Posts Tagged ‘Wizards’

MJ’s Hornets going back to the future

CHARLOTTE — Give him the ball and get out of the way.

For years, that was the first ingredient to the recipe for success that helped make Michael Jordan the first true global icon the NBA ever produced. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen.

Fast forward 30 years and it’s the same ingredients for the owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan and the entire management team have rebranded the former Charlotte Bobcats, bringing the buzz back to this city in an unprecedented fashion for the start of the 2014-15 season.

After taking over Twitter on Tuesday (above), MJ held court in a different way, hosting eight reporters from around the country for lunch at Time Warner Cable Arena just hours before the Hornets home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.

He didn’t need any fancy introduction. He simply walked in, grabbed his seat in the middle of the room and said bring it on.

Like I said, give him the ball and get out of the way …

Q: Are you a better owner today than you were when you first took over, and if so, how did that come about?

MJ: Uh, you have to define what better is really. Am I a more experienced owner? Yes. Am I an owner that made mistakes? Yes. Am I an owner that made good decisions? I like to assume so, yes. But it’s amazing what winning does. I always considered myself an owner that was dedicated to doing the best job to bring the best team here to the city of Charlotte. And with that comes a lot of criticism based on wins and losses. And based on the wins and losses over the years I’ve been in ownership, people have questioned that. Now that we’re winning, people are giving their opinions about that from a different perspective. I’ve always considered myself a very successful owner that tries to make sound decisions. And when you make bad decisions, you learn from that and move forward. I think I’m better in that sense. I’ve experienced all of the different valleys and lows that ownership and successful of business. If that constitutes me being a better owner, than I guess I am.

Q: How tough is it to know when to insert yourself as an owner and when you let your “team” do their business on a daily basis and not interfere with that process?

MJ: In some ways it is very similar to a game. When you feel like you can make an impact and give some insight, some leadership, you do that. You kind of read the scenarios. For me to make good sound decisions I have to understand every facet of what’s happening within the building and within the team. These guys keep me up to date and inform me of all the decisions that need to be made. I dissect that and when the decision is made we collaborate and I ask for their opinion, they ask for my opinion and then at the end of the day we have to formulate a plan and then ride with it. That’s kind of the formula that happens underneath this roof. But it all starts with me. The criticism starts with me. And if things go well, everybody always look a bunch of different ways. But if things go bad, they always look to the top. And I understand that, which makes me get more involved. I understand all the decision-making that has to be done and get a grip on all the things that have to be done.

Q: What do you understand about the role of an owner now that you didn’t understand as a player?

MJ: It’s a big team and you want the team to understand exactly what the focus is. You want to be able to relate from top to bottom. And it’s a bigger responsibility. When you’re the leader of an organization, they look for you in a lot of different ways. And you have to exert that kind of confidence, determination and effort. And the decision-making process, so that has been the process for me over the last four years of ownership … learning the process and applying my personality, thoughts, wishes and leadership whenever necessary so that when the time comes we can make sound decisions. It’s about implementing systems and things that work for this organization. And what may work for this organization may be totally different for other organizations … understanding the dynamics of that. And it’s believe me, it’s been fun. It’s been hard, but I’ve had fun doing it.

Q: You’ve tried different things as an owner, different people in different positions. Why does the combination right now — owner, general manager and coach — in terms of what you want to do?

MJ: Things have fallen into place. The business and the basketball are working hand in hand. And they both have different dynamics. The business has certain things they to do to make sure we maximize all the energy and effort that we have on our team. Same thing on the basketball side. They have to understand how to get the returns on free agency, the Draft and all of the guys we have on our team and somehow, collectively, form the overall product and keep the business thriving and growing. And that’s where I think the last couple of years things have started to happen. The business has really been strong. Our guys beating the bushes to get the community back involved, to get the corporate sponsors back involved. And all of those things back working in a positive way the basketball back to where we are restructuring with coaches and players and things of that nature and now you have both of them on the same page and both of them working in hand in hand to where everything started to turn into a prosperous situation. And it makes me look like a genius. Sometimes it happens that way.


VIDEO: One-on-one conversation with Jordan, Part 1

Q: How different are you this time around compared to when you were with the Wizards, how have you changed?

MJ: It’s been a gradual change. With the Wizards, it was the first time I’ve ever been into the operations standpoint. I had different leadership, different perspectives, different initiatives, different roles, expectations from an organization standpoint, which I had no control. My initial responsibility – Fred [Brown] was there, he can tell you – it was trying to get from where we were to a much more positive sense. That had a lot to do with the financial aspect. And I felt like we did that. A lot of things happened – me going back to play, and in doing so we didn’t understand some of the dynamics of being a general manager in terms of selecting personnel, finding the right mix, finding the camaraderie, the continuity from a basketball sense. So that was a learning curve for me. Coming here in a similar role, I utilized some of those experiences to try to enhance, from a basketball sense, and once again I wasn’t in control of the overall goal of the organization. I was following that leadership. Not that I’m making an excuse, but it changed. Now I’m in control of everything. I can put my own DNA, I can put my own twists, I can put my own demands and start from a different leadership position. And those previous situations helped me set those type of standards for that type of leadership and obviously my participation in all of that. And I think that I’m better because of that. It was a well-traveled road, probably one of the roads I wouldn’t have suggested for myself, but yet I’m much better today because of that experience.

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A dozen age old keys to the season

Back when the Rolling Stones sang Time Is On My Side, they surely weren’t thinking about NBA players deep into the second decades of their playing careers. All that running, jumping and end-to-end athleticism clearly make the NBA a young man’s game. Still, by the time things shake out next spring and the playoffs begin, a virtual roster full of veterans will have played a big part in the success or failure of some seasons. Here are the dozen graybeards (listed oldest to youngest) who’ll make a difference … one way or the other:

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash (Noah Graham /NBAE)

Steve Nash, 40, Lakers — The former two-time MVP is having a hard time limping to the finish line of his career. After playing in just 15 games last season, there was hopeful optimism that he and teammate Kobe Bryant could turn back the clock together. But recurring back problems have coach Byron Scott thinking more about starting Jeremy Lin at the point and bringing Nash off the bench.

Ray Allen, 39, unsigned — Is there a playoff team on any corner of the NBA map that wouldn’t want to have one of the great pure shooters in league history on the bench next spring? From Cleveland to San Antonio and every point in between, they’ve been trying to get him onboard. He’s still weighing whether he wants to play at all. The winner in this sweepstakes gets a bonanza.

Andre Miller, 38, Wizards — It’s not like the advancing age is going to make him any slower or look less athletic. Now with Bradley Beal sidelined, there will be more opportunities for the veteran to show that he can do all of the good stuff, like the drive and pass to Kevin Seraphin that produced the game-winning dunk over the Pistons earlier this week. He’s that old neighbor down the street who knows how to fix everything and is handy to have around.

Tim Duncan, 38, Spurs — Coach Gregg Popovich treats him as delicately as Grandma’s heirloom china during the regular season and hasn’t played him for more than 30.1 minutes per game since 2009-10. We keep saying that he’s got to fall over the edge eventually, but then he went out and was the driving force behind the Spurs’ championship run last spring. Would you really bet against him doing it again?

Kevin Garnett, 38, Nets — For the first time in 19 seasons, K.G. looked old and tired and not engaged last season as he averaged a career-low 6.5 points per game as a role player. Everybody’s saying Year 20 is probably the last, but Garnett is saying he feels physically better and intends to return to his aggressive ways and have an impact again. Expectations are lower across the board for him and the team — and that could be a good thing.

Vince Carter, 37, Grizzlies — Back when he was chinning himself over the rim to win the Slam Dunk Contest back in 2000, who thought the uber-athletic Carter could still be a factor 1 1/2 decades later? But here he is, changing teams from Dallas to Memphis as he’s aged into a racehorse that can still give you 25 solid minutes per game and knock down clutch 3-pointers to boot.

Manu Ginobili, 37, Spurs — So close to retiring due to injuries following the Finals loss in 2013, he came back to shine through a remarkably healthy championship campaign. But for a guy who continues to play recklessly, the next back or knee injury is always just a cut or a jump away. If for any reason he’s not fully fit next spring, the chance to finally repeat will diminish greatly.

Jason Terry, 37, Rockets — The former Sixth Man of the Year when the Mavericks won their 2011 championship, the Jet has lost more than a little of his lift and cruising speed. But he’s bound and determined to show there’s something left in the tank and on a Houston bench that is thin, he’ll get called on by coach Kevin McHale. Don’t underestimate his veteran leadership in a locker room where Dwight Howard and James Harden are not fully comfortable in the role.

Paul Pierce, 37, Wizards — What they lost in defense from free agent Trevor Ariza, the Wizards could make up for in Pierce’s willingness and ability to make the big shots late in games. No question that John Wall and Beal are the engines of the offense. But Pierce could go a long way in showing them how and when to step on the gas.

Kobe Bryant, 36, Lakers — Probably not since Ronald Reagan moved into the White House will an old guy with so many miles on him attract so much attention. It would be one thing if Kobe just wanted to come back and play. But he’s Kobe and that means the alpha dog will settle for nothing less than his snarling old self. Virtually nobody thinks he can do what he used to do and, of course, that’s exactly what will drive him.

Pau Gasol, 34, Bulls — Never the sturdiest guy on the court during his prime, he’s missed 55 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. But he still has skills and now he has Joakim Noah alongside on the front line in Chicago to do the big banging. Assuming Derrick Rose can come back anywhere close to his previous form, this could be a perfect situation for Gasol to slide in as a secondary weapon. If that happens, the Bulls are in the fight to win the East.

David West, 34, Pacers — Is this the thanks a fella gets for spending his career as a dutiful professional who comes in every game to get the job done? First Lance Stephenson bolts in free agency to Charlotte. Then Paul George suffers the horrific injury while playing for Team USA. The Pacers enter the season in big, big trouble, which means West, the veteran forward, will be asked to shoulder the burden on a nightly basis. It doesn’t seem fair or doable.

Hang Time Road Trip: Wizards’ young stars ready for more in wide-open East


VIDEO: John Wall and Bradley Beal are driven to succeed in D.C.

By Sekou Smith

CHICAGO – John Wall and Bradley Beal don’t care if the spotlight shines elsewhere right now.

In fact, they prefer it that way. It keeps them motivated to continue their grind, the one that fueled the Washington Wizards’ rise up the ranks to the Eastern Conference semifinals last season.

The best backcourt in the league? All-Stars? Leaders of a team capable of making the Eastern Conference finals?

The Wizards’ young guns believe it’s all a possibility this season

Sure, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat and others will do their best to block the path. And everyone talks tough this time of year.

But actions speak louder than words.

Wall and Beal know that better than most.


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew reflects on the Cavaliers’ preseason opener

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Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.

 

Hang Time Road Trip: First stop, Cleveland

HANGTIME_PASSENGER

By Sekou Smith

CLEVELAND – At least Mother Nature has a sense of humor.

On the eve of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio’s favorite son’s first official game back in town, she greeted everyone with extremely chilly temperatures (somewhere just north of 40 degrees according to a digital reading on a bank clock downtown) this morning.

Welcome home, LeBron James … you’re not in South Beach anymore.

James traded Miami’s sizzle for the comforts of home and will take the court with the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the exhibition opener at Quicken Loans Arena tonight (6 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

And the Hang Time Podcast crew will be there to witness the return.

It’s the first leg of the Hang Time Road Trip, a six-day, seven-city NBA training camp odyssey road trip that will take us from the heart of what could be the toughest division in all of basketball this season (Cleveland, Chicago and Indiana at the top of the Central Division) to Philadelphia and New York, where rebuilding projects are in full swing, and down the East Coast and parts unknown (we’ll surprise you) before the bus heads back to our Atlanta headquarters next weekend.

We’ll sprinkle in some of the usual fun and craziness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast, but our mission is hoops. And there is no better place to kick things off than here in Cleveland, where hope has been restored after one of the greatest summer franchise flips in NBA history.

We’re going to dig in and find out exactly what it’s going to take for LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to turn things around immediately in this city that has missed its homegrown “King” terribly the past four years.

On Monday we’re going to investigate the situation in Chicago and see if Derrick Rose really is ready to resume his MVP ways, if Pau Gasol fits as well on the court as he does in theory and if all that we saw from Joakim Noah and the rest of that stout Bulls outfit did without Rose and Gasol is still there.

Tuesday we’ll visit the Pacers — yes, they still have our attention, despite a rough summer that saw them lose both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency) from the team that won the Central Division with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season. Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t do panic. Neither does his coach, Frank Vogel, who has been unabashed in his belief that David West and Roy Hibbert will keep this team among the division and conference elite.

We will head East from there for Philadelphia, where Nerlens Noel‘s first season on the court signals the promise of what could be for a Sixers’ franchise in need of something to believe beyond just the promise of the future.

In New York, we’ll shine a light on the Knicks and see if Carmelo Anthony‘s right in his assessment of his revamped team — ‘Melo swears these Knicks are playoff bound … we’d love to hear what Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher have to say about it.

With so much real estate between New York and Atlanta, we’re bound to stumble upon an interesting situation or two on the ride home. But we’ll save something for the imagination. We’re keeping our options open and will make sure we deliver the hoops, hijinks and hilariousness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast.

In the meantime, we’ll focus our attention on the LeBron, Love and Kyrie and these Cavaliers.

First impressions, even in an exhibition setting, are everything.

***

Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.


VIDEO: Sekou Smith is ready to go in Cleveland

Top shooting performances of 2013-14

Some nights that basket just seems as big as the ocean and it looks as easy as dropping the ball in from the beach. Other times, it’s just about sheer power from the big guys who have their way on the inside.

Last season produced some of each to make up this look at the top individual shooting performances of 2013-14. To be eligible for this list, players needed to shoot at least 90 percent from the field on at least 11 field goal attempts:

8. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dec. 28, 2013 vs. New Orleans Pelicans — 24 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 18 rebounds

For the first couple of months last season, Howard was trying to prove that he was over his back problems while re-establishing himself as the premier center in the game. This was another statement with an overpowering low-post game that produced six dunks, three little jump hooks and a layup in a 107-98 victory. He seemed intent on showing his physicality and committed a handful of offensive fouls to pile up eight turnovers.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard pounds on the Pelicans for 24 points and 18 rebounds

7. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
February 21, 2014 vs. Atlanta Hawks — 22 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 11 rebounds, three steals

If the frontline combination of Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith had played so well from the start, it’s likely coach Mo Cheeks wouldn’t have been fired and Joe Dumars might still be Detroit’s GM. It was the third time in the season that the trio of big men all had double-doubles in the same game. It was a demonstration of sheer power, not a shooting clinic by Drummond. Six of his 10 buckets were dunks and he went 0-for-8 from the free throw line. (more…)

After pocketing a free-agent payday, these players must prove their worth

Will Chandler Parsons run with a new, All-Star, crowd this season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You are what your salary says you are in the NBA.

There’s no way around it. All the stats, traditional and advanced, in the world won’t change that fact. An All-Star playing on a rookie contract is a bargain. That same player with a max contract, or something in that neighborhood, suddenly become overpaid and a burden on his team.

The expectations change when the compensation increases, even if the player’s game doesn’t change. With most of the dust settled from this summer’s free-agent frenzy, we can see a clear picture where the marquee players are concerned.

Guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were going to get max dollars wherever they decided to play. That was a given, just like the pressure that comes along with being at the top of the superstar food chain in the league.

It’s the other guys, those guys who are making the transition from bargains to paid handsomely for their services, who will be in the crosshairs as the 2014-15 season draws near.

Five free-agent pick ups who have to live up to the hype this season, now that they compensation and expectations have reached franchise-player levels:

Luol Deng, Miami Heat


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks with Heat.com about his goals in Miami

Chris Bosh got the No. 1 option money (five years, $118 million) from the Heat this summer, but it’s Deng who has the biggest shoes to fill. He’s the replacement in the starting line up for LeBron, an unenviable task if ever there was one. The Heat got Deng for a relative bargain (two years, $20 million), given the money that was flying around in free agency this summer. Deng, however, will not get a pass from anyone. Heat boss Pat Riley needs a player who can become an instant impact player and Heat fans, fair or not, are going to compare Deng’s immediate contributions to what James delivered the past four seasons. Deng has shown throughout his career that he’s more than capable of being a solid contributor, All-Star caliber even, on an elite team. So while Deng’s compensation hasn’t changed dramatically, the expectations have soared.

Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat put on a show in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

Gortat was the first big-money free agent to agree to terms this summer, signing on for five years and $60 million to anchor the middle for an up-and-coming Wizards team. He’s facing the crucible of increased individual expectations as he’s on a team that enters 2014-15 with an entirely new set of expectations. The Wizards have all the pieces in place for a continued ascent in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll need Gortat to play his part, though. He and Nene looked like a dynamic 1-2 big man punch in the 2014 playoffs. They’ll have to do it nightly with the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal drawing tons of attention from opposing teams from now on. There can be no off nights for Gortat now that he’s being paid like the elite big man he appears to be. (more…)

Champ Spurs, LeBron, big All-Star break highlight NBA’s 2014-15 schedule

Tim Duncan and the Spurs will raise a fifth banner in October. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Tim Duncan and the Spurs will raise a fifth banner in October. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

After a familiar in-state Texas wrestling match to tip things off, the champion San Antonio Spurs will be living out of their suitcases for much of the first couple of weeks of the new NBA season. That’s just one of the wrinkles in the  2014-15 schedule, released Wednesday.

The 1,230-game marathon includes, for the first time in history, an extended All-Star break.  The last games before the break are scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 12, and the first ones after the hiatus won’t tip until Thursday, Feb. 19. The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be held Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and a Spurs cast that includes 10 international players will celebrate their title with the traditional banner raising and ring ceremony on Opening Night, Oct. 28, when they host the Dallas Mavericks at the AT&T Center.  Also on the schedule that night will be Orlando at New Orleans and Houston at the L.A. Lakers.  The Spurs-Mavs and Lakers-Rockets  – with the likely return of Kobe Bryant — will be nationally televised by TNT. (Full national TV schedule)

HANG TIME: The 10 (or so) must-see games of 2014-15

Opening Night
Oct. 28, 2014, Orlando at New Orleans, 8 p.m., League Pass
Oct. 28, 2014, Dallas at San Antonio, 8 p.m., TNT
Oct. 28, 2014, Houston at L.A. Lakers, 10:30 p.m., TNT

Once they get through Opening Night, though, the Spurs — who finished with the league’s best road record last season — will be on the road for eight of their next 11 games.  Included in that is a four-game blitz through all four California teams, consisting of  a pair of back-to-back sets of Clippers-Warrior and Lakers-Kings.

Cleveland fans, ecstatic over the homecoming of LeBron James, will have to contain their excitement for a few days until the Cavaliers make their debut on Oct. 30 at Quicken Loans Arena against the New York Knicks. The Cavaliers will play the next night, too, at Chicago in Derrick Rose’s first home game after missing all but 10 games in the last two seasons because of knee injuries.  Rose will be joined in the Bulls lineup by Pau Gasol, who left the Lakers as a free agent over the summer.

The Spurs and Cavaliers will both be headline attractions in the NBA’s annual Christmas Day spectacular that features five different matchups, coast-to-coast.  San Antonio will be at home to face last season’s Western Conference finals opponent, Oklahoma City (2 p.m. ET, ABC). James will make his first trip back to Miami, where he won two titles in four years with the Heat, for an afternoon game (5 p.m. ET, ABC) against friends Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat.

Christmas Day (All times listed are ET)
Dec. 25, 2014, Washington at New York, 12 p.m., ESPN
Dec. 25, 2014, Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 2 p.m., ABC
Dec. 25, 2014, Cleveland at Miami, 5 p.m., ABC
Dec. 25, 2014, L.A. Lakers at Chicago, 8 p.m., TNT
Dec. 25, 2014, Golden State at L.A. Clippers, 10:30 p.m., TNT

San Antonio once again will face its annual Rodeo Trip, so named because the Spurs must vacate their arena for an extended stretch for the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo.  It’s a nine-game stretch that will keep the Spurs off their home court from Feb. 6 until March 4. It is broken into two legs before and after the All-Star break. But the Spurs aren’t the only team who face long stretches away from home.

