Posts Tagged ‘Mo Cheeks’

Blogtable: What Next For The Pistons?

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


Fixing the Pistons | Take a break | Three simple words



VIDEO: The Starters take a look at the Pistons

Detroit has fired another coach: What does GM Joe Dumars do now?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Since he’s unlikely to find a taker over the next week for Josh Smith, a dubious addition from the get-go, Dumars needs to do two things: Trade Rodney Stuckey by the Feb. 20 deadline to a playoff aspirant that craves more scoring punch off the bench, and then devote what’s left of the schedule to figuring out the best ways to use Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond as a full-time tandem. If the two can’t thrive on the floor together, each logging 35 minutes, then Monroe should be dealt this summer for a nice return.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If he can’t unload the big contract he just gave Josh Smith, and that’s highly doubtful, then he might have to make a move a he doesn’t want to do, trading Greg Monroe.  The big lineup of the Pistons didn’t work under coach Mo Cheeks and there’s no reason to think it will work under another coach. That’s a chemistry and rotation problem that was created entirely by Dumars.  It’s time for Dumars to stop handing out free-agent money just because he has the available space — Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Smith.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comThe obvious thing to do is get rid of Josh Smith and that ridiculous contract he was awarded over the summer. Only one small problem: No GM is dumb enough to take it under today’s CBA. Is there a chance to get out of Brandon Jennings‘ contract? Doubtful, but I’d try like heck. Otherwise, there’s some cap room coming this summer, so try to fill positions of need to maximize players’ strengths.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBuild a time machine, go back and not sign Josh Smith and not sign Charlie Villanueva, although at least Charlie V comes off the cap after this season. Beyond that, Dumars does have options. Greg Monroe will be a restricted agent. Dumars can trade him by the Feb. 20 deadline and get something in return, and teams will be interested. Or do a sign-and-trade in July and get a return then (though with fewer options because that would be Monroe dictating the team the Pistons would have to strike a deal with) or keep Monroe with Andre Drummond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comTrading Greg Monroe is still the best way to go. But whether he trades Monroe, trades Josh Smith or trades neither, Dumars needs to acquire more shooting. The Pistons could be more successful by staggering their big three’s minutes, with a 30-minutes-per-game small forward who can space the floor (and play some defense). Shooting is so critical these days and the Pistons are the worst jump-shooting team in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Joe Dumars doesn’t do anything now. His owner, Tom Gores, is the man who better have a master plan for what comes next. Because he’s now undercut Dumars twice (the first time was forcing Lawrence Frank on Dumars when Frank clearly was not his choice as head coach and now firing Cheeks just 50 games into this season). The fact is, Dumars had a fantastic run with the Pistons as both a player and executive that, barring a miraculous turn of events between now and the playoffs, has likely come to an end. It’s just time to pack up and move on.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Can Joe D. come out of retirement and play the three? It seems like everyone watching seems to realize that the Pistons have a logjam on the interior, with Monroe, Drummond and Josh Smith jockeying for playing time and floor space amongst themselves. Signing Smith wasn’t Mo Cheeks’ fault, but attempting to use him as a three out around the perimeter was. You want a quick fix? Trade Monroe or Drummond, move Smith to his natural four, and crank up the volume in Motown.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA PhilippinesI think he should stay put and not tinker with the roster too much. They just came together this year, so a little patience should be practiced with the roster that he has put together. They have the talent — it’s just a matter of building chemistry, teamwork and letting the team create its own identity.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA DeutschlandFrom what I saw in the Spurs game the players really did respond to what Loyer was doing and saying. So it might have been the right decision to move on from Cheeks after all. Having some inside information through a colleague, I know that Chauncey Billups will have a bigger part on the coaching staff, Rasheed Wallace will have a more important role. So the dynamics will be a bit different. In terms of players it will be important to make Brandon Jennings happy again because he was close with Cheeks. Andre Drummond, on the other hand, has some issues with the former coach. I don’t think the Pistons will make a trade going forward.

XiBin Yang, NBA ChinaIf Dumas won’t move the three big guy lineup, he really needs more consistent shooters. When you got two or even three big men on the front court at the same time, you’ve got to make the open court for them, which is tough with guys like Stuckey or Bynum, who have been living to get to the basket. Billups seems get ready to be an assistant coach or a head coach like Kidd, so it’s time to find some reseve guards such as Ridnour or Blake who can play both 1 and 2 guard position, to balance the spacing of the floor. Pope is good, but he may not provide what the team needs badly at this stage.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pistons’ Gores has more decisions ahead | Clippers soar in Paul’s return | World Peace has advice for Smart | No change in Kobe’s plans; another setback for Nash

No. 1: Pistons owner Gores has more work to do fix Motor City mess Tom Gores took the first step in attempting to fix the mess that is the Detroit Pistons by firing his head coach, Maurice Cheeks. That’s only the beginning of the heavy lifting he’ll have to do to fix what ails the once-proud Pistons, according to Terry Foster of the Detroit News., who reiterates what our Steve Aschburner said in the immediate aftermath of Cheeks being fired. And the list is long and starts with Pistons president Joe Dumars and includes several players who should all be in the crosshairs for a franchise that expected so much more from this season:

Gores owns this shipwreck and he probably doesn’t know what to do with it. Let me give him some advice:

He’s already issued his playoff-or-else edict for the season and can’t back down now. However, he can’t ignore long-term goals — that should be his most pressing concern.

Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe and Charlie Villanueva have been dangled as trade bait. The Pistons could go one of two ways. They could trade these pieces and try to get a small forward that could help them win now. Or they could trade these guys to free up cap space and retain their draft pick by slumping to one of the eight worst records in the league.

Option No. 2 means the Pistons would miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season. I am OK with that as long as they have one of the league’s eight-worst records so they can keep their pick in this talent-heavy draft.

The Pistons are a half-game behind Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The last time the Pistons made the playoffs as an eight seed was 2009. They were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

How did that experience work out? The Pistons are 132-226 since.

The Pistons likely would play the Pacers as an eight seed or the two-time defending champion Heat as a seventh seed. Both teams would sweep the Pistons. So what is the point?

The Pistons are a young team and playoff experience is an important learning experience. However, the Pistons might get drummed out before they can get their notebooks out.

“I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up,” Gores said.

Speaking of players, black marks on Cheeks’ record undoubtedly were the run-ins he had with Josh Smith and Will Bynum — which continue a trend of Pistons players having too much say. Does anyone remember the John Kuester mutiny?

Gores has to provide direction to this franchise. He has to establish a vision. If he doesn’t the Pistons will continue to play in front of a lot of empty seats.


VIDEO: Detroit became the first team to fire its coach this season

***

No. 2: Lob City was alive and well in Chris Paul’s return to the Clippers – Life without Chris Paul for the Los Angeles Clippers was certainly manageable. In fact, Blake Griffin ripped it up in Paul’s absence. But it’s good to have their All-Star point guard and floor leader back, as the world saw Sunday in the Clippers’ rout of the Philadelphia 76ers. It was a welcome back party, of sorts, that signals a second-half charge for the Clippers that should include a rise up the Western Conference food chain. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times recounts the return of Paul in the biggest (literally) win in franchise history:

It was Showtime at Staples Center on Sunday night, starring the return of Chris Paul, the comeback of Blake Griffin from an injury scare and the rest of the Clippers playing their roles.

Playing in his first game since he separated his right shoulder Jan. 3 at Dallas, Paul had seven points and eight assists in the Clippers’ show-stopping and franchise-record-setting 123-78 victory over the overmatched Philadelphia 76ers.

With Griffin overcoming a bruised left shin suffered in the first quarter to score 26 points, grab 11 rebounds and hand out six assists, the Clippers set a franchise record for biggest margin of victory.

The Clippers held the 76ers to an opponent franchise-low 27% (27 for 100) shooting. The Clippers set a franchise record for biggest lead at the half when they opened a 69-30 lead after two quarters.

They built a lead as big as 56 points, their largest of the season. So after missing the last 18 games recovering from his injury, this is what Paul came back to.

“It felt great to play,” said Paul, who played 22 minutes 44 seconds. “It’s one of those things you never know what it’s going to be like until you actually get out there and compete and play. It just felt good.”

Griffin went down late in the first quarter after Tony Wroten slipped while driving and stumbled into Griffin.

After he limped to the locker room with head athletic trainer Jasen Powell, Griffin checked back into the game with 7:31 left in the second quarter.

In case anyone was wondering if Griffin was fine and that he and Paul were on the same page, they got their answer twice in the second quarter.

Paul had a breakaway layup, but threw the ball off the backboard, allowing Griffin to catch it and throw down a windmill dunk.

Then later in the second quarter, Griffin dribbled up court, made a behind-the-back pass with his left hand to Paul, who threw a lob that Griffin dunked, bringing the crowd to its feet again.

So, Griffin was asked after the game, how hard was it play with Paul again?

“It was tough, but we managed,” Griffin deadpanned, laughing along with the media.


VIDEO: Who didn’t get dunked on Sunday? The Top 10 plays includes plenty from the Clippers

***

No. 3: World Peace has words of wisdom for Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart – If there is any one man on the planet who knows what Oklahoma State Marcus Smart is feeling in the aftermath of the fan-shoving incident he was in the middle of Saturday night, it’s veteran New York Knicks forward Metta World Peace. He, as Ron Artest then, was at the epicenter of the infamous Malice at the Palace of Auburn Hills. World Peace insists there are plenty of lessons to be learned from what Smart is going through now and will during and after his three-game suspension:

World Peace said Smart — who is projected to be a high NBA draft pick — might benefit from learning how to deal with obnoxious fans at age 19, before he becomes a pro and millions of dollars are on the line.

“Just in general, I heard the kid is pretty good and a potential pro,” World Peace said Sunday before his game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “So those types of challenges on the court when you’re playing and fans are rooting against you — that was a great lesson learned, so that hopefully when he does become a pro, he’ll be able to kind of withstand the fans that are rooting against him on the road.”

World Peace also said Smart needs to learn to control his energy.

“I think that emotion and that fire could be directed towards winning on the court instead of directed other ways,” he said.

World Peace said given the chance, he would advise Smart to be aware of the big picture when making decisions.

At 19 years old, when I came out of St. John’s, I was fresh out the ‘hood. I was fresh out of Queensbridge,” he said. “So my mentality was still struggle, defensive and things like that. I wasn’t really conscious. I’m 34 years old now. So he’s a young kid. I wish I would have listened when I was a kid to my elders or people who had my best interests at heart, and then I wish I would have been more conscious at that age also. Those are two things that, if you were to reach out to a kid like Marcus — a talented kid, future leader in the community — you would tell him those things.”

World Peace said more guidelines should be in place for college fans because college players don’t get paid. He said fans should have more leeway at NBA games.

“As far as the pros, people pay to come and see us, and I appreciate it because I’m able to take care of my family,” he said. “So I don’t really judge fans about what they say, good or bad.”

***

No. 4: No change for Kobe’s return and another injury scare for Nash — For all of us who think we know what’s best for Kobe Bryant, save the advice. Bryant isn’t making any changes to his comeback plans for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. He told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin as much over the weekend:

Despite continuing to be sidelined with a left knee injury and seeing his team continue to fall further out of the playoff picture, Kobe Bryant remains steadfast in his intention to return to the court this season.

“My plan hasn’t changed,” Bryant said Sunday at an event to promote his newest signature sneaker, the Nike Kobe 9 Elite Masterpiece. “I’m just going about it every single day just trying to get better. That’s my job. My job is to get my butt back out there on the court when I’m healthy enough to play and that hasn’t changed.”

Bryant, out since Dec. 17 with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee and averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting this season, has missed the Lakers’ last 26 games. He missed the Lakers’ first 19 games this season because of a torn Achilles in his left leg.

The 18-year veteran is scheduled to be re-evaluated after the All-Star Game next week, but wouldn’t venture a guess as to when he could actually return to game action.

“That I don’t know,” Bryant said. “It’s completely out of my control. I really got to sit here and just wait until this thing heals up and then go out there and do what I do.”

He reiterated his confidence that he would not miss the rest of the 2013-14 season, however.

When asked what his best-case scenario would be upon a return this season, Bryant replied: “Play like me. That’s it.”

The news on Steve Nash isn’t quite as positive. He didn’t finish Sunday’s game against the Bulls, exiting with a nerve irritation in his left leg. He’s scheduled to be evaluated today. But things don’t look good for the NBA’s elder statesman:

Nash received contact to his left leg from Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich as he turned the ball over with 9:18 remaining in the third quarter. The contact was near the same spot where he suffered a fracture in the leg last season. He stayed in the game until there was 5:00 remaining in the quarter and went straight to the locker room.

“I just took a knee to the spot where I broke my leg,” Nash said. “Ever since I did that I’ve had a lot of nerve issues there and it just really flared up on me. I don’t think it’s going to be a long-term thing at all. Hopefully it’s something that can just settle down this week, hopefully by Tuesday.”

The Lakers host the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

“[Once] that nerve flared up and I started to compensate, I wasn’t going to be very effective … and I also was going to risk going back on all that work I did to get back on the court,” Nash said.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said Nash’s back started to tighten up from the nerve issues, causing the veteran point guard to limp on the court.

Nash, who turned 40 on Friday, had played in three of the Lakers’ last four games after missing nearly three months of game action because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings.

“It wasn’t like I broke it again,” Nash said. “I just kind of irritated the nerve and I’m hopeful that all the stuff that I’ve been doing will be able to overcome that little bit of irritation. It’s kind of transient and hopefully I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel better.”


VIDEO: See how easy Kevin Durant makes it look in the Nightly Notable

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: You’ll have to forgive the Magic for acting like they won a championship when they knocked off the Pacers but every win, especially against an elite team, matters when they come as sparingly as they do in Orlando … Acting Cavs GM David Griffin says they are buying at the trade deadline in Cleveland … Thunder star Russell Westbrook is gearing up for his return after the All-Star breakRick Carlisle couldn’t resist the inevitable Dirk Nowitzki-Larry Bird comparisons over the weekend in Boston …

ICYMI of the Night: The Clippers went to town in their rout of the Sixers and no one had more fun in the blowout than the Clippers’ All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, who shows off a bit with one of his many dunks …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin goes off the glass, courtesy of Chris Paul

Surprise: Dumars Fires Yet Another Coach


VIDEO: Cheeks is out at Detroit after only eight months

Mo Cheeks, the eighth coach to serve during Joe Dumars‘ run as president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, lasted eight months before, as multiple media outlets reported and the team eventually confirmed Sunday, getting the ax.

Dumars is in his 14th season, six years removed from Detroit’s last .500-or-better season. And the Pistons’ lone championship on Dumars’ watch (2004) came so long ago, Yao Ming, Latrell Sprewell and Seattle still were in the league and Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and the Charlotte Bobcats weren’t.

That math no longer adds up.

In fact, with the clamor for advanced analytics to measure and dictate every motion and inclination of every player associated with an NBA team’s success or failure, the league is overdue for a concrete rating system for front-office executives. They’re the guys, after all, who are lauded or ripped by a new generation of sportswriter/analyst, depending on how avidly they embrace or eschew such calculations.

Or how ’bout this? A simple ceiling on the number of coaches a GM can hire or fire before it is his head on the chopping block.

Three would seem to be plenty, though four might be a reasonable number as well. If you spot the boss one for clearing the deck after he takes the job – the way Dumars did in 2001, replacing George Irvine with Rick Carlisle – two or three more ought to be enough, after which the scrutiny needs to shift from the sideline to the executive suite.

That would have only gotten Dumars to about the halfway mark in presiding over his personal coaches’ Boot Hill.

After Irvine and Carlisle, Dumars and the Pistons turned to Larry Brown, who did precisely what everyone expected him to do: he got Detroit to The Finals in his first season, steered its ensemble cast to the 2004 championship, then won another 54 games before his AWOL DNA kicked in and he was on the move.

Flip Saunders was brought in and did even better, in terms of victories, going 176-70 in three seasons. But he never had full control of the Pistons’ veteran-laden locker room – thanks, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton – though Saunders’ non-confrontational style was well-established before Dumars ever hired him. The core of that Detroit team was in decline, anyway, so when Saunders was dumped in 2008, so was its trips to the Eastern Conference finals and, for that matter, days sniffing air above .500.

Saunders at least holds the distinction of lasting longest under Dumars. After him, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank — and now Cheeks — have followed in rather rapid succession, each staying two years or less.

The Cheeks firing borders on Kim & Kris eye-blink brief, with the added touch that Pistons players apparently learned the news Sunday through media and fan postings on Twitter. Sure, they’re the ones allegedly responsible, underperforming at a 21-29 pace that most experts felt should have been flipped to 29-21 by now. But class is as class does, and while Dumars – always classy as a Hall of Fame player in Detroit – can’t be held responsible for every leak, it does add to the impression that there’s chaos and scapegoating going on in the Motor City.

The Pistons have been in or near the league’s bottom third both offensively and defensively. As of Sunday morning, they were ninth, out of the playoff picture, despite an East standings that from No. 3 down ought to be a land of opportunity. Detroit has been OK within its conference actually (18-14) but a 3-15 mark vs. the West has been killer, as was the Pistons’ 7-15 mark at home halfway through the schedule.

The inability to meld the work of big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, some reported rancor among the players over the rotation and the confrontation/aftermatch between the coach and guard Will Bynum – that’s all on Cheeks. The question, though, of whether 50 games was enough to decide his fate – after successive two-years-and-out terms of Frank and Kuester – was answered by Dumars and owner Tom Gores.

“Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change,” Gores said in a team statement. “We have not made the kind of progress that we should have over the first half of the season. This is a young team and we knew there would be growing pains, but we can be patient only as long as there is progress.

“The responsibility does not fall squarely on any one individual, but right now this change is a necessary step toward turning this thing around. I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up. I respect and appreciate Maurice Cheeks and thank him for his efforts; we just require a different approach.”

Pinpointing where that approach begins or ends, that’s the challenge. And that’s the area – made up top in jest but maybe a real void in need of filling – to be addressed. There’s got to be a more concrete way of capturing Dumars’ successes and failures.

The talent of which Gores spoke is largely of the individual variety; there’s no one even casually familiar with the NBA who didn’t stack up as many or more “cons” on the right side of Brandon Jennings‘ and Josh Smith‘s ledgers as “pros” on the left. It was, in a sense, a higher risk/reward gamble on “me first” guys than Dumars had perpetrated in 2009 when he splurged on free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to little positive effect.

The Pistons constantly tout their youth – their starting lineup ranks as the NBA’s most tender (23 years and change) – and the fact that their record is best among the league’s four youngest teams. But if that’s something to overcome in the short term, the W-L mark that the kids cobble together seems an odd thing to hold against Cheeks. He didn’t wave a wand and make them young.

More Dumars: Rodney Stuckey was going to be the Pistons’ future until he wasn’t, and only lately has done better in his new zero-expectations world. Then there was the Darko Milicic gaffe, a blown No. 2 pick in 2003 from which the franchise still hasn’t recovered. All while the No. 1 (LeBron James), 3 (Carmelo Anthony), 4 (Chris Bosh) and 5 (Dwyane Wade) picks will be at All-Star weekend in New Orleans.

Gores’ arrival as owner apparently was a reset button for Dumars, because new bosses need basketball people they trust the same as chaotic, distracted owners (the previous Pistons regime). But eight coaches in 14 years and, with whoever takes over on the sideline now, six in eight seasons goes beyond fickle toward feeble.

Even if, in formulating an analytic to apply to the GMs, some allowance gets made for the length of the exec’s reign, Dumars would seem to have exceeded an acceptable average for pink slips. The next one he hands out, he needs to be standing in front of a mirror.

Or better yet, he needs to take over as coach himself and demonstrate that his GM/president knows what he’s doing.

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Moment Has Passed For Smith, Hawks




VIDEO: Josh Smith talks about the surreal feeling of his first trip home as a Detroit Piston

ATLANTA – Wednesday night was supposed to be his moment, the first time homegrown star Josh Smith walked into Philips Arena as a member of the “other” team.

His first steps down that hallway he’d walked so many times was supposed to be cathartic, a chance for Smith to finally put his near-decade with the Hawks behind him. It was also a chance for the fans who endured that roller coaster ride from the impetuous, sky-walking teenage J-Smoove to the matured husband, father and veteran that is today’s Smith to either pay their last respects or bid him farewell in a not-so-special way.

The hype was better than the actual event itself. Smith was introduced to an equal smattering of cheers and boos, which is pretty much the way he was greeted throughout his tenure here. Few players in my years covering the league have inspired such a spirited split from the home fans, love and … hate is such a strong word, perhaps “loathe” is better, for the way they play the game.

The mixed bag is also what Smith expected, “a few cheers and a few boos,” he said. “But it’s all good.”

It certainly seems that way. There’s nothing to see here anymore. The time for holding grudges or being upset, on either side, is over. The moment has passed for Smith and for the Hawks, who chose to move on from their homegrown star in free agency this past summer when they allowed Smith to sign a four-year, $54 million contract with the Detroit Pistons without so much as making an offer to him.

The outcome of the game, a 93-85 Hawks win, wasn’t on anyone’s mind as Smith stood among a crowd of reporters in the hallways outside of the Pistons’ locker room before the game.

All anyone wanted to know was how strange it was for Smith to walk into this building on the wrong side? What was it like coming “home” but no longer being a member of the family? What would it be like going against former teammates like Al Horford and Jeff Teague, guys he called his “friends and brothers” when it was all over, for the first time in his career?

Smith didn’t offer up any colorful soundbites. He noted that it was a bit surreal, the whole homecoming thing, and insisted that he wouldn’t let any of it affect him or his approach to the business at hand (his 5-for-15 shooting effort, 0-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, much to the delight of the Hawks’ partisans in the crowd, would suggest otherwise).

He’s focused on the Pistons  now, on making them better and on making sure he does whatever he can to enjoy the second chance he’s gotten in Detroit.

“I have to admit, it’s been humbling to play in front of those fans [in Detroit] with the way they support the home teams,” Smith said. “To play in a first-class organization that has the championship history that we have in Detroit, it’s something I had to experience to appreciate. It’s from the ownership level to the front office and coaching staff all the way down to the last man or woman in the organization. It’s just a different feel, and something that I never understood since I spent my entire career in one spot.”

That spot had to seem awful familiar Wednesday night.

Smith got a bigger rise out of the crowd with his attempts and misses from deep than anyone other than the Hawks’ Kyle Korver, whose streak of games with a made 3-pointer was stretched to 85, which is just four shy of the NBA record. That’s the beauty and the curse Smith has been blessed with. He has the ability to get fans out of their seats, for reasons good and bad.

The most surprising part for me, having covered Smith from his rookie season through his the trials and tribulations that preceded the Hawks’ six-year (and potentially counting, based on what we’ve seen from coach Mike Budenholzer‘s team so far) playoff run, was seeing the way the fans eased up on him from the start.

It was a pleasant surprise. One that you wish Smith’s father, Pete Smith, had been in his customary baseline seat closest to the Hawks’ bench to witness himself. He wasn’t able to do so since he was home battling off the ill effects of the flu.

It would have been nice for him to see that not everyone in this town holds his son in contempt now that everyone has moved on. I know deep down both father and son feel that Josh has never been properly appreciated for what he did to help revive the hometown franchise.

“I just hope they show my son a little love,” the elder Smith said by phone before the game. “I think he earned it, he deserves that much.”

They did, show him just a little love. And yes, he earned it. Smith does rank in the Hawks’ top 10 in games played, points, rebounds, steal and blocks. Yes, he deserved it.

But now it’s time for everyone to move on.

The moment has passed!


VIDEO: Josh Smith with the steal and slam against the hometown Hawks

Pistons’ Sluggish Start Prompts Change




VIDEO: Josh Smith’s early season highlights with the Pistons

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A blockbuster free-agent/trade summer doesn’t always deliver the desired results come the start of the regular season, at least not immediately.

The Detroit Pistons are living that reality after just seven games. Pistons coach Mo Cheeks benched veterans Chauncey Billups and Josh Smith at the start of the second half of Tuesday night’s rout at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, inserting youngsters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler in their places, respectively.

This season was supposed to mark a shift in fortunes for the Pistons, an escape from the grips of the lottery and a move back into the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. The summer additions of Billups, Smith and point guard Brandon Jennings was the masterstroke that was going to jumpstart that process.

But so far … it’s just not happening. The Pistons are 2-5 and showing no signs of being the playoff outfit some of us assumed they would be. In addition to chemistry issues that need to be sorted out, they’re also the worst defensive team in the league.

Losers of four straight games, Cheeks is rightfully trying to get out ahead of what could be a bigger problem. If his intent was to light a fire under his veterans, mission accomplished. If it was to point out to veterans and youngsters alike that no one is safe from being removed from their spot in the starting lineup or rotation, no matter how big a name or reputation they have, then he should be commended for taking that sort of stance this early in the campaign.

Cheeks said he wasn’t trying to send a message by singling Smith and Billups out, but did offer up specifics for Smith to shake out of his mini-funk, telling Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News:

“He has to get involved in the offense, get some offensive rebounds, run the floor, get some post-ups,” Cheeks said of Smith. “Get your hands on the ball and things will change for you.”

To his credit, Smith handled it like a pro, something that his critics probably didn’t expect given his history of clashing with authority during his formative stages in the league. Instead, he put the onus back on the leaders in the locker room and pointed out their lack of focus and attention to detail on the defensive end:

“Just gotta cheer my teammates on. You can’t focus on decisions people make, higher than you. You have to adjust around it and as long as I’ve been in this league, that’s what I’ve been willing to do — learning to adjust.”

With investment the Pistons have made in Smith, knowing that they have to make decisions on the long-term futures of young bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, everyone needs to maintain the proper perspective on things during the start.

Smith is averaging 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks so far this season. He’s been a factor. The Pistons, however, need him to be a force. They need him to lead the way in the frontcourt. They need his play, his all around abilities and particularly his penchant for facilitating from the point-forward position, to bolster the production up front.

With Jennings returning from injury, Smith was bound to lose some of that freedom he enjoyed in the first few games of the season. So ultimately, it’s up to Cheeks to make sure all of the pieces fit and the Pistons don’t lose any more ground in the Eastern Conference standings.

So if a change is needed after this sluggish start, even a minor one at halftime of a road game in mid-November, so be it. Better to fix it now than have to worry about it later.

Coach (Rasheed Wallace) Don’t Lie?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Jason Kidd isn’t the only former New York Knicks veteran to trade in his locker room stall for a spot in the coach’s locker room. In what has to qualify as the best news perhaps of the entire offseason, HT fave Rasheed Wallace will soon be announced as a member of the Detroit Pistons’ coaching staff under Mo Cheeks.

Wallace is in Orlando for summer league action with the Pistons and was spotted in the gym at the Amway Center this afternoon with a polo shirt on with the Pistons’ logo on the upper left side. Wallace helped the Pistons become an Eastern Conference power and won a ring in 2004 and made another trip to The Finals in 2005.

He’s expected to work with the Pistons’ young frontcourt core of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Tony Mitchell, hopefully imparting some of the same wisdom he did for guys like Jermaine O’Neal and Zach Randolph when they youngsters in Portland playing behind a then-All-Star Wallace. Both O’Neal and Randolph went on to become All-Stars after being tutored by Wallace, who saw his season and likely his playing career come to an end this season in New York when a stress fracture sidelined him.

Wallace’s presence could be a huge boost for Pistons’ free-agent pickup Josh Smith, who has agreed to a four-year, $56 million deal with the team that cannot be signed until Wednesday. For all of the hype about Wallace’s technical fouls and run-ins with officials over the course of his career, he’s been lauded by many who have played with him as the ideal teammate and one of the smartest players to come through the league in his era.

Projecting The East Playoff Order





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’re still two days away from the NBA’s moratorium on free-agent signings and trades being lifted. So, Dwight Howard isn’t officially a Houston Rocket and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce aren’t officially Brooklyn Nets until Wednesday.

None of what we’ve seen shake out over the past seven days can become official until then.

But that doesn’t mean the business of basketball isn’t going on. From summer leagues to free-agent deals being agreed upon and trade opportunities still being explored, the ball never stops bouncing.

That’s why we’re skipping ahead to training camp and the 2013-14 season here at the hideout and forecasting — fearlessly, mind you — to April 2014 and who we believe will shake loose from the pack and be the cream of the playoff crop in the Eastern Conference (the Western Conference list will drop Tuesday morning).

We’ve got the usual suspects and a surprise or two as well, listed in projected order of finish:

MIAMI HEAT

.

The last time we saw the Heat, they were popping bottles in the locker room at AmericanAirlines Arena after winning their second straight Larry O’Brien trophy. Apparently Larry really does love Miami. They are the only franchise in the league capable of sitting out both the Draft and free agency and maintaining their position atop both the Eastern Conference and the league. Ray Allen sticking around for another year is certainly a good thing. But the most important thing for the Heat to accomplish during this offseason is to make sure LeBron James gets as much rest as possible, Dwyane Wade takes care of his knees and Chris Bosh brushes off all of the criticism he took last season and comes back ready to redeem himself for that pedestrian playoff performance. No one has done anything to put the Heat’s hold on the league in jeopardy. Team boss Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra will sort out the rotation and add and subtract the periphery pieces necessary to ensure the Heat start the season where they’ve finished each of the last two … on top!

INDIANA PACERS

.

Larry Bird couldn’t stay away, not with the team he built so close to achieving the ultimate goal of bringing a championship to his basketball-made home state. Bird’s first order of business was to make sure Pacers’ locker room and emotional leader David West didn’t get away in free agency. West, Paul George and Roy Hibbert comprise one of the best inside-out trios in the league. Add in a healthy Danny Granger for the 2013-14 season, and the Pacers have every reason to believe that they will finally catch a Heat team that might be worn down from the grind of three straight Finals trips. Adding role players like C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland gives the Pacers an edge and shooting stroke in the backcourt and frontcourt they didn’t get from D.J. Augustin and Tyler Hansbrough. Whatever changes were made, the Pacers’ title hopes rest on what point guard George Hill and Granger (and, to a lesser extent, Lance Stephenson) can give them now that George has taken over as the All-Star face of the franchise. Anyone expecting him to take a backseat to a healthy Granger (or anyone else) is dreaming. George’s coming out party lasted the entire 2012-13 season, culminating in an eye-opening performance against James (in particular) and the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. Expect it to keep going for years to come.

CHICAGO BULLS

.

What looked like a lost season to some in Chicago was more of a revelation of what the Bulls are working with sans their best player, Derrick Rose. His absence from the court (well, for anything but the practices he was rumored to dominate) shined a light on a supporting cast that is far tougher than they’ve been given credit for in recent years. All-Star Joakim Noah‘s playoff effort, while battling injury himself, should not be overlooked. He’s moved up our list of quality big men, well into the top five and perhaps the top three. Having smoothed out the rough edges offensively, Noah became a two-way force to be reckoned with and an ideal inside counterpart for Rose. Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng (who needs to get healthy this summer as well) provide the sort of veteran leadership teams overspend for every summer. But Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has shown us that no matter what the parts look like, he will put a team on the floor capable of grinding with anyone in the league. What he’ll have in a ticked off Rose, who will carry all of the foul things said about him last season with him to the court every night, is a game changer that no other team in the East can match. No draftee or free-agent pick up this summer is better than adding the former MVP back to your mix.

BROOKLYN NETS

.

The Nets have the stars lined up. From rookie coach Jason Kidd to a starting five — of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Pierce, Garnett and Brook Lopez — that looks as good or better than any starting five in basketball, at least on paper. Translating all of this from paper to the floor is where the Nets will run into the same issues that have plagued other franchises that have tried to fast track their way to a championship (the 2007-08 Celtics are the last team that rode the wave from summer construction to championship parade the next summer). The irony of this whole thing? The Nets were the team Howard named as his preferred destination when he forced his way out of Orlando. Had things gone the way he and Williams had planned, there would have been no need for all of the trades that have reshaped this seasoned and expensive starting five into the unit that it has become. The expectations for this crew will dwarf anything that Williams, Johnson and Lopez experienced in their inaugural season in Brooklyn. There was a tempered excitement with everything from the roster to the arena being so shiny and new.  There was hope that things would turn out well, but certainly no concrete expectation that a championship contender was on the immediate horizon. This time around, anything short of a spirited charge to the conference finals will be considered a colossal failure.

NEW YORK KNICKS

.

If Andrea Bargnani, the No. 1 overall pick by the Toronto Raptors in the 2006 Draft, has any chance of shedding that “bust” label that has plagued him throughout his NBA career, his pending stint with the Knicks might be his last chance to do so. His critics are probably chuckling at the idea of the big man thriving on a team with Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire. There are others, however, who feel that Bargnani has found the perfect fit for his skill set in coach Mike Woodson‘s system. “Listen, Andrea can play. He has a skill set that is undeniable,” said a former NBA coach of the Year. “You have to get over the fact that he’s not going to be Dirk [Nowitzki] or even Pau [Gasol], at his best, and realize that he’s a 7-footer that can shoot the cover off the ball. You put him in the right system, where he can play pick-and-pop and play his role, and he’s going to be dangerous.” The Knicks need dangerous and then some. They found that out in the playoffs, when it became clear that their hobbled group was not up to the task of dealing with a grimy Pacers crew that worked them over inside. The Knicks have likely fallen behind the Nets entering next season, but if Stoudemire is healthy and Anthony is refreshed, that could change quickly. The Knicks have the firepower to challenge for a top-three spot in the East.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS

.

Stunner, right? The lowly Wizards hanging out in playoff territory isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. If you watched the Wizards down the stretch last season, or at least when both John Wall and Bradley Beal were healthy and rolling, you know why we’ve got the Wizards this high. Drafting Otto Porter Jr. with the No. 3 pick was a no-brainer for a team in need of swingman capable of playing alongside Wall and Beal. Porter provides the defense Wizards coach Randy Wittman and his staff seek and is capable of stretching the floor as a 3-point shooter with the size (6-foo-8) necessary to worry teams who focus solely on Wall and Beal. The Wizards also have the workman-like bigs (Emeka Okafor and Nene) that will handle all of the dirty work and allow this ultra-talented backcourt to play at a pace that suits them. Fleshing out their roster by retaining shooter Martell Webster, picking up backup point guard Eric Maynor and snagging Glen Rice Jr. in the second round of the Draft, the Wizards finally have a top-to-bottom type roster capable of making an impact any night.

ATLANTA HAWKS

.

Paul Millsap. DeMarre Carroll. Kyle Korver. And maybe Monta Ellis? That’s not exactly the kind of superstar haul Hawks fans were expecting when the franchise made it clear that they were going to put that $34 million-$40 million in cap space to good use by chasing Howard and Chris Paul. Those dreams were dashed immediately. Howard gave the Hawks a courtesy meeting when he knew all along that there was absolutely no chance he was coming back home to chase rings. And the minute Doc Rivers went to the Clippers, the dream of making up for passing over Paul in the 2005 Draft (for Marvin Williams) was dashed. Still, the Hawks should have a nucleus of the aforementioned players added to Al Horford, Lou Williams and John Jenkins, a group capable of securing one of the final three playoff slots in a top-heavy Eastern Conference. New coach Mike Budenholzer will have his work cut out for him with a mismatched roster that Horford will have to anchor from the center position he was hoping to escape with the addition of a quality center in free agency (Andrew Bynum and restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic are still out there …). And there is till an unsettled point guard position to deal with. Restricted free-agent point guard Jeff Teague is rumored to be the target of the Milwaukee Bucks, who have a restricted free agent of their own in Brandon Jennings that might interest the Hawks. The franchise has a string of six straight playoff appearances going right now. They should have the necessary parts to make it seven straight.

DETROIT PISTONS

.

The addition of Josh Smith, for four years and $56 million in free agency, does not put the Pistons into the playoff picture. Not by itself. But there is a void this crew can possibly fill for that No. 8 spot in the East. Adding Smith to a maturing frontcourt that includes Greg Monroe, rugged young monster Andre Drummond, rotation players Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko and second-rounder Tony Mitchell gives the Pistons the size, depth and versatility that screams playoffs. Adding an athletic specimen like Kentavius Caldwell-Pope, the No. 8 pick in the Draft, to pair with point guard Brandon Knight and it’s clear that the Pistons are working with resources that should finally get them out of the lottery mix.  Perhaps the most important thing for the Pistons was the hiring of Mo Cheeks as their coach. He replaces Lawrence Frank, now the top assistant in Brooklyn under Kidd, who never could find the right connection with his young crew. Cheeks is coming into this situation having helped nurture an extremely talented and hard-working group of young stars in Oklahoma City. Expect him to have a clearly defined plan for all of these guys to improve their individual games. Cheeks and Pistons general manager Joe Dumars also have the ear and respect of Smith. They are the ones who swayed him during the recruiting process. If he plays the way they think he can, this should be a breakout season for the Pistons.

JUST MISSED THE CUT: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors

Josh Smith To The Pistons For $56 Million





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Josh Smith won’t be joining that free agent party in Houston after all.

The free agent forward agreed to terms on a four-year, $56 million deal with the Detroit Pistons this afternoon, a deal first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

This ends Smith’s at times tumultuous nine-year tenure with his hometown Atlanta Hawks, the team that selected him with the 17th pick in the 2004 Draft. It also ends the pursuit of the versatile forward by both the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, who were both still trying to figure out ways to present possible sign-and-trade deals to the Hawks that would land Smith.

Smith’s childhood friend and fellow free agent prize Dwight Howard picked the Rockets Friday night. It was widely known that the Rockets were trying to pair the former AAU teammates, both 27, as professionals in a dynamic frontcourt package with All-Star James Harden and point guard Jeremy Lin in the backcourt.

Ultimately, the opportunity to play for an organization, general manager (Joe Dumars) and coach (Mo Cheeks) who believe that Smith can be a game changer in a promising frontcourt group that includes Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond won Smith over, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Pistons were the first team to meet with Smith when free agency began at 12:01 a.m. on July 1. He’ll play both forward spots for the Pistons and brings career averages of 15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.3 steals.

Smith inspired a love-hate relationship with the hometown fans, they loved him when he was at his best and extremely tough on him when his shot selection wavered or he had dust-ups with his coaches. The Hawks replaced Smith Friday night by adding former Utah power forward Paul Millsap on a two-year, $19 million deal.