Posts Tagged ‘Greg Monroe’

Blogtable: What Next For The Pistons?

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


Fixing the Pistons | Take a break | Three simple words



VIDEO: The Starters take a look at the Pistons

Detroit has fired another coach: What does GM Joe Dumars do now?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Since he’s unlikely to find a taker over the next week for Josh Smith, a dubious addition from the get-go, Dumars needs to do two things: Trade Rodney Stuckey by the Feb. 20 deadline to a playoff aspirant that craves more scoring punch off the bench, and then devote what’s left of the schedule to figuring out the best ways to use Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond as a full-time tandem. If the two can’t thrive on the floor together, each logging 35 minutes, then Monroe should be dealt this summer for a nice return.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If he can’t unload the big contract he just gave Josh Smith, and that’s highly doubtful, then he might have to make a move a he doesn’t want to do, trading Greg Monroe.  The big lineup of the Pistons didn’t work under coach Mo Cheeks and there’s no reason to think it will work under another coach. That’s a chemistry and rotation problem that was created entirely by Dumars.  It’s time for Dumars to stop handing out free-agent money just because he has the available space — Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Smith.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comThe obvious thing to do is get rid of Josh Smith and that ridiculous contract he was awarded over the summer. Only one small problem: No GM is dumb enough to take it under today’s CBA. Is there a chance to get out of Brandon Jennings‘ contract? Doubtful, but I’d try like heck. Otherwise, there’s some cap room coming this summer, so try to fill positions of need to maximize players’ strengths.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBuild a time machine, go back and not sign Josh Smith and not sign Charlie Villanueva, although at least Charlie V comes off the cap after this season. Beyond that, Dumars does have options. Greg Monroe will be a restricted agent. Dumars can trade him by the Feb. 20 deadline and get something in return, and teams will be interested. Or do a sign-and-trade in July and get a return then (though with fewer options because that would be Monroe dictating the team the Pistons would have to strike a deal with) or keep Monroe with Andre Drummond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comTrading Greg Monroe is still the best way to go. But whether he trades Monroe, trades Josh Smith or trades neither, Dumars needs to acquire more shooting. The Pistons could be more successful by staggering their big three’s minutes, with a 30-minutes-per-game small forward who can space the floor (and play some defense). Shooting is so critical these days and the Pistons are the worst jump-shooting team in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Joe Dumars doesn’t do anything now. His owner, Tom Gores, is the man who better have a master plan for what comes next. Because he’s now undercut Dumars twice (the first time was forcing Lawrence Frank on Dumars when Frank clearly was not his choice as head coach and now firing Cheeks just 50 games into this season). The fact is, Dumars had a fantastic run with the Pistons as both a player and executive that, barring a miraculous turn of events between now and the playoffs, has likely come to an end. It’s just time to pack up and move on.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Can Joe D. come out of retirement and play the three? It seems like everyone watching seems to realize that the Pistons have a logjam on the interior, with Monroe, Drummond and Josh Smith jockeying for playing time and floor space amongst themselves. Signing Smith wasn’t Mo Cheeks’ fault, but attempting to use him as a three out around the perimeter was. You want a quick fix? Trade Monroe or Drummond, move Smith to his natural four, and crank up the volume in Motown.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA PhilippinesI think he should stay put and not tinker with the roster too much. They just came together this year, so a little patience should be practiced with the roster that he has put together. They have the talent — it’s just a matter of building chemistry, teamwork and letting the team create its own identity.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA DeutschlandFrom what I saw in the Spurs game the players really did respond to what Loyer was doing and saying. So it might have been the right decision to move on from Cheeks after all. Having some inside information through a colleague, I know that Chauncey Billups will have a bigger part on the coaching staff, Rasheed Wallace will have a more important role. So the dynamics will be a bit different. In terms of players it will be important to make Brandon Jennings happy again because he was close with Cheeks. Andre Drummond, on the other hand, has some issues with the former coach. I don’t think the Pistons will make a trade going forward.

XiBin Yang, NBA ChinaIf Dumas won’t move the three big guy lineup, he really needs more consistent shooters. When you got two or even three big men on the front court at the same time, you’ve got to make the open court for them, which is tough with guys like Stuckey or Bynum, who have been living to get to the basket. Billups seems get ready to be an assistant coach or a head coach like Kidd, so it’s time to find some reseve guards such as Ridnour or Blake who can play both 1 and 2 guard position, to balance the spacing of the floor. Pope is good, but he may not provide what the team needs badly at this stage.

Surprise: Dumars Fires Yet Another Coach


VIDEO: Cheeks is out at Detroit after only eight months

Mo Cheeks, the eighth coach to serve during Joe Dumars‘ run as president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, lasted eight months before, as multiple media outlets reported and the team eventually confirmed Sunday, getting the ax.

Dumars is in his 14th season, six years removed from Detroit’s last .500-or-better season. And the Pistons’ lone championship on Dumars’ watch (2004) came so long ago, Yao Ming, Latrell Sprewell and Seattle still were in the league and Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and the Charlotte Bobcats weren’t.

That math no longer adds up.

In fact, with the clamor for advanced analytics to measure and dictate every motion and inclination of every player associated with an NBA team’s success or failure, the league is overdue for a concrete rating system for front-office executives. They’re the guys, after all, who are lauded or ripped by a new generation of sportswriter/analyst, depending on how avidly they embrace or eschew such calculations.

Or how ’bout this? A simple ceiling on the number of coaches a GM can hire or fire before it is his head on the chopping block.

Three would seem to be plenty, though four might be a reasonable number as well. If you spot the boss one for clearing the deck after he takes the job – the way Dumars did in 2001, replacing George Irvine with Rick Carlisle – two or three more ought to be enough, after which the scrutiny needs to shift from the sideline to the executive suite.

That would have only gotten Dumars to about the halfway mark in presiding over his personal coaches’ Boot Hill.

After Irvine and Carlisle, Dumars and the Pistons turned to Larry Brown, who did precisely what everyone expected him to do: he got Detroit to The Finals in his first season, steered its ensemble cast to the 2004 championship, then won another 54 games before his AWOL DNA kicked in and he was on the move.

Flip Saunders was brought in and did even better, in terms of victories, going 176-70 in three seasons. But he never had full control of the Pistons’ veteran-laden locker room – thanks, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton – though Saunders’ non-confrontational style was well-established before Dumars ever hired him. The core of that Detroit team was in decline, anyway, so when Saunders was dumped in 2008, so was its trips to the Eastern Conference finals and, for that matter, days sniffing air above .500.

Saunders at least holds the distinction of lasting longest under Dumars. After him, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank — and now Cheeks – have followed in rather rapid succession, each staying two years or less.

The Cheeks firing borders on Kim & Kris eye-blink brief, with the added touch that Pistons players apparently learned the news Sunday through media and fan postings on Twitter. Sure, they’re the ones allegedly responsible, underperforming at a 21-29 pace that most experts felt should have been flipped to 29-21 by now. But class is as class does, and while Dumars – always classy as a Hall of Fame player in Detroit – can’t be held responsible for every leak, it does add to the impression that there’s chaos and scapegoating going on in the Motor City.

The Pistons have been in or near the league’s bottom third both offensively and defensively. As of Sunday morning, they were ninth, out of the playoff picture, despite an East standings that from No. 3 down ought to be a land of opportunity. Detroit has been OK within its conference actually (18-14) but a 3-15 mark vs. the West has been killer, as was the Pistons’ 7-15 mark at home halfway through the schedule.

