Posts Tagged ‘Deron Williams’

Losing a star does not mean losing hope


VIDEO: Flip Saunders talks about trading Love to Cleveland

What next for the Timberwolves was, predictably, damage control. Ads promoting the future that now includes Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the last two No. 1 picks, their own 2014 first-rounder, Zach LaVine, and veteran Thaddeus Young. A catchy slogan — “Eyes on the rise” — to accompany the planned ascension.

Really, though, there was nothing else to do. President of basketball operations Flip Saunders, also the coach, was forced into a trade he wouldn’t have made without a loaded contract to his head, so an outbound ticket for Kevin Love it would have to be. There was something to be said for putting the mess behind them, and Saunders did about as well as could be expected while bargaining from a position of weakness, with the entire league knowing he had to deal at some point, and the Warriors drawing the line in the sand at the toes of Klay Thompson.

There is also the tangible reason for encouragement, the fact the other teams have been pushed down the same dark hole and lived to tell. The Timberwolves can look west to Denver and see that starting over doesn’t have to mean a giant step back. They can turn another direction, southeast to Orlando, and be reminded that losing the best player does not have to equal losing hope.

While each of the major trades forced by players in recent years is unique, depending on time and place, the first days of life without Love should come with knowing that moving an All-Star power forward against their true wishes does not have to be a major hit. The Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony, heard a lot of talk about needing time for the package of prospects to develop, then made the playoffs the same season. The Magic were pressured to offload Dwight Howard, took criticism for passing on what seemed to be the obvious idea of Andrew Bynum as replacement center, and got a better outcome, times a million, with Nikola Vucevic.

Some recoveries have been muddled by additional circumstances. Some have yet to lead to so much as a playoff appearance. But it also shows there is reason to actually keep an eye out for the rise in Minnesota.

TEAM: JAZZ

Player: Deron Williams

Trade: Williams to the Nets for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two first-round picks and cash on Feb. 23, 2011.

Long-term perspective: Utah moved Williams before the situation had a chance to deteriorate into the distraction other franchises had, and would, endure. The Jazz got back to the playoffs the next season, but have mostly gone through difficult times that have yet to lead to a clear direction. They will start this season amid predictions of another lottery finish.

It has not gone unnoticed that the lack of a consistent point guard has been an issue since Williams’ departure, though the arrival of Trey Burke in the 2013 draft and Dante Exum in 2014 has raised hopes that it is a problem of the past. The biggest redemption factor for the front office, strangely, is D-Will himself. He generally has not performed like a max player and was stained by the impression his actions led to the departure of beloved coach Jerry Sloan, so the split, however much of a setback on the court, probably does not feel like much of a loss around Salt Lake City.

TEAM: MAGIC

Player: Howard

Trade: Howard to the Lakers on Aug. 10, 2012, as part of a four-team deal that included Bynum and Jason Richardson going to Philadelphia, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, Arron Afflalo and Vucevic to the Magic.

Long-term perspective: The Howard breakup was different than any other, played out over seasons, plural, and with theaters full of drama that eventually felt like nausea. And when it happened, there was wreckage everywhere. New roster, new coach, new questions about which superstar Magic center in his prime would end up with the Lakers next.

Two seasons later, it doesn’t look so bad. Drama followed Howard to L.A. in some coincidence, reminding people in Orlando what else they were losing, before he left the Lakers for Houston as a free agent. Wanting Vucevic instead of Bynum has turned out to be a genius move and the Magic will open 2014-15 as a possibility for the playoffs. It helps to be in the East, as opposed to the others trying to make the climb, but there is a real future in Orlando. Again.

TEAM: HORNETS/PELICANS

Player: Chris Paul.

Trade: Paul and two second-round picks to the Clippers on Dec. 14, 2011, for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a first-round pick.

Long-term perspective: That hurt Paul too, after the years of building a connection to the city of New Orleans. The team he left behind suffered on the court, with losses piling up, an ownership change, a name change and very little to show in return for the face of the franchise. Kaman and Aminu are already gone, the pick was spent on Austin Rivers — ironically the son of the current Clippers coach — and Gordon has struggled to stay healthy or come close to reaching what once seemed to be star potential.

TEAM: NUGGETS

Player: Anthony

Trade: Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Shelden Williams and Anthony Carter to the Knicks on Feb. 22, 2011, as part of a three-team trade that sent, among others, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, three picks and $3 million to the Nuggets and Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph to the Timberwolves.

Long-term perspective: Denver made the playoffs that season, signaling there would be no post-Carmelo rebuilding, and then built on that by pushing the heavily favored Lakers to seven games in the first round the next year. Coach George Karl loved the spirit of that group, and there would even be a third consecutive postseason appearance.

