Posts Tagged ‘Rob Hennigan’

Five teams already looking ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The start of the playoffs is just over the horizon and there will be plenty of unexpected bounces before the 2014 NBA champ is crowned in June.

But you can’t blame a handful of teams from already taking an early peek at what will surely be better times ahead next season:

 


VIDEO: Joakim Noah joins Arena Link after a recent Bulls win

Chicago Bulls – There’ s still plenty of havoc to be made by Joakim Noah and his “no tanking here” gang. Sitting in the No. 4 spot in the East, the Bulls are already shuffling their hooves at what could be another rip-snorting first-round series against the Nets and possibly a chance to put a few bruises on the Pacers or two-time champions from Miami down the line. But while it’s unrealistic to think Chicago can go all the way this season, the title hopes are back in view next October. Starting, of course, with a healthy return by Derrick Rose, the Bulls get their former MVP and most talented player back onto the court to supplement a lineup that has Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.

While the dealing away of Luol Deng didn’t sink the Bulls in the standings, it brought a first round draft choice that the Cavs had picked up from Sacramento. They saved $20 million on Deng’s contract next year, can amnesty the vastly overpaid Carlos Boozer and be at the front of the line to make a recruiting pitch to head of the class free agent Carmelo Anthony. The lure of Phil Jackson‘s zen magic will probably make it tougher to get him out of N.Y., but if he really wants to make a run at a title instead of just being hero-worshipped, Melo would jump at the chance to join the Bulls where a recuperated Rose gives them the 1-2 punch that is almost necessary these days to be elite. As much fun as they’re having now, the real excitement could return next season.

 


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young, Jarvis Varnado discuss the progress and potential of Nerlens Noel

Philadelphia 76ers — It can’t get worse than losing a record-tying 26 games in a row, can it? It will still be only Year Two in general manager Sam Hinkie‘s long-term building project for the future. But at least next season the Sixers will be able to put a team out on the floor that has more than just Michael Carter-Williams, Thad Young and Tony Wroten as real NBA talent that could be part of something positive down the road. Hinkie has cleared out the payroll, but it’s far too early for the Sixers to even give a thought to luring free agents to Philly. They’ll have two lottery picks — their own and the Pelicans’ spot from the Jrue Holiday trade — and go digging for bargains with another pair of picks in the second round.

Of course, there’s the big bonus of finally getting big man Nerlens Noel into the lineup, after he sat out all of this season with a torn ACL. Noel has been champing at the bit to play now, but the team will hold him back till summer league and then turn him loose. Hinkie is positively giddy about what a bulked-up, more physically fit Noel will be able to do. The Sixers are not even dreaming of playoffs, just putting the building blocks in place.

 


VIDEO: Andrew Nicholson talks about staying positive in Orlando

Orlando Magic — Two years ago, Rob Hennigan dealt away Dwight Howard and the instant reaction from many corners was that the rookie GM had been fleeced. Of course, the way things turned out in L.A., Philly and Denver, it seems that Hennigan was the one doing the fleecing, picking up Nic Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo, who are now main parts of a young roster on the rise. Mix in last year’s top draft pick Victor Oladipo with Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson and while the Magic are again near the bottom of the standings with the third-fewest wins in the league, there has been a method to Hennigan. The jury is still out on making Oladipo a point guard, but he’s clearly a talent.

Hennigan is following in the footsteps of his mentor Sam Presti in OKC, constructing a roster that is flexible in terms of both talent and salary. The Magic are not beholden at this point to a single individual and are willing to be in the trade market for any upgrade that makes sense at any position. Then toss in the potential of adding an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to the lineup and the Magic are suddenly a team back in the spotlight with a new franchise star and a future that could lead back to chasing the playoffs maybe even as soon as next year in the Eastern Conference.

 


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo is adjusting to life in the NBA and U.S.

Milwaukee Bucks – As bad and depressing as things got for the Sixers during their 26-game losing streak, the fact is they were never able to drop below the Bucks in the standings. This is the worst team in the league, but it doesn’t have to be this way in 2014-15. For one thing, it’s about timing in the draft. The Bucks have been fortunate enough to win the lottery twice in the past, getting Glenn Robinson with the No. 1 pick in 1994 and Andrew Bogut in 2005. “Big Dog” had had his moments and Bogut is playing nicely these days for the Warriors, but neither was ever the kind of game-changer than can take a franchise to the top.

Now with the deepest lottery in a while, it seems that Milwaukee is in a can’t-miss position. GM John Hammond is said to be setting his sights on center Joel Embiid, who could anchor the middle of a lineup with exciting rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, who hopefully can get his head back into the game and save a career that could go off the rails. Hammond unloaded the contracts of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the trade deadline and would probably like to jettison O.J. Mayo. Brandon Knight has been up and down, but shows that he can score. Rookie Nate Wolters has probably exceeded expectations and creates optimism for the future.

It’s Antetokounmpo who creates the most excitement with his raw talent and potential. Whether they go with Embild with their first pick or Wiggins, Parker, Julius Randle or Dante Exum, this time the Bucks could get the game changer they need at a time when owner Herb Kohl is trying to sell the franchise. This could be a lineup worth buying and watching next season.

 


VIDEO: Dwight Howard explains why he likes it in Houston

Houston Rockets — Yes, yes, yes. The Rockets are already a top four seed in the rugged Western Conference and have flexed their speed and muscles and shooting prowess against some of the best teams in the league this season. The pairing of Dwight Howard with James Harden has given Houston the 1-2 All-Star punch that was expected. Yet even with some folks tabbing the Rockets as a dark horse threat when the playoffs begin, the truth is their best days are still ahead. Wheeler and dealer GM Daryl Morey knows that his job is not yet done and that’s why he’s played the payroll and salary cap like a Stradivarius and will again have the Rockets in position to make a run at at the biggest names on the free agent market this summer. If he deals Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik ($15 million each next season), the Rockets could offer close to the max.

Howard and Harden are still getting to know each other and this team might need to experience the pain of a playoff loss to get recommitted and take things to the next level. The Rockets could also use another scorer/defender on the wing to go toe-to-toe nightly with the elite contenders. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony? Let us saddle you up as part of the posse, pardner. Of course, it’s unlikely that James is going anywhere. But Anthony would have to have give long and serious thought to Houston if he decides that the magic of Jackson isn’t going to turn the Knicks around in the next year or two. Put Melo in a lineup with Howard and Harden and the 145 points the Rockets rung up the other night against the Lakers could become a nightly occurrence. If not Anthony, Bosh could return home to Texas. The Rockets made a free agent pitch for him several years ago and his adaptable skills could fit in nicely on the front line.

The Rockets will be different next season. They always are. And with Howard and Harden as anchors, now different means better. The start of next season can’t come soon enough in Houston.

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

Nelson Committed To Helping Young Magic

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DALLAS – The more change that comes to the Orlando Magic, the more Jameer Nelson remains true to himself, and devoted to his team.

Few would have blamed Nelson for becoming bitter over the Magic’s rapid descent. A survivor of the Dwightmare that cost the franchise its coach, the league’s most dominant center and its standing as an Eastern Conference contender, Nelson could have, without guilt or repercussion, forced his way out of this Orlando rebuild that enters Year 2.

Entering his 10th season, matching Nick Anderson as the longest-tenured player in Magic history, Nelson chose otherwise.

“It’s fun,” Nelson said prior to Monday’s preseason win against the Mavericks. “It’s fun to see the way things progress, where we’re trying to take the franchise and rebuild and do things with a young group. Me coming in 10 years ago, it was kind of the same scenario.”

Nelson finds himself surrounded by a young team beginning to create a bit of a buzz with players such as Moe Harkless, Tobias Harris, Nicola Vucevic and the summer’s No. 2 pick, Victor Oladipo in the fold. The Magic’s top prospect is an exciting player Nelson is eager to mentor while knowing Oladipo could ultimately replace him.

“He’s humble and he’s very talented,” Nelson said of the Indiana product. “He has great upside and I think he’ll be a great player in the league for a long time.”

Nelson took Monday night’s game off and watched an Orlando starting five that boasted six seasons, 358 games and 199 starts among them. Nelson has started 488 of his 583 career games.

The Magic could have, maybe should have, cut ties with him prior to last season. He’s now four years removed from his lone All-Star appearance and has been injury-prone, playing more than 70 games just once since 2006-07. At 31, Nelson has likely reached his peak. Orlando signed him to a three-year extension last summer, raising eyebrows around a league that asked what good Nelson could do for a franchise committed to its youth.

“I’m not a guy looking for accolades. I’m not a guy looking for publicity or notoriety,” Nelson said. “My job is to do my work on the court and off the court in the community and be the person I’ve been for the last 31 years. There’s a reason why I’ve been here for 10 years, a reason why the organization has kept me around.”

Still, Nelson isn’t naive. He knows he’s on the block this season and likely will be playing elsewhere before the February trade deadline as second-year general manager Rob Hennigan, who’s the same age as Nelson, marches onward with his post-Dwight blueprint. The 6-foot point guard could help a contender as a steady reserve, or slide into the starting role for a team needing a veteran in charge. Though neither seems to be what Nelson truly desires.

“I still want to play here in Orlando and see this thing turn around,” Nelson said.

He certainly witnessed it implode. The Magic played in the 2009 Finals and were in the 2010 East finals. By the end of 2013, they had a league-worst 62 losses.

“Just weird,” is how Nelson described the past few seasons through the Dwightmare haze and beyond. “We competed for a championship for four or five years in a row. We were one of the elite teams, so to see where I’m at now in terms of rebuilding, you know, it’s still fun. I’m doing something I love to do, I’m around a bunch of guys who are great, young guys. We don’t have any knuckleheads, we don’t have any guys who cause any problems. Everybody wants to be the best player they can be and wants to learn.”

Teaching and preaching is what Nelson is doing for this squad of early 20-somethings … and for his appreciative, 38-year-old, second-year coach, Jacque Vaughn.

“Since I’ve been here, he’s been a guy that I’ve been able to count on to carry my message in the locker room,” Vaughn said. “And that’s extremely important when young guys are doing this for the first time around. He’s been a leader for us and someone I can count on.”

Nelson passed on a question about his feelings toward Howard. He said he followed the big man’s free agency this summer: “How couldn’t you? You turn on the TV, he was everywhere.” He even said Howard made the right choice by leaving the Lakers and signing with the Houston Rockets because, ironically, “they have a similar system that we played with (former coach) Stan [Van Gundy].”

So how much progress can the Magic make this season? Even in an Eastern Conference that will provide playoff opportunity for an upstart, there’s little doubt this will be an ongoing struggle. And more upheaval is likely with Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Glen “Big Baby” Davis all available for the right price.

Nelson said he’ll keep pushing as long as the Magic let him.

“My job is to continue to be professional whether we win or lose and move forward,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to help these guys develop as much as we can and, with that being said, a lot of them look up to me.”

New Breed Of GM Ushers In New Coaches

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – At NBA.com, the eight men who will make their NBA head coaching debuts next season are being profiled. Today’s feature is Boston Celtics youngblood Brad Stevens.

Eight rookie head coaches in one season is a notable development in a league known for recycling the position (depending on Philadelphia’s hire the number could reach nine).

Consider that last season’s Coach of the Year and 25-year bench boss, George Karl, is out of work, as is Lionel Hollins, who molded a 24-win team when he took over into a Western Conference finalist last season. In Denver, Brian Shaw has been awarded his first head-coaching gig and in Memphis, Hollins’ top assistant, Dave Joerger, is being given his first shot.

So why are teams suddenly investing in new blood? Is it simply cost-cutting? Is it a belief that new ideas, concepts and techniques are needed to sustain success in today’s game?

“For me, as a first-time GM, and where we are, we need to build something in Phoenix and I wanted to give a guy a chance who maybe hadn’t  been a head coach before,” said recently hired general manager Ryan McDonough, who chose Jeff Hornacek to lead the Suns. “I considered guys who had been coaches before, but the vast majority of candidates I interviewed had assistant coaching experience, but had never been NBA coaches before.”

The words to highlight: “…as a first-time GM…” This summer’s coaching evolution is due, in no small part, to a mounting front-office revolution. More franchises are handing the keys to bright, young minds to make decisions on player evaluation and acquisition.

McDonough, 33, represents the next-generation of NBA general managers — or perhaps more accurately, the now-generation. They’re salary-cap educated, savvy, motivated and highly invested in advanced metrics and new technologies sweeping the league. They don’t have on-court pedigrees like their predecessors, but they have tirelessly worked their way up through video rooms and scouting departments of NBA franchises. Evaluating a player’s skill, versatility and potential goes hand-in-hand with assessing his dollar value under today’s salary-cap, tax-heavy collective bargaining agreement.

McDonough hired assistant GM Pat Connelly, the younger brother of Tim Connelly, the recently hired 36-year-old executive vice president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets. Tim Connelly hired the first-timer Shaw, a tag-team that will learn the ropes together.

“I don’t think it will be a difficult transition,” said Tim Connelly, who replaced Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, just 39 when the Nuggets promoted the former international scout to general manager in 2010. Ujiri now heads the Toronto Raptors’ front office. “There’s only 30 people with these jobs and we’re both [he and Shaw] fortunate to take over a team that’s had a lot of regular-season success.”

Of the eight rookie head coaches, three were hired by first-time general managers. In the case of Sacramento’s Mike Malone, he was hired by still-newbie owner Vivek Ranadive, who then hired first-time general manager Pete D’Allesandro, 45.

“When I was in Boston,” said McDonough, who worked under Celtics general manager Danny Ainge for a decade, “I kind of always had it in my mind that if I got a GM job I would give a first-time head coach a chance.”

In Memphis, CEO Jason Levien, 40, took control of personnel decisions last season. He parted ways with Hollins and promoted Joerger. Last summer, Orlando chose Rob Hennigan, 31, as GM to consummate a trade for Dwight Howard and reshape the team. Hennigan hired first-time coach Jacque Vaughn. Hennigan’s former boss is Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, who was also 30 when he took charge of the then-Seattle SuperSonics. Presti hired first-time coach Scott Brooks to lead the Thunder.

In Dallas, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, the longtime Mavericks decision-makers, surprisingly hired Gerrson Rosas, 35, away from Daryl Morey‘s front office with the Houston Rockets to serve as general manager.

Major League Baseball first embraced the analytics movement so prevalent in today’s NBA, and also seems to have cracked the door for the NBA’s front-office youth movement. The Boston Red Sox made then-28-year-old Theo Epstein the youngest GM in baseball history. Epstein built a powerhouse that ended the infamous “Curse of the Bambino” with two World Series titles. The Texas Rangers soon hired Jon Daniels, who was also 28 when he took control. During his tenure, the Rangers made both of the franchise’s World Series appearances.

The old-school GM played the game and then moved “upstairs.” As precision dollar allotment continues to play a larger role in overall player evaluation, the position is trending toward sharp, young minds, students of the game who never actually played in the NBA, and were only learning how to read when Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was in his prime.

Orlando Summer League Tips Off Sunday

HANG TIME, Texas — You’ve got rookies often trying to wildly impress, second-year players who have a better understanding of what is expected and a few veterans who are hoping to get another taste of the big time.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Sunday with some familiar names from the 2013 Draft and plenty of other hopefuls trying to crack an NBA roster.

NBA Summer LeagueNine first-round picks — led by No. 2 Victor Oladipo, No. 8 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and No. 9 Trey Burke – will take part in the six days of competition that will take place on the Magic’s practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center. The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

A new format will be added this summer with two extra teams and one extra day added to the schedule. Under the new format, each team will play five games over the six-day event, concluding with a championship day. Standings will be based on a seven-point system for each game — three points for a win and one point for winning each quarter.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s a whole new ballgame for the Celtics’ rebuilding program and there would seem to be plenty of room for new faces to earn a ticket to Boston now that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers are all gone. New coach Brad Stevens will be on hand to observe, but leading the team will be assistant coach Jay Larranaga. First-round pick Kelly Olynyk, obtained by trade from Dallas, will be the biggest name on the roster, though last year’s draftee Fab Melo is physically bigger. Avery Bradley is being given a rest from duty and Jared Sullinger is still recovering from back surgery.

Brooklyn Nets – The remade and reloaded Nets will have first round pick Mason Plumlee suiting up for the first time along with a pair of last season’s veterans Tornike Shengelia and Tyshawn Taylor. But all eyes during the week will surely on the rookie on the sidelines. After a 19-year playing career that will surely send him to the Hall of Fame, Jason Kidd is taking no time off and going right to the bench. It will be most interesting to see if Kidd is as good in this transition as he was on the court.

Detroit Pistons — Andre Drummond arrived in Orlando a year ago with something to prove to the doubters and then went back to Detroit and showed that he was not merely a summer fling. Drummond will return, but is not expected to play the full slate of five games. The Pistons will have their entire rookie class of 2013 — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva. New coach Maurice Cheeks may have his work cut out resurrecting the Pistons at the NBA level, but the summer roster is quite capable.

Houston Rockets — After all their maneuvering and salary cap gymnastics to try to land free agent Dwight Howard, the Rockets did not have a first-round pick this year, but may have gotten first-round quality in point guard Isaiah Canaan. Terrence Jones, a No. 1 from a year ago, will be on the team and continuing to show that he’s a keeper and this Houston bunch is also loaded with Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith.

Indiana Pacers – It seems like much longer than just four years ago that Jonny Flynn was the No. 6 pick in the 2009 draft and maybe that’s because he’s mostly been on the outside everywhere he’s gone, trying to justify that selection and prove that he belongs. Now he’s back from playing in Australia and trying to get that third guard spot with the Pacers, who are also bringing in Donald Sloane. This year’s first round pick Solomon Hill will join holdovers Miles Plumlee, Orlando Johnson and Ben Hansbrough from last season’s roster.

Miami Heat — After winning back-to-back NBA titles, the Heat aren’t taking the summer off. In fact, they’re working overtime, the only franchise to be fielding teams at both Orlando and Las Vegas. Miami didn’t have a first-round pick — remember, it was traded for that LeBron fellow. The rosters will be led by last season holdover center Jarvis Varnado and second-round pick James Ennis, a swingman out of Long Beach State. A couple of high profile college guards, Larry Drew II of UCLA and Myck Kabongo of Texas will play for the Heat. Joining the team in Orlando only are Cedric Jackson, Ian Clark, Dewayne Dedmon and D.J. Stephens.

Oklahoma City Thunder — While three rookies Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Grant Jerrett will be on hand for their Thunder debuts, most eyes of the coaching staff and back in OKC will be on holdovers from the main roster Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones. Jackson dazzled with his play in Orlando last summer, giving the first hint that he’d be ready to step into the point guard job when Russell Westbrook went down.

