Posts Tagged ‘Chase Budinger’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 17


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sarver sorry fans saw depleted Spurs | Five questions loom for OKC now | LeBron wasn’t a great recruiter early on in Cleveland | Report: Wolves shopping Budinger

No. 1: Suns owner sorry fans saw depleted version of Spurs — It’s not all that unusual for NBA teams to rest a few of their superstar, veteran players in the preseason so as to perhaps work in  younger guys, or, simply, just give their best guys a night off. At around 1 p.m. yesterday, the San Antonio Spurs tweeted that Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter would miss Thursday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns due to injury and that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and coach Gregg Popovich would also not travel with the team for the game. That left Tony Parker as the only household name to suit up last night and with 2:31 left in the game, Suns owner Robert Sarver addressed fans and apologized for San Antonio’s star-less lineup. Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic has more:

During a time out with 2:31 to go in the Suns’ 121-90 victory at US Airways Center, Sarver came to scorer’s table to get on the public address system.

“Hey, everybody, I want to thank you for coming out tonight,” Sarver said. “This is not the game you paid your hard-earned money to watch. I apologize for it. And I want you to send me your tickets if you came tonight with a return envelope and I’ve got a gift for you on behalf of the Suns for showing up tonight. Thank you.”

The game’s official attendance was 13,552, although many of those paid tickets were unused. After the game, Sarver said the fans who mail in a ticket stub or proof of attendance would receive a gift certificate for tickets, merchandise or food. The amount had not been determined.

“I just felt that the fans paid good money for the game and they didn’t see the players that they anticipated seeing,” Sarver said. “It was just a gesture to let them know that we appreciate their support and want to do something to compensate for that.”

Sarver said the organization had heard from fans who were displeased that they would not see all of the available Spurs.

“But that wasn’t really the reason I did it,” Sarver said. “I just think it was the right thing to do.”

Sarver said he did not believe that any league fine or reprimand was in order for the Spurs not bringing all of their healthy players to the game, the Spurs’ first preseason game since returning from a trip to Germany and Turkey last week.

“It’s their decision and it’s my decision to decide what to do for our fans,” Sarver said. “I’m fine with it.”

Some fans thanked Sarver as he returned to his seat and excited the arena’s lower bowl to head to the locker room.

“People acknowledged it and feel good about it,” Sarver said. “They know you’re thinking about them and you realize that they spent a lot of money to buy these tickets.”

It was not the first time that Sarver had a reaction to the Spurs holding out Duncan and Ginobili. In 2005, he flapped his arms like chicken wings at the Spurs bench when San Antonio chose to hold out their two stars from a regular-season game. He again drew negative social media reaction Thursday night from Spurs fans.

“It’s not really about them (the Spurs),” Sarver said. “They control what they do. We have to control what we do.”

UPDATE, 11:35 a.m.: And here’s what Sarver will be giving those Suns fans who send him their ticket …

And further details on what Sarver is offering is available via Suns.com


VIDEO: Robert Sarver addresses Suns fans during last night’s Phoenix-San Antonio game

(more…)

Shed no tears for Andrew Wiggins

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wolves head coach Flip Saunders talks about Andrew Wiggins’ potential

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Don’t cry for Andrew Wiggins.

That’s the message delivered by the last two men who coached the No. 1 Draft pick. When the Cleveland Cavaliers finally shipped Wiggins — shunned by LeBron James since the day the King announced his return to Cleveland six weeks ago — to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love on Saturday, he joined Chris Webber (1993) as the only No. 1 picks since the NBA-ABA merger to be traded before ever playing a game for the team that drafted them.

A sad end to a long, strange summer for Wiggins? More like an eagerly anticipated beginning, says Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ high school coach at Huntington Prep in West Virginia.

“Andrew is such a good kid; he’s just a classy kid, very humble, very respectful,” Fulford, now an assistant at Missouri, told NBA.com this week. “I think this whole process with the trade rumors, he could care less. That kid just wants to play basketball. The fact that LeBron never reached out to him, Andrew could care less what LeBron James thinks of him.”

Throughout this saga in which the Cavs selected the Toronto-born Wiggins No. 1 and watched him flash his promising skills during the Las Vegas Summer League all the while trade rumors swirled and LeBron sweet-talked Love, Wiggins, 19, handled the enormity of the situation with graceful maturity always accompanied by a warm, playful smile.

It didn’t surprise Fulford, who saw such characteristics from the time Wiggins arrived at Huntington Prep to enormous fanfare to the day he left for Kansas as a McDonald’s All-American. His departure included a heartfelt thank-you note to the people of the Huntington community published in the local newspaper.

“You have to understand, this kid, the media circus was around from the beginning when he got here in August of his junior year in high school until he left Huntington in May of his senior year after graduation,” Fulford said. “It was just a circus. I think it prepared him for what was going to happen at Kansas and even now he’s used to it, and I think he’s handled it really well. With the parents that he has, both have been professional athletes, I think it helped that he’s been kind of groomed in that manner.”

All Wiggins wanted, he reiterated during several interviews over the last month, was a place to call home, a place where he feels wanted. And so Wiggins will not flank the game’s greatest player on an instant contender in Cleveland, but instead will embrace replacing the fed-up Love as the next great hope for the long-languishing Wolves.

Fulford keeps in relatively close contact with the long-limbed, 6-foot-8 phenom, typically through text messages. The message he’s received loud and clear is that Wiggins is excited to make his own name for a franchise in need of a leader.

“Andrew’s going to be a superstar,” Fulford said. “This gives him a platform from Day 1 to kind of be the guy, and he’s ready for that.”

Earlier this month, Wiggins’ former coach at Kansas, Bill Self, said nearly the same after telling reporters that Wiggins had told him he hoped Cleveland would trade him.

“Even though, in a weird way, everybody would love the opportunity to play with LeBron because you’re guaranteed winning, for the longevity of his career, he needs to develop that mindset to be the guy for him to be great,” Self told reporters. “And I think being in Minnesota will help him do that.”

For glum Wolves fans, the Love fiasco has the potential to yield a happy ending after all. The greatest fear for an organization is it will never come close to recouping equal talent when forced to trade a disgruntled All-Star. Wolves president and coach Flip Saunders has reaped a haul as strong as anyone could expect.

In the three-team trade, Wiggins heads to Minnesota with the Cavs’ 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and Philadelphia’s consummate pro, Thaddeus Young, 26, a solid immediate replacement for Love at power forward.

They’ll join a cast that includes 23-year-old, potential All-Star point guard Ricky Rubio, veteran guards Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea, emerging center Nikola Pekovic, small forwards Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger, Wiggins’ fellow Huntington Prep alum and quick-learning 2013 first-round pick Gorgui Dieng, and high-flying ’14 first-round pick Zach LaVine.

