HOUSTON – It was 44 years ago when Don Nelson’s foul-line jumper kicked improbably high off the back of the rim, fell right down through the net and kept all of those celebration balloons trapped up there at the ceiling in the Forum.
That was an ending.
Nelson’s shot gave the Celtics the two-point margin they needed in Game 7 of the NBA Finals for another championship over the Lakers.
Kevin Durant’s shot with 41.9 seconds left on the clock took Nelson’s little tap dance on the rim and turned it into an entire chorus production. The first bounce kicked so high off the back of the rim that it cleared the top of the backboard, then teasingly hit the front rim and then the back rim two more times before sliding down into the basket, a Tibetan prayer wheel offering that was answered immediately.
This was just a beginning.
Before the Thunder get to jubilantly race off a court somewhere to celebrate a championship, there will likely have to be many more nights like this, where they sizzle and fizzle, where they thrive and survive, where they just grind on.
It was the first time in five years — and 440 games — that Durant ran out onto a basketball court wearing an Oklahoma City jersey without running mate and buddy Russell Westbrook at his side.
The lightning rod point guard was back at home watching on TV after having undergone surgery Saturday to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. That means the road to the top of the mountain just got far bumpier and more treacherous.
“It feels the same,” Durant said. “I just go out there on the court, and I knew I had to give it my all no matter what. That’s what I’m going to do for however many games we have to play…I’m going to give it my all no matter what and not worry about missed shot, turnovers or anything.”
But Durant knows that the margin for error just got slimmer than a supermodel’s waist. No more nights when Westbrook and all of his inherent idiosyncrasies and flaws will be able to bail out the Thunder with his bodacious talent and his sheer audacity.
Now there will be far more nights like this one where wilo-’o-the-wisp Durant has to go the virtual distance, getting all of 44 seconds to rest on the bench while putting up 30 shots to equal his career playoff high of 41 points.
Now there will be more nights when the Thunder will have to rely on the combo of second-year Reggie Jackson and 17th year Derek Fisher to hold down Westbrook’s position at the point.
Now there will be more nights when Serge Ibaka has to be the leaping, dominating monster at both ends of the floor with 17 points, 11 rebounds, two official blocked shots and about a dozen more altered.
The Thunder built a 26-point lead early in the third quarter and had to hold on to the final tick of the clock because they’re now missing one of the legs they usually stand on.
“It definitely was an emotional time the last 48 hours,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We all love what Russell is about. The guy has probably the biggest heart I’ve ever been around. He’s done a great job of putting us in this position.”
But now the season-ending injury puts the Thunder in the position of having to, if not reinvent themselves on the fly, at least make a major adjustment. So here they are against an inexperienced No. 8 seed in Houston — the youngest team in the NBA this season — getting burns on the palms of their hands as the rope slips through.
If it wasn’t a case of being physically spent, then OKC had to be mentally exhausted from battling all night to fill in the gaps. Brooks had said before the game that it’s just a matter of getting everybody to do “a little bit.”
However, in playoff games that little bit can become a quite heavy lift.
There were the Rockets, playing with few expectations and not much to lose, roaring back. Here was picking up a loose ball that Kevin Martin seemed to lose as the shot-clock ran down and Ibaka flicking it up over his head and off the glass with 1:25 left in the game. Here was the untested-in-the-playoffs Jackson, standing at the foul line and draining two nervy free throws with eight seconds remaining and then leaping up and latching onto the final rebound of the game when Carlos Delfino’s 3-pointer missed just ahead of the horn.
“We learned Russell was going to be out at practice (Friday),” said forward Nick Collison, “but eventually we have to get over it. You have to be able to move on and play. We’re basketball players and we’re in the playoffs and we have to get ourselves ready to play.
“Our problems were more execution and a lot of that has to do with playing without Russell because we rely on him for a lot on the court.”
It took the Rockets missing numerous opportunities down the stretch — open shots that clanked off the rim and turnovers that were fatal – for the Thunder to escape.
For a team that entered the playoffs with its sights set strictly on playing all the way into June and getting back to The Finals, now each game, every day, each ensuing round will be a challenge.
They will need to learn to get by without the nonpareil talents of Westbrook to pull them out of the fire, get things done with pure execution or enough similar fortuitous bounces as Durant’s improbable 3-pointer, a tantalizing dance-of-the-seven-veils shot that pulled them back from the brink of what could have been a crushing defeat, giving birth to recrimination and doubt.
“The Lord was with us,” he said. “That’s all I was thinking. I knew as soon as that shot hit the back rim, I was thinking, ‘Not again. Tough 3 shot. Maybe I should have drove. Maybe I should have got a foul.’ But it was able to bounce in and all because of the good Lord. I really can’t say too much else about that. I’m glad we made it.”
A happy ending for now. But really just the start of a grind.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Forget about The Finals, for now.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have to worry about getting out of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, now that we know they’ll have to finish the Houston Rockets without one half of their superstar dynamic duo. Russell Westbrook needs surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee and could be out anywhere from four to six weeks, depending on how quickly he recovers.
