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Morning shootaround — April 23


VIDEO: Top Plays from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thibodeau ready to roll | Wizards ready to spend big? | Carlisle thinks OKC acting too tough

No. 1: Thibodeau ready to roll — Returning to the scene of where it all began for him as an NBA coach, Tom Thibodeau is all smiles these days, and why not? He just hit the motherlode: Millions to coach a game, lots of sway in personnel decisions and a solid young group of players on the Minnesota roster. Given all that, this is one of the best coaching vacancies to come along in a while, and Thibodeau is ready to get going. He spoke recently with Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who filed this:

An assistant on the expansion Wolves’ first two teams, Thibodeau on Wednesday agreed to coach what he calls the league’s “best young roster” and share management decisions with longtime friend and newly named GM Scott Layden, with whom he once worked in New York. He terms it a “partnership” with a man he calls “one of my closest friends” rather than total control over personnel decisions.

Fired by the Bulls in part because of conflicts with management, Thibodeau negotiated the president of basketball operations title into his Wolves deal.

“It wasn’t an absolute must, but I’m glad it has worked out that way,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure I had a voice. The person I’m with, I trust Scott. He has great integrity. He’s a great worker and he has great experience.”

He cited that partnership, the team’s young roster — “and where it can go” — and owner Glen Taylor’s “commitment to winning” as the reasons he agreed to a reported five-year, $40 million contract only a week after the Wolves announced they’d search to fill two jobs and ended up filling three.

“When you look at the young guys, when you look at the [salary] cap space, when you look at the draft pick that’s coming, there’s great flexibility there,” Thibodeau said. “There are a lot of assets there. If you formulate a really good plan that studies and organizes everything, I think this situation is positioned great to go forward.”

He calls himself well-suited to coach such a young team, noting Derrick Rose was 22 and Joakim Noah 25 when he accepted his first NBA head coaching job in 2010. Often criticized for playing his starters too much, he answered Taylor’s inquiry on that matter by telling him to speak with former players. On Thursday, he said his Bulls players’ minutes compared to others at their position in the league.

“Some of it is more myth than fact,” Thibodeau said. “If you dig deeper, you will see that. A lot of other guys play a lot of minutes.”

Thibodeau’s objective with such a young team is what every coach seeks: maximize its strengths, minimize its weaknesses. He said this team can score, will get to the free-throw line and is willing to share the ball.

“We have to get turnovers down a bit,” he said. “You eliminate all the ways you beat yourself first.”

Thibodeau visited 13 different NBA teams during his season off and found enlightenment in not one revelation but many little things.

He also watched a lot of NBA games. Included were the Wolves under interim coach Sam Mitchell, who was not retained.

“I thought they improved, I thought they had some good, solid wins,” Thibodeau said. “You start looking at it and you’re just impressed.”

Those favorable impressions begin with 20-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns, 21-year-olds Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine and 25-year-old point guard Ricky Rubio.

Thibodeau’s discussion about each player began with praise of their talents and ended with needed improvements, particularly defensively.

• On Towns: “It’s pretty amazing for a first-year guy to come in and do the things he did. There’s obviously room for growth. But his skill set is very unusual. He has the potential to be very good defensively, with his rebounding, his shot blocking. The way he plays the game, the way he sees the game, he has the ability to make other players better. He had a very impressive first year, but it’s just the beginning. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to move the group forward.”

• On Wiggins: “He impressed me the way he scored against us when I was still coaching. He made it look easy. I think the challenge — not only him but for his teammates — is there’s going to have to be dramatic improvement defensively. You have to make a commitment in that area. The players are too good in this league to guard individually. You need to have five-man defense in all aspects. If one guy’s not doing his job, the group is going to look bad.”

• On Rubio: “All players have their strengths and weaknesses and Ricky has established himself as a very good player. So we’re excited about that. The point guard position is such an important position in the way the team functions. You need to have a good understanding where guys like to get the ball, who has a good matchup, what’s going on in the game and keep the team organized and I think Ricky’s really strong in those areas.”

• On LaVine: “I thought he improved a lot. I’m excited at what he can do. He improved his shooting, his defense and his rebounding as well.”

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No. 2:  Wizards ready to spend big? — There’s the very sound and sensible scenario where the Washington Wizards open the vault for Kevin Durant when he hits free agency this summer, but maybe it doesn’t stop there regardless if the Wizards get lucky or not. By bringing in Scott Brooks as coach, there’s the feeling Washington is ready to make big changes on a team that underachieved this year — or maybe was too tapped out to improve. With the rising salary cap and an anxious fan base, the Wizards could chase other free agents or make some splashy trades that bring in players with hefty salaries. Here’s the take of Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post:

Since Ted Leonsis became majority owner of the Washington Wizards in 2010, the franchise has been known for playing it safe.

That is what made the team’s single-minded pursuit of Scott Brooks over the past week, culminating with Brooks agreeing to a five-year, $35 million contract to become the team’s head coach, so fascinating. For a franchise long reticent for spending big and seldom going for the splashy hire, the Wizards did both in one fell swoop.

There are two ways to view the decision of Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld, the team’s president of basketball operations, to pursue Brooks. One is that they would have been better served to cast a wide net to try and replace Randy Wittman, fired last week at the conclusion of a disappointing season in which the Wizards went 41-41 and missed the playoffs after two straight second-round appearances.

The other is that the Wizards identified their preferred candidate, then did whatever it took to get him to join their organization. That kind of action has been uncommon for this team in the past, and could be a sign of things to come this offseason.

Washington had competition for its new hire. The Houston Rockets were interested in talking to Brooks, who was part of Houston’s championship-winning team in 1994 and who had coached star James Harden in Oklahoma City, and it was always possible the Lakers could decide to make a run at Brooks should they part with their current coach, Byron Scott.

