Posts Tagged ‘Damian Lillard’

Morning Shootaround — July 6



VIDEO: Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson is confident and focused on the challenge and his goals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire | Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul | Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? | Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story | Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers

No. 1: Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire — Desperation has set in for the Los Angeles Clippers, much like it did late last week for the Los Angeles Lakers, in free agency. With DeAndre Jordan bolting for Dallas and the four-year, $80 million deal they offered, Doc Rivers and the Clippers are left to scour the big man market for a replacement. They’re not exactly fishing in the same waters that Jordan swam in last season for the Clippers, when he was building block in the middle for a championship contender. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has more:

The Clippers, who lost center DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, are taking a strong look at McGee, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The Clippers have roughly $2.2 million in exception space left to pay a player beyond the league’s minimum salary slot of $1.4 million.

Rivers also is expected to speak with free agent Amar’e Stoudemire on Sunday, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Stoudemire strongly considered the Clippers before signing with the Dallas Mavericks after the New York Knicks agreed to a buyout of his contract in February. Stoudemire has interest with several teams, including the Clippers, Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, league sources said.

For McGee, the Clippers could be an opportunity with a contender to re-start his career. McGee had a couple promising years with the Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets before injuries and inconsistent play limited him to just 28 games over the past two seasons. The Nuggets traded him, along with a first-round draft pick, to the Philadelphia 76ers midway through last season. He played in six games for the 76ers before being waived.

McGee, 27, was close to signing with the Boston Celtics last season, but wanted a player option for the second season to preserve his flexibility with this summer’s free-agent market.

McGee signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Nuggets prior to the 2012-13 season.

In seven NBA seasons with the Washington Wizards, Nuggets and Sixers, McGee has averaged 8.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.

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No. 2: Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul — Omri Casspi is one player who is apparently on board with the master plan in Sacramento. The veteran forward broke the news of his agreement on a deal to return to the Kings and continue working as a role player in a rotation headlined by DeMarcus Cousins, who is fond of his sweet-shooting forward (Casspi shot 40 percent from deep last season). Casspi handled the general news (via Twitter). This is just a small piece of the drastic overhaul Vlade Divac is trying to engineer. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee provides some context:

The mandate for Vlade Divac was clear.

The Kings must improve drastically in 2015-16.

So the vice president of basketball and franchise operations has been overhauling the roster in an effort to boost the Kings from Western Conference doormat to playoff contender.

Adding point guard Rajon Rondo, small forward Marco Belinelli and center Kosta Koufos in free agency and drafting center Willie Cauley-Stein give the Kings a new look and appear to address the Kings’ biggest weaknesses.

Divac isn’t necessarily done. The Kings will try to add wing depth, which Sunday night entailed the re-signing of Omri Casspi, who confirmed via Twitter a two-year deal worth $6 million.

And All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins could be traded, as his issues with coach George Karl have not been resolved.

But as the roster is, the Kings expect to improve. Maybe not enough to make the playoffs but to win more than the 29 games they did last season.

With the new downtown arena set to open for the 2016-17 season, the Kings need an improved product to sell tickets.

The Kings wanted better passing, perimeter shooting and defense. Rondo was brought in to improve the passing and give Karl another ballhandler and facilitator.

Belinelli will be expected to help Sacramento’s shaky three-point shooting. Koufos and Cauley-Stein add depth, size and defensive versatility.

If Cousins stays, he and forward Rudy Gay are the only players certain to start. Divac has said Gay will play “a lot” of power forward this season, which necessitated adding another small forward.

Darren Collison was signed last summer to start at point guard, but with Rondo set to make $9.5 million next season, it seems unlikely the four-time All-Star will be a backup.

Karl wants to run more sets with two point guards, but Collison is only 6 feet, and Rondo is 6-1.

Ben McLemore started at shooting guard last season but could come off the bench or play small forward if Gay starts at power forward.

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No. 3: Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? — Don’t let that little detail of LeBron James not having agreed to a deal yet deter the Cleveland Cavaliers from doing his bidding. The reported interest in Brooklyn veteran swingman Joe Johnson is legitimate and a very real possibility, given the Cavaliers’ ability to make it happen with the existing contracts of one of their prized (and another not-so-prized) big men. Our numbers man John Schuhmann breaks it down:

A trade of Haywood (with a salary of $10.5 million for 2015-16) and Anderson Varejao ($9.6 million) for Johnson would work under the league’s trade rules. Haywood’s contract is completely non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him, erase that $10.5 million from their books and save almost $70 million next season ($19.5 million in salary and $49.1 million in luxury tax, because they would be subject to repeater levels).

Of course, Johnson has been a very good and very durable player for the Nets over the last three years. The deal represents a decision of saving money vs. competing for a playoff spot.

