Posts Tagged ‘Brandon Jennings’

One Team, One Stat: Sanders Asked To Defend The Basket Too Much

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that underwent some changes this summer.

The basics
MIL Rank
W-L 38-44 18
Pace 97.3 3
OffRtg 100.9 21
DefRtg 102.3 12
NetRtg -1.4 18

The stat

37.9 percent - Percentage of shots taken from the restricted area by Bucks opponents, the highest rate in the league.

The context

That’s bad, because restricted area shots are the best on the floor, worth 1.21 points per shot last season. With Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings leading the team in minutes, the Bucks’ perimeter defense was pretty porous. In fact, when Ellis and Jennings were on the floor together, almost 41 percent of opponent shots came from the restricted area.

But the Bucks had Larry Sanders, and allowed their opponents to shoot only 58.3 percent on those restricted-area shots. That’s still 1.17 points per shot, but was the seventh-lowest rate in the league.

In general, the teams that allowed a lot of shots near the basket didn’t defend those shots particularly well and ranked near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency. The Bucks were the exception.

Highest percentage of opponent shots from restricted area

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA DefRtg Rank
Milwaukee 1,536 2,634 58.3% 7 37.9% 102.3 12
New Orleans 1,428 2,339 61.1% 17 36.3% 107.6 28
Portland 1,530 2,470 61.9% 22 36.3% 106.9 26
Charlotte 1,488 2,449 60.8% 16 36.2% 108.9 30
Phoenix 1,426 2,332 61.1% 18 34.4% 105.7 24
League average 60.6% 32.8% 103.1

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

With Sanders on the floor, Bucks opponents shot just 54.2 percent in the restricted area and Milwaukee allowed just 98.8 points per 100 possessions. That number was 101.5 — the level of a top 10 defense — in 1,445 minutes with Ellis, Jennings and Sanders all on the floor together.

Here’s some clips from a Nov. 30 game in Minnesota in which Sanders blocked 10 shots and contested a few more, with the Wolves shooting a miserable 11-for-32 in the restricted area

 


 

The one thing that the Bucks didn’t do well defensively is rebound. They ranked 28th in defensive rebounding percentage at 71.3 percent, and that number wasn’t much better — 71.9 percent — with Sanders on the floor. If he’s trying to block shots, he’s taking himself out of rebounding position.

Still, if Sanders plays more than the 27.3 minutes per game he averaged last season (which will require him to foul less), the Bucks have a shot at fielding a top 10 defense and remaining in playoff contention. They will certainly miss Luc Mbah a Moute on that end, but think about it: they ranked 12th defensively last season with 2,295 minutes of Ellis and Jennings on the floor together. That’s pretty amazing.

And from the numbers, it’s clear that Jennings was the bigger problem defensively…

Bucks efficiency, 2012-13

On floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Ellis + Jennings 2,295 101.5 104.3 -2.7 -151
Ellis only *781 104.5 98.0 +6.6 +107
Jennings only **601 94.6 105.5 -10.9 -138
Neither 279 99.0 91.3 +7.8 +59

*Sanders was on the floor for 249 (32 percent) of these minutes
** Sanders was on the floor for 173 (29 percent) of these minutes

If Brandon Knight can do a better job of keeping guys in front of him than Jennings did, fewer of those opponent shots will come from the restricted area and less will be asked of Sanders. And that’s a good thing.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

D-Will looking better | Rose has planned absence from practice | Love ready to new season | Suns’ Frye happy to play again | Cheeks has big plans in Detroit

No. 1: D-Will out of walking boot — After suffering a right ankle injury during his offseason workout in Utah, Nets star Deron Williams was put in a walking boot to help stabilize the injury. But he’s apparently mended nicely since then and will be OK for all of training camp, writes Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com: 

“My ankle’s doing better,” Williams said at the team’s media day availability at Barclays Center. “The main thing right now is I could probably go out there and do everything. But if I tweak my ankle or have a setback, then that wouldn’t be good. So right now we’re just gonna take it slow and see how things go.”

Williams, 29, is coming off an injury-plagued 2012-13 season. He played in 78 games despite being bothered by ankle inflammation and weight problems for the majority of the season.

“Personally, I just want to get better overall,” Williams said. “The last couple years have not been my greatest, so I just want to get back to the way I’m playing and get my confidence back to the way it should to be.”

Williams struggled last season up until the All-Star break, when he received a third set of cortisone shots in both ankles. During that week, Williams also received platelet-rich plasma therapy treatment and did a three-day juice cleanse.

