Posts Tagged ‘Utah Jazz’

Blogtable: Assessing the 2015 Draft

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


BLOGTABLE: Where are these 5 going? | Best/worst free-agent move ahead? | Assessing 2015 Draft



VIDEORelive all 30 picks from the first round of the 2015 Draft

> Let’s wrap up the Draft: Which lottery player is in the best position to make an instant impact next season? Which one is in the worst? And give us a later pick (say after No. 20) who you think will impress in 2015-16?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Jahlil Okafor will help Philadelphia immediately, in my view. He’s not coming in for a redshirt year like Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid. He has low-post scoring potential straight out of the box and seems to bring maturity that will help him transition to NBA life. I don’t like sticking anyone with “worst,” so I’ll just say I’m leery of Kristaps Porzingis’ “hip stiffness.” If that costs him his summer league training and lingers into the season, we might be looking at an unplanned “redshirt” sort of year. Among later picks, I sense Chicago will give No. 22 Bobby Portis every opportunity to succeed, given rehabbing holdovers in the Bulls’ frontcourt (Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah) and an organizational desire to turn the page on the Tom Thibodeau era. Portis seems quite confident and one of those “sponge” learners.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Karl-Anthony Towns is the class of 2015 and fits in perfectly with Andrew Wiggins and shows immediately that the Timberwolves are most definitely on course to eventually be contenders.  Even though Kristaps Porzingas is the right pick in the right place at the right time, New York fans and media will make his life miserable if the 19-year-old doesn’t produce like he’s 29 right away.  Down at the bottom of the draft, Bobby Portis is a skilled big man who’ll make the Bulls stronger up front.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comFirst of all, the draft is never wrapped up. How dare you suggest otherwise. There is no avoiding the truth. Don’t even try. But anyway…. Emmanual Mudiay in Denver and Willie Cauley-Stein in Sacramento are in the best position to make an immediate impact, WCS because he is close to NBA ready after three seasons and Mudiay because he will have that much of an opportunity. He could be the opening-night starter. The Nuggets may give him the ball with instructions to make something happen. The inexperience will be obvious at times, and he is not at the top of any grouping of NBA-ready, but other rookies will dream of the immediate job description. The worst position for an immediate impact? Myles Turner with the Pacers. I think Turner will end up having a nice, long career. He will be good. But he needs time. Much of his situation, though, will depend on what happens with Roy Hibbert and/or David West. That will determine whether Indiana needs bigs to step in or whether Indy will continue to rely on the veterans for another season. Two names for the after-20 crowd: Justin Anderson with the Mavericks and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with the Nets.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comNot exactly going out on a limb, but it’s hard to imagine Karl-Anthony Towns not having an impact when he’ll be guaranteed heavy minutes and responsibility in Minnesota from day one. In Utah, where the Jazz are pretty set at power forward with Derrick Favors, Trey Lyles might find it hard to get playing time right away. As for the sleeper, I’m gonna cheat and nominate the 19th pick. Jerian Grant is a straight-up baller and should get ample opportunity with the talent-starved Knicks.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: A few guys will have an opportunity to play and put up decent numbers. Jahlil Okafor is one of those guys, but he could make an impact in the standings as well. The Sixers were the worst offensive team in the league by a very wide margin last season, so someone who can put the ball in the basket and draw a double-team will make an impact. Kristaps Porzingis, however, looks like he will need time, which Carmelo Anthony doesn’t have. The timelines of the two most important players on the roster don’t match up, and if the Knicks get a couple of bigs in free agency, Porzingis might not develop very quickly. Justin Anderson is the late first-rounder (21st to Dallas) who could look pretty good this year. He’s a three-year college guy who’s ready to contribute and could have an opportunity if Monta Ellis signs elsewhere.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson have the best opportunities for instant impact because of their skill sets and the need for what they bring to their respective situations. I feel for Kristaps Porzingis … there’s just no way he can escape the pressure of New York. And I like R.J. Hunter as the late pick who will impress in the 2015-16 season. Shooters with ridiculous range always make us take notice. But he’s much more than just a shooter and he’ll be a nice fit for a Celtics team that needs someone to help space the floor.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: D’Angelo Russell is going to be Rookie of the Year: He will fill a huge need for the Lakers, who will be reducing Kobe Bryant’s minutes and weaning him (as best they can) off the ball. Cameron Payne was drafted into a terrific situation with Oklahoma City, but if we’re taking about making an instant impact then we’re probably asking too much. The Thunder are going to be trying to win a championship next season, and rookie backups usually don’t play crucial roles on teams with such high aspirations. R.J. Hunter (No. 28 to Boston) will fill the Celtics’ instant need for shooting and has the maturity to take advantage.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I think Jahlil Okafor is going to have a huge year. It seems strange for the Sixers to draft a guy who is healthy and can play right away, but here we are, and with Nerlens Noel shoring up the defense, Okafor should be able to do what he does best: get buckets. As for a later pick, I’ll give you two that I really like and was surprised to see fall into the bottom third: Bobby Portis to the Bulls, and R.J.Hunter to the Celtics. Boston needs outside shooting, which Hunter can provide. And Portis can go to NBA big man school with Noah, Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic.

Draft Day 2015 Rumblings

From NBA.com staff reports

The day many teams are hoping will be the one that helps jump-start their team in any number of directions is finally here — NBA Draft day. As we get into the day and through it, there will be plenty of news — some Draft-related, some trade-related, some about opt-ins and opt-outs and other news — that will come down the pike. This is your one-stop shop for all of it, so keep coming back all day (and night) for the latest buzz …

Update: 5:38 p.m. — Wardrobe Watch …

The fashion show that is Draft night is almost ready for take off. Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell are suited up and ready to go …

Update: 4:25 p.m. — Report: Aldridge done with the Trail Blazers

Let the free agent craziness begin, almost a full week in advance. LaMarcus Aldridge, according to Bleacher Report, has informed the Portland Trail Blazers of what has been widely speculated for a while now. He is done with Portland and the Trail Blazers and ready to seek his fortune elsewhere in free agency …

Update: 4:10 p.m. — Frank the Tank … Moving on up?

Nothing is more fluid just hours before the actual Draft than the Draft projections that continue to cloud the picture. Count Frank Kaminsky among the last-minute climbers up Draft boards around the league, per TNT’s and our very own David Aldridge. Weeks ago Kaminsky was slotted as a late lottery and middle of the first round pick. But now he could go somewhere in the bottom of half of the top 10, if you believe the projections …

Update: 4:01 p.m. — Rockets make No. 18 pick available?

You cannot have Draft night without a little Daryl Morey/Houston Rockets intrigue. The Rockets want in on the LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love free agent sweepstakes and, according to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, they’re using the No. 18 pick in the Draft to try and make some room …

Update: 3:26 p.m. — DMC still salty about trade talk

Give DeMarcus Cousins credit for handling his frustration about being involved in trade talks properly. The All-Star big man continues to vent without taking direct shots at anyone in particular. But it’s clear he remains unhappy with the way things are being handled …

Update: 3:19 p.m. — Celtics ready to move if Okafor falls

There are still some who believe in the power of the big man. The Boston Celtics are prepared to pounce on Jahlil Okafor if he slips out of the top two slots of the Draft tonight. They are willing to make Marcus Smart available in that “Godfather” offer to get it done, according to RealGM.  …

 

Update: 2:44 p.m. — Movement in Boston, Lakerland?

