Posts Tagged ‘Lang Whitaker’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 185) Featuring Chris Vivlamore

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You need theme music when you’re playing as well as the Atlanta Hawks have here recently (they’ve won 23 of their last 25 games after demolishing the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday night on the road).

The dream is real for long-suffering Hawks fans who have waited for years to see their team atop the Eastern Conference standings and among the league’s truly elite teams. The Hawks sit atop NBA.com’s Power Rankings and have earned the universal approval of those who know the game intimately, and yet there is still a bit of uncertainty surrounding the hottest team in basketball.

Maybe it’s the lack of superstar names on the roster (sorry Jeff Teague, Al Hoford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and others). Or perhaps it’s the long and sordid history of a franchise that, during its Atlanta history, has yet to enjoy that breakthrough season that ends with a trip to the conference finals. Mike Budenholzer and his bunch don’t care about the Hawks’ past. They are only concerned with the present and the future.

That future remains a bit uncertain. New ownership, potentially new management and even a few new faces on the roster could be in the works. No one knows for sure. And that’s why we thought it best to discuss all that and more with Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal Constitution on Episode 185 of the Hang Time Podcast.

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: KG head butts Dwight and the chaos ensues

Blogtable: Where will Dirk finish?

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: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEODirk Nowitzki is now the NBA’s No. 7 all-time scorer

> Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki has zoomed up to No. 7 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. With two years left on his contract after this season (and who knows after that?) where do you think Dirk will settle on this list when all’s said and done?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I was in the visitors’ dressing room in Milwaukee last month when Nowitzki sat out a game (second of a back-to-back) he otherwise could have played in. His comment on that night of rest for his weary bones: “I want to play for the Mavericks for a long time, so…” Clearly he has no intention of stepping off the all-time points ladder anytime soon. But if he settles into, say, a 17 ppg scorer and manages his body through 70 games a year, that moves him along at about 1,500 points per season. That gets him past Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) and perhaps Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) but Micheal Jordan (32,292) might be a rung too high.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: As long as he stays healthy, I’m thinking Dirk won’t be ready to hang it up in two more years. He’s got Mark Cuban, who’ll keep pushing at the envelope to surround him with a roster that will keep the Mavs in playoff contention. So I’m going high and guessing that he does what would have been unthinkable when he was drafted back in 1998 and passes Michael Jordan, but tucks in behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant at No. 4.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comAnother spot for sure, past Shaquille O’Neal, and probably past Wilt Chamberlain to crash the top five. That’s remarkable real estate even for the staunchest Dirk backers. I wouldn’t count him out of No. 4 and Michael Jordan either. I just don’t think it’s an easy call at that point.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI say he finishes 5th at best and passes Wilt and Shaq. It’ll help to have Rajon Rondo around to get easier buckets (assuming Rondo sticks around after this season). Of course, we are also assuming Dirk stays healthy, something he has managed to do for much of his career.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comDirk will get past Shaq next season, but unless he misses only a few games, he won’t catch Wilt on this contract. So the question really comes down to whether you think he’ll play another year (at the age of 39) after that. I’ll guess that he does, passes Wilt, and finishes at No. 5, where he’ll eventually be passed by LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comGiven the way his career started, Dirk working his way into the top five will stand as a truly remarkable feat. I think he slides into the top four before it’s all said and done, not that I put a ton of stock into the top whatever when you get to the single digits on this list. Anyone in the top 40 all-time has done ridiculous work. The top 20 is unbelievable. The top 10 jaw-dropping. And that top five makes you one of the unquestioned greatest scorers in the history of the game, a Hall of Fame shoe-in and a guy in need of a statue outside of an arena somewhere around the league.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: If his team is in title contention, he’s healthy and he’s loving the life, then he could extend beyond 2017 because his length and skills would enable him to play for as long he likes. But he will be 39 at that time. Think about all of those hard private workouts that enable him to maintain his current level. We should be appreciating Nowitzki on the likelihood that we’ll never see anyone like him again after 2017, when he’ll probably retire as the No. 6 scorer, just behind Wilt Chamberlain.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: This question involves a lot of math and therefore heavily favors Schuhmann. Just wanted to point that out. Dirk is 36 years old and is averaging just over 18 points per game this season. Let’s assume he plays until he’s 40, so four more seasons including this one. Let’s also assume his scoring rate slows by a point each season, so he goes from 18 to 17 to 16 to 15. And let’s also guess there will be games missed due to injury, so let’s just say he averages about 65 games a season for four seasons. By my calculations, that’s: (18 x 65) + (17 x 65) + (16 x 65) + (15 x 65) = 4290

So, if Dirk scores 4,290 more points, he’ll have a total of 31,702 points, which would put him into fifth all-time, behind Michael Jordan and ahead of Wilt Chamberlain. This now concludes my one arithmetic problem for 2015.

