Posts Tagged ‘Jarrett Jack’

Morning Shootaround — July 13




VIDEO: Should the Thunder have matched the offer sheet for Enes Kanter?

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas | Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? | Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC | Jack ready to replace Williams | Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns

o
No. 1: Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas — While other members of his Draft class are adjusting to the rigors of the NBA during their respective summer league debuts, Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is drawing rave reviews from every direction after his initial steps in the Las Vegas Summer League. There is a reason he sticks out, according to Rob Mahoney of SI.com:

The product on the floor at the Las Vegas Summer League is, by the tyranny of literal definition, basketball. It’s just a form of basketball so far removed from the NBA’s version as to complicate player evaluation. The best and worst performances alike come with the caveat that summer league is a world all its own: The talent level is lower, the continuity is nonexistent, and the context of play is altogether distinct.

The true standouts in Vegas, then, are those who demonstrate the kinds of skills that can cut through the divide. Count Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay among them. A combined 14 assists (including 10 on Sunday against Sacramento) in his first two summer league games doesn’t do him justice. Mudiay is such a smooth playmaker that he gives a makeshift offense of make-good prospects an actual rhythm.

Mudiay sees the game in a way that allows for that. There are prospects all across the summer league pool with rotation-quality speed or handle. Mudiay has both, stands a solid 6’5″, and has the vision to see all of a possession’s opportunities. Whenever his drives bring multiple defenders to the ball, Mudiay monitors even those options that might first seem unavailable: The half-defended roll man, the zoned-up shooter on the weak side, or the cutter caught in a crowd. His every step and spin revises those possibilities.

“I learned so much in China,” Mudiay said.  “Just slowing the game down, seeing where everybody’s at, knowing where everybody’s at. That really helped me.”

Just before the defense can settle, Mudiay creates. A cross-court pass will zip into the pocket of an available teammate from a difficult angle, bringing his drive-and-kick to a potent conclusion. Rare are those point guards who can not just find and exploit openings, but also keep defenses guessing. Mudiay has some of that spice—the ability to look past a good first option into a great (but challenging) second option. Corner shooters and hard rollers are going to love him.

“I can score when I need to but at the same time, [the Kings] were giving me wide open lanes,” Mudiay said. “Me finding my teammates, that was the main important thing. I found my teammates. How ever the other team’s playing me, that’s how I’m going to play.”

***

No. 2: Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? — In this summer’s free agent landscape, spending $1.4 million on a rotation big like Andrea Bargnani would appear to be a pretty good bargain for the Brooklyn Nets. Our John Schuhmann is not as confident in the addition of Bargnani as the decision-makers in Brooklyn:

It seems like a low-risk move by the Nets, who apparently stole Bargnani from the Sacramento Kings, who had offered him more than the minimum. But at this point in his career, it’s unclear what Bargnani has to offer any team who dares to pay him anything.

Bargnani has long been a bad defender. Of 386 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the nine years since Bargnani came into the league, only three – Ryan Gomes (108.9), Hakim Warrick(108.9) and Charlie Villanueva (109.5) – have had a higher on-court DefRtg (the number of points a player’s team allows per 100 possessions) than Bargnani (108.8).

He’s not a good (or willing) passer; His assist rate (7.4 assists per 100 possessions used) ranks 351st among those 386 players. And he’s a terrible rebounder for his size; he’s grabbed less than 10 percent of available rebounds when he’s been on the floor.

Bargnani is supposed to be a shooter and a floor spacer. But he has shot just 30 percent from 3-point range over the last four seasons.

He did shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks last season, but that was on just 41 attempts. And that’s the real issue. Bargnani doesn’t shoot many threes (or really space the floor) anymore.

In his first four seasons in the league, Bargnani took about one mid-range shot (between the paint and the 3-point line) for every 3-pointer. But over the last five seasons, his mid-range-to-threes rate has doubled.

Bargnani is a decent mid-range shooter. But even over the last five years, his mid-range shots (43.3 percent, 0.87 points per shot) haven’t been worth as much as his threes (31.8 percent, 0.95 points per shot).

Bargnani doesn’t shoot well or often in the paint. And if he fancies himself a shooter and/or a floor spacer, he can’t be taking twice as many mid-range shots as 3-pointers. Last year’s rate of more than 4-to-1 is just awful.

Speaking of awful, last year’s Knicks went 17-65. And they were at their worst, getting outscored by 17.5 points per 100 possessions (16.5 points per 48 minutes), when Bargnani was on the floor.

The Nets needed another big to back up Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Before Sunday, their only centers were Lopez and Willie Reed, who has never played in a NBA game.

But there were better options out there than Bargnani, who hasn’t been good at his one good skill in several years. It’s especially strange that a team looking to make moves with cap space next summer would dedicate any 2016-17 money (even if it’s a player option for the minimum) to a player like Bargnani. And my goodness, his relationship with an old-school, defense-first coach like Lionel Hollins will be fascinating to watch.

The good news for the Nets is that they didn’t give up three draft picks to get him.

 

***

No. 3: Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC — Now that the Thunder have matched Portland’s $70 million offer for Thunder restricted free agent Enes Kanter, it’s time for the big man to prove his worth on a healthy team that is ticketed for big things during the 2015-16 season. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman paints the picture in Oklahoma City:

 

The offense should be no problem. Kanter was superb offensively with the Thunder. In 26 games, Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 5.0 offensive rebounds per game. He shot 56.6 percent from the field. He scored inside; he scored outside. And Kanter wasn’t a black hole. He averaged a career-high 1.3 assists per 36 minutes. Serge Ibaka’s career high is 1.1.

But defensively? Total disaster. Historic, in many ways. The Thunder was so glad to have a healthy body, especially a big body who put the ball in the basket, that Kanter’s defense was glossed over. But it was bad. To borrow a phrase from Chris Paul. Bad, bad, bad.

When Kanter was traded from Utah on Feb. 19, the Thunder ranked ninth in NBA defense — 99.7 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz ranked 26th, 104.9.

In two months, basically a third of a season, Utah caught the Thunder. The Jazz finished 13th in NBA defense, 101.3 points per 100 possessions. OKC was 15th, 101.8.

The Jazz improvement wasn’t just addition by subtraction. It was addition by addition — 7-foot-3 Rudy Gobert moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz was transformed. Utah was 19-34 with Kanter; the Jazz was 19-10 without Kanter.

The Thunder’s defense suddenly cratered with Kanter playing 30 minutes a night. The final 17 games was without Serge Ibaka, which will sink many a defense, but still, that doesn’t explain the total collapse.

A new defensive statistic is really telling. Defensive real plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on team defensive performance. It might be the closest thing we have to a rock-bottom defensive value.

Kanter ranked 469th out of 474 NBA players measured. Read that again. Kanter ranked above only Sacramento’s Derrick Williams, the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, the Lakers’ Jabari Brown and Brooklyn’s Bojan Bogdanovic.

Kanter ranked last among 71 centers. The worst defensive center in the league was the guy the Thunder has committed to paying $70 million.

And it’s not like 2014-15 was an aberration. The season before, Kanter ranked 61st out of 62 centers, ahead only of Milwaukee’s John Henson.

Again, offensively, Kanter is a jewel. He ranked seventh among NBA centers in offensive real plus-minus, ahead of stars like Chris Bosh and Al Horford and Dwight Howard. So Kanter is the total package offensively. But that defense will kill you, as we learned down the stretch of the star-crossed season recently completed.

***

No. 4: Jack ready to replace Williams — The departure of Deron Williams in Brooklyn leaves a gaping hole in the lineup at point guard. Veteran Jarrett Jack insists he is ready to replace Williams, if that’s what Nets GM Billy King and coach Lionel Hollins need him to do. Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News has more:

Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson always planned to attend NBA summer league in Las Vegas as a team-building experience.

But addressing reporters late Saturday night in Cox Pavilion, circumstances had obviously changed.

Deron Williams, the former face of the franchise, was waived Saturday afternoon — the Nets agreeing to buy out the remaining two years and $43.3 million of his contract for $27.5 million.

The move allows the Nets to duck under the luxury cap threshold and increase their salary cap space for 2016-17.

But Williams’ departure also creates a job opening at point guard.

While coach Lionel Hollins and GM Billy King danced around questions of who will take over the role, it’s assumed that Jack, a well-liked veteran who started 27 games last season and came up big in late-game situations, will play the part with perhaps newly acquired Shane Larkin also pushing for minutes.

“If that’s the position they want me to fill, I’m definitely very ready to do so,” Jack said. “It’s not my first rodeo as far as being thrust into the (starter’s) role if that were to be the case. So it’s something that’s not foreign to me and (I’m) definitely ready for the challenge.”

Jack said he spoke to Williams on Friday about his exit out of Brooklyn.

Williams is expected to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks after he clears waivers on Monday.

“He was in good spirits, going back to his hometown team, thought he might have needed a change of scenery, you know, which is cool,” Jack said. “In professional sports, happiness is a thing that we don’t get to control a lot. It seems like he’s happy with the new situation and I’m definitely happy for him and hope he does well.”

