Posts Tagged ‘Lionel Hollins’

Nets want no part of Horford, Hawks’ injury speculation


VIDEO: Al Horford dislocated his his finger in the fourth quarter of the Hawks’ Game 1 win over the Nets

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brook Lopez knows better than to step into the mess.

It doesn’t matter whether or not he has to face Hawks All-Star center Al Horford in Game 2 Wednesday night, he can’t win in the speculation-filled hours between then and now.

“You’re trying to trick me right now,” Lopez said Monday afternoon after the Nets finished up practice at Georgia Tech. “I’m not trying to say anything right now. I don’t want him (Horford) to go 10-for-10 on those pop shots. We’re going to play it the same way.”

Horford said Monday that there is still “some question” as to whether or not he’ll able to play with the right pinkie finger he dislocated in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Game 1 win. He didn’t say he was not going to play or that he definitely would. He finished the final six minutes of Game 1 with the finger taped up. But he was clearly uncomfortable and admitted to as much.

“It’s just sore,” Horford said. “They told me it would more sore today and I’ve just been doing more treatment on it since (Sunday night). I went out and shot some today and it felt good, so I was encouraged by that. Last night it didn’t feel good at all. You just have to get used to it. There is discomfort with it, though.”

Horford’s injury combined with Paul Millsap‘s ineffectiveness in Game 1, he was 2-for-11 from the floor and scored just 6 points in his second game back in uniform after missing five straight with a sprained shoulder, makes the Hawks vulnerable in the post. Lopez had his way with the Hawks in Game 1 with limited opportunities, he took just seven shots but made six to finish with 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds..

“That’s not our problem,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. “That’s [Hawks coach Mike] Budehnolzer‘s problem. All we can be concerned with is who and what we put on the floor.”

Millsap said his shoulder is fine and that he will try to improve his range of motion by maybe not playing with the padded compression sleeve he wore in Game 1.

“We played around with the pad and cut it in areas and tried to do different things to protect it,” Millsap said. “But you know, I might try and go without it the next game and see it how it goes. I guess I just upgraded it to might. I’m trying to balance it out, pain to mobility and I don’t know. We’ll see what happens Wednesday.”

The Nets know better than to believe any doomsday scenarios that will keep the Hawks’ All-Star duo off the floor or in any kind of diminished capacity for Game 2. There is too much at stake for both teams. And Millsap even admitted that he couldn’t see any way that the Hawks aren’t ready to go.

“No, not at all,” Millsap said when asked if the Hawks had health concerns going forward. “With the depth that we have and the injuries, where they are. Al cane back and played. And he’s a tough guy. Myself, I’m a tough guy. With that, we still have depth and guys capable of coming and contributing.”

Horford, Hawks know better than to underestimate Nets on playoff stage


VIDEO: Al Horford talks playoffs on Inside Stuff

ATLANTA — Having been there a time or two themselves, the Atlanta Hawks are well aware of the folly involved with taking the Brooklyn Nets lightly.

The sub-500 record, the uneven season and seemingly indifferent attitude about trying to be an elite team, given the highest payroll in the league, will not be a factor in this No. 1 vs No. 8 first-round playoff series against the Eastern Conference juggernaut Hawks and the slipped-in-through-the-backdoor Nets.

So they know better than most the faulty thinking in assuming they will see the same Nets team they swept 4-0 during the regular season.

“Doesn’t mean a thing,” Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap said. “Gotta win four games. And then try and win four more. It’s the playoffs.”

All-Star guard Kyle Korver agreed that Hawks’ regular season dominance over the Nets is meaningless the moment the game tips off this afternoon at Philips Arena.

“It’s hard to win any playoff series, no matter who it is,” he said. “We won some games against them this year. But their team has changed a lot over the course of this year. They had guys who were injured or really out of sync or whatever. And I think if you ask them, they probably feel like they’ve played their best basketball over the last 15 games or so of the regular season. They definitely present some challenges for us. They have great size, they’ve got some guys who have had great careers. They are well coached. We have a ton of respect for them.”

The Nets certainly boast personnel that suggests they should be much higher on the playoff food chain in the Eastern Conference than the 8th and final seed. Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star and one of the backbone of the Hawks’ turnaround from lottery outfit to playoff time during his time here, has shined in the postseason crucible before. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have plenty of postseason experience as well.

Any team with those three players in a rhythm at the same time can be dangerous in a playoff setting.

But the Hawks enter this postseason in a different space, with a confidence that has often been absence during their 8-year run, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. Having All-Star center Al Horford healthy and back in the mix for an entire season is a huge boost as well.

The Hawks’ first and last, prior to this season’s mercurial run, playoff trips came with the No. 8 seed and underdog tag their fans have grown accustomed to dealing with in these postseason scenarios. Both times, against the eventual champion Boston Celtics eight years ago and against the Indiana Pacers last season, the series stretched to seven games.

Horford was an integral piece of the that series against the Celtics, shining as a rookie in his first postseason appearance. He watched in designer suits last season, unable to come back from a torn pectoral injury that cost him most of the season.

“It’s not just me,” Horford said. “I still think the most important thing is we have another year together as a team in this system. And we have last year’s experience. I know you cannot replace experience, you cannot take anything or any opposing team for granted. You have to respect the other team for doing what it takes to get here. But I am really excited to come out here and see what I can do to help this team win.”

As excited as he is to see the floor today, the rest of the Hawks are just as anxious (not “nervous,” as DeMarre Carroll was quick to point out) to see him back in the playoff mix as the anchor of this crew on both ends of the floor.

“It’s big, his ability to spread the floor,” said All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. “but it’s also him on the defensive end being the anchor. Him being able to get up and down the floor and run and try to get Brook Lopez to try and keep up with him. We just have to play with a lot of pace. Al’s definitely excited to get back on the floor and to be able to play in front of our great fans again in the playoffs.”

Blogtable: Ready for an East upset?

