Posts Tagged ‘Brook Lopez’

Morning shootaround — July 14


VIDEO: What to make of the DeMarcus Cousins-George Karl situation

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Karl, Cousins meet | Blatt reflects on year one | Nets begin youth movement | Change in playoff seeding?

No. 1: Karl, Cousins meet One of the running subplots all summer has involved the Sacramento Kings, who continue to try and rebuild their roster. Coach George Karl and All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins have publicly disagreed this summer, but yesterday at the Samsung Las Vegas Summer League, the two finally were face-to-face. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Karl says they can make the relationship work

“I just said hello to him this afternoon,” Karl told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t think it’s something we have to rush through. You got two guys that are very frustrated with losing, two guys that are somewhat stubborn and two guys that love to compete.

“Sometimes, that doesn’t work the first time you hang around. But you have to take your time to make it work. I’m very confident to make it work.”

Karl was given a four-year, $14 million deal to coach the Kings on Feb. 8. Days later, Cousins made his first NBA All-Star appearance. Karl had an 11-19 record coaching the Kings last season.

The rift between Cousins and Karl grew after Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported before the NBA draft that Karl wanted Cousins traded. Cousins responded by tweeting out an emoji of a snake in the grass. A day later, Karl said Cousins was the Kings’ best player but the franchise needed him to be “committed and dedicated to being in Sacramento.”

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive was so upset with Karl that he seriously considering firing him, a league source said. Cousins wanted to be traded before the draft, a source told Yahoo Sports, but no deal was consummated.

“Cousins felt like if Karl wanted [him] to be traded then he wanted to be traded, too,” a source close to the situation said.

Cousins declined comment when asked about Karl by Yahoo Sports on Sunday and simply said he was “straight” [good]. New Kings general manager Vlade Divac told Yahoo Sports that he expects Karl to be the coach when next season begins.

When asked what he needed to do to reconnect with Cousins, Karl told Yahoo Sports: “Communicate. Get everything honest. Come to whatever you want to say, an agreement on what he wants from me and what I want from him. Just be professional about our jobs and communicate.”

Divac said he would play a strong role in helping Cousins and Karl get on the same page before next season.

“It’s going in a good direction,” Divac said. “I have a goal for the two to be in a great place. And they will be.”

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No. 2: Blatt reflects on year one Last season was Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt‘s first season as an NBA head coach. He’d spent decades as a coach in Europe, but as Blatt explained yesterday in Las Vegas, coming to the NBA was a completely different experience, writes Tim Reynolds for The Associated Press

Blatt – a wildly successful coach in Europe before getting his long-awaited chance to lead an NBA team for the first time last season – was a panelist on Monday at a scouting school in Las Vegas, part of a group that was discussing some of the ways coaches prepare for games at various levels. And he detailed several differences between the European game and the NBA one.

“When I came to the NBA I was under the impression that this was going to be a breeze,” Blatt said. “I’ve been coaching for 23 years at the highest level in Europe. I coached in the national-team environment, coached professional teams, coached Euroleague teams and I thought I thought I knew basketball and I thought I knew how to coach. Which, in my mind, I did.

“But I realized that when I came over here it was a very, very different game with a whole new set of problems and a whole slew of things to deal with inside and outside of the game.”

He figured out some of it, apparently, on the fly. The Cavaliers struggled for the first half of the season, then wound up rolling to the Eastern Conference title behind LeBron James. They fell in the NBA Finals to Golden State, a loss that came with point guard Kyrie Irving out for most of the series and forward Kevin Love out for all of it because of injuries.

“We were playing every game with a different team,” Blatt said. “We started off with one team, then we lost one guy so we had to change a little bit of the way we played. Played a few more games and another guy went down, played with a different team, that guy came back, then all of sudden we were playing with half of our old team and it just kind of went like that as we went along.

“I’m really (angry) we didn’t play the final series with all of our players,” he added.

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No. 3: Nets begin youth movement The Brooklyn Nets attempted to start in Brooklyn with a splash, assembling a high-priced team and promising to win a title. Three seasons later, after that big money dream didn’t come to fruition, the Nets are now going in a different direction, shedding contracts and going after young and athletic players. As Alex Raskin writes in the Wall Street Journal, the Nets’ new path is a youth movement

They still have Brook Lopez, who last week re-signed for three years and $60 million to remain the Nets’ longest-tenured player. But now general manager Billy King is pivoting away from the model that had the team spending an NBA record $90.57 million in luxury taxes in 2013-14 as it lost a reported $144 million.

Because of last week’s buyout of point guard Deron Williams, the Nets saved more than $40 million in wages and luxury taxes and are now under the luxury-tax threshold for the first time since moving from New Jersey. And instead of losses, the Nets’ profit margin might finally resemble their black uniforms.

According to several sources within the Nets’ various ownership groups, there is real hope that the team will turn a profit for the first time in over a decade.

Being profitable wasn’t necessarily the goal of the Nets’ new strategy. Billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov can afford to pay the losses. What he and the team can’t afford is another disaster like the 2013 trade that brought Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce over from Boston while denying the Nets control of their first-round pick until 2019.

Pierce wasn’t re-signed last summer and King officially began picking up the pieces at the Feb. 19 trade deadline when he dealt Garnett to Minnesota for power forward Thaddeus Young.

Now, after re-signing both Lopez and Young—Young’s deal is for four years and $50 million— for the foreseeable future, the Nets are on a completely different path.

“We needed to come to Brooklyn with a team that, I thought, could win a championship,” King said. Thursday when the Nets announced the deals. “Now we’re in the mindset of: we don’t have a lot of [draft] picks so we’re trying to find a lot of diamonds in the rough and guys that can bridge the gap for us, so to speak, with the youth movement.”

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No. 4: Change in playoff seeding? Each conference in the NBA has three divisions. Win your division, and you’re guaranteed a top-four seed in the NBA playoffs. Except, maybe not anymore? According to CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, at yesterday’s meeting of the NBA’s Competition Committee, first steps were taken that could potentially change the NBA’s playoff seeding rules

The NBA’s competition committee closely examined the league’s playoff seeding procedures on Monday, potentially paving the way for a change to the rule that currently gives a top-four seed to a division winner regardless of record, league sources told CBSSports.com.

The Board of Governors, which meets Tuesday, will be updated on the discussion, though it’s possible that a specific change won’t be recommended to the Board for a vote until October, a person familiar with the discussions said.

As part of the discussion about whether a division winner should automatically qualify for a top-four seed, the committee also examined whether a division winner should get a tiebreak over a non-division winner with a better record. No consensus was reached on the issue, sources said.

This season, Portland received the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference by winning the Northwest Division with 51 victories. The Blazers were seeded higher than the Grizzlies (No. 5) and Spurs (No. 6), who each won 55 games.

Commissioner Adam Silver, who was present for the meeting, said during his pre-Finals address that giving a seeding advantage to division winners was a rule that could be changed “fairly quickly.”

“We are very focused on the divisional seeding process, and I think we are going to take a very close look at whether we should seed at least 1 through 8 by conference as opposed to giving the division winner that higher seed,” Silver said. “That is a vestige of a division system that may not make sense anymore.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Seth Curry is using Summer League to make his own nameLarry Nance Jr. has quickly emerged as a fan favorite in Las Vegas … Patty Mills will miss the Australian National Team’s upcoming tour …

Morning shootaround — July 11


VIDEO: Anthony-Towns, Russell square off in Vegas

D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding | Clash of the titans in Summer League | Jordan apologizes publicly | Evolution of the Kings

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding — The Brooklyn Nets planned to make a splash when they hopped a few rivers to get from Jersey to the city, and part of that impact was supposed to come from building around point guard Deron Williams. As our own John Schuhmann details, the Nets gave up a lot to get Williams, both in terms of finances and personnel, but things never quite worked out the way they’d hoped. With Williams’ departure (via buyout) for his hometown of Dallas, it’s time for the Nets to look for a different path to success…

Williams was dealing with ankle issues for most of his Nets tenure, missing 32 games over the last two seasons. He shot a career-low 39 percent in 2014-15.

Of course, he was still the Nets’ best point guard by a wide margin. The offense fell apart when he was replaced with (or played alongside) Jarrett Jack. Though Brooklyn was outscored by 236 points over the course of the season, Williams was just a minus-14 in more than 2,000 minutes. Jack was a minus-315.

So the move to part ways with Williams takes the Nets’ offense down a notch. But it also saves Prokhorov a ton of money. With Williams’ full salary on the books, the Nets were set to pay another $44 million in luxury tax this coming season, subject to the repeater tax levels.

With a buyout that reduces the $43 million they owe him to $27.5 million, and with the stretch provision that stretches the remaining money over five years instead of two, Brooklyn’s 2015-16 payroll can get below the luxury tax line completely. That’s a big thing for this year and going forward.

The damage isn’t completely done. They’ll still be paying Williams $5-6 million each year through the 2019-20 season, and they still owe Boston those picks in 2016 and 2018, with the potential pick swap the year in between.

The Nets still haven’t competed for a championship since Kidd was the point guard. They went 153-159 in Williams’ four full seasons with the franchise, winning just 10 playoff games. Health was an issue. Williams and Brook Lopez played just 159 (47 percent) of a possible 337 regular season games together.

The past is the past, though. Now, the Nets can finally move on. They still have some veteran talent – Johnson, Lopez and Thaddeus Young – on the roster. They’re building around the two re-signed bigs and are making a clear effort to get younger and more athletic.

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No. 2: Clash of the titans in Summer League — It didn’t take long for the Las Vegas Summer League to produce drama: Just minutes into the tourney, number 1 overall Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and his Minnesota Timberwolves faced off against number 2 pick D’Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers. And by all accounts, as Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, both players produced, and showed they have room to grow…

With a record-setting crowd of 12,422 fans in attendance at the Las Vegas summer league, all eyes were on Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns as he took his first shot as an NBA player.

Air ball.

“I didn’t even want to shoot the basketball,” Towns said on his first shot — a 3-pointer — as a pro. “It’s just rookie jitters. Even though I’m the No. 1 pick, I’m not going to be perfect.”

It was a forgettable first attempt but the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft will likely laugh about it one day.

Towns finished Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, missed both 3-point attempts and made all but one of five free throws. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder averaged 21.1 minutes per game as a true freshman on a University of Kentucky team deep in talent.

In his Minnesota summer league debut, however, the 19-year-old played a challenging 31 minutes.

While Towns didn’t have the monster debut he hoped for, the Timberwolves finished with an 81-68 victory over the Lakers in a battle against No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell.

“I started out like any other rookie,” Towns said. “I ain’t going to lie. I had a lot of butterflies. I was very nervous. My legs felt heavy. It’s your first game out.”

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No. 3: Jordan apologizes publicly — DeAndre Jordan‘s 11th hour change of heart may have saved the immediate future for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it did something like the opposite for the Dallas Mavericks, making them scramble to change course and make the best out of what was left on the free agent market. Last night, Jordan took to Twitter to apologize to Dallas owner Mark Cuban and Mavs fans, as well as tell Clippers fans he was excited to be returning…

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No. 4: Evolution of the Kings — No one said it would be easy. Despite their best efforts, the Sacramento Kings have been stuck on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race the last few years. In their latest iteration, the leadership of Vlade Divac and George Karl hasn’t seemed to connect with star center DeMarcus Cousins. As Shaun Powell writes, that relationship may just remain a work in progress…

George Karl wouldn’t discuss the state of his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins — “I’m not authorized to speak about that,” he said on the first day of the Samsung NBA Summer League — which means the mending remains a work in progress. The hectic summer in Sacramento turned loopy when Cousins used a snake-in-the-grass emoji on Twitter last month to characterize Karl as disloyal and distrustful. Cousins, according to those close to him, is charging Karl of trying to get him traded and has refused to speak with Karl. That in turn raised the issue of whether Karl and not Cousins would be shipped out of town. It became a big mess and it doesn’t appear the two have a working relationship or that it’ll be settled soon if ever.

