Posts Tagged ‘Mikhail Prokhorov’

Nets Keep Looking To Spend, Improve

Brooklyn acquired guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

Brooklyn picked up guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The first trade of deadline week went down Wednesday afternoon, with the Brooklyn Nets acquiring Marcus Thornton from the Sacramento Kings for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry.

The deal adds about $700,000 in salary and $2.7 million in luxury taxes to Brooklyn’s books this season. Next season, when all three guys are still under contract, it adds about the *same amount.

* More salary, less tax, because, at this point, Brooklyn is only in the third of five tax-payment tiers for ’14-15. Give ‘em time, though.

So, it’s a bit of an investment for Mikhail Prokhorov. But in theory, it should help the Nets continue to move up the Eastern Conference standings.

Brooklyn is 14-6 since Jan. 1, a stretch in which they’ve gone from 10th to seventh in the East. They’re just 2 1/2 games out of a top-four seed and need to keep moving up to avoid playing the Pacers or Heat in the first round and have a decent shot at the conference semifinals.

After all the money they spent last summer, anything less than the second round would be a colossal failure. So hey, they might as well spend a few more million if it can make them better.

And as good as the Nets have played in 2014, they still have plenty of room for improvement. They rank 15th offensively and sixth defensively since Jan. 1. Given all their talent, they should be better at putting the ball in the basket.

That’s where Thornton comes in. Since Jan. 1, the Nets have scored 108.3 points per 100 possessions with Deron Williams on the floor (a rate which would rank fifth in the league in that time) and just 100.6 with him on the bench (a rate which would rank 25th). Though Williams hasn’t been at his best, he’s still the most important offensive player on his team.

Shaun Livingston has been one of the Nets’ bright spots and has worked well with Williams in the starting lineup, but the Nets’ second-unit offense could use a boost. Terry has been a disappointment, Alan Anderson‘s production has dropped off and, as brilliant as Andrei Kirilenko has been, he’s made two shots outside of the paint all season.

The problem is that Thornton has been having the worst shooting season of his career, with an effective field goal percentage of just 45.7 percent. That’s worse than Terry was shooting.

So, the hope for Brooklyn is that Thornton can find his shot again. It was less than a month ago that he tied a career high with 42 points (shooting 7-for-15 from 3-point range) against the best defense of the last 37 years.

While he’s been rather inefficient this season, Thornton gives the Nets a higher ceiling and more potency than they had with Terry. If he plays well, he certainly fills a need.

The same could be said about Jordan Hill, if the Nets can get him from the Lakers for their disabled-player exception. In the same way that their offense takes a hit when their Williams sits, their defense falls apart when Kevin Garnett goes to the bench.

But you wonder how Hill would fit in a second-unit frontline that already includes Kirilenko, Andray Blatche and Mirza Teletovic. Each of those guys brings something to the table, the Nets have outscored their opponents by 21.5 points per 100 possessions in 115 minutes with the three of them on the floor together, and at least one of them would see a decrease in minutes if Hill was brought on board.

And then there’s the money. The Nets wouldn’t be sending any salary to L.A. in exchange for Hill, so he would cost them about $1.3 million in salary ($3.5 million prorated for the remainder in the season) and a whopping $16.6 million in luxury tax, bringing their total tax bill to more than $98 million. Add that to their salaries and they’d be a $200-million team.

That’s a lot of dough for a squad that doesn’t stand much of a chance of reaching the conference finals. But you can’t say that the Nets aren’t afraid to make a move or spend some money to address their needs.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 17


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Celtics prep for Rondo’s return | Prokhorov defends self, Kidd | Knicks’ Smith plays, but Stoudemire, Martin hurt | Oden: Knee ‘fine’ after debut | Durant responds to James’ ‘jealous’ comment

No. 1: Celtics gearing up for Rondo’s return — The last time Rajon Rondo played in a game for the Boston Celtics, it was a 123-111 loss on the road to the Hawks on Jan. 25, 2013. Since then, much has changed around Boston, including the departure of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce as the team has undergone a complete roster overhaul. But barring any unforeseen setbacks this morning and afternoon, Rondo will make his 2013-14 debut for the Celts as they host the Lakers tonight (7:30 ET, League Pass). Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com has more on what to expect from Rondo tonight in terms of minutes played, his role and more:

Fifty-one weeks have passed since Rondo has walked onto the court as Boston’s starting point guard. That streak will finally come to an end tomorrow, but as team president Danny Ainge warns, we should not think that Rondo’s fight is over.

“What I’ve seen throughout my professional basketball career is that the ACL injury is something that every player has to overcome and come back mentally, not just physically,” Ainge told reporters on Thursday. “So I anticipate some adjustments and just getting used to playing and confident in playing and returning to the player that he was.”

As you might expect, Brad Stevens is on the same wavelength as his boss. Stevens views tomorrow’s game as the next step in Rondo’s rehabilitation.

“I don’t think we can expect him to be Game 7 Rajon Rondo tomorrow,” Stevens said. “This is part of this process to getting back to full go, and now the next step is to play a maximum number of minutes in a game.”

That maximum, according to Stevens, will be approximately 18-20 minutes per game. Ainge stated that Rondo would play about five minutes a quarter, but it sounds as if Stevens and Rondo will have the final say as to how those 18-20 minutes will be used throughout the game.

…“I think it’s just guys feel more comfortable in where they are, the position they’re in,” said Stevens. “I think people will be in position to take advantage of their best strengths, and hopefully that continues as Rondo gets into games, but in practice, it’s clearly shown itself true that he kind of lifts everybody around him.”

Come Friday, Rondo will finally have an opportunity to make those adjustments in live game action. He will play 18-20 minutes, and he’s bound to make an enormous impact on the game.

That being said, we all need to temper our expectations for Rondo in the immediate future. This is a guy who hasn’t played a basketball game in a year, and he plays what could easily be described as the most challenging position in the NBA.

There will be some moments in which Rondo will not look like his old self. That’s an inevitable part of this process. If you’re in Ainge’s boat, though, you don’t expect those struggles to last for very long.

“I anticipate him coming back quicker than any of us think,” Ainge confidently stated. “He’s a guy that I think will fight through the adversity.”


VIDEO: Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge discuss Rajon Rondo’s return to the Celtics’ lineup

***

No. 2: Prokhorov defends himself, Nets coach Kidd — Since taking over as owner of the Nets franchise back in 2010 when he bought the team for $200 million, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has been outspoken about his team, taken a couple of shots at the crosstown New York Knicks and gone as far as to promise Nets fans a title before too long. But Prokhorov also maintains a mostly hands-off approach to the team — at least in terms of being visible at every game — and has taken flak for that in the media. He addressed that complaint, as well as the barbs that have directed at coach Jason Kidd this season, as he met with the media in London before yesterday’s Nets-Hawks game at the O2 Arena. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News has more on what Prokhorov had to say:

The Russian billionaire, making his first appearance around the Nets since the season opener, predictably backed coach Jason Kidd and threw in his usual witty one-liners during his first session with Nets reporters since July. But Prokhorov changed his tone, if only briefly between jokes about a Soviet author and carrier pigeons, when asked about whether he’ll attend more games in Brooklyn. The Moscow-based businessman went to several games last season after being a no-show for the entire 2011-12 campaign.

“Frankly speaking, there’s a lot of criticism that I am not in Brooklyn. But I just have a question for you: Do you really think you need me sitting in the arena to see a game?” said Prokhorov, noting that he has been busy preparing for the Winter Olympics in Sochi as the president of Russia’s Biathlon Union. “My friends, we are living in the 21st century. And in spite of the fact I have no computer, I still have a subscription for NBA games and, for me, it’s like enough to even have a look on the stats so you can understand what is going on. …So like I’m full in, I’m all in for this team and I think it’s the only way how to reach championship.”

Despite the team’s high expectations and abysmal start, Prokhorov said he never thought about making a change – a contrast to last season, when he fired Avery Johnson after a 14-14 start. Prokhorov hinted again that Johnson lost the locker room, while Kidd has maintained control in the midst of a 15-22 record before Thursday’s game against the Hawks.

“What is more important is that Jason Kidd is becoming more and more comfortable. And what is important is he has the support of the players,” Prokhorov said when asked about the difference between coaches. “And that’s the only way how we can conduct together. So everything is okay because, of course, we can’t make any excuse with injuries. And what I’m glad to see is the players stepping up in the situation. Now everything is more or less okay.”

Prokhorov said he even called Kidd after a bad loss, urging him to ignore the critics in the media.

“I told him about a very famous Russian writer is Mikhail Bulgakov, who said, “Don’t read Soviet papers before breakfast,’” Prokhorov said. “In other words, so don’t pay any attention for what they are writing about. So just keep doing your job.”

On Friday, Prokhorov was more cautiously optimistic than brazen, though clearly encouraged by the stretch of five wins in six games before Thursday. He also seemed to back away from his light-hearted guarantee that he’ll get married as punishment if the Nets don’t win a championship by 2015, saying, “Time will tell. We’ll see in a year.”

“Of course at the beginning (of this season), I wasn’t jumping over the moon. But it’s a sport. It’s a procedure. And now the team is playing much better. So we’re on the right way,” he said, adding later about his championship guarantees, “I still think we have a chance to be a championship, if, of course, stars align. I think we like sport because, of course, it is unpredictable. So it’s unpredictable, but possible.”

***

No. 3: Smith back in Knicks’ lineup; Stoudemire, Martin injured vs. Pacers — The latest turn in the well-documented J.R. Smith/Mike Woodson saga in New York wasn’t much of a turn at all. Smith, who has been in out of the coach’s rotation for the last week or so, played 27 minutes in the Knicks’ blowout loss to Indiana. He had previously been benched during New York’s loss to Charlotte days earlier. Bigger news for the Knicks, though, may be more injuries: forwards Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin both suffered them in last night’s game, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

J.R. Smith’s one-game benching ended on Thursday, but while he returned, the Knicks may have lost three others. Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin both sprained their left ankles during the 117-89 loss to the Pacers, and neither forward will be available for Friday’s home game against the Clippers. There is a strong possibility that Stoudemire and Martin will miss multiple games.

Also, rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. re-injured his surgically repaired left wrist but indicated that he will play Friday. X-rays came back negative.

The more immediate concern is the health of Stoudemire, who has played well over the last three weeks, and Martin, one of the Knicks’ top defenders.

“Amar’e sprained his ankle really bad,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Kenyon said his ankle felt different than it did before. We lost two of our big guys. We’ve got a couple other big guys out there that we’re going to have to utilize.”

Early Thursday, Woodson indicated that Smith would likely play.

“There’s nothing (that) needs to be said,” Woodson said. “I expect J.R. to be a pro and concentrate on playing basketball. That’s why he’s wearing a Knick uniform. That’s any guy on this team. It’s a privilege to play in this league. You got to do all the necessary things, the right things on and off the court to be a pro in this league.

“I don’t take coaching for granted. I don’t think any player should take it for granted. When he’s in uniform, his job is to play. When he’s out of uniform, his job is to concentrate on being a pro and playing basketball. It’s as simple as that.”

***

No. 4: Oden says knees are ‘fine’ after first game actionThe top NBA story Wednesday night and into Thursday, perhaps, was the successful (albeit brief) return Heat big man Greg Oden had in Miami’s loss to the Washington Wizards. Oden was playing in his first game since 2009 and although he was on the court for just eight minutes, most around the league were happy to see the oft-injured former No. 1 pick playing healthy again. He took part in yesterday’s Heat practice and says his knee is doing well after seeing some full-speed NBA action, writes Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:

Miami Heat center Greg Oden emerged from his first NBA regular-season game in more than four years with no significant pain or swelling in his troublesome knees, and will be re-evaluated before his status is determined for Friday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Oden, the No. 1 draft pick in 2007, was back on the court Thursday, a day after his productive and encouraging seven-minute stint during the Heat’s blowout loss to the Wizards in Washington. The Heat had a lengthy film session before players took the court for individual workouts at Temple University on Wednesday. Oden wasn’t involved in any scrimmage work, but did participate in some light conditioning and shooting drills.

After the workout, Oden said his knees responded “fine [with] no swelling” from his first meaningful game action since Dec. 5, 2009, when he suffered his second season-ending knee injury as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Oden finished with six points and two rebounds in eight minutes in the 114-97 loss to Washington. He started the second half after initially entering late in the second quarter.

“It’s nothing I can’t manage,” Oden said Thursday of the minor soreness he attributed to general wear and tear from playing in a game. “I’m just looking forward to playing in the next game. I got to play in a game. That’s what it really is, when you’re able to battle and be out there. I would have loved for us to win and say I was able to give us a spark. But you just move on to the next game, and hope I can play.”

Oden’s performance Wednesday provided a bit of a spark for the Heat, who trailed Washington by as much as 34 points in the first half before they cut the deficit to nine. However, they couldn’t get any closer on the way to their third straight loss. With the Heat trying to search for answers to their recent poor play, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Oden was a bright spot.

“We were all very happy that he was able to get out there and compete, even for a short period of minutes,” Spoelstra said Thursday. “We know the struggle that he’s been in, and just to see the smile … we allowed one guy to have a smile on his face after [Wednesday's game], and that was Greg.”

But Spoelstra also said it’s too soon to know what, if any, role Oden will have in the rotation at this point. Oden remains on a specific training regimen designed to improve his conditioning as well as to strengthen his hips and the leg muscles around his knees.

He paused for a few seconds when asked Thursday if he’s reached the point where he can trust his knees to hold up in his latest and most extensive comeback.

“Honestly, when I was out there [Wednesday], I didn’t even think about my knees,” Oden said. “So it’s just a matter of if they feel good. I’m not worried about what’s going to happen. I’m worried about just getting out there and playing.”


VIDEO: Heat center Greg Oden talks after his season-debut vs. Washington

***

No. 5: Durant responds to James’ comments — Earlier this week, ESPN.com published a story in which Heat star LeBron James said he is at times ‘jealous’ of the offensive freedom that Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant enjoys on offense. Last night, Durant took the time to briefly address James’ comments — which he had heard — and didn’t seem too worried about what James can or cannot do in Miami, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Kevin Durant tried to act as though he hadn’t seen or heard LeBron James’ latest comments about him.”What he say?” Durant asked, rhetorically.

“How can I not see it? It’s been on CNN. It’s been on ABC, FOX Sports. Man, it’s been everywhere. Ya’ll blowing that out of proportion, man. I mean, I’m pretty sure, matter of fact, I’m 100 percent sure LeBron can do whatever he wants.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Apparently, not even the Rockets themselves knew just how awful they were in the second half of their loss to OKC on Thursday night … Ex-Hawks big man/tough guy Ivan Johnson, who has been toiling in the Chinese Basketball Association, is drawing interest from Atlanta … Celtics assistant coach Jamie Young plans to run in the Boston Marathon … ICYMI yesterday, the NBA unveiled the All-Star Game uniforms for this year’s contest. Our own Lang Whitaker breaks ‘em down … Should the Pacers try to sign Andrew Bynum if for no other reason than to ensure the Heat don’t pick him up? …

ICYMI(s) of The Night: Pacers fans (and Knicks fans) surely have their own good (or bad) memories of Carmelo Anthony driving to the rim for a dunk in the 2013 Eastern Conference semis and Roy Hibbert stopping it. But, in case that moment was foggy for anyone, there was a nearly identical recreation of it last night:


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert denies Carmelo Anthony at the rim

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Woodson challenges Smith to ‘be more of a pro’ | Prokhorov to attend Nets-Hawks in London | Report: Teammates tiring of Waiters’ actions | Cuban praises NBA’s transparency | Gasol, Henry a game-time decision

No. 1: Woodson issues simple message to Smith — If you aren’t aware of the recent misdeeds of on J.R. Smith, you haven’t been paying to the NBA as close as you should. Apart from last week’s $50,000 NBA-sanctioned fine for untying opponents’ shoes during free-throw attempts, Smith was benched for last week’s TNT matchup with the Miami Heat and saw his name bandied about in trade talks as well. Knicks coach Mike Woodson has grown frustrated with Smith and issued a simple challenge to him, writes Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com, after Smith chipped in 10 points in Monday’s overtime victory over the Suns:

“The bottom line is he’s got to be more of a pro and do the right things and just concentrate on playing basketball,” the Knicks coach said Monday. “That’s the name of the game, nothing else. You got to concentrate on your craft and what you’re being paid to do — that’s play basketball. … That’s all I want him to do.”

Smith has angered Woodson and many in the Knicks organization for his on and off-court transgressions this season.

Smith returned to the court against Philadelphia on Saturday and scored 14 points to lift New York to a 102-92 win. In Monday night’s 98-96 win over the Suns, he scored 10 points on 5-11 shooting from the floor.

Afterward, Smith said he’d learned a lesson from the fine and benching.

“Don’t goof around, I guess. Be serious. Be a professional. And just don’t take this opportunity here you have for granted,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in this world that want our jobs. You can’t take it for granted. It can be taken away just that fast.”

Woodson addressed the Smith incident for the first time on Monday. Smith said he spoke to the head coach on Friday.

“Bottom line is I expect J.R. to be a pro on and off the court and concentrate on playing basketball and that’s all I want him to do,” Woodson said.

Smith signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Knicks in the offseason, though he admitted last week that he is unsure of his future with the organization.

Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com last week that the Knicks have become increasingly frustrated with Smith’s on- and off-court transgressions and have in recent days begun exploring the potential trade market for him, though they realize it will be difficult to move him.

Smith can’t be traded until Jan. 15 because the Knicks are over the salary cap and Smith signed for more than 120 percent of his previous salary.


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses J.R. Smith’s actions of late and the Knicks’ improved play

***

No. 2: Prokhorov to attend Nets-Hawks game in London — Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has been largely absent from the picture this season. That is expected to change Thursday night in London, though, as Brooklyn “visits” the Hawks in a game at London’s O2 arena. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, if Prokhorov — who was reportedly last seen skiing in the French Alps with group of 20 women this month — attends, he’ll be speaking to the media in mid-season for first time since Avery Johnson‘s ouster last season:

Mikhail Prokhorov hasn’t been to a Nets game since the home opener on Nov. 1, but the Russian billionaire is planning to attend Thursday’s match- up against the Hawks at the O2 Arena in London, a club official confirmed.

Prokhorov has mostly been silent amid Brooklyn’s surprisingly bad start to the season, aside from preaching patience in an email exchange with The New York Times. The Nets are 15-22, but have won five out of their last six behind a stingy defense.

The last time Prokhorov spoke to the media during the middle of the season was just after firing Avery Johnson. He then spoke again to reporters at the press conference introducing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, reiterating his championship aspirations and expectations.

At the time, Prokhorov explained why Jason Kidd would make a good coach — in a way that only Prokhorov can.

“Maybe you do remember a film, ‘Top Gun.’ This film just arrived in Russia one week ago. I want to refresh your memory,” he said. “Tom Cruise plays Maverick, and he was a top pilot, he was a real leader. At the end of the day he made decision to be an instructor because it was the highest value just to be a leader. So Jason Kidd is our Top Gun. And he will do his best, I am sure, all his skills to elevate the whole team.”

Prokhorov, a 48-year-old bachelor, was reportedly spotted partying in the French Alps this month with a group of “20 women.” He’s also still involved in Russian politics and doubles as president of the Russian Biathlon Union, setting the bar at the Sochi Winter Olympics for his athletes to win “two or three gold medals …minimum.”

Since Prokhorov took over the Nets in 2010, he has pushed the idea that the Nets would become “the first really global team in the NBA.” They spent parts of training camp and preseason in China and Moscow during his first season as owner, and previously played two regular-season games in London.

Prokhorov has been pushing for a regular-season game to be played in Russia.

***

No. 3: Report: Teammates tiring of Waiters’ actions — The Cavs’ last game was nothing to write home about — a 124-80 loss in Sacramento that if it is not the low point of the season, it’s at least a contender for that dubious honor. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal termed it as one of the worst losses he’s seen the team suffer in the last four years and after the defeat, a topic he covered was that of Dion Waiters‘ play. Waiters finished with four points on 1-for-7 (including a 1-for-5 night from deep) in 20 minutes off the bench. His reported dust-up with teammate Kyrie Irving was a hot topic earlier in the season, but it seems now that grumbles are growing about Waiters’ shot selection and attitude, both of which are wearing thin on teammates:

When he was pulled from the game Sunday after throwing a bad pass in the first quarter, Mike Brown was visibly irritated with him and subbed him out of the game. Waiters was standing near half-court when he realized he was coming out and he threw his hands in the air out of frustration as if to say, “Why me?”During the next timeout, Waiters sat pouting on the bench while the rest of the team huddled together. Assistant coach Jim Boylan casually walked down and talked to him and soon Waiters joined the huddle. But it was still a bad look.When Waiters’ shot is falling, he can carry a team. When it’s not, he tends to shut down. He doesn’t defend, he gets careless with the ball … Players have quietly grumbled about Waiters’ act off and on all season, and those grumbles were growing louder Sunday night.

As one player put it, stars can get away with the stuff Waiters pulls on occasion, but Waiters hasn’t even established himself yet in this league, let alone carved out star status. The thing about him is he’s not a bad guy. He’s not a locker room cancer or a coach killer. He just sulks, pouts, broods … whatever word you want to use. And it has to stop if he’s ever going to reach his potential, because I believe he could be a very good player in this league. But he has to stop the nonsense.

***

No. 4: Cuban praises NBA’s transparency in officiatingPerhaps no owner in NBA history has been more adamant about challenging the notions and rules of NBA officiating than the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban. Throughout the years, Cuban has never been afraid to question (sometimes vehemently) the calls NBA officials make during the course of a game, even if it means paying a hefty fine for his outburst. Before last night’s game between the Magic and Mavs in Dallas, Cuban spoke with reporters and praised the improved transparency in officiating in the league. But, as ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon notes, Cuban is still expecting more:

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban considers the NBA office’s willingness to acknowledge officiating mistakes that occur late in close games to be an encouraging first step.

But Cuban, whose crusade to improve NBA officiating has resulted in seven figures worth of fines during his 14-year ownership tenure, is asking for much more.

“I love the transparency,” Cuban said Monday. “Now if I could just get them to do the same level of transparency for the other 47 minutes and 55 seconds, I’d really be making progress.”

Cuban, whose team benefited twice in the last two weeks from last-second no-calls the league office later acknowledged should have been fouls, is lobbying for a list of blown calls to be published for every NBA game.

This doesn’t necessarily need to be done on a timely basis, Cuban said. He would strongly prefer that it would be done publicly, though.

“No one ever wants or expects perfection, but when you’re not transparent, people tend to think you’re hiding something,” Cuban said. “And I think that hurts us. That hurts just the connection we have with our fan base. That’s my opinion.”

Cuban isn’t nearly as critical of officiating as he used to be, in large part because of steps taken by the NBA office to address the issue. However, he will always firmly believe that poor officiating played a critical role in the Mavs losing the 2006 Finals. He was fined $250,000 after Game 5 of that series, when Miami’s Dwyane Wade hit the deciding free throws after a controversial foul call.

“After all this, I firmly believe that every 14 years it does balance out,” Cuban cracked about the two recent no-calls that benefited the Mavs.

Yet Cuban is completely serious about his concern regarding NBA fans’ lack of trust of referees, an issue that was especially sensitive in the wake of disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy’s gambling scandal. The desire to prove that the integrity of officiating in today’s NBA is beyond reproach is why Cuban argues the league would benefit from making every call subject to review publicly.

“Why not? What’s to hide?” Cuban said. “All you’ve got to do is just do a tweet search for ‘NBA refs’ during any multi-game night and it’s an interesting source of knowledge. I think the more transparency we have, the stronger connection we make with our fans.”

***

No. 5: Gasol, Henry a game-time decision for LakersFrom Kobe Bryant to Steve Nash to Pau Gasol and Xavier Henry, injuries have wreaked havoc on the Los Angeles Lakers’ lineup all season. Gasol left last week’s blowout loss to the Clippers with a foot injury and Henry has been out of the lineup since Dec. 29 (bone bruise on his right knee). Both players are on the mend and may or may not play tonight as the Lakers host the Cavaliers, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

The Los Angeles Lakers’ injury woes continued Monday as an MRI revealed Pau Gasol has a moderate strain of the flexor tendon of the big toe of his left foot.Gasol will be a game-time decision on for Tuesday’s game against Cleveland.

With Gasol out of Monday’s practice, the Lakers were down to eight healthy players for the session. Lakers assistant coach, Mark Madsen, and video coordinator, J.J. Outlaw, filled in to give the team enough bodies to field a 5-on-5 game.

“J.J., we can sign him up for a 10-day [contract],” joked Nick Young. “And Mark, Mark’s coming out of retirement.”

Xavier Henry, who underwent an individual on-court workout Sunday for the first time since suffering a bone bruise in his right knee on Dec. 29, did not practice Monday.

Henry was originally scheduled to have his knee re-evaluated Monday, but that examination has been pushed to Tuesday, according to the Lakers. The Lakers host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

“I don’t think he’ll get the all-clear yet,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of Henry. “They’ll want to get him on the floor and have him go through some stuff. Hopefully sometime soon, but [playing against Cleveland] would surprise me.”


VIDEO: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni addresses Gasol, Henry’s status

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The GameTime crew provides a great look at why the Knicks are off to a 6-1 January start … Hall of Famer Larry Bird used to do what J.R. Smith got in trouble for last week: untie opponents’ shoes at the free-throw line … Hall of Famer Bill Walton shares some odd comments about Gilbert Arenas during a Arizona-UCLA telecast … Mavs owner Mark Cuban reiterates that he is clearly not a fan of the Miami Heat … Celtics coach Brad Stevens used the Hack-a-Dwight strategy last night, but Stevens says he wouldn’t be upset if that practice went away altogether

ICYMI(s) of The Night: What did Marvin Williams ever do to the Denver Nuggets? After J.J. Hickson banged on him earlier this season, Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier got into the act last night: 


VIDEO: Quincy Miller goes strong to the hoop and dunks on Marvin Williams


VIDEO: Evan Fournier dunks on Marvin Williams

Five Players Who Need To Step It Up

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – We’re only approaching 10 games in, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to eyeball some concerning trends that could quickly become disturbing. I’ve pinpointed five players I believe have left something to be desired. Each is an established veteran who entered this season with a new and exciting situation, and high expectations.

1. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets

Supposedly happy in Houston, Howard’s stats — 18.2 ppg and 14.9 rpg — certainly look All-Star worthy. But take a deeper look. He’s shooting 53.6 percent from the floor, a mark not seen since his first two seasons in the league — and four percentage points lower than last season when he complained the Lakers didn’t get him the ball in his sweet spots. Yes, he and the Rockets, just 5-4, are adjusting, and this could take time, but Howard has looked awkward on the block and is shooting just 37 percent in the paint, per NBA.com stats. More discouraging is his free-throw shooting. He said he wanted to shoot between 75 and 80 percent — which was laughable. Instead he’s dragging a career-low 47.9 percent. Teams are already employing the Hack-a-Howard tactic and the Rockets are seeing how frustrating it is to have a big man who can’t make free throws in crunch time. They’ve been awful trying to close out games. And Hack-a-Howard isn’t just a late-game tactic anymore. The Sixers intentionally fouled him late in the first half of Wednesday’s game. Howard’s old club, the severely undermanned Lakers without Kobe Bryant, essentially won their game at Houston because Howard couldn’t make free throws when fouled on purpose.

There’s more. Where is the chiseled, 265-pound Howard’s passion? His passivity against the Lakers was mind-boggling, and running away from Lakers players attempting to intentionally foul him was embarrassing.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard gets the block of the night against the Sixers

2. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

A forgettable start to the season got worse with a stress fracture to his left shin that will sideline McGee indefinitely. A sluggish start might not rank high on the surprise list for many, but if there was ever a time the 7-footer was going to put it together, this seemed it. His new coach Brian Shaw was moving away from George Karl‘s up-tempo, dribble-drive offense to a more traditional, low-post system. McGee spent much of the offseason working on his game, seemingly determined to bury, on the court at least, his goofball reputation. Prior to the start of training camp he told NBA.com: “It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

It didn’t take Shaw long to apply the brakes, trusting McGee to even fewer minutes than Karl. In five starts, McGee averaged 7.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg in 15.8 mpg. He shot 43.6 percent. Denver, 3-4 after starting 1-4, traded Kosta Koufos to Memphis anticipating McGee’s rise. Recovering from the stress fracture only complicates McGee’s path to improvement. He’s in the second year of a $44 million contract, which so far looks like a very expensive mistake by the Nuggets.


VIDEO: JaVale McGee finishes off the alley-oop from Randy Foye

3. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

Evans’ fresh start away from Sacramento dysfunction was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for the fifth-year combo guard. The Pelicans hyped the sixth-man role behind Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon and it made sense. Evans can score and going against other second units would seem a great idea. An ankle injury slowed him early into the preseason and it’s been slow-going ever since. Evans is averaging a career-low 9.0 ppg and is logging a career-low 24.0 mpg. His shooting has been abysmal, 36.2 percent overall and 12.5 percent from beyond the arc. Evans has never truly been a high-volume 3-point shooter and he’s never shot it with considerable accuracy, but really, he could probably make 12.5 percent blindfolded.

This has to concern the Pelicans’ front office if trading Gordon, who always seems to be on the block, is still a consideration later this season. Even Evans’ free-throw percentage is suffering. A 76.4-percent shooter from the stripe over his career, he’s only at 66.7 percent. The team’s overall optimism that sprouted from a successful preseason has been shrouded by a 3-6 start, including Wednesday’s demoralizing loss at previously winless Utah.


VIDEO: Tyreke Evans on the Pelicans’ deep roster

4. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets

This is Williams’ second season as the maxed-out point guard Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban claims he’s happy to have lost out on two summers ago. Since Williams signed his five-year, $98-million contract to stay with the Nets, he has not produced like a max player, with either injuries or coaching fit being the culprit. Williams is averaging 11.1 ppg — lowest by a long shot since his rookie season) and 7.4 apg. He’s the quarterback of  a team built for instant contention with All-Star (Joe Johnson) and Hall of Fame (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett) talent, albeit aging talent outside of center Brook Lopez, yet another All-Star. Williams was again hobbled by an ankle issue during the preseason and he still might be gimpy. Meshing won’t happen overnight, but the level at which the Nets, 2-5, have played (i.e. losing by 21 at Sacramento on Wednesday) should be deeply concerning to Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who will shell out close to $190 million in payroll and luxury tax this season.

If anybody knows how to get Williams going it should be his rookie coach and No. 1 golfing buddy Jason Kidd. Kidd has to figure out how to get Williams in his comfort zone, to allow him to create and use his size to his advantage, while also getting the rest of this cast involved. Maybe then Williams will exude the confident, follow-me persona of a leader that just isn’t there.


VIDEO: Nets.com tags along on a workout with Deron Williams

5. Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors

Starting from scratch with playoff-hopeful Toronto, Gay still can’t shake the inefficiency thing. Yes, he’s averaging 19.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg, which look great. But with Gay, as the stat geeks remind, you have to look deeper to see that he’s averaging those 19.7 ppg on 19.8 field-goal attempts. He’s connecting at just a 36.5-percent rate. He is shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a mark bolstered by going 7-for-14 in the last two games, including 4-for-6 Wednesday night to get the Raptors to 4-5 at the expense of his former team, the struggling Memphis Grizzlies. But since he shoots mostly mid-range jumpers, the overall percentage is stark. In an overtime loss at Houston, Gay reached rare inefficient air when he finished with 29 points on 37 shot attempts — 8-for-29 inside the arc; 3-for-8 behind it.

During the offseason Gay had eye surgery to correct a pretty serious vision problem, and, realizing he had to get his shooting percentages up, went to work with his personal trainer for hours each day at his old high school gym in Baltimore. As he put it to NBA.com: “Honestly, I had two bad years of shooting the ball and this last year was really bad, so I just had to go back to the basics. It wasn’t as much my eye sight as it was my form.” Unfortunately for Gay, so far his shooting percentage has only worsened.


VIDEO: Rudy Gay with the assist of the night against the Grizzlies

Clips, Nets Pressure Haughty Neighbors

h

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In every metropolis boasting a pair of pro teams in the same sport exists an indisputable historical hierarchy.

The Yankees rule the Mets; the Giants squash the A’s; the White Sox won a World Series in the past century, yet the Cubs own Chicago; and Los Angeles will bleed Dodger Blue no matter what name the Angels give themselves. The Jets fall in line behind the Giants and, of course, the Nets bow to the Knicks while the Clippers kiss all those Lakers’ rings.

“They have a great chance to compete for a title,” Knicks Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith, speaking of the intruding Brooklyn Nets, told reporters at his charity golf event. “But we’re still the marquee team in New York.”

True, and as mentioned above, indisputable.

But… on both coasts, the NBA’s two most valuable franchises are being pressured like never before by their once-laughingstock, suddenly serious neighbors. The billion-dollar Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets’ black-and-white color scheme have proven popular in the borough, while owner Mikhail Prokhorov‘s deep pockets [which could shell out upwards of $70 million in luxury tax alone after next season and could pose significant cap/roster issues down the road] have delivered a team that, on paper, looks to have surpassed the Knicks as title contenders.

One of the Nets’ newest members said Thursday it’s time for the apple to turn in NYC.

“Everybody knows how much I disliked the Knicks when I was with the Celtics, but I think it’s grown to another level,” Paul Pierce told ESPN. “I think it’s time for the Nets to start running this city.”

That’s not going to happen, but there’s no doubt the spotlight will shine brighter than ever on the Nets with Pierce and Kevin Garnett joining Deron Williams, as well as in L.A. where notoriously cheap owner Donald Sterling has seen the light in his advanced age, and where there’s now a three-to-one superstar ratio favoring the Clippers [Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, coach Doc Rivers] over the Lakers [Kobe Bryant].

If the upstart Nets and Clippers get off to hot starts and the Knicks and Lakers don’t, the establishment will be subject to a changing-of-the-guard, 24/7 news-cycle grilling.

In key measurements of popularity and franchise value, the Nets and Clippers are gaining ground on, if not stealing fans and dollars from, their virtually impenetrable big brothers. In 2012-13 merchandise sales, the Nets, who have long languished in this department, spiked to No. 4 [with help from hipsters taking to the color scheme] behind the Knicks, Lakers and Heat.

The Clippers checked in at No. 8 for a second consecutive season, not coincidentally the two seasons with Paul on board. And it was the Clippers, not the Lakers, joining the Heat as the only two teams with two players [Paul, 9th, and Griffin, 10th] ranked in the top 10 for jersey sales.

Attendance has jumped for both clubs, too. The Nets ranked 30th, 28th and 30th during their final three seasons in New Jersey, drawing barely more than a half-million fans in 2009-10. They ranked 13th last season, their first in Brooklyn, attracting more than 704,000 fans to Barclays [capacity 17,732], nearly 95 percent capacity, compared to the 780,353 that caught the Knicks at typically sold-out MSG [capacity 19,033].

After the Nets acquired Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry in the stunning trade with the Boston Celtics and signed Andrei Kirilenko, the club announced almost a month ago it had sold more than $3 million in new full season tickets, bringing it close to burning through its allotment.

At Staples Center, where 16 Lakers championship banners hang, the Clippers officially outdrew their co-tenant in each of the last two seasons, actually playing to more than 100 percent capacity. Capacity at a Clippers game [19,060] is slightly more than a Lakers game [18,997] and the Clippers benefit from two home against the Lakers [both drew more than capacity -- 20,179 and 19,768, while both games with the Lakers home games drew the usual Lakers sellout of 18,997].

All in all, the Clippers increased their total attendance by more than 118,000 from 2009-10 and by more than 50,000 from 2010-11, the season before Paul arrived.

It makes for a more valuable franchise. According to Forbes’ January valuation report, the Lakers and Knicks became the NBA’s first two billion-dollar franchises last year with New York valued at $1.1 billion and Brooklyn a close second at $1 billion.

The previously depressed Nets and Clippers made headway. Spiked by the move to Brooklyn, the Nets came in at No. 9, a 48 percent change from the previous year [when it ranked No. 14]. Forbes estimated the Nets’ value jumped from $357 million to $530 million. The Clips’ value increased from $324 million [No. 20] to $430 million [No. 18], a 33 percent change.

While all this won’t threaten the Knicks’ and Lakers’ air-tight thrones, for two long-wallowing and overshadowed franchises, these are rare power moves in a promising, and profitable, direction.

Conspiracy Theories Follow Nets

It came up again, not surprisingly, Thursday as Andrei Kirilenko was officially introduced as a member of the Nets, complete with the two-year free-agent deal that has become the stuff of international intrigue.

Talks of a conspiracy theory was an easy jump to make the instant Russian Kirilenko signed with the Nets, owned by Russian Mikhail Prokhorov, at a massive pay cut. AK-47 opted out of his 2013-14 Timberwolves contract worth $10 million for $3.1 million in Brooklyn, plus a second season at a player option. It was actually easy long before this, the way the NBA had no real chance to follow the money in the former Soviet Union. The natural connection with Kirilenko brought it to the forefront, but truthfully, there likely would have been concerns about secret deals with a non-Russian player at some point.

It was so easy that several executives – anonymously, of course – made accusations without evidence, at least evidence they would be keeping to themselves.

That’s when it became a problem. Speculation from media and fans is one thing, but being called a cheat by opponents is another. But there they were, as originally detailed by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

“Let’s see if the league has any credibility,” one owner said. “It’s not about stopping it. It’s about punishing them if they’re doing it.”

“There should be a probe,” an Eastern Conference GM added. “How obvious is it?”

How convenient to be able to accuse someone of the serious charge of circumventing the salary cap without having to show your face. Or hand over evidence.

What I would give to be in their office the day another team drops the same insinuation on them.

History has shown that assumptions are a bad idea and that owners from the United States are perfectly capable of breaking rules. But Kirilenko faced the insinuation Thursday in a conference call with reporters, saying, as detailed by Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“I can’t do anything with what people think. I’m coming from the facts,” said Kirilenko. “I can’t change it. I can’t control it…. Those type of rumors I can’t control. And I guess it comes from the history because of the Russian KGB. It makes it a little funny. What can I do?”

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

.

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

.

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

.

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

.

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.

Nets Look To Kidd For Another Culture Change

.

SAN ANTONIO – The Brooklyn Nets have a great culture outside their arena. Inside their locker room, not so much.

The Nets have talent, starting with three guys — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez — you can run an offense through. That’s three more than a lot of teams in this league have. But their first-round defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bulls made it clear that the Nets lack the character, the drive and the cohesiveness to make the most of that talent.

Enter Jason Kidd, a New York Knicks point guard as of two weeks ago and the Nets’ new coach as of Wednesday evening. There are plenty of questions about such a quick, player-to-coach transition, but Kidd may be just what the Nets need.

There have been three trades over the last 15 seasons that have truly changed the culture of a franchise — moves that not only made a team better at basketball, but made its locker room a completely different environment.

A year and a half ago, the Clippers’ acquired Chris Paul and not only became the best team in L.A., but also a group that finally had it’s head on straight. In 2007, the Boston Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett, who turned them into defensive force and a championship contender.

And in 2001, the New Jersey Nets traded Stephon Marbury for Kidd, who changed them from “Clippers East” to the best team in the East. The future Hall of Famer led them to two straight Finals and six straight playoff appearances. In their 37 years in the NBA, the Nets have reached the conference semifinals just six times. Five of those trips took place in Kidd’s six full seasons with the team.

Kidd obviously played a big role, both on the floor and in the locker room, when the Dallas Mavericks won their only championship in 2011. And his influence on Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks this season was clear to most observers. He has a brilliant basketball mind and the respect of the greatest players in the world, having mentored a lot of them – including Williams – at the 2008 Olympics.

But mentoring players as a teammate and leading them as a coach are two different things. And with the rise of analytics, defenses designed to take away a team’s top options, and offenses that use misdirection to get defenses off balance, coaching in the NBA has never been more complicated.

Kidd will have to learn how to run a practice, put together a game plan, make adjustments on the fly, figure out the best role for every guy on the roster, develop an offense that works for three very different 20-point scorers, and put together a defense that the Nets can rely on when the shots aren’t falling.

That makes Kidd’s staff a critical part of his success or failure. He has pushed for former Nets and Pistons coach Lawrence Frank to be his top assistant, a hire that’s not done yet.

Frank led the Nets to within a few possessions of knocking off the eventual champion Pistons after he took over for Byron Scott in 2004. And in his first two full seasons as the coach, the Nets ranked in the top 10 defensively. But as the roster was stripped of its talent, the Nets regressed on defense.

In 2010-11, Frank was the lead assistant in Boston when they ranked No. 2 defensively, but wasn’t given much to work with in his two seasons in Detroit. While the Nets have three go-to guys offensively, they have plenty of questions on the other end of the floor, where they ranked 19th this season and where they got embarrassed by an undermanned Bulls team in Game 7.

Improved defense starts with buy-in from every guy in the roster. And Kidd’s history as a mentor to the likes of Williams, Anthony and LeBron James indicates that players will buy what he’s selling. In the Nets press release announcing the hire, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said that Kidd has “the fire in the belly we need,” making it clear what the team’s priorities were when it sought a new coach.

When you’re looking to change the culture, you call on the guy who did it before.

Report: Clippers Targeting Pacers’ Shaw



MIAMI – The Los Angeles Clippers might have solution to whatever problems have been created with prized point guard Chris Paul recently.

Former Lakers and current Indiana Pacers’ assistant Brian Shaw is at the top of the Los Angeles Clippers’ wish list, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, along with Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. One of these guys could help give the Clippers some much-needed stability in their coaching situation with free agency less than a month away:

Shaw is considered the team’s top choice at this point, multiple sources said. His youth, championship experience with the Los Angeles Lakers and player development skills, which have been showcased by his work with Indiana’s Paul George and Lance Stephenson, have intrigued the Clippers management and players. He also received strong reviews from Clippers forward Lamar Odom, who played under Shaw with the Lakers.

But since no candidate has formally interviewed for the position, or met with Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the situation remains fluid. The Clippers front office has done extensive background work on a handful of candidates: Shaw, Hollins, former Cleveland coach Byron Scott, former Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy and Denver head coach George Karl.

Van Gundy was previously near the top of the Clippers search, but talks with him have cooled recently, sources said. Karl is also still under consideration, but the Clippers have yet to formally ask permission from Denver to speak with him. Karl, the NBA’s Coach of the Year after leading the starless Nuggets to a franchise-record 57 wins, will enter the final year of his contract with a new general manager at the helm, following Masai Ujiri‘s departure to Toronto. A source said Saturday that his situation in Denver remains “unsettled.”

Convincing Shaw to leave the Pacers for the Clippers would be a coup for the franchise that has bungled the process since coach Vinny Del Negro was let go. But they have to move quickly where Shaw is concerned since he’s at the top of Brooklyn’s search list as well. Both jobs offer some interesting specifics for a first-time coach.

The respective owners, the Clippers’ Donald Sterling and the Nets’ Mikhail Prokhorov, have very different styles. And you better believe that will be a factor in Shaw’s decision-making process, depending on how quickly things process on both fronts.

Jackson, Prokhorov… And Vodka

The Nets have “firmly targeted”  Phil Jackson to take over as coach, Howard Beck reports in the New York Times. Which is how it should be. Jackson is the ultimate closer and not a developer and Brooklyn has enough pieces to plot a playoff run. The former Knick speaks fondly about the city and owner Mikhail Prokhorov has the kind of deep pockets required to even start a conversation.

There is no word from Jackson himself on whether the feeling is mutual. But there is the way-back machine and Jackson being asked about Prokhorov on May 25, 2010.

“I’d like to have a vodka with him at some point,” Jackson said. “He seems like a very interesting young man.”

The backstory is important. Jackson, who was still coaching the Lakers but about to become a free agent, was talking in Phoenix before a playoff game. He was clearly loving the chance to tweak L.A. management, a favorite pastime. It was Jackson doing serve-and-volley with the media and not caring if his wandering eyes were visible about 90 minutes before Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

Jackson in a hilarious moment was specific enough, though, to say he had no desire to return to his previous life as Bulls coach. So saying he was intrigued by Prokhorov does, in retrospect, seems real and not just a chance to sweat the Lakers out for the extension that would eventually come.

(The best part was Jackson denying being flattered by the speculation surrounding various coaching vacancies, calling it “a distraction, I think, to other teams and I think a disservice to coaches that are really seeking jobs and have an opportunity to go to teams.” A high road he took, of course, about a minute after noting he would like to throw back some good stuff with Prokhorov. Classic Phil.)

As it turned out, Jackson returned to the Lakers for the attempt at the threepeat, left a year later with a very bad playoff ending, and the Nets hired Avery Johnson on June 15, 2010. And now here they are again, Jackson a 100 percent free agent, the Nets looking for a coach and with spending power and the roster to back up their pursuit, and with Prokhorov still “interesting,” even if the “young man” part is not as applicable 2 ½ years later.

As Beck reported:

Asked if he would be interested in a coach with 11 championships, Prokhorov smiled broadly as a dozen camera shutters snapped. He again pledged support for [interim coach P.J.] Carlesimo but said, “If it becomes necessary, you know who usual suspects are.”

When Jackson’s name was specifically mentioned, Prokhorov turned coy: “I never heard this name, you know.”

A person with ties to the search called Jackson “the No. 1 choice,” for all of the obvious reasons. He is the most decorated coach in N.B.A. history, he is available, and he has strong ties to New York, having begun his playing career with the Knicks and ended it with the Nets (then in New Jersey).

All other candidates are considered distant second choices, at least until Nets officials determine whether Jackson wants the job. That is an open question, even among Jackson’s friends. It is far from certain that Jackson will coach again, and if so, whether he can be lured to Brooklyn.

Prokhorov and the Nets obviously have to try. Talk to Jackson. Invite him out for a drink.