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Aldridge still trying to find his place with Spurs

em>By Raul Dominguez, Associated Press /em> SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge admitted to feeling some frustration following an offseason filled with trade rumors. They troubled him enough to do something he hadn’t really done before. The 6’11” forward reached out to coach Gregg Popovich for a serious talk about his place on the team as it continues its transition, slowly but surely, away from the Tim Duncan/Big Three era. “The relationship has always been great, it’s no issue,” Aldridge said. “It’s just that I’m trying how to mesh who I was to who I am now and trying to get more out of me in the system.” The success of those talks could go a long way in determining if the Spurs can keep their place among the top teams in the rugged Western Conference. San Antonio essentially stood pat in the offseason, adding Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne while losing Jonathon Simmons and David Lee. The Spurs will again rely on veterans like Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol while anticipating improvement from younger players like Dejounte Murray, Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes. Entering his 12th NBA season, Aldridge has averaged 18.0 and 17.3 points in two seasons with San Antonio. Those are respectable numbers, but not for a four-time All-Star with Portland who became the biggest free agent signing in Spurs history. “It was a probably a little bit of frustration at one point on my end because I felt like I wasn’t really fitting into the system as well as I could and I wasn’t helping to the level I felt like I could,” Aldridge said. The frustration grew in the postseason, which ended with a sweep by Golden State in the conference finals. Aldridge averaged 15.5 points against the Warriors, but only 11.3 points in the final three games after the Spurs lost Leonard to an ankle injury in Game 1. While fans and Aldridge himself are demanding more, Popovich and his teammates simply want more of the same. “I feel like he played well for us last year,” said Leonard, who sat out the entire preseason as a precaution to protect his right quadriceps. “Come in and be a presence on both ends of the floor be aggressive.” Aldridge said he is healthy after missing two games in early March due to a minor heart arrhythmia and playing with tendinitis throughout the season. He has looked comfortable and happy in the preseason, averaging 16.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists in four games while taking on a greater leadership role. “Now we’ve got to help [Aldridge] out a little bit more so he’s comfortable in his own space offensively,” Popovich said. “I haven’t done a very good job with that [in the past].” Some other things to watch from the Spurs early this season: strong>PROMISING PARKER: /strong> Parker’s rapid recovery from a ruptured quadriceps tendon has astounded doctors, the Spurs and even himself. San Antonio’s veteran point guard plans to return by mid- to late-November, which is two to four months sooner than initially expected. Parker could not move for three weeks after suffering the injury May 4 against Houston in the second round of the playoffs. The 35-year-old had to re-learn how to walk and was told he might not be able to bend his knee as he had before. Parker is cleared for all activities, but was held out of full-contact practices. strong>MURRAY’S GROWTH: /strong>Murray is expected to start at point guard while Parker completes his injury rehabilitation. The second-year player out of Washington has averaged 9.3 points and a team-high 3.8 assists in the preseason. The 6’5” guard averaged 3.4 points and 1.3 assists in limited minutes last season. “I’m very optimistic about his future,” Ginobili said. “He’s going to be a great player, a potential All-Star, [but] you don’t know if it’s going to happen now or in five years. It depends a lot him, but he’s a very talented kid.” strong>MANU RETURNS: /strong> Ginobili returns for his 16th season after nearly retiring in the offseason. Admitting it was a “close call,” Ginobili opted to return to the only NBA team he has played for. Ginobili averaged 7.5 points last season, the lowest of his career, but enjoyed one of his most injury-free seasons. “I still had the appreciation for the game, I still enjoy being here every day,” Ginobili said. “Incredible organization and a place where I feel respected and listened to and appreciated and I appreciate it, too.” strong>YOUTH MOVEMENT: /strong> The Spurs are expected to rely more on their youth than in previous seasons. Second-year players Murray, Bertans and Forbes and rookies Derrick White and Brandon Paul are embracing that opportunity, even impressing San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. strong>ONE PLAYER, MULTIPLE ROLES: /strong> Gay joined San Antonio after playing the past four seasons in Sacramento. After missing the final two months of last season following surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, the 12-year veteran has participated fully during the preseason. At 6-foot-8, Gay is expected to play multiple positions in the frontcourt in a role similar to the one filled by Boris Diaw. “It was a do or die point in my career,” Gay said. “I wanted to be with an organization that is known for winning and can help me raise my game to another level. So, I mean, where else do you go?” .....»»

