Posts Tagged ‘kris humphries’

In MVP chatter, touches speak loudly

VIDEO: James Harden explodes for a career-high 50 points on Thursday

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — You often hear broadcasters say that Player X needs to touch the ball on a critical possession down the stretch. And when they need a big bucket, most teams do just put the ball in their best player’s hands and tell him to go to work.

But that player will be on the floor for about 70 possessions per game and more than 5,000 possessions over the course of the season. In the past, we’ve measured how well a team performs when a player is on or off the floor. And now, SportVU’s player tracking cameras can tell us how important it is that a player actually touches the ball.

For example, here are the top six MVP candidates, with their team’s efficiency when they touch the ball (in the frontcourt), when they don’t touch the ball, and when they’re off the floor…

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For all six, their presence on the floor is pretty darn important to their team’s offense. But while the other guys also need to touch the ball, the Cavs’ offense is potent whether LeBron James touches it or not.

The Clippers have the No. 1 offense in the league (by a hair over the Warriors) and Chris Paul obviously deserves a ton of credit for it. The difference between L.A.’s efficiency on possessions he has touched the ball (116.0 points per 100 possessions) and on possessions he has not touched it or been off the floor (98.3) is the largest in the league among players who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 offensive possessions. It’s a crowded field, but Paul has a legit MVP case.

Davis, of course, can’t just bring the ball up the floor like the rest of these guys can. (Well, maybe he could, but he has yet to unleash that facet of his game.) He’s touched the ball on only 53 percent of the Pelicans’ possessions while he’s been on the floor. That ranks 118th among 218 players who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 offensive possessions and, obviously, last among the six guys we’re focusing on.

20150320_touchpct

In fact, there are 36 power forwards and centers, led by Blake Griffin at 68.0 percent, with a higher touch percentage than Davis. Kris Humphries (56.1 percent) has been more likely to touch the ball on a Wizards possession he’s been on the floor for than Davis has been to touch it on a Pelicans possession.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams acknowledged the challenge of getting the ball to Davis as much as he needs it before a game last week.

“That’s why it’s difficult at times,” Williams said, “for him to have the kind of night [43 points, six assists, 17-for-23 shooting] like he did [in Milwaukee on March 9], because he can’t get the ball in an out-of-bounds situation, bring it up and go to work.

“We have made more of a focus to get him the ball, but we also don’t want to exhaust it so much that nobody else gets a rhythm. And I think he likes it that way, because it keeps teams off-balance at times.”

Some more notes from SportVU’s touch-no-touch numbers …

  • John Wall leads the league in touch percentage at 89.4 percent. He touches the ball in the frontcourt on nine out of every 10 Wizards possessions he’s on the floor for. Not coincidentally, he leads the league in time of possession per game.
  • Stan Van Gundy likes to have the ball in the hands of his point guards. Brandon Jennings is right behind Wall at 88.9 percent and third on the list is D.J. Augustin (Detroit minutes only) at 87.9 percent. Reggie Jackson touched the ball on just 70 percent of Thunder possessions, but has touched it on 87 percent of Pistons possessions he’s been on the floor for.
  • Robin Lopez is last in touch percentage, having touched the ball on only 33.5 percent of the Blazers’ possessions he’s been on the floor for. He’s followed by Andre Drummond (33.9 percent), Anthony Morrow (35.7 percent), Bojan Bogdanovic (35.9 percent) and Andre Roberson (37.9 percent). Those poor Thunder wings.
  • With Danilo Gallinari on the floor, the Nuggets have scored 112.7 points per 100 possessions when Gallinari has touched the ball and only 91.3 when he hasn’t. That’s the largest discrepancy among players who have been on the floor for at least 2,000 possessions and it requires further examination. Gallo hasn’t shot the ball particularly well and his teammates haven’t shot it particularly well off his passes either.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 28


VIDEO: Recap Friday’s 14 games with the Daily Zap

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo: All is well in Dallas | What’s wrong with the Wizards? | Bulls win, despite losing Gibson | Shorten the schedule?

No. 1: Rondo: All is well in Dallas — After an on-court blowup earlier this week between Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and point guard Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks suspended Rondo for one game. Dallas lost that game without Rondo, against Atlanta, but in the meantime, Rondo says, he and Carlisle have been working to get back on the same page. And as ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon writes, Rondo is now hoping to focus on moving forward and keeping the Mavs in the playoff picture…

“I just got built-up frustration,” said Rondo, who has had a couple of long individual meetings with Carlisle since their blowup. “I take a lot of the blame for what I’ve been doing on the court, but just a little frustrated. The most important thing is communication with Coach. I’ve talked to a lot of the coaches, I’ve talked to a lot of staff members.

“Coach and I, when I first got here, we were talking a lot and watching film after every game. He’s backed off a little bit with the addition of Amar’e [Stoudemire], trying to help get him up to speed. Our communication was great at first. Not that it wasn’t so great, but it’s just that we weren’t communicating enough. That shouldn’t be the case the rest of the season.”

Rondo, a four-time All-Star who arrived in Dallas on Dec. 18 as the featured player in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics, has a reputation for being difficult to coach. He frequently butted heads with Doc Rivers in Boston, but the Celtics won a title and advanced to another NBA Finals during their time together.

“I’ve been in this situation before,” Rondo said, chuckling. “Everyone’s personality is different. The personality and the DNA is different.

“I don’t think this is a problem at all. We lost a game [Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks], which hurt us seeding-wise, but we have to continue to move forward. I spoke with pretty much everyone in the organization, and everyone is on the same page.”

Rondo declined to discuss how play-calling responsibilities would be handled going forward. Carlisle has handled the vast majority of play-calling, which bothered Rondo, a nine-year veteran known for his basketball intelligence.

Carlisle, who stressed the importance of Rondo to the Mavs after the suspension was announced Wednesday, said he is done discussing the incident with Rondo.

“I know that you guys need to ask him a couple of questions, but I’m done talking about it,” Carlisle said. “Our other players are done talking about it. It’s over. In terms of NBA time, it’s light-years ago.”

