Posts Tagged ‘Danny Ainge’

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.

Steve Nash calls it a career, but impact on game will live on


VIDEO: Steve Nash was a two-time MVP and one of the greatest players of his generation

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The debates about Steve Nash‘s place in the history of the NBA can officially begin now that the two-time MVP has officially announced his retirement.

What is not up for debate, however, is the impact Nash had on the teams he played for and the game. He helped usher in the pace and space era of the game while in Phoenix, where he also collected those back-to-back MVPs, in Mike D’Antoni‘s system. A super team featuring Kobe Bryant, Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in Los Angeles Lakers uniforms never materialized as Nash and Howard battled injuries that derailed the championship aspirations for that group during the 2012-13 season.

Nash’s 19-year career comes to a close with him finishing third behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd on the all-time assists list at 10,355. But Nash could not suit up for the Los Angeles Lakers this season due to injuries. Nash told ESPN’s Marc Stein that it’s “really difficult to put it into words,” now that his career is over. But he did it better than anyone else could in a letter to The Players’ Tribune website, where he broke the news of his own retirement earlier today:

The greatest gift has been to be completely immersed in my passion and striving for something I loved so much — visualizing a ladder, climbing up to my heroes. The obsession became my best friend. I talked to her, cherished her, fought with her and got knocked on my ass by her.

And that is what I’m most thankful for in my career. In my entire life, in some ways. Obviously, I value my kids and my family more than the game, but in some ways having this friend — this ever-present pursuit — has made me who I am, taught me and tested me, and given me a mission that feels irreplaceable. I am so thankful. I’ve learned so many invaluable lessons about myself and about life. And of course I still have so much to learn. Another incredible gift.

Nash went on to thank many of his coaches, teammates, family, friends and other influences, making it a point to identify those who helped him go from a Canada to college star at Santa Clara to a NBA star and eventually one of the all-time greats:

Don Nelson insisted that I score. I always wanted to pass but he said, “It’s goddamn selfish when you don’t shoot.” Or, “If you’re a dominant fucking player — dominate!” He insisted that I be aggressive. That growth was a turning point in my career.

Mike D’Antoni changed the game of basketball. There’s not many people you can say that about. No wonder I had my best years playing for him. His intelligence guided him to never over-coach, complicate or hide behind the game’s traditions. He deserves a championship.

When I dribbled by our bench as a rookie on the Suns, Danny Ainge would say, “Take him!” with intensity and contempt in his voice. That was a huge vote of confidence for a rookie.

I remember when Dirk [Nowitzki] and I were nobodies. He used to say over dinner sometimes, “How are us two stiffs gonna make it in this league?” Somehow we made something of ourselves. After all the wins and all the great times we’ve had around the world together, what really means the most to me are the late nights early in our careers when we’d go back to the Landry Center in Dallas, to play a few more games of HORSE and one-on-one. Dirk and the great city of Dallas got their championship, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

Michael Finley was twice an All-Star in his prime, when Dirk and I were young guys on the Mavs. Michael never played in another All-Star Game, but our team went from last place to the Conference Finals under his watch. Do you know how rare that unselfishness is in our game? A true friend and teammate.

The most accurate free throw shooter in NBA history, Nash served as the point guard for the top offense in the NBA for a staggering nine straight seasons (encompassing part of his time in Dallas, 2001-02, through 2008-09 in Phoenix). An eight-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA pick and five-time assists leader, Nash also won the celebrated J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2007.

His impact on the game, around the globe, will be felt for years.

His underdog story resonates, no matter what language one speaks, as Nash (in his own words) prepares himself for “Life After Basketball.”

I will likely never play basketball again. It’s bittersweet. I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else. This letter is for anyone who’s taken note of my career. At the heart of this letter, I’m speaking to kids everywhere who have no idea what the future holds or how to take charge of their place in it. When I think of my career, I can’t help but think of the kid with his ball, falling in love. That’s still what I identify with and did so throughout my entire story.

Morning shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Highlights for games play March 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers lose Matthews for season | Parker taking “baby steps” | What about JaVale? | Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best

No. 1: Blazers lose Matthews for season — The Portland Trail Blazers got a big win at home last night on TNT, beating another Western Conference playoff team, the Dallas Mavericks, 94-75. But the bigger story for the Blazers was the loss of starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who went down in the third quarter with a non-contact injury to his left leg. The Blazers eventually announced that Matthews had suffered a torn achilles and he would miss the rest of the season. Matthews had started every game this season for the Blazers, and was averaging 16.2 ppg. For a team with championship aspirations, the loss of Matthews will be tough to overcome, writes Jason Quick in the Oregonian

The injury is officially a ruptured Achilles, but to the Portland Trail Blazers, it was a breaking of their heart. To the people of Oregon a punch to the gut.

How important is Wesley Matthews to the Trail Blazers?

Owner Paul Allen, moments after Matthews was carried off the court, went back to the locker room to check on him. I’ve watched Greg Oden‘s knee explode. Watched Brandon Roy hobble off the court. And seen Rudy Fernandez carted out, immobilized on a stretcher.

And never have I seen Allen move from his courtside seat.

Matthews is that type of player.

He doesn’t just make three-pointers with the best of them. He makes this team.

He has an unbelievably positive attitude. Sometimes, I believe, he wills the Blazers out of slumps with his sheer belief that the Blazers are the best team in the West.

He holds teammates accountable, willing to call them out if he sees an effort, or an attitude, not meet his standards.

And he sets an admirable example with his tireless and determined work ethic. I’ve seen some great, hard-working professionals put on a Blazers uniform – Scottie Pippen, Joel Przybilla and Roy among them – and none of them outwork Matthews.

Few throughout the years have been as banged up as Matthews. He once played the last half of the season on an ankle the size of a grapefruit, waiting until after the season to have surgery. His elbow has been battered. His side has been bruised. And this season, he famously hyperextended his knee – elicting gasps from the Moda Center crowd – only to return later in the game, bringing a chuckle to coach Terry Stotts on the sideline.

Wesley Matthews is, quite frankly, the heart and soul of the Blazers.

And now, it no longer beats. Out for the rest of the season.

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No. 2: Parker taking “baby steps” — One season ago, San Antonio’s Tony Parker finished sixth in MVP voting. This season, he’s struggled with injuries and, even after returning, hasn’t been able to consistently play the way he did last season. Now back and healthy, with the playoffs looming, Parker hopes the worst is behind him, writes Dan McCarney in the San Antonio Express-News

It was the type of move that has been seen only rarely from Tony Parker in his star-crossed 14th NBA season, a lightning quick crossover that left his defender grasping at air followed by an aggressive drive to the basket resulting in two free throws.

