Posts Tagged ‘Chauncey Billups’

‘Amnesty THAT!’ An Amnesty Find Is Rare

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The two-word tweet Kobe Bryant directed at Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban after he grilled Cuban’s team for 38 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in a game last season was priceless. Earlier that week, Cuban suggested that the Lakers should consider amnestying Bryant this offseason as a means for Los Angeles to shrink the enormous luxury-tax bill coming after next season.

The notion was resurrected after Bryant, due to make $30.45 million in 2013-14, tore his Achilles tendon in the third-to-last game of the regular season because of the assumed probability that he will miss a chunk of next season. Of course, the Lakers had no intention to amnesty Bryant by Tuesday’s deadline.

Had they, making him available to a team for dirt cheap, Bryant would have become the first superstar cut loose via the amnesty provision that took effect at the conclusion of the 2011 lockout as part of the new collective bargaining agreement.

Twenty players in all have been waived via the amnesty provision. Three got the news Tuesday, bringing this summer’s amnesty total to five.

The wisdom of the provision is to allow each team the one-time ability to remove a contract from its books. The team must still pay the player’s remaining salary, but it no longer counts against the salary cap or luxury tax.

The amnestied player (who must have been under contract prior to the new CBA) goes through a waiver process with teams under the salary cap granted first crack to acquire the player through a bidding process. The highest bidder wins and signs the player at the bid price with the former team responsible for the balance.

It could provide a cheap way for a team to fill a hole with a serviceable rotation player set free by a team needing financial relief – which was the Miami Heat’s purpose Tuesday in amnestying popular sharpshooter Mike Miller. More often than not, however, teams, naturally, have utilized the amnesty provision to eradicate expensive mistakes or free themselves of players no longer worth their lucrative deals such as waiving disappointing, non-productive players (Darko Milicic, Travis Outlaw), older/high-mileage players (James Posey, Elton Brand) or headcases (Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche).

Of the 15 players amnestied in 2011 and 2012, four (Posey, Charlie Bell, Ryan Gomes and Milicic) were never signed by another team and eight (Arenas, Bell, Josh Childress, Baron Davis, Gomes, Milicic, Posey, Brandon Roy) are currently out of the league. Only five players remain with the teams that signed them through or after the amnesty waiver process, and of those just three — Luis Scola (Phoenix), Blatche (Brooklyn) and Chris “Birdman” Andersen — played significant roles last season.

Of the five players amnestied this summer, the underwhelming Tyrus Thomas has yet to be signed. Drew Gooden, Linas Kleiza and Miller are in the midst of the 48-hour waiver bidding process. Metta World Peace, amnestied by the Lakers, signed a two-year deal with his hometown New York Knicks.

The 6-foot-11 Blatche and the Brooklyn Nets are hands-down the feel-good story of the amnesty provision. Just 26, Blatche’s talent is immense, but so was his penchant for doing dumb things with the dysfunctional Wizards. Fed up, Washington gave up on him. Few teams bit until the Nets figured they had nothing to lose, signing Blatche to a one-year deal for less than $1 million while the Wizards were on the hook for more than $7 million. Blatche emerged as an integral part of the Nets’ return to the playoffs, averaging 10.3 ppg and 5.1 rpg off the bench. Last week Blatche re-signed for a reported two years and $2.9 million.

But Blatche is clearly the exception. The Mavericks hoped to get a steal with their winning bid of $2.1 million for the amnestied Brand, who was due to make $18 million last season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Brand, while well-liked in Dallas, posted his worst statistical season of his career, averaging 7.2 ppg and 6.0 rpg. He recently signed a free-agent deal with Atlanta.

Chauncey Billups, amnestied in 2011 by the Knicks to make room to sign Tyson Chandler, played just 42 total games the last two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, and recently signed a free-agent deal with the Detroit Pistons. Center Brendan Haywood was nonexistent in Charlotte last season after being amnestied by the Mavs.

And remember the potential Childress had? Amnestied by the Phoenix Suns in 2012, he’s one of the eight players no longer working in the NBA. The amnesty bust list goes on and on.

So who are the 10 teams yet to play their amnesty card, and which players are eligible? Here they are: Atlanta (Al Horford), Boston (Rajon Rondo), Chicago (Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah), Detroit (none), Memphis (Mike Conley, Zach Randolph), New Orleans (none), Oklahoma City (Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Nick Collison), Sacramento Kings (John Salmons), San Antonio (Tony Parker) and Utah (none).

