Skip to main content

Posts Tagged ‘Isiah Thomas’

Morning shootaround — April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of CSNNorthwest.com detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.

(more…)

Morning shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs (yawn) set more marks | Running with Bulls proves hazardous | Pacers need to snap out of it | Jazz’s Exum waits, watches, learns

No. 1: Spurs (yawn) set more marks — San Antonio has been so good for so long – 19 consecutive seasons of 50 victories (or the equivalent in 1998-99’s 37-13 post-lockout finish), five NBA titles – that it hardly seems possible for the Spurs to top themselves. But they did that Saturday, beating Toronto to set a franchise mark for victories in a season and extend their perfect mark this season at the AT&T Center. Interesting that on such a memorable night, it wasn’t Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili leading the way but rather Kawhi Leonard (career-high 33 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (31 points, 15 rebounds). As usual, Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News was there to chronicle it:

The Spurs’ 64 wins – next to 12 losses – set a franchise record, snapping a tie with the 63-win squad from 2005-06.

The 39-0 mark at home continued the best single-season streak in NBA history. The Spurs’ 48th consecutive regular-season win at the AT&T Center continued a streak rendered the longest active home streak in the league after Golden State lost a night before to Boston.

None of this information made coach Gregg Popovich’s postgame speech.

“There’s not much we’re allowed to care about,” guard Danny Green said. “We made the playoffs. We care about that. Being healthy and winning games in the playoffs – those are the things we care about.”

With the playoffs two weeks out, Popovich wasn’t much impressed by the Spurs’ seven-point win over a Toronto team resting All-Star guard Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

He didn’t think his defenders did a good job of staying in front of the Raptors’ wing players. He thought his team’s offensive execution was satisfactory for only about a half.

Popovich said he wanted to get meaningful minutes for most of his starters, and accomplished that.

“We got that done,” Popovich said, “but we didn’t play great.”

Even so, the Spurs can go a ways in the playoffs with Aldridge and Leonard producing nights like Saturday.

It marked the first time the Spurs had two players reach 30 points since a Dec. 28, 2012 win over Houston, when Tony Parker and Tim Duncan hit that threshold.

Against the Raptors, no player other than Aldridge or Leonard reached double figures.

Yet the Spurs still doled out 28 assists, led by Leonard’s seven, proof that the ball still moved.

If Popovich seemed typically curmudgeon-like in his postgame comments, it wasn’t any big departure from his in-game demeanor. Consider his reaction when guard Patty Mills, on a 1-for-6 night from 3-point range, finally hit his lone long ball in the fourth quarter:

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: February 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavaliers don’t look title ready | Curry’s greatness at heart of skepticism about Warriors | Carmelo brushes off Stoudemire’s barbs about Knicks | Thunder had no answer for Warriors’ death lineup

No. 1: Cavaliers don’t look title ready — Losses to the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards over the weekend has taken the shine off of things in Cleveland, where the world knows it’s championship or bust for LeBron James and company. YEs, they remain the clubhouse favorites to win the Eastern Conference title and represent in The Finals, but they don’t look title ready right now, as Michael Lee of The Vertical points out after Sunday’s LeBron-less loss to the Wizards:

The Cavaliers have way too much talent, experience and shared success to use James’ absence as even a partial excuse for a 113-99 loss to the Wizards – a team that is currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff race looking in. Even if their best player – and apparently lone playmaker – decided his mind and body needed a break, the Cavaliers still had three times as many players on maximum contracts than their opponent, but none of them, Lue said, gave maximum effort.

The loss was more alarming and disturbing because it came two days after a loss to the steady-charging Toronto Raptors that led James to say, “We lack mental [strength] right now.” J.R. Smith took the critique to another level after Sunday’s loss with a very nonchalant slam of his team’s performance.

“If we lose a game like the other night to a team like Toronto and to come out here and play the way we did – you have a lack of energy – maybe we shouldn’t be in this position,” Smith said, voice barely rising above a purr. “We shouldn’t be who we are and be in these uniforms.”

The Cavaliers haven’t reached the point where they should panic but they can’t be extremely comfortable about where they stand. They were supposed to have a much easier run through the East than defending champion Golden State in the West, but they only have a two-game lead over the Raptors for the top spot in the conference while the Warriors’ lead over the 50-win San Antonio Spurs feels more vast than Steph Curry’s limitless range.

No other team in the East made the kind of offseason or midseason upgrades to pose much of a threat to James’ reign over the conference but the struggle has been real. The Cavaliers are easily the most talented team in the East, but they are among the least content. James once blamed complacency as the culprit for the team coasting at times, but the Cavaliers have been involved with a considerable amount of chaos for a team that was only two wins from an NBA championship last June despite missing two of its best players. There has been an intense pursuit of perfection that has robbed this season of the kind of fun that Cleveland’s record (41-17) should otherwise suggest.

“It’s the same thing we’ve been searching for, consistency and efficiency,” veteran forward James Jones told The Vertical. “We’re good enough, talented enough, to do things the majority of the time, to win games against the mid-tier teams. Against the good teams, we can piece together a game or two of really good basketball and look exceptional, but deep down inside we know that we aren’t hitting on all cylinders defensively, offensively. We still have some of the same issues of isolation and ball stopping and not moving bodies. For us, even though we’re having success, it’s not the fact we were winning but the way we were winning that gave us concern and you really can’t enjoy it as much when you know you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.”

 

***

 No. 2: Curry’s greatness at heart of skepticism about Warriors — There’s a reason that some of the men who came before Stephen Curry cannot find a way make sense of what the reigning KIA MVP is doing right now. They’ve simply never seen anything like it, nothing close actually. And that unfamiliarity with a player who can shoot as well as Curry does, and in turn dominates the floor in ways no player has before him, does not register with the likes of Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. That inability to frame Curry’s exploits is what lies at the heart of all these doubters of both Curry and the Warriors, writes Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News:

The frustration is logical, though, in a historic sense:

When the old stalwarts don’t get what you’re doing … that’s when you know the revolution is well underway.