Blogtable: Struggling marquee teams

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: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEOAre the Lakers better off with Kobe Bryant playing less?

> Three of the NBA’s marquee franchises — Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, L.A. Lakers — are a combined 27-77 and hold little hope for short-term success. If these teams were stocks, which one would you buy, which one would you hold, and which one would you sell?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d buy more Lakers stock, hold what I have of the Knicks and sell my Celtics holdings. The Lakers have the greatest upside because of their culture and their climate — they’re the biggest free-agent magnet of the three thanks to their market and their recent history. Now that Phil Jackson has begun the serious demo work in New York, I think he and the Knicks can build something better, especially as Carmelo Anthony‘s dominance of the team begins to recede. As for that storied franchise in Boston, I’d invoke the phrase familiar to financial speculators: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I can’t convince you to take all three off my hands for, say, the Grizzlies? OK, if you’re forcing me to buy, I’ll take the Lakers. They’re still THE marquee team in the league and when Kobe Bryant finally does retire — looking more and more like after next season, for sure — they’ll have the salary cap space and the cachet that will let them start over. Not to mention a rehabbed Julius Randle and another high draft pick from this season. I’m holding the Celtics because I believe Danny Ainge has the right coach to build on in Brad Stevens, a future All-Star in Marcus Smart and a patient long-range plan. I’m selling the Knicks because, well, they’re the Knicks. After this salary dump this week, Phil Jackson will go into next summer with the space to sign two max level free agents, maybe three. if the cap takes a big leap. Trouble is, he’ll do the usual NY thing and after finding the possibility of luring LeBron James or Kevin Love from Cleveland a pipe dream and having LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol not willing to climb aboard the worst team in the league, Jackson will wind up grossly overpaying the likes of Jimmy Butler or Goran Dragic and merely making the Knicks mediocre to good, but not contenders.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHold the Lakers, hold the Celtics, sell the Knicks. (Why did you ever buy on the Knicks in the first place? No wonder you switched brokers.) Investing in the Lakers now looks bad because not only is it a lottery team, it’s a lottery team with one piece in place for the future and he is injured. (Julius Randle.) But I’d hang on to stock on a team in a destination city and Mitch Kupchak with a loud voice in management. It would not be a surprise if even the lottery Lakers bag a big free agent. The Celtics front office likewise has a proven track record, plus the best young pieces among the three. Boston also has the advantage of being in the East.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Definitely buy the Celtics. They have seven extra first-rounders (some conditional) coming between now and 2018 and there isn’t a sluggish contract weighing down the salary cap. Plus, Boston remains a destination for free agents. Hold the Lakers. I realize they owe future picks to Phoenix and Orlando and Kobe is clogging up cap space, but they’re still the Lakers and somehow find a way to keep their pain to a minimum (I know, I know, GM Jerry West isn’t walking through that door). Sell the Knicks. Phil Jackson deserves a chance, but this team is cursed.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’m buying the Celtics, because they have the best group of young players (by far), the most future picks, and the GM/coach combination that I have the most confidence in going forward. I’m holding the Lakers, because they have one Lottery pick already on board, maybe another on the way (it may go to Phoenix), and a shorter contract with their 30-plus, former league’s leading scorer who doesn’t fit the rebuilding timeline. And I’m selling the Knicks, because they have nothing beyond a 30-year-old forward they just signed to a five-year, $124 million contract (Carmelo Anthony), an unproven team president (Phil Jackson) and an unproven coach (Derek Fisher). Nothing’s guaranteed in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’m buying Lakers’ stock, holding the Celtics’ stock and selling all of my Knicks stock. I know that the Lakers never stay down for long. It’s just not what they do as a franchise. They’ll do whatever takes to get back on track. They’ve operated that way and probably always will — provided there is a Buss in charge. The Celtics have some decent pieces and a bright, young coach in Brad Stevens. They just need time to figure it all out. The Knicks have no business being in this marquee mix with the Lakers and Celtics. They haven’t come close to the championship success the other two have enjoyed in recent years. I’m selling on them until Phil Jackson works his Zen magic and convinces another superstar to join Carmelo Anthony in the seemingly eternal quest to return the Knicks to their 1970s glory.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI would buy the Celtics, who are fully committed to rebuilding and are two years into the business of asset (Draft picks, young players and cap space) aggregation. I would hold the Lakers, who — eventually — will draw the interest of free agents. And I would sell the Knicks, who after so many self-destructive years are unworthy of faith until they themselves prove otherwise.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: SELL, SELL, SELL! OK, to really answer your question, I’d buy the Celtics, hold the Knicks and sell the Lakers. Danny Ainge gets the benefit of the doubt in Boston because we’ve seen him reboot his franchise before, plus the Celtics have five first-round picks in the next two Drafts. That’s a heckuva place to start. I know the Knicks are terrible this season, but I like the direction Phil Jackson’s going — bottoming out before building back up. That starts with clearing salary and getting young players in to learn the triangle offense and grow along with the franchise. With the Lakers, I’m not quite sure what they’re doing. They’ve tried to rebuild through free agency but the current management hasn’t shown an ability to recruit the marquee free agents we keep hearing about them going after.

Blogtable: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal?

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: Thoughts on Cavs’ deal? | Struggling marquee teams | Where will Dirk finish?



VIDEONBA TV’s crew discusses the three-team trade

> Cleveland’s deal for Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith was made, seemingly, to shore up some holes on defense. Mission accomplished? Or more to come?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIf the Cavaliers are done sprucing up their roster defensively, then I think they’re done, period, as a serious contender this season. It’s not like I expect them to lure Dikembe Mutombo out of retirement and coax assistant coach James Posey back into uniform, but they’re going to have trouble coughing up from within the proper defensive intensity, on the fly, in what’s left of the season. Rim defense in particular is needed, and no one on the current roster (with Anderson Varejao out) is capable of filling that void. As for finding one of those much coveted 7-foot shot swatters walking around outside the arena, good luck with that. The Cavs need to make another deal.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDefinitely not. From the beginning of the season the Cavs have been short on big men and the loss of Anderson Varejao for the season only exacerbated the problem. More than one hole in the hull of the S.S. LeBron. Still need bigs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comMission accomplished to get away from Dion Waiters. Maybe Shumpert makes the Cavs better on defense, but the primary goal was addition by subtraction, not shoring up holes on defense. Although Waiters has talent, he obviously wasn’t a good fit there, and that’s not just with the new roster, either. More to come? I could see it. Cleveland doesn’t have many trade chips left, but any tinkering is possible after the way the season has started.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI wouldn’t say mission accomplish or that there is more to come. Not sure if the Cavs, at this point, have any more disposable assets to swap that will fetch the shot-blocking rim protector they need. Shumpert is just a band-aid. The Cavs need more of a team effort defensively that will help hide the shortcomings of Kevin Love and, to an extent, Kyrie Irving, but I’m not so sure that mentality is there. LeBron can only do so much, and even he isn’t the defender he used to be.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe mission certainly hasn’t been accomplished, because they still lack rim protection and both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love still need to show that they can play both ends of the floor. But the trade is definitely a step in the right direction. Trading Waiters is addition by subtraction, Shumpert gives them more perimeter defense than they had, and Smith is a good shooter if he can just play off LeBron James and Irving and limit the isolation, step-back nonsense. I’ll be curious to see how coach David Blatt finds playing time for all these guards, though.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comIt has to be a little of both. The Cavaliers certainly found a potential perimeter defensive stopper (no offense to Shawn Marion, who has performed those duties in the past) in Shumpert. So that part of the mission has been accomplished. But there has to be more to come in terms of shoring up the rim-protector/post-defense deficiency that was created when Anderson Varejao (Achilles) was lost for the season. The Cavaliers have plenty of time to continue exploring their options. And based on what we’ve seen from them so far, they need to turn over every rock in the basketball world in search of the idea fit.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMuch more to come … and much of it must happen in-house. Shumpert is a good pickup because he join LeBron James in his commitment to defense. Will everyone else come around? The mentality in Cleveland needs to change in addition to the mandatory acquisition of an intimidating big man. If everybody isn’t paying attention at that end of the floor, then nobody in Cleveland is going to be winning the championship.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe more I think about this deal, the more I like the way it works out for Cleveland. First of all, Dion Waiters either wouldn’t or couldn’t fit into the sixth man role he’d been asked to occupy, so the Cavs went out and got a former sixth man of the year in Smith. On top of that, they added Shumpert, the Knicks’ most versatile player and a true a-level wing defender. I think this will really help Cleveland down the stretch in games, where they’ve tried auditioned various players, from Matthew Dellevadova to Mike Miller, as Irving’s backcourt mate. Doesn’t matter which one, Shumpert or Smith is an upgrade.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 184) featuring Vince Goodwill Jr.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If you want to know the fastest way to spoil something special in the NBA, just check the chemistry.

No championship team operates without good chemistry. No team harboring championship dreams, even the ones boasting the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant (the last two men to earn MVP honors, can overcome bad chemistry.

That would explain the presence of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder being involved in the three-team trade with the New York Knicks that went down Monday, a somewhat shocking player and asset swap that sent Dion Waiters from the Cavs to the Thunder, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks to the Cavs. The Knicks piled up more Draft picks and cap space that will help them continue the Phil Jackson-led chemistry tweak going on in New York.

They are all chasing the same thing the Detroit Pistons discovered when they waived veteran forward Josh Smith before Christmas and promptly ripped off five straight wins. They are searching for that cosmic mix that Vince Goodwill Jr. of The Detroit News describes on Episode 184 of the Hang Time Podcast.

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: The Detroit Pistons are on a roll right now that no one saw coming

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 183) Featuring Mike Lee

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A quick scan of the NBA standings on both side of the conference divide provides a much different set of teams than the casual fan is used to seeing in those positions.

In the Eastern Conference Toronto, Washington and Atlanta have invaded the party that was supposed to be headlined by Chicago and Cleveland. In the Western Conference Golden State, Portland, Memphis and Houston make up the power elite, a group that was supposed to include the reigning world champions from San Antonio and Oklahoma City Thunder.

The start of a New Year is a great time to take stock of the recent past and forecast what is to come, which is exactly what we’re doing on Episode 183 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Mike Lee of The Washington Post.

We’re trying to make sense of what we’re seeing from teams from coast to coast, why some are thriving this season and why others are struggling to play up to expectations. We trust our own observations, of course, but it never hurts to have one of the oldest and most trusted members of the Hang Time Podcast family weigh in with his own observations on what’s going on.

We dive into all of that and much more on Episode 183 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Mike Lee … Happy New Year!

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: The Top Plays from the final month of calendar year from around the NBA

Blogtable: Rondo or J-Smoove?

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: Person of the Year? | Rondo or J-Smoove? | Bulls bound for Finals?



VIDEOGameTime’s crew discusses how Josh Smith will help the Rockets

> Dallas trades for Rajon Rondo; Houston grabs Josh Smith. Who made the better move here and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comAny team that switches out its point guard on the fly is determined and committed to change, so Dallas acquiring Rondo is both the bigger and the better move. Smith to Houston is a nice bit of accessorizing, as I see it, but the Rockets’ fundamental approach doesn’t change. Plus, their investment in the Detroit discard isn’t so great that they wouldn’t cut him loose if the negatives start to outweigh the positives. Good for both clubs, escalating the arms race in the West, but the Dallas did the more-real deal.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s far, far too early to tell.  The Rockets made the bigger gamble with a player in Smith who has more physical skills, but greater potential to blow up in their faces. Rondo upgrades Mavs offense at the point, but hasn’t helped plug a leaky defense

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Mavericks. I get why a lot of teams were running at Smith — only because he was low-cost, low-risk. But I like a lot of the reasons of Dallas getting Rondo. He will move the ball, critical for a team that already has Monta Ellis in the backcourt and Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons needing/deserving the ball up front. He has playoff experience. He has a desire to stay after becoming a free agent. And the Mavericks didn’t have to give up much to get him.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comRondo gets the nod, only because there doesn’t appear to be any chance of a downside. He upgraded the point guard spot and does exactly what the Mavericks need him to do — find Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Monta Ellis or Tyson Chandler. Rondo can’t shoot but in this offense he can hide pretty well. Smith is being celebrated in Houston partly because he came cheaply. His bad habits can hurt Houston a lot more than Rondo’s can Dallas. For all of his skills, there’s a very high “heartbreak” quotient with Smith.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comHouston, because there was a lot less risk involved in waiving Tarik Black than in trading three rotation guys and two draft picks for an experiment that might not work. Rondo helps the Mavs a little bit defensively. But he isn’t a good offensive fit next to Monta Ellis because neither player is an off-the-ball floor spacer. Smith isn’t a great fit offensively in Houston, either, but Houston had more need for help at his position. And, as previously noted, the Rockets didn’t give up nearly as much to get him (though Black is young and serviceable).

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI honestly liked both moves for the teams and players involved. Rondo, however, gives the Mavericks a makeover at the most crucial position in the game. The Mavericks get a seasoned play-caller with not only a championship pedigree, but also an understanding of what it takes to work in an ensemble cast. The Mavericks are clearly all in for this season. You don’t trade for a player like Rondo unless you are serious about winning it all. And to get through the Western Conference playoff grinder, there is no doubt you have to be as aggressive as possible in searching out and securing the services of true difference makers — like both Rondo and Smith.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comGive Rondo some time to adapt and strengthen his confidence, and he will make a huge difference to the Mavericks. They will appreciate him in the most important games — and in the playoffs especially. His talent for raising his play on the biggest stage is exactly what is needed for a contender. Smith, by comparison, has shown no such big-game ability.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHouston. I understand why Dallas felt like adding Rajon Rondo was a given — his resume and talent should be attractive to any NBA team. When you have the best offense in the NBA, like Dallas had at the time of the trade, changing your starting lineup and trading away your best backup big man (Brandan Wright) is the kind of move a fearless owner like Mark Cuban thrives on making. I’m just not sure it makes your team better. But for Houston, picking up Josh Smith — a very good forward who can help you on both sides of the ball when deployed correctly — without having to give up any pieces of your rotation is a no-brainer. Now we get to see if Kevin McHale is a Josh Whisperer and can carve out a role that fits Smith’s unique skill set.

Blogtable: Bulls bound for Finals?

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: Person of the Year? | Rondo or J-Smoove? | Bulls bound for Finals?



VIDEOJimmy Butler has emerged as a go-to scorer for Chicago this season

> Chicago is on a roll and appears to be making a beeline to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Is this the season the Bulls return to the NBA Finals? If not, tell me who’s gonna stop them?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comThis is the best Bulls team since Michael Jordan retired for the second time, as far as depth and potential, so there’s no reason – on paper – that it shouldn’t get to The Finals. Cleveland, more than its general meshing, has a problem in Anderson Varejao‘s injury that might not get fixed until the offseason. Toronto, in postseason savvy, is a step behind Washington. And the Wizards, for all the confidence they gained last spring, would have trouble defending against this more-potent Chicago lineup. Atlanta? I respect the Hawks, but one-trick ponies have trouble in seven-game series. So the biggest question for Chicago remains Derrick Rose‘s long-term health and availability. Which means the “who” who might stop the Bulls must be … uh, trainer Jeff Tanaka? (Just kidding, Jeff)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With Jimmy Butler stepping up his game this season, the Bulls have an improved offense and appear to have the pieces. But their defense has lost some of its teeth and Derrick Rose’s continued health still nags. I’m not ready to make Chicago the favorite. Have to like what the Raptors have done with best record in the East even with DeMar DeRozan out. Most efficient offense in the league and no-nonsense bulldog point guard in Kyle Lowry, who won’t go down easy. And let’s not write off the Hawks as just being the same old Hawks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThey were my pick at the start of the season to come out of the East, and to win the whole thing, so I’m not going to change now. Certainly not with the big jump from Jimmy Butler and the rejuvenated Pau Gasol. Rose’s health history obviously makes it something of a risk pick, and it is tough to push all my chips in with that medical chart, but, yes, the Bulls are the team to beat.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIf they stay healthy, the Bulls have pole position in the East. They’re not a perfect team, but they bring more size, experience, defense and coaching to the playoff table than anyone else. The Raptors and Wizards haven’t done anything yet, the Hawks are a few stars short of going deep into May, and let’s not get started about the Cavaliers. If Jimmy Butler we see now is the Jimmy Butler we’ll see in the spring, then the East is theirs to lose.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The top four teams in the East – Toronto, Atlanta, Washington and Chicago – all have the potential to be a top-10 team on both ends of the floor. Toronto’s depth gives them an edge in the regular season, but Chicago — with its combination of talent (especially on the frontline), system, experience and coaching — is best set up to win in the playoffs. Health and durability through heavy regular-season minutes will always be a concern and it would be tough to pick them against the field, but the Bulls should be the slight favorite to be representing the Eastern Conference in The Finals.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAll of the components are there for the Bulls to finally make that long awaited return trip to The Finals. The Cavaliers were supposed to be the team that could roadblock the Bulls, but they aren’t that team in their current state. The Wizards have the talent to give Chicago a major test, yet they still cannot boast as deep or as balanced a roster as the Bulls can when fully healthy. The Raptors and Hawks would provide a stern playoff test, but both would come up short in three extremely important categories (size, seasoning and star power). The Bulls have everything you need, including Derrick Rose in uniform and not street clothes. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau knows that his team’s time is now. Chicago’s championship window is open now and it must take advantage of it.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe biggest concern for the Bulls is their own ligaments, tendons and muscles. Given the recent history of injuries among their best players, this is no small threat. If they are healthy, then they are it in the East. If they’re vulnerable physically, then the race becomes a scramble with anyone currently in the top five (plus Miami, which still has hope of pulling things together) having a shot at reaching the NBA Finals. Whereupon that team will be destroyed in five games or less.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I will recuse myself from answering the Atlanta Hawks because of inherent legacy fandom. (Even though I think the Hawks could knock off Chicago this season.) But I will say this: Why is everyone writing off the Cavaliers? I mean, I understand that it’s fun to watch a burgeoning empire stumble out of the gates, but the story this week about the team possibly not believing in Blatt reminded me so much of the first months of Erik Spoelstra’s tenure in Miami, when sources said the team may not have been buying into what he was selling. But the Heat stuck with it and I think we can all agree that things worked out pretty well there. The Cavs may have posted more misses than hits to start the season, but I think it’s short-sighted to write them off today. Cleveland still should be running with the Bulls by the end of the season.

Blogtable: NBA Person of the Year?

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: Person of the Year? | Rondo or J-Smoove? | Bulls bound for Finals?



VIDEORelive the best on-and off-court moments from 2014

> Time magazine editors choose a Person of the Year based on who they think most influenced the news — for better or worse — during that calendar year. Going by that criteria, who should be the NBA’s Person of the Year for 2014?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: We’re not as desperate as mainstream media to stay relevant, so I won’t suggest a “shock” pick – no Donald Sterling, thank you. And while new commissioner Adam Silver had a great “rookie” year, from his handling of the Clippers owner’s mess to his negotiation of the new TV rights mega-deal, I prefer my NBA Person of the Year to not be a “suit.” So I’m going with LeBron James. Maybe not the most creative pick, but his final days with Miami, his refreshing decision to return to Cleveland and the ongoing angst over the Cavaliers’ spotty start – despite all the talk of learning curves and (ahem) patience – have dominated the league’s storylines.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comGregg Popovich. He’s been at the top of the game for quite a while, but 2014 was the year when the entire world finally got validation that Popovich is more than just a grumpy face. He channeled the anger and disappointment from the 2013 Finals loss into a fire that drove the Spurs to redemption. He did it with a masterful use of his roster, conserving veterans Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and at the same time forged a deep bench that would be critical in the playoffs. By the time he got the Spurs back to The Finals last June, Popovich practically had them playing to a musical score in an artistic display of basketball. In winning titles 15 years apart with only one common player — Duncan — Popovich chiseled himself a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of coaches.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comPersons — plural — of the Year. The San Antonio Spurs. I was going to go with Tim Duncan or Gregg Popovich or the Popovich/R.C. Buford combo vote, and then decided it was impossible and unnecessary to split them apart when the group win be so Spur-ish anyway. Did they influence the news the most? No. By that criteria alone, the one-man news cycle, LeBron James, is the winner. But San Antonio influenced the league the league the most. Another title, another calendar year of setting the standard for play and work off the court, another 12 months, into the start of the new season and the final weeks of 2014, of Duncan reaching new heights of impressive when it didn’t seem possible. I can’t wait to ride down the river after presenting the award.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comAdam Silver took over the commissioner’s job and found a live grenade on his desk in about 15 minutes. The way he handled the Donald Sterling situation — swiftly yet not recklessly, and definitely forcefully — gave him a higher profile and approval rating than his more famous NFL counterpart (Roger Goodell). For this particular designation, Silver has lapped the field.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comGregg Popovich. The Spurs were the story of the 2013-14 season, recovering from the ultimate heartbreak in the 2013 Finals, getting back there through a deep Western Conference, and then, eviscerating the two-time defending champs with five games of the best basketball we’ve ever seen. San Antonio’s sustained success over the course of 17 seasons, on both ends of the floor and from the top of their roster to the bottom, has a lot of the league trying to imitate them. Several teams were talking “more ball movement” in training camps and we’re seeing the Spurs’ maintenance program for their vets make its way around the league as well. Tim Duncan is the best player of his generation and there are a lot of reasons why the Spurs are what they are, but Popovich has his hand in everything and is the face of the franchise

Sekou Smith, NBA.comNBA Commissioner Adam Silver is the runaway winner. He wasted no time ridding the league of the Donald Sterling disaster and has shown an ability to lead in ways that his predecessor and current peers in the other major professional sports wish they could under extreme circumstances. We all wondered how things would be different during the Silver administration … and we found out immediately. Doc Rivers, for his leadership of the Los Angeles Clippers throughout the Sterling affair, and LeBron James, who kept us all guessing during the summer before shaking up the league once again by going home to Cleveland (close enough to Akron to qualify as home), round out the top three on my ballot.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIt has to be LeBron ahead of Adam Silver, because this league – more than the NFL or the MLB – is about the players. LeBron was “person of the year” in 2010, and the decision he made back then was bookended by his return to Cleveland last summer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me there are two obvious options, both involved in the same story but from different sides. Donald Sterling was probably the biggest NBA news story of 2014, after his now-infamous racist comments went public and stirred up controversy at the worst possible time for his basketball team. (Well, his former team.) But to me the NBA Person of the Year should be the guy who stepped up and took on Sterling, NBA commissioner Adam Silver. That press conference where Silver announced Sterling’s ban occurred just weeks into Silver’s new gig as commissioner. There were more eyeballs on him than he probably thought imaginable, and Silver handled the moment with aplomb. And actually, even with 20/20 hindsight, it’s hard to find any part of the Silver/Clippers saga that Silver didn’t tackle about as well as it could have been tackled. Factor in Silver inking bank-busting media rights deals this fall, and even though he’s only been on the job since February, Adam Silver has had quite a 2014.

LeBron, Curry lead initial All-Star voting

HANG TIME HQ — Two weeks after voting began for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, despite finding a new home in the offseason, the King remains on top.

The first results for the 2015 All-Star Game starting lineup voting were announced, and Cleveland’s LeBron James is the overall leading vote getter, with 552,967 overall votes. But right on James’ heels is Golden State’s Stephen Curry, voting leader in the Western Conference and second overall with 549,095 votes.

NBA All-Star 2015James, who finished as last season’s leading vote-getter while a member of the Miami Heat, is followed in the Eastern Conference by Washington’s John Wall with 299,209 overall votes. In the Western Conference, close behind Curry is New Orleans’ do-everything big man Anthony Davis, with 524,623 votes. If the voting holds, Curry, Wall and Davis would all be making just their second All-Star appearances.

Interestingly, the third place spot in each Conference is currently occupied by an All-Star veterans, Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant (521,542 votes), a 16-time All-Star, and Miami’s Dwyane Wade (265,917 votes), a 10-time All-Star.

Just several hundred votes behind Wade in the East is New York’s Carmelo Anthony, while Chicago’s Pau Gasol currently rounds out the East’s starting five. Out West, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol are are currently leading in the race to win the remaining starting spots.

Several starters from last season’s game are, at least initially, off the pace to make the starting lineup. Kevin Love started for the Western Conference last season, but since being traded to Cleveland over the summer, Love is fifth among frontcourt players in initial voting with 169,818 votes. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving started for the East last season and ended up winning the All-Star MVP award after going for 31 points and 14 assists. But in these first returns, Irving is third among Eastern Conference guards, behind Wall and Wade, with 237,356 overall votes.

Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, also started for the West last season, but after missing 17 games due to a foot fracture, Durant is currently fifth in the West with 191,881 votes. His teammate Russell Westbrook, a three-time All-Star who missed 14 games this season with a broken hand, is seventh among guards in the West with 84,686 votes.

This year, for the first time ever, fans have the power to vote for any active player in the NBA using the new online ballot. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.