Posts Tagged ‘Gary Neal’

Morning shootaround — March 8


Video: Highlights of the games played Saturday, March 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron ties club passing mark | Warriors, Clippers resume “friendly” rivalry today | Blazers in recovery mode after Matthews injury | Jazz finally getting more from Exum

No. 1: LeBron ties Cavs passing mark — It’s pretty impressive, when you really think about it: A 6-8 forward has as many assists for the Cavaliers as Mark Price. Such is the essence of LeBron James, whose eight assists in a victory over the Suns pulled him even with Price, the main point guard on those Lenny Wilkens teams that won a lot of games but couldn’t beat Michael Jordan in the postseason. LeBron’s court awareness has always been one of his strengths, and some might say a weakness, like when he passes up a big shot instead of taking it. Anyway, to be tied with Price, one of the best point guards of the last 25 years, is a compliment. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group breaks it down, and how LeBron played without a headband:

James scored 18 points and eight assists and tied – but didn’t surpass – Mark Price (4,206) for the franchise’s record in career assists, even though James had those extra opportunities in a fourth quarter he was supposed to watch from the bench.

He added six rebounds and shot 6-of-16, with just three points at halftime. A three-pointer at 7:05 game him 10 points for the game, extending his streak of consecutive games in double figures to 626 games – third longest in NBA history.

So if you really want to reach, you could make a (flimsy) argument that James’ streak was saved by the headband. He only had two points before he tore it off.

James buried another three with 2:04 left in the fourth quarter that sealed the win for the Cavs by pushing their lead to 15. But it was a game that should’ve been sealed long ago.

It was the Cavs’ fourth game in five nights. A rugged four-game road trip lies ahead. A time for a light moment was needed. So Blatt was asked early in his postgame conference if he had noticed James ditched the headband.

“I did and I was wondering myself what happened,” David Blatt said. “But I did not venture to ask him because it seemed to be inappropriate at the time. But I hope you guys do, I’m going to read about it. I did notice that, actually. Kind of weird.”

***

No. 2: Warriors, Clippers resume “friendly” rivalry today — The referees, as well as fans, are always on alert when these two teams play. So much bad blood, as well as memorable contests, have happened when the Clippers and Warriors suit up and today shouldn’t be any different. While both teams are virtually set for the playoffs, the intensity should manage to rise anyway. Here’s Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, who spoke with Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green (Blake Griffin‘s favorite opponents) setting it up…

“It’s going to be a good game,” Bogut said of ABC’s feature game Sunday against the Clippers. “We don’t like each other, and it’s kind of one of those throwback games from back in the day, when there were flagrants and technicals and all of that type of stuff. Hopefully, there isn’t any of that (Sunday), but it usually goes that way at one point of the game.”

Green said: “This is two teams that over the past few years have come into their own and are fighting for something. When you’re fighting for something, (chippy) stuff tends to happen. When you’ve got two talented teams, the more physical team will probably win the game. That’s the way you have to approach it.”

As sexy as the point guard matchup is between Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, games between the Warriors and Clippers — once dormant franchises, now consistently competing for the top spot in the Pacific Division — are almost always decided by the teams’ big men.

The Clippers won last season’s first-round playoff series, when Bogut was sidelined with a broken rib. When he missed the matchup this Christmas, the Clippers’ starting big men beat the Warriors’ starting posts by 11 points and 16 rebounds in a 100-86 victory. When Bogut was in the lineup in the teams’ first meeting this season, the Warriors’ bigs won the night by eight rebounds, by a plus-21 to a minus-31 plus-minus rating and by a 121-104 final score.

***

No. 3: Blazers in recovery mode — One of the trickiest things to do is adjust after a key injury, and do it in the final weeks of the season. For the Blazers, life will be different without Wesley Matthews, gone for the season with a torn Achilles. Matthews was a dogged defender and one of the team’s more reliable 3-point shooters. Coach Terry Stotts will be challenged to make the adjustments and weave Arron Afflalo into the mix quicker than he expected. How will this get done? Mike Richman of the Oregonian offers some clues …

For all the uncertainty surrounding the Trail Blazers in the wake of Wesley Matthews’ season-ending Achilles tear, the situation isn’t wholly uncharted territory for head coach Terry Stotts.

When Stotts was an assistant coach with Dallas during the 2010-11 season, the Mavericks lost a key starter to a season-ending injury and regrouped to win the NBA title.

On Jan. 1 2011, Mavericks starting small forward Caron Butler ruptured his right patellar tendon. He missed the remainder of the season and Dallas’ title run.

“We’re a team of good individual players, but we’re a team first,” coach Rick Carlisle said told reporters in Jan. 2011. “We’ve got to pick up the slack as a group.”

“We will ask other guys to step up,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told NBA.com days after Butler’s injury.

Sound familiar?

A similar sentiment has emanated from the Blazers in the last few days following Matthews’ injury.

“We can have multiple guys come in to still help the team play at a high level,” Blazers point guard Damian Lillard told reporters on Thursday night.

Butler was 30 when he was injured. He was two years removed from two All-Star seasons in Washington, but still an important part of the Mavericks veteran group that had serious title hopes.

“He was a starter, a big part of what we were,” Stotts recalled of Butler at the time of his injury on Saturday before the Blazers faced the Timberwolves. “We struggled a little bit, but obviously we won a championship.”

The Mavericks were 25-8 when Butler was injured, but lost seven of their next ten games, including a six-game winless streak.

After the the losing skid, which dropped Dallas to 28-15, the Mavericks found a groove. They won 29 of their final 39 games and earned the third seed in the West playoffs.

Much like the Mavericks of four years ago, the Blazers in 2015 struggled immediately following a major injury. In its first game without Matthews, Portland lost to the worst team in the Western Conference on Saturday night.

Like Portland, the 2011 Mavericks had a veteran solution to fill the injury void.

***

No. 4: Jazz finally getting more from Exum — These are somewhat important days for teams that are either out of the playoffs or headed that way. It’s a good time to take stock in the players on the roster, find out who might stick and who might not, and also get a better read on rookies. That’s what the Jazz are doing, and they’re thrilled to report that Dante Exum is starting to come around. It’s been a mostly lost year for Exum; he was one of the more heralded rookies in the class of 2014 who never managed to get significant playing time or a role in the rotation. At least now, he’s starting to turn the corner and can use the final 20 or so games as a launching pad into next season. Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune reports about Exum’s defense, which is getting rave reviews …

Before Dante Exum heard his name called and walked across the stage at the Barclays Center on draft night, the Utah Jazz front office had questions.

Would he defend?

Could he defend?

“When we watched Dante’s tape before the draft, one of the questions we all had was ‘Can he defend at all?’ ” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said this week. “Because he didn’t. He just kind of hung out.”

Late in Exum’s rookie year, as he returns to the place where he was picked fifth overall last June, the Aussie point guard has done his best to quell those concerns.

“That’s one of his strengths right now,” Snyder said.

The 19-year-old Exum has had plenty of ups and downs in his first season as a pro. He’s not in any Rookie of the Year discussions. And when you scour most rookie rankings, Exum’s name rarely sneaks into the top 10. Exum is only averaging 4.5 points and 2.3 assists in about 20 minutes per game.

“It’s not like he’s putting up great numbers statistically,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “But he’s solid. You can see he’s moving in the right direction. … I think with his length, you watch him over the years, he’s going to be something special.”

And there’s a reason the teenager has started 19 straight games for the Jazz, with his 20th likely a matchup against Brooklyn’s Deron Williams on Sunday evening.