But that is now speculation for next summer.

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.

Billups Agrees To 2-Year Deal With Detroit



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Brandon Knight is going to finishing school for NBA point guards without ever leaving the Detroit Pistons’ practice facility.

No one should be happier to hear the news that former Pistons star Chauncey Billups, The Finals MVP in 2004, is returning to Detroit on a two-year, $5 million deal, as first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Billups, a five-time All-Star, was the ringleader of a Pistons crew that was dominant in the Eastern Conference for a five-season stretch from 2004-08. After being traded from Detroit to Denver, he helped guide his hometown Nuggets to the 2009 Western Conference finals alongside Carmelo Anthony. Last season, he helped Chris Paul and Blake Griffin lead the Los Angeles Clippers to the best season in franchise history and their first Pacific Division title.

His return to Detroit, though, represents a homecoming of a different kind. Billups made his name with the Pistons, going from a journeyman existence early in his career to one of the most well-respected players in the entire league.

Pistons boss Joe Dumars has already added Rasheed Wallace, who also starred on those teams with Billups, to the coaching staff. And Billups will not only play a vital role in the backcourt rotation, but perhaps his greatest value will be as a mentor to Knight, a talented young point guard who will learn plenty from a player like Billups.

He’s nearly a decade removed from his greatest moments with the Pistons, but he proved last season that he’s still got plenty left in his tank. He returned from a torn Achilles (suffered in February of 2012) to play in 22 games this season, averaging 8.4 points and 2.2 assists while playing 19 minutes a night.

The Pistons signed Josh Smith to a four-year, $54 million deal Wednesday, solidifying a frontcourt rotation that also includes budding young stars Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond as well as Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko and second-round pick Tony Mitchell.

What wasn’t clear until now is what they were going to do to fortify the backcourt rotation after veteran point guard Jose Calderon left for Dallas via free agency. Adding Billups softens that blow and gives the Pistons a significant upgrade in the leadership department.

Billups Is Inaugural Winner of Twyman/Stokes Teammate Award





MIAMI – Awards in whatever walk of life typically honor the latest recipients, and if they happen to be named after someone, there occasionally can be some head-scratching and quizzical looks as to who that was and what exactly they did to get a trophy named after them.

A bunch of hockey players, for instance, are grinding out a championship series over the next two weeks for a silver cup named for … Lord Stanley? And the NBA surely gets it that while everyone knows what an MVP is, not everyone knows that Maurice Podoloff – for whom the trophy is named – was the league’s first commissioner.

The Twyman/Stokes Teammate of the Year Award is going to be different, if the league and the players who win it have anything to say about it.

The new postseason award – won for 2012-13 by Los Angeles Clippers guard Chauncey Billups – was created precisely to keep the names Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes alive as symbols of sportsmanship, selflessness and other traits associated with not-just-good-but-great teammates.

Their story – Twyman becoming legal guardian and advocate for Stokes after his Cincinnati Royals teammate suffered a paralyzing brain injury in 1958, helping with his medical costs, sticking by his friend – is one that resonated throughout the league long after Stokes’ death in 1970 at age 36, and even more so after Twyman’s passing in 2012.

“The relationship shared by Jack and Maurice is as profound an illustration of compassionate and unconditional fellowship between two teammates that the NBA has ever seen,” NBA commissioner David Stern said at the presentation ceremony an hour before Game 2 of The Finals Sunday.

“We will get the opportunity to retell the story of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman on each occasion of the award’s being given.”

Billups, a 16-year veteran, directed some of his remarks upon accepting the award to son Jay Twyman and other members of Twyman’s family who attended the event at AmericanAirlines Arena. “I think even older players like myself to the younger guys need to know the story,” he said. “The story is the most unbelievable story I’ve ever heard in sports. And I’m just glad that my name could be mentioned alongside Mr. Twyman.”

At 36, having played for seven different NBA franchises, one could say that Billups was on the campaign trail without ever knowing about it. He was chosen in a vote of all NBA players from a ballot of 12 nominees, six from each conference selected by a panel of NBA Legends. The criteria: selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and his commitment and dedication to his team. Or in his case, teams.