***

No. 2: Rose misses scrimmage in ‘planned’ absenceBefore all of Chicago and the rest of the NBA world panics over the news that Derrick Rose missed part of practice with the Bulls, keep in mind this is all part of the plan to keep Rose healthy for the entire season and beyond, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Derrick Rose sat out the scrimmaging portion of Monday’s practice as part of “planned rest.”

“He did some, the warmup phase,” Thibodeau said. “And we went shorter (Monday). We had a teaching segment that of course he participated in and the warmup phase. But the live stuff, we were planning on giving him (Monday) off.”

Rose, who sat out all last season after left knee surgery, had said he didn’t want to miss any practice time or preseason games if the decision was left to him. By all accounts, Rose has looked dominant thus far in practice.

…”We said we’d take it step-by-step,” Thibodeau said. “He has practiced very well. The next step is to see where he is in a game. We’re trying to get it as close to a gamelike condition as we can. He has handled that part. But there’s nothing like a game.

“The preseason games will be the next step. And of course there’s a different level when we get to the regular season. But he has prepared himself well.”

***

No. 3: Love not interested in rehashing last seasonPlaying in just 18 games last season due to various injuries, Kevin Love put up Love-like stats (18.3 ppg, 14.0 rpg), but his overall absence clearly hampered the Wolves (who had plenty of other injury issues aside from Love). As Media Day unfolded Monday, Love was in no way interested in talking about what went wrong in Minnesota last season, writes Jerry Zgoda of the Star-Tribune:

Timberwolves forward Kevin Love reported for duty with his surgically repaired knee and hand reportedly all healed and his body lean.

He also made one thing abundantly clear: The past is in the…well, you know.

“Last year is last year,” the two-time All-Star forward, uttering a line he used repeatedly during a 12-minute session with reporters at the team’s annual media day.

He made it clear he has little interest in discussing a lost season in which he played just 18 games after breaking his shooting hand not once but twice.

Love also wasn’t much interested in discussing his relationship with former President of Basketball of Operations David Kahn, who was replaced by Flip Saunders last May.

“The past is the past and it’s great to have Flip on board,” Love said. “We’ve had great talks. … We all know what happened last year, and we just want to move forward and take care of unfinished business.”

Love looked like he’s in the best shape of his career, even though he said he doesn’t know exactly how much weight he lost from last season.

***

No. 4: Frye always confident he’d return — During a two-season span stretching from 2010-11 to 2011-12, no center in the league hit more 3-pointers than the Suns specialist, Channing Frye. As a key part of a contending team in Phoenix, Frye nailed 172 and 171 3-pointers, respectively, and, for good measure, made 91 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. But an enlarged heart kept Frye on the sidelines last season, but he tells ProBasketballTalk.com’s Brett Pollakoff he never doubted he’d return to the NBA again:

“My heart had a cold for a year, it went away,” he said. “So now I’m better.”

Frye is expected to be a full participant in training camp, with no restrictions. He was emphatic when asked if he needed to be on any medication.

“None. No way. I’m all healthy,” was Frye’s response.

Frye didn’t have to return to the NBA, obviously. Not only has he amassed more than $28 million in career earnings with two more guaranteed contract years ahead of him, but he reminded us that with his education, he could easily go do something else.

“I could be a teacher if I want to,” Frye said. “I’ve got my degree now.”

But he doesn’t have to pursue other options just yet. When asked about his choice to come back, Frye pointed to the motivation of overcoming his illness, along with a feeling inside that told him he still had something left to give to the game he loves.

“I just felt like I was never done,” Frye said. “Even when things didn’t look good, I just felt like I wasn’t done yet. And I was determined to approach this like I approach everything else.

“I wasn’t always the best, I wasn’t always the strongest or the tallest or the fastest. I just want to play ball, you know? It’s what I’m supposed to do, and I never felt like I was done.”

***

No. 5: Cheeks expecting a lot from Jennings, Drummond The Pistons were one of the most active teams in the offseason and their addition of Brandon Jennings via a sign-and-trade deal with the Bucks was one of their more marquee moves. In addition, changing coaches from Lawrence Frank to Maurice Cheeks was another shake-up that was done in hopes of ending Detroit’s playoff drought. Cheeks has made it abundantly clear to Jennings and young big man Andre Drummond that he’s hoping for big things from them this season, writes Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free-Press:

New Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks mentioned he talked with Jennings on Monday about the expectations for the young point guard.

Cheeks was asked what he said, but he deferred and said he was more curious to hear Jennings’ recollection of the conversation.

