Posts Tagged ‘Jarrett Jack’

Summer Dreaming: Executive Of The Year

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HANG TIME, Texas – Never mind that the weather map says it’ s hurricane season. This is the time of year when there are nothing but blue skies over every NBA franchise from Miami to Portland to Los Angeles to Toronto.

Draft picks have been chosen and brought into camp. Free agents have been signed and trotted out for the TV cameras. Trades have been made to fill holes in the lineups. It’s a time for championship planning among the elite class and fantasizing about moving up by the wannabes.

But the truth is that, despite so much spin doctoring that comes out of all the front offices, there are a handful of team presidents and general managers that made the most of the offseason. That’s why we don’t have to wait till next April — or even the season openers — to know who’ll be taking bows for their work. They’re our summer dreaming picks for Executive of the Year:

Daryl Morey, Rockets – Unless Dwight Howard wakes up one morning and declares it was all a mistake — that he really loved having Kobe Bryant as a playmate, that he thoroughly enjoyed Mike D’Antoni’s offense and that he never, ever meant to leave those clever recruiting banners in L.A. — this is as sure a thing as Usain Bolt outrunning a lead-boot-wearing Charles Barkley. If Howard stays healthy, he and fellow All-Star James Harden will team up to make the Rockets instant challengers for one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference and could even be a dark horse contender to advance all the way to The Finals. But before they even chalk up one “W” in the standings, Morey has put a headlock on the award simply by making the Rockets franchise relevant again for the first time in years. After drifting on a sea of anonymity and mediocrity since the star-crossed Tracy McGrady-Yao Ming pairing came undone, the Rockets are back in the spotlight. A year ago, they were on national TV once. Now they have 10 appearances on ESPN, nine on TNT, one on ABC and even made it into the Christmas lineup with a date at San Antonio.

Billy King, Nets – It’s like walking into a casino with a sack full of money, walking straight to the roulette table and plopping it all down on red. Or black. Either way, it’s a 50-50 gamble and you live with the results. King certainly has the cushion and the endorsement of Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokorhov and the understanding that paying the luxury tax bill of nearly $100 million is no problem. Still, it takes considerable nerve for King to bet it all on the hope that a 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 35-year-old Paul Pierce, 35-year-old Jason Terry and a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd can take down the two-time defending champs from Miami along with the rest of what has become a strengthened Eastern Conference lineup. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson were enough to make Brooklyn a postseason sports destination for the first time since the Dodgers left town, but now it’s the old Celtics who’ll be expected to show them how to win a series or more. To get Andrei Kirilenko to walk away from a guaranteed $10 million to sign a cut-rate deal was probably the second-best move of the entire NBA offseason, trailing only Dwight Howard’s move to Houston. Kirilenko adds a tough defender and a slashing finisher to a lineup that hopes to have Brook Lopez improving on his first ever All-Star season. If he’s accomplished one big thing already, King has jumped the Nets over the Knicks as the headlining team in New York, which is signficant.

Chris Grant, Cavaliers – Things have changed considerably since that first summer on the job as GM when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the temptation might have been to turn out the lights and simply declare the NBA party in Cleveland over. Grant has steadily reassembled the franchise one piece at time to a point where people are whispering that it’s not out of the question to think James could return next summer when he becomes a free agent. Before that, the Cavs figure to have a resurgent seasons between their splendid young point guard Kyrie Irving and all the other pieces that Grant has put around him. Anthony Bennett may have been a bit of a surprise on draft night, but should fill a need on the front line and free agent signee Jarrett Jack will be both a firecracker lift off the bench. Of course, the big bonanza would be if free agent Andrew Bynum can overcome the knee injuries that left him notable only for sitting on bench modeling outrageous hairstyles last season in Philly. A return to the form that once made him an All-Star with the Lakers makes Grant a genius and, even if Bynum falls short, the Cavs have not made a long crippling financial commitment to the gamble. And don’t forget to give Grant credit for not listening to the suggestions that he should have traded Anderson Varejao. The Cavs will likely make a playoff push in the Eastern Conference and, depending on how bright the future looks next spring, could turn the head of a familiar figure to come home.

Joe Dumars, Pistons – Let’s face it. The Hall of Fame guard-turned-GM has taken his fair share of abuse through recent seasons for allowing the once-proud franchise to drift way out of the playoff picture and even have trouble drawing crowds to The Palace. Was it a curse for making Darko Mlicic the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft, ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade? Then there was that disastrous free agent splurge on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in 2009. But lately Dumars has been making a comeback, drafting a pair of big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond who have the potential to anchor the Pistons front line for years to come. He made his biggest play in signing free agent Josh Smith, hoping that the stat-line filler can step into the role of No. 1 option and even team leader. Then Dumars traded for Brandon Jennings with hope that he can be both reined in and unleashed and brought home former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups to show him how. Mo Cheeks gets his third shot as a head coach and it’s all a mix that could put the Pistons back in the playoffs.

