Posts Tagged ‘Wayne Ellington’

Felton (again) out to prove he’s got it

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Raymond Felton‘s recruitment of former teammate Carmelo Anthony to join him in Dallas apparently fell on deaf ears. One must wonder if yet another Felton attempt to solicit belief in a fresh start will, too.

“I just have to show everybody that I’ve still got it, I still can play,” Felton said on a conference call with Dallas reporters Tuesday. “I still can play the game at this level. I still play as an elite point guard at this level. That’s just all. When you come off a season like I had last year, there’s always a point where you’ve got to prove yourself coming back the next season. And trust me, I look forward to it.”

It’s the second time in three years the point guard is coming off an awful season. He showed up for his first season in Portland after the 2011 lockout out of shape and never rounded into form. He quickly became the butt of pudgy point-guard jokes and the poster child for players who relaxed for too long during the work stoppage. He and was basically run out of town.

The Knicks brought him back in 2012 and Felton made similar pleas about fresh starts and being motivated. But his second season in New York was a disaster on and off the court. His divorce was recently finalized and in June he reached a plea deal to avoid jail time stemming from gun charges. In February, Felton’s then-estranged wife alleged he threatened her with a loaded, semi-automatic handgun.

“I was just fighting with a lot of injuries, and I was fighting with a lot of mental stuff off the court, but like I said earlier, I don’t make any excuses,” Felton said. “Last season was all my fault. It was nobody else’s but mine. I take the blame for it totally. Like I said, I look forward to this year. I’m putting all that behind me last year. I’m looking forward to this year with the Mavs.”

Dallas is putting as positive a spin as possible on the potential for Felton taking over as the starting point guard. It’s not as though he was their hand-picked choice. They badly wanted back center Tyson Chandler, their fiery, defensive anchor during the 2011 championship season, but to get him in last month’s trade, Knicks president Phil Jackson foisted Felton upon them to complete the deal.

“He’s an enthusiastic, high-energy, aggressive type of guy and I know he’s going to be extremely motivated,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “I’ve known him for many years and I’ve had positive experiences working with him and watching him play. He’s going to have a terrific year.”

The Mavs surrendered popular and steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon, speedy point guard and 2013 first-round draft pick Shane Larkin, starting center Samuel Dalembert, shooting guard Wayne Ellington and two second-round draft picks.

Since Jason Kidd left after the 2011-12 season, Dallas has burned through backcourt combos. The tandem of Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo was a bust in 2012-13, while Calderon and Monta Ellis, with Devin Harris off the bench, worked pretty well last season.

Harris this week agreed to a three-year deal to stay in Dallas, and will likely back up Felton, who last season averaged a career-low 9.7 points and 5.6 assists. That duo enters as one the worst shooting point-guard combos in the Western Conference. Felton shot 39.5 percent from the floor (31.8 percent from beyond the arc) last year and Harris shot a career-worst 37.8 (30.7 percent from 3).

Although Felton, who turned 30 last month, hasn’t escaped the body-image jokes, he denied that conditioning was an issue for him last season. He said at this point of the summer, his physical conditioning is as good as it has been in the last five years.

He is owed $3.8 million this season and has a player option for next season at $3.95 million.

“I’ve got a lot of things that motivate me this summer,” Felton said. “I’m just really getting after it, just working extra, extra hard. I’m not really doing anything different, just doing it more and working at it harder.”

It’s just not the first time Felton has had to make such claims.

Mavs’ Carlisle Rolls With Plan B, Revolving Roster

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DALLAS –
 Rick Carlisle earned his reputation as one of the game’s top coaches by bending, flexing and adjusting all the way to a six-game championship take-down of the Miami Heat in 2011.

Recall 5-foot-10 point guard J.J. Barea as an NBA Finals starting shooting guard?

The Dallas Mavericks have since gone 77-72 and haven’t won another playoff game. And despite a roster that’s read like a well-worn Rolodex, Carlisle has seemed only to enhance his image as an elite tactician and motivator. Carlisle’s agility will be put to the test again this season in guiding a team that again barely resembles the one that preceded it.

From the 2010-11 championship team only Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain. From the revamped squad insufficiently stocked to defend the title, add only Brandan Wright and Vince Carter as keepers. And from last season, add draft picks Jae Crowder and Bernard James. It’s doubtful any coach, especially one that won a ring with the same franchise just three Junes ago, has witnessed such roster upheaval in three consecutive offseasons, and particularly so in these back-to-back summers.

“Back-to-back, probably not,” Carlisle admitted. “But look, we’re living in a different time. We’re living in a time now where there’s going to be more one-year deals, there’s going to be more turnover, so everybody adjusts to the dynamics of the new CBA, and I don’t know that that’s going to happen for another year or two, at least. That said, if you’re going to be a head coach in this league you’ve got to be very open-minded, you’ve got to be open to change and adaptation. You always want continuity, but you’re not always going to have it.”

The Mavs suffered the indignity of a lockout and the ratification of a game-changing collective bargaining agreement on the heels of their championship parade. On the fly, owner Mark Cuban championed new roster-building strategies that entailed allowing key members of his title team to walk. Plan A, to create cap space and lure max-dollar free agents to crowbar Nowitzki’s championship window, hasn’t panned out and Dallas has instead scrambled the last two summers to produce competitive rosters.

That can be a disheartening road for a coach who is just one of four currently in the league with a ring. Carlisle, though, has consistently endorsed his boss’ decisions. Entering his sixth season in Dallas and the second year of his second four-year contract, Carlisle seems to embrace the challenges he inherits under Plan B. Of the four active championship coaches — including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, now in charge of the Clippers – Carlisle’s task is by far fraught with the most uncertainties.

“I just made a conscious decision that I’m not going to be a coach that’s limited to a certain system,” Carlisle said. “I’m hanging my hat on my ability to adapt each year to potentially a roster that’s quite different, and with the new CBA we’re going to have more of that in this league. I’ve done a lot of it in my career leading up to now anyway, so it’s always challenging in those situations, but it’s also exciting.”

Just look at the players that have come through Dallas since the lockout ended: Kalenna Azubuike, Yi Jianlian, Lamar Odom, Delonte WestSean Williams, Eddy Curry, Troy Murphy, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Jared Cunningham, Derek Fisher, Mike James, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Morrow, Chris Wright, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Justin Dentmon and Josh Akognon.

And here’s the players new to Dallas for this season: Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair, Gal Mekel, plus draft picks Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo.

Last week Cuban set the bar for this team: The playoffs, and capable of doing damage once there. Carlisle didn’t flinch.

“I think you have to view it that way,” Carlisle said. “And, you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to eliminate the external noise and the doubters and the naysayers and all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to have just a real positive enthusiasm and focus on your group, and you’ve got to see in your mind how they can get better. Then you’ve got to facilitate that.”

Among Dallas media, at least, Carlisle was hailed as a Coach of the Year candidate for guiding last season’s mismatched squad out of a 13-23 hole, one dug mostly without Nowitzki. Dallas finished 28-18 and was in the thick of the playoff chase almost until the end.

“Actually, I think Rick’s system is just very comprehensive and he lets the players pick up as much of it as they can and so I think rather than try to force-feed things that they might not be able to do, Rick, I think, is more accommodating,” Cuban said. “But I don’t think he really changes his system, per se, or changes what he does. I think he just recognizes the skill set of his players. Like, he went from calling plays to just playing ‘flow’ all the time [with Jason Kidd]. That’s his preference more than anything else, just let guys play basketball, and hopefully that’s what we’re going to be able to do a lot more of whereas last year we had to call plays every possession. This year I don’t think we’ll have to.”

Last season’s backcourt of Collison, who couldn’t hold down the starting job, and Mayo never clicked. Fisher ditched the team after a month and James was erratic. Cuban believes this team offers Carlisle more raw material with which to work.

He believes it will be collectively smarter and less turnover-pron with Calderon at the controls, Harris backing him up and the speedy Ellis being able to get to the hole with a frequency the Mavs just haven’t seen. All that, Cuban surmises, should play into the hands of a healthy and motivated Nowitzki.

“Each team is different, each team has different needs, each team develops differently and has to make different kinds of adjustments mid-stream,” Carlisle said. “All that stuff is one of the real intriguing things about coaching. It’s one of the reasons I love it. And one of the reasons I love working in this organization is we’ve got an owner with a fertile mind that likes the right kind of change.

“I’m down with that.”

Mekel Gains, Earns Confidence In Vegas

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LAS VEGAS – Gal Mekel has plenty of support in his native Israel. After all, he’s got six brothers and sisters ranging in age from 19 to four months. All of them, well, except for the newbie, watched up close last season as the flashy 6-foot-3 point guard stormed to the Israeli Basketball Super League MVP.

That means it’s time for NBA League Pass in the Mekel household.

Signed by the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month to a three-year contract, Mekel became the second Isreali-born player to get to the NBA. The first, Omri Casspi, still the lone Israeli drafted, will  play just a few hundred miles down the road with the Houston Rockets.

“Actually a lot of Israelis are playing hoops, just not a lot in the States,” Mekel, who played two seasons at Wichita State, said following Friday’s Summer League finale, the Mavs’ fourth game in as many nights. “Basketball is big in Israel and I started when I was 5 on the court right next to my house, and actually started with a serious team when I was 6 or 7. Basketball was my first love.”

Pretty much just like every American kid who dreams of the NBA on the neighborhood pavement.

“It’s a dream of every player,” Mekel, 25, said. “You grow up, you have the posters of Michael Jordan and everybody on your wall, and it’s a dream of everybody, but last summer I came here [to the U.S.] to train with coach [David] Thorpe and I had a good workout with the Utah Jazz, and I saw that I have this chance, going to have this shot. I went back home, I had a great season.”

The quick, savvy point guard, with wide-open court awareness and an ability to dish with unpredictability, has some comparing him to Ricky Rubio. Mekel averaged 13.3 ppg, 5.4 apg, 2.6 rpg and 1.4 steals last season for Maccabi Bazan Haifa in Israel.

“I love the point guards that involve everyone and getting all the other guys better, controlling the team with tempo,” Mekel said, “[like] Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, a long list, that’s the style of game I like to play.”

Mekel drew some of the more curious observers to six Summer League games to gain a bit of perspective as to how his game would transfer at a higher level. He didn’t quite create the stir of Jeremy Lin a few years ago when he barnstormed Vegas as part of the Mavs’ team.

But Mekel did perform well, averaging 9.7 ppg on 45.1 percent shooting and 5.0 apg. He vaulted into the starting lineup after first-round draft pick Shane Larkin fractured his ankle requiring surgery in the team’s final practice before departing for Las Vegas. Without Larkin, Mekel played nearly 28 mpg, which eventually caught up to him as the Mavs played their final four of six games on consecutive days.

“I was dead in the end,” Mekel said. “We really tried hard to bring energy and it’s not easy. But for me I think it was a great week, first time getting to know the NBA game. I think I played pretty good for the first time. That’s it. I’ll work on my game, stuff that I saw to work on this week and I’ll be ready for training camp.”

The big question is where will Mekel get most of his minutes next season, with the Mavs or perhaps their D-League affiliate just north of Dallas, the Texas Legends? Dallas completely reshaped its backcourt, signing veteran point guards Jose Calderon and Devin Harris, plus high-scoring combo guard Monta Ellis and shooting guard Wayne Ellington. Then there’s also Larkin, who is expected to return some time around the middle of training camp.

“He did a really good job early and maybe had some times where he sputtered because again, back-to-back-to-back-to-back, that’s a lot of work, and without Shane as a backup,” Mavs assistant and Summer League coach Monte Mathis said. “I think the wear and tear caught up to him a little bit, but he’s a tough kid. He fought through everything and he keeps coming and coming. He’ll get better and better.”

Ellis Gives Dallas A Badly Needed Jolt

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Dallas Mavericks finally appear to have their big-name free agent and Monta Ellis finally gets his big contract.

Only neither is as big as originally hoped. The Mavs dearly wanted Dwight Howard. He’s in Houston. Ellis opted out of $11 million with the Milwaukee Bucks for one final season. He didn’t find the market he expected. Now he’s headed to Dallas for a reported three years at between $25 million and $30 million.

He joins a roster under extreme reconstruction that, at the moment, is stacked with newcomers in the backcourt. The athletic, volume-shooting Ellis figures to start at shooting guard next to high-IQ point guard Jose Calderon, who signed on for four years and $29 million. Dallas will pay those two around $15 million next season.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein first reported the Ellis agreement. Stein also reported that the three-year deal that Devin Harris (who has dislocated toe) and Dallas agreed to has been shelved.

Sixth man Vince Carter is the lone returnee and only producer from last season’s train-wreck backcourt. He enters the final year of his deal at $3.2 million.

Dallas also brought in guards Wayne Ellington on a two-year deal, plus rookie free agent Gal Mekel and draft picks Shane Larkin (who will miss possibly three months with ankle injury) and Ricky Ledo. After realizing top free agents (Deron Williams last summer and now Howard) weren’t enamored with a thin roster that wasn’t winning any trades either, the Mavs are in the asset acquisition business.

It’s a different approach than the last two offseasons when owner Mark Cuban sought short-term bang for his buck, and consistently said he would save his money for foundation-type players. Perhaps the Mavs now believe that the 27-year-old Ellis, who has played in two postseasons in his eight-year career, is one. He was certainly the last remaining “impact” free agent on the market.

At the moment, eight of the 12 players Dallas has or soon expects to have under contract are guards. Talk about going small-ball. Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Jae Crowder fill the forward position and second-year center Bernard James, a low-minute player when he got off the bench, is the only big man in the middle.

That has to change, although how is the big question considering the Mavs’ cap situation. Dallas remains in pursuit of stop-gap veteran Samuel Dalembert (a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee could be an option) and they’ve been in discussions with their own hybrid forward-center Brandan Wright. Elton Brand also remains a possibility.

The agreement with Ellis seemed unlikely just a couple days ago when president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said he didn’t expect more backcourt additions. With all eyes focused on the depleted center position, Ellis did perk up a fan base wondering where the franchise was headed after missing out on Howard a week ago.

Ellis doesn’t turn the summer around for the Mavs, but he does bring with him some needed swag back to Big D. The roster had been virtually bare of playmaking electricity. He gives Dallas excitement, if not also unpredictability, and he’ll happily fill the role as the second — and sometimes lead scorer — the Mavs so desperately need next to Nowitzki.

The 6-foot-3 Ellis averaged 19.2 ppg and 6.0 apg sharing the backcourt in Milwaukee last season with Brandon Jennings. He shot just 41.6 percent overall and 28.7 percent from beyond the arc, but he can light it up on any given night and seemed to have a knack for fireworks when he played Dallas.

A rim protector must be on the way, though, or the Mavs’ defensive standing at No. 27 in scoring (101.7 ppg) last season could get worse. Ellis’ defensive efficiency last season benefited from the Bucks’ swat machine Larry Sanders. Ellis consistently ranks high in steals, but his overall defensive prowess is not considered a strong suit, and starting next to Calderon could cause coach Rick Carlisle to go completely bald.

The Mavs aren’t done massaging their roster. Friday at least provided a jolt and a little more intrigue for a proud franchise that was quickly looking lottery-bound for a second consecutive season.

Houston, L.A. And Dallas Post-Dwight

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The dust is settling and rosters emerging after the biggest free-agent move of the summer came down one week ago. Dwight Howard has positioned the Houston Rockets as Western Conference contenders while creating altered realities for the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.

Because of their high-priced payroll, the Lakers have limited flexibility to strengthen their roster for the 2013-14 season. To lessen some of its financial burden, L.A. made it official on Thursday that it will use the amnesty provision to cut loose Metta World Peace, a move that Kobe Bryant made clear he’s not thrilled with on Twitter:

Had Howard remained with the Lakers, Pau Gasol might have been on the wrong end of the amnesty, but now he’ll be the Lakers starting center. L.A. has added Nick Young, Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar to a roster that certainly has talent, but isn’t even expected to make the playoffs by some. 

The Mavs will scale a considerable mountain to not be lottery-bound in consecutive seasons. Dallas missed out on Deron Williams a year ago and watched Dwight pick their division rivals this time around. To make Mavs fans feel even worse, Andre Iguodala told the San Francisco Chronicle that he almost signed with Dallas an hour before committing to the Golden State Warriors. Dallas met with Andrew Bynum, but passed on making an offer.

Dallas was extremely high on Iguodala as an anchor for the future with Dirk Nowitzki in the case that Howard said no. The Mavs are in difficult spot now with a hodgepodge, guard-heavy roster that bears almost no resemblance to last season’s team that failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. It includes newcomers Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington and a couple of rookies in Shane Larkin and Israeli free-agent Gal Mekel.

At least Nowitzki kept a sense of humor after missing out on the prime DH target and signing another one:

Meanwhile in Houston, with Howard joining All-Star guard James Harden and emerging sharpshooter Chandler Parsons, the front office went to work to add more shooters around their new center, bringing back Francisco Garcia and agreeing to a deal with Reggie Williams.

Here’s how the Rockets, Lakers and Mavericks have filled out their rosters and who else each might be looking at:

HOUSTON ROCKETS (14)

PG: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan

SG: James Harden, Francisco Garcia, Reggie Williams, James Anderson

SF: Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi

PF: Greg Smith, Terrance Jones

C: Dwight Howard, Omer Asik, Donatas Motiejunas

Possibilities: Trade Lin and/or Asik

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (12)

PG: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar

SG: Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks

SF: Nick Young, Chris Douglas-Roberts

PF: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly

C: Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre

Possibles: Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic

DALLAS MAVERICKS (11)

PG: Jose Calderon, Gal Mekel, Shane Larkin

SG: Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Wayne Ellington, Ricky Ledo

SF: Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder

PF: Dirk Nowitzki

C: Bernard James

Possibles: C Samuel Dalembert; C Greg Oden; C/F Brandan Wright; F/C Elton Brand

Got Shooting? It’s Going Fast

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The 2012-13 season shall forever be known as the year of the three. There were 3-point records set on the individual, team and league levels. And Ray Allen‘s 3-pointer to tie Game 6 of The Finals will go down as one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

Furthermore, there was a much stronger correlation between offensive efficiency and the percentage of a team’s shots from 3-point range than we’d seen previously. With one notable exception — the Denver Nuggets — the best offenses in the league shot a lot of threes, or at least shot them very well.

Top 10 offenses, 2012-13

Team OffRtg 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank 3PA% Rank
Miami 110.3 717 1,809 39.6% 2 28.5% 5
Oklahoma City 110.2 598 1,588 37.7% 3 24.4% 12
New York 108.6 891 2,371 37.6% 5 35.4% 1
L.A. Clippers 107.7 627 1,752 35.8% 16 26.5% 8
Denver 107.6 521 1,518 34.3% 25 21.7% 22
Houston 106.7 867 2,369 36.6% 9 34.9% 2
San Antonio 105.9 663 1,764 37.6% 4 26.4% 9
L.A. Lakers 105.6 715 2,015 35.5% 19 30.3% 3
Brooklyn 105.0 628 1,760 35.7% 17 26.9% 7
Golden State 104.2 658 1,632 40.3% 1 23.9% 14

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
3PA% = Percentage of total shots from 3-point range

The Nuggets were upset in the first round when they couldn’t make 3-pointers and, more importantly, couldn’t stop the Warriors from making them. And now, Denver is without the three guys who made the most 3-pointers for them last season. Danilo Gallinari (135) is recovering from ACL surgery, Corey Brewer (91) is a free agent (who could come back), and Andre Iguodala (91) is heading to Golden State.

There’s a lot more to success in this league, but if you want to compete for a championship, you need guys who can knock down long-distance shots. There were several available on the market and a handful of good teams that needed them to take the next step. A couple of those teams will be signing a couple of those shooters. Here’s a look at the contending teams that needed shooting the most and what they’ve done to address the problem…

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 100.4 (24), 3PT%: 35.3% (21), 3PA%: 18.9% (29)
The Bulls’ offense will obviously be better with the return of Derrick Rose, but they still need better perimeter shooting to complement their penetrating point guard. They ranked fourth in 3-point percentage in 2011-12, but then said goodbye to Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson.

They’re heading back in the right direction this summer, upgrading from Marco Belinelli (35.7 percent) to Mike Dunleavy (42.8 percent), who ranked third in 3-point percentage among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. There are few players in the league better than Dunleavy at coming off pin-down screens and draining threes on the wings.

Jimmy Butler should also be a more dangerous shooter, especially with Rose coming back. After shooting just 1.3 threes per game at 38 percent in the regular season, Butler shot 3.1 per game at 41 percent in the playoffs. No. 20 pick Tony Snell is known as a shooter, but hit just 64 threes in 35 games at New Mexico last season.

The Bulls haven’t exactly turned into last year’s Knicks when it comes to shooting threes, but they have taken a step forward.

Denver Nuggets

OffRtg: 107.6 (5), 3PT%: 34.3% (25), 3PA%: 21.7% (22)
The Nuggets took a big step backward by losing Iguodala and trading Kosta Koufos to Memphis. And we don’t know if they’ll play the same fast-paced, attacking style under coach Brian Shaw that they did under coach George Karl.

But Denver will get one of the better shooters on the market by sending Iguodala out via a three-team, sign-and-trade deal with the Warriors and Jazz that brings them Randy Foye, who ranked second among free agents with 178 threes last season and shot them at a 41.0 percent clip. Foye will likely split time at shooting guard with Evan Fournier, who shot a solid 22-for-54 (41 percent) in limited regular season action last season (and went 0-for-8 in the playoffs).

The Nuggets will also have a full season of Wilson Chandler, who shot well after returning from injury last season. Denver’s defense will most certainly fall off without Iguodala, but the Nuggets might actually have a little more inside-out balance to their offense.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.6 (19), 3PT%: 34.7% (22), 3PA%: 24.5% (11)
Like the Nuggets, the Pacers thrive in the paint (just not as well). And the No. 1 defense in the league helped them make up for their lack of shooting. But they could have used a few more weak-side threes against the Heat’s aggressive defense in the conference finals, when Lance Stephenson shot 7-for-23 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

Over his last six full seasons, Danny Granger hit 901 threes at 39 percent. And with Granger set to return from the knee injury that kept him out of all but five games last season, returning team president Larry Bird didn’t have to do a thing to improve his team’s 3-point shooting.

But Bird went out and got Watson (41 percent last season) and Chris Copeland (42 percent) to give his team some more punch off the bench. No. 22 pick Solomon Hill was also decent shooter (39 percent on threes) at Arizona. He might not play much as a rookie, but he can’t be a worse from the perimeter than defensive specialist Sam Young was.

Last season, Frank Vogel only had D.J. Augustin — a defensive liability — to turn to when he needed more shooting on the floor. Now, he’s got plenty of options.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 101.7 (18), 3PT%: 34.5% (24), 3PA%: 16.6% (30)
The Rudy Gay trade didn’t change much for the Grizz, who made a league-low 4.6 threes per game after the deal. And they have yet to do anything in free agency to improve their perimeter offense. Tony Allen, returning on a new contract, is the definitive shooting guard who can’t shoot. Even their top draft pick — Jamaal Franklin — is a wing who doesn’t shoot very well.

The Grizzlies still have their mid-level exception to spend. And there are a couple of shooters still left on the market (see below). They also have a trade exception worth almost $7.5 million to absorb a contract from a team willing to deal them a shooter. But right now, they look like they could rank last in the league in 3-pointers for a second straight season.

Still on the market

For the Grizzlies and other teams still looking for shooters, the pickings are rather slim. Here are their six best options (in order of how many threes they hit last season), all of which come with issues …

Nate Robinson — 141-for-348 (40.5 percent)
Robinson had his best shooting season with the Bulls. And though he was mostly the Bulls’ back-up point guard, 101 of his 141 threes were assisted, so he can certainly play off the ball. He has improved defensively and is certainly making better decisions than he was earlier in his career, but it still isn’t easy for a coach to trust him with the ball in his hands for big minutes.

Wayne Ellington — 94-for-240 (39.2 percent)
Of the free agents that are still available, only three — Brandon Jennings (173), Robinson and Alan Anderson (95) — hit more threes than Ellington did last season. He was a decent role player in Memphis before it sent him to Cleveland for financial flexibility.

Gary Neal — 89-for-251 (35.5 percent)
Neal hit six threes in Game 3 of The Finals, but shot just 35 percent from beyond the arc last season (31st among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes) after shooting 42 percent in his first two years with the Spurs, who have seemingly swapped him for Belinelli. (They didn’t have an Italian on their roster, after all.)

Roger Mason Jr. — 66-for-159 (41.5 percent)
Of the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only 11 shot them better than 40 percent. And only two — Robinson and the Pelicans’ Mason Jr. — are still on the market. Mason doesn’t do much more than make threes, but you can do worse if you need a fifth guard on your roster.

Mo Williams — 59-for-154 (38.3 percent)
Jazz starting guard Williams can handle the ball or play off it. In his two seasons playing next to LeBron James, he shot 43 percent from 3-point range, and only two players — Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen — hit more threes than Williams did over those two years. But he played a career-low 46 games last season and defense is an issue.

Anthony Morrow — 16-for-43 (37.2 percent)
There was a point a few years ago when Morrow qualified as the best 3-point shooter in NBA history. He’s still a great shooter, but doesn’t have as quick a release as some others, struggles when he needs to put the ball on the floor, and is a defensive liability. He couldn’t get off the bench for the Mavs as they were making their playoff push last season.

Three more points

  • The Timberwolves were by far the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last season, but should move up the rankings with a healthy Kevin Love (who shot 22 percent), a healthy Chase Budinger (who shot 32 percent) and with the addition of Kevin Martin (who shot 43 percent for OKC). Martin’s presence will also mean that they’ll need less minutes from Alexey Shved and Luke Ridnour (who may be traded) at the two. The pair combined to attempt 500 threes last season, connecting on only 30 percent of them.
  • Brooklyn shot a lot of threes last season, but didn’t shoot them particularly well. Things will get better with Paul Pierce (38 percent) replacing Gerald Wallace (28 percent) at small forward. But Watson (41 percent) was their best 3-point shooter last season and he’s been replaced by Shaun Livingston, who has made a grand total of nine threes in 390 career games. Assuming that coach Jason Kidd will have one of his starters — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson or Pierce — playing with the second unit, a back-up point guard who can shoot (Toney Douglas, perhaps?) would have been a better option. Either way, the Nets’ success could be determined by the ability of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mirza Teletovic to knock down shots and keep Pierce and Kevin Garnett fresh.
  • The Clippers were another team that shot a lot of threes at a mediocre percentage. And while they’re getting two great shooters in Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, they’re replacing two guys — Caron Butler (39 percent) and Willie Green (43 percent) — who shot rather well from 3-point range last season. (Green is still on the roster, but likely out of the rotation.)

Hollins Next To Walk Out Of Memphis?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Lionel Hollins starred at Arizona State. I wonder how he’d enjoy coaching down the road in Phoenix (not that I’m trying to push out interim coach Lindsey Hunter).

Or maybe Hollins would enjoy taking his coaching chops to Brooklyn — he’s certainly tough enough for the borough (not that I’m wishing interim coach P.J. Carlesimo be shoved out either). Carlesimo has saved the most critical season in Nets franchise history as far as I’m concerned.

But, look, there are going to be multiple coaching openings this summer. Given the current (disappointing) direction in Memphis, the lame-duck Hollins seems to be greasing the path for his own departure. Hey, it ain’t easy having champagne taste on a beer budget — and, really, who would want to?

It isn’t easy watching your team’s championship dreams be dismantled mid-season. Debate all you want about the Grizzlies’ title odds as previously constructed, but minus leading scorer Rudy Gay and key reserves Wayne Ellington and Marresse Speights, those odds have plummeted while frustration within the locker room is on the rise.

With Tayshaun PrinceEd Davis and others now in the fold, the remaining Grizzlies are begrudgingly hitting the reset button on their season. That much showed in Tuesday’s 96-90 home loss to Hunter’s Suns, Memphis’ second loss in three games since the Gay trade. It’s a small sample size and there’s plenty of games to get it right, but there has to be concern.

“It’s a real frustrating loss,” Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said. “I feel like we should have won the game. We had the chance to win and we didn’t get the win. It takes time to get acclimated and get all of the plays. It’s a variety of things. It’s a tough loss, a disappointing loss.”

Memphis wasn’t an offensive juggernaut before the trade, but in the three games after it, scoring has dropped by nearly six points to 88.0 ppg (the first of the three games was played without Prince). They’ve also committed 36 turnovers in the last two games and were fortunate to get a home win against Washington a couple nights earlier. Four turnovers in the final three minutes Tuesday doomed them against the lottery-bound Suns, who entered the game with a West-worst four road wins.

“We had every chance to win the game, but we had too many turnovers in the fourth and didn’t get any opportunities,” guard Mike Conley said. “It’s a work in progress. We have to find plays everyone is familiar and comfortable with. We just have some times where we have miscommunication with new guys and older guys who have been here. We just have to do a better job finding  plays that work for everyone.”

Defense has also taken hit with Memphis allowing 92.7 ppg after the trade, up more than three points a game. The Grizz (30-17) are hanging onto the No. 4 seed by their fingernails.

And so we get back to Hollins, the franchise’s most successful coach, who has lobbed some subtle firebombs — depending on your interpretation — at the front office since it started shaking up the roster for financial reasons.

With Marc Gasol in foul trouble Tuesday and the 6-foot-10 Speights now a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Hollins lamented his inability to match up when the Suns went big.

“We didn’t have any big guys to put in the game,” said Hollins, 170-146 in now his fifth season in Memphis. “That was a big thing down the stretch. They went at Jermaine O’Neal and we didn’t have a big guy to play him because we didn’t have a big guy to put in the game.”

Hollins never wanted to break up the team — and neither did a team that wanted one more postseason shot together. A few weeks ago, Tony Allen said about this season: “This is the year.”

He didn’t mean it would be the year of cost-cutting trades and Hollins ultimately leaving Memphis.

Deal Likely Delays Inevitable For Grizz

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It’s impossible to determine how much, if at all, trade speculation truly distracts a team. But in the case of the Memphis Grizzlies, it’s fair to speculate that it has a lot.

“Trade rumors have been in this league since they’ve allowed trades,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said in Dallas 10 days ago as rumors of the franchise shopping Rudy Gay — as well as Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol — ran rampant.

Hollins is right, of course, but it doesn’t mean trade rumors are any less difficult to wrap the brain around now than in Hollins’ playing days. It’s actually an impossible argument to make in the Internet age and now with social media fueling speculation by the millisecond.

That night in Dallas was the start of three consecutive blowout losses for Memphis. Monday’s 82-81 home loss to Indiana makes it four in the last six games as the Grizzlies have fallen off the pace of the West’s top three teams and are fending off Golden State for fourth place.

A smaller-scale Cavs-Grizzlies trade consummated this morning gets Memphis under the dreaded luxury tax this season without needing to move any of its key pieces and perhaps gets it back to work with clearer minds.

This group, having grown into contenders together, wanted the chance to remain together and compete for a championship this season.

The reported trade will send young Memphis reserves Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby, plus a first-round draft pick to Cleveland for end-of-bencher John Leuer.

Memphis’ new ownership group wants no part of the CBA’s harsher luxury tax penalties to come. And with Gay, Gasol, Randolph and point guard Mike Conley on the books for a combined $58.7 million next season, Tuesday’s trade ultimately only postpones the inevitable trade of Gay and/or others until the summer. 

As CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger tweeted: “Welcome to luxury taxonomics.”

The new CBA, drafted with the intent to help small-market clubs keep their rosters intact, isn’t really working out that way. Chris Paul was traded from New Orleans to the Los Angeles Clippers before the start of the 2011-12 season. The Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets before the start of this season. And the Grizz will ship out Gay and/or others this summer to align their books with the new economic times.

The trade can be considered a win-now for the Grizz’s key components and fans who didn’t want the core split up before they had a chance to attack the postseason one last time. Remember, in 2010-11, Gay got injured and missed the playoffs. Memphis upset San Antonio in the first round and lost in the second round in seven grueling games to the Thunder.

Randolph injured his knee early on last season, came back late, but never got to full strength. Memphis lost Game 1 — blowing a huge lead — and Game 7 on its home floor in the first round to the Clippers.

“I definitely want to see this team stick together,” Randolph said that night in Dallas. “I’ve been with these guys four years. Rudy’s been here the longest. You want to see us together because we’ve come a long way, definitely.”

The downside to the deal is that the Grizzlies’ bench gets a little lighter. Although Speights’ role had decreased with the return of Darrell Arthur from injury, the 6-foot-10, 255-pounder averaged 6.5 ppg and 4.7 rpg in just 14.5 mpg. Ellington was Memphis’ most accurate 3-point shooter (42.3 percent) on a team that desperately needs that component.

But, at least as the Grizzlies reach the halfway point of their season at home Wednesday against the slumping Los Angeles Lakers, the core remains and they can get back to work with minds more at ease.

Rubio ‘Heats’ up chilly Target Center

 

HANG TIME MIDWEST BUREAU — Sombreros are wrong on a couple of levels. First, it’s a little shaky to reduce anyone’s ethnic heritage to an article of clothing and a clichéd one at that. (There, HTB’s political correctness obligation is officially met.)

Second, and more pertinent, the big, floppy brimmed hats that dotted Target Center Friday night are a product of Mexico. Ricky Rubio is an import from Spain.

But a little misdirected enthusiasm – along with the “Ole! Ole!” calls – was understandable given the excitement and the circumstances Friday night in Minneapolis. Rubio, the much ballyhooed No. 5 pick from the 2009 NBA draft for whom Timberwolves fans had waited two years, had the locals en fuego and the mighty Miami Heat in trouble. For a while, anyway, in the Heat’s 103-101 victory.

In only his third NBA game, Rubio scored 12 points with 12 assists and six rebounds – the first Minnesota player with a stats line like that since Sam Cassell in 2004. He ran the Wolves’ attack in nearly 31 minutes off the bench. Hit a pair of 3-point shots among his 4-of-7 shooting. Dazzled the joint several times with uncanny, casual reckless (for most guys, at least) passes that generally found their marks – except for that costly fling past Wayne Ellington, out of bounds, in the final minutes. It was one of Rubio’s five turnovers.

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