Posts Tagged ‘Russell Westbrook’

An NBA in which everyone went ‘home’

lebron

After four years in Miami, LeBron James decided in early July to return to Cleveland.

LeBron James warmed the hearts of Clevelanders, northeast Ohio residents and Moms everywhere when he announced his return to the Cavaliers and ‘fessed up to the lure of his Akron hometown, both for him and the young family he is raising.

Kevin Durant already has been identified by the Washington Wizards as a target in 2016 free agency, which provides context for the team’s recent decision to hire David Adkins, Durant’s old high school coach from Montrose Christian.

And naturally, it’s only a small leap – or click of some ruby-colored shoes – to go from the Wizards to “There’s no place like home,” Dorothy‘s mantra that eventually got her off the yellow-brick road and back to Kansas. That got some of us at the Hang Time HQ thinking about an NBA that tilted entirely toward hometowns and players’ roots.

Remember, in its infancy, the league conferred “territorial rights” on its teams so they could keep promising and already popular college players close to home, to piggyback on the local fame. Dick Garmaker, Tom Gola, Tom Heinsohn, Guy Rodgers, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry Lucas, Dave DeBusschere and others all entered the league as territorial picks.

What would the NBA look like if rosters were filled only with hometown players? Well, as you might expect, teams in the major population centers – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago – would be fine. Some in smaller markets would wind up scraping for talent, even if their “borders” were artificially extended by another state or three. Then again, there would be a vast talent pool of free agents who weren’t born in proximity to any particular NBA franchise, most obviously those from other nations.

Here’s a glimpse at the starting lineups of a thoroughly “hometown” NBA (based on birth cities & states, via basketball-reference.com):

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTA
G – Jodie Meeks
G – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
F – Derrick Favors
F – Josh Smith
C – Dwight Howard

Notes: Some help off the bench, too, from Georgia-born players, including Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Singleton, Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas.

BOSTON
G – Michael Carter-Williams
G – Ricky Ledo
F – Jeff Adrien
F – ?
C – ?

Notes: Spread the net across New England and you only add Ledo to Carter-Williams and Adrien. (If we’re missing somebody for the Celtics or any other team, post your suggestions in the Comments.)

BROOKLYN
G – Lance Stephenson
G – A.J. Price
F – Kenneth Faried
F – Jason Thompson
C – Taj Gibson

Notes: The Nets’ turf for our purposes was defined as Brooklyn and New Jersey. Decent subs here too, including MarShon Brooks, Earl Clark, Gerald Henderson, Andrew Bynum, J.R. Smith, Chris Copeland and Randy Foye.

CHARLOTTE
G – John Wall
G – Chris Paul
F – P.J. Tucker
F – John Henson
C –Jermaine O’Neal

Notes: Tough to beat a Carolinas backcourt, what with Wall and Paul and Raymond Felton in reserve.

CHICAGO
G – Derrick Rose
G – Dwyane Wade
F – Andre Iguodala
F – Shawn Marion
C – Anthony Davis

Notes: Help in the backcourt could come from Patrick Beverley, Tony Allen, Shaun Livingston, Iman Shumpert and Evan Turner.

CLEVELAND
G – Trey Burke
G – Stephen Curry
F – LeBron James
F – Jared Sullinger
C – Kosta Koufos

Notes: It’s true – Steph Curry was born in Akron. Imagine if he felt the same tug from northeast Ohio that LeBron does.

DETROIT
G – Chris Douglas-Roberts
G – Jordan Crawford
F – Wilson Chandler
F – Draymond Green
C – JaVale McGee

Notes: Chris Kaman comes off the bench among players born in Michigan, and Shane Battier just missed this great honor.

INDIANA
G – Jeff Teague
G – Mike Conley
F – Zach Randolph
F – Gordon Hayward
C – Cody Zeller

Notes: Basketball’s influence in Indiana is evident in the depth here, which includes Eric Gordon, Josh McRoberts, George Hill, Courtney Lee, Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, Robbie Hummel and others.

MIAMI
G – Brandon Knight
G – Tim Hardaway Jr.
F – Trevor Ariza
F – Udonis Haslem
C – Larry Sanders

Notes: The Heat’s impact is apparent with Hardaway Jr. as well as Glen Rice Jr. We considered putting Dwyane Wade on this squad, based on his statement that “home is where the heart is” when he re-signed with Miami. But that wouldn’t have been fair to those who knew him when back in Robbins, Ill.

MILWAUKEE
G – Devin Harris
G – Dwight Buycks
F – Carl Landry
F – Caron Butler
C – Greg Stiemsma

Notes: This Wisconsin group is getting a little long in the tooth. It’s been a while since the Dairyland enjoyed its NBA sweet spot (Terry Porter, Latrell Sprewell, Nick Van Exel all debuting in the mid-1980s).

NEW YORK
G – Kemba Walker
G – Jimmer Fredette
F – Carmelo Anthony
F – Andre Drummond
C – Joakim Noah

Notes: Odd that most of the depth on a New York-born squad would be in the frontcourt (Tobias Harris, Ryan Kelly, Roy Hibbert, Andray Blatche, Charlie Villanueva, Channing Frye and so on). After all, the Big Apple was known for decades for the quality of its point guards.

ORLANDO
G – Nick Calathes
G – Chandler Parsons
F – Alonzo Gee
F – Amar’e Stoudemire
C – Marreese Speights

Notes: Florida required a split of the talent pool, with Miami drawing from South Florida and the Atlantic Coast and Orlando getting pretty much everything else.

