Posts Tagged ‘Danny Ainge’

Blogtable: Recruiting target for Celtics?

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: Can LeBron pass MJ? | Your view on Dellavedova | Recruiting target for Celtics?



VIDEOIsaiah Thomas’ highlights from his season in Boston

> Boston’s Isaiah Thomas says he wants to be the free-agent recruiter for the Celtics. To whom should he make his first call, and what should he emphasize in his pitch?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Kevin Love. I’m not sure Thomas has any “in” with the Cavs’ power forward but if he does, he needs to work it. Love might be persuaded to make a change, based on this awkward postseason experience – Cleveland thriving despite his absence – and the way Tristan Thompson has solidified his standing with LeBron James, the team and the fans. What’s to like in Boston? A coach (Brad Stevens) who rapidly has earned respect around the league. A solid roster in need of a couple stars. A winning tradition for a fan base that keeps management’s feet to the fire to stay competitive. And the opportunity to play with, not against, Kelly Olynyk, who can arm-bar all the league’s other power forwards besides Love.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: DeMarre Carroll is a two-way player who would help Celtics at both ends of the floor while fitting in as a veteran presences in Boston.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHe makes the obligatory runs at Jimmy Butler, DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Love, but the first real call, the call that has a chance of mattering, to Tobias Harris. Harris has a long future ahead at small forward, making him a good fit in Boston. The others on the phone list will be getting max offers from their current teams and, they will all note, teams that are far ahead in the standings and have championship credentials. Harris could get more money, a bigger role and more wins from the Celtics. In return, one of the underrated players of the league will make them better.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m not understanding how Thomas can be a recruiter. No offense to the guy, who has carved himself a nice niche in the league, but he’s not a franchise player and therefore probably lacks the clout to sweet-talk LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love or any other difference-maker. Anyway, the person who should pick up the phone is Danny Ainge. It’s his plan. 

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Celtics need shooting and rim protection. There are lots of centers on the market, and maybe they can steal Danny Green or Marco Belinelli from a Spurs team that has its initial free agency efforts focused elsewhere? Brad Stevens has built himself as a great coach, so the recruiting efforts could start there. This is a young team that, with the right additions, could make a decent jump in the standings next season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I hope Isaiah has unlimited minutes on his phone plan, because his first call should be the first of many. If he’s looking for blue-collar guys that will fit into the culture coach Brad Stevens is crafting, his first call should be to Hawks swingman DeMarre Carroll. The “Junk Yard Dog” would be a great fit on that Celtics team. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett saw it a few years ago and suggested the same thing to Danny Ainge, before Carroll showed us what kind of player he is. I know the Celtics think they need big-dollar superstars to get back to where they were with the Big 3, but this is not the summer to play that game. Instead, it is time for Boston stockpile the right pieces to get it to that next level. The Hawks, of course, will want to keep their star free agents (Paul Millsap and Carroll). But I’d make them choose which one they’re willing to pay to keep.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Michael Jordan, the greatest of all players, has never recruited a top-flight free agent. Larry Bird, the only man to be awarded as the best player, coach and executive in NBA history, has never recruited a top-flight free agent. The Celtics, who are the winningest franchise in the history of basketball, have never recruited a top-flight free agent. All I can say to Isaiah Thomas is good luck with his recruiting.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: “Hey, Kevin Love? Hey man, it’s Isaiah Thomas. No, the other one. Right, the Boston one. No, no, wait, wait, don’t hang up! OK, first, just know that whole thing with Kelly was an accident. He was trying to keep you from getting the ball and he honestly wasn’t trying to hurt you. Just like Dellavedova — he’s not dirty, he just plays hard. That said, we need you in Boston next season. You can be a third wheel in Cleveland and stand in the corner and shoot threes, or come here and play the way you’re used to playing. Brad Stevens is great, people here will love you, and Tommy Heinsohn will give you so many Tommy points you won’t believe it. So what do you say, interested?”

Morning shootaround — May 26


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 4 of the Western Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron better than Jordan? | No additional discipline for Horford | Warriors breathe sigh of relief | Thomas ready to recruit for Celtics

No. 1: James’ teammates: LeBron closing in on Jordan as greatest ever — The long-standing, never-ending debate over which player in NBA lore — take your pick from any legend, mind you — is the greatest ever is one that will never die. In modern days, the argument seems to settle on who is better: LeBron James or Michael Jordan? Like any debate, the answer is subjective. But according to James’ teammates on the Cavs, LeBron may not be that far from passing Jordan. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

After willing his team to a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals at The Q on Sunday night with an exhilarating performance, a long soak in the cold tub followed.

