Posts Tagged ‘Jared Sullinger’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bennett shows FIBA resurgence | Suns players begin unofficial workouts, without Morris | The Warriors are winning Silicon Valley

No. 1: Bennett shows FIBA resurgence The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Anthony Bennett out of UNLV with the first overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, but the expected development once he reached the NBA has yet to fully occur. A change of NBA environment via a trade to Minnesota hasn’t had the desired effect, either. Yet playing for his native Canada this summer in international competition, Bennett has nearly averaged a double-double. As Josh Lewenberg writes for TSN, Bennett has finally found his swagger

Seated in the front row, an international reporter searched for the appropriate words to make an uncomfortable but fair observation, one that caught others off guard but hardly made Bennett flinch.

“You play so different in the NBA and in FIBA,” the reporter pointed out. “You are a lot better in FIBA. Why?”

The answer isn’t nearly as straight forward as the question. There are a number of factors that contributed to Bennett’s forgettable rookie and sophomore seasons, health and conditioning among them, but the word he frequently uses to explain his improved play this summer should not be overlooked. Confidence.

“[I’m] just playing with confidence, pretty much,” the 22-year-old forward responded. “Just going out there, playing defence, running the court. Just doing the little things first and trying to make offence come to me.”

Exactly 366 days – a year and one day – earlier, Bennett was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with fellow Canadian and good friend Andrew Wiggins, in the deal that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland.

Certainly, Bennett’s debut campaign with the Cavaliers did not go as anticipated. A shoulder injury derailed his progress in training camp and, out of shape to begin the season, he missed the first 16 shots of his pro career. The end result was one of the worst ever rookie seasons by a No. 1 overall pick. Plagued by a series of ailments again in year two, he was only moderately better with the Wolves last season. Understandably, he had a hard time hiding his frustration.

“I saw him play a little bit,” said Jay Triano, head coach of the Canadian senior men’s team and assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers. “Whether there were injuries or not getting a chance in the NBA, he was always grumpy and never smiling. And I remember him as a guy who was vocal, smiling, having fun playing the game.”

Free from the pressure and scrutiny that had consumed him as a young player in the NBA, Bennett has resembled his old self with the national team this summer.

Making his debut with the senior club at the Pan American games last month, where Canada won silver, Bennett averaged 15.6 points and a tournament-high 9.4 rebounds. He was also a standout starting for a much deeper team in their tuneup games this past week, running the floor with purpose and playing above the rim in San Juan.

The smile has returned – you’ll rarely catch him without it. He’s healthy, he’s slimmed down considerably and he has that bounce in his step again.

“It feels great,” Bennett told TSN in a sit-down interview earlier this month. “My body feels great. I feel like I’m 100 per cent right now. Just getting out and running like I did at UNLV.”

“It looks like he’s loving basketball again,” Triano added. “And I think that was the big thing for us. We try to make it fun for him, try to simplify it. He’s so talented in a variety of areas that we needed to just simplify what we expect of him. If he does that, the rest of it is gonna fall into place.”

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No. 2: Suns players begin unofficial workouts, without Morris NBA training camps are still a few weeks from tipping off, but in Phoenix there are multiple Suns players already gathered in the Valley to begin workouts. One notable absence is Markieff Morris, the Suns’ terrific forward who has expressed his desire to be traded after the Suns traded his brother, Marcus. As Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, the Suns may be hoping hard feelings have subsided by the time training camp officially tips off…

Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin, Brandon Knight, Alex Len, Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price, P.J. Tucker, T.J. Warren and Sonny Weems have been playing at US Airways Center since Monday.

There is no surprise that Markieff Morris is missing from that list, given his “Keef beef” with the franchise. His trade request fell on deaf ears. The other absent contract players, Tyson Chandler and Mirza Teletovic, are expected to join their new teammates in Phoenix over the next 10 days.

The early team chemistry sessions are important for a roster that will have at least six new players for the regular season. That does not include Brandon Knight, a key cog to this season’s plans after playing only 11 games last season with the Suns.

It would be ideal for Knight to spend September working with his starting power forward but a Morris early arrival is about as likely as a fulfillment of his trade wish.

The Suns need and want Morris. They would not stand much of a chance to replace him by trade. They would have no chance to replace him by free agency. They do not have an adequate existing roster option.

Reasonably, hard feelings should subside by the time he must report to Phoenix on Sept. 28. However, he was steaming six weeks after the trade when he went public to the Philadelphia Inquirer this month. Another six weeks might not help but being around his teammate friends again and meeting a respected frontcourt partner such as Chandler should help him recommit, even if Morris returns to being the quieter person he was before Marcus joined Phoenix.

Morris never planned to publicly lash out at the Suns, coincidentally running into a familiar reporter at a Philadelphia-area gym with small talk that became a stage for his discontent.

The expressed source of the twins’ anger was that Marcus was told he was traded while on vacation. The issues must extend beyond that because even superstars are rarely told of trades before they happen, although Markieff did call himself “the premier player of the team.”

The twins were miffed because they gave the Suns a contract extension break last year in hopes of staying together. Markieff’s salary still will jump from $3 million last season to $8 million this season. The unstated factor is that Marcus’ trade was made, in part, to clear salary-cap space for LaMarcus Aldridge, a free agency target who would have replaced Markieff. Marcus’ behavior last season, including yelling at coach Jeff Hornacek during a game, also played a role.

Markieff’s previous criticism of Suns fans only worsens his reputation but the start of a make-up process is only a sincere statement of regret and a few double-doubles away.

His teammates made the first statement to win over playoff-starved fans by committing themselves to workouts before other teams start congregating.

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No. 3: The Warriors are winning Silicon Valley Plenty of NBA teams are based in their city without necessarily being an embedded part of their area’s business community. But the Golden State Warriors, based in the Bay Area, have managed to mix with Silicon Valley and become allies, in many ways, writes Nina Mandell for USA Today

The Lakers and the Knicks have movie stars on their sidelines. The Clippers and Mavericks have their celebrity owners. But when many of the Warriors players look around the front row at the Golden State Warriors games, many of the players see something else notable: Startup capital.

With their surge to a NBA title and guard who earned a regular season MVP award, a number of Warriors players have been involved in the Silicon Valley culture that their team attracts to games and will likely continue to bring in when they move to their new arena in San Francisco.

“You’ll see Larry Ellison, you’ll see Jack Dorsey, you’ll see Adam Bain,” said Harrison Barnes, listing off the names of the co-founder of Oracle and Twitter executives. “You’ll see all these guys courtside that they’re walking down the street people might not say ‘oh my god that’s so-and-so’ but if you know who they are and you know what they do, there’s obviously well-respected in their fields.”

Barnes works as a consultant at Facebook on the side when he’s not playing basketball. Andre Iguodala had a role in a startup that recently got acquired by eBay. And Stephen Curry partnered with CoachUp, a private coaching website and app matching service that its founder describes as the “Uber or AirBNB” of the private and semi-private sports coaching industry.

Curry said that he got involved with the Boston-based CoachUp because he thinks that private coaching was crucial to his success as a player, and likely would have done it without the Silicon Valley influence. Private coaching is something, he stressed, he really believes in. “I had a coach I worked with starting at the age of 13 in lieu of playing AAU basketball and traveling all over the country I stayed in Charlotte and to have the one-on-one experience … I benefited so much from it,” he said.

