Posts Tagged ‘Tyler Hansbrough’

Casey, Raptors want to ride continuity

 

casey

Dwane Casey will be looking to build on last season’s 48-win campaign. (NBAE via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Back in December it hardly seemed possible that Dwane Casey would be standing here at Summer League with a smile on his face and his lightweight button-down shirt casually untucked, and most of all still as the coach of the Toronto Raptors.

This misbegotten big-market franchise with the redundant roster was floundering again, off to a 7-12 start, and the well-liked, but lame-duck Casey looked to be running out the clock on his three-year contract.

Then, on Dec. 8, new general manager Masai Ujiri, having built a reputation as a next-generation whiz, made the deal to send Rudy Gay and his massive contract to Sacramento for depth help in point guard Greivis Vasquez and forwards John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes. Around the same time, Knicks president James Dolan vetoed a trade that would have landed Raptors starting point guard Kyle Lowry in New York.

Suddenly, a feeling of stability overtook the team. They looked around, looked at themselves and liked what they saw. And everything changed.

“After the trade happened, I thought it brought our team together — camaraderie,” said Casey, who signed a three-year contract extension in May. “They made the decision that we were not going to be a lottery team — I think that’s what everybody expected — and we kept teaching them the principles of what we wanted to be doing and it just came together.

This wasn’t a referendum on Gay, who went to have a surprisingly efficient offensive season with the Kings. Gay and DeRozan are friends off the court, but ill-fitting parts on it, and as the parts fit better and the floor opened up, the Raptors’ offense, also buoyed by Lowry’s uprising, took off.

“It was a fit,” Casey said. “A lot of times you have talent and it doesn’t fit. DeMar and Rudy were similar and Terrence Ross is sitting there, he’s similar, so once you took all the pieces out it opened up things and we went from 29th, I think, in the league in assists to 16th or 17th. That really changed things for us. It helped us tremendously.”

On Dec. 8, the Raptors ranked 30th in assists and 28th in offensive efficiency (101.4 points per 100 possessions). From Dec. 9 to the end of the season, they ranked 13th in assists and ninth in offensive efficiency (107.2). They went 41-22 after the Gay trade and played a rousing seven-game series in front of madhouse crowds, plus gatherings of 10,000 fans in Maple Leaf Square. It was truly one of the great scenes of the postseason.

And it was enough to convince Lowry to stay put, making him the rare Raptor to re-up when he had a chance to leave. He signed a four-year deal worth $48 million. Free agents Patterson and Vasquez also re-signed. Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Jonas Valanciunas, Ross, Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough are all back, giving the Raptors a real sense of continuity in roster and process.

Toronto also traded Salmons to Atlanta for guard Lou Williams and intriguing developmental center Lucas Nogueria, and signed long, athletic wing James Johnson, who is coming off something of a breakout season with Memphis.

“I don’t know if [Lowry] is the first player to be a free agent to re-sign that had an opportunity to leave, so that says something about what we’re trying to do, where we are, trying to build,” Casey said. “For the first time in his career he was able to say, ‘this is a team that I’m one of the leaders of,’ and for him to come back, it does make a statement of where we are in our growth process and the kind of program we have, and kind of opened some eyes to what kind of city Toronto is.

“The continuity is huge,” Casey said. “You can just see it turning, guys are getting comfortable with the defensive system, the offensive system. We can be top 10 in both offense and defense. Now we just have to continue to do that.”

The Raptors could get some votes as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference when the preseason predictions start to hit the newsstands. LeBron James’ return to Cleveland has shaken up a conference that might boast a favorite in Chicago, but mostly has a handful of what should be entertaining squads, including Toronto, Cleveland, Washington, Indiana and perhaps Brooklyn and still Miami.

“There’s opportunity for somebody to step up, it’s so balanced right now from top to bottom,” Casey said of the conference. “It gives us an opportunity to move up and take another step.”

Back in December, that hardly seemed possible.