It took his 12th career postseason triple-double of 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists to place the Atlanta Hawks on the brink of embarking on an extended vacation. He became the first player in playoff history to produce a stat line of at least 37 points, 18 boards and 13 dimes.

His greatness, his dominance can no longer be brushed to the side. There are those who believe his time has almost come.

Michael Jordan’s long-coveted slot as the supreme basketball player in the history of the game is in serious jeopardy of being dropped down a peg.

“The only thing that he’s missing is a couple more championships and then it’s a wrap,” Kendrick Perkins told Northeast Ohio Media Group. “Right now we have arguably the best player to ever play the game. I’m just saying man. I’m not taking anything away from Jordan, but all (James is) missing is titles. A couple of more titles and that’s it.”

Perkins has played with some of the greats in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He grew up watching Jordan play.

“That’s one hell of a debate. Honestly, in my opinion, if it’s not Jordan then it’s him,” J.R. Smith told NEOMG. “It used to be no question. It was a landslide. It was Jordan. Now, you have to consider my boy.”

“Just think about it, truthfully, if he wanted to, he could win the MVP every year,” Perkins said. “Think about that. He averaged 25 [points], 6 [rebounds] and 7 [assists]. That’s absurd, and people are like ‘he had a down year.’ That’s crazy talk. When it’s all said and done, he’ll probably be the best the game has seen.”


VIDEO: Relive LeBron James’ Game 3 triple-double vs. the Hawks

*** (more…)

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?

*** (more…)

Celtics surprised by Rondo’s finish in Dallas


VIDEO: Charles and Kenny are on board with the Mavericks parting ways with Rajon Rondo

BOSTON — Whatever issues led to Rajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle butting heads in Dallas were somehow avoided in Boston with the Brad Stevens.

Stevens, the Celtics coach, admitted to being a bit surprised that Rondo’s time in Dallas seems to have to come to an ugly finish.

Rondo has been ruled out for the remainder of the team’s postseason run, technically by a “bad back.” But his conflicts with Carlisle have been well documented, the latest coming in the Mavericks’ Game 2 loss to Houston Tuesday, when Rondo was benched in favor of Ray Felton and J.J. Barea.

Rondo was solid in 22 games with Boston this season before he and Dwight Powell were traded to the Mavericks for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a trade exception. He averaged 8.3 points and at the time a league-leading 10.8 assists.

“I felt like Rajon had played really well at the start of the year,” Stevens said. “I had coached him during a really tough time for him, simply because last year he was just coming back from that ACL tear and not having any practice, which is really unique, and so it was just a matter of him getting the feel a little bit better. I was around him a lot this summer. I was around him a lot this fall. He had the unfortunate hand break at the start of the season and it put him a little bit behind again. But I thought he played pretty well here, so yeah, I was a little bit surprised.”

Celtics boss Danny Ainge, a longtime Rondo advocate, admitted his surprise at the drama that’s gone down in Dallas in a local radio (98.5 the Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich”) show earlier this week:

“I’m very surprised,” Ainge said. “I thought it would be a good fit for the Mavericks and Rajon. I don’t really know what’s going on down there. I read a little bit (Wednesday) and heard some things, but I’m very surprised. I thought it would work out well for both people.”

“I don’t know what’s going on down there,” Ainge said. “Rajon was terrific here with coach (Brad) Stevens. I think they got along. The whole question is, Rondo was good this year for us. He worked really hard in the offseason. I really did think it was going to be a big year for him, and Rajon just hasn’t played as well, for whatever reason, as he hoped and as we had hoped and as the Mavericks had hoped.”

Rondo will be a free agent this summer, so he’ll have the opportunity to start somewhere fresh for the 2015-16 season. But this residue of this tumultuous season will no doubt travel with him, wherever he goes.

That said, Carlisle and the Mavericks stand by the deal.

Carlisle told a Dallas radio station Thursday that it was a risky move, but one worth taking.

“In the case of anything, there is risk, but there are risks worth taking,” Carlisle said Thursday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. “That trade was a risk worth taking. We all agreed on that. Now, we’re at a point where, hey, it’s time to move on.”

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.”

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.”

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.”

***


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

***

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.”

***

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.