But instead of letting the market settle – and giving the Rockets or other potential suitors a chance to woo Brooks – the Wizards pushed the issue. They never met with any other candidate, and they offered Brooks a contract that makes him one of the six highest-paid coaches in the league.

It was a deal that proved to be too good for Brooks to pass up.

The question now is what does the pursuit of Brooks – both getting him, and how they did so – mean for the Wizards moving forward. This summer has been the focus for the franchise and its fans for some time now, given that superstar Kevin Durant will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

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No. 3: Carlisle thinks OKC acting too tough — Apparently the Oklahoma City Thunder are not only too talent in comparison to his Mavericks, says coach Rick Carlisle, but they’re too rugged. Illegally, so. Carlisle watched tape of Game 3 and felt OKC played dangerously close to the line, and maybe even crossed the line on a few occasions. He took exception to Kevin Durant‘s stray elbow and a few other things; feel free whether his complaints are legit or simply the rant of a frustrated coach. Anyway, Tim McMahon of ESPN filed this report on Thunder-Mavericks:

“There were four, what I would categorize as non-basketball physical escalations that were initiated by them, including one intentional, unprovoked elbow at the free throw line, which I didn’t understand,” Carlisle said Friday. “And I’ve never seen a guy like Kevin Durant ever do that to a player. Then ultimately, that led to two more escalations between the teams, the fact that that was missed. I’m concerned about that. There’s no place for that in our game.”

Late Friday afternoon, the NBA announced that Durant has been assessed a technical foul for a “physical taunt” as a result of his elbow to Mejri’s chest.

Felton, meanwhile, was angered after being elbowed in the face by Adams when they were boxing out under the basket. Adams, a 7-footer, laughed when confronted by the 6-foot-1 Felton.

“I’m not going to let you just elbow me in my face and I let it go,” Felton told ESPN after the game Thursday. “Whatever. I’ll take a technical or whatever, fine or whatever it is. I’m not going to back down for nothing. I’m definitely not going to let anybody hit me in my face freely for no reason. I’m just down there trying to battle a big 7-footer for a rebound and he elbows me to my face.

“Like, you’re that much bigger than me, what you need to elbow a little guy like me to get a rebound? I didn’t like it, so I let him know that. But whatever, it’s over with now. I ain’t trippin’ no more. You can smile and laugh all you want to. You ain’t just gonna hit me in my face and think everything’s sweet. But like I said, I’m gonna let bygones be bygones.”

Carlisle wanted to make sure the issues were raised again Friday, repeatedly referring to the Thunder as the initiators. Oklahoma City holds a 2-1 edge in the series entering Game 4 in Dallas on Saturday night.

“We’re not looking to do it unless it’s within the rules,” Carlisle said. “But there were some things that I know are going to be looked at today, that going into Game 4, we’re going to be ready for.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George isn’t ready to shut out his teammates and go one-on-one when it counts; with the Pacers against the ropes vs. the Raptors, he feels he needs them … also wants a 3-year deal … Seth Curry opted out of his deal with Sacramento and if you’re in the market for a Curry (no, not that one), he could be yours … Kevin Garnett knew Prince a little … Could the Knicks target Darren Collison in their point guard chase? … An Oregon politician thinks Chris Paul and the Clippers whine too much.

Morning shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ | Lakers’ youngsters will finally get to play through mistakes | Gentry comes to defense of beat up Davis | Mavericks say they owe it to Dirk to make playoffs

No. 1: Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ — The speculation won’t stop anytime soon. That’s just the way it is when a superstar like Kevin Durant is approaching free agency. So reading between the lines is the only thing Oklahoma City Thunder fans can do until July. They can take solace, though, in the fact that Durant continues to show love to the city he calls “home” right now. Royce Young of ESPN delivers the latest bread crumbs for those trying to figure out Durant’s thinking on Oklahoma City and what it means to him:

When the Oklahoma City Thunder visited New York a couple months ago, Kevin Durant was asked specifically what he thought about the city. When Durant was in Boston last week, again, he was asked about the city. The premise is easy to understand: Big market, big team, big future free agent. You can piece that puzzle together.

But on Sunday, standing on a red carpet next to his mom outside the front doors of his restaurant in Bricktown, just a few blocks from the arena he currently plays in, Durant stopped to answer a few questions.

One of which being: You get asked about all these other cities, but what about this one?

“It’s home,” he said. “It’s home.”

Like any other answer he’s given over the last few months, that’s no more a breadcrumb leading to answering what he’s going to do come July 1, but it is a reaffirmation of Durant’s affection for the place he’s called home the last seven years.

“I’ve always felt that this place meant so much to me,” he said. “It has a special place in my heart and my family’s heart as well. And we want to do our justice by giving back and giving to the less fortunate. That’s how I was raised, that’s how my mom taught me, how my grandmother taught me, is to give back. I’ve been blessed with so much I want to be a blessing on someone else.”

As is the case whenever the Thunder do anything, virtually the entire organization was present for the event, including Russell WestbrookSerge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Steven Adams.

“Since I’ve been doing this job we’ve walked into the same building every single day,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said of Durant, who he drafted at the age of 18. “I can honestly tell you there’s never a day that goes by that I take for granted that I work in an organization that has Kevin Durant representing it. His evolution as a person has been as steady, consistent and impressive as his evolution as a player. And that’s quite the statement.”

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Morning shootaround — March 20


VIDEO: The Fast Break – March 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wizards owner says team can make playoffs | Ricky Rubio still showing growth | Sixers’ growth slower than that of their rival | Is Curry changing the game?

No. 1: Wizards owner says team can make playoffs — You can say the Wizards have been one of the more disappointing teams in the league and currently find themselves in the outside looking in regarding the playoffs. But Washington owner Ted Leonsis prefers to see the glass as being half full and believes the team can still make the playoffs, which mathematically is definitely possible. You wonder if “making the playoffs” sounds more like an ultimatum from the owner and whether heads will roll if Washington, which scored an upset over the Raptors last spring, fails to make the cut. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post reports:

The Wizards have strangled and then revived their playoff chances more times than I can count. Most recently, they imploded in Chicago, then won four straight games. Then they lost five straight — including three on a brutal West Coast swing — before rebounding with three straight wins, two against playoff contenders. Don’t worry about these details: just know that when they reach the absolute precipice of disaster, they recover just enough to keep us interested until the next disappointment.

Washington’s schedule still looks forgiving; seven of its final 14 games are against truly awful teams. But only an extreme optimist could continue to have total faith in this team after the past few months.

Ted Leonsis is an extreme optimist.

During a radio appearance this week, Leonsis was asked serious questions about the Wizards future: about how this team could both miss the playoffs and lose its first-round pick, about his commitment to patience, and about how he would decide whether General Manager Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman deserve to be back.

“We’re going to make the playoffs,” Leonsis told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan. “We have to believe that. We have to be focused on that. That’s all we’re looking at.”

Leonsis said this on Wednesday afternoon. That was before the Wizards beat the Bulls and Sixers to pull within a 1.5 games of the eighth seed. It wasn’t necessarily pretty; Washington tried like crazy to lose to Philadelphia on Thursday night. And the Wizards would still need to pass two teams to make the postseason. But Leonsis, like most of us, at least sees a path.

“This has been an outlier year, mostly because of how many injuries we’ve suffered,” Leonsis said. “We had a very poor road trip — Bradley Beal didn’t play at all — and then Bradley Beal plays 24 minutes [against Detroit] and the team just looks different. John Wall looks like a different player when he doesn’t have to be the first offensive scoring option, he can set other players up.

“And so we’ll take a look at how we end the season in the offseason,” the owner said. “But right now, we’re just focused on do we have our full contingent of players, can we play the kind of system that we want, can we amp up the energy defensively. And it seems trite, you hear this all the time, but we truly are in the mode of you’ve got to play one game at a time, and be totally focused and conscious of just that one impediment that’s in front of you tonight.”

 

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Report: Wolves, Miller finalizing buyout

NBA.com staff reports

Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince were the Minnesota Timberwolves’ only two additions to the roster in the offseason. The thinking then was both players — along with Kevin Garnett — could help teach a young crew in Minnesota headlined by Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Georgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns the NBA ropes.

While Prince has had a bigger role on the Wolves’ lineup than Miller has — at least in terms of raw stats — both have served the team’s youngsters well. With the March 1 playoff eligibility waiver deadline is less than a week away, Miller — who has appeared in 1,291 regular season games but just 63 playoff games — is reportedly seeking a buyout in hopes of latching on with a playoff team.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports’ The Vertical was the first to report the news.

Anthony Davis shines with transcendent performance


VIDEO: Anthony Davis dropped a NBA season-high 59 points on the Detroit Pistons

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Anthony Davis served up a reminder Sunday of why so many NBA pundits and observers pegged this season as his opportunity to take his game to the next level.

His 59-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over the Detroit Pistons was jaw-dropping in both effort and result. Davis became just the fourth player in NBA history to pile up that many points while also grabbing 20 rebounds (Shaquille O’Neal did it once, Elgin Baylor twice and the great Wilt Chamberlain did it 33 times, including 17 times during the 1961-62 season).

It was a transcendent effort from one of the truly unique talents the league has seen. Davis, just 22, and having barely scratched the surface of what he can do in this league, showed off all facets of his current offensive arsenal. He finished with authority around the rim, was precise off the dribble and with his mid-range game and even stepped out beyond the 3-point line a couple of times for good measure.

It was a virtuoso performance that left Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy shaking his head and accepting blame for his team not being able to contain Davis, who admitted to surprising himself with his performance.

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical the same:

Ever seen something like it? “I haven’t,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry told The Vertical in a text message. “Not by a big with that skill level.”

This season had been targeted as Davis’ MVP breakthrough, his time. Now, he’s nowhere near the conversation. Sit down with him, and the sense comes quickly: That’s the least of his concern. Winning matters to him, and that’s how Davis wants to be judged. Chris Paul pushed his way out of New Orleans, but Davis is starting a new five-year deal, and he’ll have to find a way to become part of the solution there.

Throughout All-Star weekend, Davis probed the biggest winners in the NBA. Throughout this lost Pelicans season, Kendrick Perkins has been guide to his personal inventory of franchise star stories – from Kevin Garnettand LeBron James to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“Perk tells me stories from 10 years ago, and says: As the franchise player and leader of this team, you have to do this, you have to do that,” Davis told The Vertical.

Davis listens, but here’s the truth of the matter: The franchise star job demands that you learn through experience. Otherwise, everything will devour you. Davis is so gifted, so dedicated. And he takes everything – the losing, the unrealistic insistences that he ought to be to able to win all alone – in the most personal way possible.

“It’s tough,” Davis told The Vertical recently. “You start hearing all the white noise. ‘They lost three in a row, and it’s Anthony Davis’ fault.’ The blame gets put on you. Of course, there are other factors that go along with it – like the praise when you are winning. But to handle that when you’re so young, and haven’t really accomplished anything, it’s tough – especially when people put you on a pedestal. ‘He should be doing this, he should be doing that.’ It’s frustrating.

“It’ll make you overthink your game. You start thinking too much. You start listening and trying to figure out, ‘Well, I’m going to try to do this,’ and it takes you away from your game. Now, you’re losing more because you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.”

Davis said Gentry challenged the Pelicans to be the best team in the league after the All-Star break, a task that will be difficult given the way the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs have been grinding all season.

The more realistic task, even with Stephen Curry playing the way he has all season, is for Davis to be the best player in the league the rest of this season.