The inability to meld the work of big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, some reported rancor among the players over the rotation and the confrontation/aftermatch between the coach and guard Will Bynum – that’s all on Cheeks. The question, though, of whether 50 games was enough to decide his fate – after successive two-years-and-out terms of Frank and Kuester – was answered by Dumars and owner Tom Gores.

“Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change,” Gores said in a team statement. “We have not made the kind of progress that we should have over the first half of the season. This is a young team and we knew there would be growing pains, but we can be patient only as long as there is progress.

“The responsibility does not fall squarely on any one individual, but right now this change is a necessary step toward turning this thing around. I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up. I respect and appreciate Maurice Cheeks and thank him for his efforts; we just require a different approach.”

Pinpointing where that approach begins or ends, that’s the challenge. And that’s the area – made up top in jest but maybe a real void in need of filling – to be addressed. There’s got to be a more concrete way of capturing Dumars’ successes and failures.

The talent of which Gores spoke is largely of the individual variety; there’s no one even casually familiar with the NBA who didn’t stack up as many or more “cons” on the right side of Brandon Jennings‘ and Josh Smith‘s ledgers as “pros” on the left. It was, in a sense, a higher risk/reward gamble on “me first” guys than Dumars had perpetrated in 2009 when he splurged on free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to little positive effect.

The Pistons constantly tout their youth – their starting lineup ranks as the NBA’s most tender (23 years and change) – and the fact that their record is best among the league’s four youngest teams. But if that’s something to overcome in the short term, the W-L mark that the kids cobble together seems an odd thing to hold against Cheeks. He didn’t wave a wand and make them young.

More Dumars: Rodney Stuckey was going to be the Pistons’ future until he wasn’t, and only lately has done better in his new zero-expectations world. Then there was the Darko Milicic gaffe, a blown No. 2 pick in 2003 from which the franchise still hasn’t recovered. All while the No. 1 (LeBron James), 3 (Carmelo Anthony), 4 (Chris Bosh) and 5 (Dwyane Wade) picks will be at All-Star weekend in New Orleans.

Gores’ arrival as owner apparently was a reset button for Dumars, because new bosses need basketball people they trust the same as chaotic, distracted owners (the previous Pistons regime). But eight coaches in 14 years and, with whoever takes over on the sideline now, six in eight seasons goes beyond fickle toward feeble.

Even if, in formulating an analytic to apply to the GMs, some allowance gets made for the length of the exec’s reign, Dumars would seem to have exceeded an acceptable average for pink slips. The next one he hands out, he needs to be standing in front of a mirror.

Or better yet, he needs to take over as coach himself and demonstrate that his GM/president knows what he’s doing.

Pistons Can’t Hit From Outside

The List

Lowest effective field goal percentage from outside the paint

Team FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
Detroit 585 1,791 32.7% 44.4% 40.5%
Charlotte 757 2,139 35.4% 52.7% 41.9%
Chicago 722 2,044 35.3% 52.7% 42.2%
Minnesota 728 2,144 34.0% 50.6% 42.5%
Philadelphia 633 1,866 33.9% 43.2% 42.9%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The Context

Who would have thought that the worst jump-shooting team in the league would be the one starting Josh Smith at small forward?

The Pistons rank 29th in mid-range field goal percentage (34.8 percent) and dead last in 3-point percentage (30.6 percent). They’re the third worst 3-point shooting team of the last 10 years, ahead of only last season’s Timberwolves (30.5 percent) and the 2011-12 Bobcats (29.5 percent).

It doesn’t help that the Pistons start the erratic Brandon Jennings and the inexperienced Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the backcourt. In fact, all 10 Pistons who have attempted at least 45 shots from outside the paint have shot them at a level below the league average.

But Smith is the main culprit, having taken 350 shots from outside the paint, with a brutal effective field goal percentage of 34.4 percent.

Pistons shooting from outside the paint

Player FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
Brandon Jennings 139 420 33.1% 60.5% 42.9%
Josh Smith 101 350 28.9% 49.2% 34.4%
Rodney Stuckey 84 215 39.1% 48.2% 42.6%
K. Caldwell-Pope 67 211 31.8% 65.5% 41.7%
Kyle Singler 49 153 32.0% 49.8% 45.1%
Will Bynum 34 91 37.4% 44.4% 43.4%
Greg Monroe 25 84 29.8% 15.9% 29.8%
Gigi Datome 19 66 28.8% 82.5% 33.3%
Chauncey Billups 21 62 33.9% 82.7% 45.2%
Charlie Villanueva 12 45 26.7% 69.2% 36.7%
Others 34 94 36.2% 15.7% 47.9%
Total 585 1,791 32.7% 44.4% 40.5%
League Avg. 793 2,111 37.6% 52.8% 46.2%

The issues of playing Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond together have been addressed in this space before. Of late, the defense hasn’t been as bad as it was earlier in the season, and coach Mo Cheeks isn’t playing the three bigs together as much, but the Pistons still struggle to score with them all on the floor together.

Pistons efficiency with Smith, Monroe and Drummond on the floor

Months GP MIN MIN/G OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Oct.-November 16 300 18.8 100.2 106.7 -6.5 -29
December 17 331 19.5 102.0 111.7 -9.7 -50
Jan.- February 14 203 14.5 101.3 105.3 -4.0 -21
Total 47 834 17.7 101.2 108.3 -7.1 -100

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

So it seems clear that, with the trade deadline now only 15 days away, the Pistons should think hard about shaking things up. Reportedly, they’d prefer to move Smith, who’s in the first year of a four-year, $54 million deal. Obviously, they’d have an easier time finding a taker for Monroe, who’s in the last year of his rookie contract.

Any team trading for Smith would obviously do so with the intent of playing him (primarily) at power forward. But moving Smith to the four on a permanent basis (with the Pistons or some other team) isn’t necessarily going to keep him from shooting jumpers.

Smith has played 834 minutes with Monroe and Drummond. He’s played 97 minutes with *other combinations where you could say he’s the small forward. And he’s played 717 minutes at the four.

* Combinations of Monroe, Drummond, Josh Harrellson, Jonas Jerebko and Charlie Villanueva.

And in those 717 minutes, Smith has attempted about the same percentage of his shots from outside the paint as he has when he’s played the three.

Josh Smith shooting from outside the paint

Position FGM FGA FG% %FGA EFG%
At SF 48 193 24.9% 49.5% 30.8%
At PF 53 157 33.8% 48.9% 38.9%
Total 101 350 28.9% 49.2% 34.4%

In fact, in two of his last three seasons in Atlanta, Smith attempted more than half of his shots from outside the paint. When Smith was with the Hawks, a coaching change seemed to make the difference. In six seasons under Mike Woodson, Smith took only 37 percent of his shots from outside the paint. In three seasons under Larry Drew, he took 49 percent of his shots from outside the paint.

That’s the same rate as this season. The problem is that Smith’s shooting — both inside the paint and outside it — has been much worse than it was in his last few seasons in Atlanta. His defense has also regressed.

That all goes beyond what position he’s playing. The Pistons can improve their perimeter shooting by acquiring a small forward who can actually shoot, but (unless they somehow find a taker for that contract) they still need Smith to play better.

The Video

Here are Smith’s 20 shots in Miami on Monday, when he shot 4-for-4 in the restricted area and 1-for-16 outside it.

On the other hand, Smith had one of his best shooting games of the season a couple of weeks ago against the Clippers. He shot 6-for-8 from mid-range. Here are those eight shots, which aren’t exactly more pleasing to watch (he banked the first one in).

