in the league. However, the minimum age for the D-League is 18.

Cuban would like to see the NBA take steps to make the D-League a more attractive alternative to players who intend to spend only one season playing college basketball. While Cuban said he hasn’t analyzed the situation enough to make a formal proposal, he envisions the NBA working with nearby universities to provide straight-out-of-high school players an opportunity to pursue a college education while playing in the D-League.

Cuban suggests guaranteeing college tuition for such players, whether or not they pan out as NBA prospects, as an incentive.

“We can get rid of all the hypocrisy and improve the education,” Cuban said. “If the whole plan is just to go to college for one year maybe or just the first semester, that’s not a student-athlete. That’s ridiculous.

“You don’t have to pretend. We don’t have to pretend. A major college has to pretend that they’re treating them like a student-athlete, and it’s a big lie and we all know it’s a big lie. At least at most schools, not all. … But we can put more of an emphasis on their education. We can plan it out, have tutors. We can do all kinds of things that the NCAA doesn’t allow schools to do that would really put the individual first.”

Cuban’s biggest concern about one-and-done prospects is that they’re often not mentally, emotionally and psychologically prepared for the NBA after spending only one season in a college environment.

He believes the D-League could provide a better atmosphere for freshman-age players to develop on and off the court.

Mark Cuban believes it’s in the best interests of top prospects to play in the NBA D-League instead of spending one season in the “hypocritical” NCAA.

“You have to develop some level of maturity, and that has to be part of the process,” Cuban said. “You don’t want to bring kids in and just abandon them. That’d be the worst thing we could do.

“We’d have to make it so where there’d be very strict policies and rules so that, even if you’re not going to go to [college] class, there’s going be life [skills] classes — how do you deal with the world? — and you have to attend those. You have to keep up with those. We’d have very strict [rules] on why you’d be suspended if you didn’t live up to them. Things that should be done to student-athletes in college and are just not. Or not always.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah wasn’t happy with Tony Snell‘s celebration. … Yao Ming believes he would struggle in today’s NBA. … Isiah Thomas is reportedly being considered to replace Joe Dumars in the Pistons’ front office. … Derrick Williams continues to try to find his footing in the NBA.

ICYMI of the Night: It appears some of Chris Paul‘s passing ability may have rubbed off on teammate Blake Griffin. Example? This behind-the-back pass from Griffin to Matt Barnes:


VIDEO: Play of the Day – Blake Griffin

Blogtable: What Next For The Pistons?

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


Fixing the Pistons | Take a break | Three simple words



VIDEO: The Starters take a look at the Pistons

Detroit has fired another coach: What does GM Joe Dumars do now?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Since he’s unlikely to find a taker over the next week for Josh Smith, a dubious addition from the get-go, Dumars needs to do two things: Trade Rodney Stuckey by the Feb. 20 deadline to a playoff aspirant that craves more scoring punch off the bench, and then devote what’s left of the schedule to figuring out the best ways to use Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond as a full-time tandem. If the two can’t thrive on the floor together, each logging 35 minutes, then Monroe should be dealt this summer for a nice return.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If he can’t unload the big contract he just gave Josh Smith, and that’s highly doubtful, then he might have to make a move a he doesn’t want to do, trading Greg Monroe.  The big lineup of the Pistons didn’t work under coach Mo Cheeks and there’s no reason to think it will work under another coach. That’s a chemistry and rotation problem that was created entirely by Dumars.  It’s time for Dumars to stop handing out free-agent money just because he has the available space — Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Smith.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comThe obvious thing to do is get rid of Josh Smith and that ridiculous contract he was awarded over the summer. Only one small problem: No GM is dumb enough to take it under today’s CBA. Is there a chance to get out of Brandon Jennings‘ contract? Doubtful, but I’d try like heck. Otherwise, there’s some cap room coming this summer, so try to fill positions of need to maximize players’ strengths.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBuild a time machine, go back and not sign Josh Smith and not sign Charlie Villanueva, although at least Charlie V comes off the cap after this season. Beyond that, Dumars does have options. Greg Monroe will be a restricted agent. Dumars can trade him by the Feb. 20 deadline and get something in return, and teams will be interested. Or do a sign-and-trade in July and get a return then (though with fewer options because that would be Monroe dictating the team the Pistons would have to strike a deal with) or keep Monroe with Andre Drummond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comTrading Greg Monroe is still the best way to go. But whether he trades Monroe, trades Josh Smith or trades neither, Dumars needs to acquire more shooting. The Pistons could be more successful by staggering their big three’s minutes, with a 30-minutes-per-game small forward who can space the floor (and play some defense). Shooting is so critical these days and the Pistons are the worst jump-shooting team in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Joe Dumars doesn’t do anything now. His owner, Tom Gores, is the man who better have a master plan for what comes next. Because he’s now undercut Dumars twice (the first time was forcing Lawrence Frank on Dumars when Frank clearly was not his choice as head coach and now firing Cheeks just 50 games into this season). The fact is, Dumars had a fantastic run with the Pistons as both a player and executive that, barring a miraculous turn of events between now and the playoffs, has likely come to an end. It’s just time to pack up and move on.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Can Joe D. come out of retirement and play the three? It seems like everyone watching seems to realize that the Pistons have a logjam on the interior, with Monroe, Drummond and Josh Smith jockeying for playing time and floor space amongst themselves. Signing Smith wasn’t Mo Cheeks’ fault, but attempting to use him as a three out around the perimeter was. You want a quick fix? Trade Monroe or Drummond, move Smith to his natural four, and crank up the volume in Motown.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA PhilippinesI think he should stay put and not tinker with the roster too much. They just came together this year, so a little patience should be practiced with the roster that he has put together. They have the talent — it’s just a matter of building chemistry, teamwork and letting the team create its own identity.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA DeutschlandFrom what I saw in the Spurs game the players really did respond to what Loyer was doing and saying. So it might have been the right decision to move on from Cheeks after all. Having some inside information through a colleague, I know that Chauncey Billups will have a bigger part on the coaching staff, Rasheed Wallace will have a more important role. So the dynamics will be a bit different. In terms of players it will be important to make Brandon Jennings happy again because he was close with Cheeks. Andre Drummond, on the other hand, has some issues with the former coach. I don’t think the Pistons will make a trade going forward.