***

No. 5: Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns — All the moves made this summer in Phoenix have Eric Bledsoe believing that the Suns are a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. That means his commitment to the Suns and to improved leadership are crucial to the cause. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

Eric Bledsoe is known for doing impressive things during the NBA season.

Bledsoe’s offseason sounded impressive too but the work and dedication was out of sight until he showed up for training camps looking like the “after” photo in a fitness advertisement.

This is the offseason where Bledsoe’s dedication goes beyond fitness. He has had a presence in everything the Suns have been doing.

Bledsoe pledged to spend his summer in Phoenix rather than the usual return to his hometown, Birmingham, but his engagement has gone beyond a permanent address in the Valley.

Bledsoe has been working out at US Airways Center. He attended draft workouts. He held a youth basketball camp. He was part of the Suns’ recruiting group that pitched LaMarcus Aldridge. He came to Las Vegas on Saturday to join the Suns’ summer team workouts and watch their NBA Summer League games.

To Bledsoe, it is all part of becoming a playoff team.

“I just thought it was important to be around this summer to put the work in and to show that I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “I was working out with some of the newer guys and I built relations with Archie (Goodwin), T.J. (Warren) and Alex (Len)during the season. I told them I’d come here and check them out to see how much they’ve improved.”

Bledsoe hesitates to proclaim that the team is better than last season yet with “work still to be done.” He did say that the team is in “a better place” than at the end of last season, citing better health, relationship building and the potential to win.

Aldridge was considered a lock to sign with San Antonio this offseason but Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and new Suns center Tyson Chandler were part of the Suns group that at least swayed him momentarily.

“I’m out here to show I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “However I can possibly help the team get better, that’s what I’m going to do. Recruiting-wise, they needed me to get one of the top free agents. We missed out just by a hair but we got an even better post player (Chandler) and I think he’s going to help Alex. He’ll help defensively. He’s got the mentality of a player who’s won a championship and had a whole bunch of success in this league. It’ll help rub off on everybody else, especially the young guys.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks and John Henson are closing in on extension talks for the big man … New York Daily News reporter tries out for but fails to make Nets’ dance team … Zaza Pachulia is going from the oldest to a relative youngster in his move from Milwaukee to Dallas

Morning shootaround — July 11


VIDEO: Anthony-Towns, Russell square off in Vegas

D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding | Clash of the titans in Summer League | Jordan apologizes publicly | Evolution of the Kings

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding — The Brooklyn Nets planned to make a splash when they hopped a few rivers to get from Jersey to the city, and part of that impact was supposed to come from building around point guard Deron Williams. As our own John Schuhmann details, the Nets gave up a lot to get Williams, both in terms of finances and personnel, but things never quite worked out the way they’d hoped. With Williams’ departure (via buyout) for his hometown of Dallas, it’s time for the Nets to look for a different path to success…

Williams was dealing with ankle issues for most of his Nets tenure, missing 32 games over the last two seasons. He shot a career-low 39 percent in 2014-15.

Of course, he was still the Nets’ best point guard by a wide margin. The offense fell apart when he was replaced with (or played alongside) Jarrett Jack. Though Brooklyn was outscored by 236 points over the course of the season, Williams was just a minus-14 in more than 2,000 minutes. Jack was a minus-315.

So the move to part ways with Williams takes the Nets’ offense down a notch. But it also saves Prokhorov a ton of money. With Williams’ full salary on the books, the Nets were set to pay another $44 million in luxury tax this coming season, subject to the repeater tax levels.

With a buyout that reduces the $43 million they owe him to $27.5 million, and with the stretch provision that stretches the remaining money over five years instead of two, Brooklyn’s 2015-16 payroll can get below the luxury tax line completely. That’s a big thing for this year and going forward.

The damage isn’t completely done. They’ll still be paying Williams $5-6 million each year through the 2019-20 season, and they still owe Boston those picks in 2016 and 2018, with the potential pick swap the year in between.

The Nets still haven’t competed for a championship since Kidd was the point guard. They went 153-159 in Williams’ four full seasons with the franchise, winning just 10 playoff games. Health was an issue. Williams and Brook Lopez played just 159 (47 percent) of a possible 337 regular season games together.

The past is the past, though. Now, the Nets can finally move on. They still have some veteran talent – Johnson, Lopez and Thaddeus Young – on the roster. They’re building around the two re-signed bigs and are making a clear effort to get younger and more athletic.

***

No. 2: Clash of the titans in Summer League — It didn’t take long for the Las Vegas Summer League to produce drama: Just minutes into the tourney, number 1 overall Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and his Minnesota Timberwolves faced off against number 2 pick D’Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers. And by all accounts, as Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, both players produced, and showed they have room to grow…

With a record-setting crowd of 12,422 fans in attendance at the Las Vegas summer league, all eyes were on Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns as he took his first shot as an NBA player.

Air ball.

“I didn’t even want to shoot the basketball,” Towns said on his first shot — a 3-pointer — as a pro. “It’s just rookie jitters. Even though I’m the No. 1 pick, I’m not going to be perfect.”

It was a forgettable first attempt but the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft will likely laugh about it one day.

Towns finished Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, missed both 3-point attempts and made all but one of five free throws. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder averaged 21.1 minutes per game as a true freshman on a University of Kentucky team deep in talent.

In his Minnesota summer league debut, however, the 19-year-old played a challenging 31 minutes.

While Towns didn’t have the monster debut he hoped for, the Timberwolves finished with an 81-68 victory over the Lakers in a battle against No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell.

“I started out like any other rookie,” Towns said. “I ain’t going to lie. I had a lot of butterflies. I was very nervous. My legs felt heavy. It’s your first game out.”

***

No. 3: Jordan apologizes publicly — DeAndre Jordan‘s 11th hour change of heart may have saved the immediate future for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it did something like the opposite for the Dallas Mavericks, making them scramble to change course and make the best out of what was left on the free agent market. Last night, Jordan took to Twitter to apologize to Dallas owner Mark Cuban and Mavs fans, as well as tell Clippers fans he was excited to be returning…

***

No. 4: Evolution of the Kings — No one said it would be easy. Despite their best efforts, the Sacramento Kings have been stuck on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race the last few years. In their latest iteration, the leadership of Vlade Divac and George Karl hasn’t seemed to connect with star center DeMarcus Cousins. As Shaun Powell writes, that relationship may just remain a work in progress…

George Karl wouldn’t discuss the state of his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins — “I’m not authorized to speak about that,” he said on the first day of the Samsung NBA Summer League — which means the mending remains a work in progress. The hectic summer in Sacramento turned loopy when Cousins used a snake-in-the-grass emoji on Twitter last month to characterize Karl as disloyal and distrustful. Cousins, according to those close to him, is charging Karl of trying to get him traded and has refused to speak with Karl. That in turn raised the issue of whether Karl and not Cousins would be shipped out of town. It became a big mess and it doesn’t appear the two have a working relationship or that it’ll be settled soon if ever.

Both are notoriously stubborn, which makes you wonder if Karl or Cousins are willing or even able to patch things up. Karl has had disagreements with players before, yet managed to win games (though not a championship). Cousins has rubbed his previous coaches raw, and hasn’t won anything. Karl wanted to change the culture when he arrived in the middle of last season and his methods obviously didn’t sit well with Cousins. And five months later, here they are.

Both have put Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new general manager, in a tight spot, if not in the role of peace maker and referee. Divac was coy when asked about their relationship.

“Every day it’s getting better,” he said.

That’s it?

“That’s it.”

Clearly, Divac is siding with Cousins if only because there aren’t many centers averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds and with Cousins’ skill set. Although troubled in the past by his lack of maturity and fragile temper — Cousins has led all players in technical fouls over the last 3 years — Cousins made strides over the last season to reduce his disruptive tendencies. Making Team USA last summer and then the All-Star team have sedated him, made him more coachable, although some of his sharp edges remain.

Sensing a desperate franchise led by a first-time GM, plenty of teams tried to get Cousins by offering 50 centers on the dollar this summer once the Karl-Cousins relationship took another wicked turn, and wisely, Divac didn’t bite.

“He’s a great kid with great potential and I”m happy to work with him,” Divac said. “There’s nothing out there that would make me pull the trigger.”
And what about the status of Karl, who has three years left on his contract? Curiously Divac shrugged his way through his response.
“Well, we’ll see. He has to win the games. He’s a coach who brings a lot of experience. He knows how to fix things, so we’ll see.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Today Becky Hammon will make history as the first female head coach of an NBA team in a Summer League game … Perhaps overshadowed by the debut of Towns and Russell was the return of Julius RandleLeBron James hosted a premiere for his new movie Trainwreck in his hometown of Akron … Kevin Garnett is officially back in Minnesota

Numbers preview: Hawks-Nets


VIDEO: The Association: An all-access pass for the Hawks’ playoff push

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Atlanta Hawks were the biggest surprise of the 2014-15 season, ripping off a 33-2 stretch after Thanksgiving to vault into the top spot in the Eastern Conference and never showing any real signs of weakness after that.

The Hawks are the only Eastern Conference team that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They went 21-12 against teams that finished the season with winning records and scorched an improved Cleveland defense in their last regular season meeting.