Other finalists included Jerry Stackhouse (Brooklyn Nets), Luke Walton (Cleveland Cavaliers), Andre Iguodala (Denver Nuggets), Jarrett Jack (Golden State Warriors), Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers), Shane Battier (Miami Heat), Roger Mason, Jr. (New Orleans Hornets), Jason Kidd (New York Knicks), Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder), Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs), and Emeka Okafor (Washington Wizards).

A point system was used — 10 points for a first-place vote, seven for second, five for third, three for fourth and one for fifth. Players were not allowed to vote for a player on their own team.

That last part might seem odd for a “teammate” award, but Billups – whose leadership was key to the Detroit Pistons’ 2004 NBA championship – is known throughout the players’ community as a solid citizen, generous with his time and more.

Noting that he never has had to sacrifice for a teammate the way Twyman did in caring for Stokes, Billups said: “I had to help a few teammates through some really, really tough family situations in a few different ways. … I never thought twice about it because I knew they needed it, and they respected me enough and looked up to me enough to ask me.”

Karl Badly Wanted This Nuggets Team To Change Playoff Fortune

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Apparently it was a bad year to coach your team to a franchise-record number of wins.

George Karl, Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins each guided their respective clubs to new regular-season heights and now the coaches of the West’s playoff seeds 3, 4 and 5 all might be shown the door. Del Negro, who led the Los Angeles Clippers to a franchise-best 56 wins and a first-ever Pacific Division title, was first to be told he won’t be return.

Hollins, a lame-duck coach all season like Del Negro, led the Memphis Grizzlies to a club-record 56 wins and a first-ever Western Conference finals, and also likely sealed VDN’s fate with their first-round playoff win after the Clips held a 2-0 lead. Still, before Hollins could even reflect on the season that was, he was told by the organization’s new brass to talk to whichever team caught his fancy.

Then Thursday morning news hit that the Denver Nuggets will part ways with recently crowned Coach of the Year Karl after nine seasons and a franchise-record 57 wins. Karl, apparently unwilling to enter next season under the final year of his deal as his two counterparts did, has lost that power struggle and is out.

Hollins remains the lone wolf that isn’t all the way out. At least not yet as Grizz ownership/management figure out what they’re doing.

Now the 62-year-old Karl, who has twice turned back cancer, will be coaching somewhere else next season if he so chooses, perhaps even Del Negro’s attractive old gig with the Clips (considering Chauncey Billups‘ affinity for Karl and Chris Paul‘s trust in Billups, this could be a scenario that ensures the free agent CP3′s return to the Clips. Billups is also a free agent).

Karl dearly hoped that this season’s Nuggets would be the team to turn his inexplicable postseason fortunes around. In eight previous seasons under Karl, Denver had advanced past the first round just once. The 2008-09 team with Carmelo Anthony lost to the Lakers in the West finals. Before and after, with Melo and without, it’s been one-and-down.

This year was different, he wanted to believe. He had a complete team that played his up-tempo style to perfection and could run-and-gun any opponent off the floor. Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari were emerging as stars. Andre Iguodala provided the perimeter defense his teams lacked in the past. They had depth, they had belief and they had the West’s No. 3 seed.

They managed the latter despite Gallinari being lost for the season in early April to a torn ACL, and Lawson missed chunks of time late in the season with plantar fasciitis, making his playoff-readiness uncertain.

When the Nuggets — who recently lost general manager Masai Ujiri to the Raptors — visited the Dallas Mavericks on April 12, it was obvious how much Gallinari’s injury — and at the time Lawson’s ailing foot — had shook Karl’s faith in the possibility of a long playoff run.

“All year long the league has seen this, the national image of the Nuggets, that they’re not a playoff team, they’re not built for the playoffs, they can’t do this, they can’t do that,” Karl said, lamenting on the season-long criticisms of his club. “And I just wish we would be healthy just to show some people so we could tell them to shut up. Now I don’t know what percentage we’re down, but a full tank would be better than a three-quarter tank. The matchup that we get I think we’re going to be excited about and I’m confident that we’re going to play well in the playoffs.”

The matchup that they got was the upstart, sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors, who beat the shorthanded Nuggets in six and then put one heck of a scare into the eventual West champion San Antonio Spurs.