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: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOGeorge Hill lifts the Pacers to a big win over the Wizards

> The Pacers, Celtics and Nets are all battling for the last two seeds in the East. Which of those teams has the best chance to pull off a first-round upset?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Indiana, of the teams you’re offering, has the best chance of a first-round upset – and it’s itty-bitty. I like the Celtics the best of that bunch but there is no way they’re getting past Cleveland in the 2-7 showdown. If Brooklyn gets in, that’s it, they’re done – while they have some big-name players who might ordinarily give Atlanta or potentially anyone else some tough challenges, there’s a lack of spine or fortitude in that team dating back to its Game 7 loss at home to undermanned Chicago that still is an issue, in my view. That leaves Indiana, which couldn’t crack 100 in its double-overtime slog vs. Toronto Wednesday but would have to keep up with Atlanta’s high-octane attack. So yeah, Pacers, itty-bitty.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Pacers because of their roster loaded with veterans who have been through the playoff wars and because they are capable of playing elite level defense.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The actual answer is “Nobody.” But if I have to pick one, it’s the Pacers. They’re playing well now, the return of Paul George has been an emotional lift as well as an additional scoring punch despite struggling with his shot, coach Frank Vogel on the sideline is always a good thing, and defense, rebounding and playoff experience is a good place to start building an upset scenario.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The easy answer is “none of the above” but if I must choose, then it’s the Pacers. At least their core players know what playoff basketball is about, and there’s the Paul George factor. The basketball gods could repay the Pacers for all they’ve been through with George and take it out on the Hawks, which of course would confirm Atlanta’s status as the choking dog of all sports towns.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: None of them will win more than a game from the Hawks or Cavs, but Indiana is best suited to put a scare in ’em. They’re the best defensive team of the group, so they can keep games ugly and close. They’ve been the best team of the group (in regard to point differential) since the All-Star break and have gotten a boost from the return of Paul George. That being said, I don’t know if they’re even going to be playing this weekend, because they’ll need to win in Memphis on Wednesday to edge out the Nets for the No. 8 seed.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: These teams are doing whatever they can to claw their way into the playoffs and you want to talk about upsets? Actually, the Pacers have the best roster to pull an upset. They’ve got experience and size, decent depth and a star (Paul George, even on limited minutes) capable of going on a tear in a playoff series. They appear spent physically, which is not uncommon this time of year for a team that has been fighting uphill just to stay in the playoff chase. So they’d have to find a way to rest and recharge within the framework of the playoff schedule to even think about pulling off an upset. But again, for teams crawling into the postseason, an upset tends to be more pipe dream than reality.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comLet’s start by acknowledging that the Nets and Pacers won’t be able to run or execute with the Hawks, who went 7-0 against them this year. The Celtics are going to have problems of their own finishing close games against Cleveland, but their small lineup, quickness and ball movement could scare the Cavs for 42 minutes. What coach Brad Stevens has done with young role players over the last two months (23-12) is no fluke: He has been doing for the Celtics what he did for Butler.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: None of them? Honestly, I don’t think any of those teams really have a chance to win a first round series against Atlanta or Boston. But if I had to pick one, which I guess is what you’re saying, I’ll go with the Celtics. Boston has played Atlanta pretty well this season, even beating them once just before the All-Star break. And they beat Cleveland (resting players) twice recently. Adding Isaiah Thomas has given the Celtics another scorer and ballhandler. Is he enough to help the Celtics beat the Hawks or the Cavaliers? That’s a horse of a different color. But what the heck, let’s give them the nod.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks’ Bazemore blazing a new trail | Commissioner in favor of expanded All-Star rosters | KG slowly disappearing in Brooklyn | Timberwolves ready for Rubio’s return

No. 1: Hawks’ Bazemore blazing a new trail — Injuries to DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha have opened on a door for Kent Bazemore, yet another amazing story for a franchise going through an amazing time (a 17-0 January and 19-game win-streak gives way to …?) for all involved. Bazemore gets more of the spotlight tonight in New Orleans, when the Hawks go for their 20th straight against the Pelicans, as Matt Winkeljohn explains in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

He excelled in the summer of 2012 at the Portsmouth Invitational for NBA candidates and the 6-foot-5, 201-pound guard/forward from Old Dominion heard from the Hawks after he went undrafted. They ended up bidding against Golden State for him and lost.

“We started tracking Ken back at Portsmouth and through the summer. He went to Golden State and we followed closely,” Hawks assistant general manager Wes Wilcox said. “He didn’t play much, but he played in the playoffs and defended well. He had a very successful summer league and a couple good stints in the D-League. Then, he got a run with the Lakers [after being traded in the middle of last season].

“Whenever a player shows success over a sustained period in [multiple] elements, that’s a good indicator. Plus, his background checked out … character, personality. We spend a great deal of time trying to identify character traits: grit, resilience, work rate, basketball intelligence, the desperation to be great …”

Bazemore has a more mixed memory of that playoff stint.

“In the first round against San Antonio, in Game 1, [Warriors guard] Klay Thompson was in foul trouble so I go in and guard Boris Diaw. They run a high pick-and-roll with him and Tony Parker,” he said. “I get a stop and make a layup with three seconds left to go up one.

“Then, [Manu] Ginobili drains this 3-pointer right in my face … so that was a very big scenario in my career. It helped me with getting my name out there, though.”

After joining the Lakers, Bazemore went off.

He played in 23 game and averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and shot 45.1 percent. He was good on 37.1 percent of his 3-pointers. And he defended.

“LA worked wonders for me,” he said. “I played so many minutes, actually got in the game flow, found out what it was like to guard the best player.”

After the Hawks out-bid others with a two-year, $4 million contract last summer, Bazemore had to not only get healthy, but tweak his game. He tore a tendon in a foot last season and had surgery over the summer. He has tried to change the ways he runs and jumps.

“[Hawks assistant] Ben Sullivan is my shooting coach. He’s helped a lot,” Bazemore said. “I was shooting off my inside two fingers.”

Sullivan said: “He had mechanical issues … it wouldn’t be the same shot every time. We tried to make sure he would have a motion that was repeatable. He’s put in a lot of work.”

This is nothing new for Bazemore, who is averaging 3.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and shooting 42.2 percent, including a 38.6 mark from beyond the 3-point line.

Despite growing up in Kenland, N.C., he was not recruited by Duke, North Carolina or any of college basketball’s big dogs.

“I was a huge N.C. State fan growing up … I wanted to go there like crazy and they never offered me,” he said. “I was a late bloomer. I redshirted [at ODU] and I didn’t score in practice until like February.

“I just always prided myself on working and told myself, ‘You have a chance, you have a chance.’ I just kept believing.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew previews tonight’s Hawks-Pelicans game

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 27


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hollins addresses stats slander | Kobe’s ‘Jordan as teammate’ scenario | Wall: Wizards deserve two All-Stars | Shaw cries foul over ruling

No. 1: Hollins addresses stats slander — It’s a players’ league and a young man’s game, so one of the worst things that can be said about an NBA coach or front-office executive is that he’s set in his ways, out of touch and otherwise resistant to change. That was the impression left in 2013 after Memphis coach Lionel Hollins wasn’t brought back by the Grizzlies -– he wasn’t adept at advanced analytics, or so they said. And that’s a subject with which Hollins took some umbrage recently, according to the New York Post:

“I’m going to take a breath,” Hollins said after a long pause, “and say it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard because every coach uses stats.

“Now, do I understand some of the stats that are out there that are new? No. But I can learn them.”

As a former player — Hollins was the starting point guard of the 1977 NBA champion Trail Blazers — and longtime member of the league, it’s easy to assume Hollins has no interest in looking at the advanced stats that have become a key part of how the league is analyzed, viewed and run.

But Hollins has referenced advanced statistics throughout the season, particularly in terms of lineup data, and said he uses stats to try and reinforce why he’s making various decisions with his players.

“When I talk to a player about his play, I have to have stats to show him,” Hollins said. “When I talk about lineups, I have to have stats that show why I’m making a change and not just because I’m making a change. Players like to know that.

“It’s a part of the game. I know which combinations play well together from stats. I look at stats just about every day. So it’s a misnomer, and it was what it was and it’s over.”

***

No. 2: Kobe’s ‘Jordan as teammate’ scenario — It’s fun for sports fans to indulge their zaniest “What if?” fantasies, kicking around hypothetical scenarios and imagining all sorts of different results (What if the Red Sox hadn’t sold Babe Ruth? What if Bobby Orr‘s knees had held up? How might things have gone differently had Michael Jordan not retired that first time?). Apparently, it’s fun for some of the principal players to indulge in the daydreaming as well, and Kobe Bryant offered up a doozy to the Washington Post when he talked about his notions, sparked by friction with Shaquille O’Neal, of teaming up with Jordan on the Wizards more than a decade ago.

According to two people with knowledge of the situation, after Jordan decided to sell his minority ownership stake to resume his playing career with the Wizards, Bryant informed him several times he wanted to play for the Wizards — under the assumption that Jordan would return to the front office once his playing days were over.

The Wizards never had the assets to discuss a trade for Bryant, so the only chance the organization would have had to make a run at him was when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2004. Jordan, however, wasn’t allowed to recruit Bryant because [owner Abe] Pollin decided in May 2003 not to let him continue running the team. While Jordan’s ability to land Bryant was no guarantee, a person close to him said Jordan was “confident” he would have made it happen.

With the Wizards taking a different course under Ernie Grunfeld and eliminated as a possibility, Bryant resisted overtures from Chicago, New York, Denver and the Clippers and elected to remain a Laker. Bryant signed a seven-year, $136 million contract the day after the Lakers dealt O’Neal to Miami, ensuring there would be no extreme Alpha-male contest for control of the team. Had he joined Jordan in Washington, Bryant is certain only one result would’ve unfolded.

“We would’ve put together a great team and we would’ve won championships,” Bryant said. “Listen, man. There are not a lot of players in this league that say, ‘Come hell or high water, we’re going to get this [expletive] done.’ People can look around and joke around about winning, saying they want to win. For me, it’s a matter of life or death. It was that important to me. And if it’s that important to me, I’m going to get there.”

***

No. 3: Wall: Wizards deserve two All-Stars — A more current and probably realistic scenario involving Wizards teammates is the prospect of point guard John Wall having company on the Eastern Conference All-Star squad next month in New York. Wall, who will start for the East, believes that Washington’s first-half performance in 2014-15 and its place in the standings merit another such honor when the conference coaches’ ballot determines the All-Star reserves. They’ll be named Thursday, with Wall among the team’s fans in pulling for center Marcin Gortat or shooting guard Bradley Beal:

Gortat is averaging 12 points and ranks 20th in the NBA with 8.2 rebounds per game. His 13 double-doubles are 21st in the league. Beal is averaging 14.8 points and is seventh in the league in three-point field goal percentage at 44.1 percent. He missed the Wizards’ first nine games due to a fractured left wrist and came off the bench for four games upon his return. Beal is in his third season, but is still the youngest player on the Wizards at 21 years old. For what it’s worth, analyst Shaquille O’Neal thinks both Gortat and Beal should join Wall.

“Right now it’s up to the coaches, but if I end up losing it then I think it’s going to be more about politics,” Gortat said with a smile.

The Wizards haven’t sent two players to an all-star game since Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison represented the organization in 2008. This year, Gortat and Beal face stiff competition. Gortat will be up against Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, Joakim Noah, Nikola Vucevic, Paul Millsap and Al Horford in the frontcourt. In the backcourt, Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague are among the choices.

“I think someone else from my team should be in there with me,” Wall said. “And it’s crazy that if [Anthony] had surgery, if his knee didn’t get better, then [Gortat] would’ve been a starter. That would’ve been the funny part about it. But yeah, I think someone from my team, whether it’s him or Brad [Beal], is well-deserving of another spot from my team.”

***

No. 4: Shaw cries foul over ruling — The debate rages on –- do you foul or do you not foul when your team has a three-point lead near the end of the game? –- but the Los Angeles Clippers were spared any second-guessing Monday against the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers fouled not once but twice, yet avoided sending Danilo Gallinari to the line with a chance to tie when Matt Barnes‘ contact with the Nuggets forward was ruled a non-shooting foul. Which was an interpretation quite different from the one Nuggets coach Brian Shaw had as he watched the moment play out, as reported by the Denver Post:

Down three points with nine seconds left, the Nuggets ran a play that got Danilo Gallinari a good look at a 3-point shot. And he pulled up for that shot. As Gallinari went up, Clippers forward Matt Barnes pulled down his right arm — his shooting arm. Gallinari switched the ball to his left hand and put the attempt up.

A foul was called. But not a shooting foul.

Gallo was deemed to not be in the act of shooting. So instead of getting three free throws for one of their best shooters from the stripe, the Nuggets, instead, had to take the ball out of bounds again. The Clippers then fouled Darrell Arthur and put him on the free throw line to shoot two.

Asked about his level of frustration with the non-call, Gallinari simply grinned and said, “I’ll let the people watch the replay and make their own judgment.”

Shaw, however, steamed.

“It’s frustrating when night-in and night-out all of those kind of calls go against us,” he said. “And the explanation of i changes all the time, when we get an explanation. Or they admit that they made a mistake after the fact when it’s already cost us a game.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Contestants in the 2015 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest will be unveiled on NBA TV’s Fan Night Tuesday during the Auto Trader Pregame Show at 7 p.m. ET. … Torrel Harris thanks God for his son Tobias‘ NBA career with the Orlando Magic, but he’s not so thankful for the New York Post. … ‘Shocking’ is how that same publication termed the Knicks’ contract ‘impasse’ with guard Langston Galloway. … How much did the NBA’s stance on sports gambling contribute to its soaring franchise valuations? Breitbart News asked the question. … Plans and politics edge forward in the Milwaukee Bucks’ quest for a new downtown arena. … Father Time still is undefeated, but the Chinese New Year will tackle that old man again with an NBA-heavy celebration. …

 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: Trevor Booker taps in possibly the shot of the year

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots | Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ | Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds | Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets

No. 1: Booker practices those ‘circus’ shots — Necessity is the mother of invention, but it occasionally can be the father of ridiculous. That’s how it felt Friday night in Oklahoma City, when Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker took resourcefulness to an outrageous level and made not just the play of the night but the shot of the 2014-15 NBA season, at least based on rarity and degree of difficulty. Booker’s back-to-the-basket, no-time-except-to-tip, underhanded flip of a field goal attempt stunned pretty much everyone in the gym. Here’s Jazz beat writer Jody Genessey on the play:

With 0.2 seconds remaining on the shot clock, the Jazz got the ball out of bounds on the far sideline. The only shot that can even be completed in that amount of time is a tip, and that’s what Jazz coach Quin Snyder called for.

Booker said he didn’t even know the play that his coach barked out, so he headed to the hoop thinking Gordon Hayward would probably throw a lob. When that didn’t materialize, Booker rushed over toward Hayward and stopped with his back toward the basket.

That’s when, as the NBA marketing department might say, amazing happened.

Hayward made a bounce pass to Booker, who creatively and instinctively tipped the ball with both hands and flipped it up and over his head in the nick of time. It’s a move that might come in handy next summer when he plays volleyball again.

Incredibly, the ball plopped into the net, helping the Jazz take a 50-44 lead into the break.

“We try to cover a lot of game situations. That was not one,” Jazz coach Snyder said. “I have to say they manufactured that.”

While Snyder, Hayward and everyone else was startled, Booker grinned and immediately thought to the hours he and his cousin, Lakers forward Jordan Hill, spent practicing – yes, practicing – such goofball shots and situations. As cited by Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune:

“I know you won’t believe me, but I really do practice those shots,” he said in the locker room afterward. “My cousin [Lakers forward] Jordan Hill, he texted me after the game and said, ‘They’re not going to believe we practiced those shots all the time growing up.’ I guess you could say the hard work finally paid off.”

The Jazz lost the game, 99-94, and dropped to 13-24. But Booker was buoyant afterward about his team as well as that shot.

“That’s a good [team] right there,” he said of the Thunder. “Let’s not forget that they went to the Finals a couple years ago. We’re playing good ball right now, playing hard. I told the group, there’s no group I’d rather go to war with than these guys. We’re still trying to figure everything out, but as long as we keep playing hard the way we are, we’re going to be fine.”

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No. 2: Tarpley, dead at 50, ‘could do it all’ — He was a child of the ’60s, which meant that Roy Tarpley was a young professional athlete in the ’80s, and while no decade has held exclusive rights to illegal drug use among major sports figures, that one ranks high. Tarpley was the seventh player picked in the 1986 NBA Draft – five spots after Len Bias, the poster guy for squandered dreams and tragic ends even today. Others taken early that day included Chris Washburn and William Bedford, two more whose careers washed out to substance abuse. Other sports had similar tales, and Tarpley’s came to an end with the news Friday that the former Dallas Mavericks forward had died at age 50. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News chronicled the sad news:

Cause of death was not immediately known Friday night, although when the Mavericks arrived in Los Angeles for their game Saturday against the Clippers, several members of the traveling party had been informed that liver failure was at least partly to blame.

The 6-11 Tarpley was the seventh pick in the 1986 draft by the Mavericks out of Michigan. In his second season, he was the NBA’s sixth man of the year before drugs and controversy shrouded the rest of his six seasons in the league.

According to a medical examiner’s report, Tarpley’s death happened at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. It is a sad ending to one of the most gifted players in franchise history. Tarpley had a rare combination of strength and speed that made him one of the best athletes of his era.

“Our condolences go out to the family of Roy Tarpley,” Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban said via Twitter. “RIP Roy. Mavs fans everywhere will remember you fondly.”

Tarpley’s off-court troubles probably followed him into the NBA from the University of Michigan and largely defined his time in Dallas, with the Mavericks assisting in significant ways. When he was right, he was very right; the 6-foot-11 native of Detroit averaged 12.6 and 10.0 rebounds in 280 regular season games over parts of six seasons. In 24 playoff games, his numbers were even better: 17.0 points, 12.8 rebounds and a 20.8 PER. He led the NBA in total rebound percentage (22.6) while winning the Sixth Man Award in 1987-88 and he led in that category again two years later. That’s the Tarpley fans would prefer to remember.

“If Roy had stayed healthy, he could have been one of the top 50 players ever,” said Brad Davis, the Mavericks’ radio analyst and player-development coach who played with Tarpley. “He could do it all, shoot, score, rebound, pass and defend. We’re all sorry to hear of his passing.”

Tarpley would spend most of his career battling personal problems. He was suspended by the NBA after five games in the 1989-90 season after being arrested for driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest. In 1991, he drew another suspension after a second DWI arrest and, a few months later, had a third violation and was banned from the league for violating the NBA’s drug-use policies.

He returned to the Mavericks briefly in 1994 but then was permanently barred in December 1995 for violating terms of his aftercare program.

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No. 3: Cavs find sunshine through dark clouds — Some of us at Hang Time HQ have chided some of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ knee-jerk critics for ignoring the one thing everyone said that team would need in 2014-15, namely patience. Then again, a stretch of seven defeats in eight games, a four-game losing streak and two weeks without LeBron James – all while nearing the mid-point of January – might be an appropriate time to … PANIC! And yet, there was a calm of sorts about the Cavs after their 18-point drubbing at Golden State Friday and even some rays of optimism, as Cleveland beat guy Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com saw it:

It’s amazing how much the direction of a team can change once its members change the perception of their situation.

Monday in Philadelphia it seemed as low as you could go, with the Cavs blowing an early lead and losing to the laughingstock of the league with Kyrie Irving not making the trip because of a back injury and LeBron James away from the team, also nursing strains to his back and left knee while making a quick rehab trip down in Miami.

Five days later, with the team having pulled off two trades (in essence Dion Waiters for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, and a couple of first-round picks for Timofey Mozgov and a second-rounder), Irving back in the lineup, and James back with the team for its five-game road trip — and even going through “minor” on-court activities for the first time since sitting out Dec. 30 — there’s some sunshine peaking through the clouds, according to coach David Blatt.

“It’s tough right now and I know it’s tough to see, but when we do get back to full strength, we’re going to be good,” said Kevin Love.

It was particularly noteworthy that Love was waving the encouragement flag because he took only 11 shots — compared to 23 apiece for Smith and Irving — but instead of focusing on his involvement in the offense after the fact, he set his sights on what the Cavs will look like in the near future.

Blatt took the same tone.

“I think you see we’re a better team today than we were yesterday and we were a week ago,” Blatt said. “I’m not even going to talk about the guys that aren’t playing, because we’re a better team today.”

The signs are more encouraging than sappy stuff like playing tough teams close – Houston, the Warriors – without their best player. There are no guarantees, but at least there have been some changes and the LeBron arrow is pointing up:

The new faces are already making their presence felt, whether it was Smith’s 27 points against the Warriors (“I told you coming in; I had nothing but a good feeling about J.R. joining our team,” Blatt said), or it was Mozgov’s nine points and eight rebounds in his debut and his reaction to how he was received (“The guys meet me so good,” the Russian-born Mozgov said in endearing broken English, “make me be the part of the family on the first day. … So, I love it”), or Shumpert’s competitive side relishing the fact he was leaving a sinking ship for a team that’s playoff-bound (“I didn’t want my season to end early,” Shumpert said).

There are no “gimme” games in the Western Conference, but Sacramento should be a winnable game on Sunday; and then, if James comes back just slightly ahead of his two-week rest schedule he could be in the lineup Tuesday in Phoenix, and if that happens you get the lame-duck Lakers next, and possibly have picked up a full head of steam going into the trip finale Friday against the Clippers.

***

No. 4: Rock bottom in 5 seconds for Nets — Realists in this league have a saying they occasionally invoke: “You are what your record is.” Pessimists around the Brooklyn Nets woke up Saturday believing that their team is about 10 games worse than its record, though, because the 16-19 Nets somehow blew a game against the 6-29 Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at the Barclays Center. The blog TheBrooklynGame.com had an intriguing snapshot of the team hitting rock bottom – actually, it was more of a film analysis, second-by-second, of Brooklyn’s best last chance in the game. It began with coach Lionel Hollins‘ admonitions that the Nets really aren’t a good team and then dissected an inbounds play that led to center Brook Lopez launching a prayer from beyond 3-point range on a failed attempt to win or tie:

With may-day approaching after three failed screens and little misdirection, Lopez shot up towards [Alan] Anderson, extending his left arm away from Nerlens Noel to catch the ball, as the only player left who had a chance.

The option was doomed from the start. The seven-footer, who has never made a three-pointer in the regular season, caught a wide pass from Anderson one-handed, spun counterclockwise to the middle of the floor, performed a ball-fake against the long and talented Noel to no avail, and flung a contested, fallaway three-pointer wide right, officially listed at 27 feet away but might as well have been from the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk.

“We’re honestly playing down to these teams these last few games,” Lopez said. “We’re better than this, and we’re doing it to ourselves. And we have to be better than this for the entirety of the game.”

It should’ve never come down to Lopez taking that final shot, because it never should’ve come down to a final shot at all.

“When we executed and made good decisions, and defended, and rebounded, we were ahead. Soon as we relaxed and made some bad decisions on offense, made some bad decisions on defense, they came back.”

Now, the Nets can only look ahead, and the road is ugly. 13 of the team’s 17 games before the All-Star break (and the trade deadline) come against teams slated to be in the playoffs, and that’s not including tomorrow night’s contest against the Detroit Pistons, who had won seven straight games before barely losing to the Atlanta Hawks, the Eastern Conference’s best team, Friday night.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Phoenix Suns considered Brandan Wright the “best backup center in the league” even before they acquired him from Boston. … Skip the soap-opera stuff, Mark Jackson‘s return to Golden State scarcely could have been more moving. … Don’t assume the Boston Celtics are done, even after they spend the weekend working out the kinks of their Jeff Green-to-Memphis trade. … No Kobe, no problem for the Lakers, who got a big boost off the bench from new guy Tarik Black. …

Sixers put out APB on absent ‘AK-47′

The Dude of “The Big Lebowski” fame knew how to make a white Russian disappear, but that offers no help as far as the Philadelphia 76ers are concerned in their desire to have veteran NBA forward Andrei Kirilenko report for duty.

Kirilenko, acquired by the Sixers on Dec. 11, has been on leave for “personal reasons” reportedly related to a family member’s medical situation. But the team’s intent in swinging the deal with the Brooklyn Nets was that the 33-year-old would join their squad, work his way into the rotation and play well enough that he might attract some bids from contending teams prior to the league’s February trading deadline.

So at some point, Kirilenko is going to be AWOL. For now, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Ford just had some fun in putting out an APB on AK-47. Because, after all, one has to take fun where one finds it around the Sixers these days:

I am looking for Andrei Kirilenko, but he is hard to find. This should not be the case because Kirilenko is a 6-foot-9 Russian. He should either be on a basketball court or in a James Bond movie. I have searched the basketball courts and movie theaters. No Kirilenko.

The 76ers are not helping at all. They traded for Kirilenko this month and I see his smiling face on the roster page of their website. The blue and red of the team colors have been drawn onto the uniform top he is wearing in the photo. Kirilenko is number 47, as he has always been during his 13 seasons in the NBA. That’s part of his “AK-47″ nickname, which someone came up with in reference to the Kalashnikov rifle, although at this point of his career Kirilenko isn’t even a pop gun.

This season, he played 37 minutes spread over seven games for the Nets, took five shots from the field and didn’t make any of them. Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins had no further use for him and general manager Billy King, whose team is trying to get out of luxury tax jail, looked desperately for someone to take Kirilenko’s $3,326,235 salary off his books. Hello, Sixers.

The nuts-and-bolts of the situation are getting a little dicey, however, given the loggerheads at which the brief relationship between the player and his new team appears to be. As Yahoo! Sports reported Tuesday:

For now, Kirilenko and his representatives are resisting the Sixers’ overtures, preferring the organization waive Kirilenko and let him become a free agent, sources said.

After Philadelphia and the Brooklyn Nets completed a trade for Kirilenko on Dec. 11, Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie has repeatedly expressed to Kirilenko’s camp that there are no immediate plans to cut him loose, league sources said.

Kirilenko, 33, wants the balance of the $3.3 million owed to him this season, and ultimately the freedom to sign elsewhere on a new deal this season, sources said. So far, he’s been unwilling to join the rebuilding Sixers, but eventually could be mandated to report to the team to collect on his contract.

Seeing has how Kirilenko cost himself serious money in the NBA marketplace prior to 2013-14 – when he turned down a $10 million player option with Minnesota to sign with the Mikhail Prokhorov-owned Nets on a two-year, $7.4 million deal – this could be about the dough. As in, Kirilenko might not be willing to negotiate down for a buyout, considering what he’s lost already on his Brooklyn gamble.

It’s hard to know what Kirilenko has left. He didn’t play for the Nets for a month before the trade, appearing in just seven of their first 20 games, so he pretty much has maintained his pace with the Sixers (0-for-5 possible games).

There’s always the possibility that the trade came at a particularly bad time, synching up unknowingly with the one time a year his wife Masha Lopatova allows him to stray beyond the vows of their marriage. Still, even if she lets him test the waters of personal free-agency, Kirilenko won’t have that freedom from Philadelphia until next summer.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 13


VIDEO: Top plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Swaggy P goes primetime | Down goes Davis | Nets’ patience running short | Pistons snap 13-game skid

No. 1: Swaggy P goes primetime — Last night in San Antonio with the Lakers in town, all eyes were on Kobe Bryant, who entered the night 31 points from passing Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. But during the pursuit of the record — and one day after Kobe publicly criticized his teammates while the media was at practice — something interesting happened: The Lakers knocked off the Spurs in overtime for their second straight win. And while Bryant finished with 22 points, the game-winning bucket came from Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who, according to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, fully enjoyed the moment

Nick Young is all jokes, all the time. But Friday, after playing the surprise role of hero in an overtime win here against the San Antonio Spurs, the quirky Los Angeles Lakers guard turned his cartoonish personality all the way up.

Exhibit A, referencing his remarkable, go-ahead 30-footer with 7.4 seconds left in a 112-110 victory, a highly contested prayer of a heave that turned AT&T Center silent:

“Once it left my hand, I kind of knew it was cash,” Young said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t miss.’ That’s my new name — ‘I.D.M.’ Call me ‘I.D.M.’ You feel me?”

Exhibit B, referencing his game and season-high 29 points off the bench on 9-for-14 shooting, including 6-for-9 from 3-point range:

“Man, you know, I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do when I’ve got to do it,” Young said. “So basically, I’m just doing what I’ve got to do every time that I step on the court to do what I’ve got to do. You feel me?”

Then Young offered more not-so-veiled remarks — hard truths and backhanded compliments, if you will, that made it once again difficult to tell when exactly he’s joking and when he isn’t.

Such as here:

“I’m glad I had a chance to hit a game-winner with somebody like Kobe [Bryant] on the floor, who normally has the ball in his hands all the time,” Young said.

Or here, when he nodded to Bryant’s chase of Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time scoring list (Bryant stood 31 points shy of passing Jordan entering Friday):

“No offense to Kobe, but I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much [Friday],” Young said. “I thought he was going to break that record — at least get 40 or 50 [points]. With all the cameras that were around, I didn’t think I was going to get the ball that much.”

Young, known as “Swaggy P,” in a nationally televised game indeed stole the spotlight away from Bryant, who many expected would gun for Jordan’s record. Instead, Bryant shot 7-of-22 from the field and scored 22 points, leaving him nine shy of passing Jordan’s total (32,292).

“It’s going to come,” Bryant said of the milestone.

But the fun-loving Young also touched on Bryant’s trash-talking tirade in practice Thursday, when Bryant called his teammates “soft,” comparing them to Charmin toilet paper, among other things.

“When I’m out there, I don’t play like Charmin,” Young said. “I like Scott Tissue. It’s a little rougher.”

***

No. 2: Down goes Davis — One of the most versatile players early this season has been New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who has averaged a double-double and established himself as an MVP contender even with the Pelicans hovering around the .500 mark. But early in the first quarter last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Davis went down with what is being called a “chest contusion.” While the Pelicans managed to hang on for the win without Davis, they obviously need to get him back if they want to continue to fight for a playoff spot. As John Reid writes

Despite Friday’s win, the focus was clearly on Davis’ health. He never came out the locker room after suffering the injury. The Pelicans had initially listed him as questionable to return.

However, when the Pelicans took the court before the start of the third quarter, there was no sign of Davis. At the end of the quarter, the team announced that Davis would not return.

It appears unclear when Davis’ chest problems began. But midway in the first quarter, forward Tristan Thompson bumped into Davis at mid-court. However, Davis continued playing.

During a timeout with 5:44 remaining in the opening quarter, Davis had his hands on his chest appearing to be in discomfort. He returned to the court but asked out of the game at the 5:30 mark.

“I just know when he was on the bench, he was wincing as if he couldn’t breathe,” Williams said. “So I was hesitant to put him back in the game and he then he wanted to go back out. We watched him for awhile and he took himself out. That’s when I knew he didn’t feel right. And he was waiting for himself to feel better when he was in the back (locker room), but it never came back. So we’ll have a better idea of what’s going on (Saturday).”

***

No. 3: Nets’ patience running short — Reports of the Brooklyn Nets’ hastened demise have been greatly exaggerated…this according to Brooklyn GM Billy King. At a press conference last night, speaking before the Nets’ 88-70 win over Philadelphia, King said stories about the Nets attempting to quickly trade their core three are exactly that: Stories. With the team currently sitting at 9-13, however, King acknowledges an urgency to get things turned around. As the New York Post reports

“My job is to listen to people and to make calls and to make calls back,” King said before the Nets’ 88-70 victory over the 76ers on Friday night at Barclays Center.

“Does that mean we’re having a fire sale? Absolutely not. I’m doing my job, as well as asking the players and the coaches to do their job. But my job is to work the phones, see what’s available.

“If things make sense you make trades. If they don’t, you don’t do it. But we’re not shopping or having a fire sale.”

King’s comments came in the wake of reports Tuesday the Nets had made their three highest-paid players — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez — available in trade discussions recently after Brooklyn got off to a rough start for a second straight season.

But while King said there are reasons why the Nets haven’t played up to expectations, he wasn’t ready to say everything about the team’s slow start could be attributed to outside factors.

“I think one, Brook was playing himself back into shape, after being out so long,” King said. “I think a lot of guys were trying to adjust to the new system.

“But some guys just haven’t played up to the level we need them to play.”

The Nets have sputtered out of the gate each of the past two seasons, and since the start of training camp, coach Lionel Hollins repeatedly has said he expects them to play much better in January and February than they are now, once the group grows more comfortable with him and vice versa.

King, however, said the Nets can’t afford to simply wait for things to get better with time. They entered Friday with an 8-12 record and were riding a three-game losing streak.

***

No. 4: Pistons snap 13-game skid — When Stan Van Gundy signed on this summer to take all things basketball for the Detroit Pistons, there was an expectation that things would improve from last year’s 29-53 season. Thus far, however, things have been worse before they got any better, as the Pistons entered last night with a 3-19 record and 13 consecutive losses. But the Pistons finally got summer signee Jodie Meeks back from injury, and went into Phoenix and squeaked out a 105-103 win to end the streak. As Vincent Goodwill writes

All the stops were pulled Friday, as Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy went back to Greg Monroe in the starting lineup, used Jodie Meeks for the first time this season and even did what he’s been previously reluctant to, playing his two point guards simultaneously.

The Pistons were desperate, doing everything they could to counteract the balanced Phoenix Suns attack.

Buzzer-beating triples, passionate pleas to the officials followed by calm diplomacy when the emotion died down, but in the end, they had to make plays, and did just enough to beat the Suns, 105-103, at U.S. Airways Arena.

Easy, it surely wasn’t, and the ending will never be confused with being smooth or a coaching clinic, as the Pistons nearly gave it away multiple times in the final minutes.

Andre Drummond, an unlikely figure to be sure, hit one of his two free throws with 2.5 seconds left to give the Pistons a two-point lead before the Suns’ final attempt made its way to Drummond’s massive mitts before the buzzer sounded, ending the misery, punctuating his 23-point, 14-rebound night.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the player who was alleged to have “no heart” by Suns forward Markieff Morris during their earlier meeting, hit a corner 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining to break a 97-all game, and the quiet kid shot a cool stare at the Suns bench on the way downcourt, the last of his 14 points.

“Ha! Nah, I did kind of look at the bench or whatever, let them know I do have heart. I’ll take that shot any day,” Caldwell-Pope said with a bit of a grin afterwards. “It felt good. Jodie had a nice cut to the basket, (Eric) Bledsoe helped and I was wide open. I spotted up and knocked the shot down.”

Meeks played 22 minutes off the bench, hitting four of his 10 shots to score 12. Meeks, who’s rather mild in most instances, was fouled with eight seconds left after a Goran Dragic layup, and after his two made free throws, pounded his chest in joy.

***

SOME RANDOM LINKS: Don’t look now, but the Hawks have won 9 straight … The Knicks got a win but lost Iman Shumpert with a dislocated shoulderDion Waiters spent the night in Cleveland after experiencing abdominal pain … Bulls forward Doug McDermott will undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his knee … Jermaine O’Neal will make a decision about returning after the holidays … While Kobe closes in on Michael Jordan’s scoring record, Byron Scott doesn’t think anyone will catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar … Someone allegedly stole a truck filled with 7,500 pairs of LeBron‘s signature shoes

Nets’ Williams, Hollins unfazed by speculation of shake-up trades

nets

Brook Lopez (left), Deron Williams (center) and Joe Johnson are all signed to max deals. (NBAE via Getty Images)

 

CHICAGO – Deron Williams didn’t seem too rattled by trade speculation and neither did his coach on the Brooklyn Nets, Lionel Hollins.

Williams, along with teammates Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, reportedly is available for the right offer as the Nets contemplate a shift in direction. It’s an uncomfortable position, as is the team’s 8-11 record, but Williams didn’t sound eager to flee, either.

“I’m not worried about it,” Williams told reporters after Brooklyn’s shootaround Wednesday at the Moody Bible Institute. “I’m a Net until they tell me otherwise.

“It’s a business. … I don’t see any problem. Brook has dealt with it, so I don’t see any problem for him., and I don’t think Joe is worried about it.”

Hollins shrugged off the media reports, too. He already was facing the prospect of playing the Chicago Bulls without Lopez (sore back) and Johnson (flu symptoms), who did not make the trip, and wasn’t going to worry about not having Williams until he didn’t.

“As long as you live in one neighborhood, you don’t live in the other neighborhood,” Hollins said. “All the NBA is, go play. There’s always a lot of yikkety-yak.”

Hollins didn’t think the speculation would be a distraction to the Nets any more than such chatter bothered him when he was a player.

“If I’m on your team, I’ll play for you,” he said of his approach. “If you trade me, I’ll go play for them. When all 30 teams don’t want you anymore, that’s when you’ve got a problem.”

Blogtable: Slipping (already) in the East

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: Stumbling in the East | Revisiting the Sixers’ plan | Early season eye-opener


> Which Eastern Conference team (discounting Cleveland) is not nearly as good as you thought it might be at this point of the season?

Charlotte's Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford (Kent Smith/NBAE)

Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson and Steve Clifford
(Kent Smith/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI expected more out of Charlotte than a 4-7 start and, especially, its porous defense so far (106.2 defensive rating, 21st in opponents’ field-goal percentage). Coach Steve Clifford‘s team has to clamp down better than that. Lance Stephenson has been underwhelming and Michael Kidd Gilchrist hasn’t been healthy, but a 3-3 start fizzled when the Hornets headed West. Losing to the Lakers? That’s so 2009-10. The schedule softens up a bit for the next three, then rematches at home loom with Portland and Golden State. The Hornets’ big boss would make sure to clean those up if he still were playing, so let’s see if he can inspire his crew.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Maybe they should have kept that Bobcats name in Charlotte. Except for that one wild game-winning shot, Lance Stephenson has not provided an upgrade and the defense has fallen off badly.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Everyone is pretty much where I thought they’d be. If I had to make picks, I’d say the Knicks and Hornets are slightly under, but not enough to qualify as “not nearly as good” as I figured. I had both around .500 (Charlotte) or a few games under and making the playoffs (New York). The danger sign for the Hornets now is they’re starting to have a lot of blowout losses. That’s a very bad look.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I realize they’re on their fourth coach in three years and just returned from a trip out West but is this really what the Nets have become, a hum-drum team — in the East, no less? They’ve been called out by Joe Johnson, who hasn’t whined since he was spanked to life at birth, and also Lionel Hollins. The coach questioned their toughness which could’ve been a swipe at Brook Lopez (who at this stage of his career isn’t going to morph into a young Kevin Garnett) and their identity, or lack of one. All told, the Nets aren’t dropping any hints of being a contender, now that Deron Williams is no longer a top-5 point guard, and what you have is the increased likelihood of this being the Same Old Nets.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comCharlotte’s had a disappointing start. The former Bobcats have two new starters and have played one of the East’s tougher schedules thus far, but they’ve been just average defensively and much worse offensively, with losses to both the Knicks and Lakers. Brooklyn has also had some bad results, but also has two new starters and doesn’t have the system continuity that the Hornets do. This team had a better start last year, in Steve Clifford’s first season as a head coach.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based strictly on potential, I expected the Bulls, Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards to sit at the head of the class in the Eastern Conference this season. And for the most part, they have played their respective roles this season. The wild card team in that top group was supposed to be Charlotte. But they’ve struggled with the adjustment to new expectations this season. They have not looked like the team I thought they would with Lance Stephenson playing alongside Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. Steve Clifford is an excellent coach, so I’m sure they’ll figure the chemistry out as the season goes on. But I expected them to get off to a much better start than what we’ve seen thus far.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I don’t know what to make of Lance Stephenson’s impact on the Hornets. He’s their leader in rebounds and assists, which is impressive; and he’s been scoring more efficiently in recent games. But between his addition and the subtraction of injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte looks less cohesive and more fragile.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCharlotte. Sure, we knew there would be some growing pains incorporating Lance Stephenson into the offense, but they’re 4-7 (and one of those wins came on a miracle buzzer-beater from Stephenson). What’s more surprising to me is that after being so good defensively last season, this year the Hornets are in the bottom half of the League in defensive rating. The rebranding campaign has been great, but if they keep playing like the Bobcats of old, I’m not sure that it’s going to matter all that much.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: I was hoping Brooklyn would have a more positive/winning record in the first month.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: I had high expectation on the Charlotte Hornets. I thought Lance Stephenson would be the missing puzzle piece to be top 5 in the East. But they still have to figure out how everything works out together. Marvin Williams is not the Marvin Williams we knew from Utah and the departure of Josh McRoberts has hurt. But it’s still early in the season and I’m sure the Hornets will get the turnaround soon. Lance is not the offensive weapon I’ve expected, but he helps with his all-around game. So, give them some time. The Hornets will buzz!

Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: The Hornets have played below expectations so far given what they were able to create last season. I must admit, I wasn’t on board with Lance Stephenson being the answer to their offensive problems, I still think his game lacks consistency and he has a propensity to do inefficient things (shooting too many long 2s and whacky contested shots off the dribble). Still, this team won 43 games last season, owned a top-5 defense, committed the fewest turnovers, and on paper, improved in the offseason. Plus we were expecting the overall upward curve of Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It might sound simple but I can’t see this team creating an efficient offense given the way the roster stands currently. A whopping six players are shooting below 40 percent and they’re all guards who were supposed to propel them. They need shooters!

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: The Pistons! I expected more of them. They have a great front-line (Monroe, Drummond, Smith) and all the pieces of the puzzle to find their way to the postseason. But they are playing terrible on the road and have won only 3 out of 11 games. Not the best start for a team that regrouped this summer and tried to turn a brand new page.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: To be honest, beyond the Bulls and the Cavs, there are no Eastern Conference teams that I had expected to be elite anyways, just ‘good’ in relative to other Eastern squads. With that said, I was expecting better things from Charlotte. The Hornets have started 5-7 – bottom of their division — and if you take away a couple of game-winning shots, they’d be 3-7 right now. I was expecting that the core of Kemba, Lance, MKG, Big Al would be able to help this team take a small step forwards, but some early teething troubles have them taking a step back. It will take some ironing out in the backcourt power-struggle between Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson to get the wheels rolling.

XiBin Yang, NBA.com/China: The Brooklyn Nets, no doubt about it.They hired a new coach, and the comeback of Brook Lopez is a big help, but they need some time to come together. Obviously, what made them lose in past games is the poor defense (107.5 at DRtg). When Brook steps into the paint, opponents just shoot a sky high percentage in the field (52.6% when he’s on the court). However, their roster is still loaded, and I think coach Hollins,who is good at coaching big man, will figure out how to play defense when their most dominating big man is on the floor. Maybe they could make a run after the All-Star weekend.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The obvious answer would be the Knicks, but I thought they were not a playoff team, so I’m going to say the Hornets. I thought they could be up there with the Raptors and the Wizards, battling for the third spot in the Conference behind Cleveland and Chicago. But Lance Stephenson is not even near to the All-Star player he was last year with the Pacers. And the Hornets are struggling, with a 4-7 record, a defense that allows more than 100 ppg and a team still looking for its identity.

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA