Posts Tagged ‘Joe Johnson’

Morning shootaround — Feb. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets’ Johnson may pursue buyout | Report: Rest of season may be tryout for Scott | Suns’ Watson vows to ‘nurture’ Morris

No. 1: Johnson won’t ask for trade, may seek buyout — Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson is two seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance and stats-wise at his lowest point in terms of scoring average (11.3 points) since 2002-03. But Johnson is also in the final year of the six-year, $119 million deal he inked back in 2010. While his high-scoring days are long gone, Johnson could be a vital pickup for a contender at the trade deadline. As he languishes on one of the East’s worst teams, Johnson told The Record‘s Andy Vasquez he won’t force a trade:

“I’m a professional, man,” Johnson said after practice. “Obviously this late in my career this isn’t the ideal situation. Obviously. But I’m not forcing anything, I haven’t went to management and asked for anything. I come to work day in and day out to compete and have fun, that’s what it’s about. And whatever happens, happens. Obviously this is a tough situation, but we’re all in this together and everybody in this locker room is who we’ve got. So no pointing fingers, we’re just coming out and just competing.”

It wouldn’t be easy for the Nets to trade Johnson’s nearly $25 million expiring contract. But there’s also the possibility of a buyout. Last month, ESPN reported that Johnson isn’t interested. But when asked about the possibility on Tuesday, Johnson left the door open and said he’ll explore the possibilities this week with his agent, Jeff Schwartz.

“Honestly, I don’t even know,” Johnson said when asked if he was open to a buyout. “My agent was here last night, and me and him are supposed to sit down and talk within the next week or so. So, I’m sure — whether or not it comes up, I don’t know, but we’ll talk.”

But even if Johnson demanded a trade, or wanted to negotiate a buyout, it’s unclear who would make the decisions on the Nets’ end. The franchise is still looking for a new general manager after Billy King was removed from the job on Jan. 10.

Johnson also reiterated what he told The Record earlier this season: playing for a contender will he his top priority when he becomes a free agent this summer.

“I just want a winning situation,” said Johnson, who added he plans to play two or three more seasons after this one before retiring. “It’s not going to be to no highest bidder or nothing like that, I just want to make sure the situation’s right for me. … the last couple years man I really just want to enjoy it and play on great teams.”

“I’m not saying that’s not possible,” Johnson said of a return to Brooklyn. “We’ll see what happens, I think a lot can happen between now and then.”

It’s been a struggle of a season for Johnson, who is averaging 11.3 points per game (his lowest since 2002-03) and shooting 39.0 percent (which would be the lowest shooting percentage for a season in his career). But he showed flashes of a resurgence in January when he shot 48.5 percent, 47.0 percent from three-point range and averaged 13.5 points.

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Analytics Art: The three hottest shooters of the week in the NBA


VIDEO: Parker delivers against the Cavaliers

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

Want to know whose shooting touch has been especially hot lately? Interactive data visualization site PointAfter has got you covered, whether you’re seeking out the hot hand for fantasy basketball knowledge or to simply satisfy your hunger for timely NBA content.

NBA.com’s newest editorial partner produces shot charts on a weekly and seasonal basis, among other visualizations. We’ll be bringing you weekly updates on the best and worst shooters of the week at guard, wing and forward/center for the rest of the season.

This week, we start with one of the many ageless wonders currently populating the impenetrable fortress known as the AT&T Center in San Antonio.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Jan. 8-14.

Best Guard: Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

In a possible NBA Finals preview Thursday night, the Spurs topped LeBron James and the Cavaliers 99-95 to extend their incredible home winning streak to 32 games.

Things didn’t always look so rosy for San Antonio, though — the Spurs trailed 50-38 with 1:08 left in the second quarter before Tony Parker scored the final six points of the half, as well as San Antonio’s first bucket of the third quarter, to keep them within striking distance. He ended up pouring in 24 points on 11-of-18 shooting.

That followed a season-high 31 points on Wednesday against Detroit, when Parker showcased his touch in the restricted zone and worked the mid-range game to convert 13-of-19 attempts on the night.

Note: You can hover over a shooting zone to see Parker’s percentages compared to the league average. Shot charts update every five minutes.

Parker has taken 31 percent of his shots from between 16-23 feet this season, which doesn’t exactly jive with coach Gregg Popovich’s preferred system of uncontested lay-ups and three-pointers. However, even though Parker has logged the worst scoring average (12.8 points per game) since his rookie campaign — which can partially be attributed to a career-low 27.1 minutes per game — the wily veteran is still more efficient than ever.

His three-point percentage has risen for a fourth consecutive season, all the way up to 45.2 percent. And his overall field goal percentage (53.0) is his best mark in a full decade, since the 2005-06 season.

It seems unlikely Parker will make his seventh All-Star Game this year, but the Frenchman can still take over a game when he’s at his best.

Best Wing: Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets

Make no bones about it — Joe Johnson and the Nets are having a nightmarish season. Brooklyn is feeling the fallout of its failed attempt to quick-fix its roster by trading draft picks for pricy veterans, as a clearly declining Johnson has posted the worst field goal percentage (38.1) and PER (9.4) of his career in 2015-16.

But for one week, the 34-year-old gave us a glimpse of his former greatness. In four games, he made 23-of-41 shots for a sparkling 56.1 percent conversion rate, including 60 percent of his 15 attempts from beyond the arc.

The Nets even claimed a 110-104 win over their biggest rivals on Wednesday night when they lucked into facing a Knicks team missing Carmelo Anthony (ankle). Johnson turned back the clock, keeping New York at arm’s length with a pair of midrange jumpers in the game’s final two minutes.

For Johnson and the Nets alike, it was a rare bright spot in a season that’s already long lost.

Best Forward/Center: Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics

The Celtics’ frontcourt is a crowded affair, but Amir Johnson has deservedly held onto his starting spot into the new year. Even though his scoring average (8.4 points per game) is the lowest it’s been since 2011-12, he’s come on as of late, reaching double-digits in each of the last six games.

And he’s been getting those buckets with efficiency that surely makes coach Brad Stevens proud. Johnson totaled 39 points in Boston’s three games this week by knocking down 69.6 percent of his 23 shots. And that mark increases to an astronomical 71 percent if you include his 6-of-8 showing against Chicago last Thursday.

Johnson has been remarkably productive in the paint all year long, cashing 66.9 percent of his attempts in the restricted zone (league average is 55.6 percent).

Johnson’s shooting stroke might not be the best part of his game right now, either. He grabbed 18 boards in Wednesday’s win over Indiana, and is averaging 10 rebounds per contest to go along with 13.4 points and 2.8 assists over his last five games.

That two-year, $24 million deal Johnson signed with Boston over the summer is looking like more of a bargain with each passing day.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Nets remove King, Hollins, have long way to go


VIDEO: What’s next for Nets in wake of recent moves?

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — When Mikhail Prokhorov purchased the Brooklyn Nets in 2010, he promised fans that the team would win an NBA title within five years. Six years later, the Nets have collected no titles, and are currently floundering at 10-27.

And as of about an hour ago, the Brooklyn Nets no longer have a coach or general manager, either.

The Nets announced today that the team had “parted ways” with head coach Lionel Hollins and “reassigned” general manager Billy King. The interim head coach will be Tony Brown, who played a season for the Nets in ’86-87, and has been an NBA assistant coach for almost two decades. Brown becomes the Nets’ fifth coach in the last five seasons.

The Nets have been good over the last five seasons, making three consecutive playoff appearances, but they just weren’t good enough. During King’s tenure, the Nets never made it as far as the Eastern Conference finals, much less the NBA Finals. And that clearly wasn’t good enough for an owner with big-time aspirations.

