If only the Indiana Pacers employed a lengthy, defensive-minded center that could patrol the paint down the stretch of close games.
Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel shockingly decided to remove all-world defender Roy Hibbert from his lineup in his team’s two most crucial possessions of the season on Wednesday night, and the Miami Heat took advantage while winning Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Two different times, down the stretch of overtime, Heat MVP LeBron James slashed to the rim for easy lay-ins, as Hibbert could only look on from the bench while Vogel went with reserve wing Sam Young to “counter” Miami’s small lineup.
After Pacer All-Star Paul George tied the game following James’ first slash with three clutch free throws to hand the Pacers a one-point lead, LeBron James responded with the spin move and game-winning lay-up over … Sam Young.
And not over Roy Hibbert, considered by just about everyone else in the NBA (save for his own coach, at least on this Wednesday night) to be the most important part of the NBA’s best defense in 2012-13.
Miami showed some rust in Game 1, as it did during the team’s second round matchup with the Chicago Bulls after an eight day layoff earlier this month, but the seven day layoff between their conquest of the Bulls and this pairing with Indiana was entirely different. Indiana is working with the same lineup they’ve known since last October, and they match up terrifically with a Heat team they topped in two out of three regular season meetings.
The Pacers had their breaks in this Game 1 near-win – Paul George hit a ridiculously lucky game-tying three-pointer to send the contest into overtime, and George was fouled late in overtime to tie the game once again before James’ game-winner – but the near-even score should be considered a statement, and not a fluke. Indiana is just the sort of team to play Miami to a veritable draw, even while in Florida.
Here's George game-saving shot to keep his team alive at the end of the fourth quarter:
James came through with perhaps the quietest 30-point, ten-rebound, ten-assist game in NBA playoff history, while co-star Dwyane Wade seemed refreshed on his way toward 19 points. On the other end, David West took advantage of a lacking Heat frontcourt while piling up 18 first half points (and 26 overall), and Paul George showcased a significant amount of moxie on his way toward a team-high 27 points. George had his hiccups down the stretch of regulation, but by and large he was taking chances in the face of a Heat team designed to shut down athletes of his caliber.
Because this was a stalemate, though, the scrutiny falls on the novelty that ended the game.
Hibbert was on the court when the Pacers hit the floor on the defensive end with the game tied and 24.6 seconds left in overtime. After seeing Miami’s lineup, though, Pacer coach Frank Vogel decided to pull his center for Sam Young, and LeBron James immediately went to work on Indiana’s “SWITCH EVERYTHING!”-defense, taking advantage of George Hill and scoring a lay-in over Young.
The Pacers followed with a broken play that led to Wade slapping George’s arm as he went up for a three-pointer, and the Indiana All-Star nailed three out of three free throws with 2.2 seconds left to put the Pacers up one.
Which led Vogel to, once again, put Hibbert on the bench.
James responded with a brilliant, lightning-fast lay-up to win it at the buzzer. There’s no guarantee that Hibbert would have stopped a shot like that, or even been able to rotate and cover a move like James’ in that instant. Or that he would have even been able to deter James from driving, much less finishing.
Still, Roy Hibbert would have helped. Any part of him – his length, his side to side movement, his intelligence, or just his presence – would have helped.
Scouting helps, in this league, and Frank Vogel has one of the bigger brains in the NBA. He routinely advises his team mid-game of which play is coming next, and he brings a video operator’s knowledge, a leader’s wisdom, and a fan’s passion to the head coaching gig he so richly deserves.
He dropped the ball, though, twice. Twice in a game that may have been Indiana’s best chance to win on the road, and change the shape of this series.
It’s now Frank Vogel’s job, as that leader, to convince his men that Game 1 wasn’t Indiana’s best chance to take a game in Miami, and that their best days are ahead of them. It’s his job to convince them that Game 2 will be just as close. And that they’ll be back for Game 5. And that a Game 7 could be in the offing.
After his late-game moves in Game 1, though, he’ll have to convince more than his players that he’s up to the task.
A magnetic resonance imaging scan of Carmelo Anthony's ailing left shoulder revealed a partially torn labrum that could require offseason surgery that would shelve the New York Knicks' All-Star forward for months, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported Wednesday.
Knicks fans looking for an explanation for Anthony's decline in shooting percentages from regular season (44.9 percent from the floor, 37.9 percent from 3-point range) to postseason (40.6 and 29.8, respectively) might point toward the bum shoulder, which Isola reports has caused "chronic pain" for the league's leading scorer ever since he initially injured it late in the third quarter of the Knicks' April 14 win over the Indiana Pacers:
Anthony re-aggravated the injury early in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the Knicks' opening-round series against the Boston Celtics, when Celtics center Kevin Garnett grabbed Anthony's left arm on a screen:
(As if Knicks fans needed another reason to curse the name "Kevin Garnett.")
Anthony also appeared to further re-aggravate it in the Knicks' Game 6 victory after bumping into Boston guard Avery Bradley:
Anthony later said he felt his "shoulder popping out of the socket, which is common for someone suffering from a torn labrum," according to Isola. The Knicks have yet to officially announce the injury or give any medical update on Anthony following the MRI.
"I don't think it's any major damage," Anthony said Monday after meeting with the Knicks' coaching staff for exit interviews. "But we'll see. We'll find that out shortly." [...]
"It was bothering me since it happened," Anthony said. "To be able to play with that and get through the pain, it just came a point where you just try not to think about it. That's where I was at mentally."
Isola reports that the Knicks' plan at the moment is to let Anthony rest for the next three to four weeks before re-evaluating, in the hope that the injury will heal on its own. If it doesn't, surgical repair could be considered; if surgery is needed, "it could sideline Anthony from three to five months and could compromise his availability for the start of training camp in October," which is pretty much the exact opposite of what Knicks fans still licking their wounds from an Eastern Conference semifinals exit want to hear.
For now, though, all Anthony, the Knicks and their fans can do is wait.
Since the infamous "Malice in the Palace" brawl in Detroit in 2004, the NBA has done whatever it can to avoid any perception as a league that condones or tolerates fighting. Suspensions for relatively minor tussles have increased in length and flagrant fouls have become more common to stop players from crossing any lines of safety. It's an understandable goal that mostly seems to be working.
It's also possible that these efforts have ignored separate but related issues. In an interview with Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones on ESPN's "Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable" on Wednesday, 18-year NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse detailed the stories beyond a few of his many fights as a pro. Some took place off the court, some on. All were events that the league likely wishes never happened.
Yet, despite the NBA's institutional aversion to fighting, Stackhouse presents these events as normal and sometimes even cathartic moments in the life of a professional athlete. For instance, Stack references the time Kirk Snyder thanked him for fighting him (Bomani: "He told you that he needed to bleed?") and a tussle with Christian Laettner on a flight that managed not to interrupt their close friendship. To hear Stackhouse put it, these fights involved players needing to blow off steam, not a bunch of thugs trying to hurt each other because they know no other way of interaction.
That doesn't mean fighting should be condoned — it just suggests that it's a symptom of something else. In stamping out fighting, the league can't ignore the role it serves as an emotional outlet. What the alternative should be is unclear, because we don't know enough about the specifics. Yet, if the goal is to improve the league's image and keep players safe, a focused approach to stopping fighting might not be the answer. The solution has to be holistically minded.
Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade is well known for his garish sense of style, arriving at various high-profile games in everything from hot pink pants to Dwayne Wayne-ish flip-up glasses. Last week, Wade received criticism (read: lots of jokes on Twitter) for arriving to Game 4 of the Miami Heat's series against the Chicago Bulls in a suit with pants that went well above the high-water trend and towards something akin to capri pants. The look emphasized just how bold Wade is willing to be to make a fashion statement.
Given that the Heat take the postseason very seriously, it's easy to wonder how Wade has the time to seek out these off-the-beaten-path looks in the midst of the most important portion of the basketball year. The answer, naturally, is that he and his stylist picked out all his outfits for the playoffs ahead of time. From a Business Insider transcript of an ESPN Radio interview with Calyann Barnett, said stylist (via TBJ):
"Before the playoffs even started we went through all of his looks, straight through the finals," said Barnett. "And every look is set already...and I already know what he will wear for the next game and the Finals."
When asked what Wade looks for in an outfit, Barnett confirmed what many of us already knew. That is, Wade wants to be different, saying "he loves to have fun, loves to try new things."
This is smart planning, because important NBA players have their hands full with responsibilities at this time of year and need to find various ways to make their lives more convenient. (LeBron James selected his MVP outfit well before the announcement.) Picking out gameday clothes ahead of time is one way to do that, although it's unclear if Wade and Barnett expected each series to go seven games and have carried over outfits from one series to the next. I hope someone is keeping a calendar — this could get very confusing.
Yet, while this plan makes sense on a practical level, it's also necessary to note that Wade's style is worth talking about because of how impractical it is. Like other dandies through time, Wade uses his clothing to express aspects of his personality. It's worth considering what this decision communicates about Wade.
A classic view of style dictates that a man dress for the occasion, which Wade is most certainly not doing in picking out all his clothes ahead of time. In some ways, this makes Wade a "blank slate," a sort of celebrity style icon who comes across as a paper doll dressed on-trend by a knowledgeable stylist. This definition doesn't entirely fit Wade — his looks cohere, in general. However, there is something to the idea that putting together an outfit in advance ignores the context of the postseason. If the Heat were to face an elimination game against the Pacers, for instance, it might not make much sense for Wade to show up in a hypercolor dinner jacket. Some occasions call for sober looks, and the man who ignores those social moors may come across as oblivious.
Then again, maybe that's a good thing for a two-time NBA champion who relies on a psychological edge to succeed. It's a cliche that athletes should take their situation one game at a time, to avoid the pitfalls of negative thinking and the totality of the challenge at hand. In other words, dressing in the gaudiest manner possible regardless of the situation communicates that Wade is above the fray, someone who stays true to himself no matter how difficult a situation seems. He says that, while the opponent may have a numerical advantage in a series, he is Dwyane Wade, established NBA superstar. He doesn't have to dress for the moment, because he is the person who defines the terms of any single game.
A look around the league and the Web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out.
Also, that's not a typo — we're going two deeper today.
C: Hawks.com. "Twenty-five years ago on May 22, 1988, two Hall of Famers staged what is widely considered to be the greatest one-on-one battle in NBA Playoff history." In celebration of that momentous mano-y-mano showdown, Micah Hart goes in-depth and all-out with an oral history that features recollections of the battle as remembered by combatants Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins, their teammates, the people who covered it and more. Very good, very fun, very well done.
PF: Sports Illustrated. Lee Jenkins spent a week with the Memphis Grizzlies during the second round of this year's playoffs for a story that, among other things, introduced us to Buckets, Quincy Pondexter's Husky puppy. It offers a pretty interesting perspective at what the day-to-day operation of a playoff team looks like, and is well worth your time.
SF: Pro Hoops History. Before he was the definition of a ref-hating homer who makes Boston Celtics broadcasts either must-see TV or borderline-unwatchable, depending on your rooting interest, Tommy Heinsohn was a dynamic scorer and inveterate gunner who attempted nearly as many shots per minute as Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. Curtis Harris takes a closer look at the playing career of the Celtics legend, one of the newest enshrinees in Harris' self-styled Hall of Fame.
SG: TrueHoop. Kevin Arnovitz bids farewell to ousted Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, "the happy warrior" who was likable enough to get along but too much of a "schematic lightweight" to get the Clippers where they need to go.
PG: 20 Second Timeout. As David Friedman sees it, Lionel Hollins' decision to roll with a lineup that didn't include Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis or Austin Daye to spark a Memphis comeback in Game 2 "reveals what he thinks of the Rudy Gay trade." Is the Grizzlies coach still sore about his "beer budget?"
6th: Brian Spaeth. Upon learning that his Cleveland Cavaliers had won the top pick in the 2013 NBA draft, author/filmmaker/podcaster/NBA-blogging trailblazer Spaeth decided to "watch as much footage as possible" to figure out who they should take No. 1 overall. He made it through 11 seconds of three separate videos.
7th: SB Nation. Paul Flannery takes a look at this year's NBA final four — one superteam, three small-market squads built according to different blueprints — and tries to figure out what lessons we can learn about roster management, player development and salary shuffling from the areas where they've succeeded and others have failed.
8th: SLAM. An awesome read from Tzvi Twersky on New Orleans Pelicans point guard Greivis Vasquez, whose upbringing in Venezuela made him uniquely suited to dealing with playing in hostile environments: “Why wasn’t I afraid in college? I’ve seen m*******s getting killed, people stealing stuff back home. That’s tough. Seeing that, it ain’t nothing playing at Duke.”
9th: Joe Posnanski. With the process of moving from Bobcats to Hornets now officially underway, Posnanski recalls why the Charlotte Hornets were A Big Deal, at least for a while, in their first go-round: "The Hornets made some of us feel like we lived someplace that mattered."
10th: HoopSpeak. Want to watch 15 minutes of the San Antonio Spurs' offensive sets to show the myriad options, counters and actions in their playbook? Iona College assistant coach Zak Boisvert has just the video for you.
11th: Extra Mustard. An interesting read on the background of Vivek Ranadivé, the leader of the Sacramento Kings' new ownership group, whose career has largely been built on getting and processing data quickly and effectively: "A little bit of the right information, just a little bit beforehand — whether it is a couple of seconds, minutes, or hours — is more valuable than all of the information in the world six months later."
12th: Working the Corners. "Ball don't lie" just got referenced in an NHL playoffs story — "It’s an old basketball term" — and it wasn't an accident or a mistake. We did it, 'Sheed. We did it.
Got a link or tip for Ball Don't Lie? Give me a shout at devine (at) yahoo-inc.com, or follow me on Twitter.
Tuesday night’s draft lottery was typical – both a spectacle and spectacularly boring, and you get the feeling that Houston Rocket general manager Daryl Morey was more than happy to sit it out.
Not only did Morey’s Rockets make the playoffs this season for the first time since 2009, but for once Morey doesn’t have a battalion of draft picks he’s hoarding. After owning three draft picks in the 2012 NBA draft, Morey happily sent each of his 2013 first rounders elsewhere via trade. And though he’ll be interviewing prospects for Houston’s No. 34 selection in next month’s draft, the playoff berth and iffy talent level have Morey in a good mood.
More best answers: "who is your agent?" I don't have an agent. "Who is advising you?" [gives name] "Who is that?" My agent. — Daryl Morey (@dmorey) May 22, 2013
Now, we don’t want to get into rampant speculation about who these Marcus Williams draft interviewees might be, so we’ll err on the side of tact.
Happily (I think?) this could be the tip of the iceberg with stories like these, which would go back to when Morey was working in the Boston Celtics’ front office. We’ll let you know if Daryl decides to grace us with any more of them.
In the spring of 1993, Richard Dumas appeared to be the sort of dynamic young talent prepped to finally put the Phoenix Suns over the top. The franchise was the NBA’s latest hot thing, basking in the popularity of the southwestern suburb boom, falling behind MVP Charles Barkley and appearing set to dethrone a weary Chicago Bulls club in the Finals. The Suns lost in six to the three-time champs, but with Michael Jordan retiring the next fall and a wide-open NBA landscape about to hit, Dumas figured to be the wing element needed to support Barkley on his way to a first NBA championship.
Instead, as was the case throughout his childhood and college career, Dumas’ cocaine use got in the way of him contributing to the Suns. He’d miss the entire 1993-94 season, and be out of the NBA by 1996 as a result.
His grades were fine. He never got in a fight. Dumas’ energy outlet was petty crime, busting windows and stealing candy from stores. His idle time turned him to drugs and alcohol. He said he tried alcohol at age 5 and marijuana at age 9.
He blames his increased drug use, including cocaine, on former first lady Nancy Reagan.
“She said ‘Just say no,’ so it got me interested,” Dumas said of the slogan that came out when he was 17. “It brought it to the forefront. We didn’t have any big drug problem until Nancy said to say no to drugs. Nobody knew about half of it. Now they’re showing it on TV about what it does.”
Dumas is fidgety and scattered at times in conversation but exudes an overall calm. He said he has been clean for so many years that he does not recall when he took his last drug hit.
“He turned out to be a good kid until he got in trouble,” said Ted Hooks, 59, a Tulsa neighbor and friend of Dumas’ grandfather.
Before you dismiss the addict for blaming others or possibly making things political, one has to understand the broad swipe of the “Just Say No” campaign from the 1980s.
Drug education, a needed thing, swings both ways. A couple of generations of children from that time would have had no idea what a joint looked like, or what that rolled-up dollar bill was for if it weren’t for the “Just Say No” campaign. Nancy Reagan’s instinct was pure, as the drug culture was quickly becoming a terrifying thing by the time the 1980s hit, with a generation full of baby boomers who had become familiar with recreational drugs to an exaggerated degree now bringing children into the mix. The country needed to update the 1960s and 1970s-styled cartoons featuring pictures of syringes or pills to scare kids away from the bad stuff.
(Mind you, I’m just talking about the education portion of the proceedings. We can take other thoughts about the other aspects of the war on drugs elsewhere.)
So, with government funding, a lot of children and young adults of a certain time were exposed to videos and books full of color pictures depicting very specific drug use. And any parent will tell you, the minute you tell a child to stay away from something, that kid’s interest in the “something” (be it the part of the closet where the Christmas gifts are hidden, or pure Columbia flake) goes way, way up.
He may not have been nor turned into “Dr. J with a jump shot,” as the excitable John Lucas (himself a former addict, and eventual Dumas coach at Philadelphia) once predicted, but Richard did put up a Player Efficiency Rating of over 18 in his rookie year. Dumas averaged 15.8 points on 52 percent shooting in only 27 minutes a game during that year, impressive numbers considering that he had been jettisoned from his Oklahoma State team two years before his rookie year because of continued drug use.
Dumas didn’t make it through the summer with Phoenix, though, and was suspended for the entire 1993-94 season. He played just 167 more minutes for the Suns following the 1993 Finals, and the team (which was hit hard by a cocaine scandal in 1987) let him join up with Lucas in Philadelphia for 1995-96. From there, Coro explains, Dumas both lost his zeal for the game, while continuing to struggle with his drug issues. By the time he was arrested for cocaine possession in 1998, sympathy for coke users (a decade after its boom years) was at an all-time low.
Sort of where Dumas was at. He’s since moved on, and works in both Phoenix and his hometown of Tulsa as a floor wax stripper. His life reversed, with the fun part out of the way early, Dumas at least has the right attitude moving forward, and the last note in Coro’s feature is a warming one:
“I’m enjoying life,” Dumas said after a long pause of reflection. “I traveled the world. I’ve done what a lot of people wanted to do.
“I did it the opposite way. Now I’ve got to work for a living.”
First off: The little guy is Grayson Ketchie. He's 3 years old, he's the big brother of a 6-month-old named Brayden and, based on the company he keeps, appears to be a boss. On Monday afternoon, the brothers were at a day care facility destroyed by the storm; while Brayden came out unscathed, Grayson did sustain some injuries, which landed him in the Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center.
[...] the Ketchie’s story has a happy ending. Both of their children will be okay, and as they were recovering, they were one of the many families the Thunder visited at the Children’s Hospital the day after the tragic storm. Russell Westbrook, Jeremy Lamb, Hasheem Thabeet, DeAndre Liggins and Head Coach Scott Brooks all met with families recovering from the horrific tornado in the PICU. The highlight of the day was when Westbrook, despite being in a wheelchair as he recovers from his torn right meniscus, played with Grayson, exchanged high-fives and blew bubbles.
“He played with Grayson so wonderfully,” [mother Janna] Ketchie said. “It’s so awesome. They’re great guys… It’s amazing to see that he’s a professional basketball player who we know from nobody and he’s blowing bubbles with my son to make my son feel better. It’s amazing.” [...]
“It’s tough to come in here and be with the families when their child is in pain, but it’s also good to see them smile and have a sense of enjoyment after the disaster yesterday,” Westbrook said.
Hit the jump for footage of the Thunder players visiting Grayson and other young patients at the hospital.
Financial and physical support are, of course, critical in times like these. But as Kim Prato, a child life specialist in the pediatric intensive care unit at OU Medical Center, told Gallo, the emotional support the Thunder offered matters quite a bit, too — and not only to young patients like Grayson:
“It’s hard not to get emotional,” Prato said. “Being acknowledged, being appreciated is very helpful especially in a time where you’re hurting for your community. Not very many of us slept last night. We’re going on two very long days. … To (have the Thunder) give back and say thank you to the healthcare providers is overwhelming.”
For information on how you can lend a hand, check out the Red Cross' website. You can also make a $10 donation by texting REDCROSS to 90999 from your cell phone.
Kevin Durant's collection of "business tattoos" took a number of folks by surprise two summers ago. Some were struck by the torso-covering tats, which they viewed as a departure from the clean-cut, broad-appeal persona he'd cultivated; this seemed like a silly, outmoded way of looking at things. Others were simply surprised because they'd assumed Durant was tattoo-free because they'd never seen any; this is also a bit silly, but at least not quite so judgmental.
Whatever your reaction to the artistic revelation, it confirmed that — like many of his peers, both within the NBA and outside it — Durant digs ink, setting the stage for new and interesting decorations to come. The self-expression continued a couple of months later, with the Oklahoma City Thunder star getting "Maryland" (his home state) tattooed across his shoulder-blades above a basketball-holding angel flanked by hands gesturing with Durant's number 35.
In the caption included when posting the photo to Instagram, Durant informed us that the script along the right side of his lower back next to Jesus' face is Scripture, specifically James 1:2-4, and suggested we "look it up." So we did:
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
It’s not the worst thing in the world that Bryan Colangelo is staying with the Toronto Raptors in a nebulous, barely-specified role. It’s not the weirdest thing in the world, either, or even the weirdest decision that Raptors-owning Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has ever made.
It is suitably strange, though, to see Colangelo both promoted and being told to mind his manners when it comes to future personnel moves by his new boss, MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke. The Toronto Raptors’ general manager, Leiweke told reporters on Tuesday, will be the one making the final basketball-related decisions, and “he’s going to have to live with that,” along with living and working with the new Toronto Raptors GM.
A GM that has yet to be named, by the way. Good thing Colangelo already traded away his 2013 lottery pick.
The move isn’t unprecedented, in sports or business terms. Simultaneously kicking an employee upstairs while stripping them of their power is a time-honored tradition, and in Colangelo’s case the benefits are obvious. For one, picking up the option on Colangelo’s contract for next season isn’t the priciest maneuver, even if the team has to break the bank in order to sign the woefully underpaid but rightfully highly-regarded Masai Ujiri as GM away from the Denver Nuggets. Secondly, there was a small chance the Raptors could have jumped into the top three in Tuesday’s draft lottery, necessitating a call to scouting arms with the draft five weeks away.
Most importantly? Colangelo’s a pro. His tenure with the Raptors has been far from successful, next season they could be a luxury tax-paying team without playoff assurances, and his personnel choices since taking the team over in 2006 have been less than stellar, but he knows the league, is in good standing with his colleagues, and he’s the very definition of a well-connected lifer.
And if the notoriously pedantic (save for that whole thing about efficient shooting percentages) Colangelo presses too hard, and chafes at a lack of front office influence? Then MLSE can ask him to leave the room to take what Leiweke called “a deep breath” on Tuesday. Seems pretty simple, in spite of what at times was an embarrassing spectacle between Leiweke and Colangelo’s separate talks with reporters.
Leiweke is a no-muss, no-fuss sort of executive, and all the signs seemed to point toward a quick dismissal and the needed end of the Bryan Colangelo era in Toronto. He declined to give Colangelo any assurances about his contract option after meeting with him on May 4, or after a reported three-hour presentation on May 7 to MLSE executives discussing some of Colangelo’s most egregious mistakes (the Hedo Turkoglu signing, Turk’s eventual downfall, the Andrea Bargnani contract extension, drafting, trading for and re-signing a series of like-minded low-percentage “scorers”) and the team’s potential.
Toronto is the sort of city and MLSE is the sort of company that can afford a “president” working alongside a GM. Heck, if the small market Indiana Pacers can field both Kevin Pritchard and Donnie Walsh in their front office, MLSE can work up the same configuration. Assuming Colangelo plays ball, that is.
Colangelo stressed, on Tuesday, that he’s game to play along. At times, at least.
Because in reference to a Leiweke assertion that one of Colangelo’s goals is to turn the Raptors into “Canada’s team” (down to even discussing a color rebranding that could involve a logo that more closely resembles the country’s flag), Colangelo offered this tepid response: “It’s being portrayed as a non-basketball job, but we’re in the basketball business.”
This is the sort of on-record language that is in place before the two even get into specific priorities, whether they relate to a non-basketball job, or the basketball business. This is what happens when you put together separate conference calls. Or separate jobs, for that matter.
Leiweke, at the very least, seems self-aware. He admitted that Colangelo is definitely “ticked off” at him because of the reshuffle, a phrase Colangelo later dismissed as “not the right terminology” before telling reporters that he intends to press MLSE “to be used in a fashion that my 18 years of experience” would serve.
That is to say, even on the first day of this new arrangement, the pangs are still in place.
That could change with the GM hire. Or, it could be exacerbated if Ujiri is brought in, and the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year finds it hard to turn down the counsel of the former Raptors GM he once assisted. As good and as self-assured as Ujiri is, that’s a tough arrangement.
It doesn’t have to be a lasting arrangement, though. If things get prickly, Leiweke can step in, and streamline the chain of command.
All involved probably wish he didn’t begin that process by clouding everything up, though.
Every year, NBA fans wonder why the actual lottery portion of the NBA's annual Draft Lottery — all those numbered ping-pong balls bouncing around before eventually being sucked up to the top of their container, removed and set aside to determine the draft positions (and, just maybe, franchise fates) of the year's bottom 14 teams — isn't shown on the televised portion of the event's broadcast. The conspiracy theorists among us — which, obviously, includes fans of literally every team and even, as we learned last year, some NBA executives — typically swear that it's kept off-camera so we can't see all the devious rigging that goes on, with NBA Commissioner David Stern putting his thumb on the scales of justice to tilt the odds in favor of whichever franchise paid the proper illicit price.
That's one possible explanation, sure. Another, likelier one: The lottery drawing is really, really boring.
Did you make it all the way through that? If so, you now know the awful truth. Sure, the drawn-out presentation offered by ESPN wasn't particularly compelling, but this wouldn't have been much, or any, better, no matter how much Stu Jackson awkwardly standing there evokes some fun moments from "The Office."
Indiana center Roy Hibbert was more than a few NBA observers’ pick for Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, and he’s certainly the most important feature of a Pacers defense that ranked tops in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season. That stingy streak has carried to the postseason, where Hibbert is once again averaging around two and a half blocks per game, in a defense that prefers contested shots to outright throwbacks.
This is probably why LeBron James was seen working on floaters Tuesday on Miami's practice court. It's a move that the NBA’s MVP rarely breaks out on account of him bein’ all LeBron James an’ all. LeBron was spied perfecting the evasive maneuver during the post-practice shootaround on Tuesday that was available to the media, and he explained the added attention at the press scrum following, as documented by Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:
“I just dust it off when I need it,” James said.
“Whatever the game presents, I’ve got an arsenal of shots that I can take out and bring in depending on the opponents and what the defense is giving me, but I’m prepared mentally and physically and I’ll be ready for [Wednesday] night,” James said.
Hibbert’s length and ability to toss back the work of some of the NBA’s stronger scorers was further emphasized on the national stage on Saturday evening, when in the heat of a New York Knicks run in Game 6 against the Pacers, Roy met Carmelo Anthony at the rim on a dunk attempt, and completely annihilated the NBA’s top scorer.
The move completely changed the tone of a game that Indiana went on to win. Watch:
“I thought it was a really good block under the circumstances,” James said. “It was a close game, a big play, especially at home. It was a momentum-changer.”
You know, “under the circumstances.”
Circumstances will change in Miami. Not only will the Heat be attempting to send Hibbert to the bench with two fouls by the time the jump ball hits its peak, but Hibbert will be facing a far, far superior offense spearheaded by a rested (and clearly well-practiced) LeBron James.
Wednesday’s Game 1 will be just the 14th game LeBron has played in seven and a half weeks. And while rhythm is a major concern for a Heat team that dropped Game 1 to Chicago in the previous round, the Heat spent most of Tuesday telling anyone that would listen that they wanted no part in replicated that deficit versus Indiana.
And when the rhythm picks up? Even if Hibbert stays on the court, LeBron shot a ridiculous percentage in the lane this season, something that wasn’t just trumpeted up by transition dunk opportunities. The work he’s done in just 12 months’ time since an uneasy victory over Indiana in last season’s second round has been nothing short of remarkable, as James has found his touch and confidence both in the post, and with the in-between game.
This is why Hibbert will be wearing a target, throughout this series. Even if it only serves as a starting point to eventually float above.
Finally, an answer to the question that's plagued philosophers/standup comedians for years: What if they just made the whole team out of the worst/most memorable moment of Charles Smith's playoff career?
Thanks, Memphis Grizzlies. But seriously, who could ever believe that Tony Allen and Zach Randolph (with an assist from rookie Tony Wroten) would combine to miss a bunch of layups? I know — totally random and unbelievable.
Here's the official play-by-play of this late second-quarter sequence:
Leonard BLOCK (1 BLK)
MISS Allen 2' Layup
Allen REBOUND (Off:1 Def:2)
MISS Allen 1' Layup
Randolph REBOUND (Off:2 Def:4)
MISS Randolph 1' Tip Shot
Randolph REBOUND (Off:3 Def:4)
Duncan BLOCK (3 BLK)
MISS Randolph 2' Layup
Randolph REBOUND (Off:4 Def:4)
MISS Randolph 2' Layup
Wroten REBOUND (Off:1 Def:0)
MISS Wroten 1' Layup
Duncan REBOUND (Off:0 Def:5)
Allen P.FOUL (P1.PN)
So, not the most successful stretch, then. At least it pads those offensive rebounding stats, though. (Keep this sequence in mind when people brag on Memphis' 19 offensive boards in Game 2. They led to only eight second-chance points.)
Also, with the immortal line, "The energy is there, the efficiency is not," Jeff Van Gundy might have just provided the official title for the 2012-13 Memphis Grizzlies season-in-review DVD, provided the Grizz are unable to come back from the 0-2 hole in which they now find themselves.
One more "also" for you: Tim Duncan hit both free throws on the other end of this, meaning all those missed layups and the freebies combined for a four-point swing in a game Memphis lost by four points in overtime. Kind of twists the knife just a little bit more, doesn't it?
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to check out the whoops elsewhere, thanks to OUOutreach.
About four months ago, some NBA people were seriously discussing whether or not Tony Parker could make a legitimate claim to being the league's Most Valuable Player this season. That discussion was mostly bunk, on account of LeBron James existing, but it was an important step up in recognition for the evolution of the San Antonio Spurs point guard's game over the past few years — the vision, pace and timing he's added to his speed and quickness, the subtle in-and-out moves and slight feints he's mastered to keep even first-rate defenders off-balance, the feel he's developed for when to hunt his own offense and when to facilitate for others to make sure San Antonio's offensive machine is in prime working order.
After skewing a bit toward the former with a team-high 14 shots and a game-high 20 points in the Spurs' Western Conference finals-opening win over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday, Parker clearly veered back to the latter in Tuesday's Game 2, keeping Memphis' perimeter defenders at arm's length and dominating the opening three quarters of the game en route to a career-best 18 assists in a 93-89 overtime win that gave San Antonio a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Sure, there might have been a little bit of home-scorer's cooking on a couple of those credited dimes, but Parker's overall control of the game and mastery of a hard-working Grizzlies defense was undeniable.
"He was unbelievable," longtime running buddy Tim Duncan said after the game. "I know he's exhausted. We asked a lot of him. He was controlling the ball every time down the floor and he was making every right play there was. He was finding people, and people knocked down shots for him."
That fatigue was evident in the latter stages of Game 2. The combination of dominating the ball, orchestrating Gregg Popovich's offense and defending dangerous Memphis guards Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless for 28 1/2 minutes through three quarters seemed to weigh heavily on Parker's legs in the fourth quarter. As Parker goes, so goes the Spurs offense, and when he waned — missing six of eight shots without an assist — so did San Antonio, sputtering to just nine points in the frame and opening the door to a Memphis comeback that was aided by a bad Manu Ginobili flagrant foul (and highlighted by some timely embellishment from Tony Allen).
The dead legs seemed to persist into overtime for both benches, but luckily for the Spurs, Duncan had one last burst left. He scored six points in less than five minutes in the extra frame, and added a critical block of a Marc Gasol layup that would have tied the game at 89 with just over 90 seconds remaining. Not only that, but Duncan followed his rejection by making a floater on the other end to put San Antonio up by four ... and give Parker his career-high 18th assist. The total topped Parker's previous career high of 17, notched last season against the New Orleans Hornets, and his prior postseason high of 14, posted against the Utah Jazz back in 2007. (It's also two shy of the Spurs franchise record for assists in a playoff game — Johnny Moore had 20 in a 1983 win over the Denver Nuggets.)
As San Antonio Express-News columnist Buck Harvey put it, "Popovich had wanted him to be John Stockton when he drafted him, and, a dozen years later, Parker made it." And now, Parker actually joins Stockton in a pretty exclusive club of playoff performers.
Parker's now the 14th player since the 1985-86 season (as far back as Basketball-Reference's database goes) to have posted an 18-assist playoff game. Only five players have had multiple 18-or-more assist games since '85: Magic Johnson (who did it 16 times), Stockton (10 times), Rajon Rondo (four times), Doc Rivers and Kevin Johnson (both twice). Mookie Blaylock, Sleepy Floyd, Tim Hardaway, Avery Johnson, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Mark Price, Spud Webb and now Parker have all done it once. And if you want to whittle the group down even further, only Parker, Magic and Kidd have put up at least 15 points, 18 dimes, five rebounds and three steals in a playoff game in the last 27 years. Decent company, huh?
(An aside: It's not easy to pick a "best" game out of that bunch, since they're all obviously pretty great. But Hardaway scoring 27 points on 50 percent shooting, dropping 20 dimes with one turnover and adding five steals and two blocks in 51 minutes might not be a bad place to start. Then again, his Golden State Warriors lost that game to the Los Angeles Lakers, so maybe it's not a great place to start, either. Maybe Kidd's 16-point, 16-rebound, 19-assist triple-double to send the New Jersey Nets past the Toronto Raptors in 2007? I don't know. Have fun deciding for yourselves.)
It's hard work setting up that many teammates in that many ways — slick aerial bounce passes, quick pocket passes off screen action, bullet passes to pick out backdoor cutters, dump-offs made possible by your dribble penetration — and after 42 minutes of hustle and flow, Parker copped to being exhausted.
“I just got tired,” Parker said, according to Harvey. “I can't speak for everyone else, but I know I was tired.”
Luckily, the schedule's on Parker's side — he now gets three days to rest and recover before Game 3 tips in Memphis on Saturday night. Those three days could help Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, too, though — remember, Memphis dropped its first two games against the Los Angeles Clippers in Round 1, then came back to win four straight, and then ripped off four straight following a Game 1 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Round 2. Momentum can be a fickle thing in the NBA playoffs, which is why it's nice to have someone who can take control of a game and steer it in your direction. As Parker reminded us on Tuesday, the Spurs most certainly have that.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to check out all the dishing elsewhere, thanks to the NBA.
The Memphis Grizzlies' slogan for these playoffs has been "We Don't Bluff," a reference to a semi-famous quote from Zach Randolph and an encapsulation of the toughness that's typified this team for the past three seasons. However, that distaste for play-acting was called into question for at least one key moment in their Game 2 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night.
With the score 85-81 in favor of San Antonio and 27 seconds left in regulation, Zach Randolph forced a steal from Manu Ginobili and passed ahead to Tony Allen, who seemed to have a clear path to the basket for a lay-up. Ginobili caught up, though, and pulled Allen down by his forearm as he rose up for the shot. Allen grabbed his head after crashing to the floor, which suggested that it was a serious foul.
The officials called a flagrant foul and headed over to the monitors to assess the severity. Replays showed a somewhat different picture of the action. While Allen did in fact hit the floor hard, his head never hit the ground. That indicates he bluffed, contrary to the Grizzlies' slogan. It worked, too — Allen nailed both free throws, Mike Conley hit a tough runner on the ensuing possession, and the Grizzlies forced overtime with the score tied at 85-85. The extra period wouldn't have happened if not for the flagrant.
This call didn't give the Grizzlies a win, but it has remained a topic of discussion after the game. With flopping and other forms of embellishment as unpopular as ever, there's a sense that Allen cheated to add five minutes to the game. Plus, as ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy argued in the immediate aftermath of the play, Ginobili didn't exactly strike Allen with the intent to injure. The foul looked bad in part because Allen was already in midair when Ginobili made contact with his arm. The goal was to stop the shot, not to hurt Allen.
I can't explain away Allen's acting, although Tim Duncan's post-game assessment that he was just trying to sell the call seems correct. However, I do strongly disagree with any attempt to discount the dangerous nature of the play with the argument that the fall shouldn't count. The NBA has expanded its definition of flagrant fouls in recent seasons with the goal of keeping players safe. While players like Ginobili certainly aren't actively trying to injure players at the rim, the fact is that certain kinds of plays are more dangerous than others. When a player gets airborne, he puts himself at the mercy of his opponents and the laws of physics. Grabbing an appendage in midair is dangerous in large part because the fall can cause injury. Effectively, the NBA is asking defenders to consider the context of their fouls, not just the contact itself. It's the same line of thinking that causes the rest of society to consider pushing someone near a cliff substantively different from pushing that same person in the middle of an open field.
There are arguments to be had as to whether players can exert this level of control over their bodies in these situations. A large number of fans also think that the league has gone soft and changed the character of what we know as Playoff Basketball, opting for increased safety over the visceral thrills of overtly physical competition. These are ultimately separate discussions built around what kind of league the NBA should be.
Because, under the NBA's now-standard enforcement of flagrant fouls, this play qualifies as a dangerous action with the potential to injure. Allen looked like he sold the contact beyond its apparent impact, but that doesn't mean the play was perfectly safe.
It would be fair to expect San Antonio Spurs fans to let out sighs of relief after the end of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Memphis Grizzlies. After blowing a 13-point fourth quarter lead to see the Grizzlies force overtime (due in part to a questionable flagrant foul on Manu Ginobili with 26 seconds left), the Spurs controlled overtime to come away with a 93-89 win and 2-0 series lead heading into Game 3 in Memphis. They averted disaster and remain in strong position to make the NBA Finals.
Yet, for at least one attending fan, the game's end was not an opportunity to express relief, but rather a chance to celebrate the Spurs' win in the form of an excited yelp. With two consecutive screams of "We did it!" this man has now entered playoff fan lore alongside Joakim Noah flipper-offer and potential murderer Filomena Tobias, the woman who screamed during the entire Spurs comeback in Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors, and the Miami Heat's "good job, good effort" kid, his spiritual cousin. Congratulations, sir: you will now always be known as "We Did It" Guy.
In truth, there is nothing particularly wrong with what this man did. Fans yell in support of their teams all the time. On the other hand, most aren't picked up in perfect stereo sound by TV cameras in the middle of a fairly sober post-game scene. The Spurs responded to the win in characteristically stoic form, and this fan disrupted things in a manner rarely heard outside of corporate golf tournaments and wrestling events featuring Jerry "The King" Lawler (a Grizzlies fan, incidentally).
It's as yet uncertain how Grizzlies fans will respond in the aftermath of their own wins in this series, but I'm willing to bet things will sound a little different. Er, wait, what does it sound like when everyone eats all the ribs within a 20-mile radius?
It seems like Nick Gilbert brings a lot of luck to the NBA Draft Lottery for the Cleveland Cavaliers. For the second time in three seasons as the franchise's lottery representative, the teenage son of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has brought home the top pick in the draft. The Cavs, who finished the 2012-13 season with a 24-58 record, entered the lottery with the third-best chances of snagging the first selection at 15.6 percent.
The Orlando Magic, the league's worst team at 20-62, were forced to settle for the second pick. However, the biggest losers of the lottery were the Charlotte Bobcats (soon to be the Hornets), who dropped to the fourth spot after posting a 21-62 record, just one game better than the Magic. They were supplanted in the top three by the Washington Wizards, who entered the process with a 30 percent chance of jumping from the eighth pick into the trio of lottery spots.
While the Wizards will benefit the biggest boost of any team in the lottery, the Cavaliers are the clear winners of the event. In 2011, they won the top pick and selected Duke point guard Kyrie Irving, who earned his first All-Star selection this February in his second season. This June, Cleveland will have the chance to choose between Kentucky shot-blocker Nerlens Noel (currently rehabbing a torn ACL) and Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore. Given the presence of 2012 first-round pick Dion Waiters, the Cavs will likely opt for Noel, although that is merely an educated guess with the draft more than a month away.
While sitting at a desk festooned with a team logo is not typically considered a skill, Nick Gilbert has a strong argument for being the most effective lottery representative in NBA history. He's now been present for two lottery wins in three seasons, a record matched only by the time I won a Sega Genesis and Game Gear in consecutive raffles as a young child. Through it all, Gilbert has been extremely charismatic and likable. What's most impressive is that he has expressed that positivity despite being born with neurofibromatosis (NF), a nerve disorder that causes tumors to grow throughout the body at random. Gilbert has dealt with several rounds of chemotherapy, lost vision in one of his eyes, and lived through pain most of us will never have to experience. Yet, in 2011, his father referred to him as "the happiest and most optimistic person I know."
The Cavs sought out some extra good luck this year after Dan Gilbert organized a contest designed to find their luckiest fan. The winner, Roy Tate Moore, traveled with the Gilberts and the rest of the sizable Cavs entourage to the lottery and will partake in whatever festivities they have planned in the wake of this victory.
The rest of the lottery participants, apart from the very pleased Wizards, must now consider the true worth of their supposed good luck charms and ponder the cruelty of any organization that lets the fortunes of its members rest on the random bounces of a few ping-pong balls. Fans of those ill-fated teams can check the full 2013 draft order here.
Charlotte's NBA franchise will soon have a new but familiar look. At a media conference on Tuesday afternoon, Bobcats owner Michael Jordan announced that the team will change its name to the Hornets for the 2014-15 season and beyond. The official announcement follows a Friday report from Ken Berger of CBSSports.com that the Bobcats were beginning the process of formalizing a name change.
The NBA expanded to Charlotte in 1988 with the Hornets and played in the city through the 2001-02 season, when owner George Shinn moved them to New Orleans. The Charlotte Hornets built a brand on the basis of their ultra-'90s teal-heavy color scheme and the allure of young stars Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. The Bobcats have not succeeded in building the same kind of fan base or image, and the New Orleans Hornets' decision to become the more geographically acceptable Pelicans has freed up the name.
“Overwhelming you wanted the Hornets name back,’’ Jordan said. “When I first played here years ago, the thing I was totally astounded by was the energy. I wanted to bring that energy back.
“(This decision) says a lot about how we’ve taken the input from our community and put that in action.’’
There are some unresolved issues. Although Jordan and team marketing director Pete Guelli sat in front of purple-and-teal sign reading, “Bring the Buzz,’’ it’s still unclear whether the Bobcats would take on the Hornets’ old color scheme.
“We haven’t even discussed that right now,’’ Jordan said of the color scheme. “This is a first step. To say today we’ve come to that conclusion would not be an accurate statement.’’ [...]
“When the time comes we want to incorporate some of the past,’’ Jordan said. “Dell (Curry) is with the team (as a television analyst) and I believe Muggsy (Bogues) is in town.’’
Jordan acknowledged this name change is just one aspect of the many fixes the franchise needs. The Bobcats were an NBA-worst 28-120 over the past two seasons and will have their third head coach in as many seasons, after firing Mike Dunlap.
MJ is correct to note that this franchise will never catch on with local fans if the team doesn't perform well on the court, but that doesn't mean their branding should be regarded as irrelevant. A sports franchise succeeds when it becomes part of the local community, an extension of the same civic pride that drives other forms of culture. Winning certainly helps move that process along, but so can a sense of continuity and history.
At the same time, the new Hornets can't appear to be a simple copy of the earlier incarnation. As Jordan noted, some teal and purple lettering does not mean the franchise will adopt the same look, and that would be a mistake. This management team needs to create something that can work in the future, not just a cute bit of nostalgia.
It's unclear how successful they will be. The Bobcats are now offering two-year season ticket packages that will cover their first season as the Hornets (and also give fans a "Buzz City" Jordan Brand jacket), but it's hard to believe too many people will be interested in them when so few details are known about the new era. Right now, this is just an idea.