“Dante is trying to contribute any way he can,” Snyder said. “He’s figured it out. He knows right now [defense is] something I can do that’s going to get me on the court and is going to help my team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tyler Johnson, diamond in the rough, is strong again for the Heat, helping Miami to a comeback win over Sacramento … The Pacers really have more wins than anyone since Feb. 1? … Gary Neal is starting to come through for the Timberwolves …

Morning shootaround — Feb. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh hospitalized for lung tests | Bucks add more wingspan | Buyer’s remorse on Rondo? | Wolves: Not buying buyouts

No. 1: Bosh hospitalized for lung tests — The genuine surprise and excitement over the Miami Heat’s acquisition of Phoenix guard Goran Dragic had fans in South Florida focused on what might be some renewed postseason ambitions. But those good vibes got undercut later Thursday with the news that veteran forward Chris Bosh had been admitted to a local hospital to underdog testing of his lungs. Here are details from the Miami Herald:

Bosh was “under the weather” on Wednesday when he reported to practice, according to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, and team trainers sent Bosh to see a doctor. He did not attend practice Thursday and was instead admitted to the hospital.

Initial tests on Bosh, 30, were inconclusive, according to a team spokesman. An independent source confirmed for the Miami Herald that the initial tests were on Bosh’s lungs.

While in New York over the weekend for the All-Star Game, Bosh complained of pain in his side near his rib cage. He then traveled to Haiti during Carnival with his wife, Adrienne, and Dwyane Wade and Wade’s wife, actress Gabrielle Union.

Asked on Thursday after practice whether Bosh was sick in Haiti, Wade said, “I don’t know if he was sick. I’m not a doctor. I just know he wasn’t feeling good. He wasn’t coughing or throwing up, but he just wasn’t feeling good. So I don’t know when it happened. It could have happened in New York.”

Although Bosh noted discomfort in his side last Friday, he appeared healthy. On Saturday, he won the All-Star Shooting Stars competition at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, and on Sunday, Bosh played 11 minutes in the All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.

*** (more…)

2015 Trade Deadline Live Blog


VIDEO: Trade Deadline Show wrap-up

Thursday started a little slow, but by the time 3 p.m. rolled around, the action was fast and furious, culminating in a flurry of deals that sent several quality point guards across the country.

Here’s a breakdown of every trade made in the hours leading up to the deadline, as reported.

To MIL: Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis, Miles Plumlee
To PHI: LAL pick (protected)
To PHX: Brandon Knight, Kendall Marshall

To BOS: Isaiah Thomas
To PHX: Marcus Thornton, CLE pick

To DET: Reggie Jackson
To OKC: D.J. Augustin, Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, Kyle Singler
To UTA: Grant Jerrett, Kendrick Perkins, OKC pick (protected), 2nd round pick

To BOS: Luigi Datome, Jonas Jerebko
To DET: Tayshaun Prince

To HOU: Pablo Prigioni
To NYK: Alexey Shved, 2 2nd round picks

To HOU: K.J. McDaniels
To PHI: Isaiah Canaan, 2nd round pick

To MIA: Goran Dragic, Zoran Dragic
To NOP: Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton, Shawne Williams
To PHX: Danny Granger, John Salmons, 2 1st round picks

To DEN:
To PHI: JaVale McGee, OKC pick (protected)

To BKN: Thaddeus Young
To MIN: Kevin Garnett

To SAC: Andre Miller
To WAS: Ramon Sessions

To DEN: Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson, POR pick (protected), 2nd round pick
To POR: Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee

Five takeaways

1. The Thunder remade their bench.
Enes Kanter‘s defense is disastrous and Steve Novak hasn’t been in an NBA rotation in two years, but D.J. Augustin gives Oklahoma City more of a floor general on its second unit and Kyle Singler adds shooting (41 percent from 3-point range this season) to complement their stars. With Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison already on the frontline, Kanter’s defense might not be as much of an issue as it was in Utah.

2. If Dwyane Wade is healthy, the Heat will be a tough out.
Goran Dragic is the best point guard Wade has had in Miami (if you don’t count LeBron James as a PG) and will take some of the ball-handling burden off of Wade’s shoulders. Dragic pick-and-pops with Chris Bosh will be deadly.

As they stood on Wednesday, a healthy Heat team could have been a tough opponent for a high seed in the East that didn’t have much playoff experience. Now, they’re downright scary.

3. The Blazers are all-in.
With one of the best starting lineups in the league, the Blazers added Arron Afflalo to a bench that already includes Steve Blake and Chris Kaman. And playing alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard should help Afflalo shoot threes more like he did last season (43 percent) than he has this season so far (34 percent).

Anything can happen in the Western Conference playoffs, but the Blazers just improved their odds of making a deep run.

4. The Sixers didn’t believe in Michael Carter-Williams
Or they didn’t believe he was a star. So they traded him for another chance at a star, a Lakers pick that’s protected 1-5 this year and 1-3 each of the next two years. Carter-Williams’ length was one ingredient to the top-12 defense that Brett Brown had built this season, but Sam Hinkie is still kicking that can down the road.

5. Did the Bucks take a step back to save money?
Brandon Knight may have been an All-Star had Jimmy Butler not been able to play on Sunday. And the Bucks broke up a team that won eight of its last nine games going into the break, perhaps to avoid paying Knight (a restricted free agent) this summer.

But the Bucks’ defense, which already ranks second in the league, may have improved with the addition of Carter-Williams. Put his wingspan together with that of Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson, and the Bucks can cover the whole court with just three guys.

– John Schuhmann

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Highlights of Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge and Celebrity All-Star Game

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant: Players should vote for awards | Rising Star MVP Wiggins craves Olympics | Union fires shot across NBA bow | Mason’s condition shows some progress

No. 1: Durant: Players should vote for awards — It’s Valentine’s Day, so you might want to send some extra flowers or candy to your nearest sports media person after Kevin Durant hurt their feelings on Friday. The Oklahoma City star took the occasion of the NBA’s All-Star Media Availability at a New York hotel ballroom to question the media folks’ credibility as voters for the league’s annual awards, such as Most Valuable Player, Sixth Man, Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com was among those to capture Durant’s critical comments:

“I think (the) media gets too much power to vote on stuff like that. Quite frankly I don’t think you really know a lot about as much we know about it,” Durant said when asked if MVP winners should be allowed to vote on the MVP like former Heisman Trophy winners are allowed to do with the annual award for the best college football player. “So we play against these guys every single night, we battle against these guys, we know what they say on the court, we know how they handle their teammates, we know how they approach the game, and our votes should count.

“Our opinions should count. I don’t think you guys know as much we do, and I don’t see why you have more power than we do.”

Durant won his first MVP for the 2013-14 season, totaling 1,232 points in voting, including 119 first-place votes. The award is decided by a 124-member panel consisting of sports writers and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. There’s also an NBA.com MVP fan vote that counts as one vote, making for a total of 125 ballots overall. The same panel of U.S. and Canadian sports writers and broadcasters also casts votes for the other awards, but the MVP award is the only one for which fans can vote.

Players are awarded 10 points for each first-place vote, seven points for each second-place vote, five for each third-place vote, three for each fourth-place vote and one for each fifth-place vote.

“We really know these guys inside and out,” Durant said of why players should vote for the awards. “There are a lot of guys that deserve Defensive Player of the Year or Sixth Man of the Year but you guys (decide sometimes because) they are not the sexier names. A lot of people will see the names of these players and don’t look at the other guys that contribute to our game as well.

“You guys aren’t in the scouting reports, you’re not in the team meetings and the film sessions to really break down each player’s games. I don’t see why you have more power in voting than we do. We are out there on the court playing with them. We appreciate how you guys blow the game up and bring attention to the game but at the same time, to keep it pure, the players should have more say in that stuff.”

