Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Blogtable: Player who is most likely to be traded first is _____?

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: Thoughts on Rockets? | Player most likely to be traded? |
One player you’d love to see in Dunk Contest?



VIDEORyan Anderson sizzles in a win against the Kings

> Most likely to be traded before the Feb. 18 deadline: Rudy Gay, Jeff Teague, Markieff Morris, Ryan Anderson or Kevin Martin?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Kevin Martin. This league is still about offense and he’s a proven offensive commodity that could help a lot of contenders. And there’s no future for him in Minnesota, which has Andrew Wiggins penciled in at the two for the next dozen or so years. 1A) Markieff Morris. Full dumpster fire in Phoenix, and the Suns have to start cleaning things up. Sending the disgruntled Morris (and his very reasonable contract) anywhere else is a necessity for GM Ryan McDonough, who’s now on the hot seat in the Valley of the Sun.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Markieff Morris. While Gay and Anderson are best equipped to immediately help a playoff aspirant, while Teague would be much-sought as a point guard around whom a team could organize, while Martin doesn’t fit on a young team in “sell” mode, Morris has the added factor of being actively unhappy where he is. Phoenix has let his situation fester too long already.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMarkieff Morris. If you’re cleaning house, you might as well sweep into every corner and get rid of all the unhappy pieces.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ryan Anderson. An unrestricted free agent-to-be, on a team that has the chance to make a playoff push to salvage what would ordinarily be a bad season? If the Pelicans were certain Anderson is definitely part of the future, that would be one thing. But this may be the chance to get something for him, and to get something to boost their playoff hopes.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll take Markieff Morris, even though the Suns might not have much leverage, since everyone knows Phoenix wants to dump him. I have my doubts about the perceived demand for Rudy Gay, the asking price for Teague could be too steep (ditto for Ryan Anderson) and the best chance Kevin Martin is moved is if he’s a throw-in since he’s well past his prime.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comRyan Anderson has the easiest contract ($8.5 million expiring) to trade, but the Pelicans are still just three games out of eighth place in the loss column. The Suns may have a high asking price for Morris right now, and there’s some risk in trading for a known malcontent with three more years left on his deal. But at some point, Phoenix will have to take what they can get and some other team will be will to take a risk on a versatile forward who’s still just 26 years old.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Markieff Morris. You saw him on display in Tuesday night’s loss to Toronto, when he made the most out being inserted into the starting lineup and reminded everyone just how devastating a scoring and rebounding stretch big man he can be. The Suns would be wise to continue to showcase him in the lead up to the trade deadline. And I suspect there are plenty of teams interested in adding a player with his, skill, range and brute force to their mix just in time for the playoffs.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMarkieff Morris. The Suns have already fired the coach and are looking to the future. Morris is not going to be part of that future. Why make a miserable situation worse by holding onto an unhappy player? They should focus on creating positive energy among their young core. Unloading Morris may also improve their position in the lottery.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog I’ll go with Ryan Anderson. He’s got an expiring contract, and he’s on a squad that isn’t going to be a playoff team. Most importantly, though, he’s a power forward who can actually knock down 3-pointers, which is a skill you can’t ever really have enough of. I can think of several teams with postseason aspirations — Atlanta? Dallas? The Clippers? — that could use another outside shooter.

Blogtable: Thoughts on the Rockets?

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: Thoughts on Rockets? | Player most likely to be traded? |
One player you’d love to see in Dunk Contest?



VIDEOGreg Anthony and Chris Webber discuss Dwight Howard’s suspension

> More concerning for Rockets fans: The team’s .500-ish record, or Dwight Howard’s on-court protests and propensity to irritate officials?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The Rockets have been universally disappointing and the record reflects that disappointment. Every time Houston looks like it’s turning the corner, the Rockets fall apart at one end or the other. The defense has been awful lately. Dwight isn’t going to change; neither are Chris Paul or Tim Duncan, and they complain a lot about calls, too. And: Howard does get fouled, a lot. It’s easy to say from a thousand miles away that Howard should keep his head. Either way, that’s not why the Rockets are, basically, .500. He’s a big reason why they have any chance if they hang on and get into the playoffs.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com The record, by far. Dwight has gotten a little sideways but it’s not anything that is chronic; this too shall pass. But the Rockets – after reaching the Western Conference finals last spring – have wallowed in mediocrity all season. Firing Kevin McHale was an impulsive dud of a move, and the team’s defense has fallen off precipitously. But Houston is right where it ought to be, in my view, because I don’t think a serious contender can have James Harden dominating the ball the way he does, any more than the Knicks could thrive when Carmelo Anthony was doing that.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The .500 record. Howard’s rash, temperamental behavior is just a symptom inside the overall breakdown and failure of the Rockets this season. A team that proclaimed itself to be a true championship contender got coach fired, doesn’t play defense and doesn’t come to play with the same level of professionalism every night.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The record. Dwight is Dwight. His personality has been an issue for other teams in other seasons. He is still producing at a decent level (though with a shrinking role in the offense). Potentially careening toward a losing record, though, and maybe missing the playoffs in the strange second half of the West playoff pack is everything. Players have proven what most people knew anyway, that coach Kevin McHale wasn’t the problem. The Rockets struggling to get any traction in the standings is a big deal for this season and will force management into hard decisions heading to the future.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com By far, the break-even record. It’s why the Rockets are the most disappointing team in basketball, ahead of the Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, their big man has a history of acting like a fool and getting punished. That said, Dwight Howard‘s immaturity toward the refs isn’t the reason Houston is barely treading water, and anyway, I’ll go on a limb and say he’ll stay in check once the playoffs begin (provided the Rockets are in). The Rockets have issues — defense, Ty Lawson‘s chemistry with James Harden, spotty 3-point shooting — and Dwight’s behavior isn’t that high on the list.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The 26-25 record. Last season, the Rockets went 27-14 without Howard, playing defense at a top-10 level whether he was in the lineup or not. This season, they’re 19-20 with him, playing at a bottom-10 level defensively whether he’s been in the lineup or not. Only one team (Milwaukee) has regressed more on that end of the floor than the Rockets, who consistently break down after two or three rotations. His lack of leadership is a problem, but Houston has bigger problems.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The .500 record in a landslide. No offense to the former best big man in basketball, but the Rockets are perfectly capable of competing without Dwight Howard fully integrated into the mix. Are they better when he’s at his best? Sure. But they don’t get the best from him on a regular basis anyway. They are the most disappointing team in the league for reasons that include Dwight’s performance … but that’s not the most glaring reason. Their inability to find any semblance of defensive consistency is the main culprit. And if they continue to struggle in that area, it could very well lead to them observing the playoffs from a distance this season rather than attempting to shock the world and make a return visit to the Western Conference finals.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:  The team’s record is much more worrisome. Is Howard’s behavior any big surprise? Probably not – and his outbursts wouldn’t matter so much if he and his Rockets were playing better. They were finalists in the superior conference less than a year ago; now they’re on track to win 15 fewer games. The bigger question is whether the success of a couple of 50-win seasons went to their heads.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’d be way more worried about the .500 record. Sure, Dwight’s relationship with the referees doesn’t seem to be great, but that’s nothing new for Dwight. What’s new is the Rockets not being anywhere near the team they were a year ago that went to the Conference finals. Besides, this isn’t Dwight Howard’s team: If I was a Rockets fan, I’d look at James Harden, who should be leading this team to the top of the Western Conference.

Lue’s big week — from Cavs’ assistant to 2016 East All-Star head coach


Tyronn Lue being named to coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars is the coaching equivalent of a player called up from the D-League on a 10-day contract suddenly being named a starter in the NBA’s annual showcase event.

Improbable as it sounds, Lue – who has been an NBA head coach for less than a week – will get to do in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto on Feb. 14 what all-timers such as Jerry Sloan and Bill Fitch, and active veterans such as Dwane Casey and Terry Stotts, never have.

He and the Cleveland Cavaliers staff he inherited Thursday after taking over for fired David Blatt will be in charge, on the league’s biggest stage, of the East’s elite players.

Lue is 2-1 since replacing Blatt, and the most recent of those victories – a 115-93 victory over Phoenix Wednesday – left Cleveland with a 32-12, clinching the best mark in the conference through games played on Sunday, Jan. 31. That’s the cutoff by which the All-Star coaches are named.

Blatt was the coach of record for the Cavaliers’ first 41 games, but was fired with a 30-11 mark. Cleveland general manager David Griffin and owner Dan Gilbert came to believe, Griffin said, that the team wasn’t responding to Blatt in a way that would offer its best chance to win a championship this spring.

Earlier Wednesday, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich was tabbed to coach the West All-Stars, by virtue of the rule prohibiting a coach from making consecutive appearances in the event. Golden State’s Steve Kerr handled that duty in the 2015 game in New York.

Appendectomy latest dip in Mirotic’s up-and-down season for Bulls


Maddeningly inconsistent and longer on potential than production, Nikola Mirotic had been something of a poster boy for the Chicago Bulls this season.

That dubious status only deepened Wednesday when the second-year forward was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and underwent an appendectomy at Rush University Medical Center. Now one of just three Bulls players to have appeared in every game will be out at least through the All-Star break, by team estimate, missing three weeks and at least eight games.

Mirotic joins Joakim Noah as a big man sidelined from Chicago’s rotation. Noah had season-ending surgery Jan. 19 on his dislocated left shoulder and, as an unrestricted free agent this summer whose game didn’t mesh well with new coach Fred Hoiberg‘s system, might have played his final game in a Bulls uniform.

Mirotic’s layoff won’t be nearly that extended and, beyond his contract that runs through 2016-17, he is highly valued by Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson. As with Hoiberg himself, they remain convinced of the 6-foot-10 Mirotic’s value as a “stretch four” in the newly installed space-and-pace system.

Still, his absence up to or through the Feb. 18 league trading deadline takes the Bulls out of any market their once-crowded frontcourt might have provided. And it isn’t likely to serve as a positive for Mirotic in what had been a rocky season NBA season.

“I have to find a way that I can play maybe 10 games good [in a row],” Mirotic told NBA.com earlier this week. “I try to do something every day good.

“Sometimes I have really good feelings before the game. What I should do when I warm up. But after the game [starts], it’s different. I know the first minutes of the game are really important for me. But sometimes when I’m missing those shots, I’m changing my game.That can’t happen. I have to stay focused, you know.”

Mirotic, 24, performed well in his two most recent appearances. He scored 17 points Saturday in the Bulls’ victory at Cleveland, then followed up with 15 points and eight rebounds in the loss to Miami Monday at United Center.

It wasn’t quite the impact the native of Montenegro had last March, when he averaged 20.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.3 free throw attempts, serving as a go-to guy in the fourth quarter for then-coach Tom Thibodeau and basically earning his second-place finish in NBA Rookie of the Year balloting.

But being back on the bench after 31 starts, and being back at power forward after an unsatisfying-all-around run of 13 games at small forward, appeared to suit Mirotic. And give him something to build from, until his unexpected surgery Wednesday.

Now, while his teammates hit the road for a seven-game trip that runs through Feb. 8, Mirotic will be recuperating at home near Chicago’s lakefront with wife Nina and 7-month-old son Alexsej. His return date isn’t known yet, but the Bulls have 30 games after the break in which Mirotic will be trying to find and maintain success, stirring some March echoes.

“If I did this in my rookie season, of course I can do it again,” Mirotic told NBA.com. “But I don’t want to make any more pressure on my head. I need a little more to enjoy the game. Sometimes I’m a little hard on myself, but that’s just normal. You know you can do things better.”

Blogtable: Biggest takeaway from Spurs-Warriors?

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: Takeaway from Spurs-Warriors? | Thoughts on Griffin incident? |
Four players who should be All-Star reserves?



VIDEORelive the showdown between the Warriors and Spurs

> Biggest takeaway from the Warriors’ 120-90 victory over the Spurs on Monday?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: That even Kawhi Leonard can be, at least for a night, neutralized as a shutdown defender by Golden State’s amalgam of ballhandling, passing and shooting. Lost in their shot-making brilliance is the fact that the Warriors are as good as a whole passing the ball as any team I’ve ever seen. Ever. In all of their lineup iterations they have multiple people who are outstanding passers. That’s the only way to beat a team defense as good as the Spurs and an individual defender as great as Leonard. Scary.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m going to give Gregg Popovich, R.C. Buford and LaMarcus Aldridge the benefit of the doubt, as far as Aldridge being a more helpful and strategic piece for the Spurs in a seven-game series against Golden State than he was Monday. But if that’s not my takeaway, then this is and it likely isn’t any more reassuring to San Antonio fans: The Warriors are in a different league this season from every other team, whether No. 2 or No. 30. Their crowd, their confidence, their chemistry and (to ride the alliteration) their Curry appear unbeatable. And their versatility ain’t bad either.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comFirst, coming on the heels of previous 30-point wins over Chicago and Cleveland, whipping the Spurs was the definitive statement that the defending champs are flying at a much higher altitude than everyone else and clearly are the team to beat. What has struck me all season about the Warriors is their clear sense of identity and purpose. There is no figuring things out. They like playing with each other. There are no external distractions. Second, it is January.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThat LaMarcus Aldridge needs to step up more in these kinds of games. A lot more. Really, though, I don’t assign a great amount of importance to one game in January. The Warriors are really good, which we already knew, and the Spurs are really good, even if that didn’t come through. Nothing from Monday in Oakland will follow the teams into a possible playoff matchup, for example. Another lopsided win or two by Golden State and then maybe you’ve got some big takeaway. But not now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Without a doubt, Draymond Green’s defense on LaMarcus Aldridge. OK, sure, Stephen Curry went ballistic (although you knew that was coming). Fine. But the Spurs added the most valuable free agent on the market last summer in order to give themselves an edge, and Aldridge was totally freaked out by Green’s defense. Green guarded him tightly, knowing that Aldridge is actually a very poor athlete (very little quickness and lateral movement) and therefore couldn’t shake free. If I’m the Spurs, I’m worried about Aldridge, who has never played a big game in his life but will be asked to bring it in the playoffs and against the Warriors in the very likely event they meet again.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Primarily it was that the Warriors thrashed a team that had been playing a level of defense that we’ve never seen before and had outscored its last 26 opponents by an average of 18.3 points. But the other thing that was apparent after just one quarter was that they played at the Warriors pace. Even when the Spurs weren’t turning the ball over, they couldn’t keep the game under control. And the Warriors thrive in a fast-paced, haphazard environment.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My biggest takeaway from the Warriors’ third straight 30-point smashing of a team that’s supposed to slow them down on their way to a second straight NBA title is believe the hype. It’s time for everyone to abandon all of these theories about the Warriors’ good fortune from last season and give it up. They are machine. And they are playing with a cosmic flow we haven’t seen from a team in quite some time. Stephen Curry (Mr. 37-points-in-three-quarters-against-the-best-defensive-crew-on-earth) is on another planet right now, but he’s far from the only Warrior operating at the next level. I think about a guy like Shaun Livingston, who shredded the Spurs in his limited early action. One virtuoso effort every now and then is one thing, but to do it basically every night for an entire seasons … believe the hype!

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comNo one is close to the Warriors. They are the most talented, most efficient and by far the hungriest contender midway through their title defense. The Warriors know exactly who they are, while the Spurs, relative to Golden State’s high standard, are still working their way through the transition around LaMarcus Aldridge. One thing we know for sure about the Spurs is that they’ll absorb this loss in a constructive way. It is more likely to inspire than demoralize them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: That the Warriors are unbeatable. OK, perhaps not totally unbeatable, but to beat the Warriors when they are playing well, you have to play a near-perfect game. Can that happen? Sure, some opponents will occasionally have a game where they are able to keep possession of the ball without turning it over a dozen or more times, and they hit fifty percent of their threes, and maybe they catch Steph Curry on an off night. But here’s the thing I can’t figure out: How will any team do that four times in seven games during the postseason?

Blogtable: Thoughts on Griffin’s punching incident?

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: Takeaway from Spurs-Warriors? | Thoughts on Griffin incident? |
Four players who should be All-Star reserves?



VIDEODan Woike explains the impact of Griffin’s incident

> Blake Griffin has missed the last 14 games and will be sidelined four to six weeks after injuring his hand in an altercation with an equipment manager. Is this a big thing, a little thing, or much ado about nothing?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Oh, very much a big, big thing. This is the face of your franchise, who is not a kid anymore, making a series of increasingly stupid decisions (drinking, drinking in public, arguing, hitting someone, continuing to hit someone until you break your hand) that leave his team in a lurch after it had stoically excelled for a month without him. Not to mention that the Clips gave Josh Smith back to Houston anticipating Griffin’s return in the next few days. Bad, bad form. Gonna take a good long while for Griffin to earn back trust from his teammates and from Doc Rivers.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Little thing. Oh, it’s a big thing right now, in the dog days of the NBA season. And it will bubble up a little bit over All-Star Weekend – because of his absence and all the chatter there – and again when Griffin returns to the court for the Clippers. But this is a manageable “crisis” in that Griffin and the equipment manager are otherwise friends (presumably still), sizable checks can get stroked and there aren’t formal charges. As I see it, it’s a symptom of that team’s overall immaturity and unsuitability to seriously contend for a title. But nothing causal unto itself.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Of course, it’s a big deal. Regardless of the Clippers’ recent record without him, Blake Griffin is one of the top two players on the team and talent usually wins out. However, it also furthers the narrative that the Clippers underachieve each season in the playoffs because they are a loose collection of knuckleheads that won’t ever win a championship because they lack focus and professionalism. Breaking your hand on an equipment manager? Why not run head-first into a wall? At least that might knock some sense into him.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Big thing. Blake Griffin put his team’s season at risk, just when the Clippers had reason for optimism after a bad start. They were winning, they were about to get Griffin back from injury. And now this. Who knows how the hand will heal — or not heal. Who knows how many games this will cost L.A. in the standings and injure chances for homecourt advantage in a series. But his actions open up a lot of bad possibilities for the Clips.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I say it’s a big thing, because this is a franchise hauling a history of being Clipper-like, a stigma that was supposed to disappear once Doc Rivers took control. However, the Clippers got ambushed by a Rockets’ comeback in the playoffs last year and so far have nothing special to show for having Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake together. This team has plenty to prove and Blake’s silly and unnecessary “incident” doesn’t help matters at all.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Big thing. With how good the three teams ahead of them are, the Clippers’ margin for error is small. And though they’ve played well without him, his injury obviously hurts them with their need to build something toward the playoffs. It also feels like this is another step toward a summer-of-2016 break-up of the Clippers’ core, which has been very good, but not good enough, over the last few years.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s a huge thing and a potentially season-altering blunder by Griffin that not only shatters any defense of him as anything other than a fake tough-guy. In the absence of any concrete details as to why the dustup with the equipment staffer started, it’s fair to crush Griffin for exhibiting the some of the poorest judgment possible. He’s already missed 14 games with the torn quad tendon and now he’s going to tack on another 4-6 weeks with the fractured hand. Just brutal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This is a big thing. The Clippers want to contend ultimately for the NBA Finals. This latest self-inflicted torment won’t necessarily knock them out, because Griffin may still have close to two months before the playoffs to regroup with his teammates. Will this be one of those events that convinces him and his teammates to refocus with greater urgency? Or are they going to enable another year to slip away?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe injury should be a little thing — as it turns out, the Clippers have been able to endure without Blake this season. So, being without Griffin for another 4-6 weeks during the regular season should be something they can endure with some relative ease. This could turn into a big thing, however, when you consider the circumstances of the injury, or at least what has been reported as the circumstances thus far.

Blogtable: East, West players who need to be named All-Stars?

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: Takeaway from Spurs-Warriors? | Thoughts on Griffin incident? |
Four players who should be All-Star reserves?



VIDEOTNT’s crew reveals their East All-Star reserve picks

> Give me two players in the East and two players in the West who absolutely, positively need to be named All-Stars Thursday night.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler in the East, and Chris Paul and Draymond Green in the West. All have been sensational all season for their respective teams.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: In the East, Jimmy Butler and Andre Drummond have to be All-Stars and in the West, it’s Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins who need to join the party in Toronto. Butler has taken his game to yet another level from his All-Star work in 2015 and the coaches surely respect his two-way excellence. Drummond puts up some monster numbers, is a fresh young face for the NBA and can’t be excluded by the Pistons’ record for a change. If Steph Curry is the motor of the Warriors’ dominance, Green is the transmission and it’s showing in is all-around impact. Finally, Cousins is the best center in the game and that still is a legit position in this league, regardless of “frontcourt” labeling in All-Star voting. One request: If Drummond and Cousins both go, please leave the typical All-Star cool-and-casualness to others and let’s see those bigs go at each other in the low post — hard — in a nod to a dying style and old-school fans.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: In the East, it’s Jimmy Butler and Andre Drummond. During this tumultuous start to the season, Butler has firmly taken over the role as the Bulls’ alpha dog with career-best numbers of 22.3 points and 4.2 assists to go with 5.3 rebounds an 1.7 steals per game while also being a All-Defensive team player. Drummond is having a career year averaging 17.1 points and 15.2 rebounds. He’d be only the fourth player since 1982-83 season to hit those marks for a full season.

In the West, it’s Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins. Green should get the spot denied him by sentimentality toward Kobe Bryant by acclamation of the coaches. While Steph Curry is the heart of the Warriors attack, Green is their relentless, unforgiving soul. I don’t want to hear any more excuses about the Kings’ bad record. Cousins has been nothing short of a monster putting up All-Star numbers by any standards.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: In the East, it’s Jimmy Butler and Andre Drummond. Butler is the best shooting guard in the conference, an elite player on both sides of the ball, while Drummond is a force inside, so much of a force that he is an automatic even playing for a team scrambling to hold on to a playoff spot. In the West, it’s Draymond Green and Chris Paul. Green would be (or should be) getting MVP votes if ballots went out today, though not for first or second place, so, yeah, he is the definition of “absolutely, positively need to be named” an All-Star. Paul clearly remains among the elite, particularly with his play that continues to give the Clippers a puncher’s chance in the West during Blake Griffin’s absence.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: In the West, it’s DeMarcus Cousins and Draymond Green. Cousins has finally shut his mouth and opened his game and the results have been nuclear — he’s the best center in basketball. Green proves his value to the best team in basketball on a nightly basis and is a most unlikely star. In the East, it’s DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler, a pair of shooting guards. Butler should be a starter instead of Dwyane Wade. Meanwhile, DeRozan will be a worthy addition to the game hosted by Toronto — the hottest team in the East.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In the East, it’s Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan. Butler has been critical on both ends of the floor for the Bulls, while DeRozan has carried a huge load (and scored more efficiently) for the league’s sixth best offense. In the West, it’s Draymond Green and Chris Paul. Green has been a defensive anchor and the league’s best playmaking power forward. Paul hasn’t been as good as he was the last couple of seasons, but is still the best player on a top-four team and has helped the Clippers go 12-3 in the absence of Blake Griffin.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: In the East, it’s Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan. Butler’s performance this season for a Bulls team in disarray deserved a starter’s nod, so there is no doubt he better be on that seven-man list Thursday night. DeRozan has made a similar case for himself in Toronto and should enjoy the spoils of playing host during All-Star Weekend. In the West, it’s Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins. Both are, in a sense, locks. Green’s credential are found in the pile of highlights he’s amassed this season and Cousins has been spectacular (more often than not) for a Kings team poised to make a playoff push the second half of the season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: In the East, it’s DeMar DeRozan and Jimmy Butler. DeRozan is the leading scorer of the No. 2 Raptors and the All-Star Game will be played on his homecourt – that ought to suffice. Butler, who leads No. 4 Chicago with 22.3 points after scoring 53 a couple of weeks ago, is another must-select. In the West, it’s Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Both have been indispensable to the NBA’s far-and-away best team. They join Steph Curry as the most deserving All-Stars this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: In the East, it’s Paul Millsap and Kyrie Irving. I’ve been all-in on Millsap all season, so why stop now? He’s the best player on the Hawks and is averaging career highs across the board. And I know he’s been injured for most of the season, and probably won’t get named by coaches, but I’d love to see Irving in the All-Star Game. He’s the type of player that the All-Star Game is made for, with the ability to pull off crazy dribbling tricks and throw wild alley-oops. In the West, it’s DeMarcus Cousins and Will Barton. Cousins has simply been great all season and, in the spirit of Kyrie, Denver’s exciting scoring machine (Barton) is kind of made for this all-out scoring stage.


VIDEOTNT’s crew reveals their West All-Star reserve picks

Lue moves over 18 inches, enters new world of pressure, Cavs’ expectations


VIDEO: Tyronn Lue addresses media following Saturday’s shootaround

The first day of the rest of Tyronn Lue‘s coaching career began unlike any he’d experienced before. Working on other guys’ staffs the past six and a half years bears zero resemblance to the duties and the pressures he’ll face now as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coach, replacing David Blatt.

Lue began the day Saturday by officially running his first morning shootaround session. Then he met with the media for the first of what would be three times – in the morning, prior to his debut game against Chicago in the evening at Quicken Loans Arena and one more time for postgame comments.

He also toted along a grasp of the pressure he’s now facing.

Lue has one advantage over a lot of newly hired or promoted head coaches, but it isn’t necessarily flattering. Rampant speculation over the past year or more suggests that the Cavaliers players, foremost among them LeBron James, already relied on and heeded his counsel more than Blatt’s. It’s a perception Lue tried to put to rest right away, along with any notion that he would favor James in his tenure. As reported by Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

He enters the job already with strong ties to James from a friendship that spans 14 years. He has James’ attention already, something that wasn’t always the case with Blatt.

“I talked to ‘Bron. I told him, ‘I got to hold you accountable. It starts with you first. And if I can hold you accountable in front of the team and doing the right things, then everybody else has got to fall in line, fall in place.’”

Lue said he wants to do things better, but not necessarily different than Blatt. He’d like to expand the rotation to 10 players and bring Mo Williams back into it. He talked about playing Williams alongside Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert to give the Cavs three ball handlers at one time and he’d like to re-establish Kevin Love’s presence at the elbow where he was most effective during his years in Minnesota.

Lue became famous last season for calling timeouts from the bench and making substitutions for the Cavs. But he was doing it all with Blatt’s blessing and said he never went behind his coach’s back at any point.

“Blatt knew I had his back 100 percent,” Lue said. “I would never do anything malicious behind his back. So, we talked yesterday and he said, ‘I thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I know you had my back 100 percent.’ ”

James, meanwhile, had a little of his own media spinning or clarifying to do. Given his public friction not just with Blatt but with past coaches, including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and former Cavs coach Mike Brown, James has the image with some observers as a difficult-to-handle NBA superstar. Many who hold that view assume he requested or demanded Blatt’s dismissal. But according to Lloyd’s report:

LeBron James insisted he learned of David Blatt’s firing when everyone else did and didn’t play a role in it. But he agreed with everything general manager David Griffin said Friday in announcing the decision and said now it’s clear what he meant sometimes when he wasn’t always happy after wins this season.

“Like I told you guys before, you get so caught up in the wins and losses and I tell you every day, it’s not about the wins and losses, it’s how we play,” James said. “It’s how we prepare ourselves every day. … For something like this to happen, now you understand what I was meaning.”


VIDEO: James addresses media following Saturday’s shootaround

Morning shootaround — Jan. 23


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early | Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return | Bulls earning ‘soft’ label | Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves

No. 1: Unraveling of Cavs, James, Blatt began early — It was a hair-on-fire day for news in the NBA Friday, starting with the Josh Smith trade back to Houston and continuing through the pre-emptive weather postponement of NBA games from Saturday’s schedule in Philadelphia and Washington, right on to coach Steve Kerr’s return after a 43-game health absence to Golden State’s bench. But the whopper was Cleveland’s abrupt firing of head coach David Blatt. Not only had Blatt helped the Cavaliers reach the Finals last June, he had them atop the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record and was in line to coach the East All-Stars in three weeks up in Toronto. Both local and national coverage blanketed the story, with ESPN.com providing the most exhaustive report courtesy of Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin. Here are notable excerpts:

At the very heart of the matter, this is why the Cavs fired Blatt on Friday, despite a record of 83-40 and a Finals appearance. Blatt viewed himself as a coach with numerous championships in Europe, an Olympic medal and 20-plus years on the sideline, a career that made him one of the most experienced coaches in the world.

The Cavs players, especially the veterans, saw him as a rookie.

The issues started before [LeBron] James returned to the franchise in July 2014. The Cavs were all over the place in their coaching search that summer. They offered the job to numerous big names, from John Calipari and Bill Self in the college ranks to Steve Kerr from the broadcast booth. [Cleveland GM David] Griffin also interviewed Alvin Gentry, whom he had worked alongside with the Phoenix Suns, and Tyronn Lue, a rising assistant who learned under Doc Rivers.

But team owner Dan Gilbert wanted to make a different kind of hire. He didn’t want a retread or an inexperienced coach, which is why he chased the veteran college coaches. It’s why he loved Blatt, who was a legend in Israel, something that appealed to Gilbert.

To complicate matters, the Cavs hired the runner-up for the job, Lue, to be Blatt’s assistant. To keep him away from the Clippers, the Cavs gave him a record four-year, $6.5 million deal — for an assistant. Gilbert would later call the coaching staff the best he had assembled in his time as owner.

Blatt endorsed the Lue move, which many in the league saw as an immediate undercutting of the head coach. Never before could anyone remember the runner-up for a job being hired as the lead assistant, and it was taken as an example of Blatt’s NBA inexperience. Blatt also didn’t understand that he would have to earn players’ respect; it would not be instantly given.

“It was like an 800-pound gorilla as the season moved on,” one person involved with the team said. “You could just see LeBron connecting to [Lue] and turning his back on David.”
That didn’t stay a secret. James’ and other players’ complaints about Blatt’s style got out quickly. During games, Cavs players complained about the coach to opposing players. Once, while on the road, an injured Cavs player used the home team’s therapy pool and complained about Blatt, with his thoughts literally echoing throughout the home locker room.

Those who knew Blatt from Europe, where he was known as a fire-breather with players during games, were stunned at how he had changed. When Blatt was the coach of the Russian national team, he famously once kicked two of his best players off the bench because they were talking over him in a timeout. Now, spectators watched in awe as players barked at Blatt in timeouts. That was just one of many adjustments he made to try to make this unwieldy job work.

Blatt, meanwhile, retrofitted the Cavs’ defensive system with his new players, and that helped launch the team’s midseason turnaround. He melded in the new players effectively. He showed his experience as he found a way to give James space while looking for other ways to make a positive difference. At the same time, his yielding to the players — James especially — only further reinforced that Blatt wasn’t a coach who demanded respect.

***

No. 2: Warriors’ Kerr grateful in return— While one NBA coach’s relationship with his team was getting blown up Friday, another was reuniting. Steve Kerr, after nearly four months and 43 regular-season games, was back on the Golden State bench for its game against Indiana. Kerr had taken a leave of absence on Oct. 1 to recover and rehab from two back surgeries, and while his physical health demanded and benefited from the layoff, his mental health definitely craved his return to everything Warriors. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury-News was at Oracle Arena to chronicle Kerr’s first game back:

But on this night, one of the biggest adrenaline-rushes of the game actually came before the game, because Kerr had been gone so long after taking a leave of absence due to complications after back surgery.

And despite the Warriors’ amazing 39-4 run under interim coach Luke Walton–who happily moved aside one seat for Kerr’s re-arrival–the Warriors missed their coach.

More than that, he missed them. And was thankful to return to them.

“I felt great,” Kerr said afterwards. “Really nice reception at the beginning of the game. Our fans are amazing. Just felt good to be back in Oracle with all the energy from the crowd.

“Wasn’t our best stuff but we got the job done.”

Kerr has been at team practices for several weeks and on the last several road trips, but he’s the Warriors coach, he won a championship with them last season, and a coach needs to coach.

During the game, Kerr sat quietly through the first quarter as the Warriors got out to a big lead–what was he supposed to fret over?

Then, as the Warriors went through a flat period or two, or when Kerr protested a call or two, he got up, yelled a few things, and called a few timeouts.

He was back.
“Honestly, I didn’t think one bit about who we were playing and when,” Kerr said about the Spurs game ahead. “It was strictly about when I felt ready.

“I wanted to come back a couple weeks ago and I sort of had a target date in mind–and we got to the date and it was, ‘I’m not ready.’ I knew I wasn’t ready.

“But the last 10 days or so have been great; I’ve really felt good physically. Felt like I turned a corner. Feel like I’m ready to go, regardless of who was on the schedule.”

***

No. 3: Bulls earning ‘soft’ label — As of Friday, there wasn’t a coach in the Central Division who was happy with his team – and maybe not a fan base all that happy with its coach. Tyronn Lue is undefeated for the moment in Cleveland but the Pacers, Bucks and Pistons all have had their issues lately. And then there are the Bulls, where new head coach Fred Hoiberg is frustrated with his team’s poor starts and inconsistent efforts, while many Chicago fans are wondering if management’s designated replacement for Tom Thibodeau is the right guy for the job. Beat writer Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times suggested after Friday’s loss in Boston that the Bulls are “soft,” a four-letter word equal to any profanity around pro athletes and teams:

The first-year coach was asked if he was tired of his team looking soft in too many moments this season, and without hesitation responded, “Yeah, I am.’’

He wasn’t alone.

“Soft’’ is always a dangerous word to use about a team on any level, but also a very fitting description of what this Bulls team has become on a night-to-night basis. And they can try and dress it up with buzzwords like “communication’’ and “energy,’’ but it seems to come back to one common theme with this team: Too soft in too many key moments.

Jimmy Butler definitely wasn’t going to hide from that label.

“Yeah, especially coming out of the gates, and that’s on us starters, man,’’ Butler said, when asked about the marshmallow moments from this team. “We’re digging ourselves a huge hole a lot of these games because we know how talented we are, how well we can score the ball, but defense is all about grit. The will and the want to do-so. I don’t feel like we do-so right now.’’

Even more troubling was Butler pointing out that the coaches stress it, the players talk about it and practice it in shootaround, but once those lights turn on, well, as Butler put it, “when we get out there it’s kind of like we do what we want to do. We’re not on the same page, we’re not communicating, and then on top of everything else we don’t get to the loose ball like the other team does.

“It’s time to stop talking about it. We’ve been talking about this all year long now.’’

***

No. 4: Winning gives edge to All-Star reserves — If Charles Barkley felt confounded by the fan balloting for the 2016 All-Star starters, he probably will again find plenty with which to quibble when the conference coaches make their selections for the East and West All-Star reserves. The seven players added to each roster – to be announced Thursday as part of TNT’s doubleheader telecast – presumably represent the next-best players through the first 45-50 games of the season. But of course, there are other factors involved. Some coaches apply arbitrary filters to thin the herd of candidates. Others might indulge shameless biases or personal grudges, or game the voting so one of their guys benefits. A couple of East coaches – Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Boston’s Brad Stevensgave some insight on their criteria to Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe:

“Probably the biggest criteria is looking at the team’s record,” Casey said, “because you can score 50 a game and have a losing record, and you’re not going to [be an] All-Star. That’s not only for me, but for all coaches.”

Casey was probably exaggerating just a bit, because a 50-point scorer on any team would be a lock, but you get his point. Wins matter. Stevens echoed that sentiment, saying he uses team success as an easy tiebreaker among players who otherwise appear to be equals.

“Probably a differentiating factor will be who scares me the most,” Stevens said. “That’s just kind of the way I’d look at it. Obviously, who do you have to prepare for differently? Who makes you tweak what you normally do?”

When Stevens analyzes numbers and figures, he does find some advanced statistics quite helpful.

“I look more at efficiency than anything else,” he said. “I don’t get too caught up in points per game or rebounds per game or those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency and those types of things. You get caught up in efficiency from a points standpoint. You get caught up in rebound percentages. I think that, again, you have to also factor in fourth quarter and crunch-time performance.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One of the most popular topics related to David Blatt‘s firing Friday was speculation over the degree to which Cavaliers susperstar LeBron James was involved. Should James be thought of as a “coach killer” after his experiences with Mike Brown and now Blatt? Or does he draw that sort of criticism unfairly? … The Brooklyn Nets might find plenty to like in Blatt as they cope with a real freefall. … The Nets needed a shooting doctor, so they hired a Nurse. … Former Marquette teammates Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder battled in Boston. … Former NBA referees are mentoring their profession’s next generation. … Re-think whatever your definition might be of a “high basketball IQ.” Introducing the smart ball. …

As Kerr returns, Walton, Lue in play as possible All-Star coaches

Golden State head coach Steve Kerr, after being sidelined from the Warriors’ first 43 games this season, finally was back on the sideline for their home game against Indiana Friday night at Oracle Arena (10:30 ET, ESPN).

But Luke Walton still might want to hold off making any personal plans for All-Star 2016.

Walton served as Golden State’s interim coach while Kerr recovered and rehabilitated from two offseason back surgeries. Kerr is back now as the Warriors’ coach of record, but the NBA reportedly still is considering whether Walton might be invited to coach the Western Conference All-Stars, assuming Golden State has the conference’s best record through games of Sunday, Jan. 31.

“We are reviewing our rules around the West coach situation to determine what is appropriate,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said late Friday.

All-Star coaches, by NBA rules, are drawn from the team with its conference’s best record as of the official cutoff date, which is Jan. 31 this season. The exception is when a coach and his staff earned that honor the previous season, in which case the coaches of the second-place team handle All-Star duties. Kerr and the Golden State staff, including Walton, oversaw the West squad at the 2015 All-Star Game in New York.

Some had wondered, however, if Walton – because he had not served as “head coach” last February – might be eligible this time for the Feb. 14 game in Toronto. He was, after all, reported to be eligible for NBA Coach of the Year consideration even though his official head coaching record remains 0-0. The Warriors’ 39-4 mark technically goes on Kerr’s coaching record.

If Walton doesn’t coach the West All-Stars, the likely candidate is San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. Either because of the “Riley rule” – the NBA spared coaches from working the All-Star Game in consecutive seasons in the 1980s when Lakers coach Pat Riley annually had his team atop the standings at the cutoff date – or because the Spurs overtake the Warriors, Popovich would be in line to go with his staff for the fourth time. He previously coach the West All-Stars in 2005, 2011 and 2013.

The Spurs (37-6) can’t be caught by the West’s third-best team, Oklahoma City (33-12). After Friday’s OKC victory at Dallas, both teams have four games by the Jan. 31 cutoff – even if San Antonio loses all four and OKC wins all four, the Spurs still would have the better record.

In another interesting twist, if the Cleveland Cavaliers remain in first place on Jan. 31, new head coach Tyronn Lue will be invited to coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars, the NBA also confirmed.

Lue, the Cleveland associate promoted to head coach Friday with the Cavaliers’ decision to fire David Blatt, would be accompanied by the rest of Cavs staff. Blatt not included, presumably.

Then again, there is some precedent for NBA figures no longer in the league to participate on All-Star Weekend. Guard Craig Hodges was invited to defend his title in the 3-Point Shootout in 1993 after the Chicago Bulls had waived him following the 1991-92 season. Back in 1977, forward Larry McNeil competed in the NBA’s first Slam Dunk contest at the All-Star Game in Milwaukee between being waived by the Nets in December and signed by Golden State in late February.

And of course, Magic Johnson famously played in and was named MVP of the 1992 All-Star Game after abruptly retiring when he announced in November 1991 that he had contracted the HIV virus.