Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Durant’

Bryant, Curry, James maintain leads in final All-Star voting update

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — With just one week before All-Star starters are announced, good luck catching Kobe Bryant.

In the third returns of All-Star voting, released today, the Lakers’ star guard maintained his commanding overall lead in voting, with 1,533,432 overall votes. Bryant, the leading scorer in All-Star Game history who is playing in his final NBA season, held onto a cushion of about 300,000 votes since the last round of voting over the next-highest vote-getter, Golden State’s Stephen Curry (1,206,467).

In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland’s LeBron James (830,345) leads all players, ahead of his former Miami teammate Dwyane Wade (736,732). Indiana’s Paul George (569,947) seems to be destined to start alongside James. For the final Eastern Conference starting frontcourt spot, despite a vigorous social media campaign from the Detroit Pistons, center Andre Drummond — the NBA’s leading rebounder — has dropped to fourth after holding the third spot through the first two rounds of balloting results. With these latest totals, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (368,336) has surpassed Drummond (361,307) to move into the potential starting five.

While Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (774,782) seems to be a lock to join Bryant in the Western Conference frontcourt, the race for the final starting spot remains tight. After moving into the starting five in the last voting update, Golden State’s Draymond Green (499,947), who leads the NBA with eight triple-doubles this season, has maintained a slim lead over San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (487,626) for the final spot in the Western Conference frontcourt.

Another race worth keeping an eye on is the Eastern Conference backcourt, where Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (399,757) is currently in the lead to start alongside Wade, although the host city’s Kyle Lowry (367,472) isn’t far behind. Last year, Lowry used a late, social media-fueled push to overcome Wade and make it into the starting five.

Lowry has just a few more days if he wants to make a similar run this year: Voting will conclude Monday, Jan. 18 at 11:59 p.m. ET. The starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 21 (7 p.m. ET) during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com. All-Star Game reserves, selected by the NBA’s coaches, will be revealed on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 28.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 11


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

But the plucky 76ers kept fighting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Warriors would rather not know the specifics.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Illustrating the best, worst shooters in 2015


VIDEO: Stephen Curry’s Top 10 Plays from 2015

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

The NBA has become more aware of shooting efficiency than ever before. Guys like Kobe Bryant, who used to be universally praised for their hero-ball style now have their usage rates and field-goal percentages criticized, while uber-efficient shooters like Kyle Korver (well, 2014-15 Kyle Korver) now have the league-wide recognition necessary to make the All-Star team.

Concurrently, the best shooter in the sport also doubles as the league’s Most Valuable Player. With so much attention being paid to shooting nowadays (helped by a growing interest in fantasy basketball, where overall shooting percentage and three-point efficiency are valuable commodities), avid fans want to know whose shooting touch is hot and whose is not at any given moment.

That’s why for the remainder of the 2015-16 season, writers like myself from interactive data visualization site PointAfter will provide weekly updates and shot charts for notable players as a part of our new editorial partnership with NBA.com.

It only seems natural that for the first edition of this themed collaboration, I’ll recap a few standout shooters (for better or worse) from the first few months of the season at each position group.

Note: All statistics are accurate as of games on Jan. 5.

Best Guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Who else could claim the title of best shooter among NBA guards? No one but the reigning MVP, who leads the league in true shooting percentage (67.7 percent) by more than three percentage points.

Stephen Curry is canning at least 45 percent of his looks from both corner-3 zones and on treys above the break. Since 55 percent of his attempts come from beyond the arc, that makes Curry the most efficient and dangerous scorer in the sport.

 

Worst Guard: Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets

Shooting was a noted weakness of Emmanuel Mudiay before he entered the league, but it’s fair to say the Nuggets didn’t think he’d be quite this poor when they drafted him No. 6 overall this summer.

While Curry is shooting at least 43 percent from each of the seven zones in PointAfter shot charts, Mudiay has scraped just beyond 40 percent in one of them – the restricted zone, where his 40.2 percent success rate is far below the league average of 55.6 percent.

To be fair, Mudiay has taken on more ball-handling responsibility than any rookie has in several years – his 27.6 percent usage rate is the highest for a first-year player since Kyrie Irving in 2011-12. Still, the Nuggets would likely appreciate Mudiay becoming more efficient, both shooting-wise and as a distributor – his 1.45 assist/turnover ratio is tied with D’Angelo Russell for the worst rate among point guards.

