Posts Tagged ‘Chris Kaman’

Morning Shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook unsure if he’ll be on minutes limit | Report: Warriors to reassign Scalabrine | Aldridge hopes to play Thursday | Izzo quells Pistons talk | Kaman not happy with his role in Lakerland

No. 1: Westbrook unsure if he’ll face minutes limit in playoffs — It is understandable that the Oklahoma City Thunder would want to be careful with how much star guard Russell Westbrook plays as the season winds down. After all, Westbrook has had three knee surgeries within the last eight months and OKC knows it needs him healthy to make any kind of serious run at The Finals. As our Jeff Caplan reported last night, though, Westbrook says he’s unsure if he’ll be on a minutes/time limit once the playoffs get rolling:

Russell Westbrook returned to action Tuesday night for the first time since his knee scare four nights earlier in Toronto. He remains on a minutes restriction, up to 32 a game, a precaution he’s not yet sure will be lifted once the playoffs start in little more than three weeks.“I’m not sure,” Westbrook said prior to Tuesday’s game against the Mavericks. “Once I talk to the doctors, the coaches and the people I I need to talk to about that, then we’ll figure it out.”

“I feel great, but it ain’t about this year,” Westbrook said. “I’m 25 years old, you know? It’s not all about right now. You got to think about the future. I can’t just think about what’s going on right now. I’m still young, I’m trying to play as long as I can.”

Westbrook’s knee nightmare started 11 months ago in the first round of the playoffs when Rockets guard Patrick Beverley careened into him, tearing the meniscus in Westbrook’s right knee and ending his season. He underwent surgery to repair the meniscus days later and then required two subsequent, and unexpected arthroscopic procedures, one coming days before the start of training camp and another two days after he put up a triple-double at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day.

The latest setback kept him out until Feb. 20. Tuesday’s 129-118 overtime loss to the Mavs was the first time since his return that he logged more than 31 minutes. He played 33, but Thunder coach Scott Brooks, in order to adhere to the minutes restriction, sat Westbrook for the first 2:57 of overtime. OKC fell behind 120-113 before he checked in.

Westbrook has averaged 26.3 minutes in the 12 games he played prior to Tuesday night. His career average is 34.0 mpg and he averaged 38.4 mpg in the 2011-12 playoffs when OKC advanced to the NBA Finals. Along with the minutes restriction, which has been bumped up from 25-26 minutes initially to 30-32, Westbrook will continue to be held out of one game of back-to-back situations.

That leaves Westbrook available for eight of the Thunder’s final 11 games. OKC wraps up the regular season on April 16 and will open the first round at home that weekend. How the team will handle his minutes at that point, Brooks said, is not yet a significant part of the discussion.

“I haven’t really focused on a lot of that because there’s plenty of time for us to talk about that,” Brooks said. “We’re just focusing on what we have in place and that’s just the regular season. We’ve had some small discussions about what we’re going to do moving forward, but right now we haven’t really locked up anything.”

“It’s just my mindset, how I think, how I get myself going,” Westbrook said. “I just think to myself, go out and try to compete, that’s it, go out and help my team win. I know when I’m on the floor my only thing is go out and play hard and try to win.”

Since his return after the All-Star break, he’s averaged 21.0 points, 7.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds. His shooting percentages — 45.2 overall and 41.3 from beyond the arc — are higher than his overall shooting percentages.

“I mean, I’ve been confident,” Westbrook said. “The training staff and the rehab that I’ve done has put me in a great spot to be able to come out and perform at a high level, how I want to perform. So I have confidence in my knee; just have to go out there and play and let the rest take care of itself.”


VIDEO: The Mavs win an OT thriller against the Thunder

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No. 2: Report: Warriors to reassign Scalabrine — A fan favorite during his playing days in New Jersey, Boston and Chicago, Brian Scalabrine has transitioned into a burgeoning coaching career in the NBA now. As a assistant coach in his first year on the Warriors’ staff, Scalabrine is working toward his long-term goal of becoming an NBA coach. His journey, however, may face a slight detour, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, as the Warriors are expected to move Scalabrine into another role at the behest of coach Mark Jackson:

In what’s become an increasingly dysfunctional atmosphere, Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson has forced a reassignment of assistant coach Brian Scalabrine, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Ownership and management have been strong advocates of Scalabrine and his performance on the job, sources told Yahoo Sports. Nevertheless, Warriors officials decided that as long as Jackson is the head coach, he’ll have control of his coaching staff.

It is immediately unclear what kind of a role to which the Warriors will transition Scalabrine, but management has no intention of letting him leave the organization, sources said.

Over the past two years, Jackson’s difficulty with managing his coaching staff and creating a functional work environment has developed into one of the issues that threatens his future on the job, league sources said.

Scalabrine, who joined the staff in July, was Jackson’s choice as an assistant coach. For two straight years, Jackson has had issues with assistant coaches that he hired. Michael Malone and Jackson would go weeks without speaking to each other a year ago, league sources said. Malone left Golden State to become the head coach of the Sacramento Kings.

Jackson, in his third year at the helm of the Warriors, has one year left on his contract, but has come under increased scrutiny within the organization for how he has run the team and worked on the job. There have been no conversations about an extension for Jackson – nor are they expected to take place, sources said.

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No. 3: Sliding Blazers hope to have Aldridge back Thursday — As our Fran Blinebury pointed out yesterday in a post you may have missed, the Blazers’ reliance on 3-pointers that fueled their early success may be their undoing now. While that may or may not be true, one thing that’s hurting Portland’s chances at winning is LaMarcus Aldridge’s absence from the starting lineup. Aldridge has missed the Blazers’ last seven games with a back contusion, but told CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes he hopes to play Thursday night in Atlanta:

The Portland Trail Blazers sunk to a new low when they got outplayed and outworked by the Orlando Magic, resulting in an embarrassing 95-85 loss Tuesday night in the Amway Center.“It’s probably the lowest point as far as being inconsistent, but it’s also the toughest,” Damian Lillard said postgame. “It’s getting down to that point where it’s time to make that push and get in the playoffs…We just got to tightened up and get it done.”

The Trail Blazers have shot 40 percent or lower in their last three games. Their lack of focus and energy level is clearly noticeable. On the defensive end, well, that continues to be a concern.

