CHICAGO – A crucial jump ball went the Toronto Raptors’ way in the closing seconds of their 101-98 victory over the Chicago Bulls at United Center. But it came at a price for center Jonas Valanciunas.
The Toronto center went for the ball as it squirted out of the jump between teammate Rudy Gay and Bulls forward Carlos Boozer. But as he reached, dropping his head, he banged into Gay’s shoulder — hard.
The final 9.1 seconds ticked off without incident, but Valanciunas went straight to Toronto’s bench area and sat in one of the chairs. Various members of the team’s training and medical staff huddled around him. As they gingerly probed around his neck, it wasn’t initially clear if he might be checked for concussion symptoms. But no, this was what Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo called a “whiplash-like” injury.
Long after the final horn, as fans exited and cleanup crews began their work, Valanciunas was fitted with a protective collar and escorted from the court. He was taken to nearby Rush Presbyterian Hospital as a precaution and to undergo a more thorough exam.
The 6-foot-11 Valanciunas had eight points and three rebounds in 23:17 against Chicago, including a throwd-own slam that made it 93-85 with 5:13 left that temporarily slowed the Bulls’ comeback attempt.
The fifth pick in the 2011 Draft, Valanciunas has been finishing strong. He was named Eastern Conference rookie of the month in March and had scored in double figures in 12 straight games prior to Tuesday. Since the All-Star break, he had hit 57.9 percent of his field goal attempts and 82.8 percent of his free throws.
Valanciunas was kept overnight for observation at nearby Rush Presbyterian hospital while the rest of the Raptors headed home. Test results were pending. Toronto’s next game is Friday against the Bulls at Air Canada Centre.
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: If you’ve been overly captivated by the Heat’s 23-game win streak, we can’t say we blame you. It certainly has been the NBA story of note the last few weeks. But if you’re missing out on what Denver is doing out West (and who they’re doing it to) with their 13-game win streak, well, you’re missing out. Last night’s game against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena (where OKC had won 20 straight vs. West foes) was something to behold. From Andre Miller‘s steady hand down the stretch to the rebounding and defensive prowess of Shootaround fave Kenneth Faried to the overall poise coach George Karl’s crew showed in the fourth quarter of a close game, this was a prime example of why the Nuggets are working their way into the West contender conversation.
Miller’s words, play keep Nuggets rolling — With a 12-game win streak in two (the last win coming offa particularly nail-biting affair in Chicago), Denver headed to Oklahoma City last night no doubt weary and aware of the Thunder’s 20-game win streak against West foes. The stage was set, then, for the Nuggets to either rise to the challenge and win, thus setting a new team mark for consecutive NBA wins, or fold under the pressure of weariness and a tough environment and fall apart. Jonathan Hochman of the Denver Post says some words from veteran Andre Miller helped keep the Nuggets on track:
Dick Vitale whispers louder than Andre Miller screams.
But in the pregame locker room, the Nuggets’ veteran guard delivered a powerful, passionate speech, channeling the oration of, say, Jesse Jackson, who just happened to be at Tuesday night’s Nuggets-Thunder game.
“One amazing speech — guys were just amped up, ready to play,” Denver forward Kenneth Faried said after the Nuggets’ 114-104 win, Denver’s 13th consecutive, a franchise-NBA record. “He said it doesn’t matter that we’re coming off a back-to-back, it doesn’t matter that we went to overtime — we’re going to play this game hard and with pride. We don’t have any excuses. Andre Miller is a guy who doesn’t really say much, but when he talks, everybody listens, nobody’s playing around.
“Everybody locks in.”
And sure enough, it was Miller who was locked in the most when it mattered. In just nine fourth-quarter minutes, he scored 13 points with six rebounds and three steals. Unreal. And he made two tough shots late. The second, a leaner in the lane with 1:29 left, gave Denver (47-22) a 10-point lead.
Oh, and Miller, who played childhood ball with Bill Russell, celebrated a birthday Tuesday. The 37-year-old was up to his old old-school tricks, making nifty passes and keeping the Thunder players on their toes. Back in Denver, they must be going nuts at the YMCA.
“Incredible,” Nuggets coach George Karl said of Miller, who finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in 23 minutes. “If he plays 10 more minutes, he’d get a triple-double. He’s a coach, a teacher, a veteran and he does it every day in a classy way, a very quiet way. And then he can do what he did tonight – take the most talented team maybe in the NBA and be the best player on the court for the last six minutes of the game.”
Hill sorry for skewering Pacers fans — Pacers point guard and Indiana native George Hill grew up at a time when the Reggie Miller-era teams made the old Market Square Arena and the Pacers’ current home, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, one of the more intimidating places to play in the league. Since the Pacers’ revival as a contender two seasons ago, though, Indiana has ranked 22nd (this season) and 29th (last season) in total attendance. A loss last week to the Lakers brought out much of Hill’s ire against the hometown fans, who were seemingly outnumbered during the L.A. game and, as the numbers show, haven’t been turning out as much as Hill and his teammates would like. After a few days since his outburst, though, Hill is sorry for calling Pacers fans to the carpet and explained his position to Phillip B. Wilsonof The Indianapolis Star:
George Hill says he meant no disrespect to fans.
He just insists more Indiana Pacers fans should be in the stands at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. And he’s not going to budge on that point.
In his first home game since making critical remarks about seeing too many Los Angeles Lakers fans at the Pacers’ venue, Hill received the usual round of applause when the starting lineup was announced Tuesday night.
“I’m not saying you can’t be somebody’s fan,” said Hill, an Indianapolis native who went to Broad Ripple High School and IUPUI. “I was a Michael Jordan fan growing up, but when I did go to the games, I always rooted for my hometown team.
“You root for who you want to root for, but I know one day that we’re going to get it like it used to be at Market Square Arena. That’s my dream, that’s my goal from when I first got here, to help bring fans back. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
The Pacers enjoyed a loud home-court advantage at Market Square Arena, the team’s home from 1974-99.
Hill suggested Friday’s Lakers game had a 70-30 percent split in favor of the team wearing purple. Because his comments came after a 99-93 loss, some fans thought it unfair and rather untimely to vent.
“I love Indiana. I love everybody here in the community. That’s why I do so much in the community,” said Hill, who had 14 points and seven rebounds in the Pacers’ 95-73 victory over Orlando on Tuesday. “If anyone thought that I was trying to be disrespectful and tell them what to do with their money, I wasn’t. I’m sorry if that’s what you thought.
“I’m just trying to do what’s best for this organization and my teammates and show everybody this is a good basketball team. We’re going to need this city behind us to make a good run. We’re a basketball town and that’s how it should be.”
Howard ends partnership with longtime manager — From the time he was drafted by the Magic with the No. 1 overall pick in 2004 to his Dwightmare of last season that eventually put him in Los Angeles, Dwight Howard has worked side by side with his manager, Kevin Samples. But after nine years of Samples, Howard decided to ditch him and, as Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register notes, the change in Howard’s on-and off-court personality has been noticeable:
Howard is growing all on his own, single-mindedly focused on who he wants to be, and he has taken another major step forward in his career by leaving the business manager who has been Howard’s primary advisor his entire career, Kevin Samples.
“We had nine great years together,” Howard told me late Monday night. “Just time to go separate ways.”
For all the intangible growth Howard has discovered recently, breaking away from Samples is a concrete gesture that the past is the past – and Howard is confident in calling his own shots in the future.
“I know what I want to accomplish,” Howard said. “I’ve always written down my goals and everything I want, and I want to make sure I get ‘em. Everything I’ve lost, everything that’s gone away, I’m going to get it back.”
Samples came to Los Angeles with Howard after the trade to the Lakers, and it was hard to envision him not being around considering they’re actually first cousins – and Howard’s parents dispatched Samples to live with Howard in Orlando right after the 2004 NBA draft as a big brother/guidance counselor/business manager.
Their relationship grew into Dwight Howard Enterprises, which had two and only two officers: Howard and Samples.
For Howard to sever the tie is no small statement.
“He’s still my cousin, my family, so we’ll always be around each other,” Howard said. “But we just parted ways on the business side.”
What has changed is Howard can reflect on what went awry in Orlando with a healthy perspective now: He wanted to leave the Magic organization, but not really the people and the community that had become so connected to him. He needed to venture out to grow and deep-down he knew it – but he was a little scared to try something that big and new.
Howard was a little scared as he started out with the Lakers, too – unsure about his body after back surgery and lacking his usual freakish physical dominance. Even as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak was behind the scenes reclaiming his spot on the All-Virtue team for patience, frustration grew from teammates and coaches over Howard not more aggressively testing the limits of what he could give the Lakers.
Howard maintains that it was mostly his lack of physical fitness that stopped him, but maybe he looked chicken because nothing was egging him on.
Howard’s major breakthrough was in attitude.
No more whining about touches in the post – replaced by a total commitment to defending and rebounding, plus creating devastating pick-and-roll ball with two legendary ball-handlers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
No more excuses about his body – which Howard still managed to bring in at a career-low 5.8 percent body fat to start the season and drop down further to 5.0. No more needing time to wait and hope for less pain from the torn labrum in his right shoulder. Instead, a commitment to cutting sugar out of his diet for two months and pushing his conditioning to the point that it meant even humbly asking out of a game.
Rather than spouting clichés about the Lakers needing to do the right things to start winning, Howard simply started doing those things that he knows are right.
Clips not confident on defense — Before the All-Star break, the Clippers were 39-17 and had just come off a sound 125-101 thumping of the rival Lakers. All seemed right in the Clippers’ world, but since the All-Star break, L.A. has slowed. It is 7-5 and had lost to the Spurs, Grizzlies, Thunder and Nuggets — all somewhat acceptable losses given that each team is at least a playoff squad out West. Last night’s 116-101 loss to the Kings in Sacramento, though, raised some concerns for point guard Chris Paul, who tells the Los Angeles’ Times Broderick Turner that the Clips are more than struggling on defense of late:
This was perhaps the worst loss of the season for the Clippers, and it could hardly have come at a worse time.
A 116-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings in which they were outscored 38-18 in the fourth quarter Tuesday night sent the Clippers tumbling in the standings.
They began the night at Sleep Train Arena as the third-seeded team in the Western Conference, but they left in fourth place, percentage points behind Memphis (45-21).
The Kings’ fourth-quarter surge exposed the Clippers’ dismal three-point defense, a recurring problem. Sacramento made four consecutive three-pointers in a 1-minute 45-second stretch, turning a two-point edge into a 110-98 lead that spelled the end for the Clippers.
The Kings shot 50% (14 for 28) from behind the three-point line.
“It seems like every night teams shoot lights-out from the three on us,” Paul said.
The Clippers also lacked composure down the stretch.
Lamar Odom was assessed a technical foul with 7:55 left and the score tied, 86-86. Barnes swore at fans in the stands. Paul yelled at DeMarcus Cousins while the Kings center was shooting free throws.
“We’ve got to get better defensively,” Paul said “I think that’s the biggest key. Last year we had something about us where we could just get stops when we needed to. And right now, I don’t think we have the confidence that we need defensively.”
Breaking down Memphis’ new offense — From coach Lionel Hollins to our own Sekou Smith right here on the Hang Time blog to various others around the NBA blogosphere, the Grizzlies’ decision to trade Rudy Gay wasn’t met with universal praise. Memphis struggled after trading the athletic swingman, but has picked things up in the interim and is 16-6 overall since Gay was dealt to Toronto. Dan Devine over at Yahoo! Sports’ Ball Don’t Lie blog has a great in-depth post breaking down how the Grizzlies have thrived a bit since Gay was dealt:
There have been plenty of positive things about the Memphis Grizzlies’ surge since trading starting small forward Rudy Gay as part of a three-team deal that was lambasted in some quarters and lauded in others, with the team’s 16-6 mark since the move, of course, topping the list. One of the neatest from a basketball nerd perspective, though, is the increased amount of attention, both in the Grizzlies’ attack and in subsequent analysis of it, that has been going to the work done by Marc Gasol.
Gasol ranks at the top of the league in “elbow touches,” according to optical tracking data compiled by STATS through their SportVU system, whichI’vewrittenaboutbefore. (That’s the high-tech system where six special high-definition video cameras are installed above an arena’s basketball court at different angles to track, capture, record and store information on the location and movement of all 10 players, all three referees and the ball 25 times per second, every second, for an entire NBA game. Right now, 15 of 30 NBA teams have the cameras installed; more are sure to follow.)
Before the Gay trade, the Grizzlies ranked 22st among 30 NBA teams in offensive efficiency, a stat that measures how many points your offense scores per 100 possessions; Memphis was averaging 100.1 points-per-100, according to NBA.com’s stat tool. In 21 games since adding Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye to the lineup following the trade, they’ve moved up to 13th in the league at 104-per-100; over the course of the full season, that would rank just above the Brooklyn Nets as the NBA’s 10th-best offense. That’s a pretty significant improvement — over the course of the full season, four points-per-100 is the difference between the Nets’ No. 10 offense and the Chicago Bulls’ 25th-ranked unit.
ICYMI of the night: Nothing like a nice circus-type layup on a slow Wednesday morning. Thanks, Paul George …:
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The quietest team in the NBA just keeps on taking care of business.
Quick, without looking at the standings, which team holds down the the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference? Hint: It’s not the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Memphis Grizzlies (44-19), playing with stunning synergy and grit since swapping Rudy Gay for Tayshaun Prince, are 15-3 since Prince’s Feb. 1 debut, are coming off a stifling victory on the Clippers’ home court and bring a six-game win streak — on the heels of an eight-game streak — into tonight’s game of contrasting styles against the Denver Nuggets (9 p.m. ET, League Pass), the West’s fastest and hottest team with a 10-game win streak.
Hollins said so, too, with this now-famous quote: “When you have champagne taste, you can’t be on a beer budget. It’s a small market and I understand the economics of being in a small market.”
Only now Hollins has put the pieces together and the quiet, small-market Grizzlies appear as if on the cusp of big things.
While Gay was hailed as the Grizzlies best scorer and a go-to-guy in the clutch despite his low shooting percentages, Memphis is now — as revealed by a vast sea of analytical data available for your perusal at NBA.com/Stats – a more efficient offensive team that’s assisting on more baskets. The Grizz are utilizing their two talented big men, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, even more and benefiting from Prince’s team-oriented, pass-first mentality.
Here’s some non-analytic stats that drive the point home just the same. In the last 15 games, Memphis’ lone defeat was a tightly contested, 98-91 loss at Miami. In going 14-1 during that stretch of games, the Grizzlies have averaged 96.4 points a game, hardly a juggernaut, but more than three points a game better than before the trade.
They’ve scored 100 points or more in six of the 15 games. Before the trade it took 30 games to record their last six of scoring 100 or more. Add the scoring boost to a defense that continues to lead the league in yielding the fewest points (89.3) and ranks seventh in the field-goal percentage (43.9) and the Grizz have boosted their stock, post-trade, as a serious Western Conference contender.
As Memphis heads to Mile High tonight where the Nuggets are a devastating 28-3, it brings what could be deemed as a stronger, stingier team mentality in the form a 19-11 road record. The Grizz are 7-2 since the Prince trade, a record that includes triumphs at Brooklyn and, most recently, consecutive wins against Portland and an impressive strangling of Lob City.