Coming against Sacramento’s Andre Miller, who will turn 39 in two weeks, Parker wasn’t about to gloat. After looking more than a little aged himself during his recent slump, how could he? No, he was pleased simply for a glimpse of his old self with 19 points in Wednesday’s victory over the Kings.

“I’m not going to take credit (for crossing Miller up),” he joked at practice on Thursday. “I’m just happy I shot 50 percent (8 for 14). Baby steps. Baby steps.”

And perspective. Two solid games, sandwiched around one dreadful performance, does not constitute a turnaround for Parker, just as the Spurs cannot be declared as having recaptured their championship mojo with a three-game win streak that includes two victories over the lowly Kings.

But unlike his 19-point outing at Sacramento last Friday, in which he scored 11 points in the fourth to inflate his production, Parker was steady pretty much throughout Wednesday’s rematch before the game got out of hand in the second half. Less important than the numbers was the manner in which they were produced, with Parker using the blend of mid-range shooting and around-the-rim accuracy that made him a six-time All-Star.

“(Coach Gregg Popovich) was joking, saying ‘I don’t remember the last time you shot a tear drop’ and I said, ‘You’re right,’” said Parker, who hit two of his trademark floaters in the third quarter alone.

“Sometimes you go through those times and you don’t know why you don’t know how to play basketball any more. It happens and so our job is to get back in rhythm, get back the way I was before I got hurt.”

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No. 3: What about JaVale? — One of the better players to become available in the last few weeks was former Nuggets big man JaVale McGee, who was traded at the deadline to the Sixers and then waived on Sunday. Yesterday it appeared for a few hours as though McGee was heading to the Celtics, until that deal fell through. As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes, McGee is apparently looking to land somewhere he can can control his contract next season, while teams that have been interested in McGee have wanted the same option…

McGee visited the Celtics this week and had been inclined to sign there, only to have his agent, B.J. Armstrong, and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge become unable to move past that deal point on Thursday afternoon.

For McGee, the plan is to sign a deal that provides him with a player option on the 2015-16 season – something teams, including Boston, would prefer to be a team option. That way, if McGee plays well, teams won’t be so vulnerable to lose him this summer.

McGee had courted interest from multiple playoff contenders, including the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri signed McGee to a $48 million extension in Denver, and remains interested in offering him an opportunity to join the Raptors for a playoff run, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Nevertheless, McGee’s insistence on holding onto his freedom for the 2015-16 season could cause some teams to resist committing to him for the rest of this year and the playoffs.

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No. 4: Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best — The Atlanta Hawks have spent this week celebrating franchise hero Dominique Wilkins, unveiling a statue and reminding everyone of how much he means to the franchise. But now the conversation turns back to the court, as tonight the Hawks host the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers in what could be an Eastern Conference playoffs finals. And in Atlanta, they don’t mind pointing out that as good as Cleveland has been in the new year, the Hawks still have a healthy lead in the Eastern Conference, as Mark Bradley writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Hawks lead Cleveland, LeBron’s latest team, by 10 1/2 games with 22 to play. But the Cavaliers, to give them their due, have won 20 of 24 and beat Golden State last week and Toronto on Tuesday. Naturally, this has inspired many in the media to proclaim the Cavs the East’s best team — even if the standings don’t reflect anything of the sort.

Any sign of a Cleveland uptick was bound to become an uproar, given that the Cavs have LeBron and the hoops world revolves around him. And I’d also submit that the Hawks, who’ve won five straight after that post-All-Star flop-apalooza against the Raptors, aren’t playing quite as well as when they were winning 35 of 37. But it’s not like they’ve turned tail at the sound of LeBron’s approaching footsteps. This isn’t a team easily cowed.

If the Cavs win Friday, we’ll be treated to six weeks of the The-King-Has-Reclaimed-His-Throne stories. If the Hawks win, we’ll be buffeted with It’s-Only-A-Matter-Of-Time-Before-The-King-Reclaims-His-Throne. Because he’s LeBron, he and his team will always be granted the benefit of every doubt. But I have fewer doubts about these Hawks than I do LeBron’s Cavs. At last check, 48-12 trumps 39-24.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After missing 8 free throws against the Rockets on Sunday, LeBron James has adjusted his free throw shooting formGoran Dragic loves the relationship he has with Dwyane Wade in Miami … The Timberwolves made some moves, picking up Justin Hamilton and waiving Glenn Robinson III … The Hawks have signed Jarrell Eddie from the D-League to a 10-day contract …

Morning shootaround — Feb. 23


VIDEO: Highlights of Sunday’s action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Everybody is knocking the Knicks these days, even Phil | Emotional Heat rallying behind Bosh, Dragic | Westbrook takes control in Oklahoma City | Fire still burns for Scott (and Bryant) in Lakers-Celtics rivalry

No. 1:  Everybody is knocking the Knicks these days, even Phil — You, too, Phil Jackson? As if the Knicks didn’t have it bad enough this season, now their boss is taking shots at them. In the aftermath of Sunday’s woeful performance at Madison Square Garden against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the critics were out in full force on social media and everywhere else. And that includes Jackson, who took to Twitter to level the team he’s been charged with fixing. Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com provides the dirty details:

 

The Knicks lost by 18 points to the Cavs on Sunday to extend their losing streak to seven games. New York is an NBA-worst 10-45.

Sunday’s loss to Cleveland might have hit Jackson a little harder than others.

J.R. Smith — the ex-Knick Jackson traded away in a salary dump last month — torched the Knicks for 17 points and four assists in the blowout. Smith hooked up with Iman Shumpert — the fourth-year guard Jackson sent to Cleveland in the same trade — for an eye-popping alley-oop in the fourth quarter that is sure to make all the highlight shows.

The Knicks, on the other hand, couldn’t muster any highlights for their home crowd. They fell behind by 19 in the first quarter and shot just 37 percent from the floor overall, including 3-for-19 (16 percent) from beyond the arc.

New York is well on its way to establishing the worst record in franchise history (the previous mark is 21 wins).

It’s been a nightmare season for Jackson, who stated publicly at the beginning of the season that he believed the Knicks were a playoff team.

