“Yeah, it’s like street ball,” said James Harden. “You grew up playing games like that.”
If Harden keeps growing up any faster, they’re going to have to raise the rafters of Toyota Center just so he doesn’t go straight through the roof.
He’s scored more points in a game this season than he did Sunday. Grabbed more rebounds. Dished out more assists. Played more artistically.
But never been more ferocious, more driven.
You’re damn right that 105-103 overtime win means more when it comes against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
As messages go, this one couldn’t have been delivered more emphatically if it had come wrapped around a brick and tossed through a plate glass window or attached to a flaming arrow.
While there may still be a horse race for the award this season, there’s no doubt which thoroughbred is now galloping ahead of the field.
Less than 72 hours after James stated his case by outscoring Golden State’s Stephen Curry 42-18 in a routine win by the Cavs, Harden provided his response.
James scored more points (37 to Harden’s 33), but took far more shots (35 to 18) to get them. Playing without point guard Kyrie Irving, James controlled the ball like a yo-yo on a string and tried to do too much. Playing without center Dwight Howard, as he’s done for much of the season, Harden simply opened his arms wide to embrace all of the things that had to be done.
“Every time you watch [Harden] play, you’re watching history,” Rockets Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon had said a few hours before the tip. “He’s doing something spectacular. Every night the best defensive player on the other team has to guard him and also the game plan of the other team is how to stop him. And he’s still finding a way to be effective and giving them an opportunity to win every time. So he is definitely the MVP.”
No. 1: Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 — Black was going to be the color of the night heading toward the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game against Washington Saturday, the proper attire for the sort of mourning already going on over forward LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injured left thumb and the six-to-eight weeks Aldridge likely was going to miss recuperating and rehabbing. But then Aldridge surprised Blazers fans by announcing that he would postpone surgery and try to play with the torn ligament. And he did just that in Portland’s 103-96 victory, putting the “triumphant” into his return with 26 points, nine rebounds and one splint. Here’s some of the quotage from the Blazers’ locker room:
Head coach Terry Stotts: “Well it was a win that we needed to get. Understatement: it was good to have LA back. I’m glad he had a good game with the thumb and the splint. It was very encouraging.”
Blazers guard Wesley Matthews: “He was big time. Even if he didn’t have the monster game that he did, I think just his presence and his sacrifice of his own body and for him to recognize how special this season is and can be and continue to be, for him to give that up to be out there with us in the trenches, it speaks volumes. … He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give. I can relate to that.”
Aldridge: “I felt okay. There was a few moments where I got it hit or whatever, and it was kind of tender. But for the most part, it was okay. … I was just trying to work with it. I kind of figured it out as the game went on, how to use it or whatever, and I kind of played with it.”
More Aldridge, on the Moda Center crowd reaction: “It was humbling. I thought they definitely showed me love and they respected what I was doing at that moment, trying to play through it, so that was humbling.”
Not all was sweetness and light on the injury front in Portland, however. Wing Nicolas Batum sat out Saturday’s game after aggravating a right wrist injury Thursday against Boston. He initially hurt it when he took a spill in Milwaukee Dec. 17. Here is an update from The Oregonian:
Batum missed the next game, Dec. 19 at San Antonio, then played in the next two games before sitting out the Dec. 23 game at Oklahoma City. He said he has aggravated the injury several times – usually when he falls to the court. On Thursday against Boston, it was a third quarter fall that took him out of the game and ultimately led to him missing Saturday’s 103-96 victory over Washington.
Batum, who is wearing an immobilizing brace, said he is unsure whether he will rest and let the wrist heal, or continue playing through discomfort during the Blazers upcoming trip at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee.
He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 38 games. He is shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range, figures he largely attributes to his ailing wrist.
“It’s my shooting wrist,” Batum said.
No. 2:Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings — The pain in which Brandon Jennings writhed on the court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night — you could almost feel it. The way the Detroit Pistons’ point guard grimaced and banged the floor with one hand, while grabbing at his left ankle with the other, was palpable. Jennings, who had been rejuvenated along with the Detroit Pistons since they reconfigured their attack in a post-Josh Smith world, suffered a serious injury when he took a defensive step back on an inbounds play, and most who saw the replay and its aftermath immediately began to think of a torn Achilles tendon. That included teammate Caron Butler, as chronicled by the Detroit News:
“I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I’ve seen something like that,” Butler said after Saturday’s game.
