Posts Tagged ‘Hornets’

Morning shootaround — Dec. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sacramento fires Mike Malone | Kobe more like Mike than ever | Stephenson on the move already? | Cavs getting healthy at the right time

No. 1: Sacramento fires Mike Malone — Christmas promises to be interesting in Sacramento, where the coaching search is on now that Mike Malone has been fired and replaced by Ty Corbin just 24 games into this season. The production on the floor (11-13) apparently did not meet the internal expectations for a team that was trying to dig its way out of the lottery mix in the Western Conference. TNT and NBA.com’s very own David Aldridge provides some context:

The Kings, 11-13 and losers of eight of their last 10 games, had high expectations of making the playoffs this season, having signed free agent point guard Darren Collison last summer, giving forward Rudy Gay a contract extension and building around Cousins, who got a max deal from owner Vivek Ranadive last summer. Ranadive and management believed Sacramento could compete now for a playoff berth.

Sacramento got off to a good start this season. But after Cousins came down with the ailment late last month, the Kings slumped. They are currently a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the west.

Sources indicated management was not happy with the team’s style of play or the direction of the team under Malone, who was hired in 2013 and went 28-54 in his first season.

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No. 2: Kobe more like Mike than ever — The pursuit of Michael Jordan, at least on the all-time scoring list, is over for Kobe Bryant. He handled that business Sunday in Minnesota, pushing past MJ for third on the list with a 26-point outing in a win over the Timberwolves. After years of fighting the comparisons, Kobe is looking more like Mike than ever, so says Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times:

It wasn’t as climactic as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook to make him the league’s all-time scoring leader. It wasn’t as uncontroversial as Karl Malone’s steady stroll to second on the list, one pick-and-roll at a time.

It wasn’t even guaranteed to be the biggest Bryant news event of the past week, his “soft like Charmin” rant at practice taking plenty of spins in the national sports cycle a few days earlier.

But it finally happened, 1,269 regular-season games into a career that began with a trade, Charlotte to Los Angeles, and filled with individual visions of topping Jordan in championships and accolades.

“He knows how much I’ve learned from him, from the other legends, and him in particular,” Bryant said after dunking his feet into his postgame ice bath. “That’s the most important thing to me, I think, is playing for the respect of the greats and feeling like I’m a part of that culture, part of that brotherhood.”

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No. 3: Hornets’ Stephenson on the move? — Independence day for NBA teams eager to fix free agent mistakes has come. Today marks the fist day teams can move players signed to new contracts over the summer. And the player whose name has surfaced prominently in those discussions is Lance Stephenson. The Hornets’ swingman could be on the move, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, who reports that the Hornets are exploring all of their options:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Hornets, just 23 games into the Stephenson era, have already begun the process of searching for potential trade partners that would be willing to take the talented but enigmatic former Indiana Pacer off their‎ hands.

Although sources say no deal involving Stephenson is imminent, Monday is the first day that players signed to new contracts in July are eligible to be dealt, which typically triggers what teams leaguewide regard as “trade season” over the next two months leading into the annual February trade deadline.

One factor that could ultimately lead to a deal, despite Stephenson’s ragged and discouraging start, is the fact that the three-year, $27 million deal he received over the summer from Charlotte owner Michael Jordan is only guaranteed through next season. The third year of the deal is not guaranteed, which theoretically enhances Charlotte’s chances of finding another team willing to gamble ‎on the mercurial swingman.

Sources say that the Hornets are not in a move-him-at-all-costs mode with Stephenson but made it clear that Charlotte is ready now to abandon the experiment if a palatable deal presents itself.

Stephenson has quickly proved to be a poor fit alongside the Hornets’ established core twosome of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, shooting 38.9 percent from the floor overall and 8-for-48 percent on 3-pointers during Charlotte’s 6-17 start.

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No. 4: Cavaliers getting healthy at the right time — The Cleveland Cavaliers are getting better and better, literally. They are getting healthy at just the right time. The Christmas rush is upon us all and this is important a time for contenders as any in the early part of the NBA season. The Cavaliers struggled with different injuries, bumps and bruises to kick off this season. But now they are on the mend and ready to chase that top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, writes Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

All but one player fully participated in Sunday’s practice. LeBron James — having missed the Oklahoma City game Thursday with a sore left knee — said he went through the entire practice with the exception of the final drill.

Coach David Blatt pulled him out of that as a precaution.

“It’s OK,” James said of his knee after practice. “It responded well to the flight back home so I’m happy about that. I’ll get my treatment tonight and get my treatment tomorrow [before] the game.”

Guard Dion Waiters participated in Sunday’s practice, but Matthew Dellavedova wasn’t ready. He was relegated to light shooting and movement drills. On Friday, both players became ill in New Orleans and were held overnight for tests.

Waiters had abdominal pain and Dellavedova an extreme case of vomiting.

“We don’t know whether it was a virus or food poisoning,” Blatt said. “But the effect of it we know, and it was not pretty.”

The team is listing Dellavedova as questionable for Monday’s home game against Charlotte.

Mike Miller is close to returning to action after sustaining a concussion during the road win over the Knicks on Dec. 4. He is in the fourth of five stages in the league’s concussion recovery protocol.