Yet few believe that this team is heading to The Finals. Despite their similarities to the team that won the championship last season, there are questions about how Hawks’ formula for success, both on offense and defense, will hold up in the postseason.

Those questions might not be answered in the first round against a team that is fortunate to be here. The Brooklyn Nets are the only playoff team with a negative point differential and not by a narrow margin. The Nets were outscored by 236 points this season. They were 24-18 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, but lost 17 games by more than 15 points.

They still have a talented roster, but it’s not nearly as cohesive as that of their opponent. And though Brooklyn showed improvement after the All-Star break, it still had a pretty porous defense.

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

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

Atlanta Hawks (60-22)

Pace: 96.2 (15)
OffRtg: 106.2 (6)
DefRtg: 100.7 (7)
NetRtg: +5.6 (4)

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

Hawks notes:

  • Assisted on 67.6 percent of their baskets, leading the league in assist rate for the third straight season.
  • 79.5% of their jump shots were uncontested, the highest rate in the league, according to SportVU.
  • Ranked last in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing just 21.4 percent of available offensive boards.
  • Allowed just 1.01 points per possession in transition, the lowest rate in the league, according to Synergy.
  • Kyle Korver had the best effective field goal percentage on both contested jumpers and uncontested jumpers among players with 100 of each.

Brooklyn Nets (38-44)

Pace: 95.0 (24)
OffRtg: 101.9 (18)
DefRtg: 105.0 (24)
NetRtg: -3.1 (22)

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

Nets notes:

The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 4-0.
Pace: 96.6
ATL OffRtg: 118.3 (1st vs. BKN)
BKN OffRtg: 99.8 (17th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

Morning shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Nets’ Lopez, Hornets’ Stephenson at heart of three-team deal | Rivers: No favoritism for son Austin | Blatt calls timeout issue ‘nonsense’ | Report: Kings willing to deal Stauskas

No. 1:

UPDATE, 10:44 a.m. ET: Per Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nets didn’t want to take on Lance Stephenson and so, Brooklyn and OKC may be working on a straight-up swap for Brook Lopez

UPDATE, 10:27 a.m. ET: Chris Broussard of ESPN.com, who first broke news of the proposed three-team swap involving Brook Lopez, Lance Stephenson and others, is dead

And here’s more from Broussard on why the deal broke down and what’s next:

The Brooklyn Nets and Oklahoma City Thunder are involved in discussions about a trade involving Brook Lopez and Kendrick Perkins, according to sources.

The two sides had been engaged in talks about a three-way trade that would’ve also involved the Charlotte Hornets shipping out Lance Stephenson, however sources said the Hornets are no longer involved in the deal.

Sources Thursday night confirmed a USA Today report that Oklahoma City would send Perkins could go to the Nets in a potential deal. In earlier trade discussions, the Nets and Thunder had talked about a potential deal involving Lopez and Perkins, among other players, according to sources.

UPDATE, 9:40 a.m. ET: Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports that the proposed three-team deal may be dormant … for now

A trade that would have sent Charlotte Hornets shooting guard Lance Stephenson to the Brooklyn Nets has been put on hold, an informed NBA source told the Observer early Friday.

The Hornets, Nets and Oklahoma City Thunder were discussing a deal that would have sent Stephenson to the Nets, Brook Lopez to the Thunder and various parts to the Hornets. It appeared close Thursday night, but the Nets pulled back Friday, putting any discussions on hold.

The Nets have multiple options involving Lopez. It’s still likely they will move him.

The Hornets signed Stephenson in July to a three-year, $27.4 million contract with an out after the second season. It has been an awkward situation, where Stephenson has struggled to collaborate with new teammates. Both he and point guard Kemba Walker need the ball extensively to excel and that has made for an awkward situation.

Reports: Nets’ Lopez to Thunder in three-team deal; Perkins may move to Brooklyn, too — Oklahoma City is struggling to gain traction in the Western Conference playoff chase, but they can’t be faulted for standing pat. After acquiring Dion Waiters from the Cleveland Cavaliers roughly two weeks ago, the Thunder are in talks to try and land former All-Star center Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets. The deal would also include the Charlotte Hornets, who would send Lance Stephenson to Brooklyn and would receive veteran guard Jarrett Jack from Brooklyn. OKC’s Jeremy Lamb and Grant Jarrett would head to Charlotte and, Thunder center Kendrick Perkins could be shipped out to Brooklyn, too.

Multiple outlets reported on the deal last night, but we’ll start with Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, who details the Nets’ intense desire to move Lopez:

The Brooklyn Nets have intensified trade discussions for center Brook Lopez and want to move him soon, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Nets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Charlotte Hornets began to gather traction on a three-way trade late Thursday afternoon, and planned to continue to discussions on Friday morning, league sources told Yahoo Sports. For the Nets, the biggest hurdle remained their willingness to take on combustible Charlotte guard Lance Stephenson, sources said.

Oklahoma City has been the most aggressive in its pursuit of Lopez, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Brooklyn has tried to find teams willing to move the expiring contract of Kendrick Perkins for an established player, sources said.

The Nets have delivered indications to teams they would like to settle on a trade by the weekend, league sources said.

The Hornets have a strong interest in making a deal for Lopez, but league sources believe the Nets are focused on dealing Lopez to the Western Conference, league sources told Yahoo.

Brooklyn officials have been re-canvassing the league for intel on Hornets guard Lance Stephenson, trying to measure the risk-reward of bringing him back to his hometown, league sources said. Charlotte and Brooklyn talked several weeks ago, but discussions cooled when the Nets were reluctant to acquire Stephenson as part of a broader package, league sources said.

The Nets have three max-contract salaries on the roster – Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson – and are motivated to shed two of the three before the Feb. 19 trade deadline, league sources said. Brooklyn has lost seven straight games to drop to 16-23, and owner Mikhail Prokhorov is pursuing a sale of the team.

Brooklyn has been unable lately to find any traction in talks to move Williams, league sources said.

The Nets have had discussions with Oklahoma City on Lopez, but the best chance for bringing back value on the former All-Star center could be gambling on the talent of Stephenson. There’s support for a Stephenson homecoming to Brooklyn on the ownership level but rival teams believe the front office is more cautious about taking on the volatile player.

USA Today‘s Sam Amick provides more on the Perkins angle, as well as what the trade means for Brooklyn and Charlotte:

If the deal remains in its current form, the person told USA TODAY Sports that Thunder center Kendrick Perkins likely would go to the Nets as well. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of trade talks.

The Nets clearly would be taking the biggest gamble in this deal, as Stephenson comes with a high-risk, high-reward quality that hasn’t panned out in Charlotte. After signing a three-year, $27 million deal (with a team option for the third) with the Hornets, he has been extremely inefficient (38.6% shooting overall and 15.1% from three-point range while averaging 10.1 points, 4.7 assists and 6.6 rebounds per game) and is widely known to have been a challenging presence in the locker room.

Still, the Nets badly wants to part ways with Lopez and his contract ($15.7 million this season, $16.7 million next season), and taking on Perkins and his expiring contract as part of the deal ($9.4 million) would certainly help their battered bottom-line.

The Hornets, meanwhile, are eager to part ways with Stephenson and would shore up their backcourt depth by making this move. Lamb, the third-year player out of Connecticut who was taken 12th overall by the Houston Rockets in 2012, has shown some promise but is the odd man out in the Thunder rotation right now. Jack, 31, would give them a productive veteran presence (10.8 points, 4.3 assists and 28.5 minutes per game this season) who — unlike Stephenson — would be a leader in the locker room.

ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard, who first reported the trade, says the Miami Heat have also shown interest in landing Lopez:

Sources confirmed a USA Today report that Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins could go to the Nets in a potential deal. In earlier trade discussions, the Nets and Thunder had talked about a potential deal involving Lopez and Perkins, among other players, according to sources.

The Hornets, who have been trying to move Stephenson for more than a month, want to make the deal, and Oklahoma City has agreed as well, leaving the Nets as the only holdout, according to sources.

Brooklyn also has had trade talks with the Miami Heat about Lopez, sources said.

The Nets made it known to other teams in early December that Lopez, point guard Deron Williams and swingman Joe Johnson were available via trade, and they recently had talks with the Sacramento Kings about Williams, according to sources.

The Nets (16-23) have lost seven straight games, and general manager Billy King has been active in looking to shake things up.


VIDEO:How might this proposed mega-trade help the Thunder?

(more…)

Jack trade boosts Cavs fans’ hopes


VIDEO: The latest buzz surrounding LeBron and the Heat

Now “The Return” isn’t just wishful thinking or idle speculation. The notion that LeBron James might sign a free-agent deal to play again for the Cleveland Cavaliers is getting propped up with real, tangible maneuvering, in this case a reported three-team trade that would move Cavs guard Jarrett Jack as the first step in opening serious salary-cap space for James.

That makes James’ decision to go back to Cleveland a legitimate possibility, as some insiders see it.

It also makes the opportunity for heartache and a sense of being played – again – all the greater.