***

No. 2: Rising Star MVP Wiggins craves Olympics — For a lot of fans at Barclays Center in Brooklyn or viewing elsewhere, it probably took a moment to sink in that Andrew Wiggins, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ rookie participating in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday was on the right team. Wiggins played for the World squad, against the USA group of rookies and second-year players, because he was born and raised in Canada. He was feeling some maple-leaf pride after his swell performance, as chronicled by our man Scott Howard-Cooper:

Already at the forefront of Canada’s planned ascent on the global basketball stage — well under way with the recent influx of players in the NBA the last few seasons — Wiggins added to that with 22 points on eight-for-11 shooting to win the MVP award as the World beat the U.S. 121-112 on Friday nigh

Asked if he is looking forward to playing Team USA — the real one — in international competition, Wiggins said, “Definitely. That’s a game I dream of. And hopefully we can play in the Olympics.”

Pressed if he would play for his homeland this summer, in the tournament to qualify for the 2016 Olympics (as the reigning World Cup champion, the U.S. is exempt) Wiggins said, “Right now I’m taking it day by day. But it’s something I would love to do.” Coming attractions, indeed.

***

No. 3: Union fires shot across NBA bow — This is relative peacetime in the NBA, more than three years removed from the league’s last costly lockout, with a labor deal in place at least until July 2017. But businessmen and unions do what they do, so the National Basketball Players Association’s annual All-Star player rep meeting offered a glimpse into some jargon and rhetoric with which fans soon might become all too familiar. Our own Steve Aschburner explained a money issue that already has surfaced:

They’re here now, with the union’s rejection of two “smoothing” proposals from the NBA to manage the flood of new money from dramatically increased TV rights fees beginning with the 2016-17 season. Michele Roberts, the NBPA’s new executive director, said the team reps voted unanimously to reject both proposals during a meeting that included about 50 players.

What that could mean, if left unaddressed, would be an abrupt hike in the league’s salary cap from an estimated $68 million in 2015-16 to, say, $90 million for 2016-17. That’s when the new nine-year, $24 billion TV deal kicks in at nearly triple the current broadcast fees. Boosting the cap number that suddenly could make virtually every team in the NBA a bidder for the lucky free agents of 2016. Rosters could be entirely rebuilt, or completely destroyed, all in a few weeks time.

The NBA apparently had pitched two versions of a proposal to “smooth” that infusion of money into the system to avoid artificially bidding up salaries of the players who happened to hit the market that summer, at the expense of the majority who would remain under contract. By “smoothing” the increase — with the cap rising by lesser amounts, with the difference from the players’ CBA-guaranteed share of the league’s revenues divvied up proportionally among them all — those locked into contracts would benefit from the added cash.

But the NBPA’s economic consultants determined that a typical player would make less money overall by signing contracts into an artificially constrained salary cap (for example, $80 million vs. $90 million) while receiving “shortfall” checks, than he would signing a new deal without the smoothing constraints on the cap.

The NBPA also voted LeBron James onto its executive committee as first vice-president, teaming the Cleveland star with union president Chris Paul of the L.A. Clippers to add heft to the hierarchy. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com had more on that:

With Paul, James and new, aggressive executive director Michele Roberts, the union has loaded up with high-profile faces for a fight for a bigger portion of what could be a $7 billion revenue pie two years from now.

Just how big a role James eventually will play, though, is yet to be seen. He did not attend the meeting because he was committed to a sponsor’s event across town. He talked to various members of the executive committee over the phone and plans to meet with Roberts this weekend.

The union believes having James and Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers’ All-Star point guard, on the front line will increase the pressure, both publicly and privately, on owners.

“I cannot tell you how delighted I am; the union is supported by players across the spectrum,” Roberts said after leading a meeting of approximately 50 players, including All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving.

***

No. 4: Mason’s condition shows some progress — In a perfect world, Anthony Mason, longtime NBA forward who had helped the Knicks reach the Finals in 1994, would have been a visible presence this week during All-Star festivities. Instead, he continues to fight for his life in a hospital bed after suffering what his former agent Don Cronson called “congestive heart failure.” But Mason’s condition had improved slightly by Friday, as reported by ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley:

[Mason] has made “small, but real” progress the last two nights after being “near death” Wednesday, his former agent said.

“He isn’t out of the woods, but he’s had two good nights,” Don Cronson, Mason’s agent during his playing days, said by phone Friday night.

Cronson said he’s received updates from Mason’s family.

“It seems like he’s day-to-day now. Before it was hour-to-hour,” Cronson said. “Thankfully, the last two days have been better.”

The New York Daily News had more details of the events leading up to Mason’s incident Wednesday:

Before he was hospitalized, Mason, 48, was scheduled to attend a press event Wednesday at the Times Square Knickerbocker Hotel, where Mason’s former teammate, John Starks, announced his business partnership with the Zipway company. Cronson said he is sure Mason was preparing to be a visible presence during the NBA All-Star Game week in the Big Apple.

“This originally happened a week ago today,” Cronson said Friday. “(Mason) was in the hospital. I think he was having some discomfort, some kind of chest pain. One of his guys said, ‘You have to have yourself looked at.’ He goes into the hospital and the whole event took place there. I spoke to family members, and had he been in the (hospital) lobby as opposed to the third floor, where he was, he would have died. Fortunately, he was close enough to the emergency facilities that were brought to bear and saved his life.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers and Paul George let it be known last week that the All-Star wing player, out since Aug. 1 after suffering leg fractures in a Team USA scrimmage, planned to be practicing March 1. Now he’s targeting March 14 for a possible return to game action. … Washington’s John Wall has his eye on the All-Star MVP trophy and Magic Johnson’s single-game record of 22 assists. … Knicks boss James Dolan doesn’t quite apologize for tangling with an unhappy fan via email, but he knows he shouldn’t have done it. … If Jeff Van Gundy can air out the Bulls for alleged friction with coach Tom Thibodeau, it only follows that Stan Van Gundy can do the same with the Kings in their handling of Tyrone Corbin. … Anthony Davis isn’t participating, but he talked the other day about ways he hopes to improve and about NBA life in general. … Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousin concurs – George Karl is a good coach. … How Portland’s Wesley Matthews transformed himself from undrafted offensive liability to a serious scorer. … Atlanta interested in Gary Neal? The Budenholzer connection. … How could the NBA spruce up All-Star Weekend? Consider these suggestions.

 

Talking numbers with Steve Clifford


VIDEO: Hang Time with Lance Stephenson

PHILADELPHIA – The Charlotte Bobcats were one of the most improved teams in the league last season. No team improved in defensive efficiency more than the Bobcats, who allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions in 2013-14 than they did in ’12-13. Their change in point differential (plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions) was just a hair behind that of the Phoenix Suns.

20141010_improvement

Offensively, the Bobcats started out horribly but improved every month. They ranked 29th in efficiency in October-November and 13th in March-April.

Head coach Steve Clifford deserves most of the credit for the defense. The Bobcats had nowhere to go but up after ranking dead last in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, but they became just the second team in the last 16 years (the ’02-03 Nuggets were the other) to jump from the bottom five to the top 10 on that end of the floor.

The Bobcats are now the Hornets, and they now have Lance Stephenson. They’ve also swapped Josh McRoberts for Marvin Williams at power forward. Both of those moves could change their offense quite dramatically.

NBA.com spoke with Clifford on Wednesday about his team’s numbers, the addition of Stephenson, the importance of floor spacing, and managing his time as a head coach.

(Most of the questions were asked in a one-on-one setting after Charlotte’s shootaround on Wednesday, while a few follow-ups came in Clifford’s pre-game media scrum before the Hornets’ preseason opener against the Sixers.)

An aside: During the pre-game scrum, as Clifford was talking about the departure of McRoberts, Al Jefferson walked by, heading toward the Hornets’ locker room. When Clifford saw Jefferson, he cut off his own, unrelated sentence to say, “and that’s why we got to get the ball to the big fella.” Jefferson called back, “My man! That’s why you’re the best coach in the game!”

Offense

NBA.com: Last year, your team ranked high in ball-movement stats (passes/possession). Do you see Lance affecting that?

20141010_passes

Steve Clifford: I think so, because watching him on film from last year and also being around him since the beginning of September, his pick-and-roll game … he can score it, but he also hits every option. He hits the roll man a lot. There aren’t that many guys that can hit the roll man, make a shot and also hit the other perimeter players. So I think that will be part of it.

The other part of that, maybe, is that we post the ball a lot more than most teams do, and post-up basketball takes usually more passes, because you got to find a way to get the ball there.

NBA.com: Have you put in new staff for Lance specifically?

Clifford: We’re starting to, now. A week in, we’ve just concentrated on those kinds of things, ball movement, secondary offense when the play breaks down, stuff like that for early in camp. We’re starting now to get more sets in.

NBA.com: What’s the biggest advantage to having a second guy who can create off the dribble?

Clifford: I think it just puts so much more pressure on the defense. When you have more guys on the floor who can play in a pick-and-roll or are good at drive-and-kick or whatever, if you get an advantage on one side of the floor with a pick-and-roll and the ball moves to the other side, the defense is just more spread out. There’s more room to attack.

NBA.com: Last season, your offense got considerably better as the season went on. What was the key to that?

Clifford: Part of it, to be honest, was we made a really good trade, where we picked up Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour. And then we signed Chris Douglas-Roberts as a free agent. If you look at it, where our offense got a lot better was we shot more threes. We didn’t shoot a significantly better percentage, but we shot like 5 1/2 more threes per game. People don’t realize that how many threes you shoot is a big deal, too.

20141010_cha_offense

Also, our offensive rebounding numbers went way up. And that was basically Cody [Zeller], MKG [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] and Biz [Bismack Biyombo]. Over the last third of the year, we scored almost two points more per game on offensive rebounds. And there were some other smaller things, but those were the two biggest things.

NBA.com: Was the increase in 3-point shots something you were looking for, or was it a benefit of the new additions?

Clifford: I just think if you study the league and what wins, the three things that yield over a point per possession the last, I think, nine years are … the best possession is if you get fouled, the second best possession is 0-3 feet, and the third best possession is a three, in particular the corner threes.

It’s every aspect of offense, but in this league, your shooting is your spacing. That’s why I think Marvin was such a key signing for us. You can see it in practice. There’s a lot more room for all the other guys when he’s out on the floor vs. the other four men. And Cody’s improved shooting has improved our offense too.

So there’s different ways you can do it. But you got to have shooting. Look at San Antonio. Look at The Finals. If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there. In Orlando, the two great years we had … we had four good years, but the two great years we had, we literally never played anybody, besides Dwight [Howard], who couldn’t shoot threes. And it’s hard to guard.

McRoberts vs. Williams and MKG’s new J

NBA.com: But does the ball movement suffer without Josh McRoberts?

20141010_cha_assist

Clifford: It’s different from the standpoint that Josh, No. 1, shot a decent percentage from three, but it’s not his game. It’s not how he naturally wants to play. Josh more wants to drive the ball, so we didn’t have that spacing on the floor, as good as he was. He’s more of a driver and a passer, where Marvin is a spot-up shooter. So what I’m hopeful of is he will create as much offense in a different way.

NBA.com: Going back to “If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there,” how much has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist increased his value to you or raised his ceiling just with the work he’s done on his jump shot this summer?

Clifford: I want to make sure [to clarify], I think if you can’t shoot, it’s tougher to play in those games. If you look at it, there’s really nobody out there that couldn’t shoot.

Now, I think that he, potentially, has changed his future in this league, with the work that he did with Mark [Price]. He’s one of the few guys that has real value for a team, even when he wasn’t shooting, because he’s an elite defender. To me, he has instincts, both in individual and team defense, that not many guys possess. So he has the ability to guard the best scorers and make it hard on them. Not many guys can do that. But this, to me, potentially changes his whole future.

NBA.com: Defenses are still going to challenge him, though.

Clifford: Absolutely. The other challenge, and he knows this, it may be 60 games, it might be a year, because these guys play one way their whole life. The biggest part of the game is when the ball’s coming to you, shoot-drive-pass and how quick you do it. And he’s always driven it or passed it. Now, he’s got to, when he’s open, be able to shoot it, and do it without hesitation.

And that’s going to take time. You can’t play one way for 21 years and then all of a sudden work hard over the summer to add this component to your game, and then have your decision-making be easy. The only thing I know is that when he didn’t play last year, we weren’t nearly as good. He’s a good player no matter what.

20141010_mkg_on-off

Balance and priorities as a head coach

NBA.com: Do you put more emphasis on offense in camp, knowing that you already have a top-10 defense, or do you feel like you still have to start with the D?

Clifford: We’ve actually done a lot more offense, but since we came back from Asheville, the last three or four days, we’ve really gotten back to defense. Obviously, you can’t take anything for granted. We’ll have two new starters. We worked hard at our defense last year. We’ll have to do the same if we’re going to play that well again.

NBA.com: Is there enough time to do everything you want, both offensively and defensively, in camp?

Clifford: Never.

NBA.com: You always have to make sacrifices somewhere, right?

Clifford: That’s coaching. You never feel like you’re spending enough time on everything. Those are the choices you have to make. I’m fortunate I have such a veteran staff. We talk every morning about what are the most important two or three things for today, because ultimately, you can’t be good at everything. You got to be sure you’re zeroed in on the right things for your team to play well.

NBA.com: How much can you add in as the season goes on?

Clifford: Quite a bit, especially if you have the veteran teams who’ve been around and done a few things. Last year, we added a lot of offense as we went along. We didn’t mess around a lot with our defense.

NBA.com: What did you learn from your first season as head coach?

Clifford: The time management part of being a head coach vs. being an assistant is much different. That was one thing that I struggled with last year.

NBA.com: In what way?

Clifford: Things seem to pop up all the time. So you get to late afternoon and you had those three or four things that you needed to do, this film, that film, whatever. And man, it seems like some days, you get to like 4:00 and you haven’t done any of it.

And then, I feel like I have more of a comfort level. Last year, I always felt like I was swimming upstream, always behind. I think I’m more organized this year, simply because I have a way to do it on game day that I’m comfortable with. And again, I have such an experienced staff, I rely on them so much and they help me a lot. That helps in all those areas too.

Clifford’s assistant coaches: Patrick Ewing, Stephen Silas, Bob Weiss, Mark Price and Pat Delany.

NBA.com: Is there a balance between working on strategy and managing the players and their personalities?

Clifford: Definitely. To me, that [managing the personalities] is the priority.

NBA.com: So some of that film work might take a back seat to making sure you’re on the same page with one of your guys?

Clifford: Absolutely. I would say that the communication piece, so that we’re all trying to be on the same page and knowing roles and all that stuff, that’s always the priority.

2014 Trade Deadline Wrapup


VIDEO: Trade Deadline: Pacers and Sixers Trade

The Indiana Pacers provided a little excitement at the end of what was an underwhelming deadline day. There was a flurry of action on Thursday, but none of it all that meaningful. But then, after the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline had passed, news broke that Indiana had acquired Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for Danny Granger and a second round pick.

Now, Turner’s per-game numbers are somewhat inflated by the Sixers’ pace. They lead the league at 102.5 possessions per 48 minutes. He’s generally been a disappointment as a former No. 2 pick in the Draft. And though his efficiency has increased *this season, he still ranks 161st of 196 players who have attempted at least 300 field goals with a true shooting percentage of just 50.4 percent. His free throw rate has gone up, but is still below the league average, and he has shot 29 percent from 3-point range.

* Over the summer, we pointed out Turner’s ridiculous mid-range-to-3-point attempt ratio of 3.1 last season. It’s down to 2.3 this year. Still pretty bad (James Harden‘s is 0.5), but not quite as mind-boggling.

As much as Granger has struggled in his return from almost a full season off, he’s shot better (49.5 percent effective FG%) than Turner (47.1 percent) on catch-and-shoot opportunities.