PHILADELPHIA
G – Kyle Lowry
G – Kobe Bryant
F – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
F – Tyrke Evans
C – DeJuan Blair

Notes: And this still leaves the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, on the bench, alongside Dion Waiters, Lavoy Allen and veteran influence Jameer Nelson.

TORONTO
G – Steve Nash
G – Andrew Wiggins
F – Anthony Bennett
F – Tristan Thompson
C – Kelly Olynyk

Notes: OK, so we need an asterisk on Nash, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. But he’s so identified with the game in Canada, it seemed like an acceptable exception. If you want to be a stickler, substitute Cory Joseph for him.

WASHINGTON
G – Ty Lawson
G – Victor Oladipo
F – Kevin Durant
F – Rudy Gay
C – Patrick Patterson

Notes: Opening this up to Maryland and Virginia brought out numbers at the guard and forward spots (Gary Neal, Jarrett Jack, Delonte West, John Lucas III, Michael Beasley, Ed Davis), though we’d still have to go small in the middle.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

DALLAS
G – Phil Pressey
G – C.J. Miles
F – Mike Dunleavy Jr.
F – LaMarcus Aldridge
C – Chris Bosh

Notes: Texas is a big state, but there are three NBA teams to stock and fewer than 40 of the state’s all-time 138 league alumni are active. For distribution purposes, the Mavericks got Dallas and Fort Worth products, the Rockets got their metro area and east from which to draw and the Spurs got dibs on most of the rest.

DENVER
G – Chauncey Billups
G – ?
F – James Johnson
F – Jason Smith
C – ?

Notes: There have been only two NBA players born in Colorado since Jimmy Carter was in the White House – and Billups isn’t one of them (Smith and Nick Fazekas). We had to go to Wyoming to get Johnson.

GOLDEN STATE
G – Damian Lillard
G – Orlando Johnson
F – Paul Pierce
F – ?
C – Drew Gooden

Notes: California is like Texas, only more so. The NBA has had 346 Californians participate through the years but only about a fifth of them are active – and there are four teams to account for.

HOUSTON
G – Gerald Green
G – Jimmy Butler
F – Emeka Okafor
F – DeAndre Jordan
C – Kendrick Perkins

Notes: We took the liberty of the non-specified position slots to go without a point guard here. Could have tabbed Ben Uzoh, if pressed.

L.A. CLIPPERS
G – Russell Westbrook
G – Arron Afflalo
F – Kevin Love
F – Tayshaun Prince
C – Tyson Chandler

Notes: See Lakers notes.

L.A. LAKERS
G – James Harden
G – Klay Thompson
F – Kawhi Leonard
F – DeMar DeRozan
C – Brook Lopez

Notes: Compared to most of the other states/markets, southern California offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of NBA talent. We plugged in these guys randomly and still have a bunch of quality players in reserve, including Amir Johnson, Nick Young, Chris Andersen, Andre Miller, Brandon Jennings and more.

MEMPHIS
G – Rajon Rondo
G – Lou Williams
F – Corey Brewer
F – J.J. Redick
C – Brandan Wright

Notes: Opening this up to include Kentucky as well as Tennessee didn’t yield the expected number of NBA regulars.

MINNESOTA
G – Kirk Hinrich
G – Mike Miller
F – Alan Anderson
F – Harrison Barnes
C – Nick Collison

Notes: Talk about embarrassing – Hang Time opened up Minnesota’s domain to include the Dakotas and Iowa … and four of the five starting spots arguably belong to products of those states. Among the native Minnesotans in reserve: Nate Wolters, Jon Leuer, Cole Aldrich, Kris Humphries and Royce White.

NEW ORLEANS
G – D.J. Augustin
G – Marcus Thornton
F – Thaddeus Young
F – Paul Millsap
C – Greg Monroe

Notes: Not bad depth from down on the bayou, with a second-unit crew that includes Perry Jones, Brandon Bass, Robert Sacre, Garrett Temple, Donald Sloan and old head Danny Granger.

OKLAHOMA CITY
G – Earl Watson
G – Archie Goodwin
F – Joe Johnson
F – Blake Griffin
C – Ekpe Udoh

Notes: It took a sweep of four states, including Kansas, Nebraska and Arkansas, to pull together this starting five. Sorry, Seattle and the state of Washington were off-limits, given how many players that area already donated to OKC.

PHOENIX
G – Jerryd Bayless
G – Carrick Felix
F – Damion James
F – Andre Roberson
C – ?

Notes: Slim pickings even with New Mexico in the mix, which can be explained in part by how many folks settle in the American Southwest past their child-bearing years.

PORTLAND
G – Isaiah Thomas
G – Jamal Crawford
F – Marvin Williams
F – Terrence Jones
C – Spencer Hawes

Notes: This roster took on an entirely reinvigorated look when it was opened up beyond Oregon products to include those from Washington. Now it has a bench including Avery Bradley, Martell Webster, Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Nate Robinson and Terrence Ross, among others.

SACRAMENTO
G – Quincy Pondexter
G – Paul George
F – Matt Barnes
F – Ryan Anderson
C – Tyler Zeller

Notes: It’s not easy being fourth among California’s four NBA teams, even if your turf is considered to be everything outside of the Bay Area and the greater L.A. metroplex.