Orlando Magic — When it looked like everybody was losing their minds at the top of the draft a week ago, Magic GM Rob Hennigan kept his eye on the prize and simply chose his man Victor Oladipo. Is he a point guard or a shooting guard? Or is he just ready to do anything the Magic ask in the backcourt? Forward Romero Osby, a second round pick, has a lot of folks saying he’s a sleeper. Second-year men Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson are also on the roster.

Philadelphia 76ers —
While many Sixers fans are still reeling from the draft night trade that shipped out the young All-Star and favorite Jrue Holiday, this will be everyone’s first chance to see how his successor measures up.  Michael Carter-Williams will be given the keys to the offense in Philly when the season starts in October, so consider this his going out to take the test for his driver’s license. Nerlens Noel, the prize that came in the trade for Holiday, will not play as he’s still rehabbing his knee injury.  But Justin Holiday, Jrue’s brother, will be back to see if he can stick with the Sixers again.

Utah Jazz – Top draft pick Trey Burke said on draft night that he hopes to be the Jazz’ starting point guard on opening night next season. So he’ll start to press his case by running the summer show. Rookie center Rudy Gobert hopes to get in a few runs maybe by the end of the show in Orlando. He’s currently trying to work out a buyout of his contract with his French team and will need FIBA clearance. Center Enes Kanter is still recovering from shoulder surgery and neither Gordon Hayward or Derrick Favors will play, because they’re both part of the Team USA camp in August. Jazz fans will get to see a Stockton back in uniform. Hall of Famer John Stockton’s son Michael is a free agent signee.

No. 1 Pick Could Help Push Cavs Into The Playoffs

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NEW YORK – Before Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were among the two or three Lottery teams most likely to make the playoffs next year. They have a budding superstar, other young players who will only get better, and a new (and old) coach who will get them to improve on the end of the floor where they’ve been particularly dreadful that last few years.

2013 Lottery results
Pick Team
1. Cleveland
2. Orlando
3. Washington
4. Charlotte
5. Phoenix
6. New Orleans
7. Sacramento
8. Detroit
9. Minnesota
10. Portland
11. Philadelphia
12. Toronto (to OKC)
13. Dallas
14. Utah

After Tuesday night, if you didn’t already have them there (some of us did), you’d have to move the Cavs to the top of the list. Thanks to the results of Tuesday’s Draft lottery, Cleveland will add the No. 1 pick of the 2013 Draft to and young and talented core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson.

It was just two years ago that the Cavs won the right to select Irving with a pick acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers. This time, they won with their own pick, earned with a 24-58 record, some terrible defense, and an 8-3-6-7 combination of ping-pong balls.

A month ago, Mike Brown was rehired to fix that defense. The Cavs are the only team to rank in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last three years, but ranked in the top five on that end a couple of times under Brown (and with the best player in the world).

A month from now, Cleveland will add another piece to the puzzle. Two No. 1 picks in three years is a good way to ensure both short and long-term success.

“It’s going to mean a lot,” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said Tuesday, “because if we can pick the right guy to fit into the young core that we have now, we can be a great team for many, many years.”

Before the lottery, there was no clear No. 1 pick. No LeBron James or Anthony Davis. And there was no Big Two on the level of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Among the top four or five talents, there’s a guy at each position, and none is a can’t miss prospect.

But with Cleveland drawing the top selection and already having Irving and Waiters in their backcourt, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, a 6-foot-11 power forward, jumps to the top of the list. The Cavs have Thompson, Tyler Zeller (taken with the No. 17 pick last year) and the oft-injured Anderson Varejao up front, but every good team needs at least three quality big men.

The issue, of course, is that Noel won’t be available until at least Christmas, still recovering from ACL surgery in his left knee in March. And as we’ve seen in the past, training camp is a critical part of a rookie’s orientation to the league.

The Orlando Magic, who finished with a league-worst 20-62 record, will draft second, and they can use help at every position and on both ends of the floor. They have a handful of young players, but none is really a franchise anchor. Their best pieces are on the frontline, however, so they should be happy with any number of options in the backcourt, including Michigan point guard Trey Burke and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore.

In discussing the possibilities, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn talked about building a culture as much as acquiring talent.

“I trust our general manager and our scouts and their ability to find the right person who’s going into fit in our locker room,” Vaughn said.

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, another descendant from the San Antonio Spurs’ management tree, had a similar outlook, saying that he wants to continue “to build the momentum with what we want to be about, what our identity is, what our values are, and really staying true to that.”

Like the Cavs, the Washington Wizards have a young and talented backcourt. So they will probably look to go big with the third pick, though general manager Ernie Grunfeld indicated Tuesday that he’ll look for the best player available.

“In this league, players win, regardless of what position they’re at,” Grunfeld said. “We’ll take the best player that we feel will help us, in the short term and the long term.”

Morning Shootaround — March 15

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Is it 2005 all over again? The Mavs and Spurs locked up in a classic battle that reminded us of their showdowns of the mid-2000s and, much like those classic matchups, Tim Duncan stepped in the wayback machine and went bonkers on Dallas. Duncan flirted with a 20-20 game (he ended up with 28 points and 19 rebounds) and the Spurs had to sweat out a Vince Carter miss at the buzzer, but San Antonio got the win and clinched a playoff berth, too.

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News of the morning

Duncan getting back into a groove | Blazers fans let Felton have it | Mavs react to Jones’ defense | Thibodeau clarifies Rose’s status | Hennigan, Presti share deep dond

Duncan slowly finding his rhythmAlthough Tim Duncan had averaged 15.8 ppg and 9.9 rpg heading into last night’s game against the Mavs, he didn’t quite feel like his game was back where it could be. Slowed by a knee contusion suffered on Feb. 2, Duncan has been working his way back into form the last few games. Last night, he really hit his stride, going for 28 points and 19 rebounds to pace the Spurs’ to a close win and said after the game he can tell he’s starting to turn the corner on the court, writes Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:

After missing seven of his first 10 shots Thursday, Duncan made nine of his final 10 and finished with 28 points. He was one rebound shy of his second 20-20 game of the season, finishing with 19.

It was his most productive game since returning Feb.13 from a left knee contusion suffered on Feb. 2.

“It’s finally starting to come back,” Duncan said. “My shot’s not there like I want it to be. Other than that, I feel great. I feel healthy. The pain is gone. I’m starting to feel like I can actually play the game.”

Felton hears it from Blazers fansAfter one month in last season’s lockout-shortened, 66-game campaign, the Blazers were 12-8 and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Their new point guard at the time, Raymond Felton, was averaging a solid 13.3 ppg, 6.7 apg and shooting 42 percent from the field. But after that solid start, both he and the Blazers went in the tank, finishing the season 28-38 and, by season’s end, Felton was the scapegoat (rightly or wrongly) for all that ailed Portland. With Felton returning to Portland last night as a member of the Knicks, he had some strong words for the Blazers before the game and was primed to show his skills, but that isn’t quite how it all worked out, writes Joe Freeman of The Oregonian:

After he arrived into Portland in the wee hours Thursday morning, Raymond Felton checked into a Portland hotel with his New York Knicks teammates and promptly exchanged text messages with Trail Blazers reserve Nolan Smith.

“I’m ready to go,” Felton texted Smith. “Enjoy the show.”

Actually, it was more like a circus.

With a chorus of boos echoing around the Rose Garden every time Felton touched the ball and the Blazers cruising to a convincing 105-90 victory over the Knicks’ junior varsity team, basketball turned into a secondary form of entertainment Thursday night.

An electric sellout crowd of 20,636 flashed gigantic posters with enlarged pictures of donuts and hamburgers and R-rated messages aimed at a player who last year challenged his detractors to visit his Pearl District apartment building if they had a problem with him. Felton was heavily booed during pregame introductions and every time he touched the ball, from the moment the Knicks won the opening tip to the final horn.

Over the summer, as he promoted his youth basketball camp in South Carolina, Felton pledged to score 50 points on the Blazers during his next visit to Portland. But his Rip City return didn’t exactly go as he planned.

And every turnover and errant shot was celebrated by Blazermaniacs, who seemed to relish Felton’s miscues as much they did the Blazers’ successes. The never-had-a-chance air-ball three-point attempt in the first quarter. The pull-up jumper that missed everything but the backboard in the second quarter. The grotesque pass into the lane picked off by the Blazers that led to a Damian Lillard fast-break layup just before halftime. The driving layup that was emphatically blocked by LaMarcus Aldridge in the third quarter.

“It was what I expected,” Felton said. “Some boos — some boos the whole time, actually. It was what I expected. It was funny. It made me laugh. But basically we were trying to get a win tonight.”

While Felton drew much of the pregame hype of headlines, Lillard upstaged his counterpart in every aspect but boos. In a performance that summed up his runaway NBA Rookie of the Year candidacy, Lillard was a blur of swished three-pointers, driving layups and pretty passes. He made 11 of 18 shots and finished with 26 points and 10 assists in yet another historic performance.

Mavs react to ex-teammate Jones’ defenseThe topic du jour yesterday around the NBA was the late-game defense the Hawks’ Dahntay Jones played on Kobe Bryant in Atlanta’s win Wednesday night. Jones appeared to slide his foot under Bryant as he took a potential game-tying shot and Bryant appeared to land on Jones’ foot as he came down. Bryant ended up with a sprained ankle and, by Thursday evening, the NBA ruled that Jones did, in fact, not give Bryant adequate space to get his shot off. Jones spent the early part of the season on the Dallas Mavericks, and some of his ex-teammates chimed in on the play to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:

“It was a 50-50 play,” said Brandan Wright.

Added Darren Collison: “Tough play. That’s all I can say about it.”

There also were a few jokes that it was Jones’ best play for the Mavericks all season. But coach Rick Carlisle didn’t want to hear about the possibility of Bryant being out for an extended period and the Mavericks having a chance to overtake the Lakers in the playoff race.

“I didn’t see the play,” Carlisle said. “And I’m not going to get involved with anything having to do about saying anything happening with Kobe Bryant. I think our owner showed what can happen with that 10 days ago.”

That comment ellicited laughter from the coach and the media assembled before Thursday’s game against the Spurs. When Mark Cuban suggested the hypothetical scenario where the Lakers could amnesty Bryant, he came back with 38 points against the Mavericks.

“We really have to focus on our own thing,” Carlisle said. “Whatever happens externally is going to happen. We control our situation by putting the force and the attitude and the effort into it at as much of a high level as we can. And we got to try to take care of our own games. At the end, if we’ve done our job, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

As Wright said: “I doubt he’ll miss much time.”

Thibodeau again clarifies Rose’s statusIt almost sounded like Derrick Rose would play in the Bulls game against the Warriors tonight. But then Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau clarified his stance after Thursday’s practice at Oracle Arena in Oakland and said that Rose’s playing remains a day-to-day situation, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Thibodeau said it’s “unlikely” Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose would play. Thibodeau said Rose “went pretty hard” during the entire practice.

Thibodeau understands as well as anyone how every update he offers on Rose is parsed and analyzed, contributing to the media frenzy. So when he didn’t immediately rule Rose out, he fielded several follow-up questions before adding “nothing has changed” and the “unlikely” status.

Rose has made clear he could miss the entire season after knee surgery.

“It could be in a couple days. It could be in a week. I don’t know when it is. He doesn’t know when it is,” Thibodeau said of Rose’s return. “He has to feel real comfortable and feel the explosion is there. He’s made great progress. We don’t know when that time is. We’ll have a better idea the more we see him go.

“We just have to keep being patient and let him work through it. Each day he feels a little better. He has to have a few days where he feels really good about where he is. It’s not that he’s not feeling good. He’s just not quite there. We’ll know when he gets there.”

One thing Thibodeau stressed is that game outcomes are not affecting Rose’s decision. In other words, the 42-point loss isn’t influencing him to return to help or to turn away from the debacle.

“Nope, nope, nope, nope,” Thibodeau said. “This guy is well-prepared for this. He’s handled his part great. He’s not going to be influenced by anything but when he’s ready. That part is clear.”

Deep bond unites Magic’s Hennigan, Thunder’s PrestiFirst-year Magic GM Rob Hennigan had his work cut out for him when he took the job in Orlando: a Dwight Howard trade situation to navigate and, once that was over, a rebuilding effort that would take several seasons to complete. Luckily, Hennigan had a good mentor in OKC GM Sam Presti, whom Hennigan had worked for and known since their days with the Spurs’ front office in 2004. Hennigan followed Presti to OKC in 2007 and had been there until last summer, when Orlando hired him to direct the team’s new direction. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel has a great feature on the deep relationship that Hennigan and Presti share:

Rob Hennigan made one of the most important decisions of his life here, just a short walk from where the Orlando Magic will play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.

He made that decision with Sam Presti, a friend and mentor, by his side.

It was 2008, and Presti, the Thunder’s general manager, offered Hennigan a job in the Thunder front office. They walked through downtown, discussing the type of team Presti wanted to build, talking about the meaningful connection Presti wanted to create between the franchise and the city. They eventually reached the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site where, 13 years earlier, Timothy McVeigh detonated explosives in front the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

“At the end of the day,” Hennigan remembers now, “I had so much trust and faith in Sam that I wanted to join him and join the organization to try and build something special.”

That belief and confidence in Presti helped lead Hennigan to where he is today, the general manager of the Magic. Presti gave Hennigan two of his big breaks: a coveted internship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2004 and a position as director of college/international player personnel with the Thunder four years later.

Hennigan marveled at Presti’s work ethic, his exacting attention to detail and his systematic, disciplined approach to decision-making.

In 2007, the Seattle SuperSonics hired Presti to be their general manager.

A year later, the franchise moved to Oklahoma City, and that’s when Presti chose to hire Hennigan.

In 2010, Presti promoted Hennigan to assistant general manager for player personnel.

Then, late last May or in early June, Hennigan and his wife, Marissa, were sitting in a restaurant when his phone rang. It was Presti on the other line, telling Hennigan that Magic CEO Alex Martins had just called. Martins wanted to interview Hennigan for the Magic’s GM job.

Hennigan couldn’t believe it.

But it was true.

In the days that followed, Presti helped Hennigan organize his thoughts for the job interviews.

In June, the Magic hired Hennigan.

Hennigan, 30, and Presti, 36, still talk and text all the time, more about life in general than their jobs.

After seven years working together, Hennigan already has learned lessons from him.

“I think the most important thing I learned from Sam is to always put the best interests of the organization above everything else,” Hennigan says. “It takes great discipline, conviction and patience to do that, but Sam has showcased an ability to do that as well as anyone.”

ICYMI of the night: They don’t call Tim Duncan the “Big Fundamental” for nothing, kids:

Magic’s Redick Focusing On Right Now, Not Past Or Future Roads


CHICAGO
— Dwelling on the road not taken doesn’t get you where you want to go today. Neither does fretting about a crossroads yet to come.

Magic guard J.J. Redick is a self-professed planner. In fact he and his wife Chelsea both are that way – methodical, plotting their next move, reviewing their tracks. But they saw last season in Orlando with the Dwight Howard & Ringling Bros. Circus what can happen to one’s best-laid plans. So they swore it off a little.

“My wife and I spent the summer in New York City and when we got back to Orlando in September, we had a discussion,” Redick said after the Magic’s shootaround sessions Tuesday morning at United Center. “We really are focused on making the most out of every day.”

That means not obsessing over speculation that, after six full seasons in Orlando, Redick, 28, might be down to his final few months. He is something of a luxury for a rebuilding team such as the Magic, with both a $6.2 million salary on an expiring contract and skills as a shooter off the bench that might make him attractive in trade by the league’s February deadline. (more…)

Magic Trick Surprised Kupchak

HANG TIME, Texas — When the deal finally went down and Superman tied on his cape to fly cross country and join the Lakers, a lot of folks just nodded their heads and figured that’s what was expected all along.

Mitch Kupchak wasn’t one of them. The Lakers general manager tells our man Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register that he had all but given up hope of dressing Dwight Howard up in the purple and gold:

“I just never felt that there was a deal that they thought that they would do,” Kupchak said. “Without going into great detail, I just felt the Magic were just canvassing the league, which is the job. … I didn’t think there would be a deal. It got really quiet a couple weeks ago. Before that, it was very crazy – and then it just died. So we had kind of moved on.

“We had signed Jordan Hill. We had signed Antawn Jamison. And we thought it was over.”

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Van Gundy: Howard Trade Mishandled

From NBA.com staff reports

Practically from the start of the public unraveling of the Dwight Howard era in Orlando, Stan Van Gundy didn’t pull many punches about his view on the deterioration between the Magic’s former All-Star big man and the powers that be (including himself). Perhaps no interview summed up Van Gundy’s honest view on the situation than his awkward-yet-telling pre-practice interview in April where he revealed that reports of Howard wanting him fired were true (which were then followed by Howard awkwardly sidling up to and being chummy with Van Gundy … and then having to deny Van Gundy’s statements to the media).

Van Gundy was fired shortly after the Magic’s first-round playoff ouster to the Pacers (as was former GM Otis Smith) as the team began what would become Phase I of its lengthy rebuilding plan. All that aside, it’s not entirely surprising that Van Gundy didn’t hold back when talking to 790 The Ticket in Miami with Jonathan Zaslow and Hoch about the end of the Howard era, the opt-in saga with Dwight and more:

How do you feel about the fallout from everything that has happened in Orlando? Are you frustrated? Relieved?

“Well I’d like to have a job. That’d be nice. That’s not a great feeling. We just got caught up in a bad situation and our organization didn’t handle it very well. Because of that I would say we probably deserve a lot of what happened as an organization and certainly not the other players. I thought those guys…I felt badly for them, a group that worked hard and was very professional all year long and didn’t deserve everything that happened, but from our organization especially the people at the very top it just wasn’t handled very well, so you get what you deserve.”

Did you go home and say I can’t believe how bizarre this is being played out with Dwight Howard?

“No. Not really. Look there’s always something going on in the NBA. I think when you are in the season you are just sort of dealing with things day-to-day and the next practice and the next game and everything else, so no there is always issues. That was our issue this year and we dealt with it. Quite honestly we were dealing with it very well with everything that was going on until Dwight Howard went out and obviously we lost our best player. We were playing very well. We had the 3rd best record in the East and the 5th best record in the league and we’re playing well. Then when he [Dwight Howard] went down quite honestly we struggled. He was sort of our guy and we didn’t play as well after that, but I thought we were still pretty competitive in everything else. It wasn’t as bad inside our team and inside the locker room as it was out in the media.”

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