That’s what many thought he’d do last summer, after his breakthrough effort in pushing the Pelicans into the playoffs. Injuries and the adjustments from an old system to Gentry’s didn’t allow that to happen early on this season. But Sunday’s effort could be the start of something spectacular for Davis the rest of the way …

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VIDEO: Anthony Davis joins the Game Time crew after his 59-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over Detroit

Morning shootaround — Jan. 24


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs lose in Lue debut | Stan Van Gundy rips Blatt firing | Kerr, Myers find support in pain | Scola the Explorer

No. 1: Cavs lose in Lue debut Just hours after replacing David Blatt as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyronn Lue made his head coaching debut at home in a nationally televised game against the Chicago Bulls. And while Lue talked about wanting to make the experience more fun for his players, as Chris Haynes writes for Cleveland.com, that turned out to be easier to talk about than actually make happen, as the Bulls won 96-83…

The Cavaliers showed energy, but lacked any efficiency — showing no shooting touch on the floor or at the foul line. They missed beyond the arc — making just four of 24 attempts — and at the foul line, where they were 9-of-22. By game’s end, they left the floor to boos from the home crowd.

During Lue’s pregame presser, he said one of the problems was that his team needed to start having more fun post David Blatt.

“I don’t think they’re enjoying it,” Lue said. “That was a part of our speech today. The game will pass you by. No matter how great LeBron is, Kyrie, Kevin, the game will pass you by. … I want them to just enjoy the moment now.”

To help cater to a new pleasurable basketball experience, before the game the Cavaliers did something they haven’t done since mid-November: they participated in the starting lineup introductions. Before, the players would just stand in a huddle as the public address announcer announced each starter.

That was the full degree of Cleveland’s (30-12) fun.

Initially into the contest, it looked as if the Cavaliers were energized and full of life by jumping out to a 7-2 lead. But that vigor slowly evaporated and old habits of isolation ball crept back in. They went scoreless in the final 6:26 of the opening quarter, missing their last 16 shots.

Ball movement could have been better, but for the most part Cleveland just couldn’t hit a shot. It was brutal to watch as they shot a horrific 37 percent from the field for the night.

When the buzzer sounded for halftime and the Cavaliers were down five, a frustrated LeBron James slammed the ball to the floor as he headed to the locker room. He had missed all three of his first half free throws. By game’s end, the Cavaliers were 9-of-22 from the charity stripe — and that required an 8-for-11 stretch to finish the game. Chicago capitalized on those missed opportunities, expanding its lead to 17 with 42 seconds remaining in the third.

An exasperated sellout crowd booed the home team, which trimmed the deficit to nine on a James layup plus free throw with 2:55 left in the game. A pair of free throws by Smith chipped it to eight seconds later.

But the Bulls found Taj Gibson for a difficult layup with a foul on James, pretty much ending any suspense. There was no overcoming that margin on this cold shooting night.

James was an assist shy of claiming his his first triple-double of the season. He finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds, but was 11-for-27 shooting. Smith put in 18 points on 17 shots. Love was the only player to make half his shots, finishing with 14 points and five boards and Kyrie Irving registered 11 points on 16 shot attempts.

Lue informed the media at morning shootaround that he would go with a 10-man rotation in order to develop an identity with the second unit. Veteran James Jones, who was out of the rotation under Blatt, was the first to sub in. Mo Williams, who hadn’t played in 10 of his last 13 games, soon after entered. The surprising aspect is that Lue used 10 players in the first quarter, showing how serious he is about improving his bench.

The results didn’t prove beneficial. Chicago’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 22-8.

With the franchise invested in Lue for the long haul, his objective is still to win games, but he also wants to restore his team’s passion.

“I’m not really worried about, right now this early, about the games, I really just worried about the spirit is more important than anything,” he said. “Getting our spirit right, getting our spirit together and I think everything else will take care of itself because we got a lot of great players.”

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Nets remove King, Hollins, have long way to go


VIDEO: What’s next for Nets in wake of recent moves?

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — When Mikhail Prokhorov purchased the Brooklyn Nets in 2010, he promised fans that the team would win an NBA title within five years. Six years later, the Nets have collected no titles, and are currently floundering at 10-27.

And as of about an hour ago, the Brooklyn Nets no longer have a coach or general manager, either.

The Nets announced today that the team had “parted ways” with head coach Lionel Hollins and “reassigned” general manager Billy King. The interim head coach will be Tony Brown, who played a season for the Nets in ’86-87, and has been an NBA assistant coach for almost two decades. Brown becomes the Nets’ fifth coach in the last five seasons.

The Nets have been good over the last five seasons, making three consecutive playoff appearances, but they just weren’t good enough. During King’s tenure, the Nets never made it as far as the Eastern Conference finals, much less the NBA Finals. And that clearly wasn’t good enough for an owner with big-time aspirations.

“After careful consideration, I’ve concluded that it’s time for a fresh start and a new vision for the direction of the team,” Prokhorov said in a statement. “By making this decision now, it enables our organization to use the rest of the season to diligently evaluate candidates with proven track records. It’s clear from our current state of affairs that we need new leadership. With the right basketball management and coach in place, we are going to create a winning culture and identity and give Brooklyn a team that it can be proud of and enjoy watching.”

King was Prokhorov’s first significant hire, and he aggressively attempted to fashion the Nets into a team capable of winning immediately and meeting Prokhorov’s championship edict. He traded valuable combinations of draft picks and players to bring in Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. After Avery Johnson presided over the team’s move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, King surprisingly hired Jason Kidd, who had no head coaching experience, but led the team to the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals. When Kidd departed following one season, King went pragmatic and brought in Lionel Hollins.

In his only other head coaching job, with the Memphis Grizzlies, Hollins established a reputation for connecting with veteran players. In nearly one and a half seasons with the Nets, Hollins compiled a 48-71 record. The veteran-heavy Nets roster seemed to be a logical landing spot for Hollins, and he guided last year’s team to a 38-44 regular season record and playoff berth, where the Nets pushed the Atlanta Hawks to six games before a first round exit. This season, without veterans such as Garnett and Deron Williams, the Nets attempted to get younger and more athletic, although a recent season-ending injury to Jarrett Jack seemed to curb whatever enthusiasm remained in the borough.