And then it went wrong. Karl was fired. General manager Masai Ujiri, Denver’s point man for the complicated negotiations, left for Toronto. Gallinari blew out his knee. The Nuggets are an uncertainty heading toward this season, waiting to see how much they can count on Gallinari and prospects, but not because of the trade. That generated forward momentum. It’s everything that happened after.

Long-shot Mavericks make short, straightforward pitch to Melo

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime crew discusses ‘Melo’s Texas tour and what’s next

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – If Carmelo Anthony isn’t all that keen on seeing himself plastered on buildings like a monster-sized Fathead in a uniform he’s never worn and holding a trophy he’s never hoisted, then maybe the Dallas Mavericks’ simplistic approach will give them a chance to land the coveted free agent.

Unlike the red-carpet recruiting jobs that the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday unveiled for their guest of honor, Mavs owner Mark Cuban and his team of recruiters kept their meeting with ‘Melo to old-school basics: A conversation.

“What I can tell you is that we made this purely a business meeting,” Cuban wrote to Mavs fans who follow him on his CyberDust app. “No tours. No banners. All basketball and business.”

Dallas is considered the dark horse in this supposed five-horse race with Anthony’s Knicks, the Bulls, the Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, who get their crack at Anthony on Thursday. On Tuesday he spent eight hours meeting and eating with Bulls brass and players Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.

James Harden, Dwight Howard and even Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler entertained Anthony during his six-hour stay in Houston. The Rockets opted for the special effects, splashing images of Anthony in a Rockets uniform adorned with the No. 7 — that being Jeremy Lin‘s current No. 7 — outside and inside the Toyota Center just as the Bulls had done at the United Center the day before.

Anthony then departed for Dallas, landing at Love Field late in the afternoon. A black limousine whisked him to Cuban’s sprawling Dallas mansion. All-in-all, Anthony was in and out in less than three hours, sparking a round of Twitter jokes of all the things that can’t be done, or take much longer, than the Mavs’ time with Melo.

There was no stopping off at the American Airlines Center to pick out a locker stall or to catch a glimpse at the Mavs’ basement practice court (Dallas remains without an off-site practice facility), or even just to check if maybe somebody had photoshopped him into a blue and white, No. 7 uniform (no word how 2013 second-round draft pick Ricky Ledo would have felt about that).

The plan going in was to sell Anthony on settling for less than a max deal by convincing him that the franchise’s impressive track record under Cuban, the craftiness of coach Rick Carlisle and a roster that includes an aging, but capable Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and now Anthony’s former Knicks teammate Tyson Chandler could deliver him to the promised land quicker than any other team.

The incumbent Knicks can offer New York’s native son the most lucrative contract by a long shot — $129 million over five years. The Mavs as well as any other team can offer four years and a maximum of $96 million. Dallas would have to shed payroll to get close to a starting salary of $20 million.

One way would be for Nowitzki to take less in his own negotiations that are on hold until they get final word from Anthony. Nowitzki, 36, has said all along he plans to take a significant pay cut from the $22 million he made last season, likely in a similar deal to three years, $30 million Tim Duncan signed with the Spurs in 2012.

The Mavs have targeted a big fish in each of the last three summers, failing to land Deron Williams in 2012 and Dwight Howard a year ago. If Anthony makes them 0-for-3, next-tier candidates include the likes of Luol Deng and the Rockets’ restricted free-agent small forward Chandler Parsons, plus the Mavs’ own free agents Devin Harris, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

If time allotted per team means anything, Anthony’s decision will likely come down to the two team’s most expected anyway, his hometown Knicks and the hard-charging Bulls.

Nets move quick, hire proven Hollins


VIDEO: GameTime: Bucks-Nets Coaching Situation

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It didn’t take long for the Brooklyn Nets to find a replacement for Jason Kidd. It’s as if they’ve done this coaching search thing before.

The Nets announced Wednesday afternoon that they have reached an agreement with Lionel Hollins, who will be their fourth coach in the last two years. Avery Johnson was fired, P.J. Carlesimo was never considered to be more than an interim replacement, and Kidd thought that, after half of a season of success, he was ready for bigger things.

Hollins arrives after year off from coaching, which followed a 4 1/2-year stint in Memphis, in which the Grizzlies improved every year.