They need a savior, badly. And one may be on its way.

Slouched in his locker room stall after the game was a defeated-looking LaMarcus Aldridge who has sat out the team’s last seven games as he deals with a nagging back contusion. He looked helpless, wishing he could help his team.

The power forward spoke to members of the media for a few minutes and provided a ray of hope for the organization and the fan base.

“I say I’m trying to go no matter what [against Atlanta on Thursday] but if I look good enough to play [in Wednesday’s workout], then I’m going to play,” he said. “It’s up to the medical staff.”

Center Robin Lopez didn’t hold back about how he feels about Aldridge’s contribution to the team.

“We need L.A.,” Lopez said. “In order for us to be at our best, he has to be on the court with us. He’s our leader.”

Aldridge says he’s been getting better each passing day. The Trail Blazers are 3-4 since he took that hard fall in San Antonio on Mar. 12. He admitted that he didn’t think it would take this long. He wanted to play tonight, but the pain was too severe when he tried to run.

The eight-year vet was asked if a return on Thursday has anything to do with the team losing, and he replied saying it factors into it, though he reiterated that it’s ultimately the call of the team’s medical staff.

“It (losing) makes me want to play even worse, yes it does,” Aldridge answered in frustration. “But it’s not about me, it’s about the medical staff and them saying I can play. I’ve been wanting to play but obviously if you can’t move, you can’t play.”

Wednesday’s practice will be the first time since the injury that he’ll experience some body contact and try to go all out.


VIDEO:
Blazers coach Terry Stotts talks about Portland’s loss in Orlando

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No. 4: Michigan State’s Izzo quiets NBA talk – As most NBA observers know, the Detroit Pistons are in a state of unrest in many ways. They fired coach Maurice Cheeks just 50 games into this season in a move that owner Tom Gores recently told the Detroit Free Press that he felt good about in retrospect. General manager Joe Dumars is thought to be on thin ice and could lose his job this offseason and Gores might have an eye on a local name — Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo — as the man to steer the Pistons in a winning direction. However, Izzo, in an interview with ESPN yesterday, seems fairly content in East Lansing, Mich.:

Tom Izzo has a message for the NBA should it come calling again: He’s still happy in college.

“There’s been so many rumors over the years,” the Michigan State coach said on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Tuesday. “I look at people I used to recruit against years ago [that] said that I’d be gone, but I’m still here and some of those schools have had three different coaches.

“I’ve always said I’d never say never to anything because you never know what it brings. But I got so much more work to do here. I have a great president, a great AD and a football coach that I really get along [with]. So this is a pretty good place for me right now. We’re in a pretty good spot. Program’s in pretty good shape.

“Ain’t broke, so why fix it?”

Izzo’s comments come after a USA Today report stated the Detroit Pistons, enduring another disappointing campaign, could make a play for Izzo after this season.

The Pistons are expected to be in the market for a new coach. Maurice Cheeks was fired during the season, and interim coach John Loyer likely won’t be back.

Izzo said after Tuesday’s practice that he hasn’t talked to the Pistons or Detroit owner Tom Gores, adding that he has never met Gores, a Michigan State graduate.

“I swear to you, I have not talked to one soul from the Pistons,” Izzo said.

Izzo, 59, flirted with the NBA in the past, nearly taking the Cleveland Cavaliers’ job in 2010. He is 467-186 in 19 seasons, and his teams have reached six Final Fours. The Spartans have made the NCAA tournament 17 consecutive seasons and won the title in 1999-2000.

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No. 5: Kaman unhappy in Lakerland, sounds off — Center Chris Kaman, a former All-Star, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Part of his struggles can be attributed to a foot injury that cost him to miss several patches of the Lakers’ first 69 games. But Kaman also hasn’t been happy with how he’s been used by coach Mike D’Antoni and expressed his frustration to the media before last night’s victory over the visiting New York Knicks:

Chris Kaman can’t wait until his miserable season with the Los Angeles Lakers finally ends.

Until then, he’s just trying to salvage something out of this wrong turn in his basketball career.

Kaman was the Lakers’ starting center Tuesday night against the New York Knicks with Pau Gasol sidelined by vertigo, but it was his first game action in March. The former All-Star 7-footer had watched the previous 10 games from the sidelines, unable to carve out any role in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system.

“It’s been a long season,” Kaman said. “I can’t wait until it’s over, I’ll tell you that.”

Kaman, an 11-year NBA veteran, called it the most frustrating season of his career “by far. Tenfold.”

Although he is averaging 9.9 points per game when he plays, Kaman is at career lows in rebounds (5.6) and minutes per game (18.4).

Kaman’s frustration has been palpable since shortly after he signed a one-year deal with the Lakers as a free agent in July. He appeared in just 34 of the Lakers’ first 69 games this season, with a foot injury hindering him much less than his inability to click with Los Angeles’ coaching staff.

“I was surprised the way we started the first preseason game,” Kaman said of his inability to crack D’Antoni’s rotation. “My bad on my part not doing due diligence enough to look into (D’Antoni’s) style of play.”

Kaman said he hadn’t spoken to D’Antoni since the Lakers were in Portland on March 3. The center doesn’t necessarily think that’s weird, but he leaves little doubt he doesn’t sync with D’Antoni’s style of coaching or management.

“I’m not at peace about it,” Kaman added. “I’m (ticked) about it, but I can’t control it. … It’s tough, but the best thing to do is play and try to stay positive and finish on a strong note.”

After spending his first eight NBA seasons with the Clippers, who made him the sixth overall pick in the 2003 draft, Kaman was traded to the New Orleans Hornets for one season.

He was similarly frustrated last season after signing with the Dallas Mavericks, struggling to get off coach Rick Carlisle‘s bench and chafing at his lack of involvement. He also missed time with a concussion.

Kaman said he can’t stay in game shape without playing in any games, and he expected to be rusty in his first game back. His foot injury is nothing that would prevent him from playing, and he’s still hoping he’ll get some time on court in the Lakers’ final 12 games of what’s likely to be the franchise’s worst season since moving to Los Angeles.

