Posts Tagged ‘Orlando Magic’

First Team: Jo enters into new heights

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Joakim Noah catapulted himself into an upper echelon leader and star for the Bulls.

Joakim Noah has catapulted himself into an upper echelon leader and All-Star for the Bulls.

Last season, Joakim Noah blew through his “ceiling” as an energy role player to transform himself into a bona fide star.

He earned his second All-Star berth and All-NBA Defensive first team selection. He cracked the All-NBA first team and added a Defensive Player of the Year to his mantle.

Be not mistaken, the Chicago Bulls are Noah’s team. Derrick Rose is the franchise player, the dynamic sound of the band, but Noah is the drum major, firebrand, marshaling leader on the court. I mean, who else on the Bulls pulls this off?

Noah is also their best passer. He had 45 games last season with five or more assists. He set numerous Bulls assists records last season and became the first center to lead his team in assists since David Robinson in 1994.

Noah is a throwback player, the embodiment of coach Tom Thibodeau’s “multiple-effort mentality.” He is long enough to bother anybody’s shot at the rim and nimble enough to annoy a guard on a switch. Deflections, tips,  rotations, dives to the floor, he has it in spades.

With the arrival of the milder Pau Gasol — another unselfish, high I.Q. guy — he’ll have another like-minded post player facilitating, giving the Bulls their most complete team since the Jordan era ended.

December 13, 2013 — Down To The Wire

The Line: 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting, 18 rebounds (9 offensive), 5 assists, 3 blocks

The Quote: Defensively, he’s been terrific from the start of the season but offensively, you can see his timing is back.” – Bulls coach Thibodeau


VIDEO: Joakim Noah runs wild against the Bucks in a wild victory

Coming into the contest, Noah had been battling thigh pains. He missed a matchup against the Bucks four days prior in a Bulls loss in Chicago. Retribution was on his mind heading into the rematch.

The fourth quarter was his playground, as he tallied 10 points and seven boards. More specifically, he was a nightmare for John Henson and the Milwaukee frontline. To cap off his night, he thwarted O.J. Mayo’s game-winning shot attempt at the buzzer. (more…)

Fournier lifts France into quarters

MADRID – Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

After those first seven misses, Fournier shot 11-for-19 in group play, and French coach Vincent Collet got him some more playing time in the team’s Granada finale against Iran. That move paid off Saturday when Collet’s team needed an offensive lift.

Collet said that Fournier has always had the potential to provide some punch to the offense, but needs to learn not to force things.

“Very often, that’s not a good way to be good,” Collet said. “So we talked with him since the beginning of the competition to explain that he has to be a little bit more patient. He has to let the game come to him.”

Fournier did that for the most part against Croatia. There was one moment, however, that drove Collet crazy. Croatia went to a zone midway through the third quarter, and on the first possession, Fournier launched a long 3-pointer early in the shot clock, a shot that could have been had at any point.

“He doesn’t know yet the basketball game,” Collet said, “not enough.”

Fournier has a few good teachers around him, Collet and Boris Diaw with the national team, and Vaughn in Orlando. He’s only 21 and has two more years on his rookie deal, a big reason the Magic got him for veteran Arron Afflalo, who can become a free agent next summer.

Right now, playing this tournament without Tony Parker, France needs whatever lift Fournier can give them. He’s certainly found a better rhythm since that ugly start in Granada.

“I just kept shooting the ball,” Fournier said, “and now I’m more comfortable, getting better and better. Hopefully, I can build from it and play a good quarterfinal.”

When triple-doubles are not enough

Triple-doubles by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren't enough for Thunder wins last season. (Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

Triple-doubles by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren’t enough for Thunder wins last season. (Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

Usually a triple-double is a cause for celebration, a sign of an all-around great performance by a player that leads his team to victory.

Then again, there are times when even the best efforts of one man just aren’t enough. Here’s a look back at the heartache of 10 triple-doubles from the 2013-14 season that just couldn’t push their teams over the hump:

10. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

April 4, 2014 vs. Philadelphia 76ers — 11 points, 11 rebounds, 16 assists

It had been nearly 15 months since Rondo last rolled out a triple-double onto the parquet floor of the TD Garden and that one, back on Jan. 25, 2013, was mostly memorable as the game he suffered a torn right ACL and was lost for the season. This one didn’t produce nearly that kind of disaster, but Rondo’s line was wasted as the Celtics watched — who’s that? — Henry Sims go off for a career-high 24 points to lead the Sixers to a 111-102 decision and snap a 13-game road losing streak for Philly. It was Boston’s seventh consecutive loss.

9. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

December 18, 2013 vs. Los Angeles Clippers — 11 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists

After missing the preceding two games with a sprained ankle, Evans was champing at the bit to get back onto the court. He came off the bench to put up his good-looking numbers, but most of them came after the Pelicans had already given up any real chance of competing in a 108-95 loss. Despite Evans’ second career triple-double, the headline performer was Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan, who posted 15 points, 20 rebounds and five blocked shots for his 12th double-double of a young season.

8. John Wall, Washington Wizards

April 9, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 14 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists

On the surface, it was a solid line for Wall. But toss in his 12 missed shots (6-for-18 in the game) and you could say that he had a quadruple-double. We’ll barely even mention his five turnovers. While it goes down in the books as the third triple-double of Wall’s rising career, it was also a night when the All-Star point guard couldn’t get the job done in front of the home crowd. The Wizards were 0-for-8 in overtime of the 94-88 loss to Charlotte.

7. Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers

January 30, 2014 vs. Phoenix Suns — 14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

Stephenson would go on to lead the league in triple-doubles with five and this performance was already his fourth of the season. But it wasn’t enough to hold off the Suns, who simply seemed to have the number of the Pacers. After opponents reached 100 points just six times in the first 40 games against Indiana, the Suns did it twice in a little more than a week to sweep the season series, this time by the score of 102-94. Stephenson’s fourth triple-double tied the franchise record set by Detlef Schrempf back in 1992-93 and he would eventually break that mark as the Pacers’ season was breaking down.

6. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers

March 10, 2014 at New York Knicks — 23 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists

These were the dog days of the season for the Sixers, when even a solid triple-double from their Rookie of the Year point guard Carter-Williams couldn’t save them from a 17th consecutive loss, 123-110. That streak would eventually grow to 26 as the Sixers tied the all-time record for uninterrupted fruitlessness. The Knicks played without their injured center Tyson Chandler, but rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. came off the bench to pop in 28 to lead the way.

5. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

April 3, 2014 vs. Dallas Mavericks — 25 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists

It was another strong start by Griffin as he scored 10 points in the first quarter for the 18th time on the season. He finished with his only triple-double of the season as the Pacific Division leaders ran out of gas down the stretch and went down for the first time at home in six weeks with a 113-107 loss to the Mavericks. The most troubling event was Griffin, who’d been suffering from back spasms a few days earlier, rolled his ankle late in the game. The fear was that he was wearing out as the playoffs approached.

4. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

December 3, 2013 at Philadelphia 76ers — 26 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

Imagine that. A rookie just six months into his first NBA season runs up the first triple-double of his career and he doesn’t even get top billing or to celebrate a win. Oladipo’s Magic fell 126-125 in double overtime to the Sixers and the 27-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist game from rookie Carter-Williams. Oladipo, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, was the choice of many to win Rookie of the Year honors, but No. 11 pick Carter-Williams beat him out there, too.

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

March 9, 2014 at Los Angeles Lakers — 27 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists

There’s usually not much that’s going to steal the thunder from the league’s leading scorer when he rolls to 27 points and a triple-double. Then again, Jodie Meeks doesn’t usually shock the world with a career-high 42 points, while dropping in a half-dozen bombs from behind the arc. It was Durant’s third triple-double of the season and sixth of his career, but just not enough in a 114-110 shocker against the Lakers. The trouble was a miserable shooting day by OKC as they connected on just 42 of 100 shots and only 12 of 35 from 3-point range.

2. John Wall, Washington Wizards

January 22, 2014 vs. Boston Celtics — 28 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists

With all-time greats Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge — 1978 teammates the last time the Washington franchise won a championship — looking on from courtside, All-Star Wall put up impressive numbers, but couldn’t hit enough shots in a 113-111 overtime loss to the Celtics. With backcourt mate Bradley Beal medically-restricted to just 30 minutes, Wall made 9 of 29 shots from the field and ran out of the gas in the extra period. It was the first triple-double for Wall since Nov. 10, 2010, six games into his rookie season.

1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

April 29, 2014 vs. Memphis Grizzlies — 30 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists

If you spot Westbrook 30 points and Durant 26, that usually equals a Thunder victory. But in Game 5 of what was quickly becoming an all-time playoff classic, it was Mike Miller‘s five 3-pointers and a Serge Ibaka putback that was about a half-tick too late that made the difference as Memphis squeaked out a 100-99 win. It was the fourth consecutive game of the series to go to overtime, an NBA playoff record. Westbrook secured the ninth triple-double of his career, but made just 10 of 31 shots to get there. Durant missed the back end of a critical pair of free throws with 27 seconds left after referee Joey Crawford suddenly ran in and took the ball out of his hands. The Thunder went on the win the series in a Game 7 rout, which was also powered by a Westbrook triple-double.

Summer Dreaming: Most Improved Player


VIDEO: Is Giannis Antetokounmpo primed to make an even bigger splash?

Pass the sunblock, turn up the music and bring some more ice for those cold drinks on these hottest days.

While we’re still making notes on our viewing calendar about the best match-ups to watch on the just released NBA schedule for the new season, the fantasy party goes on as we jump into the pool with our five Summer Dreaming candidates for Most Improved Player in 2015.

Send us your picks.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — The word that best described the “Greek Freak” as a rookie last season was raw. He showed the length, the athleticism, all the physical gifts to one day take the step from bundle of potential to a bonafide star. He’s still young and has plenty of time to mature. But based on the commitment he says he’s willing to make and his performance at Summer League, there might not be anything holding back Antetokounmpo from making that jump quickly. He averaged 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and shot 37 percent from behind the arc in Las Vegas. Now that he’ll have Jabari Parker likely occupying the power forward spot in the Bucks lineup, he’ll be free to run the floor, attack the basket and fill it up from almost anywhere. The Freak Show could take off.


VIDEO: Bradley Beal discusses his breakthrough season and looks ahead to upcoming season

Bradley Beal, Wizards – The improvement from Year One to Year Two was already showing. Then Beal gave us a glimpse of what he can do at the next level when he stepped it up in the first round of the playoffs by averaging 19 points, five rebounds and five assists against the Bulls. Now he and backcourt partner John Wall not only have that valuable experience, but also the sting of being cut from Team USA tryouts this summer as added fuel to the fire. The loss of Trevor Ariza means that Beal will not only have to contribute more on offense, but also make a bigger commitment at the defensive end. A big step up for a breakout season could put the Wizards in the battle at the top of the Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis’ Top 10 plays of 2013-14

Anthony Davis, Pelicans – Here’s the scary one, because of the high level he’s already achieved, yet the potential is there for Davis to contend for Most Improved and Most Valuable Player at the same time. Turned loose last season by coach Monty Williams, he showed that there are few things he’s not capable of doing in a game, if he can stay healthy. The only real thing lacking was somebody to watch his back. Now the Pelicans have added center Omer Asik as a rim protector and fellow defensive force in the paint and that means Davis can be even freer to move out from the basket to wreak havoc. He’s only 22 years old and the party in the French Quarter has just begun.


VIDEO: Will All-Star weekend become a new home for Victor Oladipo?

Victor Oladipo, Magic — OK, end of the experiment. No more trying to hammer the square peg into the round hole. There will be times and situations when Oladipo can handle the point for short stints. But now that they’ve got rookie Elfrid Payton in the lineup, Orlando’s previous top draft pick can concentrate more on slashing and attacking the basket and doing all of the things that can make him a force. He put up decent numbers in his first year and his turnover rate was quite high. That’s because he was playing an uncomfortable role much of the time. Now you take off the handcuffs, turn him loose and let him fly.


VIDEO: Kemba Walker notches second career triple-double

Kemba Walker, Hornets – On one hand, a guy who averaged nearly 18 points a game last season might not seem a likely candidate for Most Improved. But the third year wasn’t quite the charm for Walker as he had to accommodate the arrival of big man Al Jefferson in the middle. His shooting suffered and there were far fewer times when his offense lit up the scoreboard. The arrival of free agent Lance Stephenson as a fierce defender and good playmaker will create more chances for Walker. The addition of P.J. Hairston, another good shooter from the perimeter, will give him more opportunities for assists, which have been steadily climbing.

Nelson happily moves on to fresh start with Mavericks

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Jameer Nelson

Jameer Nelson is moving on to Dallas after 10 seasons with the Orlando Magic.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Jameer Nelson is finally packing up. The moving trucks have been summoned to transport a decade’s worth of belongings and memories halfway across the country. It won’t be easy for Nelson and his wife, Imani, and their four children — Jameer Jr., two weeks from turning 13, and daughters Jamia, 8, Jayden, 6, and Jayce, 2 — to pick up and leave the city he’s played his heart out for, or the community the family loved … and that loved them back.

Yet sometimes even the youngest ones can sense when it’s time for a fresh start.

“My daughter is back there listening, my 8-year-old, she’s excited,” Nelson said during a phone conversation with NBA.com on Thursday afternoon. “My 6-year old, they’re both excited. My son hasn’t said too much, but I actually picked his brain a little bit when I was figuring teams out, asking him some questions. He said, ‘wherever you want to go, let’s do it.’

“So, yeah, we’re going to all move down and build up the population in Dallas.”

Nelson is leaving the Orlando Magic after 10 seasons to join the Dallas Mavericks. An intriguing team after a busy summer, Dallas hasn’t landed the superstar it covets. But it has added Nelson, center Tyson Chandler and small forward Chandler Parsons to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. 

Nelson will earn $2.73 million this season and holds a player option for next season.

The missing man in the Mavs’ plans was a trustworthy, veteran starter to run coach Rick Carlisle‘s flow offense. They lost reliable Jose Calderon in the Chandler deal to New York, which foisted the erratic Raymond Felton upon Dallas to complete the trade. Dallas re-signed Devin Harris, but prefer to utilize him off the bench.

“I feel like one of the reasons I chose Dallas is I wanted to play a significant role on a good team and I felt like there’s opportunity there,” said Nelson, who averaged 12.1 ppg and 7.0 apg in 32.0 mpg last season.

“Nothing’s going to be given to me; nothing’s ever been given to me my entire life. I’m up for any challenge that’s in front of me, so if we got to battle for the [starting] spot, we’ll battle for the spot.”

Nelson, 32, was waived by the Magic on June 30, a salary-cap-saving move made by a franchise deep into a rebuilding movement. He responded by gracefully thanking the organization for all it had done for him and his family and the team responded in kind. In 2012, at the height of Orlando’s “Dwightmare,” Nelson opted out of the final year of his contract only to re-sign. Even after coach Stan Van Gundy was fired and Dwight Howard was traded, setting the stage for a ground-up rebuild, Nelson never asked out.

“That [loyalty] was something that was instilled in me through my younger years by my parents and the people who helped mold who I am,” Nelson said. “I was willing to stay the first year, and the second year got a little tougher. It was just time for me to go. It was time to go.”

In retrospect, he witnessed one of the more stunning free falls in sports. The Magic reached The Finals in 2009 — an injury-plagued season for Nelson, who missed the entire postseason before making a courageous, but ultimately unsuccessful Finals return against the Lakers — and then the Eastern Conference finals in 2010. From there, a series of personnel moves and the Howard disaster sent the franchise spiraling.

“I thought that team was going to be together forever,” Nelson said. “One of my good friends, Keyon Dooling, always preached to us as one of the veteran guys to never take things for granted because you might be on a good team now, but next year you might not be on such a good team. It’s the truth. You think things don’t end, but that obviously ended pretty quick.”

Nelson looks at yet another revamped Mavs roster and compares it to those potent Magic teams, boasting multiple shooters and scorers and a defensive backbone.

“And then fortunately,” Nelson said, “I’m in the mix of being there as the quarterback.”

The marriage of Nelson and the Mavs was a two-way street from the start. Nelson made a list of desirable destinations based on roster strength, need at point guard, organizational culture and location. While Dallas was linked for weeks to combo guard Mo Williams, who recently signed with Minnesota, Nelson was the team’s more pressing need.

His level-headed, team-oriented approach are the most desired traits in a Mavs locker room long led by Nowitzki, one of the league’s most down-to-earth superstars. The 7-footer proved it again this summer by agreeing to a massively below-market contract worth $25 million over the next three seasons. His willingness to take less allowed Dallas to make Parsons an aggressive offer and also add roster-wide depth.

“Dirk sets the tone, he’s a superstar and he takes a three-year, $25-million deal,” Nelson said. “Now it’s like who else can argue? Nobody can argue with that, nobody can complain. This guy is sacrificing a lot to win. That’s what it all should be about. That’s one of the major reasons I came to Dallas, to win.”

Nelson won’t end up being a career one-team player, and he must leave the community where and his wife raised a family.

But opportunity beckons in Dallas, where the population just increased by six.

NBA Draft 2014 Live Blog

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK — It’s that night again, when all the players come, from far and wide, rocking their best suits and shoes, ready for a busy night. Which is no understatement: Tonight could be one of the wildest draft nights in recent memory. As I sit here a few feet from the stage, about half an hour before the picks start coming in, there’s still no real consensus on who will be the first overall pick. Jabari Parker out of Duke? Andrew Wiggins from Kansas? Where will Dante Exum and Joel Embiid get selected? And once some of these names are picked, how does it affect everyone else in the draft? And we haven’t even mentioned the (very real) possibility of trades, with teams picking up picks or moving up and down the draft.

Whatever happens, your intrepid correspondent is here, ready to chronicle the entire night. Here’s the view from my seat…

You guys ready? Let’s go!

The Player’s Ball

Fashion choices will be important to keep on eye on. #NBASTYLE, you guys.

Also, the Michigan State crew is going heavy on the plaid, it seems…

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

7:19 PM

We still have a few minutes before e get started, but the crowd here in Barclays is rowdy and ready to go. Already had one rather loud “LET’S GO SIXERS!” chant break out — apparently a lot of Philly fans made the short trip up for the draft. Let’s see how they feel about whomever the Sixers end up taking third overall. Loudest boos so far were for a fan shown on the scoreboard wearing a Miami Heat jersey.

Also, looks like fans in Orlando have turned out in force for their viewing party…

In Milwaukee they’re waiting to make their selection…

Meanwhile, things are a little less compelling in Atlanta…

7:33 PM

And away we go! Comissioner Adam Silver gets a few boos, as is customary, but for the most part gets cheered…until he congratulates the San Antonio Spurs. And the Cavs are officially on the clock…

Meanwhile, Steven Adams and Chris Bosh are remembering their times at the draft…

Minutes before the pick is made, word from Cleveland is the pick will be Andrew Wiggins…

1. Andrew Wiggins — Cleveland Cavaliers

Twitter doesn’t lie. With the first pick, Cleveland takes Wiggins. Not much of a surprise, and leaves Parker for Milwaukee. Wiggins should be able to help immediately with defense and athleticism. (To read about how exactly the Cavs got the first pick, their third in four years, go here.) Shoutout to Canada, producing consecutive number one picks…

And a pretty cool look at the actual draft card…

2. Jabari Parker — Milwaukee Bucks

Seemed like everyone knew if Parker was available, he would be Milwaukee’s guy here. And whaddya know, he was…

He’s already being welcomed by the local community…

And while we wait for the third pick, it seems a trade may be in the works… (more…)

Blogtable: Over the top with the Draft

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.


BLOGTABLE: LeBron, staying or bolting? | Banking on the Draft | Wrangling over an RFA



VIDEO: Big things are expected from one of the most-awaited Drafts in years

> Do you see a lower-level lottery team that, through smart picking alone on Thursday, can change its fortunes this season and make the playoffs? What makes you say that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The question seems to be twisting our arms in Phoenix’s direction (No. 14) or maybe Denver’s (No. 11) because the teams around them – Minnesota, Orlando, Philadelphia – deep in the lottery (Nos. 1-14) don’t seem ready to be transformed so quickly, and Charlotte (No. 9) made the postseason two months ago. But that’s fine, because Denver is the right answer anyway. The Suns came close last season and I’m eager to see coach Jeff Hornacek‘s second act, but the Nuggets could add a valuable piece – think shooting guard – and take a mighty stride thanks to the return of various injured contributors (JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson) in Brian Shaw‘s second act.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I guess it’s too easy to say Phoenix, since the Suns barely missed out last season.  So I’m gonna cheat on you a little bit and take a team that has picks in the top (4) and bottom (12) of the lottery and say the Magic.  If GM Rob Hennigan hits on both picks, with the core of young talent on hand, I could see the Magic making a bid for the playoffs in the (L)east.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Here’s the deal, as bad as the East was this year, I don’t see any of the so-called “lower-level” lottery teams — which I’ll consider the bottom four in each conference — making a significant enough leap to get into the playoffs. So let’s go West: Sacramento. Stop laughing. Once Rudy Gay arrived he transformed into Mr. Efficiency. DeMarcus Cousins could have been an All-Star last year — and probably would have been Dwight Howard‘s backup had the center position still existed. Let’s assume Isaiah Thomas remains. Ben McLemore enters his sophomore year. And there’s some decent role guys on a roster that heads into Year 2 under coach Michael Malone. So now add the eighth overall pick in a deep draft. The problem in the West is finding a team that drops out of the playoffs. Does Dallas slip? Memphis? It’s difficult to think of any of the top six dropping out.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The obvious thought would be the Suns, in a good position to make the playoffs anyway, except that they will have to be pushed over the line next season by returning players and whatever moves are made via free agency or trade, not when No. 14 is the best pick. If you’re looking for draft impact for a team that is not coming off a playoff appearance — eliminating Charlotte, in other words — Cleveland could do it if the pick is Jabari Parker, more NBA-ready than any of the top prospects. The Cavaliers have the obvious advantage of getting close last season. I would put Orlando in there as well, with two picks in the lottery, as long as No. 4 isn’t spent on Joel Embiid. It’s got to be two players expected to be in uniform opening night. Making up 15 games is a big jump, but it’s the East. What are we talking, a good week?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The obvious answer is Phoenix, but the Timberwolves (plus-219) had basically the same point differential as the Suns (plus-216) this season, and it was mostly awful late-game execution (and defense) that kept the Wolves from winning eight or nine more games. If they keep Kevin Love or if they get a couple of good players (David Lee and Klay Thompson, perhaps) for him, add a No. 13 pick that can contribute right away, and improve their defense under Flip Saunders, the Wolves could be in the playoff mix next year.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I don’t. And it’s not because of the team picking but because even for what everyone deems a deep draft, a lower-level lottery team would need to unearth a surprise pick that no one saw coming in the lead-up to the Draft. It’s been years since we’ve had a genuine Draft stunner like that, a talent capable of lifting a lower-level lottery team to change it’s fortunes in such a short period of time. We’re talking all the way back to the heralded 2003 Draft and what Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade did for their teams (Denver and Miami), in terms of a fist-year impact like that.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I almost answered this with a simple “No,” but I knew doing that would mean a series of angry emails and phone calls from The Powers That Be, so I’ll go with Phoenix, mainly because they just missed the playoffs last year. Also, they’ve got a system that looks for and rewards energy and effort, and while it may take some picks time to learn the NBA game, energy and effort are the one thing every player comes armed with. Other than PHX, I don’t know what “lower-level” lottery teams I’d expect to make a run at the postseason this year. Most of the teams are building for some vague future, from Orlando to Philly to Charlotte to Sacto. Phoenix is the only team that plays and prepares as though the future is now.

Morning Shootaround: June 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played June 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Bulls looking to make blockbuster move | Report: Sixers taking extended look at Wiggins | Orlando a big fan of Smart’s intangibles | Report: Heat’s Allen mulling retirement | Nowitzki makes pitch for Anthony

No. 1: Report: Bulls looking to make deals to upgrade lineup — If the just-completed 2014 Finals have taught other NBA teams anything, it’s that building a team like the Spurs — one replete with superstars and solid, dependable depth — is the way to go in today’s NBA. The Chicago Bulls have apparently taken notice and are willing to part with just about anyone not named Derrick Rose, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

According to several NBA sources Sunday, the Bulls have been actively looking to improve the starting lineup at almost any cost, with Derrick Rose the only untouchable player — and not by choice.

“They are looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take,’’ one source said of general manager Gar Forman and head of basketball operations John Paxson.

But the source said it was “doubtful” whether that meant the long-rumored departure of coach Tom Thibodeau could come into play.

Carmelo Anthony is still Plan A as the Bulls and the rest of the NBA await to see if the Knicks forward will opt out of his contract. But the Bulls are more active in their pursuit of Kevin Love than initially rumored. Also, don’t rule out LeBron James coming into play again if the four-time MVP opts out of his deal.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — May 23



VIDEO: GameTime’s crew looks ahead to Game 3 of the Pacers-Heat series


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew looks ahead to Game 3 of the Thunder-Spurs series

NEWS OF THE MORNING

George’s status for Game 3 uncertain | KG likely to return to Brooklyn? | Report: Cavs talk with Donovan | Noel to make NBA debut in Summer League

No. 1: George’s status still uncertain for Game 3 — All the Pacers can do now is watch and see how Paul George fares. Indiana’s All-Star swingman suffered a concussion late in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat and on Thursday, he practiced with the team (albeit in a non-contact, red jersey). Some on the team are encouraged by the progress they’ve seen from George, but as Mark Montieth of Pacers.com reports, Indiana might not know of George’s status until hours before Saturday’s Game 3:

The questions related to Paul George far outnumbered the answers on Thursday.

The status of the Pacers’ All-Star forward remains uncertain for Game 3 of the Pacers’ Eastern Conference finals playoff series with Miami on Saturday, but most of the signs are positive. George participated in the non-contact portions of Thursday’s practice, wearing a red jersey like a quarterback in a football practice who isn’t to be hit. He finished with a reverse dunk after shooting around.

George is in the process of going through the NBA-mandated concussion protocol, and his status might not be determined until Saturday.

While coach Frank Vogel said he had “no clue” if George would play against the Heat, teammate George Hill – a veteran of the protocol – was encouraged.

“I think he’s reacting really well to everything, so we just hope the best for him,” Hill said.

George now must pass a series of six tests and participate in a complete practice before he is permitted to play on Saturday. Hill, who missed Game 5 of the Pacers’ semifinal series against New York last season after being elbowed in the head by Knicks’ center Tyson Chandler, has said he “barely, barely” passed the test, and was fatigued in Game 6 because of the strenuous requirements.

Hill said he had to pass a computer test to check his mental acuity, then six individual exertion and agility drills – each lasting 30 minutes – before being allowed to practice with the team. Those included running, bicycling and treadmill. He had to practice for one hour, non-stop, with the team to complete the test.

Vogel said he is preparing for Saturday’s game with and without George. He did not reveal who would start if George can not play, and used “hodgepodge” lineups in Thursday’s practice.

“We’ve got great depth,” Vogel said. “I think we got guys that can fill in and not play at Paul’s level, but we have to adjust. Teams have to adjust to injuries all the time and I’m sure we would do that.”

Backup point guard C.J. Watson, who was among those working with the starters, said he doesn’t expect to be part of the starting lineup if George does not play. He believes Vogel would go with a taller lineup.


VIDEO: Frank Vogel discusses Paul George’s status for Game 3

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Morning Shootaround — May 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played May 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr could make decision soon | Rivers encourages Clippers employees | Ollie a coaching candidate?

No. 1: Kerr could make decision soon — TNT’s Steve Kerr met with Phil Jackson about the Knicks’ coaching job last weekend, and said afterward that “we’ve got a lot of things to discuss.” A week later, Kerr could be close to taking the job, as Marc Berman of the New York Post writes:

Steve Kerr likely is making his swan song for TNT on Saturday night when he announces Game 7 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series in Oklahoma City. According to an NBA source, Kerr likely will make his final decision on accepting the Knicks head-coaching job soon after the weekend.

As The Post reported, the Lakers’ coaching vacancy is a non-factor for Kerr, who is not a candidate. The Lakers are in store for a prolonged search after Mike D’Antoni resigned, and neither side has interest.

However, one thing that can derail Kerr’s getting hired by the Knicks is if the Warriors lose their first-round series to the Clippers on Saturday and coach Mark Jackson is let go. Kerr, whose family lives in San Diego, may listen if approached by the Warriors. Kerr is represented by former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

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No. 2: Rivers encourages Clippers employees — The Los Angeles Clippers’ players and coaches aren’t the only ones who have had to deal with the distaste of working for Donald Sterling. Behind the scenes is the rest of the Clippers’ staff, those working in the office to support the team. Those folks have never had the benefit of a Doc Rivers pep talk … until Friday, when Rivers took some time out of his Game 7 preparation to help the staff deal with the fallout of Sterling’s comments and ban. Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times has the story:

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he had an emotional meeting Friday with Clippers employees who work in downtown Los Angeles to try to help them deal with the Donald Sterling scandal.

Rivers said that during his conversation with the employees, who work in ticketing, marketing, group sales, sponsorship, finance, human resources and fan relations, they were “sitting there crying.”

Rivers said he got a call for some of the Clippers’ department heads who asked him to speak with the employees.

Rivers said he quickly agreed to do so despite trying to prepare the team for Game 7 of its first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday at Staples Center.

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No. 3: Ollie a coaching candidate? — Including the Knicks job, there are currently five coaching openings around the league. And there may be more after the first round of the playoffs are done. There are some guys who have already won in this league (Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Stan Van Gundy) that are available, but the success of guys like Jeff Hornacek, Steve Clifford and Jason Kidd will encourage executives to keep an open mind. And maybe they might be willing to reach into the college ranks, where 13-year NBA vet Kevin Ollie just won a championship in his second season at UConn. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo has an update on where things stand with Ollie, his alma mater and the NBA:

University of Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie has started discussions on a new contract with school officials, but hasn’t ruled out listening to NBA overtures, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Fresh off his masterful national championship coaching run this spring, Ollie is a consideration for the Los Angeles Lakers and is expected to move onto short lists as more NBA teams make coaching changes, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

So far, no NBA teams have reached out to make formal contact with Ollie, sources said.

Across the NBA, executives are enamored with Ollie as a tactician and leadership force. UConn officials are moving quickly to rework his contract and reward him for so quickly developing into an elite head coach.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah had arthroscopic surgery to clean out his left knee … The Magic extended the contracts of GM Rob Hennigan and coach Jacque Vaughn through the 2015-16 season … The Heat are trying to stay sharp as they await the winner of the Toronto-Brooklyn series … and the Wizards are doing the same as they wait for either the Pacers or Hawks.

ICYMI of The Night: Damian Lillard hit the first series-ending buzzer-beater since 1997:


VIDEO: Lillard Wins The Series