Grizzlies pace and efficiency, Lionel Hollins’ four full seasons

Season W L Win% Pace Rk OffRtg Rk DefRtg Rk NetRtg Rk
2009-10 40 42 0.488 96.1 8 104.8 17 107.6 24 -2.9 20
2010-11 46 36 0.561 94.5 15 104.4 16 102.5 8 +1.9 10
2011-12 41 25 0.621 93.4 18 101.0 21 98.9 7 +2.1 12
2012-13 56 26 0.683 91.1 29 101.7 18 97.4 2 +4.2 8

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

Hollins’ teams have never been better than average offensively, despite having Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol for most of those four full seasons. The Grizzlies were one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, but they didn’t shoot well. And shooting is much more important than rebounding.

In Hollins’ last season in Memphis, no team made or attempted fewer 3-pointers. When you’re playing Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Randolph at the 2, 3 and 4 spots, you’re not going to space the floor very well.

Last season, Brooklyn ranked 10th or 11th in 3-point makes, 3-point attempts, and 3-point percentage. And that was with a starting guard — Shaun Livingston — who shot 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Livingston is gone and his departure will hurt the Nets’ defense. Paul Pierce, meanwhile, is a free agent. And we don’t know for sure that Kevin Garnett will return for the last year on his contract. Those three and Kidd were Brooklyn’s biggest acquisitions last summer.

So the Nets could be hitting the reset button, going back to their core from their first season in Brooklyn, with Hollins on the bench. Even without Pierce or Garnett, they’d be above the luxury tax line, with only the tax payer’s mid-level exception to use on free agents. That could go to Croatian small forward Bojan Bogdanovic.

No matter what Pierce and Garnett do, Hollins’ success in Brooklyn will depend on the health of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, their two former All-Stars who could still be in their prime, with emphasis on the word “could.”

Williams had surgery on both ankles in May. Lopez had a third surgery on his right foot in January. They will be the team’s biggest questions come October.

The good news is that Hollins can’t get off to a worse start than Kidd, who saw his team go 10-21 in the first two months of last season. If Williams and Lopez are healthy, Hollins will have three guys — Joe Johnson being the third — who can consistently draw double-teams offensively. Their guards and forwards will be able to spread the floor much better than Hollins’ Grizzlies did.

Though offense was the issue in Memphis, defense will be a bigger question in Brooklyn, where Hollins won’t have Allen or Gasol.

This is still one of the more talented teams in the league though. And it’s playing in the weaker conference. Hollins has an opportunity to keep it near the top.

Love wisely takes control of own destiny

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters weigh in on the Kevin Love rumors

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Be mad at Kevin Love all you want. Slap the head off of that bobble-head if it makes you feel better.

But understand this: He’s doing the right thing, forcing his way out of a tough situation in Minnesota. Love has already let the Timberwolves know that he will test the market, meaning that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.

And that means the Timberwolves need to ask themselves if it makes more sense to waste the next few months trying to change Love’s mind or to spend the next few weeks sorting out the best trade option and getting something rather than nothing for the face of their franchise.

Survey the list of superstar and even All-Star talents in recent seasons who have decided they wanted to work elsewhere, and almost to a man each and every one of them found a way out, no matter how ugly the fallout. Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Chris Paul in New Orleans. Dwight Howard in Orlando. Deron Williams in Utah (the Jazz jettisoned him before things got ugly). When a star wants a new destination in this day and age, dating back to LeBron James and his departure from Cleveland, it’s difficult to keep him in the fold.

The Los Angeles Lakers remain one of the only teams to stare down its franchise player, Kobe Bryant, and not buckle to a trade demand (real, admitted to and or imagined)/request for an exit in some shape, form or fashion. Keep in mind they were working with an armored truck worth of cash, a rich championship history and freedom to manipulate the situation in whatever way Bryant wanted as part of their fool-proof recruiting pitch.

Love is in a completely different place in his career. He’s yet to sniff the aroma of the playoffs after six seasons in the NBA. The fact that he’s had enough in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves have been unable to surround him with the supporting pieces necessary to reach the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference, should surprise no one.

But this isn’t about Love’s exit strategy or even what a downtrodden Timberwolves franchise is going to do in the event that they have to part ways with a bonafide superstar (owner Glen Taylor and front office boss Flip Saunders, it’s your move). This is about the fact that Love recognizes that it’s now or never if he wants to graduate from that short list of first-line stars who haven’t dipped their toes in the postseason waters.

Love is wise to take control of his own destiny and write the next chapter or two of his legacy on his own terms. Whichever route the Timberwolves decide to take, he’ll have plenty of suitors willing to wait out the process in an attempt to add him to their mix.

Even more intriguing for some of those interested parties — the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Lakers headline the long list — is whether Love is slated as the No. 1 or No. 2 option in the future. Whatever their designations, a Love-Steph Curry-Klay Thompson trio with the Warriors and new coach Steve Kerr would be pure fireworks. He could be an absolute game changer alongside Anthony in New York and certainly with former MVP Derrick Rose and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau. The possibilities are endless.

Still, for all of his well-deserved individual hype, there are some, a scant few NBA front office types, who repeatedly point out that Love’s spectacular numbers never did lift the Timberwolves to that next level.

Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio even questioned his leadership abilities in the wake of the news that Love wanted to explore his options elsewhere.

“Each situation is different, but this is a results league,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “And he’s never led a team to the postseason. Chris Bosh takes a beating from people, always has. But the one thing you couldn’t argue when he was in Toronto was that he could lead his team to the playoffs. I think Love is in a similar situation in that he could be the ideal No. 2 in the right place, the guy who serves as the linchpin in a championship situation. He’s that skilled and that talented. And he works his tail off. But he has to get to the playoffs for any of us to know for sure. And in this day and age of analytics, that one metric that still matters is whether or not you get there.”

It’s clear that making the playoffs, being a “winner,” is the one thing that matters to Love.

He wouldn’t have allowed himself to be placed in this current predicament, where his name will be run through the rumor mill relentlessly, if that wasn’t his No. 1 priority.


VIDEO: An all-too familiar sight: Kevin Love goes off but the Timberwolves lose

CP3 witch hunt needs to stop!

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Chris Paul endured some tough moments during the Clippers-Thunder conference semifinal

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The grumblings started long before the fall, long before Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers fell in the Western Conference semifinals to the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

They’ve been rumbling around the basketball world for years now, the questioning of Paul’s place among the game’s current greats. Where does he fit in a landscape where he’s generally considered one of, if not the best point guard in the game? And yet there is still that glaring hole on his resume.

Paul has never been to the conference finals and has therefore only been a spectator when the NBA’s champion has been crowned.

He’s won multiple gold medals in international competition, including the Olympics in 2008 and 2012, and is a staple in the talent-laden USA Basketball pipeline. And still, there are folks that want to chip away at his armor after years of excellence from him.

It doesn’t help that his contemporaries have hardware he lacks. LeBron James has championships rings and MVPs trophies to spare. Kevin Durant joined the elite club with his first MVP this season. Tony Parker has a Finals MVP and plenty of rings. Derrick Rose has his MVP. Rajon Rondo a ring and multiple trips to the conference finals and The Finals. Even the oft-maligned Russell Westbrook has been to The Finals.

Paul is in that weird superstar purgatory where everyone knows he belongs in any conversation of the best of the very best, until they start weeding guys out based on their accomplishments. The same superstar purgatory that veteran All-Stars like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love have taken up permanent residence in the past few seasons (Anthony has been to the conference finals but still gets panned for not winning it all. Love is still waiting to make the postseason.)

Paul’s been a subject of a witch hunt, of sorts, this season in particular, with pundits and Hall of Famers questioning the validity of his superstar status. It’s a witch hunt that needs to stop!

Paul’s a seven-time All-Star, a five-time All-NBA pick (three times on the first team), a five-time All-Defensive team selection and has led the league in assists three times and in steals six times. He knows better than anyone that the shortcomings in the playoffs are the one dark mark on his ledger right now, that’s why he takes the losses as hard as he does. That’s why this latest failure stings the way it does and will until he gets a chance to make it right.


VIDEO: A quick recap of the spectacular six-game series between the Clippers and Thunder

Those of us who chronicle the league have been tossed into the fire as well. We’ve been accused of giving Paul a pass because he’s always been good to us, always been as cooperative as possible and is a drama-free superstar in a world that boasts few of those.

That’s garbage. I don’t hold Paul to any different standard than anyone else. He and Deron Williams came into the league and promptly bum-rushed the point guard hierarchy. Paul played his way into the elite mix, held his own all the way up and fended off challenges year after year.

He doesn’t have to defend his position to me, you or anyone else.

He is not the fist superstar to fall down at a big moment in the playoffs, the way he did in Game 5 of the conference semifinals against Westbrook and Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder. That final and disastrous 13.9 seconds will not define Paul’s season or career. And to hear people suggest that it would or even should is a testament to the prisoner-of-the-moment syndrome that permeates every fiber of our current sports culture.

“I just feel awful for him, point-blank I do,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after his team bowed out to the Thunder in Game 6. “He’s the spirit of our team and right now his spirit is broken.”

You’d expect nothing less of a man who holds himself to the standard Paul does. But if we start running down the list of Hall of Famers who came up short in big moments, who didn’t win it all, we’d be here all day … and night.

This notion that Paul’s incapable of leading a team to championship heights is preposterous. No one took the Clippers serious as a contender before his arrival. For him to power them through the turmoil of the ongoing Donald Sterling saga the way he did goes down as another of his standout performances.

That in no way lets him off his own hook. Paul’s not looking to be patronized by me or anyone else for doing and saying the right thing, or coming close but not breaking through to the conference final threshold after a decade in the league. He wants more, he needs more. And that’s the way we all like our superstars, our champions to be built.

Paul believes he has championship DNA. And he knows that the only way to validate his own belief in himself is to make sure he and Rivers, Blake Griffin and the Clippers find their way to that next level in the near future.

If that means going back to the grind for yet another summer with the rumblings surrounding him and the questions lingering about whether or not he’s going to be a true superstar or a superstar with an asterisk, bring it on.

“I prepare for every offseason like I always do,” a clearly agitated Paul said after that Game 6 loss to the Thunder. “It’s nothing just to get out of the second round. It’s to win a championship. I don’t know anybody in our league that plays for the Western Conference finals. That’s not enough.”


VIDEO: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin address the media after losing Game 6 to the Thunder

Morning Shootaround — May 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No Serge means Spurs surge| Lowball start cost Knicks | Wizards look to keep, lure | Watson gets in front of Jazz job

No. 1: No Serge means Spurs surge — Friday was a bad day if you were an NBA fan in general and a horrible day if you were partial to the Oklahoma City Thunder in particular. A night without playoff games – the last two conference semifinal rounds wrapped up Thursday – was bad enough for most folks. But for OKC fans, the news that power forward Serge Ibaka was done for the postseason with a Grade 2 left calf strain was a slo-mo, long-lasting gut punch. On the other hand, San Antonio couldn’t, in good form, revel in Ibaka’s discomfort and the Thunder’s misfortune. But a break’s a break, even when it’s a strain, as Jeff McDonald wrote in the San Antonio Express-News:

Nobody in San Antonio need mention Ibaka’s value as a pressure valve alongside league MVP Kevin Durant and Westbrook in the OKC offense. In Game 4 of the 2012 conference finals against the Spurs, Ibaka went 11 for 11 on his way to 26 points.

“Every time I see Ibaka or hear the name, 11 for 11 goes through my head,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Friday, about four hours before the extent of Ibaka’s injury was made public.

Ibaka has provided needed offense against the Spurs while anchoring the OKC defense. In the past two seasons, his plus/minus ratings against San Antonio has leaped into the black. Here are his basic stats vs. the Spurs over the past four years:

2013-14: 14.0, 11.5, plus-9.8
2012-13: 13.3, 13.3, plus-12.4
2011-12: 10.7, 7.3, minus-10.0
2010-11: 12.3, 11.0, minus-12.4

Defensively is where Ibaka’s loss, however, will have its greatest impact. Matthew Tynan of the 48 Minutes Of Hell blog broke down some of those numbers:

In the 148 minutes the OKC shot-blocking terror has been on the floor against the Spurs this season, San Antonio managed to shoot a putrid 42.3 percent from the floor with a true-shooting mark of 49.3, nearly 8 percent worse than its regular-season average. Near the rim, where Ibaka’s presence is most noticeable, the splits are even more dramatic. The Spurs shot 48 percent at the rim when he was on the floor during the teams’ four games against one another; when he was off, that number ballooned to 61.9 percent.
Even more startling are the 3-point numbers. Ibaka’s ability to singlehandedly protect the paint allows perimeter defenders to stick with shooters, scramble aggressively and close out hard when the Spurs kick the ball out to the arc. San Antonio shot 33 percent from deep when he was on the floor against them this season; when he was off, the NBA’s top 3-point shooting team launched away at better than 54 percent.

And:

Get this: San Antonio managed only 93 points per 100 possessions in Ibaka’s shadow this season, compared to a staggering 120.8 offensive-efficiency rating in the 48 minutes his butt was on the bench*. This news isn’t Durant- or Westbrook-level devastating for OKC, but it’s damn close. He’s been so incredibly important for that team against the Spurs this season, and his absence will greatly swing the forecast of this series.

***

No. 2: Lowball start cost Knicks — Apparently, the annual salary was set: $4.4 million. The question was, over how many years? That’s where the New York Knicks allegedly bungled negotiations with Steve Kerr, their No. 1 coaching candidate who wound up agreeing to a deal with the Golden State Warriors instead.
Marc Berman, who covers the Knicks for the New York Post, related the tale of dickering gone awry:

The Post has learned [Phil] Jackson’s initial offer to Kerr was a lowball of three years, $13.2 million. That offer stuck for more than a week before the Warriors got involved Tuesday. Kerr wound up agreeing to terms with Golden State on a five-year, $22 million contract — not the $25 million that was widely reported.
Had the Knicks originally offered Kerr five years, $22 million — $4.4 million a year — he probably would have closed the deal before Golden State could reenter the fray. Jackson only bumped the offer to four years in response to Golden State’s offer.
A source said Kerr wasn’t moving across the country for less money than the Warriors were offering. The Knicks have insisted Jackson, not owner James Dolan, handled the negotiations. Kerr never spoke to Dolan during the process, meeting with general manager Steve Mills and basketball operations director Jamie Mathews.

(more…)

Nets’ long list of questions starts with Pierce and Garnett … and Lopez … and …

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Best of Inside: Blazers and Nets go fishing

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The most expensive roster in NBA history faces questions this summer. And it doesn’t have the flexibility to find all the answers.

The Brooklyn Nets have hit the offseason with a five-game conference semifinals defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat. Their $102 million dollar payroll and $90 million luxury tax bill got them just five playoff victories.

In a press release on Thursday, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov called it a “crazy season.” Every team has its ups and downs, but Brooklyn’s were rather unique.

On Jan. 1, the Nets were 10-21 and had lost their best player, Brook Lopez, for the season. Then they went 34-17 over the final three and a half months, thriving with a smaller and more skilled lineup. They beat the Heat four times over the course of the season, had fourth-quarter leads in three of the five playoff games, and were within two points in a fourth. With Joe Johnson carrying the load, their offense became pretty potent in the postseason.

If the Nets were a young team, they’d have something strong to build on. But only three players from their 11-man rotation will be under the age of 29 when next season begins, and one of those could choose to sign elsewhere this summer. Andray Blatche said Thursday that he will decline his $1.4 million player option for next season.

The Nets’ most important free agent is Paul Pierce, who will turn 37 in October. He wants to keep playing, but gave no indication of where he might want to be next fall.

“When I get a chance to sit back, really put my thinking hat on, I’ll figure out what’s next,” Pierce said after Game 5 on Wednesday. “I think I still have something in the tank I can give a team. So maybe one or two [years] at the most, and see where I’m at.”

Kevin Garnett has some thinking to do as well. As part of the trade that brought him from Boston, the Nets guaranteed Garnett the $12 million on his contract next season. But he averaged just 20 minutes per game, was an offensive liability, and missed all of March with back issues.

Garnett turns 38 years old on Monday, ranks fifth all-time in minutes played, and just finished his 19th season. That’s exactly how many seasons Nets coach Jason Kidd had played when he decided to retire and walk away from $6 million a year ago.

Garnett would be giving up twice that amount and can still make an impact on defense. But he’s a prideful dude and may not want to see his skills diminish any further.

“He’s done it for a long time at a very high level,” Kidd said Thursday. “The biggest thing and concerns that I’ve talked to him about is you don’t want to leave with someone carrying you off the court.”

Garnett didn’t speak to the media after Game 5 or at the Nets’ practice facility on Thursday. Nets GM Billy King said that he spoke with Garnett on the plane ride home from Miami.

“Get away, spend some time and talk with your family then we’ll talk again,” King told Garnett. “There’s no need for an answer now.”

The Nets could lose three starters this summer, because Shaun Livingston is also a free agent. After a breakout season, he’ll be coveted by several teams, and the Nets can only pay him with the tax payer’s mid-level exception (a three-year contract starting at $3.3 million per year).

The Nets could have Lopez back at full strength, and they could not. He’s had three surgeries on his right foot in the last three years and an additional repair on his left ankle in March. His team, meanwhile, changed their style and played their best without him.

But Kidd and King have little choice but to bank on Johnson, Lopez and Deron Williams, who are owed a total of $121 million over the next two seasons.

King has little flexibility in improving the roster beyond his high-priced stars. He doesn’t have any draft picks (to use or to trade) and nothing beyond that tax-payer’s mid-level exception to offer free agents (including Croatian guard Bojan Bogdanovic, whose draft rights they own), though Pierce can be brought back (and handsomely compensated) via Bird rights.

What King has to hope for is a better and healthier Williams (who may undergo surgery on one or both ankles this summer), a healthy Lopez, and a Johnson that plays more consistently like he played in the postseason. The chances of all three of those situations going their way seem slim.

Maybe the most solid thing the Nets can build on is Kidd’s development as a coach. He’s got a great feel for the game and, after those early-season struggles, found an identity for his team. He managed a deep rotation about as well as you could this season. And with the respect of players around the league, the Nets will find free agents who want to play for him. If Livingston stays, loyalty to Kidd may be the biggest reason.

It’s not like the Eastern Conference is passing the Nets by. If they bring most of their veterans back and avoid the slow start in their second year together, they can be right back among the best teams in the conference. Every other East playoff team has its own questions to answer this summer.

“Our goal is to try to bring as much as the core back,” King said, “add to the core and go at it again.”

Morning Shootaround — May 16



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: D-Will could be traded this summer| Report: Sterling plans to sue NBA | Kerr opens up on his plans for Warriors | Report: Knicks talk with Pippen | Report: Pistons to add Thomas as minority owner

No. 1: D-Will could be dealt this summer — It was just two offseasons ago that Nets guard Deron Williams had re-signed with the team as a free agent in a move seen by many as the one that would give Brooklyn its cornerstone player for years to come. But as the Nets try to make sense of their season and their East semifinals ousting at the hands of the Miami Heat, could Williams be on the trading block this summer? That question — and others — are addressed by Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck here:

Paul Pierce could leave as a free agent, perhaps to join old friend Doc Rivers in Los Angeles. Kevin Garnett could retire, and just might if Pierce were to leave. If the two proud former Celtics walk away, then the Nets will have broken the payroll record—and given up three first-round draft picks—for nothing.

But the fixation on the price tag, and even on the trade itself, obscures the Nets’ greatest problem—­a previous, equally costly investment that has gone bust:

You remember Deron Williams?

You could be forgiven if you didn’t. Williams was a dud in the playoffs, particularly against the Heat. He scored zero points in Game 2, nine points in Game 3 and 13 points (on 5-of-14 shooting) in a Game 4 loss that pushed the Nets to the brink of elimination. Williams’ postseason field-goal percentage: 39.5.

The Nets imported Pierce and Garnett for their wisdom and their fire, but no one expected the two aging vets to carry the offense. It is Williams who was acquired to be the face of the franchise, the engine of the Nets offense, and he has utterly failed in that role.

No matter how many tens of millions they spend, no matter how many flashy trades they make, the Nets will never be a serious contender unless Williams regains his All-Star form.

“Deron’s the X-factor,” said one Nets official. “More than anybody.”

Since Williams’ celebrated arrival in 2011, the Nets have made two trips to the playoffs, one ending in the first round and one in the second, for a postseason record of 8-11.

No one player can be blamed for the lousy late-game execution, but it is the job of the point guard (and franchise player) to maintain order and to put his teammates in the best position to succeed. Time and again, Williams has shown he is incapable of leading when the pressure is at its highest. When the Nets needed salvation this season, they turned to Joe Johnson and Pierce.

This is surely not what general manager Billy King envisioned three years ago, when he plucked Williams from Utah and made him the franchise centerpiece. That Williams was then considered the equal (or at least close rival) of Chris Paul is of little comfort now, with Williams perpetually battling ankle injuries and crises of confidence.

“I used to feel like I was the best player on the court, no matter who we were playing against,” Williams told reporters Thursday, an implicit acknowledgment of his diminished status.

Team officials were encouraged by Mirza Teletovic and see promise in Mason Plumlee. The Nets also hold the rights to Bojan Bogdanovic, a European star who could either join the Nets next season or be used in a trade.

But Pierce will be 37 next fall, Garnett 38 and Johnson 33. This team has little upside unless Williams somehow rediscovers the swagger that made him a star in Utah.

There is an alternative, sources say, the Nets will not rule out: They could look to trade Williams this summer, retool around Johnson and Brook Lopez, squeeze one more run out of Pierce and Garnett and hope for the best.

(more…)

24-Second Thoughts — May 14

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Heat and Nets were upstaged by some breaking news … Steve Kerr to the Warriors

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The phrase “close-out game” has a nasty ring to it for proud veterans like Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett.

It’s a slap in the face, really, especially when said slap comes from the hand of LeBron James and the Miami Heat. That might explain the Nets’ furious grind from the opening tip Wednesday night in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.

It’s win-or-go-fishing time for the Nets and they are playing like it.

They don’t appear to be interested in hitting the water for the summer, not yet. Not without at least one last barrage of punches delivered to the gut of their hated rivals from South Beach.

Did you expect them to go out any other way?

We didn’t either. And … this happened …

and the entire night changed from Oakland to Manhattan and plenty of stops between! It didn’t take long for the Twitterverse to go crazy in the aftermath of the breaking news:

24 – No Mark Jackson to the Knicks?

23 – What’s up with the Framily plan in New York …

22 – Kerr turning down Phil has an impact on ‘Melo, no?