“We were able to get him out there today for some 3-on-3 here after practice,” Blatt said. “And tomorrow we’ll evaluate his response to that and know where to go for the next step.”

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SOME RANDOM LINKS: Kevin McHale has nothing but love for Trevor Ariza … The Wizards are as good as they’ve been in a decade, in so many ways … Warriors needed overtime for Sweet 16 … Tobias Harris has emerged as the Magic’s go-to-guy …  Chris Bosh calf injury is latest blow for injury-riddled Miami HeatDerek Fisher says Knicks players are more focused on the future than this season? … Steve Kerr says the Warriors are not chasing a 72-win season …

Hornets, Walker reportedly reach deal

The Hornets continued to spend, and to build on the momentum of last season, by reportedly agreeing with point guard Kemba Walker on a four-year extension worth $48 million, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com.

Walker averaged 17.7 points and 6.1 assists last season as a key part of Charlotte’s rise in the Eastern Conference. He is just 24 years old, another appeal for the Hornets.

The payout comes about 3 1/2 months after Charlotte spent $27 million over three years for Lance Stephenson to play small forward (after signing Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $63-million offer sheet the Jazz matched) and 15 months after committing three years and $40.5 million on center Al Jefferson.

Hang Time Road Trip: First stop, Cleveland

HANGTIME_PASSENGER

By Sekou Smith

CLEVELAND – At least Mother Nature has a sense of humor.

On the eve of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio’s favorite son’s first official game back in town, she greeted everyone with extremely chilly temperatures (somewhere just north of 40 degrees according to a digital reading on a bank clock downtown) this morning.

Welcome home, LeBron James … you’re not in South Beach anymore.

James traded Miami’s sizzle for the comforts of home and will take the court with the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the exhibition opener at Quicken Loans Arena tonight (6 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

And the Hang Time Podcast crew will be there to witness the return.

It’s the first leg of the Hang Time Road Trip, a six-day, seven-city NBA training camp odyssey road trip that will take us from the heart of what could be the toughest division in all of basketball this season (Cleveland, Chicago and Indiana at the top of the Central Division) to Philadelphia and New York, where rebuilding projects are in full swing, and down the East Coast and parts unknown (we’ll surprise you) before the bus heads back to our Atlanta headquarters next weekend.

We’ll sprinkle in some of the usual fun and craziness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast, but our mission is hoops. And there is no better place to kick things off than here in Cleveland, where hope has been restored after one of the greatest summer franchise flips in NBA history.

We’re going to dig in and find out exactly what it’s going to take for LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to turn things around immediately in this city that has missed its homegrown “King” terribly the past four years.

On Monday we’re going to investigate the situation in Chicago and see if Derrick Rose really is ready to resume his MVP ways, if Pau Gasol fits as well on the court as he does in theory and if all that we saw from Joakim Noah and the rest of that stout Bulls outfit did without Rose and Gasol is still there.

Tuesday we’ll visit the Pacers — yes, they still have our attention, despite a rough summer that saw them lose both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency) from the team that won the Central Division with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season. Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t do panic. Neither does his coach, Frank Vogel, who has been unabashed in his belief that David West and Roy Hibbert will keep this team among the division and conference elite.

We will head East from there for Philadelphia, where Nerlens Noel‘s first season on the court signals the promise of what could be for a Sixers’ franchise in need of something to believe beyond just the promise of the future.

In New York, we’ll shine a light on the Knicks and see if Carmelo Anthony‘s right in his assessment of his revamped team — ‘Melo swears these Knicks are playoff bound … we’d love to hear what Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher have to say about it.

With so much real estate between New York and Atlanta, we’re bound to stumble upon an interesting situation or two on the ride home. But we’ll save something for the imagination. We’re keeping our options open and will make sure we deliver the hoops, hijinks and hilariousness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast.

In the meantime, we’ll focus our attention on the LeBron, Love and Kyrie and these Cavaliers.

First impressions, even in an exhibition setting, are everything.

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Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.


VIDEO: Sekou Smith is ready to go in Cleveland

Summer Dreaming: First-time All-Stars

The regular season will only be a few weeks old when the ballots will go out for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game. Most of the voters won’t even have to think about the first handful of names they’ll fill in:

LeBron James. Carmelo Anthony. Kevin Durant. Kobe Bryant.

Everybody wants to see the marquee stars. Nothing at all wrong with that.

But with only 24 roster spots in a league with 450 players, a few deserving players get overlooked. Sometimes for an entire career. It happened over 17 seasons, 1,199 games and 19,202 points for one of our all-time favorites, Eddie Johnson.

So in honor of Eddie, here in the Summer Dreaming headquarters, we’re going to pour a frosty drink and raise a toast to the players most deserving to make their All-Star debuts at New York in February:


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

Kawhi Leonard, Spurs – Go figure. He’s got the Bill Russell Trophy for being named MVP of the NBA Finals sitting on his mantle, yet Leonard has not yet been named to an All-Star team in three years in the league. Of course, a big part of that is the cap that coach Gregg Popovich puts on the minutes of all of the Spurs. That doesn’t allow for those eye-popping stats that get the attention of voters. But you’d think the coaches would recognize all the things he does at both ends of the floor and add him as a reserve.


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins puts up 29 points, nine boards and six steals on Suns

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings – Let’s just admit it. The 2014 All-Star Game was played in New Orleans and that was what got the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis the Western Conference substitute nod over Cousins. You don’t have to dive into advanced metrics. Just know that Cousins outscored Davis 22.7 to 20.8, out rebounded him 11.7 to 10 and ranked third in the league in double-doubles with 53. Of course, Boogie hasn’t gotten the respect because he hasn’t always had his head in the game, or been the best of teammates. But if he just goes back to work, it will be time to end the Kings All-Star drought that goes back to Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller in 2004.


VIDEO: Mike Conley has grown into a solid leader for the Grizzlies

Mike Conley, Grizzlies — He’s been flying beneath the radar for far too long, playing at an All-Star level for at least the past two seasons. The No. 4 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft has steadily grown from a tentative young player into a solid quarterback that can run the show, get to the hoop and hit 3-pointers at a respectable rate. The trouble is a numbers game. For one, he plays in the Western Conference, which is teeming with top flight point guards — Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard. For another, his rep takes a backseat to the 1-2 front court punch of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. It’s about time Conley got some love.


VIDEO: Al Jefferson spends time with Dennis Scott

Al Jefferson, Hornets — If only the voters who gave Jefferson’s spot on the Eastern Conference team last season to Roy Hibbert could have known that the Pacers center was preparing to do a swan dive down the stretch. Much credit to first year coach Steve Clifford for giving the former Bobcats an identity and to Kemba Walker for delivering, as usual. But it was Big Al who set himself up in the middle in Charlotte and went to work, toiling and scoring and rebounding the way he has for 10 seasons. He averaged a double-double (21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds). Sometimes the guys who carry their lunch buckets to work every day should be invited to the banquet and given a chance to sit at the head table.


VIDEO: ‘The Serge Protector’ turns away eight shots against the Pelicans

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. It’s almost like they’re a single entity, because you rarely hear one name mentioned without the other. Meanwhile there’s that jumping jack just out of the spotlight who is deserving of All-Star billing, giving the Thunder the “Big Three” punch to be a top title contender year in and year out. Until the Thunder break through and win a championship, it’s not likely that fan voters or the coaches are going to give Ibaka much respect. They should. The Spurs did in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals. He’s led the league in blocks twice, is a three time All-Defensive First Team member, dunks like he’s mad at the rim and, oh, there’s also that jumper.


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan’s top 10 plays of 2013-14

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers — It’s funny how your numbers and value to the team can go up when you simply get more minutes. Coach Doc Rivers came to town and got in Jordan’s ear and his head and demanded more. The former part-time highlight reel star delivered with a solid 35 minutes a game. Maybe the All-Star voters and the coaches still questioned whether he could keep it up at the midway point of last season. He did, leading the league in rebounds (13.6), finishing third in blocked shot (2.48) and eighth in double-doubles (42). Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are the engines in the Clippers’ machine, but it’s Jordan delivering consistently as a defensive stopper that can fuel a rise to a championship.

Summer Dreaming: Executive of Year

David Griffin, with the help of LeBron, had a very eventful summer (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images).

David Griffin, with the help of LeBron, had an eventful summer (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images).

Everybody has their roles. Players play. Coaches coach. But before anybody can get out onto the floor to make shots, grab rebounds and chase down loose balls, somebody has to put the team together and, hopefully, keep things moving forward with a solid, consistent organizational goal.

It’s summertime when the lion’s share of the work is done. However, there was plenty of heaving lift this off-season that has left us with our top five Summer Dreaming picks for NBA Executive of the Year in 2014-15.

Send us your picks.

David Griffin, Cavaliers — Sure, it helps to have the very best player on the planet decide that he’s had enough time by the pool in Coconut Grove and wants to return home. Who’s a better recruiter than LeBron James? Just ask Kevin Love. Or Mike Miller. Or Shawn Marion. But before James made “The Return” official, Miller re-signed point guard Kyrie Irving and made the bold move to hire long-time European coach Dave Blatt as coach. Then Griffin ultimately signed off on sending No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota. If the Cavs are raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy next June, we could look back on this as the most head-turning summer since Bridget Bardot first wore a bikini. Not bad for seven months on the job.

Donnie Nelson, Mavericks — It took three years, but the Mavs finally corrected their biggest front office mistake in bringing back center Tyson Chandler to anchor the middle of the lineup. They simply have not been the same without him since the championship season of 2011. While it would be fair to say Dallas overpaid for free agent small forward Chandler Parsons at $46 million for three years, there’s no question that three more years of Dirk Nowitzki at $8 million per is a bargain and makes the combo a shrewd winner. Nelson gave up Jose Calderon to get Chandler, but veteran Jameer Nelson with enough in his tank is a more than capable replacement. Reserves Shawn Marion and Vince Carter could be missed, but all in all the Mavs have taken a big step forward to get back into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

Gar Forman, Bulls — There was definitely time and energy put into the effort to land A-list free agent Carmelo Anthony and it really might have been the best landing spot if Melo’s main interest had been trying to win championships rather than see how high he can stack his salary. In the aftermath, the Bulls hit the jackpot on Plan B by getting Pau Gasol to shed his scapegoat role with the Lakers and move in as a perfect complement to Joakim Noah’s no-holds-barred game on the front line. Forman’s acquisition of Gasol allows the Bulls to keep Taj Gibson in his most effective place coming off the bench and lets rookie Nikola Mirotic to make a slower transition from Europe to the NBA. Rookie Doug McDermott could be just the ticket as the shooter Chicago needs. Oh yes, and Derrick Rose comes back. If LeBron’s homecoming Cavaliers are not representing the East in The Finals next June, it’s probably because the Bulls edged them out.