The bottom of the list

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the Golden State Warriors are the best jump-shooting team in the league, with an effective field goal percentage of 49.5 percent from outside the paint. What is a surprise is that Andre Iguodala has been nearly as good a jump-shooter (55.1 percent) as Stephen Curry (55.6 percent).

Next best are the Heat (49.4 percent), followed by the Hawks (49.4 percent), Spurs (49.2 percent) and Mavericks (49.2 percent).

Trivia question

Of the 166 players who have attempted at least 100 shots both in the paint and outside the paint, only one has shot better (we’re talking standard field goal percentage, here) from outside than inside. Who is he?

More jump-shooting notes

  • Smith isn’t the worst jump-shooter in the league. Of 223 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from outside the paint, Tyreke Evans has the lowest outside-the-paint effective field goal percentage at 25.2 percent. If you’ve ever watched Evans take one of his lazy-looking jumpers, you shouldn’t be surprised.
  • It should also be no surprise that Kyle Korver is at the top of the list, with an effective field goal percentage of 64.2 percent from outside the paint. No. 2 is Anthony Tolliver (62.9 percent).
  • Smith ranks 216th on the list, and no one below him has taken anything near 350 shots from outside the paint.
  • East teams have an effective field goal percentage of 45.4 percent from outside the paint. West teams: 47.1 percent.
  • Eight of the 10 teams with an effective field goal percentage of less than 45 percent from outside the paint also rank 20th or worse in offensive efficiency. The exceptions are Memphis (18th in offensive efficiency) and Minnesota (ninth). While they don’t shoot very well, the Wolves rank in the top 10 in offensive rebounding rate, turnover rate, and free throw rate.

Trivia answer

Damian Lillard has shot 41.2 percent in the paint and 42.4 percent outside the paint. On the opposite side of the spectrum is teammate Nicolas Batum, who has the biggest discrepancy between paint field goal percentage (71.7 percent) and outside-the-paint field goal percentage (36.3 percent).

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 21


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Defensive woes plague Heat | Kobe vows to return as good as ever | ‘Melo: Knicks show no ‘fight’ vs. Nets | Cuban on his desire to be fined | Report: Wizards interested in Monroe

No. 1: Defensive woes plague stumbling Heat in defeat — Just yesterday, our own David Aldridge offered up three solid points in his Morning Tip column why Miami Heat fans shouldn’t fret over the team’s recent swoon. Still, the Heat’s falterings of late cannot be denied and after last night’s 121-114 loss on the road to the Atlanta Hawks, Miami has lost four of its last six games and is 5-5 in 2014. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald and Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com explain how defensive issues and a lack of overall energy may be at the root of Miami’s slide:

The midway point of the Heat’s season is here, and if one trend has emerged in recent games, it’s that the defending back-to-back champions aren’t interested in playing defense in the first halves of games.

Opponents are averaging 64.5 points in the first halves of the past four games against the Heat and, in Monday’s 121-114 loss to the Hawks, the Heat allowed a whopping 71 points before the break. The Hawks hadn’t beaten the Heat since Jan 2, 2012, a streak of nine games.

The runaway scoring led to some statistical oddities. For example, the Heat made 15 three-pointers and shot 45 percent from beyond the arc and somehow managed to lose to a team that is now just two games above .500.

“All across the board, ‘A’ through ‘Z’, there just was not a lot of pride [on defense],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We tried to win on a shootout and then when our offense came up dry on the road toward the end … we weren’t able to secure a win.”

The Heat is now 2-1 against the Hawks (21-19) on the season and 9-2 against teams in the Southeast Division.

And here’s Arnovitz’s report on the Heat’s overall lethargic effort and poor defense against the Hawks:

It’s Day 13 of a six-game East Coast swing, and the Miami Heat are weary.

They’ve spent only five of the past 27 days at home, and the fatigue was apparent in the locker room pregame, as guys shuffled to and from the training room and on the floor against the Atlanta Hawks, where contests at the rim were late and half-hearted.

The Heat won’t say it publicly, of course, but they’re dog tired. LeBron James looks gassed. Dwyane Wade less so, but that’s only because he was on the bench in street clothes conserving his fuel. Chris Bosh’s eyelids were heavy as he offered explanations for the daze that surrounds the team. Even head coach Erik Spoelstra seems like he needs a double shot of espresso.

Whether it was exhaustion, a lack of focus, poor execution, iffy schemes or the lunar cycle, the result was defensive carnage at Philips Arena, where Miami fell 121-114 to Atlanta. The loss completes a lackluster 2-4 road trip.

“I can’t pinpoint what it is,” James said. “It was a little bit of everything. At some point we have to figure it out.”

That was the sentiment on Monday night as the team packed up to return home to face Boston on Tuesday. There was no specific diagnosis, no reference to pick-and-roll coverage or defending the point of attack or rim protection or defensive rotations. The Heat insist that the issues reside in the more general realms of focus, effort and accountability.

“We’re just not taking away much,” Shane Battier said. “Usually when our defense is clicking, we’re taking away a few things out of a team’s offense and living with other parts of the team’s offense. Right now, the other team has a full menu of what they want to get — paint shots, 3s, transition.”

When things are clicking, in Battier’s words, it’s not unusual to go 15 or 20 possessions without seeing a fundamental defensive mistake by Miami. Lately, the Heat are having trouble putting together consecutive stops. The Heat are failing NBA Defense 101. Simple angle pick-and-rolls — like the one the Hawks ran in the third quarter that yielded a wide-open 3-pointer for Williams — produce mass confusion with Heat defenders helping off the strong side perimeter (a major no-no).


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about Miami’s loss on the road to Atlanta

***

No. 2: Bryant sees ‘no chance’ of slowing down, sounds off on NBA today — Before the L.A. Lakers played the Chicago Bulls at the United Center last night, injured Lakers star Kobe Bryant gave a state-of-the-Mamba address of sorts. In a wide-ranging interview conducted before a throng of media (including our own Steve Aschburner), Bryant talked about his recovery from his left knee fracture, Derrick Rose‘s comeback attempt and more:

Kobe Bryant didn’t delve into negative numbers Monday night in a hallway at United Center, but that’s the level of doubt he felt about his next return from injury. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar, out since Dec. 17 with a fracture in his left knee, didn’t hedge or blink when asked about the likelihood that he’ll come back as the player he was before.

Not just before this latest setback but before the left Achilles-tendon blowout he suffered in April, cutting short his 2012-13 season.

“Zero. Zero,” Bryant said, repeating for emphasis his doubt about his playing future and the quality of his game when he gets there. “There was [doubt] before I came back the first time, because I didn’t know how my Achilles was going to respond to playing, to changing directions. The game in Memphis, I felt I had a pretty good feel for it. I felt like I was getting back to doing what I normally could do.

“So I feel pretty confident about it.”

This media opportunity, coming in Derrick Rose‘s gym, meant he was asked about the Bulls’ MVP, who also is sidelined by his second serious injury in two years (and isn’t expected back till October). While Bryant’s response dealt with Rose, it surely applied to him as well, a nod to the drive and will he long has been known for and the younger Rose still is developing.

“Really there’s not too much you can do about it,” Bryant said. “It’s unfortunate, but you have two options. One is to lay down. The second is get up and get to work. I think the second one is more appealing [to Rose] for sure.”

He made it abundantly clear that he won’t be joining Team USA in the 2016 Olympics, but teased that he’d be an eager spectator to watch Lakers teammate Pau Gasol play for Spain again.

