Posts Tagged ‘John Wall’

Oscar (Big O) Robertson receives Legends’ Lifetime Achievement Award


VIDEO: Robertson given Lifetime Achievement Award

TORONTO – Oscar Robertson is one of the greatest players in NBA history, a pioneer both on and off the basketball floor and walking shorthand for one of the game’s most esteemed stats: the triple-double.

Current stars way too young to have seen Robertson play during his 14-season career with Cincinnati and Milwaukee know his name and what it meant in terms of 10 or more points, rebounds and assists in the same game.

“He averaged a triple-double, right? The whole season?” Washington’s All-Star guard John Wall said, answering the question with a question. “That’s all I need to know. If you can do that in one season, that means you were a heckuva player.”

How “heckuva” was he? Robertson, 77, will be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award Sunday at the National Basketball Retired Players Association classy “Legends” Brunch in a ceremony scheduled to feature Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and the Minnesota Timberwolves young big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

Robertson did average a triple-double in his famous 1961-62 season: 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. The 6-foot-5 guard from the University of Cincinnati had 41 games that season in which he reached double figures in all three categories – the NBA’s big triple-double threats in 2015-16, Golden State’s Draymond Green and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, have done that 10 and eight times, respectively.

Even more impressive, Robertson averaged a cumulative triple-double over his first five seasons as a pro: 30.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 10.6 apg across 383 games. He remains the league’s all-time leader with 181 triple-doubles, racking up the 1960 Rookie of the Year award, the MVP in 1964, 12 All-Star berths and three All-Star MVP honors.

After missing the postseason five times and advancing only twice in his 10 years with the Royals, Robertson was traded to Milwaukee to play with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He and the Bucks won their only championship in his first year there but returned to the Finals again in 1974 before Robertson retired.

If the players who will be participating in Sunday’s All-Star Game weren’t around in time to witness Robertson’s exploits, the same isn’t true for one of their coaches. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich grew up in Merrilville, Ind., and was a teenager during Robertson’s dominance in Cincinnati. Neither the Pacers nor the Bulls existed yet as a rooting option, making it simple for Popovich to look over to the Royals.

“I’m an Indiana boy. He’s an Indiana guy, from Indianapolis obviously,” Popovich said Friday. “He and [Celtics Hall of Famer] John Havlicek were the two people I keyed in on the most when I was a young kid and watched games. They weren’t on as much as they are now, but whenever they were, those were the guys I wanted to watch.”

In high school, Robertson famously was the leader of Crispus Attucks High’s consecutive state championships, making it the first all-black school in the nation to win a state championship in any sport. At the University of Cincinnati, Robertson’s teams went 89-9; he was the national collegiate player of the year three times and the U.S. Basketball Writers’ player-of-the-year award is now named the Oscar Robertson Trophy.

Before he reached the NBA, he and Lakers legend Jerry West drove the 1960 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal. And then came his marvelous, multi-faceted work with the Royals.

“I’m still incredulous at Oscar’s accomplishments,” Popovich said, “when you talk about how he scored, passed and rebounded night after night after night. It’s a combination that I don’t think anybody in the league has. Nobody. And he did it over and over again, to the point where it was almost ignored because he made it so common.”

Robertson, who lives in Cincinnati with his wife Yvonne, has said that if he knew triple-doubles were going to be such a big deal, he would have tried to get more of them.

It isn’t possible to fully appreciate Robertson’s impact, though, without noting his work on behalf of the NBA Players Association. He served as NBPA president from 1965 to 1974, becoming the first black president of any sports or entertainment labor union. In 1970, he put his name to a lawsuit to block the merger of the NBA with the old American Basketball Association, to end the option clause binding a player to an NBA team in perpetuity, to end the NBA Draft’s power to bind a player to one team and to end restrictions on free agency.

By April 1976 – 40 years ago this season – the league agreed to a class-action settlement that became casually known as the “Oscar Robertson rule,” eliminating the reserve clause (much like Curt Flood‘s MLB litigation) and moving the NBA toward free agency.

That side of Robertson’s career, he long believed, denied him some post-playing opportunities in coaching, in NBA front offices or in broadcasting because of the clout it shifted to players and the boost it provided to player salaries. It remains an underappreciated element to this day, at least publicly, even as his skills stay relegated to grainy black-and-white film clips.

“I think he probably was the best player to ever play the game,” said Wayne Embry, Robertson’s longtime friend, former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer. “And then the contribution he made with the Oscar Robertson lawsuit., that changed the complexion of the league in salaries and in creating free agency. So all the growth of this league is the result of guys like him getting things right.”

Morning shootaround — Feb. 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wall (knee) unsure of All-Star Game status | DeRozan planning to stick with RaptorsNext steps for Hornets after Kidd-Gilchrist’s injuryScott: Irving, Paul more mature as rookies than Russell

No. 1: Wall (knee) unsure if he’ll play in All-Star Game — After last night’s road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Washington Wizards head into the All-Star break in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. They’re three games behind the Charlotte Hornets for that final playoff spot, not too bad considering all the injuries Washington has faced all season. A new injury cropped up last night, though, as All-Star point guard John Wall suffered a bruised knee and is unsure if he’ll play in Sunday’s All-Star Game. The Washington Post‘s Jorge Castillo has more:

Washington Wizards point guard John Wall will travel to Toronto to attend the NBA’s All-Star weekend festivities but is not sure if he will participate in his third all-star game Sunday after bruising his right knee in the first quarter of the Wizards’ 99-92 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

“If I can’t move and I need more time then I won’t [play Sunday],” said Wall, who received treatment on the knee at halftime and after the game. “But it’ll be frustrating not to.”

Wall injured the right knee early in the first quarter when he collided with Bucks guard O.J. Mayo while driving to the basket. He stayed on the floor in pain for a few moments, but remained in the game and logged 41 minutes, including the entire second half.

“It’s a deep bruise,” Wall said. “As you can see, it’s swollen. It hurts and I’ll do as much treatment as I can on it.”

Wall, who was limping in the locker room after the game, made just three of the three-pointers and scored 15 points on 5-of-19 shooting overall from the floor.

“I just knew how important this game was, trying to get a game before the break,” Wall said. “It’s an honor to be in the all-star game and have the opportunity to play but I can’t do it if it’s still a problem. My team is too important.”

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Analytics Art: Wall, Bazemore, Vucevic among worst shooters of week

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

The NBA announced is 2016 All-Star reserves on Thursday, unveiling who the league’s coaches deemed most deserving of the midseason honor.

