Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Caplan’

Lawson: ‘People are probably going to sleep on us’

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ty Lawson made his presence felt in Denver’s best plays last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – NBA schedules haven’t been out long, but Ty Lawson has already been studying up on the Denver Nuggets’ first month.

“We’ve got the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, We got OKC twice,” Lawson said. “Our first month is crazy so I was like, ‘coach, we’ve both got to be ready coming in, we’ve got to all be focused when we get in there [to training camp].”

Lawson didn’t mention two games against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first month and the Phoenix Suns in the powerful Western Conference.

“I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent,” Lawson said.

Oh yeah, add a pair against the Kings in the opening month, too.

Throw in a game against the healthy New Orleans Pelicans and that’s 12 of the Nuggets’ first 16 games.

“When it first came out,” Lawson said of the schedule, “I checked and was like, ‘man!’

The Nuggets’ explosive point guard has been working hard during the offseason in Los Angeles. He will soon make his way back to Denver and begin working out with teammates as the countdown to the start of training camp officially begins. This particularly excites the ever-improving Lawson, one of the more under-talked-about point guards in a conference overflowing with All-Star candidates at the position, because it’s been a long time since he’s played with a few of them.

Expected to be back in business is forward Danilo Gallinari, a career 41.9 percent 3-point shooter who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013. So is 7-foot center JaVale McGee, whose bid to mature his way off the Shaqtin-a-Fool all-time list was snubbed after five games due to a stress fracture in his left leg. So is Nate Robinson (missed 38 games). And Wilson Chandler (missed 20 games). And J.J. Hickson (missed 13 games). So is Lawson himself, who missed 20 games due to injury in last year’s 36-46 season, the first under coach Brian Shaw.

At the tail end of last season, the 5-foot-11 Lawson, who registered career-highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8) and minutes (35.8), thought about all the injuries, all the adversity (including but not limited to Andre Miller) and just how far the team had come despite the sub-.500 record. He even suggested the Nuggets could possibly be a top-four team next season.

“People,” Lawson said, “are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year.”

Lawson, heading into his sixth season in Denver, spoke to NBA.com earlier this week from Los Angeles. He believes the Nuggets are deep at every position, are determined to become a good defensive team and he still believes they can sneak up on last season’s playoff teams.

NBA.com: You and Kenneth Faried both had strong seasons in Shaw’s first year despite all the injuries. Was it important for you two to set the tone in a transition year?

Lawson: I think so. We found ourselves, especially Kenneth. He found out he can score in the post, run the floor and also his decision-making after getting the rebound and taking it downcourt and able to make the right pass, the right decision. I think it was a positive on both ends and I think it’s going to help for this year coming up.

NBA.com: As a team leader, do you keep up with your teammates during the offseason?

Lawson: Definitely. JaVale’s in L.A., so I see him and we talk all the time. I stay in touch basically with everybody, making sure everybody is getting their work in and that they’re ready for this year because we can make a lot noise.

NBA.com: Speaking of McGee, he signed the big contract, but his season ended five games into it due to injury. Even then he had not earned a significant role under Shaw and he has yet to be able to rid himself of the perception of having a low basketball IQ. Do you really believe he can begin to elevate his game and be a significant contributor?

Lawson: I can see that he’s taking a more serious approach. When he was at Washington he was just about, ‘OK, I’m here, I’m 7-foot, I’m playing.’ But now he’s really actually trying to get better. You can see that. When he’s working out and he misses a jump hook or something he actually gets mad.

NBA.com: With so many injuries last season, the team never found a rhythm. How do you see the roster shaping up assuming good health all around?

Lawson: I think at every position we’re pretty deep. At center, we’ve got JaVale and Timofey Mozgov, who started playing well throughout the last year. We’re so deep, I think that’s a gift and a curse. Everybody is going to want to play. I already told B-Shaw, I was like, ‘yeah, it’s going to be a problem that you’re going to have, divvying up minutes and making sure everybody’s still happy.’ That’s a gift because say somebody goes down, God forbid, we’ll still have somebody step right in. Also, there’s so many different lineups we can have. We can go small, go big, we’re so versatile.

NBA.com: Everybody knew the team’s identity under George Karl. After one season under Shaw, again, considering all the injuries, has the team taken on a clear-cut identity?

Lawson: This year it’s going to be more of a defensive mindset. I already know we can score, everybody knows we can score with the best of them. But my mindset going into training camp is everybody buying into the defensive end. We’ve got to make stops. I feel like if we can do that, and score in the half court, we’ll be one of the top teams out there.

NBA.com: You already mentioned how tough the schedule is the opening month. Overall, how do you see the West shaping up?

Lawson: The West is going to be crazy. Everybody got better. Houston may have slipped a little bit, but I feel like you’ve got to be ready to go every night against the West. There’s not going to be any slouch teams. I even feel like Sacramento is going to be decent. You’ve got to be ready to play in the West, there’s not going to be any easy games like last year where you knew you were going to win that game. It’s not going to be that easy, any team can beat you in the West.

NBA.com: Some feared you might not be as effective in Shaw’s more halfcourt-focused offense as opposed to Karl’s full-throttle approach. You still managed to thrive. Where do you want to take your game next season?

Lawson: I’m more confident in my jump shot, I think I shoot well. Sometimes if I miss a couple, my confidence goes away. So I watch a lot of tape of shooters. I feel like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard just have no conscience. They miss a couple, they know the third or fourth one’s going in. That’s probably the main thing. And probably my stamina for the defensive end; picking up the point guard further up instead of letting them come down and set their offense up so close to the 3-point line. If I push them back, it pushes the offense back and I think it’s harder for them to score, so that’s the main thing I’ve been working on.

Blogtable: Heat hate for LBJ’s new team?

