Posts Tagged ‘Lance Stephenson’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 24


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No matter what, Nash’s legacy is safe | Stephenson on Pacers: ‘I wanted to be there’  | Smith struggling to grasp triangle | Report: Sixers working to land Nets’ Teague

No. 1: Nash’s legacy safe, even if his career is over — Fans of the NBA (and standout offensive play from point guards) are no doubt upset this morning after last night’s news broke that former two-time MVP Steve Nash‘s 2014-15 season is done even before it began. Lingering issues with various back injuries have sidelined the L.A. Lakers point guard for this season and, based on the buzz around the NBA, perhaps his career. If this is indeed the last we’ve seen of Nash, though, his last few injury-prone seasons in Lakerland won’t tarnish the Hall of Fame legacy he’s crafted, writes our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

This changes nothing, and this changes everything.

Steve Nash was locked in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer years ago, one of the stars of a generation and one of the standout point guards of any era. So, the agonizing slow leak into retirement — after Thursday’s announcement of Nash missing the entire 2014-15 season with a nerve issue — of what will become three consecutive seasons with serious injuries will not dent his legacy. He got old, not bad.

But what an insightful few years it was. We didn’t get to see Nash close to his best in L.A., what the Lakers hoped for when they sent a couple first-round picks, including the choice that is top-five protected in 2015, and a couple seconds to Phoenix in July 2012, but it was the best of Nash in some ways. The passion to play, the determination to work back instead of taking early retirement and a golden parachute — it was as telling in a strange way as any of the countless accomplishments on the court.

He was always faking people out like that. Nash didn’t have much of a future coming out of high school in the charming Vancouver suburb of Victoria, and then he turned one NCAA Division I scholarship offer, to Santa Clara, into being drafted in the first round and a career that would have reached Season 19 in 2014-15. He didn’t have the athleticism to hang with the speed point guards, and then he surgically steered the Phoenix jet offense of the Seven Seconds Or Less Days, running everyone else into the ground as it turned out. Now, at what by every indication is the end, although the Lakers have only said he is done for the season, Nash discovered a new way to impress.

And if anything, Nash was underrated on offense — which is saying something considering the praise he earned. But to trigger one of the game’s lethal pick-and-roll games (particularly with superb finisher Amar’e Stoudemire) and also succeed in the high-octane offenses of coaches Mike D’Antoni and Alvin Gentry as the Suns reached the Western Conference finals is a note few point guards can reach. He was never a food defender who could get in the conversation with, say, John Stockton or Gary Payton as all-time great two-way point guards. But Nash with the ball was still a clinic.

That’s Nash’s direct impact. His final legacy, though, won’t be known for years, maybe even for a decade.


VIDEO: Steve Nash will not play for the L.A. Lakers in 2014-15

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Opportunity knocks for Teague, Hawks


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew believes Jeff Teague and the Hawks are poised for big things this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jeff Teague is a man of few words.

He chooses his wisely and knows that two sometimes do the job better than a few. But the Atlanta Hawks’ point guard isn’t shy about his team. Not after what the Hawks did last season, sliding into that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and then scaring the daylights out of the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in an entertaining seven-game series that served as yet another showcase for Teague.

He’s one of the league’s best young point guards who never seems to find his way into that conversation. With top 10 rankings in several key statistical categories, you could make the case that Teague should be included in any conversations about the top current point guards in the Eastern Conference, at least.

Teague, however, is content to let his play speak for him and keep his focus on the opportunity that awaits the Hawks in a revamped Eastern Conference. With an All-Star in Paul Millsap and a returning All-Star in Al Horford and coach Mike Budenholzer‘s system as their frame, Teague says that team people enjoyed watching last season and during that playoff series against the Pacers is back and ready for more.

I caught up with Teague Monday and pressed him for more than a few words …

NBA.com:  The lasting image of this team for many people is what we saw of you against the Pacers in the playoffs. How is this team any different without any big offseason moves to speak of?

Jeff Teague: It’s definitely different right now because we have everybody healthy. So it’s definitely going to be a little different. Having Al back  and in there to be a rim protector changes things for us. We’re definitely going to be better defensively with Al back in the mix. And just getting more comfortable with the system and having Thabo [Sefolosha] and Kent [Bazemore], who are really active defenders, come over really makes us a different team, a better team. For the offensive part, we’re still going to be exciting.

