Posts Tagged ‘Eric Gordon’

Five Players Who Need To Step It Up

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – We’re only approaching 10 games in, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to eyeball some concerning trends that could quickly become disturbing. I’ve pinpointed five players I believe have left something to be desired. Each is an established veteran who entered this season with a new and exciting situation, and high expectations.

1. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets

Supposedly happy in Houston, Howard’s stats — 18.2 ppg and 14.9 rpg — certainly look All-Star worthy. But take a deeper look. He’s shooting 53.6 percent from the floor, a mark not seen since his first two seasons in the league — and four percentage points lower than last season when he complained the Lakers didn’t get him the ball in his sweet spots. Yes, he and the Rockets, just 5-4, are adjusting, and this could take time, but Howard has looked awkward on the block and is shooting just 37 percent in the paint, per NBA.com stats. More discouraging is his free-throw shooting. He said he wanted to shoot between 75 and 80 percent — which was laughable. Instead he’s dragging a career-low 47.9 percent. Teams are already employing the Hack-a-Howard tactic and the Rockets are seeing how frustrating it is to have a big man who can’t make free throws in crunch time. They’ve been awful trying to close out games. And Hack-a-Howard isn’t just a late-game tactic anymore. The Sixers intentionally fouled him late in the first half of Wednesday’s game. Howard’s old club, the severely undermanned Lakers without Kobe Bryant, essentially won their game at Houston because Howard couldn’t make free throws when fouled on purpose.

There’s more. Where is the chiseled, 265-pound Howard’s passion? His passivity against the Lakers was mind-boggling, and running away from Lakers players attempting to intentionally foul him was embarrassing.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard gets the block of the night against the Sixers

2. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

A forgettable start to the season got worse with a stress fracture to his left shin that will sideline McGee indefinitely. A sluggish start might not rank high on the surprise list for many, but if there was ever a time the 7-footer was going to put it together, this seemed it. His new coach Brian Shaw was moving away from George Karl‘s up-tempo, dribble-drive offense to a more traditional, low-post system. McGee spent much of the offseason working on his game, seemingly determined to bury, on the court at least, his goofball reputation. Prior to the start of training camp he told NBA.com: “It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

It didn’t take Shaw long to apply the brakes, trusting McGee to even fewer minutes than Karl. In five starts, McGee averaged 7.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg in 15.8 mpg. He shot 43.6 percent. Denver, 3-4 after starting 1-4, traded Kosta Koufos to Memphis anticipating McGee’s rise. Recovering from the stress fracture only complicates McGee’s path to improvement. He’s in the second year of a $44 million contract, which so far looks like a very expensive mistake by the Nuggets.


VIDEO: JaVale McGee finishes off the alley-oop from Randy Foye

3. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

Evans’ fresh start away from Sacramento dysfunction was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for the fifth-year combo guard. The Pelicans hyped the sixth-man role behind Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon and it made sense. Evans can score and going against other second units would seem a great idea. An ankle injury slowed him early into the preseason and it’s been slow-going ever since. Evans is averaging a career-low 9.0 ppg and is logging a career-low 24.0 mpg. His shooting has been abysmal, 36.2 percent overall and 12.5 percent from beyond the arc. Evans has never truly been a high-volume 3-point shooter and he’s never shot it with considerable accuracy, but really, he could probably make 12.5 percent blindfolded.

This has to concern the Pelicans’ front office if trading Gordon, who always seems to be on the block, is still a consideration later this season. Even Evans’ free-throw percentage is suffering. A 76.4-percent shooter from the stripe over his career, he’s only at 66.7 percent. The team’s overall optimism that sprouted from a successful preseason has been shrouded by a 3-6 start, including Wednesday’s demoralizing loss at previously winless Utah.


VIDEO: Tyreke Evans on the Pelicans’ deep roster

4. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets

This is Williams’ second season as the maxed-out point guard Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban claims he’s happy to have lost out on two summers ago. Since Williams signed his five-year, $98-million contract to stay with the Nets, he has not produced like a max player, with either injuries or coaching fit being the culprit. Williams is averaging 11.1 ppg — lowest by a long shot since his rookie season) and 7.4 apg. He’s the quarterback of  a team built for instant contention with All-Star (Joe Johnson) and Hall of Fame (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett) talent, albeit aging talent outside of center Brook Lopez, yet another All-Star. Williams was again hobbled by an ankle issue during the preseason and he still might be gimpy. Meshing won’t happen overnight, but the level at which the Nets, 2-5, have played (i.e. losing by 21 at Sacramento on Wednesday) should be deeply concerning to Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who will shell out close to $190 million in payroll and luxury tax this season.

If anybody knows how to get Williams going it should be his rookie coach and No. 1 golfing buddy Jason Kidd. Kidd has to figure out how to get Williams in his comfort zone, to allow him to create and use his size to his advantage, while also getting the rest of this cast involved. Maybe then Williams will exude the confident, follow-me persona of a leader that just isn’t there.


VIDEO: Nets.com tags along on a workout with Deron Williams

5. Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors

Starting from scratch with playoff-hopeful Toronto, Gay still can’t shake the inefficiency thing. Yes, he’s averaging 19.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg, which look great. But with Gay, as the stat geeks remind, you have to look deeper to see that he’s averaging those 19.7 ppg on 19.8 field-goal attempts. He’s connecting at just a 36.5-percent rate. He is shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a mark bolstered by going 7-for-14 in the last two games, including 4-for-6 Wednesday night to get the Raptors to 4-5 at the expense of his former team, the struggling Memphis Grizzlies. But since he shoots mostly mid-range jumpers, the overall percentage is stark. In an overtime loss at Houston, Gay reached rare inefficient air when he finished with 29 points on 37 shot attempts — 8-for-29 inside the arc; 3-for-8 behind it.

During the offseason Gay had eye surgery to correct a pretty serious vision problem, and, realizing he had to get his shooting percentages up, went to work with his personal trainer for hours each day at his old high school gym in Baltimore. As he put it to NBA.com: “Honestly, I had two bad years of shooting the ball and this last year was really bad, so I just had to go back to the basics. It wasn’t as much my eye sight as it was my form.” Unfortunately for Gay, so far his shooting percentage has only worsened.


VIDEO: Rudy Gay with the assist of the night against the Grizzlies

Early Numbers Show Problems With Lineup Combinations

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – We’re 15 days into the 2013-14 season and the standings don’t quite match what we thought they’d look like. The Nets and Knicks are down and the Suns and Sixers are up.

It’s early, but more data is coming in every day, and it’s giving us an early look at some interesting lineup combinations around the league. We were all wondering how the Pistons’ new frontline would work out and whether Rockets coach Kevin McHale could play Omer Asik and Dwight Howard together.

Some results are expected, some are surprising and some are inconclusive. Again, it’s early. So the numbers below aren’t necessarily an endorsement of the combos that are working or an indictment of those that aren’t. Everything must be taken in context, and the most important context right now is that we’re looking at small sample sizes.

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

How are Smith, Monroe and Drummond faring?

Minutes: 141
Pace: 91.3
OffRtg: 101.3
DefRtg: 116.9
NetRtg: -15.7
+/-: minus-34

No team put together a more fascinating mix this summer than the Pistons. And the thought was that, due to floor spacing issues, they would struggle offensively with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond on the floor together. The other thought was that, thanks to their length, they would be strong defensively and on the glass.

They’ve been a good offensive rebounding trio, but not a good defensive rebounding trio. That’s not their biggest problem, though. Opponents have shot 51 percent (effective field goal percentage: 56.0 percent) with the three on the floor together and all together, the Pistons have been absolutely brutal defensively with their big lineups. Of the 205 three-man combinations that have played at least 100 minutes together, the only ones that have been worse defensively are two other Detroit trios that include Monroe and either Drummond or Smith.

The Grizzlies, who rank 19th offensively, scored 68 points in less than 32 minutes against the Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontline. The Pacers, who rank 13th offensively, scored 59 points in less than 21 minutes.

There are a bunch of issues that need to be cleaned up. It starts with transition, where Monroe is particularly slow. He also struggles to contain ball-handlers on pick-and-rolls. Smith and Drummond can be too aggressive, often biting on pump fakes or sacrificing rebounding position by trying for blocks. And sometimes, the problem is with the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups, a pair of liabilities in their own right.

After getting trounced by the Warriors on Tuesday, the Pistons rank dead last in defensive efficiency. It’s early and five of their seven games have been against above-average offensive teams, but the numbers are such that coach Mo Cheeks will need to seriously consider staggering the minutes of Smith, Drummond and Monroe more than he already is. More minutes for Kyle Singler and/or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would have a positive impact on the Pistons’ D.

Within the big-man trio, the only pair that’s logged a decent amount of minutes without the third guy is Monroe and Smith, which has played 70 minutes without Drummond. The Pistons have been even in those minutes, allowing just 96.3 points per 100 possessions.

The Asik-Howard combination

Minutes: 93
Pace: 93.6
OffRtg: 87.3
DefRtg: 103.1
NetRtg: -15.8
+/-: minus-35

Those numbers — the pace and the offensive efficiency in particular — do not typify Houston’s style. With only one of the two centers on the floor, the Rockets have played at a pace of 102.3 possessions per 48 minutes and have scored 108.1 points per 100 posssessions. That does typify Rockets basketball and those numbers would rank third and fourth in the league, respectively.

Rockets efficiency

On floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Asik + Howard 93 93.6 87.3 103.1 -15.8 -35
Only Asik 88 105.3 102.5 92.0 +10.5 +19
Only Howard 196 100.9 110.8 98.3 +12.5 +39
One of the two 284 102.3 108.1 96.3 +11.8 +58

With a second center in the game, the Rockets can’t space the floor for their ball-handlers. Here’s James Harden running a side pick-and-roll with Asik and with Howard’s man in position to help in the paint.

20131102_hou_side_pnr

If you replace Howard with Francisco Garcia or Omri Casspi and place him on the left wing, Harden has a much clearer path to the basket … or one of the shooters is wide open behind the 3-point line.

Asik is a very good player and deserves to play more than 12 minutes per game, especially considering how much he’s being paid. But Howard is going to play 36 minutes a night and it’s getting harder to justify playing the two together as it’s basically putting the Rockets in a hole every game. Only the Knicks have been worse in the first six minutes of games (minus-35.4 NetRtg) than the Rockets (minus-35.1, scoring a paltry 79.0 points per 100 possessions).

The two-center combo may have already reached the end of the line. On Tuesday against the Raptors, Asik was on the bench to start the third quarter, marking the first time both centers weren’t on the floor to start a half. Going forward, McHale isn’t sure what he’s going to do, as Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle writes.

“That big lineup – I am 50/50 on that,” McHale said. “It takes time, and the chemistry has to get better. Every time I think I am done with it, they do something that makes me want to keep trying it.”

Ultimately, this has to end with a trade. As nice as it is to have Asik as Howard’s back-up, the Rockets would be a better team if they could trade Asik for a 30-minutes-per-game forward who can shoot and defend. Greg Smith isn’t on Asik’s level, but he can hold down the fort for 12 minutes a night. In fact, the Rockets were a plus-5.4 per 100 possessions with Smith on the floor last season.

Anthony and Bargnani struggle to fit together

Minutes: 133
Pace: 94.8
OffRtg: 97.6
DefRtg: 118.0
NetRtg: -20.4
+/-: minus-52

Oof. The only two-man combinations that have been worse are in Utah, Sacramento, Milwaukee or Detroit.