“Everything was just straightforward,” Jennings said. “He said the team goes as far as I go. He’s looking for a guy who can come in here with a positive attitude every day and a guy that’s not too high and not too low, but in the middle.

“He said he is going to be on me every day, and he’s going to put a lot of pressure on me.”

One of the things that angered fans last season was former coach Lawrence Frank’s limiting of rookie center Andre Drummond’s minutes.

Cheeks said he isn’t looking to limit Drummond and expects big things in his second season.

“I’m going to put him out on the floor for sure,” Cheeks said. “I’m not looking not to play him, I’m looking to play him. He’s going to be out on the floor. There’s no other way to say it.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Eric Gordon clears the air in New Orleans about his dedication to the PelicansO.J. Mayo is glad to be with the Bucks for a while … Jazz support coachTyrone Corbin , but won’t talk extension yet … Coach Kevin McHale not sweating who will be the leader of the Rockets

ICYMI of the night: The last of the Media Days happened on Monday, so as we wait for practices to get rolling league-wide, here are good interview with some of the movers and shakers in the Eastern and Western Conferences:

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Ferry: Hawks Still In Thick Of Things In Crowded Eastern Conference Race





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With a busy offseason behind him and a what promises to be an arduous 2013-14 NBA season ahead of him, it wasn’t surprising to see Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry sporting a scruffy summer beard Thursday afternoon at Philips Arena.

Like every other shot-caller in the Eastern Conference, Ferry has to find a way to stay in the mix in the playoff chase behind the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, while also maintaining the roster and financial flexibility he worked so hard to achieve when he took over day-to-day operations of the Hawks’ basketball operation prior to the 2012 Draft.

That job is tougher now than it was this time a year ago, what with all of the jostling for position in the East. The teams at the bottom are inching closer to the middle, while some of the teams that were considered contenders have fallen off the pace a bit. The middle class remains muddled. And Ferry believes the Hawks are still very much in the thick of the crowded East after a roster rebuild in the offseason.

“I think we have to get through the beginning of the year to get a feel from our group, but we’re not just putting together new players. We have an entirely new coaching staff that is working together. That being said, the guys will work hard and compete. And we have smart coaches and they’ll put guys in positions to succeed. I expect us to be competitive. What that means as it relates to wins, losses and so on … I don’t know. The East is better, first of all. You can go through the teams and see the East has gotten more competitive, which I like.”

The Hawks have had near-wholesale changes to their basketball operation since Ferry came on board. Mike Budenholzer was hired to replace Larry Drew this summer and that was before Ferry turned the roster over for the second straight summer, the most notable move this time being the parting of the ways with Josh Smith (Detroit via free agency). Ferry traded away both Joe Johnson (Brooklyn) and Marvin Williams (Utah) in his first couple of months on the job.

Only Al Horford and Jeff Teague remain from the previous regime.

And there is that crowded East race Ferry spoke of that is sure to factor into the situation.

“Charlotte’s a better team, their coach is going to do a better job, I have a lot of respect for him, and they have added more talent. Detroit with [Brandon] Jennings and Josh [Smith], that’s a better group. They’re going to be more competitive. Milwaukee will be good. Larry [Drew] will do a nice job there. That being said, I like where we are right now. We have options going forward to continue to get better. But we have a group of guys that are going to compete. We have to continue to make good decisions, and from there I think we’ll be competitive because of the nature and the spirit of our guys.”

With Derrick Rose returning from injury in Chicago, Brooklyn’s new-look roster, the anticipated rise of younger groups in Washington, Cleveland, Toronto and Orlando, Ferry is well aware that the landscape has changed dramatically from last season to this one.

There is undoubtedly more depth in the Eastern Conference, maybe not as much as there in the Western Conference, and that means the Hawks will have to scrap and claw their way into the playoffs for a seventh straight season.

“I do think the West, having been there, they beat themselves up more getting there [to The Finals] than Miami has had to,” he said before running down the list of improved teams that will factor into the Eastern Conference race this season.  “You look at the East and the challenge is there, and if we’re going to be a team that competes and gets better every day, we’ll be there.”

Ferry mentioned guys like Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and the consistent level of play they bring to the floor every night as staples for a revamped Hawks team that will conform to a system rather than freelance the way they might have in years past.  In addition to the core members of this new team having the sort of leadership qualities that have historically been critical to a team’s success, Ferry also suggested the Hawks will field a no-nonsense, blue-collar team fans in Atlanta will support vigorously as opposed to tolerating them the way many had grown accustomed before Ferry’s arrival.

