Posts Tagged ‘Lance Stephenson’

Morning shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: Check out the highlights from Saturday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rubio due back, well, one of these weeks | KG goes ‘Lance’ on Pacers’ West | Clippers’ bench earns its pine time | Pierce sees end of Gang Green

No. 1: Rubio due back, well, one of these weeks — Despite the tendency of Web sites everywhere to gaze into their crystal balls and predict the future – about half of all sports reporting and four-fifths of all stock market coverage is all about guessing what will maybe, perhaps, happen – sometimes the future doesn’t cooperate. Which is why injured Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio is tired of talking about it, even in the short term. As Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported from Oakland Saturday, Rubio’s return from a severely sprained ankle has become too much of a guessing game for the team’s absent playmaker:

He is back running and now refuses to prognosticate the date of his return.

“I wish,” Rubio said Saturday when asked if he knows when he will play again. “I’ve been saying it’s two weeks for the last month. I don’t want to say anymore dates. I’ve been saying in two weeks I think I’ll be ready and two weeks go by and I still can’t play and I get mad. I don’t want to get in a bad mood again. I’m not going to ask for a date again. I go as my body will let me do.”

For now, he can run and he did so with teammates for the first time at Friday’s morning shootaround in Denver, where he participated full-court running the team’s offense.

He can run, but stopping is another matter.

“I can’t cut and if I’m running and I have to stop right away, I have to take two, three extra steps,” Rubio said before the Wolves’ 110-97 loss to Golden State. “It’s not going to work in the game. I need more of that [5-on-0 work]. It felt good. I want to feel great before I go to some contact.”

Rubio will have another magnetic resonance imaging exam taken of his ankle after the team returns home from this current three-game road trip. Wolves coach Flip Saunders said Saturday he is hopeful Rubio can advance to contact play — the next step toward a game return — if the image comes back clean.

That didn’t stop some from fuzzying up their estimates and claiming a “mid-January” return for Rubio. And if that doesn’t happen, there’s always the Magic 8 Ball.

***

No. 2: KG goes ‘Lance’ on Pacers’ West — Losing by 25 points ought to be embarrassing enough, but no, the Brooklyn Nets had to find a way to add to their foolishness Saturday. Early in the game, before things turned truly sour for the Nets in front of a sellout Barclays Center crowd, veteran forward Kevin Garnett lifted a move from the Lance Stephenson playbook – though it had nothing to do with offense, defense or the basketball itself. Garnett blew in Indiana forward David West‘s face, much like Stephenson did when the former Pacer blew in LeBron James‘ ear during the Eastern Conference finals last spring. West didn’t appreciate it and picked up a technical foul for shoving Garnett away, but the silly stunt ultimately achieved nothing. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post reported on West’s version, while Garnett left the arena without talking to reporters:

“Yeah, I didn’t like that,” West said. “I didn’t like that. I just know it was too close, and I didn’t like it. I don’t want to play those games. We are out there to play basketball, so let’s play basketball.

“Everyone’s kind of looking at me trying to figure out what made me push him. I told them he blew in my face … an aggressive blow at that.

“I think Lance’s was more sensual. That was an aggressive blow. I felt the, I don’t know what you call it … but it was just too much.”

While the Nets’ $12 million man was “blowing the game” in far too literal a fashion, their $19.8 million and $15.7 millon men – Deron Williams and Brook Lopez – were combining for just seven points off the bench and earning with underwhelming play the criticism that has come their way.

***

No. 3: Clippers’ bench earns its pine time — When a team’s bench can’t do its primary job – playing even or better when subbed in against the other team’s reserves – things can unravel fast. And that’s what happened to the Clippers when coach Doc Rivers went grasping for answers that weren’t there Saturday against the Toronto Raptors. As a result of poor play by L.A.’s second unit, Rivers’ starters wound up gasping for air. According to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, that had everything to do with Toronto’s game-grabbing 13-2 run in the fourth quarter:

Rivers acknowledged afterward that he should have taken his starters out earlier in the game to provide more flexibility in the fourth quarter.

Of course, it was easy to second-guess his decision not to mix and match starters and reserves late in the game the way things played out.

“The problem was, to keep them in the game we had to keep our starters in in the entire third quarter,” Rivers said. “Honestly, I don’t think it would have mattered. Blake [Griffin] had already played 12 straight minutes. Do we play him 15 when he’s already tired?”

The Clippers continue to receive little production from their bench besides the scoring of Jamal Crawford and energy plays provided by Glen Davis. Center-forward Spencer Hawes remains sidelined because of a bone bruise in his left knee and point guard Jordan Farmar, the team’s other key off-season acquisition, has made an impact in only a few games.

Rivers said he needed to simplify the offense to help the second unit become more productive. Crawford scored 20 points Saturday, but the seven other reserves who played combined for only 13 points.

Davis said optimizing the way the team integrates the starters with the reserves could help solve some of the issues.

“Doc’s got to figure out the rotation and see what we can do to help our team, especially giving the big guys rest because they’re playing a lot of minutes,” Davis said. “But being on the second team, you’ve got to be ready, you can’t make a mistake. That’s just what it is. You’re in there for short minutes and you can’t make a mistake and it’s hard to play like that but you’ve got to do it because those are your minutes.”

***

No. 4: Pierce sees end of Gang GreenPaul Pierce and Kevin Garnett left more than a year ago, traded to Brooklyn prior to 2013-14. Ray Allen was gone before that, joining what at the time was the Boston Celtics’ arch rivals to chase a second ring in Miami. Coach Doc Rivers maneuvered his way to the West Coast. Now it’s Rajon Rondo who is gone from the Celtics’ parquet and Pierce couldn’t help but notice – and comment on what essentially was the end of a special era that began for them all in the summer of 2007. Here is some of what Boston Herald writer Steve Bulpett gathered Saturday in Washington, D.C., where Pierce makes his basketball home these days:

The timing of Rondo’s Dec. 18 trade to Dallas caught Pierce off-guard, but he knew this was a strong possibility once the Celts didn’t get in the running on Kevin Love and couldn’t find another impact player to pair with Rondo.