XiBin Yang, NBA ChinaIf Dumas won’t move the three big guy lineup, he really needs more consistent shooters. When you got two or even three big men on the front court at the same time, you’ve got to make the open court for them, which is tough with guys like Stuckey or Bynum, who have been living to get to the basket. Billups seems get ready to be an assistant coach or a head coach like Kidd, so it’s time to find some reseve guards such as Ridnour or Blake who can play both 1 and 2 guard position, to balance the spacing of the floor. Pope is good, but he may not provide what the team needs badly at this stage.

Surprise: Dumars Fires Yet Another Coach


VIDEO: Cheeks is out at Detroit after only eight months

Mo Cheeks, the eighth coach to serve during Joe Dumars‘ run as president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, lasted eight months before, as multiple media outlets reported and the team eventually confirmed Sunday, getting the ax.

Dumars is in his 14th season, six years removed from Detroit’s last .500-or-better season. And the Pistons’ lone championship on Dumars’ watch (2004) came so long ago, Yao Ming, Latrell Sprewell and Seattle still were in the league and Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and the Charlotte Bobcats weren’t.

That math no longer adds up.

In fact, with the clamor for advanced analytics to measure and dictate every motion and inclination of every player associated with an NBA team’s success or failure, the league is overdue for a concrete rating system for front-office executives. They’re the guys, after all, who are lauded or ripped by a new generation of sportswriter/analyst, depending on how avidly they embrace or eschew such calculations.

Or how ’bout this? A simple ceiling on the number of coaches a GM can hire or fire before it is his head on the chopping block.

Three would seem to be plenty, though four might be a reasonable number as well. If you spot the boss one for clearing the deck after he takes the job – the way Dumars did in 2001, replacing George Irvine with Rick Carlisle – two or three more ought to be enough, after which the scrutiny needs to shift from the sideline to the executive suite.

That would have only gotten Dumars to about the halfway mark in presiding over his personal coaches’ Boot Hill.

After Irvine and Carlisle, Dumars and the Pistons turned to Larry Brown, who did precisely what everyone expected him to do: he got Detroit to The Finals in his first season, steered its ensemble cast to the 2004 championship, then won another 54 games before his AWOL DNA kicked in and he was on the move.

Flip Saunders was brought in and did even better, in terms of victories, going 176-70 in three seasons. But he never had full control of the Pistons’ veteran-laden locker room – thanks, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton – though Saunders’ non-confrontational style was well-established before Dumars ever hired him. The core of that Detroit team was in decline, anyway, so when Saunders was dumped in 2008, so was its trips to the Eastern Conference finals and, for that matter, days sniffing air above .500.

Saunders at least holds the distinction of lasting longest under Dumars. After him, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank — and now Cheeks — have followed in rather rapid succession, each staying two years or less.

The Cheeks firing borders on Kim & Kris eye-blink brief, with the added touch that Pistons players apparently learned the news Sunday through media and fan postings on Twitter. Sure, they’re the ones allegedly responsible, underperforming at a 21-29 pace that most experts felt should have been flipped to 29-21 by now. But class is as class does, and while Dumars – always classy as a Hall of Fame player in Detroit – can’t be held responsible for every leak, it does add to the impression that there’s chaos and scapegoating going on in the Motor City.

The Pistons have been in or near the league’s bottom third both offensively and defensively. As of Sunday morning, they were ninth, out of the playoff picture, despite an East standings that from No. 3 down ought to be a land of opportunity. Detroit has been OK within its conference actually (18-14) but a 3-15 mark vs. the West has been killer, as was the Pistons’ 7-15 mark at home halfway through the schedule.

The inability to meld the work of big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, some reported rancor among the players over the rotation and the confrontation/aftermatch between the coach and guard Will Bynum – that’s all on Cheeks. The question, though, of whether 50 games was enough to decide his fate – after successive two-years-and-out terms of Frank and Kuester – was answered by Dumars and owner Tom Gores.

“Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change,” Gores said in a team statement. “We have not made the kind of progress that we should have over the first half of the season. This is a young team and we knew there would be growing pains, but we can be patient only as long as there is progress.

“The responsibility does not fall squarely on any one individual, but right now this change is a necessary step toward turning this thing around. I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up. I respect and appreciate Maurice Cheeks and thank him for his efforts; we just require a different approach.”

Pinpointing where that approach begins or ends, that’s the challenge. And that’s the area – made up top in jest but maybe a real void in need of filling – to be addressed. There’s got to be a more concrete way of capturing Dumars’ successes and failures.

The talent of which Gores spoke is largely of the individual variety; there’s no one even casually familiar with the NBA who didn’t stack up as many or more “cons” on the right side of Brandon Jennings‘ and Josh Smith‘s ledgers as “pros” on the left. It was, in a sense, a higher risk/reward gamble on “me first” guys than Dumars had perpetrated in 2009 when he splurged on free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to little positive effect.

The Pistons constantly tout their youth – their starting lineup ranks as the NBA’s most tender (23 years and change) – and the fact that their record is best among the league’s four youngest teams. But if that’s something to overcome in the short term, the W-L mark that the kids cobble together seems an odd thing to hold against Cheeks. He didn’t wave a wand and make them young.

More Dumars: Rodney Stuckey was going to be the Pistons’ future until he wasn’t, and only lately has done better in his new zero-expectations world. Then there was the Darko Milicic gaffe, a blown No. 2 pick in 2003 from which the franchise still hasn’t recovered. All while the No. 1 (LeBron James), 3 (Carmelo Anthony), 4 (Chris Bosh) and 5 (Dwyane Wade) picks will be at All-Star weekend in New Orleans.

Gores’ arrival as owner apparently was a reset button for Dumars, because new bosses need basketball people they trust the same as chaotic, distracted owners (the previous Pistons regime). But eight coaches in 14 years and, with whoever takes over on the sideline now, six in eight seasons goes beyond fickle toward feeble.

Even if, in formulating an analytic to apply to the GMs, some allowance gets made for the length of the exec’s reign, Dumars would seem to have exceeded an acceptable average for pink slips. The next one he hands out, he needs to be standing in front of a mirror.

Or better yet, he needs to take over as coach himself and demonstrate that his GM/president knows what he’s doing.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 9



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul set to return Sunday | Grizzlies set record | Inconsistency plagues Heat | World Peace open to trade 

No. 1: Paul set to return Sunday — The Los Angeles Clippers battled through their last 18 games without All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who suffered from a separated right shoulder sustained on Jan. 3 at Dallas. The Clippers went 12-6 over the stretch to maintain their lead at the top of the Pacific Division. Thankfully for the Clippers, Paul appears ready to return today against the Philadelphia 76ers, as reported by Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

Chris Paul walked out to the Clippers’ practice court Saturday and stretched before he put on his practice jersey to get up some shots before practice started.

After practice was over, the team announced that Paul looked “great” in practice and that the All-Star guard would play Sunday night against the Philadelphia 76ers at Staples Center.

When the media met with Clippers Coach Doc Rivers before practice, he indicated there was a “50-50″ chance that Paul would play against the 76ers.

But all that changed once Paul went through some contact drills with his teammates.

Rivers did say Paul would play in the NBA All-Star game Feb. 16 in New Orleans.

With Paul having sat out about five weeks with his injury, there could be an adjustment period having him back on the court.

“I never thought I would hear that question, actually,” Blake Griffin said before practice. “But, yeah, it’s a great problem to add in the best playmaker, perhaps in the league, back to your team.”

Paul has said on many occasions that he wanted to play in the All-Star game.

By playing against the 76ers and against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night, Paul will get in two regular-season games before the All-Star game.

“I like him playing in the All-Star game, personally,” Rivers said. “Whether he plays [Sunday] or plays the next game [Wednesday against Portland], I think this is a rare case where he’s ready to play and the All-Star game is probably the safest venue for him to play.”

Rivers said he thinks it’s going to take Paul “some time” to get adjusted to playing with his teammates again.

“I think it’s going to take Chris some time to get his rhythm back,” Rivers said. “So that’s why I’m hoping he is healthy and then we can play him Sunday, have a practice Tuesday and play him Wednesday. I think that’ll help. I think it’s going to take a couple of weeks for him to get his rhythm back. No doubt.”

***

No. 2: Grizzlies set record — The Memphis Grizzlies set an NBA record on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks that seems like it will be difficult for another team to challenge: they shot only one free throw … and still won! That set a record for fewest free throws ever attempted in a game, besting the Cleveland Cavaliers who won a game with just two free-throw attempts against the Golden State Warriors in 1994. Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal has the report:

“In the second half, the game got physical and that’s how we want to play,” Griz guard Courtney Lee said. “It played into our favor. We got active. We competed. We turned it up defensively.”

