Posts Tagged ‘Vince Carter’

A superstar from contending, Mavs wait

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki will have to be patient with the Mavs’ plans to add help

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Dallas Mavericks are waiting on a superstar. They’re not holding their breath. Still, they must sit tight.

When Dirk Nowitzki agreed to a three-year, $30 million contract with Dallas on Thursday it likely signaled the end of the club’s very brief courtship of Carmelo Anthony. Dallas was also among a select few teams to speak with the agent of LeBron James, and no they wait to see if they’ll be summoned to speak with the King himself, perhaps next week.

Still, it’s difficult to see James selecting the Mavs over a return to the Heat or teaming with James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston, or even with newly minted max point guard Kyrie Irving and No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins in Cleveland, which possesses the added pull of James’ heartstrings.

The willingness of Anthony and James this week, and Howard a year ago, to visit with the Mavs seems more a hat tip to highly visible and player-friendly owner Mark Cuban than bona fide interest in giving it a go alongside Dirk Nowitzki in his twilight years.

Even so, the fact James’ agent granted face-to-face meetings means you’re in the running, even if you’re a long shot. Cuban certainly believes that where there’s an ear, there’s a way. So you wait, holding off on chasing other big-ticket free agents until James and Anthony make their decisions. Only then can the dominoes begin to fall.

Some might believe a more prudent step for Dallas is to strike now at coveted targets, such as Luol Deng (Cleveland) or Trevor Ariza (Washington) or restricted free agent Chandler Parsons (Houston).

Agreeing to terms with any of those players would financially eliminate Dallas from the superstar sweepstakes, and until James or Anthony officially tells Dallas no, the front office must operate as if yes remains a possibility. Houston, Chicago, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers all must do the same.

Anyways, it’s a virtual guarantee that none of those players, unless offered an unimaginatively lucrative contract, will agree to a deal anywhere until James and Anthony — and possibly even wild card Chris Bosh — set the landscape.

So they wait.

On Saturday, Dallas did move forward with its own free-agent point guard Devin Harris. ESPN.com reported the two sides were closing in on a three-year deal for approximately $9 million. If those terms are accurate, it would be an identical deal to the one Harris signed last summer with Dallas before discovering he needed toe surgery and then agreed to a one-year contract at a reduced rate. This deal would be a bargain for the Mavs considering some the terms reached by guards in the first few days of free agency.

Harris is a key returnee for Dallas, which sent starting point guard Jose Calderon, along with three other players and two second-round draft picks, to New York in exchange for center Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, who Cuban had to take back in order to get Chandler. Unless the Mavs can move Felton, he is expected to compete for the starting job with Harris.

Three-point specialist and free agent Mo Williams (Portland) is also tied to Dallas. The Mavs want to re-sign Vince Carter, who has suitors, including contending teams, and Shawn Marion, while Dallas would like him back is looking to upgrade the position in its starting lineup.

If the Mavs don’t land LeBron or Melo, it will be an intriguing race to sign the likes of Deng and Chandler (and his future is totally hinged to the Rockets acquiring James, Anthony or Bosh). Deng has interest from Atlanta and was reportedly meeting with Miami on Saturday.

This is the third consecutive summer that Cuban has entered free agency with the cap space to sign a max (or near-max) free agent. With Nowitzi, Monta Ellis and Chandler back, they truly are one superstar away from once again becoming contenders in the brutally competitive Western Conference.

Yet without one, matching last season’s 49 wins, good for the last playoff spot, stands to be a difficult task.

So they wait.

Patience or panic on South Beach?

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: What’s up with Miami’s Big Three? David Aldridge and the guys check in …

Out of the blue, one week after the Big Three met for a meal before breaking for family vacations and whatnot, we’re to believe LeBron James is going rogue and leaving super pals Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the dark?

Yeah, sure. And Ben Gordon’s getting two years and $9 million.

Whoa. Hold that thought.

We’re now into Day 3 of free agency. Carmelo Anthony is onto city No. 4. And the Miami Heat have yet to make a first move. Supposed top targets, Washington’s Marcin Gortat and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, are off the board, with both players re-upping with their own teams for more money than the Heat could have afforded.

And still, we have no clearer picture as to how much money Miami president of basketball operations Pat Riley has in his wallet. So we’re left guessing as to the true financial desires of each of the Big Three. Competing reports have pegged Bosh as being good with making $11 million next season — exceedingly below market value (Gortat will make $12 million next season) — or seeking as much as $18 million per. Wade reportedly would be fine starting at $12 million next season.

(Henry Thomas, agent to both Bosh and Wade, denies the lower figures as being accurate.)

James reportedly wants a max deal — projected to be around $20.7 million next year — and, truthfully, why shouldn’t he get it? But, James also knows the more he demands, the less cap space Riley has available to make the team, as James put it after losing to the Spurs in five games, “better at every position.”

The Big Three don’t seem overly concerned. James is on vacation snapping up tuna with his kids, and his agent, Rich Paul, has yet to set up a single meeting with another team.

Bronny caught him a black fin tuna. Need to put him on "Wicked Tuna". #WeWasHyped #WhatColorWasIt #JamesVacation

A video posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

Bosh has been having fun cheering on the USA at the World Cup.

And Wade seems to be enjoying being a dad.

There remains no evidence to suggest James has muzzled Wade and Bosh. Of course, we can’t prove he hasn’t either. So the longer the Heat don’t land reinforcements, the larger the concern grows (from outside, at least) that the Super Friends will call the whole thing off.

If James indeed will settle for nothing less than the max, and if Bosh and Wade are determined to collect at least $15 million next season (again, we don’t know this) … add Norris Cole‘s guaranteed money plus salary designated for James’ hand-picked, first-round selection Shabazz Napier, and Riley will be left with less than $10 million below the expected salary cap of $63 million.

That’s not much for high-end shopping. The Big Three, if they are committed to staying together, will have to act accordingly.

Good players still are available, starting with personal favorite Pau Gasol, who has already received phone calls from Riley, the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers. The Heat and Thunder each have the full mid-level exception of $5.3 million to spend. It’s would mark a significant pay cut for Gasol. That’s price of jumping to a contender.

At point guard, there’s been little mention of Toronto’s other sneaky talented quarterback Greivis Vasquez, a restricted free agent who likely can be had now that Kyle Lowry is locked up to a four-year, $48 million deal.

Steve Blake, Leandro Barbosa, Mo Williams and D.J. Augustin, who played so well after joining the Bulls midseason, remain unsigned. At the wing, higher-priced free agents like Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng will be more difficult to sign, but veterans such as Vince Carter and Shawn Marion shouldn’t be.

Three-point-shooting big man Channing Frye is out there. So is Spencer Hawes. A more physical post player, Jordan Hill needs a home, too.

Maybe James is going rogue. Maybe he has an internal clock ticking on Riley. Maybe James’ agent soon will begin calling rival general managers for a sit down.

But for right now, Day 3 of free agency, James, Wade and Bosh certainly seem to be taking it all in stride.

And Ben Gordon is getting paid.

Long-shot Mavericks make short, straightforward pitch to Melo

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime crew discusses ‘Melo’s Texas tour and what’s next

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — If Carmelo Anthony isn’t all that keen on seeing himself plastered on buildings like a monster-sized Fathead in a uniform he’s never worn and holding a trophy he’s never hoisted, then maybe the Dallas Mavericks’ simplistic approach will give them a chance to land the coveted free agent.

Unlike the red-carpet recruiting jobs that the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday unveiled for their guest of honor, Mavs owner Mark Cuban and his team of recruiters kept their meeting with ‘Melo to old-school basics: A conversation.

“What I can tell you is that we made this purely a business meeting,” Cuban wrote to Mavs fans who follow him on his CyberDust app. “No tours. No banners. All basketball and business.”

Dallas is considered the dark horse in this supposed five-horse race with Anthony’s Knicks, the Bulls, the Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, who get their crack at Anthony on Thursday. On Tuesday he spent eight hours meeting and eating with Bulls brass and players Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.

James Harden, Dwight Howard and even Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler entertained Anthony during his six-hour stay in Houston. The Rockets opted for the special effects, splashing images of Anthony in a Rockets uniform adorned with the No. 7 — that being Jeremy Lin‘s current No. 7 — outside and inside the Toyota Center just as the Bulls had done at the United Center the day before.

Anthony then departed for Dallas, landing at Love Field late in the afternoon. A black limousine whisked him to Cuban’s sprawling Dallas mansion. All-in-all, Anthony was in and out in less than three hours, sparking a round of Twitter jokes of all the things that can’t be done, or take much longer, than the Mavs’ time with Melo.

There was no stopping off at the American Airlines Center to pick out a locker stall or to catch a glimpse at the Mavs’ basement practice court (Dallas remains without an off-site practice facility), or even just to check if maybe somebody had photoshopped him into a blue and white, No. 7 uniform (no word how 2013 second-round draft pick Ricky Ledo would have felt about that).

The plan going in was to sell Anthony on settling for less than a max deal by convincing him that the franchise’s impressive track record under Cuban, the craftiness of coach Rick Carlisle and a roster that includes an aging, but capable Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and now Anthony’s former Knicks teammate Tyson Chandler could deliver him to the promised land quicker than any other team.