But Turner can’t hurt the Pacers’ bench offense, which has struggled again this season. While Indiana’s starting lineup has scored a solid 106.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Pacer lineups have scored just 99.5. And with C.J. Watson (better suited to play off the ball) as their back-up point guard, they could certainly use another guy who can create off the dribble.

A few other contenders and next-level squads made moves at the deadline, but they were relatively minor. The Warriors added bench help, the Spurs added depth at the wing, the Rockets added some athleticism, the Clippers shed salary, and the Heat created an open roster spot. Nobody made a move that will move the needle all that much. Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Rajon Rondo are still where they were 48 hours ago.

And that’s good news for Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, who remain the clear big four in the NBA hierarchy.

— John Schuhmann

Below is a live blog of how things went down on deadline day.

Highlights: Pacers swap Granger for Turner | Spurs get a wing | Clippers shed salary | Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade | Andre Miller to Washington | Bucks, Bobcats make deal | Kings sticking with McLemore | Heat unload Mason | Hawes to Cleveland

Brooks approves move to Denver, 3:55 p.m.

Aaron Brooks had the ability to veto his trade to Denver, but he’s agreed to the deal.

Pacers swap Granger for Turner, 3:33 p.m.

Spurs get a wing, 3:09 p.m.

Clippers shed salary, 3:00 p.m.

Will Brooks approve trade?, 2:30 p.m.

From our Fran Blinebury

Aaron Brooks would have to approve any trade and said yesterday that he wouldn’t. He wanted badly to stay in Houston.

The Rockets have reportedly agreed to send Brooks to Denver for Jordan Hamilton, but because Brooks signed a one-year contract and his early Bird rights would disappear upon being traded, he can veto the deal.

Clippers anxious to deal, 2:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

The Clippers continue to be very proactive in hopes of closing a deal before noon in Los Angeles, with Reggie Bullock turning into a name of the moment around the league.

This is no surprise. For one thing, Bullock is one of the few available Clippers trade chips. For another, Bullock has a real future for a No. 25 pick, a rookie averaging just 8.5 minutes a game because he is a young wing on a team in win-now mode but a 6-7 guard-forward who improved his shooting every year at North Carolina and can defend. He is not an All-Star in waiting, but he is a legit prospect who can bring something in return when L.A. is not expecting to add a starter.

The quest is to bolster the rotation for the playoff push. The Clips are anxious to make a move. If they leave today empty, the next step will be to hope a player of value is bought out and can be signed as a free agent. That is one reason the basketball operations headed by Doc Rivers has kept the roster at 14.

Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade, 1:40 p.m.

Jack should have his bags ready, 1:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

Still a strong sense from teams that Jarrett Jack, while not the big name of Luol Deng or the medium name of 2012 first-rounder Tyler Zeller, is the most likely Cavalier to be on the move today.

Jack has two more full seasons left at $6.3 million per, a big number for someone shooting 39.3 percent and probably a backup wherever he goes. But he has playoff experience, loves the big moment (sometimes wanting it so much that he forces it) and has the additional value of being an available point guard. There is also the versatility that Jack can play shooting guard.

The 39.3 percent? He was at 45 the last two seasons, in New Orleans and Golden State, and 40.4 on threes in 2012-13 with the Warriors. Interested suitors now have the easy explanation to write off the current troubles: He plays for the Cavaliers, so of course there’s going to be problems.

Andre Miller to Washington, 12:40 p.m.

The Washington Wizards’ offense falls off whenever John Wall goes to the bench. They’ve scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and just 92.8 with him off the floor. So they were in the market for a back-up point guard, and they got one…

Bucks, Bobcats make deal, 12:37 p.m.

Kings sticking with McLemore, 12:35 p.m.

From our Scott Howard-Cooper

Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, bothered to an extreme by the rumor, took the unusual step of going out of his way to speak to media members to shoot down a rumor, insisting they had not offered rookie Ben McLemore to the Celtics as part of a package for Rajon Rondo. In what has been a rough transition to the NBA, with McLemore shooting 36.5 percent and unable to hold the starting job earlier in the season, management didn’t want him to start wondering about the team’s commitment.

More than McLemore’s availability could have been shot down, though. Not only are the Kings fully invested in McLemore and rightfully see a high ceiling despite the slow start, there is no way a rebuilding organization gives up two first-round picks, their 2013 lottery selection and Isaiah Thomas, the reported offer, for Rondo early in the comeback from knee surgery and with one full season left on his contract. Whether bad rumor or Celtics dream, it was never going to happen.

Miller to Washington?, 12:15 p.m.

Clippers and Cavs talking, 11:50 a.m.

Sessions for Neal swap?, 11:45 a.m.

Heat unload Mason, 11:20 a.m.

Deng is available, 11:15 a.m.

Earl Clark, Henry Sims heading to Philly, 10:45 a.m.

Clark is technically under contract for $4.25 million next season, but that doesn’t become guaranteed until July 7, 2014. Sims’ $915 thousand salary is also non-guaranteed. So the Sixers are basically getting back two expiring contracts. Anderson Varejao‘s health was a reason for the trade…

Zeller on the block, 10:00 a.m.

Hawes to Cleveland, 9:55 a.m.

Cleveland is over the cap and doesn’t have an exception that can absorb Hawes’ $6.6 million salary, so there has to be a player or two heading back to Philadelphia.

Teams after Andre Miller, 9:45 a.m.

Jimmer on the block, 9:35 a.m.

Ainge talks, 9:30 a.m.

The Race For Jordan Hill, 8:50 a.m.

The Los Angeles Lakers have the fourth highest payroll in the league and are 18-36 after getting waxed at home by the Rockets on Wednesday. Dumping Jordan Hill for nothing can lower their luxury tax payments quite a bit, and there are a couple of teams willing to take Hill off their hands. As we wrote yesterday, the Nets are looking to strengthen their bench, and have a disabled player exception that can absorb Hill’s $3.5 million salary.

But so does New Orleans, whose frontline has been decimated by injuries.

The Gary Neal deadline, 7:50 a.m.

Gary Neal makes just $3.25 million and the Bucks don’t want him. Yet somehow, trading him is a complicated process.

UPDATE, 6:09 a.m.

Report: Rockets making push for Rondo: Like many teams in the league right now, the Houston Rockets are interested in acquiring Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. And, like a lot of teams in the league right now, the Rockets are having a hard time coming up with the framework for a trade that is to the Celtics’ liking. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Houston’s potential unwillingness to give up Chandler Parsons is what may be hanging up a deal.

Report: Kings eyeing Cavs backup guard Jack: A day after sending shooting guard Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn for veterans Reggie Evans and Jason Terry, Sacramento might be looking to make another trade. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Kings have expressed interest in working a trade for Cavaliers reserve guard Jarrett Jack.

Thibodeau would be surprised if Bulls make deal: Echoing the words of GM Gar Forman and team president John Paxson a little less than a week ago, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tells the Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson he’d be stunned to see the team make a trade today.

Saunders shoots down talk of Love on trading block: A smattering of Kevin Love stories came out yesterday, from a snippet from a new GQ interview in which he talks about having fun playing for the Timberwolves to a tweet from Peter Vescey that made it seem as if the All-Star wants out from Minnesota. But Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders shot down all that talk with one tweet last night, writes Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press.

Report: Lakers’ Young safe from being dealt: ICYMI last night, the Lakers shipped veteran point guard Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for youngsters Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. In short, L.A. is continuing in its rebuilding efforts, but according to BasketballInsiders.com, it seems unlikely that the team’s No. 2 scorer, Nick Young, will be dealt today.