“We hope [he comes back in the playoffs],” Kevin Durant said. “Our firs thing is to make sure he gets healthy and gets that knee back right. We’re not trying to rush him or bring him back ahead of schedule. We want to make sure he’s healthy and his knee is right. That’s our only concern right now.”
There is a time frame that would allow Westbrook to return later in the playoffs, perhaps late in the conference finals or the start of The Finals.
But again, the Thunder will have to make it that far without the league’s resident iron man. Love him or hate him, no one can question Westbrook’s durability, before now. He hadn’t missed a game during his five-year career, having played in 394 consecutive regular season games and all 45 playoff games the Thunder have played during that same span.
But he won’t be on the floor for Saturday night, joining a long list of game changers who are watching this NBA postseason from the bench of or beyond due to injury. Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Amar’e Stoudemire, David Lee and Danny Granger are all watching their teams toil without them in this postseason. They all serve as human reminders for their peers that your next false step could be your last, of this season.
But none of those aforementioned stars plays on a team that had the supposed inside tack to get back to the conference finals and then The Finals, for that rematch with the Miami Heat. Westbrook’s injury opens the door in the Western Conference for the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers or Memphis Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets or Golden State Warriors to start eyeballing the calendar in early June for a possible trip to The Finals of their own. Shoot, even the Los Angeles Lakers, down 2-0 to the Spurs in their first round series, can start dreaming about doing the unthinkable.
Simply put, the West is wide open now.
“Kevin Durant needs to take the Carmelo Anthony approach,” said ESPN analyst Jalen Rose. “Take around 25-30 shots per game, his team already has a 2-0 lead. The one thing about professional sports, and life for that matter, when opportunity knocks, you have to seize it. So trust me, all of the teams in the Western Conference, their ears perked up today. They feel like they have chance to advance.”
The Thunder earned the No. 1 seed in the West this season but entered the postseason with plenty of worthy challengers who did not plan on the fragile nature of things to swing in their favor with Westbrook’s injury. No offense to Reggie Jackson, Kevin Martin, Derek Fisher or anyone else in a Thunder uniform, but it’s Durant and Russell Westbrook who do the headlining. In fact, the Thunder have never had to work for an extended period of time without both of their stars in the lineup.
Trying to navigate these rough playoff waters with only one half of that devastating combination sounds more like mission impossible for a Thunder team that, truth be told, spent much of this season learning how to operate without the former third member of their superstar crew, Rockets All-Star guard James Harden.
Thunder GM Sam Presti, coach Scott Brooks and Durant all did their part to rally the troops today after the news spread of the severity of Westbrook’s injury.
“Our team as a whole, we’ve got a resilient group of guys, a lot of character within that locker room and a group that enjoys playing together and has been through some adversities over the last several years that they’ve been together.” Presti said. “We’d expect them to adjust, come together and have different guys step in and play well collectively. Once we were able to gather all of the necessary information and everything was accumulated, it was an easy decision for our medical team.”
The decision on how to play in Westbrook’s absence won’t be nearly as easy. The Rockets’ defensive strategy shifts now from worrying about picking between two lethal performers to focusing solely on Durant and daring that Thunder supporting cast to beat them. Westbrook averaged 24 points and seven assists through those first two games while also serving, as always, as the Thunder’s primary facilitator.
Jackson’s been solid in spurts of relief this season. Doing it daily, however, could be more than he’s capable of handling. And even if does acquit himself well in the first round, either Chris Paul or Mike Conley and their teams, will be waiting on the Thunder’s replacement for Westbrook in the next round.
Durant insists that the Thunder’s “Next Man Step Up” mantra applies in this case, just as it does any other.
“We have good depth on our team,” Durant said. “Reggie Jackson is ready for the moment. He has been working his tail off ever since he got here. So he’s ready for this. We just have to rally behind him and know that we have to give him confidence, because he’s going to make mistakes like everybody else. But we just have to keep encouraging him.”
All the courage and encouragement in the world won’t make Jackson into Westbrook. Their is certainly survival after losing a superstar. The Lakers (Kobe) and Celtics (Rondo) are proof of that much.
But we’re talking about a team focused on competing for championships, not just surviving.
“It doesn’t matter who we throw out there. We’re a 15-man team and we still are, even with Russell being hurt,” Brooks said. “We’re a 15-man team and everybody believes in each other and that’s what you have to do. You don’t win in this league with one player. You don’t win with five or six players, you win it with your team. We talk about that and we believe in the things that we talk about. We don’t jus throw it out because it looks cool on a t-shirt or a billboard. We believe in each other, we believe in what we do and we take pride in it and we’re proud about what we do.”
We’re all going to find out exactly what the Thunder do when they are forced to play a man down.
OKLAHOMA CITY – The San Antonio Spurs lost their grip on the West’s top seed Thursday night and potentially much more.
All-Star point guard Tony Parker couldn’t continue in the Spurs’ 100-88 loss to the Thunder due to an unspecified injury to his leg. Limping on his left leg in the locker room, Parker, playing well since recently coming back from a sprained left ankle, wouldn’t expound on this new injury, although a solemn coach Gregg Popovich seemed to be bracing for the worst.
