Posts Tagged ‘Steve Nash’

Injury blame game is small thinking

It was small thinking back in 2003 when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban decided that the price to re-sign a 29-year-old Steve Nash was too high and broke up a partnership with Dirk Nowitzki that had only begun to flourish. All that Nash proceeded to do was get voted onto the Western Conference All-Star team six times and win back-to-back Most Valuable Players honors in 2005 and 2006.

It was another case of small thinking when Cuban decided that once was enough in 2011 after his Mavericks won the only NBA championship in franchise history and broke up the team. In the interest of salary cap management and to chase quixotic free-agent fantasies, Cuban decided it was time to cut the cord with big man Tyson Chandler, their long-sought rim protector and anchor. Rather than remain among the league’s elite, the Mavs fell into the morass in the middle of the standings.

Mark Cuban (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Mark Cuban (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Now, in the wake of the injury to Paul George last week in a USA Basketball scrimmage in Las Vegas, the Mavs’ outspoken and often highly-entertaining owner is thinking small again by saying that NBA players should not be playing in the Olympics or the FIBA World Cup.

“The [International Olympic Committee] is playing the NBA,” Cuban said. “The IOC [pulls in] billions of dollars. They make a killing and make Tony Soprano look like a saint … Teams take on huge financial risk so that the IOC committee members can line their pockets.”

It is a natural and understandable knee-jerk reaction to the loss of a player of George’s caliber, especially in Indiana where the Pacers’ bid to climb to the top of the Eastern Conference will likely go on hold for at least a year while he mends. Yet in blaming the IOC for the broken bones and restating his old case for an NBA sponsored world tournament, Cuban is both misguided and conflating the issues.

First off, injuries occur in sports and in life. The Bulls’ Derrick Rose tore up his left knee in the final minutes of Game 1 in the 2012 playoffs, sat out a full season and then suffered a tear in his right knee barely a month into the 2013-14 schedule. Clippers top draft pick Blake Griffin suffered a stress fracture in his left kneecap in the final exhibition game in 2009 and missed his entire rookie season following surgery.

They were accidents that can happen at any time. Grizzled vet Moses Malone used to spend summer nights in the stifling heat of Fonde Rec Center in downtown Houston, staying in shape and schooling any challengers, including a pupil named Hakeem Olajuwon. Either one of them could have torn a ligament or broken a bone at any time. Michael Jordan specifically had a “love-of-the-game” clause written into his contract with the Bulls because he wanted to be able to pick up a ball and step onto a court to feed his competitive fire whenever and wherever the urge struck.

Sure, George’s injury is a devastating blow, to the player, the Pacers and to the NBA. However, Cuban’s screed against the IOC isn’t to get every NBA player resting on a bed of pillows every summer, but rather have them play instead in an NBA-sponsored tournament, where the league and the owners can get their cut of the money.

“The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money,” Cuban said. “The players and owners should get together and create our own World Cup of Basketball.”

Ask yourself if Pacers fans would be any less melancholy today if George had run into a stanchion at an official NBA event in July.

In thinking small, Cuban is also selectively squinting to avoid recognizing how much NBA participation in the Olympics has changed the league and the game for the better. His own star Nowitzki was inspired as a teenager in Germany by the 1992 USA Dream Team that included the icons Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. By taking the best of the best to the Olympics, the NBA spread the gospel of the game, cultivated new generations of talent and established basketball’s firm footing as the second-most popular sport on the planet, behind soccer.

When the Dream Team was assembled 22 years ago, there were only 21 foreign-born players in the NBA. Last season that total had quadrupled to a record-tying 84, including a staggering 10 on the roster of the 2014 NBA champion Spurs. In the interim, Yao Ming was literally and figuratively a giant bridge to Asia and helped turn the largest continent on Earth into a hotbed of fan interest and a lucrative market that lines the pockets of NBA owners.

Perhaps Cuban can be forgiven for not grasping the importance of the international effect on the game, since he bought the Mavs and joined the league in 2000, after the tap had been turned on and worldwide cash was already flowing. But that’s an awfully benevolent benefit of doubt for the shrewd entrepreneur billionaire. It would be wrong for the wounded fan base in Indiana to ignore the vast benefits derived from the Olympics and point the finger of blame that way, too.

Or, it could simply be  just small thinking.

Byron Scott taps brakes on Showtime

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Lakers introduce Scott

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – “Showtime” did, sort of, return to Los Angeles on Tuesday.

During the press conference to introduce former Lakers guard Byron Scott as the team’s 25th coach, old teammates Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes strolled into the Lakers’ practice gym to show their support. Johnson, a constant public critic of the last Lakers coach, Mike D’Antoni, nearly suffocated Scott with a massive, joy-filled hug.

Johnson declared this as “a great day for all the former Lakers as well as Lakers fans all over the world,” and then proclaimed the impossible: “Showtime’s back, baby!”

Scott, 53, flanked Magic in the Lakers’ backcourt for three of the Showtime Lakers’ four championship runs during the 1980s, plus three other Finals appearances through 1991. Scott, a native of Inglewood, Calif., home of the old Fabulous Forum and then the renamed Great Western Forum where those teams dazzled the senses, obviously has intimate knowledge of how those high-powered teams excelled.

Yet even Scott, who along with all Lakers fans can appreciate Magic’s exuberance for bringing a Laker Man back to the helm, had to tap the brakes on Magic’s “Showtime” giddiness here in the real world of 2014.

“We can’t play that way,” Scott said during his press conference. “We don’t have a Magic Johnson.”

Touché.

Remember, it was D’Antoni when hired five games into the 2012-13 season who embraced the faux return of Showtime, declaring his inherited edition would score 110 points a game or something ridiculous. Such bravado presumably came from either an attempt to capture angry Lakers fans enamored with Phil Jackson, or from his past successes running-and-gunning in Phoenix with two-time MVP Steve Nash, whom the Lakers had acquired that summer, only at a slightly more advanced age than he was in those heady Suns days.

Nash remains with the Lakers. He’s 40 now and has played 65 games in the last two seasons because of injuries, and just 15 last season. Kobe Bryant was a bushy-haired rookie during Scott’s final season. Scott returned to L.A. for the 1996-97 season for a final hurrah after playing a few seasons elsewhere a couple years after Magic’s initial stunning retirement.

The offense Kobe and Nash will run, Scott said on Tuesday, will be a mixture of everything he’s ever done at his previous stops with New Jersey, New Orleans and Cleveland, where he was the poor sap who took the gig just before LeBron James declared he was taking his talents to South Beach.

His greatest chore, Scott said, going full anti-D’Antoni (who truthfully had no shot last season with the unending injuries that ravaged the team), will be turning this group into a defensive-minded unit. Scott probably choked just a bit as he glanced at the Lakers’ stats last season. They finished 28th overall in defensive rating, giving up 107.9 points per 100 possessions.

“The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team,” Scott said. “These three gentlemen [Magic, Kareem and Wilkes] that’s sitting in this front row, the first thing that Magic taught me when I got in this league is that we win championships by defending every single night. That’s the one thing we can control.”

Just prior to making that statement, Scott said he told general manager Mitch Kupchak that he assembled a roster that will be “very competitive.” Hopefully Scott remembered the Lakers are still in the Western Conference. Anyway, there’s nothing like new-coach optimism.

On the bright side, the Lakers were so awful last season that it figures to be next-to-impossible to be as bad. The Lakers lost a franchise-record 55 games. Kobe played in six. He’ll be back. We know he’ll be paid a handsome $23.5 million next season, but we don’t know at what level he’ll perform or how he’ll adapt his game to his changing athleticism and physical capabilities following the torn Achilles tendon of two seasons ago and last season’s knee injury. Or how his patience will stand up to a mediocre team and a new coach, even one this time he personally endorsed.

Nash, as mentioned, is back, too, but how long he can play or how effectively is a total mystery.

Pau Gasol is out. Vetaran power forward Carlos Boozer is in.

The rest of Scott’s team looks like this: No. 7 overall pick Julius Randle, then Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre.

Showtime? The straight-faced Scott was right to tap the brakes.

Give him credit for that, and now give him time to implement a system and gain some cohesion, and time for trusted management to work some magic in the coming summers that missed the mark with available superstars this time around.

Only then will we know if Magic can truly crow that Showtime’s back, baby.

An NBA in which everyone went ‘home’

lebron

After four years in Miami, LeBron James decided in early July to return to Cleveland.

LeBron James warmed the hearts of Clevelanders, northeast Ohio residents and Moms everywhere when he announced his return to the Cavaliers and ‘fessed up to the lure of his Akron hometown, both for him and the young family he is raising.

Kevin Durant already has been identified by the Washington Wizards as a target in 2016 free agency, which provides context for the team’s recent decision to hire David Adkins, Durant’s old high school coach from Montrose Christian.

And naturally, it’s only a small leap – or click of some ruby-colored shoes – to go from the Wizards to “There’s no place like home,” Dorothy‘s mantra that eventually got her off the yellow-brick road and back to Kansas. That got some of us at the Hang Time HQ thinking about an NBA that tilted entirely toward hometowns and players’ roots.

Remember, in its infancy, the league conferred “territorial rights” on its teams so they could keep promising and already popular college players close to home, to piggyback on the local fame. Dick Garmaker, Tom Gola, Tom Heinsohn, Guy Rodgers, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry Lucas, Dave DeBusschere and others all entered the league as territorial picks.

What would the NBA look like if rosters were filled only with hometown players? Well, as you might expect, teams in the major population centers – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago – would be fine. Some in smaller markets would wind up scraping for talent, even if their “borders” were artificially extended by another state or three. Then again, there would be a vast talent pool of free agents who weren’t born in proximity to any particular NBA franchise, most obviously those from other nations.

Here’s a glimpse at the starting lineups of a thoroughly “hometown” NBA (based on birth cities & states, via basketball-reference.com):

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTA
G – Jodie Meeks
G – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
F – Derrick Favors
F – Josh Smith
C – Dwight Howard

Notes: Some help off the bench, too, from Georgia-born players, including Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Singleton, Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas.

BOSTON
G – Michael Carter-Williams
G – Ricky Ledo
F – Jeff Adrien
F – ?
C – ?

Notes: Spread the net across New England and you only add Ledo to Carter-Williams and Adrien. (If we’re missing somebody for the Celtics or any other team, post your suggestions in the Comments.)

BROOKLYN
G – Lance Stephenson
G – A.J. Price
F – Kenneth Faried
F – Jason Thompson
C – Taj Gibson

Notes: The Nets’ turf for our purposes was defined as Brooklyn and New Jersey. Decent subs here too, including MarShon Brooks, Earl Clark, Gerald Henderson, Andrew Bynum, J.R. Smith, Chris Copeland and Randy Foye.

CHARLOTTE
G – John Wall
G – Chris Paul
F – P.J. Tucker
F – John Henson
C –Jermaine O’Neal

Notes: Tough to beat a Carolinas backcourt, what with Wall and Paul and Raymond Felton in reserve.

CHICAGO
G – Derrick Rose
G – Dwyane Wade
F – Andre Iguodala
F – Shawn Marion
C – Anthony Davis

Notes: Help in the backcourt could come from Patrick Beverley, Tony Allen, Shaun Livingston, Iman Shumpert and Evan Turner.

CLEVELAND
G – Trey Burke
G – Stephen Curry
F – LeBron James
F – Jared Sullinger
C – Kosta Koufos

Notes: It’s true – Steph Curry was born in Akron. Imagine if he felt the same tug from northeast Ohio that LeBron does.

DETROIT
G – Chris Douglas-Roberts
G – Jordan Crawford
F – Wilson Chandler
F – Draymond Green
C – JaVale McGee

Notes: Chris Kaman comes off the bench among players born in Michigan, and Shane Battier just missed this great honor.

INDIANA
G – Jeff Teague
G – Mike Conley
F – Zach Randolph
F – Gordon Hayward
C – Cody Zeller

Notes: Basketball’s influence in Indiana is evident in the depth here, which includes Eric Gordon, Josh McRoberts, George Hill, Courtney Lee, Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, Robbie Hummel and others.

MIAMI
G – Brandon Knight
G – Tim Hardaway Jr.
F – Trevor Ariza
F – Udonis Haslem
C – Larry Sanders

Notes: The Heat’s impact is apparent with Hardaway Jr. as well as Glen Rice Jr. We considered putting Dwyane Wade on this squad, based on his statement that “home is where the heart is” when he re-signed with Miami. But that wouldn’t have been fair to those who knew him when back in Robbins, Ill.

MILWAUKEE
G – Devin Harris
G – Dwight Buycks
F – Carl Landry
F – Caron Butler
C – Greg Stiemsma

Notes: This Wisconsin group is getting a little long in the tooth. It’s been a while since the Dairyland enjoyed its NBA sweet spot (Terry Porter, Latrell Sprewell, Nick Van Exel all debuting in the mid-1980s).

NEW YORK
G – Kemba Walker
G – Jimmer Fredette
F – Carmelo Anthony
F – Andre Drummond
C – Joakim Noah

Notes: Odd that most of the depth on a New York-born squad would be in the frontcourt (Tobias Harris, Ryan Kelly, Roy Hibbert, Andray Blatche, Charlie Villanueva, Channing Frye and so on). After all, the Big Apple was known for decades for the quality of its point guards.

ORLANDO
G – Nick Calathes
G – Chandler Parsons
F – Alonzo Gee
F – Amar’e Stoudemire
C – Marreese Speights

Notes: Florida required a split of the talent pool, with Miami drawing from South Florida and the Atlantic Coast and Orlando getting pretty much everything else.

PHILADELPHIA
G – Kyle Lowry
G – Kobe Bryant
F – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
F – Tyrke Evans
C – DeJuan Blair

Notes: And this still leaves the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, on the bench, alongside Dion Waiters, Lavoy Allen and veteran influence Jameer Nelson.

TORONTO
G – Steve Nash
G – Andrew Wiggins
F – Anthony Bennett
F – Tristan Thompson
C – Kelly Olynyk

Notes: OK, so we need an asterisk on Nash, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. But he’s so identified with the game in Canada, it seemed like an acceptable exception. If you want to be a stickler, substitute Cory Joseph for him.

WASHINGTON
G – Ty Lawson
G – Victor Oladipo
F – Kevin Durant
F – Rudy Gay
C – Patrick Patterson

Notes: Opening this up to Maryland and Virginia brought out numbers at the guard and forward spots (Gary Neal, Jarrett Jack, Delonte West, John Lucas III, Michael Beasley, Ed Davis), though we’d still have to go small in the middle.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

DALLAS
G – Phil Pressey
G – C.J. Miles
F – Mike Dunleavy Jr.
F – LaMarcus Aldridge
C – Chris Bosh

Notes: Texas is a big state, but there are three NBA teams to stock and fewer than 40 of the state’s all-time 138 league alumni are active. For distribution purposes, the Mavericks got Dallas and Fort Worth products, the Rockets got their metro area and east from which to draw and the Spurs got dibs on most of the rest.

DENVER
G – Chauncey Billups
G – ?
F – James Johnson
F – Jason Smith
C – ?

Notes: There have been only two NBA players born in Colorado since Jimmy Carter was in the White House – and Billups isn’t one of them (Smith and Nick Fazekas). We had to go to Wyoming to get Johnson.

GOLDEN STATE
G – Damian Lillard
G – Orlando Johnson
F – Paul Pierce
F – ?
C – Drew Gooden

Notes: California is like Texas, only more so. The NBA has had 346 Californians participate through the years but only about a fifth of them are active – and there are four teams to account for.

HOUSTON
G – Gerald Green
G – Jimmy Butler
F – Emeka Okafor
F – DeAndre Jordan
C – Kendrick Perkins

Notes: We took the liberty of the non-specified position slots to go without a point guard here. Could have tabbed Ben Uzoh, if pressed.

L.A. CLIPPERS
G – Russell Westbrook
G – Arron Afflalo
F – Kevin Love
F – Tayshaun Prince
C – Tyson Chandler

Notes: See Lakers notes.

L.A. LAKERS
G – James Harden
G – Klay Thompson
F – Kawhi Leonard
F – DeMar DeRozan
C – Brook Lopez

Notes: Compared to most of the other states/markets, southern California offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of NBA talent. We plugged in these guys randomly and still have a bunch of quality players in reserve, including Amir Johnson, Nick Young, Chris Andersen, Andre Miller, Brandon Jennings and more.

MEMPHIS
G – Rajon Rondo
G – Lou Williams
F – Corey Brewer
F – J.J. Redick
C – Brandan Wright

Notes: Opening this up to include Kentucky as well as Tennessee didn’t yield the expected number of NBA regulars.

MINNESOTA
G – Kirk Hinrich
G – Mike Miller
F – Alan Anderson
F – Harrison Barnes
C – Nick Collison

Notes: Talk about embarrassing – Hang Time opened up Minnesota’s domain to include the Dakotas and Iowa … and four of the five starting spots arguably belong to products of those states. Among the native Minnesotans in reserve: Nate Wolters, Jon Leuer, Cole Aldrich, Kris Humphries and Royce White.

NEW ORLEANS
G – D.J. Augustin
G – Marcus Thornton
F – Thaddeus Young
F – Paul Millsap
C – Greg Monroe

Notes: Not bad depth from down on the bayou, with a second-unit crew that includes Perry Jones, Brandon Bass, Robert Sacre, Garrett Temple, Donald Sloan and old head Danny Granger.

OKLAHOMA CITY
G – Earl Watson
G – Archie Goodwin
F – Joe Johnson
F – Blake Griffin
C – Ekpe Udoh

Notes: It took a sweep of four states, including Kansas, Nebraska and Arkansas, to pull together this starting five. Sorry, Seattle and the state of Washington were off-limits, given how many players that area already donated to OKC.

PHOENIX
G – Jerryd Bayless
G – Carrick Felix
F – Damion James
F – Andre Roberson
C – ?

Notes: Slim pickings even with New Mexico in the mix, which can be explained in part by how many folks settle in the American Southwest past their child-bearing years.

PORTLAND
G – Isaiah Thomas
G – Jamal Crawford
F – Marvin Williams
F – Terrence Jones
C – Spencer Hawes

Notes: This roster took on an entirely reinvigorated look when it was opened up beyond Oregon products to include those from Washington. Now it has a bench including Avery Bradley, Martell Webster, Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Nate Robinson and Terrence Ross, among others.

SACRAMENTO
G – Quincy Pondexter
G – Paul George
F – Matt Barnes
F – Ryan Anderson
C – Tyler Zeller

Notes: It’s not easy being fourth among California’s four NBA teams, even if your turf is considered to be everything outside of the Bay Area and the greater L.A. metroplex.

SAN ANTONIO
G – ?
G – Wes Johnson
F – Wesley Matthews
F – Quincy Acy
C – Ivan Johnson

Notes: So we fudged it on Johnson (Corsicana) and Acy (Tyler), who were born closer to Dallas. San Antonio had a run of NBA role players a while back (Michael Doleac, Bo Outlaw, Jeff Foster, David Wesley) but might need the offspring of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to grow up fast.

UTAH
G – Luke Ridnour
G – C.J. Watson
F – ?
F – ?
C – ?

Notes: Talk about some serious gerrymandering. Watson is from Nevada, Ridnour is from Idaho and we fought off the temptation to go pluck Mario Chalmers from Alaska. There hasn’t been a Utah-born player in the NBA since 2010 (Devin Brown), nor any born there since February 1981.

 

‘Melo headed to Hollywood? LeBron taking offers?


VIDEO: The Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan details Carmelo Anthony’s meeting in L.A.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Carmelo Anthony in purple and gold doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all, at least not to the Los Angeles Lakers.

In fact, the Lakers, long considered a long-shot to land the All-Star free agent forward, are reportedly prepared to offer Anthony a 4-year, $95 million contract, the maximum amount any team (other than the New York Knicks) can offer.

The pairing of Anthony and Kobe Bryant, his two-time gold medal-winning teammate on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team, would give the Lakers the Hollywood buzz they’ve been lacking the past two seasons as they’ve stumbled from their perch among the Western Conference and NBA elite.

The Knicks, of course, can offer ‘Melo a fifth-year and $34 more million than anyone else. And according to multiple reports, that’s exactly what the Knicks have done.

Anthony visited Chicago, Houston and Dallas this week, getting the red carpet treatment on each stop. None of those suitors offers the added spice that comes with the Los Angeles market (Anthony’s wife LaLa is an actress/entertainer/journalist). Only New York can offer a comparable set of circumstances in that regard, plus that extra $34 million.

Spicing up the 4th of July weekend is the news that the agent for LeBron James, Rich Paul, has been conducting meetings with teams interested in luring his client away from Miami with the same max offer the Lakers are using to attract Anthony.

The Lakers have focused their attention on Anthony and James, trying to figure out if there is a way to unite them with Bryant. But it’s unclear if the Anthony and James are working in concert this summer.

Paul is in the process of narrowing down the list of legitimate suitors to three finalists for James, per a Yahoo! Sports report,  with face-to-face meetings with James and his camp next week in Cleveland.

If Anthony makes his decision before then, we’ll have our answer about whether or not he and James had a joint plan for free agency. In the meantime, Lakers fans are left to wonder what a Bryant-Anthony tandem would look like in Los Angeles …

McDonough’s Suns just keep on rising


VIDEO: Tyler Ennis was a great get for the Suns just outside of the lottery Thursday night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No NBA general manager worth the many lies he’s told and heard in the days and weeks leading up to the Draft will tell you anything other than he got exactly what he wanted on the big night.

When Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough says it, he actually means it. The Suns walked away from the Draft the same way they did the 2013-14 regular season, the surprise winners without any actual hardware to show for it. You don’t need it when you continue to exceed expectations the way McDonough and his crew have.

They finished the regular season with 48 wins, one game out of the playoffs hunt in the rugged Western Conference, and we were rewarded with three first-round picks in a loaded Draft.

With no glaring holes on a roster that didn’t include a superstar anchor, they entered Thursday night without the pressure of filling any significant gaps or the need to wheel and deal to fix their team.

That allowed McDonough and his staff to zero in on talents that fit the Suns’ system and style to perfection. They snagged prolific-scoring ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State with the 14th pick, Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick, Serbian shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic with the 27th pick and topped it off in the second round with 7-footer Alec Brown of Wisconsin Green Bay with the 50th pick overall.

“We think it was a great night for us,” McDonough told Suns.com after the Draft. “I feel like in the draft, with our four picks, we got a blend of a little bit of everything.”

“Sometimes you have to move or give up a lot, give up future picks, give up players to get exactly what you want. We didn’t have to do any of that. We just kind of stayed where we were and the guys fell to us.”

The Suns are in the rare position after a lottery season of controlling their own destiny moving forward. They extended qualifying offers Friday to both point guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward P.J. Tucker, giving them the right to match any offers to two players that played key roles in their resurgent season.

Sometimes teams have to reach and stretch to find security at certain positions, to add the needed depth and to fortify the roster. The Suns didn’t have to reach or stretch for anything. They played the board perfectly, riding the wave of the Draft with the bigger picture in mind and the security of knowing they could compete during an injury-filled season without resorting to any desperate moves.

It helps to have the perfect coach, too, in Jeff Hornacek and an All-NBA (third team) point guard in Goran Dragic anchoring things. Operating from a position of strength insulated the Suns from the craziness most lottery teams deal with this time of year. They didn’t have to surrender any of their cap flexibility to add the needed depth they found in the Draft and they can still be players when free agency kicks off July 1.

The Suns’ playoff drought is four years and counting, but you couldn’t tell by the way they are operating. They handled themselves this past season like a team that hadn’t missed a beat since the Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire era. Much of that was due to Hornacek and his mastering the chemistry of the lab experiment roster McDonough handed him before the start of the season.

Things could have gone horribly wrong if Dragic and Bledsoe hadn’t blended together as well as they did early, and if they weren’t able to weather the storm of injuries that plagued them and if role players like Gerald Green, Markieff and Marcus Morris, Channing Frye, Tucker and Miles Plumlee didn’t step up the way they did.

Whatever comes next comes on the Suns’ terms, at their own pace, which is more than any “lottery team” can ask for at this stage of the process.

One way or another, the Suns just keep on rising.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew weighs in on the Suns’ Draft haul

Another big bang of free agents on tap

LeBron James has chosen to test the free-agent market this summer. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

LeBron James has chosen to test the free-agent market this summer. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Most scientists believe it was roughly 14 billion years ago when a single point exploded to create the universe. Of course, it was a more thoroughly documented Big Bang four years ago that blew a hole in the NBA space/time continuum, sending the celestial bodies of LeBron James and Chris Bosh south to join Dwyane Wade in Miami.

Two championships and four Finals trips for the Heat later, the potential for another explosion is on us.

Carmelo Anthony’s declaration that he will opt out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks was the first stick of dynamite ahead of the July 1 start of the annual free-agent scramble. Then, Tuesday, LeBron told the Miami Heat that he was going to test the waters, too.

You can feel the ground quiver as the movers and the shakers in the league start to do their thing …

Who has the space?

There are a lot of big-name free agents on the market — or there will be July 1. But the number of teams who have enough space under the salary cap that would enable them to sign some of those big-money players … well, that’s a lot smaller. Here’s a list:

Miami Heat: Up to $55 million, assuming virtually everyone opts out of contracts.
Dallas Mavericks: Up to $32.4 million
Utah Jazz: Up to $29.6 million
Philadelphia 76ers: Up to $29.0 million.
Phoenix Suns: Up to $28.4 million.
L.A. Lakers: Up to $28.2 million.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Up to $23.4 million.
Orlando Magic: Up to $22.2 million.
Detroit Pistons: Up to $22.0 million.
Charlotte Hornets: Up to $19.5 million.
Atlanta Hawks: Up to $13.9 million.
Milwaukee Bucks: Up to $13.0 million.
Memphis Grizzlies: Up to $12.0 million, if Zach Randolph opts out of his final year.
Chicago Bulls: Up to $11.3 million if they use their one-time amnesty on Carlos Boozer.
Boston Celtics: Up to $9.3 million. (more…)

Welcome to impossible, Carmelo Anthony


VIDEO: Relive Carmelo Anthony’s top 10 plays from 2013-14

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any way you slice it, $23.3 million is a lot of money … even for a guy who has already made millions.

But for Carmelo Anthony, the decision to forgo that money he would have earned by opting-in for the final year of his deal with the New York Knicks, no giant sum of cash can replace the uninhibited freedom he will experience this summer as an unrestricted free agent for the first and only time in the prime of his career.

Anthony had to make the best decision for his future. And any future that doesn’t include the all-out pursuit of a championship situation would have been the wrong choice.

By courting free agency, though, a player of his stature also courts some inevitable backlash, too.

So welcome to impossible, ‘Melo. You lose no matter what you do.

Opt-in with the Knicks for one more season of who-knows-what-will-happen-hoops at the Garden, you get knocked for not chasing titles in what is clearly the physical prime of your career.

If you opt-out and test free agency without re-signing with the Knicks, you get blasted for leaving the Phil Jackson-and Derek Fisher-led lab-test team and chasing titles elsewhere.

Melo’s bottom line is simple. He can sign a contract worth $130 million over five years with the Knicks and only the Knicks, a fortune no one knows for sure the Knicks are offering. He can sign a maximum deal with another suitor for $96 million over four years.

Chatter of him possibly taking less than a max deal to help whichever team he signs with bring in additional free agent help sounds great, but that’s nothing more than chatter at this point.

This is the world your good friend LeBron James has lived in the past four years. The moment he turned his back on Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach a huge segment of the basketball public made up their minds about him. No amount of winning would change those opinions. LeBron’s gamble turned out to be a 50-50 championship proposition, with losses in the Heat Big 3’s first and last seasons together sandwiching back-to-back title seasons.

Win in New York and your star would never fade.

Bolt New York for Chicago or Houston or Los Angeles or Miami and ‘Melo takes James’ title as “the easiest target in sports” — at least temporarily. There’s also no guarantee Anthony will win it all in his new city. None!

Anthony knows this all too well, as he detailed in a recent interview with Vice.com (see below) that was released today:

“I came from a smaller market in Denver. Not so much scrutiny, but media its everywhere … but not like the level it’s here in New York. Playing in a small market, you can only go so high — as far as individual players goes,” Anthony said in the interview with ViceSports.com. “There’s only so much you can do and at a point in your life you got to look for something else … a bigger stand, a bigger stage, a bigger market.

“When you go to a place like New York … you feel the excitement, you feel the difference. The energy is different, the fans are different, the game is different.”

Anthony also opened up a little bit on what might influence his decision to come, be it say on the roster to the life he leads away from the court.

“As far as player personnel goes, I would love to be involved in that. At the end of the day, you’re creating a family. You can’t create a bond with somebody that’s not going to fit in with you, or someboday that’s not going to be there when you need them the most and don’t understand the game and how to win and situations in the game and things like that.

“As much as it has to do with having the top guys on the team — superstars per se — you need the rest of your soldiers.

“The average person just sees opportunity to say that ‘oh ‘Melo should go here, ‘Melo should go there, I think he should do this, I think he should do that’. But they don’t take into consideration the family aspect of it, your livelihood, where you’re going to be living at. Do you want your kids to grow up in that place? Do  I want to spend the rest of my career in that situation? In that city? All that stuff comes into play.

“The average person is looking at it as next year. ‘Next year he’d win a championship if we go here.’ We’re looking at the big picture here, now. You’re looking at the next six to eight years of your career – the end of your career at that. Do you want to spend that much time in that place?” (more…)

Morning shootaround – June 21


VIDEO: David Aldridge with the latest NBA news

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron the next Rocket launcher? | Joel Embiid out 4-6 months | Love on the rocks | President Obama calls Pop | Lakers want Klay Thompson

No. 1: Rockets aiming for strike at LeBron — The Rockets still haven’t made it out of the first round 2009, but they’ve become very good at winning the summer. Two years ago they traded for James Harden and last summer signed Dwight Howard. Now they are reportedly prepared to chase hard after four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James if he opts out of his contract with the Miami Heat. How could the Rockets possibly afford another max salary? Howard Beck of Bleacher Report delivers the goods:

Given the extreme constraints imposed by the 2011 labor deal, it will be nearly impossible for any franchise to replicate the Heat’s roster-building feat of four years ago.

However, one franchise is quietly plotting to at least try to revive the Big Three model. And before you dismiss its chances of doing so, consider the fact that it’s the same team that stunned the NBA in each of the last two summers.

Now, Rockets officials are aiming for the trifecta, with their sights set on the biggest prize of all: LeBron Raymone James.

A long shot? Perhaps. But the Rockets have defied expectations before.

League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.

The competition for James’ affection will be fierce, but Houston’s pitch may be tough to beat.

The Rockets already have the league’s best guard-center tandem (Harden-Howard), solid young role players (Chandler Parsons, who is set to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones) and an owner (Les Alexander) who is willing to spend. Houston also has all of its first-round picks for the next couple of years as well as a knack for finding talent late in the draft.

Like Florida, Texas has no state income tax, negating Miami’s advantage on that front and giving the Rockets a big selling point in their pursuit of Anthony. (A player pays about 10 percent more in taxes in New York than in Texas.)

What the Rockets don’t have is salary-cap room. But they could clear about $19 million by unloading a few players, starting with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, who are taking up a combined $16.7 million in cap space.

However, their contracts are unique and potentially difficult to move: Asik and Lin are each due a massive $15 million balloon payment next season, although they count as $8.37 million each for cap purposes. Then again, their contracts expire in 2015, so the commitment is minimal.

Sources say the Rockets are confident they can trade both players to teams with cap room and thus take back no salary in return.

 

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No. 2: Joel Embiid to miss 4-6 months after surgery — Now there is a timetable. Joel Embiid, the one-and-done center out of Kansas, who missed the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments with a back injury, will need four to six months to recover after having two screws inserted into the navicular bone of his right foot during surgery Friday. The injury has seemingly thrown the entire portion of the draft into chaos. Embiid was expected to be the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now he is expected to drop, with possible trade rumors also cropping up. ESPN.com provides more details on Embiid’s recovery:

Embiid’s agent, Arn Tellem, said in a statement that the former Kansas star underwent the procedure at Southern California Orthopedic Institute.

The surgeon, Dr. Richard Ferkel, said that Embiid “tolerated the surgery without difficulty” and claimed that the 7-foot center should “be able to return to NBA basketball.”

“Two screws were inserted into the navicular bone in Joel Embiid’s right foot,” Ferkel said in the statement released by Tellem. “The surgery went very well and I’m confident that after appropriate healing he will be able to return to NBA Basketball. Joel tolerated the surgery without difficulty and will begin his rehabilitation in the near future.”

Embiid is not attending Thursday’s NBA draft because he can’t fly for 10 days to two weeks post-surgery, Tellem said Thursday. Embiid was projected by many to be the first pick before the announcement of the surgery.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid already was dealing with health questions regarding his back, which forced him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments this past season.

He worked out earlier this month for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and sources said he fared well and that the medical testing also came back without much concern.

Embiid also participated in a one-on-none workout in front of NBA teams in Santa Monica, California. He was scheduled to work out for the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the second overall pick, later this week.

Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks this past season as a freshman at Kansas.

If Embiid slips significantly in the draft, he wouldn’t be able to recoup the money he’d lose. His total disability insurance policy was purchased through the school, according to Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at Kansas.

Marchiony confirmed that the school purchased a $5 million policy, the maximum allowed under the NCAA insurance program, through the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund, which allows schools to apply for need-based assistance on behalf of its players.

The policy purchased through the NCAA program does not allow for loss-of-value insurance, a rider attached to insurance policies that permits athletes to collect if they fall far enough in the draft from their projected position at the time they sign the policy. Athletes can get loss-of-value policies, but they have to go outside the NCAA program to do so.

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No. 3: No clear path for Love — Clearly Kevin Love is no longer in love with the Timberwolves. And Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is not necessarily in love with the bounty teams are offering for the All-Star power forward. While it seemed Minnesota might trade the double-double machine before the draft, they might keep him around and wait out better offers around next season’s trade deadline. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com fleshed out the ongoing saga:

For Minnesota these talks are in a negotiation phase and they are in no rush to move on to the next steps.

Kevin Love’s agent Jeff Schwartz is serious and pushing to get his star moved sooner rather than later and to a destination Love wants to be long term. That’s where the pressure comes from. But it’s not just me saying Saunders doesn’t feel rushed.

Part of that is spin — the guy with the strongest positioning at any bargaining table is the guy willing to just walk away. Saunders wants everyone to think he will get up from the table. For now.

The only thing that has become clear is that Minnesota would prefer established players to picks and prospects — they don’t want to just rebuild, they want players who can help now.

Saunders is milking this as best as he can. In what are fluid talks with Golden State the Warriors had been hesitant to include Klay Thompson in a deal (although they should because it could be crippling against the cap for them to pay him what he’ll make on the open market). There is no deadline yet no reason to agree to anything right now. If the Warriors are offering David Lee and Thompson, ask for Draymond Green too. Or Harrison Barnes.

Saunders should do the same things with Denver and Boston and Chicago and anyone else interested in getting Kevin Love in a trade.

And if Saunders doesn’t get everything he wants on draft night, he can wait.

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No. 4: President Obama congratulates Popovich — Here’s another interesting tidbit when it comes to the Spurs’ success under coach Gregg Popovich: He took a congratulatory phone call Friday from President Barack Obama, the third U.S. president since San Antonio won its fifth title since 1999. Bill Clinton was in office when the Spurs started their run and they made three trips to the White House to visit George W. Bush following championships in 2003, ’05 and ’07 championships. The San Antonio Express-News has details of Obama’s call:

President Barack Obama gave coach Gregg Popovich a ring on Friday to laud the Spurs after crushing Miami in the Finals for their fifth NBA championship, the White House announced.

This afternoon, the President called San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to congratulate him on his team’s resounding victory in the NBA Finals. The President praised the selfless teamwork, clear focus, and steadfast determination displayed by the Spurs and noted how impressed he was by the record-setting scoring by the team. The President called Popovich one of the nation’s finest coaches and a role model for young men across the country, and he is looking forward to hosting the team at the White House.

It was no doubt a warm conversation given that Popovich contributed to Obama’s last campaign. As noted, the two will meet in person during the upcoming season when the White House hosts the Spurs.

***

No. 5: Lakers offer No. 7 for Thompson — The Lakers, desperate to engage in a quick rebuild around Kobe Bryant, are interested in prying shooting guard Klay Thompson away from the Warriors in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick in the Draft. The proposed deal would be part of a bigger three-way trade that would send Minnesota’s Kevin Love to Golden State. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has the story:

The Lakers are interested but the deal has been put on hold because of a difference in opinion within the Warriors’ organization whether or not to keep Thompson while trying to obtain Love.

The Lakers are debating what to do with the pick if they hang onto it. They have sold or traded every first-round pick they’ve had since 2007 and do not have one next season because of the Steve Nash trade.

They are pondering whether to go with a power forward or point guard. They have narrowed their focus to big men Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh or point guards Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton.

When free agency begins July 1, the Lakers will have only three players making guaranteed money next season — Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Point guard Kendall Marshall has one year left on a non-guaranteed contract.

A player on the rise such as Thompson would obviously provide more immediate return than an amateur player with no NBA experience.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Greek team Panathinaikos to make run at Jimmer Fredette? … Lakers would consider drafting EmbiidAndray Blatche opts out of his contract with Nets … Clippers assistant coach Alvin Gentry will join WarriorsClippers trio will opt out of final year … DeMarcus Cousins urges Rudy Gay to opt in and stay with Kings.

Five teams LeBron should, but won’t consider

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pat Riley discusses the Big 3 staying in Miami

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Even before Pat Riley went all Clint Eastwood — Stay, “if you’ve got the guts” – during his entertaining Thursday news conference, my money was on LeBron James understanding that island hopping for titles on the backs of fans’ emotions isn’t a good look. And so he will ultimately keep gunning for not three, not four, not five … in sun-kissed South Florida.

Of course, Dan Gilbert never dreamed LeBron would dump his Cleveland Cavaliers, but he did. So until he says otherwise, there is always a chance The Chosen One will think his work is done here and seek a new hoops metropolis to conquer.

It certainly would be unprecedented, the most dominant player in the game packing his bags yet again, and this time after leading his last franchise to four consecutive Finals and two championships. Who in the history of the game has ever done that?

And yet, there’s something devilishly fascinating about that very prospect.

Could LeBron lift a third team to the NBA Finals? Could he win a third title? A fourth, a fifth?

And for which team would he play?

Forget the Knicks, that move would have to wait until the summer of 2015 when New York has cap space. The Lakers? Always a possibility, but how rewarding would it really be to hang a 17th championship banner in Staples Center all the while being Kobe Bryant‘s personal valet to a sixth ring and even him up with Michael Jordan?

I’ve got five teams — three in the East and two in the West — that LeBron could vault to instant contender. Three of the five franchises have never won an NBA title, and of the other two, neither has won one since 1983. So LeBron would be a sight for sore eyes, and a boon for business in any one of these locales.

I call this list, The Teams LeBron Should, But Won’t Consider.

His desire should be to stay in the Eastern Conference because it’s just a whole lot easier to get through the East than the brutally competitive West. Plus, with the Heat instantly weakened, the path to the East crown would truly be wide open. So here are my five:

1. Washington Wizards: The Wizards’ finances are in as good as shape as the Wizards’ backcourt with John Wall and Bradley Beal emerging as a dynamic duo. Washington needs to re-sign center Marcin Gortat to reproduce a front line with Nene. Add LeBron — who would come in as the elder statesman to the Wizards’ rising stars, so there’s no adjustment period as to who is the alpha dog (assuming Wall can handle it) like there was initially in Miami with Dwyane Wade – to this starting lineup and dare I call them Eastern Conference favorites.

2. Philadelphia 76ers: Don’t laugh. And, hey, if LeBron and Carmelo Anthony really want to team up, here’s their spot. There’s so little money on the books that Philly could sign both stars and still have enough left over to add some pretty good role players. These two could come in as the big brothers and lead one of the great youth movements of our time. Think about it, the Sixers already have Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams at point guard and 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel is ready to roll after sitting out all of last season. With the third pick in next week’s Draft, they’ll add another high-caliber youngster, maybe Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. Then there’s consummate pro Thaddeus Young. Sounding good isn’t it?

3. Toronto Raptors: General manager Masai Ujiri has already overseen a couple minor miracles in shedding the salaries of Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani, so what’s one more? The books still aren’t as clear as in Philly, but it can work. Re-signing Kyle Lowry might be out the window, but how about Greivis Vasquez, budding, young star DeMar DeRozan, LeBron, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas? I’m pretty sure coach Dwane Casey would be good with it.

4. Phoenix Suns: Imagine LeBron driving and then trying to decide if he should kick it out to Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Channing Frye or maybe Gerald Green. Imagine LeBron sprinting for fast-break dunks with a perimeter defense that includes himself and the dogged Bledsoe, and a team that stamped itself as one of the great hustling squads of last season. If we thought the old Steve Nash-Mike D’Antonio Suns teams were fun, whoa, this one could fly off the charts.

5. New Orleans Pelicans: There’s some work, not a ton, to be done on the payroll side, and there’s some tradable commodities despite multi-year deals in place (i.e. Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon) and nothing should be viewed as impossible when it comes to pairing LeBron with Anthony Davis, right? Greatest inside-out duo since Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal? This pairing has devastation written all over it. New Orleans would never be the same.

However, we all know that no one backs down from a challenge issued by Clint Eastwood.

Blogtable: A coach, other details in L.A.

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


BLOGTABLE: What to do in Miami | Spurs faves in 2015? | Who wants to be Lakers’ coach?


> The Lakers still don’t have a head coach, and the NBA Draft is a week from Thursday. If you’re a Lakers fan, are you worried about that? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Worried about the coaching vacancy? Heck, if I’m a Lakers fan, I’m not even worried about the Draft. We’re the Lakers, remember. Our fate isn’t tied to any stupid Draft, much less any guy in a suit. We make trades and sign free agents when we need help, and the league is full of players dying to leverage their way to L.A. to make our jobs easier. OK, so it hasn’t happened lately and the Dwight Howard defection was a reason to wonder if — nah, heck with that, too. That was Howard’s mistake. We’re the Lakers, remember? Everyone wants us to be good, thus we soon shall be. We don’t sweat the small stuff. And if our surgeons are doing their jobs, we don’t sweat at all.

Kobe Bryant (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Kobe Bryant (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If I’m a fan, I’m far more worried that the Lakers don’t actually have a team.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: If I’m a Lakers fan, I’m not worried that we’re getting into late June and there’s no coach in place, I’m just kind of numb to the fact that there doesn’t appear to much sizzle among any of the candidates. And on a broader level, I’m concerned how Kobe Bryant accepts the new hire and how that dynamic will affect the next year or two as the Lakers desperately try to fast-track a rebuild.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: As if Lakers fans need a reason to get emotional. But on that point in particular, I wouldn’t be worried. Management signaled from the start this may be resolved later rather than sooner and did little to hide the possibility the search would reach beyond July 1 to match the coach with the roster and maybe even give a select one or two players input on the decision. If there is a concern, it’s that the Lakers didn’t have a strong commitment to a future with Mike D’Antoni and now are giving the same sense with his successor. If the front office had someone it really wanted, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak would have closed the deal by now.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d be more worried about the lack of young and healthy players under contract than the lack of a coach. They have four guys under contract, including two – Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash – who are over the age of 35, who played a total of 21 games this season, and who are owed more than $33 million next season. They have cap space, but not much in regard to assets to trade for a star or championship-potential to lure one in free agency.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: No. I’m much more worried about the fact that the Lakers don’t have much of a roster beyond Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. Based on the absence of personnel to work with, the coaching vacancy is the least of my worries … if I’m a Lakers fan.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: What, we worry? The Lakers have Kobe Bryant, who looked pretty good on an indoor soccer pitch in Brazil this week. Other than that, what? Well, you’re going to get the number 7 overall player in the draft. And then you’ve got…a pretty nice arena? Look, expectations should be low for the Lakers because they are not a playoff team right now. They have a lot to figure out — coaching staff among these things — and they’ve probably built up enough institutional trust to be rewarded with at least a little patience from their fans. Give them some time to figure it out. Wait ’til next year. Then? If things aren’t headed the right direction by then, then you can make some noise about the demise of the Lake Show.