It works two ways: The criticisms from all-time greats such as Oscar Robertson highlight the vast gap between then and now and serve to motivate the Warriors to make it even greater.

“It’s starting to get a little annoying just because it’s kind of unwarranted from across the board,” Curry said late last week on the “Warriors Plus/Minus” podcast with Marcus Thompson II and me.

“When you hear kind of … obviously legends and people that respect their era and what they were able to accomplish and what they did for the game kind of come at you, it’s kind of, just, weird.”

Some of the skepticism is understandable, because Robertson and others are great figures in the game and, yes, the rules and standards are different now.

Times change, as they did from the era before Robertson to his era and so on …

Some of the carping is logical, because this Warriors team has just the one title (so far); some of it is envy for the current limelight; some is general cantankerousness.

But let’s underline the true heart of the public doubts about Curry and the Warriors coming from Robertson, Stephen Jackson — and even from Clippers coach Doc Rivers and others last offseason:

It’s about questioning Curry’s true status as a generational figure, because he’s a departure from the normal procession of bigger, faster, stronger (Elgin Baylor to Julius Erving to Michael Jordan to LeBron James).

Almost every other NBA quantum leap came in the form of a physical leap forward, and Curry’s ascension isn’t tied to strength, size or speed. He’s a skinny guy who went to Davidson and was supposed to be knocked around by Jackson and Monta Ellis in his first Warriors training camp.

But Curry wasn’t. He survived, they were sent away, and now here he is, with one MVP on his mantle and No. 2 coming at the end of this season.

Curry’s greatness is about an unprecedented talent level and work ethic — no matter what Robertson says about current defense, there is no consistent way to defend a man who can casually dribble into game-winning 38-footers, as Curry did in Oklahoma City on Saturday.

This is new. This is unfathomable, unless you know Curry, unless you’ve spent a few years studying how he is altering this sport.

Curry’s status is comparable to the way Wayne Gretzky changed hockey, the way the West Coast offense and Joe Montana reset football and the way Muhammad Ali made everything before him in boxing seem outdated.


WATCH: Steph Curry with the (12 from deep) shots

***

No. 3:  Carmelo brushes off Stoudemire’s barbs about Knicks — Amar’e Stoudemire has some interesting memories about his time in New York. There were good times and bad, plenty of ups and downs, and in hindsight, plenty of factors played into his time there alongside Carmelo Anthony. He spoke his mind when asked about his time there, with is Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden for a Sunday game. But Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony didn’t take any of it to heart and he certainly didn’t think Stoudemire was taking shots at him. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com has more:

Asked if he feels for his former teammate Anthony for going through another tough season with the Knicks, Stoudemire hinted that Anthony needs to be better to pull the Knicks out of their mess. The Knicks (25-36) have lost 14 of their past 17 games.

“It’s tough,” Stoudemire said before the Heat beat the Knicks 98-81 on Sunday. “When you get involved in this situation, you have to take ownership of it. You have to make sure you made the right decisions for your team and teammates.

“You have to become a complete player in order to bring your team out of a rut. Everyone can’t do it. It’s not always easy.”

When asked if he has any advice for Anthony moving forward, Stoudemire mentioned how he knew at this stage of his career that he needed to surround himself with “other class A players” to chase a title.

“It’s a situation where you have options,” Stoudemire said. “If you want to win, that’s the main priority. And if physically you can’t do it as a player and make your teammates better and get them to the point they can win, then you surround yourself with a team that’s built to win.

“And for me, I knew Father Time was ticking on my clock, so I wanted to put myself in a position around other class A players, put myself in a position to at least compete for a championship.”

Stoudemire played four and a half seasons with the Knicks, and his time overlapped with former fan favorite Lin. Although he did not mention any names, Stoudemire said not every Knick was thrilled with Lin’s exploding popularity back then.

“If he stayed, it would’ve been cool,” Stoudemire said of Lin, who played one season in New York from 2011-12. “But everyone wasn’t a fan of him being the new star, so he didn’t stay long. But Jeremy was a great, great guy. Great teammate. He worked hard. He put the work in, and we’re proud of him to have his moment.

“A lot of times, you gotta enjoy someone’s success,” he continued. “And that wasn’t the case for us during that stretch. … You got to enjoy that. You got to let that player enjoy himself and cherish those moments. He was becoming a star, and I don’t think everybody was pleased with that.”

Anthony did not think Stoudemire was talking about him when it came to being less than receptive to Lin’s brief success in New York.

“Still?” Anthony asked when told that Lin came up when reporters talked to Stoudemire. “That was [four] years ago? I don’t know. I don’t have no comment about that. If [Lin] was becoming a star, we should embrace that. I don’t know. We didn’t embrace it? Was that the word?”

“S—, if that was the case then I’d be upset right now with KP [rookie fan favorite Kristaps Porzingis], if he’s talking about me. I doubt if [Stoudemire is] talking about me. I doubt that. I highly doubt that.”

***

No. 4: Thunder had no answer for Warriors’ death lineup — The Oklahoma City were the one team most pundits thought to be built to deal with the Golden State Warriors’ vaunted death lineup, a small-ball group that has shredded all comers this season. But in the final minutes of Saturday night’s instant classic, that lineup flummoxed the Thunder as well. Thunder coach Billy Donovan and his staff have until Thursday night (when they meet agains, on TNT) to come up with a fix for what went wrong. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman provides the details:

But lost amidst this hardwood classic was a dilemma that should concern the Thunder in the present. Curry’s impossible accuracy won it. But the Warriors got back into the game with their small-ball death lineup, which completely dictated the final 10 minutes.

With 4:37 left in regulation, Andre Iguodala subbed in for Shaun Livingston, joining Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. The Warriors were down 11. In fewer than five minutes, they forced overtime. Then in five overtime minutes, they outscored the Thunder by three.

So in a little under 10 total minutes, that nightmarish Golden State unit beat the Thunder 36-22. Curry played hero. Green was a defensive menace. The other three chipped in. But of greater consequence, the versatility of that Warriors five-man grouping forced Billy Donovan’s hand, shrinking OKC’s depth.

Breaking news: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the Thunder’s two best players. They’re always on the court in crunch time, barring a foul-out…which we’ll get to.

Beyond them, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams are the team’s third and fourth most balanced, important talents. You want both on the court in crucial moments.

Which is where the problem lies. When the Warriors slide Green to center and pepper two-way wings all over the court, they challenge you to take one off the floor or risk some uncomfortable mismatches.

After an 8-point, 3-rebound, 0-block disappearance in Oakland, Ibaka was great on Saturday night. The Thunder demolished Golden State 62-32 in rebounds and Ibaka was the key. He had a season-high 20 rebounds, along with 15 points, two blocks and countless other contested and altered shots. He played a team-high 41 minutes. His presence was required.

Which meant Adams was the odd man out. Of late, Adams has been great, providing a sturdy defensive back-line while finishing layups and dunks with more consistency. He had 10 points and nine rebounds in his 28 minutes on Saturday. But in his final 136 seconds, Adams was out of his element.

From the 4:37 mark of the fourth to the 2:21 mark, Donovan kept Adams and Ibaka in together against that small-ball unit. The Warriors quickly blasted off a 7-0 run to get back in the game. Adams was assigned Iguodala. The Warriors recognized it and attacked Adams with Curry and Iguodala in a pick-and-roll. Curry got the big man on a switch and hit the ninth of his 12 3s.

Right after, Donovan subbed in Dion Waiters for Adams, going small and ceding to the Warriors style.

Then as the game navigated through overtime, Adams sat all but nine seconds. Donovan put him in to win the tip at the start of overtime, which he did, and then pulled him at the first whistle, reinserting Waiters.

Durant fouled out 38 seconds later, a crippling blow, presenting Donovan with another choice. Go back big with Adams or stay small? He remained small, choosing Kyle Singler to replace Durant.

And this is the conundrum the Thunder faces against the Warriors. While many believe OKC’s talent could give Golden State its biggest postseason challenge, the Warriors versatile options exposes the Thunder’s roster imbalance. OKC is deep in the frontcourt but thin on the wing. The Warriors small-ball strategy can nullify frontcourt players and force you to dip deep into your bag of wings.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks missed on Joe Johnson, who chose Miami, but rebound by getting Kris Humphries off the waiver wire … Johnson, by the way, chose the Heat because of his connection with players already on the roster … A sprained right ankle will cost Danilo Gallinari all of the Nuggets’ upcoming homestand … Folks in Sacramento are celebrating Vivek Ranadive for the new arena but blaming him for the team that can’t get it rightDamian Lillard and the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers are keeping it rolling on their Eastern Conference road trip

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 223) Featuring Dominique Wilkins

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Comparing NBA eras, be it individuals or teams, is often a painstaking process that relies more on your intuition and sharp eye than it does any real science.

That’s one reason why Hall of Famers like Dominique Wilkins, do their best to stay away from the ghost chasing many of us do when we try to rate the basketball legends of the past and present. So when Larry Bird is asked to assess his vaunted 1986 Boston Celtics and the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, there’s really not a right or wrong answer.

There is only his perception of what those teams accomplish in their respective eras and the fantasy of what it would be like to see Bird, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson match up against Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Same goes for any glorified rankings of the top players in league history at any position (#ESPNrank is stirring up fantastic debates these days) or any other attempt to reflect the current crop of superstars and teams against their historical counterparts. Too many of the dynamics have changed from say 30 or 40 years ago to now. There are fare too many variables to get a handle on anything other than a theory about who would come out on top in any hypothetical equation.

None of that stopped us from quizzing Wilkins about these very topics, and so much more, Episode 223 of The Hang Time Podcast. Just because there are very few easy answers doesn’t mean you don’t ask the question.

So see if you can make sense of it all on this week’s episode.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: Dominique Wilkins talks about competing with Larry Bird in their collective primes

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 208) featuring Steve Smith

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No disrespect to Stephen Curry (the reigning KIA MVP) or LeBron James (a four-time winner of the award), but Kevin Durant (the 2014 winner) believes he’s “still the best player in the world.” And what self-respecting NBA superstar worth his signature kicks wouldn’t say the same? There’s only one answer that question, according to NBA TV’s Steve Smith, who was never short on confidence during a stellar basketball career that saw him star at Detroit’s famed Pershing High School, Michigan State University and in various stops during his 14 seasons in the NBA.

“What’s he supposed to say, ‘I’m No. 2B or No. 3?” Smitty said on Episode 208 of the Hang Time Podcast, where we also go in-depth with one of our favorite members NBA TV/NBA.com family about the changes in “offseason training” when he played and now. Guys workout together now, but Smitty honed his craft in the offseason by going to hoops grad school battling the likes of Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Magic Johnson and other seasoned pros.

He also shared his delight in seeing his former teammate, great friend and current neighbor Dikembe Mutombo honored, his joy in seeing fellow Detroit Pershing Doughboy Spencer Haywood finally take his place in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame and other hot topics going on in the basketball world with the start of training camps on the horizon.

He certainly got in a few digs about the trials and tribulations my Michigan Wolverines football program has endured prior to the return of Jim Harbaugh, pointing out (and rightfully so) the rise of his Michigan State Spartans on both the football field and the basketball court. Smitty will be on site this weekend in East Lansing when Michigan State hosts Oregon in college football’s marquee game. He’ll do so while celebrating with his fellow Spartans basketball alums and MSU coach Tom Izzo. He’s even convinced me to show a little Michigan pride this weekend and root for the Spartans against the Ducks.

Crazy … I know!

But that’s how we do it around here when we roll with a NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist, a man who has literally seen and done it all, one the oldest and best friends we have in the basketball business, and just happens to be Green!

As always, we dive in on Episode 208 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring NBA TV’s Steve Smith …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: NBA TV’s Steve Smith looks ahead to his Top Five games of the 2015-16 NBA season

Morning shootaround — May 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Friday’s two playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry splashes on Memphis | Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 | Better days ahead for Wiz | Counting by 2’s in 3-point league

No. 1: Curry splashes on Memphis — On an almost nightly basis around the NBA, you’ll see this laughable sight: Some player who has no business hoisting shots from 3-point range, let alone some distance beyond that, will be heaving up ridiculous attempts from out-of-bounds on the sidelines. Or from halfcourt. The simple thought of “Planning to take that shot in the game, are ya?” never seems to cross their minds. But then there’s Steph Curry and a couple of his friends on the Golden State Warriors, who hoist the ball from such spots and have credibility enough to call them “field-goal attempts.” Curry was at it again while helping the Warriors oust Memphis for one of the berths in the Western Conference finals, per our own Shaun Powell:

There have been plenty of bubble-bursting shots in playoff history and while Jerry West‘s 60-foot runner in the 1970 NBA Finals is easily the Hindenberg of them all, was Curry’s three-quarters-length heave Friday one of the loudest pops heard since?

The noise is still banging in the eardrums of the Grizzlies, who were simply stunned by the sequence in the final seconds of the third quarter, just when they were mounting a comeback to prevent elimination. The FedEx Forum crowd was buzzing and begging the Grizzlies to seize control of Game 6 for the first time all night. Jeff Green rushed downcourt attempting to cut the Golden State lead to three when he was blocked. Curry scooped the loose ball and threw a chest-shot in the opposite direction … from near his own three-point stripe … and the ball didn’t even have the decency to bank off the glass or wiggle inside the rim first. It was true. Splash. Damn. For a city steeped in music, Curry just played a lullaby and put all of Memphis to sleep. The arena became that hushed.

“In mid-air,” said coach Steve Kerr, “I said, ‘I think it’s going in.'”

Yes, after the season he had, and the playoffs he’s having, we’re all conditioned to feel that way about Curry now, that when he misses a jumper, from wherever, it’s a head-scratcher. He’s the rare player who never loses confidence, who won’t skip a shot because he clanked one or two. That makes him dangerous and drives the defense crazy. And every time he touched the ball after that 62-footer, the crowd groaned before he even flicked his wrist. They knew. You knew.

Curry made 25 from deep in this series and the Grizzlies made 24. Curry made eight (out of 13) 3-pointers in Game 6, the Grizzlies four. He was a one-man 3-point demolition crew, none more crushing than from 62 feet. The Grizzlies collectively caved in the fourth quarter after Curry’s groin-kick and their season was done. Meanwhile, Curry’s legend and the Warriors move on, to a place where the franchise hasn’t been in 39 years, four wins from the NBA Finals, bringing the requisite superstar necessary to win a title.

***

No. 2: Finally, Hawks reach round of 4 — It took one 10th of a second, maybe two, in which one of Paul Pierce‘s fingers still was in contact with the basketball to make it happen. But after the official replay review revealed the truth about The Truth, wiping out the corner 3 that would have sent the Hawks-Wizards game into overtime, Atlanta finally … finally … finally emerged from that Eastern Conference semifinals series to secure a spot in the conference finals. Our man Lang Whitaker was there to chronicle a little history:

Since moving to the Eastern Conference before the 1970-71 season, the Atlanta Hawks have made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals 15 times. But somehow, despite all those chances, things have never gone their way, and the Hawks have never been able to advance into the Eastern Conference finals.

Until Friday night. ATLast.

After a campaign where they surprised pretty much everyone during the regular season en route to winning 60 games and the Eastern Conference, the Hawks continued writing a new history by beating the Washington Wizards 94-91 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. For the first time in 45 years, the Atlanta Hawks have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

“I think the city really deserved this,” said Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll, who led the Hawks with 25 points. “They needed this. I think we wouldn’t even be here without our fans.”

As with most things Hawks, it wasn’t easy and it nearly didn’t happen. Despite leading by 10, 81-71, with nine minutes remaining, the Wizards tied the game at 89 with 1:14 left to play. To take the lead for good, the Hawks turned to the very thing that defined them throughout the season: team basketball. Instead of going one-on-one, Jeff Teague found Carroll on backdoor cuts on back-to-back possessions, giving the Hawks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

To be certain, a trip to the Eastern Conference finals for the Hawks should be considered “getting through,” but it’s still baby steps — during Atlanta’s dry spell, the Boston Celtics have been at least as far as the Eastern Conference Finals 17 times. But after a summer of discontent for the Hawks, with general manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence following making racist statements on a phone call, and then the franchise being put up for sale following an owner self-reporting racially charged emails, any type of good news would probably be embraced by Hawks fans. A 60-win season and trip to the Conference finals exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations.

***

No. 3: Better days ahead for Wiz — There was no denying the disappointment for the Washington Wizards. As far as some of their players are concerned, losing in the semifinals is a Groundhog Day hell that officially meant no progress from their elimination two rounds deep a year ago. There’s a difference between knocking at the door as a team on the rise and knock-knock-knocking as a legitimate championship contender. But setting aside the emotions of Friday night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out some of the progress on which the Wizards can build, once they get over this:

[The] Wizards did something in this postseason that they didn’t do last year and that they didn’t do in the regular season. They put the ball in the basket. They were the most improved offensive team in the playoffs.

A team that ranked 19th in offensive efficiency in the regular season changed its identity and looked rather potent. Inefficient mid-range shots became 3-pointers, and 40 percent of those 3-pointers went in. It was like the Wizards finally discovered what the rest of the league has known for the last few years.

With more space to operate, [John] Wall made it clear why he was the No. 1 pick in the Draft five years ago. No matter how the opponent defended him, he made the right decisions and the right plays.

With Wall out of the lineup for three games, Bradley Beal stepped up and showed why he was the No. 3 pick in 2012. He stuck to Kyle Korver all series and scored inside and out.