Typically speaking, those voted to be All-Stars are the most well-rounded players in the league — but even the best of the best are not immune to shooting slumps. This week, one player bound for the 2016 All-Star Game was mired in a big enough cold spell to be pegged among the worst shooters.

With the aid of interactive visualizations from PointAfter, we’ll take a look at three players (guard, wing and forward/center) who need to put their poor performances behind them.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games between Jan. 22-28.

Guard: John Wall, Washington Wizards

John Wall was named an Eastern Conference reserve and has been the Washington Wizards’ alpha dog all season long. The Wizards have struggled to win games with consistency, but Wall has a team-high 19.9 PER, is tied for fifth in the league in steals (2.07 per game) and is tied for second in assists (9.8 per game).

It was a good week for Wall in that he earned a third consecutive All-Star nod, but his shooting stroke completely deserted him, too.

Wall went 3-for-11 (0-for-3 on 3-pointers) on Monday, then combined to make just 11 of 34 shots on Tuesday and Thursday (32.4 percent).

Add it all up, and he finished the week shooting 31.1 percent and 23.1 percent on 3-pointers. The Wizards were 0-3 during that span with losses against the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets.

Wing: Kent Bazemore, Atlanta Hawks

After a magical 2014-15 season spent flirting with the first ever 50-50-90 campaign, Kyle Korver has careened to earth in 2015-16. His struggles have necessitated teammates stepping up their game — chiefly, Kent Bazemore.

Bazemore has been stellar while playing a bigger role, shooting 46.2 percent overall and 41.3 percent on 3-pointers, the latter of the two figures ranking him tied for 18th in the league in 3-point accuracy. But Bazemore (and, consequently, the Hawks) experienced a rough week.

Atlanta went 1-3, with one loss coming at the hands of the lowly Phoenix Suns. Bazemore shot 7-for-16 against the Suns (43.8 percent), which was his best showing of the week.

From there, the 26-year-old swingman shot 34.3 percent overall (and 25 percent from 3-point range). Consider this a blip on the radar, because Bazemore has otherwise had a solid January.

Power Forward/Center: Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

A career 51 percent shooter, Nikola Vucevic has been floundering in January. After shooting 55.4 percent in December, he’s shooting 44.2 percent in 2016. He’s getting shots, but they simply are not falling.

Vucevic went 6-for-17 last Friday, 8-for-17 on Monday and 7-for-19 on Tuesday. That’s 39.6 percent for the week — truly unheard of for a guy Vucevic’s size.

After a career-best season in 2014-15, Orlando’s center is merely trying to find his rhythm again. Perhaps the upcoming All-Star break will give him a chance to clear his head and remember exactly how good he can be.

Ben Leibowitz 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 PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

All-Star 2016 Reserves Announced


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from 2016 All-Star Draymond Green

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Millions of fan votes decided who the starters would be for the 65th NBA All-Star Game next month in Toronto.

Only 12 to 14 were required, from coaches around the league, to decide the 14 other players who would fill out the rosters for the Eastern and Western Conference All-Stars.

And there will be a new school flavor to the festivities with a trio of rookie All-Star reserves joining the party.

First time All-Stars highlight the list of reserves, that was announced tonight on TNT. That group includes Golden State’s Draymond Green in the Western Conference and Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas in the Eastern Conference.

Joining Green on the Western Conference reserves list are LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), James Harden (Houston), Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers) and Klay Thompson (Golden State).

NBA All-Star 2016Joining Drummond and Thomas on the Eastern Conference reserves list are Chris Bosh (Miami), Jimmy Butler (Chicago), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto), Paul Millsap (Atlanta) and John Wall (Washington).

Noticeably absent from the list are Portland’s Damian Lillard, Clippers’ star Blake Griffin (whose injury issues wouldn’t have allowed him to participate anyway), the Cleveland duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Atlanta’s Al Horford and perennial All-Stars Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) and Tim Duncan (San Antonio).

The Cavaliers have just one All-Star, LeBron James, despite owning the best record in the Eastern Conference and having their staff, headed by Tyronn Lue, in charge of coaching the Eastern Conference team.

James, Indiana’s Paul George, New York’s Carmelo Anthony, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry are the Eastern Conference starters.

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, playing in his 18th and final All-Star Game headlines a Western Conference starting unit that also includes Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, first-time All-Star and San Antonio defensive ace Kawhi Leonard, reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry of Golden State and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.

Western Conference reserves


VIDEO: Discussing the West All-Stars

LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio: Aldridge’s numbers are down but that was expected when he made the move from Portland to San Antonio and the ensemble cast he’s playing with now. This is his fifth straight All-Star Game appearance.

DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento: Cousins has staked his claim to the title as the best big man in basketball and is the only true center on the Western Conference roster. This is his second straight All-Star Game appearance.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans: The Pelicans’ rough start to this season did not keep the coaches from making sure Davis made it to the All-Star Game for the third straight year.

Draymond Green, Golden State: The NBA’s leader in triple-doubles this season, Green missed out on a starting nod but takes his rightful place alongside Warriors teammates Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in his first All-Star appearance.

James Harden, Houston: The runner up for KIA MVP honors last season is still playing at an elite level, individually, even if his Rockets are nowhere near their conference finals pace of a year ago. This is his Harden’s fourth straight All-Star Game appearance.

Chris Paul, LA Clippers: Paul has been the Clippers’ rock with Blake Griffin out with a torn quad tendon the past 15 games (and now a fractured hand for the next 4-6 weeks). This is CP3’s ninth All-Star appearance.

Klay Thompson: The Warriors’ sweet-shooting swingman reminded everyone just how dangerous he can be with a season-high 45 points in Wednesday’s win over the Mavericks. He’s making his second straight All-Star Game appearance.

Data curated by PointAfter

Eastern Conference reserves


VIDEO: Discussing the East All-Star reserves

Chris Bosh, Miami: The 11-time All-Star has come all the way back from the pulmonary embolism that ended cut his season short a year ago. Bosh and Dwyane Wade have led the Heat back into the top four mix in the East after last season’s lottery twirl.

Jimmy Butler, Chicago: The new face of the Bulls has been the motor for a team that has battled inconsistency during the transition from the Tom Thibodeau era to the Fred Hoiberg experience. This is his second straight All-Star Game appearance.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto: DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the driving forces on a Raptors team that is entrenched in the top three of the Eastern Conference standings this season, will play co-hosts for the All-Star festivities. This is DeRozan’s second All-Star Game appearance.

