Posts Tagged ‘Ryan Hollins’

Morning Shootaround — September 7


VIDEO: FIBA World Cup: Round of 16, Day 1 Wrap

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA routs Mexico | Spain keeps rolling | No Parker, no problem | Melo wants to be the ‘digital athlete’

No. 1: Curry lifts U.S. into quartersStephen Curry finally found the hot hand and blistered Mexico from deep, scoring 20 points and leading Team USA to an easy win and a spot in the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith was there:

Curry got hot early and really cranked it up during the third quarter of Saturday’s 86-63 blowout of Mexico, leading the U.S. National Team with 20 points as they made their first game of the elimination round of this competition look a lot like one of their pool play romps.

After watching U.S. big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried lead the way to the Round of 16, Curry went off against Mexico. He scored 11 of his points in a flash after halftime as the U.S. went into overdrive.

“That’s who he is,” U.S. swingman DeMar DeRozan said. “He’s one of the greatest shooters in the game. And when he gets going, it’s lights out.”

Curry shot 6-for-9 from deep and added four assists and three rebounds. Klay Thompson added 15 points, James Harden 12, DeMarcus Cousins 11 and Rudy Gay 10.

The U.S. moves on to the quarterfinals, having won their 60th straight game in World Cup/World Championship/Olympic and international exhibition competition. They will face the winner of Saturday’s Slovenia-Dominican Republic game on Tuesday.

***

No. 2: Spain stays on collision course with U.S. — Senegal kept it close in the first half, but Spain’s superior players took charge in the second half. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann is in Madrid:

Spain’s 89-56 victory was a foregone conclusion from the tip and never got very interesting. But Senegal did keep the game within single digits for most of the first half and may have exposed a couple of issues for what has been the best team in the tournament.

The Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, have been mostly terrific over the eight days. But they had some trouble keeping Senegal’s bouncy bigs off the offensive glass in the first half. The only African team that made it through to the knockout rounds grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, with Spain securing only 13 of their opponents’ 26 missed shots and free throws.

“They’re a long team and they crash the boards,” Pau Gasol said afterward. “They chased their rebounds well and they gave themselves opportunities.”

Senegal converted all those second chances into only four points. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament, lacked size in the backcourt and didn’t get much from the Timberwolves’ Gorgui Dieng on Saturday. He shot 1-for-9 and scored just six points. Dieng and his countrymen were a feel-good story in Group B, but were also the worst team that got through to the round of 16.

The U.S. is obviously a lot more skilled. And they have as athletic a frontline as anybody, starting Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis at the four and five. The U.S. was the fifth best offensive rebounding team in group play.

***

No. 3: Evan Fournier lifts France — The French, the reigning European champions, don’t have Tony Parker in the World Cup, so any lift they can get from Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier is welcome. He shook off a slow start to the tournament to carry France over Croatia and into the quarterfinals. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was there:

Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn was in Granada for the first three days of Group A games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Vaughn was there to watch and support France’s Evan Fournier, whom the Magic acquired from the Denver Nuggets in June.

Vaughn almost went without seeing Fournier make a shot. As the fifth guard in France’s rotation, the 21-year-old didn’t see much playing time and missed his first seven shots of the tournament before hitting an open, 15-foot jumper late in the first half of France’s third game, an easy win over Egypt.

Fast forward a week and Fournier was playing a big role in France’s 69-64, round-of-16 victory over Croatia, lifting les Bleus into the quarterfinals, where they will likely meet tourney favorite Spain.

With France struggling offensively (to put it lightly) and down 15-7 after the first quarter, Fournier began the second period on the floor. He missed his first couple of shots, but scored seven of France’s 16 points in the period, helping les Bleus take a one-point lead at halftime.

At that point, Fournier jumped a couple of more spots in the French guard rotation, starting the second half. Midway through the third quarter, he pushed France’s lead from four to 10 with a personal 10-0 run, which included his second fast-break and-one of the game.

France’s defense did its part through the first three quarters, holding Croatia to just 19 points on 8-for-32 shooting over the second and third. Croatia found something in the fourth with Ante Tomic dominating the smaller French bigs in the post and Bojan Bogdanovic hitting some big shots on his way to a game-high 27 points. But their comeback fell short when Bogdanovic’s pull-up three did the same with 20 seconds left.

Fournier finished with 13 points and four rebounds, and was a game-high plus-16 in 19:29. Afterward, he looked back at that first bucket against Egypt as a key moment.

“It was a big moment for me,” Fournier said, “just to watch the ball get inside the rim, get my rhythm going, because I was missing easy shots, open shots.”

***

No. 4: Carmelo’s off-court dreams and on-court plans to retire as a KnickCarmelo Anthony, with the help of a business partner, launched Melo7 Tech Partners this summer. The company invests in startup firms specializing in digital media, Internet consumer ventures and technology-based operations. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports on Melo’s ambitions:

“I want to brand myself as the digital athlete,” Anthony said Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in Manhattan. “Nobody really took that place. There’ve been athletes that came before me that were doing what I’m doing and there are going to be people after me that are doing what I’m doing.

“But I really want to be the pioneer for that digital athlete, and when it comes to tech I want to be the face of that space,” said Anthony, noting the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and David Beckham became known worldwide for their business ventures.

But none is known as the guy for the Digital Age. Anthony nominates himself.

“At the end of the day, we all know what’s my day job: basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s what my brand is built on, but I’m trying to take my brand to the next level, make it bigger, make it stronger.”

And there is no better place to start up a venture capital firm than New York, Anthony claimed. So add that — and Phil Jackson — as driving forces behind what kept him with the Knicks. He signed a five-year, $124 million deal ending his free agency adventure.

It was a process, Anthony stressed, that he never wants to go through again. He did five years, not two like LeBron James.

Yes, Anthony might make more in two years. He gave up about $5 million (“relative to the contract I got, it’s not a lot of money,” Anthony admitted) in staying with the Knicks. And he wants to stay put.

“I plan on ending my career here, so it wasn’t for me to go out there and try to strike a two-year deal and then have to go through this situation in two years. I’m not doing that ever again. I would never do that again. I would advise no one to ever do that,” Anthony said. “I experienced it and it’s behind me.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says everyone needs to take a step back on Derrick RoseHeat meet with center Ryan HollinsKings part ways with Jeremy TylerJared Dudley said knee pain hampered him last season with ClippersGustavo Ayon prefers to play in NBA over Europe next season.

Clips’ Hopes Of Contending Depends On Defense Of Jordan, Griffin

.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Clippers, a team that won 17 straight games and finished with the league’s fifth-best record last season, made some upgrades this summer in an effort to turn themselves into true title contenders.

On the bench, Vinny Del Negro was replaced by Doc Rivers. And in the starting lineup, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler were replaced by J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.

But if the Clippers are to compete for a championship this season, they will need improvement from within, specifically with starting big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who will need to make up for some lost defense on the bench.

L.A.’s bench delivered

One thing that gets overlooked in the Clippers’ rehaul is that they had an excellent second unit last season. Their starters were terrific, but they suffered little drop-off when they went to their bench.

Clippers efficiency, 2012-13

Lineups MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
*Starting lineups 982 91.9 112.8 103.4 +9.5 +181
Other lineups 2,960 94.2 106.0 100.2 +5.8 +348
Total 3,942 93.7 107.7 101.0 +6.7 +529

* Paul, Butler, Griffin, Jordan and either Billups or Green
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Clippers’ starting unit was ridiculously good offensively, but slightly below average defensively. And though their bench struggled to score (it basically depended on Jamal Crawford‘s one-on-one ability), it still built on leads because it was so good on D.

In general, bench units are going to be better defensively than starting units because they’re going against other reserves. But the Clippers’ second most used lineup in the regular season, comprised of all reserves, was the third-best defensive unit in the league (minimum of 200 minutes played).

Three members of that unit are gone. Eric Bledsoe is in Phoenix, Ronny Turiaf is in Minnesota, and Lamar Odom is in NBA limbo as he deals with whatever off-court issues he has.

The importance of Odom

Here’s the thing about Odom last season. He was a disaster offensively (and was the season before that), but was a big part of the Clippers’ defensive improvement. L.A. went from 20th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to ninth last season. Their bench — particularly the big men — provided the strongest D.

In 821 minutes with Odom on the floor with either Turiaf or Ryan Hollins, the Clips allowed less than 91 points per 100 possessions. That’s elite defense no matter who the opponent is. No two-man combination in the league that played at least 450 minutes together had a lower on-court DefRtg than Odom and Turiaf.

On-court efficiency, Clippers big man combinations (min. 100 minutes)

Combination GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Griffin + Jordan 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Griffin + Odom 66 502 105.7 97.9 +7.8 +114
Odom + Turiaf 53 479 100.0 91.0 +9.0 +56
Odom + Hollins 41 343 111.4 90.8 +20.6 +118
Odom + Jordan 34 166 99.3 104.6 -5.3 -16
Turiaf + Hollins 32 148 85.6 104.7 -19.1 -45
Griffin + Hollins 26 133 106.1 111.5 -5.4 -13

Why Jordan, Griffin must improve

The Clippers’ starting lineup — with Willie Green at the two — was one of the best offensive lineups in the league. Although Jordan can’t shoot at all and Griffin’s mid-range jumper still needs work, that unit scored at a rate better than the Heat’s No. 1 offense. No lineup that was on the floor for nearly as much time scored as efficiently, and great offense can make up for mediocre defense, especially in the regular season.

But there are reasons why Griffin and Jordan need to get better defensively …

1. In the postseason, it’s better to be a great defensive team than a great offensive team. Over the last 12 seasons, 23 of the 24 teams that have reached The Finals have ranked in the top 10 defensively and 15 of the 24 have ranked in the top five defensively. Only 17 of the 24 have ranked in the top 10 offensively and only eight of the 24 have ranked in the top five offensively.

2. Odom and Turiaf have been replaced by Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens, two defensive liabilities (to put it lightly). The Clips’ bench won’t be nearly as good defensively as it was last season. If L.A. wants to remain in the top 10 on that end of the floor, the starters must make up for the drop-off.

3. The Clippers were just awful defensively in the playoffs, allowing the Grizzlies — who ranked 18th offensively in the regular season — to score almost 110 points per 100 possessions over six games. The only team that was worse defensively last postseason was the short-handed Lakers, who got trounced by San Antonio.

How Memphis exposed L.A.’s bigs

The problems in that series started with the Clippers’ inability to force turnovers and continued with their inability to keep the Grizzlies off the foul line.

Clippers defense, 2012-13

Season Opp2PT% Rank Opp3PT% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank OppFTA Rate Rank
Reg. sea. 46.8% 6 37.3% 26 73.5% 15 17.2% 1 .306 29
Playoffs 48.5% 9 32.5% 5 73.3% 12 11.3% 15 .451 16

DREB% = Percentage of defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Though it was a slow-paced series, the Grizzlies — a team not known for getting to the line — attempted over 34 free throws per game, 13 more than they averaged in the regular season. They shot better than 50 percent from the field in two of their wins, but 38 trips to the line in allowed them to be nearly as efficient in Game 3, when they shot just 39 percent.

All five L.A. bigs averaged at least six fouls per 48 minutes in the series, with Hollins and Turiaf totaling an incredible 24 fouls in just 96 minutes. Griffin fouled out of Game 1 and committed five fouls in Game 3. Jordan had three fouls in just 17 minutes in that same Game 3.

The combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is a tough matchup for any frontline. But the Clipper bigs got worked over, especially in the post …



Where Jordan and Griffin can improve

Griffin and Jordan aren’t terrible defenders. They both rank as “very good” on pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy Sports Technology. And when it came to rotations and team defense, Butler was a bigger liability in that starting lineup. L.A. was better defensively with Barnes at small forward with the other starters.

But the bigs aren’t great and their defensive focus and energy comes and goes. When guarding a big who faces up in the post, they often fail to contest his jumper or bite on his pump fake. And though they might contain an initial pick-and-roll, they don’t necessarily bring the second and third efforts needed against an offense that knows how to execute …


Both Odom and Turiaf ranked higher on pick-and-roll D and on post defense, where Griffin and Jordan rated as just “good” by Synergy in the regular season … and “poor” in the playoffs. The Grizzlies scored 69 points on 61 post-ups against the pair over the six games.

Overall, the Griffin-Jordan combo just didn’t measure up defensively to the big man pairings on other Western Conference contenders …

On-court efficiency, starting bigs, West playoff teams

Combination (Team) GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Duncan + Splitter (SAS) 60 819 106.0 92.7 +13.3 +208
Randolph + Gasol (MEM) 74 1,923 102.6 95.5 +7.1 +322
Ibaka + Perkins (OKC) 76 1,721 109.8 98.0 +11.8 +349
Faried + Koufos (DEN) 79 1,235 106.7 101.9 +4.8 +126
Bogut + Lee (GSW) 31 720 106.7 103.0 +3.7 +50
Griffin + Jordan (LAC) 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Gasol + Howard (LAL) 46 994 103.5 104.2 -0.7 -19
Patterson + Asik (HOU) 46 797 108.3 104.8 +3.6 +78

The Clippers will again be competing with the Spurs, Thunder and Grizzlies, three teams with bigs they can count on defensively. The Rockets have (a healthier) Dwight Howard and the Warriors could have a healthy Andrew Bogut.

Rivers was the coach of the league’s best defensive team of the last six seasons, and this team will likely be the best offensive one he’s ever led. But he’s not bringing Kevin Garnett with him from Boston.

The tools are there for Griffin and Jordan to improve. They have as much athleticism and mobility as any frontline in the league. But it takes a lot more than that to be an elite defender.

Jordan spoke about being a better communicator earlier this summer, and that’s a step in the right direction. But discipline, focus and sustained effort must also be priorities.

The Clips don’t need either guy to turn into Garnett. But if they’re to be included as one of the West teams that could be in The Finals next June, their starting bigs need to go from good to great defensively … especially since they won’t have as much help from their back-ups.

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

.

Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

.

Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.

INDIANA PACERS

.

Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.

BROOKLYN NETS

.

Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

Open For Business On Free-Agent Sunday



.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – There are still potentially two big fish available in a shrinking free-agent summer pond. And while Sunday saw no concrete offers for either Andrew Bynum or Monta Ellis, the general sentiment is that things could change dramatically at either time for one, if not, both of them.

The Atlanta Hawks and Denver Nuggets are reportedly interested in acquiring Ellis, who can slide into a specific role in either location. The Hawks need to restock their ranks with impact players and Ellis, a legitimate 20-point scorer, could add immediate punch at shooting guard. Denver has a hole to fill where Andre Iguodala worked last season and Ellis could also be a fit there.

The market for Bynum’s services seems to have taken a familiar turn in this wild free-agent summer, and that’s to Texas, where the Dallas Mavericks are looking for a frontcourt anchor to pair with Dirk Nowitzki. They had their sights on Dwight Howard, of course, but since that didn’t work out they’ve had to work down their list. Now Bynum appears to be in their sights, though they are cautious about his knees, as any team would be at this point.

That said, some folks believe a surprise team could win the Bynum sweepstakes.

This one could get really interesting before it’s all over.

Making things even more intriguing is what will happen with incumbent Rockets center Omer Asik, who reportedly wants no part of playing behind Howard and has asked to be traded. The Rockets have no intention of trading him, according to ESPN.com, making for an extremely intriguing next few days for any team desperate for a center.

Free agency is only a week old but there are already tons of wrinkles. As for the other business that went down Sunday, here are some of the highlights:

g

d

Free Agent Tracker

Bobcats Pay Up To Nab Jefferson

.

From NBA.com staff reports

In a potentially perception-altering move for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, the Charlotte Bobcats reached a verbal agreement Wednesday with one of the most sought-after big men after Dwight Howard, Utah’s Al Jefferson, who agreed to a three-year, $40.5 million deal.

The 28-year-old Jefferson was Charlotte’s top priority in free agency, as the Bobcats sought to finally find a low-post presence that would help their perimeter players get move driving and shooting space.

Jefferson will receive $13.5 million in each of the three seasons of the contract. He will have a player option for the third season.

The Bobcats, according to a source, will amnesty forward Tyrus Thomas in order to create enough cap room to sign Jefferson, who will, along with first-round pick Cody Zeller, give Charlotte a bolstered frontcourt next season, along with second-year small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Last season, Byron Mullens (when healthy) was the de facto starting center for Charlotte, notching 41 starts in 53 games played. But the Bobcats also gave playing time in the middle to second-year big man Bismack Biyombo as well as veterans Thomas, Brendan Haywood, DeSagana Diop and Josh McRoberts.

The Bobcats are finally free of Diop, a monumental bust who played in just 92 games over the past four seasons after Charlotte took him off the Dallas’ Mavericks’ hands, and they did not make a qualifying offer to Mullens, setting the forward-center free.

Haywood and Biyombo, who started 65 games last year and will enter his third season, are both on the books at bargain rates for next season. Charlotte signed Haywood before last season after Dallas used the amnesty clause to release him. He’ll be paid $2.05 million by the Bobcats next season. McRoberts is an unrestricted free agent.

The 6-foot-10, 289-pound Jefferson is a low-post tactician on the offensive end, but he certainly is no Bill Russell on the defensive end. He averaged 17.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 1.1 bpg last season with the Jazz.

Acquired by Utah from Minnesota in a July, 2010 trade, Jefferson could be the kind of acquisition for Charlotte that Vlade Divac was for Sacramento in 1998, when he left the Charlotte Hornets for the Kings in a free agent deal. With Divac aboard and Chris Webber coming from Washington, the Kings turned their up-to-then terrible fortunes around, becoming one of the league’s most exciting teams.

Charlotte has a way to go to get to that level, but Jefferson’s presence will make things easier for everyone. Averaging 16.4 ppg over nine NBA seasons, Jefferson has never shot less than 49.2 percent from the floor. He offers a creative low-post game that utilizes both hands along with an improved jumper.

Now with four centers on the roster for next season, it will be interesting to see Bobcats owner Michael Jordan’s next move is in a possible attempt to thin out the position and seek help elsewhere for the club.

Jordan has been criticized for poor drafts and seeming unwillingness in recent years to spend money, but in signing Jefferson and eating the final two years and $18 million of Thomas’s contract, Jordan is making a significant investment in trying to turn around the Bobcats’ fortunes. They’ve been the worst team in the league the last two years, with a combined 28-120 record, including a 7-59 season in the Lottery-shortened 2011-12 campaign.

Jefferson averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds last season for the Jazz, who could also lose their other free agent big man, Paul Millsap. The two sides met in the opening minutes of free agency on Monday but Utah did not make an offer to Millsap.

NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan and TNT analyst David Aldridge contributed to this report

Superb Sub Crawford Driving Clippers’ Game-Changing Reserves

.

LOS ANGELES – Jamal Crawford spent the first few minutes after Monday morning’s shootaround being as affable as ever while answering questions about the physical nature of the series, adjustments to be made and the importance of protecting home court.

Then came the one topic that visibly soured his mood. His smile disappeared, his shoulders slumped, his voice lowered.

While the Clippers were reviewing Monday night’s Game 2 strategy against the Memphis Grizzlies, the league was announcing New York Knicks gunner J.R. Smith as the Kia Sixth Man of the Year. An award Crawford owned for the first half of the season was swiped by Smith’s late hot streak that corresponded with the Knicks’ late-season 13-game win streak.

“Congrats to J.R.,” Crawford said softly. “You can’t worry about stuff you can’t control.”

It’s uncertain if Crawford was already aware of his fate or was just learning of it. Clearly, though, when it hit his ears, his mind reeled back to late January when the All-Star reserves were announced. Crawford, the 2010 Sixth Man of the Year with Atlanta, had hoped he’d be selected for his first All-Star team in his 13th NBA season. He was not.

“Going back to the All-Star team, I guess twice in a season,” Crawford said of getting the snub. “But congrats to J.R.”

So when Crawford came out on fire in the Los Angeles Clippers’ 93-91 Game 2 win over the Memphis Grizzlies for a 2-0 first-round series lead, it sure seemed like he had come out with a Big Apple-sized chip on his shoulder.

He canned his first six shots and put together an 11-point second quarter that changed the flow of the game and a 13-point first half as the Clippers’ bench again caused all kinds of problems for the Grizzlies.

Crawford led L.A.’s bench with 15 points, plus three steals and a single turnover in 33:30. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, as expected, backed his first-year sixth man who averaged 16.5 points in the regular season, his high mark since taking the Sixth Man award three seasons ago, while shooting 37.6 percent from beyond the arc.

“He’s [third] in the league in fourth-quarter scoring, he’s had 29 20-point-plus games off the bench,” Del Negro said. “He set the franchise record for free throws (58 in a row), set the franchise record for 3-pointers made (149 in the regular season). He’s been a huge catalyst for us all season from Day 1, the whole season, so it’s hard for me to look at it and say that Jamal didn’t deserve that. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving.”

With an All-Star snub in the rearview mirror and now the Sixth Man hardware in Smith’s hands, Crawford still has the biggest prize of all in his sights.

He’s the leader of easily the deepest (and arguably the most dangerous) bench in the league. During the regular season it was just one of four benches to average better than 40 ppg.

In the first two games of the first-round series against the Grizzlies, the Clippers’ bench has been superior and has forced the hand of Memphis coach Lionel Hollins.

In L.A.’s breathtaking 93-91 victory Monday in Game 2, the Clippers’ bench outscored their opponents’ reserves 30-11. In Game 1, Memphis got 19 points from Jerryd Bayless, who played 30 minutes because the Grizz were constantly playing catch-up, and that limited defensive-minded Tony Allen to  just 17 minutes. In that game, L.A.’s Eric Bledsoe went off for 13 points, four assists and six rebounds in the decisive fourth quarter.

Del Negro has pushed all the right buttons so far. In Game 1, he went to little-used power forward Ronny Turiaf instead of Ryan Hollins and it paid off. In Game 2, Crawford accounted for half the scoring, but the Clippers got five assists and 15 rebounds from the bench.

“I have confidence in all of our guys,” Del Negro said. “I have no hesitation putting them in if I feel they can help us.”

And that’s included Lamar Odom throughout the season. Although Odom’s 3-point and free throw shooting has been abysmal, he’s rewarded Del Negro in other ways. He had seven rebounds in Game 1, more than burly big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined. There was his fourth-quarter sequence in Game 2 that included a defensive rebound and long outlet to Matt Barnes, a leaping swat of Randolph and a terrific bounce pass to the slashing Bledsoe for a dunk.

An all-reserve second unit changed the momentum of Game 2 in the second quarter and opened the fourth quarter on an 8-0 to build a double-digit lead.

“With the depth of the Clippers’ bench, we have to match them offensively as well as do a decent job on them defensively,” Hollins said. “But we can’t go out there and not score and give up eight, 10 points in a row. Then they can’t be out there for long as a group.”

And they weren’t. Hollins got all five starters back out there early in the fourth quarter to battle, in a rare occurrence, the Clippers’ five subs.

It’s a predicament the Grizzlies must solve in a hurry.

Del Negro Stays Clear Of Hot Seat

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What the Los Angles Clippers are doing is just as impressive in person as it is from afar. Seriously, do you have any idea how difficult it is in the NBA to win every night with a schedule that is unrelenting and competition that, for the most part, is as tight as you could get on a given night?

The Clippers do and have managed their league-best 17-game win streak masterfully.

Does it mean they’ve arrived among the NBA’s truly elite? We won’t know that for sure until sometime in late April or early May, when this group fights off the pressure in the playoffs and advances without playing their very best. Does it mean they have officially replaced the Los Angeles Lakers as the top hoops draw in their own city? Of course, not. Lakers fans will simply remind you to look up in the rafters at Staples Center and start counting the banners.

But if this streak proves anything at all, it’s that Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has figured out the best way to avoid the dreaded coaching hot seat he seemed to be on every other night when his team wasn’t winning all the time. In fact, he’s rarely been mentioned, good or bad, during the streak. And that’s probably the way he’d like to keep it.

The laws of NBA gravity suggest that this streak will have to end sometime soon. A grueling stretch of schedule that has the Clippers walking on hot coals — in Denver on Tuesday, the Nuggets are 9-1,  in Oakland to face Golden State the next night, and then back in Los Angeles for another round of the City Championship series against the Lakers on Friday, followed the next night by a visit from the Warriors — just to survive the next six days.

It’s certainly doable for a team that went 16-0 this month. But adding four more wins this week against that schedule would be grounds for an investigation into extra-terrestrial assistance for a franchise that has never experienced the kind of hoops high the Clippers are these days.

Which brings us right back to Del Negro, whose navigated this mercurial stretch seamlessly. He’s allowed the Clippers’ entire cast of characters to play their roles to perfection. All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin lead the way, Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan do some of the heavier lifting when they need to, as Butler did in Sunday’s win over the Utah Jazz with 29 points, while the league’s best bench (Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Eric Bledsoe and the boys) continue to crash open close games with their wave on non-stop energy.

You don’t win 17 straight games without someone knowing when to and when not to push, as Crawford told the Orange County Register after No. 17:

“Everybody here has a decent body of work in some way shape or form,” Crawford said. “They’ve proven something somewhere in the NBA. With that is a confidence that a player has, and there are egos involved.”For him to be able to manage that and put people in the right positions and use people to their strengths, he deserves a lot of credit.”

Del Negro has juggled a rotation full of veterans without much drama, but he’s established roles for everyone from Paul to Ryan Hollins.

“Guys get frustrated sometimes not playing as much, but it’s about the team winning games,” Del Negro said.

One thing Del Negro has done is allow players to operate in their areas of strength.

“He just tells me to be me. It’s been awhile since I was told to just be me,” Ronny Turiaf said. “I think it goes back to the Laker days when Phil (Jackson) told me, ‘Ronny, just go out there and play. I trust your basketball I.Q. I trust your basketball knowledge to be able to make plays for us.'”

Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said managing a roster with so many guys who are capable could present challenges down the road.

“It’s difficult. It’s a good and a bad thing to be in,” Corbin said. “Guys want to play, especially good guys who have had great careers and still think they have something to offer. Things are going well so they all want to be a part of it. It’s easier to manage their minutes, when things are going well.”

Said Crawford of Del Negro: “For him to have the pulse of the team and feel the team and the stuff he draws up, he has us believing we can win every single day.”

Do it every single day this week and someone can toss Del Negro’s hot seat into the ocean sometime late Saturday night!

Is Lamar Odom Turning The Corner?


HANGTIME SOUTHWEST –
 It took Lamar Odom deep into his 17th game with the Los Angeles Clippers and some 230 minutes of floor time to finally can his first free throw of the season.

It was a big one, too, an and-one earned on a drive to the bucket in the fourth quarter of Monday’s come-from-behind, 105-104, win at the previously unbeaten-at-home Utah Jazz.

First made free throw of the season? On December 3rd? For a player of Odom’s caliber, some might call it pathetic. In L.A., they call it progress.

The strange life and times of the ever-cryptic Odom continue, only now the Clippers hope they’re seeing signs that the once-versatile forward who once thrived with that other L.A. outfit is coming around.

“He was active,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s starting to get his timing back. It’s going to take some time, but he’s a weapon out there for us and he’s only going to get better with time.”

That’s what the Dallas Mavericks kept thinking, too — that Odom would eventually snap out of his malaise. Yet as they patiently waited for a mostly lethargic and despondent Odom to respond to second, third and fourth chances, Mavs owner Mark Cuban finally reached his limit last April, demanded to know from Odom if he was “all in,” and soon after kicked him off the team.

The Clippers did Cuban a big favor by engaging the Jazz in trade talks just before the June 30 deadline, at which point the Mavs would have had to waive Odom to get rid of him and eat the $2.4 million guaranteed on his $8.2 million salary for this season.

Looking to ease a backcourt logjam, the Clippers sent Mo Williams (and his $8.5 million contract) to the 3-point-shooting-starved Jazz in exchange for a trade exception. The Clippers took in Odom at his full salary, believing a return to L.A. would psychologically land him in a comfort zone and physically invigorate him.

Through one month, the Clips weren’t getting much of a return. Odom has often appeared exhausted after short stints and incapable of aiding any unit Del Negro might include him.

Check out his averages and percentages: 2.2 points, 29.8 percent shooting, 12.5 percent from 3-point range (2-for-16), 33.3 percent from the free throw line (1-for-3), 3.3 rebounds and 13.8 minutes — less court time than only Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf (both of whom combine to make a quarter of Odom’s salary).

And then came Monday night and Odom’s fourth-quarter explosion — five consecutive points, four rebounds and a steal in 6:35. He finished with a season-high seven points and six rebounds, four coming on the offensive glass, where hustle and hard work typically win out.

He tied his season-high of three field goals, also accomplished in the previous game when he scored six points. Get this: Odom’s 13 points in the last two games equals his output over the previous 11 games.

“Slowly but surely, it’s coming,” Odom said after the game. “I’ve just got to keep taking my time. I’m getting better in practice. All I can do is keep plugging away game by game.”

The Mavs heard the same mantra from Odom for four months, and a time or two even believed he was turning a corner. The Clippers are thinking the same way the Mavs did: a 6-foot-10 forward with a ball-handling skills and 3-point range who can score inside would be a rare and valuable bench commodity.

Cuban and the Mavs are next to get an up-close look at Odom when they visit the Clippers on Wednesday night on ESPN.

So, just as we did at the conclusion of each episode of the now-postponed “Khloe & Lamar,”  we breathlessly what to see what will happen next.

Clippers Ready For Lakers, Season


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –
Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has a decidedly different approach to preseason basketball than his Los Angeles Lakers’ counterpart.

While Mike Brown isn’t worried about his team’s 0-6 preseason record, Del Negro demands that his crew treat every dress rehearsal like the real thing.

“You get paid to play and you get paid to win, I don’t care if it’s exhibition or not, you have to compete,” Del Negro told reporters after Monday night’s win over the Golden State Warriors. “If you’re not willing to compete and put it out there, you’re not a competitive person and those are not the type of people I want around here. … I understand it’s an exhibition game but when you play your minutes, play the right way so we can get better. If you don’t want to, you can come sit with me.”

Both sides will have main players sitting with the coaches when the Clippers and Lakers square off tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Lakers star Kobe Bryant is set to rest his sore foot and Del Negro has talked about resting his starters for the preseason version of the Staples Center Classic.

That means tonight’s game could turn into a battle of the benches, and that’s one fight where the deeper Clippers’ appear to have an advantage over their city rivals. A roll call of the Clippers’ reserves — Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Eric Bledsoe, Ronny Turiaf, Willie Green, Ryan Hollins and Chauncey Billups (who will return from a torn Achilles tendon sometime next month or in December) — highlights an explosive supporting cast of talented players all capable of playing multiple positions.

(more…)

How Boston ‘Iced’ Philly In Game 2

PHILADELPHIA – It’s not clear if Brian Scalabrine is ready to retire yet, but he’s already in preparation for his next career.

Comcast SportsNet New England, which broadcasts Celtics games, hired Scalabrine to provide pre-and postgame analysis during the Celtics-Sixers series. So, there he was, in a suit at TD Garden on Saturday, talking about the Sixers just 48 hours after Philly had eliminated his own Chicago Bulls.

The former Celtic got a huge ovation from the Garden crowd when he was shown on the Jumbotron on Saturday. But Scalabrine’s finest moment of this postseason came after Game 3, when he asked Rajon Rondo one of the smarter questions you’ll ever hear in a postgame press conference.

“The adjustment on the side pick and roll,” Scalabrine said, “you guys went to the ‘ice’ or the ‘down,’ or whatever you guys use in your terminology. Do you like that better than going over the top with the ‘show’?”

“I like it better,” Rondo replied. “I don’t think they do. Their offense, we watched the first couple of games, they got into the paint pretty good on the side pick and rolls. And it led to corner threes, it led to the high-low. I think we took a clip from you guys. You guys ‘iced’ a lot of the side pick and rolls in that series, and I think they struggled offensively. I think we did a good job tonight. The bigs did a great job talking, and guards kept fighting over, even when they did step up and set the side pick and roll.”

OK. So what the heck does it mean to “ice” a pick-and-roll?

(more…)