Posts Tagged ‘Doc Rivers’

Summer Dreaming: Coach of the Year

Let’s face it. For all the talk about stability and commitment, most NBA franchises change coaches the way the rest of us change T-shirts on these sweaty dog days of August — often and without even thinking twice.

When the regular season begins in two months, there will be nine new coaches roaming the sidelines. Some will sink, some will swim and some will stand out from the pack.

So as our Summer Dreaming series continues, let’s take a bold leap to next April and have a look at the five candidates most likely to be filling the Coach of the Year ballot for 2014-15.

Send us your picks.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers and Steve Ballmer discuss new Clippers era

Doc Rivers, Clippers — After making the coast-to-coast jump from Boston to L.A., Rivers probably didn’t think his leadership duties on the West Coast would include being the spokesman and face of the team in the difficult scandal involving former club owner Donald Sterling. But as you might have expected, Rivers was out front, direct and kept a firm hold on the situation and his locker room, though it’s hard to discount some effect in the playoff loss to OKC. Now with a new owner and clean slate, he can get back to just concentrating on basketball, where he already upped the franchise record for wins from 56 to 57. He used an up-tempo attack to overcome the losses of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick for stretches. His fingerprints were all over the dramatic improvement of center DeAndre Jordan to become a mainstay rather than a sideshow in the lineup along with CP3 and Blake Griffin. The next step is the Western Conference finals and real bid for a championship.


VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra’s exit interview

Erik Spoelstra, Heat — Now you see him, now you don’t. One minute you’ve got the best player in the game in your starting lineup every night and the next minute he’s gone home to Cleveland. Maybe that’s what it takes to finally get Spoelstra noticed for being more than just Pat Riley‘s pupil and the guy who let’s LeBron James pile up wins. Truth is, he dramatically revamped the Heat offense after that 2011 loss in The Finals and that did lead to back-to-back championships. But as Phil Jackson learned with the Bulls and Lakers, there is nobody overlooked more than the coach of the reigning league icon. The Zen Master won the award just once (1996) despite his 11 titles. Now if Spoelstra can keep a reinvented Miami attack built around Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng in the top half of the Eastern Conference race, he’d finally get the credit he’s been due.


VIDEO: Dwane Casey accepts the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Dwane Casey, Raptors — Midway through last season, Casey was on many lists as the coach most likely to be fired next. But talk about pulling yourself back from the brink. Once the Raptors unloaded the contract and the bad fit that was Rudy Gay to Sacramento, Casey got his team to raise its level of play by getting the Raptors to tighten down on defense and make that a calling card. So much for the outside world that thought the Raptors were going into the tank for a lottery pick. They went from ranking 22nd in defensive rating the previous season to finishing 10th and used that identity to win 48 games and the Atlantic Division title. It all came together enough to convince free agent Kyle Lowry to remain committed to what Casey is doing and sign back on. Casey himself re-upped on a new three-year deal. With up and comers DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, there’s no reason to think the Raptors can’t build on their success and stay in the fight in a rejuvenated Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Tom Thibideau talks about the Bulls’ upcoming season

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls — Admit it. After what he’s done just grinding out wins the past two seasons with holes in his lineup, we want to see just how far Thibs can take the Bulls if a healthy Derrick Rose stays on the court. And don’t forget that the front office dealt Deng out from under him at midseason. You have to know that Carmelo Anthony‘s decision to stay in New York was all and only about the money when he passed up an opportunity to be the perfect piece in the puzzle in Chicago. Neverthless, Thibodeau gets to supplement his frontline with the ultra professional Pau Gasol, who’ll fit in nicely alongside the semi-controlled frenzy that is Joakim Noah. There is no question that the Bulls have bought into the philosophy and completely taken on the hard-driving, do-anything, no-excuses attitude of their coach. Yes, he has overused players to the point of wearing them down to the nub. But that’s only because he’s been playing shorthanded for two years. Give him this full season with all of the key players able to stay healthy and the Bulls will be challenging LeBron and the Cavaliers at the top of the East with a real shot at championship contention for the first time since that guy with the statue outside the United Center was still in uniform.


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich helps celebrate the Spurs’ championship win

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — Now that he’s won five titles and also this award three times in his career, it’s no longer fashionable to say that he’s taken for granted down there in little ol’ San Antonio. But you simply can’t have any list of top five coaches in the league without including the guy who is generally regarded by his peers as being the best. Far more than just a grumpy face, Pop has changed the focus of his offense during the 17-year championship run from being low post oriented with Tim Duncan to whipping the ball around the perimeter in an international style of unselfish frenzy and filling up the bucket with 3-point shots that Pop himself admits “I hate.” He’ll stick with his plan of managing the minutes of his core players Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to the point of sacrificing wins — but never too many — in the regular season. He’ll continue to shift more of the burden to rising young players such as Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. They’ll likely be written off again as too old, too worn out at some point during the long regular schedule. But the Spurs will win 50 games, make the playoffs and, if physically fit next spring, Pop will have them once more as the team with know-how and the ability to win West again.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 13


NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Ballmer, Rivers to talk extension | Report: Bledsoe, Monroe likely to ink qualifying deals | Analyst: Sale of Jazz would fetch up to $650 million

No. 1: Report: Ballmer to discuss extension with Rivers — If you somehow missed it yesterday, the biggest NBA story on the planet was the league officially approving the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to new owner Steve Ballmer, who replaces the disgraced Donald Sterling. Now that Ballmer is in place, one of his first orders of business may be locking up coach Doc Rivers to a contract extension, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

In the wake of owner Steve Ballmer gaining governorship control of the Los Angeles Clippers, discussions on a contract extension for Doc Rivers are expected to commence soon, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Ballmer and Rivers had been eager to forge a long-term partnership, and a California court confirming the authority of Shelly Sterling to sell the franchise on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust has cleared the way to work toward a new deal.

Rivers, 52, the president of basketball operations and head coach, has two years left on his original three-year, $21 million contract. Rivers is already one of the highest-paid executives and coaches in professional sports, and his prominence and pay could grow with the promise of Ballmer’s stewardship of the Clippers.

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Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers visits China

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers got the right man for the job in Byron Scott | USAB roster vulnerable without Love? | Turner and Celtics find perfect fit in each other | Finding Gregg Popovich in the summer

No. 1: Lakers got the right man for the job in Byron Scott: — It absolutely took forever for the Los Angeles Lakers to find what they feel is the best fit for their new coach. And there’s good reason for it. Had things played out differently in free agency, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony might have had a say (along with Kobe Bryant, of course) in who replaced Mike D’Antoni. That’s not saying it would not have been Byron Scott. But there is no guarantee. Ultimately, as Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com points out, the Lakers got the right man for the job:

It was no secret that if they ended up pulling off a coup and landing LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or both, they wanted to entice the superstars to come by letting them have a say in who would coach them.

All the while, however, they kept Scott in the loop, bringing him back for a second interview June 10 prior to free agency and then again for a third talk July 16 after the Anthony/James dream had died and L.A. instead filled up its roster with the likes of Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis.

Which brings us to the second question that needs to be asked: Why Byron?

It wasn’t just about his ties to the Showtime era, but that surely helped. It wasn’t just that he was around the team all last season as an analyst for the Lakers’ television station, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and had an intimate knowledge of what went down, but that helped too.

The Lakers franchise also wanted to establish a clear defensive identity after being atrocious on that end of the court last season, and Scott’s credentials include a strong defensive-minded reputation.

But really, the Scott hire comes down to one man: Kobe Bryant. L.A. invested close to $50 million in Bryant over the next two seasons when he’ll be 36 and a 19-year veteran and 37 and a 20-year veteran.

Despite all that’s gone wrong in Laker Land since Phil Jackson retired in 2011, Bryant still remains as a box office draw and a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Whichever coach the Lakers decided on would have to mesh well personalitywise with Bryant first and foremost and, beyond that, play a system that would help Bryant continue to be productive even as Father Time is taking his toll.

It was no accident that Bryant publicly endorsed Scott for the job during his youth basketball camp in Santa Barbara, California, earlier this month.