One thing about the Nets is certain: Whoever replaces King has their work cut out for them. Thanks to the Garnett/Pierce trade, the Nets don’t control their own first round pick until 2019, which would seem to make rebuilding through the draft nearly impossible. The Nets also don’t have much of trade value on their current roster, other than perhaps Brook Lopez or the injured rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, making it difficult to acquire other first round picks.

With the luxury tax figure rising the next two seasons, the Nets will have cap space to sign free agents, although almost every team in the NBA will also be able to exploit the cap space bonanza. The Nets have trumpeted their new practice facility, opening along the Brooklyn waterfront in February, as a positive for a franchise in need of good energy.

The Nets may have started from the bottom, and now they’re here. And while ownership tries to figure out a new route to relevance, only one thing is certain: For all of their sound and fury, the Nets still have a long way to go.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A kinder, gentler Bryant? | Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn | Stevens rejoins Celtics | NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio

No. 1: A kinder, gentler Bryant? For the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour has become the focus of their season. Which may be a good thing, since the Lakers otherwise haven’t been very good, compiling an 8-30 record thus far. Yet despite all the losses, Kobe seems to be enjoying himself as he plays out the string, and the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan writes, has Kobe’s legendary burning desire to win faded a bit in this his final NBA season?

It was bad to be a trash can if Kobe Bryant was mad.

This was years ago, back when there were championship expectations, but Bryant booted one clear across the Lakers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden after a rough loss.

It was also sometimes bad to be toilet paper, apparently. Bryant angrily called his teammates “soft like Charmin” during a rant at practice in which he didn’t feel challenged. This was a little over a year ago.

The smoldering Bryant is now replaced by a smiling one, even as the Lakers (8-30) pinwheel toward the worst season in their 68-year history.

They played well Friday but lost a tight one to Oklahoma City. The new, lighthearted Bryant showed up again in the interview room, just like the previous night after a close loss in Sacramento.

The losses don’t seem as devastating to him.

“I just hide it a lot better,” he said Friday.

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No. 2: Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn Last summer, Brooklyn center Brook Lopez was one of the most talented big men available in free agency. He eventually re-upped with the Nets, and though the team has struggled this season, Lopez has been a bright spot, averaging 19.8 points to go with 7.8 rebounds. The Nets may face an uncertain future, but as Andy Vasquez writes for the Bergen Record, Lopez says he has no regrets about re-signing with the Nets…

The Nets are in the midst of another disappointing season, certainly far from what Lopez envisioned when he re-signed. But the 27-year-old doesn’t regret his decision.

“No, no, no. I’m happy to be here,” Lopez said Thursday at the team’s practice facility.

“Time and time again I’ve said I wanted to see something built here, I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in.”

The current situation isn’t exactly a bright one. Brooklyn just lost starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who showed promise, is at least another month from returning from a broken ankle that has sidelined him since early December.

While the Nets aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NBA playoffs — it’s not even halfway through the season — they may as well be.

Brooklyn is closer (seven games ahead) in the standings to the awful Sixers than to the final playoff spot in the East (nine games behind).

The Nets don’t have control of their first round draft pick until 2019 thanks to the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

So the franchise’s best chance is to hope free agents agree with Lopez about there being a special opportunity in Brooklyn.

Despite all the doom and gloom, the Nets do have some things going for them.

They should have about $40 million in cap space next summer, enough to offer two max salaries to free agents.

Barclays Center is still the league’s newest arena and the team’s state-of-the art Brooklyn practice facility opens next month. And then there’s the lure of the nation’s largest media market.

“The opportunity to play in New York, first and foremost,” Lopez said, when asked how he’d pitch the Nets. “The facilities we have. I think, for me, it’s all about potential.”

That potential starts with Lopez and Thaddeus Young, 27, two nice players with several prime years remaining in their careers. Both are having seasons worthy of All-Star consideration.

Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson was better than expected when he played. And the Nets have an intriguing young prospect in Chris McCullough, who has spent the season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered at Syracuse a year ago.

Add the right pieces and the Nets could be a good team next season. And Lopez said that matters more than anything.

“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” Lopez said.

“Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”

***

No. 3: Stevens rejoins Celtics Before joining the Boston Celtics, coach Brad Stevens led Butler University to several memorable NCAA Tournament appearances. And with his former Butler player Andrew Smith in the hospital battling cancer, Stevens recently missed a Celtics game in order to spend time with Smith. Stevens rejoined the Celtics on Saturday and, as the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn writes, says the last few days helped put things into perspective…

Celtics coach Brad Stevens returned to the team Saturday, conducting a rather important practice at the University of Memphis in his quest to end the team’s recent doldrums.

He returned from his trip to Indiana with a heavy heart. He acknowledged visiting former player Andrew Smith, who has been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but wouldn’t offer specifics on his condition, only to say he felt compelled to visit him immediately.

Stevens left the club in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, missing the team’s 101-92 loss to the Bulls.

“It’s very tough, not as tough on me as it is certain on [Smith and his family], but certainly emotionally, very challenging,” Stevens said following practice at the Larry Finch Center. “It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective. The conditions [of Smith] were worsening. I’ll let [his family] talk about his condition. I’m glad that I went.”

Stevens returns to a team that has lost four of five games and fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have been abysmal shooting from the field in their past two losses — 36.5 percent from the field, 25.5 percent from the 3-point line — and are playing with wavering confidence.

“We could have controlled things to give ourselves a little bit better chance,” Stevens said of the Chicago loss. “I told [the players] this today. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas. But we usually play hard.

“Sometimes we play a little haphazard but we usually play hard, so we need to bottle that up and play a little more controlled at times.”

