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Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth Faried’

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 1

VIDEO: Bucks Training Camp: Kidd on Bucks


Lawson wants to make Curry work | A bigger role for Kevin Love | Erman in charge of improving Pels’ defense | Clips hoping to make use of Stephenson | Wade relationship with Heat still strong

No. 1: Lawson wants to make Curry work — The Houston Rockets traded for Ty Lawson to give them an upgrade at point guard and someone to take some of the playmaking duties away from James Harden. But Lawson has a more specific role in mind as he tries to help the Rockets compete for a championship. He wants to make Stephen Curry work, as Yahoo‘s Adrian Wojnarowski writes…

Before Ty Lawson texted James Harden with a plea – “Man, get me over there” – he had studied the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in the Western Conference Finals and come to a conclusion: Half the time, Steph Curry was coasting.

“Steph Curry needed someone to go back at him,” Lawson told Yahoo Sports. “I thought Steph was just chillin’ on defense – and then going crazy on offense. He looked like he was just putting shots up and not working so much on the defensive end. He would just come down and hit three or four 3s. He can shoot when he’s got his legs under him.”

Now, Ty Lawson is sitting at a table in a room in the Toyota Center. He’s wearing a Houston Rockets practice top and a smile that keeps coming, and feeling so, so sure of himself again. “I’m not saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to stop Steph,’ but just make him work harder at the other end. I saw that in the Cavs series too.

“He wasn’t really working at the other end.”


No. 2: A bigger role for Kevin Love — When the Big Three came together in Cleveland last season, Kevin Love took a back seat to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in the Cavs’ offense. Then he separated his shoulder in Game 4 of the first round and wasn’t a part of his team’s run to The Finals. In year two, both James and Cavs coach David Blatt pledge to make Love a more integral part of the offense. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin has the story…

James was expounding upon his statement at Monday’s media day that Love’s increased presence will allow James to sit back and rest more than he has in years past.

“He will do some of the things he did prior to last year,” James continued.

Once Love committed to the Cavs long-term, Blatt spent the offseason trying to figure out a way to get more out of his stretch 4.

“No question, this summer we looked for and identified ways that we can take advantage of Kev’s unique skill set, and hopefully we’ll see that on the floor,” Blatt said.


No. 3: Erman in charge of improving Pels’ defense — The New Orleans Pelicans traded for Omer Asik last year with the goal of improving defensively. But even with a starting frontline of Asik and Anthony Davis, the Pels ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency, allowing more shots in the restricted area than any other team. New head coach Alvin Gentry will open up the New Orleans offense, but the more important job may belong to assistant coach Darren Erman, who is in charge of the defense. John Reid of the New Orleans Times Picayune spoke with Erman and Davis about the work they’re putting in at the start of camp…

”Our schemes are a lot different than last year,” Davis said. ”Everything is a little more simplified. Guys are working on defense individually with slides and close outs. Not saying it’s going to be better because we don’t know yet, but the way everyone is feeling right now about our defense, we feel like we can be a top five defensive team.”

Since he was hired in early June, Erman has been working non-stop. Gentry joked earlier this week that Erman works 23 hours a day breaking down film and working on defensive schemes. Even during summer league in July in Las Vegas, Erman worked non-stop implementing his defensive principles.

Davis said he has received text messages from Erman at 7 in the morning about defensive plays.

”He’s always like energized,” Davis said. ”He just brings that energy. When you bring that much energy as a coach, especially on defense, you know it makes the people around you the players want to play defense. He has a lot of great defensive schemes, so we’re excited.”


No. 4: Clips hoping to make use of StephensonLance Stephenson was pretty awful last season. But hey, so was the Clippers’ bench. So if Stephenson can avoid shooting 17 percent from 3-point range again, he could maybe help Doc Rivers preserve his starting lineup, which played 300 more minutes than any other five-man unit in the league last season. Ben Bolch of the L.A. Times writes about how Rivers wants to use the sixth-year wing…

Coach Doc Rivers called the dynamic, multi-positional Stephenson “the poster child” for the kind of interchangeable player he wanted as part of his roster overhaul this summer. Stephenson showed his new teammates a glimpse of his potential during training camp at UC Irvine, which ended Tuesday.

“He’s been amazing,” point guard Chris Paul said. “He’s been hooping first and foremost.”

Rivers envisions Stephenson as the lockdown perimeter defender the Clippers have lacked in recent years as well as one of the primary ballhandlers on a small-ball second unit that almost seems to be without defined positions.

“He’s a special player on both ends of the court and we’re going to be leaning on him,” forward-center Josh Smith said.


No. 5: Wade relationship with Heat still strongDwyane Wade‘s contract negotiations with the Miami Heat this summer could have gotten ugly, with the Heat looking to maintain payroll flexibility for next year. But as it turned out, Wade was OK with accepting a one-year deal for $20 million and the Heat got what they wanted. Wade explained to Ira Winderman of the South-Florida Sun Sentinel that it was just a matter of cutting out the middle man and talking directly with Micky and Nick Arison

What mattered wasn’t how long it took or how short the agreement wound up. What mattered to Dwyane Wade was that ownership more than met him halfway, that Micky Arison and Nick Arison came to his home this summer to make sure their bond would endure.

Wednesday, as he unwound after the first of two Miami Heat training-camp sessions at Florida Atlantic University, Wade said it was easy to be at peace with his offseason contract negotiations because of the embrace he received from the highest level of management.

“Sometimes, when you get into contact situations, sometimes it’s always middle people involved, your agents and this person and this person,” Wade said. “We kind of just said, ‘We have the relationship where you can just take that out. So let’s sit down and talk about everything, the past, the present, the future and figure it out.’ “


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The deadline for Tristan Thompson to sign a one-year qualifying offer from the Cavs is 11:59 p.m. ET on ThursdayMarkieff Morris is “happy” to still be in PhoenixDwight Howard isn’t thinking about (potentially) being a free agent next summerCarmelo Anthony says that a championship is the “big-picture” goal in New YorkMike Malone wants to unleash the ManimalEnes Kanter knows his defense has to improve … and the Lakers are “being smart” about how much Kobe Bryant practices.

ICYMI: An all-access look at Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins:

VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins highlights of the ’14-15 season

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 30

VIDEO: Stephen Curry looks ahead to the upcoming season


Derrick Rose injured…again | Next man up in Cleveland…again | Durant back in action | Bennett back home in Toronto

No. 1: Derrick Rose injured…again Just hours after an unprompted Derrick Rose discussed free agency during Chicago Bulls media day, which brought up a whole range of emotions for Bulls fans, Rose unwittingly became involved in another storyline familiar to Bulls fans. During the first practice under new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, Rose caught an accidental elbow and suffered a facial fracture that required surgery. More importantly, it means Rose will be out for time being, although the Bulls are holding out hope he can return for the season opener. For a guy who has battled injuries seemingly non-stop the last few years, it’s yet another tough break, writes K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune

Derrick Rose caught an accidental elbow to his face halfway through Hoiberg’s first session and left for tests that revealed a left orbital fracture. The team said Rose, who turns 27 Sunday, will undergo surgery at Rush University Medical Center on Wednesday. A timetable for his return will be determined after the procedure.

