Posts Tagged ‘jason terry’

Blogtable: In The End, Knicks Or Nets?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe 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.


Team due to surge, slip | Ultimate pro | Knicks or Nets?


Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks (Kent Smith/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks (Kent Smith/NBAE)

If you had to pick just one to make the postseason: Knicks or Nets?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comThe Knicks. Tyson Chandler is working his way back. Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez is done. Big difference. Mike Woodson vs. Jason Kidd. Big difference, too. Carmelo Anthony has a job market to firm up for himself heading into summer. And the Nets’ grand experiment already seems like a failure that a low seed won’t erase, undercutting more of the Brooklyn vets’ motivation.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In a world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. So count on Carmelo the Cyclops to raise the Knicks from the depths of the garbage heap that is Eastern Conference and any day now the New York media will be talking about their chances of winning The Finals.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comGot to say the Knicks, but mostly because of what the Nets are lacking — as in their starting center and point guard. Obviously Brook Lopez is done for the season and Deron Williams‘ cranky ankles are again causing issues. This is very worrisome. The Knicks have ‘Melo and are getting bodies back. They’re turning it around now and if Tyson Chandler can ever stay on the floor with any consistency, they can really start to climb the standings in the woeful East.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comKnicks. I would have taken the Nets at full strength, but Brook Lopez is that much of a difference maker while picking the least of the worst. Tyson Chandler is back from illness, Carmelo Anthony will always score, the Knicks will hit some threes and Manhattan will finish ahead of Brooklyn.

Jason Terry, Joe Johnson (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE )

Jason Terry, Joe Johnson (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE )

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: These two teams have basically been within a game or two of each other all season. New York has a slightly easier schedule going forward, but Brooklyn has been the better defensive team as both have made a little run here in January. I’ll give the edge to the Nets because of the defense, because they should have a healthy Deron Williams coming back to give a boost to the offense, and because they’re a little deeper (with Andrei Kirilenko back in action). But really, it’s a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI hope they both make it, because I think the playoffs will be that much more compelling with both New York teams in the Eastern Conference mix. But if had to pick just one, the Knicks strike me as the team that would make things most interesting in a postseason scenario, regardless of the matchups. There is such a ridiculously high unpredictability factor with the Knicks (J.R. Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, etc.) that I really don’t want to experience the first round of the playoffs without Mike Woodson’s motley crew involved. Of course, it will help if they are reasonably healthy come April (Tyson Chandler in particular). We know the Nets aren’t going to get Brook Lopez back this season and the idea of watching them stretch Kevin Garnett to his limits in a first-round matchup against either the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat. Granted, we might end up seeing all four of these teams square off in some form or fashion, provided both the Knicks and Nets get off the canvass in time to battle for those final two spots in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: As a New York City resident, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the Knicks are the New York-area team that will make the postseason. I say this for a few reasons, one of them being that Mike Woodson always seems to figure out a way to salvage a season or series. Also, with the Nets losing Brook Lopez for the season, their best low-post scoring threat is now AWOL, and that affects them more than I think some fans realize. But mostly, I think the Knicks will make the playoffs because of J.R. Smith. Oh, sure, he’s benched right now and out of the rotation, but something will click and he will figure out his role and return to the form he displayed last season, and will in turn help carry the Knicks to the posteason. Or something like that.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Brooklyn. They are too talented not to make a run at some point when they all lock-in and play like they are supposed to — and that’s even with the injury to Brook Lopez. New York is certainly up to par in terms of talent, but there are too many off-court distractions. Combine that with a lack of defensive-minded players and maturity issues from their players that can start a downward spiral for the team.

Simon Legg, NBA AustraliaProbably the Knicks. They seem to have improved their defense in 2014 and Melo is starting to look better as well. He’s become more of an active passer, which has led to others getting involved, particularly Iman Shumpert — who has been putting up some nice numbers. Back to their defense. In their last seven games their defensive rating has improved from 105.8 to 99.9, good enough for eighth in the league in that seven-game stretch. If they continue to defend this well, they have a better chance than the Nets.

 Jacopo Gerna, NBA Italia: I’m pretty sure both of New York’s teams will get to the playoffs. But if I have to pick just one, I’ll go with the Nets. Brook Lopez’s injury was a big blow. When he went down, they lost their best player. On the other hand, if D-Will (not the best version of D-Will ever, but a solid PG for sure) and Paul Pierce are going to stay healthy, the Eastern Conference level will allow Jason Kidd to reach his first playoffs as a coach.

Coaching The NBA’s Hardheaded Players


VIDEO: Brent Barry and The Starters crew talk about J.R. Smith’s shoe antics

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – A sucker’s born every minute, or so they say. So maybe the Knicks can find one to dump their stupefying sixth man J.R. Smith upon. More likely, Knicks coach Mike Woodson is stuck with the shoelace bandit.

The NBA nailed Smith with a $50,000 fine Wednesday for “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct.” One day after the league warned Smith after he untied the shoelaces of Mavericks forward Shawn Marion as the two stood side by side awaiting a free throw, he tried it again in the very next game to Pistons forward Greg Monroe.

The New York Daily News reported that Smith has now been fined $105,000 since joining the Knicks in 2012, not to mention his one-game suspension in the playoffs for throwing an elbow at Boston’s Jason Terry, and his five-game suspension to start this season for violating the league’s drug policy. Meanwhile, the Knicks awarded Smith a three-year, $18 million contract during the summer.

A fed-up Woodson on Wednesday lit into his juvenile shooting guard on New York radio station 98.7 ESPN:

“I don’t condone things that I know you shouldn’t do. No, I’m not happy about this. Because again, he was warned, he comes back and he makes the same mistake, and it’s not right. I just got the information, I’m going to address it tomorrow when he comes in here for work, because it’s unacceptable. It really is.

“It’s unprofessional. That’s the only word I can use. Or two words. You just can’t do that. You just cannot do it.”

And …

“There’s no question, he’s done a lot of things this year that has put him in a bad position and our team in a bad position. Somehow, we’ve got to clean that up. This is unacceptable…I keep saying this every time something pops up, but it’s got to stop.”

But really, what can a coach do when dealing with a volatile, hardheaded (but also a needed) player such as Smith? I was talking about this very topic recently with Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who has such a player on his roster in Matt Barnes and just released another in Stephen Jackson.

Barnes is more of a hot-tempered, playground bully/team-bodyguard type whereas Smith is more of a loose cannon and silly prankster. But both are emotional, off-the-cuff players who do inexplicable things at any given moment that can hurt their teams either by drawing a technical foul, an ejection and/or suspension.

Rivers’ answer to what a coach can do to reign in such behavior? Not a lot.

“I just let them explode and then move on,” Rivers said, laughing. “There’s not much you’ve got to do. I had Rasheed [Wallace]. He probably was the test market for any emotional player. Rasheed was a great teammate, he was a great guy, but when he lost it, he lost it, and listen, better coaches than me coached Rasheed. … I came to the conclusion if they couldn’t stop it I’m not going to try.”

Barnes has played in only 19 games this season due to various injuries, but has already been fined two times for $25,000 each for lingering on the court after being ejected. Last month, Barnes put a hard foul on Timberwolves forward Kevin Love in the third quarter, drawing a flagrant 1. The referees reviewed it on replay and upgraded it to a flagrant 2, resulting in automatic ejection. Barnes flipped. The upgrade proved to be more about Barnes’ reputation, a problem in itself. The league reviewed the foul and acknowledged it should have remained a flagrant 1.

“You never want to put your team in a position of vulnerability or giving away extra free throws or extra points, especially down the stretch of the season or if it’s the playoffs; everything has to be calculated,” Barnes told NBA.com last week. “It used to be a good, little game. Now it’s like a flag football-type game, so you really have to be smart about everything.”

His first ejection and subsequent fine came during a November game against the Thunder in which Barnes unnecessarily came to the defense of a teammate and got into an altercation with Thunder forward Serge Ibaka in the first half. Both players got tossed.

“My situation is I look at my teammates as my family, so it’s never really an altercation to me,” Barnes said. “It’s more if your teammates get into something, you get into something; that’s the way I was raised. I was raised to protect my brother and sister and my friends, so I look at my teammates as my family. I’m going to do whatever I can to help.”

How do you coach that?

“With Stephen and Matt, they are emotional and their emotions, for the most part, are in the right place; they want to help their team win,” Rivers said. “Yeah, you don’t want them to ever cross that line where it can hurt your team and when it does, it does, and you remind them of it and you just hope they get better. But that’s all you can do.

“I don’t know, it’s a tough one. I’d rather have it, I guess.”

Woodson and the Knicks aren’t so sure anymore in regard to Smith. The 10-year veteran had an excellent last season, earning Sixth Man of the Year honors, and many professed that he was a changed man, done with frivolous conduct and serious about taking care of business on the basketball court.

Going back to his playoff implosion and the multiple incidents since, that certainly does not appear to be the case. As Woodson said during his Wednesday radio appearance:

“If you look at what happened last year, everybody played a role on that team and J.R. was a big piece of the puzzle. Yeah, it can come from Carmelo [Anthony], it can come from his teammates, it can come from his coaching staff, it can come from me being there, it can come from the GM, the owner. At the end of the day, he’s got to grow up.”

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from all of Monday’s NBA games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Melo sprains ankle | Pierce, Nets implode, Kidd explodes | Dirk climbs all-time list | Wade sits, LeBron shines | End of the Lottery?

No. 1: Melo leaves with sprained ankle– As if enough hasn’t happened to the New York Knicks in the season’s first two months, now they’re dealing with a sprained left ankle to their best player, Carmelo Anthony. The club’s leading scorer limped to the locker room in the third quarter of New York’s 103-98 win over Orlando. Yes, the Knicks still managed to hold on and win. Oh, to make matters worse, point guard Raymond Felton, who had just returned from injury, left in the fourth quarter with a strained right groin. Both players will be reevaluated Tuesday and Anthony insisted he’s hoping to play on Wednesday, Christmas Day, when the Knicks play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder (2:30 ET, ABC).

More from Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“It’s on. I still have it. It ain’t going nowhere, so I’ll be there,” Anthony said of his sprained ankle. “Hopefully, I’ll be there. … It’s Christmas in the Garden. I don’t want to miss that game. I don’t know, I’m hard-headed sometimes when it comes to that. But I’ve got two days.”

The Knicks (9-18) constructed a 24-point cushion at halftime and still led 72-52 when Anthony went up for a rebound of his own miss and landed awkwardly, with his left foot coming down on the foot of Orlando forward and Long Island product Tobias Harris with 7:26 remaining in the third.
“Melo’s a tough kid. He don’t sit down very often,” Mike Woodson said.

Anthony, who also battled knee and shoulder problems last season, described this ankle injury as “not as severe” as one that kept him out of two games this time last year.
Still, Anthony limped to the bench and remained there for several minutes while receiving treatment from trainer Roger Hinds. During a timeout with 5:43 remaining in the quarter, the pending free agent headed for the locker room and did not return.

“The pain was too much. I was actually trying to walk to see if I could get back in the game. There wasn’t no reason for me to go out there and risk it anymore,” Anthony said. “But I’m walking. I think I caught it before it rolled all the way, but it rolled pretty bad. We’ll evaluate everything (Tuesday), but the good thing is I am able to walk with a little bit of pain.”

Felton was back in the lineup after missing the previous six games with a strained left hamstring, scoring 13 points with four assists in 25 minutes before he collapsed to the floor following a midair collision with Jameer Nelson with 3:21 to go.
Felton, who also missed time earlier this season with a pinched nerve in his hip, admitted he “felt a pop” in his right groin.

***

No. 2: Pierce ejected, Kidd explodes – With the Nets down 19 points to the East-leading Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce, in the midst of a horrible personal season, took down Indiana’s George Hill on a fastbreak. The play was ruled a Flagrant 2 resulting in the automatic ejection of the former Celtics great. But that’s not as bad as it got. Following the Nets’ 103-86 to fall to 9-18, rookie head coach Jason Kidd went off on his underachieving team that just two days ago lost All-Star center Brook Lopez to a broken foot. Kidd’s most damning quote of his club: “Well I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing. We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in and most of the time right now we do.”

ESPNNY.com’s Mike Mazzeo has more:

The Nets came into the season with the NBA’s highest payroll — an estimated $190 million counting the impending luxury tax — and extremely high expectations. But they’ve failed to meet them.

During the summer, Nets general manager Billy King mortgaged the future, relinquishing several future assets to acquire veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry in an effort to try and win now. But so far, it hasn’t worked out.

On Monday night, Garnett and Pierce both left without talking to the media. Pierce was automatically ejected after being accessed a flagrant foul 2 for clotheslining Pacers point guard George Hill, who tried to finish a layup in transition with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter. He could face a fine or suspension from the NBA league office as a result.

Pierce (0-for-7) was held scoreless for the first time since March 9, 1999 — the 16th professional game of his 16-year career. Garnett went 3-for-10 from the field in 19 minutes. Both players have struggled mightily while trying to fit in with their new team for the majority of the season.

Told of Kidd’s comment, point guard Deron Williams said, “I’m not. I’m not comfortable losing. It’s not fun. Not only when we’re losing during the game, but when I go home sitting there and thinking about it, it’s not fun.”

***

No. 3: Dirk passes English, destroy RocketsEvery few games it seems Dirk Nowitzki is passing another legend of the game on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. On Monday night, Nowitzki overtook Denver great Alex English for No. 13. The Mavs’ sweet-shooting 7-footer did it in style, dropping 31 points on Dwight Howard and the Rockets to move to 2-1 against their Southwest Division rival this season. Nowitzki, of course, traveled to Los Angeles with owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle over the summer to recruit the free-agent Howard, who preferred the situation in Houston. Nowitzki scored 10 points in the final nine minutes to help Dallas protect the lead and end a two-game skid.

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News was there:

Dirk Nowitzki simply said: Come on, boys, and climb on my back.
“Listen, he’s the great Dirk Nowitzki,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “The guy has changed the game with the way he plays. The game is not the same. He changed the power forward game forever, and it’s reflected in the modern game now. He’s a great player.”

Nowitzki piled up 31 points, including 10 points in the final nine minutes when the Mavericks were protecting a nice lead they had earned in the third quarter. Along the way, Nowitzki passed Alex English for 13th place on the all-time NBA scoring list.

His play was made possible in part by the shooting of Vince Carter, Jae Crowder and Jose Calderon, all of whom loosened up the Houston defense in a third quarter that the Mavericks won by 15 points to turn the game around.

“They had a lot of respect for our shooting at that point,” Nowitzki said. “So they were a little hesitant to double me. And I got to take advantage of the matchups when they play me with 6-7, 6-8 guys and I can shoot over them. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career.”
And so the Mavericks still have not had a three-game losing streak this season. They stopped the skid at two with their gutsiest victory of the season.

It’s worth noting that the Rockets were playing without leading scorer James Harden (ankle), point guard Patrick Beverley (hand) and center Omer Asik (thigh).

As such, the Rockets leaned heavily on Dwight Howard, who was a beast all night. But the Mavericks held most of the other Rockets in check in the second half.

.***

No. 4: Wade sits, LeBron shinesThe Miami Heat continued their cautious approach toward Dwyane Wade and his cranky news, sitting the superstar yet again Monday night against the Atlanta Hawks. This time it seemed it would be too much for Miami to overcome. Then again, they do have LeBron James, who had 38 points and one massive late fourth-quarter dunk over Paul Millsap that helped get the game to overtime and allow the Heat to take a 121-119 decision.

David J. Neal of the Miami Herald has more:

No Dwyane Wade. Later, after an elbow to the jaw, no Chris Bosh, either. But the Heat still had a LeBron James, and could pull a Michael Beasley off the bench. And then a Ray Allen and, even for the last 2.3 seconds, Bosh.

Which is how the Heat outlasted the Hawks 121-119 in overtime Monday night. Allen got the Heat to overtime. Beasley provided the game-winning free throws. Bosh provided the long arms.

“The one thing I did like about this game, in the last couple of years with this group, if we’d given up 17 threes in a game, we don’t win that game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s ninth win in a row over the Hawks. “It would collapse our spirit and our mind.”

Beasley had 10 points. Allen had 19. James scored 38 points on 16 of 28 shooting, six of his last seven as the Heat came from 11 down in the second half. As remarkable, James had six assists without a turnover. About the only thing James didn’t do well was hit free throws (two of six).

“For the basketball aficionado out there, this is a game where you see his full skill set,” Spoelstra said.

***

No. 5: End of the LotteryWith a multitude of front offices seemingly setting up their teams to be very bad this season with an eye toward what is believed to be a very talented draft class, and the league quite sensitive this whole notion, a proposal for a change to lottery system might be floated to owners in 2014.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe has the story:

We can also search for solutions, and there are lots of folks in the league office and among the 30 teams who find tanking abhorrent — who bristle at the idea that the league has incentivized teams to be anything but their best every single season. One detailed proposal, submitted by a team official, has gained initial traction among some high-level NBA officials — to the point that the NBA may float the proposal to owners sometime in 2014, according to league sources. Other top officials in the league office have expressed early opposition to the proposal, sources say.

The Proposal

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide..

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni tells fans to find another team if they’re discouraged … According to a report, attempts to revive Kyle Lowry trade talks failed … Metta World Peace to have same blood-spinning procedure as Kobe Bryant … In wake of Brook Lopez injury, Nets will file the paperwork for a Disabled Player Exemption

Making A List, Checking It Twice …

We’re making a list, checking it twice. On Christmas Eve, it’s time to remember who’s been naughty or nice in the first two months of the 2013-14 season:

Naughty — Nets — There isn’t enough coal in Newcastle to fill up the deservingly drooping stocking that hangs over a forlorn and underachieving mantle in Brooklyn. Why would anyone think it would make sense to trade for 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 36-year-old Paul Pierce, 36-year-old Jason Terry as part of $102 million-payroll and put the whole thing in the hands of a guy who had never coached a game in his life? Then Jason Kidd gets extra naughty by intentionally spilling a drink when he doesn’t have a timeout against the Lakers. They have a mediocre offense and the 29th-rated defense. Now they lose Brook Lopez to a broken foot. So it won’t be a Happy New Year either, Billy King.

Nice — LaMarcus Aldridge — From Damian Lillard to Nicolas Batum to Robin Lopez to coach Terry Stotts, there are many contributors to the rousing start to the season by the surprising Trail Blazers with the best record in the league. But no one has done more to elevate his game and his team to the elite level than Aldridge. He labored faithfully through seven seasons with a roster that virtually fell apart around his ears, listened to so much talk of trades and has come back to deliver a magnificent season that has him firmly in the MVP conversation.

Naughty — Knicks — Remember when they used to play basketball in New York? The Manhattan edition of the NBA can’t shoot, doesn’t rebound and Carmelo Anthony is saying the Knicks’ troubles are all in their heads. Would that be the heads of the players and the coach who can’t think to call a timeout in the final seconds to set up a shot? If things don’t turn around fast, Mike Woodson’s going to be the fall guy even though there have been enough injuries to fill an ER and the myth of the Knicks as true playoff contenders entering the season was no more real than a team of flying reindeer pulling a sleigh across the sky.

Nice — Suns — If you went to a Las Vegas sports book during training camp and plopped down a sizable lump of cash on the Suns to beat the over/under prediction of 21.5 wins, you’d probably be only a week or two away from returning to book a penthouse suite with your winnings. First-year coach Jeff Hornacek has his club riding the backcourt pairing of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic with a rotating cast of other contributors to a 17-10 record and a spot right in the thick of the tough Western Conference playoff race. When the Spurs were in town last week, the entire Phoenix roster had played the same number of NBA games in their careers combined as 37-year-old Tim Duncan.

Naughty — Ricky Rubio — Sure, it’s fun to sit in front of the big screen TV and keep hitting the rewind button on the DVR to replay all of those behind-the-back, no-look, over-the-shoulder, through-the-opponent’s-legs, thread-the-needle, oh-my-gosh, how-did-he-do-that, head-on-a-swivel, slicker-than-a-greased eel passes that get his teammates easy layups and dunks. But come on, two years plus into your NBA career, you’ve got to be able to knock down a wide open jump shot when teams give them to you. Which they do and which you don’t. Which is a big part of the reason why your Timberwolves are healthy and still underperforming.

Nice — Kevin Love — After missing 91 games over the past two seasons to injury, Love’s return to good health and a nightly spot in the lineup has been a sight sweeter than sugar plums dancing in the Timberwolves’ heads. How does a guy who is always a threat to score 30 points and pull down 20 rebounds get better? He becomes a better passer, nearly doubling his assists to 4.2 per game. Outside of The King down in South Beach, there’s just nobody in the league you can count on more every night.

Naughty — Grizzlies — There are more excuses than places to hear the blues in Memphis. But the bottom line is that even before Marc Gasol was sidelined with a knee injury, the Grizzlies were going south. They simply haven’t bought into new coach Dave Joerger, still can’t shoot from the perimeter and Zach Randolph seems to have lost his inspiration. The Grind House was a fun place while it lasted.

Nice — LeBron James — Maybe the only thing that stops him from winning MVP No. 5 — and third in a row — is boredom. Not his. Ours. He’ll never completely win over the entire public the way Michael Jordan did simply because of the times in which we live. The age of social media allows critics to throw stones and pick nits. There has simply never been anyone this big and this strong and this fast and this complete with still such a large part of the meat of his career ahead of him.

Naughty — Westbrook critics — Now that Russell Westbrook has recovered from two surgeries, returned to the Thunder lineup and shown not the slightest loss of his swagger, is there anyone who still thinks Kevin Durant and the OKC franchise would be better off without him?

Nice —Kendrick the Bouncer — It had to bring a smile to the face — if not a tear to the eye — of every old school scrapper who’s ever laced up a pair of sneakers and just gone after it when Kendrick Perkins unceremoniously ran Joakim Noah out of the Thunder locker room. That’s enough of the 21st century touchy-feely, we’re-all-buddies atmosphere that persists these days. Not enough get-outta-my-face growling between rivals. A team’s locker room is its castle and the only thing that could have made it better is if Perk dumped him into a moat.

Naughty — Omer Asik — Let’s see. For two seasons in Chicago you were averaging just 13 minutes per game and getting relative peanuts. The Rockets signed you to a free agent contract that pays $25 million over three years and last season you started all 82 games and averaged a double-double. That’s nice. But then they signed All-Star Dwight Howard in July. He’s much, much better. You’re still getting your $25 million. Didn’t you read the line about you better not pout? So we’re making our list, checking it twice and — ho-ho-ho — you’re definitely on it.

Nets Nearing Point Of No Return?




VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses the Nets’ rough start to the season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Humbling is the weight of great expectations, as the men in black and white in Brooklyn have learned through the first month of this NBA season. It’s a lesson their counterparts in Los Angeles, the Lakers, learned in much the same fashion last season. The addition of star power, remembered, real or imagined, does not always translate.

Brooklyn’s Nets are in essence a complete mess right now. A 3-10 record, next to last in the Eastern Conference standings, wounded bodies, pierced pride and nearing the point of no return is where this crew resides heading into tonight’s matchup (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) with a Toronto Raptors team that currently occupies the top-four spot in the Eastern Conference standings that the Nets assumed was theirs.

Without Deron Williams and Brook Lopez healthy, some would argue that it is unfair to grade this team at this juncture. But there are troubling signs with this team regardless of the personnel being deployed, a point made clear by our very own John Schuhmann recently.

Detroit Pistons v Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have struggled mightily in the season’s opening month.

No disrespect to the men at work, but you know things are dire when Shaun Livingston and Mason Plumlee are the only players on your roster who pose a consistent threat to opposing teams with their athleticism, energy and passion. That collection of aged superstars who were supposed to lead this group have, for whatever reasons, not answered the call on a nightly basis.

Take Sunday’s loss to Detroit for example. To start the fourth quarter, Nets coach Jason Kidd a lineup of Plumlee, Tyshawn Taylor, Alan AndersonToko Shengelia and Mirza Teletovic on the floor against Detroit. They trailed by 12 points, due the inept performance, to that point, of the first six who had dug that hole.

Kidd, and his top assistant Lawrence Frank, were desperate to energize a group that has slumbered through this season since that Nov. 1 win over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in their home opener.

The idea of Williams, Lopez, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Jason Terry terrorizing the league from opening night through the end of the regular season was a pipe dream from the start. But the reality of the Nets’ situation is even more grave than any of their critics might have imagined.

The Nets are last in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.3 points per 100 possessions. With Lopez on the floor they’re much better, ranking sixth defensively, but Lopez has missed five straight games.  And in those five games he’s been out, it’s been a parade for opposing teams. The Nets are allowing 113.1 points per 100 possessions in his absence. Had someone told you the linchpin to the Nets season would be the defensive presence of Lopez, you’d have slapped them.

Yet that is exactly where the team with the worst second-half defensive in the league stands as of right now. And that’s not even factoring in the inevitable locker room fissures that are bound to pop up when a high-profile team encounters these sorts of struggles.

Garnett was supposed to be a culture-changer, the sort of dynamic force that unites a group, even mismatching pieces, into a cohesive unit the way he did in Boston. That obviously hasn’t happened, at least not yet. And there is no guarantee it will. Not with the make-up of this group and the fact that there isn’t someone at the top (in Boston it was coach Doc Rivers) to set the tone and table for a player with Garnett’s reputation and leadership skills to do his thing without any second guessing from within that locker room.

Granted, it would be much easier for others to follow Garnett if Garnett wasn’t struggling through his own Jekyll-and-Hyde routine  — using PIE, Garnett is the league’s fifth-best player in the first half and the league’s worst player in the second half — this season.

Ultimately, the onus for this team and its fortunes rests on the entire group and whether or not they can tread water until they get everyone healthy enough to have a chance to chase the enormous expectations that have been set for them, both internally and beyond.

But we’re getting dangerously close that to that 20-game mark where a team’s true colors show. And the Nets from everything we’ve seen, have not lived up to the hype and quite frankly may not be able to as presently constituted.

Nets’ Issues Start In the Second Half


VIDEO: Bobcats edge Nets to send Brooklyn to third straight loss

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Brooklyn Nets are off to a bad start, but bad starts aren’t necessarily the problem.

The Nets have had the lead at the half of five of their 11 games, been tied in one, and been within four points of four of the other five. Yes, given their talent, they should have had leads against teams like the Cavs, Magic, Kings and Bobcats. But the average halftime score of their games is Nets 50, Opponent 49. That’s workable.

The biggest issue is that the Nets have been the worst second-half team in the league thus far, getting outscored by almost 11 points per 100 possessions over the third and fourth quarters. And the problems have come on both ends of the floor.

Nets efficiency by quarter and half

Quarter/half Pace Rank OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
First quarter 96.3 21 108.6 5 105.1 20 +3.5 10
Second quarter 96.9 18 95.3 20 98.3 12 -3.0 19
Third quarter 92.1 28 96.3 26 108.8 24 -12.5 28
Fourth quarter 95.9 12 98.3 21 107.5 21 -9.2 26
First half 96.6 19 101.9 10 101.7 16 +0.2 15
Second half 94.0 23 97.3 25 108.2 28 -10.8 30

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

Offensively, the Nets have had a slightly higher turnover rate in the second half, but it’s been their shooting that has suffered the biggest drop-off.

They actually have taken a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area and from 3-point range in the second half. Better shots should equal better shooting. And they’ve shot well at the basket and from the corners. But they’ve been terrible on other jump shots, shooting 30.1 percent from mid-range and 25.6 percent on above-the-break threes in the second half.

These second-half struggles point straight to the older guys in the rotation: Kevin Garnett (37), Joe Johnson (32), Paul Pierce (36) and Jason Terry (36). That group has shot 36-for-79 (46 percent) from mid-range in the first half and 13-for-52 (25 percent) in the second half.

Johnson, Pierce and Terry have shot 11-for-30 (37 percent) on above-the-break threes in the first half and 11-for-47 (23 percent) in the second half. Johnson has gone from 6-for-11 to 3-for-16, though he has shot well — 4-for-7 — from the corners in the second half.

Brooklyn’s defense has second-half woes, too

The Nets have seen an even bigger drop-off defensively in the second half, when only the Pistons and Pelicans have been worse on that end of the floor. What’s interesting is that their opponents’ effective field goal percentage has been lower in the second half than in the first. But they’ve forced less turnovers and they’ve been an atrocious rebounding team after halftime.

In the first half, the Nets have been the fourth best defensive rebounding team, grabbing 77 percent of available defensive boards. In the second half, they’ve been the worst defensive rebound team, grabbing just 68 percent.

Again, Garnett’s numbers see a major drop-off, but it’s because he’s been so good in the first half. In fact, he’s the best first-half defensive rebounder in the league, grabbing 38 percent of available defensive boards before halftime. In the second half, he’s merely the fourth best defensive rebounder in the league, grabbing 29 percent of available defensive boards.

Is it age? Well, rookie Mason Plumlee has seen an even bigger drop-off. Plumlee has been a pleasant surprise overall and hasn’t played that many minutes, but he has grabbed just 7 percent of available defensive rebounds in the second half, compared to 24 percent in the first half.

Still, Garnett seems to be the face of the Nets’ second-half regression. Between his poor shooting, decreased rebounding, increased turnovers and increased fouls, the difference between his first-half production and second-half production is staggering.

PIE is a statistic that measures overall production as a percentage of all the stats accumulated while that player is in the game. Among 210 players who have logged at least 100 minutes in the first half of games, Garnett ranks 15th with a PIE of 16.4 percent. Among 208 players who have logged at least 100 minutes in the second half, Garnett ranks dead last (0.8 percent).

Bonus stat: Kevin Love leads the league with a first-half PIE of 20.6 percent. Paul George leads the league with a second-half PIE of 24.8 percent.

No other player has suffered nearly the drop-off that Garnett has after halftime.

Biggest PIE drop-off

Player 1st half 2nd half Diff.
Kevin Garnett 16.4% 0.8% -15.7%
Taj Gibson 16.1% 4.6% -11.5%
Joakim Noah 16.7% 6.8% -9.8%
Roy Hibbert 17.4% 8.0% -9.4%
David Lee 17.8% 9.0% -8.9%

Bonus stat: Chicago’s Mike Dunleavy has seen the biggest increase (+14.1 percent) in PIE, going from 5.1 percent in the first half to 19.2 percent in the second half.

More important than Garnett’s individual production is how efficiently the Nets are scoring and how well they’re defending. And they do neither well in the second half with him on the floor. The defensive numbers are most alarming, because that’s the end of the floor where he was supposed to help most.

Nets efficiency with Garnett on the floor

Half MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
1st half 115 93.2 101.3 94.7 +6.6 +20
2nd half 107 97.4 85.4 110.1 -24.7 -64
Total 221 95.7 93.6 102.4 -8.8 -44

Does KG stiffen up at halftime? And should the Nets play him fewer minutes after the break? Last season, his PIE was 15.8 percent, both before and after halftime. The season before that, it was higher in the second half (17.6 percent) than it was in the first half (16.4 percent). So maybe this is just a fluky first 11 games.

Still, it would help if Andrei Kirilenko (back spasms), Brook Lopez (ankle) and Deron Williams (ankle) were healthy. Kirilenko could certainly take some of the minutes if KG doesn’t have it after halftime, while Lopez and Williams could carry the offense late in games. Lopez is also a defensive difference-maker.

The Nets have other issues, but first and foremost, they must figure out how to figure out their second-half problems.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Brown: Sixers rebuilding Noel’s jumper | Nets enter ‘desperation’ time | Rivers a fan of flopping rule | Lakers’ sellout streak ends

No. 1: Sixers coach says Noel a ‘total rebuild’ – Before the season even began, Sixers coach Brett Brown was cautioning Philly fans that they may not see prized rookie Nerlens Noel any time this season. While that may still be the case in Philadelphia, Brown and the Sixers’ coaching staff are working with the big man — who is recovering from an ACL injury he suffered while at the University of Kentucky — to hone his game. Brown spoke with Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today and talked about how fixing Noel’s offensive game might be categorized as a ‘total rebuild’ of the player’s game, shooting stroke and more:

That getting-hurt part — he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Florida in February — has kept Noel on the sideline since he was acquired by the Philadelphia 76ers in a draft night trade with New Orleans, who selected Noel sixth overall.

But as he rehabs, the Sixers are rebuilding Noel’s jump shot from scratch.

“It’s really hard, but if we can, we have the perfect environment to do it — a full year,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.

Noel came to the Sixers with gifted natural abilities. He can run and jump. At Kentucky, Noel kept it simple. The Wildcats wanted him to get down the the floor, dunk, score easy baskets, defend, rebound and block shots.

Noel did not take one shot beyond 17 feet at Kentucky, according to Synergy Sports, which tracks every play in college basketball and the NBA. The three shots Synergy categorized as jump shots were baby hooks in the middle of the lane and not traditional face-up jumpers with a guide hand on the ball.

“Everybody’s tweakable,” Brown said. “You bucket them into, ‘Is it a total rebuild?’ I think Nerlens is a total rebuild.”

The Sixers want him to develop a shot and expand his game, and at 6-11 and thin, Noel needs more to his offensive repertoire. Philadelphia is returning to basics in the reconstruction of Noel’s shot, starting with one-handed shots and the elbow under the basket — the way shooting is taught at a young age.

“What happens is when he does the offhand comes and elbows start going out,” Brown said. “When he just goes one-handed, he gets his elbow under it. It’s a good-looking shot.”

The 76ers are rebuilding and Brown, the team’s first-year coach, loaded his staff with strong player development coaches, including former NBA big man Greg Foster. After a recent Sixers practice, Noel spent extra time with Foster, and Brown stopped to watch Noel shoot free throws. Brown thinks that if Noel can improve his shot at the foul line, he will be effective with the shot at other spots.

“You start with the free throws, but that carries over to now he’s going to turn and face (the basket),” Brown said. “He really likes Kevin Garnett and those jump-shooting bigs. At some point, he aspires to be one of them even though he’s a post player initially. The free throw is the thing that carries over to other parts of his game. Hopefully, we get that right.”

Brown has a willing participant. He said Noel wants to improve his shot and is open to advice.

“He’s great. It’s his future,” Brown said. “I really mean that. He’s wide-eyed and open. He’s a willing learner because he knows. He’s looking for advice. He’s looking for somebody to help him. That’s my job. I’ll be really disappointed if in April we don’t look back and say we made good ground and we helped his shot.”

***

No. 2: Nets enter ‘desperation’ time — When a team plays the Sacramento Kings and manages to see star big man DeMarcus Cousins foul out of the game after just 22 minutes, it has to be feeling good about its chances to win. But the complete opposite is what happened to the swooning Brooklyn Nets last night in California. The Kings simply out-efforted the Nets en route to a 107-86 loss that marks the early low point for the struggling New York team, writes our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

“This is a new group, Jason Kidd, one of that group, said on a couple occasions late Wednesday night. He’s got seven games on the bench, from future Hall-of-Fame point guard to coach. He’s got Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, who have barely disrobed from Celtics green. He’s got 32-year-old Andrei Kirilenko, who arrived as the youth movement, along with rookie Mason Plumlee, in the rotation.

So it’s settled. The Nets need time together.

“We’re going to use that excuse for now,” said Terry, clearly choosing not to.

The Nets can’t even get together on an alibi. The championship hopefuls are 2-5 after getting blasted Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena by a Kings team that hasn’t been able to play hard for 48 minutes. They are questioning their heart, not to mention the explanations by their coach, and worse of all, there is no such thing as a wake-up call.

“We win the next one, you’ve still got a long way to go,” Terry said. “It’s a long season. You’d like to say, ‘Stay even-keeled.’ But for us right now, this is desperation. Everyone that steps on the floor on Friday should feel desperation and come out and play with a sense of urgency. If you don’t you’ll be looking at another loss. It’s what it is. These teams that we’re playing are desperate, they’re playing with a much more sense like this is their championship. We’re not meeting that intensity level.

“Talking’s over with. There’s too much talking. We’ve done enough talking and now it’s time for some action.”

And:

“… If we were playing five-on-five pickup at the park, you’ve been getting your a– whooped three or four runs now, OK? When are you going to pick it up and get a game, get a win, stay on the court? That type of mentality.”

This is immediate scrutiny for all the Nets, but Kidd most of all. All the talk about Coach On The Floor during his playing career, all the assurances that he would be able to transition from teammate/respected opponent/friend to a boss who would make the tough calls, and the honeymoon could be tracked with a stopwatch. He needs to come up with something and fast. Or at least something other than a way to slow down the calendar to get the new roster more time to come together.

“It’s not a good feeling in here,” Garnett said in the visitor’s locker room. “But nobody said this process was going to be easy. No one [else] is giving a [expletive] or caring if we’re getting beat or not. Just us. I think the mentality here now is just it’s all of us in here. We’ve created this hole and it’s up to us to get ourselves out of it.”

***

No. 3: Rivers supports anti-flopping rules – Before the start of last season, the NBA released its terms to curtail flopping in the league, which can be found here. Many flopping warnings and $5,000 fines have been doled out since then (quick trivia: Reggie Evans was the first player fined for a flopping violation) and the reaction to the rule among players and coaches has been mixed at times. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, though, is in support of the rule and spoke about that point before last night’s Thunder-Clippers game, writes Brett Pollakoff of ProBasketballTalk.com:

“I was the best flopper in the world, so it’s hard for me to ever talk about flopping,” Rivers said. “I just think it’s always going to be a certain part of it. It’s almost natural; when you get hit, you want to sell it.

“I think the NBA is doing it the right way, honestly,” he continued. “It’s not like they’re sending letters every day. If it’s something egregious, they’ll do it. But I think it’s much to do about nothing in the long run, because I don’t think we’ve over-done it. I was worried about that when we first put it in, but I think the NBA’s done a really good job with it.”

***

No. 4: Lakers’ home sellout streak comes to end — Since Dec. 6, 2006, the Los Angeles Lakers have sold out every game during that span, a streak that runs to 270 regular-season games and 320 total if you include playoff games. That run came to an end on Tuesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans and now the Lakers find themselves trailing the Clippers for the longest home sellout streak in town, writes Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

The Lakers suddenly have some catching up to do with the Clippers, and not just in the Pacific Division standings.

The Lakers’ home sellout streak ended at 270 games Tuesday night when the team drew 18,426, just short of the capacity of 18,997, during a 116-95 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center. The Lakers had sold out 320 straight games including the playoffs.

The last non-sellout for the Lakers at Staples Center came Dec. 6, 2006, against New Orleans/Oklahoma City, when they drew 18,535.

Meanwhile, the Clippers have sold out 97 consecutive home games dating to Feb. 2, 2011, and remain on track to reach 100 games Monday against the Memphis Grizzlies, according to a team spokesman.

The Clippers are also making gains on their hallway rival in the secondary ticket market. According to a Forbes.com report, the average price for the Clippers’ two home games against the Lakers this season is $40 more than the price when the Lakers play host to the Clippers.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Golden State’s plans for a new arena overlooking the San Francisco bay may not be as sure of a thing … After being ejected in last night’s game against OKC, Clippers forward Matt Barnes took to Twitter to vent a little Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried is trying to tune out all the trade rumor talk

ICYMI Of The Night: You’re not a hip point guard in the NBA, apparently, if you’re not nutmegging the opposition to get the ball to your star. Mario Chalmers did it Tuesday night for LeBron James and Ricky Rubio did it last night for Kevin Love


VIDEO: Ricky Rubio nutmegs the Cavs’ defense to find Kevin Love

Already ‘Desperation’ Time For Nets


VIDEO: Kings crush the Nets in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – This is a new group, Jason Kidd, one of that group, said on a couple occasions late Wednesday night. He’s got seven games on the bench, from future Hall-of-Fame point guard to coach. He’s got Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, who have barely disrobed from Celtics green. He’s got 32-year-old Andrei Kirilenko, who arrived as the youth movement, along with rookie Mason Plumlee, in the rotation.

So it’s settled. The Nets need time together.

“We’re going to use that excuse for now,” said Terry, clearly choosing not to.

The Nets can’t even get together on an alibi. The championship hopefuls are 2-5 after getting blasted Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena by a Kings team that hasn’t been able to play hard for 48 minutes. They are questioning their heart, not to mention the explanations by their coach, and worse of all, there is no such thing as a wake-up call.

Losing to the Cavaliers on opening night didn’t do it. Going from the potential jump start of edging the Heat right into a blowout loss to the Magic didn’t do it. Likewise the defeat to the Wizards, before the understandable trip through the grinder in scoring 91 points and losing to the Pacers.

A sense of urgency? The Nets are going backward by the day, no longer able to get to overtime (as with the Washington game), no longer able to stay close to a quality opponent (Indiana). The Kings — the 2-5 Kings with their best player, DeMarcus Cousins, going 5-for-14 from the field and lasting 22 minutes before fouling out — played with more energy and played better.

The 107-86 loss marked a new low for Brooklyn.

“We win the next one, you’ve still got a long way to go,” Terry said. “It’s a long season. You’d like to say, ‘Stay even-keeled.’ But for us right now, this is desperation. Everyone that steps on the floor on Friday should feel desperation and come out and play with a sense of urgency. If you don’t you’ll be looking at another loss. It’s what it is. These teams that we’re playing are desperate, they’re playing with a much more sense like this is their championship. We’re not meeting that intensity level.

“Talking’s over with. There’s too much talking. We’ve done enough talking and now it’s time for some action.”

And:

“… If we were playing five-on-five pickup at the park, you’ve been getting your a– whooped three or four runs now, OK? When are you going to pick it up and get a game, get a win, stay on the court? That type of mentality.”

Friday is the Suns in Phoenix, Saturday is the Clippers in Los Angeles to end the three-game trip. Then come many opponents who present the opportunity for recovery: Portland, Charlotte, Minnesota, Detroit, Toronto, the Lakers. Of course, the Magic, Wizards and Kings fell into the same category and look how that turned out. Brooklyn can’t get it right when an old team should be most fresh, at the start of the season, and with a favorable schedule.

This is immediate scrutiny for all the Nets, but Kidd most of all. All the talk about Coach On The Floor during his playing career, all the assurances that he would be able to transition from teammate/respected opponent/friend to a boss who would make the tough calls, and the honeymoon could be tracked with a stopwatch. He needs to come up with something and fast. Or at least something other than a way to slow down the calendar to get the new roster more time to come together.

“It’s not a good feeling in here,” Garnett said in the visitor’s locker room. “But nobody said this process was going to be easy. No one [else] is giving a [expletive] or caring if we’re getting beat or not. Just us. I think the mentality here now is just it’s all of us in here. We’ve created this hole and it’s up to us to get ourselves out of it.”

Nets Show Off Their Depth Versus Heat


VIDEO: Nets edge out Heat in thrilling Brooklyn home opener

NEW YORK – The Brooklyn Nets don’t just have five former All-Stars in their starting lineup. They go much deeper than that, as evidenced by the minutes played in Friday’s 101-100 win over the Miami Heat.

Paul Pierce‘s 31 minutes were the most by a Nets player. Nobody else played more than 27 and the Brooklyn starting lineup played just eight minutes together all night. Kevin Garnett‘s 26 minutes were the fewest he has played against the Heat since they signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

The Heat did not play well. Three games into the season, they’ve yet to find a rhythm. And it’s clear that James — one of three Heat players to log more minutes than any Net — doesn’t quite have his full explosiveness at this stage.

But the Nets aren’t exactly clicking on all cylinders, either. Deron Williams is just getting back into basketball shape after sitting out most of the preseason. Andrei Kirilenko made his Nets debut on Friday, but had his minutes limited. And Brook Lopez spent most of the night on the bench with foul trouble.

No worries, because this team basically goes 10-deep with guys who can put the ball in the basket. Ten of the 11 Nets who played on Friday scored at least six points and none of them took more than 11 shots.

“I think we have probably more depth than anybody in the league,” Pierce said. “The bench is going to be huge for us all season long.”

One of the biggest plays of a game was a Williams/Garnett pick-and-roll that forced James to sag off of Joe Johnson, who drained a 3 from the strong-side wing. With those three guys on one side of the floor, it was a difficult play to defend. And then you realize that Pierce was standing in the opposite corner, while Lopez, Kirilenko and Jason Terry were all sitting on the bench.

Scary.

And that was just a one-pass possession. Most of the night, there were multiple passes until the ball found the open man. Ball reversal is critical against Miami, and Brooklyn made sure they made the defense move. This team isn’t just deep in terms of minutes played, but also in regard to how many different guys can beat you every time down the floor. And it doesn’t matter to them who takes the shot.

“Our strength is sharing the ball,” Garnett said afterward. “You can’t play defense on everybody. We’ve got a lot of first-option guys who scored a bunch of points on different teams. We got a lot of talent on this squad. We know our strength is in numbers.”

The questions with this team begin with the health and durability of Garnett and Pierce. But while keeping their minutes down is a priority, it shouldn’t be a problem. And the Nets’ depth comes with versatility, and ability to play big or small.

“One of things we noticed right away was the big-ticket moves,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “But then they continued to fill in their roster.”

This game was just one of 1,230 and these two teams will probably look much different the next time they meet (Jan. 10). But it was made clear on Friday just how much Brooklyn’s depth could be a problem for the champs, and for the rest of the league.

“I think it’s the beauty of it, right now,” Williams said. “Nobody has to play too many minutes, and nobody cares. You’re not seeing anybody pouting. Everybody’s up cheering. Everybody’s having fun. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

New Coaches: Five That Fit

a

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.