HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Memphis Grizzlies’ six-year rise from bottom-of-the-barrel in the West to playing for the conference crown is a story of intuition, perseverance, patience and, some might rightfully say, vindication for general manager Chris Wallace.
“I never looked for vindication. That’s not something that motivates me,” Wallace said. “Winning takes care of all issues in this league. We felt we had to take chances.”
Hired by former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley to remake a 22-win team that was of no competition, popularity-wise, for John Calipari‘s Memphis Tigers, Wallace put his vision in motion. When the team takes the court Sunday afternoon to begin the Western Conference finals against the old standby San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis roster will include not one player from the day Wallace took control.
Rudy Gay, the last survivor, was dealt to Toronto in late January.
The first move for Wallace back in 2007 was drafting Mike Conley, now considered one of the most underrated point guards in the league. Conley was the No. 4 overall draft pick after Portland selected Greg Oden and Kevin Durant fell into Seattle’s lap and Atlanta tapped Al Horford.
The next move came on Feb. 1, 2008 and will go down as the franchise’s moment of truth. At that moment, however, it was perceived more like the moment of ultimate doom.
Wallace agreed to a trade that unleashed shockwaves of ridicule from, yes, the media, but also shockingly from within the league. The backlash, Wallace said, was so fierce that it damaged the team’s ability to conduct business in its own city as it set out to sell critical sponsorships and arena suites for the following season.
“People [potential clients] would list off all the big-name people [in the NBA] that had ridiculed us,” Wallace said. “It was like running the 100-meter dash with a 20-pound leg weight.”
Everyone knows the deal: Pau Gasol to the Lakers for his chubby, unheralded younger brother Marc Gasol, bust Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and a couple first-round draft picks. Stunning criticism crushed Wallace for getting fleeced while being backhandedly credited for handing the post-Shaquille O’Neal Lakers the keys to certain championships.
“I expect the media to shoot from the hip and not study the deal. That’s to be expected,” Wallace said. “I just shook my head. I had never seen that kind of response from inside the league. I don’t deny that was the assist for two Lakers championships, but we had to shake things up. We had never won a playoff game. We had been in the 20s [wins] and there was complete apathy in our market. Calipari and the Tigers were roaring at the time.
“When we went around the league, we weren’t going to get a tit-for-tat deal. We wanted to bring our salary structure down, get assets and draft picks. And no one else had a Marc Gasol.”
Marc Gasol attended high school in Memphis as Pau was becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. At 18, he returned to Spain to begin his professional career in the Spanish ACB league, largely considered the world’s second-most competitive league. In 2007-08 he was tearing it up.
“He was trending up so much at the time. He was on pace to be the ACB MVP,” Wallace said. “I said it at the time, I felt like the little boy crying wolf. There was no question Pau was going to flourish next to Kobe and could win several titles, but this deal couldn’t be judged for several years.”
Wallace said what puzzled him most about the barrage of criticism was the lack of knowledge among media and league insiders regarding the 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol, who went on to become the MVP.
“It’s not like he was playing in Mongolia,” Wallace said. “He was playing in the ACB.”
Gasol, about 20 pounds lighter these days at 260, blossomed into a 2012 All-Star and is the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. He’s become an offensive force, honing a dangerous post game with an old-school mid-range set shot. He’s averaging 18.3 ppg and 7.9 rpg while averaging 40.3 mpg during the franchise’s most successful postseason run.
Gasol’s low-post partner Zach Randolph came next in a deal in 2009. Wallace was in the right place at the right time, nabbing Randolph for Quentin Richardson. Randolph, who had had his issues at previous stops,had become expendable after just 39 games with the Clippers because L.A. was set to draft Blake Griffin with the No. 1 pick and wanted to clear out the power forward position.
Tony Allen was picked up in the summer of 2010. Darrell Arthur has been a constant presence off the bench since being acquired on draft day in 2008. Greivous Vasquez, the 28th pick in 2010, was flipped for key reserve Quincy Pondexter. Sixth man Jerryd Bayless was signed as a free agent last summer.
“We were winning 20 games a year just four or five seasons ago,” Conley said. “Management did a great job getting guys in, guys that care. We’ve worked every day, kind of fell down the radar and now we’re here.”
So much has gone right leading to this historic moment for the Grizzlies franchise that it would seem clear-cut that Wallace has a long-term home with Memphis. But with new ownership having taken over at the start of the season, both Wallace and coach Lionel Hollins – a raging success story in his own right as he’s developed an initially young group of players into a hard-working defensive juggernaut emblematic of the city itself — are uncertain of their futures.
Hollins has coached all season on the final year of his deal. Wallace said he has years left, but has no guarantees.
It was hustle. It was aggressive. It was the way virtually every coach who ever carried a clipboard wants his to players to play — until he hears the whistle.
Was Westbrook trying to call a timeout? Probably. But he hadn’t and no referee had signaled for play to stop.
Were the chances of Beverley making the steal slim? Probably. But the best players don’t always need the odds in their favor. They force the action.
It is understandable that fans in Oklahoma City have been devastated by the news that one of their two All-Star players could be lost for the rest of the season following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
It is not understandable, reasonable or even civilized for fans to direct threats toward Beverley on Twitter.
For those over-reactors in the 24-hour media maw, have you watched the video replays? Westbrook dribbled across mid-court and was perhaps a bit too cavalier in thinking he was going to get a timeout and Beverley did what he always does — he played.
The two players bumped knees and when that happens, often someone gets hurt. In this case, it was Westbrook who turned and slammed down his fist onto the scorer’s table.
Take note: Not only was there no foul called on the play, but Kevin Durant, who was standing right there, did not even give Beverley the slightest derisive look. And not a single player or coach on the Thunder bench reacted as if a breach of etiquette had occurred. By the way, Westbrook played all 24 minutes of the second half, scoring 16 of his 29 points.
Injuries happen and they have derailed more than a few teams and careers. This season alone injuries have kept the likes of Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Danny Granger, among others, on the sidelines in the postseason. Dikembe Mutombo’s long and glorious career came to an end when he collided with Portland’s Greg Oden in a playoff game in 2009. The 1989 Lakers were a flawless 11-0 in the playoffs and maybe motoring toward a “three-peat” when hamstring injuries claimed Magic Johnson and Byron Scott on the eve of The Finals and they were swept out by the Pistons.
These are the playoffs and these are the big leagues. Through the years I have seen Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stand up as if he were going to call a timeout. Then the defenders relax and Tony Parker scoots all the way in to the basket for an uncontested layup. It occurred most famously at the Staples Center in a playoff game against Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers.
Two years ago, while playing for the Blazers, Andre Miller dribbled across the half-court line, head-faked toward the referee and when the Hornets defense stopped in its tracks, turned the corner and scored a cheap bucket.
It’s a bad time for Westbrook, who had played 439 in a row and never missed a game in his career. It’s bad luck for the Thunder, who will now have to lean on Durant more than ever and have others step up to fill the void. It’s a bad break for everybody who wants to see the best go head-to-head at this time of the year. It was not bad basketball.
Those who suggest that the Rockets be fined, suspended or somehow punished should perhaps turn to croquet, tea parties or other gentler pastimes.
Beverley was playing frantic, frenzied, feverish, furious. Sassy and smart too.