The fit in Saunders’ up-tempo plans should suit the slashing Wiggins well. Fulford said Kansas’ high-low attack that included big man and No. 3 pick Joel Embiid didn’t always afford Wiggins the driving lanes he craves, turning him into a jump-shooter.

“He’s going to have more space to work with,” Fulford said. “And he’s extremely … I won’t say he’s impossible to guard in space, but he’s close to it.”

Love’s Wolves never made the playoffs, a six-year span that included exceptionally disappointing endings to the last two seasons. Nobody should expect a rapid ascension this season in the competitive West as the Wolves again transition, but young and athletic, Wiggins’ new team is stocked with upside and should be an exciting squad to watch grow.

“I don’t think there’s any question he’ll have a great rookie season. He’s groomed for this,” Fulford said. “In college he got better the year he was there, but he’ll be a better NBA player than he was a college player, and he was an All-American at Kansas, so sky’s the limit for him.

“It’s one of those things, him being on a team where it’s kind of really going to be his, I think, is a good thing for him.”

So shed no tears for Andrew Wiggins. Or the Wolves.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Raptors interested in Rondo | Reports: Nets pursuing Jack, Hill | Report: Wolves, Grizz talking trade | Report: Knicks interested in Hawks’ Teague | Kidd went against D-Will in recent practice

No. 1: Report: Raptors showing interest in Rondo — Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, in the midst of a career-best season, has helped Toronto climb to the top of the Atlantic Division standings and has the team poised to end its lengthy playoff drought. But Lowry is also an unrestricted free agent this summer and whether or not he’ll be with Toronto in 2014-15 is very much an unknown (our David Aldridge spelled out some details on his future there a few weeks ago). Lowry remains a target of the New York Knicks (see below) and his current team appears to have eyes on another star point guard. According to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, the Raptors are in multiple point guard-related trade talks, the foremost being a discussion to bring Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo to Toronto:

UPDATE, 11:43 a.m. ET: Now, it seems, the Knicks are getting in on the Rondo action, too, per this tweet from ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

UPDATE, 11:08 a.m. ET: While Rondo continues to have his name tossed about in trade rumors, Sean Devaney of The Sporting News reports that it is unlikely that the All-Star guard will be dealt before Thursday’s deadline:

As has become the custom, any period of NBA trade activity features Celtics guard Rajon Rondo prominently. Also customary, though, is this: Sources told Sporting News this week that there is very little chance the Celtics find a deal involving Rondo this year.

“It really is the same thing, teams call about him but the Celtics want him and he wants to be the leader of that team,” one source said. “It has always been his intention to establish himself in that role, to be part of the rebuilding and to stay in Boston for a long time. Nothing has changed.”

The Toronto Sun reported that the Raptors also inquired about Rondo, but a source told Sporting News that, unless there is a multi-team deal, Toronto does not have the assets to land Rondo. Which has been typical of the conversations involving Rondo for the last two years — teams call and ask, the Celtics give an idea of what it will take to make a deal happen, and the conversation ends there.

Rondo can be a free agent in the summer of 2015, and while preliminary discussions on a contract extension were held, the sides were never close to agreeing to a deal. Boston’s long-term plan is to focus on the summer of ’15, when they might be able to pair Rondo with some member of that year’s free-agent class, which could include Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez and DeAndre Jordan — some of the league’s best big men.

Add the Celtics’ two picks in the stocked upcoming draft to that mix, and Boston will be ready to be a playoff team again after just a short retooling.

Of course, if the right deal comes up before that, the Celtics would make it. But it is unlikely that such a deal would include Rondo.

Here’s Wolstat’s earlier report on Rondo:

Ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, the Raptors have been involved in talks with multiple teams that would change the team’s point guard situation significantly.

With the New York Knicks continuing to aggressively pursue Kyle Lowry, who has turned in a career season, Toronto has explored complicated deals that would bring back a replacement for the soon-to-be free agent.

It’s no secret Boston has dangled four-time all-star Rajon Rondo league-wide and while the asking price is steep, he has piqued the interest of Toronto’s front office, according to multiple sources. Toronto is eager to up its “star” quotient and is also enamoured with Rondo’s resume, particularly his four all-defensive team selections (two all-NBA first team). He has many backers in the organization.

Rondo would not come cheaply. Bulls.com’s Sam Smith said the price is believed to be “two unprotected first rounders” while one source told the Sun the ask is a combination of at least one lottery pick and talented young player.

Knicks owner James Dolan reportedly nixed a deal earlier in the season and Lowry responded by playing the best basketball of his career. He’s sixth in the league in three-pointers made, eighth in assists per game and sixth in win shares. With the future of star forward Carmelo Anthony uncertain, Dolan apparently has reconsidered as New York looks to improve its roster.

Sources confirmed that Atlanta is also aggressively shopping young point guard Jeff Teague, despite matching Milwaukee’s four-year, $32-million offer sheet to Teague last summer. Teague, who had a tremendous start to the season, has struggled mightily since the Hawks lost all-star big man Al Horford to injury. Teague could be a cheaper, fallback option in either Toronto or New York, should those team’s preferred choices fall through.

On the Boston side of things, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is still mulling what to do with Rondo and the team’s many other assets:

“The public probably views us more as sellers than as buyers,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe recently. “But I do think that people around the league know that we have some good players — good veteran players, good young players — and lots of draft picks. I’ve had calls for both.

“I’ve had teams contact me with the idea of trying to acquire young players and draft picks, and I’ve had teams that have called that are looking to get some of those. And I’ve had teams that have called looking for some of our veteran players as well. I think it just depends on who you talk to, but I think everybody knows that we have a lot of young assets.”

Assets, yes. The Celtics potentially have as many as 17 draft picks over the next five years, 10 in the first round.

“Again, I think that we’ll be opportunistic. We’re just waiting for an opportunity to do something good. And I think it’s important, again — you can’t force these opportunities. You can’t just be so hungry for a deal that you try to do a deal. You’ve got to be patient. At the same time, you’ve got to be aggressive.”

In previous years, the Celtics were looking to add a piece or two that could help with a postseason push, but that isn’t the case now with the team 19-35, the sixth-worst record in the NBA.

“I think the difference between other years and this year is that there’s a lot of different directions we could go,” Ainge said. “In past years, we’re focusing on just getting better for the playoff run. And now, we’re looking for possibilities of flexibility, young assets, things of that nature, but, at the same time, [we’re] opportunistic for any deals that could come along and speed up our rebuilding process.”

Said Ainge: “If our record were reversed, I think there would clearly be a different role at this point. But we are what we are. I think that I’m more concerned with how we’re playing, how individuals approach their job, who’s developing as a player and fitting in with our new coach and our system and how that will work. There’s a lot of things to consider.”


VIDEO: The TNT crew discusses Rajon Rondo working himself back into game shape

***

No. 2: Report: Nets interested in Cavs’ Jack, Lakers’ Hill — Neither the Cleveland Cavaliers nor the Brooklyn Nets are where they’d thought they’d be in the Eastern Conference playoff race when the season began. As such, both teams are reportedly interested in making trades and may end up doing business with each other — with the Los Angeles Lakers also thrown into the mix — as the trade deadline draws closer. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has news on a potential Lakers-Nets swap while ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk has info on a Cavs-Nets trade being bandied about

Here’s Wojnarowski on a potential trade that could bring Jordan Hill to Brooklyn:

The Los Angeles Lakers have had discussions on a deal to send forward Jordan Hill to the Brooklyn Nets, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Nets have a $5.25 million disabled player exception that they can use in a trade or free-agent transaction until March 10, and could use a portion to absorb the remaining $3.5 million on Hill’s expiring contract.

Nevertheless, the luxury tax penalty on absorbing Hill’s contract would be extraordinary for Brooklyn: Nearly $17 million. Hill could give the Nets a capable power forward and center replacement for a run at the postseason, but ultimately ownership would have to be willing to sign off on expanding its record $190 million-plus combined payroll and luxury tax.

And here’s Stein and Youngmisuk on a trade between Cleveland and Brooklyn that would land Jarrett Jack in Brooklyn and Jason Terry in Cleveland:

The Brooklyn Nets are interested in acquiring Cavaliers point guard Jarrett Jack and have had discussions about a potential trade with Cleveland involving Jason Terry, according to sources briefed on the talks.

The Nets (24-27) emerged from the All-Star break sitting 3½ games behind the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors and want to upgrade their bench and backcourt.

Jack, 30, is averaging just 8.5 points on 39.7 percent shooting in 25 minutes a game in his first season with the Cavs after a strong 2012-13 season with Golden State.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Nets, eager to add a proven ballhandler and backcourt scorer to their bench rotation, are willing to take on the two remaining guaranteed seasons worth in excess of $12 million left on Jack’s contract despite the luxury-tax implications.

But it’s believed that the Cavs, if they decided to go ahead with such a move, would try to find a third team to absorb Terry’s contract. Terry, 36, has one season left on his deal after this one at $5.85 million and is averaging just 4.5 points on 36.2 percent shooting in 16 minutes per game.

***

No. 3: Report: Wolves, Grizz talking trade –The Memphis Grizzlies bolstered their team a few weeks ago with the additions of NBA D-League standout James Johnson and by pulling a trade for Celtics guard Courtney Lee. Both players have infused energy and 3-point shooting, respectively, to Memphis’ season and have helped get the Grizzlies back into the playoff mix out West. But despite that turnaround, Memphis is exploring a trade with the Minnesota that would send veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince and fan favorite Tony Allen to the Wolves for small forward Chase Budinger and guard J.J. Barea. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has more:

The Memphis Grizzlies are discussing a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves centered on forward Chase Budinger and guard J.J. Barea, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Memphis wants to include forward Tayshaun Prince into the package and the deal could be expanded to include guard Tony Allen, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Components of a proposed deal are still fluid.

Memphis has been furiously trying to unload Prince and the remaining $7.2 million (2013-’14) and $7.7 million (2014-’15) on his contract, league sources said.

Minnesota general manager Flip Saunders is believed to want to add defensive toughness to his roster, and that would make Allen a natural to fill the Wolves’ void.

***

No. 4: Report: Knicks eye Hawks’ Teague, remain interested in Lowry– Back in mid-December, the Knicks nearly pulled off a trade for Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, but that deal fell apart when New York’s brass balked at Toronto’s request for a future first-round pick. Despite that, the Knicks remain interested in trying to work a trade for the near-All-Star guard and have also shown interest in Hawks point guard Jeff Teague as well.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com has the scoop on the Teague talks:

Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague has emerged as an appealing trade target for the New York Knicks, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Knicks, leading into Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, are calling all over the league in an attempt to upgrade at point guard.

Teague’s name has surfaced as a prime target given the Knicks’ increasing fears that their longstanding top choice — Toronto’s Kyle Lowry — will not be made available before the deadline, according to sources.

The Knicks have been chasing Lowry all season, as ESPN.com first reported in November. But sources indicate that Lowry and his advisers expect to finish the season in Toronto with the playoff-bound Raptors before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Teague’s name has thus surfaced as a prime alternative, provided that the Hawks are willing to part with him.

The Hawks would have to be interested in Iman Shumpert – and eager to shed Teague’s long-term contract — to give New York any hope of assembling a package to land the point guard.

And Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com has more on the Knicks’ continued interest in Lowry:

With the NBA trade deadline three days away, the Knicks continue to try to engage the Raptors in an attempt to acquire point guard Kyle Lowry, according to league sources.

The Knicks are offering packages including Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton and Beno Udrih, sources say. They have been reluctant to include sharpshooting rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. or a future first-round draft pick in any deal. One of those two pieces is believed to be a prerequisite for Toronto to consider giving up Lowry.

“It comes down to, can they talk themselves into getting rid of a first-rounder or Hardaway Jr. for Lowry?” one league source said.

Recent reports have stated the Raptors are no longer willing to deal Lowry, content to see how the rest of the season plays out. Lowry has been one of Toronto’s best players, and dealing him would send a bad message to the fan base.

One scenario to keep an eye on, though, is the possibility of a three-team deal involving the Hawks and point guard Jeff Teague. Atlanta has all of its first-round picks in the next four drafts and could conceivably send one to Toronto to satisfy the Raptors’ demand for a draft pick.

League sources say a scenario in which Teague ends up in Toronto, Shumpert goes to Atlanta and Lowry winds up in New York has been discussed. Another scenario could have Teague ending up in New York. The conversations are believed to be preliminary.


VIDEO: Raptors coach Dwane Casey talks about trade deadline day nearing

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No. 5: Kidd squares off against D-Will at Nets practiceTry as he might, Nets point guard Deron Williams hasn’t been able to consistently recapture in Brooklyn the style of play that made him an All-Star during his days with the Utah Jazz and the Nets’ days in New Jersey. In an effort to try and spark some of those old juices in his star, Nets coach Jason Kidd reportedly took to the court at a recent practice and squared off against D-Will, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Don’t let the tight suit fool you: Jason Kidd can still ball and still has those juices flowing.

During another disappointing and injury-riddled season for Deron Williams, Kidd stepped on the court and went head-to-head with the point guard in a spirited exchange at a recent practice, a source told the Daily News.

That’s one way to get through to the underachieving star: challenge him with Hall of Fame skills.

Exactly three years ago next week, the Nets acquired Williams in the franchise-altering deal with the Jazz, giving up a top prospect and two first-round picks for what GM Billy King called “the best point guard in the NBA.” It led to a debate about who acquired the better player at the 2011 trade deadline — the Nets with Williams, or the Knicks with Anthony.

But Williams has failed to live up to any expectations while battling injuries and confidence issues. Considering the MVP talk last summer, this season is probably the 29-year-old’s most disappointing, as he is averaging 13.3 points and 6.6 assists on 45% shooting. According to ESPN, the Nets turned down an offer to trade Williams to the Rockets, who were trying to package Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“(Williams) is never going to get back to where he was in Utah,” Charles Barkley said recently. “His best days are behind him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pelicans coach Monty Williams doesn’t think Tyreke Evans or Eric Gordon will be dealt anytime soon … Sixers swingman Evan Turner is watching and waiting out the trade talks surrounding him … The Bulls still aren’t expected to do much at the trade deadline … Former Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Lamar Odom has signed with a team in Spain … The Celtics reportedly talked about trading Rajon Rondo to the Kings, but that discussion fizzled out … Portland is reportedly out of the running for the 2017 All-Star Game

ICYMI of The Night: The LeBron James All-Star Interview aired on NBA TV last night and it’s quite compelling, especially LeBron’s explanation of his early years with the Heat …


VIDEO: LeBron James opens up about his first season in Miami

Howling Wolves Deal With Quiet Time


VIDEO: The Rockets beat the Timberwolves 112-101 on Saturday

Remember when the Timberwolves were something to howl about?

It was less than two weeks ago when the ball and the shots were moving through the offense like they were notes in a symphony.

You could pull on your parka and a pair of mukluks, then squint your eyes and imagine you were watching the Spurs North.

You could see Ricky Rubio spinning, darting and creating with only the edges of his imagination as a limit, see Kevin Love go down low to score in the post and then come outside and make it rain from behind the 3-point line, see Kevin Martin drop in all those improbable shots from all those impossible difficult angles.

The Timberwolves were 6-3 right out of the box and they were a team that could dance right off into the stars.

But now they have two left feet. All of a sudden, they can’t shoot, can’t defend, can’t muster up enough energy to take the floor and make their coach happy.

“You can look at stats all you want, but we didn’t have enough,” said Rick Adelman after their fourth loss in six games, a flogging by the James Harden-less Rockets. “I don’t know if it’s mental fatigue or whatever. We just have to do a better job and the schedule doesn’t matter.”

The schedule has turned brutal of late, serving up nine games in 14 nights, five in seven, including rising teams such as the Clippers and Rockets and next up are the East-leading Pacers.

“We play 18 games right off the bat this month,” Love said. “It’s tough. I think that’s really what it is. Plus we’re playing some really good teams. So it hasn’t been easy for us.”

One of the things that makes it hard has been the continuing struggles of Rubio to put the ball into the basket. For all of the wizardry that he uses to set up his teammates for easy baskets, the 23-year-old doesn’t seem to have a trick up his sleeve to help himself.

Rubio has made half his shots from the field only five times in the first 15 games, shooting just 34.7 percent. Now in his third NBA season, Rubio has scored 15 or more points in a game while making half his shots only nine times. The Wolves are 6-3 in those games. It’s just not that simplistic, but if Rubio could learn to shoot, the Wolves could take a big permanent step forward.

“It’s a lot easier when all your guys can make shots,” Adelman said. “He’s such a good passer and creator that if he’s making shots it makes it very difficult for the other team. They can’t go under screens, pick and rolls and things like that. It’s a process he’s going to have to go through.

“This is the first year he’s had training camp since he’s been in the league. He’s been hurt or we had a short training camp. It’s going to take time. He’s playing well and hopefully he’s to going to make shots.”

They’re a team that has Love and Rubio back in the lineup after being plagued by injuries a year ago and they have small forward Corey Brewer back with the club after signing as a free agent over the summer. They have big man Nikola Pekovic doing all that he can in the middle and with Chase Budinger again sidelined by injury, they’ve sucked everything they can out of Martin as if he were a water hose in the desert.

“We were the worst outside shooting team in the league last year,” Adelman said. “So having Kevin opens things up. And having the other Kevin (Love) back opens things up too. Last year we were firing blanks. We didn’t really have a lot of answers. This year we have a few more.”

They are still a team that has less depth than a wading pool and could use former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams to be something more than a massive bust or Alexey Shved or Dante Cunningham or Robbie Hummel or anyone to step up.

“We’re a solid team,” Martin said. “We got some work to do. It’s a long season. Everybody goes through their tough stretches with a tough schedule…We feel like we’re right in there. We’ve got a lot of things to work on. Just got to weather the storm right now.”

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Rockets’ Asik wants trade | Budinger cleared to return to practice | Challenge ahead for Rivers, Barnes | Duncan struggling early in season

No. 1: Rockets’ Asik seeking trade — Rumors that the Houston Rockets’ starting center of a season ago, Omer Asik, wanted a trade started to bubble up shortly after the Rockets signed Dwight Howard in free agency. Houston, at the time, was in no big hurry to make a deal for him and wanted to see how the big-man combo would work out. Before last night’s game against the New York Knicks, the Rockets big man apparently made his trade desires known again, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, and our own John Schuhmann says pulling the trigger on a trade isn’t a bad idea now:

Rockets coach Kevin McHale started Asik and Howard together for the first eight games of the season, but the two-center combination has not worked (particularly on offense) and had put the Rockets in several first-quarter holes. On Monday against Toronto, McHale finally pulled the plug on the experiment, keeping Asik on the bench to start the second half. Wednesday in Philadelphia, Terrence Jones started in Asik’s place and Asik played just 4:22 in the Rockets’ overtime loss to the Sixers.

Less than 24 hours later, Asik was asking for a trade. And in the Rockets’ crazy 109-106 victory over the Knicks, he didn’t play at all. McHale used Greg Smith as the backup center late in the first quarter, and when Smith injured his knee less than a minute later, McHale played Jones at center.

It was the first DNP of Asik’s career and ended his league-leading streak of 239 consecutive games played. He was not available for comment after the game, having left the Houston locker room well before it was opened to the media. McHale said: ”He told me today he wasn’t feeling good and he didn’t know if he could play,” McHale said after the game. “I asked him, ‘Are you ready to play?’ and he said, ‘I don’t feel good.’ That’s why I went with Greg.”

