Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Generous to a fault? Paul, Wall challenging trend of assists vs. rings


VIDEO: John Wall recorded 21 points and 17 assists vs. the Wolves

John Wall has been making a case through the season’s first seven weeks to be considered the NBA’s best point guard, a title that he’d be wresting away from veteran Clippers playmaker Chris Paul. But Wall might want to heed that old saying about being careful what he wishes for, because that title might get in the way of an even greater goal the Washington Wizards’ guard has for him and his team.

Within the feature on Paul by Michael Lee, the Washington Post’s NBA writer, was some cause for pause, as far as how the league’s elite point guards have fared in their quest for championships. There’s a trend at work that doesn’t just seem at odds with Paul but with any of the players typically thought of as the game’s greatest playmakers:

Since Magic Johnson won back-to-back championships in 1987-88 and finished first and second, respectively, in assists, no player has ranked in the top five in helpers and won a title. Johnson is also the last point guard from a championship team to average at least 10 assists per game in the regular season.

[Isiah] Thomas and Jason Kidd are the only championship point guards in the past 25 years to average at least eight assists. In that time, John Stockton, Gary Payton, and Kidd held the subjective crown as the league’s best floor general, led their respective teams to the NBA Finals and failed to win it all. [Steve] Nash reached the conference finals three times but never made it to the ultimate stage. Aside from Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo, most of the championship point guards have been the non-intrusive, move-the-ball-and-get-out-of-the-way variety, such as Avery Johnson, Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher and Mario Chalmers.

Paul’s postseason record seems to support the, what should we call it, trend? Theory? Pattern? As Lee notes:

In his first nine seasons, Paul has never reached the conference finals, let alone the NBA Finals. It doesn’t matter that only Michael Jordan, George Mikan, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon have a higher career postseason player efficiency rating, Paul’s 22-31 postseason record diminishes his greatness in the eyes of those who value rings over everything else.

“That’s just the world we live in,” Paul said with a shrug. “It comes with it, but what can you do? Keep playing. I don’t know what else to say. We’re playing. I know I’m going to compete, day in and day out. Trying to get one.”

Heading into Wednesday night’s action, the assists leaders among point guards were Wall (10.6 apg), Rondo (10.6), Ty Lawson (10.3) and Paul (9.7) – all above that demonstrated cutoff of eight per game. Meanwhile, guys such as Kyle Lowry (7.6), Stephen Curry (7.6), Jeff Teague (7.0), Mike Conley (6.2), Damian Lillard (6.1), Tony Parker (5.3) and Kyrie Irving (5.2) are safely below it, and Russell Westbrook (6.8) and Derrick Rose (6.7) would be too if they qualified for the leaders board.

Should Wall and Paul stop passing the ball so much, in an effort to avoid the distinction? That doesn’t seem to make sense. But it is an unexpected quirk that might say a few things about defending against attacks run by elite point guards and the value of guys who seek out their own shot. That other old saying, the one about cutting off the head of a snake, might come into play.

Blogtable: Build with offense or defense?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEOGameTime’s crew breaks down the Sacramento Kings’ coaching situation

> Sacramento GM Pete D’Alessandro says he wants to see his team play at a faster pace. What’s a better foundation for a championship team — a high-scoring offense, or a stout defense?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGive me a stout defense. So much of a team’s and an individual’s success in this league (anywhere, really) hinges on the honing of habits. Come playoff time, possessions become more precious, pace throttles down and defense becomes more important, and I don’t see a Paul Westhead approach suddenly downshifting to out-stingy teams that have been playing that way all year. You want to make the highlight reels and fill a new building? High-octane offense is great. You want to win titles? Defense is king (even if it’s not Kings).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe truth, of course, is balance, but defense carries more weight. Say a top 10-ranked offense, but a defense in the top five. By the way, the past two years, the Spurs have been 7th and 3rd, respectively.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: High-scoring works, as the Spurs reminded last season, but defense has to be the foundation, as pretty much everyone reminds every season. A good defense leads to offense, as in easy transition baskets. Offenses will have bad nights, whether because of self-induced problems or the opponent, but a potent defense rarely breaks down.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The obvious answer is that it takes some of both to have any shot at a title, but of course, a defensive team will always have a slight edge in the postseason, when the court shrinks and rotations tighten. Going back to what D’Alessandro said for a minute: Your offensive system must always cater to the talent on hand. In theory, everyone wants to run. In reality, not everyone is equipped to run. The Grizzlies, for example, don’t push the ball often because they lack the Ferraris. But last I looked, they’re sitting pretty in the West, looking down on Sacramento.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: More teams have reached The Finals with a top-10 defense than with a top-10 offense. You have to be great on both ends of the floor to win a title, but last season’s Heat and Spurs each showed us the importance of defense. Still, as the only team that has been below average on both ends of the floor for each of the last eight years, the Kings have to take what they can get. Find something that works and build on it. Fortunately for them, DeMarcus Cousins has developed into an anchor on both ends of the floor. But they need to surround him with a better supporting cast, the right coach, and some stability.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comA stout defense has to be the bedrock for a championship team. For teams that want to be exciting, draw eyeballs and get fans in the seats, a high-scoring offense is fine. The Phoenix Suns of the Mike D’Antoni era come to mind when I think of a team that could fill it up and had the appearance of a championship team, that is until they ran back to the other end of the court and couldn’t slow anyone down. I think a team that has to work overtime on offense to be legitimate can be a championship team with an elite defense. I have yet to see a team that can do the same on the flip side (an offensive juggernaut with defensive deficiencies). Ideally, it’s best to have the sort of balance the Texas teams (Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs) that have won championships recently possessed. As for the Kings, all the pace and points in the world won’t help you if you can’t lock down and get stops when you need them.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: You need both, and for a team like the Kings — who haven’t been in the playoffs since 2006 — it doesn’t matter whether the offense or defense is established first. Just be good at something. Establish a winning identity, and then fill in at the weak spots. The Mavericks did it that way: They learned how to win and then added the defensive mindset. The Kings have no business thinking about championships right now; their first job is to win more games than they lose, and to establish a defining strength — somewhere, anywhere.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWhy does it have to be one or the other? A high-scoring attack is great — it’s fun to watch, it’s attractive to casual fans. But unless you have an above-average defense to go along with it, you don’t have much to fall back on when the offense inevitably slows. And for all the talk about wanting a more uptempo offense, the thing is the Kings weren’t a very good defensive team last season (they finished with a 109.5 defensive rating), and they haven’t been much better this year. (108.2). Bottom line, the Kings have a long way to go on both ends of the court before we start talking championships.

Blogtable: Your All-Star starters

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEO: The Starters reveal their early All-Star starter picks

> You’ll get a chance to you change your mind in about three weeks, but give me your starting five (East and West) for February’s All-Star Game, based ONLY on performance this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The guys I think earned it in the West are names who might actually get enough votes in the real balloting: Stephen Curry and James Harden in the backcourt, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt. Out East, I’m not sure my five all would prevail in the popularity contest but on merit, they should go: John Wall and Kyle Lowry at guard, with LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Kyle Korver up front. Korver, you ask? He’s having a season to make analytics fans swoon, someone from Atlanta deserves a spot and I like the idea of two Kyles in a five-man lineup.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comEast: Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol. West: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol. Durability counts, that’s why Dwyane Wade loses out to Irving and DeMarcus Cousins to Marc Gasol.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comEast: LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh (forwards), Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry (guards). West: Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins (forwards), Stephen Curry and James Harden (guards). The option to change my mind in three weeks comes in especially handy with Cousins. If he returns strong from the viral meningitis, he holds the spot. If he struggles physically for long, his place becomes more precarious. It gets even worse if the Kings continue to drop in the standings — which dooms Carmelo Anthony on the East front line –or Cousins has a choppy adjustment to the Kings’ coaching change increased emphasis on playing up-tempo. Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are waiting.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWest: James Harden, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol. Pretty clear-cut there. They’ve been healthy and productive. East: Kyle Lowry, John Wall, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony. Yeah, folks will hold their nose about ‘Melo, but that’s more because of the Knicks. He’s No. 6 in scoring and the East is lacking in star power on the front line.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Going by the positions on the ballot (veiled shot at my colleagues who included Lowry, Wall and Butler) … East guards: Kyle Lowry and John Wall.  East frontcourt: LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol. West guards: Stephen Curry and James Harden. West frontcourt: Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis and Tim Duncan. Duncan gets my final spot in the crowded West frontcourt (for now), because he’s more of a two-way player than LaMarcus Aldridge and his minutes are over 30 per game this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Based only on performance, in the East it has to be Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James and Pau Gasol. In the Western Conference, where a preposterous surplus of candidates for five spots, I’m going with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol. I don’t think I’ll need that mulligan in three weeks either, even with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant coming on the way they are for Oklahoma City and Kobe Bryant playing the way he has all season. I want to reserve my injury replacement spot for Klay Thompson, too. He’s been that good this season and the Warriors are rocking. He belongs in New York for the festivities.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: In the East, I’ve got LeBron James, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh in the frontcourt, with Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt. In the West, it’s Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis up front, with James Harden and Stephen Curry in the backcourt.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogEast: John Wall, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Chris Bosh. If I could put Kobe at the 3, I would, because I think he deserves to make the starting five. But there are literally only two players in the West that I’d rate ahead of him, and they are both guards. Sorry, Mamba. West: Steph Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol

For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: A looming trade?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Build with offense or defense? | Who will get traded? | Your All-Star starters



VIDEOShould the Warriors think about dealing David Lee?

> Give me a name or two, guys who you think almost certainly will be traded between now and the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comLance Stephenson back to Indiana as a do-over of sorts would be interesting, because it’s not something we’ve seen often (ever?). David Lee done got “Wally Pipped” in Golden State – the team didn’t miss him and might be better without him – so he’d be a likely suspect to move, if someone were willing to swallow his contract. I would have said Ersan Ilyasova for sure until Jabari Parker went down, thinning the Bucks’ frontcourt.  If LeBron James wants Corey Brewer, then I’d imagine Brewer will be headed to Cleveland for something or other. Then there’s Greg Monroe, though any trade would hinge on his determination to leave Detroit (no more Bird rights) and the Pistons’ asking price for a half-season of his services.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comLance Stephenson and Dion Waiters. It seems there wasn’t a bigger mistake made during the offseason than the Hornets trying to add Stephenson as a pinch of spice. He’s been a bad fit since Day One and team owner Michael Jordan would most likely enjoy a shot at a do-over. The bad blood between Waiters and point guard Kyrie Irving might be in the past, but Waiters is still most often like a fifth wheel on the Cavs’ machine and is likely never going to stop being frustrating.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt’s tough not to think Lance Stephenson right away. The contract is very moveable — $27 million over three seasons, but the final campaign as a team option — and Stephenson can be a productive player, certainly more productive than he has shown so far in Charlotte. It’s early in the relationship, but the Hornets can’t wait much longer before deciding it’s a bad fit. Separately, the Pistons are a candidate to trade. Offloading Josh Smith would be an ideal scenario, but he won’t bring much in return. Greg Monroe is a possibility, before he becomes a free agent, but not at a fire-sale discount. He’ll still cost.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: There are dozens of players that teams want to dump, but for various reasons might be unable to do so. Case in point: Josh Smith, Pistons. Anyway, my candidates: Gerald Green, because the Suns may not want to pay him; Arron Afflalo, because his return to Denver has been largely a bust; Corey Brewer, because the Wolves will be crummy with or without him; and finally Lance Stephenson, just because.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are a lot of guys who teams don’t want anymore, and there are a lot of guys that other teams desire. But Draft pick compensation and the heftiness of certain contracts (hello, Joe Johnson) often get in the way of potential deal. Dion Waiters, in my opinion, should fall into the first category and is still on an easily-tradeable rookie contract. So I see him as the most likely to move. The Cavs need defense and have plenty of guards — Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Harris, James Jones and Mike Miller — who can absorb Waiters’ minutes.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comJosh Smith and Lance Stephenson serve as the easy picks and for good reason. I think one or both of them will certainly be on the move. There is no doubt they’re both being shopped by their respective teams. They are both talents with skills that will be coveted by teams convinced that they’ll be able to clean up whatever messes they’ve made in the past. Neither one of them is a great (or even good) fit in their current situations. The Pistons aren’t going anywhere this season, so they might as well start the rebuilding process at the deadline. The Hornets had high hopes and had them dashed early. They need to free themselves of Stephenson and allow him to start fresh elsewhere as well. My wild card at the deadline is the Phoenix Suns. They had a glut of point guards and should take a hard look at which one of them is expendable.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI’m going to say Josh Smith and any other number of Pistons. The coach has the authority to make trades in Detroit, and after complaining steadily about the effort of his players, Stan Van Gundy isn’t going to allow the trade deadline to pass him by.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI wouldn’t be surprised to see the Knicks move Amar’e Stoudemire. He’s playing better basketball than he’s played in years, and could lend a hand on a contending team in need of frontcourt depth. Plus, with a $19 million expiring contract, maybe the Knicks can get something of value for him that will help with their rebuild going forward.

Buss siblings open up about Bryant, Lakers’ mistakes, team’s future

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Would the Lakers consider trading Kobe Bryant if the season continues to be a struggle? (NBAE via Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Lakers headed into the weekend with an unfamiliar and uncomfortable 6-16 record. Their three-game trip to San Antonio, Minnesota and Indiana was bound to be memorable, with Kobe Bryant closing in on Michael Jordan‘s NBA points total. But it also figured to be more of the same as far as struggles – the Lakers were dragging on the road with them the league’s worst defense (114.6 defensive rating) and a mediocre offense (106.5 offensive rating) too dependent on Bryant. And for all his skills and achievements for the storied franchise, and his profanity-laced blistering of teammates in practice as presumed motivation the other day, coach Byron Scott‘s crew has played better with Bryant off the floor than on it (a minus-18.8 swing per 100 possessions).

It was against that backdrop that Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss, two of late Lakers owner Jerry Buss‘ six children and the two most heavily involved in running the team, sat for a joint interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com. In their answers to Ramona Shelburne, the Buss siblings gave a thorough state-of-the-Lakers snapshot. Here are a few excerpts:

There’s been a lot of talk that this season is going so badly that you should trade Kobe. Set him free, so to speak. Is there any chance that happens?
Jim:
No. I love Kobe Bryant. I think L.A. loves Kobe Bryant. I don’t envision him going anywhere. I don’t see it.
Jeanie: I don’t want to see Kobe Bryant leave. But we understand the realities of the sports world. Take Shaq, for example. He was traded and played for several other teams. But once he retired, he asked us to retire his jersey. He wanted to be remembered as a Laker. So while I get attached, I know what the realities are in this business. It’s never going to change what we’ve accomplished together. But I don’t look forward to the day that Kobe Bryant’s not in purple and gold.

Your 2015 first-round pick is owed to Phoenix as part of the Steve Nash trade unless it’s in the top five. There is already talk that you should tank to try to keep that pick. How do you respond to that?
Jim:
It will never happen here, period. The question is insulting. Our fans understand there’s a process. They believe in the process — the coach, Kobe, the draft pick [Julius Randle] and the flexibility we have going forward.
Jeanie: The teams that use tanking as a strategy are doing damage. If you’re in tanking mode, that means you’ve got young players who you’re teaching bad habits to. I think that’s unforgivable. If you’re tanking and you have young players or you keep a short roster, you’re playing guys out of their position or too many minutes, you’re risking injury. It’s irresponsible and I don’t think it belongs in any league.

Jim, in 2012 you made some decisions that were praised initially — trading for Steve Nash and acquiring Dwight Howard — but they didn’t work out and you were criticized. Is that what you mean as far as owning up to your decisions?
Jim:
Do I deserve all the glory if it works? No. Do I deserve all the blame if it doesn’t work? No. But I’m accountable for it.
Jeanie: With the Steve Nash situation, I think we did everything in good faith. We sacrificed to get him by giving up draft picks. We made sure he was one of the top-15-paid players at his position, and we hired a coach that specifically suited his style of play. So from our point of view, we did everything right. You go in with good intentions, and it didn’t work out.

Jeanie, you have been on record as saying that the Lakers let Dwight Howard down. What did you mean by that?
Jeanie:
It came down to hiring a coach. [The Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni in November 2012.] When you have a big man and a guard, you have to decide whom you’re going to build your team around. The choice was to build it around Steve Nash and what suited Steve Nash instead of what suited Dwight Howard.

It sounds as if Jeanie has a difference of opinion on who should have been hired as coach.
Jim:
I’ve been on record as saying [hiring D’Antoni] was my dad’s decision. I know that makes Jeanie uncomfortable, but I’d sit down with him for hours going over Laker decisions. In my opinion, he was sharp.
Jeanie: [Interrupts] Dad was in the hospital. I would always run things by Dad, too. But he was in the hospital, not feeling well, and that is why he counted on us to make the decisions. So I agree that he would have input, but he needed my suggestion or Jimmy’s suggestion or [GM Mitch Kupchak’s] suggestion because he was confined and did not have access to all the information that we did.

Jim, you were quoted in the L.A. Times last year as saying that if you can’t turn the Lakers around in three years, you’d step down. Why did you say that?
Jim:
That’s been the plan all the way through. If I don’t get to that point, then I’ve derailed it somewhere. I’ll stick to that, and I have no problem sticking to that because everything is on track for us to be back on top.

Jeanie, what did you think when you read that?
Jeanie:
There’s no reason to worry because he feels confident that he’ll be successful. So really, there’s no reason to announce a timeline. But I think that, just like any business, if you’re not meeting your expectations in an organization, you should expect a change.

‘Melo denies he’d waive no-trade

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The Knicks have lost 10 games in a row and Carmelo Anthony is doubtful for Friday’s game. (NBAE via Getty Images)

 

A friend of many folks here at the Hang Time HQ who cashed paychecks from the New York Post once shared a conversation he’d had with a high-ranking editor. “Don’t be afraid to be wrong – big!” the boss had told him. The message was clear: Better to snag a sensational story and headline to drive sales (and nowadays generate clicks) than to miss it by worrying about pesky details. Such as, oh, accuracy.

If one believes New York forward Carmelo Anthony, the inescapable conclusion is that the Post was wrong – big! – in its story that the Knicks’ scoring star was willing to waive his no-trade clause to get out from under this horrible season so far for Madison Square Garden’s NBA royalty.

Real truth, of course, might lie somewhere in between. For instance, Anthony, his agent Leon Rose or someone close to them might have floated the angle to the Post just to see what it might trigger, inside or outside the Knicks organization. In that case, the first story wouldn’t necessarily be wrong; it just would have gotten spun since being published.

But for the record, as far as the Post’s competitors were concerned in that occasionally vicious media market, Anthony said he was pursuing no such escape hatch when he spoke at the team’s shootaround Friday morning in Boston. He had a shot at freedom and serious NBA play as a free agent this summer, but turned down Chicago, Houston and Dallas, among others, because New York could pay him more (five years, $124 million). Besides, it’s improbable that any of the contenders would rip up their rosters to send back players to match Anthony’s full-retail price tag.

Here are details from Newsday, the team owned by Cablevision, the same company that owns the Knicks:

“I don’t really know what to say to that,” Anthony said during the morning shoot around as the Knicks prepared for Friday night’s game against the Celtics in Boston. “I guess it’s just what happens when you hit the wall of adversity and everything is a snowball effect. I guess it comes with the territory. Whether it’s fair or not, it comes with the territory. You know the cure to all of this is winning, and that’s what we have to do, win some basketball games. I’ve been here before, I’ve lost some games and had all types of things written about me, written about the team. It’s going to happen.”

“Come on, man. After all the work I did to get here and get back here, if I was to get up and want to leave now, that would just make me weak, make me have a weak mind. I’ve never been the person to try run from any adversity or anything like that. So I’m not going to pick today to do that.”

The Knicks have lost 10 games in a row and Anthony is doubtful for Friday night’s game against the Celtics with a sore left knee. J.R. Smith, who has a sore heel, is doubtful as well.

Under NBA rules, players that signed this offseason can be traded starting on Monday. It’s highly unlikely Anthony will be one of them.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too | Wall ranks top PGs | Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare | Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’

No. 1: Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too — Maybe a better version of the old “cake” proverb in this case would be: Carmelo Anthony can’t have his Big Apple and beat it, too. Or can he? The Knicks’ scoring star had a chance to sign – unencumbered – as a free agent with one of several legitimate NBA contenders over the summer. Instead, after wining and dining, he went about re-signing for the biggest paycheck – a five-year, $124 million deal – returning to New York despite an obvious rebuilding plan under new boss Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher. So now Anthony is whining, or at least is glum enough to consider “dropping his no-trade clause.” We’ll offer the standard “reader beware” warning on this one because it’s one of those nebulous, unprovable, “so-and-so might be thinking about” types of stories. And it has been labeled “a fiction” by one of the New York Post‘s competitors. But here are the details, regardless of how untradeable Anthony’s contract might be or how unappealing his lack of leadership through these tough times makes him:

For now, Anthony has no desire to be traded, but his willingness to consider giving up the no-trade clause shows how frustrated he has become with the Knicks’ historically bad start to the season.

The Knicks have lost 10 straight games — two shy of a team-record — and at 4-20 have the most losses in the NBA, one more than the laughingstock Sixers.

On Wednesday, it was revealed Anthony got into an on-court scuffle with teammate Tim Hardaway recently, which resulted in a players’ only meeting on Saturday.

Anthony can be traded beginning Monday — the unofficial start of trade season when all free agents and draft picks signed over the summer can be moved.

A trade to a contender would be a financial boon to Anthony as he has a trade kicker attached to his contract that is worth 15 percent of the remaining value at the time of the deal. That kicker was put in place by Anthony’s handlers to deter teams from approaching the Knicks about Anthony. He would receive a lump-sum payment of roughly $17.5 million if he is traded Monday.

“He thought things would be better than this, but he still wants to stick it out for now, ’’ a source said. “He trusts Phil, but I think he’s afraid of Phil.’’

***

No. 2: Wizards’ Wall ranks top PGs — We’ve been through this before, as far as NBA players ranking themselves atop some particular pile. OKC’s Kevin Durant did it again this week when he said he believes he’s the best player in the league. Houston’s James Harden did it in the offseason when he proclaimed he was the best player in, what, the world? The universe? Anyway, Washington’s John Wall was asked about the league’s current crop of point guards and acknowledged that, yes, in his mind, he’s No. 1. Remember now, CSNWashington.com asked Wall, he didn’t volunteer it. His next four, in order: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. And it all had to do with the start of 2015 All-Star Balloting and Wall’s desire to start for the East squad (notice where his other top PG picks play):

[Wall] has made it clear that he will deserve to start for the East when the All-Star Game is played in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15.

“Yeah, I think so,” Wall told CSNwashington.com on Thursday, when balloting opened for fans to select two guards and three frontcourt players as the starters. “You definitely want to be the starter in the All-Star game because you want to be able to play them last six minutes of the game. Last year, I was itching to get out there. I was playing good and they had to sub me out. I was like, ‘What?” I’m used to being in in those situations. You definitely want to be a starter.”

Wall had to wait to be voted in as a reserve to make his first All-Star appearance, playing behind Kyrie Irving who was the more popular choice but wasn’t the most deserving in terms of accomplishment. Wall had a better team, leading the Wizards to 44 wins and a second-round playoff berth. Irving, who was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011 which was the year after Wall went in the same spot, never led his team to the postseason.

“As an individual that’s one of my biggest goals. It’s a big honor for me to go back if I get the opportunity,” Wall said. “It all comes from me helping my team to play the right way and win games. Everybody has got individual goals.”

***

No. 3: Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare — When the TNT broadcast of Cavaliers-Thunder went to the “Inside The NBA” crew at halftime, the tone was somber enough to have all those holiday poinsettia plants on set swapped out for black crepe and lilies. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving had just gone down – and out – with what looked, in repeated and unpleasant video replays, to be a serious knee injury. But a surprise put the fun back in funereal moments later when Irving was shown running before the third quarter started. He played nearly 23 minutes after halftime and scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the loss in Oklahoma City. Clearly, the Cavs (already without LeBron James for the night due to knee soreness) had dodged a major mishap, and our own Fran Blinebury wrote about it:

“Fear. Worry. Concern,” [coach David] Blatt said when asked to describe his emotions at the moment when Irving hit the floor with 1:31 left in the second quarter Thursday night. “And hope. Which ultimately won the day.
“There’s a great saying in Russian, which means: ‘Hope dies last.’ And thank goodness he got up and he was able to play.”
It is no exaggeration to say those who did watch the replays with eyes uncovered inside Chesapeake Energy Arena were shocked to Irving standing back on the baseline bouncing all around and loosening up before the end of halftime.

In those first few seconds, after all the worst thoughts raced through his mind, Irving was able to calm himself down.

Steve Spiro, our head trainer just coming out there and letting me know the necessary steps to take and when to bend my knee and how to control my body to make sure I’m alright,” Irving said. “He takes a look at it and asks me if this is OK and that’s OK and just make sure I can get up and walk to the locker room.

“When we came back in the tunnel the Thunder’s doctor looked at me. I told our training staff as I was walking back and LeBron and D. (Damon) Jones were helping me, I kinda started walking on my own and we did some tests and decided to go back out there.”

Irving nodded at the memory of James literally being there to pick him up and support him.

“It meant a lot, just that he sprinted out in just his tights and his t-shirt,” Irving said. “It’s just great. He’s awesome and sincerely cares and that’s just the relationship that we have going around this whole entire locker room. We’re more than teammates. We’re friends and to know that your teammates care about you like that, it goes far.”

***

No. 4: Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’ — About the perceived woes facing his team in Oklahoma City, that is. Or about your sympathy for the Thunder’s plight, created by both Kevin Durant‘s and teammate Russell Westbrook‘s injury absences. Or about the criticism that might come his way anyway if OKC doesn’t reach and make serious noise in the postseason. Michael Lee of the Washington Post spoke this week with the 2014 MVP, just revving up in an NBA season that began 17 games late for him:

Kevin Durant is in a hole that is mostly not of his own doing but he has been around long enough to know that he won’t be forgiven if another season ends without the Oklahoma City Thunder capturing an NBA championship.

Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, doesn’t want or expect to get a pass with his eighth season starting at a decided disadvantage after he suffered a broken right foot in the preseason, Russell Westbrook broke his right wrist on opening night, and the Thunder piled up more devastating injuries than wins in the season’s first six weeks.

“I really don’t give a damn what people got to say,” Durant said. “I really don’t care if they cut me slack or they don’t. I’m not looking for no sympathy from nobody. I’m not looking for no praise from nobody. It’s all good, either way with me. I just look for respect from teammates as a player and as a man. That’s what I want. All that other stuff, I learned how to tune that stuff out and not worry about. I used to think about it. ‘Are they going to cut me slack? Do they love me if I play this way.’ I really don’t give a damn.”

Durant, 26, has developed more of an edge as he’s matured in the league, hardened by the disappointment that has come from losing in the NBA Finals in 2012 and having injuries to Westbrook and Serge Ibaka derail Oklahoma City’s chances of getting back the past two seasons. He also understands that four scoring titles and an MVP trophy won’t shield him from criticism after depositing seven seasons into his career without winning a championship ring.

“You can’t please everybody,” Durant continued. “I can go out there and average 50 points a game, it’s always going to be something people say. If you don’t like me for it, so what?”

And:

Oklahoma City entered training camp as a team seemingly poised for a title breakthrough. James broke up with Miami and got back with his first love and San Antonio got a year older after making it through a six-game series with the Thunder last postseason. With Durant under contract with Oklahoma City through 2016, the pressure for the organization to win a title has been magnified, with each wasted opportunity sure to increase speculation about his future.

“Everybody wants to tell you when your window is closing. Everybody want to tell when they think you can win a championship or ‘you will never win.’ It’s not about the outside noise,” Durant said. “We feel as though, in this organization, we can compete every year. Injuries have hit us, but it’s a part of the game, and we’re going to push through that. But when you start listening to people who aren’t experts of the game of basketball, who have never been inside a huddle … you can’t listen to that stuff. Even if they tell you you’re a great player or it’s your turn to win. We’re not going to worry about windows here.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant did a whole lot of cursing at teammates, but it was just old Kobe being young Kobe. … Golden State’s David Lee did some 3-on-3 work in the Warriors’ practice but has a ways to go before he’s playing again, post-hamstring injury. … The Spurs got some good news in the negative about forward Kawhi Leonard‘s sore hand. … Sam Cassell lured Paul Pierce to Washington, then abandoned him there. It sounds like D.C. political intrigue. … Former Phoenix player Richard Dumas has run afoul of the law again. … Is there anyone who would protest against a shortened NBA preseason? Anyone? Bueller?

Nets’ Williams, Hollins unfazed by speculation of shake-up trades

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Brook Lopez (left), Deron Williams (center) and Joe Johnson are all signed to max deals. (NBAE via Getty Images)

 

CHICAGO – Deron Williams didn’t seem too rattled by trade speculation and neither did his coach on the Brooklyn Nets, Lionel Hollins.

Williams, along with teammates Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, reportedly is available for the right offer as the Nets contemplate a shift in direction. It’s an uncomfortable position, as is the team’s 8-11 record, but Williams didn’t sound eager to flee, either.

“I’m not worried about it,” Williams told reporters after Brooklyn’s shootaround Wednesday at the Moody Bible Institute. “I’m a Net until they tell me otherwise.

“It’s a business. … I don’t see any problem. Brook has dealt with it, so I don’t see any problem for him., and I don’t think Joe is worried about it.”

Hollins shrugged off the media reports, too. He already was facing the prospect of playing the Chicago Bulls without Lopez (sore back) and Johnson (flu symptoms), who did not make the trip, and wasn’t going to worry about not having Williams until he didn’t.

“As long as you live in one neighborhood, you don’t live in the other neighborhood,” Hollins said. “All the NBA is, go play. There’s always a lot of yikkety-yak.”

Hollins didn’t think the speculation would be a distraction to the Nets any more than such chatter bothered him when he was a player.

“If I’m on your team, I’ll play for you,” he said of his approach. “If you trade me, I’ll go play for them. When all 30 teams don’t want you anymore, that’s when you’ve got a problem.”

Morning shootaround — Dec. 10


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers tank? C’mon, Magic | Rodman questions Knicks’ blueprint | Best customers for Brooklyn fire sale | Davis leads early Most Improved candidates

No. 1: Lakers tank? C’mon, Magic — The headline was provocative enough (“Magic Johnson: I hope Lakers lose”). But what the former L.A. Lakers great had to say at an event in New York Tuesday grabbed NBA fans’ attention, too, and not necessarily for the right reasons. The Lakers should (gulp) tank? Really? That’s like saying the Buss family should have cooked their family books to qualify for student loans or that MLB team Magic’s involved with should shrink the business part of its Dodger Dogs to boost the profit margin. C’mon, tanking is for the NBA’s working class, not its royalty such as the Lakers or Knicks. If team-building can be described (lifting this from the retirement-planning realm) as a three-legged stool of trades, free agency and draft, the last of those – the target of tanking teams – is most important to small-revenue teams lacking the fat wallets, grand legacies, balmy climate and/or glitzy appeal of L.A., New York and maybe Miami now. Fans in those markets expect better and the Lakers’ many advantages ought to preclude slumming through 82 games to swipe a player desperately needed in … Philadelphia? Here are details from a mash-up report on ESPN.com:

Johnson, speaking at a promotional event Tuesday in New York City, said he wants his former team to lose enough games to contend for a high lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.
“I hope the Lakers lose every game,” Johnson told reporters. “Because if you’re going to lose, lose. And I’m serious.”

Johnson hit Twitter to reinforce his point for his fan base:

And from Kobe Bryant after the Lakers’ victory Tuesday over Sacramento:

“I don’t see teams tanking. It doesn’t happen. Maybe there are certain teams in the league — and this is not one of them — where ownership sits up there in their office and they’re crossing their fingers quietly and hoping,” Bryant said. “But the players themselves? Never. Players play. Players play and players try to win every single game. That’s just what we do.”

And from Lakers coach Byron Scott, who isn’t eager to take on a bunch of losses after suffering through the immediate post-LeBron James years in Cleveland:

“It’s more of a laughing matter to me than anything,” Scott said. “I know [Earvin] and how competitive he is and I understand where he’s coming from — ‘Yeah, lose every game and hopefully you’ll get the No. 1 pick.’ That doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to get the No. 1 pick. You go out here and try to win as much as you can to try to create that culture of winning again instead of having that loser’s mentality. That’s how I look at it.”

The Lakers are expected to have substantial salary-cap space this upcoming offseason. Aging superstar Kobe Bryant, who will make $25 million next season, swingman Nick Young, [Julius] Randle and second-year forward Ryan Kelly are the only Lakers who have guaranteed contracts beyond this season.

Scott added, “I just think karma is a you-know-what and if you try to lose games, you’re not going to get the first pick.”

***

No. 2: Rodman questions Knicks’ blueprint — As far as former NBA stars critiquing a storied franchise, the level of discourse slips now from Magic Johnson the team for which he labored to Dennis Rodman questioning the New York Knicks of Carmelo Anthony and Derek Fisher. Rodman might surpass Johnson in North Korean street cred, but the fellow Hall of Famer seemed driven in his comments more by his loyalty to his former Chicago coach Phil Jackson than in any true turnaround at Madison Square Garden. The 4-19 Knicks, off to the worst start in franchise history, have a somewhat hobbled Anthony these days, according to the New York Post. So they were easy for the flamboyant former rebounding star to pick at, as chronicled by ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley:

Former Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman weighed in on the team’s poor play Tuesday, questioning whether Carmelo Anthony was the right fit for the Knicks and wondering if first-year coach Derek Fisher is the right candidate for the job.

“If I know Phil [Jackson, Knicks team president], he just feels like [crap] right now,” Rodman told reporters at a promotional event in Manhattan. “I think he just feels like, ‘Wow, I thought I came here to do a great job and revitalize the city of New York.’

“He didn’t expect this. I saw him a couple of times on TV when I was in L.A., and I’m like, I know what you feel like, Phil. You came to be the savior and all of a sudden it’s like, ugh. Then you went and got Derek Fisher. Really, is he coaching? Is Derek Fisher coaching? I don’t get it. I don’t know what’s up with that team, man. You’ve got Carmelo and after that who else do you got?

“They’re not running the triangle. Derek Fisher’s not really coaching. I know Phil is trying to throw his input in the background, but who expected this from Phil? They expected him, we’re going to give you $15 million a year for the next six years and this team is — wow — they might not even make the playoffs.”

In mentioning Jackson’s vaunted “triangle” offense, Rodman kept the blame at floor level:

“I learned that in probably 15 minutes when I was in Chicago,” Rodman said. “It’s not that difficult. It’s a triangle.

“Everybody has an opportunity to touch the ball and shoot it. It seems like it goes back to Carmelo Anthony and then everything stops. What are you going to do?”

***

No. 3: Best customers for Brooklyn fire sale — The Brooklyn Nets are contemplating a fire sale of veteran stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez? That’s the word, as reported by ESPN.com and other outlets. It’s the stuff of which serious buzz can be generated in the NBA, but it’s also reminiscent of a massive story that’s almost four decades old. Sports fans of a certain vintage might recall the great purge of the Oakland A’s in the summer of 1976, when mercurial team owner Charlie Finley tried to sell off pitcher Vida Blue (to the Yankees for $1.5 million), closer Rollie Fingers and outfielder Joe Rudi (both to the Red Sox for $1 million each). Finley felt the A’s days as contenders were over and feared looming free agency of his stars, but the transactions were killed by commissioner Bowie Kuhn as not being in ‘the best interests of baseball.” The Nets’ days as contenders apparently are over, too, in the eyes of owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and Brooklyn would be trying to get out from under the massive salaries of Williams, Johnson and Lopez. Bradford Doolittle of ESPN Insider cooked up some possible trade destinations for the Big 3 and here’s a glimpse at the point guard’s (you might have to pony up to see the whole piece):

Williams is not as explosive as he was a few years ago in Utah, but he’s still good enough to be a top-three player on a playoff team. However, besides his non-star production and large contract, Williams also toils at a time when the NBA is rife with quality point guards. However, the upshot is that Williams is a highly skilled player who could develop a floor-based style of running the point (a la Mark Jackson) that might play well for quite a few years.

Best fit: Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were one step shy of the Finals last season, but the top tier of the East has since become more crowded. Williams would give the Pacers the upper-echelon point guard they’ve lacked and, on this team, a ball-dominant PG can work. You plug Williams next to emerging shooter Solomon Hill, the currently injured Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West, and you’ve got a contending veteran team, albeit one likely shy of championship status.

A possible package would be something like George Hill, Luis Scola, Ian Mahinmi and Chris Copeland for Williams. The Nets’ motivation would be mostly financial. Hill might be a keeper to run the point in his combo-ish manner, but Scola’s expiring contract is mostly nonguaranteed, Copeland’s deal is expiring and Mahinmi has just $4 million left beyond this season.

Other fits: Detroit Pistons or the Los Angeles Lakers. …

***

No. 4: Davis leads early Most Improved candidates — The NBA season is barely one-quarter completed, so speculation about any of the “annual” awards is, by definition, premature. But such chatter isn’t illegal and it drives conversations, debates and occasional arguments, so our own Fran Blinebury offered up some players worth considering for the league’s Most Improved trophy, at least after the first six weeks. Eschewing the ever-popular “top five” or “top 10″ of Internet list-making, Blinebury limited his field to just four. And only one of them, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, was in action Tuesday night, finishing with 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the home victory over New York. He was Blinebury’s early MIP leader:

It only seemed as if the long-armed forward was reaching his peak last season. Now he’s threatening to leap and put his head right through the ceiling. We saw it coming over the summer when he led the way for Team USA in the gold medal-winning effort at the World Cup in Spain. He used that experience to throw off whatever shackles he still had on himself and returned to New Orleans ready to lead and dominate. Averaging more than 25 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots and two steals per game, Davis has forced his way into the conversation for MVP. What’s more, he’s making a real case for overtaking soon-to-be-30-year-old LeBron James as the best all-around talent in the game. Even though his Pelicans are bobbing around the .500 mark and will struggle to make the playoffs, he’s the reason to have League Pass and dial him up any time New Orleans is on the schedule. He’s always had the talent, but now there is an edge and attitude to A.D.’s game that commands respect.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: High praise for Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova from LeBron James after Cleveland’s big fourth-quarter comeback against Toronto. …  Another game night, another round of “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts during warm-ups, this time out West. … The losing in Philadelphia can be seen as a half-full opportunity, even for a seasoned NBA vet like Luc Mbah a Moute. …  But Earl Clark apparently doesn’t feel that way about what’s going on with the Lakers, preferring a lucrative deal in China. … For anyone still counting, this is Year 7 for the city of Seattle without the NBA. …

 

Wilt’s USPS stamps get XXL unveiling

Lakers Phila

Big man, big numbers, big legend, big stamps.

It’s only fitting that the two Forever USPS postage stamps commemorating basketball Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain may barely fit on some envelopes. Chamberlain himself barely fit on the NBA scene and in a life that ended too soon at age 63 in 1999.

The man posted stats in his career from 1959 to 1973 with the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers that were downright Babe Ruth-ian. He seared his exploits into America’s collective sports memory: scoring 100 points in a game, amassing 31,419 points, averaging 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds while snagging 14 All-Star appearances. And with his outsized personality, Chamberlain entertained fans who generally either loved or hated the big man, depending on their team allegiance.

Now he’ll make a little more NBA history, as the league’s first player to appear on a USPS stamp. After a six-year campaign begun by longtime Philadelphia Tribune sportswriter Donald Hunt, Chamberlain will be honored on Friday with two events in his hometown on the official release date of the XXL stamps.

A luncheon featuring NBA executives, former players and community and corporate leaders will be held starting at 11:30 a.m. ET at the First District Plaza in Philadelphia. Among those scheduled to speak: Mike Bantom, a Philly native, ex-player and current executive VP of referee operations for the league; former Philadelphia players Ollie Johnson and Wali Jones; Monte Johnson, a teammate of Chamberlain’s at Kansas, and Sixers’ statistical maven Harvey Pollack, a keeper of the Chamberlain flame and the man who recorded all 100 points on that night in March 1962.

At halftime of the Oklahoma City-Philadelphia game, the stamps’ official first-day dedication ceremony will be held at the Wells Fargo Center. The stamps will go on sale in the arena when the doors open at 6 p.m.

Chamberlain’s sisters Barbara Lewis and Selina Gross are scheduled to appear at the halftime ceremony, along with Jones, Pollack, Sixers adviser and Wilt confidante Sonny Hill and Hall of Famer Julius Erving. Highlights of the big man’s career will be featured on the video boards throughout the game.

The stamps are proportioned appropriately for Chamberlain – over two inches tall, dwarfing most USPS first-class stamps. Artist Kadir Nelson of San Diego and art director Antonio Alcala of Alexandria, Va., created and designed the stamps.

To learn more about the stamp project and Chamberlain, go here and here. And for more background on Nelson, check out this.