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


BLOGTABLE: Cavs the new Heat? | Whither the Warriors? | Using the FIBA springboard



VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses the impact Kevin Love will have with the Cavs

> Do you feel the same way about this latest LeBron super team as you did when he formed his last one? Why or why not? (H/T to Ethan Skolnick at B/R)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Yeah, it’s exactly the same. Except, y’know, completely different. From the moment of The Decision, what LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did was more irritating and weenie. Three in-their-prime franchise players were ganging up on the league, preferring the shortcut of buddy ball when they should have been butting heads as rivals. Wade already had a ring, so he seemed greedy. Bosh was gladly accepting a diminished role, so he seemed needy. And James dumped his “hometown” team and their shared quest like some family man wigging out for a Corvette and a blonde. Had James chased a super team this time to L.A. or New York, that might have felt more like 2010 redux. But it’s Cleveland — Cleveland — the puppy-in-a-cage-with-Sarah-McLachlan-music of pro sports cities. James is different, too, a winner who can mentor and boost Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to their first postseason appearances. So no, I don’t feel about this the way I did about the Heat four years ago. Sounds to me like only cranky Miami partisans would.

This is the first of many magazine covers for the Miami Heat's Big 3!

Is the Cavs’ new Big 3 really any different than the Heat’s old one?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes, I feel all tingly, like soda bubbles going up my nose. Let’s face it. LeBron James could join Pink Floyd and play on the Dark Side of the Moon and everything he does/doesn’t do will draw gross overreaction in the age of Twitter. Of course, a large part of what the 2010-11 Heat perceived as unfair demands on them was self-inflicted. “Not one, not two, not three…” Dwayne Wade had won a championship and been MVP of The Finals. Chris Bosh was already a five-time All-Star. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have never played a single playoff game. LeBron, it seems, has learned his lesson and is preaching patience. So should we. But we won’t.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This is different. There was so much anger toward LeBron over the way he left Cleveland, plus added outrage over these three superstars having planned their South Beach union — Magic Johnson never would have signed on with Larry Bird, by gosh! — that these guys became villains. People wanted to see them lose and watched hoping beyond hope that they would. This time, there’s no hate. LeBron went home to make amends for goodness sake. There’s no collusion. Name one reporter who ever put the names LeBron James and Kevin Love together prior to LeBron announcing his decision to go back to Cleveland. Their union is in the name of fortunate timing. But to the original point, the level of contempt toward LeBron fueled that thing and slowly he was able to reverse that by winning. The new Cavs could become like the old Lakers or Bulls — universally cheered (except by fans in direct rival cities). The “sports hate” element can add some real spice, but there’s just none of it this time around.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Probably better. This doesn’t feel like the same circus as when LeBron went to Miami. There will be a white-hot spotlight and there will be issues along the way, but James is more mature now. He is home. Settled. When those issues come up, it won’t have that “the world is ending” feel.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. Even though there was clearly a handshake deal on the Kevin Love trade before LeBron announced that he was “coming home,” this still feels like the “coming home” part was more important than constructing a super team right away. We’ll still evaluate these Cavs like any championship contender and point out their shortcomings when they’re not playing like the best team in the league, but the motivation behind their construction, at least from my perspective, feels different than that of the Heat in 2010. Bringing one championship to Cleveland would mean more for LeBron than bringing two or three more to Miami.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Same way. Like it or not LeBron, this is your life. Wherever you go the enormous expectations are sure to follow. I would argue that the 2010-11 Miami Heat were much better equipped to handle the rigors of the championship chase than a Cleveland Cavaliers team with two stars (Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving) who have never experienced the intense heat that is playoff pressure. I wasn’t convinced the Heat would measure up to the whole “not one, not two, not three” craziness.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogLeBron did a pretty good job, right from the start, of tamping down expectations. He obviously learned from the “Not one, not two…” speech in Miami, which never went away. So in that Sports Illustrated article he set the tone by noting it would take some time, that it wouldn’t happen right away. It reminds me of when college football coaches talk to the media the week before the game, and no matter who they’re playing, whether it’s an SEC powerhouse like UGA or the Sisters of the Poor, the coach always praises the opponent in an over-the-top manner, just to give them an out in case they lose. It was a nice try by ‘Bron, but I ain’t buying it. The Cavs and the Bulls are the class of the East. So yeah, expectations should be high for Cleveland.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Not quite, because they don’t have Dwyane Wade. Don’t get me wrong, this Cavs team looks potent and they can certainly win it all this season but I don’t think they’re going to be as good defensively as the Heat were in their strongest years. History tells us that you need to be a top-10 team defensively to make it to the Finals. For the Cavs to challenge the top 10, they need Varejao there when it matters most. If he goes down, who’s their backup center that offers rim protection? The easy argument here is to say that the Heat didn’t have a rim-protecting center either and that is true, but can Kevin Love sacrifice some of his offense in order to play steady defense like Chris Bosh did? It remains to be seen. Also, what LeBron James will we see? He tailed off defensively last season because he had to carry the scoring load without Wade at his best. LeBron won’t have to do as much offensively now he has Kyrie Irving and Love alongside him. If this means that LeBron goes back to his DPOTY type form then this team will be devastating.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: When LeBron took his talents to South Beach, Miami instantly became the favorite for the ring. When he decided to come home, he didn’t turn Cleveland into the favorite. The Cavs are for sure the best in the East with their own Big Three, but I don’t think they’re a lock for the ring as those 2010 Heat were. Even if LeBron-Love-Irving make a scary trio. Maybe it’s the Heat experience talking: 4 straight Finals, 2 rings. Lon-term, though, I think the Cavs’ Big Three can do better.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: It’s not quite the same. But, to be honest neither is LeBron. Wade and Bosh were more experienced than Love and Irving. They had proven that they can lead their teams to a winning basketball type of play. Love and Irving don’t have playoff experience, although they don’t lack talent or potential. They have the All-Star quality and if we take into consideration the fact that LeBron of 2014 is better than the LeBron of 2010, I am pretty sure that the Cavaliers will be the favorite team to win East.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: It’s more complicated. On the one hand you can say that LeBron has learned from his mistakes, from The Decision and so on. As fans, you revel in the homecoming story. But on the other hand it would be a better feel-good story, if he would have tried it with the young core, with Wiggins and Bennett. Just build up the team from the button as he wrote in his SI letter.

Blogtable: Keeping Klay … now what?

