Posts Tagged ‘Ian Thomsen’

Blogtable: Your advice for LaMarcus Aldridge?

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


BLOGTABLE: How many MVPs for Curry? | Best bench in playoffs? | Aldridge’s next move?



VIDEOLaMarcus Aldridge says he loves being in Portland

> You’re LaMarcus Aldridge’s closest friend, his confidant. When he asks you what he should do this summer as an unrestricted free agent, what do you tell him?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI tell him the same thing I tell all my friends who are contemplating big life decisions (job changes, marriage, etc.): Make a list of pros and cons, rank them in importance to you and, once you make your decision, don’t second-guess it. Yeah, I try to stay above the fray so I’m still their friend and confidant after they mess up the decision. Not specific enough for blogtable? Fine. I tell Aldridge, if he wants to win, win soon and possibly win multiple times, he heeds what the Spurs have to say when they woo him. But if he wants winning to mean the most, he stays right where he is in Portland, hitches up his big-boy pants and gets ‘er done there.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Buy a ticket to S-A-N A-N-T-O-N-I-O. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker aren’t done. Kawhi Leonard is the real deal as a viable elite level partner for years. You can be playing in The 2016 Finals.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That friendship doesn’t come cheap. I could use a really nice vacation or a new car. After that, I tell him not to move just for the sake of moving. “It has run it’s course” is not a good reason to leave a team and a city that has treated him well and still has the chance to win big in the future. If getting back home to Texas is a priority, that’s one thing. If he sees another situation that will definitely be better, fine. But it is hard to see many places that would top the one he has now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’d tell him to follow his happiness, not the paycheck. He’s already banked roughly $90 million for his career and unless he’s a fool, he still has a good chunk of that. At this point his priorities should be chasing a title, making money and living where he feels comfortable, in that order. I’d end our conversation with this: Tim Duncan thinks you’d be a good successor in San Antonio.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s his decision and I’m not going to try to change his mind, but I’d remind him that he’s got a pretty good thing going in Portland. Most importantly, the Blazers are a stable organization with a good owner. Terry Stotts is a very good coach and at the time of Wesley Matthews‘ injury, Portland was one of only three teams that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. If they can keep the band together and Matthews is healthy by next March, they can be a contender again. Of course, the change to play for the Spurs and alongside Kawhi Leonard for the next four years is probably tempting. And while I have LaMarcus’ ear, I’d tell him to cut down on the mid-range jumpers and get to the basket more often.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Play the field to your advantage big fella. Entertain all legitimate opportunities to chase a championship, wherever that might lead. I understand you have an allegiance to the organization and the fans in Portland. They’ve been great to you and you have emerged as one of the elite players in the league during your time there. And as your best friend, I love it there as well. But you owe it yourself, particularly at this stage of your career, to explore all of your options and decide what’s best for you, and only you, at this juncture. Don’t worry about anyone else’s feelings or wishes. For once, this is all about you and what you want out of the rest of your career.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m reminding him that he’ll never be appreciated by any other city as much as he will be adored by Portland if he chooses to stay. I’m also urging him to exercise marketplace wisdom: The TV money of 2016 is going to create a huge flurry of player movement and a lot of bad decisions – which will leave the stable franchises standing stronger than ever.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I don’t tell him anything in particular, so much as I ask him some questions. What is he looking for? Does he want to be more famous? Is he looking to make themost money that’s available to him, or is he OK with taking a little less? Does he have to be the best player on the team he plays for, or could he take a secondary role? Is winning a title the most important thing at this stage in his career? Has he talked to the Blazers and have they explained to him their plans going forward in terms of continuing to strengthen the roster? Does he want to play his entire career in the same city? LaMarcus Aldridge has to decide what he wants to do next. The answers to all these questions should lead him closer to making a decision about his future.

Blogtable: Best bench in playoffs?

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


BLOGTABLE: How many MVPs for Curry? | Best bench in playoffs? | Aldridge’s next move?