If Jennings didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.
“Chauncey Billups,” Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups’ Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.
“It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, ‘Did you kick me?’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t touch you.’ He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn’t move. He just started hopping.”
The Pistons know how important Jennings has been, averaging 19.8 points since Smith was released. They were expecting a medical update Sunday, with backup D.J. Augustin poised to step into a bigger role again this season the way he did in Chicago when Derrick Rose got hurt early last season.
Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.
“He’s tapped into a part of his DNA that says he’s a star and he’s got to that place,” Butler said. “And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody’s gonna have to raise the bar.”
“He’s been the guy who’s been our catalyst offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it’s a major, major loss.”
No. 3:Waiters believes he has grown — Dion Waiters was back in Cleveland with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in anticipation of Sunday’s clash with the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. He’s the shooting guard traded a couple of weeks back in the deal that delivered New York’s J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, part of a roster makeover credited – along with LeBron James‘ spa-shutdown of two weeks to heal and invigorate – for the Cavs’ boost in play. Waiters didn’t sound like an eager participant but he did submit to and answer questions from the media, including ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, on topics such as being scapegoated and his rapport with star teammates past and present.
“I ain’t really care what nobody say. It ain’t affect me. I slept good every night. I slept good every night. So, I mean, that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what comes with it when you got somebody like LeBron who brings all that attention around the team when we wasn’t used to having that. So the littlest things that you do, they be like the biggest. It’s so crazy. But it is what it is. I’m not in that situation anymore. Over here it’s still the same situation, but it’s different. I’m happy, I’m comfortable already two weeks in and I feel like I’ve grown. I’ve grown in a short period of time as a player and off the court.”
Waiters is averaging 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games with the Thunder. His production is nearly identical to the 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.4 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from 3 that he averaged for Cleveland this season before the trade.
The difference is in the win-loss column. The Thunder are 5-3 since acquiring Waiters. The Cavs are on an upswing as well, winners of five in a row.
“Both teams are doing great — winning,” Waiters said. “Everybody seems at ease now and that’s what it’s about, just being happy, being comfortable and having fun, getting an opportunity. That’s what it’s about.”
While his relationship with James has apparently ended, Waiters explained why reigning MVP Kevin Durant has embraced him.
“From the outside looking in, he probably saw how things were looking or how I’m always the odd man out and things like that. How it was going, how my name was always in something and half the time it probably never was me,” Waiters said. “I was that guy who you point the finger at, but I was fine with it. I could take it. I didn’t have no pressure on me. I didn’t have no pressure on me. My job is to go out there and play basketball, get as many wins as we can as a unit and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And I think the organizations made great decisions on the moves and it’s helping both teams.”
No. 4:Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly? — We return now to our regularly scheduled injury news – notice a trend in these daily reports? – and to the suggestion by ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes that the Lakers, and specifically coach Byron Scott, could have handled the early days of Kobe Bryant‘s shoulder injury better. Instead, by letting Bryant continue to play after an overload of early-season minutes, Scott’s decision might have contributed to the torn rotator cuff on which they’ll all be updated Monday.
In hindsight, these issues appear greatly troubling, because just as Bryant must treat every aspect of his health, training and diet so seriously at this age just so he can perform, so too must the Lakers, and especially Scott, be ever so cautious with him.
That’s all the more true because Bryant is the Lakers’ sole attraction during an awful season, the lone reason for fans to tune in or attend games, all they really have to look forward to until the draft lottery. From a business sense, Bryant is their cash cow — their extremely well-paid cash cow — and thus missteps are extremely costly.
Where does blame lie? Certainly some falls on Bryant. He’s as powerful as any figure within the Lakers’ organization and as powerful as any player within any NBA franchise. If he wanted to play fewer minutes, he could have. If he wanted to get his shoulder examined earlier, he could have. The only person who could’ve stopped Kobe was Kobe, but he didn’t, because Kobe is Kobe. He believes he will overcome.
So the blame truly falls on Scott, who hasn’t been shy about admitting his fault in the issue. And, to a greater degree, the blame truly falls on the entire organization for not stepping in at some point earlier on when Bryant was playing all those minutes.
The Portland Trail Blazers will be without leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge for the next 6-8 weeks as the three-time All-Star will havesurgery on a torn ligament in his left hand.