Absences following surgery for orbital fractures have run the gamut recently with players missing anywhere from five to 28 games. Whatever the case, Rose’s injury piles on top of Mike Dunleavy’s back surgery last Friday. Dunleavy’s rehabilitation process could sideline the veteran forward eight to 10 weeks.

Suddenly, 40 percent of Hoiberg’s projected starting lineup will miss most, if not all, of training camp. A source said there is optimism Rose will be ready for the Oct. 27 regular-season opener against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

And while this setback pales in comparison to the three knee surgeries Rose has endured, it’s yet another mental challenge for a former most valuable player who tried to remind all of his greatness during Monday’s media day.

“I know I’m great,” Rose said then.

Since becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history in 2011, Rose has missed in chronological order — deep breath here — five games each to a sprained toe and strained back; 17 games to groin, ankle and foot issues; the entire 2012-13 season to a torn left ACL; 71 games to a torn right meniscus; eight games to ankle and hamstring issues and 20 games to a second right meniscus tear.

In all, Rose has played in 100 games over the last four seasons.

Suddenly, Jimmy Butler’s boast he can play point guard may not be a far-fetched idea. If Rose does miss any regular-season time, the Bulls have Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich and E’Twaun Moore at the position.

Three players who addressed the media said they didn’t know whose elbow caught Rose.

“Might have been me,” Taj Gibson said. “It’s one of those plays where everybody’s going so hard.”

At least Gibson, who is coming back from offseason left ankle surgery, practiced fully. But with Dunleavy not sure when he’ll return and now the Rose injury, there has been more bad news than good on the Bulls’ injury front.

Whether Rose wears a mask upon his return has yet to be determined. At the very least, he will have to overcome the fear of getting struck in the face again.

With Rose leaving practice early, teammates were left to answer if Rose’s curious and unsolicited comments about his 2017 free agency from Monday were irksome.

“I don’t care what the guy talks about as long as he’s helping us win games,” said Butler, who signed a $92.3 million deal this offseason. “Whatever he’s focused on let him be focused, but I think his objective is to win a championship. I’m pretty sure he talked about that as well — and how he wants to help this team win. Everything else, he is who he is.

“He can talk about unicorns and rainbows for all I care. Just help us win some basketball games.”


No. 2: Next man up in Cleveland…again The Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals despite a seemingly non-stop series of injuries, including season-ending stoppages to All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Four months later, the Cavs entered training camp heading in the right direction, with everyone healthy or at least nearing full health. And then Iman Shumpert suffered a wrist injury and, as the Cavs announced yesterday, Shumpert will miss the next 12-14 weeks following surgery. As Chris Haynes writes for, the Cavs are relying on the same mantra they have for months: Next man up

This wasn’t the best way to begin Day 1 of training camp.

“It’s ‘next man up’ for our team,” LeBron James said. “It’s a big blow for our team. He’s a guy that we wanted around here long-term, and he still will be around here long-term obviously, but the next man up will be ready to go until he gets back.”

Cavs coach David Blatt echoed those sentiments.

“He will eventually be back and in the meantime, we will follow the same philosophy that we had all last year: Face the adversity, next man up and play the game that we know how and the way that we should,” Blatt said.

With Shumpert sidelined, Griffin said there are no immediate plans to tinker with the roster due to the team’s depth. But he’s keeping his options open.

“We’re going to give people a chance to kind of absorb it from within,” he said “but obviously we’re paying a lot of attention to opportunities that we may be able to improve the group. We’ll just play it by ear.”

J.R. Smith will likely get the starting nod in the backcourt along with Mo Williams at the start of the regular season. The acquisition of Richard Jefferson should also play a key part in stabilizing the rotation.

Griffin said Shumpert worked “incredibly hard” this off-season to come into camp in top shape.

Injuries are something that all 30 NBA teams have to deal with at some point. The Cavs know first-hand that injuries at the wrong time can hinder them from reaching their ultimate goal.

“Injuries will probably be the only thing that can stop us long-term, [but Shump] is a short-term thing,” James said.


No. 3: Durant back in action One day after he turned 27 years old, Kevin Durant went through his first full day of practice with the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing 55 games last season following three foot surgeries. While the team announced Durant was fully cleared to return to action, as Durant explained yesterday, there’s a difference in being cleared to play and being in game shape. But, as Durant told ESPN’s Royce Young, he’s the same player he was before the injury

“I feel great, actually,” Durant said. “It’s really different being out there in a practice setting. I haven’t been there in a while. It’s definitely going to take me some time to really get comfortable out there again.

“I’ve been injured, but I’m healed now. So I try not to think about it. If I’m on the court, I’m OK. So I’m the same player I was.”

Despite the frustrations of last season, Durant enters his ninth NBA season full of the confidence. Asked about how long it’ll take to rediscover his rhythm, the 2014 MVP says his game isn’t back — because it never left.

“The most humble way I can say it is I’ve always got feel,” Durant said. “Every time I step on the court I feel great. I know how to play the game. My body might say a little different, but I always feel like I’m in rhythm. That’s just from me being a skill player and knowing what it takes to go out there and showcase my fundamentals of the game. I always feel like I’m in feel, but my body has to catch up, I guess.”

The one area Durant said may take a bit of time is his conditioning, though he said he felt like he was in already in a good place.

“My conditioning feels great,” Durant said. “I know it’s gonna take some time for me to really get back to feeling great and mid-season form, but I’m on my way.”

Monday’s practice was also the first for new head coach Billy Donovan, who said the focus was working to establish an identity, specifically on the defensive side.

“I think it went well,” Donovan said of his first NBA practice. “Guys were obviously very, very excited, certainly a lot of teaching to do in the first couple hours just to try and get a defensive system and a philosophy, trying to break down and teach. I thought we got a lot in, especially considering it was the first day.”

Said Durant of adjusting to a new coach: “It’s the first day. We’ve still got to figure it out. It’s just the first day. We’re smart players, and we know how to figure things out.”


No. 4: Bennett back home in Toronto The Cleveland Cavaliers made him the first pick of the draft in 2013, but since then Anthony Bennett has struggled to find a home in the NBA. After one season in Cleveland he was traded to Minnesota, and this summer his contract was bought out, making him a free agent. But for Bennett, his latest team is the Toronto Raptors, which is actually home. And as Bennett told CBS’s James Herbert, that’s a good thing

After Bennett walked into the practice court at the Air Canada Centre wearing a Raptors shirt — apparently his new No. 15 jersey wasn’t quite ready, and when he put it on a short while later, there was no name on the back — he called playing in Toronto “the perfect situation for me.” It was “definitely not an easy decision” to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves, but when he got back from the FIBA Americas in Mexico City, his agency and his former team were working on a buyout. Other teams were interested, but he knew where he wanted to be.

“It has been something I’ve been thinking about growing up, watching Vince Carter play,” Bennett said. “And now I’m back here. It’s surreal, but at the same time it’s work. I’m just ready to go all out.”

Playing for the Canadian national team, Bennett had a solid summer. He was perhaps the team’s best player at the Pan-Am Games in Toronto, and he had his moments at the FIBA Americas in Mexico City, too. Unsurprisingly, fellow Canadian Raptor Cory Joseph believes he can build on that.

“I feel like it’s a new beginning here,” Joseph said. “I think he’ll do great for us, for the city, for the country. I think he’ll revive his NBA career.”

While the homecoming angle is nice, Bennett’s redemption story has been written before. He looked in shape and confident at last year’s summer league, where he said he was having fun again after a rookie year filled with adversity. Just like with Team Canada, in Vegas he showed off the athleticism that made him such a great prospect, screaming into the stands to punctuate his dunks. He didn’t play much in his second season, though, and it wasn’t pretty when he did. Bennett missed way too many midrange jumpers and often looked lost on defense. He has a long way to go, and there are proven players in front of him.

As Raptors training camp begins, Bennett will find himself battling Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola at power forward. DeMarre Carroll is also expected to spend some time at the 4, and James Johnson could be in the mix, too. Given Toronto head coach Dwane Casey‘s preference for veterans and his dedication to defense, it seems unlikely Bennett will be a regular part of the rotation.

“This is an opportunity,” Casey said. “This is a good place for him. It’s home. He should feel comfortable. But, all the [playing] time and everything else, he’s going to have to come in and earn it, which I’m sure the other players would be happy to hear.”

For the Raptors, there was little risk in signing Bennett. He’s on a one-year contract for $947,276. Where he was selected doesn’t matter anymore.

“It didn’t work out in a couple places,” Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri said. “I think he’s moved past that. I think the experiences he’s gone through will help him. For us to get a Canadian 22-year-old power forward that is athletic and can play at the minimum? We’ll take it. He’ll have a chance.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Allen says the Blazers have moved on from losing LaMarcus AldridgeBen Gordon went vegetarian and now hopes to make the Golden State Warriors roster … In Denver, Kenneth Faried is the Nuggets’ biggest wild card … The Brooklyn Nets want Brook Lopez to take more of a leadership role

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 30

MKG discusses contract extension | Suns still unsure about Morris | New practice center could make a better Pacers team

No. 1: MKG discusses contract extension — After signing a four-year, $52 million deal earlier this month to remain in Charlotte with the Hornets, who could blame Michael-Kidd Gilchrist for being optimistic? Such is the case with the small forward who is not only rich but wealthy in soul. The good vibe spilled over in a recent Q&A, in which he spoke about the contract, the outlook for next season and why he wanted to remain with the Hornets rather than explore free agency next summer. Here’s the scoop from Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer:

“It’s a great feeling. But I never did any of this for the money, fame, fortune, Instagram followers or Twitter followers. That can all come and go. But ball and family – that’s not going anywhere.

Q. A lot of people may not know the extreme closeness of your relationship with point guard Kemba Walker, who you cite as one of the main reasons you wanted to stay in Charlotte. What is that relationship like?

A. We always talk. I was a freshman in high school when I first met him – think about that. And then I was just a fan of Kemba, who was a senior in high school. I kept following his career.

So when I got drafted, I was like, ‘Oh snap, Kemba Walker’s on my team!’ When I met him, I just kept asking questions every day about everything. He never seemed to get tired of it. We are similar people. We’re both competitive, humble – we just click.

Q. There was a lot made at a similar press conference in Charlotte several months ago – when Panthers quarterback Cam Newton signed his own lucrative extension – about the belief that Newton can lead the Panthers to a championship. Do you feel pressure to do that for the Hornets?

A. When you talk about pressure, all the pressure I ever felt was making it into the NBA and really into college first of all. Because if I didn’t go to college, where would I be? That was pressure, that, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to go to college somewhere.’

This isn’t pressure. This is adding fuel to the fire. But as far as the pressure part? I’m comfortable in my own skin. I work as hard as I can every day. After that, it’s in God’s hands.

Q. You are known for sacrificing your body on defense and for loose balls. Are you going to continue throwing your body around just as much now that the money has come?

A. Yes. How much can my body take? I don’t know. But that’s how I play. I can’t change it. I wouldn’t change who I am, how I play, how my jump shot used to be, or anything like that. I wouldn’t change a single thing in my life until now. Not a single thing.

Q. The Hornets were a disappointing 33-49 last season and have made huge personnel changes in the offseason. Will this team be a lot better than last year?

A. I like our team. But what do you think?


No. 2: Suns still unsure about Morris — As the start of training camp slowly approaches, there has been a pickup of activity in Phoenix, where players are beginning to file into town and conduct voluntary workouts. Of course, there has been a missing face: Markieff Morris, who’s still miffed about his twin brother being traded to the Pistons and has publicly asked for a trade. Here’s Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

Training camp is still a month away. Opening night is two months away. But being five years removed from a playoff appearance, the Suns have a near-ideal turnout in a city that millionaires avoid in August.

Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin, Brandon Knight, Alex Len, Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price, P.J. Tucker, T.J. Warren and Sonny Weems have been playing at US Airways Center since Monday.

There is no surprise that Markieff Morris is missing from that list, given his “Keef beef” with the franchise. His trade request fell on deaf ears. The other absent contract players, Tyson Chandler and Mirza Teletovic, are expected to join their new teammates in Phoenix over the next 10 days.

The early team chemistry sessions are important for a roster that will have at least six new players for the regular season. That does not include Brandon Knight, a key cog to this season’s plans after playing only 11 games last season with the Suns.

It would be ideal for Knight to spend September working with his starting power forward but a Morris early arrival is about as likely as a fulfillment of his trade wish.

The Suns need and want Morris. They would not stand much of a chance to replace him by trade. They would have no chance to replace him by free agency. They do not have an adequate existing roster option.

Reasonably, hard feelings should subside by the time he must report to Phoenix on Sept. 28. However, he was steaming six weeks after the trade when he went public to the Philadelphia Inquirer this month. Another six weeks might not help but being around his teammate friends again and meeting a respected frontcourt partner such as Chandler should help him recommit, even if Morris returns to being the quieter person he was before Marcus joined Phoenix.


No. 3: New practice center could make for a better Pacers team — At least that’s the hope of the organization as it hones in on upgrading the team’s training facilities. Well, actually a return to All-Star form by Paul George will help quite a bit, too. But the Pacers are anxious to gain any edge, especially with free agents, and the organization is moving forward with the blueprint. Here’s Dana Hunsinger Benow of the Indianapolis Star:


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kenneth Faried is excited to see what Emmanuel Mudiay will do in Denver … Is Hassan Whiteside under the microscope already in Miami? … Can Deron Williams be good again? … Yes, the Warriors will probably get that Harrison Barnes deal done.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21


Griffin backs a 66-game season | Horford says he’s ‘very happy’ with Hawks | Next challenge for Valanciunas

No. 1: Griffin says 66 games is ideal NBA season length — The 2011-12 NBA season was a 66-game slate that some considered the perfect amount of games for the regular season. Since that lockout-shortened season, the NBA has resumed its regular, 82-game schedule and shows no signs of changing that anytime soon.’s Ken Berger recently caught up with several of the NBA’s stars and, in a Q&A session, asked them what the ideal length of a season would be. Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin was the lone player who voiced support for a shorter season:

If money were no object, what would the ideal length of the NBA regular season be?

Griffin: Sixty-six, spread over the same amount of time [as the current 82-game season]. Fatigue and injuries, and better product. If you have less games, less back-to-backs, the product’s better. The fans will appreciate it more. You see those college guys playing so hard, but they play 36 games in the same amount of time we play 82 almost. I just think it would be a better product.

John Wall: I just enjoy playing. I enjoy loving the game, so it doesn’t matter to me. I think [82 games] is cool … if you get more breaks. They did a great job of giving us more time at the All-Star break, giving us a couple of more days.

Draymond Green: I don’t know if you can necessarily say there’s a better way because it’s never been done. Within the course of the 82, some people catch their stride, as you saw the season before last year. The Spurs caught their stride in like the last 35-40 games. If you’re not playing 82, do they catch their stride? Are they world champions? Who knows? So it’s kind of hard to judge. I think it’s a slippery slope when you get to assessing that because, yeah, what was the lockout year, 66? So you saw that, but you also saw three games in three days, which you can’t judge off that, either. And then there’s going to be an unhappy party, because the owners aren’t going to make as much money, which means the players won’t make as much money. So I think it’s a slippery slope. At the end of the day, our league has done great. Is that something to really tinker with? Probably not. Is there really a reason to? Yeah, guys get tired. But are you going to get tired if there’s 65 games? Probably so. I just think that’s a tough subject.

Chris Paul: Money is an object, though. When we were kids playing AAU, we’d play five games in a day and wouldn’t think twice about it. I don’t know what the right number is. We’ve been playing 82 for a while though, huh? As far as I can remember. That’d be tough [to change].

Kenneth Faried: I think 82 is the proper length. We’ve been playing this game for so long and it’s been 82. [Michael] Jordan played 82. They played more preseason games, so they cut the preseason games and training camp down, which is good for us. But at the same time, these guys before us were playing 20-plus years and they were playing 82 and still being All-Stars and still having big names — Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and those guys. So guys who’ve done it before us, they’ve already paved the way, so we just have to follow in their footsteps as much as we can.


No. 2: Horford says he’s ‘very happy’ with Hawks — If you thought this summer’s free agency period was full of news, wait until next summer. Several big names will be hitting the market, Atlanta Hawks All-Star big man Al Horford among that group. In a chat with’s Jeremy Woo, Horford reflected on Atlanta’s successful 2014-15 campaign, its offseason moves and his own future with the team going forward: Looking back, how would you describe last season?

Horford: It was a great season for our team. I felt like everything started to come together as far as coach’s system. I feel like we really all were able to sink in and play the way he wanted us to play. And it showed—[it was] the first time we made it to the Eastern Conference finals in Hawks history. Now, we’re looking to build on that and try to be the best team we can. Have you had the chance to go back and watch any of the Cleveland series? [The Hawks were swept in four games.]

Horford: Honestly, no. They obviously dominated us, they were the better team. I don’t need to see that, I know what we need to do, I know we have a lot of work ahead of us. Our whole team. So this is the time to do it. Individually, I’m working on my game and trying to get better for the upcoming season. How big was it for the Hawks to be able to keep Paul Millsap?

Horford: It was very important. I think that was the priority for us, to make sure we brought Paul back. Being able to add Tiago Splitter and Tim Hardaway, really was big. Unfortunately, we lost DeMarre [Carroll, who signed long-term with Toronto]—he’s such a great player, but it was the type of thing he couldn’t turn down, and it’s what’s best for him and his family. What will it take for the team to sustain that success?

Horford: Being healthy, that’s the number one thing for our team. For the most part, we were healthy as a team last season. Two is to be able to keep playing the way we play, being a good defensive team, sharing the ball on offense. We had a lot of success doing those two things, and even though they’re simple, that’s what carried us. Considering the new additions to the team, what are some of the things you look for as far as fitting in?

Horford: I think for them, it’s just being able to get comfortable with the system. We’re just looking for them to impact the game and impact winning, and when you have a guy like Tiago Splitter, an experienced big man, I feel like he’ll be able to help us right away. Tim [Hardaway] I feel like has a lot of potential, and I’m very excited to see him playing in the system. I feel like he’ll be able to help us a lot. Lastly, I know you’ve said you’re waiting after the season to figure out your contract situation. What led you to that decision? [Horford will be a free agent in 2016.]

Horford: For me, I’m very happy in Atlanta. It’s one of those things where I don’t want any contract talks to be a distraction for my team and me. I feel like my focus this year is for us to build and be better. Since we can’t do anything right now, we’ll wait until the season’s over and then we can start talking about all that.



No. 3: Valanciunas gets his deal … now he needs to play some ‘D’ — Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is one of the more promising young big men in the NBA. In his three seasons in the league, Valanciunas has grown steadily as an offensive threat and rebounder, but his defense and rim-protection are lagging behind in development. The Raptors gave Valanciunas a $64-million contract extension yesterday, providing the big man with a secure future in Toronto. As Doug Smith of the Toronto Star reports, though, Valanciunas’ value relative to the deal will show up in how he defends going forward:

Whether or not the new contract extension signed by Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas makes good economic sense is secondary to one fact not in dispute.

There is vast room for the 23-year-old to improve as a player, and whether he makes $16 million as season or $16 a season won’t matter a lick if his development stalls.

Everyone connected with the Raptors knows it, and it was the underlying theme to the day when the Lithuanian big man inked a four-year, $64-million contract extension with the only NBA team he’s known.

“It depends on me,” he said during a hastily called news conference at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday afternoon.

“I have to get better defensively.”

If he can — and there’s no physical reason he shouldn’t be able to — it will make things vastly better for the Raptors and coach Dwane Casey, who barely used Valanciunas in the fourth quarter of any game last season because of perceived shortcomings.

“Everyone in the whole world knew we fell on defence, and how can we get it back to where we were and hopefully better is by maybe doing something different,” general manager Masai Ujiri said.

“That’s coaching, and it’s left to coach Casey and we’re confident he’s put together the right people and he’s identified some of the issues.”

The deal is another step in an expensive summer of moves for Ujiri. Coming off the four-games-and-out playoff elimination at the hands of the Washington Wizards he’s added DeMarre Carroll (four years, $60 million), Cory Joseph (four years, $30 million), Bismack Biyombo (two years, $6 million) and Luis Scola (one year, $3 million) while saying goodbye to Amir Johnson, Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez.

The general manager has a window until Oct. 31 to think about a contract extension for Terrence Ross, and has at least thought about the possibility.

“We’ll keep monitoring and see how things get done, if anything happens,” Ujiri said. “We’ve had a little bit of discussion.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge has reportedly changed agents … Golden State Warriors rookie forward Kevon Looney (hip surgery) will be out 4-6 months … Former All-Star forward Carlos Boozer could be playing in China next season … Good Q&A with Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic …  The 2004 Detroit Pistons will be a part of NBA2K16’s classic teams this year

Faried has big hopes for Lawson, Nuggets

VIDEO: Kenneth Faried helps out at a Basketball Without Borders event

It was a bittersweet summer in Denver for point guards. The Nuggets drafted Emmanuel Mudiay, who might be a good one. And they parted with Ty Lawson, who already is a good one, but there’s a catch.

You know the story. Shortly after the Nuggets drafted Mudiay, Lawson was ticketed for suspicion of driving under the influence, the second time since January that’s happened. The Nuggets acted swiftly, trading him to the Rockets, and Lawson entered a one-month court-appointed rehab program, which he’s now wrapping up. It hit the Nuggets hard and Kenneth Faried even harder.

“That’s my best friend, my point guard, my boy,” said Faried, the energizer of the Nuggets, in a conversation recently. “He’s been through a lot. He’s helped me a lot. When I first came on the team, he gave me a lot of good advice. People don’t know that. So it’s hard to see a friend like that go.”

It makes you wonder about the advice Lawson gave. As close as they are, the two clearly went about their business differently. Faried is from hardscrabble Newark, N.J., had poor grades in high school and therefore couldn’t qualify academically for the major colleges (but eventually starred at Morehead State). Then he buckled down, became a top student with a 3.5 GPA, worked his way into the first round of the 2011 Draft and then to a $50 million contract extension two summers ago.

Lawson emerged as a solid playmaker and borderline All-Star shortly after being taken with the No. 18 pick in the 2009 Draft and arguably became the face of the franchise. But off-court issues have dogged him. And just before the latest suspected alcohol-related incident, he bemoaned the Nuggets’ decision to draft Mudiay. In a video that went viral, Lawson wondered aloud whether he was headed to Sacramento, where his old coach, George Karl, was in charge. That and other incidents annoyed the Nuggets. Lawson was on the trading block anyway, and the arrest forced their hand.

So, how is Lawson doing?

“I think he knows what’s going on,” said Faried, who speaks with Lawson often. “And he understands 100 percent what he has to do.”

That’s good news for the Rockets, at least for now.

As for the Nuggets? Faried said once the trade happened, “I went to the gym.” That was his way of dealing with the stress, and also preparing for what’s to come.

“I know what I have to do,” he said. “I have to be more of a leader. I get the biggest paycheck, so I have to be that leader. I want to lead by example, so when I do say something, my words will have volume.”

Being a leader will be welcome in Denver, because the Nuggets were a mess under former coach Brian Shaw. Players openly rebelled, gave half-efforts and refused to buy into the system. They were mocked around the league for their unprofessionalism as David West (now with the Spurs) wondered if the Denver locker room had any “grownups.”

The Nuggets are in a state of transition from the Karl era, still searching for an identity. Mike Malone is now the coach and Faried looks forward to a pre-training camp dinner with the coach to see “what he wants from me and also what I want from him.” The team now belongs to Faried, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, the last two recently gifted with contract extensions. Also, plenty will depend on how rapidly Mudiay takes to running the show, who is expected to get the keys to the team right away (like Lawson once did).

“I’m interested to see how he takes to training camp and takes to coaching,” Faried said, “and also to other players, us veterans. The constructive criticism. I saw him in summer league and he looked good.”

The Rockets are also interested to see how their new point guard takes to coaching, to criticism and more importantly, to a second lease on life. Lawson knows how to run a team … he showed that in Denver. But how can he run his own life? He showed that in Denver, too.

Morning shootaround — March 17

VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 12


Thompson hobbled after win | Blatt: Cavs ‘got to’ finish No. 2 in East | Nuggets unhappy about resting top players | ‘Crash’ pondering retirement?

No. 1: Thompson hobbled after win vs. Lakers — Golden State’s dream season continued last night with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers that, coupled with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s loss, let the Warriors become the first team in the West to clinch a playoff spot. Despite the positive vibes in Oracle Arena after the win, though, there was some news to possibly monitor. According to Monte Poole of, Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson had a noticeable limp after the game:

It’s not unusual for Klay Thompson to be slow peeling off his jersey before heading into the shower. What was unusual Monday night was his gait once he got moving.

Thompson was limping. And it was a very, very obvious hobble.

The Warriors issued no update late Monday night, but Thompson left the game in the third quarter of a 108-105 win over the Lakers, retreating to the locker room to have his right ankle re-taped.

Though he returned in the fourth quarter, scoring 5 points in the final 4:31, he still was in pain after peeling off the tape. His status for Wednesday’s showdown with the Atlanta Hawks is uncertain, pending closer examination.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, in his postgame news conference, said he didn’t think Thompson had sustained a serious injury.

“I don’t think it’s bad,” Kerr said, “but we’ll see what JoHan (Wang, the head athletic trainer) says.”


VIDEO: Golden State tops the Lakers to clinch a playoff berth

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Pelicans’ Davis, Team USA mates shine despite (or because of) summer work

VIDEO: See some of Anthony Davis’s 29 points and 11 rebounds vs. the Bulls in slow motion

Five months after Paul George’s gruesome leg fracture spiked the hand-wringing and hysteria over Team USA participation to new heights, a glimpse at most of teammates on that national squad suggests it might not have been so risky after all.

Player after player from gold-medal winning group in the 2014 FIBA World Cup is having the best season of his NBA career. Several have emerged as early candidates for 2014-15 Most Valuable Player consideration, and a number of them will be able to stage an informal reunion in New York in February at the 2015 NBA All-Star Game.

OK, the regular season is barely one-third over, so some of the overuse and burnout issues cited by critics of Team USA (and other national team involvement) might be lying in wait. But get a load of the benefits flowing so far to some key participants – and the teams for whom they work:

  • Houston’s James Harden is the NBA’s leading scorer with a career-high 27.2 points per game.
  • Stephen Curry’s 26.2 PER is his best, and the Golden State Warriors sit atop the league’s standings at 24-5.
  • Klay Thompson, Curry’s teammate, has been averaging 21.3 points and hitting 43.1 percent of his 3FGAs.
  • Denver’s Kenneth Faried posted 26 points and 25 rebounds against Minnesota Friday, after going for 20 and 14 against Brooklyn earlier in the week.
  • DeMarcus Cousins, around a 10-game bout with viral meningitis, put up some of the best number of his career, including 24.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg, a 28.6 PER and 112/102 offensive and defensive ratings.
  • Rudy Gay, Cousin’s teammate, has hit the reset button on his career with a personal-best 19.9 PER, a 54.8 true shooting percentage and a new three-year, $40 million contract extension.

And then there’s Anthony Davis, the man-ster from New Orleans, who unofficially has become known as The Player Most GMs Would Choose to Start a New Team. Davis is averaging 24.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 1.7 steals. He notched his fourth game of at least 20 points, 10 boards and five blocks Saturday in Chicago, and has 17 double-doubles, a 32.5 PER and a 61.6 true shooting percentage.

Pelicans head coach Monty Williams was an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski’s summer staff, so he was able to monitor Davis’ workload and preparation first-hand. His one scary moment? When Davis dived for a loose ball and went over the first row at United Center in Team USA’s tune-up vs. Brazil in August. Said Williams: “That’s when I wanted to talk to him, like, ‘Dude, tone it down a bit. We’ve got a season.’ ”

Otherwise, Williams firmly is in the camp of those who favor participation over trepidation.

“When Paul George went down, that argument kind of exacerbated it, I guess,” Williams said. “When one guy breaks his leg – and it was a bad injury – I think people wanted to look at all the negative aspects of playing in the summer. But I don’t see any.

“You can get hurt playing anywhere. Guys are going to play all summer long. If you check around the league, they play in L.A. at the Clippers’ practice site. They play in Houston, they play in Chicago. So why not play and practice with the best? And get coaching and travel and see the world and play for your country? Because like I say, guys are going to play regardless.”

Kevin Durant withdrew from Team USA not long after George’s injury. Kevin Love also declined as trade rumors swirled, his status too uncertain to mix in a possible injury, with the rumors themselves a possible distraction. San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have come back hurt or tired from their national team commitments, and Dallas owner Mark Cuban mostly has criticized the process for how much financial risk NBA teams bear for the IOC’s benefits.

But Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau, also on the Team USA staff this summer, was eager to have Derrick Rose play – or put himself at risk, depending on your view – to shake off rust from a layoff of nearly two seasons. He is convinced participation in the program helped Rose in 2010 and didn’t worry about his franchise guy’s health, even though Rose had played just 10 games for Thibodeau from April 2012 through this summer.

“I thought, his MVP year, that summer helped him a lot,” Thibodeau said Saturday. “He came into camp in great shape. He hit the ground running. And it was a terrific year for him.

“There’s a great history with USA Basketball, when you look back at Magic [Johnson] and [Larry] Bird, all of those guys. I think it’s important. It’s good for the game and it’s good for the players.”

It has been good for most of them this year, so far.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 27

VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s action


Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets | Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win | Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk | Bucks looking for different advantages

No. 1: Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets — There’s no place like home for the holidays … as long as you have a home. After being waived earlier this week by the Detroit Pistons, Josh Smith agreed to a free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets. Friday night he made his debut for the Rockets in Memphis against the Western Conference power Grizzlies, tallying 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Houston’s 117-111 overtime win. As Jonathan Feigen writes in the Houston Chronicle, Smith provided the Rockets exactly what they were looking for when they signed him…

The Rockets had no intention of relying so heavily on forward Josh Smith with the ink on his contract barely dry.

They did not even intend to play him so long into the night.

The Rockets knew they wanted Smith the minute the Detroit Pistons cut him loose.

They needed him as soon as they plugged him into the rotation.

With the Grizzlies defending Smith with Vince Carter, the Rockets went to him again and again down the stretch Friday night, not only helping key a comeback to a 117-111 overtime win but offering a glimpse of the sort of talent they had plugged into the mix.

“They think big of my talents,” Smith said. “This is a team that instills confidence in all of its players.”

With the two-season disaster in Detroit rapidly behind him, Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his Rockets debut, tacking on the game-winning free throws in overtime when he grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds and then knocked down a pair of free throws for a four-point lead.


No. 2: Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win — The Orlando Magic are still in the nascent stages of their rebuilding plan, and as such still have lessons to learn. Last night, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were without an injured Kyrie Irving, the Magic learned an important truth: You come at the King, you best not miss. With Orlando leading the Cavs 64-62 in the third quarter, Magic forward Tobias Harris and LeBron James got tangled under the basket and exchanged some heated words. Whoops. As Chris Haynes writes, Harris woke a sleeping giant, helping push Cleveland to the win…

James looked out of sorts. Disinterested. He had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes.

Orlando was up 64-62 in the third quarter and a coasting James was 5-for-13 from the field. The Magic was on pace to steal one. Harris, acting as the catalyst, had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Then things suddenly changed.

Midway through the third, Harris was facing up James on the baseline and to create some separation; he flung his elbows around in the vicinity of James’ face. James backed up to avoid the connection, but he took exception and said something to Harris.

The two jawed back and forth at one another and had to be separated. While walking away, Harris yelled, “Stop flopping.”

“He barked up the wrong tree,” the Cavs’ Dion Waiters said of Harris after the game.

A sleeping giant was awakening.

Two possessions later, James stole a crosscourt pass and shot out on a one-man break. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton managed to get a hold of James from the back and James took him along for the ride to finish the left-handed layup, plus the foul.

The four-time MVP proceeded to trot past Orlando’s bench to have a few words before taking his foul shots. Just like that, James was awakened.

“That’s the best player in the world,” the Cavs’ Kevin Love said. “That’s something you don’t want to do.”

From that point on James dominated Harris, going 5-for-7 in the final 17 minutes. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. After that alteration with James, Harris only scored one point. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-12.


No. 1: Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk — Much was made earlier this season of Kobe Bryant‘s pursuit of Michael Jordan and the third spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Last night there was another repositioning of the list, though a few spots down from Kobe and MJ. Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki moved into 8th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elvin Hayes in a 102-98 Dallas win over the Lakers. As Dirk joked after the game, he’s now got Kobe squarely in his sights, writes’s Tim McMahon

“I told [Kobe] that I was going to catch him,” Nowitzki said after his Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 102-98 with Bryant resting and watching from the bench. “But that’s going to be tough.”

Nowitzki now stands eighth among scorers in NBA history, five spots behind Bryant, after passing Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes on Friday night.

Nowitzki needed six points entering the game to pass Hayes, who finished his career with 27,313 points, and did so on a midrange jumper off a feed from Monta Ellis on the opening possession of the second half.

Nowitzki, who has been battling a stomach illness for about two weeks, finished the game with 14 points in 24 minutes, giving him 27,322 points in his career.

“I’m fortunate to have great teammates to put me in position to keep scoring, even as I’m older,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old who has spent his entire 17-year career with the Mavs. “It’s been fun. Still competing at a high level and hopefully will win a lot more games these last couple of years, which really means more to me right now than all the points. But it’s definitely been a fun ride.”

Hayes is the second top-10 all-time scorer passed by Nowitzki this season. Nowitzki bumped Hakeem Olajuwon to No. 10 on the list in a Nov. 11 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Nowitzki, who is averaging 18.5 points per game this season, likely will pass Moses Malone (27,409 career points) in early January to move into seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

With 32,365 points and counting, Bryant is almost certainly out of reach for Nowitzki. However, Nowitzki should pass Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 points) next season and has a chance to move into the top five by passing Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) before he retires.


No. 1: Bucks looking for different advantages — The Milwaukee Bucks were purchased by a collection of investors led by some New York financial titans in 2013, and since then they’ve been attempting to build a stronger infrastructure for the franchise, in some ways by utilizing some creative thinking. One way they’ve done that: Spending money on people who do things NBA teams have traditionally undervalued, or perhaps not valued at all. For instance, as Kevin Randall writes in the New York Times, the Bucks recently hired a “facial coding expert”…

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season.

“We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, who works for the owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.”

Hill contends that faces betray our true emotions and can predict intentions, decisions and actions. He employs the psychologist Paul Ekman’s widely accepted FACS, or Facial Action Coding System, to decipher which of the 43 muscles in the face are working at any moment. Seven core emotions are identified: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

Before the 2014 draft, Hill spent 10 hours with Milwaukee’s team psychologist, Ramel Smith, watching video of various college prospects and picking apart the psyches of potential picks. The Bucks had the No. 2 selection over all as well as three second-round picks, one of which they traded.

A vexing player at the top of the draft was Dante Exum, a point guard from Australia who was projected to be taken among the top four selections. Smith had done player personality analyses but wanted to validate them by having Hill present his player assessments first. The Bucks selected Jabari Parker with their top pick, and Exum fell to Utah at No. 5.

“Nothing against Exum, but emotional resiliency, stability and an immediate, assured presence were all key considerations in support of selecting Parker,” Hill said.

Until he sustained a severe knee injury on Dec. 15, Parker was among the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Exum is averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 assists coming off the bench for the Jazz.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jared Dudley couldn’t miss last night in Atlanta. Like, literally, he couldn’t miss … Kenneth Faried was basically unstoppable for Denver last night … After passing him on the all-time scoring list, Kobe Bryant said Michael Jordan urged him to now go after Karl Malone … Did Kevin Garnett play his final game in Boston? … Quincy Acy got a one-game suspension for his Christmas Day scuffle with John WallDajuan Wagner is in the early stages of mounting a comeback

Morning shootaround — Dec. 2

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 1


Durant could be game-time decision | Report: Cavs submit bid to host All-Star Game | Green shining for Golden State | Faried’s game off the mark

No. 1: Durant could be game-time decision Tuesday — The Oklahoma City Thunder got All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook back from injury last week and he looked more than fine in his debut, roasting the New York Knicks to the tune of 32 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Could his All-Star partner in crime (and the reigning MVP) Kevin Durant be back from his injury as soon as tonight in New Orleans (8 ET, League Pass)? We likely won’t know until OKC holds its morning shootaround, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Scott Brooks stopped and thought about the question before answering.

“Any lineup changes?” the coach was asked Monday.

Brooks began with an “Um” before proceeding with a pregnant pause that left all in attendance at the end of the Thunder’s practice wondering if this would be the moment he announced Kevin Durant is back.

“No,” Brooks then said, finally. “Nothing as of yet.”

The “as of yet” part left Durant’s timetable up to interpretation, and it’s looking and sounding more and more like the reigning MVP is extremely close to making his season debut, perhaps as early as Tuesday at New Orleans.

It’s not out of the question that Brooks will announce Durant as a game-time decision at the team’s Tuesday morning shootaround. Traditionally, the Thunder has preferred to see how players coming back from injuries respond to that light morning session before penciling them into the lineup. In rare cases, like Andre Roberson at Denver on Nov. 19, the Thunder will even wait for a player to go through a final pre-game workout before determining whether he will suit up that night.

But in the case of Durant, all indications are that he’s set to return from a season long absence caused by a broken right foot. He appears to be so close that any game from here out could be the night. If he doesn’t take the court Tuesday night at New Orleans, it would be surprising if he doesn’t play Friday at Philadelphia. If he skips the Sixers game, we’d be shocked if he doesn’t make his debut Sunday at Detroit.

The Thunder will have two more days between the Pelicans game and the Sixers game, and that’s just additional practice time and rest to ensure Durant is acclimated and ready if he doesn’t play Tuesday night.

Both the signs and the Thunder’s schedule are lining up.

VIDEO: OKC players and coaches talk after Monday’s practice


Morning shootaround — Nov. 1

VIDEO: Top 10 plays from Friday night


Blatt airs out the Cavs! | Thunder’s Jackson seeks pay and play | Picking at that Chris Paul scab | Rubio gets (over)paid

No. 1: Blatt airs out Cavs! — One of the best things about the first week of the NBA season is that it’s followed quickly by the second week of the NBA season. Contrary to what we’ve just seen over the past four or five days – hands wringing, teeth gnashing, exaggerated expectations of all sorts and an overall whoop-de-doo-ness that no one possibly can sustain – life in and around The Association eventually settles into a less frenetic, more manageable pace. Here’s a perfect example: Just about every team will have some rugged, behind-closed-doors meetings between now and mid-April. But because the Cleveland Cavaliers had theirs Friday, after their Opening Night embarrassment on TNT 12 hours earlier (they celebrated LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland in every way except beating the Knicks), this qualifies as a big deal and a “Eureka!” moment for coach David Blatt and his troops. As you take a peek at Dave McMenamin’s report for, notice how ordinary it all sounds, as far as a new coach and his new team – check out, for instance, Anderson Varejao‘s blistering comment. It’s just that everyone’s sample size is small right now, so everything is bigger!

“He just got on us,” James said when asked about Blatt’s message. “He got on us from the time we started our meeting to the time we left. And it’s great. For a team like us, we need that. I love constructive criticism. I never took it personal. It’s just an opportunity for us to get better, and it definitely put a fire into us.”
After turning the ball over 19 times against the Knicks led to 26 points for New York — turnovers Blatt called “irresponsible” and “borderline inexcusable” — the Cavs cut that number to just 12 against Chicago.
Blatt also told the team he wanted more ball movement, as well as player movement, on offense going forward.
“Fiery and to the point,” one source told when asked to characterize the meeting. “[Blatt] was very direct with the group about the expectations and what we need to do day in and day out.”
The Cavs showed a greater team resolve while playing for the second consecutive night, this time on the road, and outrebounded the Bulls 52-42 after New York had controlled the glass 35-33 the night before.
“Today in our meeting, we said we have to play better than the way we played last night,” Anderson Varejao said. “We have to play harder, tougher, and that’s what we did tonight.”


No. 2: Thunder’s Jackson seeks pay and play — Many folks assume that the Oct. 31 deadline for contract extensions for players entering their fourth seasons is all about the money. While that’s often the case, it isn’t an absolute. Consider Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson, who didn’t get an extension Friday but could be better off because of it. Jackson and his reps perceive his value to be much higher than he’s been able to show playing behind Russell Westbrook in the Thunder backcourt. Now, with Westbrook hurt and a long season of opportunity in front of him – along with some teams’ opinions already about Jackson’s potential – the Boston College product and No. 24 pick in 2011 might be able to turn restricted free agency next summer not just into a big payday but into freedom to seize a bigger role with his own team. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports peeled back some curtain on Jackson’s situation in OKC:

As rival teams evaluate restricted free-agency candidates next July, league executives believe Jackson holds a distinct advantage among his peers: The Thunder’s investment into their star players may limit how far the franchise can go to match a rich offer sheet and make Jackson an ideal target to change teams.
“Bottom line,” one NBA general manager told Yahoo Sports, “how much are they willing to pay for Westbrook’s backup?”
The loss of Westbrook to a fractured hand on Thursday night – possibly for a month – will give Jackson a chance to showcase his skills in the near future, a platform that could make Jackson’s case for a free-agent deal. Some teams believe Jackson could command a deal in the $13 million-$14 million-plus annual range – especially because of a belief that investing more into an offer sheet could cripple the Thunder’s chances of matching it.
The Thunder’s past inability to re-sign two key players to rookie extensions – James Harden and Jeff Green – led to the organization trading both players. Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti has insisted the Thunder would match any offer sheet for Jackson next summer, but skepticism exists throughout the league.
Jackson, 24, is sitting out with a sore ankle, and it is still unclear how soon he’ll be able to return to Oklahoma City’s lineup. Next summer, Jackson would pursue a three-year deal with a player option on a third year that would allow him to move into unrestricted free agency in 2017.


No. 3: Picking at that Chris Paul scab — Remember when the Los Angeles Lakers were above it all, that is, too successful and regal to engage in the “what if…” second-guessing common to lesser organizations? First, the Lakers rarely had much to second-guess, life tended to go so well for them. Second, the next great thing in Forum blue-and-gold always was just around the corner, so there was no great urgency to fret. But the Lakers have the time and the inclination now that they’ve dropped in status and in the standings – and let’s face it, Chris Paul plays in the same dang building. So Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times visited the topic of the Paul-to-the-Lakers trade that wasn’t, as the Lakers re-visited their close miss in landing the All-Star point guard:

Who could forget [former NBA commissioner David Stern] citing “basketball reasons” for vetoing the trade that was supposed to send Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom to New Orleans in December 2011?
The Lakers appeared to have acquired their most dynamic point guard since Magic Johnson, but then small-market owners raised a racket, Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert in particular calling the trade a “travesty” in a lengthy letter to the league.
David Stern said no. The deal was off.
“Sometimes you want to say, ‘Dammit, David Stern,'” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said before Friday’s game. “When they made the trade, before David kind of X’d it, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s going to be fantastic.'”
Then again, Scott might never have become the Lakers’ coach, the franchise going down a presumably more optimistic path with Paul than the one that took them through Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, not to mention Steve Nash, acquired from Phoenix in July 2012 for two first-round and two second-round picks.

Scott could only dream of Bryant and Paul in the same backcourt.
“Mmm-hmm. I could really imagine that,” he said Friday. “There would be a big smile on my face if that was the case.”


No. 4:Rubio gets (over)paid — There have been no David Kahn sightings around Target Center in Minneapolis in recent days, but some who closely watch the Minnesota Timberwolves might suspect that train-wreck of a basketball boss had returned. Kahn’s drafting of and presumed fixation on point guard Ricky Rubio led to Kevin Love‘s departure from that woebegone franchise (the Wolves refused to sign Love to a fifth year on his extension three years ago and instead traded him this offseason in advance of his freedom to leave). And now the Wolves – thanks to rapidly escalating player price tags, yes, but also their need to plant some personnel flags with someone besides youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine – have signed Rubio to a $56 million deal. Despite his troubles putting the ball through the hole. The Associated Press had more details:

About two hours before the midnight Eastern deadline, Rubio signed a four-year contract extension worth $55 million that includes another $1 million in incentives, bringing an end to a long and sometimes tense negotiation between the flashy Spanish point guard and the team that drafted him in 2009.
Rubio averaged 10.1 points, 8.1 assists and 2.3 steals but shot just 37 percent in his first three seasons. The shooting numbers led some to say the Timberwolves would have been better off waiting to see how Rubio performs this season before extending him an offer given that they would have had the ability to match any offer that he received on the open market next summer.
But owner Glen Taylor has long been big on loyalty, and he reached out directly to Rubio earlier this week to make one last push.
“I want to call Minnesota home for a long time,” Rubio said. “That’s why I signed the contract. My mom’s going to get mad at me, but I don’t leave home when I’m here. This is my second home. I really feel very welcome here.”
As salaries stand right now, Rubio’s $13.75 million average annual salary starting next season will be more than high profile point guards like Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Kyle Lowry and Ty Lawson. Rubio’s representatives targeted Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe’s five-year, $70 million deal to eclipse, and ended up coming very close despite not having the leverage that Bledsoe had as a restricted free agent.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The ball’s not in Kyrie Irving‘s hands nearly as much these days, but the Cavaliers’ point guard sounds fine with that. … Three-a-days? former NBA forward Tyrus Thomas allegedly is putting in “at least” two workouts a day in the hopes of making a comeback. … Bulls fans will find out tonight in Minnesota just how “minor” Derrick Rose‘s latest injury (left ankle sprain suffered Friday vs. Clevelaned) really is.  …