Kaman, who turns 32 next month, said he’ll “just do my job, make this go as quick as possible, and go from there.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Feels like we’ve heard this from Kobe Bryant before, but he told the New Yorker that Shaquille O’Neal was “lazy” …Spurs forward Matt Bonner will miss the next two weeks with a calf strain … Cavaliers forward Luol Deng doesn’t like not being in the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09 … Jazz rookie point guard Trey Burke says Utah fans are being ‘selfish’ when they root for the Jazz to lose to increase their Draft lottery chancesChris Bosh opened up on “The Dan Le Batard Show” on South Florida radio about his nickname, his best friends on the team and more

ICYMI of the Night: Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters had himself quite a game last night against the Raptors and nailed this pretty little layup, too …


VIDEO: Dion Waiters sinks the crafty reverse layup against Toronto

L.A.’s Stunning Role Reversal


VIDEO: Lakers at Bucks, Dec. 31, 2013

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Happy New Year, Mike D’Antoni. A”We Want Phil” chant, however silly, percolated through Staples Center in L.A. on Tuesday as the glamorous-turned-anonymous Lakers faded to black again in an ugly loss to the now seven-win Milwaukee Bucks.

Total bummer of a New Year’s Eve party.

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, of course, wouldn’t touch this sinking M*A*S*H unit with a bionic-kneed Andrew Bynum. At this point, any talk of the league’s worst teams has to include the purple and gold, who are 13-19, have lost six in a row (half of those by an average of 17 points) and show no sign of snapping back any time soon.

How could they snap back? Consider D’Antoni’s starting five in the 94-79 loss to Milwaukee: Jordan Farmar (who tore his left hamstring in the game and will miss a month), Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol. His available bench was limited to: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman (who has fallen so far he couldn’t even get in the game).

Look at it this way: These unidentifiable Lakers are closer to last-place Utah than to eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings. That gap will either shrink or grow Friday night when the Lakers welcome the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – who, ahem, just beat L.A. in Salt Lake City a week ago.

When these two teams meet Friday, the most exciting player on the floor just might be Utah rookie point guard Trey Burke, who’s quietly making a major move in the Rookie of the Year race. No offense to the impressive Burke, but that’s how far the mighty Lakers have plummeted: A rookie on the opposing team — a team with 10 wins — is the most exciting player on the floor.

With Dwight Howard in Houston after turning his back on the Lakers in free agency, Kobe Bryant on the sidelines again with a fractured knee, Steve Nash still plotting some way to get back on the floor and Pau Gasol sniffling through recurring physical and emotional trauma, the Lakers’ star power is flickering like a faulty neon sign.

The Clippers, once known as the “other” L.A. team, are another story altogether.

We may never truly understand all the reasons that prompted outgoing commissioner David Stern, acting as the de facto head of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets two years ago, to veto the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade.

(Stern said in a statement shortly after the December 2011 trade that he nixed it “in the best interests of the Hornets” and that he decided, without influence from other owners, that “the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”)

But by now, we certainly grasp how drastically that decision altered both franchises’ outlooks. Remember, the Lakers thought they had Kobe’s future sewn up: CP3 in a deal that shipped out Gasol and Lamar Odom, followed by getting Dwight in a deal for Bynum. It’s hard to imagine a Kobe-CP3-D12 trio going up in flames like last season’s Howard-Kobe-Nash gathering did. Or like this season’s team has. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe to start this season and have gone 3-10 since his brief return and subsequent exit.

The Clippers (22-12) haven’t been nearly as consistent as coach Doc Rivers would like. But they are fourth in the West playing without injured sharpshooter J.J. Redick. They have won seven of their last 10. They’ll try to move 11 games over .500 Friday night at Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Off the court, the Clippers have been even better. Every second commercial on TV has Paul selling insurance with his equally assisting faux-twin brother Cliff, or a white-caped Blake Griffin saving us all from buying a lame automobile.

Meanwhile, the best news about the Lakers, off the court, is what they’re trying to do to fix their on-court woes. They are paying about $6 million more in payroll this season than their co-tenants, with close to $50 million wrapped up in Kobe and Gasol. The rest of the roster accounts for nearly $30 million. It’s why a rumored Gasol-for-Bynum swap with the Cleveland Cavaliers — followed by waiving Bynum — would be so attractive to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. It would wipe out millions in salary and costly luxury tax from the Lakers’ 2013-14 slate.

Whether that happens or not won’t change the Lakers’s fortunes any time soon. They’ll still be the talk of L.A. They are, after all, still the Lakers.

But until further notice, the star-studded Clips carry the bigger stick.


VIDEO: Bobcats at Clippers, Jan. 1, 2014

Kobe, Lakers Still Need Plenty Of Work




VIDEO: The Lakers cannot find the mark and get worked by the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You don’t need a CSI kit to figure out that these aren’t the Los Angeles Lakers of old. They look more like the old beat up Lakers right now, a team totally incapable of mustering enough healthy bodies, energy or effort to fight off an elite team, let alone a decent team like the Atlanta Hawks.

The mirage that has been the Lakers’ season thus far, with and without Kobe Bryant, is coming into focus now and it’s not nearly as inspiring as it might have seemed as recently as three weeks ago, when Mike D’Antoni was pushing buttons on a feisty crew of underdogs, yes underdogs, as they awaited Kobe’s return from Achilles surgery and the months of rehab that followed.

These Lakers aren’t big enough, strong enough and don’t have enough of the star power they are used to (at least not healthy) to even utter the words “championship contender” right now. And it was all on display Monday night at Philips Arena, when the Hawks pawed at a listless and defenseless Lakers team early and then slapped them around after halftime before finishing with a season-high 114 points in the win.

They need work, and plenty of it, before anyone starts talking about them being anything but what they are at this moment, and that’s a flawed crew on the far side of the playoff bubble in the rugged Western Conference.

“That’s you guys talking about June,” D’Antoni said. “Right now we’re just trying to win a game.”

When Elton Brand swats three shots, before halftime mind you, as the Hawks’ frontcourt crew of Al Horford (19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists), Paul Millsap (18, nine and four steals) and Brand (eight points and seven rebounds to go along with his blocks) stalemate your frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill the way they did, it makes Kobe’s and hence the Lakers’ struggles understandable.