***

No. 2: What’s wrong with the Wizards? — The Washington Wizards entered this season expected to not only contend for the Southeast Division title, but the Eastern Conference crown as well. But even with injuries slowing their roll this season, the Wizards are in a tailspin right now, last night losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington’s sixth loss in a row, its longest losing streak in two seasons. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, the Wizards’ loss was “code red for a team that just one month ago harbored title aspirations”…

It came on the heels of a team dinner Thursday. All 14 players dined together at a Brazilian steakhouse, which was captured in an Instagram post by Marcin Gortat with the caption “Team dinner…Staying together!”

The off-court camaraderie didn’t remedy their on-court ailments. A night later, they were dreadful in a loss to a team they dismantled by 35 points last month. The loss was the Wizards’ 11th in 13 games and 13th in their past 17 and could leave them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference depending on the Milwaukee Bucks’ fate against the Los Angeles Lakers late Friday night.

“I wouldn’t say rock bottom. It’s a tough stretch,” all-star guard John Wall said. “We’re still above .500, but the main thing is we got to get back to playing the right way. Until we do that, we’re going to keep losing games. The way we’ve been playing, you can lose to anybody in this league.”

Washington entered the night averaging a league-low 15 free throw attempts and shooting 23.3 percent from beyond the three-point line over its past five games. Without Bradley Beal (fibula), Paul Pierce (knee) and Kris Humphries (groin) available, the trend continued.

When the Wizards (33-26) last played in Philadelphia on March 1 of last year, Trevor Ariza, now a member of the Houston Rockets, made eight three-pointers and scored 40 points. On Friday, Washington made just 4 of its 17 three-point attempts (23.5 percent) and scored 39 second-half points.

The Wizards shot a paltry 32.3 percent from the floor and attempted 12 fewer free throws than Philadelphia. The 76ers were held to 35 percent shooting but outscored Washington by 28 points from the three-point arc and free throw line.

“We had some good shots, but we’re not making shots,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “[We’re] not playing with confidence right now. We’re short-cutting everything. To get out of this rut that you’re in, you can’t do that offensively. We have to execute offensively, and we took short cuts, which turned into bad shots. Until we execute, it’s going to stay like this.”

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No. 3: Bulls win, despite losing Gibson — The Chicago Bulls continue seeing both sides of the coin. Earlier in the day, the Bulls announced that surgery on Derrick Rose had been successful, and they were putting a 4-6 week timetable on his return, which, even on the long end of that schedule, would have Rose back before the end of the regular season. Last night, without Rose, the Bulls beat the surging Timberwolves, 96-89. But taking the bad with the good, the Bulls lost big man Taj Gibson to a sprained ankle. With the Bulls struggling to stay healthy, Joakim Noah has been able to resume his old point-forward role and keep the Bulls above water, as ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell writes

“That part I think is innate,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Noah’s passing ability. “He had great vision and decision-making ability. He’s got a very unorthodox game in many ways. But he’s got great vision, and if a guy’s open just a little bit on a cut, he can get it there. So it’s a big plus when you have a big guy that can pass like that.”

For his part, Noah wasn’t biting on how much fun he was having in his old role. He discussed how the Bulls run a read-and-react offense and try to find the open man.

“I enjoy winning,” Noah said. “It was fun to win today. We just got to keep improving.”

Noah’s offensive game has taken a back seat to Pau Gasol‘s throughout the season. Now that Noah is back to feeling like himself as he continues to shake off the lingering effects of offseason knee surgery, it’s going to be interesting to see how his game responds once Gasol and Rose are back on the floor. In the meantime, Noah, like the rest of his teammates, is just hopeful Rose will be back sooner than later.

“It’s tough when your best player is out,” Noah said. “But I think today was positive news. Derrick’s a warrior. He’s going to fight as hard as he can to try his best to come back this year. We just got to keep building and keep getting better until he gets back.”

***

No. 4: Shorten the season? — At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston this weekend, at least some part of the conversation has been about the length of the NBA season. The NBA has played an 82-game schedule since 1967-68, but with the recent drumbeat to reduce wear-and-tear on players and reduce the amount of back-to-back games, is it worth considering shortening the season? As Brett Pollakoff writes for NBCSports.com, the recently retired Shane Battier suggests slicing 22 games off the schedule…

“To me, 82 is here because somebody is making a lot of money,” Mike D’Antoni said Friday, as part of a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “Usually that’s the bottom line. They’re making money, it hasn’t been a disaster, and it’s a little more like a marathon, and that’s just the rules. 82 isn’t going anywhere.”

As D’Antoni summed up succinctly, without a large amount of data available to essentially prove that an 82-game schedule significantly puts the league’s players at risk, the financial incentive not to touch that magic number of 82 will remain too strong. And Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren echoed those remarks.

“It’s not just the number of games, it’s in what time frame,” Zarren said. “So there may be some tweaks that happen soon in the NBA to that. It’s a much more realistic thing than cutting games, because it’s in everyone’s interest to grow the pie, and cutting the number of games cuts ticket sales, which shrinks the pie.”

Those are realistic perspectives, but they’re ones that come from a coach and a member of the front office.

On the player side, Shane Battier came up with a number of games that he believes would be ideal — not only to protect the athletes, but also to make the games that are played much more compelling.

“Personally, I think a 60-game season would be perfect,” Battier said. “Every game matters more. You can’t sleepwalk through a few weeks of the season — it does happen — and then all of a sudden wake up near the All-Star break and turn it on. Fans just want to see the best basketball players in the world at their highest level going head-to-head.

“Every team has a certain number of throwaway games. You just know. You just know you’re not winning tonight. You don’t have it. And then after the game, coach knows it, everybody knows it, coach comes in, says ‘Alright, bring it in guys. We’ll get ’em tomorrow. 1-2-3 team!'”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder lost the second half of a back-to-back, but not because of Russell Westbrook, who posted his third-straight triple-double … Don’t be surprised if the Knicks make a run at Reggie Jackson this summer … Is Baron Davis mounting a comeback this season? … Catching up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has reinvented himself in retirement as a culture vulture

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Celtics’ unclear outlook on roster | Nash opens up on career, more | Bulls ‘unlikely’ to make a trade soon | Report: Spurs eyeing Udrih? | Clips’ Crawford still improving

No. 1: Celtics have unclear outlook for trade deadline — The Boston Celtics have some role players (like Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace) and a superstar (Rajon Rondo) who might interest other teams come trade-deadline day on Feb. 20. But they also have a stockpile of future first-round picks and a general manager in Danny Ainge who is going to be shrewd about any deal he may (or may not) pull. All together, that means the situation for the Celtics’ roster as it approaches the hubbub of trade talks is anything but clear, writes Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:

But as much as the Celtics long to apply what went right during the last two weeks to their hopes when the season resumes next Wednesday in Phoenix, something here is blurry.