Players discuss their trade deadline-day experiences: The folks over at BasketballInsiders.com caught up with a couple of notable players — including Dwight Howard, Kyle Lowry and Chris Kaman — to have them share what it’s like for a player to go through trade deadline day. Nice little read here this a.m.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for All-Star Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bucks falling apart? | History of basketball in New Orleans | Good news for Knicks | Pistons take one to gut

No. 1:  Do Ilyasova, Neal want out? –Milwaukee has dealt with injuries, rough transitions to new players and the new coaching staff, and losses. A lot of losses. Now the Bucks could be confronted with Ersan Ilyasova being frustrated to the point of wanting to be traded, the Racine (Wisc.) Journal Times reports, and the possibility that Gary Neal already wants out as well:

lyasova is arguably the Bucks’ best trading chip and several teams are believed to be interested in him. According to multiple sources, Ilyasova has expressed a desire to be traded, apparently having had his fill of the Bucks’ continual rebuilding project.

Ilyasova downplayed talk about him wanting out of Milwaukee and declined to comment on whether he or his agent, Andy Miller, had requested a trade.

Ilyasova made it clear, though, the Bucks’ revolving door policy with players has irritated him.

“The thing I’m upset about is each year, each season, we go through the same thing,” Ilyasova said. “Last year, we make the playoffs and now we start all over again. That’s really frustrating.

“Hopefully, we’ll find right pieces for the team. Hopefully, we’ll turn it around.”

***

According to league sources, Bucks veteran backup shooting guard Gary Neal and his agent, David Bauman, have talked to Hammond in recent weeks about the possibility of a trade.

The Bucks signed Neal to a three-year, $9.75 million contract over the summer. While Neal played a key role off the bench in helping San Antonio advance to the Finals last season, he has had a roller-coaster season with the Bucks, averaging 10.2 points.

However, Neal has played quite well in the last two games, having scored 18 and 17 points, respectively. In those two games, he connected on 14 of 23 shots from the field.

***

No. 2: Rich basketball history in New Orleans — Before the Pelicans of today, there were the Hornets and the same franchise with a different name. But before that, New Orleans had the Jazz and the ABA’s Buccaneers and the Hurricanes of the Professional Basketball League of America. Fran Blinebury of NBA.com goes down memory lane:

The American Basketball Association was the young, defiant upstart league that burst onto the scene in 1967 with a red-white-and-blue ball, a 3-point shot and a wide-open, slam-dunking style of play that challenged perceptions and authority.

And what better place to do that than rowdy Bourbon Street and New Orleans?

The Buccaneers were coached by the legendary Babe McCarthy with his honey dew Mississippi drawl and his pocketful of down-home sayings:

“Boy, I gotta tell you, you gotta come at ‘em like a bitin’ sow.”

“My old pappy used to tell me, the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s butt every day.”

McCarthy’s team was loaded with talent. The first player signed was Doug Moe, the talented forward out of North Carolina who had been connected to a college basketball betting scandal. Even though nothing was ever proven, Moe, along with Connie Hawkins, had been banned from the NBA for life.

The Buccaneers then added Moe’s good buddy Larry Brown, the 5-foot-9 point guard who’d been dismissed by the NBA for simply being too short.

***

It was four years later when the NBA finally came to town with an expansion team. The aptly named Jazz fittingly brought in the greatest improvisational artist in the game in “Pistol” Pete Maravich, who’d played college ball at Louisiana State in Baton Rouge and made music with a basketball like Louis Armstrong did with his trumpet.

Avery Johnson, who won an NBA championship with the Spurs, coached the Mavericks to The Finals and is now an ESPN analyst, grew up on the streets of New Orleans’ Sixth Ward, within walking distance of the Superdome. He joyously recalls watching the show.

“As a young kid, the Jazz really sparked my interest in basketball,” he said. “Growing up, my two favorite guys to watch were Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald and ‘Pistol Pete.’

“Since the Jazz were playing at the Superdome and had all those seats to fill, they were practically giving tickets away. So my friends and I were going to as many games as we could, even on school nights.”

“All the kids in our neighborhood wore our [floppy] socks like Pistol and anytime we saw him make a great shot or an amazing pass, we’d all be out there on the schoolyard or playground the next day trying to do it. For a kid my age, it really didn’t get any better than that.”

Trouble was, most of the NBA was always better than the Jazz. In five seasons, the Jazz never finished with a record of .500 record. When Maravich was beset by a series of knee injuries and couldn’t play, the big show lost its headline attraction.

***

No. 3: Melo offers to take pay cut for Knicks — Whether it actually happens in July remains to be seen, but for now, free agent-in-waiting Carmelo Anthony is saying he would take less money from the Knicks in the next contract if it meant the team would be in better position to add pieces to the roster. That was part of Anthony reiterating that his priority is to re-sign with the Knicks, as Scott Cacciola explains from New Orleans in the New York Times:

“I tell people all the time: If it takes me taking a pay cut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. Dolan’s steps saying, ‘Take my money, let’s build something stronger,’ ” said Anthony, who was referring to James L. Dolan, the team’s owner, who surfaced here earlier in the day at an off-the-record summit about N.B.A. technology.

Anthony added: “As far as the money, it don’t really matter to me. If I go somewhere else, I’ll get paid. If I stay in New York, I’ll get paid. So as far as the money goes, that’s not my concern. My concern is being able to compete on a high level, at a championship level, coming at this last stretch of my career.”

The Knicks, of course, are not competing at that level — at least, not this season. They lurched into the All-Star break with a 20-32 record, and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul said he could tell that Anthony was still fuming over the Knicks’ loss Wednesday to the Sacramento Kings when they met Thursday night in New Orleans.

***

No. 4: Barkley rips Pistons — The Pistons found no escape from ridicule during the All-Star break. Charles Barkley took them to task during the TNT broadcast of the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, a game that included Andre Drummond piling up 30 points and 25 rebounds. From Brian Manzullo of the Detroit Free Press:

Barkley, now an “NBA on TNT” analyst, ripped Drummond’s Pistons during a break in action.

“He’s a terrific player who’s playing with those other idiots up in Detroit. And they’re not going to win,” Barkley said.

When the rest of the “NBA on TNT” panel, including Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith, questioned that statement, Barkley continued: “They’ve got some idiots on that team. They’ve got some talented players who are not going to ever get it.”

Bucks’ Antetokounmpo Keeps Eating Everything He’s Force-Fed


VIDEO: Giannis goes high to block Durant

As bad as it’s been, lugging around the albatross of the NBA’s most miserable W-L record, the Milwaukee Bucks can take solace in knowing that the 2013-14 schedule is nearly half over and they’ve only been caught using the word “tanking” in a few sentences, each time in close proximity to “not” or “no.”

Regardless of what might or might not be unfolding before our eyes, coach Larry Drew and general manager John Hammond have stirred enough new faces through the new system and into plucky moral victories to obfuscate the onerous. Staking out the higher ground of continued mid-level competitiveness, while tunneling toward the draft lottery, might earn somebody Exec of the Year consideration.

And so might this: Hammond and the Bucks, drafting from the first non-lottery spot (No. 15) last June, landed a player who has had a bigger impact than the No. 1 pick overall. A player, 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo, who – if that draft were redone tomorrow – probably would be chosen before most of the 14 guys in front of him, certainly in the top five and definitely ahead of the pole-sitter, Cleveland’s Anthony Bennett.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Antetokounmpo has been the Bucks’ great Greek hope, the biggest reason (besides elbow room) to drop by the BMO Harris Bradley Center. On the right nights, Antetokounmpo’s coltish potential and unbridled enthusiasm turn the town into a Kentucky horse farm; sunshine, bluegrass and thoroughbred greatness in the making.

He has arms that reach till next Tuesday, hands like jai-alai cestas. The Bucks produced a Giannis growth chart for a giveaway and it was obsolete almost immediately; the kid reportedly has grown 1 1/2 inches since he was drafted, his warm-up pants starting to look like Capris.

Antetokounmpo’s stats are solid – 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 45.6 percent shooting, 23.1 minutes – given his age, his experience, the players around him and the malaise, too. Which makes you nervous that someone so tender, so fragile, might get knocked off course through a lousy season for his team.

