Posts Tagged ‘Lionel Hollins’

Nets’ Plumlee ready to move on sans Kidd


VIDEO: Mason Plumlee talks after his big Summer League Day 1 game

ORLANDO, Fla. — It was just over a week ago when Mason Plumlee attended the unveiling of the site Nets’ new practice facility in Brooklyn.

Now he’s hustling up and down the court at the Amway Center, just as surprised as everyone else that the Nets will be unveiling new head coach Lionel Hollins in the wake of Jason Kidd’s sudden and sloppy departure.

“I was blindsided like a defensive end (rushing a quarterback),” Plumlee said. “I was very surprised. I think everybody was. I know you (media) guys were. I was, but it’s part of it.”

Plumlee rang up 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds as the Nets opened with an easy win over the Pacers in the first day of play at the Orlando Pro Summer League. He took over for stretches and shined on both ends of the court, consistently turning turnovers into easy baskets and free-throw chances.

He’s looking to build on his first NBA season when he averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game for the Nets. Following the All-Star break, he posted 13 games with 10 or more points and eight games with eight or more rebounds. That production got the 6-foot-11 Plumlee a fourth-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting and a spot on the All-Rookie first team.

Often playing as the only big man in a lineup with four outside shooters, Plumlee was a comfortable and effective fit in Kidd’s offensive system. That could change under Hollins.

“I wish him (Kidd) well,” Plumlee said. “I’ve said constantly I had a great time playing for him. I enjoyed him as a coach. But now I’m looking forward to playing for coach Hollins. I haven’t met him yet, but I’m looking forward to that.”

It’s been a tumultuous week for the entire organization as Kidd lost out on a power struggle with general manager Billy King and was eventually allowed to take over as coach of the Bucks in exchange for two second-round draft picks (2015 and 2019).

It seemed like one minute Plumlee was watching a ceremonial shovel put into the ground as part of a long-term future plan of stability and, in the next, the ground around him was shaky.

“It’s just good to get out on the court,” he said. “It’s weird, you don’t hear about too many transitions like this, so it’s just good to get back out on the court and play.”

Orlando Pro Summer League tips off


VIDEO: The Summer League season begins Saturday in Orlando

It’s an annual coming-out party for NBA rookies, other young pros looking to hone their skills and move up the pecking order and a handful of older veterans seeking another crack at the big time. In this case, it’s also the long-awaited pro debut of Nerlens Noel.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Saturday (9 a.m., NBA TV) with familiar names from the draft and plenty of other hopefuls hustling for an invitation to training camps in October.

Eight first-round picks from the 2014 draft — led by No. 4 Aaron Gordon of the Magic, No. 6 Marcus Smart of the Celtics and No. 10 Elfrid Payton of the Magic — will take part in the seven days of competition that will take place on the practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center.

Another major headliner will be Noel, the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft, who sat out all of last season while recovering from knee surgery. He’ll finally get to scratch that itch to play. Sixers fans might get their first glimpse into bright future.

The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

The 10 teams will each play five games, concluding with a championship day that will be based on standings. A point system will establish the standings leading up to the final day, with eight points awarded each game based on: four points for winning the game and one point for winning a quarter (in the event of a tied quarter, each team will receive 0.5 points). In the event of ties in seeding heading into championship day, three tiebreakers will be in place: 1) total point differential; 2) total points allowed; 3) coin flip.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights for each of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s the second year of the rebuilding program under coach Brad Stevens. The Celtics are hoping to get a big boost from their pair of first-round draft choices Marcus Smart and James Young. It’s not certain if Young will play after he suffered a strained neck in a car accident several weeks before the Draft. He’s been held out of early workouts at the Celtics’ training facility. Last year’s first-round pick Kelly Olynyk — the MVP of the Summer League last season — will return to Orlando, joined by fellow Celtics veterans Chris Babb, Chris Johnson and Phil Pressey.

Brooklyn Nets — Last year’s summer appearance by the Nets was most notable for the coaching debut of Jason Kidd, who proceeded to answer a cell phone call on the sidelines of his very first game. Kidd has been replaced by Lionel Hollins, who did a masterful job giving the Grizzlies credibility as a playoff contender. The Nets were without first-round draft picks as a result of the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trades last year. But on draft night they dealt cash for second-round picks Markel Brown, Xavier Thames and Cory Jefferson. Also playing for the Nets will be Mason Plumlee, who made a big impression a year ago and went on to become the All-Rookie first team center last season.

Detroit Pistons – It’s the beginning of a new era in Detroit with Stan Van Gundy’s arrival as both head coach and club president. Second-year Pistons players Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell will each be looking to tighten up their games to impress the new boss. Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler will practice with the team, but will not participate in games. The NBA D-League 2014 Defensive Player of the Year DeAndre Liggins will be on the roster, along with undrafted free agents Tristan Spurlock, Mustafa Shakur, Jordan Heath and Markel Starks.