Isaiah Thomas, who has made just 11 of 37 shots in the last two games, took full responsibility for the Bulls loss, saying his poor body language and frustrations spilled over to his teammates. Stevens didn’t fully agree.

“I think it says a lot about him from an accountability standpoint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “And at the same time, that’s an overreaction too, because we don’t feel that way. He’s going to have his moments. Other guys are going to have their moments. Other guys are going to have bad moments. We just all have to be in this thing together. We need to improve.”

***

No. 4: NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio — The NBA has become a global league, followed worldwide and played by athletes from all corners of the earth. Australia, in particular, has become a hotbed of hoops, with its own popular domestic league and several NBA players who originated Down Under. As Roy Ward writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australians in the NBA are looking forward to trying to find Olympic glory this summer in Rio…

The 82-game NBA season engulfs the lives of all players and Australia’s basketballers are not immune from this.

But on planes, buses or in down time, the country’s leading players admit their thoughts turn to the Rio Olympics and the glass ceiling that sits in front of a first men’s Olympic medal.

Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Cameron Bairstow, Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles are all in thick of the action this season while Dante Exum continues to rehabilitate his reconstructed knee.

In Europe, in US college basketball and in the NBL sit the rest of the Boomers aspirants with the final 12-man squad not due to be announced until later in the year.

Since the team qualified for Rio in August last year, they have made public their goal to win the gold medal in Brazil despite Team USA’s long-running dominance in the men’s competition.

What adds credence to the Boomers’ brave stance is Bogut, Mills, Dellavedova and Bairstow are playing on NBA championship contenders while Bogut, Mills and Baynes have won NBA championship rings since 2014.

“There is a lot going on here but while it’s not the every day to day focus it’s always in your mind that it’s coming up and that all the boys are playing well, not just in the NBA but in Europe and the NBL,” Dellavedova said.

“We are all very excited and keep in regular touch through group message, we are going to catch up at All-Star break.

“We are all very excited, focused and committed to trying to do something really special at Rio and we realise the time is now for that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks got a career night from Al Horford last night in a convincing win over the Bulls … Some changes may be in store for the D-League Showcase … Chicago is hoping to get Joakim Noah back from injury this weekRobin Lopez is starting to focus on his offensive post playIsaiah Canaan pays attention to advanced stats … Powerball fever may have been sweeping the nation the last few days, but don’t expect Dirk Nowitzki to get excited about it …

With Jack gone, Nets facing winter of discontent


VIDEO: Jack leaves game with knee injury

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — What little hope the Brooklyn Nets had for making a return to the playoffs this season may have just left the borough.

Earlier Sunday the Nets announced point guard Jarrett Jack will miss the remainder of the season following surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a meniscus tear in his right knee. Jack suffered the injury during Saturday night’s 100-97 win at Boston. That win put the Nets at 10-23 on the season, the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Jarrett Jack was never a classic pass-first point guard, but on these Brooklyn Nets he wasn’t asked to play that role. Through 32 games, Jack was averaging 12.8 points and 7.4 assists. He was Brooklyn’s most reliable player on the perimeter, and its best option to create some sort of opportunity when the offense was breaking down. Jack’s absence will likely be felt as strongly off the court as it will be on the floor — Jack was particularly well-liked in the Brooklyn locker room, both by his teammates and media.

Brooklyn’s path forward without Jack is murky. In the immediate future, the Nets will likely insert third-year point guard Shane Larkin, who has thus far averaged 6.6 point and 3.8 assists in 29 games, into the starting lineup. Veteran guard Donald Sloan, who made the Nets out of training camp and has seen action in 13 games, could also see an increase in playing time. Joe Johnson can ostensibly handle the ball and run an offense, but after logging over 40,000 minutes over 16 seasons, the miles seem to have caught up to him this season, as he is shooting a career-worst 36 percent from the floor.

To replace Jack’s production, the Nets will likely rely more on Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, who have proven to be a capable duo on the interior when healthy, combining to average 35.6 points and 17.9 rebounds. Forward Bojan Bogdanovic has scored in double figures in 10 of his last 13 games. Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was probably Brooklyn’s best perimeter defender before an ankle injury in December, and his return could come around the All-Star break.

Long-term, the Nets’ future has just as many questions, with answers that are even tougher to find. That the Nets were able to defeat the Celtics on Saturday night was no small irony, as the Nets leveraged their immediate future several seasons ago thanks to the Celtics, by trading numerous draft picks for what turned out to be less than two seasons of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. As a result, the Celtics own Brooklyn’s first round picks in 2016 and 2018, as well as the ability to swap first round picks with the Nets in 2017.

Brooklyn’s best chance to improve in the short-term likely resides in free agency. After taking on salary for years, the Nets have recently worked to get under the luxury tax, and don’t have much financial flexibility to immediately go out and sign a replacement for Jack. They could apply for a Disabled Player Exception to generate some economic wiggle room, but would still need to create a roster slot. With Johnson’s contract expiring this summer and the Nets holding a team option on the contracts of Jack and Markel Brown, and with the salary cap expected near $90 million thanks to the NBA’s new television contract, the Nets could enter next summer with $30 million to spend.

But the summer is still months away. This season, the Nets were already one of the NBA’s worst teams. Now they just lost their leader, and still have 50 games left to play.

It may be a long, cold winter in Brooklyn.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 22


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Thunder are rolling | As the Bulls turn | Garnett makes final(?) visit to Boston | Blazers’ backcourt in good hands

No. 1: The Thunder are rolling For a team with championship aspirations, it was exactly the kind of game they needed to win: A close game, on the road, against another contender. And for the Oklahoma City Thunder, just as important was how they beat the Los Angeles Clippers, with their superstar duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking over down the stretch, hitting key shots and getting a huge defensive stop. It was the Thunder’s eighth win in nine games, and don’t look now, but the Thunder have climbed among the Western Conference’s elite. As Anthony Slater writes in The Oklahoman, they’ll take it…

With 5.8 seconds left on Monday night in the Staples Center, Kevin Durant’s all-world offense put the Thunder in front.

Then just before the buzzer, his underrated defense sealed OKC’s biggest road win of the young season — 100-99 over the Clippers in Los Angeles.

As an emotional but surprisingly sloppy game navigated toward the finish, the pendulum of momentum swung wildly in the final minutes. Both sides nailed big shots, but committed equally huge turnovers.

With 10 seconds left, after a Chris Paul steal and layup, the Clippers had a one-point lead. OKC called timeout and then Billy Donovan called Durant’s number.

Off the ensuing inbound, Durant raced toward the right wing, created enough space against solid defense from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and then rose for a 19-footer with the game in the balance.

“It was the most care-free I felt the whole game,” Durant said. “Try not to think about it. If I miss it, store it in the memory bank and be better next time. If I make it, move on.”

On this night, Durant’s made it. But it may not have been his biggest play of the game.

Now leading 100-99, the Thunder still needed a stop. And it had trouble creating them against Chris Paul on Monday night.

Paul finished with 32 points and 10 assists, done on an efficient 11-of-19 shooting. But his biggest attempt was a miss.

Paul, like Durant, drove right as the final seconds ticked down and found one of his most comfortable spots. From about 12 feet out, Paul hit Serge Ibaka with a little stepback and seemed to create enough space to get off a short fadeaway.

But Durant left his man, Wesley Johnson, in the corner and surprised Paul, reaching over just in time to slightly block the fadeaway, causing it to fall far short of the hoop.

“He had no other choice but to shoot it,” Durant said. “I knew he was gonna shoot it, so I wasn’t gonna sit there and let him. It was a second on the clock. He had no other options. And he’s 6-feet and I’m 6-11.”

As the ball bounced away and time expired, Durant let out a yell and huge fist-pump, untucking his jersey and staring down the courtside row that featured Drake and Floyd Mayweather.

“I feel like my defense has grown,” Durant said. “Coaches challenged me at the start of the year just to step it up to another level on the defensive end. I’ve just been trying to play as hard as I can.”

***

No. 2: As the Bulls turn The Chicago Bulls had a high profile coaching change during the offseason, swapping out Tom Thibodeau for Fred Hoiberg, while mostly keeping their core players intact. Yet there has been more than enough drama early on this season, with the most recent bump in the road coming from Jimmy Butler, who said Hoiberg needed to “coach harder.” Getting a win can fix a lot of things, but last night the Bulls couldn’t even get that against the struggling Nets, losing 105-102, and possibly losing big man Joakim Noah for an extended time. As Nick Friedell writes for ESPN.com, right now the Bulls have a few things that need fixing…

“We had no togetherness at all,” Hoiberg said. “We had no toughness.”

When the eulogy of the 2015-16 Bulls is written at the end of the season, that may well be the opening line.

All the flaws the Bulls were supposed to fix in the wake of Jimmy Butler calling out his new head coach after Saturday’s loss to the New York Knicks were as clear as they ever were on Monday. Players coasted through much of the game against a weaker opponent. Rotations and pairings didn’t have consistency and went through spells of inefficiency. The defense, which has been solid much of the season, was porous most of the night. For all the talk and good vibes emanating from the Advocate Center on Monday morning after Butler said he cleared the air with both his teammates and coach, the Bulls still looked like a team with no identity and no answer on how to find one.

“What was missing tonight, I feel, has been missing a lot of the games,” Bulls big man Pau Gasol said. “I think it’s just a sense of urgency. We cruise for most of the game and then when we have our backs against the wall we turn it up, we pick it up and we try to give ourselves a chance. But some of those times it’s just too late and then other teams are in rhythm, they’re confident, and you lose games like this one.”

Losing games is one thing; losing games fewer than 48 hours after your best player called out your first-year head coach is another. For the Bulls to perform this way against a Brooklyn team that came into this game with a 7-20 record and a five-game losing streak is embarrassing to a group of players that came into this season believing they could contend for a championship.

“We were outplayed in every aspect of the game,” Butler said.

When asked for an explanation as to why the intensity isn’t there consistently for this group, Butler didn’t have a good answer.

“There is no explanation, truthfully,” Butler said. “It’s supposed to be there all the time. We talk about it. Obviously it’s not. It is a concern. We have to fix it as a group.”

In order to fix these problems, that would mean the Bulls would have to come together as a group. With the way they have performed this season, and for much of last season, there’s no reason to believe that’s actually going to happen. The Bulls look like a group that doesn’t like playing with each other. The unity that was prevalent in years past is gone. Butler has been vocal about being the leader of this group, but in order to be the leader players have to want to follow what a person says. Up to this point in the season, the Bulls still don’t have a leader. They haven’t taken to Hoiberg’s system and they haven’t responded to Butler’s challenges.

“We all have to take responsibility,” Gasol said. “We all have to take it personally. This has to hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, then we have a problem that might not be correctable.”

That’s the problem for the Bulls. They say the right things but they don’t follow the words up with the right actions. When asked about Butler’s comments, Gasol, who wasn’t in New York City on Saturday after being given the night off to rest, actually seemed to agree with Butler’s sentiment. The veteran believed Butler should have kept his commentary “indoors” but didn’t condemn him the way he could have.

***

No. 3: Garnett makes final(?) visit to Boston Minnesota big man Kevin Garnett has been sitting out the second half of back-to-back games, a kind of self-preservation employed by many NBA veterans. But it meant that Garnett didn’t play last night in Boston, a homecoming game of sorts for the Big Ticket, who won a title in 2008 as a member of the Celtics. With the clock ticking on Garnett’s career, it was perhaps KG’s last visit to Boston, and even if he wasn’t going to get off the bench, as Steve Bulpett writes in the Boston Herald, fans in Boston couldn’t wait to shower KG with love…

Kevin Garnett was stoic for nearly 47 basketball minutes and the time in between.

The Garden crowd had gone from several “We want KG” chants to a “KG-KG-KG” shout to a “Thank you, KG” refrain, but the object of the affection, in uniform but not playing for the Timberwolves on the second day of a back-to-back, held his emotions in check.

Then Brad Stevens called a 20-second timeout with 1:02 left, ostensibly to get his starters out of the game — and maybe to help Jordan Mickey get his varsity letter.

Then the disco beat began to thump from the speakers above.

Then “Gino,” the Celtic video victory cigar, appeared on the video screen in all his American Bandstand glory, and Garnett could hold it in no longer.

He smiled. He pointed to the screen. He laughed. He turned and acknowledged the crowd that had been showering him with love all evening.

Yes, Kevin Garnett — the man so compulsively competitive that he swats away opponents’ shots taken after the whistle — was digging the scene with his team down by 15 points.

With the home team ahead by as many as 22 in the last quarter, the given was that Gino would make an appearance. The only question was whether KG would have the same reaction he used to when the video was a more frequent part of Celtic home games, a love affair that began for Garnett during the 2007-08 championship season.

But Gino was the irresistible force last night.

“That was classic,” said Garnett after the 113-99 final. “That was like cherry on top for me. My teammates were looking at me like, ‘What is this?’ I was like, ‘I’ll explain it later.’

“But thank you. Thank you for whoever put the Gino on. I know my guys here put it on for me, so I appreciate it. I appreciate that.”

Longtime Celtics fan Wilson Tom got Garnett a “Gino” T-shirt before the game, but KG chose to wear Wolves’ warmups instead of civilian clothing, which probably served to raise the fans’ hopes.

“On back-to-backs, very difficult for me, regardless of what I look like out here,” Garnett said as he stood by a wall in the hallway outside the visitors’ dressing room. “I think that’s a tribute to, you know, obviously a work ethic and things I put into this. Making 39 look like 25 these days. But it’s very hard. It’s hard to even come into this building and not want to, want to play.

“But the appreciation that not only the city, but the Mass. area and the northeast, they’ve given me, the love is unconditional. I’m very appreciative. I definitely heard all the chants.”

He appreciated, too, the spontaneous outpourings from the crowd, though the one about wanting him begat some mixed emotions.

“I really wanted them to stop that, because I didn’t know if Sam (Mitchell, the coach) was going to actually put me in,” KG said with a laugh. “I was like, please, please. But it was cool. Like I said, appreciation is . . . unconditional appreciation is overwhelming. So thank you guys for that. I appreciate that.”

(Little chance of Mitchell being sentimental. He seemed perturbed when asked about the fans’ shouts for KG. “It was nice,” he said after a pause.)

Garnett drank it all in, as he did when he first returned as a Brooklyn Net.

“I think I’ll always have that kind of reaction here,” he said. “Boston’s always been a special place in my heart, probably always will. That outcome tonight wasn’t the way I wanted it to be, (but) it was a great homecoming. It felt really good to be in the building.”

Asked what Boston meant to him, KG didn’t hesitate.

“Everything,” he said. “It meant everything. I like to say that Minnesota made me a young man. I grew up when I came to Boston. I learned a lot coming from the Minnesota situation and I applied it in my Boston situation. I got all but great memories here.”


VIDEO: Garnett receives standing ovation in Boston

***

No. 4: Blazers’ backcourt in good hands When LaMarcus Aldridge announced this summer that he was leaving for Portland for San Antonio, and Wesley Matthews also decamped for Dallas, it raised as many questions in PDX as it did answer them in their new cities. But the emergence of C.J. McCollum, alongside All-Star Damian Lillard, seems to have answered a lot of doubters. And as our Shaun Powell writes, the Blazers have a backcourt ready to carry them for the foreseeable future

The teammates that play together, hang out together and carry the Blazers together also managed to get injured together in the same game. And so, we’ve learned something else about the quickly-formed bond between guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum: They even limp alike.

This is bad, because the Blazers were missing their heart and soul Monday against the Hawks. But in a warped kind of way, this is good, because their two most important players once again have shown to be clearly in step even when those steps are painful.

“They’re so much alike,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “That’s why they’re great together. They compliment each other well because of the problems they cause for other people and their ability to create for each other.”

Lillard has plantar fasciitis in his left heel and missed a game, a first for him in four-plus seasons; his streak of 275 straight games played is third-longest among active players. Also on Sunday against the Mavericks, McCollum sprained both of his ankles; he also sat against Atlanta but could return sooner. Lillard and McCollum perhaps carry bigger backpacks than any tandem in basketball, definitely from a buckets standpoint. They generate 44 percent of Portland’s points and just over half of Portland’s assists. Any basketball that the Blazers use have more fingerprints from Lillard and McCollum than pebbles.

With the Blazers in the beginning stages of a rebuild, Lillard and McCollum are all that separate the Blazers from being the Sixers of the Western Conference. Or close to it. The hope in Portland is that once the Blazers are ready to win again, McCollum and Lillard will still be in their prime and not worn down from the experience.

At the moment, they’re dangerous together, two smallish guards with the right amount of quickness and shooting to cause headaches and matchup issues for teams, and their development has been both effortless and rapid. They are more peanut butter and jelly than oil and water, showing no signs of conflict or inability to share the wealth and load.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” said McCollum. “We knew this was inevitable. We knew it was going to happen eventually. We just didn’t know when.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah will have an MRI today on his injured shoulder … John Wall injured his ribs during a win against the Kings, but says he doesn’t expect to miss any gamesDeron Williams says maybe he just wasn’t built for New YorkDavid West on his decision to leave Indianapolis for San Antonio … The Rockets say reports of Dwight Howard‘s unhappiness brought them together … The Sixers say Joel Embiid is making stridesKristaps Porzingis would like to sell you a mattress


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