Basketball is a game of split-second decisions and lightning fast moves, giant leaps and great falls.
As Kobe Bryant himself said in a post on Facebook, it was a move he has made “millions of times.”
With a torn Achilles tendon, the question is whether the 34-year-old All-Star will become the latest to join a list of NBA players who have had their careers ended by horrific injury?
MAURICE STOKES — He was the 1956 Rookie of the Year with the Rochester Royals, averaging 16.5 rebounds and pulled down 38 rebounds in a single game. A three-time NBA All-Star as the franchise moved to Cincinnati. On March 12, 1958 at Minneapolis, in the last game of the regular season, Stokes drove to the basket, drew contact, fell to the floor, struck his head and lost consciousness. He returned to the game and three days later scored 12 points with 15 rebounds in a playoff game at Detroit. On a flight following that game, he suffered a seizure, fell into a coma and was left permanently paralyzed. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury that damaged his motor-control center. Stokes died 12 years later at age 36. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2004.
BILLY CUNNINGHAM – The Kangaroo Kid was a four-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA first teamer and 1967 champion with the 76ers. He was also the ABA MVP with the Carolina Cougars in 1973. On Dec. 5, 1975 in a game against the Knicks in Philadelphia, he was driving down the left side of the lane with Butch Beard challenging. Halfway down, Cunningham pulled up short, his knee locked, and he fell to the floor in a heap, having torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. In 11 pro seasons, Cunningham averaged 21.2 points and 10.4 rebounds. He was 32. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1986.
CHARLES BARKLEY – The 11-time All-Star and 1993 MVP was averaging 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in his 16th NBA season as a member of the Rockets and had long seemed indestructible as a he carved out a career as one of the great power forwards of the game despite standing only 6-foot-6. Barkley was in Philadelphia, the city where his NBA career began, positioning himself for a rebound barely eight minutes into the first quarter on Dec. 8, 1999 when he collapsed to the floor, rupturing the quadriceps tendon in his left knee. Typical Sir Charles, as he was being carried off the floor, said: “Just what America needs, one more unemployed black man.” Refusing to let the injury become the last image of his career, Barkley returned on April 19, 2000 in Houston for a game against Vancouver long enough to grab a signature offensive rebound and score a put-back basket, then walked off the court. He was 35. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2006.
ISIAH THOMAS – Perhaps the greatest little man ever to play in the NBA, he was a 12-time All-Star and led the Pistons to back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990 and was the MVP of The Finals in 1990. Thomas averaged 19.2 points and 9.3 assists in his 13-year career. Already bothered by an assortment of injuries including a strained arch, broken rib and hyperextended knee, he tore his right Achilles tendon with 1:37 left in the third quarter on April 19, 1994 in a home game against the Magic. “I felt like I got shot with a cannon,” he said. “When I did it, I thought it was my Achilles. I had no control of my foot. I don’t know exactly what happened.” The career-ending injury also kept Thomas off Team USA for the 1994 World Championship. He was 11 days shy of turning 33. He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2000.
DIKEMBE MUTOMBO – The eight-time All-Star, four-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time rebounding champ and second-leading shot blocker in NBA history played 18 seasons with six different teams. The great rim protector who made his finger-wag at opponents following a blocked shot his signature, was playing with the Rockets when he collided with the Blazers’ Greg Oden in the second quarter of Game 2 of a first-round playoff series at Portland on April 30, 2009 and fell to the floor. Mutombo had ruptured the quadriceps tendon in his left knee. “It is over for me for my career,” he said that day. He was 42.
YAO MING — The 7-foot-6 center from Shanghai was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft by the Rockets and an eight-time NBA All-Star. He’d been plagued by an assortment of foot and ankle injuries and it was originally believed to be just a strained tendon in his left leg when Yao had to leave the court just six minutes into a game at Washington on Nov. 10, 2010. An MRI later revealed a stress fracture in his ankle. “You hope this is the last surgery for him,” teammate Shane Battier said. “Good lord. That guy’s seen more hospital beds than Florence Nightingale.” But Yao never played another NBA game and announced his retirement in July 2011 at age 30.
JAY WILLIAMS – The 6-foot-2 point guard led Duke to the NCAA championship in 2001, national college player of the year in 2002 and was the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft by the Bulls. He averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 assists as a rookie in Chicago. On the night of June 19, 2003, Williams crashed his motorcycle into a streetlight on Chicago’s North Side. He was not wearing a helmet, was not licensed to drive a motorcycle in Illinois, and was also violating the terms of his Bulls contract by riding a motorcycle. Williams’ injuries included a severed main nerve in his left leg, fractured pelvis and three torn ligaments in his knee including the ACL. He required physical therapy to regain use of his leg and never played another game in the NBA. He was 21.
SHAQUILLE O’NEAL — At 7-foot-1, 325-pounds-plus, the 15-time All-Star, four-time champion, three-time Finals MVP and two-time scoring champ appeared undentable and unbreakable during his 19-year NBA career. Playing for his sixth team, O’Neal was bothered by foot problems throughout the 2010-11 season in Boston. He returned to the lineup on April 3, 2011, but played just six minutes before limping down the court on a Celtics possession in the first minute of the second quarter. “The doctor thought it was very minor. Scary more than anything,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “But we’ll see.” Shaq returned to play just 12 minutes in two games in the second round of the playoffs against Miami and announced his retirement on Twitter in June. He was 39.
HANG TIME, Texas – Never underestimate Mark Cuban’s knack for attracting attention. And who could blame him if the idea was to draw it away from his underperforming team that is ironically keeping a team of barbers on hold at the same time they’re about to cut off their string of consecutive playoff appearances at 12 years?
Should the Mavericks draft Brittney Griner?
Let cranky Geno Auriemma be outraged and throw bricks. Let former greats of the women’s game Nancy Lieberman and Ann Meyers Drysdale offer their words encouragement to the Baylor star. Let Griner give even the most outrageous hope and dreams to any little girl who has ever dribbled a basketball.
Let’s face it. The Mavs selecting Griner wouldn’t be the first unusual pick in the history of the NBA draft. And before you snicker, remember that somebody took Pervis Ellison, Greg Oden, Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi No. 1. Here’s a reminder of a few others off-beat choices down through the years:
JIM BROWN (Syracuse Nationals, 1957 ) – The Nats didn’t have to reach outside the city limits to take a flyer on the guy who would become perhaps the greatest player in NFL history. Brown played four college sports — football, basketball, lacrosse and track — at Syracuse. He even averaged 15 points a game for the basketball team in his sophomore year. But even though there was little doubt that Brown was bound for a career on the gridiron, the Nats made him a ninth-round pick.
Other notables in draft: “Hot Rod” Hundley (No. 1 overall by Cincinnati, traded to Minneapolis); Sam Jones (No. 8 by Boston).
FRANK HOWARD (Philadelphia Warriors, 1958) – It wasn’t just his physical stature at 6-foot-8, 275 pounds that caught the attention of the Warriors in the third round. He could really play and was an All-American in basketball at Ohio State. But baseball was Howard’s first love and he signed with the Dodgers and had a 15-year career in the majors, hitting 382 home runs with 1,119 RBIs.
Other notables in the draft: Elgin Baylor (No. 1 overall by Minneapolis); Hal Greer (No. 13 by Syracuse).
BUBBA SMITH (Baltimore Bullets, 1967) — Long before he became known for playing the role of Moses Hightower in the Police Academy movies and starring in Miller Lite commercials, the 6-foot-7 Smith was an All-American defensive end at Michigan State. His height attracted the attention of the Bullets in the 11th round of the NBA draft, but Smith was the No. 1 overall pick of the NFL Colts and a champion in Super Bowl V.
Other notables in the draft: Earl Monroe (No. 2 overall by Baltimore); Walt Frazier (No. 5 by New York).
BOB BEAMON (Phoenix Suns, 1969) – Who could blame the Suns for taking a flying leap? After all, they were coming off a 16-66 record in their expansion season in the league and Beamon had just shattered the world long jump record by more than a foot at the Mexico City Olympics. Beamon had grown up playing street ball in New York, but was strictly a track and field athlete in college at Texas-El Paso. The Suns picked him in the 15th round of the draft, but he went back to school and graduated with a sociology degree from Adelphi University.
DENISE LONG (San Francisco Warriors, 1969) — The 18 year old out of Union-Whitten High in Iowa was the first woman ever drafted in the NBA, taken in the 13th round. She had averaged 69.6 points and had a single game high of 111 points in her senior year. NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy voided the pick, calling it a publicity stunt by Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli and also noted that high school players weren’t eligible at the time. Mieuli brought Long and other female players in to play before Warriors home games.
Other notables in the draft: Lew Alcindor (No. 1 overall by Milwaukee); JoJo White (No. 9 by Boston); Mack Calvin (187th by L.A. Lakers).
DAVE WINFIELD (Atlanta Hawks, 1973) – It wasn’t just the Hawks who were trying to get their talons on one of the greatest all-around college athletes ever with their fifth-round pick. He was also drafted by the Utah Stars of the ABA and the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL, but went to baseball when the San Diego Padres chose him as a pitcher. In college at Minnesota, Bill Musselman once called him the best rebounder he ever coached. But Winfield did quite well in baseball, a 12-time All-Star with 465 career homers.
Other notables in the draft: Doug Collins (No. 1 overall by Philadelphia); Kermit Washington (No. 5 by L.A. Lakers).
BRUCE JENNER (Kansas City Kings, 1977) — Before face lifts and the Kardashians, there was a time when Jenner was known as the “world’s greatest athlete” after taking the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and the Kings made him a seventh-round draft pick. He never played in college and the closest Jenner ever got to basketball stardom was when he sank a shot during the singing of YMCA in the 1980 movie Can’t Stop the Music, which starred the Village People.
LUSIA HARRIS (New Orleans Jazz, 1977) – Here’s the real forerunner to Griner. A 6-foot-3 pioneer of the women’s game who led Delta State to three consecutive national titles, Harris was the second female ever drafted by an NBA team when the Jazz made her a seventh-round pick. Just imagine the show if she had been given a chance to team up with Pete Maravich in the backcourt. Harris showed little interest in her selection and declined a tryout invitation from the Jazz. It was later revealed that she was pregnant at the time.
Other notables in the draft: Bernard King (No. 7 overall by New York Nets); Jack Sikma (No. 8 by Seattle).
TONY GWYNN (San Diego Clippers, 1981) — After he set the San Diego State assist records for a game, season and career, he was hardly a reach for the Clippers in the 10th round of the draft. Gwynn said that dribbling strengthened his wrists and helped with bat speed and his on-court quickness made him a better base-runner. It all added up to a Hall of Fame baseball career with 3,141 hits and eight N.L. batting titles.
YASUTAKA OKAYAMA (Golden State Warriors,1981) — Tallest player ever drafted by an NBA team? Not Yao Ming or Gheorge Muresan or Manute Bol. Try Okayama, who was 7-foot-8. He earned a second degree black belt in judo in his native Japan and began playing basketball at age 18 at Osaka University of Commerce. Okayama attended the University of Portland (Ore.), but did not play there. He was a member of the Japanese national team from 1979 to 1986. He never signed with the Warriors or attended a camp.
Other notables in the draft: Mark Aguirre (No. 1 overall by Dallas); Isiah Thomas (No. 2 by Detroit).
CARL LEWIS (Chicago Bulls, 1984) — It might have been the year when Michael Jordan earned his first gold medal, but Lewis was definitely the biggest star of the L.A. Olympics, tying Jesse Owens’ record of four track and field gold medals. Though he never played basketball in high school or college, a West Coast scout recommended drafting Lewis in the 10th round because he was “the best athlete available.” That same year the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the 12th round as a wide receiver. Lewis stayed with sprinting and the long jump to become arguably the greatest track and field athlete ever.
Other notables in the draft: Hakeem Olajuwon (No. 1 overall by Houston); Michael Jordan (No. 3 by Chicago); Charles Barkley (No. 5 by Philadelphia); John Stockton (No. 16 by Utah).
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Between the late-game heroics of Monta Ellis in Houston and the all-around, game-long goodness of Steph Curry in New York, it would have been easy to pick either of those games as our one to re-watch this morning. Those two games are definitely worthy of another look, but rather than pick one over the other, we’re going in a different route as we often like to do. Our choice instead is Mavs-Grizzlies from the Grind House in Memphis. It wasn’t as pretty offensively as the Bucks-Rockets or Warriors-Knicks games, that’s for sure, but watching the Grizz go on a franchise-record 24-0 run to climb from a 25-point hole sure was something. We’re a fan of solid big man play around here and the Grizzlies’ combo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were at their best, pounding the Mavs for a combined 43 points and 22 rebounds.
Nash reinventing himself in L.A. — The dreams Lakers fans had of Steve Nash directing the offense, pick-and-rolling teams to death with Dwight Howard and harmoniously fitting in with Kobe Bryant in the backcourt haven’t all come to pass as expected this season. First, there were the early weeks of the season that saw Nash recovering from a leg injury. Nash recovered from a leg injury. Then, once Nash returned, he was the off-guard in L.A. while Bryant put on his best Magic Johnson impression. Now, Nash is finally getting comfortable in his role in Lakerland — although it is far from the one he used to play as point guard for the Phoenix Suns. USA Today’s Sam Amick has more on the changes Nash has gone through:
Two-time MVPs aren’t typically asked to reinvent themselves, but 39-year-old Nash is doing just that for a Lakers team that has seven weeks to salvage its season and avoid the embarrassment of missing the playoffs. At 28-30 — and with those summertime proclamations of league-wide dominance seeming so far away now — they are 2½ games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
And so, Nash — the Picasso of point guards, a masterful orchestrator of offenses — has been asked to change. He plays off the ball, watching Bryant take his old job for long stretches before he’s able to put his old hat on. He does what Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, his friend and longtime coach with the Phoenix Suns, has asked them all to do: sacrifice.Since changing to this counter-intuitive style in a Jan. 25 win against the Utah Jazz, with Nash handling roughly half the playmaking duties he did before and his assist numbers during that time (5.5 a game) barely half his norm over the past eight seasons, the Lakers have won 11 of 16 games.
“His desire to figure out a way to make it work is remarkable,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “He’s always prodding, always making the sacrifice. Yet you have to catch yourself and say, ‘This is a two-time MVP.’ He could certainly say, ‘No, I’m not changing. You’ve got to do it my way.’ How many two-time MVPs are as accommodating as he is?”
This isn’t exactly what Nash and D’Antoni had in mind when they reunited Nov.12 — largely because of the broken left leg Nash suffered Nov. 3 that kept him out for seven weeks. They envisioned Nash as the engine in D’Antoni’s high-octane system, ignoring how an aging team might fare in a system that pushes the accelerator every time out.
Yet Nash insists he’s content with the compromise in large part because this decision was never just about basketball. His agent, Bill Duffy, calls the three-year, $27 million sign-and-trade deal that brought Nash to Los Angeles from Phoenix a “family values contract” because of how Nash bypassed opportunities in Toronto and New York last summer so he could be closer to his three children.
“Ten out of 10 times, I make the same decision again,” Nash told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “I’ve gotten to see my kids probably four times as much as I’d seen them if I’d have gone back East. That’s first and foremost. Second of all, it’s a great experience to play for the Lakers organization. … I’m happy here.
“I’m beyond playing for the credit or the adulation. I feel secure in myself as a player. I just want to help this team, regardless of what it means for me personally.”
“If L.A. wouldn’t have worked, I honestly think he would’ve considered retiring,” Duffy says. “He said that three or four times from July 1 to July 5 (during free agency), and I was saying, ‘If he wants to retire, I have to respect it, but let’s piece this thing together so you can get what you want and continue to play.’ “
“It’s been different. It’s been an adjustment,” Nash says. “But I want to embrace these challenges. I’m at a stage of my career with a new club where I’m playing with Kobe — he’s a great player — and finding that balance and accepting and embracing that opportunity is key. It’d be nice, in some ways, to have a bigger impact on the game. You have to balance it with all the guys, all their needs and personalities. I embrace it.
“I really appreciate it. I could still be in Phoenix and have the ball in my hands the majority of the time and probably be out of the playoffs again, so it’s worthy of trying something new — especially since the upside here is potentially great.”
Red-hot Horford keeps Hawks soaring — As our own Sekou Smithmentioned in Hang Time just a few days ago, the Atlanta Hawks in the post-trade deadline world are operating like the Atlanta Hawks we saw the first two months of the season. Elite-level hoops has returned thanks to the standout play of Al Horford in particular, who burned the Jazz last night with a career-high 34 points (two days after a career-best 22 boards in Detroit), punishing a solid Utah frontline featuring Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors. As the Hawks move into the second half of their six-game road trip (they’re 3-0 thus far), a perfect run is within reach, writes Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
The Hawks led by as many as 20 points and held off a late rally en route to a 102-91 victory over the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.
Al Horford was at the center of the victory as he scored 16 of the Hawks’ 20 fourth-quarter points on the way to a career-high 34 points.
“He was big,” coach Larry Drew said. “We were running plays for him. When the shot wasn’t there he was passing the ball. He got everything within our offense. The guys were doing a good job of finding him. He is really playing at a high level right now. I mean an extremely high level.”
The Hawks (33-23) won their fourth straight and sixth in the past seven games. It was also the fifth straight road victory for the Hawks, who surpassed the 100-point mark in each. The Hawks have won four straight over the Jazz.
Horford continued his torrid streak over the past seven games, scoring over 20 points in each. He added 15 rebounds. Over this stretch of games, Horford is averaging 25.4 points (178), 12.4 rebounds (87) while shooting .681 percent (79-116).
The Hawks sealed the game by opening the third quarter on a 24-12 run to lead by 20 points, 80-60.
“The start of the second half was the bigger of the two,” Josh Smith said of the Hawks’ first- and third-quarter efforts. “We wanted to be able to control the momentum of this building. It’s a hostile environment. They have awesome fans who definitely heckle the visiting team. We knew we were going to receive a big punch in the second half and being able to answer in that third quarter was huge for us.”
The Jazz got to within eight points in the fourth quarter but there was not stopping Horford. He and Smith scored all 20 of the Hawks’ points in the final period.
“It was one of those things where in my mind I was like we’ve built this lead and we’ve worked too hard to give it up,” Horford said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t want to lose so you do whatever you have to do. We just kept fighting. I just kept fighting. I’m proud of my teammates.”
Grizzlies comeback an astounding feat — We gave the “Hang Time Grizzlies” some love above in our recap of the night, but Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has some more interesting tidbits from Memphis’ club-record comeback against Dallas last night:
The Griz tossed aside a 25-point deficit and changed the makings of a lopsided loss with their defense to earn a dramatic 90-84 victory over the Dallas Mavericks before 16,017 fans who still might be wiping their eyes in disbelief.
“Grit, grind, heart, sacrifice I could name 10-15 words (to describe) this,” forward Zach Randolph said after the Grizzlies extended their winning streak to eight games. “It was one of those games.”
A game in which:
• Griz coach Lionel Hollins called time out twice in the first 3 ½ minutes.
• The starters were benched in the first five.
• The Mavs racked up 38 points in the opening period and enjoyed a 51-29 lead with 5:25 left in the second quarter.
• Memphis outscored Dallas 36-4, which included a franchise record 24 unanswered points, during a stretch that bridged the second and third quarters.
• Dallas looked feeble throughout a five-point third quarter — a Memphis franchise-record low for an opponent in any quarter.
“A lot of it was pride,” Griz point guard Mike Conley said. “We felt the grumbling in the stands. We were embarrassed.”
Stotts has Blazers going right direction — After a surprising 20-15 start that had Portland in the thick of the playoff race, the Blazers have gone 6-16 since and are more or less assured of a place in the Draft lottery. But with the emergence of likely Rookie of the Year winner Damian Lillard, as well as the contributions by J.J. Hickson, Wesley Matthews and All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, things are looking somewhat bright in the Rose City. Depth has been a problem for the Blazers all season, but as John Canzano of The Oregonian notes, coach Terry Stotts has Portland headed for a breakthrough sometime soon:
Because the only difference-maker Portland really needs is Terry Stotts. He’s been here all year, and if owner Paul Allen and general manager Neil Olshey get Stotts some depth this summer and add some smart peripheral pieces, I’m convinced he’ll be the Blazers coach who finally breaks through.
Nate McMillan was at his best in 2009-10, overcoming an absurd run of injuries to finish with the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. But Stotts is staying relevant with a roster that was broken from Game 1, refusing to make excuses or join the rest of us in declaring this season done. Stotts lost again Wednesday, this time, 111-109 to a more dangerous, deeper, better NBA team that ran circles around the Blazers but could never quite get away.
Yes, even after a loss, it’s clear that Stotts is doing a terrific job.
This season isn’t headed to the playoffs. Nobody is going to hang a banner commemorating it. But we’re witnessing the finest job of Blazers coaching in more than a decade, and Stotts very nearly pulled it off again against the Nuggets. Forget the playoff teams, forget the teams that won more games, and just look at the lineup and teaching that Stotts used to combat the 48-minute relay-race the Nuggets put on.
Those who have spent time around Stotts this season say he’s a master at compartmentalizing a larger task. He walked into a meeting earlier this season with the Blazers facing a daunting road rip, and according to support staff and players announced, “We have six games in front of us. Let’s break down these six games.”
The coach proceeded to splinter off the games, making each stand alone. By the time he was finished talking, nobody was focused on the road trip. Everyone was locked onto what it was going to take to win a single game, the first one.
“I’m doing a different kind of teaching now,” Stotts said. “The stuff I was doing early was more about getting people to understand what we wanted. Now, we’re taking that further, and focusing on the next level.”
Former NBA center Greg Oden will not decide on his next team until July, sources close to the situation told FOX Sports Ohio.
Oden’s agent, Mike ConleySr., has said Oden is 100 percent and could become a future All-Star.
Oden, 25, is currently taking classes at Ohio State — the school he led to the NCAA title game in 2007, when it lost to Florida. The Trail Blazers drafted the 7-footer one spot ahead of Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant.
Sources told FSO earlier this month that Oden was leaning heavily toward signing with the Cavs. However, no commitment has been reached by other side.
“We’ll see,” Cavs general manager Chris Grant said last week. “We’ll still talk to them and see what their position is and see what his goals are. Just like any other free agent, if something happens that makes sense, we’ll do it.
“If not, that’s OK. Who knows? From our standpoint, we have no idea.”
Howard surprises a few fans — Lakers fans are a pretty loyal bunch, especially in California. So when fans were presented with the opportunity to show off their team gear at an adidas photo booth in L.A., throngs of them showed up. None of them knew, however, that Dwight Howard (and adidas pitchman) would be there, too (H/T Pro Basketball Talk):
There can be hope and there can be skepticism expressed with a dismissive tone, and there can be sympathy for unrealized potential coupled with years of physical pain of a body haunted. But not surprise. There can be no surprise.
Greg Oden was always looking at a 2013-14 comeback, as reported last summer, and teams were always going to be interested in a very real way. He remained that intriguing. One general manager said last season, as Oden was sitting out with the latest in the cruel string of knee injuries, that the former No. 1 pick would be a “mid-level type player” as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2012 and “There’s no question he’ll get offers,” while another GM noted that “You could go down the list of teams. A lot of people don’t have as good a starting center as good as him if he comes back healthy.”
Everything changed when it was announced in February that Oden would undergo a third microfracture surgery, essentially ending his 2012-13 before it started, and the Trail Blazers finally gave into exhaustion and waived him in March to clear a roster spot needed to complete a trade. He instantly became an unrestricted free agent, with a longer comeback than ever.
But most of the league still tracked medical updates, with the understanding the plan all along was to return to Ohio State to take classes and rehab for 2013-14. That’s the thing. Front offices were not mocking Greg Oden at 25 years old even if others were. (Which may be the greatest statement of how much they thought he could have changed the game when he came into the league in 2007. Without being able to get close to that projected level of impact, with the five knee surgeries, without having played since December 2009, a lot of people still believed in 2013 that Oden could still deliver a defensive presence.)
Now comes news, via Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, that the Cavaliers may make the investment. Cleveland is expected to offer Oden a contract for the remainder of this season and all of next plus 2014-15 at a team option, Lloyd reports, depending on how much of the current $4 million cap space it has left after the Feb. 21 trade deadline.
“Greg has been up there (to Cleveland) before and he’ll probably be up there again in an official capacity,” Mike Conley Sr., Oden’s agent, told the Beacon Journal.
There was no mention of the price range the Cavaliers were considering, but it obviously wouldn’t be that “mid-level type” anymore. Maybe it is somewhere around the minimum. Maybe the deal would include several incentive clauses that could mean big pay bumps based on games or minutes or time on the roster.
But paying him just to be on the roster this season, without expectation Oden would play, plus committing to next season despite the uncertain availability plus the 2014-15 tab that could include a buyout if the Cavaliers don’t pick up the option is an aggressive move even if the financial investment is low risk. Cleveland wants him off the market. Cleveland still believes he can make an impact, knees willing. Cleveland is not alone.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: That big, annual pro football championship game (I think it’s called the Super Bowl, right?) last night ensured no other games of note took place before the 6:30 ET kickoff. That said, there were only three games on Sunday (all matinees), so our pick of the day goes to Clippers-Celtics. Boston isn’t exactly crying itself to sleep after losing Rajon Rondo for the season as it has gone 4-0 in the Rondo-less stage of the season. Paul Pierce showed of his “Truth-iness” to the Clips — Matt Barnes got a good look in particular — by nailing the game-sealing step-back 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left over Barnes to halt L.A.’s hopes of a last-minute comeback win.
Howard won’t rush back — Dwight Howard sat out Sunday afternoon’s game in Detroit because of lingering pain in his right shoulder due to his torn labrum. He continues to take a day-by-day approach to his availability for the Lakers, but told the Orange County Register’s Kevin Ding he’s not going to hurry back just to get hurt again:
“It feels a little bit better, but still sore,” Howard said Sunday. “Certain movements hurt, and I don’t want to go there in any pain or go out there thinking about it too much.”
Howard aggravated the torn labrum Wednesday in Phoenix. It wasn’t the first time, and the pain fades after each aggravation, but Howard remains leery of another incident.
“It’s still not there yet,” he said. “I’m not going to try to rush myself back and have the possibility of hurting it again. There’s no need for that.”
Howard had a platelet-rich plasma injection into the shoulder Saturday. That treatment isn’t expected to provide immediate relief, but Howard’s shoulder has naturally felt better in days after each aggravation. The tear isn’t going to go away whether he takes a game, a week or the rest of the season off.
“Me and Kobe play two different positions,” Howard said. “The position I play, I use a lot of force coming up — whether that’s going up for a dunk or a shot. Hook shots, all that stuff, is this motion right here. It’s a lot of that. Playing in the post is doing this a lot.
“All that stuff, you need your shoulder stable for it. It’s a little bit different than, I would say, a guard position. You’ve got guys 260-270 you’re holding off. You’ve got to be really strong in your shoulder and all that stuff.”
Howard said it hurts him raising his arm up and especially backwards: “A lot of movements I’d be doing in games, trying to block shots, stuff like that.” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni acknowledged that Howard should try to work on not bringing the ball down so low under the basket, which is how opponents have hurt the shoulder repeatedly. Howard said he needs to be in a “stable” position to decrease the chance for aggravation.
D’Antoni said previously this seven-game trip will be the “telling tale” of the Lakers’ season. About Howard not playing Sunday, the third game of a previously 1-1 trip, D’Antoni said it was “his call.” About the labrum tear, D’Antoni said: “It’s not going to go away.”
Where have all the Pistons fans gone? — In the annals of NBA history, one of the more underrated Finals matchups — in terms of on-court play, dislike of each other’s city and so forth — has to be Pistons vs. Lakers. Three Finals matchups (with the Pistons taking two of those) will create some animosity toward each other, but that’s not the case now. As Terry Foster of The Detroit News points out, there were more Kobe Bryant and Lakers fans in yesterday’s Lakers-Pistons matinee at The Palace at Auburn Hills than there were Pistons fans:
We saw another shameful performance at The Palace on Sunday. This time, it didn’t come from the Pistons, who actually played with spirit and nearly stole a game from the resurgent Los Angeles Lakers.We witnessed the annual migration of Kobe Bryant lovers who wore his jersey and cheered his every move. Thanks to Pistons guard Will Bynum it was not a total sham. He ignited the Pistons and even turned Lakers fans into Pistons blue.
Let’s talk about the real losers. They are Pistons fans who turned The Palace into Staples Center East, the Lakers’ home away from home. Many came dressed in Lakers gold and purple and they cheered as loudly for Bryant as anything the Pistons did for much of the game. There were banners and signs for Bryant but few for the Pistons.
I don’t know what ignited the crowd more. Was it the Earl Clark dunk off a Bryant inbounds pass to end the first half? Or was it when Bryant dunked over Brandon Knight and stared at the crowd?
This was a repeat of a few weeks ago when LeBron James came to town for loud cheers. People wore James jerseys and cheered a man this town once said it hated. It wasn’t always this way but the passion for the Pistons changed over the years.
Michael Jordan used to get booed in this building. People hated him and his Picasso-looking sidekick Scottie Pippen. But later in his career, even after Jordan destroyed the two-time champion Bad Boys and said they were bad for basketball, Jordan was forgiven and lauded.
James swept the Pistons in the 2009 playoffs and Piston fans sent him off to “MVP” chants after he scored 36 points against the home team. Even when the Pistons beat Bryant and the Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals he refused to credit the Pistons for his subpar series.
So why do you cheer a guy like this?
Celtics meet with Oden — It’s been a rough week or so in Boston, what with Rajon Rondo lost for the season and, then, rookie big man Jared Sullinger (back) out now, too. Sullinger’s agent, David Falk, says his client having surgery now is the best thing for the Celtics’ long-term plans … but that doesn’t make Boston fans feel better today. What might, though, is the notion of former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden in Celtic green. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the details on both Sullinger’s future and the prospect of Oden:
Sullinger was flagged with back issues during an NBA pre-draft examination, causing him to drop to the Celtics with the 21st overall pick. Falk said Sullinger’s condition was corrected with Friday’s surgery, and he is expected to return to basketball activities in six months.
Sullinger was examined twice by a back specialist in Philadelphia prior to the draft.
“The Celtics knew when they drafted him there was a certain level of risk that required surgery, as did several other teams,” said Falk. “Some teams treated it like he was going to have a heart attack or something. [The Celtics’] Brian McKeon is one of the most confident team doctors I’ve ever dealt with. There were so secrets, nobody was trying to hide any facts. There was a possibility that he could require surgery, but the recovery time is less than an ACL.”
Falk said the Celtics could have delayed the surgery by giving Sullinger anti-inflammatories and treatment, but wanted to take the safer approach.
“Jared’s 20 years old, to try to take a short-term risk could jeopardize his career long term. Having surgery was the most appropriate response,” Falk said. “Had he tried to continue to play and aggravate it six or eight weeks down the road, he would have missed the playoffs and the start of the season. It was a calculated decision.”
The Celtics met Saturday with free agent center Greg Oden at their training facility in Waltham. Oden, who has not played since December 2009 because of recurring knee problems, is expected to return to the NBA next season. He met with coach Doc Rivers, who said the two talked about Oden’s AAU days with the Indy Heat, a team that also featured Josh McRoberts, Mike Conley, and Daequan Cook.
“I said hi to him,” said Rivers. “We reminisced about high school days when I watched him on AAU.”
The Celtics have no expiring contracts, so they would likely need to create a salary slot for Oden, who is expected to sign for more than the veteran’s minimum.
Raptors fans never forget — Like Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady before him, Chris Bosh is learning just how good Raptors fans are at holding a grudge. Bosh left Toronto as a free agent in the summer of 2010 to join forces with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami and Raptors fans haven’t let Bosh forget it. The same greeting was routinely cast upon Carter and McGrady, both ex-Raptors, on their returns to Toronto for many years after their respective departures. Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more:
It’s been nearly three years since Bosh decided to leave Toronto, yet the sting remains for the fans. They booed him every time he touched the ball despite this being Bosh’s fourth return to face his former team.
“Yeah, I’m a little surprised,” Bosh said. “They (fans) pay their money. They can do what they want. I hope they just remember the good times.”
Bosh said the jeers served as his motivation, especially in the second half when he scored 22 of his 28 points.
“I was hearing a lot from the fans,” Bosh said. “I thank them for continuing to stay on me and calling me names. That helped my focus a lot. I was like, `I need to get in this game to shut them up.”‘
Roy pondering his future — The injury bug has been frequent visitor to the Timberwolves, who have seen Brandon Roy, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved (among others) miss valuable time this season. In the case of Roy, who hasn’t played since a 14-minute stint on Nov. 9, the prospects of a return are unclear. He’s still rehabbing after having knee surgery and the process of getting better has left Roy wondering what to do next if his comeback attempt fails. Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com has the details:
The plan for the Minnesota Timberwolves guard was to make his return to action Feb. 1 against the Los Angles Lakers at Target Center, after having two successful workout days. After that, he would join the team for practices leading up to the game.
Friday’s session went as planned. Saturday’s didn’t.
While performing a move in the first 20 minutes of the workout, he felt something in his right knee that he has felt far too often. He tweaked it, eliminating any possibility of him returning to action before the All-Star break.
“As soon as it happened, in my head, I said ‘I quit. I just quit,” an emotional Roy told CSNNW.com. “That was my first thought, that I couldn’t do this anymore.
“I’m at a crossroad in my career.”
He’s certain that if he can’t get right this season, it will be the end of his career. And he’s fine with that.
“I look at it like this has got to be the last season,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets because I know I tried to give it another season. So me saying this has to be the last season, it’s not as difficult as it was last year. I tried. I gave it that last effort and it’s time to move on. I’m at that range to where I’m at peace with things.”
After attempting this comeback and giving it his all, he realized that he has more to offer than just his physical talents. Roy’s game wasn’t predicated on beating defenders off the dribble or blowing by them with his speed. He was a thinker on the court who knew how to make plays without being the most athletic player in the world.
It took some time for Roy to find himself beyond playing basketball, but he says that thanks to prayer, family and friends, he has received a new calling.
Post-playing career, I now introduce you to Coach Roy.
“Now, I think there’s something in me that I can offer to basketball. There’s a message that I can bring to basketball. I wasn’t the fastest, the highest jumper, but my knowledge of the game helped me be an effective player at a high level,” Roy said. “Coaching at the NBA level is where I see myself. If this season is it for me, I’m not staying away from basketball. I would want to get in as soon as possible.”
On the Trail Blazers’ bench?
“Maybe one day,” he said. “My knowledge of the game and understanding of chemistry, I think that stuff, I can offer. These young kids today are good, but they lack those things.”
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
Rondo seeking second opinion on ACL — A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com reports that Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who was found to have a torn ACL on Sunday, will meet with several other doctors — including the famed Dr. James Andrews — as well as players from other sports to get a second opinion on the severity and recovery process from his injury:
“He (Dr. Andrews) is one that we’re definitely considering,” Rondo’s agent Bill Duffy, told CSNNE.com. “If he’s No. 1, there’s a couple 1As and 1Bs we’re looking at as well.”
Duffy said the second opinion on Rondo’s knee will not be made for at least another four or five days in order to allow the swelling to go down.
In addition, Duffy said they are in the process of setting up meetings with other athletes who have had similar injuries.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is among those that Rondo’s camp hopes to speak with very soon.
Peterson suffered a torn left ACL and MCL injury on Christmas Eve in 2011, and was back on the field for the season opener in September – less than nine months after the injury.
Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose suffered a torn left ACL injury during the first round of the playoffs against Philadelphia on April 28th last year, with his return likely to be shortly after the all-star break next month.
Duffy said Rondo’s trying to be as positive as he can about his injury.
“He’s distraught but he understands what he has to do,” Duffy said. “We have to have him channel all that energy into getting stronger and healthy as soon as possible.”
“I’m a competitor, I’m a guy that thinks I bring a lot to the table, and not being on the floor is something that I don’t like, I don’t appreciate,” Gasol said.
Gasol had seven points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 21 minutes as the Lakers built an 83-73 lead through the first three quarters.
“It’s a challenge,” Gasol said when asked about toeing the line and accepting D’Antoni’s decision so that he doesn’t take away from the team while still defending his personal ability. “We’re challenged every day, and I’m challenged every day to keep my calm and keep my peace and not let my emotions take over my words.”
Speaking out after a win against the Hornets might seem like poor timing from Gasol, but even while begrudgingly accepting a bench role, he stated his desire to continue to play in crunch time.
“I think the finishing is more important (than starting),” Gasol said recently. “I think the best players should finish off games. That’s just the way it’s got to be. When the game is on the line, you want to be on the floor. That’s more important.”
It was the same sentiment that led Gasol to be upset Tuesday.
“It’s fun to win but when a team comes back on you the way the Hornets did tonight and you are not there as a high-quality player and as a competitor, it’s frustrating,” Gasol said.
Aldridge always happy to see Dallas — Not surprisingly, LaMarcus Aldridge‘s phone was blowing up after his game-winning turnaround shot to sink the Mavs last night. What’s interesting, as The Columbian’s Candace Buckner points out, is that the former prep and college standout from Texas seems to particularly enjoy tormenting his hometown team:
LaMarcus Aldridge, a Dallas native, saved his best to down his hometown team, hitting the game-winning jump shot as time expired for the Trail Blazers’ 106-104 victory.
With a well-executed inbounds play, a flick of the wrist and a perfect jump shot, the Blazers (23-22) shook off a large second-half deficit after the Mavericks pulled ahead by 21 points. So by the time Aldridge returned to the Blazers locker room, his phone had over 20 messages on it. Just a glance and he could tell that his mother, Georgia, was about to make his cell phone battery die.
“She’s watching (the game),” said Aldridge, who finished with a game-high 29 points and also contributed 13 rebounds. “She texted me like five or six times.”
The family celebrated, the 18,888 in the Rose Garden rejoiced and even Aldridge – who so often just describes this whole NBA thing as a “job” – beamed broadly as teammates bum rushed him near the Dallas bench.
“He was smiling like a rookie after his first NBA game,” Nicolas Batum said, describing Aldridge.
He seems to be happiest devastating the hometown team.
Last April at the American Airlines Arena, Aldridge carried the Blazers to the 99-97 victory over the Mavericks with a step-back jumper at the buzzer. Then, Terry Stotts watched from the other sideline as a Dallas assistant coach. Surely, from Stotts’ perspective, this Aldridge game-winner felt a bit better.
“People can think what they want to think, but LaMarcus, there’s no question in my mind that he’s an All-Star,” Stotts said. “He didn’t have to make that shot to prove he’s an All-Star. He proves it every night.”
He also happens to prove it whenever he plays against Dallas.
Aldridge scores 21.2 points per game against the Mavericks, according to basketball-reference.com and the figure ranks as second highest in his career against any NBA team. Through the last four games versus Dallas, Aldridge has averaged 26.7 points and 11 rebounds.
Oden wants back in NBA; Cavs next? — Former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden is readying himself for an NBA return and the Heat and Cavs are reportedly on the top of his destination list. How likely is it he’ll be a Cav? Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer digs in:
Former Ohio State star Greg Oden is confident he will return to the NBA after his many knee injuries, but he would not venture a guess about whether he’ll wind up in Cleveland.
“I’m worried about the knee,” he told The Plain Dealer when asked if the Cavs could be a destination for him. “That’s it.”
Oden was in Columbus to take in the Buckeyes’ 58-49 victory over Wisconsin. He has been living in Columbus and taking classes, but he said now that he’s working out in his hometown of Indianapolis and splitting time between the cities.
Asked if he was playing at all, Oden said, “I’m just getting my knee ready so when things do happen I’ll be ready to play next year.
“I’m still in the rehab process, but I’m it taking slow. I could possibly be playing at this point, but I’ve done that before and I got injured before, so I’d rather take everything I am doing slow. Right now I’m just doing strength stuff with my knees.”
He said he was confident he would return to the NBA.
“I like how my knee is going, the way it’s going,” he said. “I still like the time I’m taking, just to make sure nothing happens. You can’t predict the future. But if it doesn’t happen, I’m happy.”
Stuckey, Frank mend fences — Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey and coach Lawrence Frank have had a touch-and-go relationship the last few days. But Terry Foster of the Detroit News reports that’s all behind both men now:
There’s peace again at The Palace. That’s if you believe Pistons coach Lawrence Frank and reserve guard Rodney Stuckey.
Frank ended the one-game benching of Stuckey in time for Tuesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Palace. But Stuckey was a non-factor during the Pistons’ 117-90 blowout loss to the Bucks at The Palace. He played 27 minutes and finished with just seven points.
Stuckey admitted the men clashed before the Pistons’ game Sunday in Orlando. Frank punished Stuckey by benching him for that game and refused to tell the media why. Frank was mostly close-mouthed again but he equated to a family squabble.
“Things happen every single day,” Frank said. “You deal with it and you move on. There are no grudges. Made a decision and we move on today. During the course of the season you are going to have a bunch of disagreements.”
Neither man would say what happened but it is believed they had a disagreement during practice.
Jazz corner market on youth?– The West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder often get a lot of credit for the way their youthful, lottery-picked duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has helped them develop into a contender. But you’d likely be surprised to learn that the Thunder don’t have the most under-25 ex-lottery picks on their roster. According to Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News, that honor belongs to Utah:
Remember the NBA list of the 50 greatest players ever that came out about 15 years ago? Of those 50 players, all but a handful were top-10 selections and 32 of them were top-5 picks. Of the players who have played since that list came out, those that would be considered among the all-time greats — James, Duncan, Kevin Durant — most have been high draft picks.
That brings us to the Utah Jazz.
While five teams have more total lottery picks on their rosters (New York has the most with nine, but four are 38 years or older), no team has more under the age of 25. And the Jazz has the most under the age of 22 with Gordon Hayward (22), Derrick Favors (21), Alec Burks (21) and Enes Kanter (20).
One of the teams closest to the Jazz in terms of young, high lottery picks is Wednesday night’s opponent, New Orleans, which has three under the age of 22 in 19-year-old Anthony Davis, 20-year-old Austin Rivers and 22-year-old Al-Farouq Aminu.
Other teams with three lottery picks under age 22 include Washington (John Wall, Bradley Beal, Jan Vesely), Charlotte (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Bismarck Biyombo) and Cleveland (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson).
Walton takes on mentoring role — Ex-Laker Luke Walton wasn’t sure what his role would be when he was traded to the Cavs at last season’s trade deadline. But it’s become clear that the one-time starter in L.A. is embracing his role as a coach of sorts for Cleveland’s young big men Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller, writes Stephen Brotherson of HoopsWorld.com:
“At the beginning of the year, the coaches [told] me, you got to [help Thompson and Zeller],” Walton said. “So I knew that was going to be part of my role this year whether it was while I was playing or while I was not playing. I had a lot of good vets that had taught me a lot about this game, so when I am out there playing with these young talented big guys, if I see something that they are doing or I see something that would be more effective for them during a timeout, I will let them know or if we are in the game together, I will try to point it out so we can do it because if we do it in a game, it will reinforce it. They are both such great kids. They want to learn. They want to get better. It has been a lot of fun doing that.”
Thompson and Zeller have enjoyed playing with Walton this season. The veteran has been showing them how to be a facilitator and setting them up when they get open.
“[Walton is] fun,” Zeller said. “You know he is going to find you if you are open and he can make a lot of great plays. We have a lot of confidence in him that he can score, pass and defend. He is really a great all-around player.”
“He is a great passer,” Thompson said. “He keeps the offense flowing. He sees the court. He might not be the most athletic big guy or the tallest guy, but he is so smart that he knows where the ball needs to go, what works and what doesn’t work. We are blessed to have him on our team.”
“It’s awesome,” Walton said. “Obviously losing is very hard, but just being back out there on the court and being able to help some younger players, now having the opportunity to play again and play the way basketball is meant to be played with sharing the ball and passing, I am having a blast right now.”
ICYMI of the night: Before we all get a little too excited over the Lakers’ three-game win streak, let’s not forget there are still more kinks to work out … as this play below illustrates:
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In print, at least, Mike Conley‘s stats — 13.3 ppg and 6.2 apg — don’t leap off the page like one of Russell Westbrook‘s springboard jumpers or a Chris Paul halfcourt alley-oop.
“Let me ask you this here,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins propositioned: “Does being a good point guard, is it only determined by numbers?
“I mean there’s some guys that score a lot of points because that’s their role. There are some guys that get a lot of assists because they have the ball and that’s all they do. But you know, its organizing your team, facilitating the ball. A lot of times Mike Conley will do what he’s supposed to do and throw it into Marc Gasol and Gasol throws the ball for the assist. But he’s done his job. He defends, he gets steals. I think he’s a very good point guard.”
Frankly, so do we.
And, by the way, so does Conley, who is in his sixth season as Memphis’ starting point guard. Season by season, the 6-foot-1 former Ohio State teammate of Greg Oden steadily improves his game. He’s having another fine year, leading the Grizzlies to a 24-11 record and the No. 4 spot in the West heading into tonight’s home showdown against Paul’s Clippers (8 ET, League Pass).
“I do, I do feel like that,” Conley said when asked if he deserves mention among the top point guards, a group that Paul has taken over as the inarguable No. 1. “I think I’ve played well against a lot of the big-time guys and continue to keep getting better each year. But I can’t worry about what people say or if people overlook me. I’ve always been a guy that just goes out there and plays ball and lets everything else take care of itself.”
Paul will be heading to a most-deserving sixth All-Star Game next month, likely as the starting point guard. Fan voting ends tonight and Paul, at last count on Jan. 3, trailed only Kobe Bryant in votes among Western Conference guards. Conley, on the other hand, didn’t register in the top 10. If third-place vote-getter Jeremy Lin, some 46,000 votes behind CP3, makes a late push to get in as the starter, then Paul will be first on the list of seven reserves selected by the coaches (who can’t pick players on their own teams).
Conley would love to make his first All-Star team, but the odds are stacked against him. Deserving talents like Westbrook, James Harden and Tony Parker are likely to be locks, with Stephen Curry and even rookie Damian Lillard making a push, too.
Conley continues to quietly get the job done on both ends of the floor. He ranks second in steals behind Paul and is very close to averaging more steals per game than turnovers (2.38 to 2.59), a rare occurrence that only Paul (2.62 to 2.14) can claim. Conley is also second behind Paul in steals-to-fouls ratio, meaning he stays in front of his man, defends and makes steals far more than he hacks.
With O.J. Mayo in Dallas, Conley has responded to becoming the Grizzlies’ primary 3-point shooter when defenses collapse on post men Zach Randolph and Gasol byshooting the 3-ball at a career-best 38.0-percent clip while on pace to launch about 70 more 3s than in any other season.
“He’s having a really good year,” teammate Rudy Gay said. “The fact that he keeps all of us together, that says a lot about him. We’ve got four other totally different people, all aggressive, all playmakers and scorers, yet he still finds a way to make everybody effective.”
About a year ago, Hollins said his main complaint with Conley is that he can be too unselfish and not aggressive enough in creating his own shot. It’s exactly the area Conley, who could stand to sharpen his overall shooting percentage of 41.6 percent, said he’s improved the most this season.
“Just overall I have a better feel for the game as a point guard, knowing when to be aggressive offensively, knowing when it’s my time or time to get other guys the ball,” Conley said. “That’s really helped me to gauge my game, but also helps my teammates out in a much better way as a point guard.”
As far as a first All-Star appearance goes, Hollins probably has the right concept when it comes to Conley: “It’s not the individual stars as much as it is about your team being a cohesive unit that plays together.”
Now comes word from ESPN.com Brian Windhorst (who reported the first Heat-Oden dalliance) that the ex-Blazers big man is eyeing a return, but not until the 2013-14 season:
Sources told ESPN.com that multiple teams have already expressed interest in signing Oden to a multi-year deal before the end of this season that would allow him to continue his rehab until he can get back on the court in training camp next fall.
The Miami Heat are at the front of the line in pursuing Oden, two sources said, and have been keeping tabs as he recovers while also taking classes at Ohio State.
Sources say that the Heat, though, are not alone in their pursuit of the former No. 1 overall pick.
The Heat potentially could have two roster spots available this season, one of which Oden could slide into as he continues to rehab. Team president Pat Riley is known to like gambling on long shots, especially when it comes to big men.
Don’t get too excited yet, though, Miami fans. There are some cap-related hurdles which could keep Oden from joining Miami’s star-studded (and defending-champion) cast of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the near future.
One concern for the Heat, though, is they already are committed to more than $80 million in salaries for next season and very likely will have a final payroll coming close to $90 million in a year when the new, more harsh luxury tax kicks in. Oden would potentially be a costly gamble even on a minimum-level contract. The Heat are also currently about $14 million over the luxury-tax line for this season.
In attempting another comeback, Oden’s camp is planning to take a very conservative approach. So the plan is for him to sit out the rest of this season and summer league to make sure he allows himself the best chance of finally getting healthy.
The Heat, who have been on the lookout for a center for three years, were interested in Oden before the start of last season when he was a restricted free agent. But he ended up taking a one-year, $8.9 million deal with the Blazers. After a setback in his recovery, the contract was reduced to $1.5 million and he later had the microfracture procedure.
It’s a gamble for the Heat if this all works out, given that Oden has never played in a full season (his healthiest campaign was a 61-game effort in 2008-09). Still, if Oden is fully recovered — and given the talent he showed in his collegiate days at Ohio State — his landing in Miami (or elsewhere) could be the steal of the offseason.