Posts Tagged ‘Rasheed Wallace’

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 26

VIDEO: The NBA remembers the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Flip Saunders


Saunders remembered as leader, cherished member of NBA family | Anthony, Knicks gain inspired by Mets | Parker ready for new, reduced role with Spurs | Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball?

No. 1: Saunders remembered as a leader and cherished member of NBA family — Flip Saunders lost his battle with cancer Sunday at 60, succumbing to Hodgkins lymphoma on the eve of a NBA season he was going to start away from the Minnesota Timberwolves as he continued his four-month fight. Instead, he’s being remembered around a league where he touched many throughout his career. Our very own Steve Aschburner, a longtime former Timberwolves beat writer, shared some of his own reflections on Saunders:

Saunders had other pet phrases, things he’d coined or gleaned from the many coaches’ books he devoured during his trek through basketball’s trenches — seven years in the CBA in Rapid City, S.D., in La Crosse, Wis., in Sioux Falls, S.D., after college work at Golden Valley Lutheran College, Minnesota and Tulsa. “You are the position you can guard,” he’d say. And: “You give a player only as much responsibility as he can handle.” And: “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” Sometimes he’d footnote, sometimes he wouldn’t.

Flip also could prompt one back, typically when he’d claim that the only reason Marquette (my alma mater and first beat) won the NCAA men’s championship in 1977 (his senior year) was that Minnesota, despite its 24-3 record, was on probation and ineligible for the tournament. “But like Woody Allen said,” I’d remind him, “80 percent of success is showing up.” He’d wave his hand and we’d banter another day.

The fact is, Saunders disliked confrontations. It was the single biggest criticism of him as a coach and, when his teams in Minnesota and Detroit went through some tough times, it was cited as key to his undoing. When your best player, Kevin Garnett, is a blast furnace of motivation and improvement, there’s little about which a coach needs to confront him or the teammates intimidated into following. When some salty veterans such as Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell or Rasheed Wallace plant their heels, though, being player-friendly can get you pink-slipped.

Saunders was easily the most successful coach in Timberwolves history, particularly during his first stint. The Wolves went 411-326 and made the franchise’s only eight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004. All other seasons (including 2014-15 with Saunders navigating downward for lottery chances), they’ve gone 407-940 with zero playoff berths.

The good times were the product of Saunders’ coaching, Kevin McHale‘s acumen and Hall of Fame experience as VP of basketball operations, and the two college teammates’ and friends’ commitment to Garnett and, for as long as it lasted, to Stephon Marbury. That blew up in less than three seasons and, despite the subsequent playoff runs, Minnesota never got quite good enough.

A comment Flip made a while back in hindsight about that fizzled vision turned particularly poignant Sunday. “I hope years from now,” he said, “KG, Steph and I aren’t sitting around a table at All-Star Weekend saying, ‘We really screwed up.’ ”

He couldn’t push the Pistons over the top in three years, either, and the situation in Washington went sideways thanks mostly to Gilbert Arenas and his guns. And yet, while Saunders got fired three times at the NBA level — the Wolves dismissal, coming from McHale, stung all the way to the end — he got hired four times.


No. 2: Melo, Knicks gain inspiration from Mets — Give Carmelo Anthony credit for thinking big — and we’re talking championship big — as the New York Knicks head into this season. He’s drawing inspiration from the New York Mets, who’ll battle the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. And in the Mets, Anthony says he sees similarities in how they have gone from rebuilding to competing for a championship. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News details Anthony’s vision and how the fortunes of these two Big Apple franchises relate:

It wasn’t long ago that another New York sports team was selling hope over substance, building around a combination of youth and veterans while resisting the quick fix.

So can the Knicks draw inspiration from the World Series baseball team across the East River?

Carmelo Anthony thinks so.

“That’s very inspiring to me, what the Mets have done this season,” he said. “But that didn’t start this season. That was a process. That was a build that was happening the last couple of years. To see them now kind of at the pinnacle of the sport, it’s a good feeling. Even if you’re not a Mets fan and you’re here, it’s a good feeling.”

The similarities between the Knicks and Mets also extend to championship droughts (43 and 29 years, respectively), although only the Jets can claim in New York that they’ve tortured their fanbase longer than the Knicks.

“I don’t want to say it’s similar but you can see some similarities in that,” Anthony said. “The way that they kind of broke everything down and kind of rebuilt piece-by-piece and all of it came together at the right time. I don’t want to say we’re in a similar situation, but we are. Right now we put pieces together and we have to go out there and build that.”

The big difference is the Knicks won 17 games last season and finished with one of the worst records in the NBA. So they’re not close to anything resembling a long playoff run, which took the Mets five years to accomplish since Sandy Alderson took over.


No. 3: Parker ready for new, reduced role for Spurs — The addition of All-Star help like LaMarcus Aldridge and the increased role of budding All-Stars like Kawhi Leonard could mean a new and reduced role for Tony Parker. And it’s a role Parker is prepared to embrace at this stage of his career. Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News details the changes on the horizon for one of the Spurs’ staples:

Days before the Spurs start their quest for championship No. 6, the 33-year-old Parker acknowledged his role is finally changing. No longer will he be relied to do so much on offense, instead passing that torch to Leonard and Aldridge.

“I understand my role is going to change,” said Parker. “I don’t need to score as much and I have to get LaMarcus and Kawhi (going). I know my role is changing, but I love it. The way that (Tim Duncan) changed towards Manu (Ginobili), and Manu changed towards me, it’s the same thing with me now.”

Parker echoed the words of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who mentioned to the Express-News how the Spurs “equal opportunity offense” will now shift towards Aldridge and Leonard. Popovich was quick to point out that Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker won’t be forgotten, but things will change.

Let Parker tell it, he’s fine with taking a backseat.

“The last four or five years it was my job to be aggressive and score, but this year is totally different,” said Parker. “I have to be the engine in another way.”

Parker has led the Spurs in scoring four of the last five seasons, before Leonard took over last season averaging 16.5 points (Parker averaged 14.4).

Asked his feelings when the offense was transitioning to Ginobili and Parker, Duncan admitted the competitor in him resisted, and still does a bit, but added his unselfishness took over.

“As an individual you got to try not to fight it,” said Duncan, who is entering his 19th season. “We’re all competitors and we all want to do what we’ve always done. You have to understand what’s best for the team and I think we’re all here for that. It’s just about accepting that and finding your niche in your new role.”


No. 4: Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball? —  On a team headlined by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, might Serge Ibaka be the most unique talent for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season? It’s a great debate. One that Erik Horne of the Oklahoman argues in Ibaka’s favor with a new and crucial season for Ibaka and the Thunder on the horizon:

Catch Ibaka at the end of Thunder practice, and you’ll see the same guy who’s the active leader in blocked shots per game (2.58) outshoot fellow power forward Nick Collison from beyond the arc. At 34, Collison refers to the 3-pointer as something he’s tried to work on “to stay on the court” in the changing NBA.

Factor in the arrival of Billy Donovan, he of the pace and space offense and experience with the skilled big man, and the green light is even greener from 3 for the versatile Ibaka, who at 26, isn’t using the 3 to stay on the court, but expand his stranglehold on it.

“I feel very comfortable with him shooting threes, even corner threes, because of the time and effort he’s put into it,” Donovan said. “but also he’s a proven shooter – he’s a really good catch-and-shoot guy and that’s a unique combination for a frontcourt player in the league to have.”

Donovan couldn’t come up with a current or past comparison for Ibaka either, forced to look toward the future, a player who’s yet to play an NBA regular season game. Donovan said Indiana Pacers rookie Myles Turner has the skill set to mimic what Ibaka does on the floor.

Good luck, young fella.

“I coached him with the USA team. He’s somebody I think has a chance to maybe develop into that role,” Donovan came up with after a few moments of thought. “That would be the only guy I’ve been around and coached in the summer who I’d say is like that.”

What makes Ibaka even more of an outlier: He’s been capable of this longer than his uptick in 3-point attempts has indicated. He’s one of 11 players in NBA history taller than 6-foot-10 to shoot better than 35 percent from 3, 45 percent from the field and block 150 shots in a season. No big deal, except Ibaka’s the only one to do it three times.

The numbers summarize what left Jackson speechless when faced with the daunting question: Is anyone like Ibaka? Jackson knows what a great shotblocker looks like. He played with 7-footer Patrick Ewing, eighth all-time in blocks but someone who kept his game inside the arc offensively in an era where bigs weren’t encouraged to shoot from deep.

Last season, Ibaka attempted nearly twice the amount of threes Ewing hoisted in his entire career.



SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Who needs training camp and the preseason anyway? Tristan Thompson is ready for the Cavaliers’ season opener … Folks keep writing P.J. Tucker off in Phoenix and he keeps on grinding his way back into the mix … No one is sure what to make of the Sacramento Kings this year, which is exactly why they (DeMarcus Cousins, George Karl and Rajon Rondo in particular), are one of the truly intriguing must-see teams in the NBA this season … Serge Ibaka, the most unique big man in NBA history? … The Philadelphia 76ers don’t officially start this season until Wednesday and they are already limping …

Game 1: 24-second thoughts

24 — Just one more reminder of how long the droughts are for both teams: When the Warriors won their last championship (1975), the No. 1 song on the Billboard chart at this time of year was Before the Next Teardrop Falls by Freddy Fender. The last time any Cleveland team won a title (1964), The Beatles led the way with Love Me Do.

23 — Tough act to follow. After a full week of preparation and rest, can the Cavs and Warriors match the stirring performance of 10-year-old Nayah Damasen on the Game 1 national anthem?

22 — Uh-oh. How much is Steve Kerr worrying when the jump shot by LeBron James that’s been shaky all through the playoffs goes down smooth on the first two attempts?

21 — Two words: Tristan Thompson. Two more: Big problem.

20 — Kyrie Irving isn’t 100 percent? Don’t tell that to Draymond Green after that steal, crossover, shield-the-ball and strong finish at the other end. And that was after his block on Steph Curry earlier.

19 — Are they planning the parade route yet in Cleveland? Perfect first quarter and a 29-19 Cavs lead. Warriors not only shooting badly (6-for-21), but have taken a lot of bad shots. Looking like a team with not a minute of Finals experience.

18 — How far back do you have to go to find a midseason pickup who fits better than Timofey Mozgov on a Finals team? I’m thinking Rasheed Wallace to the 2004 Pistons.

17 — Welcome back, Marreese Speights. While he was out for the last eight games with a calf injury, coach Steve Kerr said the one thing that didn’t concern him was his shooting touch. So Mo Buckets comes off the bench and buries his first two shots.

16 — That Golden State bench that’s been so vital and potent all season long is keeping Warriors in the game with an 18-6 advantage midway through the second quarter. Buys them time to get Curry heated up.

15 — Just address Steph Curry’s Christmas cards this year to “Left Corner.” It might as well be his home. Now he’s up to 13-for-14 there in the playoffs. Honest. Shooting the basketball really isn’t as easy as Curry makes it look.

14 — Usage rate for LeBron in first half was high and you wonder if it will take a toll over a long series. Hmmmm, have the maintenance folks at Oracle Arena thought about unplugging the air conditioner?

13 — Yes, the Warriors are making LeBron work for everything he gets. And he’s working them over.

12 — Plan A: LeBron bully-ball. Plan B: Tristan Thompson offensive rebound. Plan C: See Plan A

11 — Sometimes you just don’t play by the book. That foul taken by Draymond Green at the end of the first half just because the Warriors had one to give looks pretty costly — not to mention foolish — now that he’s on the bench with four.

10 — Mike Breen: “Dellavedova trying to get the Cavs into the offense.” Passes to LeBron. “There’s the offense.”

9 — The little things that can win championships? Those two hustling out-of-bounds saves by Harrison Barnes that led to a Leandro Barbosa 3 out of the corner.

8 — Somebody needs to tell the five Cavs on the court for start of the fourth quarter that LeBron is over there sitting on the bench. It’s time to be moving the ball around, not looking for isolation plays.

7 — LeBron’s 37 ties his Finals high with more than six minutes left. As James himself said when somebody asked if he thought he was an underdog in this series: “Me? An underdog? Never.”

6 — 758 consecutive starts to begin career, now off the bench all season and Andre Iguodala’s sacrifice continues as he gives up his body to try to defend James. At both ends, perhaps Iggy’s best game as a Warrior.

5 — Can we give Kyrie Irving his own MVP — Most Valuable Possum? All this talk about being less than full strength and then he makes that tremendous block on Curry drive.

4 — Iguodala’s done everything but sink his teeth into one of LeBron’s shoulders. Great contest on LeBron jumper for the win.

3 — Small ball Warriors with Green playing center in OT have not given Cavs anything at the rim and take control.

2 — Just when we’re all gearing for a humdinger Finals with hope of it going the seven-game distance with a lot more of these classics, there goes Kyrie Irving limping to the locker room. In four rounds of playoffs, the Warriors have faced four teams with point guard injuries — Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, Pat Beverley and Irving.

1 — If 44 points, eight rebounds, six assists by LeBron wasn’t enough, can the Cavs hope to have a chance if Kyrie can’t go in Game 2? The winner of Game 1 is 48-20 all-time to win series in NBA Finals history.

Mr. Big Shot one cool customer

VIDEO: Veteran Billups calls it a career

There are players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin, whose careers throw off smoke and sparks and noise like drag racers, right from the starting line.

Then there’s Chauncey Billups, who simply hummed as quiet and cool as an air conditioner.

For 17 seasons and seven different NBA teams, Billups was the proverbial duck who might have been paddling furious beneath the surface, but never gave the appearance of doing anything but gliding across the water.

He moved fast by taking it slow and he always seemed to be taking it slow, even when pushing the ball down the court in the middle of a fast break. He was the strong man who never felt a need to flex his muscles until the game got late and there was heavy lifting to do. He played with a warm smile on his face that could chill a defender. He was often the shortest one on the floor, yet the player who stood tallest when it was needed most.

Mr. Big Shot.

The standard line about the 2004 Pistons is that they were the last team to win an NBA championship without a superstar.

But that’s if you measure a star only by its brightness, as one that grabs headlines along the way to the more critical task, which is grabbing games by the throat.

Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace did work in concert, a symphony orchestra in high tops and shorts. But it was Billups who stood on the rostrum with the baton in his hand, making sure everyone hit the right notes.

“He’s at the head of the table and he determines how people eat,” none other than Kevin Garnett once said when they were teammates in Minnesota.

That’s the way Billups had always been since his days as a teenager at Denver’s Skyland Rec Center, when he was often the youngest player on the court. He not only found a way to fit in, but developed a way to earn the respect and the trust of the older kids.

Funny thing is, it took a while to gain that same respect in the NBA. After a standout college career at Colorado, he was the No. 3 pick in the 1997 draft by the Celtics. But the franchise that prides itself on recognizing smarts didn’t keep around. Neither did the Raptors, Nuggets, Magic or Timberwolves.

So Billups finally wound up in Detroit in 2002 with a resume list of ex-teams that was longer than his arm, but not even a trace of doubt.

“My demeanor, how I am, it never swayed,” he said back then. “A lot of guys in this league when they’re not playing a lot of minutes, they get a chip on their shoulder, they’re mad at everybody. I’ve never been that way.”

Billups came to the Pistons at a time when then-president Joe Dumars was constructing a team in the “three-peat” era of the Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant off-court bickering, where he wanted talent to work together like five fingers inside a glove doubled up into a fist, where effort took a backseat to ego.

The point guard with the butler’s name and the sniper’s nerveless confidence was the perfect choice to pull it all together and be the driving force. Billups was the steady hand on the reins of disparate personalities that knew how and when to take clutch situations in the biggest of games into his own grasp. Thus, the nickname, Mr. Big Shot. The player who could miss his first 10 shots of the night and then coolly put No. 11 into the bottom of the net with a game or a playoff series on the line.

You could picture him in a tuxedo ordering a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Billups, Chauncey Billups, was always the player who could lock and bar the door, the one that took the guessing and drama out of that final minute. Send him to the line and he’d drill those six straight free throws to seal a win. Leave him an opening and he’d stop up and drain that long 3-pointer without thinking twice.

“Who else would you want with the ball in his hands at that point than Chauncey?” Dumars asked.

He was a five-time All-Star from 2006-2010, was MVP of The Finals when the Pistons took down the mighty Lakers in 2004, a two-time All-Defensive second team member and, notably, in 2013 was named NBA Teammate of the Year by a vote of his peers. The only question left is whether Hall of Famer voters five years from now were really paying attention.

Let the others throw off loud sparks. For 17 seasons Billups just hummed. Perspiring, but never letting you see him sweat.

Blogtable: What Next For The Pistons?

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

Fixing the Pistons | Take a break | Three simple words

VIDEO: The Starters take a look at the Pistons

Detroit has fired another coach: What does GM Joe Dumars do now?

Steve Aschburner, Since he’s unlikely to find a taker over the next week for Josh Smith, a dubious addition from the get-go, Dumars needs to do two things: Trade Rodney Stuckey by the Feb. 20 deadline to a playoff aspirant that craves more scoring punch off the bench, and then devote what’s left of the schedule to figuring out the best ways to use Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond as a full-time tandem. If the two can’t thrive on the floor together, each logging 35 minutes, then Monroe should be dealt this summer for a nice return.

Fran Blinebury, If he can’t unload the big contract he just gave Josh Smith, and that’s highly doubtful, then he might have to make a move a he doesn’t want to do, trading Greg Monroe.  The big lineup of the Pistons didn’t work under coach Mo Cheeks and there’s no reason to think it will work under another coach. That’s a chemistry and rotation problem that was created entirely by Dumars.  It’s time for Dumars to stop handing out free-agent money just because he has the available space — Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Smith.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comThe obvious thing to do is get rid of Josh Smith and that ridiculous contract he was awarded over the summer. Only one small problem: No GM is dumb enough to take it under today’s CBA. Is there a chance to get out of Brandon Jennings‘ contract? Doubtful, but I’d try like heck. Otherwise, there’s some cap room coming this summer, so try to fill positions of need to maximize players’ strengths.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBuild a time machine, go back and not sign Josh Smith and not sign Charlie Villanueva, although at least Charlie V comes off the cap after this season. Beyond that, Dumars does have options. Greg Monroe will be a restricted agent. Dumars can trade him by the Feb. 20 deadline and get something in return, and teams will be interested. Or do a sign-and-trade in July and get a return then (though with fewer options because that would be Monroe dictating the team the Pistons would have to strike a deal with) or keep Monroe with Andre Drummond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comTrading Greg Monroe is still the best way to go. But whether he trades Monroe, trades Josh Smith or trades neither, Dumars needs to acquire more shooting. The Pistons could be more successful by staggering their big three’s minutes, with a 30-minutes-per-game small forward who can space the floor (and play some defense). Shooting is so critical these days and the Pistons are the worst jump-shooting team in the league.

Sekou Smith, Joe Dumars doesn’t do anything now. His owner, Tom Gores, is the man who better have a master plan for what comes next. Because he’s now undercut Dumars twice (the first time was forcing Lawrence Frank on Dumars when Frank clearly was not his choice as head coach and now firing Cheeks just 50 games into this season). The fact is, Dumars had a fantastic run with the Pistons as both a player and executive that, barring a miraculous turn of events between now and the playoffs, has likely come to an end. It’s just time to pack up and move on.

Lang Whitaker, All Ball blog: Can Joe D. come out of retirement and play the three? It seems like everyone watching seems to realize that the Pistons have a logjam on the interior, with Monroe, Drummond and Josh Smith jockeying for playing time and floor space amongst themselves. Signing Smith wasn’t Mo Cheeks’ fault, but attempting to use him as a three out around the perimeter was. You want a quick fix? Trade Monroe or Drummond, move Smith to his natural four, and crank up the volume in Motown.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA PhilippinesI think he should stay put and not tinker with the roster too much. They just came together this year, so a little patience should be practiced with the roster that he has put together. They have the talent — it’s just a matter of building chemistry, teamwork and letting the team create its own identity.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA DeutschlandFrom what I saw in the Spurs game the players really did respond to what Loyer was doing and saying. So it might have been the right decision to move on from Cheeks after all. Having some inside information through a colleague, I know that Chauncey Billups will have a bigger part on the coaching staff, Rasheed Wallace will have a more important role. So the dynamics will be a bit different. In terms of players it will be important to make Brandon Jennings happy again because he was close with Cheeks. Andre Drummond, on the other hand, has some issues with the former coach. I don’t think the Pistons will make a trade going forward.

XiBin Yang, NBA ChinaIf Dumas won’t move the three big guy lineup, he really needs more consistent shooters. When you got two or even three big men on the front court at the same time, you’ve got to make the open court for them, which is tough with guys like Stuckey or Bynum, who have been living to get to the basket. Billups seems get ready to be an assistant coach or a head coach like Kidd, so it’s time to find some reseve guards such as Ridnour or Blake who can play both 1 and 2 guard position, to balance the spacing of the floor. Pope is good, but he may not provide what the team needs badly at this stage.

Coaching The NBA’s Hardheaded Players

VIDEO: Brent Barry and The Starters crew talk about J.R. Smith’s shoe antics

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — A sucker’s born every minute, or so they say. So maybe the Knicks can find one to dump their stupefying sixth man J.R. Smith upon. More likely, Knicks coach Mike Woodson is stuck with the shoelace bandit.

The NBA nailed Smith with a $50,000 fine Wednesday for “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct.” One day after the league warned Smith after he untied the shoelaces of Mavericks forward Shawn Marion as the two stood side by side awaiting a free throw, he tried it again in the very next game to Pistons forward Greg Monroe.

The New York Daily News reported that Smith has now been fined $105,000 since joining the Knicks in 2012, not to mention his one-game suspension in the playoffs for throwing an elbow at Boston’s Jason Terry, and his five-game suspension to start this season for violating the league’s drug policy. Meanwhile, the Knicks awarded Smith a three-year, $18 million contract during the summer.

A fed-up Woodson on Wednesday lit into his juvenile shooting guard on New York radio station 98.7 ESPN:

“I don’t condone things that I know you shouldn’t do. No, I’m not happy about this. Because again, he was warned, he comes back and he makes the same mistake, and it’s not right. I just got the information, I’m going to address it tomorrow when he comes in here for work, because it’s unacceptable. It really is.

“It’s unprofessional. That’s the only word I can use. Or two words. You just can’t do that. You just cannot do it.”

And …

“There’s no question, he’s done a lot of things this year that has put him in a bad position and our team in a bad position. Somehow, we’ve got to clean that up. This is unacceptable…I keep saying this every time something pops up, but it’s got to stop.”

But really, what can a coach do when dealing with a volatile, hardheaded (but also a needed) player such as Smith? I was talking about this very topic recently with Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who has such a player on his roster in Matt Barnes and just released another in Stephen Jackson.

Barnes is more of a hot-tempered, playground bully/team-bodyguard type whereas Smith is more of a loose cannon and silly prankster. But both are emotional, off-the-cuff players who do inexplicable things at any given moment that can hurt their teams either by drawing a technical foul, an ejection and/or suspension.

Rivers’ answer to what a coach can do to reign in such behavior? Not a lot.

“I just let them explode and then move on,” Rivers said, laughing. “There’s not much you’ve got to do. I had Rasheed [Wallace]. He probably was the test market for any emotional player. Rasheed was a great teammate, he was a great guy, but when he lost it, he lost it, and listen, better coaches than me coached Rasheed. … I came to the conclusion if they couldn’t stop it I’m not going to try.”

Barnes has played in only 19 games this season due to various injuries, but has already been fined two times for $25,000 each for lingering on the court after being ejected. Last month, Barnes put a hard foul on Timberwolves forward Kevin Love in the third quarter, drawing a flagrant 1. The referees reviewed it on replay and upgraded it to a flagrant 2, resulting in automatic ejection. Barnes flipped. The upgrade proved to be more about Barnes’ reputation, a problem in itself. The league reviewed the foul and acknowledged it should have remained a flagrant 1.

“You never want to put your team in a position of vulnerability or giving away extra free throws or extra points, especially down the stretch of the season or if it’s the playoffs; everything has to be calculated,” Barnes told last week. “It used to be a good, little game. Now it’s like a flag football-type game, so you really have to be smart about everything.”

His first ejection and subsequent fine came during a November game against the Thunder in which Barnes unnecessarily came to the defense of a teammate and got into an altercation with Thunder forward Serge Ibaka in the first half. Both players got tossed.

“My situation is I look at my teammates as my family, so it’s never really an altercation to me,” Barnes said. “It’s more if your teammates get into something, you get into something; that’s the way I was raised. I was raised to protect my brother and sister and my friends, so I look at my teammates as my family. I’m going to do whatever I can to help.”

How do you coach that?

“With Stephen and Matt, they are emotional and their emotions, for the most part, are in the right place; they want to help their team win,” Rivers said. “Yeah, you don’t want them to ever cross that line where it can hurt your team and when it does, it does, and you remind them of it and you just hope they get better. But that’s all you can do.

“I don’t know, it’s a tough one. I’d rather have it, I guess.”

Woodson and the Knicks aren’t so sure anymore in regard to Smith. The 10-year veteran had an excellent last season, earning Sixth Man of the Year honors, and many professed that he was a changed man, done with frivolous conduct and serious about taking care of business on the basketball court.

Going back to his playoff implosion and the multiple incidents since, that certainly does not appear to be the case. As Woodson said during his Wednesday radio appearance:

“If you look at what happened last year, everybody played a role on that team and J.R. was a big piece of the puzzle. Yeah, it can come from Carmelo [Anthony], it can come from his teammates, it can come from his coaching staff, it can come from me being there, it can come from the GM, the owner. At the end of the day, he’s got to grow up.”

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 18

VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 17


LeBron to sit against Pacers? | “Silent assassin” strikes again | Henry a solid investment for Lakers | Woody’s code red in New York 

No. 1: With or without LeBron, Heat need to beware of the Pacers — LeBron James might not play in tonight’s rematch between the Heat and Indiana Pacers thanks to that sore ankle he injured Monday night. But Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald is convinced that the Heat need to be on red alert with or without James against this upstart Pacers team that has designs on the Heat’s crown. And since they are the only two teams in the Eastern Conference that are legitimate title contenders, every single time they meet this season will serve as a referendum, of sorts, on both teams:

Heat players rolled their eyes. Asked when he circled the date of the matchup on his calendar, Chris Bosh deadpanned, “Yesterday.”

“What is a rivalry these days?” James said, dismissing the notion that Heat-Pacers qualified as one. He was the King ignoring the serfs as they girded for revolution.

Perhaps Heat players are taking the jaded, realistic view. Who cares about December hothouse flowers? The Heat blooms in June.

Phase One of the long NBA season is for warming up and preserving body parts, not peaking, according to the two-time defending champs. Part of the problem with a league in desperate need of tinkering is the soullessness of so many games. The schedule starts to look like a vast wasteland with mediocre teams plodding from one inconclusive skirmish to another. Realignment and relegation deserve study if the NBA wants to awake.

In the meantime, we have Heat-Pacers II, to be followed by Heat-Pacers III on March 26, Heat-Pacers IV on April 11 and presumably Heat-Pacers Apocalypse in the Eastern Conference finals.

So the Heat better pay attention. As coach Erik Spoelstra is fond of saying, championship habits are ingrained during the regular season. Heat players, who beat the Pacers in seven games in last year’s playoffs, have a right to act superior, but the Pacers won’t be any worse for wear by stockpiling confidence. While the Heat conserves energy, the Pacers hone their ability to exploit Miami’s flaws — skills that will come in handy in five months.

Roy Hibbert is perfecting how to become a 7-2, 300-pound thorn in the Heat’s side.

The center dominated the paint in Indy and made a season-high 10 baskets — almost all from close range as the Heat failed to prevent him from catching post passes. David West added 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

The Heat has no answer for their size and muscle. The Greg Oden Project continues, in secret, with no sign that the big man’s knees will be ready anytime soon. If and when he does return — and Hibbert said he’s looking forward to it — Oden has to make up for a lot of lost time. He hasn’t played in a regular-season game in more than four years.

Paul George is making the most of valuable on-the-job training against Miami. The emerging superstar had a harried first half against the Heat’s double teams last week, but he figured out how to unlock himself and sank three crucial three-pointers, finishing with 17 points.

James was the unselfish distributor with his balanced contribution of 17 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, plus feverish defense of George, but if James’ ankle will cooperate, he needs to be a more aggressive scorer Wednesday. At Indy, he made only 3 of 11 field goals in Miami’s anemic second, third and fourth quarters.

… Miami believes it can make do without a center — and has two titles to prove it. But the rebounding bugaboo almost doomed the Heat against Indiana last year and again against San Antonio in the NBA Finals. Even against Utah on Monday, Miami gave up 17 second-chance points in the first half.

“It’s always a point of emphasis for us,” Bosh said. “It keeps teams in it against us.”

VIDEO: LeBron James is hopeful he’ll be in the lineup against the Pacers


No. 2: Big Shot Lillard? Nah! Silent assassin mows owns Cleveland Damian Lillard is developing a reputation around the league in just his second season as one of the true big shot artists in the game. He drained his second game-winner of the week Tuesday night in Cleveland, outdueling All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in the process. Uncle Drew met up with the “Silent Assassin” Tuesday night and the ending was even better than the show that preceded it, writes Joe Freeman of The Oregonian. The Trail Blazers’ Houdini act makes for spectacular visuals that even the King approves of:

After Damian Lillard bludgeoned the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night, swishing a game-winning three-pointer before the final buzzer to carry the red-hot Trail Blazers to another victory, the superlatives flowed as free and effortless as a shot off Lillard’s right fingertips.
“Cold blooded,” Cleveland’s Dion Waiters said of the game-winner.
“Incredible,” Joel Freeland said of the dominant individual performance.
“He’s like a silent assassin on the court,” Earl Watson said of Lillard. “He’s deadly when he shoots the ball.”
Lillard was certainly a last-second marksman for the Blazers on Tuesday, calmly and confidently nailing a 30-foot step-back three with 0.4 seconds left to lift them to a 119-116 victory over the Cavaliers before 15,689 at Quicken Loans Arena. It was thesecond consecutive game-winner for Lillard — who hit a fadeaway jumper to beat the Detroit Pistons Sunday — and provided another remarkable moment in a season that continues to amaze.
“It’s crazy that we’re pulling off wins like this,” Freeland said of the Blazers, who possess the NBA’s best record at 22-4.

… Afterward, in another muted celebration, Lillard coolly flexed, flashed a menacing glare and bumped chests with Aldridge as teammates gathered around.

“There is nothing to break down,” coach Terry Stotts said, when asked to dissect the winning play. “Damian had it going … he had a special night. I thought it was appropriate that he finished it like that.”

VIDEO: Fan Night Top Ten featuring the vocal stylings of Beau Estes!


No. 3: Henry investment produces solid returns for Lakers — Kobe Bryant‘s return to action was a foregone conclusion for the Los Angeles Lakers and in turn the men who toiled in his place during his absence. But that sliver of opportunity provided one-time Memphis Grizzlies lottery pick Xavier Henry with the opening he needed to prove himself to the Lakers and the rest of the league. It was an investment that has delivered solid returns for the Lakers, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. It’s an investment that has worked out well for all involved:

Keeping faith When he set foot in this city nearly 3½ years ago, Xavier Henry was considered a highly touted draft prospect that could help the Memphis Grizzlies toward a deep playoff push.

Henry, whom Memphis selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, never did that. A right knee injury sidelined him for 35 games his rookie season. The Grizzlies then traded Henry the following year to New Orleans, where overlapping injuries buried him on the depth chart. “I was just faithful to God and stayed true to the Bible,” Henry said. “I perservered through it. I’ve been doing that so far in my career. It hasn’t been easy,”

The Lakers signed Henry to a one-year deal this offseason with a partially guaranteed contract worth $884,293, and the move became a good investment.

Henry only posted five points on 2 of 8 shooting in the Lakers’ win Tuesday against Memphis. But he has averaged a career-high 9.8 points on 44 percent shooting in 20.1 minutes per game. He has also shown marked improvement from November (6.8 points on 37.9 percent shooting) to December (13.9 points on 50 percent shooting).

“I’m trying to solidify myself and have a great career,” Henry said. “But it doesn’t happen in a day. I can’t have too many highs or lows. It’s about pushing through the whole season.”


No. 4: Next few days critical for Woodson — Time out controversies, mixed up injury updates and eroding confidence in the locker room and front office, could things get any worse for Knicks coach Mike Woodson? Well, if you let Frank Isola of the New York Daily News tell it, these next few days are critical for Woodson and the prospect of him holding on to his job through Christmas. Fall apart against the Milwaukee Bucks tonight and … well, that lump of coal will arrive a few days early:

According to a source, [Amar’e] Stoudemire “flipped out” when he learned of Woodson’s medical update and quickly took to Twitter to inform the fans ‘IM NOT INJURED.” He also said that his body and knees “feel great!” Of course, Stoudemire didn’t make the trip to Milwaukee, so Woodson isn’t entirely wrong. The Knicks don’t play again until Saturday, so technically Stoudemire is out for “a while.”

Now, whether Woodson is still coaching the Knicks by Saturday is anyone’s guess. [Knicks owner Jim] Dolan is the X factor, of course. Anything and everything is possible. If he woke up in October believing the Knicks were championship-ready, he could just as easily decide tomorrow that Allan Houston or Herb Williams should lead the team for the remainder of the season.

But Dolan likes Woodson and may be willing to give him a chance to salvage the season now that Tyson Chandler is expected back from a broken leg. Chandler’s presence is huge in so many areas but he’s also limited. He’s not a big scorer and he’s injury-prone.

The whole roster is injury-prone despite the Dolan narrative that only Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace were medical risks who all had to go. Kenyon Martin has an abdominal strain and is expected to be out two weeks. Pablo Prigioni is also out two weeks with a broken big toe. Raymond Felton, strained hamstring, two weeks.

(Do you get the feeling that the medical staff is under fire and instead of giving a four-week prognosis is now listing everyone at two weeks?) In Dolan’s defense, he only claimed this roster was built for the playoffs. He never promised it would get there.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Warriors finally get Andre Iguodala back in the lineup and at just the right time … Forget the analytics when it comes to Russell Westbrook, numbers just don’t do him justice … Underrated point guard Ty Lawson is the key to the Nuggets’ season and future … Celtics and Sixers ready to battle it out for Rockets big man Omer Asik?

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: You owe it yourself to take one more look at the work Damian Lillard put in against the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night, young fella is a BEAST …

VIDEO: Damian Lillard should get the key to the city after his work in Cleveland Tuesday night

Billups Agrees To 2-Year Deal With Detroit


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brandon Knight is going to finishing school for NBA point guards without ever leaving the Detroit Pistons’ practice facility.

No one should be happier to hear the news that former Pistons star Chauncey Billups, The Finals MVP in 2004, is returning to Detroit on a two-year, $5 million deal, as first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Billups, a five-time All-Star, was the ringleader of a Pistons crew that was dominant in the Eastern Conference for a five-season stretch from 2004-08. After being traded from Detroit to Denver, he helped guide his hometown Nuggets to the 2009 Western Conference finals alongside Carmelo Anthony. Last season, he helped Chris Paul and Blake Griffin lead the Los Angeles Clippers to the best season in franchise history and their first Pacific Division title.

His return to Detroit, though, represents a homecoming of a different kind. Billups made his name with the Pistons, going from a journeyman existence early in his career to one of the most well-respected players in the entire league.

Pistons boss Joe Dumars has already added Rasheed Wallace, who also starred on those teams with Billups, to the coaching staff. And Billups will not only play a vital role in the backcourt rotation, but perhaps his greatest value will be as a mentor to Knight, a talented young point guard who will learn plenty from a player like Billups.

He’s nearly a decade removed from his greatest moments with the Pistons, but he proved last season that he’s still got plenty left in his tank. He returned from a torn Achilles (suffered in February of 2012) to play in 22 games this season, averaging 8.4 points and 2.2 assists while playing 19 minutes a night.

The Pistons signed Josh Smith to a four-year, $54 million deal Wednesday, solidifying a frontcourt rotation that also includes budding young stars Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond as well as Kyle Singler, Jonas Jerebko and second-round pick Tony Mitchell.

What wasn’t clear until now is what they were going to do to fortify the backcourt rotation after veteran point guard Jose Calderon left for Dallas via free agency. Adding Billups softens that blow and gives the Pistons a significant upgrade in the leadership department.

Coach Don’t Lie: ‘Sheed On Pistons’ Bench


ORLANDO, Fla. — Does anybody know the NBA record for technical fouls by an assistant coach in a season?

Might be time to look it up, because it seems that Rasheed Wallace will be making his debut among the carriers of the clipboards as he joins new head coach Maurice Cheeks on the Pistons’ bench. Nothing is official yet, but Wallace was on the bench Monday for the Pistons’ game against the Celtics in the Orlando Pro Summer League.

“What Rasheed brings is knowledge of the game,” said Cheeks. “How to do things. When to do things. Where to do things. That’s important for any NBA team, but it’s going to be especially important for us this season because we’ve got so many young players.”

As they say, coach don’t lie.

Greg Monroe (23), Tony Mitchell (21) and Andre Drummond (19) are all front court players under 24 years old and the most likely targets for tutoring by Wallace, the 6-foot-11 Wallace. But even the Pistons’ top draft picking, shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will benefit just from being around Wallace, according to Cheeks.

“This is a guy who has been around the league for a long time, played for a lot of different teams, in a lot of different situations,” Cheeks said. “He can pass along what to do in a game to help you win one game and what to do in a locker room to help you win a lot of games down the line.”

Wallace’s 17-year career took him through Washington, Portland, Atlanta, Detroit, Boston and New York, where he retired for a second time at the end of last season following an aborted comeback attempt with the Knicks. He averaged 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds and his addition was the final piece to the puzzle that produced the Pistons 2004 championship, when they stunned Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in The Finals.

Of course, Wallace is known as much for his outbursts of temper, which led to more than 300 career technical fouls, including an NBA record 41 during the 2000-01 season. Most famous was his expletive-filled rant following Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston and the Dec. 12, 2012 game against Phoenix when he drew two technicals and was ejected in less than 90 seconds. He got the second for saying his trademark “Ball don’t lie,” when Goran Dragic missed a free throw.

Cheeks was the one who reached out to the 39-year-old Wallace about the possibility of starting a coaching career.

“I think he can be a very valuable part of what we’re trying to do next season,” Cheeks said.

Not to mention drawing all the attention on the bench away from the head coach when the T’s start to fly.

“I’m letting him take all those bullets,” Cheeks said laughing. “Rasheed’s used to it.”

Coach (Rasheed Wallace) Don’t Lie?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Jason Kidd isn’t the only former New York Knicks veteran to trade in his locker room stall for a spot in the coach’s locker room. In what has to qualify as the best news perhaps of the entire offseason, HT fave Rasheed Wallace will soon be announced as a member of the Detroit Pistons’ coaching staff under Mo Cheeks.

Wallace is in Orlando for summer league action with the Pistons and was spotted in the gym at the Amway Center this afternoon with a polo shirt on with the Pistons’ logo on the upper left side. Wallace helped the Pistons become an Eastern Conference power and won a ring in 2004 and made another trip to The Finals in 2005.

He’s expected to work with the Pistons’ young frontcourt core of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Tony Mitchell, hopefully imparting some of the same wisdom he did for guys like Jermaine O’Neal and Zach Randolph when they youngsters in Portland playing behind a then-All-Star Wallace. Both O’Neal and Randolph went on to become All-Stars after being tutored by Wallace, who saw his season and likely his playing career come to an end this season in New York when a stress fracture sidelined him.

Wallace’s presence could be a huge boost for Pistons’ free-agent pickup Josh Smith, who has agreed to a four-year, $56 million deal with the team that cannot be signed until Wednesday. For all of the hype about Wallace’s technical fouls and run-ins with officials over the course of his career, he’s been lauded by many who have played with him as the ideal teammate and one of the smartest players to come through the league in his era.

Bucks’ Need More Than Bravado To Beat Heat

MIAMI — Brandon Jennings is fearless. The Milwaukee Bucks’ point guard always has been and probably always will be. And it’s hard not to admire that trait in him.

You don’t skip college for pro ball in Italy, declare yourself better than than international teen sensation Ricky Rubio and then back that claim up with four fantastic NBA seasons and have an ounce of fear in you.

But that fearlessness alone won’t be enough to propel the Bucks in their first round playoff series against the Miami Heat. They’ll need All-Star work out of Jennings and equal doses of fearlessness and spectacular play from the entire roster just to make this thing as interesting on the court as it has been in the build up to Game 1 here tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena. (On TNT, 7 p.m. ET)

Thursday night at the Wisconsin Sports Award ceremony, where he was picking up an award for his work in the community, Jennings uttered these famous words: “I’m real confident. I’m sure everybody is writing us off but I see us winning the series in six.”

That’s a playoff guarantee even Rasheed Wallace could appreciate. And while Jennings said later that he was making that prediction after joking about it with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, his words took on a life of their own. If he was attempting to put the pressure on the Heat instead of him and Monta Ellis or Bucks coach Jim Boylan, it’s not clear whether that mission has been accomplished just yet.

There is, however, recent evidence that a No. 8 can actually pull this off.

Two of the five instances in league history when a No. 1 seed has been upset by a No. 8 have come in the past two seasons. The Philadelphia 76ers did it last year against the Chicago Bulls, but only after Bulls All-Star Derrick Rose tore his ACL in Game 1. And the Memphis Grizzlies stunned the San Antonio Spurs the year before that.

This Heat team, however, is a far superior outfit to either of those aforementioned upset victims. They won 66-games this season, including that monster 27-game win streak, and have been vetted like few other great teams when you consider all that has gone on with this Heat crew the past three seasons.

“We don’t feel we can be beat in a series,” Heat center Chris Bosh said. “We say that in the most humble manner possible. We’ve been humbled already. I think before, all those other teams [upset], they were either injured or just caught slipping or they were in a five-game series. We’re not in that predicament so it’s a little different.”

The Bucks also have to contend with a rested and hungry LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two stars who have welcomed all challenges since joining forces with Bosh here in Miami.

Jennings might very well have the advantage in his individual matchup against Mario Chalmers, though the ultra-confident Chalmers would love to argue that. And the Bucks have the same fighting chance any No. 8 seed does before the games actually begin. But it’s not like the Heat don’t see the challenge coming. They’ve been on guard for three years running now.

That would explain the reaction of Bosh, Wade and the rest of the Heat. They’ve seen and heard it all before (you remember the Indiana series from last year or the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals last year?). All that’s left is to play the games.

“We’ve been in every situation where it’s happened,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ve been up in a series and it’s happened. We’ve been down in a series and it’s happened. It’s happened, so what? [Sunday] night, bring it. That’s the only thing we can control.”

It’s going to take more than a healthy dose of bravado for the Bucks, or anyone else for that matter, to beat the Heat.