Posts Tagged ‘Goran Dragic’

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

(more…)

Sun has set on Phoenix’s Dragic era

dragic

After averaging 20.3 points and 5.9 assists last season with the Suns, Goran Dragic’s numbers have dipped to 16.2 and 4.1 and seeing less time with the ball in his hands. (USA Today)

A day earlier, it was only the stuff of “reports.” By midday Wednesday, though, and with about 24 hours left before the NBA trade deadline, Goran Dragic‘s desire to be dealt from the Phoenix Suns was cold, hard fact.

The seventh-year guard made his dissatisfaction with the Suns clear when he talked with reporters Wednesday. These differences sound irreconcilable, per Paul Coro‘s story in the Arizona Republic:

“I don’t trust them anymore,” Dragic said following Wednesday’s practice session. “It happens too many times. Two, three times.

“They give promises, OK. It’s hard. But at the same time, I wish them all the best. They were great to me the past five years. I’m always going to have a good memory about Phoenix fans and the city. I just hit that point of my career that it’s better for me and my family to move on.”

The relationship between Dragic and the Suns melted down over the team’s commitment to a three-guard backcourt that has required him to adjust his style and minutes to fit in Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. Last season, Dragic was named to the all-NBA third team after averaging 20.3 points, 5.9 assists and 35.1 minutes. This season, his numbers have dipped to 16.2, 4.1 and 33.4, and he has significantly less time with the ball in his hands.

Now a team that was one of the league’s happier stories in 2013-14 has serious drama and a potential setback on its hands. As unhappy as Phoenix fans might be over this, at least Dragic has made his decision over basketball reasons, rather than seeking out a more lucrative market for off-court income or to team up with particular buddies.

Dragic has mentioned New York, Miami, Indiana and the L.A. Lakers as destinations in which he has interest, but Boston, Houston and others may have interest in acquiring him and persuading him to stick around long-term.

If Dragic isn’t traded by the deadline, he intends to sign elsewhere as a free agent this summer. More from Coro:

“I don’t feel comfortable with my situation,” he said, adding, “It’s just different. Standing in the corner, it’s not my game. I see that we’re not going in the right direction. That’s why I take action and try to put myself in a better position.”

Morning shootaround — Feb. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets on outs for Dragic? | Assessing Reggie Jackson’s worth | Lakers, Clippers slide in ratings | Andrew Young supports Ferry

No. 1: Rockets on outs for Dragic? — Bittersweet might be the best way to describe it, the way the NBA trade deadline follows just days after Valentine’s Day each year. One moment people are flush with romance and gazing longingly into each other’s eyes, the next they’re casting covetous glances at a neighbor’s point guard. Or they’re trading away a player before that player can dump his team, a league transaction as the equivalent of a pre-nup agreement. Then there’s the unrequited love of deals that never actually get consummated, which is what the Houston Rockets were nervous about as Phoenix guard Goran Dragic hit the market this week. The good news for Houston was, Dragic definitely was available. The discouraging news, though, was that the Suns playmaker didn’t have the Rockets on his short list of trade destinations. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle broke down the Rockets’ potential heartache:

With Dragic – who said last month that he would consider all of his options, including the Rockets and Suns – listing the Knicks, Lakers and Heat among teams he would target as a free agent, the Rockets would be considerably more hard-pressed to gamble on a trade deadline move for Dragic.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has previously gone after a deal for a player that had shown no interest in signing with the Rockets when he pursued a deal with Denver for Carmelo Anthony. He also was willing to close a deal with Orlando for Dwight Howard when Howard at the time was interested in signing with Brooklyn, if he opted out of his Orlando contract to become a free agent.

Those deals were never completed, with Anthony going to the Knicks and Howard agreeing to opt in with Orlando, only to be traded to the Lakers the next off-season.

The Rockets were very interested in trading for Dragic with no guarantee that they could keep him. But unlike the seasons in which they pursued Anthony or Howard, they are not lacking in star power and as open to making a long-shot deal to land and eventually try to keep a foundation piece.

The Rockets could still be willing to make a deal centered around the first-round pick they acquired from the Pelicans in the trade of Omer Asik, an asset they primarily picked up to strengthen their position in a trade during the season. But it could be difficult to give up a rotation player, particularly a player signed beyond the season, in a trade for Dragic, who could leave after the season.

***

No. 2: Assessing Reggie Jackson’s worth — Lose a player for nothing or give him away for next-to-nothing. Often, that’s what it comes down to at the deadline for teams whose players can hit free agency in a few months. Whether they’re unrestricted and certain to leave or restricted but likely to fetch a price too high to match, the players’ current teams have to ask the same question a prospective suitor faces: What is this guy worth for two months and whatever playoff run follows? The Oklahoma City Thunder were mulling that in regards to guard Reggie Jackson as Thursday’s trade cutoff approached, as reported by the Daily Oklahoman:

As the clock ticks, Jackson’s name remains one of the hottest on the market. There’s a general feeling that the Thunder, a calculated and forward-thinking organization that has always tried to maximize its assets, doesn’t want to lose him for nothing this offseason when he hits restricted free agency. So a trade would seem likely.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

With the Thunder still harboring playoff and title hopes, Jackson remains a key contributor. He is OKC’s best playmaker off the bench and remains capable of taking over and changing games, which he’s done multiple times the past two years. The Thunder’s talent level and championship probability takes a dip without him.

That, of course, changes if Sam Presti can swing a deal that nets the Thunder a contributor in return. But by solely moving Jackson, that’d be tough.

Any franchise interested in Jackson would likely be a non-playoff team needing point guard help — a Knicks or Kings type. It would be a move for the future. But trading for Jackson wouldn’t guarantee he’d be on the roster next season.

Plus, Jackson’s cheap $2.2 million deal complicates things even more. Most of the potentially available rotation players around the league — Brook Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler — make far more than Jackson. The Thunder would have to add more money (potentially Kendrick Perkins) into that type of deal.

