Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Lakers’

Blogtable: Struggling marquee teams

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


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



VIDEOAre the Lakers better off with Kobe Bryant playing less?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning shootaround — Jan. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Anthony says he’s not shutting it down yet | Reports: Seattle investors eyeing Hawks | Young likes Lakers’ ‘atmosphere of winning’ | Bucks’ Sanders explains his recent absences | Trade winds start to pick up

No. 1: Anthony ‘not shutting it down for the season yet’ – Debate has raged over the last week or so about whether or not New York Knicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony should stop playing this season to rest his sore knee. While the team may want Anthony to think about such a move, he’s not interested in doing that. In a video posted on Bleacher Report, Anthony says he plans to keep chugging along this season:

“I’m all right, I’m not shutting it down for the season yet, just trying to take some time to get it right. I know there’s a lot of fans out there that are kinda upset, kinda down on the team, kinda down on the players right now, kinda down on the situation, but I will say it will be greater later. Just be patient with the team, with the organization, with the journey, with the plan, with what we’re trying to create, what we’re trying to accomplish. Greatness don’t happen overnight, but that’s what we’re trying to build here.

“As far as me, I’m rehabbing. I’m around the clock getting treatment, therapy, trying to do what I got to do so I can be at my greatest.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses whether or not Carmelo Anthony should shut it down for the season

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James, Curry remain All-Star voting leaders

HANG TIME BIG CITY — The King still reigns.

In the latest NBA All-Star balloting results, released this morning, Cleveland’s LeBron James remains the leading overall vote-getter. James, who had 552,967 in the initial voting results, has 775,810 votes in the second balloting totals.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who was the leading Western Conference vote-getter in the first results, remains atop the Western Conference though just behind James in overall balloting, with 755,486 votes.

NBA All-Star 2015The top five players in each Conference remain unchanged in the second results. Kobe Bryant and Curry are the top guards in the Western Conference, with Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol the top three frontcourt players. Tim Duncan and James Harden are the two Western Conference players closest to moving into the starting five, with Duncan roughly 50,000 votes behind Marc Gasol, and Harden about 180,000 votes behind Kobe Bryant.

In the Eastern Conference, the only move among the starting five is a flip-flop between two starters. Chicago’s Pau Gasol, who was roughly 18,000 votes behind New York’s Carmelo Anthony in the first voting returns, has moved into second place among Eastern Conference forwards, with 372,109 votes to Anthony’s 365,449.

Chris Bosh is currently in fourth place among Eastern Conference forwards, about 70,000 votes behind Anthony for a starting spot.

John Wall and Dwyane Wade remain atop the Eastern Conference guards, with Kyrie Irving about 90,000 in third, about votes off the pace.

The biggest gainer overall is Portland’s Damian Lillard, who was eighth among Western guard in the first results, but has jumped to fifth in these second results, leapfrogging Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson and Rajon Rondo. Lillard, however, remains about 550,000 votes behind Bryant for a starting guard position.

The team most under-represented in regard to their record is the Atlanta Hawks, who currently have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 23-8, but their highest-ranked player in the second voting results is Paul Millsap, who is 13th among Eastern Conference forwards (34,751 votes).

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

Morning shootaround — Dec. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe clears up why he passes or shoots | Love misses game vs. Hawks | Report: Bucks to meet with Martin | Pistons’ Drummond hitting his stride

No. 1: Kobe clarifies his view on passing vs. shooting — If you missed it last night in Denver, Kobe Bryant put on a show en route to his 21st career triple-double (and second of 2014-15). Bryant amassed 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists and, after that stellar performance, decided to chat with the media a bit about the difference between his scoring and passing personas. The Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan has more:

Kobe Bryant had a lecture for media members as they surrounded his locker.

He had just accumulated the 21st triple-double of his career, a 23-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist endeavor Tuesday against Denver. Time to wag the finger, Dikembe Mutombo style.

He wasn’t angry at all — the Lakers had just won, 111-103 — but he firmly batted away a question about his passing vs. scoring personas.

