This week’s Fools: Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Drummond, Chris Bosh and J.J. Barea. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
This week’s Fools: Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Drummond, Chris Bosh and J.J. Barea. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
HANG TIME, Texas — Whether it’s Friday night in Charlotte, Saturday at home against the Sixers or even Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs, LeBron James will be coming back to a different game than he left.
More rough, more tough, more down in the dirt, use-everything-but-the-kitchen sink.
Because it worked in Chicago. Because it’s the only thing that put James on the wrong end of a scoreboard since Feb. 1.
Because the rest of the NBA is desperate.
If it wasn’t already with his third MVP, the 2012 NBA title and an Olympic gold medal, the 27-game winning streak stamped this as LeBron’s time, an era of contentment, fulfillment and waltzing up and down basketball courts to music that only he can hear.
When it got to the level where Danny Ainge was taking shots at his toughness and Pat Riley was responding quite earthily, then the point had already been made. Opposing defenses might as well be shooting spitballs at a battleship.
The only other answer, of course, is to bring him down by any means, which was the path taken by Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson.
James’ response was predictable, a variation of “How Dare They?” that was really no different from the indignant reactions of Michael Jordan when he was soaring above the game.
The irony and hypocrisy is that it was none other than Riley as the Designer Don of the Knicks in the 1990s who built on the Detroit Bad Boys approach and did as much as anybody to have enforcers Charles Oakley, Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing and friends try to take a piece out of Jordan when they couldn’t stop him.
Everybody now will poke and prod and push and shove and flat out body slam James to throw off his shot or throw him out his comfort zone.
“We know what’s coming now,” said Miami teammate Shane Battier. “We know that’s Eastern Conference basketball, especially in the playoffs. Teams are going to try to make it a game without spacing, without pace and we’re going to try to do the opposite. We’re going to create a bunch of space and try to create tempo. That’s our strength.
“We know that every other team is going to view that Chicago game as some kind of blueprint maybe. That’s OK. We can play any style of basketball that’s required and I’m pretty sure LeBron can handle himself.”
In the end, that’s all that matters, how James handles himself. When opponents tried to body up Jordan, it only stiffened his own resolve. When anybody took him down to the floor with a bit of extra flourish, Jordan usually got back up and made them pay with a bit of extra mustard mixed with venom.
It is a different game now, one where it’s almost impossible to impede a player on the perimeter without setting off the kind of alarm sounds that accompany airport metal detectors. It’s why point guards have never thrived more at any time in the history of the league than today. The rules have been tweaked and rewritten to put less emphasis on brute strength and more on speed and skill.
The dilemma is that James, at 6-foot-8, 260, has the brute strength to overpower while giving up none of the speed and skill. Until somebody finds a way to put a muscle or two on Kevin Durant, LeBron is a cut above, in a class by himself.
Being so talented makes him singular and makes him a target and in the history of stars in any sport that does not make him special. The other guys don’t come to praise you, but to chop you down.
It’s a fact of life and complaining about a lack of whistles from referees or retaliating with a bull rush at Carlos Boozer will not stop it, only let them know that they’ve gotten under your skin.
Jordan channeled his anger into a raging fury that was belied by that photogenic smile that launched a thousand ad campaigns. Oh yes, we all wanted to be like Mike. But never ever forget that Mike, when provoked, could be a very bad man with a ball in his grip.
“We’re aware of what everybody’s game plan is against us,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “They want to prevent layups and dunks and highlight plays at all costs. That can mean hard fouls. We know that.”
Battier views from across the court and across the locker room and sees an awesome physical specimen and a supremely talented player who is finally at peace with who he is.
“I’m pretty sure,” he said, “that LeBron is ready for anything.”
He’ll have to be, since now the plan and the game is going to change.
DALLAS – Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau kept his distance from anything Miami Heat on Saturday.
The Bulls snapped the Heat’s 27-game winning streak on Wednesday, a physical game that had LeBron James openly complaining about the officiating afterward and questioning the hard defense he endured in the 101-97 loss, Miami’s first since early February.
James’ complaints had some around the league rolling their eyes, including Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who on Thursday went on Boston radio and said James’ whining was “embarrassing.”
Ainge’s criticism provoked Heat president Pat Riley to take the rare step of releasing a statement Friday directing Ainge to “shut the (bleep) up” and to manage his own team.
Thibodeau wasn’t about to jump into that fray on Saturday so his standard answer to any question directly or indirectly related to Miami prior to Saturday’s 100-98 loss at Dallas was simply to say he and his team were solely focused on the Mavericks.
Even when asked about the physical play employed by Carlos Boozer and his team in beating the Heat, and the importance of such a style come the Eastern Conference playoffs, Thibodeau interpreted it as a sly attempt by the reporter to get initiate talk about Miami.
“Nice try,” Thibodeau said.
One topic that Thibodeau did have a response for came in regard to his four-year contract extension that was made official at an Oct. 1 news conference, yet remains unsigned. That tidbit was broached in a Yahoo! column on Friday. Thibodeau called it a non-issue and said it was being held up by the fine print.
“Total non-issue. Total non-issue,” Thibodeau said. “The lawyers had it tied up for a while, whatever they do, I don’t know what these lawyers do, something about language or something. I just got it back and as soon as I get an opportunity, [Bulls general manager] Gar [Forman] will have it. So total non-issue.”
CHICAGO – This is the way a 27-game winning streak ends: With a lot of bangs and a few whimpers.
Undermanned almost beyond credulity, the Chicago Bulls stiffened defensively, tried to whack twice for every one they absorbed and toughed their way to a 101-97 upset over the Miami Heat that snapped the NBA’s second-longest streak of consecutive victories. The 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ mark of 33 in a row rests easy, which is more than can be said about Heat star LeBron James, who ended his night both battered and a little cranky.
The Bulls met arguably the NBA’s most imposing and unstoppable physical force with force of their own. Point guard Kirk Hinrich managed to grab the cow catcher, crash to the floor and live to tell about it when James barreled straight at him in the first quarter. In the fourth, Taj Gibson put James on the floor with a two-handed swipe as the Miami forward drove to the hoop. Initially and incorrectly ruled a flagrant foul, the refs got it right upon review but James didn’t appreciate going down, his legs twisted like a pretzel.
Moments later, James drove one of his massive shoulders into a screen set by Chicago’s Carlos Boozer. That one was a flagrant foul, a spill of frustration not so much that the streak was about to end – it was 90-82 with 3:52 left – but that he was getting abused in the process.
“I believe, and I know, that a lot of my fouls are not basketball plays,” James told reporters afterward. “First of all, Kirk Hinrich in the first quarter basically grabbed me with two hands and brought me to the ground. … And you know, the last one, Taj Gibson was able to collar me around my shoulder and bring me to the ground.
“Those are not basketball plays. It’s been happening all year and I’ve been able to keep my cool. But it is getting to me a little bit.”
First things first: No one can blame James for disliking the thumping. But what Chicago did apparently was within the bounds of Doc Naismith‘s game – OK, maybe Doc Lecter‘s – because none of the Bulls got tossed or ejected. Not that their depleted roster could afford any ousters.
“He probably got a little frustrated,” Gibson said. “But you got to keep playing. These are two physical teams. The refs did a great job, because they let a lot of stuff go.”
Besides, what were the Bulls supposed to do? The NBA’s hottest team in, sheesh, 41 years was bearing down on them. And they were light in the loafers – no Derrick Rose, no Joakim Noah, no Richard Hamilton, no Marco Belinelli. Absent those players and their skills, Chicago’s only real alternative was to dial up the grit.
“Obviously having those guys out is not easy,” said Hinrich, who stuck in his nose and jaw wherever he could, from attacking James off the dribble with some – ugh! – inevitable results to ripping the ball away from Chris Bosh for a critical takeaway at 92-85. “But we realize, collectively, if we share the ball, team defense, have good energy and intensity and play with that edge, we’re going to have a chance to win some games. … We just grinded.”
That play where he grabbed James and all but tackled him? “I was just hanging on for dear life. Just didn’t want him to get the ‘and 1,’ ” Hinrich said. “You just don’t realize how powerful that guy is. With his speed and strength you can’t take anything for granted. I still feel I got the worst of it.”
Hinrich, at times in the second half, found himself guarded by James, the bigger man’s extra six inches and 70 pounds or so eclipsing his view of the basket. So what did Hinrich do? He drove left and got snuffed. He drove right and got snuffed. Then with just over two minutes left, Hinrich went up the gut again – and kicked the ball to Gibson on the left baseline for a 16-footer that made it 94-85.
“Kirk is one of the toughest guys I know,” Gibson said. “He has so much swag every day in practice. He’s a real vet. He doesn’t shy away from anything. He’s always in the middle, especially on big men – he switches out with centers. He really doesn’t care.”
Miami, throughout its remarkable streak, had played numerous teams that were missing key players: Orlando (no Nikola Vucevic), Cleveland (no Kyrie Irving or Anderson Varejao), Milwaukee (no Luc Mbah a Moute to guard James), Boston (no Rajon Rondo or Kevin Garnett). The point of which isn’t to sully the Heat’s accomplishment but to marvel at how hard and well these various depleted rotations play when their coaches’ options are limited, their minutes are high, everyone’s expectations are muted and the opponent is toting around a huge bull’s-eye.
The Bulls claimed streak-busting had little or nothing to do with Wednesday’s outcome. They were driven more by the 86-67 hairball they spit up against Miami at United Center on Feb. 21, back when the streak was just nine games old.
Said Gibson: “We didn’t like that. We felt like we got punked on our own court. They blew us out.”
If the players that end such a streak get credit. so does the fellow who coaches those players. From the outside, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau looks to have painted another masterpiece of X & Overachievement. But while Hinrich acknowleged, “Yeah, he was fired up,” other Chicago players saw or heard nothing different from their guy on the sideline.
