HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Only eight teams remain in the playoffs, meaning the fans of 22 other teams have turned much of their attention to the offseason and the free-agent summer of 2013 in particular.
We will encounter a familiar name there, one Dwight David Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers, who along with Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, will be at the center of all things come July 1 (when free agency kicks off in all of its usual craziness).
There are a dozen teams, most notably Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Utah, Cleveland, New Orleans, Detroit, Charlotte and Washington, with the cash to spend and the flexibility to significantly tweak, and, in some cases, totally remake their rosters. All these teams need is a free agent willing to give them a chance to make the proper sales pitch.
For the top-level free agents — and this summer that list it two truly elite players deep, Howard and Paul — the list of potential suitors will be exclusive. Only those franchises with championship potential need bother.
But that’s what makes the summer, the scramble by a large number of teams for the same small group of big-time free agents. We have more than seven weeks to before free agency goes into complete crazy mode, but why wait until then to get the party started?
Status on July 1: Unrestricted free agent What he’s selling: A three-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year and five-time rebounding champ, Howard is a seven-time All-Star and, when healthy, the NBA’s most dominant big man. When your down year sees you lead the league in rebounding and still help power the Lakers to a playoff spot in an absolute train wreck of a season, you’re worth every penny a team throws at you. What he’s not saying: He still a putrid free throw shooter and has been known to struggle with decision-making. What he’s worth: A max contract, worth approximately $118 million over five years. Who might be buying: The Lakers have no choice but to beg him to stay, with Kobe Bryant on the mend from Achilles surgery and no one else on the roster capable of carrying the mantle as face of the franchise. Houston, Atlanta and Dallas will launch all-out assaults to sway him. Likely landing spot(s): Lakers. They can offer $30 million more than anyone else. Howard will have a hard time walking away from that kind of cash.
Status on July 1: Unrestricted free agent What he’s selling: A six-time All-Star and culture-changer (see Clippers before and after his arrival), Paul is the best in the business at his position, a gold medal winner and an All-Star Game MVP. Toss in his work as a pitch man (Cliff Paul comes with the package) and it’s easy to see why he’s one of the most recognizable players in the game today. What he’s not saying: He has to stay healthy. He’s not getting any younger and he has to get to winning in the postseason, the one glaring hole on his so-far sparkling NBA resume. What he’s worth: A max contract, worth approximately $108 million over five years. Who might be buying: The Clippers are desperate to hold on to him. But they have coaching issues to resolve before that can happen. Houston, Atlanta, Dallas will all make pitches in hopes of prying Paul away. Likely landing spots: Clippers … depending on what happens with Vinny Del Negro. Like Howard, Paul would have to walk away from extra cash if he decides to go elsewhere. But he’s hungry for a title, wherever he goes.
Status on July 1: Unrestricted free agent What he’s selling: An absolute game-changer when he’s focused, Smith makes plays only a few players in the league are capable of on a given night. For all the drama and criticism thrown his way, he helped power the Hawks to six straight playoff appearances. What he’s not saying: His shot selection and motor remain issues. After nine years in Atlanta, his next spot needs to be an ideal fit, because this is likely Smith’s last big deal. He has to make sure it’s in a place where he can thrive. What he’s worth: A max contract of approximately $95 million over five years doesn’t fit here, not from the only team (the Hawks) that can offer him that much. But a deal worth approximately $75 million to $85 million over five years is doable. Smith turned down a $47 million extension offer from the Hawks, so he’s obviously looking for a starting salary of $16 million-plus. Who might be buying: The Hawks say they are interested in keeping Smith, at the right price, of course. Houston, Boston, Phoenix, New Orleans, Philadelphia and the Lakers will all investigate this situation. Likely landing spots: Houston is the frontrunner and is the ideal fit and a place Smith would be comfortable. (more…)
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Told of his 3-point shooting percentage — 44.0 — Danny Green quickly silenced the messenger.
“I really don’t want to know the numbers to be honest with you,” the San Antonio Spurs shooting guard said. “When you hear the numbers, as a shooter, you kind of think it jinxes you.”
Only three players — Jose Calderon, Kyle Korver and Stephen Curry – are shooting the 3-ball at a higher percentage than Green, and just four — Curry (247), Ryan Anderson (202), Klay Thompson (197) and Korver (183) — have made more 3s than Green’s 173.
“That’s great,” Green, 25, said. “The biggest thing for me is to be a presence on the floor for my team and be able to help them, not just by knocking down 3s, but defensively. It’s good that they can count on me, to find me in a corner or from the top to knock down a shot when we need it.
“Hopefully it can continue when we need it most in the playoffs.”
Ah yes, the playoffs. Green’s memories of the 2012 postseason, of the West finals when he suddenly couldn’t throw it in the River Walk, linger. The Spurs lost four in a row to the Oklahoma City Thunder after taking a 2-0 lead.
A 43.6-percent 3-point shooter last season, Green went 4-for-21 as a starter in the first four games against OKC. Coach Gregg Popovich benched him in Games 5 and 6.
It was Green’s first foray into the pressure-cooker of the playoffs as an integral role player.
“I learned a lot,” Green said. “Every game is a learning experience. I learned in order to be effective, help my team more, is to do more things than shoot the 3-ball because a lot of times it won’t be there. My biggest keys is being more consistent behind the [3-point] line and doing other things consistently for my team.
“Defensively, holding my man, helping each other out. Offensively, cut to the basket, little things, making plays, making the extra pass for my team. Whatever we need to do or whatever the team needs I’m going to try to help them get it done.”
Now he’s prepared to enter this postseason as San Antonio’s full-time shooting guard. He’s started every one of the 75 games he’s played, quite a feat for the 46th overall pick in 2009 by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Green’s been waived by the Cavs, signed by the Spurs, waived by the Spurs and signed by the Spurs again in March 2011.
His breakout season a year ago earned the former four-year North Carolina Tar Heel stability for the first time in the league, a three-year contract worth more than $11 million. He’s answered that challenge with career highs in scoring (10.6 ppg), assists (1.7) and, of course, that lofty 3-ball percentage he doesn’t want to talk about.
“There have definitely been doubts, especially being cut, let go, different teams, but I kind of believed in myself,” Green said. “I had a good support system, my family, my agent and everybody else behind me believing that I can do it, and I stuck with it and it finally happened for me.”
Green has found a home in a Spurs system that keeps churning out victories and doing so through stretches of key injuries. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are the latest for a team that believes, if healthy, it can return to the NBA Finals for the first time since winning a fourth title in 2007.
“We have a good team and we have a deep bench,” Green said. “I think injuries have made our bench deeper and guys have gotten an opportunity to play. Pop gives everybody a chance to see what they can do and he makes it pretty easy for them to be successful. He tells you what your role is and as long as you play defense it doesn’t matter what you do offensively.
“You know we play a very European style of offense where everybody moves the ball, everybody touches the ball and everybody gets shots, so it makes it easy.”
The key now for Green is to keep it that easy when the Spurs march back into the playoffs.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Not everyone can be J.J. Redick and get traded at the deadline to a playoff team that has 28 minutes of playing time carved out and instantly make a positive impact.
Just ask Anthony Morrow, who was virtually nonexistent in Atlanta only to become invisible in Dallas; or Ed Davis, who is only now, thanks to injuries to Zach Randolph, beginning to break into Memphis coach Lionel Hollins‘ rotation. Ronnie Brewer lost his rotation spot in New York and has yet to find one in Oklahoma City and Jordan Crawford, whose low minutes in Boston are at least better than no minutes in Washington.
“I landed in a place that is pretty much a great fit for me,” Morrow said a few days after being freed from the Hawks. “Coming out of my last situation I just wanted to get somewhere or anywhere where I could have an opportunity in terms of working hard and letting that pay off.”
Judging by comments from the Mavs’ brass, Morrow, a free-agent-to-be, figured to have gotten exactly what he wanted. President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson went so far as to call Morrow “one of the top stretch shooters maybe in the history of the league.” That might have been stretching things a bit, but owner Mark Cuban seemed happy to get the 3-point specialist for a playoff push in a straight-up deal for defensive-minded shooting guard Dahntay Jones.
“He’s one of those guys you just can’t leave,” Cuban said. “If you do he’s going to make you pay for it and that’s going to be really valuable for us.”
It might be if Morrow ever gets on the court. Coach Rick Carlisle has played Morrow a whopping six minutes. Six total minutes. He finally got up his first 3-pointer as a Mav on Sunday against Minnesota — he missed it — when he played 2:28, a shade under his Mavs high of 3:40 to go with stints of 16 seconds and four seconds.
The Thunder acquired the 6-foot-7 Brewer after trading backup guard Eric Maynor to Portland, a move that has worked well for Maynor on the Blazers’ thin bench. Brewer has played limited minutes, but his true value should come in the playoffs as a sturdy wing defender that coach Scott Brooks can utilize in specific situations. Brewer got a brief, late fourth-quarter assignment against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers last week.
“Those are minutes I have to somehow work in, but it’s hard to play 10, 11 guys,” Brooks said. “But Ronnie knows what he has to do and what he will do, he’s a professional, he understands what we do. He knows how to play, he’s a hard-nosed defender, he’s a team guy, so he just has to keep working until he gets his number called.”
Which is what the 6-foot-10 Davis is doing in Memphis. The three-team deal that sent Detroit big man Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince to Memphis and Rudy Gay to Toronto (Raptors point guard Jose Calderon now starts for Detroit) happened about three weeks before the deadline.
Daye surprisingly was getting the bulk of the bench minutes while Davis sat. But in the last four games, Davis is starting to emerge as a key player for the hot Grizzlies, if only because of injuries to the starter, Randolph, and top reserve forward, Darrell Arthur. In his last four games, Davis is averaging 27.0 mpg, 9.2 ppg and 8.5 rpg. In the prior three games, he played a total of 21 minutes and had averaged less than 10 minutes since joining the Grizzlies.
Hollins offered up a pretty good indication of what he expects from Davis following Saturday’s win at New Orleans where Davis produced 12 points, nine rebounds and five blocks.
“When he is focused, he’s good. It’s a different focus; a different concentration level when you are on a good team,” Hollins said. “You can’t float, you can’t be in and out. You have to be focused for the whole time you’re on the court. Last [Friday] night, I thought he was great in the second half. He was not very good in the first half. [Saturday night], it was just the opposite. There were shots that he should have blocked. There were rebounds he should have had. It’s just something he has to grow into.”
As for Crawford, what seemed like a savvy deadline move for the Celtics to add some scoring pop off the bench with Rajon Rondo and Leandro Barbosa out for the season, hasn’t panned out. Crawford remains an inefficient scorer and a poor decision-maker and, not coincidentally, he has provided little impact.
In a trade season where Redick — whose Bucks are 6-2 since his arrival (he missed Sunday’s win at Sacramento with a sprained ankle) — was the biggest name moved, role players in new homes are finding that it can be difficult to fit in.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Detroit Pistons are a franchise that’s going younger, but might they have found their point guard of the future in 31-year-old Jose Calderon?
Detroit was the third wheel in the trade that made it possible for Memphis to ship Rudy Gay to Toronto. Career-long Piston Tayshaun Prince, the last remnant of Detroit’s 2004 title team, went to Memphis and Calderon, a career-long Raptor, and his $11 million expiring contract landed in Detroit.
The Pistons created additional cap room by taking on Calderon’s expiring deal and sending out Prince, who has nearly $15 million coming to him over the next two seasons. However, Detroit, with young building blocks such as Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Brandon Knight and Kyle Singler, might not be viewing the eight-year veteran Calderon simply as a money saver before letting him pick his next destination in free agency.
The Calderon trade created even more financial flexibility for the Pistons going into the summer trade and free-agency season but Joe Dumars, the team’s president of basketball operations, has made it clear that Calderon is not just any player on an expiring contract which pays a base salary of about $11 million this year.
Dumars has said he is interested in re-signing Calderon but neither side will discuss much beyond that; the Pistons won’t break the bank to keep Calderon and he isn’t painting himself into a negotiating corner by vowing to stay.
Calderon has impressed his new team with his steady play, averaging 12.3 ppg and 7.8 apg while keeping his turnover rate right about the same as it was this season with Toronto despite playing with unfamiliar teammates and garnering little practice time.
He’s increased his shooting percentages in his first 12 games with Detroit to 50.0 percent overall and 51.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s averaging 31.8 mpg and that has pushed Knight, a second-year player, to shooting guard. He received six of Calderon’s 18 assists in Wednesday’s road win at Washington.
Those 18 assists quickly put Calderon in the Pistons’ record books next to Isiah Thomas, Mayo reported, as the only Pistons players with as many as 18 assists and as few as two turnovers in the same game since 1974.
The Pistons, who continue a three-game road trip tonight at the New Orleans Hornets, are 5-7 with Calderon, which isn’t terrible considering Detroit is 23-37 overall and seven games back of eighth-place Milwaukee.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Because there were only two games on the schedule — and one of ‘em was an absolute blowout — we gotta go with Mavericks-Warriors today. Andrew Bogut made his presence felt with a game-saving block on Brandan Wright, Harrison Barnes was swooping and scoring, Klay Thompson was draining shots and … it was the Warriors being the Warriors and doing all of this while star guard Steph Curry (ankle) sat out for a second straight game.
Much ado about ‘nothing’ in OKC — With 8 minutes, 57 seconds left in the third quarter, OKC’s rout of Memphis was definitely on. The Thunder had a 25-point lead — 65-40 — and Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook went to work on the left block. He was called for a 5-second violation and, as the ball was changing hands to the Grizz, Westbrook engaged in an argument with guard Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha’s man had come to double team Westbrook, leaving Sefolosha open at the 3-point line. But Westbrook continued backing down his man despite the defense.
Westbrook and Sefolosha argued, then Westbrook punched the ball to the court, catching it with both hands before handing it to the official. Westbrook played roughly another minute before being pulled for Reggie Jackson. Westbrook then sat on the bench and had an animated discussion with assistant coach Maurice Cheeks before leaving the court in a huff and heading to the OKC locker room. He returned to the bench and played a bit more in the fourth quarter.
After the game, both coach Scott Brooks and Westbrook addressed the outburst, with Westbrook talking to TNT’s Craig Sager. Both men blew off the incident as ‘nothing’, as USA Today’s Adi Joseph and The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel report:
Russell Westbrook sometimes loses his temper.
Russell Westbrook never explains why he lost his temper.
The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard went off without any good explanation during Thursday’s 106-89 win against the Memphis Grizzlies. He had been called for a five-second violation while posting up Grizzlies guard Jerryd Bayless, and apparently he pinned the violation on teammate Thabo Sefolosha.
Now Sefolosha’s cut to the basket was ill-timed, but Westbrook got steaming mad in the moment. Coach Scott Brooks pulled him from the game, leaving him to stew even more.
“I decided to take Russell out because we needed to calm down,” Brooks said. “Russell went in the back. It was nothing. He just had to regroup. … It was nothing that has not happened before — not just with him, with all of our guys.”
Did we mention this happened while the Thunder had an 18-point lead?
Westbrook sat down next to assistant coach Maurice Cheeks and then left the floor entirely, heading to the locker room with a towel on his head.
