Posts Tagged ‘Thaddeus Young’

Five teams already looking ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The start of the playoffs is just over the horizon and there will be plenty of unexpected bounces before the 2014 NBA champ is crowned in June.

But you can’t blame a handful of teams from already taking an early peek at what will surely be better times ahead next season:

 


VIDEO: Joakim Noah joins Arena Link after a recent Bulls win

Chicago Bulls – There’ s still plenty of havoc to be made by Joakim Noah and his “no tanking here” gang. Sitting in the No. 4 spot in the East, the Bulls are already shuffling their hooves at what could be another rip-snorting first-round series against the Nets and possibly a chance to put a few bruises on the Pacers or two-time champions from Miami down the line. But while it’s unrealistic to think Chicago can go all the way this season, the title hopes are back in view next October. Starting, of course, with a healthy return by Derrick Rose, the Bulls get their former MVP and most talented player back onto the court to supplement a lineup that has Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.

While the dealing away of Luol Deng didn’t sink the Bulls in the standings, it brought a first round draft choice that the Cavs had picked up from Sacramento. They saved $20 million on Deng’s contract next year, can amnesty the vastly overpaid Carlos Boozer and be at the front of the line to make a recruiting pitch to head of the class free agent Carmelo Anthony. The lure of Phil Jackson‘s zen magic will probably make it tougher to get him out of N.Y., but if he really wants to make a run at a title instead of just being hero-worshipped, Melo would jump at the chance to join the Bulls where a recuperated Rose gives them the 1-2 punch that is almost necessary these days to be elite. As much fun as they’re having now, the real excitement could return next season.

 


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young, Jarvis Varnado discuss the progress and potential of Nerlens Noel

Philadelphia 76ers — It can’t get worse than losing a record-tying 26 games in a row, can it? It will still be only Year Two in general manager Sam Hinkie‘s long-term building project for the future. But at least next season the Sixers will be able to put a team out on the floor that has more than just Michael Carter-Williams, Thad Young and Tony Wroten as real NBA talent that could be part of something positive down the road. Hinkie has cleared out the payroll, but it’s far too early for the Sixers to even give a thought to luring free agents to Philly. They’ll have two lottery picks — their own and the Pelicans’ spot from the Jrue Holiday trade — and go digging for bargains with another pair of picks in the second round.

Of course, there’s the big bonus of finally getting big man Nerlens Noel into the lineup, after he sat out all of this season with a torn ACL. Noel has been champing at the bit to play now, but the team will hold him back till summer league and then turn him loose. Hinkie is positively giddy about what a bulked-up, more physically fit Noel will be able to do. The Sixers are not even dreaming of playoffs, just putting the building blocks in place.

 


VIDEO: Andrew Nicholson talks about staying positive in Orlando

Orlando Magic — Two years ago, Rob Hennigan dealt away Dwight Howard and the instant reaction from many corners was that the rookie GM had been fleeced. Of course, the way things turned out in L.A., Philly and Denver, it seems that Hennigan was the one doing the fleecing, picking up Nic Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo, who are now main parts of a young roster on the rise. Mix in last year’s top draft pick Victor Oladipo with Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson and while the Magic are again near the bottom of the standings with the third-fewest wins in the league, there has been a method to Hennigan. The jury is still out on making Oladipo a point guard, but he’s clearly a talent.

Hennigan is following in the footsteps of his mentor Sam Presti in OKC, constructing a roster that is flexible in terms of both talent and salary. The Magic are not beholden at this point to a single individual and are willing to be in the trade market for any upgrade that makes sense at any position. Then toss in the potential of adding an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to the lineup and the Magic are suddenly a team back in the spotlight with a new franchise star and a future that could lead back to chasing the playoffs maybe even as soon as next year in the Eastern Conference.

 


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo is adjusting to life in the NBA and U.S.

Milwaukee Bucks – As bad and depressing as things got for the Sixers during their 26-game losing streak, the fact is they were never able to drop below the Bucks in the standings. This is the worst team in the league, but it doesn’t have to be this way in 2014-15. For one thing, it’s about timing in the draft. The Bucks have been fortunate enough to win the lottery twice in the past, getting Glenn Robinson with the No. 1 pick in 1994 and Andrew Bogut in 2005. “Big Dog” had had his moments and Bogut is playing nicely these days for the Warriors, but neither was ever the kind of game-changer than can take a franchise to the top.

Now with the deepest lottery in a while, it seems that Milwaukee is in a can’t-miss position. GM John Hammond is said to be setting his sights on center Joel Embiid, who could anchor the middle of a lineup with exciting rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, who hopefully can get his head back into the game and save a career that could go off the rails. Hammond unloaded the contracts of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the trade deadline and would probably like to jettison O.J. Mayo. Brandon Knight has been up and down, but shows that he can score. Rookie Nate Wolters has probably exceeded expectations and creates optimism for the future.

It’s Antetokounmpo who creates the most excitement with his raw talent and potential. Whether they go with Embild with their first pick or Wiggins, Parker, Julius Randle or Dante Exum, this time the Bucks could get the game changer they need at a time when owner Herb Kohl is trying to sell the franchise. This could be a lineup worth buying and watching next season.

 


VIDEO: Dwight Howard explains why he likes it in Houston

Houston Rockets — Yes, yes, yes. The Rockets are already a top four seed in the rugged Western Conference and have flexed their speed and muscles and shooting prowess against some of the best teams in the league this season. The pairing of Dwight Howard with James Harden has given Houston the 1-2 All-Star punch that was expected. Yet even with some folks tabbing the Rockets as a dark horse threat when the playoffs begin, the truth is their best days are still ahead. Wheeler and dealer GM Daryl Morey knows that his job is not yet done and that’s why he’s played the payroll and salary cap like a Stradivarius and will again have the Rockets in position to make a run at at the biggest names on the free agent market this summer. If he deals Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik ($15 million each next season), the Rockets could offer close to the max.

Howard and Harden are still getting to know each other and this team might need to experience the pain of a playoff loss to get recommitted and take things to the next level. The Rockets could also use another scorer/defender on the wing to go toe-to-toe nightly with the elite contenders. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony? Let us saddle you up as part of the posse, pardner. Of course, it’s unlikely that James is going anywhere. But Anthony would have to have give long and serious thought to Houston if he decides that the magic of Jackson isn’t going to turn the Knicks around in the next year or two. Put Melo in a lineup with Howard and Harden and the 145 points the Rockets rung up the other night against the Lakers could become a nightly occurrence. If not Anthony, Bosh could return home to Texas. The Rockets made a free agent pitch for him several years ago and his adaptable skills could fit in nicely on the front line.

The Rockets will be different next season. They always are. And with Howard and Harden as anchors, now different means better. The start of next season can’t come soon enough in Houston.

Amid all the losses, Young’s been winner

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young gets up high to deny the Bobcats’ Cody Zeller

It’s the time of the season when the ballots come out and the debates begin.

MVP: LeBron James or Kevin Durant?

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Hornacek, Doc Rivers, Dwane Casey, Kevin McHale?

Rookie, Sixth Man, Most Improved, Defensive Player. The hardware will be handed out at intervals over the next couple months.

Thaddeus Young won’t get a trophy, but he should be given a lifetime achievement award for having lived through several of them with the 76ers this season.

Doggedly, determined, decisive.

It was the night when his 76ers had tied the NBA single season record with their 26th consecutive loss and the 6-foot-8 forward sat at his locker in Houston’s Toyota Center and answered every question the same way he has answered every challenge in the most difficult season of his basketball career. Head on.

“You just try to win the next game,” Young said.

Roughly 48 hours later, the crowd at Philly’s Wells Fargo Center would celebrate loudly when the Sixers beat the Pistons for their first victory since Jan. 29.

But there have been too few of those happy nights in a 17-win season when the organizational goals and the instincts of a competitor have churned in opposite directions.

The Sixers’ front office and coaching staff have been up front that it’s only the future that matters. Yet here is Young, 25, seeing the precious present of what should be the prime of his career tick away and refusing to simply mark time.

While the losses have piled up, Young’s energy and commitment to his job and team haven’t wavered. If athletes are not necessarily supposed to be role models to the general public, it is a responsibility within the locker room. So maybe one day, when the likes of Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten and Nerlens Noel are reaping the benefits of this painful experience, they’ll know who showed them how to act like a pro.

“It’s hard,” Young said. “But all you can do is try to keep your head up and things will change. You keep telling yourself change is coming. In the meantime, you got to go out there and play, regardless of what happens.”

The Sixers became a national headline as skid grew and were fodder for late-night comedians — as if there might not actually be individuals who never stopped busting a gut to get a win.

“You know it’s been talked about,” Young said. “You know what’s being said. But you just go out and try to figure how to win a basketball game. Me personally, the only thing I really care about is winning.

“It’s definitely hard. Every day you want to continue to go out there and be a professional, continue to go out there and do your job. This is what we’re paid to do — go out there and play.”

It was bad enough through the middle of February when the Sixers were simply young and inept. But then trade deadline came and general manager Sam Hinkie traded away Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen and the Sixers became younger and almost incapable.

“I think it can take its toll,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown. “We talk about having the youngest team in the history of the game and then we say on trade deadline night that we went to a whole other level, which reconfirmed the direction that we’re taking. He lost three friends. You’re look around and you’re looking at an even younger team.

“I admire the way Thad has handled himself, losing games, losing friends, and still I haven’t seen him let up the slightest bit in the way he works and prepares and handles himself.”

He has played in all but three games, leading the Sixers in scoring at 18 ppg while still hustling and simply trying to do the right thing.

“I continue to play hard regardless,” Young said. “So I’ve definitely accepted the way things are. But like I’ve said many times before, the situation is what it is and we have to … remain focused on the task at hand.”

In a strange way, it’s the ultimate compliment to Young that the Sixers wanted to keep him around as their stabilizing, grounding force.

“They have a lot of respect for my words in the locker room, my words on the court and what I’ve done in the past seven years for the organization,” he said. They see me as a guy that can keep these guys calm and cool throughout the situation and maintain the locker room and keep guys together.”

The questions now? Do the Sixers see Young as part a reconstruction project that will likely span several more rough seasons? Does Young want to stay in his role as wet nurse rather than chase championships with a contender? His contract calls for $19 million over the next two years with a player option in 2015-16.

“I haven’t thought about it at all,” Young said. “When that time comes, I’ll talk about it with Sam, with my agent, with coach, whoever else I have to talk about it with. Right now my focus is just finishing out this season and dealing with the summer when it comes. Then we’ll talk about the future and all the other stuff.

“I’m just dealing with the situation I’m in right now. Playing basketball, trying to continue to have fun. With the games we have left, I’ve still got a job to go out there and help some of these guys grow in this locker room, to just go out there and try to be a leader to this team.”

Thad Young won’t get a trophy for his play this season, but he’s well earned our respect in the longest of seasons.

Sixers feeling the pain of rebuilding

Michael Carter-Williams, left, gets a pointer from coach Brett Brown (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Michael Carter-Williams, left, gets a pointer from coach Brett Brown (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

PHILADELPHIA – Over their last 21 games, the Philadelphia 76ers have held a fourth-quarter lead just once.

It was a three-point lead at the start of the fourth in Orlando on March 2. On the Magic’s first possession of the final period, Maurice Harkless found himself wide open beyond the arc and that was that. The lead was gone in 20 seconds.

It’s been 49 days since the Sixers last won a game and, in those last 21 tries, they haven’t really come close. They were tied in Utah with two minutes left on Feb. 12 but never attempted a shot that would have given them the lead. They were tied again with the Jazz with less than three minutes to go on March 8, but missed their final eight shots and lost by 12.

Sixteen of the 21 losses have come by double-digits. Six have come by more than 25 points. The Sixers aren’t just losing. They’re getting their butts kicked.

And this is all a part of a plan.

General manager Sam Hinkie came to Philadelphia to tear things down, acquire assets, and give the Sixers a higher long-term ceiling. Once this season is over, optimism can again take hold.

But for now, Hinkie’s team is going through a brutal stretch.

Even before the trade deadline, things had turned pretty sour. Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes lost their last nine games as Sixers, who were outscored by *15.5 points per 100 possessions in the 22 games before they traded those two guys.

*This number matches that of the 2011-12 Bobcats, who had the second worst NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of the last 36 years. The worst belonged to the 1992-93 Mavs, who had a NetRtg of -16.3.

Since the trades, the Sixers have been outscored by 17.2 points per 100 possessions. Their offense has been almost six points per 100 possessions worse than the 29th-ranked offense in that time.

They take the right kinds of shots. Only the Rockets have taken a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range (the most efficient spots on the floor). But they don’t make them often enough. They just don’t have enough talent.

