Posts Tagged ‘Charlotte Hornets’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 21


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks about new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Playoff collapse lingers with CP3 | Crowded backcourt in Dallas | Taylor ready to go for Hornets

No. 1: Playoff collapse lingers with CP3 — The Los Angeles Clippers are happy to begin the season with new ownership. L.A. doesn’t look back too fondly on what happened on the court in last season’s playoffs either. With the conference semifinals tied at two games apiece, the Clips were up 13 with four minutes to go in Oklahoma City. Even after they let the Thunder cut that lead to two in the final seconds, they still had a chance to seal the game at the free-throw line. But Chris Paul lost the ball. He then helped OKC take the lead by fouling Russell Westbrook on a pull-up three. And on the final possession of the game, Paul coughed the ball up again. That kind of sequence is going to haunt a competitor like Paul for a long time. And, as Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times writes, it is certainly still on his mind as he gets ready to begin his fourth season in L.A.:

Paul was so devastated he cried in the locker room afterward.

Four months later, the emotional fallout lingers.

“It would be lying to you to say I’d forgotten about it,” Paul said during a break on set. “It’s one of those things that I don’t want to forget, to tell you the truth. I think for me, I feel like you have to remember things like that and therefore you don’t want that feeling again. I know I don’t.”

Paul wouldn’t go as far as to say the Clippers would use their Game 5 meltdown as inspiration a la the newly crowned NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, who suffered a similar playoff implosion in the 2013 Finals against the Miami Heat.

“I don’t know,” Paul said when asked if he saw any potential similarities between the situations. “I mean, the Spurs do what they do, we’ve got to do what we do. I think for us, it’s all about coming into training camp being ready to go.”

***

No. 2: Crowded backcourt in Dallas — With the return of Tyson Chandler and the addition of Chandler Parsons, the Dallas Mavericks could be back among the Western Conference elite. To get Chandler, they had to swap Jose Calderon for Raymond Felton. But they added Jameer Nelson and still have Devin Harris at point guard. That’s a crowded backcourt, especially when you consider that shooting guard Monta Ellis is the Mavs’ primary playmaker. But, talking with The Dallas Morning News‘ Eddie Sefko, they believe that it can work:

How the point guard logjam unfolds is what training camp is for, of course. Coach Rick Carlisle has proved to be a master when it comes to implementing his strength-in-numbers philosophy.

When there are multiple good options at one position, they tend to sort themselves out during camp.

“A team can never have too many playmakers,” Carlisle said. “They can all play with or without the ball, so in my mind, they aren’t just point guards, they’re basketball players.”

Which brings us to the possibility that the three point guards will do a lot of the NBA’s version of “bunking together,” i.e., playing together and perhaps with Monta Ellis on the floor whenever Carlisle elects to go with a small lineup.

***

No. 3: Taylor ready to go for Hornets — The Charlotte Bobcats were the most improved team after the All-Star break last season, and that was without second-year forward Jeff Taylor, who was lost for the season in December with a ruptured right Achilles’ tendon. Now, the Bobcats are the Hornets, and they’ve added Lance Stephenson. They’re also getting back Taylor, who provides depth, defense, and shooting on the wing. The road back was long, but Taylor used his time off to put on some weight, as Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer writes:

Taylor injured himself Dec. 20 and he was given the option to put off surgery until after the holidays. That’s not Taylor’s way; he had the tendon reattached Dec. 22. He spent Christmas and New Year’s in a cast, followed by a boot, followed by a corrective shoe.

It’s the first time he was ever seriously injured, and the experience was enlightening.

“It’s been a long road,” Taylor said. “With an Achilles’ injury, you have to be really patient – slowly getting back all your strength, back to what you were.”

In one way, he is beyond what he was. With his lower body shut down for three months, Taylor beefed up his upper body. Constant lifting – the only exercise available to him from January through March – had a noticeable effect on his arms and shoulders.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ramon Sessions is heading to Sacramento. … Andray Blatche, hero of the Philippines, is taking his talents to China. … Jeff Green knows he has to be more consistent. … Kobe Bryant might soon own a piece of an Italian soccer team.

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 14


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried talks about Sunday’s gold medal match against Serbia

NEWS OF THE MORNING
U.S., Serbia match up for gold | France beats Lithuania for bronze | Rose makes an A | Melo says players will avoid Atlanta

No. 1: U.S., Serbia match up for gold — Later today in Madrid, Team USA will play in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. While Team USA was a near-unanimous choice to qualify for the gold-medal game, their opponent, Serbia, was not; most suspected the host country, Spain, would play their way into the final. But after Spain was eliminated by France, Serbia stormed their way into today’s championship game. And as our guys Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann write, some of the team USA players believe neither Serbia nor the U.S. were supposed to be here…

It’s the U.S. and Serbia squaring off instead, two teams, according to the words that have been dancing around U.S. forward Kenneth Faried‘s head for weeks, that weren’t supposed to leave here with gold.

“This team is different,” Faried said of Serbia after practice on Saturday. “They made it to the championship round when others thought they couldn’t. We made it to the championship round when others thought we’d fall. We’re going to go out there and put it all on the floor just to win the gold.”

Faried and the U.S. fighting off the favorite’s tag now seems a bit preposterous, what with the way the U.S. National Team has mowed down the competition. They’ve won their eight games leading up to this point by an average of 32.5 points, a number skewed a bit by the 59-point blowout of Finland in their opener.

“I never knew we were a heavy favorite,” Faried said. “That surprises me because before, when we first started, everybody said we were going to lose and we’re not that good. So as far as being a heavy favorite, we just have to take that for what it is and go out there like we’re the underdogs still.”

Serbia is playing the underdog card as well.

