Posts Tagged ‘Jermaine O’Neal’

Goaltending should have been called, but changes nothing

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is all for transparency when it comes to NBA officiating. However, the league’s admission Wednesday that the referees should have called goaltending late in overtime of Dallas’ 122-120 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night won’t make him feel any better.

Cuban was furious over the no-call that saw Warriors center Jermaine O’Neal block Mavs guard Monta Ellis‘ baseline floater with 16 seconds left in overtime and with the score tied 120-120. O’Neal passed to Draymond Green, who quickly got it to Stephen Curry, who made the game-winning shot with 0.1 seconds left on the clock. Cuban leaped out of his baseline chair and continued to voice his disagreement to the officiating crew of Danny CrawfordSean Corbin and Eric Dalen from behind the scorers table after the game.


VIDEO: O’Neal’s block leads to Curry’s game-winner

After a review of the play by the league office, Rod Thorn, NBA president of basketball operations, issued the following statement:

“Upon review at the league office, we have found that a shot taken by Dallas’ Monta Ellis with 16.0 seconds remaining in overtime was on the way down when initially contacted and ruled a block by Golden State’s Jermaine O’Neal, and should have been ruled a goaltend. The exact trajectory of the ball when touched was impossible to ascertain with the naked eye, and the play was not reviewable.”

Playoff implications were high. Golden State entered as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference and Dallas as the No. 7 seed. Had Dallas won it would have moved just one-half game behind the Warriors. The loss instead dropped them to ninth place and out of the playoff picture, at least temporarily. Had the Warriors lost, their already slim margin for error to maintain playoff position would have shrunk with a tough matchup ahead tonight at West-leading San Antonio.

Dallas led 106-102 with 1:43 to go in regulation and 108-105 with 1:16 to go, but it couldn’t close it out, a central theme in the Mavs’ disappointing 4-4 homestand that concluded with the loss to Golden State. They also led 117-113 with 2:32 to go in overtime, but were then outscored 5-0 in relinquishing the lead. Tied 120-120, Ellis tried to beat his defender Klay Thompson to the right, but Thompson stayed in front of him and forced Ellis to take a fallaway near the baseline. O’Neal, who was dunked on by Ellis late in the fourth quarter, went up and snatched the ball out of mid-air.

The Mavs raised their arms in unison, stunned that no goaltending call had been made.

“I think his [Ellis'] layup has a chance to get to the rim, and if that’s the case, you can’t just get it out of the air,” Nowitzki said. “To me, that’s a goaltend. I asked the referees what happened. The explanation was that the ball was two feet short. If that’s the case, then he can get it out of the air, but where I was from, I think it had a chance to at least hit the rim. That’s a goaltend to me.”

O’Neal disagreed as he described the play in the  Warriors’ locker room.

“It was like a second away from goaltending, if you’re too late, and I was on top of it,” O’Neal said. “I blocked it, grabbed it and outlet it. There’s no way they could have called that. When your hand is on top of the ball, that’s a good block. I caught it like this (showing his hand on top of the ball), I didn’t bat it, I caught it like this, so there’s no way they could have called it goaltending.”

Turns out O’Neal was wrong and Cuban was right. It doesn’t matter. The league’s admission does nothing to change the outcome of the game.

Warriors stand together in huge OT win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Golden State guts out big overtime win in Dallas

DALLAS – Jermaine O’Neal will always be remembered most for his days as an Indiana Pacer. But now the 18-year veteran seeking one last shot at glory plays for the Golden State Warriors, a team that’s fought through injury and adversity, and down the pressure-packed stretch run just might be the antithesis of O’Neal’s fraying former club.

Starting at center once again Tuesday night for the injured Andrew Bogut in a game magnified by playoff implications for both the Warriors and Mavericks, O’Neal ripped Dallas for 20 points, eight rebounds and one massive, game-altering blocked shot. Late in the fourth quarter, Mavs guard Monta Ellis dunked over O’Neal to give Dallas a 102-97 lead and a wave of momentum in an arena buzzing with playoff-style excitement. This time, as Ellis tried to turn the corner, O’Neal made his move. He snared Ellis’ baseline fallaway with his right hand with 11.6 seconds to go in overtime, and in one motion brought it down and fed it out to Draymond Green, who got it to Stephen Curry, who ended it with a tough, contested jumper over Jose Calderon from the left wing with 0.1 seconds showing on the clock.

As time expired, the Warriors, rallying late in the fourth and again in overtime, celebrated the 122-120 victory as furious Mavs owner Mark Cuban, befuddled that no goaltending was called on O’Neal, engaged in an animated discussion with the referees.

“When he dunked it, I was a second slow, almost the same identical play,” O’Neal said. “This time, I’m understanding where I need to be and Klay [Thompson] did a great job on making him pick up his dribble and really it was just perfect timing. It was like a second away from goaltending, if you’re too late, and I was on top of it. I blocked it, grabbed it and outlet it. There’s no way they could have called that [goaltending].”

The victory, achieved in front of Warriors owner Joe Lacob — who is taking in the road tripdulled the pain of Sunday’s home loss to the New York Knicks. That defeat came on the heels of another dramatic victory, this time against a Memphis team that, like Dallas, is trying to not just make the playoffs but had the sixth-seeded (and David Lee-less) Warriors within their sights.

The margin for error in Tuesday’s game was as razor thin as the separation in the standings. A Dallas win would have moved them one-half game behind Golden State, who now head to San Antonio to grapple with the Spurs’ 18-game win streak. Instead, it’s the Mavs who slipped from seventh to out of the playoff picture in ninth, one-half game behind Memphis and Phoenix.

This one carried tremendous importance for the Mavs. They were just 4-3 heading into their final game of a franchise-long eight-game homestand. All three losses came down to the wire, two in overtime. This was one they simply had to have, but couldn’t get against a team that came in lacking frontcourt starters Lee and Bogut.


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks about the Mavs’ tough loss at home to the Warriors

“Heartbreaker,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who did all he could with 33 points and 11 rebounds.

The Warriors, feeding off a belief that many see them as down and out, found a different interpretation of a wild 53 minutes in Big D.

“This is late in the year and I have seen teams say how easy it is to let go of the rope,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “This is a team that’s not going to do it. Contrary to anything, we’re not going to do it. This is a quality win against a team  that had everything going their way and I’m proud of these guys. They deserve the credit.”

Jackson called his bunch a “tied-together team,” and emphasized, “I don’t think you need more evidence.”

Sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who had 27 points, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:01 to go in regulation, played up the Warriors’ unbreakable mindset.

“People think we’re down and out, it just proves we have a lot of basketball in us,” Thompson said. “We never hang our heads. We might have done that in the past, but this is a changed team. When we get those guys [Lee and Bogut] back, we’ll be even better.”

Said Curry on the heels of his second last-second game-winner against Dallas this season: “We understand that we lost some games that we should have won, but we don’t listen to any noise outside our locker room. For us, we understand we still control our own destiny. If we take care of our business we’ll be fine. So if we shut out all that noise, it’ll be the best situation for us.”

As the Warriors cleared out of the cramped visiting locker room, O’Neal, 35, hadn’t finished saying his piece, hadn’t finished putting this season, expected to be his final one, in perspective for himself, his team and everybody who follows it.

“So many people around us are trying to tear us apart,” O’Neal said. “I’ve never seen, even in your own town, so much adversity and so much negativity around a team that’s really striving to do special things. It baffles you a little bit, but it says a lot about our head coach, our staff, an organization that really supports us and keeps us in open arms. And it says a lot about these guys in this locker room who aren’t willing to let negativity tear us apart.

“We’re going to continue to try to learn and be a better team, continue to learn from our mistakes and I think tonight showed that we have a  lot of character on this team. We don’t have a lot of extended playoff experience, but we’re learning and we’re learning on the fly, and we’re fighting.

“We’re fighting for ourselves, we’re fighting for our coach, we’re fighting for our city, we’re fighting for our organization.”


VIDEO: The Warriors bask in their big win in Dallas

Morning shootaround — March 29



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Beverley tears miniscus | LeBron wowed by mega-baseball contract | Not just L.A. on Love’s mind | Curry buries the Grizzlies | Wolves eye Hoiberg

No. 1: Rockets point guard out indefinitely — Houston Rockets starting point guard Patrick Beverley, the man who collided with Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook and tore his meniscus in last year’s first-round playoff series, is out indefinitely after tearing the meniscus in his right knee Thursday against Philadelphia. The Rockets will now have to make do without their top perimeter defender. Our own Fran Blinebury details how Beverley’s absence will affect Houston’s title aspirations:

For a team that has ridden the All-Star exploits of James Harden and Dwight Howard to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race, Beverley plays a critical role.

The 25-year-old Chicago native who was drafted and cut by Heat, then toiled overseas in Russia, puts significant bite into the face of the Rockets’ defense.

Jeremy Lin can step back into the starting lineup and give the Rockets offense, but he is not the tenacious, in-your-face type defender that the Rockets will need in the playoffs to go against elite level point guards such as Westbrook, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Mike Conley.

While Lin is flashy and creative and can fill up the basket with points when he gets on a roll, it is the just plain down-to-earth toughness of Beverley that often stands out, especially in a backcourt where Harden does not especially like to play defense.
Coach Kevin McHale said it would be 7-10 days before the Rockets would know a timetable for Beverley’s return.

Beverley has played in 53 of the Rockets’ 71 games, missing time with a hand injury. He has averaged 9.9 points in 31.3 minutes while taking over the starting role from Lin this season, but it’s that defensive bite and overall toughness that the Rockets would miss most. Sometimes it’s the littlest pieces of the puzzle that are hardest to replace.

***

No. 2: LeBron would take Cabrera deal — Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap and that means some mighty contracts never even imagined in the NBA become reality. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was the latest example Friday when he inked a contract that will pay him $292 million over the next 10 years. It makes LeBron James‘ $19 million this season seem like charitable donation. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst puts it into context:

“I said ‘wow,’ ” James said before the Miami Heat played the Detroit Pistons on Friday. “I wish we (the NBA) didn’t have a salary cap.”

James will earn $19 million this season with the Heat, tied with teammate Chris Bosh for the ninth-highest in the NBA as part of a six-year, $109 million deal he signed in 2010.

“He’s the best player in baseball, and the best players in each sport should be rewarded,” James said. “It’d be nice to sign a 10-year deal worth $300 million.”

James earns about $40 million per year off the floor in endorsements, most of that coming from his deal with Nike, which reportedly is worth $19 million per year.

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No. 3: Not only L.A. on Love’s mind? — If Timberwolves double-double machine Kevin Love, set to become a free agent in 2015, makes it clear to management he won’t re-sign, Minnesota president Flip Saunders might be forced to look for a trade. The former UCLA Bruin has long been rumored to be headed for the Lakers, but Los Angeles might not be the only big city suitable to arguably the game’s top stretch power forward. ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

After the league endured the “Dwightmare” and “Melodrama,” get ready for “Lovesick.”

The six-year veteran, only 25 years old, is the apple of just about every team set to have cap space in the summer of 2015’s eye.

Timberwolves president Flip Saunders will do everything he can to keep Love, who is fourth in the league in scoring at 26.3 points per game and third in rebounding at 12.6 per game this season. And Minnesota will have the advantage of being able to offer a five-year extension, versus a four-year deal from any other team.

But if Love makes it clear that he has no intention to re-up with the Wolves, Saunders will be forced to shop Love or risk seeing him walk for nothing in return.

Which is where the Lakers come in.

Love’s ties to L.A. are undeniable. He went to college at UCLA. His father, Stan, played for the Lakers — and coincidentally was on the 1974-75 team, a.k.a. the worst team in Lakers history up until this season, so his son could help make up for that. And Love was born in Santa Monica, to boot.

“You know, my parents live there and they had me there,” Love said of L.A., after his Wolves beat the Lakers for the third time in four tries to win the season series Friday. “It’s not my fault. So, I don’t really care about that right now. I just go out there and play and don’t think about it.”

While Love downplayed his interest, the Lakers clearly could use a player of Love’s caliber to jump-start their rebuilding process. Especially with Kobe Bryant recently putting the screws to management to turn things around as soon as possible so he can contend for another championship in the twilight of his career.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported Friday the Lakers would be willing to trade their upcoming pick in the heralded NBA draft — likely to be in the top half of the lottery — to land Love.

While Minnesota could certainly decide to go that route and hit the restart button, there is no assurance that the Lakers are truly Love’s most desired destination.

A source familiar with Love’s thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it’s not just L.A. that is appealing to Love; he’s enamored with the idea of being “big time in a big city,” and that list of potential places he’d seek includes New York and Chicago, as well.

Love himself told GQ in February that his situation in Minnesota might be better than L.A. could offer anyway.

***

No. 4: Curry’s 33 fends off Grizzlies — The Golden State Warriors were minutes away from the No. 6 seed they’ve held for the majority of the season slipping away to the visiting and hard-charging Memphis Grizzlies. Then Stephen Curry came to the rescue yet again. The All-Star swished a 3-pointer and dropped in a scoop shot as the Warriors, playing without forward David Lee and center Andrew Bogut, who left the game in the first quarter, closed out the Grizzlies with a 14-0 run in the 109-103 win. It sent the Grizzlies from the verge of the 6-seed to No. 8. Diamond Leung of the Oakland Tribune was there:

“We’ll never quit and understand we have the weapons to pack a heavy punch at any given time,” Curry said.

Coach Mark Jackson demanded that Curry have the ball in crunch time, and the star guard delivered with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:21 left and a subsequent scoop shot to pad the lead. Memphis could not muster a response, missing its final seven shots.

Marreese Speights added 15 points and eight rebounds in his first start with the Warriors while replacing an injured David Lee (right hamstring strain). The Warriors were still able to grab a 43-33 rebounding edge without their top two rebounders for most of the game, pleasing Jackson with the way his team competed in difficult circumstances.

Bogut was injured after getting kneed and ran the court with an obvious limp before checking out of the game for good with 7:59 left in the first quarter. He did not return and was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Saturday, according to Jackson.

Jermaine O’Neal had 10 points and six rebounds in 34 hard-fought minutes. Also off the bench, Draymond Green had 12 points and nine rebounds, hitting two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and providing strong defense on Memphis leading scorer Zach Randolph.

“There’s a guy that came into this league, and people probably said, ‘Why is he shooting threes? He should stop shooting threes,’ ” Jackson said. “And he’s winning ballgames with us, knocking down shots and making huge plays on the defensive end. The guy is a tremendous warrior.”

The Warriors would have taken a tumble down the standings with a loss but instead kept pace with the rest of the Western Conference and remained 1½ games ahead of No. 7 seed Phoenix. The win also evened up the season series 2-2 with Memphis, which dropped to No. 8 with the loss.

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No. 5: A return to the Timberwolves? — Speculation is growing that Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman will invoke his right to opt out of his contract this summer. If he does, the franchise is expected to go after one of its former executives and current Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein provides the background:

If Adelman indeed walks away this time, at 67, there are two natural courses for the Wolves to pursue.

The obvious response is [Flip] Saunders, part-owner as well as team prez, heading downstairs to reclaim his old floor seat to see if he can be the guy who finally brings a halt to the league’s longest postseason drought, which dates to the Wolves’ 2004 Western Conference finals team coached by Saunders.

But that might be too obvious.

There have been no clear-cut signals that Saunders is prepared to leave the executive suite to return to coaching.

There is also another textbook candidate out there for Minnesota to chase with long-standing Wolves ties: Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.

Widely regarded as the most NBA-ready college coach in the game, Hoiberg was a Wolves executive for four years before leaving the pros to coach the Cyclones. It should be noted that Saunders is close with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, as well, but the rumbles out of Sota are getting louder that the Wolves are going to court Hoiberg hard if they, as expected, have an opening.

An opening, rather, that Saunders declines to fill himself.

And all of that makes Friday one of the more pertinent days left on the 2013-14 calendar for long-suffering Wolves fans.

That’s because Hoiberg will be coaching Iowa State against UConn in a Sweet 16 game at Madison Square Garden … and because Saunders will be there watching.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers make (the wrong kind of) history again in epic loss … Anthony Davis leaves game in first quarter with a left ankle injuryVince Carter thinks he’s earned the right to re-sign with DallasKevin Durant scores 29 and streak creeps closer to overtaking Michael Jordan … TNT analyst Steve Kerr is the frontrunner to coach the Knicks under Phil JacksonShane Battier reiterates that he will retire after this seasonDirk Nowitzki‘s mentor and personal coach believes he has three or four high-level seasons left.

Morning Shootaround — March 13


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Challenges ahead for PJax in New York | Report: Kobe wants D’Antoni out | Griffin, O’Neal exchange words after game | Kings’ Thomas opens up on journey, season

No. 1: Knicks now Jackson’s situation to fix — As our NBA TV’s own Greg Anthony reported last night, Phil Jackson is headed to New York as the team’s new President of Basketball Operations. That’s a fancy title, but it basically means he’s in charge of fixing what ails the Knicks and setting up their future for more long-term success than they’ve enjoyed over the last 10 or so seasons. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper writes that whether or not Jackson can be a success at building a team remains to be seen:

Jackson has been training internally for this moment for years, having viewed himself more and more as a front-office guy, especially after being passed over for a third stint as Lakers coach in favor of Mike D’Antoni. If the Kings had been sold to the Chris Hansen group and moved to Seattle as the new SuperSonics, there is a good chance Jackson would have become president of basketball operations or some similar gaudy title that meant general manager. He has been looking for this kind of opportunity.

In that way, strangely, he needed the Knicks more than the Knicks needed him. New York got the name, which is obviously something to them, but Jackson got the job. They could have gone a lot of other directions, albeit without the same star power to soothe the masses, while Jackson, at 68, didn’t have the same options among teams that had job openings in a city he would live.

Jackson is very smart and will show up with a plan, and maybe he conquers this just as he did coaching. That wouldn’t be the biggest shock. But all we know for now is that the Knicks hired someone to run basketball operations who has never worked in basketball operations and that they will be cheered for it in New York.

Jackson won’t be out grinding on the college scouting circuit and he won’t get into emotional wrestling matches with agents unhappy with a client’s playing time. Someone else will handle the day-to-day. But there will come times when Jackson will have to make a major roster decision that involves proper use of the salary cap in addition to basketball acumen.

He can’t shape the roster in his coaching vision either, because coach Phil Jackson would never want a ball-stopper like Carmelo Anthony yet the Knicks have made it clear the idea is to keep ‘Melo and surround him with veterans, not split with Anthony this summer in free agency. New York could miss the playoffs and still have people asking them about the possibility of championships within a couple years. The new general manager, by some title, arrives with expectations.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Phil Jackson’s move to the Knicks

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No. 2: Report: Kobe has ‘no interest’ in playing for D’Antoni — The Lakers and Kobe Bryant issued the final word yesterday — Bryant won’t be coming back for the rest of this season. While the news was another letdown for Lakers fans, it wasn’t exactly a shocker either as word of his official shutdown had been looming for days. Bryant, not surprisingly, remains as steadfast as ever that he’ll come back and perform at his high level. He said as much during his news conference yesterday in Los Angeles, where he also made a point to express his desire for L.A. to get back to a championship level as fast as possible. But could part of that plan include ousting coach Mike D’Antoni? Sean Devaney of The Sporting News has more on that potential move:

With a 22-42 record and little hope of further improvement, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni is merely coaching out the string this year in Los Angeles—and likely won’t be back next season.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported on Wednesday morning that he had heard D’Antoni would be out, and that the Lakers’ potential pursuit of free-agent Carmelo Anthony would be the reason. But multiple sources told Sporting News that the reason for D’Antoni’s potential dismissal is closer to home—star guard Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, sources said, has “no interest” in playing for D’Antoni next season, and wants a new coach in place for the 2014-15 season.

The Lakers are expected to undergo a massive overhaul in the offseason, with enough cap space available to sign a max-level free agent—like Anthony. But Anthony played for D’Antoni with the Knicks and was never able to see eye-to-eye with the coach, who eventually agreed to walk away from the job in New York in March 2012.

Bryant has let it be known in recent weeks that he would like the Lakers to keep free-agent forward Pau Gasol this summer—a maneuver that can be read as a shot at D’Antoni, with whom Gasol has openly feuded.

L.A. is also in position to have one of the top picks in this year’s draft. With a returning group that includes a top-notch rookie, plus Bryant—Gasol and a free agent—the Lakers figure to get out of the Western Conference basement quickly, if they can stay healthy.

But the question remains: Who will be the coach?


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant speaks with the media about his season-ending injury

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No. 3: Griffin, O’Neal get into postgame war of words — If you missed last night’s Warriors-Clippers game from Staples Center last night, do yourself a favor and watch it today on League Pass. It had the environment, both on the court and in the crowd, of a playoff game and had plenty of physical play throughout. The excitement and emotion of that game may have spilled over once things were over as Golden State’s Jermaine O’Neal and Los Angeles’ Blake Griffin got into a verbal altercation, writes Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Golden State Warriors forward Jermaine O’Neal confronted forward Blake Griffin in the hallway outside the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room at Staples Center after L.A.’s 111-98 win Wednesday night.

The two had a heated conversation that was quickly broken up by a Clippers official who led Griffin to the adjacent news conference room.

O’Neal, 35, had dressed and was waiting outside the Clippers’ locker room to talk to Griffin.

Griffin, who was walking to the news conference room to take questions from reporters, could be heard telling O’Neal to “leave that s— on the court” before the two were separated and briefly shook hands.

With 8:55 left in the fourth quarter, O’Neal got a technical foul as he walked toward the Clippers’ bench and continued talking to Griffin before O’Neal’s teammates and officials directed him back to the Warriors’ bench.

Griffin did not care to discuss his conversations with O’Neal when later taking questions.

“Nah,” he said. “That’s between me and him.”


VIDEO: The Clippers best the Warriors at Staples Center

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No. 4: Kings’ Thomas opens up about NBA journey – The Sacramento Kings, as has been the case the last few seasons, find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference pile and looking to another NBA Draft to try and build a winner. There is some talent on the current roster, though, starting with big man DeMarcus Cousins, swingman Rudy Gay and perhaps the most little-known star of the Kings, point guard Isaiah Thomas. The diminutive playmaker sat down with SBNation.com’s James Herbert to talk about his NBA path, dealing with losing in Sacramento and much more:

Everybody knows your dad was a Laker fan, but you were in Seattle. How did that work? Were you a Laker fan?

I was a little brainwashed. My dad’s from LA, so growing up in his house, I was a Laker fan. But I loved the Sonics, I loved Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. The Glove and the Reign Man, those were my two favorite players. But growing up, like I said, I was in a Laker household and got brainwashed. My favorite player is Kobe Bryant. I like the Lakers.

It sucks. I mean, it doesn’t suck I got drafted by the Kings, but that’s their biggest rival, so you gotta watch what you say about the Lakers around Sacramento.

Lots of guards in this league have trouble finishing at the rim. What is it that allows you to be able to finish so much better than a lot of guys who are 6 and 7 inches taller than you?

I think it’s just a skill. I don’t know what it is. I’ve always been short, so it’s not like I’m making adjustments. It’s just something I’ve learned to do since I was a little boy. I’m always going in there and finishing around the giants. It’s something that I gotta do as a small guard, though. Like, I gotta be able to finish around them and make adjustments and things like that. But it’s definitely a skill.

I mean, people ask me that a lot and I can’t really tell ‘em how I do it. I just go in there and try to make adjustments in the air and get away from the shot blockers.

One thing I definitely do, I go in there with no fear. If I do get my shot blocked, I feel like you’re supposed to do that and I’ma get back up and do it again.

I’ve never seen an interview with you where you haven’t been smiling and friendly, but you’ve had a lot of losing in your career. Is it harder than we think or is it easy for you to stay positive?

It’s hard. ‘Cause I’m not used to losing. And in my whole career in the NBA, I’ve lost. It’s tough ‘cause I’m a winner, I’ve come from winning, I’ve always been a winner.

But at the same time, when you go out there and give it your all each and every night, you got to go home and you can’t dwell on those moments. If you know that you gave it 110 percent, then that’s all you can give. And it’s a team sport, it’s not an individual sport like tennis or something where you can really win on your own. You can’t. Everybody has to be together.

We’re trying to turn this around and if we just keep working and become a more consistent team, I think we can get more wins and turn it around.


VIDEO: The Seattle area still holds a special heart for Isaiah Thomas

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the concept of “tanking” yesterday and Thunder GM Sam Presti, did, too … New Bobcats guard Gary Neal was benched for last night’s game in Washington over an “internal team matter” … Nuggets coach Brian Shaw, a former player for Phil Jackson, thinks Jackson’s move to N.Y. is a good thing … Don’t look now, but Amir Johnson might go down as one of the greatest Raptors ever … Kings forward Jason Thompson has gone from starter to reserve and is trying to deal with the demotion

ICYMI of the Night: So many great moments from so many games, but this morning, we’re riding with Mike Conley‘s buzzer-beating shot to sink the Pelicans and cap the Grizzlies’ big comeback win…


VIDEO: Mike Conley sinks the Pelicans with a clutch floater

Mild-Mannered Hornacek Infusing Suns With Just The Right Amount Of Fire


VIDEO: Jeff Hornacek talks about learning the ropes as an NBA coach

It took until the end of the second week of the season, five minutes into the second half of a game against the visiting Pelicans. It took five sloppy turnovers in the space of just three infuriating minutes.

It was, in fact, all  Jeff Hornacek could take. As he signaled for a timeout to apply a tourniquet, he whirled, raised an exasperated fist and slammed it down hard on the court side press table.

“Oh yeah,” said guard Eric Bledsoe as he thought back to the moment. “That got our attention. That was the first time I had ever seen him get that mad. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Oh, he does have that in him.’ “

It was one of the questions that loomed from the time the 50-year-old Hornacek took over as the Suns coach in May following Phoenix’s 25-win season of 2012-13, the fewest wins in franchise history since the expansion season (1968-69). Was Hornacek simply too nice of a guy to do the heavy lifting required by the job?

“You can see where people might get that impression from the outside,” said small forward P.J. Tucker. “Because for the most part he’s always the same. He doesn’t have those emotional swings that you see from a lot of coaches. I know you hear a lot of coaches say they don’t intend to be that way. Then you watch them and see them losing it.

“From the first day that he got together with this team, all Jeff has been focused on is getting us to play with emotion, play hard, play aggressive. He channels his energy into us.”

“It important that the coach can stay calm, especially on a young team like this one,” said guard Goran Dragic. “When players are going through bad minutes on the floor, you need someone that can keep his confidence. It allows you to move forward. I will say that he is a nice guy as long as you don’t take advantage of him. If you do, he can bring you back to the ground.”

It was hardly the ideal situation to have your coaching baptism. After the misery of last season, the Suns went into an almost total rebuilding mode, purging the roster of most of their veteran players. Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O’Neal and Wesley Johnson were moved over the summer. Marcin Gortat, Kendall Marshall and Shannon Brown were traded to the Wizards just before the season opener.

So who was left? Veterans Dragic and Channing Frye to mix with Bledsoe, Tucker, Marcus and Markieff Morris and a No. 1 draft choice in Alex Len (who needed ankle surgery and has played just token minutes in four games). It was a roster picked by most experts to finish rock bottom in the rugged Western Conference and Las Vegas oddsmakers posted the over-under on Suns wins for the season at 21.5. The Suns and their coach getting his first crack at being the man in charge could have been offended.

“No,” Hornacek said. “Obviously this team won 25 games last year. We traded away a lot of our veteran guys who helped them win games last year. So we understand how it looks. But we went into this season and training camp tell our players, hey, you’re gonna read all that stuff, hear all that stuff. But if we play hard, we believe you guys are good players and if we play together and play hard we’ll win our fair share of games. I’m not going to put our a number on it or anything like that. But we’ll win our fair share and so far that’s what’s happened.”


VIDEO: Bledsoe fuels Suns’ victory in Houston

So the group went out and made Hornacek the first coach in Suns history to win his first four home games. They kept every game within a five-point margin in the final five minutes for the first three weeks of the season. After a home win against Toronto on Friday night, they stand at 11-9. They are doing it with an offensive style that wants to run when it can and a defensive approach that is always attacking on the perimeter. Hornacek is making the most of the guard tandem of Dragic and Bledsoe that many thought create duplication and conflict.

“Look, I’m only a rookie in this league myself, but I’ve had a lot of coaches at other levels of the game,” said center Miles Plumlee, “and I think what we are is a reflection of Jeff’s personality. What I know of him during his pro career is a guy that used no excuses, took no shortcuts and got the most out of his ability.”

All the while he’s been doing it by keeping a lid on those outward displays of emotions.

“I slip every once in a while,” Hornacek said. “They could drive you crazy. That’s part of it. Not everything’s gonna go perfectly. I think all coaches get frustrated when they see the same errors over and over. If they see something new, OK, maybe haven’t seen that. But the guy makes a mistake and does the same thing and does the same thing that’s when you’re gonna pound your head and say ‘OK, we talked about that.’ That’s the way it is.

“We’re also pretty young except for a couple of guys, Channing and Goran have been around. Everyone else is playing minutes that they’ve never played before. So we hopefully learn, but that’s a big part of it. I think it’s also part as an ex-player to want to be out there. You see things happen and you can give these guys all the preparation and talk about reads, but they actually have to do it out there … Maybe as ex-players, you see, ‘This is gonna develop.’ But they’ve got to figure that out.”

So far, Hornacek is giving his Suns enough room and push to do that.

O’Neal, Warriors Need Each Other

Six-time All-Star Jermaine O'Neal is looking to cap off his stellar career with a ring.

Six-time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal is looking to cap off his stellar career with a ring in Oakland.

DALLAS – Jermaine O’Neal has in motion multiple business ventures ranging from technology to restaurants to real estate. A “retirement house” — his words — under construction in an upscale suburb northwest of Dallas is less than a month away from completion. His wife, 7-year-old son and a 14-year-old, nationally ranked volleyball-playing daughter are already settled in their strategically chosen retirement city.

O’Neal, 35, has spent the past six years meticulously planning each detail of his family’s approaching future together beyond basketball.

“Sometimes as a black athlete we get judged by what we can do with our feet and our hands and not enough of what we can do with our minds,” O’Neal said. “I want to show people just how successful I can be away from basketball.”

Still, one nagging detail hovers over an NBA career that started in 1996. O’Neal sought out the team for what is likely his final season as thoughtfully as he went about setting up the next chapter for his life. The Golden State Warriors, a young team bursting with talent and expectation, seemed the logical landing spot for a wise, grizzled veteran to share battle stories and hunt down team glory one last time.

In this respect, O’Neal needs the Warriors right now as much as they just might need him.

“He’s a guy we went and got for that reason,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.

“I don’t have very many regrets because the NBA has been a life tool for me in many different ways, but one thing I do regret, and I tell these guys a lot, is not respecting the moment,” O’Neal told NBA.com last week during the stop in Dallas. “The moment is when you get an opportunity to be a great team, have a chance at doing something that’s extremely special, that’s very difficult to do. Not capturing that moment and doing what’s necessary to seize that ability, that championship smell and everything, thinking that you’re going to have next year and the year after and the year after; that next year may never come.

“Here I am in my 18th season still looking for that moment.”


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal scores on a driving layup vs. the Pelicans

O’Neal, averaging 6.5 ppg and 4.6 rpg in 18.8 mpg backing up starting center Andrew Bogut, reflects on the nonsensical twist his greatest shot at a title with the the Indiana Pacers took as if it were yesterday.

“We were young and we were built to be good for a very long time. You couldn’t have told me at any point that we weren’t going to be able to compete, and then the brawl happened (at Detroit in 2004), I got hurt and then it was all downhill after that,” O’Neal said. “As a player you respect every player that wins a championship, but you envy it sometimes because you know the time you put in, you know the heartache, the blood, sweat and tears you put in over many, many years and you haven’t got the opportunity to taste that champagne, feel the emotions of winning it, having the tears of joy.

“That’s one thing that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Warriors second-year forward Draymond Green figures he was six or seven years old when he first remembered watching a young O’Neal play for the Portland Trail Blazers. Growing up in Michigan, Green watched O’Neal dominate in the Eastern Conference with the Pacers. From 2001-07, the 6-foot-11, six-time All-Star recorded six consecutive seasons of 19-plus points, eight-plus rebounds and at least two blocks. In the first three he averaged a double-double.

O’Neal is one of five first-round picks from the ’96 Draft still going: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen and Derek Fisher. Warriors forward David Lee laughed as he suggested that George Mikan was also in that class. And before Green could answer the question about the first time he recalled seeing O’Neal play, Lee butted in: “I was in my crib” — no slang intended.

That’s OK because O’Neal not only accepts the role of wise, old veteran, he relishes it. He’s been exceptionally vocal in the locker room recently as an already wounded team lost defensive ace Andre Iguodala to a hamstring injury.  Adversity has come early in a season that, at 10-8, hasn’t followed a championship script.

“I keep telling the guys these are the things that build the character of a team,” O’Neal said. “You go through the trials and tribulations to start the season and you learn how to depend on your team rather than depend on just two or three guys. We don’t have any conference finals, NBA Finals experience outside of me, so it’s my job to give these guys the stories and sometimes the hard love of what it takes to get to that level because it’s a very difficult thing. And they listen. This is a situation where everybody really likes each other. I was kind of blown away when I got here just how good these young guys were and what the limits were for our team, and the sky’s the limit for our team.”

Following last Friday’s loss at Dallas, O’Neal sat at his locker with ice bags wrapped around both knees and his right thigh. He flexed a sore wrist. All-in-all though, the oft-injured center who recently missed five games with a knee bruise and a groin strain, said he’s feeling pretty good.

He nearly retired two seasons ago. His knees ached so badly he played in just 49 games in two seasons for the Celtics. With two surgeries already on his left knee, O’Neal said he was on the verge of retirement. That’s when Kobe raved to him about the treatments he’s received in Germany, and urged him to try the Regenokine therapy that has yet to be approved by the FDA. O’Neal has gone to Germany the last two summers and swears by the treatment, resuming workouts he said he abandoned many years ago.

Still, this is it O’Neal truly believes. His business ventures are in place. The house is almost finished. His family is entrenched in the Southlake, Texas community, and is ready for him to become a permanent fixture in their lives.

“I tell these guys all the time that I’m one of the rare players that sat on probably every aspect of professional basketball, all the good, all the bad,” O’Neal said. “You look at one point we were rolling — shoe deals, commercials, max deals, whatever it was — to being broken down physically and mentally with injuries; to being rolling with a team, being one of the best teams in the league to basically being devastated by the brawl.”

So now here he sits, knowing this is very likely one-and-done, knocking on wood, telling his stories and hoping for the best.

“If I can get an opportunity to play for that championship,” O’Neal said, “it would almost be storybook-like.”


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal explains why he signed with the Warriors

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 18


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks seeking Rondo deal? | Humphries frustrated with lack of minutes | Report: Asik certain to be traded | Old habits plaguing Kings | Warriors smarting over O’Neal’s injury

No. 1: Knicks trying to swing deal for Rondo? — Last week, trade rumors surrounding Knicks guard Iman Shumpert began to stir with the prominent deal being floated about was a Shumpert-for-Kenneth Faried swap with Denver. According to our own David Aldridge, that deal is unlikely to happen, but that hasn’t stopped the Knicks from keeping Shumpert in the trade rumor talks. ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Bagley reports that the Knicks are interested in trying to send Shumpert and forward Amar’e Stoudemire to Boston in an effort to land injured All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. The chances of that deal coming to pass aren’t likely, though:

UPDATE — Celtics boss Danny Ainge tells the Boston Herald‘s Steve Bulpett there’s ‘nothing to’ the Rondo rumors:

The recent spate of rumors regarding the possible trade of Rajon Rondo are not based in any Celtic reality.

“I haven’t talked to any teams about Rajon Rondo,” Celts’ president of basketball operation Danny Ainge told the Herald this morning.

He has, however, fielded a number of calls wanting to now if the rumors are true.

“It’s frustrating,” Ainge said.

He went on to reiterate that Rondo, still rehabbing from ACL surgery, is a major part of the Celtics’ plans going forward.

The reports in the last two days have focused more on opposing teams being interested in Rondo, but the packages of lesser players being floated as a return make no sense for the Celts.

Here’s Bagley’s report on the trade talks:

The New York Knicks continue to dangle Iman Shumpert in trade talks, including a recent proposal to the Celtics that would send the third-year guard and Amar’e Stoudemire to Boston in an effort to obtain star point guard Rajon Rondo, league sources confirmed Sunday.

The Celtics, though, have yet to show interest in the deal, instead preferring to unload forward Gerald Wallace in a trade, sources said.

The Knicks have inquired about Rondo in trade talks before, but both times the Celtics made it clear they were not interested in trading him.

Sources did say the Celtics would be willing to take on Stoudemire’s contract if they could unload some of their longer deals, namely those of Wallace and Courtney Lee.

The Knicks may be reluctant to take Wallace back because they’re hesitant to take on salary beyond the 2014-15 season.

The Knicks have three large contracts (Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani) coming off their books at the end the 2014-15 season and would like to be in position to acquire a top-flight free agent.

A trade including Wallace and Stoudemire would seem to benefit the Celtics financially. Boston is in rebuilding mode, and Stoudemire’s contract expires a year before Wallace’s.

One factor that could complicate trade talks involving Shumpert is that the 2011 first-round pick had a second surgery on his left knee this summer, league sources confirmed on Sunday.

The Knicks and Nuggets discussed a Shumpert-for-Kenneth Faried swap last week. New York believed it had a deal completed on Tuesday morning, a league source told ESPNNewYork.com. But the trade fell through when Denver asked the Knicks to include at least one draft pick.

And then there are these tweets from ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard on a possible Rondo-Shumpert/Stoudemire swap:

***

No. 2: Humphries frustrated with minutes in Boston — Not since the 2008-09 season, when he averaged 9.1 mpg, has Kris Humphries seen his playing time dwindle as much as it has this season. Humphries is playing 11.2 mpg with Boston and has appeared in just six of the team’s 11 games. The veteran power forward is growing frustrated with his lesser role and future on the team, writes A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNewEngland.com:

Humphries wants to play somewhere, even if it means leaving Boston.

He’s not quite ready to demand a trade, but it’s clear that the lack of playing time and erratic minutes he has played is weighing on him.

The 6-foot-9 veteran did not play (coaches decision) in Boston’s 109-96 loss to Portland on Friday, his fifth DNP-CD this season.

“I’m just waiting for a break or an opportunity to get in there more consistently,” Humphries told CSNNE.com. “It would have been great to have played better (Wednesday) night and us win. That would help. But as a guy playing inconsistent minutes, it’s not going to happen every night for you. You have to try and make it happen and do whatever you can to help your team win.”

The 28-year-old veteran has appeared in five games this season, averaging four points and 2.8 rebounds while playing 11 minutes per game.

But in the rebuilding process that the Celtics are currently in, there’s always some form of collateral damage along the way.

While he has often thought about what he has to do in order to get more minutes in Boston, he hasn’t asked for a trade.

“That’s why players have agents,” Humphries said. “We just have to as players, focus on what we can control. If you sit there and say, ‘hey I want a trade,’ it’s going to take away from the team and what you’re trying do to.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has praised Humphries often for his professionalism and work ethic throughout training camp and into the regular season.

And while it’s clear that Humphries doesn’t fit into the regular rotation now, the parity of so many players on this roster makes it such that everyone has to be ready to play every night.

“It’s been tough. I’m here so that’s what I’m focused on,” Humphries said. “I’m playing some 4 (power forward) now, which I think will help out a little bit. But nothing has ever been easy for me. I’e always had shorter-term deals, always had to prove myself.”

***

No. 3: Report: Asik certain to be dealt — Late last week, news broke courtesy of the Houston Chronicle that Rockets center Omer Asik had asked the team to trade him. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein confirms that Asik is a near-lock to be dealt, but the questions remain about not just where Asik will land, but what Houston does with him until it can find a trade partner:

The mystery here, apart from the obvious question about where he ultimately winds up, is what Houston does with Asik until it can locate that appealing deal.

The center was scratched from Saturday’s home game against Denver essentially because he’s so unhappy with his new role that he’s in no state to play. Word is Asik has been asking the Rockets pretty much once a week, since Dwight Howard‘s arrival in July, to please trade him elsewhere. And now losing his starting spot, on top of what was already a reduced role, has clearly knocked the 27-year-old back.

Sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com that Asik was challenged by coaches and teammates this week for not being “engaged” in the wake of the lineup change, which took effect when Asik was moved to the bench for Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia. And he hasn’t played since the challenge, logging zero minutes Thursday night in New York while in uniform and not even dressing against the Nuggets.

The new challenge for the Rockets, then, is getting Asik’s mind right and getting him back on the floor as soon as possible, given the very real chance that a workable trade won’t materialize until after Dec. 15, when dozens of players who signed new contracts in July become eligible to be moved.

Dec. 15, for those not inclined to count it up, is still 28 days away.

“I understand it’s tough for him,” Howard told reporters after Houston’s morning shootaround. “The only thing I can do is be his friend off the floor and help him any way I can. I understand it’s a tough situation for him, but we are all family and we have to learn to fight through frustrations.”

Rest assured, though, that eager suitors for Asik will materialize eventually, no matter how mopey he seems right now and even with Houston hoping for a front-line player in return. The rebounding ability and rim presence Asik can provide makes him a starting-caliber center for numerous teams in this league.

***

No. 4: Old habits keep holding Kings back — With a new arena in the works, new ownership leading the team and a contract extension for talented big man DeMarcus Cousins, excitement for the Kings was at a fever pitch as the 2013-14 season opened. Yet, nine games into the season, Sacramento finds itself in a familiar position: with a losing record and among the worst teams in the conference (they only have one more win than the NBA’s worst team, the 1-10 Utah Jazz). Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee talks about how the culture of the Kings and, perhaps, some of the players are keeping Sacramento from where it wants to go:

How the Kings continue to play with a lack of urgency is befuddling. They did so again this afternoon in losing to the Memphis Grizzlies, 97-86, at Sleep Train Arena.
Perhaps it’s a case of old habits dying slow. Or maybe this is just who the Kings are – a team with unpredictable levels of effort and focus – and that won’t change unless players change.

There was talk of changing the culture postgame, and how much work that takes.

The work will begin to take hold when the Kings realize they have to hold themselves accountable and not accept subpar effort from themselves and teammates.

“As a group, as a unit, as a team, we’ve just got to get tired of losing,” said forward John Salmons. “If you’re tired of losing when we’re down in the third quarter like that you wouldn’t come out with the lack of energy like we did. I think guys are used to it and it shows on the court. When you have that mentality it’s hard to break those habits.”

A lot of these players have been around in past seasons when players have admitted to being overconfident for games when most night the Kings had a losing record entering those games.

***

No. 5: Warriors hurting over O’Neal’s injury — For a squad led by youngsters Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, the stability a veteran voice like Jermaine O’Neal can provide to an up-and-coming squad is invaluable. O’Neal hasn’t just provided sagely words for the Warriors, though, as he’s proven to be a key cog in the team’s bench unit and had been hitting his stride. All of those factors made O’Neal’s injury in Golden State’s 102-88 win over Utah on Saturday all the more costly to the team’s chemistry, writes Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

It’s not that the Warriors don’t have options to take the backup center’s place. It’s just that it’s nearly impossible for a single player to do everything the 35-year-old was doing for the team.

O’Neal, who was initially diagnosed with a sprained right knee and strained right groin before additional tests late Sunday afternoon, has been a steady defensive anchor on the second unit and the team’s most proven scorer from the low post. More importantly, since signing a free-agent deal in the summer and arriving in Oakland before his 18th NBA season, the six-time All-Star’s voice and experience have provided his younger teammates with a different focus level, toughness and mind-set than they’ve ever known.

…Though the Warriors could sign NBA Development Leaguer Dewayne Dedmon, who was with the team during training camp, they can’t issue 10-day contracts until Jan. 6. It was fitting that Draymond Green and Ognjen Kuzmic acted as O’Neal’s crutches as he was helped to the locker room, because those two probably will receive an increase in minutes.

Starting power forward David Lee will play some backup-center minutes, and backup power forward Marreese Speights can bump up a position. Still, the Warriors will need Green and/or Kuzmic to play more depending on matchups.

“I know he’ll bounce back,” shooting guard Klay Thompson said of O’Neal. “He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met.”

In the meantime, the Warriors will need to find someone to match O’Neal’s production. Having found a comfort zone, he averaged nine points (on 75 percent shooting), four rebounds, one blocked shot and one steal over the past three games.

O’Neal said last week that his mind was going “100 miles per hour” because he was pressing to meet the team’s expectations, but after talking with his wife, brother and high school coach, and praying, he found a place of calm.

“I’ve been playing this thing called basketball for 20-something years,” O’Neal said Wednesday. “Nothing really changes. The same shots I could make in the past, I can still make now. There’s no difference from when I’m working out in practice and knocking a shot down than when I’m in a game, but I had to tell myself that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nuggets coach Brian Shaw is still mad at himself for using the Hack-A-Howard strategy … Detroit is taking a cautious approach with Chauncey Billups’ return from tendinitis in his knees … Is it time for the Raptors to consider gunning for a top pick in the 2014 Draft? …

ICYMI Of The Night: You’ve got to watch this alley-oop from Brandon Jennings to Andre Drummond a couple of times, first because it looks like it is a missed shot and, second, because once you realize it’s a great pass, you’ve got to see it again and again …


VIDEO: Brandon Jennings’ off-the-glass alley-oop to Andre Drummond

LeBron: On His Way To G.O.A.T.?

Editor’s note: As the NBA embarks this week on a new season, Miami Heat superstar LeBron James stands as the league’s most iconic figure. In today’s final installment in our three-part series on James and his place in the league, we weigh in on where James stands in the greatest-of-all-time argument.

In Part One, we looked at the people who have helped shape James into an international marketing force and a difference-maker for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. And in Part Two, we examined how James’ on-court game has changed since he burst onto the scene straight out of high school in 2003, and how his early failures shaped the player he is today. 


VIDEO: The LeBron Series — G.O.A.T?

Perhaps it would all be different if LeBron James had not come to our doorstep prepackaged and hermetically sealed, all but tied up with a pretty ribbon and bow.

The Chosen One.

We generally like to pick our own heroes and villains, so as the media hype machine began to serve him up when he was still a teenager too young to drive to school at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s in Akron, Ohio, it was only natural that some would instinctively turn up their noses as if he were a heaping serving of broccoli.

Wilt Chamberlain was an overwhelming, almost indescribable giant. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was towering, majestic and aloof. Oscar Robertson was angry and unshakable. Magic Johnson wore an endearing, embracing smile that could light up a thousand nights. Larry Bird was a good ol‘ boy caricature come to life. Michael Jordan was transcendent as a competitor and a cultural icon.

Yet now, almost despite all that hype, the argument — joining so many others that seem to constantly swirl around him — can be made that James is indeed on track to go down as the best of them all.

Just the mere suggestion that he could one day soon lay claim to the label of Greatest of All Time — G.O.A.T., as it’s known in the vernacular — will bring baas of protest from the anti-LeBron crowd. They’ll call him a preener, a whiner, a shrinker, a choker, a deserter, a pretender, a poseur.

And yet the resume James has compiled in his first decade in the NBA has not only lived up to the advance billing, it’s exceeded it.

Consider that if he were to fulfill the expectations of most of the experts and be voted the league’s Most Valuable Player again in 2013-14, James would join Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Bird on the short list of three-in-a-row MVP winners. If the Heat play for the championship again next June and he is named MVP of The Finals, he would equal a feat only achieved before by Jordan (twice) and Shaquille O’Neal.

And if James were to claim his third straight regular season MVP, third straight championship and third straight Finals MVP, it would be a first in NBA history.

“He has four MVPs already, before he’s 30,” said long-time foe and close friend Jermaine O’Neal. “He has a lot of confidence and I think the sky’s still the limit as long as that same drive is still there. And I think it will be. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. Sometimes, after the first MVP or whatever the achievements are, people tend to cut the motor down a little bit. But I was talking to people and they said he’s better than he was last year. Pretty difficult to be.”

A desire to get better



VIDEO: LeBron goes global with visit to China

That drive, to constantly put down every outside challenge and thrive on the fires from within, forged Jordan’s reputation as the ultimate big game warrior, practice scrapper, teammate-fighter and I’ll-gamble-on-anything competitor. Jordan would let rivals see the perspiration on that gleaming shaved head, but he’d never shed a drop of sweat from worry or doubt.

James is different. He’ll sit in front of his locker or behind a post-game microphone and admit that he fell short and pledge to do better.

Jordan entered the league as a tongue-wagging, gravity-defying, splay-legged phenom that played with the frisky abandon of a colt that leapt the corral fence. He gave us Air Jordan and taught us to fly while he played basketball in the movies with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. He sold sneakers, burgers and sports drinks. Everybody wanted to be like Mike.

James’ arrival was more of an orchestrated corporate sales pitch, pushing a man-child built like a locomotive that barreled down the tracks on the strength of a $100-million endorsement deal with Nike. It seemed a boardroom-drawn image. His game, early on, seemed more manufactured muscle than magic. No one could be King James.

Yet LeBronmania delivered in both form and function. Immediately. He became only the third rookie in NBA history — behind Robertson and Jordan — to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.

“I thought he’d be OK. I thought he’d have a little bit of a learning curve,” said former NBA forward and current Chicago Bulls assistant coach Ed Pinckney. “But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone come in with that much hoopla and perform the way he did.

“Magic and Bird, similar. But they were older. Not a high school kid. He came in and hit the ground running.

“I asked Earl Monroe pretty much the same question. And he said, ‘There was a time when a high school kid coming into the NBA, physically, could just not play. Maybe he’d have a good game or two, but not sustain it.’ Where was the rookie wall [for James], all of that? He just busted right through it.’ This was Earl Monroe saying it.

“For an 18- or 19-year-old kid coming in to the league and performing the way he did, on a nightly basis with all the pressure of handling a team, I think he handled it great and he continues to.”

James’ offensive repertoire keeps expanding, and his four MVP awards in the past five seasons are matched only by Russell (1961-65). Another championship this season would give him three by the age of 29. Jordan won his third at 30.

Tuning out the noise

James has been delivering at such a high level, under such intense scrutiny so consistently and for so long,  that many are expecting a fall. Surely, The Decision to jump from Cleveland to Miami and all that came with it still resonate for many who will never let go of the grudge. He is reminded of it every day in a social media world of instant and constant criticism, where every missed shot and misplay is bitterly dissected. That did not exist for Jordan.

Another debate may still rage — mostly out of Los Angeles — but the truth is, James has clearly surpassed Kobe Bryant as the best player in the game today.

“Nobody with a brain would even begin to argue that,” said one league executive.

James’ Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 31.6 last season was more than three whole points better than runner-up Kevin Durant (28.3) and was the second-highest single season ever behind 31.7 by Jordan in 1987-88.

In the annual NBA.com poll of the league’s general managers, James was an 89.7 percent choice as the single player they would sign for their team and a 66.7 percent pick as the player that forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments. He was voted most athletic and most dangerous in the open floor.

Still, James’ game has its flaws, at least according to some. In an ESPN the Magazine poll of 26 anonymous players, Jordan was named by 88 percent as the man they’d want taking the final shot with the game on the line. Bryant received 12 percent. James didn’t receive a single vote.

James, though, is universally regarded as more of a natural playmaker than those two, more able to draw defenses to him and more willing to make the pass to a teammate for a better shot.  Former coach Jeff Van Gundy told ESPN:

“When I think of a closer, it’s a guy who can beat you with the pass or the shot. I’d take LeBron James to close it for me.”

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham recently told Dan Patrick in a radio interview: “If there’s any player in the NBA who could come and be a complete superstar in the NFL, it’s LeBron. He would be the man.”

Jordan vs. James

If Jordan is considered the G.O.A.T. now, James can’t be far behind. The career stat lines of Jordan and James are strikingly similar. And James is only 28, perhaps just entering the meat of his career.

A young LeBron James meets Michael Jordan in 2003

A young LeBron James meets Michael Jordan in 2003
(David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

James has averaged 27.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.9 assists, shot 49 percent from the field and 40.6 percent on 3-pointers for his career.  Jordan’s numbers were 28.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 49.7 from the field and 32.7 on 3s. Jordan was a lockdown perimeter defender in his day and James is an elite defender at four positions. James is bigger, stronger, much more of a brute force than Jordan, but still can soar with a jaw-dropping 40-inch vertical leap. Jordan was the long, rangy, sinewy embodiment of the ultimate basketball player. James is an athletic anomaly, a virtual tank with the speed of a motorcycle.

As much as the anti-LeBron crowd will protest, it is probably already down to just a three-man debate. And, if you set aside Chamberlain’s gargantuan feats in terms of sheer numbers and records set from a long ago era as too far off the charts to even compare, it comes down to James and Jordan.

Jordan clearly has the edge in the ability to simply pile up points, get buckets when they’re needed. But the analytics crowd will tell you that today’s game is about being able to do more than score. James is the better passer, rebounder, has deeper range and can defend more places on the court.

Jordan dragged his teammates along to championships with the sheer force of his talent and his will. James plays a style that actually makes his teammates better.

On the all-time list of PER, Jordan sits at No. 1 with a career 27.91 rating. James is second at 27.65 and closing.

Want more numbers? How about the Cavaliers winning three out of every four games (61-21) with James in 2009-10 and then losing three of every four (19-63) the next year without him. That’s having an impact.

For all the credit he gets raising his performance for the Heat in back-to-back title drives over the past two seasons, it may have been James lifting an otherwise anemic Cavs roster onto his shoulders and carrying them to the 2007 NBA Finals that was most Herculean.

“Jordan was never able to do anything like that with those Bulls teams before [Scottie] Pippen arrived,” said an NBA general manager.

“I would have to say Bryant and Jordan had that same ability to defend from the perimeter spots, score and make plays from that position, but they never put up the assist numbers that he has,” said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. “He’s more of a hybrid-type guy and you don’t normally think of all-time great players as being hybrid-type players. The truth is he’s Magic Johnson, but much faster and much more dynamic athletically. Really all that’s left to be determined is how many championships he’s going to win. That’s an honest assessment.”


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Would LeBron James have been a star in the NBA of the 1990s?

The measure of the G.O.A.T.

If it’s the counting of the rings that matters, then James still trails Jordan’s six and Bryant’s five. But again, he is only 28. At that age Jordan had just one.

And, really, should that be the measure anyway?

“When anybody says you measure guys by rings, that’s a crock of [bleep],” said Robert Horry, who won seven with the Rockets, Lakers and Spurs. “That’s like saying I’m better than Karl Malone, I’m better than Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. We all know that ain’t true. You can’t go by that. You can’t measure guys by their rings. It’s just ignorant. Having said that, I don’t exactly think LeBron’s done collecting them yet.”

After settling in comfortably in Miami over the past two years, embracing more of the role of alpha dog and learning to enjoy the responsibility and reap the rewards, it is not hard to envision a more relaxed, more confident James climbing higher.

“The story is how far LeBron has come in the last two years on every level,” said TNT analyst and former Jordan teammate Steve Kerr. “Where he was three years ago with The Decision, his play in the Finals against Dallas, the way he handled the post-game interview after Game 6 and the comments he made? He was really at a low point.

“What he has done the last two years is remarkable. He handles himself with grace and class. He’s elevated his game. He is now a champion, he carries himself like one. I think it’s fantastic to see the resilience, particularly in modern society with what he faces. I love what LeBron has done and I have a ton of respect for him. He’s on his way.”

Perhaps closer already to the top than so many think, or will admit.


VIDEO:
LeBron James’ top 10 plays from 2012-13

George Is A Perfect Fit For Pacers





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Paul George‘s birth certificate confirms what everyone already knows: he’s a Southern California native through and through, something the Indiana Pacers’ young star is extremely proud of. But he couldn’t be more of a Hoosier if he tried.

From his relentless work ethic to his off-court sensibilities (fishing over, say, celebrity party hopping), George is the ideal face of the franchise in Indianapolis, where the excitement and expectations surrounding George and the Pacers for this season are already off the charts.

That’s what makes the reported $90-plus million extension George and the Pacers are closing in on prior to the start of training camp the biggest no-brainer to date. George couldn’t have found a better fit — an up-and-coming franchise for an up-and-coming superstar — and the Pacers couldn’t have found a better ambassador for what should be their most promising team in a decade.

Pacers president Larry Bird told Pacers.com that the deal isn’t done yet, but expects it to be soon:

When asked whether the reported terms were accurate, Bird said, “I never heard that number. I wish it was my number instead of [Paul's].

Although a new deal isn’t complete just yet and George hasn’t signed on the dotted line, everything is expected to be resolved this week.

“I know Paul’s worth,” said Bird. “I’m not banking on what’s going to happen in the future, even though you do somewhat. It’s what he’s accomplished now and that what we’ll go off of.

“It’s always good to have the leverage but the number has got to be a number we both like. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about money. Yes, he wants to be here. He’s told me that a million times. We want him here so let’s just find a number that works for both.”

Bird, a Hall of Famer, completely understands George’s mindset.

“Well back when I played, if they brought me in and was talking to me, I wanted to get it done before camp,” he said. “So I know it’s important. Security is always the best thing to have in this league.”

With a new contract, there’s more to it than just the length and value of the deal. There’s all the legal items, player or team options, and more that goes into it.

“If you come to the number first, then all the other things sorta fall in place.”

I lived in Indianapolis and covered the team the last time the Pacers entered a season with a budding young superstar (Jermaine O’Neal), a deep roster and championship ambitions. Things are going to get even crazier for George at home than he probably realizes. O’Neal was a fabulous player then, and like George, was a somewhat underrated talent coming into the Draft. He outworked and eventually outplayed that profile and blossomed into an All-Star with the Pacers. The same is true for George.

A city and state that loves its basketball like no other has embraced George in ways it never did O’Neal, who led the Pacers to the best record in the league during the 2003-04 season. Pacers fans always seemed a bit indifferent to O’Neal, who had the misfortune of having to assume leading the team while Reggie Miller was still the franchise’s true face and Ron Artest was in the midst of his most tumultuous time with the franchise. Pacers fans don’t appear to have any such reservations where George is concerned.

They saw as George went toe-to-toe with LeBron James and the Miami Heat during Indiana’s run to the Eastern Conference finals last season. They saw George shine on the biggest and brightest stage alongside David West, Roy Hibbert and the rest of a rugged Pacers team that pushed the Heat to a Game 7.

They know that they have the genuine article in George, whose meteoric rise in three seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. His impact on this team last season, while Danny Granger was sidelined with injury, is well documented (courtesy of my main man and numbers guru John Schuhmann of NBA.com).

It’s a testament to the work Bird (as well as Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard) have done in rebuilding the franchise that George is stiff-arming the free agent process (and the lure of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers) that so many of his contemporaries would chase if they were in his shoes.

The best part for the Pacers is that they’ll have George locked up for what should be the prime of a superstar career. George is a true two-way player (not every All-Star plays defense as well as they do offense) on the short list that is headlined by James.

George is far from a finished product, another huge positive for the Pacers, and he understands that. He talked about it repeatedly in July during his time with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team and their mini-camp. How he and Granger co-exist will go a long way in determining just how successful a season the Pacers can put together.

But those are issues Pacers coach Frank Vogel and his staff will gladly sort through with George as the centerpiece of a team that should compete at the highest level for the foreseeable future.

In fact, none of those lingering issues seem terribly unsettling when you’ve got a perfect fit between a franchise and the (new and) true face of said franchise.

Where Have All The Shot-Blockers Gone?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The demise of the true center is typically lamented by the dearth of low-post skill on offense, but we can’t ignore its effects at the other end, too.

You know what they say about every action: there is an equal and opposite reaction. Among other things, the evolution of the face-up, jump-shooting “big”, and the age of the drive-and-kick 3-pointer have taken a toll on the art of shot-blocking. With seemingly fewer one-on-one, low-post defensive opportunities there is an equally diminishing chance to deliver an opposite reaction.

There are tremendous shot blockers in the league. Thunder power forward/center Serge Ibaka will attempt to become the first player to lead the league in shot blocking three consecutive seasons and average at least 3.0 bpg in three straight seasons since Marcus Camby did it from 2006-08. Ibaka’s 3.65 bpg in 2011-12 was the highest since Alonzo Mourning‘s 3.7 in 1999-2000.

Bucks rim protector Larry Sanders could cross the 3.0 barrier. Indiana’s young, old-school center Roy Hibbert made a significant jump last season to 2.61 bpg, fourth in the league, from 1.97. A healthy and happy Dwight Howard could surge to 3.0 for the first time in his career.

Still, today’s drooping block numbers are eye-popping when compared to prior decades. Blocks weren’t recorded as an official statistic until the 1973-74 season. That season, five players averaged at least 3.0 bpg, led by Elmore Smith (4.8 bpg), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3.5), Bob McAdoo (3.3), Bob Lanier (3.0) and Elvin Hayes (3.0). In the seven officially recorded seasons in the 1970s, two players averaged at least 3.0 bpg in a season five times.

In the ’80s, it was seven of 10 seasons, and at least three players averaged at least 3.0 bpg four times. Utah’s 7-foot-4 center Mark Eaton still holds the single-season record of 5.56 bpg in 1984-85. The ’90s — with shot-swatters such as David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Shawn Bradley, Theo Ratliff, Shaquille O’Neal and Mourning – marked the salad days of shot-blocking.

Every season during the physical, hold-and-grab ’90s saw at least two players average at least 3.0 bpg. Eight times at least three players recorded 3.0 bpg or more. Four times the season leader topped 4.0 bpg, and two more times the leader finished at 3.9 bpg.

Those numbers haven’t been sniffed. Since the close of the ’90s, only four times in the last 13 seasons have at least two players finished a season averaging at least 3.0 bpg  (and largely credit Ben Wallace and Ratliff early in the 2000s for that). It hasn’t happened since 2005-06 when Camby (3.29) and long-armed small forward Andrei Kirilenko (3.19) finished one and two, respectively.

The lowest league-leading shot-block averages have all come since the turn of the century, and two of the three lowest have been posted in the past five seasons. Andrew Bogut‘s 2.58 bpg in 2010-11 is the lowest season leader of all-time. Howard’s 2.78 bpg the season before is the second-lowest and his 2.92 bpg to lead the league in 2008-09 is better than only the 2.8 bpg put up in 2000-01 by Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and Bradley.

Could 2013-14 be the season we see one, two or even more players join Ibaka in 3.0 territory? Sanders is trending that way and Hibbert and Howard are candidates, but it’s hard to envision Tim Duncan surpassing last season’s career-high of 2.65 bpg.

Maybe 3.0 is a stretch for most. Only five players averaged between 2.45 bpg and Ibaka’s 3.03 last season.

Here are my five players that could vault into this season’s top-5 (but may not necessarily get to 3.0):

1. Derrick Favors, Jazz: The 6-foot-10 power forward is going to see his minutes jump as he moves into the starting lineup with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap gone. Favors averaged 1.7 bpg in 23.2 mpg off the bench last season. He’ll go up against more elite front-line players this season, but it’s not a reach to suggest he could average 2.5 bpg.

2. JaVale McGee, Nuggets: With Washington in 2010-11, he finished second in the league at 2.44 bpg, but his minutes dropped dramatically the past two seasons in Denver under George Karl. The 7-footer should be in for quite a change with Brian Shaw taking over for Karl and ownership wanting to see McGee earn his money on the floor. More minutes are in his future. Are more blocks?

3. Brook Lopez, Nets: Last season was the first of his young career to average more than 2.0 bpg (2.1) and that number could be on the rise this season playing next to Kevin Garnett. If KG doesn’t teach Lopez a thing or two about defending the post, he might just frighten the 7-footer into protecting the rim at all costs.

4. DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: Potential is running thin for this 6-foot-11 center from Texas A&M. Entering his sixth season, it’s time to mature and play big in the middle for a team that will need it to contend for the West crown. He took a step back last season and under Doc Rivers he’ll need to prove he’s worthy of more minutes. He can do that by swatting basketballs.

5. Anthony Davis, Pelicans: The youngster just looks like a shot-blocker with those long arms and all. He’ll head into his second season healthy, accustomed to the NBA game, smarter and stronger. He’s got great natural instinct, athleticism and a desire to dominate defensively. During his one season at Kentucky, he averaged 4.7 bpg. The 20-year-old blocked 112 shots in 64 games as a rookie. Expect more.