Posts Tagged ‘Timberwolves’

Morning Shootaround — July 30


VIDEO: Members of Team Africa and Team World have arrived in Johannesburg

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ujiri leads the charge in Africa | Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves | Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’

No. 1: Ujiri leads the charge in Africa — Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is at the forefront of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders initiative in Africa. It’s more than just an obligation from the Ujiri, it’s a passion project years in the making. Our very own Shaun Powell is on the ground in Johannesburg and captured the essence of Ujiri’s mission to serve as an ambassador for the game, and sports in general, on his native continent:

For anyone who might ask why the general manager of the Toronto Raptors is spending his summer threatening to go hoarse half a world away, well, you must know this about Masai Ujiri. When he’s in charge of an NBA franchise, he’s in his element, because his peers find him very astute and a few years ago voted him the game’s top executive. But when he’s developing basketball and teaching life skills to children and young adults in Africa, he’s in his homeland and his own skin, and there is no greater reward or satisfaction or privilege. When and if he wins his first NBA title, that might pull equal to this.

Might.

He was in Senegal last week, holding basketball clinics through his foundation, Giants of Africa. Next up: Stops in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and also Nigeria, his birthplace. He’ll spend three weeks on this side of the Atlantic with the hope of discovering the next Dikembe Mutombo from these clinics, but would gladly settle for the next surgeon.

This weekend is unique and special because here on Saturday the NBA will stage an exhibition game for the first time in Africa, and the participating NBA players and coaches are warming up by serving as clinic counselors.

One is Chris Paul, and the cheers he gets from campers are the loudest, but even an eight-time All-Star knows he’s not the star of the home team, not on this soil.

Ujiri ricochets from one group of campers to another like a blind bumblebee, carrying an air horn that blows when one session ends and another begins. After five non-stop hours of this he is asked if he’s tired, and no, he’s just amused at the question. Who gets tired from doing their passion?

“I look at these kids and they remind me of me of when I was a young kid,” he says. “I see me through them. All they need is a chance.”

It all runs with precision at this clinic, how the students are disciplined and determined, how their enthusiasm rubs off on the NBA players and coaches, how Ujiri’s vision seems so … right. As Ujiri gave pointers, a Hall of Famer who’s also the pioneer of African basketball stood off to the side, shaking his head, astonished at the spectacle and the man in charge.

“Masai has a lot of passion for this, and helping Africa year after year speaks about the person he is,” says Hakeem Olajuwon. “He is a prince. That’s what he is.”

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No. 2: Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves — Kevin Garnett won’t be the only “old head” in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ locker room this season. He’ll have some company in the form of veteran point guard Andre Miller, who agreed to a one-year deal to join the renaissance KG, Flip Saunders and Ricky Rubio are trying to engineer with one of the league’s youngest rosters. Miller’s role is more than just that of an adviser, though, writes Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune:

It was less than two weeks ago that Flip Saunders, Wolves president of basketball operations, said his team might be in the market for a veteran point guard.

He has arrived.

A source confirmed a report that Wolves had come to an agreement on a one-year contract with veteran Andre Miller, who visited the Wolves on Wednesday.

It marks an evolution in Saunders’ thinking. Immediately after moving up to draft former Apple Valley star Tyus Jones late in the first round of the draft, Saunders sounded like he might be happy with Jones as Ricky Rubio’s backup. But the fact that Rubio is coming off ankle surgery and Jones is a rookie ultimately changed Saunders’ mind.

“You don’t want to put the pressure on the young guys so much,” Saunders said two weeks ago. “Hey, listen, we’re always looking to upgrade. It could happen.”

And it did. Miller, 39, is nearing the end of a long career, but his experience should help both Rubio and Jones while giving the Wolves some peace of mind. Originally drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 1999 draft by Cleveland, the 6-2 Miller has averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 assists over 16 seasons while playing for seven teams. Last season between 81 games in Sacramento and Washington, Miller averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 assists per game.

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No. 3: Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’: — There is no need for an autopsy on Wes Matthews‘ exit from Portland via free agency. He’s a Dallas Maverick now and apparently for good reason. Matthews told Jason Quick of the Oregonian that the Trail Blazers never made an offer to keep him, allowing the injured free agent to take the offer from the Mavericks and move on after being an integral part of the operation in Rip City.:

He had hoped he could return to the city that had embraced him, to the team with players he considered brothers, to the franchise where he grew into one of the NBA’s most well-rounded and respected shooting guards.

But in the end, after five seasons, the feeling was not mutual. He was greeted with silence. No phone call. No text messages. The Blazers never made an offer.

“I was pissed off,” Matthews said. “I felt disrespected.”

He believed he was a viable option for teams, even as he continued to rehabilitate a ruptured left Achilles tendon suffered in March. In the days leading up to free agency, Matthews’ camp released video to ESPN showing him jogging in place, utilizing lateral movement and shooting jumpers. He was, he wanted the league to know, ahead of the eight-month recovery time estimated by doctors.

A story also leaked that Matthews expected negotiations to start at $15 million a season, or almost $8 million more than he made last year.

It was a ghastly number for the Blazers, even though they could technically afford him. Paul Allen is the richest owner in sports, but after a lost era during which he paid more than a combined $100 million to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, only to see their knee injuries become chronic, Allen was wary of paying top dollar to a player coming off a serious injury.

The only chance the Blazers would pursue Matthews, top executive Neil Olshey later explained, was if free agent LaMarcus Aldridge chose to return, maintaining Portland as a playoff-caliber team. When Aldridge chose San Antonio, the Blazers decided to rebuild. Paying big money to a 29-year-old shooting guard coming off major surgery didn’t make long-term sense.