It also represents a choice between saving money this season and saving cap space for next summer. Johnson has just this coming season left on his contract, but Varejao has three more years left on his deal. His 2017-18 salary is completely non-guaranteed, but $9.4 million of his $10.4 million salary for 2016-17 is guaranteed and would eat into their 2016 cap space.

The Nets could trade Varejao for an expiring contract. One suggestion from the Twitterverse: Varejao to the Los Angeles Clippers (who are desperate for a center to replace DeAndre Jordan) for Jamal Crawford, who has just one year left on his deal at $5.7 million. (The Clippers would have to include an additional piece).

Of course, the Cavs could make that swap themselves if they choose not to go for Johnson, who would take their own luxury tax to the sky. They will surely have other options with Haywood’s non-guaranteed contract. But this deal would create one heck of a lineup.

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No. 4: Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story — The Raptors continued their summer revival with the addition of Cory Joseph, a native son formerly of the San Antonio Spurs. Joseph’s return to The North is more than just a good story, writes Michael Grange of the SportsNet:

At about 11:15 Sunday night Joseph announced to his 61,700 Twitter followers that he was leaving the San Antonio Spurs in free agency to sign with Toronto.

It was a simple message for an athlete who is known for his no-nonsense approach, but it spoke volumes about how far Canadian basketball has come and where it’s going. Joseph will be just the second Canadian to ever play for the Raptors, following Jamaal Magloire who suited up for one season at the end of his career.

He left as part of the first wave of elite Canadian basketball players who were convinced rightly or wrongly that if they wanted to make it to the top of the sport they needed to head to the United States as teenagers.

For Joseph it couldn’t have worked out better. He won national recognition at Findlay and a scholarship to the University of Texas, and in 2011 became the first Canadian guard to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft since Steve Nash when the San Antonio Spurs took him 29th overall. He learned his craft in one of the most respected organizations in any sport and has a championship ring to show for it.

The difference is that while Magloire was an outlier, Joseph represents the front edge of the wedge. Masai Ujiri has always said he won’t put a passport ahead of talent when building his team, but the number and quality of Canadians coming into the NBA – eight first-round picks in the past five years with more coming – means that recruiting homegrown players could provide the Raptors a competitive advantage going forward.

Calls to the Raptors GM and Joseph’s agent Rich Paul weren’t immediately returned but Joseph has been on the Raptors radar for years now. It’s believed they tried to trade for him twice but were rebuffed by San Antonio.

According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard the Raptors let their money do the talking, with Joseph signing a four-year deal worth $30-million, a huge jump in salary for a career backup who has earned just $5.3 million total in his four NBA seasons.

Is it worth it?

The Raptors love Joseph’s defensive acumen. By their analysis he immediately becomes their best perimeter defender. Moreover they love the humility he brings to the job and his simple passion for his craft. He made a believer out of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich when – as he was struggling for playing time as a rookie – he asked to be sent down to the NBA D-League to get some run.

But the Raptors see upside as well. The term of his deal extends past that of all-star Kyle Lowry’s, who will likely opt out of his contract two summers from now. While no one within the organization is prepared to declare Joseph ready to push Lowry as a starter, the dollars and term they gave him suggest they are betting that he’s still improving and could provide them an option there in time.

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No. 5: Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers — The finger-pointing in Portland figures to go on for months, years even, in the aftermath of LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to head home to Texas and the San Antonio Spurs in free agency. He said he wanted to be the best Trail Blazer ever, only to depart as soon as it became a possibility. There will no doubt be hard feelings, but John Canzano of the Oregonian insists Aldridge is not to blame for this breakup:

This all brings us back to the Blazers, ultimately. They have a difficult time attracting free agents. They’ve struggled with continuity. They have a general manager in Neil Olshey eager to make his draft picks shine, cementing his legacy. And I wasn’t surprised the news of Lillard’s five-year, $125-plus million contract extension was leaked on the opening day of free agency.

The Blazers had all summer to make that announcement. But it came on a day when a league record $1.4 billion in contracts were handed out in other NBA cities and — down deep — the Blazers knew Aldridge was a ghost.

Olshey long ago hitched the franchise wagon to Lillard. He drafted him in 2012, and when he became Rookie of the Year the following season, he was marketed and promoted to the point that it chapped Aldridge.

He was Bat Man. Lillard was Robin. Right? But the organization, led by Olshey’s own narrative, prematurely flip-flopped those roles. It cost them today.

I wrote a column two seasons ago about Portland alienating Aldridge by going too far with the Lillard-palooza. Aldridge reached and out told me how much he liked the column. The Blazers decided prior to last season that they’d spend Aldridge’s final season under contract celebrating his milestones, pitching him as the all-time Mr. Trail Blazer.

To their credit, Aldridge and Lillard worked well enough together on the court. They’re both too intelligent and socially aware to take their philosophical differences public. But they were co-workers, and not great friends. Those deeply entrenched in both camps told me on multiple occasions, basketball aside, that the two men were not huge fans of each other. Which only makes Lillard’s inability to get a face-to-face sit-down with Aldridge in that 11th hour trip to Los Angeles less shocking.

