Posts Tagged ‘Wizards’

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 26


VIDEO: The NBA remembers the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Flip Saunders

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Saunders remembered as leader, cherished member of NBA family | Anthony, Knicks gain inspired by Mets | Parker ready for new, reduced role with Spurs | Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball?

No. 1: Saunders remembered as a leader and cherished member of NBA family — Flip Saunders lost his battle with cancer Sunday at 60, succumbing to Hodgkins lymphoma on the eve of a NBA season he was going to start away from the Minnesota Timberwolves as he continued his four-month fight. Instead, he’s being remembered around a league where he touched many throughout his career. Our very own Steve Aschburner, a longtime former Timberwolves beat writer, shared some of his own reflections on Saunders:

Saunders had other pet phrases, things he’d coined or gleaned from the many coaches’ books he devoured during his trek through basketball’s trenches — seven years in the CBA in Rapid City, S.D., in La Crosse, Wis., in Sioux Falls, S.D., after college work at Golden Valley Lutheran College, Minnesota and Tulsa. “You are the position you can guard,” he’d say. And: “You give a player only as much responsibility as he can handle.” And: “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” Sometimes he’d footnote, sometimes he wouldn’t.

Flip also could prompt one back, typically when he’d claim that the only reason Marquette (my alma mater and first beat) won the NCAA men’s championship in 1977 (his senior year) was that Minnesota, despite its 24-3 record, was on probation and ineligible for the tournament. “But like Woody Allen said,” I’d remind him, “80 percent of success is showing up.” He’d wave his hand and we’d banter another day.

The fact is, Saunders disliked confrontations. It was the single biggest criticism of him as a coach and, when his teams in Minnesota and Detroit went through some tough times, it was cited as key to his undoing. When your best player, Kevin Garnett, is a blast furnace of motivation and improvement, there’s little about which a coach needs to confront him or the teammates intimidated into following. When some salty veterans such as Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell or Rasheed Wallace plant their heels, though, being player-friendly can get you pink-slipped.

Saunders was easily the most successful coach in Timberwolves history, particularly during his first stint. The Wolves went 411-326 and made the franchise’s only eight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004. All other seasons (including 2014-15 with Saunders navigating downward for lottery chances), they’ve gone 407-940 with zero playoff berths.

The good times were the product of Saunders’ coaching, Kevin McHale‘s acumen and Hall of Fame experience as VP of basketball operations, and the two college teammates’ and friends’ commitment to Garnett and, for as long as it lasted, to Stephon Marbury. That blew up in less than three seasons and, despite the subsequent playoff runs, Minnesota never got quite good enough.

A comment Flip made a while back in hindsight about that fizzled vision turned particularly poignant Sunday. “I hope years from now,” he said, “KG, Steph and I aren’t sitting around a table at All-Star Weekend saying, ‘We really screwed up.’ ”

He couldn’t push the Pistons over the top in three years, either, and the situation in Washington went sideways thanks mostly to Gilbert Arenas and his guns. And yet, while Saunders got fired three times at the NBA level — the Wolves dismissal, coming from McHale, stung all the way to the end — he got hired four times.

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No. 2: Melo, Knicks gain inspiration from Mets — Give Carmelo Anthony credit for thinking big — and we’re talking championship big — as the New York Knicks head into this season. He’s drawing inspiration from the New York Mets, who’ll battle the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. And in the Mets, Anthony says he sees similarities in how they have gone from rebuilding to competing for a championship. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News details Anthony’s vision and how the fortunes of these two Big Apple franchises relate:

It wasn’t long ago that another New York sports team was selling hope over substance, building around a combination of youth and veterans while resisting the quick fix.

So can the Knicks draw inspiration from the World Series baseball team across the East River?

Carmelo Anthony thinks so.

“That’s very inspiring to me, what the Mets have done this season,” he said. “But that didn’t start this season. That was a process. That was a build that was happening the last couple of years. To see them now kind of at the pinnacle of the sport, it’s a good feeling. Even if you’re not a Mets fan and you’re here, it’s a good feeling.”

The similarities between the Knicks and Mets also extend to championship droughts (43 and 29 years, respectively), although only the Jets can claim in New York that they’ve tortured their fanbase longer than the Knicks.

“I don’t want to say it’s similar but you can see some similarities in that,” Anthony said. “The way that they kind of broke everything down and kind of rebuilt piece-by-piece and all of it came together at the right time. I don’t want to say we’re in a similar situation, but we are. Right now we put pieces together and we have to go out there and build that.”

The big difference is the Knicks won 17 games last season and finished with one of the worst records in the NBA. So they’re not close to anything resembling a long playoff run, which took the Mets five years to accomplish since Sandy Alderson took over.

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No. 3: Parker ready for new, reduced role for Spurs — The addition of All-Star help like LaMarcus Aldridge and the increased role of budding All-Stars like Kawhi Leonard could mean a new and reduced role for Tony Parker. And it’s a role Parker is prepared to embrace at this stage of his career. Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News details the changes on the horizon for one of the Spurs’ staples:

Days before the Spurs start their quest for championship No. 6, the 33-year-old Parker acknowledged his role is finally changing. No longer will he be relied to do so much on offense, instead passing that torch to Leonard and Aldridge.

“I understand my role is going to change,” said Parker. “I don’t need to score as much and I have to get LaMarcus and Kawhi (going). I know my role is changing, but I love it. The way that (Tim Duncan) changed towards Manu (Ginobili), and Manu changed towards me, it’s the same thing with me now.”

Parker echoed the words of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who mentioned to the Express-News how the Spurs “equal opportunity offense” will now shift towards Aldridge and Leonard. Popovich was quick to point out that Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker won’t be forgotten, but things will change.

Let Parker tell it, he’s fine with taking a backseat.

“The last four or five years it was my job to be aggressive and score, but this year is totally different,” said Parker. “I have to be the engine in another way.”

Parker has led the Spurs in scoring four of the last five seasons, before Leonard took over last season averaging 16.5 points (Parker averaged 14.4).

Asked his feelings when the offense was transitioning to Ginobili and Parker, Duncan admitted the competitor in him resisted, and still does a bit, but added his unselfishness took over.

“As an individual you got to try not to fight it,” said Duncan, who is entering his 19th season. “We’re all competitors and we all want to do what we’ve always done. You have to understand what’s best for the team and I think we’re all here for that. It’s just about accepting that and finding your niche in your new role.”

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No. 4: Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball? —  On a team headlined by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, might Serge Ibaka be the most unique talent for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season? It’s a great debate. One that Erik Horne of the Oklahoman argues in Ibaka’s favor with a new and crucial season for Ibaka and the Thunder on the horizon:

Catch Ibaka at the end of Thunder practice, and you’ll see the same guy who’s the active leader in blocked shots per game (2.58) outshoot fellow power forward Nick Collison from beyond the arc. At 34, Collison refers to the 3-pointer as something he’s tried to work on “to stay on the court” in the changing NBA.

Factor in the arrival of Billy Donovan, he of the pace and space offense and experience with the skilled big man, and the green light is even greener from 3 for the versatile Ibaka, who at 26, isn’t using the 3 to stay on the court, but expand his stranglehold on it.

“I feel very comfortable with him shooting threes, even corner threes, because of the time and effort he’s put into it,” Donovan said. “but also he’s a proven shooter – he’s a really good catch-and-shoot guy and that’s a unique combination for a frontcourt player in the league to have.”

Donovan couldn’t come up with a current or past comparison for Ibaka either, forced to look toward the future, a player who’s yet to play an NBA regular season game. Donovan said Indiana Pacers rookie Myles Turner has the skill set to mimic what Ibaka does on the floor.

Good luck, young fella.

“I coached him with the USA team. He’s somebody I think has a chance to maybe develop into that role,” Donovan came up with after a few moments of thought. “That would be the only guy I’ve been around and coached in the summer who I’d say is like that.”

What makes Ibaka even more of an outlier: He’s been capable of this longer than his uptick in 3-point attempts has indicated. He’s one of 11 players in NBA history taller than 6-foot-10 to shoot better than 35 percent from 3, 45 percent from the field and block 150 shots in a season. No big deal, except Ibaka’s the only one to do it three times.

The numbers summarize what left Jackson speechless when faced with the daunting question: Is anyone like Ibaka? Jackson knows what a great shotblocker looks like. He played with 7-footer Patrick Ewing, eighth all-time in blocks but someone who kept his game inside the arc offensively in an era where bigs weren’t encouraged to shoot from deep.

Last season, Ibaka attempted nearly twice the amount of threes Ewing hoisted in his entire career.

 

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Who needs training camp and the preseason anyway? Tristan Thompson is ready for the Cavaliers’ season opener … Folks keep writing P.J. Tucker off in Phoenix and he keeps on grinding his way back into the mix … No one is sure what to make of the Sacramento Kings this year, which is exactly why they (DeMarcus Cousins, George Karl and Rajon Rondo in particular), are one of the truly intriguing must-see teams in the NBA this season … Serge Ibaka, the most unique big man in NBA history? … The Philadelphia 76ers don’t officially start this season until Wednesday and they are already limping …

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Warriors offer Barnes $64 million extension | Wall, Wizards get jump start on training camp | Video analyst provided boost for Spain at EuroBasket

No. 1: Report: Warriors offer Barnes $64 million extension — The Golden State Warriors don’t want Harrison Barnes in the free agent pool next summer. They’ve offered Barnes a $64 million extension, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, to make sure another member of the core group of their championship roster remains in the fold. More from Yahoo!:

The $16 million annual offer wasn’t accepted, but appears to be a starting point in talks that could last until the Oct. 31 deadline for rookie extensions.

The Warriors are trying to prevent Barnes from reaching restricted free agency in July 2016, when a rising salary cap and scores of teams with financial flexibility will couple with Barnes’ burgeoning talent and potential to make him a significant target on the market.

As a member of the 2012 NBA draft class, Barnes is eligible for his rookie contract extension. Without an agreement by Oct. 31, Barnes would become a restricted free agent next summer. Golden State would be able to match any offer sheet for Barnes and re-sign him.

The offer of $16 million per year annually – comparable to teammate Draymond Green‘s five-year, $82.5 million extension this summer – had been negotiated by Barnes’ former agent, Jeff Wechsler. After that initial offer, Wechsler countered with a figure north of $16 million annually before he and Barnes parted ways, league sources said. Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports is representing Barnes now.

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Morning Shootaround — Sept. 7


VIDEO: Day Six Wrap: 2015 FIBA Americas Championship

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The reinvention of Anthony Bennett is real | Minute reductions for LeBron, Kyrie | White ready to take his place in Hall of Fame | Is Bradley Beal worth the max?

No. 1: The reinvention of Anthony Bennett is real — Anthony Bennett‘s summer has been one positive step after another, as the former No. 1 overall pick works to reinvent himself and prove that he’s not the “bust” some have labeled him. His work with Team Canada has only bolstered his cause. He’s been a bit of a revelation during the FIBA Americas tournament, playing a vital role on his national team, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun writes:

Anthony Bennett didn’t have the loudest stat-line, but Canada’s resurgent star continues to be a key contributor for the squad.

Bennett quickly earned the confidence of head coach Jay Triano at training camp, was perhaps the best performer at the Pan Am Games in Toronto and was solid in Puerto Rico, before faring well here as well.

“I think Anthony Bennett’s summer has been absolutely fantastic for us,” Triano said after Canada defeated Panama on Sunday.

“He’s engaged in everything that we do on the floor, off the floor, rebounding. We’ve asked him to rebound, and he’s done it on a continuous basis. He runs the floor on a continuous basis. He provides help on the defensive end. He understands our defensive system.”

Confidence is important to Bennett and with Triano letting him just go out and play, he seems relaxed and is having fun. He looked relaxed before the game, throwing down a self-alley-oop reverse dunk in the layup line, and kept going from there.

“Coach was saying, ‘just line ’em up and knock ’em down,’ ” Bennett said.

“This is definitely a fun tournament to play in. A lot of competition, different teams, different styles so you’ve just got to adjust.”

Triano is pleased for the former No. 1 overall draft pick, who has had a tough first couple of NBA seasons.

“We told him earlier this summer if you do those things people are going to understand he’s got a lot of other offensive skills,” Triano said.

“His ability to pass the basketball, his ability to get teammates open. I’m really happy for him as an individual and we need him to continue to play that way.”

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No. 2: Minute reductions for LeBron, Kyrie — The workload LeBron James and Kyrie Irving put in during their first season together in Cleveland won’t look the same this time around, and that’s not just because Kyrie might not be available until January due to injury. It’s time for a reduction in minutes for both of the Cavaliers’ stars, according to Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer:

There was a report about Kyrie Irving not being ready to play until January.

No one knows for sure, as Irving is recovering from surgery to repair a fractured knee cap. But the Cavs do expect him to play well before January. Of course, that can change once they see him in training camp.

Even if Irving’s knee is in excellent shape, they plan to cut his minutes early in the season. He ranked No. 3 in average minutes per game last season. LeBron James was No. 5. I recently wrote about this.

That’s too much for both players during the regular season.

The Cavs signed veteran Mo Williams, who has started 511 games in the NBA. That includes 33 at point guard last season. He averaged 14 points and can take some of the scoring load off Irving in the backcourt.

The Cavs also have Matthew Dellavedova coming back. So they have Williams and Dellavedova to help out at point guard, allowing Irving to miss some games. He also can play fewer minutes.

The re-signing of J.R. Smith should help the Cavs cut the minutes for James during the regular season. The 6-foot-6 Smith can play both shooting guard and small forward.

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No. 3: White ready to take his place in the Hall of Fame — Jo Jo White has had Hall of Fame credentials for years, but only now is the former Boston Celtics great taking his rightful place alongside other Celtics greats in Springfield. Even though the honor seems long overdue, White is appreciative that his time has finally come. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe explains:

In playing in seven All-Star Games, being named MVP of the 1976 NBA Finals, and with a franchise-record 488 consecutive games played for the Celtics, White possessed Hall of Fame credentials. But it appears the Naismith committee has been slow to embrace some players from the 1970s who were perhaps overshadowed by the likes of Julius Erving, George Gervin, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Although White’s accomplishments in the game have always been greatly appreciated in Boston, it has taken years for others to recognize his career as more than just above average.

“I’m just excited and I loved playing sports,” White said. “To touch the athletes you’ve played with, coaches that you had to deal with, and you find you’re getting very, very close to the team that you’re working with. What I’ve went through as a player, I’m just excited.

“I’m still rejoicing from where I’ve gone to where I am to what I had to go through to get where I am. I’ve gone through it.”

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No. 4: Is Bradley Beal worth the max? — The Washington Wizards will have to figure out an answer to that question soon enough. A maxed out backcourt tandem of All-Star point guard John Wall and the sweet-shooting Beal could be on the horizon for a team with grand designs of climbing the ladder in the Eastern Conference in the coming seasons. Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders ponders the question a full summer ahead of time:

In all likelihood, Beal, whom the Wizards can make a restricted free agent next summer, will command a maximum offer sheet from some team at that time. Quite a few teams will have truckloads of cap space and can have a Brinks truck arrive at the residence of Beal at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, 2016. Until that time, though, since the Wizards will have the right of first refusal, it makes sense for them to wait—just like the Warriors did with Green, just like the Chicago Bulls did with Jimmy Butler and just like the San Antonio Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard.

Make no mistake about it, though, Beal is a maximum player in today’s NBA. That is true despite the fact that he has never played as many as 75 games in any one of his three seasons. It is also true despite the defensive ineptitude that he has shown on a fairly consistent basis over the course of his young career. And yes, it is true despite the fact that he has not consistently shown that he can impact the game on multiple fronts. Above all, he is regarded as a strong offensive player and a deadly three-point shooter (his career three-point conversation rate is about 42 percent). His ability to create his own shot has improved tremendously, and, still at just 22 years old, he is nowhere near his physical prime. As he ages and matures, he will only get better.

Indeed, in today’s NBA, contract impasses are nothing extraordinary. But as it relates to Beal, with his upside, his production thus far and the influx of money that the NBA will see over the next few years, even a blind man can see that this movie ends the same way as the ones we have just witnessed.

In Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, Beal is a maximum player. Drawing that conclusion is the easy part. The difficult part, for the Wizards, is determining whether or not he will fulfill the lofty expectations that such a contract would yield and whether they want to be the team to roll the dice on him.

But best believe, in today’s NBA, someone will.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jahlil Okafor is ready to tote the load for the Philadelphia 76ers … The players had a huge hand in the look and design of the Hawks’ new uniformsKyle Lowry chats about his summer slim downDwyane Wade was in attendance for one of the craziest games on college football’s kickoff weekend

ICYMI: The Sixers have good reason to be excited about Nerlens Noel:


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel’s Top 10 Plays from his All-Rookie first team season

Morning shootaround — June 28




VIDEO: Our experts review the 76ers’ pick of Jahlil Okafor at No. 3 in the NBA Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Okafor comes on big | Pierce a free agent | Melo OK with Porzingis | Gasol, Lakers don’t mix
No. 1: Okafor ready to deliver big — Like everybody else in the basketball world, Jahlil Okafor watched the Warriors and Cavaliers play an entertaining brand of small ball in The Finals. But the first-round pick of the Sixers says there will always be a prominent place for the talented big man in the NBA and he aims to prove that when he starts work in his rookie season. The 19-year-old No. 3 pick in the draft says nobody will have greater expectations than his own, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Some, however, think that dominant post players are no longer a cherished commodity. The Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship earlier this month with a small lineup.

“I’ve been dealing with that question for a while,” he said. “Even when I went to Duke, everybody was asking: ‘Why are you going to Duke? They don’t have big men. They don’t throw the ball in the post.’ “

But he pointed out that he was the Blue Devils’ leading scorer.

“Now, they are saying, you don’t need a big man,” Okafor said. “But as far as I can remember, a big man has dominated the NBA. Tim Duncan won it [in 2014. That season] it was all about the big men with Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett.

“So people get a little excited because what [Golden State’s MVP point guard] Steph Curry and those guys did was great. It worked. Their formula was fantastic. But as long as I can remember, big men have been dominant, and the results have been championships.”

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No. 2: Pierce is back on the market — When his last-second bucket against the Hawks was ruled to be too late to rescue the Wizards, Paul Pierce hinted that it might have been his final game in the NBA. But the 37-year-old is now ready to look forward to next season and has put himself back up for grabs as the free agency period approaches on Wednesday. The Wizards, Clippers, Lakers and even his former team the Celtics are said to be in the running for the 17-year veteran, says Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post:

The 17-year veteran bypassed a $5.5 million player option but could still return to Washington for a second run with the Wizards. Pierce could choose to re-sign and Washington is willing to negotiate. The Wizards can offer Pierce 120 percent of the $5.305 million he made last year, which would work out to $6.366 million for next season.

Pierce, who will turn 38 in October, could also decide to play elsewhere. Going home to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers and Doc Rivers, who coached him for nine seasons with the Boston Celtics, is a possibility, though they can only offer him the taxpayer midlevel exception of $3.37 million. Another possibility is returning to play for the Celtics, according to a Yahoo Sports report. Boston drafted Pierce in 1998 and the swingman spent his first 15 seasons in Massachusetts.

Pierce averaged career lows in points (11.2) and minutes (26.2) per game and was a defensive liability at times in a diminished role last season, but provided the leadership the Wizards sought and became a fan favorite in the District with a memorable postseason performance. Logging more minutes at power forward, Pierce averaged 14.6 points in 29.8 minutes in 10 playoff games and nailed a few clutch shots, including the game-winning buzzer beater off the backboard in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks.

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No. 3: Anthony says no problem with Porzingis pick — Hold your horses. There’s no need to start choosing up sides in Knicks training camp between star Carmelo Anthony and first-round draft pick Kristaps Porzingis. Melo took to Instagram to try to defuse the notion that he felt “betrayed” by Knicks president Phil Jackson’s pick of the 19-year-old Latvian with the No. 4 pick in the draft. Seems his disappointment have been more at the loss of his buddy Tim Hardaway Jr. in a draft night trade, says Marc Berman of the New York Post:

In responding to fans comments, Anthony wrote late Friday night, “First of all I’m far from upset. Me replying doesn’t mean I’m upset. …Have you heard me voice my opinion about the draft. No. OK then. Get your facts straight.”

In another post, Anthony said, “I can’t wait to watch [Porzingis] either. He’s a steal.”

According to a source, Anthony was upset about losing another friend in Tim Hardaway Jr. on Thursday night more than Jackson’s selection of 7-foot-1 sharpshooting European project Porzingis, whom scouts think could be two years away from making an impact.

Anthony thinks Porzingis a good prospect, according to a source, but like scouts wonders about his timetable.

Hardaway, meanwhile, was traded for the draft rights to Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant. Hardaway, the Knicks’ 2013 first-round pick, averaged double figures in each of his first two seasons but the organization felt he didn’t fit the triangle offense. Anthony now has seen every teammate exit since Jackson took over 15 months ago.

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No. 4: Marc Gasol not interested in Lakers — The blunt truth often comes out around the dinner table and it seems that all of the talk among one family has led free agent Marc Gasol to conclude that he doesn’t want to be a part of the Lakers family. Younger brother Marc saw and heard all of the problems that older brother Pau had in his final two years in L.A. and has concluded that he doesn’t want to wade into those waters, says, Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

Marc Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation. Versatile big man Greg Monroe, oft-injured Brook Lopez and his workman-like brother, Robin, are other alternatives at center.

If the Lakers strike out, they could try re-signing Hill for less and chase swingman Jimmy Butler, who could ease into the hole vacated soon by Bryant. The problem is Chicago’s expected action of matching any offer sheet the restricted free agent signs.

Whatever happens, it’s simple table-setting for a year from now. The Lakers will have double the fun when Kobe Bryant’s contract is off the books ($25 million next season) and the salary cap jumps from $67 million to about $90 million with the NBA’s gigantic new TV deal.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Willie Cauley-Stein wows them with a great first impression Sacramento…Kobe Bryant brags that he once made a Lakers teammate cry … Sixers have been ordered to pay up to Pelicans for fibbing on Holiday injury …Magic won’t bring back Ben Gordon … Stan Van Gundy happy with choice of Johnson over Winslow … Lance Stephenson has a new song to softly blow into your ear … Jackson wants to bring back Jason Smith as backup center for Knicks.

Horford savors Hawks’ breakthrough


VIDEO: Al Horford played hero for the Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

ATLANTA — Al Horford never put a timetable on it.

He wasn’t thinking that far ahead when the Hawks made him the third pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and he went from two-time college champion to starting center for a struggling outfit in Atlanta, where he knew enough to know that there would be no Final Fours and contending for titles right away.

Fast forward eight years and Horford and the Hawks are in the Eastern Conference finals with the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, facing off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to go to The Finals. To say this ride has been something of a roller coaster would be an understatement of epic proportions. And not just this stunning season, one that began with no one outside of the Hawks’ most die-hard of supporters believing this sort of dream season was possible, but the entire trip from the moment he arrived to now, the moment when he and the Hawks have truly arrived.

“I think you acknowledge it,” Horford said of the Hawks’ breakthrough to the conference final round for the first time in the franchise’s Atlanta history. “But then you move on and realize that is more work to be done. That’s what I did after Game 6 in Washington. It was like, ‘man, that’s good but we still want more and we are still looking forward to the next round.'”

The compressed schedule for mountain climbing in college makes it much easier to get caught up in the moment at that level. Superstar players spend one, maybe two and rarely three seasons on campus before departing for the adventure that is professional basketball. Horford did not enter Florida as a guaranteed pro, a surefire one-and-done prospect headed for the top of the Draft. His journey was different.

And he knew that from the start. That’s what made winning back-to-back titles with the Gators so great. Same goes for a NBA career that began with him being selected behind Greg Oden and Kevin Durant eight years ago. The road to back to respectability for the Hawks has been an arduous one. The fact that it’s been paved on Horford’s watch, with his blood, sweat and perhaps a tear or two over the years, makes this moment even sweeter than you might imagine.

Once the youngster of the bunch — playing alongside Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia, Mike Bibby and others — Horford’s the seasoned veteran now. A three-time All-Star, he’s the one pointing the way for youngsters like Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, alongside fellow veterans and All-Stars Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and veteran swingman DeMarre Carroll. 

As much hard work as it takes to grind away this long before reaching the conference finals, it also takes a ton of patience to continue plugging away with all of the distractions, on and off the court, that came up along the way. The cast of characters has changed dramatically and there have been regime changes in the front office and coaching ranks. The one constant has been Horford and his undeniable work ethic and desire to be better this year than he was the year before.

“You’ve got to look at yourself as an individual and it depends on where your goals are,” he said. “I always wanted to be a better player. I always wanted to challenge myself. For me it’s just, I feel like the league is changing quickly and every year I want to make sure I can be better and to put my team into a position to be successful. That’s always my mindset, to make it a point of just getting better and not feeling content with what you have done.”

Horford has found a kindred spirit in Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, whose arrival before the start of the 2013-14 season ushered in a totally different program than what the Hawks were used to. The emphasis on player development and individual skill building became more than just operational procedure. It became a mission for all involved.

The results are obvious.

The best season in franchise history during the regular season. The breakthrough, finally, to the conference finals. And who know what else looms on the horizon in the next two weeks. There are children growing up in Atlanta who will identify Horford’s time with the Hawks as some of the greatest times in franchise history, from the flash of the Highlight Factory days to this trip to the NBA’s version of the Final Four and the matchup against LeBron, the face of a generation in the NBA.

“When you get to this point, if you want to be one of the best teams, you have to go through the best players and teams,” Horford said. “There are no shortcuts when you get to this stage of the season. We have a huge challenge in front of us, and we obviously don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but I think this is the way you want to do things.”

Morning Shootaround — May 15


VIDEO: Daily Zap for Thursday’s playoff games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rockets say they are ready to go all the way | LeBron an underdog … never | Pierce’s bravado versus Horford’s grit | Warriors get defensive to turn series around

No. 1: Rockets say they are ready to go all the way — An epic comeback is one thing. But what the Houston Rockets played and lived through last night in Los Angeles was something bigger, at least that’s what it felt like on the inside (from the 2:29 mark of the third quarter until the end it was the Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and the rest of the crew’s show minus James Harden). Rallying from that monstrous deficit and staving off elimination in the conference semifinals was just the first step to much, much bigger things, according to Corey Brewer. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle witnessed the madness:

As the Rockets took off, the Clippers crumbled. They missed 15-consecutive fourth-quarter shots, many coming at the rim or on rushed, but open jumpers. They made just 4 of 22 shots in the fourth quarter with Chris Paul tacking on a 3 at the buzzer as the teams headed to the locker rooms.

“They outplayed us in every sense of the word down the stretch,” Blake Griffin said. “We took our foot off the gas, stopped defending, a lot of things. Got to be better.
“You could tell we kind of got stunned, and we didn’t respond well.”

When the Clippers were rolling, Griffin had put the exclamation point on their run with a 360-degree spin in the air on a layup. He was 12 of 15 for 28 points after three quarters, then missed all five of his fourth-quarter shots.

“There was times where it just seemed like everything was going their way,” Howard said. “Blake hit 360, 180, I don’t know what it was, and I said, ‘Man, this is crazy.’ But we pulled together, we just kept saying we’re not going to quit, we’re not going to give up, we done come too far just to end it like this, and we just kept fighting.

“Josh hit some big shots. Everybody played great tonight, and we never quit. That’s why we got the win tonight. We kept believing, no matter how tough it got out there, because there was some rough times out there. As a team, we never gave up on each other.

The Clippers did not give up. There was not time for that. But they did break down, missing the sort of shots that had built the lead and led to the blowouts over the weekend.

“You know, I thought we were trying to run the clock out, and we stopped playing,” Clipper coach Doc Rivers said. “They kept playing, and then once it got to eight, you could just feel it.

“I don’t think they thought that they had the game in the bag. I thought they thought, we walk the ball up the floor. I thought we got very tentative offensively, very few people even wanted to shoot in stretches, and you know, it happens. But it’s awful to watch. It’s awful for our team, and we have to figure out in the next 48 hours how to get them back, because we can’t get this one back. We gave this one away. There’s no doubt about that.”

Whether the Clippers gave it away, the Rockets took it or some combination of both, the teams head to Sunday’s Game 7 rolling in opposite directions. As Game 6 demonstrated, that does not mean much.

“I played in a lot of games in my life and you can get the vibe of games and think you have the chance to win,” Brewer said. “Like Trevor (Ariza) said at the beginning of the fourth – he said we are going to win a championship, but we have to win this game first.

“If we win this game right now, that’s how you become a champion.”

***

(more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 201) Survive And Advance

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Survive and advance.

That is the phrase all of the teams still alive in the NBA playoffs should have plastered on those shirts splashed across the seats in the arena on game day.

Survive and advance. It’s what the best of the best do on the rugged road that leads to The Finals.

Derrick Rose, Paul Pierce and LeBron James — buzzer-beater heroes for their respective teams over a wild playoff weekend — know exactly what we’re talking about on Episode 201 of The Hang Time Podcast: Survive and Advance.

It’s the same attitude James Harden must have if the KIA MVP runner-up wants his season to continue beyond tonight’s Game 5 showdown against the Los Angeles Clippers. The same attitude KIA MVP Stephen Curry showed in the Golden State Warriors’ season-saving Game 4 win in Memphis against a Grizzlies team that had Curry and his screw on the edge heading into that pivotal tilt.

The aesthetics are meaningless at this stage of the season.

No one really cares if you win big or win in style.

The only thing that matters is that you survive and advance to the next round.

Tune in to see who we think will accomplish that goal on Episode 201 of The Hang Time Podcast: Survive And Advance

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Three buzzer-beaters to end three consecutive Eastern Conference semifinal games highlighted a wild playoff weekend

Morning Shootaround — May 11




VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kyrie dealing with more than he’s letting on | Clippers hack their way to cusp of history | Wall unlikely to play in Game 4 | Vultures circling Warriors

No. 1: Kyrie dealing with more than he’s letting on — Cleveland’s Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love has been reduced to a injury unit Big 1.5. Even LeBron is hobbled right now with a sore ankle he turned in Sunday’s buzzer-beating win over the Chicago Bulls. Love is gone for the postseason after shoulder surgery. But Irving is dealing with more than just a sore left ankle. He’s dealing with more than he’s letting on, a gusty but dangerous move for the young point guard in the midst of his first ever playoff experience. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group explains:

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is hurting more than he is letting on.

He’s dealing with more than just the right foot strain that was made public by coach David Blatt on Friday, even though the injury occurred almost three weeks ago in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

After the huge Game 4 victory over the Chicago Bulls to even the series, I asked him directly in the media scrum to address if there’s anything wrong with his left leg, and he paused briefly, before responding “Nah. Nah, there’s nothing wrong.”

As soon as the media contingent dissipated, Irving said, “Chris, you’re very observant.”

Irving’s left leg has been wrapped in dynamic taping, which is elastic that helps support the structure of the body. The pain is believed to be caused due to overcompensating. Upon exiting the arena last night with a grimacing expression plastered to his face, Irving walked gingerly and limped extremely noticeably.

However, it wasn’t his right foot that he was favoring. He was very cautious with each step not to place weight on his left leg. The Cavaliers are calling it a “sore left leg,” for the time being.

Irving is guarded when it comes to not revealing injuries and their extent, not wanting to give the opponent any sort of an advantage. He said “that’s Basketball 101.”

He’s laboring out there. The speed, the acceleration, the first step isn’t there. He’s giving it all he has, and has no plans of letting his team down. He’s in it until the very end.

“I’d rather will it out and give it a chance, than sitting back and watching my brothers compete without me,” Irving said.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks after the Cavs’ Game 4 win

*** (more…)

Morning shootaround — May 9




VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Friday’s playoff action

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Rose back in bloom | Rivers runs through Rockets | Caution with Wall | Rockets embarrassed

No. 1: Rose shot overcomes the thorns of comeback — How many hours in an empty gym or vacant rehab facility, with only his thoughts and his drive to accompany him, went into that shot? How many times did he push past the notion that something like this might never happen again? How much pain and misery did Derrick Rose let go of with that buzzer-beating 3-pointer to take down the Cavaliers on Friday night? Our man Steve Aschburner was there to describe the very special moment:

Your second thought was, how many times has Derrick Rose made that shot over the past three years — in an empty gym, maybe with a kid rebounding for him, as he shot and shot and shot alone, the crowd and the clock and the stakes conjured only in his imagination on another lonely day of rehab from his three knee surgeries?

As dazzling as Rose’s shot was in winning Game 3 of the Bulls’ Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Cavs Friday night at United Center, his back story — this guy, having this moment, in this building, this way — pushed it exponentially along the “special” scale.

Racing as he did to the right along the 3-point arc in search of space, getting just enough from Taj Gibson’s pick on Iman Shumpert and launching just over the fingertips of Tristan Thompson, high and deep and banking in off the glass, Rose’s game-winner to beat the horn, 99-96, would grab a spot among the NBA’s 2015 postseason highlights even if he were, say, Aaron Brooks.

Factor in his season-snuffing injuries in 2012 and 2013, though, and the close call he and the Bulls got with his third, less serious knee trauma this season, Rose’s shot to win and put Chicago up 2-1 in the series that continues Sunday felt a little like closure.

Leaping into Joakim Noah’s arms, detonating the sea of red 22,000 strong in United Center, doing it all against a familiar foil in LeBron James and his latest crew, it would have been a clichéd ending, too Hollywood, had it happened in a Game 7. But for a Game 3, with so much more basketball to play, both teams revving up, it was a opportune time for the Bulls and their fans to pause and reflect a little on Rose’s long, tortuous road back.

“Everybody in this locker room knows how much pain he was in,” said Gibson, who had hit possibly the two biggest free throws of his life with 23.5 seconds left for a short-lived 96-93 lead.

“Through all the years, going through the ups and downs. And how frustrating it has been for him. I’m just extremely happy for him. I’ve known he was capable of making big-time shots. I’m just happy he’s back out there with a lot of confidence, wanting the ball late.”

***

No. 2: Austin Rivers lifts the whole Clippers family — On the night when all of Clippers Nation was holding its breath over the condition of All-Star point guard Chris Paul in his return to the lineup, it was his backup Austin Rivers who gave everyone at Staples Center reason to gasp. The kid who plays for his father grew up as a big-time playoff star by taking over the game in the third quarter as the Clippers blew out the Rockets to take a 2-1 series lead. Dan Woike of the Orange County Register says all the young guard got publicly was a brief hand-slap from father Doc, but all of his teammates wildly celebrated the big delivery and event:

A soldout crowd at Staples Center chanted his name after Rivers delivered a scintillating third quarter, helping the Clippers blow out Houston, 124-99, Friday night.

And all he got from his dad, Clippers coach Doc Rivers, was a brief hand-slap.

The Clippers lead the Rockets, 2-1, in the Western Conference semifinals, with Game 4 Sunday night at Staples Center.

Rivers scored 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting in an 18-0 Clippers run to end the third quarter.

Paul, who recorded 12 points and seven assists in 23 minutes, turned to Doc Rivers and gave him permission to do the one thing he’s fought since acquiring his son in mid-January.

“This is one time you can be Dad and not just coach,” Paul said.

Doc Rivers didn’t listen, he stayed engaged in the game, calling Paul’s message almost “white noise.”

But he couldn’t ignore the chants; they were that loud. Jamal Crawford motioned for the crowd to say it louder – “Austin Rivers, clap clap clap clap.”

“That moment is priceless,” Crawford said.

Austin Rivers attacked the basket, drawing fouls and finishing through contact. He juked his way into space and hit step-back 3-pointers. He hit all seven of his shots inside the 3-point line, and behind it, he made half of his six attempts.

Rivers finished 10-for-13 for 25 points, a career playoff high. It’s the third time in these playoffs he’s scored 16 or more points – as many times as he did it during 41 games with the Clippers in the regular season.

“I had so much fun out there,” Austin Rivers said.

Rivers’ play helped the Clippers keep Paul from over-exerting himself in the second half in his return from a two-game absence from an injured left hamstring.

“Tonight, it was really important for one of the guards to have that night,” Doc Rivers said. “It really allowed CP to ease into it. “

***

No. 3: Wizards will wait and see on Wall — Though it seems quite unlikely that John Wall will be back in the lineup for Game 3 against the Hawks today, the Wizards will keep the door open right up to the opening tip for their All-Star point guard in Game 3 against the Hawks today. Wall tells our own John Schuhmann that he doesn’t want to hear any talk of missing the rest of the series and he’ll do what it takes to get back onto the court and contribute:

So Wall and Wizards coach Randy Wittman will wait and see if anything is different on Saturday. And they seem to be keeping the door open for Wall to return at any point. Wall doesn’t want to hear anything that says, “7-10 days” or “2-4 weeks.”

“I don’t want no timetable, he said. “I’m just taking it day by day.”

And Wall couldn’t even tell you where the five fractures are in his hand and wrist.

“When [the doctor] started talking about that, I just put my head down,” he said. “I didn’t want to hear no more, to be honest with you.”

The Hawks and Wizards have had three days off since Game 2, but now play every other day through Game 6 (if necessary), with Game 7 in Atlanta scheduled for May 18.

“We just got to go, basically, 24 hours at a time here,” Wittman said.

The five fractures are in Wall’s non-shooting hand, but Wall needs that hand to get where he needs to go and make plays.

“I can’t do anything if I can’t dribble,” he said. “You got to be able to dribble. If not, it’s basically just taping my hand behind my back and saying, ‘play with one hand.’ It’s not happening in this league.”

Even if the swelling and pain go away, the Wizards will have to determine if Wall is risking more damage to his hand and wrist if he plays. The point guard believes that decision would be up to him.

“If the pain goes away and I can dribble and do those things again,” Wall said, “it’s all up to me. Do I feel like it’s a risk to hurt my hand even more down the road, or do I feel like I can take the risk to play? … and how competitive I am. If I’m able to do those things, dribble, do what I want to do, and be myself, then there’s a great percentage I will play. But if I can’t be myself, there’s no point in going out there.”

***

No. 4: Rockets lost their post along with game — It is one thing that get hit with the surprise tsunami that was Austin Rivers and to feel the energy of the Staples Center crowd. But when the Clippers turned up the heat in Game 3, the Rockets lost their poise and fell completely apart, according to coach Kevin McHale and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Rockets coach Kevin McHale could only feel sick.

While Rivers soared, the Rockets panicked. They launched early 3s. They did not get back defensively. They failed to pressure ball handlers at all as the Los Angeles offense that had been rolling from the start and for all but one half of the series’ three games pounded them for five minutes that took a close game and made it a spectacular rout.

“Well, we didn’t play much defense at that point,” McHale said. “They made a few shots on us, we had a couple turnovers during that stretch, and you know, they were running, we weren’t getting back, played very poorly during that stretch, needless to say.

“I mean, the game got completely loose at that point, and they were playing with a ton of confidence and we weren’t.”

Mostly, the Rockets did not play with much poise. They had recovered from the Clippers’ offensive assault through the first half to put together a 10-0 run to end the second quarter and begin the third, pulling them to within three. The Clippers recovered, but after a Corey Brewer 3-pointer with 3:50 left in the third quarter, the Rockets were down just five.

On the next possession, Josh Smith slammed into Blake Griffin for an offensive foul. He followed that with a missed layup and a missed 3. In the final 3:50 of the third quarter, the Rockets missed all seven of their shots, six coming from beyond the 3-point line off one or no passes, and three turnovers.

“We did not do a good job of handling all the pressure, all the things that came with that little bit of a run,” McHale said. “We just let go of the rope, and they piled on us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Pau Gasol’s hamstring makes him a question for Game 4 in Chicago…LeBron James didn’t take kindly to what Joakim Noah had to say…Big decisions last summer could be what put the Warriors over the top…Could LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin swap places?  Really?…Deron Williams wouldn’t rule out a return to Utah…Good buddies Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan have put their friendship on hold while they beat each other up in playoff series…Raymond Felton is picking up his option in Dallas.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:


VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Hawks weigh rest versus rhythm


VIDEO: Will John Wall be ready for the Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals?

ATLANTA — The Washington Wizards, All-Star point guard John Wall in particular, needs rest.

He needs every second, every minute of every day between Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to rest that fractured left wrist and hand of his.

The Hawks, on the other hand, would just as soon get back to it as quickly as possible. The three days between games slows their momentum. They need to continue their rhythm more than they need three full days of rest between games.

It’s a delicate balance, managing the NBA playoff schedule, depending on which side of the good vibrations your team is on. For the Hawks, getting back on the winning track in Game 2 felt good. Taking a few days to cool off might not be to their benefit.

In fact, the quicker they get back to it, the better. Saturday’s 5 p.m. ET tipoff for Game 3 cannot get here fast enough.

“It feels good, physically it gives our bodies a rest,” Paul Millsap said of the break. “Mentally, we continue to prepare as a team and get better and either way I think it’s good for us.”

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said the time off allows he and his staff to lock in and tweak things and correct any areas where there has been noticeable slippage in his team’s performance. Jeff Teague‘s sore ankle also has time to rest, as does Al Horford‘s sore finger and whatever other bumps and bruises the Hawks are dealing with at this time.

“To have a couple of days to pay a little more attention to detail and pay attention to the purpose with which we do things, you feel like you can do it in practice and not be overtaxing,” Budenholzer said. “so hopefully, when we play on Saturday we’ll know much more. But hopefully, when you have a couple of extra days of practice it’s always a good thing.”

The grind of the quick turnaround from a Game 6 win over Brooklyn on a Friday night to a 1 p.m. tip Sunday for Game 1 against the Wizards, a game the Hawks lost, took its toll. So any natural break in the action between games can be used to the their advantage this time around.

“I think the break came for us at a good time,” Kyle Korver said. “We had a really quick turnaround between series. We had a really physical games here lately. I think we played the late game in New York. And I think I got to bed at 4:30 in the morning, came here and watched some film (on Saturday) and then played the early game on Sunday. And it’s been a couple of physical games in this series, so for us, for me and a lot of us, these couple of days in the middle have been great and you have to take advantage of them.”

The time off gives the Hawks a chance to recharge their batteries and the Wizards a chance to figure out how they proceed potentially without Wall in the mix. Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce and Ramon Sessions, who started in Wall’s place in Game 2, will all have to maintain an extremely high level of production to offset the absence of Wall, if he’s not cleared to play in Game 3 and or Game 4.

It doesn’t change any of the preparation plans for the Hawks, though. Wall’s status for the weekend is still being evaluated. The Hawks can’t wait. They leave for Washington tonight and will practice in Friday on site, readying themselves for a game Wizards team with or without their All-Star point guard in uniform.

“It was good to get back in the win column in this series,” Korver said. “We know we have to win one there (in Washington), so that’s our mindset.”