Dell Demps, Pelicans – The easier path for Demps would have been to keep Nerlens Noel when the big man fell into his lap at the No. 6 pick and keep on selling a theme of acquiring young assets and building for the future. But with a new team name, new franchise colors and a new owner (Tom Benson) writing the checks, it was a time for a new and bolder direction. The young and oh-so-slender Noel was deemed too much duplication on the front line with 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis and was trade to Philly for 23-year-old guard Jrue Holiday, who puts the only All-Star credentials in the New Orleans lineup. Demps then kept dealing to bring more firepower into the lineup with former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. Of course, that immediately brought talk of a crowded backcourt with Eric Gordon still on hand, but Demps and coach Monty Williams are betting that a three-man rotation cannot only thrive, but put some punch into what was a thoroughly mediocre offense last season. Assuming Davis takes another big step forward in his second season, the Pelicans could contend for one of the final playoff spots in the West.

PREVIOUSLY: Comeback player | MVP | Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Summer Dreaming: Sixth Man of Year

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HANG TIME, Texas — Nothing says it’s summer like an ice cream cone (mint chocolate chip, if you’re buying) on one of those blazing afternoons where it’s so hot that your tongue has to lick into overdrive to keep the tasty treat from running all the way down your arm.

That’s kind of the role of the sixth man in basketball, to pop off the bench and get right to work cleaning up the mess. As the dog days of August continue, we’ll leap ahead once more in our summer fantasy with my five picks for the 2013-14 Sixth Man of Year.

Andrei Kirilenko, Nets He’s 32 years old and it’s been a while since he was the Jazz’s do-it-all player known as “AK-47.” Durability issues dot his past couple of NBA seasons — he spent 2011-12 with CSKA Moscow — but with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in Brooklyn now, Kirilenko won’t be expected to rack up big minutes. That will leave him free to pass, cut and get plenty of easy baskets from Deron Williams on offense and to cut off the angles, hit the boards and block a couple of shots per game on defense. He’ll accept his role and make the most of it. He left $10 million on the table in Minnesota for a chance to win big in Brooklyn and could be a key ingredient if the Nets’ big offseason gamble is going to pay off.

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans The career path is not supposed to go from winning Rookie of the Year to having your scoring average decline in each of the next three seasons. But after languishing in Sacramento, much of it his own fault, Evans is getting a chance to shine in New Orleans. Yes, the backcourt is crowded with ball handling scorers. All-Star Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon are likely to start, which could work to Evans’ benefit by making him the main offensive option off the bench. At 6-foot-6, he didn’t like playing small forward with the Kings, even though it could be required in a pinch for the undersized Pelicans. Evans says he’s ready and willing to embrace the sixth man role and with his dynamic talent, he could really shine.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers With a healthy Danny Granger returning to the lineup, it’s quite possible that the Pacers could ask Stephenson to accept a bench role. Depending how the mercurial one accepts it, Indiana could take a big step toward closing the gap with the Heat by having a rotation of wing players that can match up with anybody. There are so many different specific parts of Stephenson’s game that you can pick apart, but his overall energy and attitude played a big part in the Pacers getting to the Eastern Conference finals and pushing Miami to a seventh game. He and Granger will both be free agents in 2014, so this gives Stephenson a chance to show that he’s the one the Pacers should keep.

Jarrett Jack, Cavaliers He makes the move from a young Warriors team that was trying to break into the Western Conference power structure to the same kind of young, hungry and talented bunch in the Eastern Conference. This is certainly Kyrie Irving’s team, — at least until LeBron comes back — but the future MVP candidate needs a backup and Jack is not just capable, but explosive. He was third in voting for the award last season (behind J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford) and is likely to pick right up in Cleveland from where he left off in Golden State. Remember, last season he became the first bench player to score 30 and deal 10 assists in a game since Magic Johnson in 1996. Fast company.

Jeremy Lamb, Thunder The deck is cleared and the stage is set. The ball will come to him for open shots and Lamb has to knock them down. Simple, huh? Well, the game is always going to be easier when a couple of your teammates are named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The second-year man who saw little playing time outside of Tulsa in the NBA D-League last season is no James Harden coming off the bench at this point. But he should step into the void left by Kevin Martin’s departure and get plenty of opportunities to make defenses pay. He’s a long shot in his first year with significant playing time, but is worth keeping an eye on for the future and will likely have played a big role if OKC makes a run for best record in the league.

PREVIOUSLY: Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Summer Star Bazemore Striving For More

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LAS VEGAS – Kent Bazemore couldn’t put “499″ on his jersey, so he figured he’d have it stitched in gold on the blue underside of the tongue of his Under Armour sneakers.

