Posts Tagged ‘Steph Curry’

Morning shootaround — June 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Draymond, in absence, stirs Warriors’ emotions | LeBron went home ‘for the kids’ | Report: DeRozan to test free agencyCan Thompson back up bold talk? | NBA stars battle bulge too

No. 1: Draymond, in absence, stirs Warriors’ emotionsDraymond Green, the Golden State’s versatile and valuable, almost positionless forward, is considered to be the defending champions’ emotional leader. Losing him to suspension from Game 5 of the 2016 Finals (9 ET, ABC) would seem, at first glance, to be like stealing the batteries from a very expensive toy. But based on the Warriors’ reactions to Green’s suspension, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hand in it (subtle or not) and the obstacle thrown suddenly in their path to back-to-back championships, the home team at Oracle Arena might be playing Monday with all the emotion they need. And first and foremost, that will be anger, writes J.A. Adande of ESPN.com:

They feel disrespected once more. Put upon. Agitated.

In the Warriors’ worldview, LeBron James baited Draymond Green by stepping over him in Game 4. That prompted the retaliatory strike from Green which struck James in the groin area and drew a flagrant foul 1 penalty from the NBA in a review that was announced Sunday. James all but dared the NBA to do it after Game 4, and now Golden State feels the league capitulated to one of its biggest stars. The flagrant foul ruling put Green above the playoff limit of three flagrant foul points and brought an automatic suspension for Game 5 on Monday. It also brought up some fiery talk from the Warriors, who got an early start on making up for the absence of their emotional leader.

“We’re going to go out there and do it as a team and win for him,” Klay Thompson said.

Alrighty, then.

Other Warriors players and coaches said they noticed a ramped-up intensity after coach Steve Kerr informed the team of Green’s suspension during Sunday’s practice and they feel it will give them the necessary edge in what could have otherwise been seen as a mere coronation process after taking a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals following their victory in Game 4.

They do best when doubted, as they were when they fell behind 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals. They also respond well to perceived slights. Example A would be their 24-0 start after having their championship credentials called into question for everything from lack of injuries to playoff strength of schedule.

Now that they have fresh motivation, the question is whether they have the means to prove their point without the versatile Green, the defensive anchor of their small-ball “Death Lineup” and an offensive facilitator prone to the occasional scoring outburst (such as his 28 points in Game 2).

Much depends on how the Cavaliers choose to prey on his absence: by going big with the likes of Kevin Love or even Timofey Mozgov, or by trying to lure the Warriors into a diminished smaller lineup by extending the minutes of Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. It also could be an opportunity for LeBron to break through now that he doesn’t have to worry about one of the Warriors’ most effective defenders.

Hard to be a contender if hiding weak defenders

CLEVELAND – Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have, between them, a half dozen appearances in the NBA All-Star Game. But none on the league’s annual All-Defensive squads.

J.R. Smith is one of the streakiest and most dangerous 3-point shooters in the game, but by his own admission, he only made a commitment to the other side of the ball, as it’s called, within the last few months. He’s been in the NBA for 12 years.

Even LeBron James, who twice finished second for the Defensive Player of the Year award and strung together six top-10 finishes from 2009-2014, has slipped back in the balloting since his return to Cleveland. In the first two games of the 2016 Finals, James has been caught napping, neglecting his man or needlessly switching to create a liability in the Cavaliers’ attempts to stop (or slow down) Golden State.

Which leads to this question: Shouldn’t All-Star caliber offensive players be able to play good, if not stellar defense?

Physically, you’d think that any player who has the necessary quickness, instincts and elevation to score proficiently ought to be able to mirror some or most of that at the other end. But it isn’t always so, and in Cleveland’s case, the starting lineup is carrying two or three guys who seem overmatched defensively.

“Some of the skill sets, kids pick up when they’re younger,” Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams said over the weekend. “Some kids are two-way players – they enjoy it, they see the value of it. Some guys come up as one-way players. Having said that, everyone has different gifts. There are some guys who never commit to defense who maybe could be better.”

Adams, it should be noted, was speaking generically about NBA players. He wasn’t talking about any Cleveland players specifically, so this is a non-starter as bulletin board material heading into Game 3 Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena.

But as a longtime defensive guru wherever he has worked, Adams has seen players who come up as AAU darlings, expected only to flash their dazzling ball skills, as often or more than he’s seen real knee-bending, shorts-tugging defensive diggers who also happen to shoot lights out.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t change.

“Look at Kyle Korver, who transformed in our [Chicago Bulls] program to be a good defensive player,” Adams said. “Before that, he was not considered an asset. Watching him in Atlanta the last couple of years, they’ll put him on guys that we never would have put him on. And he’s guarding them pretty well.

“I think it’s your mentality. Sometimes it’s how you’re raised as a basketball player. A coach you have who’s maybe more offensive- than defensive-oriented. Or maybe if he’s defensive-oriented, you’re stunted offensively and you make up for it at some point.”

Steph Curry, Golden State’s two-time Most Valuable Player winner, has taken home two of those trophies while lugging around a reputation as a willing but mediocre defender. Other Warriors – Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala – are considered to be excellent on defense.

“Ever since I was a kid, I just hated to be scored on,” Thompson said. “Playing 1-on-1 with my brothers growing up, I think I developed that instinct not to have my big brother or little brother score on me, and I just carried it over to the pros.

“The best players to ever play this game were two-way players, and that’s what makes our team so good – we’ve got so many two-way players. Guys who play both sides of the ball, both in our starters and off our bench. Why not take pride in defense? It’s 50 percent of the game.”

So your typical All-Star has the tools, at least, to play defense well?

“All of those guys have the ability,” Thompson said. “But a lot of guys have big workloads for their teams. So you’ve got to cut ’em some slack.”

Given that it’s rare for even the best teams to have five defensive craftsmen in the lineup, Adams was asked how many slackers a good team can hide or survive?

“It can’t be too many,” he said. “If you have three really good core defenders, hopefully at least one of them’s a perimeter player, then that’s not a bad formula.

“You try to weave in the weaker defenders. Hide them in certain cases. Help them, so they have confidence they’re not going to be exposed.”

Adams gave credit to Mark Jackson, Golden State’s coach before Steve Kerr took over in 2014-15, with laying a strong defensive foundation.

“We had good defensive receptivity when we came in,” Adams said. “But you have to have guys who have defensive chips in ’em. That’s really the key thing, I think. It’s very hard to play good team defense without some defenders who have that innate ability or that mindset toward playing defense – and are good at it.

“You take Oklahoma City, they have a lot of good defenders on their team and they have a defensive mindset. Then Kevin [Durant] really committed to defense in that last series and when he does that, they’re fantastic.”

Cavs and Warriors search for their ‘LeBron,’ ‘Steph’ play-alikes in practice

OAKLAND – Two LeBron Jameses? Two Stephen Currys? It might seem like overkill or an embarrassment of riches, but a lot of times in showdowns such as The 2016 Finals, that’s what we get: the actual superstar and then his stand-in.

As in, the opposing player designated by his team to be “LeBron” or “Steph” in practice, a surrogate who tries to mirror the other guys’ primary threat to aid in preparation. It’s a tactic that many “scout teams” use regardless of sport.

Back in 2001, coincidentally, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue helped the Los Angeles Lakers get ready for their Finals against Philadelphia by playing the part of Allen Iverson. It was a natural bit of casting, from their similar 6-foot size right down to the braided hair. L.A won that series in five games.

So who is Golden State’s “LeBron” and Cleveland’s “Steph?” Well, the Warriors and the Cavs aren’t quite approaching their practices so literally.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we have some young coaches, so our scout teams are comprised of coaches,” said Golden State assistant Ron Adams. “Which I like because they get through it quickly, they get into stuff, there’s not much fooling around. Do we have a ‘LeBron?’ No, we don’t structure it like that. And we’ve had very little time from the last game to this game.”

Some teams don’t go “live” with their second units as opponent play-alikes, leery of risking injuries if the action gets too real. So they’ll simulate the opposition at a walk-through pace. Still, among the assistants and staffers who do show the Cavs’ tendencies to the Warriors’ starters, doesn’t someone wind up in the spots and role typically filled by James?

“Probably Theo,” Adams said, mentioning Golden State video coordinator Theo Robertson.

Robertson, 29, played at the University of California, a 6-foot-6 shooter who in 2010 helped the Golden Bears win their first Pac-10 championship in 50 years. As a senior, Robertson averaged 14.2 points and hit 45.3 percent of his 3-pointers, but he also was hampered by hip problems that undercut any pro playing ambitions.

“But,” Adams reiterated, “we don’t really do it that way.” So Theo is only a sorta, kinda, rough-draft, stand-in for LeBron.

Similarly, according to veteran reserve Dahntay Jones, the Cavaliers have no designated “Curry” clone when they take to the practice court. Their backups’ primary mission is to provide a sparring partner that demonstrates the Warriors’ maneuvers overall.

“Our scout team is very knowledgeable about what the other team is doing,” Jones said, “and we spend as much time studying as they do. That’s where this [Cleveland] team is a whole and a unit – even guys who don’t play, they’ll prepare even more to help [the starters] prepare.

“We won’t designate a player [as Curry] but we’ll present their tendencies. With their bench, how they evolve as a team, how they switch units. We have those components on our team too.”

Finals berth not only thing on line in Game 7 for Warriors, Thunder

There’s no need to minimize it or insult the process by saying it’s just another basketball game. Well, yes, it’s only a game, but plenty is at stake for the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and the principles involved in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

So let’s run it down here:

Golden State Warriors: All but one team that won 68 or more regular season games also took the championship (the 1972-73 Celtics came up short) and four of the six teams that won 67 were crowned. Which is to say the 2015-16 Warriors, who sit at the top of the heap among regular-season titans, would be forced to wear a nasty pimple on their nose should they fall to the Thunder. They should at least reach the NBA Finals after 73 wins, shouldn’t they? That’s probably the widely-held opinion in basketball circles, anyway, that the Warriors, by way of their own brilliance, have given themselves no choice.

If they double their pleasure and follow up 73 wins with a back-to-back title run, Golden State would demand to be in the conversation about best teams in NBA history. And if they don’t? Well, there wouldn’t be any shame in falling to a loaded and finally-healthy OKC team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, right? Don’t know about that. The way the Warriors pulverized the field from November through April, there certainly would and maybe should be some level of disappointment if they didn’t defend their title. Debate that if you wish, but a failure to reach the ultimate goal would leave a nasty taste.

Oklahoma City Thunder: When they reached the NBA Finals in 2012 with a nucleus of three players 22 and younger, it was easy to conclude that OKC, at the very least, would have a title by now. But, stuff happened. Bad stuff, mainly injuries to Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka that benched them from the playoffs. And James Harden was traded. The good news is OKC is finally fit and desperate to reclaim their place in line, which currently is occupied by Golden State. Sam Presti, the GM, has done a good job in the post-Harden era by giving Westbrook and Durant a very functional supporting cast. If OKC loses this game, the Thunder could begin to wonder how many more cracks they’ll get.

Kevin Durant: It’s not totally his fault that he’s The Best Player Without A Title; circumstances have played a role. Still, will he suddenly be lumped with Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and a host of other greats who are missing something? And of course, there’s the mater of addressing the elephant in the room: Does a Game 7 loss nudge Durant in the direction of signing elsewhere as a free agent this summer?

Stephen Curry: He has shot, by his standards, somewhat poorly in this series, just 42.2 percent since Game 2. And there have been stretches where the two-time MVP has looked ordinary, perhaps because he isn’t completely healthy. With greatness comes additional expectations that might be unrealistic to an extent. Curry can erase all of that with a massive Game 7, which he’s fully capable of pulling off. If he comes up short, then LeBron James will spend his time in The Finals saying I-told-you-so.

Draymond Green: Overall, it’s been a messy series for Green, what with the groin kick and the constant yapping at the referees, the awful performances in Games 3 and 4 and the lost margin for error regarding flagrant fouls (one more and he’s suspended). Green is discovering that when you move up in class in the NBA, from a good role player to an All-NBA team member, the demands rise as well. How does he respond?

Russell Westbrook: We’ve seen the Good Russ and the Reckless Russ in this series, sometimes in the same game or the same quarter. When the Thunder assumed a 3-1 lead, he was the best player after four games. When the Thunder lost the momentum two games later, it was partly because Westbrook either missed shots and/or lost control of the ball. When his game is pure and clean, he’s a sight to behold. When it isn’t, Mark Cuban might be right.

Klay Thompson: The most consistently good Warriors guard in this series, and the playoffs, isn’t Curry. Thompson has proven why he’s so valuable to the Warriors. He’s a great player — making All-NBA gives you that distinction — who is fine with riding shotgun. Like all shooters, Thompson can go cold at times, but when he’s squaring up at the rim and releasing, is there a purer shooter in the game? Certainly not in this series. Plus, Thompson must guard Westbrook. OKC should be more concerned with him than Curry.

 

Morning shootaround — May 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors more than pretty shots | Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder | Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? | DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach

No. 1: Warriors more than pretty shots — The game was instantly unforgettable, some of the shot-making was remarkable. But the Golden State Warriors’ ability to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals – it will be played on their home court Monday night in Oakland (9 ET, TNT) – owed as much to the defending champions’ ability to grind their way back from the brink against Oklahoma City Saturday. That was the take of our man Fran Blinebury:

OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s hard to take your eyes off Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when they’re doing their tricks with the basketball way up on the high wire.

Curry paints the canvas with equal parts imagination and sheer fearlessness. Thompson just fires like a machine-gunner with a hair trigger.

Spectacular to watch, it can take your breath and vocabulary away.

Thompson set an NBA playoff record with 11 3-pointers, firing in five of them in the fourth quarter. Curry tossed in a half dozen that included the one that finally dropped the hammer.

Yet in order for the pair of All-Star guards to flap their wings and soar like eagles, it was the ability of the Warriors to wrestle in the dirt that set up the incredible come-from-behind 108-101 win that now forces a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals on Monday night.

“We battled,” said Draymond Green.

“We fought for every opportunity,” said Andre Iguodala.

“We stuck with it,” said Andrew Bogut.

This was another game that could have gone like that last two times the Warriors stepped out onto the court in OKC, where a leak in their defense and ball handling became a raging flood and the defending champs were swept away by 28 and 24 points

But instead of sinking on Saturday night, the Warriors found a way to paddle their arms and kick their legs and kept popping their heads back up above the water.

They were frustrated time again and by the Thunder getting second shot opportunities that produced putback baskets. And yet they went right back to work on the backboards and down in the paint and out on the perimeter, swinging their axes with the resolve of coal miners.

“Game 5 was a battle,” Green said. “This was a war.”

The TV highlights that will run in an endless loop between now and Game 7 will show the Splash Brothers doing the act. It is the part of the show for which everybody buys their ticket. But it is often only possible if the Warriors are playing the kind of high-level, high-intensity defense that carried them to the title a year ago and built a large portion of that historic 73-9 record during the 2015-16 regular season.

The idea is to keep doing enough of the dirty work with the shovels in order to give Curry and Thompson a chance to come out and play. They never gave the longer, more athletic Thunder a chance to run away and hide.

In closing, here were a couple of pertinent Tweets overnight:

***

No. 2: Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder — One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And, of course, vice versa, which is the side of Saturday night’s outcome on which the Oklahoma City Thunder landed. Seemingly within reach of The Finals for the first time since 2012, they wound up with a closing performance worthy of some failed bullpen ace nicknamed “El Gasolino.” The Thunder’s two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, found themselves in the he-who-giveth, he-who-taketh-away dilemma: Without their heroics, OKC wouldn’t have been in position to nail down Game 6. But without their gaffes, the Thunder wouldn’t have been forced to head back to Oracle Arena for the Game 7 showdown. Our own Lang Whitaker reported on the OKC side:

For the Thunder, the loss brought about more questions than answers. Despite not shooting the ball particularly well — the Thunder finished 3-for-23 on 3-pointers — they had every opportunity to close out the series. Yet when it came time to make a closing statement, the Thunder were mostly mute.

During the regular season, fourth quarters were not always the Thunder’s happy place: they lost a league-high 14 games where they’d entered the fourth quarter holding a lead. While they had only lost one playoff game in similar situations, Saturday’s game doubled that total.

“I felt like we didn’t do a great job coming down the stretch,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan, “and I think we’ve made such great improvements coming down the stretch in terms of just on both offense and defense of doing a better job of executing and that really wasn’t — hasn’t been us the last month and a half. I thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch.”

Historically, whenever things get stagnant for the Thunder they can usually get help on the offensive end from either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, their two transcendent offensive stars. But neither shined particularly bright tonight, at least by their standards, combining for six fourth quarter turnovers and going 3-for-14 from the field when the Thunder were most desperate for baskets.

“I like my shots,” said Durant, who finished 10-for-31 overall, including 1-for-8 on 3s. “It’s just a matter of them going in. When I drive to the rim, they’re bringing extra guys at me, so I’ve got to do a better job making the extra pass. I wish I could have got a lot of those shots back. I felt great on a lot of them, but that’s just how it is.”

“We want [Durant] to be everything he can,” said Thunder center Steven Adams. “He’s one of the best players in the world, so we want him to be aggressive and he can. We as a team support and trust him, him and Russ. So we give him that freedom. Hopefully we make a play and we do the best we can to put them in the situation we need to be in.”

With their offense sputtering, the Thunder’s defense, which has been terrific throughout the series, also hit a rough patch, giving up 60 second half points to the Warriors. While the Thunder’s athletic roster has presented problems for the Warriors’ high-octane offense, particularly with their ability to switch picks and bother shots, tonight the Warriors basically ran a shooting clinic, finishing 21-for-44 on three-pointers. Golden State’s vaunted Splash Brothers, Thompson and Stephen Curry, totaled 70 points.

***

No. 3: Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? — One team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, already has taken care of its conference championship business and is patiently waiting for the West to deliver its champion to The Finals. That team is coached these days by Tyronn Lue, a rookie head coach thrust into that job when Cavaliers GM David Griffin fired David Blatt four months ago. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com filled the gap between Cavs games this weekend to pull back the curtain on Lue’s hiring and how – even though he aspired to be a head coach someday – Lue didn’t enjoy the manner in which this promotion came:

Tyronn Lue was enjoying a peaceful, rare afternoon off when his phone begin to ring. There would be little peace for the rest of the day.

Eventually, that one call led to others. It sparked conversations between Lue and every member of the Cavaliers roster that eventually reset a season. But it was that initial call that changed everything. General Manager David Griffin was on the line.

In speaking with numerous sources close to “The Call,” cleveland.com learned the details. There were no initial pleasantries. Griffin got right to the point — David Blatt was being relieved of his duties.

Lue’s response was candid and immediate.

“This is f—– up, Griff.”

That didn’t prevent Griffin from calmly asking Lue if he could take over. Hired as the associate head coach a year and a half earlier, becoming the head of a franchise was Lue’s eventual goal. But this didn’t seem right.

Lue pleaded with Griffin, arguing for several minutes that firing Blatt was an excessive move for a team carrying a conference-best 30-11 record. Griffin listened to Lue’s pleas. When they ended, he told Lue the decision has already been carried out.

Griffin circled back to his original question.

“What’s done is done. I’m asking you if you can lead this team?” It had taken a few minutes, but Griffin got the response he sought.

“Yeah, I can f—ing lead this team.”

Griffin then congratulated him.

January 22 marked the birth of a rejuvenated culture that catapulted the franchise to securing its second consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

“I was like, ‘what the f—.’ That was my initial thought,” Lue told cleveland.com. “I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t believe it. But, you’re prepared because you’ve done the coaching interviews and you have your philosophies. But to fire the head coach and you take over the next day with no practice or anything and you have the Chicago Bulls coming in. It was overwhelming.”

Owner Dan Gilbert has been reluctant to speak about Blatt’s departure and Lue’s promotion. However, after his team eliminated the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in Friday night’s Game 6, Gilbert took in the sight of a revived and confident roster. He felt it was the appropriate juncture to comment.

“I just think it was a great decision that was made,” Gilbert said to cleveland.com. “You never know what would happen any other way, but I think [Lue is] fantastic. It’s rare that a guy knows the game and has people skills. You get both with him, like offense and defense almost. He’s a special guy.”

***

No. 4: DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach — Followers of the NBA were just getting to know Bryce DeJean-Jones, given his brief stints on 10-day contracts this season with the New Orleans Pelicans and the multi-year deal he signed with the team to stick around for 2016-17 and maybe more. But there were plenty of people who knew DeJean-Jones and were stunned by the news of his death in a tragic shooting in Texas. One of those was Dave Rice, who had coached the young wing player during their time together at UNLV. Rice spoke with The Sporting NewsMike DeCourcy:

The news came to Dave Rice as a question more so than a statement. A friend from Las Vegas checked in to ask if it were true: Was Bryce Dejean-Jones really dead?

It did not take long for Rice to confirm. Dejean-Jones, 23, had been shot to death in Texas. The Dallas police stated Jones broke into an apartment, kicking in the front door and a bedroom door, and a startled resident had grabbed his gun and shot. The apartment owner released a statement indicating Dejean-Jones had been attempting to break into the home of an “estranged acquaintance” — multiple reports indicate it was the mother of his child — but had entered the wrong home

Rice had coached Dejean-Jones at UNLV for three seasons, after he transfered from Southern California. It was a challenge at times, and Dejean-Jones spent his final season of eligibility elsewhere. But they never lost touch.

“It’s just tough when you lose a former player that was special, that went through quite a bit of adversity — and Bryce would be the first one to say he was responsible for a lot of that adversity,” Rice told Sporting News on Saturday. “But he’d made a lot of progress.

“When you see someone you’ve tried to help and you see that person making progress, becoming a man and doing well, and then something like this happens it’s — tough is not the right adjective, but you know what I’m trying to say.”

A 6-6 forward from Los Angeles, Dejean-Jones spent a redshirt year at UNLV after transferring from Southern California, then played two years for the Rebels and produced scoring averages of 10.3 and 13.6 points a game. He was suspended for a violation of team rules and missed UNLV’s final regular-season game in 2014. He reportedly was heard yelling at teammates following the team’s conference tournament loss to San Diego State. It was time to move on.

Rice, now an assistant coach at Nevada, said the rough end to their time together did not diminish their relationship. The UNLV staff worked with Dejean-Jones to assure his graduation and transfer would go smoothly, and at Iowa State he averaged 10.5 points for a team that won the Big 12 tournament.

When Dejean-Jones was called up from the NBA Development League to play for the New Orleans Pelicans, he called Rice to share the joy. When UNLV made the impetuous decision to fire Rice last January, Dejean-Jones was among the former players who called to commiserate.

“We had a very special relationship,” Rice said. ”He knew that I always had his back. I think that was his way of saying ‘Coach, I’ve got yours.’ “

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman provides a forensic breakdown of the Thunder’s Game 6 meltdown. … Luke Walton isn’t talking about the Lakers job for now and certainly isn’t inclined to delve into his interview with Phil Jackson. … New Memphis coach David Fizdale may be close to adding a top-notch lieutenant to his staff. … If you want more Klay Thompson — apologies to Thunder fans — here’s a story from last June on the Warrior guard’s high school roots. … For some reason, that Yahoo! site The Vertical treated Thompson’s Yoda socks as if it was breaking news about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping or something. Here’s what all their fuss was about.

Pump the brakes on a Durant exit

VIDEO: Kevin Durant speaks after Sunday’s practice

SAN ANTONIO — The Thunder are three defeats away from kicking off the Summer Of Durant, which will be slightly less intense than the Summer Of LeBron (2010 version), because of course Kevin Durant will be the most desired free agent to hit the market since LeBron James.

But the closer you look, and the more you apply common sense, Durant stands a far better chance of staying in Oklahoma City than a tumbleweed does on a windy day. Because there’s one advantage the Thunder have going for them, one factor you cannot easily dismiss:

The Russell Westbrook factor.

Even if OKC doesn’t rally after being buried in Game 1 against the Spurs and get eliminated in the conference semis, Durant will probably feel he still has a chance to win with the Thunder and that’s because of Westbrook. Their roots run deep, and their chemistry on and off the court, by all accounts, is strong enough to convince Durant to give it one more try. The sensible solution is to stay linked with Russ, sign for one more year, and then that creates the Really Big Summer Of Russ And Durant in 2017, when both are free agents.

This way, Durant accomplishes three things: One, he gives himself a shot of making even more money a year from now when the salary cap rises; two, he knows he’ll still be in demand by contending teams in ’17; and three, he can continue riding with Westbrook well into the future either in Oklahoma City or elsewhere as a — compose yourself, now — package deal.

Not many A-list free agents would hitch themselves to a teammate with so much on the line, but then again, not many teammates have the bond that ties Westbrook and Durant together. Just a hunch here, but Durant probably believes he’ll never find a higher quality of co-star, and that likely includes Steph Curry; going to Golden State would be trading the known (Westbrook) for the unknown (Curry).

And really, Durant’s decision this summer is only about the Warriors or Thunder. Durant can sign with the Wizards, Lakers, Knicks or almost any other team in ’17 and still get the max or close enough to it. But if he wants to join the Warriors, he must do it now, because otherwise Harrison Barnes will swallow up a good portion of Golden State’s cap going forward.

There is another inducement that would keep Durant in OKC for at one more year: He’s comfortable in the city, OKC has a solid nucleus and the franchise is steered by a sharp GM in Sam Presti. But it starts with Westbrook; walking away from him would be difficult.

Just last week, the depth of their relationship was revealed when Durant ran to the rescue of Westbrook when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban declined to elevate Russ with the game’s greats, saying the point guard was just an All-Star.

When Westbrook was pressed for a response, he was waved off by Durant, who called Cuban “a idiot” while Westbrook sat back and allowed his friend to have the floor.

“Russ already knows that Kevin has his back,” said Nick Collison, who has been their teammate from the start, “but it’s just one more thing to say it publicly and take some of that on himself. It was definitely appreciated by Russ, for sure.”

Collison has had a point-blank view of the development of both players and how they’ve bonded. He noted how it’s not easy for two stars to always be in-step; history says that egos and agendas often get in the way. But that hasn’t been the case here. Even when Westbrook developed a habit of taking more shots than Durant, and caused outside observers to howl, Durant never took offense. On the contrary; he constantly harps on Westbrook never getting his due, and made a point to predict Westbrook would become the second Thunder player to win an MVP.

“They really appreciate each other,” said Collison. “There’s so much shared history. They’ve been through a lot together. They recognize how important each other is to the team. Look, there’s things that happen on the court that don’t always go over well, but they’ve always been able to figure it out. They have a common respect for each other and know how tough it is for them to do what they do. That allows them to get through anything that comes up.”

If Durant was looking to score his first big contract this summer, maybe money would get in the way. But he’s already had one big contract. And he’s making additional money in endorsements. And so Durant is one of the few NBA players who doesn’t need to seek the financial security of a long-term deal right away. He can go short-term and give OKC another try.

It’s the smart move this summer: Return for one more year, score a financial blockbuster later, and most important, keep Westbrook by his side.

 

Walton era begins with Lakers

VIDEO: Reaction on Luke Walton coaching the Lakers.

Luke Walton is coming to the Lakers and the only nit-pick that LA is raising is he isn’t bringing Steph Curry or Klay Thompson with him.

A year ago this time, Walton was the second assistant on the Warriors’ bench and seemingly a few years away, at least, from becoming a head coach in the NBA. He had only three years of experience as an NBA assistant. And Byron Scott had finished up his first season running the Lakers and no sense his job was in jeopardy despite just 21 wins, since the Lakers were in rebuilding mode.

But then, things happened. Walton’s stock soared suddenly, helped by a pair of events: Alvin Gentry left the Warriors last summer for the Pelicans, which allowed Walton to slide next to Steve Kerr; and Kerr missed the first 43 games this season with back issues, which put Walton in the big chair.

Timing, as they say, is everything, and in a flash, after going 39-4 while keeping the seat warm for Kerr, Walton found himself high on the list of every team looking for a coach.

The Lakers, from all accounts, are his dream job, and the two sides struck a deal late Friday for Walton to succeed Scott, who was fired last week. Part of the reason for Scott’s firing was the demand for Walton. He spoke with Knicks president Phil Jackson and was being considered by the Kings. The Lakers had to act now or risk losing Walton for good.

And now the question is: Was Walton’s amazing record with the Warriors due to Golden State being a polished and veteran team fueled by three All-Stars? Or did Walton show gobs of potential during his four-month stint? Maybe the truth is a bit of both.

Perception is everything, and the sight of Walton looking cool and composed with a clipboard, and standing next to Kerr when Kerr accepted the Coach of the Year Award the other day, weighed heavily in his favor. It also helps that Walton has been coached by Jackson and also Lute Olsen, and raised by his father Bill, a Hall of Famer.

Obviously Walton, 36, will step into a completely different situation. The Lakers have won 38 games the last two seasons and are loaded with young players and tapped out veterans. Yet: They’re expected to land a top-three pick in the lottery and now that Kobe Bryant is done, they have plenty of salary cap room and low expectations in the near future. That cushion will allow Walton to grow into the job.

For a team that just wrapped up a season of misery, this ranks as the first if only encouraging news of the year for the Lakers.

 

 

 

Morning shootaround — April 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 23

Poise, passion pay for Portland | Curry back in body, but in spirit? | Nowitzki chooses to keep fighting | Celtics’ Thomas bonds with Boston’s best

No. 1: Poise, passion pay for Portland — Things were slipping away for the Portland Trail Blazers late in their game Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which meant their first-round Western Conference series also was slipping from their grasp. The Blazers couldn’t afford to dig their hole 3-0 deep and maintain any realistic hopes of coming back, and they knew it. That’s when desperation kicked in, in the form of a feisty point guard and follow-the-leader resilience of his teammates. Jason Quick of CSNNorthwest.com detailed Portland’s late-game resolve and push:

It’s when some of the Clippers’ warts became exposed – DeAndre Jordan’s free throw shooting, Blake Griffin’s rust among them – and when some of the Blazers’ uncanny ability to play above-and-beyond what conventional wisdom says a team of this experience and payroll should.

It’s when Portland closed on a 15-3 run to secure a 96-88 win to draw within 2-1 of the Clippers in this best-of-seven series.

It was the Blazers’ most important 3:52 of the season and that frenetic finish included a speech, a three-pointer, a steal and a dunk. And ultimately, it included a message.

“It says we want it,’’ Damian Lillard said. “ We aren’t here for fake just to say ‘We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and we made it.’ We are here to compete. We are here to win. It said a lot about our team. We really showed some fight and some heart.’’

The crowd was buzzing. National television was watching. And a season still had a pulse, even though months ago some players admitted they figured by late April it would be forgotten in a three-margarita-haze somewhere in Mexico.

Soaking up that atmosphere, Lillard asked his teammates a question.

“I huddled the guys up and said ‘Are you all ready to go home? … We are going to finish this out,’’’ Lillard recalled later.

It wasn’t so much of a motivating, rallying cry as much as it was a crystalizing moment for the team, a now-or-never type of awakening.

“He basically came in there and said ‘I don’t want my season to be over,’’’ [Moe] Harkless said. “I felt the same way, so I was right there with him. Just to know everybody on the court had the same mindset … I mean, that’s big time.’’

[C.J.] McCollum made one of his two free throws. And after [DeAndre] Jordan split his free throws, Harkless darted from the baseline to rebound and dunk a miss from McCollum with 55 seconds left to give the Blazers a 91-86 lead.
“That play by Moe sealed the deal for us,’’ Davis said.

Who knows how much Lillard’s now-or-never speech had to do with the Blazers’ strong close to the game? Or whether it was more the Clippers’ undoing in the clutch rather than the Blazers’ rising to the occasion?

Doesn’t matter. Inside the locker room, this team looks to and listens to Lillard, and he usually delivers with something that resonates.

(more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 235) Playoff Time!

HANG TIME BIG CITY — I was sitting on the couch the other night, tuned in to the postseason, when I realized I didn’t know what day it was. Tuesday? Wednesday? It couldn’t be Monday, could it?

Welcome to the playoffs!

It’s that time of year, when every moment matters, when every game is must-see-tv. And the Hang Time Podcast crew has been on the ground from coast to coast checking out games, which was a great jumping off point for today’s podcast. 

But first, just as we began taping we found out about the tragic death of Prince, an artist we all grew up listening to and enjoying, and we had plenty of stories to tell as we paid our respects.

Once we got around to talking hoops, we went from the Thunder (and the Mavs) Dance Party to Atlanta’s impressive start, from the hot hot heat Miami has brought over the first two games to the Warriors and how long they should let Curry recuperate. We even talked about the Knicks and Lakers, and how those legendary franchises are moving forward without playoff participation.

Check out all that and more on Episode 235 of The Hang Time Podcast … Playoff Time!

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: Thunder/Mavs Game 2 All-Access

Morning Shootaround — April 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break — April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs trying to solve Curry and vice versa | Rockets’ brass will be evaluated at season’s end | What can Bryan Colangelo bring to Philly? | Should losing teams rest players?

No. 1: Spurs trying to solve Curry and vice versa After three games this season, and with another showdown looming Sunday, it’s clear the Spurs have targeted Steph Curry as the player they must stop. That’s not exactly breaking news; Curry is the league’s leading scorer and the heavy favorite to win his second straight MVP. But the Spurs bring one of the league’s top defenses and can throw multiple bodies in Curry’s direction, starting with Tony Parker and Patty Mills and at times they might surprise Curry with Kawhi Leonard.  Curry spoke about the Spurs on the eve of the final meeting between the teams before the playoffs with Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle

Stephen Curry thinks he figured out something in Thursday’s meeting with the Spurs, and he’ll get a chance to test his theory when the Warriors play at San Antonio on Sunday.

After scoring 14 points on season lows in field-goal (4-for-18, 22.2 percent) and three-point (1-for-12, 8.3 percent) shooting in the Warriors’ 87-79 loss to the Spurs, the Warriors’ point guard bounced back with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the floor in Thursday’s 112-101 win.

“I just watched the film and made adjustments based on how they played me in San Antonio and how I thought they’d probably continue,” Curry said before Saturday’s game against the Grizzlies. “Instead of searching for the three, I was trying to keep them off-balance by getting into the paint and making plays.

“I just slowed down, really. Any game where somebody makes crazy adjustments like that, you’ve got to be able to take your time and figure out how you’re going to attack that space. I didn’t do it well in San Antonio, but I made the proper adjustments last game.”

Curry is averaging 11.1 three-point attempts per game, but with the Spurs switching on pick-and-rolls and running him off the three-point line, Curry made a concerted effort to get into the lane.

He attempted only seven three-pointers Thursday, and two were prayers at the end of quarters. It was the eighth time all season that Curry attempted seven or fewer three-pointers.

“I think teams have mimicked what the Spurs did the last time we played them in San Antonio,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “Teams really started jumping out at him and switching, so we’re seeing it more and more. They definitely have a plan, and they’re good at it. They’re obviously smart. To do something like that, you have continuity, understanding and togetherness, and they’re really good at it.”

Curry has gotten pretty good at handling it, too.

That’s one of the reasons that the entire basketball world will be tuned into Sunday’s game.

***

No. 2: Rockets’ brass will be evaluated at season’s end With the Rockets qualifying as the heavy favorite to win the season’s most disappointing team award, are big changes coming? That question wouldn’t even be asked right around this time last season, when the Rockets were one route to an appearance in the Western Conference finals. But this season has been all sorts of hell, starting with the early firing of coach Kevin McHale and the failure to incorporate Ty Lawson into the lineup. It would be big news if Daryl Morey loses the GM job if only because Morey has a reputable track record. Anyway, owner Leslie Alexander must decide the fate of Morey and also interim coach JB Bickerstaff. Here is Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com …

Sources told ESPN that the Rockets believe every aspect of the organization — coaching staff, front office and, of course, their roster — must be subject to a thorough review in the wake of Houston’s slide to a 38-41 outfit that’s at serious risk to miss the playoffs after damaging losses this week to Dallas and Phoenix.

Houston won 56 games and reached the Western Conference finals last season.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has publicly acknowledged that Bickerstaff — who replaced Kevin McHale in an interim role just 11 games into this season — would have to be assessed at season’s end.

Significant roster changes are likewise expected, with free agent-to-be Dwight Howard widely anticipated to move elsewhere and little certain beyond the Rockets’ presumed intention to reload around star guard James Harden.

Sources say Morey, whose contract runs through the 2017-18 season, ‎also faces some uncertainty in the wake of the Rockets’ struggles. Morey’s ever-bold approach to roster assembly won deserved kudos for bringing Harden (October 2012) and Howard (July 2013) to Houston in quick succession, but team chemistry has been a rising concern this season given the well-chronicled deterioration of the Harden-Howard relationship and the failed offseason gamble on guard Ty Lawson.

“You’re asking the wrong guy about that,” Morey told ESPN in a recent interview when asked about his job security. “That’s Mr. Alexander’s choice and all I do is my job every day. He makes that call.”

After a 4-7 start, Houston made the stunning decision to part ways with McHale, who had barely begun the first year of a new three-year extension.

Bickerstaff has fared better, going 34-34 in his interim role, but Houston’s defensive frailties and repeated inability to hold big leads have conspired to put the Rockets on par with the Chicago Bulls on the list of this season’s most disappointing teams.

Bickerstaff, for his part, says he has not yet commenced discussions with management about his job status.

“No, not at all, that’s not even a issue [or] a concern,” Bickerstaff said of his future prior to the Rockets’ loss to the Suns on Thursday night.‎

***

No. 3: What can Bryan Colangelo bring to Philly? The Sixers haven’t officially named Bryan Colangelo as the successor to Sam Hinkie, who resigned last week, although it could happen by Monday. But that hasn’t stopped Philly from wondering if the team of Colangelo and Colangelo — no, not a law firm, but the father-son front office combo of Jerry and Bryan — can produce a somewhat drastic turnaround for the rebuilding team. Here is Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer on the possibilities …

Folks bashed the Sixers for nepotism, immediately after learning it would be Bryan Colangelo. They brought up that he was unable to win an NBA championship during his stops as general manager of the Phoenix Suns and the Toronto Raptors.

And they delivered perhaps the lowest blow of all, mentioning that he drafted 20-year-old Italian Andrea Bargnani with the first overall selection in the 2006 NBA draft. Let’s just say making Bargnani the first European to be selected first overall didn’t pan out. He never lived up to the hype surrounding that pick and is on his third NBA team.

But what the disappointed folks don’t mention is that Bryan Colangelo is a two-time NBA executive of the year. The 50-year-old first won the award in 2005 with the Suns. His second award came in 2007 with the Raptors.

“If you are the Sixers, you should be really happy about this,” said a league executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Plus it will be a seamless transition with Jerry and his son. Everything will be on the same page.”
That wasn’t the case with Jerry Colangelo and Hinkie over the last four months.

But aside from Bargnani, Bryan Colangelo has been known for excelling while making aggressive moves.

He drafted Steve Nash 15th overall in the 1996 NBA draft and traded him to the Dallas Mavericks in 1998 in exchange for Pat Garrity, Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells, and a 1999 first-round pick that he used to select Shawn Marion.

He also drafted Amar’e Stoudemire ninth overall in the 2002 draft.

Some of his most noteworthy roster moves came during and after the 2003-04 season, when the team finished, 29-53.

In January 2004, he sent Anfernee Hardaway, Stephon Marbury, and Cezary Trybanski to the Knicks for Howard Eisley, Maciej Lampe, Antonio McDyess, Charlie Ward, Milos Vujanic, and 2004 and 2010 first-round picks. Then he signed Nash as a free agent that summer.

The following season, the Suns went 62-20 and lost to the Spurs in the Western Conference finals. Nash was named the league’s MVP, and Mike D’Antoni, now the Sixers’ associate head coach, was the NBA coach of the year.

That was the first of three Pacific Division titles and the first of back-to-back conference finals appearances for the Suns.

However, Bryan Colangelo wasn’t there to celebrate all that put in place due to a soured relationship with managing owner Robert Sarver, who bought the team from Jerry Colangelo.

So he took over the Raptors’ on Feb. 28, 2006. In 2006-07, the Raptors finished 47-35 and made their first playoff appearance in five seasons. It was also their first winning season since 2001-02.

Bryan Colangelo is also an architect of this season’s Raptors, who are the Eastern Conference’s second-best squad.

He selected DeMar DeRozan with the ninth pick of the 2009 draft. Colangelo hired Dwayne Casey as the head coach in June 2011. He drafted Jonas Valanciunas with the fifth pick of the 2011 draft two days later. Then, after drafting Terrence Ross with the eighth pick in 2012, he acquired Kyle Lowry in a trade with Houston Rockets in July 2012.

***

No. 4: Should losing teams rest players? The Sacramento Kings are going nowhere except the draft lottery again, a fate that has been assured for weeks. However, that hasn’t stopped them from sitting players. DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo, among others, have “rested” as though they were veterans with minor ailments, awaiting for the playoffs to begin. Is that fair, especially since the NBA, beginning with this season, spaced games apart and reduced back-to-backs? The Kings are hardly the only non-playoff team to sit players for reasons other than injury; but some fans in Sacramento sounded off on it to Andy Furillo of the Sacramento Bee

At 12:31 p.m. Thursday, the Kings put out a news release that said DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo would not play that night at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It attributed the planned absences of the star center and flashy point guard to their need for rest. The two must have really been tired, because they just got a night off Saturday in Denver and a night off the previous Monday in Portland.

Along with Rondo and Cousins, another young man at Sleep Train Arena on Thursday night was tired. His name is Terrence Zwane, and he was tired of big-money players resting on nights like Thursday, when he paid $300 to sit in the lower bowl.

“I don’t think it’s cool,” said Zwane, 26, a legal assistant who attends about 10 games a year.

Zwane reasoned, accurately, that the salaries of Cousins, who is making about $15.9 million this season, and Rondo, who punches the clock for $9.5 million, are largely responsible for his high cost for a good seat. The abilities of the two, of course, are the reason Zwane was willing to spend the money. Then he came to the game and they didn’t play, and the team didn’t even make the announcement that they were not going to play until seven hours before the game, when the two players were as healthy as could be reasonably expected for the 79th game of the season

Resting a player for one or two games over the course of a long season, “if you need to do that,” makes sense to Zwane. Otherwise, in instances such as Thursday, “It’s really pointless, especially when you are paying them big money and we are paying big money to watch them,” he said.

Without Cousins and Rondo, the Kings understandably lost to the Timberwolves 105-97. Maybe they needed Thursday off to ensure they would be rested enough to play in Saturday’s final game at Sleep Train Arena, which is expected to be filled beyond capacity to celebrate 28 seasons there.

After Thursday’s game, Kings coach George Karl was asked what he would say to the fans, if he could say anything, about paying big money to see the game and then having Cousins and Rondo miss it to rest.

Karl was the wrong guy to take the question. It should have been directed to general manager Vlade Divac, but Divac wasn’t on hand, so the coach gave it a shot.

“I’m old school,” Karl said. “I like playing every game like it means something.”

But in the modern NBA, “everybody’s doing it,” Karl said about giving guys days of rest when it appears to people like Zwane that they don’t really need it.

“Philosophically,” Karl said, “I can see the good in why you do it, and I can see philosophically why the fans should be upset, why they’re upset.”

In addition to holding Cousins and Rondo out of the Minnesota, Denver and Portland games, the playoff-eliminated Kings rested Kosta Koufos, Rudy Gay and Darren Collison in Tuesday’s loss at home to Portland.

As Karl said, it is popular for teams to dial back on playing time for those who have been pounding the floorboards fairly relentlessly since October. Most of the time, the decisions to rest players are made collectively – between the front office, coaching staff and players – although it’s not known how the decision was made by the Kings.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Not only does Kobe Bryant want the Warriors to break the Bulls’ record of 72 wins, so does LeBron JamesFred Holberg says the Bulls need to figure out a leadership command for next seasonBrent Barry was asked his opinion of the Timberwolves and also about the coaching position, and Bones was to happy to share his thoughtsCan Alec Burks stay healthy and help the Jazz lock up a playoff spot?