NBA.com: Is that the biggest change you’ve experienced since you’ve been with the Hawks, going from the previous systems to the one Bud brought here?

Jeff Teague: I just think this is a fun way to play basketball. We enjoy playing with one another. And the fans, if you watch the game it’s enjoyable. You don’t have to see one guy take all the shots or dominate the ball and post it up and do that all night. There’s going to be a lot of movement in this system, a lot of ball movement and plenty of guys touching the ball. It’s a beautiful game when it’s played that way. And it’s enjoyable for everybody, the guys on the floor and the folks in the stands. (more…)

Pacers need Hill to attack leading role

DALLAS – It remains a mutually beneficial trade for both sides, yet it could have been just a bit awkward for Indiana Pacers guard George Hill to watch his old team pulverize the one team his never could, and then see the player he was traded for, Kawhi Leonard, celebrated as the Finals MVP.

Hill, however, said nothing could be further from the truth.

“Kawhi is a good friend of mine,” Hill said Sunday as the Pacers’ preseason trek brought them to Dallas. “I’m happy for his success. I’m happy for the Spurs’ success. If we’re not winning, you know, I root for them. I’m still good friends with everyone in that organization and with everyone on that team. All of them are like my brothers.”

Which is as good a segue as any when talking about these Pacers, because they’re using training camp to try to bond like brothers following a summer — and really starting from the second half of last season — of tumult. Shooting guard and the NBA’s surprising triple-double leader, Lance Stephenson, departed for Charlotte as a free agent. All-Star forward Paul George, the emerging star who allowed the Pacers to deal Leonard for point guard help in 2011, emotionally shook the franchise, and the league, when he broke his leg during the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas.

And just like that, the Pacers are a much different team, and one that will be asking Hill to bring a much different game than he really ever has, either with the Spurs where he was mostly a reserve surrounded by the Big Three, or in Indiana, where its two no-longer-available wings were so often the point of attack.

“He’s just going to have the ball in his hands more, have his number called a lot more,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve always wanted him to be aggressive, but I think he understands that that’s needed more than ever. Years past he would be aggressive at times, but the ball would be in Lance and Paul’s hands a lot.  So a lot of times he was the secondary option; most times he was the secondary option. He’s going to be more of a primary option this year.”

Vogel compared it back to when Hill first arrived.

“Before Danny Granger got hurt and Paul George and Lance Stephenson exploded, our go-to guys were David West and George Hill, and it’s just going to return to that,” Vogel said. “And they did that on a team that in the lockout season won at a 50-win pace as the two late-game go-to guys.”

That team turned a 37-45 record in 2010-11 to 42-24 with Hill backing up Darren Collison before taking over as the starter late in the season. The Pacers advanced to the East semifinals. And maybe they can again this season in an unpredictable Eastern Conference.

The reorganizing Heat and Pacers have been replaced by LeBron James‘ new team, the Cavaliers, and the Bulls as conference favorites. Washington, Toronto, Brooklyn and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets could all make some noise.

“Defense wins games, so as long as we continue to play defense the right way, I think we’re going to win a lot of games,” Hill said. “We’re going to have to use our defense as our offense.”

Even so, there’s little doubt that Hill will need to boost his scoring and playmaking for the Pacers not to drop to the lower rungs of the playoff chase. Hill averaged 10.3 points and 3.5 assists while logging 32 minutes a game last season. He shot 44.2 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from beyond the arc. He ranked 96th in the league, according to NBA.com’s player tracking data, in number of drives to the basket. To put that low number in some perspective, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook registered 99 more drives to the basket even though he played in 30 fewer games.

“Obviously he’s going to have to play a bigger role for us. He’s got to be aggressive,” West said. “It’s going to be a different role and adjustment for him, but he’s going to work himself into it, get comfortable with it. The last couple of years we’ve attacked from the wings. He’s going to have to be the point of attack for us, to really look to take his game to another level.”

Hang Time Road Trip: Home Sweet Home!