“He was my rookie mentor when I first came into the league,” Bryant said. “So I had to do things like get his doughnuts and run errands for him and things like that. We’ve had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years. So, obviously I know him extremely well. He knows me extremely well. I’ve always been a fan of his.”

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CP3 boycott talk is doomsday scenario


VIDEO: What happens to the Clippers if they have to play without Chris Paul next season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If the Donald Sterling affair didn’t have your undivided attention before, it should now.   

The Los Angeles Clippers’ ownership drama has taken a sinister turn. Clippers superstar and Players Association President Chris Paul is throwing out the possibility of a boycott if Sterling remains owner of the team.

The mere mention, in a probate court hearing, of Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers wanting to go elsewhere if Sterling stays was bad enough. But Paul leading a boycott of his team is a doomsday scenario no one wants to see. If Paul, All-Star Blake Griffin and the rest of the Clippers refuse to take the court when training camp begins, this situation takes on an entirely new dynamic.

Paul and Rivers have discussed what might happen if Sterling remains in control of the team that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has agreed to purchase for $2 billion. Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com caught up with Paul Thursday after he finished up coaching his AAU team in Las Vegas:

“That’s something me and Doc are both talking about,” Paul said Thursday after coaching his AAU program, CP3. “Something has to happen, and something needs to happen soon — sooner rather than later.”

Interim Clippers CEO Dick Parsons testified earlier in the week in state court that Rivers told him on multiple occasions that he doesn’t think he wants to continue coaching the team if Sterling remains in control of the franchise.

“We’re all going to talk about it,” Paul said. “We’re all definitely going to talk about it. Doc, Blake [Griffin], DJ[DeAndre Jordan]. It’s unacceptable.”

“Unacceptable” is the most appropriate term for the ongoing hijacking of the Clippers’ championship window. They didn’t deserve to have their 2013-14 season irreparably damaged in April when Donald Sterling first was caught on tape making racist and derogatory comments, remarks that led NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to ban him from the league for life.

Paul’s dual role as leader of the Clippers and the players’ association requires him to take a dramatic stand if  Sterling is in control of the team when training camps start in early October. Solidarity is a must. A potential boycott may be the only leverage available to players to voice their disappointment in a matter that is going to be decided in the courtroom,  not on the court.

The Clippers considered a boycott when the news of Sterling’s comment broke during the first round of the playoffs in April, but decided to play instead and stage a formal protest by not wearing the Clippers name across their chests during warm ups before Game 5 against the Golden State Warriors.

“It was a real consideration,” Jamal Crawford told us on the Hang Time Podcast after the Clippers’ season ended. “We were all ready to stand strong and do whatever had to be done.”

Rivers is the one who convinced Crawford and the rest of the Clippers to play on. Now, this talk about Rivers bolting and the players boycotting if Sterling remains illustrates the seismic shift in the mood around the organization as the court proceedings continue. Parsons, appointed by the NBA to be the interim CEO of the Clippers, testified in court that the franchise could fall into a “death spiral” if Clippers fans, sponsors, players and coaches flee the scene should Donald Sterling remain the owner.

The closing arguments in the current legal fight — determining whether Sterling’s wife, Shelly Sterling, was within her rights to sell the franchise to Ballmer for that record $2 billion — come Monday in probate court. That’s when we’ll find out if the agreed-upon sale to Ballmer will proceed or all involved will be plunged into even deeper legal waters. (And even if the sale is allowed, there’s a good chance that Donald Sterling will appeal the ruling.)

Deadlines for the sale to be finalized have shifted with each and every legal turn. The initial date was July 15, before the extension to Aug. 15. The NBA will resume termination proceedings if the sale is not closed by Sept. 15. That could provide Paul and his teammates just weeks to decide what they’re going to do before training camp begins.

Based on what he said in Vegas, Paul is still formulating a plan. But it seems as if he and the rest of the Clippers are ready to dig in for a long, hard fight.

Back to court in the Sterling affair

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any hope that a Monday meeting between Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer would provide some sort of resolution to the Los Angeles Clippers’ ownership saga, currently tied up in probate court, should be tempered with a cold dose of Sterling reality.

