Posts Tagged ‘Luol Deng’

Morning Shootaround — April 19




VIDEO: Warriors-Clippers series preview

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Griffin won’t change ways | Irving, Waiters can work | No Corbin decision yet | D’Antoni won’t change

No. 1: Griffin won’t change ways against Warriors — The war of words may only be heating up before the opening tip to the Clippers-Warriors first round playoff series. Golden State’s Klay Thompson had previously called Blake Griffin an out-of-control flopper. But L.A. coach Doc Rivers says he wants his power forward to simply ignore the noise coming out of the Warriors camp and keep right on doing what he’s been doing all season. That is, kicking tail and taking names. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the details:

“That’s Klay’s opinion; I don’t really care,” Rivers said Friday. “I just keep looking at what Blake’s done. If he’s flopping, then keep doing it because those numbers look awful good to me. So flop on. That’s the way I look at it. Whatever he’s done this year, I want him to keep doing exactly that. When the votes come for MVP, he’ll be in the top three.

“I’m good with anything anybody says. Blake, you just keep doing what you’re doing. What’s happening is Blake is kicking a lot of people’s butts and they need something to say about him.”

Griffin didn’t want to get into a war of words with Golden State but acknowledged it would be impossible to leave his emotions behind when the Clippers and Warriors open their Western Conference first-round series Saturday.

“I don’t think you can leave the emotions behind,” Griffin said. “I think both teams need that to a certain extent. You can’t be too emotional where it’s affecting your play, but you have to play with some emotion. You can’t take that out of the game.”

Griffin wouldn’t go as far as to say the Clippers hate the Warriors, but he did say there was a dislike between certain players on both teams.

“I don’t know if ‘hate’ is a great word,” Griffin said. “This is basketball. We have to go against each other. The dislike may be there for some guys on both teams, but I don’t know about hate. I don’t know if I would hate a basketball player because I play against him.”

***

No. 2: Deng says Irving, Waiters can work — Never mind the talk of disharmony in the lineup and the fact that two headstrong young guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters both seem to function best with the ball in their hands. According to Luol Deng, who arrived in Cleveland via trade at midseason, there was never any evidence of disharmony in the Cavaliers locker room. The veteran forward says that all it will take is personal growth and a commitment from the two talented guards to turn them into a force in the league. Bob Finnan of The Morning Herald & News-Journal has the details:

“They have to be willing to work together, watch tape together, watch tape with the coach,” he said. “They’ve shown they can play together. There’s times where they’ve looked great. They’re human, but in terms of can they play together? Yeah. I’ve played in this league for 10 years and I know they can.”

Irving is a two-time All-Star. Waiters is a pure scorer. They are most effective with the ball in their hands. But giving up on either of them right now might be regrettable down the road. 
They are that talented. Instead of making it work, Cavs coach Mike Brown yanked Waiters from the starting lineup after nine games this season. Waiters became the team’s sixth man.

Then, out of necessity, Waiters became the starter at shooting guard when Irving strained his left biceps tendon. Once Waiters got his second chance, he made the best of it. Waiters averaged 21.2 points and 4.2 assists in the last 15 games, sixth best in the Eastern Conference over that span. He also scored 20 or more points in nine of his last 15 games.

“People put their 2 cents into it, but they made it seem like we hated each other and that’s the only part I don’t get,” Waiters said. “You’re not going to always see eye to eye on the court, especially with two ball-dominant guards. But you have to just continue to keep working with one another.”

Cavs guard Jarrett Jack didn’t buy into the premise the two guards aren’t friends.


”It’s crazy that people think they really don’t like each other,” he said. “These kids have known each other since they were in high school — a long, long time.

“I think those guys have the potential to be a force in this league. It’s just going to take a little time for them to develop that synergy, camaraderie. But I think in the end, those two guys have a chance to be a very, very formidable backcourt.”

***

No. 3: Jazz insist no decision made yet on Ty Corbin — The Jazz are pushing back strong at a report out of New York that says a decision has already been made to replace coach Ty Corbin after a disappointing 25-57 campaign after three-plus seasons of following up Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan. General manager Dennis Lindsey had said the Jazz planned to “decompress” before moving forward. Jody Genessey of The Deseret News has the latest:

The final decision on Corbin’s fate has not been made by Jazz ownership and management despite what the New York Daily News reported, according to multiple people closely involved with the situation.

The day after general manager Dennis Lindsey said Utah brass and Corbin would “take a short decompression period to reflect on the season” before meeting to determine the coach’s future, NBA writer Mitch Lawrence reported that a decision has been made.

From his Twitter account, Lawrence wrote that a Jazz executive confirmed that the organization is “ready to pull the plug on Tyrone Corbin and go for a new coach.” He didn’t name any potential replacements.

The Jazz and Corbin’s camp vehemently denied the validity of Lawrence’s report.

“Not accurate. No discussion,” Jazz President Randy Rigby wrote in a text to the Deseret News while in New York for the NBA Board of Governors’ meeting.

Corbin’s agent, attorney Steve Kauffman, still has not heard from the Jazz about his client’s job situation.

“I’m not going to react to anything released by Mitch Lawrence based on my experience over the years,” Kauffman told the Deseret News. “As far as I know, there has been no decision made.”

That final verdict won’t be rendered until after the Miller family meets with Lindsey, Rigby and other members of management to determine whether to re-up Corbin’s contract or to go a different direction.

At Thursday’s locker clean-out, Lindsey said Corbin’s camp agreed to a process (details not given to media) that the team would complete throughout the regular season and that the evaluation would happen after the year ended.

“When we spoke to Ty and his representation during the year, we laid out (that) we wanted to take the full season,” Lindsey said. “We want to take a small period for all of us, Ty included, to decompress, so we’re not making a decision based upon the last possession, the last game and make an emotional decision. … And then in short order, we’ll come together with Ty and talk it out.”

***

No. 4:  D’Antoni says his style not the problem — After finishing the Lakers’ worst season since moving to Los Angeles and more second guessing from anywhere outside of the White House, coach Mike D’Antoni is sure of one thing. It’s not his style of play that produced the myriad of injuries that plagued the roster. In fact, he says it’s time that critics realize the game has changed drastically in the 21st century and everyone must learn to adapt and move forward. Eric Pincus of the L.A. Times spoke to the coach:

“No one’s happy about the way the season went,” said D’Antoni.  “I think every coach should be under scrutiny; they’re under it even if it goes well.  That’s part of the job.”

The Lakers have yet to announce any coaching change.  D’Antoni could be back, despite a general lack of fan support.

How does he win over a very skeptical fan base?

“By winning, that’s the only way you can do it.  They’re right to feel the way they feel, because we didn’t have a good year,” said D’Antoni.  “Opinion is shaped by the record.”

D’Antoni is confident in his style of play, citing injuries as the primary reason the “season went sideways.”

As far as public opinion, the Lakers coach pointed at television analysts as part of the issue.

“I do think that the game is changing and has changed,” said D’Antoni.  “Some of the hard part of coaching is to be able to drag people over to the next side.  People are comfortable doing business a certain way.  When that business kind of shifts, to get people to change is not easy.”

“The problem is most people commenting on it, played a different way.  And now you’re shaping opinion a different way,” he continued.  “As soon as they embrace it a little bit more, I think they’re better off.  But basketball has changed.  It’s not the same basketball that your father played.  It’s just not it.  Teams that adapt to it quicker are going to be more successful.”

How exactly has the game changed?

“I do think the league is going to a more open style, and a faster style,” continued D’Antoni.  “That doesn’t mean there’s no place for a post-up player, there’s no place for a mid-range game.  There is a place, but it’s just not what is dominant today.”

“The league now is dominated by point-guard play, three-point shots and smart players,” said D’Antoni.  “Unless the NBA changes the rules again, like the three-point line and no hand checking, then basketball is going a certain way.”

D’Antoni doesn’t believe his fast-paced style of basketball contributed to the Lakers’ injury woes.

“To me it’s ludicrous. To me, the pace of play and the way you spread the floor leads to less injuries,” he said.  “Just because you don’t pound and hit [as much].”

***

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A grieving Joakim Noah is expected to be in the lineup for the Bulls’ playoff opener Nick Calathes will appeal his suspensionToni Kukoc wonders if Steve Kerr would make the necessary full commitment to becoming an NBA head coachChris Bosh goes deep into books and music to put on his game face

Numbers preview: Bulls-Wizards

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: East Playoff Preview: Bulls vs. Wizards

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat hold the top two seeds, but six Eastern Conference teams had better records after the All-Star break. Two of those teams will meet in the 4-5 series.

The Chicago Bulls have once again overcome the loss of Derrick Rose. But they’ve also been better since trading Luol Deng than they were before. The Washington Wizards have been solid all season, ending a five year playoff drought with a top-10 defense and one of the league’s most improved offenses.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the 4 and 5 seeds in the East, as well as the three regular-season games they played against each other.

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

Chicago Bulls (48-34)

Pace: 92.7 (28)
OffRtg: 99.7 (28)
DefRtg: 97.8 (2)
NetRtg: +1.9 (12)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Washington: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bulls notes:

Washington Wizards (44-38)

Pace: 95.5 (19)
OffRtg: 103.3 (18)
DefRtg: 102.4 (10)
NetRtg: +0.9 (15)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Chicago: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Wizards notes:

The matchup

Season series: Wizards won 2-1 (1-1 at Washington)
Pace: 90.8
CHI OffRtg: 102.3 (15th vs. WAS)
WAS OffRtg: 100.6 (8th vs. CHI)

Matchup notes:

One gear: Thibodeau, Bulls continue to grind forward

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Tom Thibodeau's intensity has set the tone for the one-speed Bulls. (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

Tom Thibodeau’s intensity has set the tone for the one-speed Bulls. (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

CHICAGO – If the Chicago Bulls didn’t exist, NBA commissioner Adam Silver would have to invent them.

As this team rests its star players for a fresh start in the NBA postseason, as that team eyeballs the standings to scale its efforts on a given night to playoff positioning or lottery chances, the Chicago Bulls trudge forward, always forward.

Sometimes they march. Sometimes they plod. Every once in a while, the game flows more freely and you’d swear you saw swooshes on their work boots. But this is a one-direction, one-speed, one-gear team – forward, forever in overdrive – that doesn’t apologize when critics seize on that as a problem at this time of year: The Bulls play so hard all the time, so there’s no “next level” to which they can take their game in the playoffs.

Like that’s a bad thing.

So what if Chicago doesn’t click-clack through the shift gate like some exotic sports coupe flitting about the Riviera? Armored tanks, steamrollers and threshers seem to do fine without dual-clutch 7-speed gearboxes. So do Terminators, a.k.a., Tom Thibodeau.

“We’re not changing,” Thibodeau said after the 108-95 victory over Orlando in the Bulls’ home finale. “We’re trying to win games. … We’re not changing our approach: Every game, analyze what we’re doing well, what we’re doing not as well as we would like, make our corrections, move on to the next one, know the opponent well, keep moving forward. That’s all we can do.”

You could stump a few Chicagoans by asking to identify the source of the following quote: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” Who said that: Michael Biehn‘s character in the original “Terminator?” Or a Bulls player, requesting anonymity, in describing Thibs?

Forward Taj Gibson didn’t take the unnamed route when he went there Monday.

“You guys have been around for a minute now,” Gibson, a top Sixth Man candidate, told reporters. “You guys should know that guy in the other room over there, he’s not going to tell anybody to take any rest. He’s old school. He doesn’t believe in that. He just believes in pushing forward.


VIDEO: The passion of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau

“Like he said, ‘The finish line is ahead. You’ve got to just run through it. You can’t slow up, you can’t try to trot through. You’ve got to run full speed ahead through it and whatever happens, happens.’ He told us, ‘We want to walk through the fire together as a team, as a unit. Nobody’s going to take that from you. You’ve just got to keep walking through it. Don’t stop for anything.’ “

OK, so there’s no ring collection in the Chicago locker room. Backup center Nazr Mohammed is the only player to have reached The Finals, never mind win the title, and the Bulls’ collection of Larry O’Brien trophies has fit on the same shelf for 16 years now.

But then, Thibodeau and his crew aren’t preachy about their relentless ways – heck, it might scare off some free agents the way tales of Pat Riley‘s taped, full-contact, two-hour “shootarounds” used to. Grinding steadily forward simply is what has worked for Chicago.

There really wasn’t much choice, after the long-anticipated return of MVP candidate Derrick Rose ended just 10 games in. Rose’s second season-ending knee injury and the subsequent trade of All-Star Luol Deng threatened to do more than just slam shut this Bulls edition’s championship window. It had some fans luridly licking their chops over lottery slots. They, of course, were the ones who know nothing about Thibodeau.

The Bulls are 21-8 since the All-Star break and 34-17 since trading Deng in early January. Their defense is a constant, the relentless embodiment of their head coach. And though Chicago ranks ranks 28th in offensive rating (102.7), the Bulls lately have been almost breezy, scoring 100 points or more in five of their past seven.

With Gibson and Joakim Noah developing as scoring options, with shooter Mike Dunleavy moving into a starting spot up front and with D.J. Augustin dusting off his career as Thibodeau’s latest point-guard reclamation project, the offense has hit triple digits 14 times in its 29 post-break games vs. 11 times in the 52 before it.

Their 100-89 loss Sunday in New York snapped a seven-game winning streak, but at least it wasn’t the result of guessing at the Indiana-Miami flip-flopping atop the conference and trying to game the playoff seedings. If anything the Bulls Game 7 everything.

“It’s made us who we are,” guard Kirk Hinrich said after the Magic victory. “That’s just kind of the makeup of this group and the beliefs that [Thibodeau] goes by. Us as players, there’s something to be said about just coming in, preparing. You feel prepared, you’re confident, and that goes a long way.”

Dunleavy occasionally has rolled his eyes at the work-load demands he has faced under Thibodeau. Then again, the 6-foot-9 forward didn’t play on a .500 team in his first 11 NBA seasons, so he’s not complaining.

“Playing with high intensity like we do all year helps,” he said. “I certainly am going to keep the same approach in the playoffs. It’s just another game because I think we prepare for every regular-season game like it’s a playoff game. That’s the way we’ve been doing it, and hopefully we roll right through in terms of smoothness and transition into the postseason.”

Roll? Typically by this time each spring, the Bulls are limping and bleeding. Once the smoke and smell of sulfur from Rose’s latest demise cleared, though, the rest of the roster got and largely has remained healthy. As hard as Thibodeau pushes, they have become true believers in the ol’ “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” ethos.

“We believe in ourselves, we believe in our abilities,” Noah said. “We think we’re going to be a tough out. We’re going to go out there and give them hell.”

Forty-eight minutes of it, sometimes served up that way per man (see Jimmy Butler, 2013 postseason). All in one gear, at one speed.

Driving Oscar To The Hoop


VIDEO: The Starters pick movie roles for some of the NBA’s biggest stars

It was just last week when LeBron James had to disappoint fans in the basketball and cartoon worlds by shooting down rumors that he was getting ready to star in “Space Jam 2″.

Oh, what heartbreak not to have LeBron and SpongeBob SquarePants go toon-on-toon against Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny to settle the G.O.A.T. debate once and th-th-th-at’s all, folks!

But with the Oscars ready to tip off Sunday night, it occurs to us that there were plenty of movies released in the past year that could use a slam dunking NBA touch:

Monuments Men — Who needs a fourth stone head to construct a Mt. Rushmore in Miami when more than enough in their own granite-hard trio to chase a third consecutive NBA title? Everybody from Indiana to OKC and points all around are trying to steal away with the priceless Larry O’Brien Trophy, but LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are counting not one, not two, not …


VIDEO: LeBron James makes his famous ‘Mt. Rushmore’ comments to Steve Smith

Frozen — After winning the MVP award in 2011, Derrick Rose has the next two seasons of a budding superstar career put on ice with major injuries to both knees. A hopeful city of Chicago that was ready to usher in the post-Jordan championship era has turned cold.

American Hustle — When Rose went down on Nov. 22 and was once again lost for the season, everyone expected his teammates to roll over. They even traded away a big offensive gun in Luol Deng, but producer Tom Thibodeau has done a combover and is pulling off the greatest con since ABSCAM with the Bulls sitting at No. 4 in the East with home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

The Lego Movie — First-year general manager Sam Hinkie arrives on the job in Philly and promptly locks himself in his room, where he spends all hours of the day and night trying to fit together dozens of little pieces into something that will one day look like a competitive basketball team. Or a rocketship.

Almost Human — He’s almost tall enough to bump his head on the backboard, but has 3- or even 4-point range from practically anyplace on the court. Not since the menacing Gort touched down in “The Day The Earth Stood Still” has anyone appeared as unstoppable as box-office smash Kevin Durant.


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has simply been on fire in February

Vampire Academy — The front office in Brooklyn hatches a plan for world domination by forming an army around the walking undead creatures of 36-year-old Paul Pierce, 36-year-old Jason Terry and 37-year-old Kevin Garnett. But rather than biting opponents on the neck, they were mostly toothless, ineffective and scared nobody.

Paranormal Activity — It was one to thing leap over a Kia at All-Star weekend and turn every game into a slam dunking highlight reel. But Blake Griffin eventually tired of being typecast and under new director Doc Rivers has worked on his shot, expanded his repertoire and now does unearthly, inexplicable things that nobody thought possible just a couple of years ago.

Dallas Buyers Club — For all the money, all the bombast and all the talk about positioning the Mavericks to be big players in the free-agent market and getting Dirk Nowitzki a superstar playmate after dismantling his 2011 championship, Mavs owner Mark Cuban struck out on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Right now, he’s where he used to be: stuck in the sale aisle at Sam’s Club.

Gravity — He’s 35 years old, has played 17 full NBA seasons, has more miles on his odometer than a hand-me-down pickup truck and is trying to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a fractured knee. Yet, 16-time All-Star Kobe Bryant simply won’t acknowledge what Isaac Newton learned sitting under the apple tree — what goes up, must come down.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks during the All-Star Game about being a spectator this season

Philomena — When the losingest, ugliest, most painful season in modern team history finally and mercifully limps to the end, executive VP of player personnel Jim Buss fires Mike D’Antoni and at a star-studded Hollywood news conference. Buss then introduces a 68-year-old Irish widow with a vaguely reminiscent limp, wearing a gray wig and with a familiar twinkle in “her” eye and says Phil-omena is back to put everything right with the Lakers.

I, Frankenstein — Team president Larry Bird wasn’t happy enough with having the best record and the most fearsome, downright scary defense in the league that was sewn together with Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and Lance Stephenson. He performs more surgery in his lab by adding Evan Turner to bolster his Pacers bench and now thinks he’s ready to take down that other monster: the Miami Heat.

The Nut Job — Everybody in the world thought Dwight Howard was out of his mind for the way he slow-walked his ugly departure from Orlando and then bolted out the door of the royal Lakers, leaving $30 million on the table. But who’s crazy now as Howard rides tandem with James Harden and has the Rockets looking like one tough nut to crack in the playoffs?

Despicable Me — As if he hadn’t done enough already to polish his reputation as someone who cannot be trusted as the cornerstone of a franchise and leader to take the Kings back to the playoffs, DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t even bother to get one of his minions to slug Patrick Beverley in the stomach and just does it himself, earning a fine and one-game suspension.

Endless Love — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager team up for a buddy movie where they criss-cross the country in an old VW bus, stopping at thrift shops to buy old horse blankets and bedsheets while exchanging long hopeful questions and grumpy one-word answers.


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has some good-natured fun with Craig Sager

The Wolf Of Wall Street — He bats his eyes at the Lakers. He flirts with the Bulls. He head fakes in the direction of any other would-be suitor that will glance his direction and then, Carmelo Anthony decides he’s got the world on a string living the high life … and hungrily signs on for a repeat performance of his lone wolf act. Then, the reviewers in the New York media give him a standing ovation and immediately declare the Knicks contenders.

Pompeii — After Isiah Thomas and Jerome James and Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton and Andrea Bargnani, a massive volcanic eruption like the one that came from Vesuvius in 79 A.D. hits Madison Square Garden. The past is finally buried under a blanket of lava, giving away at last to a new beginning.

2014 Trade Deadline Wrapup


VIDEO: Trade Deadline: Pacers and Sixers Trade

The Indiana Pacers provided a little excitement at the end of what was an underwhelming deadline day. There was a flurry of action on Thursday, but none of it all that meaningful. But then, after the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline had passed, news broke that Indiana had acquired Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for Danny Granger and a second round pick.

Now, Turner’s per-game numbers are somewhat inflated by the Sixers’ pace. They lead the league at 102.5 possessions per 48 minutes. He’s generally been a disappointment as a former No. 2 pick in the Draft. And though his efficiency has increased *this season, he still ranks 161st of 196 players who have attempted at least 300 field goals with a true shooting percentage of just 50.4 percent. His free throw rate has gone up, but is still below the league average, and he has shot 29 percent from 3-point range.

* Over the summer, we pointed out Turner’s ridiculous mid-range-to-3-point attempt ratio of 3.1 last season. It’s down to 2.3 this year. Still pretty bad (James Harden‘s is 0.5), but not quite as mind-boggling.

As much as Granger has struggled in his return from almost a full season off, he’s shot better (49.5 percent effective FG%) than Turner (47.1 percent) on catch-and-shoot opportunities.

But Turner can’t hurt the Pacers’ bench offense, which has struggled again this season. While Indiana’s starting lineup has scored a solid 106.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Pacer lineups have scored just 99.5. And with C.J. Watson (better suited to play off the ball) as their back-up point guard, they could certainly use another guy who can create off the dribble.

A few other contenders and next-level squads made moves at the deadline, but they were relatively minor. The Warriors added bench help, the Spurs added depth at the wing, the Rockets added some athleticism, the Clippers shed salary, and the Heat created an open roster spot. Nobody made a move that will move the needle all that much. Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Rajon Rondo are still where they were 48 hours ago.

And that’s good news for Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, who remain the clear big four in the NBA hierarchy.

– John Schuhmann

Below is a live blog of how things went down on deadline day.

Highlights: Pacers swap Granger for Turner | Spurs get a wing | Clippers shed salary | Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade | Andre Miller to Washington | Bucks, Bobcats make deal | Kings sticking with McLemore | Heat unload Mason | Hawes to Cleveland

Brooks approves move to Denver, 3:55 p.m.

Aaron Brooks had the ability to veto his trade to Denver, but he’s agreed to the deal.

Pacers swap Granger for Turner, 3:33 p.m.

Spurs get a wing, 3:09 p.m.

Clippers shed salary, 3:00 p.m.

Will Brooks approve trade?, 2:30 p.m.

From our Fran Blinebury

Aaron Brooks would have to approve any trade and said yesterday that he wouldn’t. He wanted badly to stay in Houston.

The Rockets have reportedly agreed to send Brooks to Denver for Jordan Hamilton, but because Brooks signed a one-year contract and his early Bird rights would disappear upon being traded, he can veto the deal.

Clippers anxious to deal, 2:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

The Clippers continue to be very proactive in hopes of closing a deal before noon in Los Angeles, with Reggie Bullock turning into a name of the moment around the league.

This is no surprise. For one thing, Bullock is one of the few available Clippers trade chips. For another, Bullock has a real future for a No. 25 pick, a rookie averaging just 8.5 minutes a game because he is a young wing on a team in win-now mode but a 6-7 guard-forward who improved his shooting every year at North Carolina and can defend. He is not an All-Star in waiting, but he is a legit prospect who can bring something in return when L.A. is not expecting to add a starter.

The quest is to bolster the rotation for the playoff push. The Clips are anxious to make a move. If they leave today empty, the next step will be to hope a player of value is bought out and can be signed as a free agent. That is one reason the basketball operations headed by Doc Rivers has kept the roster at 14.

Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade, 1:40 p.m.

Jack should have his bags ready, 1:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

Still a strong sense from teams that Jarrett Jack, while not the big name of Luol Deng or the medium name of 2012 first-rounder Tyler Zeller, is the most likely Cavalier to be on the move today.

Jack has two more full seasons left at $6.3 million per, a big number for someone shooting 39.3 percent and probably a backup wherever he goes. But he has playoff experience, loves the big moment (sometimes wanting it so much that he forces it) and has the additional value of being an available point guard. There is also the versatility that Jack can play shooting guard.

The 39.3 percent? He was at 45 the last two seasons, in New Orleans and Golden State, and 40.4 on threes in 2012-13 with the Warriors. Interested suitors now have the easy explanation to write off the current troubles: He plays for the Cavaliers, so of course there’s going to be problems.

Andre Miller to Washington, 12:40 p.m.

The Washington Wizards’ offense falls off whenever John Wall goes to the bench. They’ve scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and just 92.8 with him off the floor. So they were in the market for a back-up point guard, and they got one…

Bucks, Bobcats make deal, 12:37 p.m.

Kings sticking with McLemore, 12:35 p.m.

From our Scott Howard-Cooper

Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, bothered to an extreme by the rumor, took the unusual step of going out of his way to speak to media members to shoot down a rumor, insisting they had not offered rookie Ben McLemore to the Celtics as part of a package for Rajon Rondo. In what has been a rough transition to the NBA, with McLemore shooting 36.5 percent and unable to hold the starting job earlier in the season, management didn’t want him to start wondering about the team’s commitment.

More than McLemore’s availability could have been shot down, though. Not only are the Kings fully invested in McLemore and rightfully see a high ceiling despite the slow start, there is no way a rebuilding organization gives up two first-round picks, their 2013 lottery selection and Isaiah Thomas, the reported offer, for Rondo early in the comeback from knee surgery and with one full season left on his contract. Whether bad rumor or Celtics dream, it was never going to happen.

Miller to Washington?, 12:15 p.m.

Clippers and Cavs talking, 11:50 a.m.

Sessions for Neal swap?, 11:45 a.m.

Heat unload Mason, 11:20 a.m.

Deng is available, 11:15 a.m.

Earl Clark, Henry Sims heading to Philly, 10:45 a.m.

Clark is technically under contract for $4.25 million next season, but that doesn’t become guaranteed until July 7, 2014. Sims’ $915 thousand salary is also non-guaranteed. So the Sixers are basically getting back two expiring contracts. Anderson Varejao‘s health was a reason for the trade…

Zeller on the block, 10:00 a.m.

Hawes to Cleveland, 9:55 a.m.

Cleveland is over the cap and doesn’t have an exception that can absorb Hawes’ $6.6 million salary, so there has to be a player or two heading back to Philadelphia.

Teams after Andre Miller, 9:45 a.m.

Jimmer on the block, 9:35 a.m.

Ainge talks, 9:30 a.m.

The Race For Jordan Hill, 8:50 a.m.

The Los Angeles Lakers have the fourth highest payroll in the league and are 18-36 after getting waxed at home by the Rockets on Wednesday. Dumping Jordan Hill for nothing can lower their luxury tax payments quite a bit, and there are a couple of teams willing to take Hill off their hands. As we wrote yesterday, the Nets are looking to strengthen their bench, and have a disabled player exception that can absorb Hill’s $3.5 million salary.

But so does New Orleans, whose frontline has been decimated by injuries.

The Gary Neal deadline, 7:50 a.m.

Gary Neal makes just $3.25 million and the Bucks don’t want him. Yet somehow, trading him is a complicated process.

UPDATE, 6:09 a.m.

Report: Rockets making push for Rondo: Like many teams in the league right now, the Houston Rockets are interested in acquiring Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. And, like a lot of teams in the league right now, the Rockets are having a hard time coming up with the framework for a trade that is to the Celtics’ liking. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Houston’s potential unwillingness to give up Chandler Parsons is what may be hanging up a deal.

Report: Kings eyeing Cavs backup guard Jack: A day after sending shooting guard Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn for veterans Reggie Evans and Jason Terry, Sacramento might be looking to make another trade. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Kings have expressed interest in working a trade for Cavaliers reserve guard Jarrett Jack.

Thibodeau would be surprised if Bulls make deal: Echoing the words of GM Gar Forman and team president John Paxson a little less than a week ago, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tells the Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson he’d be stunned to see the team make a trade today.

Saunders shoots down talk of Love on trading block: A smattering of Kevin Love stories came out yesterday, from a snippet from a new GQ interview in which he talks about having fun playing for the Timberwolves to a tweet from Peter Vescey that made it seem as if the All-Star wants out from Minnesota. But Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders shot down all that talk with one tweet last night, writes Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press.

Report: Lakers’ Young safe from being dealt: ICYMI last night, the Lakers shipped veteran point guard Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for youngsters Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. In short, L.A. is continuing in its rebuilding efforts, but according to BasketballInsiders.com, it seems unlikely that the team’s No. 2 scorer, Nick Young, will be dealt today.

Players discuss their trade deadline-day experiences: The folks over at BasketballInsiders.com caught up with a couple of notable players — including Dwight Howard, Kyle Lowry and Chris Kaman — to have them share what it’s like for a player to go through trade deadline day. Nice little read here this a.m.

Protected Picks Wring Out Some Sizzle From Trade Deadline Day

Indiana decision-makers Donnie Walsh (left) and Kevin Pritchard (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Indiana decision-makers Donnie Walsh (left) and Kevin Pritchard (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Trade deadline day in the NBA isn’t what it used to be, for a variety of reasons. The 2014 Draft has loomed large over this season, making teams leery of doing anything – trading a potentially valuable pick, improving their way out of the right combination of lottery balls – that might get between them and a franchise-altering prospect. New luxury-tax penalties have made teams loathe to cross the tax threshold for what might be a couple months’ impact. And looming free agency argues against a rent-a-player move.

Well, here’s another reason: the protected first-round pick.

Time was, a traded first-round pick was just that – traded. It got packaged up immediately in the deal, designed for whatever year applied. If it was for the very next draft, great. If it was for two or three years hence, that was fine, too. Everyone, including the team’s fans, knew the trade’s price and the payoff.

Now consider the way draft picks are dealt in the NBA of 2014. When the Chicago Bulls in early January surrendered to Luol Deng‘s impending free agency, compounded by their dashed ambitions in the wake of Derrick Rose‘s second season-ending knee injury, they shipped Deng to Cleveland. The headlines billed it as “Deng to Cavs for Bynum, three future picks.”

The devil, as they say, was in the details. Two of the picks sent to the Bulls in the deal will be second-rounders from Portland (2015, 2016). And the first-rounder they acquired, which began as Sacramento’s, could shrink all the way down to nothing thanks to the qualifiers attached to it: This year, the pick belongs to Chicago only if the Kings are poised to draft at No. 13 or later (they’re 18-36 at the moment, tied for the league’s fourth-worst record).

It is protected in 2015, 2016 and 2017 through No. 10, which is to say, if Sacramento isn’t at least vying for a playoff berth over the next three years, it still won’t have to cough up the pick. And if that’s the case, it becomes a 2017 second-round pick – but with protection for Nos. 56-60. If that kicks in, then the obligation is extinguished entirely.

Even the right to swap draft slots with the Cavs in 2015, a sweetener in the Deng deal, is protected through the lottery. As for center Andrew Bynum, he was involved merely to shed his $6 million salary off both teams’ caps; Chicago cut him the next day before a contract guarantee kicked in.

A half-season of Deng, in other words, potentially was traded for two second-round picks. That’s a lot less sexy and headline-grabbing than the deal originally appeared. And that has sapped some of the excitement from NBA trades, period, including deadline day.

What happened to cause this? Three little letters: C. Y. A.

“We all did it, I think, the minute the lottery came in,” said Indiana’s Donnie Walsh, a consultant to Larry Bird after a long career running the Pacers’ and Knicks’ front offices. “With the lottery, you could end up [losing] the first pick in the draft. Nobody wants to have that happen. You’d look like a fool.”

Or you’d look like the Clippers, who as recently as 2011 sent an unprotected first-round to Cleveland in a multi-player deal designed primarily to shed guard Baron Davis‘ $28 million contract obligations. Two months later, that pick bounced up to No. 1 in the lottery and became All-Star MVP Kyrie Irving. Neil Olshey, the Clippers’ GM at the time, works in Portland these days.

“So the lottery started it,” Walsh said, “and then it got more regimented from there. Because there were, what, seven teams in the lottery at first, then 11 in the lottery. Every time it got bigger, more teams tried to protect whatever it was, on that one chance they could lose something really good.”

For the folks who run NBA teams, it is a form of buying on credit. It is insurance for those who cut the dramatic deals that can dictate a team’s success or failure for a decade.

Sometimes protecting a pick and having its eventual payout hang over the franchise for several years – during which local media can remind fans of a bad trade again and again – can be worse than taking one’s medicine quickly and moving on. Voila!

“Sometimes you put that in the deal,” Walsh said. “Teams will put something in there where, you don’t have to give it but you can make them take it.”

Having what starts out as a glamorous first-round pick shrivel down to drab second-rounds or even vanish entirely might seem like bad business. But Walsh saw the pragmatic side of that. “If you’re looking to get rid of money and you have to wait three years to find out you got some seconds, so be it,” he said. “You’ve got time to make up for it.”

Protecting first-round picks rivals Congress for the way it kicks a potentially unpleasant can down the road.  Why give up a pick sooner when it can be conveyed later, presumably on someone else’s watch?

“I don’t think you think it out like that, because I don’t think you think you’re ever gonna get fired,” Walsh said, laughing before a recent Pacers home game. “But you want to push it down the road, yeah.

“You hope that you’ll be good by then and it won’t really hurt you. You figure, if it doesn’t work, I won’t be here. But if I am here, I don’t want to have to pay this off.”

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Motivated LeBron backs up Rushmore talk | Latest loss strikes a nerve with Lakers | Bennett’s big night lifts Cavs | No comeback for Rose, Noah problem for Bulls

No. 1: Fired up LeBron fuels Mount Rushmore talk himself – Agree or disagree all you want with LeBron James and his assertion that he’ll be on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore when his career ends, you have to like what all of the chatter is doing for his game and the Heat’s season. The Heat might not be on their way to another 27-game win streak, but James has found the motivation needed to overcome the rough patches of this season. LeBron is feeling his words right about now, Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com writes, he’s walking the walk and backing up all of his own talk:

James’ seasonal slogan might just as well be what he said Tuesday, “I’m feeling good right now.”

He has the occasional frustration with a wayward loss, such as over the past weekend in Utah when he played a dud game. He’ll get a little irked when it’s mentioned that Kevin Durant may have closed the gap on him for best player on the planet status. But, generally, James has been skipping on air since he stood on top of the podium after Game 7 in Miami last June holding both gold trophies with that “what can you say now” grin across his face.

The mindset will eventually be challenged but not for awhile. Until then, James will be feeling quite good about himself.

That was at the root of why he was willing to declare in a recent interview with NBA TV that, “I’m going to be one of the top four that’s ever played this game, for sure. And if they don’t want me to have one of those top four spots, they’d better find another spot on that mountain. Somebody’s gotta get bumped.”

When James listed what he felt was the current NBA Mount Rushmore, he named Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson. It is hard to decide which would create more conversation, James’ statement or his choices of the peer group.

Feeling so good about himself and put at ease by interviewer Steve Smith, James continued by claiming that he’d been cheated in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting the past two years.

“To be honest, I feel I’ve been snubbed two years in a row [on the award], and I’m serious,” James said. “And that’s one selfish thing about me … I feel like I should have won it.”

Yes, that is James insisting that he’s not getting enough credit for something. He’s just letting it all go. In the golden era of his career, he clearly figures, why shouldn’t he? He fears no reprisal and, at least now, isn’t too worried about any opponent.

“We’ll play anybody, it doesn’t matter,” James said as he was basking in the win. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We’re not running from anyone.”



VIDEO: LeBron James talks Mount Rushmore with Steve Smith

***

No. 2: Latest loss strikes a nerve with Lakers – Steve Nash exiting a second straight game with a nerve issue is problem enough for the Los Angeles Lakers. But dropping yet another game on their home floor is perhaps even more troubling for the Lakers, a team quickly falling down the rabbit hole of this season. Tuesday night’s loss to the Utah Jazz marks the Lakers’ sixth straight home loss at Staples Center, once a fortress of solitude for the team … but no more. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times explains just how severely off track things are for Kobe Bryant‘s crew:

Home bitter home.

The Lakers used to consider Staples Center a haven of victories, a bedrock of five championship runs since the building opened in 1999.

Now they might as well play at a local park.

They lost to the lowly Utah Jazz on Tuesday, 96-79, falling to 8-15 at home and losing six consecutive games at home for the first time since 1992-93.

It’s the cherry on top of several scoops of problems.

Steve Nash left the game for good at halftime, felled again by the same nerve irritation in his back that sidelined him almost three months.

The nerve damage starts in the back and presents itself in his hamstring, making it feel as if it’s strained or pulled.

Whatever euphoria he felt last Friday — 19 points and five assists against Philadelphia on his 40th birthday — was almost absent after Tuesday’s game, though he tried to be upbeat.

“I think I need a little more time to get over the hump,” he told The Times.

He considered sitting out before tipoff but knew the Lakers were short-handed without six injured players.

Nash didn’t look quite right while he played, totaling two points and two assists in 17 minutes. He made one of four shots in his 10th game this season.

The Lakers are shrugging. They don’t know exactly what to do.

“I imagine it’s day to day. I don’t know anything else,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said of Nash’s status. “I haven’t really talked to him.”

Nash’s injury dented some mild excitement the Lakers felt before the game. They were expecting five of their six injured players back shortly after this weekend’s All-Star break.

The lone lingering one, though, was Kobe Bryant, who might be the last Lakers player to return, according to a person familiar with the situation.

He continues to have swelling and pain in his fractured left knee and figures to trail Pau GasolJordan FarmarJodie Meeks and maybe even Xavier Henry in getting back to the court.

***

No. 3: A breakout night for rookie Bennett lifts Cavaliers – It’s taken a while, months basically, but Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Anthony Bennett has finally decided to join the party. Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft had his breakout game in a win over the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night in Cleveland. It was a much-needed breakthrough for Bennett, whose season has been anything but spectacular up to this point. While Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo have all moved past him in the Rookie of the Year race, Bennett is doing well to just ease his way into the public consciousness right now. Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Plain Dealer explains:

Rookie Anthony Bennett drilled a 3-pointer and threw his arms up into the air to celebrate late in the Cavaliers 109-99 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night at The Q.

“I was just having fun,” said Bennett, who registered his first double-double with career highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds in 29:45 as the Cavs avenged a 124-80 loss in Sacramento on Jan. 12 and improved to 19-33, winning three in a row for the first time since Dec. 7-13.

When was the last time he had fun on the basketball court?

“I don’t remember,” Bennett said. “Today?”

The timing was bittersweet as Bennett, whose selection as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft has been widely criticized, and his slow start undoubtedly contributed to the firing of general manager Chris Grant last week.

“I’m sure Chris Grant is smiling at home, and deservedly so,” said Sacramento coach — and former Cavs assistant under Mike BrownMike Malone, whose team dropped to 17-35.

Bennett, who had shoulder surgery before the draft last summer and was unable to participate in summer league, has been coming early to practice and staying late, working to regain the form that made him a star last season at UNLV.

His teammates celebrated with him after Tuesday’s breakout game.

“He played a heck of a game tonight,” Kyrie Irving said. “It was awesome. I was a fan.”

Added Luol Deng, who led the Cavs with 22 points, “He’s going to get it. These kind of games are going to come more often.”

***

No. 4: No return for Rose this season, Noah problem for the Bulls? – Hoops fans in Chicago have played this game before and lost, so there is no reason to dive in again this time. Derrick Rose, no matter how many times he hits the floor to shoot before the Bulls play, is not coming back this season. It is NOT happening … right? But if All-Star center Joakim Noah has his way, the dream of a Rose return is still alive. That said, if Noah keeps up his current ways (a triple-double Tuesday night in a win over the visiting Atlanta Hawks), it’ll be much easier for Bulls fans to stomach another season without Rose in uniform. Joe Cowley of the Sun Times delivers the details:

The door was closed — slammed shut months ago by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau when he said Derrick Rose was lost for the season after tearing his right meniscus Nov. 22 and undergoing surgery.

On Tuesday, center Joakim Noah wedged his size 18 foot into that door, keeping the dream alive for a small minority that believes in unicorns, dragons and quick Rose recoveries.

Asked if he thought Rose could play this postseason, Noah said, ‘‘That’s not my decision. That’s nobody’s decision. It’s all about how he feels. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to be supportive.’’

It went by many different names last year: ‘‘The Return,’’ the Rose watch, the story that wouldn’t die. But in the end, the Bulls never ruled Rose out for the season in his recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, so hope stayed alive until the final minutes of a Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.

The consensus on ‘‘The Return II’’ has been that there wouldn’t be one. But Noah’s comments came on the same day Rose was going through shooting drills with reporters watching, and the story gained legs again — little ones.

‘‘He’s working really hard,’’ Noah said. ‘‘He’s always around the team, being a great leader, showing support to his teammates. Just watching him work every day, I think, is extra motivation for us to go out there and go harder.

‘‘He’s doing a lot more than shooting around. He’s in the gym nonstop, just working on his body getting better. That’s what it’s all about. He’s a big part of this team. He has that mentality of having no regrets. Just give it everything you got. If you can go, you can go. If you can’t, you did everything you could to make it.’’

Thibodeau said Rose was running on the treadmill, but when asked if that was a new development, he quickly said no.

‘‘Still nowhere close to practicing or anything like that,’’ he said, ‘‘but he’s doing well overall.’’


VIDEO: The Fan Night Top 10 delivers a dazzling array of highlights for your viewing pleasure

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Charlotte Bobcats, following the lead of the Phoenix Suns, are simply playing too well to tank … Portland forward Nic Batum can’t fight it anymore, gives up the kudos to Kevin Durant as the best (one-on-one player in the league) … The streak continues for Kyle Korver, thanks to his work in his old stomping grounds … The Miami Heat’s core group is doing the heavy lifting right now and might have to the rest of this season

ICYMI of the Night: NBA TV’s Steve Smith dives deep with LeBron James in this exclusive interview, and yes, there’s more to the interview than the Mount Rushmore talk …


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about what motivates him with NBA TV’s Steve Smith

Emotions Well Up On Road-Weary Bulls


VIDEO: Bulls lose big to Kings in Sacramento

Some percentage of sports is acknowledged to be mental (or emotional or psychological or whatever words you choose to distinguish the thinking-and-feeling stuff from the physical). Fifty percent, some coaches will tell you. More than that – 75 percent – others may contend. Or as Yogi Berra allegedly liked to say, “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.”

The Chicago Bulls, at the moment, are all mental.

Before, during and after their 99-70 loss to the Sacramento Kings Monday night, the Bulls in fact were a hot mess. The most obvious and video-worthy of them was center Joakim Noah, who momentarily lost his mind after being banished in the third quarter with his second technical foul. Noah erupted, going into his own Al Pacino-esque, “You’re out of order! You’re out of order!” movie-courtroom rant, only he directed his wrath and his pointing at three referees rather one judge.

But the Bulls’ center, typically a ball of emotions in the calmest of times, has had plenty of company lately. Forward Carlos Boozer is irritated with his benchings in fourth quarters (he has played only 128 of his 1,314 minutes, less than 10 percent, after the third quarter). Coach Tom Thibodeau is frustrated that Boozer hasn’t absorbed the reasons for those benchings – primarily, backup Taj Gibson is a more stalwart defender, even as he improves offensively – and general manager Gar Forman is disappointed that Boozer shared his irritation with reporters before the team’s shootaround Monday morning at Sleep Train Arena.

Gibson, meanwhile, probably is confused by a wild-hair trade rumor that A) makes no sense for the Bulls, B) seems built off the flimsiest of dots-connecting, and C) makes no sense for the Bulls. Wing Jimmy Butler is flummoxed, or ought to be, by his miserable shooting – 36.8 percent and 27.6 from the arc, after 46.7 and 38.1 in 2012-13.

Reserve Mike Dunleavy should be feeling a little cranky about now, since – to use team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf‘s adjective – this “mediocre” trudge through the schedule wasn’t what Dunleavy imagined when he signed last summer, nor was the trade speculation hovering over him for the next couple of weeks.

And naturally, the whole lot of them sure are forlorn over the loss of point guard Derrick Rose to a second season-ending knee surgery and the subsequent trade of forward Luol Deng as a bag-it move to avoid luxury tax. Deng is heading toward free agency and was unlikely to re-sign at Chicago’s price, so why go into the onerous tax and lock in repeater status for, y’know, a mediocre season?

All of which illustrates that the NBA challenges players’ minds as much as, maybe even more than, their bodies. Mental toughness is a must for teams that want to not just survive but achieve, and really accomplish big things.

The same Bulls team that reeled in the immediate wake of Rose’s injury, losing 12 of 15 in a month’s span, had righted itself through some very physical tactics: Defense and effort. The Deng trade on Jan. 7 sent Noah into a funk, yet he appeared to channel his emotions then into rousing individual performances, stringing together double-doubles and growing his point-center role in the offense.

Now, however, Chicago is halfway through a six-game, 13-day “Ice Show” trip that forces the team out of United Center each year at about this time. A 2014 that began with nine victories in 11 games, bumping them above .500 at 21-20, has turned into a 3-4 slip since. They’re on the road through Sunday, they missed 56 of 78 shots against the Kings’ defense – the Kings’ – and their offense is off the rails (less than 90 points in four of the past five games).

The whole we’ve-seen-this-movie-before storyline, with Rose declared out till October, is wearing on everybody – players, coaches, management, fans – and the Bulls are stuck between their usual plucky selves and the upside-down allure of stumbling their way into the lottery for a deep draft.

Until the Bulls wrap their heads around what’s left of this season, and what it is they really want to be or achieve, there’s nothing physical (other than reliable health of the players who remain) that will help. This is mental.

“The one thing about this league – things can change quickly on you,” Thibodeu told reporters in Sacramento. “And they have. So it went from good to bad very quickly. And just as quickly as it has gone from good to bad it can go from bad to good again. We gotta change. We gotta have more urgency. We gotta work our way out of this.”

Actually, they need to think their way through it.

“We can’t get mired in personal dilemmas,” Thibodeau also said. “You got to get into the team. Get into the circle. That’s what we need to do.”

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns exploring deal for Gasol | Allen gets Super Bowl title, NBA next? | Heat not worried about Bynum in Indy | Rockets have dynamic duo in Beverley and Lin

No. 1: Suns exploring possibilities for Gasol deal – Since the Phoenix Suns have already shown us that they don’t have any idea how to tank properly, they might as well swing for the fences in the Western Conference playoff chase. And that means exploring all of the possibilities for a potential trade for Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol. They’ve been searching for some big man help since trading Marcin Gortat, and Gasol is apparently available. The Suns have the assets to make the deal happen, as reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein:

One option for the Suns, by virtue of their $5.6 million in available salary-cap space, is swapping the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor for Gasol, even though Okafor’s $14.5 million salary this season falls well shy of Gasol’s $19.3 million.

The Lakers engaged in similar trade discussions in late December and early January with Cleveland in a proposed deal that would have sent Gasol to the Cavaliers for the partially guaranteed contract of ex-Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who then would have been waived to help L.A. save roughly $20 million in salary and luxury-tax obligations.

Those talks, though, broke down because of the Lakers’ insistence on receiving another asset of value in addition to the significant financial benefits, only for L.A. to see Cleveland successfully switch gears and trade Bynum to the Chicago Bulls for Luol Deng.

A trade for Okafor’s expiring deal would not save the Lakers as much as a deal for Bynum would have, but it would come with undeniable financial benefits. The $4.8 million difference between Gasol’s cap number and Okafor’s would immediately drop the Lakers less than $3 million away from the league’s luxury-tax threshold, meaning one more smaller deal before the Feb. 20 trade deadline could conceivably be enough to take them out of tax territory completely.

There would also be salary savings involved because insurance began picking up 80 percent of what remains on Okafor’s contract once Phoenix passed this season’s 41-game midpoint because of a long-term neck injury that has sidelined the nine-year veteran all season.

The Suns are known to be shopping Okafor’s contract aggressively in advance of the trade deadline as a means for whoever acquires the 31-year-old to potentially save more than $5 million in salary payouts thanks to the insurance coverage.

***

No. 2: Allen trying to double up on title this year?– It doesn’t get much sweeter than Sunday night for Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen, whose NFL team pummeled Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl in New York. Well, it could actually get a little sweeter for Allen if the Trail Blazers find a way to get to the same stage come June and get a shot at winning a Larry O’Brien Trophy. Don’t laugh. Because as Kevin Garnett famously told us in Boston, “anything is possible.” Seth Prince of the Oregonian poses the question and fans in Portland respond:

The fourth time was the charm for Paul Allen, who achieved his first world championship as an owner tonight as the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII.
He also led the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, as well as the Seahawks to the Super Bowl XL in 2006. All of those seasons ended with Allen’s teams losing.
It raises the question, do you think he’ll be able to bring an NBA world championship to Portland with the Trail Blazers? Let us know in the comment thread below and share how you think he’s matured as an owner through the years.

***

No. 3: Heat not worried about Bynum joining the Pacers – If they are worried at all about Andrew Bynum joining an Indiana Pacers team that has already shown an ability to challenge them, the Miami Heat aren’t showing it. They’re acting like the Pacers’ acquisition of Bynum,  a player they reportedly pursued as well, means nothing in the chase for Eastern Conference supremacy. Perhaps it’s easy to feel that way when you still have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to lean on, not to mention Chris “Birdman” Andersen and even a getting-stronger-every day Greg Oden sharpening his skills. Whether they are just playing the role or not is a question that won’t be answered unless the Heat and Pacers square off in the playoffs. In the meantime, David J. Neal of the Miami Herald takes the temperature of the Heat now that Bynum is wearing blue and gold:

The Heat locker room publicly shrugged Saturday at the signing and likely did so privately aside from a few witty jokes. This is a team that believes, correctly, that while time and pain have improved Indiana, whether or not the Heat complete the championship hat trick relies largely on itself.

Can Dwyane Wade be Dwyane Wade again for an entire Eastern Conference final? The Heat can get through the rest of the East with Wade on a maintenance plan or having games where he’s an above average player. It will take an extra game here or there, which you never like, but that’s not a problem against any two teams not named Indiana put together.

Against Indiana, Miami will need six or seven games of the future Hall of Fame Wade to get the job done. Bynum neither helps nor hurts in that regard.

Can Chris Bosh continue to be that helpful omnipresence, having a hand in most wins even if that hand’s not doing what stat-minded fans and media wish it were? Bosh draws Hibbert and Bynum out of the middle with his range, then makes them work and getting up and down the floor.

The Heat knows it’s about the three-point line, both defending it and scoring from behind it. If the Heat’s snipers misfire, that lane gets packed like Miami Beach streets during Art Basel and those penetration-and-ones dwindle to not often enough.

Hibbert’s Metallo, the super-strong villain with the kryptonite heart. Great against Superman, not the most useful guy against the rest of the Justice League. Hibbert hurts no team more than he does the Heat, yet still, the Heat find ways around and over him. Bynum’s Hibbert Lite at this point.

Most ridiculous is the idea Indiana signed Bynum to keep him from the Heat. Although the Heat has nothing against height, it already has a big guy with unreliable lower limbs, one who showed tremendous determination just to get back to being able to take the floor. Greg Oden embodies the diligence, grit and good citizenship the Heat likes to think of as its franchise hallmarks. Oden might not be a problem for opponents the way it hopes, but the Heat knows he won’t be a problem for them in the locker room or after midnight.

***

No. 4: Rockets have their own dynamic guard duo in Beverley and Lin – Phoenix, Golden State and Oklahoma City aren’t the only Western Conference playoff teams that can boast of having guard rotations loaded with talented players at the same positions and making it work to their advantage. The Houston Rockets have their own version in Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin, a pairing that hasn’t been seen healthy and attacking like they were in the preseason until now. And it’s a sight to see for Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who has been looking for a spark from his point guards. They give the Rockets the sort of balance needed with All-Stars like James Harden and Dwight Howard on the other side of the scale. Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle discusses the finer points of the two-point guard system the Rockets are tinkering with:

Right from the start of training camp, Rockets coach Kevin McHale liked what he saw when guards Pat Beverley and Jeremy Lin were on the court together.

He saw them complement each other all through the preseason and was excited about what they would bring to the Rockets.

Then came the injuries. Beverley, 25, was hurt in the first game of the season (bruised ribs) and was sidelined. The two-point guard experiment was put on hold.

When Beverley came back, the two flourished, providing a mix of Beverley’s stifling defense and Lin’s attack-minded offense. Then came a knee sprain and back spasms for Lin, 25, then a fractured hand for Beverley.

Now that both have recovered from injuries and are back on the floor together consistently, McHale sees flashes of the preseason.

“I like those two playing together,” McHale said. “I thought earlier in the year, they were our best combination on the floor. Those two have a nice symmetry between them. They both enjoy playing with each other. They are very respectful for each other, and they work to help each other.”

When the two play together, the Rockets are 15-7. When they start together, the team is 5-1.

In the Rockets’ 106-92 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night, the two were balanced. Lin had his first career triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists; Beverley went scoreless but had 10 rebounds, eight assists and a career-high five steals.

“Pat was unbelievable,” guard James Harden said. “Then Jeremy came off the bench and gets a triple-double. Those two are playing really good basketball together.”

Beverley averages 32 minutes per game; Lin plays 31. Much of that time they are on the floor together.

“I think we play really well together,” Beverley said. “We played together last year. We know each other well. We know each other’s games, and I think it works really well.”

Lin said when he and Beverley are in the game at the same time, they bring the Rockets the fast pace they seek.

“I think it just sets a tempo,” Lin said. “We push the ball hard. Just having two point guards out there definitely changes the tempo.”

That tempo and the mix of the two point guards’ strengths bring a different dimension to the Rockets.

“We have wanted to play them together all year,” McHale said. “I like that combination. With injuries, we haven’t been able to as much as we have wanted to.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Durant showed off his otherworldly scoring abilities in January, but also shined as a facilitator/passer as well for the mighty Thunder  … Kings coach Mike Malone is still trying to coax his team into being a defense-first outfit … The Chicago Bulls are open for trade business but All-Star center Joakim Noah is what we in the business call untouchable … Pacers boss Larry Bird insists the signing of Andrew Bynum was about two things, “he’s big and he can help us.”

ICYMI of the Night: Celtics fans have been waiting all season for Rajon Rondo to look like, well, Rajon Rondo. With only one game on the slate yesterday, Rondo had a perfect opportunity to take the spotlight and he did so …


VIDEO: Rajon Rondo dominates against the Magic

Morning Shootaround – Feb. 2


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Deng surprised by the mess in Cleveland | Bird discusses the Bynum signing | Stephenson frustrated about All-Star snub | Wall tries new shoes

No. 1: Deng surprised by the mess in Cleveland – Luol Deng said all the right things about his new team when he was traded in early January. He wanted to be a veteran leader for the young Cavaliers and everything seemed hunky-dory. Now less than a month later, the problems within the Cleveland locker room have become apparent to Deng, as reported by Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

It’s been a true culture shock for Luol Deng since he’s been a Cleveland Cavalier over the past 26 days. Not in a good way, either.

Deng has seen how a team mired in losing since LeBron James left town wrongly caters to its young star players, even as they continue to undermine head coach Mike Brown at almost every turn. In Chicago, where Deng broke in and played nine-plus seasons, there is a winning culture where players are expected to act like professionals and understand that they will suffer the consequences if they step out of line.

As Deng recently told one close friend, “the stuff going on in practice would never be tolerated by the coaching staff or the front office back in Chicago. It’s a mess.”

But since then, he’s seen players get thrown out of practice, take off their uniform tops at halftime and threaten not to play, mouth off to Brown and generally act like spoiled brats. Entering Saturday’s game at Houston, the Cavs had lost seven of their last 11 games since the Deng trade.

***

No. 2: Bird discusses the Bynum signing– The Indiana Pacers recent signing of Andrew Bynum was a surprise to many people around the league. Bynum bolsters an already strong frontcourt for the Pacers and even though he was recently released by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pacers believe he will be a key player in helping them win an NBA Championship. However, Indiana team president Larry Bird quickly refuted any talk that the Pacers only signed Bynum to keep him away from the Miami Heat, as reported by Mark Montieth at Pacers.com:

“I ain’t worried about next year,” team president Larry Bird said following the Pacers’ game-day shootaround on Saturday. “We’re in the now. We’re going to do everything we can to go as far as we possibly can.”

Bynum flew to Indianapolis from Cleveland on Friday and had dinner with Pacers officials that evening, including Bird and coach Frank Vogel. Asked the primary impression Bynum made at the gathering, Vogel said “overall enthusiasm.”

Bird said he wasn’t concerned with Bynum’s reputation.

“You hear all the negativity,” Bird said. “I never judge a person (based on what others say). I like to find out on my own. He’s big, he can help us and that’s all that matters.

“The way these guys roll around here, they can handle themselves. That never really entered my mind. They’re big boys. If Andrew can come in here and help them, it will be much appreciated.”

Bird scoffed at the notion that the Pacers might be signing Bynum merely to keep him away from Miami or other contending teams.

“We don’t have the money to throw around and let them sit on our bench,” he said. “That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

***

No. 3: Stephenson frustrated by All-Star snub – Staying with the Pacers, guard Lance Stephenson isn’t too happy about his recent lack of invitation to the 2014 NBA All-Star game. Stephenson has a case, too. He’s averaging 14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game to become a significant contributor for the team with the best record in the league. Stephenson planned to take out his anger about the snub on his matchup last night, Joe Johnson. As reported by Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Heading into Saturday night’s game against the Nets – and with an All-Star snub still boiling in his mind – the 23-year-old Pacers guard told the Daily News he’s motivated to unleash his anger on Joe Johnson and the Nets.

“I already had a chip on my shoulder and it made me even worse,” Stephenson said about not making the Eastern Conference reserves. “Now I’m going to kill everybody who is in front of me.”

“Like I said, whoever made it in front of me or whoever is in my position who people think whose in front of me, I’m definitely going to go after them,” Stephenson said. “You’ll definitely see that tonight – me going after (Johnson).”

Despite his anger towards the All-Star snub, Stephenson said he understands that he’s young and there’s a new selection every year. The 23-year-old has a chance to be the best player to come out of Lincoln High in Coney Island, even after all that hype for Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair.

***

No. 4: Wall tries new shoes – A lot of NBA players are superstitious. This is no surprise. However, the lengths to which John Wall went last night to create perfect comfort for his feet were a little tedious. No matter the lengths, Wall’s decision worked as he helped the Washington Wizards snap the Oklahoma City Thunder’s ten-game winning streak. From The Associated Press:

The first half ended with a case of stars stumbling. Kevin Durant lost the ball to John Wall, and Wall then missed an open fast-break layup at the horn. It was Durant’s fourth turnover and Wall’s seventh miss in a row.

At halftime, Wall changed his shoes. Maybe that was the difference.

Wall, the newly minted first-time All-Star guard, scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, and the host Washington Wizards took advantage of a rare subpar night for Durant and snapped the Oklahoma Thunder’s 10-game winning streak Saturday with a 96-81 win.

“I didn’t like how I played on the road trip in my white shoes, so I tried the red ones,” Wall said. “They didn’t work in the first half, so I got rid of them and went back to my old white ones, and they kind of helped me out. I’m kind of superstitious.”

Wall also had 15 assists and 6 steals and went 7 for 11 from the field after halftime, more than making up for the 0-for-7 first half.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jeff Van Gundy thinks Tracy McGrady might try to play baseball? … J.R. Smith took time to check out Chris Andersen‘s tattoos … The NBA broke out new Adam Silver basketballs last night … Luis Scola throws the ball off Paul Pierce‘s back to seal a win for the Pacers … John Wall and Damian Lillard reportedly invited to participate in the 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk contest.

ICYMI of the Night: If the report of Lillard being invited to participate in the Sprite Slam Dunk contest is true, then he sure gave the world a justification for the invitation against the Toronto Raptors last night.


VIDEO: Lillard Soars