“I was angry,” Matthews said, “but I also realize that this is a business.”

He figured there would be trying times, with harsh realities, after he suffered his injury during the third quarter of a March 5 game against Dallas. Achilles injuries not only test one’s body, they challenge the mind.

He didn’t expect one challenge to come from the team to which he gave so much of his heart, so much of his sweat. Portland’s silence meant he was losing the greatest comfort of his career: a stable starting lineup, an adoring fan base and a rising profile.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chuck Hayes is headed back to Houston on a partially guaranteed one-year deal … Tyus Jones, the hometown kid, is leading the summer caravan for the Minnesota Timberwolves … A couple of Trail Blazers are going a bit Hollywood this summer … Amir Johnson was convinced Celtics fans would love him before he joined the team

Morning shootaround — June 29


VIDEO: The Lakers’ selected D’Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor in the NBA Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers boxed into a big man box? | Dollars and sense for LeBron | Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota | Ginobili will take his time making up his mind

No. 1: Lakers boxed into a big man box?  The selection of D’Angelo Russell on Draft night was celebrated by Los Angeles Lakers’ fans, luminaries and pundits alike. But did that risky move, passing up Duke’s low-post load Jahlil Okafor in favor of Russell, come at a larger price than expected? Marc Gasol has already made it clear that he is not interested in following in the footsteps of big brother Pau in a Lakers uniform. So that leaves slimmer pickings than expected for the Lakers (and Kobe Bryant) in free agency. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times explains:

The Lakers have enough money for only one big-name free agent, gathering about $23 million in spending power after declining the $9-million option on free-agent center-forward Jordan Hill in a couple of days. Aldridge would make almost $19 million next season after pulling down $16.3 million last season.

The Lakers’ only big men going into free agency are Tarik Black and Robert Sacre after they presumably make the latter’s sub-$1-million contract guaranteed by Tuesday’s deadline.

They boxed themselves into a big-man corner by passing on Duke center Jahlil Okafor to draft Russell, putting the Ohio State point guard next to promising Jordan Clarkson while setting up the Lakers’ backcourt “for the next 10 years,” according to a near-giddy team source.

Perhaps a quick shot of reality is needed.

The Lakers have had problems getting free agents to take their money in recent years. Dwight Howard spurned them for less money in Houston, Carmelo Anthony said thanks but no thanks, and Pau Gasol took less to go to Chicago.

The only big name they signed lately was Kobe Bryant, who accepted a two-year, $48.5-million extension in 2013 before returning from a torn Achilles’.

The Lakers need a Plan B if Aldridge says no. Two teams from his home state, San Antonio and Dallas, will reportedly court him too.

It would take some persuasion to get Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to take less money and leave L.A.’s more talented team. The Lakers love his rebounding and shot-blocking, like many teams, and Dallas will also recruit him heavily.

It’s harder to figure what to make of Love, who had an off year in Cleveland and said in February there was not a scenario where he’d play for the Lakers. He might meet with them next week even if it’s only a ploy to ensure a maximum offer from the Cavaliers, reportedly the favorites to retain him.

Marc Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation. Versatile big man Greg Monroe, oft-injured Brook Lopez and his workman-like brother, Robin, are other alternatives at center.

If the Lakers strike out, they could try re-signing Hill for less and chase swingman Jimmy Butler, who could ease into the hole vacated soon by Bryant. The problem is Chicago’s expected action of matching any offer sheet the restricted free agent signs.

Whatever happens, it’s simple table-setting for a year from now. The Lakers will have double the fun when Bryant’s contract is off the books ($25 million next season) and the salary cap jumps from $67 million to about $90 million with the NBA’s gigantic new TV deal.

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No. 2:Dollars and sense for LeBron — Cleveland Cavaliers fans need to get used to hearing the words LeBron James and free agency in the same sentence. They’ll be married this time of year, every year, at least for the foreseeable future. Our very own John Schuhmann of NBA.com explains how the free agent dollars will make sense for the best player on the planet:

News broke Sunday afternoon that LeBron James has reportedly informed the Cleveland Cavaliers that he will opt out of the second year of the contract he signed last season.

This news was expected and doesn’t mean that James is leaving Cleveland again. All indications are that the best player in the world intends to re-sign with the Cavs. But even if he wants to stay with the wine and gold for the rest of his career, he’s probably going to become a free agent next summer and the summer after that, too. And it’s mostly about the money.

Free agency does give James some leverage. It keeps the pressure on Cavs management to do everything it can to give him the best supporting cast possible.

It also makes James a richer man.

James’ option for the 2015-16 season was for a little less than $21.6 million. A new contract this summer (for a player with at least 10 years in the league) could start at at maximum of about $22.0 million. (We’ll know the exact number when the 2015-16 salary cap is officially announced on or around July 8.) That’s not a huge raise (especially when you take income taxes into account), but it’s worth the paperwork.

James will have much more incentive to become a free agent in 2016 and 2017, when the salary cap is expected to make two big jumps, thanks to the new TV contract.

Assuming James signs another two-year, max deal with an option in the second year (a one-plus-one contract) again this summer, the ’16-17 option would be for about $23.0 million. But a new, max contract next summer could have a ’16-17 salary of more than $29 million.

That deal could have a second-year option (for ’17-18) of about $30.5 million. But a new, max contract in 2017 could have a starting salary of more than $35 million.

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No. 3: Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota — Kevin Garnett and Flip Saunders aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be back in Minnesota to oversee the rebuilding job that is underway with young talent like Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, new No. 1 Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and hometown kid Tyus Jones as the building blocks. Charley Walters of TwinCities.com provides some context:

Although it hasn’t been announced, pending free agent Kevin Garnett definitely will re-sign with the Wolves, and Saunders definitely will return as coach.

Terry Kunze, who was a Timberwolves season-ticket holder for 25 years, knows basketball. He figures the Wolves, who won just 16 games last season, were smart to draft Jones.

“I knew they would get Jones,” Kunze said. “The Wolves aren’t stupid — he’s a local kid and he’ll sell tickets. The best thing about losing 66 games is that 18,000 people watch.

“I think (the Wolves) are going to sell a lot of tickets. Tyus Jones has a big name, and I think he’s a good player. He’s under control.”

Kunze was a star guard for 1961 undefeated state champion Duluth Central, went on to start for the Gophers, was drafted by the then-St. Louis Hawks but opted for Europe for three times the salary, then played for the ABA’s Minnesota Muskies, then was a Gophers assistant who recruited Kevin McHale before coaching at East Carolina, then became head coach of the Minnesota Fillies women’s team.

“I like the pick of Towns,” said Kunze, 71, who resides in Fridley. “It was a good (Wolves) draft not only for players, but for public relations.

“What’s the most important thing for a pro franchise? Sales No. 1, winning No. 2. That’s true.”

Jim Dutcher, who coached the Gophers to the 1982 Big Ten championship before becoming a peerless Big Ten TV analyst, said of the Wolves’ drafting of Towns and Jones, “They couldn’t have scripted it better.

“They got the player they wanted in Towns,” Dutcher said.

Saunders had Dutcher, 82, watch some private workouts of draft prospects.

“And being able to tie in Tyus Jones, he’s a perfect fit for them with (Ricky) Rubio‘s health and his end-of-game turnovers in critical situations,” Dutcher said. “In critical situations, they’re directly opposite — Tyus is strongest in key situations at end of games, and to have a young point guard with his potential, particularly a kid from Minnesota, it couldn’t have been better for the Timberwolves.”

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No. 4: Ginobili will take his time making up his mind (and will do it in Spanish) — Manu Ginobili will inform the world of his intentions — to either come back for another season in San Antonio or to retire — on his own clock. And he’ll do so in his native tongue, via the Argentinian newspaper “La Nacion” in self-written letter. Take that LeBron James. Mike Monroe of the Express News has the details:

Spurs fans anxious to know if Manu Ginobili will be back for another season may want to brush up on their Spanish and bookmark the website for the Argentine newspaper, ‘La Nacion.’

The 37-year-old guard on Sunday told the Express-News he will announce his decision in a self-written sports column in ‘La Nacion’ “when the time comes.”

Presumably, that time will be before he hits the free agent market at the stroke of midnight, EDT, on Tuesday.

Ginobili acknowledged after the Game 7 loss to the Clippers that ended the Spurs season on May 1 that retirement “could happen easily.” He pointed out that the effects of a pro career that began in Argentina in 1995 has taken a physical toll that sometimes makes him question his ability to compete.

“Some days you feel proud and think you did great and other games I say, ‘What the hell am I doing here when I should stay home and enjoy my kids?’ ”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mason Plumlee could be the perfect fit for the Trail Blazers … The challenge issued in Orlando, Magic need to dare free agents to be different this summer … Houston rookie Sam Dekker‘s not too big to mow his Mom’s lawn … Time for ‘Melo to put up or shut up? …

Morning Shootaround — April 12



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Clippers get tough | Gasol goes down | Surgery for Rubio | Rose is blooming | Cousins, Gay sidelined

No. 1: Clippers grit and grind over Grizzlies — There’s nothing like a big win in front of the boss and that’s what the Clippers got with first-year team owner Steve Ballmer enjoying himself from courtside at Staples Center. There’s nothing like a big win coming down the stretch and that’s what the Clippers got with a victory that jumped up to the No. 3 seed in the West. And there’s nothing like using your opponent’s style against him, which is what the Clippers did by getting tough in their 94-86 victory over the Grizzlies. Ben Bolch of of the Los Angeles Times had the blow-by-blow:

“We just had to grit and grind a little bit,” Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick said, using the catchphrase favored by Memphis.

The Clippers (54-26) moved into a three-way tie with the Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs for the second-best record in the West, though the Grizzlies would own the No. 2 seeding by virtue of holding the tiebreaker that puts them atop the Southwest Division.

The Clippers hold a tiebreaker with San Antonio by virtue of having a better record against West opponents, provided the Spurs do not win their division.

“I guess it’s more confusing now,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers joked of the playoff picture. “When you figure it out, let me know.”

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No. 2: Gasol joins Grizzlies’ growing injury list — It was painful and difficult for the Grizzlies to lose a vital clash — aren’t they all right now? — with the Clippers as they jockey for position in the jam-packed Western Conference playoff race. But more significant may have been center Marc Gasol leaving the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle. He joins Mike Conley and Tony Allen on the injury list with the start of the playoffs just a week to go. Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal has the details:

Falling in the Western Conference standings might now be the least of the Grizzlies’ concerns.

They keep losing key players to injury.

Grizzlies center Marc Gasol suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter Saturday night and didn’t return in a 94-86 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.

Gasol logged nearly 10 minutes. He tried to continue playing but eventually asked out of the game and went to the locker room for treatment. Gasol returned to the Grizzlies’ bench in the second quarter. However, the 7-footer never re-entered the game and was ruled out at halftime

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No. 3:  Ankle surgery shuts down Rubio — Though there were a couple of big pluses to the Timberwolves’ season — Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine — the season is coming to a painful finish. In the same week that center Nikola Pekovic went under the knife, guard Ricky Rubio now faces surgery for an ankle injury that has nagged him for months. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune tells the tale:

That’s the ankle Rubio so badly sprained in a game at Orlando at season’s beginning, an injury that has never really healed even though he played 22 games on it this season before he was essentially shut down for the season nearly a month ago.

Rubio visited a specialist in Los Angeles when the Wolves played the Lakers there Friday. The Southern California Orthopedic Institute’s Dr. Robert Ferkel will perform surgery in Van Nuys, Calif., that’s intended to give Ferkel and the Wolves’ medical staff more information about what is still causing Rubio soreness and pain.

Wolves coach and chief basketball executive Flip Saunders said the surgery will “clean up” tissue around the ankle and give everyone involved a better look.

“We don’t know how minor or major it is,” Saunders said before Saturday’s 110-101 loss at Golden State in which Wolves rookie Zach LaVine scored a career-high 37 points and Warriors MVP candidate Stephen Curry again dazzled with circus shots and 34 points of his own. “It wasn’t responding the way we’d expect it to respond. We’ll know more after they get in there.”

The Wolves won’t know a recovery timetable or an expected return to basketball work until after the surgery. Rubio said recently he is fully committed to getting healthy so he can play again for a Wolves team that’s invested $55 million in him for the next four seasons.

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No. 4: Rose is looking Bullish — With the playoffs fast approaching, the Bulls need Derrick Rose to round back into his All-Star form and their franchise player took another step Saturday night. Playing in his third game since Feb. 23 and first at home, Rose took another step on the road to recovery with a solid performance in a win over the Sixers, and Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com was there to see it:

“Every game I play is a stride,” Rose said. “Every day I go in there and work out, do my rehab or training, it’s a stride. It’s a step forward. So every day is a positive day, even if I have a bad game or if I’m having a bad day, I try to erase it the next day.”

Rose has played better every time he has stepped on the floor this week since playing 19 minutes in Wednesday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic. The biggest difference in this contest is that Rose played more minutes — almost 29 — than the 20 he had been averaging in his first two games. Rose also got the feel of playing in the fourth quarter, something he hadn’t done in the past two contests.

He doesn’t seem to be surprised with how well he’s seeing the floor, despite the fact he has missed so much time over the past few years. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Saturday’s game marked just the fourth time in Rose’s career that he had at least 20 points, five assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers. It’s the first time he has accomplished that feat since the 2011-12 season.

“When you miss three years, damn near, you see everything,” Rose said. “I’m just being patient a little bit more and there’s no point in me forcing anything by the way that they’re playing me. They’re not double-teaming me, they’re letting me do whatever I want to do, it’s just all about me catching rhythm.”

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No. 5: Cousins, Gay done for the season — In reality the Kings have been in “wait-til-next-year” mode for quite some time, losing games, changing coaches twice and sinking back down toward the bottom of the standings. But coach George Karl seems to have made that official with the announcement that DeMarcus Cousins and probably Rudy Gay will join Darren Collison on the bench as the Kings play out the string on the season. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has the scoop:

DeMarcus Cousins (sore right foot), Rudy Gay (concussion) and Darren Collison (core muscle injury) have all been out, with Collison not playing since Feb. 5. Cousins has missed the last three games and Gay has missed five of the last six games.

“DeMarcus, I think, is done for the year,” Karl said. “I don’t know what’s going to be sent out but the report I got is it looks like they want him to stay off his legs for the rest of the year. I don’t think as an organization we’re going to take a chance on Darren. I would say Rudy is borderline out for the season, too. We’re hoping maybe for a game but I don’t think he’ll play tomorrow. Because he doesn’t play tomorrow, I think they’ll go into the protocol, the concussion protocol, that I don’t understand but I think it’s going to be difficult to get him in either game against the Lakers (next week).”

Cousins leads the Kings averaging 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds. The Kings are 4-16 this season without their All-Star center.

Gay is averaging 21.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in 68 games.

Collison, who had surgery to repair his injury last month, averaged 16.1 points and a team-high 5.6 assists in 45 games.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Word is the Knicks are already zeroing in on free agent Greg Monroe … Patrick Beverley is determined to return from wrist surgery to join Rockets in the playoffs … Brett Brown wants to see Joel Embiid play in the Summer League … Lakers plans to bring back Tarik Black next season … The Knicks and Magic make history with a historically bad quarter … Clippers pick Lester Hudson over Nate Robinson … It’s all over but the shouting for the once-great Heat.

Morning shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: Highlights from March 2 of all the action around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Harden humbles James, Cavs | Another blow for already bruised Bulls | Blazers’ Lillard back in rhythm | Warriors are true believers after Boston comeback

No. 1: Harden humbles James, Cavs — The real “King James” stood up Sunday. And the crown didn’t fit the head of LeBron James, not on this day and not with James Harden and the Houston Rockets prevailing in an overtime thriller that lived up to every second of the billed MVP battle between the superstars at the center of this epic race. Statement game? Absolutely. Harden said so and our very own Fran Blinebury weaves the tale of the rise of the man who would be (the new) king:

Rough. Tough. Physical. Contentious. Dirty.

“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.

“M-V-P.”

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.”

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks’ Bazemore blazing a new trail | Commissioner in favor of expanded All-Star rosters | KG slowly disappearing in Brooklyn | Timberwolves ready for Rubio’s return

No. 1: Hawks’ Bazemore blazing a new trail — Injuries to DeMarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha have opened on a door for Kent Bazemore, yet another amazing story for a franchise going through an amazing time (a 17-0 January and 19-game win-streak gives way to …?) for all involved. Bazemore gets more of the spotlight tonight in New Orleans, when the Hawks go for their 20th straight against the Pelicans, as Matt Winkeljohn explains in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

He excelled in the summer of 2012 at the Portsmouth Invitational for NBA candidates and the 6-foot-5, 201-pound guard/forward from Old Dominion heard from the Hawks after he went undrafted. They ended up bidding against Golden State for him and lost.

“We started tracking Ken back at Portsmouth and through the summer. He went to Golden State and we followed closely,” Hawks assistant general manager Wes Wilcox said. “He didn’t play much, but he played in the playoffs and defended well. He had a very successful summer league and a couple good stints in the D-League. Then, he got a run with the Lakers [after being traded in the middle of last season].

“Whenever a player shows success over a sustained period in [multiple] elements, that’s a good indicator. Plus, his background checked out … character, personality. We spend a great deal of time trying to identify character traits: grit, resilience, work rate, basketball intelligence, the desperation to be great …”

Bazemore has a more mixed memory of that playoff stint.

“In the first round against San Antonio, in Game 1, [Warriors guard] Klay Thompson was in foul trouble so I go in and guard Boris Diaw. They run a high pick-and-roll with him and Tony Parker,” he said. “I get a stop and make a layup with three seconds left to go up one.

“Then, [Manu] Ginobili drains this 3-pointer right in my face … so that was a very big scenario in my career. It helped me with getting my name out there, though.”

After joining the Lakers, Bazemore went off.

He played in 23 game and averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and shot 45.1 percent. He was good on 37.1 percent of his 3-pointers. And he defended.

“LA worked wonders for me,” he said. “I played so many minutes, actually got in the game flow, found out what it was like to guard the best player.”

After the Hawks out-bid others with a two-year, $4 million contract last summer, Bazemore had to not only get healthy, but tweak his game. He tore a tendon in a foot last season and had surgery over the summer. He has tried to change the ways he runs and jumps.

“[Hawks assistant] Ben Sullivan is my shooting coach. He’s helped a lot,” Bazemore said. “I was shooting off my inside two fingers.”

Sullivan said: “He had mechanical issues … it wouldn’t be the same shot every time. We tried to make sure he would have a motion that was repeatable. He’s put in a lot of work.”

This is nothing new for Bazemore, who is averaging 3.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and shooting 42.2 percent, including a 38.6 mark from beyond the 3-point line.

Despite growing up in Kenland, N.C., he was not recruited by Duke, North Carolina or any of college basketball’s big dogs.

“I was a huge N.C. State fan growing up … I wanted to go there like crazy and they never offered me,” he said. “I was a late bloomer. I redshirted [at ODU] and I didn’t score in practice until like February.

“I just always prided myself on working and told myself, ‘You have a chance, you have a chance.’ I just kept believing.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew previews tonight’s Hawks-Pelicans game

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 31


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

January fuels belief in Hawks | Love ready for rough return to Minnesota | Pistons players, fans bracing for Josh Smith’s return | Be careful what you say about DeMarcus Cousins

No. 1: January fuels belief in Hawks — The franchise-record 18 straight wins did it. Finally, the belief in the Atlanta Hawks has officially taken over the city. It’s inspired memories of a great times in Atlanta sports history — yes, there have been great times — a generation ago in another sport (baseball), when the imagination of an entire city became fans of a team that captured its fan base. It feels like 1991 all over again in Atlanta, according to longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley:

Ten years from now, we may recall this January the way we do the summer of 1991, when a team none of us had paid much heed grabbed us by our collars and made us watch. Ten years from now, we may remember these Hawks growing into a colossus – what other word fits an aggregation that’s 32-2 since Thanksgiving? – the way we beheld the Braves’s ascent from worst to first.

Ten years from now, we may look back on games like Friday’s in the manner we pressed that September series against the hated Dodgers into our memory books. Ten years from now, we could point to Friday as one of the moments when we knew – knew, as opposed to hoped – that all things were really and truly possible.

For the first time in 33 days and 17 games, the Hawks faced a fourth-quarter deficit. (That’s among the astonishing stats of this or any millennium.) Nothing was coming easy against an excellent Portland team, and matters were getting more difficult by the minute.

The splendid forward LaMarcus Aldridge was en route to scoring 37 points. The Hawks were missing free throws. DeMarre Carroll, their best perimeter defender, was too sore to play. Thabo Sefolosha, his replacement in the starting five, lasted 141 seconds before tweaking a hamstring. A team that has become a beautiful machine had developed a cough, and you couldn’t see all of the above and not think, “This could be the night the streak ends.”

But no. Five points down after three quarters, the Hawks won 105-99. Over those final 12 minutes, they outscored the Trail Blazers 15 baskets to seven, outshot them 71.4 percent to 30.4 percent. In their stiffest test since MLK Day, the Hawks played their best offense and their best defense in the fourth quarter, which is the time to do it.

We’ve spent the past month trying to identify the reasons the Hawks have done nothing but win, and here’s another: They trust themselves and their system. They know Mike Budenholzer’s offense will avail them of good shots if only they go where they’re supposed to go. They know they’re good enough shooters to make those shots. They also know – here’s the part that’s different from last season – that they can guard the opposition better than they’re being guarded.

There’s power in such faith. There’s the power that flows from believing you’re going to get better looks over 48 minutes than the other team, that you pass and shoot and defend too well to be cornered for long. At halftime the Blazers had made 55.1 percent of their shots to the Hawks’ 44.4 percent – and Portland’s lead was a skinny point. By game’s end the Hawks had shot the better percentage and driven the ball often enough to earn twice as many free throws. (Not a small consideration on a night when you miss eight of 22.)

Down to cases. On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Dennis Schroder drove for a layup. The 21-year-old had some moments when he looked his age, but he changed the game when it needed changing. He found Mike Scott on the left wing for the tying 3-pointer and found Kyle Korver at the top for the trey that made it 81-76. The Blazers would never lead again.


VIDEO: Kent Bazemore stepped up in a major way for the Hawks as they snagged their franchise-record 18th straight win

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 18



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe has thought of retirement | Warriors bounce back | Wiggins keeps rolling | Embiid worrying Sixers | Marshall tears ACL

 

No. 1: Retirement has crossed Kobe’s mind — It’s the word that the rest of the world jumped to as soon as he went to the floor back in April 2013 with the torn Achilles’ tendon. It’s the word that he’s been pushing back against over the long, difficult months of recovery. But now with a 32-minute per game restriction and still the pain that comes with trying to be his old self, Kobe Bryant admitted to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times that early retirement is a long-shot, but still a possibility:

“I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t crossed my mind,” he tells The Times. “Right now I doubt it … but anything’s possible.”
He emphasizes the right now (because, right now, the reality is so muddled and difficult that even the Black Mamba is having trouble wrapping his mind around it.

“My body is hurting like crazy, around the clock, and if I don’t want to do this anymore, I won’t do it,” he says.

Like an aging pitcher, he has been placed on a count, 32 minutes per game, which basically leaves him on the bench for one crucial stretch per night. Like a fragile relic, he also has been forbidden to play the second night of back-to-back games, which means he will miss at least seven more full games this season even though he’s not injured. There has even been talking of completely shutting him down in March if the Lakers fall completely out of playoff contention, which has essentially already occurred.

The most stunning part of these developments is that a man who has spent his entire 19-year Lakers career fighting to play every minute of every game — he even made two free throws after tearing his Achilles’ tendon, remember — has agreed to every current and potential restriction.
“I know everyone is surprised I’m not fighting all this,” Bryant says quietly. “But I’ve changed.”

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No. 2: Warriors reclaim their identity in Houston — One night after they barely showed up to put up a fight in Oklahoma City, the Warriors exploded for a 38-point guard third quarter in Houston and put James Harden under lock and key in what was supposed to be a showdown between Western Conference powers. As Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, there was only one power on hand Saturday night and it was the league leaders:

Just 24 hours after the Warriors allowed season highs in points, field goals and field-goal percentage at Oklahoma City, they didn’t allow Houston to sniff those numbers.

Friday “night, we weren’t ourselves,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “We weren’t focused. We weren’t locked in. It showed in the stats, and it showed in the score.”

With Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala back in the rotation, the Warriors returned to the tenacious switching and gritty rim-protecting unit that has topped the league in defensive rating for most of the season. Houston shot just 42 percent from the floor, and the league’s most prolific three-point-shooting team was limited to 7-of-23 from behind the arc.

The Warriors returned to moving with a purpose and unselfishly passing on offense, getting double-digit scoring from five players, collecting 32 assists and shooting 54.9 percent from the floor. Most importantly, they returned to looking like the best team in the league — moving their record to 32-6 while snapping the four-game winning streak of the Rockets.

“We just wanted to get back to our identity,” Klay Thompson said. “It felt good to get back to what we do best.”

Thompson continued his hot streak, scoring 27 points and becoming the first Warriors guard with five blocked shots in a game since Baron Davis in 2007. Curry overcame six straight generally poor quarters to light it up in the second half and finished with 27 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

David Lee and Marreese Speights combined for 33 points and 13 rebounds off the bench. The Rockets were led by Howard, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds on a night when Thompson caused fits for James Harden, who managed just 12 points (4-for-15).

Wearing their slate-colored, sleeved jerseys — a Saturday tradition — the Warriors won their fourth straight against Houston — the first time they’ve done that since 2006-07 — and secured a season series road sweep of the Rockets for the first time since 1975-76.

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No. 3: Red-hot Wiggins lights Timberwolves’ fire in Denver — He was feeling a bit under the weather, but that didn’t prevent rookie of the year favorite Andrew Wiggins from continuing on his recent surge. The No. 1 pick in the draft bounced back from a poor shooting night on Friday to lead his Timberwolves to their second win three games in Denver and Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had the details:

This time, they needed veteran guard Mo Williams not for the career-high, franchise-record 52 points he scored in Tuesday’s streak-busting victory at Indiana but for two strategic shots late in a game influenced in many ways by youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Robbie Hummel.

Still ill, but feeling better than he did Friday in a loss at Phoenix, Wiggins scored a career-high 31 points and delivered nine rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and a steal in a 40-minute that might have left Cleveland Cavaliers fans muttering.

“It’s almost astonishing his confidence level,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “He just keeps continuing to get better and amaze and do everything, whether it’s offense, blocking shots, rebounds.”

Still just 19, Wiggins did that Saturday despite feeling what he called “just sick.”

“I still am a little, but I feel great,” he said. “We got the win, played hard, executed down the stretch. Nothing feels better than that. … We’ve had games on the line this year where we messed up and we didn’t finish it. Those were growing pains. Now we’re learning. I think we’re getting better every day now, every game. We’ve won two of the last three. That’s great for us.”

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No. 4: Embiid’s conditioning, attitude have Sixers worried — Even though he has yet to step onto the court this season as he continues to rehabilitate from foot surgery, Sixers rookie Joel Embiid has made quite a reputation for himself as a fun-loving guy on social media. But the team that made him the No. 3 pick in the 2014 Is now concerned that Embiid is not taking his conditioning and his pro career seriously enough, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Embiid has a weight issue. Although the Sixers wouldn’t disclose his weight, a source said he’s close to 300 pounds after being 250 pounds at Kansas last season.

His work ethic is being questioned by some inside the organization.

And a blowup with assistant strength and conditioning coach James Davis is one of the reasons he was sent home during the team’s recent West Coast road trip.

So, who is Embiid?

“He’s a young, 20-year-old kid who is trying to figure his way into being a professional basketball player and learning life,” Sixers forward Luc Mbah a Moute said.

Mbah a Moute knows more about his fellow Cameroonian than anyone here in the United States. He spotted Embiid at a basketball camp in their homeland several years ago. The 28-year-old has mentored Embiid ever since.

“Obviously, you can see some of his immaturity [in] his tweets sometimes,” Mbah a Moute said. “But you can also understand how mature he is in certain situations the way he handled himself. . . . He’s a good kid, man.

“At the end of the day, it’s tough for him being in a situation where people can’t really see who he is as a person.”

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No. 5: Bucks lose Marshall for season with torn ACL — The overachieving Bucks, who have already lost rookie Jabari Parker for the season, suffered another setback when it was determined that guard Kendall Marshall has a torn ACL and will be done until 2015-16. Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the report:

For the second time in just over a month, the Milwaukee Bucks have lost a player to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Backup point guard Kendall Marshall is the latest, having suffered the season-ending injury to his right knee in the second quarter of the Bucks’ victory over the New York Knicks in London on Thursday. Rookie forward Jabari Parker tore the ACL in his left knee Dec. 15 in Phoenix.

The diagnosis was confirmed Saturday morning after Marshall underwent an MRI, and he said he expects to undergo surgery in two to three weeks after the swelling subsides.

“I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was something serious,” Marshall said Saturday as the Bucks returned to the practice court in preparation for Monday’s game against the Toronto Raptors at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. ” I could feel it buckle, pop and it was a pain that I’d never felt before.

“I hate to see injuries in sports, period. Our bodies are how we make our money; they’re our job, they’re our profession. At the end of the day, though, injuries are a part of our profession as well.

“That’s part of the risk so you have to be understanding of that and understanding of the process and be ready to get back.”

The 6-foot-4 North Carolina product had emerged as the Bucks’ backup point guard, and was averaging 4.2 points and 3.1 assists — second on the team to Brandon Knight’s 5.1 — over 28 games. Marshall also had posted career bests of 45.5% shooting from the floor and 88.9% from the free-throw line while also connecting on 39.1% of his three-pointers.

The timing of Marshall’s injury couldn’t have been worse considering the team waived No. 3 point guard Nate Wolters on Jan. 9 in order to be able to sign forward Kenyon Martin. That leaves Jerryd Bayless as the backup with O.J. Mayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo as other potential ball-handlers.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Austin Rivers on board, now the Clippers have their eyes on Tayshaun Prince…Now that he’s back in the lineup, it didn’t take long for Lance Stephenson to get right back to being Lance Stephenson... The Wizards big men show they can deliver too… Stephon Marbury says there was a time when he considered suicideKevin Durant made a dream come true for a young heart transplant patient.

ICYMI of The Night: Stephen Curry’s sick no-look pass demonstrates why he’s one of the best point guards in the game …:

VIDEO: Curry’s assist of the night

Report: Garnett would like to buy Timberwolves one day

Can’t you see it now?

A dapper Kevin Garnett, wearing a designer suit and tie, leaping out of his courtside seat at the Target Center, slapping two hands on the floor and snarling expletive-laden invective at visiting teams.

Call it executive level trash talk, giving a whole new level to the idea of “owning” an opponent.

First though, Garnett wants to actually own his own team, namely the Timberwolves, for whom he toiled his first 12 NBA seasons. That’s what he told Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports!:

“I want to buy the Timberwolves. Put a group together and perhaps some day try to buy the team. That’s what I want,” Garnett said after a 107-99 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.

The Timberwolves drafted Garnett with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft. The 15-time All-Star played for the Timberwolves for 12 seasons before being traded to Boston, where he led the Celtics to a championship in 2008. Garnett pushed Minnesota to eight consecutive playoff appearances, and the franchise has not been to the postseason since his departure.

The Timberwolves were valued at $430 million in January, according to Forbes Magazine. The next NBA television contract will be extremely lucrative and is expected to raise the price of the franchise. Garnett, the 2004 MVP who averaged 20.5 points and 11.4 rebounds during his tenure with Minnesota, has made $315 million in his NBA career and will make an additional $12 million this season. He also has made millions in endorsements.

Nets general manager Billy King said he wouldn’t be surprised if Garnett were to buy the Timberwolves.

“He would be one of the best owners in the NBA because he understands what the players need and he understands what it takes to be successful in the NBA,” King told Yahoo Sports.

On May 12, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told the Associated Press he was looking to add a minority partner who would hold an option to buy him out. Taylor also made it clear he is committed to keeping the team in Minnesota.

Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is Garnett’s former coach with the franchise, which is rebuilding and expected to miss the playoffs once again. But the team does have several young talented players: 2014 No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Peckovic, Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad and rookie Zach LaVine.
For Garnett, it’s all about his history with the franchise.

“That is the one that has my interest. I have ties there. Flip’s there,” said Garnett, 38.

The NBA has had its share of colorful owners. The late Larry Miller used to stand on the court with his Jazz players shagging basketballs during pre-game warmups. The late Dr. Jerry Buss exuded all that was cool and Hollywood about the Lakers with his casual fashion and his lifestyle. Just last year Grizzlies owner Robert Pera publicly challenged Michael Jordan to a high-profile game of 1-on-1 to benefit charity.

But you’ve got to admit that the volatile, emotional K.G. could take the role of team owner to a new and most colorful direction.

Would it be in-your-executive-suite, in-your-face? The first owner ever voted to the All-Defense first team?

If Garnett’s dream comes true, we’ll admit to having our fingers crossed for a Western Conference finals matchup one day soon against the Clippers and their loud, screamingly excitable boss man Steve Ballmer.


VIDEO: Relive Kevin Garnett’s top 10 plays from his Timberwolves days

Morning shootaround — Nov. 3


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Beast of the East still in Miami? | Melo’s 20,000-point milestone | Cousins, Kings on the rise | Showtime for Nets’ Lopez

No. 1: Bosh back to a starring role — The last unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference is not that crew in Cleveland led by LeBron James or the group in Chicago headlined by Derrick Rose. It’s those guys in Miami, the ones who were supposed to falter out of the elite ranks after James skipped town. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the new-look Heat had other plans, of course. And it’s showed early on this season, with Bosh back in a starring role and the Heat soaring. Mike Wallace of ESPN.com explains:

For the better part of the past four years — even as LeBron James racked up regular-season and postseason MVP awards during four straight runs the NBA Finals — Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly referred to Chris Bosh as the team’s most important player.

And each time, the muffled scoffs and eye-rolling would follow from those within earshot.

But Spoelstra always felt there was a clear distinction between LeBron’s value and Bosh’s impact.

“I don’t expect everyone to always understand it,” Spoelstra would say at least once every couple of weeks. “But in terms of what we do, how we want to play, what we need to happen on the court on both ends for us to be successful, C.B. is our most important player. That’s how we see him.”

What Spoelstra saw then is becoming abundantly clear to many now.

Bosh is off to the most productive three-game start of his Miami tenure, and the Heat have emerged from the first full week of the regular season as the lone unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference after Sunday’s 107-102 victory against Toronto.

While Bosh refuses to buy into the notion that LeBron’s departure to Cleveland in free agency is solely responsible for his initial statistical outburst, the 12-year veteran believes his development is part of a natural progression in his game that was inevitable, regardless of Miami’s personnel.

In other words, after four straight seasons of seeing his scoring and rebounding numbers decline as he settled into a role as primarily a spot-up shooter, something had to give.

“It’s just time,” Bosh said after he finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes against the Raptors. “I knew I couldn’t settle into that same position I’ve been in the past four years, floating outside and shooting a couple of jumpers. I know I had to switch it up a little.”


VIDEO: Chris Bosh  helps power the Heat to a win on Sunday (more…)

Mr. Big Shot one cool customer


VIDEO: Veteran Billups calls it a career

There are players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin, whose careers throw off smoke and sparks and noise like drag racers, right from the starting line.

Then there’s Chauncey Billups, who simply hummed as quiet and cool as an air conditioner.

For 17 seasons and seven different NBA teams, Billups was the proverbial duck who might have been paddling furious beneath the surface, but never gave the appearance of doing anything but gliding across the water.

He moved fast by taking it slow and he always seemed to be taking it slow, even when pushing the ball down the court in the middle of a fast break. He was the strong man who never felt a need to flex his muscles until the game got late and there was heavy lifting to do. He played with a warm smile on his face that could chill a defender. He was often the shortest one on the floor, yet the player who stood tallest when it was needed most.

Mr. Big Shot.

The standard line about the 2004 Pistons is that they were the last team to win an NBA championship without a superstar.

But that’s if you measure a star only by its brightness, as one that grabs headlines along the way to the more critical task, which is grabbing games by the throat.

Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace did work in concert, a symphony orchestra in high tops and shorts. But it was Billups who stood on the rostrum with the baton in his hand, making sure everyone hit the right notes.

“He’s at the head of the table and he determines how people eat,” none other than Kevin Garnett once said when they were teammates in Minnesota.

That’s the way Billups had always been since his days as a teenager at Denver’s Skyland Rec Center, when he was often the youngest player on the court. He not only found a way to fit in, but developed a way to earn the respect and the trust of the older kids.

Funny thing is, it took a while to gain that same respect in the NBA. After a standout college career at Colorado, he was the No. 3 pick in the 1997 draft by the Celtics. But the franchise that prides itself on recognizing smarts didn’t keep around. Neither did the Raptors, Nuggets, Magic or Timberwolves.

So Billups finally wound up in Detroit in 2002 with a resume list of ex-teams that was longer than his arm, but not even a trace of doubt.

“My demeanor, how I am, it never swayed,” he said back then. “A lot of guys in this league when they’re not playing a lot of minutes, they get a chip on their shoulder, they’re mad at everybody. I’ve never been that way.”

Billups came to the Pistons at a time when then-president Joe Dumars was constructing a team in the “three-peat” era of the Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant off-court bickering, where he wanted talent to work together like five fingers inside a glove doubled up into a fist, where effort took a backseat to ego.

The point guard with the butler’s name and the sniper’s nerveless confidence was the perfect choice to pull it all together and be the driving force. Billups was the steady hand on the reins of disparate personalities that knew how and when to take clutch situations in the biggest of games into his own grasp. Thus, the nickname, Mr. Big Shot. The player who could miss his first 10 shots of the night and then coolly put No. 11 into the bottom of the net with a game or a playoff series on the line.

You could picture him in a tuxedo ordering a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Billups, Chauncey Billups, was always the player who could lock and bar the door, the one that took the guessing and drama out of that final minute. Send him to the line and he’d drill those six straight free throws to seal a win. Leave him an opening and he’d stop up and drain that long 3-pointer without thinking twice.

“Who else would you want with the ball in his hands at that point than Chauncey?” Dumars asked.

He was a five-time All-Star from 2006-2010, was MVP of The Finals when the Pistons took down the mighty Lakers in 2004, a two-time All-Defensive second team member and, notably, in 2013 was named NBA Teammate of the Year by a vote of his peers. The only question left is whether Hall of Famer voters five years from now were really paying attention.

Let the others throw off loud sparks. For 17 seasons Billups just hummed. Perspiring, but never letting you see him sweat.