VIDEOThe close-knit Warriors have perhaps the NBA’s best bench

> Of the eight playoff teams still standing, who has the best bench? And who’s the most important player off that bench?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Golden State has the best bench of the teams still playing and Andre Iguodala is the most important guy coming off it. Iguodala is battle-tested as a veteran and he’s the right combination of size and quickness to help out in multiple ways, making him more than a situational guy.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Warriors. The best team in the league has the best bench and plenty of depth that can hit you from so many different direction. But if I’m singling one player out it’s Andre Iguodala, who can do damage at both ends of the floor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. Andre Iguodala and David Lee would start at forward for a lot of teams. And if Leandro Barbosa is making a few baskets a game, that’s a lift for the backcourt. Iguodala is the most important of the reserves. If he’s not hitting shots, and he definitely is not these days, he is still the guy able to defend multiple positions and provide the versatility for Golden State to play big or small, a component of their success. If Iguodala does start connecting, the Warriors are even better.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: My choice is the Warriors, who can put five reserves on the floor for extended minutes and really not suffer much. Andre Iguodala would appear to be the logical “most important” reserve, because he gets the most minutes and started last season and is valued for his defense against high-scoring wing players. But I might hedge and suggest Marreese Speights, not because he’s the best player coming off the bench, but brings the level of toughness the Warriors lack overall in their starting lineup.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I dug into the numbers, because that’s what I do. I looked at who’s been coming off the bench for all eight teams in the playoffs, and calculated the team’s NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions), in the regular season and playoffs, when at least two of those guys have been on the floor. Here they are, from best to worst…

  1. Houston: +7.6
  2. Golden State: +5.0
  3. Chicago: +4.2
  4. Cleveland: +1.7
  5. Washington: -0.7
  6. Atlanta: -0.9
  7. Memphis: -1.1
  8. L.A. Clippers: -4.2

I was a little surprised to see Houston at the top, but they’ve been great with Corey Brewer, Pablo Prigioni and Josh Smith on the floor. Brewer’s relentless pursuit of easy baskets on the break is important, but Smith is the most important of that group, because of his size and versatility. All that being said, Andre Iguodala is the best and most important reserve left in the playoffs.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Warriors have the kind of bench that you see on championship teams. They haven’t needed them to save the day or anything yet, but you figure they will at some point throughout the process. I’m going with co-MIPs off that bench: Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa will have moments, and perhaps an entire half or even a game, where they are needed to help change the situation for the Warriors. I’m not sure when or where, but I feel it deep down. At some point, the backcups to the best backcourt in the game will be called upon to help save the day.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Bulls have the best bench in the East, but I’m giving the league-wide advantage to the Warriors because of Andre Iguodala – an Olympic and World champion, NBA All-Star and All-Defensive teamer with more big-game potential than anyone at both ends of the floor.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Golden State, by a mile. if I had to pick a runner-up I might go with Cleveland, where they’ve got a lot of experience and options accumulated, but I don’t think any team remaining can compete with the Warriors’ bench. Actually, I think Golden State’s second team could have won a first-round series in the Eastern Conference, that’s how strong they are. And for me their MIP is Andre Iguodala, a guy who can play multiple positions, can defend multiple positions, and is a leader even without being in the starting lineup.

NBA-Blogtable-Playoffs-Best-Bench-Team-BannerFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: How many more MVPs will Stephen Curry win?

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


BLOGTABLE: How many MVPs for Curry? | Best bench in playoffs? | Aldridge’s next move?



VIDEOHow many more MVPs can Stephen Curry win?

> Stephen Curry hoisted the Kia NBA MVP trophy on Monday. He just turned 27, so how many more of these will he collect?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I say one more in sort of an homage to Steve Nash and Steve/Steph’s everywhere. But my hunch is Anthony Davis, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andrew Wiggins and several others — including LeBron James — say none.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Curry could and likely will continue to perform at this MVP level for another handful of years, but this could well be his only time to hold the trophy. There are just so many other contenders. I don’t think LeBron James is done adding to his collection. A healthy Kevin Durant will return with something to prove. James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are all solid contenders.  But most of all, we are entering the Era of Anthony Davis and he’s going to fill up a shelf.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Maybe one. That’s not a knock on Curry — he will be at an MVP level for many years. But the field of other realistic possibilities is so deep. Look at who else finished near the top of the 2015 vote. LeBron James is the only one past halftime of his career. Curry’s problem with adding to the collection isn’t Curry. It’s everyone else.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I wouldn’t be surprised if he won another MVP or he doesn’t. It’s just too unpredictable right now, especially with James Harden and Russell Westbrook waiting “their turn” and the ever-imposing presence of LeBron James. Plus, there’s always the issue of health. But hey, if Steve Nash can win a pair, why not Curry?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s certainly possible that he can win one or two more, but if I had to guess, the answer would be zero. Curry is ridiculous and the Warriors will be a great team for at least a few more years, but it was a crowded MVP field this year. LeBron James and Chris Paul each have one or two more MVP-esque years in them (and Paul will be more appreciated by the voters after this postseason). Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook each have a few more great seasons left in them. Kawhi Leonard is only 23 years old and Anthony Davis is only 22. It’s not about Curry, but about how many other options there will be every season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: He’s got at least one more in him and maybe a third, overall. Curry’s young enough and the Warriors should remain in the elite mix long enough for him to contend for more. There are no guarantees, of course (we would have said the same thing about Derrick Rose after he won his MVP and the same thing about Kevin Durant last season, and neither one of them was in the mix this season). Being in the MVP discussion requires so many moving parts to fall into place in a given season. Curry has all of them on his side now and going forward. Only time will tell.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comSteve Nash won two of them, even though his teammates lacked the defensive mentality of Curry’s Warriors. I’m going to give Curry another MVP – and he could contend for more pending his ability to win championships.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’ll say two more, and that’s being conservative. Winning an MVP almost requires a perfect storm, and this season everything has been clicking for Curry and the Warriors, from Curry staying healthy to the team around him being championship caliber. It’s almost felt like a downhill trip at times for the Warriors and for Curry’s MVP candidacy. How many more times will the chips all fall perfectly, or at least perfectly enough to make Curry the front-runner in the MVP voting? It requires skill, for sure, but a little luck never hurt anyone, either.