Aldridge and Lillard played together three seasons. Aldridge gave the Lakers and Kobe a few minutes of face time. He met with the Suns. He dined publicly with Gregg Popovich. Anyone else find it telling that Aldridge and Lillard didn’t even meet up? That he treated Lillard like the Knicks? That the franchise’s “Thing 1″ and “Thing 2″ weren’t in solid contact from the end of the season says a lot.

Even if Lillard and Aldridge had been tight, turning down the Spurs and the chance to finish your career in your home state would have been difficult. It’s why you can’t really blame Aldridge, can you? This is business, after all.

This break-up of the Blazers was bound to happen. You had Olshey’s players (Lillard, Meyers Leonard and CJ McCollum, in particular) and you had a leftovers from all the general managers of owner Paul Allen’s basketball past. Last season had the feel of a finale all along. That Popovich and the Spurs benefit from the chaos inside another NBA franchise should come as no surprise. Uniformity of vision is what sets the Spurs apart. It’s part of how he’s built an empire.

Olshey won’t much like this column. Neither will Lillard or even Aldridge. But as long as we’re handing out blame for the breakup of a team that won 50-plus games, what’s fair is fair.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Free agent fever is proving the value of “3 and D” skillsets  The Hawks continue the house cleaning by firing long-time training staffers … Oh, and Happy Birthday Pau Gasol …

Free agents ‘at 2015 prices’ trigger NBA’s Day 1 spending spree


VIDEO: Free agents winners and losers after Day 1

“Unfinished business” was the term Kevin Love used, more or less kicking off the first day of NBA free agency Wednesday with his announcement, via The Players’ Tribune, that he would be sticking with Cleveland Cavaliers in pursuit of LeBron James-led championships.

“Irrational exuberance,” though, was the label that came to mind as the shopping and the bidding and the spending (pledges of it, anyway, when deals actually can be consummated July 9) spiraled ever higher. That phrase was former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan‘s, used to characterize the overheated stock market during the dot.com bubble of the 1990s.

From Love and Cleveland teammates Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert to San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, from young franchise cornerstones such as Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard to DeMarre Carroll becoming Toronto’s highest paid player, the frenzy to find, pitch and lock up players at heretofore staggering amounts of money was more than even some players could grasp:

By 7 p.m. Eastern time, with several agreed-upon deals to go, NBA teams had committed approximately $1.1 billion dollars to players who hit the open market at 12:01 a.m. Among the biggest contracts: Love’s five-year, $110 million to stay with Cleveland, Davis’ five-year, $145 million extension to play for the Pelicans for the next six seasons and Lillard’s $120 million over five years to serve, perhaps, as Portland’s last tent-pole player as the Blazers face a potential rebuild.
And just because that sort of spending wasn’t unprecedented …

… doesn’t mean it wasn’t breathtaking.

With so much of the NBA’s business focused on the summer of 2016 – when the revenue from broadcast rights increases geometrically, taking the salary cap from about $69 million to an estimated $90 million – owners and general managers dug deep to cut deals at 2015 prices. Or, more accurately, at 2015’s percentage of payroll.

Look at it this way: an $11 million player by 2016-17, for example, will eat up the same amount of cap space as a $7.7 player this past season ($63 million cap). That could turn a number of Wednesday’s personal lottery payoffs into something if not reasonable by an average Joe’s or Jill’s standards, at least into something manageable.

One of the surprises of the day, then, was that so many players were willing to lock in rather than hold off or “gimmick-contract” their way to another bite at the platinum apple in a year or two. Love, perhaps thinking of his own troubling history of injuries, went “all in” with the Cavaliers, grabbing a deal that will still be in effect when James turns 35. Davis dried up the premature drooling in Chicago and probably 28 other markets by teams and fans hoping to pry him loose from New Orleans sooner than 2021.

Here was another surprise: Of the top 15 or so players who agreed to terms Wednesday, 10 or more (depending on your rankings) chose to stay put, re-signing with their current teams. Of those who will be playing elsewhere come autumn, Tyson Chandler‘s four-year, $52 million deal with Phoenix and Carroll’s four-year, $60 million package with the Raptors probably rate as the biggest moves.

(It will be interesting to see Carroll playing north of the border, technically making him an international player. He’s the guy who, when asked during the Eastern Conference finals what he might say to Cleveland’s feisty Matthew Dellavedova about his reckless play, wondered if the “foreigner” even spoke English. Like Australians, Carroll will learn, Canadians mostly speak English too.)

There was, of course, plenty of unfinished business. LaMarcus Aldridge was the straw stirring Wednesday’s drink, even as his interviewing of teams continued. San Antonio emerged as a likely destination for the All-Star power forward, if he does leave Portland, with the Spurs pitching a baton hand-off from Tim Duncan to Aldridge and a makeover on the fly with Leonard and the team’s aging core still formidable enough to contend.

