Posts Tagged ‘Joe Johnson’

Blogtable: Slipping (already) in the East

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: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


> Which Eastern Conference team (discounting Cleveland) is not nearly as good as you thought it might be at this point of the season?

Charlotte's Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford (Kent Smith/NBAE)

Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford
(Kent Smith/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI expected more out of Charlotte than a 4-7 start and, especially, its porous defense so far (106.2 defensive rating, 21st in opponents’ field-goal percentage). Coach Steve Clifford‘s team has to clamp down better than that. Lance Stephenson has been underwhelming and Michael Kidd Gilchrist hasn’t been healthy, but a 3-3 start fizzled when the Hornets headed West. Losing to the Lakers? That’s so 2009-10. The schedule softens up a bit for the next three, then rematches at home loom with Portland and Golden State. The Hornets’ big boss would make sure to clean those up if he still were playing, so let’s see if he can inspire his crew.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Maybe they should have kept that Bobcats name in Charlotte. Except for that one wild game-winning shot, Lance Stephenson has not provided an upgrade and the defense has fallen off badly.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Everyone is pretty much where I thought they’d be. If I had to make picks, I’d say the Knicks and Hornets are slightly under, but not enough to qualify as “not nearly as good” as I figured. I had both around .500 (Charlotte) or a few games under and making the playoffs (New York). The danger sign for the Hornets now is they’re starting to have a lot of blowout losses. That’s a very bad look.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I realize they’re on their fourth coach in three years and just returned from a trip out West but is this really what the Nets have become, a hum-drum team — in the East, no less? They’ve been called out by Joe Johnson, who hasn’t whined since he was spanked to life at birth, and also Lionel Hollins. The coach questioned their toughness which could’ve been a swipe at Brook Lopez (who at this stage of his career isn’t going to morph into a young Kevin Garnett) and their identity, or lack of one. All told, the Nets aren’t dropping any hints of being a contender, now that Deron Williams is no longer a top-5 point guard, and what you have is the increased likelihood of this being the Same Old Nets.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCharlotte’s had a disappointing start. The former Bobcats have two new starters and have played one of the East’s tougher schedules thus far, but they’ve been just average defensively and much worse offensively, with losses to both the Knicks and Lakers. Brooklyn has also had some bad results, but also has two new starters and doesn’t have the system continuity that the Hornets do. This team had a better start last year, in Steve Clifford’s first season as a head coach.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based strictly on potential, I expected the Bulls, Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards to sit at the head of the class in the Eastern Conference this season. And for the most part, they have played their respective roles this season. The wild card team in that top group was supposed to be Charlotte. But they’ve struggled with the adjustment to new expectations this season. They have not looked like the team I thought they would with Lance Stephenson playing alongside Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. Steve Clifford is an excellent coach, so I’m sure they’ll figure the chemistry out as the season goes on. But I expected them to get off to a much better start than what we’ve seen thus far.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I don’t know what to make of Lance Stephenson’s impact on the Hornets. He’s their leader in rebounds and assists, which is impressive; and he’s been scoring more efficiently in recent games. But between his addition and the subtraction of injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte looks less cohesive and more fragile.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCharlotte. Sure, we knew there would be some growing pains incorporating Lance Stephenson into the offense, but they’re 4-7 (and one of those wins came on a miracle buzzer-beater from Stephenson). What’s more surprising to me is that after being so good defensively last season, this year the Hornets are in the bottom half of the League in defensive rating. The rebranding campaign has been great, but if they keep playing like the Bobcats of old, I’m not sure that it’s going to matter all that much.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I was hoping Brooklyn would have a more positive/winning record in the first month.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I had high expectation on the Charlotte Hornets. I thought Lance Stephenson would be the missing puzzle piece to be top 5 in the East. But they still have to figure out how everything works out together. Marvin Williams is not the Marvin Williams we knew from Utah and the departure of Josh McRoberts has hurt. But it’s still early in the season and I’m sure the Hornets will get the turnaround soon. Lance is not the offensive weapon I’ve expected, but he helps with his all-around game. So, give them some time. The Hornets will buzz!