Both are notoriously stubborn, which makes you wonder if Karl or Cousins are willing or even able to patch things up. Karl has had disagreements with players before, yet managed to win games (though not a championship). Cousins has rubbed his previous coaches raw, and hasn’t won anything. Karl wanted to change the culture when he arrived in the middle of last season and his methods obviously didn’t sit well with Cousins. And five months later, here they are.

Both have put Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new general manager, in a tight spot, if not in the role of peace maker and referee. Divac was coy when asked about their relationship.

“Every day it’s getting better,” he said.

That’s it?

“That’s it.”

Clearly, Divac is siding with Cousins if only because there aren’t many centers averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds and with Cousins’ skill set. Although troubled in the past by his lack of maturity and fragile temper — Cousins has led all players in technical fouls over the last 3 years — Cousins made strides over the last season to reduce his disruptive tendencies. Making Team USA last summer and then the All-Star team have sedated him, made him more coachable, although some of his sharp edges remain.

Sensing a desperate franchise led by a first-time GM, plenty of teams tried to get Cousins by offering 50 centers on the dollar this summer once the Karl-Cousins relationship took another wicked turn, and wisely, Divac didn’t bite.

“He’s a great kid with great potential and I”m happy to work with him,” Divac said. “There’s nothing out there that would make me pull the trigger.”
And what about the status of Karl, who has three years left on his contract? Curiously Divac shrugged his way through his response.
“Well, we’ll see. He has to win the games. He’s a coach who brings a lot of experience. He knows how to fix things, so we’ll see.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Today Becky Hammon will make history as the first female head coach of an NBA team in a Summer League game … Perhaps overshadowed by the debut of Towns and Russell was the return of Julius RandleLeBron James hosted a premiere for his new movie Trainwreck in his hometown of Akron … Kevin Garnett is officially back in Minnesota

Blogtable: Best (and worst) free-agent signing will be …?

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


BLOGTABLE: Where are these 5 going? | Best/worst free-agent move ahead? | Assessing 2015 Draft



VIDEOWhere will the top restricted free agents land?

> Who will end up being the steal of this free-agent class a year from now? And which free-agent signing will we all look back on next year with a hearty dose of SMH?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Tim Duncan is the steal of every free-agent class in which he enrolls, but if we’re talking long-term, I’m going with Greg Monroe – and some wishful thinking. Monroe gambled on himself and, after five season with the Pistons, he’s due for a good run now. A move to possibly regret: Signing Brook Lopez for too long, at too much money. His injury history makes him a shaky proposition, certainly in terms of durability.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comEven though it will take the max to sign him now, the salary cap will jump through the roof next season and it will look positively brilliant when LaMarcus Aldridge is holding up that Larry O’Brien Trophy in the Spurs’ river parade next June.  On the other hand, Tobias Harris can’t shoot from the perimeter and is more of a ball-stopper on offense than he is on defense. Harris and Reggie Jackson could have the most heads shaking.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comTough to say without knowing the terms of the contracts, because that factors into whether someone is a steal. Same with the SMH category. But don’t overlook the big-money guys as steals. Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler, DeAndre Jordan — they have already or will hit the jackpot, but they are also young guys who will continue to improve with deals that will seem decent, not huge, when the cap goes into the stratosphere. They could be steals despite the 2015 feel. And definitely way to early to say which deal will be the most regrettable in a year. We need a few more panic purchases before making a final call.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The steal? That’s easy: LeBron James. The Cavs can’t possibly pay what he’s actually worth. The head-scratcher years from now will be Thad Young. Can’t believe the Nets are going all-in on a guy who last had an impact years ago with Philly (honorable mention to Arron Afflalo).

John Schuhmann, NBA.comIf he’s going to take $6 million or less to help the Spurs add a big free agent, then Tim Duncan will be the steal of free agency. Duncan is still a very good player on both ends of the floor, played 77 games this past season, and sets the tone for the best organization in the league. Even if his game falls off or if he doesn’t play more than half a season, he’s well worth mid-level money. Rajon Rondo seems like the obvious answer for the SMH signing, but it sounds like he’ll get a low-risk contract from whatever team signs him (though the Kings make me less confident in that regard). Giving Brandon Knight $70 million, which the Suns will reportedly do, is a questionable move, especially when you have another starting-caliber point guard on the roster.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The cash will be flying around this summer, so it’ll be hard for anyone to be considered a “steal.” But one of the most underrated players, in my eyes, and a great value pick up this summer is Al-Farouq Aminu going to Portland. He reinvented himself last season in Dallas and opened some eyes around the league. He should be a great fit in Terry Stotts‘ system and the opportunity to step into a major role is there, what with all of the holes to be filled in the starting lineup and rotation. The Suns paying Brandon Knight $70 million is my SMH pick. No team has gone through more point guards in the past three seasons. And settling on this kind of money for a solid player like Knight seems like a bit much, even for the Suns.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Tim Duncan will be the steal. If he comes back for anything less than $10 million, then he’ll have a chance to become one of the great bargains in history – especially if his generosity enables the Spurs to steal LaMarcus Aldridge away from Portland, as many believe will happen. As for SMH: In order to recruit Tobias Harris away from the Magic, which has the right to match, a big effort is going to be needed. But buyer beware – Harris has put up impressive numbers for a losing team. Whether he will provide value to a winning organization is unknown

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think Tobias Harris could be a guy who breaks out next season, whether it’s in Orlando or somewhere else. Still just 22 years old and can fill it up from all over the floor. SMH? Honestly, I’m not sure there will be any SMH contracts out of this group, thanks to the coming salary cap explosion. Once the luxury tax number is up near triple-digits next summer, I don’t know if any contract signed this summer will look bad.

 

Morning shootaround — June 28




VIDEO: Our experts review the 76ers’ pick of Jahlil Okafor at No. 3 in the NBA Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Okafor comes on big | Pierce a free agent | Melo OK with Porzingis | Gasol, Lakers don’t mix
No. 1: Okafor ready to deliver big — Like everybody else in the basketball world, Jahlil Okafor watched the Warriors and Cavaliers play an entertaining brand of small ball in The Finals. But the first-round pick of the Sixers says there will always be a prominent place for the talented big man in the NBA and he aims to prove that when he starts work in his rookie season. The 19-year-old No. 3 pick in the draft says nobody will have greater expectations than his own, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Some, however, think that dominant post players are no longer a cherished commodity. The Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship earlier this month with a small lineup.

“I’ve been dealing with that question for a while,” he said. “Even when I went to Duke, everybody was asking: ‘Why are you going to Duke? They don’t have big men. They don’t throw the ball in the post.’ “

But he pointed out that he was the Blue Devils’ leading scorer.

“Now, they are saying, you don’t need a big man,” Okafor said. “But as far as I can remember, a big man has dominated the NBA. Tim Duncan won it [in 2014. That season] it was all about the big men with Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett.

“So people get a little excited because what [Golden State’s MVP point guard] Steph Curry and those guys did was great. It worked. Their formula was fantastic. But as long as I can remember, big men have been dominant, and the results have been championships.”

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No. 2: Pierce is back on the market — When his last-second bucket against the Hawks was ruled to be too late to rescue the Wizards, Paul Pierce hinted that it might have been his final game in the NBA. But the 37-year-old is now ready to look forward to next season and has put himself back up for grabs as the free agency period approaches on Wednesday. The Wizards, Clippers, Lakers and even his former team the Celtics are said to be in the running for the 17-year veteran, says Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post:

The 17-year veteran bypassed a $5.5 million player option but could still return to Washington for a second run with the Wizards. Pierce could choose to re-sign and Washington is willing to negotiate. The Wizards can offer Pierce 120 percent of the $5.305 million he made last year, which would work out to $6.366 million for next season.

Pierce, who will turn 38 in October, could also decide to play elsewhere. Going home to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers and Doc Rivers, who coached him for nine seasons with the Boston Celtics, is a possibility, though they can only offer him the taxpayer midlevel exception of $3.37 million. Another possibility is returning to play for the Celtics, according to a Yahoo Sports report. Boston drafted Pierce in 1998 and the swingman spent his first 15 seasons in Massachusetts.

Pierce averaged career lows in points (11.2) and minutes (26.2) per game and was a defensive liability at times in a diminished role last season, but provided the leadership the Wizards sought and became a fan favorite in the District with a memorable postseason performance. Logging more minutes at power forward, Pierce averaged 14.6 points in 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games and nailed a few clutch shots, including the game-winning buzzer beater off the backboard in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks.

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No. 3: Anthony says no problem with Porzingis pick — Hold your horses. There’s no need to start choosing up sides in Knicks training camp between star Carmelo Anthony and first-round draft pick Kristaps Porzingis. Melo took to Instagram to try to defuse the notion that he felt “betrayed” by Knicks president Phil Jackson’s pick of the 19-year-old Latvian with the No. 4 pick in the draft. Seems his disappointment have been more at the loss of his buddy Tim Hardaway Jr. in a draft night trade, says Marc Berman of the New York Post:

In responding to fans comments, Anthony wrote late Friday night, “First of all I’m far from upset. Me replying doesn’t mean I’m upset. …Have you heard me voice my opinion about the draft. No. OK then. Get your facts straight.”

In another post, Anthony said, “I can’t wait to watch [Porzingis] either. He’s a steal.”

According to a source, Anthony was upset about losing another friend in Tim Hardaway Jr. on Thursday night more than Jackson’s selection of 7-foot-1 sharpshooting European project Porzingis, whom scouts think could be two years away from making an impact.

Anthony thinks Porzingis a good prospect, according to a source, but like scouts wonders about his timetable.

Hardaway, meanwhile, was traded for the draft rights to Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant. Hardaway, the Knicks’ 2013 first-round pick, averaged double figures in each of his first two seasons but the organization felt he didn’t fit the triangle offense. Anthony now has seen every teammate exit since Jackson took over 15 months ago.

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No. 4: Marc Gasol not interested in Lakers — The blunt truth often comes out around the dinner table and it seems that all of the talk among one family has led free agent Marc Gasol to conclude that he doesn’t want to be a part of the Lakers family. Younger brother Marc saw and heard all of the problems that older brother Pau had in his final two years in L.A. and has concluded that he doesn’t want to wade into those waters, says, Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

Marc Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation. Versatile big man Greg Monroe, oft-injured Brook Lopez and his workman-like brother, Robin, are other alternatives at center.

If the Lakers strike out, they could try re-signing Hill for less and chase swingman Jimmy Butler, who could ease into the hole vacated soon by Bryant. The problem is Chicago’s expected action of matching any offer sheet the restricted free agent signs.

Whatever happens, it’s simple table-setting for a year from now. The Lakers will have double the fun when Kobe Bryant’s contract is off the books ($25 million next season) and the salary cap jumps from $67 million to about $90 million with the NBA’s gigantic new TV deal.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Willie Cauley-Stein wows them with a great first impression Sacramento…Kobe Bryant brags that he once made a Lakers teammate cry … Sixers have been ordered to pay up to Pelicans for fibbing on Holiday injury …Magic won’t bring back Ben Gordon … Stan Van Gundy happy with choice of Johnson over Winslow … Lance Stephenson has a new song to softly blow into your ear … Jackson wants to bring back Jason Smith as backup center for Knicks.

Blogtable: Future for 7-footers?

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


BLOGTABLE: Future for 7-footers? | Going defense-first? | Cavs or Warriors in 2016?



VIDEODebating the merits of playing small vs. big

> After watching the “small ball” Finals, what does the future look like for a 7-footer in the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Frankly, the NBA better hope that its 7-footers, however rare, aren’t eradicated from the scene. Last I checked, no one was goosing the TV ratings to watch a 6-foot-5-and-under league. Part of the appeal of pro basketball always has been its big men and, in my view, the NBA’s Competition Committee needs to dial back some of the things that favor the shorties. My suggestion: Widen the court and extend the 3-point line an extra foot or two all around. The game has gotten too 3-heavy, diminishing the mid-range game, which always showcased some of the most creative and athletic shot-making. More mid-range ultimately means greater roles for the bigs.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: There will always be a place for skilled big men in the NBA — emphasis on skilled. Going forward, there should be emphasis on developing an all-around game that includes passing and shooting as a way to spread the floor on offense and ability to come away from the low post to defend.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comCan the 7-footer shoot and move? It’s not the size, it’s the skill set. I would have thought Andrew Bogut plays no matter what because he can be a facilitator on offense as well as defend, not some plodding center who can only impact within arm’s reach of the basket. So if he spends a lot of The Finals riding pine, all bets are off. Be mobile or be increasingly worried.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe future looks like Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor and the next potentially great center coming from the Draft. I don’t buy the idea that the big man is obsolete. Mediocre big men are obsolete. Crummy big men are obsolete. But the next Hakeem Olajuwon won’t be sitting on the bench in The Finals, trust me.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere’s space for seven-footers, and there will be a few — Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Brook and Robin Lopez — that will get big contracts this summer. You need to be mobile and bring some skills to the table, preferably on both ends of the floor. But there’s room in today’s pick-and-roll, spread-the-floor offenses for a big guy  (Tyson Chandler is a good example) who just has to be able to set a good screen, roll hard to the basket, catch the ball and finish. Layups are still more valuable than 3-pointers, and a good roll man opens things up for good shooters.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It depends on what kind of 7-footer you are. The days of big man battleship basketball in the NBA have ended. They went away when Shaquille O’Neal cleared out the big man division. Any dominant big man since then either has been a hybrid/stretch four or a some variation. The skilled 7-footer will always have a place in basketball. So much will depend on the training young bigs get on the way up. If they are schooled in all facets of the game, we’ll see some new hybrids enter into the mix. Work on your free throws and face-up game, young bigs, and you will be fine. I did enjoy the small-ball portion of these Finals, though, and wonder how many more teams will be forced to embrace that approach?

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It depends where he is playing. If the Cavaliers had entered The Finals at full health then we might now be discussing the renewal of the 7-footer – we may even be talking about it this time next year, based on Cleveland’s potential to go big with LeBron James, Kevin Love, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. Small-ball succeeded, but that doesn’t mean the death of traditional lineups. Depending on the size and speed of your team, and the strengths and weaknesses of your stars, there are all kinds of ways of winning the championship – and Mike D’Antoni’s system is now officially among the options.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’d say it looks brighter than ever. It took David Blatt a game, but once he figured out how to deploy Timofey Mozgov against that vortex of 6-foot-7 players, Mozgov had a pretty big impact on Game 6. Small lineups are the easiest to deploy, mostly because small players are the easiest thing to find. But uncover a seven-footer who can get up and down the court and he can destroy versus a small lineup. One of the oldest maxims in the NBA is height doesn’t grow on trees. And it still doesn’t.

Morning shootaround — May 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets open to trading Williams, Johnson | Pelicans refute Dumars talk | Duncan’s choice will affect Ginobili’s future | Thibodeau miffed over lack of free throws for Rose

No. 1: Nets open to trading Williams, Johnson — Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King addressed the media yesterday in his end-of-season news conference and much of what he had to say wasn’t a surprise. Per King, the team wants to re-sign free agents Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young and, overall, King was pleased with the team’s late playoff push and playoff run. The one piece of surprising news, however, was that the Nets seem open to trading their multi-million dollar backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post has more:

Brook Lopez has been the subject of plenty of trade rumors the past few years. But after an impressive second half, the Nets have made it clear they view him as the franchise’s centerpiece moving forward.

Nets general manager Billy King reaffirmed that Wednesday, saying he’s committed to re-signing Lopez if he opts out of his contract as expected and becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.

“For us to get in the playoffs that stretch, [Lopez] was the guy who carried us. He was our best player,” King said during his end-of-season sitdown with reporters. “Without Brook Lopez, there’s no way we even get to where we go to this year.

“I’ll say it again: We want him back. I want him back, [coach] Lionel [Hollins] wants him back, ownership wants him back. We’ve all said it. There shouldn’t be any more doubts about it.”

But while the Nets seem committed to Lopez, they’re ready to move on from having the NBA’s most expensive backcourt. King says he’s open to trading Deron Williams or Joe Johnson this summer.

“We’re going to explore all options, as we have [previously],” King said. “Will there be a trade? There could be, but I’m not sure. But we’re going to look at every option to get better.”

When King put together the triumvirate of Williams, Johnson and Lopez three summers ago, the Nets thought they would be headed into Brooklyn with a team ready to compete for championships. That hasn’t happened, though, as the Nets have compiled a combined 10 playoff victories and advanced to the second round just once in the past three years.

Now the Nets appear headed for significant changes, and it will be a big surprise if all three high-priced former All-Stars are back next season. The plan instead seems to be building around Lopez while keeping Thaddeus Young, who also has a player option that he’s far more likely to exercise.

The Nets are in an incredible predicament, of their own making, after they sent three first-round picks (and the right to swap a fourth) to the Celtics for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013. One of those first rounders is for 2016, meaning the Nets can’t tear down their roster this offseason.

So while the Nets certainly have an eye on the oodles of cap space they are projected to have when the salary cap spikes next summer – currently more than $50 million – they have to find a way to remain competitive next season without sacrificing the only kind of long-term flexibility they have.

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: Clippers advance with thrilling Game 7 win over Spurs

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul has legacy game | Questions loom over Spurs’ summer | As Wall goes, so go Wizards | Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies

No. 1: Paul has legacy game — It wasn’t quite a Bill Mazeroski or Joe Carter moment, but it was close. While Chris Paul‘s series-winning bank shot that beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 wasn’t a “walk-off” highlight – to use popular baseball lingo that describes Mazeroski’s and Carter’s World Series-grabbing home runs – it did come with just one second left on the game clock at Staples Center Saturday. That, according to the folks at the Elias Sports Bureau, made it the latest Game 7-winning field goal in NBA history. Paul’s balky left hamstring will crowd out that scrapbook play over the next 24 hours, as his Clippers prepare to face the Rockets in Houston with the possibility he won’t be available, but it’s worth a recap of the career night that forever will be part of Paul’s story, per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

After playing the kind of game they’ll talk about when he enters the Hall of Fame one day, Chris Paul went and found older brother C.J.

The two men have been together since Day One of Chris’ NBA career, and Saturday after Paul hit a winner to knock out the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center, he hobbled over to his friends, his family and his brother. They embraced, and Paul finally exhaled while his brother shook his head in agreement.

“He said, ‘Finally,” C.J. Paul said.

Paul’s winner gave the Clippers a 111-109 win over the Spurs – the league’s defending champions and a team that has knocked him out of the playoffs twice before.

“I’m just glad to see him beat those guys,” C.J. Paul said. “We’ve been in the Western Conference for 10 years, and they’ve dominated for all 10 years really. For us to beat them like this … ohhh.”

Here’s how he did it – with 27 points on 13 shots, six assists, two steals, a block and one hamstring.

Chris Paul limped off the court late in the first quarter, burying his head into his hands before heading back to the locker room.

Paul had played in all 82 games this season for the first time in his career, and here he was, in the year’s biggest contest, wondering if his body had just failed him.

“We do everything we can to prepare for a game. You get your rest, you train, you work out, you eat right, try to take care of your body,” Paul said. “And I was just overcome with emotion because I was frustrated, because I was like, all this time, all season long, and then Game 7 my body is going to let me down.

“That’s what it was all about right there.”

***

No. 2: Questions loom over Spurs’ summer — Pressing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, the oldest of San Antonio’s veteran core, on their respective future plans might have seemed premature to some, in the immediate wake of their lost back-to-back championship hopes. But that franchise’s aging (or ageless) stars were part of both the storyline and the appeal of the series against the Clippers and Game 7 specifically. Besides, these guys have a way of disappearing for most of the offseason, putting on pressure to grab-and-ask when one can. Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News tackled the look ahead as best he could:

The conventional wisdom has Duncan, who recorded his sixth double-double of the series with 27 points and 11 rebounds, coming back for more given that he continues to play at such a high level even at such an advanced age. The same cannot be said for Ginobili, who had his moments in Game 7 with eight points and seven assists but otherwise struggled in the series after averaging 10.5 points during the regular season, his lowest since his rookie year.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game he expects both them and himself to be back for a 14th season together in 2015-16.

“The paycheck’s pretty good,” he joked. … But whatever thought the players have put into retirement were kept largely to themselves during postgame, with neither tipping their hand about their plans.

“It’s too early to think about that,” Duncan said.

Said Ginobili, “(Retirement) could happen, easily. I still don’t know what I want to do, and I don’t want to make big decisions after a disappointment like this. I’ll sit with my family, try to evaluate what happened this year. The Spurs have a decision to make, too. It’s not a topic for right now.”

The Spurs could conceivably reload with the potential of more than $20 million in cap space this summer when the free agent period opens in July. But to reach that threshold, they’d have to bid farewell to both Duncan and Ginobili, who along with Tony Parker have been the foundation of the team since they first joined forces in 2002.

***

No. 3: As Wall goes, so go Wizards — Slotted into a Nos. 4-5 matchup with Toronto in the first round, on the heels of an underwhelming second half to the regular season, the Washington Wizards haven’t grabbed much of the playoff spotlight so far. Sweeping Toronto, impressive as that was, only served to send Washington back to the practice gym while others played more desperate games. But the Wizards’ talent is lurking, and whatever they accomplish will be orchestrated largely by point guard John Wall, who’s ready for his close-up, according to NBA.com contributor Ian Thomsen:

As he turns the corner on a career that is just now coming into focus, Wall is giving his Wizards a transcendent advantage. The recent negatives and traditions of their long-suffering franchise are suddenly not so important as his leadership. What his teammates have seen from their young point guard has led them to believe that their tomorrows will eclipse the yesterdays. Wall’s understanding of his teammates inspires them to believe in him.

“That’s what you go through training camp for,” says Wall, his voice deep and scratchy as if revealing the hard past. “That’s why, when you go on the road, you hang out as a team. You do little things to get the feeling, to know how they are. Some people are going to have certain mood swings and not have good days, and you’ve got to know how to talk to those guys and try to get them out of their slump, and to just lock in for those two or three hours that you’re playing the game.”

Wall’s physical talents are not to be taken for granted. But something else about him is driving and uniting his team. The reason he is fulfilling his own potential is because he is recognizing their potential.

The other bracket in the East is brimming with star power: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and their depleted Cavaliers are surrounded by Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler. In that series, the leaders are fighting to uphold reputations that have already been established.

The No. 5 Wizards, by contrast, have nothing to defend and everything to gain in their conference semifinal against the No. 1 Hawks. The Wizards are just now realizing how good they can become by playing through Wall. Their future is as unpredictable as his past.

***

No. 4: Banged-up Conley key for Grizzlies — Pretty vs. ugly: OK, that’s probably too reductive. Certainly there’s a lot more that will go into the Golden State-Memphis showdown in the Western Conference semifinals that begin Sunday afternoon in Oakland, but the contrast in styles between the Warriors’ high-flying, long-range offensive attack and the Grizzlies’ oversized mule team down low is as stark as anything we’ve seen or likely will see in the 2015 postseason. Few experts are giving Memphis much of a chance, Michael Wallace of ESPN.com notes, but its prospects perk up considerably if point guard Mike Conley is able to participate from the start. The facial injury he suffered against Portland in Round 1 might intrude, and likely will require a mask, but as soon as Conley is capable of helping his teammates, they’ll happily take him, Wallace writes:

Conley still had significant facial swelling when he attended Wednesday’s series-clinching victory over Portland two days after a surgery in which plates were inserted below and above his left eye. He sustained the injury in a Game 3 victory April 25 in Portland, when he was inadvertently elbowed in the face by Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. Conley has indicated he hopes to return at some point against the Warriors, but his coach and teammates have remained coy — perhaps strategically — about his progress.

Memphis coach Dave Joerger was asked before the team left Memphis if he expected Conley to play.

“I don’t,” Joerger said. “But only because that’s the way I look at the world as a head coach: Expect the worst, and if something better happens, then … You don’t want to go through the doctoral thesis of playoff prep, scouting-wise, without a guy with you. You want to absorb that and get the adjustments being made on the practice court or shootaround court, seeing stuff live. He’s definitely all-in mentally.”

Depending on the teammate questioned, Conley either spent the past two days practicing and on the verge of a return or nowhere to be found. All-Star center Marc Gasol suggested he hadn’t seen Conley and knew nothing about rumors his point guard had been testing protective masks, a step that wasn’t expected until swelling subsided substantially. But then shooting guard Courtney Lee told reporters Conley would be back and the Grizzlies would be facing the Warriors “with a full army” for Game 1.

“We’ll have Mike back,” Lee said. “We feel good about our chances. Just having him back is a boost.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James and Cavaliers coach David Blatt would be more surprised if Chicago’s Joakim Noah were not excited about getting Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals. …Before Steve Kerr, before Stephen Curry and definitely before the Golden State Warriors started winning big, they had the NBA’s most loyal, noisy and arguably knowledgeable fans. … Brook Lopez looms literally and figuratively as the biggest of the Brooklyn Nets’ free-agent decisions. … Then there’s Nets guard Deron Williams, whose coach, Lionel Hollins, has downgraded him from any lofty “franchise player” status. Nice of Lionel to catch up to the rest of us on that. … Portland’s multiple free agents will boost the NBA market overall, but they pose challenges for the Blazers. … If the Bulls cut loose Tom Thibodeau, the Orlando Magic will be waiting with a net. The Magic are determined to hire a coach with considerable experience. …

Hawks are true believers … in the film


VIDEO: Is the pressure on the Hawks elevating as the games go by in their series with the Nets?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — For a team as married to their methodical process this season as the Hawks have been, it’s no surprise that they are as measured as they are heading into what is easily their biggest game of the season.

Game 5 on Wednesday night at Philips Arena, with their first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets all tied up at 2-2, is the Hawks’ Super Bowl. And yet they are not at all unnerved by the pressure that comes with a No. 1 seed needing at least six games to finish off the No. 8 Nets.

Because when you study your own film as diligently as these Hawks have all year, you’re a — to borrow a Hawks’ marketing slogan — true believer in the power to rectify things after back-to-back losses in this series.

The initial emotion after their Game 4 overtime loss Monday in Brooklyn was anger. But after Tuesday’s film session, Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap spoke of the excitement he and his teammates felt after studying what went on during their trip to Brooklyn. “Watching film puts everything in perspective,” he said. “They played a good game and made tough shots. We played a good game and didn’t make plays.”

If only it were that simple.

The Hawks couldn’t put the Nets away while operating with a 12-point cushion in Game 4 and Deron Williams went wild, matching his playoff career-high with 35 points, as the Nets exploited the situation to their benefit. You don’t have to watch the film to figure out that the Hawks, 4-0 against the Nets during the regular season by a double-digit average victory margin, are locked into something other than a runaway first round series against an overmatched No. 8 seed.

On a night the Hawks won the rebounding battle by 15 (55-40), they turned the ball over 18 times and did not handle themselves like a championship team in the final seconds of regulation. They didn’t even get a shot off with a chance to win the game with 6.2 seconds to play.

“I feel like we may have settled for too many jump shots,” Millsap said. “We’re a better team when we’re in attack mode, especially myself and Jeff [Teague], collapsing the defense. Our mindset is still, we feel like we can do it, especially after watching film seeing some of the missed ques. We felt like we played good enough to win the game. We’re still pretty confident.”

The Nets might not have the track record of playing above and beyond their 38 regular season wins, but their confidence is soaring as well. In Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young, Jarrett Jack and others, they are showing themselves to be every bit up to the challenge of the moment.

“Definitely, the guys rallying around me means a lot,” said Williams, who scored a total of 18 points through the first three games of the series. “It just shows that we’re coming together as a unit.”

If the Hawks didn’t take the Nets seriously as a threat before the series began, they certainly do now. The pressure mounts on the home team in each and every game left to be played.

“I feel like, hopefully, our group and has given Brooklyn their due credit,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.  “They played well down the stretch of the (regular) season. It’s been a hell of a four games so far. They have talented players as we do. They deserve credit for the way they are playing and our group does, too. It’s a series. It’s 2-2.”

And when you get shoved back into this position, the first place the Hawks turn is to the film and their internal examination of what’s gone wrong. The Hawks certainly are not playing like the machine that won 19 straight games during the regular season, the crew that blew away the Eastern Conference en route to a 60-win season.

“I think it’s always great to go back and watch the film and learn from it,” Budenholzer said. “You see where we can be better and improve and take that, together as a group, and go from there. It’s exciting to go into playing and taking what we saw from film and taking it onto the court. If you are a competitor, you’re unhappy if things don’t go your way. If you can turn that anger into the appropriate focus and attention [in Game 5] … that’s a positive with the group we have.”

Nets want no part of Horford, Hawks’ injury speculation


VIDEO: Al Horford dislocated his his finger in the fourth quarter of the Hawks’ Game 1 win over the Nets

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brook Lopez knows better than to step into the mess.

It doesn’t matter whether or not he has to face Hawks All-Star center Al Horford in Game 2 Wednesday night, he can’t win in the speculation-filled hours between then and now.

“You’re trying to trick me right now,” Lopez said Monday afternoon after the Nets finished up practice at Georgia Tech. “I’m not trying to say anything right now. I don’t want him (Horford) to go 10-for-10 on those pop shots. We’re going to play it the same way.”

Horford said Monday that there is still “some question” as to whether or not he’ll able to play with the right pinkie finger he dislocated in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Game 1 win. He didn’t say he was not going to play or that he definitely would. He finished the final six minutes of Game 1 with the finger taped up. But he was clearly uncomfortable and admitted to as much.

“It’s just sore,” Horford said. “They told me it would more sore today and I’ve just been doing more treatment on it since (Sunday night). I went out and shot some today and it felt good, so I was encouraged by that. Last night it didn’t feel good at all. You just have to get used to it. There is discomfort with it, though.”

Horford’s injury combined with Paul Millsap‘s ineffectiveness in Game 1, he was 2-for-11 from the floor and scored just 6 points in his second game back in uniform after missing five straight with a sprained shoulder, makes the Hawks vulnerable in the post. Lopez had his way with the Hawks in Game 1 with limited opportunities, he took just seven shots but made six to finish with 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds..

“That’s not our problem,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. “That’s [Hawks coach Mike] Budehnolzer‘s problem. All we can be concerned with is who and what we put on the floor.”

Millsap said his shoulder is fine and that he will try to improve his range of motion by maybe not playing with the padded compression sleeve he wore in Game 1.

“We played around with the pad and cut it in areas and tried to do different things to protect it,” Millsap said. “But you know, I might try and go without it the next game and see it how it goes. I guess I just upgraded it to might. I’m trying to balance it out, pain to mobility and I don’t know. We’ll see what happens Wednesday.”

The Nets know better than to believe any doomsday scenarios that will keep the Hawks’ All-Star duo off the floor or in any kind of diminished capacity for Game 2. There is too much at stake for both teams. And Millsap even admitted that he couldn’t see any way that the Hawks aren’t ready to go.

“No, not at all,” Millsap said when asked if the Hawks had health concerns going forward. “With the depth that we have and the injuries, where they are. Al cane back and played. And he’s a tough guy. Myself, I’m a tough guy. With that, we still have depth and guys capable of coming and contributing.”

Horford, Hawks know better than to underestimate Nets on playoff stage


VIDEO: Al Horford talks playoffs on Inside Stuff

ATLANTA — Having been there a time or two themselves, the Atlanta Hawks are well aware of the folly involved with taking the Brooklyn Nets lightly.

The sub-500 record, the uneven season and seemingly indifferent attitude about trying to be an elite team, given the highest payroll in the league, will not be a factor in this No. 1 vs No. 8 first-round playoff series against the Eastern Conference juggernaut Hawks and the slipped-in-through-the-backdoor Nets.

So they know better than most the faulty thinking in assuming they will see the same Nets team they swept 4-0 during the regular season.

“Doesn’t mean a thing,” Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap said. “Gotta win four games. And then try and win four more. It’s the playoffs.”

All-Star guard Kyle Korver agreed that Hawks’ regular season dominance over the Nets is meaningless the moment the game tips off this afternoon at Philips Arena.

“It’s hard to win any playoff series, no matter who it is,” he said. “We won some games against them this year. But their team has changed a lot over the course of this year. They had guys who were injured or really out of sync or whatever. And I think if you ask them, they probably feel like they’ve played their best basketball over the last 15 games or so of the regular season. They definitely present some challenges for us. They have great size, they’ve got some guys who have had great careers. They are well coached. We have a ton of respect for them.”

The Nets certainly boast personnel that suggests they should be much higher on the playoff food chain in the Eastern Conference than the 8th and final seed. Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star and one of the backbone of the Hawks’ turnaround from lottery outfit to playoff time during his time here, has shined in the postseason crucible before. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have plenty of postseason experience as well.

Any team with those three players in a rhythm at the same time can be dangerous in a playoff setting.

But the Hawks enter this postseason in a different space, with a confidence that has often been absence during their 8-year run, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. Having All-Star center Al Horford healthy and back in the mix for an entire season is a huge boost as well.

The Hawks’ first and last, prior to this season’s mercurial run, playoff trips came with the No. 8 seed and underdog tag their fans have grown accustomed to dealing with in these postseason scenarios. Both times, against the eventual champion Boston Celtics eight years ago and against the Indiana Pacers last season, the series stretched to seven games.

Horford was an integral piece of the that series against the Celtics, shining as a rookie in his first postseason appearance. He watched in designer suits last season, unable to come back from a torn pectoral injury that cost him most of the season.

“It’s not just me,” Horford said. “I still think the most important thing is we have another year together as a team in this system. And we have last year’s experience. I know you cannot replace experience, you cannot take anything or any opposing team for granted. You have to respect the other team for doing what it takes to get here. But I am really excited to come out here and see what I can do to help this team win.”

As excited as he is to see the floor today, the rest of the Hawks are just as anxious (not “nervous,” as DeMarre Carroll was quick to point out) to see him back in the playoff mix as the anchor of this crew on both ends of the floor.

“It’s big, his ability to spread the floor,” said All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. “but it’s also him on the defensive end being the anchor. Him being able to get up and down the floor and run and try to get Brook Lopez to try and keep up with him. We just have to play with a lot of pace. Al’s definitely excited to get back on the floor and to be able to play in front of our great fans again in the playoffs.”