Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah Thomas’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 3



‘Holdout’ turns screws on Thompson, Cavs | Cuban ‘gets’ Chandler’s barbs | Greater Heat depth brings minutes challenge | Clippers still counting on Wes

No. 1: ‘Holdout’ turns screws on Thompson, Cavs — If there’d been a statue of Tristan Thompson outside of Quicken Loans Arena, it would have been lassoed and pulled to the ground as happens when banana republics undergo regime change. Instead, the Cleveland Cavaliers had to settle for scrubbing their backup power forward/center’s likeness from signage around the Q and purging any merchandise specific to Thompson from the team’s arena and online stores. Why? Thompson officially is a “holdout,” now that the deadline for him to sign either the Cavs’ one-year qualifying offer or a long-term deal passed at the end of Thursday. Thus the dicey business situation moved into a new phase Friday, as detailed by’s Dave McMenamin:

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ message on Friday, considered the first official day that Tristan Thompson’s contract standoff with the team escalated to a “holdout” situation, was loud and clear:

If you are not going to be present for training camp, you are not going to be weighing on our minds.

“Right now, my thoughts are just about the guys that are here and how hard and how well they are working and no specific expectation otherwise,” said Cavs coach David Blatt when asked for his reaction to Thompson letting the Cavs’ one-year, $6.8 million qualifying offer for this season expire at 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday without accepting it. “Just happy to see our guys working as well as they are.”

With the qualifying offer off the table, negotiations will shift to both sides focusing on a multi-year agreement. Thompson’s agent, Rich Paul, recently vacated a five-year, $94 million max contract demand for his client in favor of a preferred three-year, $53 million deal, per league sources. The Cavs have already tendered a five-year, $80 million offer to Thompson, according to sources.

Friday was the fourth consecutive day of camp that Thompson missed, however Blatt was adamant that the big man’s absence has not caused a distraction as his team readies itself for the regular season.

“We got a veteran group,” Blatt said. “We got a very professional group of guys going about their business and going about their jobs the way that they should. The team is working and we are going to continue to do so.”


No. 2: Cuban ‘gets’ Chandler’s barbs — When Clippers center DeAndre Jordan reneged on his agreement to sign as a free agent with Dallas, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban chose some of his words carefully but didn’t exactly hide his displeasure. More recently, it was Tyson Chandler‘s turn to vent about the turn of events and Chandler – the former Mavs center who kind of got squeezed to Phoenix when Dallas targeted Jordan at the start of free agency this summer – came out strong in support of his fellow big man re-upping with L.A. Well, Cuban didn’t bristle at Chandler’s human, understandable reaction, writes Tim McMahon of

“He does have the right to be salty,” Cuban said during an appearance on 103.3 FM ESPN’s “Dennis and Friedo” on Friday.

Chandler, a hero during Dallas’ 2011 title run, has now twice been given second-fiddle treatment by the Mavs’ front office in free agency. The big man was blunt when asked this week about DeAndre Jordan’s decision to renege on his verbal commitment to replace Chandler as Dallas’ starting center. Chandler considers Jordan’s choice to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers a better-late-than-never, wise decision.

“I thought it was crazy,” Chandler told reporters during media day with the Phoenix Suns, his new team. “I never thought that DeAndre was going to sign with the Mavs, to be honest. I thought he was leaving a great situation back in L.A. Clearly, their roster is very talented and they have an opportunity to contend, so I didn’t understand it to begin with. Him going back on it, I actually thought that he got a good look at the picture.”

It’s not the first indication that Chandler — who informed the Mavs that he was heading to Phoenix minutes before their July 1 meeting with Jordan started — is a bit miffed about being disrespected by Dallas. His peace sign/sun combo was an underrated tweet during the comical emoji battle that unfolded while Jordan snacked on chicken with his Clippers pals and ignored Cuban’s phone calls while waiting to officially sign his deal with L.A.

Cuban said a year ago that he had “learned his lesson” from letting Chandler leave and intended all along to keep him … until he learned that the Mavs had a legitimate shot to add an NBA rebounding leader who was just entering his prime.