And with an opportunity like he’s never had before, Otto Porter looked like a top-three pick too. He was a 3-and-D small forward, slowing down DeMar DeRozan in the first round and staying active off the ball on offense.

And suddenly, you realized that this team has a lot of talent. Young talent. Wall turns 25 in September. Beal and Porter each turn 22 next month.

Paul Pierce provided leadership, swagger, and the ability to space the floor as a part-time four man. And if he chooses not to exercise his player option for next season, he will be missed.

But whether or not Pierce is back, the Wizards will continue to build around their three young perimeter players and a defense that has ranked in the top 10 each of the last three seasons. And they now have the blueprint – more versatility at the forward positions – that can push them toward a top 10 ranking on the other end of the floor.

When you have a top 10 defense and a top 10 offense, you’re a title contender.

***

No. 4: Counting by 2’s in 3-point league — The Memphis Grizzlies are like pizza, if you think about it. Pizza is great. Pizza is welcome almost any time and any place, same as the Grizzlies are a hoot to watch and root for across the long, corner-three-loving NBA regular season. You slog along on a diet of what has become the same-old same old in this league – pesky perimeter guys buzzing around and feeling great about making 40 percent of their shots, as long as their toes are behind the right line – and then you spot the Grizzlies on the schedule. Hey, pizza! The problem with pizza, or in this case, Memphis’ pounding, bigs-based attack, is that it only gets you so far. Pizza is fun but it’s not welcome at the biggest events — holiday dinners, weddings receptions, fancy client meetings, The Finals. That’s not unlike the limbo in which the Grizzlies find themselves, unique and yet unloved, as far as the ring sizers go. Royce Young of ESPN.com evaluated Memphis’ style shortfall vs. Golden State:

The series was billed as style against style, with the Grizzlies’ traditional, two-big ground-and-pound against the Warriors’ contemporary all-purpose attack. And as it played out, it was the same old postseason story for Memphis: Enough to remain exceptionally competitive, but not enough to advance.

“The series was a good series,” [coach Dave] Joerger said. “It was about which style won out.”

The Grizzlies are very direct. They want to play inside-out, focusing everything at their two beastly bigs and reluctantly relying on the perimeter. But as Steve Kerr and the Warriors played their ace in the hole, cross-matching Andrew Bogut on [Tony] Allen, the Grizzlies didn’t have a countermove. More than any other team in the league, they are who they are. Their identity is forged in grit and grind, which unfortunately doesn’t include versatility and flexibility, hallmarks of today’s pace-and-space NBA.

“We have who we have,” Mike Conley said. “We have our personnel. We play through our personnel. We have big guys, and that’s what we have to play through our strengths. We can’t change that. We have to work with what we have. We’ve done a phenomenal job with it, but I think us going into next season, we have to find ways to free up guys on the outside, get guys that can get easy looks, try to open up and knock them down and get more opportunities for our big guys.”

The annoying narrative that still hangs around is that jumpers don’t win in the playoffs, that 3-pointers are a siren song of temptation, not of tried-and-true success. Well, no team is more interior focused and less reliant on jumpshooting than the Grizzlies …

The answer seems to be obvious. The Grizzlies have to adapt, have to adjust, have to evolve. They’ve played their stubborn way for five years now, and it’s produced admirable success. This is a unique roster that plays a one-of-a-kind style. Even more, this was probably the Grizzlies’ best team. They just couldn’t match the Warrior buzz saw, and that’s where lines get blurred. The Grizzlies had a terrific season; they also weren’t good enough. There’s something to be proud of in giving the Warriors hell; there’s also nothing tangible to take from it.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Pierce has 6 million reasons to return to the Wizards next season, but the challenge gets greater when you’re matched up with Father Time. … Change is coming in Chicago, writes our Steve Aschburner, with coach Tom Thibodeau‘s status in the air and Derrick Rose needing to recommit. … Some wonder why the Bulls’ alleged top candidate to coach next season, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, would leave just two years into his 10-year, $20 million contract. But the Cyclones’ athletic director expects Hoiberg to tackle the NBA challenge one of these days. … Uh oh: Phil Jackson allegedly maybe doesn’t like the idea of Isiah Thomas hanging around Madison Square Garden as president of the WNBA Liberty, according to the New York Daily News. … Golden State’s David Lee didn’t initially believe teammate Steph Curry when he told the veteran power forward the postseason would last long enough for him to play a role for the Warriors. Well, guess what?

Blogtable: Statue-Worthy Players

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: MVP Race | Post-All-Star Sloppy Play | Statue-Worthy Players



VIDEO:  Bill Russell statue unveiled in Boston (2013)