Klay Thompson averaged 18.4 points a game for the Warriors last season. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Klay Thompson averaged 18.4 ppg for the Warriors last season. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

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


BLOGTABLE: Cavs the new Heat? | Whither the Warriors? | Using the FIBA springboard


> Golden State wouldn’t part with Klay Thompson to get Kevin Love. Where does that leave the Warriors? Are they better off or worse off than they were at summer’s start?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If you aren’t improving, you’re getting worse. That seems a fair assessment of the Western Conference in particular, where the Warriors — last year’s preseason darlings for many — won’t crack the top 3 for most prognosticators this fall. The Klay Thompson man-crush of Golden State’s front office escapes me, beyond the basketball basics of needing somebody in a Steph Curry backcourt who can guard people. There’s no assurance Steve Kerr as coach will be an upgrade over Mark Jackson (though Kerr’s staff surely will stir up less drama). Improvement from within? Andrew Bogut stays healthy? Swell. But that’s not enough to vault past the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers, or maybe even the Mavericks, Grizzlies and Trail Blazers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt leaves the Warriors toweling down after a spin class, because they haven’t moved an inch. They’re right where last saw them in the spring, stuck in the middle of the deep Western Conference behind the upper crust Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and maybe Grizzlies, naively trying to convince themselves they’re contenders.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Keep preaching about Klay Thompson’s defense and how crucial it is as long as Steph Curry is the team’s point guard, but I would have dealt Thompson (and David Lee, a player I’ve long admired) for Love without losing sleep. Love turns only 26 prior to the season and he’s simply more versatile than Thompson and Lee put together. He does things no other player does. End of story.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAnswer C: the same. Shaun Livingston will be a nice pickup if he is healthy enough to play 65-70 games and a full postseason, and the projected return of Festus Ezeli after knee surgery will be a much-needed boost at center if he can offer solid backup minutes. The Thompson/Love decision will obviously be hanging over the Warriors, with how Thompson plays and with how David Lee plays. But it still will not be a surprise if Golden State is solidly in the pack of the second tier in the West with the Trail Blazers, Rockets, Grizzlies and Mavericks. And if there is a worry about an offseason decision, it should be about the coaching change, not the players. Mark Jackson connected with the roster and delivered results. Steve Kerr will be a rookie on the sidelines.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The only thing that has changed the Warriors’ outlook is the moves of other teams (Dallas and Houston in particular) around them in the West hierarchy. Golden State still has the ability to rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. They ranked third defensively last season and still have Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson. The key will be for Steve Kerr to make better use of the bench and make them more potent offensively. With all their talent, the potential is there. Given the uncertainty of a new coach, it’s impossible to rank the Warriors ahead of the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers. But they shouldn’t be dismissed as a possible conference finalist either.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Warriors occupy the same place in the Western Conference standings with or without Love: they are still a few pieces away from the true contender status that I thought they were ready for last season. Toss in a new coach and new system, and they could even take a step back in the 2014-15 season. Klay Thompson is not the man responsible for what happens to the Warriors next season, at least not the only man. His Splash Brothers partner Steph Curry will be the catalyst for the Warriors. Thompson, as good as he has been and will continue to be, should not have to pay that bill.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Can I vote for the the same? I don’t get not giving up Thompson for Love. Thompson is a really good player, one of the best off guards in the NBA, but Kevin Love is one of the 10 best players in the NBA, and I think if you have a chance to make that move, you make it. I’m just not really sure where the Warriors can look to improve this season. Defensively they were quietly pretty good last season, and we know offensively that they’re dynamic. Love would have given them a rebounding presence and helped stretch the floor even more. Last season they won 51 games in a difficult Western Conference. Steve Kerr will have his hands full in his first year trying to build upon that.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I think they’re the same. The West isn’t changed a lot this summer and there are at least three teams, Spurs, Thunder and Clippers, better than the Warriors. Golden State can count on Steve Kerr’s great basketball mind, even if he’s a coach with no experience, and I’m sure going to the World Cup with Team USA is going to help a lot Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. I think the Warriors are intriguing, but not a Western Conference powerhouse

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: It actually depends on how new coach Steve Kerr will implement his system with the tools that the Warriors have in their disposal. But one of the underrated things that goes unnoticed in the NBA most of the time is — continuity. The Spurs have shown throughout the years that their chemistry will always make them contenders and with Golden State’s talented line-up intact their is no way for them to go but up.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: I believe that they are better off in the West. In my opinion a trade Thompson/Lee for Martin/Love or something near it would have been no big upgrade. Thompson has still plenty of upside in his game and with new coach Steve Kerr on his side, he will develop fast. With Kerr on the sideline the team will play more team-basketball and less isolation. That will help Barnes a lot and Iguodala will improve, too.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: The Warriors are going to be exactly as they were when the summer began. Their guards will improve a little (Curry and Thompson) and their big men will probably regress a bit (Bogut and Lee). In the tough West, only a big splash can make a real difference in the standings. Eventually, the Warriors’ fate will be decided by their supporting cast and their intangibles. Will Harrison Barnes bounce back from last year’s dip and finally have his much-awaited breakout year? How is Steve Kerr going to be as a coach? Even in the best-case scenario, I don’t see Golden State finishing any higher than fifth in the West.

Blogtable: The World Cup carryover

Anthony Davis has become the defensive backbone of Team USA. (Jesse D Garrabrant/NBAE)

Anthony Davis has become the defensive backbone of Team USA. (Jesse D Garrabrant/NBAE)

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


BLOGTABLE: Cavs the new Heat? | Whither the Warriors? | Using the FIBA springboard


> Which NBA player in the FIBA Basketball World Cup stands to gain the most, in terms of improving his play and carrying it over to the NBA?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAnthony Davis opened eyes, dropped jaws and sent a shiver through New Orleans’ 2014-15 opponents even before the medal round began. If the league had an official preseason all-NBA team, the New Orleans big man would be on it. I get the same vibe watching him now that I got up-close 17 years or so ago as Kevin Garnett grew into his body and his skills. Of his Team USA mates, Kyrie Irving should benefit greatly from this experience, both on the court and mentally handling new expectations and responsibilities. But people will remember this 2014 FIBA World Cup for Davis’ emergence as a monster in full.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Getting the playing time and on-court experience in game situations that really mean something could be just what the doctor and the rehab therapist and the Bulls coaching staff and front office ordered for Derrick Rose. Physical and mental hurdles should be in his rearview mirror by the time he hits training camp.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This might be unanimous: DeMarcus Cousins. However, with him, it’s not so much carrying over improved play, it’s carrying over an eye-opening experience of how professionals work, play, interact and lead.

Kenneth Faried (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Kenneth Faried (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves/Spain. Rubio has made improving his shooting a focus of the offseason, with good reason, and the World Cup will be the first progress report. The tournament isn’t a full schedule of NBA-level competition, but the games will matter and therefore a better test than the exhibition slate with the Wolves. A good showing from the perimeter in his native Spain will be a confidence boost and build momentum heading back to Minnesota.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Derrick Rose, of course. Playing 20 minutes a game for the USA is a great way for Rose to knock off the rust, regain his feel for the game, and get his body used to playing full speed basketball again. Somebody said the following in the last week and I’d love to credit them, but I forget who it was: The best way to prepare for basketball is to play basketball. The next three weeks could be huge for Rose, the Bulls, and how successful their 2014-15 season will be. Beyond Rose, the World Cup could help some incoming rookiesBojan Bogdanovic, Dante Exum and Kostas Papanikolaou to name a few — hit the ground running when training camp opens.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Great question. I don’t think there is any doubt that Anthony Davis is the player poised for the quantum leap from where he was at the start of the 2014-15 season to where he is now. Davis has a chance to make the transition from All-Star to game-changing superstar with the right kind of results in Spain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Kenneth Faried. He finished his rookie year with a flourish, making first-team All-Rookie. But since then, as the Nuggets have rebuilt, Faried’s star has lost a little of its shine, and last year his name started to bubble up in trade talks. But as a member of USA Basketball, Faried seems to have gotten a little of his swagger back. He went from being a bubble invite to the USA camp to earning a starting spot on the squad. When I asked him on Friday night if he felt like he belonged, he quickly shot back, “Ain’t no ‘feel like.’ I know I belong.”

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: It might be obvious to mention Derrick Rose, given what he’s coming back from, or maybe Klay Thompson, who will be having contract negotiations in the not too distant future but I’ve decided to go out of left field a little bit here. I’m also going specific to my region in selecting Aron Baynes. He has been one of the best-performing Boomers in their nine warm-up matches across Europe heading into the FIBA World Cup. He’s been a double-double machine and is a guaranteed starter for the Aussies. The reason I believe he has a lot to gain is because this is his opportunity to show the world what he can do. He’s a role player on the best team in the NBA and he hasn’t established himself as a rotation NBA player yet. His contract situation is an interesting one because he is a restricted free agent and the Spurs have early Bird rights on him and have tendered a qualifying offer worth $1.1 million. Will he take that and come back for an uncertain extra year or could another team swoop and offer a more lucrative deal? Maybe a good showing at the FIBA World Cup could entice someone.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Andray Blatche of the Philippines. I might get some flak for choosing him but you have to hear me out. Team USA will be covered as a whole, although Derrick Rose will garner more attention because of his long layoff. The various NBA players littered among the other countries are already well established. Meanwhile in the Philippines, if Blatche plays well and somehow leads Gilas Pilipians to the second round, he will develop a cult-like following. Still unsigned, if he exemplifies his leadership and shows his adjustment to playing with a new team in a different system he will be an attractive free agent player after the World Cup.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Kostas Papanikolaou, who else? He is a rookie for the Houston fans and an unfamiliar face for international basketball. Over the past years he has grown a lot and few 24 years-old players have added in their resume two Euroleague titles. During the back-to-back European titles of Olympiakos he played a significant role as starting small forward, with his streaky shooting, his explosiveness to the rim and his defensive mindset. Last year he grew up as a more versatile offensive player in Barcelona and now in his last few days before the NBA chapter of his career comes along, he demonstrated solid leadership during Greece’s friendly games. He was the top scorer playing at the “3” alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and managed to check the “constistency” box next to his scouting report.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: Although all eyes will be on Anthony Davis — who is sure to be the best player for the USA — and Derrick Rose, who’ll be making a long-awaited return, I think that the real surprise gem of the FIBA World Cup will be … Kenneth Faried! Through all of Team USA’s practice warm-up games so far, Faried has been the x-factor, and the international style of play seems to suit his game perfectly. Without Durant on the USA side, Faried also seems to have secured a starting spot in the American frontcourt. Despite his talent, Faried has hardly had any experience at higher level competitions so far in his young career. Playing alongside some of the best players and for top coaches like Coach K and Thibodeau will sure give Faried the confidence and experience he needs to become a leader for the Nuggets when he returns.

Thomas seeks relevancy with Suns

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Suns.com talks with Isaiah Thomas about his move to Phoenix

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – About one month into the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, a new basketball movie trailer burned up the Internet. A documentary, it chronicled mostly unknown 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas‘ improbable path from a junior in college all the way to the NBA.

The title of the of the film was “Mr. Irrelevant,” the name bestowed upon the last pick of the NFL Draft. Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash., product and a terrific scoring guard for the Washington Huskies, was the last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. No. 60. The Sacramento Kings made him “Mr. Irrelevant.”

Over three seasons, Sacramento never seemed to believe he could be much more, even as Thomas’ production and tenacity became impossible to ignore — and to keep out of the starting lineup. As a rookie he badly outplayed the Kings’ No. 10 overall pick, Jimmer Fredette.

In 2012-13, the Kings tried to unseat Thomas with Aaron Brooks and Toney Douglas, not exactly Allen Iverson and Damon Stoudemire, but still, Thomas refused to be overtaken. Last summer, Sacramento traded for 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez and immediately penciled him into the starting lineup. In December, Vasquez, a solid player to be sure, was traded to Toronto. Thomas, a pound-the-rock, take-you-off-the-dribble, finish-at-the-rim point guard went on to average 21.1 ppg and 6.5 apg (plus a career-high 1.3 steals), improving in both categories for a third consecutive season.

It is one of the greatest statistical seasons ever compiled by a player under 6-foot. His PER (player efficiency rating) checked in at 20.5, well above the league average (15.0) and again was one of the all-time best marks for a player of his stature.

Yet the Kings, even after revamping the front office, never viewed Thomas through the same prism as he viewed himself: as a 5-foot-9 playmaker, scorer, starter and leader. Sacramento, seemingly suggesting it wanted more of a facilitator at the point, signed free-agent journeyman Darren Collison to a three-year, $16 million deal on July 10. It was a hefty raise for Collison, a backup last season with the Clippers, but much less than what Thomas, 25, felt he deserved in line with his production.

“They went after Darren Collison, which they felt was a better feel for whatever direction they’re going in,” Thomas said. “I just felt like I needed to go somewhere where I was wanted and Phoenix was a place where they wanted me for who I was. They wanted me for being 5-9. They wanted me for being a scoring point guard.”

Thirteen days after signing Collison, the Kings signed Thomas to a four-year, $27-million contract and traded him to the Suns.

“I’m not surprised just because every year it was somebody new,” Thomas said. “Every year I felt like I proved to them that I was a capable starter and I proved to them I was a pretty good basketball player. More than anything I was consistent, but I wasn’t surprised.”

Thomas spoke to NBA.com about his opportunity for relevancy in Phoenix, an upstart last season that won 48 games and missed the playoffs by one game in coach Jeff Hornacek‘s first season.

NBA.com: Do you think the Kings viewed you as irrelevant, in the sense that you don’t fit into a tidy description of a point guard and therefore you never could be their answer at the position?

Thomas: I guess. I guess because I’m 5-9 and I’m not the prototypical point guard they just kept trying to find … which every year I would beat out the guy. Like I tell people, it’s a business and I know where they’re coming from, but three years in a row it happened. I mean, it’s definitely not going to happen a fourth year so I was kind of fed up with that and that’s why I wanted a little change. I wanted to be somewhere where I was wanted for, like I said, being who I am, being 5-9 and being a scoring guard.

NBA.com: To be clear, you never asked to be traded did you?

Thomas: No, I didn’t. I never asked. I was always professional about every situation. I always came in with my hard hat on willing to do whatever is best for the team. When they signed Darren Collison, I knew I was going in a different direction. (more…)

Shed no tears for Andrew Wiggins

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wolves head coach Flip Saunders talks about Andrew Wiggins’ potential

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Don’t cry for Andrew Wiggins.

That’s the message delivered by the last two men who coached the No. 1 Draft pick. When the Cleveland Cavaliers finally shipped Wiggins — shunned by LeBron James since the day the King announced his return to Cleveland six weeks ago — to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love on Saturday, he joined Chris Webber (1993) as the only No. 1 picks since the NBA-ABA merger to be traded before ever playing a game for the team that drafted them.

A sad end to a long, strange summer for Wiggins? More like an eagerly anticipated beginning, says Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ high school coach at Huntington Prep in West Virginia.

“Andrew is such a good kid; he’s just a classy kid, very humble, very respectful,” Fulford, now an assistant at Missouri, told NBA.com this week. “I think this whole process with the trade rumors, he could care less. That kid just wants to play basketball. The fact that LeBron never reached out to him, Andrew could care less what LeBron James thinks of him.”

Throughout this saga in which the Cavs selected the Toronto-born Wiggins No. 1 and watched him flash his promising skills during the Las Vegas Summer League all the while trade rumors swirled and LeBron sweet-talked Love, Wiggins, 19, handled the enormity of the situation with graceful maturity always accompanied by a warm, playful smile.

It didn’t surprise Fulford, who saw such characteristics from the time Wiggins arrived at Huntington Prep to enormous fanfare to the day he left for Kansas as a McDonald’s All-American. His departure included a heartfelt thank-you note to the people of the Huntington community published in the local newspaper.

“You have to understand, this kid, the media circus was around from the beginning when he got here in August of his junior year in high school until he left Huntington in May of his senior year after graduation,” Fulford said. “It was just a circus. I think it prepared him for what was going to happen at Kansas and even now he’s used to it, and I think he’s handled it really well. With the parents that he has, both have been professional athletes, I think it helped that he’s been kind of groomed in that manner.”

All Wiggins wanted, he reiterated during several interviews over the last month, was a place to call home, a place where he feels wanted. And so Wiggins will not flank the game’s greatest player on an instant contender in Cleveland, but instead will embrace replacing the fed-up Love as the next great hope for the long-languishing Wolves.

Fulford keeps in relatively close contact with the long-limbed, 6-foot-8 phenom, typically through text messages. The message he’s received loud and clear is that Wiggins is excited to make his own name for a franchise in need of a leader.

“Andrew’s going to be a superstar,” Fulford said. “This gives him a platform from Day 1 to kind of be the guy, and he’s ready for that.”

Earlier this month, Wiggins’ former coach at Kansas, Bill Self, said nearly the same after telling reporters that Wiggins had told him he hoped Cleveland would trade him.

“Even though, in a weird way, everybody would love the opportunity to play with LeBron because you’re guaranteed winning, for the longevity of his career, he needs to develop that mindset to be the guy for him to be great,” Self told reporters. “And I think being in Minnesota will help him do that.”

For glum Wolves fans, the Love fiasco has the potential to yield a happy ending after all. The greatest fear for an organization is it will never come close to recouping equal talent when forced to trade a disgruntled All-Star. Wolves president and coach Flip Saunders has reaped a haul as strong as anyone could expect.

In the three-team trade, Wiggins heads to Minnesota with the Cavs’ 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and Philadelphia’s consummate pro, Thaddeus Young, 26, a solid immediate replacement for Love at power forward.

They’ll join a cast that includes 23-year-old, potential All-Star point guard Ricky Rubio, veteran guards Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea, emerging center Nikola Pekovic, small forwards Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger, Wiggins’ fellow Huntington Prep alum and quick-learning 2013 first-round pick Gorgui Dieng, and high-flying ’14 first-round pick Zach LaVine.

The fit in Saunders’ up-tempo plans should suit the slashing Wiggins well. Fulford said Kansas’ high-low attack that included big man and No. 3 pick Joel Embiid didn’t always afford Wiggins the driving lanes he craves, turning him into a jump-shooter.

“He’s going to have more space to work with,” Fulford said. “And he’s extremely … I won’t say he’s impossible to guard in space, but he’s close to it.”

Love’s Wolves never made the playoffs, a six-year span that included exceptionally disappointing endings to the last two seasons. Nobody should expect a rapid ascension this season in the competitive West as the Wolves again transition, but young and athletic, Wiggins’ new team is stocked with upside and should be an exciting squad to watch grow.

“I don’t think there’s any question he’ll have a great rookie season. He’s groomed for this,” Fulford said. “In college he got better the year he was there, but he’ll be a better NBA player than he was a college player, and he was an All-American at Kansas, so sky’s the limit for him.

“It’s one of those things, him being on a team where it’s kind of really going to be his, I think, is a good thing for him.”

So shed no tears for Andrew Wiggins. Or the Wolves.

In West, who slides out and sneaks in?


VIDEO: What are the Spurs’ chances of repeating next season?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In our Wednesday Blogtable, the NBA.com staff agreed — with the lone exception of esteemed colleague Aldo Avinante in the Philippines office — that the Los Angeles Lakers, even with the return of a bullish Kobe Bryant, will not make the playoffs.

This seemed like a pretty easy call. Carlos Boozer and Swaggy P. just don’t scream Showtime. Meanwhile, the Western Conference threatens to be more ferocious this season than last.

But what if the question had asked if the Phoenix Suns will make the playoffs? Or if the New Orleans Pelicans with ascending star Anthony Davis can break through? Or if a Ricky Rubio-Andrew Wiggins combo can end the Minnesota Timberwolves’ long postseason drought? Or if the don’t-sleep-on-the-Denver-Nuggets, with Danilo GallinariJaVale McGee (don’t laugh) and others coming back from injury, plus the return of near-All-Star Arron Afflalo, can climb the ladder? Sorry Kings fans, but I’m leaving out the (maturing?) DeMarcus Cousins and Co. in this discussion.

Would any of these teams have lessened the majority of naysayers?

Perhaps not.

For one team to sneak in, one must slide out.

The regular season in the West might only be good for a reshuffling of last season’s top eight. An argument can be made that among those eight only Houston came out of the summer weakened, and even then some contend that swapping of Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza will aid the Rockets’ lacking perimeter defense and thus make it a better overall outfit.

The Spurs return their championship squad in full to attack the task of repeating for the first time in the everlasting Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era. Oklahoma City will welcome a full season of a fully healthy Russell Westbrook. The Clippers are pumped to play for an energetic new owner. The talented Trail Blazers added veteran depth.

At positions six through eight, Golden State is free of last season’s distractions, the Grizzlies cleaned out the front office and solidified coach Dave Joerger. The Mavericks stole offensive flamethrower Parsons from Houston and added defensive anchor Tyson Chandler.

So which of those teams possibly falls out? (more…)

Blogtable: New coaches, hot seats

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


BLOGTABLE: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

The pressure is on for coach Scott Brooks (with Kevin Durant) to take OKC to the next level. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

> With so many new coaches — all but two teams have had at least one new coach in the last six years — is there anyone out there in danger of getting canned this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: So you’re suggesting Scott Brooks suddenly has job security and is free from speculation about his continued employment? Well, that would be a first. Look, no coach is entirely safe once a team gets to the point of needing to do … “something.” If the roster and payroll are locked, people start to look to the sideline. Brooks and Kevin McHale both are working in environments of impatience, with the Thunder and the Rockets antsy for bigger prizes by now. Memphis’ Dave Joerger already was out of his job once — on the brink of being hired by the Timberwolves — but he went back to what might not be the most stable gig under owner Robert Pera. And since no team is facing expectations more goosed than Washington, a slow or even middling start by the Wizards could have folks looking cross-eyed again at Randy Wittman.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: What if Jason Kidd quickly concludes that he doesn’t like it in Milwaukee and decides to stick a knife in the back of another coach for a different job? But seriously, this is the modern NBA, where patience and reason are always in short supply. Frank Vogel won’t get a totally free pass if he can’t at least keep the Pacers battling and competitive in the absence of Paul George. If New Orleans can stay healthy, Monty Williams will be under the gun to at least get the Pelicans back into the playoff race. And keep an eye on Kevin McHale, in the final year of his contract in Houston, with a Rockets team that now has fewer weapons.

Memphis' Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Memphis’ Dave Joerger (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Not only are there so many first- and second-year coaches out there, but coaches like Washington’s Randy Wittman, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Portland’s Terry Stotts all signed extensions so they’re seemingly safe if their respective clubs were to take a step back. In the East, Indiana’s Frank Vogel certainly seems vulnerable after last season’s fade, but the loss of Lance Stephenson in free agency and Paul George to injury could alter thinking there. Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn will be working with an extraordinarily young team so not sure what can be expected there. In Milwaukee, I suppose Jason Kidd will determine his own fate. Out West, most everything is either well-established or brand new. But there are a couple situations to keep an eye on. Monty Williams’ future could get muddied if the Pelicans don’t rise up, assuming good health, and Sacramento could lose patience with second-year man Mike Malone if the Kings stumble early.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Bucks. Oh, you mean where the general manager fires the coach, not the other way around. Never mind. In that case, let’s see how new best buddies Dave Joerger and Robert Pera get along in Memphis if the losses start to fly. Maybe it doesn’t happen — the Grizzlies could be good. If not, though, how long before old tensions return?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I wouldn’t put anyone’s job in danger in this space, but Scott Brooks, Kevin McHale and Monty Williams need to deliver better results this season. Brooks has done a great job in Oklahoma City, but this is now his seventh season and Sam Presti needs to decide if he’s the guy to get the Thunder over the hump. McHale lost some of his roster’s depth this summer, but needs to coax a top-10 defense out of a team that features Trevor Ariza and Dwight Howard. And speaking of that end of the floor, Williams has a defensive rep and a beast of a franchise player, but New Orleans has ranked 28th and 25th defensively the last two seasons. With the development of Anthony Davis and the addition of Omer Asik, the Pelicans need to make a big leap on that end.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After the way Larry Drew was treated in Milwaukee, anyone not named PopovichRivers, Spoelstra, Van Gundy or Saunders has to at least be on alert that a change could be made under extreme circumstances. Coaches no longer have to be concerned only with external expectations impacting their job security. These days the perception from within (Mark Jackson in Golden State) can get you whacked suddenly. That’s why both Randy Wittman in Washington and Monty Williams in New Orleans will operating under unique circumstances. Both teams will be expected to be considerably improved from last season, not only in the win-loss column, but in the larger context of the league hierarchy. Even with an extension signed, Wittman cannot afford for his team to take any steps back. The Pelicans will be led by one of the brightest young stars in the league in Anthony Davis and will expect to at least be a part of the Western Conference playoff picture, albeit at the bottom of that rugged top eight mix. If at any point it becomes clear that these guys cannot get their teams to the next stage of development, the coaching hot seat will have two prime candidates.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Even though so many coaches are still in that honeymoon period with their current teams, it seems like something crazy always happens. Who would have thought Jason Kidd would end up in Milwaukee, or that Dave Joerger would almost end up in Minnesota? Neither of those guys were fired, though, but I wouldn’t say the hot seat has completely cooled off. All it takes is for one owner to be unhappy with his team’s performance or placement in the conference — particularly in regard to wherever that owner believes they should be. I am not saying this will happen or should happen, but will ownership in Sacramento, where they are desperate to be competitive, be patient with Mike Malone? Will the Rockets continue to allow Kevin McHale to build what they’re working toward? I hope so. It would be nice, for a change, to have a season without any firings/hirings. I’m just saying, don’t bet on it.

Blogtable: Flourishing in a new place

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


BLOGTABLE: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

Pau Gasol joins the Bulls after 6 1/2 season with the Lakers. (Gary Dineen/NBAE)

> Which player who already has switched teams this offseason will best flourish with his new team?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m surprised there isn’t a “besides LeBron” qualifier on this, since James outflourishes pretty much everyone every year. He’s my easy answer in his first season back in Cleveland. After that, the guy who ought to flourish most is Lance Stephenson, since he’s a little older (presumably a little more mature) and will get every opportunity to be Charlotte’s go-to guy. But I’m not sure I trust him yet to fully “get it.” So I’ll say Spencer Hawes, Clippers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: When you are the best player in the game, you flourish wherever you go, which is why the easy answer is LeBron James, the returning, conquering hero who will put the Cavaliers immediately into title contention in the Eastern Conference.  But I also think Pau Gasol is a perfect complement on the Bulls front line with Joakim Noah and I’ve got an eye on the venerable Vince Carter, who could be the wing scorer that lifts the Grizzlies into the upper half of the West race.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m going a bit off the radar here with Jameer Nelson in Dallas, a re-tooled team that believes it could be top-four in the West. He’s been in such a tough situation the last few seasons, from the “Dwightmare” to Stan Van Gundy‘s firing to a total rebuild, that getting to the veteran-laden Mavs will be a breath of fresh air. Plus, he’s a great fit. Dallas badly needed a starting point guard after losing Jose Calderon in the Tyson Chandler trade. Nelson eliminates the need to start Raymond Felton and allows Devin Harris to come off the bench. Offensively, Nelson just has to be steady. He’s got weapons all around in Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler. Defensively he’ll provide some much-needed tenacity. Nelson’s only 32 and with good health he very well could put himself back on the radar.

Lance Stephenson (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Lance Stephenson joins Charlotte for the 2014-15 NBA season. (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson flourished last season in Indiana, so it’s not like this will be a breakout season. But the move to Charlotte opens possibilities he will reach a new level, certainly statistically beyond the 13.8 points a game last season. It lines up as a perfect opportunity. He will be especially motivated to prove the Pacers wrong for not spending more to re-sign him, and now Stephenson goes to a team that needs more scoring. He can do that.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Other than LeBron James, right? Lance Stephenson looks like a great fit in Charlotte, with the ability to give their offense a boost. He’s improved dramatically over the last two seasons, will still be only 24 years old when training camp opens, and likes to get out on the break, where his new team wasn’t very effective last season. With a top-10 defense, Al Jefferson, and now two guys who can create off the dribble, the Hornets will be fun to watch … and very good.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I like how you excluded Kevin Love from this question, keeping us all from picking the same guy. And I’ll even refrain from choosing LeBron James, the most obvious choice of the century. I think Pau Gasol will ease into an opportunity to recharge his career. He looked worn out and worn down during his final seasons in Los Angeles. He’s still an unbelievably skilled big man with plenty left in his tank. The idea of Gasol and Joakim Noah working in tandem with a healthy and rejuvenated Derrick Rose should have folks in Chicago fired up. Gasol is free from the pressure of trying to be something he was not in Los Angeles. Expectations went through the roof for him after winning back-to-back titles alongside Kobe Bryant. When injuries and uncertainty changed the mood in LA, Gasol struggled with that burden. Rose and Noah are the leaders in Chicago. All Gasol has to do is what he does best, and that’s play the game he loves without any extra Hollywood drama involved.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the player who has the best chance to make an immediate impact is Pau Gasol. The last few years he’s slipped defensively, but in Tom Thibodeau’s stifling defensive system in Chicago, they should be able to game plan around Pau’s deficiencies and get the best out of him. But it’s offensively where I think he could really shine. Gasol is on record as preferring to work in the post, which is probably fine with the Bulls as Joakim Noah is so effective at the top of the key, giving Gasol plenty of room to operate down low. And Gasol and Noah are probably the two best passing big men in the NBA, and together, with Rose and Butler and other guys cutting off of them, this may be the first time in a while the Bulls will be able to mount a powerful attack on both ends of the court.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: You mean “which player that hasn’t won two rings, isn’t considered the best around the globe and isn’t having a good time in Greece right now”? When you have LeBron James changing jerseys, then you have the answer in all your questions.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: There’s been plenty of positive cases of players moving on in free agency with the opportunity to flourish with their new team. If I have to pick one, I’ll take Pau Gasol after signing with the Chicago Bulls. Gasol’s last few seasons in LA were tough, albeit productive, and now he can find himself on a team that really values his skills. I’m looking forward to seeing his partnership with Joakim Noah. They could legitimately become the best-passing big man duo in the NBA. Gasol’s varied offensive game will get the opportunity to shine in Chicago because he’ll be playing with an unselfish center in Noah. He has a nice back-to-the-basket game with varying moves, he’s still a decent mid range shooter and as always, he’ll look to set up his teammates. Gasol’s ability to operate and pass in tight spaces will work perfectly with Noah. The Bulls’ offense will look less cramped with four perimeter players surrounding one pick-setting big in Noah. They’ll be a lot better to watch offensively in 2014-15 and a lot of that is down to Gasol.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Lance Stephenson will surely relish his role with the Charlotte Hornets. He will be one of their main ball-handlers and creators. Stephenson has showed flashes of overall dominance when he gets it going and he will have more chances to prove his worth with his new team. Also a trio of small forwards will be do well in their new teams, that would be Paul Pierce, Trevor Ariza and Chandler Parsons for the Wizards, Rockets and Mavericks respectively. Pierce will be the veteran leader Washington needs, Ariza will be the do-it-all forward for Houston while Parsons will hopefully be the second scoring option to Dirk in Dallas (or third, depending on where Monta fits in this year).

Blogtable: Kobe hot, Lakers in playoffs?

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


BLOGTABLE: Home sweet new home | Kobe and the Lakers | Is there a hot seat?


Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

> With Kobe healthy and playing like he was, say, two years ago, are the Lakers a playoff team this season? Why (or why not)?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat Charles said. It’s over for the Lakers as a playoff team as currently constructed. They dare not use Kobe Bryant as heavily as they were before his Achilles injury, unless they’re looking for a way for insurance to pay a chunk of his noxious salary, for he surely would break down again. And he doesn’t have enough help, not in the West, not to be taken seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, a pair of All-Stars, joining him in the starting lineup, Kobe was pushing his body to the the limit two years ago — and still the Lakers barely made it into the playoffs. He’d played 92 consecutive minutes in two games on the night his Achilles tendon blew out. Howard left. Now Gasol is gone. Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle hardly fill their shoes. Steve Nash is broken and you just can’t sell me that Swaggy P is a difference maker. If Kobe can drag the Lakers to the No. 8 seed, it would be one of the great achievements of his career. But there aren’t enough margaritas left in the summer to get me to the point where I’d see that happening.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I don’t think so. First off, which team that finished in the top eight is going to drop out? The bottom three teams — Golden State, Memphis, Dallas — all seem to be better off. Phoenix and New Orleans should continue to improve and challenge for a playoff spot. Anybody envision Portland or Houston free-falling out of the playoffs (barring significant injury)? Secondly, the Lakers roster is an odd mix of talent cobbled together after the franchise was shunned by the summer’s top free agents. Only then did L.A. hire new coach Byron Scott. If they do make the playoffs, mark me down for Scott as Coach of the Year.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No. Because they finished 22 games out of the playoffs last season and would need Kobe playing like he was eight or 10 years ago to come close to making up that difference when there are so many holes in other places. Because it’s not easy to identify a 2014 playoff team in the West that will drop out and Phoenix and New Orleans are easily ahead of the Lakers and the other hopefuls for “next in” predictions. And healthy or not, Kobe will still be 36. He can still be good, and anyone who counts him out right now is making a mistake, but he can’t be enough to lift this team that high.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Absolutely not, because their defense is going to be awful and the Western Conference is too good. The last time Kobe was healthy, he was pretty efficient offensively, but was often the source of L.A.’s defensive breakdowns. And at 36 years old and coming off of two leg injuries, he may be the best defender in the Lakers’ backcourt this season. The frontline, meanwhile, is lacking guys who erase mistakes on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNo. You are asking if we can put Kobe in a time machine and have him play healthy the way he did two years ago would this current Lakers’ crew be a playoff team, which is wholly unfair to Kobe and all of the players who will join him on this team. The Lakers from two years ago have been scattered to the wind. Dwight Howard is in Houston. Pau Gasol is in Chicago. Earl Clark is in … sorry Earl. The fact is, as good as the Western Conference was two years ago, it took Kobe pushing himself to the brink to help the Lakers claw their way into the playoffs with the eighth and final spot. The Western Conference is better and deeper now than it was two years ago. The Lakers, quiet frankly, are not.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThey are not. Two years ago they squeaked into the playoffs, and that was with Kobe literally breaking himself down the stretch to try and will them into the postseason. They made it, Kobe didn’t. Even if Kobe is 100 percent this season, his supporting cast isn’t as strong as that 2012-13 team, that still had Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace. This year’s Lakers team should see a rotation around Kobe including Julius Randle, Carlos Boozer, Nick Young and Jeremy Lin. But in a stacked Western Conference, I just don’t think that’s enough firepower to carry these Lakers to the postseason.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Let’s be honest. Nobody can expect that Kobe will play like he used to. Many players have defeated injuries in the past, but none managed to beat Father Time. Bryant is 36 and that’s the bad news. Answering the “if” question, I think that the Lakers can become a playoff team, because Kobe has proven himself as a leader of a team that revolves around him. It will be interesting to see how Carlos Boozer will play (especially if he will be used at the 3 spot) and what kind of impact will Julius Randle, potentially one hell of a scoring big man, will have.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: They’re a better team with Kobe Bryant but I certainly don’t think they’re a playoff team. The West is so competitive right now that it would take a monumental effort for an aging Kobe to take this team all the way to the playoffs. Aside from, say, Phoenix, a lot of those borderline playoff teams like Dallas and potentially Memphis have improved in the offseason so you could legitimately have a 45-47 win team miss out on the playoffs again. Can you see the Lakers winning 48 games? It’ll be fun to watch Kobe try though, he’s probably the only guy in the organization with a ferocious win-now edict, while the rest of the organization looks to preserve money, sign guys on short-term deals and look ahead to free agency in 2015. Also, are there multiple defensive stoppers on this Lakers team? Didn’t think so.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Yes, if they stay healthy; that is the biggest issue they have the last two years. I think their rotation at the bigs this year is better with a healthy Jordan Hill and new additions; veteran Carlos Boozer, athletic forward Ed Davis and highly touted rookie Julius Randle. Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Clarkson will provide the help at the wings with specific strengths to their games to complement Kobe while Jeremy Lin and Steve Nash form a good combination at point guard. Although they will be at a disadvantage on defense they will surely be great on the offensive side of the court. But the main reason is Kobe himself: a healthy ‘Black Mamba’ is a complete player who will provide leadership, clutch shooting, defense and scoring outbursts thereby taking over some games.