Two of the NBA’s most glamorous franchises — the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers — are in different stages of their rebuilding. According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, L.A. may not be leaning toward taking D’Angelo Russell as some have posited. As for the Celtics, Marc Stein of ESPN.com has more on their intentions …

Update: 2:07 p.m. — Update on DMC trade talk

Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins has been the focus of trade talks for the last few days and while the team’s front office has denied looking to deal him, chatter persists. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee provides insight into how owner Vivek Ranadive is taking this drama …

Update, 2:04 p.m. — Warriors try to move up

We’ve heard about the Kings, Celtics and possibly Rockets trying to move up in the Draft tonight and you can add another name to that mix: the defending-champion Golden State Warriors …

Update, 1:48 p.m. — Barnes officially a Grizzly

It’s rare that one player is a part of two different deals in one day, but Luke Ridnour is just that kind of a guy. The Memphis Grizzlies officially picked up Matt Barnes from the Hornets by sending Ridnour to Charlotte — where he was hours later sent to OKC for Thunder guard Jeremy Lamb

Update, 1:25 p.m. — Ridnour trade official

Luke Ridnour is a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder now after the trade with the Charlotte Hornets went through this afternoon. Oklahoma City receives Ridnour and a conditional 2016 second-round pick while the Hornets get Jeremy Lamb

Update, 12:57 p.m. — Celtics ready ‘Godfather’ offer to get Okafor

Jahlil Okafor is apparently someone the Celtics have a very high opinion of, if you believe the latest buzz. According to Mike Cole of NESN.com, the Celtics have a ‘Godfather’ offer ready for the 76ers if Okafor doesn’t go No. 1 or No. 2 …

Update, 12:33 p.m. — Ridnour dealt (again)

Luke Ridnour hopefully didn’t unpack his suitcase since he got traded yesterday. He’s been involved in three trades in the last 24 hours and two today alone. His latest destination is Oklahoma City, where he is being dealt for guard Jeremy Lamb and a future second-round pick, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports …

Update, 12:14 p.m — One last Mock …

Our NBA Draft expert, Scott Howard-Cooper, is in New York and is ready to provide insight once the festivities get rolling. Until then, though, whet your appetite for the Draft with his Final 2015 Mock Draft …

Update, 11:53 a.m — Yes, players remember Draft-night snubs

Don’t ever believe it when a player says he doesn’t hold a grudge against a team for not drafting him. Hall of Famer Karl Malone is here to tell you otherwise …

Update, 11:50 a.m. — More trade chatter 

Sacramento and Boston continue to figure into the talks of potential Draft-night deals …

Update, 11:41 a.m. — Might Lakers upset Draft order?

Few are as well connected to what the L.A. Lakers might be thinking on Draft night than Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report. He wrote a column saying he thinks the Lakers are going to upset conventional thinking and take D’Angelo Russell No. 2 overall, and it has become a league talking point now …

Update, 11:22 a.m. — Jazz looking to trade Burke or Favors?

We had an item earlier this morning about how Utah is looking to move up in the Draft and, also, reunite with power forward Paul Millsap in free agency this summer. Here’s how it might go down, via Jody Gennesy of the Deseret News

Update, 11:15 a.m. — Celtics ready to move up

The common thinking is that Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor will go No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in tonight’s Draft. If, for some reason that doesn’t happen, the Boston Celtics are said to be ready with an enticing trade, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com …

Update, 10:56 a.m. — Teams wanting to move up

Four teams — the Thunder, Rockets, Celtics and perhaps Hawks — are most active right now in trying to raise their position in tonight’s Draft, per Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony

Update, 10:43 a.m. — Blazers thinking trade?

Portland has been a name on a lot of people’s lips today with the LaMarcus Aldridge chatter … is it eyeing a trade tonight that provides more big man bodies?

Update, 10:32 a.m. — Texas really wants Aldridge back

The Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets are all supposed to be in the mix to get free agent LaMarcus Aldridge. They’ll all make their best free-agent pitches to him. And, it seems, a famous Texas hamburger chain wants him, too …

Update, 10:19 a.m. — Clarifying that Lamb trade

If you were confused by how the Hornets were able to trade for Matt Barnes after he was seemingly included in the deal last night that sent the Thunder’s Jeremy Lamb to OKC, you weren’t the only one. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman clarifies that Lamb is still headed to Charlotte, but for a future second-round pick …

Update, 10:06 a.m. — Draft-night trade talk & tidbits

We’re waiting to see if anyone actually swaps picks today in the Draft, and according to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, there are a handful of squads interested in doing so …

Update, 9:50 a.m. — Ridnour, Barnes get dealt again

According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, two players who were traded just yesterday — Memphis’ Luke Ridnour and Charlotte’s Matt Barnes — are on the move again. They’re being swapped for each other, actually …

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Blogtable: Best arena atmosphere you’ve ever been in?

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


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on these Finals? | Best arena atmosphere? | Next player-turned-analyst?



VIDEOVIDEO: Trey Kerby of The Starters sees just how loud Warriors fans can be

> A lot has been made about the crowds at Oracle and Quicken Loans arenas. What’s the best NBA arena atmosphere you’ve ever experienced in all your years covering the league?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com It’s not always about cheering and celebrating, you know. That’s why I’m going with Game 6 of the 1998 Finals at the then-Delta Center in Salt Lake City. There was a desperation in the stands that day from the Utah Jazz fans, facing elimination by the Chicago Bulls – again. And for a lot of others, there was a real sense that the Bulls’ championship run and, once more, Michael Jordan’s career might be ending. So as Jordan stole the ball away from Karl Malone late, followed by the play that became The Shot (push of Bryon Russell included), that was like the air being sucked right out of that building. It was excellence personified, the classic ending … if not of Jordan’s career, of the very best and most memorable part of it.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com I’m planting the flag in two old places that no longer exist — Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium. Boston Garden, with its upper deck that practically hung out over the court, had an intimate, we’re-in-this-with-you feel, a rousing, knowledgeable fan base, and was almost a living, breathing organism during the Larry Bird era. Chicago Stadium seemed to have the broad shoulders of Chicago, felt vast and overpowering and was absolutely, positively the loudest arena ever and nobody is in second place. During the first three-peat when the starting lineups were introduced, the PA announcer barely got out the first syllables of “From North Carolina …” and the roof (and your head) would rattle. I’ve been to Oracle, The Q, OKC and they just can’t touch it.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com It’s so hard to pick one. Chicago Stadium was deafening when Michael Jordan was introduced before games, Boston Garden had a magnet that pulled people to the front of their seat as Larry Bird released from the perimeter, and there wasn’t a night of leaving Oracle Arena without your ears buzzing in the 2007 playoffs as the Warriors shocked the Mavericks in the first round and Baron Davis demolished Andrei Kirilenko with a dunk in the West semifinals. But nothing beats Arco Arena in the 2002 Western Conference finals, Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers, ear plugs mandatory. It was the noise, of course, from voices to cow bells, but the building itself made a big difference. Arco — now Sleep Train Arena — was a barn, a gym, a comfortable corner hangout. The intensity of the Lakers-Kings relationship and the hellacious energy from fans is still unforgettable. The outcome was not a good one for Sacramento, but the atmosphere was perfect.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com Hard to beat the old Chicago Stadium during the Michael Jordan years. The rickety place had stairwells that led nowhere, the concourses were narrow and outdated and the smell of stale beer and hot sausage on the fryer filled the air, but the place shook. I thought it might crumble from the noise when Jordan hit those 3-pointers in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals against the Blazers and gave “The Shrug.” Honorable mention: The original “Hive” in Charlotte, the Charlotte Coliseum.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com The craziest NBA atmosphere I’ve been in was Game 7 of last year’s first round at the Air Canada Centre. That was a loud building in the first place, but when the Raptors came back from 10 points down with less than six minutes to go to pull within one, and then forced a turnover in the final seconds to give themselves a chance to win, I think I heard the noise in my deaf ear. One other cool atmosphere was at the Meadowlands (really) for the Nets vs. Knicks first-round series in 2004. The crowd was 50-50, which mean there was cheering for every basket and a lot of back-and-forth between fans of the two teams.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That’s an extremely difficult question. There are so many games to choose from. But the one that sticks out for me is Game 4 of a 2011 first-round playoff series between the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. Brandon Roy put on a show for the ages to rally the Blazers to an 84-82 win that saw the home team outscore Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs 35-15 in the fourth quarter. Portland rallied from an 18-point hole early in the fourth quarter to tie the series at 2-2. The wave of energy going through the building in that fourth quarter is like nothing I ever experienced before that or anything I’ve felt since. It was unreal. I woke up the next morning and my ears were still ringing.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The atmosphere in Boston, in both the old Garden and the new Garden, has been consistently intimidating in the playoffs. The feeling in the old place helped create a mystique for Larry Bird‘s Celtics, and in the new building the fans fed off the energy of Kevin Garnett. It is the consistency of the support that stands out: We’re talking about a span from the 1980s to 2010 and yet it has felt as if nothing changed.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The Cleveland crowd tonight for Game 3 was pretty great, but there are two instances that I’ll never forget:

1. The Detroit Pistons crowds in 2005 were LOUD, and then they went completely silent when Robert Horry went crazy from the perimeter in Game 5 of The Finals. That silence was deafening.

2. I know Miami fans were criticized for leaving early during Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, but the majority of them stayed in place, and when Ray Allen stepped back and knocked in the three to tie the game with seconds left, a buzz went through the American Airlines Arena unlike anything I’ve felt before in an NBA arena.

Morning Shootaround — May 23


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s Cavs-Hawks Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks | Rockets look to win at home | Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? | Wizards wait to hear from Pierce | Globetrotter Marques Haynes passes away

No. 1: LeBron leads Cavs over Hawks The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and entered the game seemingly with several things in their favor. But even though the Hawks got a big night out of DeMarre Carroll while the Cavs rested Kyrie Irving (knee), Atlanta had no answers for LeBron James, who carried the Cavs to a 92-84 Game 2 win. As our man Shaun Powell wrote, James is proving that sometimes individual talent trumps that of a system

The Cavs were missing a starting point guard Friday and all that meant was his replacement would play the position … better. Yes, imagine if you’re the Hawks, and [Kyrie] Irving spends the day getting a second opinion on his aching knee by the famous Dr. James Andrews, and is a late scratch for Game 2.

You’re feeling decent about your chances to bring suspense to this series.

But suddenly, the emergency point guard whips an oh-my-Lord behind-the-back cross-court pass to Iman Shumpert. Swish.

Then finds James Jones. Three-pointer. Then J.R. Smith. Bucket. Then Shumpert again, wide open. Another three.

“Him snapping the ball at you, there’s energy in that ball when you get it,” Shumpert said.

On and on it went like this on the Hawks’ home court, with LeBron bringing the ball up and shouting instructions and putting his teammates in position to score and … oh, dropping 30 points himself. With 11 assists and one rebound shy of a triple-double, LeBron turned the series on its head and for all practical purposes shoved the Hawks to the brink. He reminded everyone that he can play all five positions on the floor, and play most if not all at All-Star level.

“When I was attacking I was seeing guys open,” said LeBron. “I have the utmost confidence in my teammates to make shots and make plays. So I passed the ball. The game presented that tonight. I did what was needed. I always try to be a triple-threat on the floor.”

This was not exactly as impactful as Magic stepping in for a hobbling Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980 Finals and getting 42 and 16 and 7, although in the context of this series, LeBron’s version could prove just as damaging to the Hawks and helpful to the Cavs. Not only did LeBron seriously reduce Atlanta’s odds of staying alive past Tuesday, he seriously helped Irving’s ability to heal up and be a step closer to 100 percent should the Cavs as expected reach the championship round.

A sweep buys time for Irving, and LeBron evidently has the cash.

“I’ve got a good vocabulary,” said Cavs coach David Blatt, “but I’m sort of running out of superlatives for the guy. His greatness is evident.”

***

No. 2: Rockets look to win at home After two close games in Oakland, including a Game Two in which they had the ball in James Harden‘s hands with a chance for a game-winner, Houston returns home for Game 3 tonight against Golden State. And while the Warriors play an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, the Rockets are just concerned with getting a win and getting back into the series, writes Jonathan Feigan in the Houston Chronicle

Though much has been made of the entertainment value of the play of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Rockets’ James Harden, the Rockets said they could not share the excitement of a show when they came for a win. Rockets center Dwight Howard, however, said they could appreciate their part in a series that has already brought two outstanding games if the Rockets get some wins on their home court, too.

“I don’t think the Rockets’ fans had fun watching us lose tonight,” Howard said. “We’ve got to come back and play, but it’s going to be a great series. Two great offensive teams, two guys who battled for MVP all year going at it. It’s going to be fun. We definitely don’t take these moments for granted, because they don’t come by often. Like I said, it’s going to be a great series and we’re looking forward to coming back home. We want to see our fans loud and proud and ready for a battle, because there is going to be one.

“We don’t want to go down 0-3. So we have to come out and just play basketball — move the ball and do all the things we’ve done in the last two games to get us here and do that for 48 minutes. If we do that, then we should have a good opportunity to win.”

Rockets guard Jason Terry said the bottom line is the only thing that matters.

“We want to win,” Terry said. “That’s the bottom line. If we have a bad game and win, that’s cool. If we have a great game and lose, where is the solace in that? There is none. We want to go home and have a great four quarters of Houston Rockets basketball.”

***

No. 3: Pelicans look to Jeff Van Gundy? — The New Orleans Pelicans ducked into the postseason out West before making a first-round exit, which wasn’t enough to save coach Monty Williams‘ job. But with all-world young big man Anthony Davis anchoring the middle, the Pelicans’ job is a plum gig, which might explain why, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy has supposedly expressed interest in the gig…

Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans’ head-coaching position, according to league sources. ‎Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.

Van Gundy joins Golden State associate head coach Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as confirmed candidates for the position, according to NBA coaching sources.

Gentry is the only candidate known to have formally interviewed for the post, with sources saying the uncertainty surrounding Thibodeau’s contractual situation with the Bulls has prevented the Pelicans and Orlando Magic from formally requesting to interview him. ESPN.com reported Monday that the Pelicans had been granted permission to interview Gentry before the Warriors began play in the Western Conference finals.

Van Gundy has been a popular TV figure since he coached the Houston Rockets in the 2006-07 season, and he has resisted interest from several teams in recent years, professing his desire to stay in broadcasting. But Van Gundy’s return to coaching has long been seen as inevitable, and the presence of rising star Anthony Davis as the centerpiece of an underrated roster has made the New Orleans job one of the most coveted in the league, with the Pelicans finishing strong under Williams to beat Oklahoma City for the West’s last playoff spot.

On an ESPN media call earlier this week, Van Gundy declined to discuss the prospect of pursuing the Pelicans’ post.

“I have too much respect for the coaching profession and the sanctity of a job search to publicly speak about any job openings,” he said. “That’s really not my style. So I’ll just leave it as I’ve said many times.

