Posts Tagged ‘Chris Paul’

Blogtable: Finding Westbrook’s place

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


BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook remain one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the league.

> Scott Brooks says Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the NBA. We’re wondering if Westbrook should play 2 guard instead. What’s your thinking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Scott Brooks, former professional point guard by trade, considers Russell Westbrook to be a point guard, that’s good enough for me. What’s in a name, The Bard asked. That which we call a Rose (Derrick) by any other name would smell as sweet (if healthy). Same goes for Westbrook. No need to get hung up on position designation. The key is for Westbrook to complement Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup and for Brooks to build his backcourt to complement his irrepressibly athletic ball dominator. Time to move on from the John Stockton archetype, at least in this guy’s case.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With all of the great point guards currently in the NBA, who is the best is a classic barstool question that can have many different and valid answers. Russell Westbrook, with all of his flaws, is the correct one on any given night. No, he’ll never be linked with John Stockton as a classic set-up man or Chris Paul as an overall floor general, but the Thunder have been one of the league’s elite teams with him at the point. It seems to me that if you moved him to the 2 spot, you’d actually be turning him loose to shoot even more and eliminating a raw, physical mismatch that he has over most other point guards. I’m also wondering why anyone wants to change one of the two main cogs on a Thunder team that has a .688 winning percentage over the past five seasons?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Why would you play the, ahem, best point guard in the league at shooting guard? No. I’m leaving Westbrook right where he is. Westbrook is an All-Star, the guy does things no one else can do. OK, so some of what he does also makes you want to pull your hair out. He mentioned Monday that incorporating more player and ball movement into the offense is a high priority and suggested we might see something new from the Thunder in that regard. So we’ll see. But starting Reggie Jackson at the point and Westbrook at the 2 doesn’t make this team better. Westbrook averaged 21.8 ppg and 6.9 apg after all those surgeries last year. In the playoffs he averaged 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. Anyone else does that and we’re calling him the best point guard in the league.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: His career best for 3-point percentage is 33 percent and he’s been better than 44 percent overall twice in six seasons. So there’s that. Plus, he is uniquely effective because he is a PG with superior athleticism and better size than most on the other side of the matchup. Move Westbrook to the other backcourt spot and suddenly the Thunder have a small backdoor, a shooting guard who can’t spot up and concerns about not maximizing your second-best player. The only reason it should be discussed is if OKC wants to play Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Otherwise, no go.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s certainly the most talented point guard in the league and one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players, period. Westbrook without the ball in his hands is not the same Westbrook. There are possessions — sometimes when the game is on the line — when he needs to be more of a true point guard, but if you live by the Russ, you have to sometimes die by the Russ. It’s not like you can flip a switch in his head.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Of course, Scott Brooks is campaigning for Russ Westbrook, as any coach worth his whistle should. And he can make a great argument for the force of nature that Westbrook has become, warts and all. He doesn’t own the No. 1 spot on my list. That spot still belongs to Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. But Westbrook is easily in my top five. My bigger issue is  with this mysterious “we” who are contemplating whether or not Westbrook should play the 2? That’s like playing a high-risk, high-reward dual threat NFL quarterback at wide receiver. Makes no sense to me!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Russell Westbrook might be the most *talented* point guard in the NBA. I mean, his athleticism at the position is really unparalleled, both in the NBA today and historically. His combination of size and speed and explosiveness render him almost unstoppable in the open court. But that incredible package of skills also seems to dazzle Westbrook at times, and he doesn’t fully know how to consistently utilize those gifts in such a way as to lead the Thunder to titles. Westbrook is an amazing talent, but that doesn’t make him the best point guard in the NBA. Because that person’s name is Chris Paul.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Westbrook stays where he is. Look at Kevin Durant’s numbers — the current league MVP has four scoring titles, with Westbrook playing point-guard. Also, consider this, Westbrook averaged 8.1 apg in the 2014 postseason, only behind Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, both of whose teams did not proceed beyond the second round. How much better can Westbrook or anyone else at point-guard do? Moreover, with Westbrook playing the 2-spot, how often is he going to get the ball, with Durant definitely being OKC’s number one offensive option. OKC’s problems against the NBA’s best remains an overdependence on Durant and Westbrook for their scoring. They need to address that rather than tinker with Westbrook’s position.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: When it comes to ranking point guards, Chris Paul is 1A and Russell is 1B in my book. I think playing him at the 2 is nonsense. Even if you add a another point guard, that’s just gonna cut into the touches and times he and Durant get to bring the ball upcourt. I do like two point guard sets and think Russ could excel in them, but only if you don’t have a point-forward type player like KD. Free Westbrook!

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA Argentina: These days there’s not a huge difference between a point guard and a shooting guard. It depends on the opponent and certain moments during the game, but Russell can play either position.

A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

(more…)

First Team: CP3, Doc make strides in L.A.

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul always has the ball on a string. He can dish with either hand, making any bounce pass through tight holes — and lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — possible from any angle. His pull-up jumper is lethal, and you have to get a hand up on him when he’s 23 feet out.

On the other side, he hounds. He flops. He annoys. He barks. His hands are active. In Game 4 of the 2014 Western Conference semis, he alternated between guarding Russell Westbrook (First Team-worthy) and Kevin Durant (a fellow First Teamer) as his team completed a rally back from 22.

But then came the yang of the last 49 seconds of Game 5. A turnover, a foul on a four-point play and another turnover from Paul gave the Thunder the game. They would close out the series in Game 6. It was the type of loss that encapsulates Paul: The smart, methodical, ball-on-a-string point guard can be too smart, too methodical and too ball dominant at the worst moments.

He is still a cut above the rest, continuing to redefine the Clippers’ brand to newbies who have no clue about their inept past. At 29, he is an historically great hardwood bandit (2.41 spg ranks fourth all time) and passer (9.91 apg also third all-time). There are deeper playoff successes and a MVP award to be had, but with a capable motivator in coach Doc Rivers in his ear, his point guard supremacy threatens to remain for the foreseeable future.

Here are his top games last season:

October 31, 2013 – Dawn Of A Season-Long Rivalry

The Line: 42 points, 15 assists, 6 steals, 6 turnovers

The Quote:Man, I had six turnovers. That’s ridiculous. That means there was six times I didn’t give us an opportunity to score. I’m big on turnovers. I hate turnovers.” — Paul


VIDEO: Chris Paul carves up the Warriors in a Halloween matchup

Tiny Archibald should have been proud. Two nights after being handled by the Lakers in the season opener, Cliff Paul’s brother dealt out the complete package. He was sinking free-throw line jumpers, baseline turnaround jumpers. He had his way with a pre-Team USA Klay Thompson, including a bullying score on a post-up. He even got in a sneaky dunk in Jermaine O’Neal’s mug.

Then there were those three consecutive alley oops with Blake, as well as the verbal jabs and scowls at the Warriors bench. This was CP3’s point god night, only if god coughed up the pill six times. (more…)

Redick: New dad, a fresh start

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – J.J. Redick is packing up for training camp this week, leaving his summer home in Austin, Texas, for Los Angeles. Only this time there’s a little extra to pack. A lot more.

J.J. Redick (Bart Young/NBAE)

J.J. Redick (Bart Young/NBAE)

Diapers: check.

Wipes: check.

Bottle: check.

Blanket: check.

Stroller: check.

Crib: check.

Stuffed animals: check.

Redick became a dad about a month ago to bouncing baby boy Knox. So now J.J., wife Chelsea and Knox are headed to L.A., where the revitalized Clippers are entering the most anticipated season in franchise history. They have a new, enthusiastic owner, a refreshed team spirit and a growing fan base (maybe bigger outside of L.A. than inside) that includes one brand-spanking newbie.

“I’ve loved being a dad,” Redick told NBA.com during an interview last week. “My wife has been an incredible mom. I didn’t know what to expect or how I would feel, but the second the doctor put Knox in my arms I fell in love.”

As Redick’s family life has taken a turn for the better over the last few years, his professional career has been full of upheaval. He watched the Orlando Magic disintegrate during and after the Dwightmare. Traded at the 2013 deadline, he landed in Milwaukee rather than on a contender. Traded to the Clippers last summer, injuries limited him to 35 games. Then came the Donald Sterling saga during the first round of the playoffs.

Four months since being knocked out of the second round by Oklahoma City, Redick — knock on wood — is feeling great physically, and his teammates will likely quickly realize it’s going to be tough to wipe that smile off his face. He’s looking for a big year for himself and for a franchise desperately seeking to advance to a first-ever Western Conference final.

“We talked about a championship all last season. We came up short,” Redick said. “That will still be our goal this season.”

NBA.com: You’ve been on the front line of two very strange situations: Dwight Howard and Sterling. Let’s start with the latter since it is still so fresh. What do you remember most about the reaction of the team after the tapes went public?

Redick: After we lost Game 4 at Golden State, a few of my teammates were crying in the locker room.  Normally, that sort of thing only happens in the NBA after a season-ending loss, deep in the playoffs. But my teammates were hurt. We were all hurt and pissed off. It didn’t matter what the color of your skin was.

NBA.com: Did you ever believe the team was close to not taking the floor as a form of  protest during the Golden State series?

Redick: I always felt we were going to play. Doc’s [coach Doc Rivers] leadership during the entire situation was outstanding. We followed his lead. He felt we should play. I also was confident that [NBA commissioner] Adam Silver would take the correct course of action before any sort of league-wide protest took place. And Adam did.

NBA.com: How did you guys pull yourselves together to beat the Warriors in the first round? Then the series against Oklahoma City was crazy, could have gone either way. Were you guys mentally gassed by then?

Redick: Game 4 against Golden State was brutal. There was no way we were going to win that game. But we went seven games with Golden State because they were a very good, a tough basketball team, not because of the Sterling fiasco. They also believed they were better than us. That played a huge factor in the difficulty of putting them away. We beat them because we were the better team. In a seven-game series, the best team usually wins. I’ve been in the league eight years and have been on eight playoff teams. Every single series is mentally and emotionally taxing. I don’t believe for a second that the Sterling thing had anything to do with us not beating OKC. [Russell] Westbrook and [Kevin] Durant were phenomenal and each game they won they had one or two other guys step up and play big roles.

NBA.com: Stepping back to Orlando, Howard’s saga must have seemed never-ending. When you look back, what emotion lingers considering how quickly the team went from the Finals in 2009 to rebuilding?

Redick: When I look back at my time in Orlando, my immediate thought is that I’m grateful for all of my experiences there.  I didn’t play at all initially. I worked my way into the rotation by the end of my third year.  I got to start eight playoff games in ’09 on our way to the Finals — including a Game 7 in Boston against the defending champs. By my seventh year I had developed an unreal relationship with the fans and the Central Florida community. I have nothing but love for that place. Maybe the circumstances surrounding Dwight’s departure could have been handled differently by all parties, but Dwight felt like he wanted a bigger stage and a new experience. You can’t fault a guy for that. He felt that was best for him and that’s what he pursued.

NBA.com: Stan Van Gundy obviously got caught up in the Dwightmare and lost his job. Have you stayed in touch with Van Gundy and how do you think he’ll do in Detroit, a franchise desperately needing some direction?

Redick: Stan is my guy. I talk to Stan a few times a month. We chat about everything. He’s a man that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for. I’m excited for him and his staff. He’s too good of a coach and a competitor. Detroit started heading in the right direction the second he signed his contract.

NBA.com: You were in trade rumors for a long time in Orlando and then finally got dealt. But you ended up on the eighth-seeded Bucks and not on a bona fide contender. Was that deflating?

Redick: Again, I felt fortunate to be in one place for almost seven years. I’m not a franchise player by any stretch. For a guy like me to be in one place that long is rare. I wish I could have finished the season in Orlando, but I suppose getting traded was inevitable. I didn’t have any control over the situation. Would I have liked to go to say, the Spurs? Sure. The Magic had other offers but they did what they felt was in their best interest. I would do the same thing if I was a GM. This is a business. No one is out there doing anyone any favors. My only regret is that I didn’t help Milwaukee win more games and get out of the eighth spot to avoid Miami.

NBA.com: Last summer you got traded to a title contender, the Clippers, but a bad wrist injury and then a disc injury to your back limited you to 35 games. How tough was it sitting out on a team with such high hopes, and how healthy were you during the playoffs considering you returned for just five games before the playoffs started?

Redick: Last year was very frustrating given the amount of preparation that I put into every summer and into every season. I stay in shape year round. I do extra during the season. I take care of myself. It was also frustrating to be on a team with so many great players and with so much camaraderie and only be able to play in 35 regular-season games. But again, some things are out of your control. I took a hard fall against Sacramento — my second hard fall in a week’s span — and broke a bone and tore a ligament in my wrist. I also believe that those two hard falls led to my back injury — I fell both times on the same spot in my lower back where my herniated disc occurred.  When I had my back injury — disc herniation at L3 — I attempted to play through the pain for five games at the end of January. The pain wasn’t the issue. My right leg basically stopped working at a level for me to play.

Eventually, the L3 nerve that controls my right quad shut down and stopped functioning properly. I really had no functional capacity in that muscle. It was very scary. I could not do any exercise or movement on my right leg for several weeks. I could walk but that was about it. I had three epidurals in about a three-week time period before and after the All-Star break. I was on a six- to 10-week timeframe to allow the nerve to heal on its own and avoid surgery. About the seven- or eight-week mark the nerve started firing a little bit and I was able to get back out on the court. I didn’t feel like I was 100 percent in the playoffs, but I always tell people that NBA players are 100 percent on media day. After that, there’s too much wear and tear on the body during a season to ever feel “100 percent.” My recovery from my back injury was good enough to play. That’s all that matters.

NBA.com: Since new owner Steve Ballmer gained control of the Clippers, is there a different feeling surrounding the franchise?

Redick: It feels like we can all move forward.

NBA.com: When analyzing the Clippers’ personnel, some suggest the missing ingredient is a sturdy, athletic wing who can score and defend the other team’s best player. What’s your reaction to that?

Redick: First of all, there’s only so many great players at every position. Right now, point guard and power forward are the two deepest positions in the league. Secondly, we have two max players [Chris Paul and Blake Griffin] and another guy making $11 million [DeAndre Jordan]. It’s virtually impossible to build a “dream team” with the current financial system in the NBA. This isn’t a video game or fantasy league. I’m sure every team feels they can get better at certain positions. Having said all that, I feel like we are covered. I love Matt [Barnes]. I love our young wings. We have enough to get it done at that position. We have enough to get to the West finals and beyond.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 21


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks about new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

Four months later, the emotional fallout lingers.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

USAB program solid from top to bottom

Team USA, gold medal winners at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Team USA, gold medal winners at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

MADRID — It’s as American as apple pie, the deep-seeded need to be the best. For USA Basketball, gold has always been the goal.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it was Sunday, when the U.S. confirmed its international basketball dominance with a 129-92 win over Serbia in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. There was a time, not that long ago, that the national program was in shambles. It turned ugliest when the U.S. hobbled to a dismal sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. That was the first time a team composed entirely of NBA stars lost in international competition.

The blueprint for rebuilding Team USA was designed shortly after, born out of a respect for the global game that replaced the sense of entitlement that many with the team carried.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski understood  the gains the rest of the world made after the original Dream Team came here and dazzled the world at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

“When we started out nine years ago with Jerry and his staff, we had two goals,” Coach K said . “One was to try to win gold medals, 1A, and 1B was to win the respect of our country and the world and how it would be done. I think one of the reasons we won is because we do have that respect. We know how good everyone is. It’s beautiful basketball. We prepare like crazy and we learn from the international community.”

There were stumbles early, lessons to be learned from those stumbles and plenty of ground to be made up in terms of internal structure and a culture that had to be created. But USA Basketball is once again the gold standard. The best talent on the best teams at every level — U-19 and U-17 included — fly the USAB banner.

“I’m very pleased and excited and happy for where USA Basketball is today,” Colangelo said. “I can think back to 2005 when I was asked to take on that responsibility, and we had a game plan and now we’re seeing the fruition of that over the last decade. And it’s resulted in four gold medal championships, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Four cycles — World Cup/World Championships and Olympics alternating every two years — four straight gold medals and 45 straight wins later, it’s obvious that the master plan for USA Basketball’s championship infrastructure is firmly in place. (more…)

Bledsoe’s gamble bigger than Monroe’s

bledsoe

In his first season as a full-time starter, the 24-year-old Eric Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Greg Monroe and the Detroit Pistons made it official on Monday: Monroe will play this season for $5.5 million, the amount of the one-year qualifying offer. He could have pocketed more than $12 million next season and reportedly more than $60 million over the next five seasons had he agreed to the Pistons’ offer.

Few players shun their first opportunity to ink a big-money extension. But that’s how disillusioned the 24-year-old power forward has become after four seasons of totaling 86 games under .500 in the Motor City, even as Stan Van Gundy offers stability and, potentially, a new direction as coach and team president.

The 6-foot-11 Monroe is gambling millions that he’ll remain a picture of good health (he’s played in 309 of 312 games in his career) and will keep improving (he averaged 15.2 points and 9.3 rebounds last season), allowing him to control his free agency and cash in with a team of his choosing next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Monroe was a restricted free agent this summer. The Pistons offered to make him their highest-paid player, but reportedly never put a max contract on the table. Sign-and-trade scenarios couldn’t be worked out, setting up the stalemate that lasted into September.

Former Detroit general manager Joe Dumars forced this situation by overreaching for power forward Josh Smith last summer and squeezing him in as a small forward. The Redwood-like frontline of Smith, who loves to shoot the 3, but isn’t good at it, plus Monroe and up-and-coming center Andre Drummond didn’t work. Monroe decided he wasn’t going to hitch himself to the franchise long-term without a better idea of how the team will look beyond this season.

While it certainly would appear that Monroe will be playing one last season in Detroit, Van Gundy can attempt to change that by catering to Monroe and working to somehow unload Smith’s contract which has three years and $40.5 million remaining. Still, with the large number of teams that will have cap space and shopping for a quality, young big next summer, Detroit stands to lose Monroe no matter what magic Van Gundy can pull.

“I have said from Day 1 that we have great respect for Greg as a person and like what he brings to this team as a player,” Van Gundy said in a statement. “We have had good dialogue with Greg throughout the off-season, with the understanding that there were multiple options for both parties involved, and we respect his decision. We look forward to a great year from Greg as we continue to build our team moving forward.”

To his credit, Monroe issued a statement in which he said he was looking forward to playing for Van Gundy. So at least it appears relations between the two sides haven’t grown completely sour, which can’t be said for the last remaining high-profile free agent, point guard Eric Bledsoe, and the Phoenix Suns.

Bledsoe, 24, long ago rejected the Suns’ reported four-year, $48-million offer, a deal that would have paid the restricted free agent the same as Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and put him on par with many of his peers despite having only started 78 games in his four seasons and missing half of last season with a knee injury.

He has yet to sign the qualifying offer that would pay him $3.7 million and make him an unrestricted free agent next summer.

With $48 million on the table, Bledsoe is taking a significant risk, an even bigger risk than Monroe. He doesn’t have the track record of good health like Monroe, and big men always — eventually — get paid because good ones are so hard to find. Monroe is confident max money will be waiting for him.

Bledsoe can’t confidently claim the same even if he produces an All-Star-worthy season.

What Bledsoe has that Monroe doesn’t, and what should not be discounted by the young talent, is his is a team on the rise with a coach, Jeff Hornacek, who implemented an up-tempo system well-suited for Bledsoe’s game.

In his first season as a full-time starter (remember he was behind Chris Paul with the Clippers for three seasons before being traded to Phoenix), Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 32.9 minutes. He shot 47.7 percent overall and 35.7 percent from beyond the arc.

When Bledsoe was healthy, he and Goran Dragic were dynamite as the Suns’ starting backcourt. If Bledsoe had not missed half the season, the 48-win Suns might not have missed the playoffs.

If sharing the stage is a problem for Bledsoe, he should be looking ahead to 2015-16 when Dragic could well be playing elsewhere. Dragic will almost certainly exercise his opt-out clause next summer (he’s scheduled to make $7.5 million in each of the next two seasons) and seek a much bigger payday. If Bledsoe is already on the books for $12 million for three more years –and with Isaiah Thomas recently added at $27 million over the next four seasons — the Suns might be reluctant to pay Dragic the kind of money other teams will offer him on the open market.

But Bledsoe hasn’t agreed to the long-term offer and it doesn’t appear he will. If he’s dead-set on shooting for the moon financially, the Suns would be wise to be content to bid him farewell next summer, pay Dragic, an All-Star candidate last season, and spend their cap money to fill a different position, like maybe power forward for somebody like, oh, Greg Monroe.

Crawford reflects on old, ushers in new

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime talks with Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Rarely does a player get to know his team’s owner (let alone become friends) before the owner actually becomes the owner.

But that is the case with reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. His Seattle roots afforded him the opportunity years ago to cultivate a relationship with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. This, of course, was long before Ballmer, a 6-foot-5, bounding ball of infectious energy, ever dreamed he’d cough up $2 billion to buy one of the all-time sad-sack organizations in all of sports.

“We’ve done a lot of [charity] events together in Seattle, so I’ve known him before he was actually the owner,” Crawford said. “We were texting throughout the year and emailing each other and staying in contact and continuing to work together with charities around Seattle. It’s exciting. I don’t know how many people have actually known their owner before they actually played for the team they were on. So it’s pretty cool.”

Times they a-changin’ in Clipperland and Crawford is singing Ballmer’s praises and predicting heady days ahead for the franchise. In his final years, disgraced owner Donald Sterling had finally started to loosen his air-tight grip on the purse strings, allowing for All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to sign long-term deals and to bring in coach Doc Rivers. It hardly made up for decades of valuing frugality over winning, but it does set up Ballmer well to elevate the Clippers into perennial contenders.

The 6-foot-6 Crawford, who averaged 18.6 ppg and shot 36.1 percent from deep in his 14th season, has been telling his teammates what they can expect from their new owner.

“I just told them he’s very open-minded, he’s very ambitious and aggressive,” Crawford said. “He’s someone who’s also there to have your back, always positive energy, positive reinforcement. He’s someone obviously that is a huge, huge, huge fan of basketball. He didn’t just buy the team to be profitable; I think he’s doing OK without owning the team. I think it’s more so staying connected and he loves the game, enjoys the game.

“In this league, you only get a certain number of chances to really go after it and when you have those moments you have to take advantage and be aggressive in those times, and I think that is exactly what he’ll do. If we feel like we need to add a piece or we need to add this or that, going over the luxury tax or any other restrictions or trying to be cautious about different things, that’s not him. He’s aggressive and he’s going to go after it.”

Crawford, 34, recently got married and this week he and his bride are honeymooning in Kauai. Then it’s back to Los Angeles to begin working out with teammates as the official countdown to training camp begins. Before flying out over the Pacific, Crawford granted NBA.com a few minutes to reflect on the early days of the Sterling controversy and where the Clippers could be headed under Ballmer.

NBA.com: What did last month’s sale of the team, the ending of the Sterling era, signify to you?

Crawford: Now we can focus on what’s important, and that’s trying to put one of the best teams on the floor, trying to play for one of the best organizations out there and trying to win a championship. Everything else is behind us and we can move forward. I think it’s kind of, in a way, a fresh start for everyone. We’re all excited about moving forward.

NBA.com: We had heard through the court proceedings that Doc Rivers wasn’t sure if he’d return if Sterling remained the owner when the 2014-15 season started. What do you think the players’ response would have been had the sale not gone through?

Crawford: At that point, if the sale didn’t go through, we would have to revisit it and all decide collectively what we were going to do. But I’m sure everything would be on the table at that point.

NBA.com: Was the day the Sterling tapes came out one of those days you’ll never forget where you were or what you were doing when you heard the news?

Crawford: For sure, it was a monumental time. I’ve said if you want to work on your jumper, you can get some extra shots up, or if you want to be a better ballhandler, you can put some cones down and go through drills, but to actually go through what we went through, there’s no guide or manual for that. You just have to go through it and lean on your faith and fight through it and lean on each other. I think we did a good job of that. We handled it the best we could, especially having Doc as the leader and the voice for us, I think that made our jobs a whole lot easier. Because here we are, we’re worried about Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and those guys and we have to deal with that; but it’s something I think that brought us closer together and hopefully we can use that this season and really continue to lean on each other and move forward.

NBA.com: The news broke in the middle of the first-round playoff series against Golden State. The Clippers managed to win in seven games, but how difficult was it to focus on playing the games?

Crawford: It was a nightmare because you got to think there’s 15 personalities [on the team], and the coaching staff and then your family’s opinion, they all weigh in, and everybody has an opinion and before you know it, it wasn’t just about basketball and things of that nature and just our team anymore. In 24 hours the whole world had an opinion about it. You’re trying to take naps and stuff and get your rest, and you can’t even get some sleep because you feel like, ‘how can I play for someone like this?’ There were so many different emotions. I think getting to lean on each other, having Doc at the helm to kind of be our voice so we could concentrate the best we could was probably the best decision we made.

NBA.com: Did your emotions run the gamut from day to day?

Crawford: Yeah, I’m human. You’re angry, you’re disappointed, you’re sad, you’re confused. There’s just so many different emotions. And then when you let people inside that world, inside that circle, you start thinking even more. I think we just leaned on each other. We tried to block everything else, the rest of the world and lean on each other, the 15 guys in that locker room and our coaching staff and we did what we felt was right.

NBA.com: All that is in the rearview mirror now. There’s been some turnover, players lost and added. Do you like how the roster has evolved?

Crawford: We have a year under Doc’s system, another year he knows us. Obviously losing [Jared] Dudley, he was a guy who started half the season, he spread the floor, he guarded tougher guys, so you always hate to lose guys. We also lost [Darren] Collison, we lost [Danny] Granger, we lost Ryan Hollins. But in return you gain Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar, C.J. Wilcox. And another year of having the core guys together, hopefully health is on our side. Last year I missed a little over a month, Chris [Paul] missed a little over a month, J.J. [Redick] missed a couple months. If we can keep those guys together, Doc knows us, we know him, we know what to expect, he knows what to expect from us, and to keep trucking I think sometimes you need a little bit of luck in those situations and we’ll be ready to go.

NBA.com: There’s very little room for error in the Western Conference. How do you see the race developing this season?

Crawford: I think last year only two teams record-wise in the East would have even of made the playoffs in the West and that was Miami and Indiana, so it’s the wild West, that’s for sure. I think you had the ninth-place team approaching almost 50 wins in the West, that’s tough. It’s really open. We all understand San Antonio is the top dog, they’ve been that way, they’ve been a staple pretty much the last decade and a half. We all understand that and they’re going to be there in the end just like always, they find ways. With us, OKC, Golden State is a good team, Phoenix is on the rise, there’s so many good teams. Denver will probably be healthy this year. It will be a dogfight. Memphis will be there. It will be a dogfight, that’s for sure. We just know if we focus on what we need to do, we’ll be in pretty good shape.

NBA.com: What did you think of LeBron James returning to Cleveland and Kevin Love joining him? And any other story lines pique your interest?

Crawford: I think it’s really cool he gets the chance to go home and end it the way it started. He means more to Cleveland than just a superstar athlete, so for him to have the opportunity to go back in his prime and go back and do good things on and off the court, I think that’s great, I’m happy for him. Kyrie [Irving], Dion Waiters, [Anderson] Varejao is still there; especially in the East that’s a team that can win a lot of games. Then you throw in Chicago, if they stay healthy. Miami is re-tooling a little bit and I think D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] is going to play like he has something to prove. [Chris] Bosh, you’ll probably see more of him like he was with the Raptors, more of a focal point, so I think it’s going to be fun. Just seeing Kobe back, I’m a huge Kobe Bryant fan, so seeing him back healthy, I think he’s good for sports, period, not just the NBA because everybody wants to see the Kobe show.

There’s so many different stories this season and I think that’s really, really cool. I just want everybody to be healthy because it evens the playing field. It makes the game more exciting and I think it’s good for the league and good for the fans.

Summer Dreaming: Most Valuable Player

We’ve been to the beach to soak up the rays and the scenery and did some snorkeling to take a peek at life beneath the water’s surface. We’ve risen at dawn and hiked up through the cool morning air on narrow trails to get a glimpse of what’s over there on the next mountain. We’ve gone bungee jumping just to see if we had it in us. We’ve floated down long, lazy rivers to navel gaze and find out how long we could keep that umbrella drink balanced on our bellies.

What else is left to see on these sultry summer days except to lie back in a hammock and dream of MVPs who’ll make things hot on all those winter nights?

While we’re still several pages on the calendar away from the 2014-15 season openers, we’re taking off from the free-throw line in our naps and soaring all the way to April for the top five contenders on my ballot.

Send us your picks.


VIDEO: LeBron James returns home to Cleveland

LeBron James, Cavaliers — He’s back at home in Ohio, all is forgiven and it’s safe to like him again. Add in the fact that he lost out on the MVP trophy to Kevin Durant last season — even though it was silly to even think that he wasn’t the best player in the league — and there’s reason to expect bigger things than a pregame mushroom cloud of resin dust in Cleveland. Chalk last year up to “LeBron Fatigue” from a voting roll that simply got tired of writing his name in on the top line of the ballot, even if it was the right thing to do. So now “The Homecoming” will have him in the same situation he faced after Derrick Rose copped the MVP from him in 2011. All James did was respond by winning the award two straight times. A fifth MVP this season will move him into a tie with Bill Russell and Michael Jordan and, at just 29, LeBron in his prime will be stalking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time record of six.


VIDEO: Brent Barry goes one-on-one with Chris Paul

Chris Paul, Clippers — Does anybody really think head cheerleader and screamer Steve Ballmer would have plunked down $2 billion to buy the Clippers if Paul hadn’t already done the seemingly impossible and removed their name as the punch line from every NBA joke? Yes, Blake Griffin is a bonafide All-Star. Yes, Doc Rivers is an elite level coach who was tapped into the psyche of DeAndre Jordan to push him into the conversation as one of the best centers in the league. But it’s Paul who is the face, heart, teeth and claws of the franchise. With career averages of 18.6 points, 9.9 assists, simply the best handle in the game and a nose for ballhawking defense, CP3 has a pot that’s been bubbling for nine NBA seasons and is ready to boil over and take the Clippers to the next level. This could be the year. Paul has driven the team to win a franchise record 56 and 57 games in each of the past two seasons and if he can do it again to set up a deep playoff run, the shiny hardware could be his reward.


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks about his 2013-14 MVP season

Kevin Durant, Thunder — He capped off another splendid and relentless season by winning his first MVP award last season and then upped his game by delivering one of the great acceptance speeches of all time. Go ahead, admit that you wiped a tear from the corner of your eye. What’s going to change on the court this time around? While teammate Russell Westbrook rides the roller coaster of fandom up and down with his off-the-charts play mixed with the “what-was-he-thinking?” shot selection, Durant will continue to be the spindly-legged racehorse that pulls the Thunder wagon. He’s won the scoring title four of the past five seasons, had a string of a dozen straight games of scoring at least 30 a year ago, which brought out the Jordan comparisons. But with all of the hullaballoo surrounding LeBron’s return to Cleveland, last season could one day be remembered as K.D.’s only MVP win if he can’t get the Thunder over the hump to win a championship.


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony elects to stay in New York

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks — Last season was the first time in his career that Anthony’s team did not make the playoffs, yet he still finished third in the MVP voting. That speaks not only to the depth of his own talent, but a lack of depth on the Knicks roster that forces him to be the do-it-all force every night. Other than the arrival of Phil Jackson in the executive suite and Derek Fisher on the bench, little has changed at Madison Square Garden. Melo went window shopping in the free agent market, glimpsing at the goods in Chicago and Houston, then opted to take the largest bundle of cash — five years, $124 million — to remain in New York and continue to keep his name in lights on Broadway. He’s lost weight. He’s gained confidence. He says he can get the Knicks back into the playoffs. In a rebuilt Eastern Conference that now has real challengers up and down the standings, that will be a tall task. But if Anthony can take the Knicks there, he’ll deserved to be in the conversation.


VIDEO: Stephen Curry’s top plays of 2013-14

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Curry is the best pure shooter in the league today. It’s not just the number of times he puts the ball into the basket, but his ability to get the shots off so quickly, at all angles, from virtually anyplace on the court. Give him an open dribble as soon as he crosses the mid court line and you might have given up a bucket. But it’s more than just scoring 24.5 points a game. It’s Curry’s ability to dish the ball from either hand with a magician’s flair for 8.5 assists that makes him truly special. He was already knocking on the door of the top five a year ago, finishing sixth in the MVP balloting. If new coach Steve Kerr can get the Warriors to take the next step and boost them into the upper half of the Western Conference bracket, Curry could be a dark horse in the race.