The trade deadline arrives on Feb. 20, a day after the Phoenix game and a day before the Celtics make their annual visit to the Lakers. Danny Ainge is more open to a deal than most general managers in the NBA right now, though his paramount goal is to stay under the luxury-tax threshold.

For that reason, don’t expect a major name to don green anytime soon, though a few names may indeed leave.

According to a rival general manager, Ainge’s perceived mission is to hold onto his nuclear stockpile of first-round draft picks — nine, possibly 10, in the next five years — and take back as little salary as possible.

“I don’t watch TV. It’s been like that my last eight years as a Celtic. There’s only two guys who have been in rumors,” Rajon Rondo said in apparent reference to Bass and Jeff Green. “It’s just part of the game. We have a pretty young team, but we don’t talk about the trades.”

Indeed, some players predictably backed away from the discussion as if it was radioactive.“Wrong person. I’m not the GM,” said Gerald Wallace. “Wrong person. That’s the pastor or the priest you want.”

Long considered easily moved thanks to his expiring contract and value to a playoff team, Humphries said, “I don’t know. You just enjoy the break and if you get that call, you get that call. Otherwise, it’s see you Wednesday in Phoenix.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens admittedly has never prepared a team under the cloud cover of a trade deadline. But per usual, Stevens is all about that next game.

“Well, I want them to get rest,” he said. “If they’re dinged up I want them to get healthy, I want them to feel good when Monday rolls around or Tuesday rolls around, but at the same time I want them to continue to think about what makes us good and what makes it when we’re not as good.”


VIDEO: David Aldridge discusses which teams may or may not be looking to make deals

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No. 2: Nash discusses nearing the end of his career — Two-time MVP Steve Nash has seen better days — especially since he became a Los Angeles Laker. Injuries have marred his stay in Hollywood and even when he has played, an inconsistent lineup this season (particularly the loss of Kobe Bryant to injury) combined with an overall rebuilding team has made the twilight of Nash’s NBA days hard. Grantland.com’s Bill Simmons has an interesting look at Nash, particularly as someone who is friends with the All-Star off the court, and has a great video in which Nash talks frankly about his career nearing its end:

Steve Nash wears no. 10 for the Lakers, but it’s really 9.3. Next season, that turns into 9.7. Those are the numbers Lakers fans see. They see a walking cap figure.

Those numbers are part of following hoops in 2014, no different from knowing someone’s stats, nicknames or shoe brands. You want to know what your team spends and how much it might be able to spend. Many times, that transforms players from human beings into salary pawns. I look at Gerald Wallace and think, $30.3 million through 2016. Knicks fans look at Amar’e Stoudemire and think, Off the cap summer after next. Phoenix fans see Emeka Okafor and think, $14.5 million, expiring, what can we get for him? Pistons fans look at Josh Smith and think, I have 54 million more reasons to handcuff Joe Dumars to a radiator in my basement.And Lakers fans look at Steve Nash and think, 9.3 this year, 9.7 next year.

Now, imagine you’re me. You’re sitting home on some random night watching hoops when the phone rings. It’s one of the five or six best point guards who ever lived, a two-time MVP, one of the most entertaining players of the past 40 years. He’s talking candidly, telling you about his myriad problems, vowing that he isn’t done yet. And then he says he’s been documenting this latest comeback with his production partner, Ezra Holland, and that 30 for 30’s talented-and-then-some visionary Jon Hock had gotten involved,and that maybe Grantland could get involved, too. At that point, I was waiting for him to say “Baba Booey” and hang up. Nope.

***

No. 3: GM Paxson: Bulls ‘unlikely’ to make deadline moves — The name Carmelo Anthony has been batted about by some hopeful Chicago Bulls fans as a star player they hope their team will acquire. That conversation — and any others regarding the Bulls and trades — is likely to remain just that, hopeful, as Bulls general manager John Paxson said yesterday that Chicago isn’t expected to be too busy in the coming days as trade deadline nears. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com has more:

Bulls executive vice president John Paxson said Wednesday that it’s “unlikely” the Bulls will make a move before the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

“We’ve got the trade deadline a week from now,” Paxson said. “You have to put yourself in the other team’s position — people don’t just give up great players. So we obviously talk and keep our eyes and ears open, but to anticipate something’s going to happen, I don’t think that’s likely, to be honest with you.”

There has been plenty of speculation about a potential trade for the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, but neither Paxson nor general manager Gar Forman made it seem as if a deal for Anthony, or any other star player, is in the offing over the next week.

“I think it’s still early,” Forman said. “But this time of year we’re in contact with all 29 teams. You’re trying to get a feel of what’s going on in the landscape, what’s going on around the league, and see if there are opportunities with other teams where it could be a win-win situation for both teams.

“Obviously at this point nothing’s presented itself, but we’ll continue to look at things for the next week till the deadline comes.”

“With that said, we do think we’re well-positioned going into the summer,” Forman said. “We’ve got the possibility of a couple first-round picks. We’ve got the possibility of some flexibility. Like I’ve said all along, the core of guys that we have we like, so we think we’re well situated going into the summer and into the future.”

Forman said he is taking — and making — lots of calls this time of year.

“I think it’s both,” Forman said, when asked he was taking more calls or making them. “And I’m not trying to be evasive, but we’ll make some calls to get a feel on some things that might be of interest to us and then we also receive a lot of calls on our players.”

***

No. 4: Report: Spurs may try to re-acquire Udrih — Back in the 2004 Draft, the San Antonio was a year removed from its last championship run of ’03 and were looking to add some point guard depth. With the 28th pick in that Draft, the Spurs took Slovenian guard Beno Udrih to serve as a backup for budding star Tony Parker. Udrih lasted three seasons in San Antonio before the team dealt his rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves and then, days later, signed a free-agent deal with the Sacramento Kings. Since then, Udrih has bounced about the league, making stops in Orlando, Milwaukee and now, New York. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that the Spurs might try to get Udrih back in the fold before next week’s trade deadline:

The defending Western Conference champion Spurs offered point guard Beno Udrih a chance to return to San Antonio this summer, but he declined, signing a free-agent deal instead with the Knicks.

Now that Mike Woodson has banished Udrih and he has asked for a trade, the Spurs might be a candidate for the Slovenian point guard who has two rings from his time in San Antonio.

Former Knicks general manager Scott Layden, now in the front office of San Antonio, was at Wednesday’s game scouting the Knicks.

Woodson sat Udrih again, despite the fact J.R. Smith declined to play because of an ill-fitting mask and Iman Shumpert didn’t play the second half because of a hip flexor problem.

Udrih did not play in his ninth straight game and for the 11th times in 12 games. His agent, Marc Cornstein, met with Udrih before Wednesday’s game. The Wizards also have interest in Udrih.

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No. 5: Clips veteran Crawford says his game is still maturing — After 14 seasons in the NBA, you’d think that Clippers shooting guard/crossover maven Jamal Crawford wouldn’t be able to do much to improve his game. Most players that deep into their careers kind of are what they are, good, bad or indifferent. But in a great interview with BasketballInsider.com’s Alex Kennedy, Crawford talks about how he’s improving as his career continues, his Sixth Man of the Year Award hopes and his dreams of a championship:

“It’s weird, but I feel like I’m still getting better,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders with a laugh. “Now that I’m 14 years in, some people have been like, ‘Why are you still playing?’ A lot of guys start to plateau at that point or start to [decline], but I feel like I’m still getting better. I love the game of basketball. I’m entrenched in it every single day whether I’m playing it or watching it or talking basketball. For me, it’s still fun. It’s fun to work and see yourself get better. For me, I feel like I can do this for a very long time; God willing, no major injuries.”

This season, Crawford is putting up numbers on par with the best seasons of his career. He’s averaging 18.6 points, 3.3 assists and one steal, as well as the second-highest efficiency rating of his career (17.8). His 29.2 points per 48 minutes rank 12th in the NBA and second among shooting guards (behind only Houston’s James Harden). Crawford is also one of the top clutch players in the league, averaging the third-most points per fourth quarter (6.7 points).

Crawford is the favorite to win this season’s Sixth Man of the Year award, which would be his second Sixth Man trophy after winning it in 2010 as a member of the Atlanta. However, he’s focused on a bigger goal: winning a championship.

“It would be a wonderful honor,” Crawford said of winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. “Whenever you can get an award, I think it means that your team is successful and you’re having a pretty good season with that. I’m not against it by any means at all, but I’m not playing for it. I’m just playing to win. I’m having fun playing basketball and learning more about the game from my coaches and teammates. It’s still fun for me, especially to see improvement and to see how I can get better. I’m playing to win, and that’s the only thing that really matters to me. Everything else that comes with it, I’ll take it in stride. It would be a total team accomplishment. No matter what awards you win in the season, all that matters is winning the championship.”

Crawford has been extremely impressed with Coach Doc Rivers and his staff, and he credits them for his success this year.

“He’s been unbelievable,” Crawford said of Rivers. “Watching him all of those years in Boston and even back in Orlando, I knew he was good, but you don’t know how good he is until you’re around him every single day. That’s what we’re experiencing with him now and he’s unbelievable. … I worked really hard over the summer to improve, but I think a lot of it is that Doc has put me and my teammates in positions to be successful. I think I’m a much better player thanks to him and his staff, and a more well-rounded player as far as rebounding, defending, making plays and scoring; I think I’m the best player that I’ve ever been and there’s a direct correlation between that and the arrival of Doc and his staff.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy likes Jazz swingman Gordan Hayward, but doesn’t think he’s a max-contract player … Great look at the 20 things we’ve learned so far in the season’s first halfKyrie Irving is ready to put on a show at All-Star weekend … In case anyone thought otherwise, ex-NBA swingman Raja Bell confirms he’s officially retired … After a slow start to the season, Tim Duncan is warming up and hitting his stride

ICYMI of The Night: If this dunk vs. the Lakers last night is any indication, Kevin Durant is all warmed up for showtime at the All-Star Game …


VIDEO: Kevin Durant gets loose on the break for a power jam

Goal For Celtics, Lakers Should Be Same

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the goals. Making the playoffs is not.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 18


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks seeking Rondo deal? | Humphries frustrated with lack of minutes | Report: Asik certain to be traded | Old habits plaguing Kings | Warriors smarting over O’Neal’s injury

No. 1: Knicks trying to swing deal for Rondo? — Last week, trade rumors surrounding Knicks guard Iman Shumpert began to stir with the prominent deal being floated about was a Shumpert-for-Kenneth Faried swap with Denver. According to our own David Aldridge, that deal is unlikely to happen, but that hasn’t stopped the Knicks from keeping Shumpert in the trade rumor talks. ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Bagley reports that the Knicks are interested in trying to send Shumpert and forward Amar’e Stoudemire to Boston in an effort to land injured All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. The chances of that deal coming to pass aren’t likely, though:

UPDATE — Celtics boss Danny Ainge tells the Boston Herald‘s Steve Bulpett there’s ‘nothing to’ the Rondo rumors:

The recent spate of rumors regarding the possible trade of Rajon Rondo are not based in any Celtic reality.

“I haven’t talked to any teams about Rajon Rondo,” Celts’ president of basketball operation Danny Ainge told the Herald this morning.

He has, however, fielded a number of calls wanting to now if the rumors are true.

“It’s frustrating,” Ainge said.

He went on to reiterate that Rondo, still rehabbing from ACL surgery, is a major part of the Celtics’ plans going forward.

The reports in the last two days have focused more on opposing teams being interested in Rondo, but the packages of lesser players being floated as a return make no sense for the Celts.

Here’s Bagley’s report on the trade talks:

The New York Knicks continue to dangle Iman Shumpert in trade talks, including a recent proposal to the Celtics that would send the third-year guard and Amar’e Stoudemire to Boston in an effort to obtain star point guard Rajon Rondo, league sources confirmed Sunday.

The Celtics, though, have yet to show interest in the deal, instead preferring to unload forward Gerald Wallace in a trade, sources said.

The Knicks have inquired about Rondo in trade talks before, but both times the Celtics made it clear they were not interested in trading him.

Sources did say the Celtics would be willing to take on Stoudemire’s contract if they could unload some of their longer deals, namely those of Wallace and Courtney Lee.