Drafting well and having a sound player development program in place are other areas Ferry has focused on since taking over, upgrades and improvements that fans and the media either won’t see or simply don’t have access to.

Ferry’s focus is on the Hawks’ overall program as much as it is on putting a competitive team on the floor night after night this season. They go hand-in-hand, a factor that changes the way a team operates if that hasn’t been committed in that way before.

“I think we’re in a position where we have started to build on the values we want to work as a team,” Ferry said. “I think we have professional guys that will compete every night, and pretty good characters guys as well. With that, we want to keep flexibility as strategic option for us right now with where we are as a team. With where we are lined up, with contracts and the future we have the opportunity to still take different paths. I think we have a value system that is going to guide us along that way. But we still have the option to make changes and do things going forward that allow us to continue to build and to continue to try to get better.”

New Coaches: Five That Fit

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HANG TIME, Texas – Sometimes it’s the big things, a change in philosophy or overall team strategy that’s required to make a difference. Sometimes it’s just a new attitude, a new voice that’s needed in the locker room.

With a baker’s dozen new coaches ready to roam NBA sidelines — at least one in every division — this season, some will find the task a heavier lift than the circus wagon that holds the elephants.

Others will pick up their new teams immediately. Here are the five coaches who’ll make themselves right at home in their new digs and have the smoothest transitions:

Doc Rivers, Clippers – The veteran of previous stints with the Magic and Celtics definitely has the least room for improvement in the win column, since the Clips already won a franchise-best 56 games and their first-ever division title a year ago. But the little brothers of Staples Center won’t really shed their “second-class-citizen” image until they make a real run in the playoffs and that’s where Rivers’ experience will pay off. While they will still dance to the tune of Chris Paul’s talent on the court, Rivers will get them marching to a more serious, professional beat at both ends of the floor and in the locker room. They have to be more than just a group that jumps into the passing lanes to get steals on the defensive end and thrives on Lob City dunks on offense. He knows what it takes to win a championship and will put his stamp on the team early so we’ll notice the difference.

Mike Brown, Cavaliers — Let’s face it. Other than a fat man in an undersized Speedo, there wasn’t a more uncomfortable fit anywhere than Brown coaching the Lakers for a year and a smidgen. But now he’s back in Cleveland in a familiar role with a young team that is trying to build something special around an All-Star talent. OK, Kyrie Irving isn’t LeBron James, but he is the kind of lead horse that can pull the wagon. The truth is that these Cavaliers have a deeper collection of all-around talent than ever surrounded James, from Anderson Varejao to Tristan Thompson to Jarrett Jack to No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett and maybe a rehabilitated Andrew Bynum. Brown will emphasize what he knows best — defense — to give the Cavs a toughness and identity that, assuming Irving stays healthy, will have them back in the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left.

Jason Kidd, Nets – If it was so easy, the Naismith Hall of Fame would be filled with plaques of many more All-Stars who took off their uniforms one night and slipped easily into the role of head coach the next. There will be plenty about the nuts and bolts of the job that Kidd will have to learn as he goes along. But it helps that as point guard he already possessed some of the coaching genes. It also helps that he’s walking into a locker room filled with veterans names Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko, who are all looking to erase recent seasons of disappointment to come together and win a championship. Kidd won’t have to sweat the small stuff with this bunch. Garnett, Pierce and Terry have all won rings before and know the sacrifices that have to be made and the work that must be put in. In fact, Kidd’s toughest job might be holding them back and limiting regular season playing time. Since he’s in the glare of the New York media, any mistakes along the way by the rookie coach might be magnified, but he’s played a good portion of his career there and knows how to survive.

Mike Budenholzer, Hawks – After nearly two decades in San Antonio and the past six seasons as Gregg Popovich’s right hand man on the Spurs bench, this was finally the right time and the right place for Budenholzer to make the move into the No. 1 seat. For one thing, the Hawks are certainly not bereft of talent, even after the departure of Josh Smith. Free agent Paul Millsap will fill in capably. For another, it’s not as if there is the burden of having to live up to decades — or even one or two seasons — of greatness. But mostly it was time because Budenholzer was hand-picked by general manager Danny Ferry, his old Spurs buddy, as the start of a plan to finally have the Hawks build something special and to do it the right way. The Eastern Conference has gotten stronger at the top and it will be much tougher for Atlanta to break through against the likes of Miami, Indiana, Chicago and Brooklyn. But Budenholzer and Ferry won’t be impatient, are in this for the long haul and will have each other’s back. There’s no rush this season.

Maurice Cheeks, Pistons – After previous stints as head coach in Portland and Philadelphia, Cheeks spent the past four seasons as Scott Brooks’ assistant in Oklahoma City getting prepared for his third chance. The understated Cheeks knows his stuff and knows what he wants and could be just the right personality to get the newly acquired, up-and-down pair of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to deliver every night. The real heat is on general manager Joe Dumars to build the once-proud franchise back up after a half decade of serious slippage has had the Pistons way outside of even playoff contention, let alone the championship conversation. Cheeks will have Chauncey Billups back with his championship pedigree as an extension on the court and if he can keep the young big man tandem of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe moving ahead together, the Pistons could bring some joy back into The Palace with a run at a playoff spot.

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

HANG TIME, Texas – It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies – Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets – After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats – He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.

Summer Dreaming: Executive Of The Year

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HANG TIME, Texas – Never mind that the weather map says it’ s hurricane season. This is the time of year when there are nothing but blue skies over every NBA franchise from Miami to Portland to Los Angeles to Toronto.

Draft picks have been chosen and brought into camp. Free agents have been signed and trotted out for the TV cameras. Trades have been made to fill holes in the lineups. It’s a time for championship planning among the elite class and fantasizing about moving up by the wannabes.

But the truth is that, despite so much spin doctoring that comes out of all the front offices, there are a handful of team presidents and general managers that made the most of the offseason. That’s why we don’t have to wait till next April — or even the season openers — to know who’ll be taking bows for their work. They’re our summer dreaming picks for Executive of the Year:

Daryl Morey, Rockets – Unless Dwight Howard wakes up one morning and declares it was all a mistake — that he really loved having Kobe Bryant as a playmate, that he thoroughly enjoyed Mike D’Antoni’s offense and that he never, ever meant to leave those clever recruiting banners in L.A. — this is as sure a thing as Usain Bolt outrunning a lead-boot-wearing Charles Barkley. If Howard stays healthy, he and fellow All-Star James Harden will team up to make the Rockets instant challengers for one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference and could even be a dark horse contender to advance all the way to The Finals. But before they even chalk up one “W” in the standings, Morey has put a headlock on the award simply by making the Rockets franchise relevant again for the first time in years. After drifting on a sea of anonymity and mediocrity since the star-crossed Tracy McGrady-Yao Ming pairing came undone, the Rockets are back in the spotlight. A year ago, they were on national TV once. Now they have 10 appearances on ESPN, nine on TNT, one on ABC and even made it into the Christmas lineup with a date at San Antonio.

Billy King, Nets – It’s like walking into a casino with a sack full of money, walking straight to the roulette table and plopping it all down on red. Or black. Either way, it’s a 50-50 gamble and you live with the results. King certainly has the cushion and the endorsement of Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokorhov and the understanding that paying the luxury tax bill of nearly $100 million is no problem. Still, it takes considerable nerve for King to bet it all on the hope that a 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 35-year-old Paul Pierce, 35-year-old Jason Terry and a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd can take down the two-time defending champs from Miami along with the rest of what has become a strengthened Eastern Conference lineup. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson were enough to make Brooklyn a postseason sports destination for the first time since the Dodgers left town, but now it’s the old Celtics who’ll be expected to show them how to win a series or more. To get Andrei Kirilenko to walk away from a guaranteed $10 million to sign a cut-rate deal was probably the second-best move of the entire NBA offseason, trailing only Dwight Howard’s move to Houston. Kirilenko adds a tough defender and a slashing finisher to a lineup that hopes to have Brook Lopez improving on his first ever All-Star season. If he’s accomplished one big thing already, King has jumped the Nets over the Knicks as the headlining team in New York, which is signficant.

Chris Grant, Cavaliers – Things have changed considerably since that first summer on the job as GM when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the temptation might have been to turn out the lights and simply declare the NBA party in Cleveland over. Grant has steadily reassembled the franchise one piece at time to a point where people are whispering that it’s not out of the question to think James could return next summer when he becomes a free agent. Before that, the Cavs figure to have a resurgent seasons between their splendid young point guard Kyrie Irving and all the other pieces that Grant has put around him. Anthony Bennett may have been a bit of a surprise on draft night, but should fill a need on the front line and free agent signee Jarrett Jack will be both a firecracker lift off the bench. Of course, the big bonanza would be if free agent Andrew Bynum can overcome the knee injuries that left him notable only for sitting on bench modeling outrageous hairstyles last season in Philly. A return to the form that once made him an All-Star with the Lakers makes Grant a genius and, even if Bynum falls short, the Cavs have not made a long crippling financial commitment to the gamble. And don’t forget to give Grant credit for not listening to the suggestions that he should have traded Anderson Varejao. The Cavs will likely make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference and, depending on how bright the future looks next spring, could turn the head of a familiar figure to come home.