VIDEO: The Lord of the Rings, Phil Jackson, joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on the bus

By Sekou Smith

HANGTIME HEADQUARTERS – The final tally was somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,925 miles. give or take a hundred miles or so.

That’s the amount of road real estate we traveled during the Hang Time Road Trip, which ended early Saturday morning after a week of grinding from Cleveland through the upper tier of the Central Division and on to Philly, New York and finally to Tar Heel country in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

We’re all home now. It’s back to normal, whatever that means after spending seven nights on a luxury bus with 11 grown men all trying to carve out their own space on a daily basis.

It would be impossible to boil our trip down to just a few words or video snippets, which is why the Hang Time Road Trip wrap-up special (Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on NBA TV) will shine even more light on the maiden voyage for the Hang Time Podcast crew.

Between Lang Whitaker‘s daily updates on the All Ball blog and Rick Fox‘s work on social media, we tried to make sure you could follow us along every step of our journey. We began in Cleveland chasing LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers.

But that was only the beginning.

Chicago brought an in-depth conversation with Pau Gasol, not to mention Washington Wizards’ young stars John Wall and Bradley Beal making it onto the bus (not to mention an impromptu visit from Drew Gooden and a chance meeting with Scottie Pippen). We also made a visit to the Hyde Park Hair Salon, President Obama‘s home shop, so I could get cleaned up.

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VIDEO: Pau Gasol joins the Hang Time Podcast crew in Chicago

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Indianapolis saw Hall of Famer and Pacers boss Larry Bird brave the rain (for all of about 10 feet) to make his way onto the couch in the front of the bus, where we broke down what his team is facing this season and the intriguing situation he faces in trying to keep the Pacers among the NBA elite.

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VIDEO: Larry Bird joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on the bus

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Philadelphia gave us a chance to not only speak with Sixers CEO Scott O’Neal and Charlotte Hornets swingman Lance Stephenson, but also the ideal lunch date at cheese steak wizard Tony Luke‘s South Philly spot. You might have seen Lang trying to get his flip on in the kitchen.

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VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew chops it up with Lance Stephenson on the Hang Time Road Trip bus

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Our stop in New York included an unbelievable visit to Harlem and Marcus Samuelsson‘s famed Red Rooster restaurant, one of the hottest spots in the city with one of the best chefs on the planet. He jst happens to be a huge Knicks and NBA fan, which was the perfect appetizer for Thursday’s trip to the Knicks’ practice facility where we talked to both Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher on the bus.

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VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew at Tony Luke’s

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Wrapping things up in Rick’s old stomping grounds was the ideal ending for this trip. UNC coach Roy Williams gave us a guided tour of the pristine facilities in Chapel Hill and provided some context on our partner and his roots dating all the way back to his high school and college days on campus.

Again, the bits and pieces you can put together now only tell part of the story. A clearer picture will come Wednesday night when you tune into NBA TV (10 p.m. ET) and ride with us from start to finish on the Hang Time Road Trip.

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VIDEO: Knicks coach Derek Fisher joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on the bus

Talking numbers with Steve Clifford


VIDEO: Hang Time with Lance Stephenson

PHILADELPHIA – The Charlotte Bobcats were one of the most improved teams in the league last season. No team improved in defensive efficiency more than the Bobcats, who allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions in 2013-14 than they did in ’12-13. Their change in point differential (plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions) was just a hair behind that of the Phoenix Suns.

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Offensively, the Bobcats started out horribly but improved every month. They ranked 29th in efficiency in October-November and 13th in March-April.

Head coach Steve Clifford deserves most of the credit for the defense. The Bobcats had nowhere to go but up after ranking dead last in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, but they became just the second team in the last 16 years (the ’02-03 Nuggets were the other) to jump from the bottom five to the top 10 on that end of the floor.

The Bobcats are now the Hornets, and they now have Lance Stephenson. They’ve also swapped Josh McRoberts for Marvin Williams at power forward. Both of those moves could change their offense quite dramatically.

NBA.com spoke with Clifford on Wednesday about his team’s numbers, the addition of Stephenson, the importance of floor spacing, and managing his time as a head coach.

(Most of the questions were asked in a one-on-one setting after Charlotte’s shootaround on Wednesday, while a few follow-ups came in Clifford’s pre-game media scrum before the Hornets’ preseason opener against the Sixers.)

An aside: During the pre-game scrum, as Clifford was talking about the departure of McRoberts, Al Jefferson walked by, heading toward the Hornets’ locker room. When Clifford saw Jefferson, he cut off his own, unrelated sentence to say, “and that’s why we got to get the ball to the big fella.” Jefferson called back, “My man! That’s why you’re the best coach in the game!”

Offense

NBA.com: Last year, your team ranked high in ball-movement stats (passes/possession). Do you see Lance affecting that?

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Steve Clifford: I think so, because watching him on film from last year and also being around him since the beginning of September, his pick-and-roll game … he can score it, but he also hits every option. He hits the roll man a lot. There aren’t that many guys that can hit the roll man, make a shot and also hit the other perimeter players. So I think that will be part of it.

The other part of that, maybe, is that we post the ball a lot more than most teams do, and post-up basketball takes usually more passes, because you got to find a way to get the ball there.

NBA.com: Have you put in new staff for Lance specifically?

Clifford: We’re starting to, now. A week in, we’ve just concentrated on those kinds of things, ball movement, secondary offense when the play breaks down, stuff like that for early in camp. We’re starting now to get more sets in.

NBA.com: What’s the biggest advantage to having a second guy who can create off the dribble?

Clifford: I think it just puts so much more pressure on the defense. When you have more guys on the floor who can play in a pick-and-roll or are good at drive-and-kick or whatever, if you get an advantage on one side of the floor with a pick-and-roll and the ball moves to the other side, the defense is just more spread out. There’s more room to attack.

NBA.com: Last season, your offense got considerably better as the season went on. What was the key to that?

Clifford: Part of it, to be honest, was we made a really good trade, where we picked up Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour. And then we signed Chris Douglas-Roberts as a free agent. If you look at it, where our offense got a lot better was we shot more threes. We didn’t shoot a significantly better percentage, but we shot like 5 1/2 more threes per game. People don’t realize that how many threes you shoot is a big deal, too.

20141010_cha_offense

Also, our offensive rebounding numbers went way up. And that was basically Cody [Zeller], MKG [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] and Biz [Bismack Biyombo]. Over the last third of the year, we scored almost two points more per game on offensive rebounds. And there were some other smaller things, but those were the two biggest things.

NBA.com: Was the increase in 3-point shots something you were looking for, or was it a benefit of the new additions?

Clifford: I just think if you study the league and what wins, the three things that yield over a point per possession the last, I think, nine years are … the best possession is if you get fouled, the second best possession is 0-3 feet, and the third best possession is a three, in particular the corner threes.

It’s every aspect of offense, but in this league, your shooting is your spacing. That’s why I think Marvin was such a key signing for us. You can see it in practice. There’s a lot more room for all the other guys when he’s out on the floor vs. the other four men. And Cody’s improved shooting has improved our offense too.

So there’s different ways you can do it. But you got to have shooting. Look at San Antonio. Look at The Finals. If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there. In Orlando, the two great years we had … we had four good years, but the two great years we had, we literally never played anybody, besides Dwight [Howard], who couldn’t shoot threes. And it’s hard to guard.

McRoberts vs. Williams and MKG’s new J

NBA.com: But does the ball movement suffer without Josh McRoberts?

20141010_cha_assist

Clifford: It’s different from the standpoint that Josh, No. 1, shot a decent percentage from three, but it’s not his game. It’s not how he naturally wants to play. Josh more wants to drive the ball, so we didn’t have that spacing on the floor, as good as he was. He’s more of a driver and a passer, where Marvin is a spot-up shooter. So what I’m hopeful of is he will create as much offense in a different way.

NBA.com: Going back to “If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there,” how much has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist increased his value to you or raised his ceiling just with the work he’s done on his jump shot this summer?

Clifford: I want to make sure [to clarify], I think if you can’t shoot, it’s tougher to play in those games. If you look at it, there’s really nobody out there that couldn’t shoot.

Now, I think that he, potentially, has changed his future in this league, with the work that he did with Mark [Price]. He’s one of the few guys that has real value for a team, even when he wasn’t shooting, because he’s an elite defender. To me, he has instincts, both in individual and team defense, that not many guys possess. So he has the ability to guard the best scorers and make it hard on them. Not many guys can do that. But this, to me, potentially changes his whole future.

NBA.com: Defenses are still going to challenge him, though.

Clifford: Absolutely. The other challenge, and he knows this, it may be 60 games, it might be a year, because these guys play one way their whole life. The biggest part of the game is when the ball’s coming to you, shoot-drive-pass and how quick you do it. And he’s always driven it or passed it. Now, he’s got to, when he’s open, be able to shoot it, and do it without hesitation.

And that’s going to take time. You can’t play one way for 21 years and then all of a sudden work hard over the summer to add this component to your game, and then have your decision-making be easy. The only thing I know is that when he didn’t play last year, we weren’t nearly as good. He’s a good player no matter what.

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Balance and priorities as a head coach

NBA.com: Do you put more emphasis on offense in camp, knowing that you already have a top-10 defense, or do you feel like you still have to start with the D?

Clifford: We’ve actually done a lot more offense, but since we came back from Asheville, the last three or four days, we’ve really gotten back to defense. Obviously, you can’t take anything for granted. We’ll have two new starters. We worked hard at our defense last year. We’ll have to do the same if we’re going to play that well again.

NBA.com: Is there enough time to do everything you want, both offensively and defensively, in camp?

Clifford: Never.

NBA.com: You always have to make sacrifices somewhere, right?

Clifford: That’s coaching. You never feel like you’re spending enough time on everything. Those are the choices you have to make. I’m fortunate I have such a veteran staff. We talk every morning about what are the most important two or three things for today, because ultimately, you can’t be good at everything. You got to be sure you’re zeroed in on the right things for your team to play well.

NBA.com: How much can you add in as the season goes on?

Clifford: Quite a bit, especially if you have the veteran teams who’ve been around and done a few things. Last year, we added a lot of offense as we went along. We didn’t mess around a lot with our defense.

NBA.com: What did you learn from your first season as head coach?

Clifford: The time management part of being a head coach vs. being an assistant is much different. That was one thing that I struggled with last year.

NBA.com: In what way?

Clifford: Things seem to pop up all the time. So you get to late afternoon and you had those three or four things that you needed to do, this film, that film, whatever. And man, it seems like some days, you get to like 4:00 and you haven’t done any of it.

And then, I feel like I have more of a comfort level. Last year, I always felt like I was swimming upstream, always behind. I think I’m more organized this year, simply because I have a way to do it on game day that I’m comfortable with. And again, I have such an experienced staff, I rely on them so much and they help me a lot. That helps in all those areas too.

Clifford’s assistant coaches: Patrick Ewing, Stephen Silas, Bob Weiss, Mark Price and Pat Delany.

NBA.com: Is there a balance between working on strategy and managing the players and their personalities?

Clifford: Definitely. To me, that [managing the personalities] is the priority.

NBA.com: So some of that film work might take a back seat to making sure you’re on the same page with one of your guys?

Clifford: Absolutely. I would say that the communication piece, so that we’re all trying to be on the same page and knowing roles and all that stuff, that’s always the priority.

Hang Time Road Trip: Lance Being Lance

By Sekou Smith

PHILADELPHIA – By the time the Indiana Pacers’ tumultuous 2013-14 season had come to an end, the phrase “Lance Being Lance” had come to mean many things for Lance Stephenson, the mercurial shooting guard with loads of talent and a deep bag of tricks to work with on the court.

Fast forward to training camp this season and the Charlotte Hornets need Lance to be exactly who and what he is, one of the most versatile and competitive players in the NBA.

We caught up with Lance during our Philly stop on the Hang Time Road Trip and found out how the change of scenery, courtesy of his free agent decision to start fresh in Charlotte, is working out for him.


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew chops it up with Lance Stephenson on the Hang Time Road Trip bus

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Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.

 

Hang Time Road Trip: First stop, Cleveland

HANGTIME_PASSENGER

By Sekou Smith

CLEVELAND – At least Mother Nature has a sense of humor.

On the eve of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio’s favorite son’s first official game back in town, she greeted everyone with extremely chilly temperatures (somewhere just north of 40 degrees according to a digital reading on a bank clock downtown) this morning.

Welcome home, LeBron James … you’re not in South Beach anymore.

James traded Miami’s sizzle for the comforts of home and will take the court with the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the exhibition opener at Quicken Loans Arena tonight (6 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

And the Hang Time Podcast crew will be there to witness the return.

It’s the first leg of the Hang Time Road Trip, a six-day, seven-city NBA training camp odyssey road trip that will take us from the heart of what could be the toughest division in all of basketball this season (Cleveland, Chicago and Indiana at the top of the Central Division) to Philadelphia and New York, where rebuilding projects are in full swing, and down the East Coast and parts unknown (we’ll surprise you) before the bus heads back to our Atlanta headquarters next weekend.

We’ll sprinkle in some of the usual fun and craziness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast, but our mission is hoops. And there is no better place to kick things off than here in Cleveland, where hope has been restored after one of the greatest summer franchise flips in NBA history.

We’re going to dig in and find out exactly what it’s going to take for LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to turn things around immediately in this city that has missed its homegrown “King” terribly the past four years.

On Monday we’re going to investigate the situation in Chicago and see if Derrick Rose really is ready to resume his MVP ways, if Pau Gasol fits as well on the court as he does in theory and if all that we saw from Joakim Noah and the rest of that stout Bulls outfit did without Rose and Gasol is still there.

Tuesday we’ll visit the Pacers — yes, they still have our attention, despite a rough summer that saw them lose both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency) from the team that won the Central Division with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season. Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t do panic. Neither does his coach, Frank Vogel, who has been unabashed in his belief that David West and Roy Hibbert will keep this team among the division and conference elite.

We will head East from there for Philadelphia, where Nerlens Noel‘s first season on the court signals the promise of what could be for a Sixers’ franchise in need of something to believe beyond just the promise of the future.

In New York, we’ll shine a light on the Knicks and see if Carmelo Anthony‘s right in his assessment of his revamped team — ‘Melo swears these Knicks are playoff bound … we’d love to hear what Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher have to say about it.

With so much real estate between New York and Atlanta, we’re bound to stumble upon an interesting situation or two on the ride home. But we’ll save something for the imagination. We’re keeping our options open and will make sure we deliver the hoops, hijinks and hilariousness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast.

In the meantime, we’ll focus our attention on the LeBron, Love and Kyrie and these Cavaliers.

First impressions, even in an exhibition setting, are everything.

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Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.


VIDEO: Sekou Smith is ready to go in Cleveland

Morning shootaround — Sept. 29

 

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wolves willing to wait on Rubio extension | Stephenson ready for breakout season | Hollins expects Williams to return to All-Star form | Report: No extension talks between Shumpert, Knicks

No. 1: Wolves willing to wait if Rubio won’t take four-year extension — Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio is up for a contract extension and can sign one by Oct. 31. But the thinking all along has been that Rubio and his representation want a five-year extension. Will the Wolves be willing to give him that? And what will Rubio do if he gets a lesser offer? Charley Waters of TwinCities.com has more on that situation:

Contract talks that could make Ricky Rubio the second-highest-paid Timberwolves player will take place in person this week, and both the 23-year-old point guard and the Wolves seem ready to make a deal.

Rubio and Wolves owner Glen Taylor spoke several times by telephone last week, with each expressing hope a contract extension can get done soon.

Rubio is to be paid $5.08 million this season. A new deal, expected to be for four years, could be worth $11 million annually. Center Nikola Pekovic is the highest-paid Wolves player at $12.1 million a year.

If there is no deal before Oct. 31, Rubio could become a restricted free agent after the season, but the Wolves would have the right to match any offer.

Rubio’s representation has been seeking a five-year maximum contract that could be worth about $75 million. The Wolves are willing to wait if Rubio decides a four-year deal isn’t enough.

Contrary to rumor, the Wolves were not seriously interested in restricted free-agent point guard Eric Bledsoe, who re-signed with Phoenix, because a deal would have had to have been a sign-and-trade and simply too complicated. Bledsoe, though, was willing to consider Minnesota, pending Rubio’s status with the Wolves.

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 28


VIDEO: Nets’ expectations for 2015

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron: ‘This is Kyrie’s show’ | Kupchak still talking titles in LA | Hollins installing new system one step at a time | Vogel still believes in Pacers

No. 1: LeBron: This is Kyrie’s show — The new look comes with a new outlook for LeBron James, whose return to Cleveland puts him in a position where he has to adjust his game significantly for the second time in four years. He had to make adjustments to the way he played when he left Cleveland for Miami in 2010 to play alongside fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and will have to do so again now that he’s back home in Northeast Ohio playing alongside fellow All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.  While it’s clearly LeBron’s house, the world’s best player makes it clear that it’s Kyrie’s show now. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com explains:

With two championships under his belt and the storybook factor of coming back home on his side, the presumption was that LeBron James would be the unequivocal top dog of Cleveland’s new-look Big Three.

Instead, it turns out James is more than willing to share the spotlight, as well as when it comes time to decide which player will have the ball in his hands for the majority of the Cavaliers’ possessions.

“I’ll probably handle the ball a little bit, but this is Kyrie [Irving's] show,” James said Saturday following the team’s first practice of training camp. “He’s our point guard. He’s our floor general, and we need him to put us in position to succeed offensively. He has to demand that and command that from us with him handling the ball.”

James split ballhandling duties with Dwyane Wade most of the time during his four years with the Miami Heat, causing Mario Chalmers often to play off the ball on offense even though he defended the opposing team’s point guard on the other end.

Now, James will have another ball-dominant guard in Irving to play with, and not only is it something that he accepted in his return to Cleveland, it actually played a role in selling him on the move from Miami.

“Coming back, my [Sports Illustrated] letter kind of spoke for it, what this city and Northeast Ohio, what I mean to it. That had a lot to do with it, probably 95 percent of it. And the fact that Kyrie was here as well. That’s a huge part,” James said. “I’ve never played with a point guard like Kyrie Irving, a guy that can kind of take over a game for himself. We need it. So, that was a huge thing and that was way before we even got [Kevin] Love and signed Mike Miller and Trix (Shawn Marion) and the rest of the guys. That was very intriguing.”

(more…)

No George, no Stephenson, but Vogel downright upbeat about Pacers


VIDEO: Pacers’ top 10 plays from the 2013-14 season

You see Frank Vogel for the first time since things turned really ugly for his Indiana Pacers team, your initial thought is to commiserate.

Then you hear Vogel talk about the Pacers and what awaits them in this 2014-15 NBA season, and your next thought is to apply a cold compress.

Vogel bounced through the early going at the annual coaches meetings in Chicago with a mile-wide smile and an optimism that had you wondering if, somehow, he had missed July and August. That’s when, in a span of two weeks, Indiana suffered a 1-2 gut punch in the form of Lance Stephenson‘s surprising decision to leave as a free agent and Paul George‘s gruesome, season-crippling injury at Team USA’s scrimmage in Las Vegas.

Yet to look at and listen to Vogel last week, you’d have thought Larry Bird had dialed a time machine back three decades with the idea of reassigning himself from team president to starting small forward.

“We’re going to be fine,” Vogel said. “We’ve got more than enough to compete with the best and we’re going to have another great season. Our approach is, we’re going to try to not skip a beat.”

Vogel’s fingers were not crossed. There was no whiff of rum in the room, and he wasn’t talking in Comic Sans.

He continued: “Two guys being gone – Lance being gone, Paul not being with us because of injury – creates opportunities for other guys. Both at that position and also at other positions to carry a bigger role.”

Ah, OK, so maybe it was the whole interview thing. So you switched off the recorder, looked the Pacers coach in the eye and said, now Frank, how do you really feel?

“I really feel that way,” Vogel said. “I think we’re going to be OK.”

It was time to find a chair for Vogel. Or maybe several so he could lie down. Indiana, despite its 56-26 record last season and berth as the No. 1 playoff seed in the East, ranked 29th in offensive efficiency, according to NBA.com stats. The Pacers were 28th in field-goal attempts, 27th in assists, 24th in points per game and 23rd in offensive rebounding.

George and Stephenson, the team’s dynamic two-way wings, generated an outsized portion of that attack. They combined for 45.5 points and 28.2 shots per game, which was 47 percent of Indiana’s scoring and 35 percent of its field-goal attempts.

George would have been a starter for Team USA in its gold medal-winning effort in the FIBA World Cup tournament. Stephenson would have been a worthy NBA All-Star reserve in February and was expected to remedy that miss this season. Together, the two Pacers were the likeliest sources for some Indiana improvement offensively, while pestering opponents like Dobermans defensively.

Into the breach step retreads Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles.

“Those guys are solid NBA veterans,” Vogel said. “It’s not like we’re going to fill the spots with guys who were in the D League last year. And we feel [2013 first-rounder] Solomon Hill is going to be an elite defensive player and a guy who can knock down open shots. We could have played him 25 minutes a game last year and we would have been all right. We just had such depth.

Chris Copeland is going to get a chance to play more. Damjan Rudez, one of the best shooters in Europe, is coming over to play at the ‘three’ or the ‘four.’ So we’ve got answers. You look at that, combined with our point guard rotation’s intact with George Hill and C.J. Watson, our big rotation’s intact with [Luis] Scola, [Roy] Hibbert and [Ian] Mahinmi. There are reasons to be optimistic.”

Hibbert, for instance, has shed 14 pounds in a plan to be more mobile and not so easily shaken when a team with “stretch fives” like Atlanta vacates the middle. Hibbert also spent a week immersed in court time, meals and movies with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, adding the NBA’s all-time leading scorer to his list of illustrious tutors (Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan). Hopefully the Pacers center and The Captain screened film other than “Airplane!” and “Game of Death.”

It’s understandable that Vogel might want to stay upbeat, because the alternative wouldn’t do him or his team any good. His biggest concern is defensively, where Indiana has excelled in recent seasons. Hibbert still is the anchor at 7-foot-3 but in George it lost a Scottie Pippen-like shadow for the other guys’ most dangerous point guards and wings. Covering for that with double-teams and help might stress the seams of the Pacers’ schemes overall.

Stephenson did more defensively, too, than just blow in guys’ ears. It seems reasonable to think that, had George’s ghastly leg fractures happened before Stephenson signed with Charlotte, the Pacers might have kept him for a deal better than the three-year, $27 million one he accepted. Or that, given the dire need and urgency, Indiana might have upped its initial offer from five years, $44 million.

Still, if Vogel wasn’t about to bemoan the roster hits with which he’ll have to live all season, he wasn’t going to if-only himself into a blue mood over unfortunate timing.

There is, at least, some encouraging news on George.

“He’s on one crutch now – almost full weight-bearing,” Vogel reported. “He’s got a boot. He still has to have the one crutch. He’s doing really well.

“It’s a challenge for him. But he’s not coming in with a frown on his face, sulking around. He’s doing a lot – lifting weights, doing a lot of core work. He works out five times a week.”

The brink of a new season, on the heels of the FIBA gold medal in the first year of his five-season, $91.6 million extension, makes this one of those tough emotional times for George. He’s stuck on the side as the Pacers prepare to tackle 2014-15 without him. Presumably without him anyway, with George a long shot to return any sooner than next fall.

“I was concerned about it when it first happened, where he was going to be [mentally],” Vogel said. “It’s going to be a long process, once he starts getting out running and learning to trust [the leg] again. But he seems to be of the mindset that his expectations are for a full recovery, and a full recovery as soon as possible.”

George has high expectations. His team now has lower ones. That might explain some of Vogel’s buoyancy: Indiana thrived on its way up, feeling underrated and overlooked in its pursuit of the Miami Heat, and only ran into trouble last season when it got far in front of the field with its 33-7 start.

Dialing down the projections and slipping back into the underdog role it knew so well might be a comfortable fit. Already the Pacers have proven wrong skeptics who suggested they take it down to the studs in a full-blown rebuild. Never was broached, Vogel said.

“Nope. There was some talk about ‘Can you believe people are saying that? Do they understand how long it takes to build a winning culture?’ ” he said.

“We have enough to be really good. Are we the preseason favorites to win the East? No, we’re not anymore. Some fans think the season’s over already. But some fans are like me, like, ‘Hey, they’ll still be pretty good.’ “

The Pacers will find out soon enough, with neither Vogel’s cheeriness nor Kool-Aid at the concessions stands covering up the results on the Fieldhouse court.