The Knicks may be reluctant to take Wallace back because they’re hesitant to take on salary beyond the 2014-15 season.

The Knicks have three large contracts (Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani) coming off their books at the end the 2014-15 season and would like to be in position to acquire a top-flight free agent.

A trade including Wallace and Stoudemire would seem to benefit the Celtics financially. Boston is in rebuilding mode, and Stoudemire’s contract expires a year before Wallace’s.

One factor that could complicate trade talks involving Shumpert is that the 2011 first-round pick had a second surgery on his left knee this summer, league sources confirmed on Sunday.

The Knicks and Nuggets discussed a Shumpert-for-Kenneth Faried swap last week. New York believed it had a deal completed on Tuesday morning, a league source told ESPNNewYork.com. But the trade fell through when Denver asked the Knicks to include at least one draft pick.

And then there are these tweets from ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard on a possible Rondo-Shumpert/Stoudemire swap:

***

No. 2: Humphries frustrated with minutes in Boston — Not since the 2008-09 season, when he averaged 9.1 mpg, has Kris Humphries seen his playing time dwindle as much as it has this season. Humphries is playing 11.2 mpg with Boston and has appeared in just six of the team’s 11 games. The veteran power forward is growing frustrated with his lesser role and future on the team, writes A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNewEngland.com:

Humphries wants to play somewhere, even if it means leaving Boston.

He’s not quite ready to demand a trade, but it’s clear that the lack of playing time and erratic minutes he has played is weighing on him.

The 6-foot-9 veteran did not play (coaches decision) in Boston’s 109-96 loss to Portland on Friday, his fifth DNP-CD this season.

“I’m just waiting for a break or an opportunity to get in there more consistently,” Humphries told CSNNE.com. “It would have been great to have played better (Wednesday) night and us win. That would help. But as a guy playing inconsistent minutes, it’s not going to happen every night for you. You have to try and make it happen and do whatever you can to help your team win.”

The 28-year-old veteran has appeared in five games this season, averaging four points and 2.8 rebounds while playing 11 minutes per game.

But in the rebuilding process that the Celtics are currently in, there’s always some form of collateral damage along the way.

While he has often thought about what he has to do in order to get more minutes in Boston, he hasn’t asked for a trade.

“That’s why players have agents,” Humphries said. “We just have to as players, focus on what we can control. If you sit there and say, ‘hey I want a trade,’ it’s going to take away from the team and what you’re trying do to.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has praised Humphries often for his professionalism and work ethic throughout training camp and into the regular season.

And while it’s clear that Humphries doesn’t fit into the regular rotation now, the parity of so many players on this roster makes it such that everyone has to be ready to play every night.

“It’s been tough. I’m here so that’s what I’m focused on,” Humphries said. “I’m playing some 4 (power forward) now, which I think will help out a little bit. But nothing has ever been easy for me. I’e always had shorter-term deals, always had to prove myself.”

***

No. 3: Report: Asik certain to be dealt — Late last week, news broke courtesy of the Houston Chronicle that Rockets center Omer Asik had asked the team to trade him. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein confirms that Asik is a near-lock to be dealt, but the questions remain about not just where Asik will land, but what Houston does with him until it can find a trade partner:

The mystery here, apart from the obvious question about where he ultimately winds up, is what Houston does with Asik until it can locate that appealing deal.

The center was scratched from Saturday’s home game against Denver essentially because he’s so unhappy with his new role that he’s in no state to play. Word is Asik has been asking the Rockets pretty much once a week, since Dwight Howard‘s arrival in July, to please trade him elsewhere. And now losing his starting spot, on top of what was already a reduced role, has clearly knocked the 27-year-old back.

Sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com that Asik was challenged by coaches and teammates this week for not being “engaged” in the wake of the lineup change, which took effect when Asik was moved to the bench for Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia. And he hasn’t played since the challenge, logging zero minutes Thursday night in New York while in uniform and not even dressing against the Nuggets.

The new challenge for the Rockets, then, is getting Asik’s mind right and getting him back on the floor as soon as possible, given the very real chance that a workable trade won’t materialize until after Dec. 15, when dozens of players who signed new contracts in July become eligible to be moved.

Dec. 15, for those not inclined to count it up, is still 28 days away.

“I understand it’s tough for him,” Howard told reporters after Houston’s morning shootaround. “The only thing I can do is be his friend off the floor and help him any way I can. I understand it’s a tough situation for him, but we are all family and we have to learn to fight through frustrations.”

Rest assured, though, that eager suitors for Asik will materialize eventually, no matter how mopey he seems right now and even with Houston hoping for a front-line player in return. The rebounding ability and rim presence Asik can provide makes him a starting-caliber center for numerous teams in this league.

***

No. 4: Old habits keep holding Kings back — With a new arena in the works, new ownership leading the team and a contract extension for talented big man DeMarcus Cousins, excitement for the Kings was at a fever pitch as the 2013-14 season opened. Yet, nine games into the season, Sacramento finds itself in a familiar position: with a losing record and among the worst teams in the conference (they only have one more win than the NBA’s worst team, the 1-10 Utah Jazz). Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee talks about how the culture of the Kings and, perhaps, some of the players are keeping Sacramento from where it wants to go:

How the Kings continue to play with a lack of urgency is befuddling. They did so again this afternoon in losing to the Memphis Grizzlies, 97-86, at Sleep Train Arena.
Perhaps it’s a case of old habits dying slow. Or maybe this is just who the Kings are – a team with unpredictable levels of effort and focus – and that won’t change unless players change.

There was talk of changing the culture postgame, and how much work that takes.

The work will begin to take hold when the Kings realize they have to hold themselves accountable and not accept subpar effort from themselves and teammates.

“As a group, as a unit, as a team, we’ve just got to get tired of losing,” said forward John Salmons. “If you’re tired of losing when we’re down in the third quarter like that you wouldn’t come out with the lack of energy like we did. I think guys are used to it and it shows on the court. When you have that mentality it’s hard to break those habits.”

A lot of these players have been around in past seasons when players have admitted to being overconfident for games when most night the Kings had a losing record entering those games.

***

No. 5: Warriors hurting over O’Neal’s injury — For a squad led by youngsters Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, the stability a veteran voice like Jermaine O’Neal can provide to an up-and-coming squad is invaluable. O’Neal hasn’t just provided sagely words for the Warriors, though, as he’s proven to be a key cog in the team’s bench unit and had been hitting his stride. All of those factors made O’Neal’s injury in Golden State’s 102-88 win over Utah on Saturday all the more costly to the team’s chemistry, writes Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

It’s not that the Warriors don’t have options to take the backup center’s place. It’s just that it’s nearly impossible for a single player to do everything the 35-year-old was doing for the team.

O’Neal, who was initially diagnosed with a sprained right knee and strained right groin before additional tests late Sunday afternoon, has been a steady defensive anchor on the second unit and the team’s most proven scorer from the low post. More importantly, since signing a free-agent deal in the summer and arriving in Oakland before his 18th NBA season, the six-time All-Star’s voice and experience have provided his younger teammates with a different focus level, toughness and mind-set than they’ve ever known.

…Though the Warriors could sign NBA Development Leaguer Dewayne Dedmon, who was with the team during training camp, they can’t issue 10-day contracts until Jan. 6. It was fitting that Draymond Green and Ognjen Kuzmic acted as O’Neal’s crutches as he was helped to the locker room, because those two probably will receive an increase in minutes.

Starting power forward David Lee will play some backup-center minutes, and backup power forward Marreese Speights can bump up a position. Still, the Warriors will need Green and/or Kuzmic to play more depending on matchups.

“I know he’ll bounce back,” shooting guard Klay Thompson said of O’Neal. “He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met.”

In the meantime, the Warriors will need to find someone to match O’Neal’s production. Having found a comfort zone, he averaged nine points (on 75 percent shooting), four rebounds, one blocked shot and one steal over the past three games.

O’Neal said last week that his mind was going “100 miles per hour” because he was pressing to meet the team’s expectations, but after talking with his wife, brother and high school coach, and praying, he found a place of calm.

“I’ve been playing this thing called basketball for 20-something years,” O’Neal said Wednesday. “Nothing really changes. The same shots I could make in the past, I can still make now. There’s no difference from when I’m working out in practice and knocking a shot down than when I’m in a game, but I had to tell myself that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Nuggets coach Brian Shaw is still mad at himself for using the Hack-A-Howard strategy … Detroit is taking a cautious approach with Chauncey Billups’ return from tendinitis in his knees … Is it time for the Raptors to consider gunning for a top pick in the 2014 Draft? …

ICYMI Of The Night: You’ve got to watch this alley-oop from Brandon Jennings to Andre Drummond a couple of times, first because it looks like it is a missed shot and, second, because once you realize it’s a great pass, you’ve got to see it again and again …


VIDEO: Brandon Jennings’ off-the-glass alley-oop to Andre Drummond

Dropping Dimes Again A Priority For D-Will

.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Trivia time: Which point guard, Jason Kidd or Deron Williams, has finished more seasons with a double-digit assist average?

Answer: It’s not the NBA’s No. 2 all-time assists leader. Kidd finished his 19-year career with three (1999, 2000 and ’08). Williams, after eight seasons, already has four, all of which came from 2008-11. Kidd, now Williams’ coach with the Brooklyn Nets, wants to make it five.

“I’m going to push him. I want the best for him,” Kidd told the New York Daily News on Sunday after signing autographs at the Nets’ merchandise store in Coney Island. “When we sit down and talk about goals, team goals and also individual goals, I’m going to push him and I want to get him back to double-digit assists.”

Williams’ pace faltered the last two seasons with various impediments to blame, from former coach Avery Johnson‘s isolation-heavy offense (ask Kidd, who played under Johnson in Dallas, about that) to the extra weight and injury woes the three-time All-Star carried into last season. The Nets extracted Johnson from the equation early on last season, and Williams managed to get healthy and shed some pounds during his free time over All-Star weekend. He was a far more productive player in the second half of the season.

The powerful, 6-foot-3, 209-pound Williams averaged 7.7 apg last season, his lowest mark since his rookie year. That came after averaging 8.7 apg in his first full season (albeit a lockout-shortened one) with the Nets.

But the Nets of the last two seasons are hardly the ones Williams, 29, will lead into a 2013-14 campaign full of lofty expectations. An roster-wide talent upgrade should naturally increase Williams’ assist total, perhaps even allowing him to rival 2008-09 when he averaged 10.7 apg and finished second in the league behind Chris Paul (11.0). Since then, D-Will has steadily moved down the ladder when ranking the top playmakers at point guard.

The blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics that delivered Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry (coupled with the free-agent acquisition of Andrei Kirilenko), significantly enhances the Williams’ scoring options and should dramatically increase the team’s 3-point shooting.

The Nets ranked 17th in scoring (96.9 ppg), 13th in overall shooting percentage (45.0 percent) and 17th in 3-point shooting (35.7 percent). Brooklyn’s starting forwards consisted of a declining Gerald Wallace (39.7 field-goal percentage, 28.2 percent from 3-point range) and garbage man Reggie Evans (47.9 percent but on just 3.3 shot attempts per game). Kris Humphries, who started 21 games, shot 44.8 percent from the floor.

Evans can now move to a more sensible role off the bench. Wallace and Humphries are replaced by Pierce, who shot just 43.6 percent from the field last season but a solid 38.0 percent from 3-point range, and Garnett, who hit roughly half of his shot attempts last season (49.6 percent). Add those two to shooting guard Joe Johnson (37.5 percent from beyond the arc) and the offensively gifted 7-footer Brook Lopez (52.1 percent), and Williams should be operating in the halfcourt with a well-spaced floor. It should make double-teaming by opposing defenses both difficult and dangerous.

Terry didn’t have an inspiring first season with the Celtics after a prosperous career in Dallas, but he make 37.2 percent of his 3-pointers, right at his career average (37.9 percent). Kirilenko, a crafty worker without the ball, shot 50.7 percent last season with Minnesota.

Kidd, who fashioned 11 seasons averaging at least 9.0 apg, is promising an up-tempo offense that should benefit Williams’ game. And now with more scorers as targets for Williams, who is on pace to join the 10,000 assist club ( John Stockton, Kidd, Mark Jackson, Steve Nash and Magic Johnson) if he plays another eight seasons, the opportunity is there for him to get back to being a double-digit dime machine.

Incoming scorers
(from 2012-13)
Outgoing scorers
(from 2012-13)
Player PPG FG% 3pt FG%
Player PPG FG% 3pt FG%
Paul Pierce 18.6 43.6 38.0 Gerald Wallace 7.7 39.7 28.2
Kevin Garnett 14.8 49.6 12.5 Kris Humphries 5.8 44.8 0
Jason Terry 10.1 43.4 37.2 Keith Bogans 4.2 38.0 34.3
Andrei Kirilenko 12.4 50.7 29.2 Jerry Stackhouse 4.9 38.4 33.7
Shaun Livingston 6.3 48.0 0 MarShon Brooks 5.4 46.3 27.3

Knicks Had No Choice But To Re-Sign Smith

 

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The New York Knicks have three free agents – J.R. Smith, Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland – that can be offered more money by other teams than they can by the Knicks, a result of their limited time in New York and that the Knicks are over the luxury tax threshold.

At the same time, if any of the three got away, the Knicks had limited means to replace them with equal talent. All they have to offer is the tax-payer’s (mini) mid-level exception and veteran’s minimum contracts. And they would have to eat into the mini mid-level if they were to re-sign Prigioni or Copeland for more than the minimum.

But with the market for shooting guards drying up, Smith agreed to a new four-year deal with the Knicks Thursday morning, according to multiple reports. The contract will pay Smith the maximum allowed under the Early Bird exception, about $24.5 million over the four years. The fourth year is a player option.

Smith was the Knicks’ second-leading scorer last season and was voted Sixth Man of the Year. With his one-on-one scoring ability, he was able to make something out of nothing on countless possessions last season.

But he often stopped the Knicks’ offense and went iso too early in the shot clock. And after he got ejected (and suspended a game) for an elbow to Jason Terry‘s head in Game 4 of the first round, he proceeded to shoot a miserable 34-for-117 (29 percent) over the Knicks’ final eight games.

(By the way, the Smith-Terry dynamic adds another layer to the Knicks-Nets rivalry.)

Smith is the ultimate feast or famine player and the Knicks would be better off if they could replace him with a better defender or a more disciplined and consistent scorer, especially since they’re adding another no-D, tunnel-vision scorer in Andrea Bargnani. Looking up and down the Knicks’ roster, it’s becoming more difficult to find teammates who complement each other’s skill set.

But again, there was no way to replace Smith’s points and minutes with someone of equal value had the Knicks just let him walk. And his contract is reasonable enough that he could eventually be traded.

That may be the Knicks’ ultimate plan. They couldn’t sign a new player for full mid-level ($5 million per year) money, but they could sign Smith and then eventually trade him for a guy (presumably a a better fit) making mid-level money.

That’s exactly what the Brooklyn Nets did with Kris Humphries. When Humphries was a free agent last year, the Nets didn’t necessarily want to bring him back. But they had his Bird rights and couldn’t spend the same amount of money on another team’s free agent. So they signed Humphries to a two-year, $24 million contract, with the idea that they could eventually trade him for another player making similar money.

The plan worked, with the Nets using Humphries’ contract (set to expire after this season) in the deal that will bring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. If they had let Humphries sign elsewhere last summer, that trade couldn’t happen.

Is that the Knicks’ plan with Smith? Time will tell. As an Early Bird signee, he won’t be eligible to be traded until Jan. 15, 2014.

Celtics-Nets Talking Trade … Celtics Already In Full-Blown Rebuilding Mode?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — That rebuilding process Doc Rivers was trying to avoid in Boston is apparently already in effect for the Celtics, who are reportedly exploring their trade options for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce with their Atlantic Division rivals in Brooklyn.

The complex deal, first reported by Yahoo! Sports and later confirmed by both ESPN.com and The New York Times, would not be finalized until July 10, at the earliest, which is after the end of the NBA’s moratorium on signing new contracts during the free agent season. In order to get a deal done the Celtics need to wait until after July 1, when the final year and $15.3 million of Pierce’s contract becomes guaranteed and then wait until the moratorium is ends to complete the proposed deal.

In it’s current form, the deal would involve the Celtics trading Garnett, Pierce (and possibly Jason Terry) to the Nets for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humprhies and his expiring contract and multiple first-round Draft picks.

Of course, the entire deal would be contingent on Garnett waiving his no-trade clause and agreeing to join Pierce on a Brooklyn team coached by Jason Kidd and already boasting stars Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson.

This is a twisted end to Garnett’s six-year run in Boston. Pierce has spent his entire career with the Celtics. But Celtics boss Danny Ainge made it clear Tuesday, when he discussed Rivers and his departure for the Los Angeles Clippers, that no concrete decisions had been made about the futures of the remaining members of Boston’s famed “Big 3″ that helped them to the 2008 NBA title.

Ray Allen was the first to leave, bolting for Miami and another title in free agency last summer. Rivers opted for a chance to take the Clippers to the same plateau he reached with the Celtics in the final six of his nine seasons with the team. Ainge is clearly trying to make the next move by engaging in these talks, and what sources indicate are many more, in regards to the remaining members of his core.

Not even Rajon Rondo, the Celtics’ injured All-Star point guard, is off-limits, according to a league executive who informed NBA.com that Rondo is waiting to see who Ainge replaces Rivers with and what happens this summer before deciding if he wants to be a part of the rebuild that the other members of the core are clearly trying to avoid.

Ainge, one of the league’s true, front-office risk takers is willing to push the envelope to see what he can salvage for the aging stars who helped lead the Celtics back to prominence. Rivers netted them a first-round Draft pick in 2015. Moving Pierce and Garnett will potentially a couple more and Ainge would have a stockpile of assets to work with in two seasons in the Draft and free agency.

For the Nets the future would be now if this deal were to get done. For the Celtics, the necessary assets to rebuild for the future would be the key.

Nets Extend King, Who Has More Work To Do

BOSTON — The Brooklyn Nets announced Friday that they’ve signed general manager Billy King to a contract extension. NetsDaily reports that the deal is for three years.

The timing is interesting, given how anemic the roster King has assembled has looked in its last two games against the Chicago Bulls. But Brooklyn was the most improved team in the league this season, and in his time with the Nets, King has turned Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow and Travis Outlaw into Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace.

Most improved teams, 2011-12 to 2012-13, NetRtg

Team OffRtg Rk DefRtg Rk NetRtg
Brooklyn +5.3 4 -3.4 3 +8.7
Charlotte +6.0 3 +1.2 14 +4.8
Golden State +1.2 16 -3.5 2 +4.6
L.A. Clippers +2.5 12 -2.0 5 +4.5
Oklahoma City +3.0 9 -0.8 9 +3.8

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The problem is that King gave up a Lottery pick for Wallace, who has really regressed this season and is owed over $30 million over the next three years. And he’s the fifth-highest paid player on the team. Given the restrictions of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Nets are mostly stuck with the roster they have, a roster that had no major injuries this season and finished fourth in the weaker conference.

They do hope that they have one card to play: trading Kris Humphries‘ contract (which expires next season) to upgrade one of the forward positions. In one of King’s more interesting moves last summer, Humphries was essentially re-signed to be traded. The Nets didn’t necessarily want to bring the power forward back, but if they let him go, they didn’t have the cap space to replace him with anything but a minimum-salary player. Re-signing Humphries gave them the opportunity to eventually deal him for someone who makes similar money, but they might not have the add-ins (young players with potential or potentially high draft picks) to entice another team to trade them a real difference maker.

A(nother) coaching change could also make a difference. Multiple reports indicate that interim coach P.J. Carlesimo probably won’t be retained at the end of the Nets’ playoff run. Carlesimo has stuck with vanilla lineups despite his team’s struggles against quality opponents, and the Nets could move up a couple of spots both offensively and defensively next season with a little more innovation from the bench.

So while his roster is mostly set, King still has some work to do. He has to try to find a taker for Humphries, and he has to (likely) hire a new coach.

 

Have We Seen The Best Of The Nets?

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BROOKLYN — The Brooklyn Nets gave one away on Thursday, blowing an early 16-point lead and falling to the very undermanned Chicago Bulls, 92-90. Ultimately, the loss may not mean anything, because the Nets still have a 1 1/2 game lead on the Bulls for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and face Lottery teams, against whom they’re 29-6 this season, in five of their last seven games.

A fourth-place finish in the East would give the Nets home-court advantage in first round, likely against Atlanta or Chicago. A loss in that series would be a disappointment, especially when you consider Brooklyn’s payroll. A win would set them up to lose in four or five games to the Miami Heat.

Other than losing in the first round, there’s no avoiding that fate, which has basically been the path the Nets have been on for the last couple of weeks, since the Knicks and Pacers started playing well again.

I wrote about this yesterday. And maybe this is just who the Nets are. Maybe they’re just a good, but not great, basketball team.

But it’s hard not to wonder if we’ve ever really seen the best of the Nets this season. They currently rank ninth in offensive efficiency and 19th defensively. They could and, really, should be better.

Injuries have been an issue. Deron Williams has missed just three games this season, but was clearly not at his best for the first 50 games, dealing with sore ankles and other various ailments. He’s been much better since the All-Star break, but Joe Johnson has had a couple of different injuries since then. Brook Lopez‘s foot injury in late November is what really knocked the Nets off track after a strong start. And Gerald Wallace, in standard Gerald Wallace fashion, has been banged up too.

The Nets have looked like a great team at times. They have road wins in Boston, Oklahoma City, New York and Indiana. But, other than a 12-2 stretch after P.J. Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson, success has always been rather fleeting.

Carlesimo made some minor changes, gave Mirza Teletovic a shot in the rotation after the break, and is now giving MarShon Brooks more consistent playing time than he’s had all season. But he has been pretty vanilla with his lineups, and that’s where the Nets may be leaving something on the table.

Of Lopez’s 2,079 minutes on the floor, 1,639 (79 percent) have been played with either Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries at power forward. Neither Evans nor Humphries, of course, spaces the floor very well.

Teletovic is very different from Evans or Humphries, in that he can shoot from beyond five feet. But he has played just 112 minutes at the four next to Lopez.

Andray Blatche has also shot the ball well out to 19 feet or so. But he has played just 86 minutes with Lopez. The Nets’ five best players are arguably Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Blatche and Lopez, a group that has played just 20 minutes together over four games this season.

One of the best lineups the Nets have had this season is a small one. Williams, Keith Bogans, Johnson, Wallace and Lopez have outscored their opponents by 18.3 points per 100 possessions in 107 minutes together. Now, those numbers are skewed somewhat by a couple of late-December games against the Bobcats and Cavs, but that lineup has played just seven minutes together since the All-Star break.

In total, Lopez has played just 242 minutes with someone other than Blatche, Evans, Humphries or Teletovic at power forward. And those minutes have been very good, especially defensively.

Nets efficiency with Brook Lopez on the floor

Power forward MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Reggie Evans 1,125 105.6 103.2 +2.4 +69
Kris Humphries 514 106.1 105.1 +1.0 +14
Mirza Teletovic 112 115.8 110.4 +5.3 +19
Andray Blatche 86 104.8 100.3 +4.6 +17
Other (small lineups) 242 106.3 99.2 +7.1 +72
TOTAL 2,079 106.4 103.5 +2.9 +191

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

When asked about his lineups, Carlesimo has said that he goes with matchups. But he has obviously been leaning heavily on Evans of late, even using him on two crucial offensive possessions in the final minute of Thursday’s loss, thinking Evans might get the Nets a second chance with an offensive rebound.

The Nets have actually been better offensively with Evans on the floor (scoring 105.4 points per 100 possessions) than with him off the floor (103.8), but most of those off-floor minutes have come with Humphries, similarly limited offensively, at power forward.

This is why it’s hard to know if we’ve seen the best of the Nets this season. Those 242 minutes of small-ball aren’t a lot to go on. And neither are the 86 minutes Lopez has played with Blatche.

Lopez is Brooklyn’s most important player on both ends of the floor. And in the playoffs, his minutes should surely increase from the 30.7 per game he’s played in the regular season. Does that mean that Blatche will be limited to just 10-12 minutes, or will we actually see the two on the floor together? Is there a matchup (Josh Smith, perhaps) that will allow Carlesimo to play Wallace at the four?

In four games against Atlanta (all under Carlesimo), the Nets have played small a total of seven minutes. So the answer to that last question is probably “no.”

Now, it’s unfair to really condemn the coach for not taking more chances with his rotation. He took over in the middle of the season, with the Nets going through a serious rough patch. More than anything, they just needed to get their best players playing well. And obviously, Lopez and Williams are doing just that.

Still, we have to wonder if this team has reached its potential.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.