“I didn’t think it would get to that point,” Cuban said of the 33-year-old Chandler’s departure from Dallas. “We actually tried to have discussions right at the start of the year about an extension and it kind of just died on the vine. His agent didn’t really take it anywhere, and I was the first to say ‘If you don’t want to take it right now, we’ll try to figure something out at the end of the year,’ because I realized that by waiting that gave Tyson an extra year.

“Then the opportunity for DeAndre came along and we were pretty straightforward. Tyson or his agent gave us the ultimatum before the decision was made. He said he wouldn’t wait. That’s his decision. It is what it is. He does have a right to be salty, because I really did suggest to him — and it’s exactly the way I thought — that he’d be here for a long time.”



No. 3: Greater Heat depth brings minutes challenge — The deeper the NBA roster, the greater its flexibility and the more varied its looks in butting heads with the league’s 29 other teams. But “deep depth” brings with it some hard math for a lot of players: Divvying up the 240 minutes of a typical game by 10 or 12 players means less playing time than a guy could expect in a tighter rotation of eight (assuming he’s one of the eight). That’s what the Miami Heat will face this season and that’s what the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson wrote about:

The upshot of adding skilled veterans Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire and 10th overall draft pick Justise Winslow, along with the return of Josh McRoberts from knee surgery, means the Heat’s second unit — which could potentially include those four and Mario Chalmers — is “obviously a big upgrade from what we had last season coming off the bench,” [Dwyane] Wade said.

But Wade also cited this potentially uncomfortable flip side of adding depth: fewer minutes for players unaccustomed to that.

“Everyone talks about how excited we are about our depth, but you’ve got to understand at times the depth will get in the way of your playing time,” Wade said. “How are we going to get past that? Those are the things people don’t look at that affect teams. We’ve got to be able to get over that hump.”

Two players who stand to be most affected by that: Chris Andersen, who played in 60 of the 65 games he suited up for last season, and Udonis Haslem, who played in 46 of the 77 that he was available for.

“It takes a special person to do that,” Haslem said. “When it takes a hit on playing time, it takes a hit on your ego. My job is to walk guys through who haven’t experienced it. I can instill a positive influence, keeping guys engaged in practice.”

Erik Spoelstra said the Heat does research to make sure it doesn’t sign players who are likely to complain about playing time. Asked about the six power rotation players, Spoelstra said all are selfless.

“This type of situation might not be for every veteran player,” Spoelstra said. “We try to over-communicate that early in the process of recruitment. When we sign them, we over-communicate the role. With any great team, it’s necessary you have talent and depth.

“But you have to be willing to sacrifice to leverage all of that depth. We haven’t gotten to that point yet with [defining] roles. It’s not about minutes, it’s not about shots, it’s not about opportunities. It’s about an opportunity to come together and do something special.”


No. 4: Clippers still counting on Wes — Hey, there was an NBA preseason game Friday night! The Clippers led by as much as 21 points en route to beating Denver at Staples Center, with Cuban’s pal Jordan contributing 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in 26 minutes. But much of the focus for the Clippers was on the small forward spot, where Matt Barnes is the only starter missing from last season and where veteran All-Star Paul Pierce and underachieving Wes Johnson figure to time-share. Beat writer Dan Woike of the Orange County Register stayed up late in filing this roster update:

Barnes, one of the faces on the banners last season, is now with Clippers rival Memphis, and while the team feels it has upgraded on the wing, there’s still a loss to be dealt with.

“There’s no question we’re going to miss Matt,” Chris Paul said. “Matt brought a lot to our team – leadership, toughness. I don’t know; Matt was one of a kind. Replacing Matt, it’ll be a lot of different guys.”

It was never going to be one guy; at least that wasn’t the plan for Coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers over the summer.

“I just think the guy in that spot is going to have success because those other four guys are really good, so he’s going to get shots that you don’t get on other teams because of that,” Rivers said. “One of the things I really wanted was an athlete in that spot, a guy that could make shots and finish at the rim.

“From afar, Wes (Johnson) has the ability to do that. He has not done it yet really in his career, but you know he can, or at least you believe he can. And then you want a veteran as well, and so that’s where Paul (Pierce) came in.

“We went into this with a plan.”