Are the Cavaliers and their fans ready for that sort of repeat hangover, four years removed?

A case can be made for moving Jack, a disappointment acquisition last summer to the Cavs’ young backcourt (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters), and the two years, $12.6 million left on his deal regardless of its impact on a pursuit of James. The deal, first reported by ESPN, is a three-teamer that will send Jack and Sergey Karasev to Brooklyn. Boston will receive Nets guard Marcus Thornton, Cleveland center Tyler Zeller and a future Cavs first-round pick.

Cleveland, if it takes back only picks rather than guaranteed salaries, would be freeing up an extra $9.5 million and, ESPN reported, have $21.7 million in cap space to dangle in James’ direction.

Everything is on hold, of course, for the rest of Wednesday until the NBA’s moratorium on signings and trades lifts at midnight Eastern Time. By then, James reportedly will have met again with Miami president Pat Riley, owner Micky Arison and teammate Dwyane Wade in Las Vegas to discuss his immediate future, which many still think keeps him in south Florida. Riley, after all, has agreed to deals with Charlotte forward Josh McRoberts and Clippers forward Danny Granger, two pieces who make sense in both basketball and financial terms only if the Heat’s championship core returns.

That hasn’t deterred some unbridled enthusiasm in Cleveland. The Cavaliers removed from their Web site this week the emotional, vitriolic open letter penned by owner Dan Gilbert in the angry moments immediately after James’ “The Decision” TV farewell.

Cleveland fans might be having more trouble un-burning their LeBron jerseys, but plenty of them have gotten their hopes up while James lingers in committing anywhere for 2014-15 and beyond. Now this move – an update and half-twist from Mike Brown‘s firing and Byron Scott‘s hiring as a (futile) attempt to please James in 2010 – is being taken by some as proof of a remarkable reunion.

Good luck, Cleveland. But just remember the axiom, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …”


VIDEO: Stu Jackson discusses LeBron’s decision

Reports: LeBron won’t meet with other teams, decision looms


VIDEO: GameTime: Aldridge on LeBron


‘Melo to New York
 | No LeBron decision expected tonight | Cavs eye ex-Heat players

Update 11:30 p.m. — Raptors, Vasquez agree to terms

While so many teams are wondering who’s coming and going, the Toronto Raptors keep re-signing their own. The latest to agree to terms is backup point guard Greivis Vasquez, a key player in the team’s resurgence after coming over from Sacramento in the Rudy Gay trade.

Update 10:57 p.m. — No more meetings; LeBron decision looms

After meeting with Heat president Pat Riley on Wednesday, LeBron James has all the information he needs to make his highly anticipated decision: Miami or Cleveland. Multiple reports suggest that James and his agent, Rich Paul, will not entertain meetings with any other teams, and that James will talk with his family and then make his decision.

Interesting about this decision is that James — unless privately or through back channels — has not met with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, new general manager David Griffin or new coach David Blatt.

Update 9:45 p.m. — Bosh to Houston if LeBron bolts Miami … Or will he?

Hours after news broke of the Mavericks and Rockets restricted free agent Chandler Parsons coming to terms on a lucrative offer sheet came a report that Chris Bosh will accept the Rockets’ offer if James leaves for Cleveland.

However, our own David Aldridge is hearing a different tune.

If this development is true, it could potentially help quicken a decision by James, who likely wouldn’t want to interfere with Bosh’s chances of joining the Rockets if James is indeed headed back to Cleveland. Once Houston receives the Parsons offer sheet, which Parsons can sign tonight when the clock strikes midnight, Houston will have 72 hours to match. But until general manager Daryl Morey knows where James is headed, and, thus, where Bosh is headed, they won’t have a clear indication of how to proceed with Parsons, which was Dallas’ intention.

The Rockets could theoretically sign Bosh and match the Parsons offer sheet, but it would take some hasty work to carve out enough cap space.

Update 9:30 p.m. — No Love for Cleveland

In a frenzy to boost its roster as it guns for LeBron James, Cleveland reportedly was trying to push for a trade to acquire Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love. Love, of course, wants out of Minnesota, but it appears team president and coach Flip Saunders isn’t ready to make a deal.

Update 8:08 p.m. — No decision expected tonight

According to several reports, LeBron James is not expected to announce his decision tonight.

Update 7:40 p.m. — LeBron, Riley wrap up meeting, direction unclear

The highly anticipated meeting between LeBron James and Heat president Pat Riley in Las Vegas has ended, and there is no clear indication of James’ intentions.

One media member, Chris Sheridan of sheridanhoops.com tweeted that James has decided to return to Cleveland.

However there has been no further confirmation.

Update 7:01 p.m. — Mavs make move for Rockets’ Parsons; Cavs want Love

Seeking to upgrade at small forward, the Dallas Mavericks have put the Houston Rockets on the clock by coming to an agreement with restricted free agent Chandler Parsons on an offer sheet reportedly for three years and in excess of $45 million.

Parsons can’t officially sign the offer sheet until midnight ET. When he does, the Rockets will have 72 hours to match, a move they have consistently vowed to make.

However, those plans could change depending if Heat free agent Chris Bosh accepts an offer already on the table from the Rockets. If Bosh remains undecided on his plans as the clock ticks down on a decision on Parsons, Houston could be put in a situation of having to decide to pass on Parsons at the risk of not getting Bosh — or matching on Parsons at the risk of losing Bosh if he indeed leaves Miami.

Bosh’s decision, in all likelihood, will revolve around James’ decision to either stay in Miami or bolt to Cleveland. And at this point (as James is currently meeting with Heat president Pat Riley in Las Vegas), there is no telling how much longer James might take to reveal his plan.

In more LeBron James machinations, the Cavaliers are reportedly seeking to put together a trade for Minnesota’s discontented power forward Kevin Love, on the contingency that they sign James.

Update 5:05 p.m. — It’s about this money

The NBA announced its salary cap for the 2014-15 season — an all-time high, 7.5 percent more than last year. It’s a bit of news that will come in handy in the Heat’s talk with LeBron James in about an hour.

The release from the league:

The National Basketball Association today announced that the Salary Cap has increased by 7.5% to an all-time high of $63.065 million for the 2014-15 season.  The tax level for the 2014-15 season increased by 7.1% to $76.829 million.

The Salary Cap and tax level go into effect at 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday, July 10, when the league’s “moratorium period” ends and teams can begin signing free agents and making trades.

The minimum team salary, which is set at 90% of the Salary Cap, is $56.759 million for the 2014-15 season.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement provides for three different mid-level exceptions depending on a team’s salary level.   The non-taxpayer mid-level for this season is $5.305 million, the taxpayer mid-level is $3.278 million and the mid-level for a team with room under the Salary Cap is $2.732 million.

Update 4:50 p.m. — Reports: LeBron’s meeting with Heat

After all the rumblings earlier in the day about Cleveland making room for a LeBron James return (scroll below), remember, James still has a meeting with Heat brass to talk things over … and who knows what might happen there.

James, evidently, will have company when he talks to boss Pat Riley:

Elisburg is the Heat’s senior vice president of basketball ops and a salary cap specialist.

The meeting, according to several reports, is scheduled in Las Vegas for 6 p.m. ET.

Update 3:46 p.m. — Report: Melo Back to the Knicks

Carmelo Anthony isn’t waiting on LeBron James or anyone else. He is sticking with the New York Knicks, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News. The official announcement is expected to come Thursday, the first day free agents can sign deals and trades can be stamped by the NBA:

A person close to Anthony told The News on Wednesday that barring a last minute change of heart Anthony will re-sign with the Knicks after “agonizing over this” for the past week.

“He will have something for everybody on Thursday,” said the friend who was with Anthony before Anthony’s scheduled workout with Kevin Durant and Kevin Love in Los Angeles on Wednesday. “He is really torn because this is the biggest decision of his career. But he wants to get it done in New York. He told me he believes in Phil.”

The Knicks offered Anthony a max deal of $129 million, some $33 million more than any other team could offer. The team, according to many sources, has yet to be told of the decision. But the Knicks had been considered by many to be the front-runners.

Isola’s source, who quotes ‘Melo, may have spurred an immediate catchphrase, as NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan points out:

Almost an hour after Isola broke his story, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne put a brake on it:

Update 3:39 p.m. — No stress

This man has the entire basketball world on edge and yet he seems totally relaxed … SMH!

Update 3:26 p.m. — What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas!

What would this day be without a shameless plug from the fine folks of Sin City?

Update 3:17 p.m. — It’s about forgiveness in Cleveland

Can all really be forgiven in Cleveland?

Update 2:40 p.m. — Celtics still chasing Love

Don’t be fooled by the Celtics involvement in any deals this summer. They have one player and one player only on their minds and that’s Kevin Love.

Update 2:20 p.m. — LeBron ready to turn the other cheek to Gilbert?

J.A. Adande weighs in with the best question surrounding this LeBron-back-Cleveland narrative that has ruled the day, the one that includes LeBron’s face-to-face meeting with Heat boss Pat Riley.

How could you even consider going back to work for an owner like Dan Gilbert?

If I could get a meeting of my own with LeBron James, I’d ask him how he could even consider compromising his values and stepping down from the moral high ground he ascended to during the playoffs by weighing an offer from Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

LeBron produced the sharpest and most noteworthy criticism of Clippers owner Donald Sterling after TMZ made Sterling’s racially offensive diatribes public, saying “it’s unacceptable in our league.” No one has accused Gilbert of holding the same misguided racial perceptions as Sterling. With Gilbert, it’s about the personal attacks on LeBron’s character, and his diametrically opposed views on the business of the NBA.

Gilbert, for those who never bothered to read his unhinged response to The Decision in 2010 before the Cavaliersrecently purged it from their website, called LeBron’s departure to the Miami Heat a “cowardly betrayal” and said LeBron was a bad example for the children of Cleveland. This wasn’t just a critique of the televised announcement; it was a tantrum about the very premise of free agency, as if anything other than a career-long commitment to the team that drafted a player constituted treason.

A year later, Gilbert was among the group of owners holding to the hard line when the NBA locked out its players, willing to sacrifice games in order to institute a new collective bargaining agreement that limited player earnings and hampered the formation of superteams.

A return to the Cavaliers by James would be a tacit endorsement of all that he rejected. It wouldn’t represent just a swallowing of his own pride — it would be a surrender in the battle for self-determination for NBA players.

As much as people blasted LeBron about “The Decision,” Gilbert’s letter was the most egregious transgression made by any single individual in the summer of 2010.

The idea that all could be forgiven now is rather remarkable.

Update 2:06 p.m. — James arrives at his hoops camp

As we mentioned earlier, LeBron is in Las Vegas for his LeBron James Skills Academy, which just began and features many top-flight high school and college players …

Update 2 p.m. — LeBron silent as Cavs jockey for him

While Cleveland seemingly works to land him, LeBron James has had little to say the last few days …

Update 1:31 p.m. — A look into the (free-agent) future

If LeBron James takes a two-year deal with the Heat, who else would join him on the free-agent market in 2016?

Update 1:17 p.m. — LeBron more valuable to Cavs than Heat?

LeBron James has allowed the Miami Heat to reach a new level as a franchise. What would his return mean — in dollars and cents — to Cleveland?

Update 1:14 p.m. — The real reason LeBron is in Vegas …

We all know LeBron James is meeting with Heat boss Pat Riley today in Las Vegas, but the real reason James is there is to host his LeBron James Skills Academy, which begins today (sorry the list is upside down) …

Update 12:48 p.m. — Recapping the action thus far

We’ve hit a bit of a lull in the Cavs/LeBron/free agency news, so take a second and catch up on what you might have missed …

Update 12:22 p.m. — Report: LeBron talked to Miller; Heat moves impress James?

Update: 12:04 p.m. — No Love-to-Cavs deal lined up (yet)

Thinking this salary cap purge is being done to line Cleveland up to land Kevin Love? Think again …

Update: 11:57 a.m. — Parsons on Cavs’ radar; some crucial LeBron-to-Cleveland points

Informed observers Marc Stein and our own David Aldridge bring up key issues regarding a potential LeBron-Cavs reunion …

Update 11:42 a.m. — Cavs eye more ex-Heat players; what might Bosh do?

The Cavs are after two more ex-Heat players (Mike Miller and James Jones), but if LeBron does return to Miami, will Chris Bosh come back?

Update 11:39 a.m. — Deal may not be harbinger of anything

Hold off on those celebrations there, Cleveland …

Update 11:36 a.m. — Don’t fret just yet, Heat fans

Many GMs see a LeBron-Heat reunion as possible, but just maybe for not as long as some thought …

Update, 11:33 a.m. — Options aplenty in Cleveland

The Cavs will have some explaining to do whether or not this trade helps them land LeBron … or not …

Update, 11:28 a.m. — Cavs reportedly after Allen, too

If the Cavs are trying to get LeBron James back in the fold, maybe going after one of his old teammates wouldn’t hurt?

Update, 11:26 a.m. — Detailing the three-team deal

Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal spells out in further detail why the Cavs made this trade

https://twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ/status/486893073465483264 (more…)

Morning Shootaround — March 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Woodson takes blame, Knicks postseason hopes on the brink | Bryant confident as ever Lakers will get back to the top | Heat defensive focus lags, struggles continue | Thunder will contend as long as Westbrook’s knee holds up

No. 1: Woodson shoulders blame as Knicks fall to Cavs, postseason hopes hang in the balance — Done in by Jarrett Jack. Is that the epitaph that will be written on this season for the New York Knicks? After Cleveland’s veteran point guard, filling in for All-Star Kyrie Irving, shredded them late to snap their eight-game win streak, it’s a legitimate question. Knicks coach Mike Woodson took the blame, a noble endeavor considering he was going to get his fair share anyway. But the Knicks’ postseason hopes hang in the balance every night and losses to the likes of the Cavaliers destroy the cause, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com points out::

Atlanta lost on Sunday afternoon, so the Knicks knew exactly what was at stake when they took the court on Sunday evening. That made the loss to the Cavs all the more catastrophic.

“We didn’t handle our business,” Woodson said, “and I’ve got to take full responsibility for that.”

“It’s tough,” Carmelo Anthony said. “We should’ve won this game. We gave it away. They earned it. They beat us.”

The Knicks were up 15 at the half but allowed Cleveland to score nine straight to start the third quarter.

“I thought we came out a little flat,” Anthony said.

Anthony led the Knicks with 32 points but went cold late, missing 11 of his last 13 shots and all five in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks as a whole went 5-for-18 in the fourth and missed 11-of-15 3-pointers in the second half.

“They were just scrapping more, I think,” J.R. Smith said. “They were more hungry than us in the second half. … It’s a huge opportunity lost, one we can’t afford. But we can’t get it back. Just got to go out there on the road and win some games. Hopefully, [the Hawks] keep losing.”

That’s what the Knicks have been left with in this roller-coaster season: hoping the eighth-place Hawks can continue to give away their lead.

For what feels like the 30th time this season, the Knicks failed to do that. And it leaves Woodson and his team in a difficult spot. According to Elias Sports Bureau, just one team in the past 30 years has overcome a deficit of more than four games with 14 games or fewer to play in the regular season to make the playoffs.


VIDEO: Sunday’s top 10 plays

***

No. 2: Kobe in touch with Jim Buss, confident Lakers will get back to winning ways — Whatever he lacks in good health Kobe Bryant more than makes up for in unabashed confidence in himself and the Los Angeles Lakers resilience. This despicable season will be forgotten, as soon as he can get back to health and as soon as Jim Buss and the rest of the Lakers’ front office brass finish their franchise makeover. These tough times, Bryant insisted during an interview with ESPN’s sports business ace Darren Rovell, will not last. He did, however, acknowledge that things are going to be different without Dr. Jerry Buss around to fix the Lakers’ issues:

Bryant, who signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension with the team in November to lock up his 19th and 20th seasons in L.A., reiterated his message of urgency to Buss to return to the top as soon as possible.

“This organization is just not going to go [down],” Bryant said. “It’s not going to take a nose dive. But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season. So, it’s kind of getting them going now as opposed to two years from now.”

Despite already airing his concerns about what direction the Lakers might be heading, Bryant said his faith is as strong as ever in the Lakers’ ability to bounce back to contender status.

“Extremely confident,” Bryant said. “That was one of my concerns [when he re-signed] and they assured me, ‘This is fair for you for everything you’ve done for the franchise and will continue to do while being able to construct a team that is going to contend for a championship here over the next couple of years.'”

Bryant also responded to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban‘s assertion that “I don’t know if the Lakers will ever be the Lakers,” because of the absence of longtime owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who died last year.

“It will be different,” Bryant said. “You can’t lead the way [Dr. Buss] did. Because Jeanie is different. Jimmy, who is running basketball operations, is different.

“So they have to find their rhythm and get in sync with each other and figure out exactly what their leadership style is going to be. It’s nearly impossible to try to separate basketball operations from the business standpoint so you got to kind of get in sync that with that and have one voice that is leading that charge. But once that happens, the idea might take shape. But you can’t look at what Dr. Buss did and say, ‘I’m going to try replicate that,’ and be exactly what he was. That’s just not going to happen.”


VIDEO:
Mavericks guard Monta Ellis was a flash against the Nets Sunday

***

No. 3: LeBron and Spoelstra point to lagging Heat defense as their struggles continue Bellyaching about your team’s energy, effort and championship focus in the wake of seven losses in your last 11 games is not a shocker, not even for the Miami Heat. But it’s good to get some specifics. And the Heat, fresh off of yet another head-scratching defeat (Saturday night in New Orleans), provided plenty. And it’s all about their defense, which has been uncharacteristically porous of late. That’s something everyone, from coach Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James and Chris Bosh, in the Heat camp can agree on. Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel highlights the particulars:

    “We’re not accustomed to this type of play, these types of standards, particularly on the defensive end,” coach Erik Spoelstra said before giving his team Sunday off in advance of Monday’s visit by the Portland Trail Blazers to AmericanAirlines Arena. “And if we want to change, we have to look inward. Every single one of us, including the staff, including the players, have to make changes.”

Forward LeBron James said the Heat are failing on the defensive end both individually and collectively.

“First of all,” he said, “you have to guard your man, and rely on help second. But when you break down, you’re going to have to rely on the help, and we’re not getting both.

“First of all, guys are not playing their man. And guys get beat, which you will be, which will happen in this league, because there’s great players, the help comes. We’re not doing anything.”

Factor in the Heat’s longstanding rebound issues and the defensive pressure has been unrelenting.

“Sometimes we get stops and we don’t get a rebound. Sometimes we don’t get stops,” forward Udonis Haslem said. “It’s a lot of different things. At this point, we’ve got to put it all together, we’ve got to get stops and rebounds. We can’t get a stop and then give up an offensive rebound and get another 24 [seconds on defense].

“We’ve got to guard the ball, and then when the ball gets in the paint, we’ve got to step up, we’ve got to contest. Shot goes up, we’ve got to box out both bigs and got to get it and go.”

The frustration has shown on the court and in the locker room.

“Defensively, we can’t stop a nosebleed,” center Chris Bosh said. “No good blitz, the pick and roll coverage, one-on-one defense, everything is bad.”


VIDEO: Check out the Kevin Love Show from Sunday, starring … Kevin Love!

***

No. 4:Thunder’s title hopes rest on Westbrook’s knee — Miami and Indiana aren’t the only places where championship hopes are in doubt these days. Folks in Oklahoma are also wondering just how fragile their title aspirations are in the wake of yet another knee scare from All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Even with MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant destroying the competition night after night, the Thunder’s confidence is tied directly to the health of Westbrook and that knee. It’s a dangerous way for an entire state and fan base to live. But it’s the only way they, according to Barry Tramel of the Oklahoman:

Nobody in our state slept well Friday night. Starting with Scotty Brooks, Sam Presti, Westbrook’s clothier, Rumble, that woman who screams “Russellllllllllllllllllllllll” during his foul shots and most everyone with a cable or satellite dish in every hamlet from Tuskahoma to Tonkawa.

For about 20 hours or so over the weekend, we all wondered if Russell Westbrook’s knee was tore up again. Westbrook limped off the court in Toronto on Friday, and the wind was replaced by “aarghs!” and “gulps” sweeping down the plain.

Of course, now word is that Westbrook is OK and might even play either Monday night (Denver in OKC) or Tuesday night (at Dallas). Whew. That was close.

Thunderland knows the feeling of life without Westbrook. Knows it all too well. And it stinks. When Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus in the Houston series last playoffs, the Thunder scraped by the Rockets, then was bullied by the Grizzlies in a five-game series defeat. When Westbrook has sat out periodically this season, the Thunder has mostly struggled, save for a magical 10-game winning streak in January during which OKC was the league’s best team.

Westbrook’s latest scare is reason to ask this question. Is the Thunder better prepared to play without him this season than last season? If Westbrook limps off in some game soon, or in the middle of a playoff series, is the Thunder better-equipped to survive?

Depends on what survival means. Win the NBA championship? No. Not going to happen without Westbrook riding shotgun.

But go deeper in the playoffs? Win a tough West semifinal? At least challenge the Spurs or the Clippers or whoever emerges as the Western Conference elite? Yes.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: This is a different Raptors team than you are used to, one that is rising to the late-season challenge … Andre Miller finally clears the air about what went down in Denver … No one is doing it better these days than the bench mob from Phoenix … Kobe Bryant announces his partnership in a new business … Rockets big man Dwight Howard is practicing but remains “day-to-day” with that tender ankle … The surprising comeback for Steve Nash has already hit yet another injury snag

ICYMI of the Night: Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins wants you to know that this is his world and the rest of the big men in the league are just living in it …


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes hard for his 32 points and 12 rebounds

The Trade Deadline: Let’s Make A Deal?




VIDEO: Thunder guard Reggie Jackson gets it done on both ends

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The clock is ticking.

The trade deadline is near. It’s time for general managers and front office executives around the NBA to earn their money. Fix your team. Make it better. Pave the way for a brighter future by pulling the trigger on the deal, blockbuster or not, that creates the space for your franchise to go to the next level — whatever that level may be.

It’s easier said than done in most cases, mostly because a willing partner is needed to complete the trade dance. And everyone is out to fleece their potential partners in one way or another. Whether we see a blockbuster deal or not, we are guaranteed to see a flurry of activity by Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline.

A team’s wants and needs are two very different things. We’re focusing on what is needed here, which should coincide with what these teams want out of the trade deadline. Planning for the future is fine, but these deals are designed for immediate returns for (almost) all involved …

1. Reggie Jackson to the Bulls — Jimmy Butler to the Thunder 

The skinny: This is a nuts-and-bolts trade for both teams, one that doesn’t rise to the blockbuster ranks by any means. But this deal involving youngsters with extremely manageable salaries allows the Thunder and Bulls to shore up their key weaknesses. Jackson would be Derrick Rose insurance for the Bulls, a young point/combo guard who could be groomed to play alongside a healthy Rose whenever Rose returns. He’s acquitted himself well in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook‘s absence but will be reduced to a role player when Westbrook returns and assumes his position alongside Kevin Durant (which is expected to happen Thursday). Butler fits the Bulls rough-and-rugged mode perfectly, but if they are in rebuilding mode, he’s expendable. He offers the Thunder something they simply don’t have on the roster right now, and that’s a player capable of matching up with elite small forwards on defense. Imagine him in a Thunder uniform in The Finals going after LeBron James the way Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard did last year.

2. Rajon Rondo and Kris Humphries to the Pacers — Danny Granger and George Hill to the Celtics

The skinny: This is a risky move for a Pacers’ team that has rock-solid locker room chemistry and has played at a consistently high level without boasting an elite point guard. Hill, an IUPUI star, is a hometown guy and is widely regarded as one of the league’s most respected professionals. He’s a guy Pacers All-Stars Paul George, Roy Hibbert and team leader David West trust to run the show. But Rondo gives the Pacers the chance to add a game-changer at point guard, a guy who, come playoff time, has an edge in either the talent and/or championship-experience department with any other East point guard. The hang up, of course, is going to be Danny Ainge trying to do his usual and shake everything he can out of the Pacers’ pockets in the name of his rebuilding efforts. Granger and Hill are established players who could help facilitate any rebuilding plans for the more immediate future. Of course, Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t have to play ball. He doesn’t have to deal. He can go to battle in the playoffs with the roster as is, though there is a consensus among most observers that an upgrade at the point would give them a clear edge in matching up not only against the Miami Heat but any team that they could potentially face in The Finals, were they to reach that summit.

3. Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights and Jason Smith to the Cavaliers — Austin Rivers, C.J. Miles and Anthony Morrow to the Warriors — Earl Clark and Dion Waiters to the Pelicans 

The skinny: Believe it or not, the Cavaliers are just three games out of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase as the post-All-Star break portion of the season kicks off. As Kyrie Irving showed us at the All-Star Game, he knows how to shine amongst other elite players on his team. Since he hasn’t had any suit up with him in Cleveland, Thursday’s deadline is acting general manager David Griffin‘s opportunity to upgrade the crew around Irving and see if the playoffs can become a reality. Barnes needs a fresh start somewhere, as a starter, and would be a great running mate for Irving and Luol Deng. Both Speights and Smith would provide much-needed big man depth. The Warriors get role players to help fill out their roster and Waiters, a HT fave whose talents have never shined in Cleveland the way they have when we’ve seen him during All-Star weekend or during his stints with USA Basketball, gets a fresh start of his own in New Orleans. He and Anthony Davis could help elevate the Pelicans to a playoff-level team in the future.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving stole the show at All-Star Weekend

4. Omer Asik to the Hawks — Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon, John Jenkins and a Draft pick to the Rockets

The skinny: This is certainly not the way Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is used to doing business. He’s used to fleecing much more from the opposing team’s executives (that mode of operation would explain the bevy of assets the Rockets have piled up the past few years). Brand and Ayon aren’t big names but when healthy, yet they have been surprisingly productive for the Hawks. That said, the Draft pick is the Rockets’ real prize … that and getting Asik out of town. And that’s where the needy Hawks swoop in and rescue their season — they had lost five straight heading into All-Star weekend. Asik helps stabilize the frontcourt rotation and joins All-Star Paul Millsap as the staples up front for a team that still has lofty aspirations for playoff positioning. Fellow All-Star center Al Horford is not walking through that door in Atlanta as his torn pectoral muscle will keep him out of action until well into the summer. Adding a physical presence like Asik at a relatively reasonable price makes a ton of sense for the Hawks right now. And the three of them together in the future is complicated, but certainly something Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer could tinker with and make work.

5. Emeka Okafor, Alex Len and Chris Singleton to the Grizzlies — Zach Randolph to the Wizards — Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely and Eric Maynor to the Suns

The skinny: Randolph and Marcin Gortat balancing the frontcourt in Washington with All-Star point guard John Wall and sharpshooter Bradley Beal would be an interesting mix for a Wizards team that is definitely on the rise in the Eastern Conference. Just think of Randolph and Gortat as the Eastern Conference version of Randolph and Marc Gasol (Grit and Grind lite?). The Wizards have been an above-average team defensively, and now they’d add some serious toughness in Randolph. The Grizzlies need a building block for the future and would get that in Len, who was always viewed as a long-term project when the Suns selected him with the 5th pick in the 2013 Draft. The Suns are taking the opportunity to seize their surprising playoff moment in the Western conference with the aid of quality veterans in Ariza and Maynor and would also have a developmental prospect to work with in Vesely. There’s always a healthy dose of risk involved when you talk about trade deadline deals. And this one would come with plenty for all involved.


VIDEO: John Wall talks with the Game Time crew after shining on All-Star Saturday night

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Raptors interested in Rondo | Reports: Nets pursuing Jack, Hill | Report: Wolves, Grizz talking trade | Report: Knicks interested in Hawks’ Teague | Kidd went against D-Will in recent practice

No. 1: Report: Raptors showing interest in Rondo — Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, in the midst of a career-best season, has helped Toronto climb to the top of the Atlantic Division standings and has the team poised to end its lengthy playoff drought. But Lowry is also an unrestricted free agent this summer and whether or not he’ll be with Toronto in 2014-15 is very much an unknown (our David Aldridge spelled out some details on his future there a few weeks ago). Lowry remains a target of the New York Knicks (see below) and his current team appears to have eyes on another star point guard. According to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, the Raptors are in multiple point guard-related trade talks, the foremost being a discussion to bring Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo to Toronto:

UPDATE, 11:43 a.m. ET: Now, it seems, the Knicks are getting in on the Rondo action, too, per this tweet from ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

UPDATE, 11:08 a.m. ET: While Rondo continues to have his name tossed about in trade rumors, Sean Devaney of The Sporting News reports that it is unlikely that the All-Star guard will be dealt before Thursday’s deadline:

As has become the custom, any period of NBA trade activity features Celtics guard Rajon Rondo prominently. Also customary, though, is this: Sources told Sporting News this week that there is very little chance the Celtics find a deal involving Rondo this year.

“It really is the same thing, teams call about him but the Celtics want him and he wants to be the leader of that team,” one source said. “It has always been his intention to establish himself in that role, to be part of the rebuilding and to stay in Boston for a long time. Nothing has changed.”

The Toronto Sun reported that the Raptors also inquired about Rondo, but a source told Sporting News that, unless there is a multi-team deal, Toronto does not have the assets to land Rondo. Which has been typical of the conversations involving Rondo for the last two years — teams call and ask, the Celtics give an idea of what it will take to make a deal happen, and the conversation ends there.

Rondo can be a free agent in the summer of 2015, and while preliminary discussions on a contract extension were held, the sides were never close to agreeing to a deal. Boston’s long-term plan is to focus on the summer of ’15, when they might be able to pair Rondo with some member of that year’s free-agent class, which could include Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez and DeAndre Jordan — some of the league’s best big men.

Add the Celtics’ two picks in the stocked upcoming draft to that mix, and Boston will be ready to be a playoff team again after just a short retooling.

Of course, if the right deal comes up before that, the Celtics would make it. But it is unlikely that such a deal would include Rondo.

Here’s Wolstat’s earlier report on Rondo:

Ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, the Raptors have been involved in talks with multiple teams that would change the team’s point guard situation significantly.

With the New York Knicks continuing to aggressively pursue Kyle Lowry, who has turned in a career season, Toronto has explored complicated deals that would bring back a replacement for the soon-to-be free agent.

It’s no secret Boston has dangled four-time all-star Rajon Rondo league-wide and while the asking price is steep, he has piqued the interest of Toronto’s front office, according to multiple sources. Toronto is eager to up its “star” quotient and is also enamoured with Rondo’s resume, particularly his four all-defensive team selections (two all-NBA first team). He has many backers in the organization.

Rondo would not come cheaply. Bulls.com’s Sam Smith said the price is believed to be “two unprotected first rounders” while one source told the Sun the ask is a combination of at least one lottery pick and talented young player.

Knicks owner James Dolan reportedly nixed a deal earlier in the season and Lowry responded by playing the best basketball of his career. He’s sixth in the league in three-pointers made, eighth in assists per game and sixth in win shares. With the future of star forward Carmelo Anthony uncertain, Dolan apparently has reconsidered as New York looks to improve its roster.

Sources confirmed that Atlanta is also aggressively shopping young point guard Jeff Teague, despite matching Milwaukee’s four-year, $32-million offer sheet to Teague last summer. Teague, who had a tremendous start to the season, has struggled mightily since the Hawks lost all-star big man Al Horford to injury. Teague could be a cheaper, fallback option in either Toronto or New York, should those team’s preferred choices fall through.

On the Boston side of things, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is still mulling what to do with Rondo and the team’s many other assets:

“The public probably views us more as sellers than as buyers,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe recently. “But I do think that people around the league know that we have some good players — good veteran players, good young players — and lots of draft picks. I’ve had calls for both.

“I’ve had teams contact me with the idea of trying to acquire young players and draft picks, and I’ve had teams that have called that are looking to get some of those. And I’ve had teams that have called looking for some of our veteran players as well. I think it just depends on who you talk to, but I think everybody knows that we have a lot of young assets.”

Assets, yes. The Celtics potentially have as many as 17 draft picks over the next five years, 10 in the first round.

“Again, I think that we’ll be opportunistic. We’re just waiting for an opportunity to do something good. And I think it’s important, again — you can’t force these opportunities. You can’t just be so hungry for a deal that you try to do a deal. You’ve got to be patient. At the same time, you’ve got to be aggressive.”

In previous years, the Celtics were looking to add a piece or two that could help with a postseason push, but that isn’t the case now with the team 19-35, the sixth-worst record in the NBA.

“I think the difference between other years and this year is that there’s a lot of different directions we could go,” Ainge said. “In past years, we’re focusing on just getting better for the playoff run. And now, we’re looking for possibilities of flexibility, young assets, things of that nature, but, at the same time, [we’re] opportunistic for any deals that could come along and speed up our rebuilding process.”

Said Ainge: “If our record were reversed, I think there would clearly be a different role at this point. But we are what we are. I think that I’m more concerned with how we’re playing, how individuals approach their job, who’s developing as a player and fitting in with our new coach and our system and how that will work. There’s a lot of things to consider.”


VIDEO: The TNT crew discusses Rajon Rondo working himself back into game shape

***

No. 2: Report: Nets interested in Cavs’ Jack, Lakers’ Hill — Neither the Cleveland Cavaliers nor the Brooklyn Nets are where they’d thought they’d be in the Eastern Conference playoff race when the season began. As such, both teams are reportedly interested in making trades and may end up doing business with each other — with the Los Angeles Lakers also thrown into the mix — as the trade deadline draws closer. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has news on a potential Lakers-Nets swap while ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk has info on a Cavs-Nets trade being bandied about

Here’s Wojnarowski on a potential trade that could bring Jordan Hill to Brooklyn:

The Los Angeles Lakers have had discussions on a deal to send forward Jordan Hill to the Brooklyn Nets, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Nets have a $5.25 million disabled player exception that they can use in a trade or free-agent transaction until March 10, and could use a portion to absorb the remaining $3.5 million on Hill’s expiring contract.

Nevertheless, the luxury tax penalty on absorbing Hill’s contract would be extraordinary for Brooklyn: Nearly $17 million. Hill could give the Nets a capable power forward and center replacement for a run at the postseason, but ultimately ownership would have to be willing to sign off on expanding its record $190 million-plus combined payroll and luxury tax.

And here’s Stein and Youngmisuk on a trade between Cleveland and Brooklyn that would land Jarrett Jack in Brooklyn and Jason Terry in Cleveland:

The Brooklyn Nets are interested in acquiring Cavaliers point guard Jarrett Jack and have had discussions about a potential trade with Cleveland involving Jason Terry, according to sources briefed on the talks.

The Nets (24-27) emerged from the All-Star break sitting 3½ games behind the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors and want to upgrade their bench and backcourt.

Jack, 30, is averaging just 8.5 points on 39.7 percent shooting in 25 minutes a game in his first season with the Cavs after a strong 2012-13 season with Golden State.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Nets, eager to add a proven ballhandler and backcourt scorer to their bench rotation, are willing to take on the two remaining guaranteed seasons worth in excess of $12 million left on Jack’s contract despite the luxury-tax implications.

But it’s believed that the Cavs, if they decided to go ahead with such a move, would try to find a third team to absorb Terry’s contract. Terry, 36, has one season left on his deal after this one at $5.85 million and is averaging just 4.5 points on 36.2 percent shooting in 16 minutes per game.

***

No. 3: Report: Wolves, Grizz talking trade –The Memphis Grizzlies bolstered their team a few weeks ago with the additions of NBA D-League standout James Johnson and by pulling a trade for Celtics guard Courtney Lee. Both players have infused energy and 3-point shooting, respectively, to Memphis’ season and have helped get the Grizzlies back into the playoff mix out West. But despite that turnaround, Memphis is exploring a trade with the Minnesota that would send veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince and fan favorite Tony Allen to the Wolves for small forward Chase Budinger and guard J.J. Barea. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports has more:

The Memphis Grizzlies are discussing a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves centered on forward Chase Budinger and guard J.J. Barea, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Memphis wants to include forward Tayshaun Prince into the package and the deal could be expanded to include guard Tony Allen, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Components of a proposed deal are still fluid.

Memphis has been furiously trying to unload Prince and the remaining $7.2 million (2013-’14) and $7.7 million (2014-’15) on his contract, league sources said.

Minnesota general manager Flip Saunders is believed to want to add defensive toughness to his roster, and that would make Allen a natural to fill the Wolves’ void.

***

No. 4: Report: Knicks eye Hawks’ Teague, remain interested in Lowry— Back in mid-December, the Knicks nearly pulled off a trade for Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, but that deal fell apart when New York’s brass balked at Toronto’s request for a future first-round pick. Despite that, the Knicks remain interested in trying to work a trade for the near-All-Star guard and have also shown interest in Hawks point guard Jeff Teague as well.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com has the scoop on the Teague talks:

Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague has emerged as an appealing trade target for the New York Knicks, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Knicks, leading into Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, are calling all over the league in an attempt to upgrade at point guard.

Teague’s name has surfaced as a prime target given the Knicks’ increasing fears that their longstanding top choice — Toronto’s Kyle Lowry — will not be made available before the deadline, according to sources.

The Knicks have been chasing Lowry all season, as ESPN.com first reported in November. But sources indicate that Lowry and his advisers expect to finish the season in Toronto with the playoff-bound Raptors before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Teague’s name has thus surfaced as a prime alternative, provided that the Hawks are willing to part with him.

The Hawks would have to be interested in Iman Shumpert — and eager to shed Teague’s long-term contract — to give New York any hope of assembling a package to land the point guard.

And Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com has more on the Knicks’ continued interest in Lowry:

With the NBA trade deadline three days away, the Knicks continue to try to engage the Raptors in an attempt to acquire point guard Kyle Lowry, according to league sources.

The Knicks are offering packages including Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton and Beno Udrih, sources say. They have been reluctant to include sharpshooting rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. or a future first-round draft pick in any deal. One of those two pieces is believed to be a prerequisite for Toronto to consider giving up Lowry.

“It comes down to, can they talk themselves into getting rid of a first-rounder or Hardaway Jr. for Lowry?” one league source said.

Recent reports have stated the Raptors are no longer willing to deal Lowry, content to see how the rest of the season plays out. Lowry has been one of Toronto’s best players, and dealing him would send a bad message to the fan base.

One scenario to keep an eye on, though, is the possibility of a three-team deal involving the Hawks and point guard Jeff Teague. Atlanta has all of its first-round picks in the next four drafts and could conceivably send one to Toronto to satisfy the Raptors’ demand for a draft pick.

League sources say a scenario in which Teague ends up in Toronto, Shumpert goes to Atlanta and Lowry winds up in New York has been discussed. Another scenario could have Teague ending up in New York. The conversations are believed to be preliminary.


VIDEO: Raptors coach Dwane Casey talks about trade deadline day nearing

***

No. 5: Kidd squares off against D-Will at Nets practiceTry as he might, Nets point guard Deron Williams hasn’t been able to consistently recapture in Brooklyn the style of play that made him an All-Star during his days with the Utah Jazz and the Nets’ days in New Jersey. In an effort to try and spark some of those old juices in his star, Nets coach Jason Kidd reportedly took to the court at a recent practice and squared off against D-Will, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Don’t let the tight suit fool you: Jason Kidd can still ball and still has those juices flowing.

During another disappointing and injury-riddled season for Deron Williams, Kidd stepped on the court and went head-to-head with the point guard in a spirited exchange at a recent practice, a source told the Daily News.

That’s one way to get through to the underachieving star: challenge him with Hall of Fame skills.

Exactly three years ago next week, the Nets acquired Williams in the franchise-altering deal with the Jazz, giving up a top prospect and two first-round picks for what GM Billy King called “the best point guard in the NBA.” It led to a debate about who acquired the better player at the 2011 trade deadline — the Nets with Williams, or the Knicks with Anthony.

But Williams has failed to live up to any expectations while battling injuries and confidence issues. Considering the MVP talk last summer, this season is probably the 29-year-old’s most disappointing, as he is averaging 13.3 points and 6.6 assists on 45% shooting. According to ESPN, the Nets turned down an offer to trade Williams to the Rockets, who were trying to package Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“(Williams) is never going to get back to where he was in Utah,” Charles Barkley said recently. “His best days are behind him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pelicans coach Monty Williams doesn’t think Tyreke Evans or Eric Gordon will be dealt anytime soon … Sixers swingman Evan Turner is watching and waiting out the trade talks surrounding him … The Bulls still aren’t expected to do much at the trade deadline … Former Sixth Man of the Year Award winner Lamar Odom has signed with a team in Spain … The Celtics reportedly talked about trading Rajon Rondo to the Kings, but that discussion fizzled out … Portland is reportedly out of the running for the 2017 All-Star Game

ICYMI of The Night: The LeBron James All-Star Interview aired on NBA TV last night and it’s quite compelling, especially LeBron’s explanation of his early years with the Heat …


VIDEO: LeBron James opens up about his first season in Miami

Cavs Fire GM Chris Grant; Griffin Takes Over On Interim Basis

From NBA.com Staff Reports

The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the most busy and active teams in the 2013 offseason, signing free agents Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack to contracts as well as drafting former UNLV star Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall in the 2013 Draft. All those moves were supposed to help Cleveland reverse a three-seasons (and counting) playoff-less drought.

But, that hasn’t been the case for the Cavs and the man who oversaw many of those offseason moves, general manager Chris Grant, is reportedly out of a job. According to Yahoo!Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Grant has been fired after nearly four years on the job:

The team confirmed the reported move this afternoon and said that Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin will serve as acting GM. As well, team owner Dan Gilbert issued the following statement regarding Grant’s firing:

“I would like to thank Chris Grant for his eight and a half years of service with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the last three and a half as General Manager. Chris always conducted himself with class, integrity and was motivated by what he believed was right for the organization. We wish Chris and his family the best in the years to come.”

“My entire focus the past eight years has been on trying to build a team that can contend and win and provide Cleveland fans the success that they deserve,” said Grant. “I have a tremendous appreciation for the players that are here and the coaches that I have worked with, as well as our front office. I thank them for all of their dedication and commitment to the Cavaliers.”

Gilbert went on to address the current situation and the path ahead:

“This has been a very difficult period for the franchise. We have severely underperformed against expectations. Just as this is completely unacceptable to our loyal and passionate fan base, season ticket holders and corporate partners, it is also just as unacceptable to our ownership group. I can assure everyone who supports and cares about the Cleveland Cavaliers that we will continue to turn over every stone and explore every possible opportunity for improvement to shift the momentum of our franchise in the right direction. There is no one in our entire organization who is satisfied with our performance, and to say that we are disappointed is an understatement. We all know the great potential of our young talent, seasoned veterans, as well as our recent all-star addition. We believe a change in leadership was necessary to establish the best possible culture and environment for our entire team to flourish.

“There is no move, nor any amount of capital investment, we will not make if we believe it will improve our chances of competing and winning in this league for both the short and long term. The fans of this great city have invested too much time, money and effort for the kind of product we have recently delivered to them. This must change,” concluded Gilbert.

After last night’s loss to the short-handed L.A. Lakers, Cleveland is 12th in the Eastern Conference and 5 1/2 games behind Charlotte for the eighth and final playoff berth. Grant has been at his post as Cavs GM since June of 2010 and oversaw the team’s hiring of Byron Scott as coach in 2010 (as well as his firing after the 2012-13 season) and brought back Mike Brown as Cavaliers coach last summer.

ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst has more on the Cavs’ firing of Grant:

The team is mired in a disappointing season and a six-game losing streak that has dimmed playoff expectations that were set down before the season by team owner Dan Gilbert.

The 38-year-old GM just last week shouldered some of the blame for the Cavaliers’ poor season and addressed the team’s “unacceptable” lack of effort after a 1-4 homestand.

“We’re all accountable for it, including myself,” he said at the time. “It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing to our fans. The fans deserve better.”

Grant’s major moves since last summer have not worked including drafting Anthony Bennett with No. 1 overall pick, free agent signings Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum, and a recent trade for Luol Deng has failed to turn the team’s season around.

Grant was a driving force in re-hiring coach Mike Brown last year and the team has not responded to the change. Recently their lack of effort in games has brought Brown under fire as well. Wednesday the Cavs lost to a injury-depleted Los Angeles Lakers team that finished the game with only four healthy players.

The Cavs focused on the draft after losing LeBron James in free agency in 2010 and Grant worked to get six first round draft picks over the past three years. But other than Kyrie Irving, who was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, those picks have failed to turn the team around as they are on pace to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

Grant, who was named general manager in 2010, had one season left on his contract.

Under Grant’s watch, Cleveland has gone 80-199.