NEW YORK – Before Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers were among the two or three Lottery teams most likely to make the playoffs next year. They have a budding superstar, other young players who will only get better, and a new (and old) coach who will get them to improve on the end of the floor where they’ve been particularly dreadful that last few years.
2013 Lottery results
Toronto (to OKC)
After Tuesday night, if you didn’t already have them there (some of us did), you’d have to move the Cavs to the top of the list. Thanks to the results of Tuesday’s Draft lottery, Cleveland will add the No. 1 pick of the 2013 Draft to and young and talented core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson.
A month ago, Mike Brown was rehired to fix that defense. The Cavs are the only team to rank in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last three years, but ranked in the top five on that end a couple of times under Brown (and with the best player in the world).
A month from now, Cleveland will add another piece to the puzzle. Two No. 1 picks in three years is a good way to ensure both short and long-term success.
“It’s going to mean a lot,” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said Tuesday, “because if we can pick the right guy to fit into the young core that we have now, we can be a great team for many, many years.”
Before the lottery, there was no clear No. 1 pick. No LeBron James or Anthony Davis. And there was no Big Two on the level of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Among the top four or five talents, there’s a guy at each position, and none is a can’t miss prospect.
But with Cleveland drawing the top selection and already having Irving and Waiters in their backcourt, Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, a 6-foot-11 power forward, jumps to the top of the list. The Cavs have Thompson, Tyler Zeller (taken with the No. 17 pick last year) and the oft-injured Anderson Varejao up front, but every good team needs at least three quality big men.
The issue, of course, is that Noel won’t be available until at least Christmas, still recovering from ACL surgery in his left knee in March. And as we’ve seen in the past, training camp is a critical part of a rookie’s orientation to the league.
The Orlando Magic, who finished with a league-worst 20-62 record, will draft second, and they can use help at every position and on both ends of the floor. They have a handful of young players, but none is really a franchise anchor. Their best pieces are on the frontline, however, so they should be happy with any number of options in the backcourt, including Michigan point guard Trey Burke and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore.
In discussing the possibilities, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn talked about building a culture as much as acquiring talent.
“I trust our general manager and our scouts and their ability to find the right person who’s going into fit in our locker room,” Vaughn said.
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, another descendant from the San Antonio Spurs’ management tree, had a similar outlook, saying that he wants to continue “to build the momentum with what we want to be about, what our identity is, what our values are, and really staying true to that.”
Like the Cavs, the Washington Wizards have a young and talented backcourt. So they will probably look to go big with the third pick, though general manager Ernie Grunfeld indicated Tuesday that he’ll look for the best player available.
“In this league, players win, regardless of what position they’re at,” Grunfeld said. “We’ll take the best player that we feel will help us, in the short term and the long term.”
Bryan Colangelo is going to stick around as the Toronto Raptors president but will no longer hold the title of general manager. That job, hierarchically the lesser of Colangelo’s two roles over the past seven years, will go to a person still to be hired by Tim Leiweke, the new CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
A person who will have autonomy over basketball decisions and not be beholden to Colangelo, we are told, no matter how much he strains at the leash.
“It’s a unique situation for me to be in, but not an ideal one,” said Colangelo, whose roots and passion for NBA front office work have sprung from basketball operations, given his GM job with the Phoenix Suns for 11 seasons before signing on with the Raptors in February 2006.
In a teleconference call with reporters, Colangelo also said: “It’s being portrayed as a non-basketball job, but we’re in the basketball business.”
Well, there’s always the possibility that it could become a non-job.
Leiweke made that pretty clear when delineating the respective spheres of influence for the semi-defrocked Colangelo in his new role on the business side of the franchise and whoever it is — Denver’s newly minted Executive of the Year winner Masai Ujiri is reported to be a leading candidate, if the Nuggets allow Leiweke to woo him — winds up making the basketball calls.
After all, Colangelo, 47, has been doing that for the past seven seasons and all Toronto has to show for it are two first-round eliminations (2007, ’08) and, since then, a record 90 games under .500 and three different coaches in five years.
Leiweke was unflinching in telling the media in a separate media call prior to Colangelo’s that there will be no blurring of the lines, in terms of duties, responsibilities and authority. Colangelo can suggest, but he can no longer decide. All the big stuff, all the basketball stuff, will be the new GM’s domain, from Dwane Casey‘s future as coach to scouting priorities.
“Bryan’s going to have to occasionally take a deep breath and understand now that a GM is going to have a direct report [to me] and final say-so on all basketball decisions,” Leiweke said. “He’s going to have to live with that. And I hope he can. Because if he can’t, I’m fairly certain we’re not going to fire the Toronto Raptors.”
There also was a question about Colangelo being free to pursue another basketball job. Leiweke’s stance was evident in the quick and simple way he said: “Yes.”
Because Leiweke – a longtime executive with sports and entertainment conglomerate AEG — has his roots in the business and marketing side of pro sports, it’s not likely Colangelo will get his brain picked on branding and sponsorship decisions, either.
Now, as someone to send to Flin Flon or Labrador City to raise the Raptors’ profile as “Canada’s NBA team” on an offseason promotional caravan, sure. But it didn’t take much reading-between-the-lines of Leiweke’s platitudes about Colangelo’s performance in his dual role to see this as a warehousing.
Good soldier. Good citizen of Toronto. Ugh. Was this a redeployment or a eulogy?
“I don’t believe I’m being pushed off into a corner somewhere,” Colangelo said. “I think I’m going to be used in a fashion that my 18 years of experience is going to be tapped into, not just by Tim but by the new GM.”
Good for Colangelo. But odds are, MLSE has just turned “team president” into one of those “assistant to the assistant manager” positions fit for Dunder-Mifflin, a job from which one seeks one’s next job.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You need a passport for this week’s stop on the Phil Jackson rumor train.
Cleveland is history, Mike Brown‘s the new (old) coach there. The Seattle situation, complete with Chris Hansen and his affinity for Jackson, took a serious hit Monday when Sacramento prevailed in its bid to keep the Kings in California. The Los Angeles Lakers’ situation is still in flux as no one knows what is going to happen with Dwight Howard (free agency looms), Kobe Bryant (rehabilitation from Achilles surgery is underway) and coach Mike D’Antoni (good for next season as coach), but they will all certainly be in the crosshairs this summer.