A few more starts here or there doesn’t change the fact that the Rockets would be better off swapping Asik for a forward who can shoot and defend. While Asik gives Houston depth up front and insurance on Howard (who struggled to score against Andrea Bargnani on Thursday), he’s not worth what the Rockets are paying him as a 12-minute-a-night backup, especially if there are nights like this — if you think McHale’s “wasn’t feeling good” claim was a little dubious — when he doesn’t play at all.

The Rockets, who have had an up-and-down first 10 games, could raise their ceiling and put themselves in the driver’s seat of a wide-open Western Conference if they can trade Asik for a better fit with Howard and James Harden, someone who could play 30 minutes a night instead of 12. And with other Western Conference contenders (like the Clippers, Grizzlies and Thunder) also ripe for a trade, Houston shouldn’t hesitate to pursue the guy they want.

Though they currently rank 23rd in 3-point shooting (at 32.1 percent) and spacing the floor around Harden/Howard pick-and-rolls is critical, their biggest priority in any deal should be perimeter defense. They’ve had plenty of glaring breakdowns already this season and they have no one to defend the likes of Kevin Durant or, if they truly have title aspirations, LeBron James. Exhibit A is Carmelo Anthony‘s 45 points on 17-for-30 shooting on Thursday.

That’s why the Sixers’ Thaddeus Young should be their primary target, whether it be a straight trade with Philadelphia or a three-team deal. The Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson would be a great fit offensively, but would only add to the defensive problems.

***

No. 2: Budinger cleared to resume some hoops activity — Just before the start of training camp, the Minnesota Timberwolves got some bad news — small forward Chase Budinger had suffered swelling in his left knee and needed meniscus surgery. Since then, Budinger has been on the mend and has been cleared to rejoin the team and resume basketball activities, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports.com:

Six weeks after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, Minnesota forward Chase Budinger has been cleared to resume basketball activities and will rejoin the team Friday, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

It is unclear how soon Budinger, 25, can return to the Timberwolves’ lineup, but doctors are enthusiastic about his progress and expect him to make a complete recovery, a source said.In the past week, Budinger started running on a treadmill and shooting on the court. In rejoining the team, the plan is for Budinger to continue building on his basketball-related rehab process.

The 6-foot-7 Budinger signed a three-year, $16 million contract to return to Minnesota in July.

Budinger had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee less than a month into the 2012-13 season and played only 23 games.

***

No. 3: Barnes presents a key test for Rivers’ coaching – In case you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, you might have missed the scuffle that ensued during Wednesday night’s Thunder-Clippers game, the resulting ejection of Clippers forward Matt Barnes from the scuffle and his postgame tweets that raised some eyebrows. Barnes was fined $25,000 for his actions and did apologize for what he had done, but now comes a challenge for coach Doc Rivers, writes Bill Platschke of the Los Angeles Times:

The first real test of the Doc Rivers era has appeared, and it can appropriately be described in less than 140 characters.

Can the new Clippers coach practice the same toughness that he preaches?

Less than a month into his first season as the Clippers’ $7-million savior, Rivers must start by repairing his own locker room after one of his players threatened to blow it apart.

On Thursday morning, Barnes publicly apologized for the tweet. Several hours later, the NBA fined him a relatively light $25,000. But the real test will come Friday morning, when the team meets for the first time since the incident and Rivers must figure out how to punish the popular Barnes while strengthening any bonds he has frayed.

“Adversity is good, it always is,” Rivers said Wednesday night. “Accept it, embrace it, enjoy it.”

“The choice of words, obviously, that’s a word that I’m not a fan of in all venues,” Rivers said Wednesday night.

Now Los Angeles will learn the extent of Rivers’ disappointment, which could help define the start of Rivers’ tenure here. Though the NBA’s agreement with the players’ union prevent the Clippers from administering formal punishment beyond the league’s action, there are ways Rivers could make a statement here.

Rivers could cut Barnes’ 19 minutes per game down to single figures for a night, or even leave him on the bench for an entire game. Rivers could order Barnes to make a public statement that puts a remorseful voice and face to his tweets.

The new coach will meet with Barnes and the team Friday, at which point Los Angeles will have a better understanding of Rivers’ renowned definition of toughness.

Barnes, whose hardened on-court persona is diametrically opposed to his kind and thoughtful off-court nature, was actually defying toughness in his tweet. If he really wanted to call out his teammates about their fortitude, shouldn’t he have done it to their faces? And should the context of the racial slur really mitigate the offensiveness of its use?

His Clippers teammates, meanwhile, seemed more upset with the tweet’s implications. They love Barnes’ muscle, but they worry about his head. They respect him as a teammate, but they feel his form of playground aggressiveness is counterproductive in an NBA arena.

“I think, at times, toughness can be mistaken in the form of being ready to fight and stuff like that,” said Chris Paul. “Toughness comes down to basketball. At the end of the day, ain’t nobody in the NBA holding the world championship belt, you know what I mean?”

***

No. 4: Duncan struggling with offense early in season — Lost to many in the course of the Spurs’ win over the Wizards on Wednesday night was that Tim Duncan endured the worst shooting night (1-for-12) of his illustrious career. Overall, Duncan has gotten off to a slow start on offense this season, but as Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News points out, Duncan started slow last season, too, and ended up as an All-NBA First Team selection:

Tim Duncan’s nightmarish shooting night on Wednesday against the Wizards (1 for 12, the worst showing of his illustrious career), or the fact that he’s currently shooting just 38.6 percent through seven games should be cause for significant alarm.

It’s ridiculously early, and the Spurs are still 8-1. (Incidentally, their lone defeat coincided with Duncan’s best game, 24 points on 12-for-23 shooting against Portland.)

No longer the low-post force he once was, Duncan’s perimeter-oriented styles makes him increasingly vulnerable to swoons. Last season he endured the following slumps:

31.7 percent, three games
39.5 percent, three games
40.5 percent, six games
41.0 percent, six games (playoffs)
39.7 percent, four games (playoffs)

Duncan ended up shooting 50.2 percent for the year, and 47 percent during the playoffs while becoming one of the oldest players in league history to earn All-NBA honors.

So, just in case the point isn’t sinking in, we’ll spell it out: With almost 90 percent of the regular season yet to be played, there’s absolutely no reason to panic.

Yet.

The good news for Duncan: He’s generally getting quality looks. Indeed, he’s taking a higher percentage of shots at the rim (42.2) than he has since 2007-08.

Now, the unsettling part: He’s converting just 54.3 percent of those shots, roughly 10 points below last season’s league average and almost nine points below his lowest mark in seven seasons tracked by Hoops Data.

But wait, there’s more!

According to  NBA.com’s new SportVU player tracking data, Duncan ranks:

* 23rd out of 25 players averaging at least five catch-and-shoot attempts per game at 27.8 percent
* 71st out of 72 players averaging at least two close-range points per game at 35.3 percent

Again, at a point of the season where one performance can still skew the statistics, it’s completely reasonable to expect Duncan will bounce back at some point. His teammates think it’s only a matter of time.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards assistant (and ex-Rockets, Nets and Timberwolves star) Sam Cassell has no problem with players doing his trademark dance … Interesting read from the Miami Herald on the origins of Shane Battier‘s last name

ICYMI Of The Night: If you somehow missed the exciting finish to the Thunder-Warriors game, we’ve got it right here for ya …


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook and Andre Iguodala trade hero moments

Timberwolves Dread ‘Next Man Down’ Repeat of Injuries

Luke Ridnour played 82 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season – yeah, he was the one – and 206 of a possible 230 in three seasons there, qualifying for some sort of iron-man award.

Owing perhaps to his relative lack of time in the Wolves’ trainers room, the Bucks’ 10-year veteran guard had no theories about that team’s miserable run of injuries and bad luck. But he wasn’t exactly surprised, either, when he learned Monday afternoon that his former teammate, Minnesota forward Chase Budinger, was hurt again.

“When I was in Minnesota, everyone was hurt,” Ridnour said. “I don’t know what the deal is but … we had a good team but when you get banged up, it’s hard to do anything.”

That’s why the latest about Budinger was so potentially demoralizing: The Wolves announced Tuesday that the small forward underwent surgery on his left knee for a meniscectomy, performed by noted sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla. Last November, Budinger suffered a lateral meniscus tear in the same knee and missed 59 games, returning only for the final four weeks of the season. He was thought to be nearly full strength for camp but now will be out indefinitely.

And it’s only natural that, given the recent snake-bit history, other Wolves might be glancing sideways, wondering who’s next. Coach Rick Adelman talked at Media Day Monday about the road – to emergency rooms and operating arenas – that none of them wants to go down, as reported by Mark Remme on the team’s Web site:

On Monday at Target Center, Wolves coach Rick Adelman said Budinger is a tough loss at small forward to start the season. That entire crew projected to play the 3—Corey Brewer, Derrick Williams, Shabazz Muhammad—is either new to the team or to the position. Budinger was the most experienced player at that position within Adelman’s system. Brewer is the favorite for the starting nod.

“I just felt so bad for [Budinger],” Adelman said. “He’s the type of player who can really add to what we do offensively. I feel bad for him, and I really don’t want it to become a trend. With last year it really became a trend.”

To be specific, Minnesota lost 341 “man games” to injuries in 2012-13, led by Brandon Roy‘s 76, Kevin Love‘s 64, Malcolm Lee‘s 63 and Budinger’s 59. Point guard Ricky Rubio missed 24 in his return season from ACL/LCL surgery the previous spring. Even Adelman, who cobbled together 16 different starting lineups, missed games in midseason while attending to his wife Mary Kay‘s medical condition.

High hopes of ending an eight-year playoff drought fizzled into a 31-51 record and 12th place finish in the Western Conference.

“Basketball, [injuries are] part of the game,” said Ridnour, who started all 82. “A lot of ours, they were just freak deals. A broken bone? You can’t do anything about that. Bone spur, you can’t do anything about that. Kevin Love’s [twice-broken] hand – it wasn’t even during practice. So it’s just freak deals.”

Various tongue-in-cheek theories about the franchise’s bad luck have been floated at moments of past breakdowns, such as here and here. Several NBA teams, including the Wolves this season, have bulked up their strength and conditioning staffs, and some are exploring advanced analytics that might apply to training and physiology. But good fortune and pacing might play considerable roles, too.

Said Ridnour: “You look at the teams that do well, they stay healthy. Most of the time – the top seven guys play the majority of the season. It’s a grind. That’s something that’s made San Antonio so successful, knowing how to keep their older guys fresh. You look at ‘em, those guys stay healthy. They don’t care what [resting guys] looks like.”

Some of the biggest storylines in the NBA as camps open involve injury comebacks, from Love and Chicago’s Derrick Rose to OKC’s Russell Westbrook, Boston‘s Rajon Rondo and Lakers star Kobe Bryant. And just for the record, none of the 30 organizations is immune.

Moments after Ridnour talked about the Wolves, an old pal from his first stint in Milwaukee ambled out of the locker room. Small forward Carlos Delfino, who fractured a bone in his right foot during Houston’s first-round series, signed a three-year, $9.75 million contract as a free agent to return to the Bucks. He still was in a walking boot Monday, will miss all of camp and has a return date as indefinite as Budinger’s.

Five Who Could Crash Scoring Race Party

 

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – First-time scoring champ Carmelo Anthony lit up April, averaging 36.9 ppg to deny Kevin Durant a fourth consecutive scoring title.

It won’t be terribly surprising if Melo collects a second trophy this season. Prior to Durant’s three-peat, Kobe Bryant (2005, ’06), Tracy McGrady (’03, ’04) and Allen Iverson (’01, ’02) all repeated, so that’s a pretty decent track record for staking back-to-back scoring titles.

Starting with last season’s top five scorers — Anthony (28.7 ppg), Durant (28.1), Bryant (27.3), LeBron James (26.8) and James Harden (25.9) — plus a strong candidate pool coming, the scoring race should be a fun one, and the top five scorers in the league come April 2014 might look different than it did in 2013.

Of course, for a player to move into the top five, one most fall out.

So which player or players are vulnerable to vacating the top five? Start with the three players I think are as close to top-five locks as possible: Melo (he’s still just 29 and by far the Knicks’ No. 1 option); Durant (he has so many ways to score that he can drop 30 hopping on one leg); and James (he can score whenever and however he wants, and he’s finished in the top four in scoring in nine consecutive seasons).

That leaves two that could slip and open a spot: Harden (the addition of Dwight Howard will alter Houston’s offense and spread the scoring wealth); and Kobe (it’s dangerous to doubt him considering he’s finished in the top five since finishing sixth in 2001-02, but, at 35 years old and coming off Achilles surgery, there has to be some dropoff, right?).

Which players will make a run at cracking the top five? Here’s my top five:

1. Derrick Rose, Bulls: The offense-starved Bulls will welcome their point guard back after he missed all of last season recovering from ACL surgery. He’s had plenty of time to hone his game and Rose will return with a vengeance, perhaps reaching his 2010-11 level when he averaged 25.0 ppg and won the league MVP. That season put him on the cusp of the top five, just 0.3 ppg behind Bryant and Amare Stoudemire.