Rich Cho, Hornets — First, start out by giving Cho delayed credit for bringing the sometimes unappreciated Al Jefferson into Charlotte last season. That move gave first-year coach Steve Clifford a dependable anchor on which to hook his game plan every night and enabled the erstwhile Bobcats to scratch and claw their way to the playoffs. Now with a new/old team name, the Hornets became the surprise landing spot of free agent Lance Stephenson, who’ll give them a slasher, creator, scorer, ball-handler to take some of the pressure off Kemba Walker in the backcourt. Taking P.J. Hairston late in the first round of the draft could pay big dividends as another shooter. Getting free agent Marvin Williams gives them depth at the four behind Cody Zeller and allows No. 9 overall pick Noah Vonleh to recover from surgery and learn slowly. Clifford got well-deserved credit a year in for instilling a sense of purpose and direction on the court. But Cho has given him the tools to compete in East.

Sam Hinkie, 76ers – No, his Sixers are not going to shock the world by making the playoffs or even get a glimpse of them without a pair of binoculars. And no, he’s likely not going to even get a single official vote for this award when his peers cast their ballots next spring. But if they were boldly honest, they’d admit that Hinkie is following perfectly in Year Two the plan that he laid out when he took over the job. He landed Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams with the No. 11 pick in 2013 and now has Nerlens Noel making his NBA debut with a good chance of winning that award back-to-back seasons for the Sixers. Joel Embiid is a No. 1 overall talent that Hinkie got at No. 3 and now will probably sit out the year to mend. Toss in top prospect Dario Saric, who’ll cool his heels for another year in Europe and the Sixers are lined up with a shot at two more first round picks in 2015. Sometimes it’s about the long view.

Losing a star does not mean losing hope


VIDEO: Flip Saunders talks about trading Love to Cleveland

What next for the Timberwolves was, predictably, damage control. Ads promoting the future that now includes Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the last two No. 1 picks, their own 2014 first-rounder, Zach LaVine, and veteran Thaddeus Young. A catchy slogan — “Eyes on the rise” — to accompany the planned ascension.

Really, though, there was nothing else to do. President of basketball operations Flip Saunders, also the coach, was forced into a trade he wouldn’t have made without a loaded contract to his head, so an outbound ticket for Kevin Love it would have to be. There was something to be said for putting the mess behind them, and Saunders did about as well as could be expected while bargaining from a position of weakness, with the entire league knowing he had to deal at some point, and the Warriors drawing the line in the sand at the toes of Klay Thompson.

There is also the tangible reason for encouragement, the fact the other teams have been pushed down the same dark hole and lived to tell. The Timberwolves can look west to Denver and see that starting over doesn’t have to mean a giant step back. They can turn another direction, southeast to Orlando, and be reminded that losing the best player does not have to equal losing hope.

While each of the major trades forced by players in recent years is unique, depending on time and place, the first days of life without Love should come with knowing that moving an All-Star power forward against their true wishes does not have to be a major hit. The Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony, heard a lot of talk about needing time for the package of prospects to develop, then made the playoffs the same season. The Magic were pressured to offload Dwight Howard, took criticism for passing on what seemed to be the obvious idea of Andrew Bynum as replacement center, and got a better outcome, times a million, with Nikola Vucevic.

Some recoveries have been muddled by additional circumstances. Some have yet to lead to so much as a playoff appearance. But it also shows there is reason to actually keep an eye out for the rise in Minnesota.

TEAM: JAZZ

Player: Deron Williams

Trade: Williams to the Nets for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two first-round picks and cash on Feb. 23, 2011.

Long-term perspective: Utah moved Williams before the situation had a chance to deteriorate into the distraction other franchises had, and would, endure. The Jazz got back to the playoffs the next season, but have mostly gone through difficult times that have yet to lead to a clear direction. They will start this season amid predictions of another lottery finish.

It has not gone unnoticed that the lack of a consistent point guard has been an issue since Williams’ departure, though the arrival of Trey Burke in the 2013 draft and Dante Exum in 2014 has raised hopes that it is a problem of the past. The biggest redemption factor for the front office, strangely, is D-Will himself. He generally has not performed like a max player and was stained by the impression his actions led to the departure of beloved coach Jerry Sloan, so the split, however much of a setback on the court, probably does not feel like much of a loss around Salt Lake City.

TEAM: MAGIC

Player: Howard

Trade: Howard to the Lakers on Aug. 10, 2012, as part of a four-team deal that included Bynum and Jason Richardson going to Philadelphia, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, Arron Afflalo and Vucevic to the Magic.

Long-term perspective: The Howard breakup was different than any other, played out over seasons, plural, and with theaters full of drama that eventually felt like nausea. And when it happened, there was wreckage everywhere. New roster, new coach, new questions about which superstar Magic center in his prime would end up with the Lakers next.

Two seasons later, it doesn’t look so bad. Drama followed Howard to L.A. in some coincidence, reminding people in Orlando what else they were losing, before he left the Lakers for Houston as a free agent. Wanting Vucevic instead of Bynum has turned out to be a genius move and the Magic will open 2014-15 as a possibility for the playoffs. It helps to be in the East, as opposed to the others trying to make the climb, but there is a real future in Orlando. Again.

TEAM: HORNETS/PELICANS

Player: Chris Paul.

Trade: Paul and two second-round picks to the Clippers on Dec. 14, 2011, for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a first-round pick.

Long-term perspective: That hurt Paul too, after the years of building a connection to the city of New Orleans. The team he left behind suffered on the court, with losses piling up, an ownership change, a name change and very little to show in return for the face of the franchise. Kaman and Aminu are already gone, the pick was spent on Austin Rivers — ironically the son of the current Clippers coach — and Gordon has struggled to stay healthy or come close to reaching what once seemed to be star potential.

TEAM: NUGGETS

Player: Anthony

Trade: Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Shelden Williams and Anthony Carter to the Knicks on Feb. 22, 2011, as part of a three-team trade that sent, among others, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, three picks and $3 million to the Nuggets and Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph to the Timberwolves.

Long-term perspective: Denver made the playoffs that season, signaling there would be no post-Carmelo rebuilding, and then built on that by pushing the heavily favored Lakers to seven games in the first round the next year. Coach George Karl loved the spirit of that group, and there would even be a third consecutive postseason appearance.

And then it went wrong. Karl was fired. General manager Masai Ujiri, Denver’s point man for the complicated negotiations, left for Toronto. Gallinari blew out his knee. The Nuggets are an uncertainty heading toward this season, waiting to see how much they can count on Gallinari and prospects, but not because of the trade. That generated forward momentum. It’s everything that happened after.

‘Melo says Knicks are a playoff team

Great Day in The Kitchen. #thisisme7o

A photo posted by @carmeloanthony on

Carmelo Anthony is putting in the work this summer to back up his words about the Knicks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Don’t count the New York Knicks out of the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference.

Not yet.

So says the face of the franchise, Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony is not only talking the talk, insisting that the Knicks will rebound from last season’s dismal 37-45 finish and return to the playoffs this season, he’s putting in the work to prepare himself physically and mentally for the rigors to come during the first full season of the Phil Jackson-Derek Fisher regime.

Fred Kerber of the New York Post caught up with ‘Melo and delivers the goods:

But the playoffs are another matter. In fact, Anthony on Monday asserted his belief the Knicks “absolutely” will be back in the playoffs after missing out last season.

“Yeah, I think so for sure. Absolutely,” an impressively slimmed-down Anthony said of the Knicks’ playoff chances before entering a Midtown gym for a late morning-to-early afternoon workout with a group of NBA players.

Anthony snuffed an attempt to establish any goals for the revamped Knicks, who will enter their first full season under team president Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher.

“I can’t wait to get started,” said Anthony, who missed the playoffs for the first time in his career when the Knicks stumbled to a 37-45 record last season. “No goals. Not setting any goals, but I just can’t wait to get it back on.”

Whether this is just a star player exhibiting the expected confidence in himself and his situation or ‘Melo channeling the power of positive thinking is irrelevant. Knicks fans should love what they are seeing and hearing from ‘Melo. He’s either all in with the new program in New York or a better actor than anyone on Broadway.

There are plenty of factors in the Eastern Conference conspiring against ‘Melo and the Knicks.

LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, who are expected to add Kevin Love to their mix in the coming days, have forced a complete reshuffling of the playoff deck. If what we’ve seen from Derrick Rose this summer is any indication, the Chicago Bulls (with Pau Gasol now on board) will also force changes at the top.

The Indiana Pacers are expected to tumble a bit with the losses of both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency). But the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets are poised to move up in the standings. The East’s defending champs, the Miami Heat, have Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and Dwyane Wade ready to hold the line sans LeBron and remain in the projected playoff mix.

That leaves a narrow opening for the handful of teams (led by the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets and Knicks) vying for those final precious playoff spots. I don’t know that Anthony’s confidence is warranted, especially given the 2013-14 season he and the Knicks endured.

But the bravado is good to see and should be welcomed by folks who like to see the best players embrace the super-sized expectations that come with playing in New York. Whatever the Knicks do this season rests on Anthony’s re-sculpted shoulders. If his personal transformation is any indication, and if his confidence has infected the locker room, the Knicks could very well find their way into the playoffs.

It won’t be easy, of course. And it’ll take some luck of some sort along the way.

It’s the offseason, everybody … well, almost everybody believes deep down that this is going to be their year. Even if they are completely delusional, they believe in August.

‘Melo is no different. And he’s got a 54-win season from two years ago as a reminder of what the Knicks can do when they are clicking. Some of the faces have changed and the system will be different from what the Knicks operated when coach Mike Woodson was calling the shots.

But if ‘Melo says the Knicks are “absolutely” headed back to the top eight mix in the Eastern Conference, I see no reason to dismiss the notion now.

It’s like Kevin Garnett once famously said: “anything is possible!”


VIDEO: Knicks.com highlights the top matchups for the 2014-15 season

After pocketing a free-agent payday, these players must prove their worth

Will Chandler Parsons run with a new, All-Star, crowd this season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You are what your salary says you are in the NBA.

There’s no way around it. All the stats, traditional and advanced, in the world won’t change that fact. An All-Star playing on a rookie contract is a bargain. That same player with a max contract, or something in that neighborhood, suddenly become overpaid and a burden on his team.

The expectations change when the compensation increases, even if the player’s game doesn’t change. With most of the dust settled from this summer’s free-agent frenzy, we can see a clear picture where the marquee players are concerned.

Guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were going to get max dollars wherever they decided to play. That was a given, just like the pressure that comes along with being at the top of the superstar food chain in the league.

It’s the other guys, those guys who are making the transition from bargains to paid handsomely for their services, who will be in the crosshairs as the 2014-15 season draws near.

Five free-agent pick ups who have to live up to the hype this season, now that they compensation and expectations have reached franchise-player levels:

Luol Deng, Miami Heat


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks with Heat.com about his goals in Miami

Chris Bosh got the No. 1 option money (five years, $118 million) from the Heat this summer, but it’s Deng who has the biggest shoes to fill. He’s the replacement in the starting line up for LeBron, an unenviable task if ever there was one. The Heat got Deng for a relative bargain (two years, $20 million), given the money that was flying around in free agency this summer. Deng, however, will not get a pass from anyone. Heat boss Pat Riley needs a player who can become an instant impact player and Heat fans, fair or not, are going to compare Deng’s immediate contributions to what James delivered the past four seasons. Deng has shown throughout his career that he’s more than capable of being a solid contributor, All-Star caliber even, on an elite team. So while Deng’s compensation hasn’t changed dramatically, the expectations have soared.

Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat put on a show in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

Gortat was the first big-money free agent to agree to terms this summer, signing on for five years and $60 million to anchor the middle for an up-and-coming Wizards team. He’s facing the crucible of increased individual expectations as he’s on a team that enters 2014-15 with an entirely new set of expectations. The Wizards have all the pieces in place for a continued ascent in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll need Gortat to play his part, though. He and Nene looked like a dynamic 1-2 big man punch in the 2014 playoffs. They’ll have to do it nightly with the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal drawing tons of attention from opposing teams from now on. There can be no off nights for Gortat now that he’s being paid like the elite big man he appears to be. (more…)

George injury shuffles East deck

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Long before the Indiana Pacers were dealt the wicked blow of losing All-Star swingman Paul George to a compound fracture of his right leg he suffered during Friday night’s USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas, people were ready to write the Pacers off for the 2014-15 season.

The way the No. 1 seed Pacers finished last season, the wild swings in play throughout their run to the Eastern Conference finals, the upgrades that took place this summer in Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and elsewhere — all that already made it easy to assume that George and the Pacers would fall back to the pack.

But a Pacers team facing the prospect of playing an entire season without its leading scorer and best player — not to mention Lance Stephenson, who departed for Charlotte via free agency — shuffles the deck dramatically in the Eastern Conference.

A seriously wounded Pacers team makes it easier for LeBron James and the Cavaliers and a rejuvenated Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls to make up ground for that top spot. And if anyone knows what life is like without your superstar catalyst available, it’s the Cavaliers and Bulls.

When James left Cleveland for Miami via free agency in the summer of 2010, it devastated the Cavaliers, who didn’t recover until he decided to come home this summer via free agency. There was no way for the Cavaliers to compensate for the loss of the best player in basketball. No way.

The Bulls were able to remain among the Eastern Conference elite the past two seasons while dealing with Rose’s injury issues. But they’re the exception and not the rule when it comes to the loss of superstar talent, for whatever reason. And while they remained in the playoff mix, they couldn’t scale the mountain in the East without Rose and everyone knew it.

How Frank Vogel holds this Pacers bunch together in the face of this sort of adversity should prove to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2014-15 season. The Pacers have to brace themselves for assaults from all directions.

C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey were nice pick ups in free agency this summer. But they are not adequate replacements for either George or Stephenson. They certainly cannot be expected to deliver the 35.5 points, 14 rebounds or 8.1 assists George and Stephenson combined for last season.

Pacers veterans David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill will all have to take on more of the load, both on the court and off the court. The double whammy of losing Stephenson and then George no doubt makes that clear to the Pacers’ brass, who are right to make George’s recovery their No. 1 priority right now.

Pacers boss Larry Bird acknowledged as much in a statement released by the team (which can be seen in its entirety by clicking here):

“Our first thoughts are with Paul and his family. It is way too early to speculate on his return as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery. Our initial discussions with our doctors and the doctors in Las Vegas have us very optimistic. We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery.

“There is no question about the impact on our team but our goal is to be as strong-willed and determined as Paul will be in coming back. Our franchise has had setbacks in its history but has demonstrated the abilities to recover. Paul will provide the example of that off the court and it is up to the rest of us to provide that example on the court. Any discussion regarding the future of our team would be inappropriate at this time. Our focus is solely on Paul and doing whatever we can to help.”

Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard got more specific with the Indianapolis Star on Saturday, expressing optimism that George will come back better than ever:

“What I’ve learned through this process is that it’s not [career-ending],” Pritchard said, when he spent time with George at the hospital. “It’s actually a good thing. It’s bone and bone only. It doesn’t look like any soft-tissue damage. We’re not trying to project when he’s coming back, just trying to get him through this week and then we’ll know more, but the biggest risk right now is infection. That looks really good right now. They just changed his dressing and it looks really good.

“I have no fear he’ll be back and back in a big way. We’re not going to put a timetable on it but I don’t think there’s any doubt he’ll be back.”

The lingering question, of course, is what will the Pacers do in the meantime? What can they do to compensate for such a tremendous loss?

Those are questions that, quite frankly, do not have clear-cut answers right now.

What we do know is that the Pacers will have to fight for their playoff lives next season.

The last time a team that finished atop the conference standings during the regular season lost its top two scorers was when the Orlando Magic lost Nick Anderson and Penny Hardaway after the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, per Elias Sports.

After finishing with identical 33-17 records (Miami and Indiana were the other two teams), the Magic finished the 1999-2000 season with a 41-41 record and in the ninth spot, on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

I’m not ready to write the Pacers off before we know what their contingency plan entails. But they are mighty vulnerable now and until further notice.

Morning shootaround — July 19




VIDEO: Gasol excited about joining the Bulls

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bynum might sit out | Exum experiences bumps | Bulls take on international flair | Jordan challenges Lance | Wiggins not worried
No. 1: Bynum might sit out year to strengthen knees — Of course, the big question is if Andrew Bynum decided to sit out the entire 2014-15 season to have treatment on his bad knees, who would notice? After all, the big man has played just 26 games over the past two years while wearing different uniforms in Philly, Cleveland and Indiana. Now, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Bynum is considering undergoing the German-based therapy program that promotes cartilage growth that will require an extra long recovery time, with an eye on joining Phil Jackson and the Knicks in 2015-15:

Regenokine is a non-surgical program that promotes new cartilage growth through a series of injections. The FDA still hasn’t approved it in the United States. Bynum is considering doing the program with well-known doctor German doctor Peter Wehling, who worked with Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez. It is similar but not identical to the PRP procedure.
Bynum has arthritic knees that have stalled a career that once flourished under Jackson in Los Angeles.
“If he’s healthy, Phil will be interested,” Lee told The Post. “Phil knew how to tap into Andrew. They got along famously.”

Bynum, the Jersey product who was a young stud center for two of Jackson’s Lakers title teams, would undergo the procedure as a means to extend his career.
“He would be looking at in a longer-term situation,” Lee said. “He’s still a baby. If he went to college, he’d be coming off his rookie contract at age 26.”

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No. 2: Strong Exum finds there’s a lot to learning in Las Vegas — Everybody with a grade school knowledge of world geography knows it’s a long way from Australia to the United States. Utah’s No. 5 pick in the draft Dante Exum got a first-hand taste of the miles he still has to travel to make the adjustment to the NBA with a rough experience in the NBA. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper watched all of Exum’s bumps in the road at the Las Vegas summer league and talks about what the experience meant:

Unlike the majority of every draft class that steels itself with years of AAU circuits and college play or leagues in Europe with older professionals, Exum not only has to make the transition at age 19 but with very little in his basketball background to prepare for the NBA. He has never been seriously challenged for weeks at a time, let the months waiting for him with the Jazz schedule as a rookie.
“The last games I played was high school games and I’m one of the bigger guys out there that can push guys around,” he said. “Here, I get into the paint and I’m getting knocked over.”
Literally and figuratively. Exum faced NBA competition for the first time and shot 30.8 percent in five games, ending with Friday’s victory over the Trail Blazers at Thomas & Mack Center, while averaging 7.2 points and piling up more turnovers (15) than assists (14). He had good moments, but nothing close to a good game, with making four of 10 shots and three assists against one turnover in the opener against Philadelphia probably holding up as the best.
“It’s been a big couple weeks for him,” said Brad Jones, the Jazz assistant coach who ran the team in the Summer-League games. “He’s got a lot going on. He’s had some ups and downs through this, but it’s also why we play Summer League, for him to go through the ups and downs. The little challenge, we talked to him at halftime about, we wanted to see him finish on a strong note. I thought he tried to play through and luckily made a great play and hit that little floater to kind of seal that game for us.
“Now he can go back and regroup a little bit. I know he’s going to his national team, but hopefully now he has a level of understanding of what he has to do every day to be successful. There were some times he showed some brilliant, brilliant things this last week. Then again, there’s been some times where he’s been kicked in the rear end a little bit. Hopefully he’ll take this, process it and come back in the fall ready to go and to help because we think he’s got a bright future.”