The Grizzlies are three games behind No. 2 Oklahoma City (two games back in the loss column) with one game remaining against the Thunder in Memphis next Wednesday. As for the Grizzlies’ chances of holding down the No. 3 spot or even moving up, their toughest stretch to end the season just might be their road back-to-back tonight at Denver followed by a desperate Utah team on Saturday.
After that, they face the challenge of 10 road games among their final 17, but they play just eight current playoff teams.
So how good are the Grizzlies? That will be determined in the playoffs. But the fact is that they are a more efficient offensive team, one that’s in sync as a unit and one that is rolling since making the trade that few wanted to see happen.
Transaction No. 1: The Baltimore Ravens, about five weeks after they won the Super Bowl, trade star wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick – largely to save money – and the Internet mostly yawns.
Transaction No. 2: The Memphis Grizzlies trade small forward Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors for three players, cash and a second-round draft pick – largely to save money – and social media and the blogosphere goes bonkers.
“Where is the outrage?” a friend of mine wondered in an email Tuesday. “The defending champion trades their best or second-best player to a big-market team for a sixth-round draft pick and nothing else, purely for financial reasons. ‘The NFL CBA must be broken. It might bring down the whole league…’ Oh wait, no one is writing that but Rudy Gay getting traded was the end of civilization. Care to make any sense of that for me?”
Well, sure. That’s what we do here at Hang Time Headquarters. Or try to do, anyway.
It’s true that the Ravens’ decision to ship Boldin to the team they beat in Super Bowl XLVII passed without much hysteria. What criticism it did generate zeroed in more on Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome, rather than anything systemic indicating a sea change in the ways NFL teams build, pay and maintain rosters.
Here was longtime NFL scribe Gary Myers‘ “tweeted” reaction:
So the Ravens invest all this money in Joe Flacco and refuse to pay his best WR Anquan Boldin the $6 mil on his contract and trade him.— Gary Myers (@garymyersNYDN) March 11, 2013
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco reacted with disappointment when he learned of the trade Monday.
“Anquan was a great receiver for myself and for our football team,” said Flacco, who signed a six-year, $120.6 million deal with the Ravens last week. “It’s sad to see a guy like that go, but at the same time you want what’s best for him and you just wish him the best of luck.
“Anquan was a big part of this football team, a big part of this offense. He’s one of the many reasons we won the Super Bowl this year.”
Boldin was also a strong voice in the locker room and a teacher to second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith, who will likely become Flacco’s top target in 2013.
“Definitely shocked,” Smith said of the deal. “You lose a great guy, a great leader. A mentor. All of that.”
Still, the furor triggered by the Grizzlies’ trade of Gay to Toronto, as a way to unburden their $74 million payroll of their long-term commitment ($37 million in 2013-14 and 2014-15) to the talented but underperforming forward, was wild by comparison. Imagine if Memphis GM Chris Wallace had first tried to convince Gay to negotiate his $16.4 million salary down by one-third, as the Ravens did with Boldin, and then traded him – for something of marginally greater value than a potted plant. (NBA rules prohibit players from renegotiating their contracts down, by the way.)
There’s no denying the difference in reactions in the public arena. But here are some possible reasons for that: (more…)
On Wednesday, they came back from a 25-point deficit to win in New Orleans, 108-102. Kobe Bryant tied the game with 1:34 left, gave the Lakers the lead a minute later, and basically sealed the game with his runaway dunk with 24 seconds left.
And on Friday, Bryant did it again, hitting three ridiculous 3-pointers at the end of regulation and then getting the game-winning dunk when Toronto stupidly sent the lumbering Aaron Gray to *double-team him on the perimeter. Rudy Gay did his part to help his opponent, taking six bad shots in the clutch and missing all six.
Side note: There was a video where Michael Jordan noted that he loved it when teams sent a big man to double-team him. As the big approached, Jordan would quickly go right around him, and basically the big would set a screen on his own teammate (the one guarding Jordan in the first place). Jordan was talking about post-ups, where he didn’t have the real estate that Bryant had on Friday. The Raptors sent Gray to guard Bryant 25 feet from the basket. Things may have been different if the more mobile Amir Johnson hadn’t fouled out, but that doesn’t excuse the decision to double with Gray.
So, since Jan. 27 L.A. is now 10-2 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. Before that, they were 5-16.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the Utah Jazz, the team the Lakers are trying to catch for eighth place in the West. After a painful loss in Chicago on Friday, the Jazz have dropped six of their last seven games, with four of the last five losses coming by three points or less.
Here’s a quick rundown of the excruciating way they’ve allowed the Lakers to pull within a half game in the standings…
Feb. 25 – Celtics 110, Jazz 107 (OT)
Down eight to the Celtics, the Jazz began the fourth quarter with a 13-2 run to take the lead. They defended Paul Pierce well at the end of regulation, but couldn’t stop him from scoring seven straight points in overtime. Down three with 1.2 seconds left, Randy Foye‘s 3 to tie didn’t hit anything.
March 4 – Bucks 109, Jazz 108 (OT)
This time, the Jazz were down 10 to start the fourth. They came back again, but Paul Millsap missed a free throw that could have given them a four-point lead with 15 seconds left in regulation. That opened the door for Brandon Jennings‘ game-tying three. Gordon Hayward‘s drive to win was denied by Larry Sanders and Enes Kanter‘s follow rolled off the rim at the buzzer. A costly Alec Burks turnover and a missed DeMarre Carroll free throw doomed them in overtime.
March 6 – Cavs 104, Jazz 101
The Jazz were the team to blow the fourth-quarter lead this time. They led by 12 with just over seven minutes to go and by eight after a Millsap bucket with 2:46 left. But Kyrie Irving sparked a 12-1 Cavs run, featuring a couple of ugly Utah turnovers, to finish the game.
March 8 – Bulls 89, Jazz 88
The Jazz seemingly took control with a 10-0 run to go up five in the middle of the fourth quarter, but Chicago answered right back. An Al Jefferson jumper gave Utah the lead in the final minute, but another one couldn’t seal the deal. Marco Belinelli then hit a 3 to put the Bulls up one. And though Hayward got a good look to win it, his jumper was way off.
Before this stretch, the Jazz were 19-11 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes. Now, they’re 19-15.
The Utah Jazz don’t have an open roster spot, but Misery has signed on with this team and is their most reliable clutch performer.
This time the opponent was the Chicago Bulls, their weapon of choice was a Marco Belinelli 3-pointer. But the rest? It felt exactly the same.
With reports circulating that Utah is on the verge of signing D-League standout Travis Leslie, the Jazz lost their third game on this road trip after they held leads in the final minute in all three. But after an overtime loss in Milwaukee and a missed layup in Cleveland, the storyline for the Jazz (32-30), as they struggle to remain playoff relevant, borders on the absurd.
“They didn’t draw that up,” Al Jefferson said. “That was just the ball bouncing their way.”
There’s a lot of luck involved in winning and losing close games. There’s still plenty of season left, but right now, it seems that the Jazz’s luck has run out.
BOSTON – The seventh annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is being held Friday and Saturday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
The conference brings together folks from several different sports and continues to grow every year. This year’s panelists and speakers include R.C. Buford, Mark Cuban, Michael Lewis, Adam Silver, Nate Silver and Stan Van Gundy.
Co-chaired by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, the Sloan Conference has a huge NBA presence. This year, 29 of the 30 teams (the Los Angeles Lakers being the only exception) were in attendance.
Like the conference, the role of analytics in the NBA continues to grow. And when owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien took over the Grizzlies in the fall, they knew they needed an analytical mind to help them make their basketball decisions.
They turned to ESPN writer John Hollinger, naming him vice president of basketball operations in early December.
Hollinger was thrown right into the fire, as the team looked to restructure it’s payroll and regain some flexibility under the parameters of the new collective bargaining agreement. In late January, the Grizzlies made two trades involving three other teams and nine total players. At the trade deadline, they made one more minor deal.
Most notably, the Grizzlies traded leading scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto, breaking up a starting lineup that had enjoyed a decent amount of success over the last few seasons. They replaced Gay with Tayshaun Prince and also added Ed Davis to a bench that had taken a hit when they traded three players (and a first round pick) to Cleveland for Jon Leuer.
NBA.com exchanged e-mails with Hollinger this week to discuss his new job and how the Grizzlies are moving forward…
NBA.com: How does your approach to analytics as a team executive differ from your approach as a writer?
John Hollinger: The biggest change is that I’m looking at everything through this more narrow lens of “how does this impact the Memphis Grizzlies?” That means I’m probably looking at certain players much more closely and all but ignoring some national stories that I’d be discussing nearly every day in my former gig (like one that rhymes with “Spakers,” for instance), and it means I’m paying a lot more attention to non-NBA stuff (college, Europe, etc.) because that’s the pipeline for incoming players. As a writer I had the luxury of waiting until those guys got to the league if I so chose.
NBA.com: How has your team changed with the trades you made?
Hollinger: Well, hopefully we’re better. More seriously, I think we’ve diversified our offense a little, not just in terms of Tayshaun’s versatility, but also with adding guys like Austin and Ed that come off the bench and give you a major boost.
Rudy was a very good player but Tayshaun’s ability to pass and hit catch-and-shoot jumpers hopefully replaces some of the athleticism and shot-creating ability we gave up in this deal. Defensively we probably get even better, because we still have that 6-9 small forward who can guard, but now we also have an athletic big who plays above the rim in Ed, which is something we really didn’t have before.
And finally, we’re pretty deep in the front line now, because we also have bigs like Jon Leuer and Dexter Pittman waiting in the wings from our other deals.
NBA.com: I think we all understand the basic reasoning for the Rudy Gay trade and that you have more flexibility going forward. But can you explain the reasoning behind the Cleveland trade in the context of the trade that followed?
Hollinger: One thing I think a lot of people don’t understand is that we still were facing a potential luxury tax hit even with the Rudy trade we made, because of certain incentive deals in our player contracts. So even though all those little charts on the Web had us $4 million and change into the tax, in reality our potential liability was about $6 million. Because of that, it was inevitable that another deal also had to be made in addition to a Rudy deal.
Also, there was a fairly important chess element to this — we were able to improve our leverage in the second deal by being under the tax, because beforehand people were demanding a premium for all the money they’d be saving us. The basketball offers for Rudy got better once we’d done this.
As for the particular deal we chose, it was clear given the frontcourt depth we had that moving off that [Marreese] Speights deal for both this year and next was the way to achieve the greatest savings at the least basketball cost. I suppose it’s possible he opts out of his deal now that he’s in Cleveland and getting minutes and playing well, but if he had stayed here and been our fifth big I’d say those odds were pretty minimal.
And going forward, if we’d had him on our books it would have been almost impossible to keep Tony Allen and stay under the tax. Obviously this isn’t the kind of move you’d prefer to make, but we came into a situation where our hands were really tied financially, and now we have options again.
While I have the floor, I’ll also point out two other things: First, that the Speights trade exception was parlayed into an even larger exception in the Rudy deal, because we took Daye into it, so we now have a $7.5 million chip that could prove valuable in the offseason. And second, that our breathing room allowed us to take in Dexter Pittman and a second-round pick at the trade deadline.
NBA.com: How much interaction have you had with players and coaches about numbers that can make you a better team? Does Tayshaun Prince understand the value of a mid-range shot vs. a three?
Hollinger: This is where coming in partway through a season probably limited what we could accomplish somewhat. We’ve had some discussions about it, but we’ll probably be able to have a lot more impact once we’ve had a full offseason together. And obviously time is a factor here two, just in terms of getting to know each other and develop a trust and rapport.
As for Tayshaun, you’re right that it’s probably not ideal to have just 11 percent of his shots come from beyond the arc, given that he shoots it fairly well from out there. We’ve talked about it some internally and with the coaches, but this is another example of an area where we’d be more likely to have an impact in the offseason.
NBA.com: Where are NBA analytics most valuable? (Coaching strategies, lineup combinations, evaluating your own personnel, opponent personnel, draft, etc.)
Hollinger: I think the greatest value is still in personnel, and especially in the personnel that you don’t see everyday. The whole thing about numbers and analytics is that they summarize all the games you can’t see, which is great because you can’t possibly watch every team play every game.
With the Grizzlies obviously analytics helps too, but because we’re seeing all the games there’s a lot of times where we already know the answers and the data just confirms it — not all the time, but a lot. As you might expect, the analytics are probably most valuable at the NBA level, because there is a lot less to translate than there is when players are jumping from college, Europe or the D-League.
That said, the answer to this question may be in flux, especially as the use of video explodes. I wouldn’t be shocked if in five years the answer to this question is “coaching.” And I’ll also contradict myself by saying that the translation of going from lower levels to the pros, while harder, also potentially offers more advantages for those who can break the code.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Detroit Pistons are a franchise that’s going younger, but might they have found their point guard of the future in 31-year-old Jose Calderon?
Detroit was the third wheel in the trade that made it possible for Memphis to ship Rudy Gay to Toronto. Career-long Piston Tayshaun Prince, the last remnant of Detroit’s 2004 title team, went to Memphis and Calderon, a career-long Raptor, and his $11 million expiring contract landed in Detroit.
The Pistons created additional cap room by taking on Calderon’s expiring deal and sending out Prince, who has nearly $15 million coming to him over the next two seasons. However, Detroit, with young building blocks such as Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Brandon Knight and Kyle Singler, might not be viewing the eight-year veteran Calderon simply as a money saver before letting him pick his next destination in free agency.
The Calderon trade created even more financial flexibility for the Pistons going into the summer trade and free-agency season but Joe Dumars, the team’s president of basketball operations, has made it clear that Calderon is not just any player on an expiring contract which pays a base salary of about $11 million this year.
Dumars has said he is interested in re-signing Calderon but neither side will discuss much beyond that; the Pistons won’t break the bank to keep Calderon and he isn’t painting himself into a negotiating corner by vowing to stay.
Calderon has impressed his new team with his steady play, averaging 12.3 ppg and 7.8 apg while keeping his turnover rate right about the same as it was this season with Toronto despite playing with unfamiliar teammates and garnering little practice time.
He’s increased his shooting percentages in his first 12 games with Detroit to 50.0 percent overall and 51.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s averaging 31.8 mpg and that has pushed Knight, a second-year player, to shooting guard. He received six of Calderon’s 18 assists in Wednesday’s road win at Washington.
Those 18 assists quickly put Calderon in the Pistons’ record books next to Isiah Thomas, Mayo reported, as the only Pistons players with as many as 18 assists and as few as two turnovers in the same game since 1974.
The Pistons, who continue a three-game road trip tonight at the New Orleans Hornets, are 5-7 with Calderon, which isn’t terrible considering Detroit is 23-37 overall and seven games back of eighth-place Milwaukee.
Do you believe in the Grizzlies? Agree with that Rudy Gay trade?
Steve Aschburner: No, I’m a mourner of the Grizzlies (which kind of answers the second part of your question). I’m a believer in Lionel Hollins as an exacting coach and snappy dresser. I’m a believer in Marc Gasol, a point forward with a towering chassis. I’m a believer in Zach Randolph‘s career redemption and in Mike Conley‘s grit and Tony Allen‘s channeled lunacy on defense. But I didn’t even like the trade that preceded by eight days the Gay transaction — the one gifting (remember that word from the Pau/Lakers trade?) Marreese Speights & Co. — with a first-round pick to Cleveland. Moving Gay in a “Carrie“-like shocker/second ending after the financial pressure had been alleviated really slammed Memphis’ championship window down hard, in my view. This 8-of-11 and 11-of-15 since the two trades? Squeeze the schedule (especially the winning streak) for a softness check.
Lionel Hollins (Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Fran Blinebury: It was a good move for the long-term health of the franchise. Rudy is a nice player, whom Michael Heisley vastly overpaid. He can’t carry a team. Still, in the short term, the Grizzlies would have a better chance of advancing if they’d have kept him. But in the end, they were not going to win the West. The guy it hurt most was Lionel Hollins, who has done one helluva job in Memphis, but will take a bum rap now if they flame out in the playoffs.
Jeff Caplan: As someone who wrote that the Grizz should give the Gay-Randolph-Gasol-Conley quartet one last postseason whirl and also wondered out loud if new management will drive lame-duck coach Lionel Hollins out of town, I have to say that the new Grizz remain intriguing. It can’t be ignored that their recent hot streak hasn’t exactly come against a murderer’s row, but they’re picking up road wins and the team is meshing, especially with Tayshaun Prince, who was about as good a fit for that club as anyone. As far as the Rudy Gay trade being bad or good, yeah, I thought it was bad because I wanted to see that group stay together through the postseason. Still, you knew that if Gay wasn’t dealt now that he was a goner in the summer. That core had come so far, was hurt by injuries the last two seasons, and, in my estimation, deserved a shot to get to the West finals together when the finances could have been sorted out this summer.
Scott Howard-Cooper: I’m a believer in the Grizzlies as a good team in the Western Conference but not as a pressing threat to win the West. There’s still a lot to like, mostly the inside game that can harm some team in the playoffs in a bad matchup. Trading away Gay, though, is further setback to a club already struggling for scoring. Dealing him was not the shock. It was dealing him and not addressing the primary need.
John Schuhmann:I believe in them as the fourth best team in the West, but not better than the Spurs, Thunder or Clippers if everybody is healthy. I just don’t think they have enough offense to beat those teams four times in a series. Even over the course of this seven-game winning streak, they rank only 15th offensively. Still, I was fine with the trade, because Gay wasn’t nearly enough of an impact player on either end of the floor for the salary he was being paid. They ranked 21st offensively at the time of the deal and had really regressed since a strong first month. And I would absolutely love a Memphis-Denver, No, 4 vs. No. 5 series in the first round.
Sekou Smith: I’ve always been a big believer in the Grizzlies, even when no else around here was willing to ride the bandwagon with me. They were the “Hang Time Grizzlies” long before they actually became a playoff team and started making real noise. That said, I did not like the Rudy Gay trade when it went down, mostly because I felt like he gave them the ideal swingman needed to compete with the rest of the Western Conference elite. I still believe that and will continue to do so until I see them prove otherwise in the playoffs. But in retrospect, it wasn’t a move that will cripple the franchise or anything outrageous. No player is above being traded at some point in his career. The Lakers trading Shaquille O’Neal was a sobering reminder. Good or bad is always relative.
After that dud of a trade deadline, answer this: Has the new CBA done what owners wanted it to do? Meaning, give more teams a chance?
Houston cut through the smoke to land James Harden in the offseason. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Steve Aschburner: Certainly, the new CBA had a seat at the table — at the head of the table, frankly — on deadline day. It initially was depressing to see multi-millionaires and billionaires knuckling under to a luxury-tax mechanism, stymieing the very reason (hopefully) they became sports owners — to chase a championship. Then I thought about an NBA in which talent truly is more evenly distributed, with even the deep-pocketed clubs opting to concede star players to smaller-revenue markets. And then I remembered the concept of unintended consequences that we’ve seen in the political arena, in science, and so on. More veterans working ever more cheaply to ride LeBron James‘ or the Next Big Thing’s jersey tails to rings? Smaller-market GMs letting their draft and trade skills slacken while they overpay the wrong players? This new CBA is a fresh pig in a snake’s belly — it’s got to slide along for a spell before we know what the real effects are.
Fran Blinebury: It is far too early to tell if the Flag of Stern will be replaced by the Flag of Lenin and the whole league will soon be one big cooperative, with “Imagine” replacing the national anthem before each game. I always believe that richest clubs and capitalism will find a way. There’s a reason that wall is down in Berlin. But you will have to be much, much smarter about it.
Jeff Caplan: I do think this will ultimately be the case and we’ve seen early evidence of that with James Harden making the Rockets a playoff contender and Rudy Gay giving Toronto a boost. Here’s the thing with the CBA: It’s going to be impossible for teams to pay three superstars like Miami is now. Two is going to be the limit, and even then holding payroll under the luxury tax won’t be easy. For franchises like the Knicks, Lakers and Nets that can spend far more freely than others, well, they can certainly bloat their payrolls and take their chances. However, only one team can win the championship. So there will always be disappointed big-spenders that will want to make changes. The new CBA makes it much more difficult for luxury tax teams to get out of big contracts and restructure rosters. So if you spend big, say, like the Nets, and it doesn’t work, they’ll either be stuck with those contracts or be forced to trade a player like, for example, Deron Williams, and hope for the best possible return. Teams with cap space like the Dallas Mavericks hope to pick off a star player or close-to-star player in this fashion, similar to Houston nabbing Harden. So, to the greater point, I think more teams — and we’re seeing it now — want to stay under the luxury tax and that should mean that more quality players get spread throughout the league.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Even among those of us who believe the shoulder shrug of a deadline was more than the CBA at work — it was also the lack of big-time talent on the market — there is no question the payroll guidelines will have an impact. The next step is this summer, when a lot of sign-and-trades will be off the table. The teams with better cash flow will always have an advantage. But, yes, more teams will have a chance.
John Schuhmann: There are still a few teams — Lakers, Knicks and Nets — with seemingly unlimited budgets, and the more punitive taxes might not scare them away from spending money. But the restrictions on the MLE and sign-and-trades will definitely make it more difficult to compile “superteams.” So yeah, I do think that things will balance out a little more. But no matter a team’s budget, smart management is still critical to long-term success.
Sekou Smith: I don’t think the new CBA alone is responsible for what did (or did not) transpire at the deadline. It certainly had an impact on some teams. But the pool of available game changers was rather shallow. And that put fewer teams in the mix to swing bigger or even potential blockbluster deals like we’ve grown accustomed to over the past few seasons. Time will tell if the new CBA rules create the parity so many think it will. The free agent summer of 2014 will be the first real test to see how many big time players move around.
Which playoff-bound team do you see slipping after the break?
Steve Aschburner: I’m still mourning Memphis for two trades that weren’t driven by the pursuit of a championship this spring, which is what the Grizzlies were poised to do. But I’m even more alarmed by the Golden State Warriors, who returned from the break the way they went into it: losing. With their bad start and poor finish at Utah Tuesday, the Warriors have dropped six in a row and are 8-13 over the past seven weeks. They have sputtered while trying to acclimate to center Andrew Bogut‘s participation, the defense has been porous and, after the setback in Salt Lake City, forward David Lee cited a drip-drip-drip of small mistakes adding up to a big problem. Golden State played just well enough through the first two months to demand that it be taken seriously — so seeking its level now comes as a legit disappointment. It could have finished eighth — or (gulp) ninth — without getting folks’ hopes up.
Fran Blinebury: Despite their 8-1 start in life without Rajon Rondo, I think it’s going to be difficult for the Celtics aging pair of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to handle the added burden, so they could drop as far as the No. 8 spot in the East. The Celtics are just fortunate that, barring a stunning and miraculous return by Andrew Bynum in Philly, there’s nobody below that can knock them out of the playoffs.
Jeff Caplan: The Bucks started their swoon pre-All-Star break and they might just slip right out of the playoffs if Philadelphia can ever get hot — or if Toronto can stay hot. However, the Bucks aren’t my choice. Hellooooo Atlanta. We’ll see by Thursday if Josh Smith has a new home. Even if he stays, I still say, look out below. The Hawks have the misfortune of opening the post-All-Star break season with eight road games within a brutal 12-game stretch that starts at home Wednesday against the Heat and ends March 12 at the Heat. The stretch includes a season-long six-game trip that starts on the second night of back-to-back at Milwaukee (Saturday) and includes a stop at Utah followed by a back-to-back at the Los Angeles Lakers and at mile-high Denver. The dirty dozen ends with this challenging three-pack: a back-to-back at Boston and home against Brooklyn, then three nights later at Miami. The Hawks are 29-22. Let’s see where they are in 20 days.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Ask me again Thursday afternoon. For now, based on the rosters of the moment, the Grizzlies will take a dip. Not all the way out of the playoff pack, but enough of a slip in a post-Rudy Gay world. Taking a three-game winning streak into the All-Star break was a nice bit of momentum building. The three were against the Kings, the Timberwolves and the slumping Warriors, though.
John Schuhmann:Milwaukee is a prime candidate. The Bucks have a tough remaining schedule that includes nine back-to-backs (the first of which they’re in the middle of). And if you look at point differential, their record is a little inflated in the first place. Of course, if they manage to trade Monta Ellis, they would become a better team (addition by subtraction) and maybe make up for the tough schedule. Also, if the Bucks do slip, I’m not sure there’s another Eastern Conference team with the chops to take their place in the playoff picture. If you’re looking for a higher seed that could slip, I’ll go with Brooklyn, who has six more road games than home games remaining and a league-high 10 post-break back-to-backs.
Sekou Smith: Depending on what transpires between now and 3 p.m. Thursday, I could see the Atlanta Hawks struggling to the finish line if they do indeed trade Josh Smith. I don’t see a Celtics-like surge coming from the Hawks if they lose their best player (to trade this time and not to injury, as Boston did with Rajon Rondo). The Hawks already have fragile chemistry and the fact that 85 percent of the roster (and the coaching staff) will be finishing up their contracts at the end of this season doesn’t bode well for some miraculous finish. If you’re going into rebuild mode this summer, and everyone in the locker room knows it, where is the incentive to claw your way to the finish?