2. Kevin Love, Timberwolves: Another injury returnee, Love played just 18 games last season due to a right hand he broke twice. He’s got Ricky Rubio to set him up, an offensively gifted center in Nikola Pekovic to draw attention down low and shooters around him such as Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger. Love is set up to return to the 26.0 ppg he averaged  in 2011-12 when he shot 37.2 percent from beyond the arc and finished fourth in the scoring race.

3. Russell Westbrook, Thunder: Yeah, yeah, maybe he shoots too much considering he plays alongside that Durant guy. But Westbrook’s a stone-cold scorer and Thunder coach Scott Brooks knows it. After his knee injury in the first round, Westbrook (he finished sixth in scoring last season at 23.2 ppg) declared that he will return a smarter player. Maybe it means he’ll take fewer bad shots, but don’t expect him to necessarily take fewer shots since the Thunder lost 3-point ace Martin to the Wolves in free agency.

4. Blake Griffin, Clippers: This guy takes a lot of flak for a perceived lack of development in his low-post and mid-range game, and I have said that he must find less violent ways to score to truly become great. I think the powerful Griffin delivers this season on a team loaded with options and one that will be smartly coached by Doc Rivers. Despite a lack of finesse, Griffin still managed to average 22.5 ppg in 2010-11 and is a career 52.9 percent shooter. Only 24, Griffin’s career is just getting started, and he’s got Chris Paul to make his ascension all the easier.

5.  Stephen Curry, Warriors: The best pure shooter in the game today averaged a career-best 22.9 ppg last season and then increased it to 23.4 ppg with an electric postseason. His scoring potential is off the charts. But he’s also got a team to run and that includes some pretty nice targets in Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut. Still, like Westbrook, this kid is a born scorer and as long as his ankles hold up, Curry is going to put up some huge games for a team attempting to move up into the Western Conference elite.

Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player

HANG TIME, Texas – Officially, the NBA has not recognized a Comeback Player of the Year since the 1984-85 season.

But these are the dog days of August, this is just an exercise in summer daydreaming and that means, well, we can pretty much do whatever we want.

Besides, it’s so rare that we have so many big name players on the mend, several with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.

So grab a seat in the shade and let’s run my top candidates for a make-believer honor — the 2013-14 Comeback Player of the Year:

Kobe Bryant, Lakers – Yes, it’s still all speculation at this point, and even Bryant has said that he’s not sure he’ll be ready yet for opening night. But if, at 35, he somehow gets back onto the court less than a year after tearing his Achilles’ tendon and manages to come close to being the beast of his former self, Kobe will have eclipsed Adrian Peterson as a modern medical marvel and raised his already considerable legacy way past Michael Jordan‘s “flu game.”

Dwight Howard, Rockets – Can a guy who averaged 17.1 points and led the league in rebounding (12.4 rpg) last season really be considered a comeback candidate? He can if he’s this guy, who could only have taken more abuse if he’d played every game with a “Kick Me” sign taped to the back of his jersey. A return from back surgery and an in-season shoulder injury contributed to Howard’s lost season in L.A. A healthy and happy season in Houston could produce fireworks.

Derrick Rose, Bulls – He hasn’t played in an NBA game since April 28, 2012 and he may not return immediately to his old MVP form on opening night. But there are reasons to expect that Rose will want to use this season to make a loud statement about himself as a competitor and warrior. First of all, he is both of those things. Second, he heard all the sideline critics complain that he was soft or afraid or something less than a team player by not returning at the end of last season. If anyone has a point to prove about who he is, it’s Rose.

Kevin Love, Timberwolves – Flip the calendar back 12 months and there was so much for Love to anticipate in the year ahead, especially coming off his success at the World Championship. Not the broken right hand in training camp. Not breaking it again in January. Not the surgery on his left knee that ended any chance of a late return. Love averaged 18.3 points and 14 rebounds in the 18 games he played. Teammates Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger all suffered injuries in a lost season for the Wolves. Now it’s Love who’s champing at the bit to lead the comeback that could get Minnesota into the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Rajon Rondo, Celtics – When he gets back out onto the court, should we start calling him “Domino?” After all, think of all the dominoes that fell after he tore his ACL and had to be shut down for the season in January? That’s the way former teammate Paul Pierce views it. Rondo’s injury ended the Celtics’ real hopes of being playoff contenders or at least spoilers. Rondo’s injury likely led to the trading of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets. Rondo’s injury led to coach Doc Rivers wanting out of a rebuilding project. Rondo’s injury brought rookie coach Brad Stevens to Boston. Now Rondo gets to be the big dog who runs his own show and there’s no doubt he’ll bark loud.

Danny Granger, Pacers – On a team that already pushed the Heat to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals and is feeling more confident from the experience, how much of a boost could they get if the former All-Star forward can return to form? Granger played only five games last season after having surgery for patellar tendinosis. He said he expects to be back in the starting lineup. But even if he winds up coming off the bench, a Pacers team that sometimes had trouble putting points on the board will welcome the help.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder – Sure, it happened in the playoffs. Sure, he had never missed a single game in his NBA career until that night when he had the run-in with the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley. That doesn’t make it any less significant. The loss of Westbrook ended any real hope of the Thunder getting back to The Finals and maybe it quieted some of the carping complainers who love nothing more than to pick at the flaws in his game. Will the torn meniscus slow down any of his freakishly physical play or seemingly superhuman sorties to the rim? Doubt it.

Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers — With all the attention focused on free agent Andrew Bynum and No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett, the return of Varejao to the Cleveland lineup could be just as critical at making a run at the playoffs. The 30-year-old was averaging career highs of 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds in 25 games last season before tearing a quadriceps muscle in January and then requiring further surgery when a blood clot developed in his lung. Coach Mike Brown says the perpetual motion machine might start at power forward and that could get him back to making a run at his first All-Star berth.

Andrew Bynum, Cavaliers – If any player ever needed a comeback, it’s the big man who was a key part in the four-team trade between the Lakers, Magic, Nuggets and Sixers in the summer of 2012. Those chronic knee problems that had always made his future a big question mark in L.A. kept him on the sidelines but not out of the limelight all last season in Philly. He showed off flashy hairstyles. He went bowling. He just didn’t play. Now that Jan. 7 cutoff date to be on the Cavs roster that guarantees the other half of this season’s $12.25 million contract should be some real motivation.

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

Blogtable: Lottery Teams In Free Agency

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


Week 38: On lottery teams | Playoff wins: Nets or Knicks | Playoff wins: Rockets or Spurs


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Which lottery team made the biggest free-agency splash?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Minnesota Timberwolves have made some surgical signings to fit their needs and coach Rick Adelman’s offensive system. Kevin Martin (via sign-and-trade from OKC) and Chase Budinger (their own FA re-upped after an injury-spoiled 2012-13) bring much-needed shooting and movement. Former Nugget Corey Brewer also happens to be a former Wolf returned to the fold now, and his defense on the wing and ability to run the floor will be big boosts. (Caution: This is predicated on Wolves boss Flip Saunders getting center Nikola Pekovic re-signed as a restricted free agent; if he gets a bonanza offer and Minnesota blinks, we take back this whole paragraph, OK?)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If we’re talking strictly free agency and not including trades, then I’m going with the Pistons. Signing Josh Smith definitely qualifies as a big splash and getting Chauncey Billups to return to Detroit could make more than a ripple in the pond if he can help with the team chemistry and developing young talent. Gigi Datome could be a bonus. Cleveland is probably closer to making the playoffs, but that’s due to a healthy Kyrie Irving and other returning talent. I like the addition of Jarrett Jack, but think the Cavs are headed for disappointment with Andrew Bynum.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: From the standpoint of immediate impact my vote goes to the Detroit Pistons. Josh Smith‘s history with the Hawks wasn’t always pretty and has been an enigma, but the power forward is a talent. If he’s focused and fit — and he better be now that he’s out of Atlanta and has a lucrative contract — he can really help what certainly appears to be a franchise on the move. The Pistons hope he will mesh well with and be a good influence on youngsters Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Add veteran point guard Chauncey Billups, who won a title in Detroit a decade ago, and a young team just got supreme on-the-floor leadership and a respected figure that new coach Maurice Cheeks can lean on as he implements his system. Honorable mentions: Phoenix for acquiring Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler; Portland for adding Dorell Wright and Robin Lopez; Charlotte for signing Al Jefferson, even if they paid a hefty price; and a shaky honorable mention to Cleveland for taking a stab at Andrew Bynum.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Timberwolves. They took care of business with their own free agents by re-signing Chase Budinger and, barring a big surprise, Nikola Pekovic. And they addressed an offseason priority to find shooting help by getting Kevin Martin. Adding the defense of Corey Brewer will help as well.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not very bullish on Andrew Bynum’s prospects, but I still like what Cleveland has done, adding a couple of veterans at key positions to accelerate their progress. Their young players were going to get better and their defense was going to improve with the return of Mike Brown, but Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark can get them over the hump and into the playoffs. That’s a necessary step for the development of Kyrie Irving and also to pique LeBron James’ interest next summer. If Bynum and Anderson Varejao can combine to play 100 games or so, then they can get as high as the No. 6 seed in the East.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Dallas and Cleveland swung for the fences and came up a bit short. And I love what the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans did to bolster their rosters via trade and free agency. The Detroit Pistons, however, had specific targets and locked down the guys they identified as difference makers for a team that has a legitimate shot to climb up the charts in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. The additions of both Josh Smith and Chauncey Billups fill crucial needs for the Pistons. Toss in Italian league MVP Luigi Datome and the Pistons have added three significant pieces. That said, free agency seems a bit thin to me this summer now that all of the major transactions have been completed. The trade market is where the real action was this summer. And no one made a bigger splash there than the Brooklyn Nets.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Detroit Pistons? I used a question mark there on purpose, because it doesn’t seem like many of the lottery teams did very much in free agency, post-draft. The Pistons, though, signed Josh Smith, and J-Smoove gives them a heckuva front line, between Smith, Drummond and Monroe. I also like them bringing back Chauncey Billups, who will bring some stability to the backcourt. I don’t think these moves immediately make them a title team, but they should make them a playoff team this season.

Martin, Budinger Boost Wolves’ Shooting

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Across 34 years, among all the franchises of the NBA jacking up 3-point shots since the rule and the arc were established for the 1979-80 season, no team shot them as often and as badly as the Minnesota Timberwolves last season.

The Wolves’ .305 percentage was the worst in league history for a team that, by God, kept on shooting them anyway — averaging 18.0 per game. Injuries to some of Minnesota best players hurt their accuracy – even if a perimeter shooter was healthy, he might face more close-outs with big men Nikola Pekovic or Kevin Love absent on a given night. So, too, did the Wolves’ annual struggle to find competent players at the shooting guard position. Too often last season, coach Rick Adelman was stuck with an undersized tandem of Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea.

Those concerns – about the shooting and the depth chart — seemingly both got addressed Tuesday with reports that Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders reached agreements with two free-agent shooters.

One is familiar: Chase Budinger, who played last season for a $885,000 salary, reportedly will get a huge raise on a three-year, $16 million contract to return. The other one is new to Minnesota and was considered one of the top 15 or so free agents in this offseason market: Kevin Martin, who is said to have reached agreement with the Wolves on a four-year deal worth an estimated $28 million to $30 million.

Budinger, 25, will try to have the success envisioned by him and the Wolves prior to his knee injury (meniscus) last fall, which limited him to 23 games — 15 from March 21 on. A 6-foot-7 forward, Budinger spent his first three seasons in Houston, two with Adelman. Reunited in the Twin Cities, he seemed perfect for the ball-and-player movement that the veteran coach runs offensively. Healthy now, he’ll try to fit perfectly again.

Martin, 30, is a professional scorer, period. Twice in the past six years, the 6-foot-7 product of West Carolina ranked in the NBA’s top 10 in scoring and from 2007-2011 averaged 22.4 points, made 38.5 percent of his 3-pointers and got to the line for 8.4 free-throw attempts per game.

Martin established himself with the Sacramento Kings, who drafted him 26th overall in the 2004 Draft. Then he became a central figure in two major trades. In 2010, he went to Houston in a three-team, nine-player transaction in which his role was to step in for former Rockets star Tracy McGrady. Like Budinger, Martin was coached there by Adelman.

Last October, Martin was shipped from Houston to Oklahoma City in the Thunder’s desire to cushion the loss of guard James Harden, the third option on OKC’s 2012 Finals squad whose contract demands exceeded the team’s budget. Coming off the bench the way Harden had as the league’s top Sixth Man, Martin averaged 14.0 points – lowest output since his second NBA season – but at 18.2 points per 36 minutes, he was only slightly off Harden’s 19.3.

But his ballhandling, passing and rebounding were a step back from his predecessors. And OKC didn’t make it out of the second round.

Now Martin joins a team that would be grateful for help in making it into the first round. Minnesota hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004, a drought that this reconfigured crew hopes to end with Budinger and Martin getting open for Ricky Rubio assists and Love outlet passes.

And at a combined 37.7 percent from 3-point range in their careers, the Wolves’ lowly 2012-13 ranking is bound to improve.