They had a plan for who they would sign. But who will start [in the regular season]? That’s still up in the air.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Boston’s Isaiah Thomas hasn’t been jacking up shots with his usual carefree frequency lately – but he’s quick to assure Celtics fans it’s not a permanent alteration in his game. … The Chicago Bulls still seem committed to a Twin Tower lineup using Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in a league going smaller and smaller. … The better your team, the easier its schedule – because it doesn’t have to play itself, right? breaks down some of the schedule disparity on tap for 2015-16. … In case you missed it, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts gets the Q&A treatment in Cosmopolitan magazine. … LeBron James voiced his displeasure with the too-many recent shootings across the land and has his foundation working on getting kids away from the guns-and-violence culture.

Blogtable: 2015-16 All-Bench Team

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: Thoughts on new playoff seeding? | 2015-16 All-Bench Team | First woman coach or president?

VIDEO: Best of Finals MVP Andre Iguodala

> Finals MVP Andre Iguodala will come off the bench again next season for the Warriors. So give me your 2015-16 All NBA Bench Team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIguodala is a starter on any All-Bench team, so to speak. The reigning Sixth Man winner, Lou Williams, still merits a spot despite switching teams (Toronto to Lakers). Boston’s Isaiah Thomas finished second and seems a perfect instant-offense option to solidify his role. It’s a little more crowded now on the Clippers’ depth chart, but Jamal Crawford knows how to make an impact in whatever minutes he gets. Then I’ll take Chicago’s Taj Gibson, who was a Sixth Man favorite for a lot of us a couple season ago before post-contract extension pressure and injuries knocked him off track.

Fran Blinebury,

G – Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams
F – Taj Gibson, David West
CBoris Diaw

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIguodala, Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson. All had major roles with their teams, and in the case of Thompson, he got better once elevated to the starting lineup once Kevin Love was done. Still stunned that the Suns gave up on Thomas, who has a very team-friendly contract and gets buckets.

John Schuhmann,

Point guardIsaiah Thomas (the only above-average offensive player on the Celtics)

WingsCorey Brewer (important role player for Houston) and Andre Iguodala (still one of the most complete players in the league)

Bigs – Ryan Anderson (should flourish — offensively, at least — in Alvin Gentry‘s system) and Tristan Thompson (eater of glass)

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAndre Iguodala headlines the 2015-16 All- NBA Bench Team and is joined by Tristan Thompson of Cleveland, Jamal Crawford of the Clippers, David West of San Antonio and Lou Williams of the Lakers. They could all be starters somewhere, but they’ll serve as super subs for their respective teams. And if Thompson continues the work we saw from him in the playoffs, he might be my frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year on a loaded Cleveland squad that deploys a healthy Kevin Love as its starting power forward.

Ian Thomsen, Lance Stephenson is listed by the Clippers as a guard, but he’ll be spending a lot of time at forward when they go small:

C – Steven Adams, Thunder
F – Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers
F – Lance Stephenson, Clippers
G – Andre Iguodala, Warriors
G – Isaiah Thomas, Celtics

Lang Whitaker,’s All-Ball BlogWell, Iguodala is on there, for starters. (OK, not for starters, but you know what I mean.) Manu Ginobili should always be in any conversation about the best bench players. I’ll also go with Ty Lawson in Houston, Tristan Thompson in Cleveland, and I’m not sure who else is coming off the bench for the Clippers, but Jamal Crawford is a perennial Sixth Man of the Year contender, to me.

Blogtable: Recruiting target for Celtics?

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: Can LeBron pass MJ? | Your view on Dellavedova | Recruiting target for Celtics?

VIDEOIsaiah Thomas’ highlights from his season in Boston

> Boston’s Isaiah Thomas says he wants to be the free-agent recruiter for the Celtics. To whom should he make his first call, and what should he emphasize in his pitch?

Steve Aschburner, Kevin Love. I’m not sure Thomas has any “in” with the Cavs’ power forward but if he does, he needs to work it. Love might be persuaded to make a change, based on this awkward postseason experience – Cleveland thriving despite his absence – and the way Tristan Thompson has solidified his standing with LeBron James, the team and the fans. What’s to like in Boston? A coach (Brad Stevens) who rapidly has earned respect around the league. A solid roster in need of a couple stars. A winning tradition for a fan base that keeps management’s feet to the fire to stay competitive. And the opportunity to play with, not against, Kelly Olynyk, who can arm-bar all the league’s other power forwards besides Love.