“I’m really concerned about Tony right now after seeing his situation tonight where he just had to stop,” Popovich said. “My feeling is tendinitis, something in his shins or whatever, from the way it looked on the court. But I don’t know.
“I got to see what’s going on. I got to see what the deal is. We thought he had just kind of recovered from his ankle, so this was something new tonight with his leg. I just don’t know what it is right now.”
Popovich yanked the sluggish Parker for good after he noticed him limping through a two-plus-minute stint early in the fourth quarter, leaving crunch-time duty to rookie Nando De Colo. Parker played 26 total minutes, just 10 in the second half, and finished 1-for-6 from the floor for a season-low two points that snapped a 56-game streak of scoring in double figures.
Thursday’s game was just his seventh back from the sprained ankle and he’s been playing through the remnants of a bone bruise in the ankle among other nagging injuries. He scored 25 points with five assists Monday night at Memphis and sat out Wednesday’s game against Orlando, listed on the injury report with a sore left ankle.
“I just have to get healthy,” Parker said. “I’m not going to talk about all my stuff. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on. I just have to get healthy. OKC, give them a lot of credit. They just beat us tonight.” (more…)
DALLAS – The NBA Developmental League is designed to develop young talent to one day be NBA-ready. But, hey, if it helps revive an old vet’s career along the way, what’s the harm?
See Mike James.
The Utah Jazz on Sunday night saw all they wanted and more of the 37-year-old fireplug point guard who refuses to stop believing just because NBA general managers did. James carved up the Jazz for a season-high 19 points and five assists to help his Dallas Mavericks to a 113-108 victory that put them in a tie in the standings for ninth place with the wheezing Jazz and two games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot in the West
James survived two 10-day contracts and earned his keep for the remainder of the season. And he’s hardly been just a passenger as he was last season when the Chicago Bulls picked him up and never found a use for him. James came to Dallas and rather quickly supplanted Darren Collison as the closing point guard. Following a 33-point loss at Houston on March 3, James took his spot as the starter, too.
The Mavs beat the Rockets in their very next game with James finishing with eight points, six assists and one turnover. Dallas is 8-3 sine he became the starter, is just two games off of .500 for the first time since Dec. 20 and is back in the playoff conversation with an April 2 meeting in L.A. against the shaky Lakers.
And the only reason James, a one-time 20-point scorer for the Toronto Raptors, is back in the league — let alone starting for the first time since 2008-09 with Washington — is because he didn’t stop believing and pleaded for one last shot in the D-League. The Texas Legends, the Mavs’ affiliate, gave it to him.
“It was frustrating for me to have to go that route,” James said. “It was frustrating that no team would really give me an opportunity, not because of my skill level, but because of my date of birth. So I just had to prove everyone wrong that what they believe about me, don’t put me in the same statistic as everyone else. So it’s not about living the dream, it’s about this is who I already know myself to be and the things I’ve already prepared myself to be capable of doing.”
In his 33 games with Dallas, James is averaging 6.0 ppg and 2.8 apg while shooting just 36.5 percent from the floor (and 40 percent from 3-point range), so he didn’t earn his playing time by instantly becoming an explosive scorer or playmaker.
Listen to Vince Carter describe what James, a reserve on the 2004 Detroit Pistons title team, has delivered:
“His ability to make shots, he’s been in big games before, he’s been in playoff games before, his toughness,” Carter said. “He’s not afraid to take the shot, he’s not afraid to guard the best player, best guard, whatever the case may be. He’s just very experienced, seasoned, and I think he’s done a great job in taking on the role, and he really brings it in practice. … He’s always ready to play. I recall playing against him and he’s always ready to go. I think that adrenaline can sometimes wear you out, and once he got his legs he had more arc in his shot and he’s just been in an unreal rhythm right now for our team.”
And coach Rick Carlisle, who has granted James — having played 15 games the last three seasons and out of the league entirely two years ago — this new life and finally settled the position after Derek Fisher came and went and Collison couldn’t consistently get the job done:
“The thing I like about him, he’s one of these guys that has great experience and he has great confidence in himself,” Carlisle said. “If there’s blunt things you need to say to him, you can be completely straightforward with him. He’ll take everything the right way, and he’ll keep battling his butt off.”
Most didn’t bat an eye when the Mavs called James up after just a few days with their D-League affiliate, the Texas Legends. Hardly anyone noticed when he got a second 10-day contract and when he was signed for the rest of the season, making it 11 teams (including two stints with Houston) in 11 NBA seasons.
Now, some are taking notice, including Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, who singled out James’ recent contributions before Sunday’s game. More will take notice after Sunday’s performance and as the stretch run heats up. In his 11 starts, James is averaging 10.4 ppg., 4.8 apg and is 24-for-51 (47.1 percent) from beyond the arc.
“This is just who I am, you know, I’m a worker bee,” James said. “Any time somebody’s started giving me credit and loving who I am as a ballplayer it makes me go in the gym even more and it makes me prepare even more because I understand that the only way that they’re giving me the love that they’re giving me is because of what I’m doing on the court. So I never focus on the praise that people give me. I just continue to keep focusing on my work.”
. DALLAS – The Derek Fisher-Dallas Mavericks saga had one last loud go-round Sunday, as the point guard who played nine games for Dallas between Thanksgiving and Christmas was lustily booed when he checked in late in the first quarter.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban led the chorus.
“I’ll just boo him like hopefully everybody else,” Cuban said prior to the Mavs taking on Fisher’s new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Fisher signed with the Thunder in late February, about two months after asking the Mavs to release him from his contract. Fisher said in a statement at the time that he wanted to return to his family in Los Angeles. Fisher, 38, immediately took over as the starting point guard for Darren Collison and averaged 8.4 ppg and 3.4 apg. The Mavs, who have had trouble finishing games all season, were 5-4 with Fisher.
After the 17-year veteran signed with title-contending Thunder, the team he joined late last season, as well, Cuban reacted with sarcasm. He said that Fisher’s kids had time to grow up during the eight weeks between leaving the Mavs and joining the Thunder, and Cuban joked that it’s easier to fly in and out of Oklahoma City than Dallas.
On Sunday, Cuban said that Fisher repeatedly made pitches to him and asked for advice before signing with the Mavs. Cuban said he “took the bait.”
“With his history, I shouldn’t have been surprised with what happened,” Cuban said. “I tried to offer him some help. I thought I offered him some positive encouragement and advice, and then we signed him. I expected a different turnout than what happened.”
After the 2007 playoffs with the Utah Jazz, Fisher asked out of his contract to better deal with his infant daughter’s battle with eye cancer. He later signed a three-year contract to return to the Los Angeles Lakers. Last season, after being dealt from the Lakers to the Houston Rockets, he had his contract bought out and joined the Thunder, who lost to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
After Sunday’s shootaround, Fisher said he holds no hard feelings toward Cuban. He hopes Cuban will eventually feel the same.
“I love Mark and I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he’s done and does in terms of this team,” Fisher told The Dallas Morning News. “There’s no question about how passionate he is for his team. If it was my team and I wanted to win, I would want as many players that I felt like could help me.
“I take [Cuban's criticism] more as a positive thing than a negative. He saw some value I provided and would like to still have me here. But as far as long-term for me, I don’t have any issues with Mark, and hopefully one day, we’ll be able to get past this and have much more things to enjoy and laugh about than the short few weeks here.”
Fisher might be waiting a while.
“It’s not so much what he did,” Cuban said. “It’s how he did it.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With roughly two months to go in this NBA regular season we are still trying to sort through the contenders and pretenders in the Eastern Conference.
Early on the New York Knicks looked like contenders, with Mike Woodson, Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd leading a team capable of competing with the reigning world champion Miami Heat in a playoff series.
The Brooklyn Nets took that baton and ran with it later, digging themselves out of a rut 30 games ago and compiling a 20-10 record under P.J. Carlesimo‘s watchful eye.
These days the Indiana Pacers are looking like the one true foil out there for the Heat, provided they don’t get into any more shoulder scuffles between now and the playoffs (they’ll need Hang Time Podcast fave Roy Hibbert, David West, Paul George, Danny Granger and the rest of their rugged gang in uniform).
We’ll find out which of these three teams, or Atlanta or Boston, are ready to seriously challenge the Heat in the postseason. In the meantime, Howard Beck of The New York Times joins us on Episode 106 of The Hang Time Podcast to help us analyze the New York area members of the group.
We also break down what a real NBA scrap is supposed to look like, Kobe Bryant‘s hilarious Twitter habit (“Amnesty That!”), Derek Fisher rejoining the Oklahoma City Thunder, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski not returning as coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team (Phil Jackson anyone?) and a whole lot more on Episode 106 of The Hang Time Podcast:
DALLAS — On Derek Fisher‘s first day of practice with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn’t miss an opportunity to fire a few shots at his former short-time employee.
Fisher signed a contract with the Mavs in late November when no other teams showed interest and three weeks later Fisher asked Dallas to release him so he could return to his family in Los Angeles. On Monday, Fisher, the NBPA president, resurfaced, signing a deal with the title-contending Thunder, the team he also joined late last season.
“Look, I understand, completely,” Cuban said Tuesday prior to the Mavs’ home game against Milwaukee. “From the time Derek was here to him signing with OKC, his kids are older, so they can deal with things better. So I understand him having more comfort in being away from them.”
Cuban, obviously, had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. But the Mavs organization wasn’t laughing when it learned that the 17-year veteran had signed with the team 200 miles to the north two months after Dallas agreed to release him from his contract on Dec. 22.
“They did not come back and say he’s interested in playing again, do you want him back?” Cuban said.
Cuban also denied that Fisher and the Mavs had a prearranged understanding that a family situation could force him to ask to be released from his contract.