Thaddeus Young (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Thaddeus Young (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

For the last month, the Sixers’ (active) roster essentially has been Thaddeus Young, Michael Carter-Williams and a bunch of guys who wouldn’t be in the league if it weren’t for the situation this team is in. The Sixers have had 26 different players on their roster this season, and you probably hadn’t heard of a lot of them prior to this season.

Hinkie is still cycling new players into his locker room, which doesn’t make it any easier to win. Continuity is a key to success and Philly has had little. Guys have been thrown into the fire with little or no practice time.

Less than a week after arriving in the Hawes trade, Henry Sims became the starting center. Dewayne Dedmon played 14 minutes (in a tight game) the day after he was signed to a 10-day contract. When Darius Johnson-Odom was signed to a 10-day last week, the main message from head coach Brett Brown was to be ready.

“It’s difficult of you don’t simplify it,” Brown said last week of integrating all these new guys. “You’re reminded all that time that you have to just shrink it into something very black and white. We’re looking for ‘x’ on offense. We’re looking for ‘x’ on defense. And we need to coexist in a locker room.

“That’s still number one. We have to play together. We can’t play in a crowd is number two. And just coexisting and making sure we don’t get beaten down by however many losses we’ve had or the margin on the scoreboard. We’re here, we want to play the right way, and that’s the message I try to keep all our guys on point with.”

On the outside, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the possibility of the Sixers losing their final 36 games of the season, running right through the record for consecutive losses (26, held by the 2010-11 Cavs) along the way. And obviously, some of the noise is going to permeate the locker room. But Brown wants his team to focus on the process of getting better.

“We don’t live in that world,” he said after loss No. 20 on Saturday. “And it’s my job to make sure they don’t live in that world. And I feel like I do try to help them understand what our purpose is.

“Their morale is fine. It gets, at times, really challenging in my seat to make sure that we remind them of the world that we live in. But we got a heck of a leader in Thaddeus Young and we got a rookie point guard that is going through a difficult year with the losses that we have. This is just another side of learning.”

It can’t be easy on Young, who was a few minutes from the conference finals less than two years ago and who doesn’t need to go through this stage of learning again. But he knows what his role is as the veteran of the group.

“Keep fighting, not show any signs of weakness, and try my best to not let it frustrate me,” Young said. “It’s hard, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to get these guys in this locker room better. It’s my job to help them along the way.”

The Sixers’ locker room after one recent loss wasn’t all that sour of an environment. But they obviously don’t want to make history. Their schedule seems to offer only two or three more opportunities to win a game, but they were in it until the closing moments on Monday in Indiana.

They don’t have much talent. But they haven’t let go of the rope.

“We win together and we lose together,” Brown said. “Our coaching staff bleeds with them when they lose. And that’s how we’re going down. That’s how we’re doing this.”

Rookie MCW’s Been Smooth In Rough Spot


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams talks about the challenges of being an NBA player

NEW ORLEANS — Philadelphia 76ers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams is getting his first taste of All-Star weekend. He will participate in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge tonight (9 p.m. ET, TNT) at the newly named Smoothie King Center.

It’s kind of an apt name for Carter-Williams, who’s been pretty smooth while being thrust into an awfully rough situation. The Sixers are an organization going through significant change, bottoming-out as a means to get better. As he’s come in, other players such as Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young are wondering if they’re on their way out.

But that’s life in the big city, and all-in-all, Carter-Williams has adjusted nicely, averaging 17.1 ppg, 6.5 apg and 5.4 rpg, making him the frontrunner to win the Rookie of the Year Award.

Carter-Williams, 22, lost just 13 games in his two seasons at Syracuse. The Sixers have lost 39 of the 54 games they’ve played. Still, the franchise has to be pleased with the progress of their baby-faced, No. 11 pick. Here he is in his own words following Friday’s Rising Stars practice:

NBA.com: You got off to such a fast start that this NBA thing might have seem easy. As the season has worn on, what’s been the toughest adjustment?

MCW: Probably just keeping your body healthy and trying to keep up with time management, and just the grind of competing every single game. There’s a lot of games so you really got to stay focused and stay competitive.

NBA.com: Have you gotten used to NBA travel?

MCW: I’ve forgotten my hotel room many a time, forgotten what city I’m in, what day it is, so it’s been tough.

NBA.com: Describe your level of play this season.

MCW: I think I’ve played pretty well. I’m definitely proud of myself of what I’ve already accomplished and I’m definitely still hungry to keep playing. It’s been unbelievable. It’s been such a fun year and I’m just looking forward to keep playing and keep pushing every single game.

NBA.com: Your first NBA game was against LeBron James and the two-time champion Miami Heat and you threw down 22 points with 12 assists and nine steals in a stunning victory. Was that the moment you realized that you belong in this league?


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams talks with GameTime after his big NBA debut

MCW: That was an unbelievable game for me. My first game was such a fun game, and I think after that game and after the Chicago game (26 points and 10 assists in third game of the season) I think I really knew I could play with these guys and make a difference on the floor.

NBA.com: Top draft picks aren’t typically used to losing in high school or college. The Sixers started the season surprising everybody at 3-0, but reality set in and the team has won only 12 games since. How have you handled the losing?

MCW: It’s been tough. I think I have to have a lot of patience. Not everyone comes into the league and right away and is on a winning team. I’ve talked to a lot of veteran guys that have been on great teams and they told they were on a bad team when they first came in, it wasn’t easy. But it makes for when you’re on a winning team so much better and you appreciate it more and you know it takes. That’s what I’m taking out of it.

NBA.com: Next season you will be joined by the No. 6 overall pick in 2013, center Nerlens Noel, who has been out all year recovering from ACL surgery. What have you seen from him as he works his way back and what your expectations for him?

MCW: He’s been putting in a lot of work and I give him a lot of credit for it. He works hard everyday trying to get back to 100 percent. He looks great, his body looks great, he’s working real hard. He can jump higher than ever and I know he’s itching to get on the floor, so I’m interested to see just how much he impacts us next year. I don’t think he’s going to play this year. His knee isn’t 100 percent yet, so his knee isn’t completely healthy. He owes that to himself and it’ll be better off for our team if he gets his knee completely healthy.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 4


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Suns, Lakers still talking Pau | Lakers may get Nash back tonight | Report: Sixers shopping Turner | Warriors put new arena plan on hold

No. 1: Report: Suns, Lakers still talking Gasol deal — A days worth of buzz around the Internet about a potential Pau Gasol-to-Phoenix trade hasn’t scuttled the deal. Phoenix remains open to acquiring the former All-Star big man, but is waiting to see how he mends from a strained groin before going further, writes Ramona Shelbourne and Marc Stein of ESPN.com. As well, the other option to consider for the Suns, writes Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, is how Gasol would fit into a pretty tight-knit bunch in Phoenix:

The Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns engaged in a fresh round of trade discussions Monday focused on four-time All-Star center Pau Gasol as both sides continued to assess their options in advance of the Feb. 20 trade deadline, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that, while there is substantive interest on both sides, it’s believed Suns officials want to see how Gasol recovers from a strained groin before deciding whether to take talks to the next level.

Gasol noted on his Instagram page that he’d received a PRP injection on his groin on Monday.

One option for the Suns, by virtue of their $5.6 million in available salary-cap space, is swapping the expiring contract of injured big man Emeka Okafor for Gasol, even though Okafor’s $14.5 million salary this season falls well shy of Gasol’s $19.3 million. A trade for Okafor’s expiring deal would save the Lakers $4.8 million, taking them less than $3 million away from the league’s luxury-tax threshold, meaning one more smaller deal before the trade deadline could conceivably be enough to take them out of tax territory completely.

Because the trade would not bring the Lakers all the way under the luxury tax, sources said L.A. remains insistent on getting back draft picks or young players in addition to salary cap savings for the 33-year-old center.

The Lakers are also comfortable with keeping Gasol beyond the deadline to maintain as much financial flexibility for free agency this summer and beyond, sources said.

While it is attractive to try and get under the luxury tax threshold this season, it is not imperative, and the Lakers believe they have several other options to do so, sources said.

And here’s Coro’s report on how the Suns’ players are viewing potential trade talks:

The Suns are exploring many options for the Okafor trade chip, but Gasol leaked to light. Even with Gasol’s $19.3 million contract, the Suns could make the deal because of their cap space. But it would come at a cost of about $7 million for what the Suns would lose in Okafor contract savings and take on in prorated payroll.

The greater cost to weigh with Gasol, or any other deal, would be the effect on the team’s rhythm and chemistry with two months left. The Suns have risen from a last-place pick to the eighth-best NBA record somewhat because of how the team bonded on being young and lacking big-name stars. Gasol is a four-time All-Star who, at 33, is older than all of the Suns and currently is out because of a groin injury.

“I know he’s a great guy,” Suns guard Goran Dragic said. “He is not a troublemaker. He would be a good fit. You never know. He played for the Lakers so many years. They’ve got that three-angle offense, and it’s a totally different offense than we’ve got here. We have to run. We like to run.”

The attention is on Gasol, but the Suns have considered other players. Those have not been revealed, but they could involve other teams with no postseason aspirations. Philadelphia has Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner for youth. Milwaukee has Larry Sanders to fortify a front line’s defense and rebounding. Orlando has Arron Afflalo, a defensive, shot-making guard.

Falling short of a sure thing such as Kevin Love becoming available, there is no certainty to a midseason acquisition improving a 29-18 team.


VIDEO: Suns coach Jeff Hornacek talks about the team’s recent success

***

No. 2: Lakers get point guard reinforcements tonight?– A lack of depth at point guard — along with an injury to that Kobe Bryant guy — have played a big part in the Los Angeles Lakers’ freefall from fringe playoff contender to third-worst team in the Western Conference. Things might look up a little bit tonight in Minnesota (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) as point guards Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar might all be available to play. Trevor Wong of Lakers.com and ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin have more on the Lakers’ backcourt:

Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all participated in a second straight practice on Monday before the Lakers departed for their three-game road trip.

“They’re all good,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I think they’re all ready to go. There’s a possibility all three could play (at Minnesota).”

Blake addressed the media post practice and did not explicitly state he’d suit up at Minnesota, but acknowledged he’s felt much better with two consecutive days of practice.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I felt pretty good today. We’ll see how I feel when I wake up and go from there.”

Farmar, who has been out of action for one-month plus, echoed similar sentiments regarding his imminent return.

“I’m not sure about tomorrow,” Farmar said. “We’ll see. I’m available if they allow me (to play).”

Big man Pau Gasol will not play against the Wolves (strained right groin), which could also mean changes for the L.A. frontcourt, writes McMenamin:

The coach said he wondered if Nash, out since Nov. 10 with nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings, would ever make it back to the court.

“With the age and how his back is, yeah, I definitely [wondered],” D’Antoni said. “Again, it just shows his perseverance to overcome whatever just to play. He wants to play, obviously. And he’s done an unbelievable job to get himself ready up to this point and we’ll see how it goes.”

Gasol’s absence and the presence of the three point guards will present D’Antoni with lineup options. He said either Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill or Robert Sacre could fill in as the starting center.

The question remains whether Kendall Marshall, who has averaged 11.9 points and 11.5 assists in 15 games as the starting point guard, will suddenly find himself without a role.

“I think he knows he’s going to play,” D’Antoni said. “Whether he starts or whether he doesn’t, he’ll have to [get used to the fact that] it won’t be the same. He’s not going to get 35 minutes no matter what he does. So, that’s how the NBA is and he’ll have to keep carving his niche out. He’s played well, so he’s got to continue that.”

Kaman, who received a Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision in 10 of the Lakers’ 15 games in January, sympathized with the position Marshall is in.

“I think Kendall is kind of in a whirlwind right now, trying to figure out what to do,” Kaman said. “The poor guy has been doing it on his own for the last month and a half and now that everybody is back, he’s like, ‘What am I doing? What do I do?’”

For his part, the 11-year veteran Kaman said he has stayed ready to play.

“Unfortunately it comes with someone getting hurt before I have a chance to play, but it’s part of the game,” he said. “You kind of wait your turn.”


VIDEO: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni discusses the team’s injured point guards

***

No. 3: Report: Sixers shopping swingman Turner The Philadelphia 76ers are in the midst of a rebuilding season, but despite the struggles that come with that, swingman Evan Turner is enjoying his best season as a pro. Turner leads the Sixers in scoring (17.9 ppg), has delivered a couple of game-winning shots this season and generally is developing into a solid starter in the NBA. But Turner is also in the last year of his rookie contract and is hearing his name bandied about in trade talks. The Sporting NewsSean Devaney writes that several teams are inquiring about Turner, but his ability to potentially be an unrestricted free agent next summer might hold up any deals:

The Philadelphia 76ers, deep into a rebuilding project that kicked off last June on draft night with the trade of All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, have been stepping up their efforts to make a move before the trade deadline, and swingman Evan Turner has been at the forefront of those discussions, sources told Sporting News.

The Sixers are eager to net a draft pick for Turner—they’ve also shopped free-agent-to-be center Spencer Hawes and forward Thaddeus Young—and that has been a hang-up in their efforts to find a trade.

The problem, one league executive said, is that Turner can become a restricted free agent this summer—or unrestricted, if the Sixers decide not to extend the $8.7 million qualifying offer he is slated for this offseason. If Turner is to become an unrestricted free agent, trading for him now makes little sense.

.,.

The Thunder, who will own Dallas’ draft pick this year if it is outside of the Top 20, expressed interest in Turner earlier in the year. A source said, too, that Phoenix—which potentially has four first-round picks in the 2014 draft and would be willing to part with at least one—discussed Turner with the Sixers, but nothing solid resulted.

For Turner, now in his fourth season after having been the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, none of this comes as a surprise. Once the Holiday deal was announced, he knew the Sixers would be taking a step backward, and that he might not factor into the rebuilding plan.

That was confirmed this fall when not only did he fail to reach a contract extension with the team (players drafted in 2010 were extension-eligible this offseason), but there were not even any discussions between new Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie and Turner’s agent, David Falk, on a contract.

“I never expected to get a contract extension, especially when we switched GMs, you know?” Turner said. “I always said, Mr. Hinkie is going to do what he wants to do, and he has his own vision and everything like that. So when you trade an All-Star like Jrue, I mean, what occurs next isn’t going to surprise me. I was just trying my best to keep focused, keep helping the team win and getting better.”

Averaging 7.2 points as a rookie and 9.4 points in his second season caused him some anxiety—he was all too aware that he was already being labeled a disappointment and a bust, and he took that to heart.

“That’s what the No. 2 tag comes with,” he said. “Sometimes there are people who write stuff and say stuff that don’t even watch the game, you know what I am saying? I enjoyed my first two years.

Turner admits that dealing with the criticism was hard for him. He had been a star at Ohio State, and signed with Falk (who was retired) mostly because Falk had represented Michael Jordan. While Turner never expected to be Jordan, he did expect to be a star in the league.

“I was young,” he said. “When it came down to it, I got blamed for dang near everything. I wasn’t this, I wasn’t that. You become insecure about it.”

After the Sixers’ loss on the road to the Brooklyn Nets last night, Turner responded to the trade rumors with the following comment (per the Philadelphia Daily NewsBob Cooney):

“I really don’t read the paper; whatever is going to occur is going to occur,” said Turner, who is having his most productive season with a team-leading 18.1 points a game entering last night’s game against the Nets. “I just focus on the next day. That’s the honest-to-God truth. Until it happens, it’s nothing to really worry about.

“I bleed Sixers red, white, blue. At the end of the day, I never really worry about it. If something needs to be discussed, [his agent] will let me know. Other than that, you go with the flow and go about your business. Whatever happens, happens.”

***

No. 4: Warriors put new arena plans on hold Way back in May of 2012, Golden State announced it would be building a new arena on the San Francisco waterfront with hopes of opening it in 2017. Since then, renderings have been released and Warriors fan fervor over the new digs has been rising all along. Apparently, that excitement will have to be put on the shelf for a while, per Phillip Matier And Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle. The Warriors are halting plans on the arena for at least a year, if not longer:

The Golden State Warriors are putting their goal of opening a waterfront arena in San Francisco by 2017 on hold for a year – and maybe longer.

“It’s about getting it right, not about getting it done fast,” said Warriors President Rick Welts.

In the past 20 months, the team has produced three rough designs in an attempt to come up with one palatable to its prospective waterfront neighbors and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which must approve the deal. In the meantime, cost estimates for preparing Piers 30-32, on which the arena would sit, have doubled to $180 million.

The Warriors’ acknowledgement that a 2017 opening won’t happen comes just days before arena opponents are expected to turn in more than 15,000 signatures for a measure that would require the Warriors – and any other developer – to win voter approval to exceed current height limits along the waterfront. The deadline is Monday.

“We are going to ensure that the Warriors arena goes before voters,” said Jim Stearns, the political consultant who is running the campaign for a June vote with the backing of the Sierra Club and others opposed to the 18,000-seat arena.

Backers had to gather the valid signatures of 9,702 registered voters to qualify their measure for the ballot. “The fact that this could get the needed signatures in just three weeks is a reflection of the kind of passion that is behind it,” said former Mayor Art Agnos, the most prominent politico opposing the Warriors’ proposal.

Meanwhile, the team is in talks to stay at Oracle Arena in Oakland beyond the 2016-17 season.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Thunder star Kevin Durant maintains his position that he’s not a fan of the ‘Slim Reaper’ nickname … Nuggets coach Brian Shaw expects Andre Miller to talk to him — not the other way around — if he wants back on the team … Rookie phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo has a bright future, but how can he realize it? … Good look at what role Andrew Bynum might serve with the Pacers this season … Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey says the team isn’t ‘on the same page’, but he’s open to remaining in Detroit long-term, too … Austrailian Draft prospect Dante Exum already has ideas on where he’d like to play in the NBABrandon Knight has his first hero moment in Milwaukee as the Bucks top the Knicks

ICYMI of the Night: In case, for some reason, you forget just how freakishly athletic LeBron James can be, this alley-oop against Detroit last night was a great reminder …


VIDEO: LeBron James gets up for the power alley-oop slam

East Reserves: Hard To Spread Around

VIDEO: Debating the East All-Star reserves

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The starters for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans have been named. In the Eastern Conference, you voted in Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Nice work, though there are probably a couple of guards more deserving than Irving.

Over the next few days, East coaches will vote for the reserves, which will be announced next Thursday on TNT. Given the relative futility of most teams outside of Indiana and Miami, it’s difficult to name anybody that’s obviously an All-Star.

Really, if we were putting together a team of 12 guys to represent the strength of the East this season, we’d have six Pacers, five Heat, and an empty roster spot to represent the Raptors’ improvement after trading Rudy Gay.

The conference’s coaches will probably let some other guys in, though. They’re asked to vote for two backcourt players, three frontcourt players, and two wildcards. They can’t vote for their own guys.

For Jeff Caplan‘s look at the Western Conference bench, click here.

Here are my picks in the East …

THE BACKCOURT

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have carried the Toronto offense since the Gay trade. Lance Stephenson is the second-leading scorer and leading assist man for the best team in the league, while John Wall leads the conference in assists per contest. Arron Afflalo has put up strong numbers for a really bad team.

Ultimately, Lowry and Wall have been the two best point guards in the East, and have their teams in the top six in the standings.

My picks: Lowry and Wall.

THE FRONTCOURT

As the anchor of the best defense of the last 37 years, Roy Hibbert is the most obvious reserve pick in the East. Teammate David West, as another key cog for the league’s best team who ranks ninth (among players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes) in the East in PIE, also has a case.

Paul Millsap has been a beast for the team that currently ranks third in the conference, while Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Anderson Varejao all deserve consideration for their two-way contributions. Al Jefferson has carried the Charlotte offense and, oh yeah, there’s the Heat’s second most important player, Chris Bosh.

My picks: Bosh, Hibbert and Millsap.

THE WILD CARDS

In addition to the names listed above, Andre Drummond, Joe Johnson and Thaddeus Young all belong in the conversation, though if any of them were in the Western Conference, they could have booked their Feb. 14 trip to the Bahamas long ago.

Though it may compromise the aesthetics of the game, the best choices are the role-playing bigs. Noah is the best player on the fifth-best team in the conference and the Cavs have been much better with Varejao on the floor than they’ve been with him on the bench.

My picks: Noah and Varejao

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 5


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bynum-Gasol talk heats up | Rivers shoots down Griffin-’Melo rumor | Sanders, Neal have postgame beef

No. 1: Bynum trade keys on Sunday — The on-then-off trade talks involving the L.A. Lakers’ Pau Gasol and their former big man Andrew Bynum, now on the outs with the Cleveland Cavaliers, might just be on again. And by on, we mean heating up big-time Sunday, since that represents the best last day to cross all t’s and dot all i’s by the end of business Tuesday. Trades of this nature typically take 48 hours to be finalized with NBA headquarters, and Jan. 7 is the date by which Bynum’s contract calls for another $6 million guaranteed for the balance of the season. The Cavaliers would prefer not to throw good money after bad, of course, and the Lakers are focused on the luxury-tax benefits of acquiring and then shedding Bynum to reduce payroll. ESPN.com reported the revival of talks that previously were said to be squelched, and USA Today offered a little more context of a deal that – despite the big names involved – is about as sexy as an investor culling stock losers from his portfolio with the IRS in mind:

The Los Angeles Lakers big man once again is the subject of trade talks, this time with the possibility that he’d swap spots with former teammate Andrew Bynum in a possible deal that is of very little relevance to this particular season when it comes to the competitive landscape. This is about failed ventures on both sides and mutually-beneficial attempts to fix bad teams.

… [According] to a person with knowledge of the talks between the two teams, the only asset Cleveland has offered as of Saturday night is a second-round pick, and that won’t be enough to get this deal done.

… By getting rid of Gasol in exchange for Bynum, the Lakers would escape the luxury tax territory this season while creating some badly-needed distance between them and the ‘repeater’ billing that is followed by such a huge, well, bill. …

… Whether it’s a first-round pick that the Lakers are pushing for or a young player who could be part of their cloudy future, the point of it all is that they want something besides the savings to hang their collective hat on. It’s a staring contest in that regard: the Cavs are well aware that the financial factor looms largest for the Lakers, and the Lakers are banking on Cleveland not wanting to cut Bynum for nothing in return and realizing that Gasol on a team that entered the season with playoff expectations but is now 11-22 would be a huge boon.

***


VIDEO: Doc sounds off on trade rumors

No. 2: Rivers disses favorite sports network — So stupid. A non-story. And “that network.” If anyone had any doubts about how L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers felt about speculation on ESPN’s various outlets about a Carmelo Anthony-for-Blake Griffin trade, Rivers removed them prior to his team’s game against the Spurs in San Antonio Saturday. In fact, while Rivers always is quick with the comic line about “Doc” merely being a nickname, he deftly performed a little-known surgical process, a rumorectomy, for the assembled media who were poking and prodding, as noted by Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times. Let’s all remember, too, how Rivers reacted to comments by ESPN basketball guy Bill Simmons‘ analysis of the coach’s departure (“quit on” was the pivotal phrase) from the Boston Celtics last summer:

Rivers said the Clippers aren’t engaged in talks to trade Griffin for Anthony and aren’t going to trade their All-Star power forward.

“My whole issue with any of that … is that that network to me reports a story that they created and then they do reports on it for the next two days, on a story that they created,” Rivers said. “But it’s stupid.”

The ESPN report, which was attributed to unidentified league sources, said the Knicks have discussed proposing an Anthony-for-Griffin trade with the Clippers, and that Clippers management has discussed such a deal internally. But the report said the teams haven’t spoken to each other about a possible trade.

With Chris Paul out three to five weeks because of a separated right shoulder he suffered Friday night at Dallas, Griffin becomes even more key for the Clippers.
Griffin leads the Clippers in scoring (22.1) and minutes played (36.6), and he is second in rebounding (10.6) and assists (3.1).

Griffin, 24, is in the first year of a five-year, $95-million contract that pays him $16.4 million this season.

Rivers said he didn’t talk to Griffin about the ESPN report.

“I didn’t say a word about it,” said Rivers, who is also the Clippers’ vice president of basketball operations and has the last word on trades. “I just thought it was such a non-story.”

***

No. 3: Bucks’ Sanders, Neal squabble in locker roomBad things happen with bad teams, and based on the unseemly scene in the visitors’ locker room in Phoenix late Saturday, you could probably guess without a glimpse at the standings that the Milwaukee Bucks (7-26) lug around the NBA’s worst record. After a 116-100 loss at US Airways Center, Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders and Gary Neal got into what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel termed a “bitter argument,” with Neal “going” where few in the fraternity of millionaire athletes dare to go: attacking Sanders’ new contract extension (which doesn’t even kick in till next season). “I earned my money. Why don’t you try it?” Neal said postgame in earshot of reporters, after Sanders questioned his attitude. Anyone paying attention to the Bucks this season could make a case that no one there – from the front office down – has been earning his salary, based on the results. Sanders’ notorious and YouTubed nightclub incident cost him 25 games with a hand injury, while Neal has underperformed and been criticized for selfish play since arriving as a free agent from San Antonio. Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel was there to chronicle some of the dreary ugliness:

It was the latest meltdown for a Bucks team that dropped to a 7-26 record as it lost for the second time in three games on its western swing.

And there were plenty of problems during the game as the Bucks committed a season-high 26 turnovers leading to 38 points by the Suns (20-12).

Bucks teammates did their best to downplay what was an ugly scene in the visitors’ locker room.

“Oh no, we’re good,” Bucks guard O.J. Mayo said. “A little team bonding, that’s all. A little kumbaya, man.

“It’s all good. When things aren’t going well, that’s when the real men reveal their true colors. Are you a grinder? Are you going to roll your sleeves up and get it done?

“People handle it different ways. We’re searching [for] ‘what do we need to do to get it going.’ “

.***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The downside of tanking (well, one more of the many downsides): Promising young players have to endure hard times. Pricey veterans often get shed by teams focused on the future, but a young desirable such as Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Young winds up waiting for the 76ers’ plan to kick into action. … Veteran big man Kurt Thomas would like to get back in, yet at age 41, even he is turning up his nose at his old team in New York. … We’ll leave the digit jokes to you, but can report that Portland’s Nicolas Batum has broken the middle finger on his non-shooting (left) hand. He might not miss any time. … Veteran Hedo Turkoglu, who has played just one more game than Derrick Rose since the end of the 2011-12 season, might be on the Lakers’ radar. Turkoglu, 34, was waived Friday by Orlando, with the Magic saving half of his $12 million by shedding him now. Turkoglu reportedly is eschewing opportunities in Europe for a chance to stay in the NBA.

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Countdown On Asik Deal Continues

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

HANG TIME, TEXAS — If all goes according to plan, Omer Asik’s time in limbo should end soon as the Rockets sift through final offers for the disgruntled big man. The team has reportedly set a self-imposed deadline of Thursday.

According to various reports and different sources, the most likely places for the 27-year-old center to wind up in are Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland or Atlanta, with the Knicks making a late and outside bid to get into the mix.

Asik — who had a breakout year as a starter a year ago averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds– has wanted out of since the moment that Dwight Howard chose Houston in July and the Rockets have been looking to move him since coach Kevin McHale’s experiment with a Twin Towers type lineup ended on Nov. 13.

General manager Daryl Morey spread the word that he would entertain offers from Dec. 15-19 and make his choice. The reason for that narrow window is that Dec. 15 was the first date that players acquired during the offseason were eligible to be traded. Dec. 19 is the last date that any players obtained by the Rockets would be able to be dealt again at the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

Reports have had the Rockets seeking everything from a pair of first-round draft picks to forward Jeff Green of the Celtics to forward Paul Millsap of the Hawks.

Millsap is believed in many circles to be the Rockets’ No. 1 target, a perfect fit to play next to Howard on the front line. But the Hawks may be reluctant to surrender a high-return player after they just signed Millsap over the summer to a salary cap-friendly two-year deal for $19 million.

Discussions of Asik going to the Cavaliers for Anderson Varejao have supposedly cooled in recent days with Cleveland not warm to the idea of paying Asik’s $15-million salary next season.

The top two suitors could be the Celtics and the Sixers. That could produce a three-way deal.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics have entered the names of Green and Brandon Bass into discussions. The Sixers’ most likely to be traded are Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner.

While Green is averaging more than 16 points and four rebounds a game for Boston, the 12-14 Celtics, despite leading the Atlantic Division, are in a rebuilding mode. It wouldn’t hurt to unload a contract that still has $18.4 million due through 2016. If Hawes makes his way to Houston, he could come off the bench at center and also be valuable to the Rockets as a “stretch-four” with his ability to shoot from the perimeter.

Sources around the league have indicated the Rockets would be willing to include point guard Jeremy Lin in any trade. But the fact that he is due virtually the same $15 million pay as Asik next season is a heavy burden for any one team to absorb. That would probably mean a three-team deal to make it happen.

However, if the Rockets were able to move both Asik and Lin and take back only expiring contracts and draft choices, it is possible they could have enough salary cap space to offer another max-level contract to a free agent next summer.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Celtics getting in Asik trade mix? | Granger, Pacers set return date | Dalembert’s role dwindling in Dallas | Lin to miss next game

No. 1: Report: Celtics getting into Asik sweepstakes? — In case you missed it over the weekend, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled their name out of the hat as a team interested in acquiring Rockets center Omer Asik. (Basically, the Cavs would be interested in being part of a three-team deal for Asik, but don’t want him coming to Cleveland.) So where will Asik end up? ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that the Boston Celtics have emerged as a potential suitor for Asik, joining the Philadelphia 76ers (who remain the favorites to land Asik):

There is no hard proof yet to support the theory — first presented in this tweet from my USA Today colleague Sam Amick — that the Houston Rockets already have a trade framework in place to solve their Asik conundrum and are only waiting to see if someone else out there steps up to beat the mystery offer between now and Houston’s self-imposed Thursday deadline to deal Asik.

However …

While strong rumbles persist that the Philadelphia 76ers are the team most likely to go along with such an arrangement, given the close ties between Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Philly counterpart Sam Hinkie, there’s fresh talk in circulation about another potential co-conspirator.

The Boston Celtics.

The advice offered to us on Sunday was stern: Keep an eye on Boston. The Celtics possess two players in different salary ranges that would presumably fit in useful ways next to Dwight Howard: Jeff Green and Brandon Bass. The Celts also have a spare first-round draft pick or two to plug into any trade equation to sweeten the deal for Houston, amid rising suspicions around the league that Morey’s Rockets are going to find a way to come out of the Asik saga with at least one future first.

The same Rockets who happen to have a GM (Morey) and coach (Kevin McHale) who have long-standing relationships with Celts president Danny Ainge.

So, yes, I’d say you should keep an eye on Boston.

Question here that must be asked loudly: Can Houston, in whichever Asik trade it ultimately chooses, really afford to take back a player possessing substantial long-term money like Green (two seasons at $18.4 million after this one) or Philly’s Thaddeus Young (two seasons at $19.4 million after this one) when it knows it’s going to have to give an extension bump to Chandler Parsons as soon as Parsons is eligible for the raise his play merits via extension?

Which is another way of saying you shouldn’t be surprised if Young gets routed to a third team should the Rockets and Sixers officially join forces to construct an Asik deal, as some observers have been expecting all month.


VIDEO: TNT analyst David Aldridge addresses the Omer Asik rumors and more

***

No. 2: Pacers, Granger set target return date — Just last week — before the much-anticipated Heat-Pacers showdown in Indianapolis — injured Pacers forward Danny Granger said he pondered returning for that game, but ruled it out so as not to put the spotlight on himself over the team. On Friday, Granger ruled himself out of the Pacers’ home game with the Charlotte Bobcats, but said he was closer than ever to a return. Indiana now is hoping for an early Christmas present as Granger is planning on a Dec. 20 return, writes Scott Agness of Pacers.com:

Might this finally be the week that Danny Granger makes his anticipated season debut? That’s the plan right now for the Pacers.