So the attention to Jackson has shifted north, to Toronto, where reports have the Raptors exploring the possibilities of trying to woo Jackson to be a part of their front office structure. Since he’s made it clear that he has no interest in returning to the league as a coach, the ideal situation for the Zen Master is to return as Front Office Phil.
One source said that Leiweke’s “vision and energy” and history of shared success at Staples Center with the 11-time championship coach ensures that Jackson will give the pitch strong consideration despite skepticism around the league about his willingness to relocate to Canada.
Amid its pursuit of Jackson in the wake of Leiweke’s arrival, Raptors president Bryan Colangelo is scheduled to meet with the MLSE board next week in hopes of convincing his bosses to pick up the option year on his contract. The 2013-14 option in coach Dwane Casey‘s contract was picked up by Colangelo before this season, but Leiweke’s arrival has thrown both of their futures into some immediate doubt.
In an interview last week with the San Francisco Chronicle, Jackson said “three or four teams” have already expressed interest and that “none of it involves coaching.”
“There are some interesting situations that are presenting themselves, but I really haven’t made up my mind yet what I’m going to do,” Jackson told the Chronicle.
Jackson also confirmed to the newspaper he’s interested in a developing team “where you’d have the influence in [selecting the] coaching staff and the kind of culture that goes along with it.”
It makes sense, until you remember that Jackson’s ties to the Lakers remain extremely strong. And until the Lakers make some concrete decisions about their future, there always be those who hold out hope that Jackson (alongside his fiancée Jeanie Buss) will return to the Lakers and help fix all that’s gone wrong since he departed two years ago.
That reconciliation seems impossible as long as Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak remain at the controls for the Lakers. Quite frankly, they have more pressing matters to tend to, namely what Howard will do in free agency. Having him in the fold with Pau Gasol makes the Lakers’ recovery from their ragged 2012-13 season one of the most crucial stretches in recent franchise history, considering they’ll have to do it without a healthy Bryant to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility.
There remains another potential option in Jackson’s preferred Southern California, one that Lakers faithful fear above all others, and that’s Jackson working down the hall at the Staples Center in the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room. What better way for the Clippers to cement their takeover as the city’s top basketball outfit than to lure Jackson over to their side in his return to the NBA?
A team with a nucleus of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan with Jackson working behind the scenes (or as coach/executive, if things don’t go Vinny Del Negro‘s way during this postseason) has all sorts of possibilities. Same goes for the Brooklyn Nets, who could have a coaching vacancy this summer, barring a surprise championship run during these playoffs.
So much of this is speculation at this point, with everyone believing that they have the perfect situation for Jackson to walk into and craft to his liking, it’s hard to know what’s a legitimate possibility and what’s just hot air.
But as long as Jackson is reportedly interested in making a comeback, in whatever capacity, there will be suitors lined up to pitch him and plenty of fans anxious to see if he bites.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
Bledsoe, Billups give backcourt a boost — The Clippers have had Chauncey Billups in the lineup in just 21 games this season and heading into last night’s home game against Portland, he had missed L.A.’s last eight games. As well, third-year guard Eric Bledsoe had missed five games with a left calf muscle injury that slowed his energetic, up-tempo style. But both players were instrumental in the Clips’ romp of the Blazers, something that made Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro happy, writes Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
Billups brings the Clippers championship experience. He won a title with the Detroit Pistons over the Lakers in 2004, when Billups was named the Finals most valuable player.
“He’s a little bit older now,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said about the 36-year-old Billups. “He’s missed most of last season and a lot of this season, so that’s not as easy to do. We still expect a lot from him with his leadership. He can make shots, obviously. He’s another guy that can make plays.”
Billups had missed the last eight games with a strained right groin. He has played in just 21 games this season and is expected to play in a back-to-back game Wednesday night in Sacramento.
Del Negro said the plan is to play Billups about 20 minutes per game.
“He knows how to play and we have to get him into game condition as quick as possible,” Del Negro said. “He gives us another dimension out there making plays off the dribble, shooting the basketball. But he’s got to get out there and get his rhythm and chemistry with the guys.”
“[Bledsoe] changes the complexion of the game with his speed,” Del Negro said. “It’s just the versatility that he brings that is of value. We can’t always use it depending on matchups. But he’s been fantastic for us since he’s been healthy.”
Bledsoe had suffered a sore left calf muscle that kept out of five games. He seems to be just now getting his legs back strong again.
“He gives us an edge to us out there defensively and the speed he plays with,” Del Negro said. “We knew that was going to be a factor for us. I feel he’s back playing with a lot of confidence. He knows his energy and the way he plays is very important, especially with that second unit or if he’s out there with Chris [Paul], in how he uses his athleticism to pressure the basketball defensively.”
Spurs likely not expecting much from McGrady — After parting ways with Stephen Jackson last week and dealing with a myriad of injuries to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker along the guard corps, the Spurs picked up Tracy McGradylast night. McGrady, who hasn’t played for an NBA team this season, is eligible for the playoff roster and provides some backcourt depth for the postseason. But how much will the former scoring champ impact the Spurs’ postseason rotation? Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has more:
With all the twists and turns during the 2012-13 regular season, it was only fitting that the Spurs gave us one more on Tuesday, signing Tracy McGrady to fill to roster vacated after the unceremonious whacking of Stephen Jackson.
It is the seventh NBA stop for the former franchise player, and eighth as a professional including his recent stint in the Chinese league. He dominated with Qingdao Double Star Eagles, averaging 25 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists — the type of numbers he put up as a seven-time All-Star before injuries sapped his athleticism.
McGrady won’t find it nearly so easy back in the NBA, where he averaged 5.3 points last season with Atlanta.
There’s some speculation that McGrady’s addition had been the end goal all along. But at this point, the most likely explanation is probably the simplest: The Spurs excised what they viewed to be a cancer, and they needed a warm body to help pick up the slack on a Spurs bench that suddenly isn’t so deep.
That means chewing up whatever time is available behind starting small forward Kawhi Leonard. And from what Gregg Popovich has said recently, there won’t be much. Leonard, he said, could earn up to 40 minutes a night, leaving precious little for a floor-bound ex-star.
Still, they needed somebody, and with only days left until the playoffs begin on Saturday, the Spurs could have done far worse. His woeful playoff record notwithstanding, McGrady has experience, and he should be able to provide adequacy in a number of facets: Playmaking, rebounding, perhaps even a touch of scoring.
Players unsure if Hunter will coach Suns next season — When the Suns parted ways with coach Alvin Gentry in mid-January, some drama ensued. Assistant coaches Dan Majerle and Elston Turner quit the team shortly thereafter once word came down that fellow assistant Lindsay Hunter — and not Majerle or Turner, who had more experience as assistants — would be the Suns’ new interim coach. Those two might want to consider themselves lucky as Hunter hasn’t set the world on fire as coach. He is 12-28 as interim coach and the Suns are 2-8 in their last 10 games. All of those facts would seem to not bode well for Hunter returning to the Suns, a topic many players were mostly mum on. Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic has more:
Luis Scola and Goran Dragic were asked whether they would recommend interim head coach Lindsey Hunter returning next season. Both players punted the topic.
“That’s a tough question,” Dragic said. “ … I’m here to play basketball. It’s not my decision to make.”
Dragic did say he liked Hunter’s approach to practice.
“Alvin (Gentry) was a great coach for the veteran players; he knows when to give them a day off, but for our team we have a young team and we really need to practice hard every day,” Dragic said. “When he (Hunter) took over the team I think we maybe had one or two days off. I think it should be like that.”
Scola said he thought Hunter did “a great job. Circumstances were bad and he did as good as he could. But I don’t make those decisions. I’m just a player.”
Would a third coach in less than a year be unsettling for the team?
“I think it would be a sign of things being bad,” Scola said. “But things are bad.”
Suns owner Robert Sarver declined comment when asked about Hunter’s future, and Hunter said no time has been set for a postseason meeting with either General Manager Lance Blanks or President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby.
Off-court decisions loom for Raptors — Another season draws to a close in Toronto tonight and the Raptors are once again on the outside of the playoff picture. It has been five seasons since Toronto made the postseason and seven since it finished with a record above .500. Needless to say, the team is in need of more overhauls and changes, although many of those could happen to non-roster positions. Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun explains how the fate of GM Bryan Colangelo, the direction of Maple Leaf Sports and more could shape the Raptors’ future:
As another Toronto Raptors season crawls to its conclusion, a franchise teetering on irrelevance has a series of enormous decisions to make.
There may not be any one right answer for Tom Anselmi and the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, but there is almost certainly a wrong one.
The decisions, as they seemingly do at the end of every Raptors season, revolve around the general manager, Bryan Colangelo, and the coach, Dwane Casey. Colangelo has an option year remaining on his contract. Casey has one year left on his deal.
And the team is forever paddling in circles, creating the occasional wave, but ending up nowhere in the end.
The decision for Anselmi and the board isn’t in any way obvious, with the largest issue being the relationship between Colangelo and Casey. Colangelo did his best to distance himself from his coach early in the season and there has been all kind of internal speculation that the two can’t possibly work together again.
Here’s the dilemma for Anselmi and the board: Do they use the option year on Colangelo’s deal and enable him an eighth season as general manager? Or do they have enough faith in Colangelo to reward him with a new contract, which would be based as much on blind faith and the fact he gives good board meetings as anything else?
Whatever determination is made on Colangelo’s future puts Casey’s future in a rather distant place. If one doesn’t believe in the other — and we saw what happened how effective it was when Brian Burke allowed Ron Wilson to continue on when they were philosophically opposed with the Leafs — then what sense is having Colangelo back with Casey as coach?
Colangelo apparently tried to fire Casey at least once during the season, insiders say, but wasn’t given the go-ahead to do so.
Colangelo hasn’t helped himself by his annual summers of bad decisions. There are only so many Landry Fields and Hedo Turkoglus and Jason Kaponos and Jermaine O’Neals you can miss on.
Casey, as coach, didn’t help himself by following up a decent first year with a scrambly second year and an absolute inability to compete in close ones.
So far, Anselmi has revamped the entire front office of Toronto FC and he played good soldier when some of the ownership decided to fire Brian Burke with the Leafs. Now he has a chance to go 3-for-3 in his first year on the job as president and chief operating officer.
“It’s not like we’re going to make an out of the blue decision. There’s been conversation going on all season long,” said Anselmi. “Is it any more complicated than usual? I don’t know. Either Bryan’s going to be in place and making decisions or someone else will be in place and make the decision on the coach. Leadership is very important to us.”
The Raptors’ season ends tonight. There is no meeting yet scheduled for the MLSE board. A decision on Colangelo is expected by early May.
ICYMI of the night: Plays like this one from Chauncey Billups to Blake Griffin might be a good example of why coach Vinny Del Negro is glad Billups is healthy again:
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Entering last night’s home game against the Suns, the Rockets needed only to win to clinch their first playoff berth in four seasons. A game against one of the West’s worst teams seemed to make that goal even easier to reach, but Phoenix showed plenty of fight all night and had the game tied with 9.1 seconds to play. The Rockets had their shot to lock up their postseason dream in the hands of All-Star James Harden, who took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that bounced off the rim … but as that was happening, the Suns’ Jermaine O’Neal went up through the net and touched the ball on the rim. The result? A goal-tending call … which meant a Rockets victory … which meant a playoff berth clinched … which, in turn, makes it our one to watch this morning.
Jay-Z looking to sell stake in Nets, become agent — The Nets have perhaps the most famous minority owner in all of the league, rapper Jay-Z. Although the hip-hop mogul owns less than 1 percent of the team, he was reportedly instrumental in the design of the Nets’ uniforms and has been a key figure in the team’s mostly successful first season in Brooklyn. But Jay-Z is never one to rest on his laurels and is thinking of getting into the agent game, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, and may soon sell his stake in the Nets to do so:
Entertainment mogul and rapper Jay-Z has started the process of divesting his small share of ownership with the Brooklyn Nets to extend his Roc Nation Sports representation business into basketball, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Selling his share of the Nets is a necessary prelude for Jay-Z to obtain his National Basketball Players Association certification as an agent.
NBA rules mandate that no one individual affiliated with a player representation company can have an ownership stake with an NBA team.
Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company has partnered with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to launch a sports representation business that recently secured New York Yankees star Robinson Cano.
The process is expected to be completed in time for Roc Nation to compete for players entering the June NBA draft, but there’s no guarantee of the timing, sources said. Those within Roc Nation and the CAA alliance aren’t “chasing a clock on this,” one source said. “This isn’t about one draft, but taking the long view of the business.”
Rival agents are anxious over the possibilities of Jay-Z on the recruiting trail, believing the lure of his iconic business and cultural standing will have a major impact on attracting top prospects and current league stars.
CAA and Jay-Z are taking time to carefully formalize the arrangement on the basketball end, sources told Y! Sports, and are sensitive to making sure he exits the Nets partnership in a way that is respectful to the organization.
LeBron likely to rest down stretch of season — Fans planning on seeing the Heat — and their vaunted Big Three — between now and the end of the season might want to save their money. Already the Heat have been without Dwyane Wade (knee) for five straight games and Chris Bosh sat out last night’s win over the Bucks as he recovers from the flu. LeBron James did play against Milwaukee and had his usual stellar night, but even he is likely to rest some games as Miami comes to the end of their season, writes David J. Neal of the Miami Herald:
LeBron James said Tuesday morning he would be a scratch for some of the last six. Dwyane Wade will travel to Washington for Wednesday’s game, but is no lock to play. Center Chris Bosh called in sick Tuesday and could miss Wednesday’s game at Washington, too.
“He has flulike symptoms, so unless he gets dramatically better [he won’t travel],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before Tuesday’s game with Milwaukee. “It’s something we talked about. I don’t know if we will bring him around everybody.”
Spoelstra said Wade is day-to-day with his knee and ankle injuries. Wade went through Tuesday’s morning shootaround and worked out later in the day.
James said he’s “getting back to form” and his hamstring has “reacted well the last few days.”
But as for the last six games…
“I want to play, but I’m going to go against myself for the first time in my career,” James said. “OK, probably about the third time in my career. I sat out a few games when we had it locked up in Cleveland as well, to really use those games to get healthy as well.”
James started Tuesday with point guard Mario Chalmers and forwards Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem.
Hickson, Blazers set to move on separately — By the time J.J. Hickson arrived in Portland on March 21, 2012, his NBA stock couldn’t have been much lower. The Kings had dealt for him before the 2011-12 season with hopes he’d shore up their front line, but Hickson mostly disappointed in Sacramento. After arriving in Portland, though, Hickson’s numbers rose dramatically as he averaged 15.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg in 19 games with the Blazers. This season, it’s been even more success for the big man, as he’s averaging a double-double (12.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg) for a thin Portland team. Despite the success he’s had in the Rose City, though, it’s unlikely the unrestricted free-agent will be back in the Rose City next season. Jason Quick of The Oregonian has more on Hickson and his future:
There are no hard feelings and no regrets, but it appears these are the final days that JJ Hickson and the Trail Blazers are together, with both sides acknowledging this week that the writing is on the wall.
The Blazers, who have given up the most interior points in the NBA, want to find a more defensive-oriented center next season, while Hickson – a power forward who bit his tongue and played as an undersized center for the Blazers – wants to start, and is eager to test his market value when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Blazers general manager Neil Olshey this week said he is not ruling out keeping Hickson on the roster, but he doubts the team will have the role, and the money, to pacify Hickson’s desires next season.
“For us to make a jump next season, JJ can’t be our starting center,’’ Olshey said, referencing the Blazers’ 47.4 points allowed in the paint per game, an NBA high. “I’m not saying he can’t be part of the roster. But we need to find a starting-caliber center who protects the rim and gets defensive rebounds at a high rate and that has a presence. And we have to do a better job at defending the paint. So you have to ask: Is it likely there is enough minutes to commit the kind of dollars JJ will command, when clearly there are other positions that need to be upgraded? Probably not.’’
The Blazers figure to enter the offseason with $11.8 million in cap room. A large chunk, if not all of that money, will likely be used to lure a defensive-minded starting center or to absorb the contract of a starting center in a trade. That leaves Hickson on the outside looking in when it comes to meeting his desires to find a team that can both give him chance to start as well as award him a raise from his $4 million salary this season. If he stayed in Portland, Hickson would play behind franchise player LaMarcus Aldridge, who plays close to 40 minutes a game.
Andy Miller, who represents Hickson, said Olshey hasn’t flat-out told him Hickson is not in the Blazers’ plans, but Miller said he is under the impression that the Blazers will move in a different direction than Hickson.
“I think Neil has been fairly candid to me as far as where they stand,’’ Miller said. “I don’t feel confident about the situation. Earlier in the season there may have been mood swings and perspective swings where I felt the tide swinging, to where I felt that this would be more than a rental for both sides. But lately, I haven’t felt that way at all. He definitely hasn’t misled me.’’
In the end, it was probably a win-win scenario for Hickson and the Blazers. Hickson, who was picked up off waivers last March after Sacramento released him, got an opportunity to resurrect his career, while the Blazers found a capable center to buy time for rookie Meyers Leonard to develop.
“I think JJ has had a remarkable season,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “He showed a lot of people what he can do. The most important thing is he sustained a certain level, for the most part of the season, with his energy and his rebounding. The mid-range jump shot, I think, is the biggest area where people questioned whether he could make it, and he turned into a very capable mid-range jump shooter. And he accepted his role. I didn’t call a lot of plays for him and he found his offense through the flow of the game. Although it was frustrating at times for him he accepted it and thrived in it.’’
Hickson said having a chance to start will be at or near the top of his offseason priority list.
“That’s just me being a competitor,’’ Hickson said. “I think everyone in this league wants to start, so of course I want to start, of course I want to play a lot of minutes to help my team as much as possible. That’s definitely one of the factors going into free agency – whether I start or not. Other than that, I’m just looking to win ball games and have fun doing it.’’
Hickson is not sure it would be fun playing center again next season. He said it was difficult enough playing the position this season.
“It was hard to play center. but I took it with a grain of salt and did what I had to do for the team,’’ Hickson said. “I felt like I laid it all out on the line. I definitely was playing out of position, but I sacrificed my position for the coaching staff and my teammates to play a position that my body is not made up for. And we all knew that going into the year I was an undersized (center) and that I would have to play that much harder to make up for what I didn’t have physically.’’
Lowry on first season in Toronto: ‘Very disappointing’ — The good news for Toronto this season? After last night’s victory in Chicago, the Raptors have won 30 games — their most since the 2009-10 season (also known as Chris Bosh’s final season North of the border). The bad news? The Raptors will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season and will do so despite somewhat overhauling their roster in the offseason by paying big bucks to sign free-agent point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry has had, at best, an up-and-down season in Toronto as injuries and an early-season logjam at point guard with Jose Calderon created an ambiguous-at-times role for Lowry. After the win over the Bulls, Lowry sounded off on his first season in Toronto, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star:
To say it’s been a tumultuous first year in Toronto for Kyle Lowry would be one of the great understatements of the season.
He has lurched from starter to backup to starter, working for another new coach with teammates that changed frequently over the course of the season and it’s no surprise that he answers quickly and emphatically when asked what it’s been like.
“For me personally? Very frustrating, very disappointing.”
And very up and down.
When he first arrived at the cost of a lottery draft pick and a spare part, Lowry was famously “given the keys” to a franchise that fully expected him to lead it to the playoffs.
He was lauded as a “pit bull” of a defender and a leader, a point guard with scoring skills who would give the Raptors a different look they wanted from their own court leader.
It hasn’t actually panned out that way: Lowry’s been criticized by his coach for gambling too much on defence, he was injured and lost his starting job when he got healthy and the team not only floundered terribly at the start of the season, it’s basically limping home in much the same fashion.
Lowry has not by any stretch of the imagination been the sole reason for the team’s struggles but he’s the out-front guy, the major acquisition of last summer, and in that regard it’s been a huge disappointment.
He has not openly clashed with his teammates or his coaches but the overriding sense around the team is that he’s not the happiest of campers.
His own words reflect that when he’s asked what he’s learned in his first season with Toronto.
“Things just have to be different, things aren’t always going to go the way you think they should go or they may not go the correct way to you, but you’ve got to fight through adversity and keep focused on the biggest prize,” he said this week after a practice here.
Lowry’s tenure as the team’s starting point guard was cemented when the Raptors dealt away Jose Calderon weeks before the late-February trade deadline in order to acquire Gay, who arrived trumpeted as the break-down wing the team desperately needed as well as one of Lowry’s best friends in the world. The Lowry-Gay-DeRozan triumvirate hasn’t exactly thrived after getting off to a torrid start.
“It’s been a challenge for Kyle to come in and not only come into a new culture and a new situation but come in with an established veteran like Jose running the show and knowing the offence, knowing the defensive concepts and trying to fit in,” said coach Dwane Casey. “It’s been a challenge
“But he’s a veteran, he’s worked at it, he’s tried to do what we’ve asked him to do, to . . . understand what guys can do and can’t do offensively and definitely defensively.”
Lowry has one year left on a contract that will pay him $6 million next season, although only $1 million of it is guaranteed if the Raptors want to cut him adrift this summer. But having already dealt away Calderon and without significant money to spend in the summer, it seems inconceivable that he won’t be back.
And Lowry, as everyone connected with the team is, remains confident in the pieces that are in place.
“I’m confident in all my teammates, I think they’re all confident in me and I think we’re all confident in each other,” he said. “We’ve got some young pieces, some learning to do to get better in the summer. . . . We had a disappointing year but we’ll bounce back.”
ICYMI of the night: When we see this off-the-glass dunk LeBron James assists himself on, we are left wondering if the Bucks were playing defense or were watching to see what the reigning MVP would do …:
CHICAGO – A crucial jump ball went the Toronto Raptors’ way in the closing seconds of their 101-98 victory over the Chicago Bulls at United Center. But it came at a price for center Jonas Valanciunas.
The Toronto center went for the ball as it squirted out of the jump between teammate Rudy Gay and Bulls forward Carlos Boozer. But as he reached, dropping his head, he banged into Gay’s shoulder — hard.
The final 9.1 seconds ticked off without incident, but Valanciunas went straight to Toronto’s bench area and sat in one of the chairs. Various members of the team’s training and medical staff huddled around him. As they gingerly probed around his neck, it wasn’t initially clear if he might be checked for concussion symptoms. But no, this was what Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo called a “whiplash-like” injury.
Long after the final horn, as fans exited and cleanup crews began their work, Valanciunas was fitted with a protective collar and escorted from the court. He was taken to nearby Rush Presbyterian Hospital as a precaution and to undergo a more thorough exam.
The 6-foot-11 Valanciunas had eight points and three rebounds in 23:17 against Chicago, including a throwd-own slam that made it 93-85 with 5:13 left that temporarily slowed the Bulls’ comeback attempt.
The fifth pick in the 2011 Draft, Valanciunas has been finishing strong. He was named Eastern Conference rookie of the month in March and had scored in double figures in 12 straight games prior to Tuesday. Since the All-Star break, he had hit 57.9 percent of his field goal attempts and 82.8 percent of his free throws.
Valanciunas was kept overnight for observation at nearby Rush Presbyterian hospital while the rest of the Raptors headed home. Test results were pending. Toronto’s next game is Friday against the Bulls at Air Canada Centre.
On Wednesday, they came back from a 25-point deficit to win in New Orleans, 108-102. Kobe Bryant tied the game with 1:34 left, gave the Lakers the lead a minute later, and basically sealed the game with his runaway dunk with 24 seconds left.
And on Friday, Bryant did it again, hitting three ridiculous 3-pointers at the end of regulation and then getting the game-winning dunk when Toronto stupidly sent the lumbering Aaron Gray to *double-team him on the perimeter. Rudy Gay did his part to help his opponent, taking six bad shots in the clutch and missing all six.
Side note: There was a video where Michael Jordan noted that he loved it when teams sent a big man to double-team him. As the big approached, Jordan would quickly go right around him, and basically the big would set a screen on his own teammate (the one guarding Jordan in the first place). Jordan was talking about post-ups, where he didn’t have the real estate that Bryant had on Friday. The Raptors sent Gray to guard Bryant 25 feet from the basket. Things may have been different if the more mobile Amir Johnson hadn’t fouled out, but that doesn’t excuse the decision to double with Gray.
So, since Jan. 27 L.A. is now 10-2 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. Before that, they were 5-16.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the Utah Jazz, the team the Lakers are trying to catch for eighth place in the West. After a painful loss in Chicago on Friday, the Jazz have dropped six of their last seven games, with four of the last five losses coming by three points or less.
Here’s a quick rundown of the excruciating way they’ve allowed the Lakers to pull within a half game in the standings…
Feb. 25 – Celtics 110, Jazz 107 (OT)
Down eight to the Celtics, the Jazz began the fourth quarter with a 13-2 run to take the lead. They defended Paul Pierce well at the end of regulation, but couldn’t stop him from scoring seven straight points in overtime. Down three with 1.2 seconds left, Randy Foye‘s 3 to tie didn’t hit anything.
March 4 – Bucks 109, Jazz 108 (OT)
This time, the Jazz were down 10 to start the fourth. They came back again, but Paul Millsap missed a free throw that could have given them a four-point lead with 15 seconds left in regulation. That opened the door for Brandon Jennings‘ game-tying three. Gordon Hayward‘s drive to win was denied by Larry Sanders and Enes Kanter‘s follow rolled off the rim at the buzzer. A costly Alec Burks turnover and a missed DeMarre Carroll free throw doomed them in overtime.
March 6 – Cavs 104, Jazz 101
The Jazz were the team to blow the fourth-quarter lead this time. They led by 12 with just over seven minutes to go and by eight after a Millsap bucket with 2:46 left. But Kyrie Irving sparked a 12-1 Cavs run, featuring a couple of ugly Utah turnovers, to finish the game.
March 8 – Bulls 89, Jazz 88
The Jazz seemingly took control with a 10-0 run to go up five in the middle of the fourth quarter, but Chicago answered right back. An Al Jefferson jumper gave Utah the lead in the final minute, but another one couldn’t seal the deal. Marco Belinelli then hit a 3 to put the Bulls up one. And though Hayward got a good look to win it, his jumper was way off.
Before this stretch, the Jazz were 19-11 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes. Now, they’re 19-15.
The Utah Jazz don’t have an open roster spot, but Misery has signed on with this team and is their most reliable clutch performer.
This time the opponent was the Chicago Bulls, their weapon of choice was a Marco Belinelli 3-pointer. But the rest? It felt exactly the same.
With reports circulating that Utah is on the verge of signing D-League standout Travis Leslie, the Jazz lost their third game on this road trip after they held leads in the final minute in all three. But after an overtime loss in Milwaukee and a missed layup in Cleveland, the storyline for the Jazz (32-30), as they struggle to remain playoff relevant, borders on the absurd.
“They didn’t draw that up,” Al Jefferson said. “That was just the ball bouncing their way.”
There’s a lot of luck involved in winning and losing close games. There’s still plenty of season left, but right now, it seems that the Jazz’s luck has run out.
BOSTON – The seventh annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is being held Friday and Saturday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
The conference brings together folks from several different sports and continues to grow every year. This year’s panelists and speakers include R.C. Buford, Mark Cuban, Michael Lewis, Adam Silver, Nate Silver and Stan Van Gundy.
Co-chaired by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, the Sloan Conference has a huge NBA presence. This year, 29 of the 30 teams (the Los Angeles Lakers being the only exception) were in attendance.
Like the conference, the role of analytics in the NBA continues to grow. And when owner Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien took over the Grizzlies in the fall, they knew they needed an analytical mind to help them make their basketball decisions.
They turned to ESPN writer John Hollinger, naming him vice president of basketball operations in early December.
Hollinger was thrown right into the fire, as the team looked to restructure it’s payroll and regain some flexibility under the parameters of the new collective bargaining agreement. In late January, the Grizzlies made two trades involving three other teams and nine total players. At the trade deadline, they made one more minor deal.
Most notably, the Grizzlies traded leading scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto, breaking up a starting lineup that had enjoyed a decent amount of success over the last few seasons. They replaced Gay with Tayshaun Prince and also added Ed Davis to a bench that had taken a hit when they traded three players (and a first round pick) to Cleveland for Jon Leuer.
NBA.com exchanged e-mails with Hollinger this week to discuss his new job and how the Grizzlies are moving forward…
NBA.com: How does your approach to analytics as a team executive differ from your approach as a writer?
John Hollinger: The biggest change is that I’m looking at everything through this more narrow lens of “how does this impact the Memphis Grizzlies?” That means I’m probably looking at certain players much more closely and all but ignoring some national stories that I’d be discussing nearly every day in my former gig (like one that rhymes with “Spakers,” for instance), and it means I’m paying a lot more attention to non-NBA stuff (college, Europe, etc.) because that’s the pipeline for incoming players. As a writer I had the luxury of waiting until those guys got to the league if I so chose.
NBA.com: How has your team changed with the trades you made?
Hollinger: Well, hopefully we’re better. More seriously, I think we’ve diversified our offense a little, not just in terms of Tayshaun’s versatility, but also with adding guys like Austin and Ed that come off the bench and give you a major boost.
Rudy was a very good player but Tayshaun’s ability to pass and hit catch-and-shoot jumpers hopefully replaces some of the athleticism and shot-creating ability we gave up in this deal. Defensively we probably get even better, because we still have that 6-9 small forward who can guard, but now we also have an athletic big who plays above the rim in Ed, which is something we really didn’t have before.
And finally, we’re pretty deep in the front line now, because we also have bigs like Jon Leuer and Dexter Pittman waiting in the wings from our other deals.
NBA.com: I think we all understand the basic reasoning for the Rudy Gay trade and that you have more flexibility going forward. But can you explain the reasoning behind the Cleveland trade in the context of the trade that followed?
Hollinger: One thing I think a lot of people don’t understand is that we still were facing a potential luxury tax hit even with the Rudy trade we made, because of certain incentive deals in our player contracts. So even though all those little charts on the Web had us $4 million and change into the tax, in reality our potential liability was about $6 million. Because of that, it was inevitable that another deal also had to be made in addition to a Rudy deal.
Also, there was a fairly important chess element to this — we were able to improve our leverage in the second deal by being under the tax, because beforehand people were demanding a premium for all the money they’d be saving us. The basketball offers for Rudy got better once we’d done this.
As for the particular deal we chose, it was clear given the frontcourt depth we had that moving off that [Marreese] Speights deal for both this year and next was the way to achieve the greatest savings at the least basketball cost. I suppose it’s possible he opts out of his deal now that he’s in Cleveland and getting minutes and playing well, but if he had stayed here and been our fifth big I’d say those odds were pretty minimal.
And going forward, if we’d had him on our books it would have been almost impossible to keep Tony Allen and stay under the tax. Obviously this isn’t the kind of move you’d prefer to make, but we came into a situation where our hands were really tied financially, and now we have options again.
While I have the floor, I’ll also point out two other things: First, that the Speights trade exception was parlayed into an even larger exception in the Rudy deal, because we took Daye into it, so we now have a $7.5 million chip that could prove valuable in the offseason. And second, that our breathing room allowed us to take in Dexter Pittman and a second-round pick at the trade deadline.
NBA.com: How much interaction have you had with players and coaches about numbers that can make you a better team? Does Tayshaun Prince understand the value of a mid-range shot vs. a three?
Hollinger: This is where coming in partway through a season probably limited what we could accomplish somewhat. We’ve had some discussions about it, but we’ll probably be able to have a lot more impact once we’ve had a full offseason together. And obviously time is a factor here two, just in terms of getting to know each other and develop a trust and rapport.
As for Tayshaun, you’re right that it’s probably not ideal to have just 11 percent of his shots come from beyond the arc, given that he shoots it fairly well from out there. We’ve talked about it some internally and with the coaches, but this is another example of an area where we’d be more likely to have an impact in the offseason.
NBA.com: Where are NBA analytics most valuable? (Coaching strategies, lineup combinations, evaluating your own personnel, opponent personnel, draft, etc.)
Hollinger: I think the greatest value is still in personnel, and especially in the personnel that you don’t see everyday. The whole thing about numbers and analytics is that they summarize all the games you can’t see, which is great because you can’t possibly watch every team play every game.
With the Grizzlies obviously analytics helps too, but because we’re seeing all the games there’s a lot of times where we already know the answers and the data just confirms it — not all the time, but a lot. As you might expect, the analytics are probably most valuable at the NBA level, because there is a lot less to translate than there is when players are jumping from college, Europe or the D-League.
That said, the answer to this question may be in flux, especially as the use of video explodes. I wouldn’t be shocked if in five years the answer to this question is “coaching.” And I’ll also contradict myself by saying that the translation of going from lower levels to the pros, while harder, also potentially offers more advantages for those who can break the code.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: After a Feb. 10 win against Denver, Boston was in the midst of a seven-game win streak and feeling good about its place in the East pecking order. But the Celtics’ five-game road trip West hadn’t gone as planned and they found themselves 1-3 with a date against the Jazz entering Monday. The Celtics had every reason to fold up shop, especially after looking listless at times in the first half and unable to contain Gordon Hayward most of the night. Never count out Paul Pierce, though, as he came through big for Boston as Celtics-Jazz ended up being our one to watch. Pierce showed off his Truth-y goodness in the win, particularly in the extra frame, where he scored seven straight in OT to salt away the victory:
Nuggets run Lakers out of Denver — Once Mike D’Antoni supplanted Mike Brown as Lakers coach, the assumption among some fans was that D’Antoni would employ the high-octane system he used in Phoenix in Lakerland and all would be right in the world. Yet as D’Antoni and the Lakers have learned time and time again this season, playing up-tempo isn’t the fast track to success for L.A. In fact, it’s the complete opposite and was proven so again last night as the Nuggets simply ran the Lakers out of Denver with a fast-breaking offense. Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register and Ramona Shelburneof ESPNLosAngeles.com have more:
Big picture, the Lakers have still gone 11-5 since the day of their clear-the-air team meeting in Memphis. But the feel-good sentiments were contrasted Monday night by some ongoing cold – or should that be “old”? – realities for this Lakers team.
The Lakers were as slow as ever in letting the Denver Nuggets blow by them. Final score: Denver 119, Los Angeles 108.
Fast-break points? Denver 33, Los Angeles 3.
“Man,” Kobe Bryant said, “that’s a killer.”
The Lakers are last in the NBA in points allowed per game off turnovers, and that’s just how Denver took control of this game – also running off Bryant’s early missed shots. The Nuggets kept control with Dwight Howard shooting 3-for-14 on free throws and Bryant’s individual defensive effort lacking even as he rediscovered his shooting stroke.
Those who have been waiting to see what Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offense looks like finally saw it Monday night.
Too bad it was the Denver Nuggets playing it.
All that great spacing and shooting and scoring D’Antoni’s teams have become known for over the years … yeah, that was George Karl‘s Nuggets running the Lakers off the court in a 119-108 win Monday night.
“They’re good,” D’Antoni said. “They spread you out and they shoot a high percentage.
“We just couldn’t catch ‘em.”
D’Antoni was glum after the loss, but not unusually so. That wistful, pining, ”If they could only see what I see?” quality he carried around with him during the first few months of his tenure on the Lakers bench is gone now. He’s either squashed it for good or put it in a place where it doesn’t bother him as much.
What’s become clear during the Lakers’ modest revival — they’ve still won 11 of their past 16 games despite Monday’s loss — is that they’re no longer trying to play like one of D’Antoni’s teams.
The coach — and his team — have adapted. Or at least accepted that the up-tempo style is not going to fit this team, this season. There are still elements of it that work, including the pick-and-roll game and the emphasis on spacing and rhythm. But the rest of it has kind of been shelved for now.
For the Lakers, it served as a reminder of the decisions they’ve been forced to make this year. The Nuggets’ run-and-gun style was the vision D’Antoni was hired to bring to Los Angeles. For now, though, with no training camp and injured, ill-fitting personnel, it’s just not to be.
The coach has taken a lot of criticism since he got to L.A. So have many of his players.
It’s way too soon to start praising him. The Lakers are still in great danger of missing the playoffs after Monday’s loss dropped them to three games behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
But it’s not too soon to recognize that D’Antoni also has made some difficult sacrifices since taking the job — to his principles, his pride and his legacy.
“There’s no job in the NBA that’s easy,” D’Antoni said, refusing to make a sympathy play. “You don’t just fall out of bed and have things happen. It gets more complicated with injuries. I didn’t know Steve [Nash] was going to be out. I didn’t know Steve Blake was going to be out. I didn’t know Dwight wasn’t healthy 100 percent. So, yeah, there are some side issues. But everything is hard.”
Hawks’ Horford hitting his stride — When the Atlanta Hawks have been in the headlines on this site and others, the name heard most is Josh Smith and his future with the team as a pending free agent. While we were all focused on J-Smoove, his future and the trade deadline the last few weeks, Al Horford, the lone ex-All-Star selection on the Hawks, has been tearing it up. He’s averaging 24.6 ppg and 12.4 rpg over his last nine games and went wild last night against the Pistons, notching a 23-point, 22-rebound game in the Hawks’ win. Atlanta has won three in a row, sits at No. 4 in the East and much of that is due to Horford, writes Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Al Horford is completely over the hamstring strain that bothered him earlier this season. It shows.
The Hawks center is averaging 24.2 points and 10.0 rebounds with a .679 field goal percentage (55 of 81) over the past five games. He has scored over 20 points in each of those games, a career first.
“I think it just has to do with me being healthy and we are playing through me a lot more,” Horford said Monday before the Hawks played at the Pistons. That helps. I’m able to stay in the rhythm of the offensive.”
Horford said the hamstring is no longer limiting his running and jumping. He also dealt with a calf issue.
“When we have a lot of ball movement and high assists it gets everybody involved not just me,” Horford said. “When that happens I usually do pretty well. When we don’t and we stick, that is when my game gets affected and we tend to struggle as a team. It’s not hard to figure out that if we have a high assist total we are going to have a good chance.”
Report: Bulls may lose Gibson for 2 weeks — Bulls reserve forward Taj Gibson injured his knee in the second half of Chicago’s blowout loss to the Thunder on Sunday night. Now comes word, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, that the Bulls’ depth — which has been hampered all season by the loss of star Derrick Rose – may suffer another blow following the results of Gibson’s MRI on Monday:
Taj Gibson celebrated the birthdays of Jerry Reinsdorf and Joakim Noah on Monday by having an MRI performed on his sprained left knee.
Well, not really, but the confluence of such events seemed fitting for a star-crossed Bulls team these days. For every celebratory moment — a blowout win in Charlotte, Noah turning 28 — a somber one follows in the form of a convincing loss to an elite team or another injury.
At least Gibson’s MRI didn’t reveal a torn ACL, although it did confirm a sprained MCL that could sideline the defensive-minded forward up to two weeks.
Can Boston’s lockerroom change Crawford, Williams? — Depending on whom you ask, new Celtics Jordan Crawford (acquired via a trade with Washington) and Terrence Williams (signed as a free agent) are seen by some as one-dimensional players, talented-but-emotional players or young players in need of some veteran guidance … or a combination of the three. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald brings up a great point in questioning whether the Celtics’ veteran core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the like can do anything to change the careers/league-wide outlook on players such as Crawford and Williams:
It is the common perception that the Celtics dressing room is a healing commune where those of questionable basketball reputation can be saved. A Lourdes of leaping, if you will.
So as the Celts return home today with Terrence Williams and Jordan Crawford — two players who would not have been available to them were it not for concerns about their approach to the game and the fact they did not entirely please previous employers — there is the expectation among some, and hope among others, that regularly observing Kevin Garnett and breathing the same air will improve their focus and make them better teammates.
The newest C’s have the opportunity to either prove the perceptions a lie or rip off the old tags and begin anew.
Pierce knows that altering the career course of another adult may be quite a bit to ask, but he also recognizes it’s part of his job as captain and accomplished veteran.
“I think you just try to feel things out with new guys,” he said. “I mean, at this point in the season you usually get a chance to talk to guys in practice, but there’s not a lot of practice time.
“But it seems like these guys, from what you’ve heard about them from other teams, it doesn’t look that way from what I’ve seen in the past few days.”
Doc Rivers is well aware of the upside of both Williams and Crawford, but he’s not banking on his regulars to make them fit into the Celtics’ system.
Beyond that, Rivers tries to avoid preconceived notions. He doesn’t want to read the labels on the players the Celtics acquire.“You know, one of the things I’ve learned is that I don’t listen to hearsay,” he said. “I really don’t. I never have.
“I’ve learned that lesson long ago. There’s been a lot of players who you hear are bad guys or are not great guys that I’ve had that have turned out to be great guys. And I’ve had some that people said were great guys and they’ve turned out not to be.
“So I just don’t ever listen to the hearsay. I give everybody a chance, and if they don’t become that, then they don’t become that. I leave it at that.”
He doesn’t listen even when the comments are coming from his close friend, Washington coach Randy Wittman, who pulled Crawford out of his rotation?
“No, I don’t,’ Rivers said. “I really don’t, because there’s always circumstances. He may be right in what they’re saying, but there could be other circumstances that we can’t see. So I just let it go, and if they turn out to be a bad guy, then they’re a bad guy. Some turn out to be good guys.”
Loss harms Colangelo, Raptors’ playoff hopes — Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has done a decent job of attempting to salvage Toronto’s season given his trade to land Rudy Gay and his deadline-day deal to add point guard depth in the form of Sebastian Telfair. But last night’s loss to Washington not only dropped the Raptors 4 1/2 games behind Philadelphia for No. 8 in the East, but also dealt a bit of a blow to Colangelo and his future in Toronto, writes Eric Koreen of The National Post:
Monday’s game, a 90-84 loss to the Washington Wizards, did not help the Raptors’ chances. They are now 4½ games out of the final playoff spot.
It was a putrid game, particularly the first half, when the Raptors turned the ball over 12 times. Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry both struggled badly from the floor.
While the loss was certainly disappointing, it does not do much to change the Raptors’ position: They are fighting for a playoff spot, even if they are unlikely to prevail.
“That was our goal going into this year,” Dwane Casey said. “We got started off on a rocky start and dug ourselves a huge hole to start the season. We didn’t go about it [the right] way. We kind of got to the point where we wanted to be as far as knocking on the door on the playoffs. I think those are the terms that I used as far as our goal in the building process. [Acquiring] Rudy accelerated that process. I’m happy with our team. I like the direction we’re going in. I like our core group that we have.”
The team’s reality will have untold reverberations on the future. At the nadir of the season, it looked like president and general manager Bryan Colangelo would have to take the fall. If the Raptors fail to make the playoffs this year, it will be the first time in franchise history they that have missed the post-season in five consecutive years.
However, minus the specific nature of some of the controversies and concerns that the team has dealt with in the season’s first two-thirds, where the team sits now is exactly where the Raptors figured they would be. In fact, the Raptors trading Jose Calderon and his expensive expiring contract for a dynamic wing player such as Gay would have been an ideal scenario heading into the year. It was, as Colangelo likes to say, part of the plan.
So, where does that leave Colangelo?
In lieu of a franchise superstar — and Gay is not at that level — the person in charge of moulding the roster is arguably the most integral man in any basketball organization. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment will have three options: pick up the third-year option on Colangelo’s contract; offer Colangelo an extension beyond next year; or decline to pick up the option, effectively firing him.
ICYMI of the night: If you’re a Laker-hater (or just a Nuggets fan), two plays from last night had to get your attention: JaVale McGee coming over to swat Kobe Bryant and Kenneth Faried powering home an alley-oop over Dwight Howard …: