HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat is in the second to last year of his contract, but that hasn’t stopped the big man from making his way into the trade deadline crosshairs this season.
Gortat’s name has surfaced in a report from Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic regarding the Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder. The rumored deal would have the Suns sending Gortat and P.J. Tucker to the Thunder for Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb and a first round draft pick.
Coro came back later and clarified his earlier report, via Twitter:
I mentioned All-Star break talk of a Perkins/Lamb/pick-Gortat/Tucker swap. Apparently, that was a league rumor but not actual team talks.— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) February 20, 2013
But Gortat’s name keeps coming up for a reason. Plenty of teams would be interested in a productive big man, with a reasonable contract (one more year at $7.72 million), who can play in any system and play any style.
Toss in the $6.4 million in salary cap room the Suns can work with, and there’s a reason they’ve been mentioned as potential trade deadline players, even as perhaps the third team in a three-team deal.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: The NBA got back to regular-season work after All-Star weekend in Houston and there were plenty of choice matchups to pick from. Bucks vs. Nets was a nice way to get things rolling, especially given Joe Johnson‘s display of clutch-itude in both the fourth quarter and OT. There was a great East vs. West matchup in the Mile High City as the Nuggets took on the Celtics, with Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson powering Denver to the win. But we’ll go with a good matchup between two teams scrambling to solidify their playoff footing: the Warriors visiting the Jazz. Multi-faceted forward Gordon Hawyard was back in the action after a 10-game absence due to a shoulder injury while Utah’s big men combo of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson shook off the trade rumors surrounding them to lead the Jazz to a win and move them into a tie with the Warriors for No. 6 in the West.
Celtics expected to make some kind of deal — Celtics boss Danny Ainge has steadfastly denied that he’s looking to tinker with Boston’s makeup or trade franchise stalwarts like Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo or Paul Pierce. But rival GMs are saying just the opposite (in what may be a smokescreen act) and think the Celtics are priming themselves for a deal of some kind. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald has more:
As Danny Ainge downplayed the possibility the Celtics will be involved in a transaction before tomorrow’s NBA trade deadline, general managers and personnel people around the league are saying quite the opposite.
They’ll be stunned if the Celts don’t make a deal of some sort.
“They’re too active,” said one. “They’ve been putting a lot of different things out there, and you’d have to think at least one of them is going to come through.”
If the Celtics do pull off a trade, it’s likely something beyond what’s already in the public domain, and many of those talks were dead on arrival.
For example, the Celts did have a brief discussion with the Lakers, but word is Mitch Kupchak said flatly they are not going to deal Dwight Howard, stating that he is part of their future. It’s possible that outlook could change, but with Rajon Rondo rehabbing from ACL surgery, the Celts wouldn’t have enough to get in on such talks.
The Clippers remain a good target, with Eric Bledsoe an intriguing talent.
“An awesome athlete, but not really a pure point guard,” said one personnel guy. “He could be a Russell Westbrook type if he keeps developing.”
The Hawks’ Josh Smith talk seems a bit of a mystery from the Celtics’ standpoint. To begin with, it would be hard to put together the right package to get him. And it’s even more doubtful they would be willing to part with the kind of things Atlanta is looking for.
Start with the fact Smith almost certainly won’t be signing a three-year extension right after a trade when he can wait until summer and get a longer deal as a free agent. So there’s no guarantee a team trading for him has him beyond the next few months. Then there are the questions of just how much Smith is worth relative to what he can contribute.
“If you could get him to just do the things he does really well and stick to that, I think he’d be one of the best players in this league,” said one ranking team official. “But you get the whole package with Josh. You can probably absorb most of that on a really good team, but is he the kind of guy you’re going to go to in your halfcourt offense in the fourth quarter of a Game 7? For the kind of money you’re going to be paying him, you have to think about that.”
Jennings ‘untouchable’ for now — Just six days ago, Bucks guard Brandon Jennings reportedly had expressed frustration with the front office and had “irreconcilable differences” with team brass. But Jennings quickly reversed field on that story and, although he didn’t commit to a long-term future with the Bucks, seemingly patched things up. Maybe that has led to the news reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that Jennings has become ‘untouchable’. More details here:
The Milwaukee Bucks continue to discuss Josh Smith trade scenarios with the Atlanta Hawks in advance of Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.
But those discussions, sources say, also serve as a strong indication of the rising likelihood that Brandon Jennings will not be moved this week.
ESPN.com reported Tuesday that Monta Ellis is the primary player Atlanta is targeting in its discussion with Milwaukee. Sources say that the Hawks, furthermore, want Milwaukee to add at least one expiring contract to the equation with Ellis and possibly take on some salary.
ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard, meanwhile, reported Wednesday morning on “SportsCenter” that Smith would be interested in playing with both Jennings and Ellis if he wound up in Milwaukee, leading the Bucks to try Wednesday to make the deal without surrendering Ellis.
Yet amid all of those talks, sources say, Jennings has moved alongside Larry Sanders and John Henson on the Bucks’ list of near-untouchables.
The Dallas Mavericks were at the forefront of the list of teams hoping that the Bucks would make Jennings available this week, but Milwaukee appears intent on taking its chances in the offseason, knowing that Jennings will be a restricted free agent and thus unable to leave town unless the Bucks decline to match an offer sheet he receives.
Millsap, Jefferson shrug off trade chatter — As our own Fran Blinebury pointed out yesterday in this space, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsay could end up being active on trade deadline day … especially considering Utah’s bevy of big men. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are the names most teams would want to acquire and that duo is used to hearing their names bandied about in trade talks over the years. While no solid suitor has emerged (we’ve seen talk of Jefferson-to-San Antonio here and there), the Jazz’s veteran big man duo isn’t letting the talk affect their game. Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News has more:
When asked about trade rumors after returning from the All-Star break, Jazz players and coach Tyrone Corbin all shrugged off any talk about the subject.
“I’ve been in this league a long time. This is my ninth year and Paul’s seventh. We’re used to this,’’ said Jefferson.
“You don’t react. You just let it go,’’ added Millsap. “You can’t do anything about it because you don’t really know for sure. If it don’t come from (the Jazz’s) mouths it’s probably not true.’’
Millsap’s name has come up in trade rumors for years, and the Jazz forward says he’s used to it by now, saying he takes it as a compliment that he’s a wanted player. One of the latest rumors has him going to the L.A. Clippers for point guard Eric Bledsoe and others.That trade would potentially affect Mo Williams, the team’s current starting point guard, who has been sitting out with an injured thumb for more than a month.
Corbin was blunt in talking about trade speculation.
“It’s rumors and we don’t deal with rumors,’’ he said. “We are who we are and everybody here is part of our family. We’ll continue progressing in the way that we have and we expect everybody to respond accordingly.’’
Jefferson has been traded twice in his career, but he knows if the Jazz are involved, it’s unlikely anyone will know about it in advance.
“The one thing about the Utah Jazz is they’re a very professional team,’’ he said. “When a trade comes nobody’s going to know until it actually happens. They’ve been consistent with that. They’re just rumors.’’
Colangelo downplaying Bargnani deal — Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo already pulled off one significant remodel of his team this season by sending Ed Davis to Memphis and Jose Calderon to Detroit as part of the three-team trade that put Rudy Gay in Raptors red. The next name expected to be on the trade block is former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, but Colangelo may be cooling on the prospect of trading the outside-shooting big man. Sam Amick of USA Today caught up with Colangelo and talked with him about Bargnani, Colangelo’s future in Toronto and more:
Colangelo, who came to Toronto from Phoenix in 2006 and has been attempting a massive rebuilding effort ever since Chris Bosh left for Miami in the summer of 2010, is in the final year of his contract. In an interview with USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday, Colangelo said he has no discussions with ownership about his updated status and remains hopeful that he’ll be around past this summer. The Raptors – who are 5-2 since Gay came on board and 21-32 overall after their horrific 4-19 start – play at Washington Tuesday and have a reunion game with the Grizzlies in Toronto on Wednesday night.
While Colangelo could make more moves before the Thursday trade deadline to help his team and improve his case even more, he downplayed the once-widely-held notion that center Andrea Bargnani would be traded before then. He called that situation “fluid” and said “there just may not have been enough runway prior to the deadline to get something” because Bargnani recently came back from injury.
On Bargnani, how he’s fitting in better now with Gay and the likelihood that he could be traded…
“We began this year with Bargnani as our No. 1 scoring option. He’s now No. 3 because Rudy has arrived and DeMar (DeRozan) has emerged. Now Bargnani is No. 3. There’s talk about possibly moving him – and again we’ve talked about it, not for talent reasons but because maybe sometimes a change of scenery is the best thing for somebody. But sometimes a change of scenery can happen just by redecorating the room.
“All of a sudden the outlook and the presence of a guy like Andrea is entirely different now. He’s not relied on as a No. 1 guy. He has never been paid like a No. 1 option, but people wanted to criticize that he couldn’t handle that role. I’ve always felt like he’s been slotted in salary-wise as a No. 2 or No. 3. Maybe he’s kind of fitting in nicely now.
“If a trade doesn’t occur before the deadline, or even this summer, maybe it’s because we figured out that with the evolution of the team he is the right guy to be a part of this team. He’s been through the hard part. This may be the easiest part ahead of him.
On his future in Toronto …
“There’s been no discussion (about his future since the trade). I certainly haven’t brought it up. I think that we’re, right now, transitioning with an ownership change of our own.
“I’ve proven that, despite all the things that have been happening with the rebuilding of this team simultaneous to the uncertainty with my contract, I always made the right long-term strategic decision with respect to the transactions that were being made or draft picks that were being made. Case in point was drafting (Jonas) Valanciunas (fifth overall in 2011) knowing that he was not going to be here for a year, and that when he did arrive that he’d be 20 and would still be considered a project. But you have to carry out your job with integrity and do the right thing for the organization. That’s what I’ve been hired to do and that’s what I’m doing. Whether or not that pays off for me long-term, with an extension or just even my option year being picked up (for the 2013-14 season), time will tell. But you can’t lose sight of what the job is.” (more…)
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Because there were only two games on the schedule — and one of ‘em was an absolute blowout — we gotta go with Mavericks-Warriors today. Andrew Bogut made his presence felt with a game-saving block on Brandan Wright, Harrison Barnes was swooping and scoring, Klay Thompson was draining shots and … it was the Warriors being the Warriors and doing all of this while star guard Steph Curry (ankle) sat out for a second straight game.
Much ado about ‘nothing’ in OKC — With 8 minutes, 57 seconds left in the third quarter, OKC’s rout of Memphis was definitely on. The Thunder had a 25-point lead — 65-40 — and Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook went to work on the left block. He was called for a 5-second violation and, as the ball was changing hands to the Grizz, Westbrook engaged in an argument with guard Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha’s man had come to double team Westbrook, leaving Sefolosha open at the 3-point line. But Westbrook continued backing down his man despite the defense.
Westbrook and Sefolosha argued, then Westbrook punched the ball to the court, catching it with both hands before handing it to the official. Westbrook played roughly another minute before being pulled for Reggie Jackson. Westbrook then sat on the bench and had an animated discussion with assistant coach Maurice Cheeks before leaving the court in a huff and heading to the OKC locker room. He returned to the bench and played a bit more in the fourth quarter.
After the game, both coach Scott Brooks and Westbrook addressed the outburst, with Westbrook talking to TNT’s Craig Sager. Both men blew off the incident as ‘nothing’, as USA Today’s Adi Joseph and The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel report:
Russell Westbrook sometimes loses his temper.
Russell Westbrook never explains why he lost his temper.
The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard went off without any good explanation during Thursday’s 106-89 win against the Memphis Grizzlies. He had been called for a five-second violation while posting up Grizzlies guard Jerryd Bayless, and apparently he pinned the violation on teammate Thabo Sefolosha.
Now Sefolosha’s cut to the basket was ill-timed, but Westbrook got steaming mad in the moment. Coach Scott Brooks pulled him from the game, leaving him to stew even more.
“I decided to take Russell out because we needed to calm down,” Brooks said. “Russell went in the back. It was nothing. He just had to regroup. … It was nothing that has not happened before — not just with him, with all of our guys.”
Did we mention this happened while the Thunder had an 18-point lead?
Westbrook sat down next to assistant coach Maurice Cheeks and then left the floor entirely, heading to the locker room with a towel on his head.
After the game, Westbrook blew it off.
“Nothing, just a little miscommunication,” he said, via Daily Thunder’s Royce Young.
Little-known fact: Miscommunication is not a word, according to most dictionaries. Also, it’s not a valid excuse for that kind of tantrum.
But Westbrook takes a lot of heat for his play, as many critics think he shoots too often even as he has emerged as one of the best players in the NBA. He’s got a lot of steam to blow off, so sometimes it flies in undeserving directions.
“I’ll control it like a man,” Westbrook said. “Like I did.”
Peter Pan was back in business Thursday night. You know. Russell Westbrook. The mischievous boy who can fly and who never grows up.
Westbrook barked at the genteel Thabo Sefolosha, took a shot so wild Scotty Brooks was forced to substitute, blew his stack while being counseled by Mo Cheeks, knocked over a chair and stormed off the court to the comfort of a Chesapeake Arena tunnel.
At the time, Westbrook was playing an excellent game and the Thunder led Memphis by 20 points.
The Thunder produced a 106-89 rout of the Grizzlies that was overshadowed by Peter Pan.
And maybe the basketball world will be better off if we accept what Westbrook is. Part hot hand, part hothead. Uncorrallable, not just by NBA opponents, but by Thunder brass.
“There’s no question he was frustrated with himself,” Brooks said. “Russell’s an emotional guy … not trying to downplay that. He has to be able to control his frustration. But that’s part of it.”
Kevin Durant defended Westbrook but also said the squad “talked it out” in the locker room and didn’t let it fester. That’s good.
“Russell is such an emotional player,” Durant said. “I knew he’d be back. That’s how he is. We want everybody to be themselves.”
That’s good. I like that. That’s the best advice the Thunder can receive.
Quit trying to change Russell Westbrook. Don’t even defend him. Just accept him for who he is. The boy who can fly and never grows up.
Report: Suns pursuing Hawks’ Smith — Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com reports that several teams are interested in trading for Hawks forward Josh Smith before the Feb. 21 deadline, with the Suns trying to work their way to the front of the list. After parting with Steve Nash over the summer in a sign-and-trade deal with the Lakers, the Suns have tried to rebuild themselves around Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat, Michael Beasley and others, but are the second-worst team in the Western Conference at 16-30 and are looking to make a move to set up their future:
The Suns are pursuing Josh Smith, according to multiple league sources. Phoenix will try to acquire Smith before the deadline or, if that fails, through a sign-and-trade deal next offseason.
The Suns are very interested in Smith and have had exploratory talks with the Atlanta Hawks about the 27-year-old forward. Phoenix views Smith as a franchise player who can be one of the cornerstones of the team for years to come. The Suns have been searching for a face of the franchise since Steve Nash’s departure last summer, and Smith could be exactly that. If the Hawks decide it’s time to part ways with Smith, the Suns will be one of the teams on the phone.
Phoenix has attractive assets, particularly Marcin Gortat, who could play alongside Al Horford and give the Hawks one of the best frontcourts in the Eastern Conference. They also have Jared Dudley and Michael Beasley as well as the expiring contracts of Wes Johnson, Shannon Brown (whose 2013-14 salary is non-guaranteed), Sebastian Telfair and Jermaine O’Neal. Phoenix also has several first-round picks – their own pick and two additional first-round picks that they acquired in the Nash trade with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Johnson trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Luis Scola could also be involved in the trade, but only if the deal is a sign-and-trade since he can’t be traded until July 1 due to the fact that he was signed by the Suns after being amnestied by the Houston Rockets.
Smith and his agent, Wallace Prather, are expected to meet with the Hawks at some point this week to discuss the forward’s future in Atlanta. The two sides met after Smith’s one-game suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team,” but Smith’s camp didn’t demand a trade. It’s unclear if Smith and Prather will ask for a trade during this next meeting, although many people in NBA circles believe that Smith’s days in Atlanta could be numbered. In recent weeks, more teams have been calling the Hawks and inquiring about Smith, especially since his public comments about being “a max contract player.”
While the Suns will express interest in Smith, they aren’t the only team that will make a run at the star forward. The Houston Rockets, Charlotte Bobcats and Dallas Mavericks have also been mentioned as potential suitors for Smith.
A few hours after Kennedy posted his story, John Gambadoro, sports talk host for 620 KTAR in Phoenix, tweeted that the report was bogus:
The stories about the Suns being interested in Josh Smith are ridiculous, there is zero interest there -ZERO!— John Gambadoro (@Gambo620) February 01, 2013
You just have to love trade rumor season …
Ainge, Celts ‘open’ to offers — Celtics basketball boss Danny Ainge isn’t putting specific names out, but did tell WEEI’s Big Show on Thursday afternoon that he is willing to consider trades to improve Boston. The name that’s being bandied about as a possible piece that could net the kind of assets Boston wants is Paul Pierce, but Ainge sounded at best lukewarm on trading the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Ainge isn’t looking for a point guard to replace the injured Rajon Rondo. Gary Dzen of Boston.com has more:
“We are open and listening, but we don’t feel pressure to do anything,” said Ainge. “Whether we win every game or whether we struggle, I think it all depends on what opportunities are presented. We want to make some change to help improve our team.”
The player who would seem to have the most value on the open market is Paul Pierce. He’s a veteran who can help a contending team win now, and only $4 million of his $15.3 million contract for next season is guaranteed. Ainge said he has not received any offers for Pierce, but he said that he would inform his veteran forward of any potential trade discussions.
“Nothing has been talked about with Paul,” said Ainge. “Nothing is close to being done. I too would like to see Paul retire as a Celtic.That would be great. We’re all attached to Paul. He’s been great for the city, the franchise, and he’s been a true pro. Having said that, if something came up I would talk to Paul. My job is to do what’s in the best interest of our team, regardless of my personal ties or my personal feelings with the players.”
Ainge was also adamant that he was not currently in the market to pick up another point guard to replace Rajon Rondo.
“Not right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of reasons why we’re not just jumping out and doing something.There really is nobody that you can find to replace Rondo, either through a trade or free agent acquisition, at this time of year. We like the guys — Barbosa’s been dying for a chance to play, and Jason Terry, and Avery Bradley at the point. I think all those guys are looking for an opportunity.”
The Celtics have won their last two games with Rondo, and talk radio was filled Thursday with fans calling in suggesting that the team might be better without its All-Star point guard. Ainge quickly shot down notion.
“He single-handedly carries us every night, and I don’t know how people don’t see that,” said Ainge. “It’s silly. He’s a great, great player, and he’s proven that time and time again. The guy’s been MVP of probably four or five series over the last five years. He’s been the best player in a series against LeBron James. He’s been the best player in a series against Derrick Rose. He’s been the best player in three games in a Finals series. The guy has done too many good things. The question is, ‘Are the pieces right around him?’”
Ainge sounded relatively happy with his current team. He did not sound like a GM looking to make drastic changes for this season.
“I think I’ve been pretty consistent on this team the last couple of years,”he said. “I said I like the individuals. Obviously I don’t like 20-23, which we were when Rondo got hurt. I didn’t like any part of that.
“But what I particularly said is I like what these guys are made of, especially our core guys. When it comes down to playoff basketball, I know what they’re made of, and I know that they have the gear to take it to another level.”
Pistons thinking of keeping Calderon? — Don’t think of Jose Calderon landing in Detroit as a rental situation for the Pistons. Our man Vince Ellis at the Detroit Free Press reports that the Pistons have always liked Calderon’s game and see him as a long-term helper in their rebuilding efforts, particularly in developing the skills of rookie big man Andre Drummond and second-year point guard Brandon Knight. Here’s more on why Calderon intrigues Detroit:
Calderon traveled to Detroit on Thursday and likely will take his physical this morning. It’s not clear when he will suit up for the Pistons — the process can be tricky since he is a Spaniard now playing in the U.S. instead of in Canada. He will talk to the media today after a team shoot-around.
“We’ve always had a high value on Jose,” coach Lawrence Frank said after the Pistons’ loss at Indy on Wednesday. “He’s a tremendous competitor. He’s a guy who has been top five in the league in assists for the past four or five years. It gives us flexibility moving forward.”
The financial ramifications of the deal for the Pistons are obvious — Calderon’s $10.5 million comes off the books after this season.
If they do nothing else through the Feb. 21 deadline, Charlie Villanueva picks up his $8.5-million option for next season, and they decide to keep Rodney Stuckey for the full $8.5 million for next season, the Pistons will be roughly $20 million-$23 million under the cap. If they decide to invoke the amnesty clause on Villanueva during a weeklong window in July and cut Stuckey (they would owe him $4 million) before the June 30 deadline, the total could move to roughly $30 million-$35 million.
But don’t discount the Pistons trying to keep Calderon — at a reasonable price.
A Pistons source said the team is open to trying to re-sign Calderon over the summer, adding that the team thinks his playmaking skill would be a major boon to rookie center Andre Drummond.
Calderon was very good at setting up Toronto big men, playing a major role in helping former Piston Amir Johnson and young big Ed Davis, who was sent to the Grizzlies in the trade.
Nash losing a step in L.A.? — The Lakers did well with Kobe Bryant serving as the primary playmaker/assist man in L.A.’s offense for three games. That’s all well and good, but what about that future Hall of Fame point guard the Lakers signed in the offseason? Steve Nash has hardly had the ball at all, a change for someone used to directing an offense — particularly coach Mike D’Antoni‘s — for the entire game. The always-solid Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register delves deeper into why L.A. might be turning away from Nash (and toward Kobe) as the season wears on:
Bryant has more assists than any of the other four players left above him on the all-time scoring chart. He has been passing a lot more than you’ve noticed over the years.
So it’s not exactly brand-new, though he is now concentrating more on passing, for sure. It is increasing team energy while draining less of Bryant’s energy, it should be noted — but the Lakers’ loss in Phoenix on Wednesday night showed that trying to balance this approach with his natural inclination of shoot down the stretch is his newest toughest challenge.
Meanwhile, Steve Nash has some stuff to figure out, too.
As in, what has happened to him?
There is one viable excuse. Nash’s way is to take a break from basketball in the offseason. It’s why he was able to say on the first day of training camp: “I feel as good as I’ve ever felt.” But the tradeoff for that freshness is basketball rust, which has been exacerbated by Nash’s leg injury taking him off the court for 21/2 more months.
And with teammates unfamiliar with how, when and where to set picks for him to go where he wants, Nash has looked nothing like the old master and commander of the pick and roll.
In both the opening night loss to Dallas (seven points, four assists) under Mike Brown and the most recent loss to Phoenix (11 points, two assists) under Mike D’Antoni, Nash was basically Derek Fisher out there.
Nash was slow, trying to keep up on defense and generally not doing that much.
Nash has gone from D’Antoni’s oft-declared unequivocal savior while mending the leg fracture — “Steve’ll fix that” … “Steve’ll get that to happen” … “Steve’ll make me look like an offensive genius again” (well, maybe just paraphrasing on the last one) — to the guy D’Antoni in recent days consistently references as “39 years old.”
That’s D’Antoni’s capsule explanation — even though Nash doesn’t turn 39 for another week — for why Bryant is running the offense now, not Nash. D’Antoni says Nash will still carry the load at times, but Bryant can help him this way, and blah-blah-blah.
C’mon. If Nash was still Nash, D’Antoni of all people would never take the keys away and hand them to Bryant.
Nash has no distinct role and doesn’t have the sort of personality to demand one.
In the fourth quarter in Phoenix on his homecoming night, Nash had one assist (hardly a classic one considering it came on a Bryant 22-footer). He took one shot, a missed 21-footer with 5:21 to play. He was such a nonfactor that he didn’t even have any turnovers as the Lakers blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead.
“I think I can help,” Nash said afterward. “I definitely think that I can score and set up my teammates and especially in the fourth quarter take some pressure off Kobe. Those are things we’ve still go to work out and find that balance.”
Nash’s idea of saving his legs for the fourth to carve up a defense unaccustomed to defending him is a great one … except it’s pretty much impossible to envision Bryant standing off to the side at crunch time. That’s the time Bryant wants the ball more, not less.
So Nash’s search will go on. He has the sweetest attitude of anyone, but Nash must find something for himself. Whether it’s making five 3-pointers every night or seizing a pick-and-roll time with Gasol early each game to play his old way, the guy who has made so many role players look so good in his career needs to find a role of his own.
Bynum has a tune-up of sorts — Andrew Bynum went to New York to get Synvisc shots from his physician, Dr. David Altchek. Synvisc, a joint lubricant that can provide up to six months of knee pain relief per injection, is expected to help Bynum continue on his road to finally getting on the court for the Sixers this season. As he’s said all along, Bynum hopes to play before the All-Star break, but the Sixers are (of course) taking a cautious approach with him. PhillyBurbs.com’s Tom Moore provides details:
This is the third consecutive season in which Bynum has had two sets of Synvisc injections, with the second typically coming right before the all-star break. He got the first ones this season in late September.
A 76ers spokesman said Bynum, who is recovering from bone bruises in both knees, is expected to return to rehab and working out as soon as Sunday. Bynum has said he hopes to make his Sixers debut soon after the Feb. 14-19 all-star break, but there is still no official timetable.
The 7-foot, 300-pound Bynum has been running on the anti-gravity treadmill, as well as doing basketball shooting, low-post and agility drills for the past 10 days.
GM Tony DiLeo said earlier this week that Bynum could practice with the team as early as the first week of February, which begins Monday. It’s unclear if he’ll still be able to practice next week.
Coach Doug Collins cautioned against expecting too much too fast from Bynum, noting he hasn’t appeared in an NBA game in more than eight months.
“The one thing we have to understand is, he’s not all of a sudden just going to jump into a 5-on-5 scrimmage,” Collins said after Thursday’s team practice. “He’s done nothing laterally or impact-wise. For us to run him out there and he’s going to play 37 minutes would not be feasible because he would have a setback with that.
“Hopefully, he’ll be able to start playing a little 1-on-1 in the post and then build up with that.”
Collins also said the Sixers don’t plan to change their offense “if and when” Bynum can play.
Changes just beginning in Toronto — Given the comments of Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo to our NBA TV crew on Wednesday night (see the interview here) and what he’s telling the media in Raptor-ville, there might be more moves on the horizon north of the border. Damien Cox of the Toronto Star opines that, given Toronto’s current roster makeup, there has to be more coming down the pike:
Then again, let’s all list together the great trades made by Colangelo as GM of the Raps.
You go first.
Maybe Colangelo took the broad hint delivered by the Bell/Rogers unholy ownership alliance and figured the walls were closing in on him if he didn’t make something happen soon.
But really, he knew that at the beginning of the season, no? And he did try to land Steve Nash last summer, going so far as to work the Landry Fields signing to make the entire process come together.
So getting Gay wasn’t a winter impulse. Colangelo’s been working on winning now for a while. It’s just that getting Gay cost a lot, more than just money. There are those who believe Ed Davis will prove to be the best player in this deal, and we’ll see about that. Trading a youngster just as he’s hitting his stride has been, of course, a Leaf trademark for decades.
But if Colangelo is right and Gay blossoms in Toronto, part of the reasoning will have been that for the Raps, getting this kind of player is only possible through trade. Free agents, notable ones, just aren’t going to sign in the Great White North, at least not with an also-ran.
Gay may become the front-court scoring threat who combines with DeMar DeRozan for a true one-two punch. But how does that fit around the youngster, Jonas Valanciunas, who’s a bit of a project still? Meanwhile, Colangelo seems committed to dealing Andrea Bargnani, and now it doesn’t make sense to do that for futures, does it?
Feels like there’s another shoe to drop here.
Clearly, the Raps now want to win, just as the Jays now want to win, as the Argos felt they had to try to win. The sensible path for the Leafs is to show some patience, but there’s been no indication from MLSE ownership that Nonis has permission to do it nice and slow.
A town that had Mats Sundin, Chris Bosh and Roy Halladay, then watched them all leave town, is getting some names back.
Just (trying) to win, baby.
ICYMI of the night: There are veteran tricks, and then there is what Vince Carter pulled on the unsuspecting Warriors last night …:
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Lakers have won two straight games in impressive fashion and host the New Orleans Hornets tonight (10:30 ET, NBA TV). They’re still six games under .500 and they still look like a real long shot to win a playoff series.
That would make these Lakers one of the biggest disappointments in NBA history. They brought together one of the best players of his generation, one of the best point guards in recent memory, one of the best international players in NBA history and the most impactful defender of the last several seasons. Yet here they are at 19-25, standing in 10th place in the Western Conference.
Injuries have played a role, and so has a coaching change. But there’s just too much top-line talent on the Lakers’ roster for them to have the record that they are. And it isn’t hard to see examples — mostly on the defensive end of the floor — of where they aren’t playing up to their ability on a nightly basis.
If the Lakers don’t make the playoffs, it will be difficult to find a more disappointing team in NBA history. But here are a few examples of recent teams to haven’t lived up to expectations. The list features current Lakers Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Pau Gasol, as well as head coach Mike D’Antoni…
The Jazz were coming off a trip to the Western Conference semifinals. They lost Carlos Boozer, Wesley Matthews and Ronnie Brewer in free agency, but added Al Jefferson via trade. And they still had Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap, though Mehmet Okur missed 69 games with various injuries.
The Wizards had Gilbert Arenas (returning from a knee injury that limited him to just 15 games in the previous two seasons), Caron Butler and Jamison back together. And they added Randy Foye and Mike Miller in a trade with Minnesota. The idea was that they would get back to where they were three seasons earlier, when they led the Eastern Conference through January.
Though they won the No. 1 pick the following summer, the Wizards still haven’t recovered. Since the start the 2008-09 season, Washington has a 99-256 (.279) record, worst in the league.
2008-09 Phoenix Suns (46-36)
We tend to think of Shaquille O’Neal being a bad fit in D’Antoni’s system. But the Suns actually ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency in his one full season in Phoenix. The problem was that they ranked 25th defensively.
Right after the All-Star break, with the Suns holding a 30-23 record, Amar’e Stoudemire was lost for the season with a detached retina. But O’Neal and Nash missed only 15 games between them that season. And despite the presence of two future Hall of Famers (and past MVPs), the Suns finished two games out of the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.
The ’08-09 Suns were one of only two teams in the last 35 years to win at least 46 games and not make the playoffs. The other was the 2007-08 Golden State Warriors, who were 48-34.
2006-07 Memphis Grizzlies (22-60)
The Pau Gasol Grizzlies probably don’t come to mind when thinking about disappointing teams of the past, but only *five teams suffered a bigger drop-off in winning percentage over the last 35 years. And the Grizzlies didn’t have the personnel changes nor the injury issues that easily explain the regression with those five.
They did trade Shane Battier to Houston that summer for the draft rights to Rudy Gay. And Gasol did miss the first 22 games of the season, putting the Grizz in a 5-17 hole. But they weren’t much better when Gasol returned. Coach Mike Fratello was fired at 6-24 and they finished with the worst record in the league.
The 2005-06 Grizzlies went 49-33 under Mike Fratello, made the franchise’s third straight trip to the playoffs, and ranked second in the league defensively. Then Battier left, Eddie Jones wasn’t the same player anymore and the ’06-07 Grizzlies ranked dead last defensively.
*The five teams were the 2010-11 Cavs (departure of LeBron James), the 1998-99 Bulls (departures of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson), the 1996-97 Spurs (David Robinson played just six games), the 1982-83 Houston Rockets (departure of Moses Malone), and the 2007-08 Heat (injuries to Dwyane Wade and O’Neal, who was eventually traded).
2006-07 Miami Heat (44-38)
The defending champs lost O’Neal for more than two months to knee surgery and Dwyane Wade for six weeks to a shoulder injury.
But both were in the lineup when the Heat got swept in the 4-5 matchup in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Along with the 2011 Mavericks, they’re one of two defending champs since the 1998 Bulls that didn’t win a playoff game the following season.
DALLAS – As Michael Beasley slammed a chicken tenders basket at his locker about 90 minutes before his Phoenix Suns were to face the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, he seemed more pleased with the savory french fries than digging up the past yet again.
“These fries are good, man,” Beasley said between shoveling handfuls of the greasy goodness into his mouth.
Beasley’s first season with the Phoenix Suns, one promising a fresh start on what some might hail as an overly generous three-year, $18 million contract considering his past work history, has not been so tasty for Suns fans to digest.
The former No. 2 pick has been bad, so bad that halfway through the first half of the season he lost his starting job on what is now the worst team in the Western Conference. The saving grace at this point for the Suns and their leery fans would seem to be that the final $6.25 million on Beasley’s third season, in 2014-15, is non-guaranteed.
But Beasley, sounding as honest as when he critiqued those fries, said he wants to be the guy who helps turn this once-proud franchise that rose to great heights on the sturdy, trustworthy and fan-friendly shoulders of Steve Nash.
“That’s the plan,” said Beasley, who turned 24 earlier this month and remains a 6-foot-10, 235-pound and heavily tattooed enigma. “Hey, I definitely want the fans to support me and understand me, but I realize with my past, it’s a long shot.”
On Jan. 2, just two months into the season and three weeks after veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell tweeted that a Suns source deemed Beasley “toxic,” a headline in the USA Today screamed: “Michael Beasley has bottomed out in Phoenix.”
Already? Was it true?
“Tomato, to-mah-to, I guess,” Beasley said. “It really don’t matter. Only thing you can do is look forward to the future. I realize what I’m doing — career-low in every category. But it’s time to, like I said, I’m going to go hard. I feel like if I play hard, I have great games, not even great games, good games. I haven’t had a good game yet, haven’t had a great game in a while. If I play hard I have good games, we win most of the time.”
Interim Suns coach Lindsey Hunter, who served as director of player development before being promoted in the wake of Alvin Gentry‘s recent firing, said he worked closely in his previous post with Beasley and earned a mutual trust, yet he’s at a loss to explain the player’s early missteps when this was supposed to be a fresh start, a clean slate.
Yet, through Hunter’s words comes the depth of the task at hand to transform this young, often troubled player who has no practical foundation of discipline or even organization to build upon, into a cornerstone of a franchise, or at the least, a reliable teammate.
“He’s still growing. He has a lot of room to grow and I think he’s willing to do that. And we’re challenging him,” Hunter said. “He’s been on a couple of different teams and people have given up on him. We feel like if we give you all the tools you need to get yourself together than we’re giving you a great opportunity and you should take advantage of it. And he has.
“He’s wanting to change, wanting to get himself together, get himself, like, have a schedule for himself,” Hunter continued. “Those are things we take for granted, but Mike has probably never done that in his life. And so once we get him to understanding that, hey, put all this together and basketball will be easy, then he’ll be great.”
That day seems far away as the Suns’ front office is faced with no easy answers.
Beasley, as he attests, is averaging career lows across the board: 10.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 21.5 mpg and a 39.3 field-goal percentage. After rifling through the chicken finger basket and dressing for the game while rapping out loud the inaudible lyrics streaming through his headphones, Beasley managed 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting and four rebounds. He recorded a team-worst minus-17 in 20 minutes and the Suns lost for the 30th time in 45 games.
Beasley’s game was particularly disappointing coming off the previous night’s 25-point effort as the Suns went toe-to-toe with the Spurs in San Antonio before wilting late. In fact, in the previous six games, Beasley produced some of his best-scoring games of the season such as scoring 20 points in a win at Chicago after having gone five consecutive games with two points or less, and then 19 points in another rare road win at Sacramento.
Ever since his one season at Kansas State, nothing is certain with Beasley. Will he change? Is it possible? Only Beasley can really know if it is.
“It’s life. My past is my past and mine’s not pretty. Nobody has a pretty past,” Beasley said. “Everybody in the world did things they regret, are not proud of. I get that a lot from a lot of different people saying, ‘Man, in my 20s, you’ve got a long way to go to mess up as bad as I did.’ I say that because we all have pasts, every single one of us. Nobody’s perfect.
“We all have things we’re not that proud of, things we wish we could take back. The great ones learn from them and that’s what I did, I learned from my mistakes. The lunatics just make the same mistakes.”
By the final year of his deal, and for their sake hopefully sooner, the Suns will for sure know which one they’re dealing with.
The Phoenix Suns either are fast-tracking their hiring process in replacement of former head coach Alvin Gentry or they’re punting.
As noted here at Hang Time Friday, Lindsey Hunter – the Suns’ player development coordinator and longtime NBA guard with the Detroit Pistons and four other teams – was named interim head coach Sunday morning, with the requisite news conference scheduled for noon Phoenix time.
What isn’t clear yet is whether Hunter got the job over three Suns assistant coaches because president of basketball ops Lon Babby and owner Robert Sarver are veering hard toward player development, with Hunter eventually firmed up and afforded significant time as part of the club’s rebuilding. Or whether Hunter truly is an interim, as in a placeholder for a more permanent hire to be made in the calm of the offseason.
There is a third possibility, of course: Hunter might be a brilliant head coach-in-waiting whose potential was too enticing for Babby and Sarver to pass up. That too could explain why more experienced coaches Elston Turner, Igor Kokoskov and Dan Majerle were leapfrogged in Sunday’s move. (Noel Gillespie, another Suns assistant, apparently was not a candidate for this opening.)
Turner was Gentry’s lead assistant and a veteran of 14 seasons working NBA sidelines. Kokoskov has been an assistant for 13 seasons, bringing Euro cred as the first full-time non-American to serve in the capacity with the L.A. Clippers and Detroit.
Majerle is a popular former Suns player working from the bench since 2008 who handles head coaching duties of Phoenix’s summer league entries.
Hunter worded for the Suns in scouting before being hired in August to the player-development post, a job he held briefly with Chicago. Drafted out of Jackson State in 1993, the No. 10 overall pick played 17 season in the NBA, mostly with Detroit. He averaged 8.5 points and 2.7 assists in 937 games, earning championship rings in 2002 with the Lakers and in 2004 in a return stint with the Pistons.
Meanwhile, Gentry – a whole two days into idleness – took to Twitter in an attempt to fill his time. (He was due for some anyway with a five-day gap between Suns games – they don’t play again until Wednesday in Sacramento – but now that will be Hunter’s minicamp.)
ok i'm already bored!!! Need some suggestions as to what to do to fill the day. Lets hear some good ones— Alvin Gentry (@AlvinGentry) January 20, 2013
So fire away with suggestions on two fronts. One, as long as the Suns are using that “interim” tag, what should they do regarding a permanent head coach? And two, how might Gentry spend his free time beside blobbing on the coach to watch two football games.
Gentry took over for Terry Porter in the middle of the 2008-09 season, took the Suns to the Western Conference finals in 2010, and compiled a 158-144 record with the Suns. But in the wake of Steve Nash‘s departure, the Suns put together a flawed roster. After Thursday’s loss to the Bucks, they’ve lost 13 of their last 15 games and stand in last place in the West at 13-28.
Despite some offensive talent, the Suns rank 23rd in offensive efficiency and have the league’s worst offense (95.8 points per 100 possessions) since Christmas. Defensively, they rank 26th, though they were decent on that end of the floor whenever Michael Beasley was on the bench.
The Suns have parted ways with coach Alvin Gentry after the team posted its worst record for the first half of a season in 25 years.
An interim coach was not immediately known, although lead assistant coach Elston Turner would be the next in line and has been a finalist for other league head coaching jobs.
The Suns lost at home Thursday night to Milwaukee for the first time in 26 years to fall to 13-28, the franchise’s worst midpoint record since the 1987-88 team went 13-28 coming out of the drug scandal.
Gentry, Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver and President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby had a late-night meeting but Gentry was not let go at that time. A decision was made Friday morning.
Gentry follows Lakers coach Mike Brown, Nets coach Avery Johnson and Bucks coach Scott Skiles out the door this season. Reports have player development coach Lindsey Hunter as the lead candidate to step in for Gentry.
CHICAGO – All the Los Angeles Lakers need to do to end the kvetching is to drop by the United Center for a game. If the Timberwolves want to get healthy, skip Lourdes and detour back to the Chicago Bulls’ crib on W. Madison St. Sacramento fans might even be able to save the Kings if they can steer their heroes through the cleansing waters of the visitors’ showers of the UC.
There is a famous statue of Michael Jordan outside the east end of the United Center, but these days the big gal from New York harbor would be a better fit. The NBA’s tired, its poor and its huddled masses all have taken refuge there lately.
The Phoenix Suns were the ones yearning to breathe free Saturday, dragging a 12-game road losing streak to Chicago on what would be its fourth away game in five nights. What happened? Big exhale for coach Alvin Gentry and his guys in a breezy 97-81 victory.
On Dec. 31, Father Time wanted to slap Baby New Year after sitting through Chicago’s 91-81 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, which ended the 18-game losing streak of former Bulls superstar Jordan’s squad.
There was the Christmas stinker against Houston in which the Rockets thumped the Bulls by 23 lumps of coal, er, points. Two UC losses to division rival Milwaukee in which Chicago coughed up leads of 27 and 15 points. And a hot mess against New Orleans way back in early November that seemed to set the tone, losing to the Eric Gordon- and Anthony Davis-less Hornets.
The Bulls are 10-10 at United Center this season, compared to 10-5 on the road. They are shooting worse and scoring fewer in their own building than in other teams’. None of this bears any resemblance to the Chicago-in-Chicago record established in coach Tom Thibodeau’s first two seasons, when it went 62-12 while grabbing the East’s No. 1 seed in both 2010-11 and 2011-12.
It’s starting to look as if the Bulls haven’t had a home-court advantage as much as a hometown one, named Derrick Rose. No Rose equals home woes. Once as welcoming as the Bates Motel, United Center now offers the warm neon glow of a “Vacancy” sign to weary travelers.
“It’s not any given night, that’s the problem,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said after the Suns’ loss, which essentially canceled out Chicago’s rousing road victory at New York the night before. “We’re 10-10 at home, that’s not very good. It’s very average. There’s obviously a problem if we’re going on the road and beating some of the best teams, and then coming home and facing lower-echelon teams and not even competing. We have to fix it and it’s definitely something we can solve.”
That was the sense of dread before the game Saturday for many in the UC stands, that the Bulls might again play down to the competition. Then again, do that enough and you become one of those lesser teams.
Thibodeau sounds as if he has reached the point where herding the Bulls onto a plane, circling O’Hare for an hour, then busing them to a Windy City hotel Sunday night in advance of their Monday home game against Atlanta might be an option. It is little consolation to him that the rest of the Central Division is 25-50 on the road, compared to his team’s plus-5.
“I have to take a hard look at everything,” Thibodeau said. “I don’t think it’s a starting lineup, substitutions. I don’t think that’s it. It’s a team-wide thing.”
One common denominator – and the most obvious place where Rose’s absence cripples them – has been inefficient offense. The Bulls shot 36.4 percent against Phoenix, the seventh time in their 10 home losses in which they were at 41.7 percent or worse. There are few easy buckets these days for Chicago.
They’re compounding their problems, too, by boiling over instead of digging deep. In the second half Saturday, rally notions got back-burnered by four Bulls technical fouls (Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Nate Robinson and Thibodeau).
Said Noah: “We complain way too much. When things aren’t going our way, we have to find a way to stick together more and not act like it’s the end of the world. It’s just too negative.”
Considering the postgame mood, Thibodeau had a pretty good quote on the sort of team he expects. “They tell you you’re playing at midnight on the roof, you have to have guys that say, ‘Let’s get the ladders.’ “
A greater test, though, comes once they’re up there and someone takes the ladders. That’s what it feels like at United Center lately.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY –Steve Nash is just five assists from being the fifth player in NBA history to reach the 10,000-assist mark. He’ll likely reach the milestone when his Lakers visit the Houston Rockets on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV).
Most assists, NBA history
In his 17-year career, Nash has assisted 123 different teammates, none more than Amar’e Stoudemire. And most of those assists to Stoudemire were on buckets in the paint. Most of his 797 assists to Dirk Nowitzki, however, were on buckets from outside the paint.
Most assists from Steve Nash, with shot location
There are nine different players who have received exactly one assist from Nash. Among them: Avery Johnson, Sam Cassell and Dennis Rodman.
The two most efficient shots are shots from the restricted area (1.18 points per shot over the course of Nash’s career) and corner 3-pointers (1.15 points per shot). And over his career, 51 percent of Nash’s assists have come from those two areas. That’s a higher percentage than most other All-Star point guards…
Percentage of career assists to high-efficiency areas
* Does not include first two seasons of Kidd’s career
Having spent his entire career in the Western Conference, Nash has racked up at least 500 assists against four different teams in the West.
Steve Nash – Most assists by opponent
Nash tends to be more of a distributor early in the game. His highest assist ratio (percentage of his possessions in which he records an assist) is highest in the first quarter and lowest in the fourth.
Steve Nash – Assists by quarter
Nash has recorded his most assists on Wednesdays, but tends to be more giving on Sundays…
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Points, rebounds and assists are nice, but plus-minus is the most important stat in basketball.
Teams win games by outscoring their opponent, and plus-minus reflects how much a team has done that in a player’s minutes on the floor. If a player isn’t scoring, he can help his teammates score and also prevent the opponent from doing so.
But in basketball, with nine other guys on the floor affecting what each player does, plus-minus always needs context, and lots of it. Who is a guy playing his minutes with? Who is he not playing his minutes with?
Furthermore, sample size is important. Single-game plus-minus can help tell a story about key sequences or the impact of a player or two on a particular night. But if you really want to get a good idea of how a team performs when a player or group of players is on the floor, you’ve got to look at a large chunk of games.
At this point in the season, we can get a pretty good idea of where teams are strong and weak. Through Thursday, 224 players have logged at least 500 minutes for one team this season.
Measuring the difference in a team’s offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) when a player is on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor, here are the league’s five biggest difference makers, as well as a pair at the bottom of the list.
For all of them, the discrepancy between their team’s defensive numbers with them on and off the floor is as much about the guys replacing them as it is about what they’re doing themselves.
1. Kevin Garnett, Celtics
Because the Celtics use a unique substitution pattern with KG, you can get a pretty clear idea of the impact he makes. No other Celtics regular has played more 63 percent of his minutes with Garnett.
You probably figured Garnett would be at or near the top of this list, but 14.4 points per 100 possessions? That’s an amazing number, and it’s an indictment on Brandon Bass (382 minutes with Garnett off the floor), Jared Sullinger (331) and Chris Wilcox (297) … and Paul Pierce (391) and Rajon Rondo (432).
It’s also an endorsement of both former Celtics center Greg Stiemsma and guard Avery Bradley, because the Celtics’ defense only fell off 0.5 points per 100 possessions when Garnett stepped off the floor last season.
Bradley’s return (he made his 2012-13 debut on Wednesday) offers some hope, but interior defense will continue to be an issue whenever Garnett rests. (more…)