Joe Dumars, Pistons – Let’s face it. The Hall of Fame guard-turned-GM has taken his fair share of abuse through recent seasons for allowing the once-proud franchise to drift way out of the playoff picture and even have trouble drawing crowds to The Palace. Was it a curse for making Darko Mlicic the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade? Then there was that disastrous free agent splurge on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in 2009. But lately Dumars has been making a comeback, drafting a pair of big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond who have the potential to anchor the Pistons front line for years to come. He made his biggest play in signing free agent Josh Smith, hoping that the stat-line filler can step into the role of No. 1 option and even team leader. Then Dumars traded for Brandon Jennings with hope that he can be both reined in and unleashed and brought home former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups to show him how. Mo Cheeks gets his third shot as a head coach and it’s all a mix that could put the Pistons back in the playoffs.

Dell Demps, Pelicans – The easier path for Demps would have been to keep Nerlens Noel when the big man fell into his lap at the No. 6 pick and keep on selling a theme of acquiring young assets and building for the future. But with a new team name, new franchise colors and a new owner (Tom Benson) writing the checks, it was a time for a new and bolder direction. The young and oh-so-slender Noel was deemed too much duplication on the front line with 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis and was trade to Philly for 23-year-old guard Jrue Holiday, who puts the only All-Star credentials in the New Orleans lineup. Demps then kept dealing to bring more firepower into the lineup with former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. Of course, that immediately brought talk of a crowded backcourt with Eric Gordon still on hand, but Demps and coach Monty Williams are betting that a three-man rotation cannot only thrive, but put some punch into what was a thoroughly mediocre offense last season. Assuming Davis takes another big step forward in his second season, the Pelicans could contend for one of the final playoff spots in the West.

PREVIOUSLY: Comeback player | MVP | Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Siva Comes Out Ahead In Jennings Deal

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Only time will tell if Brandon Jennings will be more efficient with the Detroit Pistons or if Brandon Knight will develop into a steady point guard with the Milwaukee Bucks. But we can already declare a winner in the sign-and-trade deal that swapped the two Brandons across the Central Division: Peyton Siva.

The Pistons selected Siva, who led Louisville to a national championship in April, with the No. 56 pick in June. He came from a rough background, starred at Louisville and achieved his dream of being drafted, but hadn’t actually made the NBA yet. There are no guarantees for a second-round pick who may never see training camp.

Before the trade, the Pistons had 16 players on the roster, and as the last of three draftees behind four other (full or part-time) point guards (Knight, Chauncey Billups, Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey), Siva looked to be the odd man out.

Siva understood the roster math, but he says he “wasn’t worried about it.” And his agent, Andy Miller, wasn’t looking at contingency plans. Erick Green, another college senior selected 10 spots before Siva, was in a similar situation in Denver and signed with Montepaschi Siena in Italy.

“Our goal was to go through training camp and be a part of the Pistons organization in some capacity,” Miller said. “We didn’t have a secondary strategy, because our primary and sole strategy was that he was going to be a part of the Pistons organization.”

Miller told Siva that Pistons GM Joe Dumars wasn’t done putting his team together, but that didn’t necessarily mean that there was a roster spot for the point guard.

“Our plan all along,” Dumars said, “was to either have Siva with us or retain his rights.”

But then Bucks GM John Hammond asked Dumars if he was interested in Jennings, and they put together a trade that sent Viacheslav Kravtsov and Khris Middleton to Milwaukee along with Knight. That took the Pistons roster from 16 to 14.

“I was definitely happy about it,” Siva said of the trade, knowing what it mean for him personally.

Five days later, he was signed.

Of course, Siva is still behind four point guards in Detroit. And he knows he has to become a better shooter to stick in the NBA. But he stood out in Summer League, recording 24 assists to just six turnovers, even though the Pistons shot less than 40 percent. He has the ability to get into the paint and create open shots for his teammates. Defensively, as his four steals in the 2013 NCAA championship game made clear, he can be a pest.

The Pistons have loaded up on talent to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. But with the depth in the backcourt, Dumars knows they can be patient with Siva.

“We see him providing depth and spending some time in the [NBA] D-League,” Dumars said. “There’s no rush with Peyton.”