“I was waiting for the Danny Granger [question],” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said more than four minutes into a post-practice interview. “I finally have news on Danny Granger. We’re going to target next Friday for a hopeful return to see how this week of practices goes.”

Until now, the Pacers stayed away from publicly announcing a timeline after the initial diagnosis. Now, both Vogel and Granger appear giddy about the possibility of him playing Friday when the Houston Rockets are in town. Coincidentally, the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.

“I had a good practice today,” Granger said. “It’s really just fine-tuning my game, honestly. Making sure my timing is on, making sure I know all the plays. That’s a big thing when you haven’t played in awhile. I know the plays but I haven’t repped through the plays like all the other guys constantly get a lot of reps through the plays.”

Granger said he and coach Vogel are always on the same page, and that both agreed that he needed more practice time before putting on his game uniform.

“Me and Frank talk after practice — he’ll call me in or he’ll call me over,” said Granger. “Just because I said ‘Hopefully I can play on Friday,’ I was thinking hopefully. And then when I came and I practiced, and I dribbled the ball off my foot twice and I shot an airball on a layup, me and Frank met again and I’m like, ‘I’m not ready,’ and he was like, ‘No, you’re not ready yet.’ ”

Now in his ninth NBA season, Granger has typically been a slow starter. It’s fair to expect that again, though he doesn’t anticipate it.

“In the past in preseason, I always would tinker with different things in my game,” he explained. “I always used it as a time to do the things you’re good at, but just experiment with other things and notoriously I would always have a slow start. I’m trying to avoid that this year.

“I don’t know if (fans) think we’re just machines that you just turn on and all of sudden we’re playing in rhythm. Every basketball player is a rhythm player. It’s takes awhile. That’s why we have a preseason.

“I’m hoping the practices that I’ve been getting now, and the playing that I’ve been getting now is very similar to what I will do in a game. Obviously, when you get in a game you got adrenaline that you have to account for and that changes things a little bit. Just me practicing fullcourt, playing everyday, playing one-on-one, shooting a lot of shots, doing ball handling drills, I’m hoping that’ll be my time where I can get some of these kinks out.”

The team’s medical staff continues to keep a close eye on Granger.

“They’re not out of it,” said Vogel. “They’re still very much involved because part of the final process of recovery from a calf strain is, is his body going to respond to the extra work? Is the calf going to flare up? They’re still checking it everyday and not ruling him 100 percent healthy until they see he can go through added work and the calf can still respond the right way.”

Should Granger step onto the floor Friday night, as hoped, it’ll be his first regular-season appearance since March 3, when he left the game (also against the Bulls) due to soreness in his left knee, which kept him out all but five games last season. The knee is really good, according to Granger, and he’s motivated more than ever to return to game action.


VIDEO:
Danny Granger addresses is potential return on Dec. 20

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No. 3: Dalembert’s role dwindling in Dallas — The Dallas Mavericks signed big man Samuel Dalembert in the offseason in hopes of seeing him provide the kind of interior defense and paint protection that Tyson Chandler gave the Mavs during their run to the title in 2011. That hasn’t been the case so far, though, as Dalembert has gone from starting 16 of Dallas’ first 19 games to seeing his minutes cut as coach Rick Carlisle has given DeJuan Blair the starting job. Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News has more on how the return of Brandan Wright may force Dalembert even further out of the rotation:

The return of Brandan Wright had a ripple effect on the Mavericks’ interior rotation, though it’s difficult to draw conclusions from Saturday night because Dallas was playing without Dirk Nowitzki.

On this night, at least, Samuel Dalembert dropped to fourth-team center, behind starter DeJuan Blair, second-teamer Brandan Wright and late third-quarter sub Bernard James.

Dalembert started 17 of Dallas’ first 18 games, but Saturday marked Blair’s sixth straight start. Dalembert did not play.

Dalembert, who as a free agent signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract over the summer, is averaging 6.7 points and 6.5 rebounds.

“He’s shown his moments,” said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “I just don’t think he’s been in a position where he’s been expected to perform to help a team win since his first or second years.”

Last season, the Mavericks signed Chris Kaman to a one-year, $8 million contract and anointed him the starter. Though he wound up starting 52 games, his minutes decreased as the season wore on and so, it appeared, did Kaman’s effort level.

In other words, rather than inspiring Kaman, cutting his minutes seemed to have an adverse effect. Are the Mavericks concerned the same will happen with Dalembert?

“No, I think Sam is the exact opposite,” Cuban said. “Sam is figuring out how to contribute. I think he’s disappointed in himself. I don’t think he thinks he’s playing well. He wants to get better.”

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No. 4: Rockets’ Lin expected to miss game vs. Bulls — A knee injury in November kept point guard Jeremy Lin from the Rockets’ lineup for six games. Although he returned to play in Friday’s win over Golden State, he suffered a back injury when he collided with Warriors big man Andrew Bogut. Lin sat out last night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings and seems sure to miss Houston’s date with Chicago this week, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets’ injury issues took another unexpected turn when guard Jeremy Lin developed back spasms following a collision Friday with Golden State center Andrew Bogut.

Lin missed Sunday’s loss and is expected to be out Wednesday against Chicago, having played two games after missing six with a sprained and bruised right knee.

Lin said he ran into Bogut on a screen in the first half, but kept playing. He played 21 minutes in that game and returned in the final minutes after Pat Beverley fouled out.

In addition to leaving the Rockets short-handed, it took away another game for Lin to work his way back from the six games out.

“I only played him 14 or 15 minutes in Portland because you could tell he was out of rhythm,” assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said. “The game kind of dictates your substitution patterns, … but I certainly made an effort against Golden State to get him more minutes. He needs to get in a rhythm.

“We’re disappointed that he’s out, not nearly as disappointed as he is, I’m sure.”

Guard James Harden left Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle. With Lin and center Omer Asik out, Rockets players have been out for a combined 43 games. The entire roster was out for a combined 50 games last season.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Heat might be looking to work a trade for the Celtics’ Jordan Crawford … Good look at how rookie point guard Trey Burke has proven to be worth the Draft-day gamble for the Jazz … Magic rookie swingman Victor Oladipo got some preseason pointers from fellow a guy he long looked up to: fellow D.C.-area star Kevin Durant

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: You all know we love Kenneth Faried around these parts, so here’s the latest must-see alley-oop from “The Manimal” last night …


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried gets up high to finish off the Randy Foye alley-oop