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No. 3: Lakers, Clippers slide in ratings — The show-biz capital of the world isn’t easily impressed with entertainment that isn’t first class, and that apparently extends to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers this season. According to the Los Angeles Times, both teams have seen the telecasts of their games dip in the ratings. The NBA is trying to stay in front of technology, including a lot of younger fans’ switch from traditional TV viewing to using their tablets and smartphones to access entertainment, but this still is a trend that bears watching, considering the money at stake in broadcasts rights fees and advertising rates. Here is some of the L.A. Times’ report:

Nielsen ratings for the Lakers in the Los Angeles market are at an all-time low, dipping below a 2.00 rating for the first time, according to the ratings firm.

The Lakers’ 1.95 rating on Time Warner Cable SportsNet is down 25% from this point last season and puts the team on pace to break the record low 2.11 figure it posted for the 2013-14 season.

The Clippers are averaging a 1.10 rating on Prime Ticket, a drop of 13% from the same point last season. The ratings gap between the Lakers and Clippers is the lowest on record.

The Lakers (13-40) are on pace for the worst winning percentage in the franchise’s 66-year history. Making them all the harder to watch has been the absence of veteran stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash and rookie Julius Randle.

The Lakers’ TV ratings have declined in each of the three seasons they have partnered with TWC, which is paying the team $5 billion over 25 years. The team’s ratings are down 57% from only two years ago, when it posted a 4.63 during Dwight Howard’s one season in L.A.

The Clippers (35-19) are only one game worse than they were at this point last season on the way to a franchise-record 57 victories. They also had avoided injuries to top players before All-Star forward Blake Griffin was diagnosed last week with a staph infection in his right elbow that required surgery.

“The schedule has presented several challenges thus far, including fewer prime-time games and multiple matchups versus marquee events such as Monday Night Football,” said Steve Simpson, senior vice president and general manager of Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket. “That said, with the exciting brand of basketball the Clippers play, we are optimistic as we head into the second half of the season.”

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No. 4: Andrew Young supports Ferry — As the Atlanta Hawks continue to have their way in the Eastern Conference as the NBA’s biggest surprise team of 2014-15, their exiled general manager, Danny Ferry, remains M.I.A. due to the controversy last summer over some racially insensitive (and tape-recorded) remarks. Ferry’s sabbatical hasn’t been turned into a pink slip, though, and a number of folks inside and outside the NBA have spoken up in defense of his character. Now Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and a longtime civil rights leader, has added his name to that list, saying “Hell no” when asked by a local TV station whether Ferry should be fired. Here’s more from ESPN.com:

Asked by WSB TV’s sports director Zach Klein whether Ferry should lose his job, Young responded, “Hell no.”

Ferry took a leave of absence from the Hawks on Sept. 12 after a recording of him making inflammatory comments about Luol Deng on a conference call was made public. Since Ferry’s departure, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has presided as the head of basketball operations, with assistant general manager Wes Wilcox also active in day-to-day proceedings.

On the call, Ferry characterized Deng as a player who “has a little African in him,” and added, “He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

Young said that were he the decision-maker in the Hawks executive offices, he would’ve encouraged Ferry to stay on. He added that he doesn’t believe Ferry is a racist.

“No more than I am,” Young told the Atlanta station. “That’s a word that you cannot define, ‘You are a racist.’ You can’t grow up white in America without having some problems. You can’t grow up black in America without having some subtle feelings.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One reason Sacramento’s new hire, George Karl, has been so successful as an NBA coach might be all the games he got to play against the Kings. … It’s going to be a busy day for trade deadline rumors, so add this to the list: Detroit and Brooklyn might be circling a Brandon Jennings-Joe Johnson maneuver. … Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight, another restricted free agent this summer, didn’t squeeze onto the East All-Star squad but is highly valued by the trade-meisters. … The folks at SheridanHoops.com kick around some trade speculation too, including Utah’s Enes Kanter to OKC? …

Report: Dragic won’t re-sign with Suns


VIDEO: David Aldridge on latest trade deadline rumblings

Representatives for Goran Dragic told the Suns on Tuesday that the veteran point guard does not plan to re-sign as an unrestricted free agent, according to a report by Sam Amick of USA Today, putting pressure on Phoenix to deal Dragic by the Thursday trade deadline or likely lose him for nothing in the summer.

The news comes with Dragic having gone from 35.1 minutes a game in 2013-14 to 33.4 this season after the Suns signed another point guard, Isaiah Thomas, as a free agent. That apparently has prompted Dragic to decide he does not want to stay, even if Phoenix were to move Thomas instead before the deadline passes.

From USA Today:

The main issue, according to one of the people [with knowledge of the situation], is that Dragic wants to run his own team with the kind of freedom and support given to someone like Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. The decrease in production this season, as he sees it, is directly tied to the decrease in time spent as the lead-guard with the host of ballhandlers that surround him. Dragic is averaging 16.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 33.4 minutes per game this season.

A team that acquires Dragic now would also have his Bird rights in July, a major bargaining chip in free agency. Several reports say Dragic, through his agent, have given the Suns a list of preferred destinations, but that the Rockets, one of the clubs that had been pursuing him, are not among the places Dragic would stay. That would put Houston in the difficult position of giving up assets for someone who would bolster its playoff hopes, except as a short-term rental who would leave after the season.

The Lakers, Heat and Knicks are among the preferred destinations, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!

Morning shootaround — Feb. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Amar’e gets Maverick | Report: Bucks, Sanders talk buyout | What’s next for Marc Gasol? | A weekend with Westbrook

No. 1: Amar’e gets Maverick — Just hours after securing his release from the New York Knicks, according to multiple reports, Amar’e Stoudemire and the Dallas Mavericks have reportedly reached an agreement on a deal to bring Stoudemire to the Mavs. After writing a poem to say goodbye to Knicks fans, Stoudemire will chase a championship with the Mavericks, teaming with his former Knicks teammate Tyson Chandler to provide an interior presence for Dallas. As ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, after considering several offers, Stoudemire ultimately decided Dallas was the best fit for his skill set…

The Mavs could only offer the prorated veteran’s minimum to Stoudemire, who was in the final season of a five-year, $99.7 million deal with the Knicks.

Dallas was attractive to Stoudemire in part because of a pick-and-roll-intensive offense that plays to his strengths. The Mavs also have a highly respected medical staff, led by Team USA athletic trainer Casey Smith, that will maximize Stoudemire’s chances of staying healthy for the stretch run and playoffs while dealing with chronic knee problems.

The Mavs envision Stoudemire as a key bench player who will back up center Tyson Chandler and also see spot duty at power forward behind Dirk Nowitzki. He will provide the Mavs with a quality replacement for Brandan Wright, the high-efficiency reserve big man the Mavs gave up in the December deal to acquire Rajon Rondo.

***

No. 2: Report: Bucks, Sanders talk buyout — As recently as two seasons ago, Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders was considered one of the NBA’s most promising young big men. But since then, it’s been a slow decline. Sanders has dealt with injuries and suspensions, and hasn’t played this season since just before Christmas. Now it seems that perhaps the Bucks have had enough and are ready to move on without Sanders, writes ESPN’s Marc Stein

Buyout discussions have begun between the Milwaukee Bucks and Larry Sanders that would make the recently suspended big man a free agent, according to league sources.

Sanders has served a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug program but has not returned to the team and is not expected to play for Milwaukee again. He has been listed as out for “personal reasons” in each of the Bucks’ past three games.

The 26-year-old has been adamant that he wants to resume his NBA career despite the personal struggles that have resulted in two league suspensions in less than a year.

“Soon you all will know the truth,” Sanders tweeted last week.

When asked last week about Sanders’ status, Bucks coach Jason Kidd told local reporters: “That will be determined during the break.”

***

No. 3: What’s next for Marc Gasol? — The Memphis Grizzlies may be chasing a title, but after his gig starting for the Western Conference All-Stars, it’s probably worth remembering that Grizz center Marc Gasol will be one of the most sought-after free agents this summer. USA Today‘s Sam Amick caught up with Gasol during All-Star Weekend, and Gasol says leaving Memphis would not be easy, if it comes to that…

“The city of Memphis and the franchise means a lot to me,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s not going to be easy for me to leave a place like that.”

Not only do the Grizzlies have the edge of being able to offer him a five-year deal as opposed to the four-year offers every other team is limited to, but the ‘Grit & Grind’ Grizzlies remain a close-knit group that is playing the kind of elite basketball (39-14) that certainly qualifies as championship-caliber. The Knicks, Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and others have long been expected to come after him, but he knows as well as anyone that he won’t find this mixture of relationships and ring-worthy talent anywhere else. At least not at the start.

From his close friendship with point guard Mike Conley to his connection with forward Zach Randolph (“My man,” he calls him) to Tony Allen and the rest of the lot, there are roots that run much deeper than they do in most NBA locker rooms. There’s an impressive body of work serving as the foundation, too, a winning percentage of .635 since the start of the 2010-11 season and years of playoff battles that they hope have steeled them for the coming challenge.

“Basketball is about relationships,” said Marc, who played his high school basketball in Memphis while watching Pau play for the Grizzlies, then returned (after playing professionally in his hometown of Barcelona) to begin his NBA career in 2008. “The bond that you create by playing together, going through battles together. The trust that you build goes a long way. It goes beyond the game of basketball. Those guys, you could see them 15 or 20 years from now, when everybody is older and it’s a little tougher to walk, you’ll see each other and your brain is going to immediately think back to those memories that you created.

***

No. 4: A weekend with Westbrook — Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook is one of the NBA’s most dynamic players and personalities, as furious on the floor as he can be off of it, with a diverse set of interests. In New York for All-Star Weekend, where he ended up walking away with the All-Star MVP, Westbrook maximized the time by running all over the city to make appearances, and he brought Bleacher Report along for the ride

The following day, Friday, around 11:30 a.m., Westbrook arrives for All-Star media availability, located at the Sheraton Times Square Hotel. This marks one of the few times of the year when every kind of question you can imagine gets thrown at a player.

“Russell, do you wish you guys ever wore tiny, little shorts?” His answer: “No.”

“Who’s the sexier Van Gundy, Stan or Jeff?” His answer: just shakes his head.

Then there’s the influx of international media—this year, a record 534 members from 52 countries—who ask for acknowledgement of their fans.

“Please give us a message to Japanese fans.” His response: “Hello, Japanese fans all over the world. Thank you for your support.”

Compared to the previous night, Westbrook, wearing all Jordan Brand gear, including the Air Jordan 1 Fragment Design sneakers, is completely different. Many times, he looks down during questions and looks away while responding. His answers are short—usually one word or one to two sentences—similar to other basketball interviews he’s done in the past. Smiles and long answers are sparse. A lot of “I don’t knows.” For some, he has the look of “Where have you been?” as he quickly shakes his head to disregard the question.

“He doesn’t like to talk about basketball,” his younger brother, Ray, 23, says. “We just talk about life, play video games.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to this report, the Utah Jazz plan to hang on to Enes KanterJermaine O’Neal says he doesn’t feel comfortable committing to a team at this point … Goran Dragic‘s agent will meet with Suns management today … Austin Daye has signed with the D-League

Morning shootaround — Feb. 16


VIDEO: Highlights of Sunday’s 64th All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What’s next for Amar’e Stoudemire? | Westbrook bounces back in a major way | Rally in the works for LeBron, Cavs | Brotherly love shines during All-Star Game

No. 1:  What’s next for Amar’e Stoudemire? — Now that the New York Knicks are finally parting ways with their one-time savior with a buy-out, what is next for Amar’e Stoudemire? All signs point to Stoudemire packing his bags and heading back to the Western Conference, with the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns all believed to be in the mix once he clears waivers. Tim MacMahon and Marc Stein of ESPN.com provide some context:

Stoudemire, who was in the final season of a five-year, $99.7 million contract with the Knicks, had said he would spend the All-Star break pondering his future, specifically whether to ask the last-place Knicks for a buyout to give himself an opportunity to join a team in the playoff hunt.

“It’s not an easy decision to make,” Stoudemire told Yahoo! Sports. “Over time, we will see how things pan out. You give yourself a break during the All-Star break. You think about it with your family. … That will give me a good solid week on how to weigh out the rest of the season.”

The Mavs can offer Stoudemire only the veteran’s minimum, but he would likely have a significant role off the bench as a candidate for minutes at power forward and center behindDirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler.

“He would fit in great because we play a lot of pick-and-roll,” Chandler, who played with Stoudemire in New York the past three seasons, said recently. “Coach [Rick Carlisle] does an excellent job understanding scorers and how to get them the ball and putting them in a position to succeed. Not only that, we’ve got the best training staff in the league. That also helps.”

The 6-foot-10 Stoudemire, a six-time All-Star, has averaged 12.0 points and 6.8 rebounds in 36 games for the Knicks this season despite dealing with a variety of injuries. He missed 14 of the previous 18 games — due to ankle, wrist and knee injuries — before returning in the Feb. 6 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

Stoudemire, 32, has said the decision to request a buyout would be difficult because of his loyalty to Knicks owner Jim Dolan. But he likewise acknowledged in the Yahoo! interview that the constant losing has made it hard for him to remain motivated while playing for the Knicks.

“All possibilities at this point are still open,” Stoudemire said last week. “The door is still open for that. But at the same time, I am with the Knicks now. I got to stay optimistic about things and what we are doing here. I can’t really focus on the future, because it’s not here.

“We still have a couple weeks left before it’s all said and done. It’s a decision I have to make with my family to figure out the best scenario for the near future.”

Carmelo Anthony heard about Stoudemire’s buyout shortly after the end of Sunday’s All-Star Game.

“One of the main reasons I’m a New York Knick today was because of him. To see him leave, to see the situation where it’s at today, I know what he wants and you have to respect that as an athlete as a competitor,” Anthony said. “… When he came [to New York] he brought back some excitement to the game of basketball here in New York. There was hope when he came back. People started believing in the New York Knicks again. He was the main reason for that belief and for that hope.”

***

No. 2: Westbrook bounces back in a major way — No one had more to prove during Sunday night’s 64th All-Star Game than Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who was not around last year in New Orleans due to injury. He made his presence felt early and often this time around, stealing the show and MVP honors on the big stage at Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t by accident that Westbrook came within a point of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star Game scoring record of 42 points. Westbrook was a man on a mission. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman explains:

Westbrook was named MVP after scoring a game-high 41 points off the bench to lead the West All-Stars to a 163-158 win over the East inside Madison Square Garden, the renowned arena on 33rd Street and 8th Avenue in which legends have been made.

His scoring outburst, which featured 23 points coming in his first seven minutes, left him one point shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 42, which he set in 1962.

“Definitely a blessing, man,” Westbrook said. “You never want to take no games off, especially an All-Star Game to get a chance to go out and show your talents. I’m blessed to be able to play the game that I love and definitely happy we got the win.”

Westbrook wowed the sold out Garden crowd of 17,198 with a jaw-dropping mix of pinpoint-accurate jump shooting and rim-rattling dunks. He made 16 of 28 shots, including five of his nine 3-point tries. His 27 first-half points marked the most of any player in a half in All-Star game history, topping Glen Rice and Kyrie Irving’s old record of 24.

“It was a spectacular show of athleticism,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry.

Twelve months ago, many questioned whether Westbrook would ever flaunt this type of athleticism again. He underwent an initial surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee in April 2013. A loose stitch from that procedure necessitated a second operation just before the start of the 2013-14 season. And the day after Christmas 2013, after Westbrook torched the Knicks to the tune of a triple-double in this same arena, he learned that he needed a third surgery to alleviate chronic swelling.

The last procedure forced him to lose 27 consecutive games and his customary All-Star spot.

If last year’s postseason performance wasn’t confirmation enough, Sunday night showed that Westbrook has indeed returned to his rightful place at the pinnacle of his profession.

“That just shows what type of person he is,” said teammate Kevin Durant, who was limited to 10 minutes in this All-Star Game while nursing his own nagging injuries. “Forget the player, just the person. The perseverance he showed, the adversity he went through, just being resilient. It’s a lot of words you can group with Russell Westbrook, man. He’s just tough. I’m so happy that he came out here and did his thing.”

***

No. 3: Rally in the works for LeBron, Cavs — With the busy All-Star Weekend in the rear view and a few days of rest before the second half push of the season begins, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have a little time to get their bearings. They know the mountain left to climb is steep. But it can be done. They’ve already come back from the brink once this season. Now we’ll see if they can do it again. It won’t be easy, though. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

It’s been a theme for him this season, it was the case for him in the NBA’s 64th All-Star Game Sunday night, and it must hold if the Cavaliers are to continue their momentum in the second half and deep into the postseason.

James logged another brilliant All-Star performance, posting 30 points, five rebounds, and seven assists in a 163-158 loss for James’ Eastern Conference. With 278 points in 11 All-Star games, James is just three points shy of passing Kobe Bryant for the most in league history.

Not only does James, a two-time Most Valuable Player in All-Star games (Sunday night’s MVP was Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook), always play well in them, but he also is a dominate force at Madison Square Garden – where this game was played.

So it should come as no surprise that James was rocketing up and down the court, rattling the rim with dunks and draining threes. He registered one of the plays of the game, catching a third-quarter lob from Toronto’s Kyle Lowry in the third quarter and flushing it with a reverse slam.

Only, on Thursday following a loss to Chicago, James declared in no uncertain terms he needed “rest,” both mentally and physically. He’d had an arduous couple of weeks, dealing with a sprained wrist and sore ankle, and didn’t know until sometime Sunday how he’d approach the All-Star Game.

And then he opened the game with two dunks and tallied 15 points in the first quarter alone. There would be no rest for the weary on this night.

“It’s just a feel,” James said Sunday night. “I understand that my fans, our fans of this great game, voted me in for a reason. They wanted to see me play, see me do what I’ve been doing this year, and that’s why they voted me in. So it’s my obligation, my responsibility to go out there if I’m feeling 80 percent, 85 percent, or 90 to go out there and give my fans something, give them what they wanted to see, and hopefully I did that.”

***

No. 4: Brotherly love shines during All-Star Game — It was a special night for so many, but no one will take away the memories from Sunday’s All-Star Game that the Gasol brothers will relish for the rest of their lives. Pau of the Bulls and Marc of the Grizzlies were in the middle of the floor for the opening tip at Madison Square Garden. It was a historical moment for the NBA and for the Spaniards. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune provides the details:

Numerical symmetry is nice. Brotherly love is something altogether more special.

For the record, Pau Gasol beat younger brother Marc on the historic opening tip for the West’s 163-158 victory over the East in Sunday’s 64th annual extravaganza. It marked the first time in NBA history that brothers started an All-Star Game.

The 321 combined points set an All-Star Game record.

“It’s a great privilege to be in this position because it’s hard to leave your country and get to a new country and compete and climb yourself to the top,” Pau said of his family’s journey from Spain to stardom. “The path is usually harder. So we take pride and understand the value of it and are just proud to represent a lot of people that look up to us.”

That was the sentiment. This was the sibling rivalry.

“It was cool to win the jump ball,” Pau said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New slam dunk king Zach LaVine is betting on himself in a contest with LeBron James … Are the Timbwerolves going to get busy in the trade market before Thursday’s deadline? … The Nets and Thunder could be ready to do business involving Brook Lopez and Reggie Jackson … Jason WThompson is ready to force a trade in Sacramento … The Spurs could be the dark horse team in the Stoudemire sweepstakes

ICYMI, they played the 64th NBA All-Star Game Sunday night at Madison Square Garden …


VIDEO: The All-Star Game Top 10



VIDEO: MVP Russell Westbrook goes off for the Western Conference All-Stars

Harden, trio of Hawks and first-timer Thompson highlight All-Star reserves


VIDEO: Trio of Hawks headline All-Star reserves for East

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The 2015 All-Star Game will definitely have star power.

Boldfaced names like Chris Bosh, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook headline the list of players selected by coaches to be reserves for the 64th All-Star Game, which will take place Sunday, February 15, and televised exclusively on TNT.

NBA All-Star 2015The list of players chosen for the game seems to suggest that the coaches voting for the reserves valued familiarity — 11 of the 14 have previous All-Star experience. Meanwhile, a team that prides itself on succeeding without stars also made a mark. The Atlanta Hawks ended up having a trio of players — Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague — named reserves for the Eastern Conference team, which will be helmed by Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. But while the Hawks are 38-8 and hold a commanding seven-game lead over the rest of the conference, this apparently wasn’t enough to secure a spot for Atlanta’s fourth All-Star candidate, shooting guard Kyle Korver.

Still, the Hawks lead all teams with three players in the All-Star Game. Chicago, Cleveland, Golden State, the Clippers, Miami and Oklahoma City all had two players each. The last time the Hawks had three players in an All-Star Game was 35 years ago, when they sent John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield.

While the willing can argue around most of the selections, it’s worth remembering that the All-Star reserves were selected by opposing coaches. So those who made the cut were probably chosen as some vague combination of mutual respect, lifetime achievement and time spent worrying about playing against them.

Perhaps the most surprising selection was in the Western Conference, where coaches chose Oklahoma City’s Durant. Although Durant was last season’s MVP and a “star” by any definition, he has played in less than half of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season, while averaging 25.6 points in those games he has played.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT live from New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden on Sunday, February 15, 2015.

Eastern Conference

Chris Bosh, Heat — With LeBron James gone, Bosh has assumed a larger role, averaging 21.3 points his highest total since the 2009-10 season, and posting a 28.7 usage rate, tying his career high. This is Bosh’s 10th consecutive All-Star Game.

Jimmy Butler, Bulls — Made himself into a genuine offensive threat for Chicago to go along with his already terrific defense. Averaging a career-high 20.1 points. This is his first All-Star Game.

Al Horford, Hawks — While Horford’s numbers are nothing spectacular — 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds — his return from two pectoral injuries has anchored the Hawks’ interior and provided a paint presence. This will be Horford’s third All-Star Game, following selections in 2010 and ’11.

Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — After being voted as a starter for last year’s All-Star Game, Irving messed around and won the game’s MVP award with 31 points and 14 assists. This season he’s struggled to be comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kevin Love, although last night’s 55-point explosion would seem to suggest he’s found his way.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — Maybe the best post player in the Eastern Conference. After making last year’s All-Star Game, his first, Millsap has added 3-point range this season and frequently bails out the Hawks at the end of shot clocks when Atlanta’s pace-and-space offense breaks down.

Jeff Teague, Hawks — The straw that stirs the drink for the Hawks. In his sixth season, has developed into an elite point guard with a complete game, and has managed to find the consistency he lacked earlier in his career. Averaging 17 points and 7.5 assists, both career highs.

Dwyane Wade, Heat — A 10-time All-Star, Wade has played in 35 of Miami’s 45 games, averaging 21.4 points and 5.4 assists, and has the highest PER (22.55) of any shooting guard in the Eastern Conference. Wade’s availability for the All-Star Game may be in question after injuring his right hamstring on Tuesday.

The Lowdown — Things are a bit more cut-and-dried in the Eastern Conference than the West. Korver stands out by his absence, apparently a victim of his teammates’ success. It’s hard to justify omitting a player with the highest 3-point shooting percentage in the history of the NBA, but it’s equally difficult to defend giving four of the Eastern Conference’s roster slots to players from one team. Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight has also drawn acclaim as the Bucks have bounced back from last year’s disastrous season and are in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Orlando center Nikola Vucevic is averaging a double-double, 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds, and despite his team’s 15-33 record, an argument can be made for his inclusion.


VIDEO: First-timer Thompson headlines All-Star reserves for West

Western Conference

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers — Portland’s big man is averaging a career-high 23.6 points as he attempts to play through a torn thumb ligament. This will be his fourth consecutive All-Star Game.

Tim Duncan, Spurs — The Big Fundamental’s numbers aren’t eye-popping, at least not for him — 14.7 points, 10.1 rebounds. But Duncan is a 14-time All-Star and has been the most consistent player during the first half of the season for the reigning NBA champions. Hard to leave the 38-year-old home in what may be one of his final campaigns.

Kevin Durant, Thunder — A five-time All-Star, when healthy Durant is arguably the best player in the NBA. The issue this season has been health, as Durant has nursed a broken foot and a sprained toe, missing 25 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games this season.

James Harden, Rockets — A no-brainer for the coaches, and the player most likely to get the injured Kobe Bryant‘s starting spot, although that choice ultimately belongs to Western Conference coach Steve Kerr. Harden is currently leading the NBA in scoring at 27.3 points and, with the Rockets rolling at 32-14, a legitimate MVP candidate.

Chris Paul, Clippers — CP3 has long been one of the best all-around point guards in the NBA, as evidenced by seven All-Star appearances in nine seasons. Paul leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and has the Clippers firmly in the Western Conference playoff race.

Klay Thompson, Warriors — Thompson is perhaps the best two-way guard in the league, and has teamed with Curry to make the Warriors the best team in the NBA this season. Thompson is averaging a career-high 23 points, and his 52-point game last week probably didn’t hurt his case. This will be his All-Star debut.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder — Westbrook is one of the most dynamic players in the NBA, and after a few injury-plagued seasons (and a broken hand earlier this year) has bounced back to lead the Thunder while Durant has been out. Westbrook is averaging a career-high 25.2 points this season for the 23-23 Thunder.

The Lowdown — Unlike in the East, the competitive Western Conference provides more opportunities for debate. (Also, it’s worth noting that with Kobe Bryant out, NBA commissioner Adam Silver will be adding at least one player to the roster.) With Paul and Westbrook on the team, a few deserving point guards find themselves looking in from the outside. Last year, Portland’s Damian Lillard made his first All-Star Game, but despite averaging a career-high 21.8 points, didn’t make the cut this season. Memphis point guard Mike Conley has directed the Grizzlies to a 33-12 record, behind only Golden State in the West. And in Phoenix, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe could each make a case for a New York visit. Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki has made a dozen All-Star Games, but will be staying home this year, along with his teammate Monta Ellis. And Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins has had a big season, averaging 23.8 points and 12.3 rebounds, both career highs. Great numbers, but apparently not good enough in the Western Conference.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental | Might Kobe opt to play and delay surgery? | Horford, Hawks can’t stop, won’t stop … winning | Aldridge puts training camp in jeopardy by playing through pain

No. 1: Cavs’ biggest improvement has been mental — Trade away whoever you want. Tweak the roster however you want. But when you go looking for the real change in the Cleveland Cavaliers since LeBron James returned from who two-week rest hiatus, look no further than between the collective ears of these Cavaliers. So says LeBron, who insists that the greatest gains this group has made recently has been in their collective mentals … so to speak. Sure, LeBron has been on fire, looking more and more like the machine he was in Miami the past four seasons. The rest of the Cavs, though, have taken the necessary mental steps to assume the position as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Joe Vardon, of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, has more:

Dan Gilbert didn’t put 20,000 gold t-shirts on the seats at The Q just because.

The Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t land on the slate of ABC’s first Sunday games this season for laughs.

Though it took place on Jan. 25, three full weeks before the All-Star Game in a regular season that starts before Halloween and goes past Easter, it truly was a big game.

And for once, the Cavaliers prevailed.

“We’ve improved, mentally more than anything,” LeBron James said yesterday, following Cleveland’s 108-98 win over the Thunder.

Remember, James called said once this was a “very fragile” team.

“Big game” is a cliché in sports, certainly on most nights when it’s applied to describe one contest out of 82 in the NBA. But it’s a point worth examining to measure how much James’ team has grown over the last several days.

First, and really it’s the reason this game was announced for ABC’s first Sunday slate back in August, it was a feature of the league’s last two Most Valuable Player winners in James and Kevin Durant — two stars who were picked to lead their teams to, excuse the word, big things this year.

With the Cavs and Thunder playing in opposite conferences, James and Durant only square off twice a year, unless they meet in the Finals as they did in 2012. Basketball fans were robbed of one James-Durant showdown when the Cavs’ superstar sat out with a sore knee on Dec. 11.

Next, and schedulers couldn’t have known this way back when, but Dion Waiters made his return to The Q after getting traded to Oklahoma City on Jan. 5. It’s a side-story, but a juicy one nonetheless.

Third (we’re building toward something here), those gold t-shirts draped over each seat at The Q. The idea, of course, is to make the organization and city look (and sound) good on national TV.

Free, gold Cavs t-shirts are reason to scream a little louder, a little more often. Of course Gilbert picked up the tab.

Add it all together: marquee individual matchup, the whole country watching, intriguing side stories, and nervous energy in the building (more so than on an average night).

The Cavaliers had played in that kind of cauldron of attention exactly twice this season. The first was James’ official return to Cleveland on opening night against the Knicks, which James said was “one of the biggest sporting events ever,” and on Christmas Day in his emotional return to Miami.

James and the Cavaliers failed. Twice.

“In those two games we did, yes, obviously, we did,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “I can’t deny that. Hopefully we learned from that.”


VIDEO: The GameTime’s crew discusses the Cavs’ play of late

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Swaggy P goes primetime | Down goes Davis | Nets’ patience running short | Pistons snap 13-game skid

No. 1: Swaggy P goes primetime — Last night in San Antonio with the Lakers in town, all eyes were on Kobe Bryant, who entered the night 31 points from passing Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. But during the pursuit of the record — and one day after Kobe publicly criticized his teammates while the media was at practice — something interesting happened: The Lakers knocked off the Spurs in overtime for their second straight win. And while Bryant finished with 22 points, the game-winning bucket came from Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who, according to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, fully enjoyed the moment

Nick Young is all jokes, all the time. But Friday, after playing the surprise role of hero in an overtime win here against the San Antonio Spurs, the quirky Los Angeles Lakers guard turned his cartoonish personality all the way up.

Exhibit A, referencing his remarkable, go-ahead 30-footer with 7.4 seconds left in a 112-110 victory, a highly contested prayer of a heave that turned AT&T Center silent:

“Once it left my hand, I kind of knew it was cash,” Young said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t miss.’ That’s my new name — ‘I.D.M.’ Call me ‘I.D.M.’ You feel me?”

Exhibit B, referencing his game and season-high 29 points off the bench on 9-for-14 shooting, including 6-for-9 from 3-point range:

“Man, you know, I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do when I’ve got to do it,” Young said. “So basically, I’m just doing what I’ve got to do every time that I step on the court to do what I’ve got to do. You feel me?”

Then Young offered more not-so-veiled remarks — hard truths and backhanded compliments, if you will, that made it once again difficult to tell when exactly he’s joking and when he isn’t.

Such as here:

“I’m glad I had a chance to hit a game-winner with somebody like Kobe [Bryant] on the floor, who normally has the ball in his hands all the time,” Young said.

Or here, when he nodded to Bryant’s chase of Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time scoring list (Bryant stood 31 points shy of passing Jordan entering Friday):

“No offense to Kobe, but I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much [Friday],” Young said. “I thought he was going to break that record — at least get 40 or 50 [points]. With all the cameras that were around, I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much.”

Young, known as “Swaggy P,” in a nationally televised game indeed stole the spotlight away from Bryant, who many expected would gun for Jordan’s record. Instead, Bryant shot 7-of-22 from the field and scored 22 points, leaving him nine shy of passing Jordan’s total (32,292).

“It’s going to come,” Bryant said of the milestone.

But the fun-loving Young also touched on Bryant’s trash-talking tirade in practice Thursday, when Bryant called his teammates “soft,” comparing them to Charmin toilet paper, among other things.

“When I’m out there, I don’t play like Charmin,” Young said. “I like Scott Tissue. It’s a little rougher.”

***

No. 2: Down goes Davis — One of the most versatile players early this season has been New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who has averaged a double-double and established himself as an MVP contender even with the Pelicans hovering around the .500 mark. But early in the first quarter last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Davis went down with what is being called a “chest contusion.” While the Pelicans managed to hang on for the win without Davis, they obviously need to get him back if they want to continue to fight for a playoff spot. As John Reid writes

Despite Friday’s win, the focus was clearly on Davis’ health. He never came out the locker room after suffering the injury. The Pelicans had initially listed him as questionable to return.

However, when the Pelicans took the court before the start of the third quarter, there was no sign of Davis. At the end of the quarter, the team announced that Davis would not return.

It appears unclear when Davis’ chest problems began. But midway in the first quarter, forward Tristan Thompson bumped into Davis at mid-court. However, Davis continued playing.

During a timeout with 5:44 remaining in the opening quarter, Davis had his hands on his chest appearing to be in discomfort. He returned to the court but asked out of the game at the 5:30 mark.

“I just know when he was on the bench, he was wincing as if he couldn’t breathe,” Williams said. “So I was hesitant to put him back in the game and he then he wanted to go back out. We watched him for awhile and he took himself out. That’s when I knew he didn’t feel right. And he was waiting for himself to feel better when he was in the back (locker room), but it never came back. So we’ll have a better idea of what’s going on (Saturday).”

***

No. 3: Nets’ patience running short — Reports of the Brooklyn Nets’ hastened demise have been greatly exaggerated…this according to Brooklyn GM Billy King. At a press conference last night, speaking before the Nets’ 88-70 win over Philadelphia, King said stories about the Nets attempting to quickly trade their core three are exactly that: Stories. With the team currently sitting at 9-13, however, King acknowledges an urgency to get things turned around. As the New York Post reports

“My job is to listen to people and to make calls and to make calls back,” King said before the Nets’ 88-70 victory over the 76ers on Friday night at Barclays Center.

“Does that mean we’re having a fire sale? Absolutely not. I’m doing my job, as well as asking the players and the coaches to do their job. But my job is to work the phones, see what’s available.

“If things make sense you make trades. If they don’t, you don’t do it. But we’re not shopping or having a fire sale.”

King’s comments came in the wake of reports Tuesday the Nets had made their three highest-paid players — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez — available in trade discussions recently after Brooklyn got off to a rough start for a second straight season.

But while King said there are reasons why the Nets haven’t played up to expectations, he wasn’t ready to say everything about the team’s slow start could be attributed to outside factors.

“I think one, Brook was playing himself back into shape, after being out so long,” King said. “I think a lot of guys were trying to adjust to the new system.

“But some guys just haven’t played up to the level we need them to play.”

The Nets have sputtered out of the gate each of the past two seasons, and since the start of training camp, coach Lionel Hollins repeatedly has said he expects them to play much better in January and February than they are now, once the group grows more comfortable with him and vice versa.

King, however, said the Nets can’t afford to simply wait for things to get better with time. They entered Friday with an 8-12 record and were riding a three-game losing streak.

***

No. 4: Pistons snap 13-game skid — When Stan Van Gundy signed on this summer to take all things basketball for the Detroit Pistons, there was an expectation that things would improve from last year’s 29-53 season. Thus far, however, things have been worse before they got any better, as the Pistons entered last night with a 3-19 record and 13 consecutive losses. But the Pistons finally got summer signee Jodie Meeks back from injury, and went into Phoenix and squeaked out a 105-103 win to end the streak. As Vincent Goodwill writes

All the stops were pulled Friday, as Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy went back to Greg Monroe in the starting lineup, used Jodie Meeks for the first time this season and even did what he’s been previously reluctant to, playing his two point guards simultaneously.

The Pistons were desperate, doing everything they could to counteract the balanced Phoenix Suns attack.

Buzzer-beating triples, passionate pleas to the officials followed by calm diplomacy when the emotion died down, but in the end, they had to make plays, and did just enough to beat the Suns, 105-103, at U.S. Airways Arena.

Easy, it surely wasn’t, and the ending will never be confused with being smooth or a coaching clinic, as the Pistons nearly gave it away multiple times in the final minutes.

Andre Drummond, an unlikely figure to be sure, hit one of his two free throws with 2.5 seconds left to give the Pistons a two-point lead before the Suns’ final attempt made its way to Drummond’s massive mitts before the buzzer sounded, ending the misery, punctuating his 23-point, 14-rebound night.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the player who was alleged to have “no heart” by Suns forward Markieff Morris during their earlier meeting, hit a corner 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining to break a 97-all game, and the quiet kid shot a cool stare at the Suns bench on the way downcourt, the last of his 14 points.

“Ha! Nah, I did kind of look at the bench or whatever, let them know I do have heart. I’ll take that shot any day,” Caldwell-Pope said with a bit of a grin afterwards. “It felt good. Jodie had a nice cut to the basket, (Eric) Bledsoe helped and I was wide open. I spotted up and knocked the shot down.”

Meeks played 22 minutes off the bench, hitting four of his 10 shots to score 12. Meeks, who’s rather mild in most instances, was fouled with eight seconds left after a Goran Dragic layup, and after his two made free throws, pounded his chest in joy.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Don’t look now, but the Hawks have won 9 straight … The Knicks got a win but lost Iman Shumpert with a dislocated shoulderDion Waiters spent the night in Cleveland after experiencing abdominal pain … Bulls forward Doug McDermott will undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his knee … Jermaine O’Neal will make a decision about returning after the holidays … While Kobe closes in on Michael Jordan’s scoring record, Byron Scott doesn’t think anyone will catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar … Someone allegedly stole a truck filled with 7,500 pairs of LeBron‘s signature shoes

Morning shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Nov. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stephenson not a star yet | Suns point guards slow to adjust | Butler has risen against the odds | Lopez a perfect fit in Portland

No. 1: Stephenson not a star yet — With a 4-12 record and the second longest losing streak in the league, the Charlotte Hornets have been the most disappointing team outside of Cleveland. The arrival of Lance Stephenson was supposed to give their offense a boost, but they rank 25th on that end of the floor and have regressed defensively. Stephenson is still starting, but has seen his playing time drop quite a bit in the last week. After he logged just 23 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Blazers, Hornets coach Steve Clifford provided a dose of reality regarding his team’s new “star,” as Michael Wallace of ESPN writes:

Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes Lance Stephenson’s problems adjusting during his first season in Charlotte are partly due to the guard’s struggles to live up to external expectations.

“To be fair, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He’s not a star. He’s a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years.”

Clifford’s comments came after Stephenson was left on the bench for the entire fourth quarter for a second consecutive game, this time during Wednesday’s 105-97 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that extended the Hornets’ losing streak to seven straight games.

A combination of preseason injuries and struggles since then to find his rhythm and a consistent role in Clifford’s offense has made Stephenson’s transition much more difficult than some anticipated.

***

No. 2: Suns point guards slow to adjust — At 10-6 after a win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns are in a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. But they’re still trying to find their way, especially offensively, where they’ve taken a small step backward. One adjustment is the addition of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who joins Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in an unconventional backcourt. Though the team is winning, it’s impossible for all three to get their deserved playing time every night. As Thomas tells CBS Sports‘ James Herbert, that can be tough to deal with:

With the Kings, he was shuffled in and out of the starting lineup, especially in his first two seasons. He watched Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Greivis Vasquez and Jimmer Fredette play the point in front of him. Thomas has learned that he can’t worry about the things he can’t control. Still, this is challenging. Thomas has proven he’s capable of producing like an All-Star, and so have Dragic and Bledsoe.

“It’s a tough situation,” Thomas said. “But you’ve just got to be ready for whatever circumstances coach puts you in. You gotta be ready when your name is called, but I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s tough.

“It’s not what I expected,” Thomas continued. “But coach has a tough job. Putting all of us on the floor and trying to mix up the minutes, it’s tough for him. So it’s not just tough for us as players, we just gotta be ready when our name’s called and just know, I mean, coach is trying to do what he thinks is best for the team to put us in a position to win. But the key word is it’s a tough situation. For all of us.”

***

No. 3: Butler has risen against the odds — The Chicago Bulls have one of the most improved offenses in the league, despite the fact that Derrick Rose has played just 6 1/2 of their 15 games. One reason is the continued development of Jimmy Butler, who has the best field goal percentage of the five players in the league averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. Butler was the 30th pick in the 2011 Draft out of Marquette, where most teams didn’t see much talent in the 6-7 guard. ESPN’s Nick Friedell profiles Butler and his path to becoming a big piece of a title contender:

Jimmy Butler isn’t supposed to be here.

He’s not supposed to be in the NBA. He’s not supposed to be a key member of a Chicago Bulls team that has championship aspirations. He’s not supposed to be in the midst of an All-Star type season — the best of his career — in which he has carried the Bulls on both ends of the floor at various times. And he’s certainly not supposed to be on the verge of cashing in on a contract offer at season’s end that will likely pay him well over $50 million over the next four seasons.

The odds have always been against Butler. His path to the NBA is as unlikely as anyone who plays in the league given that his backstory (of being homeless at 13 before moving in with a friend’s family) reads like the basketball version of “The Blind Side.” No matter how many ups and downs Butler endured in his journey to the precipice of NBA stardom, the 25-year-old never stopped believing in himself. The same drive that helped get him out of Tomball, Texas, and into Marquette University is the same fuel that’s pushed him to average over 20 points a game early this season.

***

No. 4: Lopez a perfect fit in Portland — The Portland Trail Blazers made a 21-win leap from Lottery team to the second round of the playoffs last season, and have continued rolling with a 12-3 start this year. They’ve gotten improvement from all of their high-profile players, but the key to the transformation was the addition of a low-profile center. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details the importance of Robin Lopez to the Blazers’ success:

After 96 regular season games and one memorable playoff series victory, it’s become clear that Lopez was the missing link for this franchise. A city that has watched the downfall of the beloved yet brittle Bill Walton, and the depressing breakdowns of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, finally has a stabilizing force at the NBA’s most important position.

And while Lopez’s made-for-Portland personality and rugged, hustle-infused game have made him a Rip City fan favorite, it’s the things you don’t notice — the unselfishness, the unassuming disposition, the way he connects the Blazers’ chemistry — that have made the towering 7-foot, 265-pound center so important.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the Blazers’ best player. Lillard brings the big shots and big plays. Matthews provides defense, leadership and heart. And Batum is the glue, offering a touch of everything.

But Lopez is perhaps the most important piece, the linchpin to one of the most cohesive and talented starting lineups in the NBA. When general manager Neil Olshey shrewdly snatched Lopez in a trade for next to nothing, he didn’t just nab a starting center entering his prime, but also the 21st Century version of Buck Williams, a player plugged into an established core at just the right time that helped catapult the Blazers to the next level.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony doesn’t know how long back spasms will keep him out of the Knicks’ lineupThe Thunder waived Sebastian TelfairThe Lakers are close to signing Earl ClarkDavid West hopes to make his season debut on FridayMarcus Smart started, but couldn’t finish practice on WednesdayThe Celtics are going to EuropeMark Cuban wants to join the Eastern ConferenceSome trash talk from Philly fans motivated Kevin GarnettKyrie Irving wants to guard the league’s best point guards … and The New York Times profiled TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”

ICYMI of The Night: Tyson Chandler helped the Mavs to an overtime victory over his old team with 25 rebounds, an NBA high for the season:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Tyson Chandler grabs 25 boards