Houston Rockets — It’s been a long time since the Rockets made Maarty Leunen a second-round pick out of Oregon in the 2008 draft, but the long-range bomber will be in Orlando to take his shot. Leunen has the shooting skill the Rockets seek, hitting 42 percent on 3-pointers the past three seasons in the Italian League. He’ll join up with last year’s rookies, Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington, who both got their feet wet last season with the Rockets. The 6-foot-9 power forward Covington was named the 2014 NBA D-League rookie of the year . The Rockets’ top draft pick Clint Cappela will not play, but second-round choice, Arizona guard Nick Johnson, will be on the court in Orlando.

Indiana Pacers – There’s not the usual summertime electricity in the air when you walk away from the draft without a single player. The Pacers’ roster will be anchored by last year’s holdovers Donald Sloan and Solomon Hill, who’ll be seeking to earn another season on the roster. Jake Odum was a four-year starter at Larry Bird’s alma mater Indiana State and will try to push Sloan for the third point guard spot. A back injury has scratched 10-year NBA veteran Roger Mason Jr. from his scheduled appearance with the Pacers.

Memphis Grizzlies — Second-year shooting guard Jamaal Franklin will head up the Grizzlies’ entry. Franklin saw time in 21 games for the Grizzlies last season. He’ll be joined by 2014 draft pick Jordan Adams (No. 22 overall) and Jarnell Stokes (No. 35). Adams was rated a terrific scorer and good offensive rebounder ahead of the draft, but some scouts labeled him unathletic. This is his first chance to prove them wrong. The roster, led by assistant coach Shawn Respert for the first three games and assistant Jason March for the last two, will feature three native Memphians, including Stokes, former University of Memphis guard Joe Jackson and former Ole Miss guard Terrico White.

Miami Heat – Gee, no pressure at all when LeBron James tweets that you were the best point guard in the draft. Assuming The King returns to Miami, everyone will be looking to see if Shabazz Napier can bring enough talent to South Beach to help make a difference for the point-guard poor Heat. Miami brass made its play for the guy who led UConn to another NCAA championship on draft night, swinging a deal with the Bobcats to get their man at No. 24. Seven-footer Justin Hamilton played seven games with the Heat last season. Point guard Larry Drew set the UCLA single season record for assists in 2013, but went undrafted and played last season for the Sioux City Skyforce in the NBA D-League.

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder surprised many with their first round picks Mitch McGary (21) and Josh Huestis (29), mostly because they seemed to duplicate picks from a year earlier in Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Plenty scouts were high on the big man McGary, and Huestis put his stamp on last season when he locked up and shut down No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Adams and Roberson are back for another summer league run and will be joined by Jeremy Lamb and Grant Jerrett.

Orlando Magic — The hometown team will bring in a pair of top 10 talents from this year’s draft. The power forward Gordon has size and strength and a defensive nose. This is where he’ll start trying to add a jumper to his game that could vault him to the elite level in a couple of years. The Magic wanted Payton enough to give up a future first round pick for him at No. 10, and together with Victor Oladipo could give them an outstanding backcourt for years. Last year’s top pick Oladipo will be back on the summer league roster along with Stephen Curry’s brother Seth, who is still trying to carve out a place in the NBA. Matt Bouldin won the D-League championship with the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants last season.

Philadelphia 76ers – He’s been champing at the bit to get out on the court wearing a Sixers jersey in game conditions for more than a year, so don’t be surprised if Nerlens Noel jumps through the ceiling when he finally gets on the floor. The No. 6 pick in the 2013 Draft was rehabbed very conservatively, so now he’ll get to show off the all-around skills that had him listed as the No. 1 pick until his knee injury. Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, will of course sit out following foot surgery. Last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams will be sidelined after surgery to repair a torn labrum. The Sixers roster will include the 32nd pick K.J. McDaniels, Jeremi Grant (No. 39), Vasilije Micic (No. 52) and Jordan McRae (No. 58). Also suiting up will be Pierre Jackson, who set the single-game D-League scoring record with 58 points last season.

Nets move quick, hire proven Hollins


VIDEO: GameTime: Bucks-Nets Coaching Situation

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It didn’t take long for the Brooklyn Nets to find a replacement for Jason Kidd. It’s as if they’ve done this coaching search thing before.

The Nets announced Wednesday afternoon that they have reached an agreement with Lionel Hollins, who will be their fourth coach in the last two years. Avery Johnson was fired, P.J. Carlesimo was never considered to be more than an interim replacement, and Kidd thought that, after half of a season of success, he was ready for bigger things.

Hollins arrives after year off from coaching, which followed a 4 1/2-year stint in Memphis, in which the Grizzlies improved every year.

