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Morning shootaround — Feb. 20


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from busy Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard out-MVPs the MVP | Spurs bid Kobe adieu | Playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!) fading for Knicks | Mavs need more from Matthews

No. 1: Lillard out-MVPs the MVP — It was offered as high praise, but when Golden State coach Steve Kerr invoked Steph Curry‘s name as a way of lauding Damian Lillard‘s electric night against his Warriors — “He looked like Steph Curry out there” – it felt a little wrong. For one night, the Portland Trail Blazers guard deserved to stand alone in the spotlight, not sharing it with the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player or Portland’s stunning 32-point throttling Friday of the league’s defending champs. Even the Blazers’ surprising 28-27 record, far better than a lot of so-called experts imagined, could wait in the kudos line behind the point guard for whom there wasn’t room on the Western Conference All-Star team. Here is some of Oregonian beat writer Joe Freeman‘s report:

An undeniable reality surfaced during the 48 hours leading up to the most prolific individual performance of Damian Lillard’s career.

He felt like crud.

His legs were rubbery. His feet ached. His body wasn’t quite right. In two Trail Blazers practices following a weeklong All-Star break, Lillard committed turnovers in bunches and hoisted more bricks than he could count.

So on Thursday, after a particularly forgettable display, the two-time All-Star turned to assistant coach Nate Tibbetts with a surprising statement.

“Every time I feel like this,” Lillard told Tibbetts, “The next day, I just always have it.”

And he certainly had it Friday night. In one of the best individual performances in franchise history, Lillard recorded a career-high 51 points, a career-high six steals and seven assists to lead the surging Blazers to a stunning 137-105 victory over the Golden State Warriors at the Moda Center.

Lillard was so good, he did the unimaginable — he upstaged the Blazers’ startling 32-point victory over a seemingly invincible team poised to finish with the best record in NBA history. With a barrage of deep three-pointers, slick slashing layups and pull-up jumpers, Lillard was virtually unstoppable, making 18 of 28 field goals, including 9 of 12 three-pointers.

Lillard started hot, scoring or assisting on seven of the Blazers’ first nine field goals. And he finished even hotter, recording 21 points in a dazzling fourth quarter that had the Moda Center rocking like no other time this season. During Lillard’s most breathtaking stretch of the game, midway through the fourth quarter, he scored 13 consecutive Blazers points, breezing past the 40-point mark so fast he said he couldn’t remember doing so…

“He got into a zone twice,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “At the end, it was just ridiculous.”

And any outsider who watched Lillard during the 48 hours leading up the game, when he was bricking shots and tossing turnovers, would have been stunned.

Lillard said he was restless Friday, eager to fix his body and settle his mind, and he unintentionally altered his game-day routine. Following the Blazers’ morning shootaround, he hopped in the cold tub at the practice facility for a frigid 15-minute soak, then moved to the steam room, where he joined Al-Farouq Aminu for a 15-minute steam.

Afterward, he drove to his Lake Oswego home, slipped a splint on his left foot and took a nap, which he rarely does.

“I usually don’t even take naps,” he said. “I got up and I just felt good.”

Before he knew it, Lillard was driving to the Moda Center ahead of schedule. He strolled into the locker room about 3:50, roughly 30 or 40 minutes earlier than normal, and ran into Ed Davis, the only other person in the room. They shot the breeze for a while and Lillard killed time before going about his normal routine. By the time he started hispregame workout, his felt his mojo creeping back.

“When I did my routine before the game, I just felt good,” he said. “Going side to side, when I was pulling up off the dribble, I just felt in a good rhythm. The ball felt good in my hands.”

Lillard shot chart

***

 No. 2: Spurs bid Kobe adieu — Competitive to the end. How it had gone for most of Kobe Bryant‘s clashes with the San Antonio Spurs over the years is pretty much how it went in his final meeting with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, coach Gregg Popovich and the rest Friday in Los Angeles. Across two decades of regular-season and postseason showdowns, Bryant and Duncan faced each other 82 times – the equivalent of a full NBA season – with the Spurs’ big man owning a 43-39 advantage. Then again, Bryant was quick to point out their head-to-head in playoff series: “Four to three.” The principals had met shortly before the All-Star break but this time was for the last time, so it’s worth reviewing, per the San Antonio Express-News’ Jeff McDonald:

The Lakers star was as competitive as ever, at one point popping a dislocated finger into place so he could finish this game. As has been the case for much of the 37-year-old’s farewell tour, the Spurs got the best of the Lakers, winning 119-113.

“It’s been fun competing against those guys for all these years,” Bryant said after scoring 25 points in his Spurs swan song. “I’ve truly enjoyed it. They’ve pushed me to fine-tune and sharpen my game.”

In many ways, Friday marked the end of a rivalry two decades in the making, between two players emblematic of their generation.

“We’ve played against each other for so many years,” said Duncan, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds for his first double-double since Jan. 3. “It was always a great game against him. You knew you had to bring your A game, because he’s going to bring the best out of you.”

Even toiling for a Lakers team that could not avoid its 46th loss Friday, Bryant refused to go down without a fight.

Benefitting from the absence of All-Star Kawhi Leonard, out for the second straight game with a calf injury, Bryant finished with 25 points.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the Spurs clinging to a five-point lead, Bryant dislocated a middle finger tracking a loose ball. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti popped the digit back into place, taped it to his index finger, and Bryant returned for the final 1:56.

“He’s played through stuff that nobody will ever know about,” Popovich said. “He’s a warrior.”

Bryant made one field goal with his finger injured, a runner that pulled L.A. within 111-107 with 1:23 left.

Later, in what will go down as the final shot of his career against the Spurs, he fired up an airball 3-pointer.

Bryant’s career against the Spurs was over, and Popovich had trouble pinpointing how he felt about it.

“In some ways, it will be great,” Popovich said. “In other ways, we will miss him a lot. The whole league will miss him. But I won’t have to worry about guarding him, that’s for sure.”

***

No. 3:  Playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!) fading for Knicks — At 22-22, the New York Knicks were looking like this year’s version of the 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks, who took an Andre the Giant-sized stride from horrible (15-67) to respectable (41-41) in a single season, boosting themselves all the way into the playoffs with a few nips and tucks (and, in the Bucks’ case, a new coach in Jason Kidd). But now Knicks fans have begun to puzzle at the gaps between victories, their team sinking fast at 23-32 with no optimism in sight. Losing to crosstown rival Brooklyn Friday night brought on the best in New York critics, focusing on the worst of Knickerbocker basketball. Consider snippets here of New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro:

That was the Nets — not the Thunder, not the Clippers — who rattled off a 20-2 run in the third quarter to turn a five-point Knicks lead into a 13-point Nets lead. That was the Nets who, after letting the Knicks draw within three points early in the fourth quarter, put them away with an immediate 10-0 surge.

That was the Nets who made the Knicks look so enfeebled, so non-competitive, so slow, so …

“We didn’t execute. On either end,” interim coach Kurt Rambis said. “That’s disappointing.”

Yes. That is one word. Here are a few others: Putrid. Lousy. Rotten. Unwatchable.

Playoffs?

Playoffs? Are you kidding me?

This is no longer a regression. The Knicks had lost 10 out of 11 heading into the break, the season already had gone sideways, the postseason already was looking like a longer long shot than Chuck Wepner.

You could talk yourself into anything you wanted to: the floor had started to tilt on the Knicks when Carmelo Anthony tripped over that referee’s foot. Kristaps Porzingis was dealing with the rookie wall. All of that. And to add red meat for the masses, Fisher was sacrificed. Is there more of a time-honored solution for turning things around — at least for a week or two — than axing the coach?

The Knicks had been off since Feb. 9. They were rested. They were as healthy as they had been in weeks. The first time these teams played, in December, the Knicks took a 30-point lead by the midway point of the second quarter.

Those were the heady days — hard to conjure now — when every small victory the Knicks posted was celebrated, because anything — just about everything — compared to last season’s 17-win dumpster fire could be celebrated as progress. That was before anyone figured this could end up in the playoffs, when just not watching stink rise up from the Garden floor was worth rejoicing.

Yeah. That feels like an awfully long time ago.

***

No. 4: Mavs need more from Matthews — When Dallas owner Mark Cuban reacted to the DeAndre Jordan switcheroo last summer by throwing even more guaranteed money, in a longer free-agent contract, at damaged-goods Portland shooting guard Wesley Matthews, it didn’t just seem impulsive; it seemed like retail therapy, the sort of things shopaholics do to self-medicate in times of unrelated stress. It even seemed a little out of character, given the red flags that were unmissable thanks to Matthews’ season-ending Achilles surgery last spring. So what the Mavericks are getting – or missing – from Matthews deep into his comeback season isn’t any big secret, but it is a legitimate concern, given how much time and money remains on his four-year, $70 million deal. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com looked at the gap between Matthews’ production and compensation:

The Mavs certainly aren’t getting their money’s worth right now. They must get much better bang for the buck from their highest-paid player to have any hope of being more than first-round fodder — and perhaps even to make the playoffs.

The fact that the 29-year-old Matthews is struggling through the worst season of his career can’t be considered surprising. The history of players coming back from torn Achilles tendons, if they come back at all, is frighteningly poor.

It was an expensive vote of confidence from Cuban in Matthews’ remarkable will and work ethic. It was also a vote of confidence in the Mavs’ support staff — specifically head athletic trainer Casey Smith and athletic performance director Jeremy Holsopple — and the new medical technology that wasn’t available to players whose careers were ruined by a ruptured Achilles in the past.

And it was a decision made with the long term in mind.

“We didn’t sign him for this year,” Cuban said recently when asked if Matthews’ extended slump concerned him.

Not that Matthews, who surprised many by making good on his vow to play in the season opener less than eight months after suffering his injury, is looking for excuses for his struggles. Nor does he expect Mavs fans to have much patience in him if he doesn’t perform well.

“I’ve got to play better,” Matthews said after scoring only five points on 2-of-10 shooting in Friday’s overtime loss to the Orlando Magic. “I take that onus up. I take that ownership. I will.”

Matthews’ value to the Mavs can’t be measured simply by his stats. He’s a tremendous teammate who leads the Mavs in minutes played, a respected voice in the locker room and a proud defender who readily accepts the challenge of guarding the opponent’s best perimeter scorer on a nightly basis.

But Dallas desperately needs Matthews, who established himself as one of the NBA’s premier perimeter shooters the previous five seasons in Portland, to snap out of his offensive funk.

Matthews gave the Mavs one really good offensive month. He averaged 15 points and hit 42.5 percent of his 3-point attempts in December, numbers that were pretty close to the norm during his five-year tenure with the Trail Blazers. Matthews was plus-89 in those 14 games. Not coincidentally, the Mavs had their best month of the season, going 9-5.

The Mavs are 9-13 in games in which Matthews has played since the calendar flipped to 2016. He has averaged only 10.7 points during that time, shooting 37.4 percent from the floor and 30.5 percent from 3-point range. He is minus-69 in those 22 games.

It’s not trending in the right direction, either. Matthews is minus-55 in six February games, averaging only 8.8 points per game. Not coincidentally, the Mavs are 1-5 this month, sliding to 29-27 overall, putting them four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for fifth in the Western Conference and giving them only a 1 1/2-game cushion before falling out of the playoff pack.

“This is not a Wes thing. This is a team thing,” coach Rick Carlisle said, downplaying concerns about Matthews’ slump.

Matthews sat down the stretch of regulation Friday night. He played the entire overtime, missing both of his shot attempts — a driving layup and an open corner 3 that both would have tied the score.

“I’ve been making those shots since I’ve been in the league. As soon as I get frustrated, it takes away from everything else that I can do on the court. When I start doing that, then I’m selfish. I’ve just got to continue being me [and] stay confident, which I am. I’m not worried about it. The team trusts me. Coaches trust me, and I’m going to work my ass off.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dallas’ loss in OT in Orlando included a few sweet-nothings between big man Zaza Pachulia and wing Chandler Parsons. … Don’t think the Golden State Warriors didn’t learn anything from their loss to Portland Friday, or what it had in common with their four previous defeats. … If Thursday’s trade deadline didn’t scratch your itch for player movement, enjoy what transpires in the coming days of “buyout season,” as noted by our own Shaun Powell. … Then there’s the guy in Cleveland about whom trade rumors never seem to end, deadline or no deadline, writes our man Steve Aschburner. … Ricky Rubio enjoyed all the trade gossip – with a certain exception. … The guy most likely to be moved by the deadline was not. So what’s next for Dwight Howard?

Five takeaways from the deadline

VIDEO: Houston’s Dwight Howard may opt for a new address over the summer

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The 2016 trade deadline came and went rather quietly. Dwight Howard is still in Houston, Jeff Teague is still in Atlanta, and Ryan Anderson is still in New Orleans. Blake Griffin and Kevin Love were never going anywhere.

But some deals – two on Tuesday and 10 on Thursday – were made at the deadline. And a couple of them involved title contenders, though none were moves that will make a major impact.

Here are five takeaways from a deadline day that didn’t exactly alter the NBA landscape…

Stay tuned for the summer

This summer was already set to be a big one. With revenue and the salary cap rising, almost every team in the league will have cap space and most will have enough to sign at least one max-level player. The list of 2016 free agents includes Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Mike Conley, Al Horford, Nicolas Batum, Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes and Bradley Beal, as well as LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan and Howard (if they decline their player options).

But cap space can also be used to absorb players via trade without having to send out salary, and the opportunity will be there for teams to unload players in July.

So if the Hawks want to hand the reigns to Dennis Schroder, they could shop Teague (who still has one more year left on his contract) again in the summer. There definitely will be multiple teams looking for a starting point guard at that point, and Conley is the only one on the list above.

Brooklyn is another team that could decide to be a seller in July. Sean Marks was hired as the Nets’ new general manager less than five hours before the deadline, so he didn’t have much time to make a decision on Thaddeus Young (who was reportedly in demand) and Brook Lopez. Both of those guys have two guaranteed years left on their contracts and Marks could look to move them this summer if he wants to go for a slower and more organic rebuild.

The Cavs and Clippers will take one more shot at a championship with Love and Griffin. And if either team falls short again (at least one of them will), other teams will come calling, wondering if Cleveland and L.A. are ready to try something different.

All that cap space may have also kept teams from trading multiple assets for players – like Anderson, Al Horford and Howard – they could lose to free agency (or sign away from the teams they’re still on) in the summer.

Playoff push in the East

The three teams that made the most impactful moves are currently sitting in the eighth, ninth and tenth spots in the Eastern Conference.

On Tuesday, the eighth-place Charlotte Hornets (27-26) traded for Courtney Lee, while the Detroit Pistons (27-27) got Tobias Harris from Orlando. On Thursday, Detroit gave up their first round pick for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton, and the Washington Wizards (23-28) traded for malcontent Markieff Morris.

There was some risk involved in those last two deals. Motiejunas has played just 14 games this season, dealing with back problems. He was a key to the Rockets’ success last season, but might not be ready to help the Pistons get over the hump. Morris, meanwhile, fought with a teammate (Archie Goodwin) just last week and has actually shot worse this season (effective field goal percentage of 42.2 percent) than one of the guys – Kris Humphries (47.8 percent) – he was traded for.

Only 2 1/2 games separate the fifth-place Miami Heat from the ninth-place Pistons with 28 or 29 games to go. So the opportunity is there for both Charlotte and Detroit to move up into a position where they don’t have to face Cleveland in the first round. The Wizards have a lot more work to do, but also seem to have more pressure on them to make something of this season.

All about the bottom line

The No. 1 concern for the Heat right now is Chris Bosh, and if the All-Star isn’t going to be available down the stretch, Miami could fall out of the playoff picture for a second straight year.

But whether they’re going to the playoffs or not, the Heat had some fiscal issues to deal with. And team president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg used three trades in the last three days to unload fringe salary and get under the luxury tax line.

Miami was one of *two teams that was subject to repeater tax levels this season. While other teams over the tax line pay $1.50 of tax for every dollar they’re over the line, the Heat were going to pay $2.50. So before Tuesday, Miami had a tax bill of more than $25 million. But the three trades they made (sending Chris Andersen, Jarnell Stokes and Brian Roberts out) got them under the tax line. Now, they’ll get some of the luxury tax paid out by the remaining tax paying teams (like Cleveland and Oklahoma City).

* Brooklyn was the other, but got under the tax line with its buyout of Deron Williams and a couple of minor moves in July.

Two contenders get bench help

The Cavs and Thunder also lightened their tax bills with moves that were seemingly more about the fringe of their rotation. Cleveland swapped Anderson Varejao for Channing Frye, whose shooting should complement LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, traded D.J. Augustin (who had lost his back-up point guard spot to Cameron Payne) for Randy Foye.

Foye has shot less than 30 percent from 3-point range this season, but he gives the Thunder more depth in the backcourt with Andre Roberson out, another option when Dion Waiters isn’t shooting well, and a little more flexibility in regard to playing small against a team like the Golden State Warriors.

It’s hard to believe, though, that either of those moves will make much of a difference against the champs or the San Antonio Spurs.

Trash or treasure?

A trade that got in just before the buzzer was a swap of disappointing reserves on Western Conference playoff teams. Of course, if you paid attention to what they did at their previous stops, you can’t say that Jeff Green and Lance Stephenson were all that disappointing in Memphis and L.A., respectively.

Green gives the Clippers a little more stability, but it’s hard to believe that he moves the needle for a team that has played at a level below the three best teams in the West. The Grizzlies’ season is seemingly on the brink with Marc Gasol suffering a broken foot before the break, but they’ll take a shot with a roster that now includes a plethora of interesting characters and a lot of small ball, featuring Zach Randolph at center.

Green has an expiring contract and Stephenson has a team option for next season, so the only long-term risk is with the Clippers sending a first round pick to Memphis.

2016 Trade Deadline live blog — Part II

From NBA.com staff reports

One of the busiest days in terms of NBA roster chatter and speculation is here: trade deadline day. As we close in on the 3 p.m. ET deadline for all NBA teams to make trades, we’ll keep you in the know about any rumblings and reported deals as they happen. While you’re keeping up, don’t forget to check out our Trade Tracker and other 2016 Trade Deadline coverage.

The Trade Deadline Show will air on NBA TV at 2 p.m. ET.

Highlights

Live blog — Part I | Live blog — Part III

Nets hire Marks | Lawson still in Houston | Pistons trade pick for Motiejunas
Frye headed to Cleveland | Jazz trade for Mack

UPDATE, 12:57 p.m. ET — Jazz trade for Mack

The Utah Jazz didn’t trade for Ty Lawson, but found a cheaper option.

UPDATE, 12:46 p.m. ET — Guard trade talks brewing

UPDATE, 12:41 p.m. ET — Cavs getting Frye from Magic

Sharp-shooting forward Channing Frye was rumored to be a target of the Cleveland Cavaliers as we entered today and now, he is apparently Ohio-bound.

UPDATE, 12:33 p.m. ET — Clippers not buying Frye

UPDATE, 12:21 p.m. ET — Pistons trade pick for Motiejunas

The Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets have made a deal.

Motiejunas has played just 14 games this season dealing with a bad back, but was a big piece off the Rockets’ bench last season. He’ll be a restricted free agent this summer, Thornton will be unrestricted, and Anthony has a non-guaranteed year left on his contract.

With the pick top-8 protected, the Rockets are likely to get it this year, but it’s value goes down if the Pistons climb the East standings. They currently stand in eighth, but are just two games in the win column out of fifth.

UPDATE, 12:15 p.m. ET — The Randy Foye market

Randy Foye has a very tradeable ($3.1 million, expiring) contract, but that doesn’t mean that the Nuggets will trade him…

UPDATE, 12:03 p.m. ET — No takers on Howard?

The Houston Rockets have been trying to trade Dwight Howard, but finding a workable deal for a contract like that ($22 million this season, player option for next season) is not easy …

UPDATE, 11:58 a.m. ET — Heat lower tax bill

The first trade of deadline day 2016 is a (very) minor one and the third trade the Miami Heat have made this season to inch closer to getting under the luxury tax line…

The Heat would still need to make at least one more trade to avoid paying the harsh repeater tax this season.

UPDATE, 11:37 a.m. ET — Bucks looking for backcourt help

The 22-32 Milwaukee Bucks are a long shot to return to the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they’re not buyers at the deadline…

Behind Michael Carter-Williams and Khris Middleton, the Bucks have three guards – Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo and Greivis Vasquez – on expiring contracts. Marshall is on a cheap, four-year deal, where the next three seasons are all unguaranteed.

UPDATE, 11:28 a.m. ET — Lawson still in Houston

UPDATE, 11:25 a.m. ET — Hawks standing pat?

Jeff Teague and Al Horford have been in the center of a lot of rumors over the last couple of weeks, but the Hawks aren’t necessarily ready to break up the core that won 60 games last season.

Teague has one more year on his contract, so Atlanta doesn’t necessarily have to make a choice between him and current back-up Dennis Schroder right now. Horford is a free agent this summer.

UPDATE, 11:13 a.m. ET — Thaddeus Young in demand

Sean Marks has been the Nets’ general manager for about an hour. But it’s deadline day and he’s got a power forward that some teams could use…

UPDATE, 11:10 a.m. ET — Pau to Sacramento? Nah.

A potential trade sending Pau Gasol to Sacramento was apparently wishful thinking from one side of the deal…

UPDATE, 10:20 a.m. ET — Nets hire Marks

Less than five hours before the trade deadline, the Nets announced that they’ve hired Sean Marks (previously assistant GM in San Antonio) as their new general manager. From the team’s press release…

“After an exhaustive vetting process, we are delighted to have Sean as our General Manager,” Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said. “His experience on the court, in coaching and management gives him a 360 degree view of the job at hand. His background helping to build one of the greatest teams in the NBA gives him an unparalleled frame of reference. And he impressed us all with his vision, his values, his personality and his enthusiasm for the club. The vote to select him from an incredible list of talent was unanimous. We welcome Sean into our Nets family and look forward to his strong leadership and independent thinking as we build our own success story.”

“I am very excited to be named the General Manager of the Brooklyn Nets, and to become a member of the vibrant and dynamic organization that represents Brooklyn,” Marks said. “I would like to thank Nets’ ownership for giving me this opportunity, and I look forward to the challenge of creating a unified culture and building a winning team.”

According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Marks has a four-year contract with Brooklyn

In discussions that extended to Wednesday night, the Nets significantly increased their contract offer to persuade Marks to accept the job, league sources said.

Marks, 40, had emerged as the Nets’ top choice through a two-month process.

The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford hold Marks in high regard and had been grooming him to eventually take over a more significant role in the organization.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 17


VIDEO: Breaking down Tuesday’s three-team trade

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Clippers, Magic talking deal | Report: Wizards pursuing Anderson | Report: Rockets, Hornets had Howard trade talks | Prokhorov pens open letter | Report: Nets offer GM job to MarksFuture unclear for Bucks’ Carter-Williams | Griffin apologizes publicly for incident

No. 1: Report: Magic, Clippers talking deal; Wizards pursuing Anderson — We’re a day away from the trade deadline, which means talk is bubbling up everywhere and anywhere. How much of what is discussed vs. what happens in reality remains an unknown, but the latest from overnight is that several teams are knee-deep in trade discussions. The targets du jour include Channing Frye, Lance Stephenson, Kevin Martin and Ryan Anderson. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski gets us started with the latest from Orlando and some other outposts:

The Los Angeles Clippers are pushing closer on a deal to acquire Orlando Magic forward Channing Frye but want to finish exploring a larger trade scenario before finalizing an agreement, league sources told The Vertical.

Frye is enthusiastic about the chance to join the Clippers, league sources said. Nevertheless, Cleveland also has been discussing a deal for Frye, and could still be aggressive in pursuing him prior to completion of a Clippers trade.

The Clippers need to include Lance Stephenson‘s contract into the package for Frye, and told the Magic they need until Wednesday to finish pursuing what it is a long-shot larger deal, league sources said. As part of the deal for Frye, the Clippers would include Stephenson, C.J. Wilcox and a future second-round pick, league sources said.

The New Orleans Pelicans are pushing hard to find a trade for forward Ryan Anderson, whom they expect to lose in summer free agency, league sources said.

Teams trading for Anderson believe he’ll command a starting salary of $16 million-$18 million a season in free agency.

New Orleans and Detroit had serious talks on an Anderson deal in the past few days, sources said, but the Pistons ultimately reached an agreement with Orlando on a trade for Tobias Harris on Tuesday.

The issue for the Pistons – and several teams around the league interested in Anderson – remains this: How much will it cost to re-sign Anderson this summer in free agency? With Harris, the Pistons have cost-certainty on the three-years, $48 million on his deal through the 2018-’19 season.

Minnesota hasn’t been actively searching for a trade for point guard Ricky Rubio this week, but that is likely to change this summer, league sources told The Vertical.

Minnesota may start canvassing the market for a better shooting point guard to pair with young stars Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. One NBA coach who has long been enamored with Rubio, league sources said: Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd. The New York Knicks’ desire to find a point guard could lead them to Rubio, too.

Minnesota has wanted to move guard Kevin Martin, but a deal is unlikely unless he’s willing to forgo the $7 million player option on the final year of his contract in 2016-2017, league sources said. That is unlikely, given that Martin would be hard-pressed to recoup that money on the market.

BasketballInsiders.com’s Steve Kyler reports the Washington Wizards may also be hot on the trail of Ryan Anderson:

If the Clippers cannot consummate a deal with the Pelicans for Ryan Anderson, expect the Washington Wizards to return to the front of the line for Anderson in trade. The Wizards have made several passes at New Orleans on Anderson but are unwilling to include draft picks in their offer.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 11


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors keep chugging along | Kidd-Gilchrist needs MRI on shoulder | Prokhorov, Nets readying GM short-list | Love (shoulder) not expected to miss time

No. 1: Warriors roll into All-Star break at 48-4 — From the start of the season, the Golden State Warriors have been the story to follow. From a 24-0 start to their dazzling offense to the exploits of reigning MVP Stephen Curry, Golden State is dominating opponents and having fun along the way, too. They head into the All-Star break a game ahead of the pace the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls set when they won an NBA-record 72 games. After last night’s win in Phoenix, the players and coaches talked about how that record is firmly in their sights, writes Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group:

Klay Thompson described the record the Warriors have as surreal, with them rolling at a record pace without any sign of a championship hangover.

Whatever you want to chalk it up to, people saying it was a fluke, yada, yada, you just want to go out and prove that we’ll be here for a long time,” Thompson said.

Despite uncertainty at head coach with Steve Kerr missing much of the first half of the regular season, the Warriors held steady and dominated the competition. They notched 30-point wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs after starting the season 24-0 under interim head coach Luke Walton.

“I think that streak sort of gave guys extra motivation through the first quarter of the season,” Kerr said. “And then since that time, we’ve been on a good run.”

Said Stephen Curry: “We handled a lot of challenges pretty well this first half of the season and kept our high level of consistency.”

In garbage time, rookie Kevon Looney got in on the action and managed to bank in the first 3-pointer of his career.

Curry, Draymond Green and Thompson traveled to Toronto, where they will participate in festivities during All-Star weekend and play in Sunday’s game

The rest of the Warriors will get to rest and focus on what the Warriors have to do in the second half.

“Just play with great focus, because when we do that, we’re almost impossible to beat,” Thompson said.

Kerr was among those who could use time to relax. He didn’t feel well following the Warriors’ win against the Houston Rockets the previous night at Oracle Arena, explaining he was dealing with a headache and he appeared uncomfortable during Tuesday’s brief postgame news conference.

“I still have symptoms from everything I’ve been dealing with, so I wish everything was clear and gone away, but it’s not, so at times I have to deal with stuff,” Kerr said.

Kerr will travel to his home in San Diego for the All-Star break after having won all nine of his games on the bench this season. He missed the first 43 and indicated upon his return three weeks ago that his symptoms were manageable following a leave of absence caused by complications from an offseason back surgery.

“I don’t want to go into detail with all this stuff, but there’s a lot to it in terms of my protocol that I’m going through,” Kerr said. The All-Star break will give me a chance to get through some of that, too.”

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets’ Johnson may pursue buyout | Report: Rest of season may be tryout for Scott | Suns’ Watson vows to ‘nurture’ Morris

No. 1: Johnson won’t ask for trade, may seek buyout — Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson is two seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance and stats-wise at his lowest point in terms of scoring average (11.3 points) since 2002-03. But Johnson is also in the final year of the six-year, $119 million deal he inked back in 2010. While his high-scoring days are long gone, Johnson could be a vital pickup for a contender at the trade deadline. As he languishes on one of the East’s worst teams, Johnson told The Record‘s Andy Vasquez he won’t force a trade:

“I’m a professional, man,” Johnson said after practice. “Obviously this late in my career this isn’t the ideal situation. Obviously. But I’m not forcing anything, I haven’t went to management and asked for anything. I come to work day in and day out to compete and have fun, that’s what it’s about. And whatever happens, happens. Obviously this is a tough situation, but we’re all in this together and everybody in this locker room is who we’ve got. So no pointing fingers, we’re just coming out and just competing.”

It wouldn’t be easy for the Nets to trade Johnson’s nearly $25 million expiring contract. But there’s also the possibility of a buyout. Last month, ESPN reported that Johnson isn’t interested. But when asked about the possibility on Tuesday, Johnson left the door open and said he’ll explore the possibilities this week with his agent, Jeff Schwartz.

“Honestly, I don’t even know,” Johnson said when asked if he was open to a buyout. “My agent was here last night, and me and him are supposed to sit down and talk within the next week or so. So, I’m sure — whether or not it comes up, I don’t know, but we’ll talk.”

But even if Johnson demanded a trade, or wanted to negotiate a buyout, it’s unclear who would make the decisions on the Nets’ end. The franchise is still looking for a new general manager after Billy King was removed from the job on Jan. 10.

Johnson also reiterated what he told The Record earlier this season: playing for a contender will he his top priority when he becomes a free agent this summer.

“I just want a winning situation,” said Johnson, who added he plans to play two or three more seasons after this one before retiring. “It’s not going to be to no highest bidder or nothing like that, I just want to make sure the situation’s right for me. … the last couple years man I really just want to enjoy it and play on great teams.”

“I’m not saying that’s not possible,” Johnson said of a return to Brooklyn. “We’ll see what happens, I think a lot can happen between now and then.”

It’s been a struggle of a season for Johnson, who is averaging 11.3 points per game (his lowest since 2002-03) and shooting 39.0 percent (which would be the lowest shooting percentage for a season in his career). But he showed flashes of a resurgence in January when he shot 48.5 percent, 47.0 percent from three-point range and averaged 13.5 points.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 23


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early | Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return | Bulls earning ‘soft’ label | Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves

No. 1: Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early — It was a hair-on-fire day for news in the NBA Friday, starting with the Josh Smith trade back to Houston and continuing through the pre-emptive weather postponement of NBA games from Saturday’s schedule in Philadelphia and Washington, right on to coach Steve Kerr’s return after a 43-game health absence to Golden State’s bench. But the whopper was Cleveland’s abrupt firing of head coach David Blatt. Not only had Blatt helped the Cavaliers reach the Finals last June, he had them atop the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record and was in line to coach the East All-Stars in three weeks up in Toronto. Both local and national coverage blanketed the story, with ESPN.com providing the most exhaustive report courtesy of Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin. Here are notable excerpts:

At the very heart of the matter, this is why the Cavs fired Blatt on Friday, despite a record of 83-40 and a Finals appearance. Blatt viewed himself as a coach with numerous championships in Europe, an Olympic medal and 20-plus years on the sideline, a career that made him one of the most experienced coaches in the world.

The Cavs players, especially the veterans, saw him as a rookie.

The issues started before [LeBron] James returned to the franchise in July 2014. The Cavs were all over the place in their coaching search that summer. They offered the job to numerous big names, from John Calipari and Bill Self in the college ranks to Steve Kerr from the broadcast booth. [Cleveland GM David] Griffin also interviewed Alvin Gentry, whom he had worked alongside with the Phoenix Suns, and Tyronn Lue, a rising assistant who learned under Doc Rivers.

But team owner Dan Gilbert wanted to make a different kind of hire. He didn’t want a retread or an inexperienced coach, which is why he chased the veteran college coaches. It’s why he loved Blatt, who was a legend in Israel, something that appealed to Gilbert.

To complicate matters, the Cavs hired the runner-up for the job, Lue, to be Blatt’s assistant. To keep him away from the Clippers, the Cavs gave him a record four-year, $6.5 million deal — for an assistant. Gilbert would later call the coaching staff the best he had assembled in his time as owner.

Blatt endorsed the Lue move, which many in the league saw as an immediate undercutting of the head coach. Never before could anyone remember the runner-up for a job being hired as the lead assistant, and it was taken as an example of Blatt’s NBA inexperience. Blatt also didn’t understand that he would have to earn players’ respect; it would not be instantly given.

“It was like an 800-pound gorilla as the season moved on,” one person involved with the team said. “You could just see LeBron connecting to [Lue] and turning his back on David.”
That didn’t stay a secret. James’ and other players’ complaints about Blatt’s style got out quickly. During games, Cavs players complained about the coach to opposing players. Once, while on the road, an injured Cavs player used the home team’s therapy pool and complained about Blatt, with his thoughts literally echoing throughout the home locker room.

Those who knew Blatt from Europe, where he was known as a fire-breather with players during games, were stunned at how he had changed. When Blatt was the coach of the Russian national team, he famously once kicked two of his best players off the bench because they were talking over him in a timeout. Now, spectators watched in awe as players barked at Blatt in timeouts. That was just one of many adjustments he made to try to make this unwieldy job work.

Blatt, meanwhile, retrofitted the Cavs’ defensive system with his new players, and that helped launch the team’s midseason turnaround. He melded in the new players effectively. He showed his experience as he found a way to give James space while looking for other ways to make a positive difference. At the same time, his yielding to the players — James especially — only further reinforced that Blatt wasn’t a coach who demanded respect.

***

No. 2: Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return— While one NBA coach’s relationship with his team was getting blown up Friday, another was reuniting. Steve Kerr, after nearly four months and 43 regular-season games, was back on the Golden State bench for its game against Indiana. Kerr had taken a leave of absence on Oct. 1 to recover and rehab from two back surgeries, and while his physical health demanded and benefited from the layoff, his mental health definitely craved his return to everything Warriors. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury-News was at Oracle Arena to chronicle Kerr’s first game back:

But on this night, one of the biggest adrenaline-rushes of the game actually came before the game, because Kerr had been gone so long after taking a leave of absence due to complications after back surgery.

And despite the Warriors’ amazing 39-4 run under interim coach Luke Walton–who happily moved aside one seat for Kerr’s re-arrival–the Warriors missed their coach.

More than that, he missed them. And was thankful to return to them.

“I felt great,” Kerr said afterwards. “Really nice reception at the beginning of the game. Our fans are amazing. Just felt good to be back in Oracle with all the energy from the crowd.

“Wasn’t our best stuff but we got the job done.”

Kerr has been at team practices for several weeks and on the last several road trips, but he’s the Warriors coach, he won a championship with them last season, and a coach needs to coach.

During the game, Kerr sat quietly through the first quarter as the Warriors got out to a big lead–what was he supposed to fret over?

Then, as the Warriors went through a flat period or two, or when Kerr protested a call or two, he got up, yelled a few things, and called a few timeouts.

He was back.
“Honestly, I didn’t think one bit about who we were playing and when,” Kerr said about the Spurs game ahead. “It was strictly about when I felt ready.

“I wanted to come back a couple weeks ago and I sort of had a target date in mind–and we got to the date and it was, ‘I’m not ready.’ I knew I wasn’t ready.

“But the last 10 days or so have been great; I’ve really felt good physically. Felt like I turned a corner. Feel like I’m ready to go, regardless of who was on the schedule.”

***

No. 3: Bulls earning ‘soft’ label — As of Friday, there wasn’t a coach in the Central Division who was happy with his team – and maybe not a fan base all that happy with its coach. Tyronn Lue is undefeated for the moment in Cleveland but the Pacers, Bucks and Pistons all have had their issues lately. And then there are the Bulls, where new head coach Fred Hoiberg is frustrated with his team’s poor starts and inconsistent efforts, while many Chicago fans are wondering if management’s designated replacement for Tom Thibodeau is the right guy for the job. Beat writer Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times suggested after Friday’s loss in Boston that the Bulls are “soft,” a four-letter word equal to any profanity around pro athletes and teams:

The first-year coach was asked if he was tired of his team looking soft in too many moments this season, and without hesitation responded, “Yeah, I am.’’

He wasn’t alone.

“Soft’’ is always a dangerous word to use about a team on any level, but also a very fitting description of what this Bulls team has become on a night-to-night basis. And they can try and dress it up with buzzwords like “communication’’ and “energy,’’ but it seems to come back to one common theme with this team: Too soft in too many key moments.

Jimmy Butler definitely wasn’t going to hide from that label.

“Yeah, especially coming out of the gates, and that’s on us starters, man,’’ Butler said, when asked about the marshmallow moments from this team. “We’re digging ourselves a huge hole a lot of these games because we know how talented we are, how well we can score the ball, but defense is all about grit. The will and the want to do-so. I don’t feel like we do-so right now.’’

Even more troubling was Butler pointing out that the coaches stress it, the players talk about it and practice it in shootaround, but once those lights turn on, well, as Butler put it, “when we get out there it’s kind of like we do what we want to do. We’re not on the same page, we’re not communicating, and then on top of everything else we don’t get to the loose ball like the other team does.

“It’s time to stop talking about it. We’ve been talking about this all year long now.’’

***

No. 4: Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves — If Charles Barkley felt confounded by the fan balloting for the 2016 All-Star starters, he probably will again find plenty with which to quibble when the conference coaches make their selections for the East and West All-Star reserves. The seven players added to each roster – to be announced Thursday as part of TNT’s doubleheader telecast – presumably represent the next-best players through the first 45-50 games of the season. But of course, there are other factors involved. Some coaches apply arbitrary filters to thin the herd of candidates. Others might indulge shameless biases or personal grudges, or game the voting so one of their guys benefits. A couple of East coaches – Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Boston’s Brad Stevensgave some insight on their criteria to Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe:

“Probably the biggest criteria is looking at the team’s record,” Casey said, “because you can score 50 a game and have a losing record, and you’re not going to [be an] All-Star. That’s not only for me, but for all coaches.”

Casey was probably exaggerating just a bit, because a 50-point scorer on any team would be a lock, but you get his point. Wins matter. Stevens echoed that sentiment, saying he uses team success as an easy tiebreaker among players who otherwise appear to be equals.

“Probably a differentiating factor will be who scares me the most,” Stevens said. “That’s just kind of the way I’d look at it. Obviously, who do you have to prepare for differently? Who makes you tweak what you normally do?”

When Stevens analyzes numbers and figures, he does find some advanced statistics quite helpful.

“I look more at efficiency than anything else,” he said. “I don’t get too caught up in points per game or rebounds per game or those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency and those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency from a points standpoint. You get caught up in rebound percentages. I think that, again, you have to also factor in fourth quarter and crunch-time performance.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One of the most popular topics related to David Blatt‘s firing Friday was speculation over the degree to which Cavaliers susperstar LeBron James was involved. Should James be thought of as a “coach killer” after his experiences with Mike Brown and now Blatt? Or does he draw that sort of criticism unfairly? … The Brooklyn Nets might find plenty to like in Blatt as they cope with a real freefall. … The Nets needed a shooting doctor, so they hired a Nurse. … Former Marquette teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder battled in Boston. … Former NBA referees are mentoring their profession’s next generation. … Re-think whatever your definition might be of a “high basketball IQ.” Introducing the smart ball. …

Morning shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates | Thunder getting overlooked, underloved? | Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage | Long trip leaves Cavs in good place

No. 1: Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates — Your first instinct was to look around for Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. He was the culprit involved in the NBA’s previous most notable shoulder injury, locking up Cleveland’s Kevin Love in the first round last spring and sending the former All-Star forward off to surgery, done for the rest of the playoffs. This time, though, it was Dallas’ JaVale McGee getting tied up with Chicago’s Joakim Noah, with Noah suddenly pulling away and running off the court while shouting anguished expletives. Noah’s left shoulder dislocation was a significant re-injury of the same shoulder he had sprained before Christmas, and according to Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson, it has the frustrated center and his teammates rattled while awaiting the outcome of an MRI exam. Meanwhile, any plans by Bulls management to explore the trade market for Noah, an impending free agent, probably have been diminished:

A Saturday MRI will produce an official prognosis and whether surgery is needed, but the injury likely will have major ramifications for the franchise — and for Noah. The Bulls have gauged the market for Noah in advance of next month’s trade deadline, an option that is in serious jeopardy now.

More powerfully, the Bulls waited two weeks to clear Noah for contact practices and officially rule out surgery for his last injury, which involved a small tear. If surgery is needed this time, could Noah, an unrestricted free agent, have played his last game for the franchise that drafted him in 2007?

“It didn’t look good,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“It’s devastating,” Derrick Rose said. “He’s a big piece.”

No two injuries are the same, but [Love] took more than four months to return to basketball activity after dislocating his shoulder in last season’s playoffs.

“I’m frustrated for him,” Taj Gibson said. “He felt so good coming into this game. We don’t know the severity of it but the look on his face was just crazy. He had put so much work in to get back to the team.

“It just makes my stomach sick. You’ve been going to war with this guy all kind of different circumstances over eight years, a guy you pride yourself with, especially with practice and he’s one of the emotional leaders, it hits you in the heart. Seeing him on that table like that, I kind of got flashbacks to when Derrick got hurt. You don’t want to see your man go down like that. It’s frustrating.”

***

No. 2: Thunder getting overlooked, underloved?— No one would welcome additional, legitimate championship contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June than the NBA. It just so happens that the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, are as good as or maybe better than they were last season. The San Antonio Spurs have a history of success unrivaled for duration since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, who has taken his team to five consecutive Finals. Outside of those three franchises, though, the league’s other 27 teams have more skeptics than supporters when assessing their shot at a spring ring. Royce Young of ESPN.com took a hard look at where the Oklahoma City fit among the top contenders, and wound up re-visiting a familiar topic – media disrespect – with former MVP forward Kevin Durant:

A couple of hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, Michael Wilbon said on “Pardon The Interruption”: “There’s only three teams in the NBA, right now from where we sit, who can win the championship, who can even play for the championship.”

Those three: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s it,” Wilbon said. “That’s the list.”

The Thunder went on to effortlessly roll over the young Wolves 113-93, as expected, improving to 29-12. At the midway point of the season, that puts the Thunder on a 58-win pace, which in the past 10 seasons on average is good for the second seed in the Western Conference, and has been good for the No. 1 seed twice. With a robust margin of victory of +8.2, on paper, the Thunder look like a surefire contending power.

But plenty of people around the league seem to share the same sentiment as Wilbon. It’s Warriors, Spurs and Cavs, and then everybody else.

The question is, where are the Thunder?

“Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.

“Especially since we’ve been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven’t won and we’ve still got the same core, so they don’t expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”

***

No. 3: Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage — Change is hard, especially when the state from which one is departing worked so darn well. The Indiana Pacers committed to a pace-and-space attack over the summer, shedding the “smash mouth” style built around center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West that had produced consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals. There were growing pains early – Paul George didn’t like the idea of being stuck as a “power forward” – but George, his teammates and coach Frank Vogel worked out the kinks for a satisfying start. But Indiana has dropped nine of its past 15 games since starting 16-9 and whether in response to opponents’ tactics, George’s sputters after his early MVP form or just lapsing into old habits, the Pacers have slowed down and gone bigger. That had Larry Bird, the team’s president of basketball operations, displeased when he spoke to Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:

“I just can’t get a handle on it right now because these guys are up and down,” Bird said in a telephone interview just hours before Friday’s game against Washington. “I can’t tell you what is best for us right now. We’ve had success with the small lineup, but we’ve had success with two big guys in there. It’s going to take a little bit more time, but I would like to have won more games up to this point. I don’t think any of us feel comfortable with how we’re playing and the way things are going.”

What Bird does not want the Pacers to do is waver from the new offensive philosophy they developed in the offseason.

“I’d like to see teams match up with us instead of us worrying about who certain guys are going to guard on the other teams,” Bird said. “Let’s see if they can guard us. If you’ve got good ball movement and you’ve got guys hitting shots, it makes it pretty easy.”

After talking with Bird after Thursday’s practice, Vogel returned to the spread lineup to start Friday’s game for the first time since Dec. 31. The results were not what Bird desired. The Pacers fell behind early to the Wizards and struggled throughout in a 118-104 blowout loss. The Pacers missed 14 of their 17 3-pointers and were outrebounded by the Wizards 54-35.

Bird and Vogel have talked almost every day throughout the season. Vogel said their conversations have not changed much, but he mentioned before Friday’s game that every aspect of the team is in flux, from which lineup should start to which players should be on the court in the final minutes of games.

Vogel said he has favored the big lineup because it has a strong defensive rating of 89.4, a statistic that measures points allowed per 100 possessions, entering Friday’s game. The spread lineup’s defensive rating is 106.3.

***

No. 4: Long trip leaves Cavs in good place — Fatigued yet fulfilled, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home in the wee hours Saturday from a long road trip that may have positioned them just right for another push to the Finals. The mood of their leader, LeBron James, was evident in a Tweet James posted upon getting home:

It also was clear in James’ comments after a breezy 20-point victory at Houston to conclude the trip that Cleveland might just be revving up to keep playing for another five months. Here is an excerpt from Dave McMenamin‘s piece for ESPN.com:

After traveling nearly 6,000 miles over the course of a six-game, 12-day trip — enough distance to go from New York to Los Angeles and back again — the Cleveland Cavaliers walked out of the Toyota Center on Friday night having picked up five wins on the journey and a boost of confidence to take into the second half of the season.

“The only thing I care about is how I lead these guys every single night, and I know we can compete with any team in the league and it doesn’t have to be a regular-season game,” LeBron James said afterward when asked if it bothered him that some were judging the Cavs because of that Spurs loss [Thursday]. “I know, you give us four games and it’s time to lock down in a playoff series, we can play and we can beat any team in this league. So that’s my feeling and that’s what I know.”

The certainty in James’ words was significant, as the 5-1 trip seemed to solidify the notion that his Cavs had indeed turned the corner. They won in just about every imaginable fashion — blowing it open late in Washington; thoroughly dominating in Minnesota; toying around with the competition in Philadelphia; coming from behind in Dallas and making big plays down the stretch; and then, in Houston, shooting only 39.1 percent as tired legs resulted in missed jump shots, but determined defense wouldn’t let them lose as the Rockets shot even worse at 35.1 percent.

They’ve now won nine of their past 10 games, heading into a home date with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, and are starting to look like the team that became a juggernaut in the second half of last season through the playoffs, until injuries derailed them in the Finals.

“I think just being on the road, just together for 12 days just brought us together more,” Cavs big man Tristan Thompson told ESPN.com. “And you can see it on the court. There’s more flow. Guys are understanding where guys are going to be at.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott is talking about playing the Lakers’ young guys more over the second half of the season, though it’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant‘s Farewell Tour yielding to any sort of organizational-development agenda. … We can understand why the Brooklyn Nets would be interested in Tom Thibodeau to bail out their dismal operation, but we’re unclear as to why Thibodeau would be interested in the Nets. … San Antonio has been so good for so long, it’s kind of unfair to the rest of the league, according to USA Today. … The first priority with Nene always seems to be, getting him healthy .The second is keeping him that way, because his impact on the Washington Wizards is considerable. … This Miami Heat teams lacks some of the self-assurance and self-awareness that the Big Three edition owned, says one insider. … There are Bulls fans who wish that Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose got along as famously as Butler and his Hollywood buddy Mark Wahlberg.

Silver: Time zones, miles still hurdles to expanding NBA Euro presence

The world is shrinking, but not fast enough for some NBA devotees in Europe.

Of the questions NBA commissioner Adam Silver fielded in his news conference prior to the 2016 Global Games London Thursday – Orlando vs. Toronto at The O2 Arena – most of them had something to do with geography, distance, time zones and the logistical challenges of staging North American basketball games on other continents.

As Silver answered, he stood five times zones and approximately 3,500 miles away from NBA headquarters in Manhattan. Both the Magic and the Raptors had crossed “the pond,” a.k.a., the Atlantic Ocean, to participate, and both teams had been given four open days before their game Thursday and three more after to adjust to jet lag and otherwise re-acclimate.

Travel issues, more than financial opportunities or hoops missionary work in fertile markets, remain the top challenge to All-Star Games staged overseas, European expansion or other international flag-planting by the league, Silver said. Disrupting the routine of finely tuned athletes locked into the grind of an 82-game regular season is something around which the NBA treads lightly.

“We’re becoming more sophisticated about the impact of fatigue on our players,” Silver said deep into the media session, “and the direct correlation of fatigue and injuries. We want to talk to players association about it. As we all know, when you change time zones … it’s often difficult to sleep when you’ve had quick changes in time zones.”

Just scheduling NBA teams for matinee tipoff times in the States – to provide live televised games overseas – is challenge enough, Silver said. Coaches routinely circle afternoon games on their schedules as potential trouble, given how disruptive it can be to players’ habits and body clocks.

So while it’s easy enough for a player such as Toronto’s Luis Scola to suggest that the NBA send four teams to London or Paris to boost efficiency – playing three regular-season games against three foes, rather than the single Raptors-Magic game – there is a much bigger picture involved.

“I’d love to hear [Scola’s] views on the travel,” Silver said, eliciting some laughter. “Ultimately that is our desire, to bring more teams and be able to play more games. We have a fairly dense schedule throughout the season. We’re playing roughly, over 165 days, 82 games. It’s an average of roughly 3 ½ games a week.”

Clearing out sufficient time for multiple teams –including those from the Central, Mountain and Pacific U.S. time zones – to make the trip, getting All-Stars from as many as 24 franchises to adapt and play, venturing to France and beyond for regular-season games or anchoring a division of NBA expansion teams in Europe all would pose challenges the league is studying, Silver said. For now, there are no simple solutions.

“The next step is to continue to work on grass roots basis here in Europe,” the commissioner said of Thursday’s event. “What’s important for us – while selling out a game in an hour and bringing in a tremendous media interest, that’s all fantastic for us – but it’s got to be part of a larger program. These games can’t just be viewed as one-off experiences.

“We want to make sure we’re part of a larger platform to grow the game. So we’re going to continue to play these regular-season games. We’re working closely with FIBA, closely with the Euroleague to continue building the game of basketball here. And as I said, we to make sure it’s not just a spectacle to come in with two teams and then have interest drop off tremendously once we leave – we want to make sure we have an ongoing impact.”

Among other topics Silver touched on Thursday:

  • The news of Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov firing his GM (Billy King) and head coach (Lionel Hollins) in a major resetting of the Nets is life in the NBA, Silver said. Referring to a “very steep learning curve,” Prokhorov tried to win big sooner rather than later, signing expensive veteran players and trading away assets such as draft picks. “He’s acknowledged ‘lesson learned’ on his part,” Silver said.
  • Kobe Bryant’s ongoing retirement tour has been good for both the league’s ticket sales and for fans’ ability to see one of the NBA’s greatest players one more time. If Bryant is involved in All-Star Weekend in Toronto next month, Silver said, it will be “a showcase for him” and an “opportunity for the larger NBA community to say ‘thank you’ for his service.”
  • Silver remains optimistic that the owners and the National Basketball Players Association can continue making progress in collective bargaining talks “behind closed doors” and avoid a lockout or strike that would cost games and revenue in 2017-18.
  • Silver agreed with one reporter who wondered if young basketball players might be at risk of overuse injuries related to the number of games they play outside of high school or college programs. Unlike youth baseball, which strictly limits kids’ pitching turns and pitch counts, “you often have these young players playing eight games in a single weekend,” Silver said. He said the NBA, along with the NCAA and USA Basketball have a responsibility to study and establish protocols.
  • No sooner had Silver mentioned that approximately 100 foreign-born players were among the 450 or so on NBA rosters to open the 2015-16 season, he was asked about the eventuality of a player one day representing Austria. “We can’t wait to have the first Austrian in the NBA,” the commissioner said. “ And your next question, ‘When will be playing the first NBA regular season game in Austria…’ ”

Morning shootaround — Jan. 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Is Calipari still on Nets’ wish list? | Warriors go to old trick to stop Heat | Irving just trying to ‘fit in’ with Cavs | Pacers’ Miles enjoying role with team

No. 1: Nets may not be looking Calipari’s direction — Almost immediately after the Brooklyn Nets cleaned house on Sunday by firing coach Lionel Hollins and reassigning GM Billy King came word that Kentucky coach John Calipari would perhaps be interested in filling the coach’s chair. The price for getting Calipari out of Lexington, though, was thought to be at least $120 million (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports) with other privileges thrown in. But maybe, the Nets are going in a completely different direction than Calipari? ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst reports that based on who is making the decision about the next GM and coach for the Nets, Calipari may not be the guy the team looks to next:

Quietly, members of owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s inner circle have reached out to possible general manager candidates to gauge their interest and seek insight on how the Nets might pry themselves out of a brutal situation they find themselves in, sources told ESPN.com.

Meanwhile, on a completely separate tack, Kentucky coach John Calipari’s emissaries have been putting out the word that if he were ever going to leave Lexington, it would take certain historic conditions, sources said. He would require total control as coach and team president as well as an astronomical guaranteed cash figure, they said.

Wes Wesley, Calipari’s coaching agent, has told plenty in power across the NBA that it would take an offer of no less than “$120 million guaranteed” to get Calipari’s interest, sources said. It has not been clear how many years that would entail or whether it would require him to coach for the entire contract. One of Calipari’s perceived selling points, sources said, is the horde of former Kentucky stars who are scheduled to become free agents over the next three to four years whom Calipari could recruit again to a new NBA home.

Calipari responded on Twitter on Monday, saying he isn’t going anywhere.

Those who have spoken to the Nets recently believe the search for replacements will be led by Dmitry Razumov, Prokhorov’s right-hand man, and Irina Pavlova, who runs the U.S. wing of Prokhorov’s investment vehicle. It was Razumov, for example, who was the driving force in hiring Jason Kidd in 2013.

There is also a growing belief within the league that Prokhorov is leaning more on Sergey Kushchenko, a legend of Russian sports. Prokhorov relied on Kushchenko to be the president of Russian basketball power CSKA when he owned that franchise and more recently tapped him to run the Russian biathlon team, a passion for Prokhorov leading into the Sochi Olympics.

The point is that Nets CEO Brett Yormark, who is one of Calipari’s closest friends, is not currently seen as a major driving force in deciding on the new leadership of the Nets. Yormark leads the Nets’ business operation, and he has done deals with Calipari in this capacity. Kentucky played at Barclays Center as part of an event last month, and there’s another deal in place for the Wildcats to play in the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum, owned by Prokhorov and operated by Yormark, next fall.

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