Posts Tagged ‘Dwight Howard’

Morning Shootaround — July 13




VIDEO: Should the Thunder have matched the offer sheet for Enes Kanter?

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas | Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? | Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC | Jack ready to replace Williams | Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns

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No. 1: Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas — While other members of his Draft class are adjusting to the rigors of the NBA during their respective summer league debuts, Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is drawing rave reviews from every direction after his initial steps in the Las Vegas Summer League. There is a reason he sticks out, according to Rob Mahoney of SI.com:

The product on the floor at the Las Vegas Summer League is, by the tyranny of literal definition, basketball. It’s just a form of basketball so far removed from the NBA’s version as to complicate player evaluation. The best and worst performances alike come with the caveat that summer league is a world all its own: The talent level is lower, the continuity is nonexistent, and the context of play is altogether distinct.

The true standouts in Vegas, then, are those who demonstrate the kinds of skills that can cut through the divide. Count Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay among them. A combined 14 assists (including 10 on Sunday against Sacramento) in his first two summer league games doesn’t do him justice. Mudiay is such a smooth playmaker that he gives a makeshift offense of make-good prospects an actual rhythm.

Mudiay sees the game in a way that allows for that. There are prospects all across the summer league pool with rotation-quality speed or handle. Mudiay has both, stands a solid 6’5″, and has the vision to see all of a possession’s opportunities. Whenever his drives bring multiple defenders to the ball, Mudiay monitors even those options that might first seem unavailable: The half-defended roll man, the zoned-up shooter on the weak side, or the cutter caught in a crowd. His every step and spin revises those possibilities.

“I learned so much in China,” Mudiay said.  “Just slowing the game down, seeing where everybody’s at, knowing where everybody’s at. That really helped me.”

Just before the defense can settle, Mudiay creates. A cross-court pass will zip into the pocket of an available teammate from a difficult angle, bringing his drive-and-kick to a potent conclusion. Rare are those point guards who can not just find and exploit openings, but also keep defenses guessing. Mudiay has some of that spice—the ability to look past a good first option into a great (but challenging) second option. Corner shooters and hard rollers are going to love him.

“I can score when I need to but at the same time, [the Kings] were giving me wide open lanes,” Mudiay said. “Me finding my teammates, that was the main important thing. I found my teammates. How ever the other team’s playing me, that’s how I’m going to play.”

***

No. 2: Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? — In this summer’s free agent landscape, spending $1.4 million on a rotation big like Andrea Bargnani would appear to be a pretty good bargain for the Brooklyn Nets. Our John Schuhmann is not as confident in the addition of Bargnani as the decision-makers in Brooklyn:

It seems like a low-risk move by the Nets, who apparently stole Bargnani from the Sacramento Kings, who had offered him more than the minimum. But at this point in his career, it’s unclear what Bargnani has to offer any team who dares to pay him anything.

Bargnani has long been a bad defender. Of 386 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the nine years since Bargnani came into the league, only three – Ryan Gomes (108.9), Hakim Warrick(108.9) and Charlie Villanueva (109.5) – have had a higher on-court DefRtg (the number of points a player’s team allows per 100 possessions) than Bargnani (108.8).

He’s not a good (or willing) passer; His assist rate (7.4 assists per 100 possessions used) ranks 351st among those 386 players. And he’s a terrible rebounder for his size; he’s grabbed less than 10 percent of available rebounds when he’s been on the floor.

Bargnani is supposed to be a shooter and a floor spacer. But he has shot just 30 percent from 3-point range over the last four seasons.

He did shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks last season, but that was on just 41 attempts. And that’s the real issue. Bargnani doesn’t shoot many threes (or really space the floor) anymore.

In his first four seasons in the league, Bargnani took about one mid-range shot (between the paint and the 3-point line) for every 3-pointer. But over the last five seasons, his mid-range-to-threes rate has doubled.

Bargnani is a decent mid-range shooter. But even over the last five years, his mid-range shots (43.3 percent, 0.87 points per shot) haven’t been worth as much as his threes (31.8 percent, 0.95 points per shot).

Bargnani doesn’t shoot well or often in the paint. And if he fancies himself a shooter and/or a floor spacer, he can’t be taking twice as many mid-range shots as 3-pointers. Last year’s rate of more than 4-to-1 is just awful.

Speaking of awful, last year’s Knicks went 17-65. And they were at their worst, getting outscored by 17.5 points per 100 possessions (16.5 points per 48 minutes), when Bargnani was on the floor.

The Nets needed another big to back up Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Before Sunday, their only centers were Lopez and Willie Reed, who has never played in a NBA game.

But there were better options out there than Bargnani, who hasn’t been good at his one good skill in several years. It’s especially strange that a team looking to make moves with cap space next summer would dedicate any 2016-17 money (even if it’s a player option for the minimum) to a player like Bargnani. And my goodness, his relationship with an old-school, defense-first coach like Lionel Hollins will be fascinating to watch.

The good news for the Nets is that they didn’t give up three draft picks to get him.

 

***

No. 3: Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC — Now that the Thunder have matched Portland’s $70 million offer for Thunder restricted free agent Enes Kanter, it’s time for the big man to prove his worth on a healthy team that is ticketed for big things during the 2015-16 season. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman paints the picture in Oklahoma City:

 

The offense should be no problem. Kanter was superb offensively with the Thunder. In 26 games, Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 5.0 offensive rebounds per game. He shot 56.6 percent from the field. He scored inside; he scored outside. And Kanter wasn’t a black hole. He averaged a career-high 1.3 assists per 36 minutes. Serge Ibaka’s career high is 1.1.

But defensively? Total disaster. Historic, in many ways. The Thunder was so glad to have a healthy body, especially a big body who put the ball in the basket, that Kanter’s defense was glossed over. But it was bad. To borrow a phrase from Chris Paul. Bad, bad, bad.

When Kanter was traded from Utah on Feb. 19, the Thunder ranked ninth in NBA defense — 99.7 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz ranked 26th, 104.9.

In two months, basically a third of a season, Utah caught the Thunder. The Jazz finished 13th in NBA defense, 101.3 points per 100 possessions. OKC was 15th, 101.8.

The Jazz improvement wasn’t just addition by subtraction. It was addition by addition — 7-foot-3 Rudy Gobert moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz was transformed. Utah was 19-34 with Kanter; the Jazz was 19-10 without Kanter.

The Thunder’s defense suddenly cratered with Kanter playing 30 minutes a night. The final 17 games was without Serge Ibaka, which will sink many a defense, but still, that doesn’t explain the total collapse.

A new defensive statistic is really telling. Defensive real plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on team defensive performance. It might be the closest thing we have to a rock-bottom defensive value.

Kanter ranked 469th out of 474 NBA players measured. Read that again. Kanter ranked above only Sacramento’s Derrick Williams, the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, the Lakers’ Jabari Brown and Brooklyn’s Bojan Bogdanovic.

Kanter ranked last among 71 centers. The worst defensive center in the league was the guy the Thunder has committed to paying $70 million.

And it’s not like 2014-15 was an aberration. The season before, Kanter ranked 61st out of 62 centers, ahead only of Milwaukee’s John Henson.

Again, offensively, Kanter is a jewel. He ranked seventh among NBA centers in offensive real plus-minus, ahead of stars like Chris Bosh and Al Horford and Dwight Howard. So Kanter is the total package offensively. But that defense will kill you, as we learned down the stretch of the star-crossed season recently completed.

***

No. 4: Jack ready to replace Williams — The departure of Deron Williams in Brooklyn leaves a gaping hole in the lineup at point guard. Veteran Jarrett Jack insists he is ready to replace Williams, if that’s what Nets GM Billy King and coach Lionel Hollins need him to do. Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News has more:

Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson always planned to attend NBA summer league in Las Vegas as a team-building experience.

But addressing reporters late Saturday night in Cox Pavilion, circumstances had obviously changed.

Deron Williams, the former face of the franchise, was waived Saturday afternoon — the Nets agreeing to buy out the remaining two years and $43.3 million of his contract for $27.5 million.

The move allows the Nets to duck under the luxury cap threshold and increase their salary cap space for 2016-17.

But Williams’ departure also creates a job opening at point guard.

While coach Lionel Hollins and GM Billy King danced around questions of who will take over the role, it’s assumed that Jack, a well-liked veteran who started 27 games last season and came up big in late-game situations, will play the part with perhaps newly acquired Shane Larkin also pushing for minutes.

“If that’s the position they want me to fill, I’m definitely very ready to do so,” Jack said. “It’s not my first rodeo as far as being thrust into the (starter’s) role if that were to be the case. So it’s something that’s not foreign to me and (I’m) definitely ready for the challenge.”

Jack said he spoke to Williams on Friday about his exit out of Brooklyn.

Williams is expected to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks after he clears waivers on Monday.

“He was in good spirits, going back to his hometown team, thought he might have needed a change of scenery, you know, which is cool,” Jack said. “In professional sports, happiness is a thing that we don’t get to control a lot. It seems like he’s happy with the new situation and I’m definitely happy for him and hope he does well.”

