Posts Tagged ‘Washington Wizards’

Wizards need Porter to plug Ariza hole


VIDEO: Otto Porter scores 25 points in the Wizards’ opening Summer League match

LAS VEGAS – Normally, Otto Porter‘s performance in his summer league debut Saturday would have been ripe for superlatives: 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting in 28 minutes, seven rebounds and three assists.

Given its timing, however, and the situation in which his Washington Wizards team suddenly found itself, a request was more in order:

More, please.

Come to think of it, the Wizards might be inclined to drop the “please” and go with a straight demand.

Porter is due and, with the loss of forward Trevor Ariza as a free agent to the Houston Rockets – effectively and finally, during the very hours Porter was on the floor at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday afternoon – Washington needs him. Now.

“I mean, hey, the door opens up,” Porter said. “He [Ariza] had a tremendous year last year. Now guys are moving on and stuff, it’s time for people to step up and fill those shoes.

“This is just the beginning of it … But I’m definitely feel I’m gonna build on today’s game.”

Losing Ariza hits the Wizards hard for a couple of reasons. First, according to multiple reports, the four-year, $32 million deal he signed with Houston is no better, on an annual basis, than what Washington had been offering. Turns out, Texas’ absence of a state income tax was a selling point worth a couple of million dollars, net, in Ariza’s pocket.

The 10-year-veteran also had probably the best season of his career. Ariza, 29, averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, hit 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers. He was a defensive wet blanket when thrown on the opponents’ most dangerous wing scorers. And he provided some helpful leadership for the team’s young talent, from backcourt mates John Wall and Bradley Beal to Porter.

That’s why the Wizards had made re-signing Ariza, along with center Marcin Gortat (who did re-up), such a priority. It wanted to keep intact the core and maintain the momentum of the budding East contender that pushed Indiana to six games in the conference finals.

“We’ll be all right,” coach Randy Wittman said, unconvincingly, on his way out of the arena, with the news of Ariza’s exit still washing over the Wiz.

The move hurts even more because Martell Webster, a backup last year, is sidelined for three to six months after back surgery. And the Wizards’ options to add a replacement is limited both by the salary cap (no Luol Deng, for instance) and the shrinking list of available fill-ins.

Even with one Washington media outlet suggesting that this all might set up the Wizards financially for a run at D.C.-born Kevin Durant when he becomes free agent in 2016, that’s two seasons away with zero guarantees.

That Ariza will be missed as a solid teammate and even mentor is just a, er, bonus.

“To have him gone, he taught me so much,” Porter said, “especially on offense and defense. Being there, showing me the right things, the ins and outs. Now I’ve got to put ‘em to use.”

Ya think? Porter had one of the most disappointing rookie seasons of anyone drafted so high – the No. 3 pick overall – in recent NBA memory. He appeared in only 37 games, averaging 2.1 points in 8.6 minutes while shooting 36.3 percent.

His problems began almost immediately with a thigh strain that curtailed his summer league work, followed by a hip injury that messed up his training camp and kept him inactive till December. Porter was drafted after two years at Georgetown – with multiple scouts claiming he was a perfect fit and ready to help – with the idea he would replace Ariza.

Well, now is his chance. More, please.

2014 Free Agency — The Other Dominoes

From NBA.com staff reports

Now that LeBron James is headed back to Cleveland, the belief is many of the other players in the free-agency pool are going to start making deals now, too. Here’s the latest from around the Twitter-sphere and the Internet as we get closer and closer to a real flood of free-agent news…

Update, 12:02 a.m. — They can handle The Truth

And just when you thought it was quiet for the night, big news drops: The Washington Wizards may have lost Trevor Ariza, but they look to be adding Paul Pierce. Whoa.

Update, 9:55 p.m. — Doing the Deng thing

Luol Deng is still on the market, and it seems like a couple of teams are in the mix. We noted earlier that the Heat seemed like a probable landing place for Deng, but now a few other teams are starting to get in the mix as well.

Update, 9:47 p.m. — Down with the King

And as the other free agents fall into place, LeBron now can sit back and enjoy a trip to Brazil for tomorrow’s World Cup final, alongside his new (and former) teammate Anderson Varejao.

Update, 9:02 p.m. — When it rains…

Pau Gasol announcing he was going to Chicago was tough not only for Lakers fans, but also for Knicks president Phil Jackson, who was hoping to lure Gasol to NYC. Phil reacted on Twitter…

Update, 8:11 p.m. — Born Ready…for Texas?

And now we’re at the point where one turn deserves another. If Houston matches on Parsons, and Deng ends up in Miami, could the Mavericks snag Lance Stephenson from Indiana on a shorter, richer deal?

Update, 8:05 p.m. — Miami Neat

As the Heat look to fill the void LeBron James left behind in South Beach, Marc Stein reports that the top small forward still on the market, Luol Deng, looks like a strong possibility.