The Brooklyn Nets, under new coach Lionel Hollins, will also straddle the break with eight consecutive games away from the Barclays Center. And the longest single road trip of the season belongs to the Clippers, who’ll have an eight-game excursion Jan. 29-Feb. 9 through three different times zones that includes three sets of back-to-backs and ends up  against potential playoff challengers at OKC and Dallas.  The Clippers will also have to endure a seven-game trip starting Nov. 19 at Orlando that includes three back-to-backs.  The Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings also have seven-game road trips.

As part of the NBA’s annual Martin Luther King Day celebration, four games will be nationally televised.  The Detroit Pistons will play at Atlanta (2:30 ET, ESPN), followed by the Bulls at Cleveland (8 ET, TNT) and Lakers at Phoenix (10:30 ET, TNT).  The Mavericks at Memphis (5 ET) will be shown on NBA TV.

Martin Luther King Day (All times listed are ET)
Jan. 19, 2015, Minnesota at Charlotte, 2 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Philadelphia at Washington, 2 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Detroit at Atlanta, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Jan. 19, 2015, Boston at L.A. Clippers, 3:30 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Denver at Golden State, 4 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Dallas at Memphis, 5 p.m., NBA TV
Jan. 19, 2015, Indiana at Houston, 5:30 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, New Orleans at New York, 5:30 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Toronto at Milwaukee, 8 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, Chicago at Cleveland, 8 p.m., TNT
Jan. 19, 2015, Sacramento at Portland, 10 p.m., League Pass
Jan. 19, 2015, L.A. Lakers at Phoenix, 10:30 p.m., TNT

The NBA Global Game schedule will again include two regular-season games played at international sites.  The Timberwolves will face the Rockets at Mexico City Arena on Nov. 12 and the Bucks and Knicks will meet at London’s O2 Arena on Jan. 15.

The teams with the toughest finishes to the season would seem to be Portland, Toronto and Washington. The Blazers wrap up their schedule with three of their last four on the road, including stops at potential playoff contenders Golden State, OKC and Dallas.  The Raptors play six of their last eight on the road. The Wizards have five of their last six away, with a finale at Cleveland.

The regular season concludes on April 15. The 2015 NBA playoffs will begin Apr. 18.

The Bulls, Cavaliers and Thunder lead with 25 appearances on TNT, ESPN and ABC national telecasts, followed by the Clippers with 23, the Lakers with 20 and the Spurs and Warriors with 19 apiece.

NBA TV will show every team as part of a 97-game schedule that includes 22 Fan Night Games.  Fans will vote on NBA.com  each week to determine which games will appear on NBA TV for the Tuesday Fan Night Games.

Atlanta determined to change its free-agent standing in NBA

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks' core.

Al Horford (left), coach Mike Budenholzer and Paul Millsap comprise the Hawks’ core.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Perception and reality have a strange way of intersecting during the summer for the Atlanta Hawks.

A franchise “on the rise” in a world-class city and a robust free-agent crop would appear to be a match made in basketball heaven. NBA players love Atlanta and the proof is in the countless number of current and former pros who call the city home — even the ones who never wore a Hawks jersey during their playing days.

Yet the perception around the league is that the Hawks struggle annually to lure big-name free agents, while the reality is they are currently not in the business of chasing free-agent ghosts for the sake of changing perceptions.

Yes, the past two summers the Hawks have had the cap flexibility to be major players in free agency. And they’ve explored all of their options, with names both big and otherwise. They have also shown the restraint many teams can’t in throwing money at a name whose game doesn’t fit the system and program they are building under general manager Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer.

Both men have deep ties to the San Antonio Spurs and they’ve brought many of those sensibilities with them. That includes being extremely selective in the players they consider for inclusion into their program. But if the Hawks are going to shed their not-ready-for-prime-time label, they need a watershed moment (making a conference final) or signature player (the statute of limitations on Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins is up) to propel the movement.

The Houston Rockets won the free-agent sweepstakes last summer by snagging Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard. But it was a hollow victory after Howard and Co. had a disappointing first-round effort against the Portland Trail Blazers, proving that there are no guarantees when trying to make a roster splash.

The Hawks pursued Howard, who quite frankly never had any interest in returning to his hometown to play for various reasons that had nothing to do with the Hawks, and were first-round playoff fodder as well. But they did so after pushing the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers to a Game 7, coming four quarters from shocking the basketball world. It gave the Hawks a momentum that has lingered around Atlanta and is spreading beyond the city limits.

Whether or not it spreads into free agency — so far Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore serve as the Hawks’ major acquisitions — is not the focus for the Hawks. They have a broader perspective than just this summer. (And in all fairness, the Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns all went into the summer swinging for the fences in free agency only to strike out on the biggest names as well.) (more…)

The new (LeBron) world order in the East


VIDEO: LeBron’s homecoming means a return to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference standings for the Cavs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Take the words of LeBron James as gospel on what will become of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the hometown hero back in the mix. As LeBron told SI.com, this is just the first step of the process:

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.

The Cavaliers’ metamorphosis from lottery outfit to true championship contender won’t happen overnight. While Las Vegas and everyone else seems to have forgotten about the San Antonio Spurs (the team that smashed the two-time defending champion Heat in The Finals last month), LeBron’s keen eye for history allows him to see that.

Even with LeBron, the Cavs might not be the best team in what could be a loaded Central Division next season.

Don’t forget, the Cavaliers couldn’t even make the playoffs in a watered down Eastern Conference last season. And the Atlanta Hawks made it to the playoffs last season with just 38 wins.

LeBron’s belief in the Cavaliers’ core group won’t necessarily be enough to push them past the Indiana Pacers, the team  that owned the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, or the potentially revamped Chicago Bulls, were they to secure the services of free-agent Carmelo Anthony and get a healthy season from one-time league MVP Derrick Rose.

No one should forget about the Toronto Raptors, winners of the Atlantic Division, or Washington Wizards, a surprise Eastern Conference semifinalist after knocking off the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Both teams retained their marquee free agents — Kyle Lowry in Toronto and Marcin Gortat in Washington —  and will both be a year wiser and better.

Still, LeBron’s arrival changes the Eastern Conference landscape the same way it did four years ago when he showed up in Miami and (along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) turned a middle of the road Heat team into a contender.

Forget what that Cavaliers’ roster looks like today. Focus on what it could look like when the Cavs are done exploring their options. Swing a Kevin Love deal and add veterans and LeBron-friendlies like Mike Miller and Ray Allen, and perhaps that process LeBron mentioned can be accelerated.

The one thing that was true in 2010 about LeBron and his approach remains true this time around: He cannot do it alone. Wade and Bosh were crucial then and Irving and Wiggins will serve as his chief aides this time around. Love would certainly be the X-factor, but with or without Love, there is a new world order in the East.

Here’s an early look at the top eight in the Eastern Conference (as of this moment):

1) Indiana – Even with all of their dysfunction at the end of the season, the Pacers remain the most formidable roadblock for contenders in the Eastern Conference.

2) Cleveland – They get a big edge from the LeBron bump … YES, he means that much to whatever team he’s on. And that’s before we see what else the Cavs can come up with this summer.

3) Chicago – Carmelo pushes them up to a near tie for the No. 2 spot. Toss in Pau Gasol and we’re talking about a possible new No. 1. But there is much work to be done in the Windy City.

4) Toronto — Masai Ujiri is in the midst of changing the culture in Toronto, the most important step being his successful effort to keep Lowry in the fold.

5) Washington — Trevor Ariza remains an important piece for the Wizards, but he’s replaceable if a deal cannot be struck. The Wizards have as strong a young backcourt tandem in John Wall and Bradley Beal as there is in the East.

6) Charlotte – The addition of Gordon Hayward, if the Utah Jazz don’t match the $63 million offer sheet, does not vault the Hornets into the top half of the playoff chase.

7) Atlanta – The return of Al Horford from injury is more important than just about any free-agent signing the Hawks could execute this summer.

8) Miami – They lost out on LeBron but will keep Bosh and Wade as Pat Riley tries to repair the damage of the departure of the best player on the planet.

LeBron James is headed back home to Cleveland.

LeBron James is headed back home to Cleveland.

 

Uncertainty reigns for ‘Melo, LeBron


VIDEO: ‘Melo has to choose between the Knicks and Lakers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Smoke, mirrors, rumor, innuendo and uncertainty have ruled the day since free agency began for the biggest names on the market.

With Carmelo Anthony mulling over max offers from at least two teams (the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks) and LeBron James sorting through possible face-to-face presentations from hand-picked finalists, all we know for sure one week into this process is that no one knows for certain if the incumbent teams will hold on to their prized superstars.

The Lakers have given Anthony something to think about and have positioned themselves as the main threat to the Knicks. Rumblings that James is seriously considering a return to his Cleveland roots with the Cavaliers is a narrative that is simply too juicy to ignore, no matter if those rumblings are legitimate or not.

Complicating matters for guys like Heat boss Pat Riley and his Knicks counterpart Phil Jackson is the lack of activity on the part of these superstars one way or another.

Riley cannot move on anything without knowing for sure what LeBron, the linchpin of the Heat’s revitalization blueprint, plans to do. And that leaves Chris Bosh vulnerable to the sales pitch of a team like the Houston Rockets, who have reportedly put themselves in a position to play the role of spoiler with their Plan B options if they miss out on Carmelo (who visited the Rockets on his national recruiting tour last week) and LeBron.

With Omer Asik traded and Dwight Howard in need of an elite power forward to play alongside him, the Rockets have turned their attention to trying to pry Bosh away from the Heat while there is continued uncertainty about what LeBron will do. It makes perfect sense for the Rockets — divide and conquer while strengthening their own ranks with yet another All-Star piece .

The dots connect ultimately back to both Carmelo and LeBron in almost every theoretical scenario.

What if the Heat’s Big Three of LeBron, Bosh and Dwyane Wade went into the process thinking they’d work in concert and allow Riley and the Heat the time needed to work out the details, only to have things change dramatically when it became clear that their individual salary demands and future plans don’t coincide with what the Heat had in mind?

What if the Knicks’ ace in the hole with ‘Melo — that max offer of $129 million that they could offer that no one else could — isn’t enough to keep the face of that franchise in the fold?

That proposed Big Four pipe dream Riley spoke of the week before free agency began appears to be just that for Heat fans, an absolute pipe dream. If the machinations of the past few days aren’t just the hype that comes along with the process for superstars in free agency, keeping the Big Three together could wind up being the real pipe dream.

The fact is, as much as these decisions are about the superstar conglomerates necessary to compete for championships, these superstars are making individual financial decisions that could alter the landscape of the league.

If Carmelo decides to join Kobe Bryant in L.A., and the Lakers put any semblance of a decent supporting cast around them, the Lakers suddenly become a factor again in the rugged Western Conference. And keep in mind, the Lakers and Knicks are the only teams capable of offering Carmelo max money (four years and $97 million in L.A. and five years, $129 million from the Knicks) without making any other roster moves.

If LeBron decides to bolt from Miami and take his talents back to say Cleveland, then he lends instant powerhouse credibility to the mismatching parts (starting with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and the No. 1 overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins) assembled in the wake of his departure via free agency four years ago.

This growing notion that Anthony is choosing between the Lakers and Knicks means that the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Rockets, Phoenix Suns and anyone else positioning themselves as a suitor for the biggest name(s) on the free-agent market would be wise to move on to their alternate plans.

Finding elite role players willing to sacrifice their monster paydays for the greater good in Miami proved more difficult than probably even Riley imagined, given the uncertainty surrounding James, whose commitment might have sped up the process for Riley and the Heat in regards to their pursuit of guys like Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat.

They have both agreed to terms on lucrative deals to remain with their respective teams, the Toronto Raptors for Lowry and Washington Wizards for Gortat.

And therein lies the true consequence of kissing and then rolling the free agent dice in today’s NBA.

You can wait for the smoke to clear from the first crazy week of the process and then see where you stand with the impact players, a reasonably sound plan for those operating from a position of power. Then again, as we’ve learned from the smoke, mirrors and innuendo of this weekend alone, it only produces uncertainty until either Carmelo or LeBron makes a decision … or at least gives us a hint as to what they plan to do.