“After careful consideration, I’ve concluded that it’s time for a fresh start and a new vision for the direction of the team,” Prokhorov said in a statement. “By making this decision now, it enables our organization to use the rest of the season to diligently evaluate candidates with proven track records. It’s clear from our current state of affairs that we need new leadership. With the right basketball management and coach in place, we are going to create a winning culture and identity and give Brooklyn a team that it can be proud of and enjoy watching.”

King was Prokhorov’s first significant hire, and he aggressively attempted to fashion the Nets into a team capable of winning immediately and meeting Prokhorov’s championship edict. He traded valuable combinations of draft picks and players to bring in Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. After Avery Johnson presided over the team’s move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, King surprisingly hired Jason Kidd, who had no head coaching experience, but led the team to the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals. When Kidd departed following one season, King went pragmatic and brought in Lionel Hollins.

In his only other head coaching job, with the Memphis Grizzlies, Hollins established a reputation for connecting with veteran players. In nearly one and a half seasons with the Nets, Hollins compiled a 48-71 record. The veteran-heavy Nets roster seemed to be a logical landing spot for Hollins, and he guided last year’s team to a 38-44 regular season record and playoff berth, where the Nets pushed the Atlanta Hawks to six games before a first round exit. This season, without veterans such as Garnett and Deron Williams, the Nets attempted to get younger and more athletic, although a recent season-ending injury to Jarrett Jack seemed to curb whatever enthusiasm remained in the borough.

One thing about the Nets is certain: Whoever replaces King has their work cut out for them. Thanks to the Garnett/Pierce trade, the Nets don’t control their own first round pick until 2019, which would seem to make rebuilding through the draft nearly impossible. The Nets also don’t have much of trade value on their current roster, other than perhaps Brook Lopez or the injured rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, making it difficult to acquire other first round picks.

With the luxury tax figure rising the next two seasons, the Nets will have cap space to sign free agents, although almost every team in the NBA will also be able to exploit the cap space bonanza. The Nets have trumpeted their new practice facility, opening along the Brooklyn waterfront in February, as a positive for a franchise in need of good energy.

The Nets may have started from the bottom, and now they’re here. And while ownership tries to figure out a new route to relevance, only one thing is certain: For all of their sound and fury, the Nets still have a long way to go.

With Jack gone, Nets facing winter of discontent


VIDEO: Jack leaves game with knee injury

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — What little hope the Brooklyn Nets had for making a return to the playoffs this season may have just left the borough.

Earlier Sunday the Nets announced point guard Jarrett Jack will miss the remainder of the season following surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a meniscus tear in his right knee. Jack suffered the injury during Saturday night’s 100-97 win at Boston. That win put the Nets at 10-23 on the season, the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Jarrett Jack was never a classic pass-first point guard, but on these Brooklyn Nets he wasn’t asked to play that role. Through 32 games, Jack was averaging 12.8 points and 7.4 assists. He was Brooklyn’s most reliable player on the perimeter, and its best option to create some sort of opportunity when the offense was breaking down. Jack’s absence will likely be felt as strongly off the court as it will be on the floor — Jack was particularly well-liked in the Brooklyn locker room, both by his teammates and media.

Brooklyn’s path forward without Jack is murky. In the immediate future, the Nets will likely insert third-year point guard Shane Larkin, who has thus far averaged 6.6 point and 3.8 assists in 29 games, into the starting lineup. Veteran guard Donald Sloan, who made the Nets out of training camp and has seen action in 13 games, could also see an increase in playing time. Joe Johnson can ostensibly handle the ball and run an offense, but after logging over 40,000 minutes over 16 seasons, the miles seem to have caught up to him this season, as he is shooting a career-worst 36 percent from the floor.

To replace Jack’s production, the Nets will likely rely more on Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, who have proven to be a capable duo on the interior when healthy, combining to average 35.6 points and 17.9 rebounds. Forward Bojan Bogdanovic has scored in double figures in 10 of his last 13 games. Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was probably Brooklyn’s best perimeter defender before an ankle injury in December, and his return could come around the All-Star break.

Long-term, the Nets’ future has just as many questions, with answers that are even tougher to find. That the Nets were able to defeat the Celtics on Saturday night was no small irony, as the Nets leveraged their immediate future several seasons ago thanks to the Celtics, by trading numerous draft picks for what turned out to be less than two seasons of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. As a result, the Celtics own Brooklyn’s first round picks in 2016 and 2018, as well as the ability to swap first round picks with the Nets in 2017.

Brooklyn’s best chance to improve in the short-term likely resides in free agency. After taking on salary for years, the Nets have recently worked to get under the luxury tax, and don’t have much financial flexibility to immediately go out and sign a replacement for Jack. They could apply for a Disabled Player Exception to generate some economic wiggle room, but would still need to create a roster slot. With Johnson’s contract expiring this summer and the Nets holding a team option on the contracts of Jack and Markel Brown, and with the salary cap expected near $90 million thanks to the NBA’s new television contract, the Nets could enter next summer with $30 million to spend.

But the summer is still months away. This season, the Nets were already one of the NBA’s worst teams. Now they just lost their leader, and still have 50 games left to play.

It may be a long, cold winter in Brooklyn.

Blogtable: Who’s getting traded?

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: Lasting impression from Warriors’ start? | Who’s getting traded? |
Rondo suspension harsh enough?



VIDEOThe Starters discuss who may get traded this season

> Give me a name or two, guys who you think almost certainly will be traded between now and the Feb. 18 trade deadline.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: How ’bout Markieff Morris, Brandon Jennings, Kevin Martin and (a constant on these speculative lists) DeMarcus Cousins? Morris has wanted out of Phoenix since the Suns broke the family bond by dealing away brother Marcus. Jennings, if he can demonstrate his ability once he returns from Achilles-surgery rehab, would be redundant for Detroit behind Reggie Jackson if he can’t settle into a sixth-man role. Martin is the rare Timberwolf who is in mid-career and thus, out of place in Minnesota’s mentor-driven rebuild. As for Cousins, he’s done the groundwork to join that historical group of malcontented NBA big men who got traded two or three times in their careers, so he might as well get the first one out of the way.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Ryan Anderson. Pelicans need to do something for the future and he’s probably their most valuable trade chip. Also, Terrence Jones, who is a victim of a Rockets numbers game with Clint Capela and Donatas Motiejunas.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comJoe Johnson, brutal salary and all. But the Nets need to hurry. Even if they price Johnson to move, his offense has become more problem than attractive. I would still expect a playoff team looking for a veteran to show interest.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Taj Gibson, Brandon Jennings, Markieff Morris. The Bulls have a replacement for Gibson, Morris and the Suns are overdue for a parting (and his team-friendly contract would be in demand) while the Pistons have no need for Jennings and besides, coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t seem to be a big fan.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comIt’s hard to say that someone will “almost certainly” be traded, because it takes two to tango and a trade it’s more difficult these days to convince another team that your trash is their treasure. The Clippers may want to cut bait on the Lance Stephenson experiment, but they’re more likely to find a taker on Jamal Crawford. If the Pelicans don’t survive this five-game road trip (which is already off to a rough start) they’re on, they should start looking at the future and seeing what they can get for Ryan Anderson. The Grizzlies, Rockets and Wizards are all primed for a shake-up, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Tony Allen, Corey Brewer, or Nene in a new home by Feb. 18.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Brandon Jennings is a prime target, what with Reggie Jackson making himself at home as the starting point guard in Detroit for the foreseeable future. Quality point guards are always in demand and he’d be an intriguing fit in several places (Utah, New Orleans, just to name a couple). Lance Stephenson just doesn’t seem to fit with the Clippers and what they are trying to do. If someone gets thrown overboard between now and the deadline, I won’t be shocked if it’s Born Ready.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Brandon Bass, the Lakers’ 30 year old power forward, has an affordable two-year contract totaling $6.1 million. His midrange shotmaking, defense and postseason experience could help any number of playoff contenders. By February their fans will be begging the Lakers to unload short-term talents like Bass in hope of retaining their No. 1 pick, which goes to Philadelphia if it falls outside the top three.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’d guess either Brook Lopez or Thaddeus Young. Brooklyn is in deep trouble looking ahead, with their draft future mostly belonging to Boston and their on-court future looking murky. They need to rebuild, but don’t have the pieces to do it. Their only real option is to move whatever they have left and try to get some pieces they can build upon going forward. And from what I can tell, Young and Lopez are their best bets this season to dangle at the trade deadline and hope to get a Draft pick in return.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Nov. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rush puts latest ‘wow’ in W’s | Wizards hard to please in swoon | LeBron saves day, J.R.’s D | McCollum’s audience of 1