“They underrated us from the beginning, as I heard,” Miroslav Raduljica said after his team’s win over France on Friday. “We showed everybody that we can compete and play basketball, in a good way.”

***

No. 2: France takes bronze: In the FIBA third place game yesterday, France defeated Lithuania 95-93 to win bronze, their best-ever finish at the event. France was led by Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum, and the final seconds of the game were basically a foul-shooting contest…

The European champions seemed to have clinched the issue with about a minute left in the game, but Adas Juskevicius’ three-point play brought Lithuania within one, 86-85, with 16 seconds to play.

The teams were then involved in a tactical exchange of fouls and France stayed ahead with every exchange.

Jonas Maciulis was fouled with a second left. He made his first free-throw to get Lithuania within 95-93 and then strategically missed the second in order to give himself and his team-mates a chance at an offensive rebound and a quick shot. However, no Lithuanian player was able to control the ball, which went to Florent Pietrus who sprinted past halfcourt to run out the clock and seal the game.

In all, the final 16 seconds of the game saw 11 fouls committed, resulting in 22 free-throws attempted.

Down 71-64 at the end of the third quarter, France found their savior in Boris Diaw. The 32-year-old, who strove to find his rhythm in the first three periods, found his form as he accounted for eight of France’s 31 points in the final period. He finished with 15 points.

Nicolas Batum was at the fore-front of France’s offense throughout the game and finished with a game-high 27 points.

***

No. 3: Rose grades an A: Throughout the FIBA World Cup, many eyes have been trained on Derrick Rose. After missing most of the last two seasons with injuries, Rose has used the World Cup to get into competitive shape for the upcoming season. While he may have started slow, Rose has been increasingly aggressive throughout the tournament. Rose says he feels great heading into camp, and for him, the World Cup has been nothing but a success…

“I would give it an A in my mind,” Rose said. “Just coming off of what I had to go through and actually getting a spot on the USA team after missing two years of basketball? Like, c’mon man. It shows that I at least worked somewhere and hard work pays off. If anything, it gives me more confidence to head into the regular season.”

Rose said he will enter Bulls training camp in just over two weeks in the best physical condition he ever has entered a camp. And this is after back-to-back knee surgeries.

“I think I’m going to be far ahead of people, especially on my team,” Rose said. “Nobody in the world is getting this type of competition right now, where you’re playing against different people every night, a different style of play every night, chasing people around.”

Rose, who won a gold medal at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, said playing for Team USA has only enriched his already-high confidence level.

“I think I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish but winning this championship. And that’s (Sunday),” he said. “After that, that’s the icing on the cake.

“But looking back at it, my whole mindset was just getting on the team. You had younger players who had great years since I been out, great guards who had great years. Just trying to show them that I’m still one of the best out there. I think I was going into camp with a chip on my shoulder.

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No. 4: Melo says players will avoid Atlanta: While the Atlanta Hawks work to undo the damage caused by Danny Ferry’s race-related remarks on a conference call, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony spoke out strongly yesterday to the New York Post about how NBA players now view the Hawks’ franchise…

“[There] ain’t nobody [who] would want to go there,” Anthony said at the Citi Carmelo Anthony Basketball ProCamp at Baruch College Saturday morning. “At the end of the day, Atlanta … I think it puts Atlanta back even further now, from that standpoint.”

The Hawks franchise has been under fire after the Hawks and the NBA announced Sunday morning that the team’s majority owner, Bruce Levenson, was selling his controlling interest in the franchise after an internal investigation uncovered a racist email he sent to other team executives in 2012. That investigation began after general manager Danny Ferry said on a conference call with the team’s ownership group in June that potential free agent target Luol Deng, “He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”

Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence from the Hawks on Friday, but the damage to the franchise already has been done in the eyes of one of the NBA’s biggest stars.

“Atlanta is a great city, a great market, great people, great atmosphere,” Anthony said. “But as far as the comments were made, I think it was uncalled for. From an owner, from a GM, those are not things you play with.

“As a player, as an athlete, we’re looking for a job, we’re trying to find a place where we can move our family, we can make our family comfortable, where we can be comfortable in a comfortable environment, but those comments right there, we would never look at. I’m speaking on behalf of all athletes. We would never look at a situation like that, I don’t care what it is.”

With Levenson already agreeing to sell the team and the possibility Ferry already has served his last official day on the job, the franchise is taking steps toward moving on from the issue. But Anthony said, given the amount of time over which this has taken place, it’s going to take more than a couple of faces changing to fix the problems in Atlanta.

“It’s going to take a collective effort,” Anthony said. That’s not going to change overnight. I don’t think that just happened overnight. That’s been an accumulation over the past couple years. A lot of people think that it just happened, but it’s been going on for the past two or three years now … these are conversations that have been ongoing.

“We just have to stop it. We have to stop that. This is not the league for that. As players coming in, we want to play and make a good career out of everything, and from [former Clippers owner Donald] Sterling to this situation, just pushing everything back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rudy Gay has a fractured jaw and a broken tooth … Boris Diaw celebrated France’s bronze medal by posting a selfie … Charlotte coach Steve Clifford says Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has “transformed” his jump shot … The one member of Team USA who has had staying power? Mike Krzyzewski … Longtime NBA big Melvin Ely has signed with Japan’s Gunma Crane Thunders.

The buzz is back in Charlotte


VIDEO: Hornets unveil new court

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA has Rip City, Motor City, Lob City and Loud City.

Now get ready for Buzz City in Charlotte.

They’re back. Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.

“I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.