In snapping a two-game losing streak, Memphis (27-22) held Atlanta to a season-low in points. That’s notable given how difficult points were to come by. The Griz became the first team in NBA history to attempt one free throw in a game.

“Wow. Can I say wow?” Griz forward Zach Randolph said. “Man, I should’ve shot that one.”

***

No. 3: Inconsistency plagues Heat — The Miami Heat have tried to improve their consistency over the last few weeks. At 35-14, they’ve fallen to 4.0 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and the Heat’s loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night certainly won’t help them catch the Pacers. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald reports:

There was a story in the local paper Friday suggesting that every victory by the Utah Jazz from here on out would actually be hurting the franchise.

That’s the team the Heat lost to 94-89 on Saturday, the maybe-it-should-just-tank Utah Jazz.

So, the inconsistency continues for the Heat this season despite coach Erik Spoelstra’s best effort to coax some sort of rhythm and consistency out of his lineup. Remember that winning streak that started after last year’s Super Bowl? Well, this year’s early February winning streak ended at three games.

“We figured it was going to be an ugly game,” Spoelstra said. “We just have to find a way when we’re not making shots the way we’re accustomed to. We never could get over that hump.”

“I thought we contested a lot of shots tonight, and they hit them like we weren’t even there,” Chris Bosh said.

Dwyane Wade missed a layup with 11 seconds left, and the Jazz began celebrating arguably its best victory of the season.

Streamers fell from the rafters at Energy Solutions Arena after the final buzzer. It was Utah’s first victory in five games.

LeBron James has turned in some masterful performances in Utah throughout his career, but the second game of this road trip was not one of them. James finished with just 13 points, going 4 of 13 from the field and 1 of 6 from three-point range. He settled too often for his jump shot, and that lack of energy permeated throughout the Heat’s lineup.

“We played well enough defensively to win the game,” James said. “Offensively, we didn’t shoot the ball well, like we are capable of doing. That is what it came down to.”

The Heat shot 43.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent (7 of 23) from three-point range. It was Miami’s worst shooting percentage since Jan. 10 when it shot 42.5 percent in a loss at Brooklyn.

***

No. 4: World Peace open to trade — Metta World Peace was ecstatic to join his hometown New York Knicks this summer. But it seems World Peace is now open to a trade after he has found himself on the bench since returning from a blood-spinning procedure on Jan. 24. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports:

After spending his career wanting to be traded to the Knicks, the defensive forward, who has been in and out of the rotation since December, wouldn’t mind being traded from the Knicks.

“He didn’t sign up for this,’’ one person close to him said.

When asked about whether he wanted to get dealt at the Feb. 20 deadline, World Peace said: “That’s up to my agent. I don’t worry about it. I’m optimistic about my future. … I’m not going to complain.’’

Another source said the possibility exists that [Mike] Woodson was unhappy with World Peace after a recent practice, in which World Peace spoke up about his playing time, making a wisecrack. World Peace is a constant clown in the locker room, but Woodson took exception.

Agent Marc Cornstein said he hasn’t gotten a firm reason why World Peace has seen limited time after the Knicks gave the rest of their mid-level exception in signing the Queenbridge product in July. He has been relegated to mostly garbage time since returning from his platelet-rich plasma procedure. World Peace played the final five minutes of garbage time Friday night in the Knicks’ 117-90 rout of the Nuggets.

“I haven’t been given an answer,’’ Cornstein said. “Usually, I’ll get an answer, not always the one I want to hear. But I don’t have an answer for you on this.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ricky Rubio scored a career-high 25 points. … Goran Dragic also set a career-high with 34 points. … Ricky Davis is attempting to return to the NBA through the Development League. … Chris Kaman on a potential trade: “I don’t care.” … Golden State Warriors willing to trade anyone but Stephen Curry or Andrew Bogut. … Kevin Martin of the Minnesota Timberwolves is out indefinitely with a broken thumb.

ICYMI of the Night: It seemed like every player on the Detroit Pistons was hot last night as they scored a season-high 126 points to defeat the Denver Nuggets. The leader of their temperature rise was Brandon Jennings, who scored a season-high 35 points to go along with 12 assists. If he keeps playing like this, he may live up to the contract he signed with the Pistons this summer.


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Brandon Jennings

Pistons Can’t Hit From Outside

The List

Lowest effective field goal percentage from outside the paint

Team FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
Detroit 585 1,791 32.7% 44.4% 40.5%
Charlotte 757 2,139 35.4% 52.7% 41.9%
Chicago 722 2,044 35.3% 52.7% 42.2%
Minnesota 728 2,144 34.0% 50.6% 42.5%
Philadelphia 633 1,866 33.9% 43.2% 42.9%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The Context

Who would have thought that the worst jump-shooting team in the league would be the one starting Josh Smith at small forward?

The Pistons rank 29th in mid-range field goal percentage (34.8 percent) and dead last in 3-point percentage (30.6 percent). They’re the third worst 3-point shooting team of the last 10 years, ahead of only last season’s Timberwolves (30.5 percent) and the 2011-12 Bobcats (29.5 percent).

