Posts Tagged ‘Gordon Hayward’

Young Jazz still trying to turn corner

VIDEO: Derrick Favors powers Jazz to close road win in Atlanta

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Moral victories will sustain you for only so long in the NBA.

Sooner or later, signs of growth and glimpses of what could be have to backed up with something much more substantial than just the hope of what’s to come.

The Utah Jazz are living that reality these days. They are a team loaded with intriguing young talent, a group still trying to find its way together as they chart a course from the lottery to the playoffs while still working to shore up deficiencies on the roster and in their make up.

They shocked us with their work to finish the 2014-15 season, going 15-9 during the stretch run after the All-Star break, suggesting that this season might bring a true breakout effort from coach Quin Snyder‘s crew with a nucleus of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and defensive menace Rudy Gobert anchoring the middle of an improved frontline.

But the road has been a bit tougher than expected early on this season, courtesy of a rugged early schedule and the offseason loss of point guard Dante Exum for the season with a torn ACL.

That’s what makes nights like Sunday, when they outlasted the Atlanta Hawks 97-96 at Philips Arena to finally score a road win after three straight losses on a four-game trip, so sweet.

All that potential in action, and with a result to match. It’s all you can ask for when you’re trying to turn a corner. The Jazz sit at 5-5 after their first 10 games with every intention of living up to their own hype.

“I feel like we are ahead of where we were last year,” Hayward said. “We’re in a good place. I know that’s seems like a strange thing to say after you lose three in a row. But two close games and then kind of drained on that last one. But we are moving in the right direction. We just have more experience, another year with [Snyder] and all of the experiences from the tough games we played last year. We’re learning how to win games and trying to figure out where you can succeed in this league.”

Learning how to win games like this one will only help the Jazz in their pursuit of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Sunday’s win over the Hawks was their first this season in games decided by five points or less (they were 0-3 previously).

They shot a season-high 51 percent (39-for-76), outrebounded the Hawks by seven and Favors, an Atlanta native, led five players in double figures. Gobert recorded his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds, to go along with his three assists, three blocks and two steals as the Jazz finally put together a complete game against an elite opponent.

A little good fortune never hurts, of course. All-Star forward Paul Millsap missed a wide-open 12-footer in the game’s final seconds that would have won the game for the Hawks.

The hard work to get to that point, though, was rooted in the preparation for moments exactly like this one, Favors insists. And that preparation has been years in the making for the most experienced members of this Jazz team, where a 24-year-old, six-year veteran like Favors qualifies as an elder statesman.

“Everybody is more comfortable with the roles and guys are going out there playing with more freedom, without looking over their shoulder every time they make a mistake and worrying about the coach taking you out and crazy stuff like that,” Favors said. “It’s experience, too. This is my sixth year. Gordon’s been here six years. Most everybody else is in their second or third year. There is so much you have to learn. We’ve been through it as individuals. But now we have to go through some things together, as a group. And that’s what makes you stronger.”

This Jazz team still has glaring issues, of course, namely its struggles at point guard. Raul Neto is the starter and Trey Burke, a prized lottery pick two years ago, is the backup and playing well in that role.

But with the game on the line in the final four minutes Sunday, the Jazz worked without either one of them on the floor. It’s a formula they have been using all season, going with Alec Burks, Rodney Hood and Hayward as the primary facilitators with games on the line.

It’s a dangerous way to play in a league where quality point guard play has never been more valuable. And when you’re a team attempting to make the leap from the lottery to the playoffs, it’s a potentially fatal flaw.

The Hawks played without their All-Star point guard Sunday night, Jeff Teague, who sat out with a sprained ankle. And they lost starting small forward and energy man Kent Bazemore when he turned his ankle with 2:20 to play.

But there’s no need to apologize for a little luck, not when every bit of it and every lesson learned along the way will be useful on this journey.

“It was very important. We were very close to winning the first two games of the road trip. We lost each game by a couple of possessions,” Gobert said of what the Jazz took away from these early lumps they’ve endured. “But we were able to win the game tonight. We want to make the playoffs, so we need to put some wins together.”

Playoff talk in November is just that, talk. And no amount of bluster, internal or otherwise, will fuel the Jazz the rest of the way.

“We know it was a trendy thing to talk about us expecting to be a playoff team and a team on the rise or this and that,” Favors said. “But I don’t think you can own any of that until you actually get there. So anybody talking about us turning a corner … we haven’t turned a corner until we make the playoffs.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 31

VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action


Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench | Brook Lopez is strictly a post player but an all-around person | Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC | A Q and A with Gordon Hayward

No. 1: Joakim Noah said he never asked to come off the bench — The Bulls are looking a bit different under new coach Fred Hoiberg than they did under Tom Thibodeau. Specifically, Joakim Noah isn’t starting. As the Bulls try something new, there was a bit of a mixup. Did Hoiberg tell Noah to be a sixth man, or did Noah volunteer? The center set the record straight, when asked if he took himself out of the starting lineup: “No.” Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago has further details:

The topic has been hovering around the Bulls since training camp, as Hoiberg explored all his options and ultimately decided to insert second-year big man Nikola Mirotic into the starting lineup on opening night instead of Noah. The story line came back to light on Thursday when a Hoiberg Q-and-A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe was posted. In the exchange, Hoiberg said Noah was the one who started the conversation about coming off the bench this season.