Blogtable: Thoughts On Donovan, OKC

Each week, we ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below. Today, it’s a special, one-question-only edition of the blogtable …


VIDEOBilly Donovan’s biggest challenges with Thunder?

> The Thunder have hired Florida’s Billy Donovan to be their next coach. What do you think of this move? And how do you measure success at the end of next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m no fan of college coaches in the NBA, Brad Stevens’ fine work in Boston a praiseworthy exception. For every one like him, there are two or three — Mike Montgomery, Tim Floyd, Lon Kruger — who struggle to make the challenging transition. In college, the coach is king and it’s men bossing around boys. In the NBA, the players rule and largely allow themselves to be coached. The urgency of OKC’s situation makes Donovan a shaky fit too, in my view. Unless Kevin Durant flat-out loves the guy, they have just one season to get back at least to the Western Conference finals – and even that would carry no guarantee that the 2014 MVP wouldn’t land elsewhere in 2016 free agency. Then it could be Russell Westbrook after that. Looks to me like the Thunder are most committed to Donovan (five-year deal) at a level, frankly, they never committed to Scott Brooks.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It seemed that general manager Sam Presti didn’t think the Thunder were going to take the next step forward with the laid-back style of Scott Brooks. He’s brought in a friend and a more intense personality in Billy Donovan, because he thinks his team needs a spark and next season is critical for the future of the franchise with Kevin Durant about to become a free agent. Success now for OKC is 55-60 and no less than a trip to The Finals. It’s a very high bar and one that might be necessary to hang onto both K.D. and Russell Westbrook.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHiring someone who has not spent a day in the NBA makes it a risky move when a team is in win-now mode — there will be a transition — but Donovan has the counter: a long track record of success. This is not just any other college coach, and that will help with credibility within the locker room. How do I measure at the end of next season whether the move was a success? If we’re “at the end of next season” one year from now. If the Thunder, health willing, are done at the end of April or the first days of May, their 2015-16 has been a failure. How much of that would fall on the new coach remains to be seen, depending on his adjustment to the next level, but certainly he gets blame if OKC has an early exit. Success is a long playoff run and nothing less.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Billy Donovan is a former NBA player with deep ties to Rick Pitino and other former and current NBA coaches, so in terms of knowing the game and relating to the professional player, he should be fine. Honestly, I think this is pretty close to a home run for the Thunder, at least in terms of splash. On the surface, Donovan gives them a chance and should have a smooth relationship with Kevin Durant; if Durant leaves it probably won’t be because of the coach. The real work will be with Russell Westbrook; will Donovan press Russ to tweak the shoot-first mentality? Bottom line: Donovan needs a rookie season in OKC the way Steve Kerr is having a rookie season in Golden State.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t have a strong opinion either way. I like the idea of bringing in some new blood into the coaching ranks, which has generally worked out well over the last few years. But Donovan is a guy who’s never coached in the NBA, taking over a pretty unique team in terms of its talent, which was already very good on both ends of the floor. So none of us really know how it will work out. But success will be measured by whether or not Kevin Durant re-signs next summer. Asking Donovan to get to The Finals in his first year is a lot. But if he establishes something that convinces Durant to stick around, he’s done his job.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They had to hire someone with name recognition and a long track record as coach, so in that respect this move would appear to be a positive one. But assuming Donovan will make the same sort of transition like Brad Stevens has made in Boston is a huge mistake. It’s all about the expectations. If Donovan has healthy stars for the 2015-16 season, he’ll be greeted with the same sort of outlandish expectations that awaited David Blatt at the start of training camp in Cleveland this season. If Thunder GM Sam Presti stuck to his ways and hired Donovan without at least giving consideration to the preferences of Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook, this could turn out to be an even more diabolically divisive move. If either one of them walks on Donovan’s watch, Billy D will carry that blame with him, right or wrong, until he leads the Thunder to a title. Presti has a long history of spectacular moves — be it in the Draft, trade market or free agency — but he’s compiling an equally long list of head-scratching moves, too. That’s a cause for concern. It only takes one or two gaffes (James Harden comes to mind) to erode years of confidence from fans. Donovan’s fit has to be perfect for this move to work and I’m just not sure it is. The only measure of success for the Thunder next season is the sort of renaissance turnaround that comes from being a lottery team this summer to being a No. 1 playoff seed this time next year. And that’s just for starters.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It is a long-term investment. Success will be measured by progress: If Durant and Westbrook believe by this time next year that they’re on track to win championships in partnership with Donovan, then what better way to convince them to re-sign as free agents? The goal is to create an environment that serves their best interests as they enter their prime years – a team built for a long run of contention that they can’t afford to leave.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m not really sure what to make of Billy Donovan. To my knowledge he’s known for winning a lot of games and winning national titles, but he’s never been touted as an offensive genius, the kind of coach who can make OKC’s offense a little more liquid than it’s been the last few years. To be honest, I thought Larry Brown would be an inspired coach for a short-term, win-now project. Donovan feels like more of a long-term hire, someone who will build a foundation and be there for years to come. but with Westbrook and Durant staring down free agency just around the bend, I’m just not sure that Donovan is who or what the Thunder needs right now.

