Posts Tagged ‘Raptors’

Thunder Are Still Playing The Lottery

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In their strangest of times, the response begins in the strangest of places.

The Thunder, absent from the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2010 while contemplating what could have been if not for the Russell Westbrook knee injury, are in the lottery again — a land they appeared to have left behind.

James Harden got traded, Westbrook got hurt, Oklahoma City got beat in five games in the semifinals and, now, the Thunder will be picking 12th on June 27. Of all the developments that would have been difficult to imagine nine months ago, this is the one they welcome.

2013 NBA DraftOr sort of welcome. The ideal OKC outcome would have been for the Raptors to land in the top three on lottery night. Toronto would have kept this pick and had the choice set to be conveyed to the Thunder carried over to 2014 in what is shaping up as a much better Draft. But Toronto held at 12, the protection became irrelevant, and the Thunder would have to be satisfied by having one of the best teams in the league and still being able to add a late lottery pick.

No. 12, part of OKC’s three picks in the first 32, is still a good spot to address needs (or at least uncertainties) with Westbrook coming off a knee injury and Kevin Martin heading into free agency. OKC is in the right range for Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk if it wants an offensive-oriented big man to offset Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, or inexperienced German point guard Dennis Schroeder to develop behind Westbrook. They could also nab scoring guards C.J. McCollum from Lehigh or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from Georgia in case Martin prices himself out of a return. (The NBA.com mock draft has Olynyk going to Loud City.)

The Thunder liked the fit with Martin accepting a reserve role, making his spot next season more a financial issue more than anything. They’re encouraged by what 2012 lottery pick Jeremy Lamb did in the NBA D-League, so going shooting guard when they will have at least one backup returning seems unlikely. Bad Draft or not, OKC has options with picks, prospects and veterans, along with a history of an aggressive approach. GM Sam Presti with options and in win-now mode is potential trouble for the rest of the league.

The pick started in Toronto, went to Houston in the Kyle Lowry trade of July 2012 and then from the Rockets to the Thunder in the October 2012 Harden blockbuster. When the Raptors did not beat long odds in the lottery to finish in the top three, the choice was handed over to Oklahoma City.

“I think it’s somewhat hypothetical because the draft is so much more art than science,” Presti said of the bad break of getting the pick a year before it likely increases in value. “But our organization, we’ve always looked at the draft as another opportunity to find a way to improve, whether it’s marginal or on a bigger scale, and we’ll try to look at every opportunity available to us at that time.”

Especially in their organization. Presti made a hard call on Westbrook, with a limited body of work at point guard, at No. 4 in 2008 and got a huge payout. The same night, he gambled again at 24 with Ibaka and it paid off. A year later, he nailed the Draft again by taking Harden third.

This year, the Thunder also have their own pick, No. 29, and also No. 32, a choice that started in Charlotte.

Pop The Rock Rolls Up On Win No. 900

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HANG TIME, Texas – It’s no wonder most NBA coaches are constantly moving on the sidelines. Theirs is a peripatetic lifestyle, usually with one hand gripping a suitcase and one foot out the door.

Among many other things about his worldly background and his puckish personality, it is his stability that makes Gregg Popovich unique.

With a win tonight at home against the Jazz (8:30 ET, League Pass), Popovich will become the 12th coach in NBA history to win 900 career games, but will be the first to claim each and every victory with a single team.

Over the past 17 seasons, the Spurs have been Pop as much as much as they have been David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and the other 130 players who have worn the silver and black uniform.

In a league that is teeming with exceptional coaches — Denver’s George Karl, Boston’s Doc Rivers, Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, Memphis’ Lionel Hollins, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra – Popovich stands a step apart and above.

He is always the first and usually the last to tell you that it’s all about the players, but to a man, they will tell you he is the one whom they are all about in the way the prepare, work and attack every game and play.

When he sat at a makeshift table for a news conference last spring when he was named Coach of the Year for the second time in his career, Popovich’s face turned different shades of red. But it wasn’t for the usual reasons of screaming at a referee or boiling at another question from a reporter. He was, in short, embarrassed with the attention.

Pop’s Way. That’s what they call it around the executive offices and on the practice floor and in the locker room.

“It’s about us, not me,” he said, sheepish from the attention.

But year after year, season after season, it has been about him getting the most out of his team by being willing to change the pace of play — from slogging, powerful inside ball to Duncan to a microwave fastbreak that is sparked by Parker — but never his principles or his own personal style.

He just wears suits, doesn’t model them.

“They’re not Italian,” he told an inquiring mind years ago.

He doesn’t do TV commercials or endorsements.

“I refuse,” he said another time. “I’d rather spend time in other ways.”

Pat Riley, the Hall of Fame coach and stylist, once said the Spurs are “the most emotionally stable team in the league.”

That’s because it is a team in Popovich’s image. He picks the players, he builds the team, he molds them and has constructed a franchise that has always eschewed endearing to be enduring. It’s all added up to the best record in the Western Conference again, an NBA record 14 consecutive 50-win seasons, 16th straight trips to the playoffs and puts him on the doorstep of history, all in one place.

After 900 wins, Pop won’t be going anywhere but straight ahead. (more…)

When Is Enough Ever Enough?


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HANG TIME, Texas – What better occasion than Super Bowl Sunday, our annual genuflection to wretched excess, to ask: When is enough enough?

Along about the time when the Knicks were tap-dancing on the chalk outline of all that was left of the Kings on Saturday night, the venerable Kurt Thomas rose up to launch one more 3-point shot.

Does the fact that Thomas, at 40, is the oldest player in the NBA, get him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps his failing eyesight couldn’t see the Madison Square Garden scoreboard that showed his team ahead by the fairly comfortable margin of 110-60?

What of the Knicks piling onto Sacramento with a whopping total of 43 shots from behind the arc on the night, J.R. Smith swinging his arms like a runaway windmill after nailing one, Carmelo Anthony and Steve Novak firing imaginary guns after hitting their targets?

“I’m not trying to rub this in,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “When it’s time to go to the bench, I do that. I’ve been on the other end of it in my career.”

Five nights earlier in Salt Lake City, the Rockets put the finishing touches on the worst home beating in the history of the Jazz, 125-80, by shooting 8-for-13 on 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

“They didn’t let up one bit,” Utah forward Paul Millsap told the Salt Lake Tribune. “But believe me when I say we will see them again and, hopefully, it will be the other way around.”

Interestingly enough, on Friday night in Toronto, in the final seconds of a 98-73 thumping, it was the Clippers Caron Butler that raised eyebrows around the league. As the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas was dribbling out the clock, Butler approached and made like he was extending his arm in a handshake. When Valanciunas let down his guard, Butler then reached out to swipe the ball and tried to run off to score before he was fouled.

So what are the unwritten and unspoken rules of etiquette in these situations? Is there anything that says any one of these players did anything unsportsmanlike or unethical?

Remember, this was not teenager Danny Heater of West Virginia pouring it on with 135 points against an overmatched team of high schoolers. The Kings and Jazz and Raptors are all highly-paid pros. And, of course, the Raptors won the game.

“Is the clock still ticking? Are the lights still on? Is the game still being played?” asked Matt Bonner, the Spurs reserve who has had more than his share of experience in late-game situations.

“What you’re always taught is to keep playing hard and to always protect yourself any time you’re on the court. You can’t suddenly tell guys who are in at the end of the game to stop competing.”

To his credit, Kings coach Keith Smart told Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News that he did not mind the celebrating.

“I don’t feel that way,” the Sacramento coach said. “We’re all big boys. Guys don’t get a chance to play much, they want to shoot and keep playing. You can’t tell them not to shoot. Take your lumps and move on.”

In late-game situations, while the victims just want to hurry and get off the court, there can be other players getting a chance to shine.

“Look, there have been times when I haven’t played much all night and then we’ve got a big lead and Pop (coach Gregg Popovich) might send a bunch of us out there for the last seven or eight minutes,” Bonner said.

“Hey, I want to play. I want to do well. This is my chance. Pop might tell us no fastbreaks or something like that, but he still wants us to run our offense the right way, to play the game and take the shots.”

It is understandable. The reserves only move up in the rotation when they show what they can do. As Smart said, they’re all big boys and if you don’t like it, well, you could go out and defend all those 3s?

So then, how does anyone come up with a reasonable explanation for Butler’s rope-a-dope on Valanciunas?

Bonner shrugged, “Play till you hear the horn.”

When enough is officially enough.

Dwight’s Bail Leads To Lakers Fail


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HANG TIME, Texas – The Lakers open a critical three-game road trip in Toronto and Dwight Howard plays 17 minutes.

That’s one for every year of his maturity.

If it wasn’t finally evident with last season’s antics in Orlando that the 7-footer is more senior prom than senior lead of a real contender, then he offered up the latest proof.

Howard made one field goal, scored five points and grabbed two rebounds before he was ejected with 1:18 left in the second quarter when he and the Raptors’ Alan Anderson were hit with a double technical.

Dwight the Innocent walked away with his palms outstretched, wondering what in the world he had done to deserve this, much like the teenager caught smoking in the boys’ bathroom.

“They didn’t explain,” Howard said when asked why he picked up the second technical foul. “I didn’t do anything to get ejected.”

Howard’s teammates were quick to come to his defense.

“What’s a player supposed to do when a guy, he’s confronted, trying to walk back up the court?” Kobe Bryant said to ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin. “An official told me, ‘Well, he should just walk away.’ I said, ‘Which direction should he (walk)?’ Should he turn around and just walk to the bench? He’s walking down to the other end of the court, to get back on defense. There’s nothing he can do. A guy steps up to him, puts a forearm in his chest, what’s he supposed to do? You say one thing, now it’s a double technical. Now, I just don’t agree with that.”

What is harder and harder for a lot of us to agree with is the notion that at 27 Howard is ever going to change his stripes from being talented big man and a good-time frontrunner. When all is going well, he leads the cheers and cracks the jokes. When there is the slightest hint of difficulty, he simply cracks.

We won’t get into a frame-by-frame analysis of the video replays that just might show Howard delivering a hefty shove in the back to Anderson as they come off the lane following a Metta World Peace elbow. That second technical could be debatable and perhaps the Lakers will even get it wiped off Howard’s record with an appeal to the league.

But Howard earned himself the first technical first quarter when he went too far whining to referee Ken Mauer following a missed layup.

If the Lakers aren’t already deader than disco, then they embarked on this three-game mini-trip as their latest self-proclaimed springboard back from zombie land. Each loss is not just another on the wrong side of the ledger, but knocks another day off a shrinking calendar. Now the Lakers must win at Chicago on the end of a back-to-back Monday or squeeze out a victory in the Memphis Grind House just to avoid another losing road trip.

The Lakers need Howard on the court and he needs to do whatever it takes to stay out there — keeping his composure, knowing when to back off from complaining and not putting himself into a position where a questionable double-technical might send him to the showers.

But that would require Howard to accept the burden that comes from being a franchise foundation and accept reality, hardly his strengths.

Earlier in the week Howard proclaimed, “When we play the way we played the last two games, I don’t see anybody beating us.”

That was following back-to-back home wins over the Cavs and Bucks. Sheesh.

The voting may show that Howard is once again a starter in the NBA All-Star Game next month, but that says more about the cache and star appeal of the Lakers than his own play. He has numbers, yes. But he also has a free throw percentage that would embarrass blindfolded shooters and has rarely looked dominant.

Blame it on coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Blame it on the referees. Blame it on global climate change.

Just don’t dare blame it on Howard. He can’t take the increasing heat.

Who’s Sitting On A Hot Seat Now?


HANG TIME, Texas — Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

In the NBA that familiar line from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” has a different twist.

Every time the bell rings a head coach gets his walking papers and a handful of others start looking over their shoulders.

It’s a tenuous life.

Of course, this season has already been quite unusual with Mike Brown fired by the Lakers after just five games. But now that the schedule has reached the one-third mark and claimed Avery Johnson, it’s time to look at some others down around the bottom of the standings.

Randy Wittman, Wizards (3-23) – No, he hasn’t had John Wall all season. Yes, he’s had to play at times without Nene and Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. But the Wizards are the only group in Washington that makes Congress look competent by comparison. After a recent 100-68 thumping by the almost-as-hapless Pistons, even Wittman seemed to have enough. “That was an embarrassment, and I apologize to our ownership and to our fans,” he said. “I especially apologize to anyone who watched that entire game. I would have turned it off after the first five minutes.” It would seem to be a matter of when, not if.

Monty Williams, Hornets (6-22) – It’s hard to see the Hornets turning right around and cutting Williams loose just months after giving him a four-year contract extension. There has been the matter of Eric Gordon’s injury and the fact that No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis was on the shelf for 13 games. But there are rumblings in New Orleans about his constantly changing rotations and collapse of his defense, which ranks 29th.

Byron Scott, Cavaliers (7-23)
— The Cavs are likely headed to their third straight trip to the lottery under Scott, but that doesn’t mean that he’s headed to the exit. The key to his previous success at New Jersey and New Orleans was having a top-notch point guard and Scott has an excellent relationship with maybe the next great thing in Kyrie Irving. This was always a long, heavy lift from the moment LeBron James bolted and that has not changed.

Mike Dunlap, Bobcats (7-21)
– What a difference a month makes. After beating the Wizards on Nov. 24, the Bobcats were 7-5, had matched their win total from last season and their rookie coach was getting praised. Now 16 straight losses later, Dunlap is preaching patience with his young core of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens and Jeffery Taylor. He has earned that. A dozen of Charlotte’s 21 losses have come by 10 points or less, a dramatic change from the historically horrible last season when the Bobcats were rolled in one-third of their games by 20 points or more.

Lawrence Frank, Pistons (9-22)
— Frank insists that his Pistons are a better team than they were a year ago. The record — identical then and now — does not back that up. He says that his club now is more competitive, but just doesn’t know how to finish games. Some of the players have grumbled that there is also a failure of coach to make the right calls and adjustments when games get late. When push comes to shove, it’s the coach that gets nudged out the door.

Dwane Casey, Raptors (9-20)– Another one of those seasons when the Raptors were supposed to turn things around and make a push for the playoffs in the lesser Eastern Conference has gone south. Injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and Linas Kleiza. Amir Johnson gets suspended for throwing his mouthguard at a referee. G.M. Bryan Colangelo says the talent is there, but the Raptors lack focus and attention to detail. The Raps’ offense is mediocre (ranked 17th) and their defense just bad (27th). Even in Canada during the winter, that all puts Casey on thin ice.

Keith Smart, Kings (9-19) – Smart got the job to replace Paul Westphal specifically because of what was perceived as an ability to work with the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins. So he turned Cousins loose last season, let him do just about anything he pleased and got enough results to earn a contract extension. Now that Cousins has abused his free-rein relationship with his coach and another season is sinking fast, it would be easy to just blame Smart, which the Kings eventually will do. But this is a bad team with a knucklehead as its centerpiece and ownership that can’t tell you where they’ll be playing in two years.

Alvin Gentry, Suns (11-18) — It was at the end of a seven-game losing streak when Suns owner Robert Sarver told ESPN.com that Gentry’s job was safe. “We’ve got confidence in our coaching staff and we’re not considering making changes,” he said. Of course, that usually means start packing your bags. It was all about starting over in this first season post-Nash in the desert. He’s changed lineups more than his ties and the result is usually the same. Gentry is a good bet to last out the season, but it’s probably going to take a big finishing kick to return next year.

DeRozan’s Progress A Bright Spot In Raptors’ Rough Start To Season

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – He had something stuffed in the left nostril to stop a bloody nose. He got a frustration technical in the third quarter. And his team not only lost, again, but also lost to an opponent that came in Wednesday night shooting 43.7 percent from the field (23rd in the league) and then hit the Raptors for 46.3 percent along with 107 points.

These are not easy times for DeMar DeRozan.

But there are clear signs of development in his game, and that’s something, because Toronto needs anything to grab onto in a season already tail-spinning toward the lottery. And because DeRozan has just become an important part of whatever future exists there.

His contract made it so. He got a four-year rookie extension in October, reportedly worth between $38 million to $42 million — one of only seven players from the 2009 draft class to get a new deal before the Oct. 31 deadline. He got it despite never averaging more than 17.2 points or 3.8 rebounds per game in his career. That was the Raptors’ gamble, that DeRozan would take the next step.

Now, the return on the investment has made it so. DeRozan’s early play has not only been one of the few bright spots in the 4-15 false start, but has been an affirmation for the front office at the very time management needs one.

Once a great athlete needing to grow as a basketball player, DeRozan has done as much this season. He is shooting better from the perimeter, rather than trying to outphysical every defender to the hole. He has become a better rebounder, at five per game.

“Confidence and experience,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “He did a great job this summer working on his body, getting physically stronger. With that came a level of confidence that took him to where he’s playing now. He has a tremendous amount of confidence playing in the post. Not only that, but just his overall game is a confident game. I think that is just through experience and getting his body physically ready for an NBA season.”

The next step, now that defenses will be coming at him harder than ever, is to handle the new pressure, for DoRozan to improve as a passer as opponents work to get the ball out of his hands. But this is a good start at 18.2 points a game after the 107-100 loss to the Kings at Sleep Train Arena on Wednesday, one of the few early positives for the Raptors. This is one of his good times.

Rockets Pay Tribute To Sasha McHale





The Rockets honored the memory of Sasha McHale at Tuesday night’s game against Toronto, first with a moment of silence prior to the introduction of the starting lineups and then by wearing a green band on the left shoulder of their jerseys.

Green was the favorite color of the 23-year-old daughter of Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who died on Saturday following a long battle with lupus, an auto-immune disease.

McHale has been on a leave of absence to be with his daughter and his family in Minneapolis since Nov. 10 and this was the first game the Rockets have played since her passing.

Roughly 40 members of the Rockets’ team, coaches and staff were scheduled to fly to Minneapolis to attend the funeral. The team will then travel on later in the day, scheduled to arrive in Oklahoma City at 3:30 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game against the Thunder.

“We’re trying to support him and be there for him as much as possible,” said guard James Harden. “It means a lot, knowing our schedule, knowing we have a game the same day. Obviously, it doesn’t take away the pain from what he lost. We’re just trying to be there to offer support as much as we can.”

The Raptors took the court knowing that they would be facing an opponent full of emotion.

“I’m just as close to Kevin as anybody with the two years in Minnesota,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “I got to know his family, his wife and Sasha and the rest. Still we have to go out and compete and play with our emotion, play with our edge. You have a sympathetic understanding of what this organization is going through, but at the same time we’ve got work to do in an unfortunate situation for them.

“All you can do is think of the entire McHale family.”

Raptors’ Ross Ready to Go to Work

By Drew Packham, NBA.com

LAS VEGAS – The Raptors’ top pick in the 2012 Draft admitted he was tired.

Still, after his five games in Las Vegas, Terrence Ross said he can’t wait to get back in the gym.

“I had to fight through some fatigue,” Ross said after scoring five point in just 17 minutes in his final Summer League game. “Now I know what I need to work on.”

Ross, taken with the No. 8 pick in the Draft, says he’ll travel back to Portland, Ore., and begin his preparations for his rookie season, focusing especially on his conditioning. The shooting guard out of Washington averaged 14.4 points in five games, but shot just 37.1 percent from the floor, admitting his shot suffered because of his tired legs.

“That’s a big part of being a shooting guard is fighting through adversity,” said Toronto coach Dwane Casey. “As a shooting guard, you’re getting bodied, you’re getting held, so you’ve got to be able to fight through that takes a lot of energy. He’s got to learn how to fight through that.”

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Report: Knicks In Lead For Nash





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin wearing the same uniform?

If the New York Knicks get their way, that’s exactly what’s going to happen in training camp.

The Knicks have moved into the lead to land Nash, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, using a sign-and-trade deal with the Suns to make it happen:

Nash and the Knicks are in the critical stages of discussions on a three-year deal worth between $27 million-$30 million to be executed through a sign-and-trade deal with the Suns. The Knicks would send rookie guard Iman Shumpert and multiple players – including Toney Douglas – to Phoenix for Nash, sources said.

Nash, a two-time MVP, has been enthusiastic about joining the Knicks’ core of Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire.

… The Knicks also intend to match any offer restricted free-agent point guard Jeremy Lin receives.

The potential addition of Nash would be a game-changer for the Knicks and could vault them into the conversation of teams capable of legitimately challenging for one of the top spots behind the Miami Heat in the East.

Nash has history with Stoudemire dating back to their days in Phoenix, when the Suns were contenders in the Western Conference on a regular basis. He’d also be the perfect maestro for a Knicks offense that lacked one in the time before and after Lin’s rise last season.

Raptors Pushing Hard For Fields





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You’re either playing checkers or chess this time of year in free agency. And the Toronto Raptors are clearly trying to play the latter.

There’s no other way to explain the three-year, $20 million offer sheet they’ve extended to Knicks swingman Landry Fields, per ESPN.com‘s Marc Stein.

Fields is a necessary means to an end for the Raptors, who are also battling with the Knicks and others for the signature of two-time MVP Steve Nash. By extending the offer sheet to Fields, a deal that reportedly includes a spike in the third year of the deal, the Raptors will try to force the Knicks into making a choice.

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