Is Antetokounmpo being force-fed too much too soon? Might all the losing and lack of foundation hurt him? Is there anyway to sequester him from Larry Sanders, Milwaukee’s spirited but stormy center who has been setting the don’t-do-this examples lately?

Antetokounmpo seems to be answering the questions affirmatively with his performances and a resilient personality.

As expected, he’s had some roller-coaster stats lines – double-doubles at Brooklyn and Oklahoma City the past couple of weeks, sandwiched around a 50-minute, three-game stretch against Phoenix, Golden State and Chicago in which he shot 1-for-10 with two points, eight rebounds and eight turnovers. He has broken plays on the Bucks, his halfcourt game way behind the havoc he can wreak in transition.

But Antetokounmpo has played 30 minutes or more in 11 games; Bennett, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller and Alex Len – four of the 2013 Class’ top five – have combined for zero such nights. The NBA’s youngest player has started 13 times, the Bucks have been about 10 points better when he’s on the floor and he has averaged more minutes in the fourth quarter (7.5) than in any of the first three.

“I think he’s earned it,” Drew said the other day. “When he’s on the floor, the thing that really intrigues me about him is, he does not have to score necessarily to impact the game. He’s rebounding, he can block shots, he gets in the open court, he makes plays. He’s energy – that’s something we need more than anything. I think besides Larry, he may be the most energetic guy on our team.”

Said the rookie: “I’m very happy that my coaches and my teammates are not forcing me to come in slowly, that I can come in and play. I’m very happy that the team trusts me to throw me in there. I love what I’m doing. Of course it’s my dream, and I’m just having fun. I try to learn from each game as much as possible.”

Drew and his staff are trying to fold Antetokounmpo more into the offense, drilling him in his “attack areas.”

“Right now, I can see he’s a lot more comfortable just spotting up at the [3-point line],” the coach said. “I don’t want him to fall into that type game, because he’s just too long and too athletic. … Anything on the perimeter, he’s a bounce away from the basket. Once he develops his mid-range game where he has consistency in his shot, it’s going to open up the other parts of the game.”

Antetokounmpo, the most tireless chaser in the game who doesn’t play for the Miami Heat, hasn’t wilted from all the losing or picked up bad habits from any unhappy souls in Milwaukee’s locker room. Good thing for Bucks fans: He’s still two years from accompanying anyone to nightclubs.

One area in which Antetokounmpo has been tested has been the traditional hazing that goes on by established opponents. He didn’t play well against the Suns earlier this month but handled the banging he got from P.J. Tucker. Against big names such as Carmelo Anthony and Vince Carter, Antetokounmpo has shrugged off physical and mental challenges.

“I enjoyed seeing that. If Giannis is going to take that next step, he’s going to have to learn how to balance,” Drew said. “He’s got to find ways how to play against them. I think he’s figured it out against the finesse guys. … but physical [small forwards], the strong ‘threes,’ he’s going to have to figure that out.”

Guard Gary Neal added: “I’ve seen guys bump him and he’ll bump ‘em back. The one I remember, him and Carmelo were going at it a little bit. And with Carmelo being an All-Star and challenging him, he didn’t back away from that. That’s big. … If you thought about it, there probably are some guys who folded it up and went home. We just don’t know ‘em because they’re not around anymore.”

Asked about intimidation by certain stars’ reputations, Antetokounmpo said: “Aw, no. Most of the players in this league, I don’t even know them.”

That’s not entirely true. Antetokounmpo recently lauded Kevin Durant, a player to whom he’s been compared in build, as his “idol” for his drive and focus more than his skills. By the time their meeting Saturday was over, with the kid logging 13 points and 11 rebounds, Durant was returning compliments.

“He’s just sneaky athletic; he’s quick,” the Oklahoma City star said. “He plays extremely hard. I can definitely roll with a player like that.”

Milwaukee can, too, if it is careful. The road to the draft lottery and a brighter future is bumpy, narrow and long, with nasty ditches on either side. But given Antetokounmpo’s reach and stride, he looks to be about a bounce away.

Bucks’ Neal And His Open Elevator Shaft

Gary Neal hasn't been getting the minutes he expected to get. (D. Williams/Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Gary Neal hasn’t been getting the minutes he’s used to or expected to get in Milwaukee. (NBAE via Getty Images)

MILWAUKEEAnd is better than or, the commercial tells us. That’s what the Milwaukee Bucks had in mind when they signed former San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal to a two-year, $6.5 million contract back in July.

In Neal, Milwaukee was getting a 6-foot-4 combo guard with 3-point range capable of starting or bringing firepower and energy off the bench. It also was adding a seasoned veteran who, at age 29, had been a key rotation guy for the San Antonio Spurs with 41 games of playoff experience, including his 24-points-in-25-minutes night in Game 3 of the 2013 Finals against Miami.

A contributor on the court and off it, with skills and intangibles?

“They didn’t hire me as a coach,” Neal said Friday night, effectively slamming the brakes on and.

How ’bout neither?

Right now, that’s what the Bucks are getting from Neal, who logged the 10th DNP-CD of the half-season in their 81-72 loss to the Chicago Bulls at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Eight of them have come in Milwaukee’s past 11 games, and a miserable season for the Bucks overall has been even worse for Neal. He is averaging 10.4 points per game while shooting 39.4 percent in 20.5 minutes, missed two games in December with left plantar fasciitis and otherwise has done a whole lot of sitting.

“I don’t know what their plan is or what Coach [Larry] Drew is doing. So it’s hard to show your experience getting DNPs,” Neal said, in a calm steady voice when asked about his switch of teams prior to Friday’s game. “You can’t say anything when you don’t get in the game. I’m gonna tell somebody to do something, and I ain’t playing?”

A qualifier is in order here: Neal was sought out Friday because of the plummet he has taken in the standings and in status, from his role with a pedigreed organization that came within seconds in Game 6 of an NBA championship to a mere spectator on many nights with the league’s worst (7-28) team.

Generally, he has been a solid citizen about the experience … with the exception of last weekend in Phoenix, when some frustrations within the Bucks boiled over in plain sight of reporters. Neal and center Larry Sanders got into a loud, heated postgame argument in the visitors’ dressing room and needed to be separated. At one point, Neal took a verbal shot at Sanders, yelling, “I earn my money. Why don’t you try it?”

Trouble is, Neal might feel on many nights as if he’s not earning his keep either. Not in the manner he had hoped when he traded NBA penthouse for current outhouse.

“I thought I’d be able to get a consistent 20, 25 minutes a night. But for whatever reason, that hasn’t panned out,” Neal said. “It’s a business. I could have stayed in San Antonio on the qualifying offer, but then you miss out on $6 million. Sometimes all the cards fall in your favor, sometimes they don’t. Right now, it’s hard with the record being [7-28] and my role basically being non-existent. It’s a tough spot. You’ve just got to fight through it.”

Drew, in his first season with a team whose October roster had 11 new faces and only four holdovers, still talks of Neal as the guy the Bucks signed. Or believed they were signing, anyway.

“Any time any player comes from a successful program, I think they have something to offer,” Drew said Friday. “Certainly he’s been in that Spurs system, so he has a great deal to offer. Also from his basketball ability. He’s a shot maker. He’s a guy who can get in a rhythm, he’s a guy who can get on a roll. So whenever he comes into a basketball game, I’m looking for A, B, C and D.”

Uh, Drew might have just misspelled DNP-CD.

Milwaukee does have a crowded backcourt and an array of potential gunners, from Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour to O.J. Mayo and Khris Middleton. One problem for Neal – for any of them at any given time – is that, other than injuries dictating the rotation, there is no real pecking order to the roster, too much evenness in skills and qualifications. So it’s about numbers and fit, with an overlap of strengths and weaknesses. That typically leads to odd men out, and right now Neal is that guy.