“I have the absolute utmost respect for Monty Williams. I coached him. I know what a class guy he is. He has integrity and humility, and I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he can be very, very proud of what he was able to accomplish there. You know, as far as the job search, I don’t get into the public domain on that. I just don’t think it’s right.”

***

No. 4: Wizards wait to hear from Pierce Last summer, the Washington Wizards surprised many observers when they inked veteran small forward Paul Pierce to a two-year contract. And though Pierce is 37 years old, he was Washington’s most clutch performer in the postseason, taking (and usually making) numerous last-second shots. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, now the Wizards wait to hear from the future Hall of Famer about his future, to find out when and where they go next…

About an hour after the his tying three-pointer was waved off and his Washington Wizards walked off the Verizon Center hardwood for the final time this season, 94-91 losers to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Paul Pierce delivered a jolt by indicating retirement is on the table.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to play basketball anymore,” he declared late last Friday night.

Pierce must decide whether to exercise the $5.5 million player option to play his second season with the Wizards and 18th overall in the NBA. The future Hall of Famer will celebrate his 38th birthday in October. Last Friday, Coach Randy Wittman said he believed Pierce would return because he enjoyed his time in Washington but he and the organization await the decision.

“I don’t need to recruit Paul,” Wittman said Monday. “What Paul saw here and what he did here, not only with the team but with the city, all of that plays into it. His family was comfortable here. Will I sit down and talk with him? Yeah. But I don’t think I need to recruit him.”

After a lightened load over the regular season, Pierce shifted to power forward in the playoffs for long stretches, delivering his signature clutch shooting and trash-talking to propel Washington to a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Pierce remained an offensive weapon against the Hawks, but became a defensive liability at times, particularly in isolation situations opposite all-star Paul Millsap.

Pierce, who declined to speak to reporters Monday, averaged 14.6 points and shot a torrid 33 of 63 from behind the three-point line (52.4 percent) over 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games – increases from 11.9 points, 38.9 percent from three and 26.2 minutes per game during the regular season. But he explained that the campaign, preseason through playoffs, was an exhausting experience.

Yet Pierce’s impact, Wittman and players around the locker room asserted, was invaluable and went beyond on-floor production. Players credited Pierce to supplying a load of confidence and readiness the Wizards had been missing before his arrival.

“He means a lot,” said forward Otto Porter Jr., who broke out in the playoffs and received nonstop tutelage from Pierce throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him this year whether he told me something or I just picked it up. And it’s going to stick with me throughout my NBA career, what to expect in the NBA and how to be a professional.”

***

No. 5: Ball-handling wizard Haynes passes away A member of the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 40 years, Marques Haynes died on Friday in Plano, Tex. He was 89. The New York TimesBruce Weber provides more

In two stints with the Globetrotters (his second was in the 1970s, a more showmanlike incarnation of the team), over decades with his own team, the Harlem Magicians (also called the Fabulous Magicians) and with a few other squads, Haynes traveled an estimated four million miles and played in an estimated 12,000 basketball games in 100 countries, give or take a few — in racially hostile Southern towns, in dim school gyms, on dirt courts in dusty African villages, in bullrings, soccer stadiums and emptied swimming pools, not to mention in Madison Square Garden, the Rose Bowl and other celebrated arenas all over the world.

Haynes was a brilliant player — a fine shooter, a tenacious defender and an expert passer. But as a dribbler he was nonpareil, and it was that skill that made him an ace entertainer.

The Globetrotters, who began life on the south side of Chicago — they didn’t play a game in Harlem until 1968 — had been playing competitively since the 1920s. But when Haynes joined them, in either 1946 or 1947 (sources are divided on when he made his first appearance), their reputation as basketball entertainers was still emerging.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could Tom Thibodeau take next season off? … The Nuggets say they’re going to be “aggressive” this summer … Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says if there’s a player in the NBA who plays like rookie guard Jordan Clarkson, it’s Russell Westbrook … The Pacers and Luis Scola reportedly have mutual interest in a reunionGordon Hayward underwent a “minor surgical procedure” on his heel …

Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks clinch Eastern Conference | Mavericks lose Ellis | What’s next for Thunder, Durant? | Shaq would have stayed in Orlando

No. 1: Hawks clinch Eastern Conference — Coming into this season, the Atlanta Hawks were dealing with an underwhelming free agency period, a GM on an indefinite leave of absence, and an ownership group that wanted to sell the franchise. And then the season started, which the Hawks used as a terrific reminder that all the off the court noise ends there, and what really matters is the results on the floor. Friday night, with a win over the Miami Heat, the Hawks moved to 55-17 on the season and clinched the Eastern Conference championship. Yet despite the incredible season and improbable title, as Jeff Schultz writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks acted like it was no big deal …

The Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Friday night and they acted as if they had just beaten Milwaukee on a Tuesday in November.

That’s probably a good thing.

“Maybe we’ll do a little, ‘Hip-hip, hooray’ on the plane,” Kyle Korver said.

“I mean, it’s great,” Paul Millsap said. “But we really haven’t been focusing on it. We’ve got bigger goals ahead. We haven’t been looking at the scoreboard or looking at other teams. We’ve been looking at ourselves, trying to get ourselves right.”

The Hawks (55-17), playing the best defense they had in a few weeks, led Miami by 18 points at halftime (55-37) and cruised to a 99-86 win over the remains of the Heat.

Miami isn’t the same team without LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (injured), and with Dwyane Wade seemingly playing on one leg. The Heat’s bandwagon fan base, which used to fill Philips Arena, also appears to have shrunk, or at least morphed into Cleveland fans. Funny how that works.

But the Hawks’ win, combined with Cleveland’s loss to Brooklyn, officially clinched the East, even if it was a bit anti-climactic. It almost seemed fitting that when coach Mike Budenholzer walked into the locker room minutes after the game to tell his players that the Cavaliers had lost, half of the team was in the showers.

“Bud found out, came in and there were only like five guys in here,” Korver said. “He was like, ‘Good accomplishment, we won the East.’”

***

No. 2: Mavericks lose Ellis — The Dallas Mavericks have made several changes this season — trading for Rajon Rondo, signing Amar’e Stoudemire — and despite the growing pains involved they have managed to remain in the playoff picture. But a calf injury last night to Monta Ellis not only got Mark Cuban fired up on Twitter, but without Ellis on the floor, as Tim McMahon writes for ESPNDallas.com, the Mavericks offense was a “hot mess” …

The Dallas offense didn’t exactly look healthy without its leading scorer. The Mavs scored a grand total of 22 points in the final 18:43 without Ellis, finishing with their second-lowest point total of the season.

Of course, the Mavs didn’t quite light it up in the first half with a healthy Ellis, either. Dallas scored only 41 points in the first half, shooting 38.6 percent from the floor. But the Mavs closed the first half with a 10-2 run, capped by Ellis speeding through the Spurs for a coast-to-coast layup, and opened the second half with a 13-4 spurt to slash the Spurs’ lead to four.

Then Ellis limped off the floor with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter, a little bit after he got kneed in the calf while defending Manu Ginobili, and took the life out of the Mavs’ offense with him. Dallas didn’t score for the next 3:03 and managed only 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons failed to pick up the slack with Ellis out. They both failed to score in double figures, combining for only 16 points, none of which came in the fourth quarter.

Was that hot mess a preview of the Mavs’ offense minus Ellis?

“We’ll find out,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before correcting himself. “Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.”