It doesn’t help that the Pistons start the erratic Brandon Jennings and the inexperienced Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the backcourt. In fact, all 10 Pistons who have attempted at least 45 shots from outside the paint have shot them at a level below the league average.

But Smith is the main culprit, having taken 350 shots from outside the paint, with a brutal effective field goal percentage of 34.4 percent.

Pistons shooting from outside the paint

Player FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
Brandon Jennings 139 420 33.1% 60.5% 42.9%
Josh Smith 101 350 28.9% 49.2% 34.4%
Rodney Stuckey 84 215 39.1% 48.2% 42.6%
K. Caldwell-Pope 67 211 31.8% 65.5% 41.7%
Kyle Singler 49 153 32.0% 49.8% 45.1%
Will Bynum 34 91 37.4% 44.4% 43.4%
Greg Monroe 25 84 29.8% 15.9% 29.8%
Gigi Datome 19 66 28.8% 82.5% 33.3%
Chauncey Billups 21 62 33.9% 82.7% 45.2%
Charlie Villanueva 12 45 26.7% 69.2% 36.7%
Others 34 94 36.2% 15.7% 47.9%
Total 585 1,791 32.7% 44.4% 40.5%
League Avg. 793 2,111 37.6% 52.8% 46.2%

The issues of playing Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond together have been addressed in this space before. Of late, the defense hasn’t been as bad as it was earlier in the season, and coach Mo Cheeks isn’t playing the three bigs together as much, but the Pistons still struggle to score with them all on the floor together.

Pistons efficiency with Smith, Monroe and Drummond on the floor

Months GP MIN MIN/G OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Oct.-November 16 300 18.8 100.2 106.7 -6.5 -29
December 17 331 19.5 102.0 111.7 -9.7 -50
Jan.- February 14 203 14.5 101.3 105.3 -4.0 -21
Total 47 834 17.7 101.2 108.3 -7.1 -100

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

So it seems clear that, with the trade deadline now only 15 days away, the Pistons should think hard about shaking things up. Reportedly, they’d prefer to move Smith, who’s in the first year of a four-year, $54 million deal. Obviously, they’d have an easier time finding a taker for Monroe, who’s in the last year of his rookie contract.

Any team trading for Smith would obviously do so with the intent of playing him (primarily) at power forward. But moving Smith to the four on a permanent basis (with the Pistons or some other team) isn’t necessarily going to keep him from shooting jumpers.

Smith has played 834 minutes with Monroe and Drummond. He’s played 97 minutes with *other combinations where you could say he’s the small forward. And he’s played 717 minutes at the four.

* Combinations of Monroe, Drummond, Josh Harrellson, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva.

And in those 717 minutes, Smith has attempted about the same percentage of his shots from outside the paint as he has when he’s played the three.

Josh Smith shooting from outside the paint

Position FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
At SF 48 193 24.9% 49.5% 30.8%
At PF 53 157 33.8% 48.9% 38.9%
Total 101 350 28.9% 49.2% 34.4%

In fact, in two of his last three seasons in Atlanta, Smith attempted more than half of his shots from outside the paint. When Smith was with the Hawks, a coaching change seemed to make the difference. In six seasons under Mike Woodson, Smith took only 37 percent of his shots from outside the paint. In three seasons under Larry Drew, he took 49 percent of his shots from outside the paint.

That’s the same rate as this season. The problem is that Smith’s shooting — both inside the paint and outside it — has been much worse than it was in his last few seasons in Atlanta. His defense has also regressed.

That all goes beyond what position he’s playing. The Pistons can improve their perimeter shooting by acquiring a small forward who can actually shoot, but (unless they somehow find a taker for that contract) they still need Smith to play better.

The Video

Here are Smith’s 20 shots in Miami on Monday, when he shot 4-for-4 in the restricted area and 1-for-16 outside it.

On the other hand, Smith had one of his best shooting games of the season a couple of weeks ago against the Clippers. He shot 6-for-8 from mid-range. Here are those eight shots, which aren’t exactly more pleasing to watch (he banked the first one in).

The bottom of the list

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the Golden State Warriors are the best jump-shooting team in the league, with an effective field goal percentage of 49.5 percent from outside the paint. What is a surprise is that Andre Iguodala has been nearly as good a jump-shooter (55.1 percent) as Stephen Curry (55.6 percent).

Next best are the Heat (49.4 percent), followed by the Hawks (49.4 percent), Spurs (49.2 percent) and Mavericks (49.2 percent).

Trivia question

Of the 166 players who have attempted at least 100 shots both in the paint and outside the paint, only one has shot better (we’re talking standard field goal percentage, here) from outside than inside. Who is he?

