Posts Tagged ‘Marcus Smart’

Things could still be ugly in Boston


VIDEO: Danny Ainge talks about the three-team trade

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens still has that six-year contract, which is good, because he still doesn’t have much talent to work with.

The Celtics haven’t stood idly by over the first two weeks of free agency. They re-signed guard Avery Bradley and picked up assets (a first round pick and a trade exception) by helping the Cleveland Cavaliers clear cap space and the Washington Wizards sign Kris Humphries.

The Celtics also added to their young core by drafting Marcus Smart and James Young, and adding Tyler Zeller in the Cleveland trade. They now have six first-round picks under the age of 25 on their roster (the others are Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger).

Celtics president Danny Ainge also has a bunch of extra future first round picks lying around. Few teams are as stocked with assets.

The potential is there for a very good team in the future. But the present is still pretty ugly. And though young players and draft picks are keys to trading for a star, the Celtics lack the one blue-chip asset that would make other teams salivate. If the Timberwolves eventually relent and trade Kevin Love, other teams can offer more tempting packages.

Celtics fans can take comfort in seeing the potential of a Smart/Young backcourt. They can anticipate further development from Olynyk and Sullinger. But they will also be watching a team that will rank in the 20s in offensive efficiency for the fourth straight season.

To succeed offensively, you need two things: a player or two that can draw double-teams and perimeter shooting. The Celtics lack both. They ranked 27th in offensive efficiency last season, and it’s hard to see them being much better this year, even with a healthy Rajon Rondo.

Rondo can be brilliant at times, but without potent scorers around him, he doesn’t put much pressure on opposing defenses. The Celtics were even a bad offensive team in their last two seasons with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. And Rondo made no impact on Boston’s offensive numbers upon his return last season.

Jeff Green has size and talent, but is neither consistent nor efficient. And Bradley is the only player on the roster who shot better than the league average from 3-point range last season.

Defensively, the Celtics have a strength on the wings (with Bradley and Gerald Wallace), but lack rim protection. With a season of Stevens’ system under their belt, they should be better than they were last season (when they ranked 20th) on that end, but probably not any better than the league average.

The 2014-15 Eastern Conference is going to be fascinating. All eight playoff teams from last season are still very much in the mix, while Cleveland and Detroit clearly improved with the additions of the best player in the world and one of the best coaches in the game.

Along with the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics will likely be watching from afar as those 10 teams (and maybe New York) fight for eight playoff spots.

Ainge’s options were limited this summer. Though it’s been a year since parting with Pierce and Garnett, his payroll is still well over the salary cap. He’ll have some flexibility next summer, but also Rondo to re-sign or let go and Green and Wallace on the books for another season.

So, Stevens will have at least another year to learn the league and implement his system. And it won’t be until at least Year 3 of his contract when we find out if he was worth a six-year commitment.

Smart moves are all there for Celtics


VIDEO: Celtics.com takes a look back at Boston’s Orlando Pro Summer League stint

ORLANDO — Marcus Smart came into the week with the goal of improving his shot selection.

Then he spun like top around Elfrid Payton, found just a crack between a pair of Magic defenders on the perimeter and finally finished at the rim with an improbable scoop that was one of the jaw-dropping highlights of the Orlando Pro Summer League.

“To be honest, I didn’t know I was going to scoop it with my left,” he said with a grin. “But I’m glad it went in.”

So much for shot selection.

Of course, the 6-foot-4 guard has never been anything close to a classic shooter, playing more like a tight end rumbling toward the goal line.

“I’m not your (average) point guard strength-wise,” Smart said. “I have a 6-9 wingspan so that helps me a lot. I have a little advantage over a lot of guards.”

Smart shot just 41.3 percent from the field (29.5 on 3-pointers) in his two college seasons at Oklahoma State and his shooting numbers have not been the kind to write home about. He made just 20 of 68 shots in five games this week.

Yet despite his offensive struggles, Smart repeatedly showed the the fire and aggression that were some of the biggest reasons why the Celtics made him the No. 6 pick in the Draft. His hands were constantly moving, reaching out and stripping the ball from the grip of his opponents. He used his strength and size to often smother opponents and was a willing and capable passer, averaging 4.2 assists per game. There are times when he simply out-muscles and overwhelms opponents on defense.

“Marcus has done a great job of picking the team up and giving them both defensive and offensive energy,” said assistant Jay Larranaga, who ran the summer league team.

Smart also demonstrated the knack for rising to the occasion down the stretch of games and taking — and making — big shots, no matter much he’d be struggling to find the basket earlier.

“I’ve always been told, if you want to be a good shooter, and I have a good shot, you can’t worry about the last play,” he said. “You have to move on. That’s Ray Allen, the best shooter in the NBA, I think. That’s why he’s so good. He can miss four in a row, but you know that fifth shot is just made for him. You just have to keep shooting.”

The shot will come. The coaching at the NBA level can work with Smart on his choices to make him more functional. But the Celtics have every reason to be happy with what they’ve seen from Smart this week.

“It’s still really early, but Marcus came in with a really good understanding of the defensive side,” said president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. “That’s rare for rookies. Usually defense prevents them from getting on the court. I don’t think defense is going to prevent Marcus from getting on the court.”

Payton showing off hair and growth


VIDEO: Payton discusses his play at Orlando Summer League

ORLANDO — It was early in the second quarter of a loss to the Grizzlies when Elfrid Payton picked off a pass at one end of the floor, took off up the court, picked his way though traffic in the lane and then jammed home a dunk.

A short time later, just when 6-foot-11 Grizzlies center Jerrid Famous gathered in an offensive rebound and went up for a putback, the rail-thin Payton slipped up from behind and swatted the shot away with authority.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Payton glided across the mid-court line and delivered a slick, no-look pass to teammate Dewayne Dedmon for a dunk.

The first thing you notice about the 6-foot-3 point guard as he gets his baptism with the Magic in the Orlando Pro Summer League is that he can get just about anywhere he chooses on the court and do whatever he wants.

OK, maybe that’s the second thing. The first is that mop of hair that seems to be wildly growing in a head full of different directions.

Turns out it was part of a promise by his high school teammates back in Louisiana not to cut their hair until they won the state championship back in 2011. That dream was cut short in the semifinals of the state tournament, but the hairstyle lives on with the No. 10 pick in the 2014 as he embarks on his NBA career.

The point guard spent three years in college climbing up out of obscurity at Louisiana-Lafayette and now has the Magic feeling that he and second-year guard Victor Oladipo can be a backcourt combination that takes them to great places going forward.

While Orlando made power forward Aaron Gordon the No. 4 pick in the Draft, the 18-year-old is raw, unsure of himself and likely at least a season or two away from making a significant contribution.

That’s not the case with Payton, who says he takes inspiration from the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard, who went from a below-the-radar college program at Weber State to winning NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 2013 and an All-Star berth last season.

“The odds were stacked against him, and he just continued to work hard,” said Payton. “It pays off. He’s one of the best in the game right now. Seeing that just makes you want to work harder. Just because I’m here, I can’t get satisfied.”

It was a breakout performance in his sophomore year in college when Payton scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds in a near upset of Michigan State that first got him noticed. His coach sent video of that performance to Florida’s Billy Donovan in a bid to get him a tryout for the Team USA Under-19 roster. Even on a team that included the well-known and highly-rated Marcus Smart, Payton earned the starting berth at the point.

Gordon also played on that team and remembered being shocked at the showing of the unheralded guard from Louisiana-Lafayette.

“He was just cooking and killing on both ends of the court,” Gordon said. “I was like, ‘This guy is the real deal.’ “

Payton was cooking again on Monday in leading a win over the Rockets, finishing with a near-triple-double of 12 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. In Tuesday’s loss to the Grizzlies, he had just six points and three assists, but did a better job avoiding turnovers. While playing just under 22 minutes per through three games, he’s averaging 6.7 points, 5.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and shooting 72.7 percent from the field.

“It happened because of my self confidence and me having a dream,” Payton said. “You’re not supposed to stop chasing your dream and here it is for me.”


VIDEO: Payton named Player of Day for Day 3

Two years later, Cook seeks a shot

Sharpshooter Brian Cook is seeking to rejoin the NBA after taking off for family matters.

Sharpshooter Brian Cook is seeking to rejoin the NBA after taking off for family matters.

ORLANDO — The summer leagues are full of stories.

There are well-known rookies such as, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Shabazz Napier trying to make the step up to the next level.

There are second-year pros Steven Adams and Kelly Olynyk looking to expand their skills and add polish.

There are guys like Maarty Leunen, drafted by the Rockets back in 2008, who has made a playing career for himself in Europen, but wants a crack at the big time.

Then there’s Brian Cook.

At 33, he’s not just the oldest player on the court at the Orlando Pro Summer League. He’s the only one who’s been away from the game for the past two years and is knocking on the door trying to get back in.

Cook’s wife, Victoria, had cancer and he stepped away from his NBA career to help her through the battle with the disease.

“It was something that I had to do and it’s the kind of thing that you don’t even think twice about,” Cook said. “There are bigger things than playing games.”

But now, two years later, the 6-foot-9 forward with 3-point range is here with the Pistons in an attempt to resurrect his career.

“I’ve really missed being out there on the court competing every day,” Cook said. “I know some people might think it’s kind of strange to try to do this at this point or it’s a long shot. But I kind of think that I still have something to contribute to the game and I’m looking to maybe get in a couple of years.”

Cook, who was a first-round draft choice of the Lakers in 2003 and played for five different teams — also Magic, Rockets, Clippers, Wizards — in nine seasons, reached out to Stan Van Gundy as soon his former coach took over in Detroit and asked for an opportunity in the summer league. He is here with no guarantees, no promises.

“I called him right away,” Cook said. “As a free agent, I can try to get on anywhere. But I’m comfortable with Stan’s offense and I’m also comfortable with the way he respected me and treated me and really cared about me when I played for him here in Orlando. Those are the kind of things that you take for granted as young kid and then come to appreciate more once you mature and have been around the block a few times in different situations. You really come to appreciate it even more when you’ve been at home like I have for the past several years helping my wife and being with the family.”

Cook has struggled to find his shooting stroke in his first two games, making just 5-of-18 shots and 3-of-12 from behind the arc. But he figures the shot will come with time and repetition and Cook is currently enjoying just being back in a locker room again, back wearing a jersey, back sharing the the highs and lows of game experiences, even if it is mostly with kids who are at least 10 years younger.

Van Gundy might not be able to provide the spot on his roster this season as he makes over the Pistons, but he is giving the veteran a chance to show other NBA teams that there is still something left after Cook gave the last two years to his family and wife, who is now cancer-free.

“I really believe that I’ve still got the ability to compete at this level and help a team,” Cook said. “I’m just hoping for a real shot.”

Orlando Pro Summer League tips off


VIDEO: The Summer League season begins Saturday in Orlando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning shootaround — June 28




VIDEO: GameTime examines the 76ers’ selection of Joel Embiid

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Embiid could miss year | Knicks want Pau | No rush on Rondo | Suns keep rising | McDermott first step
No. 1: Sixers will take the cautious route with Embiid — Remember all those photos of last year’s No. 1 pick Nerlens Noel in street clothes in Philly. Remember how Nerlens Noel never got onto the court while recovering from his knee surgery. Sixers G.M. Sam Hinkie loudly hinted that this year’s top pick Joel Embiid might be nothing more than a spectator as well, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

General manager Sam Hinkie hinted Friday that Joel Embiid, who was drafted third overall, probably won’t play in the 2014-15 season. That’s because the 7-foot center out of Kansas will miss more time than reported while recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot.
“I’ve seen reported some four to six months,” Hinkie said. “That’s not the number I heard. The number I heard from the surgeon himself was five to eight months.
“Guess what our approach will be? We will focus on the long-term health of the player. We had that discussion before. I don’t want that to sound glib, because it’s not. It is all that matters, honestly.”

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No. 2: Knicks want to team up Gasol with ‘Melo – While new team president Phil Jackson has been delivering some tough love to free agent Carmelo Anthony lately with talk of taking a pay cut, it seems he’s looking to add some sugar with the addition of Pau Gasol. ESPN’s Mark Stein and Ramona Shelburne say that Jackson plans to reach out to his former Lakers center when the free agency period opens at midnight ET on Tuesday:

Furthermore, one source close to the process told ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne that Jackson is planning to make a determined attempt to try to recruit his former Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol to replace the freshly traded Tyson Chandler alongside Anthony on the Knicks’ front line, despite the fact New York is limited to offering Gasol less than $4 million for next season.
Time will tell if the Knicks’ internal confidence in retaining Anthony proves justified, given that he opted out of the final year of his contract at $23.3 million — with Jackson urging him to opt in — and will soon be courted face-to-face by a handful of top teams in big cities.
The 30-year-old officially becomes an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. and, as ESPN.com reported earlier this week, is planning to go on visits or hold meetings with the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Lakers all before the Fourth of July. It also must be noted as July 1 draws near that the Bulls and Rockets have likewise been radiating no shortage of positivity about their chances of stealing Anthony away from the Knicks.

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No. 3: Celtics are in no hurry to ship out Rondo — The name of Marcus Smart had barely crossed the lips of NBA commissioner Adam Silver on draft night when the speculation began about the end of Rajon Rondo’s time in Boston. But Steve Bulpett of the the Boston Herald believes there is no reason to start packing the veteran point guard’s bags. First the Celtics will see if they can make a big name addition — i.e. Kevin Love – over the summer to pair with Rondo before entertaining offers:

The Celtics’ first choice in all this is to keep Rondo and find better players to put around him, but if they are unable to do that, they will have to confront the issue of his impending free agency. The club went into its rebuild with last summer’s trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett knowing it had to show a clear path to again being a contender before Rondo could depart on his own in 2015.
What we know for sure is that Ainge will be entertaining some offers for Rondo this summer, but, according to sources, that may still not assure a trade. The opinion here is that the Celts will have a difficult time getting a return for Rondo commensurate with what he means to this team. But they aren’t afraid to wait it out.
Assuming again they are unable to bring in a major player to pair with Rondo, one source confirmed the Celtics would sooner let him walk away than accept a deal that bogs down their salary sheet just to “get something for him.” If they decide trading Rondo is the best course of action, they will dig in and either get what they need to enhance their rebuilding, or they will let him go and take the cap space benefit.

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No. 4: Suns’ future continues to shine with draft moves — Every team with air in its basketballs come away claiming draft night was a success. However, our own Sekou Smith says that second-year Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough is just selling more sand in the desert after his addition of young talent. After extending qualifying offers on Friday to free agents Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker, the Suns and are in a position to improve on last season’s surprising 48 wins and make more noise in the Western Conference:

With no glaring holes on a roster that didn’t include a superstar anchor, they entered Thursday night without the pressure of filling any significant gaps or the need to wheel and deal to fix their team.
That allowed McDonough and his staff to zero in on talents that fit the Suns’ system and style to perfection. They snagged prolific-scoring ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State with the 14th pick, Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick, Serbian shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic with the 27th pick and topped it off in the second round with 7-footer Alec Brown of Wisconsin Green Bay with the 50th pick overall.
“We think it was a great night for us,” McDonough told Suns.com after the Draft. “I feel like in the draft, with our four picks, we got a blend of a little bit of everything.”
“Sometimes you have to move or give up a lot, give up future picks, give up players to get exactly what you want. We didn’t have to do any of that. We just kind of stayed where we were and the guys fell to us.”
The Suns are in the rare position after a lottery season of controlling their own destiny moving forward. They extended qualifying offers Friday to both point guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward P.J. Tucker, giving them the right to match any offers to two players that played key roles in their resurgent season.
Sometimes teams have to reach and stretch to find security at certain positions, to add the needed depth and to fortify the roster. The Suns didn’t have to reach or stretch for anything. They played the board perfectly, riding the wave of the Draft with the bigger picture in mind and the security of knowing they could compete during an injury-filled season without resorting to any desperate moves.

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No. 5: McDermott tasty, but Bulls hungry for more — The Bulls did some wheeling and dealing, and actually increased their payroll on draft night, to get a player they believe will be a perfect fit in Doug McDermott. But according to our Steve Aschburner, this is still a summer they will only be deemed a rousing success if Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James or Kevin Love winds up in Chicago:

McDermott’s strengths overlap enough with Mike Dunleavy that, now, the 12-year veteran and his $3.3 million salary are in play. Possibly in a sign-and-trade for Anthony, the scorer many Bulls fans believe will complement Rose, solve the team’s biggest problem and propel them back to the Eastern Conference finals.
It’s not just Dunleavy’s salary. It’s the money Chicago saved by turning two guaranteed first-round contracts into one. It’s the cap space it will free up once the Bulls invoke their long-anticipated amnesty cleanse of forward Carlos Boozer’s $16.8 million.
Rolled together, those and a few minor tweaks could give Chicago about $12 million to $13 million to offer Anthony — or theoretically James, a real long shot — as the starting salary of a four-year contract. Without going backward — shedding key players such as Taj Gibson or Jimmy Butler – in a stab at going forward.
Might it happen? Might Anthony choose to kiss buh-bye a far more lucrative offer from his most recent team, the Knicks (who can pay him $129 million over five seasons)? Might he bank $30 million or $40 million on Rose’s prognosis and, let’s face it, luck, choosing that over new N.Y. boss Phil Jackson’s proven jewelry box?
Sure. He might. James might go back to Cleveland, too. Love might run off and join his uncle’s band.
But without a big play in free agency, what the Bulls did on draft night won’t rise beyond a modest play for shooting and spacing. Nothing wrong with that, just as there was nothing really wrong four years ago in landing Boozer and a more experienced sharpshooter from Creighton. If McDermott can learn to defend and pass at the NBA level like Kyle Korver, while shooting as well or better, it’s a solid move.
It just won’t induce any state of calm and well-being around United Center, not without pharmaceuticals.tory here as you normally would do …

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George clears the air on Lance StephensonJose Calderon believes he could really help Carmelo Anthony…Rockets rookie Capela doesn’t want to wait.
ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Morning shootaround – June 21


VIDEO: David Aldridge with the latest NBA news

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron the next Rocket launcher? | Joel Embiid out 4-6 months | Love on the rocks | President Obama calls Pop | Lakers want Klay Thompson

No. 1: Rockets aiming for strike at LeBron — The Rockets still haven’t made it out of the first round 2009, but they’ve become very good at winning the summer. Two years ago they traded for James Harden and last summer signed Dwight Howard. Now they are reportedly prepared to chase hard after four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James if he opts out of his contract with the Miami Heat. How could the Rockets possibly afford another max salary? Howard Beck of Bleacher Report delivers the goods:

Given the extreme constraints imposed by the 2011 labor deal, it will be nearly impossible for any franchise to replicate the Heat’s roster-building feat of four years ago.

However, one franchise is quietly plotting to at least try to revive the Big Three model. And before you dismiss its chances of doing so, consider the fact that it’s the same team that stunned the NBA in each of the last two summers.

Now, Rockets officials are aiming for the trifecta, with their sights set on the biggest prize of all: LeBron Raymone James.

A long shot? Perhaps. But the Rockets have defied expectations before.

League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.

The competition for James’ affection will be fierce, but Houston’s pitch may be tough to beat.

The Rockets already have the league’s best guard-center tandem (Harden-Howard), solid young role players (Chandler Parsons, who is set to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones) and an owner (Les Alexander) who is willing to spend. Houston also has all of its first-round picks for the next couple of years as well as a knack for finding talent late in the draft.

Like Florida, Texas has no state income tax, negating Miami’s advantage on that front and giving the Rockets a big selling point in their pursuit of Anthony. (A player pays about 10 percent more in taxes in New York than in Texas.)

What the Rockets don’t have is salary-cap room. But they could clear about $19 million by unloading a few players, starting with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, who are taking up a combined $16.7 million in cap space.

However, their contracts are unique and potentially difficult to move: Asik and Lin are each due a massive $15 million balloon payment next season, although they count as $8.37 million each for cap purposes. Then again, their contracts expire in 2015, so the commitment is minimal.

Sources say the Rockets are confident they can trade both players to teams with cap room and thus take back no salary in return.

 

***

No. 2: Joel Embiid to miss 4-6 months after surgery — Now there is a timetable. Joel Embiid, the one-and-done center out of Kansas, who missed the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments with a back injury, will need four to six months to recover after having two screws inserted into the navicular bone of his right foot during surgery Friday. The injury has seemingly thrown the entire portion of the draft into chaos. Embiid was expected to be the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now he is expected to drop, with possible trade rumors also cropping up. ESPN.com provides more details on Embiid’s recovery:

Embiid’s agent, Arn Tellem, said in a statement that the former Kansas star underwent the procedure at Southern California Orthopedic Institute.

The surgeon, Dr. Richard Ferkel, said that Embiid “tolerated the surgery without difficulty” and claimed that the 7-foot center should “be able to return to NBA basketball.”

“Two screws were inserted into the navicular bone in Joel Embiid’s right foot,” Ferkel said in the statement released by Tellem. “The surgery went very well and I’m confident that after appropriate healing he will be able to return to NBA Basketball. Joel tolerated the surgery without difficulty and will begin his rehabilitation in the near future.”

Embiid is not attending Thursday’s NBA draft because he can’t fly for 10 days to two weeks post-surgery, Tellem said Thursday. Embiid was projected by many to be the first pick before the announcement of the surgery.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid already was dealing with health questions regarding his back, which forced him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments this past season.

He worked out earlier this month for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and sources said he fared well and that the medical testing also came back without much concern.

Embiid also participated in a one-on-none workout in front of NBA teams in Santa Monica, California. He was scheduled to work out for the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the second overall pick, later this week.

Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks this past season as a freshman at Kansas.

If Embiid slips significantly in the draft, he wouldn’t be able to recoup the money he’d lose. His total disability insurance policy was purchased through the school, according to Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at Kansas.

Marchiony confirmed that the school purchased a $5 million policy, the maximum allowed under the NCAA insurance program, through the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund, which allows schools to apply for need-based assistance on behalf of its players.

The policy purchased through the NCAA program does not allow for loss-of-value insurance, a rider attached to insurance policies that permits athletes to collect if they fall far enough in the draft from their projected position at the time they sign the policy. Athletes can get loss-of-value policies, but they have to go outside the NCAA program to do so.

***

No. 3: No clear path for Love — Clearly Kevin Love is no longer in love with the Timberwolves. And Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is not necessarily in love with the bounty teams are offering for the All-Star power forward. While it seemed Minnesota might trade the double-double machine before the draft, they might keep him around and wait out better offers around next season’s trade deadline. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com fleshed out the ongoing saga:

For Minnesota these talks are in a negotiation phase and they are in no rush to move on to the next steps.

Kevin Love’s agent Jeff Schwartz is serious and pushing to get his star moved sooner rather than later and to a destination Love wants to be long term. That’s where the pressure comes from. But it’s not just me saying Saunders doesn’t feel rushed.

Part of that is spin — the guy with the strongest positioning at any bargaining table is the guy willing to just walk away. Saunders wants everyone to think he will get up from the table. For now.

The only thing that has become clear is that Minnesota would prefer established players to picks and prospects — they don’t want to just rebuild, they want players who can help now.

Saunders is milking this as best as he can. In what are fluid talks with Golden State the Warriors had been hesitant to include Klay Thompson in a deal (although they should because it could be crippling against the cap for them to pay him what he’ll make on the open market). There is no deadline yet no reason to agree to anything right now. If the Warriors are offering David Lee and Thompson, ask for Draymond Green too. Or Harrison Barnes.

Saunders should do the same things with Denver and Boston and Chicago and anyone else interested in getting Kevin Love in a trade.

And if Saunders doesn’t get everything he wants on draft night, he can wait.

***

No. 4: President Obama congratulates Popovich — Here’s another interesting tidbit when it comes to the Spurs’ success under coach Gregg Popovich: He took a congratulatory phone call Friday from President Barack Obama, the third U.S. president since San Antonio won its fifth title since 1999. Bill Clinton was in office when the Spurs started their run and they made three trips to the White House to visit George W. Bush following championships in 2003, ’05 and ’07 championships. The San Antonio Express-News has details of Obama’s call:

President Barack Obama gave coach Gregg Popovich a ring on Friday to laud the Spurs after crushing Miami in the Finals for their fifth NBA championship, the White House announced.

This afternoon, the President called San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to congratulate him on his team’s resounding victory in the NBA Finals. The President praised the selfless teamwork, clear focus, and steadfast determination displayed by the Spurs and noted how impressed he was by the record-setting scoring by the team. The President called Popovich one of the nation’s finest coaches and a role model for young men across the country, and he is looking forward to hosting the team at the White House.

It was no doubt a warm conversation given that Popovich contributed to Obama’s last campaign. As noted, the two will meet in person during the upcoming season when the White House hosts the Spurs.

***

No. 5: Lakers offer No. 7 for Thompson — The Lakers, desperate to engage in a quick rebuild around Kobe Bryant, are interested in prying shooting guard Klay Thompson away from the Warriors in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick in the Draft. The proposed deal would be part of a bigger three-way trade that would send Minnesota’s Kevin Love to Golden State. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has the story:

The Lakers are interested but the deal has been put on hold because of a difference in opinion within the Warriors’ organization whether or not to keep Thompson while trying to obtain Love.

The Lakers are debating what to do with the pick if they hang onto it. They have sold or traded every first-round pick they’ve had since 2007 and do not have one next season because of the Steve Nash trade.

They are pondering whether to go with a power forward or point guard. They have narrowed their focus to big men Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh or point guards Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton.

When free agency begins July 1, the Lakers will have only three players making guaranteed money next season — Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Point guard Kendall Marshall has one year left on a non-guaranteed contract.

A player on the rise such as Thompson would obviously provide more immediate return than an amateur player with no NBA experience.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Greek team Panathinaikos to make run at Jimmer Fredette? … Lakers would consider drafting EmbiidAndray Blatche opts out of his contract with Nets … Clippers assistant coach Alvin Gentry will join WarriorsClippers trio will opt out of final year … DeMarcus Cousins urges Rudy Gay to opt in and stay with Kings.

Morning Shootaround: June 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played June 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Bulls looking to make blockbuster move | Report: Sixers taking extended look at Wiggins | Orlando a big fan of Smart’s intangibles | Report: Heat’s Allen mulling retirement | Nowitzki makes pitch for Anthony

No. 1: Report: Bulls looking to make deals to upgrade lineup — If the just-completed 2014 Finals have taught other NBA teams anything, it’s that building a team like the Spurs — one replete with superstars and solid, dependable depth — is the way to go in today’s NBA. The Chicago Bulls have apparently taken notice and are willing to part with just about anyone not named Derrick Rose, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

According to several NBA sources Sunday, the Bulls have been actively looking to improve the starting lineup at almost any cost, with Derrick Rose the only untouchable player — and not by choice.

“They are looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take,’’ one source said of general manager Gar Forman and head of basketball operations John Paxson.

But the source said it was “doubtful” whether that meant the long-rumored departure of coach Tom Thibodeau could come into play.

Carmelo Anthony is still Plan A as the Bulls and the rest of the NBA await to see if the Knicks forward will opt out of his contract. But the Bulls are more active in their pursuit of Kevin Love than initially rumored. Also, don’t rule out LeBron James coming into play again if the four-time MVP opts out of his deal.

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Morning Shootaround — Feb. 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pistons’ Gores has more decisions ahead | Clippers soar in Paul’s return | World Peace has advice for Smart | No change in Kobe’s plans; another setback for Nash

No. 1: Pistons owner Gores has more work to do fix Motor City mess Tom Gores took the first step in attempting to fix the mess that is the Detroit Pistons by firing his head coach, Maurice Cheeks. That’s only the beginning of the heavy lifting he’ll have to do to fix what ails the once-proud Pistons, according to Terry Foster of the Detroit News., who reiterates what our Steve Aschburner said in the immediate aftermath of Cheeks being fired. And the list is long and starts with Pistons president Joe Dumars and includes several players who should all be in the crosshairs for a franchise that expected so much more from this season:

Gores owns this shipwreck and he probably doesn’t know what to do with it. Let me give him some advice:

He’s already issued his playoff-or-else edict for the season and can’t back down now. However, he can’t ignore long-term goals — that should be his most pressing concern.

Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe and Charlie Villanueva have been dangled as trade bait. The Pistons could go one of two ways. They could trade these pieces and try to get a small forward that could help them win now. Or they could trade these guys to free up cap space and retain their draft pick by slumping to one of the eight worst records in the league.

Option No. 2 means the Pistons would miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season. I am OK with that as long as they have one of the league’s eight-worst records so they can keep their pick in this talent-heavy draft.

The Pistons are a half-game behind Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The last time the Pistons made the playoffs as an eight seed was 2009. They were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

How did that experience work out? The Pistons are 132-226 since.

The Pistons likely would play the Pacers as an eight seed or the two-time defending champion Heat as a seventh seed. Both teams would sweep the Pistons. So what is the point?

The Pistons are a young team and playoff experience is an important learning experience. However, the Pistons might get drummed out before they can get their notebooks out.

“I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up,” Gores said.

Speaking of players, black marks on Cheeks’ record undoubtedly were the run-ins he had with Josh Smith and Will Bynum — which continue a trend of Pistons players having too much say. Does anyone remember the John Kuester mutiny?

Gores has to provide direction to this franchise. He has to establish a vision. If he doesn’t the Pistons will continue to play in front of a lot of empty seats.


VIDEO: Detroit became the first team to fire its coach this season

***

No. 2: Lob City was alive and well in Chris Paul’s return to the Clippers – Life without Chris Paul for the Los Angeles Clippers was certainly manageable. In fact, Blake Griffin ripped it up in Paul’s absence. But it’s good to have their All-Star point guard and floor leader back, as the world saw Sunday in the Clippers’ rout of the Philadelphia 76ers. It was a welcome back party, of sorts, that signals a second-half charge for the Clippers that should include a rise up the Western Conference food chain. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times recounts the return of Paul in the biggest (literally) win in franchise history:

It was Showtime at Staples Center on Sunday night, starring the return of Chris Paul, the comeback of Blake Griffin from an injury scare and the rest of the Clippers playing their roles.

Playing in his first game since he separated his right shoulder Jan. 3 at Dallas, Paul had seven points and eight assists in the Clippers’ show-stopping and franchise-record-setting 123-78 victory over the overmatched Philadelphia 76ers.

With Griffin overcoming a bruised left shin suffered in the first quarter to score 26 points, grab 11 rebounds and hand out six assists, the Clippers set a franchise record for biggest margin of victory.

The Clippers held the 76ers to an opponent franchise-low 27% (27 for 100) shooting. The Clippers set a franchise record for biggest lead at the half when they opened a 69-30 lead after two quarters.

They built a lead as big as 56 points, their largest of the season. So after missing the last 18 games recovering from his injury, this is what Paul came back to.

“It felt great to play,” said Paul, who played 22 minutes 44 seconds. “It’s one of those things you never know what it’s going to be like until you actually get out there and compete and play. It just felt good.”

Griffin went down late in the first quarter after Tony Wroten slipped while driving and stumbled into Griffin.

After he limped to the locker room with head athletic trainer Jasen Powell, Griffin checked back into the game with 7:31 left in the second quarter.

In case anyone was wondering if Griffin was fine and that he and Paul were on the same page, they got their answer twice in the second quarter.

Paul had a breakaway layup, but threw the ball off the backboard, allowing Griffin to catch it and throw down a windmill dunk.

Then later in the second quarter, Griffin dribbled up court, made a behind-the-back pass with his left hand to Paul, who threw a lob that Griffin dunked, bringing the crowd to its feet again.

So, Griffin was asked after the game, how hard was it play with Paul again?

“It was tough, but we managed,” Griffin deadpanned, laughing along with the media.


VIDEO: Who didn’t get dunked on Sunday? The Top 10 plays includes plenty from the Clippers

***

No. 3: World Peace has words of wisdom for Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart – If there is any one man on the planet who knows what Oklahoma State Marcus Smart is feeling in the aftermath of the fan-shoving incident he was in the middle of Saturday night, it’s veteran New York Knicks forward Metta World Peace. He, as Ron Artest then, was at the epicenter of the infamous Malice at the Palace of Auburn Hills. World Peace insists there are plenty of lessons to be learned from what Smart is going through now and will during and after his three-game suspension:

World Peace said Smart — who is projected to be a high NBA draft pick — might benefit from learning how to deal with obnoxious fans at age 19, before he becomes a pro and millions of dollars are on the line.

“Just in general, I heard the kid is pretty good and a potential pro,” World Peace said Sunday before his game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “So those types of challenges on the court when you’re playing and fans are rooting against you — that was a great lesson learned, so that hopefully when he does become a pro, he’ll be able to kind of withstand the fans that are rooting against him on the road.”

World Peace also said Smart needs to learn to control his energy.

“I think that emotion and that fire could be directed towards winning on the court instead of directed other ways,” he said.

World Peace said given the chance, he would advise Smart to be aware of the big picture when making decisions.

At 19 years old, when I came out of St. John’s, I was fresh out the ‘hood. I was fresh out of Queensbridge,” he said. “So my mentality was still struggle, defensive and things like that. I wasn’t really conscious. I’m 34 years old now. So he’s a young kid. I wish I would have listened when I was a kid to my elders or people who had my best interests at heart, and then I wish I would have been more conscious at that age also. Those are two things that, if you were to reach out to a kid like Marcus — a talented kid, future leader in the community — you would tell him those things.”

World Peace said more guidelines should be in place for college fans because college players don’t get paid. He said fans should have more leeway at NBA games.

“As far as the pros, people pay to come and see us, and I appreciate it because I’m able to take care of my family,” he said. “So I don’t really judge fans about what they say, good or bad.”

***

No. 4: No change for Kobe’s return and another injury scare for Nash – For all of us who think we know what’s best for Kobe Bryant, save the advice. Bryant isn’t making any changes to his comeback plans for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. He told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin as much over the weekend:

Despite continuing to be sidelined with a left knee injury and seeing his team continue to fall further out of the playoff picture, Kobe Bryant remains steadfast in his intention to return to the court this season.

“My plan hasn’t changed,” Bryant said Sunday at an event to promote his newest signature sneaker, the Nike Kobe 9 Elite Masterpiece. “I’m just going about it every single day just trying to get better. That’s my job. My job is to get my butt back out there on the court when I’m healthy enough to play and that hasn’t changed.”

Bryant, out since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee and averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting this season, has missed the Lakers’ last 26 games. He missed the Lakers’ first 19 games this season because of a torn Achilles in his left leg.

The 18-year veteran is scheduled to be re-evaluated after the All-Star Game next week, but wouldn’t venture a guess as to when he could actually return to game action.

“That I don’t know,” Bryant said. “It’s completely out of my control. I really got to sit here and just wait until this thing heals up and then go out there and do what I do.”

He reiterated his confidence that he would not miss the rest of the 2013-14 season, however.

When asked what his best-case scenario would be upon a return this season, Bryant replied: “Play like me. That’s it.”

The news on Steve Nash isn’t quite as positive. He didn’t finish Sunday’s game against the Bulls, exiting with a nerve irritation in his left leg. He’s scheduled to be evaluated today. But things don’t look good for the NBA’s elder statesman:

Nash received contact to his left leg from Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich as he turned the ball over with 9:18 remaining in the third quarter. The contact was near the same spot where he suffered a fracture in the leg last season. He stayed in the game until there was 5:00 remaining in the quarter and went straight to the locker room.

“I just took a knee to the spot where I broke my leg,” Nash said. “Ever since I did that I’ve had a lot of nerve issues there and it just really flared up on me. I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term thing at all. Hopefully it’s something that can just settle down this week, hopefully by Tuesday.”

The Lakers host the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

“[Once] that nerve flared up and I started to compensate, I wasn’t going to be very effective … and I also was going to risk going back on all that work I did to get back on the court,” Nash said.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said Nash’s back started to tighten up from the nerve issues, causing the veteran point guard to limp on the court.

Nash, who turned 40 on Friday, had played in three of the Lakers’ last four games after missing nearly three months of game action because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings.

“It wasn’t like I broke it again,” Nash said. “I just kind of irritated the nerve and I’m hopeful that all the stuff that I’ve been doing will be able to overcome that little bit of irritation. It’s kind of transient and hopefully I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel better.”


VIDEO: See how easy Kevin Durant makes it look in the Nightly Notable

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: You’ll have to forgive the Magic for acting like they won a championship when they knocked off the Pacers but every win, especially against an elite team, matters when they come as sparingly as they do in Orlando … Acting Cavs GM David Griffin says they are buying at the trade deadline in Cleveland … Thunder star Russell Westbrook is gearing up for his return after the All-Star breakRick Carlisle couldn’t resist the inevitable Dirk Nowitzki-Larry Bird comparisons over the weekend in Boston …

ICYMI of the Night: The Clippers went to town in their rout of the Sixers and no one had more fun in the blowout than the Clippers’ All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, who shows off a bit with one of his many dunks …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin goes off the glass, courtesy of Chris Paul

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

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