Posts Tagged ‘Lance Stephenson’

Blogtable: Free agent’s fine future

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


BLOGTABLE: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks with Bulls.com about why he signed with Chicago

> Which free agent (not counting LeBron James) are you most interested to see with his new team? Why?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Easily Pau Gasol. He’s been in such a beatdown state the last two years on bad teams and under a coach, Mike D’Antoni, who had little use for him. Gasol should be happy and energized once again playing on a team that can contend for the East crown. Plus, the Bulls will make great use of his low-post scoring and passing. This should be fun to watch.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson. I want to see if his act in Indiana was just a situational deal and if there is more to his game and personality than what we’ve seen. I recognize the talent. He’s got plenty and perhaps more in reserve. He’s going to a team where the owner (Michael Jordan), coach (Steve Clifford) and locker room leaders (Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker) won’t hesitate to let him know when they feel like he’s going off the rails. If he comes in and has half the impact on the court for the Hornets that he had for the Pacers last season, the Hornets will have gotten one of the steals of the free-agent summer.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I want to see how much of a boost Paul Pierce can bring to the Wizards’ offense, which ranked 18th last season. The Wiz should be able to build on last year’s improvement and contend for a top-four spot in the East. The additions they’ve made make them one of the deepest teams in the league. But they do need more playmaking, especially when they go to their bench. Pierce shouldn’t necessarily be a sixth man, but if coach Randy Wittman can stagger his and John Wall‘s minutes some, the offense will be better overall.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He didn’t get the largest contract, but I really think Pau Gasol could be one of the most impactful free agents of the summer. He’s not the same defender he was a few years ago, but Tom Thibodeau is the perfect coach to be able to gameplan around that. And it should be on offense where Gasol makes the biggest contribution — he and Joakim Noah are probably the best-passing big man combo in the NBA, and with Noah setting up at the top of the key, Pau’s beloved low post will be open for him to do work. Most importantly, with Derrick Rose returning, the Bulls should finally be past the offensive malaise that has plagued them for years.

More than ever, shooting at a premium


VIDEO: Pistons: Augustin And Butler Introduction

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In today’s NBA, if you want to win, you have to be able to shoot. There are lots of factors that go into good offense and good defense, but the most important are how well you shoot and how well you defend shots.

Over the last two seasons, 3-point shooting has taken a big jump. From 2007-08 to 2011-12, the league took from 22.2 to 22.6 percent of its shots from 3-point range. Then in 2012-13, that number jumped to 24.3 percent. And last season, it jumped again to 25.9 percent.

The correlation between 3-point shooting and offensive efficiency is strong. And shooting a lot of threes is almost as important as shooting them well.

Ten of the top 15 offenses in the league were above average in terms of 3-point percentage and the percentage of their total shots that were threes. Four of the other five were in the top 10 in one or the other. And teams that didn’t shot threes well or often were generally bad offensive teams.

3-point shooting and offensive efficiency, 2013-14

Team 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank %FGA Rank OffRtg Rank
L.A. Clippers 693 1,966 35.2% 22 29.1% 9 109.4 1
Miami 665 1,829 36.4% 12 29.2% 6 109.0 2
Dallas 721 1,877 38.4% 2 27.4% 13 109.0 3
Houston 779 2,179 35.8% 16 33.0% 1 108.6 4
Portland 770 2,071 37.2% 10 29.0% 10 108.3 5
San Antonio 698 1,757 39.7% 1 25.7% 16 108.2 6
Oklahoma City 664 1,839 36.1% 14 27.1% 14 108.1 7
Phoenix 765 2,055 37.2% 8 30.0% 5 107.1 8
Toronto 713 1,917 37.2% 9 28.5% 11 105.8 9
Minnesota 600 1,757 34.1% 26 24.5% 19 105.6 10
New York 759 2,038 37.2% 7 30.2% 3 105.4 11
Golden State 774 2,037 38.0% 4 29.1% 8 105.3 12
New Orleans 486 1,303 37.3% 6 19.3% 29 104.7 13
Brooklyn 709 1,922 36.9% 11 30.1% 4 104.4 14
Atlanta 768 2,116 36.3% 13 31.6% 2 103.4 15
Memphis 405 1,147 35.3% 19 17.1% 30 103.3 16
Denver 702 1,959 35.8% 15 27.8% 12 103.3 17
Washington 647 1,704 38.0% 5 24.6% 18 103.3 18
Detroit 507 1,580 32.1% 29 22.2% 26 102.9 19
Sacramento 491 1,475 33.3% 27 21.8% 28 102.9 20
L.A. Lakers 774 2,032 38.1% 3 29.1% 7 101.9 21
Indiana 550 1,542 35.7% 17 23.5% 23 101.5 22
Cleveland 584 1,640 35.6% 18 23.6% 21 101.3 23
Charlotte 516 1,471 35.1% 23 21.9% 27 101.2 24
Utah 543 1,577 34.4% 25 23.7% 20 100.6 25
Milwaukee 548 1,553 35.3% 20 23.1% 24 100.2 26
Boston 575 1,729 33.3% 28 25.1% 17 99.7 27
Chicago 508 1,459 34.8% 24 22.2% 25 99.7 28
Orlando 563 1,596 35.3% 21 23.5% 22 99.3 29
Philadelphia 577 1,847 31.2% 30 25.8% 15 96.8 30
TOTAL 19,054 52,974 36.0% 25.9% 104.0

 

Top 5 3P% Top 5 %FGA Top 5 OffRtg
6-10 3P% 6-10 %FGA 6-10 OffRtg
Above-avg 3P% Above-avg %FGA Above-avg OffRtg

%FGA = Percentage of total FGA
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

There were a couple of exceptions to the rule. Minnesota had a top-10 offense without shooting threes well or often. They made up for it by not turning the ball over, getting to the free throw line often, and grabbing lots of offensive rebounds.

