Posts Tagged ‘jason terry’

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

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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

Dropping Dimes Again A Priority For D-Will

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Trivia time: Which point guard, Jason Kidd or Deron Williams, has finished more seasons with a double-digit assist average?

Answer: It’s not the NBA’s No. 2 all-time assists leader. Kidd finished his 19-year career with three (1999, 2000 and ’08). Williams, after eight seasons, already has four, all of which came from 2008-11. Kidd, now Williams’ coach with the Brooklyn Nets, wants to make it five.

“I’m going to push him. I want the best for him,” Kidd told the New York Daily News on Sunday after signing autographs at the Nets’ merchandise store in Coney Island. “When we sit down and talk about goals, team goals and also individual goals, I’m going to push him and I want to get him back to double-digit assists.”

Williams’ pace faltered the last two seasons with various impediments to blame, from former coach Avery Johnson‘s isolation-heavy offense (ask Kidd, who played under Johnson in Dallas, about that) to the extra weight and injury woes the three-time All-Star carried into last season. The Nets extracted Johnson from the equation early on last season, and Williams managed to get healthy and shed some pounds during his free time over All-Star weekend. He was a far more productive player in the second half of the season.

The powerful, 6-foot-3, 209-pound Williams averaged 7.7 apg last season, his lowest mark since his rookie year. That came after averaging 8.7 apg in his first full season (albeit a lockout-shortened one) with the Nets.

But the Nets of the last two seasons are hardly the ones Williams, 29, will lead into a 2013-14 campaign full of lofty expectations. An roster-wide talent upgrade should naturally increase Williams’ assist total, perhaps even allowing him to rival 2008-09 when he averaged 10.7 apg and finished second in the league behind Chris Paul (11.0). Since then, D-Will has steadily moved down the ladder when ranking the top playmakers at point guard.

The blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics that delivered Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry (coupled with the free-agent acquisition of Andrei Kirilenko), significantly enhances the Williams’ scoring options and should dramatically increase the team’s 3-point shooting.

The Nets ranked 17th in scoring (96.9 ppg), 13th in overall shooting percentage (45.0 percent) and 17th in 3-point shooting (35.7 percent). Brooklyn’s starting forwards consisted of a declining Gerald Wallace (39.7 field-goal percentage, 28.2 percent from 3-point range) and garbage man Reggie Evans (47.9 percent but on just 3.3 shot attempts per game). Kris Humphries, who started 21 games, shot 44.8 percent from the floor.

Evans can now move to a more sensible role off the bench. Wallace and Humphries are replaced by Pierce, who shot just 43.6 percent from the field last season but a solid 38.0 percent from 3-point range, and Garnett, who hit roughly half of his shot attempts last season (49.6 percent). Add those two to shooting guard Joe Johnson (37.5 percent from beyond the arc) and the offensively gifted 7-footer Brook Lopez (52.1 percent), and Williams should be operating in the halfcourt with a well-spaced floor. It should make double-teaming by opposing defenses both difficult and dangerous.

Terry didn’t have an inspiring first season with the Celtics after a prosperous career in Dallas, but he make 37.2 percent of his 3-pointers, right at his career average (37.9 percent). Kirilenko, a crafty worker without the ball, shot 50.7 percent last season with Minnesota.

Kidd, who fashioned 11 seasons averaging at least 9.0 apg, is promising an up-tempo offense that should benefit Williams’ game. And now with more scorers as targets for Williams, who is on pace to join the 10,000 assist club ( John Stockton, Kidd, Mark Jackson, Steve Nash and Magic Johnson) if he plays another eight seasons, the opportunity is there for him to get back to being a double-digit dime machine.

Incoming scorers
(from 2012-13)
Outgoing scorers
(from 2012-13)
Player PPG FG% 3pt FG%
Player PPG FG% 3pt FG%
Paul Pierce 18.6 43.6 38.0 Gerald Wallace 7.7 39.7 28.2
Kevin Garnett 14.8 49.6 12.5 Kris Humphries 5.8 44.8 0
Jason Terry 10.1 43.4 37.2 Keith Bogans 4.2 38.0 34.3
Andrei Kirilenko 12.4 50.7 29.2 Jerry Stackhouse 4.9 38.4 33.7
Shaun Livingston 6.3 48.0 0 MarShon Brooks 5.4 46.3 27.3

Blogtable: Brooklyn Or Indiana?

Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez, Paul George

Can Roy Hibbert and Paul George hold off Brook Lopez (center) and the Nets? (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

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.


Western Conference showdown | Eastern Conference showdown | Kobe’s comeback


Of these Eastern Conference up-and-comers, who’s more likely to end up the better team in 2014: Brooklyn or Indiana?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIndiana. Even if, by the phrase “better team in 2014″ we’re talking mostly about the playoffs, I still think the Pacers are poised to achieve more. They’re going the old-school route of improving year by year, with The Finals an expected step next spring. The Nets mostly have gone old, period. Even in the best-case scenario, they have a rookie head coach (Jason Kidd) who should ration his guys’ minutes through the regular season, which would argue against, say, 60 victories. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett engineered an instant turnaround in Boston, but that was six years ago.

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce

Kevin Garnett (left) and Paul Pierce
(Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Let’s see, the Pacers finished as the No. 3 seed in the East, knocked off the No. 2 seed Knicks and took the two-time defending champs to Game 7 in the conference finals and you’re still calling them “up-and-comers?”  I’m calling them right there on the threshold, banging on the door with younger legs and more significant upside than the Nets.  If Brooklyn added Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry five years ago, they’d be real championship challengers.  Now they’re just old.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comIndiana. There might not be a more confident team west of South Beach after last season’s heavyweight tilt with the Heat. The Pacers improved their bench this summer and if Danny Granger accepts a role as a sure-fire Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Frank Vogel‘s humble, hard-working team with a chip on its shoulder could be lethal. Brooklyn is going to be fascinating to watch. We’ve seen these collection of aging All-Star teams go bad, but it will help the cohesiveness that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are longtime teammates and so well respected. All-in-all, this is not an easy task to pull off for rookie coach Jason Kidd, who is already talking about resting Garnett on back-to-backs. Where the Nets finish in the regular season (of course top four is optimum) might not matter as much as how well they’re playing in March and April (a la the San Antonio Spurs).

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Indiana. Tough call, though. Ask the Heat how good the Pacers were last season. And now combine that answer with the “addition” of two players while barely removing any pieces from the core of the 2012-13 roster: Danny Granger and Luis Scola. Brooklyn is also realistically headed for a long run, so this could be close enough to be 2 and 2a. No one should discount the Bulls for 2b if certain health issues that have become tiresome to discuss become part of the past.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Pacers lose in a name recognition fight with the Nets, but they win everywhere else. I know Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will disagree with me there, but what else would you expect from two of the greatest competitors of their generation? The fact is, the Nets got both of those future Hall of Famers just a bit past their respective primes. The Pacers have a core group that is in the midst of an ascent in the Eastern Conference and league standings, led by All-Stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert and standout veterans David West and Danny Granger, whose return from injury (much like Chicago’s Derrick Rose) should be just as or more significant than any free agent signing by any legitimate contender in the East. Frank Vogel has a team that has been tested and tasted playoff success in each of the past two seasons, a team with chemistry that is proven. Those are crucial components for a contender that the Nets simply do not possess.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Considering the Pacers were one win away from making the NBA Finals last season, I’m not so sure I’d label them an “up-and-comer” — they’re here and ready to go. Of these two teams, I think I’d give a slight edge to Indiana. Aside from that “almost Finalists” thing, they’ve improved their bench, the obvious weak point last season, and they get an All-Star (Danny Granger) back from injury. I wrote a few weeks ago here that I thought the Nets were constructed to be a better playoff team than regular-season team, and I still believe that. But just because they wait to play full throttle doesn’t mean they’re going to be better than the Pacers.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com Philippines: Brooklyn will be the more improved team next year. The sheer amount of star power and veteran presence will catapult them into one of the true contender to Miami’s throne. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko will bring everything you want to improve on: defense, scoring, playmaking, veteran leadership and then some, with the core of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson in place, expect the Nets to be one of the top teams all year.

Daniel Senovilla, NBA Espana: Scola is a player very familiar to the Spanish people. We have seen him since he was a rookie and I hope he gives the Pacers the perfect “bench man” they sorely needed last season against the Heat. He’ll also bring more power to the paint for a team that’s already very good in that zone. On one hand we have the “romantic” view of the Pacers — young players with talent — and on the other hand we have the rich team with the new old legends from Boston. We’re idealists over here. The Pacers deserve, and will get, another opportunity.

Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player

HANG TIME, Texas – Officially, the NBA has not recognized a Comeback Player of the Year since the 1984-85 season.

But these are the dog days of August, this is just an exercise in summer daydreaming and that means, well, we can pretty much do whatever we want.

Besides, it’s so rare that we have so many big name players on the mend, several with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.

So grab a seat in the shade and let’s run my top candidates for a make-believer honor — the 2013-14 Comeback Player of the Year:

Kobe Bryant, Lakers – Yes, it’s still all speculation at this point, and even Bryant has said that he’s not sure he’ll be ready yet for opening night. But if, at 35, he somehow gets back onto the court less than a year after tearing his Achilles’ tendon and manages to come close to being the beast of his former self, Kobe will have eclipsed Adrian Peterson as a modern medical marvel and raised his already considerable legacy way past Michael Jordan‘s “flu game.”

Dwight Howard, Rockets – Can a guy who averaged 17.1 points and led the league in rebounding (12.4 rpg) last season really be considered a comeback candidate? He can if he’s this guy, who could only have taken more abuse if he’d played every game with a “Kick Me” sign taped to the back of his jersey. A return from back surgery and an in-season shoulder injury contributed to Howard’s lost season in L.A. A healthy and happy season in Houston could produce fireworks.

Derrick Rose, Bulls – He hasn’t played in an NBA game since April 28, 2012 and he may not return immediately to his old MVP form on opening night. But there are reasons to expect that Rose will want to use this season to make a loud statement about himself as a competitor and warrior. First of all, he is both of those things. Second, he heard all the sideline critics complain that he was soft or afraid or something less than a team player by not returning at the end of last season. If anyone has a point to prove about who he is, it’s Rose.

Kevin Love, Timberwolves – Flip the calendar back 12 months and there was so much for Love to anticipate in the year ahead, especially coming off his success at the World Championship. Not the broken right hand in training camp. Not breaking it again in January. Not the surgery on his left knee that ended any chance of a late return. Love averaged 18.3 points and 14 rebounds in the 18 games he played. Teammates Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger all suffered injuries in a lost season for the Wolves. Now it’s Love who’s champing at the bit to lead the comeback that could get Minnesota into the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Rajon Rondo, Celtics – When he gets back out onto the court, should we start calling him “Domino?” After all, think of all the dominoes that fell after he tore his ACL and had to be shut down for the season in January? That’s the way former teammate Paul Pierce views it. Rondo’s injury ended the Celtics’ real hopes of being playoff contenders or at least spoilers. Rondo’s injury likely led to the trading of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets. Rondo’s injury led to coach Doc Rivers wanting out of a rebuilding project. Rondo’s injury brought rookie coach Brad Stevens to Boston. Now Rondo gets to be the big dog who runs his own show and there’s no doubt he’ll bark loud.

Danny Granger, Pacers – On a team that already pushed the Heat to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals and is feeling more confident from the experience, how much of a boost could they get if the former All-Star forward can return to form? Granger played only five games last season after having surgery for patellar tendinosis. He said he expects to be back in the starting lineup. But even if he winds up coming off the bench, a Pacers team that sometimes had trouble putting points on the board will welcome the help.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder – Sure, it happened in the playoffs. Sure, he had never missed a single game in his NBA career until that night when he had the run-in with the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley. That doesn’t make it any less significant. The loss of Westbrook ended any real hope of the Thunder getting back to The Finals and maybe it quieted some of the carping complainers who love nothing more than to pick at the flaws in his game. Will the torn meniscus slow down any of his freakishly physical play or seemingly superhuman sorties to the rim? Doubt it.

Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers — With all the attention focused on free agent Andrew Bynum and No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett, the return of Varejao to the Cleveland lineup could be just as critical at making a run at the playoffs. The 30-year-old was averaging career highs of 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds in 25 games last season before tearing a quadriceps muscle in January and then requiring further surgery when a blood clot developed in his lung. Coach Mike Brown says the perpetual motion machine might start at power forward and that could get him back to making a run at his first All-Star berth.

Andrew Bynum, Cavaliers – If any player ever needed a comeback, it’s the big man who was a key part in the four-team trade between the Lakers, Magic, Nuggets and Sixers in the summer of 2012. Those chronic knee problems that had always made his future a big question mark in L.A. kept him on the sidelines but not out of the limelight all last season in Philly. He showed off flashy hairstyles. He went bowling. He just didn’t play. Now that Jan. 7 cutoff date to be on the Cavs roster that guarantees the other half of this season’s $12.25 million contract should be some real motivation.

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

Clips, Nets Pressure Haughty Neighbors

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In every metropolis boasting a pair of pro teams in the same sport exists an indisputable historical hierarchy.

The Yankees rule the Mets; the Giants squash the A’s; the White Sox won a World Series in the past century, yet the Cubs own Chicago; and Los Angeles will bleed Dodger Blue no matter what name the Angels give themselves. The Jets fall in line behind the Giants and, of course, the Nets bow to the Knicks while the Clippers kiss all those Lakers’ rings.

“They have a great chance to compete for a title,” Knicks Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith, speaking of the intruding Brooklyn Nets, told reporters at his charity golf event. “But we’re still the marquee team in New York.”

True, and as mentioned above, indisputable.

But… on both coasts, the NBA’s two most valuable franchises are being pressured like never before by their once-laughingstock, suddenly serious neighbors. The billion-dollar Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets’ black-and-white color scheme have proven popular in the borough, while owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s deep pockets [which could shell out upwards of $70 million in luxury tax alone after next season and could pose significant cap/roster issues down the road] have delivered a team that, on paper, looks to have surpassed the Knicks as title contenders.

One of the Nets’ newest members said Thursday it’s time for the apple to turn in NYC.

“Everybody knows how much I disliked the Knicks when I was with the Celtics, but I think it’s grown to another level,” Paul Pierce told ESPN. “I think it’s time for the Nets to start running this city.”

That’s not going to happen, but there’s no doubt the spotlight will shine brighter than ever on the Nets with Pierce and Kevin Garnett joining Deron Williams, as well as in L.A. where notoriously cheap owner Donald Sterling has seen the light in his advanced age, and where there’s now a three-to-one superstar ratio favoring the Clippers [Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, coach Doc Rivers] over the Lakers [Kobe Bryant].

If the upstart Nets and Clippers get off to hot starts and the Knicks and Lakers don’t, the establishment will be subject to a changing-of-the-guard, 24/7 news-cycle grilling.

In key measurements of popularity and franchise value, the Nets and Clippers are gaining ground on, if not stealing fans and dollars from, their virtually impenetrable big brothers. In 2012-13 merchandise sales, the Nets, who have long languished in this department, spiked to No. 4 [with help from hipsters taking to the color scheme] behind the Knicks, Lakers and Heat.

The Clippers checked in at No. 8 for a second consecutive season, not coincidentally the two seasons with Paul on board. And it was the Clippers, not the Lakers, joining the Heat as the only two teams with two players [Paul, 9th, and Griffin, 10th] ranked in the top 10 for jersey sales.

Attendance has jumped for both clubs, too. The Nets ranked 30th, 28th and 30th during their final three seasons in New Jersey, drawing barely more than a half-million fans in 2009-10. They ranked 13th last season, their first in Brooklyn, attracting more than 704,000 fans to Barclays [capacity 17,732], nearly 95 percent capacity, compared to the 780,353 that caught the Knicks at typically sold-out MSG [capacity 19,033].

After the Nets acquired Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry in the stunning trade with the Boston Celtics and signed Andrei Kirilenko, the club announced almost a month ago it had sold more than $3 million in new full season tickets, bringing it close to burning through its allotment.

At Staples Center, where 16 Lakers championship banners hang, the Clippers officially outdrew their co-tenant in each of the last two seasons, actually playing to more than 100 percent capacity. Capacity at a Clippers game [19,060] is slightly more than a Lakers game [18,997] and the Clippers benefit from two home against the Lakers [both drew more than capacity -- 20,179 and 19,768, while both games with the Lakers home games drew the usual Lakers sellout of 18,997].

All in all, the Clippers increased their total attendance by more than 118,000 from 2009-10 and by more than 50,000 from 2010-11, the season before Paul arrived.

It makes for a more valuable franchise. According to Forbes’ January valuation report, the Lakers and Knicks became the NBA’s first two billion-dollar franchises last year with New York valued at $1.1 billion and Brooklyn a close second at $1 billion.

The previously depressed Nets and Clippers made headway. Spiked by the move to Brooklyn, the Nets came in at No. 9, a 48 percent change from the previous year [when it ranked No. 14]. Forbes estimated the Nets’ value jumped from $357 million to $530 million. The Clips’ value increased from $324 million [No. 20] to $430 million [No. 18], a 33 percent change.

While all this won’t threaten the Knicks’ and Lakers’ air-tight thrones, for two long-wallowing and overshadowed franchises, these are rare power moves in a promising, and profitable, direction.

2013-14 Milestone Watch

By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com

The 2013-14 NBA season is less than three months away and excitement levels are already high. LeBron James has his eyes on a third straight championship, Dwight Howard will try to prove doubters wrong, and the Brooklyn Nets aim to make a deep playoff run with their new squad. But for many of the longtime veterans in the league, this upcoming season is a chance for them to further etch their names into the record books.

Here are seven players who have milestones in their sights:

Kobe Bryant – Points, Assists, Free Throws

Kobe Bryant is close to passing Michael Jordan in points.

Kobe Bryant is close to passing Michael Jordan in points.

Bryant will face his biggest challenge this summer as he attempts to successfully rehab from a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered in mid-April. But when he does return, he’ll have multiple milestones in clear sight. The most important milestone for Bryant is points as he needs only 676 points to pass Michael Jordan for third all time. It will take Bryant nearly 300 more games than Jordan played to pass His Airness, but that doesn’t diminish the milestone’s significance.  Bryant also needs 113 assists to become only the 30th player in NBA history to reach 6,000 and 532-free throw attempts to become only the fifth player to attempt at least 10,000 free throws. The other four who’ve done it: Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, and Karl Malone. That’s okay company.

Kevin Garnett – Field Goals, Minutes, Rebounds, Blocks

Kevin Garnett is close to many major milestones.

Kevin Garnett is close to many major milestones.

It’s easy to understand how one of the most dominant players in the league for the past 18 seasons is on the verge of multiple milestones. He needs 363 field goals to pass Moses Malone, George Gervin, Dan Issel, and John Havlicek for 11th all time. After playing 58 minutes next season, he will pass Wilt Chamberlain for sixth all time to join the elite company of Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Jason Kidd, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Then he’ll also need 399 rebounds to reach ninth all time and 30 blocks to reach 2,000 for his career. All four of these milestones are attainable if he stays healthy and soon he’ll be able to add Hall-of-Fame inductee to his list of milestones.

Steve Nash – Assists, Turnovers

Steve Nash is nearing elite company.

Steve Nash is nearing elite company.

The almost 40-year-old Nash is close to two significant milestones for next season. He is only 86 assists away from passing Mark Jackson for third all time and he needs just 90 turnovers to move into 10th all time. The turnover milestone may seem like a bad thing, but it shows its importance when you look at the nine players who will be in front of him: Hakeem Olajuwon, Isiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant, Artis Gilmore, Julius Erving, Jason Kidd, John Stockton, Moses Malone, and Karl Malone. It doesn’t get much more elite than that.

Andre Miller – Assists

Andre Miller has quietly neared 8,000 assists.

Andre Miller is quietly near 8,000 assists.

Miller has been one of the best distributors in the league for most of his 14-year career, but his lack of flashiness has caused him to be consistently underrated. However, if he can collect 44 assists next season he will reach 8,000 for his career and join Gary Payton, Isiah Thomas, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson, Jason Kidd, and John Stockton as the only players to reach the milestone.

Ray Allen – 3-Point

Ray Allen is close to another 3-point milestone.

Ray Allen is close to another 3-point milestone.

Unlike all of the other milestones mentioned, Allen has already reached the top of the statistical category and now he’s just extending his lead. It will take a good season for him to make 143 3-pointers, but if he does he will become the first player in NBA history to reach 3,000 3-pointers and it’ll make his record even more difficult to pass.

Paul Pierce – Points

Paul Pierce is nearing a huge scoring milestone.

Paul Pierce is nearing a huge scoring milestone.

Pierce’s first season outside of Boston could be a historic one if he is able to score 979 points to reach 25,000 for his career. Only 21 players in NBA history have reached this mark and Dirk Nowitzki, Garnett, and Bryant are the only active players to get there. It would an incredible accomplishment for Pierce who has faced and conquered many challenges during his 15-year career.

Jason Terry – 3-Point

Jason Terry is close to a historic 3-point mark.

Jason Terry is close to a historic 3-point mark.

Many people fail to notice how prolific Terry’s 3-point shooting has been throughout his career. But with only 78 3-pointers next season he will pass Jason Kidd to become third all time and join the special company of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen. Consistency has been the key for Terry as his rookie year was the only season during his 14-year career in which he shot below 34 percent from 3-point range.

Pierce Ready To Embrace A New Reality

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. –
It’s unclear which idea is easier to believe: A tornado of sharks or Paul Pierce playing for the Brooklyn Nets. The former (“Sharknado”)was just a terrifically bad TV movie, while the latter became one step closer to reality on Thursday as the Nets introduced Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry on the floor of the Barclays Center.

We forget that it was just three years ago that the New Jersey Nets completed one of the worst seasons in NBA history and that the following season, they were starting Travis Outlaw at small forward. Since then, general manager Billy King has turned Devin Harris into Deron Williams, Courtney Lee into Joe Johnson, Outlaw into Pierce, and Kris Humphries into Garnett, all while keeping a young and talented All-Star center in Brook Lopez.

And it’s not like this new team is only five deep. They should have one of the better second units in the league with Terry, Andrei Kirilenko and Andray Blatche also in the fold. And with franchise hero Jason Kidd taking over as coach, Nets fans might feel the need to pinch themselves.

Pierce looked like he needed to do the same. After 15 years with the Boston Celtics, the idea of playing for another franchise was not easy to swallow. And it was clearly written on his face as he sat on that dais that he wasn’t 100 percent ready to start repping Brooklyn. As evidenced by the amount of Boston media that made the trip down, this day was almost as much about the end of an era in Boston it was about the superteam that Nets have put together.

But it was Pierce who sold Garnett – over a 90-minute phone call – on the idea making this change. He knew where the Celtics were heading when they were discussing Doc Rivers‘ departure earlier in the summer and he knew that he’d be making  a big adjustment whether he stayed in Boston or not.

“You sort of kind of felt it coming,” Pierce said. “You figured if Doc was going to be leaving, you figured that was going to be the end of an era of me, Kevin and [Rajon] Rondo together.”

And though he still clearly needs some time to get used to his new reality, Pierce said Thursday that he’d rather be winning in Brooklyn than rebuilding in Boston.

“When you get that taste of success, you get that good meal or a taste of something good, you don’t want to go backwards,” he said. “That’s how I felt. I think Doc felt the same way. Kevin felt the same way. And that’s why all of us put ourselves in these situations where we can try to win.”

So here they are. Two guys that have bled green for the last six years wearing the black and white of a franchise that has seemingly reinvented itself twice in the last 13 months. And if you had any doubts that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov wasn’t afraid to spend money, realize that he just flew across the world in his Gulfstream to show up late for a 90-minute press conference.

But even Prokhorov knows that it takes more than a willingness to pay $80 million in luxury tax to win a championship.

“In the NBA, money, it’s important,” he said. “But you can’t buy a champ only spending money. The most important is to put pieces together and to create championship contender.”

The next step is getting Brooklyn’s Big 8 together on the floor. Right now, they’re a great team on paper. But so were the Lakers last season. Garnett and Pierce will be 37 and 36 years old respectively when the season starts, and LeBron James still resides in Miami.

For the Nets to challenge the Heat this season, they will need to stay healthy, play defense and develop chemistry. Pierce and Garnett did just that in Boston six years ago. But though they came a few minutes away from another championship in 2010, they’re still seeking a second ring.

“I felt like the difference in the years we spent in Boston when we won vs. when we didn’t,” Garnett said, “was just how we dealt with each other and how we communicated with each other.

“That’s going to be the biggest question mark for this team, how well are we able to jell and how quickly are we able to jell.”

The good news is that Pierce and Garnett bring six years of chemistry with them, and having a partner in this transition was critical for both of them. Though leaving Boston was difficult, they know that they have the potential to win big in Brooklyn. They wouldn’t have come if Williams, Johnson and Lopez weren’t already here.

It’s just a shame that we have to wait more than three months to see how all of this will work out.

“I’m here to try to create some kind of legacy here in Brooklyn,” Pierce said. “It’s sinking in and I’m liking what I feel right now.”
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