Sure, Bryant shot just 4-for-14 from the floor, turned the ball over way too much (five) and didn’t make up for it with another double-digit assist night, not with the Hawks’ energetic DeMarre Carroll doing his best Raja Bell impersonation for much of the night. But it’s also clear that he doesn’t have the sort of help that will allow him to work his way through these tough nights as he gets his body back into the type of shape he’s used to. He’s playing out of position at point guard, while Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all nurse injuries.

The Hawks didn’t have to say it but it was obvious, with Kobe as their point guard the Lakers are much easier to figure out than when he’s in his normal role at shooting guard. Kobe cannot take advantage of defenders in the post and work them around screens when he’s running the show, when he’s responsible for making sure Gasol, Hill, Jodie Meeks and others get into the flow of games.

“They were picking Kobe up full court and making him work,” D’Antoni said, “so we didn’t create any motion or movement or energy for ourselves. we have to make sure we continue to get motion.”

Bryant will be back at the controls Tuesday night in Memphis. He’ll have to drag his tired body back out on the floor on just a few hours’ rest and then chase Mike Conley around as best he can.

“The back-to-backs are always tough,” Bryant said. “I just have to get ready, I have to do whatever is necessary to get ready for the next night and get right back out there.”

That’s much easier said than done when your body betrays your natural instincts and the things you have conditioned it to do the past two decades. As Bryant admitted, this is a new process for him, trying to find his way back to normal from his injury. It’s not like anything he has dealt with before.

“Every night is like a different puzzle,” Bryant said. “So every night you have to try and problem solve.”

He also has to take mental notes of his own, as he’s learning what does and does not work for him on this journey back to the Kobe Bean Bryant everyone is used to seeing.

“It’s tough to say,” he said, “because there are certain things I feel like I can do and there are other things I can’t do, but I feel like they are coming. You have to be patient and keep your eye on the big picture and continue to work and get stronger.”

Kobe’s foot and ankle were immobile for so long that there is still some physical discomfort that he’ll have to endure until those issues dissipate.

“The next level of progression is playing these games when you sit back out, get back in, is keeping it loose,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time. You increase the activity, the ankle gets used to it a little more.

“I’ve just got to keep my eye on the big picture and focus on getting better.”

That’s also why he’s not ready to panic about the Lakers’ 11-13 record nine days before Christmas. This is not the same train ride the Lakers were on last year, when D’Antoni, Gasol, Dwight Howard, Nash and Bryant couldn’t steer clear of the mess as they careened on and off the tracks nearly all season long.

Any rumblings about the Lakers’ front office pressing the reset button and making a trade to shake things up are things Kobe does not plan on worrying  about right now.

“That call is completely up to them (the front office),” he said of making a call on any potential moves that could be made. “As a player, you rely on experience and the years that we’ve had slow starts. I just try to stay focused on that. Last year, it was really, really dire straits. And this doesn’t feel like this is that type of situation. You know, I don’t really sweat it too much. There are certain things we can correct and fix and a lot of it starts with me and getting healthy. And I’ll get there. And I’ll be able to control things a lot more. But I don’t really trip over it much. As players we’ve got to stay focused on what we do, and management obviously has to do the same thing on their end.”

In the meantime, the Lakers would be wise to keep their heads down, keep working and pray for some good fortune on the health front. Who knows what else the next few weeks might bring?

Hill’s Rise Great For L.A., Bad For Kaman?


VIDEO: Jordan Hill talks about his career night against Detroit

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — For Chris Kaman, what goes around is coming around, meaning he could be sitting down, a lot.

When Kaman returned to Dallas earlier this month as a newly minted member of a barely recognizable Los Angeles Lakers team, the loose-lipped veteran center decided to vent. He had pent-up anger toward Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle after the pair had their differences during Kaman’s lone season in Big D.

Kaman started 52 of the 66 games he played, but he averaged a career-low 20.7 mpg and his playing time often fluctuated. During the Lakers Nov. 5 shootaround in Dallas, Kaman ripped Carlisle for playing games with players and he scoffed at Carlisle’s use of him: “They’re going to play me five minutes a game? That’s not going to work.”

Then came Sunday night and the Lakers’ 114-99 win over the Detroit Pistons. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who Kaman lauded that day in Dallas for being more appealing to players, played Kaman a season-low five minutes — 5 minutes, 24 seconds to be exact.

It could become more of a trend than a blip for Kaman, who is averaging only 17.3 mpg anyway under D’Antoni, less than he played in Dallas. On a makeshift Lakers roster still void of Kobe Bryant and thin on the back line, Kaman, 31, hoped to play a bunch alongside four-time All-Star Pau Gasol. But physical, high-intensity power forward Jordan Hill is beginning to claim that spot as his own. In his fourth consecutive start Sunday, the 26-year-old Hill turned in a career game against the massive front line of the Pistons with 24 points and 17 rebounds in almost 36 minutes.

Hill has logged more than 30 minutes in his last three starts. He’s posted three double-doubles, averaging 18.8 ppg and 12.0 rpg with 16 offensive boards, in the four starts. He’s shot better than 50 percent from the floor and is 17-for-19 from the free throw line as a starter after going 6-for-17 as a reserve. He has seven blocked shots and five turnovers, and is a plus-21.

Before D’Antoni inserted him into the starting lineup, the muscular, 6-foot-10, 235-pound Hill was averaging 6.3 ppg and 6.6 rpg in 16.1 mpg. He had scored in double figures once, 12 points in the season opener, and had one double-digit rebound game. On Sunday, Hill made a career-best 11 shots on 16 attempts, killing the Pistons in the paint.

Afterward, highly regarded Pistons center Andre Drummond liked what he saw from the hard-charging Hill: “He runs around, rebounds and plays hard, so it was like playing a clone of myself.”

Kaman and Hill obviously bring decidedly different styles. Hill punishes inside and a scraps for everything. He delivers the hustle plays a team like the Lakers, especially without Bryant, must have to win games. On many nights, L.A. will be outmanned by more talented teams and often the difference between winning and losing will come down to elbow grease.

The 7-foot Kaman, on a one-year, $3.2 million deal with the Lakers, is more finesse and can extend out of the paint with a good mid-range jumper. He’s not a superb defender, but will get his share of blocks and rebounds. Hill, though, adds a fierceness and routinely launches his body to secure rebounds or loose balls, or what are often referred to as 50/50 balls, plays that are up for grabs and will either end the opponent’s possession or prolong his team’s possession.

Hill’s offensive rebounding percentage (the percentage of offensive rebounds a player gets while on the floor) is 18.1 percent compared to 8.3 percent for Kaman. Hill grabs 61.5 percent of his team’s offensive rebounds when he’s on the floor. Kaman gets to 34.6 percent. Hill has nearly doubled Kaman this season in second-chance points and points in the paint.

“He’s a bruiser down there,” Lakers point guard Steve Blake told the the Los Angeles Times. “He goes out there with reckless abandonment and throws his body around and he’s strong. That’s just the way he plays and I think he’ll continue to do that.”

Hill hasn’t had a stellar start to his career. The former Arizona Wildcat is on his third team in now his fifth season. Drafted eighth overall in 2009 by the Knicks, New York traded him later that season to Houston. He didn’t earn much more playing time with the Rockets, who traded him to the Lakers in March 2012 for Derek Fisher and a 2014 first-round draft pick.

Hill showed flashes early last season, but was lost for the season after 29 games to a hip injury that required surgery.

Only now are the Lakers starting to see what Hill might be. That’s great news for L.A. Perhaps bad news for Kaman.

Opening Night: Time For Clippers’ Griffin And Jordan To Show Up And Show Out!


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan abuses Utah’s Enes Kanter and finishes with authority

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Point fingers all you want at Chris Paul, coach Doc Rivers, owner Donald Sterling or anyone in Los Angeles this season. It doesn’t matter. Because it’s not on them … not If the Clippers are serious about making that move from pretender to contender.

It’s on two guys and two big guys in particular.

Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the highlight stars in Hollywood, have to take that next step and put the Clippers in a position to cash in on the immense potential we all see on that roster. They were the missing piece last season in the playoffs, when the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol exposed the Clippers’ soft underbelly in a first-round playoff ouster of the reigning Pacific Division champs.

The Clippers weren’t tough enough then and Griffin and Jordan clearly didn’t have the seasoning needed to win the series. But Rivers has infused the Clippers’ locker room with a new energy, a new confidence even, that will serve as fuel for Griffin and Jordan.

And it’s time for those two to show up, show out and take some of the pressure off of Paul, the team’s smallest player (in stature). We get our first glimpse tonight, when the Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers open the season at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Griffin and Jordan couldn’t ask for a better opening test than the Lakers’ veteran frontcourt of Pau Gasol and ex-Clipper Chris Kaman.

If they want to justify the hype and make Rivers look like a genius for praising and challenging them simultaneously during the past few months, we’ll see it tonight in their play.

When he spoke about Jordan as a potential All-Star, to USA Today SportsSam Amick, his comments had to strike a (positive) nerve with Jordan — a player with big talent who still lacks the polish needed to dominate both ends of the court.

“He’s an All-Star, and whether he makes it or not I could care less about that part but I’m just saying that he’s at that level,” Rivers said. “DJ has the ability to affect an entire end of the floor. So how good was Deion Sanders? That’s how good DJ is. That’s the way I look at it.”

Griffin is already an All-Star. There’s no stroking of his ego needed. Rivers had to challenge his basketball IQ, his personal fabric and find out if he was willing to go to uncomfortable places within himself to improve and make himself more of a factor this season.

Combined, Griffin and Jordan have the ability to push the Clippers into the true-contender atmosphere. They’re talented enough to be the difference-makers in ways that few players in the league can, due mostly to the fact that they are physically superior to most opposing low-post duos.

But are they mentally tough enough? Are they skilled enough? Are they determined enough to become the collective force of nature that elevates the Clippers?

We’ll get a good sense tonight when the curtain comes up on their 2013-14 season!

McGrady Not Feeling It For Kobe, Lakers

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Tracy McGrady had to settle for a shotgun seat on the San Antonio Spurs Express to The NBA Finals last season to end his career with a lone trip out of the first round. Who knows, had McGrady ever had Spurs-like talent around him, things might have turned out differently for him.

At any rate, the borderline Hall of Famer can spot a lacking supporting cast when he sees one. He spotted just that Tuesday night while taking in some Jazz vs. Lakers preseason action. What he witnessed was so disturbing he felt compelled to take it to Twitter:

Jellybean is, of course, Kobe Bean Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers superstar and son of former ball player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant.

Kobe is working his way back from an awful Achilles tear in April and his return date remains uncertain. McGrady would apparently tell him to take his time getting back. No need to rush.

The 2013-14 Lakers, with or without Kobe, aren’t exactly high on anyone’s predictions chart. Check any Vegas sports book and this bunch is basically sitting at 75-to-1 odds to get Kobe that elusive sixth championship ring and knot him up with Michael Jordan.

Compared to all those souped-up Lakers squads through the decades, this one’s feeling like a stripped-down Vette with a leaky transmission. The horses under the hood buck instead of gallop and the suspension is all out of whack. You swear every time you turn the key it gives off that rotten egg odor.

Recently coach Mike D’Antoni said he was on drugs a year ago when he took over and proclaimed that team could average 110 ppg. And he was medicated on painkillers following knee replacement surgery. The disastrous 2012-13 team, with Bryant playing ungodly minutes night after night, averaged 102.2 ppg, which would have been pretty good if they had played any defense.

Without Bryant this preseason and with Steve Nash approaching 40 years of age by unfortunately grinding through seemingly just as many body ailments, scoring is down to 94.3 ppg. Only the Mavericks and Jazz have averaged less.

Speaking of the Mavs, everybody’s always quick to point to Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion as the only remaining members of the 2011 title team. The remnants from L.A.’s back-to-back title teams in 2009 and 2010? A rehabbing Kobe, a fragile-kneed Pau Gasol and a back-from-Europe Jordan Farmar.

To McGrady’s tweet, this is no Lamborghini waiting to be valet parked at Staples.

Assuming Nash is healthy enough to play (and start) on Oct. 29 when the Lakers open at home, to their misfortune against Doc Rivers‘ new team that shares the building, he’ll be joined by — and please don’t write this in ink — Steve Blake, Nick Young, Gasol and Chris Kaman, assuming the center has recovered from a bout of gastroenteritis.

As for Lakers depth? Among the newcomers are Xavier Henry in the backcourt and Shawne Williams in the frontcourt. The return of power forward Jordan Hill is a positive. Then there’s Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Marcus Landry, Elias Harris and fan favorite Robert Sacre. One will have to go to get the roster down to the maximum 15.

Pedal to the metal? McGrady isn’t feeling it, apparently even after Kobe takes the wheel.

One Team, One Stat: No Howard = No Defense In L.A.

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Los Angeles Lakers, who could be in danger of missing the playoffs for just the third time in the last 38 years.

The basics
LAL Rank
W-L 45-37 t-11
Pace 96.8 5
OffRtg 105.6 8
DefRtg 103.6 19
NetRtg +2.0 10

The stat

107.8 percent - Points per 100 possessions allowed by the Lakers in 1,229 minutes with Dwight Howard off the floor last season.

The context

That number would have ranked 28th in the league over the full season. But when Howard was on the floor, the Lakers allowed just 101.7 points per 100 possessions, which would have ranked 10th in the league.

Though Howard was recovering from back surgery and dealing with a shoulder injury, he still made a huge impact on the Lakers’ defense. With him on the floor, their opponents shot worse, committed more turnovers, got to the free throw line less, and grabbed fewer offensive rebounds.

And Howard was clearly a rim protector. With him on the floor, L.A.’s opponents attempted just 31.7 percent of their shots from the restricted area. With him on the bench, their opponents attempted 37.3 percent of their shots from the restricted area. That’s a critical difference with restricted-area shots being the most efficient on the floor.

Here’s some action from a March game at Golden State in which the Warriors scored 74 points in 37 minutes with Howard on the floor and 35 points in 11 minutes (shooting 11-for-12 in the paint) with Howard on the bench…


Howard did have some help. The Lakers were much better defensively with both Howard and Metta World Peace on the floor than with just one of the two…

Lakers efficiency, 2012-13

On floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Howard + World Peace 1,876 106.3 99.7 +6.6 +201
Howard only 846 102.5 106.2 -3.8 -61
World Peace only 654 109.1 109.2 -0.0 -10
One of the two 1,499 105.4 107.5 -2.1 -71
Neither 573 103.8 106.2 -2.4 -35

Unfortunately for the Lakers, both Howard and World Peace are gone. In their place are Chris Kaman and Nick Young. And in terms of defense, those are two serious downgrades.

As the starting center, Kaman is the more important of the two. So it’s not a good sign that Dallas went from eighth in defensive efficiency (in 2011-12) to 20th (last season) with him replacing Brendan Haywood in the paint. Nor is it promising that the Mavs were better defensively with Kaman on the bench.

The Lakers were barely better than the Mavs last season, ranking 19th defensively. They lost their two best defenders, replaced them with bad ones, and have a coach that’s, ahem, not known to prioritize that end of the floor. This could get ugly.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

One Team, One Stat: Mavericks Shoot Bad Shots Well

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Dallas Mavericks, who are, once again, putting new pieces around Dirk Nowitzki.

The basics
DAL Rank
W-L 41-41 17
Pace 96.2 8
OffRtg 103.6 11
DefRtg 104.0 20
NetRtg -0.4 16

The stat

32.7 - Percentage of their shots that the Mavs took from the restricted area or the corners, the lowest rate in the league.

The context

Shots from the restricted area and in the corners are the two most efficient shots on the floor, both worth about 1.2 points per shot across the league last season.

The Mavs have been unique in passing them up and mostly getting away with it. With Dirk Nowitzki leading the way, they’ve been a good and high-volume mid-range shooting team. And they had a top-10 offense for 12 straight years, beginning with Nowitzki’s second season in the league and ending with their championship season in 2010-11.

The season after the lockout, the Mavs fell to 20th offensively, but were still a top-five mid-range shooting team. The same was true again last season, but they had very little scoring inside. Shawn Marion‘s 188 baskets in the restricted area led the team, but ranked 63rd in the league. And in addition to Nowitzki (437/62), they had two bigs — Elton Brand (206/133) and Chris Kaman (296/193) — that took more mid-range shots than shots from the restricted area.

Both guys can knock ‘em down, and it certainly pays to have bigs who can step outside and shoot. But while there’s a positive correlation between offensive efficiency and mid-range shooting percentage, there’s a stronger negative correlation between offensive efficiency and the percentage of shots you take from mid-range.

Mavs shooting by area, 2012-13

Area FG% Rank %FGA Rank
Restricted area 60.9% 12 27.1% 29
Other paint 42.7% 3 17.8% 3
Mid-range 42.2% 3 31.4% 8
Corner 3 36.5% 23 5.6% 20
Above-break 3 38.0% 2 17.8% 11

Basically, it’s good if you can shoot 2-point jumpers well, but it’s bad if you depend on them too much. As we learned from Evan Turner, even if you shoot mid-range shots well, you can be more efficient by taking better shots.

The following video is from an April 2 game in L.A., one the Mavs really needed to have a shot at making the playoffs (they were just a game in the loss column behind the Lakers at the time). They shot a decent 42.4 percent from mid-range, but those shots accounted for 33 of their 81 shots (41 percent) . They took just 15 shots in the restricted area, just four from the corners, and just 12 free throws. So, even though their shooting wasn’t awful, they got held to 81 points by what was a below-average defensive team.


The Mavs were one of three teams — Cleveland and New York were the others — that shot better on above-the-break 3-pointers than they did on corner threes last year. So again, they shot the bad shots (above-the-break threes being bad relative to corner threes) well.

But that’s probably not sustainable. And the guy that led the Mavs with 64 attempts (71st in the league) from the corners was O.J. Mayo, who is now in Milwaukee.

It’s another fascinating supporting cast that Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have brought in this season. Monta Ellis ranked ninth in the league with 475 mid-range shots last season, and shot them worse than anyone else in the top 20. Jose Calderon, meanwhile, was one of the best mid-range shooters in the league and also a great 3-point shooter, but doesn’t shoot from the corners much.

Devin Harris will get to the rim, and there’s no worry about DeJuan Blair and Samuel Dalembert taking too many jump shots. But neither big will dominate down low .

More important will be how the bigs defend. After ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, the Mavs ranked 20th defensively last season. (Not breaking news: Kaman is neither Tyson Chandler nor Brendan Haywood on that end.)

If Nowitzki is healthy all season, the Mavs should be OK offensively. And they can be better than OK if they find ways to get better shots.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kaman hurts finger in China | Burke may miss 3-6 weeks? | Adelman unhappy with Wolves’ effort | D-Will may miss season’s start

No. 1: Kaman injures finger while tobogganing in ChinaLakers big man Chris Kaman is one of the league’s more skilled post players and one of its most avid outdoorsmen. No surprise, then, that when L.A. landed in China to prepare for its preseason game against Golden State on Tuesday that Kaman ventured off to do some tobogganing. But while on that trip, Kaman suffered a minor injury to his finger that he doesn’t expect will hold him out of the game, writes Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

The Lakers have experienced Kobe Bryant‘s torn Achilles’ tendon, Pau Gasol‘s knee problems and Steve Nash‘s broken leg over the last year. Now there’s the tobogganing injury sustained by Chris Kaman at the Great Wall of China.

One of his fingers was squashed while he was sledding down a slippery concrete track after trekking along the wall for two hours Sunday with Lakers teammates and staffers.

His sled, essentially a wheeled cart with a brake, was rammed from behind by teammate Shawne Williams. Kaman instinctively put out his hand as he saw Williams careening toward him and, well, ouch.

Visitors to the Mutianyu portion of the wall take a gondola or cable car to the top of a hill where the wall is located. They can return the same way or take the toboggan down.

“I didn’t hit the brake the whole time. Guys on the edge were yelling ‘Slow down’ and I just kept going,” Kaman said. “All of a sudden I catch up to this guy close to the bottom, so now I have to brake. Shawne Williams comes behind me without hitting his brake at all and just smashed right into me.”

Williams was going 20-25 mph hour and Kaman was going only about 3 mph at the time of the collision, Kaman said.

“My hand smashed right between the two sleds. I didn’t feel the end of my finger for, like, an hour,” Kaman said, extending a bandaged, swollen middle finger. “It’s starting to throb a little right now.”

***

No. 2: Jazz rookie Burke out 3-6 weeks?During the first quarter of Utah’s preseason loss to the L.A. Clippers on Friday, rookie guard Trey Burke fractured his right index finger in a play you can see here. Burke’s father, Benji, who is also his agent, doesn’t expect surgery to be in the cards for the young point guard, but may miss 3-6 weeks. That means the Jazz are likely looking at John Lucas III as the starter come opening night, writes Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune:

For now, John Lucas III is captain of the ship.

With rookie Trey Burke sidelined for an estimated 3-6 weeks after fracturing his right index finger, Lucas is easily the most accomplished point guard left standing in the Jazz’s training camp.

“I’m just going to play,” he said. “I’m going to come in and hold it down. My whole thing is to come in and play right away. Whatever Ty wants out of me, that’s what I’m going to do, no matter what.

“I live for this game and, when the opportunity comes, I’m going to step it up. I ain’t shying away from nothing. I’m just going to play hard, play tough and play with a lot of energy.”

Burke will be examined by a hand specialist Monday, when a decision on possible surgery will be made and his official time-frame for returning will be announced.

Burke’s father, Benji, is also his agent.

On Sunday afternoon, he sent The Tribune a text message that read, “Not sure on surgery. Looking at three to six weeks, guessing. [Trey] is in great spirits.”

***

No. 3: Adelman lays into Timberwolves — After a 2012-13 season marred by constant injuries and disappointments, the Timberwolves have gone through the preseason more or less unscathed (save for the injury to Chase Budinger). At 2-2, though, they aren’t drawing a lot of praise from their coach, Rick Adelman. He recently told the Star Tribune‘s Jerry Zgoda that he’s upset with Minnesota’s lack of consistency and bemoaned the team’s failure to cut down on turnovers thus far as well:

“They’ve got to figure out what they want to do as a team,” Adelman said. “I just told them, ‘What kind of season do you want?’ That’s really up to us to make what we want. They’ve got to figure out what they want to do as a team.”

He criticized their lack of concentration and preparedness and lamented a second consecutive game when his team had as many turnovers as assists. On Saturday, it was an even 16 in each category, a sure sign his players are not moving and sharing the ball.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Like I told them afterward, we’ve played two games here at home and we’re acting like we’re just going through the motions. We aren’t the San Antonio Spurs and we aren’t Miami. We act like we have plenty of time.”

In fact, the Wolves have just three preseason games left before their Oct. 30 season opener. They do, however, now have more than a week before they play again.

“Maybe it’ll help us,” Adelman said about the upcoming break. “Maybe it’ll wake us up.”

The Wolves have played the last three of these first four games without starting shooting guard Kevin Martin, who again didn’t play Saturday because of a sore Achilles tendon. Alexey Shved started in his place and Adelman took good looks in both halves at a small backcourt that included starter Ricky Rubio and reserve J.J. Barea.

The rest: Rubio and Barea combined to shoot 2-for-17. Add Shved’s 0-for-4 night and the three made two of 21 shots.

“Awful, our guards went 3-for-whatever it was,” Adelman said, adding training-camp invitee Othyus Jeffers’ 1-for-1 night. “They’ve got to come in and they’ve got to make plays. It’s not just the guards. The shooting problems carry right to the same thing: What’s your mental attitude? How are you approaching the game? Are you really doing this thing all out or are you going through the motions?

“I know it’s the exhibition season, but we’re trying to get better and we really can’t get better if we don’t go out with better effort than we’ve shown.”

***

No. 4: D-Will could miss start of seasonDeron Williams continues to deal with a nagging right ankle injury that could last into the season, says Nets coach Jason Kidd. Williams hasn’t played in any of Brooklyn’s preseason games thus far and has been ruled out (along with Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry) for the next preseason game against the Sixers. If anything, writes Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com, the timetable for Williams’ return remains iffy at best:

Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd left open the possibility that point guard Deron Williams could miss the start of the regular season due to an ailing right ankle.”This is going to be a question that we’re probably going to have to deal with every day until he does get the green light to go,” Kidd said Saturday.

“But we’re not rushing him. So if we have to start the season with him still trying to get better, I think we all feel comfortable, but we would feel a little bit more comfortable if he was starting.”

Williams, on Sunday, said there was no definitive timetable for his return.

He felt Kidd’s comment was overblown by the media.

“I’m not going to respond to anything about yesterday, about this stupidness,” Williams said. “That’s just how somebody worded a question, and you guys just write it the way you want to, so I’m not going to respond to that.”

Kidd, asked after Saturday night’s 99-88 preseason loss to the Pistons about Williams possibly being out the first regular-season game and how it would change the mindset of the team in its next five preseason games, said, “I didn’t know he was out so … ”

Kidd later added: “I don’t go on ifs … right now we are playing with the guys that are dressed, and he is a day by day situation. If he is ready to go, he will play. We will just take it one day at a time. We got to focus on Sunday.”

Williams sprained his right ankle during an offseason workout in Utah.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Corey Maggette will retire if he doesn’t make the Spurs … Nuggets point guard Andre Miller, 37, believes he can play until he’s 40 … Cavs still searching for a capable starting small forward … Pelicans should have their full roster ready to play by this week … Evan Fournier still an unknown quantity for Denver

Mavs’ Carlisle Rolls With Plan B, Revolving Roster

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DALLAS –
 Rick Carlisle earned his reputation as one of the game’s top coaches by bending, flexing and adjusting all the way to a six-game championship take-down of the Miami Heat in 2011.

Recall 5-foot-10 point guard J.J. Barea as an NBA Finals starting shooting guard?

The Dallas Mavericks have since gone 77-72 and haven’t won another playoff game. And despite a roster that’s read like a well-worn Rolodex, Carlisle has seemed only to enhance his image as an elite tactician and motivator. Carlisle’s agility will be put to the test again this season in guiding a team that again barely resembles the one that preceded it.

From the 2010-11 championship team only Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain. From the revamped squad insufficiently stocked to defend the title, add only Brandan Wright and Vince Carter as keepers. And from last season, add draft picks Jae Crowder and Bernard James. It’s doubtful any coach, especially one that won a ring with the same franchise just three Junes ago, has witnessed such roster upheaval in three consecutive offseasons, and particularly so in these back-to-back summers.

“Back-to-back, probably not,” Carlisle admitted. “But look, we’re living in a different time. We’re living in a time now where there’s going to be more one-year deals, there’s going to be more turnover, so everybody adjusts to the dynamics of the new CBA, and I don’t know that that’s going to happen for another year or two, at least. That said, if you’re going to be a head coach in this league you’ve got to be very open-minded, you’ve got to be open to change and adaptation. You always want continuity, but you’re not always going to have it.”

The Mavs suffered the indignity of a lockout and the ratification of a game-changing collective bargaining agreement on the heels of their championship parade. On the fly, owner Mark Cuban championed new roster-building strategies that entailed allowing key members of his title team to walk. Plan A, to create cap space and lure max-dollar free agents to crowbar Nowitzki’s championship window, hasn’t panned out and Dallas has instead scrambled the last two summers to produce competitive rosters.

That can be a disheartening road for a coach who is just one of four currently in the league with a ring. Carlisle, though, has consistently endorsed his boss’ decisions. Entering his sixth season in Dallas and the second year of his second four-year contract, Carlisle seems to embrace the challenges he inherits under Plan B. Of the four active championship coaches — including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, now in charge of the Clippers – Carlisle’s task is by far fraught with the most uncertainties.

“I just made a conscious decision that I’m not going to be a coach that’s limited to a certain system,” Carlisle said. “I’m hanging my hat on my ability to adapt each year to potentially a roster that’s quite different, and with the new CBA we’re going to have more of that in this league. I’ve done a lot of it in my career leading up to now anyway, so it’s always challenging in those situations, but it’s also exciting.”

Just look at the players that have come through Dallas since the lockout ended: Kalenna Azubuike, Yi Jianlian, Lamar Odom, Delonte WestSean Williams, Eddy Curry, Troy Murphy, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Jared Cunningham, Derek Fisher, Mike James, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Morrow, Chris Wright, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Justin Dentmon and Josh Akognon.

And here’s the players new to Dallas for this season: Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair, Gal Mekel, plus draft picks Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo.

Last week Cuban set the bar for this team: The playoffs, and capable of doing damage once there. Carlisle didn’t flinch.

“I think you have to view it that way,” Carlisle said. “And, you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to eliminate the external noise and the doubters and the naysayers and all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to have just a real positive enthusiasm and focus on your group, and you’ve got to see in your mind how they can get better. Then you’ve got to facilitate that.”

Among Dallas media, at least, Carlisle was hailed as a Coach of the Year candidate for guiding last season’s mismatched squad out of a 13-23 hole, one dug mostly without Nowitzki. Dallas finished 28-18 and was in the thick of the playoff chase almost until the end.

“Actually, I think Rick’s system is just very comprehensive and he lets the players pick up as much of it as they can and so I think rather than try to force-feed things that they might not be able to do, Rick, I think, is more accommodating,” Cuban said. “But I don’t think he really changes his system, per se, or changes what he does. I think he just recognizes the skill set of his players. Like, he went from calling plays to just playing ‘flow’ all the time [with Jason Kidd]. That’s his preference more than anything else, just let guys play basketball, and hopefully that’s what we’re going to be able to do a lot more of whereas last year we had to call plays every possession. This year I don’t think we’ll have to.”

Last season’s backcourt of Collison, who couldn’t hold down the starting job, and Mayo never clicked. Fisher ditched the team after a month and James was erratic. Cuban believes this team offers Carlisle more raw material with which to work.

He believes it will be collectively smarter and less turnover-pron with Calderon at the controls, Harris backing him up and the speedy Ellis being able to get to the hole with a frequency the Mavs just haven’t seen. All that, Cuban surmises, should play into the hands of a healthy and motivated Nowitzki.

“Each team is different, each team has different needs, each team develops differently and has to make different kinds of adjustments mid-stream,” Carlisle said. “All that stuff is one of the real intriguing things about coaching. It’s one of the reasons I love it. And one of the reasons I love working in this organization is we’ve got an owner with a fertile mind that likes the right kind of change.

“I’m down with that.”