Posts Tagged ‘Tristan Thompson’

Wiggins’ strange summer is no Love-in

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins scores 21 points in Cavs’ Summer League loss Thursday

LAS VEGAS – The best advice for Andrew Wiggins at this point is to rent. Don’t buy.

If the recently re-crowned King of Cleveland is calling Kevin Love, as Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday, then it can’t be too long before the Wiggins-for-Love swap goes down. LeBron James gets what LeBron James wants.

And poor Wiggins thought getting used to hoops life in Lawrence, Kan. was a rough transition.

But man, all this so fast has to be a bit crushing for the 19-year-old No. 1 pick. First the best player on the planet completely omits him in his epic “I’m Coming Home” essay in Sports Illustrated and is now dissing the kid with the hope of discarding him by personally reaching out to Minnesota’s discontented double-double machine.

This has to be one of the strangest Summer League experiences in the history of top draft choices. Last Friday, as Wiggins is preparing for his hyped pro debut in Las Vegas against Milwaukee and No. 2 pick Jabari Parker in front of an overflow crowd, he finds out with the rest of the world that James is returning to Cleveland. Wow, cool. Then the rest of the world reads along with Wiggins about how excited James is to play with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and his favorite crazy-haired Brazilian Anderson Varejao. No mention of Wiggins. Whoa, not so cool. (Interestingly, James also didn’t list 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett as a member of his mentorship club either. Bennett would likely be included in a trade).

In the days between then and now, new coach David Blatt has told reporters Wiggins isn’t going anywhere while whispers come and go and come again that he is-he isn’t-he is available, and now LeBron’s talking to Kevin. To his credit, Wiggins, the one-and-done star out of Kansas via Canada, has handled it like a pro.

That the 6-foot-8 wing and projected phenom played against Houston on Thursday revealed that a trade is not imminent, not yet. The Rockets’ defenders had zero clue how to keep Wiggins from using his super-stretchy arms and legs to get from the top of the arc to the basket in only a few long strides with a ball fake or two mixed in.

Wiggins officially only attempted five shots, and made three, but secured 15 of his 21 points on 20 trips to the free throw line. He added five rebounds and another blocked shot, this one of the chase-down variety in the fourth quarter (he’s second in the Summer League in blocks per game and first among non-centers).

“You know what you got to like about a kid like that is it doesn’t make a difference if it’s the fourth game of Summer League and the fourth game in seven days or eight days, or if people are keying on him, or if the crowd has funny things to say to him,” Blatt said. “He just goes out there and really plays and has a nice calm about him and a real good demeanor. Andrew’s going to be a high-level player and it’s good to see it.”

The 6-foot-10 Love is a high-level player, a three-time All-Star, and he, James and Irving would make quite the offensive triple-threat. And that’s the crux of it all: Go for the gold right now with Love or patiently wait — hope — for the kid to get great. We know what LeBron wants.

With the rumors swirling, the Cavaliers aren’t exactly thrilled to have their new coach and top pick inundated by trade questions during what should be breezy Summer League postgame interview sessions.

After Thursday’s game, Cavs officials quickly whisked Wiggins off to an ESPN photo shoot and then immediately to a sit-down autograph session for trading card behemoth Panini in the concourse of the Thomas & Mack Center. Fans stood in a line that snaked around the corner and out of site.

From there, Wiggins was in the custody of his agent and was not made available to wax about his 15 free throws and 21 points or to talk ice fishing.

The second question posed to Blatt asked if the persistent trade rumors are a distraction for Wiggins. After all, a No. 1 pick is typically immune to the business side of sport for at least a couple years, not a couple minutes. If a top pick is traded it almost always occurs on Draft night, a deal having been worked out in advance. A Cleveland official monitoring the outwardly personable Blatt’s interview session quickly stepped in to deflect the question, but Blatt, just as quickly, said he could answer it.

“I can answer that just because rumors are rumors, that’s why they call them rumors,” Blatt said. “And sooner or later in one’s career, you’re going to have to deal with it. So if you have to deal with now, so be it. It’s Summer League, he’s learning everything as he goes along.”

Not exactly a comment to inspire confidence on a down payment. If the Cavaliers decide to move Wiggins in a deal for Love, the Timberwolves will jump for joy and jump on it fast, before Cleveland has time to rethink it. But watching Wiggins in Summer League should have the Cavs proceeding with caution. His size and ability are apparent to the most casual observer. He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well, but he’s showing he can use his length and quickness to be a very good two-way player, and soon.

And wouldn’t James love a young set of legs to chase the other team’s best player on a nightly basis? Wiggins could become James’ pre-knee problems Dwyane Wade, a slashing, offensive force and a defensive partner capable of hyper-trapping the perimeter and busting it the other way.

LeBron, fast approaching 30 and now taking his contract year-by-year — apparently to maximize his annual take as the salary cap is estimated to increase each year, and not as an escape — clearly doesn’t feel he’s got time to wait.

The ball’s in Cleveland’s court, and that’s got to be a tough thing for the No. 1 pick who has come to find out he isn’t fit for a King — at least not at this juncture of his reign.

“No, no, I don’t talk to him about any of that stuff because, for me, it doesn’t mean anything,” Blatt said. “At least not right now.”

Chris Grant Doomed By Draft Record


VIDEO: The Lakers beat the Cavs, 119-108

Somebody had to take the fall Thursday for 16-33 and losing the night before even as the Lakers ran out of bodies. It certainly wasn’t going to be owner Dan Gilbert, and it wasn’t going to be players – when getting traded away from the Cavaliers is a reward, not being held accountable. That left general manager Chris Grant to get the termination notice.

In the real perspective, we’re not close to knowing the actual damage of Grant as head of basketball operations, particularly with the draft, and maybe not close by years. If it turns out Dion Waiters really is more problem than production, it is not just a miss in 2012, it’s also the current scrutiny on 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett compounded because the Cavs will have known they had a problem at shooting guard and passed on Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore. A bad decision is one thing, something that happens to every team, but not reacting to it would be the real blight.

It is not too soon, though, to see that the draft was his downfall. Signing Andrew Bynum went bad but was pretty low risk with the chance for a huge payout, hiring Mike Brown as coach may have been more Gilbert and the latest in the infinite timeline of GMs taking the hit for an owner, and trading for Luol Deng could still work out as long as Deng re-signs. This is about June decisions.

That would be the case even with staying judgment on 2013. Bennett has had a historically bad start – 30.1 percent from the field the first 38 appearances – but writing off a prospect before the All-Star break of his rookie season, after an injury, while in that atmosphere, is just too knee-jerk. If he’s this bad a year from now, pile on. But Bennett was regarded by many front offices as a top-three talent before the draft and deserves more time, and it’s not exactly like this was a field overflowing with good options, as 2013-14 is proving out for a lot more teams beyond the Cavaliers.

Even with that benefit of the doubt, the unavoidable truth is that Grant had every break, had four choices in the top four the last three drafts, and still delivered one standout, Kyrie Irving, and one other starter, Tristan Thompson. Grant got an unprotected pick from the Clippers in a trade that beat long odds to draw to No. 1, he was the benefactor of another lottery win two years later in an amazing sequence of luck, he got Deng because the Bulls were looking to pare salary and the Cavs had Bynum as a trade chip, but still 16-33 at the time of the firing.

In the 2011 draft:

No. 1: Irving. Grant got the obvious one right. No matter how many tried to create late buzz for Derrick Williams as a possible alternative, Duke point guard Irving was clearly the guy.

No. 4: Thompson. This was an obvious intersection moment at the time that continues to this day. The Cavaliers could have had Jonas Valanciunas and were in better position than anyone to wait the extra year Valanciunas would spend in Europe, with Irving in the fold as a sign of progress in addition to a feeling of resilience around the franchise in wanting to bounce back from the open-heart surgery without anesthesia performed by LeBron James.

Thompson was not a terrible choice, a hard-working 23 year old and already in a second consecutive of flirting with a double-double. But Valanciunas would have been the answer at center, a tougher position to fill than power forward. The Cavaliers have been playing catch up ever since, trading three picks, though none of consequence, to take Tyler Zeller at No. 17 in 2012, then trying for Bynum, and now getting inside production from Anderson Varejao.

The Grant disclaimer is that it has turned out to be a bad lottery for a lot of people with mistakes almost every other direction he could have turned – the top 10 was Irving, Williams, Enes Kanter, Thompson, Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette. It really has played out as Thompson or Valanciunas in a draft flooded with misses, with Klay Thompson lasting until 11, Kawhi Leonard to 15, Nikola Vucevic at 16 and Kenneth Faried at 22, not to mention Chandler Parsons at 38.

In 2012:

No. 4: Waiters. Anthony Davis (Hornets/Pelicans), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Bobcats) and Bradley Beal (Wizards) were gone. A lot of teams had Waiters around the middle of the lottery, so it’s not like moving two or three spots up from the consensus is a reach by the Cavaliers. Waiters was seen as a talented scorer who could fit well alongside Irving to cement the Cleveland backcourt for the next 10 years.

Not only has he not worked out, but Harrison Barnes (No. 7 to Golden State) was still on the board and in that range in what would have been an answer at small forward, likewise Andre Drummond (No. 9 to Detroit) at center. And that’s removing Damian Lillard (No. 6 to Portland) from the conversation because Cleveland was set at point guard.

And, 2013:

No. 1: Bennett. Bringing a player who needs shots to be effective to a team that would have Irving and Waiters commanding the ball was an invitation for trouble from the beginning, apart from Bennett’s other troubles. Those became part of the Cavaliers’ troubles that this week landed on Grant as part of a troubling draft record.

Cavs Mired In Self-Made Mess




VIDEO: Kyrie Irving sits down with TNT’s Craig Sager to talk all things Cavs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This is what happens when you try to outsmart the system without the right parts, when you think you’ve come up with a formula for an equation that doesn’t actually have one.

All of the lottery picks, risky free agent acquisitions, financial flexibility, spread sheets and advanced statistical and analytical data on the planet won’t save a NBA executive or coach from that wicked reality when the bill is due.

Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant found out the hard way today when he was relieved of his duties and replaced, at least on an interim basis, by his former assistant and now “acting general manager” David Griffin. The Cavaliers are a mess, one of their own making, and Grant — despite keeping a low public profile by GM standards — found himself on the firing line, and rightfully so. Organizational and institutional arrogance will get you every time.

And there is no quick fix, no easy way out of this tire fire for the Cavaliers. There is only the painful and very public walking of the plank for Grant as Griffin, and whoever succeeds him, tries to salvage whatever they can from the wreckage that is the past four years and steer the franchise back onto solid ground.

You can’t blame All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving for being anxious about the direction of the franchise after yet another season goes sideways before Valentine’s Day. He’s not the one who chose Mike Brown, who had already been unceremoniously dumped in his previous stint with the franchise because he couldn’t get the franchise over the championship hump, to usher in the new era of Cavaliers’ basketball. He didn’t draft Dion Waiters or Anthony Bennett when everyone in the league would have gone elsewhere with those top picks. He didn’t sign Andrew Bynum or engineer any of the other moves that have come post-The Decision. Whether it was his call or not (most anyone with a lick of wisdom about this situation knows that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert‘s voice was heard on each and every decision), Grant owns all of those moves.

Trading for Luol Deng was a nice move, but it didn’t happen soon enough. It came after the air of inevitability about this particular Cavaliers team, a woeful 16-33 in a depressed Eastern Conference that they were expected to make a playoff statement in, was already established.

Gilbert made his intentions for the immediate future clear in a statement released by the team:

“This has been a very difficult period for the franchise. We have severely underperformed against expectations. Just as this is completely unacceptable to our loyal and passionate fan base, season ticket holders and corporate partners, it is also just as unacceptable to our ownership group. I can assure everyone who supports and cares about the Cleveland Cavaliers that we will continue to turn over every stone and explore every possible opportunity for improvement to shift the momentum of our franchise in the right direction. There is no one in our entire organization who is satisfied with our performance, and to say that we are disappointed is an understatement. We all know the great potential of our young talent, seasoned veterans, as well as our recent all-star addition. We believe a change in leadership was necessary to establish the best possible culture and environment for our entire team to flourish.

There is no move, nor any amount of capital investment, we will not make if we believe it will improve our chances of competing and winning in this league for both the short and long term. The fans of this great city have invested too much time, money and effort for the kind of product we have recently delivered to them. This must change,” concluded Gilbert.

This is the latest example of a franchise assuming that there is a template for the type of success enjoyed by the likes of the San Antonio Spurs translating to every other market. It takes stars, superstars usually, and just the right fit to launch an outfit from the lottery to the upper echelon of the league. The players come first, then the success. That’s the way it’s always been and always will be. Assuming that some set infrastructure is supposed to come first is where the Cavaliers went wrong.

They were spoiled during the LeBron James years. They foolishly assumed their fabric had as much to do with those teams making deep forays into the playoffs year after year as James did. Maybe they realize now that there is no chicken and egg debate here. You either grow your superstar and surround him with the right pieces to reach his potential or you make mistake after mistake — the Cavs, before and after Grant joined them (he was an assistant GM first) made plenty of those while LeBron was on his way up — and eventually watch things come apart at some point down the road.

James didn’t depart his native Northeast Ohio because he hated snow or tired of the comforts of home. He went to Miami to win and because the Heat, and Pat Riley, offered a surefire path to the one thing all of the all-time greats covet most, and that’s a Larry O’Brien trophy.

I knew where this thing was headed the moment Gilbert’s now infamous post-Decision promise that the Cavs would win a title before James and the Heat was unearthed to the public.

The risky move to sign Bynum over the summer, when the Cavs were one of a handful of teams with cap space and assets to make big moves, was one that alerted the players already on the roster that Grant and his staff were grasping for anything to make a splash.

It turns out that the Bynum signing was every bit the useless play I thought it was. All it did was increase the tension in an already fragile relationship between Irving and Waiters. The Cavaliers’ locker room culture wasn’t strong enough to absorb and force a cat with Bynum’s baggage to conform, the way he’ll have to in Indiana now if he wants to stick around with a contender for the remainder of this season.

Their Central Division rivals to the north in Indianapolis are a shining example of what the Cavaliers could have and should have been able to do during the time that has passed since LeBron’s departure. They took risks in drafts, free agency and trades and in hiring Frank Vogel as their coach to manage what has become one of the most complete and balanced rosters in the league.

It certainly helps to have Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard at the helm while going through the rebuilding process. But that’s still no excuse for the Cavaliers taking such a cavalier attitude towards conventional wisdom over the course of the past five or six seasons.

In a results-oriented business, the Grant-led Cavaliers simply never showed enough to warrant him making it to the final year of his contract. And now that same mess he inherited will be passed along to Griffin and whoever else follows. Whether or not Irving, Deng and any of the other players acquired on Grant’s watch will be around to see this thing to the finish is anyone’s guess.

But there are some certainties involved in this process, no matter how many perceived assets the person calling the shots is working with. You can go off on your own and decide to reinvent the game if you want, you can take players that don’t fit and squeeze with all your might to try to make it work. You can look past fresh new faces in the coaching ranks in an attempt to right a past wrong or what have you, but you can not and will not circumvent the system. It just doesn’t work.

If you don’t believe it, ask Gregg Popovich how that all would have worked in San Antonio if he didn’t have Time Duncan to build around; or Sam Presti in Oklahoma City without Kevin Durant.

The superstar players come first, then the structure around them. And it all has to fit together.

Blogtable: Better Future, Bulls Or Cavs?

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


Future pick: CHI or CLE | High-energy stud | DMC an All-Star?


Kyrie Irving (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Kyrie Irving (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

If you had to bet on which team will be better in three years, who would you pick: Chicago or Cleveland?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comCleveland. They’re younger and they’ve already turned the allure of “future Draft picks” into high draft selections such as Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and, er, Anthony Bennett. The Bulls have to hope they get lucky with the pick they have coming from Charlotte or steal someone with the Kings pick from the Deng deal. Then there is the dueling luck of landing the No. 1 pick for an elite point guard. Well, Irving hasn’t had any injury as debilitating, and ominous, as Derrick Rose’s two knee blowouts. Since Chicago never has proven an ability to lure the top free agents, they’re pretty evenly matched in how they can improve. The Cavs’ assets just have a greater upside.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You always start by deciding which team has the best individual player and I’m taking Derrick Rose over Kyrie Irving while assuming that LeBron James won’t return to the Cavs. At this point there is no reason to think back-to-back Rose injuries are anything but bad luck and in three years the former MVP will be healthy, still only 28 and the key piece to build around. In three years Joakim Noah is only 31, Jimmy Butler 26. Then there are all the Draft picks and roster flexibility that was just gained by trading Luol Deng.  To start with, Chicago potentially has three lottery picks in the loaded 2014 Draft. When they amnesty Carlos Boozer, there will also be cap space that could attract a big-name free agent.

Chicago's Tom Thibodeau (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau
(Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comChicago. The Bulls still have solid players on the roster. Derrick Rose will be back. Lots of Draft picks being accumulated and cap space coming if/when amnesty Carlos Boozer this summer. Great coach who gets most out of his players. Potential is there for a fast rebuild. Cleveland? Not so much.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comChicago, because of the track record of the front office compared to Cleveland’s recent history. Because if Tom Thibodeau is still the coach, the Bulls will have an advantage over most teams in that department. Because Cleveland has mostly only produced on lottery night. Derrick Rose is obviously the great unknown for the Bulls, while the Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving. The certainty, though, is that Chicago is the organization that has shown it can build something.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s impossible to know who each team will add or subtract in the next few years, if Derrick Rose will ever be back to his former self, or if Tom Thibodeau will last another three years in Chicago. But a core of Rose (28 in three years), Jimmy Butler (27), Nikola Mirotic (25), Taj Gibson (31) and Joakim Noah (31) should be stronger than the Cavs’ current core three years from now, because most of those Chicago guys are two-way players. Of course, I don’t necessarily believe in the Bulls organization’s willingness to keep a veteran (and somewhat expensive) core together.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI’m not a betting man. But if I had to choose, I’m going with Chicago, based mostly on their track record compared to that of the Cavaliers in recent seasons. The Cavaliers haven’t shown any propensity for getting it right since losing LeBron James to free agency, so I’m not ready to wager anything on them at this point. From Drafts and trades to free agency armed with ample cap space, they’ve just missed the mark at almost every turn. And thanks to the Luol Deng-Andrew Bynum deal, the Bulls have assets and the promise (however fragile it might be right now) of Derrick Rose returning to some shape and or form of the MVP and All-Star he was before his knee injuries changed the game. The Bulls have tons of flexibility to work with as they rebuild the core group of a team had exhausted its possibilities. I know Tom Thibodeau isn’t pleased and might not stick around to see the new core come to fruition. But again, the possibilities are endless!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: There are a lot of ways to parse this but to me, Chicago has Derrick Rose, Cleveland has Kyrie Irving, and that’s a pretty simple and fair way to decide this thing. I know Cleveland was supposed to be the young and up-and-coming team this season, but they’ve been that team for a while now and haven’t been able to make that jump into being a genuine Playoff contender, either because of injuries or because of personnel missteps. This latest trade for Luol Deng might get them into the postseason this season, but trading a handful of picks for a guy who will be a free agent this summer doesn’t really speak to long-term planning. And yeah, I know Derrick Rose has had injury issues, but for me, having a recent MVP on the roster means I go with Chicago.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: It’s all about Derrick Rose’s health for Chicago, but assuming that he’ll return to form sooner or later, I go with the Bulls. They have already established a winning culture and can rely on a great core that is still young: Rose, Butler, Noah, Gibson, Snell. They will add Nicola Mirotic next summer and probably have two first-round picks in a deep Draft. If they amnesty Boozer, they will also have some financial flexibility.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: For now, I would pick Cleveland. The Cavaliers have fewer variables to deal with and have more all-around young talent on their squad set to pop over the next three years. With Chicago, we don’t know how Derrick Rose will recover, whether they will amnesty Carlos Boozer and land a big free agent and even whether or not they will continue with the coaching staff down the road, given how injuries have piled up over the past few years.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Chicago. First of all, they start at a better place right now than the Cavs. Secondly, they have a great coach that can built a solid team despite injuries or any kind of problems. Thirdly, everybody hopes that Derrick Rose will be back at his top form in three years. Fourthly, by shipping Deng they made a lot of cap space and the potential to make the moves they want over the summer.

Schedule A Part Of Cavs’ Struggles


VIDEO: The Starters chat about the struggling Cavs

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – We’ve probably done enough dissection of the struggling Brooklyn Nets, whose main problem is the health of three of their top six guys. So let’s move on and try to figure out what’s wrong with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavs didn’t have nearly the expectations that the Nets did, but they’ve been a lot more healthy and were a team we all expected to take a big step forward this season, compete for a playoff spot, and show potential free agents that this was a team you’d want to join. They have a new coach, a couple of new veterans, and a developing young core surrounding a star point guard in his third season.

But here they are at 4-11, tied with the Nets, having lost seven of their last eight games and ahead of only Milwaukee and Utah in point differential per 100 possessions. Their four wins have been by an average of 3.5 points and their 11 losses have been by an average of 13.0. So their point differential is that of a 3-12 team and it hasn’t been late-game luck that’s done them in.

There are trade rumors involving Dion Waiters, who they drafted with the No. 4 pick (ahead of Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond, among others) just 17 months ago and their No. 1 pick from this year has shot 21 percent and is receiving DNPs. If things don’t turn around soon, this will be the ugliest situation in the league (if it isn’t already).

So how does it turn around?

Mike Brown, with help from a healthy Anderson Varejao, has made a difference on defense, where the Cavs are allowing 4.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. They’ve defended the paint better, they’ve done a better job of keeping their opponents off the free-throw line, and they’ve rebounded better. Considering where they were last season, it would have been near impossible to regress in those three areas and they still have a long way to go on defense, but progress is progress.

On offense, the Cavs have regressed. In fact, only three teams – Utah, New York and Milwaukee – have taken bigger steps back on that end of the floor.

Most regressed offenses (points scored per 100 possessions)

Team 2012-13 Rank 2013-14 Rank Diff.
Utah 103.6 12 92.2 30 -11.4
New York 108.6 3 98.2 24 -10.4
Milwaukee 100.9 21 93.4 29 -7.5
Cleveland 100.8 23 94.1 27 -6.7
Oklahoma City 110.2 2 103.8 9 -6.4

The Cavs have shot better (and more) from 3-point range, but they’re not getting to the basket as much as they did last season and they’re shooting worse when they get there.

Cavs shooting from restricted area and 3-point range, last two seasons

Season RFGM RFGA RFG% %RFGA 3PM 3PA 3P% %3PA
2012-13 1,238 2,211 56.0% 32.0% 547 1,581 34.6% 22.9%
2013-14 170 329 51.7% 26.2% 106 302 35.1% 24.1%

%RFGA = Percentage of total FGA from the restricted area
%3PA = Percentage of total FGA from 3-point range

Kyrie Irving‘s 3-point percentage has dropped quite a bit this season (he’s 1-for-12 in his last three games), but he’s taken more of his shots from the restricted area than he did last season. Inside, the issue is the Cleveland bigs, who don’t exactly dominate the paint.

Andrew Bynum has shot 7-for-24 in the restricted area, Tristan Thompson has also shot less than 50 percent near the basket, and Varejao has turned into a jump shooter. He has taken 40 percent of his shots from mid-range, up from 23 percent over his first nine seasons. Overall, the Cavs have attempted 33.2 percent of their shots from mid-range, in a virtual tie with the Wizards for the highest rate in the league.

Turnovers are another issue. Last season, the Cavs had the sixth lowest turnover rate in the league, coughing up the ball only 14.3 times per 100 possessions. This season, they’re turning it over 17.1 times per 100 possessions, the eighth highest rate in the league.

Irving’s turnover rate is about the same, but Jarrett Jack has the second highest turnover rate (behind only Victor Oladipo) of guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game. A few other rotation guys have seen their turnover rates increase.

At this point in the season, schedule has to be taken into account. The Cavs have played the eighth toughest schedule in the league (accounting for location and days of rest). They’re one of only two teams (the Nets are the other) that has yet to play two consecutive home games and eight of their 15 games have been against the league’s top 10 defenses. (They’re 3-4 and scoring 101.5 points per 100 possessions against non-top-10 defenses.)

After they visit Boston on Friday (7:30 ET, League Pass), the Cavs get their first homestand, hosting the Bulls on Saturday and Nuggets on Wednesday. Amazingly, they won’t get their first homestand of more than two games until late January, but they’ll have a couple of practice days in the next week and only two of their next 10 opponents rank in the top 10 defensively.

So, just by virtue of their schedule, the Cavs should see their offense improve. And hey, they’re only two games out of a playoff spot.

But there’s still some fixing to do on offense. They have to cut down on their turnovers, take better shots, and hope that Bynum can be more effective as the season goes on.

New Coaches: Five That Fit

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HANG TIME, Texas – Sometimes it’s the big things, a change in philosophy or overall team strategy that’s required to make a difference. Sometimes it’s just a new attitude, a new voice that’s needed in the locker room.

With a baker’s dozen new coaches ready to roam NBA sidelines — at least one in every division — this season, some will find the task a heavier lift than the circus wagon that holds the elephants.

Others will pick up their new teams immediately. Here are the five coaches who’ll make themselves right at home in their new digs and have the smoothest transitions:

Doc Rivers, Clippers – The veteran of previous stints with the Magic and Celtics definitely has the least room for improvement in the win column, since the Clips already won a franchise-best 56 games and their first-ever division title a year ago. But the little brothers of Staples Center won’t really shed their “second-class-citizen” image until they make a real run in the playoffs and that’s where Rivers’ experience will pay off. While they will still dance to the tune of Chris Paul’s talent on the court, Rivers will get them marching to a more serious, professional beat at both ends of the floor and in the locker room. They have to be more than just a group that jumps into the passing lanes to get steals on the defensive end and thrives on Lob City dunks on offense. He knows what it takes to win a championship and will put his stamp on the team early so we’ll notice the difference.

Mike Brown, Cavaliers — Let’s face it. Other than a fat man in an undersized Speedo, there wasn’t a more uncomfortable fit anywhere than Brown coaching the Lakers for a year and a smidgen. But now he’s back in Cleveland in a familiar role with a young team that is trying to build something special around an All-Star talent. OK, Kyrie Irving isn’t LeBron James, but he is the kind of lead horse that can pull the wagon. The truth is that these Cavaliers have a deeper collection of all-around talent than ever surrounded James, from Anderson Varejao to Tristan Thompson to Jarrett Jack to No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett and maybe a rehabilitated Andrew Bynum. Brown will emphasize what he knows best — defense — to give the Cavs a toughness and identity that, assuming Irving stays healthy, will have them back in the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left.

Jason Kidd, Nets – If it was so easy, the Naismith Hall of Fame would be filled with plaques of many more All-Stars who took off their uniforms one night and slipped easily into the role of head coach the next. There will be plenty about the nuts and bolts of the job that Kidd will have to learn as he goes along. But it helps that as point guard he already possessed some of the coaching genes. It also helps that he’s walking into a locker room filled with veterans names Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko, who are all looking to erase recent seasons of disappointment to come together and win a championship. Kidd won’t have to sweat the small stuff with this bunch. Garnett, Pierce and Terry have all won rings before and know the sacrifices that have to be made and the work that must be put in. In fact, Kidd’s toughest job might be holding them back and limiting regular season playing time. Since he’s in the glare of the New York media, any mistakes along the way by the rookie coach might be magnified, but he’s played a good portion of his career there and knows how to survive.

Mike Budenholzer, Hawks – After nearly two decades in San Antonio and the past six seasons as Gregg Popovich’s right hand man on the Spurs bench, this was finally the right time and the right place for Budenholzer to make the move into the No. 1 seat. For one thing, the Hawks are certainly not bereft of talent, even after the departure of Josh Smith. Free agent Paul Millsap will fill in capably. For another, it’s not as if there is the burden of having to live up to decades — or even one or two seasons — of greatness. But mostly it was time because Budenholzer was hand-picked by general manager Danny Ferry, his old Spurs buddy, as the start of a plan to finally have the Hawks build something special and to do it the right way. The Eastern Conference has gotten stronger at the top and it will be much tougher for Atlanta to break through against the likes of Miami, Indiana, Chicago and Brooklyn. But Budenholzer and Ferry won’t be impatient, are in this for the long haul and will have each other’s back. There’s no rush this season.

Maurice Cheeks, Pistons – After previous stints as head coach in Portland and Philadelphia, Cheeks spent the past four seasons as Scott Brooks’ assistant in Oklahoma City getting prepared for his third chance. The understated Cheeks knows his stuff and knows what he wants and could be just the right personality to get the newly acquired, up-and-down pair of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to deliver every night. The real heat is on general manager Joe Dumars to build the once-proud franchise back up after a half decade of serious slippage has had the Pistons way outside of even playoff contention, let alone the championship conversation. Cheeks will have Chauncey Billups back with his championship pedigree as an extension on the court and if he can keep the young big man tandem of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe moving ahead together, the Pistons could bring some joy back into The Palace with a run at a playoff spot.

FIBA Update: Three More Earn Bids

Luis Scola, now with the Pacers, had a major impact on Argentina's win over Canada.

Luis Scola, now with the Pacers, had a major impact on Argentina’s win over Canada.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Three more teams punched their tickets to next year’s World Cup of Basketball on Sunday. The Dominican Republic, Argentina and Mexico will be in Spain next summer, thanks to the results of the first two games at the FIBA Americas tournament in Caracas.

In the first game on Sunday, the Dominican used a 9-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to take control against Uruguay. They held on for their fifth straight win, earning the country its first berth in a major international hoops tournament since 1978. Al Horford didn’t play this summer, but he could join Francisco Garcia and company next summer in Spain. He certainly seems excited about the possibility…

In the second game, Argentina finished the third quarter on a 20-6 run to turn a nine-point deficit into a five-point lead. Behind a huge game (28 points and seven rebounds) from Luis Scola, they held on to beat Canada and get back to the world stage. And it will be interesting to see if veterans like Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino and Pablo Prigioni will join them for one more run next summer in Spain.

For Canada, this was a brutal end to the tournament. They won four of their first five games, but then lost their last three (by an average of six points) to get sent home. When Argentina made its third-quarter run, the Canadians simply couldn’t handle the pressure.

Cory Joseph (16.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists), Andrew Nicholson (15.0 points on 53 percent shooting) and Tristan Thompson (11.6 points and 10.0 rebounds) all had their moments during the tournament, but consistency was an issue.

If they finished in the top four, the trio (along with Joel Anthony) could have been joined by Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk at the World Cup next summer. With four wild card invitations to be handed out later this year, that possibility still exists, but there’s already a strong list of wild card candidates — including Brazil, China and Nigeria — who will be joined by a few solid European teams.

The Argentina win also clinched a spot for Mexico, who owned the tiebreaker over Venezuela. Mexico went on to make things doubly official with a win over Puerto Rico, who rested Carlos Arroyo, Renaldo Balkman and J.J. Barea, having clinched a top-four spot on Saturday. So we should be seeing the the Hawks’ Gustavo Ayon (averaging 16.4 points and 8.0 rebounds) next summer in Spain.

The FIBA Americas semifinals, which will be largely ceremonial, take place Tuesday.

Eurobasket field thins out after Monday

After Day 5 of Eurobasket, only one team remains unbeaten and, surprise, it’s Italy. Led by 42 combined points from the Spurs’ Marco Belinelli (23) and the Pistons’ Luigi Datome (19), the Italians beat Greece in a matchup of 3-0 teams on Sunday. Both teams, along with Finland (3-1) are on their way to the second round as Group D’s three representatives.

The other unbeaten teams going into Sunday’s action were host Slovenia and Mike Fratello‘s Ukraine squad. Slovenia held a 13-point lead in the third quarter over Croatia. But Croatia came back and won in overtime to join Spain and Slovenia at 3-1 in Group C. The Czech Republic has a shot to crash the party if they can beat Croatia on Monday.

Ukraine was knocked off by France (Tony Parker had 28 points), leaving things still up in the air in Group A, where Ukraine-Great Britain will be Monday’s big game. Similarly, Bosnia-Lithuania could shake things up in Group B.

Eurobasket top offenses (points scored per 100 possessions) through Sunday (4 games):
1. Greece – 115.6
2. Italy – 114.2
3. Georgia – 112.2
4. France – 111.2
5. Germany – 105.4

Eurobasket top defenses (points allowed per 100 possessions) through Sunday (4 games):
1. Spain – 76.0
2. Finland – 86.3
3. Lithuania – 90.6
4. Czech Republic – 92.2
5. Italy – 95.2

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

No. Team Qualified
1 Spain Host
2 USA 2012 Olympic champion
3 Iran FIBA Asia champion
4 Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
5 Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
6 Australia FIBA Oceania champion
7 New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
8 Angola FIBA Africa champion
9 Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
10 Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
11 Argentina FIBA Americas top four
12 Dominican Republic FIBA Americas top four
13 Mexico FIBA Americas top four
14 Puerto Rico FIBA Americas top four
15 Eurobasket champion*
16 Eurobasket 2nd place*
17 Eurobasket 3rd place*
18 Eurobasket 4th place*
19 Eurobasket 5th place*
20 Eurobasket 6th place*
21 Wildcard
22 Wildcard
23 Wildcard
24 Wildcard

* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.

Bynum Vows To Return To Form With Cavs



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Andrew Bynum is well aware of his skeptics … those who don’t believe that his work ethic can match his physical tools and the crowd that believes we might have seen the best of him already.

We are going to serve as his motivation this season in Cleveland, which is exactly what I wanted to hear from the Cavaliers’ big man during his introductory news conference this morning.

Shut me up. Shut us all up, big fella. And show us that we are wrong about you.

Show us that you are indeed the All-Star you claim to be. Show us that you are one of the top big men in basketball. Because showing us is the only way you will convert the masses.

The Cavaliers have provided the platform. General manager Chris Grant was by his side, clearing the path for Bynum to speak his peace and then get ready to work (bright and early Monday, according to Bynum). Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, who is familiar with Bynum from their season together with the Los Angeles Lakers, will be there to do whatever it takes to help Bynum succeed.

But in the end, if Bynum plans to return to form this season, the onus is on him … fragile knees and all, his critics be damned.

“I feel like for me getting my career back on track and really playing a full year is my only goal with this season,” Bynum said about his goals for the 2013-14 season. “I really feel like I can accomplish it. Work ethic-wise, I come in every day and I work hard. I don’t really — I feel like it’s a little bit unfair at times, but that’s just something that comes with the territory. Obviously, you take that and use it as motivation to come out and prove everybody wrong.”

Bynum insists the scathing reviews of his work ethic have been off base at best and totally unfair.

“Completely,” he said. “I worked really hard to get where I am, and I continue to work hard. I’ve had injuries in the past, and there is a lot to be said for people who think that way. But I think if you get to know me and you look at how hard I have worked to get where I am now, that that’s kind of nonsense.”

This player, who boasts franchise-big man talent, just signed a two-year deal that could be worth some $24 million (only $6 million is guaranteed) provided he delivers on all of the hype he talked up this morning. And he very well could return to form. He could be the dominant force he was during his last healthy season, in 2011-12, when he averaged 18.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg and 1.9 bpg en route to his first All-Star nod.

That Bynum, alongside a healthy Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Jarrett Jack, Anderson Varejao, Earl Clark, Tyler Zeller and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, among others, is a solid start. That could be the nucleus of a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

“This is definitely a playoff team,” Bynum insisted. “We have new talent. We have Jarrett Jack, we have Earl Clark who had a phenomenal year last year. I can’t wait to play with Anderson, honestly. I haven’t played with — he brings a kind of energy and passion to the game that I really haven’t been around. Obviously, I played with Kobe [Bryant], but just from a guy who is willing to sacrifice everything for the team, I think that goes leaps and bounds inside the locker room. So I’m really excited about this roster. We definitely have the opportunity to go.”

But for those of us finding it hard to shake the images of Bynum on the bench all last season with the Philadelphia 76ers, the doubt remains. He’s 305 pounds right now, way over his usual playing weight of 280. And we haven’t seen how his knees will respond to his latest round of procedures, rest and rehabilitation.

Bynum said he was in shape and ready to go last season, only to have those recurring knee issues torpedo his season and the Sixers’ plans to build a contender around him. Bynum claims he was as shocked as anyone at the way things played out in Philly.

“Yes, I was completely surprised. I had every intention of playing and I showed up,” he said. “I was ready. I was down in playing weight, I was in shape. It’s just an unfortunate situation that it didn’t work out for me there. Again, going forward here, we have a great plan. I’m going to stick to it, and will I be ready. I have been doing a bunch of non-weight bearing exercises just to protect my knees,” he said. “Going forward, we’re going to do some final screening and really strengthen my body so that I’m able to play. That’s something that’s going to be new for me this year coming here. I haven’t really had that in the past, and this organization has really laid it out for me to succeed.”

The Cavaliers have all of the pieces in place. It’s up to Bynum to show the basketball world that he has moved on from all that has gone down in recent seasons.

He’s saying all the right things. He swears he used his lost 2012-13 season to observe the game from a different perspective, to see where he is needed and how he can best benefit his new teammates and franchise.

“I can bring leadership, I can bring experience, and myself and the young team around me, we’re in an interesting opportunity to all rise together and really do something special.” Bynum said. “We have the talent, and now all it’s going to take is the work. I think everybody with the team, especially myself, we’re ready to put that in. Going forward, I want to get back to the All-Star level. I want to just work extremely hard and get this team into the playoffs and really make some noise. I think the Cleveland fans deserve that.”

Talking the talk is one thing.

Walking it is another.

Shut me up this season, big fella. Shut us all up!


Morning Shootaround — April 9

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.

News of the morning

World Peace not surprised by quick recovery | Favors hitting stride at right time | Riley wants to keep Heat stars together 10 years | Thompson taking leadership role on Cavs | Nowitzki: ‘Big summer’ ahead for Mavs

World Peace expects to start vs. HornetsJust a dozen days ago, Lakers forward Metta World Peace was thought to be lost for at least the first round of the playoffs (provided L.A. got in) if not for longer. But the man who always has something to say on Twitter has gone through a miraculous recovery from torn meniscus surgery and expects to play tonight against the Hornets. Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News has more on World Peace, his recovery and his teammates’ reaction to it all:

One teammate uttered the words “bionic nan.” Kobe Bryant has taken to calling Metta World Peace “Logan,” the character in “Wolverine.”

Whatever Metta Madness is flowing through his veins, it looks like World Peace will return to the Lakers lineup tonight, 12 days after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

A medical miracle? Not really, World Peace said. He was itching to play the moment he was asked by Dr. Steve Lombardo if he could put weight on the leg, and he hopped out of bed and did so only hours after the operation.

“As long as he didn’t have to stitch anything together, I couldn’t do anything to (further damage) it,” World Peace said Monday after going through 3-on-3 workouts. “I was in great shape. The doc said he was surprised my knee was in such great shape playing 14 years in the NBA and always in a defensive stance.

“When I heard all that, it wasn’t like I was trying to come back to be a Superman. I figured I’ve just got to play through pain and it will get better as time goes.”

“It’s unbelievable,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s different. I’ve never seen this before.”

World Peace said his recovery was so swift because of his diet and offseason workouts.

“I think the way I eat prepares me for a challenge like this,” World Peace said. “Even when I sprained my ankle most people would have been out a couple games and I came right back against New Orleans.

“You can take a lot of medicine, but when you eat right and you’re injured that swelling is minimized. Right after surgery (Lombardo) was amazed how the swelling didn’t even exist.”

Favors heating up as Jazz find rhythmWhen the Jazz opted to part ways with Deron Williams at the trade deadline during the 2010-11 season, they instead changed directions of the franchise as they plucked Derrick Favors from the Nets (as well as a future first-round pick — which became Enes Kanter). Favors has had periods of fits and starts with Utah during his 2 1/2 seasons there, showing flashes of the talent that made him the No. 3 overall pick. Particularly on defense, Favors has always been a steady contributor for the Jazz, but his offense and post moves have lacked behind. But lately, as Utah is making its push for the postseason and the No. 8 seed in the West, Favors is getting it done, writes Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune: 

When Derrick Favors arrived in Utah, he was a teenage NBA rookie who had just been traded by a team which repeatedly reassured him that he wasn’t going anywhere.

Favors was confused, bewildered and a little disillusioned after being the centerpiece — at least from the Jazz’s perspective — in the blockbuster trade that sent All-Star Deron Williams to New Jersey.

Coach Tyrone Corbin remembers when the quiet, stone-faced Favors joined the Jazz in 2011.

“Scared,” Corbin said. “He was a scared 19-year-old … that was surprised he got traded and didn’t know what to think of it, what to think of us or where to go next.”

Told of Corbin’s description before Monday morning’s practice, Favors smiled.

“I wasn’t scared,” he said. “I would say I was just mentally exhausted from the whole thing. Everything I went through in New Jersey and then I was traded here, I was just mentally exhausted.”

When he returned to Utah for the 2011-12 season, Favors “started feeling more comfortable because I knew there weren’t going to be any trade rumors. I knew I was going to be here.”

Favors played well, but Corbin continued to bring him along slowly. He made nine starts in 65 games during the lockout-shortened season.

This year, Favors continued to come off the bench as part of Corbin’s big-man rotation that also included Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter, another developing youngster.

Still, Favors averaged only 22 minutes a game — at least until March 27.

In the second quarter of a game against Phoenix, Kanter was likely lost for the season with a dislocated shoulder.

Favors seized the moment.

In the next six games, he averaged 12.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 27 minutes.

In Sunday night’s 97-90 win at Golden State, Favors finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds in 30 minutes. His blocked shot with 40 seconds left helped preserve the critical victory.

“He’s grown all year,” said teammate Mo Williams. “He’s getting to the point where he’s turning the corner. … He’s doing great things for us down the stretch.”

Riley hopes to keep Heat stars together 10 yearsMiami Heat president Pat Riley was the man who, back during the 2009-10 season, put together a squad that amassed just 47 win and lost in the first round of the playoffs. After that season, though, Riley constructed the big rebuild of the Heat by re-signing Dwyane Wade while adding in Chris Bosh and LeBron James to create the superteam that Miami has come to know and love. That long-term vision is apparently on Riley’s mind again as he is working on constructing a way to keep the Bosh-James-Wade trio together beyond the summer of 2015-16, which is when all three players have player options on their deal. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald has more:

While the rest of the NBA community is busy speculating about the future of LeBron James and how the Heat plans to navigate the new salary cap, Pat Riley is thinking long-term about how special the run of this Heat team can become.

Speaking with reporters at the Heat’s “Family Fest” on Sunday, Riley pointed to models of success the NBA considers some the best in its history as the ultimate goal for the Heat while also reminding the city to enjoy this “special time.”

“I just want to keep helping them, keep bringing in more pieces that are going to complement them and hope we can have one of those 10-year rides, you know,” Riley said. “You think about every team, through the Celtics in the ’60s and the Lakers in the ’80s and the Bulls and then again the Spurs, those guys have been together eight, nine, 10 years and if we can keep this group together for eight, nine, 10 years, then we’re all going to have some fun.”

And then a piece of advice.

“So, don’t ever take it for granted,” he said.

Thompson taking on more leadership with CavsMuch was expected from Tristan Thompson, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2012 Draft, last season. But Thompson’s first NBA campaign was mostly a disappointment as he finished as an All-Rookie Second Team member. But this season, Thompson has found more of a groove on the court — the season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao freed up more minutes for the youngster — and has become a true building block for Cleveland’s future. As well as his increased on-court production, Thompson is emerging as a spokesman of sorts for the Cavs, something All-Star teammate Kyrie Irving has shied away from. Jason Lloyd of the Akron-Beacon Journal has more:

The evolution of Tristan Thompson as both a man and basketball player has dramatically progressed over the course of the last week. The Cavs will say he has always been one of the team’s leaders, but never so publicly as recently.

Thompson defended his coach as a father figure last week and called any speculation about Byron Scott’s precarious future “bogus.” Then he responded with two sensational performances in victories over the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic.

As Kyrie Irving continues to shrink away from any public platform, Thompson is embracing his role as a spokesman — and he’s backing it up with his play on the court, too.

“Just being myself, just being a natural leader and speaking up if I see something is wrong,” Thompson said after the victory Sunday against the Magic. “Just recently y’all have been coming to me, and I’ve been speaking, so I guess you can say I’ve been a leader.”

Because of the position he plays and his immense talent, Irving remains the floor leader. But twice in the past week Irving has been given the opportunity to take a stand publicly and twice he declined.

Asked after a dreadful loss to the Brooklyn Nets if the players had given up, Irving passed and said he wouldn’t answer for anyone else, then embellished the point of his recent shoulder injury as proof he hasn’t quit.

Asked prior to the game Sunday against the Magic about the speculation surrounding Scott, Irving again passed on the chance to support his coach.

“Until that time comes, I’m not really worried about it,” Irving said. “To even imagine that, I’m not going down that road. I’m focused on finishing the season with him and that’s all that matters right now.”

Thompson was so bothered by the speculation that he went into Scott’s office last Thursday and explained to his coach why he said, “All the rumors about coach Scott, hot seat and all that crap, that’s bogus. It’s up to us to go out and compete and play hard because we’re the ones out there. When he was out there playing, he won championships. It’s up to us to go out there and play.”

Scott conceded that he was touched by Thompson’s defense but told him to worry instead about his performance on the court.

“I told him, ‘You don’t have to fight my battles,’ ” Scott said. “Any coach would say, ‘I really appreciate the support from a guy like that.’ Then to go out and play the way he’s played has been fantastic. Hopefully he can continue to play that way.”

Nowitzki: ‘Big summer’ looms for MavsThe Dallas Mavericks’ immense letdown of a season is something that apparently is more than a little on Dirk Nowitzki‘s mind. The Mavs’ superstar chimed in on it yesterday in an interview with USA Today’s Sam Amick and, now, is getting the message out to the local writers, too. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more on Nowitzki and his thoughts on what will undoubtedly be a summer of changes for Dallas:

Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t want it to end like this.

Slugging it out for the eighth seed — or more likely missing the playoffs — is bad enough once. Or twice.

In the autumn of his NBA career, he wants more. And while he has no problem putting pressure on ownership to find some high-quality warriors to play alongside him, Nowitzki also is OK taking on his share of the workload off the court.

He’s ready to hit the recruiting trail.

“I’ve said it all year long — this is a big summer for us,” Nowitzki said. “We have to get better. We have to get some guys in that can get us back to the top level. We want to be a top-four seed in the West. That was always our goal, to play for the top. So this is a big summer. If [owner Mark Cuban] needs me to recruit and do all that stuff, I’m more than happy to.”

The Mavericks followed up their championship in 2011 by barely squeezing into the playoffs last season. They will probably miss the playoff this season for the first season since 1999-2000.

“I don’t know if it was necessarily Cuban’s plan to go for eight, nine one-year players,” Nowitzki said. “Once you let the championship team go, there were some consequences and obviously some risks that go with it.”

And Nowitzki has made it abundantly clear to Cuban that another season like this one isn’t something he’s interested in.

“My last couple years, I’d love to contend,” he said. “We’ve been a championship team that one year, and once you smell that victory, you want to smell it again. I don’t want to go anywhere else. [Cuban] knows that. Everybody knows that. I want to be a Maverick for life.”

ICYMI of the night: On the heels of the Hall of Fame announcement on Monday, it’s as good a time as any to relive the greatness that was Gary Payton in his prime …:

Hickson’s Sacrifice Has Him Well-Positioned For July

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DALLAS – Portland’s energetic J.J. Hickson has played himself into a great position even while playing out of position.

At 6-foot-9, Hickson is the Blazers’ undersized center who’s putting up double-doubles at a higher rate than even his All-Star teammate LaMarcus Aldridge. Hickson’s 14 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday’s loss at Dallas was his 27th double-double, tied for third-most in the league.

It’s the kind of production that will put Hickson, 24, atop many teams’ offseason shopping lists when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.

“I’d be lying if I wasn’t looking forward to it, but that’s something I’ll get more excited about when that period hits,” Hickson said. “It’s something that me and my agent will talk about, but right now I’m just worried about playing basketball and trying to make these playoffs.”

Hickson is averaging nearly 30 minutes a game, 12.9 ppg and a career-best 10.7 rpg to help a Blazers team with little depth to stay in playoff contention.

He’s been a steal for Portland at $4 million this season. The Blazers signed him off the waiver wire last March after Sacramento released him. The Kings acquired Hickson in a trade earlier in the season from Cleveland, the team that drafted him 19th overall in 2008 out of North Carolina State, but moved him out to make room for rookie Tristan Thompson.

Portland attempted to go the more traditional route at center last offseason, making an offer to restricted free agent Roy Hibbert, but Indiana matched to hold onto the promising big man. The Blazers also eyed Chris Kaman, who chose to sign with Dallas. Portland signed Hickson to a one-year deal.

“Nah,” Hickson said when asked if he imagined himself playing center on a daily basis. “But, you know, it’s what my team needs me to do and it’s what my teammates and coaches have asked me to do, so it’s something I’m willing to sacrifice for the team.

“I’ve just been strong mentally, I think, all season. I’m a physical player so that’s not a problem, but mentally I think I’ve been locked in and I’ve just been consistent with my play.”

He and Aldridge complement each other well. In first-year coach Terry Stotts‘ offense, Aldridge is extended out of the low block more often with Hickson occupying the weakside.

“L.A.’s the kind of player that can mix it up so I’m just playing off him,” Hickson said. “He knows my situation and we all know he hates to be called a ’5,’ so we make it work and we’re doing a good at it.”

At 6-11 and equipped with a solid post game, Aldridge is closer to a traditional 5 than Hickson will ever be.

“Sometimes we get too concerned in pigeon-holing players in what he is or what he isn’t,” Stotts said. “I think [Hickson] is a frontline player, whether you want to say he’s a 4 or a 5, he’s an effective frontline player. He can score, he can run, he can rebound and I’m a little reluctant to pigeon-hole him as he’s this or that.”

Even if Hickson does feel pigeon-holed as a pseudo-center.

“Yeah, I do,” Hickson said, frankly. “But like I say, that’s something I sacrifice for the team. The NBA world knows what my true position is and they know I’m sacrificing for my team and I think that helps us even more knowing that I’m willing to play the 5 to help us get wins.”

So what’s next for Hickson? Aldridge isn’t going anywhere, so big minutes at the 4 wouldn’t seem to exist in Portland, which drafted 7-foot center Meyers Leonard last June and could make a run in free agency (or through trades) at legit centers that potentially will hit the market such as Al Jefferson, Nikola Pekovic, perhaps Andrew Bynum or even Kaman again.

Suitors and a handsome payday won’t be in short supply come July, and Hickson certainly sounded as if he’d look long and hard at a starting power forward gig elsewhere. Which could make it difficult for Portland to retain him.

“Well,” Stotts said, “we’ll worry about that later.”