Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Blogtable: Biggest surprise at season’s halfway point 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 Cavs? | Biggest surprise at season’s halfway mark? |
Rookie you enjoy watching most (and why)?



VIDEOWhich team is the best at this point in the season?

> Biggest surprise to you at the halfway mark of this season?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The rapid improvement of the East versus the West. You don’t hear much talk from the media about re-seeding the playoffs because of the dreadful East any more, do you? Not to sprain my wrist patting myself on the back, but some of us argued — and continued to argue –that there’s no magic potion or league-mandated jerry rigging that’s going to make the East better. If you hire good coaches (Brad Stevens, Steve Clifford, Stan Van Gundy), draft the right players (John Wall, Jimmy Butler, Andre Drummond, Kristaps Porzingis), make smart trades (Goran Dragic, Nicola Vucevic, Marcin Gortat) and sign the right free agents for the right amount of money (Pau Gasol, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap), it’s amazing how quickly you can make your team better. I am surprised, though, that Houston and Phoenix and New Orleans have fallen off so quickly this season.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: In the team category, I’m most surprised by Dallas. No way did I expect the Mavericks to be in the middle of things out West. I underestimated the contributions they’d get from Wesley Matthews, Deron Williams, Zaza Pachulia and Dwight Powell, didn’t fully account for the value in shedding Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis and took for granted Rick Carlisle‘s coaching. As for individual surprises, C.J. McCollum has been something of a revelation. Sure, he’s getting more opportunity – he already has played more minutes than in his first two seasons combined – but he still had to be capable of responding to it. The slender shooting guard hasn’t just scored more, he has spruced up his mid-range game and doubled his assist percentage. He’s a big Most Improved candidate in my view.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Mavericks. I was like everyone else. I thought it was going to be tough several months. Through no fault of their own, but still. I thought losing DeAndre Jordan with little chance to find a replacement center, while also relying on Wesley Matthews coming off a serious injury and 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, was a near-certain invitation to the lottery. Instead, Dallas is tracking to the playoffs and 2015-16 is becoming another affirmation of the skill of coach Rick Carlisle. The Mavs knew it all along, signing him to an extension before this latest proving ground, and a lot of people around the league knew it, but the success should be the ultimate sign of Carlisle and the atmosphere around the entire organization.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Pelicans. I thought by adding a decent coach and getting healthy and benefitting from one of the top-10 players in basketball would place them in the middle of the pack in the West (which isn’t that good this year). But they’re an awful team with major questions and, to be honest, Davis hasn’t improved a lick nor shown that he can transform a team (which is what superstars do).

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Kristaps Porzingis. The rookie was supposed to be a couple of years away from really contributing, but he’s helped the Knicks on both ends of the floor. He’s obviously big and skilled, but he’s also got a fantastic attitude, seems very comfortable living in a new country and in the league’s biggest market, and he even has Carmelo Anthony trying to play distributor every once in a while.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The biggest surprise for me is just how big a gap there is between the top teams in the league (Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland, Oklahoma City and, perhaps, the Clippers on a good day) and the rest of the field. Like most people, I didn’t see the record start coming from the Warriors. And the fact that the Spurs are hot on the trail is truly an amazing feat, given just how all-time great the Warriors have been. Even with the significant improvement from top to bottom in the Eastern Conference, there is still a wide space between the true contenders and everyone else.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Warriors and Spurs are separating themselves fundamentally from the rest of the league. There is a long way to go, and things can change dramatically, but right now no other team is in the same league as Golden State and San Antonio.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The Washington Wizards. For a team that pushed the Atlanta Hawks so hard in the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals, they definitely seem to have regressed. Now, I know they’ve had injuries, and they’re trying to play more small ball, but they just can’t seem to turn the corner and escape this neighborhood of being a perpetual .500 team.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates | Thunder getting overlooked, underloved? | Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage | Long trip leaves Cavs in good place

No. 1: Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates — Your first instinct was to look around for Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. He was the culprit involved in the NBA’s previous most notable shoulder injury, locking up Cleveland’s Kevin Love in the first round last spring and sending the former All-Star forward off to surgery, done for the rest of the playoffs. This time, though, it was Dallas’ JaVale McGee getting tied up with Chicago’s Joakim Noah, with Noah suddenly pulling away and running off the court while shouting anguished expletives. Noah’s left shoulder dislocation was a significant re-injury of the same shoulder he had sprained before Christmas, and according to Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson, it has the frustrated center and his teammates rattled while awaiting the outcome of an MRI exam. Meanwhile, any plans by Bulls management to explore the trade market for Noah, an impending free agent, probably have been diminished:

A Saturday MRI will produce an official prognosis and whether surgery is needed, but the injury likely will have major ramifications for the franchise — and for Noah. The Bulls have gauged the market for Noah in advance of next month’s trade deadline, an option that is in serious jeopardy now.

More powerfully, the Bulls waited two weeks to clear Noah for contact practices and officially rule out surgery for his last injury, which involved a small tear. If surgery is needed this time, could Noah, an unrestricted free agent, have played his last game for the franchise that drafted him in 2007?

“It didn’t look good,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“It’s devastating,” Derrick Rose said. “He’s a big piece.”

No two injuries are the same, but [Love] took more than four months to return to basketball activity after dislocating his shoulder in last season’s playoffs.

“I’m frustrated for him,” Taj Gibson said. “He felt so good coming into this game. We don’t know the severity of it but the look on his face was just crazy. He had put so much work in to get back to the team.

“It just makes my stomach sick. You’ve been going to war with this guy all kind of different circumstances over eight years, a guy you pride yourself with, especially with practice and he’s one of the emotional leaders, it hits you in the heart. Seeing him on that table like that, I kind of got flashbacks to when Derrick got hurt. You don’t want to see your man go down like that. It’s frustrating.”

***

No. 2: Thunder getting overlooked, underloved?— No one would welcome additional, legitimate championship contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June than the NBA. It just so happens that the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, are as good as or maybe better than they were last season. The San Antonio Spurs have a history of success unrivaled for duration since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, who has taken his team to five consecutive Finals. Outside of those three franchises, though, the league’s other 27 teams have more skeptics than supporters when assessing their shot at a spring ring. Royce Young of ESPN.com took a hard look at where the Oklahoma City fit among the top contenders, and wound up re-visiting a familiar topic – media disrespect – with former MVP forward Kevin Durant:

A couple of hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, Michael Wilbon said on “Pardon The Interruption”: “There’s only three teams in the NBA, right now from where we sit, who can win the championship, who can even play for the championship.”

Those three: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s it,” Wilbon said. “That’s the list.”

The Thunder went on to effortlessly roll over the young Wolves 113-93, as expected, improving to 29-12. At the midway point of the season, that puts the Thunder on a 58-win pace, which in the past 10 seasons on average is good for the second seed in the Western Conference, and has been good for the No. 1 seed twice. With a robust margin of victory of +8.2, on paper, the Thunder look like a surefire contending power.

But plenty of people around the league seem to share the same sentiment as Wilbon. It’s Warriors, Spurs and Cavs, and then everybody else.

The question is, where are the Thunder?

“Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.

“Especially since we’ve been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven’t won and we’ve still got the same core, so they don’t expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”

***

No. 3: Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage — Change is hard, especially when the state from which one is departing worked so darn well. The Indiana Pacers committed to a pace-and-space attack over the summer, shedding the “smash mouth” style built around center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West that had produced consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals. There were growing pains early – Paul George didn’t like the idea of being stuck as a “power forward” – but George, his teammates and coach Frank Vogel worked out the kinks for a satisfying start. But Indiana has dropped nine of its past 15 games since starting 16-9 and whether in response to opponents’ tactics, George’s sputters after his early MVP form or just lapsing into old habits, the Pacers have slowed down and gone bigger. That had Larry Bird, the team’s president of basketball operations, displeased when he spoke to Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:

“I just can’t get a handle on it right now because these guys are up and down,” Bird said in a telephone interview just hours before Friday’s game against Washington. “I can’t tell you what is best for us right now. We’ve had success with the small lineup, but we’ve had success with two big guys in there. It’s going to take a little bit more time, but I would like to have won more games up to this point. I don’t think any of us feel comfortable with how we’re playing and the way things are going.”

What Bird does not want the Pacers to do is waver from the new offensive philosophy they developed in the offseason.

“I’d like to see teams match up with us instead of us worrying about who certain guys are going to guard on the other teams,” Bird said. “Let’s see if they can guard us. If you’ve got good ball movement and you’ve got guys hitting shots, it makes it pretty easy.”

After talking with Bird after Thursday’s practice, Vogel returned to the spread lineup to start Friday’s game for the first time since Dec. 31. The results were not what Bird desired. The Pacers fell behind early to the Wizards and struggled throughout in a 118-104 blowout loss. The Pacers missed 14 of their 17 3-pointers and were outrebounded by the Wizards 54-35.

Bird and Vogel have talked almost every day throughout the season. Vogel said their conversations have not changed much, but he mentioned before Friday’s game that every aspect of the team is in flux, from which lineup should start to which players should be on the court in the final minutes of games.

Vogel said he has favored the big lineup because it has a strong defensive rating of 89.4, a statistic that measures points allowed per 100 possessions, entering Friday’s game. The spread lineup’s defensive rating is 106.3.

***

No. 4: Long trip leaves Cavs in good place — Fatigued yet fulfilled, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home in the wee hours Saturday from a long road trip that may have positioned them just right for another push to the Finals. The mood of their leader, LeBron James, was evident in a Tweet James posted upon getting home:

It also was clear in James’ comments after a breezy 20-point victory at Houston to conclude the trip that Cleveland might just be revving up to keep playing for another five months. Here is an excerpt from Dave McMenamin‘s piece for ESPN.com:

After traveling nearly 6,000 miles over the course of a six-game, 12-day trip — enough distance to go from New York to Los Angeles and back again — the Cleveland Cavaliers walked out of the Toyota Center on Friday night having picked up five wins on the journey and a boost of confidence to take into the second half of the season.

“The only thing I care about is how I lead these guys every single night, and I know we can compete with any team in the league and it doesn’t have to be a regular-season game,” LeBron James said afterward when asked if it bothered him that some were judging the Cavs because of that Spurs loss [Thursday]. “I know, you give us four games and it’s time to lock down in a playoff series, we can play and we can beat any team in this league. So that’s my feeling and that’s what I know.”

The certainty in James’ words was significant, as the 5-1 trip seemed to solidify the notion that his Cavs had indeed turned the corner. They won in just about every imaginable fashion — blowing it open late in Washington; thoroughly dominating in Minnesota; toying around with the competition in Philadelphia; coming from behind in Dallas and making big plays down the stretch; and then, in Houston, shooting only 39.1 percent as tired legs resulted in missed jump shots, but determined defense wouldn’t let them lose as the Rockets shot even worse at 35.1 percent.

They’ve now won nine of their past 10 games, heading into a home date with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, and are starting to look like the team that became a juggernaut in the second half of last season through the playoffs, until injuries derailed them in the Finals.

“I think just being on the road, just together for 12 days just brought us together more,” Cavs big man Tristan Thompson told ESPN.com. “And you can see it on the court. There’s more flow. Guys are understanding where guys are going to be at.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott is talking about playing the Lakers’ young guys more over the second half of the season, though it’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant‘s Farewell Tour yielding to any sort of organizational-development agenda. … We can understand why the Brooklyn Nets would be interested in Tom Thibodeau to bail out their dismal operation, but we’re unclear as to why Thibodeau would be interested in the Nets. … San Antonio has been so good for so long, it’s kind of unfair to the rest of the league, according to USA Today. … The first priority with Nene always seems to be, getting him healthy .The second is keeping him that way, because his impact on the Washington Wizards is considerable. … This Miami Heat teams lacks some of the self-assurance and self-awareness that the Big Three edition owned, says one insider. … There are Bulls fans who wish that Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose got along as famously as Butler and his Hollywood buddy Mark Wahlberg.

Noah dislocates shoulder, raising ‘bigs’ questions for Bulls

VIDEO: Bulls center Joakim Noah re-injures left shoulder.

CHICAGO – Joakim Noah grabbed at his left shoulder, ran beyond the baseline and cut loose with anguished expletives. Tied up with Dallas’ JaVale McGee, the Chicago Bulls center suffered a dislocation of his left shoulder in the second quarter against the Mavericks at United Center and once he made a U-turn, sprinted immediately to the Bulls’ locker room. He was done for the night.

The bigger question is how long Noah might be out overall and what that might mean both to his season and any notions Chicago might have about sorting out their multiple-bigs situation at the February trading deadline. It’s the same shoulder Noah hurt on Dec. 21, suffering what then was called a sprain against Brooklyn that cost him nine games.

He only returned Monday against Washington and, in three games back against the Wizards, the Bucks and the 76ers, averaged 3.0 points and 10.7 rebounds. But the season has been a struggle for Noah from the start – he lost his starting spot when new head coach Fred Hoiberg opted to team first Nikola Mirotic, then Taj Gibson at power forward. The 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year was averaging 4.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg and 22.5 mpg, mostly off the bench.

Noah, who will be a free agent this summer, hasn’t been able to showcase his talents. The Bulls are 8-2 in the games he has not played. But even if Chicago were to explore trade scenarios involving Noah, he might be seen as damaged goods if his latest shoulder injury requires surgery or a long layoff. And the Bulls don’t have long-term stability at the center spot, with Gasol saying earlier in the season he would likely opt out of his contract this summer.

Silver: Time zones, miles still hurdles to expanding NBA Euro presence

The world is shrinking, but not fast enough for some NBA devotees in Europe.

Of the questions NBA commissioner Adam Silver fielded in his news conference prior to the 2016 Global Games London Thursday – Orlando vs. Toronto at The O2 Arena – most of them had something to do with geography, distance, time zones and the logistical challenges of staging North American basketball games on other continents.

As Silver answered, he stood five times zones and approximately 3,500 miles away from NBA headquarters in Manhattan. Both the Magic and the Raptors had crossed “the pond,” a.k.a., the Atlantic Ocean, to participate, and both teams had been given four open days before their game Thursday and three more after to adjust to jet lag and otherwise re-acclimate.

Travel issues, more than financial opportunities or hoops missionary work in fertile markets, remain the top challenge to All-Star Games staged overseas, European expansion or other international flag-planting by the league, Silver said. Disrupting the routine of finely tuned athletes locked into the grind of an 82-game regular season is something around which the NBA treads lightly.

“We’re becoming more sophisticated about the impact of fatigue on our players,” Silver said deep into the media session, “and the direct correlation of fatigue and injuries. We want to talk to players association about it. As we all know, when you change time zones … it’s often difficult to sleep when you’ve had quick changes in time zones.”

Just scheduling NBA teams for matinee tipoff times in the States – to provide live televised games overseas – is challenge enough, Silver said. Coaches routinely circle afternoon games on their schedules as potential trouble, given how disruptive it can be to players’ habits and body clocks.

So while it’s easy enough for a player such as Toronto’s Luis Scola to suggest that the NBA send four teams to London or Paris to boost efficiency – playing three regular-season games against three foes, rather than the single Raptors-Magic game – there is a much bigger picture involved.

“I’d love to hear [Scola’s] views on the travel,” Silver said, eliciting some laughter. “Ultimately that is our desire, to bring more teams and be able to play more games. We have a fairly dense schedule throughout the season. We’re playing roughly, over 165 days, 82 games. It’s an average of roughly 3 ½ games a week.”

Clearing out sufficient time for multiple teams –including those from the Central, Mountain and Pacific U.S. time zones – to make the trip, getting All-Stars from as many as 24 franchises to adapt and play, venturing to France and beyond for regular-season games or anchoring a division of NBA expansion teams in Europe all would pose challenges the league is studying, Silver said. For now, there are no simple solutions.

“The next step is to continue to work on grass roots basis here in Europe,” the commissioner said of Thursday’s event. “What’s important for us – while selling out a game in an hour and bringing in a tremendous media interest, that’s all fantastic for us – but it’s got to be part of a larger program. These games can’t just be viewed as one-off experiences.

“We want to make sure we’re part of a larger platform to grow the game. So we’re going to continue to play these regular-season games. We’re working closely with FIBA, closely with the Euroleague to continue building the game of basketball here. And as I said, we to make sure it’s not just a spectacle to come in with two teams and then have interest drop off tremendously once we leave – we want to make sure we have an ongoing impact.”

Among other topics Silver touched on Thursday:

  • The news of Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov firing his GM (Billy King) and head coach (Lionel Hollins) in a major resetting of the Nets is life in the NBA, Silver said. Referring to a “very steep learning curve,” Prokhorov tried to win big sooner rather than later, signing expensive veteran players and trading away assets such as draft picks. “He’s acknowledged ‘lesson learned’ on his part,” Silver said.
  • Kobe Bryant’s ongoing retirement tour has been good for both the league’s ticket sales and for fans’ ability to see one of the NBA’s greatest players one more time. If Bryant is involved in All-Star Weekend in Toronto next month, Silver said, it will be “a showcase for him” and an “opportunity for the larger NBA community to say ‘thank you’ for his service.”
  • Silver remains optimistic that the owners and the National Basketball Players Association can continue making progress in collective bargaining talks “behind closed doors” and avoid a lockout or strike that would cost games and revenue in 2017-18.
  • Silver agreed with one reporter who wondered if young basketball players might be at risk of overuse injuries related to the number of games they play outside of high school or college programs. Unlike youth baseball, which strictly limits kids’ pitching turns and pitch counts, “you often have these young players playing eight games in a single weekend,” Silver said. He said the NBA, along with the NCAA and USA Basketball have a responsibility to study and establish protocols.
  • No sooner had Silver mentioned that approximately 100 foreign-born players were among the 450 or so on NBA rosters to open the 2015-16 season, he was asked about the eventuality of a player one day representing Austria. “We can’t wait to have the first Austrian in the NBA,” the commissioner said. “ And your next question, ‘When will be playing the first NBA regular season game in Austria…’ ”

Beal back, Wizards eye minutes limit as way to keep him healthy

Getting Bradley Beal back is one thing. Keeping him back is quite another.

The Washington Wizards have gotten too good at welcoming back their talented and all-too-breakable shooting guard – Beal’s return to action Wednesday for the Wizards’ home game against Milwaukee was only the latest in a series of comebacks for the 22-year-old.

Specifically, Beal’s availability to face the Bucks put him in position to play for the first time since Dec. 9, in a season limited to just 17 appearances by a stress reaction in his lower right leg. This is the fourth consecutive season Beal has been hampered by injuries to that leg, a pattern that isn’t likely to change on its own. Beal averaged 19.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists, while shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range, before getting hurt. Washington was 9-10 in the games he missed.

That’s why the Wizards were looking at upping the TLC for that target of so many MRIs, up to and including a minutes restriction not just short- but long-term, according to J. Michael Falgoust, Wizards’ insider for CSNMidAtlantic.com:

Beal would come off the bench and be on a minutes restriction after a stress reaction in his lower right leg. …

“I wouldn’t doubt it, especially if I’m on a minutes restriction,” Beal said of being a reserve while coach Randy Wittman continues to start Garrett Temple. “Witt will forget how many minutes I’m out there. He’ll just leave me out there. We’ve been rolling with what we have now. I’m not mad at that at all. Whatever it’s going to take for us to win.”

This season, Beal is averaging a career-high 36.5 minutes, which is sixth highest in the league if he qualified for games played, in 17 appearances. Even after he gets back into the starting lineup and playing starter’s minutes, Beal’s time has to be managed.

“Probably, especially with the way my body works,” Beal said about having his minutes capped at a maximum. “It doesn’t want to listen to me so I got to as much as I can take care of it, be smart about it moving forward through the rest of my career that’s probably something that’s going to happen every year.”

With Beal’s injury history is a long one, a person with knowledge of the situation told CSN a few weeks ago that number will be 35 minutes.

Blogtable: Most impressive thing about Warriors’ start 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: Player who needs to be an All-Star starter? |
Most impressive thing about Warriors is _____? | New coach and GM for Nets?



VIDEOWarriors focused as ever to dominate

> The Warriors continue to roll, and are already halfway to 72 wins. Watching this team night after night, what impresses you the most?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: The connectivity they have at both ends of the floor. When a team has an individual player as great as Steph Curry, the other guys on the floor with him often find themselves isolated, standing around watching. It happened a lot when Michael Jordan was with the Chicago Bulls. But with the Warriors, you never get the sense that Curry is just out there pounding the ball to create an opening for himself. Everything he gets seems to be on the move, whether it’s in transition or off their sets. But it seems like he’s always moving WITH his teammates; his action comes off of some other action. Same at the defensive end. There’s always someone moving, whether it’s a pre-rotation or something else. It’s five-man basketball. Beautiful to watch.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Equal parts optimism/confidence and versatility. It’s impossible in my opinion to separate those qualities because they build on each other. Golden State has been built to handle just about any situation and its players and coaches know it. No Steve Kerr? No problem. Harrison Barnes goes down? They got this. Chris Bosh hangs on the perimeter? Fine, Andrew Bogut will match up with Luol Deng and Justise Winslow. Having success with nearly every adjustment fuels their view that they can do it tomorrow and straight through June. The Warriors are unflappable.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The sheer joy, enthusiasm and relentless sense of purpose that they bring to the gym every night.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: How they have been so locked in this early in the season. I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: The Warriors could have had a champagne hangover, they could have been fazed by the absence of coach Steve Kerr, they could have been tripped up by injuries, and yet they roll on. They have incredible focus, to the point of not merely accepting the big moments but searching them out.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Warriors are ready to play every night. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of 82 games, most teams will take a night off, so to speak, in terms of energy or mental preparation or whatever. Not the Warriors, who take pride in putting themselves in position to win, no matter how good or bad the opponent. I haven’t seen this from a team since the 72-win Chicago Bulls of 1995-96.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s the cohesion on both ends of the floor. Stephen Curry obviously has the ability to do things alone on offense, but he rarely does. The Warriors lead the league in assist rate and in the second year of Steve Kerr‘s offensive system, the offense is sharper than it was last season. There’s freelancing within the system, but guys are mostly on the same page when it happens. And while the champs have taken a small step backward defensively, they’re generally on a string on that end of the floor as well.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The energy they bring to the floor every night is flat out remarkable. To win 67 games last season, ride that wave to The Finals and handle their business there how they did, you’d expect the Warriors be a little fatigued by now. But they always seem to find the wind needed to run you off the floor. Night after night they always seem to find that extra gear, from Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green down the roster to Brandon Rush, James Michael McAdoo and Ian Clark, when they are called upon to contribute. I’ve covered a team that won 61 games and made the conference finals and the next season, you could see the wear and tear, both physically and emotionally, on that group. The Warriors, however, seem as fresh now as they did in training camp before the 2014-15 season. Simply remarkable.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They play for each other at both ends of the floor. There is a spirit to their teamwork that is inspiring. The Spurs are efficient, while the Warriors appear to feed off each other emotionally. They reveal their hearts.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Their versatility. In the past when we’ve seen great teams, they seem to do whatever it is that they do, and that is what defines them. But the Warriors aren’t just one thing. Want to play big? They can play big. Trying to go small? They can go small. The Warriors can mix and match their deep collective of starters and bench players to meet any sort of challenge presented to them, without losing any potency, and to me that makes them such a remarkable group.

Blogtable: Your pick for who will be Brooklyn Nets’ next coach, GM?

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: Player who needs to be an All-Star starter? |
Most impressive thing about Warriors is _____? | New coach and GM for Nets?



VIDEOThe Starters have some pointers for the Nets moving forward

> Give me a good one-two combo – a GM and a coach – who can turn things around in Brooklyn if given the chance.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I’d love to see Troy Weaver (the assistant GM in Oklahoma City) get a shot at running his own shop. He’s smart and talented and knows everyone in basketball, and knows who can play. And if he got the job, you’d obviously think he’d look hard at bringing Scott Brooks in to coach. If he went another way, though, and went outside the list of the usual suspects (Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy, etc.), someone like David Fizdale, the associate head coach in Miami, could do the job. Or, how about one Patrick Aloysius Ewing, once a basketball player of some accomplishment, but who is now an assistant coach in Charlotte — and an incredibly patient one — who’s been an NBA assistant for more than a decade. He should have been given shot to be a coach, about, oh six or seven years ago. I have no idea if Ewing would be a good coach or not. I had no idea if Erik Spoelstra could do it when Pat Riley gave him a chance to do it. And that’s what Ewing deserves–a chance, to succeed or fail on his talents and efforts. But none of those names/combos will work if owner Mikhail Prokhorov doesn’t give them the time to build the Nets from the bottom up. And, make no mistake — they’re at the bottom.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com My preferred package deal for this sort of intervention is Jeff Van Gundy as GM/POBO and buddy Tom Thibodeau as head coach. I doubt either would be interested in Brooklyn’s toxic combination of flawed roster, hobbled draft future and impetuous, now-more-inclined-to-tinker ownership. But they have the basketball chops, the street cred and the know-how to stage an impressive turnaround. And if it’s not in Brooklyn, maybe it ought to be in Minnesota, where both jobs are up for grabs this summer. My Plan B would be someone such as Jeff Weltman, currently working with Masai Ujiri in Toronto, getting hired and bringing in, say, Monty Williams (who should still be a coach in this league) or Luke Walton.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMy first thought was Jesus of Nazareth and his Father due to the near miracle it’s going to take to dig out of that hole dug by Billy King. But of this earthly realm, I’ll go with the no-nonsense pairing of Tom Thibodeau as coach and Jeff Van Gundy as G.M. Oooh, but they’d need time. Lots of it. And frankly, I don’t think either would want the job.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThere is a lot of heaving lifting ahead, with few trade assets and no 2016 lottery pick, so lets start with the clarification that “turn things around in Brooklyn” will be a wide, slow bend. The 76ers just beat the Nets to my choice, Jerry Colangelo, who would not have had a lot of years left with the necessary energy but could have provided the smart statesman the Nets desperately need. I would love to see John Calipari get the job as coach/GM. Not because it would be a good choice, but just imagine Cal in full power play in New York. I feel better about the coaching decision: Ettore Messina, with a long look at Tom Thibodeau as well.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Jeff Van Gundy and whomever he hand-picks to be his personnel guy. Van Gundy has been away from coaching long enough to miss it, and now that his daughter is in college, he’s free to chase the dollars, and there will be plenty of that in Brooklyn. Plus, Van Gundy has experience in dealing with New York, where he’s respected. Give him the same power that his brother has in Detroit, and it could happen.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere are more viable coaching candidates than GM candidates out there and success starts at the top, so I would open the vault for R.C. Buford and give him (and not Dmitry Razumov) final say on all basketball decisions, including the choice of who to coach this team. Scott Brooks, Mike D’Antoni and Tom Thibodeau are all fine picks in that regard. The one that can work best with my new GM should be the new coach.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m a firm believer in new blood when you’re dealing with the situation the Nets are facing right now. No retread general managers or coaches. Scott Perry (assistant GM in Orlando) has paid his dues after holding the same position in Detroit during their glory days under Joe Dumars, and doing a similar job in Oklahoma City before landing in Orlando. Perry has earned the right to sit in the first chair. He’s as well respected as any executive I can think of around the league, both by his peers, players, agents and anyone who moves and shakes in the world of basketball. He also has no ego, which I think is a prerequisite for the job today. As for the coach, who better than Cleveland assistant coach Tyronn Lue. He’s learned from some of the very best (Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers) and has been an invaluable asset for David Blatt as he transitioned from coaching internationally to the NBA. His years as an apprentice are over. He’s ready. And the Nets could use the infusion of new energy both would bring to their organization.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They should hire John Calipari for both roles. I have done a full 180 on this in recent years. It’s obvious now that his real strength is as a recruiter. He can bring recruiting in the NBA to an unprecedented level of sophistication. NBA teams tend to be amateurish when it comes to recruiting. Calipari understands that it is a science, and coaching in a market as big as Brooklyn will enable him to make the most of free agency. But it is only going to work if a team gives him total control – without the ability to reinvent the front office and change the entire point of view, Calipari will have little impact. Free agency is going to grow more important as NBA contracts are shortened and the cap is hardened. Someday someone is going to look like a genius for hiring Calipari.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Here’s the thing: You could bring in Red Auerbach as GM and Phil Jackson as coach, and a Brooklyn rebuild isn’t happening overnight. The Nets are really in dire straits, and there is no quick fix for this. So you need a GM who is patient and shrewd, with a track record for success. Thinking broadly and creatively, why not throw a lot of money at Jerry West, a former executive of the year now consulting with the champion Warriors? As for a coach, why not try a system that could be transformative, so how about getting Mike D’Antoni out of Philadelphia and let him turn his 7 seconds or less system loose to his heart’s content?

Blogtable: Player who needs (and deserves) to be an All-Star starter?

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: Player who needs to be an All-Star starter? |
Most impressive thing about Warriors is _____? | New coach and GM for Nets?



VIDEOWhich players out East are in need of more All-Star love?

> There’s one more week to vote before All-Star starters are announced on TNT. Give me one player in the East and one player in the West who need (and deserve) a late push from fans to make the starting five.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: With the caveat that I understand and have no problem with fans voting in the starters (it’s their game and they can choose to see whoever they want to see), from a merit perspective, John Wall in the East has certainly had a better season than Kyrie Irving so far. I’d also argue he’s having a better season than Dwyane Wade as well. Irving may be a better player — and he made his case clear by thumping Wall and the Wizards last week – but he just got back on the floor an hour ago. Wall has been sensational for the last six weeks. Out West (same caveat), it’s not debatable that Kawhi Leonard should be a merit-based starter over Kobe Bryant in the front court. He’s been sensational at both ends, and his team has been just as impressive as the Warriors, given its dependency on older players.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Toronto’s Kyle Lowry in the East and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard in the West. Lowry has been the most deserving guard in the East since the start of the season, an MVP candidate on his team for his play and his leadership, which started with his commitment to arrive in his best shape ever. Only 1,300 votes separated Leonard and Draymond Green in the most recent balloting results and both have earned the recognition. But if there’s no unseating Kobe Bryant as a starter, Leonard should leap-frog Green as a nod to the Spurs’ first half and for being, possibly, a more transferable talent than Green’s somewhat-system success.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: East: Kyle Lowry. His numbers are on par with other candidates Jimmy Butler and John Wall. But the home-court Toronto Raptors deserve a starter and Lowry gets an extra edge for making his personal commitment to Toronto. West: Kawhi Leonard. The best player on what is either the first or second-best team in the NBA deserves the starting lineup over the shadow of Kobe Bryant.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: East: Jimmy Butler. I thought about Kyle Lowry and John Wall, because both deserve to be in Toronto, or to stay in Toronto in Lowry’s case, but Butler needs more of a finishing kick than Lowry. West: Kawhi Leonard. He doesn’t even a push, based on the polling numbers from last week. Just a slight nudge. But Leonard, the best front-court player the first half of the season, obviously belongs in the first five for the All-Star Game, whether he will care for two seconds or not.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Jimmy Butler in the East and Kawhi Leonard in the West. You could make the argument that Butler is more deserving than any guard in the East. As for Leonard, he’s not catching Kobe Bryant in the popular vote, but based on his first half, he’s as good as they get in the West.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In the East, it’s Kyle Lowry, who trailed Kyrie Irving for the second guard spot by less than 30,000 votes last week. It’s great that Irving is healthy, but he hasn’t played enough to merit an All-Star selection. Lowry is one of three East guards – Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan are the others – that deserve serious consideration here and is the closest to making the voting legit. In the West, Kawhi Leonard definitely deserves a spot, but not necessarily at the expense of Draymond Green, who led him by less than 2,000 votes last week. There’s no catching Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, though.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: In the East, I’m going with Detroit’s Andre Drummond. He’s been an absolute monster this season, piling up double-doubles at a rate no one else in the league can keep up with. Drummond has done the one thing coaches have asked talented young prospects to do for years, and that’s work on the mechanics of his game and take advantage of all of his physical gifts. He belongs in that first five on All-Star Sunday. In the West, Kawhi Leonard shouldn’t need the push but he certainly deserves it. If you haven’t seen them much this year, please know that Leonard and the Spurs are the best thing going this season outside of Oakland. Leonard has made a compelling case for MVP this season, he should be a starter on the Western Conference All-Star team.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comToronto is No. 2 in the East and the host of the All-Star Game next month, so how have the Canadians failed to vote for DeMar DeRozan (or Kyle Lowry) ahead of Kyrie Irving, who has played in only 10 games for Cleveland? In the West, the fans have it exactly right, especially in their treatment of Kobe Bryant. He deserves to start in his final season. But for those who feel no sentiment or respect, I suppose the next-best choice should be Kawhi Leonard.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI can’t believe how far out of the running Atlanta’s Paul Millsap has been in the initial voting returns. He’s the best player on the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference, leading the Hawks in points (18.3), rebounds (8.7) and steals (1.9) per game. He doesn’t make a lot of headlines and isn’t particularly witty on social media, but he deserves to be an All-Star this season. And out West, the season Dirk Nowitzki is having is incredible at any age, not to mention at age 37.

Pelicans’ Davis injures back, exits

VIDEO: Pelicans’ Anthony Davis injures back diving into seats

It’s not uncommon, at least in the NBA regular season, for the absence of a team’s star player to result in a better rather than worse performance by the teammates left behind. Most coaches will tell you it has to do with other players stepping into the void, getting more opportunities, mixed with a bit of desperation.

But the New Orleans Pelicans rallied on the fly, without any advance knowledge or prep time in knowing their best player wouldn’t be around. All-Star Anthony Davis was lost early in the first quarter of the Pelicans’ game against Indiana Friday night at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, injuring his back and heading to the locker room after diving over front-row seats while saving the ball inbounds.

The Pacers led 7-6 when Davis exited at 8:39 of the first quarter. But New Orleans outscored them 24-9 the rest of the period to lead 30-16 heading into the second quarter. The departure of the 6-foot-10, 253-pound big man, averaging 23.5 points and 11.2 rebounds, caused social media to erupt, given the daily fantasy implications of Davis’ injury Friday. But even as the first half ticked away, the shorthanded Pelicans were hanging onto a lead.

 

John Johnson, ‘point forward’ pioneer with SuperSonics, dead at 68

Already under the radar of NBA history, it’s unlikely that 12-year veteran John Johnson‘s passing at age 68 will do much to raise his profile among fans in this millennium.

John Johnson, a 12-year NBA veteran, won a title in Seattle in 1979.

Johnson’s peak professional moments came as a role player for a franchise whose archives have been relocated to Oklahoma City. And that’s too bad, because in addition to Johnson’s two All-Star selections and his role as a starter on the Seattle SuperSonics’ 1979 championship team, the 6-foot-7, 200-pound wing from Milwaukee and the University of Iowa was one of the NBA’s first “point forwards.”

Others have been credited as pioneers of that unofficial and, three decades ago, rather new-age sounding position. Among them: Golden State’s Rick Barry, Houston’s Robert Reid and Milwaukee’s Marques Johnson and Paul Pressey, evolving eventually into Chicago’s Scottie Pippen, Detroit‘s Grant Hill and most recently Cleveland superstar LeBron James and Golden State’s Draymond Green.

But Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkens, who played with Johnson in Cleveland and then coached him with the Sonics, made it clear in talking with the Seattle Times that Johnson did a lot of the same things from his small forward spot that Seattle’s backcourt stars accomplished:

“When I coached him I would tell Gus (Williams), Dennis (Johnson) and Fred (Brown) if JJ got the ball on a rebound you, guys take off because he will find you,” said Lenny Wilkens, the Hall of Famer and former Sonics coach. “He could do that, and he did it very well.

“Before they coined the phrase point-forward, he was like that. I have great memories.”

“I coached him, but I also played with him in Cleveland,” Wilkens said. “He was a fierce competitor. He was a guy that when he was on the floor, he wanted to win, and that was most in his mind. We had that in common.

“He was a better player than a lot of people realized. He was a guy that could handle the ball, and if you were open he was willing to make that pass. I loved that about him.”

Johnson died this week at his Bay Area home, according to the San Jose Mercury-News, and his death was confirmed by godson John Herndon. “He just didn’t wake up,” Herndon told the Mercury News.

The No. 7 pick in the 1970 NBA Draft, Johnson averaged 12.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 869 games. His biggest seasons individually were his first two, when he represented the Cavaliers in the All-Star Game while averaging 16.6 ppg and 17.0 ppg.

But after stints with Portland and Houston, Johnson landed with Seattle in October 1977 for a pair of first-round picks. His own stats yielded to the Sonics’ deep roster – he averaged 10.8 ppg and just 10 field goal attempts vs. 16.1 ppg and 14.6 FGA in his first five NBA seasons. Yet in his five years in Seattle, the Sonics went 241-179, reached the Finals twice and beat Washington in 1979 in a rematch of the 1978 championship series.

It was during those years that Johnson’s court vision and playmaking skills were put to use in Wilkens’ ensemble approach. A 2009 article in Sports Illustrated about former Louisville player Terrence Williams delved into Johnson’s past for providing something of a prototype for the way Williams played in college:

John Johnson’s role as a point forward began as an experiment in December 1977, after the Sonics lost 17 of their first 22 games and coach Bob Hopkins was fired. Lenny Wilkens, who had been the club’s director of player personnel, took over as coach believing that Seattle had all the right pieces but was playing them in the wrong places.

… Before Wilkens’s second game as coach—a road date in Boston—he overhauled the lineup, benching every starter but center Marvin Webster.

John Johnson won an NBA title with the Sonics

Rookie Jack Sikma, the team’s No. 1 draft pick, was inserted at power forward; two young scorers, Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson, took over the guard spots; and John Johnson started at small forward, with instructions to help distribute the ball on offense. “I knew JJ had a great understanding of the game,” Wilkens says, “and so, after he’d rebound, I’d tell our guards, Just takeoff, and he’ll find you.”

The Sonics beat the Celtics that night and won 42 of their final 60 games, reaching the NBA Finals before losing in seven to the Washington Bullets. Johnson averaged 2.7 assists that season; it wasn’t until the following year that he truly became a point forward, leading Seattle in assists at 4.4 per game, while Williams and Dennis Johnson upped their scoring. They finished 52-30 and, in a rematch with the Bullets, won the finals in five games.

The etymology of point forward remains a question. Former Bucks star Marques Johnson says that he came up with the name when he played a similar role to Pressey’s for [coach Don] Nelson a few seasons earlier. … John Johnson, though, is adamant that Wilkens not only invented the position but also called it a point forward. “Lenny coined that phrase,” John insists.

Among the great players with whom Johnson was drafted in 1970 – including Bob Lanier, Pete Maravich, Nate Archibald, Dave Cowens, Rudy Tomjanovich, Geoff Petrie, Sam Lacey, Calvin Murphy – Johnson wound up ranked ninth in points (11,200), eighth in rebounds (4,778), sixth in assists (3,285), seventh in games (869) and eighth in minutes (25,681). His son Mitch, who played at Stanford, is an assistant coach at the University of Portland.