Fran Blinebury, DeMarre Carroll is a two-way player who would help Celtics at both ends of the floor while fitting in as a veteran presences in Boston.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHe makes the obligatory runs at Jimmy Butler, DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Love, but the first real call, the call that has a chance of mattering, to Tobias Harris. Harris has a long future ahead at small forward, making him a good fit in Boston. The others on the phone list will be getting max offers from their current teams and, they will all note, teams that are far ahead in the standings and have championship credentials. Harris could get more money, a bigger role and more wins from the Celtics. In return, one of the underrated players of the league will make them better.

Shaun Powell, I’m not understanding how Thomas can be a recruiter. No offense to the guy, who has carved himself a nice niche in the league, but he’s not a franchise player and therefore probably lacks the clout to sweet-talk LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love or any other difference-maker. Anyway, the person who should pick up the phone is Danny Ainge. It’s his plan. 

John Schuhmann, The Celtics need shooting and rim protection. There are lots of centers on the market, and maybe they can steal Danny Green or Marco Belinelli from a Spurs team that has its initial free agency efforts focused elsewhere? Brad Stevens has built himself as a great coach, so the recruiting efforts could start there. This is a young team that, with the right additions, could make a decent jump in the standings next season.

Sekou Smith, I hope Isaiah has unlimited minutes on his phone plan, because his first call should be the first of many. If he’s looking for blue-collar guys that will fit into the culture coach Brad Stevens is crafting, his first call should be to Hawks swingman DeMarre Carroll. The “Junk Yard Dog” would be a great fit on that Celtics team. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett saw it a few years ago and suggested the same thing to Danny Ainge, before Carroll showed us what kind of player he is. I know the Celtics think they need big-dollar superstars to get back to where they were with the Big 3, but this is not the summer to play that game. Instead, it is time for Boston stockpile the right pieces to get it to that next level. The Hawks, of course, will want to keep their star free agents (Paul Millsap and Carroll). But I’d make them choose which one they’re willing to pay to keep.

Ian Thomsen, Michael Jordan, the greatest of all players, has never recruited a top-flight free agent. Larry Bird, the only man to be awarded as the best player, coach and executive in NBA history, has never recruited a top-flight free agent. The Celtics, who are the winningest franchise in the history of basketball, have never recruited a top-flight free agent. All I can say to Isaiah Thomas is good luck with his recruiting.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: “Hey, Kevin Love? Hey man, it’s Isaiah Thomas. No, the other one. Right, the Boston one. No, no, wait, wait, don’t hang up! OK, first, just know that whole thing with Kelly was an accident. He was trying to keep you from getting the ball and he honestly wasn’t trying to hurt you. Just like Dellavedova — he’s not dirty, he just plays hard. That said, we need you in Boston next season. You can be a third wheel in Cleveland and stand in the corner and shoot threes, or come here and play the way you’re used to playing. Brad Stevens is great, people here will love you, and Tommy Heinsohn will give you so many Tommy points you won’t believe it. So what do you say, interested?”

Morning shootaround — May 26

VIDEO: Highlights from Game 4 of the Western Conference finals


LeBron better than Jordan? | No additional discipline for Horford | Warriors breathe sigh of relief | Thomas ready to recruit for Celtics

No. 1: James’ teammates: LeBron closing in on Jordan as greatest ever — The long-standing, never-ending debate over which player in NBA lore — take your pick from any legend, mind you — is the greatest ever is one that will never die. In modern days, the argument seems to settle on who is better: LeBron James or Michael Jordan? Like any debate, the answer is subjective. But according to James’ teammates on the Cavs, LeBron may not be that far from passing Jordan. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

After willing his team to a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals at The Q on Sunday night with an exhilarating performance, a long soak in the cold tub followed.

It took his 12th career postseason triple-double of 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists to place the Atlanta Hawks on the brink of embarking on an extended vacation. He became the first player in playoff history to produce a stat line of at least 37 points, 18 boards and 13 dimes.

His greatness, his dominance can no longer be brushed to the side. There are those who believe his time has almost come.

Michael Jordan’s long-coveted slot as the supreme basketball player in the history of the game is in serious jeopardy of being dropped down a peg.