The service, which matches athletes with private coaches for everything from triathlon training for adults to soccer for kids, he hopes, will make that type of coaching more accessible for future generations, which is something he’d want to do whether he was in the tech capital of the world or not.

Jordan Fliegel, the co-founder of CoachUp said that there were a million reasons they partnered with Curry – after all he’s marketable on his own personality and what seems like a sincere dedication to the company. But playing in the Bay Area is helpful. “I think as we go, if we need introductions to various people, Stephen’s offered to help however he can,” Fliegel said. “He’s a huge part of our team.”

Curry is also involved in another company that’s “in the social media space that talks about athletes and fan engagement, especially on the professional level,” he said, that will hopefully be coming out in the next year. His agent, Jeff Austin, said that playing in the Bay Area definitely influenced the opportunities sent his way, even as a high-profile player.

“Interest has certainly been high from Silicon Valley start-ups and investors. We have evaluated various opportunities to see which match best with Stephen’s overall career plan and off the court passions,” he said. “It’s great that the team is located so close to the area, it gives these companies a chance to see the full impact Stephen and the Warriors have had on the community.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Boston Celtics have reportedly opened extension talks with Tyler Zeller and Jared SullingerBaron Davis is continuing his journey back to the NBA … The Clippers filled a bench spot by signing veteran big man Chuck Hayes …The Mavericks are reportedly “encouraged” by what they’ve seen from Deron Williams thus far …

Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay | Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick | Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple | Bulls flirting with disappointment?

No. 1: Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay — So what if Minnesota, even at full strength, is far from an NBA powerhouse and on Friday happened to be playing without its three best big men. Nikola Vucevic didn’t have to apologize to anyone for his career-high 37 points and his 17 rebounds. More important, the Orlando center doesn’t want to have to apologize to Magic fans after saying goodbye in a few years, abandoning the franchise’s long-term plans the way Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard did. The big man spoke recently with Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel about loyalty and the vision he has for his career and his team’s future:

“Yeah, I’m here for the long haul. I hope to stay here my whole career,” he told me. “I love it here. I really love the city. I’ve improved here a lot as a player. I’d love to stay for a long, long time and make something special happen.

“If it takes years, it takes years … I ain’t going anywhere.”

Vucevic is inspired by the loyalty displayed by Italian soccer superstar Francesco Totti. Totti, 38, has played his entire career for Roma.

“Totti could have gone to bigger teams, made more money, do whatever he wanted. He didn’t,” he said. “He stayed with that team. He’s pretty much a god to that team.”

Rather humbly, Vucevic doesn’t consider himself in the class of Shaq and Dwight – repeat All-Stars and No. 1 overall picks.

The list of great big men here is short, but Vooch is already the third-best center the Magic have ever had. Eight long years passed between Shaq’s departure and Dwight’s arrival. Vooch has cut the wait time considerably after Howard departed.

He gets it done differently. Although he’s nearly 7-feet and weighs 260 pounds, Vucevic isn’t as dominating and demonstrative as his powerhouse predecessors. But he is a rare double-double machine, running quietly and efficiently.

More steady than spectacular, he relies on finesse instead of force, having learned the game overseas in Montenegro. Vooch does have a shooting stroke that Shaq and Dwight would envy (and he can make free throws).

“Both Shaq and Dwight had great legacies while they were here. I want to achieve what they achieved,” he said. “When I’m done, I’d love to have people talk about me the way they talk about them. I hope to get to the same level.

“I want to get there.”

***

No. 2: Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick — Unlike his team’s runaway atop the Western Conference, Golden State’s Stephen Curry likely is going to find himself locked in a tight race for the NBA’s Kia Most Valuable Player award. Some voters probably won’t submit their ballots until the deadline on Thursday, April 16, the day after the regular season ends. But that won’t stop others – those with votes and those without – from floating their opinions sooner, and one who did was ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, Curry’s former Warriors coach. Jackson’s choice of Houston’s James Harden caught Curry off-guard, as evidence by his reaction. But Golden State teammate Andrew Bogut rushed to his point guard’s defense vs. Jackson, as reported by ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

ESPN analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Wednesday on the “Dan Patrick Show” that while Curry, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are all worthy candidates, he’d give his MVP vote to James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

“If you twisted my arm today, I would probably vote for James Harden,” Jackson said. “The reason why is because he single-handedly has put that Houston Rockets team in the position that they’re in today.”

The comments come as a stark contrast to the way Jackson had previously championed his former charge as a superstar in the league, while he was coach of the Warriors.

“It’s his opinion obviously,” Curry said. “He’s probably been watching the league. People are going to ask what he thinks, especially his ties to the Warriors organization and myself specifically. Surprised me he said that. But, it is what it is.”

Curry had been vocally supportive of Jackson prior to the coach’s dismissal last offseason, something the Warriors point guard made mention of Friday.

“Obviously I wasn’t shy about trying to defend him last year when things were rumbling outside of our locker room,” Curry said. “But for him to … it’s kind of a different situation, but it is surprising that he didn’t.”

On Thursday, center Andrew Bogut, who had a less friendly relationship with Jackson, made light of his former coach’s opinion.

“Well what’s his name said no,” Bogut joked. “What’s that guy’s name? Mark? Mark? I don’t remember his name.”

***

No. 3: Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple — If you’re an NBA fan of college age or younger, you probably can’t remember a season in which the San Antonio Spurs did not win at least 50 games in a season. Their remarkable streak at that level stretches 16 years now, a testament to the staying power of coach Gregg Popovich and his Hall-of-Fame-bound core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Our man Fran Blinebury wrote about the uncommon professional and personal relationships that have produced all that success, and here’s a taste to whet your appetite for more:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the marriages in the United States are over by the eighth year, which makes the union of the Spurs and consistent excellence — at twice that length — an accomplishment of tolerance, dedication and bliss.

By defeating Denver on Friday night, the Spurs have now won 50 games for 16 consecutive seasons, extending their NBA record half a decade beyond the next longest strings. The Los Angeles Lakers (1980-91) are in second place with 12.

“Think about it. There’s not many marriages that last 16 years,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Think about working that closely together in a relationship, under that pressure and scrutiny and still enjoying each other’s company.

“What they’ve done is sustained greatness. I think that’s much more telling than five championships. First of all, it’s something that nobody’s done before. Winning 50 and having a plus-.500 road record all that time, to me that’s incredible.

“I am totally against the whole mindset that everything is about championships when it comes to evaluating players, evaluating teams. ‘Did they win a championship?’ Really, is that all you’ve got? I’m telling you, sustaining greatness is much harder than a one-, two- or three-year greatness.”

The Spurs’ run has been much like their style of play — more of a steady hum than a loud roar.

***

No. 4: Bulls flirting with disappointment?Pau Gasol showed emotion near the end of the Chicago Bulls’ victory beyond his normal veteran’s range, yelling and mugging as a release after his offensive rebound and putback against Detroit’s formidable Andre Drummond secured a victory Friday at United Center. But it was Gasol’s more measured comments afterward that ought to get a rise out of Chicago fans, because he speaks from experience when talking about championship teams and the edge they need in the postseason. The Bulls, in Gasol’s view, still are searching, according to the report filed by ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell:

The 14-year veteran, who earned two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows what it takes to win a title, and that’s why he’s a little concerned by what he has seen from his new team, the Chicago Bulls, over the past couple of games. After a poor performance on Wednesday night in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls followed up by sleepwalking through the second half and almost blowing a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol is still convinced the Bulls have time to turn around their bad habits, but unlike most of his younger teammates, the All-Star center understands that time is running out.

“There’s not a magic button here,” Gasol said. “What you see in the regular season is what you’re going to get in the playoffs. So we have to try to be more consistent in the last six games that we have and that’s going to determine what we’ll see probably in the playoffs. Now every game, it’s meaningful, and that we have to be aware of that because you can’t expect things to click when it’s crunch time, when everybody is on. So you just got to do whatever you have to on a daily basis to put yourself in the best place regularly so you get to the playoffs and maybe try to turn it up like everybody else.”

The good news for the Bulls is that they found a way to win on Friday night. So often during this up-and-down season they have found ways to lose games like this — to weaker teams that don’t have the same level of talent. But as the Bulls get set for what they hope is a long run in the postseason, veterans such as Gasol and fellow championship club member, Nazr Mohammed, know that the great teams have to play better than the Bulls are playing right now.

“We just got to keep getting better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We got to understand what we’re playing for. We’re playing for a lot at stake right now. It was good to see guys like Naz [Mohammed] and some of our veterans speak up tonight and understand how crucial this win was.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Portland guard Wesley Matthews long trek back from a torn Achilles is getting serialized by The Oregonian. … Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic also is facing issues – and surgery – on his aching right foot, and sounds a little concerned about his future both on and off the court. … Hall of Famer John Stockton is helping as an assistant coach with Gonzaga Prep’s girls team, lending his hoops wisdom and getting valuable father-daughter time with Laura Stockton. … Kyle Lowry wants to play again before the playoffs, but the Toronto Raptors point guard also wants to be cautious with the back spasms that have sidelined him. … Boston’s Jared Sullinger came back Friday earlier than expected from a stress fracture, and he has lightened the load on that foot by 20 pounds. … Sounding more like part of the problem than part of the solution in Miami, Heat guard Mario Chalmers says he doesn’t know his role these days.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 26


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Feb. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Garnett talks the talk upon return | Timeline for Rose | Sullinger vows to trim down | Carter-Williams caught off-guard | Kobe: NBA was out to get Lakers

No. 1: Garnett talks the talk upon returnKevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota was a success, in regard to the atmosphere in the Target Center and the result on the scoreboard. And Garnett’s impact on the Wolves went well beyond the five points, eight rebounds and two blocks he tallied in less than 19 minutes. NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner made his own return to the Twin Cities and wrote about the conversations Garnett had (and will continue to have) with his new teammates

“Today it was just so over-the-top. I did not know the city missed me like this. I don’t think you could ever wish or ever think that a city loves you like this, but to see it is reality and I am very appreciative.”

That was the storybook of Garnett’s return.

The playbook? That was all the basketball stuff Garnett participated in and, even more so, didn’t participate in. He logged 18:38 in his first game back, about what coach Flip Saunders has in mind for most nights. Which meant that Garnett sat, and often will sit, on the bench for 29:22, watching this team he’s getting to know on the fly.

It went like that all evening. Whoever sat down next to Garnett got an earful of … you name it. Defensive positioning. Ball-skill fundamentals. Fun with phonics.

“That’s what I do,” Garnett said. “I was just trying to give the guys some insight, if not perception. Show ’em what I was seeing. Just slow ’em down a little. Nothing extra or different from what I usually do.”

***

No. 2: Friday could bring surgery and timeline for Rose — The Bulls received brutal news on Tuesday when they learned that Derrick Rose had a torn meniscus in his right knee for the second time in 15 months. But they might not lose Rose for nearly as long this time, and there’s a chance he could return in the postseason. We’ll all know what the timeline is after Rose has surgery, which could come Friday, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune

Thibodeau said surgery hasn’t been scheduled, but sources said while it’s mostly Rose’s decision, it will happen sooner rather than later, likely Friday because of minimal swelling. Team physician Brian Cole, who also repaired Rose’s first torn meniscus in November 2013, will perform the procedure. Rose underwent surgery two days after that injury.

An official timeline for Rose’s return won’t be known until Cole performs the surgery, but multiple sources expressed strong belief that this tear isn’t as significant as the one Rose had in November 2013. Sources added the expectation is that this procedure will remove a small cartilage tear, suggesting a shorter rehabilitation period.

Two other sources said Rose was told after the initial surgery that a future tear was possible, if not likely, and that a second procedure typically involves “cutting” or “snipping” the damage. That generally involves a rehabilitation process of three to eight weeks.

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No. 3: Sullinger vows to trim downJared Sullinger is out for the season with a stress fracture in his left foot and has averaged just 57 games in his first three years in the league. The foot injury isn’t related to the back issue he dealt with as a rookie, unless you choose to blame his weight for both. Sullinger doesn’t think his weight was a factor, but says he plans on using his time off to get in better shape, as Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston writes

“Freak accidents happen. I just have to come back better,” Sullinger said.

Pressed on what he hoped to get out of recovery, Sullinger added: “A little bit of everything — change the physique, change the way I look. That’s the biggest thing, I think. I’m tired of looking on camera and just seeing how I look, seeing how I play during extended minutes. Conditioning is going to be a big factor. Conditioning is going to be hard because all I can do is ride the bike. We’re going to find ways, we’re going to find ways to get me in the best shape possible.”

Sullinger had pledged to get in better shape this summer and did report for camp looking trimmer, but appears to have added weight during the season.

“I got in better shape, but there’s another level to it,” Sullinger said. “There’s always another level to everything. I just have to take it to another level. This year I came back in a little bit better shape. Obviously, it wasn’t good enough. Now I just have to get back to the grit and grind, kind of break my body down just to build it back up. I think that’s what I’m going to do this summer.”

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No. 4: Carter-Williams thought he was part of Sixers’ long-term plan — In his first game with his new team, Michael Carter-Williams got a win against his old team, scoring seven points and dishing out eight assists in the Bucks’ 104-88 victory over the Sixers. Before the game, Carter-Williams said that he thought he was part of the long-term plan in Philly, and that coach Brett Brown might have disagreed with Sam Hinkie‘s decision to trade the Rookie of the Year for the Lakers’ top-five protected pick. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News has the story

He was reflective on his time in Philly, and seemed to be still somewhat baffled at what went down with him getting moved to Milwaukee in a three-team trade in which the Sixers ended up with a first-round pick from the Lakers, which is top-five-protected this season, top-three-protected for the next two seasons.

“I think the ultimate thing that it comes down to is coach Brown coaches and Sam [Hinkie] does the moves,” said MCW. “I think that’s what it comes down to and I think that’s the agreement and that’s all I really know. I think that if it was up to coach Brown, I don’t think I would have been moved, to be honest.

“I was pretty up to speed and pretty involved (disbelieving laughs). As far as I heard I was involved in the long-term plan, especially with me, Joel (Embiid) and Nerlens (Noel). It was really us three that was the core group and were told that we we’re going to be (there) for a pretty long time and we really want to build around. I understand that things change and plans change. I guess that Sam and the rest of those guys thought that to move me was the best move. That’s on them and it is what it is.”

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No. 5: Kobe: NBA was out to get the LakersKobe Bryant certainly isn’t afraid to express his opinion. And you might say that he’s a little bitter about the events of 2011. In an interview/profile in this month’s GQ (Warning: some naughty language within), Bryant tells Chuck Klosterman that the ’11 lockout and subsequent veto of the Chris Paul trade were meant to “restrict the Lakers,” and only the Lakers …

The Lakers are not going to make the playoffs this year, and it seems unlikely that they will challenge for a title next year. So if titles are your only goal, why even play these last two seasons?

I know what Mitch [Kupchak, the Lakers GM] tells me. I know what Jim and Jeanie [Buss, the team owners] tell me. I know that they are hell-bent about having a championship caliber team next season, as am I.

But how could that possibly be done? Doesn’t the league’s financial system dictate certain limitations?

Well, okay: Look at the [2011] lockout. That lockout was made to restrict the Lakers. It was. I don’t care what any other owner says. It was designed to restrict the Lakers and our marketability.

The Lakers specifically, or teams like the Lakers?

There is only one team like the Lakers. Everything that was done with that lockout was to restrict the Lakers’ ability to get players and to create a sense of parity, for the San Antonios of the world and the Sacramentos of the world. But a funny thing happened, coming out of that lockout: Even with those restrictions, the Lakers pulled off a trade [for Chris Paul] that immediately set us up for a championship, a run of championships later, and which saved money. Now, the NBA vetoed that trade. But the Lakers pulled that **** off, and no one would have thought it was even possible. The trade got vetoed, because they’d just staged the whole lockout to restrict the Lakers. Mitch got penalized for being smart. But if we could do that…

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wesley Matthews came up big in a big game for the Blazers … after which the Spurs’ Tony Parker admitted that he’s strugglingEvan Turner messed around and got a triple-doubleGeorge Karl needs a little patienceRajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle had a second angry exchange after the Mavs’ win on Tuesday … Mitch McGary is a hustler, homey … and the Suns will have new uniforms for Thursday’s game against the Thunder.

ICYMI: Rookie Markel Brown showed us that they may have picked the wrong Net for the dunk contest:


VIDEO: Play of the Day – Markel Brown

Blogtable: Future title team in East

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: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEOBrandon Knight has proven vital to the Bucks’ revival this season

> If you had to pick which Eastern Conference team will be closer to an NBA title in three years, who would you pick: Bucks, Celtics, Sixers or Knicks?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Milwaukee. New York will buy stars, Boston has tradition, Philadelphia is rounding up high draft selections, but I’ve seen up close the changes in the Bucks culture with Jason Kidd and his staff on board. Kidd isn’t a great media guy but he apparently clicks with those in his locker room. The Bucks have several boxes already checked if they keep their guys (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker at forward, Brandon Knight in the backcourt), and more depth than the other three. This isn’t the old Milwaukee culture, either; new ownership has lit a fire under this franchise, with grandiose plans that center on a championship-contending team in a sparkling new arena, with retail and residential development and on and on. The Bucks are thinking of themselves as the little franchise that can.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThis is like asking which three-legged horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby in 2018. Of course, in thoroughbred racing so much is about bloodlines. So without counting in a lottery win by any of the teams this season, I’ll saddle up with a Sixers roster that in three years could include a healthy core of Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric and Michael Carter-Williams and have the potential of Secretariat. With a foundation of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the continued good work of coach Jason Kidd, the Bucks will have a California Chrome chance. In three years, Danny Ainge’s master plan for the Celtics that began with Brad Stevens as coach could have his team looking like Smarty Jones. And the Knicks, well, that’s why they have glue factories.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Bucks. I don’t know that I would have said that at the start of the season, but Milwaukee has proven that it has the best building blocks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker showed they are real building blocks, not potential in the distant future. They are both better — based on what we saw from Parker in the court, not on his game at this very moment — than any prospect on the other teams you mention. The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, but if the topic is three years from now, ‘Melo may be hanging on. Ask again in mid-July. If Joel Embiid looks good in summer league and the 76ers have a good draft and/or add a veteran contributor in trade or free agency, I could see Philly getting close to the front of the line.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Bucks, only because I can see more evidence of them turning the corner right now than the Sixers, Celtics and Knicks. The Bucks have at least 2 players with high ceilings, Giannis and Jabari Parker (assuming he returns OK) and a few others with decent ceilings (Khris Middleton, John Henson, Knight). They also own their picks and Jason Kidd seems like he’s made for coaching. Man, if Larry Sanders starts taking his maturity pills … 

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Bucks. They have two young stars – Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker – with high ceilings, more length and athleticism beyond those guys, and a defense that already ranks in the top five. I do like the potential of all the young guys the Sixers have already acquired (with one more top-seven pick on the way), and coach Brett Brown has proven that he can coach defense, too. But there are still more questions to be answered in Philly than there are in Milwaukee.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There is so much that could happen between now and the next three years. Milwaukee appears to be closer than the others to the playoffs, but there is no guarantee they will be anywhere close to sniffing a NBA title. Based on history alone and Danny Ainge’s penchant for rolling the dice on smoething big on the trade and free agent front, I’m going with the Celtics. You have to take risks when you’re talking about contending, and no one is more willing to do that than Ainge.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Based on what we know today? It will be the Bucks. They have a young emerging (and inexpensive) roster with at least two future stars and new owners who are promising to adorn their franchise with the best of everything. The big question is whether the owners will be wise enough to recognize what they have in GM John Hammond – or will they want to hire their “own guy?” (If it turns out to be the latter, then I’ll retroactively change my pick to the Celtics.)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Milwaukee. Only because the Celtics, Sixers and Knicks are all rebuilding with no clear direction to where they are going. At least the Bucks have their core of Giannis, Brandon Knight and, when he gets healthy, Jabari Parker. They have a coach who has shown he can communicate with these players, and new ownership committed to raising everyone’s circumstances. One of these other franchises may come across a pot of gold eventually, but right now they’re still searching for the ends of their rainbows.

Blogtable: Struggling marquee teams

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 Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEOAre the Lakers better off with Kobe Bryant playing less?

> Three of the NBA’s marquee franchises — Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, L.A. Lakers — are a combined 27-77 and hold little hope for short-term success. If these teams were stocks, which one would you buy, which one would you hold, and which one would you sell?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d buy more Lakers stock, hold what I have of the Knicks and sell my Celtics holdings. The Lakers have the greatest upside because of their culture and their climate — they’re the biggest free-agent magnet of the three thanks to their market and their recent history. Now that Phil Jackson has begun the serious demo work in New York, I think he and the Knicks can build something better, especially as Carmelo Anthony‘s dominance of the team begins to recede. As for that storied franchise in Boston, I’d invoke the phrase familiar to financial speculators: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I can’t convince you to take all three off my hands for, say, the Grizzlies? OK, if you’re forcing me to buy, I’ll take the Lakers. They’re still THE marquee team in the league and when Kobe Bryant finally does retire — looking more and more like after next season, for sure — they’ll have the salary cap space and the cachet that will let them start over. Not to mention a rehabbed Julius Randle and another high draft pick from this season. I’m holding the Celtics because I believe Danny Ainge has the right coach to build on in Brad Stevens, a future All-Star in Marcus Smart and a patient long-range plan. I’m selling the Knicks because, well, they’re the Knicks. After this salary dump this week, Phil Jackson will go into next summer with the space to sign two max level free agents, maybe three. if the cap takes a big leap. Trouble is, he’ll do the usual NY thing and after finding the possibility of luring LeBron James or Kevin Love from Cleveland a pipe dream and having LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol not willing to climb aboard the worst team in the league, Jackson will wind up grossly overpaying the likes of Jimmy Butler or Goran Dragic and merely making the Knicks mediocre to good, but not contenders.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHold the Lakers, hold the Celtics, sell the Knicks. (Why did you ever buy on the Knicks in the first place? No wonder you switched brokers.) Investing in the Lakers now looks bad because not only is it a lottery team, it’s a lottery team with one piece in place for the future and he is injured. (Julius Randle.) But I’d hang on to stock on a team in a destination city and Mitch Kupchak with a loud voice in management. It would not be a surprise if even the lottery Lakers bag a big free agent. The Celtics front office likewise has a proven track record, plus the best young pieces among the three. Boston also has the advantage of being in the East.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Definitely buy the Celtics. They have seven extra first-rounders (some conditional) coming between now and 2018 and there isn’t a sluggish contract weighing down the salary cap. Plus, Boston remains a destination for free agents. Hold the Lakers. I realize they owe future picks to Phoenix and Orlando and Kobe is clogging up cap space, but they’re still the Lakers and somehow find a way to keep their pain to a minimum (I know, I know, GM Jerry West isn’t walking through that door). Sell the Knicks. Phil Jackson deserves a chance, but this team is cursed.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m buying the Celtics, because they have the best group of young players (by far), the most future picks, and the GM/coach combination that I have the most confidence in going forward. I’m holding the Lakers, because they have one Lottery pick already on board, maybe another on the way (it may go to Phoenix), and a shorter contract with their 30-plus, former league’s leading scorer who doesn’t fit the rebuilding timeline. And I’m selling the Knicks, because they have nothing beyond a 30-year-old forward they just signed to a five-year, $124 million contract (Carmelo Anthony), an unproven team president (Phil Jackson) and an unproven coach (Derek Fisher). Nothing’s guaranteed in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’m buying Lakers’ stock, holding the Celtics’ stock and selling all of my Knicks stock. I know that the Lakers never stay down for long. It’s just not what they do as a franchise. They’ll do whatever takes to get back on track. They’ve operated that way and probably always will — provided there is a Buss in charge. The Celtics have some decent pieces and a bright, young coach in Brad Stevens. They just need time to figure it all out. The Knicks have no business being in this marquee mix with the Lakers and Celtics. They haven’t come close to the championship success the other two have enjoyed in recent years. I’m selling on them until Phil Jackson works his Zen magic and convinces another superstar to join Carmelo Anthony in the seemingly eternal quest to return the Knicks to their 1970s glory.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI would buy the Celtics, who are fully committed to rebuilding and are two years into the business of asset (Draft picks, young players and cap space) aggregation. I would hold the Lakers, who — eventually — will draw the interest of free agents. And I would sell the Knicks, who after so many self-destructive years are unworthy of faith until they themselves prove otherwise.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: SELL, SELL, SELL! OK, to really answer your question, I’d buy the Celtics, hold the Knicks and sell the Lakers. Danny Ainge gets the benefit of the doubt in Boston because we’ve seen him reboot his franchise before, plus the Celtics have five first-round picks in the next two Drafts. That’s a heckuva place to start. I know the Knicks are terrible this season, but I like the direction Phil Jackson’s going — bottoming out before building back up. That starts with clearing salary and getting young players in to learn the triangle offense and grow along with the franchise. With the Lakers, I’m not quite sure what they’re doing. They’ve tried to rebuild through free agency but the current management hasn’t shown an ability to recruit the marquee free agents we keep hearing about them going after.

Seeing 20-20 clearly in 2013-14

 

Over the course of a long NBA season, there are plenty of individual achievements and gaudy stat lines that make us sit up and take notice. But there are arguably none more worthy of catching our eyes than the appropriately named 20-20 club, which requires stellar work toiling on the boards to go with a big scoring game. Call them doubled-up double-doubles, if you will. And in the case of this top 10 list of stand-out games from the 2013-14 season, 20-20 is just a start:

10. Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
January 15, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors — 25 points, 20 rebounds


VIDEO: Jared Sullinger runs wild against the Raptors

Nine losses in a row. A second straight pro season languishing near the bottom of the standings. It was enough to make a guy like Sullinger want to scream. Or reach out and grab a game by the throat. Which is what he did in a dominating third quarter against the Raptors, shooting 6-for-6 from the field, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He became the first Celtic since Kevin Garnett in 2007 to have a 20-20 game and it had the desired effect, producing an 88-83 Boston win.

9. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
January 17, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Clippers — 26 points, 20 rebounds


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony burns the Clippers for 26 points

On the surface, it was another dominating performance by Anthony in his drive to his summer of free agent courtship, piling up points and rebounds. It was his fifth game of 15 or more rebounds in a season when he cleaned the glass better than at any other time in his career. But of course, there are more rebounds to grab when you shoot just 4-for-23 from the field. And even though the Clippers were playing without the injured Chris Paul, they had Blake Griffin rumbling to 32 points and Jamal Crawford coming off the bench for 29 and DeAndre Jordan with a double-double (11 points, 16 rebounds) in an easy 109-95 win at Madison Square Garden.

8. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
April 11, 2014 at Chicago Bulls — 26 points, 26 rebounds


VIDEO: Andre Drummond puts up a 20-20 game in a road loss to the Bulls

The bad news is that Drummond’s impressive double-double line wasn’t enough to save his Pistons from suffering a 106-98 to the Bulls. The good news is that it’s very, very early in what has all the earmarks of becoming a memorable career. By devouring rebounds all night to tie to his career high, Drummond became the first player in NBA history to register seven games of 20 or more rebounds before his 20th birthday. (more…)

Luckless Celtics go 0-15 on road vs. West

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Nowitzki, Mavs fend off stubborn Celtics

DALLAS — Not even St. Paddy’s Day could bring Boston a little road luck. This charmless Celtics crew gobbled up 21 offensive rebounds and in the third quarter held the Dallas Mavericks to 14 points, yet it was still only good enough to find another silver lining rather than that elusive rainbow.

The unlucky C’s played without point guard Rajon Rondo, whose surgically repaired right knee still isn’t ready for back-to-back action. Twenty-four hours after losing a 121-120 heart-breaker in overtime Sunday night at New Orleans, Boston clawed and scraped its way back against Dallas from deficits in each quarter and as large as 15 points, but ultimately came up short in the final minute, 94-89.

“To come in here and have a chance, I feel like a broken record talking about silver linings,” first-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “But that would be one.”

The loss burdened this bunch with a piece of unwanted Celtics history as the only club in franchise history to go winless on the road against the Western Conference — 0-and-15.

