Posts Tagged ‘Paul Pierce’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 174) Featuring Bob Ryan

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’ve been having these arguments for years. In barber shops and sports bars, basement man caves and back porches. No one ever wins or loses either, because the debate never ends.

Would Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell be as dominant today as they were in their day? What about Oscar Robertson today or Shaq, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James back then?

Whose game transcends time?

Everyone will pick Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and other members of the NBA’s all-time elite. But for the rest of the mere mortals … who’s to say a great athlete in today’s game would automatically dominate a bygone era when athleticism was not at the premium it is now?

No one can answer with certainty. Educated guesses are still the best anyone can do in this regard.  Unless, of course, you are Bob Ryan, the retired Boston Globe columnist and living and breathing basketball encyclopedia, a man who has literally seen it all, from one era to another and another and another. His new memoir, “SCRIBE: My Life in Sports” is a must read, by the way.

He joins us on Episode 174 of the Hang Time Podcast to stoke the age-old debate we revisit often around here. Whose game could shuffle through time and remain as potent in one dimension as it would in another?  

Dive into Episode 174 to find out where we all stand …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Believe it Dirk, No. 7 all-time coming soon

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nowitzki optimistic about upcoming season in Big D

DALLAS – When the NBA season opens next Tuesday night with the Dallas Mavericks taking on the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on TNT, two of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game will resume their more than a decade-and-a-half-old rivalry.

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, 38, enters his 18th season, all with the Spurs. Dirk Nowitzki, 36, begins his 17th season, all with the Mavs. Both players have won titles in the last four years and both accepted  significant pay cuts to help keep their teams competitive. And both will continue to climb multiple all-time lists on their way to enshrinement in The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

When it comes to the latter, all eyes will focus on the 7-foot German’s rapid ascension up the NBA’s most coveted list of all — the game’s all-time greatest scorers.

Nowitzki enters the 2014-15 season at No. 10 with 26,786 career points, a number that just doesn’t seem possible to the Wurzburg, Germany native no matter how many times he hears it.

“Not really. That is still weird to me,” Nowitzki said. “All these guys on that list I admired and watched, so that’s weird. That’s weird.”

Thing is, Dirk, it’s going to get weirder. Fast.

Nowitzki is 161 points away from passing No. 9 Hakeem Olajuwon, arguably the league’s greatest foreign-born player. He’s 528 points from passing No. 8 Elvin Hayes and 624 away from passing No. 7 Moses Malone. If Nowitzki averages 20 points a game, he’ll assume No. 7 all-time just 32 games into the season, his first under a new three-year contract.

At that point, he’ll only be about 1,170 points shy of No. 6 Shaquille O’Neal, a takeover that ultimately might have to wait until next season, but it will happen. Nowitzki would need to average around 24 points if he were to play in no fewer than 75 games to do it this season.

He averaged 21.7 points last season and totaled 1,735 points, the most points he’s scored in a season since topping 2,000 in 2009-10. What Nowitzki will average this season will be intriguing. He’s surrounded by the most potent supporting cast since the 2011 title team.

During that championship season, Nowitzki scored 1,681 points. He missed nine consecutive games with a knee injury and struggled for a time after admittedly returning too early as the team fell apart without him. He played 62 games during the lockout season, struggled with knee issues early, and finished with 1,342 points, and followed that with 917 points in 53 games following knee surgery prior to the start of the season 2012-13 season.

Now, with Chandler Parsons adding scoring pop at small forward in place of Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler back at center and Monta Ellis capable of dropping 20 a night, owner Mark Cuban has said he doesn’t expect Nowitzki to average 20 a game. In fact, Cuban said he doesn’t want anyone to average 20 because if that happens it will mean coach Rick Carlisle‘s movement-based offense will be getting everybody involved.

Even if his scoring takes an expected dip (just as his minutes are expected to once again), Nowitzki, assuming good health, will pass Shaq no later than early next season. And by the time he’s closing out his contract, No. 5 Wilt Chamberlain (31,419 points) will likely be making room for Dirk, who now says he might even entertain another couple of years once he reaches that point.