Category: sportsSource: abscbn abscbnOct 12th, 2017

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Top 10

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst Wonder what the rental market is like in San Luis Obispo, Calif. San Luis Obispo is, give or take a few miles, one of the closest cities that is near the midway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given the events of the NBA’s offseason, it’s not hare to imagine national reporters are going to be spending a lot of time in California next season, bouncing back and forth between the Bay and L.A. Catch LeBron James and the Lakers on Wednesday and then, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors on Thursday. The Western Conference only got stronger and deeper with James leaving Cleveland for a second time, this time to go to the Lakers. Add four of the top five Draft picks -- including No. 1 overall selection Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns), No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III (Sacramento Kings) and international phenom Luka Doncic (No. 3 pick, acquired by Dallas Mavericks) -- going to Western Conference teams, and the talent disparity between conferences only seems greater. But did Eastern Conference teams take advantage of Cleveland deflating to make their teams better? And how effective were West teams in making their teams better prepared to at least compete with the Warriors? That’s where this year’s Offseason Rankings come in -- big, bold, definitive. You love them, if the amount of hate tweets and e-mails I get after they’re published are any indication. Every year, we rank how all 30 teams have done since the end of their respective seasons. We look at everything -- how they drafted, what trades they made, what players they signed in free agency, and for how much -- or if they didn’t participate in free agency much at all. We look at if they’ve changed coaches, executives, owners, or if they’re moving into a new building that can generate big revenues. And you have to decide which ones you liked the most. Here's what these rankings ARE NOT: A predicted order of finish for next season. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) I do not expect the Suns, for example, to have a better record than the Celtics, just because they had a better summer. It is not a ranking of the teams in order from 1 through 30 right now; I do not believe the Mavericks are now a better team than Rockets. This is just one person’s opinion about offseason moves -- offseason moves only. Is your team better now than it was before? - If your team is ranked in the top 10, it doesn't mean I love your team.       - If your team is ranked in the bottom 10, it doesn't mean I hate your team. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) What plays into the rankings: - This isn’t science. It’s an educated guess, weighing the impact both of the Draft and free agency, but also assessing whether teams got value in their free-agent signings. Overpaying the right player is as much a sin as signing the wrong player. A good new coach can coax some more wins out of a roster. But if a team’s players don’t believe in the system their team uses, the best Xs and Os on earth don’t matter.       - Teams that are rebuilding obviously have different priorities than teams making a championship push. That's factored in. So Chicago, for example, gets credit for adding young, affordable players as it stockpiles its talent -- but that talent has to fit together, as Wendell Carter Jr. does with Lauri Markannen. And a team like the Warriors that shows it’s willing to go deep into the luxury tax -- which most teams try to avoid -- in order to keep winning has to be commended, and its rankings reflect that commendation.       - Continuity matters here as well. The most successful teams usually not only identify a core group of players, they keep them together for a while, finding that sweet spot: everyone doesn’t get a max contract, but most get paid well enough to keep the train moving down the tracks. That reflects both good roster construction and good financial management -- and, again, is rewarded. The explosion in the cap means everyone has to spend; keeping your powder dry for another day doesn’t have as much cache as it used to. But you still have to manage your money wisely. Salary numbers, with a couple of exceptions, come from Basketball Insiders, whose Eric Pincus does the best job of anyone in the game of keeping track of all the moving financial parts, quickly and accurately -- which is why we use him at NBA TV during the Draft and free agency to tell us what the hell this all means. The Top 10 * * * 1. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER 2017-18 RECORD: 48-34; lost in first round ADDED: G/F Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot (acquired from Sixers); G Hamidou Diallo (No. 45 pick, 2018 Draft); G Devon Hall (No. 53 pick, 2018 Draft); F Kevin Hervey (No. 57 pick, 2018 Draft); F Abdel Nader (acquired from Celtics); C Nerlens Noel (two years, $3.7 million); G Dennis Schröder (acquired from Hawks) LOST: F Carmelo Anthony (traded to Hawks); F Nick Collison (retired); C Dakari Johnson (traded to Magic); G Rodney Purvis (traded to Celtics) RETAINED: G Raymond Felton (one year, $2.3 million); F Paul George (four years, $136.9 million); F Jerami Grant (three years, $27.3 million) THE KEY MAN: G Andre Roberson. This is real simple: with Roberson on the court last year, OKC’s opponent offensive rating was 99.2; when he was off, it was 110.7. The Thunder was a near-elite defensive unit when Roberson played and was awful when he didn’t. His Real Defensive Plus-Minus, per ESPN.com, was 4.34, second only to Utah’s Rudy Gobert (5.06). So when Roberson ruptured his patellar tendon in late January, the Thunder’s ability to use George as a weakside defender who could freelance and use his length to create deflections and turnovers (because Roberson had the strong side