More jump-shooting notes

  • Smith isn’t the worst jump-shooter in the league. Of 223 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from outside the paint, Tyreke Evans has the lowest outside-the-paint effective field goal percentage at 25.2 percent. If you’ve ever watched Evans take one of his lazy-looking jumpers, you shouldn’t be surprised.
  • It should also be no surprise that Kyle Korver is at the top of the list, with an effective field goal percentage of 64.2 percent from outside the paint. No. 2 is Anthony Tolliver (62.9 percent).
  • Smith ranks 216th on the list, and no one below him has taken anything near 350 shots from outside the paint.
  • East teams have an effective field goal percentage of 45.4 percent from outside the paint. West teams: 47.1 percent.
  • Eight of the 10 teams with an effective field goal percentage of less than 45 percent from outside the paint also rank 20th or worse in offensive efficiency. The exceptions are Memphis (18th in offensive efficiency) and Minnesota (ninth). While they don’t shoot very well, the Wolves rank in the top 10 in offensive rebounding rate, turnover rate, and free throw rate.

Trivia answer

Damian Lillard has shot 41.2 percent in the paint and 42.4 percent outside the paint. On the opposite side of the spectrum is teammate Nicolas Batum, who has the biggest discrepancy between paint field goal percentage (71.7 percent) and outside-the-paint field goal percentage (36.3 percent).

Air Check: The King And Pop

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – For NBA fans like us, there’s nothing better than League Pass. Having the ability to watch every game every night (and then again the next day) is heaven.

Of course, with local broadcasts, you get local broadcasters, which can be good and bad. It can be good, because these guys know their teams better than most national broadcasters. It can be bad, because these guys love their teams more than most national broadcasters. And they’re usually not afraid to show that love.

Air Check is where we highlight the best and worst of NBA broadcasts.

Efficiency is in the eye of the beholder

After a timeout during the Pistons-Wizards match Saturday, the Washington broadcast came back with Steve Buckhantz saying “Two of the most efficient players in the NBA are playing here tonight.”

At that point, your mind races. Andre Drummond and Martell Webster? Both are near the top of the league in effective field goal percentage.

No, Buckhantz was talking about a couple of other guys…


VIDEO: Wizards’ broadcaster Steve Buckhantz has high praise for John Wall and Brandon Jennings

So, Buckhantz called John Wall and Brandon Jennings “two of the most efficient players in the league” because they ranked second and third in games with at least 10 assists and less than four turnovers. That’s an interesting definition of efficiency.

At the time, Wall and Jennings ranked 203rd and 229th in effective field goal percentage among 247 players who had attempted at least 150 shots from the field. Their true shooting percentage ranks among the same group were slightly better: 152nd and 222nd.

Oh, if you want to go back to assists and turnovers, Jennings and Wall ranked 18th and 29th in assist/turnover ratio among qualified players.

So yeah, that stat that the Wizards showed – in which Chris Paul was lapping the field, by the way – could have used some context. And to top it off, Wall threw the ball out of bounds on the first possession after they showed it.

The King of Air Check returns

If you’ve been reading Air Check for the last couple of years, you’re familiar with the shots Scott Hastings takes at the officials. If you haven’t, see some examples here, here and here.

Let’s add this one to the list…


VIDEO: Scott Hastings demonstrates why he is the best

“I’m telling you,” Hastings says after Evan Fournier gets a bucket, “in a year or two, if he doesn’t get that call as an and-one, then officiating is as bad as I thought.”

That’s why he’s the King.

The fear of Pop

You’ve certainly seen Jeff Van Gundy‘s between-quarters “interview” with Gregg Popovich from a couple of weeks ago, probably the best broadcasting moment of the season…


VIDEO: Jeff Van Gundy and Gregg Popovich share a special moment

A week later, the Spurs were on ESPN again. And again, there was no sideline reporter. So play-by-play man Dave Pasch and analyst Jon Barry flipped a coin to see who had to do the interview. Pasch lost and got the standard Popovich treatment…


VIDEO: Dave Pasch loses coin toss and interviews Popovich

Cheeks Wants Jennings To Step Up On ‘D’


VIDEO: Detroit at New Orleans, Dec. 11, 2013

NEW ORLEANS — Brandon Jennings filled up the hoop with 25 points, grabbed five rebounds and dealt out four assists.

As usual, that wasn’t the issue.

The Pistons have now lost three consecutive games and went down on back-to-back nights in large part because the middle of their defense might as well be a landing strip.

Brandon Jennings

Brandon Jennings (Dan Lippitt/NBAE)

On Tuesday night, the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio ransacked The Palace by doing almost anything he pleased. Barely 24 hours later it was Jrue Holiday along with Tyreke Evans (on a tender ankle) who took apart the Pistons with dribble penetration.

There is room for all of the routine excuses — the Pistons are the fourth-youngest team in the NBA, they have so many different new parts still learning about each other and how to play together. But Wednesday night they played a Pelicans team that was without its best player in Anthony Davis and overcoming a horrid 6-for-18 shooting night from Ryan Anderson – and they still found a way to get past Detroit.

Mostly that way was straight down the middle.

A Pistons team that should have a stifling front line of the sizable Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith has a defense that is ranked 19th in the NBA for a variety of reasons. Much of the problem begins at the top where opposing guards are usually able to run as free as colts in a meadow.

It’s enough to make Detroit fans long for the days of the Bad Boys and a couple of good forearm shivers.