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: The Hornets have played below expectations so far given what they were able to create last season. I must admit, I wasn’t on board with Lance Stephenson being the answer to their offensive problems, I still think his game lacks consistency and he has a propensity to do inefficient things (shooting too many long 2s and whacky contested shots off the dribble). Still, this team won 43 games last season, owned a top-5 defense, committed the fewest turnovers, and on paper, improved in the offseason. Plus we were expecting the overall upward curve of Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It might sound simple but I can’t see this team creating an efficient offense given the way the roster stands currently. A whopping six players are shooting below 40 percent and they’re all guards who were supposed to propel them. They need shooters!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: The Pistons! I expected more of them. They have a great front-line (Monroe, Drummond, Smith) and all the pieces of the puzzle to find their way to the postseason. But they are playing terrible on the road and have won only 3 out of 11 games. Not the best start for a team that regrouped this summer and tried to turn a brand new page.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: To be honest, beyond the Bulls and the Cavs, there are no Eastern Conference teams that I had expected to be elite anyways, just ‘good’ in relative to other Eastern squads. With that said, I was expecting better things from Charlotte. The Hornets have started 5-7 – bottom of their division — and if you take away a couple of game-winning shots, they’d be 3-7 right now. I was expecting that the core of Kemba, Lance, MKG, Big Al would be able to help this team take a small step forwards, but some early teething troubles have them taking a step back. It will take some ironing out in the backcourt power-struggle between Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson to get the wheels rolling.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: The Brooklyn Nets, no doubt about it.They hired a new coach, and the comeback of Brook Lopez is a big help, but they need some time to come together. Obviously, what made them lose in past games is the poor defense (107.5 at DRtg). When Brook steps into the paint, opponents just shoot a sky high percentage in the field (52.6% when he’s on the court). However, their roster is still loaded, and I think coach Hollins,who is good at coaching big man, will figure out how to play defense when their most dominating big man is on the floor. Maybe they could make a run after the All-Star weekend.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The obvious answer would be the Knicks, but I thought they were not a playoff team, so I’m going to say the Hornets. I thought they could be up there with the Raptors and the Wizards, battling for the third spot in the Conference behind Cleveland and Chicago. But Lance Stephenson is not even near to the All-Star player he was last year with the Pacers. And the Hornets are struggling, with a 4-7 record, a defense that allows more than 100 ppg and a team still looking for its identity.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA

Morning shootaround — Nov. 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rose lays down law on his status | Johnson calls out Nets as ‘selfish’ | Rondo has screws removed from left hand

No. 1: Rose lays down the law on his playing status — Chicago Bulls superstar guard Derrick Rose had perhaps his best game of the season on Tuesday night, dropping 24 points on the Detroit Pistons in a Bulls victory. His performance came after missing Chicago’s previous two games (and four of their previous five, too) to rest ankle injuries. While Bulls fans may wonder what the deal is with Rose this season in terms of playing time game to game, the man himself clarified his position on that topic during Tuesday’s practice. ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell has more:

When asked how satisfied he is with his game, the former league MVP offered a glimpse into how much his mindset has changed since the injuries have started to pile up.

“I’m good, man,” Rose said. “I felt like I’ve been managing myself pretty good. I know a lot of people get mad when they see me sit out or whatever, but I think a lot of people don’t understand that … when I sit out it’s not because of this year.

“I’m thinking about long term. I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball. Having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to, I don’t want to be in my meetings all sore or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past. [I'm] just learning and being smart.”

After initially spraining both ankles Oct. 31 against the Cavaliers, Rose tweaked the injuries on Nov. 5 against Milwaukee and sat out two more games. The good news for the Bulls is that Rose looked much more comfortable going to the rim in Monday night’s win over the Pistons. He scored 24 points and had seven assists in 32 minutes.