***

No. 5: Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns — All the moves made this summer in Phoenix have Eric Bledsoe believing that the Suns are a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. That means his commitment to the Suns and to improved leadership are crucial to the cause. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

Eric Bledsoe is known for doing impressive things during the NBA season.

Bledsoe’s offseason sounded impressive too but the work and dedication was out of sight until he showed up for training camps looking like the “after” photo in a fitness advertisement.

This is the offseason where Bledsoe’s dedication goes beyond fitness. He has had a presence in everything the Suns have been doing.

Bledsoe pledged to spend his summer in Phoenix rather than the usual return to his hometown, Birmingham, but his engagement has gone beyond a permanent address in the Valley.

Bledsoe has been working out at US Airways Center. He attended draft workouts. He held a youth basketball camp. He was part of the Suns’ recruiting group that pitched LaMarcus Aldridge. He came to Las Vegas on Saturday to join the Suns’ summer team workouts and watch their NBA Summer League games.

To Bledsoe, it is all part of becoming a playoff team.

“I just thought it was important to be around this summer to put the work in and to show that I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “I was working out with some of the newer guys and I built relations with Archie (Goodwin), T.J. (Warren) and Alex (Len)during the season. I told them I’d come here and check them out to see how much they’ve improved.”

Bledsoe hesitates to proclaim that the team is better than last season yet with “work still to be done.” He did say that the team is in “a better place” than at the end of last season, citing better health, relationship building and the potential to win.

Aldridge was considered a lock to sign with San Antonio this offseason but Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and new Suns center Tyson Chandler were part of the Suns group that at least swayed him momentarily.

“I’m out here to show I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “However I can possibly help the team get better, that’s what I’m going to do. Recruiting-wise, they needed me to get one of the top free agents. We missed out just by a hair but we got an even better post player (Chandler) and I think he’s going to help Alex. He’ll help defensively. He’s got the mentality of a player who’s won a championship and had a whole bunch of success in this league. It’ll help rub off on everybody else, especially the young guys.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks and John Henson are closing in on extension talks for the big man … New York Daily News reporter tries out for but fails to make Nets’ dance team … Zaza Pachulia is going from the oldest to a relative youngster in his move from Milwaukee to Dallas

Blogtable: Toughest (and easiest) division?

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: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League



VIDEODallas is one of the forces to be reckoned with in the Southwest Division

> Provided all the agreed-to free-agent deals happen, which division (as of today) looks toughest and easiest to traverse to the top in 2015-16? And give me a reason or two why you’re picking each one.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com You don’t want to go wandering into that Southwest Division, the NBA’s equivalent of the wrong side of the tracks. It’s nasty down there, full of rough-looking characters on playoff-tested teams. And they’re not just bad, they’re big, with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan elbowing in alongside Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan. If it’s a stroll through the park you want, you head to the Atlantic, where Toronto was the only team above .500 last season and might have taken a step back in losing Amir Johnson and Lou Williams. Everyone else in that district is flawed as well, not ready for prime time, with Brooklyn headed down, Boston and Philadelphia still learning and New York pursuing mediocrity as an upgrade from last season.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Bermuda Triangle has nothing on the Texas Triangle for being a potential danger to travelers. Toss in Memphis and New Orleans and the Southwest is clearly the roughest, toughest neighborhood in the league. All five teams made the playoffs last season and they’ve only gotten better. I’ll give you five reasons why the Atlantic is the weakest division — Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Raptors and Sixers.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Toughest: Southwest, and it’s probably not even close. New Orleans won 45 games in 2014-15 and still finished last. Now imagine the division with the Spurs and Mavericks coming off their summers. Easiest: Northwest. Even with the Jazz on track to push past .500, with the demise of the Trail Blazers, it’s still OKC and everyone else.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Seeing as how the league is ready to devalue divisions, the rankings really don’t matter much anymore. But, as you will: The Southwest (Spurs, Rockets, Mavs, Grizz, Pelicans) will lap the field in terms of toughness. You could make an argument for every team making the playoffs, even the Pelicans. Just look at the stars: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Kawhi Leonard, etc. It’s a division just steep with talent. The Atlantic will be the weakest if only because they’ll be dragged down by the Knicks and Sixers. In that division, only the Raptors are built to last into spring, and they lack the necessary franchise player to go deep.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Southwest Division was already the best in the league (0.637 winning percentage last season), added LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan, should have a healthier Rockets team, and has Anthony Davis getting better every year. The Celtics, Knicks and Raptors all made some improvements, but the Atlantic Division will remain the worst in the league, with at least three (and maybe four) teams under 0.500. The second best team (Boston) is still without a real impact player.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Southwest is going to be a torture chamber. And I’ll give you five reasons, starting with the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans. All five should be playoff-caliber teams. All five have spent the summer either improving or at least fortifying themselves through the Draft and free agency. They will batter each other in the division and make life miserable for any team that has to pull a Southwest Division swing. The easiest division? I prefer terms like least treacherous. The Northwest and Atlantic both look like they’ll have several teams trying to recover from the offseason (Draft, free agency, trades, etc.), which will keep those divisions from being as strong top-to-bottom.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The Atlantic remains the NBA’s weakling, in spite of its immense markets: its four big American franchises are rebuilding, while the Raptors have won no more than a single playoff series in 20 years. The powerhouse is the Southwest, which looks capable of producing five playoff teams for a second straight year — and possibly 50-plus wins across the board, pending the continued development of Anthony Davis. Any one of its teams would dominate the Atlantic.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Well, the Southwest is now the Southbest. As if it wasn’t already tough enough, now you’ve got LaMarcus Aldridge and David West in San Antonio, James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston, Dirk Nowitzki, DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews in Dallas, and the Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies in Memphis. Poor New Orleans has to satisfy themselves with “just” having Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Division is still the Atlantis. While the Knicks, Sixers, Celtics and Nets all search for a path to relevance, the Raptors should be on top for a few years to come.

