CHICAGO – A crucial jump ball went the Toronto Raptors’ way in the closing seconds of their 101-98 victory over the Chicago Bulls at United Center. But it came at a price for center Jonas Valanciunas.
The Toronto center went for the ball as it squirted out of the jump between teammate Rudy Gay and Bulls forward Carlos Boozer. But as he reached, dropping his head, he banged into Gay’s shoulder — hard.
The final 9.1 seconds ticked off without incident, but Valanciunas went straight to Toronto’s bench area and sat in one of the chairs. Various members of the team’s training and medical staff huddled around him. As they gingerly probed around his neck, it wasn’t initially clear if he might be checked for concussion symptoms. But no, this was what Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo called a “whiplash-like” injury.
Long after the final horn, as fans exited and cleanup crews began their work, Valanciunas was fitted with a protective collar and escorted from the court. He was taken to nearby Rush Presbyterian Hospital as a precaution and to undergo a more thorough exam.
The 6-foot-11 Valanciunas had eight points and three rebounds in 23:17 against Chicago, including a throwd-own slam that made it 93-85 with 5:13 left that temporarily slowed the Bulls’ comeback attempt.
The fifth pick in the 2011 Draft, Valanciunas has been finishing strong. He was named Eastern Conference rookie of the month in March and had scored in double figures in 12 straight games prior to Tuesday. Since the All-Star break, he had hit 57.9 percent of his field goal attempts and 82.8 percent of his free throws.
Valanciunas was kept overnight for observation at nearby Rush Presbyterian hospital while the rest of the Raptors headed home. Test results were pending. Toronto’s next game is Friday against the Bulls at Air Canada Centre.
a HANG TIME, Texas – What better occasion than Super Bowl Sunday, our annual genuflection to wretched excess, to ask: When is enough enough?
Along about the time when the Knicks were tap-dancing on the chalk outline of all that was left of the Kings on Saturday night, the venerable Kurt Thomas rose up to launch one more 3-point shot.
Does the fact that Thomas, at 40, is the oldest player in the NBA, get him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps his failing eyesight couldn’t see the Madison Square Garden scoreboard that showed his team ahead by the fairly comfortable margin of 110-60?
What of the Knicks piling onto Sacramento with a whopping total of 43 shots from behind the arc on the night, J.R. Smith swinging his arms like a runaway windmill after nailing one, Carmelo Anthony and Steve Novak firing imaginary guns after hitting their targets?
“I’m not trying to rub this in,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “When it’s time to go to the bench, I do that. I’ve been on the other end of it in my career.”
Five nights earlier in Salt Lake City, the Rockets put the finishing touches on the worst home beating in the history of the Jazz, 125-80, by shooting 8-for-13 on 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
“They didn’t let up one bit,” Utah forward Paul Millsap told the Salt Lake Tribune. “But believe me when I say we will see them again and, hopefully, it will be the other way around.”
Interestingly enough, on Friday night in Toronto, in the final seconds of a 98-73 thumping, it was the Clippers Caron Butler that raised eyebrows around the league. As the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas was dribbling out the clock, Butler approached and made like he was extending his arm in a handshake. When Valanciunas let down his guard, Butler then reached out to swipe the ball and tried to run off to score before he was fouled.
So what are the unwritten and unspoken rules of etiquette in these situations? Is there anything that says any one of these players did anything unsportsmanlike or unethical?
Remember, this was not teenager Danny Heater of West Virginia pouring it on with 135 points against an overmatched team of high schoolers. The Kings and Jazz and Raptors are all highly-paid pros. And, of course, the Raptors won the game.
“Is the clock still ticking? Are the lights still on? Is the game still being played?” asked Matt Bonner, the Spurs reserve who has had more than his share of experience in late-game situations.
“What you’re always taught is to keep playing hard and to always protect yourself any time you’re on the court. You can’t suddenly tell guys who are in at the end of the game to stop competing.”
To his credit, Kings coach Keith Smart told Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News that he did not mind the celebrating.
“I don’t feel that way,” the Sacramento coach said. “We’re all big boys. Guys don’t get a chance to play much, they want to shoot and keep playing. You can’t tell them not to shoot. Take your lumps and move on.”
In late-game situations, while the victims just want to hurry and get off the court, there can be other players getting a chance to shine.
“Look, there have been times when I haven’t played much all night and then we’ve got a big lead and Pop (coach Gregg Popovich) might send a bunch of us out there for the last seven or eight minutes,” Bonner said.
“Hey, I want to play. I want to do well. This is my chance. Pop might tell us no fastbreaks or something like that, but he still wants us to run our offense the right way, to play the game and take the shots.”
It is understandable. The reserves only move up in the rotation when they show what they can do. As Smart said, they’re all big boys and if you don’t like it, well, you could go out and defend all those 3s?
So then, how does anyone come up with a reasonable explanation for Butler’s rope-a-dope on Valanciunas?
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When it comes to international talent entering the NBA Draft, this was a down year.
No international players were selected until the Nuggets took France’s Evan Fournier with the 20th pick. And at most, there will be four international rookies from the 2012 Draft on NBA rosters this season.
But there will be plenty of other new international faces in the league, five from previous drafts and four more free agents that have signed with teams this summer. Here’s what we might expect from each of the nine, listed in order of which guys could make the most impact.
1. Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto, 2011 Draft (No. 5 overall)
The 6-foot-11 Lithuanian had an underwhelming performance at the Olympics, playing less than 12 minutes per game and getting lost at times when trying to defend pick-and-rolls. He’s just 20 years old and may need a few years to make the jump, but there’s a lot of potential there, and he could eventually be the second-best player out of last year’s draft.
2. Mirza Teletovic, F, Brooklyn, Free agent
Teletovic, who turns 27 next month, probably won’t start for the Nets but he should have a pretty big role as a big man off the bench. He averaged 15.8 points and 6.3 boards for Caja Laboral last season, and was the leading scorer (21.7 ppg) in Euroleague play. He’s a bit of a gunner, but has a pretty complete offensive game. Defense may be an issue.
3. Donatas Motiejunas, F, Houston, 2011 Draft (No. 20)
The way the Rockets’ roster is shaping up, the team should be pretty bad, and Motiejunas should get plenty of playing time. He’s a seven-foot stretch four whose range doesn’t quite reach the 3-point line. Still, he had an impressive Rockets debut at Summer League, averaging 23.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per 30 minutes in Vegas. (more…)
LONDON – Unlike many of the other teams in this competition, certain members of the Lithuanian contingent here at the Olympics have tangible knowledge of what it feels like to take a bite out of the machine that is the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team.
Before the U.S. program was back to its current and dominant state, basketball-mad Lithuania shocked the basketball world with a during the 2004 Olympics, a loss the U.S. made up for in the bronze medal game.
Veteran Lithuanian guard Sarunas Jasikevicius led the charge in that 2004 upset and is still on the roster, along with fellow former NBA player Darius Songaila. But times have changed a bit since then for both sides.
The U.S. is back to its gold medal ways, courtesy of the complete program makeover engineered by USA Basketball chairman and managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski. The U.S. is chasing a second straight gold medal and has won their three games here by a jaw-dropping average of 52.3 points, a figure boosted significantly by Thursday night’s record-setting 83-point drubbing of Nigeria.
Lithuania is still one of the world’s most formidable outfits, the mere mention of the three-time Olympic bronze medalists prompts an immediate demeanor shift for Krzyzewski. But they are not among the favorites in this tournament, relying as much or more on younger stars like Linas Kleiza and prized Toronto Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas to carry the team than they do some of their stars from previous teams.
LONDON – Chris Paul was to the point in the huddle.
“During one of the timeouts, I told Coach K, ‘I’m not running any other plays except the one for ‘Melo,’ ” Paul said Friday morning, before the U.S. men’s Olympic team meeting at their cozy hotel downtown. It was a third-quarter huddle of Thursday’s game with Nigeria, when Carmelo Anthony was in the process of losing his mind (scoring-wise).
There was some concern early in the training camp process for this team about how the cores of the 2008 Olympic team and the 2010 World Championship team would blend. The ’08 “Redeem Team” that won the gold medal in Beijing featured Anthony, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James; the ’10 team that won gold in Turkey was led by the new jacks: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. It’s not that anyone was going to be churlish about minutes; these are all mature guys. But any time a player is used to performing star turns, it’s sometimes hard to be “Guy Catching a Cab” in the closing credits.
But after Durant looked less like himself coming off the bench in the early exhibitions, Mike Krzyzewski made a switch in the starting lineup, bringing Anthony off the bench and starting Durant. Those small adjustments seem to have helped. Durant started out hot Thursday, hitting three 3-pointers in the first six minutes, and after Kobe Bryant scored 14 points early as well, they handed the baton to Anthony. He was white-hot from minute one.
“Carmelo would have like a 60-point game, I think … if we didn’t limit him,” Krzyzewski said late Thursday at the team hotel. “And the neat thing about that is that everybody on the team wanted him to shoot the ball.”
Anthony made 13 of 16 shots, including 10 of 12 from behind the arc. He’s gotten hot before, but it almost always involves some posting up or driving to the basket, where he uses his strength to get to the foul line. Thursday, though, almost all of his makes were from skeet-shooting distance. When you score 37 on 16 shots (in just 14 minutes), you’re doing it right.
“I was at a loss of words watching,” Love said. “I was telling Craig Sager, every time (Anthony) went up, I just stood up, held up three points in the air. I knew it was in. When a guy gets in a rhythm like that, everything seems to go in.” (more…)
HANG TIME, New Jersey – With The Finals, the Draft and most of free agency in the rearview mirror, it’s really time to start getting ready for the 2012-13 NBA season, a return to the standard 82-game schedule.
That schedule, all 1230 games, was revealed Thursday on NBA TV. And, of course, it gets started with a ceremony on Biscayne Bay.
LeBron James will get his ring and the Miami Heat will raise their second championship banner on Tuesday, Oct. 30, on TNT. Then, they’ll open the 2012-13 season by hosting the Boston Celtics, the team that had them down 3-2 in the conference semifinals this past June. This was already a fierce rivalry, and it will only get more interesting with Ray Allen‘s defection to South Beach.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – As the United States named its 12-man roster for London 2012 on Saturday, two teams earned trips to London with victories in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Caracas, Venezuela.
Russia and Lithuania, two of the favorites in the 12-team qualifying tourney, are teams Nos. 10 and 11 in the Olympic field.
In the first of Saturday’s games, point guard Alexey Shved (who looks to be NBA-bound this fall) led Russia to an 85-77 win over Nigeria, scoring 22 points and dishing out six assists. The game was tied at 26 early in the second quarter, but Russia outscored Nigeria 20-5 to close the period and led by as many as 21 in the second half.
Andrei Kirilenko added 19 points, eight rebounds and four steals for Russia, while Ike Diogu (who played two games for the Spurs last season) led Nigeria with 16 points and 14 boards. The Hornets’ Al-Farouq Aminu scored 13 points, but had seven turnovers.
Russia shot a scorching 14-for-27 from 3-point range. They were arguably the U.S. Team’s toughest competition in the medal rounds in the 2010 World Championship, losing 89-79 in the quarterfinals.
The team the U.S. beat in the ’10 semifinals was the second team to qualify for the Olympics on Saturday. Lithuania, who had a disappointing finish in last year’s Eurobasket (which they hosted), redeemed themselves with a 109-83 blowout of the Dominican Republic.
Jonas Valanciunas has started negotiations on the release agreement with his team in Lithuania, sources said, an important step in the 2011 lottery pick finally being able to join the Raptors.
While it has been expected all along that Valanciunas would be in the NBA in 2012-13 after a final season in his native country, news of talks with Lietuvos Rytas are a comforting development for Toronto fans who missed having their center of the future in 2011-12.
The release agreement is part of the process before Valanciunas can pay the $2.4-million buyout to the team in Lithuania and sign in Toronto. The Raptors are allowed to pay $550,000 of that.
There is no timetable for Valanciunas to join the Raptors and end the uncertainty that started last June, when NBA teams became concerned about the absence of a buyout in his contract, creating the possibility he would have to play in Europe for multiple seasons. That never happened. Toronto took him fifth overall in an investment for the future and quickly, and thankfully, saw Valanciunas sign a new deal in Lithuania that allowed him to get out of the deal in the 2012 offseason.
One non-Toronto executive called Valanciunas “a future franchise center” before the 2011 draft. While not every team shared the belief that he would be a star, there was a strong belief the 7-foot, 240-pounder would have a long and successful NBA career and that the Raptors made a sound choice despite the wait.
“I have no doubt that is the right pick or was the right pick for us,” Bryan Colangelo, the president and general manager, told NBA.com in March. “But it certainly wasn’t one that would gather instant gratification. There were other players on the board… that our fans and perhaps the media wanted us to take because they might come in and be an immediate-impact pick, if you will. But we made a long-term decision. We drafted a 19-year-old center prospect and despite the pressure of picking a so-called sexy pick or someone that might be a more-popular pick, we made the pick that we felt was the best decision, long term and short term, for the franchise because it fit right into this building process that we’re going through right now.”
Some quick takes on the happenings around the NBA …
The Old Men and the Cs: If this is the end, and indications are that it is, viewed through the standings or the honesty of Danny Ainge in admitting a willingness to break up the Big Three, then there should be no regrets. It was a short run for the Celtics but a great one, three full seasons of one title and another push deep into the fourth quarter of Game 7 of The Finals in 2010 before falling short. Quickly going from contender to geriatric was always part of the deal. The initial investment from summer 2007 – acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and spending big on a KG extension rather than building with Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson and lottery picks – is a no-brainer in retrospect.
The Celtics aren’t necessarily road kill, by the way. While not in the same class as the Heat, Bulls or 76ers in the East, and maybe the Hawks, there is still time to find the rip cord and reach the playoffs if the roster stays together and they can delay rebuilding until the summer. Anyone sure about the Magic in the playoffs if Dwight Howard is traded? The Pacers, the team that just gagged on a 16-point lead and lost to the Kings as Sacramento shot 30.1 percent from the field and 68.3 from the line? The Knicks? Boston won’t be champions, but it can still be respectable. (more…)
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Who will be the best NBA player in five years among rookies?
Steve Aschburner:Ricky Rubio. Kyrie Irving is the safe, logical pick and Derrick Williams seems like the type of player who may be appreciated most by hardcore basketball fans. But I think Rubio has the court vision, the skills, the pass-first sensibility and the charisma to become a star. He’ll certainly get the proper nurturing and training wheels from a Minnesota franchise that can hardly bear to have him fail. Ole, indeed.
Fran Blinebury: Kyrie Irving. It’s a point guard’s world in the NBA today and Irving will have all the opportunity to excel.