“I think that’ll sink in once my career is over and as I get older and more time goes by, I think that’ll be sweet then,” Nowitzki said. “Right now I’m still so worried about winning games, staying in shape, competing with the young guys that come into the league every year. I think stuff like that is going to be way sweeter once my career is over, and then maybe I show my kids and grandkids. That will be unbelievable.”

Duncan begins the season at No. 19 with 24,904 points. He will also continue up the charts with No. 17 Jerry West (25,192), No. 16 Reggie Miller (25,279) and No. 15 Alex English (25,613) all in striking distance before the All-Star break.

However, how high Duncan moves up depends on how two more still-chugging future Hall of Famers do. No. 18 Paul Pierce (25,031) begins his 17th season and first with the Wizards, and No. 14 Kevin Garnett (25,626) is looking for a bounce-back with the Nets in his 20th season.

A dozen age old keys to the season

Back when the Rolling Stones sang Time Is On My Side, they surely weren’t thinking about NBA players deep into the second decades of their playing careers. All that running, jumping and end-to-end athleticism clearly make the NBA a young man’s game. Still, by the time things shake out next spring and the playoffs begin, a virtual roster full of veterans will have played a big part in the success or failure of some seasons. Here are the dozen graybeards (listed oldest to youngest) who’ll make a difference … one way or the other:

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash, 40, Lakers — The former two-time MVP is having a hard time limping to the finish line of his career. After playing in just 15 games last season, there was hopeful optimism that he and teammate Kobe Bryant could turn back the clock together. But recurring back problems have coach Byron Scott thinking more about starting Jeremy Lin at the point and bringing Nash off the bench.

Ray Allen, 39, unsigned — Is there a playoff team on any corner of the NBA map that wouldn’t want to have one of the great pure shooters in league history on the bench next spring? From Cleveland to San Antonio and every point in between, they’ve been trying to get him onboard. He’s still weighing whether he wants to play at all. The winner in this sweepstakes gets a bonanza.

Andre Miller, 38, Wizards — It’s not like the advancing age is going to make him any slower or look less athletic. Now with Bradley Beal sidelined, there will be more opportunities for the veteran to show that he can do all of the good stuff, like the drive and pass to Kevin Seraphin that produced the game-winning dunk over the Pistons earlier this week. He’s that old neighbor down the street who knows how to fix everything and is handy to have around.

Tim Duncan, 38, Spurs — Coach Gregg Popovich treats him as delicately as Grandma’s heirloom china during the regular season and hasn’t played him for more than 30.1 minutes per game since 2009-10. We keep saying that he’s got to fall over the edge eventually, but then he went out and was the driving force behind the Spurs’ championship run last spring. Would you really bet against him doing it again?

Kevin Garnett, 38, Nets — For the first time in 19 seasons, K.G. looked old and tired and not engaged last season as he averaged a career-low 6.5 points per game as a role player. Everybody’s saying Year 20 is probably the last, but Garnett is saying he feels physically better and intends to return to his aggressive ways and have an impact again. Expectations are lower across the board for him and the team — and that could be a good thing.

Vince Carter, 37, Grizzlies — Back when he was chinning himself over the rim to win the Slam Dunk Contest back in 2000, who thought the uber-athletic Carter could still be a factor 1 1/2 decades later? But here he is, changing teams from Dallas to Memphis as he’s aged into a racehorse that can still give you 25 solid minutes per game and knock down clutch 3-pointers to boot.

Manu Ginobili, 37, Spurs — So close to retiring due to injuries following the Finals loss in 2013, he came back to shine through a remarkably healthy championship campaign. But for a guy who continues to play recklessly, the next back or knee injury is always just a cut or a jump away. If for any reason he’s not fully fit next spring, the chance to finally repeat will diminish greatly.

Jason Terry, 37, Rockets — The former Sixth Man of the Year when the Mavericks won their 2011 championship, the Jet has lost more than a little of his lift and cruising speed. But he’s bound and determined to show there’s something left in the tank and on a Houston bench that is thin, he’ll get called on by coach Kevin McHale. Don’t underestimate his veteran leadership in a locker room where Dwight Howard and James Harden are not fully comfortable in the role.

Paul Pierce, 37, Wizards — What they lost in defense from free agent Trevor Ariza, the Wizards could make up for in Pierce’s willingness and ability to make the big shots late in games. No question that John Wall and Beal are the engines of the offense. But Pierce could go a long way in showing them how and when to step on the gas.

Kobe Bryant, 36, Lakers — Probably not since Ronald Reagan moved into the White House will an old guy with so many miles on him attract so much attention. It would be one thing if Kobe just wanted to come back and play. But he’s Kobe and that means the alpha dog will settle for nothing less than his snarling old self. Virtually nobody thinks he can do what he used to do and, of course, that’s exactly what will drive him.

Pau Gasol, 34, Bulls — Never the sturdiest guy on the court during his prime, he’s missed 55 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. But he still has skills and now he has Joakim Noah alongside on the front line in Chicago to do the big banging. Assuming Derrick Rose can come back anywhere close to his previous form, this could be a perfect situation for Gasol to slide in as a secondary weapon. If that happens, the Bulls are in the fight to win the East.

David West, 34, Pacers — Is this the thanks a fella gets for spending his career as a dutiful professional who comes in every game to get the job done? First Lance Stephenson bolts in free agency to Charlotte. Then Paul George suffers the horrific injury while playing for Team USA. The Pacers enter the season in big, big trouble, which means West, the veteran forward, will be asked to shoulder the burden on a nightly basis. It doesn’t seem fair or doable.

New Wizards-Bulls feud couldn’t wait


VIDEO: Scuffle leads to suspensions, fines for Wizards, Bulls

CHICAGO – Randy Wittman didn’t think much of the question. Not nearly as much of it as I did, for instance, seeing as how I was the one who asked it Monday night: Would the bad blood and feistiness of the Washington Wizards’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls carry over to the preseason opener for both teams?

“In an exhibition?” Wittman, the Wizards coach, said with a chuckle. “You need a storyline, huh?”

We got a storyline that night. And we got another one Wednesday afternoon, when the NBA announced that four of Wittman’s players were suspended for one game for leaving the bench area during an altercation between Washington’s Paul Pierce and Chicago’s Joakim Noah in the first quarter Monday at United Center.

In the first quarter. Of, yes, an exhibition.

Additionally, Pierce and Noah were fined $15,000 each for their roles in the scuffle. A scuffle that didn’t realize, apparently, that it was supposed to wait another month or so.

“Obviously once we get going and the season winds in here, those things play out,” Wittman had said about 90 minutes before Monday’s tipoff. “Not so much a game like this where a lot of people will be playing, the lineups will be different… I’m sure when it rolls around to November, that will be a little bit different.”

The next round, er, game between the Wizards and the Bulls will be in Washington on Dec. 23, the first of four regular-season meetings in a simmering new rivalry.

Wittman’s instincts must not have been in championship-season shape yet, because things boiled over Monday with 8:57 left in the opening quarter.

Pierce fouled Chicago’s Jimmy Butler hard across the jaw. While the referees gathered to review the play as a flagrant or common foul, Pierce and Noah exchanged words and Noah pushed at the veteran forward. Pierce reacted by poking a finger into Noah’s forehead, which sparked an NBA version of a baseball fight.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was on Boston’s staff when Pierce and the Celtics won a championship in 2008 and has been Noah’s coach since 2010, found himself smack in the middle like a pro wrestling ref dwarfed by the combatants. Chicago fans reacted like it was a Bears or Blackhawks game.

“It was great,” Noah said after the game. “It got all the summer out of me. It feels good to be back on the court.”

That was the problem for Washington: Nene, DeJuan Blair, Daniel Orton and Xavier Silas all left their team’s bench area and moved in the direction of the skirmish at the scorer’s table. That brought the automatic suspensions from NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn. They will be served in the Wizards’ season opener or the first regular season game in which each player is physically able to play.

Pierce wasn’t around for the playoff clash last spring, but he and the Bulls didn’t much like each other in his Boston or Brooklyn days, either.

“That’s just the tension between these two teams that’s kind of now carrying over to this year, I feel like,” Pierce said. “I’m a part of it now. Even when I was with the Celtics, that’s how I was with them.”

At the end of the third quarter, Washington’s Kevin Seraphin set a hard screen on Butler and was called for an offensive foul. He stood over the fallen Bulls player for a beat too long, in Butler’s opinion, prompting more shoves.

It was hard not to connect the dots back to last spring and the teams’ heated first-round series. Noah and a member of the Wizards’ security team had a testy exchange at the morning shootaround before Game 3 in Washington. That night, Nene and Butler literally butted heads in an on-court confrontation, with the Wizards’ big man getting ejected and suspended from Game 4.

Then there was the fact the Wizards eliminated the Bulls in five games. It was a sign of Washington’s ascendancy with its precocious backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, while at the same time abruptly ending another season Chicago had begun, at least, with hopes of title contention.

That’s why some folks anticipated chippiness Monday, preseason or not.

“Whatever it was, I guess that’s what it’s going to come down to every time we play them guys,” Butler said. “I guess guys just don’t like us. I’m cool if they don’t like me.”

Said Wall: “That lets you know how it’s going to be for the four times we play them in the regular season. It might get a lot worse than that.”

Grab your calendar now: Dec. 23, Jan. 9, Jan. 14 and March 3. Might as well circle the dates in red, since both teams will be seeing red.

Blogtable: Pierce, Gasol, Parsons?

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


BLOGTABLE: Sophomore strength | Best new fit | A memorable summer


Long-time Lakers center Pau Gasol bolted for Chicago over the summer. (Randy Belice/NBAE)

Long-time Lakers center Pau Gasol bolted for Chicago over the summer. (Randy Belice/NBAE)

> Which of these players will fit in best with his new team: Paul Pierce, Pau Gasol or Chandler Parsons? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I like them all in their new surroundings. Pierce seems energized by Washington’s youth and up-and-coming attitude, and he’s willing to be more old head than focal point. Parsons is versatile enough to fill different needs for Dallas on different nights. Gasol opens up new vistas for Chicago’s offense, especially in tandem with Derrick Rose, and is eager to put the past two sour Lakers years behind him. Forced to choose? I’ll go with Parsons because of his age, because of the opportunities he’ll get with the Mavericks and because he’s the least likely of the three to battle injuries.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: From the day he chose Chicago, I’ve thought Pau Gasol is the perfect complement to Joakim Noah. He’s a solid frontline scorer and rebounder, excellent passer and should give a Bulls offense that struggles to score points another option and big boost.

Paul Pierce (Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

Paul Pierce (Chris Covatta/Getty Images)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Well, look, Paul Pierce is such a veteran that he’s going to walk into that locker room with some up-and-coming young dudes and just own it. Pau Gasol is a gentleman and so easy to get along with that he’ll fit in quickly in Chicago. But, Chandler Parsons is going to be a tremendous fit with the Dallas Mavericks. Playing off Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, and with Rick Carlisle figuring out the best ways to put him in a position to be successful, I really think Parsons is going to show a lot of versatility in Dallas and is headed for a big year.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Gasol, because he can fit in most any situation. While I like the other two additions, especially Parsons in Dallas, Gasol is the perfect complementary player for a lot of teams. The Bulls can be one of those teams as long as Tom Thibodeau doesn’t go Tom Thibodeau on him and play Gasol into the ground. Gasol will pass at a level that will create opportunities for Derrick Rose and the wing shooters.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Parsons fits best as a secondary playmaker in a Mavs’ offense that already features the impossible-to-guard Ellis/Nowitzki pick-and-roll. If the ball is swung to Parsons on the weak side, he’ll get open threes or be able to attack close-outs with the dribble, more effectively than Shawn Marion in both cases. He’ll need to be a better defender, but the Mavs have Tyson Chandler to help on that end. Gasol will be have more of Tom Thibodeau’s trust than Carlos Boozer did, but there’s some overlap with his skill set and that of Joakim Noah. I’d put Pierce last because I think he’s a more effective four than three these days and, while he gives the Wizards an offensive boost, he can’t replace Trevor Ariza‘s defense.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After watching Pierce set the tone for the Wizards’ season by getting in the face of Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls in the exhibition opener, I’m even more convinced that he’ll slide into the perfect role in Washington. The Wizards are not going to ask Pierce to be the player he was five or six years ago, when he was still an All-Star caliber player. This team needs an edge, an agitator and a veteran player who can push the youngsters to go to that next level. Pierce is that guy.

Chandler Parsons (Glenn James/NBAE)

Chandler Parsons (Glenn James/NBAE)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I saw Pierce and Gasol go against each other last night in Chicago, and they both looked good. Pierce in particular gave Washington an aggressive edge, getting mixed up with Joakim Noah minutes into the preseason opener. But I’ve said all summer long that Pau Gasol will have a significant impact for Chicago, and I stand by that thought. Pau will unlock their offense — the other night I saw him attempt a few passes I’m not sure a Bulls center has even thought of in a decade. Most impressive to me was Pau’s demeanor. He made a reasoned and considered decision and truly believes he can affect change we can believe in for these Bulls.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Paul Pierce seems the right piece for the Wizards puzzle. A good veteran player than can be the glue that connects the yound and talented back-court (John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr.) and the experienced front-line (Nene, Marcin Gortat, DeJuan Blair, Drew Gooden). Playing at the 3-spot and having that kind of experienced, means that he can fill all the dots and take his new team to the next level.

Guillermo García, NBA Mexico: It is a difficult question, but it seems to me that Pau Gasol’s the right answer, because the Bulls are a team where a full, well-rounded game is essential. Which Pau certainly does. Plus, he’ll have the help of a great post player in Joakim Noah.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: Chandler Parsons will benefit the most in his new role. He is firmly entrenched in the starting small forward position that was vacated by Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, with Dirk Nowitzki spacing the floor and Monta Ellis driving inside the lane attracting the defense, look for Parsons to take advantage and perform well from the very start.

Juan Carlos Campos Rodriguez, NBA.com Mexico: Pau Gasol will be the player who excels most on a new team, as he’ll have a system where he won’t be the one who has to do the dirty work under the table, something which was questioned during his tenure with the Lakers. He’ll also be able to play power forward, which brought him to the NBA, and be that dominant player with the mid-range shot that opens up spaces so that Rose and company could penetrate the paint more easily.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Suns, Bledsoe progress on contract talks | GM: Pierce was too pricey for Nets to keep | Bosh ready to return to low post

No. 1: Reports: Suns, Bledsoe make progress on contract talks — Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, the last big-name free agent left on the board, may be staying in Arizona after all. Late last night, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that Bledsoe and the Suns had re-started talks on a contract extension for the talented point guard. As Wojnarowski (and Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic) reports, today could be crucial in whether or not Bledsoe remains in Phoenix:

After a summer of stalled discussions, the Phoenix Suns and restricted free-agent guard Eric Bledsoe have progressed significantly in contract talks with hopes of reaching an extension before the start of training camp, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and Bledsoe’s representatives with Klutch Sports have gathered momentum in discussions over the past two to three days, and Wednesday is expected to be crucial in the push for the sides to finalize a deal, league sources said.

Bledsoe failed to find a maximum contract offer on the restricted free-agency market, and his reps spent most of the summer unwilling to negotiate off the $12 million annual salary the Suns had offered in July.

Minnesota tried to engage the Suns in sign-and-trade talks for Bledsoe in the past week, but those never gained traction.

(more…)

Sting of Team USA cuts should fuel Wizards’ already focused Wall, Beal


VIDEO:
John Wall’s top 10 plays from the 2013-14 season

Randy Wittman didn’t have to dig deep into his memory banks for words to soothe John Wall’s and Bradley Beal’s feelings after they were cut from Team USA last month.

All he had to do was remind them – or maybe educate them, since neither of the Washington Wizards’ young guards was born yet – that Hall of Famer Charles Barkley got cut the first time he tried to make the U.S. national team, too.

“That’s right,” Wittman said, “and by my guy.”

Bobby Knight, a Hall of Famer himself and Wittman’s coach at Indiana University, cut The Chuckster and fellow future legend John Stockton during the Olympic trials back in 1984, when the whole operation was a college-guys affair.

Things changed eight years later, by which point both Barkley and Stockton were established NBA All-Stars, and both earned gold medals as members of the original Dream Team.

So the Team USA future remains bright for Wall, 24, and Beal, 21. No brighter, though, than the Wizards’ own short- and long-term outlooks with those two in the backcourt in 2014-15 and beyond.

That’s why Wittman made sure to put a positive spin on their stint with coach Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the FIBA World Cup roster representing the U.S., brief as it was.

“They worked all the way up through July,” Wittman said during a lull in the NBA coaches meetings in Chicago this week. “Putting the work in is the main thing a coach wants to see in the summer. They were able to do that.

“I told those guys, ‘Not everybody makes it right from the start. But you’re there, you’ve done it, you’re showing them you’re willing to be there. It’s a process.’ I think the way both those guys are going, they’re going to be on [Team USA] some day.”

Wall suffered some extra ignominy this week when the NBA crew at SI.com – in one of those manufactured exercises of offseason idleness – ranked him No. 31 on its list of the league’s best players. The Wizards point guard, in his Twitter reaction, didn’t seem to appreciate it (though it’s always hard to know true sentiments in 140 characters).

Then again, it might be another scoop of motivation on a pile that’s already high, what with Washington’s postseason showing and second-round exit against Indiana. With center Marcin Gortat re-signed, with Nene healthy and energized by his own FIBA tour for Brazil, with Otto Porter looking improved at the Las Vegas summer league, with DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries added and with Paul Pierce slipping into Trevor Ariza‘s veteran wing spot, expectations are as lofty as the Wizards’ potential.

Wittman, who steered a team beyond .500 and reached the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons as an NBA head coach, likes the old-young mix of his roster. Thirty-eight-year old Andre Miller stabilized the second unit after he arrived from Denver. Washington would love to add aging marksman Ray Allen if it could. And Allen’s old Celtics pal Pierce figures to bring many of the intangibles Ariza provided.

“We were lucky to get a guy like Paul,” Wittman said. “We lost Al Harrington – he didn’t even play that much, but he was instrumental in the locker room, on the road, just his presence and what he said to the players. Getting Paul fills that, too. He’s a voice who’s been through it. I think he still has the ability to really help us on the floor but he can help us off the floor, too.”

Make no mistake, though. Washington’s strength, possibly for the next decade, is that dynamic and budding backcourt. Both of whom figure to be wearing a different red, white and blue uniform one of these even-numbered summers.

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

T’Wolves need a king’s ransom for Love


VIDEO: Relive the Timberwolves’ top 5 alley-oops from 2013-14

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — At this point in the process, if Kevin Love doesn’t end up trotting out for the starting lineup with LeBron James on opening night this season, it’ll be a true shocker.

We’ve crossed that threshold in this summer’s ongoing Love-to-Cleveland saga. The news that the Minnesota Timberwolves are dealing exclusively with the Cleveland Cavaliers shouldn’t come as a surprise.

We’re all agreed that the potential addition of Love pushes the Cavs over the top in the Eastern Conference, at least on paper, when you have a three-man All-Star core of James, Love and point guard Kyrie Irving.

But what does Love’s departure mean for the Timberwolves? Losing Love doesn’t put them in any more of a precarious position than they are in right now. They didn’t make the playoffs with him and won’t be considered a playoff factor without him in the rugged Western Conference. Not with Ricky Rubio leading a young cast that better include Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, along with their own youngsters (including HT faves Gorgui DiengZach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III) in yet another rebuilding effort.

It took a while, but I’m on board with this deal getting done, and sooner rather than later. LeBron gets what LeBron wants. And if he wants Love on his side, it shall be. (My golden rule on players remains, though. So Love comes with a clarification sticker: If you cannot take your team to the playoffs as the No. 1 option, you’re either a No. 2 or a No. 3 option.)

All that said, Timberwolves boss Flip Saunders would be wise to hold out for a king’s ransom for Love, given what the franchise has gone through since the last time they traded away the face of the franchise. Oh yeah, today is the anniversary of the 2007 trade that saw Kevin Garnett relocate to Boston where he joined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to win a championship and help revive the Celtics.

It’s been that long, and more, since the Timberwolves were involved in the playoff discussion in the Western Conference (they haven’t made the postseason since 2004). They traded Garnett to the Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two first-round draft picks (one of which was acquired in a trade with Minnesota a year prior). The deal marked the largest NBA trade ever for one player, and in hindsight it still wasn’t enough.

Jefferson, an All-Star caliber big man and franchise building block now in Charlotte, wasn’t ready to step into Garnett’s shoes back then. For all of his spectacular skills, Love hasn’t been up to that task either. Timberwolves fans have had to suffer through numerous restarts and regime changes since Garnett’s departure and none of them have worked.

Anyone who tells you they are convinced Wiggins, Bennett and that future first-round pick Saunders will get from the Cavs for Love will spark the revival the Twin Cities have been waiting on is delusional. It won’t happen anytime soon, and certainly not in time to take the sting off of seeing Love compete for a championship as soon as his first season away from Minnesota.

And if Love is the transcendent talent so many believe him to be, his presence alongside LeBron and Kyrie should result in the Cavs being the cream of the Eastern Conference crop immediately (above or at least alongside Indiana and Chicago).

The Timberwolves, on the other hand, will have to endure yet another round (or two … or three) of blueprints for what has turned out to be a seemingly never-ending franchise rebuild.

This isn’t news to Saunders, whose roots in the organization (and Minnesota overall) run deep. He knows better than anyone the pressure the Wolves will be under until Love is dealt … and then again after Love is gone. One dreadful, non-playoff season blends into another and before you know it, a decade (or more) has passed without the postseason.

And that’s why Saunders should squeeze every ounce of whatever he can from the Cavs in this deal. Make them pay for the right to add Love. A king’s ransom isn’t too much to ask for now.


VIDEO: Check out the Timberwolves’ top 10 plays from last season

Blogtable: Free agent’s fine future

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


BLOGTABLE: Free agent’s fine future | New coach who fits | Tough Team USA call



VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks with Bulls.com about why he signed with Chicago

> Which free agent (not counting LeBron James) are you most interested to see with his new team? Why?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Easily Pau Gasol. He’s been in such a beatdown state the last two years on bad teams and under a coach, Mike D’Antoni, who had little use for him. Gasol should be happy and energized once again playing on a team that can contend for the East crown. Plus, the Bulls will make great use of his low-post scoring and passing. This should be fun to watch.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Lance Stephenson. I want to see if his act in Indiana was just a situational deal and if there is more to his game and personality than what we’ve seen. I recognize the talent. He’s got plenty and perhaps more in reserve. He’s going to a team where the owner (Michael Jordan), coach (Steve Clifford) and locker room leaders (Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker) won’t hesitate to let him know when they feel like he’s going off the rails. If he comes in and has half the impact on the court for the Hornets that he had for the Pacers last season, the Hornets will have gotten one of the steals of the free-agent summer.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I want to see how much of a boost Paul Pierce can bring to the Wizards’ offense, which ranked 18th last season. The Wiz should be able to build on last year’s improvement and contend for a top-four spot in the East. The additions they’ve made make them one of the deepest teams in the league. But they do need more playmaking, especially when they go to their bench. Pierce shouldn’t necessarily be a sixth man, but if coach Randy Wittman can stagger his and John Wall‘s minutes some, the offense will be better overall.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He didn’t get the largest contract, but I really think Pau Gasol could be one of the most impactful free agents of the summer. He’s not the same defender he was a few years ago, but Tom Thibodeau is the perfect coach to be able to gameplan around that. And it should be on offense where Gasol makes the biggest contribution — he and Joakim Noah are probably the best-passing big man combo in the NBA, and with Noah setting up at the top of the key, Pau’s beloved low post will be open for him to do work. Most importantly, with Derrick Rose returning, the Bulls should finally be past the offensive malaise that has plagued them for years.