Still, ideas can be powerful. More than anything, this announcement brings hope that the future can be better, even if it's horribly vague at present.
The minds behind Ball Don’t Lie are going to preview each of the parings in the third round, with Kelly Dwyer going against character for a more genial take, Dan Devine bringing his inimitable mixture of both order and bedlam, along with Eric Freeman’s legendary look inside the reputations of some of the series’ key fixtures.
We continue with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.
Which team do you think will win the series, and in how many games? Vote here to let us know what you think.
Kelly Dwyer’s Guide Vocal
This isn’t Indiana’s prime-time introduction. The team enjoyed that moment last year, squaring off with the eventual champion Heat in the second round, and took in some increased Q ratings this year while matched with the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Pacers have boasted All-Stars in consecutive years, they’ve been battling on a national stage since giving the Chicago Bulls a bit of a fright in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, and the team entered 2012-13 expecting to take the division crown.
This is no time for upstarts. The Pacers are expected to compete on the Heat’s level, and they cannot blame Danny Granger’s absence nor a lack of recognition for anything that goes pear-shaped between now and the end of the series. “Us against the world” won’t work, here. Savoring underdog status and moral victories won’t get this team anywhere. The Pacers cannot be content to “get it down below 10” just before the half. Behind their all-world defense, the Pacers are a Finals-level team that needs to play as such.
Too bad they have to play the Heat now.
They’ve played them before, these Pacers, and played them well. Indiana famously took a 2-1 series lead in last year’s second round against Miami. The Pacers have grabbed two of three from the Heat during the regular season, and I rank March’s home Heat win over Indiana as perhaps the most impressive of the Heat’s 27-game regular-season winning streak. Indiana’s ability to pack the lane and defend the wings should give Miami fits, just as long as the typical Heat frustrations decline to show up.
If you’re a fan of any other team but the Heat, you know those frustrations. You’ve gritted your teeth when LeBron James draws another foul on the frontcourt — that’s the first brow-furrower. Then, a few plays later, you’ve felt your stomach drop any time the ball swings around a few times, and then you remember that, yes, Chris Bosh still plays for the Heat.
Oh, crap. Bosh, too.
This is why Bosh’s presence will be of paramount importance. The Heat big man has enjoyed a light and breezy postseason, averaging 13.2 points and 8.3 boards (with two blocks) per game in nine playoff contests, but he’ll be asked to act as the counter to a Pacers attack that seems specially made to shut down high-usage wing types like LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Bosh doesn’t even have to keep up his 46.7 percent 3-point shooting in the series. All he has to do is finish broken plays and improvised passes with accurate shooting on long 2-point shots and the occasional home run. He has to stay on the court, and screen well for corner 3-point shooters. He has to remind us that he still plays for the Heat until the surprise goes away.
That, and James’ continued brilliance (and he will continue to play brilliantly even against Paul George … right?), will be enough to top the Pacers. Indiana’s attack is more refined and superior to the one that downed Miami twice in the regular season earlier this year — one has to account for in-season growth from this young crew — but the squad’s scoring issues remain a frightful proposition. It’s going to be tough enough for Indiana to hold Miami to the 90 points necessary to have a chance. It’s going to be even tougher for the Pacers to score 91 points and pull off a win.
Miami has been challenged in this postseason. The Milwaukee Bucks may have come off as lame ducks and the Chicago Bulls presented an on-paper roster that shouldn’t have made it out of the lottery, but this Heat squad had to pay attention defensively against Milwaukee, and struggle against an intense Bulls team that just didn’t take any possessions off — even when those possessions ended with an airball.
Miami’s rhythm may not be in step — the team will tip off a full week after downing the Bulls, a series that started up eight days after Miami dispatched Milwaukee. A 10-games-in-32-days schedule, with Game 1 sparking up on Wednesday, is not ideal. As we saw in the Chicago series, though, the Heat tend to lock back into that ideal once the sweat hits the brow. And Erik Spoelstra’s crew knows that this is their best chance to smarten up before the class of the West hits the Finals.
Indiana will push them, first. And in a 2012-13 season that has been all about the defending champs, that’s all we can ask.
PREDICTION: Heat in 6.
Contribute to the Chaos with Dan Devine
For as much as we try to study and analyze every aspect of NBA life these days, in every playoff series, there are unpredictable elements — a player, a tendency, a set, a decision, etc. — that can tilt a moment on its ear, change the complexion of a game or even determine the outcome of a series. For each matchup during this postseason, Dan Devine will look for those X-factors most likely to wreak havoc over the next seven games.
(The phrase "Contribute to the chaos” comes from the song “Twin Size Mattress” by the band The Front Bottoms, which Dan likes a lot.)
Miami Heat: Choke them out and turn them over.
Early in the season, the Heat struggled some on defense while integrating new pieces, most notably Ray Allen, who’s still a sharpshooter but isn’t exactly a lockdown artist. After their game on Feb. 1 — which, as luck would have it, was a loss to these self-same Pacers — they ranked 11th in the NBA in points allowed per possession, just above the Golden State Warriors. Very good, but not great. Not championship level.
As you might remember, Miami started a pretty good little run after that loss, winning 27 straight games; they’ve now taken 45 of their last 48. (LeBron James didn’t play in one of those three losses.) Much of the credit belongs to best-in-the-league offensive execution and point production led by league MVP James, but ramped-up commitment to shutting down opposing offenses has been huge, too. Miami posted the league’s fourth-stingiest defense after Feb. 2 and its best after March 1, and has continued to improve in the postseason, allowing a playoff-low 93.4 points per 100 possessions through the first two rounds.
Granted, Miami wasn’t exactly playing offensive juggernauts in the Milwaukee Bucks (21st in offensive efficiency this year) and Chicago Bulls (24th, and missing key pieces Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich in Round 2). But they’re not facing one here, either.
Yes, the Pacers have good individual offensive pieces in first-time All-Star Paul George, low-post bruisers David West and Roy Hibbert, and steady (and apparently OK) point guard George Hill. And yes, shooting guard Lance Stephenson is fresh off the game of his life, a 25-point, 10-rebound effort to eliminate the New York Knicks. And yes, the Pacers largely righted their early-season offensive woes down the stretch, ranking 11th in points per possession after the All-Star break.
Still: The Pacers are short on talented passers, reliable long-range shooters and quick decision-makers. Their explosive wing players have somewhat shaky handles. Their bench boasts no real offensive game-changers ... or, at least, none who can change the game in a positive way. (Unless you consider Tyler Hansbrough’s ability to get fouled “game-changing,” which it sometimes is.)
That much has been evident in the playoffs, where Indy’s late-season gains have largely dissipated — they're back down to averaging just a tick over one point per possession, worst of the final four teams, on 42 percent shooting from the field and a 30.8 percent mark from 3-point range. Their offense at times fell apart against even the Knicks’ scattershot defense, especially in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and without Hill to steer the ship in Game 5, as New York’s guards trapped screen and rolls, pressured Pacers ball-handlers and forced turnovers by the truckload. They’ve coughed it up on 17.4 percent of their possessions in the playoffs, worst of the four remaining teams.
The Heat’s defense — to put it mildly — is better, scarier and more dangerous than the Knicks’. Miami’s forcing turnovers on 17.6 percent of opponents’ possessions this postseason, which would’ve topped the Los Angeles Clippers for the NBA’s best turnover rate this year. They’re cashing in, too, scoring 19 points per playoff game off those turnovers.
With the waves of defenders they can throw at Indiana’s unsure ball-handlers — not only All-Defensive First-Teamer James and post-defending irritant Battier, but quick and rangy guard stoppers Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, a long-armed and more-defensively-active-than-during-the-season Chris Bosh, and pick-and-roll-grinding big men Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen — the Heat are well positioned to be able to blow up Indiana’s sets and force the Pacers to have to make quick (and often bad) decisions. That might not always translate into transition opportunities — the Heat averaged just 4.3 fast-break points per game against the Pacers this season, far below their 11.9-per-game average. Even if it doesn’t, though, Miami will likely be glad to have gummed up Indy’s works, because I doubt they believe that even the Pacers’ awesome D can return the favor enough to beat them four times.
Indiana Pacers: Keep them in midrange as much as humanly possible.
The overhaul of Miami’s offensive identity began in earnest after Bosh went down in last year’s second-round matchup between these two teams. Instead of more traditional two-big lineups with James slotting in at small forward, we saw LeBron shifted up to the four and more minutes for Battier, a change in configuration that put shooters all over the floor and forced defenses to choose between converging on the world’s best player close to the basket or leaving dangerous “floor spacers” open on the perimeter. Whichever way defenders went, they were likely giving up one of the highest-percentage or most valuable shots on the floor.
It worked out pretty well, as Miami rode a wave of 3s to last year’s NBA title. Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra and company doubled-down on the philosophy this season, with shots at the rim and from 3-point range accounting for more than two-thirds (67.1 percent) of Heat field-goal attempts on their run to the league’s best record. That number’s dipped a bit during the postseason, but Miami’s still taking 64.4 percent of its shots either right at the tin or from beyond the arc. In the Pacers, though, Miami faces a defense specifically designed to cut out such shots.
Anyone uncertain of the Pacers’ 3-ball-eliminating bona fides need only look at Indy’s six-game snuffing of the Knicks. And while any major Boeheim will tell you that New York and Miami are two different animals, Indiana was pretty successful in three regular-season meetings with the Heat, too — Miami attempted just 15.7 3-pointers per game against Indiana this season, nearly 5 1/2 fewer than their season average. That included a sharp curtailing of Miami’s favorite shot, the short-corner 3-pointer; the Heat fired a league-leading 8.8 per game during the regular season, but managed just 6.3 per game against Indiana.
The dampening effect didn’t just come downtown, either. With strong perimeter defenders George, Stephenson and Hill playing sound man-to-man defense outside and funneling everything into 7-foot-2 floater-forcer Hibbert, the share of shots the Heat attempted at the rim plummeted. For the season as a whole, nearly 39 percent of all Miami field-goal attempts came right at the basket; against Indy, that dropped to just over 30 percent.
If a team’s not taking shots at the rim or from behind the arc, then they’re shooting from in-between, and that’s just fine with Indiana. The Pacers love letting opponents prove they’ve rediscovered The Lost Art Of The Midrange Jumper, and in their first two meetings this season, Miami couldn’t do it, shooting a combined 16 for 49 (32.7 percent) on midrange shots in two losses. There were, of course, other reasons why they lost — Indy getting 23 second-chance points on 22 offensive rebounds in the first, barely-there Miami interior defense allowing the Pacers to shoot nearly 78 percent at the rim in the second — but that’s the big one. Indiana’s defense was able to prevent Miami’s offense from getting the kinds of looks it’s intended to generate, and the Heat couldn’t knock down enough of what Indy allowed to make up the difference.
They can make up the difference, though. In the third meeting, Indiana again got the shot selection it wanted, with Miami taking as many midrange shots as at-rim and 3-point attempts combined ... and the Heat still won by 14, going 17 for 31 from midrange and 12 for 21 on long 2-pointers, with Bosh scoring 19 of his 24 points outside the paint. (The matchup between Bosh, an elite midrange shooter who keys Miami’s O in part by drawing opposing bigs out of the lane, and Hibbert, who keys Indy’s D by serving as the magnet toward which all penetration is drawn for erasure, will be huge.)
Still, just because Miami’s good enough to do something doesn’t mean it’s good strategy. If the Pacers’ starters can avoid foul trouble, log big minutes and keep the sheer volume of best-case-scenario Heat looks as low as possible, as they did during the regular season, their chances of beating Miami go up immensely.
PREDICTION: Heat in 5.
Eric Freeman’s Reputations Index
An NBA athlete can make great strides in the offseason, improve over the course of the 82-game schedule, and see his fortunes change due to a freak injury. Yet, even in a league where granular analysis reveals untold nuances in a single player’s game, the postseason still determines his legacy. A star can become a legend or be seen as lacking some necessary quality to win; a role player can lock down a lucrative local endorsement contract or search for a new home; a youngster can ascend to a new level of fame or fall into irrelevance. The Reputations Index is your guide to what’s at stake in each postseason series.
LeBron James: The NBA belongs to James, yet, as of this moment, the playoffs have not. With the Heat facing inferior competition on the way to the conference finals, LeBron has been content to put up solid numbers (which most players would kill for, obviously) as the team goes about its business. James certainly hasn’t been unimpressive, but it’s pretty clear that he hasn’t needed to exert himself very much.
That’s fine, but also a little disappointing. LeBron is the incandescent talent of his era, and an NBA in which he’s not operating at peak efficiency is less interesting than it could otherwise be. In a postseason already identifiable as disappointing for the absence of several injured stars, fans can be forgiven for wanting to see the best player in the world dominate his foes. That godlike greatness is why so many people care about LeBron in the first place.
It’s possible that the Heat don’t need James to operate at this level to win this series, or even the title. But the logic of what’s necessary doesn’t always deter the desire to see something special. No one wants a generationally amazing player to withhold certain aspects of his genius. In order to achieve his full potential as global icon and — hell, I’ll just use the term we all dance around when it comes to James — divinely ordained king of basketball, he must show us everything he can do on the grandest stage. We’re now near that point. If he doesn’t, then he’s just the best player in the sport.
Dwyane Wade: At the beginning of the postseason, I argued that Wade is at a crossroads in his career, at which he could continue to be known as one of the best players in the league or settle into a position as a star whose alliance with a perennial MVP has rendered him significantly less dynamic than he once was. So far, the results are mixed — Wade was essential to Miami’s series-clinching win over Chicago but has averaged only 13 points per game on 45.3 percent shooting over eight games.
As has been the case with LeBron, those stats can be explained partly by the basic fact that Miami hasn’t needed its stars to take over very often. Nevertheless, it may be the case that they don’t need James and Wade to dominate particularly often, and when they do it’s likely that LeBron will be the one to take on most responsibilities. Through no major fault of his own, Wade could be thrust into a situation where he’s not expected to put up star numbers to lift the Heat to the third championship of his career. It goes against everything we’re told to believe about the NBA, but Wade could be the rare star who becomes less impactful as he does everything asked of him to help his team to a title.
Paul George: Although his shooting percentages don’t exactly jump off the stat sheet, George’s postseason has already been a success. After his All-Star selection this season, the Pacers’ achievements reflect well on George, as well, even if he hasn’t been the prime mover in each of Indiana’s two series wins. He’ll get attention because he scores — 19.1 points per game in serious minutes — plays excellent (and loud) defense, and presents a useful narrative for this season.
The challenge of this series is altogether different — as a small forward, George’s production will be presented in relation to that of LeBron regardless of how often the two guard each other. It’d take a serious leap up in quality for George to best James in a series, to the point where he’s unlikely to be the difference maker in this series because of his offense. In other words, George has probably reached his peak reputation level for the postseason barring a shocking Indiana upset. Yet his performance in this series will present a baseline for growth next season and beyond. We’ll learn “what he has accomplished” and apply it to all future endeavors.
George Hill: This winter, in the long ago, Hill was defined largely in terms of whom he was traded for in 2011 rather than by his own perfectly acceptable production for the Pacers. As a key member of the altogether more championship-ready San Antonio Spurs, Kawhi Leonard has become a favorite of Internet and old-school types alike. Meanwhile, Hill is the player he’s been for several seasons: a capable scorer with limited but still quite present playmaking skills.
In these playoffs, though, Hill has proven his importance to the Pacers, both by putting up several impressive shooting displays and in his glaring absence while out with a concussion for the Game 5 loss to the Knicks. Hill is a key ball-handler and shooter for the Pacers, who will need a varied scoring attack to keep pace with Miami. This series is a chance to announce he’s worthy of challenging the best players in the league, either in victory or defeat.
A typical Memphis Grizzlies possession will sometimes feature left-handed point guard Mike Conley bringing the ball up court, spying left-handed forward Tayshaun Prince as he peels off of a screen to set up shop on the “elbow” of the court. Prince will receive a pass from Conley and then attempt to make an entry pass into the post, where left-handed power forward Zach Randolph loves to work from. If that combination works well and the Grizzlies end up blowing out their opponent, left-handed coach Lionel Hollins can empty his bench, and bring young left-handed prospects Troy Wroten and Ed Davis off of the pine to round out the contest.
Lotta lefties, is what we’re saying. Real Kucinich-styled stuff. A legendary amount of lefties, though? Or, most importantly to Memphis, enough to make a difference in the franchise’s first trip to the Western Conference finals?
In December 2011 Lawler, along with his son, published a paper called "Left-Handedness in Professional Basketball" in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills. Lawler studied 3,647 professional basketball players who played in at least five games between 1949 and 2009. He found that lefties made up just 5% of the total, roughly half the rate of left-handedness in the general population. In baseball, by contrast, about 20% of all players are southpaws. "There seems to be some kind of bias against left-handed basketball players," said Lawler, chief medical officer of the state of Oklahoma's Employee Group Insurance.
If that finding was surprising, this one was even more so: The lefties who did make it into professional basketball boasted better performance averages when it came to points scored, rebounds and blocks. "It may be that to make it as a left hander you have to be above and beyond the rest," Lawler said.
The Wall St. Journal crew dug in from there, informing us that the Grizzlies are second only to the 1967-68 New York Knicks (featuring Dick Barnett, Willis Reed, and Phil Jackson amongst its notable lefties; in more ways than one, in Jackson’s case) in terms of the percentage of points scored by left-handers in the postseason. The crew also referenced the long-held and spot-on belief that left-handed defenders have an advantage over their right-handed counterparts defensively, because the defender’s stronger arm is matched up with the typical shooting arm of the player trying to score.
None of this helped the Grizzlies in Game 1, the team was completely incapable of establishing its low post attack, and San Antonio’s spacing and movement made that left-to-right arm closeout a moot point as the Grizzlies failed to close out on shooters. The Spurs, using right and left-brain thinking, seemed far more prepared to take down the Grizzlies on both sides of the floor, and though many picked the Grizzlies to win the series, Memphis is facing a formidable task if it continues to whiff on establishing its low post game, or find Spurs scorers in the corners.
This significant hurdle shouldn’t take away from what is a pretty cool quirk, though, one we haven’t seen since a left-leaning Indiana Pacers team made the NBA Finals back in 2000. The Grizzlies have become quite a few fans’ second-favorite team over the last few years for various reasons, and now it appears as if the Ned Flanders’ of the world have found a team of their own.
Regional Red Cross: “Mr. Durant’s gift and support to Okla. comes at a time of great need and we’re forever thankful for his generosity.” — Royce Young (@dailythunder) May 21, 2013
It's also well-worth mentioning that Kevin Durant did not announce this donation. Rather, the Red Cross was the first to point out Durant's contribution (which was made through his personal charity arm, The Durant Family Foundation), with Kevin letting his donation do the talking.
Tracy McGrady turns 34 on Friday, and most would probably assume that the best possible gift he could receive during his birthday week would be his first made basket as a San Antonio Spur. The seven-time All-Star has played just over 15 minutes in total since signing with the team just before the regular season ended, and he’s missed all four shots of his from the field during mostly garbage time spent coming off of the San Antonio bench.
So, the guy has to be itching to get back on the scoreboard, right? To showcase some of that all-around ability that made him one of the NBA’s greats? To make his mark on what could be one last championship run for these Spurs?
“It's very different, a championship-caliber organization,” he said.
McGrady discovered the difference in that out-of-the-blue phone call from Spurs coach and president of basketball Gregg Popovich in mid-April.
“A lot of people in the past would tell me one thing, but their actions don't speak what their words were telling me,” he said. “I had a very transparent conversation with Pop. I understood the situation and respected that. It was a great thing, and it was up to me to take that opportunity.
“He said, 'I might play you; I might not, and I need to know if you're cool with that.'
“For him to put that out on Front Street in our first conversation, I said, 'Pop, I'm cool with that. I understand. If called on, I'll be ready; if not, I'll support the guys while I'm here.'”
Monroe, one of the greats in this business, went on to report that McGrady is eight pounds lighter than when he showed up to the Spurs in mid-April, clearly taking advantage of the time off following the regular season, and relative pittance of just 11 Spurs games since their postseason tipped off on April 21.
The comparison to make in the wake of a revelation like this is too easy, but it’s the appropriate one. McGrady was signed to provide wing depth in the absence of the disgruntled and ultimately waived Stephen Jackson. Jackson refused to admit that certain Spurs wings – Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard – were better players than him at this stage of Jackson’s career; and honestly there’s nothing wrong with that. Confidence is key, especially in this league.
What is wrong is rocking the boat, as Jackson apparently was. There weren’t many on record indications of Jackson’s frustrations prior to his release, but he was clearly destructive enough that the Spurs decided to let him go without receiving any compensation in return, less than a year after Jackson’s defense and clutch shooting (however smallish the sample size was) helped the team stay afloat in its Conference finals defeat against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With Manu’s talents, Green’s shooting, and Leonard’s ascension, Jackson was probably going to receive McGrady-styled minute allotments in the playoffs as it was, even if the Thunder (had the team stayed healthy, sadly) made it to a third round rematch.
In the meantime, between those short bursts, McGrady remains “cool” with it all. Fans tend to perk up when the onetime MVP candidate enters during the ends of one-sided games, but the cheering you hear doesn’t have anything to do with novelty. Fans – knowledgeable Spurs fans, especially – are mindful of McGrady’s past, his gifts, and how a series of bad injuries and bad luck with teammates kept him out of the later stages of the playoffs.
You’d think, at least on the inside, McGrady would be chomping at the bit to lead a 12-2 Spurs run to finish the first quarter. The Spurs don’t work that way, though. McGrady wouldn’t even be on this team if he had designs on bit-chomping, which makes this a perfect pairing.
(We’re chomping at the bit, though. Give Tracy McGrady a bit more playing time, Coach Pop. Be “cool” with it.)
Syracuse men’s basketball head coach Jim Boeheim has long been known for being somewhat … irascible? Is that the nicest way to put it?
He doesn’t often put things nicely, but because he is an NCAA champion all is usually forgiven. New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony led Boeheim’s team to that championship back in 2003, but Carmelo has had a rough go of things in his ten pro seasons following – only twice making it out of the first round of the playoffs. Most stars that fail to make extended playoff runs can usually blame their lacking teammates for that failed advancement, but they typically tend not to in the newspapers.
"Not on that team," Boeheim said. "He did what he can do. He played very well the final game. Everybody's killing him but Tyson Chandler just didn't try to catch the ball. He threw him the ball and Tyson Chandler went like this (Boeheim dodged in a chair in his office in the Carmelo K. Anthony Center). He was wide open. He should have been looking for the ball right here.
Kenyon Martin should have been looking for the ball. They both went like this (Boeheim dodged again). Carmelo gets turnovers and the announcers aren't smart enough to even think, 'Well, the guy should try to catch the ball.' "
(This is probably ill-conceived.)
"Those guys weren't great players where they were and now they're asking them to be second and third options," Boeheim said. "In Miami the second and third options are Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Your fourth option is Ray Allen, who is still in good shape. Your fifth option is Shane Battier, who is still a good player. The New York Knicks have who?"
"Hibbert is really good," Boeheim said of the former Georgetown star. "(Paul) George is really good. They're all-stars, both of them. George Hill is really good. (David) West is a (former) all-star. That's three all-stars. It's not even close."
There. That’s somewhat better. The Knicks just aren’t an elite team. They were able to pile up wins during the regular season because the schedule ships teams in and out of cities sometimes four times in five-day spans. When faced with a coaching staff and defense that could make denying certain aspects of New York’s attack a priority, though, the team faltered.
And the Indiana Pacers are a better basketball team. Because of Roy Hibbert’s early season struggles and the slow adaptation to life without Danny Granger, Indiana didn’t ring up a ton of early-season wins this year, but there was a reason I picked Indiana to take this series before the playoffs even started, and re-iterated that guesswork prior to the conference semis. They’re growing, while the Knicks have maxed out.
Beyond that disrespect from Boeheim, there’s the personal criticism. Which stinks.
Tyson Chandler gutted through so, so many injuries in 2012-13. We’re sorry that he wasn’t at his most flexible this season – Knick fans and Syracuse coaches – but it’s not very easy to bend over backwards for these supposedly pinpointededly perfect Carmelo Anthony passes with 7-2 Roy Hibbert’s long arms closing in. The Pacers (and Boston Celtics, in their two first round victories) won because they baited Anthony into either one-on-one play (which didn’t work, as Anthony struggled in most fourth quarters during this series), or to disappearing off the ball.
And in the absence of a second star, the Knicks faltered. As should be expected.
Still, Jim Boeheim doesn’t have to get all … Jim Boeheim-y about it.
This is Roy Tate Moore. He's a lucky dude. And because of that, he's going to Tuesday's 2013 NBA Draft Lottery with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Here's the explanation for Moore's video and trip, courtesy of Cavs.com:
Last Friday, May 17th, [Cavaliers owner Dan] Gilbert put out the call to his @cavsdan Twitter followers to produce and tweet a :30 second or less original video that creatively expressed why they should travel with him to New York for the lottery proceedings and help represent the Cavaliers. @RoyTateMoore did just that with a winning submission that demonstrated his positive karma to prove that he is “one lucky dude.” [...]
“I am so excited and thankful for this amazing opportunity. I can’t wait to be a part of this night and help represent the Cavaliers with Dan and Nick,” said Moore.
Take advantage of an NBA franchise's interest in social media interaction, make some jokes, get your mom to say something on camera, get a free trip to New York. Pretty good deal, my friend.
Moore and another Cavs fan — Gerry Burma of Brecksville, Ohio, a season ticket-holder who won a random drawing of the team's "Wine & Gold United" club members — will join the Cavaliers' traveling party in New York for the lottery, which means they'll get to chill with fellow traveler/Cleveland hip-hop artist Machine Gun Kelly, which is really the luckiest part of this whole thing, obviously.
Fans Moore and Burma will get to hang back for the festivities, but the Cavaliers will be represented on stage at ABC's Disney Times Square Studios by Nick Gilbert, son of owner Dan Gilbert and the good-luck charm who bucked the odds to bring home the No. 1 and No. 4 selections in the 2011 lottery, which the team turned into All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and promising power forward Tristan Thompson.
Sure, Nick also repped the Cavs at last year's lottery — where Cleveland had the third-best shot of coming away with No. 1, but slipped down to No. 4 and eventually selected guard Dion Waiters — but that's neither here nor there. Between Nick's bow-tie mojo, Moore's butter-side-up swag and MGK's wispy gangsterism, it's all but a lock that the top pick will be Ohio-bound. Lock it in, brethren. Sorry, Other Lottery Teams.
Dwight Howard, reportedly, is not happy with is coach. This is not a recycled column, though most of Howard’s complaints are.
The free agent center was granted an extended, private discussion with Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak following the typical, season-ending interviews with both Kupchak, and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. According to the quite trust-o-ble Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, the former Orlando Magic big man expressed frustration with D’Antoni’s coaching style, putting some doubt into Howard’s expected return to Los Angeles during this offseason.
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, part of the discussion between Howard and Kupchak centered around Howard's frustration with D'Antoni -- particularly how the center felt marginalized as the coach looked to Bryant and Steve Nash for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard's voice.
"We had to just sell out to whatever he wanted, whether we liked it or not," Howard said of D'Antoni following his exit interview. "We had to do what was going to benefit the team, and being one of the leaders on the team, I had to make sure I kept the guys in line to what the coach wanted us to do."
A source said Howard was very careful with his public comments about D'Antoni after the season, wary of attracting a "coach killer reputation" after how things ended in Orlando with Stan Van Gundy losing his job. Despite the frustration Howard had with D'Antoni last season, there is nothing to suggest the partnership is irreparable. "It's not a, 'It's me or Mike,' situation for Dwight," said a source.
McMenamin went on to report that the Lakers’ loss of Chuck Person and expected loss of Steve Clifford – two of the league’s more respected assistant coaches and Howard confidantes – could further frustrate Howard. Person wasn’t retained and Clifford is one of the top candidates for one of the many open NBA head coaching jobs, and the removal of “buffers” between Howard and D’Antoni, according to ESPN Los Angeles’ sources “is a bad thing.”
Our thoughts on the Lakers’ coaching fits haven’t changed since the season, and Dave’s report doesn’t mess with a whole heck of a lot. Mike D’Antoni didn’t do an awful job with this group, but he also didn’t adapt to his team. It’s true that he had no bench, his point guard was hurt, and the roster didn’t suit his style – but it’s not the roster’s job to suit the coach. It’s the coach’s job to adapt to the roster. In an unfair but apt comparison, Phil Jackson was the guy that returned to the Lakers in time to work the triangle offense – an offense predicated on post passing and movement – with two of the worst passing big man of the era in Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown. Jackson modified the offense, waited out Andrew Bynum’s development, and utilized Pau Gasol expertly.
D’Antoni? He’s still hoping Pau Gasol can turn into Shawn Marion.
Perhaps that could change by October – and it better, because while Dwight Howard might be moping off to another team (though we doubt it), D’Antoni’s not going anywhere. Laker top cat Jim Buss dug in his heels with the D’Antoni hiring last fall, and he’s not going to show what he probably perceives to be weakness in dropping the former Suns and Knicks coach for another candidate. If Buss were open to player influence, Brian Shaw would be readying himself for his third year as Lakers coach right now.
(Or, perhaps, still coaching the Lakers deep into May of this season.)
The Lakers modified their offense by the end of the season into weird, somehow winning (because “Kobe” that’s why), amalgamation that seemed to make nobody happy. None of the team’s stars were really put in a good place, as Nash was still injured and taken out of dominating the ball, Bryant was playing way too many minutes, Pau was still out of place, and Howard wasn’t featured. All-around sacrifice is needed if a team full of very good players wants to evolve into a winner, but this version was so joyless and such an affront to the basketball gods that D’Antoni pleased so much in Phoenix, that the more spiritual of hoop followers may wonder if it was some sort of karmic reaction to various previous misdeeds from Mssrs. Howard and Buss.
Dwight doesn’t care about karmic reactions. He wants the ball, and he wants a lot of help so that nobody picks on him when things go wrong. The guy turned 27 this season, he’s been in the NBA since 2004, and this is pretty much what he is. Those waiting for the Long Awaited Big Grow-Up should just quit it.
Sadly, guys like this are power brokers in the NBA. Worse for Howard, he’s going up against one of the more well-heeled and stubborn power brokers in the NBA, and Jim Buss won’t go changin’ just to please him.
Van Gundy's Tuesday radio announcement follows a May 15 report by Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski that the former Miami Heat and Orlando Magic coach was "unlikely to return to coaching next season." Van Gundy also told Baumann that he hasn't interviewed with any NBA teams, "although several teams had contacted him and he keeps telling them no."
Van Gundy did not coach in the NBA during the 2012-13 season after he and former Magic general manager Otis Smith were "relieved of their duties" in Orlando following the, um, unpleasantcombustion of the Dwight Howard situation. (That "relief" came one year ago today, by the way.) He's rolled up a 371-208 record in seven-plus years on NBA sidelines, making the postseason in all seven seasons he completed — as you might remember, he stepped down in Miami "due to personal and family reasons" in December 2005 before Pat Riley took the reins and led the Dwyane Wade-Shaquille O'Neal combo to the NBA championship — and bringing the Magic to the NBA finals in 2009.
It wouldn't be shocking to see Van Gundy change his mind if the right coaching opportunity came around — he wouldn't be the first coach swayed by a combination of top-flight talent, top-shelf pay and a sound basketball operations arm — but for now, it seems, we're going to have to endure one more year without him on the sidelines. That's a bummer for fans of squads seeking a dynamite bench boss, and for those of us who could use a little more SVG in our lives. (Which is to say: All of us.)
In the world of professional sports, it's common for draft prospects to throw themselves at the mercy of their prospective employers. With most players having dreamed of making the NBA for as long as they can remember, their natural inclination is to do everything possible to please any team with a chance at drafting them. Any question or request is suitable. It's the best way for a player to prove he's ready to buy into the franchise's culture and long-term plans.
These actions are so prevalent that any example of a player pushing back against a team request deserves notice. Such is the case with forward Deshaun Thomas, who left Ohio State after his junior season. From Jason Lloyd for Ohio.com (via PBT):
If the San Antonio Spurs choose Deshaun Thomas in next month’s NBA draft, they might have a hard time reaching him to tell him. That’s because when the Spurs asked the former Ohio State star for his phone number Wednesday night, he refused to give it to them.
Thomas said teams asked him plenty of difficult and interesting questions during his interview process at the combine. But the most interesting, he said, was the fact the Spurs’ first question was for his cell phone number and his e-mail address. He gave them the e-mail, but not the phone number.
“I can’t go around giving it out to everyone,” Thomas said Thursday with a laugh. “Now if they want to draft me, I’d be happy to give it to them.”
There are a few ways to look at Thomas's refusal. By one view, he's being foolishly protective of a largely unimportant personal fact, something that professionals willfully put on business cards. DraftExpress.com rates Thomas as the 45th-best prospect available, which essentially means he's not even guaranteed of being selected in June's draft. Logically, Thomas should accede to any request a team makes, whether that involves handing out a phone number or answering more personal information. If he really cares about getting a job, he'll submit to the process no matter what.
Yet, from another perspective, there's something very respectable about Thomas's decision. The draft process is structured to give players very little control over their futures, with teams essentially allowed to divide them amongst themselves according to set salary levels and a fairly bizarre lottery process. Thomas, in his own small way, is attempting to inject some level of personal control into a system that turns him into a commodity at every opportunity. By agreeing to email communication but withholding his phone number, Thomas has told the Spurs (and presumably any other team that asks the same) that he's an individual with his own professional needs and desires. If he's going to enter into a business partnership with a team — this is employment, after all — he needs some assurances that his bosses will respect some aspects of his privacy. He's setting limits without refusing any communication of any kind.
It may seem odd to deny the Spurs' request given the standard NBA operating procedure, but Thomas has merely expressed a very basic human need for respect. It might hurt his chances at being drafted, but at least he's willing to stand up for his principles.
Pending free agent J.R. Smith has been an enigma since entering the NBA in 2005. On the basis of pure talent, he should be one of the top wing producers in the league, and he often looks like exactly that. Yet Smith has never managed to put together a consistent string of performances to prove himself worthy of making him the cornerstone of a franchise.
He got closest this season with the New York Knicks, earning Sixth Man of the Year honors and receiving standard-issue statements from media and team officials regarding his improved maturity. In true J.R. fashion, he followed that career peak with a sort of greatest hits compilation of his worst tendencies, to the point where many Knicks fans begged for head coach Mike Woodson to bench a player who only a few weeks before seemed essential to fulfilling their postseason aspirations.
Nevertheless, Smith has the chance to parlay his award-winning season into a significant deal this summer. Despite the troubles this postseason, J.R. wants to stay with the Knicks for as long as he can. From Peter Botte for the New York Daily News (via SLAM):
Whether Smith, 27, gets a chance to redeem himself in New York is uncertain. He is expected to opt out of the final year of his below-market value contract ($2.8 million per year) and test free agency this summer. The most the Knicks can offer the Jersey product is an “early Bird” exception starting at $4.9 million per year over four years, but there might be a team with more salary-cap room willing to pay Smith substantially more.
“I want to retire a Knick. I don’t want to go anywhere else,” Smith said. “I love my teammates, I love my coaches. I was standing in the locker room looking at my jersey after the game and just knowing that I don’t want to be anywhere else except in the orange and blue. We’ll see.”
Still, when asked if he’d be willing to take less money to remain in New York, Smith hedged and added, “I haven’t even thought about all that, that far. I still have to talk to (agent) Leon (Rose) and see where we’re at.”
The sentiment of this statement is perfectly acceptable. Smith has enjoyed his time with the Knicks and thinks he can build on this season's successes. There's no better way to profess one's belief in a franchise than by saying it could be a permanent home. The logic of Smith's statement only means so much — it's more of an emotional thing.
Nevertheless, it's interesting to consider what would have to happen for J.R. Smith to retire as a Knick. Smith will turn 28 before the start of next season. A conservative estimate says he has approximately six more season in the NBA. If Marc Berman's report that he is ready to sign a four-year deal with New York is correct, then a conservative estimate would require Smith to sign at least one more contract after this one to reach the end of his career. Or, who knows, maybe he'll retire at 30 to become a professional golfer. Weirder things have happened to less bizarre people.
J.R. has already spent two seasons in New York, which means he'd have to play roughly eight years in all with the Knicks to reach the fairly early retirement age of 34. Smith spent five seasons with the Denver Nuggets, so he has proven some ability to stick with a single franchise for a protracted period of time.
Yet the Nuggets stuck it out with Smith through many different disputes and unfortunate incidents largely because he was a young, developing player who might eventually mature. In this postseason, he proved that he is most likely never going to be that guy, either just because he's wired to self-destruct or just because teams tend to get frustrated that he's not the star he seems he could be. The NBA is not the sort of league that's inclined to commit to players who could ever inspire the headline "J.R. Smith Says He's Not Worried About Rihanna's Insults."
This doesn't mean that Smith is a useless player and shouldn't have a job. To the contrary, he absolutely earned his Sixth Man trophy and can do a lot of good for a team with title aspirations. However, Smith may not be a player best committed to over long periods of time. Given the shape of his career up until this point, it's possible that he should enter into short-term agreements. In other words, he's the kind of player who may never be able to sign a contract that ensures him of retiring with one franchise.
All this means, really, is that every player can't be approached with the same kind of contractual logic. Like anyone, he must be engaged on his own terms.
The Brooklyn Nets just about define the superficial experience. The team was put together by a billionaire owner that promised a championship in spite of a lacking basketball resume, before tossing tens of millions of dollars at a general manager in Billy King who has long made a habit of going after the biggest names available. Part-owner Jay-Z helped shape the team’s look and image, despite only owning a small percentage of the team, and not even making it out of the franchise’s first year before selling his shares. And the team’s arena, the Barclays Center, followed the latest trends with its exterior look in spite of some quizzical glances from Brooklyn natives.
Perhaps they were reacting to the smell of the place.
As the last few fans rushed through the arena's front doors, the brisk breeze that followed them gave way to a distinct aroma: a fresh-smelling fragrance with citrus notes that some call the arena's "signature scent," in the words of one Twitter observer.
What is the smell? A source familiar with the matter said it's the work of ScentAir, a company that manufactures custom fragrances pumped into the air at theme parks, stores and hotels around the world. The odors function like mood music for your nose. They're meant to enhance the consumer experience and build brand identities.
Members of the Prospect Nights meet-up group spent a recent evening puzzling over why the Barclays Center "smells like perfume," according to one member. Members weren't complaining about the scent, but it definitely tickled their curiosity.
"It became a topic of conversation and something they wanted to get to the bottom of," said the local resident, who didn't want his name used. "You have this stadium and it's big and metallic and industrial looking, and you have this smell of perfume coming out of it, so it was kind of amusing."
Everything about this Nets team is “kind of amusing,” from the team’s massive payroll, underwhelming style, and presence of both Andray Blatche (NBA-level “amusing”) and Kris Humphries (US Weekly-level “amusing”) working alongside Joe Johnson’s giant contract and Deron Williams blasé “superstar” play.
The canned smells are nothing new, according to Albrecht. Not only do various tourist spots in New York City utilize the work of ScentAir, but teams like the Atlanta Hawks, St. Louis Rams, and Dallas Cowboys have also become clients. I wasn’t aware you could bottle the smell of indifference, but apparently that hasn’t stopped the Hawks from trying.
The Nets have declined comment on the fragrance, and for good reason – even the best of press release mavens would have a hard time accurately describing why, exactly, one would decide to pay to have scented air pumped into Barclays Center, much less describing the scent in un-mockable terms and explaining why it’s fit for the team’s arena.
A new arena at that, one somewhat famous for its high end menu and high class clientele. The natural smell coming from Barclays isn’t going to be like the one I experienced climbing the concrete steps of Chicago Stadium as a kid – all cheap lager, worn in cigarette smoke leftover from a previous era, and the natural odor that tends to emanate from humans when they consume several cups of cheap lager.
No, the Barclays Center should naturally smell like the high end artisanal pretzel rolls and craft brews it offers its patrons, and not some imperceptible, “citrus” (which is a descriptive word all of us go for when we have no idea what a certain wine, cigar, or perfume smells like) odor that the Nets are paying for on top of the four years and $89 million they’ll pay Joe Johnson between last summer and 2016.
It’s their arena, their money, and their ventilation options. We’re just wondering why this ownership group even bothers, for just a first round team.
A look around the league and the Web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out.
C: Young Braised's SoundCloud. This appears to be nearly four months old, but it's new to me, via my associate Eric Freeman and our pal Bethlehem Shoals — a rock-solid 2 1/2 minutes of hip-hop references to former Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning. There's NSFW language in there, so listener beware, but for those of listening age, this is simply glorious. Bless you, Young Braised.
PF: For the Win. Charting the expansion of Manu Ginobili's bald spot. Soon, it will encompass the Earth.
SF: Grantland and HoopSpeak. Smart and kind gentlemen Zach Lowe and Brett Koremenos review Matt Bonner's four-3-pointer performance in the San Antonio Spurs' blowout Game 1 win and try to figure out whether the reserve big man's breakout was the result of dynamite San Antonio execution or porous Memphis Grizzlies defense. The answer, it seems, is "Yes."
SG: SB Nation. Picking up on that great offensive execution/poor defensive reaction theme, Mike Prada looks at how some trickery in the Spurs' bigs' screen-setting sent the Grizzlies spinning time and again.
PG: DraftExpress. With days of measurements and testing at the 2013 NBA draft combine now in the books, Matt Kamalsky looks at the results and tries to figure out which prospects' prospects were hurt and helped most by all that running and jumping.
6th: Forum Blue and Gold. With Dwight Howard's impending free agency already — already — a topic of conversation, Darius Soriano considers the inevitability of the 27-year-old center receiving a full-length maximum contract offer from multiple teams and wonders whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers — who can outspend fellow suitors by about $30 million for Howard's services, thanks to the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement — should be one of them.
7th: Posting and Toasting. With the 2012-13 New York Knicks season now complete, Seth Rosenthal looks back at the team's somewhat surprising small-ball identity — Carmelo Anthony at the four, two-point-guard starting lineups, all that ball movement, all those shooters — and wonders, success aside, if Woodson ever really wanted it in the first place.
8th: Sports Illustrated. A fantastic read from Chris Ballard about the rise of "Floor Spacers" — the knockdown 3-point shooters who tilt defenses, stretch the floor to create space for their star scoring teammates and, to some extent, are the NBA's answer to field-goal kickers.
9th: LeBronJames.com on YouTube. It's cool to watch LeBron James and Chris Paul tell college players at a camp what it means to not only get to the NBA, but to be successful in the league and become a star. It's even cooler when you realize that two of the people they're talking to are undergraduates Stephen Curry and James Harden. It's the coolest when you realize another is Hasheem Thabeet.
10th: Hardwood Paroxysm. Some Hamed Haddadi-themed poetry, prose and best wishes in honor of the inimitable Iranian center's 28th birthday.
Got a link or tip for Ball Don't Lie? Give me a shout at devine (at) yahoo-inc.com, or follow me on Twitter.
With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Golden State Warriors.
In spite of the fun – the team turned out to be one of the NBA’s more entertaining watches this season – the Golden State Warriors’ worries ended up right where things started last summer. Yes, the team made the playoffs; hitting the postseason for just the second time since going out in the first round in 1994, but Golden State’s health is still the team’s biggest obstacle. The Warriors will only go as far as Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut’s ankles will take them.
This was evident in October, when Bogut was being pushed back into action by a Warrior front office that purposely failed to accurately disclose that he had career-threatening microfracture surgery on his ankles the March before. This was apparent last week, when Stephen Curry could barely get off the ground while firing desperate three-pointers as the San Antonio Spurs closed out their series against Golden State.
For a while there, things clicked. The Warriors looked like potential Western Conference finals material while dismissing the Denver Nuggets and stealing home court advantage against the Spurs, all with Bogut and Curry working at near full-strength. By the time Stephen tweaked his left ankle in Golden State’s Game 3 loss to the Spurs, though, the reality had set in. The Warriors are only as good as the health of their best two players.
Bogut is the team’s second-best player, mind you. David Lee may have (weirdly) made the All-Star team ahead of Curry, and Klay Thompson is a real comer, but a healthy Andrew Bogut gives the team defensive relevance and go-to option offensively (with his interior passing) when a play goes pear-shaped. That isn’t to say that he’s played like the team’s second best player since being traded to Golden State in March of 2012 (despite some marvelous flashes in the first round last month) but ideally the two-way big man should be Golden State’s Number Two.
Part of this has to do with the team’s cap situation. Because the team made some incredibly daft moves in the months following the release of Don Nelson as the team’s personnel and coaching maven, the Warriors are set to pay the luxury tax with this same roster in 2013-14.
Given the ability to waive either Andris Biedrins or Stephen Jackson with the amnesty provision in December of 2011, the Warriors instead used it on guard Charlie Bell, who was set to make less than the league’s average salary in 2011-12. Bell was not in a good place back in 2011 – he showed up drunk to his own DUI hearing, and allegedly assaulted his girlfriend earlier in the year – but choosing his middling contract over Jackson or Biedrins was a huge mistake, as Biedrins is set to make $9 million in 2013-14, and because the Warriors (instead of just asking Jackson to leave the team, while paying his salary) eventually dealt Jackson to San Antonio.
The price for dumping S-Jax was taking on Richard Jefferson’s ridiculous salary, over $11 million in 2013-14, all because Charlie Bell was a bad dude and the team was worried about its center position because DeAndre Jordan probably was never going to become a Golden State Warrior. This limits the team’s ability to work up either sign-and-trade options, or use capped-out exceptions.
Luckily, the team is also working with more of the better bargains in the NBA.
Stephen Curry will start his second contract next season, but it’s at the very-reasonable rate of four years and $44 million. Only crippling ankle injuries and/or bad luck will get in the way of that being a smashing success on GSW’s side of things. Meanwhile, young wings Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes will be working on rookie scale contracts for the next two years, with Thompson not hitting restricted free agency until 2015, a year before Barnes. All of this comes after Biedrins and Jefferson say goodbye, and with Bogut (who could re-sign at a reduced rate) hitting free agency next summer.
Which means the Warriors, as you loved them in 2012-13, will be back next season.
The team has little choice, and it probably likes it that way. In the pre-Twitter days, a meme resulted when former Warrior general manager Garry St. Jean was widely ridiculed for pointing to “internal development” as a way of taking his team from the lottery to the playoffs for the first time in years. St. Jean’s words are on point some 15 years later, though, as a healthy summer and plenty of motivation following that too-swift second round exit could be enough to spark enough internal development amongst this young crew to make the third round a possibility. Jarrett Jack clearly wants to stick with the Warriors as a free agent this summer, and the team’s owners have enough in the bank to pay the luxury tax and shoot for a 16 or 17-game postseason run.
Best of all? Nobody is sick of these names yet. It’s only been a few days, and yet we can’t wait to see the Golden State Warriors play basketball again.
Healthy basketball, that is. Get lots of rest this summer, ankles.
While we hold out hope that the path charted by newly hired general manager Ryan McDonough will produce a winner sooner rather than later, there wasn'tmuchtocelebrate about the Phoenix Suns this season, we're sorry to say. In lottery-bound times like these, with the present a bummer and the future uncertain, it's understandable for fans (and the media who serve them) to harken back to more successful days gone by — like, for example, 1993, which was both the heyday of the Charles Barkley/Kevin Johnson/Paul Westphal crew and a nice, round 20 years ago, which makes for easy commemoratin'.
With the members of that team reminiscingabout how they came together and what they accomplished, it's only natural to check in with the man who signed the checks — Jerry Colangelo, who'd been with the Suns since its inception in 1967, put together a group that purchased the franchise in 1987 and, after years of fits and starts, built a winner in the desert.
In a chat with Paola Boivin of azcentral.com, Colangelo recalled the Suns' path to the 1993 NBA finals against the Chicago Bulls, the franchise with which the Chicago Heights product had gotten his start in the NBA as a scout and marketing director and the juggernaut that had won back-to-back titles in the previous two seasons. In the midst of all that recollection, the former Suns owner (he sold to Robert Sarver in 2004) and current director of USA Basketball shared a surprising story from the Chicago Stadium stands:
Michael Jordan’s 55 points led to a Bulls victory in Game 4 and left the Suns on the brink of vacation. An incident during the game left Colangelo with a double-dose of ill feelings.
He was sitting with his son, Bryan, when he heard a commotion behind him where his wife, Joanie, and mother were.
“What’s going on?” Colangelo asked.
“The guy behind us told your mom to shut up and sit down,” Joanie said.
Colangelo was livid and told the man to apologize. He wouldn’t. Colangelo sent his wife and mother away from the seats.
“You don’t want to do this, Mr. Colangelo,” a security guard told him.
As the game ended, the fan gave Colangelo the finger. Colangelo leaped over a row of seats and grabbed him. He got a punch in before security pulled him away.
No doubt inspired by their owner's pugilistic prowess, the Suns bounced back with a 108-98 Game 5 win to make it two wins in three tries in Chicago, stave off elimination and send the series back to Phoenix. (OK, the 74 combined points from Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and Richard Dumas might have played a bigger factor than Colangelo's dust-up.) Unfortunately for Suns fans, their squad's bid for a comeback from double-digit third-quarter deficit came up just short thanks to John Paxson and Horace Grant, sending Chicago to its third straight NBA title and the Suns home empty-handed after the best season in franchise history.
While the season's ending was disappointing, hundreds of thousands of Suns supporters still turned out for a post-playoffs parade to celebrate the Western Conference champions' achievement; clearly, they appreciate the fighting spirit shown by a team that took its lead from ownership.
According to Boivin, the ill-mannered heckler wasn't the person who'd purchased those season tickets, and later, "the man who owned the seats occupied by the culprit called Colangelo to apologize." Of course he did. He didn't want to get five across the eye from a close personal friend of Joe Garagiola Jr. Who would?
Larry Bird has not been a member of the Indiana Pacers, technically, since sitting in on the team’s observance of the NBA’s summer leagues in 2012. Citing health reasons and a need for a break after nine years of running the team, Bird stepped down from his position as Pacers el jefe last year, handing the keys over to longtime Pacers boss Donnie Walsh. Bird’s imprints are all over this rugged Pacer team, and his insistence on sticking with hybrid guard Lance Stephenson helped put Indiana into the conference finals on Saturday night, their first appearance in the third round in nine years.
My phone went off again early Sunday morning. It was Bird, who has kept a low profile since stepping down as a president last June. Bird was offering up nothing but praise this time about the team he put together.
“Those who play together stay together!” Bird wrote in the text.
Bird is right, the Pacers stuck together all year. They stuck together when Danny Granger was ruled out at the start of the season. They stuck together when they got off to a slow start. They stuck together when Granger came back and then went down again for the rest of the season. And they stuck together when they opened the second round of the playoffs as the underdogs against the New York Knicks.
You can easily picture someone like Larry Bird – with a flip-phone, Dad-style – pushing hard on those numbers, finding the right letters, tossing in a few exclamation points after locating the digit that gives you the potential for punctuation.
This sort of image, however inaccurate, is part of Indiana’s problem.
Bird, the team’s biggest star, may someday return to these Pacers, once again working in tandem with Donnie Walsh to sustain a winner in Indianapolis. For now, though, the player with the biggest Q score on the team is Roy Hibbert, only by way of a lone All-Star appearance during the lockout year, and several cameos on a television show that not nearly enough people are watching in real time. The Pacers may be well known to the basketball cognoscenti, all full of wonderment about where Orlando Johnson’s minutes went and why Gerald Green is allowed to wear shoes that don’t match his uniform, but the viewing public knows precious little about the team that is about to attempt to knock Miami off its perch.
All of which is bad news for the NBA’s viewing numbers. The league’s ratings improved this season, but a combination of unfortunate factors – injuries, Miami’s quick and cable-based run through the first two rounds, the Lakers’ suckitude, poor timing when it came to which teams were available for Sunday afternoon – has led to declining ratings for the national TV broadcasts.
The NBA threw another batch of unknowns onto ABC on Sunday, those grinding Memphis Grizzlies, alongside a San Antonio Spurs team big audiences have historically been averse to. And though the NBA has spaced out the Eastern Conference finals, it’s hard to anticipate a massive national audience tuning in for Game 3 this weekend, in Indianapolis. On basic cable, no less. Up against a litany of shows (your men that are mad, your thrones that are involved in other games) that the basketball cognoscenti is years behind watching, mainly because they’ve been paying attention to Orlando Johnson.
Maybe if Larry Bird decided to make a late May visit to Indiana’s Game 3, this could change. What would really make a ratings difference is if Indiana stole the home court in Game 1 or Game 2. They’ll have Bird to thank if such a steal happened for the second year in a row.
The Sacramento Kings need a new general manager. They also need a new arena, a new vision, and possibly a trip to a greasy diner while dealing with the hangover resulting from the party that came after Vivek Ranadive’s recent purchase of the team. Even before they decide between sausage and bacon, though, the Kings need a new GM.
The problem is that they have a GM, Geoff Petrie, already in place. And though Petrie is a former NBA Executive of the Year, creating the Kings’ golden era by fleecing teams in trades while drafting smartly, Petrie’s approach has been curious at best and disastrous at worst in the years since. Sacramento hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006, the team has been through seven coaches since then, and there is precious little to show for years of lottery appearances and cap-conscious planning. The influence of the outgoing owners has quite a bit to do with that postseason-less streak, but Petrie has done his own damage as well.
And yet, a day before the NBA’s draft lottery points toward Sacramento’s rookie fate, Petrie is still in charge, still running the team he’s been behind since the Clinton Administration. From Jason Jones, at the Sacramento Bee:
Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie is interviewing prospects for next month's NBA draft while questions about how decisions will be made going forward remain unanswered.
In recent months, there had been little if any communication from the Maloofs about the future of the front office amid the proposed sale and relocation to Seattle that league owners voted down last week.
"I haven't had the opportunity to talk to anybody yet (from Ranadive's group)," said Petrie, whose contract expires at the end of June. "But my understanding is the sale probably won't officially close for a couple more weeks. How that plays into communication, I really don't know at this point."
Because of that paperwork, the final dots and crosses on a major sale for a basketball team somehow valued at $535 million (that’s not a shot at the Kings nor Sacramento, just the spiraling costs for NBA franchises in general), it appears as if the Kings have no choice but to let Petrie finish out his contract, and select his final draft choice.
They're lucky they'll get one. A few more wins, here and there, and the team could have lost out.
Odds say Sacramento will wind up with the sixth pick in next month’s draft, but if the team won 33 or so games and bad luck reared its head once again with these Kings in Tuesday’s lottery and their pick fell to 14th in the draft, it would be forced to hand its pick over to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s the price for a forgotten Petrie trade that sent Omri Casspi to the Cavs in exchange for J.J. Hickson. Hickson has long since moved on, but that conditional draft pick could still go to Cleveland if the Kings reach the low end of the lottery (the pick is top 12 protected next season, and top 10 protected in 2015, 2016, and 2017) in upcoming years.
That’s a killer for any new GM, one that could spearhead a plucky, 38-win season (hey, this would be an improvement), only to lose out on a potential contributor in the first round because Geoff Petrie wanted 644 minutes of J.J. Hickson some years before.
This is all part of the everlasting pall created by the Maloof brothers, a miserable set of owners that hamstrung the Sacramento Kings for years not only by making terrible decisions with their own finances, but by remaining indifferent to the basketball end of things at the worst times (they still meddled with some coaching and personnel decisions) and letting Petrie have his way. And that’s not even getting into the whole part about how this crew tried to, y’know, move the team away from Sacramento.
It’s a bad draft, and all indications point to Petrie having a pick in the second part of a top ten that won’t change the fortunes of the franchise all that much. The real work for the next GM will come in the form of figuring out what to do with all of Petrie’s previous lottery picks – Tyreke Evans is a restricted free agent this summer, DeMarcus Cousins is perhaps the NBA’s most unkindly-regarded big man with size and skill – and determining what can be spent on potential free agents as the team changes hands.
What’s certain, unless the Ranadive group has a basketball mind in place to quickly take over the minute the ink dries, is that Petrie’s regime is on its last legs. A shame, because this is the man that smartly took chances and showed patience with players like Predrag “Peja” Stojakovic, Jason Williams, Hidayet “Hedo” Turkoglu, and Gerald Wallace years before, while securing both Chris Webber and Vlade Divac in the same offseason all for the price of Otis Thorpe, Mitch Richmond, and some free agent bucks. He hired Rick Adelman even after Rick flamed out in Golden State, and constructed the NBA’s second best team for a good two or three-year stretch – only felled by the dynastic Los Angeles Lakers, and a poorly-timed knee injury to Chris Webber.
Time is running out, though. Sadly for all, the only thing that’s getting in the way of Petrie running his last draft for Sacramento is the red tape inherent in the sale of a franchise worth $535 million.
"This is not about getting back at Miami," Vogel said. "If you're in the final four, you're competing for a championship. You're competing for a championship. And they're just the next team that's in our way."
Reporter to LeBron: “Vogel kept saying last night that you guys are just another team."
And here's how LeBron responded to that (which, again, is totally not what Vogel said):
“We’re not just another team. I don’t understand what he’s saying. But we’re not just another team. It’s not true. [...] We’re not just another team. We’re a great team. We’re very confident. We’ll be ready for them. But if we’re just another team, you really don’t prepare for just another team. We’re not just another team. You got to be prepared for us."
Here's how Vogel responded to James' response to something he never even said, as related by Pacers.com's Scott Agness on Monday morning:
"Sorry sports world, the words 'just another team' never came out of my mouth," he said. "Great respect for LBJ and the champs. Looking forward to [a] great series."
So, naturally, we're probably mere moments away from the MVP being told about Vogel's "blatant disrespect for El BJ and the chumps," because Game 1 doesn't tip off until Wednesday night and dangit, people have to talk about something, even when it's nothing.
The incident happened around 1:55 p.m. Sunday in downtown Kent. The victim is a woman who told police she has a 10-year-old son whose father is Williams.
The woman told police that Williams had a scheduled visitation exchange with the boy on Sunday, and during the exchange in a downtown Kent parking lot, the two began arguing. The woman told police that Williams brandished a firearm and made threats. He then left the area.
Police later found Williams and took him into custody "without incident," terming the situation "a domestic violence case under investigation."
Williams has largely underwhelmed in his four-year professional career, failing to live up to the significant promise the 6-foot-6 combo guard possessed when the then-New Jersey Nets selected the tantalizing Louisville product with the 11th pick in the 2009 NBA draft.
After a relatively quiet start to his career in New Jersey, Williams came on strong late in the season, earning more minutes on the struggling club and showcasing an intriguing all-around floor game, averaging just under 12 points, six rebounds and 4.5 assists per game after the All-Star break. The honeymoon didn't last long, though, as Williams spent Summer League and preseason gunning, started the 2010-11 season by showing up late for practices and testing the patience of Nets coach Avery Johnson, earning a two-game suspension that was followed by a first-of-its-kind D-League demotion. Shortly thereafter, the Nets shipped him off to the Houston Rockets in a three-team deal; Williams would struggle to crack Houston's rotation, making only 23 appearances over two seasons for the Rockets before being waived in March 2012. He finished out the 2011-12 season with the Sacramento Kings, but was let go after a relatively nondescript 18-game stint in Northern California, and headed off to China after failing to catch on with any club heading into this past season.
Their roster decimated by injuries — especially in the backcourt, where they lost both starter Rajon Rondo and reserve Leandro Barbosa to season-ending injuries — the Celtics gave Williams another shot after he'd wrapped his stint with the Guandong Southern Tigers, signing him to a 10-day deal in February and offering him a chance to work his way back into the NBA. Williams performed well enough in limited duty as a backup point guard, averaging 4.6 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 13.3 minutes per game in 24 regular-season appearances for Doc Rivers' squad. Boston signed Williams for the remainder of the 2012-13 season and the 2014 season following the expiration of his initial 10-day deal, but his '13-'14 veteran minimum contract is wholly unguaranteed, according to ShamSports.com's salary database.
In an April interview with CSNNE.com's Jessica Camerato, Williams expressed gratitude at getting another NBA chance and having the opportunity to dispel the league-wide notion that, despite his skill-set and athleticism, his character issues make him the kind of prospect best viewed from a distance.
"I have to prove everything," he said matter-of-factly. "What have I proved? Nothing. I just proved I can wear number 55 and some funny looking shoes. I feel like I’m starting over. I feel like I’m turning 21 again on Draft Night and just getting drafted. To me, to be honest, I feel like I have to prove everything."
Sunday's Game 1 of the Western Conference finals was decided by precision and effort — the San Antonio Spurs had great, heaping helpings of both, while the Memphis Grizzlies came up lacking. The former was most evident in San Antonio's half-court execution leading to wide-open looks and knockdown shooting, with the Spurs shooting 52.6 percent from the floor and a scorching 48.3 percent from 3-point range, setting a franchise postseason record with 14 long balls in a 105-83 Game 1 beatdown.
The latter, though, manifested itself most in the Spurs' ability to stymy big man Zach Randolph. The 31-year-old power forward led the Grizzlies in scoring during the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, but was largely locked up in Game 1, missing his first seven shots, not getting on the scoreboard until 2 1/2 minutes into the fourth quarter and finishing with a whisper-quiet two points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes.
After the game, Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley — whose 14-point, eight-assist outing was overshadowed by a brilliant game from counterpart Tony Parker (20 points on 9 for 14 shooting and nine dimes) — said Randolph came to his teammates contrite following the final buzzer, Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports:
"He tried to apologize [in the locker room], and we wouldn't accept that. We said, 'It's not you; it's all of us.' He's just saying that he's going to do better, but we've all got to do better defensively, and offensively we've got to move the ball in order to get other guys open like Zach and play our game." [...]
Randolph, who entered having averaged 19.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in the playoffs, was quick to take blame afterward.
"It's just one of them nights, first game of the series for me," he said. "It was just the rhythm of the game. ... But I've got to be better. Like I told my teammates, I've got to be better for them and we've got to be better as a group."
Plenty of credit, certainly, belongs to a Spurs coaching staff lef by Gregg Popovich that designed multiple different looks to fluster Randolph and a San Antonio squad that committed to executing the game-plan throughout the Sunday afternoon contest.
That game-plan included banging with the Memphis bruiser before he ever got near the ball, contacting him early, riding him often and pushing him out of his comfort zones whenever possible, and it began on the first possession of the game, with Kawhi Leonard and primary defender Tim Duncan putting hands on Z-Bo right away:
It also included Spurs help defenders knowing the personnel they were guarding and acting accordingly, as with Danny Green allowing Memphis guard Tony Allen — who A) attempted 24 3-pointers this year and made three of them and B) is missed 36 of his 46 tries from the slot above the right elbow this year, according to NBA.com's shot charts — to roam out high in favor of staying on Randolph's hip alongside Duncan:
Allen wound up getting a kickout and making his shot, but that's still a way less dangerous look for San Antonio's defense than Randolph catching in the paint one-on-one with room to operate.
Ditto for any shot veteran backup Keyon Dooling (5 for 16 outside the paint this postseason) might take, which is why Spurs reserve Cory Joseph basically ignores him and chooses to buddy up with Boris Diaw instead, shading Randolph away from the middle and influencing him into popping an elbow jumper:
San Antonio also made a point of pressuring attempted entry passes and forcing Randolph to catch the ball further away than he might like to, as you can see here with Leonard pushed up on Tayshaun Prince on the left wing and Duncan pressing Z-Bo deep out into midrange:
But while San Antonio repeatedly did good things to mess with Randolph's rhythm and keep him from getting comfortable, as both Conley and Randolph noted, there were opportunities for Memphis to take advantage of the attention Z-Bo drew, and Memphis just missed them.
Take this mid-first-quarter possession, which took place after Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins — likely very aware of how Green was basically ignoring Allen on offense early — took out his All-Defensive First Teamer in favor of reserve guard Jerryd Bayless, a more reliable and potentially dangerous distance shooter. Well, "more reliable and potentially dangerous" when he's putting himself in a position to help, anyway:
As Randolph makes his move into the paint, where all five Spurs defenders are waiting for him, Bayless is totally wide open out on the perimeter. He's also kind of just chilling and walking back to the other end of the floor:
... which might be a nice display of confidence in Z-Bo's ability to go one-on-five, but is also not the best way to help provide floor-spacing and make-them-pay-for-loading-up offensive pressure relief. Randolph missed the forced attempt, and the ball went out of bounds to the Spurs. (Bayless had a decent enough offensive game in total, going 3 for 7 off the bench for eight points and adding five assists without a turnover, but his on-ball defense also helped facilitate some of Parker's whirling-dervish destruction in the first half.)
Tayshaun Prince committed a similar error midway through the second quarter, when Leonard completely left him alone in the corner to help on Randolph — understandably so, considering he's 0 for 6 on corner 3s this postseason, just 4 for 16 from deep overall and 21 for 73 (28.8 percent) outside the paint this postseason — and Prince responded by not only not spotting up as a threat for a kickout, but actually pointing to Allen, seemingly suggesting that he'd be a better option:
The result, as you might expect, was a turnover.
Randolph didn't do himself any favors, either, with the sure-handed big man dropping a couple of passes down low and failing to make his customary impact on the offensive glass. When Hollins said after the game, “When you're right at the basket, and you miss layups, San Antonio had nothing to do with that," he wasn't specifically talking about Z-Bo, but the shoe fit him pretty snugly, too.
Add it all up — the constant pressure and doubling from all angles, the high-quality work by San Antonio's bigs of forcing Randolph further out or fronting the post (as detailed by CBSSports.com's Zach Harper), Randolph missing chippies and a lack of effective floor-stretching from Memphis' wings — and you've got a recipe for a bad Game 1 and a big-time loss.
Luckily, this isn't anything new for the Grizzlies, who lost Game 1 in each of their first two series this postseason and came back to win eight of the nine subsequent games. And luckily for Memphis fans, Randolph's point guard says he thinks the big man's temperament will serve him well as the Grizzlies prepare for Game 2.
The San Antonio Spurs won their second round series with the Golden State Warriors last Thursday, the night after it learned it would be playing the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals. By the looks of San Antonio’s 105-83 Game 1 win on Sunday, though, it appears as if the Spurs have been preparing for this matchup for over two years.
It was over two years ago that the Grizzlies shocked the Spurs by topping the longtime contender in their opening round series. And though both rosters have changed somewhat in the years since, the core of both teams’ value system (talking and movement for San Antonio, rugged low post and defensive play for Memphis) remains the same. Because the Spurs pulled out early against Golden State, though, and the Oklahoma City Thunder never really looked like a contender against Memphis in the second round, you get the feeling that the Spurs coaching staff was multitasking throughout last week, mindful of its eventual showdown with Memphis.
It showed throughout Game 1, as there was no letup from San Antonio. The Spurs absolutely refused to let the Grizzlies make a sound entry pass, taking away the most productive part of a Memphis offense that sometimes struggles to score even with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol going all out. On the other end, San Antonio made the West’s best defense look undisciplined and downright amateurish at times, flooding the lane with drives and taking advantage of a Grizzlies team that for some reason kept leaving shooters open in the corner. The Spurs capitalized by hitting 14-29 three-pointers on the afternoon.
It was somewhat shocking. The Spurs are to be respected, but for the entire season the Grizzlies have done well to communicate defensively and stay on the same page. And yet throughout Game 1 Memphis’ defensive spacing was way off; even when the team connected on shots, allowing it to steady its half-court D.
Memphis just had no answers for Tony Parker who not only was able to spearhead that drive and dish game, but he routinely embarrassed both Grizzlies guards and big men with his step-back jumpers on the left side. Parker finished with 20 points and nine assists in just under 33 minutes, needing only 14 shots to do his damage. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Matt Bonner had far too easy a time setting up for three-pointers in both the corner and up top. Tim Duncan missed six of nine shots, but his defense was superb, and the Spurs offense produced 28 points on 40 field goal makes. It was a clinic, done in the face of the best of the West.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, just could not adapt.
Unable to get good position or even the ball at times, Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph missed seven of eight shots and didn’t attempt a free throw, failing to score until the 9:29 mark of the fourth quarter. Center Marc Gasol was able to get more shots off, but he was reduced to improvisational forays around the hoop, and missed nine of 16 in Game 1.
Mike Conley paired his bad defense with four of the team’s 12 turnovers, Tony Allen was caught ball watching and gambling defensively a few times, and the Grizzlies only made their run (working the deficit down to six midway through the third quarter) based on the hot touch of Quincy Pondexter (17 points off the bench), and Jerryd Bayless. Not exactly the duo you’d trust to lead you to the NBA Finals.
The execution was just too much for Memphis. The Spurs clearly had the right amount of rest, rhythm, and (especially) preparation in place to be ready for whatever the Grizzlies threw at Gregg Popovich’s team, and Memphis just could not adapt. They’ll have time to counter that punch, in the hours before Tuesday’s Game 2, but what happens when the Spurs anticipate those counters ahead of time? Does Memphis hit the mat, again?
This series was always going to be a struggle. It’s surprising that its first outing was only a struggle for one side, though. San Antonio sure did its homework.
The New York Knicks, once thought of as the top threat in the East to defeat the mighty Miami Heat, are out of the playoffs. And they have one of their own to blame, following Saturday’s 106-99 Indiana Pacers win and series conquest in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Lance Stephenson grew up in Brooklyn hating the Indiana Pacers. After a rough start to NBA career, though, he grew into loving working for his adopted hometown and Pacer team, and he was likely more than cognizant of the criticism that arose from his time spent as Indiana’s top backcourt penetrator during the team’s Game 5 loss against the New York Knicks on Thursday. With George Hill out, the Pacers needed someone to step up on the perimeter, and Stephenson (13 points on 13 shots) could not step up. Game 6, however, was about as “up” as steps come.
Even with George Hill in the Pacer starting lineup, Stephenson put up a career-high 25 points in the contest, topping his previous playoff-high in points by halftime by dropping 16 on the Knicks. Working between New York’s smallish lineup, the former University of Cincinnati guard also weaved his way toward 10 rebounds in just 34 minutes, his fourth double-digit rebounding game of the postseason. And though the Knicks reverted to their old, winning ways – a small rotation, plenty of three-point attempts – the team just could not keep in front of the younger Indiana Pacers.
Though he was mostly shut out of the fourth quarter, mostly, this wasn’t Carmelo Anthony’s fault. From the outset of the game it was apparent that the Knicks coaching staff was attempting to make Anthony’s mid-post looks a priority, and throughout the game the MVP-vote garner used his touch and savvy to out-duel an all-world defender in Paul George. Anthony tossed in 39 points on 29 shots before the Pacer defense decided that Carmelo Anthony, alone, was not going to send them to a Game 7 in New York.
Initially, the Pacers chose incorrectly, as the Knicks responded with a flurry of three-pointers from Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Chris Copeland. The Pacer defense, ranked tops in the league for the better part of the 2012-13 NBA season, adapted. New York scored just 18 points in the final quarter of their season, as Stephenson tossed in some opportunistic makes, David West found some cutters with timely passes, and the Pacers earned trips to the line.
And before Knick fans and NBA know-alls toss the final tally in Carmelo Anthony’s face, they should understand that the Indiana Pacers are a better basketball team than Carmelo’s New York Knicks. The outcome of this series, is the correct one.
Part of that, in a weird way, is Carmelo’s fault. He demanded a trade to New York that saw Isiah Thomas (unofficially, as he was technically not a Knick employee at the time) inspiring a depth-killing deal from Denver to New York that gave Anthony both a maximum-level contract and very little room around him save for his fellow eight-figure earning teammates in Amar’e Stoudemire (two points in less than six minutes in Game 6) and Tyson Chandler (two points, six rebounds, and six fouls in less than 23 minutes). The Pacers’ bench is hardly inspiring, but Indiana’s rotation still had enough to circle the wagons when Anthony appeared to be well on his way toward winning the game by himself in the third quarter.
Indiana wasn’t bothered, though, which is impressive for a team that went into Saturday afternoon not knowing if George Hill could even suit up for the rest of the series; while potentially tailing off a year that was spent mostly without former All-Star Danny Granger. Roy Hibbert spent the better part of two months shooting less than 40 percent from the field. Coach Frank Vogel probably walks the streets of his own city without recognition. A guy named Sam Young, somehow, was crucial for key parts of this game. And yet the team is four wins away from its second NBA Finals appearance in the team’s post-ABA history.
The Knicks boast six former All-Stars, the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award, and the NBA’s sixth-highest payroll. This loss isn’t a damning indictment of going after big names and top salaries, though.
The Indiana Pacers, a team that sent all five of its starters to the podium following Game 6, were just the better team. And prior to their Game 1 matchup with the Miami Heat on Wednesday, you’ll have a small bit of time to learn their names.
George Hill will play in Indiana’s crucial, and potentially series-deciding, Game 6 against the New York Knicks on Saturday.
“We did everything by the book,” Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel told the media in the hours before his team’s match with the Knicks. Vogel told the media that his team’s medical staff, in concert with the NBA, put George Hill through all the proper paces as he recovered from a concussion suffered in Game 4 of his team’s series against the New York Knicks. Hill missed Game 5 because of that concussion, surprising most who witnessed both his brilliant play during the Game 4 win and affable demeanor post-game.
The NBA’s concussion policy is lightly defined, when it comes to choosing a number of games a player can sit out for; but what is known about the policy is the stringent, recently-made, tests that players have to go through. Whether the player in question enjoys the tests or not, the NBA runs an exacting standard of procedures put in place to determine if the athlete in question is fit to compete in a safe environment that would not leave the player in question prone to future head injury.
We hope that’s the case, at least. Saturday’s Game 6 is an important game, full of intrigue and season-deciding drama. What’s most important, though, is Hill’s long-term health. Brain “injuries” aren’t about gutting anything out; and it isn’t as if Hill (who was already dodging elbows from the likes of players like Tyson Chandler well before his concussion) was shirking his responsibility in Game 5.
We just hope his ability to suit up for Game 6 stems from a good report from a doctor that has nothing to do with the NFL, and that this is the last time we’ll ever have to discuss a head injury to George Hill.
The minds behind Ball Don’t Lie are going to preview each of the parings in the third round, with Kelly Dwyer going against character for a more genial take, Dan Devine bringing his inimitable mixture of both order and bedlam, along with Eric Freeman’s legendary look inside the reputations of some of the series’ key fixtures.
We begin with the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies.
Which team do you think will win the series, and in how many games? Vote here to let us know what you think.
Kelly Dwyer’s Guide Vocal
For the last 11 games, the span of the team’s run through the 2013 postseason, the Memphis Grizzlies have defended their turf against stars. Now, against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals, the team will be asked to defend against a system. The problem for Memphis is that they don’t even know what system they’re up against.
The Grizzlies boast their conference’s best defense, but that hardly matters to a coach like Spurs head man Gregg Popovich. Though he’s been able to boast the luxury of fielding a rotation that includes Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili since 2002-03, the Spurs have taken on dozens of permutations since that year, in ways that go far beyond roster turnover. The Spurs adapt, effortlessly, and react with execution that pushes the limits of their ability. Even if capitulation is the result — the Spurs haven’t made the NBA Finals since 2007 — this doesn’t mean the team was caught off guard.
It just means there wasn’t enough time between games. As you may have seen last season, when the Spurs dropped four straight against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that was scarily gaining in confidence from contest to contest.
The Grizzlies just topped a version of that Thunder team that didn’t resemble last year’s conference-winning crew in the slightest, as the 2013 version was sadly missing both Russell Westbrook to injury and James Harden to a tax-saving trade. Prior to that, Memphis worked past a Los Angeles Clippers team that strangely decided not to feature Eric Bledsoe as much as expected, while fielding an injured and limited Blake Griffin toward the latter stages of the series. Grit and grind has paired with timing and opportunity, we should remind.
This doesn’t mean the Grizzlies are ready for their comeuppance.
The Spurs faced a Los Angeles Lakers team that didn’t have the talent to pull off a win at the playoff level and was looking forward to the end of the season by the time Game 2 began. Game 3 of the Western Conference semis saw Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry’s ankle go kablooie once again, and the Warriors star was left to scramble around like a real hamster huey for the next few games — barely able to lift while shooting long, loping jumpers that rarely hit. So apparently the sainted Spurs have backed into things a bit, as well.
Backing into things is Memphis’ advantage, as we know. Zach Randolph has not been the same since the lockout and an early season 2011-12 knee injury limited his all-world abilities, but his iffy shooting percentages from the teams’ regular-season matchups cannot be trusted. Marc Gasol’s chances at overwhelming Tiago Splitter should be in place, but nobody knows what sort of Splitter will show up, or how much Gasol will address the team’s need for fourth-quarter scoring in the actual first and second quarters of the game.
Memphis’ style, super-slow ball with an emphasis on interior play, is well-known. What is less programmable is the team’s pangs and fits since a midseason trade involving Rudy Gay shook up the franchise. The easy out is to assume that the Grizzlies take back to their 2011 ways, upsetting the Spurs in a playoff series without Gay in uniform, grabbing the momentum and home-court advantage while the league’s eyes were turned elsewhere.
The problem with that is that the Spurs are fully focused, this time around, and the team knows it can’t combat these Grizzlies with the same ancient attack it sent out in 2011, and Duncan also knows that he’s in far better shape to handle the Memphis group this time around. In many ways, this late-season version of the Grizzlies resembles the 2011 Spurs, squads that only need a wrench in the works to disrupt much-discussed plans about low post play and high efficiency shots. Perhaps these Spurs — with that depth and that group of youngsters that knows little else beyond executing as Coach Pop asks — are the underdog.
Perhaps that’s how it should be.
PREDICTION: Grizzlies in 6.
Contribute to the Chaos with Dan Devine
For as much as we try to study and analyze every aspect of NBA life these days, in every playoff series, there are unpredictable elements — a player, a tendency, a set, a decision, etc. — that can tilt a moment on its ear, change the complexion of a game or even determine the outcome of a series. For each matchup during this postseason, Dan Devine will look for those X-factors most likely to wreak havoc over the next seven games.
(The phrase "Contribute to the chaos” comes from the song “Twin Size Mattress” by the band The Front Bottoms, which Dan likes a lot.)
San Antonio Spurs: Tiago Splitter being better than Serge Ibaka, at least in context.
Throughout Memphis’ five-game win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ibaka struggled to sustain any offensive rhythm without injured point guard Russell Westbrook feeding him a steady diet of open looks. The power forward’s inability to provide scoring helped create a clear matchup win for the Grizzlies despite Ibaka’s sound work on the other end. When Ibaka was on the court in Round 2, Zach Randolph shot 42.9 percent and produced an average of 96 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com’s stat tool; when Ibaka sat, Z-Bo’s field-goal percentage rose nearly 11 percent and his individual offensive rating soared to 109.3-per-100.
With Tim Duncan likely to spend most of his time wrestling with Marc Gasol, it’ll be up to Splitter to match Ibaka’s work slowing Randolph while providing more efficient offensive contributions when required. The Brazilian big man actually did a good job on both counts in the teams’ four regular-season matchups. Randolph shot more accurately during Splitter’s minutes than when Tiago sat, but he shot less often, got to the line less often and scored about 3 1/2 fewer points per 36 minutes of court time against Splitter-featuring lineups. And while you can’t make apples-to-apples comparisons given Splitter’s significantly smaller role in the Spurs’ offensive machine, he was really effective in his opportunities against the Grizzlies, using his quickness and athleticism advantages to score 10.3 points in 26 minutes per game vs. Memphis this season and shoot a sterling 73.7 percent from the field when Randolph was on the court.
Another key factor: Z-Bo was way less active on the offensive glass with Splitter around. With Tiago on the bench, Randolph vacuumed 17.3 percent of available offensive rebounds against the Spurs, a rate that would’ve topped Brooklyn Nets glass-eater Reggie Evans’ league-leading season mark. When Splitter played, Randolph came up with teammates’ misses only half as often (8.6 percent), managing just two second-chance points in 81 minutes. When you go back and watch the tape, you begin to see why.
With Mike Conley orchestrating up top or Gasol working from the elbows, Randolph tends to hang down on the baseline. Splitter more often than not does a really good job of not only tagging Z-Bo early, but also maintaining contact with him throughout the possession without letting his attention drift too much toward the on-ball action, which prevents Randolph from getting the kind of openings he so frequently exploits with quick slide-step duck-ins to secure rebounding position. While Randolph’s obviously a bull in the paint, Splitter’s combination of length and strength makes him a better bet to effectively box Z-Bo out than the likes of DeJuan Blair, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner.
If Splitter can continue to slow Randolph on the offensive glass, make him work for post position, bother him with length on midrange face-ups and maximize his chances to make Memphis pay on the other end, it’ll go a long way toward neutralizing one of the key advantages the Grizzlies hold over most opponents. He doesn’t have to silence Z-Bo; he just has to turn the volume down. If he can’t, Randolph could have the kind of loud series that leaves San Antonio with a splitting headache.
Memphis Grizzlies: Keep Danny Green quiet, because that probably means you’re doing all right defensively.
Most of the rave reviews the fourth-year guard from North Carolina drew in Round 2 focused on his lock-and-trail work on Stephen Curry. But Green was also an important source of secondary offense for the Spurs in the semifinals, averaging 12 points in just under 36 minutes per game, shooting 45.6 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from 3-point range.
His two worst shooting performances — 4 for 12 in Game 2 and 4 for 13 in Game 4, a combined 4 for 15 from downtown — coincided with the Spurs’ two losses in the series. Green’s shooting has actually been kind of an interesting bellwether for San Antonio all year; he sizzled (48.7 percent from the field, 47.9 percent from deep) in Spurs wins and struggled (35.5 percent, 31.2 percent) in losses during the regular season. It’s continued in the playoffs — 49.2/48.5 in San Antonio’s eight wins, 32/26.7 in their two losses.
This is, of course, more effect than cause. San Antonio doesn’t win because Green shoots well, but Green shooting well indicates good health for the Spurs. Nearly 62 percent of Green’s offensive possessions this season came on spot-up shots or transition looks, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Just under half of Green’s field-goal attempts came as a result of one of those two scenarios; that includes 79.5 percent of his 3-point tries, which he buried at a 43.7 percent clip in such situations.
Generally speaking, Green’s offense stems from either sound Spurs defense that triggers fast-break opportunities, allowing him to leak out to the arc while the opposition worries first about stopping the ball, or from well-executed Spurs half-court offense driven by drive-and-kick work from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. When those two things are working, Green gets fed and produces; when those two things are working, the Spurs are incredibly tough to beat.
The Grizzlies are better equipped than most teams to throw a wrench in San Antonio’s works, though, given their talents for disrupting execution (second in the league in defensive efficiency this year), closing off the arc (sixth-fewest long-ball attempts allowed, second-lowest 3-point percentage allowed), stymieing open-court opportunities (fourth-lowest points-per-possession allowed in transition) and locking up shooters (fourth-lowest points-per-possession allowed on spot-up tries). All that makes Memphis the kind of defense tailor-made to keep Green buttoned up; they did just that this season. The duo of Tony Allen and Mike Conley — with some early-season Rudy Gay and Quincy Pondexter mixed in — held Green to just five points in 22.5 minutes per game on 28 percent shooting from the field and 22.2 percent from 3 during their four meetings, his worst marks against any opponent during the regular season.
If Green continues to produce at that level during this series, it will likely be a telltale symptom of a larger infection of the San Antonio offense. If he’s able to get loose like he did against Golden State, it might mean Gregg Popovich and company have found the cure for what’s ailed them against the Grizz these past couple of years, which could well result in a return to the NBA finals.
PREDICTION: Grizzlies in 6.
Eric Freeman’s Reputations Index
An NBA athlete can make great strides in the offseason, improve over the course of the 82-game schedule, and see his fortunes change due to a freak injury. Yet, even in a league where granular analysis reveals untold nuances in a single player’s game, the postseason still determines his legacy. A star can become a legend or be seen as lacking some necessary quality to win; a role player can lock down a lucrative local endorsement contract or search for a new home; a youngster can ascend to a new level of fame or fall into irrelevance. The Reputations Index is your guide to what’s at stake in each postseason series.
Tony Parker: The Spurs have been such a good regular season team in recent years that Parker has been mentioned as a potential NBA candidate (or at least someone who should be “in the conversation,” which usually means he has no chance of winning) at various points along the way. The argument is usually pretty simple: the Spurs are among the best teams in the league and Parker is their best offensive producer, so he should get some recognition.
There is no doubt that Parker is a deserving All-Star and future Hall of Famer, but there’s a sense that he’s not held to the same standards as other players at this supposed MVP level. As Ethan Sherwood Strauss argued in a piece at ESPN Insider during the first round, Parker has not played particularly well in the last three postseasons, seeing his PER drop at least 3.6 Hollingerians from his regular season level in each. This trend hasn’t continued in this postseason so far — he’s actually gone up from 23.0 to 23.3 — but Parker was not a continual force in the Warriors series and shot worse than 43 percent from the field in four of the six games.
Parker only deserves so much criticism for his play, because he’s still a highly effective player who the Spurs can’t leave out. Yet it’s also true that he plays a very different style from the players most widely acknowledged as the best in the league. Like anyone, Parker relies on a few go-to moves, but he also shows less of an ability to improvise when necessary. In his piece, Ethan incisively referred to his play (and, by extension, the entire Spurs offense) as a sort of choreography, a refined set of moves that can struggle in the face of disruption.
The Spurs have proven that it takes a pretty amazing effort to achieve that disruption, but the Grizzlies were very effective in doing so in 2011 (with a worse, or less established, defense than they now have). There’s a sense that, if Parker is to become a fixture in those MVP talks rather than just a casual participant, than he must respond to these difficult circumstances and transcend the disruption. Otherwise, he’s someone no one feels the need to argue about.
Manu Ginobili: Given the Spurs’ reputation as a no-nonsense outfit of restrained professionalism, it sometimes escapes mention that Ginobili is one of the most creative players of his era. If Parker sometimes struggles amid disruption, then Ginobili thrives in it, displaying his resourcefulness and in-the-moment creativity in countless postseason moments. San Antonio tends to depend on him more in the playoffs than in the regular season, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which they defeat the Grizzlies without Ginobili having at least a few stellar games.
Unfortunately, Ginobili was not close to his usual standard against the Warriors, shooting 34.2 percent from the floor for the series. At 35 years old, Ginobili is at a point in his career where he just might not be able to carry the same load he once could. If he can’t put up the performances that get the Spurs to the NBA finals, it’s possible he’ll be someone remembered for past exploits and not feared for the threat he poses at present.
Mike Conley: We’re in a pretty incredible era for young point guards, yet Conley is typically not mentioned among the best of that group. There are pretty clear reasons for that — he’s never averaged more than 14.6 points per game (this season) and 6.5 assists per game (both of the two previous seasons) and he’s not exactly an athletic marvel. Conley is best known as a solid point guard with the ability to score or make a play when needed.
That stance is beginning to change. With Conley serving as the Grizzlies’ top perimeter playmaker and making the All-Defensive Second Team this season, he’s building a greater reputation as one of the more effective leaders at his position. A winner doesn’t need to be the flashiest or most statistically impressive player to get attention. If the Grizzlies make the Finals, and particularly if Conley manages to outplay Parker in a few of those wins, he could join that group.
Tony Allen: Two straight All-Defensive selections have solidified Allen’s place among the best defenders in the league, to the point where it would take a full season of mediocre or downright bad play to remove him from that list. Yet there’s a difference between being one of the best defenders in the league for a few seasons and getting recognized as a generationally great specialist. Bruce Bowen isn’t just a helpful role player — he’ll go down as one of the key defenders of his era. It’s a difference in kind so big that it becomes categorical.
In this series, Allen will likely guard several players, primarily Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker but also Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and anyone else on the perimeter who seems to be playing well. There’s enough variety there that he could make several different marks on several different games. He could have the kind of series that gets him closer to that lofty status. Then, he could have the chance to create even more of a name for himself against the Heat.
The Toronto Raptors had been rumored to be hot on Phil Jackson’s trail, not as a head coach, but for a job running the team’s front office. They’re also trying to figure out the direction of the franchise after yet another year lost to the middling depths of the low lottery, while sussing out a payroll that currently is set to send them into luxury tax territory next season. They also have until Monday, because of a contract deadline, to determine whether or not current general manager Bryan Colangelo will be the man to lead them out of the mess that, um, Bryan Colangelo just made.
It’s clear that Tim Leiweke (the new CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) needs some help in figuring out what to do with the team his company owns, and any outside help is appreciated. Instead of going with a basketball mind, someone who has been there before or someone who is willing to think in hoop-related terms while minding this mess, MLSE has gone elsewhere. They’ve hired a head-hunting firm, weirdly. From the great Doug Smith at the Toronto Star:
While not officially on the job yet, Leiweke has been given all responsibility to determine Colangelo’s fate. The two men have met and discussed plans for the Raptors future but neither has spoken publicly about their feelings.
And Leiweke is not conducting the search for a possible replacement on his own; multiple NBA sources say MLSE has hired a head-hunting firm to whittle down a list of possible replacements.
Two names being tossed around NBA circles at the league’s annual draft combine are Kevin Pritchard, currently the general manager of the Indiana Pacers and Troy Weaver, the vice-president and assistant general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There may be others on any short list compiled by the unnamed search firm but neither of those are seen as the slam-dunk, high-profile executives many were expecting to emerge from Leiweke’s search.
Colangelo needs to go, and it’s clear that new MLSE Tim Leiweke was so unimpressed with the presentation that Colangelo gave the former Anschutz Entertainment Group CEO earlier this month that he’s considering other names to help lead the Raptors to their first playoff appearance since 2007. Phil Jackson, apparently, wasn’t receptive to whatever interest MLSE showed in the former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach, and as a result MLSE is stuck in no-man’s land with Colangelo’s contract deadline approaching. To some, the wait prior to the potential decision has become infuriating.
Still, there’s no shame in going a week or two without a GM. Especially if it means passing on Colangelo, and mostly because the Raptors are without a lottery pick in June’s NBA draft. Even with a payroll that could exceed $72 US next year, few would pick the Raptors to make the NBA’s playoffs in 2013-14 as currently presented, and if the next GM decides to rebuild (as the Raptors should) few NBA teams would be lining up to trade for the high-priced players that Colangelo signed off on acquiring.
This is why the Raptors need to take their time as they hunt down a new GM. This is also why the Raptors probably need to think in basketball terms, and limit the influence of a head-hunting firm that will only offer the names of unsuccessful NBA GM deputies as potential replacements. That’s how business often works, with the tenured number two candidates ready to take on the role directly above them, regardless of their acumen.
There was hope in Toronto, after Leiweke took over. It appears as if he’s handling the potential dismissal of Bryan Colangelo in a very Bryan Colangelo-styled way. There are a lot of cufflinks on the payroll, now.
The Hornets might not be gone from the NBA after all.
According to a CBSSports.com report, the Charlotte Bobcats are in the process of claiming the name that resided in the city with the Charlotte Hornets from 1988-2002.
The name traveled to New Orleans when the franchise relocated, but recently became available when the Crescent City's NBA team ditched the Hornets moniker for the more apropos Pelicans.
It's a move that, if it comes to fruition, will be a hit in the Queen City. Between seeing a terrible on-court product, a bitter taste from the loss of the Hornets and a general malaise toward the Bobcats franchise narcissistically named after founder Bob Johnson, Charlotteans have had a tepid-at-best relationship with their current NBA team.
Since arriving in Charlotte in 2004, the Bobcats can claim one playoff appearance and have a short yet profound record of making poor personnel decisions.
But the Hornets – man, the Hornets. Now that's a different story. The basketball-crazed city fell in love with the franchise that arrived in 1988. Even when the team stunk, fans showed up and made noise. And after a few years, the Hornets actually got good.
Fans sold out the 24,000-plus seat Charlotte Coliseum for 364 consecutive games as the team with the iconic teal-and-purple color scheme won games with Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues.
But then it fell apart. Johnson hurt his back, Mourning took his talents to South Beach and the city grew frustrated with owner George Shinn, who became involved in a sexual assault trial involving a Hornets cheerleader and later made demands on the city to build a new arena.
The Hornets left town in 2002 and were replaced with the Bobcats two years later. The magic has not come back.
Basketball fans in Charlotte have clamored for the return of the Hornets since New Orleans started to discuss a name change. Majority owner Michael Jordan has been studying the business side of bringing the Hornets name back to the city; if the wheels truly are in motion to do so, there will certainly be a ... ahem ... buzz around the return of a beloved friend.
But a color scheme and Hugo the Hornet won't be enough to get Charlotte fully behind its NBA franchise. After a decade of miserable basketball, Michael Jordan's top priority is finding the next Johnson-Mourning tandem.
If the Bobcats keep losing like they do, bringing back an old nickname won't mean squat.
Jason Owens is an editor at Yahoo! Sports and still has a signed promotional Kelly Tripucka jersey from his childhood in Charlotte.
This June's draft class is typically considered a fairly weak crop, with seemingly no top-level stars among the best players available and the typical concerns over prospect readiness standing more paramount than usual. Yet, as with any year, there are many intriguing players worthy of in-depth consideration.
There's perhaps no one more intriguing than Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel, once considered the player most likely to become the top pick in the draft. That changed after Noel tore his ACL in mid-February. Yet, with only Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore making a reasonable case for himself in the interim, Noel is still among the contenders for the top pick. The question is when he'll be ready and what his team can expect from him once he returns.
Noel said he is ''ahead of schedule,'' but being ready for a season opener is overly optimistic and Christmas is more of a target date.
''I've started to shoot some free throws the last week with a different type of brace on,'' said Noel, who has yet to start running again in his rehab. ''I'm 100 percent confident of not just gaining what I had but definitely being stronger, coming back better. During this time that I won't be playing basketball I'll just be working on a lot of things that I needed to polish when I was playing.'' [...]
''It's an injury you've got to be mindful of,'' he said. ''You can't try to rush back from it. You want to have longevity in your career, just be careful with it.''
Noel said he'll be particularly careful about the mental aspect of being comfortable with his return.
''As much as you want to be back, you want to be playing as long as you can in the NBA and not have to reinjure yourself and go through all this again,'' he said.
A Christmas return would mean Noel — who presumably didn't pick that date because his surname is another name for the holiday — would miss all of training camp and two months of the regular season, which is obviously not an ideal situation for a rookie who played only 24 games in his lone season in Lexington. On the other hand, it goes without saying that whichever team drafts Noel will see him as a long-term investment, not someone who must be able to participate in the season opener no matter what. There's inherent risk in taking an injured player, but it's a gamble worth taking for a team that believes he's the best available choice.
That sense of the future could also make Noel's delayed return a benefit. While it's generally not considered polite to support tanking, the race for the league's bottom in the 2013-14 season could bring a major reward: Canadian forward and recent Kansas commit Andrew Wiggins, arguably the best prep prospect since LeBron James (or at least Greg Oden). The team that takes Noel will take him on his own merits, but it's hard to escape the idea that picking a promising player who also happens to be out for two months could give that franchise a leg up on next June's Wiggins lottery.
Tanking is a bad word, and no team will promote the upcoming season as an extended wait for a player whose first NBA destination will ultimately be determined by ping pong balls. But Wiggins is exciting enough that teams are bound to consider strategic losing as a strategy, or at least entertain the idea that pursuing the 11th best record in a conference isn't worth giving up a chance at Wiggins.
Again, this is not a slight on Noel, a shot-blocking force with the opportunity to develop a very good offensive game. It's just that delaying the gratification of seeing him in an NBA uniform isn't only good for the health of his career — it could help his team put together a championship-level core.
When the news broke that the New Orleans Hornets would change their name to the Pelicans for the 2013-14 season and beyond, opinions were mixed between those who thought it a fun change of pace reminiscent of the ABA and those who considered it a really dumb choice for pretty much all the same reasons. Whatever the case, it's different and will require some getting used to. Fans can be forgiven for not warming to "Pelicans" immediately after decades of being told that only the most immediately fearsome animals are suitable for mascot status.
Clearly, the franchise has some work to do. Luckily for them, they have received one very high profile endorsement of their new name. That's right — HIs Holiness the Dalai Lama, metaphorical manifestation of the bodhisattva of compassion, has worn a Pelicans hat to express his support. Check out the photo below for proof (via Jason Gallagher of Ballerball):
The Dalai Lama is currently touring the United States and is speaking several times in New Orleans through Saturday. (There's a livestream available at NOLA.com, if you care to watch.) It's unclear exactly who gave him the hat, or what he thinks of Hugo the Hornet, but putting on sends a message. The forces of peace and understanding are on the side of the Pelicans.
Or maybe not. As is clear from this photo of the Dalai Lama holding up a Portland Trail Blazers jersey and many more shots of the man in sports-related caps, he makes a habit of wearing hats of local teams. In his position as a spiritual leader who preaches acceptance of all things and a higher plane of consciousness, he sees the value in all teams and wears all branded apparel. When you think about it, the Dalai Lama is really like a more high-minded version of Lil Wayne, supporting all teams at once.
A look around the league and the web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out.
C: YouTube.com/NBA. Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t played a game of basketball in a month, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get all of our hearts a-flutterin’ as we look forward to this year’s NBA Finals. PF: Pro Hoops History. Curtis Harris delves into the career of George McGinnis, who put up some ridiculous statistics in both the ABA and NBA. SF: Daily Thunder. Thunder super-scribe Royce White discusses the various options Oklahoma City has with disappointing big man Kendrick Perkins. SG: SB Nation. It wasn’t because of a terrible mismatch, and it wasn’t because he was playing poorly, but Tim Duncan sat out the crucial stages of his team’s series-deciding win on Thursday night. Mike Prada tries to discovery why that was, exactly. PG: Sports Illustrated. Rob Mahoney also breaks down parts of the same stretch with a focus on Kawhi Leonard, who has been playing brilliant (and somewhat frighteningly-good) ball with Duncan off of the floor.
6th: VICE. David Roth on why it’s so damn fun to “actually, actively like” the San Antonio Spurs. Please read this column. 7th: The Basketball Jones. Here’s how funny Trey Kerby’s reflection on the last decade and a half of Bulls basketball is. I laughed so hard and for so long while reading Trey’s column that my wife, annoyed, had to leave the house to go outside. Bear in mind that, and I’m not kidding, Trey Kerby officiated our marriage. 8th: USA Today. Sam Amick reports what we’ve long suspected: Geoff Petrie’s days in Sacramento are numbered. Happily, the Kings’ days in Sacramento aren’t numbered. 9th: SB Nation. Ricky O’Donnell discusses the emergence of German-born point guard Dennis Schroeder, who unfortunately is sitting out this week’s NBA draft combine because of medically-based frustrations. 10th: 8 Points, 9 Seconds. Jared Wade with a rough, frustrating, personal, on point and ultimately quite good look at the impact of George Hill’s concussion.
Got a link or tip for Ball Don't Lie? Holler at me at kdonhoops (at) yahoo.com, or follow me on Twitter.
With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Chicago Bulls.
I’ve already fawned over these Chicago Bulls plenty. The team’s unrelenting approach was an inspiration this season, and though Derrick Rose disappointed by not returning to the squad after an ACL tear, and coach Tom Thibodeau disappointed by running his players into the ground early on in the season, the team still gets to go into 2013-14 with Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau as its cornerstones. Not a bad start.
Big moves won’t ramp up the team’s roster prior to that start, though, unless the team’s ownership becomes ridiculously averse to paying the luxury tax, and either trades Luol Deng or Carlos Boozer to another team to shed salary, or waives Boozer outright using the amnesty provision. While that might seem like needless cost-cutting, understand that the Bulls have been practicing this sort of thing for years. If that sounds cynical and self-defeating, understand that I’m a Chicago Bulls fan that just watched 94 games of the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls. Inspiration swings both ways.
Chicago has assets to encourage deals that either lineup opportunities years from now, for 2013-14, or for the team’s pocketbook right away. Boozer can be traded to a team that still holds it amnesty provision. Deng has an expiring contract and was an All-Star this year. Chicago owns a Charlotte Bobcats first round pick that has declining protection until 2015, when it is only protected for the top eight picks, and 2016, when it is completely unprotected (just like Bobcat fans, tuning in to watch a night of Bobcat basketball). Meanwhile, despite his early-season inability to mind minutes, Tom Thibodeau may have the biggest basketball brain in the league, ready to put more and more disparate parts together in functional and competitive ways.
You get the feeling, though, that Chicago won’t undergo yet another rotation restructuring in this offseason. Part of that is the market, part of that is finances, and part of that is the team’s ability to give it one last go, as presently constructed, in 2013-14.
The trade market will play a part. Luol Deng’s game wouldn’t really fit in as perfectly elsewhere as it does in Chicago, a place where his step-back defense is best suited for Thibodeau’s system, and his endless slashing and sometimes shooting is perfect for an offense that relies heavily on interior passing even with Rose around. The plan with Deng remains unchanged, as the Bulls will run him into the ground for the last year of his contract, and then let the then-29 year old forward hit the open market in 2014, mindful of the wearying ten seasons he spent in red and black.
Boozer, to a lesser extent, is in the same boat. It’s true that his pick and pop game never meshed with Rose’s, as Derrick remains a poor pick and roll passer, but he’s a perfect fit alongside Noah offensively because Joakim’s tips and extra passing allow for a litany of good looks for the floor-bound big forward. Teams know this – they respect the Bulls, but they’re not taking on their second-tier stars in Deng and Boozer just to do Chicago favors.
The problem, once again, is the luxury tax. The Bulls horribly mismanaged their 2013 offseason and badly overestimated Richard Hamilton’s trade deadline value, so they ended up over the tax threshold for the first time in their very lucrative history in 2012-13. The team, even before draft picks, without unrestricted free agents Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli re-signing, and after waiving Hamilton, will be over the tax threshold again in 2013-14. By now team owner Jerry Reinsdorf has earned more than enough with this Bulls team (a squad that in 1999 had to sign players to contracts just to make it over the minimum salary cap line) to pay the tax, but tax status also affects the team’s ability to sign players to exceptions, to say nothing of the impending repeater penalties.
And when Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng come off the books in 2014, LeBron James’ big free agent year? The Bulls will be just about capped out. In fact, it would be in their best interest to go over the cap with Deng again that summer, barring any other major moves between now and then, just to be able to use capped-out exceptions to fill a roster that will only have six players on it when July hits.
This is a long way of saying that Chicago doesn’t have many options to grab that Rose and Noah-helping second star over the course of the 2013 offseason.
The team shouldn’t waive Carlos Boozer this summer, unless it is that desperate to get underneath the tax line – something that shouldn’t be ruled out. Instead, the team should wait to cut Boozer during the summer of 2014, hoping that his release and Luol Deng’s move onto greener pastures will be enough to lure a max-level free agent. And they’ll have the money, too, even with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson set to make nearly $40 million combined in 2014-15. Adding a max-level star would only leave the Bulls with six players on the roster, but the team’s front office has proven that it can work around the edges in order to acquire bench help, as we saw in the summer of 2010.
All this is for 2014, though. For this summer, it’s more of the same. The hope that Rose takes the orthodox approach and returns to training camp as if 2012-13 never happened. The hope that the summer does wonders for the team’s four injured workers in Noah, Deng, Gibson and Hinrich. The probable hope that some team makes Nate Robinson a crazy offer that Chicago can excuse themselves out of not competing with, and the hope that bench depth at center somehow pops up in ways that can replace the admirable but declining Nazr Mohammed.
In the meantime, there will be plenty of waiting. Longing stares at LeBron or Kevin Love, and endless fascination about stashed Bulls prospect Nikola Mirotic (steadily improving, not exactly boffo stats but big praise for his work in Real Madrid this year) while hoping that Charlotte pick draws interest. There truly are chances here, between the amnesty clause, Dwyane Wade’s fading brilliance in Miami, the goodbye to Deng and the potential that Flip Saunders messes up a bit in his first few years as Minnesota GM.
Potentially, there could be lot going on.
This summer? There’s not a lot going on. Unless these Bulls decide to get weird with things. Following a season like this one, don’t rule anything out.
Jay Leno, who is no stranger to openly musing about taking someone’s job while that person still actually has the job, also asked if Jackson would consider returning to the Los Angeles Lakers as head coach should Mike D’Antoni be asked to move the Tonight Show to midnight be fired in the offseason. Jackson, at around the two-minute mark of this video, was tactful in his response. Watch:
Leno immediately moved into talk about Shaq coming to practice in the nude.
Jackson admitted to being intrigued by the Sacramento Kings’ potential move to Seattle, which was put on the kibosh on Thursday night as the Maloof family sold the once-proud franchise to a group led by Vivek Ranadive, effectively keeping the team in Sacramento. Jackson more or less confirmed rumors, in talking with Leno, that he had spoken with potential Seattle owner Chris Hansen in the months leading up the NBA’s decision to encourage a stay in Sacramento, though it appears that Leno was confused in thinking that Jackson was speaking about taking on a gig as a head coach, and not a personnel el jefe.
Then they talked about Shaq spying on a trainer using the toilet.
If you’d like to watch the interview in its entirety, including an awkward high five that Jackson weirdly decided to give Adam Sandler rather than shaking his hand, one YouTube rip is available here:
If you’d like to see Conan O’Brien’s take on NBA playoff-styled fashion, courtesy Team Coco, take a look at these clips:
Hey, maybe you guys can help me out with something — does anyone reading know if the city of Memphis, Tenn., in general and its NBA basketball team, the Memphis Grizzlies, specifically, are fond of bluffing?
For the second consecutive summer, the Dallas Mavericks could have significant salary cap space on hand if they choose to pass on re-signing some of their free agents. And, for the second straight year, this is in spite of Dirk Nowitzki’s much-deserved but massive individual contract, something that paid him nearly $21 million this season and nearly $23 million in 2013-14.
After being passed over by Deron Williams and left wanting in Dwight Howard trade negotiations, he Mavericks did well last year to put together what felt like a good enough roster to make the playoffs. The team acquisitions (O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kamen) all came through with up and down seasons, though, while Elton Brand sadly was a bit of a non-factor. The biggest problem above all was the loss of Nowitzki to a knee injury to start the season. Dallas competed for a playoff berth towards the end of the campaign, but with Nowitzki taking to nearly the season’s midpoint to start playing like the superstar he is, the Mavs just didn’t have a chance.
Now Dirk is talking up the future. He wants Dwight Howard. He wants Chris Paul. He wants to part of the draft decision-making process. And he wants some pizza, dammit.
Dirk Nowitzki: We'd love to get one of those two. We'd love to get a player in here who can create his own shot and be a superstar-type player. It's still a long way to go until July. Those guys need to clear their minds a little bit and get away and then start thinking what they want to do with their futures. Hopefully, that's where we come in and put a great pitch out there and see what happens.
On the pitch to free agents:
Dirk Nowitzki: I'll definitely be a little involved. But I'll be in the draft 'war room' for the first time ... order some pizza and talk some basketball. I got one year left on this deal and then I'm coming off the books. So if that helps for us to be better I'm going to take a paycut. That's part of the pitch. [Team owner Mark] Cuban and Donnie [Nelson, the team’s general manager] have got to be part of the pitch.
(If that last part is a shot at Mark Cuban, who infamously declined to go visit Deron Williams at a free agent recruiting last year in order to work on his television show ‘Shark Tank,’ then Dirk should take it easy, here. No team was going to drag Williams away from the Nets, who could offer him more money while stocking his roster with high priced name players like Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace.)
(We don’t think that is a shot at Cuban, though.)
On Thursday, Nowitzki re-iterated his stance in a talk with reporters at an anti-texting while driving promotion, even calling the potential pay cut “significant,” if the Mavs are lucky enough to pry Howard or Paul from the clutches of the City of Angels.
"It's not about money. Obviously, Cuban took care of me for a long, long time. I always tried to pay him back by hard playing and being here for this franchise, so I don't think we're going to fight over money. I want to compete over these last couple of years. That's going to be the goal."
"I guess that's something we need to look at next summer when it gets to the point, but I'm sure it will be a significant pay cut," said Nowitzki, the lone constant on the Mavs' roster during the 12-year postseason streak that was snapped this season.
Of course, Nowitzki’s not hurting for dough.
ESPN pointed out that only four players – Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan – have made more money in salary than Dirk Nowitzki over the course of their careers, and each of the active players on that list may walk away from the game when their current contracts expire. And Nowitzki may have already passed those top four in overall cash retention, due to the fact that his max contract status has never been in question, so Nowitzki has gone into all contract “negotiations” without an agent, without having to pay an agent fee for the deals he put pen to.
Every bit of extra bread counts, y’know?
Again, though, the Mavs may fall short. Plenty of teams have cap space this summer, with the NBA’s best center and point guard available, but the Lakers and Clippers have too much on their side for competitors to overcome unless either player makes a completely unexpected decision. Both the Lakers and Clippers are frustrated with their first round ousters, but Dwight Howard doesn’t like to hurt feelings and take chances, which is why he picked up his player option to stay in Orlando over a year ago even though he didn’t want to play for that team. And Paul will have plenty of say in all Clippers personnel and coaching matters moving forward, encouragement to stay.
Most important is the money, though, as Howard and Paul (who both struggled with at-times debilitating injuries last year) have the security of an extra guaranteed year to convince them to stay with their incumbent teams, and the ability to make far more money overall. And if this ticks NBA fans off, understand that this is a direct result of fan complaints following the sort of free agent star-hoarding the Miami Heat executed in 2010. The same sort of set-up Nowitzki is trying to encourage in Dallas.
And before we canonize Nowitzki, understand that the Mavs star should be taking a pay cut next year. Even a significant one.
Dirk will be 36 when the 2014 offseason hits, and though we expect Nowitzki to bounce back with an All-Star level season in 2013-14 (he was out of shape for parts of 2011-12 and injured for most of this year), age ain’t nothin’ but a factor. It’s also worth pointing out that a “significant” pay cut in Dirk’s terms doesn’t have to mean the Mavericks legend has to work for a minimum salaried contract. Dipping down to even $13 million a year instead of nearly $23 million? That’s significant. I don’t care how many bedrooms you can afford.
Through all of this, Dirk may be smartly angling for something he seems well-suited for following his active career. By working as a 7-foot intern of sorts in the Mavericks’ front office this summer, Nowitzki can get used to the ins and outs that championship creators Nelson and Cuban are already quite used to. Helping sway players and giving the team cap space to work with can only endear Nowitzki to the team’s front office more.
If you wanted to say that the Indiana Pacers lost Thursday's Game 5 more than the New York Knicks won it, I wouldn't fight you in a public square. While the Knicks did seem more willing to attack and press the action in taking a 10-point decision, the Pacers frequently seemed unable to get out of their own way, coughing the ball up time and again, failing to take advantage of their trips to the foul line and allowing a Knicks team that still couldn't shoot straight (just 41 percent from the floor in the win) to capitalize on their sloppy play.
Roy Hibbert knew he and his teammates had let a golden opportunity to finish things off and advance to the Eastern Conference finals slip through their fingers. After the game, the 7-foot-2 center — no doubt frustrated by his own pedestrian nine-point, seven-rebound performance in 31 foul-filled minutes — called the Pacers on the carpet and questioned their masculinity, according to Fred Kerber of the New York Post:
“Excuse all the women in here, but we played like p---ies tonight, to tell you the truth,” foul-plagued center Roy Hibbert said. “We didn’t deserve to win this one. I’ll probably get fined for that. I don’t care.”
Then again, I don't have that sophisticated an understanding of basketball physiology.
Hibbert's teammates and coach were also upset at their performance, though they refrained from speaking vaginally, according to Kerber:
“We blew it,” Lance Stephenson said.
“The game was right there for us,” David West said. “Just some costly turnovers, guys not following assignments. That comes down to concentration. You [must] concentrate late.” [...]
“We’ve got to play better,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Clearly if you’re not going to make your free throws and turn the ball over 19 times, we were out of sync offensively.
“Turnovers, free throws ... every team has a night like this.”
That it happened to Indiana in a closeout game on the road is unfortunate, but not particularly shocking, especially considering the Pacers learned not long before game-time that they'd be playing Game 5 without starting point guard George Hill, who was diagnosed with a concussion suffered during the first quarter of Game 4. While Hill had experienced some problems with ball security earlier in the series, most notably in the Pacers' Game 2 loss, he turned the ball over on a significantly lower share of his possessions than backup D.J. Augustin did during the regular season.
Beyond that, the general apple-cart-upsetting that comes with an injury to a starter would figure to have a particularly large effect on a Pacers team that relies so heavily on lineup continuity. Indiana's starting five (Hibbert, Hill, Stephenson, West and Paul George) was not only great, but it also played the second-most minutes of any five-man unit in the NBA this year, according to NBA.com's stat tool, behind only the Oklahoma City Thunder's starting five. (OKC didn't fare so great without its starting point guard, either.)
While the Pacers have multiple other players capable of handling the ball, midstream changes in who's initiating the offense, how entry passes are being thrown (especially when they're being thrown by Gerald Green, which, yikes), which ball-movement decisions are being made and when those decisions are triggering action all matter. So does the shift in role definition that comes with each of those guys having to take a little bit more responsibility for handling the ball — as Knicks guard J.R. Smith said after the game, the Knicks were pretty happy with George having to bring the ball up the floor more, because it meant he was starting possessions in a different role, which "takes him out of his game on offense."
Hill's status for Game 6 is very much in doubt. The team's listing him as day-to-day, but before he can be cleared to play, he must pass all tests included in the concussion protocol the league put in place prior to the 2011-12 season:
If a player is diagnosed with a concussion, he will have to complete a series of steps to confirm that he's healthy enough for competition. Once he is free of symptoms, the player must make it through increasing stages of exertion — from a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to non-contact team drills — while ensuring the symptoms don't return after each one. Then the neurologist hired to lead the NBA's concussion program needs to be consulted before the player is cleared.
The process will likely take at least several days, if not weeks.
Individual players' recovery times have varied this season. Charlotte Bobcats rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sat five days with a concussion in February, and his former Kentucky teammate, New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis, missed one week after an early November concussion. Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol was sidelined for 11 days in January, while Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Tyler Zeller was out for 12. Dallas Mavericks center Chris Kaman, who said he thought the concussion protocol was stupid, missed nearly a month between late January and early February.
There's no specific guidance in the league's policy on timeline; it's all handled on a case-by-case basis, and is predicated solely on the player's ability to pass the required tests. Though his peers' experiences wouldn't seem to bode well for his Game 6 availability, it remains possible Hill could be cleared by Saturday.
If Hill can't go, though, and the Pacers must once again go with a ball-handler-by-committee approach, there are strategic adjustments that Vogel can make to mitigate the fallout, but a lot of it comes down to execution. The Pacers simply have to have crisper passes and steadier playmaking from Augustin, Stephenson and George at the inception of possessions, and they definitely need West and Hibbert (six turnovers between them) to quit randomly throwing the ball out of bounds once they get it. Improved focus and increased precision probably would've finished this series in five games, and it can certainly do so in six back in the friendly confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Hibbert didn't want to talk about the finer points of ball security, though; he was more interested in advanced gender studies, according to Kerber:
“We didn’t deserve to win,” Hibbert said. “We’ve got to like figure it out, man up, toughen up, sack up and try to close this thing out. ... But we didn’t deserve to win. We played soft.”
The need to "man up" seems less important than "hitting the open man," really, but whatever motivational tactics Hibbert and his teammates need to employ, they're going to need a significantly better effort to close out the Knicks at home on Saturday.
Depending on what the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, and Los Angeles Clippers decide to do with their fluctuating situations over the next few weeks, there could be as many as ten NBA coaching openings to fill during the 2013 offseason. Despite walking away from a potential playoff team in Utah two years ago, a team he’d worked with as an assistant and then head coach for the previous 26 years, former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has tossed his name into the mix of available candidates to fill one of those job openings.
Unless you’re the Milwaukee Bucks, an available team that is closest to Sloan’s home in rural Illinois. You can take that gig and stick it.
"The bottom line is, Jerry doesn't really feel it's the right fit for him right now," Glass said Thursday.
"He's interested (in coaching again). He's in Chicago now watching the Pre-Draft. And his name keeps popping up with every job, and he hasn't applied for anything. He had a real nice meeting with them. They came to see him on his farm (in downstate Illinois). They had a great meeting just in terms of liking each other. (Bucks general manager) John Hammond said 'I wish I could have stayed and watched the game with him.' It's just not the right fit for Jerry, from Jerry's point of view. That's not a negative thing; that's just the reality."
"Jerry probably is a lot like Scott, in that the working conditions and where the team is (contender-wise) are important," Glass said. "For Jerry to go to a place that's going to take years to build—and I'm not talking about Milwaukee, I'm talking about anywhere—that's just not right for him. They have to be able to compete. Jerry is a competitor, and he wants to compete and teach."
The pedantic in me wants to point out that Sloan can “teach” a 20-win team just as much as he can a squad on the verge of turning into a title contender. And you can compete in Charlotte, Jerry. You may not be able to win in Charlotte, but you can still compete.
With that out of the way, this is a rare bit of on record clarity from a coach’s rep. Jerry Sloan is 71, and this will probably be his last job not because teams will stop courting him, but because he’ll likely walk away from a situation that displeases him, as he did in Utah two years ago.
(Mid-season. Don’t forget that. Out of the ordinary from someone that wants to compete so badly.)
Glass is telling teams that Sloan wants a win-now situation, a setup that wouldn’t see Jerry sticking it out through the rebuilding process. And though the Bucks made the playoffs this year, theydon’t even know what direction they’re going in – with potentially Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, and J.J. Redick all leaving the team this summer, compared with Hammond’s annoying commitment to shooting for 41 wins.
The problem for Jerry is that they aren’t a lot of “win now” teams out there. Which is unfortunate, because we’d love to see his touch on the sideline again.
The Los Angeles Clippers come closest, but they have yet to make a decision on Vinny Del Negro. Free agent star guard Chris Paul is also an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he figures to stay with the team because it could offer him the most money, along with influence with personnel. The Brooklyn Nets are a step down after that – a big step down, after being busted by a beat-up Chicago Bulls team in the first round – and they also feature a player in Deron Williams that drove Sloan from the Jazz two years ago. Beyond that, it’s all rebuilding teams; unless you think Dwight Howard is going to sign with the Atlanta Hawks, and general manager Danny Ferry is going to change his mind.
Wouldn’t it be one of the cooler moves in recent history if Chris Paul, smarting from being unfairly compared to the great-but-not-as-great-as-CP3 Deron Williams for years, pushes for the Clippers to sign Sloan? And before you chortle at the idea of small town Sloan taking to Los Angeles, understand that Jerry used to coach the Chicago Bulls at the height of that city’s yuppie craziness, with a roster stocked with players that weren’t getting as much rest as they should.
Jerry Sloan is a fantastic coach that could put a team over the top if he recognizes certain elements of the modern game (don’t foul so much, and three-pointers are good!) can be adapted into his system. It’s hard to tell, at this early stage, if there’s an acceptable team out there that’s right to reach out for his services.
The Golden State Warriors' season came to an end Thursday, as the San Antonio Spurs scored a 94-82 Game 6 win behind a balanced attack that saw all five Spurs starters finish in double-figures, led by Tim Duncan's 19 points, with Manu Ginobili (11 assists, six rebounds) and Gary Neal (eight points, five boards) offering key contributions off the bench. After finishing off a 4-2 win in their best-of-seven semifinals series, the Spurs now advance to a Western Conference finals tilt with the Memphis Grizzlies, which Duncan told Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears is "not going to be pretty."
While the Spurs move on, the Warriors head home. Things didn't end the way they'd hoped — the Spurs defense again preventing the duo of Stephen Curry (22 points on 25 shots) Klay Thompson (10 points on 12 shots) from getting loose, an ankle injury severely hampering Andrew Bogut's influence on both ends of the floor, a very scary fall keeping rookie Harrison Barnes from finishing the game — but the Oracle Arena faithful appreciated the effort Mark Jackson's squad put into producing the team's best season in years ... and they stayed well after the buzzer, cheering and chanting to make sure the Warriors knew how they felt.
They got the message, and came back out to the court to let the fans know the feeling was mutual.
"We just want to thank you guys for your continued support all season," Curry said, as the crowd raised its collective voice. "You guys made Oracle Arena a great place to play. The energy, the passion you have for us ... it's unmatched across the league, so we want to just thank you guys. Obviously, it didn't end the way we wanted it to, but all the hard work and the foundation we built this year, we're going to keep growing and get back to this level next year."
Getting back to that level will be difficult — the Western Conference is always so competitive and Golden State's salary structure suggests they might have a difficult time making significant moves and additions in the offseason, meaning they're going to need sustained health and continued progression from the young core of Curry, Thompson and Barnes to reach new heights and attempt to advance beyond "feel-good story" status to the level of true championship contenders.
“Sometimes one of the best statements you can make is fight,” coach Mark Jackson said. “At the end of the day, our tank will be empty and our light will be bright.
“I truly believe that’s exactly what took place. Guys battled, guys gave me everything they had. We fought and I could not be prouder of any group.”
That pride shone through in the postgame dress of point guard Jarrett Jack, who chipped in 15 points off the bench and did his level best to handle more of the playmaking duties against a swarming Spurs defense with Curry limited by ankle pain over the last several games. "On the verge of tears" at his locker after the game, Jack — who now enters free agency — spoke with Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group about a quiet decision that spoke volumes:
[...] He couldn’t find the words to truly express what he was feeling, so he let his attire do the talking for him.
JACK: “Usually before I would do any media, I would make sure I was dressed a certain way. I brought one of my best suits. But looking down at this jersey, it’s just a sense of pride I don’t think I’ve ever felt as a professional. … Nothing in my closet is better than what I have on now.”
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to check out the moment elsewhere, thanks to the NBA.
It’s the “news” that won’t go away, not that we’re complaining. Former top overall pick Greg Oden, who played just 82 NBA games between 2007 and Dec. of 2009, would like to make a comeback. He’s attempting to get his legs right after two microfracture surgeries and several other bad breaks, there was scuttle that he was going to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers late in 2012-13 in a prospect-stashing move for Cleveland, and he’s now working out in his hometown of Indianapolis, prepping for one final shot at a pro career
"Man, he looks unbelievable," he said at the draft combine. "He's running. He's lifting weights. You might be seeing a comeback. He looks like he's ready to go. He's running, getting in shape. I'll tell you one thing. For a big 7-footer that's all he does, running and getting in shape. He's looking right."
That certainly is encouraging. We’ve long thought that a slow and steady rehabilitation, after what was essentially a blown one in Portland, could put Oden on the right track. If Oden returns for 2013-14 he’ll be suiting up after nearly four years off, and in many ways that can work as a glass half-full proposition. All that time off, and the time spent building his leg strength back up properly, could be a boon for a young man who won’t even turn 26 until midway through the season.
We’re one step closer to Oden trying it one last time.
One day after the NBA's Board of Governors voted against a sale to an ownership group that would turned the Sacramento Kings into a new incarnation of the Seattle SuperSonics, it appears that the franchise will stay in its current home over the long term. As first reported by The Sacramento Bee and later confirmed by several outlets on Thursday night, Joe and Gavin Maloof have reached an agreement to sell the Kings to a local ownership group headed by tech executive Vivek Ranadive.
A person familiar with the deal says the Maloof family has reached an agreement with a Sacramento group headed by TIBCO software tycoon Vivek Ranadive to sell a 65 percent controlling interest in the Kings at a total franchise valuation of $535 million.
The person, speaking on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press late Thursday night because they weren't authorized to talk publicly, said there are about 30 investors in the group put together by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former All-Star guard.
An official announcement is expected Friday. The NBA is expected to officially approve the agreement next week. The person said the agreement has to be closed by May 31.
At various points in this process, the Maloofs expressed no interest in dealing with the group led by Ranadive and organized by Johnson, instead claiming that they had a backup offer in place with Seattle bid leader Chris Hansen for a minority stake in the franchise. However, that situation changed once the NBA voted down the Seattle sale on Wednesday. NBA Commissioner David Stern stated that he expected talks between the Maloofs and Ranadive to begin within 48 hours, and that appears to have happened.
The $535 million valuation is significantly less than Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's figure of $625 million, although that offer was itself bumped up to sweeten the deal after the initial valuation first reported in January. In practice, the Sacramento group will pay roughly $347 million for the Maloofs' 65 percent stake. It's unclear if the unique circumstances of this sale will have a major effect on NBA franchise valuations moving forward, but if they do, then the entire NBA ruling class will benefit financially from this deal.
Meanwhile, Kings fans can breathe a sigh of relief. In the past 18 months, the Maloofs have attempted to move to the team to Virginia Beach, reneged on a handshake agreement with Johnson for a new arena in Sacramento, attempted to sell the team to this Seattle group, and generally done everything possible to alienate and insult the city's fan base. The sale to Ranadive and his partners promises a new beginning, an opportunity to install functional (or at least improved) leadership and carry the Kings into a more optimistic era complete with a new, state-of-the-art arena and a renewed sense of pride in the franchise.
To be sure, that process will be difficult. Although the Maloofs presided over the Kings' greatest successes in Sacramento during the early '00s, the last few seasons of their reign have been beset by a lack of direction and various cost-cutting efforts. In truth, the basketball team has been less the focus of the action than incidental to the real drama surrounding the Kings' future. Everyone involved with the team can now begin to transfer interest back to where it belongs and attempt to turn the Kings back into a playoff contender.
There are several procedural issues that must be sorted out before Ranadive can officially take over the team, but those appear to be mere formalities. It's time for Sacramento to celebrate the return of the Kings.
The Indiana Pacers are a poor offensive team, and yet they sprang out to a strong 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup with the New York Knicks despite not setting the league ablaze with offensive know-how. New York managed to keep its season alive in Thursday’s Game 5 win, though, mainly by deciding team-wise to not let this poor Indiana offensive team have chance after chance to showcase those poor offensive skills. Indiana dominated the Knicks in the offensive rebound department in the team’s three previous wins, and yet the Pacers were not allowed to be their typical, glass-cleaning selves on Thursday, leading to an impressive Knicks win.
The entertainment value of this contest was less than impressive. Though things settled down after a chippy start, both teams managed to keep their physical brand of ball on the level (though anyone on the other end of Kenyon Martin’s three fouls may disagree), and no tempers flared despite an aggressive, grimacing style of play. That didn’t stop Raymond Felton’s ankle from going bust, though, or Lance Stephenson from taking several hard shots, or David West from nearly seeing his knee ligaments flash before his eyes after a fourth-quarter collapse. Bodies were flying, and yet an Indiana team known for its league-best defense wasn’t the beneficiary.
That's mainly because the Knicks stayed patient with their possessions. The team still moved quickly, whipping the ball around, but it also thought just as quickly when it came time to picking spots with jumpers. Players like Felton did fine work choosing when to fire the mid-range shot that Indiana doesn’t mind giving up, and even Carmelo Anthony’s isolation plays were of the forgivable variety — quick and successful post-ups against defenders like Paul George and Sam Young. Anthony finished his night with a passable 28 points on 28 shots. That isn’t to say there weren’t the usual array of questionable shots, but New York feeds off that.
Indiana’s aggressive driving allowed for 33 free throws, but the Pacers only made 19 freebies on the night. And though point guard D.J. Augustin (starting in place of the injured George Hill) did fine work in nailing 3 of 7 3-pointers, overall he was a detriment. Augustin missed teammates in transition, he didn’t run the team’s half-court offense properly or react well to New York’s back-court pressure, and his pick-and-roll defense on Felton was poor. It wasn’t a surprise to note that the game’s box score denied Indiana’s starting point guard of a single assist.
Hill’s absence was a major factor in this loss, but the Pacers also lost another significant key to its core between Games 4 and 5. Usually playoff rebounding champions that miss a combined 58 field goals and free throws in a game can reel in more than a dozen offensive rebounds, and yet the Knicks continually beat the Pacers to the punch on that end. Bereft of their second chances, the Pacers also had to deal with a Knick team that was now setting up its own offense in semi-transition. The Knicks didn’t remind anyone of the Showtime Lakers on Thursday, but that slight advantage as Indiana backpedaled was enough to throw a Pacer defense off-kilter just enough times to pull away.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson went with what for him was an off-kilter lineup in Tuesday’s Game 4, starting Kenyon Martin at power forward and going with an orthodox lineup that allowed the Pacers to bunch the middle and dominate the glass. The team’s return to a smaller starting lineup (with Martin out, and Pablo Prigioni back in) in Game 5 improved the team’s spacing, and the rotation reactions also put New York over. Chris Copeland was finally treated as a contributor worth treasuring, and he reacted by hitting 3 of 4 3-pointers off the bench in 19 minutes, after playing just 31 minutes in the previous four games of the series.
Not all was fixed for New York. J.R. Smith’s 4 for 11 night was an improvement, but it speaks to his recent struggles from the floor that that sort of mark will be warmly reflected upon. And for the second straight game, Jason Kidd missed what was should have been an easy lay-up in transition, his go-to move for lo these many years. The Knicks have the veteran signed for lo these many two more years after this season, and he’s missed 21 of 24 shots in the postseason.
The Knicks are alive, though, and that’s all that matters. And with worries about Hill and Stephenson’s health, and Indiana’s continued potential for ugly 15-point quarters, New York will go to Indiana and have a winnable Game 6 in front of them. If all goes right once again, they’ll play that deciding Game 7 with a frenzied Madison Square Garden on its side.
Even for all the Pacers’ mitigating factors, though, the Knicks had to play — let’s not call this a perfect game — but a focused Game 5 at home just to extend the season, and win by 10. And the Pacers still have those few hours of game tape to stew over.
Game 6 should be something else. It usually is, with these two teams.
Legendary NBA center Hakeem Olajuwon has created something of a second career for himself as a teacher of post moves to stars and promising young players alike. Hakeem's tutees are presumably drawn to him because of his reputation as a master of post moves, and it doesn't hurt that many of his previous students have seen success.
On the other hand, it's not as if Olajuwon should have a monopoly on working with professional basketball players looking to improve their interior games. While he may be particularly well known for his varied moves in the post, there have been plenty of big men with go-to scoring tactics worth imparting to a younger generation. It's unclear why another legend couldn't step up to fill a similar role.
After getting a crash course in professional basketball from some of the WNBA's best players over the past week, Griner was given the lesson of a lifetime on Wednesday with a one-on-one session on the skyhook with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
One of the NBA's greatest players teaching the nuances of perhaps the most unstoppable move in any sport? Yeah, that's pretty cool.
''I went to legend school today and it was awesome,'' Griner said at the Phoenix Mercury's practice court inside the US Airways Center. [...]
''I was star struck right there,'' Griner said. ''You know it when I don't talk; I like to talk and you know I'm star struck when I'm just listening. I hit you with the yes sir, yes ma'am, I'm definitely star struck.''
The tutorial was put together by Mercury Vice President Ann Meyers Drysdale, who asked the NBA office to see if Abdul-Jabbar would be available to address the team and work with Griner.
The circumstances surrounding this workout are obviously a little different than those with Olajuwon — a Phoenix Mercury executive (and Hall of Famer in her own right) set it up, Kareem spoke to the team in some kind of broader capacity, and Griner only worked with him for an hour. In many ways, it comes across as a less single-minded encounter, something that could double as a photo op in addition to whatever (presumably very real) instruction occurred.
At the same time, the public relations aspect of the meeting between Griner and KAJ is not to dismissed. In many ways, they have a lot in common. As a collegian at UCLA in the late '60s, Kareem (then Lew Alcindor) was seen as the kind of interior force who could remake the game, a unique talent who often appeared to be playing a wholly different sport from his opponents. Griner was the same way at Baylor, particularly at the defensive end. She has an ability to cover ground and stymie an opponent's offense that women's basketball just hasn't seen before. She can be a similarly revolutionary player for the WNBA and possibly change the way its teams play the game forever.
Whatever success Griner has won't take place because of an hour training session with an NBA legend, but it's also true that this meeting can get us to approach her career in a way similar to how basketball fans once looked at Kareem. The potential is there.
Kobe Bryant has played through broken fingers, and a severe and painful knee condition that resulted in him having to undergo fluid draining procedures in-between playoff games. His final two points of the 2012-13 season, following a seven-game run that saw him average 45 minutes per game, came at the free throw line, directly after he badly tore his Achilles tendon. He’s a tough dude.
Possibly a crazy dude, too. Because he sometimes puts himself in a position to where he could be swimming with sharks. And not in the metaphorical, Hollywood-sense. In the, “giant boat and shark-infested waters of the Pacific ocean”-sense.
Daniel Buerge of Laker Nation was kind enough to find this photo that Nike rep Heidi Burgett tweeted out on Thursday. After the jump, you’ll see a large picture of Bryant, pre-injury, as taken and explained by Nike’s Eric Avar:
“Avar witnessed Kobe Bryant’s alpha male personality firsthand on a deep sea fishing trip about 60 miles from Newport, California. “There are sharks, whales, dolphins all around, and he’s like, ‘If I jump, will you jump?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, we just saw sharks.’ He says, ‘Come on.’ No sooner do I say okay, he takes off his shirt and jumps. I literally grab my camera, and got this shot just in time.”
In Kobe’s defense, the whales and dolphins may not be aggressive enough to attack. He’s just playing the percentages, with this one. That’s what you do when you have Kobe Bryant-sized confidence.