Blogtable: No more Hack-A-Shaq?

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


BLOGTABLE: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?



VIDEOShould the hack-a-player rules be changed?

> Lots of chatter recently about the Hack-a-Shaq strategy. Is sending a weak free-throw shooter to the foul line a sound tactic or a tired tactic, and should the league do anything about it?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI suppose the league could extend the time during which fouls off the ball mean two free throws and possession. To be transparent, I haven’t covered one of these in a long time, and sitting through a bad foul shooter’s repeated misses, with all the stoppages of play, is tougher in an arena than watching from home. But free throws are part of the game – Lord knows, that’s about all the media ever gets to see at the end of practice, guys shooting countless free throws – and everyone from the littlest to the biggest players need to perform in those moments. The status quo doesn’t bother me.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m fed up, sick and tired of the complaining by so-called professionals who have not been able to become at least proficient in a fundamental part of the game. When Tiago Splitter was a rookie he was a 54 percent free throw shooter and in the 2012 playoffs, the Thunder fouled him intentionally and effectively turned around the Western Conference finals. Splitter’s answer? He went into the gym and worked. Now he shoots free throws at a 70 percent clip and isn’t being hacked all of the time.  If we’re going to change the rules and bail out DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and every other foul-line rim-bender, I also propose that every player under 6-foot-3 should be allowed to jump on the back of a 7-footer on the opposing team to make a layup or dunk. It’s just not fair that the basket is so high!  Commissioner Adam Silver should stop listening to the brick-laying crybabies and back away from this one. Just make your damn free throws.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s tired, but it is a tactic. It’s the basketball equivalent of walking the No. 8 hitter to get to the pitcher. That’s not fun either, but it’s strategy. Same think with the Haq. I don’t think the league does anything dramatic. Maybe tweaks it, but it’s not like there is a great outcry from coaches and general managers to alter the rule. The drumbeat for change is mostly from the outside.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI’ve never seen a situation where intentionally fouling a bad free throw shooter absolutely helped a team win a game by itself. Maybe it contributed along the way. I do know the NBA shouldn’t discourage these acts by putting a rule in place. Why create a rule that just affects a half-dozen players, if that? Makes no sense. And a rule would only discourage players from practicing harder. Adam Silver said he hates the way it looks on TV. But that alone isn’t enough to push for change.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: That somebody who gets paid millions of dollars to play basketball can’t make half his free throws seems ridiculous to me, so I have no sympathy for the player and team being hacked. But I also don’t think it’s that great a strategy from the hacking team’s standpoint. While a 0.9 points per possession return (from a 45-percent free throw shooter) is certainly less than the 1.1 return on a typical opponent possession, they will rebound some of those second misses, and their defense being allowed to set up after a free throw will diminish your own offense a bit. The only great time to do it is at the end of the quarter to get a free possession for your own team.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s tired, but when executed properly a very effective tool. I understand the desire of many to legislate the hack-a-whoever out of the game, but I think that’s a total cop out. Put the onus on the players and teams to make sure guys work on and improve their free throw shooting. Guys find ways to gain weight, lose wait, work on their quickness, improve their jump shot, handle, post moves and ability to shoot from distance. Why can’t the same emphasis be placed on free throw shooting? Seriously, it’s 2015 … make the players accountable this time.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Change nothing. This is a self-correcting mechanism. Don’t enable bad free throw shooting – instead allow Hack-a-Shaq to shame players into learning one of the game’s basic skills.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogOh man, I get irrationally angry about this. There’s one thing and one thing only that the NBA should do about this: Nothing. Nothing at all. If DeAndre Jordan or Rajon Rondo or whomever can’t shoot free throws, maybe they should work on their free throws! The idea that we should change some rules to make the game easier for players who have a fundamental weakness really bothers me. Did they change the free throw rules shooting for Wilt Chamberlain? Shaquille O’Neal (for whom this strategy is named)? Why change them now, because it makes the game less fun to watch? To me it’s ridiculous to even consider it. If you want the game to be more visually pleasing, get Jordan in the gym, don’t change the rules.