The most noticeable change in NBA basketball since his arrival in 1996? “It’s more of a finesse game. It’s more small ball. Which, personally, I don’t really care much for,” Bryant said. Like so many from the old-school – even at 35, Bryant qualifies – he is befuddled at the soft stuff now that passes for physical play. “Makes me nauseous,” he said. “You can’t touch a guy.”

The rule against hand-checking has made it easier for players to shine offensively, Bryant said. “Nowadays, anybody can get out there and get to the basket – you can’t touch ‘em,” he said. “Back then, if you have guys putting their hands on you, you have to have the skills to be able to go both ways, change directions, post up and have that mid-range game, because you didn’t want to go all the way to the basket because you’d get knocked [down].”

He’s no fan of the NBA’s one-and-done arrangement with NCAA basketball, which no longer permits players such as Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James to turn pro immediately after high school. “I think it worked out pretty well for all three of us,” Bryant said. “The system really isn’t teaching players anything when you go to college. … I’m always a firm believer in us being able to make our own decision.”

***

No. 3:Melo says Knicks didn’t ‘fight’ against Nets — A 23-point loss at home is nothing any NBA team wants to stomach. But when a team like the up-and-down New York Knicks takes that in (before a national TV audience, no less), it becomes even harder to digest. Knicks star Carmelo Anthony was none-too-pleased after the game, telling ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Bagley that what upset him most about the defeat at the hands of the crosstown Brooklyn Nets was the lack of desire New York showed in trying to keep the game close:

A frustrated Carmelo Anthony said the New York Knicks failed to show fight in their 23-point loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday.

“That’s the only thing that kind of bothers me: Today we didn’t even fight. I felt like we didn’t fight as a team,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ 103-80 loss. “Them guys from the jump ball just came in and it felt like they owned us.”

“We couldn’t get into defensive sets and [were] just scrambling and double-teaming and switching, basically just scrambling the whole game,” Anthony said.

The Knicks have lost four straight and enter play Tuesday tied with Cleveland for 10th place in the Eastern Conference. They are on pace to win just 30 games.

“I didn’t think we would be in this situation,” said Anthony, who is expected to test free agency this summer. “I don’t really know how to deal with situations like this. I’m learning. This is the first time for me.”

Tyson Chandler didn’t knock New York’s effort after the loss. Instead, he said the Knicks were “outschemed” by Brooklyn.

“I think we came to play. They outschemed us,” Chandler said. “They played to our defense as far their offensive scheme, knowing our rotations and knowing what we wanted to accomplish. Kind of putting us in vulnerable situations.”

Chandler’s words could be interpreted as a thinly-veiled shot at Mike Woodson and the coaching staff. The Knicks were caught switching frequently on pick and rolls and late on rotations, which allowed the Nets to find open shooters all over the floor.

“I don’t want to switch. I personally don’t like it. You come with a defensive plan and then every guy kind of mans up and takes his responsibility,” Chandler said. “I think switching should always be your last resort.”

Anthony believes the Knicks’ four-game losing streak has impacted the team’s confidence, which was at an all-time high after New York won five in a row earlier this month.

“It seemed like everything was just going for us [during the winning streak], offensively, defensively, guys felt good about themselves,” Anthony said. “There was a lot of confidence within the team, with individuals. Right now it seems we don’t have that.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about the Knicks’ blowout loss at home to the Nets

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No. 4: Cuban ready for Silver to ‘feel my wrath’Mavs owner Mark Cuban did little to hide the fact he wanted one last fine from soon-to-be-retired commissioner David Stern before he leaves office next month. Cuban got his wish earlier this week when the league levied a $100,000 fine against him for confronting officials after the Mavs’ loss to the Clippers last week. The owner doesn’t hold any ill feelings for getting the fine, of course, and told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s Dwain Price he’s looking forward, in a sense, to getting to know new commissioner Adam Silver in his own unique way:

In his first interview since the NBA fined him $100,000 Saturday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he just wanted to have some fun before commissioner David Stern retired.“I love it,” Cuban said about the fine, before Monday’s 102-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. “It’s a business expense and it’s part of doing business.

“These franchises are worth hundreds of millions of dollars and I literally feel that if I could impact it to have some improvement, they could be worth a lot more.”

Since Stern will retire on Feb. 1, Cuban said he wanted to get in one last fine as a lasting memory to the commissioner.

“I was just a little nostalgic for the commissioner,” Cuban said. “So I was trying to fund the donut fund.”

Asked if he thought Stern was happy to fine him one last time, Cuban said: “I think he was. They call you and make sure what you said is what you said.

“When I said yes, and then they say OK, here’s the fine. That’s the way it works.”

Adam Silver will take over for Stern on Feb. 2. Will Cuban have a present waiting for the new commissioner?

“We’ll see,” he said. “It depends on how things are handled.

“But there’s plenty to come. Now it’s time to let Adam feel my wrath.”

***

No. 5: Report: Wizards interested in Pistons’ MonroeFollowing their 107-99 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers last night, the Washington Wizards got to .500 for the fourth time this season. One player who had a big impact on the win was center Marcin Gortat, who finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds and helped set the tone for Washington’s interior play. But as the Wizards look to build on this newfound .500 mark and, surely, try to climb well over it, they could be looking to further upgrade their interior play. According to Alex Kennedy of BasketballInsiders.com, the Wizards are interested in acquiring Pistons big man Greg Monroe, either via free agency or trade:

The Detroit Pistons find themselves in a difficult position at the halfway point of the 2013-14 season.

After a big offseason that brought Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups (as well as playoff expectations) to Detroit, the team is currently 17-24 and barely holding onto the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference. Detroit has dropped 10 of their last 14 games and, according to multiple league sources, the organization isn’t sure what to do as the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches.

One player who has been mentioned in trade rumors throughout this season is Greg Monroe, the young power forward who will be a restricted free agent this offseason since he couldn’t agree on an extension with the Pistons. It’s no secret that Josh Smith is better at the four, and it’s possible that Detroit moves the valuable Monroe to upgrade another position and slide Smith over to power forward.

One team that is interested in Monroe is the Washington Wizards, according to multiple league sources. It’s becoming clear that Washington is planning to pursue Monroe, either through trade or free agency.

Prior to joining the Pistons, Monroe starred at Georgetown for two seasons so he’s no stranger to Washington. The Wizards have $41,458,760 in guaranteed commitments for next season, since Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza among others are in the final year of their contracts.

The Pistons are certainly a team to keep an eye on over the next month. Rival executives have said that there is “turmoil” within the organization and that they haven’t decided what to do as the deadline approaches.

How the team performs in the coming weeks could determine what the front office does next, similar to what’s occurring with the Toronto Raptors right now. If the team plays well, the team will likely remain intact and the Pistons will try to make a postseason run. If the team continues to struggle, it’s very possible that Detroit makes a trade between now and the deadline.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Knicks reserve guard Beno Udrih has reportedly requested a trade … A little news nugget from Sam Smiththe Celtics might want to trade Jeff Green … Bucks guard Gary Neal might be having some second thoughts about signing with Milwaukee in the offseason … The Hawks are building something worth watching in Atlanta

ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Clippers and Pistons, two of the dunking-est teams in the league, put on quite a show above the rim yesterday. And since (around here, anyway) there’s no such thing as too many dunks, here’s a great one from Jan Vesely, too, for good measure:


VIDEO: The Pistons and Clippers get dunk-happy in Monday’s matinee


VIDEO: Jan Vesely gets way up to finish off the alley-oop vs. the Sixers

Free-Agent Barometer: Boom or Bust

Back in the hot fun of summertime, when there seem to be more dollars available than grains of sand, every free-agent signing is made to feel like a day at the beach.

Now, as we approach halfway mark of the season, it’s time to take the temperature:

GLOWING


VIDEO: Relive Dwight Howard’s signing with the Houston Rockets

Dwight Howard, Rockets — There are times when he is too passive and does not demand the ball enough from all of the inexperienced hands in the Houston lineup. But a healthy, happy Howard has been everything the Rockets hoped for when they forked over $88.5 million to lure him away from the Lakers. There is a bounce to his step and joy to his game that had been missing since the 2008-09 season in Orlando. With him in the middle and playing off James Harden, the Rockets are on track to eventually becoming a championship contender.

Andre Iguodala, Warriors — Don’t try to pigeonhole him or stick on a label as an elite defender or a greyhound that thrives in the transition game. He is simply a wonderful all around player that can do whatever is necessary in any situation. He was the spark that lifted the Nuggets a year ago to a franchise-best 57 wins and he’s moved to Golden State to become a difference-maker for the Warriors. For all of the (deserving) All-Star accolades to Stephen Curry and attention paid to Klay Thompson, Iguodala is the one that makes this fun and entertaining team truly dangerous.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — When it finally came time for the Hawks to cut the cord with Josh Smith, they went for his polar opposite. Not at all flamboyant, never trying to things outside his job description, Millsap comes to work every night and never leaves his team feeling shortchanged. His two-year, $19 million contract might have been the best free-agent bargain of the summer and he’s fit right in perfectly on the frontline in Atlanta. He’s blue-collar ways in the low post and on the boards has been needed even more since Atlanta lost Al Horford for the season.

Al Jefferson, Bobcats — One thing rookie coach Steve Clifford knew was that for the Bobcats to pick themselves up from their semi-permanent residence on the Eastern Conference floor, they needed a low-post presence to get some hard-fought points in the paint. He suffered an ankle injury in training camp and started slow, but once Jefferson got his legs under him, he’s averaged 16.8 points and 10 rebounds. It’s no coincidence that Charlotte (16 wins) is a sure bet to surpass last season’s 21-win campaign.


VIDEO: NBA Action catches up with Mavericks guard Monta Ellis

Monta Ellis, Mavericks — We won’t go as far as Dallas owner Mark Cuban to say that the jury is still out on whether Ellis or Howard is the free-agent catch of the season. After all, we’re pretty sure Cuban would make a 1-for-1 swap right now. As coach of the Warriors years ago, ex-Mavs coach Don Nelson called Ellis selfish. But the once shot-happy Ellis has reined some of his tendencies and found a comfortable home in Dallas. He’s averaging 5.8 apg and his upbeat production is keeping the Mavs alive in the West playoff race.

Kevin Martin, Timberwolves — Every team he’s played on throughout a 10-year NBA career has gotten efficiency and production. He’s one of those players who can give you 20 points a game on a minimum number of shots due to a knack for drawing free throws. There have been many things lacking for Minnesota during another underachieving run, but Martin has come through with the kind of numbers — 19.3 points per game — that were expected.

SUNBURNED


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses where Andrew Bynum may end up next

Andrew Bynum, CavaliersSigning him to a two-year, $24 million contract (that was only half-guaranteed in Season 1) was supposed to make it a no-brainer for the Cavs. Of course, the no brain place continues to be between Bynum’s ears as he quickly alienated teammates, the coaching staff and the entire organization. He had a pair of 20-point games with 13 and 10 rebounds. But his biggest positive effect was as a payroll-slashing trade chip that eventually brought in Luol Deng.

Josh Smith, Pistons — Don’t let Joe Dumars near your piggy bank. Four years ago, the general manager wasted a Brinks truck full of money to bring in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and put the Pistons into a deep hole. This time Dumars dug deeper with his idea that he could give $54 million for four years to Smith and put him into a super-sized front line with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Smith has clashed with coach Maurice Cheeks, found himself sitting on the bench at the end of games and still takes bad shots at a high rate. Is anybody surprised?

Chris Kaman, Lakers — The money spent by the Lakers — $3.2 million, one year — could probably have been scraped up out of the sofa cushions in the luxury suites at Staples Center. But no matter how you slice it, the thought that Kaman was going to return to L.A. and help the Lakers in their most trying season was laughable in hindsight. Kaman has never found a way into the rotation, has frequently expressed his displeasure with coach Mike D’Antoni and now spends more time lobbing verbal bombs in frustration than tracking down rebounds or shooting.

IN THE SHADE

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans — With Jrue Holiday out of the lineup indefinitely with a stress fracture in his leg and the team still reportedly trying to trade Eric Gordon, this would be the time when Evans can step up and really shine. He’s been far from a bust and doggedly fought to keep himself in the Pelicans’ lineup despite the fact that he keeps reinsuring a sprained left ankle. But that $44 million, four-year contract raises expectations for more than 12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. At this point, the jury is still out.

Howard Had No Idea Shoestrings Incident With J.R. Smith Would Lead To This!




VIDEO: Knicks guard J.R. Smith has some issues with shoelaces, as Shawn Marion finds out

ATLANTA – What started as fun and games between old friends has morphed into a full-blown mess for New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith. A mess Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard never saw coming.

Long before his $50,000 fine and benching and all of the trade rumors cranked up, Smith was just messing around with Howard during a Jan. 3 game in Houston and playfully untied Howard’s shoe at the free-throw line. He would later get Shawn Marion‘s shoelace in a game against the Mavericks  and attempted to get Josh Smith‘s (he ended up settling for Greg Monroe‘s) in a game against the Pistons on Tuesday before Knicks coach Mike Woodson and the fun/foolishness police at NBA headquarters caught up with him.

Woodson unloaded on Smith Wednesday, saying he needed to “grow up” and stop the silliness and the league followed up with that hefty fine for “recurring instance of unsportsmanlike conduct.”  Woodson benched Smith for Thursday’s win over the Miami Heat and now the fallout and trade chatter is cranked all the way up heading into this weekend.

“It was just a guy trying to have fun,” Howard said Friday morning at Philips Arena before the Rockets faced the Atlanta Hawks. “I didn’t think it would turn into a big fine. It’s crazy.”

Howard, always a prankster, had plans for retaliation.

“I tried to get him back,” he said. “But I’m glad I didn’t … could have lost some money.”

It could wind up costing Smith a whole lot more than just cash.


VIDEO: The Inside crew discusses J.R. Smith and his future with the Knicks

Coaching The NBA’s Hardheaded Players


VIDEO: Brent Barry and The Starters crew talk about J.R. Smith’s shoe antics

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – A sucker’s born every minute, or so they say. So maybe the Knicks can find one to dump their stupefying sixth man J.R. Smith upon. More likely, Knicks coach Mike Woodson is stuck with the shoelace bandit.

The NBA nailed Smith with a $50,000 fine Wednesday for “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct.” One day after the league warned Smith after he untied the shoelaces of Mavericks forward Shawn Marion as the two stood side by side awaiting a free throw, he tried it again in the very next game to Pistons forward Greg Monroe.

The New York Daily News reported that Smith has now been fined $105,000 since joining the Knicks in 2012, not to mention his one-game suspension in the playoffs for throwing an elbow at Boston’s Jason Terry, and his five-game suspension to start this season for violating the league’s drug policy. Meanwhile, the Knicks awarded Smith a three-year, $18 million contract during the summer.

A fed-up Woodson on Wednesday lit into his juvenile shooting guard on New York radio station 98.7 ESPN:

“I don’t condone things that I know you shouldn’t do. No, I’m not happy about this. Because again, he was warned, he comes back and he makes the same mistake, and it’s not right. I just got the information, I’m going to address it tomorrow when he comes in here for work, because it’s unacceptable. It really is.

“It’s unprofessional. That’s the only word I can use. Or two words. You just can’t do that. You just cannot do it.”

And …

“There’s no question, he’s done a lot of things this year that has put him in a bad position and our team in a bad position. Somehow, we’ve got to clean that up. This is unacceptable…I keep saying this every time something pops up, but it’s got to stop.”

But really, what can a coach do when dealing with a volatile, hardheaded (but also a needed) player such as Smith? I was talking about this very topic recently with Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who has such a player on his roster in Matt Barnes and just released another in Stephen Jackson.

Barnes is more of a hot-tempered, playground bully/team-bodyguard type whereas Smith is more of a loose cannon and silly prankster. But both are emotional, off-the-cuff players who do inexplicable things at any given moment that can hurt their teams either by drawing a technical foul, an ejection and/or suspension.

Rivers’ answer to what a coach can do to reign in such behavior? Not a lot.

“I just let them explode and then move on,” Rivers said, laughing. “There’s not much you’ve got to do. I had Rasheed [Wallace]. He probably was the test market for any emotional player. Rasheed was a great teammate, he was a great guy, but when he lost it, he lost it, and listen, better coaches than me coached Rasheed. … I came to the conclusion if they couldn’t stop it I’m not going to try.”

Barnes has played in only 19 games this season due to various injuries, but has already been fined two times for $25,000 each for lingering on the court after being ejected. Last month, Barnes put a hard foul on Timberwolves forward Kevin Love in the third quarter, drawing a flagrant 1. The referees reviewed it on replay and upgraded it to a flagrant 2, resulting in automatic ejection. Barnes flipped. The upgrade proved to be more about Barnes’ reputation, a problem in itself. The league reviewed the foul and acknowledged it should have remained a flagrant 1.

“You never want to put your team in a position of vulnerability or giving away extra free throws or extra points, especially down the stretch of the season or if it’s the playoffs; everything has to be calculated,” Barnes told NBA.com last week. “It used to be a good, little game. Now it’s like a flag football-type game, so you really have to be smart about everything.”

His first ejection and subsequent fine came during a November game against the Thunder in which Barnes unnecessarily came to the defense of a teammate and got into an altercation with Thunder forward Serge Ibaka in the first half. Both players got tossed.

“My situation is I look at my teammates as my family, so it’s never really an altercation to me,” Barnes said. “It’s more if your teammates get into something, you get into something; that’s the way I was raised. I was raised to protect my brother and sister and my friends, so I look at my teammates as my family. I’m going to do whatever I can to help.”

How do you coach that?

“With Stephen and Matt, they are emotional and their emotions, for the most part, are in the right place; they want to help their team win,” Rivers said. “Yeah, you don’t want them to ever cross that line where it can hurt your team and when it does, it does, and you remind them of it and you just hope they get better. But that’s all you can do.

“I don’t know, it’s a tough one. I’d rather have it, I guess.”

Woodson and the Knicks aren’t so sure anymore in regard to Smith. The 10-year veteran had an excellent last season, earning Sixth Man of the Year honors, and many professed that he was a changed man, done with frivolous conduct and serious about taking care of business on the basketball court.

Going back to his playoff implosion and the multiple incidents since, that certainly does not appear to be the case. As Woodson said during his Wednesday radio appearance:

“If you look at what happened last year, everybody played a role on that team and J.R. was a big piece of the puzzle. Yeah, it can come from Carmelo [Anthony], it can come from his teammates, it can come from his coaching staff, it can come from me being there, it can come from the GM, the owner. At the end of the day, he’s got to grow up.”

Cheeks Wants Jennings To Step Up On ‘D’


VIDEO: Detroit at New Orleans, Dec. 11, 2013

NEW ORLEANS — Brandon Jennings filled up the hoop with 25 points, grabbed five rebounds and dealt out four assists.

As usual, that wasn’t the issue.

The Pistons have now lost three consecutive games and went down on back-to-back nights in large part because the middle of their defense might as well be a landing strip.

Brandon Jennings

Brandon Jennings (Dan Lippitt/NBAE)

On Tuesday night, the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio ransacked The Palace by doing almost anything he pleased. Barely 24 hours later it was Jrue Holiday along with Tyreke Evans (on a tender ankle) who took apart the Pistons with dribble penetration.

There is room for all of the routine excuses — the Pistons are the fourth-youngest team in the NBA, they have so many different new parts still learning about each other and how to play together. But Wednesday night they played a Pelicans team that was without its best player in Anthony Davis and overcoming a horrid 6-for-18 shooting night from Ryan Anderson – and they still found a way to get past Detroit.

Mostly that way was straight down the middle.

A Pistons team that should have a stifling front line of the sizable Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith has a defense that is ranked 19th in the NBA for a variety of reasons. Much of the problem begins at the top where opposing guards are usually able to run as free as colts in a meadow.

It’s enough to make Detroit fans long for the days of the Bad Boys and a couple of good forearm shivers.

That’s why coach Maurice Cheeks is looking for his point guard, Jennings, to take on his share of the defensive burden.

When he was asked whether he might “hide” Jennings in a run of three straight games against high powered point guards Holiday, Deron Williams (Nets) and Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) by switching the assignment to rookie Kentavious Pope-Caldwell, Cheeks threw down the gauntlet.

“Yeah he’d be up for the challenge,” Cheeks said of the rookie. “But if you’re going to be good, and I’m going to say this again, a good point guard, I don’t like the word ‘hide’. I want the guy who’s guarding the ball, who’s running my team, to guard that guy, if you’re going to be good.”

Since he popped in 55 points as a rookie with the Bucks, Jennings has been all about his offensive ability. But in a league where point guard skill is more abundant than ever, if Jennings is going to get back into the headlines and crack the upper echelon, he’ll have to stop relying on his big men to cover up for his mistakes and lack of commitment on defense.

Cheeks, who was one of the best on-the-ball defenders during his 15-year NBA career, wants his point guard to take the challenge personally.

“I think Jennings has a chance to be very good,” Cheeks said. “I keep talking about steps. “You take steps, you get better at defending your position. That’s how you become one of those elite players. You don’t become elite by having someone else guard your guy.”

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 22


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Brown won’t panic over Cavs’ start | Dolan opens up on Woodson, Stoudemire | Pistons focus on pick-and-roll defense | ‘Foreign Legion’ fueling Spurs’ solid start

No. 1: Brown not about to overreact to Cavs’ slow start — The Cavs remade their roster in the offseason, bringing in center Andrew Bynum, stable veteran guard Jarrett Jack and versatile forward Earl Clark as the highlights of their free-agency remodel. With those moves on the dockett, plus having an All-Star guard (Kyrie Irving) in the fold and the return of rebounding maven Anderson Varejao from injury, Cleveland was thinking a playoff run was a near sure-thing. Yet the Cavs awake this morning with a 4-8 mark, second-worst in the Central Division, and haven’t looked anything like a postseason contender. Despite the early struggles, coach Mike Brown isn’t about to hit the panic button on the season, writes Bob Finnan of The News-Herald & Morning Journal:

Even though there’s panic running rampant throughout the fan base, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown isn’t about to follow suit.

His team has lost four of its last five games and is embarking on a rugged two-game trip this weekend.

The Cavs (4-8) are 1-6 on the road this season.

His biggest obstacle is getting his team to compete.

Playoff projections seem almost absurd after the way the Cavs have started the season.

But Brown isn’t about to overreact.

“It’s too early for that,” Brown said after practice on Thursday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “Don’t get me wrong — we want to win games while we’re going through this process. Nobody likes to lose. But I don’t know if I’m a guy who would panic, anyway. What does panicking do for you?

“I’ve got a job, and my job is to help this team get better and try to win games. If I panic, they’re going to panic, and it would just be chaotic. I don’t care where we are. I’m not going to do that.”

“There should be a lot of expectations,” he said. “I didn’t take this job to just say, ‘I’m OK getting 10th, and that’s an improvement from last year.’ I took this job because I think we can get to the playoffs. Is it going to be a process? Yes. Is it going to happen overnight? No.

“I didn’t take the job to hope that there wouldn’t be expectations placed upon us, because that’s what you play for. You play to compete. We’ve just got to bounce back.”

After their 98-91 loss to Washington on Wednesday, Cavs guard Jarrett Jack said the coaches shouldn’t have to nudge players to compete.

“There’s no remedy to effort,” he said. “That’s the one thing you control. It’s nothing Coach can do. Nobody should have to ask anybody to play hard.”

“You can’t buy into anything if you don’t put forth the necessary effort for it to be successful. At this particular point, that’s our biggest problem. One through 15, it’s something we all have to get control now, or we’re going to lose control of this before it’s too late.”

Jack said playing hard is not an acquired taste.

“We’ve got to grasp a hold of that concept, because playing hard is a skill,” he said. “It’s not anything anybody can teach you, but bringing it each and every day is a learned skill that you have to have in this league in order to be successful.”


VIDEO: Mike Brown isn’t about to panic over Cleveland’s slow start

***

No. 2: Dolan gives Woodson a vote of confidence – The Knicks, much like the Cavs, haven’t lived up to their lofty expectations so far this season. A 3-8 record and talk of panic from one of the team’s better players are proof that things aren’t going so hot in New York. When things start this slowly — especially in a media fishbowl of a town like the Big Apple — talk turns to the man leading the troops, in this case Mike Woodson, and whether or not he’s lost the team. Knicks boss James Dolan, however, answered that question (and many others about the future of the Knicks) in a wide-ranging interview with the New York Post‘s Mike Vaccaro:

MV: I’m sure you heard the chants that have already started to fire Mike Woodson, which comes with the territory, naturally …

JD: Yeah …

MV: How patient will you be with him? He understood when he took the job the expectations that go with it. Will you give him a long rope?

JD: I have a lot of confidence in Woodson, and one thing I can say about Mike is he has the respect of all the players. They all respect him. And he treats them fairly and relatively equally, and that’s part of where the respect emanates from. And those are hard things to get from a coach. When a coach loses a team … that’s when a coach is kind of done.

MV: The Knicks started 18-5 last year and it didn’t end the way you wanted it to; at this point I assume you’d flip that script?

JD: You know what? I wouldn’t take last year’s team for this year’s team, because this year’s team is more designed to be a playoff team, whereas last year’s team was 18-5 but look who was playing: we had Rasheed Wallace who was doing everything for us, right? And we just started losing player after player … by the time we got to the playoffs that 18-5 team wasn’t the team that was playing in the playoffs. If they were I think we would’ve beaten Indiana.

MV: So this bad start …

JD: It’s going right according to plan (laughs) …

MV: Do you think you’re a good owner?

JD: Yeah. I do.

MV: Why?

JD: I think I watch out for my fans. I try to give them a good product. I care for the teams. I’m emotionally involved and intellectually involved. I think an owner needs to be present. When an owner is not present that’s when things tend to go awry. The players, the coaches, the fans know there’s somebody in charge. They may not like what I’m doing but it’s much better than having nobody there. Nobody there just leaves you in despair.

MV: For Knicks fans there’s one word that riles their passion more than any other: Isiah.

JD: Amazing, isn’t it?

MV: And you surely know the panic that ensues when a Glen Grunwald gets fired and people wonder, “Is Isiah coming back?”

JD: I can’t control what’s in other people’s minds. I can tell you that he’s a friend of mine. We speak, but not as often as we used to because he’s really involved in other things now. We’ll message back and forth once in a while. We used to talk a lot more often. He seems to be moving into another phase of his life, he’s not as basketball-centric, he’s doing a lot of charity work, he got his masters [in education, from Cal-Berkeley], he actually uses me to bounce business ideas off of …

MV: Do you still consult him, too, about basketball ideas?

JD: Not really. For Isiah, I don’t know that he’ll ever be able to work in New York. I just don’t know that he’ll ever get a fair shake, going forward in New York?

MV: If you could take a mulligan on the $100 million Amar’e contract …

JD: Nope.

MV: Because the first year was that important?

JD: We would not be where we are today without Amar’e. That summer, the summer of “The Decision,” there were a whole bunch of free agents, and the guys put their thing together in Miami, and Amar’e agreed to come to the Knicks, gave us a launch pad by which we could convince the other guys like Tyson [Chandler] to come, and ultimately Carmelo to come play with us. Do I think Carmelo would have come if we didn’t have Amar’e? No, I don’t think he would’ve. These free agents, when you get to this level of player — the Carmelos, the LeBrons, the Durants — the first thing they want before the money or anything else is to be on a winning team. They’ve got to believe they have a shot.

MV: So does it sadden you to watch him in a diminished state?

JD: I still have hope. You cannot ask for a guy to be more dedicated, more disciplined, than Amar’e. He does his rehab, he does his workouts, he does everything, he’s on it every day, and that’s worth a lot, too. If there’s justice in this world, his knee will heal up to the point where he can play more minutes and make the contribution he wants to make.

MV: What are your impressions of Mikhail Prokhorov?

JD: I don’t get to see him much but he clearly wants to win, which is a good thing. He’s the only guy paying more taxes than we are which is a club I wouldn’t necessarily want to be part of with him (laughs). I think he wants to win, I know he wants to win, he wouldn’t be putting the resources in that he is otherwise. But, I mean, he’s still my competitor. As a person I kind of know him, I’ve had lunch with him but other than that I don’t really know him well.

MV: One thing you share is that you’ve both expressed belief your teams can win a title this year. Do you really believe the Knicks can or was that just a usual declaration of high expectations?

JD: I think this team can win a championship.

MV: As presently constituted?

JD: I think there are a lot of teams that could win the championship this year. I think the Clippers can win. Are they going to? I hope not. I hope we win the championship. I think we have the pieces in place to do it. The skill level is there but there’s so much more to the game than that, and it’s really in the hands of the players. They have to believe in themselves, they have to put in the work, the effort, the discipline, they have to listen to the coach, they have to execute a strategy and put an effort in every game. And they have to get themselves to be the best team they can be at the end of March. It’s OK right now not to be the best team you can be. Last year by the end of the year we were struggling. I’d rather see it go the other way. I’m not happy, believe me, about the record where it is now. But the warts that are showing up now are things you can work on, things you can fix. Now you test the character of your team to see if it’s willing or able to do that, if the coach is able to do that, to make those fixes. Can they win the championship? Yes. They definitely can win the championship. There have been other championship teams that weren’t nearly as talented as this one. But they had something that this team needs to develop.

