Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Villanueva’

Forgotten Villanueva hopes to stick

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

DALLAS – Charlie Villanueva could have packed his sneakers, walked away from the game and lived a happy life with his wife and two young kids wherever they so pleased, and no one might ever have noticed he’d left.

Memphis Grizzlies v Dallas Mavericks

Charlie Villanueva is looking to turn a non-guaranteed training camp invite into a full-time spot on the Mavericks.
Danny Bollinger/NBAE/Getty Images

It’s been that long since the 6-foot-11, sweet-shooting, headband-wearing Villanueva — once a No. 7 overall pick and once an ascending player with the Bucks who became the Pistons’ prized, $37-million free-agent acquisition — did much of anything in the league.

What should have been prime years of his career instead wasted away on Detroit’s bench, Villanueva rendered impotent by a toxic mix of various and seemingly unending injuries, a frustrating coaching carousel and a series of organizational missteps. He became the NBA’s forgotten man.

“I think a lot of people forgot about what Charlie Villanueva can do,” he told NBA.com on Monday night, seated in the corner of the Dallas Mavericks’ locker room, awaiting preseason game No. 6 of eight of his hopeful resurrection. “Sometimes you’ve got to take two steps backward to take three steps forward. It’s just what happened in my career. But now I’m trying to change things around. I’m trying to reinvent myself.”

For the last five weeks, Villanueva, 30, has lived out of a couple of suitcases at the Omni Hotel in downtown Dallas, a 1.2-mile walk to the American Airlines Center and Mavs headquarters, leaving behind his family in Michigan. He agreed on Sept. 23 to come to training camp on a non-guaranteed contract.

“I’m not used to this, but everything happens for a reason, so I’m going with the punches,” Villanueva said. “I’ve spent a lot of time by myself. I’m away from my family now, away from the kids, a lot of alone time and a lot of eating meals alone.”

The Clippers were a potential option, but no guaranteed money was being offered there either. He chose Dallas, saying it just felt right, even though it already has the maximum 15 players on guaranteed contracts. If Villanueva is going to make the team, he’s going to have to convince owner Mark Cuban (who is open to being convinced) to trade (Gal Mekel?) or buy out (Bernard James?) a player on a guaranteed deal.

“I had a great conversation with coach [Rick Carlisle] and I just felt there was a serious opportunity here if I do my part,” Villanueva said. “I love the team, I love the city and I felt like every guy complemented each other real well, and this team is real deep as well. I felt why not go for the challenge and see what happens?”

The opportunity is real. The Mavs have long searched for a true stretch-4 to back up Dirk Nowitzki to maintain the offensive flow when he sits. Small forward Shawn Marion, now in Cleveland with LeBron James, was strong enough to move up a weight class when Nowitzki rested. Marion’s replacement, the 6-foot-10 sharpshooter Chandler Parsons, will be asked to play some power forward. The Mavs also acquired Al-Farouq Aminu, who Dallas coaches are taking great care to refine his defensive skills and 3-point shot. Brandan Wright plays more center than power forward because his best offensive skill is rolling to the basket.

The 240-pound, floor-spacing Villanueva seems the fit Dallas has been seeking. The Mavs signed Rashard Lewis in July, but voided the contract after discovering an injury, something that finally isn’t the first thing mentioned when Villanueva’s name comes up.

“Oh, I feel good. I haven’t felt this good in a while, man,” Villanueva said. “Feeling good, in great shape, healthy, just excited about basketball again.”

Within the Mavs’ organization there seems a genuine interest in getting Villanueva on the roster.

“He’s an extremely intelligent basketball player and he knows what he can and can’t do,” Carlisle said. “Those are the kind of guys that you like to have … He’s done a good job. He’s making a strong case.”

His start to the preseason — 32 points, 8-for-16 shooting from beyond the arc and nine rebounds in 35 minutes spread over three games — was more promising than his last three games — 13 points, 2-for-10 on 3s and five rebounds in 25 minutes over three games. He played just six minutes in Monday’s game against Memphis, the type of team with a big front line that would figure to make Villanueva valuable to Dallas. However, one weaknesses so far has been his low-post defense.

“I definitely feel like [I've been] given a fair shot,” Villanueva said. “I felt good about my chances, but at the end of the day, until I hear that word, I can’t be comfortable, I can’t get this monkey off my back.”

He’s far removed from 16.7 ppg and 6.7 rpg in 2008-09, the season that convinced Detroit to make him a swift and lucrative offer the ensuing summer. It’s been a long five years since. He essentially disappeared.

His five-year deal with Detroit finally up, having played only limited minutes in just 102 games over the last three seasons, Villanueva could have convinced himself to walk away, to enjoy his family and pursue new interests.

But he couldn’t walk away. It’s been a training camp like none other for Villanueva. Now two preseason games remain. The regular season begins next Tuesday.

“I love playing basketball,” Villanueva said. “I’m feeling good, feeling healthy, so trying to maximize my abilities until they take the basketball away from me.”

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 23



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Granger to discuss buyout | Young feels left out | Nick Young not sure about opt out | Villanueva seeks buyout | Love records first triple-double

No. 1: Granger to discuss buyout – It’s no surprise that the Philadelphia 76ers and newly acquired Danny Granger are in talks to buy out his contract. The Sixers have the second-worst record in the NBA at 15-41 and have little use for Granger, who could aid many teams’ playoff push. Rumors have already emerged that the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls would have interest in the former All-Star. But the situation is not so simple because if Granger is bought out he would lose his Bird rights, which allows him to sign for more money this offseason, potentially as part of a sign-and-trade out of Philadelphia. Here’s more on the situation from John Gonzalez of CSN-Philly:

“We’re going to speak with him,” Hinkie said. “He’s coming in, like all the players are, they’ll come in, [take] physicals, we’ll meet with them, we’ll talk with them. Danny I hold in really high esteem. It’s going to be interesting. I think we’re going to just sit and talk like men and say ‘What is it that you want out of the rest of this year?’

“You want to talk about shell-shock, he’s been in one place his whole career, and he’s had a heck of a career already, and I think has a good bit to go. So we’re going to sit and talk to him about what it is he wants and the kind of role he sees on our team and vice versa. Where that goes, I don’t exactly know.”

Granger, who will turn 31 in April, is in the final year of a $14 million contract and will become a free agent this offseason. The former All-Star played just five games for the Pacers last year after suffering a left knee injury. He started just two of 29 games for Indiana this season, averaging 8.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 22.5 minutes.

Given how Hinkie put the situation — that he and Granger would sit down and “talk like men” — someone asked whether it was possible that the Sixers might “buy out” Granger. Here, again, Hinkie had a vague but interesting answer.

“I think there’s a chance for us to have a discussion,” Hinkie replied. “How that goes, I don’t exactly know. He hasn’t come, but we’re organizing a flight for him to be here soon.”

***

No. 2: Young feels left out – Staying in Philadelphia, forward Thaddeus Young is having a career year and he feels like he was left out of the trade-deadline action. His name was in rumor discussions, but many reported that the asking price given by the Sixers was too high for potential suitors to sustain interest. Now stuck in a situation without Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner, Young decided to speak out, as reported by Bob Cooney of Philly.com:

“Come on,” he said with a smile. “I know y’all want to talk.”

Young doesn’t hide on or off the court. Thursday’s trades that sent away fellow starters Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes left him as the elder statesman of the team, and the lone remaining vet left to endure what is sure to be gut-wrenching end of the season.

“This situation, I don’t know how much worse it can get, but there’s a lot of great guys in this locker room who can play,” he said dutifully. “Hopefully, we can just go out there and get better as a team and continue to play hard.”

“I am not going to lie, a little bit,” he said of feeling left out on trade day. “Certain things don’t always happen in your favor or it doesn’t happen the way everybody else thinks it should play out. It’s been a very tough year so far, but you try to make the best of the situation.”

***

No. 3: Nick Young not sure about opt out – Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak recently guessed that guard Nick Young would opt-out of his $1.2 million player option after the season in hopes of finding a more lucrative deal on the open market. Young’s agent Mark Bartelstein says not to be so sure, as reported by Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

This week, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak credited Young for having a “great year,” averaging 16.9 points per game and showing a better commitment toward defense. Kupchak then added, “my guess is he’s going to opt out” of his $1.2 million player option in hopes of securing a longer and lucrative deal.

Young politely declined to address Kupchak’s foreshadowing. But Young’s agent, Mark Bartelstein told this newspaper it’s presumptuous to think Kupchak’s prediction will pan out.

“Nick wants to be a Laker,” Bartelstein. “But his focus right now is to get healthy, get back on the court soon and finish rest of the season. That’s a conversation Mitch and I will have, but it’s too early at this point to talk about what he’s going to do.”

If Young exercises his player option, he secures his standing with the Lakers for one season albeit with money perhaps below his market value. If Young opts out of his current contract, he could secure a longer and more lucractive deal with the Lakers. But that scenario could prompt the Lakers to allow Young to sign with another team considering the team’s hope to maintain financial flexibility.

Considering his scoring output ranks second only behind Pau Gasol, is Young at least leaning toward opting out of his contract?

“No. Look, Nick’s play speaks for itself,” Bartelstein said. “He’s proven that he’s worth more than what his contract entails when he signed with the Lakers. But again, we’re not focused on that right now. He’s focusing on getting healthy and continuing to play well.”

.***

No. 4: Villanueva seeks buyout – It seems everyone is in the market for a buyout. This time it’s Detroit Pistons power forward Charlie Villanueva. The nine-year veteran out of the University of Connecticut is currently in the middle of the worst shooting season of his career with percentages of 38.5 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from 3-point (but this doesn’t stop him from shooting nearly three 3-pointers per game). He spoke about his frustrations in Detroit with David Mayo of M Live:

Charlie Villanueva said he already has made the difficult transition from frustration to accepting his exclusion from the Detroit Pistons’ rotation, and if he happens to be playing elsewhere by the end of the month, he would accept that too.
“Nobody wants to accept that, you know?  But what can I do, other than work hard and keep working?  That’s all I can do is keep working.  If my name isn’t called, I can’t do nothing about that,” Villanueva said.
It’s still possible that he and the Pistons could agree on the buyout of the remainder of his salary, which could allow another team to pick him up by March 1 and still have him eligible for postseason.
If that opportunity arises, “we could look at it, for sure,” Villanueva said after today’s shootaround before a 7:30 p.m. home game against the Atlanta Hawks.
“I want to play.  If it’s not here, then I’m still young, I’ve still got a lot of years of playing left.  I just want to play,” he said.
He hasn’t gotten that chance regularly for three seasons, under three different head coaches, which has left him “past frustration.”
Villanueva has appeared in 14 games this season and played 125 minutes.
“It’s hard because I love this game, I’m very passionate about this game, so it’s hard not to let my frustration out,” he said.  “But you’ve just got to come to grips with it.  They made their decision.  It is what it is.  So there’s nothing I can do about it.  There’s nothing I can do about it.  It doesn’t matter what I do in practice.  It doesn’t matter what kind of work I put in.  It doesn’t matter.”
John Loyer‘s promotion to interim coach after Maurice Cheeks was fired last week brought with it a restoration of the Will Bynum-Andre Drummond pick-and-roll combination.
That pairing worked best last year when coupled with either Villanueva or Austin Daye, forwards who offered perimeter shooting options.
Bynum said several weeks ago that he clamored to see the trio restored, to no avail.
“I’m no coach,” Villanueva said.  “I’m not gonna say nothing about it.  But amongst players, we talk amongst ourselves and, I mean, has it been looked at?  No.  I feel like it’s something that can definitely work.  But again, I’m no coach.”
A buyout could prove too expensive for Villanueva to accept.  He makes about $105,000 per game, so even if the Pistons bought him out after this three-game homestand with 25 games remaining — they currently have 28 games left — Villanueva would have to balance their offer against his $2.6 million remaining salary at that stage.
For all the criticisms, Villanueva has been a good soldier during his three years of inactivity.
“My situation ain’t so bright right now,” he said, “but I’m still living my dream.”

***

No. 5: Love records first triple-double – Kevin Love put on a show Saturday in Utah to record 37 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists to notch, surprisingly, his first career triple-double. This performance could act as ignition for a run by the Timberwolves, who sit 6.0 games out of the Western Conference playoff picture. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on Love’s career game:

With his top two centers and starting guard Kevin Martin all out injured Saturday, Wolves coach Rick Adelman asked Love for as much as he could conceivably give him, within the bounds of reason, of course.

That turned out to be a 37-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double reached before Love sat down for the final nine minutes after he had propelled his team to a 21-point lead and its third consecutive victory.

“Just do more,” Love said.

That was the challenge that faced the All-Star forward and all of his teammates with Nikola Pekovic, Ronny Turiaf and Martin out. Love responded by scoring 22 points in the third quarter alone, when the Wolves stretched a 10-point halftime lead to as many as 21. Love made five of his six three-pointers in the third quarter.

“He’s unbelievable and because he does it all the time, sometimes we don’t realize how big it is,” teammate Ricky Rubio said.

“He put up video-game numbers. It’s just fun to play with him.”

“He was incredible, that third quarter was incredible,” Adelman said. “To get a triple-double in three quarters, that’s pretty darn good. I think he really realizes now that he can go out there, not have that many points and in a four-minute span just explode.

“That’s what we need. That’s what we needed at the start of the third quarter. He certainly dominated the game, but that third quarter was incredible.”

Love tied [Kevin] Garnett’s franchise record for consecutive 30-point games by reaching his fourth in a row, and he extended a streak of 25-point, 10-rebound games to nine, the NBA’s longest single-season mark since former Utah star Karl Malone did so in 10 consecutive games in the 1991-92 season.

“That’s good company to be in, especially when you do it in a game where you win,” said Love, who reached a career high in assists while still playing fewer than 35 minutes. “I just go out and play. I’m not looking for assists or rebounds or stats. I’m just going out there and playing hard.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Celtics coach Brad Stevens received his first NBA technical and ejection. … The Hawks sign Dexter Pittman to a 10-day contract. … Four players scored over 30 points in the Pacers-Bucks game. … Nene dunked a game-winner with .3 seconds left for the Wizards.

ICYMI of the Night: The Sacramento Kings have been one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA this season, despite their lack of wins. This off-the-backboard alley-oop from Isaiah Thomas to Derrick Williams proves the point:


VIDEO: Backboard Jam

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Summer Dreaming: Executive Of The Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirilenko, KG Help Nets Take Key Defensive Step Forward

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – “Defense wins championships” may feel like a cliché, but there’s a lot of truth to it.

Of the 24 teams to make The Finals over the last 12 years, 23 ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency during the regular season, and the 24th – the 2006 Dallas Mavericks – ranked 11th. Over the same span, six teams that ranked 13th or lower in offensive efficiency made The Finals.

The San Antonio Spurs improved from 11th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to third last season, a big reason why they came just a few seconds from their fifth championship. The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies got themselves into the conference finals with the two best defenses in the league.

The Brooklyn Nets? They weren’t getting anywhere close to The Finals with the league’s 19th best D. In fact, they couldn’t get to the conference semis because they played some of the most atrocious defense you’ll ever see and allowed the injury-depleted Bulls to score 62 points in the first half of Game 7 of the first round.

Since the Nets had no way of getting Dwight Howard or Andre Iguodala this summer, about the best thing they could do was add Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko. At this point, Paul Pierce is almost an after-thought acquisition because of how important KG and AK-47 will be.

Garnett is the best defender of the last decade. In fact, of the 275 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes over the last six seasons, none has had a lower on-court DefRtg than Garnett. Over his six years in Boston, the Celtics allowed just 96.0 points per 100 possessions with Garnett on the floor and 101.4 with him on the bench.

Lowest on-court DefRtg, last six seasons

Player MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Kevin Garnett 12,266 106.8 96.0 +10.9
Tony Allen 8,278 102.6 96.4 +6.2
Taj Gibson 6,690 102.9 97.0 +5.9
Paul Pierce 15,744 106.6 98.3 +8.3
Paul George 6,194 103.7 98.4 +5.3

Minimum 5,000 minutes played
OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Team points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions

(Curious who’s at the bottom of this list? The answer: Charlie Villanueva (109.8), Andrea Bargnani (109.5) and Ryan Gomes (109.2).)

Of course, though Garnett continued to have a big defensive impact last season, he is now 37 years old and limited to 30 minutes per game, maybe less. That’s why landing Kirilenko with their tax payer’s mid-level exception on Thursday was so huge for Brooklyn.

(By the way, the MLE only became available when the Nets couldn’t reach a buyout agreement with Bojan Bogdanovic – whom they drafted in 2011 – and his Turkish team. Whoever that GM is in Turkey, he shouldn’t ever have to buy a drink in Park Slope or Fort Greene.)

Kirilenko doesn’t have nearly the same on-court numbers as Garnett (his teams have allowed 103.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the court over the last six years), because the Jazz were more of a middle-of-the-pack defensive team while he was there and last year’s Timberwolves were same. But both were better defensively with Kirilenko on the floor. He has all the tools – length, athleticism and instincts – of a great defender.

Plus, the Nets have added a great defender for when Garnett rests. In fact, if Kirilenko plays the same 32 minutes per game that he played last year, he can spell both KG and Pierce at the two forward spots and the Nets won’t have to rely on Reggie Evans nearly as much as they did last season.

Even if Pierce or Garnett are out with an injury, the Nets have fill-in starters in Kirilenko and Evans. Joe Johnson is able to slide over the the three, Mason Plumlee is a rookie who looks ready to contribute and Mirza Teletovic as a stretch four. Though Kirilenko will take some of his minutes, Teletovic’s ability to recover from a rough rookie season and spread the floor will still be important.

When the Nets committed $313 million to Deron Williams, Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez a year ago, many of us thought they were locked into that group for years to come. But we should have never underestimated the power of owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s deep pockets. They’ve managed to add Pierce, Garnett, Kirilenko and Jason Terry, while retaining Andray Blatche, who gave them big production off the bench last season. Luxury tax be damned, this is the best top eight in the league.

Blatche, of course, is mostly getting paid by the Wizards. But while Kirilenko is a bargain at $3.1 million per year, he’s really costing the Nets upwards of $15 million when you factor in the additional luxury tax they will have to pay.

So Prokhorov is clearly all-in for a championship in the next two seasons. You never know what’s going to happen over the next 11 months, but Prokhorov and GM Billy King have done everything they can to put their team into position to compete for a championship. And it starts with what should be a much improved defense.

Free-Agent Roundup: July 3

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From NBA.com staff reports

The courting of Dwight Howard is officially over (thank goodness!) … now we’ve just got to wait on his decision. The Dwight/Lakers drama isn’t affecting what the Clippers are doing this offseason as they continue to add solid pieces to their Pacific Division-winning group, with their most recent move coming courtesy of three-team trade. The Clippers picked up free-agent shooter J.J. Redick and Suns marksman Jared Dudley in a deal between themselves, the Suns and Bucks. Although the Clips had to deal prized guard Eric Bledsoe to pick up the shooters, it’s a deal that keeps the Clips humming along. Other teams out West either made themselves better (in the case of the Wolves, who added Kevin Martin and re-signed Chase Budinger) or kept a key piece in place (such as the Grizzlies, who retained defensive ace Tony Allen).:

Smith’s chances of staying with Knicks improving?

As shooting guards like Redick, Martin and others have been snapped up on the free-agent market, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, J.R. Smith, waits for an offer. Smith opted out of his contract to test the waters on a big payday, but according to the New York Daily News’ Frank Isola, Smith could decide to go back to New York if the market keeps playing out as it has:

J.R. Smith’s list of potential suitors continues to grow but the contracts signed by two free agent shooting guards on Tuesday increases the likelihood of Smith returning to the Knicks.

The Clippers agreed to acquire J.J. Redick in a sign-and-trade with the Milwaukee Bucks while Oklahoma City Thunder free agent Kevin Martin verbally agreed to a four-year, $28 million deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The maximum the Knicks can offer Smith, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, is a four-year contract starting at approximately $5.5 million per season.

Smith has told close friends that if the money is comparable his preference would be to re-sign with the Knicks. Still, some of the teams that contacted Smith’s representatives have the ability to offer a deal approaching $30 million. The Pistons, Mavs, Rockets, Bucks and Bobcats have all expressed interest in Smith, who is coming off his best season.

With Redick and Martin setting the market for shooting guards, there is a sense that Smith’s free agency can reach a conclusion by the end of the week. The Knicks have made it known that they want their second leading scorer back and ideally they’d like to sign Smith to a two-year deal. But Smith, who came to the Knicks midway through the lockout season during a tumultuous stint in China, is looking to be rewarded for his performance and loyalty.

The fact that both Carmelo Anthony and Garden Chairman James Dolan are both in Smith’s corner is a factor to say the least. Dolan, according to a source, was briefed on the club’s free agent negotiations on Tuesday. Dolan has been more involved in the day-to-day operations of the basketball side since 2010 when he was front and center during the Knicks free agent presentation to LeBron James.

