Posts Tagged ‘Mark Cuban’

Morning shootaround — July 5


VIDEO: Kevin Durant on Summer League and the move by LaMarcus Aldridge

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant foreshadows own free agency? | Spurs can thank LaTim for LaMarcus | Tale of two centers, Pt. I (Jordan) | Tale of two centers, Pt. II (Hibbert) | Report: Raptors pick up Biyombo

No. 1: Durant foreshadows own free agency?Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City All-Star and 2014 MVP whose 2014-15 season largely was lost to foot injuries, showed up in Orlando on Saturday to catch the Thunder’s entry in that city’s Pro Summer League. He took the time to talk with reporters about his offseason, his rehab after two surgeries on his right foot and his thoughts on OKC and its ambitions for the coming season. But a lot of folks will zero in on his comments about LaMarcus Aldridge agreeing to a deal with San Antonio – Aldridge was the big free-agent catch of 2015, with Durant slated for that role next summer –and project 12 months out. Here are pertinent quotes, as provided by our own Fran Blinebury:

“You could kinda tell once this whole thing started that he was trying to go somewhere else,” Durant said. “In those decisions, man, you got to respect the guy for making the decision that was right for him. I know a lot of fans are probably upset in Portland at the decision. But at this point in your life and your career you’ve got to focus on you. I said this last year when Mr. (LeBron) James made his decision, it’s pretty cool to see a guy really do what he wants to do and not worry about what everybody else thinks.

Of course, it will be his decision next summer, when Durant becomes a free agent that will put him in the center of the storm.

“I haven’t thought about it, though I hear it all the time,” he said. “I’m really just focusing on rehab. I can’t get there unless I take care of today. That’s how I look at it. Even though I hear from every side thinking past to next summer. But I’m not even trying to focus on that. I’m excited about our team, our new coaches and just trying to get back right.

There is lots more in there, though, don’t hesitate to click on through for the no-longer-so-Thin Man’s thoughts on the Western Conference and his eagerness to get going again in games that matter.

***

No. 2: Spurs can thank “LaTim” for LaMarcus — Following in the massive footsteps of Tim Duncan as the San Antonio Spurs’ dominant and beloved big man didn’t scare off Aldridge. One reason: He won’t be “following” right away, instead playing alongside the Hall of Famer-to-be. An orderly transition was one of the things, in fact, that sold the four-time Portland All-Star on his stunning team-change back to his native Texas. That’s how veteran columnist Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News sees it, at least, and he wrote about that and what looks to be the Spurs’ ability to retool without rebuilding:

That is why Saturday’s news felt as if the Spurs had won a sixth title. They hit the reset button. With only one losing season since 1989, the Spurs reached a remarkable and unparalleled position for a franchise that has been successful for so long. The downturn still remains so far in the future that there is no timeline for it.

But this doesn’t happen if Duncan, once a free agent himself, had chosen Orlando in 2000. This doesn’t happen if Duncan had refused to change his role years later, or opted for the couch instead of taekwondo, or wasn’t as effective at age 39.

This also doesn’t happen now, this month, if Duncan wanted his rightful salary.

Duncan instead remained who he has been. Not coincidentally, that’s the kind of person Aldridge said he grew up idolizing.

[Coach Gregg] Popovich reportedly sold as much to Aldridge during their Friday meal. From ESPN’s Marc Stein in a tweet that same day: “Sources say pitch LaMarcus Aldridge got from Pop today about playing with Duncan AND taking over when Timmy’s gone resonated strongly.”

There are several layers to this, and one is basketball. Duncan makes everyone better, and he will make Aldridge better next season, too.

Duncan’s influence on Aldridge will also be felt in the locker room. Duncan can be quiet, and Aldridge took that further in Portland. Reports suggest he could be distant and insecure.

Duncan, always a nurturing leader, can fix that. His nature has always set a tone among teammates. He expects a certain professional behavior, and he gets it. Aldridge should be drawn to this.

Meanwhile, a veteran NBA personnel man provided the Express-News with an informal scouting report on Aldridge in San Antonio. Here’s a snippet:

On Aldridge’s reliance on the outside shot:

“When you have guys who are so good at something, you have to play to your strengths. Like Tim with the elbow jump shot, or Dirk [Nowitzki] with the pick and pop — that’s a shot you want them to take. That might go against what the new NBA trends are. But sometimes those concepts…it’s easier to find guys who get inside for layups or shoot 3s. It’s not easy, but it’s easier than to find a go-to, game-changer offensively who has a gift for putting the ball in the hole regardless of what defense you throw at them. Like Tony [Parker]; [as an opponent] you can say we’ll live with his jump shot, but if he’s making them he can kill you. (Aldridge) gives them more offensive firepower.

“Obviously his bread and butter is the jump shot. Being an offensive guy, I think if you get a good look in our league…do you wish it was a 3? Yes. Do you wish it was a layup? Yes. But if it’s an open look you know your guy can make, those are good, quality shots. I know Houston takes it to an extreme (with avoiding mid-range shots). But it’s easier to find a guy like Corey Brewer than it is a James Harden. So I think the Spurs got an offensive game-changer, without a doubt. They’re going to mesh his strengths to what the team is, which is one of the best passing teams in the league. Now you have to make a decision when him and Tim are on the floor, him and Boris [Diaw]. Those combinations are going to be lethal.”

***

No. 3: Tale of two centers, Pt. I (Jordan) — One tent-pole NBA center switches teams, his new team celebrates, his old team scrambles. Another tent-pole NBA center switches teams, his old team celebrates, his new team … shrugs? That was the dynamic in play this weekend involving DeAndre Jordan and Roy Hibbert. First, we’ll look at Jordan through the eyes of the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers, the teams that signed and lost him, respectively. Beat man Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News wrote about Jordan and his big-man game that should continue to blossom with the Mavericks:

When he was a raw NBA rookie, his one season at Texas A&M still a fresh memory, DeAndre Jordan was an unknown commodity.

Scouts wondered if he really had NBA skills beyond simply being 6-11 and 250 pounds.

Coaches wondered if he had the want-to.

Fans and critics wondered if he was another Erick Dampier.

As a rookie, Jordan had trouble getting on the court. He played behind Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman with the Los Angeles Clippers. He was looking very much like the second-round draft pick (35th overall) that he was.

He was an offensively challenged, can’t-shoot-free-throws project on a team that went 19-63.

This is one of the NBA’s best examples of why it’s dangerous to draw knee-jerk conclusions about young players.
Six years after the conclusion of that first season, Jordan is joining the Mavericks as the major piece of the organization’s new, young core, an $80-million cornerstone who qualifies as the most lucrative free-agent signee in the team’s history.

“We see him as the future of the franchise,” owner Mark Cuban said.

The Mavericks believe Jordan, who turns 27 on July 21, has untapped potential on the offensive end of the court. His defense and rebounding are not open to debate. He’s as good as anybody in the league in those areas.
Is his offense ready to take off, too?

Coach Rick Carlisle and Cuban believe it will. And that makes sense from the Mavericks’ perspective.

The league is going toward interchangeable players who can guard multiple positions. One area that is in decline is low-post scoring. When nobody else is doing it, that’s when Cuban and Co. try to pounce on an asset that makes the Mavericks unique.

Only Houston, with Dwight Howard, and perhaps Memphis with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, have what would be considered strong offensive forces in the paint. San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who agreed to terms with the Spurs on Saturday, and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, are more hybrid big men that can take their game outside the paint.

The Clippers, meanwhile, are hopeful they can find someone – uh, JaVale McGee? – to beef up a front line that suddenly looks awfully nekkid without Jordan. Until they do, and perhaps for some time after, folks might want to blame somebody for this blow to the Clippers’ title dreams. Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register pointed directly at point guard Chris Paul:

Never in his 10-year NBA career – not even in the disastrous deciding moments of Game 5 against Oklahoma City in 2014, not even in horrifically blowing Game 6 and then the series to Houston in May – has Paul looked as bad as he does right now.

One of the most gifted point guards in the league just had his worst turnover as a pro.

Jordan is officially leaving the Clippers for Dallas as a free agent, and, by all indications, the player who has led the NBA in assists per game the past two seasons, assisted mightily in Jordan’s franchise-stunting decision.

No one is saying that on the record, of course, but no one really has to say it on the record. The record speaks for itself.

Jordan is known to revere Doc Rivers and cherish his relationship with Blake Griffin. The Clippers were a team famously building toward something bigger, with an owner puffing money and optimism into a franchise that traditionally has had neither.

It is common knowledge that Paul and Jordan didn’t always get along, that Paul’s on-court edginess and demeanor agitated Jordan. Paul also reportedly thought Jordan was entirely too lax in addressing his free-throw deficiencies.

“Things aren’t good there,” a source told Fox Sports in May, referring to the Paul-Jordan dynamic. “(Jordan) might leave,” the source also was quoted as saying…

The concept of players struggling to coexist is only as old as the games themselves. Paul is hardly the first star to alienate a teammate, Kobe Bryant being another convenient example of someone who has left those around him begging for less.

Funny, though, how a teammate like Bryant, one who has won five championships, might be tolerated a little easier than a teammate like Paul, who never has advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs.

***

No. 4: Tale of two centers, Pt. II (Hibbert) — There was a different, nearly opposite vibe swirling about Hibbert’s trade – for a future second-round pick — from the Pacers to the Lakers. Back home in Indiana, the move was celebrated as a huge step forward in basketball boss Larry Bird‘s vision to have the Pacers playing faster; now both Hibbert and veteran power forward David West (who opted out) both are gone. Shedding Hibbert’s $15.5 million salary for the coming season, along with what might have become a brooding, distracting situation if the two-time All-Star wound up anchored to the bench, also suggested a going-away party without an invitation for the honored guest. As for Hibbert’s impact on the Lakers, no one was touting his arrival as the latest entry in the franchise’s famous timeline of great centers (Mikan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal). First, here’s Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star, rather harshly, on the Pacers’ side of this swap:

From something ugly, something beautiful is growing. You know the ugly. Paul George‘s gruesome broken leg, nearly a year ago, which triggered the Indiana Pacers’ slide out of the 2015 NBA playoffs, which led to …

Something beautiful growing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Pacers have done so much right, and gotten a little luck as well, and the result is pretty much every single thing falling their way since George fell so horribly, horribly wrong.

The departure of fraudulent center Roy Hibbert is the latest, greatest thing to happen to this team, the cherry on top of a sundae that will see the Pacers contend not just for a playoff spot next season, but for a top-four seed that would give them homecourt advantage in the postseason.

Hibbert is going to the Lakers, which takes his $15.5 million off Indiana’s books. What will the Pacers get for Hibbert, and what will they do with the leftover money? As of this writing I don’t know, and I don’t care. Get a backup power forward, a third-string guard, a lump of used ankle tape. Whatever.

Hibbert leaving is addition by subtraction, only it’s better than that. It’s multiplication by subtraction. Hibbert wasn’t going to play much this season, he wasn’t going to be happy about it, and he was going to prevent the Pacers from replacing his salary with one or — more likely — two or three players who can fill the team’s depth. A veteran point guard off the bench. Another power forward to spell George.

This, meanwhile, was the lukewarm coverage generated from the Los Angeles side, as chronicled by L.A. Times beat writer Mike Bresnahan:

They didn’t miss out only on Aldridge. They also met with DeAndre Jordan, who chose Dallas, and Greg Monroe, who curiously picked Milwaukee over the Lakers.

The Lakers netted Hibbert for a future second-round draft pick, giving them a post player with legitimate NBA experience, though he was coming off a poor season.

Hibbert, 28, is a good shot-blocker but an erratic scorer and a below-average rebounder for being 7 feet 2. His days in Indiana were numbered when team President Larry Bird all but guaranteed he would play a lesser role next season.

Hibbert has enjoyed some solid seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2014 and 2012. He had one of the more unique lines in recent years, compiling 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocked shots for a triple-double against New Orleans in 2012.

He is not an accurate shooter from the field outside and made only 44.6% of his attempts last season, very low for a center, while averaging 10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.

Hibbert will be in the last season of his contract and eligible for free agency in a year. He joins a threadbare Lakers frontcourt that had Robert Sacre and Tarik Black as the only post players with NBA experience.

The addition of Hibbert, who has a trade kicker that increases his actual cap number to $17.8 million, leaves the Lakers with less than $5 million to spend on a dwindling free-agent market.

It’s hard to detract the focus from an unsettling pattern, the 16-time NBA champions unable to sign anybody of worth to upgrade their team in recent off-seasons.

***

No. 5: Report: Raptors pick up Biyombo — The Toronto Raptors lost stalwart big man Amir Johnson this summer to the Atlantic Division rival Boston Celtics. But even without that lost, they’ve been a little thin up front over the last few seasons and have reportedly found some help in the form of former lottery pick Bismack Biyombo. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more:

The journey has been little short of amazing — the Democratic Republic of Congo to Yemen to Spain to the United States Pacific northwest for a one-night coming out party.

Then Sacramento for less than 24 hours, to Charlotte to the unemployment line and now Bismack Biyombo finds himself in Toronto with another chance to prove his NBA worth.

The six-foot-nine Biyombo, cut adrift by the Charlotte Hornets last month because they feared he had reached his potential, will join the Raptors as a placeholder backup centre, a defensive presence and offensive nightmare who gives Toronto a shot-blocking rim-protecting presence to try to nurture.

Biyombo has agreed to terms on a two-year deal worth about $6 million (U.S.), a relatively low-cost, low-risk backup for Jonas Valanciunas.

According to league sources, Biyombo’s signing will have no impact on Toronto’s ability to sign other free agents with salary cap room. Biyombo’s deal will fit into what is known as the “mini-mid level” cap exception. Toronto still has something in the neighbourhood of $8 million to spend on a much-needed power forward and a backup point guard.

But in Biyombo, general manager Masai Ujiri has plugged one small hole in the roster, providing coach Dwane Casey with a solid defender who has exponentially more athleticism and potential than either Amir Johnson or Chuck Hayes, who manned that position a year ago.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Either there is a need in Cleveland for former Indiana forward David West or there isn’t, depending on which analysis — this one or that one — you prefer. … Here is a breakdown of the teams that still have salary-cap space to use on the players left in NBA free agency. … The Washington Wizards have gone about their offseason maneuvers with one eye on the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. … Might Lou Williams be a sign-and-trade possibility for the Miami Heat? … No less an authority than Patrick Ewing says Charlotte’s lottery pick Frank Kaminsky has gone from a “deer in the headlights” to potentially a deer to fear – for the Hornets, of course. … Aldridge is gone and now so is Portland assistant coach Kim Hughes for rankling the Blazers organization with some off-hand remarks. … Whether it says “Welcome!” or not, the New York Knicks got the floor mat treatment from the NBA’s free-agent A-listers, according to the New York Post.

Morning shootaround — July 4




VIDEO: Mavericks busy adding Matthews and Jordan

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Mavs are back | Lakers fading on Aldridge | Rondo picks Kings | Rockets keep pair | Hammon summer boss
No. 1: Jordan makes Mavs relevant again — They struck out on Deron Williams. They came up empty in their pursuit of Dwight Howard. But just when folks were starting to think Mark Cuban and the Mavericks had lost their mojo, they came up as big winners in the 2015 Free Agency by locking up prize center DeAndre Jordan to go along with guard Wesley Matthews. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News says one of the most significant days in franchise history put the capital “D” back in Big D:

The ghosts of Deron Williams and Dwight Howard and all the other free agents that snubbed the Mavericks in years past have been swept away. Any accusations that the Mavericks don’t have cache and that Dallas isn’t a free-agent destination no longer apply.

In the last three summers, they have reeled in Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons and now Jordan and Matthews.

Owner Mark Cuban, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, coach Rick Carlisle, franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki and last year’s key free-agent signee Chandler Parsons were all part of the recruiting party that met with Jordan twice in Los Angeles since free agency began late Tuesday night.

Cuban is optimistic that Jordan will a foundation piece of the franchise.

“We told him that you’re capable of being a 20-20 guy,” Cuban said on an interview with KTCK-AM 1310 The Ticket. “You’re just not being given the opportunity.”

The recruiting team sold Jordan, who was first-team all-defense and third-team all-NBA last season, on the Mavericks by emphasizing that he would be a focal point of the franchise at both ends of the court. Coach Rick Carlisle presented X’s and O’s that showed how Jordan could prosper in the Mavericks’ system.

They don’t see him as offensively challenged, although he obviously is a poor free throw shooter (41.7 percent for his career, 39.7 percent last season).

Jordan did not waste time making a decision. He met with the Los Angeles Clippers, with whom he played his first seven seasons in the league, Thursday night in LA. By noon, Pacific time, he had informed the Mavericks that they were the winners for his services.

And, my, how the outlook for an entire franchise can change so quickly. When Tyson Chandler left the Mavericks for Phoenix on Wednesday for a four-year deal worth more than $50 million, fans were worried that another year of free agency would go by with the Mavericks getting nothing but agony.

With Jordan’s decision, coupled with coaxing Matthews to sign for about $14 million per season, people who have dogged Cuban and Nelson for roster decisions since the 2011 championship certainly have to reconsider their position.

Cuban also admitted that had the Mavericks swung and missed on Jordan, they could have been staring at a season of doom. He also credited Texas having no state income tax as a significant recruiting tool for both Jordan and Matthews.

In Matthews, the Mavericks are getting a sensational shooter who is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in March. They included athletic trainer Casey Smith in the recruiting meeting with Matthews and you can be certain the Mavericks would not have been all-in with Matthews if Smith wasn’t convinced Matthews will make a full recovery in time to play most, if not all, of the 2015-16 season.

That set the table for Jordan, whose agents also represent Parsons. In addition, Cuban and agent Dan Fegan have worked together on numerous contracts, trades and other NBA dealings. That relationship didn’t hurt in the pursuit of Jordan.

Package it all together and the Mavericks ended up with one of the biggest days in franchise history Friday.

***

No. 2: Lakers hopes of landing Aldridge sinking fast — This is life among the other half. Long one of the NBA’s elite, the Lakers have grown accustomed to rejection as just one of the masses in recent seasons. Though they were granted a “do-over” second meeting with free agent LaMarcus Aldridge and things reportedly went well, Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times says the Lakers don’t have much hope of landing the free agent plum:

It’s the third consecutive summer they’ve made a pitch — or pitches, in the case of LaMarcus Aldridge — in hopes of a successful off-season acquisition.

Their presentation to Aldridge was “much better” the second time, according to a person familiar with the hastily assembled meeting, but there could be only hope, not overt confidence, he would eventually sign on the dotted line of their four-year, $80-million offer.

They want Aldridge badly and genuinely need him because almost all the free-agent post players have allied themselves with other teams.

DeAndre Jordan chose Dallas over the Clippers, Kevin Love returned to Cleveland, and Greg Monroe went with Milwaukee over the Lakers and New York.

Even the second-tier big men are getting snapped up, including Robin Lopez for a reported $54 million over four years with the Knicks.

There’s still … Kosta Koufos? Bismack Biyombo? Cole Aldrich?

It’s a touch of deja vu for the Lakers — another July, another waiting period.

***

No. 3: Kings get Rondo, Belinelli — It’s been a tumultuous several weeks for the Kings with all the talk of trading center DeMarcus Cousins and whispers of firing newly-hired coach George Karl. But the downtrodden team finally got a bid of good news when free agents Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli — both with championship rings — agreed to new contracts with the Kings. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee breaks it down:

Point guard Rajon Rondo agreed to a one-year deal worth $9.5 million, according to a league source. Rondo met with the Kings on Friday, then agreed to the deal.

Rondo, 29, was the second player to agree on Friday to join the Kings. They also reached a three-year deal worth $19 million with free-agent swingman Marco Belinelli, a league source said. Belinelli confirmed his decision on Twitter.

The contracts can be signed July 9, when the league moratorium on deals is lifted.

Friday was a bounce-back day for the Kings. Thursday night, guard Wesley Matthews passed on their four-year, $64 million offer, and Monta Ellis, another top target, agreed to sign with Indiana.

The Kings, who had been looking for improved passing and three-point shooting, should get both from Rondo and Belinelli, respectively.

Their signings were made possible after the Kings cleared an additional $16 million in salary cap space on Wednesday, giving Sacramento about $26 million to work with in free agency, after trading Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry to Philadelphia.

The Kings hosted Matthews on Thursday, hoping to persuade their top free-agent target to sign the lucrative offer.

***

No. 4: Rockets keep Brewer, Beverley — The Rockets are still considered darkhorse contenders to land free agent prize LaMarcus Aldridge. But while waiting for a decision, the team made significant moves in re-signing their own two key players Corey Brewer and Patrick Beverley, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets came to terms with starting point guard Pat Beverley and sixth man Corey Brewer, multiple individuals with knowledge of the deals said.

But a person familiar with the talks so far said they remained “in the mix” to also land Trail Blazers free-agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge, considered the top attainable free agent of the summer.

Aldridge seems most likely to land in San Antonio.

Even if the Rockets do convince Aldridge to sign on, that would take a difficult sign-and-trade deal with the Trail Blazers.
They can only hope that Aldridge feels anywhere near the way Brewer and Beverley did Friday.

According to individuals with knowledge of the deals, Brewer and the Rockets reached agreement on a three-year, $24 million contract and Beverley and the Rockets reached agreement on a three-year, $18 million deal with a fourth, non-guaranteed season worth another $5 million.

“I’m just happy to be back, man,” Beverley said. “This is the biggest contract I had in my life.

“Because of the numbers Dallas was throwing around, I was kind of worried that Houston wouldn’t be able to match it. I was getting so many calls at night I didn’t know what was going on. I was excited to be getting calls.

“It came down to God is good. I’m where I need to be and that’s in Houston.”

Beverley also received interest from the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks. Brewer met with the Knicks on Friday and also was targeted by the Kings and Lakers.

“I’m happy, so happy,” Brewer said. “Just glad to be a Rocket.”
The Rockets considered both keys to their rotation.

Brewer’s addition in December dramatically bolstered the Rockets bench, and he was a key to their post-season run, most vividly with his starring role in the Rockets’ Game 6 comeback against the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.

***

No. 5: Hammon to coach Spurs’ Summer League team — Another day, another barrier for Becky Hammon to break down. While the Spurs’ pursuit of free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge has consumed most of the headlines this summer, the forward-thinking franchise took another giant step toward the future by announcing that the NBA’s first full-time female assistant Becky Hammon be calling the shots from the sidelines for the Spurs at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has the details:

Hammon said Friday she viewed her appointment from coach Gregg Popovich as a vital step in the development of her career.

“It’s a different role (from being an assistant),” said Hammon, 38. “You go from giving support and watching all the details going on during the game to, you’re the one calling timeout, you’re the one drawing up the plays, you’re the one the players get (mad) at when they get yanked. It’s a step over and a step up, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Will Hardy, the team’s video coordinator, will coach the Spurs’ entry in the Salt Lake City Summer League from Monday through Thursday, with Hammon assisting him.

The two will swap roles when the Spurs relocate to Las Vegas from July 10-20.

Traditionally, a stint as the Spurs’ Summer League coach has looked good on a résumé.

Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer and former Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn each took a turn during their time on the Spurs’ bench, as did Washington lead assistant Don Newman.

Last year’s Spurs summer leaguers were led by assistant coach Ime Udoka.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tobias Harris re-signs with the Magic…Knicks land Robin Lopez and Derrick Williams...C.J. Watson makes move to Orlando…The mayor of Phoenix is now part of the recruiting effort to lure LaMarcus Aldridge to the Valley of the Sun.

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 8


VIDEO: The Cleveland Cavaliers evened The Finals at 1-1 with a Game 2 win Sunday night at Oracle Arena

*** Click here for the Game 2 Wrap ***

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Delly does it, steps into the void for Kyrie, Cavs | Warriors in a real fight now| Cavs dictating terms of series

No. 1: Delly does it, steps into void for Kyrie, Cavs — Matthew Dellavedova doesn’t fit the script of Finals hero. But there he was with the everything on the line in Game 2 of The Finals Sunday night at Oracle Arena, frustrating KIA MVP Stephen Curry into the worst playoff shooting performance of his career and helping the Cavaliers even the series at 1-1 with the battle headed back to Cleveland for Game 3 Tuesday. Delly proved himself more than capable of handling the job, filling in for the injured Kyrie Irving and helping LeBron James flip the script of this series. Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer shares his perspective from the epic performance:

As the teams went to midcourt for the opening jump ball, I wondered what James thought. It was Game 2 of the NBA Finals, and his four fellow starters were Tristan Thompson, Shumpert, Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov.

With a group like that, the goal for the Cavs is to make the game ugly and keep the score down. Prevent the Warriors from getting too many fast-break points. The Warriors averaged an NBA-high 110 points per game in the regular season.

In the playoffs, it’s 104.6 points.

If the Cavs had a healthy Irving and Kevin Love, running with them would not be a bad idea. But with the current group, the idea is to keep the Warriors from getting any type of flow. Make the game feel herky-jerky-klunky. Keep the shooting percentages low. Own the rebounding, out-hustle the Warriors for loose balls.

The Cavs played this way twice in the Chicago series. It led to an 86-84 victory in Game 4, and a 94-73 blowout of the Bulls in Game 6. Both games were in Chicago.

“We are really locked in defensively,” said Blatt. “We are making multiple efforts on each possession.

Dellavedova drew raves from Blatt and his teammates. As Blatt said, “He’s a courageous kid that plays right. … He’s always there for his teammates. He played big and we needed him to.”

Consider that the Australian scored nine points. He had five rebounds. In his 42 minutes, the Cavs outscored the Warriors by 15 points with him on the court.

The Cavs won despite shooting 33 percent from the field. They won with James shooting 4-of-21 from the field after halftime, but he still scored 19 points. His final line was 11-of-34 from the field. But the 16 rebounds… the 11 assists… the 50 minutes on the court.

“He willed his guys to win,” said Blatt. “That’s what a champion does, and obviously he is a champion.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — June 6


VIDEO: The Starters discuss Kyrie Irving’s injury

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kyrie Irving has fractured kneecap, out for Finals | LeBron: I’m not ‘discouraged‘| Tom Thibodeau has ‘no regrets

No. 1: Kyrie Irving has fractured kneecap, out for Finals — When Kyrie Irving limped off the floor during overtime of Game 1, he did his best to mask the pain he was clearly experiencing. One day later, after an MRI, it’s worst fears realized for Irving and the Cavaliers. The Cavs announced yesterday that Irving suffered a fractured kneecap and will miss the remainder of the postseason. Irving’s injury will require surgery, which typically has a 3-4 month recovery period. While Irving missed several playoff games dealing with tendinitis in his left knee, the Cavaliers say this injury is unrelated. As Irving himself posted on Instagram

I want to thank everyone for the well wishes. Saddened by the way I had to go out but it doesn’t take away from being apart of a special playoff run with my brothers. Truly means a lot for all the support and love. I Gave it everything I had and have no regrets. I love this game no matter what and I’ll be back soon. To my brothers: You already know what the deal is. And to Delly: “ICE it down del” *Big Perk voice *

***

No. 2: LeBron: I’m not ‘discouraged‘ — With Irving out, along with Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao, the Cavs may not be able to get things to go their way. But LeBron James has been around long enough to have seen plenty before, and according to Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon, LeBron isn’t discouraged by being down a game in the Finals …

In his storied career with 12 seasons nearly complete, James can say he has and has not been in this situation before. The odds were already long for a Finals triumph and now they’re longer, but if there is a player with the skills and experience to navigate this situation, it’s James.

He’s 1-5 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and his Cavs lost Game 1 (and Game 3) of the conference semifinals to the Bulls.

In Miami, where James won two titles and played in four Finals, both championships followed defeats in Game 1. He battled through playoffs at times with a hobbled Dwyane Wade (who missed one playoff game with James) and an injured (as in, out for nine games) Chris Bosh.

But James never lost Wade and Bosh at the same time, like he has here with Irving and Kevin Love. And yet, when the Cavs lace them up for Game 2 Sunday, it will not be the first time James takes the floor in a playoff game without his two Cleveland wingmen.

Irving, of course, has been battling foot and left knee issues for weeks. When the Cavs trailed the Bulls 2-1 in the conference semis and Irving was clearly hurting, James talked about “not being shattered” around teammates in what appeared to be a bleak moment.

Then James went out and won Game 4 with a turnaround jumper at the buzzer, not dissimilar from the shot he missed against the Warriors.

Irving missed two full games in the conference finals against Atlanta. Cleveland won both of those games and James nearly averaged a triple-double in the series.

“There are a few things that you would love to have going late in the season,” James explained. “That’s being healthy, having a great rhythm, and then you need a little luck as well. We’ve had a great rhythm. We haven’t had much luck, and we haven’t been healthy.

“But I haven’t gotten discouraged.”

***

No. 3: Tom Thibodeau has ‘no regrets‘ — It’s been a few days since the Chicago Bulls fired coach Tom Thibodeau, ending a five-year run where the Bulls experienced plenty of success, but also plenty of bad luck. Speaking for the first time since then, Thibs said despite any issues he had with Bulls management, he wants to move forward, writes Nick Friedell…

“Obviously, there were some issues, and I don’t want to get into all that,” Thibodeau said. “I’m very proud of what the team did. … I think any time when you have a pro franchise, there’s going to be some carping that goes on along the way.”

During a news conference to announce Thibodeau’s firing, Forman and Paxson stressed the need for a better communicator and painted a picture that Thibodeau wasn’t listening to much of the input from the front office.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf also issued a statement hinting that there were communication issues.

“While the head of each department of the organization must be free to make final decisions regarding his department, there must be free and open interdepartmental discussion and consideration of everyone’s ideas and opinions,” the statement said. “These internal discussions must not be considered an invasion of turf, and must remain private. Teams that consistently perform at the highest levels are able to come together and be unified across the organization — staff, players, coaches, management and ownership. When everyone is on the same page, trust develops and teams can grow and succeed together. Unfortunately, there has been a departure from this culture.”

Thibodeau said Friday that he wasn’t worried about comments from the Bulls’ front office in the immediate aftermath after the decision was made.

“I don’t worry about stuff like that,” Thibodeau said. “I know for me, I put everything I have into each and every day. So I have no regrets. I’m going to let the record speak for itself.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is donating $5 million to his alma mater, Indiana University, for a technology center … Royce White is closing in on a return in time for Summer League … The Knicks will work out draft prospect Emmanuel Mudiay next week … Why Arn Tellem is giving up being a sports agent and joining the front office of the Detroit Pistons …

Mavs face summer of heavy lifting


VIDEO: Mavericks react to series loss to Rockets

It was less than two weeks ago when the Mavericks entered the playoffs as the No. 7 seed, but a trendy pick in the bottom half of the Western Conference bracket.

Now after being whipped 4-1 by the Rockets and eliminated in the first round for third time — and one playoff miss entirely — since winning their championship in 2011, the Mavs are definitely on the spot.

Team owner Mark Cuban has stated often that his goal is to get Dallas back into title contention before the retirement of franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki, who’ll turn 37 in June.

None of the big moves the Mavericks made for the 2014-15 season got Dallas an inch closer. The signing of free agent Chandler Parsons ended in the pain and disappointment of a knee injury that shut him down after one game of the playoffs and now will require surgery. The December trade for point guard Rajon Rondo simply blew up in the Mavs’ faces. First Rondo had an on-court argument with coach Rick Carlisle in February and then threw another petulant snit in Game 2 of the playoff series, prompting his bench and then claims of a back injury.

“There was a lot of ups and downs,” said center Tyson Chandler, who returned to Dallas after having been sent away after the 2011 title. “I can’t say there weren’t a lot of distractions.

“When you start training camp, your goal is to always win a championship. You always want to fight and give yourself a chance.

“So any time you’re less than, it’s always disappointing and you’ve got to do what it takes in the offseason to continue to pursue.”

Now those pursuits by Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson will have to be bold and bigger this summer if Dallas is to return next season in a Western Conference that is only getting stronger with the emergence of the Pelicans and what should be the return of the Thunder with a new coach.

“We’ve got to get healthy,”Carlisle said.

But then he also noted that as many as 11 Mavericks could be free agents this summer. Nowitzki has two seasons left on his contract.

At 32, Chandler will be one of those free agents and will have to decide if he wants to commit to the franchise that wouldn’t commit to him in defense of the championship. He’s healthy, engaged and surely will draw interest from teams that could put him much closer to the top of the standings.

Rondo finished the regular season as the starting point guard, but Carlisle made it clear he won’t be back.

“We traded a lot of pieces for a point guard that’s not with us right now,” Chandler said.

Guard Monta Ellis could opt out of his contract and most seem to think he will in order to pursue a long-term deal.

If Ellis ($8.7 million) , Al-Farouq Aminu ($1.1 million) and Raymond Felton ($4 million) all opt in for next season, that would cut down on the money available to lure big-time free agent help. Dallas will surely make a run at forward LaMarcus Aldridge. But if the Trail Blazers star does want a return to his native Texas, options in San Antonio and Houston would get him closer immediately to playing for rings than in Dallas.

The NBA Draft will bring just the No. 21 and 52 picks.

“We’ll see what happens this summer,” Nowitzki said. “I know we’ve got a bunch of free agents again. We’ll just see what happens. Mark and Donnie, as always, are going to look to make this franchise better.”

The clock is already ticking on what will have to be a busy summer in Dallas.

Morning Shootaround — April 18


VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Steph Curry

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce savoring these final playoff moments | Pelicans’ Davis eager to take next step | Clippers using Spurs blueprint to knock off champs | Kidd at center of Bucks’ turnaround

No. 1: Pierce savoring these final playoff moments — The truth is Paul Pierce knows this might be one of the last times he’s on this stage, this playoff stage. And the Washington Wizards’ veteran swingman is savoring each and every second these final playoff moments of his career. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post provides the details:

The end is near for Paul Pierce. Next season will be his 18th and final tour as a professional basketball player, meaning scenes like the one that will unfold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Game 1 of an NBA playoff series, are dwindling for the future Hall of Famer.

“It’s very different for me because I don’t have too many chances left in my career of playoff basketball and opportunities to try to win a championship,” Pierce said. “So I enjoy each and every moment, each and every practice, each and every game.”

Pierce, 37, will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood Saturday before a frenzied crowd in a Washington Wizards uniform, his third playoff appearance in three years with a third different team. He will be Raptors fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, the result of his clutch play as a Brooklyn Net against Toronto last postseason and his recent comments on the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor, whatever “It” is.

The setting is why the Wizards hired him, to supply his famed shot-making ability, valuable experience and notorious swagger to help ascend the Wizards to another level when the stakes are highest.

“He can help on the floor. Off the floor. Around the floor,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Whatever it is related to basketball and life in general. You can basically call him the Oracle. He knows pretty much everything.”

This will be Pierce’s 12th career playoff appearance. He has crashed the tournament seven straight springs. He has been on underdogs, on favorites. He has suited up for underachievers and overachievers. He has experienced nearly every possible scenario, including both ends of regular season sweeps that were reversed in the playoffs. So he insists that the Wizards losing all three meetings with the Raptors during the regular season doesn’t concern him.

“Each team’s [0-0], so right now we’re a confident group,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can beat pretty much any team in the East.”

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — April 9


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mistakes spoil Rose’s return to Bulls’ lineup | Report: Copeland in ICU | Cuban bemoans state of college hoops | Noel suffers ankle injury

No. 1: Mistakes mar Bulls in Rose’s return to lineup Derrick Rose returned to the Chicago Bulls’ lineup last night after a 20-game absence and overall, he looked rusty. Still, just getting him out on the court was a net positive for the Bulls (as our Fran Blinebury noted last night). What wasn’t a positive for Chicago was how sloppy the team played against a low-level team as the season winds down. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune has more:

With minutes left in the Bulls’ 105-103 collapse to the Magic on Wednesday night, at a time he used to dominate, Derrick Rose rose from his seat on the bench and implored his teammates to communicate better on defense.

That Victor Oladipo followed shortly thereafter with a blow-by of Jimmy Butler for the game-winning layup over late-arriving help from Joakim Noah should be as troubling as another late-game fade to a sub-.500 team.

Simply put, the Bulls couldn’t follow Rose’s lead in his return from missing 20 games to arthroscopic right knee surgery, whether that be on the court in an active first-quarter stint or off it with his late words.

The loss not only spoiled Rose’s return, which featured nine points, four turnovers and two assists on 3-for-9 shooting in 19 minutes, 24 seconds, it dropped the Bulls into the East’s fourth seed with four games remaining. The Cavaliers also clinched the No. 2 seed and the Central Division title.

“We were scoring, matching them, but defensively, we weren’t getting there,” Rose said. “Communication or whatever, it just wasn’t there. Win the game on a layup so we just got to make sure we talk a little bit more and make sure that someone is over there.”

“I felt good,” Rose said. “I didn’t feel any discomfort at all, so that’s a good sign. I’m just happy to be playing.”

“It’s upsetting,” Pau Gasol said. “There’s a time when you have to be sharp. You can’t have these type of games. We’re trying to figure a lot of things out right now with guys coming back and different rotations and guys sharing minutes. That’s what happens when you have a deep team. But we have to figure it out quickly.

“Continuity has been tough, for sure. At times, we look like we’re a little bit all over the place. That’s why we had so many turnovers pretty much all season long.”

The Bulls dropped to 15-5 in games with their starters intact.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose reflects on his return to the Bulls’ lineup

*** (more…)

Blogtable: Future for Rondo and Ellis?

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



VIDEORajon Rondo throws a fancy assist to Monta Ellis

> Your nameplate says “Donn Nelson, General Manager Dallas Mavericks.” So tell me Mr. Nelson, will Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo be in your backcourt again next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t like it. Too mercurial. Too imbalanced. Not big enough for the defensive end, despite Rondo’s Boston reputation. An awful lot of money for too players whose consistency (Ellis), durability (Rondo) and temperaments (both) make your team vulnerable to way too many slumps and, considering they’re both veterans, far too much drama.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comConsidering that all we’ve gotten from this combination this season is a battle for a low seed in the West, it doesn’t seem reasonable to give both players big, big raises to do it all again. Considering that desperate teams such as the Lakers and Knicks might be reaching out to a free-agent in Rondo, it’s more likely that we let him go and concentrate on re-signing Ellis.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Rondo will, Ellis won’t. Ellis has had some good moments in Dallas, but I’m not going to reach too deep into the wallet to keep him. Rondo is another matter. Re-signing him was part of the plan when we traded for him. Of course there have been emotional conflicts. It’s Rondo. Big surprise. But tell me where I will find a better point guard. He may not be the Rondo of old, but he can still be a positive.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Unless there are better options, the answer is yes. I’m not thrilled with either player but it’s easy to say “dump them” without having capable replacements. Of the two, I’m not real sold on Rondo. His best years were clearly in Boston when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were in their prime. His shooting is atrocious, especially for a point guard, and as a free agent this summer there’s no way I’d lock him up long term or even give him big short-term money. The Mavs have the upper hand with Rondo. Point guards are just too plentiful.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comI’ll certainly be more open to re-signing Ellis (if he declines his player option) than Rondo. Rondo killed my league-best offense when he arrived, clashed with my top-five coach, and was overrated in the first place. So I’ll let the Lakers or Knicks give him a new contract, attempt to work him into an above-average offense (something he hasn’t been a part of in five years), and hope he’ll care about defense on a team that was awful defensively this season. And I’m pretty confident that the Lakers or Knicks will make that mistake. My starting lineup has been much better with either Jameer Nelson or Devin Harris opposite Ellis than with Rondo.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They will not be back together again next season. The fact is, we’re talking about two guys who both need the ball in their hands to be effective. And it’s not that they are not capable of sharing, it’s that they know they won’t have to with free agency looming. Rondo will have options elsewhere, namely alongside Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and won’t have to toil in a system that feels restrictive to a free-thinker of his ilk. Monta has shown he can flourish here and should prove to be the better fit long-term.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comIf that’s my name, then I have the authority to ignore your question! I’m going to wait because Ellis and Rondo are big-game players. The Mavs traded for Rondo in particular because of his postseason track record. If Rondo elevates his game in the playoffs, then this discussion changes.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWell, can you put together a better backcourt? Both of these guys will/could become free agents this summer, and I’m not sure if a Rondo/Ellis backcourt is worth two near-max contracts. And to be honest, looking at their record and performance since adding Rondo, the Rondo/Ellis backcourt hasn’t exactly set the Western Conference on fire. If anything, the Mavs have shown they aren’t afraid to make bold moves. This may be the summer to do exactly that.

 

Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks clinch Eastern Conference | Mavericks lose Ellis | What’s next for Thunder, Durant? | Shaq would have stayed in Orlando

No. 1: Hawks clinch Eastern Conference — Coming into this season, the Atlanta Hawks were dealing with an underwhelming free agency period, a GM on an indefinite leave of absence, and an ownership group that wanted to sell the franchise. And then the season started, which the Hawks used as a terrific reminder that all the off the court noise ends there, and what really matters is the results on the floor. Friday night, with a win over the Miami Heat, the Hawks moved to 55-17 on the season and clinched the Eastern Conference championship. Yet despite the incredible season and improbable title, as Jeff Schultz writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks acted like it was no big deal …

The Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Friday night and they acted as if they had just beaten Milwaukee on a Tuesday in November.

That’s probably a good thing.

“Maybe we’ll do a little, ‘Hip-hip, hooray’ on the plane,” Kyle Korver said.

“I mean, it’s great,” Paul Millsap said. “But we really haven’t been focusing on it. We’ve got bigger goals ahead. We haven’t been looking at the scoreboard or looking at other teams. We’ve been looking at ourselves, trying to get ourselves right.”

The Hawks (55-17), playing the best defense they had in a few weeks, led Miami by 18 points at halftime (55-37) and cruised to a 99-86 win over the remains of the Heat.

Miami isn’t the same team without LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (injured), and with Dwyane Wade seemingly playing on one leg. The Heat’s bandwagon fan base, which used to fill Philips Arena, also appears to have shrunk, or at least morphed into Cleveland fans. Funny how that works.

But the Hawks’ win, combined with Cleveland’s loss to Brooklyn, officially clinched the East, even if it was a bit anti-climactic. It almost seemed fitting that when coach Mike Budenholzer walked into the locker room minutes after the game to tell his players that the Cavaliers had lost, half of the team was in the showers.

“Bud found out, came in and there were only like five guys in here,” Korver said. “He was like, ‘Good accomplishment, we won the East.’”

***

No. 2: Mavericks lose Ellis — The Dallas Mavericks have made several changes this season — trading for Rajon Rondo, signing Amar’e Stoudemire — and despite the growing pains involved they have managed to remain in the playoff picture. But a calf injury last night to Monta Ellis not only got Mark Cuban fired up on Twitter, but without Ellis on the floor, as Tim McMahon writes for ESPNDallas.com, the Mavericks offense was a “hot mess” …

The Dallas offense didn’t exactly look healthy without its leading scorer. The Mavs scored a grand total of 22 points in the final 18:43 without Ellis, finishing with their second-lowest point total of the season.

Of course, the Mavs didn’t quite light it up in the first half with a healthy Ellis, either. Dallas scored only 41 points in the first half, shooting 38.6 percent from the floor. But the Mavs closed the first half with a 10-2 run, capped by Ellis speeding through the Spurs for a coast-to-coast layup, and opened the second half with a 13-4 spurt to slash the Spurs’ lead to four.

Then Ellis limped off the floor with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter, a little bit after he got kneed in the calf while defending Manu Ginobili, and took the life out of the Mavs’ offense with him. Dallas didn’t score for the next 3:03 and managed only 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons failed to pick up the slack with Ellis out. They both failed to score in double figures, combining for only 16 points, none of which came in the fourth quarter.

Was that hot mess a preview of the Mavs’ offense minus Ellis?

“We’ll find out,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before correcting himself. “Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.”

The Mavs will know more about Ellis’ status on Saturday, but his streak of playing in 237 consecutive games is certainly in jeopardy. The Mavs’ next game is Sunday night in Indiana.

“We just have to wait and see what the doctors say and how he feels tomorrow,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, he will be OK. We all know he plays injured and sick and he is always there for his team.”

It could be painful to watch the Mavs without their best creator by far, but it also might be in everyone’s best interest if Ellis misses some time. The Mavs have no hope of making a playoff run if Ellis isn’t at his best.

Ellis’ toughness can’t be questioned. He has proven repeatedly that he’ll fight through pain and play through injuries. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, particularly with the playoffs weeks away.

Ellis refused to even consider missing any games after straining his left hip two games before the All-Star break. The injury bothered Ellis for weeks, a major factor in an extended slump he finally busted out of with his 38-point performance in Tuesday’s home win over the Spurs.

“Our trainers will evaluate the situation, and we’ll communicate with him,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t see us putting him out there if he’s not feeling good. You can’t underestimate his ability to bounce back from things. He’s a fighter, he loves to compete and he hates missing games. That said, we aren’t going to put him in harm’s way.”

***

No. 3: What’s next for Thunder, Durant? — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had bad luck with injuries, but even as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have missed time the last few seasons, Kevin Durant was able to carry the load, logging heavy minutes and scoring hundreds of points. But after winning the MVP a season ago, this season Durant hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug, and after having two surgeries on his right foot since the summer, the Thunder announced yesterday that Durant will need a third surgery on that right foot that will keep him out four to six months. The bone graft procedure Durant is in for should give Durant his best shot yet at fixing his troublesome right foot. And with free agency for Durant looming in the summer of 2016, as Royce Young writes at Daily Thunder, there are plenty of questions left to answer …

The big question I’m seeing a lot is, “Did Durant come back too quickly?”

The answer is, yeah, probably, in hindsight. But also what you have to understand is the team is in constant consultation with specialists about this. And sometimes, things don’t go as anticipated. It’s not like they were just saying, “I don’t care, get Durant back out there before we lose more games.”

In these situations, it makes everyone feel better to assign blame. Point a finger at someone, lash out, yell, gripe, whatever. And in truth, it probably is someone’s fault in there. Maybe it’s Durant’s. Maybe it’s Sam Presti’s. Maybe it’s the medical team. Maybe it’s your fault, ever think of that?

What’s necessary to keep in mind, though, is no one was being irresponsible here. If Durant did return earlier than he should of, it’s only because he was cleared to do so. The team and Durant can only operate off of what they’re being told, and up until literally a week and a half ago, this thing was healing the way it was supposed to. The thought was that the screwhead had created a severe bone bruise from the constant rubbing, and Durant just couldn’t shake it off without significant time off. That’s what everyone thought. I was told by someone that’s pretty close to it all that he was going to play against the Celtics two weeks ago. That’s how unexpected this turn of events became.

Durant practiced on that Saturday before, doing some 3-on-3, then he played 1-on-1 in Dallas on Monday. And after that, he walked out of the arena with a severe limp, and pretty deflated. It wasn’t improving the way it was supposed to with the increased activity and at that point, the writing was really on the wall.

It doesn’t look good that Durant has had three surgeries on his foot. One is plenty. One is supposed to do the job. With what happened last season with Russell Westbrook, there’s good reason to wonder what’s going on. But I’d look at it this way: The Thunder’s conservative approach opens the door for them to get egg on their face. They didn’t mess around with Westbrook, taking a chance to let him play on a swollen knee. They pulled the plug, and made the decision to scope and deal with the consequences and fallout.

And then they did it again. They knew there would be skeptics and critics, questioning what the hell they were doing. But instead of delaying for the offseason to address it, they prioritized the long-term health of Westbrook and made the decision with only that in mind.

I’d say it worked out pretty well for them, and Westbrook.

The Thunder could’ve taken a different measure here with Durant. They could’ve rested him the next few weeks, then put him back on the practice floor and tried to ease him back on the floor for the postseason. That option was absolutely on the table.

But in collaboration with literally three of the top foot and ankle specialists in the world, the consensus was to go ahead and take the steps to end Durant’s season and do the bone graft. Instead of risking anything in his future, they’re going to just take advantage of the coming offseason which should let him completely heal, and then start over next season.

***

No. 4: Shaq would have stayed in OrlandoShaquille O’Neal began his pro career with the Orlando Magic, and he lasted four seasons before leaving Orlando in bitter circumstances and signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. But time heals all wounds, or at least it does in the Magic Kingdom, and last night the Magic welcomed Shaq back and inducted him into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. In his remarks during the festivities, as Josh Robbins writes in the Orlando Sentinel, Shaq said if he could do it over again, he would have played out his seven-year contract in Orlando and handled things differently …

Flanked by Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, the mammoth center led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Magic lost to Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Rockets in four games.

The next year, the Magic fell to Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in four games.

O’Neal never played for the Magic again.

The Magic initially made him a low offer, and the Lakers swooped in with a $121 million offer and the lure of Hollywood.

The Magic eventually offered O’Neal a deal that eclipsed the Lakers’ offer, but it was too late. Restricted free agency didn’t exist in those days, so the Magic were powerless to prevent O’Neal from leaving.

And he left.

“We came back later and beat the Lakers’ offer at the closing minutes,” said Magic co-founder and Magic Hall of Famer Pat Williams. “But, emotionally, Shaq was gone.”

O’Neal was 24-years-old when he spurned the Magic in favor of the Lakers.

“It was all business,” O’Neal said. “Do I regret it? I never fully answered. I regret it sometimes. This is where I started, where I should’ve stayed. I actually wish that they [had] made it a law that whoever drafted you, you’ve got to stay there your whole career. No trades. No nothing. No free agency. No anything like that. Do I regret it? I regret it only because the DeVos family, they deserve a couple [of NBA titles].”

As it turned out, he didn’t finally win a title with the Lakers until 2000 — four years after he left the Magic.

“I just wish I would’ve had more patience,” O’Neal revealed. “It was all about I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that [is] I wanted to win then. Even when I got there [to L.A.], I still got bashed and it still took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there with those guys out there, that I could win right away. And that wasn’t the case.

“So now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster, I wish I had had more patience.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Jazz player and announcer Hot Rod Hundley has died at 80 … Warriors big man Draymond Green has launched a line of t-shirts poking fun at Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers … The Rockets got Dwight Howard back from injury and now lose big man Donatas Motiejunas for a few weeks with a back injury … The Heat hope to get Hassan Whiteside back by the playoffs … The Nets have signed Earl Clark to a 10-day contract

Cuban defends Ellis on Twitter

Mark Cuban is upset with the officiating and in other news, the basketball is round.

OK, jokes aside, Cuban took to Twitter to complain about the calls, or lack of them, against Monta Ellis during a crucial stage of the Mavericks’ 18-point loss to the Spurs. Yes, an 18-point loss was a lot closer than that when the game changed. Ellis took a whack to the right leg midway through the third quarter with the Mavs down four points. He left for good and the Spurs tore away from the Mavs for good.

As for Cuban? Well, he wasn’t good with that.

Does commissioner Adam Silver and his team in the league office study film sent in by fans? Well, maybe they should brace themselves. Cuban has 2.8 million followers on Twitter.

A better question: Is that tweet from Cuban a fineable offense? Probably so, because it involves criticizing the officials. Not that Cuban is hurting for cash or even cares.

Cuban had a right to be upset about Ellis not being able to finish the game. Just three days earlier Ellis erupted for 38 against the Spurs in what was easily his best game of the season and allowed him to break free from a shooting slump. And now, this.

In the big picture, the loss allowed the Spurs to split the season series at 2 apiece and increase their lead over Dallas to 1 1/2 games for sixth place. The Mavericks probably aren’t in danger of being caught by OKC, not with Kevin Durant done for the season, if that’s any consolation.

There was no immediate word on the seriousness of Ellis’ injury and he’ll likely be re-evaluated Saturday.