Things didn’t go well, apparently, for the Los Angeles Lakers in their wooing of Aldridge. Word leaked almost immediately that the Blazers’ big man was unimpressed by a lack of vision for the on-the-court product. Glitz alone didn’t look as if it would cut it, with the Lakers said to be dropped from Aldridge’s list.

Other names remain in play: Marc Gasol, Greg Monroe, DeAndre Jordan, Monta Ellis, Wesley Matthews, Rajon Rondo, Reggie Jackson, Dwyane Wade and James himself. Draymond Green reportedly got a deal done later in the day with Golden State, suffering a hiccup or two more than Leonard or Jimmy Butler as a restricted player who wasn’t required to secure an offer sheet elsewhere.

The Lakers had their Aldridge embarrassment while their East Coast counterparts as marquee franchise mired in current muck, the New York Knicks, registered barely a blip on Day 1. In the NBA of 2015, the Cleveland Cavaliers committed in excess of $230 million to three players (Love, Thompson, Shumpert) while the Knicks looked to have trouble getting people even to take their calls.

That all could change Thursday, naturally. And we’re pretty certain to see fireworks Friday and Saturday, on both the Old Glory and new money fronts.

2015 Free Agency — Day 1


VIDEO: Kevin Love returns to Cleveland

From NBA.com staff reports

Last night’s opener to the free agency season in the NBA was like many more before it — some initial movement, a couple of re-signings here and there and, for the most part, a formal starting of the rumor mill.

The biggest moves last night were by one player who wasn’t even on the free-agent market this summer (Anthony Davis) and another who wasn’t expected to go far from his home team (Kawhi Leonard). Both players reportedly agreed to deals with their current teams — the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs, respectively — and earned big paydays to boot.

Davis reportedly agreed to a five-year, $145 million maximum contract while Leonard got a reported five-year, $90 million deal. The Portland Trail Blazers also reached a reported four-year, $30 million deal with free-agent forward Al-Farouq Aminu. Aside from those moves, the Brooklyn Nets are finalizing deals with Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young while the Pacers are hot on the trail of Monta Ellis.

As we dig into Day 1 of free agency, keep up on all the latest buzz below …

Highlights

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Morning shootaround — May 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant happy with Donovan hiringReport: Lillard seeking max extension | Ainge readies his free-agency wish list

No. 1: Durant happy with Donovan hire — Oklahoma City officially hired former Florida coach Billy Donovan as its new coach yesterday. Donovan has a five-year deal and will be tasked with improving on the already solid foundation of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Co. that his predecessor, Scott Brooks, grew into an NBA title contender (when healthy). According to some reports, the Thunder’s brass didn’t consult Durant or Westbrook about the Donovan hiring, but in an interview with ESPN.com’s Royce Young, Durant says he’s glad OKC hired Donovan and he’s looking forward to working with him:

Kevin Durant said Thursday he’s “excited” about the Thunder hiring Billy Donovan as their next coach and dismissed any notion that Donovan’s lack of NBA experience is a concern.

“When you don’t have a coach, it’s a lot of uncertainty in the building,” Durant said by phone. “But coming into the practice facility today, I felt like it was a next step for us. It was an exciting feeling for everybody that was there at the gym today to learn that we got Billy as our coach. We’re excited, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Donovan — while one of the most successful college coaches of the past 20 years, with more than 500 wins and two national championships — enters the NBA as a rookie head coach in a pressure-packed season for the Thunder.

“I wouldn’t say it matters,” Durant said of Donovan’s perceived lack of experience. “If you know how to coach a team, that’s all that matters. He’s been at one of the highest levels of basketball and won a title. That’s tough to do.

“So you can’t just downplay what he’s done in the college ranks and just automatically say he’s not going to be great in the pros. He produced a lot of pros, and they all love him.

“The only thing that will be different, to be honest, is just the schedule and the amount of practice time you may have and the travel. But other than that, I think he’ll adapt pretty quickly.”

Durant currently is in Oklahoma City going through his rehab process following a third surgery on his right foot and said he looks forward to getting to know his new coach.

Although not directly consulted on the hiring of Donovan, Durant was very aware of the process and in favor of the move. He did his own homework, consulting some of Donovan’s former players, which helped paint a clearer picture of what to expect.

“I reached out to Chandler Parsons and Mike Miller, and they just told me great things,” Durant said. “Mike told me that he’s real detailed and prepared. Every day is just another day for him to get better. And he’s always looking to learn. I was excited when I heard that because that’s the type of player I am, and I’m looking forward to learning from somebody else. It should be a good relationship. Like I said, I want to get a feel for him myself and for him to get a feel for me and just work from there.”

“It’s going to take some time,” he said. “I think just for him over the summer is big for him to get to know more guys. Obviously he’s watched us before and knows what our strengths and weaknesses are as players.

“But I know he’s going to do a good job because from what I’ve heard he works extremely hard, his attention to detail is one of the best and everybody’s been telling me he’s an NBA coach coaching in college. So I’m excited. I’m very excited to learn from him and get better from him and try my best to do whatever he tells me to do. I can’t wait to get started.”


VIDEO: What challenges will Billy Donovan face as an NBA coach?

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Morning shootaround — April 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Thunder, Donovan closing in on deal| Questions arise for Blazers, Aldridge | Report: Rondo didn’t get playoff shareDuncan savoring this playoff ride

No. 1: Report: Thunder closing in on deal with Donovan — It’s looking more and more like the person who will replace Scott Brooks as coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder will be Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan. According to a report by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the team and Donovan are closing in on a multiyear deal that could be finalized as soon as today. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman tidily wraps up all the hubbub surrounding Donovan and the Thunder:

The hunt for the next Oklahoma City Thunder coach heated up Wednesday, with multiple reports that the team had zeroed in on Florida coach Billy Donovan to replace Scott Brooks.

ESPN and Yahoo! Sports reported that Donovan had entered into advanced contract negotiations with the Thunder on Wednesday, but a deal had yet to be finalized by the end of the day. Donovan was expected to make a decision within 48 hours, according to ESPN.com, which cited an anonymous source with knowledge of the situation Wednesday afternoon.

ESPN.com then reported late Wednesday night that the two sides are nearing an agreement, with an announcement expected to come Thursday or Friday.

Donovan has yet to respond to the reports, which first floated his name as a likely successor to Brooks two weeks ago.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Yahoo! Sports reported that Presti met with Donovan on Tuesday in Gainesville, Fla. and that Donovan, who is making roughly $4 million annually at Florida, could be in line for a $6 million annual salary with the Thunder.

The same report went on to say that Thunder star Kevin Durant has reached out to several former Florida players in the NBA to learn more about Donovan and has become positive about the potential hiring. Yahoo! Sports, however, also reported that Presti has not conferred with Durant or fellow stars Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, or their representatives, about Donovan.

Last summer, Presti hired two Gators assistants: Mark Daigneault as head coach of the NBA Development League’s Oklahoma City Blue and Oliver Winterbone as an analyst with the Thunder.

UPDATE, 11:59 A.M.: Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and Pat Forde report Donovan is in Oklahoma City finalizing a deal to become the Thunder coach as we speak:

University of Florida coach Billy Donovan is finalizing a contract to become head coach of the Oklahoma CIty Thunder, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After 19 years and two national titles at Florida, Donovan will sign a multiyear deal to take over the Thunder, sources said.

The expectations for Donovan are immediate and massive: He must help convince Kevin Durant to sign a long-term extension with the Thunder, and push an immensely talented roster toward its first championship.

UPDATE, 1:15 PM: Per Adrian Wojnarowski and Pat Forde, the Thunder have hired Donovan as coach:

Billy Donovan has agreed to a five-year deal to become head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

After 19 years and two national titles at the University of Florida, Donovan is leaving for the NBA.

The expectations for Donovan are immediate and massive: He must help convince Kevin Durant to sign a long-term extension with the Thunder, and push an immensely talented roster toward its first championship.

Durant, the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player, can become a free agent in the summer of 2016.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti has long targeted Donovan to replace the deposed Scott Brooks, and was the only candidate he pursued, sources told Yahoo Sports.


VIDEO: Inside the NBA talks over the Billy Donovan rumors

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Morning shootaround — April 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers falter down stretch in Game 5| Report: Thunder, Donovan open talks | Harden focused on bigger goals | Report: Lakers willing to add Rondo for low price | Lillard’s speech inspires Blazers

No. 1: Clippers freeze up down stretch of Game 5 — Save for a Game 3 blowout in San Antonio, the Spurs-Clippers series has lived up to its billing as the best one of the first round. Each game has been a nail-biter and last night’s Game 5 was no different. Los Angeles had a solid shot at claiming a 3-2 lead, but some late blunders and bad plays late in the game puts them on the flip side of that status, writes Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

Yeah, it happened again. With the pressure on the precocious Clippers, they wilted again. Needing one big play, they again responded with a botched play, and now they are down to their last chance to make it all better.

In a pivotal playoff game against the NBA’s championship measuring stick known as the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night, the Clippers again crumbled under the weight of every critic’s charge and skeptic’s claim, falling apart in the fourth quarter of a 111-107 loss in Game 5 of the first round, falling behind three games to two.

The play that everyone will be talking about will be DeAndre Jordan‘s goal-tending on a potential game-winning runner by Blake Griffin with 4.9 seconds remaining, especially since it was clearly goaltending and Griffin’s shot appeared destined to roll through the rim without any help.

“At this point, it ain’t about the stats,” said Chris Paul, who vainly tried to do it all during the quarter with nine points. “We have to execute better and play better down the stretch.”