That’s why coach Maurice Cheeks is looking for his point guard, Jennings, to take on his share of the defensive burden.

When he was asked whether he might “hide” Jennings in a run of three straight games against high powered point guards Holiday, Deron Williams (Nets) and Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) by switching the assignment to rookie Kentavious Pope-Caldwell, Cheeks threw down the gauntlet.

“Yeah he’d be up for the challenge,” Cheeks said of the rookie. “But if you’re going to be good, and I’m going to say this again, a good point guard, I don’t like the word ‘hide’. I want the guy who’s guarding the ball, who’s running my team, to guard that guy, if you’re going to be good.”

Since he popped in 55 points as a rookie with the Bucks, Jennings has been all about his offensive ability. But in a league where point guard skill is more abundant than ever, if Jennings is going to get back into the headlines and crack the upper echelon, he’ll have to stop relying on his big men to cover up for his mistakes and lack of commitment on defense.

Cheeks, who was one of the best on-the-ball defenders during his 15-year NBA career, wants his point guard to take the challenge personally.

“I think Jennings has a chance to be very good,” Cheeks said. “I keep talking about steps. “You take steps, you get better at defending your position. That’s how you become one of those elite players. You don’t become elite by having someone else guard your guy.”

Pistons’ Sluggish Start Prompts Change




VIDEO: Josh Smith’s early season highlights with the Pistons

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A blockbuster free-agent/trade summer doesn’t always deliver the desired results come the start of the regular season, at least not immediately.

The Detroit Pistons are living that reality after just seven games. Pistons coach Mo Cheeks benched veterans Chauncey Billups and Josh Smith at the start of the second half of Tuesday night’s rout at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, inserting youngsters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler in their places, respectively.

This season was supposed to mark a shift in fortunes for the Pistons, an escape from the grips of the lottery and a move back into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. The summer additions of Billups, Smith and point guard Brandon Jennings was the masterstroke that was going to jumpstart that process.

But so far … it’s just not happening. The Pistons are 2-5 and showing no signs of being the playoff outfit some of us assumed they would be. In addition to chemistry issues that need to be sorted out, they’re also the worst defensive team in the league.

Losers of four straight games, Cheeks is rightfully trying to get out ahead of what could be a bigger problem. If his intent was to light a fire under his veterans, mission accomplished. If it was to point out to veterans and youngsters alike that no one is safe from being removed from their spot in the starting lineup or rotation, no matter how big a name or reputation they have, then he should be commended for taking that sort of stance this early in the campaign.

Cheeks said he wasn’t trying to send a message by singling Smith and Billups out, but did offer up specifics for Smith to shake out of his mini-funk, telling Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News:

“He has to get involved in the offense, get some offensive rebounds, run the floor, get some post-ups,” Cheeks said of Smith. “Get your hands on the ball and things will change for you.”

To his credit, Smith handled it like a pro, something that his critics probably didn’t expect given his history of clashing with authority during his formative stages in the league. Instead, he put the onus back on the leaders in the locker room and pointed out their lack of focus and attention to detail on the defensive end:

“Just gotta cheer my teammates on. You can’t focus on decisions people make, higher than you. You have to adjust around it and as long as I’ve been in this league, that’s what I’ve been willing to do — learning to adjust.”

With investment the Pistons have made in Smith, knowing that they have to make decisions on the long-term futures of young bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, everyone needs to maintain the proper perspective on things during the start.

Smith is averaging 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks so far this season. He’s been a factor. The Pistons, however, need him to be a force. They need him to lead the way in the frontcourt. They need his play, his all around abilities and particularly his penchant for facilitating from the point-forward position, to bolster the production up front.

With Jennings returning from injury, Smith was bound to lose some of that freedom he enjoyed in the first few games of the season. So ultimately, it’s up to Cheeks to make sure all of the pieces fit and the Pistons don’t lose any more ground in the Eastern Conference standings.

So if a change is needed after this sluggish start, even a minor one at halftime of a road game in mid-November, so be it. Better to fix it now than have to worry about it later.

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rivers sets goals for Clippers | Rondo’s return getting closer? | Pistons’ Jennings healing up fast | Report: Suns, Bledsoe talking extension

No. 1: Rivers wants Clippers to pull togetherThe addition of Doc Rivers to the Clippers’ bench as their new coach was widely seen as one of the biggest moves of the NBA’s offseason. No doubt, the Clippers are counting on Rivers’ history of deep playoff runs with the Boston Celtics to translate to L.A. and take a crew known mostly for regular-season highlights further in the postseason. USA Today‘s David Leon Moore caught up with Rivers and the rest of the Clippers and found the the new coach is embracing the high expectations and hopes for a playoff run that are present in Clipperland:

The hype is loud for a team with two perennial All-Stars — point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin — along with a title-winning coach and a deep and talented roster.

Rivers and the Clippers aren’t backing away from it.

“I always thought I’d rather be with a group with high expectations,” the 52-year-old coach says. “Are we ready for that? I don’t know yet. That’s what this journey will be about. I think we are. I think we have a chance to do something. That excites me. If we can look at what’s on paper and get that on the floor and keep it healthy, I think we can be a special team. That excites me.”

What needs to be changed from Del Negro’s regime?

Rivers wants to shore up the transition defense, guard the three-point line better and turn underachieving 6-11 center DeAndre Jordan into a candidate for defensive player of the year.

But there is a bigger goal, Rivers says. “Become a team,” he says. “I was a player. I was in locker rooms, and I understand that part of it. I know how important the locker room is. That’s something we need to improve here — our locker room.

“We just need to grow as a group. We have to embrace ‘heart’ all the time. That’s an area we need to be strongest in. Instead of splintering when things go wrong, we need to pull together.”

***

No. 2: Rondo may be in contact drills soon — Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo last played in an NBA game on Jan. 25, 2013 against the Hawks. It was in that game that Rondo injured his knee and shortly thereafter, had a torn ACL and was done for the season. Rondo has been rehabbing steadily since his surgery and might be ready for the next step in process to return to the court, writes Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:

Rajon Rondo watched last night’s 107-97 Celtics exhibition win over a Brooklyn scrub team with the same calm the rehabbing point guard has brought to every other game this fall.

That’s because while Rondo won’t get specific about a timetable, he acknowledged last night that the next step in his recovery from ACL surgery — contact — may not be far off.

“I’m getting fitted for my first brace, and I don’t think contact will be too far from there,” the Celtics point guard said. “I just have to get cleared by my doctors. I know it’s getting stronger each week. When I’m able to jump off my right leg and dunk, that’s probably when I’ll be ready to play.

“Feeling great, working out every day. I’m doing more as far as compound workouts. I’m doing one workout a day, so I’m doing more as far as working on my leg. It’s getting better each day.”

***

No. 3: Jennings healing up, expects to return to Pistons soon — Detroit’s new starting point guard, Brandon Jennings, had surgery to repair an issue with his wisdom teeth a few weeks ago. He’s understandably been mostly quiet since the procedure, but the Pistons are thinking he’ll be ready to go by early next month, writes Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free-Press:

Brandon Jennings hasn’t had much to say — it’s tough to talk when your mouth is immobilized.

That’s what the Pistons’ public relations staff has reminded media members who have requested to interview Jennings, who returned to the practice facility this week after a brief absence because of an impacted wisdom tooth and hairline fracture of the jaw.

He hasn’t returned to full practices yet, but his light work and good spirits appear to be good signs that he will be able to return quickly when he is re-evaluated in two weeks. Jennings might play by Nov. 5 against Indiana.

“He’s been a part of everything with the exception of running,” coach Maurice Cheeks said Wednesday. “He’s able to watch film, being on the practice floor, he has been a part of it. Whenever he gets his situation taken care of, we will put him in there and see what he’s got.”

Jennings wore a protective mask Wednesday while taking shots, but it’s still to be determined if he will wear it when he returns.

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No. 4: Report: Suns, Bledsoe talking extension — The Suns wrapped up their preseason schedule last night with a victory against the Nuggets that was paced by point guard Eric Bledsoe‘s 21-point effort. Bledsoe finished the preseason as Phoenix’s leading scorer (just 13.0 ppg, but that’ll likely be higher during the season) and has had a pretty smooth transition from Chris Paul‘s backup with the Clippers to his new role as a go-to guy with the Suns. As such, writes Andrew Gilstrap of ArizonaSports.com, the Suns and Bledsoe are trying to hammer out a contract extension before the Oct. 31 deadline:

The Phoenix Suns are currently in talks with newly acquired guard Eric Bledsoe on a long-term contract extension. If the two sides can’t reach a deal by the end of the month, the 23-year-old combo guard would become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

The Suns are in an interesting spot because they’ve only seen the Kentucky product in training camp and a few preseason games, and it’s still uncertain that he will become the star many project him to be.

Nonetheless, general manager Ryan McDonough, while on Arizona Sports 620’s Burns & Gambo show Wednesday, agreed that Bledsoe does figure into the team’s long-term plans. McDonough said contract talks with the fourth-year player have gone “pretty well” to this point.

“If we’re not able to work out a deal (by Oct. 31), we would start next summer with Eric as a restricted free agent, but obviously we’re hoping to get something done before that,” the general manager said.

“With Eric, there’s more projection. Some would say there’s more risk, but I’d also counter that there’s more upside,” McDonough, 33, said. “He does some unique things athletically. I think he’s the best shot-blocking guard in the league. If he plays extended minutes, which he will for us, I think he might lead the league in steals. He has a unique potential.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: In his farewell Board of Governors dinner, David Stern was immortalized in bobblehead form. Where can we get one of those? … The Jazz are reportedly bringing veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley back into the fold … The Nets, understandably, are expecting big things from Deron Williams this season …

ICYMI Of The Night: Jazz rookies can’t seem to get a break. Yesterday, we had rookie Justin Holiday getting his welcome-to-the-NBA moment (from Xavier Henry of the Lakers). Today, we’ve got Rudy Gobert getting his welcome thanks to Blake Griffin of the Clippers …