“The only thing that he’s missing is a couple more championships and then it’s a wrap,” Kendrick Perkins told Northeast Ohio Media Group. “Right now we have arguably the best player to ever play the game. I’m just saying man. I’m not taking anything away from Jordan, but all (James is) missing is titles. A couple of more titles and that’s it.”

Perkins has played with some of the greats in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He grew up watching Jordan play.

“That’s one hell of a debate. Honestly, in my opinion, if it’s not Jordan then it’s him,” J.R. Smith told NEOMG. “It used to be no question. It was a landslide. It was Jordan. Now, you have to consider my boy.”

“Just think about it, truthfully, if he wanted to, he could win the MVP every year,” Perkins said. “Think about that. He averaged 25 [points], 6 [rebounds] and 7 [assists]. That’s absurd, and people are like ‘he had a down year.’ That’s crazy talk. When it’s all said and done, he’ll probably be the best the game has seen.”

VIDEO: Relive LeBron James’ Game 3 triple-double vs. the Hawks

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Numbers preview: Cavs-Celtics

VIDEO: The Starters: Cavs-Celtics preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — LeBron James‘ quest to bring a championship to Cleveland begins again this weekend. James has been here before, but teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have not. Game 1 against the Boston Celtics on Sunday will be the first playoff game of their careers.

The Cavs have looked like the favorites in the Eastern Conference over the last couple of months, going 33-10 after James returned from a two-week break in mid-January. Their offense has been off the charts at times, and their defense has been improved with the additions of Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert.

The Celtics had their own renaissance by getting rid of two of their three highest-paid players. They traded Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green and finished the season on a 23-12 stretch. Two of those wins came against the Cavs, but James played just 26 minutes of the April 10 meeting in Cleveland and four of the Cavs’ starters sat out the April 12 meeting in Boston.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Cavs-Celtics, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)

Pace: 94.8 (25)
OffRtg: 107.7 (4)
DefRtg: 104.1 (20)
NetRtg: +3.7 (7)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Boston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Cavs notes:

  • Had the league’s best offense against its top five defenses, scoring 107.9 points per 100 possessions over 14 games against the Warriors, Bucks, Spurs, Grizzlies and Wizards.
  • Ranked 25th defensively through Jan. 11 (the end of LeBron James‘ two-week break), having allowed 106.0 points per 100 possessions. Ranked 16th defensively (102.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) after that. Overall, 20th is the lowest any James team has ranked in defensive efficiency, and no championship team has ranked that low in the 37 seasons since the league started counting turnovers.
  • Isolated on 11.4 percent of their possessions, the highest rate in the league, according to Synergy.
  • Kyrie Irving scored 1.09 points per possession on isolations, the best mark among players with at least 100 isolation possessions.
  • In his 24 games with the Knicks, 36 percent of J.R. Smith’s shots were 3-pointers. In his 46 games with the Cavs, 67 percent of Smith’s shots were threes.

Boston Celtics (40-42)

Pace: 98.4 (5)
OffRtg: 101.7 (20)
DefRtg: 102.1 (14)
NetRtg: -0.4 (18)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Celtics notes:

The matchup

Season series: 2-2 (1-1 at each location)
Pace: 99.2
CLE OffRtg: 100.6 (17th vs. BOS)
BOS OffRtg: 105.1 (15th vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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,’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.

Morning shootaround — April 11

VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 10


Curry for MID award | Duncan hands Father Time first loss? | Cavs or not, Celtics can’t be choosy | Hawks’ Antic, NBPA talk N.Y. incident

No. 1: Curry for Most Improved Defender award — By now, most NBA observers expect Golden State’s floor leader and marvelous 3-point shooter Steph Curry to finish first or second in balloting for the league’s Most Valuable Player. But if you look closely at Curry’s performances on the other end of the court, listen to his coaches and study the Warriors’ numbers in thwarting the opposition, Curry might merit consideration for a wholly fictitious award: Most Improved Defender. Breaking down the components of good individual and team defense with Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams,’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss enumerated the many ways in which Curry has tightened up his game that way, and concluded:

The Warriors challenged their top player to get better, and it worked. They’re having the best regular season — in terms of point differential — we’ve witnessed since Jordan‘s Bulls.