The Charlotte Hornets joined the NBA as an expansion team in 1989, built a strong fan base and had a pretty good team that made the playoffs seven times from 1993 to 2002. After the franchise left for New Orleans, the NBA awarded Charlotte another team and the new owners christened it the Bobcats. Actual bobcats are found in North Carolina, but it was often said that the “Bob” in Bobcats was a self-tribute to then owner Robert L. Johnson. Unfortunately, the new team was bad and interest in the Bobcats never materialized. Michael Jordan became majority owner in 2010. Even the game’s greatest player couldn’t pump life into franchise or the fan base. The Bobcats were perennially in the bottom 10 in attendance, sometimes in the bottom five.

Once the Hornets name became available, Charlotte officials immediately began internal discussions about reclaiming the team’s lost identity.

“We embarked on an extensive research project to really find out what that name meant to the marketplace, and then not only that, how actionable would it be?” said Guelli, hired away from the Buffalo Bills in 2009. “It seemed like it was the right thing to do to bring the name back. But how would people respond to it?”

Harris Research was brought in to conduct an extensive survey of the greater Charlotte area.

“The point was to find out how did they feel about the existing name, what kind of an attachment did they have to the previous name, what were their attachments to the colors, how about the history around the players,” Guelli said. “And then a lot of actionable data, like, ‘How does that pertain to how many games you might attend? How much more likely would you be to watch a game? How much more likely would you be to purchase merchandise?’

“That data was so strong. I’ve been involved in a number of research projects in my career, but to see 80 percent in favor of bringing the name back was pretty strong. And as you drill deeper into the data you found out that not only did people want it back, that they would respond to it once it came back.”

They were convinced. The name Hornets had to come back. Charlotte quickly announced its intention to pursue the name, and soon after the league’s board of governors stamped their unanimous approval.

A four-person team was assembled, kept small purposely to better keep their plans and designs confidential. The group included Guelli, team president Fred Whitfield, senior vice president of marketing Seth Bennett and vice president of marketing Josh Kramer. They would work closely with Brand Jordan and the NBA on all elements for the rebrand.

It was a full-on sprint to design new logos, primary and secondary marks, new uniforms and the pièce de résistance, a court that epitomized their entire effort.


Gallery: New Floor, New Buzz (Photos courtesy of Robbins Sports Surfaces)

“We probably had 10 or 12 iterations of the [floor] design, various looks, and we probably incorporated elements of many of them to get to the final result,” Guelli said. “There just were a number of different elements that we wanted to incorporate to get that final feel: How strong should the cell pattern be? What should the border colors be? What are the logos that should be on the court? What brand do we want to use in the center of the court?

“What was important to us was to really kind of create this DNA of a new Hornets brand and have it integrated into everything we do, and that’s where the discussions around the cell pattern on the court started. There’s a lot of iconic courts out there, courts that you would recognize even if you took the logos off. We started to think about what we have as an asset that could help us do that, and that cell pattern was consistent through a number of our other design elements.”

Once they settled on a final version, it had to be TV-approved by the NBA. A court’s no good if its shades and colors detract from the TV product. Using a sample portion of the court and a few employees recruited to don Hornets uniforms, the NBA turned on the cameras. The Hornets had a fallback strategy, a “little less aggressive” court design, but crossed their fingers the honeycomb court would pass with flying colors. It did, and the NBA gave the green light to get it done.

Robbins, Inc., out of Cincinnati, was commissioned to build the floor. The company boasts that it has built basketball courts for 21 out of the past 25 NBA champions and for more than 90 percent of the league’s 30 teams. But it had never taken on a task quite like this. The intricate nature of the cell pattern made it a uniquely painstaking process. More than 250 honeycomb-shaped stencils were used to create the stain pattern which was manufactured and finished at the Robbins flooring mill in Ishpeming, MI.

The 7,000-square-foot court, which is made up of 200 sectional panels, each of which are 4-feet by 8-feet and weigh approximately 175 pounds, took nearly three weeks to manufacture, and once set up, the honeycomb graphics took three more weeks to complete. Buzz City logos are painted at each end of the floor.

The Hornets unveiled the court to nearly 6,000 fans in late June. A video of the unveiling went viral. But before that, when the final honeycomb was stained and the arena was empty and quiet, Guelli walked up to the suite level nestled between the lower and upper levels and peered down. And smiled.

“I was just thrilled. I don’t think it could have come out any better,” Guelli said. “What we were really trying to accomplish is when people walk into the building for our home opener October 29, they need to realize that they’re walking into a completely different place. It’s not what the building was before. This is the new era of the Hornets and we knew the court was going to be the centerpiece of that, so it had to be something very special that people would identify with our brand. I think we accomplished that.”

It’s been a long time coming, but Buzz City is alive.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Irving to start vs. Slovenia | Drew ‘blindsided’ by Bucks firing | City of Charlotte ready to spend to upgrade arena

No. 1: Irving to start final Team USA tune-up — As of last week, the Team USA roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup is ready to go. (And if you missed it yesterday, our John Schuhmann pointed out how the teams in the FIBA pool boast plenty of NBA players, too.) Before FIBA play starts this weekend, though, Team USA has one last exhibition date — a matchup with Slovenia today at 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2). According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Kyrie Irving will get the start at point guard tonight over Derrick Rose as coach Mike Krzyzewski irons out how best to use his All-Star guard combination:

Kyrie Irving will start opposite Goran Dragic at point guard Tuesday night when Team USA plays Slovenia in its final tuneup game leading into the FIBA World Cup.

But Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, in tabbing Irving as his starter against the Dragic-led Slovenians, told ESPN.com that one option under consideration is letting Irving and Derrick Rose trade off as the starter throughout the tournament, which opens Saturday in Bilbao with the Yanks facing Finland.

