Posts Tagged ‘pistons’

Drummond Continues Payoff For Pistons

VIDEO: Andre Drummond earns a Block of the night nod

The latest statement about the progress of Andre Drummond came Thursday when he was named as one of the 28 players under initial consideration for the World Cup of Basketball this summer. It’s an additional credibility boost as he averages 12.6 points, 12.6 rebounds and 1.83 blocks while shooting 60.4 percent for the Pistons. Another could soon follow, with the All-Star reserves being announced next week and Drummond a strong candidate for the Eastern Conference.

This is the guy who lasted until No. 9 in the 2012 draft, the center with a supposed lack of focus that caused him to be labeled a risk pick who may never play hard enough to realize his potential, a prospect with an imposing body (6-10, 270) and athleticism compared to the once-upon-a-time Amar’e Stoudemire. That same Drummond needed less than two seasons for the major endorsement from USA Basketball and the possibility of another from East coaches in voting for All-Star reserves.

A lot of teams gambled and lost. They were worried about Drummond’s wandering play in one season at Connecticut and, understandably so, went in another direction on June 28, 2012, and have watched the Pistons benefit by simply holding their arms out to catch a top talent who practically landed right on top of them. There was obviously a risk for Detroit as well, coming off 25-41 season and in desperate need of dependable, but also the reality at that point that the upside and talent far outweighed the wager.

This is no surprise success story, in other words. Drummond was arguably the second-best prospect on the board, behind Anthony Davis as the clear No. 1. The judgment for front offices was partly whether Drummond would develop enough on offense to not force his side to play four-on-five with the ball, but mostly about the intangibles of gauging his desire to be great. In January of 2014, only two of the eight teams that picked before the Pistons are off the hook, another probably is, and a fourth could still get cleared.

The top of the 2012 draft:

  • 1. Davis, Hornets/Pelicans.

The right choice then, the right choice now. As long as he shakes the early problem of annoying, but relatively minor, injuries, Davis is going to be a superstar.

Updated perspective: Good call.

  • 2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats

Charlotte’s thinking was understandable: They were one season into a major investment in Bismack Biyombo, an over-investment as it is turning out, like the Pistons needed real traction, and went with the small forward whose motor was never doubted. Kidd-Gilchrist would never let anyone down with a lack of focus and he would deliver on defense.

Updated perspective: Bad call.

  • 3. Bradley Beal, Wizards.

Some of the continued shooting struggles (43 percent on 3s, yet 41 percent overall in a match of his rookie season) are a surprise given the scouting report coming into the league, but Beal, also under consideration by USA Basketball, still has the look of a star. He plays fearless, can handle and partners well with John Wall in the backcourt.

Updated perspective: Good call.

  • 4. Dion Waiters, Cavaliers.

Cleveland got undependable without picking Drummond. Deep into a second season, Waiters hasn’t been able to so much as hold down a starting job, can’t hit a shot, and there are serious doubts about his ability to team with franchise cornerstone Kyrie Irving. The Cavs passed on Jonas Valanciunas in 2011 (for Tristan Thompson) and Drummond in 2011, and so welcome to the season when Andrew Bynum started 19 games at center.

Updated perspective: Bad call.

  • 5. Thomas Robinson, Kings.

No explanation needed.

Updated perspective: Bad call.

  • 6. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers.

Rookie of the Year. Foundation of the resurgence. Clutch player on the 2013-14 club headed to the playoffs. On the same USA Basketball list of candidates. Portland, needing a center and willing to wait, would have looked at Drummond with No. 11, then took Meyers Leonard with Drummond off the board. Leonard has not developed and the Blazers upgraded this season with Robin Lopez. Drummond would have been a great fit alongside LaMarcus Aldridge as the desired defensive presence who would not get in the way on offense. Just not at the expense of Lillard.

Updated perspective: Good call.

  • 7. Harrison Barnes, Warriors.

The toughest read of all. Golden State had traded for Andrew Bogut some 3 ½ months earlier and believed Bogut was working his way back from an ankle injury, but also knew the value of a talented center as a safety net who could become a backup and trade chip once Bogut proved healthy. And the Warriors liked Drummond enough to make a late visit to an East Coast workout just before the draft, indicating their level of interest. Bogut’s eventual good health made it a moot point, not to mention Barnes’ contributions, so it’s a win. But it is hard not to wonder. Bogut and Barnes or Bogut and Drummond/nice trade return? Take the certainty of what actually happened.

Updated perspective: Good call.

  • 8. Terrence Ross, Raptors.

Toronto’s logic was understandable. Valanciunas was NBA bound after a season in Europe and nothing should get in the way of his development. But. But there is no such thing as too many talented centers and either Valanciunas (the better bet at the time) or Drummond could have been moved at some point. But Ross is a part-time starter struggling to score.

Updated perspective: Bad call.

  • 9. Drummond, Pistons.

Updated perspective: Good call. Very, very good call.

20 Teams Dream Big On MLK Day


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew previews all of the MLK Day action

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – More than Christmas or even All-Star weekend, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday provides the NBA a platform to showcase some of the best players and teams the league has to offer. Stars young and old, championship teams and those aspiring to join those ranks … they’ll all be on display Monday.

A total of 10 games from across the country will highlight a day of celebration of both the game and the Dream Big mantra of not only Dr. King but also the league. What to watch for during the MLK Day hoops smorgasbord, the official halfway mark of the regular season:

Dallas vs. Cleveland, 1 p.m. ET (League Pass)

The skinny: The Cavaliers are feeling good after a 3-2 road trip and look to take advantage of a Mavericks team still smarting from getting blown out by Portland Saturday night. Luol Deng has infused the Cavaliers with a new energy, much like what Monta Ellis has done all season for Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks. That loss to Portland was a wake-up call for Rick Carlisle’s team, a group riding high after winning four-of-five prior to that humiliating defeat. “We regressed. The first three quarters are beyond embarrassing,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told the team’s official website. “We weren’t playing together. We weren’t helping each other. Do that against a quality team … and they’re going to make you pay a heavy price.”

L.A. Clippers vs. Detroit, 1 p.m. ET (League Pass)

The skinny: Losses to the league’s elite have left a cloud over the Clippers’ season to this point. They look like a championship team on paper and when everything is clicking (and when everyone, Chris Paul specifically, is healthy). The Clippers are 0-5 on the road this season against the league’s top five teams, and while this game against the Pistons doesn’t provide a similar test, Clippers coach and Senior VP of basketball operations Doc Rivers is constantly evaluating his crew. “I like our team,” Rivers told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “That doesn’t mean we won’t make changes. We’re not looking to make changes, but we’re always looking just like every other team. I like our team right now. If the season ended and we had the group we have right now, I like how we look. Obviously, I’d add Chris Paul to that group — but other than that I like our team a lot.”

Toronto vs. Charlotte, 2 p.m. ET, (League Pass)

The skinny: Playoff dreams in Charlotte this season have a lot to do with Kemba Walker and how well the point guard plays at what is the league’s deepest and most difficult position. If you don’t believe it just look at what Kyle Lowry has meant to the Raptors during their post-Rudy Gay-trade renaissance. So with the news that Walker will miss the next 10-14 days with a second-degree sprain of his left ankle, the Bobcats need Ramon Sessions to step up in a major way to keep the playoff vibes alive. The Raptors, meanwhile, are 6-4 in their last 10 games and can continue their momentum with another big road win.

Philadelphia vs. Washington, 2 p.m. ET (League Pass)

The skinny: The Wizards are trying desperately to reach the .500 mark, for both tangible and symbolic reasons. The break even mark gives them a chance to climb above .500 as they continue their playoff chase. And getting above that mark allows them to think about themselves in a different light, as they continue to work through the inconsistencies that have plagued their season. They haven’t had a winning record since starting the 2009-10 season 2-1. “Somebody just needs to not tell us our record and we’ll just go out and play,” shooting guard Bradley Beal said. “Every time they tell us ‘.500,’ we just pressure ourselves too much and end up not showing up.” Wizards point guard John Wall and his Sixers counterpart Michael Carter-Williams better show up for their showdown.

Brooklyn vs. New York, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

The skinny: There’s no shortage of subplots in this Battle of the Boroughs. Both Knicks coach Mike Woodson and Nets coach Jason Kidd have survived all of the turmoil of the early season and, courtesy of a feeble Eastern Conference playoff field, remain in the thick of the hunt for postseason positions. The Knicks are still dealing with myriad injury issues, not to mention the ongoing J.R. Smith drama. The Nets just want a little payback after the Knicks beat the starch out of them in their last meeting (a 113-83 rout on Dec. 5). “We definitely do,” Nets point guard Shaun Livingston told ESPNNewYork.com. “They came in and beat us pretty well at our place. We have to take that upon ourselves and take it personally. We’ve got to come and compete.”


VIDEO: Pacers big man Roy Hibbert encourages the children at an Indianapolis elementary to Dream Big

New Orleans vs. Memphis, 5 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

The skinny: The Grizzlies five-game win streak is tied with the Portland Trail Blazers for the best current run in the league. The surge couldn’t have come at a better time for a team that has been bolstered by the return of All-Star center Marc Gasol. He will do his best to help take advantage of an injury-plagued Pelicans team that doesn’t know if it’s coming or going. Even with Anthony Davis playing out of his mind, the Pelicans cannot find a groove. Davis is averaging 22.4 points and 11.1 rebounds during the Pelicans’ eight-game skid, both above his season averages. But he needs help if the Pelicans are going to avoid sliding all the way down the ladder in the Western Conference. “It’s adversity,” Davis said. “We have to learn how to deal with it.”

Miami vs. Atlanta, 5:30 p.m. ET (League Pass)

The skinny: The best way for the Heat to shake out of their recent funk is to continue to find inspiration wherever they can. For LeBron James, it’s watching his biggest rival and good friend, Thunder star Kevin Durant, who has been on a tear of late.  The unfortunate recipient of LeBron’s wrath could end up being the Hawks. Because Durant has raised the bar, even for a LeBron. “I do a lot of checking and seeing what guys have done overnight,” James told ESPN.com’s Heat Index of keeping up with the performances of other players. “After every game, I always go … and see what guys did. I didn’t have to look too far to see what K.D. did last night. As soon as I looked at my phone, a family member of mine said, ‘K.D. had 54, you only had 21. You stink.’ So, there it is.”

L.A. Lakers vs. Chicago, 8 p.m. ET (League Pass)

The skinny: It’s tough to get excited about these two teams squaring off when their best players are wearing designer suits instead of uniforms. It’s a good thing the Lakers and Bulls have learned how to operate without Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose, respectively. To their credit, the Lakers enter the game riding the wave, however slight it might be, of a two-game win streak. That’s a good way to hit the halfway mark of the season for team that has to feel like it’s endured 82-games worth of tumult already. “We just have a lot of injuries and a lot of stuff,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after Sunday’s win over the Raptors. “We got some guys who are improving and we’re not as good as we’d like to be, obviously this last stretch really knocked us for a loop, but our whole goal is to get back and win one at a time and play well, just get better, keep our energy up and our spirits up and see if we can have a good second half.”

Portland vs. Houston, 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

The skinny: It’s funny the way things work out sometimes in the NBA. The Trail Blazers are every bit of the elite, title-contending team most of the pundits predicted the Rockets would be last summer when they landed Dwight Howard in free agency. The Blazers have done it all season with a steady mix of LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and arguably the most underrated supporting cast in the league. It won’t be that way for long if it’s up to Nic Batum, who told our very own Jeff Caplan that he believe he’s an All-Star. “You know, KD, is way up there, so can’t reach him he’s so far. But the West has to take a small forward after KD; I think it should be me. The West is crazy. I talked about it with Tony Parker two nights ago — I had dinner with him — that in the West, for a bench, to pick seven guys is pretty tough. KD is going to start at small forward, but I know if I get a chance to be on the bench to be a backup to KD, I would be very happy to do it.”

Indiana vs. Golden State, 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

The skinny: Paul George‘s 360 dunk has been the talk of the basketball world the past 24 hours and rightfully so. But that one dunk shouldn’t overshadow what is a most appropriate nightcap of a monster day of hoops. We get the most consistent team in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the league against arguably the most exciting team, though not the most consistent, in the league. George, Steph Curry, Lance Stephenson and Klay Thompson will provide the offensive fireworks. But the fellas up front on both sides love to mix it up (David West‘s pockets are $15,000 lighter after he was fined for that elbow to the jaw of the Clippers’ Blake Griffin). Keep an eye on West, Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi of the Pacers and Andrew Bogut, David Lee and HT fave Draymond Green of the Warriors. They’ll wage their own battle during the game.


VIDEO: Pacers star Paul George leads the top 10 dunks of the week

Free-Agent Barometer: Boom or Bust

Back in the hot fun of summertime, when there seem to be more dollars available than grains of sand, every free-agent signing is made to feel like a day at the beach.

Now, as we approach halfway mark of the season, it’s time to take the temperature:

GLOWING


VIDEO: Relive Dwight Howard’s signing with the Houston Rockets

Dwight Howard, Rockets — There are times when he is too passive and does not demand the ball enough from all of the inexperienced hands in the Houston lineup. But a healthy, happy Howard has been everything the Rockets hoped for when they forked over $88.5 million to lure him away from the Lakers. There is a bounce to his step and joy to his game that had been missing since the 2008-09 season in Orlando. With him in the middle and playing off James Harden, the Rockets are on track to eventually becoming a championship contender.

Andre Iguodala, Warriors — Don’t try to pigeonhole him or stick on a label as an elite defender or a greyhound that thrives in the transition game. He is simply a wonderful all around player that can do whatever is necessary in any situation. He was the spark that lifted the Nuggets a year ago to a franchise-best 57 wins and he’s moved to Golden State to become a difference-maker for the Warriors. For all of the (deserving) All-Star accolades to Stephen Curry and attention paid to Klay Thompson, Iguodala is the one that makes this fun and entertaining team truly dangerous.

Paul Millsap, Hawks — When it finally came time for the Hawks to cut the cord with Josh Smith, they went for his polar opposite. Not at all flamboyant, never trying to things outside his job description, Millsap comes to work every night and never leaves his team feeling shortchanged. His two-year, $19 million contract might have been the best free-agent bargain of the summer and he’s fit right in perfectly on the frontline in Atlanta. He’s blue-collar ways in the low post and on the boards has been needed even more since Atlanta lost Al Horford for the season.

Al Jefferson, Bobcats — One thing rookie coach Steve Clifford knew was that for the Bobcats to pick themselves up from their semi-permanent residence on the Eastern Conference floor, they needed a low-post presence to get some hard-fought points in the paint. He suffered an ankle injury in training camp and started slow, but once Jefferson got his legs under him, he’s averaged 16.8 points and 10 rebounds. It’s no coincidence that Charlotte (16 wins) is a sure bet to surpass last season’s 21-win campaign.


VIDEO: NBA Action catches up with Mavericks guard Monta Ellis

Monta Ellis, Mavericks — We won’t go as far as Dallas owner Mark Cuban to say that the jury is still out on whether Ellis or Howard is the free-agent catch of the season. After all, we’re pretty sure Cuban would make a 1-for-1 swap right now. As coach of the Warriors years ago, ex-Mavs coach Don Nelson called Ellis selfish. But the once shot-happy Ellis has reined some of his tendencies and found a comfortable home in Dallas. He’s averaging 5.8 apg and his upbeat production is keeping the Mavs alive in the West playoff race.

Kevin Martin, Timberwolves — Every team he’s played on throughout a 10-year NBA career has gotten efficiency and production. He’s one of those players who can give you 20 points a game on a minimum number of shots due to a knack for drawing free throws. There have been many things lacking for Minnesota during another underachieving run, but Martin has come through with the kind of numbers — 19.3 points per game — that were expected.

SUNBURNED


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses where Andrew Bynum may end up next

Andrew Bynum, CavaliersSigning him to a two-year, $24 million contract (that was only half-guaranteed in Season 1) was supposed to make it a no-brainer for the Cavs. Of course, the no brain place continues to be between Bynum’s ears as he quickly alienated teammates, the coaching staff and the entire organization. He had a pair of 20-point games with 13 and 10 rebounds. But his biggest positive effect was as a payroll-slashing trade chip that eventually brought in Luol Deng.

Josh Smith, Pistons — Don’t let Joe Dumars near your piggy bank. Four years ago, the general manager wasted a Brinks truck full of money to bring in Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and put the Pistons into a deep hole. This time Dumars dug deeper with his idea that he could give $54 million for four years to Smith and put him into a super-sized front line with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Smith has clashed with coach Maurice Cheeks, found himself sitting on the bench at the end of games and still takes bad shots at a high rate. Is anybody surprised?

Chris Kaman, Lakers — The money spent by the Lakers — $3.2 million, one year — could probably have been scraped up out of the sofa cushions in the luxury suites at Staples Center. But no matter how you slice it, the thought that Kaman was going to return to L.A. and help the Lakers in their most trying season was laughable in hindsight. Kaman has never found a way into the rotation, has frequently expressed his displeasure with coach Mike D’Antoni and now spends more time lobbing verbal bombs in frustration than tracking down rebounds or shooting.

IN THE SHADE

Tyreke Evans, Pelicans — With Jrue Holiday out of the lineup indefinitely with a stress fracture in his leg and the team still reportedly trying to trade Eric Gordon, this would be the time when Evans can step up and really shine. He’s been far from a bust and doggedly fought to keep himself in the Pelicans’ lineup despite the fact that he keeps reinsuring a sprained left ankle. But that $44 million, four-year contract raises expectations for more than 12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. At this point, the jury is still out.

Howard Had No Idea Shoestrings Incident With J.R. Smith Would Lead To This!




VIDEO: Knicks guard J.R. Smith has some issues with shoelaces, as Shawn Marion finds out

ATLANTA – What started as fun and games between old friends has morphed into a full-blown mess for New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith. A mess Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard never saw coming.

Long before his $50,000 fine and benching and all of the trade rumors cranked up, Smith was just messing around with Howard during a Jan. 3 game in Houston and playfully untied Howard’s shoe at the free-throw line. He would later get Shawn Marion‘s shoelace in a game against the Mavericks  and attempted to get Josh Smith‘s (he ended up settling for Greg Monroe‘s) in a game against the Pistons on Tuesday before Knicks coach Mike Woodson and the fun/foolishness police at NBA headquarters caught up with him.

Woodson unloaded on Smith Wednesday, saying he needed to “grow up” and stop the silliness and the league followed up with that hefty fine for “recurring instance of unsportsmanlike conduct.”  Woodson benched Smith for Thursday’s win over the Miami Heat and now the fallout and trade chatter is cranked all the way up heading into this weekend.

“It was just a guy trying to have fun,” Howard said Friday morning at Philips Arena before the Rockets faced the Atlanta Hawks. “I didn’t think it would turn into a big fine. It’s crazy.”

Howard, always a prankster, had plans for retaliation.

“I tried to get him back,” he said. “But I’m glad I didn’t … could have lost some money.”

It could wind up costing Smith a whole lot more than just cash.


VIDEO: The Inside crew discusses J.R. Smith and his future with the Knicks

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 23


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sometimes Love isn’t enough | Stephenson spoils Indy return for Stevens | Pistons ride roller coaster | Wade’s Holiday surprise

No. 1: Timberwolves get monster effort from Love and still lose – Kevin Love has been toiling like this now for a while. He puts up monster numbers, epic numbers often, only to see his Minnesota Timberwolves come up short in seemingly winnable games. Sunday night was no different, with Love posting just the fourth 45-points on 65-percent shooting, 15-rebounds and 5-assist game since the NBA/ABA merger and the Timberwolves found a way to fumble away a late lead in regulation and lose to the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime.

It makes you wonder if the Timberwolves are ever going to figure things out with this particular group … Rick Adelman in charge, Love and Ricky Rubio leading the way and Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic and others as role players.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com ponders the thought:

It’s getting harder and harder to believe in Minnesota, even for those among us who were ready to anoint them as this season’s Warriors. It all looked so promising six weeks ago. The Wolves were quickly mastering Adelman’s read-and-react offense from the high post and perimeter, but could also bully opponents down on the block.

The defense wasn’t half-bad either. Through the end of November, the Wolves ranked 9th in defensive efficiency. They didn’t have a legitimate rim protector on the roster, but they had good size, Ricky Rubio’s pressure up top, Corey Brewer’s skills as a stopper on the wing, and a very large man in Pekovic who nobody wants to encounter in the paint.

The December schedule hasn’t been terribly friendly, but the Wolves have been terrible, their big home win over Portland last Wednesday the one strand of hope. The offense looks nothing like anything Adelman has ever presided over. Half-court possessions are labored affairs, slow grinds into post isolations for either Love or Pekovic.

Martin has battled a knee injury for much of the month and hasn’t looked like himself. As a linchpin of the corner offense, Martin is often a bellwether for Adelman offenses, and if he’s not producing, chances are the offense is dragging.

The Wolves’ 3-and-D guy, Brewer, is shooting 17.1 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, defenses willingly slough off Rubio, practically begging him to shoot. With his confidence waning, Rubio is still racking up assists, but is less a playmaker than a reversal machine, swinging the ball to the second side without truly challenging the defense.

Speaking of defense, the Wolves have given up 106.6 points per 100 possession, a mark that would rank 28th in the NBA. Asked to identify the specific problem prior to the game, Adelman said, “We’re not guarding anybody.” Those big bodies now just look slow. Whether it’s Martin or J.J. Barea alongside Rubio, the Wolves don’t get much defensively at the 2. Brewer has conceded that his wayward shot is affecting his defense.

***

No. 2: Stephenson’s triple double trumps homecoming for Stevens – So much for that storybook homecoming for former Butler and now Celtics coach Brad Stevens. The Indiana Pacers, particularly Lance Stephenson, were having no part of the Holiday cheer. Stephenson collected his league-leading third triple-double of the season as the Pacers trounced the Celtics. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t help but dance a little bit (something Pacers coach Frank Vogel could have done without) on his way to yet another stellar performance.

Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star explains:

Stephenson finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and looked very much like a player deserving of his first All-Star berth. No other player in the NBA has more than one triple-double this season.

“I’m happy I did it,” he said. “It was in the flow of the game. My teammates helped me out. We played smart. It was easy because I know my teammates are going to knock down shots.”

Stephenson did get plenty of help, most notably from Paul George, who scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Danny Granger, playing in his just his second game after returning from a calf strain, was 4-for-5 from 3-point range and had 12 points. Roy Hibbert had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

But his teammates acknowledged afterward that Stephenson provides them an emotional lift like no one else.

“He’s just starting the game off more aggressively,” George said. “In practice, he’s been great. We’ve seen it develop over time. Now, when he gets into the game, it’s second nature to him.”

Added veteran forward David West: “One of the biggest things for young guys in the NBA is that once you work your way into the rotation and you become a guy we rely on, that just fills you up. We give him a lot of room to go out and play his game. … He definitely keeps us on our toes and keeps things light. He’s able to just do something we’ll talk about on the plane. It’s just who he is.”

Vogel wasn’t thrilled with a couple of celebration dances Stephenson did after baskets, but didn’t have much else to complain about.

“He’s such a gifted passer and playmaker for us and a huge part of our team success,” Vogel said.

STEVENS‘The emotions are in coming back and seeing friends’

Stevens, the former Butler coach who left the school in July to join the Celtics, got a warm ovation during pregame warmups and his team kept it close for one quarter.

But after that, the Pacers (22-5) showed why they have the Eastern Conference’s best record. They outscored Boston 50-22 in the paint, got 40 points from their bench and held the Celtics to just 38.1 percent shooting (32-for-84) en route to an easy victory.

As the game ended, Stevens shook hands with Vogel, a rarity at the end of a NBA game. He also shook the hand of several Pacers players.

“It was just because we’re friends and we know each other well,” said Vogel, noting they also shook hands after the Pacers’ 97-82 victory in Boston last month. “I came down and told him he was doing a great job with that team.”

***

No. 3: Pistons’ roller coaster season confounds – If Maurice Cheeks had the answers he’d have pushed those buttons already. But he doesn’t and he hasn’t. And therefore, the curious ride of the Detroit Pistons continues as the coach and his staff try to figure out how to stop the roller coaster ride that is their season and stabilize things. That’s a lot easier said than done, however, as Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News points out:

The last two home games, losses to the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Bobcats on consecutive nights over the weekend, is a clear example of nobody knowing which team will step on the floor on a given night.

“You know we’re still trying to get better,” Cheeks said. “As I said to our players, there’s going to be some good nights and bad nights. Last night (Friday) and (Saturday) was not our best.”

Cheeks believes the Bobcats loss led to the poor showing against the Rockets. The Pistons blew a 20-point lead to Charlotte on Friday and looking almost apathetic on Saturday.

“I believe there could’ve been some carryover,” Cheeks said. “I can’t discount that because it was a tough loss.”

Losing five of six at home is an unexpected circumstance, although there isn’t much shame in losing to the Miami Heat in a game where the champions were intent on sending a message.

But blowout losses to the Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves are combined with come-from-ahead losses to the Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers, mixed in with a win against the Brooklyn Nets that was tougher than it needed to be.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I guess that’s determined when we go up and down the floor a few times,” said forward Josh Smith, when asked about getting a pulse on the team’s energy before games.

.***

No. 4: Wade surprises Union with Holiday ring – Heat guard Dwyane Wade has no problem mixing business with pleasure. He used Heat boss Pat Riley‘s annual Holiday party as his impromptu engagement party after officially popping the question to longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union before they arrived at Riley’s affair. The surprise engagement was announced via social media. But Union showing up with a huge diamond ring on her finger added an extra dash of flair to the festivities, upstaging Riley at his own gig in the process, not that anyone was complaining about that. In fact, Wade popping the question was a bit of a team effort, so says Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:

Wade proposed to Union before the party at his home and then announced the engagement on Twitter and Instagram.

Wade said his children helped him pop the question.

“We asked her to marry all of us, not just me,” Wade said. “It was a package deal.”

Wade and Union have dated since 2007.

“She was ready,” Wade said. “She had the ‘yes’ in her back pocket.”

At the holiday party, Wade then surprised his teammates with green custom-made sports coats commemorating their 2013 championship. The blazers featured the players’ jersey numbers on the sleeves and white Heat logos on the front pockets.

Wade said his inspirations for the unique mementos were the Masters golf tournament and Rasheed Wallace. Wallace famously had pro wrestling-style replica championship belts made for his Pistons teammates for winning the 2004 NBA Finals. Wade liked Wallace’s idea but wanted something a little classier.

Said Wade: “You know me, I’m always trying to do something different and out of the norm, and I started thinking about what have previous champions done … and then it came to be me, because of fashion and because of the Masters and how amazing it is when they win the green jacket and all the previous winners come back and take pictures with the green jackets and how prestigious it is … so I got with my stylist and created this Masters kind of feel.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Thunder fell victim to the red-hot Raptors and the schedule in their first home loss of the season Sunday … Much like their NFL counterparts, the Dallas Mavericks are having no problems scoring. It’s the defense that they are struggling with these days … The Hawks have brought big man Lucas Nogueira to Atlanta for treatment of his ailing knees.

ICYMI Of The Night: Kevin Love put up the stat line of the night and delivered the elbow of the week, but Blake Griffin got the win, the knot on his forehead and the shine on Nightly Notable …


VIDEO: Blake Griffin gets the shiner (on his forehead) and the shine in the end

Cheeks Wants Jennings To Step Up On ‘D’


VIDEO: Detroit at New Orleans, Dec. 11, 2013

NEW ORLEANS — Brandon Jennings filled up the hoop with 25 points, grabbed five rebounds and dealt out four assists.

As usual, that wasn’t the issue.

The Pistons have now lost three consecutive games and went down on back-to-back nights in large part because the middle of their defense might as well be a landing strip.

Brandon Jennings

Brandon Jennings (Dan Lippitt/NBAE)

On Tuesday night, the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio ransacked The Palace by doing almost anything he pleased. Barely 24 hours later it was Jrue Holiday along with Tyreke Evans (on a tender ankle) who took apart the Pistons with dribble penetration.

There is room for all of the routine excuses — the Pistons are the fourth-youngest team in the NBA, they have so many different new parts still learning about each other and how to play together. But Wednesday night they played a Pelicans team that was without its best player in Anthony Davis and overcoming a horrid 6-for-18 shooting night from Ryan Anderson – and they still found a way to get past Detroit.

Mostly that way was straight down the middle.

A Pistons team that should have a stifling front line of the sizable Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith has a defense that is ranked 19th in the NBA for a variety of reasons. Much of the problem begins at the top where opposing guards are usually able to run as free as colts in a meadow.

It’s enough to make Detroit fans long for the days of the Bad Boys and a couple of good forearm shivers.

That’s why coach Maurice Cheeks is looking for his point guard, Jennings, to take on his share of the defensive burden.

When he was asked whether he might “hide” Jennings in a run of three straight games against high powered point guards Holiday, Deron Williams (Nets) and Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) by switching the assignment to rookie Kentavious Pope-Caldwell, Cheeks threw down the gauntlet.

“Yeah he’d be up for the challenge,” Cheeks said of the rookie. “But if you’re going to be good, and I’m going to say this again, a good point guard, I don’t like the word ‘hide’. I want the guy who’s guarding the ball, who’s running my team, to guard that guy, if you’re going to be good.”

Since he popped in 55 points as a rookie with the Bucks, Jennings has been all about his offensive ability. But in a league where point guard skill is more abundant than ever, if Jennings is going to get back into the headlines and crack the upper echelon, he’ll have to stop relying on his big men to cover up for his mistakes and lack of commitment on defense.

Cheeks, who was one of the best on-the-ball defenders during his 15-year NBA career, wants his point guard to take the challenge personally.

“I think Jennings has a chance to be very good,” Cheeks said. “I keep talking about steps. “You take steps, you get better at defending your position. That’s how you become one of those elite players. You don’t become elite by having someone else guard your guy.”

13 NBA Reasons To Be Thankful


VIDEO: NBA players give thanks for their communities and more

Before we dig into the turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie, here’s a baker’s dozen things on the NBA plate to appreciate on Thanksgiving Day:

Kobe Bryant: We get two more years — at least — of the most ruthless, relentless, never-show-a-weakness competitor the league and maybe pro sports has seen since Michael Jordan was chewing up the scenery and opponents in Chicago. In the wake of his signing a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension, we also got a slew of critiques about impact on the salary cap and physical limits of your average 35-year-old body that overlook his unquenchable thirst to play, his drive to get back onto the court for the Lakers. Love him or hate him, you’ll miss him when he’s gone.


VIDEO: The Starters talk about Kobe Bryant’s new deal

The Heat Wave: Never mind that the Celtics did it in 2008 with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the Celtics did it in 1980 with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, the Celtics did all through the late ‘50s and 1960s with Bill Russell and an entire wing of the Hall of Fame and the Lakers did it with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. The Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami is just what the doctored ordered in the overreactive, hypersensitive age of social media — something to cheer, complain and obsess about. And, oh yeah, they’re damn good.

LeBron James: For all of the disappointment over not getting to the top in Cleveland, bad judgment and bad taste of “The Decision,” he took his talents to South Beach and has delivered on the promise. Would Jordan or Bird or Magic or Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell have stood up to the 24/7 scrutiny under which James has played his entire career? Be thankful you get to see him now, because 20-30 years from now you’ll be bragging to the grandkids that you did.


VIDEO: LeBron James is off to a monster start again this season

Riquickulous: It’s not just a clever TV commercial for Nike. On almost any night he laces up his sneakers, it never gets old to know that the game’s greatest ball handler and top point guard Chris Paul is quite likely to pull off a variation of the “the pull-back-hop-step-under-the-left-leg-behind-the-back-right-hand-two-dribble-half-pokey-crossover-between-two-defenders-drop-step-take-tweet-through-over-the-shoulder-pop-pass-into-the-sidestep-power-jump-stop-double-clutch-offhand-reverse-floater-layin.”

Anybody need me to repeat that?


VIDEO: Chris Paul puts a ridiculous move on the Rockets’ Jeremy Lin

The Spurs Way: They’re the often unseen lining on the inside of an expensive fur coat, the overlooked soles on the bottom of a pair of $1,000 designer shoes. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and all of the stability and professionalism they stand for in San Antonio prove that you don’t have to live in the headlines to be deserving of them.

John, Paul George & Ringo: Because of where they’re from, because of who they are, the Pacers will likely never be known as the Fab Four or Five, even if they’re lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. It’s a team-wide commitment to the task that has the Pacers steely-eyed and focused on the rolling up the best record in the league. But watching the growth and transformation of George from talented rookie into team leader and MVP candidate has been nothing short of breathtaking.


VIDEO: NBA Action takes a closer look at Indiana’s fast start to 2013-14

LaMarcus Aldridge: Another MVP candidate from another team with a geographical handicap that keeps the world of headlines and acclaim from beating a path to his door. The Blazers forward could have become discouraged and looked to bail out of Portland after three straight non-playoff seasons in the prime of his career. Instead he’s doing it all and having his best season in the NBA Go ahead, tell me you saw 13-3 coming.


VIDEO: The Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge has helped Portland start off solid

Gregg Popovich vs. Craig Sager: Those terse, contentious in-game chats on TNT between the acerbic Spurs coach and a guy wearing one of Secretariat’s old stable blankets are some of the most uncomfortable and hilarious bits in the history of television. Other sideline reporters have tried to horn in on the act, but this is Ali-Frazier of the genre.

Russell Westbrook: Yes, he’s wild, restless, unpredictable, flamboyant, stubborn and burn-down-the-house crazy at times on the court. But we watch him with our jaws dropped because of those traits. I know you expected me to say Kevin Durant, and I have nothing but respect for K.D.’s silky smooth, just-go-about-his-business approach to the game. But when it comes to the Thunder, you can’t help but be drawn to the lightning.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook runs wild on the Nuggets in Oklahoma City’s victory

Love Story: Everybody knew he could rebound coming out of UCLA, but not like this. Everybody knew he could shoot and score and pass when he entered the NBA. But not like this. There are still general managers in the league who foolishly label Kevin Love as “unathletic” every year in their annual poll and you have to wonder how they keep their paycheck or any sense of credibility. The Timberwolves power forward is challenging LeBron in the early MVP race with a game that is deliciously well-rounded.


VIDEO: Kevin Love is leading the league in rebounding

Stephen Curry: Slender as a reed and maybe as frail as a snowflake, Curry is delicate yet dangerous, in some ways the 21st century version of George Gervin because he can shoot with such ease and from unexpected angles and barely ever looks like he’s breaking a sweat. It’s his propensity for injuries that makes you want to take in as much as you can see right now, just in case.

Andre Miller: He’s old and slow … and he’s been that way for what seems like decades now. But at 37 and in his 15th season, if you bounced him out of Denver right now and into Chicago, the Bulls would have just the smart, tough point guard they need to stay in the Eastern Conference race. There’s something about watching an experienced, heady veteran surviving and thriving that is satisfying.

Motor City Jerseys: OK, let’s not get carried away and see Kobe wearing “La-La Land,” Dwight Howard “H-Town” or LeBron “South Beach” across his chest. Detroit and the Motor City nickname has history, tradition, staying power. It really means something to a town that has taken its share of lumps and bruises through the years and a franchise with a long-standing championship pedigree. The Pistons in the Motor City jerseys are just, well, cool.

Have Grizzlies Lost Their Bite?

VIDEO: The Grizzlies needed everything they had to get their only win of the year so far

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — “It gets late early out there.”

Yogi Berra was talking about the left field shadows at the old Yankee Stadium. But he could have been referring to the shadow of former coach Lionel Hollins in Memphis.

Not even a week into the 2013-14 season and there seems to be something missing from the Grizzlies. Teeth and claws.

Or as they call it at the FedEx Forum, “Grit and Grind.”

It’s unwise to read too much into just the first three sips from an 82-game regular season. Otherwise we’d be guzzling the Kool-Aid of the confounding 3-0 Sixers and already making hotel reservations for next June in always sunny Philadelphia.

But there are times when a few early leaks in the bucket could be cause for concern that the bottom might fall out.

The Grizzlies, who advanced to the Western Conference finals a season ago, have carried around a style and reputation as subtle as an anvil in their climb up the ranks of legitimate contenders. Yet the early returns have shown that anvil dropping onto their toes.

Were it not for a couple of timely jumpers by Tayshaun Prince in overtime on Friday that finally put down the Pistons, Memphis would be looking at an 0-3 start that might have some reaching for the panic button. As it is, it might not hurt to at least get a finger loosened up.

After an uninspiring 111-99 loss at Dallas Saturday, the Grizzlies have surrendered more than 100 points three times in three games. While on their way to winning a franchise record 56 times last season, the Grizzlies and their No. 2-rated defense allowed opponents to hit the century mark just 10 times in 82 tries.

That certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed within the locker room, as noted by Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal:

“This ain’t us,” Griz forward Zach Randolph said. “I don’t know if we’re focusing on the offense or not, but we’re a defensive team and that’s what we’ve got to hang our hats on. And another thing is we’ve got to come out faster.”

Yes, it is early. But the trend could bring out all of the fears that were left by management’s decision to let Hollins — the best coach in franchise history — walk out the door. While the thought was that rookie coach Dave Joerger would be able to put some juice into the Grizzlies offensive by getting more ball movement and a faster pace, it was not supposed to be at expense of their lockdown defense.

While the Memphis offense that had the slowest pace in the league a year ago has jumped from 17th to 13th through the opening weekend of the season, the defense has fallen from 100.3 (No. 2) to 109 (26th). Opponents’ shooting percentage is up overall, especially from behind the 3-point line. However the interior defense that is supposed to be anchored by the bruising play of Randolph and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, is being exploited regularly.

After after reeling in the Mavs with a stretch of solid defense in the middle of the game, too often the Grizzlies were simply trading baskets, giving up layups or committing interior fouls that produced a parade to the free-throw line.

“We didn’t come out and play with any force,” Joerger said. “They’re at home. You’ve got to come out and set the tone early. We did not do that. We did not defend. We didn’t cut hard.”

These are all the areas that were as much a part of the Grizzlies appearance in games as their jerseys and sneakers under Hollins. If he was often critical, sarcastic and demanding, it was because there was a purpose. If it was Tony Allen who gave their home court the “Grind House” nickname, it was Hollins who laid the foundation and planted the seeds in the front lawn.

When the Spurs eventually exploited Memphis’ lack of offensive firepower in their conference finals blitz, it was clear that an upgrade was needed in order for the Grizzlies to take the next step. Was adding 33-year-old Mike Miller enough? Definitely not if the defensive intensity was going to drop.

In a Western Conference race that has only become more crowded and contentious, the last thing the Grizzlies can afford to lose is their identity.

So with the shadow of Hollins looming, it might not be too early for the grit and grind to heed another old Yogi-ism:

“When you come to a fork in the road…take it.”

New Coaches: Five That Fit

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HANG TIME, Texas – Sometimes it’s the big things, a change in philosophy or overall team strategy that’s required to make a difference. Sometimes it’s just a new attitude, a new voice that’s needed in the locker room.

With a baker’s dozen new coaches ready to roam NBA sidelines — at least one in every division — this season, some will find the task a heavier lift than the circus wagon that holds the elephants.

Others will pick up their new teams immediately. Here are the five coaches who’ll make themselves right at home in their new digs and have the smoothest transitions:

Doc Rivers, Clippers – The veteran of previous stints with the Magic and Celtics definitely has the least room for improvement in the win column, since the Clips already won a franchise-best 56 games and their first-ever division title a year ago. But the little brothers of Staples Center won’t really shed their “second-class-citizen” image until they make a real run in the playoffs and that’s where Rivers’ experience will pay off. While they will still dance to the tune of Chris Paul’s talent on the court, Rivers will get them marching to a more serious, professional beat at both ends of the floor and in the locker room. They have to be more than just a group that jumps into the passing lanes to get steals on the defensive end and thrives on Lob City dunks on offense. He knows what it takes to win a championship and will put his stamp on the team early so we’ll notice the difference.

Mike Brown, Cavaliers — Let’s face it. Other than a fat man in an undersized Speedo, there wasn’t a more uncomfortable fit anywhere than Brown coaching the Lakers for a year and a smidgen. But now he’s back in Cleveland in a familiar role with a young team that is trying to build something special around an All-Star talent. OK, Kyrie Irving isn’t LeBron James, but he is the kind of lead horse that can pull the wagon. The truth is that these Cavaliers have a deeper collection of all-around talent than ever surrounded James, from Anderson Varejao to Tristan Thompson to Jarrett Jack to No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett and maybe a rehabilitated Andrew Bynum. Brown will emphasize what he knows best — defense — to give the Cavs a toughness and identity that, assuming Irving stays healthy, will have them back in the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left.

Jason Kidd, Nets – If it was so easy, the Naismith Hall of Fame would be filled with plaques of many more All-Stars who took off their uniforms one night and slipped easily into the role of head coach the next. There will be plenty about the nuts and bolts of the job that Kidd will have to learn as he goes along. But it helps that as point guard he already possessed some of the coaching genes. It also helps that he’s walking into a locker room filled with veterans names Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko, who are all looking to erase recent seasons of disappointment to come together and win a championship. Kidd won’t have to sweat the small stuff with this bunch. Garnett, Pierce and Terry have all won rings before and know the sacrifices that have to be made and the work that must be put in. In fact, Kidd’s toughest job might be holding them back and limiting regular season playing time. Since he’s in the glare of the New York media, any mistakes along the way by the rookie coach might be magnified, but he’s played a good portion of his career there and knows how to survive.

Mike Budenholzer, Hawks – After nearly two decades in San Antonio and the past six seasons as Gregg Popovich’s right hand man on the Spurs bench, this was finally the right time and the right place for Budenholzer to make the move into the No. 1 seat. For one thing, the Hawks are certainly not bereft of talent, even after the departure of Josh Smith. Free agent Paul Millsap will fill in capably. For another, it’s not as if there is the burden of having to live up to decades — or even one or two seasons — of greatness. But mostly it was time because Budenholzer was hand-picked by general manager Danny Ferry, his old Spurs buddy, as the start of a plan to finally have the Hawks build something special and to do it the right way. The Eastern Conference has gotten stronger at the top and it will be much tougher for Atlanta to break through against the likes of Miami, Indiana, Chicago and Brooklyn. But Budenholzer and Ferry won’t be impatient, are in this for the long haul and will have each other’s back. There’s no rush this season.

Maurice Cheeks, Pistons – After previous stints as head coach in Portland and Philadelphia, Cheeks spent the past four seasons as Scott Brooks’ assistant in Oklahoma City getting prepared for his third chance. The understated Cheeks knows his stuff and knows what he wants and could be just the right personality to get the newly acquired, up-and-down pair of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to deliver every night. The real heat is on general manager Joe Dumars to build the once-proud franchise back up after a half decade of serious slippage has had the Pistons way outside of even playoff contention, let alone the championship conversation. Cheeks will have Chauncey Billups back with his championship pedigree as an extension on the court and if he can keep the young big man tandem of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe moving ahead together, the Pistons could bring some joy back into The Palace with a run at a playoff spot.