The notion of Curry as defensive ace might be subversive, but perhaps not as subversive as the next statement: Curry got better not just because he wants to be the best player alive, but also because he thinks it’s within his reach.

“He wants to be the best,” [coach Steve] Kerr said. “He knew that to be the best he had to be better at that end.”

Even as Curry is favored to win an MVP award, the concept of a skinny, 6-3 point guard as league alpha strikes people strangely. That spot is usually reserved for physical freaks like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It all just smacks of basketball heresy.

Curry’s star continues to rise in defiance of convention, though. He markets himself as “the patron saint of the underdog” for a reason. Curry doesn’t look like a good defensive player, but then again, he never looked like a Division I college player, he never looked like an NBA draft pick, and he never looked like an NBA superstar. But he has accomplished all of those things. If reputations are often based on appearances, Curry aims to forge a reputation as someone who transcends that expectation. And his aim is excellent.

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Morning shootaround — April 5

VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 4


Streaking Celtics adopt ‘win now’ approach  | Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning | Blazers must shore up their D | Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blow

No. 1: Celtics make convincing playoff push — They very easily could justify missing the playoffs this season and then cashing in on their growing cache of draft picks, but the rebuilding Celtics have evidently decided to go for it. When Marcus Smart dropped a buzzer-beater Saturday night against the Raptors, it only confirmed as much. Boston entered Sunday with the No. 8 spot in the East, a half-game lead over the Heat, and to hear the players and brass, the playoffs are where this young team belongs. It’s a rather refreshing tone considering how much tanking has dominated the conversation in the NBA this season. Zach Lowe of Grantland did a study on the Celtics during this playoff push and here’s some of what he found out:

“The playoff-chasing Celtics of 2015 are a cute feel-good story — and little more. The rebuild is moving faster than expected, with a surprise run at the no. 8 seed in a dreadful conference, but there is a giant chasm separating this plucky, starless group from what it aspires to be.

“The important thing to remember about us,” coach Brad Stevens said in a sit-down with Grantland last week, “is that we have a long, long way to go.”

It says everything about the difficulty of rebuilding that Boston has absolutely nailed Phase 1 and yet has no clear path to 50 wins. Multiple rival executives described Boston’s trading spree of the last two years as “a masterpiece” in rebuilding. Contract timetables, injuries, and other variables made it impossible for Boston to deal its aging stars at peak sell-high times, and yet Danny Ainge still nabbed great value for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics have as many as six extra first-round picks1 coming and oodles of cap space, they’ve drafted solid players across the first round, and they just acquired a dynamic young point guard — Isaiah Thomas — on the cheap.

But they have no stars and no clear path to getting one outside a major break in free agency or the trade market. The Celtics have made the leap to mediocrity so fast that they may have no easy way out. They’re still not good, but they’re not bad enough to get an early first-round pick — to get a clear shot at a star, in other words. Even if they lose this season’s slap fight for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, they will likely pick in the late lottery — a range that looks like their draft ceiling for the next few seasons. “That’s a concern for all 30 teams,” Ainge says of being stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity. “It’s the nature of our league. You definitely need good fortune.”

The Celtics discussed holding off on the Thomas deal to deflate their win total, but decided after some debate that they could lose out — or pay a higher price — if they waited until the summer. “Ideally, he might have been someone you pick up in the summer,” Ainge says. “But someone else might trade for him. You might be in a bidding war. You have to move while the iron is hot.”


No. 2: Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning — The most intriguing April drama in the West is about playoff positioning near the top. The Rockets now hold a half-game lead over the Grizzlies for the No. 2 spot, and why is that so important? Well, the No. 2 team will most likely get the Mavericks and avoid the suddenly-smoking Spurs in the first round. Memphis had successfully fended off all threats for the No. 2 spot until now. And while the race is hardly over, the contest between Memphis and Houston will only intensify, especially with Dwight Howard back in the mix for the Rockets (though on a minutes restriction). Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN on the Grizzlies, who lost a tough game to the Wizards on Saturday:

“I don’t think it’s the toughest division in our league; it’s the toughest division in all major leagues,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “Year in and year out, it’s ridiculous. So for our guys to get rewarded for their hard work, it would be positive.