“I don’t know why it’s so hard for you guys to understand that. No, I really don’t,” he said. “Like, it’s fascinating to me. When [teammates] are open, they make shots, it’s easy. I sit back.

“When they don’t and we’re down 15 or something points, I try to get it going. Sometimes I make them. Sometimes I don’t. When I don’t, you think it’s because I’m not passing the ball. It’s really that simple. You guys have a very hard time understanding that for some reason.”

Since returning from a three-game rest, Bryant has taken 21 shots while handing out 18 assists. Before he went on his week-long sabbatical, he was averaging 4.6 shots for every assist.

He said he spent some time analyzing his game while he was sidelined. He promised to not try to blow past people anymore. He wanted to get to his spots in the post and back people down.

And, sure, be more of a distributor.

It was easy to believe after watching the last two games, especially Tuesday.


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Kobe Bryant’s triple-double vs. Denver

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets | Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win | Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk | Bucks looking for different advantages

No. 1: Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets — There’s no place like home for the holidays … as long as you have a home. After being waived earlier this week by the Detroit Pistons, Josh Smith agreed to a free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets. Friday night he made his debut for the Rockets in Memphis against the Western Conference power Grizzlies, tallying 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Houston’s 117-111 overtime win. As Jonathan Feigen writes in the Houston Chronicle, Smith provided the Rockets exactly what they were looking for when they signed him…

The Rockets had no intention of relying so heavily on forward Josh Smith with the ink on his contract barely dry.

They did not even intend to play him so long into the night.

The Rockets knew they wanted Smith the minute the Detroit Pistons cut him loose.

They needed him as soon as they plugged him into the rotation.

With the Grizzlies defending Smith with Vince Carter, the Rockets went to him again and again down the stretch Friday night, not only helping key a comeback to a 117-111 overtime win but offering a glimpse of the sort of talent they had plugged into the mix.

“They think big of my talents,” Smith said. “This is a team that instills confidence in all of its players.”

With the two-season disaster in Detroit rapidly behind him, Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his Rockets debut, tacking on the game-winning free throws in overtime when he grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds and then knocked down a pair of free throws for a four-point lead.

***

No. 2: Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win — The Orlando Magic are still in the nascent stages of their rebuilding plan, and as such still have lessons to learn. Last night, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were without an injured Kyrie Irving, the Magic learned an important truth: You come at the King, you best not miss. With Orlando leading the Cavs 64-62 in the third quarter, Magic forward Tobias Harris and LeBron James got tangled under the basket and exchanged some heated words. Whoops. As Chris Haynes writes, Harris woke a sleeping giant, helping push Cleveland to the win…

James looked out of sorts. Disinterested. He had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes.

Orlando was up 64-62 in the third quarter and a coasting James was 5-for-13 from the field. The Magic was on pace to steal one. Harris, acting as the catalyst, had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Then things suddenly changed.

Midway through the third, Harris was facing up James on the baseline and to create some separation; he flung his elbows around in the vicinity of James’ face. James backed up to avoid the connection, but he took exception and said something to Harris.

The two jawed back and forth at one another and had to be separated. While walking away, Harris yelled, “Stop flopping.”

“He barked up the wrong tree,” the Cavs’ Dion Waiters said of Harris after the game.

A sleeping giant was awakening.

Two possessions later, James stole a crosscourt pass and shot out on a one-man break. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton managed to get a hold of James from the back and James took him along for the ride to finish the left-handed layup, plus the foul.

The four-time MVP proceeded to trot past Orlando’s bench to have a few words before taking his foul shots. Just like that, James was awakened.

“That’s the best player in the world,” the Cavs’ Kevin Love said. “That’s something you don’t want to do.”

From that point on James dominated Harris, going 5-for-7 in the final 17 minutes. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. After that alteration with James, Harris only scored one point. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-12.

