Posts Tagged ‘Maurice Cheeks’

Caldwell Jones, 64, stood tall, quiet

In an oil painting, he’d have been part of the background scenery. As part of a comedy team, he’d have been the straight man who set up the other guy for the jokes and applause.

Caldwell Jones looks on during a 76ers game played in 1977.

Caldwell Jones looks on during a 76ers game played in 1977.

Caldwell Jones spent most of his 17 seasons in the ABA and NBA out of the spotlight reserved for the superstars, but always in the middle of the dirty work that needed to be done.

The 64-year-old center, one of four Jones brothers — along with Wil, Major and Charles — to play in the NBA, has died of a heart attack.

He was tall (6-foot-11) and spindly and often looked like he’d been constructed out of pipe cleaners twisted together. He’d occasionally take the court wearing a rubber cushion to protect a sore elbow, two big knee pads and one high-top and one low-cut shoe to deal with foot injuries and then just go about his business against the bigger, bulkier big men in the game.

It took him 1,227 games in both leagues to cross the 10,000-point plateau, never averaging double figures. But scoring and getting headlines weren’t as important to Jones as doing what was necessary.

I first met him when he was probably the least-known member of the flamboyant 76ers team with Julius Erving, Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins and World B. Free, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant in the late 1970s and early 1980s and Jones was content to be a defensive tentpole that quietly held things up in the middle.

“Everybody likes to look at the glory part of the game, the scoring points,” he once said. “But there is a lot more to the game. I look at myself like an offensive lineman. Someone has to open the holes for the 1,000-yard rushers.”

He loved to watch old Westerns (Lash LaRue, Cisco Kid) and cartoons (Woody Woodpecker, the Flintstones) and had a laugh that was as genuine and down-to-earth as the hardscrabble roots in McGehee, Ark., that produced the Jones clan.

He ate chili dogs for breakfast, chugged beers in the locker room after a hard night’s work and when Oregonian reporter Dwight Jaynes once asked him to name his favorite seafood, replied: “Salt water taffy.”

Jones was always self-deprecating about his own talents.

“You know how you stop Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?” he once told me. “You push him and you push him and you push and you push him. And then you hope he just steps out of bounds.”

In the prime of his career, Jones was a mentor to the likes of young Sixers guards Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney, teaching them what it took to be a professional. In his final NBA season, he was still showing those ropes to a rookie named David Robinson in San Antonio.

After six seasons in Philadelphia, battling alongside Dr. J for Eastern Conference supremacy, but never winning a championship, Jones was traded to Houston for Moses Malone in 1982 and the Sixers won it all the next season while the Rockets finished 14-68.

I had moved to Houston myself about six months before the trade and Rockets equipment manager David Nordstrom asked me what he could do to make Jones feel welcome. I told him that a bucket filled with ice and a six-pack in front of his locker after every game would go a long way.

On the night Jones played his first game in Houston, I walked through the door just as C.J. was twisting the top off a bottle. He pointed it at me.

“They don’t guarantee what uniform you’re always gonna wear in this league” he said. “But they pay me very well to come to work and do a job.”

Morning Shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Mar. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ariza’s huge game | McHale approves of age limit | Fredette joins Bulls | Jennings thinks Cheeks deserved more time | Cuban favors D-League over college

No. 1: Ariza’s huge game – Trevor Ariza took over in the first quarter of Saturday’s game between the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers. He scored 24 points with six three-pointers to help the Wizards open up a 13-point first quarter lead against a sold-out Philadelphia crowd. Ariza finished with a career-high 40 points, with eight three-pointers, and helped teammate John Wall collect his own career-high of 16 assists. J. Michael from CSN-Washington has more on Ariza’s career-night:

Trevor Ariza left the floor early during warmups at Wells Fargo Center because it was too cold. An NHL game had taken place earlier and several players, including Andre Miller and Chris Singleton, could be seen blowing into their hands and rubbing their arms in an attempt to generate heat.

Ariza didn’t take long. He just went to the locker room and waited until the opening tip in Saturday’s 122-103 rout of the Philadelphia 76ers when he scored a career-high 40 points, 24 coming in the first quarter when he made his first six three-point attempts. A free agent after the season, each time Ariza swishes a three it should come with the sound effects of a cash register.

“It was cold early but the fans and the excitement and all the things that was going on here made me feel a little bit warmer,” said Ariza, alluding to the sellout crowd that was primarily there to witness the retirement of Allen Iverson’s No. 3 jersey at halftime. “The flamethrower was out there.”

“You want to see the guy that has put in work, doing the extra sacrifice to help our team, guarding the best players on any given night, to have one of those big nights,” said Wall, who tied a career high with 16 assists. “You try to reward him for that. That’s what I wanted, for him to get a 40-point game.”

Marcin Gortat had another double-double with 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Even he wasn’t impressed by his own performance. He could only talk about Ariza.

“It was a one-man show,” Gortat said. “My rebounds and John’s assists, I don’t think they count.”

***

No. 2: McHale approves of age limit – Houston Rockets coach and Boston Celtics great Kevin McHale agrees with new NBA commissioner Adam Silver that the NBA should enforce an age limit to help avoid college one-and-dones. Sam Amick from the USA Today has more:

The Houston Rockets coach has a unique vantage point on this front. He spent four seasons at the University of Minnesota before beginning his Hall of Fame NBA career and later transitioning to a post-playing career as an executive (Minnesota Timberwolves) and head coach (Timberwolves, Rockets). McHale could see this situation from all sides, it would seem, and so it was that Silver went seeking his counsel leading up to his February ascension into former commissioner David Stern‘s seat.

The advice, which McHale reiterated this week in an interview with USA TODAY Sports, was to push hard for the end of the one-and-done era.

“I’m totally against it,” McHale said. “I understand (the argument) that it’s America and everybody has a right to work. I understand that. But the guys aren’t ready. (When) you’re 16 years old or 15 years old, they don’t put you into doggone smelting or anything. Man, the NBA is a man’s league, and I think a lot of these young guys come in early and their careers would prosper if they stayed (in college).

“I’d like to see us do the three years out of high school or 21 (years old), like football. I just think it would help the colleges. I think it would help the kids. And I know they don’t think so, because they want to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get in the market. I’ve got to make all my money and all that stuff.’ But you don’t make money if you have a three-year career, if you come in at 18, 19, and you’re not ready.”

As Silver said at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, the owners’ proposal to raise the league’s minimum age from 19 to 20 was negotiated with the players during the 2011 lockout but ultimately tabled as a B-list item to be resolved at a later time. Silver argued in a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports that owners and players alike would reap the benefits of increased profits as a result of raising the minimum age.

McHale, not surprisingly, agrees. What’s more, he thinks players would approve of the change in a vote.

“Why would a bunch of NBA players vote to say, ‘Yeah, I want guys coming in to take my job?’” McHale continued. “They would say (have a minimum age of) 28 if you’re an NBA player, you know what I mean? So 21? I just think it would make it a better product, and I think it would help the kids. I really do.

“I think they’d learn leadership. I think they’d learn more responsibility. … When you get in the NBA, this is your job and you have to be really professional. But a lot of guys who come in just aren’t ready for that. It’s hard to do a man’s job when you’re 19.”

***

No. 3:  Fredette joins Bulls – Jimmer Fredette has not experienced a smooth transition from college to the NBA. He struggled to find playing time in Sacramento and many have already written off the 10th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft as a bust. But after clearing waivers, he now has a chance to start fresh in a much more developed system in Chicago. Teddy Greenstein of The Chicago Tribune has more:

Fredette officially cleared waivers Saturday and has agreed to sign with the Bulls for a prorated portion of the veteran’s minimum contract, sources said. Fredette is shooting a career-best 49.3 percent from 3-point range and is expected to attend Sunday’s matinee against the Knicks.

The Bulls hope Fredette will provide them with what they desperately need: scoring.

“The more shooting you have, the more it opens up the floor,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We want to open things up to attack off the dribble, with our cuts, things of that nature. We feel that is an area of need.”

Fredette, seeking to revive his career heading into free agency, can point to how the Bulls helped resurrect D.J. Augustin, whom the Raptors dumped. Since joining the Bulls, Augustin is averaging 13.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in 30.6 minutes.

“There are a number of guys who are good, and sometimes, as you see with D.J., it’s an opportunity to step in and add to what a team may need,” Thibodeau said. “Whoever we sign, if we do sign someone, we want to play to their strengths and cover up their weaknesses.”

The 6-foot-2 Fredette is not a strong defender, but the last time he got extensive minutes, Feb. 12 at Madison Square Garden, he torched the Knicks for 24 points on 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range.

Guard Kirk Hinrich said adding a top-flight shooter such as Fredette would make defenses “play honest.”

The Bulls entered Friday night 27th in 3-point shooting (34.1 percent), 28th in field-goal shooting (42.7 percent) and last in scoring (92.7 ppg).

***

No. 4:  Jennings thinks Cheeks deserved more time – The Detroit Pistons (23-36) have struggled this season after an offseason which saw them sign Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to large contracts. Another part of their offseason overhaul was the hiring of Maurice Cheeks to be head coach. This job proved to not be secure as Cheeks was fired after just 50 games, which was not a decision Jennings agreed with, reports Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

Although there would certainly be some Pistons players who weren’t unhappy to see former coach Maurice Cheeks go, Brandon Jennings isn’t one of them — and Cheeks isn’t out of sight, out of mind for the starting point guard.

“I don’t have a problem with John (Loyer), just with the whole thing of changing coaches was one of the more difficult things for me,” Jennings said at Houston’s Toyota Center, while nursing a sore right big toe that caused him to miss the second half of Wednesday’s game in San Antonio.

“John was our assistant, so I know a lot about him. It was just a personal problem with Mo leaving.”

Jennings and Cheeks would often watch film together, and Jennings had a coach who could teach him the nuances of playing the position, given Cheeks’ stellar career.

Cheeks was fired on the morning of Feb. 9, mere hours after Jennings posted perhaps one of his best games as a pro, certainly atop the list in efficiency — 35 points and 12 assists with only two turnovers against the Denver Nuggets.

He echoed literally the thoughts of most folks who believe 50 games was nowhere near sufficient time to judge a coach, let alone one with Cheeks’ experience. It came as a shock to many around the NBA and Jennings’ head is still spinning.

“You give a coach half a season with new faces and new chemistry, that’s not enough time,” Jennings said. “I felt like he was in a losing situation. We were winning and now we’re playing like the old Pistons, in the beginning.”

Considering the Pistons have lost six of eight since Cheeks’ firing — albeit against better competition — Jennings doesn’t buy into the school of thought of Cheeks being the problem with their season.

“To be honest, I don’t think the team is tripping. It’s still the same,” Jennings said. “Not much has really changed, if you ask me.”

The two have talked a couple times since the firing, and Jennings hasn’t flourished under Loyer, although it doesn’t appear as if his responsibilities have changed too much. Aside from the first game following Cheeks’ firing, Jennings hasn’t shot over 40 percent in a game — and has three games where he hasn’t scored in double figures, including Wednesday, when he played only 13 minutes.

“I think I have been thinking too much,” Jennings said. “That’s with everything. Dealing with the coaching change and everything going on. Now, we keep slipping out the playoff race and you get worried.”

Jennings was open and candid about the high expectations that have given way to the disappointment surrounding the team to date. He thought his arrival in Detroit would mean the mediocrity from his days in Milwaukee was long gone, but clearly, there’s something missing with this team.

“If we don’t make the playoffs, it’ll be very disappointing and kind of embarrassing,” Jennings said. “The fact that myself coming here, Josh (Smith) coming here, we make these big moves and we don’t get it done — it’ll be real disappointing.”

***

No. 5:  Cuban favors D-League over college – Mark Cuban has rarely been afraid to speak his mind, so it’s no surprise he has a unique view on the age limit discussion. Unlike Kevin McHale, Cuban believes players would be better trained with a year in the NBA Development League over a year in college. Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas has more:

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes it’s in the best interests of elite prospects to play in the NBA Development League instead of spending one season in college.

“I think what will end up happening — and this is my opinion, not that of the league — is if the colleges don’t change from the one-and-done, we’ll go after the one,” Cuban said. “The NCAA rules are so hypocritical, there’s absolutely no reason for a kid to go [to college], because he’s not going to class [and] he’s actually not even able to take advantage of all the fun because the first semester he starts playing basketball. So if the goal is just to graduate to the NBA or be an NBA player, go to the D-League.”

Under the NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement, players must be one year out of high school and 19 years old to play in the league. However, the minimum age for the D-League is 18.

Cuban would like to see the NBA take steps to make the D-League a more attractive alternative to players who intend to spend only one season playing college basketball. While Cuban said he hasn’t analyzed the situation enough to make a formal proposal, he envisions the NBA working with nearby universities to provide straight-out-of-high school players an opportunity to pursue a college education while playing in the D-League.

Cuban suggests guaranteeing college tuition for such players, whether or not they pan out as NBA prospects, as an incentive.

“We can get rid of all the hypocrisy and improve the education,” Cuban said. “If the whole plan is just to go to college for one year maybe or just the first semester, that’s not a student-athlete. That’s ridiculous.

“You don’t have to pretend. We don’t have to pretend. A major college has to pretend that they’re treating them like a student-athlete, and it’s a big lie and we all know it’s a big lie. At least at most schools, not all. … But we can put more of an emphasis on their education. We can plan it out, have tutors. We can do all kinds of things that the NCAA doesn’t allow schools to do that would really put the individual first.”

Cuban’s biggest concern about one-and-done prospects is that they’re often not mentally, emotionally and psychologically prepared for the NBA after spending only one season in a college environment.

He believes the D-League could provide a better atmosphere for freshman-age players to develop on and off the court.

Mark Cuban believes it’s in the best interests of top prospects to play in the NBA D-League instead of spending one season in the “hypocritical” NCAA.

“You have to develop some level of maturity, and that has to be part of the process,” Cuban said. “You don’t want to bring kids in and just abandon them. That’d be the worst thing we could do.

“We’d have to make it so where there’d be very strict policies and rules so that, even if you’re not going to go to [college] class, there’s going be life [skills] classes — how do you deal with the world? — and you have to attend those. You have to keep up with those. We’d have very strict [rules] on why you’d be suspended if you didn’t live up to them. Things that should be done to student-athletes in college and are just not. Or not always.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah wasn’t happy with Tony Snell‘s celebration. … Yao Ming believes he would struggle in today’s NBA. … Isiah Thomas is reportedly being considered to replace Joe Dumars in the Pistons’ front office. … Derrick Williams continues to try to find his footing in the NBA.

ICYMI of the Night: It appears some of Chris Paul‘s passing ability may have rubbed off on teammate Blake Griffin. Example? This behind-the-back pass from Griffin to Matt Barnes:


VIDEO: Play of the Day – Blake Griffin

Time To Expand All-Star Rosters to 15

VIDEO: The Starters make the case for additional All-Stars

DALLAS – When Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks made each of his four All-Star teams from 1983 to 1988, the NBA had 23 teams. Twelve players from each conference, one made up of 12 teams and the other 11, made the All-Star team.

Today the league boasts 30 teams, 15 in each conference. That’s seven more teams and approximately 105 more players than in Cheeks’ day (approximately because not all teams carry a full 15-man roster). Yet only 12 players still represent each conference in the All-Star Game. The NBA has not only grown by the number of teams and players, but it has also evolved in the style of play, the development of young players and, above all, their remarkable athleticism.

“You got guards that are big guards, they run, they jump,” Cheeks said. “These guys are more athletic than when I was playing, from [point guard] to [center]. These guys, they play more pick-and-roll, they shoot the ball from a 4-position or 5-position.”

More athletic, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean better, but there certainly is an argument to be made for a number of players awaiting an All-Star call. And here we are again anticipating the unlucky All-Star snubs maybe more than those who actually make the team. There’s that many All-Star-worthy candidates, particularly in the overloaded Western Conference, that multiple players will be heading to the beach Feb. 14-16 instead of to New Orleans for the 63rd All-Star Game.

The seven All-Star reserves in each conference, as selected by the respective conference coaches, will be announced at 7 p.m. (ET) Thursday on TNT.

“Like the West this year is just rife with great players,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “There’s going to be half-a-dozen guys who miss just because there’s not enough spots.”

Which begs the question: Is it time to expand the All-Star roster?

A few years ago the NBA expanded the active game-day roster from 12 to 13. Why not do the same for the All-Star roster? Better yet, just take it all the way to a full 15-man roster.

LeBron James lobbied for just that a year ago on Twitter: “Always believe there should be 15 on both rosters so there’s no snubs.”

There will probably always be a snub or two, but that’s no reason not to expand rosters. Carlisle is a member of the league’s competition committee, but he declined to acknowledge if the topic has come up in past meetings.

“Categorically, I wouldn’t see the harm in it on the one hand,” Carlisle said. “On the other hand, how much do you want to water down the privilege? That’s the other thing to consider. Not that it would always be a water-down situation.”

That’s when Carlisle noted that half-a-dozen players in the West could be on the outside looking in, even with injuries that will keep Kobe Bryant out and potentially Chris Paul, too, in the West, and Derrick Rose, plus Rajon Rondo (who recently returned from an ACL injury) in the East.

“You add one spot and five other guys miss. I don’t know,” Carlisle said. “The other thing is if you’re coaching the game, which I’ve had the privilege to do once as a head coach and once as an assistant, is you add another guy to the mix, it’s hard enough to get guys minutes as it is. You always love the guys that say ‘Hey, I’ll just play a few minutes here or there, I’m good.’ Then the guys who don’t get in there enough, and then the next time they play you they’re trying to kill ya. The minutes thing is another part of it.”

Carlisle was joking, sort of, about the last part, but divvying up playing time is a fair point. Still, there seems like there will always be veteran players like a Tim Duncan (played eight minutes last year) or Dirk Nowitzki, who would be happy to be on the team, play a few minutes and give way to some of the younger stars. Or a younger player who will earn minutes for future appearances, such as a Brook Lopez, who logged 11 minutes last year as an All-Star newbie.

An expanded roster could also help perk up TV ratings in certain markets. In Phoenix, more TVs will be tuned in if Goran Dragic were selected to the team instead of leaving the Suns without a representative. Same with New Orleans if Anthony Davis were to make it as one of 15 instead of snubbed by a roster of 12.

“There’s a lot of arguments that would favor it, but there are some that would probably caution against it,” Carlisle said. “But, I think this league is all about recognizing great players, especially great players that are winning great players, and that’s what guys in the All-Star Game are.”

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Daily Zap, a quick rundown of the 12 games played Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh rises to sink Blazers | Smith lashes out at Cheeks | Clippers interested in Bynum? | Wolves back to .500

No. 1: Bosh rises to sink Blazers — On a night the Miami Heat were looking to avoid consecutive losses for the third time this season, LeBron James sat out with a groin injury and Dwyane Wade didn’t have it going. But there was the often overlooked member of the Big Three, Chris Bosh, an All-Star in his own right, standing by to save the day. The Heat’s power forward outplayed LaMarcus Aldridge, posting 37 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds to beat the Portland Trail Blazers, the West’s No. 1 team. In the final huddle Heat coach Erik Spoelstra drew up a play, but Bosh overruled it, wanting to take the 3, and Spoelstra smartly rolled with it. After Bosh drilled the shot, the Heat bench, including James, erupted and showered Bosh with a wild celebration that revealed how big that win was and how much Bosh’s teammates enjoy seeing him succeed.
Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report provides the details:

“My call at the end of the game was much more conservative,” Spoelstra said, after the Heat’s 108-107 victory. “I drew something up to get him on the move, and he said no, I want it for three.”

Bosh wanted the extra space, especially since he knew his momentum would take him away from the hoop anyway.

He wanted the extra point too.

“I told him I wanted to go for the jugular,” Bosh said.

“So he overruled it and became a prophet,” Spoelstra said. “Why did I even diagram something else for him? I mean, he already hit two threes. He was feeling it, he wanted it, and as soon as he said it, I said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ It was much better than what I had planned.”

It was. So much better.

Norris Cole inbounded to Dwyane Wade from the left side, with Mario Chalmers running Damian Lillard down the baseline from right to left, while Ray Allen occupied Mo Williams‘ attention on the left wing. It was similar to the previous play, in which Allen’s screen freed Wade for a slam.

Bosh set a brush screen—and this time, Aldridge left him to help Nicolas Batum chase down Wade.

“My job was to drive his man to me,” Wade said.

It went just as they planned.

“It didn’t really go exactly like that,” Wade said.

OK, it didn’t. Wade lost the handle briefly, before chucking the ball behind him on one bounce, fortunate that Williams didn’t budge.

“He threw a crazy pass a little bit, I’m not going to lie,” Bosh said. “But I was able to see it, nobody was in the vicinity, so I didn’t have to rush, and I was able to lock into the goal the whole time.”

Bosh collected it with his left side touching the three-point line, backing up, stepping in and launching from 26 feet with 2.6 seconds left.

With 0.5 seconds left, it fell through.

***

No. 2: Smith lashes out at Cheeks — The Detroit Pistons were on the verge of hitting .500, but have now lost four of five and two in a row, blasted on back-to-back nights by Orlando and then at Washington on Saturday. And now the Pistons have the first signs of internal conflict brewing with big free-agent acquisition Josh Smith unhappy about being benched for the entire second half and suggesting that coach Maurice Cheeks called him out for not playing hard. As David Mayo of MLive reports:

Josh Smith didn’t play the second half of a 106-82 blowout against the Washington Wizards, the second time head coach Maurice Cheeks has made that decision this season.

This time, Smith suggested Cheeks called him out for not playing hard, and that he took “real offense” to the accusation.

Smith also was benched the second half of a Nov. 12 game at Golden State.

“Like I told y’all before when we had this conversation, when you hit adverse times, characters are gonna be tested,” Smith said. “It’s either that we’re gonna come closer together and make it all one team, or are you gonna use a scapegoat to get away from what’s really at hand?”

What’s really at hand is the Pistons (14-18) have lost four of five, bombed in a two-game road trip against sub-.500 teams this weekend, and now have their first hint of internal upheaval.

How long it lasts remains to be seen.

Asked if Smith will start Monday’s home rematch with the Wizards, Cheeks replied, “I assume he will. I don’t know why he wouldn’t. We’ll wait until that next game gets there.”

Smith said he isn’t inclined to have a personal discussion with Cheeks about their disagreement before the next game.

“To me, it’s over with,” Smith said. “But you know, some people hold grudges longer than others. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m not saying that he (Cheeks) does. I don’t know.

“But I’m not the type of person that really likes to go all the time in the coach’s office and have one-on-one sitdowns. I’m more of a team morale guy, worrying about what we can do, as far as teammates are concerned, to make ourselves more successful.”

***

No. 3: Clippers interested in Bynum?The former Lakers big man, troubled by knee injuries and possibly a lack of desire to play at the highest level, was suspended indefinitely by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday for conduct detrimental to the team. Reports have the Cavs eager to deal Andrew Bynum. The Clippers, in need of frontline support behind center DeAndre Jordan and power forward Blake Griffin, could be one team interested in trying to make it work with the troubled 7-footer who had not long ago put himself in the discussion alongside Dwight Howard as the league’s top center. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times breaks it down:

The Clippers would have interest in Bynum if he was released by the Cavaliers, according to several NBA executives who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

But according to one Eastern Conference executive, the Clippers would have competition for Bynum because the Miami Heat also would have interest in the seven-footer.

The Clippers have the NBA-maximum 15-player roster and would have to waive a player if they were to sign Bynum, who is still only 26.

The Cavaliers signed Bynum to a two-year, $24-million deal over the summer. But only $6 million of Bynum’s $12.2-million contract for this season is guaranteed if he is waived before Jan. 7.

The Eastern Conference executive said it’s possible Bynum will be released by the Cavaliers in early January if they can’t trade him so the team is not on the hook for the last $6 million Bynum would be owed.

Bynum has averaged 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in 20.0 minutes in the 24 games he has played with the Cavaliers. He had 18 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes when he started for the Cavaliers against the Clippers on Dec. 7

.***

No. 4: Wolves back to .500It had been since Dec. 10-11 that the Minnesota Timberwolves had won consecutive games. A team expected to make the playoffs this season following last year’s disastrous injury problems, the Wolves have yet to find any consistency and have lost late leads in multiple games. On Saturday night, they avoided a letdown on the second night of a back-to-back, blowing out woeful Milwaukee to get back to .500. They haven’t won three in a row since starting the season with three consecutive victories. They’ll get the chance to match their season-high win streak at home on Monday against the Dallas Mavericks, a team they handled twice in November. Kent Youngblood of the Minnesota Star Tribune has the story:

The message, at halftime, was something like this: Don’t let it happen again.

The Timberwolves were winning against the lowly Bucks on the road Saturday night, but Milwaukee was getting too many easy baskets and points in the paint. This was feeling a bit too much like last week’s game against the Lakers. Or the week before in Boston, when the Wolves had followed an impressive win with a listless loss.

Not to worry.

With Kevin Love leading the way, the Wolves scored the first 14 points of the third quarter and built their lead to as much as 31 late in the quarter at Bradley Center. That was enough to withstand some shoddy play by the bench to start the fourth quarter. The result was a 117-95 victory that ended a three-game road losing streak and put the Wolves (15-15) back at .500 with five of their next six games at home.

“We haven’t played great in the second night of back-to-backs,” said Love, who scored 33 points with 15 rebounds. He made four of six three-pointers and had six assists. It was his 10th consecutive game with 25 or more points, most in the league this season, and his fifth game with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds.

The Wolves, who won Friday against Washington, have won two in a row, sweeping both ends of a back-to-back for only the second time in eight tries this season. Love and center Nikola Pekovic (19 points, 11 rebounds) took advantage of a Bucks lineup missing 6-11 John Henson. Kevin Martin added 20 points and Corey Brewer had 12.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Deron Williams‘ season keeps getting uglier as Nets get crushed by superior Pacers … Knicks hope to get Carmelo Anthony back for tough Texas road swing. … Bradley Beal makes welcome return 24 hours after limping off the floor and helps Wizards rout of Pistons … Nets center Brook Lopez will undergo foot surgery next Saturday

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 23


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sometimes Love isn’t enough | Stephenson spoils Indy return for Stevens | Pistons ride roller coaster | Wade’s Holiday surprise

No. 1: Timberwolves get monster effort from Love and still lose – Kevin Love has been toiling like this now for a while. He puts up monster numbers, epic numbers often, only to see his Minnesota Timberwolves come up short in seemingly winnable games. Sunday night was no different, with Love posting just the fourth 45-points on 65-percent shooting, 15-rebounds and 5-assist game since the NBA/ABA merger and the Timberwolves found a way to fumble away a late lead in regulation and lose to the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime.

It makes you wonder if the Timberwolves are ever going to figure things out with this particular group … Rick Adelman in charge, Love and Ricky Rubio leading the way and Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and others as role players.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com ponders the thought:

It’s getting harder and harder to believe in Minnesota, even for those among us who were ready to anoint them as this season’s Warriors. It all looked so promising six weeks ago. The Wolves were quickly mastering Adelman’s read-and-react offense from the high post and perimeter, but could also bully opponents down on the block.

The defense wasn’t half-bad either. Through the end of November, the Wolves ranked 9th in defensive efficiency. They didn’t have a legitimate rim protector on the roster, but they had good size, Ricky Rubio’s pressure up top, Corey Brewer’s skills as a stopper on the wing, and a very large man in Pekovic who nobody wants to encounter in the paint.

The December schedule hasn’t been terribly friendly, but the Wolves have been terrible, their big home win over Portland last Wednesday the one strand of hope. The offense looks nothing like anything Adelman has ever presided over. Half-court possessions are labored affairs, slow grinds into post isolations for either Love or Pekovic.

Martin has battled a knee injury for much of the month and hasn’t looked like himself. As a linchpin of the corner offense, Martin is often a bellwether for Adelman offenses, and if he’s not producing, chances are the offense is dragging.

The Wolves’ 3-and-D guy, Brewer, is shooting 17.1 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, defenses willingly slough off Rubio, practically begging him to shoot. With his confidence waning, Rubio is still racking up assists, but is less a playmaker than a reversal machine, swinging the ball to the second side without truly challenging the defense.

Speaking of defense, the Wolves have given up 106.6 points per 100 possession, a mark that would rank 28th in the NBA. Asked to identify the specific problem prior to the game, Adelman said, “We’re not guarding anybody.” Those big bodies now just look slow. Whether it’s Martin or J.J. Barea alongside Rubio, the Wolves don’t get much defensively at the 2. Brewer has conceded that his wayward shot is affecting his defense.

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No. 2: Stephenson’s triple double trumps homecoming for Stevens – So much for that storybook homecoming for former Butler and now Celtics coach Brad Stevens. The Indiana Pacers, particularly Lance Stephenson, were having no part of the Holiday cheer. Stephenson collected his league-leading third triple-double of the season as the Pacers trounced the Celtics. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t help but dance a little bit (something Pacers coach Frank Vogel could have done without) on his way to yet another stellar performance.

Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star explains:

Stephenson finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and looked very much like a player deserving of his first All-Star berth. No other player in the NBA has more than one triple-double this season.

“I’m happy I did it,” he said. “It was in the flow of the game. My teammates helped me out. We played smart. It was easy because I know my teammates are going to knock down shots.”

Stephenson did get plenty of help, most notably from Paul George, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Danny Granger, playing in his just his second game after returning from a calf strain, was 4-for-5 from 3-point range and had 12 points. Roy Hibbert had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

But his teammates acknowledged afterward that Stephenson provides them an emotional lift like no one else.

“He’s just starting the game off more aggressively,” George said. “In practice, he’s been great. We’ve seen it develop over time. Now, when he gets into the game, it’s second nature to him.”

Added veteran forward David West: “One of the biggest things for young guys in the NBA is that once you work your way into the rotation and you become a guy we rely on, that just fills you up. We give him a lot of room to go out and play his game. … He definitely keeps us on our toes and keeps things light. He’s able to just do something we’ll talk about on the plane. It’s just who he is.”

Vogel wasn’t thrilled with a couple of celebration dances Stephenson did after baskets, but didn’t have much else to complain about.

“He’s such a gifted passer and playmaker for us and a huge part of our team success,” Vogel said.

STEVENS‘The emotions are in coming back and seeing friends’

Stevens, the former Butler coach who left the school in July to join the Celtics, got a warm ovation during pregame warmups and his team kept it close for one quarter.

But after that, the Pacers (22-5) showed why they have the Eastern Conference’s best record. They outscored Boston 50-22 in the paint, got 40 points from their bench and held the Celtics to just 38.1 percent shooting (32-for-84) en route to an easy victory.

As the game ended, Stevens shook hands with Vogel, a rarity at the end of a NBA game. He also shook the hand of several Pacers players.

“It was just because we’re friends and we know each other well,” said Vogel, noting they also shook hands after the Pacers’ 97-82 victory in Boston last month. “I came down and told him he was doing a great job with that team.”

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No. 3: Pistons’ roller coaster season confounds – If Maurice Cheeks had the answers he’d have pushed those buttons already. But he doesn’t and he hasn’t. And therefore, the curious ride of the Detroit Pistons continues as the coach and his staff try to figure out how to stop the roller coaster ride that is their season and stabilize things. That’s a lot easier said than done, however, as Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News points out:

The last two home games, losses to the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Bobcats on consecutive nights over the weekend, is a clear example of nobody knowing which team will step on the floor on a given night.

“You know we’re still trying to get better,” Cheeks said. “As I said to our players, there’s going to be some good nights and bad nights. Last night (Friday) and (Saturday) was not our best.”

Cheeks believes the Bobcats loss led to the poor showing against the Rockets. The Pistons blew a 20-point lead to Charlotte on Friday and looking almost apathetic on Saturday.

“I believe there could’ve been some carryover,” Cheeks said. “I can’t discount that because it was a tough loss.”

Losing five of six at home is an unexpected circumstance, although there isn’t much shame in losing to the Miami Heat in a game where the champions were intent on sending a message.

But blowout losses to the Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves are combined with come-from-ahead losses to the Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers, mixed in with a win against the Brooklyn Nets that was tougher than it needed to be.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I guess that’s determined when we go up and down the floor a few times,” said forward Josh Smith, when asked about getting a pulse on the team’s energy before games.

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No. 4: Wade surprises Union with Holiday ring – Heat guard Dwyane Wade has no problem mixing business with pleasure. He used Heat boss Pat Riley‘s annual Holiday party as his impromptu engagement party after officially popping the question to longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union before they arrived at Riley’s affair. The surprise engagement was announced via social media. But Union showing up with a huge diamond ring on her finger added an extra dash of flair to the festivities, upstaging Riley at his own gig in the process, not that anyone was complaining about that. In fact, Wade popping the question was a bit of a team effort, so says Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Wade proposed to Union before the party at his home and then announced the engagement on Twitter and Instagram.

Wade said his children helped him pop the question.

“We asked her to marry all of us, not just me,” Wade said. “It was a package deal.”

Wade and Union have dated since 2007.

“She was ready,” Wade said. “She had the ‘yes’ in her back pocket.”

At the holiday party, Wade then surprised his teammates with green custom-made sports coats commemorating their 2013 championship. The blazers featured the players’ jersey numbers on the sleeves and white Heat logos on the front pockets.

Wade said his inspirations for the unique mementos were the Masters golf tournament and Rasheed Wallace. Wallace famously had pro wrestling-style replica championship belts made for his Pistons teammates for winning the 2004 NBA Finals. Wade liked Wallace’s idea but wanted something a little classier.

Said Wade: “You know me, I’m always trying to do something different and out of the norm, and I started thinking about what have previous champions done … and then it came to be me, because of fashion and because of the Masters and how amazing it is when they win the green jacket and all the previous winners come back and take pictures with the green jackets and how prestigious it is … so I got with my stylist and created this Masters kind of feel.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder fell victim to the red-hot Raptors and the schedule in their first home loss of the season Sunday … Much like their NFL counterparts, the Dallas Mavericks are having no problems scoring. It’s the defense that they are struggling with these days … The Hawks have brought big man Lucas Nogueira to Atlanta for treatment of his ailing knees.

ICYMI Of The Night: Kevin Love put up the stat line of the night and delivered the elbow of the week, but Blake Griffin got the win, the knot on his forehead and the shine on Nightly Notable …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin gets the shiner (on his forehead) and the shine in the end

Cheeks Wants Jennings To Step Up On ‘D’


VIDEO: Detroit at New Orleans, Dec. 11, 2013

NEW ORLEANS — Brandon Jennings filled up the hoop with 25 points, grabbed five rebounds and dealt out four assists.

As usual, that wasn’t the issue.

The Pistons have now lost three consecutive games and went down on back-to-back nights in large part because the middle of their defense might as well be a landing strip.

Brandon Jennings

Brandon Jennings (Dan Lippitt/NBAE)

On Tuesday night, the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio ransacked The Palace by doing almost anything he pleased. Barely 24 hours later it was Jrue Holiday along with Tyreke Evans (on a tender ankle) who took apart the Pistons with dribble penetration.

There is room for all of the routine excuses — the Pistons are the fourth-youngest team in the NBA, they have so many different new parts still learning about each other and how to play together. But Wednesday night they played a Pelicans team that was without its best player in Anthony Davis and overcoming a horrid 6-for-18 shooting night from Ryan Anderson – and they still found a way to get past Detroit.

Mostly that way was straight down the middle.

A Pistons team that should have a stifling front line of the sizable Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith has a defense that is ranked 19th in the NBA for a variety of reasons. Much of the problem begins at the top where opposing guards are usually able to run as free as colts in a meadow.

It’s enough to make Detroit fans long for the days of the Bad Boys and a couple of good forearm shivers.

That’s why coach Maurice Cheeks is looking for his point guard, Jennings, to take on his share of the defensive burden.

When he was asked whether he might “hide” Jennings in a run of three straight games against high powered point guards Holiday, Deron Williams (Nets) and Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) by switching the assignment to rookie Kentavious Pope-Caldwell, Cheeks threw down the gauntlet.

“Yeah he’d be up for the challenge,” Cheeks said of the rookie. “But if you’re going to be good, and I’m going to say this again, a good point guard, I don’t like the word ‘hide’. I want the guy who’s guarding the ball, who’s running my team, to guard that guy, if you’re going to be good.”

Since he popped in 55 points as a rookie with the Bucks, Jennings has been all about his offensive ability. But in a league where point guard skill is more abundant than ever, if Jennings is going to get back into the headlines and crack the upper echelon, he’ll have to stop relying on his big men to cover up for his mistakes and lack of commitment on defense.

Cheeks, who was one of the best on-the-ball defenders during his 15-year NBA career, wants his point guard to take the challenge personally.

“I think Jennings has a chance to be very good,” Cheeks said. “I keep talking about steps. “You take steps, you get better at defending your position. That’s how you become one of those elite players. You don’t become elite by having someone else guard your guy.”

Yoda, Father Time And Billups’ Dual Role

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Marketing whizzes love to throw big, rhetorical “choices” at us. Is it a phone or is it a computer? Is it soup or is it a meal? Is it a salad dressing or is it a floor wax?

Well, here’s another one … NBA-style: Is Chauncey Billups a combo guard for the Detroit Pistons or is he a mentor and coach’s apprentice?

For now, and both the player and the team are sticking to this story, Billups is both. That’s usually the “wink-wink” point of those commercials anyway.

Billups, 37, is in his 17th NBA season, a five-time All-Star who has played for seven different teams, twice finished in the top six in MVP balloting and won the Finals MVP award for being the floor leader of Detroit’s ensemble title in 2004. The No. 3 pick in the 1997 (Tim Duncan) Draft, Billups enjoyed the best six-plus seasons of his career with the Pistons and he re-signed in July with the idea, again, of boosting their point guard play. After all, through two years, young Brandon Knight had handled the position more like a miscast shooting guard.

Two weeks later, though, Detroit president Joe Dumars swapped Knight in a sign-and-trade for Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings, no purist’s dream as a playmaker but at least more proven and committed as a point guard. That cast Billups’ return in a different light — he had played shooting guard next to Chris Paul for the stretches they both were healthy in 2011-12 and last season, but then the Pistons also had Rodney Stuckey, Kyle Singler and lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as options there.

So, Billups told Detroit reporters that he didn’t need to start and understood the team’s vision, adding “Here’s my thing: I don’t mind playing the 2 only if I’m able to play like a point guard. Control it, play with the ball in my hands, make plays, have an effect on the game.”

Everyone, most notably Billups, still is waiting to see how that works out. Through the Pistons’ first four preseason games, Billups logged just 19 minutes in one game, missing four field goals, hitting a pair of free throws and dishing a couple assists. With Detroit getting a lovely preseason back-to-back, there was a chance he would play again Thursday in Cleveland. The veteran guard said he’s healthy after two horribly scarred seasons of injuries (left Achilles, foot tendinitis, groin strain and back pain).

Coach Maurice Cheeks still sees a guy in a uniform, working on a $2.5 million salary with a team option next summer for the same amount.

“No. 1, I think he can still play,” Cheeks said Wednesday night in Chicago. “His knowledge and the things he can still do on the court — he can still shoot the ball, he can still run pick-and-roll, he can still do certain things that he did before. Maybe not at the pace he did before, but he can still do ‘em.”

In the six consecutive seasons in which he helped Detroit reach the East, from 2002-03 through 2007-08, Billups on a 36-minute basis averaged 17.7 points, 6.6 assists and 1.1 steals, with a PER rating of 21.0 and shooting percentages of 42.4/40.0/89.2.

Since the start of 2008-09, same 36-minute prorating, he’s been at 18.9 points, 6.0 assists and 1.1 steals, with a PER of 18.8 and a shooting line of 41.6/39.5/91.3.

He’s very well could be capable of similar performances. Just not for as long or as often.

“You’ll see it, you’ll see it,” Billups said, when a familiar face asked him about his DNP against the Bulls. “Absolutely I’m fine [being a veteran voice]. But I’ll be here to play and help. As needed. I mean, I’m not going to play 35 minutes a game. If I want to make it through I’m not. But nah, I’m here, man. I’m healthy to play.”

The openings might be there, given the NBA’s injurious ways. Jennings and Stuckey both are hurt, the former with a hairline jaw fracture and impacted wisdom tooth, the latter with a bum thumb. Caldwell-Pope looked good with 18 points and seven rebounds in 40 reserve minutes Wednesday and another newbie, Peyton Siva, logged 26 minutes backing up Will Bynum. But they’re rookies.

In the meantime, Billups can be Yoda, the vestiges of his serious Jedi game under wraps.

“Off the court, his knowledge can only help our team,” Cheeks said. “He’s been through every situation imaginable. … Things I’m trying to tell ‘em, he can reinforce it to players. Any time a player of Chauncey’s [status] says it, it validates what the coach is saying.

“Jennings, Bynum, Siva, Kentavious. He can help a lot of guys: big guys, small guys. He can help ME.”

Said Bynum: “Chauncey’s been through the wars. He’s been through ups, he’s been through downs. We’re all eager to learn from that. It’s the small attention to details, the critical things. Splitting the screeners, small things Chauncey’s telling us that can be the difference between winning and losing.”

Then Bynum — with Stuckey, the only two Pistons remaining from Billups’ first Detroit stint — stuck in a needle for old time’s sake. “I hope he’s healthy enough to play on an everyday basis,” Bynum said. “Father Time’s undefeated, though.”

Rose Gets Respect Of Rivals’ Rugged Play

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CHICAGO – Maybe when all the firsts become seconds in Derrick Rose‘s much-anticipated, heavily-scrutinized comeback from 17 months lost to knee surgery, the attention will wane, the media crush will recede and everyone involved will exhale.

For now though, the firsts still are dictating the terms. First game back. First dunk. First time facing defensive double-teams. First regular-season game. First bounce back from the floor. First test of his surgically repaired left knee through back-to-back games. First drive through the paint with Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut, DeAndre Jordan or some other big planted down there.

Turn all those into seconds, and maybe the clamor around Rose will ease. Maybe other people will start to relax about his physical condition, his resiliency, his confidence and even his need for occasional “precautionary” DNPs when the knee barks at him and his bosses dare not tempt fate.

When will Rose, himself, know for certain that he’s back? His answer Wednesday night, after the Chicago Bulls went to 4-0 in the preseason with a victory over Detroit at United Center, came out a little sideways. And he buried the lead.

“I don’t really know,” the Bulls point guard said. “We’re winning games, so as long as I’m playing the way that I’m playing and we’re still winning games, I could care less about getting back to my regular self. Even though I think I’m already there.”

As firsts go, this one was pretty good. Rose took the court for real – not as a pregame tease, the way he warmed up before most Bulls home games over the second half of 2012-13, only to disappear or don street clothes by tipoff. Rose took the court for real at United Center for the first time since April 28, 2012 and, though the game itself meant nothing, the moment meant a lot.

The sellout crowd cheered his name in the introductions, cheered again when he got the ball on Chicago’s first possession, cheered once more when he cut, took a pass and scored the Bulls’ first points.

Rose scored 18 points in 14 minutes in the first half, 22 in 22 overall. He got knocked into the photographers by Pistons center Andre Drummond and popped up, scurrying to the foul line like it never happened. Just before intermission, he went airborne and sideways while taking a foul from rookie Peyton Siva for a 3-point play that ranks as his top highlight in three October appearances. (more…)

Coaches Divine The Carousel, NBA Cycle

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CHICAGO – There was a little mix-up in the traffic pattern as NBA coaches made their way through a circuit of stops, from trouser fittings and photo shoots to sit-down interviews with NBA Entertainment, on the ballroom level Monday of a downtown hotel. The two-day annual coaches’ meetings were under way and Jason Kidd, the new coach of the Brooklyn Nets, was like a kid at freshman orientation, compliantly going where he was told, even if it meant jumping a line on Milwaukee’s Larry Drew.

As point guards in their respective playing careers, the pecking order would have been simple: Kidd played 19 seasons, was a 10-time All-Star and retired at age 39 this spring ranked second all-time list in assists, second in steals and third in minutes. Drew, 55, was a part-time starter for five teams who spent one of his 11 pro seasons in Italy, averaged 11.4 ppg and 5.2 rpg and logged about a third as much time on NBA courts as Kidd.

But now, in their current positions, Drew has Kidd beat 230 NBA games coached to none, with a victory edge of 128-0. So when someone noted the very-minor lapse in protocol Monday afternoon, Kidd quickly deferred. “You go ahead, coach. I’m just a rookie,” he said.

Then, while the Hall of Fame-bound player and absolute question mark of a coach waited his turn, he talked rather excitedly about his new gig.

“Oh, I’m a rookie,” Kidd said. “It’s still basketball but I am a rookie at the coaching level.”

The Chicago meetings Monday and Tuesday were merely the latest step in his run-up to working his first game as an NBA coach. There was summer league, of course, in Orlando, assorted preparation over the past two months and, last weekend, a coaches/general managers clinic in Los Angeles in which Kidd participated. He played sponge to a group that included the Clippers Doc Rivers, Indiana’s Frank Vogel, retired legend Phil Jackson and former Lakers, Knicks and Heat coach (and Heat president) Pat Riley.

“It was like going to school, like going to class, where I got to listen to the best in 24 hours,” Kidd said. “I took away their stories, them at their beginnings, not being afraid to change but having to stand for what you believe in. And the biggest thing is be yourself. Be true to yourself and stick with your principles.”

It’s a message that’s especially timely this season, with nine — count ‘em, nine — men who will be working their first training camps, preseasons and regular seasons as NBA coaches in 2013-14. Besides Kidd, they are: Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta), Brad Stevens (Boston), Steve Clifford (Charlotte), Brian Shaw (Denver), Dave Joerger (Memphis), Brett Brown (Philadelphia), Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix) and Mike Malone (Sacramento).

As if that weren’t enough turnover for one offseason, four more familiar faces will be blowing whistles in new, or renewed, places: Mike Brown (Cleveland), Maurice Cheeks (Detroit), Rivers (L.A. Clippers) and Drew (Milwaukee).

It’s a dramatic upheaval. It’s also, as some see it, the NBA’s circle of life. (more…)

New Coaches: Five That Fit

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HANG TIME, Texas – Sometimes it’s the big things, a change in philosophy or overall team strategy that’s required to make a difference. Sometimes it’s just a new attitude, a new voice that’s needed in the locker room.

With a baker’s dozen new coaches ready to roam NBA sidelines — at least one in every division — this season, some will find the task a heavier lift than the circus wagon that holds the elephants.

Others will pick up their new teams immediately. Here are the five coaches who’ll make themselves right at home in their new digs and have the smoothest transitions:

Doc Rivers, Clippers – The veteran of previous stints with the Magic and Celtics definitely has the least room for improvement in the win column, since the Clips already won a franchise-best 56 games and their first-ever division title a year ago. But the little brothers of Staples Center won’t really shed their “second-class-citizen” image until they make a real run in the playoffs and that’s where Rivers’ experience will pay off. While they will still dance to the tune of Chris Paul’s talent on the court, Rivers will get them marching to a more serious, professional beat at both ends of the floor and in the locker room. They have to be more than just a group that jumps into the passing lanes to get steals on the defensive end and thrives on Lob City dunks on offense. He knows what it takes to win a championship and will put his stamp on the team early so we’ll notice the difference.

Mike Brown, Cavaliers — Let’s face it. Other than a fat man in an undersized Speedo, there wasn’t a more uncomfortable fit anywhere than Brown coaching the Lakers for a year and a smidgen. But now he’s back in Cleveland in a familiar role with a young team that is trying to build something special around an All-Star talent. OK, Kyrie Irving isn’t LeBron James, but he is the kind of lead horse that can pull the wagon. The truth is that these Cavaliers have a deeper collection of all-around talent than ever surrounded James, from Anderson Varejao to Tristan Thompson to Jarrett Jack to No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett and maybe a rehabilitated Andrew Bynum. Brown will emphasize what he knows best — defense — to give the Cavs a toughness and identity that, assuming Irving stays healthy, will have them back in the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left.

Jason Kidd, Nets – If it was so easy, the Naismith Hall of Fame would be filled with plaques of many more All-Stars who took off their uniforms one night and slipped easily into the role of head coach the next. There will be plenty about the nuts and bolts of the job that Kidd will have to learn as he goes along. But it helps that as point guard he already possessed some of the coaching genes. It also helps that he’s walking into a locker room filled with veterans names Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko, who are all looking to erase recent seasons of disappointment to come together and win a championship. Kidd won’t have to sweat the small stuff with this bunch. Garnett, Pierce and Terry have all won rings before and know the sacrifices that have to be made and the work that must be put in. In fact, Kidd’s toughest job might be holding them back and limiting regular season playing time. Since he’s in the glare of the New York media, any mistakes along the way by the rookie coach might be magnified, but he’s played a good portion of his career there and knows how to survive.

Mike Budenholzer, Hawks – After nearly two decades in San Antonio and the past six seasons as Gregg Popovich’s right hand man on the Spurs bench, this was finally the right time and the right place for Budenholzer to make the move into the No. 1 seat. For one thing, the Hawks are certainly not bereft of talent, even after the departure of Josh Smith. Free agent Paul Millsap will fill in capably. For another, it’s not as if there is the burden of having to live up to decades — or even one or two seasons — of greatness. But mostly it was time because Budenholzer was hand-picked by general manager Danny Ferry, his old Spurs buddy, as the start of a plan to finally have the Hawks build something special and to do it the right way. The Eastern Conference has gotten stronger at the top and it will be much tougher for Atlanta to break through against the likes of Miami, Indiana, Chicago and Brooklyn. But Budenholzer and Ferry won’t be impatient, are in this for the long haul and will have each other’s back. There’s no rush this season.

Maurice Cheeks, Pistons – After previous stints as head coach in Portland and Philadelphia, Cheeks spent the past four seasons as Scott Brooks’ assistant in Oklahoma City getting prepared for his third chance. The understated Cheeks knows his stuff and knows what he wants and could be just the right personality to get the newly acquired, up-and-down pair of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to deliver every night. The real heat is on general manager Joe Dumars to build the once-proud franchise back up after a half decade of serious slippage has had the Pistons way outside of even playoff contention, let alone the championship conversation. Cheeks will have Chauncey Billups back with his championship pedigree as an extension on the court and if he can keep the young big man tandem of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe moving ahead together, the Pistons could bring some joy back into The Palace with a run at a playoff spot.