***

No. 3: Pistons working to improve pick-and-roll defense — A quick jaunt over to the NBA.com/Stats tool reveals that the Pistons have struggled to keep opponents from scoring in the paint, which may be coming as a direct result from Detroit’s problems slowing down the pick and roll. After a 93-85 loss to the Hawks in Atlanta, Detroit’s big names say locking down the defense on that play has become a top priority from here on out, writes Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free-Press:

Josh Smith says the Detroit Pistons need a little more physicality.Maurice Cheeks and Greg Monroe say the Pistons are physical enough.

But all three agree the Pistons must get better at guarding the pick-and-roll. That was theme yet again in the Pistons’ latest loss — a 93-85 loss Wednesday to the Atlanta Hawks in Smith’s return to his hometown.

The Hawks shot 50.7% from the field, and the Pistons’ defense is last in the NBA in allowing opponents to shoot 48.5%.

The Hawks’ very first play featured a pick-and-roll from Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and power forward Paul Millsap. Millsap set the pick and rolled to the basket without any resistance where Teague found him for an easy lay-up. Andre Drummond was way late to provide help.

“It’s multiple things,” Monroe said. “I think we have to guard it with more than two people.

“In this league, there will be a lot of plays where they might beat those two people, but it’s the second line of defense that we’re having a little bit of trouble with.”

Cheeks pointed out it’s tough to provide another defender when you are concerned with spot-up three-point shooters such as the Hawks’ Kyle Korver.

But maybe things should be simplified. The team can try to adjust to personnel, but maybe they should just have a couple coverages to eliminate confusion.

***

No. 4: ‘Foreign Legion’ working wonders for Spurs – The Spurs, like last season, find themselves at the top of the Southwest Division thanks to the play of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, right? Well, not exactly. San Antonio has surged to the top of the division standings and is among the West’s best because of that star trio most know, but moreso because of their bench play, which has affectionately been dubbed the ‘Foreign Legion’ by Dan McCartney of the San Antonio Express-News:

Depth has long been a Spurs hallmark, particularly during their recent ascent back among the league’s elite.It isn’t just a luxury. With Tim Duncan approaching 40, Manu Ginobili not far behind and Tony Parker coming off a grueling summer of international hoops, having a strong bench capable of providing an assortment of options is absolutely essential in their quest to capture another championship.

“It’s something we depend on,” head coach Gregg Popovich said after the Spurs beat Boston going away on Wednesday, 104-93. “We’ve got a good, focused second group. They play very aggressively. We look for that and we need it.”

They certainly got it against the Celtics, dominating the battle of the bench 34-16 to account for the winning margin and more. It was another strong performance from a unit that ranks fourth in bench scoring (39.7 points per game), total production and production differential.

The bulk of that output is provided by the Foreign Legion of Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills, who have combined to break open numerous games already. Not just a collection of cool accents, they have the No. 6 plus-minus, at 16.6 points per 100 possessions, among 20 four-man lineups that have played at least 30 minutes together, and the second-best among units that do not include either Duncan or Parker. Their collective offensive rating of 117.2 points per 100 possessions is 14 points higher than the team’s average.


VIDEO:
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich praises the team’s reserves

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dirk Nowitzki is donating $20 for every 2-pointer the Mavs make this season to help fund research on a rare disease called Hunter syndromeMike Dunleavy is the new starter in Chicago while Jimmy Butler is on the shelf … Magic swingman Arron Afflalo may be making a quiet push for an All-Star spot

ICYMI Of The Night: Kenneth Faried, aka “The Manimal”, has always been a favorite around these parts …


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried finishes off the nice Ty Lawson alley-oop

Moment Has Passed For Smith, Hawks




VIDEO: Josh Smith talks about the surreal feeling of his first trip home as a Detroit Piston

ATLANTA – Wednesday night was supposed to be his moment, the first time homegrown star Josh Smith walked into Philips Arena as a member of the “other” team.

His first steps down that hallway he’d walked so many times was supposed to be cathartic, a chance for Smith to finally put his near-decade with the Hawks behind him. It was also a chance for the fans who endured that roller coaster ride from the impetuous, sky-walking teenage J-Smoove to the matured husband, father and veteran that is today’s Smith to either pay their last respects or bid him farewell in a not-so-special way.

The hype was better than the actual event itself. Smith was introduced to an equal smattering of cheers and boos, which is pretty much the way he was greeted throughout his tenure here. Few players in my years covering the league have inspired such a spirited split from the home fans, love and … hate is such a strong word, perhaps “loathe” is better, for the way they play the game.

The mixed bag is also what Smith expected, “a few cheers and a few boos,” he said. “But it’s all good.”

It certainly seems that way. There’s nothing to see here anymore. The time for holding grudges or being upset, on either side, is over. The moment has passed for Smith and for the Hawks, who chose to move on from their homegrown star in free agency this past summer when they allowed Smith to sign a four-year, $54 million contract with the Detroit Pistons without so much as making an offer to him.

The outcome of the game, a 93-85 Hawks win, wasn’t on anyone’s mind as Smith stood among a crowd of reporters in the hallways outside of the Pistons’ locker room before the game.

All anyone wanted to know was how strange it was for Smith to walk into this building on the wrong side? What was it like coming “home” but no longer being a member of the family? What would it be like going against former teammates like Al Horford and Jeff Teague, guys he called his “friends and brothers” when it was all over, for the first time in his career?

Smith didn’t offer up any colorful soundbites. He noted that it was a bit surreal, the whole homecoming thing, and insisted that he wouldn’t let any of it affect him or his approach to the business at hand (his 5-for-15 shooting effort, 0-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, much to the delight of the Hawks’ partisans in the crowd, would suggest otherwise).

He’s focused on the Pistons  now, on making them better and on making sure he does whatever he can to enjoy the second chance he’s gotten in Detroit.

“I have to admit, it’s been humbling to play in front of those fans [in Detroit] with the way they support the home teams,” Smith said. “To play in a first-class organization that has the championship history that we have in Detroit, it’s something I had to experience to appreciate. It’s from the ownership level to the front office and coaching staff all the way down to the last man or woman in the organization. It’s just a different feel, and something that I never understood since I spent my entire career in one spot.”

That spot had to seem awful familiar Wednesday night.

Smith got a bigger rise out of the crowd with his attempts and misses from deep than anyone other than the Hawks’ Kyle Korver, whose streak of games with a made 3-pointer was stretched to 85, which is just four shy of the NBA record. That’s the beauty and the curse Smith has been blessed with. He has the ability to get fans out of their seats, for reasons good and bad.

The most surprising part for me, having covered Smith from his rookie season through his the trials and tribulations that preceded the Hawks’ six-year (and potentially counting, based on what we’ve seen from coach Mike Budenholzer‘s team so far) playoff run, was seeing the way the fans eased up on him from the start.

It was a pleasant surprise. One that you wish Smith’s father, Pete Smith, had been in his customary baseline seat closest to the Hawks’ bench to witness himself. He wasn’t able to do so since he was home battling off the ill effects of the flu.

It would have been nice for him to see that not everyone in this town holds his son in contempt now that everyone has moved on. I know deep down both father and son feel that Josh has never been properly appreciated for what he did to help revive the hometown franchise.

“I just hope they show my son a little love,” the elder Smith said by phone before the game. “I think he earned it, he deserves that much.”

They did, show him just a little love. And yes, he earned it. Smith does rank in the Hawks’ top 10 in games played, points, rebounds, steal and blocks. Yes, he deserved it.

But now it’s time for everyone to move on.

The moment has passed!


VIDEO: Josh Smith with the steal and slam against the hometown Hawks