Who knows what happens if Gallinari is healthy and the Nuggets are playing at full strength.

Injury misfortune aside, it was quite a season. So good that just 29 days ago, Karl tweeted this message:

That was his last tweet until today:

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 117) Featuring Steve Kerr

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Steve Kerr understands the importance of every shot, every possession and every games this time of year. You don’t win five championships in your 15-year career and not comprehend the significance of each and every step you take in the middle of May.

That’s why the sweet-shooting TNT analyst was a must-get for Episode 117 of the Hang Time Podcast. With the conference semifinals winding down and the conference finals looming, a sobering dose of perspective was needed here at headquarters. We needed someone to provide a little context and perspective to what LeBron James and the Miami Heat are going through right now, what Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors are dealing with right now and what it all means in the grand scheme of things.

Things are fluid for so many of the teams still alive in the playoffs, not to mention the teams whose seasons have finished and are searching for coaches and eventually players to help them get to the point where they are still play in mid-May. Kerr breaks it all down, and more, including his assessment that Heat star Dwyane Wade is no longer an “everyday superstar” but an “every other day superstar.”

We thought Kerr’s presence might defuse the normal mid-week volcano that is Rick Fox, whose “Get Off My Lawn” rant of the week includes his debunking of the NBA’s great point guard myth (as he describes it only the way he can).

In Rick’s estimation, we might have seen the last of the point guards to win MVP in the The Finals when Spurs point guard Tony Parker did in 2007. He’ll could very well be the last of his kind, according to Rick, to find his way into the company of elite players at his position like Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Chauncey Billups, the only PGs other than Parker since 1980 to claim that hardware.

(Sorry Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and the rest of you, Rick says don’t bother.)

You get all of that and a whole lot more on Episode 117 of the Hang Time Podcast …

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

CP3, Del Negro Top Disappointed Clips’ Summer To-Do List

 

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – California’s basketball hierarchy is on its head.

As the second round is set to begin, in is the All-Star-snubbed Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors; out are the two biggest superstars set to hit the free-agent market: Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers.

In strange symmetry, Howard and Paul were both ejected in their final games of the season. Howard twice lost his cool and got the heave-ho early in the third quarter of the Kobe-less and totally injury-depleted Lakers’ Game 4 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Referee Joey Crawford gave Paul a more controversial walk to the showers late in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Game 6 downer at the Memphis Grizzlies, the Clippers’ fourth consecutive defeat after taking a 2-0 series lead.

Both superstars will become free agents on July 1. While the smart money still says D12 and CP3 love L.A. and will stay, unceremonious endings to what were supposed to be storybook seasons for both franchises at least adds a layer of intrigue and speculation to the proceedings.

For the Clippers, 118-105 losers Friday, suddenly the celebrations of a franchise-best 56-win season and a first-ever Pacific Division title are being washed away by a tidal wave of disappointment and tough offseason decisions headlined by Paul’s choice of where next to take his talents.

“I got a lot of time to think about that,” Paul, wearing a Clipper red sports coat, told reporters after Friday’s game. “As I do with any decision I make, I consult with my wife, my parents, my brother, my family. I might even let little Chris chime in on this. We’ll see what happens.”

L.A.’s front office will wait on pins and needles for July 1 to get Paul’s answer, but they will likely move much quicker to determine the future of lame-duck coach Vinny Del Negro. When management assesses the job he’s done in leading the Clippers to the playoffs in consecutive seasons for just the second time in the franchise’s 29 years in L.A. and first time in 20 years, there will be two sides of the coin to each topic of debate.

Since being hired to lead Chicago with no previous coaching experience, Del Negro has been scrutinized, even ridiculed, like no other coach regarding his acumen of the X’s and O’s.

In this series, Del Negro’s team allowed a 2-0 lead to slip away. But how much of that is on the coach and how much is on a team that seemed to get outworked in the final four games? Did the coach not have his team prepared or did the players not show up? Did the coach fail to make proper adjustments or did the players fail to execute?

Paul averaged 22.8 points and 6.3 assists. He shot 53.3 percent and rarely turned the ball over. He didn’t get a lot of help from what was considered to be the deepest team in basketball. His All-Star teammate Blake Griffin sprained an ankle and played 24 minutes in the final two games. He finished the series with a well-below-average 13.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg while nemesis Zach Randolph dominated in the final four games.

Veteran point guard Chauncey Billups, who missed most of the season due to injury, played as if his head wasn’t in it, finishing the series with more turnovers (eight) than assists (six). After going 4-for-8 from the floor in Game 1, he went 7-for-28 the rest of the way.

Sixth Man of the Year runner-up Jamal Crawford was 7-for-21 in Games 3 and 4 and was benched in the second half of Game 6 after going 0-for-5. Matt Barnes, who threw in 30 points Friday night, was 9-for-24 in Games 2 through 5.

Caron Butler averaged 5.8 ppg in Games 2 through 5 and scored five points in 34 minutes of Games 4 and 5. Del Negro ripped center DeAndre Jordan‘s effort. Grant Hill, either injured or buried on the bench this season, was on the floor in the second half of Game 6.

The Clippers could look quite different next season. They have $45 million tied into Griffin, Jordan, Butler, Crawford, Hill and Eric Bledsoe. Two million could get returned if Hill retires as he speculated he might last month.

So let the introspection begin for a franchise that has scrapped bottom for decades and seemed to be headed for better days, if not glory days. Owner Donald Sterling in his later years has seemed to soften and to smartly open his wallet to make things happen. It’s resulted in two sensational seasons that have produced regular-season results like never before, two rare trips to the postseason while also rousing a fan base and creating a fun environment at Staples Center.

Yet the Clippers failed to accomplish Del Negro’s goal and that was go deeper in the playoffs that last season’s second-round sweep at the hands of the Spurs when Griffin was again hurt and unable to perform at a peak level.

So while Curry and the Warriors keep doing their thing, the mood is considerably darker today down in L.A.

 

CP3 Says Bledsoe’s Out, So Is He In?

LOS ANGELES – In praising young guard Eric Bledsoe, did Chris Paul divulge his plan to be back in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform next season and beyond?

“Bled is one of the best guards in our league,” Paul said following Sunday’s Los Angeles Clippers practice. “I’ve said it all season long, I’m enjoying playing with him right now because there’s no way he can be here next year because we probably won’t have enough money to pay him. He should be a starting point guard.”

Bledsoe, 23, is under contract through next season for a bargain $2.6 million. However, if the Clips max-out Paul, who will become a free agent this summer, the franchise could look to move Bledsoe, the third-year talent out of Kentucky taken 18th by Oklahoma City and traded to the Clippers for a first-round draft pick.

He was a catalyst off the bench in Saturday’s 112-91 Clippers victory for a 1-0 lead in the first-round, best-of-7 series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Bledsoe came alive in the fourth quarter for 13 of his 15 points (on 7-for-7 shooting) and all of his four assists and six rebounds as he played the entire period and Paul watched on the bench for all but 3:12 of the fourth.

“For him, I’m just enjoying it and I love to sit back and watch him because he’s a game-changer,” Paul said. “And like I said [Saturday] night, he’s the key to our run.”

The 6-foot-1 Bledsoe is explosive off the dribble and a rugged 190 pounds. He averaged career-bests with 8.5 points and 3.0 rebounds to go with 3.1 assists this season in just 20.4 minutes. His numbers per-36 minutes, or the floor time a starter might typically play, were 14.9 ppg, 5.4 apg and 5.2 rpg. He shot 39.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Bledsoe, as expected, said he’s not focused on his future beyond this postseason. Still, finding ample minutes for a remarkable backcourt arsenal that includes Paul, Bledsoe and veterans Chauncey Billups and sixth man Jamal Crawford is not easy.

“We got one goal and that’s to win the championship and I think we got a pretty good team to do that,” Bledsoe said. “So I’m not focused on next season. I’m pretty going to worry about winning, learning how to, really, for the first time in my career to get a championship.”

Through three quarters Saturday night, Bledsoe had logged 6:19 and had two points. His spurt of relentless activity in the fourth quarter included stint with Paul and Billups.

“Everybody on the team went through it,” Bledsoe said of sacrificing minutes on a deep team that routinely goes 10 and 11 deep. “For right now, it’s whoever is playing good at the time. So we’re just going to cheer the next man on, that’s part of a team. So I really can’t focus on minutes. If I get them I get them, if I don’t, I don’t.”

According to Paul, Bledsoe should be getting more next season when he’s wearing a different uniform.

And that could very well suggest that Paul plans to stay in a Clippers uniform.

Morning Shootaround — April 17

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

News of the morning

Clips get boost in backcourt | Spurs not expecting much from T-Mac | Players unsure Hunter will be back in Phoenix| Big decisions ahead for Raptors

Bledsoe, Billups give backcourt a boostThe Clippers have had Chauncey Billups in the lineup in just 21 games this season and heading into last night’s home game against Portland, he had missed L.A.’s last eight games. As well, third-year guard Eric Bledsoe had missed five games with a left calf muscle injury that slowed his energetic, up-tempo style. But both players were instrumental in the Clips’ romp of the Blazers, something that made Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro happy, writes Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

Billups brings the Clippers championship experience. He won a title with the Detroit Pistons over the Lakers in 2004, when Billups was named the Finals most valuable player.

“He’s a little bit older now,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said about the 36-year-old Billups. “He’s missed most of last season and a lot of this season, so that’s not as easy to do. We still expect a lot from him with his leadership. He can make shots, obviously. He’s another guy that can make plays.”

Billups had missed the last eight games with a strained right groin. He has played in just 21 games this season and is expected to play in a back-to-back game Wednesday night in Sacramento.

Del Negro said the plan is to play Billups about 20 minutes per game.

“He knows how to play and we have to get him into game condition as quick as possible,” Del Negro said. “He gives us another dimension out there making plays off the dribble, shooting the basketball. But he’s got to get out there and get his rhythm and chemistry with the guys.”

“[Bledsoe] changes the complexion of the game with his speed,” Del Negro said. “It’s just the versatility that he brings that is of value. We can’t always use it depending on matchups. But he’s been fantastic for us since he’s been healthy.”

Bledsoe had suffered a sore left calf muscle that kept out of five games. He seems to be just now getting his legs back strong again.

“He gives us an edge to us out there defensively and the speed he plays with,” Del Negro said. “We knew that was going to be a factor for us. I feel he’s back playing with a lot of confidence. He knows his energy and the way he plays is very important, especially with that second unit or if he’s out there with Chris [Paul], in how he uses his athleticism to pressure the basketball defensively.”

Spurs likely not expecting much from McGradyAfter parting ways with Stephen Jackson last week and dealing with a myriad of injuries to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker along the guard corps, the Spurs picked up Tracy McGrady last night. McGrady, who hasn’t played for an NBA team this season, is eligible for the playoff roster and provides some backcourt depth for the postseason. But how much will the former scoring champ impact the Spurs’ postseason rotation? Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has more:

With all the twists and turns during the 2012-13 regular season, it was only fitting that the Spurs gave us one more on Tuesday, signing Tracy McGrady to fill to roster vacated after the unceremonious whacking of Stephen Jackson.

It is the seventh NBA stop for the former franchise player, and eighth as a professional including his recent stint in the Chinese league. He dominated with Qingdao Double Star Eagles, averaging 25 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists — the type of numbers he put up as a seven-time All-Star before injuries sapped his athleticism.

McGrady won’t find it nearly so easy back in the NBA, where he averaged 5.3 points last season with Atlanta.

There’s some speculation that McGrady’s addition had been the end goal all along. But at this point, the most likely  explanation is probably the simplest: The Spurs excised what they viewed to be a cancer, and they needed a warm body to help pick up the slack on a Spurs bench that suddenly isn’t so deep.

That means chewing up whatever time is available behind starting small forward Kawhi Leonard. And from what Gregg Popovich has said recently, there won’t be much. Leonard, he said, could earn up to 40 minutes a night, leaving precious little for a floor-bound ex-star.

Still, they needed somebody, and with only days left until the playoffs begin on Saturday, the Spurs could have done far worse. His woeful playoff record notwithstanding, McGrady has experience, and he should be able to provide adequacy in a number of facets: Playmaking, rebounding, perhaps even a touch of scoring.

Players unsure if Hunter will coach Suns next seasonWhen the Suns parted ways with coach Alvin Gentry in mid-January, some drama ensued. Assistant coaches Dan Majerle and Elston Turner quit the team shortly thereafter once word came down that fellow assistant Lindsay Hunter — and not Majerle or Turner, who had more experience as assistants — would be the Suns’ new interim coach. Those two might want to consider themselves lucky as Hunter hasn’t set the world on fire as coach. He is 12-28 as interim coach and the Suns are 2-8 in their last 10 games. All of those facts would seem to not bode well for Hunter returning to the Suns, a topic many players were mostly mum on. Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic has more:

Luis Scola and Goran Dragic were asked whether they would recommend interim head coach Lindsey Hunter returning next season. Both players punted the topic.

“That’s a tough question,” Dragic said. “ … I’m here to play basketball. It’s not my decision to make.”

Dragic did say he liked Hunter’s approach to practice.

Alvin (Gentry) was a great coach for the veteran players; he knows when to give them a day off, but for our team we have a young team and we really need to practice hard every day,” Dragic said. “When he (Hunter) took over the team I think we maybe had one or two days off. I think it should be like that.”

Scola said he thought Hunter did “a great job. Circumstances were bad and he did as good as he could. But I don’t make those decisions. I’m just a player.”

Would a third coach in less than a year be unsettling for the team?

“I think it would be a sign of things being bad,” Scola said. “But things are bad.”

Suns owner Robert Sarver declined comment when asked about Hunter’s future, and Hunter said no time has been set for a postseason meeting with either General Manager Lance Blanks or President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby.

Off-court decisions loom for RaptorsAnother season draws to a close in Toronto tonight and the Raptors are once again on the outside of the playoff picture. It has been five seasons since Toronto made the postseason and seven since it finished with a record above .500. Needless to say, the team is in need of more overhauls and changes, although many of those could happen to non-roster positions. Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun explains how the fate of GM Bryan Colangelo, the direction of Maple Leaf Sports and more could shape the Raptors’ future:

As another Toronto Raptors season crawls to its conclusion, a franchise teetering on irrelevance has a series of enormous decisions to make.

There may not be any one right answer for Tom Anselmi and the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, but there is almost certainly a wrong one.

The decisions, as they seemingly do at the end of every Raptors season, revolve around the general manager, Bryan Colangelo, and the coach, Dwane Casey. Colangelo has an option year remaining on his contract. Casey has one year left on his deal.

And the team is forever paddling in circles, creating the occasional wave, but ending up nowhere in the end.

The decision for Anselmi and the board isn’t in any way obvious, with the largest issue being the relationship between Colangelo and Casey. Colangelo did his best to distance himself from his coach early in the season and there has been all kind of internal speculation that the two can’t possibly work together again.

Here’s the dilemma for Anselmi and the board: Do they use the option year on Colangelo’s deal and enable him an eighth season as general manager? Or do they have enough faith in Colangelo to reward him with a new contract, which would be based as much on blind faith and the fact he gives good board meetings as anything else?

Whatever determination is made on Colangelo’s future puts Casey’s future in a rather distant place. If one doesn’t believe in the other — and we saw what happened how effective it was when Brian Burke allowed Ron Wilson to continue on when they were philosophically opposed with the Leafs — then what sense is having Colangelo back with Casey as coach?

Colangelo apparently tried to fire Casey at least once during the season, insiders say, but wasn’t given the go-ahead to do so.

Colangelo hasn’t helped himself by his annual summers of bad decisions. There are only so many Landry Fields and Hedo Turkoglus and Jason Kaponos and Jermaine O’Neals you can miss on.

Casey, as coach, didn’t help himself by following up a decent first year with a scrambly second year and an absolute inability to compete in close ones.

So far, Anselmi has revamped the entire front office of Toronto FC and he played good soldier when some of the ownership decided to fire Brian Burke with the Leafs. Now he has a chance to go 3-for-3 in his first year on the job as president and chief operating officer.

“It’s not like we’re going to make an out of the blue decision. There’s been conversation going on all season long,” said Anselmi. “Is it any more complicated than usual? I don’t know. Either Bryan’s going to be in place and making decisions or someone else will be in place and make the decision on the coach. Leadership is very important to us.”

The Raptors’ season ends tonight. There is no meeting yet scheduled for the MLSE board. A decision on Colangelo is expected by early May.

ICYMI of the night: Plays like this one from Chauncey Billups to Blake Griffin might be a good example of why coach Vinny Del Negro is glad Billups is healthy again:

One Injury That Kobe Can’t Instantly Slay

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –
Kobe Bryant will have surgery this afternoon, but even he knows it’s a formality. The immediate procedure for a ruptured Achilles tendon is an obvious one. The sensation it creates is unmistakable and Kobe knew the reality before he courageously limped in front of reporters Friday night, slumped on crutches and with bloodshot eyes.

The Los Angeles Lakers medical staff surely told him the news that must have struck him like a basketball in his throat: The typical recovery period is nine to 12 months, even for a Black Mamba, seemingly more a 6-foot-6, 205-pound piece of precision machinery than a mere fragile human throughout his incredible 17-year career.

“We have to question to ourselves, how special are these athletes?” noted sports injury expert and author Will Carroll Saturday morning. “Is there something mental that goes into the physicalness? Have we granted Kobe magical powers that he might not have? If he’s back in six months, then yeah, give it to him. If it’s 12 months like Derrick Rose (ACL injury), then he’s human.”

Even as the severity and consequence of the injury to his left foot was still soaking in, Bryant, 34, was telling reporters it was already fueling his desire to return better than ever. We can only expect him to pursue the accelerated Terrell Suggs model. The Baltimore Ravens linebacker played seven months after his Achilles injury, but Suggs is the clear exception in these cases.

Bryant’s path will include surgery likely as soon as the swelling recedes. Then begins the grueling comeback trail of rehabilitation.

“He might not be back until December,” Carroll said. “If we’re talking a 12-month recovery, and that’s the long end, we’re talking a full season. He does have some great factors going for him. He’s in great shape, he’s not that old and he’s very athletic.”

Bryant, of course, has one more season left on his contract and he recently indicated to NBA.com that he planned to make a decision this summer on how much longer he wanted to play. He made several suggestions going back to training camp that he would retire sooner rather than later.

It’s impossible to determine how long it will take a particular individual to recover from a catastrophic injury. Carroll said Bryant’s chronic knee issues could complicate his recovery due to overcompensation as he works to strengthen his heel. Carroll said it can also be difficult to locate a donor tendon large enough to replace the highly developed one of a 6-6 elite athlete.

Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas retired at age 32 after rupturing his Achilles in April 1994. Dominique Wilkins has said the favorite portion of his Hall of Fame career was rupturing his right Achilles at 32, hearing that his windmill tomahawk days were done only to return with a vengeance. He increased his scoring average the next two seasons and made three more All-Star teams.

Clippers guard Chauncey Billups, 36, hasn’t been the same since his return 10 months after rupturing his Achilles tendon in Feb. 2012.

“Jumping is the toughest part,” Carroll said of basketball player’s return from a torn Achilles tendon. “That’s what’s going to test Kobe the most.”

Response to Bryant’s injury immediately focused on the heavy minutes he’s logged all season and primarily over the last seven games as the disappointing Lakers have made a desperate charge to secure the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Bryant had again played every second of Friday night’s 118-116 win at Golden State up to the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter when Bryant made his fateful move to drive by Harrison Barnes. Bryant stepped down on his right foot and fell to the ground.

Headed toward a third 48-minute effort, it was his eighth consecutive game of playing at least 41 minutes. He averaged 45.7 minutes in the six games before Friday night.

Some have pointed a finger at coach Mike D’Antoni for allowing Bryant to carry on that way, but it was the prideful Bryant who forced that issue during this mad playoff push.

Achilles injuries do seem to attack athletes in their 30s with more regularity, and certainly age and fatigue play a role in being vulnerable to such an injury. Those two factors can’t be overlooked in this case. But it’s impossible to declare it definitively. An injury can occur to any player, young or old, at any time, and Bryant has routinely played through injuries, such as his recent severely sprained ankle, that would sideline others for weeks.

“Every time you run you’re doing some damage. Age and fatigue are a factor, but not the only factor,” Carroll said. “Usually in a traumatic injury, you take a wrong step and it happens.”

The next step for Bryant is surgery followed by rehab. Then the countdown for his return from the first major injury of his career will begin in earnest. Bryant has never played fewer than 65 games in any season and he’s missed only a handful of games in each of the last eight seasons.

Right now, nobody can be certain when, or even if, he’ll be back for an 18th NBA season.

“Is it six months, eight months or is it 12 months?” Carroll said. “Is he the next Terrell Suggs or Derrick Rose?”
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