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Analytics Art: Young, Ilyasova, Lin among worst shooters of week


VIDEO: Hornets handle Pelicans despite Lin’s rough game

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Juxtaposed against the NBA’s hottest shooters of the week — like Kemba Walker, who went for 33, 34 and 35 points, respectively, in his three games — were players who couldn’t buy a bucket. It’s a good thing that Walker stayed hot, because one of his teammates was among the coldest shooters of the week.

Unlike the slumping shooters from last week — which featured two 23-year-olds — the worst shooters of the trailing seven days this time around are all veterans with plenty of experience. PointAfter will analyze those guys with help from interactive data visualizations.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games from March 4-10.

Guard: Jeremy Lin, Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte’s decision to sign Jeremy Lin to a two-year, $4 million deal seemed like one of free agency’s biggest bargains. Unfortunately, the artist formerly known as Linsanity has shot just 40.7 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent from beyond the arc (both the lowest marks since his rookie campaign).

Those struggles continued as Lin shot just 25.9 percent in his last three games.

The Hornets went 3-0 despite Lin’s slump, which bottomed out with a 1-of-8 shooting performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 7.

Wing: Nick Young, Lakers

Nick “Swaggy P” Young famously tweeted back in August 2014 that he had no tattoos inked on his right arm because it was “strictly for buckets.” Fast-forward one year to August 2015, and news broke that Young’s right arm was freshly inked with a forearm tat.

Young has since posted the worst shooting season of his career, making 33.9 percent of his shots overall and 32.5 percent from 3-point range — both of which are career lows.

The cold shooting continued for Young this week, as he made four of his 22 shot attempts (18.2 percent).

After three awful performances, Young didn’t get off the bench in Thursday night’s 120-108 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, receiving a DNP-CD.

Forward/Center: Ersan Ilyasova, Magic

Kevin Love of the Cavaliers flirted with this spot this week after going 7-of-28 shooting in three games (25 percent). But while Love struggled, he knocked down 25 of his 26 free throws, so he wasn’t a complete mess.

Ersan Ilyasova, meanwhile, missed all six of his 3-pointers and finished the week 5-of-25 from the field.

Acquired at the trade deadline as part of the Tobias Harris trade, Ilyasova simply hasn’t done much to warrant staying in Orlando beyond this season.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — March 11


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cousins’ in-game rant led to suspension | LeBron, Kobe entertain in final showdown | Spurs happy Martin is aboard | Sanders opens up on why he left NBA

No. 1: Report: Cousins’ in-game rant led to one-game suspension — The relationship between Sacramento Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and his coach, George Karl, has been well documented as at times icy. The pair have had their run ins over the years and such was the case on Wednesday night in an eventual home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. According to The Vertical’s Chris Mannix, Cousins blasted Karl during the game for not sticking up to the officials more for him:

The reason for DeMarcus Cousins’ tirade on coach George Karl was the Sacramento Kings star’s belief that his coach hadn’t done enough to defend him to referees in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, league sources told The Vertical.

The Kings suspended the All-Star center for Friday’s game against the Orlando Magic for conduct detrimental to the team.

Cousins was seen unloading on Karl during a timeout in the 120-111 loss to the Cavaliers at Sleep Train Arena. Kings guard Rajon Rondo tried to calm Cousins down as he screamed and motioned at Karl.

Cousins continued to vent at Karl in the locker room after the game and later got into a heated discussion with vice president of basketball operations and general manager Vlade Divac, sources told The Vertical.

The disconnect between Karl and Cousins has been consistent over their almost two-season partnership, and Karl’s job security is bleak heading into the offseason. Early in November, Cousins ranted at Karl in a locker-room incident after a loss to the San Antonio Spurs that led to a series of meetings throughout the organization.

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Analytics Art: Clarkson, Hood, Gasol among worst shooters of week


VIDEO: Gasol, Bulls fall short in Orlando

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

With slightly more than a month left in the NBA regular season, players league-wide are grinding toward the finish line. Some players continue to play at a high level, while others (understandably) slump to varying degrees.

It was a rough shooting week for a pair of 23-year-old, second-year players as well as for a trusted veteran, too.

PointAfter will break down the coldest shooters of the week with help from interactive data visualizations.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games between Feb. 26 through March 3.

Guard: Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers

Rookie teammate D’Angelo Russell caught fire this week, scored a career-high 39 points against the Brooklyn Nets and cited the ice in his veins, but Jordan Clarkson didn’t experience the same good fortune. In fact, the former second-round pick didn’t shoot over 40 percent in any game during this week.

Outside of the restricted area, Clarkson simply could not get his shot to fall. As a matter of fact, he finished the week’s three games at 0 percent shooting from mid-range near the elbows.

Coupled with that ghastly mid-range shooting was a lack of touch from beyond the arc — where Clarkson went just 4-of-20 (20 percent). His 0-of-7 effort from long range against the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 26 set the tone for his lackluster week of shooting.

Wing: Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

For the most part, Rodney Hood’s sophomore season has been a promising one for him and Utah Jazz fans. He has started 58 games while buffing his averages in points, rebounds and assists.

But he had a week to forget when transitioning from February into March.

While playing an average of 36 minutes in the week’s first two games against Brooklyn and Boston, Hood finished 9-of-32 shooting (28.1 percent). He was just 3-of-14 from beyond the arc over that span. He played only 13 minutes in the March 2 loss against the Toronto Raptors after suffering a head injury.

Hood was not listed on the Jazz injury report, so he isn’t expected to miss time.

Forward/Center: Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls

Perhaps it’s no surprise the floundering Bulls have a representative among the worst shooters after going 0-4 during the week. Chicago is 3-7 over its last 10 games and has fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Pau Gasol has tried his best to help the cause — even posting a gaudy 22-point, 16-rebound, 14-assist triple-double on Feb. 27 — but his performance the previous day doomed his shooting for the week. In that affair (a 15-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks), the 35-year-old finished 6-of-22 from the field.

Gasol still impacted games through his rebounding and rim protection, but the Bulls simply aren’t playing sound team basketball right now. If they don’t turn things around soon, there’s a real chance they won’t even make the playoffs — which would have sounded absurd at the beginning of the season.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — March 3


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant: Thunder ‘fooling ourselves’ about status | Bulls’ Butler making progress | Right shoulder bothering Kobe | Gentry: Pelicans’ playoff hopes are over

No. 1: Durant: Thunder ‘fooling ourselves’ about being great team — The Oklahoma City Thunder have the fourth-best winning percentage in the NBA and are steamrolling their way to another Northwest Division title. Yet, something is lacking with this crew — especially when the stakes are raised and they play a top-level opponent. Last night, OKC blew a 17-point lead en route to a 103-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and afterward, Thunder star Kevin Durant did not mince words about what he thinks of his team. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com has more:

There’s an identity crisis in Oklahoma City.

“We want to be a great team, we’re fooling ourselves,” Kevin Durant, arms resting on his thighs and looking at the ground after his team blew a 22-point lead and lost to the Clippers Wednesday. “If we want to be a great team the way we’re playing, we’re fooling ourselves. We want to win a bunch of games in the regular season, that’s cool, but we’re fooling ourselves with the way we’re playing.”

There was a lot of soul searching after the game as the Thunder kept the locker room closed after the game for longer than normal; and then their stars took their time to gather themselves before addressing the media. It’s to be expected in what is the latest in the line of “worst loss of the season” games for the Thunder.

“What kind of team do we want to be?” Thunder coach Billy Donovan asked. “Because to (win) is going to require a level of sacrifice from every player. I think this is something where you see in the first half what a team like this is capable of, and then can you sustain it? Can you keep playing that way? They do it for long stretches, but then we have these lapses.”

The Thunder have lost five-of-seven since the All-Star break, including a couple of heartbreaking come-from-ahead losses. Don’t sell this to Durant as a wake-up call for the team.

“We’ve already lost too many games we’re supposed to win. We can’t just keep talking about wake-up calls,” said Durant, who had 30 points on 27 shots in the game. “We’ve got 20 games left or whatever it is. We can’t have no wake-up calls at the end of the season. We’re supposed to had those. We’ve got to be locked in from the beginning, from shootaround.”

“I’ve said this before, the best thing for this team is adversity,” Donovan said. “We need adversity. It doesn’t need to be easy, in my opinion…. Now here is an adverse situation, what do we do with this in terms of going forward? When we get leads like this, can we sustain playing the right way on offense and defense?”


VIDEO: Clippers storm back to overtake Thunder

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Blogtable: Thoughts on Russell as Lakers’ starting point guard?

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


BLOGTABLE: Build around Lillard or Davis? | More likely to miss playoffs: Rockets or Bulls? | Thoughts on Russell as starter?



VIDEOByron Scott on the decision to make D’Angelo Russell a starter

> The Lakers say rookie D’Angelo Russell will be in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season. Is this a big thing, a little thing, or much ado about nothing?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Not a big thing. He was the second pick in the Draft; at some point, you have to put him out there every night. I don’t think it will affect his future in L.A. one way or another. The Lakers have bigger issues to address once the season ends, from the top of the organization on down.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIt seems like a little Lakers business got put out in the street, with coach Byron Scott‘s attempts to force some discipline and responsibility on Russell (who seemed to feel entitled by his draft position) now yielding to management’s desire to force-feed him minutes. But this is a little deal from a league perspective because the Lakers are a team that, beyond the Kobe Tour, barely registers on the NBA radar in 2015-16. Their next relevant date will be the night of the draft lottery, and if they then can find another piece to put alongside Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, we’ll start paying attention in Las Vegas in July.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMuch ado about nothing. While fans may have wanted Russell as a starter from opening night, coach Byron Scott wanted him to learn the ropes a bit before tossing him into the deep end of the pool. He’s not Karl-Anthony Towns and wasn’t going to thrive from Day One.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Much ado about nothing, with a very slight lean toward little thing. Maybe it feels better to him. Maybe it helps his ego. That’s fine. The important thing is that he gets real minutes to develop, and Russell is sixth among rookies in minutes and second in the class in fourth-quarter minutes. He is getting those real minutes.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It’s a little thing. Look, we can quibble with how Byron Scott handled Russell so far this season, but we aren’t watching the practices and don’t know all the details about why Russell wasn’t getting prime time minutes. Sometimes, young players need to sit and observe, although I’m not saying that should’ve been the case here. Russell has 20-something remaining games to make his mistakes and give the Lakers more reasons to feel fantastic about his future. If he does that, then his season will be a success.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s a good thing, not huge, but not insignificant, either. It gives him more reps with fellow building blocks Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, which will only help down the line. The Lakers need those guys to grow together. Russell and Randle are the future of the franchise and, according to SportVU, they’ve run fewer pick-and-rolls together than Lou Williams and Roy Hibbert, which is silly. The front office should have insisted that Byron Scott make this move earlier, because Russell is obviously going to outlast Scott in L.A.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Unfortunately for Russell (and anyone else in a Lakers uniform this season not named Bryant), this is much ado about nothing. The Lakers relinquished any rights to a meaningful season when they announced that the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour would supersede anything else that goes on this season in Lakerland. That includes the development of youngsters like Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. It’s a shame, really, because Russell’s development should have been this season’s top priority. Crushing his confidence and regularly tapping his knuckles publicly might have seemed like a good idea to some in L.A. From here, it looks as shortsighted as anything the Lakers have done the past three seasons. If Russell isn’t a foundational player, then the Lakers have basically whiffed on every significant move they’ve made in the Jim Buss era.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This is not a big deal. Too much was made of the decision earlier this season to bring him off the bench – as if it was a mistake to insist that Russell earn his minutes. I appreciate the tough-love approach of Byron Scott, and someday Russell may look back and be grateful for it too.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think it’s a great thing, at least for Russell. We talked about this a lot on the Hang Time Podcast a few weeks back, but at some point you have to give Russell the opportunity to start and play minutes. Maybe he fails. Maybe he soars. Either way, you owe it to the guy you drafted second overall to at least have a chance to prove himself. And by the way, at this point it’s not like you’re in the playoff race. Let the kid play.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 23


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Varejao should play Wednesday | Anthony: Knicks’ instability ‘a lot to go through’ | ‘Too much risk’ for Pistons in Motiejunas trade | Buss assesses state of Lakers

No. 1: Warriors hoping Varejao can chip in immediately — The Golden State Warriors are hoping the Cleveland Cavaliers’ loss at the trade deadline will be their gain in the long run. The Cavs had to cut fan favorite Anderson Varejao in order to pull off their trade with the Orlando Magic for Channing Frye. Varejao, who was dealt to Portland in the trade and later cut by the Trail Blazers, found a new gig soon as a backup center for the defending-champion Warriors. As Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, Varejao will likely play Wednesday vs. Miami and will have a chance to show he can contribute:

“He’s hard not to like,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s a guy who gives effort multiple times in one possession and competes every second he’s out there.

“With the enthusiasm he plays with, and from what I gather, his personality in the locker room, he’s going to be a fan favorite … just like he was in Cleveland.”

The 33-year-old also considered signing with San Antonio after being released by the Trail Blazers and clearing waivers, but he has some strong ties with the Warriors. He played with lead assistant coach Luke Walton, backup point guard Shaun Livingston and reserve big man Marreese Speights in the NBA and with reserve guard Leandro Barbosa on the Brazilian national team.

“I’m glad I came here, because I can tell that they love each other. That’s what it’s about,” Varejao said. “When you want to win, you have to be like they are: friends who have fun out there (on the court) and fun in the locker room.”

The Warriors favored Varejao, because he’s a true center. Thompson is a hybrid power forward/center. Backup center Festus Ezeli will be rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee until at least mid-March; starting center Andrew Bogut returned Monday after missing Saturday’s game with a sore right Achilles.

Varejao is similar to Bogut on offense, favoring playmaking over scoring and seemingly being a natural fit in how the Warriors use their centers in dribble handoffs and as the hubs to make passes to backdoor cutters.

Varejao will be given a video playbook and is expected to practice with the team Tuesday. Kerr believes the center’s instincts for the game will help him incorporate quickly.

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 20


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from busy Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard out-MVPs the MVP | Spurs bid Kobe adieu | Playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!) fading for Knicks | Mavs need more from Matthews

No. 1: Lillard out-MVPs the MVP — It was offered as high praise, but when Golden State coach Steve Kerr invoked Steph Curry‘s name as a way of lauding Damian Lillard‘s electric night against his Warriors — “He looked like Steph Curry out there” – it felt a little wrong. For one night, the Portland Trail Blazers guard deserved to stand alone in the spotlight, not sharing it with the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player or Portland’s stunning 32-point throttling Friday of the league’s defending champs. Even the Blazers’ surprising 28-27 record, far better than a lot of so-called experts imagined, could wait in the kudos line behind the point guard for whom there wasn’t room on the Western Conference All-Star team. Here is some of Oregonian beat writer Joe Freeman‘s report:

An undeniable reality surfaced during the 48 hours leading up to the most prolific individual performance of Damian Lillard’s career.

He felt like crud.

His legs were rubbery. His feet ached. His body wasn’t quite right. In two Trail Blazers practices following a weeklong All-Star break, Lillard committed turnovers in bunches and hoisted more bricks than he could count.

So on Thursday, after a particularly forgettable display, the two-time All-Star turned to assistant coach Nate Tibbetts with a surprising statement.

“Every time I feel like this,” Lillard told Tibbetts, “The next day, I just always have it.”

And he certainly had it Friday night. In one of the best individual performances in franchise history, Lillard recorded a career-high 51 points, a career-high six steals and seven assists to lead the surging Blazers to a stunning 137-105 victory over the Golden State Warriors at the Moda Center.

Lillard was so good, he did the unimaginable — he upstaged the Blazers’ startling 32-point victory over a seemingly invincible team poised to finish with the best record in NBA history. With a barrage of deep three-pointers, slick slashing layups and pull-up jumpers, Lillard was virtually unstoppable, making 18 of 28 field goals, including 9 of 12 three-pointers.

Lillard started hot, scoring or assisting on seven of the Blazers’ first nine field goals. And he finished even hotter, recording 21 points in a dazzling fourth quarter that had the Moda Center rocking like no other time this season. During Lillard’s most breathtaking stretch of the game, midway through the fourth quarter, he scored 13 consecutive Blazers points, breezing past the 40-point mark so fast he said he couldn’t remember doing so…

“He got into a zone twice,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “At the end, it was just ridiculous.”

And any outsider who watched Lillard during the 48 hours leading up the game, when he was bricking shots and tossing turnovers, would have been stunned.

Lillard said he was restless Friday, eager to fix his body and settle his mind, and he unintentionally altered his game-day routine. Following the Blazers’ morning shootaround, he hopped in the cold tub at the practice facility for a frigid 15-minute soak, then moved to the steam room, where he joined Al-Farouq Aminu for a 15-minute steam.

Afterward, he drove to his Lake Oswego home, slipped a splint on his left foot and took a nap, which he rarely does.

“I usually don’t even take naps,” he said. “I got up and I just felt good.”

Before he knew it, Lillard was driving to the Moda Center ahead of schedule. He strolled into the locker room about 3:50, roughly 30 or 40 minutes earlier than normal, and ran into Ed Davis, the only other person in the room. They shot the breeze for a while and Lillard killed time before going about his normal routine. By the time he started hispregame workout, his felt his mojo creeping back.

“When I did my routine before the game, I just felt good,” he said. “Going side to side, when I was pulling up off the dribble, I just felt in a good rhythm. The ball felt good in my hands.”

Lillard shot chart

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 No. 2: Spurs bid Kobe adieu — Competitive to the end. How it had gone for most of Kobe Bryant‘s clashes with the San Antonio Spurs over the years is pretty much how it went in his final meeting with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, coach Gregg Popovich and the rest Friday in Los Angeles. Across two decades of regular-season and postseason showdowns, Bryant and Duncan faced each other 82 times – the equivalent of a full NBA season – with the Spurs’ big man owning a 43-39 advantage. Then again, Bryant was quick to point out their head-to-head in playoff series: “Four to three.” The principals had met shortly before the All-Star break but this time was for the last time, so it’s worth reviewing, per the San Antonio Express-News’ Jeff McDonald:

The Lakers star was as competitive as ever, at one point popping a dislocated finger into place so he could finish this game. As has been the case for much of the 37-year-old’s farewell tour, the Spurs got the best of the Lakers, winning 119-113.

“It’s been fun competing against those guys for all these years,” Bryant said after scoring 25 points in his Spurs swan song. “I’ve truly enjoyed it. They’ve pushed me to fine-tune and sharpen my game.”

In many ways, Friday marked the end of a rivalry two decades in the making, between two players emblematic of their generation.

“We’ve played against each other for so many years,” said Duncan, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds for his first double-double since Jan. 3. “It was always a great game against him. You knew you had to bring your A game, because he’s going to bring the best out of you.”

Even toiling for a Lakers team that could not avoid its 46th loss Friday, Bryant refused to go down without a fight.

Benefitting from the absence of All-Star Kawhi Leonard, out for the second straight game with a calf injury, Bryant finished with 25 points.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the Spurs clinging to a five-point lead, Bryant dislocated a middle finger tracking a loose ball. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti popped the digit back into place, taped it to his index finger, and Bryant returned for the final 1:56.

“He’s played through stuff that nobody will ever know about,” Popovich said. “He’s a warrior.”

Bryant made one field goal with his finger injured, a runner that pulled L.A. within 111-107 with 1:23 left.

Later, in what will go down as the final shot of his career against the Spurs, he fired up an airball 3-pointer.

Bryant’s career against the Spurs was over, and Popovich had trouble pinpointing how he felt about it.

“In some ways, it will be great,” Popovich said. “In other ways, we will miss him a lot. The whole league will miss him. But I won’t have to worry about guarding him, that’s for sure.”

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No. 3:  Playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!) fading for Knicks — At 22-22, the New York Knicks were looking like this year’s version of the 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks, who took an Andre the Giant-sized stride from horrible (15-67) to respectable (41-41) in a single season, boosting themselves all the way into the playoffs with a few nips and tucks (and, in the Bucks’ case, a new coach in Jason Kidd). But now Knicks fans have begun to puzzle at the gaps between victories, their team sinking fast at 23-32 with no optimism in sight. Losing to crosstown rival Brooklyn Friday night brought on the best in New York critics, focusing on the worst of Knickerbocker basketball. Consider snippets here of New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro:

That was the Nets — not the Thunder, not the Clippers — who rattled off a 20-2 run in the third quarter to turn a five-point Knicks lead into a 13-point Nets lead. That was the Nets who, after letting the Knicks draw within three points early in the fourth quarter, put them away with an immediate 10-0 surge.

That was the Nets who made the Knicks look so enfeebled, so non-competitive, so slow, so …

“We didn’t execute. On either end,” interim coach Kurt Rambis said. “That’s disappointing.”

Yes. That is one word. Here are a few others: Putrid. Lousy. Rotten. Unwatchable.

Playoffs?

Playoffs? Are you kidding me?

This is no longer a regression. The Knicks had lost 10 out of 11 heading into the break, the season already had gone sideways, the postseason already was looking like a longer long shot than Chuck Wepner.

You could talk yourself into anything you wanted to: the floor had started to tilt on the Knicks when Carmelo Anthony tripped over that referee’s foot. Kristaps Porzingis was dealing with the rookie wall. All of that. And to add red meat for the masses, Fisher was sacrificed. Is there more of a time-honored solution for turning things around — at least for a week or two — than axing the coach?

The Knicks had been off since Feb. 9. They were rested. They were as healthy as they had been in weeks. The first time these teams played, in December, the Knicks took a 30-point lead by the midway point of the second quarter.

Those were the heady days — hard to conjure now — when every small victory the Knicks posted was celebrated, because anything — just about everything — compared to last season’s 17-win dumpster fire could be celebrated as progress. That was before anyone figured this could end up in the playoffs, when just not watching stink rise up from the Garden floor was worth rejoicing.

Yeah. That feels like an awfully long time ago.

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No. 4: Mavs need more from Matthews — When Dallas owner Mark Cuban reacted to the DeAndre Jordan switcheroo last summer by throwing even more guaranteed money, in a longer free-agent contract, at damaged-goods Portland shooting guard Wesley Matthews, it didn’t just seem impulsive; it seemed like retail therapy, the sort of things shopaholics do to self-medicate in times of unrelated stress. It even seemed a little out of character, given the red flags that were unmissable thanks to Matthews’ season-ending Achilles surgery last spring. So what the Mavericks are getting – or missing – from Matthews deep into his comeback season isn’t any big secret, but it is a legitimate concern, given how much time and money remains on his four-year, $70 million deal. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com looked at the gap between Matthews’ production and compensation:

The Mavs certainly aren’t getting their money’s worth right now. They must get much better bang for the buck from their highest-paid player to have any hope of being more than first-round fodder — and perhaps even to make the playoffs.

The fact that the 29-year-old Matthews is struggling through the worst season of his career can’t be considered surprising. The history of players coming back from torn Achilles tendons, if they come back at all, is frighteningly poor.

It was an expensive vote of confidence from Cuban in Matthews’ remarkable will and work ethic. It was also a vote of confidence in the Mavs’ support staff — specifically head athletic trainer Casey Smith and athletic performance director Jeremy Holsopple — and the new medical technology that wasn’t available to players whose careers were ruined by a ruptured Achilles in the past.

And it was a decision made with the long term in mind.

“We didn’t sign him for this year,” Cuban said recently when asked if Matthews’ extended slump concerned him.

Not that Matthews, who surprised many by making good on his vow to play in the season opener less than eight months after suffering his injury, is looking for excuses for his struggles. Nor does he expect Mavs fans to have much patience in him if he doesn’t perform well.

“I’ve got to play better,” Matthews said after scoring only five points on 2-of-10 shooting in Friday’s overtime loss to the Orlando Magic. “I take that onus up. I take that ownership. I will.”

Matthews’ value to the Mavs can’t be measured simply by his stats. He’s a tremendous teammate who leads the Mavs in minutes played, a respected voice in the locker room and a proud defender who readily accepts the challenge of guarding the opponent’s best perimeter scorer on a nightly basis.

But Dallas desperately needs Matthews, who established himself as one of the NBA’s premier perimeter shooters the previous five seasons in Portland, to snap out of his offensive funk.

Matthews gave the Mavs one really good offensive month. He averaged 15 points and hit 42.5 percent of his 3-point attempts in December, numbers that were pretty close to the norm during his five-year tenure with the Trail Blazers. Matthews was plus-89 in those 14 games. Not coincidentally, the Mavs had their best month of the season, going 9-5.

The Mavs are 9-13 in games in which Matthews has played since the calendar flipped to 2016. He has averaged only 10.7 points during that time, shooting 37.4 percent from the floor and 30.5 percent from 3-point range. He is minus-69 in those 22 games.

It’s not trending in the right direction, either. Matthews is minus-55 in six February games, averaging only 8.8 points per game. Not coincidentally, the Mavs are 1-5 this month, sliding to 29-27 overall, putting them four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for fifth in the Western Conference and giving them only a 1 1/2-game cushion before falling out of the playoff pack.

“This is not a Wes thing. This is a team thing,” coach Rick Carlisle said, downplaying concerns about Matthews’ slump.

Matthews sat down the stretch of regulation Friday night. He played the entire overtime, missing both of his shot attempts — a driving layup and an open corner 3 that both would have tied the score.

“I’ve been making those shots since I’ve been in the league. As soon as I get frustrated, it takes away from everything else that I can do on the court. When I start doing that, then I’m selfish. I’ve just got to continue being me [and] stay confident, which I am. I’m not worried about it. The team trusts me. Coaches trust me, and I’m going to work my ass off.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dallas’ loss in OT in Orlando included a few sweet-nothings between big man Zaza Pachulia and wing Chandler Parsons. … Don’t think the Golden State Warriors didn’t learn anything from their loss to Portland Friday, or what it had in common with their four previous defeats. … If Thursday’s trade deadline didn’t scratch your itch for player movement, enjoy what transpires in the coming days of “buyout season,” as noted by our own Shaun Powell. … Then there’s the guy in Cleveland about whom trade rumors never seem to end, deadline or no deadline, writes our man Steve Aschburner. … Ricky Rubio enjoyed all the trade gossip – with a certain exception. … The guy most likely to be moved by the deadline was not. So what’s next for Dwight Howard?

Analytics Art: Beverley, Bryant, Casspi among worst shooters of week


VIDEO: Patrick Beverley talks after the Rockets’ win over Miami

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

With NBA All-Star 2016 in the books and the post-All-Star break schedule not quite here yet, it’s a great time to reflect upon pre-All-Star play. We can look forward to what will (or won’t) happen at the trade deadline and mull whether the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs will win the title.

For players entering the break in the midst of shooting slumps, it can be a time to recharge with some much needed rest to get in the right state of mind. The PointAfter team found three players (guard, wing and forward/center) who skittered into All-Star weekend laying bricks in their wake.

Interestingly, one of the three is poised to suit up in the All-Star game (deservedly or not).

Note: Statistics in this article cover games between Feb. 5-11.

Guard: Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets

Beverley hobbled into the All-Star break after tweaking his left ankle during a 116-103 loss at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday. After the game, coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of his Rockets: “We’re broken. It’s that simple.”

As a result of that sore ankle, Beverley couldn’t defend his title in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge and was replaced in the contest by Denver Nuggets rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.

Beverley’s rough week was a microcosm of Houston’s disastrous season. The former second-round pick suited up in three games (all losses) and finished 7-of-24 shooting (29.2 percent).

The bulk of Beverley’s woes occurred beyond the arc, as he missed 12 consecutive threes over Houston’s last three contests. The only trey he made was a useless triple with 21 seconds left against Portland, which gave the Rockets 103 points rather than 100 in a 13-point loss.

Wing: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

In addition to lamenting that his Lakers “suck” during his farewell tour, Bryant said after Wednesday’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, “The best I can do is to go out and play even though physically I feel like crap.”

Despite feeling “like crap” physically, the 37-year-old still managed to jack up 69 shots in three Laker losses this week. He converted just 29 percent of them.

How bad has Bryant’s shot been in 2015-16? He’s currently in the midst of a career low in that department.

Forward/Center: Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings

Casspi’s in the midst of a breakout season with the floundering Kings. He was scorching hot through November and December, and solid in January, but the 27-year-old Israeli has lost his shooting touch in February.

Dating back to Feb. 5 (four games), the veteran small forward shot just 15-of-41 from the floor (36.6 percent).

Though Casspi has cashed a career-best 42.2 percent of his three-pointers overall this season (No. 9 out of all qualified players), he couldn’t buy a bucket from beyond the arc this week. As the visualization above shows, the 6-foot-9 swingman made just 18.8 percent of his triples above the break.

All told, the former first-round pick went 4-of-18 shooting from distance — 22.2 percent, well below his season average.

Casspi has made a case for Kia Most Improved Player Award honors. If his February cold streak extends beyond the All-Star break, he’ll have no shot for the accolade against the Denver Nuggets’ Will Barton or the Portland Trail Blazers’ C.J. McCollum.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of theGraphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 15


VIDEO: Relive the 65th NBA All-Star Game

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Wolves shopping Rubio | Kobe bids farewell to All-Star weekend | Whiteside unlikely to have long future in Miami | George iffy about 2016 Olympics

No. 1:  Report: Timberwolves shopping Rubio before deadline: The Ricky Rubio era in Minnesota could soon come to an end. The Timberwolves are reportedly shopping their one-time point guard of the future. The emergence of back-to-back Verizon Slam Dunk champion Zach LaVine has given the Timberwolves a different option at the position, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

Zach LaVine was nothing short of spectacular in winning his second straight Slam Dunk title on Saturday and by the end of this week he may win something else; the starting point guard job for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Incumbent Ricky Rubio is readily available and the feeling is that the Spanish guard could be moved prior to Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

Phil Jackson is in the market for a point guard but it’s hard to envision the Knicks having the assets to acquire the 25-year-old Rubio, whose season average in points (9.7), assists (8.6) and minutes (30.3) are down this year.

Jackson wants desperately to make the playoffs – as evidenced by his quick trigger decision to fire Derek Fisher 136 games into his tenure – but finding an upgrade in the backcourt is tricky.

Houston’s Ty Lawson has been a bust with the Houston Rockets but perhaps he can turn his career and the Knicks season around over the last 27 games. Ditto for Brandon Jennings, who is also on the Knicks radar.

The Clippers are making Blake Griffin available even though the injured forward is recovering from a second surgical procedure to his right (punching) hand and may not play again this season, especially if he’s traded to a team out of the playoff race.

Denver, Boston and Atlanta cannot be ruled out but if Griffin remains with the Clippers after Thursday this may be something the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony may want to consider over the summer.

A Griffin-for-Anthony trade makes sense on a number of levels including the fact that Anthony and Chris Paul have for years tried to become teammates.


VIDEO: Relive the 2016 Verizon Slam Dunk contest

***

No. 2: All that’s left for Kobe now is goodbye The Kobe Bryant farewell tour won’t see another stop as big as All-Star weekend and Sunday’s 65th All-Star Game. His Los Angeles Lakers are not in the playoff equation in the Western Conference, so there will be no walk off into the postseason sunset for Bryant. That means, today marks the start of his long goodbye from the game he has been an integral part of for more than half of his life. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical explains:

This is your life, Kobe Bryant. This was your goodbye. That’s how All-Star weekend had played itself out, how the relentlessness of Bryant’s 20 years had been honored. For all these years, Bryant never felt terribly compelled to gift the most intimate details of his craft. He gassed himself to understand the nuances of it all, and never, ever wanted to cost himself a competitive advantage. Bryant didn’t want only to win, but destroy you, too. The force of his will was nothing short of predatory.

Everything has changed now. Bryant has let go. He’s let go of it all. The competition is gone, and Bryant is shaping his legacy. He isn’t chasing championships, nor playoffs, nor competitive genius. At times this season, he has traveled the NBA and had his opponents searching out informal sessions of wisdom. There were times that rival players were uneasy about approaching Bryant, uneasy with what could be a most uninviting vibe.

Now, Bryant stood inside a third-floor corridor at the Air Canada Centre and embraced everything. The All-Star game MVP, Russell Westbrook, marched past Bryant clutching his trophy. He had grown up in Southern California, and told The Vertical that as a kid he had “gone to the Lakers’ championship parades to see Kobe.” Indiana’s Paul George had 41 points for the East, and nothing made him feel better lying in that hospital bed 18 months ago than Bryant reaching out, encouraging him to fight his way back.

Across his final season, Bryant has torn down the walls and let everyone close to him. Across this All-Star weekend, the NBA’s best players found themselves making personal, private pilgrimages to him.

“It feels like I’m passing on all the knowledge that I’ve gained in this game,” Bryant told The Vertical. “These kids, they grew up watching me. They were my daughter Gianna‘s age [10] when they started to watch me play. When we talk now, they’re asking me questions about things that they’ve watched and observed from my career. They want deeper insight. For me, it’s been really, really interesting. That’s part of the weekend that I most enjoyed – more than everything else. Just sitting down and talking to the guys individually. Steph. Kawhi. Draymond. These guys, they were just picking my brain and that’s … that’s … special.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant reflects on his final All-Star Game appearance

***

No. 3: Whiteside’s future in Miami in jeopardy? The Miami Heat’s development of Hassan Whiteside‘s was always a low-risk, high-reward proposition. If the talented 7-footer could find a way to curb his enthusiasm for nonsense, the Heat could very well have uncovered one of the league’s most talented big men. But the experiment has hit a rough patch, one that could that lead to Whiteside’s exit prior to Thursday’s trade deadline, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

In many ways, power forward Chris Bosh is the ideal center in today’s NBA game. And he could end up back there next season if the Heat moves on from Hassan Whiteside, whose future here looks increasingly questionable.

Even before his ejection angered Heat officials Tuesday, there have been serious reservations inside the organization about giving Whiteside the type of contract Miami believes he could attract in free agency, one that could start at $17 million or more.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard said the Heat is gauging trade interest in Whiteside, and two people in contact with the Heat told me that Miami appears open to considering a Whiteside trade, if it can dump other salary and get quality talent back, because it knows it’s going to be uncomfortably costly to keep him. Heat officials have expressed frustration with him, for reasons we explained in last Sunday’s column.

But the Heat also knows the odds would be against a trade this week because he’s earning just $981,000 (causing cap complications) and the team acquiring him wouldn’t have any financial advantage in re-signing him.

Also know this: Pat Riley is not going to commit long-term financially to a roster that isn’t close to a legitimate championship contender. So that factors into a Whiteside decision this summer if his contract prevents other significant moves (and it certainly would make it very difficult if he commands a stratospheric salary).

If Whiteside makes it past the trade deadline, it likely would take impeccable maturity, elite production, no lapses in judgment, a deep playoff run (with Whiteside playing at a very high level) and/or striking out on a few top free-agent options for the Heat to seriously consider giving Whiteside an enormous deal this summer.

So with the cap jumping from $70 million to $89 million, what could Miami realistically achieve in free agency with or without Whiteside?

Whiteside and Dwyane Wade would potentially command a combined $30 million of the $37 million Miami is projected to have available — a figure that would grow to $43 million if the Heat can somehow can dump Josh McRoberts’ contract without taking money back.

***

No. 4: George’s comeback complete, USAB future uncertain Paul George used Sunday’s All-Star Game as his personal reminder that he was officially back from the gruesome injury that cost him most all of the 2014-15 season. He just barely missed Wilt Chamberlain‘s All-Star Game scoring mark and led all scorers with 41 points. But as good as it felt to finally get back on the All-Star stage, George has some decisions to make about the rest of his season and summer, as he explained to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

“I knew this is where I belong,” George told Yahoo Sports. “I just felt good and felt confident after I hit shot after shot. Having this long journey, the long rehab that was really the only thing on my mind was enjoying being back here. It was about making shots.

“Of course, personally I wanted a good showing. But it wasn’t really about that. It was just about enjoying being back in this moment.”

George is averaging 23.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and four assists for the Pacers this season. He believes he is showing the same stellar athleticism that he displayed before the injury. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who coached the West All-Stars, said what he is seeing in George now is “pretty incredible.”

“Every time he runs up and down the floor and jumps up for one of those dunks and everything, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, the human body is amazing,’ ” Popovich said. “To come back and play at this level athletically, it just stuns me every time I see him out there.”

George was one point shy of matching Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain‘s All-Star scoring record of 42 points set in 1962. George and East coach Tyronn Lue said they had no idea the record was that close. George expects to get “madder and madder” during his flight back to Indianapolis because he didn’t break the coveted scoring record.

“Had I known, I would have gone for the two on my last shot instead of going for the three,” George said.

George has played in all 53 regular-season games for a Pacers team that is expected to make the playoffs. He is also a member of USA Basketball’s 31-man roster that has to be trimmed to 12 before the 2016 Rio Olympics. While USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo has promised George a roster spot, George said his body might not allow him to take the trip to Brazil.

“I had a long year,” George told Yahoo Sports. “This has been a long year coming from rehab. I just know how my body has taken these first 50-plus games, not knowing what these playoffs are going to do to my body. So there is a decision coming at the end of the year, is the smart thing to continue on or take a little bit of time for some rest and let my body heal?”

George, a Palmdale, Calif. native, said he became emotional every time he had a one-on-one opportunity with Kobe Bryant, who was playing in his last All-Star Game. George also met Hall of Famer Michael Jordan for the first time over the weekend.

“I had a special weekend,” George said.


VIDEO: Best from Paul George’s 41-point performance in the All-Star Game

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chris Paul says he ‘plans on’ breaking the All-Star Game career assists record … Some fresh speculation about how Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could end up with the New York Knicks in 2017 … Kobe Bryant going one-on-one with Chris Paul‘s son … ICYMI, Batman and Superman stopped by Inside the NBA last night … Everything you need to know about NBA All-Star 2016 that you might have missed is right here

Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from All-Star Saturday Night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest | Hack-A-Gone? | Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother | Horford embraces uncertain future

No. 1:  LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest For years, the Verizon Slam Dunk was All-Star Weekend’s marquee event. The electricity surrounding the event may have waned in recent years. But last season, Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine gave it a jolt of excitement, notching his first win. And Saturday night in Toronto, a couple of 20 year olds, LaVine and Magic forward Aaron Gordon, took turns making jaws drop, posting alternating perfect scores in the contest’s final round until LaVine was ultimately able to grab the win in arguably the greatest dunk contest in All-Star Weekend history. And as Lang Whitaker writes, with the contest on the line, LaVine went to the free-throw line

High expectations? No problem.

After bringing the Dunk Contest back to prominence one year ago with a series of electrifying dunks, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine picked up where he left off, with help from Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.

And with the Verizon Slam Dunk on the line, Zach LaVine went to the free throw line. Well, almost.

With a through-the-legs dunk from just inside the charity stripes, Zach LaVine earned his fifth score of 50 on the night, making him the 2016 NBA dunk champ. The 20-year-old LaVine became the first back-to-back winner since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010.

Going against Magic forward Aaron Gordon in the contest finals, LaVine and Gordon got locked into a heavyweight bout where they traded incredible body blows. After the contest, LaVine said, “We should share the trophy, because [Gordon] did some stuff I’ve never seen before.”

To begin the final round, Gordon completed a dunk with an unbelievable degree of difficulty, snatching the ball from Orlando Magic mascot Stuff — who was spinning on a hoverboard — and throwing down a twisting dunk. This earned a 50. LaVine countered by throwing himself an alley-oop and floating through the air for a one-handed finish, earning another 50.

Gordon then again used Stuff, this time clearing the mascot with his rear end while passing the ball below for a lefty finish. That earned another 50, putting the pressure on LaVine.

LaVine responded coolly, with a windmill from just inside the free throw line, for another 50. This marked the first time in Dunk Contest history the final round saw four scores of 50.

They didn’t stop. In the first dunk-off, Gordon enlisted teammate Elfrid Payton to throw an alley-oop off the side of the backboard. Gordon caught the ball and completed a reverse dunk while flying through the air. 50. LaVine responded by throwing an alley-oop to himself from the baseline, catching the ball and passing it through his legs for a reverse dunk. This earned another 50.

On the second dunk-off, Gordon ran along the baseline and did a two-handed double-pump reverse reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins. Gordon scored a 47. To win it, LaVine went back to the free throw line.

***

No. 2: Hack-A-Gone? A Q&A with the Commissioner of the NBA has become a staple of All-Star Saturday Night, and last night Adam Silver faced the assembled media to address several topics. As Steve Aschburner writes, among the many topics addressed, one change Silver is clearly looking to implement is an end to the Hack-A- intentional fouling that has become en vogue around the NBA lately …

If the Hack-A-Whomever strategy currently raising such a ruckus in some NBA precincts is actually something you like, take solace: It’s going to be with us, extending the real time of games, disrupting any sense of flow and showcasing a whole lot of bricked free throws, at least through the end of the 2016 playoffs.

If, though, you believe in the tactic as a coach’s best friend — something to encourage bad foul shooters to improve, lest they look silly and cost their teams victories — those guys had better get in the gym soon and practice their form, release and follow-through fast.

Change almost certainly is coming, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments Saturday in the annual state-of-the-league All-Star news conference.

Silver, addressing and fielding questions from reporters before the skills, slam dunk and 3-point shooting contests at Air Canada Centre, reiterated what he has said on several recent occasion. “I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made,” Silver said, citing conversations he has had with broadcast partners, sentiment expressed in fan data and feedback from players, GMs and owners.

As for coaches, Silver said “Clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them.”

But changing the rules wouldn’t be pursued to make life tougher on the league’s coaches, any more than it would be done to let the most frequent targets of the tactic — notoriously poor free-throw shooters such as DeAndre Jordan (.423 free-throw percentage), Andre Drummond (.351), Dwight Howard (.532) and a handful of others — off the hook. It would be a decision driven more by the NBA product as entertainment, not merely athletic competition.

Silver did share that, when the league’s competition committee discussed the strategy last summer, it sought data from an additional season before making a recommendation. That data so far? “We’re seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five-and-a-half-times greater rate than it was used last season,” the commissioner reported.

That’s a lot of standing around, stoppages in play and, for folks viewing from the stands or on TV at home, a procession of finely tuned, multi-millionaire athletes failing at one of basketball’s fundamental skills. That’s not a good look for anyone involved.

Interestingly, Silver said that there is no consensus among the practice’s critics what remedy should be pursued. Treat the entire game like the final two minutes, when fouls away from the play equal one free throw and retained possession? Come up with something more stringent to snuff even the temptation to hack a targeted player intentionally?

Silver said he would want to have a specific alternative to propose. And even then, that sort of change would need the approval of two-thirds of the league’s members (20 of the 30 teams).

“So we’re nowhere near that point where we’re even starting to count heads,” Silver said. This summer would be the soonest, he indicated.

***

No. 3: Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother It was no big surprise last season in Brooklyn when Stephen Curry managed to win the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest; after all, he was midway through an MVP season and establishing himself as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Last night in Toronto, when it came time for Curry to defend his title, he posted a fine performance, making the final round, until his Splash Brother and Warriors backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson was able to get hot and edge Curry. As Sekou Smith writes, if there was any questions left about the league’s best-shooting backcourt, those doubts were officially laid to rest night

For the second straight year, one of the Golden State Warriors’ Splash Brothers walked off the All-Star Saturday night stage as the champion of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.

But it wasn’t defending champion and NBA three-point king Stephen Curry. This time it was teammate Klay Thompson taking home top honors in a competition that, by the final round, looked like something the Warriors might do at the end of every practice.

It marks the first time in Three-Point Contest history that different players from the same team have won it in consecutive seasons.

“Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool,” Thompson said.

Thompson saved his best for last, finishing with 27 points in the final round to conquer one of the deepest fields in the history of the competition, a group that includes some of the best long-range shooters in the game today and perhaps ever.

“He definitely shot well tonight,” Curry said. “I still think I can hold my own in the competition, but the way that he finished off that second round was amazing. So trust me, the pressure of knowing what number he had to hit and making five out of five was fun to watch.”

Curry collected 23 points in his final round, but was on his feet cheering with the rest of the contestants as Thompson drained shot after shot on his final rack. Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, the youngest player in the league, finished third after netting 16 points in the final round.

***

No. 4: Horford embraces uncertain future All-Star Weekend is traditionally something of a swap shop for trade rumors, and with his contract expiring this summer, All-Star Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford hasn’t been immune from hearing his name. But considering the trade rumors and that he was swimming in the Caribbean when he got the last-minute call to get to Toronto, stat, as Sam Amick writes, Horford says he’s thrilled to be in Toronto and taking everything day by day

It’s no secret that the Hawks have been exploring trade options that include Horford, but that doesn’t mean the four-time All-Star’s days in Atlanta are necessarily done. The relationship between the player and the team that drafted him third overall in 2007 remains strong, with nine seasons of history between them and a dynamic between Horford and president of basketball operations/coach Mike Budenholzer that could still lead to him re-signing this summer. And yes, it should be noted, the Hawks are well aware that retaining a talent like Horford in today’s NBA will come with an enormous price tag not only because of his talents but because the league’s salary cap is about to spike from $70 million to $89 million next season (and $108 million in 2017-18). He would earn approximately $25 in his first season.

But the 31-24 Hawks, like any team that isn’t playing to its anticipated level, must consider all options this time of year. They are also known to be engaging in trade discussions relating to point guard Jeff Teague, who is less of a flight risk than Horford because he has one year left on his contract ($8 million). The New York Knicks and Utah Jazz, to name a few, could be serious suitors for Teague in the coming days.

The Boston Celtics are widely believed to be a potential fit as a Horford trade partner, but the real level of interest from general manager Danny Ainge remains to be seen in the coming days. And while Horford continues to speak positively about the city and his situation, there’s an inherent uncertainty to this process that always acts as the driving force.

“I’m very happy in Atlanta,” Horford said when asked if the Hawks had reason to be concerned that he might leave. “I’ve said it repeatedly. I love the city. My family, we all live in Atlanta, we stay there in the offseason, so my focus is just to keep playing and taking it day by day and, right now, it’s to enjoy this weekend. … Just taking it day by day. That’s the only thing I can do. We really can’t worry about three or four months from now.”

Especially when a welcome All-Star berth comes your way.

While Horford wasn’t selected to the team initially, he was given the nod on Friday when Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh unexpectedly pulled out because of a calf strain. Horford was vacationing with his family near Cancun, Mexico, when he got the call.

“I had my phone off (and) I was in the water,” said Horford, who is averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. “I was doing my morning swim out there, and I got the call (around 9:30 am).

“I’m so excited to be here, man. Words don’t describe it. Being here in this city, in Toronto. I remember last year looking at it, and I was like, ‘It’s going to be in Toronto, I would love to be a part of that,’ because, you know, the fans here are so lively and just being around these guys and it happens to be Kobe’s last All-Star. It’s kind of a big deal, and for me to be a part of this I’m very grateful.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony says he’s not getting tradedKarl-Anthony Towns struck a blow for bigs in the Skills Challenge … If you haven’t heard, it’s really, really cold in Toronto this weekend … The Indiana Pacers are eyeing a future All-Star Weekend bidJimmer Fredette was named MVP of the D-League All-Star GameKevin Hart tied Draymond Green in their own three-point shootout.


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