That, No. 499, is where Bazemore landed on ESPN’s 2012 top 500 player rankings. The 2012 undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion came in one spot below Shan Foster, who has yet to play in an NBA game since being drafted 51st in 2008, and one spot ahead of Eddy Curry, who hasn’t kept a steady gig for five years.

Bad karma? Nah, it was cool, for Kenneth Lamont Bazemore Jr., who’s used to flying under the radar, as they say, and already beating the odds. He spent five seasons at ODU — he was a redshirt freshman, and who does that anymore? — raised eyebrows a year ago in the Las Vegas Summer League and then played sparingly as a rookie with the Golden State Warriors while frequently shuttling to the club’s D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz.

In fact, for the 24-year-old, No. 499 seemed fitting. He expects you to underestimate him. 

I’ve had my back against the wall my entire life,” Bazemore said. “Coming out of high school, I got a few Division I offers, but they were mid-major, a lot of D-II offers, you know, just a long, lanky kid from Kelford, North Carolina.

“But,” Bazemore continued, “I always worked. I had got my foot in the door last summer just playing defense, working with [Warriors assistant] Joe Boylan everyday and watching film.”

Now making his second tour in Vegas, Bazemore, who has always combined magnificent athletic ability and showstopping, raw talent with a bit of an on-court keystone cops routine, has emerged as a leading MVP candidate as the Warriors enter today’s semifinals of the inaugural summer league tournament undefeated at 5-0.

The 6-foot-5 shooting guard has scored 51 points in the last two games. He’s been running the point at times, particularly in crunch time, and using that long, lanky body to take any defender that plants himself up top off the dribble and to the rack. He burned the Lakers’ backcourt Saturday night for 10 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter as Golden State rallied from 10 points down to extend the team’s overall summer winning streak to 12.

“That’s what summer league is all about, developing guys and guys getting better and better in game situations against good talent,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “It’s a process, but he’s a guy we really like a lot.”

Still, Bazemore remains a relative unknown on an emerging Warriors team that boasts young star Stephen Curry and up-and-comers Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, and Bazemore will almost assuredly remain a depth player for Jackson after the Warriors added veteran Andre Iguodala this summer at Bazemore’s position.

But that’s also cool with Bazemore, who wisely seems to be treating his initial NBA seasons as an education.

“Hey man, that guy’s an Olympian, he’s an All-Star,” Bazemore said of Iguodala. “It’s the perfect situation for me because I can still sit back and learn, learn from one of the best that’s done it at every level. Now, as a leader of this [summer league] team, everything is under a microscope. [Saturday] I turned the ball over (seven times) and it’s kind of like letting my teammates down because they’re like, ‘Come on’ and ‘You shouldn’t be turning the ball over.’ But in the big leagues I’m going to be out there in spot minutes, so I can just go and wreak havoc.”

Which he did for a brief, and fleeting, moment in the wild, series-altering Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Bazemore, playing in the final minute of double overtime because Thompson had fouled out, sprinted down the sideline after Tony Parker missed and Barnes pulled down the rebound, quickly feeding Curry. Forcing the pace, Curry spotted the galloping Bazemore, who took the pass, flew through the paint along the baseline and put in a tough reverse off the glass to give the Warriors a 127-126 lead with 3.9 seconds to go.

“I’m like, ‘All right, OK,’ but you’ve got a Hall of Fame coach on the other end,” Bazemore said. “They always get a great look after a timeout, so we’ve got to get a stop. That’s what Jarrett Jack was saying the whole time, ‘Got to get the stop, got to get the stop.’”

And then just as quickly as Bazemore looked to be the hero on the highlight-reel play of his brief career, he got tangled up in the paint on the Spurs’ inbounds pass, Manu Ginobili sprung free at the wing and as Bazemore tried to recover, launching his long, lanky body toward Ginobili, the 3-pointer dropped with 1.2 seconds to go.

Jackson subbed in Andrew Bogut and Bazemore took a seat.

“That was another welcome-to-the-NBA moment,” Bazemore said. “Manu Ginobili is arguably a Hall of Famer at the end of his career. [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] drew up a great play. We wanted to switch everything, but they ran a little brush screen; they didn’t really screen, so [there was] miscommunication and Ginobili was wide open.

“Just a good player making a great shot.”

Which is exactly what Bazemore, No. 499, keeps working toward. He dares you to underestimate him.

No Hard Feelings As Brown Gets To Work

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LAS VEGAS – Mike Brown was wearing a black coach’s polo shirt with the Cleveland Cavaliers logo, the “C” with the sword through it on the left breast, and it didn’t feel all that weird anymore.

“It was weird for a while,” Brown said Saturday after watching the Cavs’ Summer League team lose to Miami 82-76. “But it was a seamless transition for myself and my family. It almost, to a certain degree after we got over the initial shock of it, it almost felt like we never really left. It was almost like we went on vacation for a little bit.”

