Posts Tagged ‘Sixers’

Award races head into stretch run

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Four weeks from today the regular season is over. All eyes will be on the playoffs. And that means the final push is on for the 2013-14 awards.

The duel for MVP honors has been a match race all season between Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Michael Carter-Williams jumped out of the pack early as the one to beat for Rookie of the Year. But the other races have been wide open.

Here’s one man’s view as we head into the home stretch:

Most Improved Player

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — This is why the Pelicans were so happy to make him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 Draft. This is what coach Monty Williams says Davis probably could have shown last season if the coach hadn’t kept a tight rein on his prized rookie, limiting his minutes and his exposure to getting overpowered while he built up his slender body. When Davis erupted for 40 points, 21 rebounds, three assists and three steals against the Celtics, it was the culmination of a spectacular sophomore year. He’s been steady and breathtaking at both ends of the court all season, enough to beat out the likes of worthy candidates Goran Dragic and Lance Stephenson in a crowded field of contenders. Also getting votes: DeAndre Jordan, Trevor Ariza.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis was nominated for Kia Player of the Month for March

Sixth Man of the Year

Manu Ginobili, Spurs – Following an injury-plagued 2012-13 season that saw him enter the playoffs last spring looking bedraggled, the player who puts the jolt into the Spurs attack is back playing like a live wire in his 12th season. His field-goal percentage is up and his he’s back to doing all the things at both ends of the floor that make him a disruptive force and a difference maker. Jamal Crawford is the closest contender and has done many of the same things for the Clippers. The deciding factor has to be overall team performance. L.A. is in the top half of the Western Conference standings, but that’s once again the Spurs at the top. The return of Manu to his old form is a prime reason. Also getting votes: Reggie Jackson, Markieff Morris.


VIDEO: Manu Ginobili talks about the Spurs’ season and his play

Rookie of the Year

Michael Carter-Williams, Sixers — He was the sixth guard selected (11th overall) in 2013 and wasted no time showing he never should have lasted that long. He’s put up big numbers even as the Sixers have suffered through what is a historically inept season. If all of general manager Sam Hinkie’s decisions turn out so well, the pain will be worth the price. The fun could just be starting when MCW gets to team up with a healthy Nerlens Noel next season. It’s a long way back to the No. 2 man in the voting for this category, but we’re jumping the more likely pick and going with Tim Hardaway Jr. His hard-charging style has been one of the few reasons to watch the Knicks all year. Also getting votes: Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke. Kia Rookie Ladder


VIDEO: At the All-Star break, Michael Carter-Williams talks about his season

Defensive Player of the Year

Joakim Noah, Bulls — The Pacers spent the early part of the year polishing their reputation as the league’s top defensive team, with center Roy Hibbert starting to clear room on his mantle as the pre-eminent rim protector in the game. But it is no coincidence that the Pacers’ struggles fit with a slippage in Hibbert’s game. The truth is, when you get him just a little bit away from the basket, he’s not so dominant. Meanwhile the Bulls have shrugged off the loss of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng because Noah simply won’t let them stop working and scrapping and competing. He’s the heart and soul of the team, especially that ferocious defense as Chicago charges late and the Pacers try to regain their equilibrium. Also getting votes: Serge Ibaka, Dwight Howard.


VIDEO: Rachel Nichols talks with Joakim Noah about his surge in play of late

Coach of the Year

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — The first instinct is to say that Jeff Hornacek has taken a Suns team that everyone assumed was diving for the lottery — and the Las Vegas wise guys had pegged for 21.5 wins — and turned them into an uplifting story and playoff contender, and that’s worthy of consideration. The next instinct is to say that Tom Thibodeau is like the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, virtually getting limbs chopped off and yet ignoring the wounds and keeping right on with the fight. But when you get right down to the meat of things, it’s all about winning games and some how, some way, Popovich keeps doing that better than anybody else. Never mind that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are practically senior citizens. Never mind that an assortment of injuries has forced the Spurs to use two dozen different lineups. Never mind all of those lingering mental scars from The Finals last June. Popovich expects the best and his team keeps producing it. Excellence should be recognized and rewarded. Also getting votes: Frank Vogel, Dwane Casey, Steve Clifford.


VIDEO: GameTime delves into how deeply Gregg Popovich’s influence is felt around the NBA

Most Valuable Player

Kevin Durant, Thunder — It’s been a two-horse race between Durant and LeBron James almost from the opening tip. You can almost never go wrong picking James, who still reigns as the league’s best player with his ability. It looked like James might be making a late charge for an MVP three-peat with his 61 point game a couple of weeks ago. But an ensuing slump by both LeBron and the Heat took the steam out of that charge. Durant responded and has raised his game even higher over the past 1 1/2 weeks. We also have to go back to Durant’s body of work without Russell Westbrook for 30 games — and counting — as he keeps the Thunder in the hunt for best overall record and heads toward what should be the first of multiple MVP wins. Also getting votes: Joakim Noah, Blake Griffin. Kia Race to the MVP Ladder


VIDEO: Chris Webber and Greg Anthony debate and discuss the MVP race

Sixers Keep Boldly Moving Forward


VIDEO: Sixers GM Sam Hinkie talks about the team’s trade deadline moves

Sam Hinkie can’t yet put a pin in the exact place on the map, but he does know where he’s going.

Forward.

You might not like the speed. You might even turn your nose up at the route this season or the blighted scenery that will make up the rest of the schedule.

But you’ll have to admit it’s different — and in the long run preferable — to the hamster wheel that’s taken the 76ers nowhere fast for more than a decade.

That the first-year general manager chose to unload Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen for a pocketful of beans and expiring contracts was simply a continuation of the plan he’s been trying to execute from his first day on the job.

You can’t build something new and lasting on old ground if all you do is switch out the furniture and slap on a fresh coat of paint. That’s really all the Sixers had been doing since back in the days when Allen Iverson and Larry Brown were driving each other crazy all the way to the NBA Finals.

Over the past several years, all the Sixers could hang their jerseys on was a first-round upset of the Bulls in the 2012 that was only accomplished because Derrick Rose had crumpled in a heap.

What’s been needed for quite some time has been for somebody to come in and blow the whole thing up and start from scratch, disregarding all of the old ways and the ingrained local Philly network.

Hinkie has no problem being that guy.

When he finished at the trade deadline, Hinkie’s swapping had produced six second-round draft picks, five new players, a bundle of expiring contracts and $30 million in salary cap room for the summer.

It’s amazing how much fuss there was over letting go three members of a team with a 15-41 record. It’s mind-boggling that even a few folks might have been confused by Hinkie’s actions.

“I think all three of them are playing at a career-best level,” Hinkie told reporters at a news conference on Friday. “Sometimes it’s about the timing of the league. Some of those guys belong in a place. Evan is in Indiana. Indiana is going to be playing in at least May if not June, and this is a time for him to be there. And some of the things we took back are set for the future, or a second in this year’s draft or something else. Those are things that are more appropriate for where we are.

“We’re trying to acquire things that will help us move forward, and the net result of what happened is we picked up six additional second-round picks. Sometimes it’s the players you select, sometimes it’s the players you can trade for in using them, sometimes it’s the combining them to move other places to do other things.”

Of course, Hinkie already got the ball rolling last summer when he made the stunning deal that sent All-Star Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for Nerlens Noel, who has not yet played, and then used the No. 11 pick in the draft to pluck Michael Carter-Williams, who appears to be an elite point guard for the next decade.

The Sixers have the potential for a pick in the top three of this year’s draft and another in the top 12, coming from New Orleans, along with all the second-round picks.

“I think it’ll make our phone ring, for one,” Hinkie said. “And I think it’ll give us choices.”

Sure, it might require covering your eyes if you happen to be forced into the Wells Fargo Center anytime between now and April, and you might not like the NBA system that almost demands a stripping of all assets as the quickest and most prudent way to start over. But it is the system, and in the end, the idea is to work within it. Hinkie’s old boss Daryl Morey and former team owner Leslie Alexander in Houston chose not to hit rock bottom, yet over the past 17 seasons the Rockets have only one playoff series win while constantly reshuffling their deck. Now the Rockets have Dwight Howard and James Harden, but was it worth nearly two decades of tap dancing in mediocrity? The path by Hinkie could and should be shorter to rebirth.

“You often don’t know, so you don’t know how it might play out, and you don’t know what might be available,” Hinkie said. “Lots of things come across the transom, lots of things you look at. It’s part of what we try to do, to have a lot of interesting opportunities to look at. It’s important.

“I think many years will come and go where you’ll have lots of opportunities and you’ll say no to all of them, and it will look like nothing happened because nothing actually transpired. This year, enough things came along that were interesting. I would say that some of the picks — people sort of lump picks together, ‘Aw, it’s just a second’ — some of the picks are quite interesting, some of the picks are quite high and could be even higher. That has real value.

“I think as we get close to the draft, the talent evaluators all start to downplay expectations, ‘Oh, it’s not quite as good as we thought.’ It looks quite strong. All the best teams have been built around great players. Great players. And we’re going to be particularly focused on that for a while in finding great players who can lead us forward.”

Someway, somehow. Which is better than continuing to run in circles.

The Trade Deadline: Let’s Make A Deal?




VIDEO: Thunder guard Reggie Jackson gets it done on both ends

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The clock is ticking.

The trade deadline is near. It’s time for general managers and front office executives around the NBA to earn their money. Fix your team. Make it better. Pave the way for a brighter future by pulling the trigger on the deal, blockbuster or not, that creates the space for your franchise to go to the next level — whatever that level may be.

It’s easier said than done in most cases, mostly because a willing partner is needed to complete the trade dance. And everyone is out to fleece their potential partners in one way or another. Whether we see a blockbuster deal or not, we are guaranteed to see a flurry of activity by Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline.

A team’s wants and needs are two very different things. We’re focusing on what is needed here, which should coincide with what these teams want out of the trade deadline. Planning for the future is fine, but these deals are designed for immediate returns for (almost) all involved …

1. Reggie Jackson to the Bulls — Jimmy Butler to the Thunder 

The skinny: This is a nuts-and-bolts trade for both teams, one that doesn’t rise to the blockbuster ranks by any means. But this deal involving youngsters with extremely manageable salaries allows the Thunder and Bulls to shore up their key weaknesses. Jackson would be Derrick Rose insurance for the Bulls, a young point/combo guard who could be groomed to play alongside a healthy Rose whenever Rose returns. He’s acquitted himself well in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook‘s absence but will be reduced to a role player when Westbrook returns and assumes his position alongside Kevin Durant (which is expected to happen Thursday). Butler fits the Bulls rough-and-rugged mode perfectly, but if they are in rebuilding mode, he’s expendable. He offers the Thunder something they simply don’t have on the roster right now, and that’s a player capable of matching up with elite small forwards on defense. Imagine him in a Thunder uniform in The Finals going after LeBron James the way Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard did last year.

2. Rajon Rondo and Kris Humphries to the Pacers — Danny Granger and George Hill to the Celtics

The skinny: This is a risky move for a Pacers’ team that has rock-solid locker room chemistry and has played at a consistently high level without boasting an elite point guard. Hill, an IUPUI star, is a hometown guy and is widely regarded as one of the league’s most respected professionals. He’s a guy Pacers All-Stars Paul George, Roy Hibbert and team leader David West trust to run the show. But Rondo gives the Pacers the chance to add a game-changer at point guard, a guy who, come playoff time, has an edge in either the talent and/or championship-experience department with any other East point guard. The hang up, of course, is going to be Danny Ainge trying to do his usual and shake everything he can out of the Pacers’ pockets in the name of his rebuilding efforts. Granger and Hill are established players who could help facilitate any rebuilding plans for the more immediate future. Of course, Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t have to play ball. He doesn’t have to deal. He can go to battle in the playoffs with the roster as is, though there is a consensus among most observers that an upgrade at the point would give them a clear edge in matching up not only against the Miami Heat but any team that they could potentially face in The Finals, were they to reach that summit.

3. Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights and Jason Smith to the Cavaliers — Austin Rivers, C.J. Miles and Anthony Morrow to the Warriors — Earl Clark and Dion Waiters to the Pelicans 

The skinny: Believe it or not, the Cavaliers are just three games out of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase as the post-All-Star break portion of the season kicks off. As Kyrie Irving showed us at the All-Star Game, he knows how to shine amongst other elite players on his team. Since he hasn’t had any suit up with him in Cleveland, Thursday’s deadline is acting general manager David Griffin‘s opportunity to upgrade the crew around Irving and see if the playoffs can become a reality. Barnes needs a fresh start somewhere, as a starter, and would be a great running mate for Irving and Luol Deng. Both Speights and Smith would provide much-needed big man depth. The Warriors get role players to help fill out their roster and Waiters, a HT fave whose talents have never shined in Cleveland the way they have when we’ve seen him during All-Star weekend or during his stints with USA Basketball, gets a fresh start of his own in New Orleans. He and Anthony Davis could help elevate the Pelicans to a playoff-level team in the future.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving stole the show at All-Star Weekend

4. Omer Asik to the Hawks — Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon, John Jenkins and a Draft pick to the Rockets

The skinny: This is certainly not the way Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is used to doing business. He’s used to fleecing much more from the opposing team’s executives (that mode of operation would explain the bevy of assets the Rockets have piled up the past few years). Brand and Ayon aren’t big names but when healthy, yet they have been surprisingly productive for the Hawks. That said, the Draft pick is the Rockets’ real prize … that and getting Asik out of town. And that’s where the needy Hawks swoop in and rescue their season — they had lost five straight heading into All-Star weekend. Asik helps stabilize the frontcourt rotation and joins All-Star Paul Millsap as the staples up front for a team that still has lofty aspirations for playoff positioning. Fellow All-Star center Al Horford is not walking through that door in Atlanta as his torn pectoral muscle will keep him out of action until well into the summer. Adding a physical presence like Asik at a relatively reasonable price makes a ton of sense for the Hawks right now. And the three of them together in the future is complicated, but certainly something Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer could tinker with and make work.

5. Emeka Okafor, Alex Len and Chris Singleton to the Grizzlies — Zach Randolph to the Wizards — Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely and Eric Maynor to the Suns

The skinny: Randolph and Marcin Gortat balancing the frontcourt in Washington with All-Star point guard John Wall and sharpshooter Bradley Beal would be an interesting mix for a Wizards team that is definitely on the rise in the Eastern Conference. Just think of Randolph and Gortat as the Eastern Conference version of Randolph and Marc Gasol (Grit and Grind lite?). The Wizards have been an above-average team defensively, and now they’d add some serious toughness in Randolph. The Grizzlies need a building block for the future and would get that in Len, who was always viewed as a long-term project when the Suns selected him with the 5th pick in the 2013 Draft. The Suns are taking the opportunity to seize their surprising playoff moment in the Western conference with the aid of quality veterans in Ariza and Maynor and would also have a developmental prospect to work with in Vesely. There’s always a healthy dose of risk involved when you talk about trade deadline deals. And this one would come with plenty for all involved.


VIDEO: John Wall talks with the Game Time crew after shining on All-Star Saturday night

20 Teams Dream Big On MLK Day


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew previews all of the MLK Day action

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — More than Christmas or even All-Star weekend, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday provides the NBA a platform to showcase some of the best players and teams the league has to offer. Stars young and old, championship teams and those aspiring to join those ranks … they’ll all be on display Monday.

A total of 10 games from across the country will highlight a day of celebration of both the game and the Dream Big mantra of not only Dr. King but also the league. What to watch for during the MLK Day hoops smorgasbord, the official halfway mark of the regular season:

Dallas vs. Cleveland, 1 p.m. ET (League Pass)

The skinny: The Cavaliers are feeling good after a 3-2 road trip and look to take advantage of a Mavericks team still smarting from getting blown out by Portland Saturday night. Luol Deng has infused the Cavaliers with a new energy, much like what Monta Ellis has done all season for Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks. That loss to Portland was a wake-up call for Rick Carlisle’s team, a group riding high after winning four-of-five prior to that humiliating defeat. “We regressed. The first three quarters are beyond embarrassing,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told the team’s official website. “We weren’t playing together. We weren’t helping each other. Do that against a quality team … and they’re going to make you pay a heavy price.”

L.A. Clippers vs. Detroit, 1 p.m. ET (League Pass)

The skinny: Losses to the league’s elite have left a cloud over the Clippers’ season to this point. They look like a championship team on paper and when everything is clicking (and when everyone, Chris Paul specifically, is healthy). The Clippers are 0-5 on the road this season against the league’s top five teams, and while this game against the Pistons doesn’t provide a similar test, Clippers coach and Senior VP of basketball operations Doc Rivers is constantly evaluating his crew. “I like our team,” Rivers told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “That doesn’t mean we won’t make changes. We’re not looking to make changes, but we’re always looking just like every other team. I like our team right now. If the season ended and we had the group we have right now, I like how we look. Obviously, I’d add Chris Paul to that group — but other than that I like our team a lot.”

Toronto vs. Charlotte, 2 p.m. ET, (League Pass)

The skinny: Playoff dreams in Charlotte this season have a lot to do with Kemba Walker and how well the point guard plays at what is the league’s deepest and most difficult position. If you don’t believe it just look at what Kyle Lowry has meant to the Raptors during their post-Rudy Gay-trade renaissance. So with the news that Walker will miss the next 10-14 days with a second-degree sprain of his left ankle, the Bobcats need Ramon Sessions to step up in a major way to keep the playoff vibes alive. The Raptors, meanwhile, are 6-4 in their last 10 games and can continue their momentum with another big road win.

Philadelphia vs. Washington, 2 p.m. ET (League Pass)

The skinny: The Wizards are trying desperately to reach the .500 mark, for both tangible and symbolic reasons. The break even mark gives them a chance to climb above .500 as they continue their playoff chase. And getting above that mark allows them to think about themselves in a different light, as they continue to work through the inconsistencies that have plagued their season. They haven’t had a winning record since starting the 2009-10 season 2-1. “Somebody just needs to not tell us our record and we’ll just go out and play,” shooting guard Bradley Beal said. “Every time they tell us ‘.500,’ we just pressure ourselves too much and end up not showing up.” Wizards point guard John Wall and his Sixers counterpart Michael Carter-Williams better show up for their showdown.

Brooklyn vs. New York, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

The skinny: There’s no shortage of subplots in this Battle of the Boroughs. Both Knicks coach Mike Woodson and Nets coach Jason Kidd have survived all of the turmoil of the early season and, courtesy of a feeble Eastern Conference playoff field, remain in the thick of the hunt for postseason positions. The Knicks are still dealing with myriad injury issues, not to mention the ongoing J.R. Smith drama. The Nets just want a little payback after the Knicks beat the starch out of them in their last meeting (a 113-83 rout on Dec. 5). “We definitely do,” Nets point guard Shaun Livingston told ESPNNewYork.com. “They came in and beat us pretty well at our place. We have to take that upon ourselves and take it personally. We’ve got to come and compete.”


VIDEO: Pacers big man Roy Hibbert encourages the children at an Indianapolis elementary to Dream Big

New Orleans vs. Memphis, 5 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

The skinny: The Grizzlies five-game win streak is tied with the Portland Trail Blazers for the best current run in the league. The surge couldn’t have come at a better time for a team that has been bolstered by the return of All-Star center Marc Gasol. He will do his best to help take advantage of an injury-plagued Pelicans team that doesn’t know if it’s coming or going. Even with Anthony Davis playing out of his mind, the Pelicans cannot find a groove. Davis is averaging 22.4 points and 11.1 rebounds during the Pelicans’ eight-game skid, both above his season averages. But he needs help if the Pelicans are going to avoid sliding all the way down the ladder in the Western Conference. “It’s adversity,” Davis said. “We have to learn how to deal with it.”

Miami vs. Atlanta, 5:30 p.m. ET (League Pass)

The skinny: The best way for the Heat to shake out of their recent funk is to continue to find inspiration wherever they can. For LeBron James, it’s watching his biggest rival and good friend, Thunder star Kevin Durant, who has been on a tear of late.  The unfortunate recipient of LeBron’s wrath could end up being the Hawks. Because Durant has raised the bar, even for a LeBron. “I do a lot of checking and seeing what guys have done overnight,” James told ESPN.com’s Heat Index of keeping up with the performances of other players. “After every game, I always go … and see what guys did. I didn’t have to look too far to see what K.D. did last night. As soon as I looked at my phone, a family member of mine said, ‘K.D. had 54, you only had 21. You stink.’ So, there it is.”

L.A. Lakers vs. Chicago, 8 p.m. ET (League Pass)

The skinny: It’s tough to get excited about these two teams squaring off when their best players are wearing designer suits instead of uniforms. It’s a good thing the Lakers and Bulls have learned how to operate without Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose, respectively. To their credit, the Lakers enter the game riding the wave, however slight it might be, of a two-game win streak. That’s a good way to hit the halfway mark of the season for team that has to feel like it’s endured 82-games worth of tumult already. “We just have a lot of injuries and a lot of stuff,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after Sunday’s win over the Raptors. “We got some guys who are improving and we’re not as good as we’d like to be, obviously this last stretch really knocked us for a loop, but our whole goal is to get back and win one at a time and play well, just get better, keep our energy up and our spirits up and see if we can have a good second half.”

Portland vs. Houston, 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

The skinny: It’s funny the way things work out sometimes in the NBA. The Trail Blazers are every bit of the elite, title-contending team most of the pundits predicted the Rockets would be last summer when they landed Dwight Howard in free agency. The Blazers have done it all season with a steady mix of LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and arguably the most underrated supporting cast in the league. It won’t be that way for long if it’s up to Nic Batum, who told our very own Jeff Caplan that he believe he’s an All-Star. “You know, KD, is way up there, so can’t reach him he’s so far. But the West has to take a small forward after KD; I think it should be me. The West is crazy. I talked about it with Tony Parker two nights ago — I had dinner with him — that in the West, for a bench, to pick seven guys is pretty tough. KD is going to start at small forward, but I know if I get a chance to be on the bench to be a backup to KD, I would be very happy to do it.”

Indiana vs. Golden State, 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

The skinny: Paul George‘s 360 dunk has been the talk of the basketball world the past 24 hours and rightfully so. But that one dunk shouldn’t overshadow what is a most appropriate nightcap of a monster day of hoops. We get the most consistent team in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the league against arguably the most exciting team, though not the most consistent, in the league. George, Steph Curry, Lance Stephenson and Klay Thompson will provide the offensive fireworks. But the fellas up front on both sides love to mix it up (David West‘s pockets are $15,000 lighter after he was fined for that elbow to the jaw of the Clippers’ Blake Griffin). Keep an eye on West, Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi of the Pacers and Andrew Bogut, David Lee and HT fave Draymond Green of the Warriors. They’ll wage their own battle during the game.


VIDEO: Pacers star Paul George leads the top 10 dunks of the week

Money Talks, Asik Doesn’t Walk

Omer Asik's "poison pill" contract may have backfired on Houston (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

The “poison pill” in Omer Asik’s contract may have backfired on Houston. (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

HOUSTON — Follow the money. It’s an adage that’s been around as long as Deep Throat whispering to Bob Woodward in a garage.

The Rockets’ efforts to trade discontented center Omer Asik by their self-imposed deadline this week have ended in large part because other teams are leery of the structure of the Turkish 7-footer’s contract and the cash payments due. As a result, even though the official NBA trade deadline is not until Feb. 20, a league source said Asik could wind up staying in Houston for the length of his deal.

Asik signed a three-year, $25 million contract with the Rockets in the summer of 2012, which included a so-called “poison pill” final season salary of $15 million that was put in place to discourage his previous team, the Bulls, from matching the offer. Even though the money can be spread out evenly over the deal and applied to the salary cap at $8.3 million in the 2014-15 season, many of Houston’s would-be trade partners balked at laying out so much cash for a 25-30 minute per game player.

Asik averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds while starting all 82 games for the Rockets last season. But he has repeatedly asked to be traded ever since the club signed free-agent center Dwight Howard in July. Coach Kevin McHale tried Howard and Asik together as a Twin Towers combination in the starting lineup to open the season, but pulled the plug on the experiment after eight games when there was little chemistry or effectiveness at both ends of the court.

After Asik begged off playing on Nov. 14 at New York and then repeated his trade request, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey stepped up his efforts to make a deal, talking at times to the Sixers, Celtics, Hawks, Bucks, Cavaliers and others. A deal that would have brought Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a draft pick to Houston was discussed more than a week ago and rejected by the Rockets.

Evidently, the more that Morey pressed to move Asik, the more other teams expressed their reticence and began to lower their offers.

A hint that no deal was forthcoming may have come from McHale both before and after Wednesday night’s 109-94 win at home over the Bulls. On two different occasions, the head coach made reference to “when Omer gets back.” Asik has been sidelined since Dec. 2 with a severely bruised thigh that eventually caused a fluid build-up around his knee.

The Rockets would like nothing more than for Asik to accept his role as Howard’s backup, giving them a chance to keep a good rim protector on the court at all times. However, that will require a significant attitude adjustment by the 7-footer who has pouted openly and made no secret of his desire to go to a team where he could be a full-time starter.

There is nothing to stop Morey from continuing to peddle Asik around the league. And the market could percolate as the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches. But it is that clever contract with the $15 million final year payout that landed him with the Rockets that could keep them stuck with him.

Rockets Weigh Final Bids For Asik

Chicago Bulls v Houston Rockets

Wednesday night could have been Omer Asik’s last game as a member of the Houston Rockets.

HOUSTON — Omer Asik spent what figured to be his last night as a Rocket once again in street clothes, looking dapper and rested at the end of the bench. When a 109-94 whipping of the Bulls was complete, he was the first one out of the locker room, hugged a few friends on his way out the door and had nothing to say.

All of the action was taking place behind the closed doors of the front office as auctioneer Daryl Morey weighed the offers for the discontented center ahead of his self-imposed Thursday deadline.

The rumor mill had the Celtics as the frontrunners to land the 7-footer with an offer of Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a first-round draft pick, a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports. The teams were said to be haggling over the draft pick, which would be protected to some degree in the 2014 lottery.

Such a trade would fulfill Morey’s desire to get a backup center, a shooter and a draft pick. However, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald wrote that Celtics president Danny Ainge made that offer a week ago, but was turned down at the time by Morey.

The Rockets general manager sent word out around the league on Dec. 6 that he would entertain offers for Asik and choose the package he liked best by Dec. 19, the last date that any players obtained are eligible to be dealt again by the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Since that time, Morey had talked with many clubs, including the Sixers, Cavaliers and Hawks. The Knicks and Trail Blazers were also said to have expressed interest.

Asik has been sidelined for more than two weeks with a thigh injury that eventually caused swelling around his knee.

With Paul Millsap the ideal acquisition for the Rockets to put on their front line next to Dwight Howard, it was interesting to note that Morey began following the Atlanta forward’s official Twitter page — @paulmillsap4 — a short time before the Rockets tipped off against the Bulls on Wednesday night. It is certainly not out of the question that the social media conscious Morey was just having fun dropping a red herring.

If the deal with the Celtics should prove to have legs, it would reunite Howard and Bass, who played together for two seasons in Orlando. At just 6-foot-8, Bass would certainly be an under-sized backup for Howard. He does not have range out to the 3-point line that the Rockets crave, but can knock down mid-range shots to open things for Howard around the basket.

The Celtics could perhaps sweeten their offer by substituting forward Jeff Green for Bass. But Green’s contract, which has two more seasons at $18.4 million due, is not the kind that would normally appeal to Morey, who values keeping salary cap flexibility for his next deal, which is always just around the corner.

Curiously, both before and after the game coach Kevin McHale made references to “when Omer gets back.”

But as the 7-footer headed for the tunnel exit from Toyota Center, there was little reason to think that he’d ever return as a Rocket.

Countdown On Asik Deal Continues

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

HANG TIME, TEXAS — If all goes according to plan, Omer Asik’s time in limbo should end soon as the Rockets sift through final offers for the disgruntled big man. The team has reportedly set a self-imposed deadline of Thursday.

According to various reports and different sources, the most likely places for the 27-year-old center to wind up in are Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland or Atlanta, with the Knicks making a late and outside bid to get into the mix.

Asik — who had a breakout year as a starter a year ago averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds– has wanted out of since the moment that Dwight Howard chose Houston in July and the Rockets have been looking to move him since coach Kevin McHale’s experiment with a Twin Towers type lineup ended on Nov. 13.

General manager Daryl Morey spread the word that he would entertain offers from Dec. 15-19 and make his choice. The reason for that narrow window is that Dec. 15 was the first date that players acquired during the offseason were eligible to be traded. Dec. 19 is the last date that any players obtained by the Rockets would be able to be dealt again at the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

Reports have had the Rockets seeking everything from a pair of first-round draft picks to forward Jeff Green of the Celtics to forward Paul Millsap of the Hawks.

Millsap is believed in many circles to be the Rockets’ No. 1 target, a perfect fit to play next to Howard on the front line. But the Hawks may be reluctant to surrender a high-return player after they just signed Millsap over the summer to a salary cap-friendly two-year deal for $19 million.

Discussions of Asik going to the Cavaliers for Anderson Varejao have supposedly cooled in recent days with Cleveland not warm to the idea of paying Asik’s $15-million salary next season.

The top two suitors could be the Celtics and the Sixers. That could produce a three-way deal.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics have entered the names of Green and Brandon Bass into discussions. The Sixers’ most likely to be traded are Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner.

While Green is averaging more than 16 points and four rebounds a game for Boston, the 12-14 Celtics, despite leading the Atlantic Division, are in a rebuilding mode. It wouldn’t hurt to unload a contract that still has $18.4 million due through 2016. If Hawes makes his way to Houston, he could come off the bench at center and also be valuable to the Rockets as a “stretch-four” with his ability to shoot from the perimeter.

Sources around the league have indicated the Rockets would be willing to include point guard Jeremy Lin in any trade. But the fact that he is due virtually the same $15 million pay as Asik next season is a heavy burden for any one team to absorb. That would probably mean a three-team deal to make it happen.

However, if the Rockets were able to move both Asik and Lin and take back only expiring contracts and draft choices, it is possible they could have enough salary cap space to offer another max-level contract to a free agent next summer.

It’s Never Too Early To Make A Move


VIDEO: Jameer Nelson talks about sharing the backcourt with Victor Oladipo

The season isn’t even a month old, but there are some places where things are clearly not working and it’s already time for a change. Here are a handful of names that could or should be on the move:

Omer Asik, Rockets — At this point, he should have a moving van at the front door and his luggage packed. It’s only a matter of time before last year’s flavor of the season gets his wish and a ticket out of Houston. Despite his workmanlike double-double consistency in 2012-13, there’s no faulting the Rockets for leaping at the chance to upgrade to Dwight Howard. The twin towers experiment didn’t work. Asik is unlikely to be happy playing just the spare minutes available as a backup and it only makes sense to get the kind of piece missing — rugged, bruising big man or stretch 4 — that can be a more comfortable fit at both ends of the floor. It also wouldn’t hurt to unload that $15 million due next season to Asik. There are any number of places that Asik could help right away. New York and New Orleans immediately come to mind. GM Daryl Morey is in no rush and will pull the trigger when he’s ready on the right deal.

Jameer Nelson, Magic — The handwriting has been on the wall since the Magic made Victor Oladipo the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft and promptly announced going into summer league play that he would get a run at point guard. That message might as well have been spray-painted in Day-Glo orange on Saturday night when coach Jacque Vaughn removed the veteran Nelson from a winnable game against Dallas and let the rookie run the offense all the way to the end of a 108-100 loss. Oladipo, as uncomfortable as he may often look at the point, is the future of the franchise along with all of the other young parts. In a season when the Magic don’t really expect to win many games, it only makes sense to move Nelson and make the full-time commitment to the rookie. The fact that the $8 million on Nelson’s contract next season is a team option will only make him easier to move for another future asset.

Danny Granger, Pacers — The fact that Granger has not yet come back from a calf injury more than three weeks into the season hasn’t stopped the Pacers from running out to their league-best 10-1 record, which matches the Spurs. In fact, it could mean that coach Frank Vogel will have to disrupt the humming of a well-oiled machine when he eventually has to find the minutes and shots that Granger will surely want when he’s back in the lineup. Can he really afford to give up a single possession by MVP candidate Paul George? Lance Stephenson has fit quite well into the starting lineup. The Pacers pushed the Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals without Granger last spring. By moving his desirable expiring contract they could add another valuable piece to the bench.

Thaddeus Young, 76ers — The long, versatile forward does not shoot well from behind the 3-point line, but does so many other things that make him desirable and valuable on the court. Considering the fact that the Sixers are still several years away under GM Sam Hinkie’s total reconstruction program, it doesn’t make sense to keep Young around for another $19 million over the next two seasons. Hinkie would probably like to get rid of Evan Turner first, but Young is the player that other clubs are most interested in and could bring in return the kind of asset that Philly wants and needs for the future.

Anybody But DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore, Kings — It might be time to set up the folding tables and the hand drawn price tags in the parking lot at Sleep Train Arena and hold a flea market to clean out the locker room. As Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out, the Kings have already benched Marcus Thornton, John Salmons and Patrick Patterson and are ready to make a full-time commitment to the future by sweeping the locker room clean. Cousins may have his own baggage, but he is putting up solid numbers of 21.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Despite all of the optimism that the “saved in Sacramento” Kings brought into this season under new coach Michael Malone, losing seven of their first nine games delivered a heavy dose of reality.


VIDEO:
Danny Granger speaks on Nov. 13 about progress with injury

Money Can’t Buy Happiness (Or Wins)


VIDEO: A. Sherrod Blakely discusses Boston’s solid start to the season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Fast starts by teams expected to struggle combined with awkwardly slow starts by teams expected to excel have turned the NBA standings upside-down.

Several of the league’s gold-plated outfits like the Nets, Knicks and Lakers are looking up at .500, while intentionally low-budget operations like the Suns and Sixers sit at or darn near the top of their respective divisions, at least here in the opening two weeks.

It’s all the more interesting when looking at this stage of the collective bargaining agreement. Ratified in December 2011, the CBA ushered in a new era of increased luxury tax penalties and the so-called repeater tax, deterrents designed to curb overspending and promote a level financial playing field across market sizes.

This is the third season under the new rules, but the first with the harsher luxury tax penalties in play — graduated tax hikes as opposed to the old dollar-for-dollar rate. We’ve seen numerous teams adjust how they spend to construct rosters that fall below the league’s luxury tax threshold ($71.7 million this season), to, one, avoid paying a tax and, two, to prevent the clock from starting on (or adding to) the repeater tax, which hammers a franchise with a hefty fine for crossing the luxury tax threshold in any four out of five seasons.

So this season we’re at something of a CBA crossroads. There are a handful of teams that have stripped their rosters to bare-bones salary levels (Sixers, Suns, Jazz) to clear out cap space for summer free-agent spending (and OK, maybe even better their chances for a high 2014 Draft pick). There are a few teams that are well into the luxury tax and are essentially locked there until large contracts expire (Lakers, Bulls, sort of the Knicks). And then there is the Brooklyn Nets, the one team that continues to pile on the payroll. Everybody else has pretty well adjusted and falls between the salary cap ($58.7 million) and the luxury tax threshold.

The Nets’ payroll is a stunning $102.2 million. It will ring up a tax bill around $85 million, a league record and larger than the total payroll of all but likely two teams — its own and its Big Apple neighbor, the Knicks ($87.9 million). The Suns’ payroll ranks 29th in the 30-team league at about $53 million, and the Sixers are last at about $40 million, actually well below the league’s minimum cap figure that was instituted in the CBA.

But as is often the case, it’s not always the highest rollers who finish first.

With that, let’s look at how the NBA conference standings (through Wednesday’s games) stack up — payroll vs. actual winning percentage (all team salaries are courtesy of ShamSports.com):

Rank East team payroll rank East team win pct. (through Nov. 13) West team payroll rank West team win pct. (through Nov. 13)
No. 1 Brooklyn Indiana L.A. Lakers San Antonio
No. 2 New York Miami L.A. Clippers Portland
No. 3 Miami Philadelphia Oklahoma City Oklahoma City
No. 4 Boston Atlanta Memphis L.A. Clippers
No. 5 Washington Charlotte Golden State Minnesota
No. 6 Toronto Chicago Denver Phoenix
No. 7 Toronto Toronto Dallas Golden State
No. 8 Indiana Boston Minnesota Dallas
No. 9 Detroit Orlando New Orleans Houston
No. 10 Cleveland New York Houston Denver
No. 11 Charlotte Cleveland Portland L.A. Lakers
No. 12 Orlando Detroit San Antonio Memphis
No. 13 Milwaukee Milwaukee Sacramento New Orleans
No. 14 Atlanta Brooklyn Utah Sacramento
No. 15 Philadelphia Washington Phoenix Utah

Never Too Soon For Snap Judgments


VIDEO: Sixers begin season with strong start

 

So what if we’ll have to skip the clocks ahead again before we even finish the long grind of the regular season? Does it really matter that it will take more than seven months for somebody to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy? It’s never too soon to leap to conclusions about what we know — or think we know — one week into the 2013-14 regular season.

Heat – Nobody this side of Miley Cyrus gets more scrutiny, criticism and hyperventilating overreaction than the two-time defending champs. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade already have to talk over the alarm bells, trying to put out the fires of two losses in their first three games. They still have the best player in the game, still have a more than capable No. 2 man if he stays healthy and still will be the team to beat when the playoffs begin in April. That won’t stop the sky from falling on nearly a weekly basis. But you still want to pick them for next June.

Clippers – So much for the closing down of Lob City by the new mayor Doc Rivers. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are still running free and easy with the top-rated offense in the league (119.5), but we’re going to have to see more out of DeAndre Jordan and that unicorn defense before we consider the Clips to be true playoff contenders in the West.

Derrick Rose — The Bulls’ star will be right behind the Heat with the Chicken Little crowd that will fret and worry and complain with every missed shot and turnover. He’ll have the most scrutinized repaired leg in the league until Kobe Bryant returns. The good news is that Rose hasn’t shown any ill effects from the knee surgery and it’s only a matter of time until he regains the stroke and the confidence that make him an MVP candidate and Chicago a threat to push Miami and Indiana in the playoffs.

Advantage Howard – The 2-2 Lakers might be saying they’re having fun without the 6-foot-11 distraction, but Dwight Howard is healthy and living up to all expectations in Houston as both an inside force (15 rebounds per game) and solid veteran presence in the Rockets locker room. No longer suffering from back and shoulder problems, Howard is playing joyfully and stress-free for the first time in three seasons. He’s been accepting of instruction from coach Kevin McHale, willing to move out to guard power forwards as part of the twin towers tandem experiment with Omer Asik, and has the Rockets on track to their stated goal of getting home-court advantage in the West playoffs, at the very least.

Lakers – If they were in a swimming pool, the Lakers would be wearing an orange life jacket and just trying to bob their heads above the water line. It’s a two-part season that’s B.K. and A.K. — Before Kobe and After Kobe – and things just don’t look good for the long haul with Steve Nash struggling badly and a bench that provides as much real support as a, well, bench.

Sixers – Other than LeBron and Wade declaring that they were taking the season off to visit an ashram to find inner peace, could there have been a more shocking start to the season than a 3-0 start in always sunny Philadelphia? Michael Carter-Williams, Eastern Conference Player of the Week, is the real deal. But the Warriors proved Monday that the Sixers will eventually settle down to their real level in the Andrew Wiggins Derby, especially after GM Sam Hinkie possibly parlays the quick starts by Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and maybe Thaddeus Young into deals for more draft picks.

Thunder – OK, everybody kicks five bucks into the pot and the winner is the person who picks the exact time — day, hour, minute and seconds — when some knucklehead rips Russell Westbrook for being the kind of bad/selfish teammate that will never help Kevin Durant win a championship. The truth is, since GM Sam Presti’s benevolent giveaway of James Harden to Houston, Westbrook is Durant’s only chance of getting back to The Finals. No more Memphis getting past half a Thunder team. No more avoiding the toughest challenge in the West, Spurs. Yes, Durant is OKC’s best player. But Westbrook, healthy and with a chip on his shoulder, is the hard edge on the court.

Wizards – How many times can we wait on the revamped Wizards to have that bust-out season that propels them back into the playoff picture in the East? John Wall is fine, Trevor Ariza is averaging a double-double, they have a healthy center in Marcin Gortat and yet Washington is still 0-3 with a defense that is simply dreadful. Coach Randy Wittman still leads the race for first coach fired.

Warriors – They’re like the magician that has your eyes glued to his pretty assistant in the skimpy outfit that is their high octane, high scoring offense, while coach Mark Jackson’s team really wants to pull rabbits out of their hats with a defense that will get in your face and get after it. Andre Iguodala couldn’t have been a better fit if he’d been sewn into the lineup by a British tailor.

Love Is All You Need – Well, it would certainly help to have Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and the rest of the star-crossed Timberwolves remain ambulatory through the 82-game schedule. But if there were a Comeback Player of the Year Award for the first week of the season, it would have to go to Kevin Love, who’s been nothing short of a beast scoring and rebounding. This is why it was never rash to envision the Timberwolves Western Conference playoffs the past two seasons. If Love stays healthy, they make it even in a crowded race.

Nets – While losing two of their first three was seen as a sign of the apocalypse in Miami, that trendy, high-priced collection of talent in Brooklyn might be the real candidate for being oversold as championship contenders, a win over the Heat notwithstanding. It still remains to be seen if Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce can continue to produce like their old selves as they become older selves. In the end, it will all come down to whether Deron Williams can get himself back among the elite level of point guards. So far, the shot just isn’t falling.

Knicks – Like the buzz over Gangnam Style and Zero Dark Thirty, Carmelo Anthony and his friends are just so last year. In fact, since their blazing start out of the gate in 2012-13, the Knicks have been positively mediocre and there is no indication that things will change soon. They were laughably “all-in” for a championship run last season, came up way short and now the brightest news is Melo saying he’d like to retire as a Knick. Perfect. Looks like a lot of them already have.

Anthony Davis – The No. 1 pick from the 2012 draft has positively exploded with his growth in the league, almost doubling his scoring from 13.5 to 23.7 ppg, bumping rebounds up from 8.2 to 12.3 and blocks from 1.8 to 4.0. This the Davis who had everyone drooling over his potential at Kentucky and makes the Pelicans a fun stop when flipping channels on League Pass. Now, if only coach Monty Williams could find a way to put some zip into an offense that is only mediocre because they play at such a horridly slow pace in an up-tempo league.

Pacers — Let the Nets spend all the money, the Knicks suck up all the oxygen with talk of Melo’s free agent destination and the Bulls ride the frenzy around every peak and valley in Rose’s return. Meanwhile in the heartland, Paul George keeps getting better, Lance Stephenson keeps learning about consistency, coach Frank Vogel keeps cranking up the intensity on the league’s best defense and the Pacers happily keep playing in the shadows as the real top threat to Miami in the East.

 


VIDEO: The Beat crew talks about Westbrook’s swift return