21 – The countdown is on …

20 – The Knicks’ loss is the Warriors’ gain …

19 – Keep it in the real family plan Phil …

18 – Waiting for Kerr’s kindergarten team to Tweet out congratulations …

17 – Meanwhile, the Nets are all up in the Heat’s mix …

16 – Here we go again, another crazy finish …

15 – Shuttlesworth!

14 –  “Joe Johnson for threeeeeeeeeee” … this ain’t over yet!

… oh no, not again!

Nets’ ball with one last chance to tie it or win it and send this thing back to Brooklyn …

13 — Survive and advance …


VIDEO: Ray Allen comes up clutch from beyond the 3-point line

12 — A Man Called Ray!

11 – Dancin’ Danny Green shows up just in time …

https://twitter.com/JMcDonald_SAEN/status/466764485617647616XX

10 – Hearts racing in San Antonio …

9 – The Invisible Man in the Heat-Nets series …

8 – #badhammy?

7 – The whole “Sugar K(ane) Leonard” thing is actually starting to grow on me …

6 – This is indeed a grown man’s game!

And Sugar Kane is grown!

5 – #GetWellSager

4 – “I want some NASTY!”

3 – Best man for the job?

2 – #RipCity

1 – The #SpursWay makes it back to the Western Conference finals, all they need now is a dance partner …


VIDEO: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are back in the conference finals four a fourth straight season

Heat finish strong to finish off Nets

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Heat rally late to finish off Nets, advance to East finals

MIAMI – The Miami Heat may not be as good as they were in previous seasons. But they sure know when they need to be at their best.

With another fourth-quarter comeback, the Heat finished their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Brooklyn Nets with a 96-94 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday. Dwyane Wade (28 points on 10-for-18 shooting) played his best game of the postseason, keeping his team in the game through the first three quarters, and his teammates finished the job in the final 12 minutes.

Over the course of the series, the Nets outscored the Heat by five points through the third period. But in the five fourth periods, Miami was a plus-32. That was the difference in the series and that is the difference between a good team and a championship team.

Basketball is a funny game. Ray Allen was 0-for-6 from 3-point range through the first 47 minutes on Wednesday. But when the Nets’ defense broke down with the game on the line in the final minute, Allen drained a 3 from the left corner – off another hockey assist from LeBron James – to give the Heat their first lead of the second half. Two stops later, they were heading to the Eastern Conference finals for the fourth straight year.

As a team, the Heat were 1-for-16 from beyond the arc in the first half and 3-for-19 at the end of the third quarter. In the fourth, they were 6-for-10. James and Chris Bosh each hit two, while Allen and Rashard Lewis hit one apiece.

Brooklyn had cut off the paint all night, successfully keeping James from doing what he had done two nights earlier. The Nets had shown some resilience, recovered from that deflating loss, played another strong game in the face of elimination, and led by eight points with less than three minutes to go. Joe Johnson was on fire once again, and it looked like he was taking this series back to Brooklyn for Game 6.

“He was torching me,” James said. “It got to a point where if I did not get stops on Joe Johnson, we are going to lose the game.”

But James locked down Johnson over the last four minutes, the Nets’ shots stopped falling, and the Heat’s did not. Ultimately, their shots were better shots.

“We just didn’t execute down the stretch,” Johnson said, “offensively or defensively.”

The Heat did execute, just like they’ve been doing for the last three years. Fourth quarters were a struggle in their first season together. They scored less than a point per fourth-quarter possession in the 2011 playoffs.

To say that they’ve figured things out since would be an understatement. They’ve been ridiculously efficient offensively in postseason fourth quarters over the last three years. In this series they scored 133 points on just 99 fourth-quarter possessions.

The Nets were right there with the champs in four of the five games. But they just couldn’t get the necessary stops down the stretch.

“The last two are really hard to take right now,” Deron Williams said, “because we could easily be up 3-2.”

While the Nets enter a summer with some big questions, the Heat are still playing with all the answers.

In their fourth season together, the Heat know exactly who they are. They have the best player in the league, who draws the attention of the entire defense. He doesn’t force anything and he trusts his teammates. As a group, they take what the defense gives them.

More importantly, the Heat don’t panic. And when you have talent, teamwork and resolve, you win big games.

“Overwhelmingly, the No. 1 key in this series was great mental stability,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have to have throughout the course of each game, each possession. That’s what it was down the stretch. You can’t get caught up in frustrations, you can’t get caught up in trying to get a 10-point play. It just takes incredible focus, to concentrate one possession at a time.”

Whether this version of the Heat has a championship defense or a championship supporting cast remains to be seen. We may not know for another five weeks.

At this point, we do know that they can make plays when they have to.