Ujiri The Ultimate Chemistry Teacher




VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors are on a roll right now, winners of four straight games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Masai Ujiri‘s front office peers around the NBA should pay close attention to the way the Toronto Raptors’ star goes about his business. While some franchise architects like to work their so-called magic with the public watching intently, Ujiri has done a masterful job (first in Denver and now in Toronto) tweaking chemistry and getting results.

In fact, Ujiri has proven himself to be the ultimate chemistry teacher these days in terms of knowing how to tweak a roster just right. The reigning NBA Executive of the Year, an honor voted on by his peers, Ujiri is making a strong push for repeat honors with the way the Raptors are playing since the Rudy Gay trade went down.

They are 9-3 and winners of eight of their last 10 games since moving Gay to Sacramento Dec. 9. It was a move designed to give the Raptors long-term flexibility and not necessarily an immediate jolt that has helped them climb all the way up to the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

But Ujiri has a way of studying a roster, figuring out what works and what doesn’t and then being fearless in his attempts to change things for the better. Since Gay was jettisoned, the Raptors have scored huge wins over the likes of Dallas and Chicago, and most recently in Oklahoma City (where they handed the West-best Thunder their first home loss of the season) and kicked off 2014 with an impressive home win over the East-best Indiana Pacers.

As much as this is about the fine work being done by Raptors coach Dwane Casey and his staff, and of course, the contributions of a roster full of grinders like DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Greivis Vasquez and others, this is about the man who put it all together.

Ujiri just happens to have the magic touch right now. And if you don’t believe it, just look at the hard times his former team has fallen upon in his absence. The Denver Nuggets have lost eight straight games, their longest such skid since the end of the 2002-03 season. Veteran point guard Andre Miller turned the heat up even more by ripping first-year coach Brian Shaw after Wednesday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, making matters worse in Denver while Ujiri has his new team soaring.

A boss like Ujiri keeps those dustups contained, as best can be, or at least at a minimum and away from the public. You don’t have to worry about those sorts of altercations when working conditions are at a premium. And Ujiri has freed up virtually every key rotation player on the Raptors’ roster to do what he does best after the Gay trade.

DeRozan and Lowry in particular are allowed to play more to their natural strengths on the perimeter, while Valanciunas has become more of a focal point as well. Role players like Johnson, the ridiculously underrated Vasquez, who came over from Sacramento in the trade, and young journeyman forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson have become critical pieces in the Raptors’ current run.

“No one on this team is selfish; everyone accepts their roles,” Patterson told reporters after the Raptors outslugged Paul George, Roy Hibbert and the Pacers to kick off the New Year. “No one wants to get more shots, no one wants to do more of this, no one is jealous of another player … we all understand what we have to do in order to make this machine keep rolling smoothly.”

The man responsible for making sure that machine runs without a hitch, of course, is Ujiri. He understands, as well or better than most right now, that team chemistry trumps just about everything else that goes on inside a team’s fabric in this day and age. Even the Miami Heat needed a year (and a Finals defeat at the hands of a Mavericks team that had off the charts chemistry) to figure that out.


VIDEO: The Raptors took it to the Pacers, kicking off 2014 in style before the home crowd

One Team, One Stat: Pacers Defend It All

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Indiana Pacers, who were one game away from reaching The Finals..

The basics
IND Rank
W-L 49-32 8
Pace 92.8 25
OffRtg 101.6 19
DefRtg 96.6 1
NetRtg +5.0 7

The stat

1st - Where the Pacers ranked in defending the restricted area, defending corner threes, and defending above-the-break threes.

The context

Those are the three most important areas of the floor, so yeah, the Pacers had the best defense in the league. The last team to lead the league in defending the restricted area and the 3-point line was the 2000-01 Spurs.

Roy Hibbert was largely responsible for the Pacers’ success at defending the rim. Indiana opponents shot just 50.4 percent in the restricted area with Hibbert on the floor, the lowest mark for any defender in the league who faced at least 500 restricted-area shots from opponents. Indy opponents shot 57.2 percent in the restricted area with Hibbert off the floor.

The general idea behind the Pacers’ defense is that, with Paul George sticking to the opponent’s best wing scorer (even through screens), Hibbert was able to stay home at the rim and the other guys were able to stay at home on shooters. Of course, that’s a lot more simple than it really is, and the Pacers do help off their man. They just don’t over-help and make the same communication mistakes that we saw in the Nets’ video last week.

Here are clips from Game 6 of the first round, where the Hawks shot just 9-for-19 from the restricted area and 3-for-19 from 3-point range…


The Pacers’ biggest issue last season was their bench. But their bench defended the 3-point line a lot better than their starters did. In the regular season at least, Indiana’s depth issues were all about offense.

Pacers’ efficiency and opponent 3-point shooting, regular season

Lineups MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/- Opp3PM Opp3PA Opp3PT%
Starters 1,218 108.6 96.5 +12.1 +284 136 376 36.2%
Other lineups 2,698 98.5 96.7 +1.8 +42 304 968 31.4%

A lot of that is the opposing lineups the bench was facing. The were facing other reserves who didn’t shoot as well or even create as many open shots. But that 36.2 percent from beyond the arc that the starters allowed would have ranked 19th in the league. And every player in the Pacers’ rotation had a on-court DefRtg of less than 99 points per 100 possessions. After Tony Allen (94.3), Gerald Green had the lowest on-court DefRtg (95.1) among players who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season.

The playoffs were a different story though…

Pacers’ efficiency and opponent 3-point shooting, playoffs

Lineups MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/- Opp3PM Opp3PA Opp3PT%
Starters 414 109.5 94.7 +14.8 +126 49 146 33.6%
Other lineups 502 94.5 107.4 -12.9 -123 85 231 36.8%

So the Pacers went shopping for a bench this summer. They said goodbye to D.J. Augustin, Green, Tyler Hansbrough and Sam Young, bringing in Chris Copeland, Luis Scola and C.J. Watson. The return of Danny Granger also boosts the second-unit offense, whether it’s Granger or Lance Stephenson coming off the bench.

The Pacers’ offense should definitely be better. But it will be interesting to see if the second-unit defense is as strong as it was last season. As both the Bulls and Pacers have shown over the last few years, ranking No. 1 defensively takes 10 guys.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

‘Birdman’ Sits, Heat’s Anthony Next Man Up




INDIANAPOLIS – Miami forward Chris (Birdman) Andersen got his wings clipped for a night – he’s missing Game 6 of the Eastern Conference championship series Saturday for his altercation Thursday with Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough. But it’s not as if NBA headquarters poured salt on his tail for the rest of the playoffs or his career.

“I’m not going to change who I am and how I play,” Andersen told reporters after Miami’s morning shootaround. “I just have to keep my composure a little better and be smarter and make the right decision the next time something like that happens.”

The next time “something like that happens,” if Andersen keeps his composure, it won’t happen at all. He started the incident with Hanbrough in the second quarter of Game 5, throwing a blindside shoulder into the Pacers forward as the two headed upcourt.

After Hansbrough got up off the court, the two banged chests. Then Andersen pushed Hansbrough back with a two-handed shove. Referee Marc Davis rushed over to push Andersen away from Hansbrough and the Heat forward briefly pushed back, grabbing at the ref’s wrist and arm.

That – resisting efforts to bring the altercation to an end, the league said – might have been the biggest reason Andersen’s flagrant-1 foul was upgraded to a flagrant-2 and he was hit with the one-game suspension. If his composure had kicked in at any point before that, he might have stayed eligible for one of his team’s biggest games of the season.

“I can’t regret anything. It is what it is, bro,” Andersen said.

The Birdman will be cooped up at the Heat’s hotel during Game 6, while coach Erik Spoelstra and the rest pick up the slack in rebounding, defensive and finishes at the rim that have made him so valuable of late. Spoelstra said backup big man Joel Anthony would get minutes normally reserved for Andersen but allowed for the possibility of other lineups and options.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said his team would be prepared for a variety of Miami looks. “It’s not just going to be [Anthony],” Vogel said. “They’ll play [Chris] Bosh a little more at [center]. They’ll give [Udonis] Haslem more time. They’ve got plenty of different lineups they can throw at us that I don’t expect them to have any dip.”

Heat’s ‘Birdman’ Grounded For Game 6



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Miami Heat won’t be able to lean on Chris “Birdman” Andersen in their quest to finish off the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The backup big man was suspended for one game without pay by the NBA this evening for a Flagrant-1 foul on Pacers’ forward Tyler Hansbrough that was upgraded to a Flagrant-2 foul, a penalty announced by NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Stu Jackson.

Losing Andersen is a blow for a Heat team that has struggled to find consistent help for LeBron James in this series. Andersen is a perfect 15-for-15 shooting in five games against the Pacers, averaging 7.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just 18.4 minutes. His energy and effort on both ends of the floor have been critical to the Heat’s cause.

Things went overboard, though, Thursday night in Game 5. Andersen was shoved from behind by Indiana’s Paul George, while chasing a rebound, and instead of checking to see who delivered the blow he went after Hansbrough, knocking him off of his feet as the two ran upcourt after the play.

Hansbrough and Andersen went chest to chest immediately after Hansbrough got back to his feet. Andersen followed that contact with  a shove to the chest and then had to be restrained by official Marc Davis, who Andersen was quick to shove aside as he continued barking at Hansbrough.

The video of the sequence went viral immediately. And even though there was no suspension, we all knew what was coming. The Heat’s paper-thin depth up front will be tested Saturday night. The Pacers will attack with Roy Hibbert and David West, as they should.

No offense to the Birdman or his legion of followers, but the Heat aren’t going to win or lose Game 6 based on Andersen’s contributions — not if Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade continue to struggle the way they have against the Pacers.

The Heat need a better all around effort from the entire supporting cast, and the usual spectacular work from James, if they have any chance of snatching another game on the road in this series. If the series does go to a seventh game, Andersen will back for that tilt Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

But he’ll sit for Game 6, as he should, for allowing his emotions to get the best of him in what has turned out to be an unbelievably tense series for both sides.

Birdman Should Sit For Manhandling Ref

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When the Eastern Conference finals shifts back to Indianapolis for Game 6 Saturday night, Miami’s Chris “Birdman” Andersen needs to spectate from his hotel room or his aviary or whatever other perch he can find outside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Because the NBA needs to deliver a one-game suspension for Andersen’s actions in a second-quarter skirmish.

Not just for what Andersen did to Pacers reserve forward Tyler Hansbrough, either. For his tussle with referee Marc Davis.

By now, the sequence of events involving Andersen and Hansbrough is widely known: Miami’s tightly wound big man, while trying to rebound, got nudged from behind by Indiana’s Paul George. Only he didn’t get George’s license plate — he apparently thought Hansbrough had delivered the bump. So as the two ran upcourt behind the play, he bumped “back” at Hansbrough, the collision sending the Indiana player sprawling.

Hansbrough, startled at first, took exception and Andersen was all too willing to continue what he had started. The two closed the distance between them and bumped chests, at which point Andersen sharply shoved Hansbrough back with two hands.

OK, that should have been enough to eject Andersen right there. The only difference between what Andersen did on the shove and what Chicago’s Nazr Mohammed did in shoving LeBron James in Game 3 of the semifinals was that James went sprawling, sliding several feet in what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau referred to as a “flop.”

Hansbrough’s mistake, even as the NBA seems ripe to wring out flopping, looks to be not (ahem) selling the play to refs Danny Crawford, Jim Capers and Davis. He couldn’t even had he tried, because teammate Roy Hibbert was there to catch him.

So Andersen delivers two blows — both of which sure looked to be “unnecessary” and “excessive” — and yet, upon review, gets slapped only with a flagrant-1 foul. But the skirmish wasn’t over.

One of the referees, Davis, gets in front of Andersen and moves him backward away from Hansbrough to stop a possible escalation of the beef. What does Andersen do? He pushes back. He grabs Davis’ wrist with his right hand. He pushes on the referee’s arm with his left. All of this physical contact with a game official because he’s steamed, because he didn’t like getting bumped from behind or because, in some misguided way, he’s trying to ignite (incite?) his Heat teammates and/or the crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena.

That was the most disturbing thing about the incident. Andersen did enough to be ejected then — or, a little late, suspended now for one game — with his hits on Hansbrough. But he crossed the line by getting physical with Davis.

No way should any NBA referee be subject to that sort of wrestling or manhandling, lest people assume they’re just part of the act in Andersen’s dumb WWE display.

Commence The Torching Of Frank Vogel


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MIAMI – Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel has called Roy Hibbert “the best rim protector in the game.” That same Vogel took that same Hibbert off the floor on two critical defensive possessions late in overtime of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.

The result? Two LeBron James layups and a 103-102 Miami Heat victory in overtime. Commence the torching of Vogel.

Vogel is very good at his job, the architect of the No. 1 defense in the league. But on more than one occasion in these playoffs, he has been caught over-coaching. This isn’t the first time he’s sat Hibbert on a late-game defensive possession, but it’s the time that decision came back to really bite him in the rear end.

Indiana was in position to steal Game 1 and home-court advantage in the series. Paul George got them to overtime with a 32-foot bomb at the end of regulation and, after James’ first Hibbert-less layup, got them a one-point lead with three clutch free throws with 2.2 seconds on the clock in OT.

After the Heat called timeout, Hibbert was on the floor.

I repeat, Hibbert was on the floor. And it was just one possession earlier when James beat George Hill off the dribble and got a layup because Hibbert wasn’t on the floor.

But Vogel looked at Miami’s lineup and called his own timeout, for the sole purpose of replacing Hibbert with Tyler Hansbrough. Over-coaching 101.

“That’s the dilemma they present when they have Chris Bosh at the five spot and his ability to space the floor,” Vogel said afterward. “We put a switching lineup in with the intent to switch, keep everything in front of us, and try to go into or force a challenged jump shot.”

Vogel’s fear was that, if Hibbert stuck by the basket to protect the rim, Bosh could free up a teammate with a screen or knock down an open jump shot.

The Pacers did switch as the Heat set multiple screens on the inbounds play. But when James caught the ball at the top of the key, George closed out a little too hard. The Heat had the floor spaced well, so when James blew by George, there was no one in position to help or protect the rim. James laid the ball in with his left hand and the buzzer sounded.

Game over. Opportunity lost.

“Obviously, with the way it worked out, it would have been better to have Roy in the game,” Vogel said. “But you don’t know. If that happens, maybe Bosh is making a jump shot and we’re all talking about that.”

And maybe if Hibbert was on the floor and James just scored over him, we’re talking about the Heat’s offensive mentality. After attempting 11 mid-range shots in the first quarter (and only five from the restricted area), they attempted just 13 mid-range shots (and 31 from the restricted area) over the remaining 41 minutes.

They didn’t let Hibbert’s presence keep them away from the rim. They smartly attacked the Pacers’ defense both from the middle and from the baseline, drew Hibbert’s attention, and dumped the ball off to cutters for layups and dunks.

“We’re an attacking team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It takes a great commitment and effort to be able to do it together, to get our attack. So you play a very good defensive team like this, you might not necessarily get it on the first option of your attack. And you have to have the poise and patience to work your offense, get to the proper spacing, move bodies, and have those opportunities in the paint.”

(Someone send that quote to the New York Knicks.)

“The first quarter, it was more of taking the first available look,” Spoelstra continued. “And a lot of times, it was that pull-up or long jumper.”

After averaging just 30.7 points in the paint in three regular season meetings against the Pacers, the Heat had almost twice that (60) on Wednesday. And all of their biggest buckets of the night came at the rim, including a Dwyane Wade layup over Hibbert in the final minute of regulation and a Bosh put-back over Hibbert in the final minute of OT. So it’s not as if Hibbert was stopping everything.

But you have a much better chance of protecting the rim with Hibbert on the floor than with him on the bench. In his 12 minutes off the floor in Game 1, the Heat were 9-for-12 in the restricted area and just 1-for-9 elsewhere. And if the 7-foot-2 guy is in the game and protecting the rim on that final possession, you can certainly live with the elsewhere.

Hibbert was obviously disappointed afterward, but he had his coach’s back.

“I could see why Coach wanted to take me out,” he said. “With 2.2 seconds left on the clock, they can throw it to Bosh and I’m over-committing in the paint and he can hit a jump shot. My mentality is always to protect the rim. I wish I was in there, but I have complete faith in Coach’s decisions.”

If the situation comes up again, the decision might be different.

“I would say we’ll probably have him in the next time,” Vogel said.

The Heat have now won 46 of their last 49 games. Opportunities to beat them do not come often. Vogel can only hope that there is a next time.

The Play Of The Game: What Would You Do?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We’ve got plenty of time to debate the final play of the Miami Heat’s 103-102 overtime win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Game 2 isn’t until Friday night. So let the second-guessing begin.

The question is simple, should the Pacers have had their rim protector extraordinaire Roy Hibbert on the floor for the final play of a game? There were just 2.2 seconds to play and LeBron James spun to the basket and finished with the lefty layup to win it, thanks to Paul George‘s defensive gaffe (he overplayed the pass after seeing Ray Allen fly past him to the wing on a beautifully designed play). Pacers coach Frank Vogel has already said that if he had it to do over again … kudos to him for coming clean, many of his colleagues around the league would bark at us for questioning him.

Watch the play (above) again and play coach. Would you rather go small and give up those last two layups LeBron scored (the first was a driving layup on George Hill) or do you take your chances with Hibbert, praised by Vogel recently as the best rim protector in the game, and force the Heat to beat you with a lower percentage shot from distance?

George answered the question for me when he admitted afterwards that he needed to force LeBron to take a jumper rather than give up the clear lane to the basket. Had Hibbert been on the floor, that path would have at least been a bit cluttered. Tyler Hansbrough, who was fantastic earlier in the game, was chasing Allen on that last play but did not close off the lane the way Hibbert might have if he were in there.

I know it’s hindsight now and that everything but what Vogel did looks like a better option now. Sorry. That’s the way it works when we all get to play armchair coach after the fact.

So again, what would you do?

Hot List: Top 10 Restricted Free Agents





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Unlike their unrestricted free agent peers, this summer won’t be the fresh start some of this summer’s most notable restricted free agents are hoping for.

Their current teams have the right to match any offers they receive, meaning that the lucrative, long-term deal some of these guys are looking for might come with strings attached. Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks plays a marquee position in a market that doesn’t seem to fit his persona or personality.

He turned down a $40 million extension in the fall, making clear his intention to push for a bigger deal or an eventual departure — he could play the 2013-14 season on a qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2014 — from Fear The Deer territory.

As always, Jennings isn’t the only restricted free agent of note this summer. The full list of them can be found on our handy-dandy Free Agent Tracker.

Jennings is the headliner on the Top 10 Restricted Free Agents list, but hardly the only notable name …

Brandon Jennings, G, Milwaukee Bucks

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: A first-team All-Rookie pick in 2010, Jennings solidified his credentials as a starting point guard in four seasons with the Bucks. He started 289 of the 291 games he played in and helped guide the Bucks to the playoff twice in his first four seasons. A big time scorer, Jennings has the charisma and personality to help you win games and sell tickets.
What he’s not saying: He’s still barely 170 pounds soaking wet. There are still some front office types who think he’s more of a poor man’s Allen Iverson instead of the young Mike Conley they hoped he might be at this stage of his career.
What he’s worth: Jennings believes he’s worth every penny of a max deal somewhere. Remember, he famously boasted that he was better than Ricky Rubio and has gone about the business of trying to prove as much night in and night out. But a max deal is out of the question in Milwaukee and probably anywhere else. The Bucks aren’t going to bid against themselves for a player who has made it clear that he is interested in playing in a bigger market. He’s already turned down a four-year offer with $40 million, making it clear that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent next summer and let the market set his value.
Likely landing spot(s): The Bucks have the right to match any offers. Any interested teams know that all they have to do is wait this situation out and pursue Jennings in the free-agent summer of 2014.

Jeff Teague, G, Atlanta Hawks

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: Teague is coming off of his best season as a pro, having averaged career highs in points (14.6) and assists (7.2) while asserting himself as a true lead guard for a playoff team. He’s only scratched the surface of his potential and, at 24, is still young enough to project major upside in the coming years.
What he’s not saying: Teague is not a great defender at what is easily the deepest position in the league. And his assist numbers (3.0) in 29 career playoff games suggest that he might not be on track to become the elite facilitator a team needs in a point guard.
What he’s worth: The Hawks didn’t do him any favors by not even offering him an extension on his rookie contract before the Halloween deadline. Making that pill even tougher to swallow for Teague is the fact that the two point guards drafted directly ahead of him in 2009, Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday ($10 million a year) and Ty Lawson ($12 million a year), both agreed to terms on four-year deals at the deadline. If they’ve set the bar — Holiday blossomed into an All-Star this season while Lawson had an equally strong case but missed out in a deep crop of Western Conference point guards — Teague is in a tough negotiating spot with the Hawks.
Likely landing spot(s): Teague needs a team desperate for a young point guard to present an offer sheet that exceeds what the Hawks might be willing to pay (anything near $10 million a year would be a bit of a shock). Utah is still searching for a long-term answer at point guard and could poke around and see if the Hawks will let Teague walk. But the Hawks are likely to keep him on a qualifying offer and he’ll become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Tyreke Evans, G, Sacramento Kings

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: A Rookie of the Year and at one time considered the future face of the franchise in Sacramento, Evans averaged 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in his first season. A super-sized point guard, he used his size and skill to his advantage in that role with the Kings. He’s most definitely selling the Tyreke Evans we all saw his rookie season.
What he’s not saying: While he didn’t experience the steep statistical drop off in his next three seasons, Evans is fighting the perception that he bottomed out during those three seasons. The Kings certainly seem to have moved on from Evans being a franchise cornerstone during these past three seasons, hence the absence of an extension offer. Isaiah Thomas supplanted him at point guard and Evans has played out of position ever since.
What he’s worth: This is where things get tricky for Evans, because some team with cap space to work with is going to eyeball Evans and remember that he’s a 6-foot-6, 220-pound combo guard with an ability to run a team and calculate the risk of snatching him away from an uncertain situation with the Kings. If Darko Milicic got $20 million from the Minnesota Timberwolves, someone has to be willing to offer Evans a similar deal.
Likely landing spot(s): Dallas and Atlanta are both in full-blown roster-rebuild mode and could use a talent like Evans at a reasonable price to help get things rolling. He could be the steal of the summer if someone makes a play for him and waits to see if the Kings will match the offer or let him walk.

Nikola Pekovic, C, Minnesota Timberwolves

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent
What he’s selling: With the eternal premium on productive big men, Pekovic showed flashes of being an absolute nightmare in the low post for opposing teams. A 7-foot, 300-pound block of granite, Pekovic averaged 16.3 ppg and 8.8 rpg last season and held it down in the Timberwolves’ frontcourt without Kevin Love available for the majority of the season. He’s got a size/skill-set combination that makes him a rarity in a league that treasures big men who can play high impact basketball on both ends of the floor.
What he’s not saying: The only problem with Pekovic is the 174-game sample size teams have to work with in evaluating the upside of a big man who is 26 and perhaps already deeper into his physical prime than you want a third-year player to be.
What he’s worth: The Houston Rockets used a three-year, $25 million offer sheet to pry Omer Asik away from the Chicago Bulls last summer. An offer like that could work similar wonders for someone trying to slip into the Twin Cities and sneak out with a starting center.
Likely landing spot(s): Minnesota can’t afford to let him walk, not with the regime change and whatever other roster changes Flip Saunders and his new crew have in store. Plus, Pekovic has become a cult favorite in Minneapolis.

Tiago Splitter, F/C, San Antonio Spurs

Status on July 1: Restricted free agent.
What he’s selling: A three-year apprenticeship under the great Tim Duncan can’t be a bad place for a big man to start when resume building. Splitter’s third NBA season turned out to be the charm, as he finally showed some signs of being the low-post factor he was billed as when the Spurs made him their top Draft pick in 2007. The Brazilian big man finally earned a regular spot in Gregg Popovich‘s rotation, another sign and seal of approval, averaging career highs in points (10.3), rebounds (6.4) and minutes (24.7). He made 58 starts this season, 52 more than he did in the two previous season combined.
What he’s not saying: Those previous two seasons mentioned were less than stellar. Splitter has ideal size for a NBA big man but didn’t leave a large footprint early on, the transition from Spanish League MVP to NBA regular being much tougher than anyone anticipated for him.
What he’s worth: Like almost every skilled big man, Splitter is going to be worth more than a man half his size with better credentials. That’s just the way things work in this league. He’s due for a significant raise from the $3.9 million he’s earning this season. In fact, he should have no trouble doubling that in a free agent market (for unrestricted and restricted free agents) that is relatively light on centers.
Likely landing spots: The Spurs have the right of first refusal and will exercise that right if the offers come in at the right number. But Dallas and Atlanta have to have him on their short lists, with several other teams focusing in on him early on in the process.

THE NEXT FIVE: Gerald Henderson, Charlotte; Darren Collison, Dallas; Timofey Mozgov, Denver; Tyler Hansbrough, Indiana; Chase Budinger, Minnesota.


Playoff Losses To Heat Shape Vogel, Pacers’ Plans For Prosperity

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Indiana Pacers found themselves in the peculiar position of rooting for the Miami Heat last week. Not because they were trying to butter-up the beasts of the East as they went for consecutive win No. 28 at Chicago, but because their disdain for their Central Division rival runs that much deeper.

Still, the Pacers, as with as the rest of the free world, know the road to the Eastern Conference championship goes through Miami. Last May, Indiana held a 2-1 series lead over the eventual NBA champs before it all unraveled in a six-game, East semifinal defeat.

Approaching a year later, the Pacers are a bit older and wiser. They believe, even with Danny Granger officially ruled out for the season, that they’re big enough, deep enough, physical enough and more explosive offensively — and even tougher defensively — than last season’s version to match up with the Heat in a potential East finals.

“We feel like we can compete with anybody if we’re playing defense and we’re making sharp, sound decisions on the offensive end,” forward David West said during the Pacers’ stop in Dallas last week. “Right now they’re [the Heat] the cream of the crop. They’re the champs and everybody else is just chasing them.”

Added All-Star Paul George: “The only thing that we’ll have to prove is how well we can play in the playoffs.”

Which is where being wiser could ultimately make the biggest difference. And it starts with coach Frank Vogel, who is in just his second full season as coach and whose 40th birthday doesn’t roll around until a few days after the NBA Finals in June.

Vogel said he walked away from last year’s Heat series having learned two key lessons that he’s implemented since training camp.

“No. 1 is we were one of the worst fouling teams in the league last year,” Vogel said. “And it probably cost us two games in that [Miami] series where we had two guys in foul trouble for key stretches.”

Let’s tackle this one before revealing key lesson No. 2. Indiana racked up the third-most fouls in the league last season, and in the six games against Miami it committed 147 infractions, 24.5 fouls per game, even more than its regular-season average.

The two “cost us” games Vogel referred to were Games 1 and 4, when the Pacers were called for a combined 59 fouls, or 40 percent of their six-game total. (more…)