> The Hawks this week will erect a statue of Dominique Wilkins outside Philips Arena. In your opinion, who’s next in line to be immortalized in bronze?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d prefer to discuss what the next lofty tribute will be, now that statue-izing has trumped jersey number-retiring and perhaps even Hall of Fame immortalizing. How shall the really, really, really, super-special stars be honored to separate them from the proliferation of bronze figurines standing around outside sports arenas? Naming rights to the buildings themselves? Perpetual blimps that hover over the hero’s city on game days or, heck, why not 24/7/365? How ’bout team nicknames: the Boston Russells, the Chicago Jordans and so on? Maybe we need something on a grander scale, sized like the Collosus of Rhodes or the Statue of Liberty, only it’s Shaquille O’Neal standing astride the I-10 near downtown L.A. As you can tell, I don’t really care who gets the next statue, and no offense to ‘Nique, but we’re rapidly approaching the day when even Paul Mokeski and Chris Gatling get them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe most obvious answer is Isiah Thomas, leader of the two-time champion Detroit Bad Boys and the best “little man” to ever play the game. But I’m also taking a stand for the pre-MTV generation and saying it’s long overdue for the Wizards to honor Wes Unseld. Go ahead, kids.  Look up those old videos of the 6-foot-7 Unseld using his brute strength and gritty determination to set teeth-rattling picks, rebound and throw some of the best outlet passes to start a fast break ever.  The Hall of Famer played 984 games, all with Baltimore/Washington franchise, leading the team to four Finals and the 1978 title, when he was named MVP of The Finals.  For 13 seasons, Unseld helped put the Bullets on a pedestal in the NBA and it’s time the franchise returned the favor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Jerry Buss. The statue debate has become particularly passionate in Los Angeles anyway, a new level of status symbol beyond having a uniform number retired, and Buss clearly deserves that ultimate tribute. He was more than an owner. He steered his franchise to the unique glamour personality that lives on today while maintaining a championship level on the court from generation to generation. Buss was such a shrewd businessman and innovator that he became one of the few owners to make the Hall of Fame. It’s not just the Lakers who wouldn’t have been the same without him. Basketball in Los Angeles wouldn’t have been the same. The NBA wouldn’t have been the same. Bronze that man.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Kinda surprised David Robinson and maybe also George Gervin aren’t bronzed already in San Antonio, given what they’ve meant to basketball and the community. I’d vote them, plus Allen Iverson in Philly and Isiah Thomas in Detroit. But we might have to wait until Staples Center makes room in the crowded courtyard for Kobe in 5 years or so.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Tim Duncan, the anchor of five championship teams and at least 16 50-win seasons, is going to be the most deserving once he retires. For now, I’d say it’s either Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. And since Barkley’s best was split between Philadelphia and Phoenix, a Ewing statue in the Madison Square Garden lobby would be most appropriate.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com​Having grown up in Bad Boys country during the 80s and 90s, I’m going with Isiah Thomas. Getting bronzed in Detroit (Auburn Hills for you sticklers) would be a huge step in a reparations program that should be underway for Isisah getting screwed out of his spot on The Dream Team. It’s tough to make up for one of the most egregious slights in the history of organized sports, but it would be a great gesture. Isiah delivered titles to Detroit during the most competitive era the NBA has ever seen. He went up against the giants from two decades and put the Pistons, Detroit and the entire state of Michigan on the basketball map (how’s that for 80s/90s slang?) and deserves to be recognized for doing so.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI’m not big on this idea that great athletes are automatically deserving of statues. Aren’t there more important contributors to be idolized? But if Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia are building them for their champions from the 1980s, then surely Detroit ought to be designing one for Isiah Thomas.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI am of a younger generation than some of my fellow scribes, so my thoughts will probably swing a bit more current than some others here. I’d like to see a Shaq statue in Los Angeles, and a Kobe one not long after that. Dirk has to get one in Dallas when he walks away, right? But those said, how about the Sixers erecting a statue of Allen Iverson? They’re doing their best to lose games and not be good right now, why not throw their fans a bone and build a monument to The Answer right there outside the stadium, or even downtown somewhere?

Generous to a fault? Paul, Wall challenging trend of assists vs. rings


VIDEO: John Wall recorded 21 points and 17 assists vs. the Wolves

John Wall has been making a case through the season’s first seven weeks to be considered the NBA’s best point guard, a title that he’d be wresting away from veteran Clippers playmaker Chris Paul. But Wall might want to heed that old saying about being careful what he wishes for, because that title might get in the way of an even greater goal the Washington Wizards’ guard has for him and his team.

Within the feature on Paul by Michael Lee, the Washington Post’s NBA writer, was some cause for pause, as far as how the league’s elite point guards have fared in their quest for championships. There’s a trend at work that doesn’t just seem at odds with Paul but with any of the players typically thought of as the game’s greatest playmakers:

Since Magic Johnson won back-to-back championships in 1987-88 and finished first and second, respectively, in assists, no player has ranked in the top five in helpers and won a title. Johnson is also the last point guard from a championship team to average at least 10 assists per game in the regular season.

[Isiah] Thomas and Jason Kidd are the only championship point guards in the past 25 years to average at least eight assists. In that time, John Stockton, Gary Payton, and Kidd held the subjective crown as the league’s best floor general, led their respective teams to the NBA Finals and failed to win it all. [Steve] Nash reached the conference finals three times but never made it to the ultimate stage. Aside from Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo, most of the championship point guards have been the non-intrusive, move-the-ball-and-get-out-of-the-way variety, such as Avery Johnson, Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher and Mario Chalmers.

Paul’s postseason record seems to support the, what should we call it, trend? Theory? Pattern? As Lee notes:

In his first nine seasons, Paul has never reached the conference finals, let alone the NBA Finals. It doesn’t matter that only Michael Jordan, George Mikan, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon have a higher career postseason player efficiency rating, Paul’s 22-31 postseason record diminishes his greatness in the eyes of those who value rings over everything else.

“That’s just the world we live in,” Paul said with a shrug. “It comes with it, but what can you do? Keep playing. I don’t know what else to say. We’re playing. I know I’m going to compete, day in and day out. Trying to get one.”

Heading into Wednesday night’s action, the assists leaders among point guards were Wall (10.6 apg), Rondo (10.6), Ty Lawson (10.3) and Paul (9.7) – all above that demonstrated cutoff of eight per game. Meanwhile, guys such as Kyle Lowry (7.6), Stephen Curry (7.6), Jeff Teague (7.0), Mike Conley (6.2), Damian Lillard (6.1), Tony Parker (5.3) and Kyrie Irving (5.2) are safely below it, and Russell Westbrook (6.8) and Derrick Rose (6.7) would be too if they qualified for the leaders board.

Should Wall and Paul stop passing the ball so much, in an effort to avoid the distinction? That doesn’t seem to make sense. But it is an unexpected quirk that might say a few things about defending against attacks run by elite point guards and the value of guys who seek out their own shot. That other old saying, the one about cutting off the head of a snake, might come into play.

Jump Ball: Steve Nash’s place in history


VIDEO: Steve Nash had high hopes for this season during Lakers’ training camp

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Mention Steve Nash‘s name in the wrong way and you better get ready for a fight.

You either believe in Nash, the narrative and everything else that comes with it, or you don’t.

His supporters are passionate in defense of the two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer. They feel, perhaps rightly so, that he is often targeted unfairly by those who don’t believe he was the rightful MVP.

Now that his 2014-15 season is over because of a recurring back injury, the Los Angeles Lakers veteran will spend what could be his final season in Los Angeles and the league, at the center of yet another great debate.

Where does Nash rank all time?

His offensive numbers suggest that he belongs among the game’s titans, one of the best point guards to play the game and easily the most accomplished shooter to play the position. Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas and John Stockton , in whatever order you’d like, make up most people’s top four. When you get to the fifth spot is where things get tricky.

Does Nash rank ahead of guys from his own era, guys like Gary Payton and Jason Kidd, a Hall of Famer and a future Hall of Famer who have been to The Finals, and in both cases they played in multiple Finals and own rings?  And would Nash have been as effective in a different era, when the rules of the game didn’t allow offensive players, point guards in particular, the freedom of movement they enjoy now?

Nash’s offensive prowess cannot be disputed. But his defensive shortcomings and the fact that he never appeared in The Finals damage his case when you are talking about where he stacks up among the best of the very best.

Anytime there are more questions than answers my colleague and Hang Time California bureau chief Scott Howard Cooper, born and raised in Los Angeles and as knowledgeable about the Lakers and their lore as anyone in the business, finds me.

We’ve sparred about Nash before, but never in this context (with the end of his fantastic career clearly in sight). While I acknowledge he’s been one of the best of his era and a true Hall of Famer, I don’t know if I’m ready to slide him into my top 10 point guards of all time (I don’t even rank him ahead of Tony Parker, a Finals MVP and multiple time NBA champion who is destined for the Hall of Fame as well).. So we had no choice but to try to settle this debate in Jump Ball …

On Oct 24, 2014, at 2:42 PM, “Scott Howard-Cooper” wrote:

Jump Ball: Steve Nash’s place in history

Steve Nash hasn’t officially announced his retirement, but the Lakers have said he is done for the season after Nash had previously said this would be his final season. Maybe he decides he can’t go out this way and wants to make one last attempt. It sounds like he’s done, though.

Either way, it’s fair to consider his legacy, because even if he does come back in 2015-16, it won’t be for long. I have him as one of the great offensive point guards ever and in the upper-echelon at the position overall. He wasn’t a good defender, a hit when comparing Nash with star two-way PGs like John Stockton and Gary Payton. But an automatic as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I would also say he’s in the top five of international players.

No disagreement there, right?

On Oct 24, 2014, at 12:01 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

Yeah! Right …

You have to remove those Nash-colored glasses, Sir. You mention defense as an afterthought. That’s a huge part of the game, a critical part of the game that is often foolishly overlooked.

I don’t want you to go there, Hyphen, but you are scaring me. Would You take Nash take in his prime over Gary Payton or Jason Kidd? I won’t even add Magic, Isiah, Oscar, or Stockton to that mix. What about Tony Parker? Shall I go on?

I love Nash and what he brought to the game. And the MVPs … well, I shouldn’t go there.

But throwing him in the mix with the greatest point guards of all-time, the top four or five international players. I say let him officially retire first.

And let’s think long and hard about who you’d want in his prime between Nash, perhaps the greatest shooting point guard of all-time, and the other elite point guards we’ve seen who were much more complete players than Nashty!

Sent from Sekou’s iPhone

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Date: October 24, 2014 at 3:20:41 PM EDT

I can’t take of my Nash-colored glasses. (Molson rules!)

I didn’t mention defense as an afterthought. I mentioned it front and center. He was not a good defender and it’s why he doesn’t rate with some others who played around the same time. But he was at a special level on offense. Nash could play fast or slow, distribute or shoot. He was smart and always showed up ready to play. No head games. There was a toughness.

Obviously, as you said, Magic, Oscar, Stockton and Payton are ahead in the rankings. I would say J-Kidd as well, although that’s a decent debate because Kidd was a poor shooter until late in his career and Nash was a great shooter, Kidd was a very good defender and Nash struggled, Kidd was too often accompanied by drama and Nash was the opposite.

But I don’t see Tony Parker over Nash as the easy call you seem to make it out to be. Parker is great and a Hall of Famer as well, so don’t try to turn this into me knocking Parker to get the French mad at me. (Oh, who cares. Get the French mad at me.) Nash on the Spurs instead of Parker results in championships as well. I just don’t see a single thing to knock about Nash on offense and Nash in the locker room.

On Oct 24, 2014, at 1:14 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

Look at you, going all patriotic on me … Two times! Classic. Haha. I’m gonna stick to my roots and what I know.

I’d prefer we keep this debate in the realm of reality. And in what realm does a Finals MVP and four-time champion like Tony Parker take a backseat to a great player, no doubt, but one who never saw the inside of the NBA Finals?

This is not about disrespecting Nash or his legacy. We agree. He’s a Hall of Famer. A case could be made that he’s earned every bit of whatever hardware has come his way (a case you undoubtedly will try to make … haha).

I just refuse to buy into this syrup-soaked narrative of yours. I can’t do it. I won’t. “If Nash was on the Spurs” automatically squashes the whole thing.

If you have to employ the word “if” to make your case, you have no case!

Sent from Sekou’s iPhone

On Oct 25, 2014, at 4:48 PM, “Scott Howard-Cooper” wrote:

No question the lack of a Finals appearance, let alone a championship, is a big hole in the resumé. But look at what Nash did in the playoffs. Consecutive postseasons of 23.9 points/11.3 assists/52-percent shooting, 20.4/10.2/50.2 and 18.9/13.3/46.3. Another at 17.8/10.1/51.8. A career 40.9 behind the arc in the playoffs.

At some point you have to drop “Didn’t win a championship” as a tipping point. It’s obvious that shortcoming is not on Nash.

On Oct 25, 2014, at 2:25 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

When discussing the best of the very best, winning a championship becomes the ultimate dividing line, or at least one of them.

You’re either a champion or not. Same rules apply for other great players at other positions.

Why would we drop it now? That’s crazy talk.

This is not about Nash’s shortcomings, the one or two you want to nit pick. This is about an age-old debate about how great players stack up in the history of the game. Nash can’t get a pass here because we loved the narrative that came with him or because he’s such a great guy (which he no doubt is and always has been).

This is about facts and not circumstances. Whatever the circumstance, Nash, as you conceded, has glaring holes I. His resume. The same holes that any all-time great and future Hall of Famer would have to own.

I can appreciate Nash’s career for what it has been, but I’m not going to elevate it to another level when the facts simply do not support such action.

Great player, great numbers and a truly great guy. We don’t need to inflate his impact or accomplishments. And there’s no shame in being a great player.

But a transcendent player … slow down buddy!

Sent from Sekou’s iPhone

On Oct 25, 2014, at 5:36 PM, “Scott Howard-Cooper” wrote:

Right. Facts and circumstances, as you say.

The only player in history to shoot at least 50 percent overall, 40 percent on threes and 90 percent from the line four different seasons. Larry Bird did it twice. No one else did it more than once.

Third in career assists.

Along with John Stockton the only players to average more than 11 assists beyond age 33. Nash did it three times.

One of five players to ever total more than 800 assists in four consecutive seasons.

First all-time in free-throw percentage.

Ninth all-time in three-point percentage (minimum 250 makes).

Along with Magic Johnson the only point guard to win multiple MVPs.

This has nothing to do with loving the narrative and respecting the person. It has everything to do with facts and circumstances.

I’m glad you agree with me. About time.

On Oct 25, 2014, at 3:09 PM, Smith, Sekou  wrote:

Yawn!

All of these statistical qualifiers wouldn’t be necessary if you could give me just one trip to The Finals on his back. Just one.

What do your eyes tell you? You’re old enough to have seen the game evolve over the past 30 years or more. You know in your heart of hearts that even with all of the pretty numbers, there’s something missing.

Mark Cuban got smoked for letting Nash go to Phoenix and breaking Dirk Nowitzki and Nash up.

History, however, will be on his side.

The Mavs won it all after Nash departed and the Suns never got over the hump with him at the helm.

Like I said before, you’re either a champion or you’re not. Facts, not circumstances.

There is no qualifier needed.


VIDEO: Steve Nash is done for the season in Los Angeles, courtesy of a back injury

 

Thomas seeks relevancy with Suns

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Suns.com talks with Isaiah Thomas about his move to Phoenix

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — About one month into the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, a new basketball movie trailer burned up the Internet. A documentary, it chronicled mostly unknown 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas‘ improbable path from a junior in college all the way to the NBA.

The title of the of the film was “Mr. Irrelevant,” the name bestowed upon the last pick of the NFL Draft. Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash., product and a terrific scoring guard for the Washington Huskies, was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. No. 60. The Sacramento Kings made him “Mr. Irrelevant.”

Over three seasons, Sacramento never seemed to believe he could be much more, even as Thomas’ production and tenacity became impossible to ignore — and to keep out of the starting lineup. As a rookie he badly outplayed the Kings’ No. 10 overall pick, Jimmer Fredette.

In 2012-13, the Kings tried to unseat Thomas with Aaron Brooks and Toney Douglas, not exactly Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudemire, but still, Thomas refused to be overtaken. Last summer, Sacramento traded for 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez and immediately penciled him into the starting lineup. In December, Vasquez, a solid player to be sure, was traded to Toronto. Thomas, a pound-the-rock, take-you-off-the-dribble, finish-at-the-rim point guard went on to average 21.1 ppg and 6.5 apg (plus a career-high 1.3 steals), improving in both categories for a third consecutive season.

It is one of the greatest statistical seasons ever compiled by a player under 6-foot. His PER (player efficiency rating) checked in at 20.5, well above the league average (15.0) and again was one of the all-time best marks for a player of his stature.

Yet the Kings, even after revamping the front office, never viewed Thomas through the same prism as he viewed himself: as a 5-foot-9 playmaker, scorer, starter and leader. Sacramento, seemingly suggesting it wanted more of a facilitator at the point, signed free-agent journeyman Darren Collison to a three-year, $16 million deal on July 10. It was a hefty raise for Collison, a backup last season with the Clippers, but much less than what Thomas, 25, felt he deserved in line with his production.

“They went after Darren Collison, which they felt was a better feel for whatever direction they’re going in,” Thomas said. “I just felt like I needed to go somewhere where I was wanted and Phoenix was a place where they wanted me for who I was. They wanted me for being 5-9. They wanted me for being a scoring point guard.”

Thirteen days after signing Collison, the Kings signed Thomas to a four-year, $27-million contract and traded him to the Suns.

“I’m not surprised just because every year it was somebody new,” Thomas said. “Every year I felt like I proved to them that I was a capable starter and I proved to them I was a pretty good basketball player. More than anything I was consistent, but I wasn’t surprised.”

Thomas spoke to NBA.com about his opportunity for relevancy in Phoenix, an upstart last season that won 48 games and missed the playoffs by one game in coach Jeff Hornacek‘s first season.

NBA.com: Do you think the Kings viewed you as irrelevant, in the sense that you don’t fit into a tidy description of a point guard and therefore you never could be their answer at the position?

Thomas: I guess. I guess because I’m 5-9 and I’m not the prototypical point guard they just kept trying to find … which every year I would beat out the guy. Like I tell people, it’s a business and I know where they’re coming from, but three years in a row it happened. I mean, it’s definitely not going to happen a fourth year so I was kind of fed up with that and that’s why I wanted a little change. I wanted to be somewhere where I was wanted for, like I said, being who I am, being 5-9 and being a scoring guard.

NBA.com: To be clear, you never asked to be traded did you?

Thomas: No, I didn’t. I never asked. I was always professional about every situation. I always came in with my hard hat on willing to do whatever is best for the team. When they signed Darren Collison, I knew I was going in a different direction. (more…)


Advertisement