After the game, Westbrook blew it off.
“Nothing, just a little miscommunication,” he said, via Daily Thunder’s Royce Young.
Little-known fact: Miscommunication is not a word, according to most dictionaries. Also, it’s not a valid excuse for that kind of tantrum.
But Westbrook takes a lot of heat for his play, as many critics think he shoots too often even as he has emerged as one of the best players in the NBA. He’s got a lot of steam to blow off, so sometimes it flies in undeserving directions.
“I’ll control it like a man,” Westbrook said. “Like I did.”
Peter Pan was back in business Thursday night. You know. Russell Westbrook. The mischievous boy who can fly and who never grows up.
Westbrook barked at the genteel Thabo Sefolosha, took a shot so wild Scotty Brooks was forced to substitute, blew his stack while being counseled by Mo Cheeks, knocked over a chair and stormed off the court to the comfort of a Chesapeake Arena tunnel.
At the time, Westbrook was playing an excellent game and the Thunder led Memphis by 20 points.
The Thunder produced a 106-89 rout of the Grizzlies that was overshadowed by Peter Pan.
And maybe the basketball world will be better off if we accept what Westbrook is. Part hot hand, part hothead. Uncorrallable, not just by NBA opponents, but by Thunder brass.
“There’s no question he was frustrated with himself,” Brooks said. “Russell’s an emotional guy … not trying to downplay that. He has to be able to control his frustration. But that’s part of it.”
Kevin Durant defended Westbrook but also said the squad “talked it out” in the locker room and didn’t let it fester. That’s good.
“Russell is such an emotional player,” Durant said. “I knew he’d be back. That’s how he is. We want everybody to be themselves.”
That’s good. I like that. That’s the best advice the Thunder can receive.
Quit trying to change Russell Westbrook. Don’t even defend him. Just accept him for who he is. The boy who can fly and never grows up.
Report: Suns pursuing Hawks’ Smith — Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com reports that several teams are interested in trading for Hawks forward Josh Smith before the Feb. 21 deadline, with the Suns trying to work their way to the front of the list. After parting with Steve Nash over the summer in a sign-and-trade deal with the Lakers, the Suns have tried to rebuild themselves around Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat, Michael Beasley and others, but are the second-worst team in the Western Conference at 16-30 and are looking to make a move to set up their future:
The Suns are pursuing Josh Smith, according to multiple league sources. Phoenix will try to acquire Smith before the deadline or, if that fails, through a sign-and-trade deal next offseason.
The Suns are very interested in Smith and have had exploratory talks with the Atlanta Hawks about the 27-year-old forward. Phoenix views Smith as a franchise player who can be one of the cornerstones of the team for years to come. The Suns have been searching for a face of the franchise since Steve Nash’s departure last summer, and Smith could be exactly that. If the Hawks decide it’s time to part ways with Smith, the Suns will be one of the teams on the phone.
Phoenix has attractive assets, particularly Marcin Gortat, who could play alongside Al Horford and give the Hawks one of the best frontcourts in the Eastern Conference. They also have Jared Dudley and Michael Beasley as well as the expiring contracts of Wes Johnson, Shannon Brown (whose 2013-14 salary is non-guaranteed), Sebastian Telfair and Jermaine O’Neal. Phoenix also has several first-round picks – their own pick and two additional first-round picks that they acquired in the Nash trade with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Johnson trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Luis Scola could also be involved in the trade, but only if the deal is a sign-and-trade since he can’t be traded until July 1 due to the fact that he was signed by the Suns after being amnestied by the Houston Rockets.
Smith and his agent, Wallace Prather, are expected to meet with the Hawks at some point this week to discuss the forward’s future in Atlanta. The two sides met after Smith’s one-game suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team,” but Smith’s camp didn’t demand a trade. It’s unclear if Smith and Prather will ask for a trade during this next meeting, although many people in NBA circles believe that Smith’s days in Atlanta could be numbered. In recent weeks, more teams have been calling the Hawks and inquiring about Smith, especially since his public comments about being “a max contract player.”
While the Suns will express interest in Smith, they aren’t the only team that will make a run at the star forward. The Houston Rockets, Charlotte Bobcats and Dallas Mavericks have also been mentioned as potential suitors for Smith.
A few hours after Kennedy posted his story, John Gambadoro, sports talk host for 620 KTAR in Phoenix, tweeted that the report was bogus:
The stories about the Suns being interested in Josh Smith are ridiculous, there is zero interest there -ZERO!— John Gambadoro (@Gambo620) February 01, 2013
You just have to love trade rumor season …
Ainge, Celts ‘open’ to offers — Celtics basketball boss Danny Ainge isn’t putting specific names out, but did tell WEEI’s Big Show on Thursday afternoon that he is willing to consider trades to improve Boston. The name that’s being bandied about as a possible piece that could net the kind of assets Boston wants is Paul Pierce, but Ainge sounded at best lukewarm on trading the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Ainge isn’t looking for a point guard to replace the injured Rajon Rondo. Gary Dzen of Boston.com has more:
“We are open and listening, but we don’t feel pressure to do anything,” said Ainge. “Whether we win every game or whether we struggle, I think it all depends on what opportunities are presented. We want to make some change to help improve our team.”
The player who would seem to have the most value on the open market is Paul Pierce. He’s a veteran who can help a contending team win now, and only $4 million of his $15.3 million contract for next season is guaranteed. Ainge said he has not received any offers for Pierce, but he said that he would inform his veteran forward of any potential trade discussions.
“Nothing has been talked about with Paul,” said Ainge. “Nothing is close to being done. I too would like to see Paul retire as a Celtic.That would be great. We’re all attached to Paul. He’s been great for the city, the franchise, and he’s been a true pro. Having said that, if something came up I would talk to Paul. My job is to do what’s in the best interest of our team, regardless of my personal ties or my personal feelings with the players.”
Ainge was also adamant that he was not currently in the market to pick up another point guard to replace Rajon Rondo.
“Not right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of reasons why we’re not just jumping out and doing something.There really is nobody that you can find to replace Rondo, either through a trade or free agent acquisition, at this time of year. We like the guys — Barbosa’s been dying for a chance to play, and Jason Terry, and Avery Bradley at the point. I think all those guys are looking for an opportunity.”
The Celtics have won their last two games with Rondo, and talk radio was filled Thursday with fans calling in suggesting that the team might be better without its All-Star point guard. Ainge quickly shot down notion.
“He single-handedly carries us every night, and I don’t know how people don’t see that,” said Ainge. “It’s silly. He’s a great, great player, and he’s proven that time and time again. The guy’s been MVP of probably four or five series over the last five years. He’s been the best player in a series against LeBron James. He’s been the best player in a series against Derrick Rose. He’s been the best player in three games in a Finals series. The guy has done too many good things. The question is, ‘Are the pieces right around him?’”
Ainge sounded relatively happy with his current team. He did not sound like a GM looking to make drastic changes for this season.
“I think I’ve been pretty consistent on this team the last couple of years,”he said. “I said I like the individuals. Obviously I don’t like 20-23, which we were when Rondo got hurt. I didn’t like any part of that.
“But what I particularly said is I like what these guys are made of, especially our core guys. When it comes down to playoff basketball, I know what they’re made of, and I know that they have the gear to take it to another level.”
Pistons thinking of keeping Calderon? — Don’t think of Jose Calderon landing in Detroit as a rental situation for the Pistons. Our man Vince Ellis at the Detroit Free Press reports that the Pistons have always liked Calderon’s game and see him as a long-term helper in their rebuilding efforts, particularly in developing the skills of rookie big man Andre Drummond and second-year point guard Brandon Knight. Here’s more on why Calderon intrigues Detroit:
Calderon traveled to Detroit on Thursday and likely will take his physical this morning. It’s not clear when he will suit up for the Pistons — the process can be tricky since he is a Spaniard now playing in the U.S. instead of in Canada. He will talk to the media today after a team shoot-around.
“We’ve always had a high value on Jose,” coach Lawrence Frank said after the Pistons’ loss at Indy on Wednesday. “He’s a tremendous competitor. He’s a guy who has been top five in the league in assists for the past four or five years. It gives us flexibility moving forward.”
The financial ramifications of the deal for the Pistons are obvious — Calderon’s $10.5 million comes off the books after this season.
If they do nothing else through the Feb. 21 deadline, Charlie Villanueva picks up his $8.5-million option for next season, and they decide to keep Rodney Stuckey for the full $8.5 million for next season, the Pistons will be roughly $20 million-$23 million under the cap. If they decide to invoke the amnesty clause on Villanueva during a weeklong window in July and cut Stuckey (they would owe him $4 million) before the June 30 deadline, the total could move to roughly $30 million-$35 million.
But don’t discount the Pistons trying to keep Calderon — at a reasonable price.
A Pistons source said the team is open to trying to re-sign Calderon over the summer, adding that the team thinks his playmaking skill would be a major boon to rookie center Andre Drummond.
Calderon was very good at setting up Toronto big men, playing a major role in helping former Piston Amir Johnson and young big Ed Davis, who was sent to the Grizzlies in the trade.
Nash losing a step in L.A.? — The Lakers did well with Kobe Bryant serving as the primary playmaker/assist man in L.A.’s offense for three games. That’s all well and good, but what about that future Hall of Fame point guard the Lakers signed in the offseason? Steve Nash has hardly had the ball at all, a change for someone used to directing an offense — particularly coach Mike D’Antoni‘s — for the entire game. The always-solid Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register delves deeper into why L.A. might be turning away from Nash (and toward Kobe) as the season wears on:
Bryant has more assists than any of the other four players left above him on the all-time scoring chart. He has been passing a lot more than you’ve noticed over the years.
So it’s not exactly brand-new, though he is now concentrating more on passing, for sure. It is increasing team energy while draining less of Bryant’s energy, it should be noted — but the Lakers’ loss in Phoenix on Wednesday night showed that trying to balance this approach with his natural inclination of shoot down the stretch is his newest toughest challenge.
Meanwhile, Steve Nash has some stuff to figure out, too.
As in, what has happened to him?
There is one viable excuse. Nash’s way is to take a break from basketball in the offseason. It’s why he was able to say on the first day of training camp: “I feel as good as I’ve ever felt.” But the tradeoff for that freshness is basketball rust, which has been exacerbated by Nash’s leg injury taking him off the court for 21/2 more months.
And with teammates unfamiliar with how, when and where to set picks for him to go where he wants, Nash has looked nothing like the old master and commander of the pick and roll.
In both the opening night loss to Dallas (seven points, four assists) under Mike Brown and the most recent loss to Phoenix (11 points, two assists) under Mike D’Antoni, Nash was basically Derek Fisher out there.
Nash was slow, trying to keep up on defense and generally not doing that much.
Nash has gone from D’Antoni’s oft-declared unequivocal savior while mending the leg fracture — “Steve’ll fix that” … “Steve’ll get that to happen” … “Steve’ll make me look like an offensive genius again” (well, maybe just paraphrasing on the last one) — to the guy D’Antoni in recent days consistently references as “39 years old.”
That’s D’Antoni’s capsule explanation — even though Nash doesn’t turn 39 for another week — for why Bryant is running the offense now, not Nash. D’Antoni says Nash will still carry the load at times, but Bryant can help him this way, and blah-blah-blah.
C’mon. If Nash was still Nash, D’Antoni of all people would never take the keys away and hand them to Bryant.
Nash has no distinct role and doesn’t have the sort of personality to demand one.
In the fourth quarter in Phoenix on his homecoming night, Nash had one assist (hardly a classic one considering it came on a Bryant 22-footer). He took one shot, a missed 21-footer with 5:21 to play. He was such a nonfactor that he didn’t even have any turnovers as the Lakers blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead.
“I think I can help,” Nash said afterward. “I definitely think that I can score and set up my teammates and especially in the fourth quarter take some pressure off Kobe. Those are things we’ve still go to work out and find that balance.”
Nash’s idea of saving his legs for the fourth to carve up a defense unaccustomed to defending him is a great one … except it’s pretty much impossible to envision Bryant standing off to the side at crunch time. That’s the time Bryant wants the ball more, not less.
So Nash’s search will go on. He has the sweetest attitude of anyone, but Nash must find something for himself. Whether it’s making five 3-pointers every night or seizing a pick-and-roll time with Gasol early each game to play his old way, the guy who has made so many role players look so good in his career needs to find a role of his own.
Bynum has a tune-up of sorts — Andrew Bynum went to New York to get Synvisc shots from his physician, Dr. David Altchek. Synvisc, a joint lubricant that can provide up to six months of knee pain relief per injection, is expected to help Bynum continue on his road to finally getting on the court for the Sixers this season. As he’s said all along, Bynum hopes to play before the All-Star break, but the Sixers are (of course) taking a cautious approach with him. PhillyBurbs.com’s Tom Moore provides details:
This is the third consecutive season in which Bynum has had two sets of Synvisc injections, with the second typically coming right before the all-star break. He got the first ones this season in late September.
A 76ers spokesman said Bynum, who is recovering from bone bruises in both knees, is expected to return to rehab and working out as soon as Sunday. Bynum has said he hopes to make his Sixers debut soon after the Feb. 14-19 all-star break, but there is still no official timetable.
The 7-foot, 300-pound Bynum has been running on the anti-gravity treadmill, as well as doing basketball shooting, low-post and agility drills for the past 10 days.
GM Tony DiLeo said earlier this week that Bynum could practice with the team as early as the first week of February, which begins Monday. It’s unclear if he’ll still be able to practice next week.
Coach Doug Collins cautioned against expecting too much too fast from Bynum, noting he hasn’t appeared in an NBA game in more than eight months.
“The one thing we have to understand is, he’s not all of a sudden just going to jump into a 5-on-5 scrimmage,” Collins said after Thursday’s team practice. “He’s done nothing laterally or impact-wise. For us to run him out there and he’s going to play 37 minutes would not be feasible because he would have a setback with that.
“Hopefully, he’ll be able to start playing a little 1-on-1 in the post and then build up with that.”
Collins also said the Sixers don’t plan to change their offense “if and when” Bynum can play.
Changes just beginning in Toronto — Given the comments of Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo to our NBA TV crew on Wednesday night (see the interview here) and what he’s telling the media in Raptor-ville, there might be more moves on the horizon north of the border. Damien Cox of the Toronto Star opines that, given Toronto’s current roster makeup, there has to be more coming down the pike:
Then again, let’s all list together the great trades made by Colangelo as GM of the Raps.
You go first.
Maybe Colangelo took the broad hint delivered by the Bell/Rogers unholy ownership alliance and figured the walls were closing in on him if he didn’t make something happen soon.
But really, he knew that at the beginning of the season, no? And he did try to land Steve Nash last summer, going so far as to work the Landry Fields signing to make the entire process come together.
So getting Gay wasn’t a winter impulse. Colangelo’s been working on winning now for a while. It’s just that getting Gay cost a lot, more than just money. There are those who believe Ed Davis will prove to be the best player in this deal, and we’ll see about that. Trading a youngster just as he’s hitting his stride has been, of course, a Leaf trademark for decades.
But if Colangelo is right and Gay blossoms in Toronto, part of the reasoning will have been that for the Raps, getting this kind of player is only possible through trade. Free agents, notable ones, just aren’t going to sign in the Great White North, at least not with an also-ran.
Gay may become the front-court scoring threat who combines with DeMar DeRozan for a true one-two punch. But how does that fit around the youngster, Jonas Valanciunas, who’s a bit of a project still? Meanwhile, Colangelo seems committed to dealing Andrea Bargnani, and now it doesn’t make sense to do that for futures, does it?
Feels like there’s another shoe to drop here.
Clearly, the Raps now want to win, just as the Jays now want to win, as the Argos felt they had to try to win. The sensible path for the Leafs is to show some patience, but there’s been no indication from MLSE ownership that Nonis has permission to do it nice and slow.
A town that had Mats Sundin, Chris Bosh and Roy Halladay, then watched them all leave town, is getting some names back.
Just (trying) to win, baby.
ICYMI of the night: There are veteran tricks, and then there is what Vince Carter pulled on the unsuspecting Warriors last night …:
Jose Calderon has only known one city, Toronto, in his NBA career. That all changed last night with his inclusion in the three-team Rudy Gay trade that put the Raptors’ all-time leader in assists and free-throw percentage in Detroit now as part of the deal.
Understandably, Calderon was doing his best to hold it together as he addressed how he found out about the trade and what’s next for him:
ATLANTA – The aftermath of draft night and the night of a big trade in the NBA involve similar routines for the executives whose fingerprints are all over the selections and deals. Study your own handiwork hard enough and it becomes easier with each passing second to justify whatever was done in the name of the greater good.
That’s also why front office types are fond of this theory that you can’t just judge draft picks or trades on the spot. They both require a little extra time before being examined.
But that’s only in the insulated world of said front office types, the men whose jobs are on the line each and every time a draft pick busts or a prized acquisition doesn’t live up to the hype.
Raptors general manager Bryant Colangelo (in the video above and here) has coveted Gay since the 2006 Draft, when the Raptors selected Andrea Bargnani with the No. 1 overall pick, the same Bargnani they are also trying to deal before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.
Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace gushed about veteran forward TayshaunPrince and Austin Daye, acquired from Detroit, and promising young big man Ed Davis snagged from Toronto:
“We are excited to add three players who bring with them a tremendous amount of value to our team and have achieved incredible success on the pro, college and Olympic levels,” Wallace said in a statement. “In these players, we welcome NBA Champion and Olympic gold medalist Tayshaun Prince, as well as up-and-coming athletic forwards Ed Davis, who won an NCAA title at North Carolina, and Austin Daye.”
Pistons boss Joe Dumars was just as effusive in his praise of Jose Calderon, the veteran point guard with the expiring contract who relocates from Toronto to Detroit with his coveted expiring ($10.5 million this season) contract:
“We are pleased to welcome Jose Calderon, knowing that he fits our mold as a high character individual who is a great competitor,” Dumars said in his statement. “Jose is a great facilitator at the guard position and a player that we feel gives us tremendous flexibility on the court when added to the core of guards we have on the roster.”
And in that regard, all three of these teams can and will walk away claiming victory.
The Raptors got their man in Gay, 26, a dynamic wing player from a Western Conference contender whose contract (two years and $37 million after this season) forced the Grizzlies’ financial hand more than anything. Gay is hardly the only member of the top 20 salaries list who would not make your top 20 players in the league list, but he’s far from a bust. He just hasn’t reached All-Star status (yet?).
In the Eastern Conference, the road back to respectability is often just the right player or two or one big summer away. On the other hand, the Grizzlies were forced to weigh the long-term sustainability of a salary structure that doesn’t support coming up short of the Western Conference finals.
They reduced their payroll with this deal and also shed some $6 million in payroll after completing a multiple-player deal with the Cavaliers last week. Prince, 32, whose best days in the league predate Twitter, still pays immediate dividends with his experience and leadership. Davis provides a huge development chip for the future and Daye, the No. 15 pick in the 2009 Draft, serves as the wild card, depending on how he adjusts to his new city and new role.
But the question will linger well into early spring for the Grizzlies: did they move up a spot on the Western Conference food chain, stay the same or take a step back by breaking up their promising (but expensive) core four of Gay, All-Star power forward Zach Randolph, former All-NBA center Marc Gasol and point guard Mike Conley?
“The Thunder, Clippers and Spurs are loving this deal,” an Eastern Conference assistant general manager said late Wednesday night. “Rudy would have been someone they had to worry about if they saw Memphis in the playoffs. Tayshaun was a great piece in his prime. But he hasn’t been that guy for a few years now. The big winners in this deal are the Thunder, Clippers and Spurs.”
Perhaps it’s best to give the final word to a man whose statistical value has often paled in comparison to some of the other, tougher to quantify benefits he brings to his own particular situation …
Wow that was 1 crazy trade today. Are you serious Rudy Gay is right there under KD, Lebron, Kobe, and Melo. #badtrade— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) January 30, 2013
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Tonight in Dallas, where the Mavericks will face the Toronto Raptors, the list of players that won’t be in uniform is actually more impressive than the best of the rest.
Let’s start with the Raptors one night after getting run off the floor at Oklahoma City. Point guard Kyle Lowry is listed as doubtful, according to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star. Lowry has been tremendous for the Raptors so far, averaging a team-high 18.3 points on sizzling 54.5 percent shooting from the floor and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. Lowry, averaging 6.3 assists and 3.0 steals, sprained his right ankle Tuesday and needed to be helped off the floor.
The injury opens the door for trade candidate Jose Calderon, the team’s longtime starter only to be replaced by Lowry this season, to get back into the starting lineup and increase his stock. Calderon, averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 assists in 20.3 minutes a game off the bench, wasn’t happy about losing his starting job. Toronto and Calderon, who has averaged 9.8 points and 7.1 assists in his career, were reportedly working together to make a trade happen over the summer, but one never materialized.
ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported in July that the Mavs had interest in trading for the Spaniard, who has spent his entire seven-year career in Toronto, but Dallas was waiting to make other moves with its salary cap space. The Raptors had no interest in releasing Calderon through the amnesty waiver clause.
The severity of Lowry’s sprained ankle or how long he might be out is uncertain. Short-term or long-term, Calderon suddenly finds an opportunity in front of him.
As for the Mavs, Dirk Nowitzki (right knee surgery) remains out likely for another couple of weeks. Small forward and leading rebounder Shawn Marion (sprained right MCL) will be scratched at least the next three games and power forward Elton Brand, Dallas’ second-leading rebounder flew to New York to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
Dallas is hopeful backup point guard Rodrigue Beaubois will play after he missed the last two games with a twisted ankle. He is a game-time decision.
The absences up front leave the already rebounding-deficient Mavs (28th in the league in rebounding differential at -8.3 and dead last in offensive rebounds allowed) with a rotation that will potentially include Chris Kaman starting at center, Brandan Wright at power forward and rookie Jae Crowder at small forward. Reserves include wings Vince Carter, Dahntay Jones, recently acquiredpower forward Troy Murphy and rookie center Bernard James.
LONDON — UPDATE 12:17 p.m. Medal ceremony going on right now. U.S. clad in smooth black warm ups to snag their gold medals. They won 107-100 to claim their second straight Olympic gold over Spain.
To repeat or not to repeat: that is the question facing the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team today, just minutes away from their gold medal rematch with Spain in the Olympic finals.
(Sorry, but a visit to London without at least one Billy Shakespeare reference would have been a travesty. We had to go there.)
They did this four years ago, playing a to-the-wire game in Beijing that the U.S. pulled out late for a 118-107 victory that both sides have had four long years to think about.
You know Spain’s big man brother duo of Pau and Marc Gasol have been thinking about it and hearing about it since then, especially Pau (something tells me Kobe Bryant has brought it up a time or two over the years).
Spain actually had one distinct advantage over the U.S. four years ago, in that the core group of their roster had been playing together for years, “since they were 12 or 13,” according to point guard Jose Calderon.
The U.S. has closed that gap. USA Basketball’s program is as solid as it’s been in years and arguably ever, courtesy of the commitment of guys like Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and others.
A second straight gold medal validates everything USA Basketball chairman and managing director Jerry Colangelo and U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski have worked to build since taking over the program after the debacle at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
He could have spent this summer lying on a beach somewhere as far removed from the game of basketball as humanly possible. He could have avoided the crush of being one of the four or five most recognizable people — Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, British gold medal-winning heptathlete Jessica Ennis, Kobe Bryant and royals Kate Middleton and Prince William — in this city right now.
No one would have blamed LeBron James for finally taking a little time away from his life’s passion. After a decade of chasing a legacy, and a championship, he finally secured his title, leading the Miami Heat past Oklahoma City in The Finals. James won his third NBA regular season MVP award and snagged a Finals MVP to add to his treasure chest.
With a chance to add a gold medal to his 2012 haul Sunday in the Olympic final against Spain, James is attempting to add an extra layer on top of a cake already drowning in icing. Only Michael Jordan has had a comparable season, piling up all of the aforementioned honors, and that came 20 years ago when he led the Chicago Bulls to the second of what would be six NBA titles and then spent his summer dazzling the world while leading the original Dream Team to gold in the Barcelona Olympics.
Even on a team filled with superstars, James is the headliner and biggest star, playing in a comfort zone and an elite level no one else in this competition or beyond can match.
And now he’s got a chance to cap his best year with gold in a rematch of the 2008 gold meal game in Beijing won by the U.S. Team.
“I don’t think you could have written this script any better for him,” said U.S. forward Kevin Durant, dazzling in his own right throughout this competition, and James’ chief rival with the Thunder during the NBA season. “I’m sure that would be fine for him, the way this has all played out so far. You can’t beat that right there.”
In just two short years, James has gone from the daunting task of trying to live up to expectations few athletes of any generation have ever had to literally winning it all.
Having his best year after his toughest year has to make this current run even for James.
“I would have hoped that this would be it,” James said of the moment, the year, when it all came together. “I would be able to compete for a championship, and win a championship in the NBA. And also be a part of this team and compete for a gold medal. If I would have had to map it out it would have been like this … it’s going in the right direction.”