If you’ve read Siva’s story (and you really should read Siva’s story), you know how much he had to go through to get here. He had to grow up fast and avoid the pitfalls that his father and siblings couldn’t. And at barely six feet tall, he certainly couldn’t rely on his physical gifts to get him here.

Every NBA player makes it to the league with some combination of their physical talent, the work they put in and the opportunities they were presented. For Siva, the story is about the work and his attitude. Yet he still feels lucky.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “Everybody doesn’t get a chance to make it, so I’m just really blessed and I’m just happy to be here.”

He’s an easy player to root for. For Dumars, he was an easy player to invest in.

“There are several things we like about Peyton,” Dumars said, “his toughness, his ability to run the point, his winning approach. He’s a great teammate and he brings a great spirit.”

And for Miller, he’s an easy player to represent.

“He’s a quality human being all the way around,” Miller said. “You would not know that he’s a rookie the way he handles himself.

“I know that agents are supposed to talk up their players, but this is a guy that I’m not sheepish about doing it, because I really don’t think there’s anything to hide about him.”

In life, as he was in April and as he was in the Bucks-Pistons trade, Siva’s a winner.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 127) Featuring Rockets Play-By-Play Announcer Craig Ackerman

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Leave it up to Rick Fox to skip out on his own birthday party on Episode 127 of the Hang Time Podcast.

Perhaps it was for the best, since we spent quite a bit of time discussing his least favorite subject of this free agent summer: Dwight Howard and his moving from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Houston Rockets. (Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni still can’t wrap his head around Howard leaving for Texas.)

While Rick is already on record as being a bit put off by the way Dwight handled himself with the Lakers and with his departure, Rockets play-by-play man Craig Ackerman couldn’t be happier with how things played out.

His phone has been ringing like crazy since Howard joined the Rockets. And things will only get more hectic the closer we get to training camp and the start of the 2013-14 season. He gives us some quality insight on what the Howard era of Rockets basketball will look like from an insider’s perspective and waxes on all things Rockets [sorry Rick].

We also break down the latest news, notes and happenings around the league, including a recap of what we saw during the Las Vegas Summer League, USA Basketball’s mini-camp in Vegas, Brandon Jennings and his fresh start in Detroit and the teams on the rise and fall after a wild July of action in free agency and trades.

You get all of that and so much more on Episode 127 of the Hang Time Podcast: Featuring Rockets Play-By-Play Announcer Craig Ackerman …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Blogtable: Surprise Teams?




Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes 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.


Surprise Teams | Teams Likely to Fall | Rookie Coaches


Which team will do better than most expect next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I think Cleveland has done more in a fairly short amount of time than I expected. Sure, I’m projecting a happy outcome in the Andrew Bynum gamble, but at least the terms of that deal are sensible and maybe he’s ready – physically and mentally – to kick his career into top gear. Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark rate as second- or third-tier acquisitions that could have a surgical benefit on the Cavs’ promise to push into the playoffs this season. Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson all will be better. So I’m watching Anthony Bennett for how well he fits in and works on his game, rather than taking his No. 1 status in a grab-bag draft too seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m taking a flyer on the Pistons, who already had two solid front-line up-and-comers in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond and landed veteran Josh Smith in free agency.  Smith should be the consistent scorer that the Pistons need to make scoring easier.  The acquisition of Brandon Jennings should give the offense a further boost, especially if he can heed the wise counsel of returning favorite Chauncey Billups as a mentor. If rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can show what he can do early, new coach Maurice Cheeks could have his team sniffing at the playoff race.