It didn’t help that by that fourth quarter, a Clippers bench that helped them win Game 4 had been ineffective or ignored.

While five Spurs reserves played at least 11 minutes, only two Clippers reserves played that much, and Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers combined to make five of 19 shots. Overall, the Spurs bench outscored the Clippers bench, 48-17.

For the second time in five games in this series, the Clippers were punching bags in the final rounds, although this has happened to Spurs opponents before. In fact, this traditionally most pivotal of games has long been the Spurs’ most favorite game. The Spurs are now 24-8 in Game 5s since their first championship in 1999. They have won six straight Game 5s over last two seasons and were 15-1 in Game 5s during their five championship years.

“They’re not going to panic, they’re not going to go away, you’re not going to knock them, you’re going to have to win by a decision,” Clippers Coach Doc Rives said of the Spurs. “Our guys have to embrace that.”

 


VIDEO: The Clippers discuss their Game 5 defeat

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Pau Gasol wins PBWA’s Magic Johnson award for 2014-15


CHICAGO — Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls was named the 2014-15 recipient of the Magic Johnson Award, presented annually by the Professional Basketball Writers Association to the NBA player who best combines excellence on the court with cooperation in dealing with the media and the fans.

Gasol, 34, was the top choice in a field that included Golden State’s Stephen Curry, San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, Cleveland’s LeBron James and Portland’s Damian Lillard. He is the second Chicago Bulls player so honored, following Jalen Rose in 2002-03.

“I just try to be helpful, help people do their jobs. I understand my position, and this is a part of our job,” Gasol said after Chicago’s practice Wednesday. “It’s easy to be friendly. It’s easy to be kind. I think also it rubs off on people. You should try to balance all the negative out there with some positives.”

The 14-year veteran — who often does double-duty, standing in for interviews in both English and Spanish — averaged 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds this season, was named an Eastern Conference starter in the 2015 All-Star Game and led the NBA with 54 double-doubles, becoming the oldest player to do that since Patrick Ewing in 1996-97.

The PBWA created the Magic Johnson Award in 2001 and named it in honor for former Lakers star Earvin (Magic) Johnson, considered by the association’s members as an ideal model for the award. Approximately 175 PBWA members cover the NBA on a regular basis for newspapers, online outlets and magazines.

Numbers preview: Blazers-Grizzlies


VIDEO: West Series Preview: Grizzlies – Blazers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers are two teams that looked like legit contenders at one point or another this season.

The Grizzlies held the second best record in the Western Conference and third best mark in the NBA for most of the year. The Blazers had a top-five defense through March 15 and were one of a few select teams that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

But both teams suffered injuries late in the season that derailed their quest for the 2 or 3 seed. Portland lost Wesley Matthews for the season to a torn Achilles on March 5. Memphis was without Tony Allen (calf strain) for its last nine games and also dealt with foot and ankle injuries to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

Appropriately, these two teams have found each other in the 4-5 matchup. Portland is the 4 seed because it won the Northwest Division, but Memphis will have home-court advantage (Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 at the FedEx Forum) because it finished with a better record.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Grizzlies-Blazers, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

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

Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)

Pace: 96.5 (13)
OffRtg: 105.5 (8)
DefRtg: 101.4 (10)
NetRtg: +4.2 (5)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Memphis: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Blazers notes:

Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)

Pace: 94.2 (26)
OffRtg: 103.1 (13)
DefRtg: 99.9 (4)
NetRtg: +3.1 (11)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Portland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Grizzlies notes:

The matchup

Season series: Grizzlies won 4-0.
Pace: 94.5
POR OffRtg: 98.6 (18th vs. MEM)
MEM OffRtg: 108.8 (4th vs. POR)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — April 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Streaking Celtics adopt ‘win now’ approach  | Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning | Blazers must shore up their D | Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blow

No. 1: Celtics make convincing playoff push — They very easily could justify missing the playoffs this season and then cashing in on their growing cache of draft picks, but the rebuilding Celtics have evidently decided to go for it. When Marcus Smart dropped a buzzer-beater Saturday night against the Raptors, it only confirmed as much. Boston entered Sunday with the No. 8 spot in the East, a half-game lead over the Heat, and to hear the players and brass, the playoffs are where this young team belongs. It’s a rather refreshing tone considering how much tanking has dominated the conversation in the NBA this season. Zach Lowe of Grantland did a study on the Celtics during this playoff push and here’s some of what he found out:

“The playoff-chasing Celtics of 2015 are a cute feel-good story — and little more. The rebuild is moving faster than expected, with a surprise run at the no. 8 seed in a dreadful conference, but there is a giant chasm separating this plucky, starless group from what it aspires to be.

“The important thing to remember about us,” coach Brad Stevens said in a sit-down with Grantland last week, “is that we have a long, long way to go.”