“I feel good,” Rose said. “Just happy that I took the days off. Lifted a couple of days, really got some lifts in and got my body together and just try and continue to be positive and keep things going.”

As for being 100 percent again, Rose said he isn’t there but is getting closer each day.

“I think I’m close,” he said. “It’s just getting game-time reps. Everything you see that I’m doing now — adding the midrange, adding the floater — I’m missing them right now, but at least I’m getting up [those] shots.”


VIDEO: Derrick Rose shines in the Bulls’ win against the Pistons

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls, Butler can’t reach deal | Thompson shows his worth | Cavs make roster move | Celtics, Rondo work on chemistry

No. 1: Butler wants to do it in Chicago — The midnight Friday deadline to reach extensions with members of the 2011 Draft class came and went without the Chicago Bulls coming to an agreement with Jimmy Butler, one of Chicago’s key rotation players. After what were reportedly “cordial, wide-ranging” discussions, Butler tells K.C. Johnson that he’s prepared to play out this season and enter restricted free agency next summer, though he is hopeful his future remains as a member of the Bulls

Jimmy Butler’s agent told the Tribune before the Bulls game with the Cavaliers that Butler rejected a final offer and that stance didn’t change. Sources said the Bulls offered a multi-year deal averaging $11 million during lengthy, cordial conversations.

Butler will be a restricted free agent next summer, meaning the Bulls can match any offer he receives. Unlike when Omer Asik entered restricted free agency, the Bulls own Butler’s full “Bird” rights so offers can’t be as back-loaded prohibitively as Asik’s poison pill deal with the Rockets.

“This is where I want to be,” Butler said. “I love my teammates, the fan base, the organization, everybody. I think I still will end up in this city.

“I understand this is a business so I just have to be a great basketball player. I love my odds. I think this team is championship-caliber. I’m going to produce. I’m going to guard. I will take that on myself.”

***

No. 2: Thompson shows worth — Just hours after signing a four-year extension worth $70 million, Warriors guard Klay Thompson went out and scored 41 points against the Lakers. The Warriors got a win in their home opener despite Kobe Bryant going for 28 and keeping the Lakers in the game. As Diamond Leung reports, Thompson’s big game left everyone from Kobe to coach Steve Kerr singing his praises

Thompson was 14 for 18 from the field, going 5 for 7 from 3-point range. Going 12 for 28 from the field was the vintage Bryant even at age 36 and without as much talent on his team as he’s been accustomed to having.

“It was fun to watch,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It was like the rising star at that position going against the guy who’s been the best for 15 years.”

Thompson has shown signs that he has what it takes to seize the shooting guard torch from Bryant. After their first meeting in the preseason, Bryant was left saying of Thompson’s 25-point performance that the 24-year-old “has the whole package.”

On Thompson’s career night, one tit for tat began with him blowing by his childhood hero on a fast break, shot-faking Bryant into flying by and scoring while being fouled. On the other end of the court, Bryant sank a contested fadeaway jumper.

“He was making some crazy shots,” Thompson said. “He’s still got it.”

***

No. 3: Cavs make move — Sure we’re not even a week into the season, and the Cavaliers may (rightfully) be preaching patience and small sample sizes, but new coach David Blatt also apparently isn’t afraid to make a move when its needed. Yesterday, the Cavs waived A.J. Price and signed free agent point guard Will Cherry, who spent last season in the D-League. As Chris Haynes reports, now that he’s in the NBA, Cherry now has to find a role…

Price, 28, had a solid preseason showing with the Cavaliers appearing in six games and averaging 7.2 points, 1.5 assists in 13.3 minutes per game.

Cleveland will replace Price with free agent point guard Will Cherry, a league source informed Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Cherry, 23, has agreed to a two-year deal, we’re told. Not all of the salary is guaranteed.