Andre Drummond, Detroit: The league’s runaway leader in double-doubles and rebounds this season, Drummond, like Cousins in the West, is the only true center on the East roster.

Paul Millsap, Atlanta: The Hawks’ summer re-investment in Millsap has paid off handsomely. He’s been the best and most consistent player for a team that had four All-Stars hit the floor in New York last year. This is the third straight All-Star appearance for Millsap.

Isaiah Thomas, Boston: The unquestioned leader of a Celtics team that wasn’t supposed to have any true stars, Thomas has shattered that myth since joining Boston last season and become the catalyst for Brad Stevens’ upstart crew.

John Wall, Washington: Wall has done yeoman’s work this season for a Wizards’ team that has dealt with a parade of injuries to other key players, most notably Wall’s backcourt mate Bradley Beal. This is Wall’s third straight All-Star Game appearance.

Data curated by PointAfter

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be exclusively televised on TNT from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Sunday, Feb. 14.


VIDEO: Who should’ve been an All-Star?

All-Star Reserves announced tonight on TNT

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We already know who the first five are for both the Eastern and Western Conference. And we know Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue will coach the Eastern Conference and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich will coach the Western Conference.

Now we’ll find out who will fill out those rosters for the 2016 NBA All-Star Game next month in Toronto.

The seven reserves for both teams will be announced tonight, live on TNT at 7 p.m. ET. Will Golden State’s Draymond Green and Detroit’s Andre Drummond make it for the first time? Will Portland’s Damian Lillard make the cut in a crowded field in the West and will Washington’s John Wall do the same in a thick mix in the East?

There is plenty of intrigue remaining. Will Kobe Bryant contemporaries like Dirk Nowitzki NBA All-Star 2016and or Tim Duncan be in uniform for Kobe’s 18th and final All-Star Game appearance? What about Anthony Davis and LaMarcus Aldridge, two players most of us expected to be locks for the game in the preseason?

The final decision comes from the coaches in each conference, who vote on the reserves (and are not allowed to vote from players on their own team). The fans vote for the starters, so it’s up to the coaches to ensure that the “right” (and most deserving) 14 players are selected to fill out the rosters.

The reserves will be revealed during a special one-hour edition of “NBA Tipoff presented by Autotrader” featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Knicks at the Raptors (8 p.m. ET) and the Bulls at the Lakers (10:30 p.m. ET).

NBA All-Star 2016 in Toronto will bring together some of the most talented and passionate players in the league’s history for a global celebration of the game. Along with the NBA All-Star Game, the Air Canada Centre will also host the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 12 and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Saturday, Feb. 13. Other events at NBA All-Star 2016 include the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and the NBA Development League All-Star Game presented by Kumho Tire.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 13


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green likely to rest next 2 games | Wall needs MRI on knee muscle | Report: Davis to sign D-League deal | Rose’s knee to be re-evaluated | Mavs still struggling against elite squads

No. 1: Warriors likely to rest Green in next 2 games — Golden State Warriors power forward Draymond Green has made a pretty solid case already this season that he’s perhaps the most versatile player at his position. If nothing else, he’s proven to be quite durable and resilient this season, what with the 36.1 minutes a game average and five triple-doubles he’s amassed since Dec. 1. As the schedule picks up for the Warriors, though, the team doesn’t want to burn out Green and is more than likely going to rest him over the next two games. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

The Warriors plan to rest their versatile power forward the next two games (Wednesday at Denver and Thursday at home against the Lakers), leaving open only the slight possibility that the vociferous competitor might persuade them otherwise.

Green is averaging a team-high 34.9 minutes per game, and joins Andre Iguodala as the only Warriors to play in each of the team’s first 38 games. He averaged 37 minutes per night when Harrison Barnes missed 16 games from Nov. 28 through Jan. 2.

The Warriors are in a grueling portion of the season, which with Thursday’s game, will have included five games in seven nights. The fourth game during that stretch is the always-arduous trek to Denver — a trip that usually involves losing an hour because of the time change, a long bus ride from the airport to the hotel and a game played at altitude.

Green is averaging 15.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists and was third among Western Conference frontcourt players in the latest All-Star balloting, with updated results expected to be released Thursday.

His legs hurt, but he never wants to sit.

“They always want to play, but they also understand the big picture,” Walton said. “Earlier in the season, it was tough to have them included in the conversation, but this is a hard part of the season. Guys are worn down, and I think they understand now that if we come to them with the training staff saying it’s a smart idea to give them a night off here or there, they’ll be more receptive to that.”

Green had a long chat with head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers after Tuesday’s practice. If Green is persuaded to rest the next two games — an official announcement is expected at Wednesday morning’s shootaround — the Warriors could play small by starting Barnes at power forward or go with a more conventional lineup by inserting reserve big men Marreese Speights or Jason Thompson.

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 11


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The call for Cal to save the Nets | LeBron survives pregame plunk, lifts Cavaliers | Warriors stealing glances at all-time record | Lillard backs up his words with actions in win over Thunder

No. 1: The call for Cal to save the Nets — For what seems like the umpteenth time, there is a NBA coaching opening with John Calipari‘s name written all over it. With Lionel Hollins out as coach in Brooklyn (and Billy King reassigned within the organization), Calipari’s name has surfaced immediately as a possible replacement, even though he has routinely denied in any interest in leaving Kentucky. That won’t stop the rumblings about Cal being the right name for the job, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

The Brooklyn Nets will undoubtedly make the celebrity hire here because the team’s Russian owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, simply wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s why John Calipari goes right to the top of any and all searches when you have a desperate billionaire who is looking to make a big splash calling the shots. Do the names James Dolan and Phil Jackson ring a bell?

Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, who thinks he’s John Wooden because he once coached his daughter’s fifth-grade team to a championship, was ready to offer Calipari everything last summer before Coach Cal decided to return to Kentucky and wait for something better/more lucrative to come along.

Now it’s Prokhorov’s turn. Prokhorov woke up Sunday, looked at his terrible club and with his deep accent essentially mumbled: “I must break you.”

Billy King, the general manager, was reassigned while head coach Lionel Hollins was canned.

You don’t blow up your organization six weeks before the trading deadline unless you have a plan in place, right? Only Prokhorov, Nets CEO Brett Yormark and Dmitry Razumov, the owner’s right-hand man behind the Iron Curtain, know for sure.

Calipari is the primary target, according to several sources close to the Nets and Calipari. It will take a lot to get him, which means power and money, perhaps even a small piece of ownership. Remember, Cal’s not the desperate one here.

Calipari has been down this road before with the Nets and knows he’ll have to hire a smart general manager to handle the day-to-day business. The job requires heaving lifting. The Nets are in a complete rebuild without many assets.

The disastrous trade with the Celtics will haunt this franchise for a decade. Boston owns the Nets’ first-round pick in 2016 and 2018 and has the option to swap first-round picks in 2017. The Nets will have to start rebuilding through free agency and if we know one thing about Calipari it’s that he can recruit his designer suit off.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski digs into exactly what it might cost to get Calipari to Brooklyn, which surely will not come cheap if he’s right:

For the $123.2 million in luxury tax that Prokhorov has paid out, he’ll be toasted on the verandas and yachts of rival owners who’ve bathed in his wayward excesses. They pocketed his millions, pilfered his picks and beat the Nets senseless.

Prokhorov has drained his franchise’s natural resources – unloading seven first-round and 11 second-round picks in the five-plus years of deposed general manager Billy King’s regime. The Nets have no present, no future, no identity. They’re too impatient to hire an accomplished NBA GM and slowly, surely work themselves out of this ditch.

As much as anything, that’s why Nets CEO Brett Yormark is determined to repackage John Calipari as a franchise savior. The Nets couldn’t get star players to sell tickets and TV ratings, so he wants to try a star college coach. Again.

Yormark is pushing Prokhorov to reach back to the Nets’ Jersey roots, dust off a failed ’90s experiment and sell it as something sparkling and new. Twenty years ago, the Nets stunned everyone with a five-year, $15 million contract for the UMass coach. For Calipari to consider the Nets – and, yes, the Sacramento Kings, too – league sources tell Yahoo Sports that the teams have been informed of his asking price: 10 years, $120 million.

When Calipari spoke with minority ownership in Sacramento last spring, he told them that it would take an offer of $11 million-plus a year to get his attention, league sources said. Calipari turned down a 10-year, $80 million-plus offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, because he wouldn’t leave Kentucky with only an incremental raise on what is now an $8 million to $9 million annual package on campus.

Cleveland’s offer has become a baseline for Calipari’s contractual demands: He wants the 10 years and now the $12 million a year that Phil Jackson makes to run the Knicks.

Calipari’s sell will be this: As his old Kentucky stars – DeMarcus Cousins (2018), John Wall (2019) – become free agents, he’ll have the Nets positioned to sign them. His former players have largely kept excellent relationships with him, but there are those close to them who say that most of his ex-stars remain reluctant to committing to 82 games a year of Cal’s abrasive style. It wore out players fast in the 1990s in New Jersey, and Calipari would need to bring a different disposition to the NBA and prove that he’s willing to treat NBA players like men, not teenagers.

Around Calipari, there are some who prefer him to take the Kings job, because there’s more of an infrastructure in place. Brooklyn has been left in shambles, with immense limitations on reshaping the roster. Nevertheless, New York is New York, and Calipari has never stopped thinking about redeeming himself in the pros. His enshrinement into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in September makes it even easier to justify the years of NBA losing that will likely prelude a turnaround, because he no longer needs to keep shining that résumé for Springfield.

For Calipari, the perfect scenario will be engaging the Kings and Nets in a bidding war. In that instance, Prokhorov could be hard to beat. So now, there promises to be two parallel searches for the Brooklyn Nets’ next GM and coach: one that includes traditional candidates; and one that is the dance with Calipari. There were cringes within the Nets over the PR ramifications, but ownership plans to use King as a consultant on the search process.

Between now and the end of the college basketball season, Calipari will issue his typical denials on a return to the NBA, but talks will be ongoing and the leveraging intense. Calipari has always wanted back in the NBA, and the Nets give him a chance for everything he wants: the money, the power, the geography.

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No. 2: LeBron survives pregame plunk, lifts Cavaliers — LeBron James took a ball to the face during his pregame warm up routine before Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. He got the last laugh, though, finishing with a season-high tying 37 points and saving his best for the finish in the Cavaliers’ win. Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com explains:

Perhaps the signs were there during pregame warmups, as an errant pass plunked James in the face, leading to chuckles on social media.

The Cavaliers just didn’t look like themselves, far from the East’s best.

There were a few different chances to stretch the lead and turn the outcome into a laugher, just as they had done during the first two stops of the current six-game road trip.

But the plucky 76ers kept fighting.

In the NBA, though, fight and determination only take a team so far. Oftentimes having a four-time MVP, a player capable of single-handedly taking control, can erase an otherwise frustrating night.

That’s what James did, putting on a show for the near-sellout crowd in Philadelphia.

With the Cavs’ clinging to a two-point lead, 81-79, Cavs head coach David Blatt put his star back in the game.

James, who has traded the new-school “dab” celebration and his familiar “Silencer” for the mid-90’s “Raise the Roof,” lifted his team to victory before heading to Texas for a tough three-game stretch.

A 22-foot jumper ignited a 14-0 run, pushing the Cavaliers’ lead to a game-high 16 points past the midway point of the final period. James scored 12 of the 14 points during that stretch and did it in a variety of ways. There were pull-up jumpers, three-points bombs and circus layups.

James finished with 37 points, tying his season-high total, on 15-of-22 from the field. He also added nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes. As James was scorching, the rest of his teammates were struggling, showing frustration on a cold shooting night.

James could sense it and took it upon himself to change it.

“I was able to get enough of a break to get a little energy,” James said after the game. “I understand when I go back into the game I have to make plays. They needed me to put the ball in the hole tonight, especially in the fourth quarter.”

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No. 3: Warriors stealing glances at all-time record — The Golden State Warriors can’t help themselves. Even with the San Antonio Spurs hot on their trail and plenty of potential roadblocks between them and history, they refuse to be intimidated by the thought of chasing a 73-win season. They remain on pace to top the 72-win mark set by Michael Jordan and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. With a win over the Miami Heat tonight they’d be halfway there, writes Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group:

With so many team and individual milestones to keep track of, it was easy to overlook that the Warriors’ 35th victory of the season put them halfway to 70 wins after just 37 games.

Another victory against the Miami Heat on Monday night at Oracle Arena will put them halfway to 72, the NBA regular-season record established by Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

So is it OK to start talking about chasing the record yet? After all, the Warriors need to go “only” 38-7 the rest of the way to finish 73-9 and break the mark.

After Game 37 a year ago, the Warriors were 31-6, and they went 36-9 from there. That’s not far off from 38-7, so if nothing else, they are making it more plausible with each victory.