No. 1: Rush puts latest ‘wow’ in W’s — All right, the Golden State Warriors are just messing with The Association now. Racing to their 18-0 record, the NBA’s defending champions are posting stupid numbers of superiority and seem almost to be handicapping themselves just for sport. For instance, reigning MVP Steph Curry scored 17 points in the first quarter of his team’s victory over Sacramento while taking only six shots. Draymond Green, who in previous generations might have gotten dismissed as a ” ‘tweener” and been sent packing to multiple teams as a seventh or eighth man, became the first Warriors player since Wilt Chamberlain to post consecutive triple-doubles. Golden State already has outscored opponents by 288 points in just 18 games, ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss reports, and then – even as Harrison Barnes goes out for what could be a couple weeks there’s the whole Brandon Rush thing Saturday:

So, how does a team that averages a blowout top itself? On Saturday night, joyous surprise came in the form of a quick strike Brandon Rush throwback game. He was called upon to replace Harrison Barnes (sprained ankle) in the starting lineup, to some surprise. He didn’t deliver much in the beginning but owned the third quarter like Klay Thompson in disguise. Rush scored 14 points in a 3-minute, 49-second stretch that was shocking, fun, and possibly cathartic.

Rush has a history here, having done nice work for a very different Golden State team, not entirely long ago. On the 2011-2012 Warriors, he was the rare good role player, a glue guy in a situation too shattered to matter. On Nov. 3, 2012, against the Grizzlies, a Zach Randolph shove sent Rush’s career into dormancy. He’d scored 2,639 points in his four-plus seasons before his ACL injury. In the two seasons that followed, he scored 109.

In the background, he has been a vocal part of the locker room, originator of the, “Get what you neeeeed!” catchphrase, meant to inspire work between practices. He’s a popular teammate, someone people here have been pulling for to finally reclaim what he lost. That was palpable in the frenzy of his 14-point explosion. Teammates were clearly looking for Rush, hoping to extend his moment.

After a dunk over contact, Rush was found for three consecutive 3-pointers. Then, during a timeout, interim coach Luke Walton and assistant coach Jarron Collins decided to carry the fun further, calling up “Elevator Doors” for the suddenly hot Rush.

“Elevator Doors” is a play that looks like its namesake. An offensive player runs off the ball between two screening teammates, who converge together to block his defender — the closing doors. It’s a play normally called up for the best of shooters, as it creates a 3-pointer on the move. You’ll see Curry get this play call. You’ll see Thompson get this play call. Something crazy has to happen for almost anyone else to ditch the stairs and take the lift. Since three straight 3s qualifies, Rush got the call, got the ball and … splash.

The crowd went nuts, only outdone by a Golden State bench that might have accidentally created dance moves never before invented.

***

No. 2: Wizards hard to please in swoon — All it took was a playoff sweep of the Toronto Raptors for the Washington Wizards and their fans to go all-in on the small-ball, pace-and-space style of offense so popular throughout the league. All it has taken to shake them from that embrace is four defeats, strung together last week in five nights against Indiana, Charlotte, Boston and Toronto. That shiny, new attack doesn’t look so dazzling anymore, and center Marcin Gortat sounded ready to throw it under the bus to get his old bruise buddy, Nene, alongside him again in a big-man tandem that, weeks ago, seemed prehistoric. Gortat also wasn’t happy with what he termed “negativity” in Washington’s locker room, saying: “”It’s not even fun coming here anymore.” Here is an excerpt of J.Michael’s Wizards insider report for CSNMidAtlantic.com:

“We missed some shots but it’s tough also because with the system we play, four outside one inside,” he said after 16 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s 84-82 loss to the Toronto Raptors. “I’m by myself over there fighting for the rebounds. Usually you got two, three guys inside the paint so it’s a little bit different without Nene being at the four.”

Nene, who started alongside Gortat as the power forward, missed Saturday because of a left calf strain. Even though his career rebounding numbers are modest (6.6), Nene tends to clear the traffic around the rim to allow Gortat to rebound.

Of course, last season Gortat wasn’t happy on the offensive end because being on the floor with Nene being there clogged the paint and caused difficulty for him, as well as John Wall on drives, to operate. The idea of moving Nene to the bench and sliding in someone who has three-point ability into that role opens the floor but usually comes at the cost of rebounding.

The Wizards are 6-8 and struggling with their identity, and minus-28 in rebounds during this four-game losing streak. Playing the old way got them to the Eastern Conference semifinals two years in a row.

Kris Humphries had started every game at power forward as his three-point shooting evolved but has only made one deep ball in the last five games. For the first time Jared Dudley, who is undersized at 6-7 and was a teammate of Gortat’s with the Phoenix Suns, started there Saturday. He had seven points and four rebounds.

“Jared is a different player. He’s giving a lot to the team. I love to play with him,” Gortat said. “But just as Jared is giving us offensively great opportunities, we’re suffering on rebounds a little bit. It is what it is.

“Coach [Randy Wittman] is still looking for the right guy at the four spot. … It’s tough. Everybody has to do more now, including me. It’s not easy.”

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No. 3:LeBron saves day, J.R.’s D — A late-game mistake nearly torpedoed the generally good defensive work that Cleveland’s J.R. Smith turned in on Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson. But LeBron James‘ late-game heroics averted that particular disaster on a night in which the two Cavaliers – a study in contrasts in so many ways, in demeanor and drive – were their team’s best story. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com saw it as further steps in the championship contender’s progress toward the goal:

There they stood next to each other in the back corner of the Cavaliers’ locker room Saturday: one with aspirations of being known as the G.O.A.T., the other narrowly avoiding becoming the goat for the night, thanks to his ambitious friend hitting a game winner that absolved his defensive sin in the previous possession.

For James, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about his final stat line of 26 points, nine rebounds and five assists or anything too outlandish about him hitting the clincher; he has done it plenty of times before. But it was the nature of his final shot — an eight-foot, driving hook shot over the 7-foot Brook Lopez — that made it unique.

“I don’t think I’ve ever made a game winner off one of those,” James said. “I’ve made layups. I’ve made pull-ups. Obviously I’ve made step-back jumpers. I’ve probably never made one of those for a game winner. So, I might go to the skyhook next time. … Brook, he did not think in his wildest years that I was going to shoot that one.”

For Smith, unfortunately, there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary about his ill-advised foul on Joe Johnson’s 3-point attempt with 15.2 seconds left and the Cavs leading by three. Smith has committed mental mistakes by fouling in inappropriate situations before, be it Friday night against Charlotte on a Nicolas Batum 3 or the mountain of miscues he had late in Game 2 of the Finals. But it was his overall defensive effort — a career-high four blocks, three steals and the primary defensive assignment on Johnson to begin with — that warrants mentioning

“I know as long as I can bring that enthusiasm and toughness on the defensive end, then we will have a better chance of winning than if I’m just making shots,” Smith said. “I have to be a two-way player.”

It could be seen as troubling that Cleveland needed the double-rainbow-like performance to win a home game against a Brooklyn team that’s now 3-13. There could be legitimate points made about Cleveland’s big-man trio of Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Timofey Mozgov — making a combined $28.7 million this season — combining on the court for just 12 points on 5-for-18 shooting, 20 rebounds and six turnovers against the Nets. There certainly has been a bit of hand-wringing among team observers wondering when the on-court product would actually look as good as the Cavs’ 13-4 record is.

The flip side to that: You have developments such as Smith becoming a key cog in Cleveland’s fourth-quarter, switch-everything defensive lineups and encouraging quotes such as James crediting coach David Blatt for the “designed play.” However, Blatt passed the praise to his star player, saying, “Just the way I drew it up. … Give it to No. 23.”

Like James and Blatt’s relationship, or Smith’s commitment to something other than taking contested jump shots to James putting in so much time in practicing a specialized shot such as that running hook that he would actually feel confident enough to use it in crunch time, Cleveland’s season goals are all about growth.

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No. 4:McCollum’s audience of 1 — When Portland shooting guard C.J. McCollum sank the first four shots he took against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Trail Blazers’ eventual home victory Saturday, he simply was following instructions. His own instructions. Turns out, McCollum – who scored 19 points in the first half and finished with 28 points as Portland won for the third time in four games – had given himself a rather demanding pep talk before the game and Jason Quick of CSNNW.com was on hand to witness it:

It was a mostly silent Moda Center when CJ McCollum took the court about two hours before Saturday’s Trail Blazers game. The music had yet to start blaring from the speakers above, and there were only a limited amount of players on the court.

It was quiet enough to hear McCollum engage in what would be an important conversation … with himself.

“Get up!” McCollum told himself as he attempted a shot.

The next shot, it was the same thing. “Get up!’’

And so it went for the next 15, 20 minutes.

“Get up!” … Swish … “Get up!” … Swish.

Nearly every shot was accompanied by a reminder to both get arc under his shot, and lift from his legs.

“Sometimes, my shot is a little flat,’’ McCollum said. “I’m shooting more of a line drive, so I just remind myself that I’ve got to get it up.’’

McCollum, who is averaging 20.4 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range, says he often talks to himself during shooting routines. Usually, he talks to himself in his mind during morning sessions at the team’s practice facility. Other times, he is more audible. Either way, he find the personal reminders offer “positive reinforcement.”

“We shoot so many shots that sometimes, you baby it, hold back a little bit,’’ McCollum said. “So I remind myself to get it up, let it go.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: It has taken the proverbial New York minute for the Knicks and their fans to swap out the question mark after Kristaps Porzingis‘ name with an exclamation point, and our man Lang Whitaker tells the tale of New Yorkers’ newfound 7-foot-3 source of hope and optimism … Detroit coach and basketball boss Stan Van Gundy had center Andre Drummond in his crosshairs, asking more from the big man who has given the Pistons so much this season, at least in terms of gaudy rebounding numbers. … Here’s some video of Kobe Bryant on that kid McCollum’s growth in Portland, on the young Lakers and on the inevitable march of time. … Here at HangTime HQ, we can’t remember the last time Father Time grabbed 18 rebounds in a game but we do know when San Antonio’s Tim Duncan most recently accomplished that. … The Bulls need Derrick Rose to play more like Derrick Rose, especially when trying to score, though some doubt he’ll ever quite make it back. … Did someone say back? That’s what Rockets fans wonder, while waiting for Donatas Motiejunas to come back in his recovery from back surgery. … ICYMI, this Philadelphia 76ers fan’s lament does some serious Sixers ‘splaining. … The way Brook and Robin Lopez mock-bicker and tease each other – over their cats, their personalities, you name it – you might find yourself wishing they were conjoined rather than merely identical twins.

Morning shootaround — August 1


VIDEO: 2015 Basketball Without Borders Africa

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Howard to Team USA camp | Just a start in Africa | Johnson won’t miss D-Will | NBPA files grievance
No. 1: Dwight Howard on road to Rio? — It looks like the old gang is getting back together. Dwight Howard is the latest big name to toss his hat into the ring for a spot on the USA Basketball team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Rockets center had to pull out of the 2012 Games in London due to back surgery, but Marc Stein of ESPN.com says Howard will join Houston teammate James Harden and a galaxy of other stars for what managing director Jerry Colangelo is calling a “mandatory” camp in Las Vegas Aug. 11-13:

Howard will join Rockets teammate James Harden and a slew of top stars on the campus of UNLV for two days of noncontact workouts and an intrasquad scrimmage on the night of Aug. 13.

Colangelo is billing the gathering more of a “reunion” than a typical full-speed USAB camp. But the fact that attendance is compulsory to be considered for a spot on the 12-man squad coach Mike Krzyzewski takes to Rio next summer is expected to attract more than 30 players to UNLV.

The following is an alphabetical listing of players who, according to sources, are known to have informed USAB they plan to attend the minicamp: Carmelo Anthony, Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Michael Carter-Williams, Mike Conley, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Draymond Green, Blake Griffin, Harden, Tobias Harris, Gordon Hayward, Howard, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Love, Victor Oladipo, Chandler Parsons, Mason Plumlee, Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook.

In an interview this week with SiriusXM NBA Radio, Colangelo said he expects near-perfect attendance after extending invitations to an overwhelming majority of the 34 players who were in the program as of last September as well as a number of younger newcomers.

Although LeBron James’ attendance at the minicamp has not yet been confirmed, Colangelo told Sirius, “I think LeBron wants to be part of it [in 2016].”

***

No. 2: More big things on horizon for NBA in Africa — Saturday’s game featuring a slew of big name NBA stars in Johannesburg, South Africa is big. But it’s just a start. Imagine if the game could continue to grow exponentially from top to bottom throughout the large continent. Imagine if the NBA could harness that growing enthusiasm for basketball and turn it into millions and millions of Twitter users and dyed-in-the-wool fans. That’s the driving force behind the first game on the African continent, writes our own Shaun Powell, as the league looks toward the future:

Therefore, what’s the incentive for the NBA to spend time and resources on a continent where the hurdles are high and the interest, compared to other sports here, is low? Well, that’s easy. If Africa ever warms up to basketball, and that’s slowly happening, basketball will win big. And when basketball wins, the NBA wins. Call it an investment into the future.
But man, those hurdles …

“We have to build leagues, we have to get coaches, we have to train coaches, we have to build programs,” said Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, who is Nigerian-born and has stayed active in the cause for two decades. “It just doesn’t happen overnight.”

African interest in basketball is growing

The power brokers in basketball are undaunted. The alliance of FIBA and the NBA and sponsors such as Nike are forging ahead and they keep coming back. There’s just too much to gain, they feel, and too many people — just over a billion, actually — for Africa not to create good and great players. Again, this isn’t a continent the size of Australia. This is Africa. This is a billion. Even with shaky infrastructure, those are delicious odds.

***

No. 3: Departure of D-Will makes Johnson happy — Never mind all the rumors — many of them real — that the underachieving Nets were looking to move Joe Johnson and his whopping contract for next season. The word now coming out of the Brooklyn bunker, according to Nets Daily, is that the team is now expecting big things from the All-Star shooting guard. One of the big reasons is that Johnson is said to be much happier after the Nets bought out moody, mopey, discontented point Deron Williams. If harmony and happiness are cures, maybe there are sunnier days ahead in Brooklyn:

Moreover, various sources inside the Nets have suggested that the departure of D-Will is likely to help Johnson rebound. It was no secret that Brooklyn’s Backcourt didn’t get along.  That famous Johnson tweet back in early November was believed to be about his relationship with Williams.

One insider, asked after the buyout if the Nets were still pursuing a Johnson trade, firmly said no. He volunteered there was probably no one more pumped about the buyout than Johnson.  “I am sure Joe will have a tremendous season,” he added with a smile.

Johnson was indeed unhappy with the Nets situation, as he laid out the day after the season ended.