The Lakers, meanwhile, were top 10 in both 3-point percentage and percentage of shots that were threes, but were a bottom 10 offense overall, because they didn’t get to the line much and were the worst offensive rebounding team in the league.

Threes aren’t everything, but three is greater than two. And if you have shooting threats on the perimeter, other guys have more space to operate inside. The teams near the bottom of the table above know that to win more games, they have to score more efficiently. And to do that, they need more shooting in their rotation.

Here’s how some of them addressed their lack of shooting…

Detroit Pistons

OffRtg: 102.9 (19), 3PT%: 32.1% (29), 3PA%: 22.2% (26)
If the Sixers hadn’t played conscious-less offense at the league’s fastest pace, the Pistons would have ranked dead last in 3-point percentage. Josh Smith took 265 threes at a 26 percent clip, partly because Joe Dumars thought he could play small forward and partly because he lacks self-awareness. Of 315 players in NBA history who have attempted at least 1,000 threes, Smith ranks 314th (ahead of only Charles Barkley) in 3-point percentage.

So priority No. 1 for Stan Van Gundy is to get Smith to stop shooting threes, or get him to shoot threes for some other team. If we don’t consider Smith a small forward (and we shouldn’t), Detroit would have a frontcourt log-jam if Greg Monroe (a restricted free agent) is brought back. Though it’s not completely up to Van Gundy (he would need a trade partner), a choice between Monroe and Smith needs to be made.

Either way, the Pistons didn’t have many other options from beyond the arc last season. So Van Gundy added four shooters in free agency, signing Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler and Cartier Martin to contracts that will pay them about $15 million this year. Of the 70 available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, those four ranked 11th, 12th, 15th and 18th respectively in 3-point percentage, all shooting better than 39 percent.

There’s still a question of how much of that shooting can be on the floor at one time. If Smith is traded, then the Pistons can play a decent amount of minutes with Butler or Luigi Datome playing stretch four. But in that scenario, their defense (which was already awful last season) would suffer.

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 99.7 (28), 3PT%: 34.8% (24), 3PA%: 22.2% (25)
The Pistons grabbed the Bulls’ best 3-point shooter from last season (Augustin), who will be replaced by Derrick Rose. Rose has never been a very good shooter, but obviously creates a lot more open shots for the guys around him than Augustin or Kirk Hinrich.

That will benefit Jimmy Butler (who regressed from distance last season), Mike Dunleavy (who took a smaller step back), Tony Snell (who was pretty shaky as a rookie) and rookie Doug McDermott.

In his four seasons in Chicago, Tom Thibodeau has never had a big man who can step out beyond the arc. But the Bulls’ other rotation rookie – Nikola Miroticshot 39 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons for Real Madrid. So he gives the Bulls the ability to space the floor more than they ever have in this system.

The Bulls also added Aaron Brooks, who, at 38.7 percent, ranked 20th among available free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. But if Brooks is playing a lot, it would mean that there’s another issue with Rose.

Charlotte Hornets

OffRtg: 101.2 (24), 3PT%: 35.1% (23), 3PA%: 21.9% (27)
Josh McRoberts (36.1 percent) and Marvin Williams (35.9 percent) shot about the same from 3-point range last season. But that was the first time McRoberts was a high-volume shooter from distance, while Williams has had a more consistent history.

And he should get more open shots playing off of Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson than he did in Utah. But neither Walker nor Stephenson is a very good 3-point shooter themselves and the Hornets lost their best 3-point shooter from last season – Anthony Tolliver – in free agency.

The hope is that, with Stephenson taking some of the ball-handling burden away, Walker can improve as a shooter. Gerald Henderson‘s 3-point percentage has improved every season, and a healthy Jeffery Taylor could help. Still, without any much proven shooting on the roster, the Hornets’ offense has a ceiling.

Cleveland Cavaliers

OffRtg: 101.3 (23), 3PT%: 35.6% (18), 3PA%: 23.6% (21)
LeBron James changes everything. And the biggest beneficiary could be Dion Waiters, who shot 41.6 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last season. With James attacking the basket and drawing multiple defenders, Waiters will get a ton of open looks.

James himself shot a ridiculous 48.8 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, so he should be able to play off Kyrie Irving pretty well and make the Cavs a more potent team from deep. Mike Miller (45.9 percent) will obviously do the same.

It’s Irving who will have to adjust to playing off the ball. He shot just 32.1 on catch-and-shoot threes last season. And at this point, the Cavs don’t have a second forward that can both shoot threes and defend the four (the Shane Battier role). Anthony Bennett could develop into that role and Kevin Love would obviously be that guy if the Cavs pull of a trade with Minnesota.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.5 (22), 3PT%: 35.7% (17), 3PA%: 23.5% (23)
There was a lot of bad shooting (and bad offense, in general) in the Central Division last season. The Pacers poached C.J. Miles (39 percent on threes over the last two seasons) from Cleveland and added a stretch big in Damjan Rudez, but lost Stephenson’s playmaking.

So there’s a ton of pressure on Paul George to create open shots for everybody else. Unless another shake-up is in store, it’s hard to see the Pacers escaping the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 103.3 (16), 3PT%: 35.3% (19), 3PA%: 17.1% (30)
The Grizzlies replaced Mike Miller (44.4 percent from three over the last three seasons) with Vince Carter (39.2 percent). That’s a slight downgrade from beyond the arc, but Carter brings more playmaking to take some of the load off of Mike Conley.

Still, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince remain integral parts of the Grizzlies’ rotation. So unless Jon Leuer emerges as a reliable stretch four off the bench, they lack the ability to put more than two (and occasionally three) shooters on the floor at once. They’ve ranked last in made 3-pointers for two straight seasons and could definitely make it three in a row.