It hasn’t helped that, when he has gotten in games, his stints have been brief and at times he has tried to force results. Though his average minutes are down from his San Antonio days, the undrafted guard from Towson State is seeking his shot a little more – 16.3 FGAs per 36 minutes vs. 14.1 with the Spurs. His 3-point shooting (41.9 percent) has been better than on his 2-pointers (37.8).

“If you look at the stats, I’ve always been a scorer,” Neal said. “I mean, I’m not shooting the ball as good as I would like. But it’s always harder to get in a rhythm when you play those type of, y’know, six or seven spot minutes. The defense has a chance to focus in on you, the shots are harder.”

Again, Neal was talking about his well-compensated humbling because he was asked about it. He said several times he wasn’t trying to tell Drew or Bucks general manager John Hammond how to do their jobs. If that rumor out of the D-League Showcase in Reno proves true – that Neal is being shopped in advance of the February trade deadline, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported – the player knows he is just that, a player with a job to show up for every day.

“You don’t want to be a distraction. We have our share of distractions just by losing games,” Neal said. “When you look at [the limited opportunities] and you’re the only guy, coming from a situation where you’ve been on a winner the last three years and you were playing 30 minutes in The Finals, and the team is struggling and you haven’t been told a reason why you haven’t been given those extended minutes, y’know, it can be mind-boggling at times.

“But at the end of the day, you are a professional and you don’t want to be a distraction. So you just show up and hopefully the worm will turn and you’ll get minutes.”

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 5


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bynum-Gasol talk heats up | Rivers shoots down Griffin-‘Melo rumor | Sanders, Neal have postgame beef

No. 1: Bynum trade keys on Sunday — The on-then-off trade talks involving the L.A. Lakers’ Pau Gasol and their former big man Andrew Bynum, now on the outs with the Cleveland Cavaliers, might just be on again. And by on, we mean heating up big-time Sunday, since that represents the best last day to cross all t’s and dot all i’s by the end of business Tuesday. Trades of this nature typically take 48 hours to be finalized with NBA headquarters, and Jan. 7 is the date by which Bynum’s contract calls for another $6 million guaranteed for the balance of the season. The Cavaliers would prefer not to throw good money after bad, of course, and the Lakers are focused on the luxury-tax benefits of acquiring and then shedding Bynum to reduce payroll. ESPN.com reported the revival of talks that previously were said to be squelched, and USA Today offered a little more context of a deal that – despite the big names involved – is about as sexy as an investor culling stock losers from his portfolio with the IRS in mind:

The Los Angeles Lakers big man once again is the subject of trade talks, this time with the possibility that he’d swap spots with former teammate Andrew Bynum in a possible deal that is of very little relevance to this particular season when it comes to the competitive landscape. This is about failed ventures on both sides and mutually-beneficial attempts to fix bad teams.

… [According] to a person with knowledge of the talks between the two teams, the only asset Cleveland has offered as of Saturday night is a second-round pick, and that won’t be enough to get this deal done.

… By getting rid of Gasol in exchange for Bynum, the Lakers would escape the luxury tax territory this season while creating some badly-needed distance between them and the ‘repeater’ billing that is followed by such a huge, well, bill. …

… Whether it’s a first-round pick that the Lakers are pushing for or a young player who could be part of their cloudy future, the point of it all is that they want something besides the savings to hang their collective hat on. It’s a staring contest in that regard: the Cavs are well aware that the financial factor looms largest for the Lakers, and the Lakers are banking on Cleveland not wanting to cut Bynum for nothing in return and realizing that Gasol on a team that entered the season with playoff expectations but is now 11-22 would be a huge boon.

***


VIDEO: Doc sounds off on trade rumors

No. 2: Rivers disses favorite sports network — So stupid. A non-story. And “that network.” If anyone had any doubts about how L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers felt about speculation on ESPN’s various outlets about a Carmelo Anthony-for-Blake Griffin trade, Rivers removed them prior to his team’s game against the Spurs in San Antonio Saturday. In fact, while Rivers always is quick with the comic line about “Doc” merely being a nickname, he deftly performed a little-known surgical process, a rumorectomy, for the assembled media who were poking and prodding, as noted by Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times. Let’s all remember, too, how Rivers reacted to comments by ESPN basketball guy Bill Simmons‘ analysis of the coach’s departure (“quit on” was the pivotal phrase) from the Boston Celtics last summer:

Rivers said the Clippers aren’t engaged in talks to trade Griffin for Anthony and aren’t going to trade their All-Star power forward.

“My whole issue with any of that … is that that network to me reports a story that they created and then they do reports on it for the next two days, on a story that they created,” Rivers said. “But it’s stupid.”

The ESPN report, which was attributed to unidentified league sources, said the Knicks have discussed proposing an Anthony-for-Griffin trade with the Clippers, and that Clippers management has discussed such a deal internally. But the report said the teams haven’t spoken to each other about a possible trade.

With Chris Paul out three to five weeks because of a separated right shoulder he suffered Friday night at Dallas, Griffin becomes even more key for the Clippers.
Griffin leads the Clippers in scoring (22.1) and minutes played (36.6), and he is second in rebounding (10.6) and assists (3.1).

Griffin, 24, is in the first year of a five-year, $95-million contract that pays him $16.4 million this season.

Rivers said he didn’t talk to Griffin about the ESPN report.

“I didn’t say a word about it,” said Rivers, who is also the Clippers’ vice president of basketball operations and has the last word on trades. “I just thought it was such a non-story.”

***

No. 3: Bucks’ Sanders, Neal squabble in locker roomBad things happen with bad teams, and based on the unseemly scene in the visitors’ locker room in Phoenix late Saturday, you could probably guess without a glimpse at the standings that the Milwaukee Bucks (7-26) lug around the NBA’s worst record. After a 116-100 loss at US Airways Center, Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders and Gary Neal got into what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel termed a “bitter argument,” with Neal “going” where few in the fraternity of millionaire athletes dare to go: attacking Sanders’ new contract extension (which doesn’t even kick in till next season). “I earned my money. Why don’t you try it?” Neal said postgame in earshot of reporters, after Sanders questioned his attitude. Anyone paying attention to the Bucks this season could make a case that no one there – from the front office down – has been earning his salary, based on the results. Sanders’ notorious and YouTubed nightclub incident cost him 25 games with a hand injury, while Neal has underperformed and been criticized for selfish play since arriving as a free agent from San Antonio. Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel was there to chronicle some of the dreary ugliness:

It was the latest meltdown for a Bucks team that dropped to a 7-26 record as it lost for the second time in three games on its western swing.

And there were plenty of problems during the game as the Bucks committed a season-high 26 turnovers leading to 38 points by the Suns (20-12).

Bucks teammates did their best to downplay what was an ugly scene in the visitors’ locker room.

“Oh no, we’re good,” Bucks guard O.J. Mayo said. “A little team bonding, that’s all. A little kumbaya, man.

“It’s all good. When things aren’t going well, that’s when the real men reveal their true colors. Are you a grinder? Are you going to roll your sleeves up and get it done?

“People handle it different ways. We’re searching [for] ‘what do we need to do to get it going.’ “

.***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The downside of tanking (well, one more of the many downsides): Promising young players have to endure hard times. Pricey veterans often get shed by teams focused on the future, but a young desirable such as Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Young winds up waiting for the 76ers’ plan to kick into action. … Veteran big man Kurt Thomas would like to get back in, yet at age 41, even he is turning up his nose at his old team in New York. … We’ll leave the digit jokes to you, but can report that Portland’s Nicolas Batum has broken the middle finger on his non-shooting (left) hand. He might not miss any time. … Veteran Hedo Turkoglu, who has played just one more game than Derrick Rose since the end of the 2011-12 season, might be on the Lakers’ radar. Turkoglu, 34, was waived Friday by Orlando, with the Magic saving half of his $12 million by shedding him now. Turkoglu reportedly is eschewing opportunities in Europe for a chance to stay in the NBA.