The 6-1 guard was undrafted in 2013 out of the University of Montana where he is seventh on the school’s all-time scoring list. Last season he played for the Canton Charge of the NBA Development League, the Cavaliers’ D-League affiliate.

***

No. 4: Celts build chemistryRondo molding Celtics — The Celtics are still deep in rebuilding mode, but for Rajon Rondo, that’s a good thing because it means the current roster is stocked with young players willing to be molded. After the Celtics flew from Boston to Houston for their first road trip of the season, Rondo helped organize a team dinner to build chemistry, as Marc D’Amico reports

Rondo, who said that every team’s personality is different, is starting to get a grasp on this group of Celtics. He’s learning that this team loves to have a good time, and he claims that’s a good thing.

“We have a lot of young guys, a lot of playful guys with good personalities,” Rondo said. “So it kind of helps ease everything.”

Rondo himself showed off his playful personality by poking fun at one of his teammates, 14-year veteran Gerald Wallace, as he discussed the team dinner.

“We don’t have too many stiff guys like Gerald, older guys that are set in their ways,” he joked. “Everybody’s young and can be molded, and what better way than to have dinner with food?”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After Paul Pierce was ejected last night, Otto Porter had a big game for Washington … Memphis guard Courtney Lee is “out a while” with a concussion … After Joe Johnson lit up the Pistons for 34 points, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said it was his fault … Several teams have reportedly shown interest in Quincy Miller, with the Lakers leading the way

Nash’s greatness found in the numbers


VIDEO: Steve Nash Will Miss The 2014-15 NBA Season

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Mike D’Antoni, Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns changed NBA offense forever. They showed us what can be accomplished with a simple pick-and-roll, floor spacing and a willingness to share the ball.

Elements of D’Antoni’s “Seven seconds or less” offense are seen throughout the league today. But Nash was running the NBA’s best offense long before D’Antoni was. In his last three years as the starting point guard in Dallas, the Mavericks ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency.

Nash took that streak to Phoenix and continued it for another six years. He ran the No. 1 offense with Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley, even with Antoine Walker shooting 82-for-305 (27 percent) from 3-point range in 2003-04. In fact, when you compare teams’ offensive efficiency with the league average, that Mavs team had the No. 1 offense of the last 37 years (since the league started counting turnovers in 1977).

In Phoenix, Nash ran the No 1. offense with Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson, and kept it at No. 1 when Johnson left for Atlanta and Stoudemire missed all but three games in 2005-06. Even when Shaquille O’Neal arrived and supposedly bogged down the Suns’ attack, they had the most efficient offense in the league.

The Suns played at a fast pace, but we’re not looking at points per game, here. We’re looking at points per possession. And not only did Nash run the No. 1 offense of the last 37 years, he’s run each of the top five offenses of the last 37 years.

20141024_nash

Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain each led the league in scoring for seven straight seasons. Steve Nash ran the league’s best offense for nine straight, a run that started when Shaq and Kobe Bryant were at their best and ended when LeBron James was winning multiple MVPs.

Nash hasn’t said whether his career is over now that he’s been ruled out for the entire 2014-15 season, but it’s reasonable to guess that it is. It’s also reasonable to believe that we’ll never see another streak like the one he had between 2001 and 2010.

You can debate the merit Nash’s MVP awards or his place in the NBA’s all-time point guard rankings. But there’s no debating that he was one of the best offensive players of his generation. The numbers speak for themselves.

Garnett is back, ready for season No. 20


VIDEO: Media Day: Kevin Garnett

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The idea of retiring after 19 seasons in the NBA did cross Kevin Garnett‘s mind when the Brooklyn Nets were eliminated by the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals in May. And the departure of Paul Pierce for Washington led many to speculate that Garnett would seriously consider hanging ‘em up.

But Garnett is back for the final year of his contract, which will make him the fourth player in NBA history to play 20 seasons.

“I must admit these last three years I’ve thought about life and where basketball is as far as priority,” Garnett said at the Nets’ media day on Friday. It was the first time he had spoken to the media since before Game 5 in Miami. “So yeah, in the back of your mind you think about it. But the decision is either yes or no. It’s not like 50-50, I’m in the middle of the road or gray area. I’m a person that when you commit to something you commit to it. It’s that simple.”

Garnett’s offensive game fell off last season. He averaged a career-low 6.5 points on a career-low 44 percent, rarely playing with his back to the basket, even when he moved to center after Brook Lopez‘s season-ending foot injury. Though he had $12 million reasons to return for one more season in Brooklyn, it’s hard to imagine him coming back for season No. 21, which only two NBA players – Robert Parish and Kevin Willis – have ever reached.

But Garnett hasn’t reached that decision yet, and there will be no Jeterian farewell tour.

“I like to come in each year and assess it,” Garnett said. “I’ve always said the days when I’m not feeling basketball again, which is absurd, or when I don’t have the motivation to come in here, it’s time to move on. But that’s not the case. I’m very much motivated. I’m looking to have a better year than last year and I’m looking to enjoy this year.”

And this is not about proving that last season was a fluke or that he still has gas left in the tank.

“I don’t need to show people anything,” Garnett said. “That’s first off. Secondly, for myself, last year I think everybody had to [sacrifice] their own game and give a little bit for the betterment of [the team], and I did just that.”

Though he was, at times, a liability offensively last season, Garnett was still a plus defender and actually led the league in defensive rebounding percentage. And he still has plenty to offer in terms of leadership.

“He’s the life of the locker room,” Joe Johnson said, “a great leader, very vocal. We need him, not only in the locker room but on the floor as well. He helps in so many ways and I’m glad he’s back.”

“He’s still smart,” Deron Williams added. “What he brings to this team leadership-wise can’t be forgotten about. So we’re excited to have him back, excited for him to be on our team, and just the knowledge he gives the young guys. I think he’s a big reason why Mason [Plumlee] has developed so fast, because he’s got one of the best players to ever play the game on the bench, one of the best big men to ever play this game, coaching him every day.”

Indeed, Plumlee gives credit to Garnett for helping him go from the No. 22 pick in the 2013 Draft to a gold-medal-winning member of the U.S. National Team just a year later.

“It was big,” Plumlee said of Garnett’s influence. “Even [USA assistant] Coach [Tom] Thibodeau said, ‘I can tell you’ve been with Kevin last year.’ He rubs off on people in a good way. And there’s a lot to learn from him.”

There’s not a player in camp that’s happier than Plumlee to have Garnett around.

“It’s a big benefit,” Plumlee said. “I was very happy he decided to come back. I expressed that to him at the end of the last season that I hoped he would decide to come back. And it’s going to be good for me. It’s going to be good for the whole team. And I think it’s going to be good for the coaches too. They’ll love having a leader like that in the locker room.”

The Nets have a new coach for the second straight season. Lionel Hollins has already named Garnett the starting power forward and indicated that he would play more minutes than he did last season. Garnett is happy to move back to the four, and will play whatever minutes he’s given.

“Whatever the coach tells me to do,” Garnett said, “that’s what I plan on doing.

“Right now, without the bumps and bruises, I feel great. Give me about three days, I’ll tell you I’m feeling much different from right now. But I’ve been working out since June, since we stopped. Obviously, I take care of myself. I take care of my body. So we’ll see. Eighty-two-plus games beats you up a little bit, so we’ll see.”

If Williams, Johnson and Brook Lopez are healthy and playing their best, the Nets don’t need Garnett to be more than what he was last season, a leader, a defender and someone who can knock down a mid-range jumper when it’s presented.

“I really don’t see myself as primary [option], and that’s just reality,” Garnett said. “But I still can give. I still have something to give to the game, to this team. And my mind set has always been to be better than I was last year or to be better than I was yesterday.”

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

The latest gut-punch for the Hawks


VIDEO: Hawks owner Levenson to sell team

BARCELONA — You have to wonder how much more can one franchise and its fragile fan base take? How many more gut-punches do the fine folks in the city of Atlanta, always a punch line for jokes naming the worst sports cities, have to endure?

The news of Hawks part-owner Bruce Levenson selling his stake in the franchise amid an investigation by the NBA into comments he made in a 2012 email is the latest blow for a franchise that has had to endure decades of dysfunction.

Where does it end?

Levenson’s apology, however sincere, doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s now lumped his family’s name and the Hawks into the mix with the disgraced former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling. This is no doubt a part of the fallout that NBA insiders were worried about when the Sterling mess turned into global news seemingly overnight.

Remember that “slippery slope” that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban talked about when he wondered how the league would handle other owners who were found to have said or done something to upset the sensibilities of a league that has championed inclusion, tolerance and acceptance?

Well, this is it.

Levenson was quick to speak out against Sterling when that news broke, only to have those words come back and bite him now that he’s the one in the crosshairs.

The truth is, there are people working at the highest levels in teams around the league who need to think long and hard about the way they have conducted their business before uttering a single word about any of the things that have gone on with the Clippers and now the Hawks. That’s not an accusation. It’s merely a fact for anyone trying to do business in Silver’s NBA.

Levenson throwing himself on the mercy of the fans with his statement — released by the Hawks today — comes with financial undertones as well. While his stake in the team won’t fetch anything like the record $2 billion that Steve Ballmer paid to free the Clippers from Sterling — Levenson is said to own less than half the team — he’ll walk away with a hefty sum despite the damage that his e-mail has done.

With the sale, Levenson will end his decade-long tenure as a part-owner of a franchise that has suffered one dysfunctional turn after another, something that he and his partners appeared to clean up recently with the second-longest playoff streak in the league (behind the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs) and the addition of marketing wiz and new part owner/CEO Steve Koonin, who knows Atlanta and the market as well as anyone.

The task for Koonin and the Hawks now is reassuring an already skeptical fan base that the franchise does not operate from the perspective Levenson expressed in that email.

It won’t be easy.

Hawks fans have had to suffer through a lot. The former owners, the Atlanta Spirit partners, took their internal battles to court, suing each other after the Joe Johnson sign-and-trade deal. From former part-owner Steve Belkin to Billy Knight, from Johnson and Josh Smith to Mike Woodson and Larry Drew, someone always has been a scapegoat in Atlanta. The Hawks even fired their longtime vice president of public relations, Arthur Triche, in a failed effort to improve their image. Meanwhile, despite regularly making it into the playoffs, the Hawks have gone through years and years of postseason irrelevance.

Levenson and his original partners got off to a rocky start. It was no secret. There were trust issues, inside and outside of the franchise, from the start.

In the end, that ownership group, or at least a major member of that original group, will exit the premises having breached the public trust. Which leaves the fans, once again, looking for someone that can truly represent the good people of Atlanta.

Hayward must grow with new salary

Utah Jazz v Golden State Warriors

While much will be given to Gordon Hayward, much will be required, too. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Now that Gordon Hayward has the max offer sheet — four years, $63 million — courtesy of the buzzing Charlotte Hornets, there’s no reason to debate whether he’s worth such big bucks that will top $14 million in Year One.

The 6-foot-8 small forward/shooting guard will be one of just seven players at the wing positions under contract (at the moment) for next season to make at least $14 million: Kobe Bryant, James HardenJoe Johnson, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon and Kevin Durant.

But it hardly matters if Hayward is worthy of such a deal or not. It’s what he’s getting. A lot of teams have a lot of cap space to fill and the Hornets, who nabbed free agent Al Jefferson from the Jazz last summer and are eager to add more scorers after finishing 24th in offensive rating (101.2 points per 100 possessions) last season, didn’t see a better option so Michael Jordan green-lighted his front office to go all-in for Utah’s restricted free agent.

Hayward can’t sign the offer sheet until Thursday and then Utah will have 72 hours to match. The club has consistently sent signals that it plans to do just that. Hayward would then return as the face of the Jazz, a club that won 25 games last year and one he apparently would prefer to leave behind for the further-along Hornets, a surprise playoff team last season in the inferior Eastern Conference. (Hayward reportedly was in discussions with other teams including Phoenix, but chose Charlotte.)

If Hayward indeed returns to Utah (and our David Aldridge details why the Jazz are well-positioned to match), any personal disappointment must be kept private and dismissed quickly. A contract of this size must be owned.

Hayward, 24 and entering his fifth season in the league, will have to be motivated to lead a quick team buy-in with new coach Quin Snyder, and establish himself as the voice inside the locker room. Hayward is admittedly the quiet type, and there’s nothing terribly wrong with that — it took Dirk Nowitzki time to turn up his volume — but on such a young team that includes second-year point guard Trey Burke and incoming rookie Dante Exum, Hayward is the player to which all eyes will turn.

An encouraging attitude and positive body language on the court will be essential, too. The youthful Jazz are going to struggle this season, there’s no way around it. For $63 million, Hayward will be expected to keep the team moving forward through tough times. He can’t hang his head or appear disengaged when things go wrong, as he did at times last season. He’s got the baby-face look, and there’s not much he can do about that, but he’ll be playing on a man’s contract, and expected to perform as such.

As for his production, hopefully Hayward will be spending the majority of the summer in a gym shooting thousands of jumpers. Each season his scoring average has increased and, in fact, he put up career-best numbers last season in scoring (16.2 ppg), assists (5.1) and rebounding (5.2).

However, his overall shooting percentage (41.3) hit an all-time low and his encouraging 3-point shooting from 2012-13 (41.5) dropped to a career-worst 30.4 percent last season as his attempts increased to a career-high 280.

Alongside Burke and Exum, especially as the rookie gains his footing as the season progresses, and Derrick Favors down low, the 3-point shot should be on high on Hayward’s menu on most nights. Utah last season finished 25th in the league in 3-point percentage (34.4) and 23rd in 3-point attempts per game (6.6). Hayward is capable of giving both categories a significant boost.

With the big pay day, come bigger responsibilities. Hayward must be prepared.

Nets move quick, hire proven Hollins


VIDEO: GameTime: Bucks-Nets Coaching Situation

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It didn’t take long for the Brooklyn Nets to find a replacement for Jason Kidd. It’s as if they’ve done this coaching search thing before.

The Nets announced Wednesday afternoon that they have reached an agreement with Lionel Hollins, who will be their fourth coach in the last two years. Avery Johnson was fired, P.J. Carlesimo was never considered to be more than an interim replacement, and Kidd thought that, after half of a season of success, he was ready for bigger things.

Hollins arrives after year off from coaching, which followed a 4 1/2-year stint in Memphis, in which the Grizzlies improved every year.

Grizzlies pace and efficiency, Lionel Hollins’ four full seasons

Season W L Win% Pace Rk OffRtg Rk DefRtg Rk NetRtg Rk
2009-10 40 42 0.488 96.1 8 104.8 17 107.6 24 -2.9 20
2010-11 46 36 0.561 94.5 15 104.4 16 102.5 8 +1.9 10
2011-12 41 25 0.621 93.4 18 101.0 21 98.9 7 +2.1 12
2012-13 56 26 0.683 91.1 29 101.7 18 97.4 2 +4.2 8

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

Hollins’ teams have never been better than average offensively, despite having Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol for most of those four full seasons. The Grizzlies were one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, but they didn’t shoot well. And shooting is much more important than rebounding.

In Hollins’ last season in Memphis, no team made or attempted fewer 3-pointers. When you’re playing Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Randolph at the 2, 3 and 4 spots, you’re not going to space the floor very well.