Blogtable: Are Cavs in trouble?

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


BLOGTABLE: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?



VIDEOThe Cavs are trying not to wallow in the loss of Kevin Love

> After sweeping the Celtics, the Cavs have to field a completely different starting lineup in the next round that won’t include Kevin Love or J.R. Smith. Are the Cavs in trouble?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d say “challenged” more than “in trouble.” J.R. Smith will be back in two games, and I expect the Cavaliers to do no worse than split those on their home floor in the conference semifinals. Love won’t be back and, sure, Cleveland will miss his floor spacing (that’s a bigger deal vs. Chicago than Milwaukee, as I see it). But the Cavs still have the two best players in the next two rounds at least — LeBron James in his prime and an all-growed-up Kyrie Irving, and their complementary pieces know how to work around them. I assume they’ll be playing 42-44 minutes of course.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comFirst of all, remember that J.R. Smith is lost for two games, not the entire series. I wouldn’t say the Cavs are in water way over their heads, just that it’s deeper, much rougher and full of more things that can bite them. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will definitely miss Kevin Love’s ability to make 3s, open the floor and make it easier for them to drive to the basket. Assuming the Cavs face the Bulls in the East semifinals — and that might be assuming too much at this point — they have the bigs in Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson that can make life difficult. Hello, Tristan Thompson.  If a repentant Smith backs up all of his contrite words and returns for Game 3 with renewed focus and energy, it will be a boost. In the end, I think we see LeBron and Kyrie rise to the occasion and survive in a series that goes the distance. As far as going all the way without Love, well, that might be too much to ask.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Yes, because the degree of difficulty is about to go way up if the Cavs play the Bulls in the next round, as I believe they will. This could all change with one game, of course — if Milwaukee gets another against Chicago, the mood will quickly change to the Bulls being wobbly. But if it is Cleveland-Chicago, it’s a close series with the Cavs at full strength. With the Cavs down two players, it’s a steeper climb. They are hardly done, but they are in more trouble.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Hard to imagine a team with LeBron James being in trouble for an entire series. Will it hurt initially? Yes, of course. Love and Smith were important rotation guys and Smith in particular an important defender. Still, you must consider two factors before throwing dirt on the Cavs: One, they won’t exactly see the 1986 Boston Celtics in the next round. Two, LeBron has a way of covering up for most if not all player losses. I’m still picking the Cavs to win the East, but not having Love will seriously damage their NBA title aspirations.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The loss of both certainly makes them more vulnerable at home – where they’re 22-1 since LeBron James’ hiatus – in the first two games. This has never looked like a championship team, but the loss of a major cog (Love) will hurt them against every opponent, and maybe on defense as much as offense. This team is not very deep and James will need to play more at the four to properly space the floor. Those lineups aren’t as strong defensively as lineups with him at the three. Assuming they get the Bulls in the next round, I’d call that series a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Trouble? Sure. But how much? I’m not sure it’s as severe as I originally thought it might be Sunday night in Boston, when I pondered the Cavaliers’ playoff future and whether or not it could end quickly in the conference semifinals. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving played so many nights without Kevin Love in the mix at crunch time that there should be no shock to their systems without him in uniform for the remainder of the playoffs. J.R. Smith, as solid as he’s been since joining the Cavaliers, will be missed but only for the first two games of the conference semifinals. The rest of the Cavaliers should be able to hold it down until then. Love’s absence for the long-term is, of course, troublesome. But not the season-killer it sounds looks like on paper.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It’s entirely up to Chicago. The absences of Love and Anderson Varejao can be exploited by the Bulls’ big front line — but only if they are upholding their traditional defensive identity. If the Bulls are unable to renew their old form then Cleveland may yet overcome these latest setbacks.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: No, for one simple reason: The Cavs play in the Eastern Conference! Without Kevin Love the Cavs offense will lack some spacing and the stretch four threat he provided, as well as the ability to go small and use Love as almost a stretch five(!), but even without Love, the Cavs have two things going for them: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. If they end up playing Chicago in the Eastern Conference semifinals, as long as they can total more than 80 points a game they should be in every game. On the other side of the bracket, Washington has looked OK, but I’m not sure Atlanta/Brooklyn is putting the fear of anything in anyone right now.