“I was a little bit surprised, especially because trade season starts close to All-Star or after All-Star break,” Pierce said. “Not a lot of trades happen in mid-December. You know, teams are trying to find their stride.

“But we had a chance to talk. We had our weekly mass text, and he understood the situation. The Celtics were either going to go in one direction, build around him, or continue with the youth movement. So I think Rondo understood it.

“I was shocked definitely, because I thought this was a year they were going to maybe this summer find some pieces to put around him. But he had a great run in Boston, and as long as he’s happy, that’s all that matters.”

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but even he had to move along when the club traded him to Brooklyn in 2013 to begin its rebuilding phase.

“That’s the way it is,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a long time before you see one player stay with one team for 15-plus years. You know, I think those days are pretty much gone, especially with the new collective bargaining agreement, players wanting to be in different places or play with their friends. It’s just a new era I think we’re living in.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ray Allen might be leaning toward retirement, rather than picking a contender to join in mid- or late season. … The list is long, but arguably the Detroit Pistons’ worst move in contributing to that team’s slide was the 2008 trade of veteran guard Chauncey Billups to Denver for an also-past-his-prime Allen Iverson. At least, former Piston Rodney Stuckey thinks so. … New Orleans’ Anthony Davis played his first NBA game in his hometown of Chicago and he dazzled with 29 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. It was his fourth 25-10-5 game of the season. … Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague looked all the way back from his recent hamstring injury and the Hawks avenged Friday’s 30-point loss to the Bucks by traveling to Milwaukee for payback.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 19


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe not recruiting KD to L.A. just yet | Report: Trade talks for Stephenson fizzle | Malone reflects on Kings days

No. 1: Kobe not recruiting Durant to Lakers just yet — Former MVPs and scoring champions Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant have developed a mutual respect for each other on and off the court over the last few seasons. Would the two take to playing together in L.A.? While the prospect of that is a ways off and would hinge on Durant not re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bryant addressed the notion of playing with KD in Lakerland yesterday. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes has more:

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant has openly praised Kobe Bryant, saying he’d love to play with the Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard.

And while Bryant said he hasn’t yet recruited Durant, who is set to become a free agent in 2016, Bryant didn’t rule out trying to lure last season’s MVP to the Lakers either.

“No, I think we know each other pretty well,” Bryant said Thursday at the Lakers’ practice facility here, leading into Friday’s game between the Thunder (12-13) and Lakers (8-17) at Staples Center.

“I don’t think it’s a discussion that you have in terms of coming here. But I think it’s more of an understanding how to play with each other.”

Said Bryant, “If the opportunity came up, then that’s the time to have that discussion.”

It’s no secret that the Lakers are among many teams that plan to pursue Durant when he hits free agency.

Bryant praised how much Durant has changed his game since joining the NBA.

“When he first came into the league, he was more of a perimeter player,” Bryant said. “He’s since evolved his game to now being a great post player, a great passer out of double teams, a great mid-range game. His evolution as a basketball player just keeps getting better and better.”

Bryant was asked if adding Durant — or any star — would entice him to extend his career beyond next season, when his two-year extension worth $48.5 million is set to expire.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” Bryant said. “But it’s really my call, man. If I want to play, I’ll play. If I don’t, I don’t. If I don’t want to play anymore and go through the process of getting my body ready day in and day out, I’m not going to play.”

(more…)

Blogtable: A looming trade?

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: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEOShould the Warriors think about dealing David Lee?

> Give me a name or two, guys who you think almost certainly will be traded between now and the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLance Stephenson back to Indiana as a do-over of sorts would be interesting, because it’s not something we’ve seen often (ever?). David Lee done got “Wally Pipped” in Golden State – the team didn’t miss him and might be better without him – so he’d be a likely suspect to move, if someone were willing to swallow his contract. I would have said Ersan Ilyasova for sure until Jabari Parker went down, thinning the Bucks’ frontcourt.  If LeBron James wants Corey Brewer, then I’d imagine Brewer will be headed to Cleveland for something or other. Then there’s Greg Monroe, though any trade would hinge on his determination to leave Detroit (no more Bird rights) and the Pistons’ asking price for a half-season of his services.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comLance Stephenson and Dion Waiters. It seems there wasn’t a bigger mistake made during the offseason than the Hornets trying to add Stephenson as a pinch of spice. He’s been a bad fit since Day One and team owner Michael Jordan would most likely enjoy a shot at a do-over. The bad blood between Waiters and point guard Kyrie Irving might be in the past, but Waiters is still most often like a fifth wheel on the Cavs’ machine and is likely never going to stop being frustrating.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt’s tough not to think Lance Stephenson right away. The contract is very moveable — $27 million over three seasons, but the final campaign as a team option — and Stephenson can be a productive player, certainly more productive than he has shown so far in Charlotte. It’s early in the relationship, but the Hornets can’t wait much longer before deciding it’s a bad fit. Separately, the Pistons are a candidate to trade. Offloading Josh Smith would be an ideal scenario, but he won’t bring much in return. Greg Monroe is a possibility, before he becomes a free agent, but not at a fire-sale discount. He’ll still cost.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: There are dozens of players that teams want to dump, but for various reasons might be unable to do so. Case in point: Josh Smith, Pistons. Anyway, my candidates: Gerald Green, because the Suns may not want to pay him; Arron Afflalo, because his return to Denver has been largely a bust; Corey Brewer, because the Wolves will be crummy with or without him; and finally Lance Stephenson, just because.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are a lot of guys who teams don’t want anymore, and there are a lot of guys that other teams desire. But Draft pick compensation and the heftiness of certain contracts (hello, Joe Johnson) often get in the way of potential deal. Dion Waiters, in my opinion, should fall into the first category and is still on an easily-tradeable rookie contract. So I see him as the most likely to move. The Cavs need defense and have plenty of guards — Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Harris, James Jones and Mike Miller — who can absorb Waiters’ minutes.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comJosh Smith and Lance Stephenson serve as the easy picks and for good reason. I think one or both of them will certainly be on the move. There is no doubt they’re both being shopped by their respective teams. They are both talents with skills that will be coveted by teams convinced that they’ll be able to clean up whatever messes they’ve made in the past. Neither one of them is a great (or even good) fit in their current situations. The Pistons aren’t going anywhere this season, so they might as well start the rebuilding process at the deadline. The Hornets had high hopes and had them dashed early. They need to free themselves of Stephenson and allow him to start fresh elsewhere as well. My wild card at the deadline is the Phoenix Suns. They had a glut of point guards and should take a hard look at which one of them is expendable.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI’m going to say Josh Smith and any other number of Pistons. The coach has the authority to make trades in Detroit, and after complaining steadily about the effort of his players, Stan Van Gundy isn’t going to allow the trade deadline to pass him by.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI wouldn’t be surprised to see the Knicks move Amar’e Stoudemire. He’s playing better basketball than he’s played in years, and could lend a hand on a contending team in need of frontcourt depth. Plus, with a $19 million expiring contract, maybe the Knicks can get something of value for him that will help with their rebuild going forward.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kings, Malone were a stylistic mismatch | Monroe denies trade rumors | Bucks win thriller but lose Parker | Blazers lose Lopez for ‘a while

No. 1: Kings, Malone were a stylistic mismatch — Two days after the surprise firing of coach Michael Malone in Sacramento, we’re finally starting to get a few explanations. In a session yesterday with the media, Kings GM Pete D’Allesandro said it didn’t matter what Malone’s record was, it was more about the team’s style of play and philosophy. As Jason Jones writes in the Sacramento Bee

Malone was a coaching disciple of defensive-minded Jeff Van Gundy and Malone’s father, Brendan, an assistant with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons when they won NBA championships in 1989 and 1990.

But defense is not what the front office or ownership wants to sell to fans.

“It wasn’t about wins and losses,” D’Alessandro said. “I didn’t really care about what our record was. It’s about who we want to be, what we want our identity to be as a team.”

That vision is a team that plays a fast-paced offensive style Tyrone Corbin will try to implement as interim coach.

D’Alessandro would like to see the Kings play like the Rick Adelman-coached Sacramento teams more than a decade ago, when they piled up wins with a dynamic offense – especially with the new downtown arena expected to open in 2016.

“What we’re trying to do is put a style in that reflects the Sacramento fan base, which to us is a free-flowing, up-and-down style of play,” D’Alessandro said. “That’s what we’re striving for; we have time now to install it before we get there. I think it’s going to ignite the arena when we’re playing with the style of play we intend to play with.”

Now the questions are whether the Kings, 11-13 overall and 2-7 without Cousins, have the players to make that style work and direct the team long term.

D’Alessandro wouldn’t commit to Corbin for the rest of the season, though he said Corbin has his support. The Kings are interested in veteran coach George Karl, an analyst for ESPN who was fired by Denver following the 2012-13 season, according to league sources. D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver.

Chris Mullin, a Hall of Fame player and an adviser to primary owner Vivek Ranadive, might be interested in the job, league sources said.

Until a permanent coach is hired, Corbin will have the challenge of changing the team’s style.

“It’s so new right now,” Corbin said. “I’m just trying to weather the storm right now and get these guys ready to play a game (Tuesday).”

***

No. 2: Monroe denies trade rumors — A day after a story in the Sporting News reported that he “badly” wanted to be traded by the Detroit Pistons, both Greg Monroe and Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy strongly refuted the rumors that Monroe was on the block. As Vince Ellis writes in the Detroit Free-Press

“They put that stuff out there, say somebody said it and then I got to answer for it, I really don’t have time for that,” Monroe said before tonight’s game at the Los Angeles Clippers.

On the rumors, he added: “It’s getting more irritating. We lost 13 games in row, won a couple of games, and now you got to hear this.”

Sporting News writer Sean Deveney, citing sources, says Monroe “badly” wants out of Detroit and that the team is seeking a first-round pick in return.

He emphatically said he is open to re-signing with the Pistons.

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy also denied the aspect of the Sporting News report saying the Pistons were seeking a first-round pick for Monroe. “I don’t know where that stuff comes from,” Van Gundy said. “We haven’t talked to anybody about trading Greg Monroe.”

***

No. 3: Bucks win thriller but lose Parker — On the one hand, it was a big night for the Milwaukee Bucks in the desert, as they battled the Phoenix Suns and won on a game-winning buzzer beater. But on the other hand, the Bucks had to play most of the second half without rookie of the year candidate and franchise building block Jabari Parker, who went down with a non-contact knee injury and wasn’t able to return. As Charles Gardner writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Parker’s left knee buckled without contact as he made a drive in transition and he was unable to leave the floor under his own power. He was carried off the court by teammates Zaza Pachulia and Johnny O’Bryant.

“As of right now we don’t know anything. They’ll do all the tests tomorrow and we’ll be able to report something then,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said after the game.

Pachulia, who played a key role in the Bucks’ comeback victory, said all of Parker’s teammates were wishing him the best.

“I hope he’s going to be OK,” Pachulia said. “He’s a great young player. This team and this organization, the whole city counts on him. He has a lot of years ahead of him in his great career. Injuries are part of the game.

“I hope it’s not anything serious. We are all praying for him.

“It was tough to see your teammate going down and not being able to walk himself. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. The doctor is going to make a decision, obviously. But we want to him to have a speedy recovery, whatever it is. We really need him.”

Parker was driving to the basket but his knee gave way before he had mild contact with the Suns’ P.J. Tucker. A double foul was called on the play but there was little contact to merit that.

Jared Dudley said Parker “is the franchise.”

“He’s young; he’s a rookie,” Dudley said. “The good thing about it is he was smiling when he came in, so that’s always good. He was in, I don’t think it was a cast, but something where you couldn’t bend it, obviously.

“He’ll get an MRI. We’re hoping it’s just a sprain where you get him back in a couple weeks. You don’t want to have anything with him, so keep him in your prayers.”

***

No. 4: Blazers lose Lopez for ‘a while — Meanwhile in Portland, the Blazers knocked off the defending champion Spurs, but in the process lost starting center Robin Lopez to a fractured hand. According to Portland coach Terry Stotts, Lopez will be out “a while,” and having to make do without Lopez is not something that the Blazers are relishing, writes Joe Freeman for The Oregonian

“I don’t even want to think about having to play without RoLo,” All-Star point guard Damian Lillard said.

Lopez said he wasn’t sure how he suffered the injury, but it looked like he smacked his hand against the back of Boris Diaw‘s head while pursuing a rebound under the hoop. Lopez didn’t show any immediate pain or discomfort and he continued to play with the fracture for a few minutes. Eventually he was pulled from the game, however, and preliminary tests indicated that he fractured his hand in two places.

“At first I thought I just jammed a finger or something,” Lopez said. “I didn’t hear a pop and I didn’t feel any pain or anything. So I was just trying to shake it off. But as play went along, my hand never could regain any strength, so I figured I was more of a liability out there.”

The true liability lies in Lopez’s absence, particularly a lengthy one. In many ways, he’s the heart and soul of the Blazers’ starting lineup, a selfless, rugged, lane-clogging big man who is the unsung hero to their free-wheeling offense and linchpin to their improved defense. Lopez is averaging just 9.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, but his value is not measured solely in statistics. He’s the team’s best screener, best interior defender and most unselfish player.

How important is he to the Blazers’ success? They are 73-34 with him on the roster and last season — his first in Portland — he was an integral part of the first Blazers team in 14 years to win a playoff series.

“I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” LaMarcus Aldridge said, when asked about the prospect of playing without Lopez. “That’s it. I can’t get past I don’t like it.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Pacers owner Herb Simon says he’d be fine with a trade to bring back Lance Stephenson, but it’s not his call … Billionaire businessman Warren Buffet sat courtside in Cleveland last night to see LeBron James play … Kobe Bryant on passing Michael Jordan and the time he almost quit basketball for soccer … Mike Fratello will remain coach of the Ukraine National Team for at least a few more years … Darko Milicic will make his kickboxing debut later this week …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sacramento fires Mike Malone | Kobe more like Mike than ever | Stephenson on the move already? | Cavs getting healthy at the right time

No. 1: Sacramento fires Mike Malone — Christmas promises to be interesting in Sacramento, where the coaching search is on now that Mike Malone has been fired and replaced by Ty Corbin just 24 games into this season. The production on the floor (11-13) apparently did not meet the internal expectations for a team that was trying to dig its way out of the lottery mix in the Western Conference. TNT and NBA.com’s very own David Aldridge provides some context:

The Kings, 11-13 and losers of eight of their last 10 games, had high expectations of making the playoffs this season, having signed free agent point guard Darren Collison last summer, giving forward Rudy Gay a contract extension and building around Cousins, who got a max deal from owner Vivek Ranadive last summer. Ranadive and management believed Sacramento could compete now for a playoff berth.

Sacramento got off to a good start this season. But after Cousins came down with the ailment late last month, the Kings slumped. They are currently a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the west.

Sources indicated management was not happy with the team’s style of play or the direction of the team under Malone, who was hired in 2013 and went 28-54 in his first season.

***

No. 2: Kobe more like Mike than ever — The pursuit of Michael Jordan, at least on the all-time scoring list, is over for Kobe Bryant. He handled that business Sunday in Minnesota, pushing past MJ for third on the list with a 26-point outing in a win over the Timberwolves. After years of fighting the comparisons, Kobe is looking more like Mike than ever, so says Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times:

It wasn’t as climactic as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook to make him the league’s all-time scoring leader. It wasn’t as uncontroversial as Karl Malone’s steady stroll to second on the list, one pick-and-roll at a time.

It wasn’t even guaranteed to be the biggest Bryant news event of the past week, his “soft like Charmin” rant at practice taking plenty of spins in the national sports cycle a few days earlier.

But it finally happened, 1,269 regular-season games into a career that began with a trade, Charlotte to Los Angeles, and filled with individual visions of topping Jordan in championships and accolades.

“He knows how much I’ve learned from him, from the other legends, and him in particular,” Bryant said after dunking his feet into his postgame ice bath. “That’s the most important thing to me, I think, is playing for the respect of the greats and feeling like I’m a part of that culture, part of that brotherhood.”

***

No. 3: Hornets’ Stephenson on the move? — Independence day for NBA teams eager to fix free agent mistakes has come. Today marks the fist day teams can move players signed to new contracts over the summer. And the player whose name has surfaced prominently in those discussions is Lance Stephenson. The Hornets’ swingman could be on the move, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, who reports that the Hornets are exploring all of their options:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Hornets, just 23 games into the Stephenson era, have already begun the process of searching for potential trade partners that would be willing to take the talented but enigmatic former Indiana Pacer off their‎ hands.

Although sources say no deal involving Stephenson is imminent, Monday is the first day that players signed to new contracts in July are eligible to be dealt, which typically triggers what teams leaguewide regard as “trade season” over the next two months leading into the annual February trade deadline.

One factor that could ultimately lead to a deal, despite Stephenson’s ragged and discouraging start, is the fact that the three-year, $27 million deal he received over the summer from Charlotte owner Michael Jordan is only guaranteed through next season. The third year of the deal is not guaranteed, which theoretically enhances Charlotte’s chances of finding another team willing to gamble ‎on the mercurial swingman.

Sources say that the Hornets are not in a move-him-at-all-costs mode with Stephenson but made it clear that Charlotte is ready now to abandon the experiment if a palatable deal presents itself.

Stephenson has quickly proved to be a poor fit alongside the Hornets’ established core twosome of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, shooting 38.9 percent from the floor overall and 8-for-48 percent on 3-pointers during Charlotte’s 6-17 start.

***

No. 4: Cavaliers getting healthy at the right time — The Cleveland Cavaliers are getting better and better, literally. They are getting healthy at just the right time. The Christmas rush is upon us all and this is important a time for contenders as any in the early part of the NBA season. The Cavaliers struggled with different injuries, bumps and bruises to kick off this season. But now they are on the mend and ready to chase that top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, writes Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

All but one player fully participated in Sunday’s practice. LeBron James — having missed the Oklahoma City game Thursday with a sore left knee — said he went through the entire practice with the exception of the final drill.

Coach David Blatt pulled him out of that as a precaution.

“It’s OK,” James said of his knee after practice. “It responded well to the flight back home so I’m happy about that. I’ll get my treatment tonight and get my treatment tomorrow [before] the game.”

Guard Dion Waiters participated in Sunday’s practice, but Matthew Dellavedova wasn’t ready. He was relegated to light shooting and movement drills. On Friday, both players became ill in New Orleans and were held overnight for tests.

Waiters had abdominal pain and Dellavedova an extreme case of vomiting.

“We don’t know whether it was a virus or food poisoning,” Blatt said. “But the effect of it we know, and it was not pretty.”

The team is listing Dellavedova as questionable for Monday’s home game against Charlotte.

Mike Miller is close to returning to action after sustaining a concussion during the road win over the Knicks on Dec. 4. He is in the fourth of five stages in the league’s concussion recovery protocol.

“We were able to get him out there today for some 3-on-3 here after practice,” Blatt said. “And tomorrow we’ll evaluate his response to that and know where to go for the next step.”

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Kevin McHale has nothing but love for Trevor Ariza … The Wizards are as good as they’ve been in a decade, in so many ways … Warriors needed overtime for Sweet 16 … Tobias Harris has emerged as the Magic’s go-to-guy …  Chris Bosh calf injury is latest blow for injury-riddled Miami HeatDerek Fisher says Knicks players are more focused on the future than this season? … Steve Kerr says the Warriors are not chasing a 72-win season …

Reports: Hornets shopping Stephenson


VIDEO: The Starters: Is Lance Stephenson stealing rebounds?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The honeymoon is over in Charlotte, apparently.

The Charlotte Hornets were supposed to be an improved team this season, with the addition of Lance Stephenson giving a boost to an offense which ranked 24th last season. But Charlotte has been the most disappointing team in the league thus far, having regressed on both ends of the floor.

The Hornets have played the toughest schedule in the Eastern Conference and Stephenson isn’t completely to blame for their 6-17 start. But he hasn’t fit in well and has shot just 39 percent (16 percent from 3-point range).

And now, with Stephenson eligible to be traded on Monday, the Hornets are looking for a mulligan, as Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports

The Charlotte Hornets are targeting the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets as destinations to unload guard Lance Stephenson, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Stephenson becomes eligible to be traded on Monday, and Charlotte has rapidly lost hope that its brief partnership with Stephenson can stand the test of time.

Indiana hasn’t ruled out the possibility of bringing back Stephenson, but appears unwilling to seriously engage the Hornets without the inclusion of a first-round pick in a potential deal, sources told Yahoo Sports.

So far, Charlotte has shown no inclination to package a future draft pick to move Stephenson, league executives told Yahoo Sports.

ESPN’s Marc Stein has more

Although sources say no deal involving Stephenson is imminent, Monday is the first day that players signed to new contracts in July are eligible to be dealt, which typically triggers what teams leaguewide regard as “trade season” over the next two months leading into the annual February trade deadline.

One factor that could ultimately lead to a deal, despite Stephenson’s ragged and discouraging start, is the fact that the three-year, $27 million deal he received over the summer from Charlotte owner Michael Jordan is only guaranteed through next season. The third year of the deal is not guaranteed, which theoretically enhances Charlotte’s chances of finding another team willing to gamble ‎on the mercurial swingman.

Sources say that the Hornets are not in a move-him-at-all-costs mode with Stephenson but made it clear that Charlotte is ready now to abandon the experiment if a palatable deal presents itself.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 11


VIDEO:
Highlights from games played Dec. 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets move Kirilenko | Knicks project united front | Rondo, Stephenson get physical | Warriors introduce new arena redesign

No. 1: Nets move Kirilenko — It’s not a member of their core, but the Nets have agreed to a trade that clears a bit of cap space. Forward Andrei Kirilenko goes from Brooklyn to Philadelphia, saving the Nets some cash, and the Nets add forward Brandon Davies and his non-guaranteed contract. As our John Schuhmann writes, it sure looks like neither player may be long for his new team…

Brandon Davies isn’t completely awful, but his contract is non-guaranteed, so the Nets could waive him and not have to pay him anything. Assuming they do, the trade would save them about $6.6 million in luxury tax payments, in addition to about $2.6 million of Kirilenko’s salary. If they include another player in the deal, they save more.

The deal will also give them a trade exception and an open roster spot. Both of those give them a little more flexibility in making future trades.

The Sixers get a little closer to the salary floor, not that it matters. They probably won’t keep Kirilenko, who hasn’t played since Nov. 13, hasn’t made a shot (or been in the Nets’ rotation) all season, and is dealing with a personal issue that has kept him away from the team.

***

No. 2: Knicks project united front — The Knicks have only won four games this season, but that hasn’t kept them from making headlines early on. According to a report yesterday from ESPN’s Chris Broussard, things behind the scenes with the Knicks have been as calamitous as their play on the court has been. Writes Broussard…

The New York Knicks were en route to their fifth straight loss last week against Brooklyn when a frustrated Tim Hardaway Jr. screamed angrily, “Get the rebound!”

Certain his second-year teammate was speaking to him, Carmelo Anthony approached Hardaway on the way down the court and used an expletive to ask Hardaway who in the world he thought he was talking to.

Anthony, according to sources, used another expletive in telling Hardaway he was going to beat him up when they got into the locker room after the game.

While the two players never wound up fighting, the episode was emblematic of the volatile state of the Knicks. Off to their worst start in franchise history at 4-19, the Knicks are a team full of discord, defiance and doubt, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

“Nobody’s taken a swing at anybody, but there’s a lot of arguing and cursing each other out after games,” one source said.

In addition to the Knicks’ lack of chemistry, sources say the players believe coach Derek Fisher’s insistence on running the triangle offense is another key reason for New York’s struggles.

After the ESPN report was published, the Knicks players met with the media while on the road in San Antonio and said things were not as bad as they sounded, noting that they had recently held a player’s-only meeting to help get everyone on the same page…

The Knicks started the day tied for the most losses in the league — seemingly ripe conditions for a story to emerge about internal discord. The article said that Anthony had a verbal spat with teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. during a game last week against the Nets. The report also said that Knicks players told Anthony that they were unhappy with his style of play — that he was not playing team basketball — and also that many players were displeased with Coach Derek Fisher’s systems.

Neither Anthony nor Hardaway denied on Wednesday that they had clashed on the court, but both men said the issue was behind them and described a fruitful mentor-student relationship. Anthony, meanwhile, reiterated his commitment to the team and to perfecting Fisher’s system, including the triangle offense.

As far as hearing criticism from his teammates, Anthony revealed that there was a players-only meeting on Saturday at the team’s practice facility in which various concerns were raised, but he denied it had become particularly contentious.

“Everybody had a platform to speak their piece, and what they felt about what’s going on, and how we can better the situation,” Anthony said. “But it wasn’t no pointing fingers or anything like that, or solely pointing me out to be blamed.”

While reports of relationship issues may be overblown, a 4-20 record doesn’t lie: The Knicks lost big last night to a Spurs team missing Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.

***

No. 3: Rondo, Stephenson get physical — During last night’s Celtics/Hornets game, with both teams desperate for a win, two of the NBA’s more competitive players found themselves in a battle neither could really win. Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson ended up banging into each other more than once, and as Jay King writes, to hear Rondo tell it, there may have been some flopping involved…

About five minutes into the third quarter of a 96-87 Boston Celtics loss, Rondo threw a high elbow that sent Stephenson tumbling to the court. The Charlette Hornets wing stood up and got in Rondo’s face; later in the same possession, after what looked like some jawing, both players were hit with technical fouls.

Asked about what happened, Rondo initially said, “Nothing at all. I said something to him and I didn’t know what I said could get a tech.”

Pressed on the elbow, the Celtics guard obviously implied Stephenson took a dive.

“He weighs about 60 more pounds than me, but that’s part of his game,” Rondo said.

“The game is contact. The game we play is contact. Whatever you saw, I don’t know,” he added. “I am strong. But I don’t think I was that strong on that play in particular to knock him down.”

Rondo notched his third triple-double of the season with 12 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, but committed three costly turnovers down the stretch. He also got beaten baseline by Kemba Walker for an and-1 with 3:46 left that pushed Charlotte’s lead to 90-85.

“We did (let an opportunity slip away),” Rondo said. “It started with me. I had some key turnovers in the fourth that I should have been able to take better care of the ball. And Kemba Walker had a backdoor play layup. So we’ve got to do better as a team, as a whole. And it starts with myself.”

***

No. 4: Warriors introduce new arena redesign — A few months ago the Golden State Warriors showed off pictures of their planned arena in San Francisco. It was touted as a step forward for the franchise, which currently has the best record in the NBA and has been based in Oakland’s Oracle Arena since 1971. There was one thing people noticed, however, about the new arena drawings: From above, it seemed to look like a toilet. Rather than sit with those criticisms, yesterday the Warriors dropped new sketches of the planned facility that should streamline the exterior of the new space

Gone is much of the rectangular viewing deck that, when coupled with the oval arena, gave the overhead view of the place the appearance of a giant toilet seat with the lid down. The deck has been shaved down to about half its old size, dropped about 13 feet below the roof line and given a sweeping curve.

“We are trying to flush the toilet bowl forever out of people’s consciousness,” said Warriors arena consultant Jesse Blout.

Instead, it looks more like an old Discman CD player, less likely to be the butt of humor.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwight Howard hopes to return Saturday for the Houston Rockets … Tom Thibodeau says any talk of trust issues in Chicago is “garbage.” Taj Gibson respectfully disagreesByron Scott is thinking about starting Kobe Bryant at point guard … The Mavericks are considering options regarding adding another big man … ABC is developing a sitcom about a foreign-born NBA player and his translator.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 180) Featuring Kemba Walker

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Charlotte Hornets weren’t supposed to be in this predicament nearly a quarter of the way through this NBA season, staring up at the competition in the Eastern Conference standings.

If it was up to Kemba Walker, their star point guard and resident big shot artist, they wouldn’t be. And yet here they are, 5-15 and having to dig their way out of the rubble of their early season struggles. (And don’t blame Lance Stephenson either, Kemba doesn’t.)

We go under the hood of the Hornets with Walker for just a piece of the wild Episode 180 of the Hang Time Podcast, which also includes discussions on the Royal visit in Brooklyn to see LeBron James and the Cavaliers, Kobe Bryant‘s continued pursuit Michael Jordan and the No. 3 spot on the all-time scoring list, Chris Rock‘s new hit comedy (Lang spent some time with the star and the rest of his cast) and more.

As usual, we’ve got all the answers on Episode 180 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Hornets guard Kemba Walker

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the new best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Chris Rock and the cast of Top Five spend some quality time with Lang Whitaker

Blogtable: Charlotte vs. New York

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 best 2s | Charlotte vs. New York | A sweet 16



VIDEO: Brent Barry breaks down what is going wrong with the Charlotte Hornets

> Charlotte or New York: Which is better equipped to actually make a run at the playoffs? Do you see that team making it?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Charlotte still is in better shape, in my view. I’m more surprised by their miserable start, which means I considered them a better team going in. Nothing has changed there, though the Lance Stephenson funk is different from what I expected (I thought he’d stats-hunt and neglect teamwork while posting big numbers. Uh, not so much…) Generally, I like the Hornets’ roster better and their ability to defend, and I do think they’ll snag a low seed. The Knicks, not so much – on all fronts.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Hornets have the better 1-2 combination of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. If they can figure out a way to harness Lance Stephenson and rookie Noah Vonleh gets his legs, they’ve simply got a deeper lineup than the Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks. And living in the Eastern Conference, you’re never out of it in December.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Charlotte. I still think the Hornets make it, but the bad start confirms a lot of the preseason worries they would take a step back this season. Losing Josh McRoberts to the Heat in free agency was bigger than most people realize. That’s still a better team than the Knicks, though. Getting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back will help the defense. The healthy guards need to heal as well — Kemba Walker and/or Lance Stephenson have to start hitting shots.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Knicks are about tapped out in terms of a ceiling. Most of their core players are either at their peak or on the downside, unlike the Hornets, mostly loaded with young players who still have growth potential. Anything is possible in the East, including both teams reaching the playoffs, but for now I’ll go with the Hornets in a fight for the seventh or eighth spot.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Charlotte has the better chance. Though the Hornets need shooting, they have the tools to be at least somewhat successful on both ends of the floor. With the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and maybe a timely trade, they can definitely be in the mix for one of the last couple of playoff spots. The Knicks have too many bad defenders and their offense has been hindered by the Triangle, or at least their ability to run it smoothly.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Playoffs? Did you really say “playoffs” … I’ll have two slices of that pie in the sky you were nibbling on when you cooked this question up. Neither one of these teams is currently on a playoff track, and barring a Christmas miracle I don’t see either one of them making that push. The Knicks have systemic issues that have been well documented. As to what went wrong in Charlotte, it’s a bit more complicated. The Hornets’ chemistry from a year ago is gone. It went up in smoke sometime between them presenting an offer sheet to Gordon Hayward and them adding Lance Stephenson instead. You don’t come back from this sort of chemistry hiccup without tinkering with the chemistry again (via a trade), which is another gamble for a team flat on its back after the first month of the season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hornets spent last year successfully developing Steve Clifford’s system. They have a better chance of resolving their chemistry problems because they’re committed to making this group work. The Knicks have no such commitment to this team: They have a new system and new leadership and can’t wait to start tearing up their roster.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Charlotte. The Knicks are a project, and they have a distance to travel both on the court and in regard tot heir roster. I know the Hornets are brutal right now on both sides of the ball, but they have a system that works, a coach who got his team to the playoffs a season ago, and most importantly, a deep group of talented players. Maybe there are some chemistry issues and fundamental things to figure out, but the Hornets should be able to shake through their issues and get on the winning track. And in the Eastern Conference, you’re never really out of the puzzle.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: I don’t have much faith in either of these two teams’ postseason hopes. But if I had to, I’d pick the Hornets over the Knicks to make a run at the playoffs. New York is a lost cause right know: learning a new system with a bunch of players who either don’t believe in it or are not fit for it it’s almost impossible. Even if you have two legends like Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher trying to convince you it’s the right thing to do. The Hornets were supposed to fight for a top 4 spot in the East: they have a playoff roster, they just need to find out a way to convince Lance Stephenson to fit into their system. Steve Clifford, with some help from His Airness, Michael Jordan, could make it.

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: Definitely the Hornets. They’ve started terribly but their schedule has been incredibly tough. Steve Clifford built an elite defense last season that revolved around stopping easy transition baskets, they’ve gone away from that this season but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s injury hasn’t helped. They’ll improve defensively, it’s on the offensive end that I’m concerned. If they can bring in a little more shooting they may be able to turn things around here. I wasn’t one to get excited about this team in the offseason, Lance Stephenson wasn’t going to suddenly remedy their problems and losing Josh McRoberts was big. Right now, neither team will probably make the playoffs, but clearly if you have to choose one, I’m not banking on the Knicks!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: Make the playoffs? No I don’t think so. Charlotte has a better roster, despite the fact that they lack a star with Melo’s caliber. They have a solid core (Gary Neal, Al Jefferson, Stephenson, Walker), but still are missing important parts to become an playoff team. Perhaps what they are missing is a Lance Stephenson’s Indiana days. He is not shooting well and the team needs him to step up.

Nacho Albarrán, NBA.com/Espana: New York, but the road to the playoffs will be tough, and we not sure if they will make it.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: Because of their balance, depth, familiarity with the system, and defensive strengths, I think Charlotte is more likely to be a playoff team this season than New York. They have had a tough start to the season for sure, but the season is long and the East is weak: the Hornets have enough talent between Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, MKG, and Lance Stephenson to sharpen their rough edges in time for making a successful playoff run.

Juan Carlos Campos Rodriguez, NBA.com/Mexico: New York. They have the talent: Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and one Jose Calderon; Structure: Derek Fisher on the bench running the show and Phil Jackson as director. If they can come together and demonstrate their quality, they will make it to the playoffs over Charlotte. The fundamental points are that the team succeeds in implementing the triangle offense that led Jackson to win 11 titles in the NBA and that ‘Melo doesn’t run out of patience and decide he wants a ‘change of air’ by midseason.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: I think Charlotte will get it going at some point, the Lance Stephenson experiment is not working right now but he is due to break out of his slump soon. Big Al Jefferson is consistent and a monster on the block while Kemba Walker is a top flight point guard in the league. New York is in a deeper hole, they don’t have the right players for their system and worse, Fisher can’t seem to make them play defense, their better off rebuilding full time than hope for a miracle with this group although it wouldn’t surprise me if Jose Calderon can somehow resuscitate their offense.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I think the Knicks have the longer way to go. There are too many things they have to adjust. Coach Fisher still needs time to get to know his players. Who fits for the triangle offense and who not? It’s a transition year for them. Anyway they have the quality to claim a playoff-spot, it’s only 3,5 games to the last spot. But at the moment, I think the problems the Hornets have are a bit smaller. They have to figure out, how Stephenson and Walker fit together. Both needs the ball in their hands, without it they’re ineffective. In addition Charlotte has to find their defensive mindset again. Their team-defense is awful at the moment. But they will solve their problems. The quality in the team is high enough to be a good team in the East. I believe the Hornets will make it to the playoffs.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Nov. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stephenson not a star yet | Suns point guards slow to adjust | Butler has risen against the odds | Lopez a perfect fit in Portland

No. 1: Stephenson not a star yet — With a 4-12 record and the second longest losing streak in the league, the Charlotte Hornets have been the most disappointing team outside of Cleveland. The arrival of Lance Stephenson was supposed to give their offense a boost, but they rank 25th on that end of the floor and have regressed defensively. Stephenson is still starting, but has seen his playing time drop quite a bit in the last week. After he logged just 23 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Blazers, Hornets coach Steve Clifford provided a dose of reality regarding his team’s new “star,” as Michael Wallace of ESPN writes:

Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes Lance Stephenson’s problems adjusting during his first season in Charlotte are partly due to the guard’s struggles to live up to external expectations.

“To be fair, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He’s not a star. He’s a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years.”

Clifford’s comments came after Stephenson was left on the bench for the entire fourth quarter for a second consecutive game, this time during Wednesday’s 105-97 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that extended the Hornets’ losing streak to seven straight games.

A combination of preseason injuries and struggles since then to find his rhythm and a consistent role in Clifford’s offense has made Stephenson’s transition much more difficult than some anticipated.

***

No. 2: Suns point guards slow to adjust — At 10-6 after a win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns are in a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. But they’re still trying to find their way, especially offensively, where they’ve taken a small step backward. One adjustment is the addition of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who joins Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in an unconventional backcourt. Though the team is winning, it’s impossible for all three to get their deserved playing time every night. As Thomas tells CBS Sports‘ James Herbert, that can be tough to deal with:

With the Kings, he was shuffled in and out of the starting lineup, especially in his first two seasons. He watched Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Greivis Vasquez and Jimmer Fredette play the point in front of him. Thomas has learned that he can’t worry about the things he can’t control. Still, this is challenging. Thomas has proven he’s capable of producing like an All-Star, and so have Dragic and Bledsoe.

“It’s a tough situation,” Thomas said. “But you’ve just got to be ready for whatever circumstances coach puts you in. You gotta be ready when your name is called, but I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s tough.

“It’s not what I expected,” Thomas continued. “But coach has a tough job. Putting all of us on the floor and trying to mix up the minutes, it’s tough for him. So it’s not just tough for us as players, we just gotta be ready when our name’s called and just know, I mean, coach is trying to do what he thinks is best for the team to put us in a position to win. But the key word is it’s a tough situation. For all of us.”

***

No. 3: Butler has risen against the odds — The Chicago Bulls have one of the most improved offenses in the league, despite the fact that Derrick Rose has played just 6 1/2 of their 15 games. One reason is the continued development of Jimmy Butler, who has the best field goal percentage of the five players in the league averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. Butler was the 30th pick in the 2011 Draft out of Marquette, where most teams didn’t see much talent in the 6-7 guard. ESPN’s Nick Friedell profiles Butler and his path to becoming a big piece of a title contender:

Jimmy Butler isn’t supposed to be here.

He’s not supposed to be in the NBA. He’s not supposed to be a key member of a Chicago Bulls team that has championship aspirations. He’s not supposed to be in the midst of an All-Star type season — the best of his career — in which he has carried the Bulls on both ends of the floor at various times. And he’s certainly not supposed to be on the verge of cashing in on a contract offer at season’s end that will likely pay him well over $50 million over the next four seasons.

The odds have always been against Butler. His path to the NBA is as unlikely as anyone who plays in the league given that his backstory (of being homeless at 13 before moving in with a friend’s family) reads like the basketball version of “The Blind Side.” No matter how many ups and downs Butler endured in his journey to the precipice of NBA stardom, the 25-year-old never stopped believing in himself. The same drive that helped get him out of Tomball, Texas, and into Marquette University is the same fuel that’s pushed him to average over 20 points a game early this season.

***

No. 4: Lopez a perfect fit in Portland — The Portland Trail Blazers made a 21-win leap from Lottery team to the second round of the playoffs last season, and have continued rolling with a 12-3 start this year. They’ve gotten improvement from all of their high-profile players, but the key to the transformation was the addition of a low-profile center. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details the importance of Robin Lopez to the Blazers’ success:

After 96 regular season games and one memorable playoff series victory, it’s become clear that Lopez was the missing link for this franchise. A city that has watched the downfall of the beloved yet brittle Bill Walton, and the depressing breakdowns of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, finally has a stabilizing force at the NBA’s most important position.

And while Lopez’s made-for-Portland personality and rugged, hustle-infused game have made him a Rip City fan favorite, it’s the things you don’t notice — the unselfishness, the unassuming disposition, the way he connects the Blazers’ chemistry — that have made the towering 7-foot, 265-pound center so important.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the Blazers’ best player. Lillard brings the big shots and big plays. Matthews provides defense, leadership and heart. And Batum is the glue, offering a touch of everything.

But Lopez is perhaps the most important piece, the linchpin to one of the most cohesive and talented starting lineups in the NBA. When general manager Neil Olshey shrewdly snatched Lopez in a trade for next to nothing, he didn’t just nab a starting center entering his prime, but also the 21st Century version of Buck Williams, a player plugged into an established core at just the right time that helped catapult the Blazers to the next level.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony doesn’t know how long back spasms will keep him out of the Knicks’ lineupThe Thunder waived Sebastian TelfairThe Lakers are close to signing Earl ClarkDavid West hopes to make his season debut on FridayMarcus Smart started, but couldn’t finish practice on WednesdayThe Celtics are going to EuropeMark Cuban wants to join the Eastern ConferenceSome trash talk from Philly fans motivated Kevin GarnettKyrie Irving wants to guard the league’s best point guards … and The New York Times profiled TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”

ICYMI of The Night: Tyson Chandler helped the Mavs to an overtime victory over his old team with 25 rebounds, an NBA high for the season:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Tyson Chandler grabs 25 boards