Morning shootaround — July 4




VIDEO: Mavericks busy adding Matthews and Jordan

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Mavs are back | Lakers fading on Aldridge | Rondo picks Kings | Rockets keep pair | Hammon summer boss
No. 1: Jordan makes Mavs relevant again — They struck out on Deron Williams. They came up empty in their pursuit of Dwight Howard. But just when folks were starting to think Mark Cuban and the Mavericks had lost their mojo, they came up as big winners in the 2015 Free Agency by locking up prize center DeAndre Jordan to go along with guard Wesley Matthews. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News says one of the most significant days in franchise history put the capital “D” back in Big D:

The ghosts of Deron Williams and Dwight Howard and all the other free agents that snubbed the Mavericks in years past have been swept away. Any accusations that the Mavericks don’t have cache and that Dallas isn’t a free-agent destination no longer apply.

In the last three summers, they have reeled in Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons and now Jordan and Matthews.

Owner Mark Cuban, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, coach Rick Carlisle, franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki and last year’s key free-agent signee Chandler Parsons were all part of the recruiting party that met with Jordan twice in Los Angeles since free agency began late Tuesday night.

Cuban is optimistic that Jordan will a foundation piece of the franchise.

“We told him that you’re capable of being a 20-20 guy,” Cuban said on an interview with KTCK-AM 1310 The Ticket. “You’re just not being given the opportunity.”

The recruiting team sold Jordan, who was first-team all-defense and third-team all-NBA last season, on the Mavericks by emphasizing that he would be a focal point of the franchise at both ends of the court. Coach Rick Carlisle presented X’s and O’s that showed how Jordan could prosper in the Mavericks’ system.

They don’t see him as offensively challenged, although he obviously is a poor free throw shooter (41.7 percent for his career, 39.7 percent last season).

Jordan did not waste time making a decision. He met with the Los Angeles Clippers, with whom he played his first seven seasons in the league, Thursday night in LA. By noon, Pacific time, he had informed the Mavericks that they were the winners for his services.

And, my, how the outlook for an entire franchise can change so quickly. When Tyson Chandler left the Mavericks for Phoenix on Wednesday for a four-year deal worth more than $50 million, fans were worried that another year of free agency would go by with the Mavericks getting nothing but agony.

With Jordan’s decision, coupled with coaxing Matthews to sign for about $14 million per season, people who have dogged Cuban and Nelson for roster decisions since the 2011 championship certainly have to reconsider their position.

Cuban also admitted that had the Mavericks swung and missed on Jordan, they could have been staring at a season of doom. He also credited Texas having no state income tax as a significant recruiting tool for both Jordan and Matthews.

In Matthews, the Mavericks are getting a sensational shooter who is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in March. They included athletic trainer Casey Smith in the recruiting meeting with Matthews and you can be certain the Mavericks would not have been all-in with Matthews if Smith wasn’t convinced Matthews will make a full recovery in time to play most, if not all, of the 2015-16 season.

That set the table for Jordan, whose agents also represent Parsons. In addition, Cuban and agent Dan Fegan have worked together on numerous contracts, trades and other NBA dealings. That relationship didn’t hurt in the pursuit of Jordan.