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No. 2: Emotional Heat rallying behind Bosh, Dragic — Chris Bosh‘s season is over. His Miami Heat teammates digested that blow during an exhausting long weekend (from the trade deadline through a weekend loss to the New Orleans Pelicans). And now they have begun the process of trying to recover emotionally from the news that the blood clots in Bosh’s lungs will change all of their lives to welcoming new point Goran Dragic and trying to salvage this season with a playoff berth. They will find out what they are made of this season, what with all of the adversity they will have dealt with by the regular season’s end. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald provides some perspective:

After an emotional 55-hour whirlwind in which Miami split back to-back games, acquired a former third-team All-NBA point guard and learned that All-Star forward Chris Bosh will miss the rest of the season with blood clots in his lungs, most Heat players resisted any temptation to exhale or enjoy a lazy Sunday morning.

Instead, they convened at AmericanAirlines Arena for a voluntary on-court session designed to expedite the acclimation of new Heat point guard Goran Dragic, in advance of Monday’s home game against Philadelphia.

“One of my biggest priorities will be to make Goran feel comfortable as soon as we can,” coach Erik Spoelstra said Sunday afternoon at the Heat’s annual Family Festival. “That’s why we came in… [for] an optional workout that most of the guys showed up to.

“We’ve had to do this already, three, four, five times, where we’ve had to try to get organized with a different lineup, and we’ve become pretty efficient in fast-tracking that process. How long that will take for him, I don’t know, but it’s a priority for me. He’s a high-IQ player. He’ll be able to pick thing up quickly, find out where he can be aggressive and help the team, and that’s what [Sunday] was about.”

Dragic bemoaned his Heat debut Saturday in which he scored 12 points (all in the second half) and shot 4 for 11 with one assist and one turnover in 33 minutes in Miami’s 105-91 loss to New Orleans.

“It was tough. Sometimes you didn’t know where to go,” he said.

Spoelstra noted that “much of our plan early in the season was built around either Chris Bosh or Josh [McRoberts] having the ball in their hands and facilitating the next action. Obviously, that is a big change now.”

On Saturday, Spoelstra at times experimented with a smaller lineup with Luol Deng, Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers paired with one natural power-rotation player.

“It gives us an opportunity to make some plays off the dribble,” Spoelstra said. “As we move forward, we’ll find out if that’s something I go to more. It wasn’t necessarily successful [Saturday]. The alternative wasn’t necessarily successful, either, so I can’t really gauge that right now. But I can certainly see that being a strength of ours, having three guys that can make plays.”

Dragic was often at his best for Phoenix when he pushed the ball and played at a faster tempo. He now joins a team that was last in the league in average possessions per game. So does Spoelstra want to play faster?

“The team will tell us ultimately, but we want to play to his strengths,” Spoelstra said. “We have to defend. We have to be able to play off of misses.”

Regarding the Heat’s pace, Dragic said: “I talked with coach, and I want to play a little bit faster. But it takes time, of course, because last year with LeBron [James], all those guys played fast, but with all the situations with the injuries, coach put that system in that’s slow. Everyone needs to adjust. First of all, I need to adjust to all the players because I’m new here.”

Wade said Sunday he would be “fine” with running more: “When a team misses, let’s get out and see if we can get in transition and get some easy buckets. I need some easy buckets, especially right now to get my rhythm back.”

Wade loved the trade for Dragic but admits “I have to get used to a guy that can create so much attention by putting the ball on the floor. I’m normally that guy.

“It was different when LeBron was here because I was in a different place on the court. Now I have to kind of get used to playing with him and vice versa. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to take some trial and error, but I think we can make it up with his ability to attack and finish. It’s going to be good for us. He’s dynamic.”

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VIDEO: Russell Westbrook’s not a point guard, huh?

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No. 3: Westbrook takes control in Oklahoma City — The question has lingered for years, whose team is it anyway in Oklahoma City? Kevin Durant is the MVP, the star of stars. But Russell Westbrook has always been their emotional leader, the guy who makes them go, even when Durant is on the floor and healthy. Now that Durant is sidelined again with foot soreness, Westbrook has taken complete control of the situation and is driving the Thunder up the standings. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman has more:

A fabulous first quarter was quickly coming undone.

Six empty possessions, marred by four missed shots and two turnovers, to start the second quarter were all Scotty Brooks needed to see. All the momentum the Thunder had constructed in closing the opening period on a 24-6 run was being squandered before his eyes. An 18-point lead had been trimmed to 12.

And so Brooks did what any sensible coach would do.

He reinserted Russell Westbrook.

And Westbrook proceeded to do what he’ll need to do for at least the next week while Kevin Durant recovers from a second surgery on his troublesome right foot.

He dominated play.

Westbrook scored a game-high 21 points, tied his career high of 17 assists and added eight rebounds to lead the Thunder to an authoritative 119-94 win over Denver on Sunday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“He was nearly flawless,” Brooks said.

With four new players added at this year’s trade deadline and, more importantly, news of Durant being out at least one week after undergoing surgery Sunday to place a new screw in his foot to alleviate chronic soreness, Westbrook will have to be at his best in the weeks ahead.

If Sunday was any indication, Westbrook is up for the challenge.

One night after posting 33 points and 10 assists in a win at Charlotte, Westbrook was even better against the Nuggets.

He made 8 of 12 shots and turned the ball over only twice, the first of which didn’t come until 9:41 was left in the third quarter.

“I’m just trying to do a better job of leading, man,” Westbrook said. “That’s my job is to integrate the new guys and lead them into the direction of where we want to go.”

Westbrook was sensational in that second quarter.

That’s when he racked up 10 of his assists after retaking the floor with 8:40 left in the period. It was in that stretch that Westbrook put on the kind of rare passing display that the best point guards regularly use to dominate a game without even shooting.

“I just don’t dominate the game scoring,” Westbrook said, smiling.

Westbrook hooked up with five different teammates during those final nine minutes, making each of them threats and the Thunder a nightmare for the Nuggets to defend.

By the time he was done, Westbrook had scored or assisted on 29 of the Thunder’s 31 points in the period. The Thunder ended the frame on a 31-18 run and took a 25-point lead into the locker room.

Westbrook attempted only two shots in the second quarter. Both were 3-point tries. And he made both.

“I think it’s great not just for myself but good for the rest of my teammates,” Westbrook said of his playmaking. “I think they feel comfortable about their game. I can get mine and take shots when I have the opportunity. But I think it’s great for them to have open shots and open looks and feel great about their game. And as you see it works out for us.”

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No. 4: Fire still burns for Scott (and Bryant) in Lakers-Celtics rivalry — Don’t tell Lakers coach Byron Scott the NBA’s bi-coastal cold war is over. He is still caught up in the Lakers-Celtics rivalry from decades ago, the one he played a major part in as a player.  When two of the most storied franchises in all of sports are down and out simultaneously, the folks on the inside have to find motivation wherever they can get it. For Scott, whose star Kobe Bryant is down for the season, that means keeping the fire burning in terms of his disdain for the Celtics. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com explains:

The players and coaches that made the Lakers-Celtics rivalry one of the most storied in sports history are nearly all gone now.

The only one left, on the court anyway, as the two teams met at Staples Center on Sunday was Byron Scott, whose disdain for the Boston Celtics as a Los Angeles Lakers player in the 1980s has carried over to his time as a Lakers coach.

“Probably not,” Scott said Sunday when asked if he could have coached the Celtics. “Seriously. Probably not, coached or played for them. I couldn’t be like Rick Fox and played for both.”

When they reminisce about great Lakers and Celtics games in history, Sunday’s game will be nothing more than a forgotten footnote. A momentary blip in the radar as both teams attempt to quickly rebuild into the championship contending teams again.

The only two that probably felt like Sunday’s game had any added significance was Scott and Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations.

“It’s probably more of a rivalry between Danny and me than the guys in the locker room,” Scott said. “He’s in the front office sitting there probably saying if we don’t win another game, let’s beat them. The guys in the locker room probably don’t understand the history of the rivalry between these two franchises and that’s unfortunate. … It’s the best rivalry in all of sports.”

The chances of the Lakers and Celtics ever rekindling the decade-long magic they had in the 1960s and 1980s are pretty slim in the current NBA. It’s more likely they could get together for a three-year reunion like they enjoyed from 2008 to 2010.

“Guys jump up and move around so much so often nowadays, Scott said. “They don’t have the same type of loyalty that we used to in those days with one organization.”

The one player who does is Kobe Bryant, who is going into the last year of his contract with the Lakers next season, which will give him an unprecedented 20 seasons with one team.

Bryant told the “Grantland Basketball Hour” on Sunday that he isn’t looking for a Derek Jeter-like farewell tour next season and isn’t even sure if next season will be his last. Scott this week even raised the possibility of Bryant playing a season or two past his current deal depending on how he looks.

No matter what Bryant decides to do after next season, he will play a big role in the Lakers’ plans at recruiting free agents this summer and getting them to believe that the Lakers are not far from becoming a contending team again if they came on board.

“I think Kobe still has that pull and it’s an attraction for guys,” Scott said. “I think this organization speaks for itself as far as what we’re all about and that’s an attraction in itself.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Portland Trail Blazers’ fourth quarter troubles could be paralysis by analysis … Don’t look now, but the Indiana Pacers are warming up at just the right time … Every move made and the analysis to go with it from NBA.com’s Trade Tracker … The new-look Pistons look ready to rock

ICYMI:  Admit it Knicks fans, this is one of those times when you actually miss J.R. Smith …


VIDEO: J.R. Smith goes showtime at the Garden

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reunion for Wolves, Garnett? | Jerome Kersey, Blazers great, RIP | Kanter not signing Jazz tune on deadline | Ainge and Celtics will take your calls

No. 1: Reunion for Wolves, Garnett? — He spent the meat of his certain Hall of Fame career in Minnesota, often frustrated, always brilliant, and in the end was thrilled to leave. Now, well in his twilight, and perhaps staring at the end of the road, will Kevin Garnett‘s journey finish up where it started? On the eve of the trade deadline, there apparently is enough of a thaw, at least on the Wolves’ end, to make this happen. The Wolves have struggled since Garnett left, never making the playoffs or having a winning season. And of course, they’ll struggle even if they bring him back for a curtain call because they’re loaded with young players. But from a sentimental standpoint, this would be heartwarming. Garnett remains a sports icon in the Twin Cities and the applause for him in a Wolves uniform would be thunderous. But nothing happens unless he wants it to happen. He must approve any trade, and with precious little left in the tank, wouldn’t Garnett rather be someplace warm and with a chance to win a title, like, with old friend Doc Rivers in LA? Anyway, here’s Marc Stein of ESPN:

Garnett has insisted in recent weeks that he is not in the market for an in-season exit from Brooklyn, largely because he does not wish to displace his family ‎in the middle of the season.

But the Wolves, sources say, are hopeful that the chance to play out what might be his final NBA season as a member of the team that drafted him out of high school in 1995 — and under longtime coach Flip Saunders — could lead Garnett to reconsider. Such a trade, of course, would also mean the hypercompetitive Garnett has to leave the Eastern Conference playoff race to join a team at the bottom of the West.

Saunders remains close with Garnett and is said to covet a reunion to bring back the most popular player in Wolves annals as a mentor to the many youngsters on the current roster, headlined by 2014’s No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins.

And in Young, Minnesota possesses a player the Nets have coveted for some time. Brooklyn GM Billy King drafted Young in Philadelphia and would presumably welcome his addition now as the Nets try to fortify their roster in search a playoff berth in the East.

The Los Angeles Clippers and coach Doc Rivers have been openly hoping Garnett would seek a buyout from the Nets before March 1 to become eligible to play in the playoffs for another team. But Garnett has left the impression he has little interest in a buyout.

“I haven’t thought too much of my own personal [situation],” Garnett recently told Nets beat writers. “When that road comes, I’ll cross it and I’ll deal with it. A lot of things with [my] family situation and things, it’s not just convenient to get up and move, to change things. It’s not as convenient as it once was when I was younger. I have a lot more responsibilities and things to take into account.”

In the same interview, Garnett insisted he was all-in with the 21-29 Nets, despite the fact that close friend Paul Pierce left Brooklyn over the summer to sign in free agency with the Washington Wizards.

‎In November, Garnett told Yahoo! Sports that he wants to buy the Timberwolves someday. But he has said little about how much longer he intends to play beyond this season, which is Garnett’s 20th as a pro.

*** (more…)

Blogtable: Future title team in East

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: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEOBrandon Knight has proven vital to the Bucks’ revival this season

> If you had to pick which Eastern Conference team will be closer to an NBA title in three years, who would you pick: Bucks, Celtics, Sixers or Knicks?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Milwaukee. New York will buy stars, Boston has tradition, Philadelphia is rounding up high draft selections, but I’ve seen up close the changes in the Bucks culture with Jason Kidd and his staff on board. Kidd isn’t a great media guy but he apparently clicks with those in his locker room. The Bucks have several boxes already checked if they keep their guys (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker at forward, Brandon Knight in the backcourt), and more depth than the other three. This isn’t the old Milwaukee culture, either; new ownership has lit a fire under this franchise, with grandiose plans that center on a championship-contending team in a sparkling new arena, with retail and residential development and on and on. The Bucks are thinking of themselves as the little franchise that can.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThis is like asking which three-legged horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby in 2018. Of course, in thoroughbred racing so much is about bloodlines. So without counting in a lottery win by any of the teams this season, I’ll saddle up with a Sixers roster that in three years could include a healthy core of Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric and Michael Carter-Williams and have the potential of Secretariat. With a foundation of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the continued good work of coach Jason Kidd, the Bucks will have a California Chrome chance. In three years, Danny Ainge’s master plan for the Celtics that began with Brad Stevens as coach could have his team looking like Smarty Jones. And the Knicks, well, that’s why they have glue factories.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Bucks. I don’t know that I would have said that at the start of the season, but Milwaukee has proven that it has the best building blocks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker showed they are real building blocks, not potential in the distant future. They are both better — based on what we saw from Parker in the court, not on his game at this very moment — than any prospect on the other teams you mention. The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, but if the topic is three years from now, ‘Melo may be hanging on. Ask again in mid-July. If Joel Embiid looks good in summer league and the 76ers have a good draft and/or add a veteran contributor in trade or free agency, I could see Philly getting close to the front of the line.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Bucks, only because I can see more evidence of them turning the corner right now than the Sixers, Celtics and Knicks. The Bucks have at least 2 players with high ceilings, Giannis and Jabari Parker (assuming he returns OK) and a few others with decent ceilings (Khris Middleton, John Henson, Knight). They also own their picks and Jason Kidd seems like he’s made for coaching. Man, if Larry Sanders starts taking his maturity pills … 

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Bucks. They have two young stars – Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker – with high ceilings, more length and athleticism beyond those guys, and a defense that already ranks in the top five. I do like the potential of all the young guys the Sixers have already acquired (with one more top-seven pick on the way), and coach Brett Brown has proven that he can coach defense, too. But there are still more questions to be answered in Philly than there are in Milwaukee.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There is so much that could happen between now and the next three years. Milwaukee appears to be closer than the others to the playoffs, but there is no guarantee they will be anywhere close to sniffing a NBA title. Based on history alone and Danny Ainge’s penchant for rolling the dice on smoething big on the trade and free agent front, I’m going with the Celtics. You have to take risks when you’re talking about contending, and no one is more willing to do that than Ainge.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Based on what we know today? It will be the Bucks. They have a young emerging (and inexpensive) roster with at least two future stars and new owners who are promising to adorn their franchise with the best of everything. The big question is whether the owners will be wise enough to recognize what they have in GM John Hammond – or will they want to hire their “own guy?” (If it turns out to be the latter, then I’ll retroactively change my pick to the Celtics.)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Milwaukee. Only because the Celtics, Sixers and Knicks are all rebuilding with no clear direction to where they are going. At least the Bucks have their core of Giannis, Brandon Knight and, when he gets healthy, Jabari Parker. They have a coach who has shown he can communicate with these players, and new ownership committed to raising everyone’s circumstances. One of these other franchises may come across a pot of gold eventually, but right now they’re still searching for the ends of their rainbows.

Rondo on the move to Dallas


VIDEO: The Inside crew talks Rondo

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Forget February’s trade deadline. Rajon Rondo didn’t even make it to Christmas.

The Boston Celtics agreed in principle to trade Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks for Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder and perhaps most important two future Draft picks, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

Rondo went into this season as one of the most likely All-Star caliber players to get moved at the deadline. The idea that a former All-Star and NBA champion would be comfortable sticking around for the arduous rebuilding project underway in Boston always seemed far-fetched. And yet both Rondo and Celtics boss Danny Ainge repeatedly dismissed trade chatter in training camp and earlier this season.

But with the Celtics’ season already destined for another trip to the lottery and the Mavericks recognition that an upgrade at point guard would give them a significant boost in a Western Conference race that is there for whatever team is willing to take the risk to chase it, grabbing Rondo seems like a no-brainer.

Pairing him with Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis gives the Mavericks one of the most talented and potent starting fives in the entire league.

Rondo is, or better yet, was, the last remaining member of the starting five from the Celtics’ “Big Three” championship team of 2008 — a group that included of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins.

UPDATE (12:04 AM): Rondo hits Twitter to thank his Boston fans and say hello to his new fans in Dallas …

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 11


VIDEO: LeBron touches on Heat-Cavs in Rio and comments from Wade, Bosh

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron surprised by Heat talk | Parker: “I’m still hungry” | League plans aggressive marketing campaign | Ray Allen isn’t a lock for Cavs?

No. 1: LeBron caught off guard by former teammates’ comments — The Big Three that won two titles and played in four consecutive NBA Finals doesn’t seem so chummy anymore. Remaining Heat players Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have had some interesting things to say about what it’s like to play with the King while the Heat and Cavaliers are both in Brazil and will play an exhibition game Saturday. Apparently LeBron James has been surprised by their words. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal has the story:

RIO DE JANEIRO: Maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise to LeBron James that his former Heat teammates are upset at his departure. After all, he went through this the first time he left a team.

When James bolted the Cavs for Miami in 2010, Daniel Gibson and Mo Williams were two of the most hurt and outspoken about it. Gibson implied his friendship with James was over, and Williams appeared in front of the media before James’ initial return game to Cleveland wearing a Boston Red Sox jacket — the one and only time he wore a Sox jacket in all his years in Cleveland. Even those within the Cavs organization took it as a subtle jab at James, who is a big Yankees fan.

Now that James has spurned his Heat teammates to return to Cleveland, the bitterness has shifted to the other side. James said Friday he was caught by surprise by some of the comments from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in recent days.
“I know a lot of words have been coming out of their camp as of late, and some of it is surprising,” James said Friday prior to the Cavs’ practice at Flamengo Club. “We’ve got so much history together.”

The three stars guided the Heat to four consecutive Finals appearances and two championships. But Wade recently said last season wasn’t much fun and Bosh earlier this week said he hasn’t spoken to James since he left and he doesn’t have time for guys who aren’t on his team.

Bosh has since clarified those comments, but he also told Bleacher Report this week that Kevin Love will have to make a huge adjustment playing alongside James.

“It’s going to be very difficult for him,” Bosh said of Love. “Even if I was in his corner and I was able to tell him what to expect and what to do, it still doesn’t make any difference. You still have to go through things, you still have to figure out things on your own. It’s extremely difficult and extremely frustrating. He’s going to have to deal with that.”

Bosh explained how dramatically he had to change his game to adapt to playing alongside James, essentially cutting out his inside game to leave room for James and Wade to operate.

“It’s a lot more difficult taking a step back, because you’re used to doing something a certain way and getting looks a certain way,” Bosh said. “And then it’s like, ‘Well no, for the benefit of the team, you have to get it here.’ So even if you do like the left block, the volume of the left bock is going to be different.”

There is merit to Bosh’s claims. He sacrificed the most of his game during the Heat’s Big Three era. But losing James clearly cripples the Heat’s odds at another deep playoff run, which could easily explain any lingering frustration among those teammates left behind.

By tipoff Saturday night, the Cavs and Heat will have spent more than 100 hours together in Rio, yet neither James nor the Heat players made any effort to see each other off the court this week.

While a handful of Cavs players joined a few Heat players on Thursday for a joint NBA Cares project, James was not one of them. Friday’s schedule provided a huge window between practices, so the Heat (which cut practice early) were long gone before the Cavs arrived at Flamengo Club.

“We don’t dislike each other or anything like that, it’s nothing like that,” Bosh said Friday. “On the court, he’s about the Cavs, we’re about the Heat. That’s where it ends.”

***

No. 2: Tony Parker isn’t satisfied yet — In a wide-ranging interview with Yahoo! France, Spurs point guard and four-time NBA champion Tony Parker talks about becoming a father and getting married, says he feels great physically and that it feels like he’s living a dream. Pounding The Rock delivers the translation of the French interview:

Question: You’re a father now, how has it changed your life ?

Tony: It changes your priorities so you don’t look at your life the same way. I’m very proud that he’s [Josh Parker] here and I hope that we’ll help him to grow up and be a good person.

Question: Do you take part in the parental tasks?

Tony: Yeah, sure. I am a father who’s involved in all the tasks. I like to help with the diapers, all of that… I like to be aware of what’s going on.

Question: You also got married. Is this important for you?

Tony: I think it is important for your balance. I’ve always been well supported. There’s always support behind every top sportsman from their family and friends…You can’t succeed all alone. I have always been very close to my family and it’s been important for me to have my parents and my brothers by my side throughout my career.

Question: How can you stay a bit French, which we’re proud of, considering that you’re more and more American?

Tony: I regularly come back to France to play with the national team, to work with my sponsors, or to help with my foundation. I’m also an ambassador for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. I host my basketball camps in Fécamp, Normandy, which is the place where I started to play basketball. I always have a foot here.

Question: You’ve become a symbol of success in France. How do you handle that?

Tony: I always try to be a good representative of my country in the United States. You know, I left when I was a very ambitious 19 year old with “The American Dream.” I’ve always been a big dreamer. I’ve always had an entrepreneur-like approach and I wanted to succeed both on and off the court. I wanted to be an ambassador for French basketball.

My idol growing up was Michael Jordan. He was the perfect example for succeeding on and off the court. So at my level – of course I’m not going to compare myself to MJ – I want to do the same for French basketball.

Question: What is the reason for your success? Work?

Tony: I don’t want to sound too cliche, but yes, you’ve got to work hard. You have to be disciplined, take care of your body and watch what you eat. All of the things that you’re told about when you’re trying to become a pro athlete, all of that is true. There are many guys who are very talented but not disciplined enough. Partying too often is an example. There are many little things that can make the difference between a good career and a great career.

Question: At 32, sports wise, where do you think you are? At the top?

Tony: I feel really good physically. I don’t feel like I’m getting old or like I’m slowing down. I’m still hungry, even though I have won everything in my career. I want to continue to be challenged, and with the Spurs, we’ve got a great challenge now: try to repeat, which we have never done.

With Team France, there’s the Eurobasket 2015 tournament and getting to play it in your home country is huge. Defending the title is not going to be easy. And then, there’s an Olympic medal. For me, the perfect ending would be to win the European championship in France in 2015 and meet the US in the Olympic finals in 2016. That would be great.

Question: Do you feel like you’re still improving, or like you have reached your apex?

Tony: I feel like I reached the apex. Basketball players are commonly thought to have their best years between 28 and 32. Because you have the experience but you’re still strong and fast. So I think I reached the apex. Then, you can always try to improve, to become a better shooter, a better defender.

Question: Frankly, when you think about it… Four NBA titles [is quite an achievement]

Tony: I can hardly believe it. Sometimes I must pinch myself because I feel like I’m living a dream. When I see the names I have surpassed on the various lists – best scorers, best passers…and all of the things I’ve accomplished with Tim, Manu and Popovich…It feels odd.

***

No. 3: Following new TV deal, NBA targets casual fans — The league’s new chief marketing officer says it is increasing the marketing budget and planning to be more aggressive with its marketing to attract a larger fan base. The NBA debuts its new season-long campaign, “Everybody Up” tonight. E.J. Schultz of Ad Age has the inside look:

The National Basketball Association, which recently inked a lucrative media rights deal, will increase its marketing budget as it looks to lure more casual fans, according to the league’s new chief marketing officer.

Some of the new spending will back the league’s season-long campaign, which debuts Saturday and will run on a broader set of networks than in years past, said CMO Pam El, who joined the NBA in August after stints at insurance companies State Farm and Nationwide.

“We are going to be much more aggressive with our marketing. We want to go after a larger fan base,” she said in an interview.

While she declined to reveal spending figures, she said the new campaign, called “Everybody Up,” will run on news and entertainment networks such as BET, CNN, TBS and VH1 “just to name a few.”

The first ad of the campaign (above) is called “Roll Call” and will first air on Saturday during the Miami Heat vs. Cleveland Cavaliers preseason game that will be played in Rio de Janeiro and air on ESPNews. The ad is by Goodby Silverstein & Partners and features narration by hip hop artist Common.

Previously, the league had mostly confined its early-season campaign to ESPN and TNT, which both carry NBA games, Ms. El said. The league will still air ads on the two networks, but “we are going to branch outside of that media to reach not only the avid fan, but also our casual fan,” she said.

***

No. 4: Ray Allen’s still in no hurry to sign — While many assume Ray Allen will play this season and like do so with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge isn’t so convinced. A. Sherrod Blakely of Comcast Sportsnet has more:

BOSTON — You can count Danny Ainge among those not convinced that Ray Allen will sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers … at least not right now.

“Ray can really help them, but I anticipate that Ray will wait and see the landscape of the NBA,” Ainge, the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations, said during his weekly call-in to 98.5 the Sports Hub. “I just think he might wait and see how everybody’s clicking. There’s a handful of teams that would love to have Ray on their team right now that are trying to win a championship.”

In addition to the Cavaliers, Chicago, Oklahoma City and defending champs San Antonio are among the teams that have reportedly expressed interest in bringing in the former Celtic who has won NBA titles in Boston (2008) and Miami (2013).

“He may wait until All-Star break or January,” Ainge said. “And just see what teams are playing well, which teams are the healthiest and which team that he thinks that he might fit in, just in the style of play. With new coaches at some different places, he may just want to see how it unfolds before he makes a decision.”

Ainge, who won a pair of NBA titles (1984, 1986) with the Celtics, said he has no issue with veteran players choosing to latch on with clubs that they believe are title contenders.

“The rules sort of indicate that’s what you can do,” Ainge said. “Ray’s probably, if he goes to one of the contending teams he’ll be making minimum salary. He’s been a max player a couple times in his career. That’s his right, to try and win a championship. It’s just the way the collective bargaining agreement is structured. It’s different than how it was structured back in the ’80s and ’90s. I don’t blame a player like Ray, right now, for wanting to find a perfect fit for him as he finishes his career.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Thunder’s Reggie Jackson left Friday’s game with a wrist injury … Ankle injury will sideline Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving for tonight’s preseason game against Miami in Brazil … Under new TV deal could salary cap reach $100 million? … LeBron still the one most GMs want to start a team … Lakers weren’t good enough to attract Carmelo Anthony … Mavericks guard Raymond Felton left Friday’s game with a sprained right ankle … Spurs forward Boris Diaw can earn an extra $500,000 my maintaining his weight throughout the season … Kevin Durant isn’t interested in giving up guaranteed money as a trade-off to do away with max contracts.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 4


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant — All The Way Back

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron to get some rest | Nash feeling good | Nets for sale? | Kings hire the Dean of basketball stats | Young out with thumb injury | Davis and Asik could sit preseason opener

No. 1: LeBron to get some rest — Over the course of his 11-year career, LeBron James has played about 5,500 minutes (regular season and playoffs combined) more than any other player in the league. That’s the equivalent of an additional 1 1/2 seasons. So, as he approaches the age of the 30 (which he’ll reach on Dec. 30), it’s time for James to dial back on the playing time. As Jason Lloyd of The Akron Beacon Journal reports, the Cavs could take a Popovichian approach this season, giving James some games off:

Throughout his career, James has been a machine who has deftly avoided major injuries. Still, his nagging back issues and high mileage were enough for the Cavs to rest James during Friday’s morning workout, and coach David Blatt said it could lead him to missing games during the season as a healthy scratch.

“Players are here to play and it’s our job to get them ready and keep them healthy so they can participate in every game, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Blatt said. “Sometimes you have to know how to rest guys without the team being at risk. That’s part of the process.”

The proof for such an idea was obvious in June, when an old-but-fresh Spurs team zipped passes over, under, around and through a tired Heat defense in the Finals. Gregg Popovich has strategically picked spots to rest his aging stars the last couple years, once famously eliciting a $250,000 fine from the league for doing it. But the Spurs’ consecutive trips to the Finals, including one championship and nearly a second with an aging roster, is proof Pop knows what he’s doing.

***

No. 2: Nash feeling good — Steve Nash has not been himself the last two seasons. After injuring his leg early in his first season with the Lakers, he has never been able to fully recover. Now, he’s 40 years old and we have to wonder if his career will soon be done. Nash wonders the same thing, but says that his legs feel great right now. Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star spoke to Nash about trying to get a little more basketball out of his body:

And heading into what may be the final season of a brilliant career, Steve Nash feels good again. He doesn’t know for how long; he knows how quickly it could all vanish again. But it’s not over, not yet.

“I was playing soccer, and I went out there and after a few minutes I said, holy s—,” says Nash, on the phone from Los Angeles. “I’m 100 percent. Stop, start, change direction, mobility, explosiveness — I could go as hard as I wanted. So the next step was, is this going to sustain itself? Because I was used to the whole ‘hey, something will happen in the next two weeks that will kind of knock you back.’

“And it never really happened. I just kept going all summer. I never really had a setback. And it allowed me to enjoy the summer in a way I couldn’t the previous summer, where I was rehabbing twice a day for five months, basically. I think it took a little pressure off me, and just a little bit of joy, where it’s life-giving, instead of crumbling.”

***

No. 3: Nets for sale? — Are the Brooklyn Nets for sale, or is Mikhail Prokhorov actually trying to expand his sports portfolio? Both Richard Sandomir of The New York Times and Mitch Abramson of the Daily News confirm the original NetsDaily report that the latter is likely the case.

Sandomir:

Now, Mr. Prokhorov is trying to capitalize as N.B.A. team values soar and new national media contracts with ESPN and TNT that are about to be announced promise a big leap in revenue for each team.

In a complex transaction, he is trying to create a new company by combining his team and arena assets with those owned by the investor group Guggenheim Partners, which bought the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago for $2.15 billion. In his current negotiations — first reported by the NetsDaily blog and confirmed by a person familiar with the talks — the team has been valued at $1.7 billion and Barclays Center at $1.1 billion.

If the deal comes to fruition, Mr. Prokhorov and Bruce C. Ratner, who sold Mr. Prokhorov the stakes in the team and arena, will receive $2.8 billion in cash, stock and potentially other forms of payment.

Abramson:

A source close to Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov screamed “Nyet!” on whether the Russian billionaire would surrender majority control of the team in Brooklyn.

“He’s not a seller,” the source familiar with Prokhorov’s thinking told the Daily News on Friday. “He wants the Nets and he loves the Nets and he wants to be controlling owner. This is something that he really enjoys.”

A flurry of reports surfaced on Thursday describing two potential scenarios involving the Russian oligarch and his holdings in Brooklyn: First, that Prokhorov is interested in integrating his sports and entertainment assets with Guggenheim Partners, the company that joined with former NBA great Magic Johnson to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 for roughly $2 billion.

The second is that Prokhorov is preoccupied with cashing out and selling his stake in the Nets to the highest bidder.

The source said only the first picture is accurate.

***

No. 4: Kings hire the Dean of basketball statsDean Oliver‘s Basketball on Paper is basically the bible of basketball analytics, outlining the “four factors” of efficiency on either end of the floor, as well as other statistical tools to evaluate players and teams historically. Oliver has worked for the Sonics and Nuggets and after three years at ESPN, is taking his talents to Sacramento, as Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee writes, thanks in part to his previous work with Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro:

At one time, Dean Oliver wasn’t widely respected in basketball for his analytic and statistical evaluations.

One of those who took Oliver seriously 10 years ago was Pete D’Alessandro, now the Kings’ general manager.

“I was just trying to get in, and Pete was one of the first people to listen to me,” Oliver said.

This time, Oliver listened to D’Alessandro, who asked him to join the Kings. D’Alessandro introduced Oliver, now recognized as the creator of many of the advanced statistics used by NBA teams, on Friday. Oliver will provide statistical analysis and have a role in personnel decisions.

“He’s going to be a big part of this team in terms of brokering deals,” D’Alessandro said. “His reputation throughout the league is stellar, and his contact base is as big as anyone’s.”

***

No. 5: Young out with thumb injury — The first major injury of training camp belongs to Nick Young and the Lakers. Young injured his right thumb in practice on Thursday, and a MRI revealed “a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament.” Young is set to have surgery on Monday and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks, which would have him missing at least 10 regular season games. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has the story:

Young was injured Thursday while tying to steal the ball from Kobe Bryant at practice.

His thumb swelled up overnight and an MRI exam Friday showed a tear. He will have surgery Monday.

A day earlier, Lakers Coach Byron Scott said Young would have a chance at being the NBA’s sixth man of the year.

And earlier Friday, when the team hoped Young’s injury was only a sprain, Scott wished for the best.

“Maybe I jinxed him, I don’t know,” Scott said. “I’m not going to say anything good about Nick Young for the rest of the year. Maybe that will keep him healthy for us.”

Young apparently smacked his thumb into Bryant’s elbow on the play.

***

No. 6: Davis and Asik could sit preseason opener — The preseason is here! But the New Orleans Pelicans might not be at full strength when they face the Miami Heat in Lexington on Saturday night. Nakia Hogan of the New Orleans Times Picayune reports that Anthony Davis and Omer Asik will get some rest in the preseason:

New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he’s considering holding All-Star power forward Anthony Davis and top offseason acquisition Omer Asik out of Saturday’s preseason opener against the Miami Heat in Lexington, Ky.

Both Davis and Asik, who are expected to be a formidable duo at the power forward and center positions, are healthy. But both are coming off a long summer of activity while playing for their home countries in the FIBA World Cup, which is why Williams is thinking about resting the pair.

Before making his decision, Williams said he’d consult with general manager Dell Demps.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Spurs are heading to Europe to find Boris DiawThe league is bringing back 5-on-5 competition to the Draft CombineWesley Matthews is slowly getting back to work after being sidelined with an irregular heartbeat … A lacerated hand will keep the Suns’ Anthony Tolliver out a few daysPhil Jackson let Derek Fisher do the coaching this weekDanny Ainge doesn’t want Rajon Rondo to rush back from a broken hand … Dirk Nowitzki isn’t yet ready to reveal the skyhook he’s been working on … and you can have LeBron’s Miami house for just $17 million.

ICYMI of The Night: Blazers head coach Terry Stotts talked to Vince Cellini and Steve Smith during Real Training Camp:


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Blazers – Terry Stotts

Blogtable: Rondo’s future in Boston

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: Rondo’s future | Rising in the West | Camp showdown


Rajon Rondo has appeared in only 68 games for the Celtics in the past two years. (Brian Babineau/NBAE)

Rajon Rondo has appeared in only 68 games for the Celtics in the past two years. (Brian Babineau/NBAE)

> You’re Danny Ainge: Why are you hanging onto Rajon Rondo? What would it take for you to part with him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Ainge hasn’t traded Rondo yet because he hasn’t gotten a good enough offer. Rondo is completely out of synch with the Celtics’ current blueprint, in salary, in demeanor, in his career arc. He totes baggage, too, as far as coachability and his freedom to sign elsewhere next summer. This is a job for Ainge’s old buddy Kevin McHale (and McHale’s boss, Daryl Morey). Picks and/or prospects would get ‘er done, if I were Ainge, no marquee names necessary.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: He’s an All-Star level point guard. He’s 28 years old, certainly not at the end of his rope. As you’re trying to build a new generation Celtics team, it doesn’t hurt at all to have a point guard with his talent and experience to show the way. He wants to stay. What would it take? Another All-Star in his prime or a young talent capable of getting there.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: For me, I always hate to part with an All-Star player. I would much rather try to build around that player. It rarely happens where a team trades its best player and gets better. It’s just not a concept I understand. To part with him, I would have to get back a player with clear star potential, such as Minnesota managed to do in obtaining Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I am not hanging onto Rajon Rondo. Definitely not giving him away either, because Rondo has value, but I am absolutely entertaining offers and initiating calls. Marcus Smart is in place as the projected successor (though needing to answer some doubts about his ability to distribute and shoot). Rondo is 28 years old and has championship experience, making him a fit on a team looking to win big now or build into something in a season or two. The obvious hurdles to getting what I want in return are the concerns from other teams over health and the request for a massive payday that will be coming soon. If I’m the Celtics boss, though, and I can get a young-ish starting center as part of the trade package, let’s talk.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Trading Rondo is a lot easier said than done. First, almost every good team already has a good point guard. Second, since Rondo is in the last year of his contract and the 2011 CBA has basically taken away non-rookie-deal extensions, any team that trades for him would risk losing him (and whatever assets they gave up for him) next summer. Third, Rondo made no impact on the Celtics upon returning from knee surgery last season. So other teams should want to see how he looks this fall. Even if he looks great, it would be hard for Ainge to get much in return (while also maintaining his team’s future cap space) for a guy on an expiring deal.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m hanging on to Rondo because I don’t yet know what I have in Marcus Smart, who might be my point guard of the future … I said might. There is no rush for me to do anything where Rondo is concerned. There is plenty of time to work the market and see what an elite point guard in his prime can fetch. Also, I want to make sure and do right by a guy who, no matter what kind of mess we had to deal with when he was coming of age in this league, brought a warrior’s mentality to the building every night. He played through all the aches and pains you could ever ask a guy to play through, so we’re not going to cast him aside for whatever we can get now when we can survey the landscape until the trade deadline and make a shrewd decision for both sides and make sure he lands some place where he can chase his championship dreams in return for a significant piece (or various other assets) that benefits our ongoing rebuilding effort here in Boston.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: If you’re willing to dangle an All-Star level talent on a rookie contract in exchange for Rajon Rondo, I’ll give you my cell phone number. If you’re willing to slide a couple of first round picks my way, I’ll actually answer your calls! Or maybe I don’t answer anybody’s calls because we’re in the era of the point guard which is as good a position to build around as any — you simply have to have a premium point guard to compete these days — and with a bunch of salaries coming off the books next summer, if I’ve got to sign someone to a max deal, why not reward Rajon Rondo?