Update, 7:56 p.m. — Reunited?

With LeBron back in Cleveland, might as well get the whole band back together, as the Cavs are apparently making progress on a deal with one of LeBron’s favorite former teammates, Mike Miller.

Update, 7:40 p.m. — The Hornets strike

The Charlotte Hornets tried to acquire Utah small forward Gordon Hayward as a restricted free agent, but the Jazz matched and kept him Salt Lake City. For a backup plan, today the Hornets came to terms with a different Jazz player, Marvin Williams, on a two-year deal. So Marv gets to return to the Tar Heel State, where he played college ball at UNC, and will likely serve as a floor spacer, living beyond the three-point line.

Update, 6:04 p.m. — Some details on LeBron

One interesting wrinkle on LeBron’s new deal with the Cavs: He’s only signing a two-year contract, which will technically make him a free agent again in 2016. Although he doesn’t seem to be signing a short deal with an eye for hitting the open market — he’s thinking about the economics of the salary cap when the NBA’s next TV deal will kick in.

Update, 5:34 p.m. — Pau runs with the Bulls

Looks like instead of a sign-and-trade, Pau Gasol is just going to sign with the Bulls, as he just confirmed the move on Twitter.

Update, 5:32 p.m. — Ariza finds a home

The Rockets weren’t able to sign Chris Bosh, and Chandler Parsons may be on the way out, but they’ve found another swingman who fits their athletic style and can knock down threes in Trevor Ariza.

Update, 4:15 p.m. — As Gasol turns

Instead of signing as a free agent with Chicago, it looks like the Lakers may try to sign-and-trade Pau Gasol with a third team involved so that they will get something out of the deal.

Update, 2:05 p.m. — Finally, Carmelo Anthony stays home

It is now official. After nearly two weeks of free-agent tours and contemplations, Carmelo Anthony isn’t going anywhere. The Big Apple native will continue to call Madison Square Garden home.

Update, 1:54 p.m. — Suns officially acquire Isaiah Thomas

Phoenix was happy to take the diminutive, but high-scoring point guard off Sacramento’s hands and add him to an already lethal pairing of Eric Bledsoe (who remains a restricted free agent) and Goran Dragic. Isaiah will earn a reported $27 million over four years.

Update, 1:45 p.m. — Thunder get their 3-point shooter — Anthony Morrow

Desperate for perimeter punch, the Oklahoma City Thunder have come to terms with 6-foot-5 wing Anthony Morrow.

Heading into his seventh season, Morrow has yet to find an NBA home as he joins his seventh team and fourth in just the last three seasons. But he’s a long and lanky dead-eye shooter with a career 42.8-percent mark from beyond the 3-point arc. And that’s exactly the Thunder will require of him.

Update, 1:15 p.m. — Melo set to make Knicks signing official

It’s been a long wait with some anxious moments for new Knicks president Phil Jackson, but it now appears that Carmelo Anthony is ready to make his commitment to the organization official.

Update, 11:32 a.m. — Gasol to ink deal with Bulls on Saturday

It’s looking more and more like All-Star Pau Gasol will be calling Chicago his home next season. According to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, a deal with the Bulls should be completed later Saturday.

Update, 11:30 a.m. — Jazz keeping Hayward

The Jazz have matched the Hornets four-year, $63MM offer sheet to Gordon Hayward, league sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. Hayward will sign with Utah today.

 

Update, 11:28 a.m. — Miller nearing deal with Cavs?

After securing LeBron James, are the Cavaliers close to adding one of the King’s buddies, Mike Miller? Sam Amick of USA Today tweets that the Cavs are not yet close to a deal with Miller, and have only had cursory conversations at this point.

Morning Shootaround — July 6


VIDEO: TNT analyst David Aldridge reports the latest free-agent news

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers make move for Melo | Heat meet with Deng | Gortat’s return to D.C. was easy call | Novak traded to Jazz

No. 1: Lakers make move for Melo — In the earliest days of free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers seemed to be the odd team out, as free agents and reps for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony met with and considered various franchises, from Chicago to Miami to Houston to Dallas, not to mention the incumbents — the Knicks and the Heat. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers entered the summer with just a handful of players under contract and significant room to maneuver under the luxury tax.

But you can never count the Lake Show out. While many reports had Melo choosing between the Knicks and Bulls, last night Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers are definitely in the picture. After his meeting with Lakers execs, reports are that Carmelo is absolutely considering a move to the coast, to join Kobe Bryant in a west side connection…

The Los Angeles Lakers have ascended into serious contention to sign New York free agent Carmelo Anthony, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Lakers moved into strong consideration with the front-running New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls over this weekend, sources told Yahoo Sports.

No one with direct knowledge of the process would declare the Lakers had overtaken New York and Chicago in Anthony’s mind, but one source close to Anthony said of the Lakers, “They’re in the game now.”