Package it all together and the Mavericks ended up with one of the biggest days in franchise history Friday.

***

No. 2: Lakers hopes of landing Aldridge sinking fast — This is life among the other half. Long one of the NBA’s elite, the Lakers have grown accustomed to rejection as just one of the masses in recent seasons. Though they were granted a “do-over” second meeting with free agent LaMarcus Aldridge and things reportedly went well, Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times says the Lakers don’t have much hope of landing the free agent plum:

It’s the third consecutive summer they’ve made a pitch — or pitches, in the case of LaMarcus Aldridge — in hopes of a successful off-season acquisition.

Their presentation to Aldridge was “much better” the second time, according to a person familiar with the hastily assembled meeting, but there could be only hope, not overt confidence, he would eventually sign on the dotted line of their four-year, $80-million offer.

They want Aldridge badly and genuinely need him because almost all the free-agent post players have allied themselves with other teams.

DeAndre Jordan chose Dallas over the Clippers, Kevin Love returned to Cleveland, and Greg Monroe went with Milwaukee over the Lakers and New York.

Even the second-tier big men are getting snapped up, including Robin Lopez for a reported $54 million over four years with the Knicks.

There’s still … Kosta Koufos? Bismack Biyombo? Cole Aldrich?

It’s a touch of deja vu for the Lakers — another July, another waiting period.

***

No. 3: Kings get Rondo, Belinelli — It’s been a tumultuous several weeks for the Kings with all the talk of trading center DeMarcus Cousins and whispers of firing newly-hired coach George Karl. But the downtrodden team finally got a bid of good news when free agents Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli — both with championship rings — agreed to new contracts with the Kings. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee breaks it down:

Point guard Rajon Rondo agreed to a one-year deal worth $9.5 million, according to a league source. Rondo met with the Kings on Friday, then agreed to the deal.

Rondo, 29, was the second player to agree on Friday to join the Kings. They also reached a three-year deal worth $19 million with free-agent swingman Marco Belinelli, a league source said. Belinelli confirmed his decision on Twitter.

The contracts can be signed July 9, when the league moratorium on deals is lifted.

Friday was a bounce-back day for the Kings. Thursday night, guard Wesley Matthews passed on their four-year, $64 million offer, and Monta Ellis, another top target, agreed to sign with Indiana.

The Kings, who had been looking for improved passing and three-point shooting, should get both from Rondo and Belinelli, respectively.

Their signings were made possible after the Kings cleared an additional $16 million in salary cap space on Wednesday, giving Sacramento about $26 million to work with in free agency, after trading Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry to Philadelphia.

The Kings hosted Matthews on Thursday, hoping to persuade their top free-agent target to sign the lucrative offer.

***

No. 4: Rockets keep Brewer, Beverley — The Rockets are still considered darkhorse contenders to land free agent prize LaMarcus Aldridge. But while waiting for a decision, the team made significant moves in re-signing their own two key players Corey Brewer and Patrick Beverley, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets came to terms with starting point guard Pat Beverley and sixth man Corey Brewer, multiple individuals with knowledge of the deals said.

But a person familiar with the talks so far said they remained “in the mix” to also land Trail Blazers free-agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge, considered the top attainable free agent of the summer.

Aldridge seems most likely to land in San Antonio.

Even if the Rockets do convince Aldridge to sign on, that would take a difficult sign-and-trade deal with the Trail Blazers.
They can only hope that Aldridge feels anywhere near the way Brewer and Beverley did Friday.

According to individuals with knowledge of the deals, Brewer and the Rockets reached agreement on a three-year, $24 million contract and Beverley and the Rockets reached agreement on a three-year, $18 million deal with a fourth, non-guaranteed season worth another $5 million.

“I’m just happy to be back, man,” Beverley said. “This is the biggest contract I had in my life.

“Because of the numbers Dallas was throwing around, I was kind of worried that Houston wouldn’t be able to match it. I was getting so many calls at night I didn’t know what was going on. I was excited to be getting calls.

“It came down to God is good. I’m where I need to be and that’s in Houston.”

Beverley also received interest from the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks. Brewer met with the Knicks on Friday and also was targeted by the Kings and Lakers.

“I’m happy, so happy,” Brewer said. “Just glad to be a Rocket.”
The Rockets considered both keys to their rotation.

Brewer’s addition in December dramatically bolstered the Rockets bench, and he was a key to their post-season run, most vividly with his starring role in the Rockets’ Game 6 comeback against the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.

***

No. 5: Hammon to coach Spurs’ Summer League team — Another day, another barrier for Becky Hammon to break down. While the Spurs’ pursuit of free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge has consumed most of the headlines this summer, the forward-thinking franchise took another giant step toward the future by announcing that the NBA’s first full-time female assistant Becky Hammon be calling the shots from the sidelines for the Spurs at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has the details:

Hammon said Friday she viewed her appointment from coach Gregg Popovich as a vital step in the development of her career.

“It’s a different role (from being an assistant),” said Hammon, 38. “You go from giving support and watching all the details going on during the game to, you’re the one calling timeout, you’re the one drawing up the plays, you’re the one the players get (mad) at when they get yanked. It’s a step over and a step up, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Will Hardy, the team’s video coordinator, will coach the Spurs’ entry in the Salt Lake City Summer League from Monday through Thursday, with Hammon assisting him.

The two will swap roles when the Spurs relocate to Las Vegas from July 10-20.

Traditionally, a stint as the Spurs’ Summer League coach has looked good on a résumé.

Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer and former Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn each took a turn during their time on the Spurs’ bench, as did Washington lead assistant Don Newman.

Last year’s Spurs summer leaguers were led by assistant coach Ime Udoka.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tobias Harris re-signs with the Magic…Knicks land Robin Lopez and Derrick Williams...C.J. Watson makes move to Orlando…The mayor of Phoenix is now part of the recruiting effort to lure LaMarcus Aldridge to the Valley of the Sun.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Howard, McHale still confused on suspension talk, ready to move on


VIDEO: Should Howard have been suspended?

OAKLAND, Calif — After sweating out the ruling from the NBA office following his Flagrant 1 foul for a backhanded slap at Andrew Bogut on Monday, Rockets center Dwight Howard is just happy that he avoided suspension and will be able to play tonight in Game 5, while his coach Kevin McHale is still trying to sort out the entire punishment system.

“There’s no need to even talk about it even more,” Howard said following the morning shootaround at the Olympic Club. “I’ve got to get ready for tonight’s game. That’s all that really matters.

“We just got to play basketball. I have to understand what another team’s game plan is, especially with me. To try to get me frustrated, get me mentally out of the game. I just stay strong through all that stuff.”

But is that easier said than done?

“It is,” Howard said. “It’s kinda like being in the boxing ring, but you don’t get a chance to use your gloves. You just gotta get hit. It’s tough, but it’s about how you respond.

“Just put my energy in the right place. Instead of fighting back, fighting the other team when they try to frustrate me, fight harder to get an offensive rebound. Fight harder to get post position. Fight harder to get a stop on defense. All that stuff will make up for wasted energy on trying to fight back with another player.”

The former Celtics Hall of Famer McHale, who played in a far rougher, tougher league back in the 1980s, sounded as if his head might explode from trying to understand the current system of penalties.

“Those rules are ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t know who came up with the rules. You should just decide how many flagrants or how many technicals per series is acceptable … one, two, three, nine … I don’t know. Then every series it starts off with zero. Then you have that many in the first series and that many in The Finals.”

What did McHale tell Howard going forward?

“Hit them first,” he said. “They always call the second one.”

McHale laughed at the notion that the incident between Howard and Bogut would be remotely compared to his playing days and said there was a simpler, more direct way to hand things back then.

“Here’s what happened,” McHale said. “If a guy held you, you hit him. Then the referee said, ‘If you don’t want to get hit, don’t hold him.’ Because they usually catch the second one.

“So you blasted him in the head and the referee said, ‘Well, you guys are even, because you held him and then you hit him in the head.’ You look at the guy and say, ‘If you hold me, I’m gonna hit you in the head.’ And then the referee would say, ‘If you hold him, he’s gonna hit you in the head.’ And then they quit holding you and you quit hitting him in the head.

“Oh, I gotta go on that one.”

Morning shootaround — May 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dirty Delly or just playing hard? | Steph has never been better | Cramps don’t stop LeBron this time | Rockets vow to get tougher

No. 1: Dirty Dellavedova or just playing hard? — Perspective is everything when you’re talking about the impact of Matthew Dellavedova in these playoffs for the Cleveland Cavaliers. In Chicago and Atlanta, where players from opposing teams have fallen victim to Delly’s hustle (or some would say dirty tricks), there is no debate. He’s up to no good. But in Cleveland, where he’s revered for being the hardest working man in the building every night, he’s become something of a cult hero. He added another chapter to his story when he got tangled up with Atlanta Hawks All-Star center Al Horford in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 overtime win, a game Horford was ejected for after elbowing Dellavadova. Our very own Steve Aschburner offers his perspective on “Delly” and the name (good and bad) that he’s made for himself in these playoffs:

The range of characterizations for what transpired was vast. It was a bad break for the Hawks. A foolhardy response by Horford. An expert but helpful-to-the-Cavs ruling by the referees (Dellavedova got a technical foul but stuck around to score 17 points and hit four of nine 3-point shots). Another instance of the Aussie guard’s high-energy, do-anything tactics that have a way of getting Down Under opponents’ skin.

That was the beef from some of the Hawks, a lot of TV viewers and across the Twittersphere — that this was no isolated incident but instead was the latest in a pattern of Dellavedova taking down or taking out key players for Cleveland’s rivals.

The recent run of plays that have left opponents worse off began with Game 5 of the East semifinal against Chicago. Pushed to the floor by Bulls forward Taj Gibson, Dellavedova — while face down — locked his legs onto one of Gibson’s legs. When the Chicago player kicked free, the kick was caught by the referees, the replays and an outraged Quicken Loans Arena crowd. Gibson was hit with a flagrant-2 and, with the Bulls already playing without big man Pau Gasol, ejected early in the fourth quarter from what became a two-point game in the final minutes.

On Friday, in Game 2 against Atlanta, Dellavedova dived for a loose ball and slammed into Hawks guard Kyle Korver‘s right leg. With both players grimacing from the collision, the Cavs guard rolled over, leaving Korver with a postseason-ending high-ankle sprain.

That led to Sunday’s play, with at least one of Horford’s teammates suggesting that their center retaliated in enough-is-enough fashion.

“Hey, man, you all do the math. Two plus two equals four, doesn’t it?” said Atlanta forward DeMarre Carroll. “Al just did what he thought was necessary to protect our team and make a stand. And he got thrown out.”

“Everybody understood we had to take a stand. We’re out there to play basketball. We’re out there to compete. But when we get to the sense of doing things unnecessary, that’s when you have the play you seen.”

Of Dellavedova, Carroll said: “I think he’s just a competitor, man. And sometimes, when you compete so hard, you can take it overboard. There’s got to be a fine line between competing or being crazy.

“I play hard myself. And I understand, sometimes you go tot do little things to get under people’s skin. But [nothing] crazy. I hope he takes a look at the film and sees, man, there’s a way to play hard but not to play crazy.”


VIDEO: Al Horford talks about being ejected from Game 3

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Morning Shootaround — May 24


VIDEO: Saturday night was Stephen Curry’s night in Houston

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steph Curry is the real MVP | LeBron is the B.O.A.T. | Korver, Hawks all but done? | Wounded Rockets stunned by loss | Skiles the frontrunner for the Magic job

No. 1: Steph Curry is the real MVP — The debate is over. Stephen Curry is the “real MVP.” If that is not clear after three games of the Curry-James Harden duel in the Western Conference finals, you need a new pair of glasses. Curry’s brilliance was on full display in the Warriors’ Game 3 win in Houston Saturday night. And good luck finding a comparable talent, a topic our very own Fran Blinebury explored in the aftermath of the Warriors’ huge win:

The record book now says that after hitting 7-for-9 from long range to ignite his 40-point, seven-assist, five-rebound, two-steal bonfire and an embarrassing 115-80 beatdown of the Rockets, Curry is now the most prolific 3-point shooter in the history of the playoffs, passing the legendary likes of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen.

Your eyes that pop wide open, your ears that can hear the wind getting sucked right out of the arena and any sense of innate rhythm that runs from your head to your feet say you don’t need any list of numbers to tell you he’s a completely different breed of cat.

“I think it’s the ball-handling that leads to the shot,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “People ask me all the time who I would compare him with. I played with Mark Price years ago. Mark had a skill set that was really fun to watch, great ball handler, quick pull-up on a dime. Steve Nash, although Steve really preferred to make the pass and he was a reluctant shooter, could still shoot off the dribble.

“But I don’t think we’ve seen anybody this quick, [with] ability to create space and then pull up and six, seven feet beyond the line, with this kind of fearlessness and confidence. He’s really something.”

That was perhaps one thing a few of the swells in the high-priced front row seats were saying midway through the third quarter when Curry grabbed the rebound off a missed layup by Klay Thompson, ran to the left corner, turned to drill one more trey, stared at the crowd, then removed his mouthpiece to return verbal fire.

“That’s the fun with playoff basketball on the road,” Curry said. “You’ve got hecklers and guys up close that paid of a lot of money for those seats that want to get their money’s worth. It’s fun. You know, those are just genuine reactions.

“I think the one in the corner, a guy said — it was a four-letter word I can’t repeat. But that’s the one I turned around and just said, ‘Sit down.’ Just having fun with him, go about my business, get back on defense. If they want to talk, hopefully they can take some back in my fashion.”

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Howard upgraded for Game 3 tonight

HOUSTON — The mystery surrounding Dwight Howard’s left knee is all but gone and the only suspense is whether his Rockets can bounce at home tonight from a 2-0 deficit against the Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

There was debate surrounding Howard’s health status until just a few minutes before the opening tip of Game 2 Thursday, but he wound up playing 40 minutes, scoring 19 points and pulling down 17 rebounds.

The 6-foot-11 center, who suffered a first degree sprain of his left knee as the result of a collision with teammate Josh Smith in the series opener, has been upgraded from questionable to probable for Game 3 at Toyota Center and said at the Saturday morning shootaround that he’s pleased with how the injury responded to the playing time and treatment he’s received.

“It felt pretty good,” Howard said. “We were happy about that. I didn’t want to linger throughout the whole playoffs.”

Morning Shootaround — May 23


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s Cavs-Hawks Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks | Rockets look to win at home | Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? | Wizards wait to hear from Pierce | Globetrotter Marques Haynes passes away

No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system

The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.

You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.

But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.

Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.

“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.

On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.

“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”

This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.

A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”

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No. 2: Rockets look to win at home After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle

Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.

“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.

“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”

Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”

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No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…

Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.

“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”

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No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…

About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.

Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.

“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”

After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.

Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.

Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.

“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”

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No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York TimesBruce Weber provides more

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunionGordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …

Rockets encouraged by Howard’s play


VIDEO: GameTime: Game 2 Analysis

OAKLAND — The return of Dwight Howard on Thursday night at Oracle Arena was actually the return within the return, with Howard back in the Rockets’ starting lineup against the Warriors but not really back in the flow until later.

The Howard of early in Game 2, after missing all but 51 seconds of the fourth quarter two nights before because of a bruised left knee, was ineffective. He didn’t move well. He didn’t look like someone capable of making a difference, or at least a positive difference.

By the second quarter, though, he was contributing. And by the end, he had become one of the few remaining reasons for the Rockets to remain hopeful about their chances in the Western Conference finals as the series moves to Houston for Game 3 on Saturday.

The 19 points on eight-for-11 shooting along with 17 rebounds was an important part of the Rockets nearly winning. But the 40 minutes was most meaningful of all, and not just in the moment. It was a sign of optimism, that if Howard could go from being listed as questionable most of the afternoon to a game-time decision as tipoff approached to a woozy start to a real impact by the end, imagine where he could be with another full day of rest and treatment before stepping on the court at Toyota Center.

“I felt a little bit better as the game went on,” Howard said. “Really just trying to protect it a little bit, but at the end of the day, this is very important to myself and the rest of my teammates, so just got to go all in.”

The guy who missed almost all the fourth quarter on Tuesday played the entire final period on Thursday. The longer the game went, the better he got, until the Rockets had nearly rallied from 17 points down in the second quarter before fumbling away the chance on the final possession to complete the comeback.

“Dwight did a great job for us,” coach Kevin McHale said. “We were really struggling to rebound the ball if he wasn’t on the floor. James [Harden] came in and got nine defensive rebounds, which is huge for us. What can you say? I mean, the guy played fantastic. His knee is bothering him a lot. One thing about Dwight is when Dwight starts a game, he very seldom wants to come out. In Game 1 when he told me he couldn’t go, I was like, ‘Oh, boy.’ That’s really saying something.

“I think the brace that the training staff got him [Thursday] morning gave him some confidence in that knee, but that’s just a hell of an effort by Dwight Howard. There’s really nothing else you can say. He played his [butt] off. There’s just nothing else you can say. The guy played really, really well.”

It would have been a welcome sight no matter what. Down 0-2, a healthy Howard is more like a necessity.

Dwight Howard to start Game 2

OAKLAND, Calif. — Dwight Howard will play tonight in Game 2.

After suffering a left knee sprain the Western Conference finals opener against the Warriors Tuesday night, the Rockets center went through a pre-game warm-up at Oracle Arena and was pronounced ready to go.

When asked if he was receptive to just relying on the advice of team doctors and trainers during his own Hall of Fame playing career, Rockets coach Kevin McHale said:

“That was a whole different era and I didn’t listen to anybody. I just wanted to play and you have to have some part of you that feels you can contribute no matter what shape you’re in.

“Hey, you see me walk around now. I didn’t always make the best decision.”