Posts Tagged ‘Jarrett Jack’

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.

Schedule A Part Of Cavs’ Struggles


VIDEO: The Starters chat about the struggling Cavs

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — We’ve probably done enough dissection of the struggling Brooklyn Nets, whose main problem is the health of three of their top six guys. So let’s move on and try to figure out what’s wrong with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavs didn’t have nearly the expectations that the Nets did, but they’ve been a lot more healthy and were a team we all expected to take a big step forward this season, compete for a playoff spot, and show potential free agents that this was a team you’d want to join. They have a new coach, a couple of new veterans, and a developing young core surrounding a star point guard in his third season.

But here they are at 4-11, tied with the Nets, having lost seven of their last eight games and ahead of only Milwaukee and Utah in point differential per 100 possessions. Their four wins have been by an average of 3.5 points and their 11 losses have been by an average of 13.0. So their point differential is that of a 3-12 team and it hasn’t been late-game luck that’s done them in.

There are trade rumors involving Dion Waiters, who they drafted with the No. 4 pick (ahead of Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond, among others) just 17 months ago and their No. 1 pick from this year has shot 21 percent and is receiving DNPs. If things don’t turn around soon, this will be the ugliest situation in the league (if it isn’t already).

So how does it turn around?

Mike Brown, with help from a healthy Anderson Varejao, has made a difference on defense, where the Cavs are allowing 4.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. They’ve defended the paint better, they’ve done a better job of keeping their opponents off the free-throw line, and they’ve rebounded better. Considering where they were last season, it would have been near impossible to regress in those three areas and they still have a long way to go on defense, but progress is progress.

On offense, the Cavs have regressed. In fact, only three teams – Utah, New York and Milwaukee – have taken bigger steps back on that end of the floor.

Most regressed offenses (points scored per 100 possessions)

Team 2012-13 Rank 2013-14 Rank Diff.
Utah 103.6 12 92.2 30 -11.4
New York 108.6 3 98.2 24 -10.4
Milwaukee 100.9 21 93.4 29 -7.5
Cleveland 100.8 23 94.1 27 -6.7
Oklahoma City 110.2 2 103.8 9 -6.4

The Cavs have shot better (and more) from 3-point range, but they’re not getting to the basket as much as they did last season and they’re shooting worse when they get there.

Cavs shooting from restricted area and 3-point range, last two seasons

Season RFGM RFGA RFG% %RFGA 3PM 3PA 3P% %3PA
2012-13 1,238 2,211 56.0% 32.0% 547 1,581 34.6% 22.9%
2013-14 170 329 51.7% 26.2% 106 302 35.1% 24.1%

%RFGA = Percentage of total FGA from the restricted area
%3PA = Percentage of total FGA from 3-point range

Kyrie Irving‘s 3-point percentage has dropped quite a bit this season (he’s 1-for-12 in his last three games), but he’s taken more of his shots from the restricted area than he did last season. Inside, the issue is the Cleveland bigs, who don’t exactly dominate the paint.

Andrew Bynum has shot 7-for-24 in the restricted area, Tristan Thompson has also shot less than 50 percent near the basket, and Varejao has turned into a jump shooter. He has taken 40 percent of his shots from mid-range, up from 23 percent over his first nine seasons. Overall, the Cavs have attempted 33.2 percent of their shots from mid-range, in a virtual tie with the Wizards for the highest rate in the league.

Turnovers are another issue. Last season, the Cavs had the sixth lowest turnover rate in the league, coughing up the ball only 14.3 times per 100 possessions. This season, they’re turning it over 17.1 times per 100 possessions, the eighth highest rate in the league.

Irving’s turnover rate is about the same, but Jarrett Jack has the second highest turnover rate (behind only Victor Oladipo) of guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game. A few other rotation guys have seen their turnover rates increase.

At this point in the season, schedule has to be taken into account. The Cavs have played the eighth toughest schedule in the league (accounting for location and days of rest). They’re one of only two teams (the Nets are the other) that has yet to play two consecutive home games and eight of their 15 games have been against the league’s top 10 defenses. (They’re 3-4 and scoring 101.5 points per 100 possessions against non-top-10 defenses.)

After they visit Boston on Friday (7:30 ET, League Pass), the Cavs get their first homestand, hosting the Bulls on Saturday and Nuggets on Wednesday. Amazingly, they won’t get their first homestand of more than two games until late January, but they’ll have a couple of practice days in the next week and only two of their next 10 opponents rank in the top 10 defensively.

So, just by virtue of their schedule, the Cavs should see their offense improve. And hey, they’re only two games out of a playoff spot.

But there’s still some fixing to do on offense. They have to cut down on their turnovers, take better shots, and hope that Bynum can be more effective as the season goes on.

It’s Getting Late Early In Cleveland

Kyrie Irving, Mike Brown and the Cavs are trying to figure things out. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

Kyrie Irving, Mike Brown and the Cavs are trying to figure things out. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

Some Cleveland fans might have assumed that the drama around the Cavaliers left town about the same time The Multiple MVP Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned packed up and vamoosed. Mike Brown probably figured nothing could top the start of last season in L.A. for hyperventilating and zaniness, seeing as how he was terminated just five games into the season.

But they all would be wrong – Brown has even admitted it – because the first three weeks of 2013-14 for the Cavs has been dripping with turmoil and uncertainty, much of it only leaking out publicly in the past 24-48 hours.

An ESPN.com report Saturday disclosed that Cleveland’s players held a closed-door, players-only meeting after their 29-point loss at Minnesota. The comings and goings of players from center Andrew Bynum in his endless knees rehab to shooting guard Dion Waiters and his alleged blue flu have cut into those players’ opportunities and continuity, while having a trickle-down effect on the rest of Brown’s rotation.

Then there’s the protection mask point guard Kyrie Irving has had to don – and the speculation that it had more to do with physical manifestations of the Cavaliers’ internal strife than inadvertent contact with Minnesota’s Corey Brewer.

Jason Lloyd, who covers the Cavs for the Akron Beacon Journal, went to the unusual lengths of enumerating a 41-item list Saturday night, pegged to Irving’s 41 points in the 104-96 overtime victory at Washington but needed on merit to clear the air a little in northeast Ohio.

Consider a few of these nuggets:

1. There have been a lot of wild stories flying around regarding the Cavs’ players-only meeting Wednesday at Minneapolis and what did/didn’t happen. Here’s what I know.

2. Mike Brown entered the locker room to begin his postgame speech when Kyrie Irving interrupted and asked him to leave the room so the players could talk. Brown was happy to do so and Irving started things off.

3. The meeting was intense – the Cavs played terrible and lost by 29 points – but two players who were in the room both privately said some of the speculation has been overblown and it wasn’t combative, nor was Dion Waiters a target of the meeting. The players weren’t very happy, but no specific player was singled out.

And:

6. As for Waiters and this illness, Mike Brown said he has been to the doctor twice and has a prescription. I’ve heard whispers Waiters knew he was going to get demoted to the second team. Did he know that and make up this illness? Is he really sick? The only one who really knows the answer to that is Waiters.

7. No one on the team has really seen or heard from Waiters since Wednesday’s game. He didn’t attend Friday’s shootaround because of this illness and didn’t make the trip to Washington for tonight’s game. No one I talked to really knows how sick Waiters is or what all this is about.

And:

14. [Irving] obviously didn’t do a very good job of that last week when he blew past Mike Brown during the Chicago game, but I’ve been told numerous times that was an isolated incident between coach and player.

15. One player said Irving has never reacted inappropriately to a critical comment a teammate has aimed toward him.

16. All that being said, Irving has done well the last few days. He called the meeting in Minnesota on Wednesday and Brown raved about his ability to command the huddle and keep the guys together during Saturday’s win. More importantly, he finally shot the ball the way he is capable of shooting.

And:

20. Andrew Bynum is starting without really practicing with the starters. C.J. Miles has started the last two games at shooting guard without really practicing. Earl Clark shifted to power forward tonight without any practice there.

21. Brown told Clark on the flight Friday night to Washington he was going to use him at power forward. They went over a few things on the flight, talked more about it Saturday morning, but that was about it.

And that’s cherry-picking through barely half of Lloyd’s list of talking points.

A 3-7 start prior to Saturday’s OT outcome wasn’t in Cleveland’s plans when it staked out an Eastern Conference playoff berth for itself next spring. Neither, for that matter, was the meager production from No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett – modest, sure, but not this meager. Waiters might not be healthy but he certainly isn’t happy, based on news reports, and Irving has struggled with both his shot and his leadership ability.

Offensively, the Cavs have been a mess, ranking 29th with an offensive rating of 96.2. Last season, under Byron Scott, they were 19th. They have a lot to iron out, and it’s not clear if newcomer Jarrett Jack’s agenda – resolve stuff, now! – actually was served.

After Saturday’s game, Jack tried to smooth things out for reporters:

“Things happen. We’re able to talk amongst one another. You can have a disagreement. That’s very much OK. It’s not against the law. But the whole thing about it is, if you’re going to have a talk or any conversation, a resolution should be the reason for having it in the first place. That was the whole reason why we called the meeting, had the discussions. I like the place that we’re in right now.”

Cleveland’s next game isn’t until Wednesday when it faces Washington again, so it’s hard to know what’s what. Or who’s sick, who’s cranky and who’s getting under whose skin.

Cavs Sticking By Bennett As No. 1 PIck Endures Slow NBA Start


VIDEO: Greg Anthony on Anthony Bennett’s tough start to season

Gilbert Arenas famously kept a “hit list” of the teams that let him slide into the second round of the 2001 Draft, a perceived slight that he turned into a large chip on his shoulder and eventually three All-Star appearances. Other players scan the names of those selected ahead of them and commit themselves to proving the scouts, the experts and even those rivals somehow wrong for the draft order.

But when you’re taken No. 1 and you’re expected to be best in show, who do you use for motivation? If the target is on your back, where do you aim?

That’s just one of the snags on Anthony Bennett‘s slow start with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season.

“You look at your own resume at the end of the day,” said Cavs guard Jarrett Jack, a veteran and something of a guardian these days for the 20-year-old from Toronto who, somewhat surprisingly, heard his name called before all others last June. He has not heard his number called much since.

“Regardless if you’re a valedictorian, summa cum laude or if you were just a ‘C’ average student,” Jack was saying before Cleveland’s game in Chicago the other night, “you gave it everything you had and that’s kind of where the chips fell. So many people put up a measuring stick that’s not for them. Go out there and do what’s comfortable for you.

“People push you into believing you’re something that you’re not. Not to say he isn’t or he is, but it’s very, very early. In the season and in a lot of people’s careers.”

Bennett unexpectedly popped up at No. 1 – where a lot of the same experts and scouts expect to see his countryman, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, next June – for a bunch of reasons. from team needs to Nerlen Noel‘s prolonged recovery from knee surgery. Fast starts by Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams (No. 11), Orlando’s Victor Oladipo (No. 2) and Boston’s Kelly Olynyk (No. 13) have grabbed most of the early rookie spotlight.

Cleveland, gifted in the lottery with the top pick, went in with dual agendas: add another long-term piece like Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, while chasing a playoff berth. General manager Chris Grant settled on Bennett decisively – they phoned in their choice 15 minutes early to draft HQ that night – and haven’t wavered. (By the way, if Bennett somehow weren’t available and the Cavs kept the pick, they likely would have taken Ben McLemore, who went No. 7 to Sacramento.) (more…)

Overdue Irving-Rose Clash Finally On


VIDEO: Bulls.com previews the Cavaliers-Bulls showdown

CHICAGO – In a league built on pivotal individual matchups, this one so far has slipped through the cracks. Or the fractures, tears, sprains, spasms or other injuries:

Derrick Rose vs. Kyrie Irving.

For one reason or another, what ought to be one of the Central Division’s showcase showdowns three or four times each season has yet to occur even once. Rose, the Chicago Bulls’ MVP point guard, and Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ All-Star-and-rising, might wind up sharing point guard duties for the Eastern Conference and Team USA for years to come. And of course, butting heads the rest of the time.

Yet more than two years into Irving’s professional career, they’ve yet to share a court as friends or foes. Finally, in Rose’s 314th game (regular season or playoff) and Irving’s 118th, that should happen Monday night at United Center (8 ET, League Pass).

Unless somebody pulls something at his morning shootaround.

“I’ve never played against him,” Rose said, and he meant never – not in AAU, not in high school, not in international competition.

Their 31-month difference in age – Rose turned 25 last month, Irving will be 22 in March – kept them apart until the Cavaliers’ guard reached the NBA in the post-lockout 2011-12 season. And assorted ailments have come between them since.

What would have been the first meeting in Jan. 2012 was thwarted by Rose’s sprained toe. Irving came away sick from All-Star Saturday and missed the second, and then both point guards missed the April 26 finale, Irving shut down and Rose prepping for the playoffs.

Two days later, Rose’s 2012-13 season effectively ended as well with his torn left ACL injury in the postseason opener against Philadelphia. But Irving only played in two of four games vs. Chicago as it was, missing one in December with a fractured left index finger and another in February with a sore knee.

So the bottom line: Rose has played in just one of seven possible meetings and Irving in three of seven.

Any sense of a rivalry, or a challenge from Irving to Rose, only begins now. Whether they acknowledge it or not.

“He’s a great young player,” Rose said. “Just for me, I try not to get into matchups. Just go out there and just play. If we was winning, I’d probably get into it. But we’re just trying to win games right now.”

The Bulls are 2-3, they’ve had their issues at both ends of the floor, Rose still is trying to sync up with teammates after an absence of 18 months and an easy victory over Utah hasn’t cured all of Chicago’s ills. Rose has been getting choked off by a gauntlet of double teams and traps to get the ball out of his hands, and is averaging 14.0 points, 4.0 assists and 5.0 turnovers in 31.0 minutes while shooting 32 percent.

Said Irving of Monday’s clash: “Another game. Always playing any Bulls team, with D. Rose or without him, they’re a good team. But now that they have him, they’re a threat. Obviously he’s a great point guard, a great player in our league and I have a lot of respect for him.’

Still, the Cavs guard added: “I get up for everybody. So it really doesn’t matter.”

Tell it to the 76ers. Cleveland was on the verge of falling to 2-5 until Irving’s driving layup with 0.6 seconds in the second overtime kept his team unbeaten at home. After missing shots to win in regulation and in the first overtime, Irving finished with 39 points and 12 assists.

It was the sort of performance, and closer’s role, that Rose began stringing together en route to the MVP award in his third season. Irving is averaging 19.9 points, 8.0 assists, 3.0 turnovers on 35.1 minutes.

“That’s the position we want him to be in,” Cavs guard Jarrett Jack told Cleveland reporters. “He’s proven himself as being able to come through in those clutch moments. Even though he missed a couple easy ones, or ones he thought he should have made, everybody was still very much encouraging him and telling him that we’re still here with you and ‘Let’s get out here, if you get another look, take it. Don’t be bashful, don’t be shy.’ ”

Who among these guys is? Irving played nearly 82 minutes in Cleveland’s back-to-back set vs. Philadelphia Friday and Saturday, but likely will rise to the occasion in facing Rose. It’s a gunslinger thing with which the Bulls guard is familiar.

“Almost every night,” he said. “Every guy I play, everybody’s doing that.”

Rose is speaking from experience. Only a few years ago, he was the one eager to make his name.

“Hell yeah. I know the concept of how they’re thinking,” Rose said. “But I can’t get caught up into it. When you get caught up into it, that’s when things go the other way.

“Like I say, if we were winning, I’d probably be into it. But we’re losing right now. I can’t get caught up into the matchups. I have to stay focused on the team.”

Fine. The rest of us can focus on the two of them.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving drops 39 points and 12 assists in the Cavs’ win over Philly

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade regrets surgery in college | Mayo recalls game vs. MJ| Cavs’ Jack wants deep playoff run

No.1: Wade regrets having knee surgery in collegeIn 2002, Dwyane Wade was not yet the well-known NBA star he is today, but was instead a rising star for Marquette University. He told ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst that if more of a long-term approach had been used when he had meniscus surgery after his sophomore season in 2002, he might not have as many knee issues today:

My knee problems and the things I’ve dealt with started from that,” Wade said. “That was [11] years ago and technology was different and the way you approach things was different.

“At that moment, if everyone looked ahead and said, ‘Dwyane’s going to have a 20-year career, maybe we should do something different,’ maybe I wouldn’t have [knee issues]. At that time it was to get me back on the basketball court and do what is best.”

“When [Russell] Westbrook had his injury, they kind of saved his meniscus,” Wade said. “Mine was taken out, and that opens you up to having certain knee injuries and problems, so that’s what I’ve had to deal with. We have a great training staff and we have great doctors. Whatever way you look at it, I’m going into my 11th season, there’s lots of guys who haven’t made it this far.”

***

No. 2: Mayo backs up Jordan’s one-on-one story: Michael Jordan‘s assertation earlier this week that he — in his prime — could beat LeBron James in a game of one-on-one drew much debate and discussion around the NBA world. Off the heels of that, Jordan had a recent interview with ESPN in which he told of a one-on-one game he had at his basketball camp against then-prep star O.J. Mayo. Well, apparently Jordan’s recollection of Mayo’s trash talking and Jordan dominating the youngster weren’t inaccurate, as an Mayo backed up MJ’s story during a must-watch interview with Bucks.com that we detail in another Hang Time post: 

Mayo, for his part, didn’t back away from tale. In an interview with Bucks.com after Wednesday’s practice, Mayo corroborated Jordan’s story … and added some great detail that can’t be missed. The fine folks over at The Point Forward transcribed the entire interview, but here are a few choice quotes:

“Obviously it’s any ballplayer’s dream to play against Mike. I couldn’t tell you how many times I did his move after the Finals, the next day at the rec center and stuff. I got a few buckets. The campers knew I was the only high school kid so they got rowdy a little bit, we got a little bit of jawing. We played two games, I think we split one and one, it was a team game.

“Then he said, ‘OK, now let me handle my business.’ He looked me in my face and said that. I’m like, ‘What you mean?’ So he said, ‘I need all the campers and everybody to leave the gym.’

“We continued playing pick-up. Mike was Mike. He was jawing a little bit, really getting into me defensively. He’s backing me down. He said, ‘Better scream for mama. Mama. Mama.’

***

No. 3: Jack postseason berth not enough for Cavs Cleveland has gone four seasons since making the playoffs and after a busy offseason that included the signings of Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack, it has eyes on a return to the postseason. Jack, who was instrumental in helping Golden State end a five season playoff drought a season ago, says simply making it into the playoffs shouldn’t be enough for the Cavs, writes Bob Finnan of The News-Herald & The Morning Journal:

“People may look at me crazy,” he said. “I don’t put ceilings on anything. Why would I be happy just making the playoffs? What’s the point of that? Why would I be happy just playing until April and going home? Why can’t we just go to the championship?

“If that’s not your goal, we should just go home right now. Who cares if you got the free T-shirt they hand out for the first round? So what? No one remembers that. If you take a test, why would you try to get a 72? Why wouldn’t you try to get a 100? Who wants to be in fifth place?”

When it was time to find a new team last summer, Jack and agent Jeff Schwartz chose the Cavs for one big reason.

“First and foremost, Coach Brown,” Jack said. “(I’ve) always been a fan of his from afar. I’ve always loved the guy. Then, (I liked) what they have on the rise. They are adamant (about) winning.”

The Warriors advanced to the Western Conference semifinals last year. He wants to experience similar success in Cleveland in 2013-14.

“When you have a mindset that you can compete with anybody, you don’t get surprised,” Jack said. “When you beat a team like the Pacers, you don’t jump around like you won the World Series. It’s the same way if you beat the Bobcats. There’s no confetti coming from the ceiling. That’s what you’re supposed to do.

“If we go out there and play Cavaliers basketball, we can compete with anybody on the court.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard has a lot of respect for teammate James Harden‘s Euro-stepJan Vesley is working to rebuild his confidence and game in D.C.Kevin O’Connor remains an integral part of Utah’s front office… Denver coach Brian Shaw sees a lot of Paul George in Quincy Miller … Great long feature on one a Morning Shootaround favorite — Magic center Nikola Vucevic

ICYMI of the night: We reference it above, but you’ve got to see this interview of O.J. Mayo recalling what it was like to play one-on-one against Michael Jordan:

New Coaches: Five That Fit

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HANG TIME, Texas — Sometimes it’s the big things, a change in philosophy or overall team strategy that’s required to make a difference. Sometimes it’s just a new attitude, a new voice that’s needed in the locker room.

With a baker’s dozen new coaches ready to roam NBA sidelines — at least one in every division — this season, some will find the task a heavier lift than the circus wagon that holds the elephants.

Others will pick up their new teams immediately. Here are the five coaches who’ll make themselves right at home in their new digs and have the smoothest transitions:

Doc Rivers, Clippers — The veteran of previous stints with the Magic and Celtics definitely has the least room for improvement in the win column, since the Clips already won a franchise-best 56 games and their first-ever division title a year ago. But the little brothers of Staples Center won’t really shed their “second-class-citizen” image until they make a real run in the playoffs and that’s where Rivers’ experience will pay off. While they will still dance to the tune of Chris Paul’s talent on the court, Rivers will get them marching to a more serious, professional beat at both ends of the floor and in the locker room. They have to be more than just a group that jumps into the passing lanes to get steals on the defensive end and thrives on Lob City dunks on offense. He knows what it takes to win a championship and will put his stamp on the team early so we’ll notice the difference.

Mike Brown, Cavaliers — Let’s face it. Other than a fat man in an undersized Speedo, there wasn’t a more uncomfortable fit anywhere than Brown coaching the Lakers for a year and a smidgen. But now he’s back in Cleveland in a familiar role with a young team that is trying to build something special around an All-Star talent. OK, Kyrie Irving isn’t LeBron James, but he is the kind of lead horse that can pull the wagon. The truth is that these Cavaliers have a deeper collection of all-around talent than ever surrounded James, from Anderson Varejao to Tristan Thompson to Jarrett Jack to No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett and maybe a rehabilitated Andrew Bynum. Brown will emphasize what he knows best — defense — to give the Cavs a toughness and identity that, assuming Irving stays healthy, will have them back in the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left.

Jason Kidd, Nets — If it was so easy, the Naismith Hall of Fame would be filled with plaques of many more All-Stars who took off their uniforms one night and slipped easily into the role of head coach the next. There will be plenty about the nuts and bolts of the job that Kidd will have to learn as he goes along. But it helps that as point guard he already possessed some of the coaching genes. It also helps that he’s walking into a locker room filled with veterans names Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko, who are all looking to erase recent seasons of disappointment to come together and win a championship. Kidd won’t have to sweat the small stuff with this bunch. Garnett, Pierce and Terry have all won rings before and know the sacrifices that have to be made and the work that must be put in. In fact, Kidd’s toughest job might be holding them back and limiting regular season playing time. Since he’s in the glare of the New York media, any mistakes along the way by the rookie coach might be magnified, but he’s played a good portion of his career there and knows how to survive.

Mike Budenholzer, Hawks — After nearly two decades in San Antonio and the past six seasons as Gregg Popovich’s right hand man on the Spurs bench, this was finally the right time and the right place for Budenholzer to make the move into the No. 1 seat. For one thing, the Hawks are certainly not bereft of talent, even after the departure of Josh Smith. Free agent Paul Millsap will fill in capably. For another, it’s not as if there is the burden of having to live up to decades — or even one or two seasons — of greatness. But mostly it was time because Budenholzer was hand-picked by general manager Danny Ferry, his old Spurs buddy, as the start of a plan to finally have the Hawks build something special and to do it the right way. The Eastern Conference has gotten stronger at the top and it will be much tougher for Atlanta to break through against the likes of Miami, Indiana, Chicago and Brooklyn. But Budenholzer and Ferry won’t be impatient, are in this for the long haul and will have each other’s back. There’s no rush this season.

Maurice Cheeks, Pistons — After previous stints as head coach in Portland and Philadelphia, Cheeks spent the past four seasons as Scott Brooks’ assistant in Oklahoma City getting prepared for his third chance. The understated Cheeks knows his stuff and knows what he wants and could be just the right personality to get the newly acquired, up-and-down pair of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to deliver every night. The real heat is on general manager Joe Dumars to build the once-proud franchise back up after a half decade of serious slippage has had the Pistons way outside of even playoff contention, let alone the championship conversation. Cheeks will have Chauncey Billups back with his championship pedigree as an extension on the court and if he can keep the young big man tandem of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe moving ahead together, the Pistons could bring some joy back into The Palace with a run at a playoff spot.

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.