Posts Tagged ‘Derrick Favors’

Blogtable: Down, but on its way up

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?



VIDEO: The Jazz finally may be on the right track

> Which of these down-on-its-luck franchises strikes you as on the fastest track forward: Utah, Sacramento or Orlando?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Orlando. They strike me as having the best fit of young pieces – Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon – to develop together, if they can manage to score enough points along the way. Sacramento should have been better by now, and for every Kings player who intrigues me, there’s another who cancels out the optimism. Utah’s talent is good but a new coach and system suggests a reset of the learning curve.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Can I say Philadelphia?  Even with more bumps and plenty of pain ahead this season, the Sixers are stacking young talent and will get more from the 2015 Draft. But if you’re making me pick from these three, I’ll go with the one that has the best player. That’s the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins, for all the known questions about attitude, could be a franchise-carrying talent. The Jazz and Magic are scoops of vanilla ice cream: filling but hardly exciting.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I keep wanting to believe in the Kings, to believe in DeMarcus Cousins, to believe in new ownership, new management and coach Mike Malone. But, man, they really make it hard. In Orlando, I do like their young talent, but I’m not sold on Jacque Vaughn at the helm and I think there will be a coaching change at some point. Utah has fully committed to a youth movement and I’m sold on Trey Burke and have high hopes for Dante Exum as a game-changing playmaker. Gordon Hayward has to step it up to an All-Star-caliber level, so we’ll see about that, but there’s other young, emerging talent and more picks in the trove. They got the coach question out of the way and Quin Snyder will breathe some freshness into the program. Maybe this is my West bias coming into play, but I’ll take Utah over Orlando by a smidgen.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comOrlando. For one thing, the Magic are in the East, which gives them an easier path to the back of the playoff pack, even this season despite a lot of youth. For another: Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. That’s a nice foundation built on defense and rebounding. They obviously have a lot of growing to do while relying heavily on two rookies and a second-year player, but that’s a lot of potential for the fast track.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not very excited about the 2-3 year prospects of any of these teams. The Kings have the best player of the three, but nothing around DeMarcus Cousins (or a clear plan of action) that says they definitely have a shot at making the playoffs in the next three years. The Magic and Jazz both have a decent collection of young talent, including rookie guards – Elfrid Payton and Dante Exum – with high ceilings, but nobody that is definitely a future All-Star. If I have to take one team, I’ll take Orlando, just because they’re in the Eastern Conference, where a playoff spot can be had with a decent amount of talent and good coaching.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: All three of the these teams believe they have the ideal core group in place for lift off. The promise of what could be always rules the day in lottery land. The one place where I believe that there has been a true altering of the DNA for the better is in Utah. The continued stockpiling of versatile, young talent is at a point where the process can be accelerated a bit this season. Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Dante Exum, Alec Burks and even new coach Quin Snyder will operate without the added pressure of playoff expectations, which are not realistic for the Kings or Magic either. The Kings and Magic, however, are still sorting through their talent base to see who does and does not fit. The Jazz already know who and what they have.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Utah and Orlando are each inching forward, not a slowly as Philadelphia, but at intentionally deliberate paces. But from the ownership down, Sacramento seems like a team that doesn’t want to wait any longer. While Utah and Orlando each have a few nice young pieces, the Kings have players like DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay who are further along than most of the guys in Orlando and Utah. They’ve got a new arena on the way, and there seems to be a real urgency to win and win now.

Hayward must grow with new salary

Utah Jazz v Golden State Warriors

While much will be given to Gordon Hayward, much will be required, too. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Now that Gordon Hayward has the max offer sheet — four years, $63 million — courtesy of the buzzing Charlotte Hornets, there’s no reason to debate whether he’s worth such big bucks that will top $14 million in Year One.

The 6-foot-8 small forward/shooting guard will be one of just seven players at the wing positions under contract (at the moment) for next season to make at least $14 million: Kobe Bryant, James HardenJoe Johnson, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon and Kevin Durant.

But it hardly matters if Hayward is worthy of such a deal or not. It’s what he’s getting. A lot of teams have a lot of cap space to fill and the Hornets, who nabbed free agent Al Jefferson from the Jazz last summer and are eager to add more scorers after finishing 24th in offensive rating (101.2 points per 100 possessions) last season, didn’t see a better option so Michael Jordan green-lighted his front office to go all-in for Utah’s restricted free agent.

Hayward can’t sign the offer sheet until Thursday and then Utah will have 72 hours to match. The club has consistently sent signals that it plans to do just that. Hayward would then return as the face of the Jazz, a club that won 25 games last year and one he apparently would prefer to leave behind for the further-along Hornets, a surprise playoff team last season in the inferior Eastern Conference. (Hayward reportedly was in discussions with other teams including Phoenix, but chose Charlotte.)

If Hayward indeed returns to Utah (and our David Aldridge details why the Jazz are well-positioned to match), any personal disappointment must be kept private and dismissed quickly. A contract of this size must be owned.

Hayward, 24 and entering his fifth season in the league, will have to be motivated to lead a quick team buy-in with new coach Quin Snyder, and establish himself as the voice inside the locker room. Hayward is admittedly the quiet type, and there’s nothing terribly wrong with that — it took Dirk Nowitzki time to turn up his volume — but on such a young team that includes second-year point guard Trey Burke and incoming rookie Dante Exum, Hayward is the player to which all eyes will turn.

An encouraging attitude and positive body language on the court will be essential, too. The youthful Jazz are going to struggle this season, there’s no way around it. For $63 million, Hayward will be expected to keep the team moving forward through tough times. He can’t hang his head or appear disengaged when things go wrong, as he did at times last season. He’s got the baby-face look, and there’s not much he can do about that, but he’ll be playing on a man’s contract, and expected to perform as such.