The Lakers met with Anthony on Friday, offering him a four-year, $97 million contract. Lakers star Kobe Bryant has been in constant contact with Anthony, and the Lakers could re-sign Pau Gasol to pair with Anthony on the frontline.

This story kicked off when ESPN’s Bill Simmons noted via Twitter…

Of course, Melo signing with the Lakers would mean him leaving over $30 million from the Knicks on the table — as his former team, the Knicks can offer Anthony a larger and longer contract than any other team. There’s also the question of whether a pairing of Anthony and Bryant (with Gasol) in the rough-and-ready Western Conference would give Anthony the best and quickest chance to win.

Whatever happens, after weeks of speculation and simmering, free agency is finally reaching the boiling point. Get your popcorn ready.

***

No. 2: Heat meet with Deng — While several NBA teams are loaded with cap space, the Miami Heat are still a work in progress. While James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all opted out of their contracts and seemed interested in returning, the path forward for the Heat has seemed less clear, both in terms of financials and personnel. With an aging roster and burgeoning payroll, the Heat have to find a way to get their Big Three some help, without breaking the bank.

Yesterday, according to an ESPN report, Heat president Pat Riley took another step forward by meeting with one of the top free agents on the market, Luol Deng

The meeting was described as “preliminary,” according to a source, as Riley attempted to sell Deng on the benefits of joining the four-time defending Eastern Conference champions.

Sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard that Deng will not take a salary significantly below his market value, believed to be above $10 million annually, merely to sign with the Heat.

Deng has several suitors, including Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers, but a source said Riley’s pitch intrigued him.

Adding Deng would give the Heat experience, depth, and help on both ends of the court. It may also be something of a dream — can the Heat actually create enough room to make Deng an offer he can’t refuse?

The task facing Riley and the Heat is anything but easy. But then, the best things very rarely are. Four seasons ago, Riley defied many expectations when he successfully constructed the Big Three. Now he’s got a different kind of difficult task ahead of him.

***

No. 3: Gortat’s return to D.C. was easy call — Not long before last season began, the Wizards gave up a first-round pick along with the rights to injured center Emeka Okafor in exchange for Marcin Gortat. While Gortat has always been a solid interior performer, he was going to be a free agent this summer, and the Wizards were gambling they’d be able to convince him to re-sign in D.C. After showing promise during the regular season and making a run into the second round of the playoffs, Gortat felt confident enough in the future of the Wizards to stick around.

In an interview yesterday from Orlando Summer League on NBA TV, Gortat said re-upping with Washington was a simple decision

“A lot of different reasons,” Gortat said, when asked why he elected to stay with the Wizards. “First of all, I like the city. I like the team. I definitely feel comfortable over there. The team really took me under the wing and they help me since the day one. I definitely love the chemistry between me and John Wall. I think Bradley Beal is going to be a great player one day. Coach Randy [Wittman] believes in me, and I have a great relationship with him. So, the decision was real easy for me. I believe that we will be a special team for the next four or five years.”

Gortat was asked about interest from the Miami Heat and bobbed his head side to side, “We had a few teams, but I don’t think it [makes] any sense to talk about that now.”

If they’re planning to get the entire band back together, the Wizards still have to convince Trevor Ariza to re-sign — and as an in-demand swingman, Ariza may take a little more convincing than Gortat.

***

No. 4: Jazz trade for Novak — Sweet-shooting swingman Steve Novak spent the last few seasons knocking down 3-pointers for the Knicks and the Raptors. While out enjoying the 4th of July holiday with his family in his hometown of Milwaukee, Novak found out he would have a new NBA home next season: The Raptors reportedly agreed to move Novak to the Jazz for Diante Garrett, who the Raptors could waive to create salary cap space.

One of the interesting bits of this story is how Novak discovered he was being traded: According to the Desert News, Novak found out via a series of text messages from his Toronto teammate Kyle Lowry

Novak, who was dealt to the Raptors from the Knicks just a year ago after thinking he’d finally found his long-term NBA home in New York, wasn’t expecting that news. He even wrote back to Lowry, “Are you kidding me?”

Traded again? To Utah? On Independence Day?

What!?!

“It was the Fourth of July. I didn’t have any idea that you could get traded on a national holiday,” Novak said, laughing, Saturday evening in a phone interview with the Deseret News. “I didn’t think GMs worked so hard.”

The gift and the curse for Novak is his combination of shooting and size (he is 6-10) simultaneously makes him a hot commodity and a tradeable asset. For his part, Novak seems to be embracing his new home…

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The long wait to see Nerlens Noel in a Sixers uniform may have been worth every second … If the Rockets need to move Jeremy Lin to create cap space, Philadelphia might be an option … You know who’s not happy about players being asked to take pay cuts? Their agents and their union. … Looks like Devin Harris will agree to a three-year extension with the Mavericks …

What can the Heat offer free agents?


VIDEO: Wade opts out

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and now Chris Bosh have informed the Miami Heat that they will exercise the early termination options on their contracts, ending what were six-years deals after four seasons.

In addition, Udonis Haslem, has declined his $4.3 million player option.

Nine days ago, Pat Riley made it clear that he’d like his three All-Stars to take less money to help him retool the roster. On Tuesday, James put added pressure on Bosh and Wade by opting out of his deal. Now, it looks like things are falling into place and Riley will have the opportunity to upgrade the other two positions in his starting lineup.

Rumored targets for the Heat include point guard Kyle Lowry, forward Trevor Ariza and center Marcin Gortat. All have tools (ball-handling, defense, size) that would certainly help Miami. The idea of adding Carmelo Anthony seems far-fetched, but it all depends on how much money he’s willing to sacrifice, as well as how much Miami’s Big Three are willing to sacrifice.

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that James is seeking a max contract, which would be a five-year deal worth about $120 million. So it would apparently be Bosh and Wade who would have to take pay cuts.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard tweeted that Bosh is seeking a new five-year deal worth $15-16 million per year. Those two reports (as well as the assumption that Wade isn’t going to take less than Bosh) gives us the framework of the Heat’s salary math, with an expected salary cap of $63.2 million …

Heat salary math

Player 2014-15 Notes
1 James, LeBron $20,020,875 Cap hold
2 Bosh, Chris $13,043,478 Reduced salary (5 yrs/$75M)
3 Wade, Dwyane $13,043,478 Reduced salary (5 yrs/$75M)
4 Cole, Norris $2,038,206 Under contract
5 Andersen, Chris $915,243 Cap hold
6 Napier, Shabazz $1,032,200 Cap hold
7-11 Cap hold x 5 $2,536,680 Cap hold
TOTAL $52,630,161
Salary cap $63,200,000
Left for free agent $10,569,839 4-year deal for $45.1 million

1. James’ max contract would start at about $20.8 million. Since his cap hold (1.05 x last year’s salary) is a little less than that, the Heat would use that number until the other pieces are signed. Then they can go over the salary cap to re-sign James.

2 and 3. If Bosh and Wade both accept five-year deals worth $75 million ($15 million per year), those contracts would have starting salaries of just over $13 million.

4. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that the Heat are looking to unload Norris Cole. If they do that (and don’t get another player in return), his $2.0 million would be replaced by another rookie minimum cap hold (see 7-11) and they’d have an additional $1.5 million of cap space.

5. The Heat could renounce the rights to Chris Andersen, but he has just a vet’s minimum cap hold. Keeping that would allow them to sign him for much more after they’re back over the salary cap.

6. The Heat can pay Shabazz Napier 120 percent of the rookie scale for the No. 24 pick. As with James, better to keep the cap hold number until the other pieces are signed.

7-11. If you don’t have 12 guys on your roster, there is a rookie minimum cap hold ($507,336) for every slot that takes you up to 12. So, if we’re talking about James, Bosh, Wade, Cole, Andersen, Napier and one free agent, we need five minimum cap holds.

Additional note: In this scenario, the Heat have renounced their rights to Haslem, Ray Allen, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Toney Douglas, James Jones, Rashard Lewis, and Greg Oden, and have also waived Justin Hamilton (who has a non-guaranteed deal). It’s assumed that Haslem will get rewarded for opting out (with a long-term deal that pays him more than the $4.3 million he could have earned next season), and Allen is a critical piece in the rotation, but their cap holds ($8.2 million and $4.2 million) are too big to keep on the books.

After the Heat have gone over the cap, they can use the room exception (starting at $2.7 million) to bring one or more of those guys back (or add other free agents). It can be split among multiple players. After that, they’d have only minimum deals to offer players.

If all the above holds, the Heat could offer one free agent $45.1 million over four years ($11.3 million per year). If they are able to trade Cole, that would turn into $51.7 million over four years ($12.9 million per year).

That’s still about half of what Anthony could earn elsewhere. If he were to re-sign with the Knicks for the max, he’d get $129.1 million over five years ($25.8 per year). If he were to sign with a new team for the max, he’d get $95.9 million over four years ($24.0 million per year).

So Lowry, Ariza and Gortat are obviously more realistic options. If the Heat were to split their cap space among two free agents (assuming they traded Cole), they could offer them a total of about $13.5 million per year. Ariza and Gortat each made $7.7 million for the Wizards this past season, while Lowry made $6.2 million for the Raptors.

Both Gortat and Lowry will likely be offered raises from their current teams, who are both looking to keep the momentum going after returning to the postseason after long layoffs. With Martell Webster and Otto Porter on the roster, the Wizards might not fight hard for Ariza, but he could still get more than mid-level money elsewhere, as one of the better three-and-D guys in the league and still just 29 years old.

So there’s no clear starting-lineup upgrade for the Heat. But if James accepts less than the max or if Bosh and/or Wade accept less than $15 million per year, there’s more money to spend. And since they’re also offering a chance to play with the best player in the world for a championship on Biscayne Bay, they may not have to spend as much as other teams.

Morning Shootaround — May 20



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Taylor: Wolves not planning to trade Love | Report: Ibaka hoping to return in West finals | Hairston says D-League tougher than NCAA | Wall says Wizards’ backcourt better than Warriors’

No. 1: Wolves’ owner not planning on Love trade — ICYMI the last few days, Minnesota All-Star forward Kevin Love has put the Timberwolves in a situation they didn’t think they’d be in: discussing the trade desires of their superstar. Yesterday’s rumors had the Knicks and Celtics hot on the trail of Love and more and more teams seem to be joining the fray daily. While all of this buzzes about (and be sure to check out the great, measured response our Sekou Smith had), Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is trying to provide a voice of reason. Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press has more on the Love situation:

Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told the Pioneer Press on Monday that he has no intention of trading Kevin Love and that he expects the all-star power forward to play for the Wolves again next season.

Love, 25, can opt out of his Wolves contract after next season. Sunday, the Associated Press reported that the Wolves are willing to trade Love for the right offer.

Love’s representatives, according to Sunday’s New York Daily News, reiterated to the Wolves this past week that the 6-foot-10 forward will not re-sign with Minnesota and definitely will leave in 2015.

Asked Monday if he would say he’s not going to trade Love, Taylor said, “I should never say never because who knows what might come up? But that’s not our plan.

“I’m not in a position where you would say absolutely I wouldn’t do it, because what if something that I can’t even speculate (on) happens? You’d say, ‘You’re nuts, Glen.’ Maybe some team puts a value on him that’s different than we suspect.”

The worst-case scenario for the Wolves would be watching Love walk away as a free agent while receiving nothing in return. So if they’re convinced Love has no interest in staying, trading him before or on the day of the June 26 NBA draft makes sense. This year’s crop of prospects is considered deep, and they’d likely also demand a veteran ready to start.

Love is a three-time all-star and averaged a career-high 26.1 points plus 12.5 rebounds last season.

“At this point, we’re not talking to any teams,” Taylor said. “I haven’t heard from Kevin or his agents or anything like that. We’re assuming that Kevin will be here next season, and we’re working with that scenario. This isn’t the time for us to do anything but to prepare for next year.”

Taylor said he isn’t happy about media reports that Love wants out of Minnesota.

“Kevin came here, played here, became an all-star here … I mean, what a wonderful environment. The fans have been great and support him. I’m not sure that could have happened at other places,” he said. “To be in a position where we have to defend that he might leave or not leave when he’s under contract, it’s difficult.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the Kevin Love rumors

***

(more…)

24-Second Thoughts — May 15

By Lang Whitaker, NBA.com

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — That’s right, the Hang Time Headquarters have been shut down for the evening. The brains behind your usual 24-Second Thoughts, my Hang Time Podcast co-host Sekou Smith, asked me yesterday if I would mind filling in for him tonight.

So here I am, parked on the couch, laptop on lap, games on the tube, Twitter tweeting away.

The Wizards and the Clippers had their backs to the wall tonight, and both were at home. Would they use the home court advantage? Could either squad force a Game 7?

24 — Before we get to the games, check out Andrew Wiggins getting ready for the pre-Draft combine in Chicago. I believe these are called hops…

23 — In the phone booth for Game 6? Both Wale and Robert Griffin III

And Wale did his part to try and help the home team later…

22 — The Pacers got off to a great start, particularly Lance Stephenson

21 — For some reason, even playing at home (where, admittedly, they’ve struggled in the postseason, the Wizards just couldn’t seem to find their groove…)

https://twitter.com/MrMichaelLee/status/467106300317274114 (more…)

Right where the Pacers wanted to be, however it was they got there

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pacers oust Wizards to advance to conference finals

WASHINGTON – The who, the what, the where, the when – all of that stuff is set, the boxes checked, the blanks filled in, no different on paper than how the Indiana Pacers would have written it back in October:

Miami Heat. Eastern Conference finals. Game 1 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Sunday afternoon.

The how of what the Indiana Pacers did – earning a best-of-seven clash with the Heat for the third straight postseason, the teams’ second in a row with a trip to The Finals at stake – has been the big unexpected, the big uneasy.

Whether that makes them less dangerous or more dangerous when they face the two-time NBA defending champions, well, we’ll find out soon enough.

The Pacers’ locker room was split on the impact of their two playoff series so far, in the hour or so after their 93-80 victory over the Washington Wizards Thursday night at the Verizon Center. For some, this always will be a bottom-line business and the scoreboard told the tale, Indiana taking the East semifinals series 4-2 over a feisty team on the rise.

For others, the way it wrapped up – the Pacers losing a 16-point lead, falling behind by one, 74-73, with 8:35 to go, on the road – was sufficiently humbling, reminding them, even scaring them, into some perspective and reflection.

To be clear, none of them said anything about feeling less dangerous. But several brushed off the tortuous path they’ve taken to get “back” to this point, while others realized their struggles over the past month or two had both taken a toll and maybe steeled them for more.

Coach Frank Vogel and point guard George Hill were planted firmly in the land of denial. “Everything is behind us,” Vogel said. “Like we said when we started the playoffs, 33-7 [the Pacers' first-half record] means nothing. How we struggled down the stretch, and took a lot of criticism, that means nothing. That’s behind us and this is where we wanted to be. At the conference finals and a chance to move on.”

Said Hill, asked about people’s perception of the Pacers lately: “People as in, like, you guys? We don’t care about you guys like that. We’re just trying to figure out what’s best for this team in this locker room. Don’t worry about what people are saying about us. Out of all that, we still won [64 games regular and postseason] this year. You can say what you want to, this is a good basketball team.”

Fair enough. But the Pacers got to good by starting out great, then slipping, followed by churning, introspection, vulnerability, bravado, turmoil, resolve, questioning, sniping and redemption. They got well time and again, only to get sick again. The lowly Atlanta Hawks took them to seven games, and the precocious Wizards embarrassed them in Game 5 and rattled them repeatedly. Indiana, the team that so treasured winning home-court advantage through the conference bracket, dropped the openers of both series, got booed at home and went 3-4 at BLFH against the Hawks and Wizards.

So sure, if you go simply by a snapshot, the Pacers are right where they wanted to be. But if you open your assessment to a slideshow, you might land where veteran Washington big man Drew Gooden did Thursday night.

“The Pacers are a team where it’s a roller-coaster ride with them,” Gooden said. “They’re playing elite basketball in spurts. And they’re playing average basketball in spurts.” (more…)

Wizards’ Wall catches up to series

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Wizards and Pacers meet for a crucial Game 6 tonight

WASHINGTON – Every coach’s fear in the playoffs is that, if a series lasts long enough, talent will out.

That is, for all the crafty strategies and flawless execution and tireless effort devoted to stopping or containing an opponent’s strength or star, and however effective it might be through three, four or five games, what’s behind that particular greatness will bubble to the surface in time. The great ones – teams or players – adjust and re-adjust, and in time refuse to be denied. (It cuts both ways, of course, but you know coaches, mostly worrying about the other guys.)

That’s how the Indiana Pacers ought to be thinking about Washington’s John Wall at the moment, as they try to close out their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Wall spent most of the first four games stymied by the Pacers’ defensive attention in the halfcourt, their diligence in getting back to slow the Wizards’ pace and his own shooting. But in the Game 5 victory Tuesday that staved off his team’s elimination, Wall scored 27 points (17 in the third quarter on 6-of-8 shooting) and served as triggerman for a road-resuscitated Washington attack.

The fourth-year point guard, an All-Star reserve this year, had carried the weight of the Wizards’ 3-1 deficit through the first four games, taking heat for his 11.5 ppg and 31.4 field-goal percentage. The inexperience at which he, backcourt mate Bradley Beal and coach Randy Wittman had scoffed looked real and very much in play. Wall was starting to withdraw and sound defeated. “It’s definitely tough and frustrating,” Wall said, after a Game 4 finish Sunday in which he passed up a game-tying shot. “I’ve been as aggressive as I can be.”

Or so Wall thought. Then Wittman pulled him aside Tuesday morning in Indianapolis and gave him license to play “like a wild man.” Teammates such as center Marcin Gortat noticed Wall’s retreat personally and made sure to pick him up.

“John was a little bit different [Tuesday],” Gortat said late that evening, after a career night of his own (31 points, 16 rebounds). “For the first time in 102 or 103 games we’ve had this season, he didn’t want to talk to anybody. … He didn’t rap before the game, he didn’t laugh before the game.”

Gortat had seen all sorts of folks assure Wall he would play better in Game 5. Gortat didn’t make hang his support on that, though.

“When the 25th person approached him, it was me, and he was like, ‘I don’t want to hear [anymore].’ I was like, ‘No, John, there’s just one thing I want to tell you: I’m with you. It doesn’t matter which way it’s gonna go. I’m with you,’ ” Gortat said.

“We can’t put pressure on a guy who plays for the first time in his life in the playoffs. He’s whatever, 23 years old. You can’t just blame the kid for everything. Every time our team loses, we blame him. I understand he’s a leader, he’s the head of the snake. But there’s another 12 guys on the team, there’s another six, seven coaches. We can’t do this kid like that.”

Wall played as if unshackled. He got a pair of layups in the early minutes and helped rev the offense to 13 fast-break points while building a 45-38 lead. But it was more than that – the Wizards only scored four points on the break in the second half, yet outscored the Pacers 57-41. It was a pace thing, in Wittman’s view, all flow and timing while maxing out what was available in the 24-second clock. Even the fat rebounding edge (62-23) can partly be attributed to the rhythm with which Washington played, with Wall conducting.