“Honestly, the dude is the same every game,” said forward Luol Deng, who scored 28 points and made the most of those reprieves when James shifted over to Hinrich. “No matter who you’re playing. I didn’t see any difference. He’s intense. He’s always focused.”
It was that way for both teams Wednesday, but the only way out for the Bulls.
“We just came in with that dog mentality that we weren’t going to go soft,” Gibson said. “We really had it in the back of our head. Once the game came, we knew we had to do it. There was no talking. Guys just understood, to go out there and play hard. Take hard fouls when you need to.
“Every time we play that team, we try to send a message. They sent the message the last game we played them. So we had to keep pushing. Every time to play this team, it’s like a new testament.”
CHICAGO – To say Joakim Noah plays with energy or brings emotion to the court for the Chicago Bulls is to say that the sun plays with light and brings heat to the Earth. See, it’s so much more than that.
Noah radiates that stuff.
If coach Tom Thibodeau is Chicago’s single-mindedness and hard-headedness, if Derrick Rose when healthy is the team’s heart, Noah is its soul. Always quick to rouse and praise the 22,000-plus who fill United Center for each game, the truth is none of them burns for the Bulls the way he does. None of them grabs them by their horns and hoists them on his back the way Noah has done lately, either, putting up big numbers that only scratch the surface of the impact he’s having these days.
Noah crammed the score sheet Saturday night in the Bulls’ thorough beating of Brooklyn with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals. He made 10 of his 13 field-goal attempts – and one of those was a halfcourt heave at the third-quarter buzzer that more stats-conscious players always seem to fling an instant too late to avoid dinging their percentages.
In Chicago’s previous game, their spanking of Philadelphia on TNT Thursday, his numbers truly conveyed the spectacular performance he gave: 23 points (8 of 12 from the floor), 21 rebounds and 11 blocked shots. He became only the sixth player since the NBA began tabulating blocks (sorry, Wilt and Russ) to go 20-20-10 in quite that way. The others: Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shawn Bradley, Shaquille O’Neal and Elvin Hayes.
Late in the Sixers game, as Noah shot a pair of free throws in United Center’s west end, the crowd swelled up with a familiar chant of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” In Noah’s case, “D-P-O-Y! D-P-O-Y!” would have been a better fit, for it is the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award for which he’ll get serious consideration.
But the “MVP” stuff was a link of sorts, too, to Rose, the Bulls’ missing All-Star now in the late stages of his rehab from left knee surgery. Not having Rose available for the season’s first four months has led some Chicagoans to keep the team at arm’s length, as if they’re not sure whether to invest emotionally or otherwise in what Bulls management has been selling this season.
Noah, meanwhile, is incapable of such detachment. The vision he has for the Bulls is true. The last two games, it’s as if he slit open a vein and spilled it all over the court for the world to see.
“I don’t have a choice,” Noah said after the Brooklyn game. “This is my job and this is my life. Everything is built around, y’know, this. There’s nothing better right now than winning basketball games. It’s been an up-and-down year. But I really feel like when we’re playing our best, we can really beat a lot of people. So the potential is definitely there.”
Noah has been leading the way, not by rounding up two of everything the way that Biblical version did but by grabbing a whole bunch of many things, from rebounds to blocks to, his latest wrinkle, field goals. He never had run off consecutive 20-point games until now, and his offensive inclinations alone have made a difference: When the 6-foot-11 center takes at least 10 shots, the Bulls are 22-7 this season.
“Most people don’t expect Jo to shoot the ball,” said forward Carlos Boozer, after heaping all sorts of DPOY love on Noah. “But when he’s aggressive and he’s going to the hoop and he’s hitting the jump shot, teams don’t know what to do. Because now you’ve got five guys that can put the ball in the hole.”
Said Noah: “It’s just opportunity. Just diving harder to the basket. My teammates are looking for me. I’m not really doing anything different than I’ve been doing. It’s just … stats, I guess.”
Stats don’t much move Noah’s needle. Winning does. Winning postseason games does. Teammates plugging into his power source, that’s pretty good too.
And pretty standard now, with Noah consciously stepping into the breach of Rose’s absence.
“With Derrick being gone this year, from what I’ve seen, he’s been that leader since Day 1,” said veteran backup Nazr Mohammed. “He’s also a guy who leads by example. You come in and see his energy, his focus before games.”
Sometimes there’s an (over) abundance. Noah was called for a foul just 85 seconds into the game Saturday, then griped his way to a technical from ref Scott Foster. But he stuck around to play 41 minutes, picking up only two more personals.
There was a stormy game against Memphis in January when Thibodeau yanked Noah and kept him out, the player apologizing the next day for some untoward words.
Most nights now, he harnesses it. Lately, he’s channeling it.
“You have to take what you get from guys,” Mohammed said. “If a guy’s emotional, you take that away from him, you affect his game.”
The Bulls are better off with Noah radiating and spilling over to teammates. The talking he does defensively, to clue in forwards and guard on the defensive floor he sees in front of him, is only part of it.
“I think that’s a big aspect of his game also to get real excited when a big play goes down,” forward Jimmy Butler said, “not if he does it but when somebody else does it. That’s part of being a leader, which he’s great at being.