That’s certainly a pleasant way for Brown to describe his short tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers that ended after one full season and five games into last season. That’s when he was unceremoniously dumped by the Lakers following a 1-4 start. The basketball world expected Phil Jackson to come down from the mountaintop to replace him, but instead L.A. chose Mike D’Antoni. Everybody knows the roller-coaster season that followed, the infighting, the injuries, the criticism, the first-round sweep.

Then came the ultimate insult in the first week of July when Dwight Howard announced he was joining the Houston Rockets.

Brown said he paid little attention to the Lakers soap opera once he left, finding a way to separate his emotions from the job he had just lost coaching Kobe Bryant, just three years after being fired by the Cavs as the franchise panicked awaiting a decision, The Decision, from LeBron James.

“I watched Mater Dei High School basketball and I enjoyed it,” Brown said. “I appreciated the opportunity the Buss family gave me and [Lakers general manager] Mitch Kupchak. I enjoyed being around all the players and working with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol and those guys. But when they made the decision I was all-in with my family.”

And so Brown really can go home again, to the city he says he and family loves, where his youngest son wanted to return and graduate from high school with his old pals, to the place the Brown family was returning before he ever received a phone call. Then his phone rang.

The rest is a Q&A with new Cavaliers coach Mike Brown:

Q: Who made the first call leading to your return to the Cavs?

A: Chris Grant (Cavaliers general manager) did. He caught me off-guard a little bit, you know, but it was a business call more than anything else.

Q: Did it take some time to process his reason for calling?

A: No, it was just the first step because it was new to me and I’m sure it was probably fairly new to them, so it was a thing that was a process. But again, we were on our way back to the area regardless because we love the area. My youngest boy wanted to graduate from high school there with his friends and my oldest boy had signed with Butler University which was about a 4 ½ drive, so it was a nice fit. When the call happened it was just a thing to process more than anything else.

Q: Were you convinced there were no bridges burned on either end after your firing in 2010?

A: I never forget, one of the guys that I hired, Bernie Bickerstaff, that was one of the first things that he taught me. … He told me, ‘Young buck, don’t ever burn any bridges in this business or in life.’ It was an easy piece of advice for me to follow because that’s how I’m built. You appreciate any opportunity you are given in life and try to make the most of it. When I was here last time I had a fantastic ride, I thoroughly enjoyed everything I was involved with.

Q: Your team has an intriguing roster led by young All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and the front office made several moves to add depth. How complete do you believe this team to be?

A: We’ll see. First of all, this organization is one of the best, if not the best, top to bottom because it starts with your owner and our owner Dan Gilbert has a done a lot to make sure that we’re heading in the right direction toward a championship. And you go from him to Chris Grant and you look at the job that he’s done with little or no credit, in terms of the draft picks and the trades that he’s made in the past couple of years and you feel like with the roster and the staff that we put together, and having guys like Kyrie and Dion [Waiters] and Andrew [Bynum] and Andy [Verajao], so on and so forth, Jarrett Jack, that you feel like you have put a competitive team together and we should be able to go compete for a championship, which is my goal every year.

Q: Since returning to Cleveland, how have you found the emotional state of the fans three years after The Decision?

A: Pre-LeBron, post-LeBron, the Cleveland fans have always been terrific. Even the year that I was out [of coaching] and I was in Cleveland, we really enjoyed that area and walking around, whether it was downtown or out in Westlake where we live, and coming across fans in general because they’re very passionate. Not only about the Cavaliers, they’re passionate about the Browns, they’re passionate about the Indians and about their city, so they’re in a good mindset right now.”

Q: Do you sense the fans have renewed hope for the franchise or that a buzz has returned about the team?

A: Yeah, you feel that, and again you credit Dan Gilbert and Chris Grant for putting this thing together and trying to get us in the right direction before the actual season starts off. The buzz that is out there is a nice one right now, and hopefully it will be able to continue to stay like that through the course of the year and just progress.”

Bynum Vows To Return To Form With Cavs



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Andrew Bynum is well aware of his skeptics … those who don’t believe that his work ethic can match his physical tools and the crowd that believes we might have seen the best of him already.

We are going to serve as his motivation this season in Cleveland, which is exactly what I wanted to hear from the Cavaliers’ big man during his introductory news conference this morning.

Shut me up. Shut us all up, big fella. And show us that we are wrong about you.

Show us that you are indeed the All-Star you claim to be. Show us that you are one of the top big men in basketball. Because showing us is the only way you will convert the masses.

The Cavaliers have provided the platform. General manager Chris Grant was by his side, clearing the path for Bynum to speak his peace and then get ready to work (bright and early Monday, according to Bynum). Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, who is familiar with Bynum from their season together with the Los Angeles Lakers, will be there to do whatever it takes to help Bynum succeed.

But in the end, if Bynum plans to return to form this season, the onus is on him … fragile knees and all, his critics be damned.