“He gets the ball moving from side to side and we get bodies moving and the ball moving,” Wittman said. “We are not a team that can iso or a team that can do a two-man game. We have to have five guys moving and I thought he was the spark behind that.”

At this late stage of the series, with Wall’s confidence replenished, that will not be easy. The Pacers’ best bet? Stay in front of him as much as possible and funnel penetration toward 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert. Even if it means going under screens, anyone’s best chance against Wall’s wild-man speed is to make him a shooter. Otherwise he gets defenders on their heels, first physically and then mentally.

Beyond that, only a quirky shakiness that settles into Washington’s game at the Verizon Center might help. He’s been one of the Wizards who, all season, has performed better on the road than at home.

But this series may have lasted long enough to cure that ill, too.

Blogtable: Coaching musical chairs

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


BLOGTABLE: Sold on Heat? | Unrest in coaching ranks | Clippers-Thunder lessons


Stan Van Gundy (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

New Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy (Fernando Medina/NBAE)

> What’s with all the coaching unrest? Do you think there are coaches in the playoffs that could be whacked? Would that be smart?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Smart? I seldom think it’s smart to fire a head coach. But that’s something owners can do and a lot of these owners like to do … well, something. Paying off a fired coach while hiring a new one doesn’t bite you on the salary cap or in luxury taxes, so what the hey? The shorter player contracts in the league now might have made me think coaches would last longer – you can change the roster more quickly to suit a guy’s system – but it seems like it has shortened their shelf life as well.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWasn’t it just yesterday when Frank Vogel was supposedly sitting out on the curb like a Hefty bag on trash day? I supposed a sweep or five-game loss to Miami could put him back out there. I don’t think that’s smart. If the Thunder don’t get past the Spurs, Scott Brooks is on shaky ground. If they don’t get past the Clippers, he’s probably out.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I was looking at this yesterday and 21 of the NBA’s 30 teams either have an opening or a coach that just completed his first or second season with that team. Mark Jackson was the fourth coach over the last two years to be fired after a 50-win season. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported during the first round that Frank Vogel is coaching for his job. No word on how far he has to get the Pacers, or just how ugly they have to get. While there’s no reported guillotine hanging over Thunder coach Scott Brooks’ head, there’s always speculation. Smart to fire a playoff coach? Denver did it and they missed the playoffs. Memphis did it and they’re out in the first round. Unless there’s a Doc Rivers sitting out there, it’s probably not a wise move.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: What’s with all the coaching unrest? There’s nothing unusual going on. Coaching unrest is typical. It doesn’t have to be right. It’s the way of the NBA world, and it’s understandable. If expectations are not met, changes are going to be made.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Every situation is unique. Mark Jackson’s disconnect with Joe Lacob had nothing to do with Mike Brown’s disconnect with Kyrie Irving. So there’s no easy answer for why so many coaches (and so many coaches of good teams) have been fired. But it’s clear that the job requires success on several fronts.  You have to have strong relationships with your players, strong relationships with your front office and ownership, an offense that works, a defense that gets stops and an ability to make adjustments within a game and within a playoff series. Most importantly, you need some talent on your roster. If there’s an issue with any one of the above, it may not matter how good a coach you are otherwise.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This a question better suited for the front-office types and owners around the league who keep shuttling coaches off to the unemployment line after successful seasons. Because it honestly makes no sense in some of these cases to make the changes that are being made. This idea of turning over your entire basketball operation to a front office novice (like they did in New York and now Detroit) is a bit interesting. Those are test cases that will determine whether or not teams go down that path in the future. But there are coaches (Frank Vogel in Indiana, Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City) who could make it to their respective conference finals and still not avoid the executioner’s ax when the season ends. It’s a sad but true fact of life for coaches in this day and age.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: It’s always easier to change coaches than players. It’s not always the smartest thing, but it’s easiest, and that is often the way things work around the NBA. To me, the two remaining coaches who must be sitting on the hottest seats are Randy Wittman and Scott Brooks,. Frank Vogel might be in the mix there, too, but I don’t know how you can fault Vogel for his players playing like they had their skills abducted by the Monstars in “Space Jam.” Wittman’s task was to get to the postseason, which they have, and they still might make the conference finals, so I’d guess he’s safe. Which leaves Brooks, who might not have the deepest roster to work with but continues to leave fans wanting.

Fun gone, Pacers cannot stand success

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Gortat’s big game helps Wizards beat Pacers, stay alive

INDIANAPOLIS – As they lick their wounds again and assure themselves, again, that they’ll be all right, the Indiana Pacers might be revealing what their biggest problem is in this Eastern Conference semifinal series and perhaps has been for a while.

They aren’t fearful of the Washington Wizards. They aren’t overmatched or intimidated, and they certainly aren’t taking the Wizards lightly.

The Pacers are jealous of the Wizards.

Oh, to be younger and inexperienced and unencumbered by expectations. To be the underdogs – ahh! – who had the ability to surprise and overachieve and feel good with each little victory, regardless even of the outcome of games. It wasn’t that long ago that the Pacers were that team.

With the Miami Heat grabbing all the attention from The Decision of July 2010 going forward, with the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose playing peek-a-boo as regular-season heroes and a legit but hobbled contender, it wasn’t that long ago that the Pacers were the Wizards.

On the rise. playing with abandon. Making names and reputations for themselves, with little or no anxiety over disappointing someone. That’s the Indiana team that earned all the respect and preseason predictions heading into 2013-14, that’s the Indiana team that had all the fun.

But that Indiana team is gone forever, erased by the Pacers’ success through the first four months (46-13 through March 2) and weighed down ever since by the expectations, knee-deep praise and dealing with the shift from chasers to chased.

You scoff? Who had more fun in Game 5 Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the on-the-brink Wizards or the three-games-to-win-one Pacers? The game was a rout, with Washington leading by as much as 30 while pounding their hosts in all sorts of NSFW ways on the glass.

Nearly tripling the other guys in total rebounds (62-23)? Whoa. Wizards coach Randy Wittman paused and admitted he never had seen anything like that. For much of the night, Marcin (The Dream) Gortat had as many boards as the whole Indiana team. The upstarts wound up with nearly as many offensive rebounds (18) as the Pacers grabbed defensively (19).

Gortat attacked Indiana from the start like he sensed their vulnerability, the tentativeness that has hovered over the East’s No. 1 seed since March. He tossed in hook shots, threw down dunks, mixed in a turnaround or two from the baselines and growled loudly enough that Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi sought cover.

But frankly, they had company on a Pacers squad that, lately, might not say boo if you took their jerseys, their dogs and their parking spaces. If Larry Bird wasn’t sick to his stomach watching his team’s performance Tuesday, then the smirking assassin everyone remembers from his Boston Celtics days either has been lobotomized or gelded.

“It’s everything: Shocking. Disappointing,” said forward Paul George, who would have had to ring up another 39 to keep his team in this one. He didn’t, scoring 15.

“We’re better than that. No way we should allow a team on our floor to outrebound us by 40. Regardless of if we’re playing a team full of 7-footers. That’s unacceptable.”

It was, in short, the kind of performance a bunch of newbies might be permitted to have – not far off Washington’s 63-point mess in Game 3 – but not the big, bad leaders of the East.

“Not when you’re a group that’s been together for a while,” George said, agreeing. “Not with a group that, like us, has been together, been through so much. A lot of adversity. It should be easy to treat a game like it’s a win-or-go-home game, especially when you have the opportunity to close them out. We’ve done it before in other series, where we took care of business when we needed to. So it’s no excuse for this one.”

No excuses, just explanations. Gortat having the night of his life, banging and scoring enough for both himself and the barely visible Nene. Wittman had his players pressure up defensively this time, exploiting Indiana’s unreliable ball handlers and, more important, dialing up the game’s pace to more than walk-it-up.

And then there was John Wall, Washington’s point guard who had sputtered through most of the first four games. He is kind of a one-man Indiana in terms of his career arc and the expectations heaped upon him now, four years in with an $80 million contract, All-Star acclaim and impatience among Wizards fans for something beyond individual achievements.

Gortat spoke after the game of the shell into which Wall had retreated all day Tuesday, no rapping, no laughing, hardly any words. Wittman did what he could to try to shake him loose from it.

“John was down on himself a little bit this morning,” the Wizards coach said. “I told him, the point where he’s getting in his career, he’s an All-Star and now he’s in the second round of the playoffs for the first time, that ‘you have to have a thick skin. You have to forget quickly and you have to move on.’

“I told him I wanted him to come out tonight and just play like a wild man. ‘If you have 20 turnovers, you have 20 turnovers. I want you, though, energizing our guys, racing the ball up and down the floor, defensively getting after it,’ and he did that.”

Wall played with an abandon the Pacers, however much they once had it, lost around the time our clocks sprung forward. He finished with 27 points – 17 in the game-breaking 31-14 third quarter, when he topped the Pacers by his lonesome – and was woofing by the end.

Wall had more fun, and a sense of relief and rebirth, than the entire Indiana squad. Over on the other side, George was trying to explain, and maybe sell, what had gone on with his team at the absolute worst time. And you could sense some longing for the days when he and the Pacers were the ones trying to make their bones.

They’re at the other end of the expectations now.

“We get too happy. We get too happy,” Paul said. “We don’t carry that same mindset after we win a couple of games. We get comfortable and we feel like, because we’re starting to play a little better, that things are just going to get right. We don’t bring that edge, that these are must-win games.”

The Pacers claimed they tried to play Tuesday as if they were facing a Game 7. They failed, instead inching closer to a real one.