“Something’s going to happen. I don’t know what. I don’t see us coming back as the same team. This is my third year here. I could see if we were getting better each year, but it’s kind of been the opposite. So to not even be a .500 ball club in the East, it’s disheartening.”

***

No. 4: Mbah a Moute protests voiding of contract — The summer of turmoil for the Kings just seems to go on and on. The latest involves the free agent signing — and subsequent dropping — of Luc Mbah a Moute by Sacramento. Just two days after making a $1.5 million deal official with him, the Kings voided the contract because he didn’t pass their physical. As a result, the National Basketball Players Association plans to file a grievance against the Kings, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Perhaps small potatoes compared to repairing the rift between franchise player DeMarcus Cousins and coach George Karl, but just one more headache that president of basketball operations Vlade Divac doesn’t need:

Mbah a Moute has been meeting with NBPA executive director Michele Roberts in Johannesburg this week, where Mbah a Moute, a Cameroon native, has been medically cleared to play for Team Africa against Team World in the first NBA exhibition game in Africa.

Mbah a Moute signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Sacramento on July 14 – only two days later to have Kings officials inform him that concerns over his right shoulder had caused the franchise to void the deal, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Mbah a Moute’s representatives at Wasserman Media Group and NBPA officials, armed with independent medical examinations that produced playing clearances, are disputing the legitimacy of the Kings’ process and the findings to declare a failed physical, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The defending champion Warriors give their bench a big boost by trading Gerald Wallace for Jason Thompson … Nancy Lieberman makes it official that she’s joining the Kings … Hawks’ Mike Scott arrested on drug charge … Jordan Hill nabbed for driving 107 mph … Michael Jordan’s last basket — literally — draws more than $41,000 in auction … Bernard James headed to China to play for Shanghai Sharks … Hedo Turkoglu would like to officially end his NBA career in Sacramento … Sasha Vujacic signs a one-year contract with the Knicks.

Morning Shootaround — July 13




VIDEO: Should the Thunder have matched the offer sheet for Enes Kanter?

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas | Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? | Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC | Jack ready to replace Williams | Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns

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No. 1: Polished Mudiay opens eyes in Vegas — While other members of his Draft class are adjusting to the rigors of the NBA during their respective summer league debuts, Denver Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is drawing rave reviews from every direction after his initial steps in the Las Vegas Summer League. There is a reason he sticks out, according to Rob Mahoney of SI.com:

The product on the floor at the Las Vegas Summer League is, by the tyranny of literal definition, basketball. It’s just a form of basketball so far removed from the NBA’s version as to complicate player evaluation. The best and worst performances alike come with the caveat that summer league is a world all its own: The talent level is lower, the continuity is nonexistent, and the context of play is altogether distinct.

The true standouts in Vegas, then, are those who demonstrate the kinds of skills that can cut through the divide. Count Nuggets rookie Emmanuel Mudiay among them. A combined 14 assists (including 10 on Sunday against Sacramento) in his first two summer league games doesn’t do him justice. Mudiay is such a smooth playmaker that he gives a makeshift offense of make-good prospects an actual rhythm.

Mudiay sees the game in a way that allows for that. There are prospects all across the summer league pool with rotation-quality speed or handle. Mudiay has both, stands a solid 6’5″, and has the vision to see all of a possession’s opportunities. Whenever his drives bring multiple defenders to the ball, Mudiay monitors even those options that might first seem unavailable: The half-defended roll man, the zoned-up shooter on the weak side, or the cutter caught in a crowd. His every step and spin revises those possibilities.

“I learned so much in China,” Mudiay said.  “Just slowing the game down, seeing where everybody’s at, knowing where everybody’s at. That really helped me.”

Just before the defense can settle, Mudiay creates. A cross-court pass will zip into the pocket of an available teammate from a difficult angle, bringing his drive-and-kick to a potent conclusion. Rare are those point guards who can not just find and exploit openings, but also keep defenses guessing. Mudiay has some of that spice—the ability to look past a good first option into a great (but challenging) second option. Corner shooters and hard rollers are going to love him.

“I can score when I need to but at the same time, [the Kings] were giving me wide open lanes,” Mudiay said. “Me finding my teammates, that was the main important thing. I found my teammates. How ever the other team’s playing me, that’s how I’m going to play.”

***

No. 2: Will Nets regret Bargnani signing? — In this summer’s free agent landscape, spending $1.4 million on a rotation big like Andrea Bargnani would appear to be a pretty good bargain for the Brooklyn Nets. Our John Schuhmann is not as confident in the addition of Bargnani as the decision-makers in Brooklyn:

It seems like a low-risk move by the Nets, who apparently stole Bargnani from the Sacramento Kings, who had offered him more than the minimum. But at this point in his career, it’s unclear what Bargnani has to offer any team who dares to pay him anything.

Bargnani has long been a bad defender. Of 386 players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the nine years since Bargnani came into the league, only three – Ryan Gomes (108.9), Hakim Warrick(108.9) and Charlie Villanueva (109.5) – have had a higher on-court DefRtg (the number of points a player’s team allows per 100 possessions) than Bargnani (108.8).

He’s not a good (or willing) passer; His assist rate (7.4 assists per 100 possessions used) ranks 351st among those 386 players. And he’s a terrible rebounder for his size; he’s grabbed less than 10 percent of available rebounds when he’s been on the floor.

Bargnani is supposed to be a shooter and a floor spacer. But he has shot just 30 percent from 3-point range over the last four seasons.

He did shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc with the Knicks last season, but that was on just 41 attempts. And that’s the real issue. Bargnani doesn’t shoot many threes (or really space the floor) anymore.

In his first four seasons in the league, Bargnani took about one mid-range shot (between the paint and the 3-point line) for every 3-pointer. But over the last five seasons, his mid-range-to-threes rate has doubled.

Bargnani is a decent mid-range shooter. But even over the last five years, his mid-range shots (43.3 percent, 0.87 points per shot) haven’t been worth as much as his threes (31.8 percent, 0.95 points per shot).

Bargnani doesn’t shoot well or often in the paint. And if he fancies himself a shooter and/or a floor spacer, he can’t be taking twice as many mid-range shots as 3-pointers. Last year’s rate of more than 4-to-1 is just awful.

Speaking of awful, last year’s Knicks went 17-65. And they were at their worst, getting outscored by 17.5 points per 100 possessions (16.5 points per 48 minutes), when Bargnani was on the floor.

The Nets needed another big to back up Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Before Sunday, their only centers were Lopez and Willie Reed, who has never played in a NBA game.

But there were better options out there than Bargnani, who hasn’t been good at his one good skill in several years. It’s especially strange that a team looking to make moves with cap space next summer would dedicate any 2016-17 money (even if it’s a player option for the minimum) to a player like Bargnani. And my goodness, his relationship with an old-school, defense-first coach like Lionel Hollins will be fascinating to watch.

The good news for the Nets is that they didn’t give up three draft picks to get him.

 

***

No. 3: Kanter has to prove his worth in OKC — Now that the Thunder have matched Portland’s $70 million offer for Thunder restricted free agent Enes Kanter, it’s time for the big man to prove his worth on a healthy team that is ticketed for big things during the 2015-16 season. Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman paints the picture in Oklahoma City:

 

The offense should be no problem. Kanter was superb offensively with the Thunder. In 26 games, Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 5.0 offensive rebounds per game. He shot 56.6 percent from the field. He scored inside; he scored outside. And Kanter wasn’t a black hole. He averaged a career-high 1.3 assists per 36 minutes. Serge Ibaka’s career high is 1.1.

But defensively? Total disaster. Historic, in many ways. The Thunder was so glad to have a healthy body, especially a big body who put the ball in the basket, that Kanter’s defense was glossed over. But it was bad. To borrow a phrase from Chris Paul. Bad, bad, bad.

