Posts Tagged ‘Mike James’

Clips’ Collison Has Reasons To Fight Through The Pain


VIDEO: Check out some of Darren Collison’s season highlights

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It’s a painful year to be a point guard in Los Angeles. The Lakers have lost all three of theirs and the Clippers have been without Chris Paul since early January. Their backup and Paul fill-in, Darren Collison, is desperately trying to elevate his pain threshold.

Collison sprained his left big toe Saturday night. He’s played through it, although his plummeting stats would suggest it isn’t doing him any favors.

In the first six games after Paul separated his right shoulder on Jan. 3 in Dallas, Collison averaged 15.8 ppg, 7.2 apg and 4.0 rpg. He shot 55.7 percent overall and L.A. won five of six. Collison was also brilliant against the Mavs that night Paul went down in the third quarter. Collison drilled the team he played for last season for 20 points in the Clippers’ come-from-behind victory. On Jan. 15, he did it again against Dallas with 13 points and 10 assists in another comeback win.

But in a lopsided loss to Indiana on Saturday, Collison sprained his toe. In that game and the two that followed, Collison has shot 36.0 percent and averaged 8.7 ppg, 5.0 apg and 2.0 rpg. He had to sit out the end of Wednesday’s loss at Charlotte with the game hanging in the balance. L.A.’s lost two of the three games. Coach Doc Rivers suggested that Collison might have to sit, but according to the Los Angeles Times, Collison will attempt to play tonight as L.A. plays the fifth of a seven-game road trip at Chicago (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Collison’s situation as replacement starter is nearly identical to the one he found himself in as a rookie with New Orleans. As Paul’s backup, he took over the starting job when Paul was injured, and flourished. Indiana traded for Collison that summer to make him their starting point guard. By the end of his second season, Collison lost his starting job to George Hill.

Dallas, needing a starting point guard to replace Jason Kidd, traded for Collison the next summer to take over the job for the 2012-13 season with newcomer O.J. Mayo starting alongside him. It was a disaster. Dirk Nowitzki had knee surgery during training camp and didn’t return until a few days before Christmas. The team plunged 10 games under .500 and Collison shouldered loads of the blame for poor late-game execution and the mounting losses. He fell out of favor with coach Rick Carlisle early on and lost his starting job twice to aging veterans Derek Fisher and then Mike James. Dallas failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.

“It’s a lot of things that went on last year,” Collison said when he made his return to Dallas earlier this month. “I think I was hurt, one, that we didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs. I think that hurt me the most and I took a lot of pride in trying to run this team the best way I can. Dirk was out for like 20-something games and we had a lot of dudes that were on one-year deals that were trying to like [come] together. I think that was the biggest reasons about this whole situation.”

It became obvious that Dallas had no interest in re-signing Collison last summer. He chose a familiar role as Paul’s backup, this time with the Clippers.

“As a competitor you look at it that way,” Collison said of feeling disrespected that Dallas didn’t want to keep him. “They had their situation. I’m just glad that I fell into a situation like the Clippers that’s given me an opportunity. Now I have a chance to play for a contending team that’s going to try to play for something more special.”

Collison signed a two-year deal with L.A and has been a steady reserve. He is earning $1.9 million this season and holds a player option for next season with a slight raise. If he continues to play well as the Clippers’ starter and then again when he returns to a reserve role, it will be interesting to see if Collison chooses to opt out, and if so, if another team attempts to make the third time the charm for the 5-foot-11 Collison as a starter.

It’s just one reason why Collison desperately wants to keep fighting through the pain.

Back And Forth With Bones: Bulls-Jazz

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Back and Forth With Bones is an email exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey, Barry in the studio in Atlanta) to watch the 6-6 Chicago Bulls and the 1-14 Utah Jazz on NBA TV.

Pregame

Schuhmann: I think this game qualifies as the Saddest Matchup of the Season. The Bulls just lost Derrick Rose for the year and the Jazz are 1-14, having trailed three of their last four games by at least 28 points. But somebody has to win tonight!

Chicago has actually been much better defensively with Rose off the floor, and Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler is a pretty strong defensive backcourt. But for the time being, they’re also without Butler. So Marquis Teague and Tony Snell will each have a chance to prove they belong in the rotation. Long-term, they should be OK defensively, and they’ve been pretty poor offensively thus far, but they won’t be able to get much better without Rose.

And obviously, this puts more pressure on Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah to play big minutes and stay healthy. Noah’s minutes (29.3) are down below where he was two years ago (30.4) after a big increase last season (36.8), but I wonder if they go back up now that Rose is out.

Utah had two of their better offensive games upon Trey Burke‘s arrival, but they’ve actually been at their best with Diante Garrett playing point. This guy is a plus-24 for a team that’s been outscored by 67 points since he arrived.

Chicago can get points on second chances. They rank third in offensive rebounding percentage and the Jazz rank 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. It’s strange that Utah is such a bad rebounding team with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter (who’s out with a sprained ankle) up front. They’re actually worse with both of them on the floor than they are overall, but we talked a couple of weeks ago about how they extend out too much on their pick-and-roll coverage.

What are you looking for tonight?

Barry: So many things going wrong for both of these teams. Both are coming off very embarrassing performances and have a number of players in the role of proving they belong to be in the rotation, if not in the NBA.

The Kanter loss for the Jazz will greatly affect their ability to score points. Burke is trying to get his legs and conditioning back after just one start. And beginning his career with a team under these circumstances is very very tough.

I guess this game boils down to the identity of the teams. The Bulls have one and Utah has yet to establish one. I look for the Bulls to respond in a way that they have in the past without Rose. Even though the makeup of this team is different, they should be able to pull this game out with the experience of their roster.


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Billups, James Wear Out Similar Paths To Itinerant NBA Success

 

CHICAGO – Hissing matches over loyalty, love of team and just who betrayed whom first tend to be limited to the big dogs of the NBA. Witness the rhetoric that went flying about, via the media the other day, involving Ray Allen, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat and the Brooklyn Nets.

Most of the working stiffs (relatively speaking) of this or any other sports league know a different reality when it comes to the bond between player and team. Generally, it’s covered by the Don Draper quote, said in a moment of pique over Peggy Olson‘s need for affirmation: “That’s what the money’s for!”

The business aspects of sports get pounded home so frequently – you’re an asset (until you’re not), anyone can be traded, your contract can end up being more marketable than your skills – that teams, teammates and fans shouldn’t gripe too much when a player, rightly or wrongly, gets out front of the process, as Allen did in exiting Boston a year early rather than a year late.

Meanwhile, for every Allen, James or Garnett, there are dozens like Chauncey Billups, All-Star caliber players who have been forced to move time and time again, regardless of their wishes. And there are hundreds like Mike James, who move for professional survival, cobbling together careers out of one- or two-year stops.

Allen has switched teams, what, three times? Milwaukee-Seattle via trade, Seattle-Boston via approved trade and Boston-Miami as a free agent. Garnett has moved twice now, James and Pierce once each.

Billups and James each has them beat. Billups, back with the Pistons this autumn, has changed teams eight times and played for seven different franchises, with two stops in Denver and Detroit. Mike James has moved 11 times and played for 11 teams, repeating himself only with Houston while awaiting his preseason fate with Chicago.

“You have to be a chameleon,” James said. “You have to be able to adjust to any environment. You have to continue to stay true to who you are and keep working every day, regardless of the outcome of the situation. People [around you] may change but the game is still the same. So you need to just play the game the right way regardless of the faces you’re playing with.”

Both point guards, both products of non-basketball factories (Colorado for Billups, Duquesne for James), their pro careers scarcely could have begun more differently. The former was the No. 3 pick in 1997 behind Tim Duncan and Keith Van Horn while the latter, one year later, went undrafted. Immense expectations vs. zero expectations, turned out it didn’t matter – Billups moved three times before he’d played the equivalent of two full seasons, James bounced from Austria to France to Rockford, Ill., before reaching the NBA with Miami at age 26.

After stops in Boston (no, he wasn’t Duncan), Toronto and Denver, Billups had two productive seasons with Minnesota, but the Timberwolves’ contractual commitment to oft-injured Terrell Brandon sent him to Detroit in free agency. Reminded of that Minny mistake, Billups said: “But how many teams can say that? Nobody thought I would do what I did, after the start that I had.”

The Detroit years – from 2002-03 into 2008-09 – were the best and most stable of Billups’ career, with six conference finals appearances and a title in 2004. But then Allen Iverson came available and it was back to Denver. Then to New York as a chip in the Carmelo Anthony trade. Amnestied so the Knicks could pursue Tyson Chandler. Two broken seasons with the Clippers due to an Achilles tear and other ailments. Now back to the Pistons. Churning at the back end not unlike churning at the start, never mind his career earnings of $100 million or more.

“It’s been rough the last couple years, more from the injuries than moving,” Billups said after a preseason game against the Bulls. “Being traded and moving, I’ve been doing that my whole career. That’s not hard to deal with. But injuries…”

First in Denver, his hometown, then in Detroit, Billups thought he had found his forever basketball homes. He wound up playing twice in each, sandwiched around the other teams. “Nobody wants to just pick up and move every year or every two years,” he said. “But you deal with it the best you can and see how it works out. Nobody wants to have that kind of instability.”

The one-team NBA player, who clicks quickly, fits perfectly and stays from start to finish, is more ideal than real. Even among the old-school set. Of the guys selected in 1996 as the NBA’s “50 Greatest,” only 20 of them (40 percent) spent their entire careers with one team. Add free agency and salary-cap restrictions, and it’s a wonder anyone stays put these days, loyalty be damned.

For a plugger like James, understanding that he might have to move a lot made the moves easier. “A lot of times, most of my trades, I asked for,” he said. “I felt like I got to this game basically on my own – I snuck in through the back door. If I didn’t feel like a situation was for me, I was never afraid to say, ‘I want to go somewhere where at least I’m trusted and respected and someone will give me a chance.’

“So I could have been some places probably longer in my career, but at the same time, you can be somewhere you don’t want to rock the boat but then you find yourself unhappy. I always figured management can trade you and get rid of you at any time they wanted to, so why shouldn’t the player have a hand in the decisions in their career?”

Freed from ever feeling as if he let people down, James, 38, has played with a chip on his shoulder, his one reliable traveling companion through the moves. He believed he was most appreciated when he was gone – OK, he’s been paid more than $32 million in NBA salaries too – and now, hustling for a roster spot in Chicago, he still believes.

“I’m better than everyone who’s not in the NBA,” James said. “Believe me, I’m pretty sure I’m better than a lot who are, but because of my age, I won’t get the opportunity. At the same time, I’m always going to keep plugging.

“I found myself every year facing, ‘You’re not this’ and having to prove, ‘Yes I am,’ ” the journeyman guard said. “Then when I proved that, it was like there was a cockiness to me. And then management would be like, ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ “

Guys like Billups and James know who they are. Stop after stop after stop.

Mavs’ Carlisle Rolls With Plan B, Revolving Roster

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DALLAS –
 Rick Carlisle earned his reputation as one of the game’s top coaches by bending, flexing and adjusting all the way to a six-game championship take-down of the Miami Heat in 2011.

Recall 5-foot-10 point guard J.J. Barea as an NBA Finals starting shooting guard?

The Dallas Mavericks have since gone 77-72 and haven’t won another playoff game. And despite a roster that’s read like a well-worn Rolodex, Carlisle has seemed only to enhance his image as an elite tactician and motivator. Carlisle’s agility will be put to the test again this season in guiding a team that again barely resembles the one that preceded it.

From the 2010-11 championship team only Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain. From the revamped squad insufficiently stocked to defend the title, add only Brandan Wright and Vince Carter as keepers. And from last season, add draft picks Jae Crowder and Bernard James. It’s doubtful any coach, especially one that won a ring with the same franchise just three Junes ago, has witnessed such roster upheaval in three consecutive offseasons, and particularly so in these back-to-back summers.

“Back-to-back, probably not,” Carlisle admitted. “But look, we’re living in a different time. We’re living in a time now where there’s going to be more one-year deals, there’s going to be more turnover, so everybody adjusts to the dynamics of the new CBA, and I don’t know that that’s going to happen for another year or two, at least. That said, if you’re going to be a head coach in this league you’ve got to be very open-minded, you’ve got to be open to change and adaptation. You always want continuity, but you’re not always going to have it.”

The Mavs suffered the indignity of a lockout and the ratification of a game-changing collective bargaining agreement on the heels of their championship parade. On the fly, owner Mark Cuban championed new roster-building strategies that entailed allowing key members of his title team to walk. Plan A, to create cap space and lure max-dollar free agents to crowbar Nowitzki’s championship window, hasn’t panned out and Dallas has instead scrambled the last two summers to produce competitive rosters.

That can be a disheartening road for a coach who is just one of four currently in the league with a ring. Carlisle, though, has consistently endorsed his boss’ decisions. Entering his sixth season in Dallas and the second year of his second four-year contract, Carlisle seems to embrace the challenges he inherits under Plan B. Of the four active championship coaches — including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, now in charge of the Clippers – Carlisle’s task is by far fraught with the most uncertainties.

“I just made a conscious decision that I’m not going to be a coach that’s limited to a certain system,” Carlisle said. “I’m hanging my hat on my ability to adapt each year to potentially a roster that’s quite different, and with the new CBA we’re going to have more of that in this league. I’ve done a lot of it in my career leading up to now anyway, so it’s always challenging in those situations, but it’s also exciting.”

Just look at the players that have come through Dallas since the lockout ended: Kalenna Azubuike, Yi Jianlian, Lamar Odom, Delonte WestSean Williams, Eddy Curry, Troy Murphy, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Jared Cunningham, Derek Fisher, Mike James, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Morrow, Chris Wright, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Justin Dentmon and Josh Akognon.

And here’s the players new to Dallas for this season: Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair, Gal Mekel, plus draft picks Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo.

Last week Cuban set the bar for this team: The playoffs, and capable of doing damage once there. Carlisle didn’t flinch.

“I think you have to view it that way,” Carlisle said. “And, you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to eliminate the external noise and the doubters and the naysayers and all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to have just a real positive enthusiasm and focus on your group, and you’ve got to see in your mind how they can get better. Then you’ve got to facilitate that.”

Among Dallas media, at least, Carlisle was hailed as a Coach of the Year candidate for guiding last season’s mismatched squad out of a 13-23 hole, one dug mostly without Nowitzki. Dallas finished 28-18 and was in the thick of the playoff chase almost until the end.

“Actually, I think Rick’s system is just very comprehensive and he lets the players pick up as much of it as they can and so I think rather than try to force-feed things that they might not be able to do, Rick, I think, is more accommodating,” Cuban said. “But I don’t think he really changes his system, per se, or changes what he does. I think he just recognizes the skill set of his players. Like, he went from calling plays to just playing ‘flow’ all the time [with Jason Kidd]. That’s his preference more than anything else, just let guys play basketball, and hopefully that’s what we’re going to be able to do a lot more of whereas last year we had to call plays every possession. This year I don’t think we’ll have to.”

Last season’s backcourt of Collison, who couldn’t hold down the starting job, and Mayo never clicked. Fisher ditched the team after a month and James was erratic. Cuban believes this team offers Carlisle more raw material with which to work.

He believes it will be collectively smarter and less turnover-pron with Calderon at the controls, Harris backing him up and the speedy Ellis being able to get to the hole with a frequency the Mavs just haven’t seen. All that, Cuban surmises, should play into the hands of a healthy and motivated Nowitzki.

“Each team is different, each team has different needs, each team develops differently and has to make different kinds of adjustments mid-stream,” Carlisle said. “All that stuff is one of the real intriguing things about coaching. It’s one of the reasons I love it. And one of the reasons I love working in this organization is we’ve got an owner with a fertile mind that likes the right kind of change.

“I’m down with that.”

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.

INDIANA PACERS

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Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.

BROOKLYN NETS

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Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

Kirilenko Opt-Out Leaves Void For Wolves

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Andrei Kirilenko
reportedly informed the Timberwolves of his decision to opt-out of next year’s contract while vacationing in the south of France.

This is not to be confused with South France Ave., a main north-south thoroughfare in the western Minneapolis suburbs where, the locals will tell you, the nation’s first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall (Southdale, 1956) is situated.

There is a reason for the fully enclosed and climate-controlled stuff, which dovetails nicely into the Kirilenko decision.

Having the veteran Russian forward say nyet to the $10.2 million he had guaranteed for 2013-14 technically frees up some salary-cap space for new Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders as the NBA free agent market opens at 11:01 p.m. Twin Cities time. It fuels visions of this-or-that flashy signing, whether it’s O.J. Mayo to address the team’s ongoing hole at shooting guard or some other targeted player.

But there’s a careful-what-you-wish-for aspect to this, too.

After all, this is Minnesota we’re talking about, hardly a magnet market for NBA free agents. Most visiting players who come to town quickly focus on the fully enclosed, climate-controlled skyway system that allows them, if they dare venture off the fully enclosed, climate-controlled team bus, to navigate a few blocks in any direction from their road hotel.

Many players drafted by or traded to Minnesota learn about the reasons behind all that enclosing and climate-controlling and opt to play their basketball elsewhere.

It’s a terrific place to live and raise a family – I lived there for 24 years – but for one reason or another (legacy of mediocrity, coaching changes, Kevin Garnett‘s storm-cloud scowl upon departure), it’s a tough sell to players who can select their destination. Most of the Wolves’ free agent “successes” have come from overpaying (for instance, giving Mike James four years instead of three and $25 million) or doing some other favor for the player. Like paying Brandon Roy to get hurt again.

The idea of having money freed up beyond the league’s mid-level salary exception is intriguing. For Saunders, it’s a chance to wheel-and-deal and perhaps make up a little for a muddied draft night.

But the odds are against the Wolves signing a player for 2013-14 who’ll be more productive than Kirilenko was for them in 2012-13.

A year removed from the NBA after spending 2011-12 in Russia, the former Utah Jazz forward put up numbers remarkably similar to his career stats: 14.0 points on 50.7 percent shooting, 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks pro-rated to 36 minutes per game. He ranked second on the team in minutes, was third in scoring average (12.4), blocked more shots than starting center Nikola Pekovic and had more steals than J.J. Barea or Luke Ridnour. The Wolves were 26-38 in the games Kirilenko played, 5-13 when he was out.

His abilities to cut and to see cutters were vital to coach Rick Adelman’s system, especially with teammates such as Kevin Love and Chase Budinger missing significant time. Kirilenko, who turned 32 in February, was a steady influence, too, on Russian rookie Alexey Shved and in general a grown-up voice in the locker room. Kirilenko and Shved, frankly, may have been former boss David Kahn’s two shrewdest moves.

It’s possible but not likely he would re-sign with the Wolves, based on Star Tribune beat writer Jerry Zgoda‘s update Saturday:

Kirilenko is seeking a three- or four-year extension because he believes this might be the last chance to negotiate the last big contract of his career.

You can bet Flip Saunders won’t offer anything more than two years, and at a salary considerably less than $10 million.

Still, the Wolves might wind up missing Kirilenko’s versatility and production at both ends of the floor. They could do a lot worse because, well, they have.

Utah’s Only Hope is Eight of 12 At Home

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DALLAS –
 Eight of 12.

Talk about last gasp, this is it for the Utah Jazz. Eight home games among their dozen remaining. It’s the final stand for a team laden with veteran free agents, including four of five starters; a team that prepared to be broken up at the trade deadline by reeling off 16 wins in 23 games, yet was left intact and has since tanked.

Utah is typically a force at home — 24-9 in front of one of the most engaged crowds in the league — and they’ll have to  be invincible starting Monday night against Philadelphia. Considering Sunday’s ugly 113-108 loss to the Mavericks was their ninth consecutive road defeat, any home slip-up will serve as sledgehammer to Utah’s eggshell playoff chances.

Utah flew home with the same record as surging Dallas (34-36) and smarting from allowing a 69-69 tie midway through the third quarter to quickly become a 20-point stomping before a fruitless late rally made it look more respectable. The Jazz allowed the Mavs’ starting point guard, 37-year-old D-League call-up Mike James, to to kill them with 19 points and five assists. He averages 5.6 and 2.7.

Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin could only shake his head

So eight-of-12 is now something of a rallying cry.

“It has to be, it has to be now,” befuddled Corbin said.

Since the Feb. 21 trade deadline, when either Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap or maybe even both impending free agents figured to be moved to make way for developing big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, the Jazz are 3-12.

It’s been almost a reverse effect. Instead of the anxieties and stresses applied by the approaching deadline sabotaging their effort and focus, the Jazz thrived, claiming wins against Miami, Indiana, Oklahoma City and Golden State during that 16-7 stretch from the start of January to the trade deadline.

They even came out of the All-Star break with a 115-101 dismantling of the Warriors 48 hours prior to the deadline.

When management left the team alone to build on a 31-24 record, they’ve flopped. There hasn’t been a road win since Feb. 12 at Minnesota, and Boston, Atlanta and New York have all walked out of Salt Lake City victorious.

Jefferson said the club’s demise and the timing of the trade deadline is merely coincidence, and Millsap didn’t disagree.

“I don’t know, I think everybody’s out there playing their best just like before the trade deadline everybody was out there putting it all on the line,” Millsap said. “This stretch we’ve had a lot of tough breaks, things just didn’t go our way. But we’re not counting ourselves out. We’ve still got a chance.”

Millsap, the Jazz’s elder statesman in his seventh season with the team that shrewdly drafted him 47th overall, said the locker room hasn’t fractured, that the players remain committed to Corbin.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Corbin, however, acknowledged the difficulties he’s had in trying to maximize a roster with four frontcourt players, two proven vets and a couple of emerging, developing talents that all want, and often deserve, the same minutes. (more…)

Najera Busts Barriers From Bench Now

FRISCO, Texas – During the first round of the 2010 playoffs, in his second stint with the Dallas Mavericks — the team and the city he always called home no matter where roamed in the NBA — Eduardo Najera decided to shake things up.

The Spurs were doing a number on the Mavs in Dallas and the muscular, 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward had seen enough of the slap-and-hack defense on Dirk Nowitzki. So when Manu Ginobili drove the lane, Najera collared him and Ginobili crashed to the floor. The foul deserved to be and was called a flagrant 2, garnering an automatic ejection. But Najera had grabbed everyone’s attention.

“It was kind of frustrating to watch some of them hit Dirk in the face,” Najera would say. “So I just came in and tried to prove a point that we’re going to fight back. And that’s what’s going to happen.”

As a player, Najera, still the only Mexican-born player ever drafted in the NBA, never had to search for an identity. He simply was physical, intense, hard-nosed and unrelenting. Don’t mistake the Ginobili foul; Najera wasn’t a dirty player, but he wasn’t afraid to take the fight to the opponent.

These days those attributes don’t translate so well wearing a suit. As a rookie coach of the NBA D-League’s Texas Legends, developing an identity, a sideline demeanor, just doesn’t come as naturally.

“I am pretty intense,” Najera said. “I really believe that my identity as a player has carried on to this level as a coach. Yes, I call it the way I see it. I don’t treat players differently, they are all the same to me and I go off on one through 15, and that includes my assistant coaches.” (more…)

Fisher Joins Thunder After Shafting Mavs

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Fresh off remaining as players union president during All-Star weekend, Derek Fisher’s first initiative apparently was to re-instate himself on an NBA team.

Not with the struggling Dallas Mavericks, the team he bailed on in December and the only one willing to sign him in late November. Fisher signed Monday with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the championship contender he joined late last season that conveniently again has an opening for a veteran point guard with a history of making clutch shots.

If the Rolling Stones had first met Derek Fisher, they never would have recorded “You can’t always get what you want.”

Fisher just keeps on getting.

The 38-year-old southpaw who won five titles in two stints playing alongside Kobe Bryant, signed a veteran’s minimum deal with the Mavs on Nov. 29 on the heels of Dallas benching Darren Collison. Fisher immediately took over as the starter until he asked for and received his release on Dec. 22 so he could spend more time with his family, as he explained in a prepared statement.

Apparently with 26 games left before the start of the playoffs, family concerns are no longer an issue for Fisher, who wore No. 6 for the Mavs because, as he said, he joined them on a quest for a sixth title. “This is not a pit stop,” Fisher told his new Dallas teammates.

Lo and behold, he will also wear No. 6 for the Thunder. He will make his second OKC debut in as many seasons at home Wednesday against the New Orleans Hornets.

So how do the jilted Mavs feel about this turn of events?

Owner Mark Cuban did not reply to multiple emails on Monday, but one league source said the best way to describe the mood of the Dallas front office is “agitated.” The source said that Fisher and his representatives never contacted the Mavs during his decision-making process to discuss a possible return to Dallas, the team that, in good faith, initially signed him.

The source said that Fisher’s departure before Christmas seemed to come out of the blue. Of course, in 2007 when Fisher played for the Utah Jazz, he did have a family emergency in the playoffs. His 11-month-old daughter suffered from cancer in her left eye and required surgery in New York. After the playoffs — where Fisher had an iconic moment in the West semifinals — Fisher asked the Jazz to release him from his contract so he could concentrate on finding the best care for his daughter. After saying, “life for me outweighs the game of basketball,” Fisher would soon sign a three-year deal to return to the Lakers.

The Mavs (25-30) are still determined to make a playoff charge and could use Fisher now just as they did in late November when they were 7-7. Collison has been up and down and coach Rick Carlisle still often turns to 37-year-old, NBA D-League call-up Mike James to run the offense in crunch time.

Dallas is 4 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The club’s brass, coaches and players surely can’t help but wonder if that might be different had Fisher stayed. The Mavs have lacked late-game execution all season. They’re 1-8 in overtime games, 0-1 with Fisher; 2-6 in games decided by three points or less, 1-1 with Fisher.

They were 5-4 overall with him, although in his final game, a win over Philadelphia, Fisher strained a tendon in his right knee and played just five minutes.

Four days later he was out the door. In the same press release that he explained his decision to quit, he said the injury would keep him out only about two weeks.

His resurfacing for the stretch run lends credence to an interesting notion first dished up by FoxSports.com’s Jason Whitlock in a scathing column prior to All-Star weekend. Whitlock suggested that Fisher’s sole intention when he signed with the Mavs — or with any team that would sign him — was to make himself eligible to maintain his position as NBPA president. If Fisher remained out of the league, he couldn’t lead the union.

The following day at the NBPA meeting in Houston, Fisher announced the ouster of former union executive director Billy Hunter, just as Fisher remained on as president.

Once a politician, apparently always a politician.

Let the quest for title No. 6 officially begin.

Delonte West Does D-League U-Turn

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Delonte West has pulled an Allen Iverson and decided that the D-League isn’t for him.

Iverson, though, never actually signed a contract. He simply turned down an offer earlier this week to play for the Texas Legends, the affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks, as a means to help attract the attention of NBA teams. West did indeed sign a contract last week to play for the Legends, who are co-owned by Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

According to a source with knowledge of West’s thinking, the troubled combo guard has decided not to play in the D-League against the advisement of his representation. West is represented by agent Dan Fegan. The source said that NBA teams have been reluctant to bring in West, even on a 10-day contract, until he gets back on the court and they see him play. The Memphis Grizzlies recently kicked around the idea of offering West a 10-day contract, but no offer materialized.

Earlier on Friday, a league source said that West is in the process of changing agents, which could be delaying his arrival in Texas. That is, if it happens at all. As of Friday night, West’s name was on the Legends’ roster on the team website, although no number had been issued. Legends officials did not immediately answer messages Friday night.

While Iverson’s return to the NBA certainly appears as though it might never happen, he is 37 and had an All-Star career. West, 29, needs to get back in the league if he hopes to salvage a career that veered off course with his arrest in 2009 when he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He has since had a brief second stint with the Boston Celtics and played the 2011-12 season with the Mavs on a veteran minimum, one-year contract. West, who is bipolar and has struggled with money issues, signed another one-year deal to return to Dallas this season.

But twice during training camp the team suspended him for conduct it deemed detrimental to the team and they waived him just days before the start of the season.

West had been upset with his contract situation and with what he saw as an overcrowded backcourt after the team brought in Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and Dahntay Jones to go with holdovers Vince Carter, Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones, plus first-round pick Jared Cunningham.

West reportedly wanted to join the Legends with hopes that he could show the Mavs he was ready to be a part of their team again. However, last Friday night Mavs owner Mark Cuban made it clear that he had no intention of bringing back West. Dallas signed veteran guard Mike James last Sunday for the remainder of the season after he exhausted two 10-day contracts.

Now, by opting not to play in the D-League, West could be throwing away his career.