Report: Pistons make offer for Raptors’ Gay

When the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay as part of a three-team deal with Memphis, Detroit and Toronto, the Grizz came out of the deal with Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. The Raptors ended up with Gay, who played 33 games for them and — on a points-per-game basis — finished as their top scorer. But apparently the Pistons originally wanted Gay in the first swap, so they’ve solicited the Raptors to try and get him again, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:

The Detroit Pistons were among the bidders for forward Rudy Gay when the Memphis Grizzlies made him available last season and they are once again going after him now that there’s been a management changeover in Toronto.

The Pistons have offered the Raptors the expiring contracts of Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva in an attempt to acquire Gay, league sources told ESPN.com.

Stuckey and Villanueva are both scheduled to make $8.5 million this season and Gay has two years and $37 million left on his contract. Gay averaged 19.5 points on 43 percent shooting in 33 games after a midseason trade sent him to Toronto.

Rockets trying to land J-Smoove and Dwight?

Our man David Aldridge touched on this overnight, but it seems that what Howard does in free agency may have a direct effect on what Hawks free agent Josh Smith does as well. USA Today’s Sam Amick reports on Smith, who has long been on the Houston Rockets’ radar. Houston is also actively pursuing Howard and is thought to have a good shot to land the All-Star center. And while some have reported Smith is a backup plan for Houston should it lose out on Howard, that may not be the case:

According to two people with knowledge of the situation, the Rockets’ Monday meeting with free agent forward Josh Smith in Los Angeles included a discussion about a possible partnership with him and his childhood friend from Atlanta in Howard.

Smith has long been known to be on the Rockets’ radar, but he is not viewed solely as a backup plan to Howard should he decide to sign elsewhere and the possibility remains of another superteam being created with Howard and Smith joining franchise centerpiece James Harden. The people spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.

There would be serious hurdles to this sort of deal, but the Rockets may be able to get it done if they could convince Smith’s former team, the Atlanta Hawks, to take part in a sign-and-trade that would clear the necessary salary cap space to sign both players.

To that end, a CBSSports.com report on Sunday indicated that the Rockets have been discussing possible trades involving center Omer Asik and point guard Jeremy Lin with other teams. Both players are scheduled to earn $8.3 million in each of the next two seasons, meaning they could possibly be moved as a way to free up the funds to bring Howard and Smith together.

Howard completed his free agency meetings on Tuesday by meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers. He met with the Rockets first on Sunday night, followed by Golden State and Atlanta on Monday and the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday before the Lakers. Smith is also being targeted by the Detroit Pistons and is believed to have at least five suitors.

Suns-Clips trade spells trouble for Marshall

Kendall Marshall was the 13th overall pick of the 2012 Draft and the third point guard (behind Rookie of the Year winner Damian Lillard and the Pelicans’ Austin Rivers) off the board that night. However, he struggled to find minutes with the Suns and even had a nine-game stint in the NBA D-League. The Suns’ acquisition of Bledsoe from the Clippers in last night’s trade may only spell more bad news for the second-year guard, writes Bob Young of The Arizona Republic:

The Suns won’t say it, but we will.

The Kendall Marshall draft pick last season was a mistake.

Then again, maybe the Suns did say it by taking part in a three-team deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports to obtain a quick, athletic point guard in Eric Bledsoe and veteran small forward Caron Butler from the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Suns sent Jared Dudley to the Clippers, who once played in his hometown. The Milwaukee Bucks, the third-team in the deal, ship guard JJ Redick to the Clippers and get second-round draft picks in exchange.

This isn’t to say that Marshall, who was selected when Lance Blanks served as general manager, doesn’t have a place in the Suns future. It’s just that it’s probably as the team’s third point guard.

Twitter quick hits: On Korver, Gay, Hamilton, Copeland, Cavaliers and more

Free Agency: Making A Case For Dwight





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In the days, weeks and months leading up to the NBA Draft, the decision makers around the league play a revolving game of chess with agents about their players and where they might draft them, if at all.

It’s a complex, high-stakes game with very specific rules and constraints that only a select few play well enough to actually win. And even when they do win, we don’t find out about it sometimes for years.

Free agency, on the other hand, is a wicked venture that plays out every July, with the biggest stars holding most of the leverage and the desperate teams flush with cap space ready to do whatever it takes to win their favor. The winners and losers in free agency are revealed rather quickly. Spend wisely (like the Miami Heat three summers ago, with the aid of cap space and key sign-and-trade assets LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade on South Beach) and you can move into elite company immediately. Spend frivolously (see the Detroit Pistons’ 2009 summer of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva) and you’ll be making an annual date for the lottery.

That superstar list this summer is short, starting with the top unrestricted free agents Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, and falling to a second-tier that includes Josh Smith, David West, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Andre Iguodala, Paul Millsap, Monta Ellis, Manu Ginobili and others.

There is also an intriguing list of restricted free agent crop includes talents like Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague, Nikola Pekovic, Tyreke Evans, Tiago Splitter and others that some teams with cap space will poke around at in an effort to fill out their rosters.

Because unlike the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics, whose blockbuster deal on Draft night changed both franchises dramatically before the July 1 start of free agency, not everyone was prepared to handle their heavy lifting in that manner.

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With Doc Rivers fleeing the Boston rebuild for a championship chase in Los Angeles with the Clippers, that leaves Howard alone as the eye of this summer’s free agent storm. And he’s already reportedly set up a timetable of his own to have his future decided. July 10 is his decision day.

That leaves us with a distinctly different free agent landscape than we expected as recently as last weekend and the need for some clarity on exactly who and what will be in play July 1, as well as what teams figure to be the major players in the free agent sweepstakes …
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Pistons Working To Save Their Season, Refill Once-Packed Palace

DALLAS – The Detroit Pistons have crashed as hard as the Michigan economy over the last few years and the combination has resulted in a lot of eerily quiet nights inside The Palace at Auburn Hills.

“It is strange for sure,” Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva said before the Pistons dropped a 10th road game in 11 tries Saturday against the Mavericks. “The fact that my first five years in the league, seeing that place sold out every game; every time we went into Detroit it was sold out. It just shows how hard the economy hit, but I think it will bounce back. It’s just a matter of time.”

For now, there are more empty seats than filled ones at Pistons games. But to pin Detroit’s turnstile problem mostly on a rotten economy is to discredit die-hard Pistons fans that have grown weary of throwing good money at bad basketball.

Entering tonight’s eighth home game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit’s average attendance is 12,392 and ranks last in the league — behind Sacramento, New Orleans and last season’s worst team, Charlotte. Take away the home-opener crowd of 16,646 and the average dips to 11,683. On most nights the actual attendance is much less.

FROM FIRST TO WORST
The Pistons rank last in the league in attendance this season. A look at the club’s average attendance over the last 13 seasons
Season Avg. Attendance Rank
2012-13 12,392 30th
2011-12 14,413 28th
2010-11 16,660 18th
2009-10 18,751 8th
2008-09 21,877 1st
2007-08 22,076 1st
2006-07 22,076 2nd
2005-06 22,076 1st
2004-05 22,076 1st
2003-04 22,076 1st
2002-03 20,470 1st
2001-02 18,556 11th
2000-01 14,812 22nd

“It’s not weird because it’s not a situation where it’s been drastic, where this season it was packed and the very next season it was nothing,” said Tayshaun Prince, a career Piston and last remaining member of the 2004 title team. “It didn’t just hit rock bottom at one point. When things are going so well for a long period of time and then all of a sudden when things hit, then they started to veer down, veer down, veer down.”

From 2002 through 2009, not coincidentally the last time Detroit made the playoffs, the Pistons ranked No. 1 in attendance in six of those seven seasons, routinely boasting sellout crowds of 20,000-plus. The one season they weren’t No. 1, they were No. 2. The run included the ’04 championship and a repeat Finals appearance under Larry Brown, and four other East finals appearances, one prior to Brown under Rick Carlisle, and three more after Brown under Flip Saunders.

Since Saunders won 59 games in 2007-08, but lost in the East finals for a third consecutive time, Detroit has rolled through coaches Michael Curry (39-43) and John Kuester (57-107), with Lawrence Frank now in his second season and trying to rescue a 5-13 start that opened with eight consecutive losses.

Detroit hasn’t won more than 39 games in any of the last four seasons and average attendance has steadily declined from the top spot in ’08-’09 to eighth to 18th to 28th and now to rock bottom.

“It’s not on the fans to come out. It’s on us to put together a product every night that fans can be proud of,” Frank said. “Detroit has always shown great support, not just for basketball, for all their sports teams when they’re competing at the highest level. You’re used to seeing a lot of fans out there, but we’re appreciative for the fans that do go. Obviously, we understand the economic crisis and what hit, and Detroit obviously was hit harder than most. But from the beginning, it’s going to be on us to put together something that the fans can be proud of and want to support.”

To Frank’s point, and further proof that tough economic times alone doesn’t kill attendance, the Detroit Tigers have averaged more than 30,000 fans in each of the last six seasons. Even the Lions, amid another last-place season, are averaging more than 63,000 through six home games, better than 98 percent capacity. Both clubs play in relatively new downtown venues and some debate if the Pistons would be better served leaving their suburban digs some 30 miles north of the city.

But that ignores the club’s attendance track record over much of the last decade and before that when the Pistons shared the Pontiac Silverdome with the Lions.

So how close are the Pistons to rising up again?

“I think it’s real close,” impressive third-year center and leading scorer Greg Monroe said. “We have to find a way to come out every night and just play hard and outwork teams. I think we’re very close to doing that, but it’s going to take games to get the actual body of work to say we are doing it consistently.”

It’s hopeless to still lament the Darko Milicic draft and the free-agent millions thrown at Villanueva and Ben Gordon. Monroe is surrounded by a roster that might not contend for a title, but is at least intriguing for its youth. Second-year guard Brandon Knight and rookies Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond join Monroe as possible long-term core pieces. Veterans Jason Maxiell, Corey Maggette, Rodney Stuckey, Prince and, yes, Villanueva, should help to at least make a push toward playoff contention in a mediocre Eastern Conference.

No progress was made on that front during the recent two-game road swing through Memphis and Dallas with two more double-digit losses (nine in 11 road games). It was a disappointing development coming after the season’s first flirtation with momentum, a modest two-game home win streak that gave Detroit four wins in six games.

They put on an offensive show for the few souls that came out, beating Portland, 108-101, and then drilled Phoenix 117-77. That beat down drew an announced crowd of 10,517, about 300 more than the previous night.

Even the league’s top draws haven’t delivered bigger crowds. The Celtics drew 12,214 and 12,784 came to see three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“It’s been tough,” Maxiell admitted. “The last couple years the crowd’s been trimming down. We’re trying to bring the crowds back with some big entertainment. The guys that were here a couple years ago know how it was when we were winning, and we’re trying to bring them back.”

Charlie V Aims To Return To Form

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Anyone remember Charlie Villanueva?

He might be easy to forget, because he played just 180 minutes last season and because the Pistons have gone 82-148 (.357) since he since he signed a huge contract three years ago.

Villanueva had a promising start to his career, finishing second (behind Chris Paul) in Rookie of the Year voting in 2006. And he averaged 16.2 points for the Bucks in 2008-09. But he’s never been on a playoff team and it’s clear that Pistons president Joe Dumars wasted his 2009 cap space on Villanueva and Ben Gordon (who was traded to Charlotte in the offseason for Corey Maggette).

At this point, with two years and $16.6 million left on his contract, Villanueva is one of those guys who hasn’t come close to making the most of his talent. And he isn’t thought of very highly by Pistons fans, who probably would have liked Dumars to waive Villanueva via the amnesty clause. But Villanueva will be back next season, and he’s out to turn his career back around.

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press caught up with Charlie V at a camp he’s running for kids in Detroit… (more…)

Singler Belatedly Joins Pistons





ORLANDO — Better late than never. More than a year after the Pistons made him the 33rd pick in the 2011 draft, Kyle Singler signed an NBA contract.

“We are pleased to have Kyle Singler join our organization knowing he brings great character and skill to our team,” Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said in a statement.

Of course, the Pistons weren’t quite so pleased when Singler chose to remain in Europe rather than join the club last December when the lockout ended.

“I know there probably weren’t the best of feelings at the time,” Singler said Wednesday after this third outing in the AirTran Orlando Pro Summer League. “That’s understandable. But I did what I thought was best for me at the time.”

The Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four when Duke won the 2010 NCAA championship, Singler originally signed on to the play for Lucentum Alicante in Spain and then moved up to play for Real Madrid, one of the top clubs in Europe. He averaged 7.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 20.3 minutes in 46 games and shot 50.4 percent from the field for Real Madrid and shot over 40 percent from 3-point range.

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