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No. 3: Gasol, Mirotic give the Bulls a taste of Spain — So much has changed since the time Spaniard Pau Gasol was a No. 1 pick in the draft back in 2001 to now when Nikola Mirotic signed on to join him for the upcoming season with the Bulls. Our Steve Aschburner talks about how the basketball world in general and the NBA in particular has embraced the contributions of international players:

“The infrastructure is a lot better now in Europe and the rest of the world,” Tony Ronzone said by phone Friday during a break in Las Vegas Summer League action. “And the world’s becoming smaller with the Internet and the video. You can see now how many games are televised all around the world.”
Ronzone, a longtime NBA executive, is one of the league’s most experienced evaluators of international talent. He is director of player personnel for the Dallas Mavericks, worked for Minnesota and Detroit in similar capacities and served as head coach of teams in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He also is director of international player personnel for the USA Basketball men’s team.
He has seen the growth and comfort level in both directions — international players and coaches becoming more NBA savvy, the league embracing more players and concepts from overseas — throughout his career.
Consider: In Gasol’s rookie season, 2001-02, there were 52 international players from 31 different countries on NBA rosters. By Opening Night 2013-14, the number had grown to a record 92 players from 39 countries.
“What’s happening now is, our game has grown and with the NBA as the best league in the world, these players internationally are able to watch athletes on the floor and mimic their moves,” Ronzone said.
“There’s a lot more player-development going on to create more foot speed. Because the biggest adjustment the Europeans have coming over to America is, defensively they’d be behind and their foot speed, they’d be behind. What they’re learning to do is, with less foot speed, they’re understanding angles and they’re doing a better job of watching these athletes and getting scouting reports on how to play them.”

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No. 4: Jordan throws down gauntlet to Stephenson — Before he officially signed off on the three-year, $27.4-million free agent contract, Hornets owner Michael Jordan laid down the law and told Lance Stephenson that he expects fewer shenanigans and more production this season. Stephenson told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer that he definitely got the message:

“I bring more to the table than blowing in someone’s ear,” Stephenson said Friday of the incident with LeBron James that brought him so much notoriety.
Stephenson, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, brings scoring, defense, playmaking and an edge. The Hornets like his edginess, and believe it can help them win games. But only to a point.
Hornets owner Michael Jordan attended the meeting in Las Vegas on Tuesday night that resulted in Stephenson signing a 3-year, $27.4 million contract. Jordan spoke very directly with Stephenson before signing off on this contract.
“He told me what he likes about me, he told me what I need to calm down on,” Stephenson told the Observer after the news conference. “He told me how I can contribute to the team. And he told me he believed in my talent. He likes my competitive edge.”
There is plenty to like. The Hornets desperately need scoring and shooting from the wing positions. Last season Stephenson averaged 13.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists and shot 49 percent from the field. The Hornets needed a player of his wide skill set and playoff experience.
What they don’t need is some of the disruptive things that have come with Stephenson’s history. He committed 14 technical fouls last season, fourth-most in the NBA. He had two legal issues in the past, first when he was accused of groping a teenage girl and later an accusation he pushed a girlfriend down a flight of stairs.
The $9 million-a-season salary (the third season at $9.4 million is a team option) is a bargain for a player of Stephenson’s talent. The Hornets got that deal because of the ways Stephenson undermined his reputation entering free-agency.

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No. 5: Wiggins just playing, ignoring the rumors — Rookie Andrew Wiggins can’t turn on the TV or click on a website without confronting another rumor that he could be part of a blockbuster trade that brings Kevin Love to Cleveland. It’s an unusual position for the No. 1 pick in any draft to be in. But after finishing up his stint at the Las Vegas summer league on Friday night, Wiggins told our Jeff Caplan that the only thing on his mind is playing basketball and getting better:

“Nothing to me,” Wiggins said as he flashed a playful personality with a wide smile after taking the Cavs’ Friday night Summer League finale off following four promising performances in his debut as a professional. “I just know what you know. I just see what you see on TV. That’s about it.”
The 6-foot-8 swingman said he’s letting his “agent and support system” handle the off-court twists and turns while he focuses on preparing for his rookie season, wherever it may be.
“I just play basketball, man, wherever I go,” Wiggins said.
James’ intent seem clear. On Thursday, Yahoo! Sports reported that James has reached out to Love about forming a superstar pairing few ever in thought about before a week ago. The Timberwolves have stood pat that there’s no deal unless Wiggins is the centerpiece. Whether or not the Cavs are now prepared to make their top pick available seems to change with the wind.
There’s just no clear indication yet of the Cavs’ position. It was only a week ago that James announced his return to the Cavaliers. Later that night Wiggins made his first appearance in Cavs colors at Summer League. Since then, Wiggins has been the at the main attraction in Vegas and at the center of constant trade rumors.
As he sat on the bench early in Friday’s game, a section of the crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center stood and chanted: “We want Wig-gins!”
“It’s been crazy, but it’s all positive stuff,” Wiggins said. “With LeBron coming back, there’s nothing negative about that; the best player in the world coming to your team. The organization is on the rise right now.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard says the Rockets won’t miss Chandler Parsons …Channing Frye never considered giving the Suns a hometown discount … Udonis Haslem signs two-year deal to stay with the Heat …LeBron James is asking for help on deciding which jersey number he’ll wear in his return to Cleveland.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam