Posts Tagged ‘Rudy Gay’

Morning Shootaround – Jan. 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns willing to pay Bledsoe | Raptors react to Gay trade | Raptors rolling | Malone tutors Thomas

No. 1: Suns willing to pay Bledsoe – The Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe have a good thing going this season. With Bledsoe at the helm, Phoenix is off to a surprising 19-11 start and would be the fifth seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today. The Suns realize it will cost them to retain Bledsoe during free agency this offseason. But, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPLA.com, they are willing to spend:

“What he’s done so far is what we thought he could do,” [GM Ryan] McDonough said.

But they just didn’t know for sure.

That’s why when it came time to lock Bledsoe into a contract extension, the Oct. 31 deadline passed without a resolution, making Bledsoe a restricted free agent this summer.

“Sometimes that works out and both parties think it’s a good deal for them. Other times it doesn’t,” McDonough said. “Obviously we don’t have a whole lot of money committed for the future, we don’t have a lot of long-term contracts on our books. So we’ll have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him.”

Whatever it takes?

“Correct,” McDonough said. “Any reasonable offer.

“We have some advantages. We’re able to give him another year, five instead of four if we choose. We’re able to give him higher-percentage increases than other teams too. And then if another team does make an offer, we can always match that. So we feel like we’re holding the cards with Eric, and more importantly, I think Eric’s had a good experience here so far. He’s played well and the team has played fairly well. I think he kind of likes what we’re doing.”

For his part, Bledsoe said he’s fine with the situation.

“I was telling [my agent] over the summer, if the contract doesn’t happen I’m ready to play a full season,” Bledsoe said. “I was confident because I’d worked hard all summer, and I knew that I was going to play a lot more than I did the last three years, so I was ready.”

When that came to bear, Bledsoe said he put the situation out of his mind.

“I’ve just got to play,” he said. “I’m focused. I need to keep moving. I’m not worried about [the contract]. If I get worked up about it, I won’t be focused on the game.”

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No. 2: Raptors React to Gay Trade — Mostly every NBA player realizes that this league is a business and trades happen. Still, this knowledge does not make receiving the news of a trade any easier for players to hear. NBA-TV Canada offers us a rare look at how the Toronto Raptors reacted to the news of a trade on a recent episode of their series Open Gym (reaction starts around the 10:00 minute mark):

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No. 3: Raptors RollingThose same Raptors who were shocked to hear about their friends being traded have bounced back just fine. They’ve won five of their last six games and appear to be a rare team in the Eastern Conference who can actually win. And they’re doing it with toughness, a word rarely used to describe the Raptors in recent seasons, writes Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

Once again turning up the intensity, the attention to detail, the effort and the toughness when it came down to winning time, the Raptors rolled in another excellent fourth quarter, holding the Bulls to just four field goals on 24 shots in the final 12 minutes of an 85-79 victory.

They did it in what is becoming typical Raptors fashion: Turning the screws when the game got tight.

“These are the kinds of games you have to play if you’re going to be serious about being a playoff team,” coach Dwane Casey said after the Raptors won for the fifth time in the last six games and seventh time in the last nine.

“We have to play with that kind of toughness, that physicality, if we’re serious about being a playoff team.”

Toughness was the buzzword of the night for a game that at times was barely watchable. There were no moments of sustained offensive flow, no fast breaks or transition baskets; it was tough, hard-nosed, beat-’em-up basketball and the Raptors never retreated an inch.

Digest that for a moment: A team that used to have a reputation for softness more than anything, hit first, hit often, hung around and beat a veteran team at its own game.

“You have to meet their force with force if you’re serious about winning,” said Casey. “We did that and we have to continue to do that and I’m not going to let up. I’m not going to relent from that because that’s who we are, it’s who we’ve got to be. I know, to win in this league you have to be a physical, bad-behind team.”

[Demar] DeRozan was, for one of the few times this season, a non-factor offensively because every time he got near the ball, a second or third defender was there to harass him.

“If I have to be the decoy and that helps the next person on this team get an open shot, I’m all for it,” he said. “It’s at the point now where I know I can score the ball whenever I want, but if they don’t need me to do that at that point in time, then I will do whatever I can, whether it’s rebounding, creating a shot for a teammate or whatever it is to get us a win, that’s what I’m going to have to do.”

That attitude is all-encompassing with this group right now.

“I think the guys in this locker room believe — we believe in each other, we believe in what we’re trying to do,” said Lowry. “I think we know we have a chance to do some things and we can take care of business when times are tough. We’re showing the team camaraderie and spirit that we have, we’re all happy for each other.”

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No. 4: Malone Tutors ThomasSacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas has proven so far this year that his strong play last season was not just a fluke. He’s averaging 19.2 points, 6.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game on an impressive 46.5 percent shooting from the field and 42.5 percent from three-point. He credits a lot of his success to the relationship he’s established with new head coach Michael Malone. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has the lowdown:

The partnership between Michael Malone and Isaiah Thomas continues to develop as the coach consults the point guard on the best ways to improve the Kings.Malone said fixing some of the Kings’ late-game problems comes down to him calling better plays, and that’s where his relationship with Thomas can help.

“Those things take time,” Malone said. “And one thing I like about Isaiah is we’ve had a lot of conversations, a lot of dialogue, and he’s open, wants to learn and he’s trying to figure it out. It’s not a lack of effort. It’s just a matter of going through it and picking the spots for when do I attack.”

Thomas has referenced Malone and himself more often when talking about plays the Kings should run and the best way to get the ball to players. He and Malone spend a lot of time talking about the Kings.

“On flights sitting together, before practice, after practice, we’ve had a lot of conversations,” Malone said. “Before games where we’ve sat and spent whether it’s been 20 minutes, 45 minutes just talking about the game, players, where guys are most effective, where he can pick his spots. We’ve had a number of conversations.”

Malone’s goal is to create synergy between himself and Thomas because he plays most of the minutes at point guard.

“Isaiah’s got to be an extension of me on the court,” Malone said. “He’s got to make sure he’s getting guys looks, know what plays to call, now what matchups he’s going to exploit and how to get those guys going where they’re most effective, and that’s part of his maturation of going from being a scoring guard off the bench to being a playmaking guard.”

Malone said consulting with Thomas or any other player is part of his job and he wants his players’ input.

“I preach trust a lot, and if I don’t trust my players, it’s just a hollow word,’ Malone said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kyle Korver has now hit a three-point shot in 101 straight gamesKevin Garnett went without a field goal for just the second time in his careerKyrie Irving will undergo an MRI on Wednesday after feeling a ‘pop’ in his left knee

ICYMI of The Night: Paul George decided to end 2013 on a strong note with this dunk toward the conclusion of yesterday’s game against the Cavaliers:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Paul George

Twice-Traded Vasquez Helping Raptors


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry scores 22 points as the Raptors stun the Thunder

DALLAS – Greivis Vasquez truly believed he was on the brink of great things in New Orleans. He had the best season of his career and the franchise was quickly picking itself up from the Chris Paul trade, positioned to burst into a new era as the Pelicans.

The Venezuelan-born Vasquez, a 6-foot-6 point guard, loved everything about it: The team, the city and his personal breakout — career bests of 13.9 ppg and 9.0 apg. The thickly bearded, 26-year-old believed he was only scratching the surface. He believed that he, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis could form the backbone of a hard-working club that would do right by the city and even, as he said last year, rise together in the mold of Oklahoma City and soon be a team to be reckoned with in the West.

Then came Draft night and the three-team trade Vasquez never saw coming.

“I guess you can’t turn down an offer for a Jrue Holiday,” Vasquez told NBA.com last Friday night prior to scoring 14 points in 15 minutes in Toronto’s overtime win against the Mavericks. “I felt like we had the same numbers. He was an All-Star and all that stuff, all that crap. Like I say, I’m really thankful because [New Orleans coach] Monty Williams gave me a chance. That whole franchise was first class and still is. It was such a great experience for me to just make a name.”

Holiday, fresh off his first All-Star season with Philadelphia, was NOLA’s point-guard prize. Vasquez went to Sacramento to start at point guard. Eighteen games in and he was gone again. The Kings’ sluggish start convinced new ownership and management to reach for Toronto’s maligned, but tempting small forward Rudy Gay, himself now twice traded in the past 11 months. Vasquez headed north of the border to another foundering franchise where starting point guard Kyle Lowry has swirled in trade winds since the Gay deal.

Funny, though, that just as the Gay trade seemed a weighted strategy to clear cap space and sink the season for prime Draft position, Vasquez and his quickly bonded teammates have turned the tables, winning four of five, including Sunday night’s handing of a first home loss to the West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Toronto will try to make it three in a row against West competition tonight at San Antonio (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

“We got a great group of guys. We’re just here to do our job,” Vasquez said. “The media and everybody is going to have their own opinions. We just have to go out there and play and play hard, have fun. We can’t really guarantee that we’re going to get every win. But we can guarantee you that we are going to play hard and play the right way.”

In five games with Toronto, Vasquez has averaged 9.8 ppg, 4.0 apg and 2.8 mpg in only 18.6 mpg, far off the 34.4 mpg he averaged last season with New Orleans, and a chunk below the 25.8 he averaged starting for the Kings.

“It’s been rough, but this is one of those years I’ve got to keep grinding and keep working. I’ll be a restricted free agent [this summer] and we’ll see what happens,” Vasquez said. “It’s just the business. At first Sacramento was talking about building a future with me and then all of a sudden I get traded. If I’m going to get traded [again] it’s going to be this year because I am going to be restricted. I am going to have to sign with somebody and find myself a home.”

The Raptors, flush with added bench depth from the trade, have life. They’re just 11-14, but they’re also back in first place in the woeful Atlantic Division after Sunday’s win. Coach Dwane Casey, working in his uncertain final year, said earning the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2008 is the only goal.

“We’re at a crossroads with our organization, which way we are going to go,” Casey said Friday night at Dallas. “Right now we’re fighting like crap for the playoffs. I mean we’re right there. I know those guys in the locker room don’t want to hear anything else but competing for the playoffs because it’s all up for grabs.”

Same goes for Vasquez’s future. On his fourth team in four seasons,  Vasquez said he’s ready to plant some roots, somewhere.

“The biggest thing for me is just being happy and enjoying playing basketball,” he said. “I don’t think I was really enjoying playing basketball in Sacramento, so here I feel like I can re-find my identity and the way I play, the things I can do. Other than that, I can’t really control what is going to happen.”

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers again weigh Pau Gasol trade | Lowry talks continue | Shaw may change Nuggets’ lineup

No. 1: Lakers again weigh Pau Gasol trade — The Los Angeles Lakers want to see what they have now that Kobe Bryant is healthy and haven’t eliminated the possibility of re-signing Pau Gasol when he’s a free agent next summer, but if the big man is going to continue pouting about his role under Mike D’Antoni, they may have no choice but to see what they can get for him. Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN write that the time to take calls may be coming soon:

The Los Angeles Lakers prefer to keep struggling center Pau Gasol and believe he eventually will have success in coach Mike D’Antoni’s system, but his recent comments and subpar play have caused them to begin weighing whether to make him available before the NBA’s annual trade deadline in February, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

The Lakers have yet to engage in any Gasol-related trade discussions with other teams, sources told ESPN.com. But Gasol’s recent comments about his frustrations with his role in the Lakers’ offense, his impending free agency, and his struggles offensively and particularly defensively have essentially forced the team to consider its options.

Gasol had something of a bounce-back game in Friday’s 122-97 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and made a point of saying that “you always have to make yourself responsible” for your own play and that “when you start pointing fingers at other sides or other directions, you’re making a mistake.”

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No. 2: Knicks executives pushing owner Jim Dolan to do deal for Kyle Lowry — If the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are both bidding for Kyle Lowry, that’s probably good news for Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, who got a nice haul for Carmelo Anthony when he pitted the same two teams against each other in 2011. Yahoo‘s Adrian Wojnarowski breaks down what’s on the table from both teams:

As New York Knicks executives work to convince owner Jim Dolan he should ignore public criticism and complete a deal for Kyle Lowry, the Brooklyn Nets are gaining traction as a possible destination for the Toronto Raptors point guard, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Knicks are desperate for a point guard, and their front office had a deal together that would’ve sent Raymond Felton, Metta World Peace and a 2018 first-round pick for Lowry.
The Knicks’ front office is determined to re-enter talks on Lowry, league sources said, but it is unclear how they will try to amend a trade package – or whether they’re willing to return the original offer to the table. Without the future first-round pick, there’s little chance of the Knicks landing Lowry, sources said.

The Golden State Warriors also have remained involved in talks with Toronto on Lowry, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Dolan became livid over the public disclosure of the deal terms and became aware over some segments of reaction that deemed the package a third straight debacle in dealing with Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, sources said.

Ujiri, the NBA’s Executive of the Year with the Denver Nuggets a year ago, negotiated deals that brought the Knicks Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani in recent years.

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No. 3: Could changes be coming to the Nuggets starting five?The Denver Nuggets play absolutely atrocious defense at the start of games, allowing 123 points per 100 possessions in the first six minutes of the first quarter. Their struggles continued on Friday, allowing the Jazz to score 18 points in the first 4:33. So yeah, as Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post writes, Brian Shaw is thinking about making a lineup change:

The Nuggets have a recurring problem: Bad starts. Slow starts, whatever you want to call it, they aren’t getting out of the gate with any kind of urgency much of the time. On Friday, Utah scored 33 points on 54 percent shooting (85 percent from the 3-point line) in the first quarter, the latest in a lengthening line of irritating starts.

So Shaw is now on to this: Considering a shakeup in the starting lineup.

Whether it actually happens remains to be seen, and maybe he cools down and rethinks the whole concept overnight after his team’s 103-93 loss to Utah on Friday. But switching out some starters is a card he’s as ready to play as he’s ever been.

“Continuing to give up those big quarters is not going to get it done for us,” Shaw said. “I don’t know if I have to shake it up or what I have to do with that starting lineup. But the chemistry, for whatever reason, is not there. And it’s putting too much pressure on our bench to have to come in, night after night and have to bail us out and have to expend so much energy getting back into the game. Then they get tired and then I try to put our starters back in to give them another opportunity – they push the lead up to 10 again. And that’s kind of been the theme and the way that things have been going. So, I have to kind of search and figure out what I’m going to have to do to remedy that.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pelicans’ Tyreke Evans reinjured his left ankle in Friday’s win over the Grizzlies … Brook Lopez missed Friday’s loss in Detroit with another sprained ankle, but says he already feels betterTom Thibodeau played Jimmy Butler more than 36 minutes in his return from turf toe … and the Knicks are down another big man.

ICYMI: Rudy Gay made his debut for the Sacramento Kings on Friday…


VIDEO: Rudy Gay’s Kings Debut

For New Kings, Three Must Be Company


VIDEO: The Starters break down Rudy Gay being traded to the Kings

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – What happens when three of the NBA’s top usage players come together on the same team, in one starting lineup? That is now first-year Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone‘s Rubik’s Cube.

As Rudy Gay, the man atop the analytics movement’s love-to-hate list — and it’s reciprocal — watched his new team play Monday night from under a red-and-blue retro Kings hat, he surely enjoyed the offensive explosion Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins and his other new teammates dropped on the Dallas Mavericks in a resounding victory.

And then Gay surely wondered from where is he going to get his?

“That’s a good question,” Malone said. “You start Isaiah, who has always been a scoring guard. You have DeMarcus, who’s going to be the focal point of our offense. And then you add a guy like Rudy. And you have Ben [McLemore]. You have Derrick [Williams]. The one thing I’m proudest about is that we’re really sharing the ball. We haven’t shot the ball as well as we’d like this year, but the ball movement, the unselfishness, has been there.

“That’s going to be my challenge to this group now.”

Against Dallas, Cousins scored 32 points and attempted 17 shots. Thomas, a pound-the-rock point guard, scored 24 and took 16 shots. Williams scored 31, also on 16 shots. The Kings, as Malone noted, are also developing the rookie shooting guard McLemore, who got seven shots. That’s 56 shot attempts among four players.

Enter Gay. The Kings acquired the handsomely paid and athletic 6-foot-8 forward — infamously known by a burgeoning group of meddlesome analytics worshipers as the game’s great ball-stopper — knowing he averages nearly as many shot attempts per game (18.6) as points (19.4).

When the Kings (6-13) take the floor tonight at Sleep Train Arena against the last-place Jazz (10 ET, League Pass), assuming Gay is ready to go, the starting lineup will be Thomas, McLemore, Gay, Jason Thompson and Cousins. The league’s rules committee has not yet convened to allow for the use of more than one basketball.

“I’m not going to get into that,” Cousins said when asked if the addition of Gay will mean subtracting from his team-high 17.2 shot attempts per game. “We have our game plans here and we have a system. Coach is going to do the best job of putting us in a position that he thinks is best and whatever that may be that’s what we’re going to go with.”

With that, usage will become the hot advanced stat of the day in Sacramento. Usage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor. Cousins ranks No. 1 among all players — not just centers, but all players — with a usage percentage of 35.0 percent. Among centers, Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez is second at 26.9 percent. Dwight Howard‘s usage is 23.5 percent.

Despite being the backup to the traded Greivis Vasquez, Thomas ranks tied for sixth among guards in usage with Dwyane Wade at 27.7 percent (Greivis’ usage percentage was 18.8 percent). Gay’s usage, 30.1 percent with the Raptors, ranks third among forwards behind Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant.

To compare other trios, the Rockets’ usage looks like this: James Harden, 27.3 percent; Howard, 23.5 percent; and Chandler Parsons, 18.9 percent. Here’s the Thunder: Russell Westbrook, 32.0 percent; Durant 30.7 percent; and Serge Ibaka, 19.1 percent.

Not only did the Kings add another high-usage player in Gay, but also an inefficient player. He’s shooting just 38.8 percent on the season (although his 3-point accuracy is way up at 37.3 percent), an especially disappointing number considering he spent so much time during the offseason working to raise a shooting percentage that has sagged badly over the past two seasons.

Thomas and Cousins have been a strong duo. The Kings are scoring 111.7 points per 100 possessions when they’re on the floor together, which was limited — 242 minutes in 18 games, or about 13 mpg. Their minutes together should rise significantly now that Vasquez is out of the picture. Against Dallas — notably a poor defensive team — they played together for 36 minutes and registered an offensive rating of 119.9 and a defensive rating of 85.5.

Sacramento’s hope is that the addition of Gay forces defenses to pick their poison. Conversely, the analytics crowd is sounding the alarm, warning of an incoming poison pill.

“I know everyone’s hung up on his 38 percent this year,” Malone said. “But if you look at his numbers throughout his career, he’s shot well over 45 percent a number of seasons. I’m not as concerned as a lot of these analytic people get concerned about. He’s a very talented player. End of games, he can make plays for you. He’s versatile. He can score in the post, handling the ball, catch-and-shoot, isolation. He’s talented and we become a much more talented team with him.”

NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper contributed to this report.


VIDEO: Rudy Gay talks about his move to Sacramento, hopes for Kings

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 9


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Roundup of thoughts on Kobe’s return | Report: Sixers a favorite to land Asik? | James offers praise for Drummond | Kings take risk in dealing for Gay | Celtics keep division lead in perspective

No. 1: Bryant returns to action, scores nine points in L.A.’s lossThe story of the morning is Kobe Bryant and his season debut with the Los Angeles Lakers last night against Toronto. Opinions, as you’d expect, on his return were somewhat varied, but the overall theme isn’t surprising: Bryant is rusty and is still working himself into his familiar form. We’ll go around the web and see what some notables have to say about his comeback …

First, here’s Ramona Shelbourne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, on how Kobe’s return gives L.A. some new hope:

For most of the day, Kobe Bryant was quiet. The magnitude of what he was about to do, after everything hed been through these past eight months, was too big to be thinking about in the hours before the game.He just needed to stay centered. Focus on the Toronto Raptors or on finding his shot and feelings his legs beneath him again. Just put the jersey on again like he has for every other game in his 18 NBA seasons. Play the game, table the emotion.

But in the final few moments before tipoff, as Bryant stood near midcourt and awaited his first game action since rupturing his Achilles tendon on April 12, it all caught up to him. The emotion, the fear, the hard work, the gratitude, the appreciation for the game that many thought he might never be able to play again.

His lip quivered. He had to steel his jaw to trap the emotion from spilling out.

“You try to control it as much as you can,” Bryant said. “But you can’t help but think of all the support and the hard work. I really, really worked my butt off this entire summer to try to get to this place.

He was decidedly rusty. He was noticeably nervous in the beginning. His passes were sloppy, his timing was off. His shot was tentative. His chemistry with his teammates was shaky.

“I don’t feel normal at all,” Bryant said afterward. “I couldn’t wait to start watching film and criticizing every little thing. I’ll go home tonight and watch the game. But thats the exciting part. You’ve got a challenge, you’ve got some improvements to make.

“I felt good that I was able to get into the lane … then once I got into the lane, I didn’t make the proper reads most of the time. But was the fact that I was able to get in there.

For the Lakers it was a win in every place but the standings. Because for the first time in eight months, it felt like a Lakers game inside Staples Center again. No disrespect to the plucky performances this seasons team had churned out to keep the team hovering around .500 as they awaited Bryant’s return, but the Lakers are about sizzle, not steak.

It was great theater, as only the Lakers can deliver. Vintage Showtime. And for the moment you forgot the Lakers are really just a .500 team hoping Bryant can give them a punchers chance to do something unexpected with this season. That he came out and looked a little rusty only dulled the narrative a bit. Yes, it would’ve been nice if hed dropped 30 and delivered a game-winning dagger. I’m sure there were people who expected him to leap a tall building on the way in, too.

But the fact he made it back at all, as quickly as he did, and showed enough in those 28 uneven minutes to leave everyone with some hope for the future is enough for one night.

The show came back to Staples Center on Sunday night, and it’ll be worth watching.

The venerable Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times provides his view on Kobe’s return:

There were 19 seconds left in the first half when the Staples Center crowd rose to its feet and roared. It’s been nearly eight months, but everybody remembered what was happening next.

Kobe Bryant had the basketball. His teammates stepped out of the way. This was his moment. This was his memory. This was his comeback.

Well, sort of.

Bryant’s driving shot was partially blocked by Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, with Bryant crumpling to the floor and limping away as frightened fans gasped.

“I was even scared myself,” said Bryant.

It was a night of basketball immortality and human frailty. It was a night of loud cheers and quiet shudders. It was a night when the perception was as torn as Kobe Bryant’s Achilles tendon last spring, an injury from which he returned Sunday amid both undaunted hopes and unsettling fears.

He gritted his teeth and pumped his fist and shouted inspiration as the fans chanted both “Ko-be” and “M-V-P.” Yet he also missed seven of his nine shots, committed eight turnovers, and rarely left the ground on offense.

And, oh, by the way, a makeshift six-win Toronto Raptors team that had just traded away leading scorer Rudy Gay beat the clearly distracted Lakers, 106-94.

“I guess it’s a start,” said Bryant afterward with a weary sigh. “A start is good.”

Midway through the fourth quarter, with Bryant resting on the bench, fans began chanting, “We Want Kobe.” Even though the team had played much more freely and effectively without him, Coach Mike D’Antoni relented and put him in the game with the Lakers trailing by six.

Bryant missed a three-pointer. He made two free throws. He missed a layup. He threw away a pass. He made two of three free throws. He missed a wild three. The Lakers lost by a dozen.

“It’s going to take a while,” said D’Antoni. “I know everybody thought he could, but there’s no way you can come out and be in midseason form. It’s just going to be a little while to get his legs and get his timing back.”

The Lakers now have the rest of this season to hope that his hops return and his quickness resurfaces and he becomes a rebuilt version of the old Kobe instead of being, well, an old Kobe.

They are so confident of this happening. Jim Buss and the crew gave him the new deal after only watching him for a couple of practices.

Yet here’s guessing after Sunday night, they officially began holding their breath.

Bryant, meanwhile, exhaled with relief and resolve.

He was so emotional about returning to the court nearly eight months after a potential career-ending injury, he took the floor with a tight jaw as if fighting back tears, and later admitted he was feeling it.

“You try to control it as much as you can, but you can’t help but think of all the support, all the work…. It makes you appreciate this franchise and this city, it certainly brings a mortality to everything,” he said of his emotion.

Last, we have Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News, who discusses how Bryant’s return impacted the rest of the team:

Amid a tangible buzz normally reserved for playoff games, Lakers fans were standing from the time Bryant walked onto the court for pregame warmups. It had been eight months since he ripped his Achilles tendon on the Staples Center court.

Let’s just say the Lakers seemed to play at the same level as Bryant, who was coming off a devastating injury and couldn’t be expected to rebuild Kobe in a day.

“I felt good I was able to get in the lane,” Bryant said. “I felt like I could penetrate and get into the corner, which was a big question mark for me. Once I got in there I didn’t make the proper reads most of the time. But the fact I could get in there means I can improve. The explosiveness you can’t.”

Physically, that’s the good news. Team-wise, it wasn’t pretty. None of the starters scored in double figures, but all five reserves did.

Now come the adjustments.

Nick Young scored 19 points for the Lakers and Xavier Henry scored 17, making 6 of 8 shots. But when the stretch run arrived, D’Antoni brought Bryant in for Henry.

But they realize the season just changed for the Lakers (10-10).

“We have a lot of things that are different,” Henry said. “We have point guards that are out so I have to play backup point guard. We have Kobe coming back, so everything shifts. Everybody just has to find their way and we’ll figure it out in due time.

“Before long we’ll know what we’re doing, for sure.”

Bryant’s return, of course, came with concerns other than his health or conditioning level. The Lakers had to wonder how his infusion into the lineup might gum up the works.

And at the same time keep the eye on the prize.

“To win and start building a team that hopefully we can start driving to the playoffs and do something,” D’Antoni said, asked what he expected. “There’ll be a little bit of a sorting-out process to see what we need to adjust, and he needs to adjust to the team and vice versa and go from there.

“Obviously, this is a boost and we’ll try to get him back to a level that he left.”


VIDEO: NBA TV’s GameTime crew breaks down Kobe’s return vs. the Raptors

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No. 2: Report: Sixers a viable destination for Asik — As of Friday afternoon, word got out, via ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, that the Houston Rockets are actively looking to deal disgruntled center Omer Asik within the next 10 days. Over the weekend, talk may have heated up between the Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, who have become a viable destination for the defensive-minded big, writes Stein:

Pinpointing a front-runner in the Omer Asik trade sweepstakes is still tricky at this juncture.

It’s tricky even with the Houston Rockets, as reported here Friday, aggressively trying to find a trade partner for Asik within the next 10 days.

Yet there are a few things we can say about the current state of the Asik trade market:

1. Keep your eye on Philadelphia. Front-runner would be overstating it, but the notion that the Sixers are a viable destination for Asik is increasingly making the rounds. And that certainly makes sense given (A) Philly’s front office is run by a certified Asik fan in former Rockets exec Sam Hinkie and (B) Philly has a frontcourt player to send back to Houston in Thaddeus Young, whose skill set can click with Dwight Howard‘s, albeit not as well as seemingly unattainable dream target Ryan Anderson; and (C) there really isn’t an Asik for Philly to draft with the high pick it’s likely to snag in the 2014 lottery.

***

No. 3: James heaps praise on Pistons’ Drummond — A quick, cursory look at the NBA.com/Stats leaders page finds Pistons center Andre Drummond among the league-leaders in rebounding (13.0 rpg) and him in first place in field goal percentage (63.5 percent). The case can be made that Drummond is the best center in the Eastern Conference and his growth on the court as a player hasn’t been missed by his contemporaries, most notably reigning MVP LeBron James, writes Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

If there’s one player who can relate to Andre Drummond’s plight — if you want to call it that — of being a big kid in a man’s body and a man’s game, LeBron James would be the clearest example.

But even James, who entered the NBA out of high school in 2003, said he can’t relate to knowing what it’s like to have such massive size and facing the task of adjusting to it on the fly during an 82-game regular season.

“I don’t know, I haven’t had that experience (laughs),” said James, who’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds but could be taller and heavier than that. “He’s much bigger than I am. He’s much more comfortable than even the beginning of last year and that’s good for him.”

“Each and every game he continues to grow. His confidence is building,” James said.

James made perhaps the biggest statistical leap from his rookie season to his second year, while a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2004-05. His scoring jumped from 20.9 to 27.2, his rebounding from 5.5 to 7.4 and assists from 5.9 to 7.2, so he knows the value of familiarity, seeing the league the second time around.

Drummond is averaging 18.4 points, 16.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and two steals in his last five games, and the Pistons have gone 4-1 in that stretch.

“He’s a huge, huge guy and every game he continues to build that confidence,” James said. “He rebounds at a high level. The more and more basketball you play, the more situations you see and the more you’re growing. He’s definitely doing that.”

***

No. 4: Kings take risk in trading for Gay — Just a mere 12 days after the Sacramento Kings were a part of the first trade of the 2013-14 season, they are busy again, reportedly agreeing to work a trade with the Toronto Raptors to pick up Rudy Gay. In its first deal of the season, Sacramento got former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Luc Mbah a Moute in a move that gives Williams a chance to show what he can do with consistent minutes. Now, with the move for Gay (which has yet to become official), the Kings are gambling again that adding star power will help their young team grow up fast, writes our own Scott Howard-Cooper:

The Kings made a risky reach for immediate credibility and agreed to acquire Rudy Gay, his bloated contract and his ever-declining shooting from the Raptors in a seven-player deal Sunday that is mostly a salary dump for Toronto.The Raptors will get Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes, with only Hayes ($5.9 million) and Salmons (a $1-million buyout on his $7 million guaranteed) on the books next season. Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy are also headed to Sacramento as the new management team continues to follow through on plans to aggressively pursue deals, so aggressive that the Kings just countered two moves made in the five months since Pete D’Alessandro was hired as general manager.

The Kings got Vasquez from New Orleans as part of the three-team deal that sent Tyreke Evans to the Pelicans in a sign-and-trade, started him at point guard, and now traded him 18 games into the season, returning Isaiah Thomas to the opening lineup. And, the Kings traded for Derrick Williams on Nov. 26, said they were committed to him as the starter at small forward, and now bring in Gay four games later, unless they have another immediate deal in place for Gay.

Gay is a name, has an active run of six consecutive full seasons of averaging at least 18 points a game and, whether with Williams or in place of Williams, addresses what had been the biggest position need for the Kings. But it says something that he has been traded twice in 10 1/2 months, including when the Grizzlies were willing to break up a lineup with a proven history of long playoff runs and now by a Toronto team trying to build something.

Gay will make $17.8 million this season and has a player option worth $19.3 million for 2104-15 that he almost certainly will exercise. After mostly shooting between 45 percent and 47 percent earlier in his career, though, the 6-foot-9, 220-pounder dropped to 41.6 percent last season with the Grizzlies and Raptors and is all the way down to 38.8 the first 18 games of 2013-14.

The deal will not become official until a trade call with the league on Monday, but Gay, Acy and Gray were all out of uniform Sunday night as the Raptors played the Lakers in Los Angeles, indicating the terms of the move that could save Toronto some $12 million next season were set.


VIDEO: Kings, Raptors reportedly agree to Rudy Gay swap

***

No. 5: Celtics, Stevens keeping start in perspective — Before the season began, the Knicks were thought of by most analysts and NBA followers as contenders for the Atlantic Division title while the rebuilding Celtics were viewed as a team setting itself up for future glory. Yet 22 games into the season, Boston stands atop the (albeit weak) division after yesterday’s 41-point drubbing of New York at Madison Square Garden. While an early lead in the division and a big win over a rival might be enough to get most underdog teams excited, the Celtics — thanks to coach Brad Stevens‘ leadership — aren’t going there, writes Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com:

Shortly after Jeff Green hit a buzzer-beating winner in Miami last month, Brad Stevens’ wife, Tracy, sent him a text that said, “Congratulations, you beat the Heat. Now you have to beat human nature.”
The insinuation was that Stevens had to find a way to keep his team focused despite stunning the world champs on their home turf, and Stevens himself had begun worrying about Boston’s next game from virtually the instant Green’s 3-pointer ripped through the twine.

One month later, in New York, with the Celtics playing their best basketball of the season, Stevens watched his team flat-out demolish the Knicks as part of a 112-73 thrashing at Madison Square Garden.

Human nature, of course, would be to celebrate, to puff out your chest and bask in the glow of a 41-point triumph over a team that was supposed to be in the mix for the Atlantic Division title. Human nature would be to celebrate being 6-2 over your past eight games and enjoy having a small cushion atop the division you weren’t supposed to have any business competing in.

“I’m not doing cartwheels,” Stevens said. “[Celtics players] know I’m not going to do cartwheels … I just said, ‘Keep being a team and keep playing together.’ The other thing is that we need to keep building off the good things we are doing.”

Stevens paused a moment to consider what he had revealed about his postgame speech, then smiled.

“It was boring as heck,” he added. “It was boring as heck.”

Make no mistake, the Celtics enjoyed the heck out of Sunday’s win. Rehabbing point guard Rajon Rondo wore a permanent grin on the Boston bench, bouncing out of his seat with each of Mike Woodson’s exasperated timeouts to greet his teammates and celebrate their efforts.

“Never as good as you think you are, never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from either,” Stevens said. “It’s one of those days in a lot of ways. But, also, we played pretty well. Can we play like that every day? Probably not. But can we bring the same intensity level and be as much of a team as we were today? Hopefully.”

The Celtics played infectious defense, particularly Brandon Bass – who again embraced the challenge of guarding Anthony and excelled on both ends of the floor (he finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and a block over 32:22). Stevens said he just couldn’t bring himself to pull Bass off the floor the way he was playing.

Bass was so locked in that he picked up a rare technical while barking at an official late in the third quarter for not getting a whistle while registering a putback in traffic. The Celtics were up by 37 at that point.

Stevens probably loved that sort of intensity. The Celtics hadn’t put together a full 48 minutes this season, but rarely let off the pedal on Sunday. The emotion Bass showed is exactly what Stevens wants from his team every game, every quarter and every possession.

Alas, a win is a win is a win. And it doesn’t matter if it’s by 41 or one. They all count the same. So Stevens downplayed the significance of the lopsided final.

“I’ve already learned in this league, you can be on the good end or the bad end of [games like this],” Stevens said. “We were lucky today to be on the good end. Everything we did will get over-exaggerated, everything they did will get over-exaggerated, but the bottom line is, we just played better today for 48 minutes.”


VIDEO: Celtics.com’s crew breaks down Boston’s victory at MSG

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Over the weekend, a young Cavs fan tried to make sure Kyrie Irving knew that Clevelanders want him to stick around … The Knicks don’t see their orange jerseys as a bad-luck charm

ICYMI Of The Night: As this sequence shows, Rockets big man Terrence Jones is doing a nice job of providing some brawn in the post aside from Dwight Howard


VIDEO: Terrence Jones gets the block and the nice bucket vs. Orlando

Report: Gay Traded To Kings In 7-Player Deal


VIDEO: Raptors deal Rudy Gay as part of a seven-player swap

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Kings made a risky reach for immediate credibility and agreed to acquire Rudy Gay, his bloated contract and his ever-declining shooting from the Raptors in a seven-player deal Sunday that is mostly a salary dump for Toronto.

The Raptors will get Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes, with only Hayes ($5.9 million) and Salmons (a $1-million buyout on his $7 million guaranteed) on the books next season. Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy are also headed to Sacramento as the new management team continues to follow through on plans to aggressively pursue deals, so aggressive that the Kings just countered two moves made in the five months since Pete D’Alessandro was hired as general manager.

The Kings got Vasquez from New Orleans as part of the three-team deal that sent Tyreke Evans to the Pelicans in a sign-and-trade, started him at point guard, and now traded him 18 games into the season, returning Isaiah Thomas to the opening lineup. And, the Kings traded for Derrick Williams on Nov. 26, said they were committed to him as the starter at small forward, and now bring in Gay four games later, unless they have another immediate deal in place for Gay.

Gay is a name, has an active run of six consecutive full seasons of averaging at least 18 points a game and, whether with Williams or in place of Williams, addresses what had been the biggest position need for the Kings. But it says something that he has been traded twice in 10 1/2 months, including when the Grizzlies were willing to break up a lineup with a proven history of long playoff runs and now by a Toronto team trying to build something.

Gay will make $17.8 million this season and has a player option worth $19.3 million for 2104-15 that he almost certainly will exercise. After mostly shooting between 45 percent and 47 percent earlier in his career, though, the 6-foot-9, 220-pounder dropped to 41.6 percent last season with the Grizzlies and Raptors and is all the way down to 38.8 the first 18 games of 2013-14.

The deal will not become official until a trade call with the league on Monday, but Gay, Acy and Gray were all out of uniform Sunday night as the Raptors played the Lakers in Los Angeles, indicating the terms of the move that could save Toronto some $12 million next season were set.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Bulls likely to stick with Deng | Gay bans postgame stat sheets | Kobe: No ‘negotiation’ on extension needed | Pacers on mission for No. 1 in East

No. 1: Report: Bulls, Deng likely to stick togetherDerrick Rose‘s season-ending knee surgery brought up a host of questions for the Bulls in 2013-14, but perhaps some of the biggest questions surround the roster. Namely, should Chicago think about trading its moveable players — like Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer — in hopes of landing first-round picks in the 2014 Draft? Or should they hold tight, play through the season and figure things out in the offseason? For Deng, at least, it seems he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today reports that he and the team plan to stick together long term:

By ruling out Derrick Rose for the season, the Chicago Bulls eliminated any speculation about his return. That allows them to concentrate on this season without his status overshadowing everything.

So who will lead the team to those wins now that Rose is out? It seems that role will fall to forward Luol Deng. He has done it before. He is Chicago’s leading scorer (16.3 points a game), third-leading rebounder (7.3 a game) and a capable passer (3.4 assists a game). He is also Chicago’s best perimeter defender.

With that in mind, Deng, who will make $14.2 million this year in the final year of his six-year deal, probably will be with the Bulls for the long haul, a person familiar with both sides told USA TODAY Sports. Even though an expiring deal is ideal to trade, both sides appear to want to keep him on the team. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about a potential deal.

Furthermore, not many, if any, teams will be looking to deal high draft picks when the 2014 draft class is loaded, especially at the top.

Carlos Boozer’s big contract expires after 2014-15, and he will make $16.8 million the final year. It will be tough to move his deal and get what they want in return. The Bulls could always amnesty Boozer in the offseason, but their philosophy on that has always been: “Where else are we going to get 17 points and eight rebounds a game?”

Guard Jimmy Butler is an asset, but the Bulls aren’t interested in moving him.

There’s no indication the Bulls are going to fall apart. They didn’t last season without Rose, and they are have veteran leadership with Deng, Boozer, Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah. Butler is due back from a toe injury within the next couple of weeks.

All those adidas commercials shining light on Rose’s painful rehab and then his anticipated return left everyone joyous to see Rose on the court again this season. And like that, he’s gone again.

In a statement, adidas said, “As fans of the game and a close partner, we wish Derrick a quick recovery. His hard work, dedication and love of the game is inspiring to his millions of fans worldwide and to all of us at adidas. Our support for him will continue to be unwavering.”

A person familiar with Rose’s relationship with adidas told USA TODAY Sports that Rose commercials will continue to air while he is out. That person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about Rose. Without providing specifics about future commercials, the person said all plans remain unchanged in regards to Rose.

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No. 2: Gay bans scoresheets in the locker room – For a couple seasons running now, Raptors swingman Rudy Gay has been a favorite target of the NBA analytics crowd for what they claim to be his lack of efficiency as a scorer. (ICYMI, our own Jeff Caplan caught up with Gay about that very topic during the offseason.) This season, the Raptors are leading the (not-so-great) Atlantic Division and Gay has taken to banning postgame scoresheets from the locker room in an effort to not boost his own cause, but that of his team, writes Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:

A locker room is a sanctuary for the players on a professional team.

It is the primary space away from the court where they develop the chemistry and bonds that help them become even better than their collective talents.

Which brings us to what you are not going to find in the players’ locker room anymore.

And that would be scoresheets.

It’s common practice that after every game each player is provided a scoresheet. The sheet breaks down the individual players’ contributions as well as team totals.

That won’t be happening anymore in Toronto. Rudy Gay has put a stop to it.

Gay sees the scoresheets as an unnecessary barrier to team unity or even a temptation to be more focussed on what is best for the individual as opposed to what is best for the team.

“We’re not playing for stats,” Gay said.

Gay said there was no incident or no moment that pushed him toward this decision but as a leader on this team, he felt it was just something that was best for the team.

“I wanted to just nip it in the bud before it became an issue,” he said. “We come in here after losses, after wins and people are staring at those stat sheets, but that’s not what we’re about. We’re a team and the stat that matters is the W.”

Gay said there were no objections from his teammates when he delivered the news.

“No, none. It was pretty easy.”

***

No. 3: Kobe says no ‘negotiation’ involved in new deal — At almost the same time Bulls fans got the heartbreaking news about Derrick Rose yesterday, Lakers fans got some good news when it was learned that Kobe Bryant and the Lakers had agreed to a two-year, $48.5 million extension. Analysis is already running rampant about how this deal will affect L.A.’s ability to be players in free agency, but one thing is clear, writes Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski – this was a deal Bryant and the Lakers didn’t have to tussle over:

Between his signature on a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension and a cross-country flight to the East Coast on Monday, Kobe Bryant was left befuddled and bemused by those who declared him greedy and uncaring about chasing championships.

“This was easy,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports on Monday night. “This wasn’t a negotiation. The Lakers made their offer with cap and building a great team in mind while still taking care of me as a player.

“I simply agreed to the offer.”

Until the hours before the Lakers’ meeting with the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, that’s all Bryant would say about the contract extension. He is 35 years old, working his way back from a torn Achilles and the Buss family is still betting Bryant is the best free-agent star available on the market, betting that Bryant can still drive ticket sales and TV ratings and make these Lakers relevant again.

In this basketball universe, that’s what a max player does for a big-market franchise. The late Lakers owner, Jerry Buss, was always brutally honest about the value of his superstar players – so much more so than his ownership peers. Once, Buss told Bryant he believed he was worth $60 million to $70 million a year to the Lakers.

With Bryant’s deal – which will pay him $23.5 million and $25 million in 2015 and ’16, respectively – the Lakers have room to recruit a max player this summer, and only Bryant’s contract is still on the books for the summer of 2016.


VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses the Lakers’ future & Kobe’s new deal

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No. 4: Pacers driven to lock up East’s No. seed — Save for a blowout loss to the Bulls in Chicago, the Indiana Pacers have made quick work of just about every opponent they’ve faced this season. Such was the case last night as Indiana took what was a mostly close game with the Minnesota Timberwolves and turned it into a blowout by the middle of the fourth quarter. The Pacers are playing with a purpose and focus that few teams in the NBA right now can match and Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star says that’s because Indiana has a laundry list of goals clearly set in its mind:

It’s as if everything they do now, even in these early days of the season, is informed by the predicament they found themselves in last year, playing in Miami’s house for a chance to reach the NBA Finals.

A special season is now off to a special start, a potential record-breaking start, the Pacers beating a really good Minnesota Timberwolves team, 98-84, Monday night to push their record to 13-1.

Thirteen-and-one.

It’s all about Game 7 in Miami.

They never want to be on the road again for a Game 7.

Ever.

“That was the motivation for this year,’’ Paul George said after a 26-point, eight-rebound performance. “It came from coach (Frank Vogel). We were special in the playoffs at home and we knew, if we can give ourselves the opportunity to play Game 7 in our house, we can do some special things.’’

This team isn’t playing around, not even in late November, long before things really start to count in the long NBA season. They want that No. 1 seed. They want to send Vogel and his staff and a couple of players to the NBA All-Star Game. They want to be the talk of the NBA.

Yes, there will be injuries and there will be lulls and there will be nights when the schedule — like an upcoming five-games-in-eight-nights run — will catch up to them.

Or will they?

This suddenly looks like a team that can win 60 games or more.

“We knew that we sometimes put ourselves in tough situations last year, and that’s where we’ve matured this year,’’ Hill said “We’re really coming together. Even when things aren’t going well (like several foul calls the Pacers argued throughout the first three quarters), we know how to play through those things. We’re a more complete team now. Guys can come off the bench and fill their roles and not have there be a drop off. The starting five has a year under its belt together. We know each other, the way each other plays. Coach (Vogel) always says we should be the most together team in the NBA.’’

For the Indiana Pacers, it’s No. 1 seed or bust, Finals or bust. They’re not afraid to say it. They’re not afraid to believe it. And they’re not afraid to pursue it.


VIDEO: Paul George discusses Indiana’s big win over Minnesota

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mavs owner Mark Cuban says his one-year feud with Jason Kidd is over and may end up retiring Kidd’s number … Rookie forward Otto Porter, Jr., the third pick in the 2013 Draft, finally participated in practice with the Wizards

ICYMI Of The Night: Paul George shows that he knows what to do when given a nice breakaway dunk opportunity …


VIDEO: Paul George shows off his dunking skills on this breakaway attempt

Up 3, Time Running Down: Foul Or Defend?


VIDEO: James Harden fouls Carmelo Anthony in last seconds

DALLAS – It’s an age-old (well, at least since the implementation of the 3-point arc) question that might not have a right or wrong answer: To foul or not to foul?

You’re up three, time running down. What do you do?

“The right answer is whatever ends up working out,” said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle prior to finding his team in the very situation in the waning seconds of their 123-120 comeback win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

“The thing that’s hard in this league is being able to get to a guy to foul him because end-of-game plays are very sophisticated,” Carlisle continued. “Guys are dynamically quick, they create separation and if you can’t foul a guy as he’s catching the ball, these guys will turn and shoot and if you don’t watch out you’ll be giving up a four-point play or something like that because some of these guys can turn and then go up, draw contact and still get a 3-point shot up.

“It’s challenging, it’s something you’ve got to spend time on, work on and you have to be able to have players that are mentally disciplined to lay off the foul if the guy’s in the process of turning and going up. Otherwise you’re giving him three free throws.”

That’s exactly how Mavs forward Shawn Marion played it defending James Harden. With Dallas up three and 6.7 seconds to go, Chandler Parsons inbounded to Harden several feet above the top right arc. Harden faked left and went right. Marion looked to be in the process of reaching both arms around Harden’s waist as he curled to the right, presumably to draw the foul before Harden could get up a shot. Such a foul would have resulted in Harden going to the free-throw line for two shots with little more than four seconds left.

But at the last moment, Marion yanked his arms away, demonstrably pulling them behind his back as if to emphasize that he did not touch Harden, who got up a lunging 3-pointer that didn’t draw iron. As soon as Harden saw his shot was ill-fated, he pleaded for a foul call that didn’t come.

Just a few nights earlier at New York, Harden found himself on the opposite end of a near-identical situation. Harden was guarding Carmelo Anthony on the inbounds pass with 5.8 seconds left and the Rockets protecting a 107-104 lead. Anthony got the ball above the arc at the right wing, almost the same spot where Harden got it in Dallas. Harden immediately slapped Anthony across the arms. The whislte blew and instantaneously Anthony continued his motion and as he launched a desperation 3-pointer, Harden again caught his arm. The shot remarkably went in and the Madison Square Garden crowd roared expecting a potential four-point play and an improbable win.

But the basket was emphatically waved off as the initial slap was ruled to have occurred before Anthony got off the shot. Anthony went to the line for two free throws with five seconds left. He made both, although it appeared he actually tried to miss the second to create a potential offensive rebound. Anthony was livid he didn’t get the continuation call.

“They’ve done studies and I’ve heard people tell me that the studies they did say that for sure you foul,” McHale said. “Other people have done studies that say that it doesn’t make a difference. But I do think fouling; a lot of things have got to go [right] for the offense — they’ve got to make the first free throw, they’ve got to miss the second, they’ve got to get it, they’ve got to put it back in. So I would just as soon foul.”

Yet that’s not the call McHale made in the two games prior to the great Garden escape.

On Nov. 11 at the Toyota Center, the Rockets blew a 17-point lead against Toronto and were up 95-92 in overtime. With about six seconds left, Raptors forward Rudy Gay dribbled right to the top of the arc, positioned his feet just outside the arc and drained the game-tying 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Parsons. Before that shot, Gay had been 9-for-25 from the floor, so the Rockets took their chances. Double OT. The Rockets eventually pulled out the win.

That wouldn’t be the case two nights later in Philadelphia.

This time having blown a 10-point lead, the Rockets found themselves protecting a 106-103 lead with 18.2 seconds to play. Sixers guard Tony Wroten had the ball up top, drove the lane and was shadowed by Dwight Howard under the basket. In trouble on the baseline, Wroten tossed a high-arching pass all the way out top to James Anderson. With Rockets guard Jeremy Lin draped on him, Anderson rose up and nailed the game-tying 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds to go. The Rockets failed to score on their final possession and the 76ers eventually won the game in overtime.

Rockets guard Patrick Beverley had backed off Anderson to guard against a pass to Thaddeus Young, who was stationed to Anderson’s left at the top of the arc.

“I played in Europe and they told us to foul, but it’s a different game,” Beverley said. “Hitting a 3 to send a game to overtime is a very tough shot, so I don’t know, it’s a tough question. In some situations, like when we played New York, we fouled and if they don’t call that [first] foul it’s an ‘and-1′ 3 for Carmelo.”

It’s the classic what-to-do debate with no clear-cut answer for every situation.

“Ideally, you’d like to foul,” McHale said. “But there’s a lot that goes into that — how much time’s on the clock? Are the guys catching it cleanly and going into a [shooting] motion? Are they dribbling it? So we have a lot of different things that we talk about for times that we like to foul.

“But there’s also times when things happen where they start off with maybe 13, 14 seconds and your guys have got to be in tune to understand that if they pass, pass, pass, now if it gets down to four or five [seconds], now you want to foul. But you don’t want to foul with 15 seconds left. So there’s a lot of different scenarios that we’ll keep working on and getting better at.”

Five Players Who Need To Step It Up

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – We’re only approaching 10 games in, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to eyeball some concerning trends that could quickly become disturbing. I’ve pinpointed five players I believe have left something to be desired. Each is an established veteran who entered this season with a new and exciting situation, and high expectations.

1. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets

Supposedly happy in Houston, Howard’s stats — 18.2 ppg and 14.9 rpg — certainly look All-Star worthy. But take a deeper look. He’s shooting 53.6 percent from the floor, a mark not seen since his first two seasons in the league — and four percentage points lower than last season when he complained the Lakers didn’t get him the ball in his sweet spots. Yes, he and the Rockets, just 5-4, are adjusting, and this could take time, but Howard has looked awkward on the block and is shooting just 37 percent in the paint, per NBA.com stats. More discouraging is his free-throw shooting. He said he wanted to shoot between 75 and 80 percent — which was laughable. Instead he’s dragging a career-low 47.9 percent. Teams are already employing the Hack-a-Howard tactic and the Rockets are seeing how frustrating it is to have a big man who can’t make free throws in crunch time. They’ve been awful trying to close out games. And Hack-a-Howard isn’t just a late-game tactic anymore. The Sixers intentionally fouled him late in the first half of Wednesday’s game. Howard’s old club, the severely undermanned Lakers without Kobe Bryant, essentially won their game at Houston because Howard couldn’t make free throws when fouled on purpose.

There’s more. Where is the chiseled, 265-pound Howard’s passion? His passivity against the Lakers was mind-boggling, and running away from Lakers players attempting to intentionally foul him was embarrassing.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard gets the block of the night against the Sixers

2. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

A forgettable start to the season got worse with a stress fracture to his left shin that will sideline McGee indefinitely. A sluggish start might not rank high on the surprise list for many, but if there was ever a time the 7-footer was going to put it together, this seemed it. His new coach Brian Shaw was moving away from George Karl‘s up-tempo, dribble-drive offense to a more traditional, low-post system. McGee spent much of the offseason working on his game, seemingly determined to bury, on the court at least, his goofball reputation. Prior to the start of training camp he told NBA.com: “It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

It didn’t take Shaw long to apply the brakes, trusting McGee to even fewer minutes than Karl. In five starts, McGee averaged 7.0 ppg and 3.4 rpg in 15.8 mpg. He shot 43.6 percent. Denver, 3-4 after starting 1-4, traded Kosta Koufos to Memphis anticipating McGee’s rise. Recovering from the stress fracture only complicates McGee’s path to improvement. He’s in the second year of a $44 million contract, which so far looks like a very expensive mistake by the Nuggets.


VIDEO: JaVale McGee finishes off the alley-oop from Randy Foye

3. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

Evans’ fresh start away from Sacramento dysfunction was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for the fifth-year combo guard. The Pelicans hyped the sixth-man role behind Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon and it made sense. Evans can score and going against other second units would seem a great idea. An ankle injury slowed him early into the preseason and it’s been slow-going ever since. Evans is averaging a career-low 9.0 ppg and is logging a career-low 24.0 mpg. His shooting has been abysmal, 36.2 percent overall and 12.5 percent from beyond the arc. Evans has never truly been a high-volume 3-point shooter and he’s never shot it with considerable accuracy, but really, he could probably make 12.5 percent blindfolded.

This has to concern the Pelicans’ front office if trading Gordon, who always seems to be on the block, is still a consideration later this season. Even Evans’ free-throw percentage is suffering. A 76.4-percent shooter from the stripe over his career, he’s only at 66.7 percent. The team’s overall optimism that sprouted from a successful preseason has been shrouded by a 3-6 start, including Wednesday’s demoralizing loss at previously winless Utah.


VIDEO: Tyreke Evans on the Pelicans’ deep roster

4. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets

This is Williams’ second season as the maxed-out point guard Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban claims he’s happy to have lost out on two summers ago. Since Williams signed his five-year, $98-million contract to stay with the Nets, he has not produced like a max player, with either injuries or coaching fit being the culprit. Williams is averaging 11.1 ppg — lowest by a long shot since his rookie season) and 7.4 apg. He’s the quarterback of  a team built for instant contention with All-Star (Joe Johnson) and Hall of Fame (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett) talent, albeit aging talent outside of center Brook Lopez, yet another All-Star. Williams was again hobbled by an ankle issue during the preseason and he still might be gimpy. Meshing won’t happen overnight, but the level at which the Nets, 2-5, have played (i.e. losing by 21 at Sacramento on Wednesday) should be deeply concerning to Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who will shell out close to $190 million in payroll and luxury tax this season.

If anybody knows how to get Williams going it should be his rookie coach and No. 1 golfing buddy Jason Kidd. Kidd has to figure out how to get Williams in his comfort zone, to allow him to create and use his size to his advantage, while also getting the rest of this cast involved. Maybe then Williams will exude the confident, follow-me persona of a leader that just isn’t there.


VIDEO: Nets.com tags along on a workout with Deron Williams

5. Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors

Starting from scratch with playoff-hopeful Toronto, Gay still can’t shake the inefficiency thing. Yes, he’s averaging 19.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg, which look great. But with Gay, as the stat geeks remind, you have to look deeper to see that he’s averaging those 19.7 ppg on 19.8 field-goal attempts. He’s connecting at just a 36.5-percent rate. He is shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a mark bolstered by going 7-for-14 in the last two games, including 4-for-6 Wednesday night to get the Raptors to 4-5 at the expense of his former team, the struggling Memphis Grizzlies. But since he shoots mostly mid-range jumpers, the overall percentage is stark. In an overtime loss at Houston, Gay reached rare inefficient air when he finished with 29 points on 37 shot attempts — 8-for-29 inside the arc; 3-for-8 behind it.

During the offseason Gay had eye surgery to correct a pretty serious vision problem, and, realizing he had to get his shooting percentages up, went to work with his personal trainer for hours each day at his old high school gym in Baltimore. As he put it to NBA.com: “Honestly, I had two bad years of shooting the ball and this last year was really bad, so I just had to go back to the basics. It wasn’t as much my eye sight as it was my form.” Unfortunately for Gay, so far his shooting percentage has only worsened.


VIDEO: Rudy Gay with the assist of the night against the Grizzlies

Hang Time One-On-One … With Rudy Gay



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Rudy Gay has been through the grinder over the course of his seven-plus years in the NBA. From prized prospect to apparent franchise cornerstone to the odd man out in Memphis.

A trade to Toronto last season, however, put a new spin on Gay’s career. He went from odd man out to welcomed with open arms by Raptors fans. Now all he has to do is lead them to the promised land (the playoffs) to finish the story … right?

Well, it’s never that easy. Especially not for a player with the combination of size, skill and athleticism Gay possesses. In a league with a fleet of elite wing players, guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and even newcomers like Paul George, Gay is still working to make a place for himself in that crowded field.

He discusses all of that and more in the latest installment of Hang Time One-On-One, where we dive a little deeper with the stars, role players, movers and shakers in the NBA:



VIDEO: Hang Time’s One-on-One conversation with the Raptors’ Rudy Gay