New Orleans Pelicans

OffRtg: 104.7 (17), 3PT%: 37.3% (6), 3PA%: 19.3% (29)
Those are some strange numbers. Great shooting, but only the Grizzlies attempted fewer threes.

The absences of Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday over the last 50 games of the season was a huge issue. Another was that two of the Pelicans’ best 3-point shooters – Eric Gordon and Anthony Morrow – played the same position and spent just 192 minutes on the floor together, while Tyreke Evans and Al-Farouq Aminu – two perimeter guys who can’t shoot a lick – ranked third and fourth on the team in minutes played.

Evans still takes a starting perimeter position (and $11 million of salary) without supplying a reliable jumper. And replacing Jason Smith with Omer Asik also hurts floor spacing. But the Pels were ridiculously good offensively (and awful defensively) in limited minutes with Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis on the floor last season, Aminu has been replaced by John Salmons, and better health will go a long way.

Additional notes

  • As noted above, the Pistons added four guys who ranked in the top 20 in 3-point percentage (minimum 100 attempts) among available free agents. The only other team that added (not re-signed) more than one was the Clippers, who added Jordan Farmar (3rd) and Spencer Hawes (5th). The Mavericks added Richard Jefferson (7th) and re-signed Dirk Nowitzki (13th), the Suns added Anthony Tolliver (6th) and re-signed P.J. Tucker (19th), and the Spurs re-signed both Patty Mills (4th) and Boris Diaw (10th).
  • The Cavs (Hawes and Miles) and Lakers (Farmar and Meeks) were the two teams that lost two of the top 20.
  • Of those 70 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only three shot above the league average (36.0 percent) and are still available. Those three are Chris Douglas-Roberts (38.6 percent), Ray Allen (37.5 percent) and Mo Williams (36.9 percent).

Blogtable: Summer’s most intriguing team

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


BLOGTABLE: The price of Love | New most intriguing team | Sleeper rookie



VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. impressed for the Wizards at Summer League

> You’ve seen the Draft. You’ve seen some Summer League. Outside of the Cavs, what team most intrigues you now? Why’s that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m intrigued by Charlotte, with its addition of Lance Stephenson, along with pick-up Marvin Williams. There’s talent there, especially if Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh can rev up their frontline contributions, and it’s possible the Hornets push for a top-4 spot in the East playoffs. Steve Clifford should be able to prevent them from becoming The Lance Show (in the event Stephenson decides to start playing for his next contract right away). And let’s face it, if an NBA team can’t find a way to move on from the loss of Josh McRoberts, well, then Charlotte becomes watchable in an odd, case-study sort of way.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: In the East, and thank the basketball gods for this, there’s actually several teams of intrigue. Toronto kept its momentum going by re-signing so many of its own starting with Kyle Lowry. Washington is on the come and adding a big-brother figure in Paul Pierce should be great for John Wall and Bradley Beal. And, of course, Chicago with Pau Gasol in the mix and Derrick Rose coming back should be great fun to watch (yes, and post-LeBron Miami). In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder are my choice. They missed out on Gasol, who would have been an absolute game-changer for that squad, and instead only came away with Sebastian Telfair, an end-of-bench addition, and Anthony Morrow, a 3-point specialist who could fit in quite well. I’m really curious to see how Russell Westbrook‘s game continues to evolve after his powerful postseason, how Kevin Durant comes off his first MVP season (but a bit of an individually disappointing postseason) and if Scott Brooks can add some new wrinkles to one of the most efficient (yet also most criticized) offenses over the last several years. If healthy the last two postseasons, this conversation could be totally different.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Washington Wizards, mostly because they have put together a quality offseason and have a clear path up the Eastern Conference food chain now that the entire field has been thinned out by LeBron’s departure for Cleveland. The Wizards will have an ideal blend of youthful energy and athleticism to go along with a seasoned supporting cast capable of pushing this team over the top a year after making that surprise run to the Eastern Conference semifinals. For whatever was lost in free agency (Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker), the Wizards more than made up for it by keeping Marcin Gortat and adding Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJaun Blair. Toss in a ready-to-go Otto Porter Jr. and the Samsung Summer League MVP Glen Rice Jr., and the Wizards have every reason to believe that John Wall and Bradley Beal have a legitimate shot to lead this crew to the top of the Southeast Division and perhaps beyond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Wizards have a chance to be one of the top two or three teams in the East. John Wall and Bradley Beal are getting better every season and could be the clear No. 1 backcourt in the conference by the start of 2015. Marcin Gortat has great pick-and-roll chemistry with Wall, Paul Pierce brings another element to the offense, and they have a ton of depth on their frontline. The only question is if they can maintain a top-10 defense with Pierce (who’s a better defender at the four than the three) replacing Trevor Ariza.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Washington. They kept Gortat, they did not overpay for Ariza, and then they managed to add Paul Pierce to that mix. Plus, after watching them in Summer League, it seemed clear that Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr (who was terrific in Vegas) are ready to add perimeter depth off the bench and give them the athleticism that Pierce lacks. Is Randy Wittman the right guy to take them to the next level? To me that’s the bigger question. But after a second-round run last season, all the pieces are in place for the Wiz to continue to grow what they’ve already started.

Morning shootaround — July 21


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs to ink Wiggins to deal soon | Report: Knicks looking to move a guard | Bird still puzzled by Stephenson’s departure

No. 1: Report: Cavs to sign rookie Wiggins soon — Normally, a first-round pick closing in on signing his first contract is not news in this space as the deals for all first-round picks are predetermined and basically just need pen to be put to paper. But in the case of the No. 1 overall pick — Andrew Wiggins of the Cleveland Cavaliers — and his ties to trade talks dealing with Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love, we’ll make an exception. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com points out, the Cavs’ expected signing of Wiggins would, if nothing else, significantly delay any kind of Love-to-Cleveland deal:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are planning to sign No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins to a contract in the coming week, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Cavaliers’ delay in signing the former Kansas star has nothing to do with the prospect of Wiggins being dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of Cleveland’s ongoing trade discussions for Kevin Love.

The Cavaliers, sources say, are merely exploring options for using their estimated $1.4 million in remaining cap space before signing Wiggins to a contract that will pay him in the neighborhood of $5.5 million as a rookie.

The Cavs and Timberwolves have been discussing a Love trade since the return of LeBron James, with sources saying that Minnesota is insistent on getting Wiggins back in any deal that sends Love to Cleveland.

Once Wiggins signs, though, league rules stipulate that the Cavs must wait 30 days before trading him.

The Cavs’ delay in formalizing Wiggins’ contract has garnered extra attention because of the Love factor, but the reality is that this process is a fairly routine bit of salary-cap management that takes place this time of year with draft picks.


VIDEO:
Andrew Wiggins talks about being in the thick of the Kevin Love trade talks
(more…)

Morning shootaround — July 19




VIDEO: Gasol excited about joining the Bulls

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bynum might sit out | Exum experiences bumps | Bulls take on international flair | Jordan challenges Lance | Wiggins not worried
No. 1: Bynum might sit out year to strengthen knees — Of course, the big question is if Andrew Bynum decided to sit out the entire 2014-15 season to have treatment on his bad knees, who would notice? After all, the big man has played just 26 games over the past two years while wearing different uniforms in Philly, Cleveland and Indiana. Now, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Bynum is considering undergoing the German-based therapy program that promotes cartilage growth that will require an extra long recovery time, with an eye on joining Phil Jackson and the Knicks in 2015-15:

Regenokine is a non-surgical program that promotes new cartilage growth through a series of injections. The FDA still hasn’t approved it in the United States. Bynum is considering doing the program with well-known doctor German doctor Peter Wehling, who worked with Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez. It is similar but not identical to the PRP procedure.
Bynum has arthritic knees that have stalled a career that once flourished under Jackson in Los Angeles.
“If he’s healthy, Phil will be interested,” Lee told The Post. “Phil knew how to tap into Andrew. They got along famously.”

Bynum, the Jersey product who was a young stud center for two of Jackson’s Lakers title teams, would undergo the procedure as a means to extend his career.
“He would be looking at in a longer-term situation,” Lee said. “He’s still a baby. If he went to college, he’d be coming off his rookie contract at age 26.”

***

No. 2: Strong Exum finds there’s a lot to learning in Las Vegas — Everybody with a grade school knowledge of world geography knows it’s a long way from Australia to the United States. Utah’s No. 5 pick in the draft Dante Exum got a first-hand taste of the miles he still has to travel to make the adjustment to the NBA with a rough experience in the NBA. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper watched all of Exum’s bumps in the road at the Las Vegas summer league and talks about what the experience meant:

Unlike the majority of every draft class that steels itself with years of AAU circuits and college play or leagues in Europe with older professionals, Exum not only has to make the transition at age 19 but with very little in his basketball background to prepare for the NBA. He has never been seriously challenged for weeks at a time, let the months waiting for him with the Jazz schedule as a rookie.
“The last games I played was high school games and I’m one of the bigger guys out there that can push guys around,” he said. “Here, I get into the paint and I’m getting knocked over.”
Literally and figuratively. Exum faced NBA competition for the first time and shot 30.8 percent in five games, ending with Friday’s victory over the Trail Blazers at Thomas & Mack Center, while averaging 7.2 points and piling up more turnovers (15) than assists (14). He had good moments, but nothing close to a good game, with making four of 10 shots and three assists against one turnover in the opener against Philadelphia probably holding up as the best.
“It’s been a big couple weeks for him,” said Brad Jones, the Jazz assistant coach who ran the team in the Summer-League games. “He’s got a lot going on. He’s had some ups and downs through this, but it’s also why we play Summer League, for him to go through the ups and downs. The little challenge, we talked to him at halftime about, we wanted to see him finish on a strong note. I thought he tried to play through and luckily made a great play and hit that little floater to kind of seal that game for us.
“Now he can go back and regroup a little bit. I know he’s going to his national team, but hopefully now he has a level of understanding of what he has to do every day to be successful. There were some times he showed some brilliant, brilliant things this last week. Then again, there’s been some times where he’s been kicked in the rear end a little bit. Hopefully he’ll take this, process it and come back in the fall ready to go and to help because we think he’s got a bright future.”

***

No. 3: Gasol, Mirotic give the Bulls a taste of Spain — So much has changed since the time Spaniard Pau Gasol was a No. 1 pick in the draft back in 2001 to now when Nikola Mirotic signed on to join him for the upcoming season with the Bulls. Our Steve Aschburner talks about how the basketball world in general and the NBA in particular has embraced the contributions of international players:

“The infrastructure is a lot better now in Europe and the rest of the world,” Tony Ronzone said by phone Friday during a break in Las Vegas Summer League action. “And the world’s becoming smaller with the Internet and the video. You can see now how many games are televised all around the world.”
Ronzone, a longtime NBA executive, is one of the league’s most experienced evaluators of international talent. He is director of player personnel for the Dallas Mavericks, worked for Minnesota and Detroit in similar capacities and served as head coach of teams in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He also is director of international player personnel for the USA Basketball men’s team.
He has seen the growth and comfort level in both directions — international players and coaches becoming more NBA savvy, the league embracing more players and concepts from overseas — throughout his career.
Consider: In Gasol’s rookie season, 2001-02, there were 52 international players from 31 different countries on NBA rosters. By Opening Night 2013-14, the number had grown to a record 92 players from 39 countries.
“What’s happening now is, our game has grown and with the NBA as the best league in the world, these players internationally are able to watch athletes on the floor and mimic their moves,” Ronzone said.
“There’s a lot more player-development going on to create more foot speed. Because the biggest adjustment the Europeans have coming over to America is, defensively they’d be behind and their foot speed, they’d be behind. What they’re learning to do is, with less foot speed, they’re understanding angles and they’re doing a better job of watching these athletes and getting scouting reports on how to play them.”

***

No. 4: Jordan throws down gauntlet to Stephenson — Before he officially signed off on the three-year, $27.4-million free agent contract, Hornets owner Michael Jordan laid down the law and told Lance Stephenson that he expects fewer shenanigans and more production this season. Stephenson told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer that he definitely got the message:

“I bring more to the table than blowing in someone’s ear,” Stephenson said Friday of the incident with LeBron James that brought him so much notoriety.
Stephenson, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, brings scoring, defense, playmaking and an edge. The Hornets like his edginess, and believe it can help them win games. But only to a point.
Hornets owner Michael Jordan attended the meeting in Las Vegas on Tuesday night that resulted in Stephenson signing a 3-year, $27.4 million contract. Jordan spoke very directly with Stephenson before signing off on this contract.
“He told me what he likes about me, he told me what I need to calm down on,” Stephenson told the Observer after the news conference. “He told me how I can contribute to the team. And he told me he believed in my talent. He likes my competitive edge.”
There is plenty to like. The Hornets desperately need scoring and shooting from the wing positions. Last season Stephenson averaged 13.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists and shot 49 percent from the field. The Hornets needed a player of his wide skill set and playoff experience.
What they don’t need is some of the disruptive things that have come with Stephenson’s history. He committed 14 technical fouls last season, fourth-most in the NBA. He had two legal issues in the past, first when he was accused of groping a teenage girl and later an accusation he pushed a girlfriend down a flight of stairs.
The $9 million-a-season salary (the third season at $9.4 million is a team option) is a bargain for a player of Stephenson’s talent. The Hornets got that deal because of the ways Stephenson undermined his reputation entering free-agency.

***

No. 5: Wiggins just playing, ignoring the rumors — Rookie Andrew Wiggins can’t turn on the TV or click on a website without confronting another rumor that he could be part of a blockbuster trade that brings Kevin Love to Cleveland. It’s an unusual position for the No. 1 pick in any draft to be in. But after finishing up his stint at the Las Vegas summer league on Friday night, Wiggins told our Jeff Caplan that the only thing on his mind is playing basketball and getting better:

“Nothing to me,” Wiggins said as he flashed a playful personality with a wide smile after taking the Cavs’ Friday night Summer League finale off following four promising performances in his debut as a professional. “I just know what you know. I just see what you see on TV. That’s about it.”
The 6-foot-8 swingman said he’s letting his “agent and support system” handle the off-court twists and turns while he focuses on preparing for his rookie season, wherever it may be.
“I just play basketball, man, wherever I go,” Wiggins said.
James’ intent seem clear. On Thursday, Yahoo! Sports reported that James has reached out to Love about forming a superstar pairing few ever in thought about before a week ago. The Timberwolves have stood pat that there’s no deal unless Wiggins is the centerpiece. Whether or not the Cavs are now prepared to make their top pick available seems to change with the wind.
There’s just no clear indication yet of the Cavs’ position. It was only a week ago that James announced his return to the Cavaliers. Later that night Wiggins made his first appearance in Cavs colors at Summer League. Since then, Wiggins has been the at the main attraction in Vegas and at the center of constant trade rumors.
As he sat on the bench early in Friday’s game, a section of the crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center stood and chanted: “We want Wig-gins!”
“It’s been crazy, but it’s all positive stuff,” Wiggins said. “With LeBron coming back, there’s nothing negative about that; the best player in the world coming to your team. The organization is on the rise right now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard says the Rockets won’t miss Chandler Parsons …Channing Frye never considered giving the Suns a hometown discount … Udonis Haslem signs two-year deal to stay with the Heat …LeBron James is asking for help on deciding which jersey number he’ll wear in his return to Cleveland.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Lance takes talents, drama to Hornets, while Pacers sift through options


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson talks with the media after Indiana falls in Game 6 of the East finals

LAS VEGAS – Lance being Lance.

That’s how some will explain free-agent shooting guard Lance Stephenson‘s decision to sign with the Charlotte Hornets for $18 million guaranteed vs. the $44 million offered by his previous team, the Indiana Pacers.

Given Stephenson’s occasionally erratic behavior and impulsive thinking – the blowing-in-LeBron‘s-ear stuff that drove down his market value just weeks before free agency – the idea of leaving $26 million on the table to switch teams might seem so … so Lance. According to the Charlotte Observer, Stephenson will be paid $9 million in each of his first two Hornets seasons, with a slight raise in 2016-17 if the team exercises its option to retain him.

As confident as Stephenson is in his truly impressive talents, that might just permit the brash Brooklyn native with the “Born Ready” nickname to market himself again sooner at a higher price. Heck, it might keep him relatively hungry and focused on his next deal, mitigating the fears many in Indianapolis and around the NBA had that Stephenson, if validated with major money, might go from incorrigible to unmanageable.

Then again, maybe he was just bored. And with such a short guarantee, if the mercurial Stephenson (who will be 24 in September) undermines the image-conscious Hornets on the court or elsewhere, he might face even more frustration the next time he hits free agency.

He is Charlotte owner Michael Jordan‘s challenge to handle now, after four years of Larry Bird‘s TLC in Indiana – if Stephenson still requires or accepts mentoring from an all-timer.

Assuming Stephenson locks in while on the court, Charlotte – in this fallback move after its offer sheet to Utah’s Gordon Hayward was matched by the Jazz – has added a formidable talent. Stephenson is a multiply skilled wing player who is a natural scorer, a terrific athlete, a crafty (and sometimes wild) passer when he spies the opening and a lively, tenacious defender who welcomes the task of stifling big scorers. He has good range that can get better after shooting 49 percent overall and 35 percent on 3-pointers, while averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

At its best, Stephenson’s energy served as jumper cables for an Indiana team that could be too calm, too centered for its own good some nights. At its worst, that energy had the effect of Tasering his own team. The Pacers’ locker room was full of veteran players who could rein Stephenson back in; with the Hornets’ loss of Josh McRoberts and several young players trying to make their bones like Stephenson, who knows if Charlotte has the necessary steadying influences needed for Lance.

Indiana had offered Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal two weeks ago that, by all reports, had not been amended. Its average value of $8.8 million was only marginally different from the $9 million for which Stephenson is uprooting.

Even as players such as Hayward, Chandler Parsons and Trevor Ariza were getting bigger deals, Stephenson never pushed into eight-figure territory because of the risks associated with his behavior. He ranked among the league’s leaders in technical fouls and flopping fines, and was stats-centric enough to steal rebounds from teammates Roy Hibbert and David West (and to complain at the scorers table if he felt something was missed). Even Bird criticized him at the end for his distracting antics against Miami in the East finals, where Stephenson whipped up media scrutiny for days on end.

Now, however, the Pacers have a different sort of headache. Replacing good Lance might be just as challenging as handling bad Lance. There are precious few options left among free agents – especially since Indiana already cut loose former Philadelphia guard Evan Turner, who disappointed after his acquisition by Bird in February.

The latest Lance insurance policy is C.J. Miles, a 6-foot-6 veteran of nine NBA seasons with Utah and Cleveland. Last season, Miles averaged 9.9 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists while shooting 43.5 percent. He hit 39.3 percent of his 3-pointers but isn’t comparable to Stephenson as an athlete, defender or offense generator.

Outside options? Rodney Stuckey still is available after moving into a bench role with the Pistons. Ray Allen at 39 wouldn’t be able to handle the workload Indiana needs from Stephenson’s spot. There’s always a chance the Pacers could indulge George Hill‘s inner off-guard dreams and find another point guard, like former Magic playmaker Jameer Nelson.

Barring a stealthy save by Bird late in free agency or via trade, Stephenson has gone from blowing in LeBron’s ear to boxing the Pacers’ ears … all at a head-scratching bargain price.

 

Morning shootaround — July 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Hornets, Stephenson reach deal | Reports: Wolves, Warriors renew Love trade talks | Parsons clarifies comments about Houston | ‘The Greek Freak’ at point guard? | Silver: Clips sale may not happen soon

No. 1: Report: Stephenson headed to Hornets — The Charlotte Hornets opened free agency by taking a big swing at landing restricted free-agent swingman Gordon Hayward of the Jazz, but Utah matched the Hornets’ offer sheet last weekend. Swing No. 2 appears to be a success for the Hornets this time, though, as they have agreed to terms on a three-year deal with Indiana Pacers standout (and unrestricted free agent) Lance Stephenson, as first reported by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. This marks a big loss for the Pacers — who had the best record in the East last season — but there had been talk that contract negotiations between Stephenson and Indiana had broken down of late. Bonnell has more on the move for Charlotte:

Following an all-night negotiating session, the Charlotte Hornets have come to an agreement to sign Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson, the Observer has learned.

Under terms of the agreement, Stephenson will make $9 million in 2014-15 and $9 million in 2015-16. Stephenson will get a slight raise in 2016-17 if the Hornets pick up the team option.

Stephenson fills an obvious need, as the Hornets were weak offensively at the shooting guard and small forward positions. The 6-foot-5 Stephenson had a breakthrough season statistically, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He also shot 49 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.

However, he has a quirky personality that seems to have limited his market when he became an unrestricted free agent July 1.

The Pacers had offered Stephenson $44 million over five seasons, and reportedly did not come off that number. Stephenson thought he was worth considerably more.

But the question becomes how Stephenson’s quirkiness might play out once he signs a lucrative contract extension. He famously blew in opponent LeBron James’ ear in the playoffs. He was fined for flopping this season and was charged with 14 technical fouls, fourth-most in the NBA.

It is not the Hornets’ habit to take frequent risks on high-maintenance players. Trading for Stephen Jackson worked out for two seasons before they traded him on to the Milwaukee Bucks. Now they have drafted P.J. Hairston, a player who lost his NCAA eligibility over improper benefits and who recently was cited for punching a teenager during a pickup game at a Durham YMCA.

Hornets owner Michael Jordan has said one of his team’s greatest strengths last season was the character of the players on the roster. Did that embolden the front office to pursue Stepehenson? Is Stephenson now a threat to that chemistry?

Certainly the Hornets faced competitive pressure in the Eastern Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers improved dramatically with the addition of James, so that’s a non-playoff team in the East that now looks like a post-season lock. While the Heat lost James, they weakened the Hornets with the signing of Josh McRoberts.

It’s possible the Hornets would have struggled just to make the playoffs this season without upgrading the roster with a move like Stephenson.

(more…)

With no LeBron, what’s next for Miami?

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — With just one tweet, the Miami Heat went from being next season’s Eastern Conference favorites to most likely being out of the race to win their own division.

Today’s announcement that LeBron James is taking his talents home to Northeast Ohio effectively ends what has been a feverish run by the Miami Heat: four seasons, four NBA Finals appearances, two NBA titles. But LeBron’s exodus not only breaks up the Big Three. It throws the franchise into flux.

With LeBron gone, the next domino that seems to be teetering is Chris Bosh, who is reportedly in talks to join the Houston Rockets. With James and Bosh gone, the cupboard in South Beach will be left mostly bare.

What happens to Dwyane Wade? As part of his season-ending news conference, Heat president Pat Riley made clear that Wade, who has played his entire career in Miami, was something of a made man. Just two weeks ago, when Wade opted out of his contract, presumably as part of an effort to create financial room to help keep the Heat competitive, Riley said, “Dwyane has been the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade, and we hope he remains a part of the Heat family for life.”

It’s a nice idea, but at this point in his career, Wade isn’t the type of player a franchise builds around. After missing 28 regular-season games last season to rest his ailing knees, Wade seemed to wear down in the postseason, to the point where he didn’t have much let in the tank during the NBA Finals.

Yet Wade could still serve as the franchise face while the Heat reload. They’ve already reportedly agreed to deals with free agents Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, two players who should (or at least could) be solid contributors. They will join incumbents like longtime Heat big man Udonis Haslem, who will likely re-up, and guard Norris Cole. Rookie guard Shabazz Napier will give them some youth in the backcourt.

While James and Bosh may be gone, the allure of South Beach and the Heat’s organizational championship pedigree still could serve as a siren’s song for available free agents. And with Bosh and James off the books, even if the Heat sign Wade to a modest long-term extension, the Heat will have plenty of cap space to throw at other free agents. Would a core of Wade and a couple of free agents like Luol Deng and Pau Gasol be enough to contend in the East? What about Wade with Isaiah Thomas and Lance Stephenson?

Or, do the Heat step back, not immediately use their cap space, and try to reload down the road? The Heat’s first round pick next summer belongs, ironically, to Cleveland, though it’s top-10 protected. After that, the Heat own all their own first round selections going forward. And if the Heat can hang on to their cap space for one more year, the 2015 free agency class could include names like Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo and LaMarcus Aldridge (who has expressed his hope of staying in Portland).

No matter which way they go, what the Heat already have in place is a strong organizational structure. Riley may have swung and missed on keeping the Big Three together, but he did put them together to begin with and has the bona fides to build another championship organization. Coach Erik Spoelstra has spent just six years on the Heat sideline but has won two titles and never missed the playoffs, even when the Heat were setting up to go after the Big Three.

The Heat may be waning in Miami, but if there’s anything we’ve learned from watching how they operate, things likely won’t be cool for too long.

Market for Stephenson might move, though concerns remain same


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson talks about his season with the Pacers in 2013-14

Lance Stephenson might or might not be happy with the Indiana Pacers’ contract offer to him. But he has to be happy with the Charlotte Hornets’ contract offer to Gordon Hayward.

By doing nothing beyond waiting, Stephenson – the talented and erratic shooting guard who is testing free agency after four seasons of development and nurturing in Indiana – has seen the market change for good young wing players. Not necessarily his market to stay in Indianapolis, given Larry Bird‘s calculation of Stephenson’s pro & con bottom line: five years, $44 million, an average annual salary of $8.8 million. But the market overall, as determined by a pair of needy teams in modest-sized markets.

The Hornets’ decision to sign Hayward to an offer sheet for four years, $63 million (a max deal worth $15.75 per year) presumably has shifted things seismically not only for Stephenson but for Chandler Parsons, Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng.

Depending on what you read or believe, Stephenson already was displeased with the amount of Indiana’s offer and/or Bird’s one-price strategy.

Some reports claim Stephenson was simply disappointed by the Pacers’ number and wants to see what else is out there. Some claim he rejected that deal and is looking to leave. Among the teams said to have interest, from passing to strong, in Stephenson: Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Miami, Charlotte and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Taking the speculation to yet another level, there was word out of Texas that the Mavericks might deign to offer a smaller deal with Stephenson if he spurns Indiana yet miscalculates and grows desperate enough to accept a worse payday. Good luck with that.

We all know how the game goes from here: If Avery Bradley is worth $8 million a year to Boston with his limited offensive impact and Hayward is worth nearly twice that to Charlotte and Utah – the Jazz have been open about their intent to match anything Hayward signed – then it might seem, in sheer basketball valuation, Stephenson should be further to the right on the pay scale than what Indiana has presented. There are a couple of disclaimers though:

  • The difficulty, or should we say near-impossibility, of attracting free agents to Salt Lake City. Epecially with the Jazz mired in the lottery. With a new, unproven coaching staff.
  • Hayward’s restricted status.

Both of those point toward a player perhaps getting overpaid. A market that can’t dangle some mix of beaches, balmy weather, nightlife, lucrative endorsements and instant winning often has to show more money. And with RFAs, if the current team has expressed its intention to match, a rival can only fatten the offer in hopes of discouraging that.

Indianapolis isn’t a glamour market but it has gone to two consecutive East finals, with a breakthrough possible again next spring, especially if Miami has a break-up. Stephenson is unrestricted, which means that the team that overpays him will be the one stuck.

And stuck is an operative word, leading to a couple legitimate disclaimers about Stephenson and his value:

  • The Pacers shooting guard has had an unusually patient and nurturing situation in Indiana. Bird has had his back from the start, drafting him in 2010 despite off-court incidents and behavioral concerns. The team’s veterans have encouraged and kept him in line for the most part. Even when Stephenson drove down his own value with some high-profile hi-jinks against LeBron James and the Heat this postseason, Bird wondered aloud if he should have spent more face time with the irrepressible player.
  • Teams, including the Pacers, wonder what Stephenson might be like off the court once he has an eight-figure, multi-year guaranteed contract. He might take that as validation of everything – good and bad – he’s been doing, rather than a deal offered flinchingly in the hope that his maturity might catch up to his skill level.