When Kanter was traded from Utah on Feb. 19, the Thunder ranked ninth in NBA defense — 99.7 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz ranked 26th, 104.9.

In two months, basically a third of a season, Utah caught the Thunder. The Jazz finished 13th in NBA defense, 101.3 points per 100 possessions. OKC was 15th, 101.8.

The Jazz improvement wasn’t just addition by subtraction. It was addition by addition — 7-foot-3 Rudy Gobert moved into the starting lineup, and the Jazz was transformed. Utah was 19-34 with Kanter; the Jazz was 19-10 without Kanter.

The Thunder’s defense suddenly cratered with Kanter playing 30 minutes a night. The final 17 games was without Serge Ibaka, which will sink many a defense, but still, that doesn’t explain the total collapse.

A new defensive statistic is really telling. Defensive real plus-minus, which measures a player’s impact on team defensive performance. It might be the closest thing we have to a rock-bottom defensive value.

Kanter ranked 469th out of 474 NBA players measured. Read that again. Kanter ranked above only Sacramento’s Derrick Williams, the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, the Lakers’ Jabari Brown and Brooklyn’s Bojan Bogdanovic.

Kanter ranked last among 71 centers. The worst defensive center in the league was the guy the Thunder has committed to paying $70 million.

And it’s not like 2014-15 was an aberration. The season before, Kanter ranked 61st out of 62 centers, ahead only of Milwaukee’s John Henson.

Again, offensively, Kanter is a jewel. He ranked seventh among NBA centers in offensive real plus-minus, ahead of stars like Chris Bosh and Al Horford and Dwight Howard. So Kanter is the total package offensively. But that defense will kill you, as we learned down the stretch of the star-crossed season recently completed.

***

No. 4: Jack ready to replace Williams — The departure of Deron Williams in Brooklyn leaves a gaping hole in the lineup at point guard. Veteran Jarrett Jack insists he is ready to replace Williams, if that’s what Nets GM Billy King and coach Lionel Hollins need him to do. Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News has more:

Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson always planned to attend NBA summer league in Las Vegas as a team-building experience.

But addressing reporters late Saturday night in Cox Pavilion, circumstances had obviously changed.

Deron Williams, the former face of the franchise, was waived Saturday afternoon — the Nets agreeing to buy out the remaining two years and $43.3 million of his contract for $27.5 million.

The move allows the Nets to duck under the luxury cap threshold and increase their salary cap space for 2016-17.

But Williams’ departure also creates a job opening at point guard.

While coach Lionel Hollins and GM Billy King danced around questions of who will take over the role, it’s assumed that Jack, a well-liked veteran who started 27 games last season and came up big in late-game situations, will play the part with perhaps newly acquired Shane Larkin also pushing for minutes.

“If that’s the position they want me to fill, I’m definitely very ready to do so,” Jack said. “It’s not my first rodeo as far as being thrust into the (starter’s) role if that were to be the case. So it’s something that’s not foreign to me and (I’m) definitely ready for the challenge.”

Jack said he spoke to Williams on Friday about his exit out of Brooklyn.

Williams is expected to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks after he clears waivers on Monday.

“He was in good spirits, going back to his hometown team, thought he might have needed a change of scenery, you know, which is cool,” Jack said. “In professional sports, happiness is a thing that we don’t get to control a lot. It seems like he’s happy with the new situation and I’m definitely happy for him and hope he does well.”

***

No. 5: Bledsoe showing offseason commitment to Suns — All the moves made this summer in Phoenix have Eric Bledsoe believing that the Suns are a playoff team in the rugged Western Conference. That means his commitment to the Suns and to improved leadership are crucial to the cause. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

Eric Bledsoe is known for doing impressive things during the NBA season.

Bledsoe’s offseason sounded impressive too but the work and dedication was out of sight until he showed up for training camps looking like the “after” photo in a fitness advertisement.

This is the offseason where Bledsoe’s dedication goes beyond fitness. He has had a presence in everything the Suns have been doing.

Bledsoe pledged to spend his summer in Phoenix rather than the usual return to his hometown, Birmingham, but his engagement has gone beyond a permanent address in the Valley.

Bledsoe has been working out at US Airways Center. He attended draft workouts. He held a youth basketball camp. He was part of the Suns’ recruiting group that pitched LaMarcus Aldridge. He came to Las Vegas on Saturday to join the Suns’ summer team workouts and watch their NBA Summer League games.

To Bledsoe, it is all part of becoming a playoff team.

“I just thought it was important to be around this summer to put the work in and to show that I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “I was working out with some of the newer guys and I built relations with Archie (Goodwin), T.J. (Warren) and Alex (Len)during the season. I told them I’d come here and check them out to see how much they’ve improved.”

Bledsoe hesitates to proclaim that the team is better than last season yet with “work still to be done.” He did say that the team is in “a better place” than at the end of last season, citing better health, relationship building and the potential to win.

Aldridge was considered a lock to sign with San Antonio this offseason but Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and new Suns center Tyson Chandler were part of the Suns group that at least swayed him momentarily.

“I’m out here to show I’m dedicated to the team,” Bledsoe said. “However I can possibly help the team get better, that’s what I’m going to do. Recruiting-wise, they needed me to get one of the top free agents. We missed out just by a hair but we got an even better post player (Chandler) and I think he’s going to help Alex. He’ll help defensively. He’s got the mentality of a player who’s won a championship and had a whole bunch of success in this league. It’ll help rub off on everybody else, especially the young guys.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bucks and John Henson are closing in on extension talks for the big man … New York Daily News reporter tries out for but fails to make Nets’ dance team … Zaza Pachulia is going from the oldest to a relative youngster in his move from Milwaukee to Dallas

Morning shootaround — July 11


VIDEO: Anthony-Towns, Russell square off in Vegas

D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding | Clash of the titans in Summer League | Jordan apologizes publicly | Evolution of the Kings

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding — The Brooklyn Nets planned to make a splash when they hopped a few rivers to get from Jersey to the city, and part of that impact was supposed to come from building around point guard Deron Williams. As our own John Schuhmann details, the Nets gave up a lot to get Williams, both in terms of finances and personnel, but things never quite worked out the way they’d hoped. With Williams’ departure (via buyout) for his hometown of Dallas, it’s time for the Nets to look for a different path to success…

Williams was dealing with ankle issues for most of his Nets tenure, missing 32 games over the last two seasons. He shot a career-low 39 percent in 2014-15.

Of course, he was still the Nets’ best point guard by a wide margin. The offense fell apart when he was replaced with (or played alongside) Jarrett Jack. Though Brooklyn was outscored by 236 points over the course of the season, Williams was just a minus-14 in more than 2,000 minutes. Jack was a minus-315.

So the move to part ways with Williams takes the Nets’ offense down a notch. But it also saves Prokhorov a ton of money. With Williams’ full salary on the books, the Nets were set to pay another $44 million in luxury tax this coming season, subject to the repeater tax levels.

With a buyout that reduces the $43 million they owe him to $27.5 million, and with the stretch provision that stretches the remaining money over five years instead of two, Brooklyn’s 2015-16 payroll can get below the luxury tax line completely. That’s a big thing for this year and going forward.

The damage isn’t completely done. They’ll still be paying Williams $5-6 million each year through the 2019-20 season, and they still owe Boston those picks in 2016 and 2018, with the potential pick swap the year in between.

The Nets still haven’t competed for a championship since Kidd was the point guard. They went 153-159 in Williams’ four full seasons with the franchise, winning just 10 playoff games. Health was an issue. Williams and Brook Lopez played just 159 (47 percent) of a possible 337 regular season games together.

The past is the past, though. Now, the Nets can finally move on. They still have some veteran talent – Johnson, Lopez and Thaddeus Young – on the roster. They’re building around the two re-signed bigs and are making a clear effort to get younger and more athletic.

***

No. 2: Clash of the titans in Summer League — It didn’t take long for the Las Vegas Summer League to produce drama: Just minutes into the tourney, number 1 overall Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and his Minnesota Timberwolves faced off against number 2 pick D’Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers. And by all accounts, as Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, both players produced, and showed they have room to grow…

With a record-setting crowd of 12,422 fans in attendance at the Las Vegas summer league, all eyes were on Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns as he took his first shot as an NBA player.

Air ball.

“I didn’t even want to shoot the basketball,” Towns said on his first shot — a 3-pointer — as a pro. “It’s just rookie jitters. Even though I’m the No. 1 pick, I’m not going to be perfect.”

It was a forgettable first attempt but the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft will likely laugh about it one day.

Towns finished Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, missed both 3-point attempts and made all but one of five free throws. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder averaged 21.1 minutes per game as a true freshman on a University of Kentucky team deep in talent.

In his Minnesota summer league debut, however, the 19-year-old played a challenging 31 minutes.

While Towns didn’t have the monster debut he hoped for, the Timberwolves finished with an 81-68 victory over the Lakers in a battle against No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell.

“I started out like any other rookie,” Towns said. “I ain’t going to lie. I had a lot of butterflies. I was very nervous. My legs felt heavy. It’s your first game out.”

***

No. 3: Jordan apologizes publicly — DeAndre Jordan‘s 11th hour change of heart may have saved the immediate future for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it did something like the opposite for the Dallas Mavericks, making them scramble to change course and make the best out of what was left on the free agent market. Last night, Jordan took to Twitter to apologize to Dallas owner Mark Cuban and Mavs fans, as well as tell Clippers fans he was excited to be returning…

***

No. 4: Evolution of the Kings — No one said it would be easy. Despite their best efforts, the Sacramento Kings have been stuck on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race the last few years. In their latest iteration, the leadership of Vlade Divac and George Karl hasn’t seemed to connect with star center DeMarcus Cousins. As Shaun Powell writes, that relationship may just remain a work in progress…

George Karl wouldn’t discuss the state of his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins — “I’m not authorized to speak about that,” he said on the first day of the Samsung NBA Summer League — which means the mending remains a work in progress. The hectic summer in Sacramento turned loopy when Cousins used a snake-in-the-grass emoji on Twitter last month to characterize Karl as disloyal and distrustful. Cousins, according to those close to him, is charging Karl of trying to get him traded and has refused to speak with Karl. That in turn raised the issue of whether Karl and not Cousins would be shipped out of town. It became a big mess and it doesn’t appear the two have a working relationship or that it’ll be settled soon if ever.

Both are notoriously stubborn, which makes you wonder if Karl or Cousins are willing or even able to patch things up. Karl has had disagreements with players before, yet managed to win games (though not a championship). Cousins has rubbed his previous coaches raw, and hasn’t won anything. Karl wanted to change the culture when he arrived in the middle of last season and his methods obviously didn’t sit well with Cousins. And five months later, here they are.

Both have put Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new general manager, in a tight spot, if not in the role of peace maker and referee. Divac was coy when asked about their relationship.

“Every day it’s getting better,” he said.

That’s it?

“That’s it.”

Clearly, Divac is siding with Cousins if only because there aren’t many centers averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds and with Cousins’ skill set. Although troubled in the past by his lack of maturity and fragile temper — Cousins has led all players in technical fouls over the last 3 years — Cousins made strides over the last season to reduce his disruptive tendencies. Making Team USA last summer and then the All-Star team have sedated him, made him more coachable, although some of his sharp edges remain.

Sensing a desperate franchise led by a first-time GM, plenty of teams tried to get Cousins by offering 50 centers on the dollar this summer once the Karl-Cousins relationship took another wicked turn, and wisely, Divac didn’t bite.

“He’s a great kid with great potential and I”m happy to work with him,” Divac said. “There’s nothing out there that would make me pull the trigger.”
And what about the status of Karl, who has three years left on his contract? Curiously Divac shrugged his way through his response.
“Well, we’ll see. He has to win the games. He’s a coach who brings a lot of experience. He knows how to fix things, so we’ll see.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Today Becky Hammon will make history as the first female head coach of an NBA team in a Summer League game … Perhaps overshadowed by the debut of Towns and Russell was the return of Julius RandleLeBron James hosted a premiere for his new movie Trainwreck in his hometown of Akron … Kevin Garnett is officially back in Minnesota

Morning Shootaround — July 6



VIDEO: Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson is confident and focused on the challenge and his goals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire | Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul | Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? | Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story | Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers

No. 1: Desperate Clippers target McGee, Stoudemire — Desperation has set in for the Los Angeles Clippers, much like it did late last week for the Los Angeles Lakers, in free agency. With DeAndre Jordan bolting for Dallas and the four-year, $80 million deal they offered, Doc Rivers and the Clippers are left to scour the big man market for a replacement. They’re not exactly fishing in the same waters that Jordan swam in last season for the Clippers, when he was building block in the middle for a championship contender. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has more:

The Clippers, who lost center DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, are taking a strong look at [JaVale] McGee, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The Clippers have roughly $2.2 million in exception space left to pay a player beyond the league’s minimum salary slot of $1.4 million.

Rivers also is expected to speak with free agent Amar’e Stoudemire on Sunday, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Stoudemire strongly considered the Clippers before signing with the Dallas Mavericks after the New York Knicks agreed to a buyout of his contract in February. Stoudemire has interest with several teams, including the Clippers, Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, league sources said.

For McGee, the Clippers could be an opportunity with a contender to re-start his career. McGee had a couple promising years with the Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets before injuries and inconsistent play limited him to just 28 games over the past two seasons. The Nuggets traded him, along with a first-round draft pick, to the Philadelphia 76ers midway through last season. He played in six games for the 76ers before being waived.

McGee, 27, was close to signing with the Boston Celtics last season, but wanted a player option for the second season to preserve his flexibility with this summer’s free-agent market.

McGee signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Nuggets prior to the 2012-13 season.

In seven NBA seasons with the Washington Wizards, Nuggets and Sixers, McGee has averaged 8.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.

***

No. 2: Casspi sticking around in Sacramento’s overhaul — Omri Casspi is one player who is apparently on board with the master plan in Sacramento. The veteran forward broke the news of his agreement on a deal to return to the Kings and continue working as a role player in a rotation headlined by DeMarcus Cousins, who is fond of his sweet-shooting forward (Casspi shot 40 percent from deep last season). Casspi handled the general news (via Twitter). This is just a small piece of the drastic overhaul Vlade Divac is trying to engineer. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee provides some context:

The mandate for Vlade Divac was clear.

The Kings must improve drastically in 2015-16.

So the vice president of basketball and franchise operations has been overhauling the roster in an effort to boost the Kings from Western Conference doormat to playoff contender.

Adding point guard Rajon Rondo, small forward Marco Belinelli and center Kosta Koufos in free agency and drafting center Willie Cauley-Stein give the Kings a new look and appear to address the Kings’ biggest weaknesses.

Divac isn’t necessarily done. The Kings will try to add wing depth, which Sunday night entailed the re-signing of Omri Casspi, who confirmed via Twitter a two-year deal worth $6 million.

And All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins could be traded, as his issues with coach George Karl have not been resolved.

But as the roster is, the Kings expect to improve. Maybe not enough to make the playoffs but to win more than the 29 games they did last season.

With the new downtown arena set to open for the 2016-17 season, the Kings need an improved product to sell tickets.

The Kings wanted better passing, perimeter shooting and defense. Rondo was brought in to improve the passing and give Karl another ballhandler and facilitator.

Belinelli will be expected to help Sacramento’s shaky three-point shooting. Koufos and Cauley-Stein add depth, size and defensive versatility.