“It’s what’s important to you. You hear about San Antonio, right? They don’t care about a division title. They don’t care about seeding. Well, we’re not them.”

While it’s all about the end game for the Spurs, who are going for their second straight championship and sixth in the past 16 years, the Grizzlies are still focused on the intermediate steps toward success. Winning an NBA championship remains the top goal for Memphis, but hanging the franchise’s first division banner in the rafters of the 10-year-old FedEx Forum along the way is a major priority.

The last time every team from an NBA division made the playoffs was in the 2005-06 season, when the Pistons, Pacers, Cavaliers, Bulls and Bucks advanced. That’s never happened in the NFL or Major League Baseball, although it’s occurred in two different divisions in the NHL over the past five seasons.


No. 3: Blazers must shore up their D or else — If you’re a Blazers fan you, must be thrilled with the way the team has hung in there in the rugged West despite missing Wesley Matthews and an inconsistent season from Damian Lillard and with LaMarcus Aldridge playing through a thumb that’ll require surgery in the offseason. Portland once again is in position to do damage in the playoffs (ask the Rockets, who are still stinging from Lillard’s series winner last spring), but not if they don’t clean up their biggest issue first: defense. Oregonian writer John Canzano, still stung by the Blazers surrendering 126 to the Clippers last week, discusses:

But on the other hand, Chris Kaman was willing to address the biggest issue that coach Terry Stotts whiffed on — atrocious team defense by the Blazers. The biggest problem for Portland if any of this should come to a Clippers-Blazers playoff series.

Decide for yourself which guy had the worse post-game peformance. I’m not up in the air. Kaman settled it when he said, “We scored 122 points. That’s not stopping anybody. And we didn’t stop them either, they had more points (126) than we did. We got hurt on transition and on threes.” He was only saying what everyone could obviously see at Moda Center.

I like Stotts. I championed his hiring. I banged the drum for his contract extension even before the end of last season. I like where he’s headed with this rig, but if he’s unable to get real about the deficiencies of this team and remains in denial, I’m concerned about the short-term prognosis for a team that has fought to this point.


No. 4: Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blowDirk Nowitzki is usually a cool customer except when threatened with severe physical pain, as anyone else would (see Chris Kaman last week regarding Chris Paul). So at first, he was taken aback when he was whacked in the private area by Shaun Livingston. But when these things happen, you must take into account the history of the offending party. Livingston doesn’t exactly conjure up memories of flagrant assaults. And so, while Mark Cuban wasn’t in a forgiving mood Saturday, Dirk gave Livingston a pass. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News has some golden quotes from Dirk:

Livingston, trying to defend Nowitzki in the post, was using his right hand to hand-check Nowitzki in the back. Somehow, his hand got in between Nowitzki’s legs and clearly caught Nowitzki in the groin area.

For the rest of the game, the AAC crowd booed Livingston every time he touched the ball and in the fourth quarter, Livingston and coach Rick Carlisle exchanged words briefly after a foul was called on J.J. Barea against Livingston.

Things escalated after the game when owner Mark Cuban talked to Golden State coach Steve Kerr and Livingston, then assistant coach Alvin Gentry, as they left the court.

Nowitzki had this to say about the play, which was reviewed and ended up with Livingston called for a flagrant foul, penalty one.

“Well, I give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s really not that type of player,” Nowitzki said. “He hasn’t been his entire career. I’m not really sure what he was trying to do there, if he was trying to get to the ball through my legs or anything. But like I said, he’s not a dirty player.

“But I really enjoyed his tight grip he got. I really enjoyed that.”

Nowitzki was laughing as he said that last line.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Millsap’s shoulder injury should be defined a bit better today. The Hawks forward suffered the injury Saturday against the Nets and did not return in that game. … Boston’s Evan Turner has joined exclusive company: One of only 5 Celtics with 3 or more triple doubles in a season … All systems go for Paul George in his return tonight.

Morning shootaround — March 27

VIDEO: Highlights from game played on March 26


James Harden makes MVP case | Pacers clinging to playoff hopes | Crawford says he’ll be back | Amar’e to stick with Dallas?

No. 1: James Harden makes MVP case With the season nearing an end, the MVP talk around the MVP race is heading up. Stephen Curry? Russell Westbrook? LeBron James? Anthony Davis? Or what about in Houston, where James Harden has been perhaps the best offensive player in the NBA this season? USA Today‘s Sam Amick caught up with Harden, who made his case for why he deserves your MVP vote…

“I think if you look at what I’ve been doing all year, only missing one game all year because of the situation (with seemingly-endless injuries to teammates), basically having to carry a load all year, being consistent from the first game of the season,” Harden said. “That should show it right there. But like I said, (the focus is) for me to go out there and continue doing what I’m doing, being consistent, is all I can do.”

And getting to the free throw line at an unmatched rate. Harden — who has converted on 86.6% of free throw attempts — is on pace to lead the league in free throw attempts for the second time in three seasons (10.1 per game). Last season’s leader in that category was the Thunder’s reigning MVP, Kevin Durant (9.9).

“I’m enjoying the whole process of these last (few) games, just trying to win games,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since Dwight has been out. I don’t really keep track of the other (MVP candidates) or what they’re doing. Obviously everybody knows that Russ is going on a triple-double rally. He’s playing extremely well and they’re fighting for the eighth spot. But all those guys you named (Curry, Westbrook, James, Davis and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers) are very good players, or very talented players. For me, I just focus on what I can control and going out there and doing the best I can do every single right.”

In trying to explain his own MVP-caliber campaign, Harden said his comfort level in the not-so-new surroundings have been key. It’s his third season in Houston, where he came via trade in October 2012 and has progressively found his way as a leader ever since.

“All I needed was time,” he said of the Houston experience. “All I needed was to know what I had around me. And now that I know it, I’m comfortable with it and I can be a great leader. I think that’s probably one of the reasons I’m so successful is that I’m comfortable. I think if you’re comfortable in any situation, and you know what’s going on and you know what you’re going to get, you’re going to be successful.

“It’s about having a good time, about enjoying it, enjoying the grind. If you’re not having fun, you’re probably not doing good.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 24

VIDEO: Highlights of Monday’s action from around the NBA


Some Kevin-on-Kevin love | Commish misses Bosh, too | Rondo consults Dirk’s shot doc | Kirilenko heads back home

No. 1: Some Kevin-on-Kevin love — No, not that Kevin Love. We’re talking Kevin love, as in Kevin McHale‘s admiration for Kevin Garnett, the straight-outta-high school gamble who paid off big for McHale when he was starting out as VP of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Garnett was the face of Minnesota’s franchise for most of his 12 seasons there and, on the eve of his return to the Wolves in practice and a welcoming press conference Tuesday, one Hall of Famer – before coaching in Houston against his former employer – talked about the Hall of Famer-to-be, as chronicled in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“I’m happy for the Timberwolves organization,” McHale said Monday. “For a lot of years, he was, of course, the face of the franchise. It sounds like they’re happy. He’ll do a good job with those guys.”

McHale was asked Monday if it seems right that Garnett return to his NBA beginnings.

“That’s up to Kevin,” McHale said. “So many people do different things. I’m happy for him if he’s happy. He’s a good kid. I spent a lot of time with him. I think it’s great when that can work out if it really works out for both parties. It’s great for the Timberwolves, and Kevin must have felt good about it, otherwise he wouldn’t have signed off on it.”

Garnett waived a no-trade clause minutes before Thursday afternoon’s NBA trade deadline. He arrives Tuesday not the player he once was, but rather a man who has seen it all, done it all and can help team a young Wolves team mature.

“Kevin loves basketball,” McHale said. “He’s competitive. He always has been. He has a wealth of knowledge. He has played a lot of big games, won a championship and he’s not afraid to talk. He’ll say a lot of things.”

Rockets veteran forward Corey Brewer thought he’d hear many of those things when McHale drafted him to play for the Wolves in 2007. But Garnett was traded just weeks later.

“It’s great for the franchise,” said Brewer, who like Garnett was brought back to the Wolves but traded for a second time in a December deal that sent him to Houston. “KG, he’s the face of the franchise, still to this day even though he left for a while. I’m happy for the franchise. I’m happy for him to go back. I think he’ll have a great impact. Those guys need a guy like KG. They’re young. They’re all getting better. They need that voice, that leadership.”