The Mavs will know more about Ellis’ status on Saturday, but his streak of playing in 237 consecutive games is certainly in jeopardy. The Mavs’ next game is Sunday night in Indiana.

“We just have to wait and see what the doctors say and how he feels tomorrow,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, he will be OK. We all know he plays injured and sick and he is always there for his team.”

It could be painful to watch the Mavs without their best creator by far, but it also might be in everyone’s best interest if Ellis misses some time. The Mavs have no hope of making a playoff run if Ellis isn’t at his best.

Ellis’ toughness can’t be questioned. He has proven repeatedly that he’ll fight through pain and play through injuries. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, particularly with the playoffs weeks away.

Ellis refused to even consider missing any games after straining his left hip two games before the All-Star break. The injury bothered Ellis for weeks, a major factor in an extended slump he finally busted out of with his 38-point performance in Tuesday’s home win over the Spurs.

“Our trainers will evaluate the situation, and we’ll communicate with him,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t see us putting him out there if he’s not feeling good. You can’t underestimate his ability to bounce back from things. He’s a fighter, he loves to compete and he hates missing games. That said, we aren’t going to put him in harm’s way.”

***

No. 3: What’s next for Thunder, Durant? — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had bad luck with injuries, but even as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have missed time the last few seasons, Kevin Durant was able to carry the load, logging heavy minutes and scoring hundreds of points. But after winning the MVP a season ago, this season Durant hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug, and after having two surgeries on his right foot since the summer, the Thunder announced yesterday that Durant will need a third surgery on that right foot that will keep him out four to six months. The bone graft procedure Durant is in for should give Durant his best shot yet at fixing his troublesome right foot. And with free agency for Durant looming in the summer of 2016, as Royce Young writes at Daily Thunder, there are plenty of questions left to answer …

The big question I’m seeing a lot is, “Did Durant come back too quickly?”

The answer is, yeah, probably, in hindsight. But also what you have to understand is the team is in constant consultation with specialists about this. And sometimes, things don’t go as anticipated. It’s not like they were just saying, “I don’t care, get Durant back out there before we lose more games.”

In these situations, it makes everyone feel better to assign blame. Point a finger at someone, lash out, yell, gripe, whatever. And in truth, it probably is someone’s fault in there. Maybe it’s Durant’s. Maybe it’s Sam Presti’s. Maybe it’s the medical team. Maybe it’s your fault, ever think of that?

What’s necessary to keep in mind, though, is no one was being irresponsible here. If Durant did return earlier than he should of, it’s only because he was cleared to do so. The team and Durant can only operate off of what they’re being told, and up until literally a week and a half ago, this thing was healing the way it was supposed to. The thought was that the screwhead had created a severe bone bruise from the constant rubbing, and Durant just couldn’t shake it off without significant time off. That’s what everyone thought. I was told by someone that’s pretty close to it all that he was going to play against the Celtics two weeks ago. That’s how unexpected this turn of events became.

Durant practiced on that Saturday before, doing some 3-on-3, then he played 1-on-1 in Dallas on Monday. And after that, he walked out of the arena with a severe limp, and pretty deflated. It wasn’t improving the way it was supposed to with the increased activity and at that point, the writing was really on the wall.

It doesn’t look good that Durant has had three surgeries on his foot. One is plenty. One is supposed to do the job. With what happened last season with Russell Westbrook, there’s good reason to wonder what’s going on. But I’d look at it this way: The Thunder’s conservative approach opens the door for them to get egg on their face. They didn’t mess around with Westbrook, taking a chance to let him play on a swollen knee. They pulled the plug, and made the decision to scope and deal with the consequences and fallout.

And then they did it again. They knew there would be skeptics and critics, questioning what the hell they were doing. But instead of delaying for the offseason to address it, they prioritized the long-term health of Westbrook and made the decision with only that in mind.

I’d say it worked out pretty well for them, and Westbrook.

The Thunder could’ve taken a different measure here with Durant. They could’ve rested him the next few weeks, then put him back on the practice floor and tried to ease him back on the floor for the postseason. That option was absolutely on the table.

But in collaboration with literally three of the top foot and ankle specialists in the world, the consensus was to go ahead and take the steps to end Durant’s season and do the bone graft. Instead of risking anything in his future, they’re going to just take advantage of the coming offseason which should let him completely heal, and then start over next season.

***

No. 4: Shaq would have stayed in OrlandoShaquille O’Neal began his pro career with the Orlando Magic, and he lasted four seasons before leaving Orlando in bitter circumstances and signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. But time heals all wounds, or at least it does in the Magic Kingdom, and last night the Magic welcomed Shaq back and inducted him into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. In his remarks during the festivities, as Josh Robbins writes in the Orlando Sentinel, Shaq said if he could do it over again, he would have played out his seven-year contract in Orlando and handled things differently …

Flanked by Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, the mammoth center led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Magic lost to Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Rockets in four games.

The next year, the Magic fell to Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in four games.

O’Neal never played for the Magic again.

The Magic initially made him a low offer, and the Lakers swooped in with a $121 million offer and the lure of Hollywood.

The Magic eventually offered O’Neal a deal that eclipsed the Lakers’ offer, but it was too late. Restricted free agency didn’t exist in those days, so the Magic were powerless to prevent O’Neal from leaving.

And he left.

“We came back later and beat the Lakers’ offer at the closing minutes,” said Magic co-founder and Magic Hall of Famer Pat Williams. “But, emotionally, Shaq was gone.”

O’Neal was 24-years-old when he spurned the Magic in favor of the Lakers.

“It was all business,” O’Neal said. “Do I regret it? I never fully answered. I regret it sometimes. This is where I started, where I should’ve stayed. I actually wish that they [had] made it a law that whoever drafted you, you’ve got to stay there your whole career. No trades. No nothing. No free agency. No anything like that. Do I regret it? I regret it only because the DeVos family, they deserve a couple [of NBA titles].”

As it turned out, he didn’t finally win a title with the Lakers until 2000 — four years after he left the Magic.

“I just wish I would’ve had more patience,” O’Neal revealed. “It was all about I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that [is] I wanted to win then. Even when I got there [to L.A.], I still got bashed and it still took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there with those guys out there, that I could win right away. And that wasn’t the case.

“So now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster, I wish I had had more patience.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Jazz player and announcer Hot Rod Hundley has died at 80 … Warriors big man Draymond Green has launched a line of t-shirts poking fun at Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers … The Rockets got Dwight Howard back from injury and now lose big man Donatas Motiejunas for a few weeks with a back injury … The Heat hope to get Hassan Whiteside back by the playoffs … The Nets have signed Earl Clark to a 10-day contract

Morning shootaround — March 27


VIDEO: Highlights from game played on March 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

James Harden makes MVP case | Pacers clinging to playoff hopes | Crawford says he’ll be back | Amar’e to stick with Dallas?

No. 1: James Harden makes MVP case With the season nearing an end, the MVP talk around the MVP race is heading up. Stephen Curry? Russell Westbrook? LeBron James? Anthony Davis? Or what about in Houston, where James Harden has been perhaps the best offensive player in the NBA this season? USA Today‘s Sam Amick caught up with Harden, who made his case for why he deserves your MVP vote…

“I think if you look at what I’ve been doing all year, only missing one game all year because of the situation (with seemingly-endless injuries to teammates), basically having to carry a load all year, being consistent from the first game of the season,” Harden said. “That should show it right there. But like I said, (the focus is) for me to go out there and continue doing what I’m doing, being consistent, is all I can do.”

And getting to the free throw line at an unmatched rate. Harden — who has converted on 86.6% of free throw attempts — is on pace to lead the league in free throw attempts for the second time in three seasons (10.1 per game). Last season’s leader in that category was the Thunder’s reigning MVP, Kevin Durant (9.9).

“I’m enjoying the whole process of these last (few) games, just trying to win games,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since Dwight has been out. I don’t really keep track of the other (MVP candidates) or what they’re doing. Obviously everybody knows that Russ is going on a triple-double rally. He’s playing extremely well and they’re fighting for the eighth spot. But all those guys you named (Curry, Westbrook, James, Davis and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers) are very good players, or very talented players. For me, I just focus on what I can control and going out there and doing the best I can do every single right.”

In trying to explain his own MVP-caliber campaign, Harden said his comfort level in the not-so-new surroundings have been key. It’s his third season in Houston, where he came via trade in October 2012 and has progressively found his way as a leader ever since.

“All I needed was time,” he said of the Houston experience. “All I needed was to know what I had around me. And now that I know it, I’m comfortable with it and I can be a great leader. I think that’s probably one of the reasons I’m so successful is that I’m comfortable. I think if you’re comfortable in any situation, and you know what’s going on and you know what you’re going to get, you’re going to be successful.

“It’s about having a good time, about enjoying it, enjoying the grind. If you’re not having fun, you’re probably not doing good.”

*** (more…)

Saunders flips over ‘tanking’ accusation from Jazz broadcasters


VIDEO: Wolves defeat Jazz with limited roster

“Tanking” has become a buzzword in the NBA, and a regrettable one at that. It’s a too-widely embraced, wink-wink term for teams that sorta-kinda allegedly do as much as they can to lose games – or as little as they can to win them – without stepping over a line of integrity that would drop the league to the level of professional wrestling.

The franchise most commonly associated with the accusation, the Philadelphia 76ers, has had two years to get callous to the charge. And lately “resting,” tanking’s cousin, has taken over as the ethical issue du jour deep into the 2014-15 season, pushing lottery-obsessed shenanigans out of the spotlight for now.

But Flip Saunders is old school and he didn’t like it when what he felt was a gutty, gritty, resourceful performance from his Minnesota Timberwolves was met – even as it happened by Utah Jazz broadcasters Craig Bolerjack and Matt Harpring – with derision. Bolerjack and Harping portrayed the Wolves’ limited roster (seven players!) Monday in Salt Lake City as yet another tanking production by one of the league’s bottom feeders.

The Wolves are in obvious rebuilding mode, force-feeding presumptive Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins heavy minutes while scouting heavily for the Draft in June. At 15-54 when their skeleton crew took the floor at Energy Solutions Arena, they trailed only New York (14-57) in the spiral down to the most lottery chances.

Let’s let Wolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda pick up the umbrage that flared from the Minnesota coach and president of basketball operations when he learned afterward about Bolerjack’s and Harpring’s disparaging asides during the telecast:

[Saunders] had just seen his team with only seven healthy players win in OT, at altitude, on the second night of back-to-back games. Instead of being in a celebratory mood, he was incensed after he returned to a joyous locker room and found what he said were 25 text messages informing him of comments made by Utah’s television broadcast earlier in the game.

… Jazz announcers said, to paraphrase, that teams purposely losing games to improve draft lottery odds by dressing only seven available players is bad for the league, bad for fans who pay good money to see Kevin Garnett and the league needs to do something about it.

Utah fans didn’t see Garnett, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Gary Neal or four other injured Wolves players Monday. They did see newly signed D League guard Sean Kilpatrick make three three-pointers in a fourth-quarter comeback, and they also saw Zach LaVine ignore a mental mistake with the game on the line and make two clutch threes in the final 21 seconds of regulation to force overtime anyway.

“That’s totally irresponsible, we’re not tanking games,” Saunders said. “If that’s so, then [Utah] got beat by a team who was tanking. … We’re playing to win. Our guys are out there: We won two games ago at New York, we lost in the fourth quarter against Charlotte last night. We’re not tanking games. It is irresponsible for them to go on TV saying that. If you work at ESPN, you get fired for saying stuff like that.”

The Wolves won for the second time in three games after they had lost 10 of 11 before that. They did so Monday by beating a Jazz team that had won 14 of its previous 19 games and had led by as many as eight points before the Wolves pulled a most improbable comeback.

It’s tempting to conclude, as The Bard might, that Saunders doth protested too much. His comments about people getting fired made it seem as if the Jazz announcers might have struck a nerve. Minnesota, after all, spent all but eight of its first 25 seasons prior to this one out of the playoffs, yet never, ever has gotten lucky enough in the lottery to move up even one spot in the draft order. Diving down for the worst possible record might be seen as their only way to land a franchise prospect – now that they have no more Kevin Loves to trade.

But the circumstances were all wrong Monday night. No team tanks, or does anything else, by using only seven players. And, ahem, the Wolves wound up winning in overtime.

Even Harpring seem reassured enough by that to tweet out an apology overnight:

Morning shootaround — March 14


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook a stat-seeking missile? | Pacers’ George treading lightly | Jazz’s Gobert: from clunker to hardware | NBA season in ‘twilight time?’

No. 1: Westbrook a stat-seeking missile? — It is considered bad form for a restaurant server or anyone else in the service industry, frankly, to flat-out ask for a tip. But it was OK in OKC for Russell Westbrook Friday night, his suggestion to the scorekeepers paying off in nice, round statistical fashion for yet another triple-double. No one here at Hang Time HQ is accusing Westbrook of lowering himself to Ricky Davis levels, and there often have been different interpretations applied to assists and rebounds (remember all the home-cooking accusations about Jazz great John Stockton‘s dimes in Salt Lake City games?). But Royce Young reported on Westbrook’s big numbers against Minnesota, then concluded that they were bonafide. Or at least justified:

The Thunder were enjoying an impressive blowout over the young Minnesota Timberwolves, and Westbrook was going to be left to watch the final couple of minutes a single rebound short. That’s when he took matters into his own hands. He looked over at the Thunder’s official scorekeepers, holding his arm up.

“Tip?” he said, nodding his head. “Tip?”

A quick conference at the scorer’s table and right around the time the buzzer sounded on the Thunder’s 113-99 win, Westbrook suddenly had his triple-double: 29 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. His eighth of the season, sixth in the last eight games, and the first player since Jason Kidd in 2007-08 to have eight or more in a season (Kidd had 13).

The rebound appears to be a tad dubious, an offensive board awarded with 2:35 left where Westbrook went up to tip back a missed 3-point attempt by D.J. Augustin. Westbrook was given a missed shot on it, so everything is on the up and up, but still, hard not to raise an eyebrow.

So, was he campaigning for the rebound or what?

“Uhh, no,” Westbrook said.

The idea is that stat-padding breeds selfishness, a label Westbrook already battles against, but his play actually separates the two things entirely. The stats are a means to the end, a necessity in winning. Westbrook is single-minded when it comes to winning, and with that in the bag on Friday, there’s nothing wrong with wanting another bullet point added to the growing MVP resume.

Because while an extra “10” in the box score is pretty arbitrary, it means a lot when you start talking history. Westbrook became only the fourth player in the last 30 years to record six triple-doubles in a season with at least 25 points (LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson). As he continues to build an MVP case, that’s another feather in his cap. And we can’t act as if individual accolades don’t matter. It’s all part of the game, and Westbrook knows how to compartmentalize and separate that from the bottom line.

Westbrook actually nearly had a quadruple-double with eight turnovers, giving him an eye-popping 27 over his last three games. It has been a stat that has sort of been glossed over because of how much he’s doing for the Thunder, along with how he’s giving the ball away. It’s not really the classic out-of-control Westbrook that’s barreling down the lane and leaving his feet with no plan. It’s forced pocket passes, soft post-entry passes, unselfish extra passes fired at point-blank range.

“I do know one thing, I know I need to stop turning the ball over. I can tell you that much,” Westbrook said, unprompted. “It’s so frustrating, trying [to] find and make passes and turn the ball [over], but at the same time, we won, so I’ll go back to the drawing board and take care of it.”

***

No. 2: Pacers’ George treading lightly — Maybe Paul George had a late-night phone conversation with Derrick Rose. Maybe his anticipated return from the serious leg fractures suffered last August was a diversion all along, meant to take Indiana fans’ focus off its team’s struggles for most of this 2014-15 season. Or, most likely, George has seen the Pacers’ recent tear and move into playoff position in the Eastern Conference as the proverbial ain’t-broke object no longer in need of his fix. The Pacers’ All-Star wing player sounded a little conflicted Friday about making a comeback for what’s left of this season, less due to his own physical condition than to the team’s encouraging play of late. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com reported on George’s quandary after the player’s weekly media chinwag:

“I’m on the fence,” he told reporters following Friday’s light workout at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “They’ve come together. To shake up the chemistry and add another body, I don’t want to be that guy who destroys what these guys have going. And then there’s part of me who thinks I can definitely help turn these tough games into games we have fully under control.

“It’s difficult. It’s a difficult point right now…but we take it day to day.”

George still spoke optimistically of the physical improvement he’s made since breaking his leg on Aug. 1. He experiences some soreness “but I push through those days.” He’s worn an elastic sleeve on his right leg the past two days in practice because his leg feels better when he does, but he has no significant pain in the formerly broken leg.

George had thrown out a mid-March return as his goal during interviews over All-Star Weekend last month, but isn’t guessing at dates now. Coach Frank Vogel earlier in the week had nixed the possibility of him playing on Saturday, but nobody is saying yes or no to future dates. The Pacers’ first game next week is Monday at home against Toronto. They follow with road games at Chicago on Wednesday and Cleveland on Friday, and then have a home game against Brooklyn on Saturday.

“Is there a chance you’ll play next week?” he was asked.

“I have no idea,” he said.

If and when he does return, George will come off the bench and play spot minutes. He likely would continue to play as a reserve, potentially strengthening a unit that’s already one of the best in the NBA.

***

No. 3: Jazz’s Gobert: from clunker to hardwareRudy Gobert, Utah’s blossoming 7-foot-2 French import, didn’t generate a lot of excitement when he first appeared on the NBA scene. As ProBasketballTalk.com’s Dan Feldman tells it, Gobert – despite remarkable size and wingspan, definite NBA attributes – was nursing a sore knee that hurt his performance in workouts. But whatever perceived lack of athleticism caused him to plummet to the bottom of the first round in the 2013 Draft, Gobert has more than made up for with his play lately. In fact, Feldman makes a case that the Jazz reserve big man could be a legit contender for multiple awards this spring:

Gobert is averaging 7.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. In 11 starts since Utah traded Enes Kanter, Gobert’s averages have jumped to 10.5 points, 14.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. The Jazz are 9-2 in that span, including wins over the playoff-bound Trail Blazers, Spurs, Bucks, Grizzlies and Rockets

If the 2013 draft were re-done – with consideration to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nerlens Noel, Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Mason Plumlee and everyone else – Gobert makes a compelling case to go No. 1 overall.

Now, in his breakout season, Gobert is a legitimate contender for three awards – Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player.

He might not win any, and two would be tough. Three would be unprecedented.

Just six players have won two of the major player awards – Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player – in the same season:

Darrell Armstrong, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player in 1999
Hakeem Olajuwon, Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 1994
Michael Jordan, Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year in 1988
Alvin Robertson, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player in 1986
Wes Unseld, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 1969
Wilt Chamberlain, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 1960

***

No. 4: NBA season in ‘twilight time?’ — Certainly there’s churning and jostling for playoff position taking place within the East and West conferences. But on a macro level, we know who most of the playoff teams are likely to be, same as we know who most of the lottery teams are this spring. That’s why longtime NBA writer Mark Heisler suggests in the L.A. Daily News that the 82-game schedule is too long, leading to this stretch of March and April where the NCAA game grabs basketball’s spotlight and even swipes Charles Barkley:

Most good teams are resting stars, easing injured players back in — this makes two weeks in a row that the Clippers’ Blake Griffin is expected back — and otherwise lying in the weeds.

All that remains is securing the final playoff slots.

Three teams are vying for the last West slot: New Orleans (just got Anthony Davis back) Oklahoma City (soon to get Kevin Durant back) and Phoenix (unfortunately not getting anyone back).

Then there’s the East dogfight for No. 7 and 8 among the Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Celtics and Nets. Two will get in even if they’re on pace to win 39-37-36-35-33, respectively.

That makes 13 teams assured of playoff slots with eight more aspiring to, even if five are in the farcical East race.

Lining the bottom of the cage are the seven marking time until the lottery (Lakers, Knicks, 76ers, Timberwolves, Magic, Kings, Nuggets).

That leaves the Jazz and Detroit, another team of comers that started late. The Pistons’ problem didn’t turn out to be paying Josh Smith $30 million to leave, but waiting until they were 5-23.

That’s all there is — with five weeks until the playoffs. In other words, thank heavens for the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, I’d say the NBA season is a little on the long side.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami’s Hassan Whiteside felt bad enough to phone up Boston’s Kelly Olynyk to offer an apology. And after what Olynyk said to Whiteside, the Heat center felt even worse. … The Raptors broke through for their second victory in three weeks and old-school Charles Oakley was there to witness it – and sneer at today’s lack of physicality the way Oak does. … The Clippers have gone 9-6 without Blake Griffin, whom they hope to get back as soon as Sunday vs. Houston. They’ve also gone 42-24 without Spencer Hawes, essentially. … It’s impossible to separate Eric Gordon‘s recent swell shooting from the New Orleans guard’s recent swell health. …

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reunion for Wolves, Garnett? | Jerome Kersey, Blazers great, RIP | Kanter not signing Jazz tune on deadline | Ainge and Celtics will take your calls

No. 1: Reunion for Wolves, Garnett? — He spent the meat of his certain Hall of Fame career in Minnesota, often frustrated, always brilliant, and in the end was thrilled to leave. Now, well in his twilight, and perhaps staring at the end of the road, will Kevin Garnett‘s journey finish up where it started? On the eve of the trade deadline, there apparently is enough of a thaw, at least on the Wolves’ end, to make this happen. The Wolves have struggled since Garnett left, never making the playoffs or having a winning season. And of course, they’ll struggle even if they bring him back for a curtain call because they’re loaded with young players. But from a sentimental standpoint, this would be heartwarming. Garnett remains a sports icon in the Twin Cities and the applause for him in a Wolves uniform would be thunderous. But nothing happens unless he wants it to happen. He must approve any trade, and with precious little left in the tank, wouldn’t Garnett rather be someplace warm and with a chance to win a title, like, with old friend Doc Rivers in LA? Anyway, here’s Marc Stein of ESPN:

Garnett has insisted in recent weeks that he is not in the market for an in-season exit from Brooklyn, largely because he does not wish to displace his family ‎in the middle of the season.

But the Wolves, sources say, are hopeful that the chance to play out what might be his final NBA season as a member of the team that drafted him out of high school in 1995 — and under longtime coach Flip Saunders — could lead Garnett to reconsider. Such a trade, of course, would also mean the hypercompetitive Garnett has to leave the Eastern Conference playoff race to join a team at the bottom of the West.

Saunders remains close with Garnett and is said to covet a reunion to bring back the most popular player in Wolves annals as a mentor to the many youngsters on the current roster, headlined by 2014’s No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins.

And in Young, Minnesota possesses a player the Nets have coveted for some time. Brooklyn GM Billy King drafted Young in Philadelphia and would presumably welcome his addition now as the Nets try to fortify their roster in search a playoff berth in the East.

The Los Angeles Clippers and coach Doc Rivers have been openly hoping Garnett would seek a buyout from the Nets before March 1 to become eligible to play in the playoffs for another team. But Garnett has left the impression he has little interest in a buyout.

“I haven’t thought too much of my own personal [situation],” Garnett recently told Nets beat writers. “When that road comes, I’ll cross it and I’ll deal with it. A lot of things with [my] family situation and things, it’s not just convenient to get up and move, to change things. It’s not as convenient as it once was when I was younger. I have a lot more responsibilities and things to take into account.”

In the same interview, Garnett insisted he was all-in with the 21-29 Nets, despite the fact that close friend Paul Pierce left Brooklyn over the summer to sign in free agency with the Washington Wizards.

‎In November, Garnett told Yahoo! Sports that he wants to buy the Timberwolves someday. But he has said little about how much longer he intends to play beyond this season, which is Garnett’s 20th as a pro.

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Amar’e gets Maverick | Report: Bucks, Sanders talk buyout | What’s next for Marc Gasol? | A weekend with Westbrook

No. 1: Amar’e gets Maverick — Just hours after securing his release from the New York Knicks, according to multiple reports, Amar’e Stoudemire and the Dallas Mavericks have reportedly reached an agreement on a deal to bring Stoudemire to the Mavs. After writing a poem to say goodbye to Knicks fans, Stoudemire will chase a championship with the Mavericks, teaming with his former Knicks teammate Tyson Chandler to provide an interior presence for Dallas. As ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, after considering several offers, Stoudemire ultimately decided Dallas was the best fit for his skill set…

The Mavs could only offer the prorated veteran’s minimum to Stoudemire, who was in the final season of a five-year, $99.7 million deal with the Knicks.

Dallas was attractive to Stoudemire in part because of a pick-and-roll-intensive offense that plays to his strengths. The Mavs also have a highly respected medical staff, led by Team USA athletic trainer Casey Smith, that will maximize Stoudemire’s chances of staying healthy for the stretch run and playoffs while dealing with chronic knee problems.

The Mavs envision Stoudemire as a key bench player who will back up center Tyson Chandler and also see spot duty at power forward behind Dirk Nowitzki. He will provide the Mavs with a quality replacement for Brandan Wright, the high-efficiency reserve big man the Mavs gave up in the December deal to acquire Rajon Rondo.

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No. 2: Report: Bucks, Sanders talk buyout — As recently as two seasons ago, Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders was considered one of the NBA’s most promising young big men. But since then, it’s been a slow decline. Sanders has dealt with injuries and suspensions, and hasn’t played this season since just before Christmas. Now it seems that perhaps the Bucks have had enough and are ready to move on without Sanders, writes ESPN’s Marc Stein

Buyout discussions have begun between the Milwaukee Bucks and Larry Sanders that would make the recently suspended big man a free agent, according to league sources.

Sanders has served a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug program but has not returned to the team and is not expected to play for Milwaukee again. He has been listed as out for “personal reasons” in each of the Bucks’ past three games.

The 26-year-old has been adamant that he wants to resume his NBA career despite the personal struggles that have resulted in two league suspensions in less than a year.

“Soon you all will know the truth,” Sanders tweeted last week.

When asked last week about Sanders’ status, Bucks coach Jason Kidd told local reporters: “That will be determined during the break.”

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No. 3: What’s next for Marc Gasol? — The Memphis Grizzlies may be chasing a title, but after his gig starting for the Western Conference All-Stars, it’s probably worth remembering that Grizz center Marc Gasol will be one of the most sought-after free agents this summer. USA Today‘s Sam Amick caught up with Gasol during All-Star Weekend, and Gasol says leaving Memphis would not be easy, if it comes to that…

“The city of Memphis and the franchise means a lot to me,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s not going to be easy for me to leave a place like that.”

Not only do the Grizzlies have the edge of being able to offer him a five-year deal as opposed to the four-year offers every other team is limited to, but the ‘Grit & Grind’ Grizzlies remain a close-knit group that is playing the kind of elite basketball (39-14) that certainly qualifies as championship-caliber. The Knicks, Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and others have long been expected to come after him, but he knows as well as anyone that he won’t find this mixture of relationships and ring-worthy talent anywhere else. At least not at the start.

From his close friendship with point guard Mike Conley to his connection with forward Zach Randolph (“My man,” he calls him) to Tony Allen and the rest of the lot, there are roots that run much deeper than they do in most NBA locker rooms. There’s an impressive body of work serving as the foundation, too, a winning percentage of .635 since the start of the 2010-11 season and years of playoff battles that they hope have steeled them for the coming challenge.

“Basketball is about relationships,” said Marc, who played his high school basketball in Memphis while watching Pau play for the Grizzlies, then returned (after playing professionally in his hometown of Barcelona) to begin his NBA career in 2008. “The bond that you create by playing together, going through battles together. The trust that you build goes a long way. It goes beyond the game of basketball. Those guys, you could see them 15 or 20 years from now, when everybody is older and it’s a little tougher to walk, you’ll see each other and your brain is going to immediately think back to those memories that you created.

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No. 4: A weekend with Westbrook — Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook is one of the NBA’s most dynamic players and personalities, as furious on the floor as he can be off of it, with a diverse set of interests. In New York for All-Star Weekend, where he ended up walking away with the All-Star MVP, Westbrook maximized the time by running all over the city to make appearances, and he brought Bleacher Report along for the ride

The following day, Friday, around 11:30 a.m., Westbrook arrives for All-Star media availability, located at the Sheraton Times Square Hotel. This marks one of the few times of the year when every kind of question you can imagine gets thrown at a player.

“Russell, do you wish you guys ever wore tiny, little shorts?” His answer: “No.”

“Who’s the sexier Van Gundy, Stan or Jeff?” His answer: just shakes his head.

Then there’s the influx of international media—this year, a record 534 members from 52 countries—who ask for acknowledgement of their fans.

“Please give us a message to Japanese fans.” His response: “Hello, Japanese fans all over the world. Thank you for your support.”

Compared to the previous night, Westbrook, wearing all Jordan Brand gear, including the Air Jordan 1 Fragment Design sneakers, is completely different. Many times, he looks down during questions and looks away while responding. His answers are short—usually one word or one to two sentences—similar to other basketball interviews he’s done in the past. Smiles and long answers are sparse. A lot of “I don’t knows.” For some, he has the look of “Where have you been?” as he quickly shakes his head to disregard the question.

“He doesn’t like to talk about basketball,” his younger brother, Ray, 23, says. “We just talk about life, play video games.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to this report, the Utah Jazz plan to hang on to Enes KanterJermaine O’Neal says he doesn’t feel comfortable committing to a team at this point … Goran Dragic‘s agent will meet with Suns management today … Austin Daye has signed with the D-League