If Cousins stays, he and forward Rudy Gay are the only players certain to start. Divac has said Gay will play “a lot” of power forward this season, which necessitated adding another small forward.

Darren Collison was signed last summer to start at point guard, but with Rondo set to make $9.5 million next season, it seems unlikely the four-time All-Star will be a backup.

Karl wants to run more sets with two point guards, but Collison is only 6 feet, and Rondo is 6-1.

Ben McLemore started at shooting guard last season but could come off the bench or play small forward if Gay starts at power forward.

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No. 3: Joe Johnson to the Cavaliers? — Don’t let that little detail of LeBron James not having agreed to a deal yet deter the Cleveland Cavaliers from doing his bidding. The reported interest in Brooklyn veteran swingman Joe Johnson is legitimate and a very real possibility, given the Cavaliers’ ability to make it happen with the existing contracts of one of their prized (and another not-so-prized) big men. Our numbers man John Schuhmann breaks it down:

A trade of Haywood (with a salary of $10.5 million for 2015-16) and Anderson Varejao ($9.6 million) for Johnson would work under the league’s trade rules. Haywood’s contract is completely non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him, erase that $10.5 million from their books and save almost $70 million next season ($19.5 million in salary and $49.1 million in luxury tax, because they would be subject to repeater levels).

Of course, Johnson has been a very good and very durable player for the Nets over the last three years. The deal represents a decision of saving money vs. competing for a playoff spot.

It also represents a choice between saving money this season and saving cap space for next summer. Johnson has just this coming season left on his contract, but Varejao has three more years left on his deal. His 2017-18 salary is completely non-guaranteed, but $9.4 million of his $10.4 million salary for 2016-17 is guaranteed and would eat into their 2016 cap space.

The Nets could trade Varejao for an expiring contract. One suggestion from the Twitterverse: Varejao to the Los Angeles Clippers (who are desperate for a center to replace DeAndre Jordan) for Jamal Crawford, who has just one year left on his deal at $5.7 million. (The Clippers would have to include an additional piece).

Of course, the Cavs could make that swap themselves if they choose not to go for Johnson, who would take their own luxury tax to the sky. They will surely have other options with Haywood’s non-guaranteed contract. But this deal would create one heck of a lineup.

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No. 4: Joseph’s homecoming more than just a good story — The Raptors continued their summer revival with the addition of Cory Joseph, a native son formerly of the San Antonio Spurs. Joseph’s return to The North is more than just a good story, writes Michael Grange of the SportsNet:

At about 11:15 Sunday night Joseph announced to his 61,700 Twitter followers that he was leaving the San Antonio Spurs in free agency to sign with Toronto.

It was a simple message for an athlete who is known for his no-nonsense approach, but it spoke volumes about how far Canadian basketball has come and where it’s going. Joseph will be just the second Canadian to ever play for the Raptors, following Jamaal Magloire who suited up for one season at the end of his career.

He left as part of the first wave of elite Canadian basketball players who were convinced rightly or wrongly that if they wanted to make it to the top of the sport they needed to head to the United States as teenagers.

For Joseph it couldn’t have worked out better. He won national recognition at Findlay and a scholarship to the University of Texas, and in 2011 became the first Canadian guard to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft since Steve Nash when the San Antonio Spurs took him 29th overall. He learned his craft in one of the most respected organizations in any sport and has a championship ring to show for it.

The difference is that while Magloire was an outlier, Joseph represents the front edge of the wedge. Masai Ujiri has always said he won’t put a passport ahead of talent when building his team, but the number and quality of Canadians coming into the NBA – eight first-round picks in the past five years with more coming – means that recruiting homegrown players could provide the Raptors a competitive advantage going forward.

Calls to the Raptors GM and Joseph’s agent Rich Paul weren’t immediately returned but Joseph has been on the Raptors radar for years now. It’s believed they tried to trade for him twice but were rebuffed by San Antonio.

According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard the Raptors let their money do the talking, with Joseph signing a four-year deal worth $30-million, a huge jump in salary for a career backup who has earned just $5.3 million total in his four NBA seasons.

Is it worth it?

The Raptors love Joseph’s defensive acumen. By their analysis he immediately becomes their best perimeter defender. Moreover they love the humility he brings to the job and his simple passion for his craft. He made a believer out of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich when – as he was struggling for playing time as a rookie – he asked to be sent down to the NBA D-League to get some run.

But the Raptors see upside as well. The term of his deal extends past that of all-star Kyle Lowry’s, who will likely opt out of his contract two summers from now. While no one within the organization is prepared to declare Joseph ready to push Lowry as a starter, the dollars and term they gave him suggest they are betting that he’s still improving and could provide them an option there in time.

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No. 5: Don’t blame Aldridge for breakup with Trail Blazers — The finger-pointing in Portland figures to go on for months, years even, in the aftermath of LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to head home to Texas and the San Antonio Spurs in free agency. He said he wanted to be the best Trail Blazer ever, only to depart as soon as it became a possibility. There will no doubt be hard feelings, but John Canzano of the Oregonian insists Aldridge is not to blame for this breakup:

This all brings us back to the Blazers, ultimately. They have a difficult time attracting free agents. They’ve struggled with continuity. They have a general manager in Neil Olshey eager to make his draft picks shine, cementing his legacy. And I wasn’t surprised the news of Lillard’s five-year, $125-plus million contract extension was leaked on the opening day of free agency.

The Blazers had all summer to make that announcement. But it came on a day when a league record $1.4 billion in contracts were handed out in other NBA cities and — down deep — the Blazers knew Aldridge was a ghost.

Olshey long ago hitched the franchise wagon to Lillard. He drafted him in 2012, and when he became Rookie of the Year the following season, he was marketed and promoted to the point that it chapped Aldridge.

He was Bat Man. Lillard was Robin. Right? But the organization, led by Olshey’s own narrative, prematurely flip-flopped those roles. It cost them today.

I wrote a column two seasons ago about Portland alienating Aldridge by going too far with the Lillard-palooza. Aldridge reached and out told me how much he liked the column. The Blazers decided prior to last season that they’d spend Aldridge’s final season under contract celebrating his milestones, pitching him as the all-time Mr. Trail Blazer.

To their credit, Aldridge and Lillard worked well enough together on the court. They’re both too intelligent and socially aware to take their philosophical differences public. But they were co-workers, and not great friends. Those deeply entrenched in both camps told me on multiple occasions, basketball aside, that the two men were not huge fans of each other. Which only makes Lillard’s inability to get a face-to-face sit-down with Aldridge in that 11th hour trip to Los Angeles less shocking.

Aldridge and Lillard played together three seasons. Aldridge gave the Lakers and Kobe a few minutes of face time. He met with the Suns. He dined publicly with Gregg Popovich. Anyone else find it telling that Aldridge and Lillard didn’t even meet up? That he treated Lillard like the Knicks? That the franchise’s “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” weren’t in solid contact from the end of the season says a lot.

Even if Lillard and Aldridge had been tight, turning down the Spurs and the chance to finish your career in your home state would have been difficult. It’s why you can’t really blame Aldridge, can you? This is business, after all.

This break-up of the Blazers was bound to happen. You had Olshey’s players (Lillard, Meyers Leonard and CJ McCollum, in particular) and you had a leftovers from all the general managers of owner Paul Allen’s basketball past. Last season had the feel of a finale all along. That Popovich and the Spurs benefit from the chaos inside another NBA franchise should come as no surprise. Uniformity of vision is what sets the Spurs apart. It’s part of how he’s built an empire.

Olshey won’t much like this column. Neither will Lillard or even Aldridge. But as long as we’re handing out blame for the breakup of a team that won 50-plus games, what’s fair is fair.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Free agent fever is proving the value of “3 and D” skillsets  The Hawks continue the house cleaning by firing long-time training staffers … Oh, and Happy Birthday Pau Gasol …