The incumbent Knicks can offer New York’s native son the most lucrative contract by a long shot — $129 million over five years. The Mavs as well as any other team can offer four years and a maximum of $96 million. Dallas would have to shed payroll to get close to a starting salary of $20 million.

One way would be for Nowitzki to take less in his own negotiations that are on hold until they get final word from Anthony. Nowitzki, 36, has said all along he plans to take a significant pay cut from the $22 million he made last season, likely in a similar deal to three years, $30 million Tim Duncan signed with the Spurs in 2012.

The Mavs have targeted a big fish in each of the last three summers, failing to land Deron Williams in 2012 and Dwight Howard a year ago. If Anthony makes them 0-for-3, next-tier candidates include the likes of Luol Deng and the Rockets’ restricted free-agent small forward Chandler Parsons, plus the Mavs’ own free agents Devin Harris, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

If time allotted per team means anything, Anthony’s decision will likely come down to the two team’s most expected anyway, his hometown Knicks and the hard-charging Bulls.

Morning Shootaround — July 1



VIDEO: Ex-NBA GMs Isiah Thomas and Bryan Colangelo explain how front offices woo free agents

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Lakers have busy opening night of free agency | KD opens up on MVP season | Lillard reveals free-agency wish list | Bradley wants to stick with Celts

No. 1: Lakers busy as free agency begins — If you missed it yesterday, go give David Aldridge‘s Morning Tip a read when you have time. In it, he expertly spells out 11 deals that should happen in free agency, including several for the cap room-boasting Los Angeles Lakers. L.A. didn’t waste any time once free agency opened at midnight Tuesday, talking with their own free agent (Pau Gas0l) as well making plans to chat with several other heavy hitters (hello, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony), too. Dave McMenamin and Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com have more here:

The Los Angeles Lakers will meet with free agent forward Carmelo Anthony Thursday in Los Angeles, sources told ESPN.

Anthony and his representatives were one of the Lakers’ first calls Monday night as free agency officially opened at 9:01 p.m. local time. They also placed a call to the agent for Miami forward LeBron James and their own free agent center Pau Gasol within the first hour of the negotiating period.

The Lakers’ top priority is trying to convince both James and Anthony to leave their respective teams and join together in L.A.

Unlike last summer when the Lakers kicked off free agency with GM Mitch Kupchak greeting Dwight Howard at a Beverly Hills hotel, Gasol did not have a face-to-face meeting with the team he spent the last 7 ½ seasons with, nor with representatives for any other suitors. Gasol simply took calls from interested teams Monday night from an office in Los Angeles.

ESPN the Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported the Lakers’ interest in Chris Bosh, but it is believed that the Lakers’ ties to Bosh, much like their designs on winning over James, will have to lay dormant until Miami’s Big Three – along with Dwyane Wade – mutually decide what their fate will be with the Heat.

Kupchak also contacted free agent forwards Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza and point guard Kyle Lowry on Monday night, according to sources.

Sources indicated that the Lakers also contacted representatives for Houston’s Chandler Parsons, Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Sacramento’s Isaiah Thomas – all of whom are restricted free agents.

And as for that long list of players who suffered through the Lakers’ 27-55 season as players on the team last year and are now hitting the free agency marketplace, the Lakers reached out to about half of them on Monday, including representatives for Nick Young, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill and Kent Bazemore.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses where Carmelo Anthony may end up this summer

(more…)

Post-trade, Mavericks feel well positioned for run at ‘Melo

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

melo

The Knicks can offer Carmelo Anthony the most money, a reported $129 million over five years, compared to a maximum $96 million over four years anywhere else. (NBAE via Getty Images)

DALLAS — Aggressive as they were, the Dallas Mavericks couldn’t land the big fish the last two summers. Still, the crew of the S.S. Cuban isn’t deterred. They’re prepared to chug back out to sea for another go.

For this expedition, Mark Cuban and co-captain Donnie Nelson believe their hook is finally lined with the savory bait that could make this season’s whopper, Carmelo Anthony, bite.

“My feeling is that if I’m a prospective free agent out there, we became a lot more attractive,” Nelson, the Mavs’ president of basketball operations said Thursday, a day after he pulled the trigger on a deal with the New York Knicks that returned 7-foot-1 center and defensive anchor Tyson Chandler to Dallas. “I don’t know many front lines that not only have that kind of punch in terms of inside-outside [Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki], but also two great guys, great teammates, guys that you love to go to war with night in and night out.”

The king fish, LeBron James, remains mostly a pipe dream around here, but there is growing confidence that Anthony will give the Mavs as fair a look as he will his re-tooling, hometown Knicks under Phil Jackson, the tantalizing roster of the Chicago Bulls and that of the hyper-aggressive Houston Rockets. ESPN.com reported earlier this week that Anthony will grant the latter three teams face-to-face meetings when free agency begins next week.

The Mavs lacked a roster with enough enticements to convince Deron Williams and then Dwight Howard to come aboard. Now, a trio of Chandler, Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, coming off arguably the most efficient season of his career, drastically changes the dialogue — even with Ellis eligible to opt out after next season and Chandler set to become a free agent — the Mavs’ front office believes.

Landing Chandler, the fiery leader of the Mavs’ 2011 championship squad, an ardent supporter of coach Rick Carlisle and his system, and, of course, a friend of ‘Melo’s, was a key step in that strategy.

“He wants to win, and he wants to be in a system and he wants to be in a culture,” Chandler said of Anthony during a conference call Wednesday. “I think that’s going to go into a big part of his decision-making.”

Chandler said he will “absolutely” be in Anthony’s ear.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team and the organization,” Chandler said. “At the end of the day, free agency is kind of an individual thing …  But I’ll tell you one thing: Dallas isn’t a bad place to be; it’s a great opportunity and clearly we’ve done it in the past. It’s not a hard place to sell. I’m going to do whatever it takes.”

Chandler’s arrival cut slightly into the Mavs’ cap space. They don’t quite have room to squeeze in a full max contract once Nowitzki signs, likely for around $10 million per season. But Dallas does have options, such as trading backup center Brandan Wright, who is due $5 million next season, to a team with cap space.

Dallas, with no picks in Thursday night’s Draft after sending two second-rounders to New York in the trade that also swapped starting point guards — Jose Calderon to the Knicks and Raymond Felton to the Mavs — made no effort to jump into the first round, which would further dig into this summer’s cap space.

“Starting July 1, every penny is going to count,” Nelson said.

There’s also a growing sense that star players like Anthony are locks to play for whichever team can stack the money the highest. Howard left millions on the table in leaving Los Angeles for Houston. James, by opting out, likely will sign for less even if he stays in Miami as a means to help it add impact players.

Star players who have already cashed in on one max contract have made a tremendous amount of money — some $135 million in salary alone in Anthony’s case — and seem to be more acutely aware of the salary cap brought forth by the collective bargaining agreement and the limitations it can impose on capped-out teams. There seems to be a greater awareness placed on situation than solely salary.

During All-Star weekend, Anthony told reporters as much.

“As far as the money goes, it’s not my concern,” Anthony said. “My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career. I want to compete at that level.”

The Knicks can offer Anthony the most money, a reported $129 million over five years, compared to a maximum $96 million over four years anywhere else. Jackson has challenged Anthony on his stance, suggesting he should re-sign with the Knicks at a reduced rate to make it easier to build around him.

Still, at least for the coming season, the Bulls, Rockets and Mavs provide the greater opportunity to win now.

The Mavs, a 49-win team last season and pushed San Antonio to seven games in the first round, aren’t without flaws. At the moment, the disappointing Felton is their starting point guard. They hope to re-sign Devin Harris as well as veterans Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, who has become a terrific 3-point shooter.

No matter what happens on those fronts, the pitch to Anthony will challenge him to find a team with a better core to win this season, plus the vast cap space to add another max player and more next summer.

The Mavs, and especially their fans, understand these high-stakes expeditions come with no guarantees. Still the S.S. Cuban is fueled up and ready for another round of deep sea fishing.

“With our system,” Nelson said, “with Rick being one of the best [coaches] in the business, in my opinion, of taking guys and figuring it out on the fly; and then you’ve got Tyson as a defensive backdrop and certainly one of the best power forwards in the league to play the game and a future Hall of Famer, Dirk, and cap space, we’re positioned pretty well.”

Ego doesn’t block Mitchell’s return as Timberwolves assistant coach


VIDEO: Sam Mitchell talks about his days with the Wolves

Mark Jackson never would deign to do it. You look around the NBA and you don’t see George Karl, Jerry Sloan, Avery Johnson, Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro or either of the Van Gundys doing it.

But Sam Mitchell is about to move 18 inches over – 18 inches down, in terms of career trajectory – and he’s fine with it.

“It looked like that was the only way I was going to get back in. You do what you’ve got to do,” Mitchell said this week, after the official announcement that he was joining the Minnesota Timberwolves as an assistant coach on Flip Saunders‘ staff. “I said to myself, if I’m ever going to coach again and I’ve got to come back in as an assistant coach, it doesn’t get much better than this.”

It doesn’t get much more rare, either.

It’s uncommon enough to find former NBA head coaches working as assistants, for several reasons. The move can be perceived as going backwards in their coaching careers – a CEO settling for a VP’s job – and knocking them the lead horses on the league’s long-established coaching carousel. Some head coaches don’t like having right-hand men who are too qualified. And the guy himself can struggle in a role where he only suggests after time spent being the one who decides.

It’s even more rare that a former NBA Coach of the Year would make such a move.

Of the 309 men who have been NBA head coaches (per basketball-reference.com), 42 of them have won the league’s 52 COY awards. Yet over the past 20 years, only Del Harris (COY 1995, Lakers) worked again as an assistant, filling slots in Dallas, Chicago and New Jersey after his head coaching jobs in Houston, Milwaukee and L.A.

Karl? Johnson? Mike D’Antoni? Mike Brown? Byron Scott? Rick Carlisle? Larry Brown? Mike Dunleavy? Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope and nope. Never mind Phil Jackson or Pat Riley.

Mitchell won his COY in 2007, after his third season with the Toronto Raptors. Hired in 2004 by former GM Rob Babcock – their connection dated to Babcock’s personnel days in Minnesota while Mitchell still was a player there – he had been on the job for only a few months when Toronto traded its star, Vince Carter, in a reluctant rebuild. Six months later, the Raptors drafted Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham. A year after that, Andrea Bargnani.

But Mitchell helped that 2006-07 team improve from a 27-55 finish the season before to 47-35, good for first place in the Atlanta Division and a playoff berth. Toronto went from a 112.7 defensive rating to 106.0, a climb of 17 spots in the rankings. It ranked 29th in offensive rebounding and 23rd in free throw attempts, but 11th or higher in points, assists, turnovers, 3-pointers and field-goal percentage.

“A lot of people said we didn’t run,” Mitchell said, “but we were so efficient, we didn’t have to run up and down the court 100 miles an hour. That’s how we played.” (more…)

No fluke Mavs have Spurs on the ropes

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Isiah Thomas and Sam Mitchell preview Game 7

DALLAS — The Mavericks have pushed the reigning West champion and top-seeded Spurs to a decisive Game 7 because they’re working their game plan to near-perfection. Dallas is improbably winning the 3-point battle, getting widespread contribution, nearly matching San Antonio’s defensive efficiency and Monta Ellis has become a very big deal.

“It’s called speed,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, asked why Ellis is so effective attacking the rim.

Only San Antonio point guard Tony Parker has more drives to the basket in the playoffs than Ellis, according to the SportVU tracking system, and Dallas’ defensive scheme is practically begging him to do so as the Mavs concentrate on choking off the 3-point arc.

The Spurs’ Achilles heel is locking down athletic squads such as Oklahoma City and Houston. San Antonio didn’t beat either one in eight regular-season games. Dallas won’t typically fall into the “athletic” category with Dirk Nowitzki, 35, Shawn Marion, 35 and Vince Carter, 37, so relied upon, but Ellis, 28, is penetrating with attitude and altering that dynamic.

He’s making life miserable for 36-year-old Manu Ginobili and anybody else trying to stay in front him. Ellis pumped the Spurs for 29 points — 22 in an electrifying second half — during Dallas’ stay-alive Game 6 win Friday night, his second game with 29 in the series.

“When he scores like that, he is to tough to stop,” Parker said. “We are going to have to control him.”

Ellis is Dallas’ leading scorer at 21.8 ppg. Only one other time in 12 previous playoff appearances has Nowitzki not led the team in scoring. That was a disaster, a 2007 first-round ousting as the No. 1 seed by Golden State, exactly what Dallas is attempting to do to San Antonio. Ellis played with decisive force in recent fourth quarters, and has helped to crumble a typically unbreakable end-of-game Spurs defense.

The Mavs’ success extends throughout the lineup. From Carter to Devin Harris to DeJuan Blair‘s inspired, revenge-minded hustle, Dallas’ depth has grabbed a much larger role in this series than a bench that was so important to San Antonio all season long.

Ginobili had his first poor game of the series in Game 6, having averaged 19 points in the first five games as San Antonio’s best player. Starting shooting guard Danny Green finally shot it well in Game 6 with 19 points after averaging 3.4 through the first five games.

Boris Diaw has come on in recent games, but Marco Belinelli has been a virtual no-show, averaging less than one 3-point attempt a game. Patty Mills is shooting 23.5 percent from deep. He’s 4-for-17 in the series after dropping six 3s on Dallas in their final regular-season meeting in April.

“I don’t know, it just happens,” Ginobili said of the Spurs’ bench struggles. “Some matchups are good for some players and some matchups are good for others. We’re 3-3 with home court advantage. I don’t think we’re in an awful position. We’re not a team that needs the bench to score 45 points. We take what the opponents give us.”

Dallas is doing all it can not to give up the 3-pointer. The Spurs have devastated the Mavs with the 3-ball for two consecutive seasons, but so far in this series they are losing that key battle. Only once has San Antonio made more 3s, and that was an irrelevant 10-8 advantage in Game 2, which Dallas won in a blowout.

The Mavs’ defense, ranked in the bottom 10 in efficiency all season, has limited the Spurs to 17.3 attempts a game, fewer than any team in the playoffs other than Washington and Memphis. They’re averaging nearly two fewer 3-point baskets than Dallas, which is shooting the 3-ball at 37.9 percent, slightly higher than San Antonio’s 37.5 percent. The Spurs led the league in the regular season at 39.7 percent.

It’s no fluke that Dallas has its longtime nemesis on the ropes.

San Antonio will be favored to win Game 7 on their home floor, but several concerning patterns could make end this playoff run much sooner than anybody could have expected.

Dirk’s eruption comes too little, too late

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Spurs hold off Mavs in Game 5

SAN ANTONIO — For the past 10 days in Dallas, it’s as if Mavericks fans have been waiting for a volcano to finally blow. They feel the rumbles, building, building as anticipation heightens, yet still with no eruption.

This is Dirk Nowitzki against the San Antonio Spurs. The big German is not producing a memorable postseason, and in a first-round, 8 vs 1 series so surprisingly tight, one can only wonder what might otherwise be. His shot just hasn’t been falling with the clockwork regularity he’s accustomed while battling a mountain of man in younger, stronger Spurs center Tiago Splitter.

Nowitzki’s slowly been bubbling — 11 points in Game 1, then 16, 18 and 19 in Game 4. Get that overdue, epic-type outing the entire city believes is roiling under the surface, and who knows where this thing might go?

If it’s going to happen, it will be in do-or-die Game 6 with a nod to a potential momentum-building fourth quarter in which Nowitzki, 3-for-10 after three, dropped his first six shots, finally missing when he rushed a 3 sensing a second of daylight. Each possession he demanded the ball. He put his head down and drove, sank four consecutive jumpers, then banged into Splitter and buried a fallaway. Dallas, which never led, but also never fell far from striking range — down 79-71 after three — was suddenly within 98-94 with 3:09 to go.

“He was hitting tough ones, and if he can hit those tough ones, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it whether you double-team or not,” Tim Duncan said. “With his size and the arc he puts on his shot, if he starts to hit those shots, we just have to continue to work hard, make him work for his shots and hopefully he tires out or he just misses a couple.”

With 2:35 left, the 35-year-old Nowitzki grabbed his 15th rebound and headed back the other way. At the left wing, he faked Splitter out of his air space, and launched unobstructed from 17 feet. The high archer landed short, bouncing high off the side rim.

“I think that was actually the easiest shot I had all night,” Nowitzki said. “I got Splitter off his feet. He didn’t want to give up that corner 3 and it was there. It was open. I wish I had that back.”

From there, the Spurs were able to close it out for the 109-103 victory and a 3-2 lead in the series.

Nowitzki scored 14 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, outscoring his point total through three. Vince Carter singlehandedly kept Dallas in it with a mesmerizing long-distance shooting display. He scored 28 points and knocked down seven 3-pointers after making just four in the first four games.

Through three quarters, he had eight buckets and 22 points while Nowitzki and cold-shooting Monta Ellis had just seven field-goals and 23 points combined.

“I told the reporter after whatever quarter you have to do that thing (television interview), she asked, ‘what we were going to do?’ Popovich said. “I told her we were going to pass out a picture of Vince on the bench so everybody knows he’s on their team.”

The Spurs, though, were just too tough and the Mavs’ defense too porous, the story of their season. Finally figuring out the defensive curve ball Dallas threw starting with Game 1 to defend the 3-point arc at all costs, San Antonio’s pick-and-roll was deadly. Tony Parker, who welcomed a baby boy on Tuesday night and played with a mildly sprained left ankle, had 23 points and five assists. Duncan (16 points, 12 rebounds) and Splitter (17 points and five assists) practically scored at will in the paint.

Manu Ginobili continued his torrid pace with 19 points and five assists and Kawhi Leonard had 15 points and eight rebounds in what was easily San Antonio’s most efficient game of the series.

It was also Nowitzki’s most desperate. Despite his scoring struggles early and defense that needs tightened, Nowitzki knew the Mavs had already overachieved just get this far. A second consecutive loss after being up 2-1 would force them to win two straight, a monumental feat against the league’s best team.

He was leaping for rebounds and lunging for loose balls. Drenched in sweat, his hair as floppy as it’s been all season and a thickening beard, Nowitzki logged 39 hard minutes and had the look of that old playoff monster, being one of just four players in postseason history to average 25 points and 10 boards.

In this series, he needed a 7-for-10 fourth quarter just to raise his overall shooting percentage above 40, while he’s just 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. During the regular season, Nowitzki got as close to the rare 50-40-90 mark without actually hitting any of three — 49.7 percent overall, 39.8 percent on 3s and 89.9 percent at the free-throw line.

If the Mavs can’t come back and win two straight to move on, Nowitzki will likely finish second in playoff scoring on his own team for only the second time in 13 playoff appearances — the last being the forgettable 2007 first-round exit against Golden State.

While Dallas has been on the search since winning the 2011 title for a bona fide scorer to ease Nowitzki into a less burdensome role, Monta Ellis, averaging a team-best 20.4 ppg in the series, is doing so on 18.8 shots a game and hitting on just 40.4 percent.

For Dallas to force a Game 7 back in San Antonio, it’s going to take a mighty eruption from Nowitzki back in Dallas on Friday night.


VIDEO: Nowitzki discusses Dallas’ Game 5 loss

The downer that is OKC and KD

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Despite Russell Westbrook’s triple-double, the Grizzlies took Game 5 in OT

Full disclosure: I picked the Oklahoma City Thunder to win it all this season. I have defended Russell Westbrook as a worthy co-pilot for Kevin Durant, going so far as to declare them the most dynamic duo in the league. I’ve written that Scott Brooks deserves less criticism as a tactician and more credit as a talent developer and team builder.

These defenses are crumbling right along with the Thunder’s title hopes. So perplexing are their performances that the Oklahoma City fans, a tremendously friendly and faithful base, booed their boys during a particularly lethargic patch when they got down by 20 in Tuesday’s 100-99 overtime loss that moved my hand-picked champs to the brink of elimination.

And now everything I thought I knew about the Thunder is flapping in the wind.

The argument that the 50-win Memphis Grizzlies are not a typical No. 7 seed and a bear of a matchup for any opponent is valid. They have played solidly and a scheme to make the league’s scoring champ and soon-to-be named regular-season MVP miserable has worked.

A playoff-record four consecutive games have gone to overtime, three won by the Grizzlies. Rationally, it can be touted that a favorable bounce here, a shot lipping in instead of out, one extra tenth-of-a-second, and the Thunder own this series. But even the Thunder wouldn’t go there.

Suddenly Thunder general manager Sam Presti, the bright, young and bespectacled executive credited with creating this juggernaut is 48 minutes from facing a mountain of questions he didn’t see coming.

All the past criticisms are more real than ever, and things don’t turn quickly they swirl around the compatibility of Durant and Westbrook, and Brooks’ ability to make it work. Westbrook, the force-of-nature point guard who plays with no restrictor plate at all times, has said sitting out last postseason provided him new perspective of his position and role within the team. But as the Thunder offense devolves into an alarmingly high rate of isolation and heavy dribbling, his shots, some too early in the shot clock, some bewilderingly off-balance and from awkward angles, keep mounting.

His shot attempts have increased from 17.2 in the regular season to 25.6 in the playoffs. That he’s shooting only 34.4 percent overall and 18.4 percent from 3-point range, is as troubling as Brooks’ inability or unwillingness to reign in him at key times.

After Game 5, Westbrook said his shot selection can get better, but if Memphis is giving him the 15-foot jumper he’ll make it nine times out of 10.

Unfortunately, he finished Game 5 10-for-30 overall and 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. And never was his complexity more apparent. He totaled a triple-double with 13 assists and 10 rebounds, plus a critical steal, pick-pocketing Memphis point guard Mike Conley that ensured overtime. He also allowed Conley to blow by him twice in overtime.

As for Durant, a cold-blooded killer during his historic regular season,  he is just cold. His smile has vanished, his body language has slumped. With grinding defender Tony Allen or long-limbed Tayshaun Prince hounding him on the perimeter and Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol waiting in the paint, getting to the rim against the Grizzlies isn’t for the faint of heart.

But Durant’s perceived passivity — Brooks, and even Conley, said he remains aggressive — is removing a major part of his scoring arsenal, the free throw. According to SportVU stats, Durant has made fewer drives to the basket than Miami’s Dwyane Wade, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, and Dallas’ 37-year-old shooting guard Vince Carter, while playing in one more game than all of them.

It’s resulting in two fewer free throws a game than he averaged in the regular season, and more stunningly, he’s making just 71.8 percent (28-for-39). He is an 88.2 percent free throw shooter over his career and eclipsed 90 percent last season. Durant was 3-for-6 in Game 5 and missed the potential game-tying free throw with 27.6 seconds to go. Is that a sign of fatigue for the league’s far-and-away minutes leader during the regular season?

After Game 5, Durant said he was “fine” with being used as a decoy in the final six minutes after knocking down a 3-pointer that capped a 27-6 run and gave OKC it’s first lead of the game. He then went 12 consecutive possessions without getting off a shot. He only touched it three times as Brooks made the curious decision to use Durant in the corner to space the floor for Reggie Jackson to drive.

The Thunder haven’t looked like the team expected to make a run at the title since it came out smoking in the first half of Game 1. Maybe they figure things out and turn it on in Game 6, and maybe Durant regains his MVP groove that saw him accomplish multiple feats that hadn’t been done since Michael Jordan.

But then, that was the plot line for Game 5, and it didn’t happen.

The NBA: A colorful land of opportunity

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Clippers offer silent protest of Sterling before Game 4

DALLAS — In the final seconds of Saturday’s thrilling Game 3 between the Mavericks and Spurs, a San Antonio player of Argentine descent rolled off a screen set by a player born in the Virgin Islands, drove the lane and somehow banked in a leaner over a 6-foot-11 Dallas defender who hails from Haiti.

Moments later, Dallas’ Spanish point guard inbounded the ball to an African-American teammate from Florida, who miraculously swished a 3-point game-winner from the corner. The first player to embrace him in mutual jubilation was a 7-foot German as the home team’s Jewish owner went berserk.

Perhaps no place on Earth is as racially, culturally and ethnically diverse and accepting as on the NBA hardwood and inside NBA locker rooms. Somewhere in Brooklyn, Nets center Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in an American pro sports league, who most of us have already forgotten is the first openly gay athlete in an American pro sports league, probably marveled at Vince Carter‘s game-winner just like everybody else from sea to shining sea.

Saturday was another brilliant day in this first week of intense playoff basketball. As for humanity, it was an embarrassing day. Audio of a racial diatribe, purportedly the voice of 80-year-old Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling surfaced, and the ignorance and intolerance heard incited swift reactions of anger and outrage from the Clippers’ Doc Rivers and Chris Paul, as well as from members of every race in and out of the league.

LeBron James is right, there is no place in the NBA for out-of-touch, backward-thinking individuals. On Sunday, Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki similarly weighed in.

“Disappointing, very disappointing,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not sure if a guy like that [should be] allowed to own a team in 2014.”

The NBA quickly organized to investigate as new commissioner Adam Silver faces his first full-blown crisis. In a news conference in Memphis on Saturday night where he was attending Game 4 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series, Silver vowed an “extraordinarily” swift and thorough investigation. He was in Oakland on Sunday as the Clippers returned to the court against the Warriors.

The real shame is that Sterling, the longest-tenured owner in the league and whose racial intolerance has been chronicled for decades but never dealt with by the league, chose an insular life within the greater melting pot of Los Angeles and the NBA. He refused to shed obviously deep-rooted ignorance through the unique opportunity the league affords every player, executive, coach and staff member — to interact with and learn from and about people of all races and creeds.

The NBA opened the 2013-14 season with a record-breaking 92 international players from 39 countries and territories. It includes two players from Israel and players from Turkey, where the populace is mostly Muslim. Players hail from Latin America, Asia, every corner of Europe and down under from Australia and New Zealand. And, yes, Africa.

The league has gone to great lengths to expand its global reach. Its Basketball Without Borders program sends players and coaches overseas in every direction each summer to teach the game. As part of its expanding Global Games program, the NBA last fall sent teams to Turkey, China and the Philippines, among other destinations. The world’s first NBA Cafe opened Friday in Manila.

Mavs’ second-year reserve center Bernard James, an African-American, served six years in the Air Force. He fulfilled three tours that included extended stays in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The military is as diverse an organization as the NBA is and there’s no room for that type of mindset, that old way of thinking,” Bernard James said. “I feel like the world, and America especially, has progressed a lot as far as race relations. There’s no room for people who think like that and operate like that. It’s holding everybody back.”

He went on to describe his experience with the Mavs as something of a multicultural classroom.

“I’m pretty close to Sammy [Dalembert], he’s a Haitian guy, so I’ve been learning and understanding about his culture. Here, we have Jose [Calderon] (Spain), we have Gal [Mekel] (Israel), Dirk (Germany), Sammy, all these guys are from different places. Just being around them this much and getting to know them is definitely kind of eye-opening and gives you a closer look at their culture and how their lives have been.”

The idea was floated that the Clippers should boycott the postseason as long as Sterling remains on as owner. That is not a solution. It would make the playoffs more about Sterling than the players.

Allow Silver to handle the law and order, to push Sterling, if guilty, deep out of sight and out of mind.

Doc, CP3 and the rest of the Clippers need focus only on playing ball.