Nothing with this comes quickly or definitively.

The process of separating Sterling from the Clippers has had more starts, stops and resets than anyone could have imagined when Shelly Sterling signed an agreement on May 29 to sell the team for $2 billion to Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO.

Monday’s meeting, after court adjourned, between the Clippers’ current owner and the team’s possibly future one sent a buzz around the basketball world. But, by now, we all should realize that Donald Sterling’s mood and mind changes on a dime. There is no need to read too much into “friendly” talks between the two men. Not when there is so much that could change throughout the course of this probate hearing, which continues Tuesday and Wednesday with closing arguments scheduled for Monday.

The most optimistic of observers held out hope that a settlement might have been reached after the meeting. That is, undoubtedly, the preferred outcome of many.

But just last week NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he was not certain that new ownership would be in position at the start of the 2014-15 season. The sale agreement between Shelly Sterling and Ballmer mandated that the sale close by July 15, with a possible one month extension built into the deal. If the matter isn’t resolved by Sept. 15 the NBA has the option of resuming the termination proceedings and the sale of the team.

Our David Aldridge asked and answered the bigger and perhaps even better question before Monday’s meeting: What happens if Donald or Shelly Sterling is still in charge of the Clippers when training camp starts?

There is another provision that allows the parties another year to consummate the sale, subject to Ballmer’s and the league’s approval. That would, of course, mean that Shelly or Donald Sterling, depending on what the probate judge decides, could still own the team when training camps begin in October.

The NBA has said that that won’t happen, and that if the probate judge rules in Donald Sterling’s favor, it will quickly reinstate the termination hearing originally scheduled for last May, when the league sought to take the team from Donald Sterling after it determined he had made racist remarks in a conversation with a girlfriend. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling from the league for life and fined him $2.5 million.

The termination hearing was postponed after the league helped Shelly Sterling find a buyer for the team. Ballmer outbid several well-heeled prospective buyers for the Clippers, who set a record for highest price paid for an NBA franchise. Only the sale of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 for $2.1 billion is higher.

But when I asked Silver at his news conference last week if he could say with certainty that neither Donald nor Shelly Sterling would still be in charge of the team at the start of next season, he could not.

“No, I cannot say with certainty, and I can’t say with certainty because it’s in the hands of the probate court right now, and Donald is in the process of suing us for lots of money, and we’re defending ourselves against those lawsuits,” Silver said, referring to the $1 billion lawsuit Donald Sterling filed both against the league and Silver in June.

“The only thing I’ll say, and I appreciate that [Sacramento Mayor] Kevin Johnson, who’s been representing in essence the players in this matter and direct discussions with the players and the Players Association understand it’s very difficult to say anything with certainty in a situation like this,” Silver continued. “I can say with certainty we are doing everything in our power to move Donald out as an owner in the NBA, and as I said, if the probate ruling doesn’t go in our favor, we’ll recommence our procedures under termination.”

So while the Monday get-together made for promising headlines, it should be noted that there are reportedly no more talks planned, per The Los Angeles Times.

Plus, there is so much more ground to cover in the probate hearing. The chief financial officer of Donald’s properties said in court Monday that Sterling needs the sale to go through to pay off some $500 million in loans — or he’d have to sell off a large part of his real estate empire.

That bit of news may provide some additional hope for those looking for a quick resolution to this mess. But there are almost certainly more twists and turns coming. That’s the reality.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about the Clippers’ spring and summer roller coaster, courtesy of the Sterling affair

At peace, West seeks another chance


VIDEO:
Delonte West talks about trying to get back into the NBA

LAS VEGAS – As undrafted rookie Tyler Johnson left the arena Monday, he shouted out to the guy he’d spent most of the night chasing around, and vice versa, in the clash of Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers summer league squads. “All right, Delonte,” Johnson, a 22-year-old from Fresno State, said.

Delonte West interrupted a conversation to get him back. “Good game, young fella,” said West, in that moment transporting himself back a decade.

“When I was a young guy,” said West, “and an older guy would say, ‘Aw man, I saw you play at St. Joe’s,’ I’d be like, ‘Appreciate, appreciate.’ I’d go home and text [friends], ‘Paul Pierce used to watch me in college?!’ “

That’s time, y’know, and it passes quickly. One moment you’re the rookie looking to impress and hoping to get noticed, the next you’re a veteran of eight NBA seasons and five teams trying to revive that career. It’s gone fast and it’s been bumpy for West, who will turn 31 on July 26 and whose travels and most recently two-year absence from the league had little to do with his basketball skills and everything to do with off-court issues and the bipolar disorder from which he suffers.

West’s bouts of mental health problems spoiled his three-year run in Cleveland, where he played with LeBron James but got enmeshed in scurrilous rumors related to James’ mother Gloria. He also was arrested in 2009 for riding a motorcycle while carrying a large number of firearms.

His disorder clouded a second chance in 2010-11 with Boston, the team that had drafted him No. 24 overall in 2004, and it finally put him out of the league after getting sideways with the Dallas Mavericks in October 2012.

West gathered himself enough to spend a year in China, playing for the Fujian Sturgeons in the Chinese Basketball Association. He played well and added facets to his game. Last summer, he and his wife Caressa became parents to an infant son. That was another step in West’s maturation and new found stability.

“That’s a part of the game,” West said. “The life game for me. It was great going out there, going and growing up. Put the toys behind me. Being grown up and being a man, sometimes there’s things you have to do… take the trash out. But that’s what going away for me did.”

In his eight NBA seasons, West played in 432 games, scored 4,198 points, made 58 playoff appearances and, according to basketball-reference.com, earned about $16.2 million. Whether it was the game, the paydays, a shot at redemption or some combination of all three, West reached out to Clippers coach Doc Rivers for this latest, perhaps last chance.

“It wasn’t hard. He called me and I said yes,” Rivers said, watching as a spectator as the Clippers squad beat Miami, 91-85. “Literally, that’s how it happened.

“I think we all knew he could play. But it’s good for people to see it again. He’s in a great place in his life. A new baby… And because his life is doing well, his basketball’s good.”

West played well against Johnson and the Heat, scoring 12 points with eight rebounds and five assists. While all the young guys were running around at 100 mph, trying to do everything at once, the 6-foot-3, something-less-than-180-pound West was a stabilizing influence, orchestrating and letting the ball find him.

Except for plays such as this: Just before halftime, West leaped for a defensive rebound, then dribbled through a swarm of three Miami defenders. Clearing the pack, he found Amath M’Baye for an alley-ooped and-1. It stuck out as an NBA pearl among, let’s face it, more than a few swine in raggedy summer-league action.

More of the same and West might land the training-camp invitation he’s seeking.

“The next step is teams, including us, are looking at him, and he’ll get a lot of interest,” Rivers said. “I was sitting over there with Thibs and Flip [Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and Minnesota president/coach Flip Saunders]. Delonte scores three buckets in a row and you can hear them talking about him. ‘Damn, he can still play.’ That’s good.”

Said Thibodeau: “To me, that’s the beauty of summer league. There’s something for everybody. Like a guy comes out of college, maybe he wasn’t drafted, so he goes overseas or plays in the D-League and he gets better. You see him three years later and he’s a lot better. There are guys trying to revive their careers. So the picture of him is not from three or four years ago, it’s where he is now.”

West these days is in a good place. He’s grateful for the chance Rivers has given him. He spoke at length about the relationship he forged in Dallas with Mavs owner Mark Cuban, even as he spiraled out of the league. He even mentioned the NBA per diem he got and the steak he ate Sunday, helping him get back to proper playing weight.

Generally, West sounds like a man with no expectations now, appreciating what he has and what he survived to reach this point.

“It’s already been a success,” West said of this summer-league stint. “I got an opportunity to put a jersey on and be back in the fraternity. The chance to get up there and get some NBA bump, hey, anytime you’ve got a jersey on – it don’t matter who you’re playing for – you’re there. You’ve got a Clippers jersey on.

“This is big for me and my family. We’re going to celebrate. It’s one step to more steps.”

Brooks keeps on pushing right buttons for Thunder

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Scott Brooks speaks after OKC’s practice on Wednesday

OKLAHOMA CITY – Since everybody else with an armchair coaching degree lobs criticism at the Thunder’s Scott Brooks, including, apparently, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Brooks figured he might as well sneak in a dig of his own.

During his team’s series-evening blowout of the San Antonio Spurs in Tuesday’s Game 4, guard Reggie Jackson rolled his ankle early in the first quarter. Brooks was asked his thought process as Jackson hopped around in pain and feared potentially to be out of commission.

“I was a little worried with Reggie when he hurt it in the first few minutes,” Brooks said. “I didn’t want to make a change in the lineup to get ridiculed, so I wanted to make sure I could get him a couple more possessions.”

Hey-O!

It was a rare shot of snarkiness from Brooks, who took to the postgame podium moments after Spurs coach Gregg Popovich belittled a reporter for asking a supposedly inaudible question because, as Popovich suggested, the questioner was oddly speaking with a mouthful of food. Brooks’ public speaking consists almost exclusively of monotone, mostly polite and low-key responses.

He rarely, if ever singles out players for criticism and steadfastly sticks to a script of optimistic, team-oriented answers. He consistently deflects credit onto his players and almost never inserts himself into the equation.

“No, that was a joke,” Brooks insisted of his spontaneous postgame wit after the Thunder’s light workout Wednesday. “That was my sense of humor. It’s a little dry at times.” (more…)

Hang time podcast (episode 162) featuring Nick Collison and Jamal Crawford


VIDEO: Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers joins the crew this week on the Hang Time Podcast

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – How quickly things change in the Western Conference finals.

After two games the basketball world was reading the Oklahoma City Thunder’s last rights. They were finished, crushed beneath the big toe of the mighty San Antonio Spurs.

It’s a good thing for Nick Collison and his Thunder teammates that you have to win four games to advance to The Finals. Because with the series tied at 2-2 after back-to-back blowout wins the Thunder has new life. It’s the same kind they showed against Jamal Crawford and the Los Angeles Clippers in finishing the Western Conference semifinals in six games.

Both Collison and Crawford, two HT faves, join us on Episode 162 of the Hang Time Podcast, offering their unique perspectives on all things playoffs and more.

Collison talks about what it’s like to be stitches free (for a change), playing with the whirlwind that is Russell Westbrook and watching Kevin Durant‘s evolution from rookie string bean to MVP.

Crawford shares his insights on the Donald Sterling drama from the inside, what it’s like looking at the Western Conference finals from the outside (when you want in), how Doc Rivers guided his team through it all and a love for the game that hasn’t wavered in 14 seasons in the league.

You get all of that and our take on Phil Jackson, the coaching vacancies the Knicks and Lakers are trying to fill and who we feel is the best candidate (Lex Morrison, Derek Fisher, etc.) for each job and plenty more on Episode 162 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Nick Collison and Jamal Crawford:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Off Season – Trailer from Vuguru on Vimeo.

24–Second thoughts — May 20

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade has LeBron’s back at crunch time … they’re not done yet, folks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Born Ready?

Not yet.

Not Lance Stephenson and the Indiana Pacers, who made it interesting until the very end of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.

Born Ready?

Not ready. Not yet.

Not when LeBron James (12 points) and Dwyane Wade (10) own the floor at crunch time in the fourth quarter.

The Heat have never trailed 2-0 in a series since they joined forces. They still haven’t. James and Wade 22 in the fourth quarter, Pacers 20!

Game 3 is Saturday in Miami.

The Heat are taking their talents and that always crucial 1-1 series split back to South Beach!

:1

LeBron and Wade either scored or assisted on every single basket in the fourth quarter for the two-time defending champs. Real Champs wore black!

:2

LeBron with the sick bounce pass to Wade for the reverse baseline jam and essentially the game!

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In Ibaka’s absence, underappreciated Perkins steps to the plate

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The Thunder will need Kendrick Perkins to step up in Serge Ibaka's absence.

With Serge Ibaka out, the Thunder will need Kendrick Perkins to step up. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Brooding Kendrick Perkins has handled being a punchline of sorts by his own teammates and those too-often incredulous, face-palming hometown fans with a playful touch. But what the Oklahoma City Thunder will need from their starting, sometimes stumbling center in the Western Conference finals is no laughing matter.

Power forward Serge Ibaka, the league’s leading shot blocker and the Thunder’s third-leading scorer, is expected to miss the remainder of the playoffs with a left calf strain. Perkins, known more in OKC for his menacing scowl and misfiring putbacks than any meaningful point production, won’t be asked to duplicate Ibaka’s mid-range game. But Perkins’ 270-pound presence at the other end must be problematic for Tony Parker‘s penetrations and Tim Duncan‘s myriad of moves in the paint.

In early April, Perkins ignited a rally against the Spurs early in the third quarter in a way really only he can with a two-handed shove of Duncan after the whistle. The crowd howled and after the theatrics, OKC was off to the races, snapping the Spurs’ 19-game streak and making it a 4-0 sweep in the regular season.

“We’re a team that’s going to come and get real physical with you,” Perkins said after the game, which was his first back from groin surgery that sidelined him for six weeks.

Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers coach who coached Perkins in Boston where they won the 2008 championship and some say lost the 2010 Finals against the Lakers because Perkins was injured and couldn’t play in Game 7, placed a value on Perkins that he says numbers simply can’t.

“You just can’t,” Rivers said. “He does so many things on the floor, off the floor, he gives every team he’s on a perception of toughness. You know, I was amazed the difference when we [the Celtics] lost him (in the trade to Oklahoma City on Feb. 24, 2011). I’m not saying the next year, I’m saying the next week.

“After he was gone, all of a sudden now it felt like we were under attack. No one was scared of us anymore in Boston.”

This postseason, even some of Perkins’ numbers are revealing his value on the floor. He’s shooting 52.8 percent from the floor — his high mark since the 2009 playoffs and up from 26.3 percent last postseason when he was roundly ridiculed — meaning he’s sticking those put-backs, and even a decent number of those mechanical, one-handed push shots he attempts.

He was key in the Thunder’s Game 2 win over L.A., going for eight points and nine rebounds. Averaging 21.0 mpg, he’s grabbed six or more rebounds in six of 13 playoff games.

Like Rivers, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has maintained a high level of loyalty to Perkins, sticking with the 6-foot-10 native Texan when he’s struggled, and even when a smaller lineup would seem appropriate.

But Brooks’ confidence won’t magically allow the ground-bound Perkins to replicate the athleticism, strength and shot-blocking of the ever-evolving Ibaka, who has become so confident that he’s taken to mimicking the Dikembe Mutombo finger wave after denying an opponent at the rim. During his MVP speech, Kevin Durant praised Ibaka for cleaning up so many of the team’s defensive mistakes.

Losing Ibaka is hardly ideal, particularly against the Spurs’ front line of Duncan and burly Tiago Splitter. But the Thunder are more prepared to soldier on without him than in previous postseasons. Veteran Nick Collison is crafty and reliable regardless of the minutes he’s granted from series to series or game to game. And 7-foot rookie Steven Adams continues to get better while providing rock-solid minutes at both ends.

“He’s playing with a great level of confidence,” Perkins said after Adams posted 10 points and 11 rebounds in the Game 6 win against the Clippers.

The fierce New Zealander was drafted 12th overall last June by the Thunder after playing just one season at Pittsburgh. He’s averaging 16.3 mpg, but has shown he has the stamina to go much deeper if called upon. He logged 40 minutes in Game 6 and more then 20 minutes three more times. He has soft hands for a big man and is adept at catching and finishing as the ball inevitably comes his way underneath when his man leaves to help on Durant or Russell Westbrook.

“The unsung heroes on our team are our bigs,” Brooks said. “I say it all the time, I’ll continue to say it, they set screens, do a lot of things to put us in position to win a lot of basketball games.”

One significant big is down. It’s up to Perkins and his pals to pick him up.