As for his production, hopefully Hayward will be spending the majority of the summer in a gym shooting thousands of jumpers. Each season his scoring average has increased and, in fact, he put up career-best numbers last season in scoring (16.2 ppg), assists (5.1) and rebounding (5.2).

However, his overall shooting percentage (41.3) hit an all-time low and his encouraging 3-point shooting from 2012-13 (41.5) dropped to a career-worst 30.4 percent last season as his attempts increased to a career-high 280.

Alongside Burke and Exum, especially as the rookie gains his footing as the season progresses, and Derrick Favors down low, the 3-point shot should be on high on Hayward’s menu on most nights. Utah last season finished 25th in the league in 3-point percentage (34.4) and 23rd in 3-point attempts per game (6.6). Hayward is capable of giving both categories a significant boost.

With the big pay day, come bigger responsibilities. Hayward must be prepared.

Aldridge: Jazz well positioned to match Hayward’s big offer


VIDEO: Gordon Hayward made his presence felt all throughout Utah’s 2013-14 season

The Charlotte Hornets went for it late Tuesday night, agreeing to terms with Utah Jazz restricted free agent Gordon Hayward on a four-year, $63 million offer sheet, as first reported by the Charlotte Observer and Yahoo! Sports. When the sheet is signed Thursday, the Jazz will have three days to match it, and retain Hayward. If they don’t match, he would go to Charlotte.

But, by all indications from Utah’s braintrust, it’s going to match. And it really isn’t that hard a decision for them, for several reasons:

1. Utah was prepared. Utah’s stripped its team salary down to the studs over the last year, mainly by absorbing the unwanted deals of Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush and Andris Bierdins from Golden State last summer as part of the three-team deal that allowed the Warriors to sign Andre Iguodala as a free agent.

The Jazz got 2014 and ‘17 unprotected first-rounders from Golden State, using this year’s extra first on swingman Rodney Hood with the 23rd overall selection. (Utah also got 2016 and 2017 second-rounders from Golden State, and a 2018 second from Denver to help facilitate the deal.)

With Jefferson, Rush and Bierdins all coming off the Jazz’s salary cap, they shed $24 million in salary. That’s more than enough to take on Hayward’s estimated first-year salary of $14.7 million (the exact number won’t be known until the final 2014-15 cap is determined in the next couple of days) in his new deal. They’ll also have room aplenty to sign first-rounders Dante Exum ($3.6 million next season on his rookie scale contract) and Hood ($1.2 million).

In essence, Utah would trade the salaries of Jefferson, Rush and Bierdins in order to re-sign Hayward, add a potential stud in Exum and get a solid rotation prospect in Hood — all without getting anywhere near the cap or luxury tax thresholds. That’s an easy call. Exum and Hood are on rookie deals for the next several seasons, and if Exum is anywhere near as good as advertised, Utah will have a star player vastly outperforming his contract, a reasonable tradeoff even if Hayward underperforms his contract. (more…)

NBA coaching carousel in full swing

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters discuss Mike Brown’s latest ouster in Cleveland

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The list stands at seven. As of this moment.

Give it a few hours and that could change.

Such is life in the roller-coaster business that is NBA coaching. Much like the playoffs, things change quickly in a tumultuous environment where everyone is looking for an advantage, for the one perfect fit that can boost a team to the next level.

Mike Brown was gainfully employed in his second stint as the Cleveland Cavaliers coach until Monday morning, when he joined a list that includes Mike Woodson, Mark Jackson, Mike D’Antoni and others who were pink slipped since the end of the regular season.

The best part: Many of the guys on the ousted list are candidates for the other jobs.

We take a quick look at what is available and the coach who fits each vacancy best:

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

This one is fresh. There were rumblings for months that Brown’s latest run in Cleveland was not going to end well. Once it started to become clear that general manager David Griffin would get the interim tag removed from his title,  it was only a matter of time before he’d part ways with Brown, a defensive-minded coach who simply could not corral a young group led by the talented but enigmatic backcourt duo of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. The Cavaliers were expected to make a run at the playoffs and did give chase late in the season — after Andrew Bynum was cast off, Griffin took over for the fired Chris Grant, and Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes were added to the mix via trade. But the Cavs couldn’t manage the eighth seed in a depressed Eastern Conference playoff chase. What they need is a system designed to fit Irving, who has to be the No. 1 priority for Griffin moving forward.

The best fit: Mike D’Antoni. He has history with Griffin from their time together in Phoenix. All Kyrie has to do is ask some of his former point guards what working in D’Antoni’s system has done for their careers.

DETROIT PISTONS

Another team that was expected to contend for a playoff bid, the Pistons posses an interesting assortment of talent — including  Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — that Mo Cheeks couldn’t figure out what to do with during his short stint at the helm. John Loyer had no chance of cleaning up that mess after Cheeks was fired. There were too many things that needed fixing. Without someone in place to take over for long-time team president Joe Dumars (who resigned at season’s end and is now serving as a consultant), it’s hard to know what direction the Pistons are headed in at such a crucial time in the franchise’s history. What’s needed is strong leadership from the bench, someone who can blend the bold personalities in that locker room into a cohesive group.

The best fit: Mark Jackson. Jackson’s issues in Golden State had nothing to do with his roster. The Warriors ran through brick walls for Rev. Jackson. The Pistons would do the same.

UPDATE: According to reports, Stan Van Gundy has agreed to become the Pistons’ coach and president of basketball operations.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

With Steve Kerr reportedly no longer an option for the Warriors, they wisely have turned their attention to candidates with completely different sets of credentials. Both former Magic and Heat coach Stan Van Gundy and former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins have moved to the front of the list. Van Gundy, whatever his faults might have been in his previous stops, is still held in the highest regard among front-office types around the league. He’s gotten consistent results and is a known commodity. Hollins brings a measure of toughness to any situation. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee, Draymond Green and the crew are plenty feisty. And this is as explosive an offensive group as there is in the league. All that’s needed now is some steadiness and leadership that balances the entire equation.

The best fit: Lionel Hollins. People forget that Hollins had the Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals last season. He ran into a bit of a philosophical disconnect in Memphis with the front office. He’ll know how to navigate that relationship much better this time around.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

If they’d just listened to Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson might still be coaching the Lakers and they might still be in the contender mix in the Western Conference. But as Lakers fans know all too well, Jim Buss decided a long time ago that his vision for the future of the franchise trumped anyone else’s. The Lakers have paid for that dearly the past two years, hiring and firing guys (the Mikes, Brown and D’Antoni) who had no chance to fill the enormous void left by Jackson. Now the Lakers have a two-year window with Bryant (and whoever and whatever else they can pull together for a roster) to try to regain some semblance of the championship-caliber form they’ve lost. Keep in mind that this remains the most difficult job in the entire league, one that shouldn’t be thrust upon a coaching newbie like Derek Fisher (as has been widely speculated) just because of his ties to the organization. Then again, if he has Kobe’s blessing and endorsement …

The best fit: Stan Van Gundy. Kobe needs someone who will agitate his competitive juices in a different way than either Brown or D’Antoni ever could. He needs someone who will refuse to acquiesce to his every whim, the way Jackson did when he was in his prime. Stan Van is just crazy enough to do all that.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

How much longer can the Timberwolves, with talents like Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, go without breaking through to the playoffs? That’s the question Flip Saunders has to answer as he searches for a replacement for Rick Adelman, who despite being one of the best and most respected coaches of his generation, simply never could manage to get the Wolves into the playoffs. Bold leadership is required in this job, someone who will develop Rubio into the complete point guard he has to be in order to take that next step in his career. The superstar-friendly coach isn’t always the best fit, either. There are times when a star needs to be challenged. The Timberwolves appeared to get comfortable under Adelman. The next coach has to raise the bar.

The best fit: George Karl. His style doesn’t work for everybody. And when it does, there’s no long-term guarantee the organization can suffer his demanding ways. But if Karl could work as well as he did, for the most part, with Carmelo Anthony, he should be able to do wonders for Love and Rubio.

NEW YORK KNICKS

The drama surrounding this job revolves around one candidate and only one candidate. Steve Kerr. He is reportedly working out the details on a deal that will reunite him with his one-time coach, the Zen master Phil Jackson, so they can dive in on the long and arduous task of trying to rebuild the Knicks into an Eastern Conference power and championship contender. Kerr will have a host of challenges, financial and otherwise, that are sure to make it a more difficult task than anyone realizes. The salary cap mess and the free agent uncertainty surrounding Carmelo Anthony means the next coach, be it Kerr or someone else, will have little flexibility in terms of roster makeup, until the summer of 2015. As we know now, there is no guarantee a coach makes it through that first year on the job. Kerr’s connection to Jackson and the fact that they have a shared philosophy certainly works in his favor. But that James Dolan factor is always lingering.

The best fit: Steve Kerr. The one no-brainer marriage between the team president/GM and coach in the entire landscape.

UTAH JAZZ

Jerry Sloan is not walking through that door, folks. It’s not happening, no matter how much Jazz fans would love to see him at the helm of a young and precocious group, led by promising young point guard Trey Burke, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. The Jazz have a pair of first-round picks, one a top-five selection, giving them two more quality young pieces to add to a nucleus that, while not necessarily prepared for prime time right now, if cultivated properly should serve as a key part of the foundation for years to come. The tricky part for Kevin O’Connor, Dennis Lindsey and the rest of the Jazz brass is whether to go off the grid for their next coach (four-time Euroleague champ Ettore Messina‘s name has been mentioned often) or follow the recent trend of locating a Steve Clifford-type. Their process couldn’t be more inclusive. They announced they would interview some 20-plus candidates for the job.

The best fit: David Fizdale. The Miami Heat assistant has developed a reputation for being one of the best molders of talent in the business, having worked his way up the ranks the past decade-plus. He’d be a fresh face in a situation where one is desperately needed.


VIDEO: Golden State GM Bob Myers waxes on the Mark Jackson firing and what’s next

Don’t Tell Rudy Gobert He’s A Project


VIDEO: Rudy Gobert misses but follows with a slam

 

RENO, Nev. — You can call Rudy Gobert young, inexperienced and maybe even still growing at 7-foot-2.

Just don’t call him a “project.”

“I know that’s the way a lot of people look at me,” said the Jazz rookie center from France with a shake of his head and crinkling of his face. “I don’t really like the word. I think it comes from people who have maybe seen me play maybe one time and they don’t really think that I know how to play.

“There are definitely things that I know I have to work on to improve my game, but I believer that there is much I can contribute if I get a chance to play.”

The 21-year-old Gobert has been assigned to the Bakersfield Jam for the NBA D-League Showcase and was impressive making 7-of-9 shots for 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in just 23 minutes of a win over Sioux Falls. It was the fifth game he’s played for the Jam, having gotten just limited minutes in 17 games with the Jazz.

“I try to work defensively on jumping straight up against my man,” he said. “That’s what the coaches want me to do. Work on my rebounding and offensively on my post game when I get touches.

“Everybody is probably not happy when they tell you they want you to do this, come to the D-League. I was not. I thought about it and I thought maybe it is not bad. I try to bring a positive attitude and say that it is good to get a chance to runs and play and see that it makes me better for the future. It’s good for me to get some playing time and just have fun.

“But I don’t want to say that it is better to be here than in Utah. I think anybody who is a professional would rather be in the NBA.”

Gobert set records at the NBA draft combine last year with a wingspan of 7-8 1/2 and a standing reach of 9-7 and was the 27th pick in the first round by the Nuggets before moving to the Jazz in a draft night trade. The physical traits are enough to make you drool even before combining them with a high revving motor that has him going after virtually every shot on defense.

“I think the main thing I have to do is build up by body and make myself stronger and I believe I am making progress,” he said. “I think I’m better at handling the physical parts of the game than when I came to training camp.”

In a season that the Jazz have committed to a youth movement with Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Trey Burke, Gobert can’t help champing at the bit to get more of his own opportunity.

“I know that I am not going to play ahead of Enes at the five position, so I understand how it is,” Gobert said. “But it’s hard. I’m not very patient. I tell myself I’ve got to keep working and just stay focused. When I come to these games I have to just have fun and play and everything will be alright.

“Like I said, it’s hard. We have a rebuilding year with many young players and I want to be a part of that. My hope and my goal is in about three years we can be trying for the title and, of course, I expect to be a big part of that.”

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Hang Time Q&A: Trey Burke On Patience, Pressure, John Stockton And More …




VIDEO: Trey Burke settles into his new role, new city and new life in the NBA

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Trey Burke has had that giant chip on his shoulder from his first day of organized basketball. The first time someone doubted him started the trickle of resolve that turned into a raging waterfall by the time he reached high school in Columbus, Ohio (where he would eventually win Mr. Basketball honors after leading his team to a state title as a senior) and later Ann Arbor, Mich. (where he earned National Player of the Year honors and led Michigan back to the Final Four and NCAA title game after a two-decade absence).

It continued on Draft night in June, when Burke fell out of the top five and was picked by Minnesota only to be traded before he could get the right fit on his hat for the cameras. Next came a rough start in summer league and then a busted finger that cost him the first 12 games of his rookie season, those hiccups, of course, brought more doubters.

But the more people doubt him, the stronger Burke’s drive to continue to silence his critics and fuel his team’s rise, wherever he goes.

Burke talked about patience, pressure, summer school with Hall of Famer John Stockton and much more in a recent Hang Time One-On-One with NBA.com:

NBA.com: You spend your whole life dreaming about playing in the NBA and then you have to sit and watch the first 12 games with the busted finger. What did it look like watching your dream unfold from the sidelines like that?

Trey Burke: A lot of people would have expected me to be down or something like that. But I tried to stay as positive as possible at that time. I knew that when I came back I was going to have an opportunity to play and make an impact, so I tried to do everything I could from taking care of my body to staying in shape to eating right and preparing myself in every way I could to perform right away.

NBA.com: You actually delayed your NBA debut by a year. You could have entered the Draft after your freshman season at Michigan but chose to go back for another year. What did you hear and where from, that made you stay in school another year?

TB: The people that I trusted, the people in my corner, what they were saying sounded accurate in terms of what I needed to work on to improve my stock and be ready for the NBA. Me, I obviously wanted to get to the NBA as fast as I could, I dreamed about it my whole life. But I needed another year to mature and get better, not only the basketball court but off the court. I needed the maturity. I needed the life experiences. I needed that extra year of college. And it worked out for the best really. Had I come out after my freshman year, who knows where I would be now. I might have been a late first, early second or mid-second round pick. I’ll never know. But going back to school, making that Final Four run we made at Michigan, I think looking back it was definitely the right decision.

NBA.com: Coaches and people love to tell a young point guard different things. But you worked with Hall of Famer John Stockton this summer. I cannot imagine you getting any better advice on how to do your current job than you did from him. What did he hone in on in your game this summer and what ultimately was his message to you?

TB: One of the biggest things was pace of the game. And he said he’d watched me before, he watched my game and one thing I could work on was my pace. He said I had to work on setting guys up. He knew that I was a natural scorer at heart, but he knew that I also wanted to become a pure point guard that could score, kind of like a Chris Paul. He said when he started out, a lot of times he didn’t really like to take a lot of 3-pointers because it would mess his shooting percentage up. He said his goal was to try and get the easiest shot for his teammates or himself by attacking and being aggressive in that manner. It was a lot of information he gave me, it was funny, because he would stop us during the workout and just keep talking and talking. You could tell that he had a lot of stuff he wanted to tell us. It was just a great experience to be able to work with a Hall of Fame point guard like that.

NBA.com: There was so much speculation about where you might end up on Draft night. What went goes through your mind as a point guard when the Jazz, a franchise with a history of drafting both John Stockton and Deron Williams, decide you are the guy they want?

TB: Absolutely, I was just talking about that. Minnesota, when they picked me I was kind of like, ‘I didn’t work out with them or even interview with them.’ It didn’t make sense at first. And then five minutes later I get traded to Utah, and I didn’t work out with them. But I got the opportunity to sit down with them in Chicago and the pre-Draft camp and just to know that Deron Williams and John Stockton, some really great point guards came from there, I knew I was going to be put in a great spot to make an impact o this franchise. I just want to have a chance to be an impact player and leave my mark on this franchise. And that’s all you can ask for in the end.

NBA.com: I’ve heard you talk about comparisons to current or past NBA players and the name Chris Paul always comes up. But a former NBA player said you remind him of Allen Iverson in build and with your game. Do your try to pattern yourself after anyone or do you really, at this stage of the game, worry about being Trey Burke first and foremost and let other people worry about the comparisons?

TB: That’s funny, I just thought about this today, I want to go down as my own player. But I watched so much of Allen Iverson growing up that it’s kind of a blessing and a curse right now. I try to do so many things, like his jump shot for example, when he drifts and fades away, that it’s not really beneficial for me because sometimes I fade unnecessarily and it’ll make my shot flat or fall short. And that’s just a habit you pick up from watching such a phenomenal player like Allen Iverson do things that not everyone else can do. Growing up as a little kid, that’s obviously a guy I wanted to pattern my game after, but I know for this team I need to be a point guard first. We’ve got a lot of really good weapons, I’ve got a lot of really good weapons around me and I need to utilize them to the best of my ability. I want to be that point guard that can score if needed, but not at the expense of setting my teammates up. I think that’s when we are best as a unit.

NBA.com: You’ve had so many transitions in the past few years, from Columbus to Ann Arbor and now to Salt Lake City all before your 21st birthday (which was Nov. 12). That’s a lot of life changes in a short amount of time. Does it seem like it’s all gone by in a blur?

TB: It is a lot. Two years ago I was moving into my dorm and basically nobody knew me at Michigan. Some people might have known me after the Mr. Basketball and everything I was starting to make a name and a little buzz, but that seems like yesterday. My mom and dad and everybody was with me and we honestly didn’t know what to expect. But even from the Draft until now, being in Chicago for pre-Draft and then at summer league and now we’re 24, 25 games into the season. It’s all moving fast and that’s why I’m doing whatever it takes to keep getting better as the days go on because you don’t want to miss any opportunities or overlook any of the little things along the way that make this so special.

NBA.com: Is your work ethic born out of the absence from the McDonald’s All-American game and all of the other accolades most “late bloomers miss out on in terms of recognition?

TB: Some of the best players in this league came in with people doubting them, telling them what they couldn’t do and that they would never make it. I’ve always been a small point guard, so I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder from people saying I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t big enough. That just gave me that drive and determination to get better. I know what I can do, I know the parameters of my game and when I’m going outside of my game. Some of the best players in this league had the hype coming in but just as many didn’t have that hype. And it’s a correlating effect, look at a guy like Victor Oladipo that wasn’t really highly recruited in high school. He was the second pick in the Draft and now he’s in contention like myself and Michael Carter-Williams for Rookie of the Year. Guys have that drive when you’re doubted your whole life.

NBA.com: Are you glad you got picked where you did because of the opportunities that are open to you now in this situation as opposed to going somewhere else where, who knows what the expectations might have been?

TB: Absolutely. Absolutely. A lot of people came to me saying, “you were the national player of the year, you should have been a top five pick.” Obviously, you want to be a high pick. But to me, being a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft … who’s going to complain about that. I landed in a perfect situation, and I thank God for that, it’s the perfect fit. In Utah, we’re a young team that’s trying to grow together as a team. We’re struggling a bit right now, but we’re getting better. But I have the opportunity to come in and make an immediate impact. And that’s one of the biggest things I wanted to be a part of coming into the NBA.

NBA.com: You’ve put together some monster efforts already your first (17) games in the league. The 30 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in the win over Orlando sticks out. No Jazz rookie point guard has ever done that. Not Stockton or DWill. Do you have to be careful, though, about chasing ghosts and numbers instead of taking a more measured and methodical approach?

TB: Yes, I’m trying to bring it every single night You have to make sure are playing your best and doing what’s best for your team first every night and not getting caught up in anything else. People talking about you hitting that rookie wall, so you have to be careful. It’s in the back of my mind, but I personally think it’s mental. It’s also about the way you are handling yourself off the court, what you are eating and putting into your body, the amount of rest you are getting. I think all of that comes into play when you’re talking about how you’re going to play when game 40 comes and game 62 comes around, those games when you’re in a cold city and you’ve got a game the next morning and you’re coming off of a back-to-back. All of that factors into how you play. So I’m just going to continue to be around my vets and listen to them and learn from the guys who have the experience in this league to make sure I’m doing whatever I need to do to perform well from start to finish.

NBA.com: You got some great preparation for what you’re going through now trying to help revive a franchise in college. Michigan hadn’t been a championship team for decade before you arrived. It’s a huge burden to carry, on and off the court, when you’re the guy people expect to be that agent of change. Do you take that same knowledge and apply the things that connect in your current situation?

TB: At Michigan we were rebuilding, weren’t highly ranked my freshman year and then boom, the next year we take off and we’re No. 1 in the country for a time and end up making it to the championship game. I know this is a completely different level of competition, so it’s not going to be just like that. But I definitely have been a part of this same sort of thing, even before Michigan. Back in high school it was kind of like that. We came from basically out of nowhere to be the No. 1 team in the country and win a state championship. I’ve always been a part of winning programs that come from a struggle of some sort, from losing before we turn it around. That gives me confidence that it can happen with the Utah Jazz. This is a great franchise, a really family oriented franchise, but one built on all the right things. And all of my experiences, so far, definitely give me hope that we’re going to turn this thing around and be a factor in this league.


VIDEO: Trey Burke joins the Game Time crew on a recent visit to the NBA TV set

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 5


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook tunes out praise, criticism | Cuban glad Mavs aren’t ‘stuck’ like Nets | Docs able to preserve Rose’s meniscus | Jazz get good look at their young duo

No. 1: Westbrook tunes out criticism (and praise) of his game — When Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury during Game 2 of the first round of last season’s playoffs against Houston, the Thunder’s hopes for a Finals run left, too. Although OKC managed to oust the Rockets in the first round, they were defeated in the West semifinals by Memphis. Before Westbrook’s injury, though, many in the media had criticized Westbrook for his (pick one or many) shot selection, turnovers, refusal to cede control to Kevin Durant and more. In a great interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Westbrook explains how neither that criticism nor the praise he’s getting now as many see how valuable to OKC, has affected him:

For Russell Westbrook to admit he likes being appreciated by the basketball world that once simultaneously loved and loathed him, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard would have to confess to caring about all the endless criticism that used to come his way.

Post-injury, after the long-overdue realization that his strengths far outweighed his weaknesses and with the Thunder (13-3 entering Wednesday night’s game at the Portland Trail Blazers) looking like a title contender again, he was the guy who could wear a tutu on the court and still command respect from all corners.

Pre-injury, he was seen by some as the guy who shot too much and shared too little — of both the ball and of himself. He didn’t help his cause with the news media, often clenching his teeth and oozing impatience during interviews and — intentional or not — feeding into his devil-may-care persona that came in such stark contrast to fellow Thunder star Kevin Durant.

From being a late-bloomer at Leuzinger High School in Los Angeles County to a bona fide NBA star, Westbrook’s days of dealing with doubters may finally be behind him. As for getting him to admit that the change in tone warms his ice-cold veins? That’s another story altogether.

“The outside voices, and those people, kind of look at (me) in a different way, in a different view, but it all depends on who’s saying it, to tell you the truth,” Westbrook told USA TODAY Sports. “If it’s my teammates, and my teammates appreciate (his play), then I’m good. Everybody else? I don’t really care about. It doesn’t matter if they appreciate what I do or not. I’m not playing for them.”

His smile isn’t as much of a stranger as it was before, even if it’s clear his competitive fire still burns much hotter than most. Case in point came Tuesday night, when he was too filled with frustration to conduct this interview after the Thunder barely survived against the Sacramento Kings, but — in a move that may not have happened in years past — agreed to chat by phone a day later when those pistons that drive him had finally cooled. Little by little, it seems, he’s letting the outside world in.

“It’s just getting older, man; just getting older,” Westbrook said of the maturation process. “That’s just part of it. Getting older you learn more, you see more, you know who’s who. You know who’s what.”

Asked if he was finally letting his guard down after all these years, Westbrook chuckled and said, “Nah. My guard is just how I was brought up. That’s the only way I know. That’s what got me to this point, to where I am now. If that comes down, I’ll be in trouble.”

“(The criticism) was always something that I never really paid attention to personally, because those (people) weren’t playing with me,” Westbrook said. “My teammates weren’t ever complaining about anything I was doing, so I never really worried about it. Obviously it looked different to different people. Everybody wants me to play a certain way and all that, and they think it’d be best if we play this way and we win.

“But it’s more than just shots, or how many shots I shot and if I shot more (than others). That ain’t the whole game. There’s a lot of other things that go on in the game that you help your team out with.”

***

No. 2: Cuban glad Mavs aren’t ‘stuck’ like Nets are — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has taken a lot of flak from his team’s fans (and some NBA pundits at large) for how what he chose to do with the team after it won the championship in 2011. In case you forgot, Cuban let the starting center of that squad, Tyson Chandler, bolt for New York, and last season, went with many one-year contract players on his roster to maintain cap flexibility. While doing so hasn’t netted Cuban and the Mavs the big free-agent fish (like Dwight Howard or Deron Williams) that they hoped for, the Mavs are remaining as a playoff team while also keeping their cap situation fluid for the future. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com caught up with Cuban on Wednesday night to gauge his thoughts on his roster and more:

Mark Cuban’s greatest fear for the Dallas Mavericks is playing out in Brooklyn.The Mavs owner was heavily criticized for stripping down his 2011 championship roster after the ensuing NBA lockout, opting to create space under the salary cap by not making competitive bids for several key players once they became free agents. His concern was that the franchise would deteriorate into an expensive team that wasn’t good enough to contend and didn’t have any realistic avenues to improve under the new collective bargaining agreement.

That appears to be the scenario for the Brooklyn Nets, who have stumbled to a 5-13 start despite a veteran-loaded roster with a bloated payroll that will cost owner Mikhail Prokhorov $190 million including the luxury tax this season.

“That’s exactly right,” Cuban said Wednesday night. “You get stuck. That’s exactly what I thought. … That was definitely a fear.”

Cuban had paid the luxury tax every season of its existence until 2011-12. The new CBA includes much harsher luxury tax penalties, which escalate for repeater taxpaying teams and at an incremental rate based on how much teams are over the limit.

However, it’s not necessarily the money that concerned Cuban. Rather, it’s the difficulty of improving a roster as a team paying the luxury tax under the current set of rules that led him to bid farewell to key championship pieces such as Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and current Nets guard Jason Terry.

“Those two go hand in hand,” Cuban said. “If we were [a team full of 25-year-olds], the massive luxury tax bill is nothing. But when you know as you get older, you get stuck. … It’s not just that you’re stuck for a week or a half a season, you’re stuck. Now that the rules got even more stringent, you’re even more stuck.”

The Nets did manage to make bold moves last summer, acquiring 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 36-year-old Paul Pierce and 36-year old Terry in a trade with the Boston Celtics. Their contracts are worth a combined $33.4 million plus luxury-tax penalties this season. Garnett and Terry are signed through next season.

“There was a reason they were trying to get rid of them,” Cuban said of those contracts.

That trade created a lot of positive publicity for the Nets at the time, but it hasn’t panned out so far. The production of Pierce (12.4 points per game), Garnett (6.5) and Terry (5.3) has dropped off dramatically from last season in Boston, much less the prime of their careers. Now, the Nets are in the news for the wrong reasons.

“It was almost like the Lakers, right?” Cuban said, referring to last season’s heavily hyped Los Angeles team after its summer acquisitions of Howard and Steve Nash. “It was just preordained, a super team, and it’s just tough. We went into last season thinking the Lakers [would be great]. The discussion was, would they win 70 games? Super teams are tough, particularly as guys get older. Again, they could still turn it all around. It’s just not easy.”

Asked if he had any advice for Prokhorov, Cuban cracked, “Drink more? I don’t know.”

***

No. 3: Report: Doctors able to preserve all of Rose’s meniscus — The season for the Chicago Bulls and their fans took a decided turn on Nov. 22 in Portland when Derrick Rose suffered a torn medial meniscus and subsequently was lost for the season. Some good news for Bulls fans, though, comes courtesy of BleacherReport.com’s Ric Bucher, who reports that doctors were able to keep all of Rose’s meniscus during the surgery:

One small bit of good news on Bulls point guard Derrick Rose: Apparently, the surgeon was able to preserve “100 percent” of the torn meniscus in his right knee, according to a source. He will miss the remainder of the season, but retaining the meniscus offers a much better chance that he can avoid the kind of chronic knee issues that Dwyane Wade and Tim Hardaway Sr. endured after having their meniscus removed.

***

No. 4: Jazz finally get a glimpse of what Kanter, Favors can do together — When the Utah Jazz decided to forgo re-signing veterans Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson in the offseason, it was clear they were turning the low-post keys to the offense over to youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Throughout most of the season, though, the duo has failed to perform well together in the same game, but that wasn’t the case last night against the Pacers. Trevor Phibbs of the Deseret News writes on how the Favors-Kanter matchup gave Utah fans a glimpse of what they’ve long been waiting for:

In Wednesday’s 95-86 loss against Indiana, however, the Jazz witnessed the potential they’ve expected from their two young post players.

For only the third time this season, and the first time against a quality opponent, Favors and Kanter both reached the double-figure plateau in points and rebounds. Favors finished with a game-high 22 points and 13 rebounds, his eighth double-double, while Kanter added 20 points and 10 boards, his fourth double-double.

“There were some things there that you can grow from,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. “You look at numbers and they’re a great game, but there’s still some improvement. We’ll break it down and we were glad to see them give us the effort (we) were looking for.”

“Obviously we can pull either one of them away from the basket with D-Fav hitting that jump shot more consistently now,” said Jazz rookie point guard Trey Burke, who finished with a career-high nine assists. “It’s really a matter of continuing to find out the best way we play with them out there on the court. I wouldn’t want to say experiment, but we really are. We’re trying to see the areas we’re best at.”

Kanter returned to the starting lineup in Marvin Williams‘ absence after coming off the bench for several games. He played a team-high 39 minutes.

“I’m just a player and I’m just doing my job,” Kanter said. “It don’t matter if it comes from the bench or the starting five, in the end you play for the Jazz. That’s fine for me.”

There were several bright moments, including Favors’ successful and-one with 3:22 left in the fourth quarter in response to a jumper by Indiana’s David West, but there were also moments for growth. Kanter missed several squared-away hook shots, and Favors mistakenly finished softly on a blocked layup after failing to recognizing Hibbert’s presence.

“Nobody likes to lose, but at the same time that was one of the best teams in the NBA,” Favors said. “We learned a lot tonight mentally and physically.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rockets center Dwight Howard was none too pleased with the team’s loss to the Suns last night … Former Kings center Keon Clark has been sentenced to eight years in prison … Rookie Otto Porter Jr. is close to making his debut with the Wizards … Pistons center Andre Drummond makes some history in Detroit’s win over Milwaukee

ICYMI Of The Night: The Pistons are just a game shy of .500 and have become a pretty exciting team to catch on League Pass, as this Brandon Jennings-to-Andre Drummond sequence illustrates …


VIDEO: Brandon Jennings finds Andre Drummond on the break with the nifty dish

Back And Forth With Bones: Bulls-Jazz

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an email exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 6-6 Chicago Bulls and the 1-14 Utah Jazz on NBA TV.

Pregame

Schuhmann: I think this game qualifies as the Saddest Matchup of the Season. The Bulls just lost Derrick Rose for the year and the Jazz are 1-14, having trailed three of their last four games by at least 28 points. But somebody has to win tonight!

Chicago has actually been much better defensively with Rose off the floor, and Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler is a pretty strong defensive backcourt. But for the time being, they’re also without Butler. So Marquis Teague and Tony Snell will each have a chance to prove they belong in the rotation. Long-term, they should be OK defensively, and they’ve been pretty poor offensively thus far, but they won’t be able to get much better without Rose.

And obviously, this puts more pressure on Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah to play big minutes and stay healthy. Noah’s minutes (29.3) are down below where he was two years ago (30.4) after a big increase last season (36.8), but I wonder if they go back up now that Rose is out.

Utah had two of their better offensive games upon Trey Burke‘s arrival, but they’ve actually been at their best with Diante Garrett playing point. This guy is a plus-24 for a team that’s been outscored by 67 points since he arrived.

Chicago can get points on second chances. They rank third in offensive rebounding percentage and the Jazz rank 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. It’s strange that Utah is such a bad rebounding team with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter (who’s out with a sprained ankle) up front. They’re actually worse with both of them on the floor than they are overall, but we talked a couple of weeks ago about how they extend out too much on their pick-and-roll coverage.

What are you looking for tonight?

Barry: So many things going wrong for both of these teams. Both are coming off very embarrassing performances and have a number of players in the role of proving they belong to be in the rotation, if not in the NBA.

The Kanter loss for the Jazz will greatly affect their ability to score points. Burke is trying to get his legs and conditioning back after just one start. And beginning his career with a team under these circumstances is very very tough.

I guess this game boils down to the identity of the teams. The Bulls have one and Utah has yet to establish one. I look for the Bulls to respond in a way that they have in the past without Rose. Even though the makeup of this team is different, they should be able to pull this game out with the experience of their roster.


(more…)

Sound The Early Alarm For These Teams

Despite the anguish that occurs each time LeBron James misses two shots in a row or his team loses back to back, nobody is really worrying about the Heat. The Larry O’Brien Trophy still travels through Miami. We figure the Bulls will get everything sorted out whenever Derrick Rose becomes totally comfortable back out on the floor. Golden State will be entertaining and dangerous as long as Stephen Curry stays healthy. The Spurs will grind on. The Thunder will roar. Those are the stories for the long haul.

Then there are the teams that even two weeks into the season might as well have a fire pole and a Dalmatian inside their home arenas, because the alarm bells are already ringing:

Utah Jazz: It was always going to be a transition year in Utah as the team cleared out Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and made a full commitment to the youth movement. But with Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks finally getting their shot, the transition was not supposed to be a crash all the way into the basement. The Jazz have been missing first-round Draft pick Trey Burke (broken finger) at the point, but that’s hardly an excuse for their rarely even competing. They just completed a winless four-game road trip where they trailed Brooklyn by 26, Boston by 25, Chicago by 29 and Toronto by 38. This is the worst offensive team in the league by any measure — points (86.9), rating (90.4) and shooting percentage (40.1) — and are barely better on defense, ranking fourth from the bottom. They give up layups, dunks and wide-open 3s. It’s the worst start to a season since the Jazz moved to Utah in 1979 and if there aren’t at least signs of this bunch becoming regularly competitive, this always-patient franchise could push coach Tyrone Corbin out the door.


VIDEO: Jazz radio play-by-play man David Locke on Utah’s winless start

New York Knicks: What’s more embarrassing: Losing by 31 points at home to a Spurs team that might as well have been floating on its back while sipping an umbrella drink in the third quarter? Or having team owner James Dolan make a bold guarantee that the Knicks would win their next game over the thoroughly mediocre 3-3 Hawks? Really? We’re at the promising-our-guys-will-show-up-and-remember-to-tie-their-sneakers point in the season already? Look, when you go “all-in” with your pile of old chips last season and once more get only as far as the East semifinals, the talk of being a championship contender is just so much self-deluding smoke. Yes, J.R. Smith is back after missing the first five games of the season due to suspension under the league’s substance abuse policy, but center Tyson Chandler is out four to six weeks with a broken leg. The highest paid player on the roster, Amar’e Stoudemire, can’t help a lick and is more dead weight with another $23 million owed next season. Their best player, Carmelo Anthony, is shooting a career-low 41.3 percent from the field, and calls the Knicks play “embarrassing.” Coach Mike Woodson called the effort against the Spurs “unacceptable.” Get ready for Woodson to pay the price is it doesn’t change quick. Never mind beating out Indiana, Miami, Chicago and Brooklyn for one of the top four seeds in the East. The bigger question is how the Knicks do it after next season and beyond?


VIDEO: Knicks coach Mike Woodson blasts team’s effort in loss to Spurs

Los Angeles Lakers: After #bearhunt and #blackout, maybe Kobe Bryant’s next hashtag on Twitter should be the not-so-cryptic #lottery. It is one thing to hope — maybe even expect — the ultra-competitive Black Mamba to not only return to the Lakers lineup from Achilles’ tendon surgery sometime in the next month or two, but to do so at All-Star form at 35 years old. But it is more than a bit unrealistic to think he’ll be able to do much more than simply pull this purple and gold limousine out of the ditch. Anybody who’s given just a glance this season already knew the Lakers didn’t play anything resembling defense (as a 47-point first quarter against Minnesota on Sunday night proved). The hobbling Steve Nash (back) is out at least two weeks. Coach Mike D’Antoni is fiddling desperately with lineups and combinations. They got their only road win of the season when old buddy Dwight Howard gift wrapped it by clanking seven missed free throws in the fourth quarter. When Pau Gasol has to body up and play defense for a full game in the middle, it leaves him sapped on offense. Knowing Bryant, he’ll come galloping back in at full speed and do everything he can to keep his team on the periphery of the playoff race. Even if he beats the odds and succeeds, the Lakers are going nowhere next spring. If the intent is to re-sign Kobe going forward, it would be better off to get him fully healthy for the rebuilt roster in 2014-15.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant on his rehab progress, return date plans and more

Brooklyn Nets: Oh, nobody’s saying it’s time to write off owner Mikhail Prokorov’s big, expensive plaything just two months into the season. But this is a team and a whopping payroll that wasn’t assembled to show patience and slow growth. With geezers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce holding down key spots, the Nets have a window of two seasons at most — and maybe even just this one — to make a real Finals bid. The vital cog in the whole machine is point guard Deron Williams, who has been unable to get back to the level where he was one of the league’s top three at his position in his Utah days. His numbers looked good on Saturday night against the Pacers, but down the stretch he committed a big turnover, then a foolish foul on a George Hill 3-pointer. He looks like anything but the strong quarterback this team needs. Brooklyn stumbles late and can’t close games. Garnett is saying that he’s got to take charge of the team and that’s not practical with the limited minutes he’ll play, no matter his Hall of Fame resume. At 2-4, the Nets can’t afford to dig themselves too deep a hole in the race at the top of the East with Indiana, Miami and Chicago and need some urgency to their game.


VIDEO: Nets forward Paul Pierce talks about life in Brooklyn

Memphis Grizzlies: We know former coach Lionel Hollins got to clean out his desk when he left the FedExForum, but couldn’t a security guard or somebody have stopped him from taking the defense? You can talk about Memphis’ need for a consistent perimeter scorer, solid backup guard or anything else. But the reason the Grizzlies are below .500 (3-4) is they’ve lost their claws and their identity, the part that made them the Grizzlies and carried them to the 2013 Western Conference finals. They’ve gone from the second-rated defense in the league last season to 21st. They’ve fallen from among the leagues in steals and forced turnovers to ranking in the bottom third in the league in both categories. They’re simply being outscrapped, outhustled, outworked. That rarely happened under Hollins and it’s becoming too much of an early trait under new coach Dave Joerger. “We have to get it together,” said Grind House founder Tony Allen, “and get it together soon.” The alarm bells are ringing.


VIDEO: Grizzlies put up little fight in road loss to undefeated Pacers