“Jo actually came to me and talked to me about that,” Hoiberg told Lowe. “He said, basically, ‘I’ve always played well with Taj [Gibson].’ He said he thought Niko and Pau played very well together, so let’s go that route. It was actually Jo that started the whole conversation. He came to me. That says a lot about him.”

Before the Bulls’ 98-94 overtime loss at Detroit on Friday, Hoiberg said he didn’t feel a need to clear the air with Noah.

“Did he specifically say I want to come off the bench? No. Nobody wants to come off the bench, but it’s the decision that we came up with,” Hoiberg said. “He’s been great. He’s been as enthusiastic as anybody over there on the bench when he’s not in the game, and he’s always going to bring it when he’s on the floor, so no, things are fine.”

For his part, Noah has never seemed outwardly angry about what’s going on and doesn’t want to rock the boat as a team leader.

He has struggled in his first two games off the bench to find his rhythm, though, failing to register a point. Noah does have 15 rebounds and six assists in his first two games and appears to be feeling good after struggling with the effects of offseason left knee surgery a year ago.

“I just want to do what’s best for the team,” Noah said. “I think we’re 2-0 right now. We still have a lot of room for improvement. What I said doesn’t matter. I think right now we’re doing what’s best for the team, and we just got to keep building off that.”


No. 2: Brook Lopez is an all-around person — The Renaissance man of New York works in Brooklyn and stands over seven feet tall. They don’t come more educated or diverse than Brook Lopez, the Nets’ center who might be one of the bright spots for the rebuilding team this season. The former All-Star opened up recently about his upbringing, his twin brother Robin (who plays across town with the Knicks) and his passion for many things. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York was there to write it all down:

He reads. He writes. He sketches. He loves Batman comic books, Disney movies and Michael Jackson’s music.

He already has pitched an animated television pilot, politicked to play a Wookiee in a future Star Wars picture and hopes to pen an action-adventure novel someday.

Oh, and you likely didn’t know, Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez is also learning to play the piano and speak Japanese.

Yes, Japanese.

“I always go to Japan in the offseason, so I’m trying to get better at it,” Lopez told recently, noting that he’s also working on learning “the Kanji,” Chinese characters that are used in the modern Japanese writing system.

“I know some words. I’m getting there.”

Basically, if Lopez isn’t the most fascinating man in the NBA, he’s certainly up there. His best competition might be his own 7-foot twin brother Robin, who now plays for the rival New York Knicks.

Brook Lopez made up his mind pretty early on — he was going to follow in his mother’s footsteps.

“I can remember in second grade coming back from school and telling my mom, ‘You know what, before I play in the NBA, I want to go to Stanford,'” Lopez said. “Because of her, I had everything figured out.”

To her comic book aficionado sons, Deborah Ledford might as well have been Wonder Woman, raising the four of them — Alex, Chris, Brook and Robin — as a single mother on a high school mathematics teacher’s salary.

“She sacrificed so much for us,” Brook said. “She’d always be driving Alex and Chris around, getting them to basketball practice, and then she’d go pick them up and get Robin and me to wherever we needed to be. She was constantly chaffeuring us around. And then she’d get groceries for us and come back with bags upon bags upon bags, just loads and loads, and they’d last for like…two days.”

At 6-feet, Ledford had flirted with swimming in the 1968 Olympics before not making the squad and eventually attending Stanford herself.

“Our mom used to read to us every night,” said Chris, who has lived with Brook in New Jersey ever since he was selected by the Nets with the No. 10 overall pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft.

“And she just went through a plethora of children’s books and stories, so that was instilled in us from an early age.”

The Lopez’s maternal grandmother, Inky Ledford, had a massive library of children’s books at her Fresno, California, home — and the boys were frequent visitors.


No. 3: Billy Donovan finds the right fit in OKC — Well, here we are, one week into the NBA season and Billy Donovan hasn’t changed his mind and gone back to the University of Florida. That’s what happened years ago when he took the Orlando Magic job and then called it quits just, oh, 10 seconds later. Anyway, you can hardly blame Donovan for waiting until the right gig opened up. And when you have the chance to coach Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in their primes, that qualifies as the right gig. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel has more:

 He was hired to lead an even stronger NBA club — the Oklahoma City Thunder. This time, he’ll coach three players with All-Star Game credentials: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

“This opportunity came across that was very unique in my opinion,” he said. “If it didn’t, I’d still be at Florida.”

Donovan, who won back-to-back national championships at UF, said other NBA teams had reached out in the ensuing years. Reportedly, Cleveland (pre-LeBron’s return), Minnesota and Detroit were among the suitors.

He insists that there was no grand plan to leave the Gators for the pros.

“I’ve always believed you wake up and where you are that day, you do the best job you can,” he said. “Then if opportunities open up, they open up. It wasn’t anything about having a plan.”

The OKC job surprisingly opened after Scott Brooks was fired with another year on his contract.

Donovan was lucky because a lot of terrific college coaches – from Rick Pitino to John Calipari – usually are stuck with bad teams.

“The one thing for me..I knew it was a good team, but you have to feel good about it. Happiness inside a job has to do with the people you work with everyday,” Donovan said.

Especially if those people are named Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka.

Donovan’s no dummy. He’s also aware of the pressure coaching the contending Thunder, particularly since Durant can become a free agent this summer.

Durant says he “enjoys” being around Donovan, who seems to be adjusting well to life as an NBA coach.

“I’m working equally as hard or harder as I was in college,” he said. “It’s just things are a little bit different.”


No. 4: Gordon Hayward opens up with Q and A — The Utah Jazz are off to a decent start, which includes a blowout victory in Philadelphia, and one of the intriguing players is Gordon Hayward, naturally. After having his big contract matched by the Jazz two summers ago, Hayward was a borderline All-Star last season and hopes to take the next step this season. He discussed that and more when he sat for a quick interview with Scoop Jackson of ESPN:

Scoop: How big of an adjustment can it be to inherit that “No. 1 option” role for a franchise?

Hayward: It’s just a learning curve, honestly. I think it’s one of those things where, you know, if you play one way probably the first three years in the league and then you are asked it do something different. It’s just a role change, something you have to get adjusted to. You know, defenses are now keying on you and playing things differently to where you are at all of the time. That’s a huge step and something, like I said, that I was able to kind of learn and do for two years.

Scoop: Have you ever walked into an opponent’s locker room before a game and seen your name at the top of the white board just to see their defensive strategies they have planned for you?

Hayward: I have not [laughing]. I’ve never seen that. Or a scouting report on me or on our team.

Scoop: You have to sneak and do that. It’s one of those “No. 1 option” things.

Hayward: I should definitely do that.

Scoop: Do the media and other players underestimate you?

Hayward: I don’t think they do anymore. I think they probably did when I first came in the league — 100 percent did. But this is my sixth year, and I think they definitely respect me as a player now.

Scoop: I’ve heard you referred to you as “the Jazz’s version of LeBron James” in that you do everything for the team. When you hear that, how does it make you feel?

Hayward: It’s definitely pretty humbling to think that someone would say that, but I think it’s just something where I just try to be an all-around player and try to do a lot for the team. And yeah, I think LeBron’s a guy that obviously does that for his team no matter which team he’s on, and he’s probably one of the best ever to do that. So, but for me, if I’m not scoring I need to be assisting or making plays for other people or rebounding or just doing whatever I can to get guys in position where they can be successful.

Scoop: Do you think of yourself in that vein? In that, you “have to be LeBron” for this franchise?

Hayward: I think so. I think that it is a lot of responsibility but something that they have trusted me with and I definitely have to be active and have to affect all parts of the game in order for us to be a successful team. I’ve never been a guy that’s going to go out and just affect one part of the game. I think that I’ve always been somebody that tries to affect multiple parts of the game, and I think we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things, so it’s not just me. We’re a versatile team. I’m excited about where we can go.

Scoop: Utah went 19-10 after the All-Star break while holding opponents to a league-low 94.8 points per 100 possessions. Was that just a good two months or was that indicative of what this team had become?

Hayward: Yeah, I think that’s definitely our identity and definitely what’s going to have to be our identity moving forward if we want to be successful, especially in the West. Defense is something that can go with us wherever we are at. We are going to have times when people’s shots are off and we’re just not feeling it offensively, but if we continue to play defense like we did at the end of the year — something that I think we are very capable of doing — we can always stay in games and give ourselves a chance.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jodie Meeks will be out for a while in DetroitSteph Curry is about to be immortalized in wax … The Suns were “equipped” to show their respect for Steve Nash, whose jersey has been retired … There was a Mother Nature problem in San Antonio so Tony Parker had an excuse to miss practice.

Report: Griffin to attend USA Basketball minicamp

VIDEO: Clippers big man Blake Griffin took his game to another level this season in Los Angeles

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Blake Griffin will be in attendance at next month’s USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas with an eye towards earning a roster spot on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, according to a report to from Ramona Shelburne of

Griffin missed out on opportunities to chase gold medals twice before, having to withdraw due to injuries from the 2012 (torn meniscus left knee) team that won gold at the London Olympics and the team last year (back injury) that rolled to gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain.

Griffin is one of the many NBA stars, including four members of the world champion Golden State Warriors, expected to convene in Las Vegas for the minicamp. Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball’s managing  director, has already made it clear that any player interested in a roster spot for Rio must attend the minicamp.

More from Shelburne on some of the other stars expected to turn up in Vegas next week:

A source told ESPN’s Calvin Watkins that Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden will also attend the minicamp. Harden, who played a key role on the World Cup team last season, led the NBA with 2,981 minutes played during the regular season.

Sources told’s Marc Stein, meanwhile, that the newly crowned champion Golden State Warriors expect to have four representatives at the minicamp: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes.

Curry and Thompson were key members of the Team USA squad that won the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. Green and Barnes, as reported earlier this month, are recent invitees to the minicamp, which USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo has billed as more of a “reunion” for USAB players, coaches and staffers than a competitive basketball event.

Sources told Stein that Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley has also accepted his recent invitation to attend the camp, with Washington’s Bradley Beal, Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Portland’s Mason Plumlee (who played on the World Cup team last summer) also planning to attend.

The San Antonio Express-News, meanwhile, reported Sunday that newly re-signed star swingman Kawhi Leonard will make himself available for the camp after he bypassed national team invites the past two summers.


Morning shootaround — June 1

VIDEO: Who would you build your team around — Stephen Curry or LeBron James?


Bulls going with the Mayor, so what of Thibs? | Experience edge to Cavaliers | Thompson’s status (mostly) revealed | Jazz weighing young core versus free agency

No. 1: Bulls go with ‘the Mayor’, so what of Thibodeau? — The marriage between the Chicago Bulls and Fred Hoiberg is in need of rubber stamping to finalize the deal and is the worst kept secret in the NBA. So with “the Mayor” soon to be sworn in as the new coach in the Windy City, what of his predecessor, Tom Thibodeau? Joe Cowley of the Sun Times examines the fallout for the man who put the Bulls back on the map:

Meanwhile, now that the Orlando Magic’s and New Orleans Pelicans’ coaching vacancies have been filled, only the Denver Nuggets’ opening remains. But a source said Thibodeau has little interest in that job.

That doesn’t mean Thibodeau won’t be coaching next season, though. As long as Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt has the ability to signal for a timeout he no longer has — something he did in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bulls — he has zero job security, regardless of what happens in the Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

And while Minnesota Timberwolves general manager/coach Flip Saunders has said he wants to coach for one more season, owner Glen Taylor has remained noncommittal to the idea.

A person close to Thibodeau recently indicated the Timberwolves are a team Thibodeau always has had special feelings for because he began his NBA coaching career as an assistant with them from 1989 to 1991.

If Thibodeau is willing to sit out a year, some interesting possibilities might be open to him. First, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson can opt out of his deal after next season. That might open the door for Thibodeau to return to New York, where he was an assistant for seven seasons and might be granted GM responsibilities.

Thibodeau had little say about personnel matters with the Bulls, and that seemed to lead to some bad feelings between him and the front office.

Then there’s the Los Angeles Lakers’ job, which belongs to Byron Scott — for now, at least.

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — May 23

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Morning shootaround — Jan. 10

VIDEO: Trevor Booker taps in possibly the shot of the year


Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots | Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ | Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds | Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets

No. 1: Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots — Necessity is the mother of invention, but it occasionally can be the father of ridiculous. That’s how it felt Friday night in Oklahoma City, when Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker took resourcefulness to an outrageous level and made not just the play of the night but the shot of the 2014-15 NBA season, at least based on rarity and degree of difficulty. Booker’s back-to-the-basket, no-time-except-to-tip, underhanded flip of a field goal attempt stunned pretty much everyone in the gym. Here’s Jazz beat writer Jody Genessey on the play:

With 0.2 seconds remaining on the shot clock, the Jazz got the ball out of bounds on the far sideline. The only shot that can even be completed in that amount of time is a tip, and that’s what Jazz coach Quin Snyder called for.

Booker said he didn’t even know the play that his coach barked out, so he headed to the hoop thinking Gordon Hayward would probably throw a lob. When that didn’t materialize, Booker rushed over toward Hayward and stopped with his back toward the basket.

That’s when, as the NBA marketing department might say, amazing happened.

Hayward made a bounce pass to Booker, who creatively and instinctively tipped the ball with both hands and flipped it up and over his head in the nick of time. It’s a move that might come in handy next summer when he plays volleyball again.

Incredibly, the ball plopped into the net, helping the Jazz take a 50-44 lead into the break.

“We try to cover a lot of game situations. That was not one,” Jazz coach Snyder said. “I have to say they manufactured that.”

While Snyder, Hayward and everyone else was startled, Booker grinned and immediately thought to the hours he and his cousin, Lakers forward Jordan Hill, spent practicing – yes, practicing – such goofball shots and situations. As cited by Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune:

“I know you won’t believe me, but I really do practice those shots,” he said in the locker room afterward. “My cousin [Lakers forward] Jordan Hill, he texted me after the game and said, ‘They’re not going to believe we practiced those shots all the time growing up.’ I guess you could say the hard work finally paid off.”

The Jazz lost the game, 99-94, and dropped to 13-24. But Booker was buoyant afterward about his team as well as that shot.

“That’s a good [team] right there,” he said of the Thunder. “Let’s not forget that they went to the Finals a couple years ago. We’re playing good ball right now, playing hard. I told the group, there’s no group I’d rather go to war with than these guys. We’re still trying to figure everything out, but as long as we keep playing hard the way we are, we’re going to be fine.”


No. 2: Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ — He was a child of the ’60s, which meant that Roy Tarpley was a young professional athlete in the ’80s, and while no decade has held exclusive rights to illegal drug use among major sports figures, that one ranks high. Tarpley was the seventh player picked in the 1986 NBA Draft – five spots after Len Bias, the poster guy for squandered dreams and tragic ends even today. Others taken early that day included Chris Washburn and William Bedford, two more whose careers washed out to substance abuse. Other sports had similar tales, and Tarpley’s came to an end with the news Friday that the former Dallas Mavericks forward had died at age 50. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News chronicled the sad news:

Cause of death was not immediately known Friday night, although when the Mavericks arrived in Los Angeles for their game Saturday against the Clippers, several members of the traveling party had been informed that liver failure was at least partly to blame.

The 6-11 Tarpley was the seventh pick in the 1986 draft by the Mavericks out of Michigan. In his second season, he was the NBA’s sixth man of the year before drugs and controversy shrouded the rest of his six seasons in the league.

According to a medical examiner’s report, Tarpley’s death happened at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. It is a sad ending to one of the most gifted players in franchise history. Tarpley had a rare combination of strength and speed that made him one of the best athletes of his era.

“Our condolences go out to the family of Roy Tarpley,” Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban said via Twitter. “RIP Roy. Mavs fans everywhere will remember you fondly.”

Tarpley’s off-court troubles probably followed him into the NBA from the University of Michigan and largely defined his time in Dallas, with the Mavericks assisting in significant ways. When he was right, he was very right; the 6-foot-11 native of Detroit averaged 12.6 and 10.0 rebounds in 280 regular season games over parts of six seasons. In 24 playoff games, his numbers were even better: 17.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and a 20.8 PER. He led the NBA in total rebound percentage (22.6) while winning the Sixth Man Award in 1987-88 and he led in that category again two years later. That’s the Tarpley fans would prefer to remember.

“If Roy had stayed healthy, he could have been one of the top 50 players ever,” said Brad Davis, the Mavericks’ radio analyst and player-development coach who played with Tarpley. “He could do it all, shoot, score, rebound, pass and defend. We’re all sorry to hear of his passing.”

Tarpley would spend most of his career battling personal problems. He was suspended by the NBA after five games in the 1989-90 season after being arrested for driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest. In 1991, he drew another suspension after a second DWI arrest and, a few months later, had a third violation and was banned from the league for violating the NBA’s drug-use policies.

He returned to the Mavericks briefly in 1994 but then was permanently barred in December 1995 for violating terms of his aftercare program.


No. 3: Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds — Some of us at Hang Time HQ have chided some of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ knee-jerk critics for ignoring the one thing everyone said that team would need in 2014-15, namely patience. Then again, a stretch of seven defeats in eight games, a four-game losing streak and two weeks without LeBron James – all while nearing the mid-point of January – might be an appropriate time to … PANIC! And yet, there was a calm of sorts about the Cavs after their 18-point drubbing at Golden State Friday and even some rays of optimism, as Cleveland beat guy Dave McMenamin of saw it:

It’s amazing how much the direction of a team can change once its members change the perception of their situation.

Monday in Philadelphia it seemed as low as you could go, with the Cavs blowing an early lead and losing to the laughingstock of the league with Kyrie Irving not making the trip because of a back injury and LeBron James away from the team, also nursing strains to his back and left knee while making a quick rehab trip down in Miami.

Five days later, with the team having pulled off two trades (in essence Dion Waiters for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, and a couple of first-round picks for Timofey Mozgov and a second-rounder), Irving back in the lineup, and James back with the team for its five-game road trip — and even going through “minor” on-court activities for the first time since sitting out Dec. 30 — there’s some sunshine peaking through the clouds, according to coach David Blatt.

“It’s tough right now and I know it’s tough to see, but when we do get back to full strength, we’re going to be good,” said Kevin Love.

It was particularly noteworthy that Love was waving the encouragement flag because he took only 11 shots — compared to 23 apiece for Smith and Irving — but instead of focusing on his involvement in the offense after the fact, he set his sights on what the Cavs will look like in the near future.

Blatt took the same tone.

“I think you see we’re a better team today than we were yesterday and we were a week ago,” Blatt said. “I’m not even going to talk about the guys that aren’t playing, because we’re a better team today.”

The signs are more encouraging than sappy stuff like playing tough teams close – Houston, the Warriors – without their best player. There are no guarantees, but at least there have been some changes and the LeBron arrow is pointing up:

The new faces are already making their presence felt, whether it was Smith’s 27 points against the Warriors (“I told you coming in; I had nothing but a good feeling about J.R. joining our team,” Blatt said), or it was Mozgov’s nine points and eight rebounds in his debut and his reaction to how he was received (“The guys meet me so good,” the Russian-born Mozgov said in endearing broken English, “make me be the part of the family on the first day. … So, I love it”), or Shumpert’s competitive side relishing the fact he was leaving a sinking ship for a team that’s playoff-bound (“I didn’t want my season to end early,” Shumpert said).

There are no “gimme” games in the Western Conference, but Sacramento should be a winnable game on Sunday; and then, if James comes back just slightly ahead of his two-week rest schedule he could be in the lineup Tuesday in Phoenix, and if that happens you get the lame-duck Lakers next, and possibly have picked up a full head of steam going into the trip finale Friday against the Clippers.


No. 4: Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets — Realists in this league have a saying they occasionally invoke: “You are what your record is.” Pessimists around the Brooklyn Nets woke up Saturday believing that their team is about 10 games worse than its record, though, because the 16-19 Nets somehow blew a game against the 6-29 Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at the Barclays Center. The blog had an intriguing snapshot of the team hitting rock bottom – actually, it was more of a film analysis, second-by-second, of Brooklyn’s best last chance in the game. It began with coach Lionel Hollins‘ admonitions that the Nets really aren’t a good team and then dissected an inbounds play that led to center Brook Lopez launching a prayer from beyond 3-point range on a failed attempt to win or tie:

With may-day approaching after three failed screens and little misdirection, Lopez shot up towards [Alan] Anderson, extending his left arm away from Nerlens Noel to catch the ball, as the only player left who had a chance.

The option was doomed from the start. The seven-footer, who has never made a three-pointer in the regular season, caught a wide pass from Anderson one-handed, spun counterclockwise to the middle of the floor, performed a ball-fake against the long and talented Noel to no avail, and flung a contested, fallaway three-pointer wide right, officially listed at 27 feet away but might as well have been from the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk.

“We’re honestly playing down to these teams these last few games,” Lopez said. “We’re better than this, and we’re doing it to ourselves. And we have to be better than this for the entirety of the game.”

It should’ve never come down to Lopez taking that final shot, because it never should’ve come down to a final shot at all.

“When we executed and made good decisions, and defended, and rebounded, we were ahead. Soon as we relaxed and made some bad decisions on offense, made some bad decisions on defense, they came back.”

Now, the Nets can only look ahead, and the road is ugly. 13 of the team’s 17 games before the All-Star break (and the trade deadline) come against teams slated to be in the playoffs, and that’s not including tomorrow night’s contest against the Detroit Pistons, who had won seven straight games before barely losing to the Atlanta Hawks, the Eastern Conference’s best team, Friday night.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Phoenix Suns considered Brandan Wright the “best backup center in the league” even before they acquired him from Boston. … Skip the soap-opera stuff, Mark Jackson‘s return to Golden State scarcely could have been more moving. … Don’t assume the Boston Celtics are done, even after they spend the weekend working out the kinks of their Jeff Green-to-Memphis trade. … No Kobe, no problem for the Lakers, who got a big boost off the bench from new guy Tarik Black. …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 6

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 5


Duncan’s triple-double lifts Spurs | Cavs overcome to win sixth straight | Thunder’s playoff chase is on

No. 1: Duncan still getting it done for Spurs — Kobe Bryant isn’t the only NBA silver fox still getting it done. Tim Duncan’s got a few tricks left his bag, too. His triple-double helped lift the Spurs in a huge road win against Memphis on Friday. Did someone say old man River Walk … ? The Spurs aren’t going anywhere as long as Duncan can still do things like this. Dan McCarney of the Express News puts it all in context:

The Spurs overcame several shaky moments and the loss of Tony Parker to a mild hamstring strain to outlast Memphis at FedEx Forum behind Tim Duncan’s triple double.

Duncan had his first triple-double since 2010 and fourth overall — eighth including playoffs — with 14 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. He is the second-oldest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, trailing only Karl Malone’s at 40 with the Lakers in 2003.

The Spurs (14-5) never trailed as they took a big early lead and then repeatedly held Memphis (15-4) off down the stretch. They did so in large part to a season-high 14 3-pointers, which helped the Spurs manage an early turnover spate and, of course, Parker’s departure.

Parker left in the second half after scoring 14 points. His availability for Saturday’s home game against Minnesota was not immediately known.

Cory Joseph picked up the slack with 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, while Manu Ginobili had one of his best games of the season with 17 points, six rebounds, seven assists and five 3-pointers. Danny Green added 16.

It was Memphis’ first home loss since February of last season, a span of 22 games. The Spurs have now won 15 of the past 17 meetings, including the postseason, since Memphis’ upset in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.

VIDEO: Tim Duncan dials up a time machine performance against the Grizzlies


No. 2: Cavaliers overcome all obstacles to win sixth straight — Nothing was going to keep the Cleveland Cavaliers from a sixth straight win. Not the Toronto Raptors, rush hour traffic in Toronto, a star-studded crew in town for a tribute to Nelson Mandela or any other obstacles standing in the way of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the hottest team in the Eastern Conference … right now. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Kyrie Irving said legs were a little tired. James Jones said there was some fatigue.

The Cavaliers went to the buzzer with the New York Knicks the night before, escaping with a road win. The Toronto Raptors were waiting at home for the Cavaliers, having not played since Wednesday.

Cleveland experienced complications getting out of New York and arriving in Toronto in a timely fashion. The team landed on Canadian soil at approximately 3:30 a.m. It took another 45 minutes to an hour for them to make it to their hotel.

On back-to-backs, there are no shootaround sessions, but there was a pregame team walk-through centered on how to stop the Raptors, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Most of the players said securing an eight-hour sleep day was virtually impossible. The Raptors looked to be in good shape.

“It’s only tough if you make excuses about it,” the Cavs’ LeBron James said.


No. 3: Thunder playoff chase is on with full cast — Even if takes Russell Westbrook doing the heavy lifting by his lonesome for a few more games, the Thunder’s playoff chase is on. And that means every win counts, even the ones over a bad 1-18 Philadelphia team, each and every win matters. Kevin Durant struggled in his second game back but Westbrook took matters into his own hands and led the way, with a huge boost from the bench, to help the Thunder get a must-win in their effort to climb the charts. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman has more:

Against the Sixers, Durant looked rusty and the Thunder played extremely sloppy. But overall, OKC brought the required energy. It played with a desperate attitude at the right times. And against hapless Philly, that was about all that was necessary for a 103-91 victory, improving the Thunder to 6-13 on the season and dropping the Sixers to 1-18.

“Today was the first win,” Durant said, as if confident it could be the start of a needed hot streak.

OKC, though, got it despite Durant’s lowest scoring output since April 2009.

After dropping in a three on the game’s first possession, the four-time scoring champ went ice cold. He made only three of his 11 shots in 29 underwhelming minutes, looking sluggish on defense and committing a pair of strange turnovers. He was out of rhythm and, following suit, his team looked a bit out of sync.

But the Thunder got another strong effort from its improving bench and an energy boost from the energizer bunny.

With the Sixers threatening the Thunder’s lead throughout the second half, Russell Westbrook shouldered the load. Sensing the struggles of his superstar running mate, Westbrook made it a point to take over offensively.

In the third quarter alone, Westbrook scored 11 of his game-high 27 points – putting his head down and getting to the rim on numerous occasions. He had 14 free throws in the game and 10 in the second half.

“Just trying to attack, man,” Westbrook said.

His mid-game attitude change seemed to coincide with a back-and-forth trash-talking battle with second-year Sixers guard Michael Carter-Williams. The two chirped at each other in a similar way during a game in OKC last season. Then Westbrook went on to drop a triple-double in an easy win.

Carter-Williams came at Westbrook again on Friday. And the results weren’t much better.

“That just added a little bit more fuel to the fire,” Durant warned. “Young dudes in this league tend to bark a lot. I think (Russ) put him in his place, let him know who the best point guard in the league is.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Magic Johnson agrees with LeBron, it’s time for pro athletes to speak up …   … Kobe swears he wasn’t recruiting Rajon Rondo, they were just talking hoopsJohn Starks, yes John Starks, says it’s time for better execution for the Knicks …

ICYMI of the Night: The old man gets his revenge in Smitty’s Top 5 Plays Under The Rim. Andre Miller in the house, as they used to say back in his day … 

VIDEO: Smitty’s Top Plays 5 Under The Rim



Morning shootaround — Nov. 6

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 5


Cavs still searching for answers | Rose, not Bulls, made call to miss games | Might Lakers try to deal for Rondo? | Thunder set to add Smith

No. 1: Cavs search for answers in another loss — The Cleveland Cavaliers began their current four-game road trip with 114-108 win over the rival Chicago Bulls, but since then, it’s been all down hill. On Tuesday came a 101-82 pasting at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers and last night in Salt Lake City, the Cavs climbed back into a game they trailed the Jazz in all night, only to lose 102-100 on a Gordon Hayward jump shot. Somehow, though, Cavs star LeBron James is trying to find the positives in these tough losses and shared some of them with Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Joe Vardon:

In the Cavaliers’ previous two losses, James was much more passive – abnormally so for him. He articulated after the loss to Portland Tuesday and again before the Utah game Wednesday that he had purposefully played that way in attempt to prove a point to younger Cleveland holdovers from the bad teams which lost tons of games before James returned.

There is a “fine line,” James called it, between playing passively and allowing the team to lose now as a teaching tool, and being the kind of aggressor that can will the Cavaliers to victory. He suggested he was torn on how to play.

James’ better angels won because it would do no one – not him, not first-year coach David Blatt, and not Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, the two players James is most trying to reach – any good for the Cavaliers to go on a losing streak with a seemingly disinterested James standing around on the perimeter.

The jelling that needs to take place between now and whenever Cleveland reaches its potential, the breaking of the “bad habits” James identified Tuesday, will probably come faster if he plays at his typically high level.

“We played well, and I was very aggressive,” James said after the loss to Utah. “I got to the line a lot tonight. My body felt it good, it let me know I was in attack mode. I think it put us in a position to win. That’s all you can ask for as a player is to put your team in a position to win at the end of the game. So we got a little bit of clarity, but me, personally, I’ve got to figure out a way to get my teammates involved, too, because it can’t be just a one, two, or three-man show.”

James played better defense. He’s known as a premier defender, but he’s gotten lost at times and merely waved at his man on other occasions this season, while preaching the need for younger player to commit to defense.

James moved his feet against the Jazz, played the passing lanes and nearly had two more steals. The Cavaliers started slowly on defense against Utah, coughing up 59 first-half points, but got back in the game with a more committed effort in the third and fourth quarters.

Still, another flat performance — be it the entire game (as was the case in Portland), or in the middle of it (such as last night in Utah) — is starting to irk many of the Cavs. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more on that angle:

It may only be four games in and yes, their chemistry still needs time to materialize, but there’s no excuse for not showing up. It’s starting to become problematic.

“We should have never been in that position in the first place,” Tristan Thompson told Northeast Ohio Media Group of Hayward’s shot. “Our energy level was terrible the whole game. We didn’t start picking it up until the last eight minutes probably. So we have to live with the results.”

Thompson makes his living off of hard work and doing the little things that helps a team win. For a player of his work ethic, it’s extremely difficult for him to watch this team give a lackadaisical effort.

He’s puzzled, as he can only shake his head in disapproval.

“I can’t put my finger on it but we got to figure it out collectively as a group,” he said. “It can’t just be one or two guys. It has to be all of us collectively as a group, figuring out what it takes to play 48 minutes of hard basketball, playing with some heart, some balls and being ready to fight.”

Blatt tried to defend his team, saying they wanted to attack the Jazz in some pick-and-roll situations and in isolations that often don’t lead to assists. That’s a fair argument but the guys know that’s unacceptable.

“You can’t explain it,” LeBron James said in amazement. “There’s no way you’re going to win a basketball game like that, just having six assists…We just can’t win like that. We have to figure out a way to help each other and not make it so tough.”

VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ road loss in Utah (more…)

Report: Jazz’s Kanter to become free agent in 2015

VIDEO: Enes Kanter shines in Utah’s preseason win over the Thunder

In a perfect world, the Jazz would have been able to sign center Enes Kanter to a contract extension that makes sense for both sides.

Of course, we’re all still looking for that perfect world, along with a winning lottery ticket.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the 22-year-old big man and third pick in the 2011 draft, has ended talks with the club and will become a restricted free agent next summer.

“We have mutually agreed with Utah to concentrate on the season and look at our options again in the summer,” agent Max Ergul said in a telephone interview. “Enes likes Utah and the organization very much, and now he can concentrate on continuing to grow as a player and helping them win.”

It could prove to be a costly move for the Jazz. Big men always always draw extra attention and extra money as free agents.

This is a Jazz team that’s coming off having to fork over a four-year, $63-million deal to match an offer sheet from Charlotte on Gordon Hayward last summer. A lot of teams will be keeping their eyes on Kanter this season and, if he steps his game up to the next level, they’ll be digging deep into wallets once more in Utah.

Blogtable: Down, but on its way up

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

BLOGTABLE: Questions for the Cavs | The scoring champ | Utah, Orlando or Sacramento?

VIDEO: The Jazz finally may be on the right track

> Which of these down-on-its-luck franchises strikes you as on the fastest track forward: Utah, Sacramento or Orlando?

Steve Aschburner, Give me Orlando. They strike me as having the best fit of young pieces – Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon – to develop together, if they can manage to score enough points along the way. Sacramento should have been better by now, and for every Kings player who intrigues me, there’s another who cancels out the optimism. Utah’s talent is good but a new coach and system suggests a reset of the learning curve.

Fran Blinebury, Can I say Philadelphia?  Even with more bumps and plenty of pain ahead this season, the Sixers are stacking young talent and will get more from the 2015 Draft. But if you’re making me pick from these three, I’ll go with the one that has the best player. That’s the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins, for all the known questions about attitude, could be a franchise-carrying talent. The Jazz and Magic are scoops of vanilla ice cream: filling but hardly exciting.

Jeff Caplan, I keep wanting to believe in the Kings, to believe in DeMarcus Cousins, to believe in new ownership, new management and coach Mike Malone. But, man, they really make it hard. In Orlando, I do like their young talent, but I’m not sold on Jacque Vaughn at the helm and I think there will be a coaching change at some point. Utah has fully committed to a youth movement and I’m sold on Trey Burke and have high hopes for Dante Exum as a game-changing playmaker. Gordon Hayward has to step it up to an All-Star-caliber level, so we’ll see about that, but there’s other young, emerging talent and more picks in the trove. They got the coach question out of the way and Quin Snyder will breathe some freshness into the program. Maybe this is my West bias coming into play, but I’ll take Utah over Orlando by a smidgen.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comOrlando. For one thing, the Magic are in the East, which gives them an easier path to the back of the playoff pack, even this season despite a lot of youth. For another: Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. That’s a nice foundation built on defense and rebounding. They obviously have a lot of growing to do while relying heavily on two rookies and a second-year player, but that’s a lot of potential for the fast track.

John Schuhmann, I’m not very excited about the 2-3 year prospects of any of these teams. The Kings have the best player of the three, but nothing around DeMarcus Cousins (or a clear plan of action) that says they definitely have a shot at making the playoffs in the next three years. The Magic and Jazz both have a decent collection of young talent, including rookie guards – Elfrid Payton and Dante Exum – with high ceilings, but nobody that is definitely a future All-Star. If I have to take one team, I’ll take Orlando, just because they’re in the Eastern Conference, where a playoff spot can be had with a decent amount of talent and good coaching.

Sekou Smith, All three of the these teams believe they have the ideal core group in place for lift off. The promise of what could be always rules the day in lottery land. The one place where I believe that there has been a true altering of the DNA for the better is in Utah. The continued stockpiling of versatile, young talent is at a point where the process can be accelerated a bit this season. Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Dante Exum, Alec Burks and even new coach Quin Snyder will operate without the added pressure of playoff expectations, which are not realistic for the Kings or Magic either. The Kings and Magic, however, are still sorting through their talent base to see who does and does not fit. The Jazz already know who and what they have.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Utah and Orlando are each inching forward, not a slowly as Philadelphia, but at intentionally deliberate paces. But from the ownership down, Sacramento seems like a team that doesn’t want to wait any longer. While Utah and Orlando each have a few nice young pieces, the Kings have players like DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay who are further along than most of the guys in Orlando and Utah. They’ve got a new arena on the way, and there seems to be a real urgency to win and win now.