It says everything about the difficulty of rebuilding that Boston has absolutely nailed Phase 1 and yet has no clear path to 50 wins. Multiple rival executives described Boston’s trading spree of the last two years as “a masterpiece” in rebuilding. Contract timetables, injuries, and other variables made it impossible for Boston to deal its aging stars at peak sell-high times, and yet Danny Ainge still nabbed great value for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics have as many as six extra first-round picks1 coming and oodles of cap space, they’ve drafted solid players across the first round, and they just acquired a dynamic young point guard — Isaiah Thomas — on the cheap.

But they have no stars and no clear path to getting one outside a major break in free agency or the trade market. The Celtics have made the leap to mediocrity so fast that they may have no easy way out. They’re still not good, but they’re not bad enough to get an early first-round pick — to get a clear shot at a star, in other words. Even if they lose this season’s slap fight for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, they will likely pick in the late lottery — a range that looks like their draft ceiling for the next few seasons. “That’s a concern for all 30 teams,” Ainge says of being stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity. “It’s the nature of our league. You definitely need good fortune.”

The Celtics discussed holding off on the Thomas deal to deflate their win total, but decided after some debate that they could lose out — or pay a higher price — if they waited until the summer. “Ideally, he might have been someone you pick up in the summer,” Ainge says. “But someone else might trade for him. You might be in a bidding war. You have to move while the iron is hot.”

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No. 2: Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning — The most intriguing April drama in the West is about playoff positioning near the top. The Rockets now hold a half-game lead over the Grizzlies for the No. 2 spot, and why is that so important? Well, the No. 2 team will most likely get the Mavericks and avoid the suddenly-smoking Spurs in the first round. Memphis had successfully fended off all threats for the No. 2 spot until now. And while the race is hardly over, the contest between Memphis and Houston will only intensify, especially with Dwight Howard back in the mix for the Rockets (though on a minutes restriction). Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN on the Grizzlies, who lost a tough game to the Wizards on Saturday:

“I don’t think it’s the toughest division in our league; it’s the toughest division in all major leagues,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “Year in and year out, it’s ridiculous. So for our guys to get rewarded for their hard work, it would be positive.

“It’s what’s important to you. You hear about San Antonio, right? They don’t care about a division title. They don’t care about seeding. Well, we’re not them.”

While it’s all about the end game for the Spurs, who are going for their second straight championship and sixth in the past 16 years, the Grizzlies are still focused on the intermediate steps toward success. Winning an NBA championship remains the top goal for Memphis, but hanging the franchise’s first division banner in the rafters of the 10-year-old FedEx Forum along the way is a major priority.

The last time every team from an NBA division made the playoffs was in the 2005-06 season, when the Pistons, Pacers, Cavaliers, Bulls and Bucks advanced. That’s never happened in the NFL or Major League Baseball, although it’s occurred in two different divisions in the NHL over the past five seasons.

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No. 3: Blazers must shore up their D or else — If you’re a Blazers fan you, must be thrilled with the way the team has hung in there in the rugged West despite missing Wesley Matthews and an inconsistent season from Damian Lillard and with LaMarcus Aldridge playing through a thumb that’ll require surgery in the offseason. Portland once again is in position to do damage in the playoffs (ask the Rockets, who are still stinging from Lillard’s series winner last spring), but not if they don’t clean up their biggest issue first: defense. Oregonian writer John Canzano, still stung by the Blazers surrendering 126 to the Clippers last week, discusses:

But on the other hand, Chris Kaman was willing to address the biggest issue that coach Terry Stotts whiffed on — atrocious team defense by the Blazers. The biggest problem for Portland if any of this should come to a Clippers-Blazers playoff series.

Decide for yourself which guy had the worse post-game peformance. I’m not up in the air. Kaman settled it when he said, “We scored 122 points. That’s not stopping anybody. And we didn’t stop them either, they had more points (126) than we did. We got hurt on transition and on threes.” He was only saying what everyone could obviously see at Moda Center.

I like Stotts. I championed his hiring. I banged the drum for his contract extension even before the end of last season. I like where he’s headed with this rig, but if he’s unable to get real about the deficiencies of this team and remains in denial, I’m concerned about the short-term prognosis for a team that has fought to this point.

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No. 4: Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blowDirk Nowitzki is usually a cool customer except when threatened with severe physical pain, as anyone else would (see Chris Kaman last week regarding Chris Paul). So at first, he was taken aback when he was whacked in the private area by Shaun Livingston. But when these things happen, you must take into account the history of the offending party. Livingston doesn’t exactly conjure up memories of flagrant assaults. And so, while Mark Cuban wasn’t in a forgiving mood Saturday, Dirk gave Livingston a pass. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News has some golden quotes from Dirk:

Livingston, trying to defend Nowitzki in the post, was using his right hand to hand-check Nowitzki in the back. Somehow, his hand got in between Nowitzki’s legs and clearly caught Nowitzki in the groin area.

For the rest of the game, the AAC crowd booed Livingston every time he touched the ball and in the fourth quarter, Livingston and coach Rick Carlisle exchanged words briefly after a foul was called on J.J. Barea against Livingston.

Things escalated after the game when owner Mark Cuban talked to Golden State coach Steve Kerr and Livingston, then assistant coach Alvin Gentry, as they left the court.

Nowitzki had this to say about the play, which was reviewed and ended up with Livingston called for a flagrant foul, penalty one.

“Well, I give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s really not that type of player,” Nowitzki said. “He hasn’t been his entire career. I’m not really sure what he was trying to do there, if he was trying to get to the ball through my legs or anything. But like I said, he’s not a dirty player.

“But I really enjoyed his tight grip he got. I really enjoyed that.”

Nowitzki was laughing as he said that last line.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Millsap’s shoulder injury should be defined a bit better today. The Hawks forward suffered the injury Saturday against the Nets and did not return in that game. … Boston’s Evan Turner has joined exclusive company: One of only 5 Celtics with 3 or more triple doubles in a season … All systems go for Paul George in his return tonight.

Morning Shootaround — March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 21

Aldridge re-injures hand in loss to Grizz | Pacers on the brink? | Steve Nash’s retirement felt hardest in Phoenix | Grizz move Green to bench

No. 1: Portland’s nightmare road trip — When it rains, it pours. After surviving an early-season injury to LaMarcus Aldridge, the Portland Trail Blazers managed to survive and become title contenders. But then Wesley Matthews went down for the season with a torn Achilles, and though they vowed to carry on without Matthews, the Blazers have had what they call a “nightmare” road trip. Now, with Nicolas Batum and Aldridge battling injuries, as Joe Freeman writes in The Oregonian, the Blazers may have reached their toughest point of the season:

A five-game trip that started with so much promise went from bad to worse on Saturday night as the Blazers not only lost 97-86 to the Memphis Grizzlies, but also lost two more key players to injuries.

If you’re counting, the Blazers have four players — three starters and their top backup big man — dealing with varying levels of injuries. And, as if that weren’t enough, they also happen to be in the middle of a four-game losing streak, the longest of the season. That impressive victory over the Toronto Raptors was only seven days ago, but it feels like seven months.

How might one describe that five-game trip?

“A nightmare,” Aldridge said.

And his health is reason No. 1 for that harsh reality. Aldridge injured his left hand — the same body part that already features a torn thumb ligament — with 4:37 left in the first quarter against the Grizzlies, when Tony Allen smacked it as he lunged for a steal.

On the play, Aldridge collected a pass from Damian Lillard just above the left elbow and drove toward the hoop. Zach Randolph charged from the middle and Allen blitzed from the left, reaching at Aldridge with his left hand to dislodge the ball, smacking Aldridge’s hand in the process. The four-time All-Star instantly winced and cupped his left hand with his right, a sight that no doubt sent a shiver across Rip City considering he has played with a bum left thumb since Jan. 24.

He played the rest of the  quarter and gave it a go in the second for six minutes, but did not play after halftime, finishing with 16 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.

The good news? The results of in-game X-rays were negative. The bad news? After the game, Aldridge’s hand was swollen, in pain and he said he could not bend it.

“It didn’t exactly go the way we planned,” center Robin Lopez said of the Blazers’ five-game trip.

Despite the rash of injuries, the Blazers (44-24) actually held their own in the second half against the second-best team in the Western Conference. Less than 24 hours after an embarrassing loss to the Orlando Magic, the shorthanded Blazers trimmed an 18-point Memphis lead down to seven in the fourth quarter, causing 17,898 at the FedExForum squirm in their seats down the stretch. With Dorell Wright raining threes, snatching steals and completing smooth coast-to-coast layups, Lopez scoring inside and rebounding and Damian Lillard doing it all, the Blazers made things interesting.

But the Grizzlies (49-21) were too deep and talented to wilt completely, and in the end, Mike Conley (21 points, nine assists) was too good, Green (23 points, nine rebounds) was too smooth, Tony Allen (10 points, 11 rebounds, six steals) was too menacing and their long-range attack (11 for 18 from three-point range) was surprisingly too effective.

Lillard finished with 27 points and seven assists, CJ McCollum added 13 points and six rebounds and Wright had 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. But it was all for naught. And as the Blazers walked away from that postgame scene in the locker room, they chose not to dwell on the injuries or the losing streak.

Instead, they chose to look forward. They’ve no doubt reached their toughest moment of the season. But they insist they have plenty of fight left.

“We’ve got our backs up against the wall right now,” Lillard said, before adding, “I’m not concerned. We’ve just got to play better. If we play better, just keep doing what we’re doing, keep believing in each other, I think we’ll be fine.”


VIDEO: Blazers coach Terry Stotts discusses the team’s loss in Memphis

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