The Warriors will begrudgingly talk about the record if asked. But they still don’t really like thinking about it and won’t for a while.

“People ask us after games what it feels like to be whatever our record is at that point, and you get reminded where we are,” Stephen Curry said after the Warriors beat the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night. “But when we’re out there on the floor, we’re not playing like if we lose, we’ll be off the pace. There’s no pressure when we’re out there, so that’s a good feeling.”

The pressure is certain to mount if the Warriors continue to stay ahead of the Bulls’ pace, but that will be difficult in itself. Michael Jordan and Co. were 34-3 after 37 games and would win seven in a row from there to go 41-3 before their fourth loss. They did not lose in the entire month of January that season, going 14-0.

The Warriors would rather not know the specifics.

“We understand what the big goal is, but in the moment, we just try to play well and do what we do, and hopefully that means we’ll get wins,” said Curry. “You hope to bottle up those emotions as you go through the season, because you can’t fast-forward to April and think about if we’re going to be within striking distance of the record or whatever.

“We want to be healthy and we want to be playing well, and if we have an opportunity at the end of the season to go get it, we should go get it, because that’s a huge record most people thought could never be broken. So we’ll talk about that when we get closer. But for now, let’s stay in the moment and play free, play our game and have fun doing it.”

***

No. 4: Lillard backs up his words with actions in win over Thunder — A day after declaring his intentions for the franchise and the city of Portland, Damian Lillard backed up his words with decisive and explosive actions to lead the Trail Blazers past Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was a vintage performance from one of the league’s most dynamic players. It also reinforced Lillard’s message, his vow to carry the team and city on his back, if need be, as they scratch and claw their way back to respectability. It was “Lillard Time” when it mattered most against the Thunder, writes Mike Richman of the Oregonian:

You have seen “Lillard Time” before. But not quite like this.

Damian Lillard scored 17 of his 31 points in the final 3:07 of the game, connecting on five three-pointers to power the Trail Blazers to a 115-110 comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday night at the Moda Center.

“That was quite a performance by Dame in those two minutes,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We were battling the whole game and he came up big. I mean, he hit five threes in two minutes. You don’t see that very often.”

While Lillard was spectacular, dropping long-range step backs with defenders right in his face and adding a familiar tap of his wrist in the process, the Blazers pulled out the win on the defensive end.

Lillard hit back-to-back threes to cut a seven-point Thunder lead to 107-104 with 2:11 left. After Thunder big man Steven Adams split two free throws, Allen Crabbe got in on the long range assault, hitting a three-pointer from the wing to cut the lead to one.

Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook pushed the lead back to three with two free throws, only to have Lillard tie the game at 110-all with a deep three-pointer right over the outstretched arm of Westbrook.

The Blazers defense backed up Lillard’s firepower. Al-Farouq Aminu came away with a key steal, tipping a pass from Thunder big man Serge Ibaka that led to a transition opportunity for the Blazers. Lillard, who had already made four three-pointers in the quarter, didn’t wait long to get another shot up, quickly hoisting a three-pointer from the right wing to put Portland up 113-110 with just over a minute remaining.

“It’s like that sometimes. When you see the ball go in a few times and then the team is defending you the way we defended and you just keep getting it back,” Lillard said. “You get a stop and you keep getting the ball back. I just wanted to ride it out and I was able to do it tonight.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall is doing his best to strike a balance while grinding through an injury-riddled season for the Washington Wizards … Spurs veteran David West had a special rooting interest in the Army All-American bowl over the weekend in San Antonio … Tired Jazz whip brutal Lakers, who worked without Kobe Bryant for the seventh time this seasonLuke Walton has fond memories of playing in Sacramento, dating all the way back to his high school days … The Detroit Pistons are eyeballing a top four spot in the Eastern Conference standings and all that comes with itZach Randolph and the Grizzlies keep it grimy and rolling at home

Blogtable: Your All-Star starters are …?

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: NBA Person of the Year? | LeBron in Top 5 in two categories? |
Your All-Star starters are …?



VIDEOShould the Warriors have five All-Star starters?

> We’ll give you a chance to change your mind in a few weeks, but give me your starting five (East and West) for February’s All-Star Game, based ONLY on performance this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

EAST
G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry
, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

EAST
G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G John Wall, Washington Wizards
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
F Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

EAST
G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G John Wall, Washington Wizards
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

EAST
G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
F Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

EAST

G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G John Wall, Washington Wizards
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Toughest calls were Drummond over Chris Bosh and Wall over Reggie Jackson.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

EAST
G DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
G John Wall, Washington Wizards
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

EAST
G DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
G Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

EAST
G Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
G John Wall, Washington Wizards
F LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
F Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

WEST
G Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
G James Harden, Houston Rockets
F Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Sure, Kobe’s on-court performance hasn’t been great, but to me this isn’t the All-NBA team, this is the All-Star team, and Kobe Bryant is one of the NBA’s biggest stars. And in this final season, I want to see Kobe on one of the NBA’s biggest stages for one final time.

 

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win | Suns throw in towel against Denver | Hawks starting to soar | Butler wants to lead Bulls

No. 1: Nowitzki moves up, Mavs get win Wednesday night the Dallas Mavericks visited Brooklyn, which meant the return of Deron Williams to the borough where he formerly played. But with Williams out injured, leave it to the 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to post a performance worthy of the Big Apple. Not only did Nowitzki pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth all-time in scoring in the NBA, but he also hit the game-winner in overtime to give the Mavericks the victory. And as Eddie Sefko writes in the Dallas Morning News, in some ways it was business as usual for Nowitzki

“Way back when I was a skinny 20-year-old, bad haircut, bad earring, not the most confident guy,” he said, before stopping, clearly thinking about the enormity of having only five players ahead of him on the all-time scoring list.

“Sounds pretty good, huh?” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”

And the way he passed Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday couldn’t have been more fitting. He nailed a midrange jumper early in the second quarter against Brooklyn, took congratulatory hugs from teammates and coaches, then, a couple hours later, slipped to the basket for the winning layup in a 119-118 overtime victory that the Mavericks needed a lot more than Nowitzki needed any milestone.

Along the way, the Mavericks needed a lot of help from a guy who’s only 23,607 points behind Nowitzki on the scoring list.

J.J. Barea had a career-best 32 points, including several key 3-pointers, paying big dividends for coach Rick Carlisle starting him in place of the injured Deron Williams.

“I think the coach threw me in there early to give us a little energy early and I got in a rhythm and was able to help my team out big time,” Barea said. “I wanted to get to 30 (points in a game) before I finished my career.”

