Posts Tagged ‘Ish Smith’

New-Look Suns Getting It Done


VIDEO: Suns keep rolling, drop Pelicans

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Of the 16 players that suited up for the Phoenix Suns last season, 12 are gone.

Then there was the ultimate short-timer Caron Butler, a Suns player this summer just long enough to model the franchise’s new uniforms at a Scottsdale mall. In all, eight players are new to the roster, and straight from the feel-good department is Channing Frye returning from a scary heart condition that robbed him of the entire 2012-13 season. Frye is the Suns’ longest-tenured player, signed as a free agent way back in 2009, before current general manager Ryan McDonough had celebrated his 30th birthday.

The Suns’ starting five includes two players from last season: P.J.Tucker and Goran Dragic to go with Frye, Miles Plumlee and star-in-the-making Eric Bledsoe.

And here they are, a team that figured to lose games at a rapid rate is 5-2 and leading the Pacific Division. So how is it possible for an organization that hired a new GM, hired a new coach, cleaned house and then traded its talented starting center Marcin Gortat to Washington a week before the season started (for an injured one who might not play at all) to have already secured one-fifth of its win total from all of last season?

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Butler Returns Home To Milwaukee, Late But No Leaded Bat Needed

 

RACINE, Wis. – When Caron Butler would be late coming home, when that tiny red flag meant that he likely was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, Mattie Claybrook sometimes would hop in the car and take matters into her own hands.

“I had a leaded bat,” Claybrook, mother of the 11-year NBA veteran, said Thursday. “I took it a few times, just to scare the kids. I used to go where I thought he would be with the other boys. They would say, ‘Your momma’s comin’, your momma’s comin’. So he would hide or duck, but I would find him. I’d make him come back home and run the other boys away from wherever they might be. I was trying to keep him straight and narrow.”

That big stick would rank Claybrook somewhere between Isiah Thomas‘ mother greeting gang recruiters at her front door with a shotgun and Derrick Rose‘s three older brothers shooing away bad guys as young “Pooh” ran between their home, their grandmother’s and the Murray Park playground.

But those are Chicago tales – Thomas’ on the city’s West Side, Rose’s to the south in the tough Englewood neighborhood. Butler’s street challenges played out 70 miles to the north, a city of about 79,000 people along Lake Michigan, about 20 miles south of Milwaukee.

Trouble doesn’t sweat demographics, though, and it found Butler at Hamilton Park, a gathering site of idle time and ill intentions where Butler claims to have made his first drug sale at age 11. His newspaper route, getting him up and out long before he was supposed to be in school, provided perfect cover for the bad path onto which Butler had strayed. Back in 2008, during the third and most successful of Butler’s six NBA stops so far, Michael Lee of the Washington Post wrote about that path:

Butler received newspapers at 3:30 each morning, delivered them and then hit the corner of 18th and Howe to sell crack before the sun rose.

“You can take a kid to school all day; he’s in school for eight hours, he [doesn't] see the immediate impact,” Butler said. “You can stay out [on the corner] for four, five hours and make $1,500.”

By his estimation, Butler appeared in juvenile court 15 times by age 15. He served stints at two correctional institutions and had friends who were gunned down in the street. He narrowly avoided doing serious time himself when police found crack cocaine in the garage of the house where he and his family were living.

But basketball was speaking to Butler too, at the Bray and Bryant community centers in Racine, at Washington Park High and eventually at the Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Maine. He had been steered there by Jameel Ghuari of the Bray Center, Butler’s AAU coach and, over time, his mentor. That’s where Butler finished school and attracted the attention of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun.

The rest, as they say, is history. Butler starred for two seasons with the Huskies and was picked 10th in the 2002 Draft by Miami, his first NBA stop. He spent a year with the Lakers after being dealt in the Heat’s trade for Shaquille O’Neal, made the East All-Star team twice in four-plus seasons with the Wizards, then joined Dallas in February 2010.

He was part of the Mavericks squad that beat Miami for the 2011 NBA title but he was a spectator, too, after rupturing his right patellar tendon in January of that season. The Clippers signed Butler out of rehab to a three-year, $24 million free-agent contract, and he averaged 11.1 points in 26.6 minutes the past two seasons.

And now, he’s home, acquired by Milwaukee last week for guard Ish Smith and center Viacheslav Kravtsov from Butler’s temporary stop in Phoenix (he was part of the Eric Bledsoe-Jared Dudley-J.J. Redick transaction in July). On Thursday, that meant a combination news conference-welcome event-pep rally for Butler in the fieldhouse at Park High. Students filled the bleachers at one end of the big gym, while family and extended family beamed from seats on the floor.

It wasn’t just safe for Butler to be back in Racine Thursday. It was proper.

“I’m not going to let you guys down,” Butler, 33, told them all. The event barely had begun and already his voice was growing thick, his eyes turning red. He ticked off thanks to a long list of folks and called the Bucks “a contending team.”

“I’m a little emotional,” Butler said. “I always am – y’all see me crying at press conferences all the time. But this is a different emotion now because this is a dream come true. This is something … I never thought it would happen.”

Two years ago, Milwaukee and Chicago both were possible destinations for Butler until the Clippers’ fat offer settled that. This time, a call from Butler to his mother brought it home.

“I started screaming and shouting and jumping all around the house like a little kid,” Claybrook said. “I said, ‘Thank you, God, in the name of Jesus’ about 20 times. I was so overwhelmed, so blessed.”

For the Bucks, adding Butler was the latest and nearly final move in a summer full of them. Fourteen of the 18 players who suited up for them in 2012-13 are gone. The roster has 11 new faces, including Butler, O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia and others, to be knitted into a team by a new head coach, Larry Drew.

For all the turnover, there still was a hole at small forward, which meant either overloading Delfino’s minutes or playing someone from the big-heavy front line out of position. Now Butler might start, with general manager John Hammond persuaded that the veteran’s recent spate of injuries (the knee in 2011, a broken hand in 2012, back and elbow issues last season) won’t scuttle that plan.

“I don’t think he’s made many concessions [to age or injury],” Hammond said. “I think he wants to do more – we don’t have Chris Paul or Blake Griffin like the Clippers do. … I talked to [Dallas coach] Rick Carlisle about Caron and he said, ‘I’ve never seen a guy work as hard as Caron did to come back from that [knee] injury.’ “

Hammond did those sort of background checks years ago on Butler, too, prior to the 2002 draft when the word “criminal” still was floating around. After 11 NBA seasons, that has been replaced entirely by praise for Butler’s character, personality and charity in the cities where he has played and, of course, in Racine.

“I always wanted to prove people wrong,” Butler said. “Everybody put this stigma on you like ‘You’re not going to make it’ or ‘You can’t do it because…’ “

“Always,” in his case, being from about age 16, anyway.

“I just always wanted to prove doubters wrong. and be a good example for the kids that watch me. My children, children in my family,” the father of four said. “Because the examples that I had, the role models, were different people, people who were running the streets doing different things.

“It’s real rewarding to see people say, ‘I look up to you. Because you did that, I feel I can do this.’ That’s special to me and means a lot.”

There was a fieldhouse full of people telling Butler that Thursday. He had joked that the Bucks, the high school and the neighbors couldn’t hold the news conference “at 18th and Mead,” on the corner of Hamilton Park. But in a way, they did.

Landscape Unchanged As Deadline Passes

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The 2013 trade deadline will be remembered more for the lack of movement than for any deal that was made. We had a handful of transactions in the final hours before the deadline, but the best player dealt this week was a guy who has started a grand total of 52 games over seven seasons.

That would be J.J. Redick, who is heading to Milwaukee in a six-player trade. The Bucks are also getting Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith from Orlando. The Magic will receive Beno Udrih, Doron Lamb and Tobias Harris in return.

Redick is a role player, but one who should help the Bucks, who have struggled on both ends of the floor as they’ve lost eight of their last 10 games, dropping below .500 for the first time since early December. Now in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, they’re just three games in the loss column ahead of ninth-place Philadelphia.

The Bucks were reportedly the leaders in the race for Josh Smith, who is surprisingly staying in Atlanta … for the next few months or so. The Hawks apparently did not have a deal they liked, and will have to hope for a sign-and-trade deal in July if they want something in return for Smith. Our own Sekou Smith says that the Hawks will have “no chance” to re-sign Smith.

Atlanta did make a minor move, sending Anthony Morrow to Dallas for Dahntay Jones.

As much as the lack of a Josh Smith move was a surprise, so was the fact that the Utah Jazz stood pat. With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings, the Jazz have both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on expiring deals. We don’t know if the Jazz had an opportunity to upgrade their backcourt this week, but maybe, like the Hawks, they’d prefer to let one (or both) of those guys walk in the summer.

The Boston Celtics made a minor deal, but held on to both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for the stretch run. They’ll be adding Jordan Crawford to their backcourt, sending Jason Collins and the contract of Leandro Barbosa to Washington in exchange for the volume scorer who has been out of the Wizards’ rotation for the last couple of weeks.

Other moves:

  • The Heat sent Dexter Pittman and a second-round pick to Memphis.
  • The Bobcats traded Hakim Warrick to the Magic for Josh McRoberts.
  • In order to get under the luxury tax line, the Warriors are sending Jeremy Tyler to Atlanta and Charles Jenkins to Philadelphia.
  • The Raptors traded Hamed Haddadi and a second-round pick to the Suns for Sebastian Telfair.
  • The Thunder sent Eric Maynor to Portland.
  • The Knicks sent Ronnie Brewer to OKC for a pick.

In addition to Smith, Richard Hamilton (Bulls), Andrea Bargnani (Raptors), Kris Humphries (Nets), Ben Gordon (Bobcats), DeJuan Blair (Spurs) and Evan Turner (Sixers) aren’t going anywhere. The Denver Nuggets didn’t get a shooter, the Brooklyn Nets didn’t get any of their targets (Smith, Millsap, etc.), and the Los Angeles Clippers will try to get past the Spurs and Thunder with what they have.

The new collective bargaining agreement certainly had a role in the inactivity. The new, steeper luxury takes goes into effect next season, so contracts that don’t expire this season are a heavy burden to bear. Two years from now, the repeater tax goes into effect, so there’s plenty of incentive for teams to get under the tax line this year as well.

And now that the deadline has passed, we can get on with the remainder of the season, knowing that the landscape hasn’t changed one bit.

Offended By Needless ‘Big Mac’ Points? Find A Way To Stop ‘Em Earlier

CHICAGO – The problem with the end-of-game, scoreboard-related promotion at United Center isn’t that fans can turn their ticket stubs into Big Macs after any game in which the Bulls score 100 points.

The problem is that a giveaway more in line with the team’s character would be better suited. Say, fans qualify for said burger whenever coach Tom Thibodeau‘s hounds hold the opponent to 85 points or less.

But we live in a big-round-numbers world, so scoring 100 points it is. Which, in the aftermath of the Bulls’ 99-93 home victory over Orlando Tuesday, shouldn’t be any problem at all – or source of controversy — for Chicago or center Joakim Noah. Or, for that matter, any Magic personnel who have their shorts in a bunch.

So Noah launched a needless 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the victory (he explains what went wrong with it above), rather than letting the clock run out. So he was embarrassed, maybe, over missing a free throw 20 seconds earlier that could have clinched the fast-food menu item for the 21,216 sellout crowd – and the fact that teammate Kirk Hinrich missed two foul shots with 10 seconds left to further disappoint the fans.

So the Orlando Sentinel sought out Magic players like J.J. Redick, who felt Noah’s heave was “unnecessary.” And Ish Smith, who said the Orlando players “noticed.”

So what.

Noah apparently got an earful from Thibodeau, though the coach wouldn’t tell reporters after practice Wednesday what was said. After the game, Noah — who plays passionately and connects with fans in ways many of his peers do not — already was sounding more sheepish, as per an ESPNChicago.com report:

“I got caught up in the moment,” Noah admitted after the game.

Despite the fact the Bulls had won, many fans booed the team as the final buzzer sounded.

“I regret it a little bit,” Noah said. “It wasn’t a good shot.

“You have to respect the game because you never know what can happen in a game. I just got caught up in the moment and I was trying to get the people a Big Mac. They really wanted a Big Mac [judging by how loud the crowd was getting] and I felt like, not only did I take the shot and miss the shot, we didn’t even get the Big Mac. Next time, I won’t take that 3-pointer.”

That’s fine. That’s a personal call or might even qualify as a team rule — though some fans surely will boo and go home grumpy after that decision, too.

What isn’t needed is scolding or chiding of Noah or any other player who similarly “goes for it” at such a silly scoreboard threshold. Management cut that 100-points sponsorship deal for a reason. The revenues it brings in from McDonald’s all go in the big pile of money of that NBA owners, staff, coaches and players divvy up. This isn’t anything new, by the way; this correspondent attended a Suns-Jazz game in New Orleans in 1977 where the Superdome crowd began chanting “FRENCH fries! FRENCH fries!” when Pete Maravich & Co. got close to what back then surely was 120 points or so as the goal.

It gives fans who pay royally for tickets something extra for which to cheer — especially in games where injuries keep Derrick Rose or Jameer Nelson and other names out.

In this case, it all backfired, as noted in The Point Forward blog on SI.com:

The funniest part here: Noah goes home with everyone mad at him. The Magic think he’s a poor sport. His coach thinks he should know better and show more professionalism. And, perhaps most importantly, Bulls fans go home upset that he didn’t even hit the shot to deliver the goods. Brutal.

Enough, though, with these so-called “unwritten rules” designed only to save face for the losing team. They stop trying, so the winners are required to stop trying as well? Yeah, that’s great competitiveness.

If a team puts such a promotion in — and cashes the checks — it ought to honor and go for it. Keep the fans’ feeling a part of things, and throw ‘em a burger for their troubles. As for the Magic or any other losing side getting all sideways, they’d do well to heed the view of a longtime respected NBA coach.

Asked how he felt about the alleged insult of a late 3-pointer in a lopsided game – or any perceived attempt to run up a score that no longer matters – his response was: “Stop ‘em then. You ought to feel worse about the points that got them there.”

Orlando lost again 24 hours later in Minnesota. It got beat by 15. But at least the Timberwolves only got to 90.