Posts Tagged ‘Jay-Z’

Superfan Doyle (literally) follows his Knicks wherever they go

By Kevin Cottrell Jr.

Some of the NBA’s marquee franchises are known for having famous faces sitting court side at home games. The Los Angeles Lakers have Jack Nicholson, the Brooklyn Nets have Jay-Z and the Chicago Bulls have President Barack Obama. Spike Lee is often synonymous with the New York Knicks, but this season Dennis Doyle trumps them all.

Doyle, a 32-year-old Westchester, N.Y. native, has taken the phrase “following your team closely’ to another level. Doyle plans to attend all 82 Knicks games this season, a six-month journey with spans three countries, 23 states and 29 NBA cities.

He recently hit the halfway mark attending game No. 41 in London after the season began in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. Since then, just about every mode of transportation has been put to use.

Knicks fan Dennis Doyle  (right) poses for a photo with Knicks legend Charles Oakley.

Knicks fan Dennis Doyle (right) takes a photo with NBA legend Charles Oakley.

“I travel by mostly planes, car rentals, and a bus from D.C. to N.Y,” Doyle said. “The only one I haven’t done is by boat.”

While he has avoided large bodies of water, some would say he’s joined a sinking ship by witnessing what could be one of the team’s worst seasons ever. At 7-36, the Knicks are the East’s worst team and have the second-worst record (trailing only the Minnesota Timberwolves) in the NBA.

Combining his love of travel, writing and the Knicks, not even Doyle could ignore the pull of this trip. When the Queens-based lawyer lost his job after three years with a Manhattan law firm, he decided it was time his dream became a reality.

“I felt like this was the perfect opportunity with no other commitments,” he said. “I’m single, no mortgages and decided I wanted to do something radically different. It was like a revelation, the light bulb went off and I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone ever doing this. I had the money to do it and wanted to get away from the depressing 9-to-5.”

The self-proclaimed die-hard Knicks fan, who has been following the team since the 1993-94 season, estimates this tour will cost him $25,000. Some may view this as a waste of money, but the Georgetown Law alum was smart enough to temper his expectations prior to the start of the season.

“I thought they had a chance to win, like, 41 games,” the jet-lagged Doyle said. “Sounds like high expectations compared to what’s going on now. They won 37 [games] last year, so I thought it couldn’t be as bad as last year!”

After a 2-1 start to 2014-15, the Knicks fell fast and eventually were in the midst of a team-worst 15-game losing streak. The players were obviously sick of all the losing. On Jan. 19th, they took their frustrations out on the New Orleans Pelicans at MSG to end the streak. Doyle, exhausted from travel and a quick turnaround from London, was nearly too sick to witness the victory.

“If I were working I definitely would have called in sick,” the first-time season-ticket holder said. “So I dragged myself to the game. It was great to see them win. It made me feel a little bit better. It was my flu game basically. You feel the joy of winning, but you feel really, really sick.”

While Doyle may use Michael Jordan references, he doesn’t consider himself to be one of the greatest fans of all time. In fact, he’s met people along the way that may deserve the title, such as the Knicks memorabilia collector in Portland or the Knicks fan in Toronto that offered him a court side seat. Doyle categorizes himself as an emotionally invested fan that usually attends a couple games a year. So no he’s not delusional and, yes, at one point, he second-guessed this trip.

“First game. Home opener. They [Knicks] got blown out by Chicago,” a dejected Doyle said. “They were trailing by 30 at some point and after that game I was like what have I gotten myself into? This could be a really long year.”

While the losing drags the season out, the support from fans via Twitter and e-mail has made his journey that more enjoyable. is where Doyle maintains a blog to illustrate his experiences throughout the 82-game schedule. His high point? Watching the Knicks spoil LeBron James’ Cleveland homecoming in the Cavs’ season opener. The low point? Obviously, the 15-game skid.

Optimism remains as he’s excited about the prospect of having a potential top-five pick in the 2015 Draft. As for the rest of the journey, Doyle is looking forward to stops in Miami and Orlando, for the last two games before a much needed All-Star break.

The lawyer-turned-writer hopes to land a book deal to avoid a return to the workforce after the journey concludes. Regardless of his occupation, his first year as a Knicks season-ticket holder will likely be his last.

“I don’t plan on renewing my season tickets for a few reasons,” he said “Money, I miss watching on TV, and I think I’ve attended enough basketball games this season to last me a lifetime.”

24-Second thoughts — May 10

By Sekou Smith,

VIDEO: First and foremost, Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s all about you, tonight, Deron Williams.

Someone has to be in the eye of the 2014 playoffs storm every night and since Roy Hibbert is off, it’s most definitely your turn.

World’s watching.

Brooklyn is definitely watching!

What’s it gonna be?

Heat @ Nets … #nosleeptilbrooklyn

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24 — A quick Schuhbie Stat you can dip in ranch or blue cheese to get us ready …

And a little mood setter, too …

This is even better …

23 — I wonder if it bothers opponents to see LeBron James run through them in the lane like Godzilla through the middle of the city? #freighttrainjames

And he does it on both ends …

22 — The #NBAStyle Police have an APB out for Dwyane Wade

21 — Shaun Livingston from deep to end the first …(#freighttrainjames with 16 points in 12 minutes for the Heat)

20 — It should be bonkers at the Moda Center in Portland tonight for Game 3 of this playoff double-header (#RipCity) …

— #RedOut

19 — The D. Will-Hibbert connection strikes again …

18 — “Hey, I’m trying to watch the game people!”

17 — Another coaching vacancy coming?

VIDEO: Joe Johnson was hotter than fish grease in the first half

16 — The Barclays Bounce has the Nets playing with a wicked flow tonight. They’ve got it rocking. Ball is rotating like crazy on offense. The energy on both ends is high. They’ve got their largest lead of the series, 68-56 inside of five minutes to play in the third quarter.

It also helps when the elders move like they did years ago …

15 — There’s a Teletovic Outbreak in Brooklyn right now!

“Brooklyn” chants cranking up with the Nets blowing the game open in the third quarter. D. Will even hit a 3!

14 — Dust up time. Ray Allen vs Alan Anderson (I’m predicting double techs, nothing more … this game is over, btw! Nets raining 3s all night. It’s a wrap.)

13 — From the “What in the name of Naismith?” files …

VIDEO: Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts checks in before tip-off

12 — We get Jay, Bey and Jake in Brooklyn. But they’ve got stars in Portland, too!

Jimmy Goldstein, too!

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Jimmy and I again.

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11 — A staggering 15-for-25 from deep for the Nets in a 14-point win to make things interesting …

But …

10 — Hey Underdog, “put that on a T-shirt!”

9 — Portland, we have a problem!

8 — This look sums it all up for the home crowd in Portland …

7 — Bow down to Timmy, passing Karl Malone for 5th place on the career playoff scoring list …

6 — You don’t need advanced stats, analytics or any other tools when you have just plain math …

5 — I’ve been in the Moda Center (it was the Rose Garden then) when the home made runs like these. It can go from  zero to nuclear in a matter of seconds …

4 — That’s the idea #edgeofyourseat …

3 — Gregg Popovich spares no one!

And the results can be, in a word, breathtaking …

They’ve got this basketball thing down, too!

2 — Hard to argue with this at the moment, but we know where to find you when the season is done if your crystal ball has a crack in it  …

1 — Spurs fans don’t need to hang their heads. Your team just ran into a machine. Spurs have been at this, at this level, for nearly tw decades. #SpursWayDon’tPlay


VIDEO: Tim Duncan joins the playoff Fab Five!

OKC’s MVP rains, Westbrook rumbles

By Jeff Caplan,

VIDEO: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant put on a show in Game 2

OKLAHOMA CITY — Ninety minutes before tipoff, a severe storm warning was issued. A minute or so before halftime, the lights at Chesapeake Energy Arena suddenly dimmed. Lightning, said the reports, struck a transformer.

Forget that. As the Los Angeles Clippers can attest, it was pure Thunder.

“They did exactly what Scotty Brooks said they were going to do,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after being beaten 112-101, in Wednesday’s series-evening Game 2. “He said they were going to make us feel them, and I thought they did that.”

Chris Paul and company got a double-barrel dose of MVP Kevin Durant and his right-hand man, Russell Westbrook, a man who many still believe the Thunder would be better off without. Six years together and the notion will not be buried. Perhaps, but not likely, one of the most impressive one-two performances in playoff history will do it: In Game 2, Durant and Westbrook ended up one Durant assist shy from becoming the first tandem to record a triple-double in the same game.

On the night he was presented his MVP trophy in front a roaring crowd of 18,203, a group that included his mom and agent Jay-Z, Durant finished with a game-high 32 points on 10-for-22 shooting, a game-high 12 rebounds and nine assists.

Westbrook combined all of his mesmerizing athletic ability into a storm of hyper-activity, bouncing up for mid-range jumpers, diving on the floor, fearlessly leaping at the rim on drives and relentlessly lunging  for offensive rebounds. He closed out the night with a bit of a gift assist from the official scorekeeper, allowing for a third triple-double of the playoffs: 31 points on 13-for-22 shooting, 10 assists and 10 rebounds — six offensive. He had three steals, too.

Some 30 hours earlier, Durant had moved this entire city to tears with a heartfelt MVP speech. He tearfully singled out every one of his teammates, all of whom joined him on the stage, and purposefully saved praise for his point guard for last:

“A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I’m the first to have your back through it all,”  Durant told Westbrook. “Everybody loves you here. I love you.”

“I love him like a brother,” Westbrook said after the big win. “We’ve been together since I’ve been here. He’s taught me so much as a player and also things off the floor. I’m really grateful for what he said.”

The emotional, high-strung Westbrook will never be the more naturally affable Durant. But there’s a pretty strong record building that Durant might not have been holding up that MVP trophy Wednesday night without his complex yet uniquely talented sidekick. The two 25-year-olds, seeking a second trip to the NBA Finals in three years, keep tuning out the noise to make more of their own.

“We set the bar high for ourselves, we have a high standard we try to reach,” Durant said. “We both work extremely hard. One thing about Russ, he commands so much out of everybody and he brings the level of the team up, just his intensity, just his effort. It is fun to play with a guy like that who loves the game so much, who wants to win so much. It’s just a great chemistry we have and it’s growing every day.”

Paul’s uncanny patience, skill and a career night splashing 3s dominated Game 1. In Game 2, he got hit with early foul trouble, allowing Westbrook to take advantage of the smaller Darren Collison.

Even when Paul was on the floor, Westbrook’s relentlessness at both ends shaped the direction of the game. He took only four 3-point shots — made two — a clear sign that he wasn’t rushing shots early in the clock or pounding the rock and foregoing open teammates.

The Thunder’s ball movement was on point, with Westbrook sneaking passes into Serge Ibaka and setting up Kendrick Perkins (a rare explosion of eight points and nine rebounds) against the Clippers’ foul-maligned center, DeAndre Jordan. Westbrook penetrated and kicked to Thabo Sefolosha for open 3s. Sefolosha finally started to knock those down just as he picked up a lagging defensive effort early on, and was key to the Thunder’s 33-point third quarter, turning a five-point halftime advantage into a a commanding 94-77 lead.

When Westbrook gets his teammates involved, the pressure forced upon defenses can be overwhelming.  When he has the volume cranked and Durant has space to do his thing, it’s lights out more often than not.

Sometimes it’s hard to guess  if a 10-for-31 or a 10-for-16 Westbrook will show up. Those are his shooting numbers from his first two triple-doubles in these first nine playoff games. Wednesday was another efficient and lethal endeavor. It’s also well worth noting that he logged 41 minutes, his fourth 40-plus-minute game of the postseason, making everybody forget about a right knee that was operated on three times from last April through December.

“I know I’m going to get a competitive Russ, and that’s what I look for every game,” Brooks said. “He’s going to give you everything he has. He’s not going to make every shot, but he’s going to compete, and after the game you know that you’ve played against Russell. And I respect that.”

VIDEO: Westbrook’s triple-double in Game 2

Trust Binds Brooks, Young Stars To OKC

VIDEO: Take a closer look at Scott Brooks’ coaching style and strategy

OKLAHOMA CITY — Scott Brooks does a bad job of bragging. As he continued to redirect credit for Oklahoma City’s ongoing success to a meticulous organizational structure and its young stars, the Thunder’s coach, self-deprecating to a fault, spotted Wilson Taylor in the distance.

Taylor is the club’s 30-year-old manager of team operations. The morning shootaround had ended moments earlier and Taylor was busily attending to some normally behind-the-scenes tasks at the other end of the team’s sprawling, immaculately lit training facility eight miles north of downtown. Like Brooks and multiple members of OKC’s staff — general manager Sam Presti, superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, roster rock Nick Collison — Taylor’s been with the team since it opened shop here in the summer of 2008.

“People don’t talk about this, but Sam has done a great job hiring, not necessarily me, but everybody in this building,” Brooks said in an interview last week with “You talk to Wilson right there, he understands that his job is to get our players better. And we all have the same mentality, from our therapists, from our sports scientists, from our trainers, from our equipment managers; we all understand our job is to get our players better, and I take pride in all those guys.”

Still, Brooks, 48, is the coach. And he’s overseeing one of the most unique and potentially historic team-building processes in the modern, free-agent-frenzied NBA. From the start of his career, Brooks has been coaching a rising icon (Durant), a perennial all-NBA player (Westbrook) and a roster that boasts, even after Jeff Green and James Harden‘s departures 20 months apart, seven homegrown players and six who are 25 or younger.

In the last four seasons, the Thunder have challenged the Lakers in the first round, made the West finals in 2011 and the NBA Finals in 2012 before last season’s hope got short-circuited in the West semis after a Westbrook knee injury.

Now here they are again.

The bedrock for all this success lies deeper than shrewd drafting. It lies with the bond Brooks forged early on with his two divergent stars. That put the youthful crew on a developmental fast track and put OKC on the map.

On Sunday, Brooks will coach the Western Conference All-Stars in the 63rd All-Star Game in New Orleans because his Thunder sit atop the heated Western Conference with 42 wins in 54 games. Holler if you called that following Westbrook’s third knee surgery the day after he dropped a Christmas Day triple-double at Madison Square Garden.

The only team in the league to rank in the top five in offensive and defensive rating? The Thunder. They’ve popped East powerhouses Miami and Indiana by a combined 41 points.

This is arguably the deepest OKC squad ever and, assuming Westbrook resumes his season in the coming days, the Thunder are the favorite to win the West. (more…)

So Stevenson Wants To Play With LeBron?


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — It would be the ultimate form of “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Only not as you think.

Remember, it was the pitbull-defense of DeShawn Stevenson who helped the Dallas Mavericks throw a wet blanket over a fourth-quarter-shrinking LeBron James. Those 2011 Mavs still stand as the first and only team to beat LeBron’s Heat in the playoffs.

It was also the last time Stevenson played an integral role in a team’s success. He hit key 3-pointers throughout the title run, but left Dallas a bumbling mess after the championship and headed to the Nets as a free agent before being traded to Atlanta as part of the Joe Johnson deal.

Stevenson, 32, is a free agent again after the Hawks waived him a few days ago, as Stevenson himself let it be known via Twitter:

Stevenson cleared waivers on Sunday and if the above tweet didn’t make it clear where he wants to play a 14th NBA season, in this tweet he actually makes a plea to the team’s best player to get him there:

Hey everybody wants to play with LeBron, including Greg Oden. Shane Battier did. Ray Allen took half the pay to play. Others have said, heck yes, they’d consider the Heat. But Stevenson’s outreach is intriguing (OK, hilarious) on multiple fronts, the least being the Heat’s relative lack of need for him. What’s amazing about the plea to help him get work with the two-time champs is Stevenson’s past loathing of LeBron.

Perhaps you recall this T-shirt Stevenson wore on the Mavs’ way out of Miami the morning after winning the title on the Heat’s home floor?

Of course, Stevenson’s disdain for LeBron goes way back to his days as an antagonist with the Washington Wizards. Back in the good, old days (2008) when the Wizards still actually made the playoffs and when LeBron still played for his hometown Cavaliers.

The best part of this ridiculous little feud between a career role player who started it by calling James “overrated,” is when it really jumped the shark by LeBron saying that responding to a negative comment made by Stevenson would be akin to Jay-Z acknowledging Soulja Boy.

So, of course, Stevenson invited Soulja Boy to Game 3 of their ’08 playoff series, which Soulja accepted. Jay-Z surprisingly countered by quickly recording a little number with lyrics dissing Stevenson and reportedly playing it a hot Washington D.C. night spot.

It is slightly interesting that Stevenson then went on to sign with the Nets, a franchise that boasted a minority owner named Jay-Z until the rapper recently moved into the sports agent arena. So who’s to say that Stevenson now can’t join his former nemesis LeBron in South Beach?

For LeBron, who posterized former Mavs pest Jason Terry after a monster alley-oop slam in Boston last season, surely he’s received hundreds of “LOL” texts on his Galaxy smartphone.

But hey, this is the NBA where amazing happens, like Stevenson wearing 2011 championship bling and not LeBron. And Stevenson should be happy with that because the odds of him joining LeBron in Miami are slightly less than Chris Riley hiring Soulja Boy to play at her husband’s surprise 69th birthday party come March.

24-Second Thoughts On Game 5

24 — Manu Ginobili making Gregg Popovich look like the genius he is by starting him (much the same way Mike Miller made Erik Spoelstra look like a hoops Einstein by starting his veteran shooter in Game 4). Manu’s energy and effort early on will likely set the tone for the Spurs, who need a spark after getting handled the way they did in Game 4. Bald spot or not, Ginobili remains a champion and will show a champion’s heart in this game. Guaranteed.

23 — Tim Duncan and Chris Bosh are absolutely going at it in the post. You have to wonder how this series might have gone for the Heat if Bosh had played like this in Games 1, 2 and or 3 … he doesn’t have to get the better of Duncan. He needs only make Duncan work overtime (they are trying to front him on every offensive possession) for his offensive touches and put the pressure on him to defend Bosh in a similar manner on the other end of the floor.

22 — The Spurs’ balance is ruling the day early. They open a 10-point lead late in the first quarter bolstered by said balance and some great defensive work … make that a 12-point lead after another fantastic stop and scramble that results in a Kawhi Leonard dunk with 60 seconds to play. Their 29-17 lead was really 5-on-3. The only Heat players to score until the final seconds of the quarter were Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Ray Allen scored the Heat’s only other basket

21 — Leonard has been exposed as a no-frills performer, rivaling Duncan for the title of the most boring (in a good way) player in this series. But how anyone can watch this guy work on both ends of the floor and conclude that he’s anything other than a star in the making is beyond me. He’s been spectacular working against LeBron basically the entire series. His 3 from the corner pushes the lead to 32-19 at the end of the first quarter.

20 — Danny Green for 3 … again. Welcome back to The Finals roller coaster folks. This series swings so wildly in one direction or the other on a given night that it’s impossible to get a feel for which team has any real rhythm. I don’t know if that’s a credit to the team that’s hot or an indictment of the team that’s getting torched. Either way, it makes for spectacular viewing. Green has tied Allen’s record for 3-pointers made in The Finals (22), with a shot over Allen, and we’ve got more than six minutes until halftime.

19 — The Spurs have absolutely no one who can cover LeBron in the post consistently, just as the Heat have no one who can cover Duncan in the post consistently. At least no one can single-cover either one of them on a regular basis. If we get another close game it’ll be interesting to see if Popovich or Spoelstra goes there on a final play.

18 — Parker with a sweet drive and finish to wrap up a breakneck first half for both teams. Spurs are shooting a wicked 62 percent in the first half with four of the five starters in double figures already and the fifth (Leonard) has nine. Loving the bounce back on both sides. Pop says it best, “this game is a big boy game.” The fact that both coaches continue to implore their guys to crank up the tempo is perhaps my favorite part of this series. It’s rare that you see teams willing to play to what could be the others strength on purpose. Supreme confidence on both sides. Splendid.

17 — Jay-Z comes up with three minutes of funky stuff, coming July 4, at the end of an instant classic first half that sends Twitter and Facebook into a frenzy.

Morning Shootaround — April 10

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Entering last night’s home game against the Suns, the Rockets needed only to win to clinch their first playoff berth in four seasons. A game against one of the West’s worst teams seemed to make that goal even easier to reach, but Phoenix showed plenty of fight all night and had the game tied with 9.1 seconds to play. The Rockets had their shot to lock up their postseason dream in the hands of All-Star James Harden, who took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that bounced off the rim … but as that was happening, the Suns’ Jermaine O’Neal went up through the net and touched the ball on the rim. The result? A goal-tending call … which meant a Rockets victory … which meant a playoff berth clinched … which, in turn, makes it our one to watch this morning.

News of the morning

Jay-Z looking to become NBA agent | James expects to rest down stretch | Blazers, Hickson ready to part ways | Lowry sounds off on first season in Toronto

Jay-Z looking to sell stake in Nets, become agentThe Nets have perhaps the most famous minority owner in all of the league, rapper Jay-Z. Although the hip-hop mogul owns less than 1 percent of the team, he was reportedly instrumental in the design of the Nets’ uniforms and has been a key figure in the team’s mostly successful first season in Brooklyn. But Jay-Z is never one to rest on his laurels and is thinking of getting into the agent game, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, and may soon sell his stake in the Nets to do so:

Entertainment mogul and rapper Jay-Z has started the process of divesting his small share of ownership with the Brooklyn Nets to extend his Roc Nation Sports representation business into basketball, sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Selling his share of the Nets is a necessary prelude for Jay-Z to obtain his National Basketball Players Association certification as an agent.

NBA rules mandate that no one individual affiliated with a player representation company can have an ownership stake with an NBA team.

Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company has partnered with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to launch a sports representation business that recently secured New York Yankees star Robinson Cano.

The process is expected to be completed in time for Roc Nation to compete for players entering the June NBA draft, but there’s no guarantee of the timing, sources said. Those within Roc Nation and the CAA alliance aren’t “chasing a clock on this,” one source said. “This isn’t about one draft, but taking the long view of the business.”

Rival agents are anxious over the possibilities of Jay-Z on the recruiting trail, believing the lure of his iconic business and cultural standing will have a major impact on attracting top prospects and current league stars.

CAA and Jay-Z are taking time to carefully formalize the arrangement on the basketball end, sources told Y! Sports, and are sensitive to making sure he exits the Nets partnership in a way that is respectful to the organization.

LeBron likely to rest down stretch of seasonFans planning on seeing the Heat — and their vaunted Big Three — between now and the end of the season might want to save their money. Already the Heat have been without Dwyane Wade (knee) for five straight games and Chris Bosh sat out last night’s win over the Bucks as he recovers from the flu. LeBron James did play against Milwaukee and had his usual stellar night, but even he is likely to rest some games as Miami comes to the end of their season, writes David J. Neal of the Miami Herald:

LeBron James said Tuesday morning he would be a scratch for some of the last six. Dwyane Wade will travel to Washington for Wednesday’s game, but is no lock to play. Center Chris Bosh called in sick Tuesday and could miss Wednesday’s game at Washington, too.

“He has flulike symptoms, so unless he gets dramatically better [he won’t travel],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before Tuesday’s game with Milwaukee. “It’s something we talked about. I don’t know if we will bring him around everybody.”

Spoelstra said Wade is day-to-day with his knee and ankle injuries. Wade went through Tuesday’s morning shootaround and worked out later in the day.

James said he’s “getting back to form” and his hamstring has “reacted well the last few days.”

But as for the last six games…

“I want to play, but I’m going to go against myself for the first time in my career,” James said. “OK, probably about the third time in my career. I sat out a few games when we had it locked up in Cleveland as well, to really use those games to get healthy as well.”

James started Tuesday with point guard Mario Chalmers and forwards Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem.

Hickson, Blazers set to move on separatelyBy the time J.J. Hickson arrived in Portland on March 21, 2012, his NBA stock couldn’t have been much lower. The Kings had dealt for him before the 2011-12 season with hopes he’d shore up their front line, but Hickson mostly disappointed in Sacramento. After arriving in Portland, though, Hickson’s numbers rose dramatically as he averaged 15.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg in 19 games with the Blazers. This season, it’s been even more success for the big man, as he’s averaging a double-double (12.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg) for a thin Portland team. Despite the success he’s had in the Rose City, though, it’s unlikely the unrestricted free-agent will be back in the Rose City next season. Jason Quick of The Oregonian has more on Hickson and his future:

  There are no hard feelings and no regrets, but it appears these are the final days that JJ Hickson and the Trail Blazers are together, with both sides acknowledging this week that the writing is on the wall.

The Blazers, who have given up the most interior points in the NBA, want to find a more defensive-oriented center next season, while Hickson – a power forward who bit his tongue and played as an undersized center for the Blazers – wants to start, and is eager to test his market value when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Blazers general manager Neil Olshey this week said he is not ruling out keeping Hickson on the roster, but he doubts the team will have the role, and the money, to pacify Hickson’s desires next season.

“For us to make a jump next season, JJ can’t be our starting center,’’ Olshey said, referencing the Blazers’ 47.4 points allowed in the paint per game, an NBA high. “I’m not saying he can’t be part of the roster. But we need to find a starting-caliber center who protects the rim and gets defensive rebounds at a high rate and that has a presence. And we have to do a better job at defending the paint. So you have to ask: Is it likely there is enough minutes to commit the kind of dollars JJ will command, when clearly there are other positions that need to be upgraded? Probably not.’’

The Blazers figure to enter the offseason with $11.8 million in cap room. A large chunk, if not all of that money, will likely be used to lure a defensive-minded starting center or to absorb the contract of a starting center in a trade. That leaves Hickson on the outside looking in when it comes to meeting his desires to find a team that can both give him chance to start as well as award him a raise from his $4 million salary this season. If he stayed in Portland, Hickson would play behind franchise player LaMarcus Aldridge, who plays close to 40 minutes a game.

Andy Miller, who represents Hickson, said Olshey hasn’t flat-out told him Hickson is not in the Blazers’ plans, but Miller said he is under the impression that the Blazers will move in a different direction than Hickson.

“I think Neil has been fairly candid to me as far as where they stand,’’ Miller said. “I don’t feel confident about the situation. Earlier in the season there may have been mood swings and perspective swings where I felt the tide swinging, to where I felt that this would be more than a rental for both sides. But lately, I haven’t felt that way at all. He definitely hasn’t misled me.’’

In the end, it was probably a win-win scenario for Hickson and the Blazers. Hickson, who was picked up off waivers last March after Sacramento released him, got an opportunity to resurrect his career, while the Blazers found a capable center to buy time for rookie Meyers Leonard to develop.

“I think JJ has had a remarkable season,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “He showed a lot of people what he can do. The most important thing is he sustained a certain level, for the most part of the season, with his energy and his rebounding. The mid-range jump shot, I think, is the biggest area where people questioned whether he could make it, and he turned into a very capable mid-range jump shooter. And he accepted his role. I didn’t call a lot of plays for him and he found his offense through the flow of the game. Although it was frustrating at times for him he accepted it and thrived in it.’’

Hickson said having a chance to start will be at or near the top of his offseason priority list.

“That’s just me being a competitor,’’ Hickson said. “I think everyone in this league wants to start, so of course I want to start, of course I want to play a lot of minutes to help my team as much as possible. That’s definitely one of the factors going into free agency – whether I start or not. Other than that, I’m just looking to win ball games and have fun doing it.’’

Hickson is not sure it would be fun playing center again next season. He said it was difficult enough playing the position this season.

“It was hard to play center. but I took it with a grain of salt and did what I had to do for the team,’’ Hickson said. “I felt like I laid it all out on the line. I definitely was playing out of position, but I sacrificed my position for the coaching staff and my teammates to play a position that my body is not made up for. And we all knew that going into the year I was an undersized (center) and that I would have to play that much harder to make up for what I didn’t have physically.’’

Lowry on first season in Toronto: ‘Very disappointing’The good news for Toronto this season? After last night’s victory in Chicago, the Raptors have won 30 games — their most since the 2009-10 season (also known as Chris Bosh’s final season North of the border). The bad news? The Raptors will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season and will do so despite somewhat overhauling their roster in the offseason by paying big bucks to sign free-agent point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry has had, at best, an up-and-down season in Toronto as injuries and an early-season logjam at point guard with Jose Calderon created an ambiguous-at-times role for Lowry. After the win over the Bulls, Lowry sounded off on his first season in Toronto, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star:

To say it’s been a tumultuous first year in Toronto for Kyle Lowry would be one of the great understatements of the season.

He has lurched from starter to backup to starter, working for another new coach with teammates that changed frequently over the course of the season and it’s no surprise that he answers quickly and emphatically when asked what it’s been like.

“For me personally? Very frustrating, very disappointing.”

And very up and down.

When he first arrived at the cost of a lottery draft pick and a spare part, Lowry was famously “given the keys” to a franchise that fully expected him to lead it to the playoffs.

He was lauded as a “pit bull” of a defender and a leader, a point guard with scoring skills who would give the Raptors a different look they wanted from their own court leader.

It hasn’t actually panned out that way: Lowry’s been criticized by his coach for gambling too much on defence, he was injured and lost his starting job when he got healthy and the team not only floundered terribly at the start of the season, it’s basically limping home in much the same fashion.

Lowry has not by any stretch of the imagination been the sole reason for the team’s struggles but he’s the out-front guy, the major acquisition of last summer, and in that regard it’s been a huge disappointment.

He has not openly clashed with his teammates or his coaches but the overriding sense around the team is that he’s not the happiest of campers.

His own words reflect that when he’s asked what he’s learned in his first season with Toronto.

“Things just have to be different, things aren’t always going to go the way you think they should go or they may not go the correct way to you, but you’ve got to fight through adversity and keep focused on the biggest prize,” he said this week after a practice here.

Lowry’s tenure as the team’s starting point guard was cemented when the Raptors dealt away Jose Calderon weeks before the late-February trade deadline in order to acquire Gay, who arrived trumpeted as the break-down wing the team desperately needed as well as one of Lowry’s best friends in the world. The Lowry-Gay-DeRozan triumvirate hasn’t exactly thrived after getting off to a torrid start.

“It’s been a challenge for Kyle to come in and not only come into a new culture and a new situation but come in with an established veteran like Jose running the show and knowing the offence, knowing the defensive concepts and trying to fit in,” said coach Dwane Casey. “It’s been a challenge

“But he’s a veteran, he’s worked at it, he’s tried to do what we’ve asked him to do, to . . . understand what guys can do and can’t do offensively and definitely defensively.”

Lowry has one year left on a contract that will pay him $6 million next season, although only $1 million of it is guaranteed if the Raptors want to cut him adrift this summer. But having already dealt away Calderon and without significant money to spend in the summer, it seems inconceivable that he won’t be back.

And Lowry, as everyone connected with the team is, remains confident in the pieces that are in place.

“I’m confident in all my teammates, I think they’re all confident in me and I think we’re all confident in each other,” he said. “We’ve got some young pieces, some learning to do to get better in the summer. . . . We had a disappointing year but we’ll bounce back.”

ICYMI of the night: When we see this off-the-glass dunk LeBron James assists himself on, we are left wondering if the Bucks were playing defense or were watching to see what the reigning MVP would do …:

Heat Often Put Themselves On Cruise Control … Just Not Against Brooklyn


BROOKLYN — Poor Nets.

They played the Miami Heat three times this season, and all three times, the defending champs were engaged, focused or motivated. Pick whichever of those three words you prefer to describe the way the Heat have played only some of the time this season.

The Heat completed a three-game season sweep on Wednesday in Brooklyn, blowing out the Nets in the third quarter on their way to a 105-85 victory. They won the three meetings by an average of 21 points and LeBron James has now won 17 straight games against the team owned by his friend Jay-Z.

So the Nets never got to see the Heat team that shows up at the arena and mostly goes through the motions, the team that knows it can flip the switch in the postseason, or the team that seems happy with just a game-and-a-half lead in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks, the team trailing the Heat, saw that Heat team two times already, once in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and once when they were missing Carmelo Anthony. The Spurs, similarly, saw that Heat team when they decided to send four players home before that TNT game back in November. And the Celtics, missing Rajon Rondo, saw that Heat team on Sunday.

Yes, the Heat are in first place. But should they really be 11-10 on the road? Should they really rank 11th in defensive efficiency and allowing 4.3 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season?

The Heat have the best player in the world, two more All-Stars and maybe the best shooter in NBA history. And they’ve been relatively healthy all season. Yet, they’re barely ahead of a New York team that went 8-10 from Dec. 17 to Jan. 26 and has missed countless games to injury.

A championship team on cruise control through the regular season is nothing new. But it’s still OK to be a little disappointed in how the Heat have played this season.

“We understand that 10-10 on the road is not to our potential,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before his team picked up road win No. 11 on Wednesday. “But we’ll have many opportunities to correct that in the second half.”

Sometimes, as it was on Sunday, the problem has been offense.

“Turnovers are the key,” Shane Battier said. “Everyone wants to kill us for rebounding, and our numbers are poor. No question. But that’s not the barometer of our success. The turnover battle is the end-all, be-all for us. When we get extra possessions and we limit giving away extra possessions, we’re going to score. We’re a high-efficiency offensive team.”

Indeed, the Heat are 17-2 when they’ve committed 13 turnovers or less. They had 21 in Boston on Sunday, their second-worst offensive game of the season in terms of efficiency. They were much sharper against the Nets.

But defense has been the larger problem. The Heat ranked fourth defensively last season and are 11th this year. Only four teams have regressed more defensively.

The Heat are at their best when they’re active and aggressive defensively, using their speed and athleticism to its fullest. And maybe it’s just not possible to play elite defense like that for 82 games. But a little more defensive effort could give them the cushion they need in case they do suffer an injury or two in February or March.

“It just required concentration, and our concentration has not been great, especially on the road,” Battier said. “Everyone knows the system here. It’s not a matter of ignorance. It’s a matter of effort and concentration. When we’re dialed in and supply that concentration, we’re a pretty darn good defensive team. When we don’t, we’re pretty porous.”

On Wednesday, the Heat proved that, when they’re “dialed in,” they’re in a class above the Nets, who had the league’s No. 1 offense in January before they were held under a point per possession by the champs.

“I think we were really aggressive against these guys all three times, both offensively and defensively,” Battier said. “It was good to see tonight on the road. We haven’t been this aggressive on the road in a while. We really attacked them and tried to take them out of their sets.”

On Friday, the Heat visit the Pacers, the team that held them to a season-low 77 points in Indiana in early January. It’s a second-straight opportunity to take one of the East’s season-tier teams and knock them down a peg. So it will be interesting to see which Heat team shows up.

For the Nets, no matter how much success they’ve had under P.J. Carlesimo and no matter what they do over their last 36 games, they’ll know that they haven’t been able to hang with the champs. Knowing that there’s no avoiding the Heat in the playoffs, they should have treated this like their most important game of the season. Maybe they did, and maybe they just caught the Heat on the wrong day … again.

“In any sport, you measure yourself up against the champions, and they are the champions,” Gerald Wallace told Newsday. “They’ve embarrassed us all three times, so what does that say for us as a team trying to be a championship team?”

Jay-Z Set To Christen Barclays Center

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Barclays Center officially opened last Friday. The new 40/40 Club inside the arena opened with a red-carpet event on Thursday. The Nets will play their first preseason game in their new building on Oct. 15 and start the regular season on Nov. 1 against the Knicks.

But for many in Brooklyn and all around the New York metroplolitan area, tonight is the night.

Jay-Z, the Nets’ minority owner and one of the faces of the Barclays Center, will christen his new home with the first of eight concerts (in nine days) on Friday.

Nets players will be in attendance and the word is that their new black and white uniforms will be officially introduced on stage. (We’ll just forget that they’ve already been leaked by adidas employees and video game demos). (more…)

‘Melo-drama For Christmas

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This could be Carmelo Anthony‘s last Christmas in Denver.

That means no holiday more rap videos with Rocky (the Nuggets’ mascot) and The Birdman Chris Andersen. But surely Nets part-owner Jay-Z would have time to hit the studio with the organization’s prized acquisition.

And if all of the rumblings ring true, it is the Nets — not the Knicks — that are poised to land Anthony. It’s no longer a matter of if, according to multiple sources, but when.

The Magic, Suns and Wizards have already shown that cooking up and consummating a multi-team, mega-trade can be done in a matter of days if all parties are willing to assume the risks. So if it is to be the Nets, we need someone to get the ball rolling here.

HT fave and Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski summed up current state of affairs surrounding Anthony, the Nuggets and the Nets this way:

Denver’s and New Jersey’s trade partners are still unclear, but league executives said the Nets and Nuggets are tweaking several possible proposals with multiple teams. For now, New Jersey general manager Billy King is preparing to send rookie forward Derrick Favors, the expiring contract of Troy Murphy, two or three future first-round draft picks and $3 million to Denver for minimally Anthony and (Al) Harrington. More Nuggets and Nets would likely be on the move, too.

Center Brook Lopez is the only Nets player not involved in any of the proposals, sources said.

The Nuggets’ sudden urgency to move the unhappy Anthony is the reason more teams have been calling lately, including two contenders who are willing to chase a championship with Anthony as a rental player, a league source said. The Nuggets could do those deals without consulting Anthony, because those teams aren’t requiring a contract extension with Anthony to make the trade. (more…)