Blogtable: Thunder coach’s to-do list?

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


BLOGTABLE: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?



VIDEOSir Charles was not a fan of the Thunder firing Scott Brooks

> If you were named coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, what would be atop your “to-do list” your first day on the job?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d pull Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aside immediately after my introductory press conference to thank them. There’s no way a new coach gets hired there without the team’s two stars signing off on it – it probably is a top priority to have them on board, rather than just hold veto power, over Scott Brooks‘ replacement. Then I’d consult with them on their favorite plays, their preferred practice schedule, their desired minutes vs. rest workload and what their favorite meals are to have aboard our chartered flights. Would that be weenie, letting two players dictate so many team decisions? Not if I want to stay employed as coach and fear the leverage Durant and Westbrook wield with their upcoming free-agency decisions. Such is the power dynamic in the NBA these days.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comAfter I’m finished having an All-Star level suck-up session with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, I’m installing an offense that gets more ball movement and relies far less on both of those guys to make hero shots at the end of every shot clock and game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Find out what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are doing that same day. Pick up the phone, arrange a video conference, fax, singing telegram — whatever. I find out how their schedules look and how soon we can visit in person. (Which is probably exactly what will happen, with a lot of the Thunder roster, not just the two stars.)

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I take Kevin Durant to dinner and exchange ideas. That’s a no brainer. Next season will be all about keeping him happy and appreciated and in the loop and engaged. If I can successfully sell Durant on my vision and blueprint for winning a title, then I’ve done my part in keeping him in OKC in the summer of 2016.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d call Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook and schedule a day to spend with each of them. I’d ask Sam Presti to trade Dion Waiters. I’d try to figure out if free agent Enes Kanter can help me offensively more than he hurts me defensively. And I’d start making calls in an effort to put together a good staff.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’d need an immediate sit down with my two biggest stars, so we can figure out a happy medium for them in terms of how they co-exist now and in the future. It’s not that the rest of the guys don’t matter, but I need to know where the dynamic stands between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and what exactly I’m working with as their coach. It looks one way from a distance, but could be totally different inside that bubble. We all need to be on one accord about who and what we are, in every sense of that phrase, if we’re going to climb back into the thick of things at the top of the standings in the Western Conference and the league. So there’s no sense in wasting any time talking about anything else.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: First of all, I would recognize that Scott Brooks is an excellent coach who probably tried everything I am going to consider. My priority would be to improve their passing game, enabling  the ball to move from side to side in the half court. I would ask Russell Westbrook to make quicker decisions, and also try to help Mitch McGary become a better defender so that he can spend more time in the game – because he could give the Thunder a crucial passer from the high post.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMaking sure I had a long-term contract? Going to breakfast with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and making sure they were both committed long-term to continuing to build something there?  No matter who they hire, whether it’s Billy Donovan or whomever, all eyes will be on next summer, when Durant can become a free agent, and the incredibly small window there for the new coach to make something happen. Whether or not it’s a real or imagined pressure, it’s pressure nonetheless and something annoying the new coach will have to deal with. And if these aren’t the things the new coach deals with on his first day, the other thing I’d do is I’d sit down and design an offense that made life easier on all the players involved. What better way to get people to stay?

Blogtable: Favorite memory of 2014-15?

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


BLOGTABLE: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOThe Starters reveal their top 10 plays from 2014-15