Bob Kravitz, longtime columnist for the Indianapolis Star, urged the Pacers not to budge beyond the five years and $44 million they already have offered Stephenson. “Stephenson will never have as good a support system (read: Bird) as he has now in Indianapolis,” Kravitz wrote. “He will never find a group of teammates more willing (however grudgingly) to put up with his antics, both on the practice court and in games. He will never find a fan base more willing to embrace him, a fan base that loves him despite all his warts, much like Ron Artest, the former Pacers All-Star now named Metta World Peace.”

And yet, the one spinout other teams wouldn’t have to worry about that should concern the Pacers is Stephenson and his possible growing impatience with being the team’s “little brother.” He could well be Indiana’s second-best player in 2014-15 behind Paul George but his salary could be fourth- or fifth-highest on the roster.

One thing the Pacers can offer Stephenson that other teams cannot is the comfort zone he has at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not just with the fans but in his eccentric “Bird Cave.” More pressing at the moment, though, for those who would consider him: caveat emptor.

Five free agents that just can’t get away

Eric Bledsoe's potential departure from Phoenix would be a big blow to the franchise.

For the Suns to keep rising, they must re-sign the tough, spry Eric Bledsoe (left).

Most teams go into the free agency period saying they have every intention of hanging onto their players. They value them. They respect them. They’re ready to pony up and reward them. Truth is, in some cases, they can’t afford to let players that have become an integral part of the team and their identity walk out the door. It goes without saying that the Heat are all in to keep LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. So putting them aside, here’s the top handful of free agents that are just too valuable to let get away:

Carmelo Anthony, Forward, Knicks (unrestricted) — The new boss of Madison Square Garden Phil Jackson can keep trying to play hard ball and insist that Anthony accept less than a maximum level contract this season. But that truth is the Knicks need Anthony far more than he needs them. His options are many, from joining the Bulls or Rockets to try to lift them to the elite level, becoming another Hollywood star with the Lakers or even going to Miami to raise the temperature with the Heat. The Knicks’ options, if ‘Melo bolts, might include just leaving the ice down permanently at the Garden and letting the NHL Rangers play twice as many home games. Since LeBron has opted out this summer, the fantasy of chasing the game’s biggest name and best player will go back on hold in New York for another several years. The Knicks don’t have the assets to swing a deal for Kevin Love. They have a new coach in Derek Fisher. The declining Amar’e Stoudemire handcuffed the team further by deciding to opt in for $23.4 million. By keeping Anthony, the Knicks give fans a reason to show up or turn on the TV. Without him, they’re irrelevant.

Eric Bledsoe, Guard, Suns (restricted) — Never mind that they picked up rookie Tyler Ennis on draft night. When he was healthy for 43 games last season, Bledsoe was a difference-maker and likely could have lifted Phoenix into the playoffs if he’d been around for the full season. Though there might be a few who’d question his durability, Bledsoe is a 24-year-old sheer talent with a very high upside. He and backcourt partner Goran Dragic can both slide over to play shooting guard. But it’s running the show as a 1 where Bledsoe has the potential to carry the Suns into the future and could even crack the All-Star lineup in a very crowded Western Conference backcourt race. General manager Ryan McDonough has vowed to match any offer that comes his way. Bledsoe needs to be the foundation on what the Suns are building in the desert.

Boris Diaw, Forward/Center, Spurs (unrestricted) — You almost never want to tell the Spurs that one individual not named Tim Duncan means so much, especially after they’ve just picked up championship No. 5 by demonstrating that the team concept can outshine superstars by a wide margin in The Finals. But the point-guard-in-a-big-man’s-body Diaw was a very large part of that accomplishment, shifting the balance of power in the series against the Heat when he moved into the starting lineup. There was a great deal of talk on Draft night that the Spurs got the next Diaw-type player in forward Kyle Anderson. But this is a team where the clock is ticking loud and the championship contending days for this bunch will come to an end in another year or two at the most. Anderson will be fine for the next generation, but the Spurs need their crafty passer, good rebounder and underrated defender to stick around in order to have a shot at hanging up banner No. 6.

Marcin Gortat, Center, Wizards (unrestricted) — Yes, the Wizards will have to overpay, but that’s just a fact of life when you’re talking about a big man. Especially when it’s a big man coming off a season of averaging 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and anchoring the front court on a team that is built around guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. Gortat is simply solid at both ends of the ball, helping with the efficiency of the offense and stepping up to the play the role of large body stopper at the other end of the floor. In short, he just fits. Plus, the 30-year-old gives Washington a veteran’s sense of perspective. If it comes down to a choice between Gortat and fellow free agent Trevor Ariza, it’s really no choice at all. While Ariza’s defense on the perimeter and streaky offense are nice to have around, the big man keeps everyone grounded and gives the Wizards credibility in the East.

Lance Stephenson, Guard, Pacers (unrestricted) — Was it the moment that he blew in LeBron’s ear? Or when he gave the King that little chuck on the chin? At some point during the Eastern Conference finals virtually everybody leaned in a little closer to the HDTV screen and asked: “What in the world is Lance thinking?” Of course, the answer might have been nothing at all. Surely, the Pacers will have to think long and hard about how far they’re willing to open the wallet for a 23-year-old with a crazy streak. But that’s just it — Stephenson is just 23 and if club president Larry Bird can eventually get through to a player who has been a personal favorite, this team finally reaches its potential. If they let Stephenson get away, the Pacers are giving up part of their identity, their edge and simply take a step back into the soft middle of the standings. Yes, he’s a risk. Yes, he’s going to be infuriating. But yes, Indiana has to keep him.