“It’s not something we shoot for and it’s not something we’d like to do,” Stevens said. “The West is clearly better than the East, I don’t think anybody would argue that, but at the same time we’ve had our chances in a couple of those games.

“It’s frustrating. Most of the season has been frustrating.”

Boston’s best chance to beat the West went down the tubes Sunday night when Pelicans forward Anthony Davis clubbed them for 40 points and 21 rebounds. The chances were there Monday night, too, as the Celtics, wearing their green sleeved uniforms with shorts bearing a clover on each leg, quickly erased a nine-point deficit in the second quarter and briefly led 37-33, their largest lead of the game. They scored six points in the first eight minutes of the third quarter to fall behind 64-49 and then finished it with a flurry, a 12-zip run to make it 64-61 at the end of three.

“I never thought that,” Mavs guard Monta Ellis said when asked if he thought it was over when the lead swelled to 15. “They’ve been playing like this the whole season. They always play the whole 48 minutes so we knew they were going to come back and make a run.”

Before long the Mavs were back up 10, 76-66. But the Celtics weren’t going down without flashing some more Irish fight during their last stand out West. With 5:02 to go, Avery Bradley drained  a corner 3 to make it 78-74. They closed to 82-80 and then 90-89 after Bradley bumped Ellis near midcourt without a call, stripped him and streaked in for the score with 21.6 seconds to go.

Down 92-89 with 19.8 seconds to go, Jerryd Bayless, who scored 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, attacked the basket off a broken play coming out of a timeout. He put up a tough shot between two Mavs defenders, missed it off the glass, but got the rebound. He went back up, but Vince Carter met him with a swat.

“It [the play] got messed up because they switched it,” Bayless said. “They switched the play and they started denying Sully [Jared Sullinger]. But we were able to get, I thought, a good look, but it didn’t work out.”

As luck would have it, it was Carter’s first blocked shot since February. Game over.

The Celtics, losers of five in a row to fall to 22-46 overall and 8-25 on the road, have lost their 15 road games against West teams by an average of 10.7 points. They’ve lost by as many as 31, 24 and 23, but the last nine have come painfully by single digits.

Their previous trip out West could have been soul-crushing, a four-game whitewash that included a three-game sweep by the West’s three worst teams — the Lakers, Kings and Jazz.

“We’re not giving up,” Bayless said.

It’s just with points so hard to come by for this team, especially when Rondo doesn’t play, it makes it extremely difficult to win on the home floors of the other conference.

“I’m frustrated obviously by our lack of success; I am not frustrated by our effort,” Stevens said. “Our effort was pretty high-level again. They’re really giving it everything they have.”

On all days, they just needed a little bit more luck.

Taking A Crack at Rising Stars Draft

Do they pick Anthony Davis, who will have his chance to shine in front of the hometown crowd in New Orleans? Or jump at the chance to get reigning Rookie of the year Damian Lillard?

BBVA Compass Rising Stars ChallengeDo they go with point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who’s dazzled in his first year in the Eastern Conference, or Trey Burke, who’s lived up to the advance billing in the West?

Those are just a few of the questions confronting Grant Hill and Chris Webber when they act as “general managers” and pick the teams for the 2014 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge (tonight on TNT at 7  ET). The choices will be part of a special one-hour addition of TNT NBA Tip-Off.

Al the participants in State Farm All-Star Saturday Night (featuring the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk) will also be revealed, along with a revamped format.

But the heavy lifting will be done by Turner Sports analysts Hill and Webber in assembling their teams. So NBA.com colleague Steve Aschburner and I thought we’d lend a hand by providing a few tips in advance.

Here’s the way we stocked the teams, alternating picks, with me going first:

Anthony Davis (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Anthony Davis (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

1 — Anthony Davis, F/C, Pelicans (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “One brow, one choice. It’s got to be the obvious hometown favorite who was snubbed for the big show.”

2 — Damian Lillard, G, Trail Blazers (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Could dominate if he uses Friday as dress rehearsal for Sunday.”

3 — Michael Carter-Williams, G, Sixers (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Foundation to Philly future, a steal at No. 11, probably should have gone here in 2013 draft.”

4 — Jonas Valanciunas, C, Raptors (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “On a roll lately: stats 16.7 ppt, 10.2. rpg, 58 percent last six games.”

5 — Tim Hardaway, G, Knicks (Rookie) — Blinebury: “From the D-League to NBA, baskets the same size and he can fill them.”

6 — Brady Beal, G, Wizards (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Mature beyond years, will be comfortable in second Rising Stars Game.”

7 — Steven Adams, C, Thunder (Rookie) — Blinebury: “You can’t teach height, or sharp elbows.”

8 — Giannis Antetokounmpo, G/F, Bucks (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Re-draft the class of ’13 and this guy’s in the top three.”

9 — Andre Drummond, C, Pistons (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “Young, tall and knows how to get me the ball.”

10 — Victor Oladipo, G, Magic (Rookie) — Aschburner: “East Rookie of Month in December, guards can thrive in this game.”

11 — Trey Burke, G, Jazz (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Comes off the injured list to be the everything the Jazz hoped.”

12 — Jared Sullinger, F/C, Celtics (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Stepping up as soph starter, he brings toughness.”

13 — Terrence Jones, F, Rockets (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “He’s filled the Rockets’ void at the 4, maybe making a trade unnecessary.”

14 — Harrison Barnes, F, Warriors (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Coming off bench has been a challenge, he’s ready for reset button.”

15 — Dion Waiters, G, Cavaliers (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “Since he doesn’t have to rely on Kyrie Irving to get him the ball, should get plenty of shots.”

16 — Kelly Olynyk, F/C, Celtics (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Averages half this, but per-36-minute numbers are: 13.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.”

17 — Mason Plumlee, F/C, Nets (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Up and down with limited playing time, but has a true shooting percentage of 64.8.”

18 — Pero Antic, C, Hawks (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Lock as All-Star Weekend’s Macedonian MVP.”

G.M. Steve Aschburner: Since Team Fran cheated on the coin flip – funny how that can happen over the phone! – I picked second and lost out on host-city favorite Anthony Davis, who probably has the game’s MVP award half in the bag on sentiment alone. But that’s OK, because I managed to round up enough bigs to occupy Davis – Jonas Valanciunas with his size and skills inside 15 feet, Jared Sullinger with his burly game and Kelly Olynyk with pick-and-pop proclivities.

Besides, games of this All-Star ilk tend to be dominated by the guards, who have the ball in their hands and initiate plays. My backcourt of Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and Victor Oladipo is superior, and those three will spend a lot of time on the floor together to run his crew ragged in small ball. I’m counting on Lillard, who will participate Sunday in the big game, to take this one seriously and not save himself. Surely the 2013 Rookie of the Year doesn’t want any half-season wonders like Carter-Williams, Hardaway or Burke getting over on him.

My squad also has the game’s X factor: the Greek Freak. Given Milwaukee’s dreary season, this will serve as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s coming-out party on a national – wait, international – stage. As the youngest rookie, whose coltish skills and breathtaking moments inspire all sorts of enticing, five-years-from-now dreams, Antetokounmpo conceivably could challenge Davis in wowing the crowd and ride that adrenaline high to a special night.

Prediction: Team Asch 138, Team Fran 127.

G.M. Fran Blinebury: Maybe it was the good fortune that came with wearing my Broadway Joe Namath lucky coyote fur coat. Or maybe it was because when Team Asch, acting like wide-eyed rubes on their first trip to Bourbon Street, asked about having a coin flip, I quickly agreed and bounced a quarter off the coffee table. It was legit and I’d give you a link to the video, but we seem to have had some technical problems. Anyway, it was a no-brainer to make the Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick in the draft (again). With the hometown support he’ll have from the crowd, A.D. should pile up enough dunks and rejections to have the MVP award tucked safely inside his Pelican pouch by halftime.

Asch only thinks he’s got the most physical a lineup up front. I’ve got Andre Drummond and Terrence Jones, who like to mix it up on the inside and can get the ball off the backboard. And don’t forget those sharp elbows of Steve Adams that occasionally (oops!) deliver a message.

In a game where point guards control the ball and set the tone, Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke will push the pace and take turns setting up A.D. for highlight reel dunks (and they’ll finish some themselves). If you want a dark horse contender to steal the spotlight, Tim Hardaway Jr. could carry the banner for the NBA D-League.

Prediction: Team Fran 152, Team Asch 131


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried was the MVP of the 2013 version of the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge in Houston

Goal For Celtics, Lakers Should Be Same

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant's return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant’s return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Lakers and Celtics own one of the most glorious rivalries in all of sports. Through the decades they’ve battled one another with teams as different as their respective coastlines.

Yet this version of the Lakers just might be better off accepting the Danny Ainge philosophy: “Making the playoffs is not a goal.”

The Celtics’ president of basketball operations said he needed to explain that a little bit, so I will, too.

Yes, the franchises’ strategies seem completely at odds. Ainge made the tough call to finally bust it up and trade Kevin Garnett and Boston’s beloved Paul Pierce and start from scratch, even with a new rookie coach. Ainge’s commitment to recovering All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is even in question. The Lakers meanwhile locked up their living legend, Kobe Bryant, for another two years and $48.5 million.

But just as Ainge is looking forward, it’s Kobe’s next two years I’m looking at, not this one. It’s during this time that I implore Kobe to not go nuts trying to sneak into the postseason as he did a season ago. But, as was predictable, that will be difficult.

After the Lakers pulled out an 88-85 win at Charlotte on Saturday night, their first W following three consecutive Ls with Kobe back from his awful April Achilles injury, No. 24 went all anti-Ainge, tenfold.

“I want to win a championship,” he told reporters. “I want to be playing in June.”

The inconvenient truth — and it’s really no secret to most — is that these Lakers are no closer to contending for a championship than Brad Stevens‘ plucky squad. They don’t defend or rebound well and they’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut either (ranking 20th in offensive efficiency). Tuesday night’s narrow win at Memphis, a struggling team playing without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, made the Lakers 2-4 with Kobe and 12-13 overall. Essentially the same record as the 12-14 Celtics.

Ainge views the Celtics’ applaudable start (and his comments came when they were 10-14, still a better mark than most expected) as a byproduct of a laughable Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, which they somehow lead and therefore occupy the No. 4 seed. Boston is 9-7 against the East and Ainge cringes thinking about making the playoffs with a losing record in this anomaly of a season and losing out on Draft position, in this coveted Draft.

The Lakers, predicted by most to miss the playoffs with or without Kobe, should view their 12-13 mark as a byproduct of a rugged West. L.A. is 5-3 against the East and 7-10 in its own conference after nipping the depleted Grizzlies.

It can even be argued that when Rondo, Boston’s last remaining player from its recent glory years, returns from his ACL injury that he will join a more talented collection of teammates than the ragtag bunch Kobe inherited. That’s bad news if you’re in the West.

Think about Kobe’s crew: Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Hill and conflicted pal Pau Gasol, the only other remaining member of the 2010 title team. Jordan Farmar (a role player on the ’10 team left before re-signing this season) could return from injury soon and Steve Blake will be back in a month or so. No one can be sure about Steve Nash. To think this crew can leap into the West playoff fray with any hope of advancing would seem reckless California dreaming.

Rondo, if he’s not already traded, will join Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk. Depending how Ainge proceeds with the roster, Brooklyn would seem the only hope from keeping his team built for the lottery from maddeningly backing into the division title.

Ainge knows, and Kobe should, too, that the 2008 and 2010 Finals aren’t walking through that door.

But Kobe doesn’t do lowered expectations, not when he’s got five rings and hungry for a sixth. But for this one season, making the playoffs at all costs can’t be the goal.

“We will get better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the 122-97 loss at OKC, Kobe’s third game back. “Just check in on us in a couple weeks and see where we are.”

It’s hard to see these Lakers in the top eight, whether in a couple weeks or a couple months. The roster presents little opportunity to make a blockbuster, game-changing-type trade. If L.A. did sneak into an eighth or seventh seed like last season, it would only serve as first-round fodder for the Thunder or Spurs, while valuable ground would be lost in the race that matters more — Draft slotting.

L.A. has already accomplished its two prime goals for this season: Kobe is back, and his autograph is fresh on a new contract. Now general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni must make sure that his raging competitive drive doesn’t take him off the cliff of physical limitation. They must evaluate their young talent and determine who can help most over a two-year championship push.

Then, with a stroke of Laker luck, nab a difference-maker in the Draft and follow with smart free-agent acquisitions to form a solid nucleus for Kobe’s sunset drive.

These are the goals. Making the playoffs is not.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks ponder lineup changes | Lakers not planning on Nash retiring | Howard says he’s overthinking FTs | Sullinger has MRI on knee | Nowitzki surpasses West in record books

No. 1: Woodson mulling starting lineup changes — A 2-4 record after a 31-point blowout loss to the Spurs on Sunday has Knicks coach Mike Woodson pondering his starting lineup and how to make it more effective. The names that could join the fray? Metta World Peace and J.R. Smith. Woodson could start Smith tonight against the Hawks (8 ET, ESPN), which could change the role for either Pablo Prigioni or Iman Shumpert. As for World Peace, Woodson is still deciding whether or not to start him as well. Marc Berman of the New York Post has more on the potential changes:

At Tuesday’s practice, Smith wore the starter’s blue uniform while point guard Pablo Prigioni was in the white. In the past two games, Woodson has started two point guards — Prigioni and Raymond Felton.

Smith, the reigning Sixth Man Award winner, would replace either Prigioni or Iman Shumpert. If he replaces Prigioni, the team would have a three-guard alignment of Felton-Shumpert-Smith.

“I’m going to sleep on it tonight,’’ Woodson said. “I tinkered with some things today. I’ll sleep on it and make a decision [Wednesday].

“I’m just searching, trying to get a unit that starts the game on a good note. I thought we overcame that in the Charlotte game [Friday]. I’m hoping we don’t start the game where we’re down 15-20 points right off the bat.”

Woodson called Smith “a possibility’’ to start. Smith’s season debut Sunday in the 31-point loss to San Antonio was dreadful — five points, four turnovers — but Woodson had his eyes on making Smith a starter all offseason.

Asked about Metta World Peace joining the starting fray, Woodson didn’t rule it out. But Smith is a favorite of team owner Jim Dolan and since last May’s exit meeting, there has been a movement to promote him to starter.

“He’s only been back a game,’’ Woodson said. “Yes he was rusty the other night. We just got to be patient and help him grow to get him to play the way he’s capable of playing.

“I’m trying to get a good rotation down and I’ve had trouble with that,’’ Woodson added. “I haven’t found the rotations that I want yet. I’m going to work my butt off to get us to where we need to be.’’


VIDEO: Woodson on potential starting lineup changes for Knicks

***

No. 2: Lakers aren’t pondering Nash retirement — Former two-time MVP Steve Nash has played in just six of the Lakers’ nine games this season (although, in his defense, he was held out of a back-to-back set in an effort to help preserve him for the season). Still, Nash is now out at least two weeks with nerve root irritation and, overall as a Laker, has played in 56 of a possible 91 regular-season games with L.A. Some in Lakerland are calling for Nash to just hang it up, but as Eric Pincus and Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times report, the Lakers aren’t doing likewise:

“There’s always going to be a debate but we’re not going to debate it, talk about it,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said Tuesday. “He’s going to try to get ready, he’s going to try to play and we’re going to try to win. It’s really simple for us. It’s not real difficult.”

Nash has already missed three of nine games and is out at least two more weeks because of nerve damage in his back, the latest injury to hit him since he joined the Lakers.

But should he retire?

He makes $9.3 million this season and $9.7 million next season. If he’s found physically unable to play by Lakers back specialist Robert Watkins, Nash still receives full compensation.

The NBA would then do its due diligence, sending a league-appointed physician to verify the findings of Lakers doctors.

If the league signed off, the final year of Nash’s contract would be completely removed from the Lakers’ salary cap — as long as he played in fewer than 10 games this season.

The Lakers have nearly cleared their books for next summer: Nash, Robert Sacre ($915,243) and Nick Young ($1.2-million player option) are the only ones with guaranteed contracts.

Even if the NBA didn’t approve a Nash retirement, the Lakers could use their “stretch provision” to waive him next summer and spread out his final $9.7 million over three seasons.

For now, Nash will work to return to the court, with medical retirement an option only if he is truly unable to make it back.

“Steve will just have to get back as soon as he can and then we’ll see where we are,” D’Antoni said.

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No. 3: Dwight says he’s overthinking free throws — In his 10 seasons in the NBA, Houston center Dwight Howard has led the league in free throw attempts four times and is on pace to do so again this season. It’s a common ploy opponents use against Howard, who is a career 57.6 percent shooter from the stripe. Howard says his reason for shooting so badly at the line is easy to figure out, though, as Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle reports:

Rockets center Dwight Howard has been a target this year for his sub-par free throw shooting. Opponents have gone to the “hack-a-Dwight” method to put the big man at the line.

After another poor performance from the line on Monday night against the Raptors (Howard was 4-of-12), he told reporters he just didn’t want to talk about free throws anymore.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Howard said. “So much has been talked about free throws, just let it go. We talk about it so much, I think about it at the line. I don’t want to think about it. I want to shoot.

“That’s what I do in practice. I shoot in practice and I dont miss because I am not thinking about it.”

Howard said that he is overthinking free throw shots in games, and missing them because of it. He said he is making up for the lack of free throws in other ways.

“I get in the game and I think so much that I tend to miss,” Howard said. “The best thing to do is to let it go. If I make it, I make it. If I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Even if I do miss, I will be out on the other end, playing defense, getting rebounds, blocking shots and paying back for fouling in that way.”


VIDEO: Howard says he thinks too much about FT misses

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No. 4: Sullinger OK after having MRI on knee — Since his days as a standout performer at Ohio State, Celtics big man Jared Sullinger has dealt with recurring back injuries and issues. That was the case in his first NBA season as well as a back injury sidelined him after just 45 games. He’s been off to a good start this season, averaging 11.3 points and 5.3 rebounds as a valued reserve for the surprisingly successful Celtics. Sullinger banged knees with Orlando’s Maurice Harkless during Boston’s 120-105 win on Monday and needed an MRI yesterday, but the results look good, writes Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com:

Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger underwent a precautionary MRI on his right knee at New England Baptist Hospital on Tuesday and the results revealed a bone bruise, according to the team. Sullinger is listed as day to day.

Orlando’s Maurice Harkless slammed hard into Sullinger’s right knee, forcing Boston’s second-year forward to crash backwards late in the first half of Boston’s 120-105 triumph. Sullinger did play 14 minutes, 33 seconds in the second half. He sat out practice Tuesday and departed with trainer Ed Lacerte near the end of the session.

“He’s got a sore knee and they are doing an MRI just to check out and see what’s wrong,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “Nothing conclusive, and certainly day to day it sounds like they are looking at, but we just don’t know yet, so we want to make sure.”

If Sullinger is unable to go, it would likely mean an elevated role for veteran Kris Humphries, who has played well (second best on the team at plus-27 overall) in small bursts while waiting for an extended opportunity.

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No. 5: Nowitzki climbs the all-time scoring ranks — With his 3-pointer late in the third quarter of Dallas’ eventual victory over Washington, Dirk Nowitzki surpassed NBA legend and Hall of Famer Jerry West for No. 16 on the league’s all-time scoring list. Our own Jeff Caplan was on hand for the event and points out that Nowitzki can still pass more names on the list while also etching a unique place in NBA history as well:

Nowitzki, in his 16th season, now has 25,197 career points. With West’s 25,192 points behind him, Reggie Miller’s 25,279 points is reachable likely within the next three to five games. Soon, only 14 players will have scored more points than the big German, and only a handful are safe from Nowitzki’s final charge over the next few seasons.

“It’s another great milestone, but for now, got to keep working and that’s really about it,” said a rather subdued Nowitzki, whose re-tooled Mavs improved to 5-3. “Like I always say, all these milestones are great once my career is over.”

Nowitzki is on pace to become the all-time leading scorer among international players. Houston Rockets Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, a native of Nigeria, leads that group. The Dream sits No. 9 all-time with 26,946 points. Nowitzki can catch him this season if he averages 21.3 points over the next 74 games.

He’s currently averaging 18.3 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the floor and 38.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Nowitzki is in the final year of his contract, but has said he plans to play another two or three seasons, and his intention is to do so with the Mavs.

Seemingly the only thing that can keep Nowitzki, 35, from finishing in the top eight, at least, on the all-time scoring list is health. He’s been extremely durable throughout his career, but has experienced right knee troubles the past few seasons, needing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee prior to last season.


VIDEO: Nowitzki talks about passing West on the all-time scoring list

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The little brother of Knicks guard J.R. Smith, Chris Smith, is being paid $2 million as an NBA D-League player, by far the richest amount in the league … Warriors guard Toney Douglas is out 2 weeks with a stress reaction to his left tibia … Bulls have brought in ex-Warriors and Bobcats forward Reggie Williams for some workouts … Blazers star LaMarcus Aldridge has an interesting way of keeping pressure on himself

ICYMI Of The Night: Monday night, we saw a veteran (Marvin Williams) get posterized by another veteran (J.J. Hickson). Last night, a rookie (Jeff Withey of the Pelicans) got victimized by a veteran (Lakers swingman Xavier Henry), and the results were just as vicious …


VIDEO: Xavier Henry elevates over rookie Jeff Withey for the power jam