***

No. 1: Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk — Much was made earlier this season of Kobe Bryant‘s pursuit of Michael Jordan and the third spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Last night there was another repositioning of the list, though a few spots down from Kobe and MJ. Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki moved into 8th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elvin Hayes in a 102-98 Dallas win over the Lakers. As Dirk joked after the game, he’s now got Kobe squarely in his sights, writes ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon

“I told [Kobe] that I was going to catch him,” Nowitzki said after his Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 102-98 with Bryant resting and watching from the bench. “But that’s going to be tough.”

Nowitzki now stands eighth among scorers in NBA history, five spots behind Bryant, after passing Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes on Friday night.

Nowitzki needed six points entering the game to pass Hayes, who finished his career with 27,313 points, and did so on a midrange jumper off a feed from Monta Ellis on the opening possession of the second half.

Nowitzki, who has been battling a stomach illness for about two weeks, finished the game with 14 points in 24 minutes, giving him 27,322 points in his career.

“I’m fortunate to have great teammates to put me in position to keep scoring, even as I’m older,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old who has spent his entire 17-year career with the Mavs. “It’s been fun. Still competing at a high level and hopefully will win a lot more games these last couple of years, which really means more to me right now than all the points. But it’s definitely been a fun ride.”

Hayes is the second top-10 all-time scorer passed by Nowitzki this season. Nowitzki bumped Hakeem Olajuwon to No. 10 on the list in a Nov. 11 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Nowitzki, who is averaging 18.5 points per game this season, likely will pass Moses Malone (27,409 career points) in early January to move into seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

With 32,365 points and counting, Bryant is almost certainly out of reach for Nowitzki. However, Nowitzki should pass Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 points) next season and has a chance to move into the top five by passing Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) before he retires.

***

No. 1: Bucks looking for different advantages — The Milwaukee Bucks were purchased by a collection of investors led by some New York financial titans in 2013, and since then they’ve been attempting to build a stronger infrastructure for the franchise, in some ways by utilizing some creative thinking. One way they’ve done that: Spending money on people who do things NBA teams have traditionally undervalued, or perhaps not valued at all. For instance, as Kevin Randall writes in the New York Times, the Bucks recently hired a “facial coding expert”…

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season.

“We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, who works for the owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.”

Hill contends that faces betray our true emotions and can predict intentions, decisions and actions. He employs the psychologist Paul Ekman’s widely accepted FACS, or Facial Action Coding System, to decipher which of the 43 muscles in the face are working at any moment. Seven core emotions are identified: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

Before the 2014 draft, Hill spent 10 hours with Milwaukee’s team psychologist, Ramel Smith, watching video of various college prospects and picking apart the psyches of potential picks. The Bucks had the No. 2 selection over all as well as three second-round picks, one of which they traded.

A vexing player at the top of the draft was Dante Exum, a point guard from Australia who was projected to be taken among the top four selections. Smith had done player personality analyses but wanted to validate them by having Hill present his player assessments first. The Bucks selected Jabari Parker with their top pick, and Exum fell to Utah at No. 5.

“Nothing against Exum, but emotional resiliency, stability and an immediate, assured presence were all key considerations in support of selecting Parker,” Hill said.

Until he sustained a severe knee injury on Dec. 15, Parker was among the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Exum is averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 assists coming off the bench for the Jazz.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jared Dudley couldn’t miss last night in Atlanta. Like, literally, he couldn’t miss … Kenneth Faried was basically unstoppable for Denver last night … After passing him on the all-time scoring list, Kobe Bryant said Michael Jordan urged him to now go after Karl Malone … Did Kevin Garnett play his final game in Boston? … Quincy Acy got a one-game suspension for his Christmas Day scuffle with John WallDajuan Wagner is in the early stages of mounting a comeback

Morning shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe is growing old before our eyes | LeBron has bittersweet return | Warriors have a ‘jolly’ Christmas?

No. 1: Lakers move on without Kobe for nowKobe Bryant did what many did on Christmas Day: He sat around and watched a basketball game. The Lakers played the Bulls without their leader and leading scorer and it was what you would have expected: Not much of a contest. And the biggest news of the game was on the Laker bench. Kobe complained about “old age” and sat for another game, and at this point, this pattern could repeat itself throughout the season. Kobe said “my knees are sore, my Achilles are sore, both of them. Metatarsals are tight, back’s tight. I just need to kind of hit the reset button.” Oh,  if only the Lakers could do the same. They’re now 9-20 after losing by 20 to the Bulls and ex-Laker Pau Gasol. Kobe is a very old 36 and in his 19th season, and given how the Lakers are losing even when he’s in the lineup, you must seriously wonder about the wisdom of playing him heavy minutes, anyway.

Here’s Mark Bresnahan‘s report from the Los Angeles Times:

Most of the talk centered around Bryant, who said there was only a “slim” chance he would return Friday against Dallas. He worked with a team physical therapist for an hour and a half Thursday morning, “taking care of every part of my body,” he said.

“It’s tough with our health team here, trying to find new ways of doing it because there’s really no blueprint for playing this long, at this position at least, in the NBA. We’re really trying to figure new things out, trying to see what’s out there, trying to see what works, what doesn’t work. It’s constantly experimenting.” On the court, Bryant said he would try to find areas that were best for him efficiency-wise.

“It’s habit for me to move around and be active offensively all over the place from different spots on the floor,” he said. ” I don’t think my body can hold up to that anymore.” He seemed especially disappointed to sit out a Christmas Day game, let alone in Chicago against Gasol, his former teammate and still good friend. He did have a pledge, though.

“I’ll get back to being healthy, like I was at the start of the season,” Bryant said. “We’ll probably cut down the minutes.” Bryant is averaging 35.5 minutes per game, only one below his career average.

His scoring has been solid — 24.6 points per game — but he’s only 8% below his career accuracy before the season.

***

No. 2: LeBron has a bittersweet trip down memory lane – Well, that was interesting. The Cavaliers-Heat game was all about one man’s trip to his second home and the reception he would get. LeBron James heard the good and the not so good when he was honored with a video tribute and a standing ovation, and then treated like any other visitor to American Airlines Arena, where he hoisted a pair of trophies as a member of the Heat. Now, of course, he’s back with the Cavaliers and emotions tugged at him on Christmas Day. He was with his pal Dwyane Wade although on the other bench, and his current team never really had much of a chance to straighten their disappointing season out, losing 101-91. It must be weird being LeBron right now. He’s back in Ohio and with the team he broke in with. He has rejoined the hearts of Cavaliers fans. He has a ton of money, his good health and soon a newborn girl. He has a pair of championship trophies. But he cares deeply about his place in the game, from a historical perspective, and knows that he’ll never be considered the greatest to ever play unless he multiplies his trophy collection. That might not happen this season because the Cavaliers are 16-11 and showing no signs of turning it around anytime soon. Anderson Varejao is out for the season with a torn Achilles and Kevin Love remains in a fog. LeBron’s dreamy return home is laced with issues, writes Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:

It’s tempting to read too much into this, and maybe we shouldn’t. OK, we should. And we will. Did anyone think it was odd that LeBron James had more camaraderie, more genuine interactions with the former teammates that were all around him Thursday than his current ones? Think about that for a minute … when you’re the most prominent player in the game and you spend for years with people and make four trips to the NBA Finals with them and win two championships, those bonds “last forever” as James said before his return to Miami on Christmas Day. This is especially true when one of those players, Dwyane Wade, has been your friend and rival — like a brother to you — for virtually your entire basketball career.

Those bonds can’t be formed in your new city (not even if it’s your old city, and not even if it’s your hometown) over the course of 28 regular season games. But man, oh man, James and his new teammates in burgundy and gold uniforms look more like strangers than teammates. They’re all lost, and nobody has directions.

That’s a problem.

It’s a problem that cuts much deeper than the inconsequential 101-91 loss that James and the Cavs suffered at the hands of Wade and the Heat on Thursday. And it speaks to something very interesting about the dynamic that James left behind in Miami and the one that he voluntarily rejoined in Cleveland.

The NBA always has been, and always will be, a player’s league. The best coaches are the best coaches because they usually have the best players. Carmelo Anthony isn’t so great and has virtually no chance to win on any given night because he is surrounded by bad players. That part of the game is easy to figure out.

But there’s something else that gets often overlooked, something that we shouldn’t need help recognizing after witnessing the championship blueprint set forth by San Antonio Spurs all these many years. While it may be true that you cannot win without good players, it’s equally true that you can’t win without a strong, winning culture and foundation.

That was the fundamental reason James left Cleveland in the first place and decided that he needed to be a part of what Pat Riley had built in Miami. More than anything — more than teaming up with Wade and Chris Bosh, more than flexing his free agent muscle — it was about immersing himself in an organization with strong leadership, an unconditional partnership between the coach and the GM and an owner who let people do their jobs. Four Finals trips and two championships later, it worked — for all parties involved.

Now the Heat are below .500 and just trying to tread water in the woeful Eastern Conference. But if you thought that James was going to leave behind a steaming pile of rubble — a team lacking discipline and any discernible style or direction — think again.

That’s James’ new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Every game for us is a learning experience,” James said. “We’re not that good right now.”

They’re 17-11 and once they figure out how to replace the injured Anderson Varejao, chances are they’ll walk backwards into the Eastern Conference finals by accident. James is right about not being very good right now, but he missed something.

They don’t even seem to know what they’re trying to be.

***

No. 3: Maybe the Warriors should take their angry pills — Understand that nobody should ever promote violence in the NBA or anywhere for that matter. We strive to be a peaceful band of citizens, loving our fellow man and promoting a sense of brotherhood whenever given the chance. Especially on Christmas Day; what evil person would ever stoop to doing anything dastardly? Well, whenever the Warriors and Clippers play, it’s usually a contest that takes on a bit of an edge. They have a history, let’s just say. And they’re both very, very good here in the early going, and want the same thing: The Western Conference championship. There’s a decent chance that the road through the West will wind through one either LA or Oakland, and maybe both, with all due respect to San Antonio and OKC and Portland and Houston. The Warriors are the hottest team in the NBA while the Clippers, after a brutal schedule and a stumbling start, are starting to gather themselves and play in a manner that satisfies coach Doc Rivers. So when they met on Christmas Day, a pair of forces colliding at the Staples Center, something had to give. Blake Griffin, as he usually does against the Warriors, refused to shake hands or even offer a fist bump with any Warrior before the tip. And the pro-Clippers crowd was loud from the jump. The Clippers were in full message-sending mode and it showed when they clobbered the Warriors, which annoyed one Golden State player in particular. Draymond Green, who’s having a fine season, thought the Warriors were simply too soft and nice.

Here’s Rusty Strauss of the San Francisco Chronicle on the state of mind of Green and the Warriors:

“I don’t think we were intense as far as having that fire, but I don’t think they were, either,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “I don’t know what the cause of it was. Maybe everybody was a little too jolly. But it was too nice. It was too boring. I’m sure it wasn’t the prime time game everybody expected.”.

More Green: “There was no, ‘I don’t like you’ and ‘You don’t like me,’ ” Green said. “There are some guys on that team that I really respect, but there was no fire, no dog. It’s no secret that we don’t like them. They don’t like us. I don’t know why the game was that nice, trying to act like we like each other when we don’t. It was a boring game.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall and Quincy Acy exchanged Christmas Day pleasantriesJosh Smith excited to join the RocketsNBA Christmas ratings are friendly …

Bryant skips Bulls with soreness


VIDEO: Kobe talks to David Aldridge about not playing Christmas Day

CHICAGO – As much as he said he didn’t like doing it, Kobe Bryant sat out the Los Angeles Lakers’ game against the Bulls at United Center on Thursday night, missing his second consecutive game due to what coach Byron Scott termed “overall soreness.”

“It’s extremely difficult,” Bryant told reporters about 90 minutes before tipoff. “Especially playing here. Playing on Christmas Day and playing in this city. I love playing here. The fans have always been great. There’s always a lot of energy.

“It’s really going against my nature, but I’ve got to be smart about this.”

Asked what he attributed the soreness to, the Lakers’ 36-year-old star said: “Old age. My knees are sore at this stage of the season. My Achilles are sore. … Back’s tight. I just need to kind of hit the reset button.”

Technically, Bryant updated Scott on how his body felt Wednesday, and then again Thursday morning, after sitting out Tuesday’s 115-105 home victory over Golden State. Then it was Scott who made the decision that Bryant would not face Chicago. Bryant also said the chance of him playing at Dallas on Friday – based on how he felt at the moment – was “slim,” though he will be re-evaluated.

Bryant, who is coming back from a left Achilles tendon injury in April 2013 and a left knee injury after just six games the following November, has averaged 24.6 points in 35.4 minutes through 27 games. He generated some old-school headlines when he surpassed Michael Jordan‘s points total to take over third place on the all-time scoring list. But Bryant is shooting 37.2 percent and taking 22.4 shots per game, low efficiency for a player with the highest standards.

“He’s put his body through a lot,” said Scott, acknowledging that a minutes reduction might be helpful for Bryant when he returns. “I don’t think any of us are going to try to rush him back. I’m certainly not. We’re just going to go by how he feels and what he says, and we’ll go from there.”

LeBron, Curry lead initial All-Star voting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reports: Josh Smith to sign with Houston Rockets

HANG TIME HQJosh Smith, a versatile 6-foot-9 power forward recently waived by the Detroit Pistons, will sign with the Houston Rockets when he clears waivers, according to a report from Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarwoski:

Josh Smith has agreed to sign a deal with the Houston Rockets, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Detroit Pistons on Monday released Smith with two years and $26 million left on his contract, unable to find a trade partner and unwilling to move forward with him on the roster.

Smith will likely sign a deal with the Rockets for the biannual exception of $2 million once he clears waivers at 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday. His agents, Brian Dyke and Wallace Prather, informed the Rockets of the decision on Wednesday afternoon, sources said.

The Rockets believe Smith can step into the starting power forward spot.

For the Rockets, the addition of Smith closes a several-year pursuit of the talented but enigmatic power forward and moves him onto a frontline with his childhood friend, center Dwight Howard. The Rockets had a history with Smith, including a free-agent pursuit in 2013 that factored significantly into Smith’s choice of Houston over the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies.

Smith signed with Detroit in the summer of 2013 after nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. In just over one season in Detroit, Smith averaged 15.5 points per game to go along with 6.9 rebounds per game. He shot just over 41 percent from the floor, and 29 percent from the three point line. The Pistons waived Smith with two full seasons and $26 million left on his contract.

“We are shifting priorities to aggressively develop our younger players while also expanding the roles of other players in the current rotation to improve performance and build for our future,” said Pistons coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy. “As we expand certain roles, others will be reduced. In fairness to Josh, being a highly versatile 10-year veteran in this league, we feel it’s best to give him his freedom to move forward. We have full respect for Josh as a player and a person.”

Since being waived, Smith was linked to several teams, including Houston, Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers. In Houston, Smith will play alongside his former AAU teammate and close friend Howard.

ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard has more on what influenced Smith’s decision:

Wanting to play for a winning team with a chance to win the title, Josh Smith has decided to join the Houston Rockets, sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

The veteran forward, let go Monday by the Detroit Pistons less than halfway into his four-year, $54 million contract, cleared waivers Wednesday.

The Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies all had been listed as potential suitors for Smith’s services.

As ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported late Tuesday, Houston ‎assured Smith that he would start if he joined the Rockets, which essentially clinched his decision.

Sources said Wednesday that Smith made it known that he would only consider teams that would guarantee him a starting spot, which essentially made it a choice between Houston and Miami.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets, Heat, Mavs pining for Smith | Report: Cavs fear long-term injury to Varejao | Knicks interested in Monroe? | Pau bracing for first game vs. Lakers

No. 1: Nelson confident Mavs will land Smith or O’Neal; Heat stars lobbying for J-Smoove; Howard makes his plea in Houston — Another day has come and gone and the list principal parties interested in signing ex-Pistons forward Josh Smith hasn’t changed much. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Dallas Mavericks president Donnie Nelson is confident the team will ink either Smith or free-agent big man Jermaine O’Neal (or, perhaps both). Out in Miami, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are also pushing for J-Smoove to join them, writes Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald.  And, lastly, out in Houston, Dwight Howard says he’s been in contact with his former AAU teammate to join him in Texas, writes Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle.

Here’s Stein’s report on the Mavs angle on things:

President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson expressed confidence that the Dallas Mavericks would soon bolster their bench with the addition of Jermaine O’Neal or Josh Smith.

The Mavs, who are searching to replace traded backup center Brandan Wright in their rotation, are among several teams who have expressed interest in O’Neal and Smith, a pair of high-profile available veterans.

“I feel pretty good that we’ll be able to come to terms with one,” Nelson said Tuesday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. “Certainly to come up with both would be just hitting a grand slam home run. Look, there’s a long line for suitors on both fronts.

“I think the fact that Jermaine has chosen Dallas to be his home in the long term certainly has its place and resonates with time with family and such. And here’s a guy who has a long history not only with our coach but with our point guard/quarterback. That certainly has a place.

“With Josh, again, we’re one of a number of potential teams and suitors. It’s got to be right with him and with us. We’re kind of in the swings of putting our best foot forward. If we’re able to hit that one home, it just would be a real, real nice get for us.”

Sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that the Houston Rockets are confident that they have the inside track who land Smith, who was released by the Detroit Pistons on Monday less than halfway into his four-year, $54 million contract and is expected to clear waivers Wednesday.

The Rockets have their biannual exception, valued at $2.1 million, to offer Smith. The Mavs can only offer the veteran’s minimum of $1.45 million.

And here’s Goodman’s report on the Heat angling for J-Smoove, too:

Wade and Haslem would like Smith to join Miami and help fill in for injured power forward Josh McRoberts. Smith was released by the Pistons on Monday and is expected to clear waivers on Wednesday. McRoberts underwent season-ending knee surgery on Monday, and the Heat applied for the Disabled Player Exception in hopes of using $2.6 million on Smith.

“He’s an amazing talent,” Haslem said. “He definitely could help us. He’s another big guy who can handle the ball and make plays similar to what Josh can do.”

Smith fell out of favor with Pistons coach and president Stan Van Gundy, but Wade said Smith could thrive in the right environment. His implication, of course, is that Miami is the right environment for the free-shooting forward.

“My initial thoughts with Josh Smith is the same as anyone’s initial thoughts,” Wade said. “He’s a very talented guy who can, in the right situation and right place, can help a team and a team can help him.

“From there, he has a decision to make. A lot of teams will be open arms for a guy like that and we’re no different, but that’s pretty much all I’ve got to say about that until the decision is made.”

And, lastly, here’s Creech on Howard pitching for his buddy to join him in Houston:

“I would really love to see him here, Howard said. “I think he would bring some more defense to our team.

“He is one of those guys who can play the three, four or the five. We played together back in high school and he actually played the three. We were very successful as a unit together.”

Howard said he thought Smith could bring another dimension to the Rockets’ defense.

“I would be great to have him here,” Howard said. “He could do a lot of stuff for us on the defensive end. Blocking shots, rebounding, playing against some of those big two and three guards in the league. I think having him would take some of the pressure off of some of our other wing defenders.”

Howard said he has had some communication with Smith about the Rockets.

“Yeah I’ve been in his ear,” Howard said. “The only thing I told him was if you want to win this would be a great place for you. We are headed in the right direction as a team. We have won together in AAU. Let’s get another one.”


VIDEO: Which team would be the best fit for Josh Smith?

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