Posts Tagged ‘Quincy Acy’

Morning Shootaround — July 21


VIDEO: Becky Hammon, Spurs win Summer League championship

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The Spurs keep winning | Cavs, Smith meeting this week | Lawson gives Rockets another dimension | Paul Pierce is coming home

No. 1: The Spurs keep winning The San Antonio Spurs have set up a modern-day NBA dynasty, and manage to continually contend the last few decades. This summer has been no different, as the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge and David West in free agency, and then yesterday their Summer League team, coached by Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, knocked off the Phoenix Suns to win the Las Vegas Summer League. As our John Schuhmann writes, the basketball may not always be great at Summer League, but you always get good stories

First, there was Becky Hammon, the first ever female Summer League head coach, leading her team to a 6-1 record and the title her in Las Vegas. A year ago, she was playing for the San Antonio Stars. And already, she’s got some head coaching experience.

“I’m just trying to progress as a coach,” Hammon said about her 10 days in Las Vegas. “It was eye-opening in a lot of different areas for me, just how much my mind was reeling during timeouts.”

But Hammon clearly wasn’t reserved in her new role. She took charge in the huddles and gave the refs the business when a call didn’t go her way.

“It was just a great learning process for me,” she said. “And the guys had to take my mistakes – and I made plenty – and we just kept hanging together as a group.”

A big part of that group and another great story was Jonathon Simmons, who was voted the championship game MVP after scoring 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting.

Simmons played at two different junior colleges before finishing his college career at the University of Houston. He played a season in the ABL and then made the Spurs’ D-League team through an open tryout two years ago.

After playing three games for the Brooklyn Nets’ Summer League team, the Spurs gave Simmons an NBA contract. He came to Las Vegas and averaged 17.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals for the Summer Spurs.

“It’s just a blessing,” Simmons told The Starters after the game on Monday. “I didn’t see it coming. I’m still kind of shocked right now. But I’m just ready to get to work.”

***

No. 2: Cavs, Smith meeting this week After going to the Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers, J.R. Smith opted out of his contract to test the free agency market. And though plenty of money was flying around during the free agency period, Smith’s name was rarely heard. Now, with most of the free agents off the market, Smith remains available and, as he said to Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon, Smith understands that opting out may mean he’ll make less next season

“That’s always part of the gamble of opting out,” Smith told the Northeast Ohio Media Group on Monday at the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas, where the NBA players’ union held its summer meeting.

Smith has kept a low profile during the NBA’s free agency period, which is a bad thing for a player who opted out of his contract to seek a raise.

He was the Cavs’ starting shooting guard during the regular season after he was acquired via trade in January, but Smith struggled in the Finals – his last and best chance to increase his earning potential.

Asked if he regretted his decision to decline his contract option, Smith said “Uh, I mean, yes and no.

“No because I’ve gotten offers that I wanted, I mean numbers that I wanted, it’s just different situations,” Smith said. “Right now it’s just a matter of seeing what the Cavs come back to me with. Right now they give me the best opportunity to win.”

Smith’s agent, Leon Rose, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. It is believed Smith was seeking somewhere in the $7 million to $9 million range annually, and he declined to disclose which teams his offers may have come from.

There are only three teams in the NBA that still have the cap space to give him a raise from last year: the Portland Trail Blazers ($16.4 million in cap space); Philadelphia 76ers ($16.3 million); and Indiana Pacers ($11.5 million).

But the Pacers only have the space in theory– a cap snafu with free agent Monta Ellis temporarily voided his free-agent contract. He will sign there and Indiana will be out of cap room.

Smith said he had some “discussions” with the Blazers but they didn’t go anywhere. So if the offers came from organizations outside of Philadelphia, they’re gone.

Smith has always said he wanted to come back to the Cavs, and he reiterated that point on Monday.

“I definitely want to come back to Cleveland,” he said. “The coaches, the team, everything about the situation, it’s perfect for me.”

Asked for the reasons why he does regret his contract decision, he said “just because I would be secure and I would already know I’m where I want to be.

“I wouldn’t have to go through this whole thought process anymore,” he said.

***

No. 3: Lawson gives Rockets another dimension So much of the Houston Rockets’ offense last season ran through James Harden, and understandably so — Harden is one of the NBA’s best creators. But with their trade for Denver’s Ty Lawson, as Jonathan Feigan writes for the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets feel like Lawson provides a new dimension to their offense that will give Harden the help he needs

They knew they needed more, with everyone from star guard James Harden to general manager Daryl Morey pointing to a need to add another playmaker. So when the Rockets on Monday completed their trade for point guard Ty Lawson, Morey did not immediately point to what Lawson has done or could do for the Rockets; he cited the quest that began when the season ended.

“A lot of what we had hoped to accomplish before next season he’s able to do,” Morey said. “He’s another guy that can attack the basket, can shoot, can make plays for others.”

Days after the season ended, Morey precisely described that need. Even then, he knew the Rockets would chase LaMarcus Aldridge, but would be unlikely to land him. He believed the Rockets would keep the bulk of their own free agents. But he knew even with better health and improvement, the Rockets would likely need help in the backcourt.

“Coach (Kevin McHale) feels and I agree, we could use another playmaker on the perimeter,” Morey said then as if he had skipped to the end of the book. “If it is something we can address, we will. Play off the catch playmaking. There are times people are loading up on James. To have a guy that can play off the catch, attack the basket, finish, make a play, that kind of thing. It’s not easy to find.”

The Rockets found that with Lawson, needing to give up only spare parts and a protected first-round pick because Lawson’s trade value shrank so greatly with his second DUI arrest of the past six months. Lawson was in rehab when the deal was completed and when he spoke to McHale on Monday.

Morey said the Rockets believed Lawson’s rehabilitation gave them confidence he will overcome issues and move past incidents he acknowledged are the type that “have a history of potentially recurring.” But he described the risk of obtaining Lawson as part of all deal-making. There was no doubt about the void that needed to be filled.

“As we saw, especially when we played tougher teams last year, we struggled against teams that would really load up on James Harden. We feel that will be a lot more difficult for teams to do now.”

“People always used to … say our point guard position was terrible, the worst, whatever. I always pointed out that Pat Beverley was a really good player. He’s just maybe suffering compared to all these perennial All Stars we go against in the West. Obviously, we’re still going to be going against those very difficult All Stars, but Ty Lawson is somebody who gives you a top 10 point guard in the league, somebody who can really help us.”

While Beverley can be the 3-and-D point guard that meshes well with Harden, Lawson is a second ball handler and playmaker needed when teams try to wrap their defense around Harden. With the second unit, he not only can be a needed playmaker, Lawson’s strengths – running an up-tempo offense and playmaking in pick-and-roll – fit well with Corey Brewer on the break and Clint Capela on pick-and-rolls.

“Coach McHale and Ty spoke for quite a while again today,” Morey said. “Coach McHale left that conversation feeling very good. Ty does not come in expecting anything. He just wanted to join a team with James Harden, Dwight Howard and a bunch of other guys he knows on the team like Trevor Ariza. I do think it does work either with him as a starter or off the bench.

“When James is off the floor, I do think Ty is going to add a lot and when James is on the floor it’s going to be much more difficult to double team James off pick-and-rolls when you have a secondary playmaker like Ty on the floor.”

***

No. 4: Paul Pierce is heading home It took him nearly two decades, but after 17 seasons in the NBA, Paul Pierce has returned home. After years with the Celtics, Nets and Wizards, the Inglewood, California native signed with the Los Angeles Clippers and, as Gary Washburn writes in the Boston Globe, Pierce is already playing a big part with the Clippers…

“It’s been pretty wild,” Pierce said of convincing Jordan to pass up a max contract offer with the Dallas Mavericks and return to Los Angeles. “I think that whole saga took a form and shade of its own. It got a lot bigger than it was supposed to be.

“I made my decision to be a Clipper. DeAndre [Jordan] changed his mind to be a Clipper.”

After verbally committing to the Mavericks, Jordan had second thoughts and began contacting Clippers players. A contingent of players, led by Pierce, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin, headed to Houston to speak to Jordan.

“I wasn’t there last year with that team, so I kind of sat in and voiced what I thought but I was on the outside looking in,” Pierce said. “I think guys cleared the air if there was any tension, but I think a lot of the media made it more than it was.”

After spending 15 seasons in Boston, Pierce played one season in Brooklyn after a trade, and then signed last summer with Washington. Despite an impressive playoff performance and raves from teammates, Pierce opted out of his Wizards deal this spring and signed a three-year deal with the Clippers.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to come home, finally,” Pierce said. “I grew up a Laker fan but playing on all the Boston Celtic teams . . . there’s no way I could go there — so this was the next best choice. And it’s always been a dream to play in front of my family and friends.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stan Van Gundy says Reggie Jackson‘s new contract will be a bargain a few years down the road … Quincy Acy says he’s returning to the Sacramento KingsDamian Lillard released his second song of the summer …

Qualifying offers, 2015

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Free agency began at midnight ET on Tuesday night. When the season ended, there were 46 free agents set to be restricted free agents, where their teams could match any offer they received.

But in order for a player to be a restricted free agent on Wednesday, his team needed to extend him a qualifying offer by Tuesday. If signed by the player, that qualifying offer is a binding, one-year contract (like with Greg Monroe last year).

If the player signs an offer sheet from another team, his current team has three days to match it. If he doesn’t, he can also sign a new contract with his current team.

26 of the 46 potential restricted free agents received qualifying offers. The other 20 did not. Here’s a rundown…

Restricted

The following players received qualifying offers and are restricted free agents.

  • Pero Antic – Atlanta
  • Will Barton – Denver
  • Patrick Beverley – Houston
  • Jimmy Butler – Chicago
  • Nick Calathes – Memphis
  • Norris Cole – New Orleans
  • Jae Crowder – Boston
  • Matthew Dellavedova – Cleveland
  • Draymond Green – Golden State
  • Tobias Harris – Orlando
  • Robbie Hummel – Minnesota
  • Joe Ingles – Utah
  • Reggie Jackson – Detroit
  • Cory Joseph – San Antonio
  • Enes Kanter – Oklahoma City
  • Brandon Knight – Phoenix
  • Ognjen Kuzmic – Golden State
  • Kawhi Leonard – San Antonio
  • K.J. McDaniels – Houston
  • Khris Middleton – Milwaukee
  • Kyle O’Quinn – Orlando
  • Iman Shumpert – Cleveland
  • Kyle Singler – Oklahoma City
  • Mirza Teletovic – Brooklyn
  • Tristan Thompson – Cleveland
  • Jeff Withey – New Orleans

Note 1: Antic has agreed to a contract with Turkish team Fenerbahce, according to his agent. Even though he’s left the league, the Hawks can retain the right to match a deal should he ever return.

Note 2: The Raptors also extended a qualifying offer to Nando de Colo, who played with CSKA Moscow last year, so that they can match a deal should he ever return to the league.

Unrestricted

The following players did not receive qualifying offers and are unrestricted free agents.

  • Quincy Acy – New York
  • Aron Baynes – San Antonio
  • Bismack Biyombo – Charlotte
  • Vander Blue – L.A. Lakers
  • Ian Clark – Denver
  • Chris Copeland – Indiana
  • Gigi Datome – Boston
  • Joel Freeland – Portland
  • Justin Hamilton – Minnesota
  • Justin Holiday – Golden State
  • Bernard James – Dallas
  • Jerome Jordan – Brooklyn
  • Arinze Onuaku – Minnesota
  • Glenn Robinson III – Philadelphia
  • Alexey Shved – New York
  • Henry Sims – Philadelphia
  • Jeff Taylor – Charlotte
  • Travis Wear – New York
  • Shayne Whittington – Indiana
  • Derrick Williams – Sacramento

Morning shootaround — Dec. 27


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets | Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win | Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk | Bucks looking for different advantages

No. 1: Josh Smith makes winning debut for Rockets — There’s no place like home for the holidays … as long as you have a home. After being waived earlier this week by the Detroit Pistons, Josh Smith agreed to a free-agent deal with the Houston Rockets. Friday night he made his debut for the Rockets in Memphis against the Western Conference power Grizzlies, tallying 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in Houston’s 117-111 overtime win. As Jonathan Feigen writes in the Houston Chronicle, Smith provided the Rockets exactly what they were looking for when they signed him…

The Rockets had no intention of relying so heavily on forward Josh Smith with the ink on his contract barely dry.

They did not even intend to play him so long into the night.

The Rockets knew they wanted Smith the minute the Detroit Pistons cut him loose.

They needed him as soon as they plugged him into the rotation.

With the Grizzlies defending Smith with Vince Carter, the Rockets went to him again and again down the stretch Friday night, not only helping key a comeback to a 117-111 overtime win but offering a glimpse of the sort of talent they had plugged into the mix.

“They think big of my talents,” Smith said. “This is a team that instills confidence in all of its players.”

With the two-season disaster in Detroit rapidly behind him, Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his Rockets debut, tacking on the game-winning free throws in overtime when he grabbed consecutive offensive rebounds and then knocked down a pair of free throws for a four-point lead.

***

No. 2: Magic rouses LeBron, Cavs take win — The Orlando Magic are still in the nascent stages of their rebuilding plan, and as such still have lessons to learn. Last night, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were without an injured Kyrie Irving, the Magic learned an important truth: You come at the King, you best not miss. With Orlando leading the Cavs 64-62 in the third quarter, Magic forward Tobias Harris and LeBron James got tangled under the basket and exchanged some heated words. Whoops. As Chris Haynes writes, Harris woke a sleeping giant, helping push Cleveland to the win…

James looked out of sorts. Disinterested. He had three turnovers in the first 10 minutes.

Orlando was up 64-62 in the third quarter and a coasting James was 5-for-13 from the field. The Magic was on pace to steal one. Harris, acting as the catalyst, had 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Then things suddenly changed.

Midway through the third, Harris was facing up James on the baseline and to create some separation; he flung his elbows around in the vicinity of James’ face. James backed up to avoid the connection, but he took exception and said something to Harris.

The two jawed back and forth at one another and had to be separated. While walking away, Harris yelled, “Stop flopping.”

“He barked up the wrong tree,” the Cavs’ Dion Waiters said of Harris after the game.

A sleeping giant was awakening.

Two possessions later, James stole a crosscourt pass and shot out on a one-man break. Orlando’s Elfrid Payton managed to get a hold of James from the back and James took him along for the ride to finish the left-handed layup, plus the foul.

The four-time MVP proceeded to trot past Orlando’s bench to have a few words before taking his foul shots. Just like that, James was awakened.

“That’s the best player in the world,” the Cavs’ Kevin Love said. “That’s something you don’t want to do.”

From that point on James dominated Harris, going 5-for-7 in the final 17 minutes. He scored 15 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth. After that alteration with James, Harris only scored one point. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-12.

***

No. 1: Watch out Kobe, here comes Dirk — Much was made earlier this season of Kobe Bryant‘s pursuit of Michael Jordan and the third spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Last night there was another repositioning of the list, though a few spots down from Kobe and MJ. Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki moved into 8th on the all-time scoring list, passing Elvin Hayes in a 102-98 Dallas win over the Lakers. As Dirk joked after the game, he’s now got Kobe squarely in his sights, writes ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon

“I told [Kobe] that I was going to catch him,” Nowitzki said after his Dallas Mavericks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 102-98 with Bryant resting and watching from the bench. “But that’s going to be tough.”

Nowitzki now stands eighth among scorers in NBA history, five spots behind Bryant, after passing Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes on Friday night.

Nowitzki needed six points entering the game to pass Hayes, who finished his career with 27,313 points, and did so on a midrange jumper off a feed from Monta Ellis on the opening possession of the second half.

Nowitzki, who has been battling a stomach illness for about two weeks, finished the game with 14 points in 24 minutes, giving him 27,322 points in his career.

“I’m fortunate to have great teammates to put me in position to keep scoring, even as I’m older,” said Nowitzki, a 36-year-old who has spent his entire 17-year career with the Mavs. “It’s been fun. Still competing at a high level and hopefully will win a lot more games these last couple of years, which really means more to me right now than all the points. But it’s definitely been a fun ride.”

Hayes is the second top-10 all-time scorer passed by Nowitzki this season. Nowitzki bumped Hakeem Olajuwon to No. 10 on the list in a Nov. 11 win over the Sacramento Kings.

Nowitzki, who is averaging 18.5 points per game this season, likely will pass Moses Malone (27,409 career points) in early January to move into seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

With 32,365 points and counting, Bryant is almost certainly out of reach for Nowitzki. However, Nowitzki should pass Shaquille O’Neal (28,596 points) next season and has a chance to move into the top five by passing Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) before he retires.

***

No. 1: Bucks looking for different advantages — The Milwaukee Bucks were purchased by a collection of investors led by some New York financial titans in 2013, and since then they’ve been attempting to build a stronger infrastructure for the franchise, in some ways by utilizing some creative thinking. One way they’ve done that: Spending money on people who do things NBA teams have traditionally undervalued, or perhaps not valued at all. For instance, as Kevin Randall writes in the New York Times, the Bucks recently hired a “facial coding expert”…

So in May, the team hired Dan Hill, a facial coding expert who reads the faces of college prospects and N.B.A. players to determine if they have the right emotional attributes to help the Bucks.

The approach may sound like palm reading to some, but the Bucks were so impressed with Hill’s work before the 2014 draft that they retained him to analyze their players and team chemistry throughout this season.

“We spend quite a bit of time evaluating the players as basketball players and analytically,” said David Morway, Milwaukee’s assistant general manager, who works for the owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. “But the difficult piece of the puzzle is the psychological side of it, and not only psychological, character and personality issues, but also team chemistry issues.”

Hill contends that faces betray our true emotions and can predict intentions, decisions and actions. He employs the psychologist Paul Ekman’s widely accepted FACS, or Facial Action Coding System, to decipher which of the 43 muscles in the face are working at any moment. Seven core emotions are identified: happiness, surprise, contempt, disgust, sadness, anger and fear.

Before the 2014 draft, Hill spent 10 hours with Milwaukee’s team psychologist, Ramel Smith, watching video of various college prospects and picking apart the psyches of potential picks. The Bucks had the No. 2 selection over all as well as three second-round picks, one of which they traded.

A vexing player at the top of the draft was Dante Exum, a point guard from Australia who was projected to be taken among the top four selections. Smith had done player personality analyses but wanted to validate them by having Hill present his player assessments first. The Bucks selected Jabari Parker with their top pick, and Exum fell to Utah at No. 5.

“Nothing against Exum, but emotional resiliency, stability and an immediate, assured presence were all key considerations in support of selecting Parker,” Hill said.

Until he sustained a severe knee injury on Dec. 15, Parker was among the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Exum is averaging 4.9 points and 2.0 assists coming off the bench for the Jazz.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jared Dudley couldn’t miss last night in Atlanta. Like, literally, he couldn’t miss … Kenneth Faried was basically unstoppable for Denver last night … After passing him on the all-time scoring list, Kobe Bryant said Michael Jordan urged him to now go after Karl Malone … Did Kevin Garnett play his final game in Boston? … Quincy Acy got a one-game suspension for his Christmas Day scuffle with John WallDajuan Wagner is in the early stages of mounting a comeback

Morning shootaround — Dec. 26


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe is growing old before our eyes | LeBron has bittersweet return | Warriors have a ‘jolly’ Christmas?

No. 1: Lakers move on without Kobe for nowKobe Bryant did what many did on Christmas Day: He sat around and watched a basketball game. The Lakers played the Bulls without their leader and leading scorer and it was what you would have expected: Not much of a contest. And the biggest news of the game was on the Laker bench. Kobe complained about “old age” and sat for another game, and at this point, this pattern could repeat itself throughout the season. Kobe said “my knees are sore, my Achilles are sore, both of them. Metatarsals are tight, back’s tight. I just need to kind of hit the reset button.” Oh,  if only the Lakers could do the same. They’re now 9-20 after losing by 20 to the Bulls and ex-Laker Pau Gasol. Kobe is a very old 36 and in his 19th season, and given how the Lakers are losing even when he’s in the lineup, you must seriously wonder about the wisdom of playing him heavy minutes, anyway.

Here’s Mark Bresnahan‘s report from the Los Angeles Times:

Most of the talk centered around Bryant, who said there was only a “slim” chance he would return Friday against Dallas. He worked with a team physical therapist for an hour and a half Thursday morning, “taking care of every part of my body,” he said.

“It’s tough with our health team here, trying to find new ways of doing it because there’s really no blueprint for playing this long, at this position at least, in the NBA. We’re really trying to figure new things out, trying to see what’s out there, trying to see what works, what doesn’t work. It’s constantly experimenting.” On the court, Bryant said he would try to find areas that were best for him efficiency-wise.

“It’s habit for me to move around and be active offensively all over the place from different spots on the floor,” he said. ” I don’t think my body can hold up to that anymore.” He seemed especially disappointed to sit out a Christmas Day game, let alone in Chicago against Gasol, his former teammate and still good friend. He did have a pledge, though.

“I’ll get back to being healthy, like I was at the start of the season,” Bryant said. “We’ll probably cut down the minutes.” Bryant is averaging 35.5 minutes per game, only one below his career average.

His scoring has been solid — 24.6 points per game — but he’s only 8% below his career accuracy before the season.

***

No. 2: LeBron has a bittersweet trip down memory lane — Well, that was interesting. The Cavaliers-Heat game was all about one man’s trip to his second home and the reception he would get. LeBron James heard the good and the not so good when he was honored with a video tribute and a standing ovation, and then treated like any other visitor to American Airlines Arena, where he hoisted a pair of trophies as a member of the Heat. Now, of course, he’s back with the Cavaliers and emotions tugged at him on Christmas Day. He was with his pal Dwyane Wade although on the other bench, and his current team never really had much of a chance to straighten their disappointing season out, losing 101-91. It must be weird being LeBron right now. He’s back in Ohio and with the team he broke in with. He has rejoined the hearts of Cavaliers fans. He has a ton of money, his good health and soon a newborn girl. He has a pair of championship trophies. But he cares deeply about his place in the game, from a historical perspective, and knows that he’ll never be considered the greatest to ever play unless he multiplies his trophy collection. That might not happen this season because the Cavaliers are 16-11 and showing no signs of turning it around anytime soon. Anderson Varejao is out for the season with a torn Achilles and Kevin Love remains in a fog. LeBron’s dreamy return home is laced with issues, writes Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:

It’s tempting to read too much into this, and maybe we shouldn’t. OK, we should. And we will. Did anyone think it was odd that LeBron James had more camaraderie, more genuine interactions with the former teammates that were all around him Thursday than his current ones? Think about that for a minute … when you’re the most prominent player in the game and you spend for years with people and make four trips to the NBA Finals with them and win two championships, those bonds “last forever” as James said before his return to Miami on Christmas Day. This is especially true when one of those players, Dwyane Wade, has been your friend and rival — like a brother to you — for virtually your entire basketball career.

Those bonds can’t be formed in your new city (not even if it’s your old city, and not even if it’s your hometown) over the course of 28 regular season games. But man, oh man, James and his new teammates in burgundy and gold uniforms look more like strangers than teammates. They’re all lost, and nobody has directions.

That’s a problem.

It’s a problem that cuts much deeper than the inconsequential 101-91 loss that James and the Cavs suffered at the hands of Wade and the Heat on Thursday. And it speaks to something very interesting about the dynamic that James left behind in Miami and the one that he voluntarily rejoined in Cleveland.

The NBA always has been, and always will be, a player’s league. The best coaches are the best coaches because they usually have the best players. Carmelo Anthony isn’t so great and has virtually no chance to win on any given night because he is surrounded by bad players. That part of the game is easy to figure out.

But there’s something else that gets often overlooked, something that we shouldn’t need help recognizing after witnessing the championship blueprint set forth by San Antonio Spurs all these many years. While it may be true that you cannot win without good players, it’s equally true that you can’t win without a strong, winning culture and foundation.

That was the fundamental reason James left Cleveland in the first place and decided that he needed to be a part of what Pat Riley had built in Miami. More than anything — more than teaming up with Wade and Chris Bosh, more than flexing his free agent muscle — it was about immersing himself in an organization with strong leadership, an unconditional partnership between the coach and the GM and an owner who let people do their jobs. Four Finals trips and two championships later, it worked — for all parties involved.

Now the Heat are below .500 and just trying to tread water in the woeful Eastern Conference. But if you thought that James was going to leave behind a steaming pile of rubble — a team lacking discipline and any discernible style or direction — think again.

That’s James’ new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Every game for us is a learning experience,” James said. “We’re not that good right now.”

They’re 17-11 and once they figure out how to replace the injured Anderson Varejao, chances are they’ll walk backwards into the Eastern Conference finals by accident. James is right about not being very good right now, but he missed something.

They don’t even seem to know what they’re trying to be.

***

No. 3: Maybe the Warriors should take their angry pills — Understand that nobody should ever promote violence in the NBA or anywhere for that matter. We strive to be a peaceful band of citizens, loving our fellow man and promoting a sense of brotherhood whenever given the chance. Especially on Christmas Day; what evil person would ever stoop to doing anything dastardly? Well, whenever the Warriors and Clippers play, it’s usually a contest that takes on a bit of an edge. They have a history, let’s just say. And they’re both very, very good here in the early going, and want the same thing: The Western Conference championship. There’s a decent chance that the road through the West will wind through one either LA or Oakland, and maybe both, with all due respect to San Antonio and OKC and Portland and Houston. The Warriors are the hottest team in the NBA while the Clippers, after a brutal schedule and a stumbling start, are starting to gather themselves and play in a manner that satisfies coach Doc Rivers. So when they met on Christmas Day, a pair of forces colliding at the Staples Center, something had to give. Blake Griffin, as he usually does against the Warriors, refused to shake hands or even offer a fist bump with any Warrior before the tip. And the pro-Clippers crowd was loud from the jump. The Clippers were in full message-sending mode and it showed when they clobbered the Warriors, which annoyed one Golden State player in particular. Draymond Green, who’s having a fine season, thought the Warriors were simply too soft and nice.

Here’s Rusty Strauss of the San Francisco Chronicle on the state of mind of Green and the Warriors:

“I don’t think we were intense as far as having that fire, but I don’t think they were, either,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “I don’t know what the cause of it was. Maybe everybody was a little too jolly. But it was too nice. It was too boring. I’m sure it wasn’t the prime time game everybody expected.”.

More Green: “There was no, ‘I don’t like you’ and ‘You don’t like me,’ ” Green said. “There are some guys on that team that I really respect, but there was no fire, no dog. It’s no secret that we don’t like them. They don’t like us. I don’t know why the game was that nice, trying to act like we like each other when we don’t. It was a boring game.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: John Wall and Quincy Acy exchanged Christmas Day pleasantriesJosh Smith excited to join the RocketsNBA Christmas ratings are friendly …

Knicks face tough schedule with rough offense


VIDEO: Bulls vs. Knicks

NEW YORK — The New York Knicks have admitted freely that the Triangle offense would take time to learn. Exhibit A: Their 104-80 loss to the Chicago Bulls in the first game of the season on Wednesday.

The Knicks’ offense looked slow, robotic, disjointed, clumsy, and just flat-out brutal. They only had 12 turnovers, but there were some ugly ones, like passes going straight out of bounds because guys weren’t on the same page.

And the shots …

20141029_nyk

There was an occasional layup off a back-door play on the weak side, a Triangle staple. But most of the Knicks points were not a product of the offense, but of their ability to improvise after things broke down. They still have some talented offensive players on the roster.

But when Samuel Dalembert and Quincy Acy combine to take four 15-20 footers in the first quarter, something is very wrong. The Knicks took 21 shots from the restricted area and 17 3-pointers. They took just as many shots (38) from mid-range, with another nine from the similarly inefficient area of the paint outside the restricted area.

It wasn’t as old-school (and bad) as the Lakers’ shot chart on Wednesday, but that kind of shot selection isn’t going to win you many games. You can credit the Chicago defense some and also note that New York was without starting point guard Jose Calderon (strained right calf). But the offensive disfunction was just as clear in the preseason against lesser defenses and with a healthy Calderon.

UPDATE: The Knicks announced Thursday afternoon that Calderon is out 2-3 weeks.

“We’re going somewhere,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said after Wednesday’s game. “But at the beginning of where we’re going, it’s going to be difficult to get wins.”

Knicks president was a little more blunt. “Not ready for Showtime, were we?,” he responded when asked by the Daily News for his reaction to Wednesday’s performance.

20141030_nyk_schedNot at all. If the offense was bad, the defense was worse. But with the personnel the Knicks have, the defense probably won’t get much better over the course of the season, so the pressure is on the offense to start functioning, because the wins and losses count now.

And the Knicks play a tough early schedule as they try to look a little less disjointed every game. They will help Cleveland welcome back LeBron James on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT) and then head back home to face East playoff teams Washington and Charlotte.

Their worst opponent in their first eight games is probably the Pistons, but that game is in Detroit, on the second night of a back-to-back for the Knicks. The eight games are all against East teams that could push New York out of a playoff spot, and the stretch includes three back-to-backs.

So you have to wonder when the Triangle will start to work, at least to a point where the Knicks have a chance to score consistently against NBA defenses.

“There’s not a calendar date,” Fisher said when asked about his team’s learning curve on offense. “It really just depends on our team and our players and our willingness to stick with the process.”

Report: Gay Traded To Kings In 7-Player Deal


VIDEO: Raptors deal Rudy Gay as part of a seven-player swap

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Kings made a risky reach for immediate credibility and agreed to acquire Rudy Gay, his bloated contract and his ever-declining shooting from the Raptors in a seven-player deal Sunday that is mostly a salary dump for Toronto.

The Raptors will get Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes, with only Hayes ($5.9 million) and Salmons (a $1-million buyout on his $7 million guaranteed) on the books next season. Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy are also headed to Sacramento as the new management team continues to follow through on plans to aggressively pursue deals, so aggressive that the Kings just countered two moves made in the five months since Pete D’Alessandro was hired as general manager.

The Kings got Vasquez from New Orleans as part of the three-team deal that sent Tyreke Evans to the Pelicans in a sign-and-trade, started him at point guard, and now traded him 18 games into the season, returning Isaiah Thomas to the opening lineup. And, the Kings traded for Derrick Williams on Nov. 26, said they were committed to him as the starter at small forward, and now bring in Gay four games later, unless they have another immediate deal in place for Gay.

Gay is a name, has an active run of six consecutive full seasons of averaging at least 18 points a game and, whether with Williams or in place of Williams, addresses what had been the biggest position need for the Kings. But it says something that he has been traded twice in 10 1/2 months, including when the Grizzlies were willing to break up a lineup with a proven history of long playoff runs and now by a Toronto team trying to build something.

Gay will make $17.8 million this season and has a player option worth $19.3 million for 2104-15 that he almost certainly will exercise. After mostly shooting between 45 percent and 47 percent earlier in his career, though, the 6-foot-9, 220-pounder dropped to 41.6 percent last season with the Grizzlies and Raptors and is all the way down to 38.8 the first 18 games of 2013-14.

The deal will not become official until a trade call with the league on Monday, but Gay, Acy and Gray were all out of uniform Sunday night as the Raptors played the Lakers in Los Angeles, indicating the terms of the move that could save Toronto some $12 million next season were set.

No Looking Back For Raptors’ Lowry


VIDEO: NBA TV Canada takes a deeper look at Raptors guard Kyle Lowry

ATLANTA — Kyle Lowry doesn’t believe in looking back or wasting his time on what could have or should have been. The Toronto Raptors’ point guard has been through too much to fret about the past.

He’s focused on one thing and one thing only these days — leading the Raptors to a playoff bid and quenching the thirst of a devoted fan base that has suffered far too long without postseason hoops. It helps that Lowry, a player that Raptors coach Dwane Casey referred to as the “key to his team,” finally feels like he’s found a home.

In Memphis he was a fiery reserve but never handed the keys to the operation. And in Houston, where he started 109 games in three and half seasons, he was still trying to find his way in the league with an organization that was in flux.

“It’s not about what happened then,” Lowry said Friday morning before the Raptors faced the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). “I think I was absolutely in a great situation, the right situation in Houston. I got into that situation, unfortunately, with an injury to Aaron Brooks. But I think it was a great situation for me. And I feel like I’m in the same kind of place now. This is an opportunity league. To be effective, to flourish and do well, it has to be the right fit.”

And that’s exactly what Lowry believes he has with the Raptors’ current group. With he, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan as headliners and the supporting cast filled out with Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Terrence Ross, Steve Novak, Quincy Acy and others, Lowry insists the Raptors’ depth and balance is as good as ever.

“I think the playoffs is much more of a realistic goal for us this year,” said Lowry, a seven-year NBA veteran. “Last year we got off to such a bad start that it set us back and we were never really able to recover from that. But we’ve added some toughness this year with Hansbrough and we’ve added a shooter in Novak. We’ve had a full training camp with Rudy and DeMar. Jonas is year older and the core guys have been together and playing next to each other for four of five months. We’re all feeling better about things now and I think we have a chance to do some things that people don’t expect us to do.”

Casey is counting on Lowry to continue doing what he’s been doing all along in Toronto: serve as the Raptors’ on-and off-court leader. Casey recognizes a distinct difference in the Lowry we all see now and the one he was from afar years ago.

“Everybody thinks they are the player they’re going to be from the first month they are in the league, and that’s just not the case,” Casey said. “I think Kyle has learned some really valuable lessons over the years from his previous experiences in Memphis and Houston. He has grown into who he is as a player. He has really matured in so many ways. He’s slowed his game down and sees things in ways he probably did not early on in his career. He’s not that same, run-up-a-wall type of player he was. He’s much more cerebral now and understands the game more. He’s the key to our team.”

Lowry, 27, is also a player that Casey trusts implicitly. Lowry’s poise and leadership is definitely a commodity on the floor in today’s NBA.

“Bottom line is this is the perfect system for him,” Casey said. “He’s our quarterback and he has the freedom to run different plays and direct based on what he sees on the court. He can identify the matchups and go wherever he needs to go with the ball on that end of the floor. When he doesn’t do that he’ll defer to me and we’ll get together during time outs and evaluate what’s going on in dead ball situations and things like that and make our adjustments. But he’s doing an excellent job on the floor being a quarterback and understanding who needs touches and when they need them. He’s doing a heck of a job defensively and hawking the ball the way he has. But yes, the system fits him tremendously.”

It fits Lowry better than it has in the past, whether he wants to take a look back or not. And that’s exactly what the Raptors need.

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 9 Recap

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LAS VEGAS — Phoenix Suns forward Marcus Morris already has a comfortable rapport with new coach Jeff Hornacek.

“I call him Big H,” Morris said. “I enjoy playing for Big H.”

And Morris is already allowing the rookie coach to coach him up. Coming off a 3-for-9 shooting performance, including 1-for-3 from beyond the arc in Thursday’s game, Morris’ errant shots continued into the team’s Friday practice. Hornacek called him over.

“He’s a shooter and he’s definitely been helping me with my shot,” Morris said. “Just this past workout, all my shots were short. He sent me through a little workout, a mini-workout to get my shots up, and I come out and make three 3s.”

Morris, the twin brother of teammate Markieff Morris, went 3-for-4 from beyond the arc in Saturday’s championship bracket quarterfinal victory over the Raptors. He put up a twin shooting line as his brother — 8-for-11 — and added six rebounds — three on the offensive glass — three assists and a blocked shot. And he did it in 18:31 of playing time.

If the Suns are selling hope this season as they continue a total rebuild with Hornacek in charge, the Summer League team is doing a pretty good job. Saturday’s 103-98 win moved them to 5-0 and into Sunday’s semifinal round against the Miami Heat.

Non-rookie of the day: While Marcus and Markieff (16 points, five rebounds) had big days in the win over Toronto, the Warriors’ Kent Bazemore, who is a leading candidate to be the Summer League MVP, played the point throughout the fourth quarter, took over for 10 of his 26 points and led Golden State to its fifth straight summer victory (12th overall) over the Lakers. Bazemore, 9-for-20 from the field, acknowledged that his seven turnovers are an eyesore, but he got to the free throw line nine times and carried the team down the stretch for the big win.

Other notables: The Raptors’ Quincy Acy finished with 28 points on 9-for-15 shooting, two assists and a blocked shot. The powerful forward out of Baylor is trying to prove he’s more than a dunk machine, although he did have a monster throw down late in the game.The Heat’s Jarvis Varnado, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward, came up with 13 points and 12 rebounds, plus two steals in Miami’s win over Cleveland to get into the semifinals. He was 4-for-7 from the floor and 5-for-6 at the free-throw line. Cleveland’s Justin Harper (21 points, five rebounds) and Cory Higgins (17 points, four rebounds off the bench) were also standouts. Toronto’s Dionte Christmas had 15 points (6-for-11 FGs) and five rebounds.

Rookie of the day: Suns guard Archie Goodwin out of Kentucky put up a tremendous line with 20 points on 5-for-5 shooting overall, 2-for-2 from beyond the arc and 8-for-10 from the free-throw line.

Other notables: Former Marquette guard Dwight Buycks made a strong case to be the rookie of the day with 28 points on 11-for-20 shooting, plus four rebounds and four assists. He also contributed a pair of assists and two blocked shots. Charlotte point guard Abdul Gaddy out of Washington scored 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting and 5-for-5 from the free throw line in 19:28.

Coming up: The inaugural Summer League tournament really gets serious now with the final four. The day starts at 6 p.m. ET with the underdog, No. 18-seed Miami, taking on No. 3 Phoenix. The other semifinal game features No. 5 Charlotte against the top-seeded Golden State Warriors at 8 p.m. ET.