But even he knew this night was not about him, even though he’s never had a better statistical night. He hit his first eight shots and finished 13-for-20 and also dished out 11 assists.

“I’ve been through all the battles with him and seen him break all kinds of records,” Barea said. “But this one is amazing.”

Nowitzki started fast with six points in the first six minutes. Early in the second quarter, he got the ball on the left wing and wasted no time, pulling up and nailing an 18-footer for the record.

“It was a special moment for me,” he said. “I saw the whole team getting up and everybody gave me a hug and I’ve obviously been blessed in this organization for a long, long time.

“There have been a lot of great players who didn’t score as many points because they were cut short by injuries. I’ve been lucky. And we got the win. It would have felt really salty flying home with a loss.”


VIDEO: Arena Link — Dirk Nowitzki

***

No. 2: Suns throw in towel against Denver The current Phoenix Suns feel light years removed from just two seasons ago, when they unveiled a small ball lineup that raced through the Western Conference and nearly earned a playoff berth. These days they are in flux, with forward Markieff Morris recently assigned to the bench. Last night the Suns lost at home to an undermanned Nuggets team, as Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic, while Morris evoked Robert Horry … and not in a good way…

In one of their more advantageous scenarios of the season, the Suns posted another dreadful loss with play so frightful and no signs of stopping. The bow on Wednesday night’s stocking of coal came when Markieff Morris added to a season of distraction by harkening back memories of Robert Horry’s towel toss at Danny Ainge by tossing a towel toward coach Jeff Hornacek in Wednesday’s fourth quarter.

The Suns lost 104-96 at Talking Stick Resort Arena to a Denver team playing a night after losing at home to the last-place Los Angeles Lakers and was missing five players (two starters) with no backup point guard available.

That is not all that surprising any longer for a team that has gone 5-14 since Nov. 22. How the Suns fell behind by 22 points, rallied to lead by three, started each half with new lineups and lost is now of less interest than Morris’ towel toss.

Much like Horry on a 10-21 Suns team in 1997, Morris was upset about being pulled from the fourth quarter from a 12-19 Suns team. With 9:47 to play and Denver leading 84-75, Morris was taken out of the game and he threw the towel while barking at Hornacek. Hornacek picked up the towel and threw it back Morris’ way with his own upset words for him.

“He’s mad about not playing,” Hornacek said. “I look at the stat sheet. He’s a minus-13 in 12 minutes. So there, I took him out. … He thinks he’s better than that. Show me.”

Hornacek said the Suns staff will discuss possible discipline for Morris, who has created a stir since the offseason when he asked to be traded after his twin, Marcus, was dealt. Markieff did not arrive in Phoenix until it was required for training camp. He lost his starting job earlier this month.

In January, Marcus also engaged in a shouting match during a game with Hornacek. He apologized publicly and to Hornacek after the game.

“That’s between me and ‘H’ (Hornaceck),” said Markieff, who made 2 of 8 shots and had one rebound Wednesday. “It’s not for media. It’s something between me and him that happened. We’ll talk about it.”

***

No. 3: Hawks starting to soar They won 60 games a season ago, including a 19-game win streak, but thus far this season, even with a winning record, the Hawks have mostly flown under the radar. That may be changing now. Wednesday night the Hawks got their fifth win in a row with a convincing home victory over the Detroit Pistons, and the Hawks are now in second place in the Eastern Conference. As Brad Rowland writes for Peachtree Hoops, the Hawks hacked Andre Drummond and got a big night from Jeff Teague to get the win…

The game was highly competitive early on, with Detroit taking an 18-14 advantage after a 7-0 run. That momentum would not last particularly long, however, as Mike Budenholzer employed the aforementioned “Hack-a-Drummond” strategy freely from that point forward, and that seemed to turn the tide. Dennis Schröder exploded for seven straight points to end the opening quarter (11 in the period), and in a flash, the Hawks were in control.

The “big” spurt was yet to come, though, and it appeared to close the second quarter. Atlanta raced to a 26-9 run to end the half, with Jeff Teague taking things over, and he finished with 13 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds before the break. That big run netted the Hawks a 61-45 lead, and on the defensive end, Atlanta was quite effective in holding the Pistons to just 33% shooting (27% in the second quarter) in addition to the poor free throw shooting from Drummond.

To begin the second half, the Hawks quickly increased the lead to 22 points, but the margin settled into the mid-teens for much of the remainder of the contest. In truth, Atlanta didn’t play particularly well down the stretch, including a third quarter in which they allowed 50% shooting to Detroit, but the Pistons were never able to seriously challenge on the scoreboard until the closing minutes.

Detroit managed to climb within an 8-point deficit within the final two minutes of game action, using an 11-4 run to force a timeout from Budenholzer with 1:52 left in the game. Though it wasn’t pretty, the Hawks managed to salt the game away for good using a Jeff Teague basket (that was actually a goaltend from Andre Drummond) to push the lead back to 10 with 41.1 seconds remaining and that was the end of the threat. From there, Atlanta put away a 7-point win and the winning streak reached five games in pleasing fashion.

It was a big night from Teague, and that was the biggest individual story. He has struggled, at least relatively, to this point in the season, but this may serve as a “breakout” from the 2015 All-Star, as he finished with 23 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds while keying everything Atlanta did offensively. In support, Paul Millsap added 18 points and Al Horford chipped in with 15 points in his own right, but this night was about Teague and a strong team effort on the defensive end.

***

No. 4: Butler wants to lead Bulls As the Chicago Bulls try to right the ship and find some offense to go along with their defensive prowess, reports of unrest continue. According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, as the Bulls consider roster moves, some players aren’t thrilled with Jimmy Butler‘s attempts to position himself as the leader of these Bulls…

While Jimmy Butler won the self-appointed leadership role unopposed, not everyone associated with the Bulls is a supporter.

One source told the Sun-Times that there are several players that often simply laugh when told of Butler’s latest thumping-of-the-chest leadership proclamations, and while Derrick Rose seems to be completely detached from the situation, his camp is very annoyed by all things Butler these days.

A veteran that is behind the Butler push, however? Well, it just so happens to be the one player in the locker room with two championship rings.

“I don’t mind those comments,’’ big man Pau Gasol said, when asked about Butler declaring himself the leader throughout this season. “I think those comments are positive. Those comments and attitudes don’t raise my eyebrows. I think it’s good certain guys want to take ownership and say, ‘Hey let’s go.’ ‘’

Gasol said that Butler worked his way into that role of leader, and was obviously paid like it this offseason, when the Bulls gave him a five-year, $92.3 million contract extension.