You expect the offense to come around somewhat as Anthony’s shooting improves, but Bargnani still doesn’t space the floor as well as guys the Knicks lost this summer, or pass the ball very much. In six games, he has five assists and four secondary assists. It’s early, but Anthony has shot better with Bargnani on the bench than with him on the floor.

Of course, the defense is the much bigger concern. Even in 41 minutes with Tyson Chandler on the floor with Anthony and Bargnani, the Knicks’ defense was terrible. Now, Chandler’s out for 4-6 weeks and … yikes.

The Knicks have allowed 114.8 points per 100 possessions with Bargnani on the floor and just 91.1 with him on the bench. We’re at the point where one good or bad half can skew those numbers a bit, but they’re damning just the same.

To be fair, Kevin Garnett has a pretty bad on-off-court DefRtg discrepancy – +11.0 – through his first six games with Brooklyn. It’s not nearly as bad as Bargnani’s +23.7, but still worth noting.

Interestingly, Bargnani has played just 10 minutes with Anthony on the bench. Mike Woodson might experiment with staggering their minutes more, but that would require having another healthy big man he could trust. And right now, the only other bigs on the roster are Cole Aldrich, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire. Two of them have minutes restrictions and the other is Cole Aldrich.

That Chris Smith still has a roster spot at this point is probably twice as amazing as the idea of giving up three Draft picks to take Bargnani’s contract off Masai Ujiri‘s hands.

Three guards in the Big Easy: Holiday, Evans and Gordon

Minutes: 51
Pace: 98.4
OffRtg: 99.0
DefRtg: 105.8
NetRtg: -6.8
+/-: plus-1

It’s a little surprising that the Pelicans’ three guards — making a combined $36 million this season — haven’t played much together. At this point, Evans is getting paid $12 million to play a little less than half the game. The trio averaged just over five minutes of floor time together in New Orleans’ first four games and have played about 10 minutes together in each of the last three.

Anthony Morrow‘s hot start has probably been a factor. When you have a guy shooting 63 percent from 3-point range and showing signs of an expanded off-the-dribble game, you want to make sure he gets his minutes too.

Either way, it’s hard to make any judgements regarding the Holiday-Evans-Gordon trio. The Pelicans have had good and bad stretches (both offensively and defensively) with the three on the floor together.

Two-point-guard combinations

Most of these sample sizes are very small, but here are some early numbers from a few two-point-guard combinations worth keeping an eye on…

On-court efficiency, two-PG combos

Team Combination GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
CHI Hinrich & Rose 6 48 108.8 81.0 110.5 -29.5 -37
CLE Irving & Jack 8 101 94.3 86.2 91.3 -5.1 -8
DEN Lawson & Miller 6 70 101.3 97.5 96.0 +1.5 +3
DEN Lawson & Robinson 4 42 103.3 102.3 110.3 -7.9 -3
DEN Miller & Robinson 6 66 95.3 83.3 95.2 -11.9 -14
HOU Beverley & Lin 5 61 104.4 107.6 90.2 +17.5 +14
MEM Bayless & Conley 5 39 100.4 118.7 95.8 +22.9 +18
NYK Felton & Prigioni 5 74 93.8 91.7 89.9 +1.9 -4
OKC Jackson & Westbrook 4 22 106.6 133.2 92.4 +40.8 +19
ORL Nelson & Oladipo 8 81 102.5 106.9 88.5 +18.4 +21
PHX Bledsoe & Dragic 4 70 94.8 110.2 101.1 +9.1 +11
POR Lillard & Williams 7 105 96.6 111.6 111.4 +0.2 +11
SAC Thomas & Vasquez 5 44 94.8 101.6 92.2 +9.4 0

Blogtable: What To Make Of The Pelicans

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


Dual dueling PGs in Houston | Tough Guy award | What to make of the Pelicans


The exhibition season doesn’t mean a thing … does it? What are we to make of the New Orleans Pelicans? Are they any good?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAs the late, great Tony Montana said, “Fly, Pelican. Fly!” But I see this as more of a “try Pelicans, try” season. The parts are intriguing, but it’s all promise, not yet payoff. I’ll believe in a durable Eric Gordon, for instance, when I see him playing 78 games again some year. Anthony Davis‘ length and liveliness will carry him far as a defender but he still has refining to do. Most of the Pelicans’ roster has that “yes, but…” aspect to it. And while the schedule is balanced, just looking at the big boys in the Southwest Division could be daunting for bayou birds.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Didn’t you just answer your own question? I hear with the right combination of cayenne pepper and a good roux, you can make a tasty pelican gumbo.  And if coach Monty Williams stirs the pot just right, a team that can battle for the No. 8 spot in the West.

Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comSometimes the preseason does mean something. Specifically for a young team learning how to win. Anthony Davis‘ impressive preseason is not a fluke. The kid, we are learning, is going to be a force. Are they a good team? Good is relative. Compared to what? Compared to what they were last year? Yes, they are a good team. Compared to the Spurs or Thunder. No, they are an improving team. But to the point, the Pelicans’ preseason does have meaning for a young team with a lot of talent, if not experience.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Yes. I don’t think playoff good, but no one should be surprised at the obvious signs of progress. Anthony Davis could still turn out to be the best player from the 2013 draft, Jrue Holiday is a nice add, Monty Williams is a quality coach, Eric Gordon continues to have good moments when healthy, and Ryan Anderson is an ideal complementary fit. New Orleans will go from 27 wins to 40-42.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Here’s a Schuhmann Stat: Over the last eight full preseasons (skipping 2011), 17 teams have gone through the exhibition schedule with less than two losses, and 14 of the 17 have made the playoffs. That’s kind of encouraging, though two of the three eventual lottery teams were last year’s Sixers and Raptors. The Pelicans have the talent – a strong top seven – to make get a seven or eight seed in the West, especially if Anthony Davis can carry this type of offensive production into the regular season. Ultimately, it will come down to how well they defend, something they did terribly last season. Watching some preseason film, Davis still needs improvement on his pick-and-roll coverage.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI have a concrete stance about preseason evaluations and I won’t abandon it in this case, even though I’m high on the talent base the Pelicans have put together. I’m ready to buy Pelicans stock, I’ll go that far. But I’m not ready to proclaim them a legitimate playoff party crasher in the Western Conference based on their work in October. I need a larger and more reasonable sample size to work with. And let’s be real, we’ve been here too many times in the preseason or early in the regular season, cranking up the expectations on a team that goes nuts trying to win every quarter of every game, only to see them falter after a few weeks of playing above their heads. The undefeated preseason mark, to date, is indeed impressive. But it comes with an asterisk, just like everything else before Halloween does. Keep it up through Thanksgiving and then we can talk. The Pelicans are worth keeping an eye on, thanks to that collection of young talent that could and should be the basis for a playoff contender in the coming years.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I like their uniforms! As far as how they are going to be this season … yeah, we still don’t know. The one thing I feel like isn’t being talked about enough is their acquisition of Jrue Holiday — in the era of the point guard, going out and getting an All-Star caliber guard really makes a statement and helps establish your team on another level. I think health is the other thing to keep an eye on with the Pels — if Anthony Davis and, more relevantly, Eric Gordon are able to give you 70-80 games apiece, the Pels might mess around and sneak into the playoffs.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA.com BrasilThe record doesn’t mean anything, but you certainly can take away something about chemistry, focus and individual player improvements. For a young, revamped team like the Pelicans, the preseason is important to develop a winning culture, so their impeccable record so far is certainly gonna translate well to the regular season. Anthony Davis looks like he stepped up his game to another level, and Eric Gordon has sparked memories of his best days as a Clipper. Nobody is suggesting the Pelicans are a title contender, but they will surely surprise a lot of people and could have a fast start to their season.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com Italy: You can’t trust preseason games, but winning’s always a good way to boost your morale. I think the Pelicans could be a fringe playoff team this year. To go back to the postseason, though, they need a breakout season from Anthony Davis, they need Eric Gordon healthy and back to his Clippers days and they need Tyreke Evans to play as well as he did in 2009-10, when he won the Rookie of the Year. Now that I write that, I’m getting a little afraid that those are too many ifs.

The 2013-14 Hang Time Redeem Team





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – No one needs reminding of the importance of the 2013-14 NBA season for superstars like Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and others who are battling their way back from injuries that sidelined them for all or part of last season.

We watch their every move anyway, so when those stars do return, it’ll be an all-eyes-on-them proposition for certain. But for others, guys who have languished in the shadows the past couple of seasons for one reason or another, this season presents an opportunity for redemption as well.

Opportunity abounds for another group of players who comprise Hang Time’s Redeem Team this season, guys who need to leave a mark on 2013-14 in the worst way. Now is the time for these veterans to reclaim their positions in the league, to either resurrect or flat-out save their careers:

Eric Gordon, New Orleans Pelicans

Now that he’s been cleared to crank up his conditioning and do whatever it takes to get into game shape, Gordon is potentially on the road back to the budding young star we saw during his third season in the league with the Los Angeles Clippers (when Gordon averaged 22.2 points and 4.4 assists in 56 games). The injury issues will follow him until he puts together a couple of seasons where he plays as close to 82 regular-season games as possible. But the game moves on without once promising young stars all the time. And Gordon is in the danger zone at this stage of his career. He’s on a team loaded with young talent (All-Star Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Austin Rivers) at the same position. He’s in a now-or-probably-not-here predicament, given his salary and the circumstances.

Greg Oden, Miami Heat

The fact that Oden has come this far in his comeback bid is a victory of sorts for the former No. 1 pick, whose arrival in the league had fans in Portland dreaming of contending for championships one day with a player who promised to be one of the best big men of his generation. Oden has the luxury of not having to rush back for a Heat team that has managed just fine without him the past three seasons. His is more of a personal pilgrimage from being completely out of the league to having a chance to contribute on a team aiming for a three-peat. “My main goal is to be back on the court playing,” Oden told the Sun Sentinel. “But every little thing is just a little step closer to what I want to do. In my head, I’m smiling. I’m back in the routine I’m back out here working out in front of fans.” Whatever the Heat squeeze out of Oden, who is one one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, is a bonus for all involved.

Andrew Bynum, Cleveland Cavaliers

No player on this list has more to gain from a big 2013-14 season than Bynum, who just a couple of seasons ago served the other big man in the argument about who would serve as the challenger to Dwight Howard as the best in the business. Bynum’s stock fell so hard and so fast last season in Philadelphia, when he watched a disastrous season unfold from the sidelines after the Sixers scrapped a playoff team to acquire him and build around him for the future. The Cavs have other issues, obviously, mainly finding out what they have in the No. 1 pick in the June Draft, Anthony Bennett, who has shown some positive flashes in the preseason. Perhaps the greatest motivation for Bynum this seasons will come from another No. 1 pick, Kyrie Irving, who has designs on rising up the ranks this season himself.

Al Harrington, Washington Wizards

Maybe you’ve forgotten just how valuable a piece Harrington has been to playoff outfits throughout his career. He did it in Indiana, Golden State and Denver and the Wizards are hoping he can use some of the lessons he’s learned the past 15 seasons to help John  Wall, Bradley Beal and the rest of an up and coming crew move into the playoff mix. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has mentioned Harrington repeatedly as not only a player who will counted on to provide veteran leadership but also a symbolic figure, a vet with an eye toward reclaiming his career and doing it in a place (Washington) that others view as a team and franchise on the rise. With a fleet of young bigs working hard to get better and injury issues (namely Emeka Okafor), having a stretch-4 with Harrington’s versatility and history will be crucial for the Wizards early on this season.

Andrea Bargnani, New York Knicks

The marriage between this former No. 1 pick (the third player of such ilk on this list) and the city of Toronto broke down early on and was beyond repair by the time the Knicks traded for him over the summer. This second honeymoon in New York won’t obviously won’t last seven years. The Knicks need Bargnani to find his niche now and be a factor on a team with playoff expectations he never experienced with the Raptors. Bargnani’s teammates recognize his skill set and Knicks coach Mike Woodson knows that he has to find ways to exploit Bargnani’s strengths and hide his weaknesses. With his shot and size, and the constantly increasing value for floor spacers in today’s game, Bargnani will surely get several more shots if things don’t work out with the Knicks. But if he’s ready to stop being a punch line, he needs to pounce on the opportunity staring him in the face right now.


Summer Dreaming: Executive Of The Year

x

HANG TIME, Texas – Never mind that the weather map says it’ s hurricane season. This is the time of year when there are nothing but blue skies over every NBA franchise from Miami to Portland to Los Angeles to Toronto.

Draft picks have been chosen and brought into camp. Free agents have been signed and trotted out for the TV cameras. Trades have been made to fill holes in the lineups. It’s a time for championship planning among the elite class and fantasizing about moving up by the wannabes.

But the truth is that, despite so much spin doctoring that comes out of all the front offices, there are a handful of team presidents and general managers that made the most of the offseason. That’s why we don’t have to wait till next April — or even the season openers — to know who’ll be taking bows for their work. They’re our summer dreaming picks for Executive of the Year:

Daryl Morey, Rockets – Unless Dwight Howard wakes up one morning and declares it was all a mistake — that he really loved having Kobe Bryant as a playmate, that he thoroughly enjoyed Mike D’Antoni’s offense and that he never, ever meant to leave those clever recruiting banners in L.A. — this is as sure a thing as Usain Bolt outrunning a lead-boot-wearing Charles Barkley. If Howard stays healthy, he and fellow All-Star James Harden will team up to make the Rockets instant challengers for one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference and could even be a dark horse contender to advance all the way to The Finals. But before they even chalk up one “W” in the standings, Morey has put a headlock on the award simply by making the Rockets franchise relevant again for the first time in years. After drifting on a sea of anonymity and mediocrity since the star-crossed Tracy McGrady-Yao Ming pairing came undone, the Rockets are back in the spotlight. A year ago, they were on national TV once. Now they have 10 appearances on ESPN, nine on TNT, one on ABC and even made it into the Christmas lineup with a date at San Antonio.

Billy King, Nets – It’s like walking into a casino with a sack full of money, walking straight to the roulette table and plopping it all down on red. Or black. Either way, it’s a 50-50 gamble and you live with the results. King certainly has the cushion and the endorsement of Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokorhov and the understanding that paying the luxury tax bill of nearly $100 million is no problem. Still, it takes considerable nerve for King to bet it all on the hope that a 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 35-year-old Paul Pierce, 35-year-old Jason Terry and a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd can take down the two-time defending champs from Miami along with the rest of what has become a strengthened Eastern Conference lineup. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson were enough to make Brooklyn a postseason sports destination for the first time since the Dodgers left town, but now it’s the old Celtics who’ll be expected to show them how to win a series or more. To get Andrei Kirilenko to walk away from a guaranteed $10 million to sign a cut-rate deal was probably the second-best move of the entire NBA offseason, trailing only Dwight Howard’s move to Houston. Kirilenko adds a tough defender and a slashing finisher to a lineup that hopes to have Brook Lopez improving on his first ever All-Star season. If he’s accomplished one big thing already, King has jumped the Nets over the Knicks as the headlining team in New York, which is signficant.

Chris Grant, Cavaliers – Things have changed considerably since that first summer on the job as GM when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the temptation might have been to turn out the lights and simply declare the NBA party in Cleveland over. Grant has steadily reassembled the franchise one piece at time to a point where people are whispering that it’s not out of the question to think James could return next summer when he becomes a free agent. Before that, the Cavs figure to have a resurgent seasons between their splendid young point guard Kyrie Irving and all the other pieces that Grant has put around him. Anthony Bennett may have been a bit of a surprise on draft night, but should fill a need on the front line and free agent signee Jarrett Jack will be both a firecracker lift off the bench. Of course, the big bonanza would be if free agent Andrew Bynum can overcome the knee injuries that left him notable only for sitting on bench modeling outrageous hairstyles last season in Philly. A return to the form that once made him an All-Star with the Lakers makes Grant a genius and, even if Bynum falls short, the Cavs have not made a long crippling financial commitment to the gamble. And don’t forget to give Grant credit for not listening to the suggestions that he should have traded Anderson Varejao. The Cavs will likely make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference and, depending on how bright the future looks next spring, could turn the head of a familiar figure to come home.

Joe Dumars, Pistons – Let’s face it. The Hall of Fame guard-turned-GM has taken his fair share of abuse through recent seasons for allowing the once-proud franchise to drift way out of the playoff picture and even have trouble drawing crowds to The Palace. Was it a curse for making Darko Mlicic the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade? Then there was that disastrous free agent splurge on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in 2009. But lately Dumars has been making a comeback, drafting a pair of big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond who have the potential to anchor the Pistons front line for years to come. He made his biggest play in signing free agent Josh Smith, hoping that the stat-line filler can step into the role of No. 1 option and even team leader. Then Dumars traded for Brandon Jennings with hope that he can be both reined in and unleashed and brought home former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups to show him how. Mo Cheeks gets his third shot as a head coach and it’s all a mix that could put the Pistons back in the playoffs.

Dell Demps, Pelicans – The easier path for Demps would have been to keep Nerlens Noel when the big man fell into his lap at the No. 6 pick and keep on selling a theme of acquiring young assets and building for the future. But with a new team name, new franchise colors and a new owner (Tom Benson) writing the checks, it was a time for a new and bolder direction. The young and oh-so-slender Noel was deemed too much duplication on the front line with 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis and was trade to Philly for 23-year-old guard Jrue Holiday, who puts the only All-Star credentials in the New Orleans lineup. Demps then kept dealing to bring more firepower into the lineup with former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. Of course, that immediately brought talk of a crowded backcourt with Eric Gordon still on hand, but Demps and coach Monty Williams are betting that a three-man rotation cannot only thrive, but put some punch into what was a thoroughly mediocre offense last season. Assuming Davis takes another big step forward in his second season, the Pelicans could contend for one of the final playoff spots in the West.

PREVIOUSLY: Comeback player | MVP | Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Summer Dreaming: Sixth Man of Year

.

HANG TIME, Texas — Nothing says it’s summer like an ice cream cone (mint chocolate chip, if you’re buying) on one of those blazing afternoons where it’s so hot that your tongue has to lick into overdrive to keep the tasty treat from running all the way down your arm.

That’s kind of the role of the sixth man in basketball, to pop off the bench and get right to work cleaning up the mess. As the dog days of August continue, we’ll leap ahead once more in our summer fantasy with my five picks for the 2013-14 Sixth Man of Year.

Andrei Kirilenko, Nets He’s 32 years old and it’s been a while since he was the Jazz’s do-it-all player known as “AK-47.” Durability issues dot his past couple of NBA seasons — he spent 2011-12 with CSKA Moscow — but with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in Brooklyn now, Kirilenko won’t be expected to rack up big minutes. That will leave him free to pass, cut and get plenty of easy baskets from Deron Williams on offense and to cut off the angles, hit the boards and block a couple of shots per game on defense. He’ll accept his role and make the most of it. He left $10 million on the table in Minnesota for a chance to win big in Brooklyn and could be a key ingredient if the Nets’ big offseason gamble is going to pay off.

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans The career path is not supposed to go from winning Rookie of the Year to having your scoring average decline in each of the next three seasons. But after languishing in Sacramento, much of it his own fault, Evans is getting a chance to shine in New Orleans. Yes, the backcourt is crowded with ball handling scorers. All-Star Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon are likely to start, which could work to Evans’ benefit by making him the main offensive option off the bench. At 6-foot-6, he didn’t like playing small forward with the Kings, even though it could be required in a pinch for the undersized Pelicans. Evans says he’s ready and willing to embrace the sixth man role and with his dynamic talent, he could really shine.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers With a healthy Danny Granger returning to the lineup, it’s quite possible that the Pacers could ask Stephenson to accept a bench role. Depending how the mercurial one accepts it, Indiana could take a big step toward closing the gap with the Heat by having a rotation of wing players that can match up with anybody. There are so many different specific parts of Stephenson’s game that you can pick apart, but his overall energy and attitude played a big part in the Pacers getting to the Eastern Conference finals and pushing Miami to a seventh game. He and Granger will both be free agents in 2014, so this gives Stephenson a chance to show that he’s the one the Pacers should keep.

Jarrett Jack, Cavaliers He makes the move from a young Warriors team that was trying to break into the Western Conference power structure to the same kind of young, hungry and talented bunch in the Eastern Conference. This is certainly Kyrie Irving’s team, — at least until LeBron comes back — but the future MVP candidate needs a backup and Jack is not just capable, but explosive. He was third in voting for the award last season (behind J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford) and is likely to pick right up in Cleveland from where he left off in Golden State. Remember, last season he became the first bench player to score 30 and deal 10 assists in a game since Magic Johnson in 1996. Fast company.

Jeremy Lamb, Thunder The deck is cleared and the stage is set. The ball will come to him for open shots and Lamb has to knock them down. Simple, huh? Well, the game is always going to be easier when a couple of your teammates are named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The second-year man who saw little playing time outside of Tulsa in the NBA D-League last season is no James Harden coming off the bench at this point. But he should step into the void left by Kevin Martin’s departure and get plenty of opportunities to make defenses pay. He’s a long shot in his first year with significant playing time, but is worth keeping an eye on for the future and will likely have played a big role if OKC makes a run for best record in the league.

PREVIOUSLY: Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Pelicans Are Here, But Not On Jersey

a

a
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –
Since those dark days not so long ago when Chris Paul wanted to bail and the NBA seized control of a listing steamboat lacking a working paddle wheel, there’s now plenty to admire about the franchise that proudly recast itself as the New Orleans Pelicans.

Longtime Saints owner Tom Benson, a New Orleans native, bought the team and likely saved it from the same fate as the Jazz. General manager Dell Demps has put his stamp on a roster that was routinely playing to a half-empty house and coach Monty Williams has created a culture of hard work.

The Pelicans will open the 2013-14 season with All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and last year’s No. 1 pick Anthony Davis, who played very well at the Team USA training camp late last month in Las Vegas.

A new identity seemed in order and I was a big fan of the name change from an insignificant out-of-state insect to the Louisiana state bird. I prefer nicknames with significance. As owner Benson noted, any bird that can survive the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill makes for a great team name. The new logo is pretty good, too, although there was actually one floating around the Internet I liked better.

I also like the Pelicans’ uniforms the team unveiled at a Thursday press conference. Simple and sharp, they include home whites and blue roadies, both accented in red and gold. I’m a big uniform guy (in fact this guy has my dream job) and I think these new duds offer a pretty classic look (after all, there’s not a hint of teal or a giant cartoon pelican to be found). I like the typeface of the numbers and lettering, which was taken from French Quarter street signs.

However, I do have one beak, er, beef: Why isn’t the name “PELICANS” boldly emblazoned across the chest of the home jerseys? Both uniforms will read “NEW ORLEANS,” and in rather small lettering, I suppose because New Orleans is rather lengthy to strip across the chest.

The franchise put so much thought into its re-branding effort to Pelicans, yet it won’t utilize perhaps the most unique, if not silly-sounding, nickname in all of sports on its home jersey? They’re hard-selling the new team name, the franchise’s new identity — the mighty Pelicans — so put it in big letters on the front of the jersey for all to see.

(A third and fourth jersey will be introduced, respectively, for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 season so maybe they’ll address my beef then).

Traditionally, a team’s nickname goes on its home uniform anyway and the city name goes on the road uniform. Yet, even as the New Orleans group was seeking a classic, traditional look on its uniform, it veered from tradition and, unfortunately, “NEW ORLEANS” across the home uniform gives it a bit of a boring look.

“We wanted to make sure that they represented the city and the whole region,” Benson said of the unis during the press conference. “New Orleans does that and I think that was very important to us.”

A few years back, baseball’s Texas Rangers dropped “Rangers” from their home uniforms in favor of “TEXAS” on all their jerseys because, they said, they wanted to be the team for all of Texas. New Orleans is a city, not a region. They didn’t change the name to the Gulf Coast Pelicans, which, if they had, they could have gone with “Gulf Coast” on both uniforms to be inclusive to the region.

The last team to unveil new uniforms, the Brooklyn Nets, also chose to use “BROOKLYN” on both its home and road uniforms. That made sense. The franchise wasn’t selling the old sad-sack Nets, a name with no emotional value to its new fan base. They’re hard-selling Brooklyn.

Hey, it’s only a uniform and a pretty good-looking one at that. But, for me, “PELICANS” would be front and center.

No Looking Back For Pelicans’ Holiday





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Surprising trades usually leave the players involved suspended in a state of shock for at least a few days after the deal goes down.

Not Jrue Holiday.

He only needed minutes to wrap his head around the Draft night deal that sent him from Philadelphia to the New Orleans for Nerlens Noel. Yeah, the whole “Pelicans” thing takes some getting used to, but from a purely basketball perspective, the All-Star point guard said he needed only minutes to process exactly what went down.

“It was like five minutes, to be honest,” Holiday said. “After I got the call and they said I got traded, I immediately thought about [Sixers guard] Evan Turner. We’d been through everything together in Philly, really grown up together in the league in Philly along with Thad Young, Spencer Hawes and those guys, But then I thought about it and it was like, ‘oh snap, Eric Gordon‘s on your team. Anthony Davis is on your team. Ryan Anderson, Austin Rivers and at the time [Robin] Lopez. This could be crazy.’ They sent me to a good team. This could be a blessing in disguise.”

There is no camouflage needed. The Pelicans have transformed their roster from a mismatch of ill-fitting parts to a talented core of versatile young players poised for a climb, that could come sooner rather than later, in the Western Conference playoff chase.

Holiday gives the Pelicans all sorts of flexibility in their stacked backcourt, that also includes Tyreke Evans. Holiday got a chance to work with Davis and his new coach, Monty Williams, during USA Basketball’s mini-camp last week in Las Vegas. Williams was on the coaching staff and Davis on the opposite team during the Blue-White Showcase.

“He’s a genuine guy sand he’s a winner,” Holiday said of Williams. “He wants to build a winner. And that’s what I’m about, so that should be an easy transition. Anthony is a beast and one of the best young big men in the game. At the end of the day, they’re winners and that’s what I’m trying to be in this league.”

Holiday was the youngest player in the league when the Sixers selected him with the 17th pick in the 2009 Draft. He experienced his share of growing pains early on, having to adjust from playing off the ball at UCLA to being the Sixers’ primary ballhandler and facilitator. He mastered the job by his fourth season, earning All-Star plaudits during what turned out to be a tumultuous season for the Sixers.

They followed a surprise playoff run in 2012 by making a blockbuster trade for Andrew Bynum that cost them valuable pieces, including Andre Iguodala, Nik Vucevic and Moe Harkless.

By the time the dust had settled, Bynum’s fragile knees kept him from playing a single second during the 2012-13 season and the Sixers crashed, with coach Doug Collins moving on to a front office position and ultimately Holiday being jettisoned for yet another franchise reboot under new general manager Sam Hinkie.

“All of that is in the past,” Holiday said. “I’m not looking back.  We’ve got a chance to do some special things in New Orleans.”

And the glut of bodies in the backcourt and on the perimeter is something that Holiday insists will work in the Pelicans’ favor as opposed to being the source of friction. Making it work, of course, is up the men involved.

“I think that comes with being good teammates and good team players,” Holiday said. “It’s not about one dude coming in and dominating the ball and trying to do everything. Obviously, I don’t need the ball to score and make an impact on the game. I feel like I can do that in other ways. Same thing with Eric, Austin and Tyreke. I think the depth makes it easier on all of us.”

The only thing Holiday doesn’t have a great handle on right now is the Pelicans nickname, the world itself makes him smile when discussing the franchise’s new moniker and image.

“It’s funny, I’m not going to lie,” Holiday said. “‘We’re the Pelicans.’ But I’ve said it about a half million times now. I’m pretty much used to it now, though. The new color scheme is dope. The uniforms are going to be sick. I’m excited. I think we’re going to do big things.”


Beasley Will Walk Thin Line With New Suns

h

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Ryan McDonough, the 33-year-old rookie general manager of the Phoenix Suns has been on the job for some 80 days and already he’s showing some moxie.

Since drawing some blank stares as if his pick of Maryland big man Alex Len at No. 5 was a desert mirage while Kentucky 7-foot center Nerlens Noel, long projected to go No. 1, or Kansas scoring guard Ben McLemore stood in plain view, McDonough has now begun to rattle the thin roster he inherited.

He turned solid, if unspectacular, guard-forward Jared Dudley and a second-round draft pick into potential All-Star-quality guard Eric Bledsoe and veteran forward Caron Butler. Now, McDonough is on the verge of unloading fast-declining forward Luis Scola, an ill-fit in new coach Jeff Hornacek‘s favored up-tempo offense, in a trade with Indiana that will reportedly net lanky and athletic journeyman Gerald Green and project center Miles Plumlee, plus a lottery-protected first-round pick.