Krzyzewski says he can also envision Irving and Rose playing together once the tournament starts as Rose continues to acclimate himself to full-speed basketball after two major knee injuries limited him to just 10 games over the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

“I asked him today, and he said, ‘I feel great,'” Krzyzewski said of Rose. “He did everything. He’s full go. I think there’s a part of him that’s like: ‘Quit asking me how I feel. I’m good.’ So I’m not going to ask him anymore.”

Having relied heavily on small-ball lineups in its last two major competitions, USA Basketball officials wanted the ability to play big lineups in this tournament when needed. The tag team of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins won’t necessarily be unveiled against a Slovenian squad that shoots 3-pointers as liberally as anyone in the field, but Team USA is sure to bust out that alignment on occasion en route to the Sept. 14 championship game, where host Spain and its hulking front-line trio of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka could be waiting.

Despite the pullouts of Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook, as well as the emotional injury loss of Paul George, Team USA remains a heavy favorite to cruise through Group C play with no real resistance. Turkey, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic and Mike Fratello-coached Ukraine are the Yanks’ other opponents in pool play after the Finland game.


VIDEO: Relive Team USA’s top 5 plays from its game vs. Puerto Rico (more…)

Blogtable: Flourishing in a new place

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


BLOGTABLE: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

> Which player who already has switched teams this offseason will best flourish with his new team?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m surprised there isn’t a “besides LeBron” qualifier on this, since James outflourishes pretty much everyone every year. He’s my easy answer in his first season back in Cleveland. After that, the guy who ought to flourish most is Lance Stephenson, since he’s a little older (presumably a little more mature) and will get every opportunity to be Charlotte’s go-to guy. But I’m not sure I trust him yet to fully “get it.” So I’ll say Spencer Hawes, Clippers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: When you are the best player in the game, you flourish wherever you go, which is why the easy answer is LeBron James, the returning, conquering hero who will put the Cavaliers immediately into title contention in the Eastern Conference.  But I also think Pau Gasol is a perfect complement on the Bulls front line with Joakim Noah and I’ve got an eye on the venerable Vince Carter, who could be the wing scorer that lifts the Grizzlies into the upper half of the West race.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m going a bit off the radar here with Jameer Nelson in Dallas, a re-tooled team that believes it could be top-four in the West. He’s been in such a tough situation the last few seasons, from the “Dwightmare” to Stan Van Gundy‘s firing to a total rebuild, that getting to the veteran-laden Mavs will be a breath of fresh air. Plus, he’s a great fit. Dallas badly needed a starting point guard after losing Jose Calderon in the Tyson Chandler trade. Nelson eliminates the need to start Raymond Felton and allows Devin Harris to come off the bench. Offensively, Nelson just has to be steady. He’s got weapons all around in Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler. Defensively he’ll provide some much-needed tenacity. Nelson’s only 32 and with good health he very well could put himself back on the radar.

Lance Stephenson (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Lance Stephenson joins Charlotte for the 2014-15 NBA season. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson flourished last season in Indiana, so it’s not like this will be a breakout season. But the move to Charlotte opens possibilities he will reach a new level, certainly statistically beyond the 13.8 points a game last season. It lines up as a perfect opportunity. He will be especially motivated to prove the Pacers wrong for not spending more to re-sign him, and now Stephenson goes to a team that needs more scoring. He can do that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Other than LeBron James, right? Lance Stephenson looks like a great fit in Charlotte, with the ability to give their offense a boost. He’s improved dramatically over the last two seasons, will still be only 24 years old when training camp opens, and likes to get out on the break, where his new team wasn’t very effective last season. With a top-10 defense, Al Jefferson, and now two guys who can create off the dribble, the Hornets will be fun to watch … and very good.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I like how you excluded Kevin Love from this question, keeping us all from picking the same guy. And I’ll even refrain from choosing LeBron James, the most obvious choice of the century. I think Pau Gasol will ease into an opportunity to recharge his career. He looked worn out and worn down during his final seasons in Los Angeles. He’s still an unbelievably skilled big man with plenty left in his tank. The idea of Gasol and Joakim Noah working in tandem with a healthy and rejuvenated Derrick Rose should have folks in Chicago fired up. Gasol is free from the pressure of trying to be something he was not in Los Angeles. Expectations went through the roof for him after winning back-to-back titles alongside Kobe Bryant. When injuries and uncertainty changed the mood in LA, Gasol struggled with that burden. Rose and Noah are the leaders in Chicago. All Gasol has to do is what he does best, and that’s play the game he loves without any extra Hollywood drama involved.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the player who has the best chance to make an immediate impact is Pau Gasol. The last few years he’s slipped defensively, but in Tom Thibodeau’s stifling defensive system in Chicago, they should be able to game plan around Pau’s deficiencies and get the best out of him. But it’s offensively where I think he could really shine. Gasol is on record as preferring to work in the post, which is probably fine with the Bulls as Joakim Noah is so effective at the top of the key, giving Gasol plenty of room to operate down low. And Gasol and Noah are probably the two best passing big men in the NBA, and together, with Rose and Butler and other guys cutting off of them, this may be the first time in a while the Bulls will be able to mount a powerful attack on both ends of the court.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: You mean “which player that hasn’t won two rings, isn’t considered the best around the globe and isn’t having a good time in Greece right now”? When you have LeBron James changing jerseys, then you have the answer in all your questions.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: There’s been plenty of positive cases of players moving on in free agency with the opportunity to flourish with their new team. If I have to pick one, I’ll take Pau Gasol after signing with the Chicago Bulls. Gasol’s last few seasons in LA were tough, albeit productive, and now he can find himself on a team that really values his skills. I’m looking forward to seeing his partnership with Joakim Noah. They could legitimately become the best-passing big man duo in the NBA. Gasol’s varied offensive game will get the opportunity to shine in Chicago because he’ll be playing with an unselfish center in Noah. He has a nice back-to-the-basket game with varying moves, he’s still a decent mid range shooter and as always, he’ll look to set up his teammates. Gasol’s ability to operate and pass in tight spaces will work perfectly with Noah. The Bulls’ offense will look less cramped with four perimeter players surrounding one pick-setting big in Noah. They’ll be a lot better to watch offensively in 2014-15 and a lot of that is down to Gasol.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Lance Stephenson will surely relish his role with the Charlotte Hornets. He will be one of their main ball-handlers and creators. Stephenson has showed flashes of overall dominance when he gets it going and he will have more chances to prove his worth with his new team. Also a trio of small forwards will be do well in their new teams, that would be Paul Pierce, Trevor Ariza and Chandler Parsons for the Wizards, Rockets and Mavericks respectively. Pierce will be the veteran leader Washington needs, Ariza will be the do-it-all forward for Houston while Parsons will hopefully be the second scoring option to Dirk in Dallas (or third, depending on where Monta fits in this year).

Summer Dreaming: Most Improved Player


VIDEO: Is Giannis Antetokounmpo primed to make an even bigger splash?

Pass the sunblock, turn up the music and bring some more ice for those cold drinks on these hottest days.

While we’re still making notes on our viewing calendar about the best match-ups to watch on the just released NBA schedule for the new season, the fantasy party goes on as we jump into the pool with our five Summer Dreaming candidates for Most Improved Player in 2015.

Send us your picks.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — The word that best described the “Greek Freak” as a rookie last season was raw. He showed the length, the athleticism, all the physical gifts to one day take the step from bundle of potential to a bonafide star. He’s still young and has plenty of time to mature. But based on the commitment he says he’s willing to make and his performance at Summer League, there might not be anything holding back Antetokounmpo from making that jump quickly. He averaged 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and shot 37 percent from behind the arc in Las Vegas. Now that he’ll have Jabari Parker likely occupying the power forward spot in the Bucks lineup, he’ll be free to run the floor, attack the basket and fill it up from almost anywhere. The Freak Show could take off.


VIDEO: Bradley Beal discusses his breakthrough season and looks ahead to upcoming season

Bradley Beal, Wizards – The improvement from Year One to Year Two was already showing. Then Beal gave us a glimpse of what he can do at the next level when he stepped it up in the first round of the playoffs by averaging 19 points, five rebounds and five assists against the Bulls. Now he and backcourt partner John Wall not only have that valuable experience, but also the sting of being cut from Team USA tryouts this summer as added fuel to the fire. The loss of Trevor Ariza means that Beal will not only have to contribute more on offense, but also make a bigger commitment at the defensive end. A big step up for a breakout season could put the Wizards in the battle at the top of the Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis’ Top 10 plays of 2013-14

Anthony Davis, Pelicans – Here’s the scary one, because of the high level he’s already achieved, yet the potential is there for Davis to contend for Most Improved and Most Valuable Player at the same time. Turned loose last season by coach Monty Williams, he showed that there are few things he’s not capable of doing in a game, if he can stay healthy. The only real thing lacking was somebody to watch his back. Now the Pelicans have added center Omer Asik as a rim protector and fellow defensive force in the paint and that means Davis can be even freer to move out from the basket to wreak havoc. He’s only 22 years old and the party in the French Quarter has just begun.


VIDEO: Will All-Star weekend become a new home for Victor Oladipo?

Victor Oladipo, Magic — OK, end of the experiment. No more trying to hammer the square peg into the round hole. There will be times and situations when Oladipo can handle the point for short stints. But now that they’ve got rookie Elfrid Payton in the lineup, Orlando’s previous top draft pick can concentrate more on slashing and attacking the basket and doing all of the things that can make him a force. He put up decent numbers in his first year and his turnover rate was quite high. That’s because he was playing an uncomfortable role much of the time. Now you take off the handcuffs, turn him loose and let him fly.


VIDEO: Kemba Walker notches second career triple-double

Kemba Walker, Hornets – On one hand, a guy who averaged nearly 18 points a game last season might not seem a likely candidate for Most Improved. But the third year wasn’t quite the charm for Walker as he had to accommodate the arrival of big man Al Jefferson in the middle. His shooting suffered and there were far fewer times when his offense lit up the scoreboard. The arrival of free agent Lance Stephenson as a fierce defender and good playmaker will create more chances for Walker. The addition of P.J. Hairston, another good shooter from the perimeter, will give him more opportunities for assists, which have been steadily climbing.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 12


NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Marion, Bird chat | Report: Monroe OK with qualifying offer | Report: George to switch to No. 13 | Report: Charlotte making formal All-Star pitch soon

No. 1: Report: Marion meets with Pacers — About a week or so ago, there was talk that free-agent forward Shawn Marion was interested in meeting with the Indiana Pacers and, also, that he was leaning toward signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. So, do the Pacers still have a shot at him or not? According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Marion recently met with the Pacers and talked with president Larry Bird about the team and more:

The Indiana Pacers have jumped into the race for Shawn Marion’s signature — competing with LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers — by hosting Marion on a visit to Indianapolis, ESPN.com has learned.

Marion met face-to-face with Pacers president Larry Bird Monday, according to sources close to the situation, after Bird urged the free-agent defensive specialist and former All-Star to come to town to consider signing with Indiana in the wake of the devastating compound leg fracture suffered by Pacers star Paul George.

Heading into Monday, the Cavaliers were widely considered to be the front-runner to sign Marion, despite the fact that Cleveland is restricted to offering him a minimum salary of $1.4 million after using all of its cap resources and exceptions elsewhere.

Sources say that Marion, meanwhile, has maintained for weeks that he hopes to wind up with a championship contender if he leaves the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, so it remains to be seen whether Indiana’s financial advantages can trump the promise of championship contention playing alongside James in Cleveland.

(more…)

Blogtable: Free agent’s fine future

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


BLOGTABLE: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks with Bulls.com about why he signed with Chicago

> Which free agent (not counting LeBron James) are you most interested to see with his new team? Why?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Easily Pau Gasol. He’s been in such a beatdown state the last two years on bad teams and under a coach, Mike D’Antoni, who had little use for him. Gasol should be happy and energized once again playing on a team that can contend for the East crown. Plus, the Bulls will make great use of his low-post scoring and passing. This should be fun to watch.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson. I want to see if his act in Indiana was just a situational deal and if there is more to his game and personality than what we’ve seen. I recognize the talent. He’s got plenty and perhaps more in reserve. He’s going to a team where the owner (Michael Jordan), coach (Steve Clifford) and locker room leaders (Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker) won’t hesitate to let him know when they feel like he’s going off the rails. If he comes in and has half the impact on the court for the Hornets that he had for the Pacers last season, the Hornets will have gotten one of the steals of the free-agent summer.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I want to see how much of a boost Paul Pierce can bring to the Wizards’ offense, which ranked 18th last season. The Wiz should be able to build on last year’s improvement and contend for a top-four spot in the East. The additions they’ve made make them one of the deepest teams in the league. But they do need more playmaking, especially when they go to their bench. Pierce shouldn’t necessarily be a sixth man, but if coach Randy Wittman can stagger his and John Wall‘s minutes some, the offense will be better overall.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He didn’t get the largest contract, but I really think Pau Gasol could be one of the most impactful free agents of the summer. He’s not the same defender he was a few years ago, but Tom Thibodeau is the perfect coach to be able to gameplan around that. And it should be on offense where Gasol makes the biggest contribution — he and Joakim Noah are probably the best-passing big man combo in the NBA, and with Noah setting up at the top of the key, Pau’s beloved low post will be open for him to do work. Most importantly, with Derrick Rose returning, the Bulls should finally be past the offensive malaise that has plagued them for years.

More than ever, shooting at a premium


VIDEO: Pistons: Augustin And Butler Introduction

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In today’s NBA, if you want to win, you have to be able to shoot. There are lots of factors that go into good offense and good defense, but the most important are how well you shoot and how well you defend shots.

Over the last two seasons, 3-point shooting has taken a big jump. From 2007-08 to 2011-12, the league took from 22.2 to 22.6 percent of its shots from 3-point range. Then in 2012-13, that number jumped to 24.3 percent. And last season, it jumped again to 25.9 percent.

The correlation between 3-point shooting and offensive efficiency is strong. And shooting a lot of threes is almost as important as shooting them well.

Ten of the top 15 offenses in the league were above average in terms of 3-point percentage and the percentage of their total shots that were threes. Four of the other five were in the top 10 in one or the other. And teams that didn’t shot threes well or often were generally bad offensive teams.

3-point shooting and offensive efficiency, 2013-14

Team 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank OffRtg Rank
L.A. Clippers 693 1,966 35.2% 22 29.1% 9 109.4 1
Miami 665 1,829 36.4% 12 29.2% 6 109.0 2
Dallas 721 1,877 38.4% 2 27.4% 13 109.0 3
Houston 779 2,179 35.8% 16 33.0% 1 108.6 4
Portland 770 2,071 37.2% 10 29.0% 10 108.3 5
San Antonio 698 1,757 39.7% 1 25.7% 16 108.2 6
Oklahoma City 664 1,839 36.1% 14 27.1% 14 108.1 7
Phoenix 765 2,055 37.2% 8 30.0% 5 107.1 8
Toronto 713 1,917 37.2% 9 28.5% 11 105.8 9
Minnesota 600 1,757 34.1% 26 24.5% 19 105.6 10
New York 759 2,038 37.2% 7 30.2% 3 105.4 11
Golden State 774 2,037 38.0% 4 29.1% 8 105.3 12
New Orleans 486 1,303 37.3% 6 19.3% 29 104.7 13
Brooklyn 709 1,922 36.9% 11 30.1% 4 104.4 14
Atlanta 768 2,116 36.3% 13 31.6% 2 103.4 15
Memphis 405 1,147 35.3% 19 17.1% 30 103.3 16
Denver 702 1,959 35.8% 15 27.8% 12 103.3 17
Washington 647 1,704 38.0% 5 24.6% 18 103.3 18
Detroit 507 1,580 32.1% 29 22.2% 26 102.9 19
Sacramento 491 1,475 33.3% 27 21.8% 28 102.9 20
L.A. Lakers 774 2,032 38.1% 3 29.1% 7 101.9 21
Indiana 550 1,542 35.7% 17 23.5% 23 101.5 22
Cleveland 584 1,640 35.6% 18 23.6% 21 101.3 23
Charlotte 516 1,471 35.1% 23 21.9% 27 101.2 24
Utah 543 1,577 34.4% 25 23.7% 20 100.6 25
Milwaukee 548 1,553 35.3% 20 23.1% 24 100.2 26
Boston 575 1,729 33.3% 28 25.1% 17 99.7 27
Chicago 508 1,459 34.8% 24 22.2% 25 99.7 28
Orlando 563 1,596 35.3% 21 23.5% 22 99.3 29
Philadelphia 577 1,847 31.2% 30 25.8% 15 96.8 30
TOTAL 19,054 52,974 36.0% 25.9% 104.0

 

Top 5 3P% Top 5 %FGA Top 5 OffRtg
6-10 3P% 6-10 %FGA 6-10 OffRtg
Above-avg 3P% Above-avg %FGA Above-avg OffRtg

%FGA = Percentage of total FGA
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

There were a couple of exceptions to the rule. Minnesota had a top-10 offense without shooting threes well or often. They made up for it by not turning the ball over, getting to the free throw line often, and grabbing lots of offensive rebounds.

The Lakers, meanwhile, were top 10 in both 3-point percentage and percentage of shots that were threes, but were a bottom 10 offense overall, because they didn’t get to the line much and were the worst offensive rebounding team in the league.

Threes aren’t everything, but three is greater than two. And if you have shooting threats on the perimeter, other guys have more space to operate inside. The teams near the bottom of the table above know that to win more games, they have to score more efficiently. And to do that, they need more shooting in their rotation.

Here’s how some of them addressed their lack of shooting…

Detroit Pistons

OffRtg: 102.9 (19), 3PT%: 32.1% (29), 3PA%: 22.2% (26)
If the Sixers hadn’t played conscious-less offense at the league’s fastest pace, the Pistons would have ranked dead last in 3-point percentage. Josh Smith took 265 threes at a 26 percent clip, partly because Joe Dumars thought he could play small forward and partly because he lacks self-awareness. Of 315 players in NBA history who have attempted at least 1,000 threes, Smith ranks 314th (ahead of only Charles Barkley) in 3-point percentage.

So priority No. 1 for Stan Van Gundy is to get Smith to stop shooting threes, or get him to shoot threes for some other team. If we don’t consider Smith a small forward (and we shouldn’t), Detroit would have a frontcourt log-jam if Greg Monroe (a restricted free agent) is brought back. Though it’s not completely up to Van Gundy (he would need a trade partner), a choice between Monroe and Smith needs to be made.

Either way, the Pistons didn’t have many other options from beyond the arc last season. So Van Gundy added four shooters in free agency, signing Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler and Cartier Martin to contracts that will pay them about $15 million this year. Of the 70 available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, those four ranked 11th, 12th, 15th and 18th respectively in 3-point percentage, all shooting better than 39 percent.

There’s still a question of how much of that shooting can be on the floor at one time. If Smith is traded, then the Pistons can play a decent amount of minutes with Butler or Luigi Datome playing stretch four. But in that scenario, their defense (which was already awful last season) would suffer.

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 99.7 (28), 3PT%: 34.8% (24), 3PA%: 22.2% (25)
The Pistons grabbed the Bulls’ best 3-point shooter from last season (Augustin), who will be replaced by Derrick Rose. Rose has never been a very good shooter, but obviously creates a lot more open shots for the guys around him than Augustin or Kirk Hinrich.

That will benefit Jimmy Butler (who regressed from distance last season), Mike Dunleavy (who took a smaller step back), Tony Snell (who was pretty shaky as a rookie) and rookie Doug McDermott.

In his four seasons in Chicago, Tom Thibodeau has never had a big man who can step out beyond the arc. But the Bulls’ other rotation rookie – Nikola Miroticshot 39 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons for Real Madrid. So he gives the Bulls the ability to space the floor more than they ever have in this system.

The Bulls also added Aaron Brooks, who, at 38.7 percent, ranked 20th among available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. But if Brooks is playing a lot, it would mean that there’s another issue with Rose.

Charlotte Hornets

OffRtg: 101.2 (24), 3PT%: 35.1% (23), 3PA%: 21.9% (27)
Josh McRoberts (36.1 percent) and Marvin Williams (35.9 percent) shot about the same from 3-point range last season. But that was the first time McRoberts was a high-volume shooter from distance, while Williams has had a more consistent history.

And he should get more open shots playing off of Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson than he did in Utah. But neither Walker nor Stephenson is a very good 3-point shooter themselves and the Hornets lost their best 3-point shooter from last season – Anthony Tolliver – in free agency.

The hope is that, with Stephenson taking some of the ball-handling burden away, Walker can improve as a shooter. Gerald Henderson‘s 3-point percentage has improved every season, and a healthy Jeffery Taylor could help. Still, without any much proven shooting on the roster, the Hornets’ offense has a ceiling.

Cleveland Cavaliers

OffRtg: 101.3 (23), 3PT%: 35.6% (18), 3PA%: 23.6% (21)
LeBron James changes everything. And the biggest beneficiary could be Dion Waiters, who shot 41.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last season. With James attacking the basket and drawing multiple defenders, Waiters will get a ton of open looks.

James himself shot a ridiculous 48.8 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, so he should be able to play off Kyrie Irving pretty well and make the Cavs a more potent team from deep. Mike Miller (45.9 percent) will obviously do the same.

It’s Irving who will have to adjust to playing off the ball. He shot just 32.1 on catch-and-shoot threes last season. And at this point, the Cavs don’t have a second forward that can both shoot threes and defend the four (the Shane Battier role). Anthony Bennett could develop into that role and Kevin Love would obviously be that guy if the Cavs pull of a trade with Minnesota.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.5 (22), 3PT%: 35.7% (17), 3PA%: 23.5% (23)
There was a lot of bad shooting (and bad offense, in general) in the Central Division last season. The Pacers poached C.J. Miles (39 percent on threes over the last two seasons) from Cleveland and added a stretch big in Damjan Rudez, but lost Stephenson’s playmaking.

So there’s a ton of pressure on Paul George to create open shots for everybody else. Unless another shake-up is in store, it’s hard to see the Pacers escaping the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 103.3 (16), 3PT%: 35.3% (19), 3PA%: 17.1% (30)
The Grizzlies replaced Mike Miller (44.4 percent from three over the last three seasons) with Vince Carter (39.2 percent). That’s a slight downgrade from beyond the arc, but Carter brings more playmaking to take some of the load off of Mike Conley.

Still, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince remain integral parts of the Grizzlies’ rotation. So unless Jon Leuer emerges as a reliable stretch four off the bench, they lack the ability to put more than two (and occasionally three) shooters on the floor at once. They’ve ranked last in made 3-pointers for two straight seasons and could definitely make it three in a row.

New Orleans Pelicans

OffRtg: 104.7 (17), 3PT%: 37.3% (6), 3PA%: 19.3% (29)
Those are some strange numbers. Great shooting, but only the Grizzlies attempted fewer threes.

The absences of Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday over the last 50 games of the season was a huge issue. Another was that two of the Pelicans’ best 3-point shooters – Eric Gordon and Anthony Morrow – played the same position and spent just 192 minutes on the floor together, while Tyreke Evans and Al-Farouq Aminu – two perimeter guys who can’t shoot a lick – ranked third and fourth on the team in minutes played.

Evans still takes a starting perimeter position (and $11 million of salary) without supplying a reliable jumper. And replacing Jason Smith with Omer Asik also hurts floor spacing. But the Pels were ridiculously good offensively (and awful defensively) in limited minutes with Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis on the floor last season, Aminu has been replaced by John Salmons, and better health will go a long way.

Additional notes

  • As noted above, the Pistons added four guys who ranked in the top 20 in 3-point percentage (minimum 100 attempts) among available free agents. The only other team that added (not re-signed) more than one was the Clippers, who added Jordan Farmar (3rd) and Spencer Hawes (5th). The Mavericks added Richard Jefferson (7th) and re-signed Dirk Nowitzki (13th), the Suns added Anthony Tolliver (6th) and re-signed P.J. Tucker (19th), and the Spurs re-signed both Patty Mills (4th) and Boris Diaw (10th).
  • The Cavs (Hawes and Miles) and Lakers (Farmar and Meeks) were the two teams that lost two of the top 20.
  • Of those 70 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only three shot above the league average (36.0 percent) and are still available. Those three are Chris Douglas-Roberts (38.6 percent), Ray Allen (37.5 percent) and Mo Williams (36.9 percent).

Blogtable: Summer’s most intriguing team

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


BLOGTABLE: The price of Love | New most intriguing team | Sleeper rookie



VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. impressed for the Wizards at Summer League

> You’ve seen the Draft. You’ve seen some Summer League. Outside of the Cavs, what team most intrigues you now? Why’s that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m intrigued by Charlotte, with its addition of Lance Stephenson, along with pick-up Marvin Williams. There’s talent there, especially if Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh can rev up their frontline contributions, and it’s possible the Hornets push for a top-4 spot in the East playoffs. Steve Clifford should be able to prevent them from becoming The Lance Show (in the event Stephenson decides to start playing for his next contract right away). And let’s face it, if an NBA team can’t find a way to move on from the loss of Josh McRoberts, well, then Charlotte becomes watchable in an odd, case-study sort of way.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: In the East, and thank the basketball gods for this, there’s actually several teams of intrigue. Toronto kept its momentum going by re-signing so many of its own starting with Kyle Lowry. Washington is on the come and adding a big-brother figure in Paul Pierce should be great for John Wall and Bradley Beal. And, of course, Chicago with Pau Gasol in the mix and Derrick Rose coming back should be great fun to watch (yes, and post-LeBron Miami). In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder are my choice. They missed out on Gasol, who would have been an absolute game-changer for that squad, and instead only came away with Sebastian Telfair, an end-of-bench addition, and Anthony Morrow, a 3-point specialist who could fit in quite well. I’m really curious to see how Russell Westbrook‘s game continues to evolve after his powerful postseason, how Kevin Durant comes off his first MVP season (but a bit of an individually disappointing postseason) and if Scott Brooks can add some new wrinkles to one of the most efficient (yet also most criticized) offenses over the last several years. If healthy the last two postseasons, this conversation could be totally different.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Washington Wizards, mostly because they have put together a quality offseason and have a clear path up the Eastern Conference food chain now that the entire field has been thinned out by LeBron’s departure for Cleveland. The Wizards will have an ideal blend of youthful energy and athleticism to go along with a seasoned supporting cast capable of pushing this team over the top a year after making that surprise run to the Eastern Conference semifinals. For whatever was lost in free agency (Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker), the Wizards more than made up for it by keeping Marcin Gortat and adding Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJaun Blair. Toss in a ready-to-go Otto Porter Jr. and the Samsung Summer League MVP Glen Rice Jr., and the Wizards have every reason to believe that John Wall and Bradley Beal have a legitimate shot to lead this crew to the top of the Southeast Division and perhaps beyond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Wizards have a chance to be one of the top two or three teams in the East. John Wall and Bradley Beal are getting better every season and could be the clear No. 1 backcourt in the conference by the start of 2015. Marcin Gortat has great pick-and-roll chemistry with Wall, Paul Pierce brings another element to the offense, and they have a ton of depth on their frontline. The only question is if they can maintain a top-10 defense with Pierce (who’s a better defender at the four than the three) replacing Trevor Ariza.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Washington. They kept Gortat, they did not overpay for Ariza, and then they managed to add Paul Pierce to that mix. Plus, after watching them in Summer League, it seemed clear that Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr (who was terrific in Vegas) are ready to add perimeter depth off the bench and give them the athleticism that Pierce lacks. Is Randy Wittman the right guy to take them to the next level? To me that’s the bigger question. But after a second-round run last season, all the pieces are in place for the Wiz to continue to grow what they’ve already started.