Grizzlies pace and efficiency, Lionel Hollins’ four full seasons

Season W L Win% Pace Rk OffRtg Rk DefRtg Rk NetRtg Rk
2009-10 40 42 0.488 96.1 8 104.8 17 107.6 24 -2.9 20
2010-11 46 36 0.561 94.5 15 104.4 16 102.5 8 +1.9 10
2011-12 41 25 0.621 93.4 18 101.0 21 98.9 7 +2.1 12
2012-13 56 26 0.683 91.1 29 101.7 18 97.4 2 +4.2 8

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Hollins’ teams have never been better than average offensively, despite having Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol for most of those four full seasons. The Grizzlies were one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, but they didn’t shoot well. And shooting is much more important than rebounding.

In Hollins’ last season in Memphis, no team made or attempted fewer 3-pointers. When you’re playing Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Randolph at the 2, 3 and 4 spots, you’re not going to space the floor very well.

Last season, Brooklyn ranked 10th or 11th in 3-point makes, 3-point attempts, and 3-point percentage. And that was with a starting guard — Shaun Livingston — who shot 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Livingston is gone and his departure will hurt the Nets’ defense. Paul Pierce, meanwhile, is a free agent. And we don’t know for sure that Kevin Garnett will return for the last year on his contract. Those three and Kidd were Brooklyn’s biggest acquisitions last summer.

So the Nets could be hitting the reset button, going back to their core from their first season in Brooklyn, with Hollins on the bench. Even without Pierce or Garnett, they’d be above the luxury tax line, with only the tax payer’s mid-level exception to use on free agents. That could go to Croatian small forward Bojan Bogdanovic.

No matter what Pierce and Garnett do, Hollins’ success in Brooklyn will depend on the health of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, their two former All-Stars who could still be in their prime, with emphasis on the word “could.”

Williams had surgery on both ankles in May. Lopez had a third surgery on his right foot in January. They will be the team’s biggest questions come October.

The good news is that Hollins can’t get off to a worse start than Kidd, who saw his team go 10-21 in the first two months of last season. If Williams and Lopez are healthy, Hollins will have three guys — Joe Johnson being the third — who can consistently draw double-teams offensively. Their guards and forwards will be able to spread the floor much better than Hollins’ Grizzlies did.

Though offense was the issue in Memphis, defense will be a bigger question in Brooklyn, where Hollins won’t have Allen or Gasol.

This is still one of the more talented teams in the league though. And it’s playing in the weaker conference. Hollins has an opportunity to keep it near the top.

Morning shootaround — June 29



VIDEO: Dwyane Wade opts out to give the Heat more salary restructuring room

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Jason Kidd out as Nets’ coach? | In with the Bucks? | Wade opts out; Bosh next? | Lakers won’t rule out Gasol return | Knicks quietly confident on Melo front

No. 1: Power play knocks out Kidd? — Seemingly out of nowhere, Jason Kidd appears to be on his way out as coach of the Brooklyn Nets. Rebuffed by the Nets’ ownership on several demands seeking more control of the club, Kidd, whose rookie season started shakily, but recovered to advance to the second round of the playoffs, could be headed to a position with the Milwaukee Bucks. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post broke the story:

According to a league source, Kidd recently approached ownership with a series of demands, including the role of overseeing the Nets’ basketball operations department in addition to his head coaching responsibilities. The source said Kidd didn’t want general manager Billy King to be dismissed, but wanted to be given a title and placed above him in the organizational hierarchy.

Ownership declined to grant Kidd that kind of power, which is rare for any coach in the league to have. The source said ownership felt Kidd wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility after having only one year of coaching experience — the team finished his first season on the bench with a 44-38 record, good for sixth in the Eastern Conference — and allowed Kidd to seek other opportunities.

The franchise then was asked by the Bucks for permission to speak with Kidd about the prospect of hiring him, and the Nets allowed them to do so.
Bucks coach Larry Drew just completed his first season in Milwaukee after the team hired him last summer following his contract expiring with Atlanta.

Kidd did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

***

No. 2: Bucks, Nets already talking compensation for Kidd — This story moved at a blazing pace Saturday night and it appears that the Nets and Bucks are already discussing compensation to release Jason Kidd from the final three years of his original four-year, $10.5 million contract. The connection between Kidd and the Bucks? Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry is known to be close with Kidd after stints as a Nets minority owner and as his financial adviser. Lasry and Wes Edens, two New York investment firm executives, bought the team for about $550 million earlier this year. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein fills in the details:

Sources close to the situation said the Bucks and Nets already have begun discussing possible compensation to release Kidd from the final three years of his original four-year, $10.5 million contract.

“I don’t think Kidd will be back,” a source close to the process said Saturday night.

New Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry is known to be close with Kidd after stints as a Nets minority owner and as the former All-Star point guard’s financial adviser. Lasry and Wes Edens, two New York investment firm executives, bought the team for about $550 million earlier this year.

Bucks coach Larry Drew, who guided the team to an NBA-worst 15-67 record in his first season, and Milwaukee’s front office were unaware Kidd was about to potentially interview for their jobs, sources told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

***

No. 3: Pieces falling in place for Heat master plan — A second and third shoe dropped Saturday in the Miami Heat’s plan to retain the Big Three and re-tool around them. Dwyane Wade opted out of the final two years and $41.8 million on his contract and Udonis Haslem chose not to opt into the final year of his contract. Both players will become free agents on Tuesday. They join LeBron James in opting out and now Chris Bosh is expected to follow by Monday’s deadline. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald puts the moves in perspective:

Team president Pat Riley was informed that Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade decided to exercise the early termination option in their contracts, according to agent Henry Thomas, and the moves put into motion a plan that could retool the Heat’s roster for another run at an NBA championship.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to keep LeBron James in Miami and then add some new talent around him, Wade and Chris Bosh.

“Today we were notified of Dwyane’s intention to opt out of his contract and Udonis’ intention to not opt into his contract, making both players free agents,” Riley said in a statement. “Dwyane has been the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade, and we hope he remains a part of the Heat family for life.

“Udonis has been the heartbeat of this team for 11 years. He has sacrificed countless times to make this organization successful, and he is the epitome of what this organization stands for. We look forward to meeting with Dwyane and Udonis and their agent in the coming days to discuss our future together.”

Bosh remained undecided on his contractual future on Saturday afternoon but will soon need to inform the Heat of his decision. The deadline for opt outs is Monday, and teams and players can begin negotiating free agency on Tuesday. As Heat fans went into meltdown mode on Twitter on Saturday and conflicting reports began popping up about Bosh, the Heat’s center didn’t seem too concerned.

James Rodríguez is a beast!” Bosh wrote on Twitter after the Colombian midfielder’s goal in the first half of his team’s World Cup match against Uruguay.

Bosh said earlier this past season and again in the playoffs that he would take less money for the 2013-14 season to remain in Miami and keep the Heat’s core together. According to a report by ESPN, Bosh is seeking a new five-year contract worth between $15 million to $16 million per season. Bosh is currently on the books for more than $20 million for next season. Wade was also under contract for more than $20 million next season, and Haslem was set to be paid $4.6 million.

In the end, June 28, 2014, could be remembered as another landmark day in the history of Heat offseason roster building.

***

No. 4: Gasol a Melo magnet?Pau Gasol never felt wanted by former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. Feeling the love no longer seems an issue. Both the Lakers and Knicks are said to be interested in the 7-foot Spaniard’s services — sure, still as one of the top offensive centers in the game, but the Lakers think Gasol can help attract Carmelo Anthony to the purple-and-gold. Funny, the Knicks seem to think the same thing, and why not? Knicks president Phil Jackson has an excellent relationship himself with Gasol. Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more:

Although the Lakers’ ideal free agency scenario involves convincing both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to come play for them this summer, according to a source with knowledge of the team’s thinking, they are not ruling out the return of the four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion Gasol by any means.

In fact, should it appear that James and Anthony are not pursuing a mutual destination as a package deal — especially with Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh opting out of their deals with the Miami Heat — the Lakers believe that having Gasol back on the team could be vital in their solo pursuit of Anthony.

While the last two seasons for Gasol haven’t gone anything like when he first got to L.A. and helped lead the team to three straight NBA Finals appearances, he is still considered one of the most offensively talented big men in the game when healthy. Gasol averaged 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists last season, but missed 22 games because of a variety of injuries, including a bout with vertigo.

Coincidentally, the New York Knicks, now run by former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, also plan to go after Gasol in hopes of convincing Anthony to stay, a source told ESPN.

It remains to be seen how receptive Gasol will be to the Lakers’ pitch.

“My decision will be based purely on sporting considerations,” Gasol wrote on his personal website in February. “It couldn’t be any other way. I want to be in a team with a real chance of winning a ring and where I can help to compete for it. I would like to win another championship. The financial side comes second at this stage of my career.”

***

No. 5: Knicks like chances with Anthony — Free agency doesn’t begin until midnight Tuesday, but the New York Knicks are apparently feeling pretty decent about their chances to keep Carmelo Anthony. They feel he and new team president Phil Jackson have made a connection could have the star scorer believing what the 11-time champion as a coach is selling. Marc Berman of the New York Post brings the latest:

According to one Knicks player Carmelo Anthony spoke to recently, he gave no indication he was planning an exit strategy from New York.

The source told The Post this week one reason Anthony wants to remain in New York is he has enjoyed being in a big media market, as opposed to being in Denver.

The Post reported two weeks ago Knicks officials liked their odds of re-signing Anthony following their June 13 dinner meeting in Los Angeles in which Phil Jackson, coach Derek Fisher and general manager Steve Mills met with Anthony and his agent Leon Rose and broached the Mavericks trade.

The Post reported the organization likes its chances because of cap-space issues of Chicago and Houston. ESPN.com confirmed The Post report Saturday, saying Knicks officials were “increasingly optimistic’’ about their chances because Anthony and Jackson have “connected.’’ And now Anthony has a more consistent point guard in Jose Calderon, one of seven players Jackson added this week.

In Anthony’s words, nothing is official until a deal is “signed, sealed and delivered,” and Tuesday he dips his toe into the free-agent waters for the first time in his NBA career — something he has said since October he wanted to experience.

Anthony has planned visits to Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles, where he has an apartment and the Lakers have cap space. There’s no plans on visiting Miami yet, but Heat president Pat Riley has called the Big Four scenario a “pipe dream” — even though of the current Big Three, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have opted out, and reportedly Chris Bosh will do the same.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Teams wanting to set up a meeting with LeBron James have been unsuccessful … Rockets decline fourth-year option for Chandler Parsons, making him a restricted free agent … Wizards expect to bring back veteran point guard Andre Miller … League interested in pushing Draft back to July.

Randolph’s extension finally a mark of stability in Memphis

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

randolph

Zach Randolph has managed to average a double-double in three of the past four seasons. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It’s a good day in Memphis.

The Grizzlies and grit-n-grind specialist Zach Randolph have worked together and come to an agreement on a two-year extension that will keep the skilled and beloved big man in Memphis through at least the 2016-17 season. Randolph, who turns 33 on July 16, opted into the final year of his contract for next season at $16.5 million and then will be owed $10 million in each of the following two seasons.

In essence, it becomes a three-year, $36.5 million deal, very similar to the three-year pact signed last summer by Indiana Pacers power forward David West.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the Randolph extension.

With the chaos that has engulfed the franchise the past two offseasons that saw coach Lionel Hollins let go last summer and then the team’s top two executives fired following this season, this was a move in the name of stability that Memphis had to make.

“It’s cool, man. This is where I want to be,” Randolph told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal shortly after the news broke Friday morning.

Randolph could have opted out of his contract and become a free agent, then signed a new deal that could have lowered his salary for this season and potentially aided the Grizzlies in making roster upgrades when free agency opens next week.

Memphis will be hard-pressed to do much this summer, but will have significant cap space next summer when they’ll likely look to re-sign center Marc Gasol and retool from there.

The 6-foot-9 power forward turned his seventh season in the last eight of averaging a double-double, 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds, plus a career-best 2.5 assists. He helped Memphis rebound from a slow start under first-year coach Dave Joerger and through a knee injury to Gasol, to win 50 games.

They lost a grueling seven-game, first-round series to Oklahoma City. Randolph’s season disappointingly came to an end in Game 6. The league suspended him for one game for punching Thunder center Steven Adams in the jaw.

In his five seasons in Memphis, the Grizzlies have produced their best five-year period in franchise history. His blue-collar style quickly won over the fan base and by retaining Randolph, the Grizzlies hold onto their identity as a gritty, physical, low-post team in a Western Conference dominated by fast-paced, spread-it-out schemes.

Since losing in the 2013 Western Conference finals to the San Antonio Spurs, Randolph has consistently expressed his desire to remain in Memphis for the remainder of his career. At times, it might have seemed unlikely as a new front-office team took over at the start of last summer and began to shed salary, starting with Rudy Gay.

But that group is now gone and interim general manager Chris Wallace, the Grizzlies’ general manager who traded for Randolph in 2009 and then awarded him a whopping extension, has made sure that Randolph, surely to the delight of the team’s fans, will be sticking around.

No mystery Z-Bo’s heart’s in Memphis

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

randolph

Zach Randolph, who turns 33 July 16, averaged 17.6 points and 10.1 rebounds last season. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — There’s more to Memphis than dry-rub ribs. For 260-pound Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph, there’s stability, familiarity and comfortability.

All of which runs counter to the chaos and upheaval within the franchise that started a year ago when the first-year front office team swept out coach Lionel Hollins following a Western Conference finals appearance in favor of his younger assistant Dave Joerger. Just last month, Joerger nearly walked to Minnesota after Grizzlies owner Robert Pera dismissed the front office team that had promoted him.

The re-insertion, at least temporarily, of general manager Chris Wallace, the man who traded for Randolph in 2009 and awarded him with a whopping extension, has again bolstered Randolph’s stock within the franchise. If it’s signing either an extension before free agency starts or negotiating a new, long-term contract (if Randolph opts out of his final year at $16.9 million by June 30), Z-Bo keeps making known his commitment to the Grizzlies.

And Memphis is eager to return the favor — Randolph’s five-year run has coincided with the franchise’s best-ever five-year period — by bringing him back on a multiyear deal. This mutual admiration society is a feel-good story, particularly in today’s NBA where players covet their freedom to choose.

“It’s going forward,” Grizzlies interim general manager Chris Wallace told the Memphis Commercial Appeal last week of an extension for Randolph. “We’re very excited about what Zach’s done in the past and hope to have him here in the future. This has really been a terrific boon for both sides. He’s obviously meant a great deal to us on and off the court. And Memphis has worked for him. This has been, by far, the best stop for him since he’s been in the NBA. So we’re working towards that goal.”

But it can also be risky business.

Z-Bo, who fans identify, along with Tony Allen, as the backbone of these modern-day, blue-collar Grizzlies, turns 33 on July 16, and locking big money into a player on the backside of his career can become counterproductive. His value could drop off precipitously in a couple years, and the committed dollars can handcuff a front office’s ability to spend during the offseason on needed roster reinforcements.

For instance, the Grizzlies, unlikely to ever spend into the luxury tax, are in dire need of perimeter shooters. Randolph’s decision to either sign an extension, which would kick in after the coming season and keep his 2014-15 salary at $16.9 million, or to opt out and agree to a lower annual dollar (debatably $10-$12 million) figure over a longer period beginning this season, will play a significant role in Memphis’ free-agent spending ability.

A year ago after losing to the Spurs in the West finals, Randolph was moved to tears when talking about his love for the team and the city. At the time, he was uncertain if the franchise might prefer to try to move the more than $30 million he had remaining on the final two years of his deal.

With point guard Mike Conley creeping ever closer to All-Star status with each season, and center Marc Gasol entering the final year of his contract, the Grizzlies, by committing to Randolph, are committing to their grit-n-grind identity, and to their slow-down, double-post offense while refusing to give into the rest of the speed-infused, drive-and-kick West.

Joerger tried to pick up the pace at the start of last season, but it was quickly dumped after it was determined by the players that they were built to play a certain way.

Randolph completed a fine season, averaging 17.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and a career-best 2.5 assists, up from 1.4 the previous season, although his defense and offensive rebounding continued to trend downward. During the first round of the playoffs against Oklahoma City, Randolph’s 18.3, 8.7 and 2.3 averages helped push the Thunder to a seventh game. Only he wouldn’t play in it, suspended for throwing a punch to the neck of OKC rookie center Steven Adams in Game 6, and Memphis couldn’t recover.

“I think he’s had one of the better [seasons] of his career,” Conley told NBA.com in March. “He’s not just doing his thing with double-doubles and all the things he’s accustomed to doing, but he’s sacrificed a lot for other players, he’s been unselfish. He’s making plays for other people, doing things he’s grown into and realizes that if he does the little things we’re going to be that much better of a team.”

Randolph, headed for his 14th season and became a two-time All-Star in Memphis, has been traded three times. Now that he finally has the power to explore other opportunities, he expresses his desire to only play in the small market on the banks of the Mississippi.

Whether Randolph’s new deal will ultimately be as mutually beneficial as the last one is a question that will have to wait for the answer.

Morning Shootaround — June 11


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played June 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Leonard gives Spurs a preview of their future | Hollins still hoping for coaching gig | Report: Lakers meet with Scott again | Nowitzki: Chances ‘slim to none’ he’ll leave Mavs | Battier a master at stealing play-calls

No. 1: Leonard gives Spurs an early look at their future Through the first two games of The Finals, Kawhi Leonard was a virtual non-factor as he had just 18 points in the series and was being outplayed by his matchup, LeBron James. The Heat’s star had another solid game (22 points), but Leonard broke out of his funk in a major way in Game 3. He poured in 29 points and powered San Antonio’s rout and as our Steve Aschburner notes, gave the Spurs a good look at what the team might look like when Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker hang it up:

Kawhi Leonard, the presumptive future of the San Antonio Spurs, was sorely needed in the present, lest these 2014 Finals slip too quickly into his and the Spurs’ past.

So the future was now in Game 3 against the Miami Heat, Leonard scoring a career-high 29 points and shadowing LeBron James into the sort of mere-mortal game San Antonio will need if it hopes to do this year what it couldn’t do last.

Leonard was jerked out of his foul-plagued funk in the two games in San Antonio by some pep talks and tough love from the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan as if he was, oh, Roy Hibbert. And he responded, mostly by ignoring the circumstances of these games and playing as if this were January.

Offensively, Leonard attacked Miami from the start, hitting all five of his shots in the first quarter and scoring 16 of the Spurs’ 41 points that period. Defensively the 6-foot-7 forward with the pterodactyl wingspan and Wolverine hands helped limit James to 22 points, just eight over the final three quarters when San Antonio’s fat lead cried out for something special after halftime.

Leonard had been outscored 60-18 by James in Games 1 and 2 combined, but he had the edge this time by seven. By relaxing, by seizing the moment while forgetting how momentous it was, Leonard sparked the Spurs to a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and stuck Miami with its first home loss of the postseason (8-1).

“That’s how he’s played all year long,” Popovich said. “He’s got to be one of our better players on the court or we’re not good enough. That’s just the way it is.

“You know, it’s the NBA Finals. You can’t just be mediocre out there if you want to win a game, and everybody’s got to play well, and he did that.”

Popovich acknowledged that he and others within the team had talked with Leonard in the two off-days before Game 3, though he declined to share. “Family business,” the Spurs coach called it.

Though the specifics were cloaked, the message seemed obvious.

“We just wanted him to be who he’s been the whole year, in the regular season and in the playoffs,” Popovich said. He said Leonard “overreacted” to the fouls called against him and “became very cautious.” “And he doesn’t play like that,” the coach added.

Said Duncan: “We’ve been on him about continuing to play.”

Leonard’s 29 points weren’t just his NBA career high – they apparently were the most he’d scored since high school. He had 26 for San Diego State as a freshman in a game at Wyoming, Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears reported, and 26 in an April game against Memphis this season. He’s the first player to set his personal scoring high in a Finals game since the Nets’ Kenyon Martin went for 35 in Game 4 against the Lakers in 2002.


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Kawhi Leonard’s monster Game 3 (more…)

Challenges await Knicks’ coach Fisher

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Fisher introduced as coach of Knicks

Veteran coaches George Karl and Lionel Hollins are still knocking on doors. Longtime assistant and former New York Knicks great Patrick Ewing still can’t get a sniff for a head coaching job even as 19 of the league’s 30 teams decided to hire new coaches since the end of last season.

Including Ewing’s old Knicks with their new president with the famous limp and all that bling.

Phil Jackson wanted to keep his coaching search within his Triangle-of-trust, so to speak, so once former top choice and former Chicago Bulls sharpshooter Steve Kerr spurned him to take the Golden State Warriors’ gig, Jackson tapped the next man up, freshly retired Derek Fisher. The former Los Angeles Lakers point guard put a wrap on a distinguished 18-year career following the Oklahoma City Thunder’s loss in the Western Conference finals just 11 days ago.

On Tuesday, the dapperly dressed Fisher was introduced as the 26th coach of the New York Knicks. Jackson, and Knicks owner James Dolan, awarded him a five-year, $25-million contract to breath some blue-collar life into a high-ego and seemingly incongruent, salary-cap-strapped roster.

Fisher, although, promptly pointed out, as any smart coach would, that he’s more optimistic about the immediate potential of his new team than are most observers.

“I’m not as down on the roster and the team as some of you in the room are,” Fisher said, smiling at reporters gathered at Madison Square Garden.

Fisher has always been something of a political animal.


VIDEO: Fisher talks about his experience

He was also the perfect set-up man and emotional stabilizer to play next to the Lakers’ high-strung star. Fisher was a steady, level-headed and intelligent quarterback who didn’t need to score to be satisfied, but was always ready to take the big shot. He made plenty of them along the road to five Lakers championships with Kobe and Phil.

Fisher, 39, never was the natural talent or showman like Jason Kidd, his now-crosstown coaching rival in Brooklyn who preceded Fisher by one year in making the rare move of stepping out of the locker room and into the coach’s chair.

But like Kidd, Fisher enjoyed a long career as a successful floor general and garners a high level of respect from the league’s players. With Oklahoma City for parts of the last three seasons, Fisher gained the trust and admiration of the Thunder’s front office and coach Scott Brooks, and served as a hybrid assistant coach-mentor-sounding board for the team’s two young stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“He’s well-respected in the locker room, knows the game of basketball, great basketball mind and he’s been in situations before,” Durant said during the Thunder’s exit interviews. “Having those guys that respect you and you have that experience, it helps. He’s a great leader, a great communicator … he works extremely hard and he’s dedicated.”

Jackson’s belief is that Fisher will forge a similar relationship with currently discontented Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, assuming he re-signs.

Even if Anthony stays, Fisher’s new job is going to be tough. The roster, despite Fisher’s early protestation, is in tatters. The Knicks do not have a first-round draft pick and because the team’s 2014-15 payroll is already pushing well into the luxury tax, Jackson’s hands are mostly tied to make impactful changes this summer.

It makes Fisher’s situation more dire than the one Kidd inherited after he retired from the Knicks following the 2012-13 season and surprisingly stepped into the Nets’ top job. Kidd took over a better roster, buttressed by former Celtics greats Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and one essentially free of troublemakers. Although the season started shakily with Kidd absorbing heavy criticism, even though early injuries played a significant role, Kidd eventually found his footing and the Nets finished the season strongly, advancing to the second round.

Fisher got a taste of wait awaits before he even woke up this morning. Eccentric shooting guard J.R. Smith proclaimed on Twitter in the early morning hours that he’s done with his sixth-man role:

Perhaps Jackson is taking a big risk by hiring a man with no coaching experience to handle this job. Jackson said he’s betting on Fisher’s experiences playing with this generation’s players, calling Fisher “hip-hop-ready.”

And even the most accomplished coaches, such as Karl, would have a devil of a time flipping these Knicks back into the 54-win team they were just a season ago. With Fisher, Jackson at least knows he’ll always have his ear and will always be on the same page. Jackson can guide Fisher’s entrance into the profession as a firm rudder and in shaping the style the Knicks will bring to the Garden floor.

Then it becomes about Jackson earning his $60 million and crafting a roster of players that can execute the game plan — and stealing Durant as a free agent in 2016 shouldn’t be Plan A, at least not yet. The cold, hard truth is this rebuild is going to take time and patience.

“He always tries to tell you and let you know what’s right,” the Thunder’s Westbrook said of Fisher. “It may not be what you want to hear all the time, but what’s right is what’s right.”

Words Fisher will want to continue to live by as a rookie head coach making the leap onto a very big stage.


VIDEO: Jackson, Mills talk about Fisher’s qualities

Morning Shootaround — May 29


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stephenson key in Pacers’ big win | Report: Cavs to interview Lue, Hollins | Adams grows as a shotblocker | Bosh opens up on his Miami transition

No. 1: Lance is Lance … and the Pacers get a big win — When the Indiana Pacers were off to their stellar start during the regular season, the player who perhaps provided the biggest spark — both in his play and his attitude — to Indiana was Lance Stephenson. Sure, All-Star and MVP type Paul George was Indiana’s top offensive option and he was last night in a must-win Game 5, dropping 21 fourth-quarter points on Miami to save the Pacers’ bacon. But the up-and-down play of Stephenson after the All-Star break played a big role in the Pacers’ flubs down the stretch and into the postseason. Stephenson was in full-on “Born Ready” mode last night and as our Steve Aschburner details, it kept Indiana hyped (and Miami annoyed) all game long:

Lance Stephenson made a, er, spectacle of himself in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday, cavorting against and annoying the Miami Heat with a performance that was one part Metta World Peace, one part J.R. Smith and, apparently, one part baseball slugger Manny (Being Manny) Ramirez.“Lance being Lance” is how one Miami player after another characterized the Indiana guard’s antics at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. His repertoire of annoyances ranged from exaggerated and pestering contact with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to sticking his beak into a sideline huddle between Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and guards Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers.

Then there was the coup de grace, blowing into James’ ear while the two waited for action to resume at one point.

Asked later if he ever had thought about blowing in someone’s ear as a defensive tactic, James responded: “Probably my wife. I blew in my wife’s ear before. That was definitely a defensive tactic.”

Generally, the Heat reacted with a collective shrug. They’re the two-time defending champions. Stephenson is a 6-year-old, or at least sometimes acts like it.

“I’m as annoying as the next guy, but even for me there are lines,” Heat forward Shane Battier said.

…Stephenson had generated buzz previously in the ECF. Before the series began, his throwaway remark about running around enough to make Wade’s knee ache got portrayed by some media types as disrespectful or antagonistic. Then he got caught up in a trash-talking controversy with James, contending that he had exposed a “sign of weakness” in the Heat superstar when James actually yapped back at him briefly.

That’s probably why James took no bait Wednesday.

“Lance is Lance,” he said. “He’s going to do what he needs to do to help his team win. As to the leaders of our team, we’re going to do what it takes to help our team win.”

Said Pacers forward Paul George: “It’s Lance being Lance. He’s been special for us, and whether he’s scoring the ball, making plays, causing confrontation, Lance is special and there’s a reason why we gain an edge and some opportunities during games. A lot of it comes from Lance.

“So we need that. He’s always got to make sure he’s monitoring it, but I didn’t think nothing was out of the spirit of the game.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Lance Stephenson’s play in Game 5

(more…)

Brooks keeps on pushing right buttons for Thunder

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Scott Brooks speaks after OKC’s practice on Wednesday

OKLAHOMA CITY – Since everybody else with an armchair coaching degree lobs criticism at the Thunder’s Scott Brooks, including, apparently, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Brooks figured he might as well sneak in a dig of his own.

During his team’s series-evening blowout of the San Antonio Spurs in Tuesday’s Game 4, guard Reggie Jackson rolled his ankle early in the first quarter. Brooks was asked his thought process as Jackson hopped around in pain and feared potentially to be out of commission.

“I was a little worried with Reggie when he hurt it in the first few minutes,” Brooks said. “I didn’t want to make a change in the lineup to get ridiculed, so I wanted to make sure I could get him a couple more possessions.”

Hey-O!

It was a rare shot of snarkiness from Brooks, who took to the postgame podium moments after Spurs coach Gregg Popovich belittled a reporter for asking a supposedly inaudible question because, as Popovich suggested, the questioner was oddly speaking with a mouthful of food. Brooks’ public speaking consists almost exclusively of monotone, mostly polite and low-key responses.

He rarely, if ever singles out players for criticism and steadfastly sticks to a script of optimistic, team-oriented answers. He consistently deflects credit onto his players and almost never inserts himself into the equation.

“No, that was a joke,” Brooks insisted of his spontaneous postgame wit after the Thunder’s light workout Wednesday. “That was my sense of humor. It’s a little dry at times.” (more…)