“I don’t disagree with it,’’ Gasol said. “I think Jimmy is obviously one of the main guys here.’’

He’s more than that. He’s the future. His deal is guaranteed through the first four years, with a player option of $19.8 million following the 2019-20 season.

Basically, last man standing of all the veterans on the roster.

Gasol has a player option at the end of this season, and there continues to be more whispers that he’s done with the Bulls experiment, while Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks each come off the books when this season comes to an end.

Rose and Taj Gibson are free agents after next season, while the Bulls own the $5.175 million option on Mike Dunleavy for the 2017-18 season.

The likes of Gibson, Noah and Gasol might not even see the end of their current contracts, as several sources indicated that the Bulls are taking calls on all three players as the trade deadline draws near.

Noah’s value has taken a hit this week with a small tear in his left shoulder, and the center told reporters on Wednesday that he is looking at a two-to-four week window now. Not the best news for a player that was starting to look like his old self.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA debuted a new public service announcement campaign against gun violenceSteph Curry says he’s the best player in the worldKobe Bryant and Kevin Durant exchanged shoes after playing against each other … Mark Cuban says Rick Carlisle’s threat to trade players was a motivational moveAlan Anderson looks to be out for a few more weeks. Meanwhile, John Wall has his own set of injury issuesNik Stauskas says he’s the hardest working guy on the Sixers … The Houston Rockets are trying to help former players stay on top of their health

Morning shootaround — Dec. 20


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bulls’ ‘transition’ game in crisis | Welcome back, Kyrie | Tweaking the Trail Blazers | Taking Celtics from solid to super

No. 1: Bulls’ ‘transition’ game in crisisJimmy Butler‘s criticism Saturday night in New York of new head coach Fred Hoiberg‘s work style seemingly peeled back the curtain on an issue that is costing the Chicago Bulls chemistry and ultimately victories. If, as Butler alleges, Hoiberg hasn’t been tough enough on the Bulls in practices or on game nights, the responsibility for that falls … everywhere in the organization. Certainly it’s on Hoiberg to do whatever it takes, even if riding herd on grown men isn’t what earned him this job via his success in college at Iowa State. It’s on the Bulls players, who have been less than professional in their preparation and focus on multiple nights, whether they’ve won or lost. And it’s on management – chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, VP of basketball John Paxson and Gar Forman – for giving the locker room the license to drift sideways last season during the Cold War with since-fired Tom Thibodeau, and still sees the team saddled with some of the bad habits that produced. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com analyzed the team’s plight overnight:

First and foremost, it’s not every day that an NBA player calls out his head coach so publicly. Former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was a taskmaster, and the relationship between his players, including Butler, frayed last season before he was fired at the end of the season. But despite all the friction, no player ever called out Thibodeau publicly. They couldn’t stand him at times because of his domineering ways, but they always respected him because of his work ethic. Twenty-five games into Hoiberg’s tenure, he has to face the reality that his best player just called him out on a public stage.

While it has been clear to many around the team that the Bulls are struggling to adjust to Hoiberg’s style after five years under Thibodeau, that storyline, at least in the short term, will ride shotgun next to this one: How will Butler’s comments be received within the organization?

It’s possible that Butler might face some disciplinary action for calling out his coach in the media. But it’s also possible that Butler was speaking not just for himself, but for other teammates who also feel that Hoiberg’s style isn’t working for them. Either way, the foundation for Butler’s future as the face and voice of the Bulls will either be cemented or crushed by his comments on Saturday. They might serve as a turning point for a player who desperately wants to be seen as the focal point of the organization — a final vocal push to get out from underneath Derrick Rose’s long shadow.

Or, Butler’s comments may become the beginning of the end for a talented player who bit off more than he can chew within the organization. To say that Hoiberg has the full support of the front office would be an understatement. Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive VP John Paxson have supported Hoiberg both publicly and privately at every turn. He signed a five-year, $25 million contract six months ago and is entrenched as the coach for the future.

But that’s where this saga gets tricky for the Bulls. Butler was supposed to be the future king of the roster, the player they would build around, after signing a five-year extension worth over $90 million in July. Along with Hoiberg, Butler was supposed to be at the forefront of everything the Bulls did. Now, those questions will be left under a microscope for the rest of the basketball world to see.

So with Monday’s game against Brooklyn looming before a couple days of practice and the Christmas date at Oklahoma City, the Bulls and their fans are waiting for the next shoe to drop like…

***

No. 2: Welcome Back, Kyrie! — As excited as NBA fans are for the Christmas Day slate of games, with Cleveland at Golden State as the holiday’s centerpiece, they ought to be at least a little jazzed about the Philadelphia at Cleveland matinee today. OK, the Sixers will be responsible for 50 percent of the basketball offered up at Quicken Loans Arena, but the game marks the 2015-16 debut of Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. Back finally from his recovery from knee surgery, which ended his playoffs in June in Game 1 of the Finals, Irving hardly could be more eager. “I’m pretty [expletive] excited to be back out there,” he told reporters Saturday. Our man Shaun Powell wrote about Irving’s comeback challenge and so did Jason Lloyd, the Cavs beat man for Ohio.com:

It has been a long time coming.

He fractured his kneecap in Game 1 of June’s NBA Finals after fighting knee problems throughout the postseason. The Cavs and Irving remained cautious and conservative during his rehab. He was finally cleared for full practices a couple of weeks ago and he kept building for this moment.

It has been clear for about a week Irving would make his debut against the 76ers. Realistically it’s an easier opponent to begin against since they’re the worst team in the league and it will serve as a way for Irving to ease back into competitive basketball. He’ll be on a minutes restriction to start, but doesn’t anticipate problems falling back in rhythm with his old teammates.

“There is no specific reason on why now,” he said. “Just wanted to take the doctor’s precautions as well as our team’s precautions. Obviously, as a competitor, you want to get out there. But for me, I let go of all my selfish, inside emotions and just put them aside and did what was best for my body and did what was best for the team.”

The Cavs went 17-7 in Irving’s absence and remain atop the East despite not having a full roster for any game this season. They ended the Oklahoma City Thunder’s six-game winning streak Thursday night despite missing Irving, Mo Williams and Iman Shumpert.

That just reiterated to Irving a team that finds ways to win regardless of who is on the floor.

“There’ll be an adjustment period, but knocking the rust off is something I’m looking forward to,” Irving said. “It’s not like I’m coming in and just trying to take 15 to 20 shots right after I come off injury. It’s just trying to gel back in and continue to play the right way. My basketball knowledge, I’m pretty confident in coming in and not trying to overdo it in any single way and just be aggressive.”

***

No. 3:Tweaking the Trail Blazers — There was some player-on-coach criticism in Portland, too, though it didn’t rise nearly to the level of Butler’s comments about Bulls boss Hoiberg. Big man Mason Plumlee had made a plea after Friday’s loss in Orlando for the team to add variety to its 3-point-heavy attack. So by Saturday, Blazers coach Terry Stotts was responding to Plumlee’s remarks and the player was rephrasing some of the things he said or meant, as reported by Jason Quick of CSNNW.com:

After Saturday’s practice in Miami, Plumlee clarified that he wasn’t taking a shot at Blazers coach Terry Stotts and his offensive system, but rather pointing out the Blazers have to do more than just shoot threes.

“We have guys who are really shooting the three well, but you can’t live and die by the shot,’’ Plumlee said in Miami. “We have to add to it. I’m not being critical. Guys like Dame, CJ and A.C. do that very well, and we have to complement that in some way.’’

When the notion of broadening the offense was later brought up to Stotts, it was apparent the coach had heard Plumlee’s suggestion.

“Is that Mason’s interview?’’ Stotts interjected before the question was finished.

When told it was, Stotts had an answer ready.

“I’m open to expanding the offense, but the truth is we’ve been in the top 10 most of the year in offense, and offense has not necessarily been a problem,’’ Stotts said. “We are in the top 10 in 3-point field goal percentage … that’s a strength of ours. Our passing, moving and cutting has been good, so my biggest concern … obviously I’m always concerned about both ends of the court … but my biggest concern is where we are defensively and how we improve defensively.’’

Plumlee’s answer in Orlando was generated from a question asking whether the Blazers have figured out their identity. He noted on Saturday that his answer Friday suggested the Blazers could make defense one of their traits.

“I guess when I was saying that, I’m thinking offensively and defensively,’’ Plumlee said. “We got our butts kicked in the paint last game and it puts pressure on those guys to be perfect from three-point range. You can’t do that.’’

Plumlee also noted that he could help the Blazers in forging a more well-rounded offensive identity by becoming more consistent inside. He pointed to his last two offensive games –- 4-for-14 at Oklahoma City and 2-for-6 at Orlando – as evidence.

“As a big guy, you should be around 50 percent,’’ Plumlee said. “So, speaking to myself, I’ve got to convert better, because I’ve had opportunities. Just finishing plays and getting more second shots. Getting offensive rebounds. But we have to find some kind of presence other than three’s … I guess that’s what I’m saying.’’

***

No. 4:Taking Celtics from solid to super — The rebuild in Boston has gone well, fairly smoothly and relatively quickly. The Celtics are admired for the energy and teamwork they bring on most nights, and coach Brad Stevens already is considered one of the league’s best despite his modest tenure. But good doesn’t stay good for long, not in an NBA market so accustomed to great. Writing for SBNation.com, Paul Flannery looked at the challenges facing Boston as it tries to take the next, ambitious step:

When they play well together they can beat anyone in the league and when they don’t, they can get “exposed,” to use Stevens’ word from the Atlanta loss. One can look at their net ratings and other exotic measures and say that they’ve underachieved a bit, but it’s hard to look at their roster and reach the same conclusion.

The Celtics have a lot of solid players, but with the exception of [Isaiah] Thomas, they lack the kind of scorers who can take over games. Thomas has been great this season, but he’s the only one who is truly capable of creating his own shot in their halfcourt offense and his size limitations are an issue when teams switch taller defenders on him in the closing moments.

That’s not to say they have a bunch of scrubs. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are both having wonderful seasons, arguably the best of their respective careers. Every team in the league would love to have them on their side. Evan Turner has become a valuable and trusted reserve. Amir Johnson has been everything they hoped when they signed him in free agency and Jared Sullinger has put his career back on track. Marcus Smart was playing well before a knee injury kept him out of the lineup and Kelly Olynyk has had a breakthrough year defensively. (Seriously, he’s been very good on that end of the floor.)

That’s a solid team most nights, and Stevens has consistently said that he’s happy with the team’s progress. He hinted on Saturday that a lineup change may be coming and one possibility would be limiting David Lee’s minutes in favor of Jonas Jerebko and playing more smallball. Lee is the only regular with a negative net rating and the C’s have been more than five points better when he’s off the floor.

But that’s tinkering on the margins. If the Celtics are going to move beyond this stage then Danny Ainge will have to make a move. There’s been speculation for months — years even — about Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, but that seems unlikely at this juncture. There has never been universal agreement in the team’s front office that Cousins is the player to go all in for and it’s not even certain that Cousins would be available at all.

A knockdown shooter would definitely help matters, considering their woeful 33 percent mark from behind the arc, but there aren’t many of them available right now. Denver’s Danilo Gallinari, for example, can’t be traded until February. Not that the Nuggets have shown any interest in moving him either. The NBA’s version of parity has produced a number of interesting side effects and one of them is the notion that with more teams competing for playoff spots, there are fewer sellers than usual.

As it stands, the Celtics’ best chance to land a game-changing player is in this summer’s draft where they own Brooklyn’s pick without protection as the latest installment of the KG/Paul Pierce heist. In addition to their own choice, they also have Dallas’ first round selection (top-7 protected) and Minnesota’s first rounder if it falls out of the top 12 picks (doubtful, but not out of the realm of possibility). They’ve also got a bunch of second rounders with protections too numerous and complex to list here. Suffice to say, they’ve got a lot of picks coming and more on the way in the future from Brooklyn and Memphis.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Look out, rest of the NBA! LeBron James has a new obsession and all you can do while he pursue it is to line up and stand idly by: he’s working on his free throws. … No one needs to worry about the L.A. Clippers, according to point guard Chris Paul, except maybe the Clippers and their fans. … Kevin Durant, an unabashed Kobe Bryant fan, had a whole new batch of raves about the Lakers guard after their dinner together Friday night in OKC. … Trevor Ariza was just a local kid when he met Bryant, who eventually would become a teammate and rival, and he lauds the Lakers’ retiring star as well. … The Miami Heat have taken strides this season but aren’t quite ready to say “kumbiya!” … John Wall had to play a whole bunch of minutes to get Washington past Charlotte, but if the Wizards aren’t careful, Wall might join their long list of injured players.