The Blazers, who have lost five of their last six games following Thursday’s 90-89 loss to the Boston Celtics, refuse to feel sorry for themselves despite a rash of injuries (which included Nicolas Batum re-aggravating a sore wrist) over the last month.
“I don’t want to get into not having LaMarcus and I don’t want to get into having Nic out there,” head coach Terry Stotts said after the game. “Everybody knows what Nic can bring and what LA brings, so we have to figure out different ways of scoring and sometimes different ways of playing.”
“We’ve got to hold down the fort,” added guard Wesley Matthews. “We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to find ways to win and continue to play basketball the right way.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Wherever the Portland Trail Blazers go the next 6-8 weeks, they’ll have to do it without star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The Trail Blazers’ backbone will miss the next 6-8 weeks after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, the team announced Thursday night.
A three-time All-Star, Aldridge has a radial collateral ligament tear in his left thumb and will undergo surgery later this week, per the team’s release. He suffered the injury in second quarter of Portland’s 98-94 win over Sacramento Monday.
His injury leaves Damian Lillard to lead the way for a Trail Blazers team that has clawed its way into the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference standings behind league-leader Golden State. Aldridge is leading the Blazers with 23.2 points and 10.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.8 blocks.
Filling the void for anyone else on the roster, even Lillard, at least temporarily, is something Portland coach Terry Stotts could handle with some rotation tweaks here and there. But there is no replacing Aldridge for potentially two months.
The NBA officially crunched the numbers Thursday morning, noting that Kerr’s Golden State Warriors already had clinched the West’s best record through games played Feb. 1. That’s the cutoff date for designating the All-Star coaches. Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer and his staff had earned the honors with the East All-Stars with the 35-8 Hawks’ home victory over Indiana earlier Wednesday evening.
Kerr’s spot on the West sideline for the annual showcase Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden was assured with the Warriors’ 126-113 victory over Houston in Oakland. It left Golden State with a league-best record of 34-6 with five games remaining through Feb. 1. Even if it were to lose all five, Kerr’s club would sit at 34-11, .7555, at the cutoff.
Portland, at 31-12 with six games before Feb. 1, could get no higher than 37-12, .7551. Memphis would reach 35-12, .744, if it were to win its five games over the next 11 days. Dallas would max out at 36-13, .734, while both Houston and the L.A. Clippers can do no better through Feb. 1 than 34-14, .708.
Had Portland beaten Phoenix Wednesday, the Trail Blazers and coach Terry Stotts might have gotten to 38-11, .7755, pushing the All-Star honor closer to the deadline. But few can quibble with Golden State’s status as the conference’s and the league’s most successful team through the first half of 2014-15.
The Warriors, who won a franchise-record 17th consecutive game, are off to their best start in the Golden State era. They are one of only 10 teams in NBA history to have won at least 34 of their first 40 games. Golden State ranks No. 1 in field-goal percentage (.487), as well as No. 1 in defensive field-goal percentage (.421). Its average margin of victory (11.8) is the fattest since Kerr played with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (12.2).
Kerr becomes the first rookie coach to earn the All-Star berth since Indiana’s Larry Bird worked the East’s bench in 1998. He will be Golden State’s first All-Star coach since Don Nelson in 1992.
Kerr, a former 3-point specialist for Chicago and San Antonio, general manager in Phoenix and savvy broadcast analyst, downplayed the achievement as he and the Warriors drew close. “It’s more just keep getting better to me,” he told reporters. “Keep improving, keep taking another step forward. And if we do that, there’s a lot of good stuff to come.”
Most head coaches cite their staffs, who join them on All-Star Weekend, and Golden State is no exception, with Ron Adams, Alvin Gentry, Luke Walton, Jarron Collins, Bruce Fraser and Keke Lyles all contributing. The Warriors players seem to value their input, according to a report Wednesday on MercuryNews.com.
“They do a great job of preparing us,” center Andrew Bogut said. “Ron Adams and Alvin Gentry and those guys, they do a really good job for us with our scouting reports and their preparation.”
Bogut noted that the biggest thing he noticed with Kerr’s staff members was that they had “no agendas” and didn’t play favorites.
“It happens on a lot of teams, just to try to align themselves with certain guys in case there’s coaching changes or whatever, and that happens I’d say in 80 percent of NBA teams,” Bogut said. “I don’t see that on this team with this coaching staff. They’re comfortable in their own skin. I think that starts from Steve Kerr because he’s told these guys, ‘Do your job. I don’t expect you guys to get involved in politics.’ “
With both All-Star coaching staffs in place, the players come next. All-Star starters will be named on TNT Thursday evening, with reserves coming next week after a vote of conference coaches. Stephen Curry is expected to start for the West for the second straight year, but Kerr called it “criminal” if Golden State were to have just one All-Star. In his view, backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson should go to New York, too.
Said Kerr: “Klay deserves it. To me, the thing with the All-Star game that I’ve always felt long before I came to Golden State is the best teams deserve the benefit of the doubt. Players who put up stats are really good. Players who put up stats and help their team win a ton of games are All-Stars, and that should absolutely put Klay in the game.”
The Atlanta Hawks have sparked debate in recent weeks regarding the 2015 All-Star Game in New York next month, with folks wondering if their ensemble style will be sufficiently honored when the East squad’s reserves are chosen by the conference coaches.
Budenholzer, in his second season with Atlanta (35-8), earned the honor when the Hawks beat Indiana Wednesday night at Philips Arena. The victory clinched the best record in the conference through games played on Sunday, Feb. 1, the cutoff for determining the All-Star coaches. Joining Budenholzer will be assistants Kenny Atkinson, Darvin Ham, Taylor Jenkins, Charles Lee, Neven Spahija and Ben Sullivan.
“It’s a credit to our players, our front office and our entire organization,” Budenholzer said. “I really feel strongly about our assistant coaches; I think they do an amazing job. It’s a great honor but it’s our players that put us in this position. It’s the players that deserve the credit.”
By beating Indiana, Atlanta stretched its winning streak to 14 games, matching the longest in franchise history, and won for the 28th time in its past 30 games. Six Hawks scored in double figures, as Atlanta shot better from 3-point range (13 of 29, 44.8 percent) than the Pacers managed overall (31 of 78, 39.7 percent). And yet it was marksman Kyle Korver‘s dunk in the first half that had people talking.
The 33-year-old got loose on a break and threw down for the first time since Nov. 16, 2012. That one, at Sacramento, came 199 games ago according to STATS. It was, by their count, Korver’s 16th dunk in 12 NBA seasons.
Korver has a good chance to join Budenholzer in New York, given his reputation among the league’s coaches and his statistically eye-popping season so far in shooting 50 percent, overall, 50 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent on free throws. But then, strong cases can be made as well for point guard Jeff Teague and big men Paul Millsap and Al Horford.
There’s uncertainty, too, in naming Budenholzer’s counterpart as coach of the West All-Stars. The same Feb. 1 cutoff is in play and Golden State’s Steve Kerr began Wednesday as the favorite owing to the Warriors’ 33-6 mark. But four more teams – Portland (Terry Stotts), Memphis (Dave Joerger), Houston (Kevin McHale) and Dallas (Rick Carlisle) – all were in striking distance with 10 days left.
No. 1:Kings, Malone were a stylistic mismatch — Two days after the surprise firing of coach Michael Malone in Sacramento, we’re finally starting to get a few explanations. In a session yesterday with the media, Kings GM Pete D’Allesandro said it didn’t matter what Malone’s record was, it was more about the team’s style of play and philosophy. As Jason Jones writes in the Sacramento Bee…
Malone was a coaching disciple of defensive-minded Jeff Van Gundy and Malone’s father, Brendan, an assistant with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons when they won NBA championships in 1989 and 1990.
But defense is not what the front office or ownership wants to sell to fans.
“It wasn’t about wins and losses,” D’Alessandro said. “I didn’t really care about what our record was. It’s about who we want to be, what we want our identity to be as a team.”
That vision is a team that plays a fast-paced offensive style Tyrone Corbin will try to implement as interim coach.
D’Alessandro would like to see the Kings play like the Rick Adelman-coached Sacramento teams more than a decade ago, when they piled up wins with a dynamic offense – especially with the new downtown arena expected to open in 2016.
“What we’re trying to do is put a style in that reflects the Sacramento fan base, which to us is a free-flowing, up-and-down style of play,” D’Alessandro said. “That’s what we’re striving for; we have time now to install it before we get there. I think it’s going to ignite the arena when we’re playing with the style of play we intend to play with.”
Now the questions are whether the Kings, 11-13 overall and 2-7 without Cousins, have the players to make that style work and direct the team long term.
D’Alessandro wouldn’t commit to Corbin for the rest of the season, though he said Corbin has his support. The Kings are interested in veteran coach George Karl, an analyst for ESPN who was fired by Denver following the 2012-13 season, according to league sources. D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver.
Chris Mullin, a Hall of Fame player and an adviser to primary owner Vivek Ranadive, might be interested in the job, league sources said.
Until a permanent coach is hired, Corbin will have the challenge of changing the team’s style.
“It’s so new right now,” Corbin said. “I’m just trying to weather the storm right now and get these guys ready to play a game (Tuesday).”
“They put that stuff out there, say somebody said it and then I got to answer for it, I really don’t have time for that,” Monroe said before tonight’s game at the Los Angeles Clippers.
On the rumors, he added: “It’s getting more irritating. We lost 13 games in row, won a couple of games, and now you got to hear this.”
Sporting News writer Sean Deveney, citing sources, says Monroe “badly” wants out of Detroit and that the team is seeking a first-round pick in return.
He emphatically said he is open to re-signing with the Pistons.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy also denied the aspect of the Sporting News report saying the Pistons were seeking a first-round pick for Monroe. “I don’t know where that stuff comes from,” Van Gundy said. “We haven’t talked to anybody about trading Greg Monroe.”
No. 3:Bucks win thriller but lose Parker — On the one hand, it was a big night for the Milwaukee Bucks in the desert, as they battled the Phoenix Suns and won on a game-winning buzzer beater. But on the other hand, the Bucks had to play most of the second half without rookie of the year candidate and franchise building block Jabari Parker, who went down with a non-contact knee injury and wasn’t able to return. As Charles Gardner writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel…
Parker’s left knee buckled without contact as he made a drive in transition and he was unable to leave the floor under his own power. He was carried off the court by teammates Zaza Pachulia and Johnny O’Bryant.
“As of right now we don’t know anything. They’ll do all the tests tomorrow and we’ll be able to report something then,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said after the game.
Pachulia, who played a key role in the Bucks’ comeback victory, said all of Parker’s teammates were wishing him the best.
“I hope he’s going to be OK,” Pachulia said. “He’s a great young player. This team and this organization, the whole city counts on him. He has a lot of years ahead of him in his great career. Injuries are part of the game.
“I hope it’s not anything serious. We are all praying for him.
“It was tough to see your teammate going down and not being able to walk himself. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. The doctor is going to make a decision, obviously. But we want to him to have a speedy recovery, whatever it is. We really need him.”
Parker was driving to the basket but his knee gave way before he had mild contact with the Suns’ P.J. Tucker. A double foul was called on the play but there was little contact to merit that.
Jared Dudley said Parker “is the franchise.”
“He’s young; he’s a rookie,” Dudley said. “The good thing about it is he was smiling when he came in, so that’s always good. He was in, I don’t think it was a cast, but something where you couldn’t bend it, obviously.
“He’ll get an MRI. We’re hoping it’s just a sprain where you get him back in a couple weeks. You don’t want to have anything with him, so keep him in your prayers.”
No. 4:Blazers lose Lopez for ‘a while‘ — Meanwhile in Portland, the Blazers knocked off the defending champion Spurs, but in the process lost starting center Robin Lopez to a fractured hand. According to Portland coach Terry Stotts, Lopez will be out “a while,” and having to make do without Lopez is not something that the Blazers are relishing, writes Joe Freeman for The Oregonian…
“I don’t even want to think about having to play without RoLo,” All-Star point guard Damian Lillard said.
Lopez said he wasn’t sure how he suffered the injury, but it looked like he smacked his hand against the back of Boris Diaw‘s head while pursuing a rebound under the hoop. Lopez didn’t show any immediate pain or discomfort and he continued to play with the fracture for a few minutes. Eventually he was pulled from the game, however, and preliminary tests indicated that he fractured his hand in two places.
“At first I thought I just jammed a finger or something,” Lopez said. “I didn’t hear a pop and I didn’t feel any pain or anything. So I was just trying to shake it off. But as play went along, my hand never could regain any strength, so I figured I was more of a liability out there.”
The true liability lies in Lopez’s absence, particularly a lengthy one. In many ways, he’s the heart and soul of the Blazers’ starting lineup, a selfless, rugged, lane-clogging big man who is the unsung hero to their free-wheeling offense and linchpin to their improved defense. Lopez is averaging just 9.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, but his value is not measured solely in statistics. He’s the team’s best screener, best interior defender and most unselfish player.
How important is he to the Blazers’ success? They are 73-34 with him on the roster and last season — his first in Portland — he was an integral part of the first Blazers team in 14 years to win a playoff series.
“I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like it,” LaMarcus Aldridge said, when asked about the prospect of playing without Lopez. “That’s it. I can’t get past I don’t like it.
Throughout his career, James has been a machine who has deftly avoided major injuries. Still, his nagging back issues and high mileage were enough for the Cavs to rest James during Friday’s morning workout, and coach David Blatt said it could lead him to missing games during the season as a healthy scratch.
“Players are here to play and it’s our job to get them ready and keep them healthy so they can participate in every game, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Blatt said. “Sometimes you have to know how to rest guys without the team being at risk. That’s part of the process.”
The proof for such an idea was obvious in June, when an old-but-fresh Spurs team zipped passes over, under, around and through a tired Heat defense in the Finals. Gregg Popovich has strategically picked spots to rest his aging stars the last couple years, once famously eliciting a $250,000 fine from the league for doing it. But the Spurs’ consecutive trips to the Finals, including one championship and nearly a second with an aging roster, is proof Pop knows what he’s doing.
And heading into what may be the final season of a brilliant career, Steve Nash feels good again. He doesn’t know for how long; he knows how quickly it could all vanish again. But it’s not over, not yet.
“I was playing soccer, and I went out there and after a few minutes I said, holy s—,” says Nash, on the phone from Los Angeles. “I’m 100 percent. Stop, start, change direction, mobility, explosiveness — I could go as hard as I wanted. So the next step was, is this going to sustain itself? Because I was used to the whole ‘hey, something will happen in the next two weeks that will kind of knock you back.’
“And it never really happened. I just kept going all summer. I never really had a setback. And it allowed me to enjoy the summer in a way I couldn’t the previous summer, where I was rehabbing twice a day for five months, basically. I think it took a little pressure off me, and just a little bit of joy, where it’s life-giving, instead of crumbling.”
No. 3:Nets for sale? — Are the Brooklyn Nets for sale, or is Mikhail Prokhorov actually trying to expand his sports portfolio? Both Richard Sandomir of The New York Times and Mitch Abramson of the Daily News confirm the original NetsDaily report that the latter is likely the case.
Now, Mr. Prokhorov is trying to capitalize as N.B.A. team values soar and new national media contracts with ESPN and TNT that are about to be announced promise a big leap in revenue for each team.
In a complex transaction, he is trying to create a new company by combining his team and arena assets with those owned by the investor group Guggenheim Partners, which bought the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago for $2.15 billion. In his current negotiations — first reported by the NetsDaily blog and confirmed by a person familiar with the talks — the team has been valued at $1.7 billion and Barclays Center at $1.1 billion.
If the deal comes to fruition, Mr. Prokhorov and Bruce C. Ratner, who sold Mr. Prokhorov the stakes in the team and arena, will receive $2.8 billion in cash, stock and potentially other forms of payment.
A source close to Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov screamed “Nyet!” on whether the Russian billionaire would surrender majority control of the team in Brooklyn.
“He’s not a seller,” the source familiar with Prokhorov’s thinking told the Daily News on Friday. “He wants the Nets and he loves the Nets and he wants to be controlling owner. This is something that he really enjoys.”
A flurry of reports surfaced on Thursday describing two potential scenarios involving the Russian oligarch and his holdings in Brooklyn: First, that Prokhorov is interested in integrating his sports and entertainment assets with Guggenheim Partners, the company that joined with former NBA great Magic Johnson to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 for roughly $2 billion.
The second is that Prokhorov is preoccupied with cashing out and selling his stake in the Nets to the highest bidder.
The source said only the first picture is accurate.
No. 4:Kings hire the Dean of basketball stats — Dean Oliver‘s Basketball on Paper is basically the bible of basketball analytics, outlining the “four factors” of efficiency on either end of the floor, as well as other statistical tools to evaluate players and teams historically. Oliver has worked for the Sonics and Nuggets and after three years at ESPN, is taking his talents to Sacramento, as Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee writes, thanks in part to his previous work with Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro:
At one time, Dean Oliver wasn’t widely respected in basketball for his analytic and statistical evaluations.
One of those who took Oliver seriously 10 years ago was Pete D’Alessandro, now the Kings’ general manager.
“I was just trying to get in, and Pete was one of the first people to listen to me,” Oliver said.
This time, Oliver listened to D’Alessandro, who asked him to join the Kings. D’Alessandro introduced Oliver, now recognized as the creator of many of the advanced statistics used by NBA teams, on Friday. Oliver will provide statistical analysis and have a role in personnel decisions.
“He’s going to be a big part of this team in terms of brokering deals,” D’Alessandro said. “His reputation throughout the league is stellar, and his contact base is as big as anyone’s.”
No. 5:Young out with thumb injury — The first major injury of training camp belongs to Nick Young and the Lakers. Young injured his right thumb in practice on Thursday, and a MRI revealed “a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament.” Young is set to have surgery on Monday and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks, which would have him missing at least 10 regular season games. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Timeshas the story:
Young was injured Thursday while tying to steal the ball from Kobe Bryant at practice.
His thumb swelled up overnight and an MRI exam Friday showed a tear. He will have surgery Monday.
A day earlier, Lakers Coach Byron Scott said Young would have a chance at being the NBA’s sixth man of the year.
And earlier Friday, when the team hoped Young’s injury was only a sprain, Scott wished for the best.
“Maybe I jinxed him, I don’t know,” Scott said. “I’m not going to say anything good about Nick Young for the rest of the year. Maybe that will keep him healthy for us.”
Young apparently smacked his thumb into Bryant’s elbow on the play.
New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he’s considering holding All-Star power forward Anthony Davis and top offseason acquisition Omer Asik out of Saturday’s preseason opener against the Miami Heat in Lexington, Ky.
Both Davis and Asik, who are expected to be a formidable duo at the power forward and center positions, are healthy. But both are coming off a long summer of activity while playing for their home countries in the FIBA World Cup, which is why Williams is thinking about resting the pair.
Before making his decision, Williams said he’d consult with general manager Dell Demps.
LAS VEGAS – Two seasons ago the Portland Trail Blazers’ bench was remarkably young and perilously inadequate. Last season, the addition of veteran Mo Williams plus incredibly good health among the starting five limited opportunity for the Blazers’ babies.
As Summer League heats up, that banging sound you hear is opportunity knocking. Which young Blazers finally walk through that door will be an intriguing story line to monitor. The choices are all right here in Vegas. In fact, if the Blazers don’t boast the most players from their big-league team on their Summer League squad then they’re right there near the top.
Six of Portland’s 15 roster players are on its Summer League squad: Guards Will Barton, Allen Crabbe and C.J. McCollum, as well as frontline teammates Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson. All six players have either one or two years of league service, and all six are seeking to make a first-time impact in the Blazers’ rotation.
McCollum, Robinson and Leonard are all top 11 draft picks.
“It’s an important summer for our young bigs and and our young perimeter guys,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said as he watched Portland’s summer team beat down Atlanta, 91-76. “CJ, Will and Allen, there’s an opportunity. I can’t say how many minutes, but there’s an opportunity. Joel, Meyers and T-rob, after signing Chris [Kaman], there’s some competition.”
Kaman was granted a two-year, $9.8 million contract coming off two subpar seasons with Dallas and then the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet Portland felt compelled to sign him up as backup to starter Robin Lopez because they’ve haven’t been able to count on Leonard or Freeland.
The young guards won’t have to contend with Williams, who remains on the market as an unrestricted free agent, however the Blazers signed steady veteran in Steve Blake.
“In my rookie year everyone talked about the bench,” said Leonard, who took a step back last season, partly due to injury. “Last year was a much better year for us, young guys stepped up. Now we need to have even more of a deep bench, confidence from coach to put us in there and know the score isn’t going to down, we’re going to keep it there or we’re going to increase the lead. It’s confidence in the starters and coaches that when we come in we’re going to do a good job and they can know we’re going to be all right.”
Self-confidence is a big pat of it, too. The leader in that category could be Thomas Robinson, the fifth overall pick two years ago by Sacramento, who was traded by the Kings and then the Rockets. He played in 70 games for Portland last season, averaging 4.8 ppg and 4.4 rpg in 12.5 mpg. He provided some high energy moments off the bench during the playoffs and now the 23-year-old says he’s discovered what it takes to be a productive NBA player.
“I am where I was supposed to be after my rookie year, making that leap to knowing what type of player you are in this league and knowing what you’re going to do for your team,” Robinson said. “That’s where I am now, where I should have been last year.”
Few expected the Blazers to end up where they did last season, winning 54 games and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in the last 14 years. They have a dynamic starting five with All-Stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, streak-shooter Wes Matthews, stat-stuffer small forward Nicolas Batum and Lopez, their lunchpail center.
Bench parts at every position are on the roster. Now, with another year under the belts, the question is which ones walk through that door.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers to their first playoff series win in 14 years.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –LaMarcus Aldridge has put his name on it. In a year we’ll see if he owns it.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ All-Star power forward, seemingly so close to forcing his way out only to be coaxed back in, primarily by the drafting of young All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and a roster re-tool over the last couple years that led to the Blazers’ first playoff series win in 14 years, is now not only talking about re-upping with Portland for the maximum five years, but playing out his career in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
“I want to be the best Blazer — ever,” Aldridge told Oregonian beat writer Joe Freeman on Tuesday. “I should be able to leave a mark on a big-time franchise that is going to be seen forever. And I will be able to say I played here my whole career. This city has embraced me and grown with me. I have so much history, it just makes sense to stay.”
And here’s how close he already is to so many franchise marks. From Freeman:
Aldridge’s name is dotted up and down the Blazers’ record books, listed among the leaders in a host of statistical categories. Next season, he conceivably could move into the top five in blocks, free throws, minutes and games played, while also moving past Clyde Drexler to become the Blazers’ all-time leading rebounder and moving ahead of Terry Porter into second place in scoring. If Aldridge signs that long-term extension next season, he will set himself up to finish his career as the leader in every major category in Blazers history.
With Free Agency 2014 still in a holding pattern, Aldridge, one of several Big Fish who can become a free agent in the summer of 2015, certainly sounds as though his situation will be less LeBron James and more Dirk Nowitzki.
He told the Oregonian that he will not sign a contract extension this summer, but only because he plans to sign a new contract next summer. One of the odd quirks of the collective bargaining agreement is that it allows players to fulfill their current contracts, enter free agency and then re-sign with their teams for more years and more money than they could by signing an extension.
If Aldridge were to sign an extension this summer, he would play out the final year of his contract at $16 million, then begin a three-year extension for $55.5 million. However, if he becomes a free agent, he can re-sign next summer for five years and $108 million.
Aldridge: "I'm happy to stay (in Portland), happy to be here, happy with the direction the team has gone the last year or 2. But …" (cont)
My theory on this is the NBA craves the offseason buzz created by free agency. Just look at what’s gone on since July 1. Extensions are boring. Free agency is suspenseful with a limitless rumor mill and headline potential. So even with a player who says he wants to stay with his team, the media can, and will create “what if” story lines throughout the final year of the player’s contract and into free agency.
LaMarcus Aldridge says he wants to re-sign, but will he really? Wouldn’t he rather play in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago … or his hometown Dallas ?
Last month, Portland owner Paul Allen and general manager Neil Olshey put a three-year, $55.5 million extension on the table, but knew Aldridge would not sign it. It was a formality, a good-faith move. The billionaire Allen will be happy to pay the $108 million tab next summer.
And it’s great news for the Portland fan base, one of the most devout in the league. In an age where the grass always seems greener elsewhere — and we might be seeing it again with James and Carmelo Anthony – Aldridge a Dallas-area native, seems to be viewing the full arc of his career that has now spanned eight seasons all in Portland.
Last season marked his third consecutive All-Star appearance, and it probably should have been his fourth. Aldridge had the best year of his career under coach Terry Stotts, who completed his second season. Aldridge averaged a double-double for the first time in his career, 23.2 ppg and 11.1 rpg. He thrived with the addition of blue-collar center Robin Lopez to handle more inside dirty work and lessen Aldridge’s defensive responsibilities.
Aldridge turns 29 on July 19, and assuming he signs the five-year pact next summer, he will be playing his remaining prime years in Portland. He’ll turn 35 when that deal expires. Nowitzki, who stuck with the Mavericks through thick and thin, just completed a four-year deal at age 36 and has agreed to three more years for $30 million.
The Blazers were one of the great success stories of last season. How the next season unfolds could either reaffirm Aldridge’s stance or, if the team takes a step back, make him think twice.
For now, he has stated his intentions. We’ll see if they remain the same one year from now.