VIDEO: The Fast Break — Feb. 20
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Brad Stevens, college guy, NBA coach of the year? — The Celtics are third in the East and there’s a lot of head-scratching to figure a reason why. Boston has no stars but it might have the next coach of the year in Brad Stevens, who by all accounts has done a stellar job just a few years after leaving Butler. Speaking of which, for one night against the Jazz, Stevens was reunited with two key players on those Cinderella Butler teams, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, the latter of whom was just traded to the Jazz. Here’s some good insight into Stevens and Hayward from Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:
Mack and Hayward are the only active NBA players from Butler, both recruited by Stevens. That is a source of pride with the Celtics coach, having guided two players to the NBA from a mid-major that was little known before Butler made consecutive trips to the national title game.
Each time Stevens visits Salt Lake City he’s asked about Hayward, how the swingman has developed in the NBA and impacted a franchise that, like the Celtics, is trying to rise from rubble. Hayward is a cornerstone, with the Jazz giving him a four-year, $63 million contract.
Hayward, averaging a career-best 19.9 points this season, is a borderline All-Star. He shot just 6 of 16 in Friday’s 111-93 win but still managed 22 points by making 15 trips to the foul line. He has progressed exponentially since Stevens recruited him from Brownsburg, Ind., nearly 10 years ago.
“When I first met with him when we were recruiting him, we talked about, ‘You actually have a chance to be a pro,’ ” Stevens said. “I don’t know that anybody could have envisioned [this]. At that time, he was a 13-point, six-rebound-a-game tennis player. He was growing into his own. He was a long, skinny kid. He was probably 6-foot-7, 180 [pounds] sopping wet.”
Hayward quickly developed into a top college player and left Butler after his sophomore season in 2009-10, following a 2-point loss to Duke in the national title game.
“I think he’s just gotten better, better, and better,” Stevens said. “His first couple of practices at Butler confirmed what the biggest mark would be with a guy of his talent level, and that is his grit and toughness. From that point on, we had no doubt that he had all that stuff. So you knew he was going to be a pro, it was just a matter of the level. He’s established himself as one of the better players around.
“He had a lot of natural talent. I don’t know if he believed me or not, [maybe] he thought I was just a recruiter that was lying to him. We had never had an NBA pro [prospect] in our time but it was obvious that he could do things other guys couldn’t do.”
Hayward is often asked about Stevens’s success in the NBA, having led the Celtics from a lottery team in 2013-14 to an Eastern Conference contender in just two years. The admiration is mutual.
“He told us he would never leave for another college,” Hayward said. “And that was very, very true; he left for the NBA. I’ve always said no matter where he’s at, he’ll be successful, if it’s basketball, if it’s business. Whatever it is. He’s just that type of person that, he’s going to be successful. He puts in the time. He puts in the effort. A very smart guy. No surprise that he’s successful where he’s at.”
Hayward and Stevens have formed a strong bond because they realize their importance to each other’s success. Hayward may not have reached the NBA without Stevens’s tutelage, while Stevens may not have gotten a call from the Celtics had Hayward not led Butler to the Final Four as a No. 5 seed six years ago.
“He knows how to make people successful,” Hayward said of Stevens. “He puts guys in the right positions. He’s very smart with reading defenses and knowing how teams are going to play and what they’re going to do, switches, whatever. They beat us on a last-second shot last year, on their play. He’s just a really smart coach and he always brings the best out of his players. Like I said, I’m proud of what he’s been able to do.”
No. 2: Pacers expecting big things from Myles Turner — He won’t win Rookie of the Year and might even face a battle just to make first-team All-Rookie, but don’t be fooled. The Pacers are very pleased with the development of Myles Turner and the potential of the 6-foot-10 post player is enormous. He began getting more playing time earlier this month and because of Turner, the Pacers still like their chances of making the playoffs. Here’s an excerpt of an examination of Turner done recently by Candace Bucker of the Indianapolis News:
In so many ways, he’s just a big kid. The teen-turned-starter still buys H&M clothes off the rack and watches SpongeBob in his spare time. He’s tasked with raiding the freezer in NBA visitors’ locker rooms so his veterans will have enough Gatorade on the bus rides to the airport. Inside his childhood bedroom, he still has a pair of size-10 Starbury One sneakers signed by Kevin Durant.
But in so many other ways, the Pacers need him to be a man, if not The Man. They have Paul George, Monta Ellis and several veterans approaching 30. But they also need 19-year-old Myles Turner, who averages 10.1 points on 53.5 percent shooting and 1.5 blocks per game this season.
“We’ve got a young, really talented, special big man in Myles Turner that is going to be up and down,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I don’t know how fast and how far he develops in the final 29 games, but it will be a big factor in what our ceiling is.”
Turner has always been this strange brew of a project, a normal, humble child and a rare bird, a player obsessed with shushing his skeptics and yet privately questioning himself. He nods when teammates give him tongue-lashings after mistakes, but there’s nothing they can say that he hasn’t heard from the chorus of critics inside his head.
“I doubted myself a lot,” Turner says of playing in the NBA.
* * *
Turner can take on the responsibility because he isn’t just any 19-year-old. He was raised for this, even if David and Mary Turner thought they were simply bringing up their eldest to earn a free college education and a good job.
So, the family would take part in conversational clashes, the loser getting bounced for using filler words “uhm” and “like.” If Myles slipped up with one of the forbidden words, his mother took no mercy.
“All of a sudden I’d break out and say, ‘I won!’ ” Mary exclaims. “He hated losing. So we had to play again.”
The Turners shut off the television from Monday to Thursday and hid the PlayStation in the garage until summer so Myles could do something that sounds insane to kids of his generation: play outside. Myles was 5 when David purchased a basketball goal, but dad couldn’t install it in the driveway unless the height was adjusted from 7½ feet to 10, regulation size. Mary’s idea.
Turner remembers getting penciled onto the “B” team during middle-school tryouts and being iced out at his first practice with the Trinity High School varsity team. These memories are old wounds that should’ve been patched up by all his recent triumphs. Still, Turner can’t help but to pick at his sutures.
“I’ve just always had to work my way up through the ranks,” Turner says. “I was definitely overlooked in high school.”
Older kids laughed at the way he ran, but Turner loved the game. He was piling up team championship trophies – not those participation throwaways. He had the potential to be great, so he played on. And really, how could he stop and listen to their taunts? Turner kept busy; for a while, he played on four teams at the same time.
He was improving, but not fast enough by his own standards. When Turner did watch TV and saw Shaq and D-Wade winning the NBA Finals, he wasn’t like the other kids who went to sleep dreaming about holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
“I never thought I’d be strong enough. I always got pushed around all the time,” Turner stresses. “As far as the NBA was concerned, I loved watching it … but I never thought I’d actually be able to do it one day.”
No. 3: Dave Joerger has a new team in Memphis — This isn’t the team he saw when the season tipped off. Still, it’s his team because it says “Memphis” across the jersey, so Dave Joerger must find a new playbook for a Grizzlies’ team that has changed overnight. Marc Gasol is injured and gone, maybe for the season if not a lengthy stretch. And the Grizz have welcomed Mario Chalmers, PJ Hairston, Lance Stephenson and Chris Andersen in the last few months. The task for the coach is to keep the Grizzlies in the playoff hunt, which won’t be easy, and make the new faces comfortable. This task was examined by Geoff Caulkins of the Commercial Appeal:
Dave Joerger, this is your test.
You’re going to have to try to win games without Marc Gasol, your best player, the guy you have built your entire team around.
And you’re going to have to try and win games without Courtney Lee, one of the few shooters on a team that has never been able to shoot.
And you’re going to have to try and win games without Jeff Green, your answer to everything, a player you coveted and believed in more than anyone else.
And you’re going to have to try and win games without Ryan Hollins, the backup center, the rim protector you wanted on the team all year long.
And you may have to try to win a game or two without Tony Allen, your inspirational leader, who is questionable with a gimpy knee.
Oh, and in case that’s not enough of a challenge, we’re going to give you Lance Stephenson, P.J. Hairston and a guy everyone knows as Birdman.
Let us know how it goes!
“The last couple of days have been pretty interesting,” said Joerger, because he really couldn’t say, “What did I do to deserve this?”
But he had to be thinking it, didn’t he? Somewhere underneath that Minnesota Nice? Or maybe just wondering when the hidden cameras would be revealed and he’d discover he’d been Punk’d?
The Memphis Grizzlies may have done the right thing for the Memphis Grizzlies this past week. They may have done the right thing for next year and beyond.
But for their head coach?
“It’s a big motivation,” said Joerger, and also the biggest challenge of his coaching career.
Not that there haven’t been other challenges, mind you. Joerger has seen and surmounted more than few.
It was a challenge to take over for a wildly successful and popular coach like Lionel Hollins.
It was a challenge to overcome an injury to Gasol to make the playoffs that first year.
It was a challenge to forge a working relationship with Robert Pera after some early tensions.
It was a challenge to win 50 and 55 games his first two years as a head coach.
And it was a challenge to lead the Grizzlies through a sluggish start to this season, turning a 16-16 record into 31-22 by the All-Star break.
But none of those challenges compares with the one Joerger will be facing over the next 28 games.
It really should be a reality show. Let’s see what our man Dave can do!
We’ll give him:
Five players who are 34 or older (Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Birdman and Allen).
Five players who are essentially new to the team (Stephenson, Hairston, Birdman, James Ennis and Brandan Wright).
Six players who are known to be among the roughest and/or craziest in the league (Stephenson, Barnes, Allen, Hairston, Randolph and Birdman).
Two players the Miami Heat gave away just to get under the luxury tax (Birdman and Mario Chalmers).
Oh, and Mike Conley. Because we really do have a heart!
But that’s all that Joerger has at his disposal. Now he has to take that group and — without any extra days off to practice or install plays — win enough games to make the playoffs. And that’s not even the trickiest part. The trickiest part is making sure the players are all in.
No. 4: Jeff Green a difference maker? — One of the defections from the Grizzlies is Jeff Green, and stop me if you’ve heard this before: Green will be a difference maker for his new team. Well, he was supposed to play that role with the Celtics, and then with the Grizzlies, and now the Clippers. In Boston, Green was a solid player, nothing more. In Memphis, which needed scoring from the swing position (and still does), Green was a mild disappointment, a tease if anything. He’s now reunited with coach Doc Rivers, who briefly had him in Boston, and lo and behold, the Clippers need scoring from the wing. There’s no denying the gifts of the 6-foot-9 Green; he can run the floor and comes with a decent mid-range shot. But he often disappears for stretches; his inconsistency is maddening. Anyway, he’s the Clippers’ problem — or steal, whichever he decides to be. It didn’t work out with Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith; has Rivers finally found a solution in Green? Here’s a take from Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:
Jeff Green might be happy about joining the Clippers.
He might be happy about playing for Doc Rivers, his old coach in Boston. He might be happy about reconnecting with Team Jordan buddies Chris Paul and Blake Griffin or old teammates Paul Pierce or Cole Aldrich.
But in his first appearance as a member of the Clippers at the team’s practice facility Friday, there wasn’t room for any real emotion.
Green, admittedly, was overwhelmed.
It had been less than 24 hours since Memphis general manager Chris Wallace pulled him aside during the Grizzlies’ practice to deliver the news.
“It never does (get easier),” said Green, who was dealt in the middle of a season for the third time. “You think if you’ve been through it once, it would be easier to go through it again. But you get settled and comfortable in a situation, so it’s tough to break apart from that.”
Green had less than a day to pack up as many possessions as he would need, filling five suitcases and a carry-on with shoes, sweats and suits.
By the time he spoke to the media Friday, he still didn’t know where he was going to be living for the remainder of the season.
“It’s a whirlwind,” he said.
Jamal Crawford, who has been traded in the middle of a season, knows it’s not easy to have your life uprooted.
“I had no idea it was coming and it happened, and it took a little while, it took a few days to set in, like, ‘Did this really happen or am I dreaming?’ That was my first time being traded, so it’s tough,” Crawford remembered. “It’s not just you it affects. It affects your family, you may have to put kids out of school, if you’re renting or whatever, all that stuff. … Where to live, you may go to a city you haven’t spent a lot of time in before, you have to learn that.
“It’s almost like a new kid going to school in the middle of the year, like, ‘Oh, I have to make new friends.’”
Once Green settles in, he knows how he’ll help the Clippers.
“I’m a versatile guy who can play multiple positions and do multiple things on the floor, so I’m pretty sure Doc will put me in positions where I can succeed and help this team out,” Green said. “I’m sure it will vary from game to game, but there are going to be plenty of spots on the floor for me.”
Green should be on the court when the Clippers host the NBA’s top team, the defending champion Golden State Warriors, on Saturday night.
Despite dealing with the ramifications of the trade, Green, an unrestricted free agent this summer, said he likes the situation he’s found himself in.
“This is definitely a team with all the right pieces, and a team that is going in the right direction,” Green said. “The only thing I want to do is win, and that’s what it’s all about right now.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After getting his release, Andrea Bargnani is available and please, don’t all rush at once … The Mavericks remain the clear favorite to scoop up David Lee once he clears waivers on Monday … San Francisco radio station KNBR had an entertaining interview with Warriors coach Steve Kerr … What is it with the Jazz and point guards? They’re still looking for the next Deron Williams and John Stockton … It appears Cody Zeller is the center of the (near) future for the Hornets; not Al Jefferson?