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Posts Tagged ‘Ricky Rubio’

Morning Shootaround — June 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Jazz seek depth | More straight talk, less Bull, please | Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax

No. 1: Jazz seek depth  — The reported addition of George Hill allows the Utah Jazz to turn their focus to role players, according to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News, after a 2015-16 season in which injuries pulled back a curtain on a roster lacking depth:

Though Utah brass like their young core — including rehabbing Dante Exum and Alec Burks, both expected to be healthy by training camp — the organization has an offseason objective of fortifying the roster.

That means, if possible, acquiring more talent via free agency and/or trades.
Securing veteran playmaker George Hill — whom ESPN’s Zach Lowe described as “a really good point guard” — was a good start for this playoff-hungry franchise.

But Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has even more in mind. He’s used words like “active” and “aggressive” in describing how his staff will approach the upcoming free-agency period.

In retrospect, Lindsey took responsibility for not having enough depth on the Jazz roster in 2015-16 to help Quin Snyder deal with the unexpected rash of injuries that the team experienced, including to Exum, Burks, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.

“We’re not going to sit here and alibi. Every single sports team has injuries,” Lindsey said the day after the team’s 40-42 season ended a couple of wins shy of a playoff spot. “Ultimately, I’m the most responsible up here on the dais — not Quin, not the coaches, not the players — about roster construction.”

The Jazz’s plan last offseason seemed to make sense. The team had finished the 2014-15 season on a tear, winning 21 of their final 32 games led by a dominating defensive surge.

Instead of rolling the dice on acquiring experienced free agents to bolster the up-and-comers, Lindsey & Co. opted to gamble on youth. Injuries — and a late-season collapse — made that plan backfire on a team that came oh-so-close but not close enough.

“If we do this the right way with the right character — and Quin’s such a good communicator — we’ll be able to manage the season better,” Lindsey said. “The players are like everybody else. They saw what happened last season and they know that we know that we need some reinforcements. Come early July, we plan on being very active in the free-agent market.”

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No. 2: More straight talk, less Bull, please — A year ago, it was the coach’s fault. This season, it was the players’ fault. At some point, it’s going to be management’s fault, even if the Chicago Bulls’ top-heavy down management style doesn’t acknowledge that. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has a reputation for backing the suits in his front-office, be it with the Bulls or the MLB White Sox. But sooner or later, general manager Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson are going to face some measure of scrutiny and have to ‘fess up for the team’s underperformance the same way former coach Tom Thibodeau did in 2015 and the way Derrick Rose did with his trade last week to New York. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune looked at the Bulls’ monolithic approach and the growing distrust from many of the teams’ fans:

The bigger issue that emerged is this: Will Bulls fans trust a rebuilding plan designed and executed by a man so many find hard to believe?

With Rose gone, Forman instantly becomes the most polarizing member of the organization, lacking Butler’s popularity while eliciting the most emotional reaction. Lately, it’s Grrrrrrr, Forman. Chicagoans can detect BS as easily as they can spot red-light cameras, and they dislike both.

Forman first sounded disingenuous when he insisted on saying the Bulls are retooling, not rebuilding. Then consider Forman’s muddled confirmation of the Bulls’ interest in Providence point guard Kris Dunn, selected fifth by the Timberwolves

“We liked him. … We had talks like we do about moving up,” Forman said.

Of course the Bulls did. On draft day, teams in flux as much as the Bulls weigh a variety of options, which is what made Forman’s flat denial of [Jimmy] Butler trade talks so implausible. How did the Bulls admittedly explore trading up for Dunn with the Celtics and Timberwolves without dangling Butler — whom both teams wanted?

Forman comes across to those of us who know him as likable and funny, but you never will hear the words candid or transparent used to describe the Bulls GM. With a return to respectability the most realistic goal for 2016-17, the Bulls could use a little candor and a lot of transparency. Anything less threatens to turn people off. A team likely to struggle on the court need not give fans another reason to look away.

The Bulls have no worries related to attendance — the United Center regularly sells out — but the Rose deal reminds us that this is the wrong week to ignore how perception can shape reality in Chicago sports. No metric accurately measures civic confidence, but experience tells me the Bulls rank lower in that category than any other professional sports team in town, at least rivaling the lack of faith in the White Sox. Since the day the Bulls replaced coach Tom Thibodeau with Fred Hoiberg — Forman’s hand-picked candidate — skepticism has surrounded a team whose dysfunctional decline only intensified the scrutiny

Everybody understood how badly Rose needed a change of scenery because of his incompatibility with Butler. But isn’t it fair to wonder how Hoiberg’s arrival exacerbated the problems that hastened Rose’s departure? And who is most responsible for Hoiberg coaching the Bulls? The same executive who just added “I Traded Derrick Rose” to his legacy.

Yet the Bulls have left no doubt whom they want associated most with their latest plan to get past LeBron James. To articulate the Bulls’ biggest transaction of the post-Jordan era, Forman appeared alone to face questions. To discuss drafting Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, an excellent pick that created a positive ripple, Forman again sat solo behind the microphone.

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No. 3: Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax — Reputations matter. So do resumes. So when a successful team completes a trade with an unsuccessful team, there might be some bias involved when folks on the outside evaluate the deal, tilting its apparent merits ever so slightly. That’s what Orlando Sentinel columnist Brian Schmitz sees in the reactions to the Magic-Thunder trade in which veteran power forward Serge Ibaka was shipped to central Florida in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the draft pick that became Domantas Sabonis. What allegedly looks so lopsided to some doesn’t appear that way to Schmitz:

This is what happens when you lose as much as Orlando has the past four seasons: You lose credibility locally and nationally.

A lot of what you do will be panned by the public – no matter if essentially trading Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka makes sense for the Magic.

The Magic had, as [GM Rob] Hennigan called it, a “logjam” of wing players, thus making Oladipo expendable. The Thunder had a stable of big men, thus making Ibaka expendable. The underlying theme in both scenarios is that Oladipo and Ibaka will be looking for new contracts after next season. Neither player was particularly happy at times with their role last season.

So instead of the trade being portrayed more as good for both teams – ESPN’s Chad Ford did call it that — it is being hailed as a win for the Thunder.

“We need to call the cops — OKC robbed Orlando,” tweeted HBO Sports’ Bill Simmons.

“I don’t bet against [Thunder GM] Sam Presti when it comes to picking players. Trading Ibaka for Sabonis/Oladipo/Ilyasova? Advantage, OKC,” tweeted Skip Bayless of Fox Sports.

After I lauded Hennigan’s move, I received an-email from a ticked-off Magic fan that echoed others: “That’s a bad trade and a bad column. Let’s face it. This Magic GM is just as bad as the last one.”

Perception is a funny thing.

The trade made by the Thunder is largely considered genius because they’re contenders. The deal made by the Magic is largely considered wrong-headed because they’re bottom-dwellers.

Orlando also is perceived as a somewhat dysfunctional franchise, and it’s not without merit. They couldn’t keep Dwight Howard or — most recently — Scott Skiles from walking out.

I get it: OKC earns the benefit of the doubt.

But when you have All Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, any move the Thunder make tends to look brilliant. They skew the evaluation system.

Why, all of a sudden, Oladipo has morphed into Dwyane Wade and Ibaka is viewed as a spare part. An ESPN.com article even suggests that this trade moves OKC ahead of Golden State in the West. Wow, if Oladipo had that kind of impact, the Magic should have won more games.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes on board, Team USA’s roster finally looks set. … There is a Minnesota media crush on Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio that might not be shared by new coach Tom Thibodeau and it has some in the Twin Cities fretting. … What is life like for Knicks’ prospect Kristaps Porzingis back home in Latvia? Esquire magazine with the answer to everyone’s most pressing question.

Morning shootaround — June 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Trade talks for Butler fizzle out | Celtics stand pat on Draft night | Magic, Thunder both benefit from trade

No. 1: Reports: Trade talks for Butler fizzle on Draft night — On Wednesday, the Chicago Bulls dealt former MVP and hometown hero Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks. On Thursday night, the Bulls held the No. 14 pick in the NBA Draft and as the night unfolded, rumors began to circulate that the Bulls were looking to trade their lone remaining star, Jimmy Butler, to perhaps the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ultimately, Butler wasn’t dealt and remains in Chicago, but K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune details why that’s the case (and some of the deals Chicago was offered):

The Bulls held advanced discussions with the Celtics centered on Butler and the No. 3 pick. One proposal featured Avery Bradley, a source said. Another involved Jae Crowder, a second source said. Other pieces would have been included.

But the Celtics have a reputation around the league of trying to win trades, and the overall package kept changing and never met the Bulls’ liking, sources said. Management understands the talent and value of Butler. And the Bulls ultimately liked the package they received from the Knicks for Rose more than the package offered for Butler.

Butler is on a favorable deal in the age of the rising salary cap. And the Bulls appreciate his two-way talents and hard work ethic, which is why the internal debate proved so engaging. Talks with the Timberwolves, who selected Dunn at No. 5 after the Celtics passed on him, stalled when they offered Ricky Rubio and the No. 5 pick, sources said.

“We like Jimmy Butler,” Forman said. “We didn’t shop Jimmy Butler.”

In a scene reminiscent of Elton Brand visiting the Berto Center in 2001 after Jerry Krause traded him to the Clippers for the draft rights to Tyson Chandler, Butler stopped by the Advocate Center for a workout. He was in an area off limits to reporters.

Timberwolves coach and President Tom Thibodeau told reporters in Minnesota he drafted Dunn to keep him.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has more on how the Wolves angle of the trade sputtered out and how Forman tried to recover after it:

Sources told ESPN.com that the Timberwolves drafted Dunn, after the Providence guard unexpectedly lasted until the fifth pick, then pushed hard to see whether they could hammer out a trade with the Bulls, who are also known to be big fans of Dunn.

But the Bulls, sources say, ultimately decided not to go ahead with a deal in which they’d be forced to surrender Butler just one day after completing a blockbuster trade with New York that sent Derrick Rose to the Knicks.

Butler was actually spotted at the Bulls’ facility Thursday evening, a source told ESPN.com, but Bulls general manager Gar Forman said after the draft that he didn’t even know Butler was in the building and tried to cool off trade speculation regarding the two-time All-Star.

“Jimmy’s in and out of the building all the time when he’s in town,” Forman said, “During the draft, we started getting some texts and saw something on TV that we were in heated talks with somebody. I don’t know what it was saying. We were in no talks with anybody. There was no discussion during the entire draft this evening as far as Jimmy Butler was concerned.”

Butler rubbed teammates and front-office personnel the wrong way last season when he tried to take a more vocal leadership role within the locker room. But Forman, in a display of semantic gymnastics, held to the fact that the Bulls weren’t actively shopping Butler.

“We have never made a call in regards to Jimmy Butler,” Forman said. “We’ve talked about, we value Jimmy Butler, we’re very happy to have Jimmy Butler. We’ve got a phenomenal basketball player who was an All-Star and All-NBA defender, is still young. Obviously we’ve got him under contract long-term, those are all positive. He, again, is what we want to be. We’ve said this all along. We like Jimmy Butler, we did not shop Jimmy Butler. Did we receive calls? Of course we did, and that’s our job to listen to calls. We get calls on a lot of our players, and that’s stuff that happens all throughout the league.”

“You’ve got to keep an open mind,” Forman said in regard to a potential future Butler deal. “I think [Bulls executive vice president] John Paxson said it best when we met [with the media] in [April]. He was only around one guy in an 11-year career that was untradable, and that was Michael Jordan. I mean, you’re always going to listen, but we value — and I’ve said this — we value Jimmy. We appreciate Jimmy. We think Jimmy is a heck of a basketball player. We love his work ethic. And for us to ever consider anything, it would have to be something that just absolutely knocked our socks off.”

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Morning shootaround — June 6


NEWS OF THE MORNING
Green delivers in Game 2 | Cavaliers heart, toughness questioned | LeBron: ‘I have to be better’ | Warriors breezing into history | Report: Rubio open to trade

No. 1: Green is money for Warriors in Game 2 winDraymond Green‘s role for the Golden State Warriors is clearly defined. The All-Star forward serves as the emotional and vocal leader for the world champions, a defensive-minded hybrid point forward/center capable of playing the role of rim protector and facilitator in the same sequence. But Green showed off his splashy side in the Warriors’ Game 2 blowout win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday at Oracle Arena. Our very own Scott Howard-Cooper describes the Day Day takeover:

This didn’t earn him a flagrant foul, maybe even an ejection, and a suspension for the next game? Seriously?

Draymond Green openly pummeled Cleveland, the team and the city, on Sunday. He stepped on their throat, belted away their response plans with a tight fist, kicked them where it hurts and yet not one disciplinary whistle from referees to slow the rampage. It was like no one could stop him.

There were about 20,000 people watching in person and millions more on TV — they are all witnesses — though maybe not the Cavaliers, since they undoubtedly turned away in disgust and shame. And the way everyone around Green cheered the intentional infliction of pain. He hit back-to-back three-pointers in the second quarter, following a make from behind the arc about four minutes earlier, and Oracle Arena erupted.

The Warriors, too. With Green leading the charge, they went from trailing 28-27 to leading 52-37 to turn Game 2 of the Finals into an early blowout and eventually a 110-77 win. When the smoke cleared, the man facing the most unique of scrutiny had 28 points, including five three-pointers, seven rebounds and five assists against one turnover.

Green is one flagrant-foul point from a suspension and/or two technicals away from being forced to sit out a game ever since his emotions became the focus of attention in the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City. Or, rather, the focus of negative attention. His energy and role as a locker-room leader, even in last season’s championship despite while in just a third-year pro, has long been credited as a driving force for Golden State.

These playoffs, though, are when the emotions became a problem and maybe even a pressing problem. Kicking the Thunder’s Steven Adams in the groin — inadvertently, Green insisted repeatedly — could have cost the Warriors their starting power forward and small-ball center for a game at the very moment Golden State was fighting for survival. And then, after the league decided against a suspension, Green got a technical in the third quarter of Game 5 of the West finals.

But he has been the personification of composure since. Zero flagrants, zero techs in his last four-plus playoff games. In that time, the Warriors became only the 10th team to ever rally from a 3-1 deficit in the playoffs and now own a 2-0 lead against the Cavaliers in The Finals. Twenty-two assists against nine turnovers over the same time.

“Draymond does everything for us,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He defends. When we play our small lineup, he’s our rim protector. It’s a tough job in this series because he has to guard Kevin Love, who is usually spaced out at the three-point line. So he’s got to pick his spots, how to help and try not to stray too far away from Love and still be able to help out on LeBron. So it’s a difficult job. But I thought Draymond was great. Obviously he knocked down his three-point shots tonight, which is just a bonus. But he’s always one of our most important players and had a heck of a game.”

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Blogtable: Your All-Defensive team picks?

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


BLOGTABLE: How long to rest Steph? | Your All-Defensive team picks? |
Most attractive coaching vacancy?



VIDEOKawhi Leonard receives his Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year award

> Kawhi Leonard is the Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row. Who should join him on the NBA’s All-Defensive first team?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst:

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

Pretty sure that’s who I voted for.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

Since I voted for this honor among the NBA’s slate of annual awards, I’m just retyping my ballot here. Leonard, Green and Jordan, in order, were my first, second and third selections for Kia Defensive Player of the Year, too. Leonard is the best on-ball defender in the NBA, Green’s versatility and want-to is unsurpassed and Jordan alters whole game plans. (Just for the record, here’s my second team: Jae Crowder, Paul Millsap, Hassan Whiteside, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson.)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

There are several deserving candidates at center, among Whiteside, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert, Andre Drummond, Tim Duncan and others. It’s easy to imagine votes firing out on every direction for center when the actual balloting is released. Bradley may have been the third-best defender this season regardless of position.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

They’re easily the gold standard right now. Leonard is young enough to pull a Jamal Crawford and be a multiple winner of a performance award.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

The forward spots are easy. It’s tempting to put Green at center and replace Gobert with Paul George (watch this guy fight through screens in the Toronto series), Paul Millsap or Andre Iguodala, but Green played about 2/3 of his minutes at the four. Gobert missed 21 games, but was the league’s best rim protector. It’s hard to keep Avery Bradley off the list, but Paul and Rubio are two point guards that make a big impact with their ball pressure and ability to stay in front of their man.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

And Hassan Whiteside would be the sixth man on this team.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics

The theme of this all-defensive team is its phenomenal versatility. All of these players can guard multiple situations. Bradley has taken over for Allen as the NBA’s top backcourt defender.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

Well, first of all, my Defensive Player of the Year ballot had Kawhi, Green and Jordan in that order. Because while I appreciate Draymond’s versatility, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a player as aggressive and ravenous as Leonard is when playing on-ball defense. That was my front line. In the back court, I went with Paul, who plays at such a consistently high level play after play, game after game, and I went with Allen, because I didn’t want him getting mad at me on Twitter like last year.

Blogtable: Most attractive coaching vacancy in NBA is …?

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


BLOGTABLE: How long to rest Steph? | Your All-Defensive team picks? |
Most attractive coaching vacancy?



VIDEOThe Washington Wizards fired Randy Wittman on April 14

> You’re a head coach looking for a job in the NBA. Which vacancy is more attractive: Minnesota, Sacramento or Washington?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: This is a serious question? Only one of those teams has the combo platter of Karl-Anthony Towns, aged 20, and Andrew Wiggins, aged 21, along with side dishes Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad and Nemanja Bjelica. That’s in Mary Richards’s town, Minneapolis. You do notice that just about everyone who’s ever picked up a clipboard is angling for the Wolves’ gig, don’t you?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Minnesota is the winner here by a considerable margin, on par with how easily Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns won (or will win) their Kia Rookie of the Year awards last season and this. Those two, along with Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad and the lottery pick they add this June are gems in various stages of being cut. Flip Saunders in 2014-15 and Sam Mitchell this season handled some of the dirty work, while the next head coach will end the Timberwolves’ playoff drought at 12 or 13 seasons (they last qualified in 2004). That will end my claim as the only Minneapolis beat writer to cover that franchise in the postseason, but it’s a streak I’ll be happy to see end.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comDo well really have to ask this question? It’s Minnesota by a mile. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine to start. There’s a reason why the Timberwolves got the choosy veterans Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy to sit down with them first. It’s a solid foundation that could become a contender for a decade.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI know which is the least attractive: Sacramento. That leaves us with Minnesota and Washington. Tough call. Based on current rosters, the Wizards have a better chance to win now, led by John Wall and Bradley Beal. But the young Timberwolves have a higher ceiling projecting to the future, and probably much higher. The Wolves also have a big chip the Wiz will not be offering for a top candidate: the chance to also run basketball operations. That won’t be offered to everyone, but for someone like Tom Thibodeau it could be the ultimate selling point between Minnesota and somewhere else.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThis is like saying who should be MVP, Steph Curry or the field? Minnesota by far is the more attractive opening because of a combination of young talent, a lottery pick on the way and lots of salary cap space. The only hazard is Minneapolis’ winter. The Wizards are next because if nothing else, they have John Wall. Then there’s Sacramento, and the best you can say about the Kings’ job is that it’s one of 30, at least you’re in the NBA.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Minnesota, for sure. Karl-Anthony Towns, a perennial MVP candidate in time if he has the right supporting cast, is reasons Nos. 1, 2 and 3 for his ability to make an impact on offense, defense and in the locker room. Andrew Wiggins has a world of talent, Zach LaVine was much improved after moving to shooting guard in the second half of the season, and Ricky Rubio is a point guard you can trust to run your offense and stay in front of his man on defense. Sacramento is obviously last on the list. Your reputation might take a hit for just accepting that job.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Minnesota has the highest ceiling, when you factor in the quality of the young talent already in place, the assets (Draft and otherwise) available and the non-existent expectations that are in place right now. A program-builder could come in there and mold talents like Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine into the pillars of a playoff team for years to come. Sacramento and Washington have All-Stars in place, but the outlook for the immediate future isn’t nearly as promising.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

Morning shootaround — March 20


VIDEO: The Fast Break – March 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wizards owner says team can make playoffs | Ricky Rubio still showing growth | Sixers’ growth slower than that of their rival | Is Curry changing the game?

No. 1: Wizards owner says team can make playoffs — You can say the Wizards have been one of the more disappointing teams in the league and currently find themselves in the outside looking in regarding the playoffs. But Washington owner Ted Leonsis prefers to see the glass as being half full and believes the team can still make the playoffs, which mathematically is definitely possible. You wonder if “making the playoffs” sounds more like an ultimatum from the owner and whether heads will roll if Washington, which scored an upset over the Raptors last spring, fails to make the cut. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post reports:

The Wizards have strangled and then revived their playoff chances more times than I can count. Most recently, they imploded in Chicago, then won four straight games. Then they lost five straight — including three on a brutal West Coast swing — before rebounding with three straight wins, two against playoff contenders. Don’t worry about these details: just know that when they reach the absolute precipice of disaster, they recover just enough to keep us interested until the next disappointment.

Washington’s schedule still looks forgiving; seven of its final 14 games are against truly awful teams. But only an extreme optimist could continue to have total faith in this team after the past few months.

Ted Leonsis is an extreme optimist.

During a radio appearance this week, Leonsis was asked serious questions about the Wizards future: about how this team could both miss the playoffs and lose its first-round pick, about his commitment to patience, and about how he would decide whether General Manager Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman deserve to be back.

“We’re going to make the playoffs,” Leonsis told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan. “We have to believe that. We have to be focused on that. That’s all we’re looking at.”

Leonsis said this on Wednesday afternoon. That was before the Wizards beat the Bulls and Sixers to pull within a 1.5 games of the eighth seed. It wasn’t necessarily pretty; Washington tried like crazy to lose to Philadelphia on Thursday night. And the Wizards would still need to pass two teams to make the postseason. But Leonsis, like most of us, at least sees a path.

“This has been an outlier year, mostly because of how many injuries we’ve suffered,” Leonsis said. “We had a very poor road trip — Bradley Beal didn’t play at all — and then Bradley Beal plays 24 minutes [against Detroit] and the team just looks different. John Wall looks like a different player when he doesn’t have to be the first offensive scoring option, he can set other players up.

“And so we’ll take a look at how we end the season in the offseason,” the owner said. “But right now, we’re just focused on do we have our full contingent of players, can we play the kind of system that we want, can we amp up the energy defensively. And it seems trite, you hear this all the time, but we truly are in the mode of you’ve got to play one game at a time, and be totally focused and conscious of just that one impediment that’s in front of you tonight.”

 

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Morning shootaround — March 5


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Time for Tyronn Lue and the Cavs to make a leap forward | Ricky Rubio’s days numbered in Minny? | Did the Heat come looking for Lance?

No. 1: Time for Tyronn Lue and the Cavs to make a leap forward — The Cleveland Cavaliers are still the class of the Eastern Conference but their hold doesn’t seem so vice-grip-like anymore. It’s not that the Raptors have overtaken Cleveland in the standings, but Toronto is close. And besides, in the big picture, the Cavs must compare themselves with the best of the West, if as expected Cleveland returns to the NBA Finals. Such is the life when you have LeBron James and the goal is title-or-bust. The problem is the Cavs still haven’t taken off since the coaching change to Tyronn Lue. ESPN.com‘s Dave McMenamin says the Cavs better get busy:

Lue has had precious little time to go on anything but instincts since taking over for the fired David Blatt as head coach of the Cavaliers some five weeks ago.

Not only was roaming the sidelines as a head coach new to him, but here he was doing it in the middle of the season without the benefit of a training camp or a coaching staff of his choosing. The team he was taking over needed someone to corral a collection of headstrong superstars in order to succeed, all the while adhering to a championship-or-bust decree. Simple, right?

Lue’s overall record of 12-6 is nothing to be ashamed of, but when you take over for a guy who went 30-11 to start the season, anything less than exemplary is a failure. Lue was reminded of that last week when the Cavs lost three out of four and it felt like the walls were caving in on Cleveland — at least from the outside looking in.

There was daily drama from questions about how much LeBron James has left in the tank after a deplorable performance in a loss to Detroit, to criticism directed at Kyrie Irving in a shoddy defensive showing against Toronto, to a condemnation of the entire team when they were walked all over in Washington.

There were also trade rumors about Kevin Love leading up to the trade deadline, a report detailing Irving’s discontent and his superstar, James, jetting down to Miami for a couple of days this week to get away from it all when the team had off.

There’s good reason the bags under Lue’s brown eyes are more noticeable these days. A split screen of Lue today next to a photo of him back in January when Blatt was at the helm and he was simply the highest paid assistant coach in all of basketball would show accelerated aging — as if someone placed a “U.S. presidential term” filter on his face on Instagram.

Yet he was able to rationalize each challenge.

Love and Irving? They’re still in uniform and won’t be going anywhere between now and June, which is all Lue is focused on anyway. The Raptors loss? “I was pleased about leading 46 minutes of the game and two of our Big Three not playing particularly well offensively,” Lue said.

The Wizards letdown? “LeBron [was] not playing, so I didn’t have any issue with it at all.”

***

No. 2:Ricky Rubio’s days numbered in Minny? — There have been rumors swirling for some time in Minnesota about Ricky Rubio. On the surface, it’s a bit of a surprise; Rubio is a very good passer who sees the floor and finds teammates, and his defense isn’t terrible (though not solid). He’s also young and still growing. That said, there are some in the organization, apparently some very influential voices, who feel the Wolves would be better off with a new point guard next season. Rubio’s name surfaced during the trade deadline (Kris Middleton of the Bucks was mentioned) but nothing was done. Here’s Zach Lowe of ESPN.com on the subject of Rubio and where he stands (or not):

After some initial talks, the Wolves told the Bucks they would swap Ricky Rubio for Middelton, and when the Bucks declined, the Wolves even discussed the possibility of tossing in a protected 2016 first-round pick, per league sources familiar with the matter. Other outlets have reported of the Bucks’ interest in Rubio — Bucks head coach Jason Kidd seems to have a thing for rangy point guards with busted jumpers — but they never seriously entertained trading Middleton, sources say.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker were never on the block, leaving the Bucks with only one real counter: a point guard challenge trade of Michael Carter-Williams for Rubio. The Wolves obviously weren’t doing that, and discussions died, sources say.

The theoretical Rubio-Middleton swap, and that the Bucks now see Middleton as the more valuable player, lands smack at the intersection of several on- and off-court trends executives are still trying to grasp. Going all-in for Middleton makes a ton of sense given the skyrocketing salary cap that will warp the NBA’s financial landscape in the next two years. He’s just 24, thriving in the first year of a five-year, $70 million contract with a declining year-over-year salary after 2016-17. Almost every deal signed last summer, under the current $70 million cap, will look like a bargain in two years — especially those attached to younger two-way players like Middleton just entering their primes.

We all focus on the next superstar that might become available via trade: DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, or whichever name flutters into the news cycle this week. One or two of those guys might even get traded in the next year. But most don’t, and when one becomes available, the Celtics and a couple of other teams are in position to outbid almost anyone.

Given that reality, I wondered before the season if a team might use its best trade ammo to chase a younger guy who had just signed a new contract. The two names I mentioned: Middleton and Tobias Harris. It took shockingly little ammo for the Detroit Pistons to snare Harris, but the Wolves appear to have been thinking along these lines in pursuing Middleton. It’s a bold gambit, and probably a smart one: leverage Milwaukee’s disappointing season and its well-known affinity for Rubio, still a starry name, into the sort of all-around wing shooter every smart team craves in the modern NBA.

Minnesota is in desperate need of shooting on the wing, especially since dealing Rubio would probably have required Zach LaVine to shift back to point guard and pretend he understands what in the hell he’s supposed to do. Andrew Wiggins is shooting 26 percent from deep, and passes up open shots. Tayshaun Prince has made four 3s all season, and Shabazz Muhammad, the Wolves’ other non-Wiggins option at small forward, is only a threat on short corner 3s. LaVine has a nice stroke, but he’s better off the ball, and prone to nutty off-the-bounce chucks when he controls it. Karl-Anthony Towns is already a plus shooter at center, and he’ll eventually shoot more 3s. The identity of Towns’ long-term front-court partner is a mystery, especially with Gorgui Dieng a year from free agency, and the answer will be key in determining the look and feel of Minnesota’s roster going forward.

***

No. 3: Did the Heat come looking for Lance? — Not sure what to make of Danny Granger‘s claim that his teammate on the Pacers, Lance Stephenson, was hunted down by a few Heat players following his infamous treatment of LeBron James. For one, Granger said Chris Andersen was one of the players who came looking for Stephenson after Game 3 of the East semifinals five years ago, but Birman hadn’t joined the Heat yet. Anyway, here’s Adam Wells of Bleacher Report, recapping the interview Granger’s recollection:

“They were protecting LeBron. They thought Lance had done something disrespectful to him,” Granger said.

Granger said that security prevented the Heat players from entering Indiana’s locker room, and the situation did not escalate.

According to Granger, the incident occurred after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Stephenson was captured on camera making a choking sign after James missed a free throw following a technical foul called against Granger during that game.

The Heat lost the game, 94-75, but they went on to win the series in six games en route to winning the NBA championship.

The rivalry between Stephenson and James continued as the Pacers and Heat met in the playoffs in each of the next two seasons. The most infamous moment occurred in Game 5 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, as Stephenson’s ear-blowing incident produced hundreds of memes that still follow him around.

If Stephenson was trying to play mind games with the four-time NBA MVP, it didn’t work. James’ Heat got the best of Stephenson’s Pacers in all three playoff matchups.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The plan in Houston is to bring Michael Beasley along slowly, but aren’t they running out of time? … Hornets assistant coach Patrick Ewing has some decent stories to tell about his boss, Michael Jordan … Memphis has begun the inevitable youth movement, which is refreshing, especially with Marc Gasol done for the year … You might have heard that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are pretty good together … The sale of a portion of the Wolves has hit a snagJeff Van Gundy has some things to say about his brother and as you might imagine, they’re very kind things.

Numbers notes: The other great shooting backcourt in the NBA


VIDEO: Stephen Curry scores 51 points in Orlando

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Stephen Curry is following up his MVP season with … another MVP season.

On Thursday, Curry set the record for most consecutive games with a 3-pointer and hit 10 of them for good measure. He’s currently 10 away from his own record for most threes in a season (286), and he has 25 games left to play. He has shot an amazing 35-for-56 (62.5 percent) from 28 feet and out.

Klay Thompson, meanwhile, is quietly having the best shooting season of his career. He’s the only player within 100 threes of Curry and ranks fifth in effective field goal percentage among players who have taken at least 500 shots.

There’s no arguing that the Warriors don’t have the best shooting backcourt of all-time. But here’s a fun comparison …

Backcourt A has shot 44.4 percent from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line).
Backcourt B has shot 46.0 percent from mid-range.

Backcourt A has shot 44.3 percent from 3-point range.
Backcourt B has shot 43.9 percent from 3-point range.

Backcourt A has shot 44.3 percent on all shots outside the paint.
Backcourt B has shot 45.0 percent on all shots outside the paint. (more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 20


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from busy Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard out-MVPs the MVP | Spurs bid Kobe adieu | Playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!) fading for Knicks | Mavs need more from Matthews

No. 1: Lillard out-MVPs the MVP — It was offered as high praise, but when Golden State coach Steve Kerr invoked Steph Curry‘s name as a way of lauding Damian Lillard‘s electric night against his Warriors — “He looked like Steph Curry out there” – it felt a little wrong. For one night, the Portland Trail Blazers guard deserved to stand alone in the spotlight, not sharing it with the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player or Portland’s stunning 32-point throttling Friday of the league’s defending champs. Even the Blazers’ surprising 28-27 record, far better than a lot of so-called experts imagined, could wait in the kudos line behind the point guard for whom there wasn’t room on the Western Conference All-Star team. Here is some of Oregonian beat writer Joe Freeman‘s report:

An undeniable reality surfaced during the 48 hours leading up to the most prolific individual performance of Damian Lillard’s career.

He felt like crud.

His legs were rubbery. His feet ached. His body wasn’t quite right. In two Trail Blazers practices following a weeklong All-Star break, Lillard committed turnovers in bunches and hoisted more bricks than he could count.

So on Thursday, after a particularly forgettable display, the two-time All-Star turned to assistant coach Nate Tibbetts with a surprising statement.

“Every time I feel like this,” Lillard told Tibbetts, “The next day, I just always have it.”

And he certainly had it Friday night. In one of the best individual performances in franchise history, Lillard recorded a career-high 51 points, a career-high six steals and seven assists to lead the surging Blazers to a stunning 137-105 victory over the Golden State Warriors at the Moda Center.

Lillard was so good, he did the unimaginable — he upstaged the Blazers’ startling 32-point victory over a seemingly invincible team poised to finish with the best record in NBA history. With a barrage of deep three-pointers, slick slashing layups and pull-up jumpers, Lillard was virtually unstoppable, making 18 of 28 field goals, including 9 of 12 three-pointers.

Lillard started hot, scoring or assisting on seven of the Blazers’ first nine field goals. And he finished even hotter, recording 21 points in a dazzling fourth quarter that had the Moda Center rocking like no other time this season. During Lillard’s most breathtaking stretch of the game, midway through the fourth quarter, he scored 13 consecutive Blazers points, breezing past the 40-point mark so fast he said he couldn’t remember doing so…

“He got into a zone twice,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “At the end, it was just ridiculous.”

And any outsider who watched Lillard during the 48 hours leading up the game, when he was bricking shots and tossing turnovers, would have been stunned.

Lillard said he was restless Friday, eager to fix his body and settle his mind, and he unintentionally altered his game-day routine. Following the Blazers’ morning shootaround, he hopped in the cold tub at the practice facility for a frigid 15-minute soak, then moved to the steam room, where he joined Al-Farouq Aminu for a 15-minute steam.

Afterward, he drove to his Lake Oswego home, slipped a splint on his left foot and took a nap, which he rarely does.

“I usually don’t even take naps,” he said. “I got up and I just felt good.”

Before he knew it, Lillard was driving to the Moda Center ahead of schedule. He strolled into the locker room about 3:50, roughly 30 or 40 minutes earlier than normal, and ran into Ed Davis, the only other person in the room. They shot the breeze for a while and Lillard killed time before going about his normal routine. By the time he started hispregame workout, his felt his mojo creeping back.

“When I did my routine before the game, I just felt good,” he said. “Going side to side, when I was pulling up off the dribble, I just felt in a good rhythm. The ball felt good in my hands.”

Lillard shot chart

***

 No. 2: Spurs bid Kobe adieu — Competitive to the end. How it had gone for most of Kobe Bryant‘s clashes with the San Antonio Spurs over the years is pretty much how it went in his final meeting with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, coach Gregg Popovich and the rest Friday in Los Angeles. Across two decades of regular-season and postseason showdowns, Bryant and Duncan faced each other 82 times – the equivalent of a full NBA season – with the Spurs’ big man owning a 43-39 advantage. Then again, Bryant was quick to point out their head-to-head in playoff series: “Four to three.” The principals had met shortly before the All-Star break but this time was for the last time, so it’s worth reviewing, per the San Antonio Express-News’ Jeff McDonald:

The Lakers star was as competitive as ever, at one point popping a dislocated finger into place so he could finish this game. As has been the case for much of the 37-year-old’s farewell tour, the Spurs got the best of the Lakers, winning 119-113.

“It’s been fun competing against those guys for all these years,” Bryant said after scoring 25 points in his Spurs swan song. “I’ve truly enjoyed it. They’ve pushed me to fine-tune and sharpen my game.”

In many ways, Friday marked the end of a rivalry two decades in the making, between two players emblematic of their generation.

“We’ve played against each other for so many years,” said Duncan, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds for his first double-double since Jan. 3. “It was always a great game against him. You knew you had to bring your A game, because he’s going to bring the best out of you.”

Even toiling for a Lakers team that could not avoid its 46th loss Friday, Bryant refused to go down without a fight.

Benefitting from the absence of All-Star Kawhi Leonard, out for the second straight game with a calf injury, Bryant finished with 25 points.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the Spurs clinging to a five-point lead, Bryant dislocated a middle finger tracking a loose ball. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti popped the digit back into place, taped it to his index finger, and Bryant returned for the final 1:56.

“He’s played through stuff that nobody will ever know about,” Popovich said. “He’s a warrior.”

Bryant made one field goal with his finger injured, a runner that pulled L.A. within 111-107 with 1:23 left.

Later, in what will go down as the final shot of his career against the Spurs, he fired up an airball 3-pointer.

Bryant’s career against the Spurs was over, and Popovich had trouble pinpointing how he felt about it.

“In some ways, it will be great,” Popovich said. “In other ways, we will miss him a lot. The whole league will miss him. But I won’t have to worry about guarding him, that’s for sure.”

***

No. 3:  Playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!) fading for Knicks — At 22-22, the New York Knicks were looking like this year’s version of the 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks, who took an Andre the Giant-sized stride from horrible (15-67) to respectable (41-41) in a single season, boosting themselves all the way into the playoffs with a few nips and tucks (and, in the Bucks’ case, a new coach in Jason Kidd). But now Knicks fans have begun to puzzle at the gaps between victories, their team sinking fast at 23-32 with no optimism in sight. Losing to crosstown rival Brooklyn Friday night brought on the best in New York critics, focusing on the worst of Knickerbocker basketball. Consider snippets here of New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro:

That was the Nets — not the Thunder, not the Clippers — who rattled off a 20-2 run in the third quarter to turn a five-point Knicks lead into a 13-point Nets lead. That was the Nets who, after letting the Knicks draw within three points early in the fourth quarter, put them away with an immediate 10-0 surge.

That was the Nets who made the Knicks look so enfeebled, so non-competitive, so slow, so …

“We didn’t execute. On either end,” interim coach Kurt Rambis said. “That’s disappointing.”

Yes. That is one word. Here are a few others: Putrid. Lousy. Rotten. Unwatchable.

Playoffs?

Playoffs? Are you kidding me?

This is no longer a regression. The Knicks had lost 10 out of 11 heading into the break, the season already had gone sideways, the postseason already was looking like a longer long shot than Chuck Wepner.

You could talk yourself into anything you wanted to: the floor had started to tilt on the Knicks when Carmelo Anthony tripped over that referee’s foot. Kristaps Porzingis was dealing with the rookie wall. All of that. And to add red meat for the masses, Fisher was sacrificed. Is there more of a time-honored solution for turning things around — at least for a week or two — than axing the coach?

The Knicks had been off since Feb. 9. They were rested. They were as healthy as they had been in weeks. The first time these teams played, in December, the Knicks took a 30-point lead by the midway point of the second quarter.

Those were the heady days — hard to conjure now — when every small victory the Knicks posted was celebrated, because anything — just about everything — compared to last season’s 17-win dumpster fire could be celebrated as progress. That was before anyone figured this could end up in the playoffs, when just not watching stink rise up from the Garden floor was worth rejoicing.

Yeah. That feels like an awfully long time ago.

***

No. 4: Mavs need more from Matthews — When Dallas owner Mark Cuban reacted to the DeAndre Jordan switcheroo last summer by throwing even more guaranteed money, in a longer free-agent contract, at damaged-goods Portland shooting guard Wesley Matthews, it didn’t just seem impulsive; it seemed like retail therapy, the sort of things shopaholics do to self-medicate in times of unrelated stress. It even seemed a little out of character, given the red flags that were unmissable thanks to Matthews’ season-ending Achilles surgery last spring. So what the Mavericks are getting – or missing – from Matthews deep into his comeback season isn’t any big secret, but it is a legitimate concern, given how much time and money remains on his four-year, $70 million deal. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com looked at the gap between Matthews’ production and compensation:

The Mavs certainly aren’t getting their money’s worth right now. They must get much better bang for the buck from their highest-paid player to have any hope of being more than first-round fodder — and perhaps even to make the playoffs.

The fact that the 29-year-old Matthews is struggling through the worst season of his career can’t be considered surprising. The history of players coming back from torn Achilles tendons, if they come back at all, is frighteningly poor.

It was an expensive vote of confidence from Cuban in Matthews’ remarkable will and work ethic. It was also a vote of confidence in the Mavs’ support staff — specifically head athletic trainer Casey Smith and athletic performance director Jeremy Holsopple — and the new medical technology that wasn’t available to players whose careers were ruined by a ruptured Achilles in the past.

And it was a decision made with the long term in mind.

“We didn’t sign him for this year,” Cuban said recently when asked if Matthews’ extended slump concerned him.

Not that Matthews, who surprised many by making good on his vow to play in the season opener less than eight months after suffering his injury, is looking for excuses for his struggles. Nor does he expect Mavs fans to have much patience in him if he doesn’t perform well.

“I’ve got to play better,” Matthews said after scoring only five points on 2-of-10 shooting in Friday’s overtime loss to the Orlando Magic. “I take that onus up. I take that ownership. I will.”

Matthews’ value to the Mavs can’t be measured simply by his stats. He’s a tremendous teammate who leads the Mavs in minutes played, a respected voice in the locker room and a proud defender who readily accepts the challenge of guarding the opponent’s best perimeter scorer on a nightly basis.

But Dallas desperately needs Matthews, who established himself as one of the NBA’s premier perimeter shooters the previous five seasons in Portland, to snap out of his offensive funk.

Matthews gave the Mavs one really good offensive month. He averaged 15 points and hit 42.5 percent of his 3-point attempts in December, numbers that were pretty close to the norm during his five-year tenure with the Trail Blazers. Matthews was plus-89 in those 14 games. Not coincidentally, the Mavs had their best month of the season, going 9-5.

The Mavs are 9-13 in games in which Matthews has played since the calendar flipped to 2016. He has averaged only 10.7 points during that time, shooting 37.4 percent from the floor and 30.5 percent from 3-point range. He is minus-69 in those 22 games.

It’s not trending in the right direction, either. Matthews is minus-55 in six February games, averaging only 8.8 points per game. Not coincidentally, the Mavs are 1-5 this month, sliding to 29-27 overall, putting them four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for fifth in the Western Conference and giving them only a 1 1/2-game cushion before falling out of the playoff pack.

“This is not a Wes thing. This is a team thing,” coach Rick Carlisle said, downplaying concerns about Matthews’ slump.

Matthews sat down the stretch of regulation Friday night. He played the entire overtime, missing both of his shot attempts — a driving layup and an open corner 3 that both would have tied the score.

“I’ve been making those shots since I’ve been in the league. As soon as I get frustrated, it takes away from everything else that I can do on the court. When I start doing that, then I’m selfish. I’ve just got to continue being me [and] stay confident, which I am. I’m not worried about it. The team trusts me. Coaches trust me, and I’m going to work my ass off.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dallas’ loss in OT in Orlando included a few sweet-nothings between big man Zaza Pachulia and wing Chandler Parsons. … Don’t think the Golden State Warriors didn’t learn anything from their loss to Portland Friday, or what it had in common with their four previous defeats. … If Thursday’s trade deadline didn’t scratch your itch for player movement, enjoy what transpires in the coming days of “buyout season,” as noted by our own Shaun Powell. … Then there’s the guy in Cleveland about whom trade rumors never seem to end, deadline or no deadline, writes our man Steve Aschburner. … Ricky Rubio enjoyed all the trade gossip – with a certain exception. … The guy most likely to be moved by the deadline was not. So what’s next for Dwight Howard?

Morning shootaround — Feb. 15


VIDEO: Relive the 65th NBA All-Star Game

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Wolves shopping Rubio | Kobe bids farewell to All-Star weekend | Whiteside unlikely to have long future in Miami | George iffy about 2016 Olympics

No. 1:  Report: Timberwolves shopping Rubio before deadline: The Ricky Rubio era in Minnesota could soon come to an end. The Timberwolves are reportedly shopping their one-time point guard of the future. The emergence of back-to-back Verizon Slam Dunk champion Zach LaVine has given the Timberwolves a different option at the position, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

Zach LaVine was nothing short of spectacular in winning his second straight Slam Dunk title on Saturday and by the end of this week he may win something else; the starting point guard job for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Incumbent Ricky Rubio is readily available and the feeling is that the Spanish guard could be moved prior to Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

Phil Jackson is in the market for a point guard but it’s hard to envision the Knicks having the assets to acquire the 25-year-old Rubio, whose season average in points (9.7), assists (8.6) and minutes (30.3) are down this year.

Jackson wants desperately to make the playoffs – as evidenced by his quick trigger decision to fire Derek Fisher 136 games into his tenure – but finding an upgrade in the backcourt is tricky.

Houston’s Ty Lawson has been a bust with the Houston Rockets but perhaps he can turn his career and the Knicks season around over the last 27 games. Ditto for Brandon Jennings, who is also on the Knicks radar.

The Clippers are making Blake Griffin available even though the injured forward is recovering from a second surgical procedure to his right (punching) hand and may not play again this season, especially if he’s traded to a team out of the playoff race.

Denver, Boston and Atlanta cannot be ruled out but if Griffin remains with the Clippers after Thursday this may be something the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony may want to consider over the summer.

A Griffin-for-Anthony trade makes sense on a number of levels including the fact that Anthony and Chris Paul have for years tried to become teammates.


VIDEO: Relive the 2016 Verizon Slam Dunk contest

***

No. 2: All that’s left for Kobe now is goodbye The Kobe Bryant farewell tour won’t see another stop as big as All-Star weekend and Sunday’s 65th All-Star Game. His Los Angeles Lakers are not in the playoff equation in the Western Conference, so there will be no walk off into the postseason sunset for Bryant. That means, today marks the start of his long goodbye from the game he has been an integral part of for more than half of his life. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical explains:

This is your life, Kobe Bryant. This was your goodbye. That’s how All-Star weekend had played itself out, how the relentlessness of Bryant’s 20 years had been honored. For all these years, Bryant never felt terribly compelled to gift the most intimate details of his craft. He gassed himself to understand the nuances of it all, and never, ever wanted to cost himself a competitive advantage. Bryant didn’t want only to win, but destroy you, too. The force of his will was nothing short of predatory.

Everything has changed now. Bryant has let go. He’s let go of it all. The competition is gone, and Bryant is shaping his legacy. He isn’t chasing championships, nor playoffs, nor competitive genius. At times this season, he has traveled the NBA and had his opponents searching out informal sessions of wisdom. There were times that rival players were uneasy about approaching Bryant, uneasy with what could be a most uninviting vibe.

Now, Bryant stood inside a third-floor corridor at the Air Canada Centre and embraced everything. The All-Star game MVP, Russell Westbrook, marched past Bryant clutching his trophy. He had grown up in Southern California, and told The Vertical that as a kid he had “gone to the Lakers’ championship parades to see Kobe.” Indiana’s Paul George had 41 points for the East, and nothing made him feel better lying in that hospital bed 18 months ago than Bryant reaching out, encouraging him to fight his way back.

Across his final season, Bryant has torn down the walls and let everyone close to him. Across this All-Star weekend, the NBA’s best players found themselves making personal, private pilgrimages to him.

“It feels like I’m passing on all the knowledge that I’ve gained in this game,” Bryant told The Vertical. “These kids, they grew up watching me. They were my daughter Gianna‘s age [10] when they started to watch me play. When we talk now, they’re asking me questions about things that they’ve watched and observed from my career. They want deeper insight. For me, it’s been really, really interesting. That’s part of the weekend that I most enjoyed – more than everything else. Just sitting down and talking to the guys individually. Steph. Kawhi. Draymond. These guys, they were just picking my brain and that’s … that’s … special.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant reflects on his final All-Star Game appearance

***

No. 3: Whiteside’s future in Miami in jeopardy? The Miami Heat’s development of Hassan Whiteside‘s was always a low-risk, high-reward proposition. If the talented 7-footer could find a way to curb his enthusiasm for nonsense, the Heat could very well have uncovered one of the league’s most talented big men. But the experiment has hit a rough patch, one that could that lead to Whiteside’s exit prior to Thursday’s trade deadline, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

In many ways, power forward Chris Bosh is the ideal center in today’s NBA game. And he could end up back there next season if the Heat moves on from Hassan Whiteside, whose future here looks increasingly questionable.

Even before his ejection angered Heat officials Tuesday, there have been serious reservations inside the organization about giving Whiteside the type of contract Miami believes he could attract in free agency, one that could start at $17 million or more.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard said the Heat is gauging trade interest in Whiteside, and two people in contact with the Heat told me that Miami appears open to considering a Whiteside trade, if it can dump other salary and get quality talent back, because it knows it’s going to be uncomfortably costly to keep him. Heat officials have expressed frustration with him, for reasons we explained in last Sunday’s column.

But the Heat also knows the odds would be against a trade this week because he’s earning just $981,000 (causing cap complications) and the team acquiring him wouldn’t have any financial advantage in re-signing him.

Also know this: Pat Riley is not going to commit long-term financially to a roster that isn’t close to a legitimate championship contender. So that factors into a Whiteside decision this summer if his contract prevents other significant moves (and it certainly would make it very difficult if he commands a stratospheric salary).

If Whiteside makes it past the trade deadline, it likely would take impeccable maturity, elite production, no lapses in judgment, a deep playoff run (with Whiteside playing at a very high level) and/or striking out on a few top free-agent options for the Heat to seriously consider giving Whiteside an enormous deal this summer.

So with the cap jumping from $70 million to $89 million, what could Miami realistically achieve in free agency with or without Whiteside?

Whiteside and Dwyane Wade would potentially command a combined $30 million of the $37 million Miami is projected to have available — a figure that would grow to $43 million if the Heat can somehow can dump Josh McRoberts’ contract without taking money back.

***

No. 4: George’s comeback complete, USAB future uncertain Paul George used Sunday’s All-Star Game as his personal reminder that he was officially back from the gruesome injury that cost him most all of the 2014-15 season. He just barely missed Wilt Chamberlain‘s All-Star Game scoring mark and led all scorers with 41 points. But as good as it felt to finally get back on the All-Star stage, George has some decisions to make about the rest of his season and summer, as he explained to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

“I knew this is where I belong,” George told Yahoo Sports. “I just felt good and felt confident after I hit shot after shot. Having this long journey, the long rehab that was really the only thing on my mind was enjoying being back here. It was about making shots.

“Of course, personally I wanted a good showing. But it wasn’t really about that. It was just about enjoying being back in this moment.”

George is averaging 23.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and four assists for the Pacers this season. He believes he is showing the same stellar athleticism that he displayed before the injury. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who coached the West All-Stars, said what he is seeing in George now is “pretty incredible.”

“Every time he runs up and down the floor and jumps up for one of those dunks and everything, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, the human body is amazing,’ ” Popovich said. “To come back and play at this level athletically, it just stuns me every time I see him out there.”

George was one point shy of matching Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain‘s All-Star scoring record of 42 points set in 1962. George and East coach Tyronn Lue said they had no idea the record was that close. George expects to get “madder and madder” during his flight back to Indianapolis because he didn’t break the coveted scoring record.

“Had I known, I would have gone for the two on my last shot instead of going for the three,” George said.

George has played in all 53 regular-season games for a Pacers team that is expected to make the playoffs. He is also a member of USA Basketball’s 31-man roster that has to be trimmed to 12 before the 2016 Rio Olympics. While USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo has promised George a roster spot, George said his body might not allow him to take the trip to Brazil.

“I had a long year,” George told Yahoo Sports. “This has been a long year coming from rehab. I just know how my body has taken these first 50-plus games, not knowing what these playoffs are going to do to my body. So there is a decision coming at the end of the year, is the smart thing to continue on or take a little bit of time for some rest and let my body heal?”

George, a Palmdale, Calif. native, said he became emotional every time he had a one-on-one opportunity with Kobe Bryant, who was playing in his last All-Star Game. George also met Hall of Famer Michael Jordan for the first time over the weekend.

“I had a special weekend,” George said.


VIDEO: Best from Paul George’s 41-point performance in the All-Star Game

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chris Paul says he ‘plans on’ breaking the All-Star Game career assists record … Some fresh speculation about how Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could end up with the New York Knicks in 2017 … Kobe Bryant going one-on-one with Chris Paul‘s son … ICYMI, Batman and Superman stopped by Inside the NBA last night … Everything you need to know about NBA All-Star 2016 that you might have missed is right here


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