“Any time you sign a vet like that, whether it’s Mike James or whatever, you say ‘Look, if something comes up, health, family, whatever, we’ll always work with you,’” Cuban said. “No, there were no preconditions because you’re not allowed to have preconditions, right? But we always talk to our guys and say, look we recognize with age comes different responsibilities, so we try to be, with anybody, you know, that’s why teams let guys go home on personal days and stuff like that. When your wife has a baby, this generation we let you go home even if it means missing a game. The better way to put it is we always try to be considerate of any player’s needs, but there was no side deal.”
The Mavs signed Fisher on Nov. 29 just as starting point guard Darren Collison was benched and the Mavs had cooled to 7-7 after a 4-1 start. Fisher immediately took over as the starting point guard. They wanted his veteran leadership and crunch-time savvy, an element Dallas has sorely lacked during this disappointing season.
Fisher injured his knee in his ninth game and was granted his release just days later.
At the time, Fisher thanked Cuban and the Mavs organization in a prepared statement, and said he was making a decision to put life ahead of basketball. Although he also said he wasn’t ruling out a return to basketball.
And so he joins a Thunder team just 26 games before beginning a championship-or-bust postseason. OKC has a need for a playoff-hardened point guard to back up Russell Westbrook. Second-year guard Reggie Jackson won the job over Eric Maynor, who was traded to Portland at last week’s deadline.
“I knew that I still wanted to play the game. I knew I still had the love, the work ethic, the passion,” Fisher told repoerters in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. “The injury was a setback. The biggest struggle was for me, even after 16 years (in the NBA), playing in a different city, being away from my family. Those are things that I struggled with. But as I was leaving Dallas, I understood the risks that that could possibly be my last game or my last opportunity.”
By Tuesday, all that was really left for the the jilted Mavs owner was to have a little fun at Fisher’s expense.
“Like I said, his kids are older now,” Cuban said. “It’s easier to fly in and out of Oklahoma City than it is to Dallas. I understand that. It’s just a decision a parent has to make.”
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Fresh off remaining as players union president during All-Star weekend, Derek Fisher’s first initiative apparently was to re-instate himself on an NBA team.
Not with the struggling Dallas Mavericks, the team he bailed on in December and the only one willing to sign him in late November. Fisher signed Monday with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the championship contender he joined late last season that conveniently again has an opening for a veteran point guard with a history of making clutch shots.
If the Rolling Stones had first met Derek Fisher, they never would have recorded “You can’t always get what you want.”
Fisher just keeps on getting.
The 38-year-old southpaw who won five titles in two stints playing alongside Kobe Bryant, signed a veteran’s minimum deal with the Mavs on Nov. 29 on the heels of Dallas benching Darren Collison. Fisher immediately took over as the starter until he asked for and received his release on Dec. 22 so he could spend more time with his family, as he explained in a prepared statement.
Apparently with 26 games left before the start of the playoffs, family concerns are no longer an issue for Fisher, who wore No. 6 for the Mavs because, as he said, he joined them on a quest for a sixth title. “This is not a pit stop,” Fisher told his new Dallas teammates.
Lo and behold, he will also wear No. 6 for the Thunder. He will make his second OKC debut in as many seasons at home Wednesday against the New Orleans Hornets.
So how do the jilted Mavs feel about this turn of events?
Owner Mark Cuban did not reply to multiple emails on Monday, but one league source said the best way to describe the mood of the Dallas front office is “agitated.” The source said that Fisher and his representatives never contacted the Mavs during his decision-making process to discuss a possible return to Dallas, the team that, in good faith, initially signed him.
The source said that Fisher’s departure before Christmas seemed to come out of the blue. Of course, in 2007 when Fisher played for the Utah Jazz, he did have a family emergency in the playoffs. His 11-month-old daughter suffered from cancer in her left eye and required surgery in New York. After the playoffs — where Fisher had an iconic moment in the West semifinals — Fisher asked the Jazz to release him from his contract so he could concentrate on finding the best care for his daughter. After saying, “life for me outweighs the game of basketball,” Fisher would soon sign a three-year deal to return to the Lakers.
The Mavs (25-30) are still determined to make a playoff charge and could use Fisher now just as they did in late November when they were 7-7. Collison has been up and down and coach Rick Carlisle still often turns to 37-year-old, NBA D-League call-up Mike James to run the offense in crunch time.
Dallas is 4 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The club’s brass, coaches and players surely can’t help but wonder if that might be different had Fisher stayed. The Mavs have lacked late-game execution all season. They’re 1-8 in overtime games, 0-1 with Fisher; 2-6 in games decided by three points or less, 1-1 with Fisher.
They were 5-4 overall with him, although in his final game, a win over Philadelphia, Fisher strained a tendon in his right knee and played just five minutes.
Four days later he was out the door. In the same press release that he explained his decision to quit, he said the injury would keep him out only about two weeks.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: When the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay to Toronto as part of a three-team swap, we had our questions before the deal went down as to why Memphis would even ponder such a move. Teams in their pecking order in the West didn’t lose too much sleep over what the Grizz did (the Warriors, in particular, had clear thoughts on the deal) and a 1-3 start to the post-Gay era didn’t engender much hope in Memphis’ future. But as we detail below, Memphis is back to its grit-and-grind self. That makes last night’s Nets-Grizzlies recap as one to watch (particularly if you enjoy seeing Memphis play its unique style of basketball).:
Report: Thunder bring back Fisher — In one of the more surprising trade deadline moves in recent memory, the Lakers dealt stalwart defensive point guard Derek Fisher to Houston last season for Jordan Hill. After Fisher was sent to Houston, the Rockets agreed to a buyout of his contract so he could sign with a contender, which he did, joining the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final 20 games of the season and the playoffs. The Thunder opted not to re-sign Fisher in the offseason and he played nine games with the Dallas Mavericks before being waived on Dec. 22. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that Fisher is headed back to OKC and will sign his deal with the Thunder on Monday:
The Oklahoma City Thunder have reached agreement to sign veteran guard Derek Fisher for the remainder of the season, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Fisher arrived in Oklahoma City Sunday night and will sign his contract on Monday.
Fisher, 38, signed with the Thunder late last season and helped Oklahoma City make its push to the NBA Finals. He joined the Dallas Mavericks early this season and played nine games in December before suffering a knee injury. He asked the Mavericks to release him, so he could spend more time with his family.
The Thunder have room for another guard after trading Eric Maynor to the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday. Reggie Jackson is receiving most of the backup point guard minutes behind Russell Westbrook.
Fisher joined the Thunder last March after the Los Angeles Lakers traded him to the Houston Rockets and he negotiated a buyout. He averaged 6.3 points and 1.3 assists in 20 playoff games for the Thunder last season.
Fisher has remained president of the National Basketball Players Association, which recently ousted Billy Hunter as its executive director.
ESPN.com first reported that Fisher was close to the signing with the Thunder.
Jack praised as Warriors’ leader –For the Golden State Warriors, David Lee is the 2013 All-Star member, Stephen Curry is the thrilling, do-it-all point guard, Klay Thompson is the enticing shooting guard prospect and Harrison Barnes is the high-flying rookie. Although this doesn’t fully encompass the Warriors’ talent base — we’re leaving Andrew Bogut and some others out here — these are the names most think of with the team. But the player who has made the biggest impact for Golden State in terms of leadership, clutch playmaking and veteran know-how is Jarrett Jack. Warriors coach Mark Jackson had nothing but praise for Jack, who was instrumental in Sunday’s win over the Timberwolves, writes Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Jarrett Jack will be praised for giving the Warriors their first fourth-quarter lead with a three-pointer in the final two minutes Sunday and for setting up the bucket 40 seconds later that resulted in a lead they would not relinquish.
Jack actually started leading the Warriors to their 100-99 matinee victory over Minnesota an hour before the game tipped off at the Target Center.
When two of the team’s rookies wanted barbecue sandwiches and fries in the pregame locker room, Jack reminded the first-year players that the game started in an hour. They quietly switched their orders to chicken sandwiches with no fries.
“That’s who he is for us,” Warriors head coach Mark Jackson said. “He’s been a leader, and he’s been a no-nonsense guy with a tremendous voice.”
And Jack has been pretty stinking good on the court, too. Jack had team highs with 23 points and eight assists, provided the Warriors with their only energy in the first half, and then made all of the clutch plays down the stretch.
“We try to have resolve, man,” Jack said. “We’ve got resiliency and fight. The one thing we respect above all is effort, and through it all – the turnovers, missed shots and everything that wasn’t going our way – we still played hard.”
The Warriors (33-23) have won three in a row after a season-worst, six-game skid to move 1 1/2 games back of Denver for the fifth spot in the Western Conference. Seventh-place Utah is two games behind the Warriors, followed by eighth-place Houston (three games back) and the ninth-place Lakers (5 1/2 games back).
It’s a good thing for the Warriors that they were playing the Timberwolves (20-33), who have lost 18 of their past 22 games and 18 of their past 23 against Golden State, and it’s a good thing the Warriors have Jack.
Jack is the NBA’s first player to come off the bench to record at least 23 points and eight assists in consecutive games since Clyde Drexler did it for Portland in 1985-86. Jack is the first Warriors reserve to score 20 points in three straight games since Corey Maggette accomplished the feat in 2009.
“Having someone like coach Jackson and these teammates, who have a world of confidence in me, goes a long way,” said Jack, who said he has never experienced a stretch like this in the NBA. “Confidence is the No. 1 thing in this game. I’ve always believed in myself, but they continuously show that they believe in me to handle the ball at the end of games, giving me big shots and putting me in huge situations.”
On-court stuff is way easier than handling the rookies’ eating habits.
Grizz keep on rolling — Talk of the sky falling in Memphis after the Rudy Gay trade was a popular topic and Memphis, for its part, did little to quell that by going 1-3 immediately after the deal. But if you haven’t been paying attention, the Grizzlies boast the NBA’s second-longest win streak (behind Miami’s 11-game run) with a seven-game win streak. Not surprisingly, the Grizz are getting it done with a healthy dose of defense. As well, one of the players they got in the Gay deal – Tayshaun Prince — has fit in well with Memphis’ defense and was crucial in Sunday nights road win against the Nets, writes Ronald Tillery of The (Memphis) Commercial-Appeal:
There were questions when the Grizzlies’ revolving door stopped spinning — doubts about how quickly and how soon a collection of new players would mesh.
A bit of suspicion even crept in as the Griz began to build a winning streak that is now close to their season-best mark established in November. After all, Memphis’ previous five opponents before Sunday own a combined winning percentage of .354.
However, the Grizzlies’ 76-72 victory over the Brooklyn Nets before 17,098 in the Barclays Center provided more evidence that there still is one constant amid change, quality of opposition and venue.
Like a picture in a frame, the Grizzlies’ defense remains the same. The Griz dominated without the ball when it mattered most as their winning streak swelled to seven games.
“This was a test game to see if we are playing well or not, and to come in and beat a very good team on the road says a lot,” Griz point guard Mike Conley said. “It says a lot about our integrity and ability to step up in big games.”
That, and how stingy the Grizzles can be.
The Nets didn’t score in the final 2:50. Griz center Marc Gasol had two blocks, guard Tony Allen added another and Tayshaun Prince grabbed a steal as the Griz closed the game on a 9-0 run.
No play was bigger than Allen’s block on a shot by Nets guard Deron Williams with the score knotted at 72 and 26.9 seconds left. Williams drove by Allen but was met at the basket by Zach Randolph. Allen recovered to reject Williams’ shot from behind.
“I just had my antennas up and was ready to be aggressive,” Allen said. “And I thank Zach for being there to stop his angle. Once he cocked the ball back I was able to get my hand on the ball.”
Stoudemire stepping up more and more — As Amar’eStoudemire recovered from offseason knee surgery and the Knicks got out to an 21-9 start without him, talk in New York and around the league was how he’d fit in to what New York is doing once healthy. Although the Knicks are 6-6 since Stoudemire returned and had a four-game win streak entering Sunday’s game against the Sixers, New York seems to be working their big man back into the mix. He came through with a solid performance in a win last night and is getting more and more into a flow, writes BarbaraBarker of Newsday:
While he sat out the first two months of the season recovering from knee surgery, many wondered if he ever would be a big-time player again. Their fears seemed to be confirmed when he returned from injury and coach Mike Woodson decided that the best thing to do with him — the best thing to do with the fourth-highest-paid player in the NBA — was to bring him off the bench.
Suddenly, however, it appears to have been a wee bit early to throw Stoudemire into the has-been heap. Since returning from the knee injury on New Year’s Day, he has been getting stronger and stronger.
“I thought Amar’e was solid,” Woodson said. “He was catching the ball on the block, he had a couple of offensive putbacks, he made his jump shots. He did a little bit of everything. That’s what we’re going to need him to do the rest of the way.”
It was Stoudemire’s first 20-point game of the season and even featured a very athletic reverse dunk that thrilled the Garden crowd.
It may have been his best game, but it wasn’t his only important one. Since coming back from the knee injury, Stoudemire has averaged 13.7 points and 5.0 rebounds despite playing limited minutes. And he seems to be getting stronger.
“I’m 100 percent. I feel strong in every aspect,” he said after the game. “I think the limited minutes are great for me so far. It’s keeping me fresh and I feel great.”
Stoudemire was careful and diplomatic Sunday, however, when asked if it is hard for him to accept his role as a reserve when he is playing this well. He said he wants to do whatever the team needs him to do.
Stoudemire did admit, however, that it is difficult to be on the bench at the end of games.
“As long as we’re winning, it’s not hard,” he said. “When we start losing a bit, it gets you thinking about it.”
Pistons’ Knight gets some good news — Pistons second-year guard Brandon Knight suffered a knee injury against Charlotte last Wednesday and many around Detroit were hoping that it wasn’t anything serious. The good news for the Pistons, writes Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press, is that Knight’s MRI came back negative. But the Pistons are also expecting Knight to miss a few games while he recovers from the hyperextended knee:
Pistons doctor Ben Paolucci visited Knight before Friday night’s game with Indiana, but coach Lawrence Frank said he’s day-to-day and won’t play again until he’s 100%.
Knight suffered an injured knee and ankle in the victory against Charlotte on Wednesday and missed Friday night’s game. The MRI showed swelling but no damage.
“He has fluid behind his knee,” Frank said. “You can see it. He can’t really jump, and he just doesn’t have total confidence in it. The MRI, like I said, was more for precautionary reasons. It didn’t show anything other than what we already diagnosed. It’ll be day-to-day. He’ll be taking some medication and just kind of see how he does in terms of trying to get the swelling down.”
Knight said he felt fine before the game as he rushed to the court to put up some shots.
There’s no rush to get him back into the lineup, especially with the way the team is struggling.
Knight had one of his better games against Charlotte when the injury occurred. He finished with 21 points.
“He was in the facility all day today getting treatment and shooting some shots to see how he felt,” Frank said. “They’ll give him whatever medication they’ll give him, but until he’s cleared he won’t be doing anything.”
ICYMI of the night: The healthier Ricky Rubio gets, the more we get to see plays like this amazing behind-the-back dime to Andrei Kirilenko on the fast break … :
Any doubts that this is LeBron James‘ NBA and the other players currently are just participating in it should have been shelved last weekend. No, not by what the reigning Most Valuable Player and runaway favorite again for the 2012-13 award (sorry, Charles) did in the All-Star Game on Sunday, though his 19 points, five assists and three 3-pointers in 30 minutes weren’t shabby.
James made his greater impact the day before, when he led the discussion – some have referred to it as part interrogation, part rallying cry – of fellow union members at which National Basketball Players Association Billy Hunter was relieved of his duties.
Insiders marveled immediately at how forceful both the Miami Heat supertar and Brooklyn Nets veteran Jerry Stackhouse were, among the 35-40 players in the hotel meeting room, in vetting the recent investigation into Hunter’s nepotism and conflicts of interest and in moving the group toward a cleaner, more player-driven organization.
The vote of team player reps to oust Hunter was unanimous, 24-0 (not all teams were represented). The reconfigured executive committee, several of whom stood behind union president Derek Fisher when the outcome was announced, featured a handful of new members (including Stackhouse) along with some holdovers.
But it wouldn’t have gotten to that point in the span of a couple of hours, if not for James and Stackhouse challenging the business audit conducted by law firm Paul, Weiss, then challenging their peers to take the union back.
“It’s a misperception that we try to fight, that this was the first meeting LeBron has attended or this was the first time LeBron said something,” said Miami teammate James Jones, the NBPA’s secretary-treasurer. “LeBron’s always talking about how we can improve our game and the issues surrounding our game. Because he’s one of this league’s brightest faces and brightest stars.”
Star power matters in situations like this, not just when national media is focused on a lockout and collective-bargaining talks. James and other big names such as Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce made their presence in Manhattan known in the fall of 2011, when the NBA was shut down and sliced from 82 games to 66 in 2011-12 before an agreement was reached.
But dealing with internal strife matters, too, as does the reorganization and the strides that can be made during times of labor peace. It’s not just for the 10th or 12th men on NBA rosters (Chris Paul was the only perennial All-Star on the exec committee.)
“I want to be educated,” James told NBA.com late Thursday night, after the Heat’s drubbing of the Bulls in Chicago. “Not only so I’m educated individually but so I can relate to my teammates and my teammates can relate it to their friends in the league. So we all can be more knowledgeable about it and not be caught off guard – that’s what happened. Everybody asks about [the Hunter crisis] and when you don’t have an answer, that doesn’t look good.”
If others were impressed with him, James said he was impressed with Stackhouse, 38 and 18 years into an NBA career that might not continue beyond this spring. The Nets swingman wasn’t just vocal – he accepted a VP spot on the union board. Stackhouse also was working the visitors dressing room at Barclays Center Friday, along with NBPA attorney Ron Klempner, talking with members of the Houston Rockets.
“That shows a lot,” James said of Stackhouse’s commitment. “He’s almost finished with his career and it’s not about him. It’s about the collective.”
Fisher and the other players took no questions from reporters last week after reading a statement of less than three minutes announcing Hunter’s dismissal. But Jones said the 8-0 vote against Fisher last spring, seeking his resignation, was set aside at the meeting when the case against Hunter was made clear to those players in attendance. “What happened in the past is in the past,” Jones said. “Derek is our president and we’re all behind him.”
The Heat reserve also said that it wasn’t true that most NBA players are ignorant of or disinterested in union business until trouble looms. “It’s not like we’re trying to keep 20,000 members involved,” Jones said. “We’ve got about 450 . It’s a misconception that they’re not involved.”
Still, many critics have cited Fisher and others for allowing Hunter’s questionable decisions – hiring family members, directing NBPA investments, paying certain improper expenses and the limited oversight of his contract extension – to occur on their watch. Even Fisher said after the meeting, “Going forward, we’ll no longer be divided, misled, misinformed. This is our union and we’re taking it back.”
That, James said, was his motivation last weekend.
Hunter, 70, is expected to mount a legal challenge, pending the results of criminal investigations into the matter. Or he may simply seek a settlement of the $10.5 million he says is still owed to him. The union might turn to an executive search firm to find a replacement for Hunter, unless Klempner seeks the position permanently and is a consensus choice.
“We haven’t got to that point yet,” James said. “We cleaned our house with the firing of Billy, releasing him. Right now we are getting things in order. But we are not going to take a step back. We’re going to push forward and make sure we have more of an emphasis on the players.
“We feel like that’s something that should be done – the players’ voices mean something. In the past, it wasn’t the players that we heard so much.”
And there’s no better time, with relative labor peace until at least 2017.
“Yeah, that’s why you get started now,” James said. “So at least you have a plan by the time it’s time to talk again.”