SAN ANTONIO
G – ?
G – Wes Johnson
F – Wesley Matthews
F – Quincy Acy
C – Ivan Johnson

Notes: So we fudged it on Johnson (Corsicana) and Acy (Tyler), who were born closer to Dallas. San Antonio had a run of NBA role players a while back (Michael Doleac, Bo Outlaw, Jeff Foster, David Wesley) but might need the offspring of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to grow up fast.

UTAH
G – Luke Ridnour
G – C.J. Watson
F – ?
F – ?
C – ?

Notes: Talk about some serious gerrymandering. Watson is from Nevada, Ridnour is from Idaho and we fought off the temptation to go pluck Mario Chalmers from Alaska. There hasn’t been a Utah-born player in the NBA since 2010 (Devin Brown), nor any born there since February 1981.

 

D.C. dreaming of Durant homecoming?


VIDEO: Kevin Durant sits down with NBA.com’s Lang Whitaker

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James followed his heart back to Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony just couldn’t leave his native New York. And Dwyane Wade declared his love for his adopted hometown of Miami.

With all of the talk this summer of stars coming home, staying home and their teams and their cities, can you blame folks in Washington D.C. for daydreaming about a day and time when the NBA’s reigning MVP would consider doing the same?

No one represents for the Washington D.C. area harder or better than Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. And that might explain why folks in the DMV (the urban area encompassing D.C., Maryland and Virginia) are already buzzing about a Durant homecoming one day.

Even if it is just a pipe dream, one that Thunder fans want nothing to do with, it’s one that is being talked about two seasons before Durant becomes a free agent. Washington Wizards fans and observers are already daydreaming about what their up-and-coming team can do to lure Durant back home come the summer of 2017.

Former Maryland coach and Hall of Famer Gary Williams knows the area and it’s basketball DNA well. He’s convinced Durant will call the area home again one day and last week made his feelings clear on the topic to a local radio show (courtesy of Dan Steinberg‘s D.C. Sports Bog):

“One interesting thing on this LeBron going back to Cleveland, Durant’s watching that very close,” Williams said on ESPN 980 last week. “He’s seeing the adulation pouring out for LeBron James for coming home. And Durant loves this area. He does. He’s back every summer. He plays at Montrose [Christian] against their high school kids sometimes; he’s out there taking charges. He just loves to play basketball. He’s been over at Maryland, he plays with the players over there. He just wants to play. And these are where his ties are. I know one thing, when his career’s over, I’d be shocked if he didn’t live in this area.”

“I think you go in steps,” Williams later said. “I don’t think [Paul] Pierce comes here unless the Wizards did what they did in the playoffs this year. So now take that a step further. If they do make another really strong playoff run this coming year; now all of a sudden there’s somebody that good that’s out there, they have to look at the Wizards. Because I think all those guys – Durant included – are looking at if I go here, will they be good enough to win a championship? So if the Wizards can show that maybe they’re just missing a Durant to win a championship, I think they have a good chance, I really do.”

Williams also discussed former Maryland women’s assistant David Adkins, a one-time Montrose staffer whose hiring by the Wizards helped set off this latest round of intense speculation.

“I know Davis,” Williams said. “He’s Mr. Workout Man. In other words, he loves doing individual drills with players. He knew Durant from Montrose. … He worked with Greivis Vasquez. And he’s really good at what he does.

As easy as it is to dismiss these thoughts as the musings of wistful Wizards and area hoops fans who want to see a storybook homecoming play out in D.C. the way it did in Cleveland this summer, we’d probably be foolish to ignore this completely. Had someone told you three or four years ago that LeBron would leave town the way he did and then come riding back into town a hero this summer, you’d have called them crazy.

While he remains a cult hero in his native DMV, especially for kids who idolize him, Durant has adapted well to each and every environment he’s been in. He’s just as beloved in Oklahoma City as he is around the country and really around the globe. And he doesn’t appear to be homesick or stuck in the tractor beam that seems to be pulling so many of his peers home.

Durant left home as a teenager and spent a year in college at Texas before being drafted by Seattle and then moving to Oklahoma City when the franchise relocated there. He’s become an integral part of whatever community he’s lived in each and every time.

And who knows what goes on for Durant and the Thunder over the course of the next two seasons. If LeBron’s homecoming doesn’t result in any titles or even a trip to The Finals, the decision will be panned universally outside of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. A would-be trend could be over before it gets started.

That said, the Wizards, or any other team boasting the hometown connection, would be crazy not to at least dream about and explore the possibilities.

They’ll boast young stars in All-Star point guard John Wall and budding star shooting guard Bradley Beal that would be attractive running mates for any superstar on the championship hunt.

The tug of home could be powerful in 2016.

That daydream could become a reality … one that gives us flashbacks to the summer of 2014.

But in the meantime, Durant and Russell Westbrook have unfinished business in Oklahoma City …

LaVine delivers more than dunks in Vegas

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Rookie Zach LaVine from UCLA tore up the Samsung Summer League in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS – Zach LaVine jumps really high and talks really fast. He exudes a brash confidence like Russell Westbrook and plays with a chip on his shoulder the size of Bill Walton.

This latest UCLA product is headed either for a stunning rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves or cold, hard NBA reality.

“I’m a very confident person, I always hold myself to high standards,” LaVine said Friday after scoring 22 points with four assists in the Wolves’ sixth and final Summer League game. “You know, there’s a lot of doubters on me. I feel  always like changing peoples’ minds, you know, ‘He’s not NBA-ready, why’d he come out?’ and different things like that. So I just come out here and always try to prove my point. I think I fared well for myself.”

There was little not to like about the 6-foot-5, 19-year-old’s debut in the Las Vegas Summer League. Everybody was aware of his athleticism coming in, but many were skeptical about his decision-making and the durability of his 180-pound frame..

“I definitely have to get in the weight room and let my body mature. But if they can’t touch you, you know, strength really isn’t a factor,” LaVine said. “I feel I’m a pretty physical person, just not the strongest yet, so I definitely have to get into the weight room. But I use my speed to my advantage.”

He averaged 15.7 points a game and more than five free-throw attempts per game in the Summer league. Twice he got to the line 10 times.

Fans mostly will remember a dazzling array of dunks. He’s already nominated himself for the dunk contest when February’s All-Star weekend props up its big tent in New York City.

“I’m definitely going to be in the dunk contest, know that,” LaVine said  “I haven’t lost a dunk contest for a long time, maybe since I first started dunking. So I have some dunks in my package.”

The Wolves are more intrigued by the 13th overall pick’s size at the shooting-guard position, his ball-handling and his higher-than-expected court IQ at point guard. He bounced between the two positions during Summer League.

He scored in double figures in all six games. In the final three games he averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds. He had two games with five turnovers, but averaged just 3.6 turnovers in 32.2 minutes a game, a good rate considering he was playing with little practice time and with unfamiliar teammates, most of whom won’t sniff the NBA.

“We knew he had talent, we knew he was good, but he exceeded all our expectations thus far,” Wolves assistant coach Sam Mitchell said. “He’s smart, he’s athletic, he can handle the ball, he can shoot the ball, he’s a sponge, he learns. We threw a lot at him. We’ve run a lot of NBA sets, we’re doing a lot of things defensively and he just picks it all up.”

The Wolves could have playing time available. Behind point guard Ricky Rubio is the diminutive J.J. Barea, who is in the final year of his contract and has seen his shooting percentages drop the last two seasons. Behind shooting guard Kevin Martin is young Russian Alexey Shved, who took a step back last season after a promising rookie campaign.

“I feel like I’m player,” LaVine said. “Wherever he [team president and coach Flip Saunders] needs to play me at; if that’s the 1, I feel like I can handle the ball and run the team, to a point where I’m still learning the position, but I feel like I can handle it. I like scoring the ball as well, so whatever he needs me to do, facilitate, shoot, defend, anything he needs me to do.”

There’s a chance LaVine could be one of two 19-year-old talents in Minnesota. If the Wolves deal Kevin Love to Cleveland for Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota could be set up with two tremendously gifted athletic wings for years to come.

For now, LaVine is headed back home to Seattle to train. The league will have to wait to see if he builds on his Summer League success. But Timberwolves fans should know that they will hear from their newest addition.

OKC’s Adams trying to find comfort level


VIDEO: Steven Adams talks about his performance so far in Orlando

ORLANDO — It was a rookie season in which Steven Adams’ crunching elbows and physical play around the basket became well known.

Turns out he’s got a sharp tongue for trash talk as well.

When Willie Reed of the Pacers used two hands on his back to try to keep him from burrowing down into the lane, the Thunder big man turned with the best zinger so far in the Orlando Pro Summer League.

“Hey, you won’t be able to do that in the D-League,” Adams said.

The 7-foot wise-cracking New Zealander scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and turned the ball over five times in game three of the project to turn him into more of an offensive weapon in Oklahoma City.

Nobody is going to confuse him for Shaquille O’Neal or even a lumbering, aging Jermaine O’Neal at this point. But it’s been acknowledged all along that Adams is a project.

“We want to see Steven being able get the ball in the low post more and creating from there,” said Thunder assistant Darko Rajakovic, who is running the summer league bench. “He showed a couple of really good passes from the low post and a couple of pretty good moves and we have to be happy with that. It’s something that is adding to his game and is going to be an emphasis for the rest of the summer.”

Adams averaged 3.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game as a rookie and the idea is to finally get some offensive production out of the middle of the Thunder lineup where Kendrick Perkins has barely registered a blip for years.

But while there’s every reason to believe that Adams can be that inside game to balance the perimeter play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, right now it all comes down to getting him to embrace the role.

“I’m still a newb(ie), bro,” Adams said. “It’s getting better from when I started. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of reading my man and what I can do. They had that big 19 (6-foot-9, 275-pound Arinze Onuaku), who’s huge. I tried to back him down and got it stripped out. So I said, OK, I should use my speed against him. Just different reads like that.

“I’ve got to get comfortable with it and try to get more confident in getting the ball. Right now, I’m quite far away. I ain’t quite as demanding. It could be an option next year, but I’m not sure.

“If I was more confident with my moves, I’d be more demanding because I’d know I’d be able to score straightaway. That’s what I’m trying to get to from there.”

Through three games, Adams is averaging 9.3 points and shooting 9-for-15 from the field. More troublesome are his antics at the foul line, where he’s made just 11 of 23 (47.8 percent).

“Free throws, bro,” he said. “Free throws. Free throws. I’m working on that.

“I haven’t put up anything over the summer. We had a two-week break and I got advice to do nothing. At the end of the (NBA) season it was like, ‘He sucks at free throws.’ Now it’s ‘Oh my God. It’s rubbish.’ So I’ve got to get back to just sucking at free throws and we’ll go from there.”

Morning Shootaround — July 8


VIDEO: Kevin Ding of BleacherReport.com talks about where Carmelo Anthony may go next

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Riley not sweating a Big Three departure | Houston may be Bosh’s best fit | Report: Celtics still angling for Love | Reports: Westbrook withdraws from Team USA

No. 1: Riley confident Big Three are returning– Yesterday, the Heat agreed to deals with free agents Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger in moves that — as our David Aldridge reported — that are seen by some as ones to help assure LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh they’ll have more help in Miami. USA Today‘s Jeff Zillgitt and Sam Amick echo that sentiment and report that Heat president Pat Riley isn’t sweating the departure of any of his Big Three:

Seven days into free agency, Miami Heat President Pat Riley made his first roster moves to show LeBron James why he should stick around.

This much is clear: Riley is confident James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will return, according to people who have had phone conversations with Riley in the last week. The people spoke to USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the conversations.

Of course, Riley’s confidence doesn’t guarantee anything. But right now, he isn’t scrambling.

Reaching deals with forwards Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger is step one in making the necessary roster additions to improve the Heat. At the very least, Riley has tangible evidence to show James when they meet in the next couple of days to discuss the future. He is letting him know the Heat will spend what is required, including top dollar on Bosh, to win another title after two in four years together.

In the big picture, the Granger and McRoberts agreements give Riley room to present James with a couple of different spending options, including the ability to give Bosh a big contract, too.

The Heat got longer, more athletic and younger with the two deals, which can’t be signed until the free agent moratorium ends Thursday. July 10. McRoberts and Granger are fine complementary pieces.

McRoberts is 27 and coming off one of his best seasons at 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game for the Charlotte Bobcats. He gives the Heat another big man who can pass, rebound and play inside or outside. Last season, Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said McRoberts was one of the three major reasons for the team’s turnaround.

Splitting time between the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers last season, Granger had his moments but wasn’t close to All-Star form. But the Heat don’t need him to be an All-Star. They need him to be an upgrade off the bench.


VIDEO: NBA TV’s crew discusses the Heat reaching deals with Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts

(more…)

Hawks snag Sefolosha on 3-year deal


VIDEO: Thabo Sefolosha is a defensive wiz and the ultimate system guy for the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Some of Danny Ferry‘s best work as general manager of the Hawks has come during these summer months, when many of his colleagues are spending lavishly for players Ferry is busy bargain hunting for players who perfectly fit the Atlanta Hawks’ system.

Ferry might have found his latest gem in defensive wiz Thabo Sefolosha, who agreed to terms on a 3-year, $12 million deal earlier today, as first reported by RealGM.

Sefolosha, a starter in Oklahoma City the last five seasons, fills the void on the wings for the Hawks, who traded veteran reserve guard Lou Williams to Toronto earlier this week.  Sefolosha averaged 6.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 61 starts last season and served as Thunder’s defensive ace on opposing team’s best perimeter player.

The Hawks proved last year, their first under coach Mike Budenholzer, that they could plug different players into their system and get fantastic results. Paul Millsap earned his first All-Star nod in his first season with the Hawks while guys like DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott, Pero Antic and Shelvin Mack had standout seasons. 

Sefolosha was a mainstay in that Thunder lineup during that franchise’s rise from lottery outfit to legitimate contender, working alongside the reigning KIA MVP Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.

The Hawks have an offensive specialist on the perimeter in veteran shooter Kyle Korver. Sefolosha gives them kindred spirit on the defensive side and a player versatile enough to fit into whatever small-ball, Spurs-lite scheme Budenholzer has in mind for the future.

Once again, Ferry is loading the cupboard with great fits at reasonable prices, the same as he did last summer when the Hawks were flush with cap space and spent wisely (if at all).

OKC shopping should start with Carter

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The aging Vince Carter still has enough in his tank to put a contender over.

The aging Vince Carter has enough in his tank to give a title contender a significant boost.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the free agency clock ticks down, the spotlight is shining brightest on Miami’s Big Three, on Carmelo Anthony‘s decision and on the Lakers’ wishful pursuit of a superstar (or two).

And then there’s that little ole team on the Oklahoma prairie that no one’s talking about. The one with the league MVP, the All-Star point guard and the game’s fiercest shot blocker. The one that’s played in three Western Conference finals in the last four years and if not for key injuries in these last two postseasons might have built upon its lone NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

The one that’s missing one final piece.

Oklahoma City Thunder enter free agency, not as big spenders and not needing much, but with a silver bullet in-hand (the full mid-level exception worth $5.3 million) and a specific target: A hired gun.

Signing a veteran knock-down 3-point shooter is crucial for this franchise on the doorstep. A Big Three of sorts that specializes in the long ball is set to hit the open market at the stroke of midnight: Vince Carter, Mike Miller and Mo Williams.

The 37-year-old Carter arguably stands as the most intriguing of the three, a reformed skywalker as he beats back Father Time and now a dead-eye 3-point shooter who has been called the league’s best bargain and most underpaid player during his three seasons with Dallas.

Carter, who has hit 40 percent of his 3s in the last two seasons with Dallas, and averaged 11.9 ppg last season, has stated his desire to remain with the Mavs, and Dallas wants him back. But Carter will also be pursued by a handful of contenders and teams on the verge of contending. A league source indicated that Oklahoma City, Miami, Toronto and Portland will give Dallas competition for Carter’s services.

Any one of those three free agents would be a boon to the Thunder’s second unit and each could play a key role spacing the floor and splashing open 3s while on the floor with league MVP Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, who was headed to a fourth consecutive All-Star berth until another knee surgery forced him out just after Christmas.

The Thunder’s core — Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — is obviously set and they rely heavily on drafting and player development to fill key roles. Reggie Jackson has emerged as a terrific reserve point guard. Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb could potentially move into the starting lineup next season. The Kendrick Perkins problem was lessened last season with the emergence of 7-foot rookie center Steven Adams.

However, the 3-point shooting issue remains. Thabo Sefolosha lost his touch from the deep all season and specifically in the postseason. The Thunder’s defensive-minded starter the last five seasons is now a free agent, and will likely move on. Veteran small forward Caron Butler, an early March addition, shot poorly in the postseason and he, too, will likely be headed elsewhere. Jackson, although an improving 3-point shooter, was still just 33.9 percent last season. And Lamb, at 35.6 percent, struggled in the season’s second half and lost his job to Butler.

OKC does believe it could find in-house help from second-year stretch-4 Grant Jerrett, a 2013 second-round draft pick, who shot 36.4 percent from deep for the Thunder’s D-League affiliate in Tulsa, Okla. But the 6-foot-10 project out of Arizona didn’t play a minute for the big club once he was signed in April.

The 6-foot-8 Miller almost signed with OKC last summer after Miami used the amnesty clause to set him free, but he ultimately returned to Memphis, which finished last in the league in 3-point attempts per game. So he might relish a chance to play with two superstars in an offense that will guarantee him more looks.

Williams, who opted out of his final year in Portland at $2.8 million, is a terrific shooter and can switch between the 1 and 2. He lacks the size of the other two, but was a big part of the Portland’s surge last season.

Other free-agent candidates include Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, P.J. Tucker, Josh McRoberts and C.J. Miles.

Here’s a look at my top three:

 

Vince Carter 

Age: 37 (Jan. 26)

2013-14 salary: $3.18 million

2013-14 stats: 81 games; 24.4 mpg; 11.9 ppg; 3.5 rpg; 2.6 apg; 40.7 FG%; 39.4 3FG%

Pros: Has adjusted his game with his age to become a knock-down 3-point shooter — and he can still get to the rim more often than expected; a solid locker-room leader for a young team that probably grew up watching him in dunk contests; and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has consistently lauded his defensive effort.

Cons: He’s prone to forcing too many contested jumpers; at some point the body is going to give out and Carter, although extremely well-conditioned, does turn 38 during the season.

 

Mike Miller

Age: 34 (Feb. 19)

2013-14 salary: $884,293 million (owed $12.8 million by Heat for 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons)

2013-14 stats: 82 games; 20.8 mpg; 7.1 ppg; 2.5 rpg; 1.6 apg; 48.1 FG%; 45.9 3FG%

Pros: Still a deadly 3-point shooter as Thunder fans can attest during the first round as they gasped in fear every time he lined up from the top of the arc; Just being on the floor would space it better than with any combination OKC put on the court last season.

Cons: He’s been susceptible to back issues, but he stayed healthy last season and played in all 82 games while still logging 20 minutes a game. He’s risky, but as just a threat to make 3s, is worth it.

 

Mo Williams

Age: 31 (Dec. 19)

2013-14 salary: $2.8 million

2013-14 stats: 74 games; 24.8 mpg; 9.7 ppg; 2.1 rpg; 4.3 apg; 41.7 FG%; 36.9 3FG%

Pros: He’s acknowledged he’s on the back portion of his career, so he knows his rightful place is coming off the bench and sparking a team with instant offense — exactly what the Thunder needs; can play the 1 and 2, and is a good passer.

Cons: His size could be a detriment since the Thunder are likely to let the 6-foot-5 Sefolosha walk in free agency and already have the 6-foot-3 Jackson likely coming off the bench. If Lamb proves he’s not ready to be a starter, OKC could prefer a two-guard with more size.

Lamb, OKC’s rare 1st-rounder it didn’t select, needs to shine

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeremy Lamb addresses the media during his exit interview

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Oklahoma City Thunder have built a reputation as smart talent evaluators, having built a perennial contender on both lottery and late first-round draft picks. For now they hold onto the No. 21 and No. 29 picks in tonight’s NBA Draft.

That could change as the day progresses as plenty of teams without first-round picks want in on this deep and talented pool of players.

For the Thunder, the first-round pick they’re eager to see succeed is the rare one they didn’t select. Jeremy Lamb, the lanky, 6-foot-5 shooting guard with the sleepy eyes, was taken 12th overall in 2012 by the Houston Rockets. He came to OKC before he ever put on Rockets red as part of the James Harden trade prior to the 2012-13 season.

Now Lamb, 22, has the opportunity to be a significant, if not transformational, player for a Thunder team that desperately needs a strong perimeter shooter.

On a team-friendly deal for the next three seasons, Lamb has the size, speed and length to be a nuisance defensively, although last season he was largely a liability on that end. He got off to a solid start offensively (he shot 35.6 percent from beyond the arc), but his production started to tail off in the second half of the season and once the Thunder acquired veteran small forward Caron Butler off waivers in early March, Lamb lost his spot in the rotation.

Butler, 34, will be seeking employment elsewhere next week, and so could free-agent-to-be Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder’s defensive-minded starting shooting guard for the last five seasons. But as Sefolosha lost his ability to can corner 3s in the postseason, he was benched in the first round against Memphis and in the West finals against the Spurs. He was not a part of the rotation in OKC’s final four West finals games.

There have also been persistent rumors since last season’s trade deadline that OKC is interested in trading for 6-foot-5 New York Knicks shooting guard Iman Shumpert.

The cost-conscious Thunder are never big players in free agency. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka locked into eight-figure contracts, there simply isn’t space to squeeze in an impactful free agent, and the cost-conscious franchise has no plans to venture into the luxury tax.

It puts the onus on player development, an area OKC prides itself, and rightly so. Players such as Durant (2nd overall), Westbrook (4th), Ibaka (24th), Harden (3rd), Reggie Jackson (24th) and Steven Adams (12th) all made significant strides after being drafted by the Thunder.

They believe Lamb, entering his third season, can also make a significant leap — whether that means winning a starting job or coming off the bench as the seventh man.

“He didn’t play much at all his first year; he had a pretty good second year,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said during the team’s exit interviews following the West finals. “We’re going to challenge him to continue to get better. He has the ability to be a really terrific offensive player. Defensively we’re going to have to continue to develop that part of his game. As he puts work into his body to get stronger, he’s going to be able to be a much better player.”

Jackson, a 6-foot-3 point guard, assumed the starting shooting guard spot upon Sefolosha’s West finals benching. While the Thunder had success with the lineup, both Brooks and Westbrook seemed only lukewarm when asked if a Westbrook-Jackson starting backcourt is optimal for next season. Coming off the bench, Jackson could compete for Sixth Man of the Year honors.

OKC also has Andre Roberson heading into his second season. He started 16 games as a rookie during Westbrook’s injury absence. He’s a solid defender, but lacks a jump shot. Lamb has the shot, but must improve defensively.

“It’s a player I feel confident going forward with,” Brooks said of Lamb. “I like what he does. His future is very bright with the work that he puts in.”

On LeBron opt-out, KD says back off

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant believes friend and rival LeBron James made the only prudent move he could by exercising the early termination option in his contract earlier this week.

“I don’t know what the big deal is,” Durant said Wednesday at a Washington D.C. event promoting the release of his new Nike shoes, the KD7.  “As a player, I think that’s the best way to go about it. You have all your options. It’s better for you as a player to opt out. You can get a bigger deal, get more years, you never know what happens. If you opt in, you pass up on that. I didn’t know what the big deal was. I’m sure it was a decision that he made, something that he was thinking about for him and his family.”

We don’t know with which team or co-star James, who opted out of the final two years and nearly $43 million on his Miami Heat contract, will prefer in the coming weeks. Could it be Miami and a return of the Big Three? Cleveland and Kyrie Irving? Chicago and Derrick Rose or, maybe, L.A. and Kobe Bryant? But we do know which team and with whom he won’t — the Thunder and Durant.

Durant has two more years remaining on his contract in Oklahoma City and the cost-conscious Thunder and have no room to add a player of James’ stature. Interestingly, when Durant signed his five-year deal in 2010, he specifically did not request an early opt-out. He wanted to fulfill the full five-year obligation.

But he said players who do choose to exercise their contractual right to opt out and look at opportunities elsewhere, or even switch teams, should not be subject to criticism. For instance, a billboard recently put up in San Antonio reads: “LOYALTY > ROYALTY”. The “O” in LOYALTY is the face of Spurs star Tim Duncan, who has spent his entire 17-year career with the franchise and just won his fifth championship. The “O” in ROYALTY is the face of James.

“He switched teams; he’s not the first guy to do it,” Durant said. “He decided to opt out; he’s not the first guy to do it. Sometimes a lot of people criticize him a little bit too much for doing normal things, doing stuff that everybody has done. [Even] Tim Duncan went into free agency before. He got courted by quite a few teams. We’ll see what happens with me, but everybody’s done the same thing. He’s not the first.”

Durant’s free agency already has front offices around the league planning ways to create cap space to offer the 2014 league MVP a max contract in the summer of 2016. If the Thunder captures a championship before then, it would seemingly greatly increase the odds that Durant would stay in OKC.

However, if the Thunder continue to fall short, it could force Durant, who will have completed his ninth year in the league and will have turned 27, took look around. OKC advanced to its third Western Conference finals in three years. Key injuries have plagued it the last two seasons. Point guard Russell Westbrook injured his knee in the 2013 first round and missed the remainder of the playoffs. The Thunder lost in the West semifinals.

This season, power forward and defensive anchor Serge Ibaka sustained a calf strain and missed the first two games of the West finals against the Spurs. He played through pain for the final four games of the series, but he was far from healthy.

“Being MVP and all that stuff is cool, but I have bigger goals in mind, bigger team goals,” said Durant, who recently got a tattoo on his right calf of a what looks to be a fearsome-looking saber-toothed tiger on the prowl. “I think just working on every aspect of my game and bringing it back to my group is what I’m most excited about. And I have a lot of work to do.”

Beasley says season in the background has changed him for the better

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6

Michael Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. (NBAE via Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO – The Miami Heat’s main characters had taken their spots for media day at AT&T Center on the eve of the NBA Finals. Stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade entertained in the interview room. Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and other key cogs answered questions from behind podiums spaced around the perimeter of the floor.

Then there were the others, plopped down in the front row of seats along the corner of the court, just outside the sphere of the media’s interest. It was a fitting foursome: Greg Oden then Chris “Birdman” Andersen then Rashard Lewis then Michael Beasley. All four had signed with Miami within the last two seasons, eager to join LeBron and D-Wade for a championship ride, but also to seek a resurrection of sorts for careers that veered in different directions for differing reasons.

Only Beasley, the troubled, 25-year-old forward, sought something deeper: Salvation.

“I’ve seen him grow immensely, maturity‑wise, as a pro, on and off the court,” said Erik Spoelstra, the Heat’s rookie coach in 2008 when they drafted the 19-year-old Beasley No. 2 overall. “It’s really been ‑‑ it’s been cool to see.”

Even so, if judging solely by how Spoelstra has used him, it’s fair to wonder if Beasley, his disappointing career already dwindling by a thread, has failed in his pursuit. Some may have even forgotten he plays for the Heat. Few players are perceived so negatively by fans and media alike, with much of the scrutiny coming by way of his own missteps; a self-destructive path of poor decisions off the court and a sliding, seemingly increasingly lazy effort on it through his first five seasons spent with three teams.

Yet despite never realizing a rotation niche this season, and being inactive more often than not during the postseason, Beasley is adamant that this second stint with Miami has served as a vessel for personal growth.

“I’ve learned a lot, not just from LeBron and Dwyane, but from Rashard, Udonis [Haslem], Birdman and Ray, a team full of veterans, a team full of future Hall of Famers,” Beasley told NBA.com from his front-row seat little more than a week ago. “Definitely a great move for my career, more on the mental side of things. I’ve learned a lot: How to do things the right way, how to have fun the right way, not to sweat the small stuff.

“I’ve worked. The thing I’ve learned above all else is how to win, what it takes to win, the attitude and dedication to work. You get tired, but once you get used to it, it’s like your body needs it.”

Those are words that might pique the interest of skeptical general managers as Beasley becomes an unrestricted free agent next month. Last summer, after an underwhelming first season in Phoenix, the Suns bought him out of his remaining two years and $12 million as legal issues swirled around him. It followed a flame-out with Minnesota, the team Miami traded him to for a couple of second-round picks two seasons after drafting him one spot behind Chicago’s Derrick Rose and ahead of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.

After the Suns cut ties, Beasley signed a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract with the two-time champion Heat, a team with established leaders and where Beasley believed he would be afforded the chance to reset his career, and his life, while removed from the daily pressures of the spotlight.

“Who doesn’t have a past? Who doesn’t have skeletons?” Beasley said. “It’s just my skeletons are in the open, not in the closet. So have I been unfairly portrayed? I can say yes, I can say no. Did I bring it on myself? Most definitely. But it’s the growing process in life, maturing, a grown boy turning into a young man.”

Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. He’s played a total of seven minutes in three games. During the regular season, he appeared in a career-low 55 games and averaged career-lows in points (7.9), rebounds (3.1) and minutes (15.1).

Yet, Beasley said: “Honestly, this season has flown by faster than any other I’ve been in. I don’t know why, I don’t know how. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.”

The Heat had no fun in Games 3 and 4 in Miami and now head back to San Antonio for Sunday’s Game 5 in the unenviable position of trailing 3-1. After Game 4, Spoelstra was asked if Beasley could be an option in Game 5 to provide some much-needed scoring punch. While his playing time was sporadic, Beasley did record a career-high shooting percentage of 49.9 percent and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a better mark than only his rookie season.

Spoelstra didn’t give a direct answer, and in an indication as to how Beasley is still perceived, the questioner was roasted on Twitter by fans and also media covering The Finals for having even broached the subject.

“I shouldn’t say no. I do, but I’m not going to stress over it,” Beasley said when asked if he cares more now how others view him. “People who know me, my family, my kids, my closest friends, they know me. I’m not trying to get everybody to know that I’m a good guy, a great guy or whatever. At this point I’m just focused on playing basketball.”

Beasley has worked closely with Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard. Unlike past seasons, Beasley is said to arrive early for practice and stays late, cues he said he immediately gleaned from the team’s veterans. He is said to listen intently to coaches and teammates, and he hasn’t uttered a peep about being limited to an end-of-bench role.

He even pays more attention to nutrition when in the past a pregame meal of chicken strips and french fries from the concession stand would do.

“Everything that we’ve discussed privately, everything that we’ve been working on individually and also with other coaches, he’s been grasping it, and he’s been enjoying it and working hard at it,” Howard said. “That right there, that’s how I judge Michael.”

After he signed with the Heat, Beasley hired a new agent. Beasley said he is solely focused on finishing out this season and declined to answer if he’d be willing to sign a deal similar to his current one to remain with the Heat. His agent, Jared Karnes, said there have been no discussions yet with Miami president Pat Riley.

Beasley did make one declarative statement: He will be sticking around in the NBA.

“Definitely,” Beasley said. “There’s still some immaturity about me, but that’s what keeps it light. I’m a goofy, fun-loving guy, I like to think so myself anyway. But you’re definitely going to see a different me.”

It’s up to Beasley to make believers.