“I feel like for me getting my career back on track and really playing a full year is my only goal with this season,” Bynum said about his goals for the 2013-14 season. “I really feel like I can accomplish it. Work ethic-wise, I come in every day and I work hard. I don’t really — I feel like it’s a little bit unfair at times, but that’s just something that comes with the territory. Obviously, you take that and use it as motivation to come out and prove everybody wrong.”

Bynum insists the scathing reviews of his work ethic have been off base at best and totally unfair.

“Completely,” he said. “I worked really hard to get where I am, and I continue to work hard. I’ve had injuries in the past, and there is a lot to be said for people who think that way. But I think if you get to know me and you look at how hard I have worked to get where I am now, that that’s kind of nonsense.”

This player, who boasts franchise-big man talent, just signed a two-year deal that could be worth some $24 million (only $6 million is guaranteed) provided he delivers on all of the hype he talked up this morning. And he very well could return to form. He could be the dominant force he was during his last healthy season, in 2011-12, when he averaged 18.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg and 1.9 bpg en route to his first All-Star nod.

That Bynum, alongside a healthy Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Anderson Varejao, Earl Clark, Tyler Zeller and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, among others, is a solid start. That could be the nucleus of a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

“This is definitely a playoff team,” Bynum insisted. “We have new talent. We have Jarrett Jack, we have Earl Clark who had a phenomenal year last year. I can’t wait to play with Anderson, honestly. I haven’t played with — he brings a kind of energy and passion to the game that I really haven’t been around. Obviously, I played with Kobe [Bryant], but just from a guy who is willing to sacrifice everything for the team, I think that goes leaps and bounds inside the locker room. So I’m really excited about this roster. We definitely have the opportunity to go.”

But for those of us finding it hard to shake the images of Bynum on the bench all last season with the Philadelphia 76ers, the doubt remains. He’s 305 pounds right now, way over his usual playing weight of 280. And we haven’t seen how his knees will respond to his latest round of procedures, rest and rehabilitation.

Bynum said he was in shape and ready to go last season, only to have those recurring knee issues torpedo his season and the Sixers’ plans to build a contender around him. Bynum claims he was as shocked as anyone at the way things played out in Philly.

“Yes, I was completely surprised. I had every intention of playing and I showed up,” he said. “I was ready. I was down in playing weight, I was in shape. It’s just an unfortunate situation that it didn’t work out for me there. Again, going forward here, we have a great plan. I’m going to stick to it, and will I be ready. I have been doing a bunch of non-weight bearing exercises just to protect my knees,” he said. “Going forward, we’re going to do some final screening and really strengthen my body so that I’m able to play. That’s something that’s going to be new for me this year coming here. I haven’t really had that in the past, and this organization has really laid it out for me to succeed.”

The Cavaliers have all of the pieces in place. It’s up to Bynum to show the basketball world that he has moved on from all that has gone down in recent seasons.

He’s saying all the right things. He swears he used his lost 2012-13 season to observe the game from a different perspective, to see where he is needed and how he can best benefit his new teammates and franchise.

“I can bring leadership, I can bring experience, and myself and the young team around me, we’re in an interesting opportunity to all rise together and really do something special.” Bynum said. “We have the talent, and now all it’s going to take is the work. I think everybody with the team, especially myself, we’re ready to put that in. Going forward, I want to get back to the All-Star level. I want to just work extremely hard and get this team into the playoffs and really make some noise. I think the Cleveland fans deserve that.”

Talking the talk is one thing.

Walking it is another.

Shut me up this season, big fella. Shut us all up!


Blogtable: Lottery Teams In Free Agency

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 38: On lottery teams | Playoff wins: Nets or Knicks | Playoff wins: Rockets or Spurs


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Which lottery team made the biggest free-agency splash?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Minnesota Timberwolves have made some surgical signings to fit their needs and coach Rick Adelman’s offensive system. Kevin Martin (via sign-and-trade from OKC) and Chase Budinger (their own FA re-upped after an injury-spoiled 2012-13) bring much-needed shooting and movement. Former Nugget Corey Brewer also happens to be a former Wolf returned to the fold now, and his defense on the wing and ability to run the floor will be big boosts. (Caution: This is predicated on Wolves boss Flip Saunders getting center Nikola Pekovic re-signed as a restricted free agent; if he gets a bonanza offer and Minnesota blinks, we take back this whole paragraph, OK?)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If we’re talking strictly free agency and not including trades, then I’m going with the Pistons. Signing Josh Smith definitely qualifies as a big splash and getting Chauncey Billups to return to Detroit could make more than a ripple in the pond if he can help with the team chemistry and developing young talent. Gigi Datome could be a bonus. Cleveland is probably closer to making the playoffs, but that’s due to a healthy Kyrie Irving and other returning talent. I like the addition of Jarrett Jack, but think the Cavs are headed for disappointment with Andrew Bynum.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: From the standpoint of immediate impact my vote goes to the Detroit Pistons. Josh Smith‘s history with the Hawks wasn’t always pretty and has been an enigma, but the power forward is a talent. If he’s focused and fit — and he better be now that he’s out of Atlanta and has a lucrative contract — he can really help what certainly appears to be a franchise on the move. The Pistons hope he will mesh well with and be a good influence on youngsters Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Add veteran point guard Chauncey Billups, who won a title in Detroit a decade ago, and a young team just got supreme on-the-floor leadership and a respected figure that new coach Maurice Cheeks can lean on as he implements his system. Honorable mentions: Phoenix for acquiring Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler; Portland for adding Dorell Wright and Robin Lopez; Charlotte for signing Al Jefferson, even if they paid a hefty price; and a shaky honorable mention to Cleveland for taking a stab at Andrew Bynum.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Timberwolves. They took care of business with their own free agents by re-signing Chase Budinger and, barring a big surprise, Nikola Pekovic. And they addressed an offseason priority to find shooting help by getting Kevin Martin. Adding the defense of Corey Brewer will help as well.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not very bullish on Andrew Bynum’s prospects, but I still like what Cleveland has done, adding a couple of veterans at key positions to accelerate their progress. Their young players were going to get better and their defense was going to improve with the return of Mike Brown, but Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark can get them over the hump and into the playoffs. That’s a necessary step for the development of Kyrie Irving and also to pique LeBron James’ interest next summer. If Bynum and Anderson Varejao can combine to play 100 games or so, then they can get as high as the No. 6 seed in the East.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Dallas and Cleveland swung for the fences and came up a bit short. And I love what the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans did to bolster their rosters via trade and free agency. The Detroit Pistons, however, had specific targets and locked down the guys they identified as difference makers for a team that has a legitimate shot to climb up the charts in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. The additions of both Josh Smith and Chauncey Billups fill crucial needs for the Pistons. Toss in Italian league MVP Luigi Datome and the Pistons have added three significant pieces. That said, free agency seems a bit thin to me this summer now that all of the major transactions have been completed. The trade market is where the real action was this summer. And no one made a bigger splash there than the Brooklyn Nets.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Detroit Pistons? I used a question mark there on purpose, because it doesn’t seem like many of the lottery teams did very much in free agency, post-draft. The Pistons, though, signed Josh Smith, and J-Smoove gives them a heckuva front line, between Smith, Drummond and Monroe. I also like them bringing back Chauncey Billups, who will bring some stability to the backcourt. I don’t think these moves immediately make them a title team, but they should make them a playoff team this season.

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.

INDIANA PACERS

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Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.

BROOKLYN NETS

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Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

Blogtable: Best Offseason Transaction?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Week 37: Dwight’s choice | Smartest early-offseason move | Summer League must-sees


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Which offseason transaction will look most brilliant next spring?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Andre Iguodala will help Golden State tremendously, and my hunch is it will show via an exciting regular season, a top-four seed in the West and a strong postseason run of two, maybe three rounds. Jarrett Jack played well for the Warriors last season but Iguodala can help facilitate their offense, too, without Jack’s occasional ball domination. And Iguodala can defend the league’s most dangerous wings, especially with the bonus motivation he’ll have from that contract-reneging thing Sacramento did last week.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Toss a coin: Doc Rivers to the Clippers or Andre Iguodala to the Warriors.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Andre Iguodala with Golden State. For the same reasons Denver loved him last season, Mark Jackson and the Warriors will love his experience on a young club, plus his size and rugged defending on the perimeter, a big-time need. Golden State ranked in the bottom half in the league last season giving up more than 100 points a game. Also, Iguodala really improved his 3-point shooting with the Nuggets as the season wore on and if that continues in Golden State then look out.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Rockets sign Dwight Howard. He will be healthier than last season with the Lakers, which is important. And he will be more engaged than last season with the Lakers, which is everything. He knows he can’t float through long stretches like before. D12 with issues was one of the best centers anyway. Howard with a renewed determination could be everything Houston hoped it would get. That gives him one season without the emotional drama.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Indiana Pacers were one game from knocking off the Heat (and lost Game 1 at the buzzer) this year. Indy’s starting lineup outscored the Heat by 46 points in the series and was strong offensively all season, but their bench was absolutely awful. Along with the return of Danny Granger and the continued development of Paul George, the additions of shooters C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland could be what gets the Pacers over the hump.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s hard to top the Los Angeles Clippers swiping Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics at arguably the most critical juncture in franchise history to date (Chris Paul bolting for greener pastures in free agency would have had a far more devastating effect on the Clippers than anything Dwight Howard‘s departure will to the Los Angeles Lakers). But there is one transaction that sticks out. If Indiana Pacers boss Larry Bird is right about Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce having plenty left in their tanks, the Brooklyn Nets could very well be in the middle of the championship mix next spring. 

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: How about Utah trading with Golden State for Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush? And did we mention they get another first-round pick in 2014? I know it’s not a great trade from a basketball standpoint — it’s odd when you give up no players in a trade and don’t really improve — but with free agents Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap also gone, Utah now seems committed to youth next season. So, we’ll see a lot of Trey Burke, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, and they’ll lose a lot of games. But two first rounders in the prospect-rich 2014 Draft could make a big difference.

Projecting The West Playoff Order



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Adding Dwight Howard to a Los Angeles Lakers team that was one of the top teams in the Western Conference was supposed to vault the Lakers into the championship elite last summer.

It never happened. Howard and Steve Nash failed to move the needle for the Lakers, who had to claw their way to a seventh seed in the playoff chase, only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

So please forgive me for not crowning the Houston Rockets prematurely. They’ve got Howard in the fold now, adding the best big man in basketball to an explosive core that includes All-Star James Harden and a solid supporting cast.

Legitimate playoff outfit?

Absolutely.

But contenders … not so fast my friends.

They should be in the mix. And as coach Kevin McHale told NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury, they should be able to “play with anybody.” Playing with the best and beating the best come playoff time, however, are two very different things. Just ask the Los Angeles Clippers, who thought they had arrived last season and were disposed of in the first round of the playoffs.

We’ve already delivered our projections, based on what we know now, for the Eastern Conference playoff-chasers for the 2013-14 season. These are the projections for the Western Conference:

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

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Any suggestions that the Thunder would be better off without Russell Westbrook at the controls were answered in the playoffs. The Inside The NBA crew (above) knows as well as the rest of the NBA-watching masses. OKC was a shell of its regular-season selves without the All-Star point guard, who suffered a knee injury in their first-round series against Houston. Kevin Durant is a behemoth, the second best player in the league behind LeBron James, but no one superstar is going to climb the Western Conference mountain on his own. The Thunder are in a precarious position because all of their competitors seem to be making power moves to catch and surpass them. Without sufficient cap space to deal themselves, they have to rely on a rock-solid core group maintaining their respective positions. That means Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins have to show better than they did in the playoffs. Reggie Jackson has to play a more prominent role this season and appears to be ready for that. And Jeremy Lamb has to move into a regular spot in the rotation as well. Rookie Steven Adams, the 12th pick in the Draft, is more of a project right now. But the Thunder don’t need him to be an impact player. Not if everyone stays healthy and Westbrook returns to form.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

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When training camp begins, the Spurs will probably still be answering questions about the championship they let slip away. Two 30-second intervals during Games 6 and 7 of The Finals got away from them and cost Tim Duncan title No. 5 and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili title No. 4. And make no mistake, that trio, and Duncan in particular, is the key to the Spurs getting back to that stage again. If Duncan can crank out another fountain-of-youth, All-NBA-type performance like he did this season, the Spurs have a shot to rule the Western Conference again. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green emerged during the playoffs as more than just young prospects. Leonard could be a legitimate All-Star candidate himself if he picks up where he left off in The Finals. The Spurs always find a way to mine the Draft and free agency for young talent to incorporate into their system. But they won’t need as much assistance with both Ginobili and Tiago Splitter sticking around in free agency. Keeping their biggest stars healthy and rested, something coach Gregg Popovich paid for dearly last season, is of the utmost importance. As long as they do that, a top-four spot in the playoff chase should be a given.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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With all apologies to Howard and even Chris Paul, the biggest fish of the free-agent summer of 2013 was coach Doc Rivers — not one of the players projected to be the big prize. The fact that Rivers was under contract for three more years in Boston when the summer began makes what the Clippers did even more remarkable. Not only do the Clippers get one of the best coaches in the game, they got a senior vice president of basketball operations who paid immediate dividends by keeping Paul in free agency and helped them add J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley in trades. They had to move backup Eric Bledsoe and veteran swingman Caron Butler to make it happen, but they replaced him with Darren Collison. And they still have the key component from that explosive bench crew in Jamal Crawford, whose role could increase dramatically without Butler, Chauncey Billups or retired veteran Grant Hill in the mix. The one glaring issue they have is their frontcourt tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They weren’t up to the challenge against the Grizzlies and it cost the Clippers in a first-round defeat. Are they willing to accept the challenge Doc will pose to them? He won’t allow them to be outworked on defense and will demand they show the toughness that has eluded them in the past.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

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Welcome to paradise Jeremy Lin. Now you can officially put Linsanity behind you and play the role of facilitator. The real superstars are on the roster now, as both Harden and Howard will be the opposition’s focus every night. Lin, Patrick Beverly and Chandler Parsons have clearly defined roles on this team before they ever hit the floor together in an official capacity. Howard makes life easier on all of the Rockets’ specialists and role players, not to mention his fellow starters. Guys like Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Greg Smith and even Omer Asik, should he stick around and back off his trade demand, will find out just how different life can be with a healthy, happy and motivated Howard operating in the middle. Despite two straight down seasons (by his own lofty standards), he still led the league in rebounding and looked like he had shaken off the ill effects of his back surgery. McHale has to pull this all together quickly to ensure these young Rockets don’t get swallowed up by the expectations sure to come with their newfound celebrity.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Adding Andre Iguodala essentially at the expense of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, two key veterans who gave the Warriors superior bench production and quality locker room leadership, might not seem like a steep price to pay for some. But when you already have Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes on the roster … let’s just say that is a luxury most teams wouldn’t indulge this early in the process of trying to build a contender. The Warriors showed us some serious flashes of being a big-time player in the Western Conference for years to come with the work they did in the playoffs. They had the Spurs plenty nervous in the conference semifinals. But their shortcomings came back to bite them in the end. And they didn’t solve those issues in the Draft or free agency. Andrew Bogut and David Lee will have loads of work to do this season, provided they both make it to training camp. Both of their names surfaced in trade rumors leading up to the Draft and through the first week of free agency. Lee is an All-Star and, when healthy, an absolute force. But Bogut, due to injuries, has only shown glimpses of what he’s capable of. And at this stage of his career, a $14 million spot starter is certainly not a luxury the Warriors can afford.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

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How important was Lionel Hollins to the Grizzlies during their run to the Western Conference finals? We’re going to find out this season. Because for all of the promise Dave Joerger brings to the position, there is no denying the impact Hollins made on Zach Randolph and reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. And even Hollins couldn’t get them in a comfortable groove against the Spurs. The Thunder proved that nothing is guaranteed from one season to the next, not with injuries and the race for the top spot being as competitive as it has ever been in the rugged Western Conference. Bringing this group — Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince, too — back intact might not be sufficient for returning to the Larry O’Brien final four tournament. The Grizzlies didn’t have the flexibility to tinker with the roster in free agency. The one change they could have made that could shake things up was to replace Hollins. By doing so with a guy who is familiar with this roster gives them some advantage that a completely fresh face would not have recognized. It won’t take long to see if Joerger has a handle on those intangibles. And if he does, the Grizzlies will climb this list.

DENVER NUGGETS

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The Nuggets will survive a tumultuous offseason that struck three significant blows to a team that seemed to be on the rise before yet another first-round playoff exit. The NBA’s Executive of the Year, Masai Ujiri, bolted for Toronto. The league’s Coach of the Year, George Karl, was relieved of his duties. And Iguodala is set to be signed and traded after agreeing to terms on that deal with the Warriors. That would normally be enough to knock a top team all the way back down to the lottery. The best move they’ve made so far this summer was hiring Brian Shaw to replace Karl. He’ll bring a steady hand to what was a shaky situation. The Nuggets will have an active and talented frontocurt rotation to work with in Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Darrell Arthur and free-agent pickup J.J. Hickson. Wilson Chandler will step in for Danilo Gallinari, who continues his recovery from knee surgery, and Evan Fournier, Corey Brewer and Randy Foye will provide depth on the wing. Ty Lawson and Andre Miller combined to form one of the league’s best 1-2 punches at point guard and they should be allowed plenty of freedom to operate in the system Shaw will employ. The Nuggets will continue to play at a tempo that suits their talent and home environment. They shouldn’t lose anything defensively either. Shaw isn’t the wild card that some of these other new coaches (Jason Kidd, Brad Stevens) could be in other situations. So don’t expect the Nuggets to crumble just because they’ve lost a few familiar faces.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

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No team endured more maddening injury issues this season than the Timberwolves. A healthy Kevin Love, however, changes their playoff outlook dramatically for the 2013-14 season. With their talent and dept, a legitimate run for the final playoff spot is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Ricky Rubio should be full healthy this season and the Timberwolves retained Chase Budinger, added Kevin Martin and have to do whatever it takes to keep restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic in the fold. Sure, it’s been a professional sports eternity since the Timberwolves last breathed playoff air (Kevin Garnett was still wearing the uniform in 2004). But coach Rick Adelman finally has the horses to make some serious noise. The franchise’s new head man, Flip Saunders, was the coach of that 2004 team that made the Western Conference finals, so he knows exactly what it takes for a Minnesota crew to cash in on its promise. It starts with Love and Rubio, their two biggest stars, staying healthy and playing up to their immense potential, both individually and as a dynamic duo.

JUST MISSED THE CUT: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers

Busy Saturday Of Free-Agent Deals

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Plenty of free-agent action swept through the Association on Saturday, headlined by power forward Josh Smith going to the Detroit Pistons and cashing in on the type of contract he’s dreamed about.

Others also reached verbal agreements with new teams, but keep in mind none of these deals become official until Wednesday when the league’s moratorium on signing new contracts and finalizing proposed trades is lifted.

Some of the other notable activity from Saturday:

  • Earl Watson agreed to a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers.