Posts Tagged ‘Jordan Hill’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 23


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Love seeking more play in paint | Report: Noah’s knee may be season-long ‘issue’ | Howard gets a little wistful | Lakers’ Hill returned because D’Antoni left

No. 1: Love looking for more touches in paint — A cursory glance at last night’s box score from the Cavaliers’ game against the Grizzlies in Memphis shows Kevin Love had a decent night for Cleveland — 12 points (on 4-for-9 shooting), eight rebounds, an assist and two steals in roughly 23 minutes. After the game, though, Love told Chris Haynes of The Plain Dealer that he’s looking for more touches in the interior than out on the perimeter to fully get his game back on track for the looming 2014-15 season:

In two consecutive games early in exhibition play against the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks, Love appeared to have found his groove, scoring 50 points in total while shooting 17-of-23 from the field.

He was also a blistering nine-of-12 from three-point range in that two-game span.

The All-Star power forward had it going. But aside from those two games, Love averaged 8.5 points, shot 29 percent from the field and was 1-for-11 from beyond the arc.

Love averaged 3.8 three-point attempts per game, an adequate amount for the former All-Star Weekend three-point champion.

Though he has still found ways to be productive for the Cavaliers, after the 96-92 loss preseason finale loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, he told Northeast Ohio Media Group that he needs more looks inside to get his game back.

“My entire life I played the game from inside-out,” Love explained to NEOMG. “So the more touches I can get inside to get myself going, the better. I’m not accustomed to starting out a game shooting a three, so it’s just something that I see.

“I’m 26-years-old and I’ve been playing basketball for quite a long time. Just finding ways to mix it up. If anything, keeping it around the basket a little bit more and the offense will allow me to get offensive rebounds. That will be tough for teams with Andy [Varejao] and myself and Tristan [Thompson] in there.”

His long-ball threat is a valuable weapon; the reason head coach David Blatt is utilizing him in that fashion. Love says the offense calls for him to be out on the perimeter, but he says he has to make sure he remembers to go inside more.

“Yeah, the offense is built that way but I just have to make a conscious decision to get myself in there,” Love said. “There are a lot of times where I just find myself fading to the three-point line. For me, it’s a mentality and that’s easy to fix.

“We’ve been putting in stuff like different pin-downs, cut-across and cross-screens to get me open in there. You’ll see a lot more of that during the season. That’s always how I played and I know that coach wants me to play that way, as well.”


VIDEO: Marc Gasol powers the Grizzlies past the Cavs

(more…)

Byron Scott taps brakes on Showtime

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Lakers introduce Scott

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – “Showtime” did, sort of, return to Los Angeles on Tuesday.

During the press conference to introduce former Lakers guard Byron Scott as the team’s 25th coach, old teammates Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes strolled into the Lakers’ practice gym to show their support. Johnson, a constant public critic of the last Lakers coach, Mike D’Antoni, nearly suffocated Scott with a massive, joy-filled hug.

Johnson declared this as “a great day for all the former Lakers as well as Lakers fans all over the world,” and then proclaimed the impossible: “Showtime’s back, baby!”

Scott, 53, flanked Magic in the Lakers’ backcourt for three of the Showtime Lakers’ four championship runs during the 1980s, plus three other Finals appearances through 1991. Scott, a native of Inglewood, Calif., home of the old Fabulous Forum and then the renamed Great Western Forum where those teams dazzled the senses, obviously has intimate knowledge of how those high-powered teams excelled.

Yet even Scott, who along with all Lakers fans can appreciate Magic’s exuberance for bringing a Laker Man back to the helm, had to tap the brakes on Magic’s “Showtime” giddiness here in the real world of 2014.

“We can’t play that way,” Scott said during his press conference. “We don’t have a Magic Johnson.”

Touché.

Remember, it was D’Antoni when hired five games into the 2012-13 season who embraced the faux return of Showtime, declaring his inherited edition would score 110 points a game or something ridiculous. Such bravado presumably came from either an attempt to capture angry Lakers fans enamored with Phil Jackson, or from his past successes running-and-gunning in Phoenix with two-time MVP Steve Nash, whom the Lakers had acquired that summer, only at a slightly more advanced age than he was in those heady Suns days.

Nash remains with the Lakers. He’s 40 now and has played 65 games in the last two seasons because of injuries, and just 15 last season. Kobe Bryant was a bushy-haired rookie during Scott’s final season. Scott returned to L.A. for the 1996-97 season for a final hurrah after playing a few seasons elsewhere a couple years after Magic’s initial stunning retirement.

The offense Kobe and Nash will run, Scott said on Tuesday, will be a mixture of everything he’s ever done at his previous stops with New Jersey, New Orleans and Cleveland, where he was the poor sap who took the gig just before LeBron James declared he was taking his talents to South Beach.

His greatest chore, Scott said, going full anti-D’Antoni (who truthfully had no shot last season with the unending injuries that ravaged the team), will be turning this group into a defensive-minded unit. Scott probably choked just a bit as he glanced at the Lakers’ stats last season. They finished 28th overall in defensive rating, giving up 107.9 points per 100 possessions.

“The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team,” Scott said. “These three gentlemen [Magic, Kareem and Wilkes] that’s sitting in this front row, the first thing that Magic taught me when I got in this league is that we win championships by defending every single night. That’s the one thing we can control.”

Just prior to making that statement, Scott said he told general manager Mitch Kupchak that he assembled a roster that will be “very competitive.” Hopefully Scott remembered the Lakers are still in the Western Conference. Anyway, there’s nothing like new-coach optimism.

On the bright side, the Lakers were so awful last season that it figures to be next-to-impossible to be as bad. The Lakers lost a franchise-record 55 games. Kobe played in six. He’ll be back. We know he’ll be paid a handsome $23.5 million next season, but we don’t know at what level he’ll perform or how he’ll adapt his game to his changing athleticism and physical capabilities following the torn Achilles tendon of two seasons ago and last season’s knee injury. Or how his patience will stand up to a mediocre team and a new coach, even one this time he personally endorsed.

Nash, as mentioned, is back, too, but how long he can play or how effectively is a total mystery.

Pau Gasol is out. Vetaran power forward Carlos Boozer is in.

The rest of Scott’s team looks like this: No. 7 overall pick Julius Randle, then Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre.

Showtime? The straight-faced Scott was right to tap the brakes.

Give him credit for that, and now give him time to implement a system and gain some cohesion, and time for trusted management to work some magic in the coming summers that missed the mark with available superstars this time around.

Only then will we know if Magic can truly crow that Showtime’s back, baby.

Dirk’s pay cut has Mavs back in race


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs agree on a new three-year contract

LAS VEGAS – To put into perspective the magnitude of Dirk Nowitzki‘s pay cut, consider this: He’ll make in the next three seasons what Kobe Bryant is charging the Lakers for just next season.

It’s a big reason why the Dallas Mavericks could be back in the conversation as a top-four contender in the Western Conference while the talent-depleted Los Angeles Lakers are more likely to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season. That hasn’t happened since 1976.

Bryant signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension last year. Nowitzki signed an exceedingly below-market-value deal of three years and $25 million earlier this week. The total is even less than than the three years and $30 million he was initially believed to be signing.

When the Mavs convene for training camp in October, the league’s all-time 10th-leading scorer and the franchise’s leading scorer in every season since 2000, will be Dallas’ fourth-highest paid player.

“It’s just the kind of human being he is. He’s all about winning; he’s all about championships,” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said Wednesday as he watched Dallas’ Summer League team take on Charlotte. “He’s one of the most selfless superstars that have ever played in the NBA, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to bring another parade to Dallas.

“He understood that we needed flexibility in order to get the team better. He’s part of the tapestry of the city of Dallas. He’s really a made man in a lot respects if you think about all the superstars that have come through in all the sports, in terms of basketball it doesn’t get any better than Dirk. He just made a decision to end his career there. Hopefully we can tag another contract on to that.”

By agreeing to go from making $22.7 million last season to $7.97 million this season, Nowitzki provided the Mavs front office with the financial ammunition to deliver a three-year, $46-million offer sheet to Rockets restricted free agent small forward Chandler Parsons.

“The one consistent from Day 1 is Dirk,” Nelson said. “We’re not in position this summer to be as active as we are without him taking a fairly major pay cut and being a team player.”

Houston eventually did not match the contract and the Mavs acquired much-needed youth and talent in the 25-year-old Chandler. He joins a front line that includes Nowitzki and also 7-foot-1 center Tyson Chandler, whom the Mavs acquired in a trade before the start of free agency.

Chandler, on the final year of a four-year, $60 million deal he signed with the Knicks following Dallas’ 2011 championship, will be the Mavs’ highest-paid player at $14.8 million. Parsons is right behind him at $14.7 million. Shooting guard Monta Ellis will make $8.36 million.

To bring this back to the Lakers, power forward Jordan Hill will make $1 million more than Nowitzki next season.

In each of the last three summers, Dallas has tried to lure a max free agent to pair with Nowitzki in his final seasons and then to take the mantle once the big German finally calls it a career. That plan hasn’t worked out and since winning the title in 2011, owner Mark Cuban has continually flipped the roster. They were bounced in the first round of their title defense, missed the playoffs in 2012-13 and then won 49 games last season and took the Spurs to seven games in the first round.

The organization talked of continuity, but when the chance arose to reclaim Chandler from the Knicks, they sent starters Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert to New York. Dallas lost Vince Carter to Memphis and appears on the verge of losing veteran small forward Shawn Marion, the last player left along with Nowitzki from the title team. Point guard Raymond Felton came to Dallas in the Chandler trade and will tag team with Devin Harris.

Dallas also signed veteran Richard Jefferson and depth center Greg Smith, and it still has a $2.73 million exception and a minimum salary slot to fill. The Mavs didn’t get the big fish again, but with the help of their longtime superstar taking not only a haircut, but a buzzcut, they’ve remade the roster yet again, and this time might have pulled themselves back into contention.

“It’s always been that way,” Nelson said. “Dirk is part of the Mavs family, and he and Mark have had a special, unique, honest and forthcoming relationship since Mark has owned the team. He’s probably the biggest reasons we’ve had 15 years of great chemistry in the locker room. We haven’t been without our speed bumps, but for the most part we’ve had a really good team atmosphere and it starts from the top with Dirk in the locker room, Mark from a franchise perspective and you have the best coach in the game in Rick Carlisle.”

Middle class getting rich in free agency

The Lakers brought back Jordan Hill (left) and Nick Young for a combined

The Lakers brought back Jordan Hill (left) and Nick Young (right) for a combined $39.5 million

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Early into this free-agency period there was hand-wringing over the alleged travesty that superstars commanding the highest salaries were being prodded to take less money for the good of the team.

And certainly under the current salary-cap structure of the collective bargaining agreement, if highly paid players want to band together, but also expect to have funds available to sign quality role players, the price (as dictated by the current salary-cap structure) is settling for less than market value.

James Harden didn’t want to settle so Oklahoma City traded him to Houston. In Miami over the last two weeks, we saw how steep of a cut each of the Big Three (and really Chris Bosh and Dywane Wade) were in for if the group was to stay together and have a legitimate shot at signing a difference-making-type player such as Kyle Lowry or Marcin Gortat.

If superstars opt not to form super powers and the top-tier talent spreads to more teams (the goal of ownership in this CBA) than they can all collect their max money. LeBron James is expected to get his max deal, roughly $21 million next season by leaving Miami for Cleveland. Bosh’s loyalty to the Heat (aided by not having to pay James) was rewarded with a maximum $118 million over five years and Carmelo Anthony will accept a deal close to the max, reportedly about $120 million over five years, from the New York Knicks.

The next tier of talent has also done quite well this summer. Lowry re-upped with Toronto for $48 million over four years, almost doubling last season’s take. Gortat re-signed with Washington for $60 million over five years. He made $7.7 million last season and is 30 years old. Not bad if you can get it.

The Utah Jazz on Saturday matched Charlotte’s aggressive offer sheet of four-years and $63 million for 24-year-old small forward Gordon Hayward. He’ll earn more next season, about $14.7 million, than he did in his previous three seasons combined ($11 million). The Dallas Mavericks have made Chandler Parsons, 25, a rich man with their three-year, $45 million offer sheet that Houston has until Sunday night to match or pass. Neither player has ever been an All-Star, yet both will get paid like one.

It’s theme of the summer. Players at every level of the talent hierarchy are cashing in big. Why? It’s simple: The big fish, as long as they swim their separate ways, are going to get paid, while this league-wide run for cap space has greatly inflated salaries for a widening middle class. It’s produced eye-opening contracts such as these: Jodie Meeks (Detroit), three years and $19 million; Jordan Hill (L.A. Lakers), two years and $18 million; Darren Collison (Sacramento), three years and $16 million; Nick Young (L.A. Lakers), four years and $21.5 million; Chris Kaman (Portland), two years and $9.8 million; C.J. Miles (Indiana), four years and $18 million; Ben Gordon (Orlando), two years and $9.8 million.

The CBA hammered out during the lockout of 2011 placed a premium on cap space. Harsher luxury tax penalties and tighter controls designed to restrict roster flexibility for tax teams has created a much larger pool of teams than ever before that strategically plan to create maximum cap space each summer to dive into free agency and chase max-level free agents.

Only there aren’t that many big fish, far fewer than there are now teams ready to pay team. It leaves an overload of cap space around the league that must be spent and this summer role players — the league’s middle class — are reaping the benefits.

Any player it seems who has been in the league a handful of years can turn his nose at any offer starting at less than $4 million. Thirty-seven-year-old Vince Carter wanted to return to Dallas, which was offering $2.73 million for next season. So he took the $4 million ($12.2 million over three seasons) Memphis showed him.

And then there’s free-agent shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha coming off an awful year shooting and who twice fell out of the Thunder’s rotation during the playoffs. He secured a raise from Atlanta — three years and $12 million.

2014 Trade Deadline Wrapup


VIDEO: Trade Deadline: Pacers and Sixers Trade

The Indiana Pacers provided a little excitement at the end of what was an underwhelming deadline day. There was a flurry of action on Thursday, but none of it all that meaningful. But then, after the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline had passed, news broke that Indiana had acquired Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for Danny Granger and a second round pick.

Now, Turner’s per-game numbers are somewhat inflated by the Sixers’ pace. They lead the league at 102.5 possessions per 48 minutes. He’s generally been a disappointment as a former No. 2 pick in the Draft. And though his efficiency has increased *this season, he still ranks 161st of 196 players who have attempted at least 300 field goals with a true shooting percentage of just 50.4 percent. His free throw rate has gone up, but is still below the league average, and he has shot 29 percent from 3-point range.

* Over the summer, we pointed out Turner’s ridiculous mid-range-to-3-point attempt ratio of 3.1 last season. It’s down to 2.3 this year. Still pretty bad (James Harden‘s is 0.5), but not quite as mind-boggling.

As much as Granger has struggled in his return from almost a full season off, he’s shot better (49.5 percent effective FG%) than Turner (47.1 percent) on catch-and-shoot opportunities.

But Turner can’t hurt the Pacers’ bench offense, which has struggled again this season. While Indiana’s starting lineup has scored a solid 106.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Pacer lineups have scored just 99.5. And with C.J. Watson (better suited to play off the ball) as their back-up point guard, they could certainly use another guy who can create off the dribble.

A few other contenders and next-level squads made moves at the deadline, but they were relatively minor. The Warriors added bench help, the Spurs added depth at the wing, the Rockets added some athleticism, the Clippers shed salary, and the Heat created an open roster spot. Nobody made a move that will move the needle all that much. Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Rajon Rondo are still where they were 48 hours ago.

And that’s good news for Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, who remain the clear big four in the NBA hierarchy.

– John Schuhmann

Below is a live blog of how things went down on deadline day.

Highlights: Pacers swap Granger for Turner | Spurs get a wing | Clippers shed salary | Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade | Andre Miller to Washington | Bucks, Bobcats make deal | Kings sticking with McLemore | Heat unload Mason | Hawes to Cleveland

Brooks approves move to Denver, 3:55 p.m.

Aaron Brooks had the ability to veto his trade to Denver, but he’s agreed to the deal.

Pacers swap Granger for Turner, 3:33 p.m.

Spurs get a wing, 3:09 p.m.

Clippers shed salary, 3:00 p.m.

Will Brooks approve trade?, 2:30 p.m.

From our Fran Blinebury

Aaron Brooks would have to approve any trade and said yesterday that he wouldn’t. He wanted badly to stay in Houston.

The Rockets have reportedly agreed to send Brooks to Denver for Jordan Hamilton, but because Brooks signed a one-year contract and his early Bird rights would disappear upon being traded, he can veto the deal.

Clippers anxious to deal, 2:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

The Clippers continue to be very proactive in hopes of closing a deal before noon in Los Angeles, with Reggie Bullock turning into a name of the moment around the league.

This is no surprise. For one thing, Bullock is one of the few available Clippers trade chips. For another, Bullock has a real future for a No. 25 pick, a rookie averaging just 8.5 minutes a game because he is a young wing on a team in win-now mode but a 6-7 guard-forward who improved his shooting every year at North Carolina and can defend. He is not an All-Star in waiting, but he is a legit prospect who can bring something in return when L.A. is not expecting to add a starter.

The quest is to bolster the rotation for the playoff push. The Clips are anxious to make a move. If they leave today empty, the next step will be to hope a player of value is bought out and can be signed as a free agent. That is one reason the basketball operations headed by Doc Rivers has kept the roster at 14.

Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade, 1:40 p.m.

Jack should have his bags ready, 1:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

Still a strong sense from teams that Jarrett Jack, while not the big name of Luol Deng or the medium name of 2012 first-rounder Tyler Zeller, is the most likely Cavalier to be on the move today.

Jack has two more full seasons left at $6.3 million per, a big number for someone shooting 39.3 percent and probably a backup wherever he goes. But he has playoff experience, loves the big moment (sometimes wanting it so much that he forces it) and has the additional value of being an available point guard. There is also the versatility that Jack can play shooting guard.

The 39.3 percent? He was at 45 the last two seasons, in New Orleans and Golden State, and 40.4 on threes in 2012-13 with the Warriors. Interested suitors now have the easy explanation to write off the current troubles: He plays for the Cavaliers, so of course there’s going to be problems.

Andre Miller to Washington, 12:40 p.m.

The Washington Wizards’ offense falls off whenever John Wall goes to the bench. They’ve scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and just 92.8 with him off the floor. So they were in the market for a back-up point guard, and they got one…

Bucks, Bobcats make deal, 12:37 p.m.

Kings sticking with McLemore, 12:35 p.m.

From our Scott Howard-Cooper

Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, bothered to an extreme by the rumor, took the unusual step of going out of his way to speak to media members to shoot down a rumor, insisting they had not offered rookie Ben McLemore to the Celtics as part of a package for Rajon Rondo. In what has been a rough transition to the NBA, with McLemore shooting 36.5 percent and unable to hold the starting job earlier in the season, management didn’t want him to start wondering about the team’s commitment.

More than McLemore’s availability could have been shot down, though. Not only are the Kings fully invested in McLemore and rightfully see a high ceiling despite the slow start, there is no way a rebuilding organization gives up two first-round picks, their 2013 lottery selection and Isaiah Thomas, the reported offer, for Rondo early in the comeback from knee surgery and with one full season left on his contract. Whether bad rumor or Celtics dream, it was never going to happen.

Miller to Washington?, 12:15 p.m.

Clippers and Cavs talking, 11:50 a.m.

Sessions for Neal swap?, 11:45 a.m.

Heat unload Mason, 11:20 a.m.

Deng is available, 11:15 a.m.

Earl Clark, Henry Sims heading to Philly, 10:45 a.m.

Clark is technically under contract for $4.25 million next season, but that doesn’t become guaranteed until July 7, 2014. Sims’ $915 thousand salary is also non-guaranteed. So the Sixers are basically getting back two expiring contracts. Anderson Varejao‘s health was a reason for the trade…

Zeller on the block, 10:00 a.m.

Hawes to Cleveland, 9:55 a.m.

Cleveland is over the cap and doesn’t have an exception that can absorb Hawes’ $6.6 million salary, so there has to be a player or two heading back to Philadelphia.

Teams after Andre Miller, 9:45 a.m.

Jimmer on the block, 9:35 a.m.

Ainge talks, 9:30 a.m.

The Race For Jordan Hill, 8:50 a.m.

The Los Angeles Lakers have the fourth highest payroll in the league and are 18-36 after getting waxed at home by the Rockets on Wednesday. Dumping Jordan Hill for nothing can lower their luxury tax payments quite a bit, and there are a couple of teams willing to take Hill off their hands. As we wrote yesterday, the Nets are looking to strengthen their bench, and have a disabled player exception that can absorb Hill’s $3.5 million salary.

But so does New Orleans, whose frontline has been decimated by injuries.

The Gary Neal deadline, 7:50 a.m.

Gary Neal makes just $3.25 million and the Bucks don’t want him. Yet somehow, trading him is a complicated process.

UPDATE, 6:09 a.m.

Report: Rockets making push for Rondo: Like many teams in the league right now, the Houston Rockets are interested in acquiring Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. And, like a lot of teams in the league right now, the Rockets are having a hard time coming up with the framework for a trade that is to the Celtics’ liking. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Houston’s potential unwillingness to give up Chandler Parsons is what may be hanging up a deal.

Report: Kings eyeing Cavs backup guard Jack: A day after sending shooting guard Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn for veterans Reggie Evans and Jason Terry, Sacramento might be looking to make another trade. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Kings have expressed interest in working a trade for Cavaliers reserve guard Jarrett Jack.

Thibodeau would be surprised if Bulls make deal: Echoing the words of GM Gar Forman and team president John Paxson a little less than a week ago, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tells the Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson he’d be stunned to see the team make a trade today.

Saunders shoots down talk of Love on trading block: A smattering of Kevin Love stories came out yesterday, from a snippet from a new GQ interview in which he talks about having fun playing for the Timberwolves to a tweet from Peter Vescey that made it seem as if the All-Star wants out from Minnesota. But Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders shot down all that talk with one tweet last night, writes Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press.

Report: Lakers’ Young safe from being dealt: ICYMI last night, the Lakers shipped veteran point guard Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for youngsters Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. In short, L.A. is continuing in its rebuilding efforts, but according to BasketballInsiders.com, it seems unlikely that the team’s No. 2 scorer, Nick Young, will be dealt today.

Players discuss their trade deadline-day experiences: The folks over at BasketballInsiders.com caught up with a couple of notable players — including Dwight Howard, Kyle Lowry and Chris Kaman — to have them share what it’s like for a player to go through trade deadline day. Nice little read here this a.m.

Nets Keep Looking To Spend, Improve

Brooklyn acquired guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

Brooklyn picked up guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The first trade of deadline week went down Wednesday afternoon, with the Brooklyn Nets acquiring Marcus Thornton from the Sacramento Kings for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry.

The deal adds about $700,000 in salary and $2.7 million in luxury taxes to Brooklyn’s books this season. Next season, when all three guys are still under contract, it adds about the *same amount.

* More salary, less tax, because, at this point, Brooklyn is only in the third of five tax-payment tiers for ’14-15. Give ‘em time, though.

So, it’s a bit of an investment for Mikhail Prokhorov. But in theory, it should help the Nets continue to move up the Eastern Conference standings.

Brooklyn is 14-6 since Jan. 1, a stretch in which they’ve gone from 10th to seventh in the East. They’re just 2 1/2 games out of a top-four seed and need to keep moving up to avoid playing the Pacers or Heat in the first round and have a decent shot at the conference semifinals.

After all the money they spent last summer, anything less than the second round would be a colossal failure. So hey, they might as well spend a few more million if it can make them better.

And as good as the Nets have played in 2014, they still have plenty of room for improvement. They rank 15th offensively and sixth defensively since Jan. 1. Given all their talent, they should be better at putting the ball in the basket.

That’s where Thornton comes in. Since Jan. 1, the Nets have scored 108.3 points per 100 possessions with Deron Williams on the floor (a rate which would rank fifth in the league in that time) and just 100.6 with him on the bench (a rate which would rank 25th). Though Williams hasn’t been at his best, he’s still the most important offensive player on his team.

Shaun Livingston has been one of the Nets’ bright spots and has worked well with Williams in the starting lineup, but the Nets’ second-unit offense could use a boost. Terry has been a disappointment, Alan Anderson‘s production has dropped off and, as brilliant as Andrei Kirilenko has been, he’s made two shots outside of the paint all season.

The problem is that Thornton has been having the worst shooting season of his career, with an effective field goal percentage of just 45.7 percent. That’s worse than Terry was shooting.

So, the hope for Brooklyn is that Thornton can find his shot again. It was less than a month ago that he tied a career high with 42 points (shooting 7-for-15 from 3-point range) against the best defense of the last 37 years.

While he’s been rather inefficient this season, Thornton gives the Nets a higher ceiling and more potency than they had with Terry. If he plays well, he certainly fills a need.

The same could be said about Jordan Hill, if the Nets can get him from the Lakers for their disabled-player exception. In the same way that their offense takes a hit when their Williams sits, their defense falls apart when Kevin Garnett goes to the bench.

But you wonder how Hill would fit in a second-unit frontline that already includes Kirilenko, Andray Blatche and Mirza Teletovic. Each of those guys brings something to the table, the Nets have outscored their opponents by 21.5 points per 100 possessions in 115 minutes with the three of them on the floor together, and at least one of them would see a decrease in minutes if Hill was brought on board.

And then there’s the money. The Nets wouldn’t be sending any salary to L.A. in exchange for Hill, so he would cost them about $1.3 million in salary ($3.5 million prorated for the remainder in the season) and a whopping $16.6 million in luxury tax, bringing their total tax bill to more than $98 million. Add that to their salaries and they’d be a $200-million team.

That’s a lot of dough for a squad that doesn’t stand much of a chance of reaching the conference finals. But you can’t say that the Nets aren’t afraid to make a move or spend some money to address their needs.

L.A.’s Stunning Role Reversal


VIDEO: Lakers at Bucks, Dec. 31, 2013

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Happy New Year, Mike D’Antoni. A”We Want Phil” chant, however silly, percolated through Staples Center in L.A. on Tuesday as the glamorous-turned-anonymous Lakers faded to black again in an ugly loss to the now seven-win Milwaukee Bucks.

Total bummer of a New Year’s Eve party.

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, of course, wouldn’t touch this sinking M*A*S*H unit with a bionic-kneed Andrew Bynum. At this point, any talk of the league’s worst teams has to include the purple and gold, who are 13-19, have lost six in a row (half of those by an average of 17 points) and show no sign of snapping back any time soon.

How could they snap back? Consider D’Antoni’s starting five in the 94-79 loss to Milwaukee: Jordan Farmar (who tore his left hamstring in the game and will miss a month), Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol. His available bench was limited to: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman (who has fallen so far he couldn’t even get in the game).

Look at it this way: These unidentifiable Lakers are closer to last-place Utah than to eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings. That gap will either shrink or grow Friday night when the Lakers welcome the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – who, ahem, just beat L.A. in Salt Lake City a week ago.

When these two teams meet Friday, the most exciting player on the floor just might be Utah rookie point guard Trey Burke, who’s quietly making a major move in the Rookie of the Year race. No offense to the impressive Burke, but that’s how far the mighty Lakers have plummeted: A rookie on the opposing team — a team with 10 wins — is the most exciting player on the floor.

With Dwight Howard in Houston after turning his back on the Lakers in free agency, Kobe Bryant on the sidelines again with a fractured knee, Steve Nash still plotting some way to get back on the floor and Pau Gasol sniffling through recurring physical and emotional trauma, the Lakers’ star power is flickering like a faulty neon sign.

The Clippers, once known as the “other” L.A. team, are another story altogether.

We may never truly understand all the reasons that prompted outgoing commissioner David Stern, acting as the de facto head of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets two years ago, to veto the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade.

(Stern said in a statement shortly after the December 2011 trade that he nixed it “in the best interests of the Hornets” and that he decided, without influence from other owners, that “the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”)

But by now, we certainly grasp how drastically that decision altered both franchises’ outlooks. Remember, the Lakers thought they had Kobe’s future sewn up: CP3 in a deal that shipped out Gasol and Lamar Odom, followed by getting Dwight in a deal for Bynum. It’s hard to imagine a Kobe-CP3-D12 trio going up in flames like last season’s Howard-Kobe-Nash gathering did. Or like this season’s team has. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe to start this season and have gone 3-10 since his brief return and subsequent exit.

The Clippers (22-12) haven’t been nearly as consistent as coach Doc Rivers would like. But they are fourth in the West playing without injured sharpshooter J.J. Redick. They have won seven of their last 10. They’ll try to move 11 games over .500 Friday night at Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Off the court, the Clippers have been even better. Every second commercial on TV has Paul selling insurance with his equally assisting faux-twin brother Cliff, or a white-caped Blake Griffin saving us all from buying a lame automobile.

Meanwhile, the best news about the Lakers, off the court, is what they’re trying to do to fix their on-court woes. They are paying about $6 million more in payroll this season than their co-tenants, with close to $50 million wrapped up in Kobe and Gasol. The rest of the roster accounts for nearly $30 million. It’s why a rumored Gasol-for-Bynum swap with the Cleveland Cavaliers — followed by waiving Bynum — would be so attractive to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. It would wipe out millions in salary and costly luxury tax from the Lakers’ 2013-14 slate.

Whether that happens or not won’t change the Lakers’s fortunes any time soon. They’ll still be the talk of L.A. They are, after all, still the Lakers.

But until further notice, the star-studded Clips carry the bigger stick.


VIDEO: Bobcats at Clippers, Jan. 1, 2014

Goal For Celtics, Lakers Should Be Same

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant's return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant’s return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Lakers and Celtics own one of the most glorious rivalries in all of sports. Through the decades they’ve battled one another with teams as different as their respective coastlines.

Yet this version of the Lakers just might be better off accepting the Danny Ainge philosophy: “Making the playoffs is not a goal.”

The Celtics’ president of basketball operations said he needed to explain that a little bit, so I will, too.

Yes, the franchises’ strategies seem completely at odds. Ainge made the tough call to finally bust it up and trade Kevin Garnett and Boston’s beloved Paul Pierce and start from scratch, even with a new rookie coach. Ainge’s commitment to recovering All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is even in question. The Lakers meanwhile locked up their living legend, Kobe Bryant, for another two years and $48.5 million.

But just as Ainge is looking forward, it’s Kobe’s next two years I’m looking at, not this one. It’s during this time that I implore Kobe to not go nuts trying to sneak into the postseason as he did a season ago. But, as was predictable, that will be difficult.

After the Lakers pulled out an 88-85 win at Charlotte on Saturday night, their first W following three consecutive Ls with Kobe back from his awful April Achilles injury, No. 24 went all anti-Ainge, tenfold.

“I want to win a championship,” he told reporters. “I want to be playing in June.”

The inconvenient truth — and it’s really no secret to most — is that these Lakers are no closer to contending for a championship than Brad Stevens‘ plucky squad. They don’t defend or rebound well and they’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut either (ranking 20th in offensive efficiency). Tuesday night’s narrow win at Memphis, a struggling team playing without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, made the Lakers 2-4 with Kobe and 12-13 overall. Essentially the same record as the 12-14 Celtics.

Ainge views the Celtics’ applaudable start (and his comments came when they were 10-14, still a better mark than most expected) as a byproduct of a laughable Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, which they somehow lead and therefore occupy the No. 4 seed. Boston is 9-7 against the East and Ainge cringes thinking about making the playoffs with a losing record in this anomaly of a season and losing out on Draft position, in this coveted Draft.

The Lakers, predicted by most to miss the playoffs with or without Kobe, should view their 12-13 mark as a byproduct of a rugged West. L.A. is 5-3 against the East and 7-10 in its own conference after nipping the depleted Grizzlies.

It can even be argued that when Rondo, Boston’s last remaining player from its recent glory years, returns from his ACL injury that he will join a more talented collection of teammates than the ragtag bunch Kobe inherited. That’s bad news if you’re in the West.

Think about Kobe’s crew: Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Hill and conflicted pal Pau Gasol, the only other remaining member of the 2010 title team. Jordan Farmar (a role player on the ’10 team left before re-signing this season) could return from injury soon and Steve Blake will be back in a month or so. No one can be sure about Steve Nash. To think this crew can leap into the West playoff fray with any hope of advancing would seem reckless California dreaming.

Rondo, if he’s not already traded, will join Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk. Depending how Ainge proceeds with the roster, Brooklyn would seem the only hope from keeping his team built for the lottery from maddeningly backing into the division title.

Ainge knows, and Kobe should, too, that the 2008 and 2010 Finals aren’t walking through that door.

But Kobe doesn’t do lowered expectations, not when he’s got five rings and hungry for a sixth. But for this one season, making the playoffs at all costs can’t be the goal.

“We will get better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the 122-97 loss at OKC, Kobe’s third game back. “Just check in on us in a couple weeks and see where we are.”

It’s hard to see these Lakers in the top eight, whether in a couple weeks or a couple months. The roster presents little opportunity to make a blockbuster, game-changing-type trade. If L.A. did sneak into an eighth or seventh seed like last season, it would only serve as first-round fodder for the Thunder or Spurs, while valuable ground would be lost in the race that matters more — Draft slotting.

L.A. has already accomplished its two prime goals for this season: Kobe is back, and his autograph is fresh on a new contract. Now general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni must make sure that his raging competitive drive doesn’t take him off the cliff of physical limitation. They must evaluate their young talent and determine who can help most over a two-year championship push.

Then, with a stroke of Laker luck, nab a difference-maker in the Draft and follow with smart free-agent acquisitions to form a solid nucleus for Kobe’s sunset drive.

These are the goals. Making the playoffs is not.

Suspense Runs High As Kobe Returns


VIDEO: Rick Fox analyzes the impact of Kobe’s return

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the great Kobe Bryant rescues his flapping No. 24 jersey from all manner of inclement weather with tonight’s triumphant return, are his surprisingly buoyant Los Angeles Lakers really in need of a rescue mission? Or more a celebrated captain to take the wheel?

Staples Center will go goo-goo tonight as Bryant officially begins his 18th season against the wrong-place, wrong-time Toronto Raptors (pregame, 9 E.T., NBA TV). Kobe will be announced to the sell-out crowd and the roof will blow like Mt. Vesuvius. He’ll take his spot around the jump circle and it’ll be so electric in there it’ll feel like the Lakers are back in the NBA Finals, where so many predicted they would be last season before that star-studded roster quickly became as unhinged as characters in a Quentin Tarantino film.

Once the ball is in the air, once the juices start coursing through Kobe’s veins, what happens tonight and over the next 62 games that follow will be as riveting to watch as a Stephen King novel is to read. After all, the king of suspense joined Twitter (@StephenKing) the same day as the Lakers’ dramatic flapping-jersey video revealed Kobe’s return. Nothing in Hollywood is by coincidence, right?

Here’s the thing with Kobe’s return essentially one quarter into the season: For the first time in his career he starts a season a month late, on a team with multiple unfamiliar parts and, most notably, has established something of an identity and definitely a working chemistry without him.

Don’t get that confused with suggesting this team doesn’t need Kobe. That’s preposterous. Kobe’s capabilities coming off a torn Achilles tendon last April, and his adaptation to the team’s style of play, will dictate the level at which this otherwise off-rack roster can truly compete. Without him, as intriguing as they’ve been, the playoffs are as unlikely as Jack Nicholson gifting tonight’s courtside seat to Justin Bieber.

How Kobe chooses to assert himself will be fascinating to watch. Does he acknowledge this season’s progress and work to get his from within the framework and flow of the system, or does he try to strong-arm it?

The Lakers enter tonight’s game against a team Kobe once dropped 81 points on with a 10-9 record compared to 9-10 a year ago with he and Dwight Howard and the once-twinkling images of 70 wins and a championship already extinguished. Collective optimism has replaced pessimism this season as guys named Meeks and Young and Hill and Henry and Farmar have played hard and embraced camaraderie in a way last season’s Lakers team never could — or would.

What have the Lakers become without Kobe?

Surprisingly, an entertaining team whose performances can fluctuate wildly, and, stunningly, a team that is hard to hate, even for the most ardent Lakers haters. They’re playing in the mold of Mike D’Antoni – himself suddenly elevated from the echoes of “We want Phil” chants to early coach of the year consideration. They’re sharing the ball, quickening the pace, hustling and mostly having fun and enjoying each other. They’ve managed to be OK on the road — 4-5 — and hang in enough games to hold up their end of the bargain of hanging near .500 without Kobe despite scoring fewer points than they allow.

No other team in the league has a negative differential and a winning record.

Here’s two key stats that demonstrate D’Antoni’s system at work: The Lakers rank fourth in assists at 24.1 a game (they were 17th last season at 22.2); and they’re third in 3-point percentage at 40.7 (a significant upturn from last season — 35.5 percent to rank 19th) while putting up 26.3 attempts a game, third-most in the league.

Kobe’s buddy Pau Gasol is averaging 3.1 apg along with team highs of 14.5 ppg and 9.8 rpg. Jodie Meeks is shooting 47.3 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 13.5 ppg. Steve Blake is averaging 7.8 apg with 10.2 ppg. Before his injury, bench spark plug Jordan Farmar was dishing out 4.4 apg in 18.9 mpg. Xavier Henry provided an early season boost. Jordan Hill is bringing down 8.5 rpg in 21.6 mpg, including 3.3 on the offensive glass. Nick Young is as swaggy as ever, launching a high rate of bricks in Friday night’s comeback win at Sacramento until tossing in the dagger — a crunch-time scenario he might not see again with the Black Mamba’s return.

No Laker is averaging more than Blake’s 31.8 mpg and 10 are logging at least 17.3 mpg (excluding Steve Nash, who has played in just six games). Last season, Kobe averaged 38.6 mpg, a red-flag number some blamed for his Achilles blowout in his 78th game of the season, but also a number that Kobe, now 35, insisted on playing as the Lakers fought for a playoff spot.

Basically a lot of players are doing a lot of different things pretty well.

So what does Kobe do to make this team, one many pundits predicted would fail to make the playoffs, better? This is truly new — and fascinating — territory for Mr. Bryant.

Apologies, Mr. King, but the suspense is already killing me.

Hill’s Rise Great For L.A., Bad For Kaman?


VIDEO: Jordan Hill talks about his career night against Detroit

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — For Chris Kaman, what goes around is coming around, meaning he could be sitting down, a lot.

When Kaman returned to Dallas earlier this month as a newly minted member of a barely recognizable Los Angeles Lakers team, the loose-lipped veteran center decided to vent. He had pent-up anger toward Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle after the pair had their differences during Kaman’s lone season in Big D.

Kaman started 52 of the 66 games he played, but he averaged a career-low 20.7 mpg and his playing time often fluctuated. During the Lakers Nov. 5 shootaround in Dallas, Kaman ripped Carlisle for playing games with players and he scoffed at Carlisle’s use of him: “They’re going to play me five minutes a game? That’s not going to work.”

Then came Sunday night and the Lakers’ 114-99 win over the Detroit Pistons. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who Kaman lauded that day in Dallas for being more appealing to players, played Kaman a season-low five minutes — 5 minutes, 24 seconds to be exact.

It could become more of a trend than a blip for Kaman, who is averaging only 17.3 mpg anyway under D’Antoni, less than he played in Dallas. On a makeshift Lakers roster still void of Kobe Bryant and thin on the back line, Kaman, 31, hoped to play a bunch alongside four-time All-Star Pau Gasol. But physical, high-intensity power forward Jordan Hill is beginning to claim that spot as his own. In his fourth consecutive start Sunday, the 26-year-old Hill turned in a career game against the massive front line of the Pistons with 24 points and 17 rebounds in almost 36 minutes.

Hill has logged more than 30 minutes in his last three starts. He’s posted three double-doubles, averaging 18.8 ppg and 12.0 rpg with 16 offensive boards, in the four starts. He’s shot better than 50 percent from the floor and is 17-for-19 from the free throw line as a starter after going 6-for-17 as a reserve. He has seven blocked shots and five turnovers, and is a plus-21.

Before D’Antoni inserted him into the starting lineup, the muscular, 6-foot-10, 235-pound Hill was averaging 6.3 ppg and 6.6 rpg in 16.1 mpg. He had scored in double figures once, 12 points in the season opener, and had one double-digit rebound game. On Sunday, Hill made a career-best 11 shots on 16 attempts, killing the Pistons in the paint.

Afterward, highly regarded Pistons center Andre Drummond liked what he saw from the hard-charging Hill: “He runs around, rebounds and plays hard, so it was like playing a clone of myself.”

Kaman and Hill obviously bring decidedly different styles. Hill punishes inside and a scraps for everything. He delivers the hustle plays a team like the Lakers, especially without Bryant, must have to win games. On many nights, L.A. will be outmanned by more talented teams and often the difference between winning and losing will come down to elbow grease.

The 7-foot Kaman, on a one-year, $3.2 million deal with the Lakers, is more finesse and can extend out of the paint with a good mid-range jumper. He’s not a superb defender, but will get his share of blocks and rebounds. Hill, though, adds a fierceness and routinely launches his body to secure rebounds or loose balls, or what are often referred to as 50/50 balls, plays that are up for grabs and will either end the opponent’s possession or prolong his team’s possession.

Hill’s offensive rebounding percentage (the percentage of offensive rebounds a player gets while on the floor) is 18.1 percent compared to 8.3 percent for Kaman. Hill grabs 61.5 percent of his team’s offensive rebounds when he’s on the floor. Kaman gets to 34.6 percent. Hill has nearly doubled Kaman this season in second-chance points and points in the paint.

“He’s a bruiser down there,” Lakers point guard Steve Blake told the the Los Angeles Times. “He goes out there with reckless abandonment and throws his body around and he’s strong. That’s just the way he plays and I think he’ll continue to do that.”

Hill hasn’t had a stellar start to his career. The former Arizona Wildcat is on his third team in now his fifth season. Drafted eighth overall in 2009 by the Knicks, New York traded him later that season to Houston. He didn’t earn much more playing time with the Rockets, who traded him to the Lakers in March 2012 for Derek Fisher and a 2014 first-round draft pick.

Hill showed flashes early last season, but was lost for the season after 29 games to a hip injury that required surgery.

Only now are the Lakers starting to see what Hill might be. That’s great news for L.A. Perhaps bad news for Kaman.