 

Best Wing: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant isn’t your typical ‘wing,’ of course. Not every wing is a seven-footer who can back down big men in the paint. But the Durantula is more of an oversized wing than a strapping forward/center, and his shooting in 2015-16 deserves mention somewhere in this article, so this is where he lands.

Durant is second behind Curry in true shooting percentage (64.6 percent) on the back of a career-high 51.7 field-goal percentage and 41.1 percent mark from long distance, his best since 2008-09.

The most notable thing about Durant’s offense, however, has been his ruthless efficiency inside the restricted area. He’s sinking 72 percent of his looks there, well above the 55.6 percent league average and his own 67.2 percent mark in 2014-15.

Like I said, Durant isn’t your typical wing.

 

Worst Wing: Kyle Singler, Oklahoma City Thunder

This summer, Thunder GM Sam Presti signed Kyle Singler to a five-year, $25 million deal. That decision looks extremely ill-advised right now, as Singler could very well be the worst NBA player getting regular minutes at the moment.

The Duke product formerly renowned shooter (39 percent on 3-pointers in previous two seasons) has fallen off a cliff in 2015-16, converting just 8-for-35 attempts from beyond the arc for a paltry 22.9 percent success rate.

The slump hasn’t been limited to threes – Singler’s overall field goal percentage is 28.6 percent, and he’s only made 8-for-16 attempts at the charity stripe. If Singler has lost his touch for good this year, the Thunder won’t have much use for him. He doesn’t have any other standout skills, and his PER is down to an unfathomably poor 2.1.

 

Best Forward/Center: Channing Frye, Orlando Magic

Channing Frye isn’t seeing as many minutes as he did in his first season with Orlando, but he’s shooting the rock much better.

His 43.8 percent success rate on 3s – including an absurd 44 percent mark above the break — is just a hair off his career-best mark of 43.9 percent during his breakout campaign with Phoenix in 2009-10. Frye has even made 92.3 percent of his free throws (albeit in a small sample size), which is practically unheard of for a forward.

The former No. 8 overall pick is living up to the four-year, $32 million contract he signed with the Magic in 2014, providing the kind of spacing they need with poor shooters like Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton populating the backcourt.

 

Worst Forward/Center: Kevin Seraphin, New York Knicks

Kevin Seraphin was never a huge positive on offense during his five years with the Washington Wizards, but he’s sunk to new lows in the Knicks’ pseudo-triangle offense.

After converting 61 percent of his attempts in the restricted zone last year, he’s making just 41.9 percent of his shots there this season. His overall field-goal percentage is 39.3 percent, a ghastly figure for a big man. His 41.8 true shooting percentage ranks dead last among forwards/centers. Even worse, his usage rate is at a career-high 22.5 percent.

Seraphin has been riding the bench much more frequently lately, playing in just one of New York’s last seven games. That’s a good thing for Knicks fans holding out hope for the club’s playoff aspirations. Undersized (6-foot-10), inefficient centers like Seraphin are a bugaboo in the NBA’s analytical circles.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Kobe, Curry continue leading All-Star voting

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — It may be Kobe Bryant‘s final season on the court, but he is clearly as popular as ever.

In the second returns of All-Star voting, released today, the Lakers’ guard remains the NBA’s overall leading vote-getter with 1,262,118 votes, increasing his lead over Golden State’s Stephen Curry (925,789) since the first round of voting results. Bryant, the leading scorer in All-Star Game history, led Curry by just over 200,000 votes in the previous voting results.

It appears fans have also rewarded Golden State’s red-hot start to the season, as Warriors forward Draymond Green (332,223) has moved into the top three among Western Conference frontcourt players, joining Bryant and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, narrowly ahead of San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (330,929) and Clippers forward Blake Griffin (298,212).

Durant’s Oklahoma City teammate, point guard Russell Westbrook (479,512), ranks second in voting among Western Conference guards. He has a healthy lead over the third-ranked guard, Clippers point guard Chris Paul (268,672).

Cleveland’s LeBron James leads all Eastern Conference players with 636,388 votes. His former Miami teammate, Dwyane Wade, is second with 562,558 votes. James’ current teammate, Kyrie Irving (271,094) — who has played just seven games this season since returning from injury — is second among Eastern Conference guards. Irving is outpacing Kyle Lowry (242,276), who plays for All-Star host Toronto and used a late push last season to get into the starting line-up.

