Posts Tagged ‘Marcus Smart’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs GM not looking to deal Love | Report: Beal has broken nose | Report: Heat have standing offer for Allen | Durant free-agency talk remains quiet

No. 1: Cavs GM says Love not a part of trade talks — A midseason coaching change will get just about any NBA team in the headlines. A team like the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers doing so made the news that much bigger. As new coach Tyronn Lue gets himself more and more acclimated with the big chair, there has been talk that the Cavs need other changes — to the roster, perhaps? — to fully realize their championship dream. Don’t count on Kevin Love being a part of any potential deals, though, not with the big vote of confidence GM David Griffin gave Love yesterday. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst has more:

“You’d have to go a long way to convince me that we’re a better team winning in the Finals without a player like Kevin on our team,” Griffin said in an interview on ESPN 850 AM in Cleveland. “We’ve never once put together an offer involving Kevin, nor have we taken a call on an offer for Kevin.”

Love has seen his offensive numbers dip since Kyrie Irving returned from injury last month. Love is averaging 15.6 points, his fewest since the 2009-10 season, and shooting 42 percent, the second-lowest of his career.

Griffin has shown he is not afraid to make major midseason moves, as he executed two major trades in January 2015 and fired coach David Blatt this January. Griffin has said the Cavs are open to making moves, and two weeks ago, he completed a minor deal to open a roster spot to use in a possible trade.

The Cavs own three trade exceptions, the largest of which is $10 million, that they could use in a deal. They have the league’s highest payroll, at $109 million, and are scheduled to pay more than $65 million in luxury taxes. That could limit them.

“We think very highly of Kevin, and we believe Kevin thinks very highly of this situation,” Griffin said. “But I can also tell you that we have been very clear from the beginning that there’s no such thing as untouchables.

“You’re either all the way in or all the way out in this process, and we believe our guys are all the way in. If it remains that way, then we are going to try and augment the group at the bottom and try to get some additional depth, and that’s what we’ll do. We’re not going to be afraid to do what needs to be done if something more significant comes along.”

Love’s numbers have not been helped by new coach Tyronn Lue’s up-tempo style as of yet.

Love finished with just 11 points on 5-for-11 shooting (1-for-7 from 3), six rebounds and two assists in Cleveland’s 114-107 win over Minnesota on Monday.

That performance was similar to his 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting (1-for-5 from 3-point range), five rebounds and two assists in Cleveland’s loss to Chicago on Saturday.

“Kev came to me today. He said, ‘Man, I’m so tired,'” Lue said afterward. “He said, ‘I’m tired.’ He said, ‘But I like what we’re doing.'”

One of Lue’s first conversations after taking over as coach of the Cavaliers included telling Love he would get the three-time All-Star more involved with elbow touches so he can facilitate the offense and more post touches so he can score. The problem is those types of sets require the team to slow down and play more of a half-court game.

“What I would like to do is get Kevin out early and let LeBron and Ky play, then bring Kevin back with the second unit, and we can kind of run our elbow actions and slow the game down for Kevin,” Lue said. “At times, playing fast, I guess he can get lost [in] the offense, so I got to do a better job of that.”

Love sounded open to testing the new substitution pattern.

“We want to get out and run with that first group, and especially with LeBron and Ky, we’re always talking about playing downhill,” Love said. “I think we’re better when we do that.

“The second unit will be able to play some of that elbow action, and I think that will evolve over time right now. You didn’t see it much tonight, but that’s something we can continue to work on in practice, and as we get in shape, getting better with those two styles.”


VIDEO: Relive Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game

***

(more…)

Analytics Art: The four worst shooters of the week in the NBA

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

As analytics nerds have continued to multiply and even permeate NBA front offices, emphasis on scoring efficiency has never been more robust — as evidenced by the introduction of stats like effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and true shooting percentage (TS%).

It’s fair to assume even future Hall of Famer Allen Iverson would be ridiculed in today’s landscape. Though he was a relentless scorer, The Answer notched career marks of 42.5 percent shooting from the field and 31.3 percent from beyond the arc — not exactly the model of scoring efficiency. That’s certainly not to discount any of A.I.’s accomplishments, it’s simply a different era in the world of basketball.

So to embrace the emphasis put on scorers who rarely miss, the team at PointAfter will break down the least efficient (and most efficient) shooters of the week each Friday. We’ve got a lot of problems with these shot charts, and now, you’re going to hear about it.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between Jan. 8-14. Shot charts will update automatically to reflect the trailing seven days’ games.

Guard: Marcus Smart, Celtics

There’s simply no denying Smart’s chops as a bulldog on the defensive end. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens even had enough faith in the 6-foot-4 point guard to have him defend 7-foot-3 New York Knicks’ rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis on Tuesday in hopes of slowing the Latvian phenom down. The tactic worked, but Boston still suffered a 120-114 loss. In some respects, Smart’s shortcomings on the offensive end were to blame.

Dating back to Jan. 8, Smart is shooting a dreadful 24 percent from the field and has converted just one of his eight three-point attempts. In the month of January overall (seven games) the 21-year-old is shooting 26.7 percent from the floor and 13.6 percent from long distance.

Those ghastly figures are a microcosm of a sophomore slump for the Oklahoma State product, as his shooting percentages (save for free throw shooting) have all declined drastically compared to his rookie year.

His field goal percentage has dropped nearly six points, and he’s converting a lowly 20.6 percent of his triples (compared to 33.5 percent as a rookie). Smart still plays sound defense, but his per-game averages in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals have all remained completely stagnant in his second year as a pro.

Trailing seven days, Smart has nearly twice as many personal fouls (11) as made field goals (six).

Wing(s): P.J. Tucker and T.J. Warren, Suns

The Phoenix Suns only played two games over the past seven days and last played on Tuesday, Jan. 12. That has given Jeff Hornacek’s crew ample time to rest and reflect. They need all the help they can get, because the performances of late have not been pretty. In particular, the ugly shooting of small forwards P.J. Tucker and T.J. Warren stands out.

The pair combined to shoot 22.9 percent (8-of-35) over the course of those two games — both losses.

Warren has usually been a reliable scoring option for Phoenix, so this cold spell should be a bit worrisome. As for Tucker, well, he’s shooting a career-low 41.9 percent this season — hinting that the younger Warren deserves more play time in his stead.

But now that both guys are struggling to make shots, dark times are getting even darker in the Valley of the Sun.

Forward/Center: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies

The younger Gasol brother is in the midst of the worst shooting season of his career (44.7 percent). And while he’s rarely played up to his usual high standards throughout the latest campaign, the new year has been particularly unkind to the 7-foot-1 center.

On Jan. 8 and Jan. 10, Gasol doubled up on 5-of-17 shooting performances. He bounced back in a loss to the Houston Rockets on Jan. 12, converting eight of his 15 attempts, but he went 8-of-20 against Detroit Thursday night. All told, the big man is shooting 23.2 percent over his last seven days and 33.7 percent in 2016.

Those marks would be a totally unacceptable for an undersized guard. For a guy with the physical frame and skillset Gasol possesses? We’re forced to wonder if the 30-year-old is playing hurt.

Provided the veteran was awarded a five-year, $113 million contract last offseason, this continued cold shooting is a foreboding reality for the Grizzlies organization.

 

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

Numbers notes: Small Celtics, LeBron’s jumper, Spurs bench and more


VIDEO: Evaluating the NBA’s top teams

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Usually, we think of small ball (playing one traditional big and moving a small forward to power forward) as an offensive strategy. It doesn’t only give you an extra guy who can shoot from the outside, but that, in turn, creates extra space for ball-handlers to drive or screeners to roll to the rim.

But on Tuesday, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens went small to start the second half in New York, replacing Kelly Olynyk with Marcus Smart, who teamed with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson (the lone big). And afterward, Stevens said the change was for defensive purposes.

“I thought in the first half, we didn’t have any pressure on the ball,” Stevens said. “And that’s why we went smaller and quicker in the second.”

The Celtics did play better after the change, but the improvement came on offense. That lineup that started the second half outscored the Knicks 27-23 in less than 10 minutes of action (over the first and second halves) on Tuesday.

The next night, though, the same lineup had the desired effect against the Indiana Pacers. In eight minutes on Wednesday, the Celtics outscored the Pacers 26-10 in a little over eight minutes. That included a 17-4 run over the final 5:08, where they turned four steals into four layups and turned a four-point deficit into a nine-point win.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel somewhat foreshadowed that whole sequence, as ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg wrote

Before Wednesday’s tilt, Indiana coach Frank Vogel noted that Boston’s three-guard lineup of Crowder, Smart, and Bradley was full of “pitbulls.” Added Vogel: “The defensive pressure that their guards bring to the table is unparalleled in this NBA season. They have great defensive guards. It’s a big reason for their season.”

That Thomas-Bradley-Smart-Crowder-Johnson lineup played a few minutes in the Celtics’ first game of the season, but had been on the floor together for just a few possessions between then and Tuesday. The Celtics have a plethora of serviceable bigs on their roster and have played about 75 percent of their minutes with two of them on the floor.

20160115_bos_bigs

Those numbers follow the conventional wisdom that small equals better offense. But that small-ball lineup with Crowder at the four may be something that Stevens turns to more often when he wants to crank up the defense.

Tracking LeBron from outside

You probably saw the story where a particular stat about LeBron James‘ outside shooting found its way to the four-time MVP and motivated him to put some more work in.

“I actually saw [it] on my Instagram feed that I was the worst-shooting player in the NBA,” James said. “I actually saw that when I woke up from a nap. I remember exactly when that was. Denver. Right before the Denver game, so I answered the call.”

He was 3-of-5 from 3-point range on Sunday and hit multiple midrange shots. He’s shooting 43 percent from deep since that game in Denver. When asked if graphics like that bother him, James said, “It doesn’t bother me. It puts me back in the gym.”

James immediately started shooting better that night in Denver. And though he was just 3-for-9 from outside the paint in San Antonio on Thursday, the post-wake-up-call numbers still look much better.

20160115_james_outside

James’ jumper has seen gradual improvement over the course of his career, but still comes and goes and will always be under the microscope in the postseason, when opposing defenses are more likely to play him soft on the perimeter.


VIDEO: The Starters on LeBron’s recent shooting upswing (more…)

Morning shootaround — Nov. 16


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Nov. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe to sit again with sore back and legs | LeBron rips Cavs | Marcus Smart stands up to Russell Westbrook and wins | Battle of the future … Davis vs Porzingis

No. 1: Kobe to sit again with sore back and legs — Father Time is winning his battle against Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar will sit for the third time in four games and miss today’s game against the Phoenix Suns to rest his aching body. Apparently 37 is not the new 27, as Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com writes:

“Right now, I’m barely standing up. My back and my legs, man, it’s killing me,” he said Sunday after playing a season-high 36 minutes in a 97-85 win over the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center.

Bryant, who is in his 20th season with the Lakers, finished with 17 points on an inefficient 6-of-19 shooting from the field. He added a game-high nine assists and eight rebounds.

“I’m not looking forward to walking to the car right now,” Bryant said. “Seriously.”

Lakers coach Byron Scott said he and Bryant agreed Bryant, whose past three seasons have been cut short by injury, would play the entire fourth quarter because the game was close.

“We needed this [win],” Scott said. “I just wanted him to go the rest of the game and see if he could get the [win].”

Bryant agreed with the approach.

“We hadn’t won one at home,” Bryant said. “To lose another one at home would be disastrous.”

Bryant said he was mildly concerned about playing too many minutes, given his injury history.

“But we talked about it … we had to push through,” Bryant said. “We had to get this one done and take a day tomorrow.”

The Lakers improved to 2-8 and avoided tying their worst 10-game start in franchise history, a mark they set last season.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after the Lakers’ win over the Pistons

***

No. 2: LeBron rips Cavs — The words came from the mouth of the man running the show in Cleveland, so they should not be taken lightly. “We’re not a great team right now,” LeBron James said of his Cavaliers the day after  double-overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, it’s only their second loss of the season, their first since the season opener against Chicago. But if LeBron sees signs of slippage in his team, perhaps we should all listen. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

LeBron James is worried about the Cavaliers.

Or maybe he isn’t, maybe “worried” is too strong a word. Perhaps he’s challenging them. Or he’s using Saturday night as a teaching tool, an opportunity that has rarely presented itself in this young season because, for once, the Cavs lost.

Whatever the case, after Cleveland fell to the Milwaukee Bucks, 108-105 in double overtime, for its first loss since the season opener, James made one point very clear to the reporters whose attention he held around his locker afterwards:

“We’re not a great team right now.”

“I think we’re a good team. I think we expect we’re a great team, and we’re not,” James said, following his eye-popping 37-point, 12-rebound performance. “We have to get better in every facet of the game, and that’s every single facet of the game.”

It was just one loss. After eight consecutive wins. The Cavs equaled their best record (8-1) through nine games in team history. And they have injuries.

Isn’t this all a little, harsh?

“Records are meant to be broken, but that don’t mean you’re great,” James said. “It’s for us, we have to play a lot more sustainable effort throughout the 48 minutes. And we don’t do that.

“We give a half-ass effort sometimes and expect that we can just make a run at the end. We’re not good enough to do that right now.”

***

No. 3: Marcus Smart stands up to Russell Westbrook and wins — Has the NBA found a Russell Westbrook stopper in Marcus Smart? The Boston Celtics’ young guard certainly played that part Sunday in an impressive road win for his team over Westbrook and the Thunder, who are still playing without Kevin Durant (hamstring). It was a revealing performance from Smart, a defensive-minded competitor who was more than up to the challenge of dealing with one of the league’s most mercurial talents. Barry Tramel of The Oklahoman was impressed with Smart’s resolve:

Westbrook is always up for a mental macho game and usually prevails. Not Sunday night. Smart, picked sixth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, rarely has been tougher. He matched Westbrook’s physicality and intensity, and though no one can match Westbrook’s explosiveness, on this night, it didn’t matter.

Smart scored a career high 26 points, making nine of 14 shots to go with eight rebounds and three assists. Better yet was Smart’s defense — that’s his specialty, after all — which got plenty of help from Celtic teammates like Avery Bradley. Westbrook had 27 points, but he made just five of 20 shots, and his playmaking was minimal. None of Westbrook’s five assists came in the final 181/2 minutes, when a nine-point Thunder lead disintegrated.

Westbrook got to Smart early. Even drew a technical foul on Smart when Smart argued a call in which he wasn’t even involved. But Smart’s confidence grew the longer the game went.

“That’s the type of guy Russ is,” Smart said. “He loves challenges and he’s going to try to do his best every time. Vice versa with me. You put two guys like that going against each other, obviously you’re going to knock heads.

“Russ knows that and understands it. I know it. I love those type of challenges.”

***

No. 4: Battle of the future … Davis vs Porzingis? — Is it too soon for the Anthony Davis vs. Kristaps Porzingis comparisons? Probably, given that Davis is mentioned in MVP conversations and Porzingis is still working to complete his first full month in the league. But that won’t stop folks in New York from projecting a future involving the two. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News details their historic first matchup:

So what was biggest takeaway from getting outplayed by Anthony Davis? At least the Knicks won.

“He had a great game, but we got the win,” Porzingis said after New York snapped a two-game losing streak Sunday by beating the Pelicans, 95-87. “That’s the important thing.”

Davis, the next super-duper star in the NBA, was as good as advertised while matched head-to-head with Porzingis, finishing with 36 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in 40 minutes.

Davis had missed the previous two games with a bruised hip, but returned just in time to give a lesson that included a block on Porzingis’ running hook in the second quarter.

Porzingis, meanwhile, struggled offensively while missing 11 of his 15 shot attempts, scoring 10 points with four rebounds in 22 minutes. He did block one of Davis’ attempts.

“He’s one of the guys that I look up and try to learn the game from,” Porzingis said. “He proved once again why he’s so good. He just — all the baskets he got, he knows what he’s doing. He shoots at the right time. He’s running fast breaks. It’s hard to stop him, his all-around game. I try to be aggressive at the beginning. He came back to me. I think he’s the best power forward right now in the NBA. It’s tough for sure, but it was a good experience for me.

“It was a bad shooting game for me. I shot the ball bad,” Porzingis added. “There’s other things that I can do on the floor without trying to score every shot I take. On the defensive end, offensively, try to get my teammates open, little stuff like that. Coach sees that, not everybody sees that, but coach sees it.”

Davis left impressed with a future nemesis.

“Porzingis is a great player. He can shoot, he can drive and he is active,” the Pelicans forward said. “It is going to be fun battling him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Lakers got the win but remain behind the Pistons in the rebuilding effort … The Knicks paid tribute to the victims of the attacks in Paris with their hair … Where are they now? Zan Tabak is coaching in Israel … The young Utah Jazz are doing their best to turn the corner so many predicted they would this season … All DeMarcus Cousins has done since the Kings aired their issues is dominate, on and off the floor … Derrick Rose could have double vision for months, per Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg

Morning shootaround — July 18


VIDEO: Sophomores delivering at Summer League

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Giannis sees Bucks as (more) family | Project Durant on track in Washington | Knicks, if not Jackson, kept ‘Melo in loop | Smart to miss Africa game

No. 1: Giannis sees Bucks as (more) family — It’s too bad, when Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo writes about himself on his official blog, that he doesn’t lapse into third-person references to himself. If he did, he’d face the same challenge – spelling and typing that last name repeatedly – other scribes face. Nonetheless, the Bucks’ rising star posted Friday about the bond he feels with his team and how his sense of family extends these days to his workplace:

The Bucks and John Hammond chose me in the draft, got me in the NBA, kept me in the team with a role from my very first season and they are my basketball family. Not only that, but already at this young age, they have enough faith in me as a leader and they are doing everything in order to develop all of my potential. From my side, I feel that I want to be playing in the Bucks. I’m not talking about my next contract. The way I feel now, I want to keep playing for the Milwaukee Bucks for the next 20 years!

You never know how life turns out. Three years ago I was thinking that I might be playing for Filathlitikos forever! All of a sudden, the draft emerged, the NBA, the Bucks and everything that followed. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling and thinking in 2, 3 or more years. Right now I feel like I want to play for the Milwaukee Bucks forever.

I’m a guy who doesn’t really care about glamour and big markets. I like to be home all day. I get up in the morning, I take a shower and I go to practice. When I’m finished, the only thing that’s on my mind is to go back home and spend time with my family. I usually feel that I prefer to hide from people.

Okay, if LeBron said to me ‘Come to my team and play with me,’ I’d think about it! (laughs) He’s the best player in the world and a member of that exclusive group of the best that have ever played the game. Still, though, the Milwaukee Bucks would come first. They will always be the team that gave me my chance and opened up the doors to paradise.

***

No. 2: Project Durant on track in Washington — The Washington Wizards aren’t running afoul of NBA tampering rules, but within the letter of the law, they’re not hiding the fact that they hope to be players in what most expect to be a Kevin Durant Sweeptakes next July. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post looked at the Wizards’ plan, which will be competing with approximately 28 other teams’ plans 11.5 months from now in trying to lure the NBA’s 2014 MVP away from Oklahoma City:

The Washington Wizards have meticulously prepared for the opportunity to coax Durant, born in the District and a product of Montrose Christian School, to Washington once the clock strikes midnight on July 1, 2016. But the courting of Durant, 26, will be wildly competitive: Thanks to the coming flood of money from a new television contract that will kick in next July, a bevy of franchises will have the salary cap space to offer the maximum possible contract to Durant, the 2014 league MVP. Other teams are only a couple moves away from getting in the mix. It could become a free-for-all, raising the risks of going all-in for one player.

“The one thing I know about my brother is he wants to win,” said Damion James, Durant’s best friend and a member of the Wizards’ summer league team. “He’ll do whatever it takes to win. Whoever gives him the best chance to win is where he’s going to end up.”

“It’s difficult to imagine him leaving [the Thunder],” said a Western Conference executive, who spoke under condition of anonymity because league tampering rules bar discussing potential free agents who are still under contract with another team. “That team is loaded. If they can stay healthy, they’re championship favorites.”

Oklahoma City is one of the NBA’s smallest markets, a factor that would’ve repelled a player of Durant’s caliber just a few years ago, but technology has altered the NBA terrain. No longer does a player need to play in a metropolis to become a superstar and procure endorsement dollars. Every game is available to anyone, anywhere. Highlights are instantly accessible on the Internet. Social media is replete with NBA fandom. Durant, a Nike pillar, and [Russell] Westbrook, a fashion impresario of sorts, are two poster boys of the shift. The fact that [LaMarcus] Aldridge spurned a meeting with the Knicks and turned down the Lakers to sign this month with the San Antonio Spurs seemed to solidify the change.

***

No. 3: Knicks, if not Jackson, kept ‘Melo in loop — Lest anyone fret that Carmelo Anthony was being kept in the dark on the New York Knicks’ offseason maneuvers, the New York Post stepped up to report that the veteran All-Star scorer actually was in the loop on team transactions. Certainly no Knicks fan could aide Anthony not being consulted, considering how, er, well thing have gone around Madison Square Garden lately:

According to an NBA source, general manager Steve Mills has been in communication with Anthony across the free-agent process to explain the recent additions.

As president, [Phil] Jackson delegates a lot, and Mills is in charge of directly speaking with agents and other teams regarding potential trades or free-agent acquisitions. According to the source, Mills also handles reaching out to players on matters such as recent transactions.

In fact, Mills has said publicly Anthony spent a lot of time in his office going over “the boards’’ regarding potential free agents they were after. One of the combinations, Mills has said, was the trifecta of Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and Kyle O’Quinn. The Knicks still had enough cap space to sign 2011 draft bust Derrick Williams and re-up with Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas for more than their minimums.

Jackson raised eyebrows on Monday when he said he had yet to speak with the vacationing Anthony, sparking speculation perhaps the Knicks rehabbing superstar was displeased with the signings. The Post reported on Wednesday Anthony had been in touch with Knicks officials this week and expressed frustration he was being perceived as a malcontent, and said he still “had trust in Phil.’’

After the draft, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported Anthony felt “hoodwinked’’ by Jackson’s selection of European project Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 4 overall pick. The Post reported Anthony was indeed disappointed on Draft night but more because his friend Tim Hardaway Jr. was traded for a college prospect he barely saw play — point guard Jerian Grant. No one, other than Anthony, remains from the roster since Jackson took over 16 months ago.

Since, Anthony has been outspoken about his “love’’ for Porzingis and called him directly to tell him he wasn’t upset. Anthony watched Porzingis’ Knicks workout and multiple sources said he felt the Latvian big man would be a good pick.

***

No. 4: Smart to miss Africa game — The good news for Boston guard Marcus Smart and the Celtics was that the two fingers on his right hand that Smart injured Thursday in the Las Vegas Summer League won’t require surgery. The unfortunate news is that Smart will miss participating in the NBA’s exhibition game in South Africa Aug. 1. Here is some more on that situation from the Boston Globe:

Smart, guard Evan Turner, and coach Brad Stevens were to be among a contingent of NBA players and coaches taking part in the first NBA game played in Africa. But Smart will now stay in Boston as his fingers heal.

Smart has not been available to speak to reporters since suffering the injury. One source said the guard is disappointed about missing the game in Africa but relieved that his injury is not more serious.

With 6:34 left in the second quarter of Boston’s summer league game against Portland, Smart, guard Terry Rozier, and Trail Blazers forward Noah Vonleh all converged on a loose ball. Smart braced himself with his right hand as he fell, and his right index and middle fingers were dislocated.

A bone in Smart’s hand also punctured his skin, requiring five stitches. Those sutures could slow Smart’s recovery, as they will affect his ability to regain range of motion in his fingers. Still, the Celtics were relieved that the X-rays on Smart’s hand were negative.

Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry said Smart will remain with the team as long as they are in the summer league playoffs, partly because he wants to support his team, and partly because the medical staff is here. Smart will undergo further evaluation when he returns to Boston.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Cleveland Cavaliers might be adding another Russian center, this one a player whose NBA rights they’ve had for the past eight years. … Jimmy Butler said again, on yet another media platform, that his relationship with Derrick Rose is friction-free. … New Nuggets head coach Mike Malone talks with Grantland.com about Ty Lawson, what he learned in Sacramento and a little Boogie Cousins. … Seth Curry writes about what he hopes is the end of his D League days. … Everything old is new again, as some NBA rookies remind ESPN.com of certain predecessors. …

Smart finally healing from ankle injury

SALT LAKE CITY — The official word is that Marcus Smart missed 10 Celtics games last season with a sprained left ankle, from Nov. 8 through Dec. 2, and two more with a strained Achilles’ tendon in the same leg in what was probably a related injury.

Lies, all lies.

The truth as Smart sees it, the truth as he looks back in reflection, is that the ankle injury cost him essentially his 2014-15, even as he made 67 appearances in the regular season and four more in the first-round sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers, even as he played well enough to make second-team All-Rookie.

The injury was that bad, Smart says as his second season officially begins with the Celtics at the Utah Jazz Summer League. It was worse than he let on at the time.

“It was,” Smart said Tuesday night after resting as Boston lost to the 76ers 76-62 at EnergySolutions Arena. “I had times when I would wake up in the morning and could barely walk out of bed. I would get to the gym three or four hours before practice or before a game just to get it warmed up and make it bearable for me to actually get out there and run up and down on it. If you watch carefully you can kind of see it. I still played with a little limp. I just tried not to show it.

“I couldn’t really drive the ball. Everybody wondered why I wasn’t driving the ball, why I was taking so many (outside) shots. I couldn’t really explode and get where I wanted to go. Being a right-handed player, you jump off your left foot. Not being able to do that, it kind of stopped me from being able to do the things that I like to do. On the defensive end it slowed me down a little bit. My physicality made up for it, though.”

Smart estimated he played months at about 60 percent strength in the leg and was never better than the 75 percent late in the season and into the playoffs. The ankle injury in the fifth game of the season led to a three-week layoff, then to problems with the Achilles’ tendon, then to adversity until the very end.

“The whole season,” he said. “It bothered me the whole season while I was playing.”

It hurt for a month after the season ended. The lower left leg is feeling better now, he reports, with plans to continue to play in the summer league after logging 30 minutes in the opener Monday against the Jazz, and bigger plans for fall: reminding the Celtics why they used the No. 6 pick to get him and the rest of the league how good he can be as an athletic, physical point guard at 6-4 and 220 pounds.

“Just go out there and show I can get to the rim, I can get where I want to go when I’m healthy,” Smart said. “I could be a special player in this league, especially if I’m healthy and I keep working.”

 

Morning shootaround — April 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Streaking Celtics adopt ‘win now’ approach  | Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning | Blazers must shore up their D | Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blow

No. 1: Celtics make convincing playoff push — They very easily could justify missing the playoffs this season and then cashing in on their growing cache of draft picks, but the rebuilding Celtics have evidently decided to go for it. When Marcus Smart dropped a buzzer-beater Saturday night against the Raptors, it only confirmed as much. Boston entered Sunday with the No. 8 spot in the East, a half-game lead over the Heat, and to hear the players and brass, the playoffs are where this young team belongs. It’s a rather refreshing tone considering how much tanking has dominated the conversation in the NBA this season. Zach Lowe of Grantland did a study on the Celtics during this playoff push and here’s some of what he found out:

“The playoff-chasing Celtics of 2015 are a cute feel-good story — and little more. The rebuild is moving faster than expected, with a surprise run at the no. 8 seed in a dreadful conference, but there is a giant chasm separating this plucky, starless group from what it aspires to be.

“The important thing to remember about us,” coach Brad Stevens said in a sit-down with Grantland last week, “is that we have a long, long way to go.”

It says everything about the difficulty of rebuilding that Boston has absolutely nailed Phase 1 and yet has no clear path to 50 wins. Multiple rival executives described Boston’s trading spree of the last two years as “a masterpiece” in rebuilding. Contract timetables, injuries, and other variables made it impossible for Boston to deal its aging stars at peak sell-high times, and yet Danny Ainge still nabbed great value for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics have as many as six extra first-round picks1 coming and oodles of cap space, they’ve drafted solid players across the first round, and they just acquired a dynamic young point guard — Isaiah Thomas — on the cheap.

But they have no stars and no clear path to getting one outside a major break in free agency or the trade market. The Celtics have made the leap to mediocrity so fast that they may have no easy way out. They’re still not good, but they’re not bad enough to get an early first-round pick — to get a clear shot at a star, in other words. Even if they lose this season’s slap fight for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, they will likely pick in the late lottery — a range that looks like their draft ceiling for the next few seasons. “That’s a concern for all 30 teams,” Ainge says of being stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity. “It’s the nature of our league. You definitely need good fortune.”

The Celtics discussed holding off on the Thomas deal to deflate their win total, but decided after some debate that they could lose out — or pay a higher price — if they waited until the summer. “Ideally, he might have been someone you pick up in the summer,” Ainge says. “But someone else might trade for him. You might be in a bidding war. You have to move while the iron is hot.”

***

No. 2: Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning — The most intriguing April drama in the West is about playoff positioning near the top. The Rockets now hold a half-game lead over the Grizzlies for the No. 2 spot, and why is that so important? Well, the No. 2 team will most likely get the Mavericks and avoid the suddenly-smoking Spurs in the first round. Memphis had successfully fended off all threats for the No. 2 spot until now. And while the race is hardly over, the contest between Memphis and Houston will only intensify, especially with Dwight Howard back in the mix for the Rockets (though on a minutes restriction). Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN on the Grizzlies, who lost a tough game to the Wizards on Saturday:

“I don’t think it’s the toughest division in our league; it’s the toughest division in all major leagues,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “Year in and year out, it’s ridiculous. So for our guys to get rewarded for their hard work, it would be positive.

“It’s what’s important to you. You hear about San Antonio, right? They don’t care about a division title. They don’t care about seeding. Well, we’re not them.”

While it’s all about the end game for the Spurs, who are going for their second straight championship and sixth in the past 16 years, the Grizzlies are still focused on the intermediate steps toward success. Winning an NBA championship remains the top goal for Memphis, but hanging the franchise’s first division banner in the rafters of the 10-year-old FedEx Forum along the way is a major priority.

The last time every team from an NBA division made the playoffs was in the 2005-06 season, when the Pistons, Pacers, Cavaliers, Bulls and Bucks advanced. That’s never happened in the NFL or Major League Baseball, although it’s occurred in two different divisions in the NHL over the past five seasons.

***

No. 3: Blazers must shore up their D or else — If you’re a Blazers fan you, must be thrilled with the way the team has hung in there in the rugged West despite missing Wesley Matthews and an inconsistent season from Damian Lillard and with LaMarcus Aldridge playing through a thumb that’ll require surgery in the offseason. Portland once again is in position to do damage in the playoffs (ask the Rockets, who are still stinging from Lillard’s series winner last spring), but not if they don’t clean up their biggest issue first: defense. Oregonian writer John Canzano, still stung by the Blazers surrendering 126 to the Clippers last week, discusses:

But on the other hand, Chris Kaman was willing to address the biggest issue that coach Terry Stotts whiffed on — atrocious team defense by the Blazers. The biggest problem for Portland if any of this should come to a Clippers-Blazers playoff series.

Decide for yourself which guy had the worse post-game peformance. I’m not up in the air. Kaman settled it when he said, “We scored 122 points. That’s not stopping anybody. And we didn’t stop them either, they had more points (126) than we did. We got hurt on transition and on threes.” He was only saying what everyone could obviously see at Moda Center.

I like Stotts. I championed his hiring. I banged the drum for his contract extension even before the end of last season. I like where he’s headed with this rig, but if he’s unable to get real about the deficiencies of this team and remains in denial, I’m concerned about the short-term prognosis for a team that has fought to this point.

***

No. 4: Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blowDirk Nowitzki is usually a cool customer except when threatened with severe physical pain, as anyone else would (see Chris Kaman last week regarding Chris Paul). So at first, he was taken aback when he was whacked in the private area by Shaun Livingston. But when these things happen, you must take into account the history of the offending party. Livingston doesn’t exactly conjure up memories of flagrant assaults. And so, while Mark Cuban wasn’t in a forgiving mood Saturday, Dirk gave Livingston a pass. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News has some golden quotes from Dirk:

Livingston, trying to defend Nowitzki in the post, was using his right hand to hand-check Nowitzki in the back. Somehow, his hand got in between Nowitzki’s legs and clearly caught Nowitzki in the groin area.

For the rest of the game, the AAC crowd booed Livingston every time he touched the ball and in the fourth quarter, Livingston and coach Rick Carlisle exchanged words briefly after a foul was called on J.J. Barea against Livingston.

Things escalated after the game when owner Mark Cuban talked to Golden State coach Steve Kerr and Livingston, then assistant coach Alvin Gentry, as they left the court.

Nowitzki had this to say about the play, which was reviewed and ended up with Livingston called for a flagrant foul, penalty one.

“Well, I give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s really not that type of player,” Nowitzki said. “He hasn’t been his entire career. I’m not really sure what he was trying to do there, if he was trying to get to the ball through my legs or anything. But like I said, he’s not a dirty player.

“But I really enjoyed his tight grip he got. I really enjoyed that.”

Nowitzki was laughing as he said that last line.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul Millsap’s shoulder injury should be defined a bit better today. The Hawks forward suffered the injury Saturday against the Nets and did not return in that game. … Boston’s Evan Turner has joined exclusive company: One of only 5 Celtics with 3 or more triple doubles in a season … All systems go for Paul George in his return tonight.

Blogtable: Your All-Rookie first team …

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


BLOGTABLE: Kerr’s smartest move? | Future for Rondo and Ellis? | Your All-Rookie team



VIDEOWho has the inside track for Rookie of the Year?

> After a slow start (plagued by injuries) this year’s rookie class has shown some real promise late in the season. Name your 2014-15 All-Rookie first team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

However, Wiggins, Mirotic, Payton, Noel, Clarkson is pretty much the order of how I’d vote for Rookie of the Year at this point. Wiggins hasn’t been playing for high stakes in Minnesota but he has done well all season and come out of his shell while being forced-fed minutes for a shaky Timberwolves squad. If the soft-spoken Mirotic were as cocky as he is quietly confident, he’d be unbearable, but he has let his game do some serious talking for the past month. Payton is fun to watch, an increasing dynamic player and so vital to Orlando’s rise. I put Noel after Payton mostly because the former had the “redshirt” year to acclimate to the league in all the off-court ways. As for Clarkson, he has seized an opportunity with a team that rarely has them available for young guys like him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel: Worth the wait for Philly.
F Andrew Wiggins: Living up to the hype.
F Nikola Mirotic: Becoming a closer for the Bulls.
G Elfrid Payton: Big hair, bigger game.
G Zach LaVine: Much more than a dunker.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson over Jusuf Nurkic is a tough call for the final spot and could change if you ask again when the season is over. (It could change either way — maybe Nurkic moves back ahead if he recovers from the slump or maybe Clarkson makes it an easy call if he keeps playing this way.) It just happens to work out that the group is almost an actual lineup when the rules say pick the five best regardless of position. The only semi-conflict is Payton and Clarkson both primarily point guards.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson.

I realize Clarkson is mostly a spring sensation but he’s been too impressive to ignore, so I put him ahead of Jusuf Nurkic. Wiggins will win ROY but if the season lasted another month he’d get some serious competition from Noel.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Bojan Bogdanovic

My top five rookies, in order, though is Mirotic, Noel, Wiggins, Payton and Bogdanovic. The top four guys, in whatever order you want to put them, are pretty simple choices. I picked Bogdanovic (who ranks as one of the league’s most improved shooters since the All-Star break) over Jordan Clarkson because he’s played more minutes for a better team. Mirotic would be my Rookie of the Year, because he’s been an efficient and important player on one of the 10 best teams in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Zach Lavine

The first five of this year’s rookie class certainly took its time taking shape. But better late than never, and yes, I’m talking to you Nerlens Noel. The Philly big man joins Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine from Minnesota, the neck-bearded wonder Nikola Mirotic from Chicago and Mr. Hairdo himself, Orlando’s Elfrid Payton in my rookie fab five. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker was an early fave but saw his season cut down by injury, a blow that doused water on the fire of this class from the start, along with the known injury to Philly’s other rookie big man Joel Embiid.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Jordan Clarkson
G Elfrid Payton

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Marcus Smart
G Elfrid Payton

To me, Wiggins is the Kia Rookie of the Year, for the way he’s played all season long and the improvement he’s shown and continues to show. Noel is right there as well, but he hasn’t had as much of an offensive impact as Wiggins. Mirotic and his beard have been terrific, pump-faking their way onto my team. So I guess that’s my front court, and in the backcourt I’ll pair Payton and Smart, who would actually be a pretty dynamic duo.


For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Future title team in East

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


BLOGTABLE: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEOBrandon Knight has proven vital to the Bucks’ revival this season

> If you had to pick which Eastern Conference team will be closer to an NBA title in three years, who would you pick: Bucks, Celtics, Sixers or Knicks?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Milwaukee. New York will buy stars, Boston has tradition, Philadelphia is rounding up high draft selections, but I’ve seen up close the changes in the Bucks culture with Jason Kidd and his staff on board. Kidd isn’t a great media guy but he apparently clicks with those in his locker room. The Bucks have several boxes already checked if they keep their guys (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker at forward, Brandon Knight in the backcourt), and more depth than the other three. This isn’t the old Milwaukee culture, either; new ownership has lit a fire under this franchise, with grandiose plans that center on a championship-contending team in a sparkling new arena, with retail and residential development and on and on. The Bucks are thinking of themselves as the little franchise that can.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThis is like asking which three-legged horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby in 2018. Of course, in thoroughbred racing so much is about bloodlines. So without counting in a lottery win by any of the teams this season, I’ll saddle up with a Sixers roster that in three years could include a healthy core of Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric and Michael Carter-Williams and have the potential of Secretariat. With a foundation of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the continued good work of coach Jason Kidd, the Bucks will have a California Chrome chance. In three years, Danny Ainge’s master plan for the Celtics that began with Brad Stevens as coach could have his team looking like Smarty Jones. And the Knicks, well, that’s why they have glue factories.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Bucks. I don’t know that I would have said that at the start of the season, but Milwaukee has proven that it has the best building blocks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker showed they are real building blocks, not potential in the distant future. They are both better — based on what we saw from Parker in the court, not on his game at this very moment — than any prospect on the other teams you mention. The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, but if the topic is three years from now, ‘Melo may be hanging on. Ask again in mid-July. If Joel Embiid looks good in summer league and the 76ers have a good draft and/or add a veteran contributor in trade or free agency, I could see Philly getting close to the front of the line.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Bucks, only because I can see more evidence of them turning the corner right now than the Sixers, Celtics and Knicks. The Bucks have at least 2 players with high ceilings, Giannis and Jabari Parker (assuming he returns OK) and a few others with decent ceilings (Khris Middleton, John Henson, Knight). They also own their picks and Jason Kidd seems like he’s made for coaching. Man, if Larry Sanders starts taking his maturity pills … 

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Bucks. They have two young stars – Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker – with high ceilings, more length and athleticism beyond those guys, and a defense that already ranks in the top five. I do like the potential of all the young guys the Sixers have already acquired (with one more top-seven pick on the way), and coach Brett Brown has proven that he can coach defense, too. But there are still more questions to be answered in Philly than there are in Milwaukee.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There is so much that could happen between now and the next three years. Milwaukee appears to be closer than the others to the playoffs, but there is no guarantee they will be anywhere close to sniffing a NBA title. Based on history alone and Danny Ainge’s penchant for rolling the dice on smoething big on the trade and free agent front, I’m going with the Celtics. You have to take risks when you’re talking about contending, and no one is more willing to do that than Ainge.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Based on what we know today? It will be the Bucks. They have a young emerging (and inexpensive) roster with at least two future stars and new owners who are promising to adorn their franchise with the best of everything. The big question is whether the owners will be wise enough to recognize what they have in GM John Hammond – or will they want to hire their “own guy?” (If it turns out to be the latter, then I’ll retroactively change my pick to the Celtics.)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Milwaukee. Only because the Celtics, Sixers and Knicks are all rebuilding with no clear direction to where they are going. At least the Bucks have their core of Giannis, Brandon Knight and, when he gets healthy, Jabari Parker. They have a coach who has shown he can communicate with these players, and new ownership committed to raising everyone’s circumstances. One of these other franchises may come across a pot of gold eventually, but right now they’re still searching for the ends of their rainbows.

Blogtable: Struggling marquee teams

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


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



VIDEOAre the Lakers better off with Kobe Bryant playing less?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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