> Looking back: What was your favorite moment from the 2014-15 regular season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGreat players doing great things is, uh, great. But I most vividly recall a Cinderella afternoon in January when Miami’s Hassan Whiteside hung a rare points-rebounds-blocks triple-double on the Bulls in Chicago. An NBA D-League refugee who’d bounced through Lebanon and China before opening 2014-15 playing pickup at the YMCA in Charlotte, Whiteside, 25, became the sort of story we don’t get much anymore in a league where everything and everybody is thoroughly scouted, analyzed and plumbed for value. The 7-footer wound up starting 32 games for the Heat, averaging 11.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. But as he went for 14-13-12 in less than 25 minutes off Miami’s bench, he seemed as incredulous as us onlookers. “I told my teammates, man, you won’t believe how things work out in life,” Whiteside said. “[I was] at the downtown Y, just chillin’. Workin’ on my game. I couldn’t even get a team to pick up the phone.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMore than one moment, it was 10 magical minutes on Jan. 23. Klay Thompson breaking the NBA record with 37 points in a magnificent third quarter against the Kings. For anybody who has ever shot a ball at a hoop anywhere on the planet, it was the stuff that dreams are made of.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI’ll go way outside the box: The retirement of Steve Nash. When the obvious happened and Nash made his exit official, the outpouring of appreciation was a special thing. Players, coaches, executives, league brass and the media offered the kind of words that drove home the level of respect he commanded. It reminded everyone, or at least should have, that this was a unique talent and person. Nash didn’t get to go out on his terms, which is disappointing because he earned that opportunity. But when he did retire, he exit was surrounded in appreciation, not sadness.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll give you my runner-up first: When Russell Westbrook, just days after getting a golf ball-sized crater in his face, put on a mask and dropped a 49-16-10 triple double. Yeah it was against the Sixers, but it counts anyway. My choice, though, is when Craig Sager returned from cancer, a moment even more poignant considering his relapse. Godspeed to him.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Seeing Marc and Pau Gasol jump center against each other in the All-Star Game was pretty cool. To have two brothers from another country at the top of this league is a pretty amazing story and the best example of how far the game of basketball has come since the Dream Team ran through Barcelona in 1992. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you can play ball, you can play ball.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Tough question when you have a list that could go a few pages, what with a wicked MVP race raging on all season and the unbelievable runs made by the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and, most recently, the San Antonio Spurs. But for sheer enjoyment, the day the best from the East (Hawks) and West (Warriors) hooked up at Philips Arena on a Friday a week before All-Star Weekend was my favorite day of regular season basketball in years. From both teams embracing the magnitude of the moment at shootaround early that morning to the entertaining-from-start-to-finish 124-116 win the Hawks earned that night, it was a day that began and ended with a big time feel, perhaps even a preview of what we could see in The Finals between two teams with fan bases starving for a spot on that ultimate stage.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comKyrie Irving’s 57points in Cleveland’s 128-125 OT win at San Antonio last month was the best showing of the year. We’ll be referring back to that spectacular night if those teams reunite in June.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCan I go with a video clip? How about this moment:

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This happened in January, just as the Hawks were beginning their historic undefeated month. If there was any question that this collection of players was a team that not only believed in each other but was also terrific on the court, this play answered it for me. (Also, shoutout to Mike Muscala with the “stoic googles” celebration.)

NBA-Blogtable-Favorite-Moment-BannerFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Spurs or Warriors out West?

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


BLOGTABLE: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOThe Warriors can’t wait for the 2015 playoffs to begin

> The defending champs are red-hot and can lock up the No. 2 seed in the West with a victory tonight at New Orleans. So who’s a better bet to win the West: the Spurs or the Warriors?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI vowed not to count out San Antonio a couple of years ago (or was it back in 2007?). The Spurs know what they’re facing at this time of year, they’ve been there/done this and coach Gregg Popovich has his team rested, prepared and peaking. Two months is a long time to maintain a peak but — aside from the level of competition now — the schedule becomes more geezer-friendly. Golden State has been great fun and I’d welcome watching them for four rounds, but if I have to “bet,” give me the Spurs.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt’s certainly hard to pick against the team that’s been the best in the league since opening night. But the one thing the Spurs have never done during that long run is win back-to-back. Now that they are healthy, in rhythm and playing at the top of their game, I’m sticking with the defending champs in what should be a very tasty Western Conference finals. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. Spurs fans shouldn’t whine the choice into “We’re being overlooked again.” San Antonio was my pick at the start of the season to win the West (and lose to Chicago in The Finals.) No one should be surprised that San Antonio is peaking for the playoffs. I just think Golden State has proven it is the best team in the conference. The Dubs win win offense, win with defense, have chemistry and a great home court.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Right now, I like everything about the defending-champion Spurs. They’re surging at the right time, they’re healthy, their role players are dripping confidence and Kawhi Leonard is reborn. Did I leave anything out? Oh, yeah: Tim Duncan and Pop, both championship-tested and approved, are anxious to go back-to-back. The Warriors must navigate through places they’ve never been in the post-season, and I need to see them make it through San Antonio without sprouting a nervous tic.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State. What the Spurs did in last year’s Finals was an incredible display, and they’re heading back toward that level with how they’ve played over the last month. But it’s impossible to ignore that the Warriors have been, by far, the best team in the league all season. They rank No. 1 on defense, No. 2 on offense, and have a point differential (plus-11.4 per 100 possessions) that’s only been topped by three teams — the ’96 Bulls, the ’97 Bulls and the ’08 Celtics – over the last 38 years. No team played the Warriors better than the Spurs in the regular season, but I like the way that Golden State matches up, especially with the ability to shorten their rotation and get Andrew Bogut on the floor more than they did in the regular season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Spurs have the championship components and experience, so they are the safest best in this scenario, even with all that the Warriors have done this season. Golden State has everything you would ever want from a championship team expect the experience that usually comes with repeated forays deep into the postseason before a breakthrough. They are not a Big 3-era team in that they were created basically overnight. Teams that are grown the way the Warriors have been usually require at least a stumble in the conference finals or The Finals before they learn how to get over the mental and emotional hurdle that leads to a title. There are no other teams, as of this moment, that inspire championship visions for me.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Everyone in the West should view the Spurs as favorites. Golden State has been superior overall this regular season, but the Spurs have been hotter down the stretch and are one missed free throw away from pursuing a third straight championship. The best hope for the Warriors is to view themselves as underdogs in a potential conference final against San Antonio – instead of protecting the No. 1 seed, they should attack as if they have nothing to lose. Because the champs have everything that the Warriors want.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI would love to pick the Warriors, because I feel like everyone has sort of overlooked the Warriors and Hawks because of the way they’ve been able to cost for the last month or so. For instance, now Cleveland seems to be the consensus choice to win the Eastern Conference, even though the Hawks have handled the Cavs pretty well this season. In the West, the zombie Spurs have emerged from the grave and appear to be marching forth, unabated. Normally, I’d side with the Warriors here, with the logic being that they’ve earned the respect over the last 80-odd games. But then, these are the Spurs, the team that reached basketball nirvana in The Finals last year. And just like in the movies, until the zombie is completely snuffed out, I’m not turning my back on them.

 

Blogtable: Ready for an East upset?

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


BLOGTABLE: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOGeorge Hill lifts the Pacers to a big win over the Wizards

> The Pacers, Celtics and Nets are all battling for the last two seeds in the East. Which of those teams has the best chance to pull off a first-round upset?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Indiana, of the teams you’re offering, has the best chance of a first-round upset – and it’s itty-bitty. I like the Celtics the best of that bunch but there is no way they’re getting past Cleveland in the 2-7 showdown. If Brooklyn gets in, that’s it, they’re done – while they have some big-name players who might ordinarily give Atlanta or potentially anyone else some tough challenges, there’s a lack of spine or fortitude in that team dating back to its Game 7 loss at home to undermanned Chicago that still is an issue, in my view. That leaves Indiana, which couldn’t crack 100 in its double-overtime slog vs. Toronto Wednesday but would have to keep up with Atlanta’s high-octane attack. So yeah, Pacers, itty-bitty.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Pacers because of their roster loaded with veterans who have been through the playoff wars and because they are capable of playing elite level defense.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The actual answer is “Nobody.” But if I have to pick one, it’s the Pacers. They’re playing well now, the return of Paul George has been an emotional lift as well as an additional scoring punch despite struggling with his shot, coach Frank Vogel on the sideline is always a good thing, and defense, rebounding and playoff experience is a good place to start building an upset scenario.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The easy answer is “none of the above” but if I must choose, then it’s the Pacers. At least their core players know what playoff basketball is about, and there’s the Paul George factor. The basketball gods could repay the Pacers for all they’ve been through with George and take it out on the Hawks, which of course would confirm Atlanta’s status as the choking dog of all sports towns.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: None of them will win more than a game from the Hawks or Cavs, but Indiana is best suited to put a scare in ’em. They’re the best defensive team of the group, so they can keep games ugly and close. They’ve been the best team of the group (in regard to point differential) since the All-Star break and have gotten a boost from the return of Paul George. That being said, I don’t know if they’re even going to be playing this weekend, because they’ll need to win in Memphis on Wednesday to edge out the Nets for the No. 8 seed.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: These teams are doing whatever they can to claw their way into the playoffs and you want to talk about upsets? Actually, the Pacers have the best roster to pull an upset. They’ve got experience and size, decent depth and a star (Paul George, even on limited minutes) capable of going on a tear in a playoff series. They appear spent physically, which is not uncommon this time of year for a team that has been fighting uphill just to stay in the playoff chase. So they’d have to find a way to rest and recharge within the framework of the playoff schedule to even think about pulling off an upset. But again, for teams crawling into the postseason, an upset tends to be more pipe dream than reality.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comLet’s start by acknowledging that the Nets and Pacers won’t be able to run or execute with the Hawks, who went 7-0 against them this year. The Celtics are going to have problems of their own finishing close games against Cleveland, but their small lineup, quickness and ball movement could scare the Cavs for 42 minutes. What coach Brad Stevens has done with young role players over the last two months (23-12) is no fluke: He has been doing for the Celtics what he did for Butler.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: None of them? Honestly, I don’t think any of those teams really have a chance to win a first round series against Atlanta or Boston. But if I had to pick one, which I guess is what you’re saying, I’ll go with the Celtics. Boston has played Atlanta pretty well this season, even beating them once just before the All-Star break. And they beat Cleveland (resting players) twice recently. Adding Isaiah Thomas has given the Celtics another scorer and ballhandler. Is he enough to help the Celtics beat the Hawks or the Cavaliers? That’s a horse of a different color. But what the heck, let’s give them the nod.