Detroit’s Andre Drummond, the NBA’s leading rebounder this season, is still among the top three frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference, which would qualify him to start. But Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, an eight-time All-Star, has closed Drummond’s lead to about 6,000 votes. Anthony’s teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is the highest-ranked rookie, with 160,170 votes — good for ninth among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.

The Spurs and the Warriors each have five players among the Western Conference’s leading vote-getters. After sending four players to the All-Star Game last season, the only player the Atlanta Hawks have among the leading vote-getters this season is Paul Millsap (21,625), who is 15th among Eastern Conference forwards.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

How Divac nearly upended Kobe trade | Curry, Barnes back in mix for Warriors | Thunder fall apart vs. Kings | Scott says Randle needs to ‘grow up’

No. 1: Divac nearly cancelled Kobe trade to Lakers — Today, Vlade Divac is the Sacramento Kings’ general manager after a 16-year NBA playing career from 1989-2005. In early-to mid-1990s, Divac was a solid young center on the Los Angeles Lakers who was a part of one Finals team with Magic Johnson (1991) and a key cog in a youthful Lakers group (including Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and others) that seemed primed for big things out West. Yet come the night of the 1996 Draft, Divac was dealt to the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to rookie (and future franchise icon) Kobe Bryant. As Divac explains to Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears, though, he wanted nothing to do with the trade and nearly axed the deal by retiring rather than play in Charlotte:

“My feelings were that I play basketball for fun. This is not fun,” Divac recently told Yahoo Sports about the 1996 draft-day deal that sent him to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Bryant, who is expected to play his final game in Sacramento on Thursday. “If somebody asked before, ‘Vlade, are you going to play basketball over there [in Charlotte]?’ It’s not going to happen. I talked to my wife and told her, ‘Look, I’m going to retire.’

“It would have been so bad. I would have been the most hated guy in L.A.”

The Serbian quickly fell in love with Los Angeles and was in even deeper love playing for the Lakers, averaging 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds primarily as a starter from 1989-1996.

But before the 1996 draft, then-Lakers general manager Jerry West became infatuated with Bryant, the high school kid from Philadelphia who was destined to become a superstar. West worked out a deal to send Divac to Charlotte for the 13th pick in the draft, which the Hornets used to select Bryant for the Lakers. By trading Divac, who was set to make $4.7 million in the 1996-97 season, the Lakers would clear the needed salary-cap space to make a lucrative offer to Shaquille O’Neal in free agency.

Divac was in Europe and was stunned when his agent told him about the trade. Days later, Divac said he informed the Lakers he planned to retire, which would have prevented the team from trading him for Bryant.

“It felt like someone from behind hit me with a hammer,” Divac told Yahoo Sports. “It was the first time in my career that something happened in a way I didn’t plan. I was devastated. I was thinking, ‘I play basketball for fun.’ My father said when I brought my first [basketball paycheck] back home, ‘Who gave this to you? Are they crazy? Do they know you would play basketball even if they don’t pay you?’

“I am not going to play basketball because I have to play. I am going to play for fun. I was 28. I am not going to go somewhere and be forced to play basketball. I told my agent that I am not going to Charlotte. I loved L.A. I loved the Lakers. For every kid that played basketball, it was basketball heaven being with Magic and the other guys.”

Within 10 days after the draft, Divac said he returned to Los Angeles ready to retire, yet he agreed to meet with West. After an “emotional meeting” with West, Divac changed his mind and agreed to the trade.

“Jerry called me and I flew back to L.A. and we had lunch,” Divac said. “The trade happened [in principle], but I was holding it up. … It was a great conversation. He said, ‘Why don’t you go over there and explore and see if you like it or not?’

“Me and Jerry had a very good relationship. He was the guy who was waiting for me at the airport [after being drafted in 1989]. It was an emotional meeting for both of us. And I trust him so much. He is the best basketball mind in the world. When Jerry tells you something, you believe it.”

Divac decided to have his wife and children stay in Los Angeles for stability while he played the next two seasons with Charlotte. Despite initial struggles, he averaged 11.7 points and 8.6 rebounds with the Hornets in two seasons from 1996-98.

“We played sellout basketball in front of 24,000 people who love basketball in North Carolina,” Divac told Yahoo Sports. “Each year we had 50-plus wins, and when you win it’s fun. But my first 10 games, I was awful. I can’t explain it. I was fumbling the ball. The funny thing was one of my first games was against the Lakers. I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’

“I felt like I started playing basketball two days ago. There was still mental stuff. I was thinking negative stuff like, ‘Why did they trade me? Was it worth it [coming here]?’ Then I said to myself, ‘Come on, Vlade, it’s just a game.’ I knew that after two years I would come out West and move closer to my family.”

Divac signed as a free agent with the Kings in 1998 with his family and a return to the West Coast in mind. Divac and the Kings pushed the Lakers to brink of elimination entering Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, but the Lakers would win the next two games to stop Sacramento from making its first Finals appearance.

*** (more…)

Reports: Durant out tonight vs. Kings


VIDEO: Kevin Durant’s performance vs. Hornets

From NBA.com staff reports

The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the midst of a four-game win streak and have won seven of their last eight games. As they try to keep that success going tonight against the Sacramento Kings (8 ET, NBA League Pass), the Thunder will have to do it without superstar Kevin Durant.

According to multiple reports, the high-scoring forward will miss tonight’s game after suffering a sprained right big toe Saturday against the Hornets.

Blogtable: Your All-Star starters are …?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


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



VIDEOShould the Warriors have five All-Star starters?

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

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

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

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

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

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

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

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

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

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

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

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

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

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

EAST

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

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

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

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

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

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

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

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

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

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

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

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

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

 

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: Fast Break from Dec. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns in disarray | James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm | The decline of Dwight Howard | A warm reception for Kobe in Boston?

No. 1: Suns in disarray — One loss to the lowly and previously one-win Philadelphia 76ers destabilized things in the Valley of the Sun. And the hits just keep on coming. The news that point guard Eric Bledsoe would need surgery to repair a torn meniscus and would be out indefinitely was followed by the reported firing of two assistant coaches (Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sicthting) in an effort to shake up Jeff Hornacek‘s staff. And Hornacek, who took a towel to the face from Markeiff Morris last week, is also reportedly on the hot seat. Just two years ago Hornacek had the Suns were on the edge of the playoff picture in the Western Conference and now it all appears to be on the verge of coming apart, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports:

Sources told ESPN.com on Sunday night that the Suns are promoting longtime NBA guard Earl Watson and former NBA D-League head coach Nate Bjorkgren to the bench to work closer to Hornacek and will dismiss veteran assistants Mike Longabardi, who was heading up Phoenix’s defense, and Jerry Sichting.

Earlier Sunday, ESPN.com first reported that the Suns’ 5-15 nosedive, including a home loss Saturday night to the 2-30 Philadelphia 76ers, had put Hornacek’s job security under immediate threat.

It is believed that the Suns are taking this measure instead to give Hornacek, who is held in high esteem by owner Robert Sarver, another chance to turn the club around.

But that figures to be difficult after the harsh news Sunday that star guard Eric Bledsoe is out indefinitely and will require knee surgery Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Suns, despite the organization’s well-known fondness for Hornacek, have been forced to contemplate a coaching change far sooner than they hoped because of a slide that has dropped them to 12-20 and 11th in the Western Conference. There is also a growing fear within the organization that the team is no longer responding to its head coach.

Phoenix began the season with playoff aspirations after posting records of 48-34 and 39-43 in Hornacek’s first two seasons and the offseason signing of center Tyson Chandler.

But the Suns have dropped 15 of 20 games since opening 7-5, seemingly bottoming out in Saturday night’s home loss to the Sixers as Bledsoe also exited with his knee injury in the second quarter.

Adding to the sting of the Philadelphia loss: It was the first game on the Sixers’ bench for former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, who was hired recently by new Philadelphia chairman of basketball operations and former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to serve as associate head coach to Sixers coach Brett Brown.

“Obviously, it’s probably a low point for us,” Hornacek told reporters after the game. “Now the confidence is lacking.”

***

No. 2: James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm — Back-to-back losses has a way of raising the dander of LeBron James in the way little else can. As the leader of the superstar band in Cleveland, James never shies away from delivering critical analysis about his own crew. And after losing to the Golden State Warriors on Christmas and the Portland Trail Blazers a day later, LeBron vented his frustrations about his team’s lack of rhythm. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

The Cavs still lead the East at 19-9, but they’ve had a bad week, with problems deeper than perhaps their 2-2 record would indicate.

You could chalk it up to the knuckleball effect, which is, after trying to hit a pitcher who throws knuckleballs, it can take a big leaguer days to catch up to 95 mph fastballs again.

The Cavs hosted the 76ers – who won their second game this season – last Sunday. They haven’t played well since, needing to hold on for dear life at home against a Knicks team sans Carmelo Anthony and then suffering through consecutive porous shooting performances in these two losses.

Cleveland followed up its 89-83 loss to the defending-champion Warriors – in which the Cavs shot 31.6 percent – with a 28-of-77 clunker against the Blazers.

James is shooting 14-of-39 in his last two, with the 4-of-13 effort for 12 points he turned in Saturday night.

“Offensively we’re just in a funk right now,” James said. “We just got to find our rhythm.”

There’s that word again, rhythm.

James used it after the Cavs lost to the Warriors, when he said “it’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm.”

wrote in Oakland Christmas night to monitor this – James calling for Blatt to bring clarity to the Cavs’ rotations.

Last Sunday (when the Cavs faced the knuckleballer 76ers) was Kyrie Irving’s first game back. Iman Shumpert returned, too, after missing a game with a groin injury. The next game, against the Knicks, was Mo Williams’ first after two absences because of a thumb injury.

With all these players at Blatt’s disposal, the Cavs look discombobulated. No one disputes it and both James and Blatt said it’s to be expected, to a certain extent. And Irving didn’t even play against the Blazers, per the team’s decision to protect his surgically repaired knee from the rigors of games on consecutive nights this early in his comeback.

But Blatt said he spoke with his coaches after the loss Saturday about the impact the changing lineups was having on the team, and James had already taken it a couple steps further after the Warriors game, mentioning the lack of rhythm and continuity because of the uncertainty in Cleveland’s rotations.

Now, consider what James said about this very same topic on Saturday:

“For the first eight weeks we had built chemistry, we knew who was playing, we knew who wasn’t playing,” James said. “We had rotations, coach had rotations down, so we got to get back to that. We have no rhythm. Guys are, we have some guys who don’t know if they’re going to play, or if they are going to play, and it’s hurting our rhythm a little bit.”

***

No. 3: The decline of Dwight Howard The slow, physical erosion of the body and skills of one of the league’s best big men is real. Dwight Howard, the man formerly known as “Superman” to an entire generation of NBA fans, is no more. So says TNT and NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who lived through a similar fade during his star-studded career after he crossed over from young physical freak to mere mortal. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe explains:

The decline of Dwight Howard is one of the NBA’s most compelling developments. The onetime self-proclaimed “Superman” was for years a physical freak, the model of how a center was built and how a center defended.

Now 30, Howard is slowing down, bothered by years of back and knee issues. He doesn’t have the offensive effectiveness of past years and his durability has waned. So, what happens when physically gifted players lose a step, are no longer able to soar as they once did or defend above the rim?

Former NBA star and current NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who was a superb athlete coming out of Michigan two decades ago and played until he was 34, offered his thoughts on Howard.

“I wouldn’t just say this for Dwight, I’d say this for all players, me personally, I learned it from Karl Malone. You cannot stay in this game without skill,” Webber said. “Because after five years in this league you will no longer be the most athletic at your position. It’s impossible. That’s including injuries. You have to have more skill, you have to create value for those times you’re on the court.”

Webber said there are ways to compensate for a decline in athleticism by using intelligence.

“You have to maybe help defensively a little bit earlier since you can’t go up and get the blocked shot,” he said. “Some guys start taking charges or some guys just get out [farther] on the floor since they can’t move laterally anymore, maybe develop an 8-foot jump shot. You can learn how to make a move without dribbling because now you can’t just dribble by everybody anymore.

“You have to think the game through and just be that much more efficient. You won’t get the number of looks you have anymore. Mentally, you have to change and hopefully your skill set will allow that. If not, the game will pass you by.”

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for any NBA player is the deterioration of physical skills. For some it’s sudden, for others it’s gradual. The result is never easy to digest.

“It’s especially tough, for me going to Philly, a place that had a different [playing] style, that means you have to learn all over again,” Webber said. “If you’re Tim[Duncan], he’s one of the greatest players to have ever played this game, but because he’s allowed to age in a system.

“Let’s say with a Dwight Howard, his numbers are still incredible but you need a system around him that allows him to do that and those not just be wasted numbers. That can be wasted numbers on a team that doesn’t suit his system.”

The Rockets are one of the league’s more confounding teams, with a record hovering near .500 after reaching the West finals last season.

“Houston is the most disappointing team that we have in the league, more disappointing than the Philadelphia 76ers, and I don’t know if anybody can thrive in that system,” Webber said. “I definitely know it’s tough to age when the system does not include your age in the system.

“If I’m [Howard], I’m trying to offensive rebound a little bit more. If I’m him, I’m running right down the middle of the lane on a secondary break, posting up in the middle, and turning for a jump hook because you’re going to foul me. I’m going to put myself in positions where you have to get me the ball, and when I get the ball I’d be stupid to pass it back out. There’s ways, and he’s one of the best big men in the game still. He should be the second-most-targeted player on that team.”

***

No. 4: A warm reception for Kobe in Boston? The farewell tour for Kobe Bryant has had some interesting stops, to say the least. And nowhere is a fading Los Angeles Lakers’ legend loathed more than in Boston, where Kobe will visit for a final time (as a player) this week. But instead of a vicious chorus of boos, might Kobe be in for a much warmer reception from the Celtics loyalists? Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times sets the stage:

It’s only Monday but already worth asking in a horribly mundane Lakers season: How will Kobe Bryant be received by fans Wednesday in his last game in Boston?

With Philadelphia out of the way, it could be the most attractive road game left on his farewell tour.

The setup started a few days ago, when Bryant revealed he listened daily to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” for two years because he wanted to remember the depth of the Lakers’ embarrassment in the 2008 NBA Finals.

Fans couldn’t stop singing it after the Celtics‘ 39-point Game 6 victory, so Bryant couldn’t stop listening to it.

He found his revenge two years later in the NBA Finals. Will Celtics fans be salty?

Lakers Coach Byron Scott, who battled Boston in three memorable NBA Finals in the 1980s, predicted a warm reaction.

“As much as the Celtics hate us and we hate them, I think the Celtics fans are some of the most knowledgeable fans in the world. I think they’ll give him the same type of respect that he deserves and that he’s been given everywhere else,” Scott said.

Perhaps a precedent was set when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played his last game in Boston in 1988. Abdul-Jabbar, 41 at the time, was given a framed slab of the Garden’s parquet floor by Celtics legend Red Auerbach.

Abdul-Jabbar also received a one-minute, 35-second standing ovation from Celtics fans that night. Scott was there as Abdul-Jabbar’s teammate.

“It wasn’t a standing ovation for [his] 20 years, but it was a standing ovation when he decided to retire,” Scott said, developing a one-liner. “Maybe that’s because he was whooping them so much.”

Fans cheered Bryant loudly in Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit and Toronto. They weren’t so kind in San Antonio, but he has another game there before bowing out.

He had not announced his retirement when the Lakers played in New York last month. Other notable road games for him include Sacramento on Jan. 7 and San Antonio on Feb. 6.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Los Angeles Clippers needed Paul Pierce to turn back the clock with Blake Griffin out for two weeks … Globetrotters legend Meadowlark Lemon, 83, diesBradley Beal is expected to resume basketball activities this week for the Washington Wizards … The Golden State Warriors will get a first-hand look at the new and improved Sacramento Kings tonight … The future remains bright for Glenn Robinson III in Indiana …

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO: Arena Link — Dirk Nowitzki

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 21


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors’ Thompson: We’re the best backcourt in NBA | Kyrie’s comeback and LeBron’s promise to Love | Butler finding his voice … time for Hoiberg to do the same? | Bucks turn to Prunty in Kidd’s absence

No. 1: Warriors’ Thompson: We’re the best backcourt in NBA — Ask Klay Thompson a question and prepare for the Golden State Warriors All-Star to tell you the truth, his truth. When asked to identify the best point guard and shooting guard in the NBA, Thompson picked his Splash Brother counterpart and reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry and himself, without hesitation. It’s hard to argue against one half of the league’s most dynamic shooting/scoring duo. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group asked the questions and explains Thompson’s answer:

Asked to name the best player at each position in the NBA, Klay Thompson picked Warriors teammate Stephen Curry as the point guard and then paused.

“I’m going to go with myself,” Thompson said of his pick for the top shooting guard, throwing up his hands. “We’re 26-1.”

He noted that the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and Houston Rockets’ James Harden were among the candidates in his mind before reiterating his choice.

“I have confidence in myself,” Thompson said Saturday.

Thompson projected plenty of confidence this week, scoring more points than any player on the floor with his 43-point game against the Phoenix Suns and 27-point outing in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Thompson, after a slow start to the season while dealing with back and ankle injuries, is shooting a career-best 47.3 percent from the field.

“When you play with a free mind and you play thinking you’re not hurt and you’re healthy, that’s when you’re playing your best,” Thompson said. “I want to continue playing like this, get better every month.

“I know I’ll have a great year.”

Curry’s exploits might have taken away from some of Thompson’s numbers during the Warriors’ historic start. The shooting guard is averaging 19.3 points after averaging 21.7 during an All-Star campaign last season.

With 80 made 3-pointers, Thompson is still tied for second in the league. Curry is first with a whopping 131.

“Right now, Steph’s a better shooter,” Thompson said. “I’m trying to catch him. Just by a little, though. Not by a lot. I can’t say he’s way better than me. He is one of the greatest, and it’s an honor to be in the same backcourt with him.”

***

No. 2: Kyrie’s comeback and LeBron’s promise to Love — Now that the Cleveland Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving back in the lineup and the roster is at full strength, we’re going to see just how effective this team is playing up to the promise LeBron James made earlier this season. He vowed that he would do everything in his power to keep Kevin Love more involved in the offense and to share the (ball and the) load equally between the three of them, something that didn’t appear to be the case in Kyrie’s season debut and first game since he fractured his knee cap in Game of The Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com examines the performance of Cleveland’s refreshed Big 3 after Sunday’s blowout win over the Philadelphia 76ers:

Cleveland wasn’t threatened after the second period and Irving played nearly five of his 17 total minutes in the fourth while James and Love rested comfortably. James was easily the leader of the bunch with 23 points in a season-low 25 minutes; Irving added 12 after missing his first five shots and Love contributed 10 despite missing much of the first half in foul trouble.

But the truth is James and Irving iso’d their way to a dominant second half last season while Love was visibly frustrated as a distant third wheel. The Cavs were the NBA’s best team during that stretch and of course reached the Finals, so it’s not as though there was a demand for change.

Rather, there was a promisemostly by James on the former, more an urging from coach David Blatt with the latter — to keep Love more involved and to better move the ball as a team than the Cavs did in stretches last year. Love signed his five-year, $113 million deal to return to Cleveland last summer knowing that James and Blatt were dedicated to more utilizing his lost-post skills, which should make it easier on him to get more open threes.

James is still third in the NBA in isolation scoring and his team is 10th, but last season he and Irving were second and third in the league in running isolation and the team scored more points that way than anyone else.

This season, Cleveland’s total assists (23.0 per game, 7th in NBA) and assist ratio (17.6 assists per 100 possessions, 5th in NBA) are both up. And Love’s numbers (17.3 points per game, 13.4 shots per game) are better.

One notable difference: until Sunday, Irving hadn’t been on the floor. With him back in the fold, the question remains whether Irving’s presence will allow James to keep his promise to Love?

“We just made the change from me and ‘Bron being ball dominant last year to us having a lot more options on our offense and utilizing our weapons,” Irving said.

Only James Harden and Carmelo Anthony have scored more than James’ 134 points in isolation this season. James runs an iso play on 21 percent of the Cavs’ possessions. And yet he’s clearly ceded some of the ball-handling duties he assumed last season with Irving on the floor to Mo Williams and Matthew Dellavedova.

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No. 3:Butler finding his voice, time for Hoiberg to do the same? — Much was made of Jimmy Butler‘s comments about the Chicago Bulls, himself included, needing to be “coached harder” this season. It seemed like a shot at Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, whose style differs dramatically from the man he replaced, Tom Thibodeau. There’s another way to look at it, though. Butler is clearly finding his way as a leader and potential superstar and in finding his voice in that Bulls locker room he’s sure to endure a few missteps. But perhaps it’s time for Hoiberg to do the same, in terms of finding his voice with his team. Bulls Insider Vince Goodwill of CSNChicago.com tries to make some sense of the fallout:

Butler isn’t a player who’s been coddled or someone who was projected as a star at every turn. He’s turned into a max player because he poked and prodded at his limits while being poked and prodded by influential figures who brought out the best in him at that time (Buzz Williams at Marquette, Thibodeau in Chicago).

He’s a worker, a grinder in every sense.

Butler is a great player, and great players at every level of sport want to be coached. They know they don’t know everything, and there are times when the effort or concentration isn’t up to par.

Great players don’t mind being held to that standard, even through gritted teeth and rolled eyes, because of what’s waiting on the back end of that foul language.

This doesn’t look like a max player who’s now feeling himself deciding to make it known he’s the new sheriff in town, as some will make it appear to be.

Fans have longed for a player of his caliber to show the emotional investment to the results in the way they do with their pocketbook and their voices on various mediums.

Being upset that it comes from Butler dilutes that thought, or believing this hasn’t been simmering for quite some time. One can probably surmise Butler has been holding this frustration in for quite awhile, and that he’s so invested in the franchise he could no longer find it tolerable.

Butler has entered the strata where he’s put in the work to make his voice heard, and shouldn’t apologize for it, no matter what he says Monday before the Bulls’ next game against the Brooklyn Nets.

For all the personnel changes that will likely take place over the next couple of years, Butler will be the constant, a rock of consistency whose thoughts will matter at all levels of hierarchy.

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No. 4:Bucks turn to Prunty in Kidd’s absence — The news that Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd would be sidelined indefinitely after hip surgery came as a surprise. It also puts Joe Prunty in the middle of the mix as Kidd’s replacement until he recovers and is able to return. The “interim” coach thing worked wonders for Luke Walton, Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors this season (a record 24-0 start and a 26-1 mark to this day). Now the Bucks, the team that provided the only stain on the Warriors’ record, have to navigate a similar path. Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel has more:

The pain in Kidd’s hip stems from his time with the Dallas Mavericks late in his playing career. He said he has controlled it with cortisone shots and other measures, but he said the pain has become too much and caused him to be unable to sleep at night.

“It’s been chronic for the last three to four years, since I was in Dallas the last time,” Kidd said. “The pain has been to the point where I can’t function.

“I’ve taken all the medicine I can do. Talking to the doctors, there’s really no good time to do the surgery. I have to fix myself and then we move on and get back to work.”

Kidd said assistant Joe Prunty will lead the Bucks in his absence and keep his responsibilities for the offense while Sean Sweeney will continue in his role as the team’s defensive guru.

“We’re all set,” Kidd said. “Joe Prunty will take over and he will run the team. But nobody gets out of their lane. Joe will still be offense and Sweeney will still be defense.

“The guys have to continue to develop. It’s in good hands with the coaching staff. We’re built as a roundtable. Joe is well-qualified to keep these guys going in the right direction.”

Kidd said the surgery will be performed by Edwin Su, one of the leading hip specialists in the country, at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

“Some would say it’s the 55,000 minutes that I tried to play,” Kidd said. “A lot of wear and tear on my body. I’ve been blessed not to have too many surgeries. This is just one that has taken away from me being able to sleep and function.

“Especially when I’m trying to help these guys be the best they can be.”

Kidd said when he played with the Mavericks he was able to control the pain with medicine.

“I’ve taken enough of the cortisone shots that they don’t work,” he said. “We put it off as long as we could.”

Kidd, 42, ended his 19-year NBA career with the New York Knicks after the 2012-’13 season and played with the Mavericks, the team that drafted him in 1994, for a second time from 2008-’12. He won an NBA championship with Dallas in 2011.

Kidd said he won’t know when he can return to coaching until after the surgery.

He joked that Prunty should model himself after Luke Walton, who has posted a 26-1 record with Golden State while coach Steve Kerr recovers from off-season back surgery.

“It wouldn’t be bad for Joe to take what Luke has done,” Kidd said. “I wouldn’t be mad.

“No pressure for Joe.”


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Jason Kidd’s situation in Milwaukee

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Billy Donovan might roll out the Hack-a-Jordan strategy tonight when the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers square off … Indiana’s Paul George misses the guidance he could always count on from David WestKevin Garnett says Boston fans are better than New York fans … Hawks officials are touring other arenas this season to gather ideas for their own arena renovation projectCaron Butler and the Sacramento Kings are prepared to part ways … The Utah Jazz are finally playing a game at home before Christmas