Boston Celtics v Sacramento Kings

DeMarcus Cousins leads the young Kings.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: It’s interesting because I think in the West many believe that most of the bottom seven teams improved themselves with the exception of probably Utah, which has taken on a youth movement. I don’t know what the perception of the sad-sack Sacramento Kings is, but I’m suggesting this team will be better, maybe much better, than it has been in a long, long time. Everything is fresh, from ownership to management to the coaching staff to the point guard (emerging Greivis Vasquez) to — wait for it — DeMarcus Cousins‘ attitude? With Mike Malone in charge on the bench, there should be a vitality to this bunch that has been lacking, and more than that there’s actual talent and some toughness, too, so Sleep Train Arena should wake up to a new brand of exciting basketball.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Washington. I’m not sure what “most expect,” maybe good enough to make the playoffs, but the Wizards have a chance for more than sneaking in. A healthy John Wall, Bradley Beal off the rookie learning curve and heading toward a long career, Nene and Emeka Okafor up front, Otto Porter as the perfect complementary piece – that has real potential. Just over the horizon and coming quick: Orlando.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comGolden State could be top three in the West if Andrew Bogut plays close to a full season. With a healthy Bogut and Andre Iguodala, they have the potential to improve several spots defensively (where they ranked 13th last season), and we know they’ll be potent offensively with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee. Denver has obviously taken a step backward and it’s hard to believe in the Clippers until they show us that they can defend consistently, so there’s a real chance for the Warriors to have home-court advantage in a first round series next spring.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Call me crazy, but the Detroit Pistons could be on to a little something with their risky free agent summer. Smith, Billups and now Jennings, who the Asch Man points out gets his cash and a fresh start in the Motor City. For a franchise that has been searching for a way back to the playoff mix the past few years, the Pistons seem like they are on the right path with their mix of edgy veterans, potentially All-Star-laden homegrown talent (young bigs Monroe and Drummond) and an intriguing mix of worker bees (Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko, Will Bynum) and specialists (Italian shooter Gigi Datome). Most people had the Pistons picked as a borderline candidate to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. I think they are not only going to make it but they could challenge for the sixth seed behind Miami, Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn and New York, if things play out the way Pistons’ general manager Joe Dumars has them planned.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: How about the Lakers? Last season was such a mess for them, from injuries to coaching changes to the never-ending Dwight Howard saga. But this year, with Dwight gone, they’re firmly under the radar, even in their own city. (Even in their own building.) If Steve Nash can stay healthy, and Kobe returns and is able to give anything, we’ve seen what head coach Mike D’Antoni can do with a team that nobody expects much from.

Jennings Gets Paid, Fresh Start In Detroit

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brandon Jennings was running low on options. As a restricted free agent from the Milwaukee Bucks, he had strained for more than a year at the leash holding him to that club. Jennings previously talked fondly of bigger markets and then sent max-salary shots across the Bucks’ bow as his semi-freedom approached, a not-so-subtle way of discouraging them from flexing their matching rights.

Unfortunately for Jennings, when he hit the marketplace, the marketplace hit back. It was bad enough that others, including his self-absorbed backcourt mate Monta Ellis, found jobs and millions; it was worse when Jennings’ own team, the Bucks, tried to procure his replacement, Atlanta’s Jeff Teague, with a four-year, $32 million offer sheet it wasn’t willing to give Jennings. The Hawks matched but the message was clear – Jennings’ business with the Bucks had festered into something other than mere leverage.

So his options were few, barring a philosophical change by Milwuakee. Jennings could sign the one-year, $4.5 million qualifying offer with the Bucks and try again next July. In theory, that might have made sense: A motivated player, his team benefiting as he hoists his market value.

But anyone familiar with the Bucks’ situation and locker room knew that scenario would be rife with pitfalls. A sensitive lad, a little light on the maturity scale, Jennings could end up playing self-consciously and, thus, unnaturally. It wouldn’t guarantee that his game – high energy but shoot first, with too many shaky finishes at the rim and a laissez-faire defensive attitude – would budge a bit from the plateau on which it has settled. And an agitated Jennings wouldn’t help a locker room mood hoping for some addition-by-subtraction (Ellis, Samuel Dalembert).

How ‘bout spending 2013-14 in Europe? Jennings, after all, had taken that creative route around the one-and-done eligibility rule prior to the 2009 Draft in which Milwaukee picked him 10th overall. But no, NBA free-agency rules don’t work that way; Jennings still would be Bucks’ property.

So the multiple reports Tuesday afternoon that the Bucks and the Detroit Pistons were completing a sign-and-trade to ship Jennings to Motown made a lot of sense. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Chris Broussard, Detroit would send to Milwaukee guard Brandon Knight, forward Khris Middleton and center Viacheslav Kravtsov. Estimates of Jennings’ three-year deal ranged from $24 million to more than $25 million, putting him in the same financial neighborhood as Teague but for one year less.

In Jennings, the Pistons get a talented backcourt player who has averaged 17.0 points and 5.7 assists in four NBA seasons. He is a career 39.4 percent shooter, so he won’t bring the range to pull defenses away from big men Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith. He’ll be teaming with veteran Chauncey Billups, back with Detroit after a summer signing.

Milwaukee already had added guard O.J. Mayo in free agency, traded to get back Luke Ridnour and introduced its latest addition, former San Antonio guard Gary Neal, to local media Tuesday. Knight, whose trial as Detroit’s point guard suggested to some he was better suited to shooting guard, still has potential to intrigue Bucks GM John Hammond – the No. 8 pick in the 2011 Draft won’t turn 22 until Dec. 2. And since when does a shoot-first point guard trouble the Bucks?