Not that those trades will launch the Suns into playoff contention, but the additions fill two key areas on McDonough’s list as he remakes the roster: athleticism and a fundamental work ethic. Which delivers us to the doorstep of the one player on the roster [note: my speculation only] McDonough would love to jettison if only he could: Michael Beasley.

Asked during the Las Vegas Summer League if he believes the always tantalizing, but troublesome 6-9, 235-pound power forward can be a positive force during this important transitional season, McDonough answered with a team-wide message — one that should resonate loudest between Beasley’s ears.

“I guess what I’ll say generally about that is we’re going to treat everybody the same,” McDonough said. “There won’t be any special treatment for anybody on the roster and as Jeff [Hornacek] and I told all the guys coming in, we don’t care how much money you’re making, where you were drafted, how long you’ve been in the league, what, if anything, you’ve been promised in the past. We’re going into this as an open competition, and when training camp comes, guys who buy in and play the right way and play hard will play, and those who don’t, won’t.”

In a league brimming with bright, young talent, Beasley, 24, has been far more raging headache than headstrong virtually since the day the Miami Heat drafted him second overall in 2008. Last summer, inexplicably, the gracious Suns, Beasley’s third team, handed him a three-year, $18 million deal. Still, Beasley ignored the cue that this was his big shot at a second chance, an opportunity to turn around his selfish and tiresome act, as well as his floundering career.

Former Suns coach Alvin Gentry benched the unproductive Beasley last season in fourth quarters as early as December, and finally stripped him of his starting job. Following the fired Gentry, interim coach Lindsey Hunter had no answers for Beasley’s inattention to defense or just about anything else.

Imagine if the Chicago Bulls had selected Beasley No. 1 over Derrick Rose? The Heat at No. 2 could have drafted No. 4 Russell Westbrook, No. 5 Kevin Love, No. 6 Danilo Gallinari, No. 7 Eric Gordon or No. 10 Brook Lopez.

If Beasley doesn’t answer this wake-up call, he won’t be afforded another chance. He is fortunate the NBA is not the non-guaranteed-contract world of the NFL, where a player can be cut and his contract flushed in a moment’s notice. It’s the only reason he has a job today.

Beasley averaged career lows across the board last season. His poor play and worse attitude drained a club that was already outmanned on most nights. But it’s not just on the court that Beasley will be expected to reform. His inability to stay out of hot water off remains troublesome. In May, police were investigating Beasley in connection with a report of sexual assault at his home.

The 2013-14 Suns will need a lot to come together fast to contend for the eighth seed. But under Hornacek’s guidance and with blue-collar players like P.J. Tucker along with twins Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris — all three of whom played on the Suns’ summer-league squad — and the additions of the up-and-coming Bledsoe and a tough-minded, respected veteran like Butler, Phoenix will play hard.

Beasley will either take this last, flashing-neon-sign-of-a-hint that his career is on the line, or, as McDonough said, he won’t.

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 8 Recap

x

LAS VEGAS – Friday was moving day, as in moving on out for the 14 teams that filled out the consolation bracket of the first-ever Summer League tournament. The day featured seven games in two arenas spanning more than eight hours of basketball.

Eight teams will get back to action in Saturday’s quarterfinals in the Championship bracket with the semifinals on Sunday and the inaugural championship game on Monday night (9 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

Here’s a look at who did what in their final appearance of the summer.

Non-rookie of the day: Austin Rivers, the 10th overall pick a year ago by New Orleans and who now must wonder where his playing time will come in a backcourt that includes Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans left coach Monty Williams with something to remember, scoring 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting, plus three assists in 32:29.

Other notables: Atlanta’s Mike Scott, the 43rd pick a year ago who played in 40 games last season for the Hawks, had a huge day with 25 points, 10 rebounds and two assists. He made all 12 of his free-throw attempts. Denver’s Luke Harangody had 17 points, and Memphis’ Donte Green scored 16 points. Mavs point guard Justin Dentmon, who has toiled overseas and in the D-League with a few 10-day NBA contracts sprinkled in, lit it up late in a loss to Chicago for 23 points while hitting. Trail Blazers guard Terrel Harris finished strong with 25 points on 11-for-19 shooting and six rebounds.

Rookie of the day: We have a tie in this category. Sacramento’s Ben McLemore put on a show with a spectacular 19-point third quarter that helped the Kings get their lone win of the summer over the Hawks. He was 10-for-21 from the floor and had nine rebounds. Spurs forward Hollis Thompson, who played in the  D-League last season coming out of Georgetown, pushed San Antonio to a final-day, 90-80 victory over Milwaukee with a box-score-stuffing stat line: 21 points (8-12 FG, 2-2 3FG, 3-3 FT), four rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal in just 28 minutes.

Other notables: McLemore’s teammate Ray McCallum, a second-round pick, continues to impress with his quickness and smarts. He delivered 12 points and 11 assists (we also must mention Kings forward David Lighty going 8-for-9 from the field for 16 points). Bucks point guard Nate Wolters scored 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting and added five rebounds and three assists in the 90-80 loss to the Spurs. The Knicks got a huge lift from their bench in a 91-80 win over the Clippers. Terrence Jennings, who has played overseas and in the D-League, had 14 points and nine rebounds while D-League rookie of the year Tony Mitchell out of Alabama had 15 points and four rebounds. Bulls second-round pick Erik Murphy, who suffered a broken nose earlier in the week, paced Chicago past Dallas with 19 points (7-for-10 shooting, 3-for-5 on 3s) and 13 rebounds. Teammate Tony Snell, the 20th pick out of New Mexico, had 20 points, seven boards and three dimes.

Coming Up: The quarterfinals of the championship bracket gets started at 4 p.m. ET when the 18th-seeded Heat take on the seventh-seeded Cavaliers. Then it’s No. 3 Phoenix taking on  No. 6 Toronto, the No. 4 D-League Select team against No. 5 Charlotte and finally No. 1 Golden State against No. 8 Los Angeles Lakers.