Last season, Brooklyn ranked 10th or 11th in 3-point makes, 3-point attempts, and 3-point percentage. And that was with a starting guard — Shaun Livingston — who shot 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Livingston is gone and his departure will hurt the Nets’ defense. Paul Pierce, meanwhile, is a free agent. And we don’t know for sure that Kevin Garnett will return for the last year on his contract. Those three and Kidd were Brooklyn’s biggest acquisitions last summer.

So the Nets could be hitting the reset button, going back to their core from their first season in Brooklyn, with Hollins on the bench. Even without Pierce or Garnett, they’d be above the luxury tax line, with only the tax payer’s mid-level exception to use on free agents. That could go to Croatian small forward Bojan Bogdanovic.

No matter what Pierce and Garnett do, Hollins’ success in Brooklyn will depend on the health of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, their two former All-Stars who could still be in their prime, with emphasis on the word “could.”

Williams had surgery on both ankles in May. Lopez had a third surgery on his right foot in January. They will be the team’s biggest questions come October.

The good news is that Hollins can’t get off to a worse start than Kidd, who saw his team go 10-21 in the first two months of last season. If Williams and Lopez are healthy, Hollins will have three guys — Joe Johnson being the third — who can consistently draw double-teams offensively. Their guards and forwards will be able to spread the floor much better than Hollins’ Grizzlies did.

Though offense was the issue in Memphis, defense will be a bigger question in Brooklyn, where Hollins won’t have Allen or Gasol.

This is still one of the more talented teams in the league though. And it’s playing in the weaker conference. Hollins has an opportunity to keep it near the top.

Hawks set up well to add a star


VIDEO: East Draft Review: Atlanta Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The big free agent destinations for this summer are Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami.

But what about Atlanta?

Few teams are set up to sign a star better than the Atlanta Hawks, who created more cap space with a trade reportedly agreed to on Sunday.

John Salmons is under contract for $7 million next season, but the Hawks only have to pay him $1 million if they waive him by Tuesday. That’s exactly what they’re expected to do, so by trading Lou Williams‘ $5.45 million deal (Lucas Nogueira doesn’t have a contract), the Hawks have created an additional $4.45 million of cap space.

As it stands, that gives the Hawks more than $13 million of cap space total. Assuming they extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents Shelvin Mack (more important now that Williams is gone) and Mike Scott and don’t extend one to Gustavo Ayon (who played just 26 games last season), they have a little more than $15 million in cap space.

That’s not enough to offer a max contract to LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but it’s enough to make a serious upgrade on the wing, where DeMarre Carroll started 73 games last season.

It’s just not cap space that makes a star player a good fit in Atlanta. It’s the supporting cast.

The best way to complement a star who draws the attention of extra defenders is with shooting. And starting with Kyle Korver, the Hawks have an abundance of that. They ranked fifth in 3-pointers last season and fifth in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint. It was their ability to space the floor with all five guys that gave the Indiana Pacers a world of trouble in the first round of the playoffs.

Bigs Paul Millsap and Pero Antic can step out beyond the 3-point line and Al Horford — expected to make a full recovery after December surgery on a torn pectoral muscle — has been one of the league’s best mid-range shooters over the last few years.

Those bigs are also good rebounders, and Jeff Teague is a solid point guard who can make defenses scramble on the pick-and-roll. That takes pressure off a star to carry the offense by himself.

Of course, beyond James and Anthony, there’s not a real offensive star (on the wing) to be had in free agency. Lance Stephenson might be the closest thing, but he doesn’t quite fit into the Spurs East model that Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer are trying to build in Atlanta (neither does Anthony, really).

And so, while Ferry did well in clearing contracts to get to this point, his tenure with the Hawks can’t be ruled a success until he actually gets the team back where they were — making three straight trips to the conference semifinals — before he got there.

Joe Johnson‘s contract is kind of ridiculous, but the Joe Johnson that we saw in the playoffs this year is exactly the kind of the player that would fit in well with the Hawks right now. Ferry has done well to set up a strong supporting cast, but there’s one more big step to take.