“I feel like everybody feeds off his energy. Everybody feeds off his emotion. You see him yelling, it’s like something in you is like, ‘I’m gonna do it too.’ “
On the good nights, those other Bulls wind up as moons, reflecting what their pony-tailed, free spirit center throws off. As for Noah himself, well, he doesn’t have a choice.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Most of Thursday night was filled with the release of the participants in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, the Sears Shooting Stars and, last but not least, the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge draft that featured Team Shaq and Team Chuck filling out their rosters. Whew!
After that, we had just two games on the schedule and both of ‘em were blowouts. That makes our job a little tougher around here, but we’ll go with the Bulls-Nuggets game because the highlights in this one were, in a word, Manimal-tastic. Kenneth Faried said he wanted to make a statement on national TV and did he ever, going for 21 points, 12 rebounds and two steals while throwing down a boatload of memorable dunks as Denver won its eighth straight game.
Bulls, Raptors could swap point guards, too — Word broke last night of the Raptors and Bulls opening up discussions on a deal that would send Chicago’s Carlos Boozer to Toronto for oft-maligned Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein broke the story and says several factors are key in any move, including whether or not the Raptors could afford Boozer’s salary as well as that of newly acquired swingman Rudy Gay. Toronto, like most teams in the new NBA economy, is weary of paying the luxury tax and that could scare it from the trade.
The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson reports that two other players, the Bulls’ Nate Robinson and the Raptors’ John Lucas III, could be involved in a swap, too:
The Bulls and Raptors engaged in trade talks centered on Carlos Boozer and Andrea Bargnani over a week ago, according to two league sources.
ESPN.com’s Marc Stein first reported the talks, which a source told the Tribune were initiated by the Bulls and initially dismissed because of the Raptors’ desire to land the Lakers’ Pau Gasol. Though talks are not currently active, a source said the Raptors know the trade is available and could expand to include Nate Robinson and John Lucas III. Another source suggested it’s unlikely the Raptors would take on Boozer’s contract, which has $9.1 million more than Bargnani’s over the next two seasons.
The Raptors recently added Rudy Gay’s long-term contract via trade.
Boozer makes $5 million more than Bargnani this season. Coach Tom Thibodeau long has been an advocate of Lucas III, who is playing sparingly for the Raptors.
Despite the talks, there are no plans to use the amnesty provision on Boozer this summer. Boozer is having a strong season, but shedding his salary could improve the Bulls’ long-term financial picture.
Uneasy Dwight-Kobe partnership rearing its head? — After Kobe Bryant took to the media yesterday to say how ‘urgent’ it is that Dwight Howard try to play through the pain of his torn labrum, everything blew up all over again in Lakerland. After Bryant’s comments, Howard had his say and Bryant came back and said he hadn’t tried to push Howard to play again … well, you can read it all here.
Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski takes the long view on this Bryant-Howard partnership in L.A. and dissects in a way that only he can. From news about Lakers (and former Knicks) coach Mike D’Antoni shooting down a trade for Howard to delving into why Bryand and Howard likely won’t ever get on the same page, Wojnarowski has a cutting review of what’s gone wrong so far in L.A.:
Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard had always been a reluctant partnership, two stars long suspecting what turned out to be the indisputable truth: They were destined to be terrible teammates.
When Bryant and Howard hung up on a pre-trade deadline call a year ago, the suspicions of a toxic mix were confirmed with a most uncomfortable conversation. They had different visions on the way Howard would fit into the Lakers, which promised to compound the gulf between them as people. They were going to win with the Lakers and tolerate each other; or lose and develop a deep disdain.
On his way out of the Garden, out of a humiliating 116-95 loss to the Boston Celtics, Bryant returned a clichéd question – “Are Dwight and you on the same page?” – without a clichéd response.
With a bemused face and a shrug, Bryant told Yahoo! Sports: “What page is there to be on? Defend. Rebound…”
He shrugged again.
“I mean, what else is on the page?”
Nevertheless, Bryant reached out to Howard early on Thursday to diffuse the drama, he told Yahoo! Sports. He fired off a text to message to insist that a part of his interview with the great Boston sportswriter, Jackie MacMullan, had been misconstrued in the public eye. Bryant swore he wasn’t calling out Howard about sitting three straight games with a shoulder injury, that he wasn’t questioning his toughness.
“Listen, I really think people ran in the wrong direction with those quotes,” Bryant told Y! Sports. “And I think that put Dwight on the defense, put him a little on edge. But that wasn’t the intention, nor the purpose.
“I didn’t say anything earth-shattering. I didn’t say anything I haven’t been saying all year.
“Honestly, I didn’t take a run at him.”
Part of the problem of Howard’s clowning act is that people don’t take him seriously in times of crisis. It’s easier to doubt his toughness, tenacity, when they’re watching him grab the microphone to do impressions on team charters or booming farts in the locker room. Bryant never wanted Howard’s disposition to rule the day in the Lakers’ locker room, never wanted his own culture of seriousness and duty to be undermined with the frivolity that comes with Howard.
This was Bryant’s concern before the trade this summer, and after it. Rest assured, there was a reason the Lakers were third behind the Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks on Howard’s preferred list of trade partners. First of all, there were doubts about the depth of talent to win a championship – and those turned out to be legitimate. What’s more, he knew the partnership with Bryant would be troublesome for him. And when Bryant and Steve Nash were enthusiastic about the arrival of Mike D’Antoni as coach, Howard badly wanted to play for Phil Jackson.
D’Antoni had no use for Howard with Team USA, nor the New York Knicks when his name was raised in possible trade discussions. D’Antoni made sure to tell everyone Howard had been medically cleared to play in each of the three games he missed recently, and he sounded minimally sympathetic toward Howard’s endurance of pain on Thursday night.
Gasol’s gone, Howard is searching and these Lakers simply aren’t constructed to resurrect themselves in the playoff chase. For the future, the Lakers’ play hasn’t changed, nor will it. They have to give Dwight Howard a chance to recuperate his back, his shoulder, and understand that he can eventually still be a franchise center.
And yet, as Bryant told MacMullan, “We don’t have time for [Howard's shoulder] to heal. We need some urgency.” Bryant has been around a long time to be too surprised his words were construed as a call to arms for Howard. Make no mistake: That interview practically promised Howard would be in the lineup on Thursday night, that he would push through the pain and redirect the narrative on himself.
Nevertheless, Howard still seemed bothered with Bryant, and, well, Bryant seemed unbothered with it. He shot Howard his text, let him know he wasn’t making a run at him. Whatever. From the start, this partnership promised to be an uneasy proposition, and it’s been something of a self-perpetuating prophecy. Kobe and Dwight always knew the deal here. With winning, perhaps they could tolerate each other. With losing, a deep disdain.
“We communicate,” Bryant told Y! Sports. “We do often.” This doesn’t mean they have a relationship, or trust, and that’s part of the reason Bryant is a minimalist when it comes to the sharing of the basketball season’s page. All along, they were destined to be terrible teammates. They knew it, but could do nothing to stop an inevitable consolidation of their talents. In the end, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard need each other, and that’s still the best chance for the salvation of these Los Angeles Lakers. Someday soon, they’ll need to go far deeper on that page together. Someday soon, the future of the franchise depends upon it.
K.G. doesn’t want to go anywhere; Ainge likely to oblige — The Kevin Garnett trade rumors have been bubbling up since early this week, with the Clippers being mentioned most as the destination for the current All-Star starter and future Hall of Famer. Garnett has been mostly quiet on the rumors, but had some comments after last night’s win over the Lakers where he didn’t mince words about his future. As well, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge says he doesn’t see himself dealing Garnett (or star Paul Pierce) and is for the most part happy with Boston’s roster. The Boston Globe’s Gary Dzen and ESPNBoston.com’s have the reports from both camps:
K.G. on staying put:
Kevin Garnett ended his postgame press conference Thursday night with an unprompted message to reporters that he’d like to stay in Boston.
“I just want to say that I love my situation here,” said Garnett. “I don’t know what all your sources are, or whoever’s making up this [expletive] articles about me getting traded to Denver and all these other places.
“But I bleed green, and I will continue to do that. And if it’s up to me I’m going to retire a Celtic.”
Garnett scored his 25,000th NBA point in the second quarter of Thursday night’s game. He said his daughter was in attendance (“Thank you for snow days”), a rare occasion, and he thanked every coach and teammate who had helped him along the way. While in a reflective mood, Garnett went back to a familiar metaphor — cooking — to explain why the Celtics might be playing better in the absence of Rajon Rondo.
“Rondo does so many different great things for this team,” said Garnett. “You can kind of get lackadaisical. It’s very similar to when you have someone cooking for you, and you’re expecting that every day. But as soon as you start to feed yourself, all of a sudden you start making these gourmet dishes. You start having more people to the house. And you never know you really possessed that. It’s kind of like that.”
Ainge on keeping the stars together:
Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Thursday that despite rumors to the contrary, he doesn’t expect to trade Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
“Yeah, I think that’s by far the most likely thing. Sure,” he said when asked whether he was comfortable saying the two stars will remain in Boston.
“I’ll just repeat what I always tell you guys — the things that are out there are the things that aren’t true and the things that are happening are not being reported,” he said regarding trade rumors.
“I can’t give you much juice other than it’s this time every year. There’s a lot of conversation, and usually at this time of the year, the conversation isn’t as serious. As it gets closer to the deadline, it gets a little bit more serious. You get a little bit better offers. It’s still most people trying to make one-sided deals, as opposed to doing what’s best for both teams. Which is — a trade like a Rudy Gay trade is fairly unusual this time, this early before the deadline.”
Ainge said he will be patient moving forward and that he doesn’t expect any wholesale changes to his roster this season.
“I want to see how our team plays over the next little while before the trade deadline, too,” he said. “But I don’t think we’ve had a true test of exactly what team we are yet. And I think that, because I’ve been doing this for 10 years now, but with this group of guys for the last couple of years, I don’t see that much changing. There aren’t a lot of teams that are trying to pursue players of KG and Paul’s age, and I just think that we value them more than other teams value them.
“There’s so many teams that are trying to get younger, so many teams that are trying to rebuild, so many teams are trying to get high draft picks already. I think that where we value them as players is just much greater than the rest of the league, which I think is common among players of their age.”
Why hasn’t Iguodala become ‘the man’ in Denver? — When he was dealt to Denver as part of the Dwight Howard-Andrew Bynum deal, most folks around the NBA thought the Nuggets finally acquired their long-sought after go-to scorer in Andre Iguodala. Yet Iguodala, a free-agent this summer, is the Nuggets’ No. 3 scorer (behind Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson) while still delivering the consistent defense and all-around play that helped him become an All-Star as a member of the Sixers.
Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post delves into whether or not the Nuggets — as successful as they’ve been of late — should seriously give Iguodala a max-level contract next season, especially if he can’t even be the team’s top player scoring-average wise:
So here’s the key question for Denver coming down the stretch: Can the Nuggets afford to build a contender around Iguodala, given the constraints of the NBA salary cap and this franchise’s aversion to paying the luxury tax on talent?
Iguodala is a clamp-down defender, a true professional and a compelling interview.
But the NBA is not a spelling bee. You don’t get paid $15 million for giving intelligent sound bites or getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
For $15 million, was it too much to expect for the 29-year-old Iguodala to lead the Nuggets in scoring, be an all-league defender and stamp his personality on the locker room?
His defense has met expectations. The rest of the shiny package? Empty.
After 50 games with the Nuggets since arriving in trade, Iguodala is in danger of finishing with career lows for field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and rebounds per game. But the real head-scratcher is why an Olympic gold medal winner from the Dream Team hasn’t been more forceful in establishing high standards for these young, often- inconsistent Nuggets.
“It’s a little bit of an adjustment. It’s hard to change habits, especially when you’re the new guy coming into a new situation,” Iguodala said Thursday. “There are some things guys have been accustomed to doing their whole careers, and when you come in here, you can’t just jump on them right away and say, ‘Change it.’ It’s a process.”
So was it too much to expect Iguodala to lead the Nuggets in scoring and shoot better than 60 percent from the foul line? Coach George Karl is never afraid to tell me I’m wrong, so I asked him.
“I’m not unhappy. That’s unrealistic. You thought he’d be our leading scorer? I never thought that,” Karl said. “He’s a good scorer for us, and we have other guys we plug in. The way we play, we don’t tilt the offense to one player until the end of the game. We just play basketball, go out, run and see who gets the touches.”
You can unearth basketball metrics that argue Iguodala is among the NBA’s premier defensive players. But there are also advanced stats that suggest the nine-year pro is struggling worse than at any time since his rookie season, despite Karl’s transition-friendly offense that seems ready-made for Iguodala’s skill set.Iguodala is the highest-paid player on Denver’s roster.
But is he really more valuable to the Nuggets’ future than Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari or Kenneth Faried? Given salary cap constraints, would it be wise for Denver to make Iguodala among the league’s 15 top-paid players?
ICYMI of the night: The best thing about this highlight from JaVale McGee (other than it won’t land him on Shaqtin’ A Fool)? Ty Lawson seeing the whole time that McGee is camped out just outside the key, pointing in the air for the alley-oop and Lawson delivers it perfectly:
D. Rose. In the D League. In Des Moines.
The marketing opportunities would be enormous. And it might just help Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls in their long, arduous process of getting the 2011 NBA MVP back onto the court for a real playoff push.
Rose has been painstakingly working his way back through the demanding stages of recovery and rehabilitation from ACL surgery on his left knee. Meanwhile the Bulls have been waiting patiently and playing without excuses – coach Tom Thibodeau would tolerate nothing less – for what most have pegged as a late February or early March return.
Rose finally returned to practice last week, the last stage before he’s on the floor in a Bulls uniform on game night. But it potentially is a lengthy stage for reasons beyond his control, as the team’s executive vice president John Paxson told listeners of a sports talk show on the Bulls’ flagship station.
“We don’t have the defined plan yet because Derrick is still progressing,” Paxson said Friday on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “The way he feels and what his body tells him is going to dictate how we do things. But I can tell you one thing – and this is for certain – he’s going to have to have a high volume of practices and contact, and where he’s comfortable on the floor doing things that he used to do naturally. And that takes some time and he’s just starting that process now.
“We can’t sit here today and say he’s going to be back in three weeks or after the All-Star break.
High volume of practices. Paxson knows as well as anyone that the notion is an oxymoron at this stage of an NBA season – particularly for his club in its current condition. Beginning Saturday at Atlanta, the tail end of a back-to-back, they have six games in 12 days before the All-Star break. Upon their return, they play six in the final 10 days of February.
And now the situation is complicated by injuries to others on the roster. Center Joakim Noah sat out Friday in Brooklyn and informed reporters afterward he is suffering from plantar fasciitis in his right foot; the same condition in his left foot cost Noah 18 games in 2009-10. The first-time All-Star might not play again until that showcase event in Houston.
Forward Carlos Boozer might miss his third straight game Saturday with a lingering hamstring strain. The manpower drain has shifted heavier workloads onto Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler, leaving the Bulls not only with a number problem but with tuckered-out players. That’s not conducive, either, to 5-on-5 scrimmaging in the practice gym.
So what’s a fella like Rose to do? How does he get the game conditions he needs? Where does he find teammates fresh enough for near-full-speed practices, the elixir most necessary to his ultimate comeback step?
Go west, young man. Only not too far west, just as far as Des Moines, where the Iowa Energy has a full schedule and players with a different sort of NBA ambition.
Injury rehab assignments are common in baseball, most often used for pitchers trying to work their way back in game conditions. But there’s no reason that NBA players – if their teams are fighting fatigue or ailments – couldn’t do the same thing.
The Bulls could send whatever medical personnel they chose (short of head trainer Fred Tedeschi) to supervise, and a strict minutes limit could be imposed against the Austin Toros or the Sioux Falls Skyforce the same as if it were Philadelphia or Indiana. Easier, in fact, since Energy fans probably would be thrilled just to have Rose in the building. Folks at United Center will almost instantly begin to weave postseason dreams and bracket possibilities as soon as Rose takes the court, and pulling him out after a prescribed 16 or 22 minutes could mess with those. In Des Moines, every minute would be a hoot.
There’s nothing inherently more risky about playing in the D League – chances are, those opponents might yield a little bubble of safety and respect to Rose that he won’t get against NBA defenders. The idea been brought up on occasion in the past – Elton Brand offered to play for Anaheim in March 2008 while rehabbing from a torn Achilles.
Now the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the players allows for such stints for veterans, with their consent. It was suggested in December, for example, that Washington’s John Wall might benefit from testing his knee injury in the D-League.
Look, if the D-League is all about prepping players for the NBA and strengthening rosters, that’s precisely what some brief rehab visits might produce.
Frontcourt. It must be frontcourt. None of this old-school centers nonsense because, we’re told, the game has changed, the dinosaurs have exited stage-and-tar-pits left and no one wants to get stuck watching Jamaal Magloire bang heads with Brad Miller in the league’s annual showcase.
Except that some of the best seasons in recent memory by legitimate NBA centers are being logged this season in the Eastern Conference. This is a real style vs. substance thing — you don’t seem baseball classifying guys merely as infield and outfield – and with the coaches holding sway over the All-Star benches, the hunch here is that size will matter.
Here are my thoughts on likely and deserving East reserves, who are not necessarily the same guys (for Scott Howard-Cooper‘s look at the West, click here):
Deron Williams has been an All-Star the past three years. But he’s not playing like one this season (16.6 ppg, 40.6 FG%). After only one year of voting for him, the East coaches haven’t formed the habit yet — and shouldn’t. Because Jrue Holiday (19.0 ppg, 8.8 apg, 2.29 assists-to-turnovers) has been better for Philadelphia, scoring and assisting more and turning the ball over less. And because Kyrie Irving (23.3 ppg, 40.5 3FG%, 21.9 PER) has been good enough to break through that bogus prohibition about “no All Stars from teams with losing records.” Hey coaches, it’s a team sport. You keep penalizing guys who are a little lonely in talent level, you’ll never get free agents to embrace the most challenging situations.
My picks: Holiday, Irving.
Roy Hibbert loudly proclaimed “Bull [bleep!]“ when asked his thoughts about the new frontcourt category. The Indiana center enjoyed his All-Star experience last winter and felt the rules were getting rigged to make a repeat performance more difficult. In fact, Hibbert’s own play (9.7 ppg, 8.2 rpt, 41.0 FG%) and that of some rival conference big men have made a repeat nearly impossible. Chicago’s Joakim Noah is having a breakthrough season, scoring (12.3 ppg), shooting (10.2 FGAs), assisting (4.1 apg) and blocking (2.0 bpg) more than ever to keep the Bulls afloat in Derrick Rose’s absence. Carlos Boozer (21 double-doubles) and Luol Deng (better numbers than last year, his first as an All-Star) have been solid, too. New York’s Tyson Chandler makes another bid for traditional centers with his 12.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 67.2% accuracy and rim defense. Chris Bosh’s numbers aren’t gaudy but on a 36-minute basis (19.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg) he’s been fine — and coaches like that sense of sacrifice for other stars. The Nets’ Brook Lopez is playing better (18.6 ppg, 51.7 FG%) than some guys who made it in the past but might miss out.
My picks: Noah, Chandler, Bosh.
THE WILD CARDS
The wild cards: What finally might have been Josh Smith‘s year to crack the All-Star roster fizzled this week with his performance – and one-game team suspension resulting from a reversion to old habits – in the Hawks’ 58-point mess at Chicago. I know the Knicks’ J.R. Smith has remade himself as a contributing team guy, but I can’t see the coaches falling in line on him in just a half season. Then again, Indiana’s Paul George has taken a giant step in the first half of his third season and, in picking up the slack of Danny Granger, is the most valuable Pacer (David West is pretty close). That leaves one spot for someone left over from above – or better yet, for Paul Pierce, still getting it done (21.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.2 apg per 36 minutes) for Boston. Some like Charles Barkley prefer half-season wonders but the All-Star Game still is a place to honor and enjoy all-timers in twilight, too.
My picks: George, Pierce.
CHICAGO – Tom Thibodeau turned the Chicago Bulls’ shootaround into a minefield Monday. The head coach was in gruff “go” mode, locking in on players with his pale-eyed steely gaze and blistering them not with the fire he probably wished he could breathe in that moment but the next best effin‘ thing.
“Thibs was screaming at us early in the morning,” center Joakim Noah said later, smiling as he pulled back the team curtain just a little. “It’s not fun to be screamed at at 9 o’clock in the morning … What was he screaming about? That we were 10-10 at home. With a lot of f-bombs. A lot of f-bombs.”
And so Monday evening, the Bulls dusted themselves off from a miserable home loss to Phoenix 48 hours earlier and took it out on the Atlanta Hawks. They were led, again, by Carlos Boozer, otherwise known as the Bull least likely to be affected by an angry coach or blistering language.
If Bulls fans, nay, NBA followers have learned anything about the brawny 6-foot-9 veteran out of Aschaffenburg, Germany by way of Juneau, Alaska and Duke University, it’s that the armor of his bulging, inked-up muscles is coated in a veneer of Teflon. Nothing seems to stick to Boozer – nothing bad, nothing good – as he goes through the league and his career doing what he does best, over and over again.
In a sense, he is a thoroughly professional athlete: punching in, providing fairly predictable measures of production and emotion, taking the paycheck, clocking out and heading home.
“He is who he is,” Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said over the weekend. “I don’t think having a guy who can get 18 and 10 is that bad of a deal. And he does it pretty consistently. I think his game has changed for the better – he can step out on the floor, he’s become a better perimeter shooter than he was. But I still think he’s a guy who can finish at the basket. He’s strong, a very physical player. I think he’s pretty good.”
Against Atlanta Monday, Boozer scored 20 points and had 13 rebounds for his eighth double-double in the past nine games and 20th of the season, tops in the Eastern Conference. He is averaging 21.1 points and 11.1 rebounds across those nine games, which include some of the best (at Miami, at New York) and worst (vs. Charlotte, vs. Phoenix) performances of Chicago’s season.
Lately he has been putting up numbers that stir some Chicago echoes. Boozer’s recent run included four 20-10 efforts in a row, something no Bulls player had done since Scottie Pippen back in 1995. By following up his 31-11 night at Orlando with a 27-12 outing at Miami, Boozer became the first Bull since Michael Jordan to score at least 27 and take 11 rebounds in back-to-back games. (more…)
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Points, rebounds and assists are nice, but plus-minus is the most important stat in basketball.
Teams win games by outscoring their opponent, and plus-minus reflects how much a team has done that in a player’s minutes on the floor. If a player isn’t scoring, he can help his teammates score and also prevent the opponent from doing so.
But in basketball, with nine other guys on the floor affecting what each player does, plus-minus always needs context, and lots of it. Who is a guy playing his minutes with? Who is he not playing his minutes with?
Furthermore, sample size is important. Single-game plus-minus can help tell a story about key sequences or the impact of a player or two on a particular night. But if you really want to get a good idea of how a team performs when a player or group of players is on the floor, you’ve got to look at a large chunk of games.
At this point in the season, we can get a pretty good idea of where teams are strong and weak. Through Thursday, 224 players have logged at least 500 minutes for one team this season.
On Wednesday, we looked at the players with the biggest on-off court differential in regard to their team’s offensive efficiency. Today, we look at the defensive end of the floor.
Measuring the difference in a team’s offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) when a player is on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor, here are the league’s five biggest difference makers, as well as a pair at the bottom of the list.
For all of them, the discrepancy between their team’s defensive numbers with them on and off the floor is as much about the guys replacing them as it is about what they’re doing themselves.
Because the Celtics use a unique substitution pattern with KG, you can get a pretty clear idea of the impact he makes. No other Celtics regular has played more 63 percent of his minutes with Garnett.
You probably figured Garnett would be at or near the top of this list, but 14.4 points per 100 possessions? That’s an amazing number, and it’s an indictment on Brandon Bass (382 minutes with Garnett off the floor), Jared Sullinger (331) and Chris Wilcox (297) … and Paul Pierce (391) and Rajon Rondo (432).
It’s also an endorsement of both former Celtics center Greg Stiemsma and guard Avery Bradley, because the Celtics’ defense only fell off 0.5 points per 100 possessions when Garnett stepped off the floor last season.
Bradley’s return (he made his 2012-13 debut on Wednesday) offers some hope, but interior defense will continue to be an issue whenever Garnett rests. (more…)