absolutely locked down) went away. Any chance the Thunder has next season to compete at the highest levels in the West will depend on the 26-year-old Roberson’s recovery and return to the lineup. THE SKINNY: None of us -- none -- thought George was going to stay in OKC. And we all thought Sam Presti and the Thunder were crazy for trading for him last year, because it was just going to be a one-year rental and he was going to be off to the Lakers in 12 months, and OKC would have nothing to show for its deal. But George’s presence helped convince Russell Westbrook -- also long rumored to eventually head back to Cali -- to sign a long-term deal with the Thunder. And OKC’s acquisition of Carmelo Anthony helped convince George that the Thunder was all in on competing. And even though OKC went out in the first round of the playoffs to Utah, its year-long courtship of George and his family paid off when PG-13 spurned L.A. once and for all to stay in the 405. Anthony ultimately wasn’t a good fit, but he brought back Schroder, who will give Billy Donovan a dynamic scorer off the bench that can give Westbrook a blow and keep OKC’s offense from immolating when Westbrook is on the bench, a common malady the last two years. The Thunder has been relevant in an incredibly small market now for almost a decade. With George and Westbrook and Steven Adams and, now, Schroder, all signed up through 2021, that remarkable run will continue for some time. 2. LOS ANGELES LAKERS 2017-18 RECORD: 35-47; missed playoffs ADDED: F Michael Beasley (one year, $3.5 million); F Joel Berry II; F Issac Bonga (No. 39 pick, 2018 Draft); G Jeffrey Carroll; F LeBron James (four years, $153 million); C JaVale McGee (one year, $1.4 million); G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (No. 47 pick, 2018 Draft); G Rajon Rondo (one year, $9 million); G Lance Stephenson; F Mo Wagner (No. 25 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: C Thomas Bryant (waived); G Tyler Ennis (waived); F/C Channing Frye (signed with Cavs); C Brook Lopez (signed with Bucks); F Julius Randle (signed with Pelicans); G Isaiah Thomas (signed with Nuggets) RETAINED: G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (one year, $12 million); G Travis Wear THE KEY MAN: F Brandon Ingram. The third-year man should be the major beneficiary of James’ presence going forward. Driving lanes previously clogged with defenders should now be runway clear. Opponents who previously could close out strong on Ingram will now have their attention elsewhere. Ingram need only look at James’ last stop: per NBA.com/Stats, among players leaguewide who appeared in at least 60 games last season, three Cavaliers -- Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and Cedi Osman -- were among the top 20 in the league in lowest frequency of having their closest defenders within two feet of them, meaning James created many wide open looks for teammates all season. Ingram vastly improved his range last season over his rookie one, shooting 39 percent on 3-pointers. But he only attempted 1.8 threes per game last season. That number will surely skyrocket in 2018. Ingram must ready to take advantage. That will make him that much more deadly as a driver. THE SKINNY: Team president Magic Johnson was tasked with landing a whale in free agency, and he and GM Rob Pelinka bagged Moby Dick in James. Their subsequent free agent moves once Paul George opted to stay in Oklahoma City were all short-term plays with an eye toward the promising 2019 free agent class, which include the likes of All-Stars Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker and DeMarcus Cousins. But that doesn’t mean Lake Show ’18 isn’t going to be the rip-roaringest circus this side of your standard Ozzy Ozbourne tour. What’s the over-under on the first time Rondo cusses out coach Luke Walton, or when we hear of a “spirited practice” that is code for “Lance ‘bowed ‘Bron in the neck and Walton sent everyone home”? The Lakers could be in The Finals or out in the first round, but what they decidedly will not be is boring. 3. DENVER NUGGETS 2017-18 RECORD: 46-36; missed playoffs ADDED: F Michael Porter Jr. (No. 14 pick, 2018 Draft); G Isaiah Thomas (one year, $2 million); F Jarred Vanderbilt (No. 41 pick, 2018 Draft); C Thomas Welsh (No. 58 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: F Darrell Arthur (traded to Nets); F Wilson Chandler (traded to 76ers); F Kenneth Faried (traded to Nets); G Isaiah Whitehead (waived) RETAINED: G Will Barton (four years, $53 million); G/F Torrey Craig (two years, $4 million); C Nikola Jokic (five-year, $147.7 million contract extension) THE KEY MAN: G Jamal Murray. Denver ended all pretense that the full-time point guard job wasn’t his last season and his second-year numbers were very encouraging. Among regularly playing (60+ games) floor generals, per NBA.com/Stats, Murray’s .577 True Shooting Percentage ranked only behind D.J. Augustin, Kyrie Irving, Darren Collison and Kyle Lowry. No one doubts the still-just-21-year-old Murray can fill it up, and that the Nuggets don’t need a classic ball distributor to light up the Pepsi Center scoreboard. But they do need to get more credible defensively. So does he. THE SKINNY: A great offseason for the Nuggets, who did what they said they would -- keep Jokic off the market next summer -- while clearing roster spots and minutes with two trades, and simultaneously reducing their luxury tax bill for 2019. (The Chandler trade to the Sixers also created an enormous $12.8 million trade exception for Denver through August of 2019.) Jokic should anchor one of the most athletic starting quintets in the game -- along with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, the re-signed Barton (penciled in for now as the starting three) and Paul Millsap. the Nuggets didn’t add much at the defensive end, which was their Achilles’ heel the last couple of seasons and the main reason they didn’t make the playoffs in 2017-18. Denver opted to strengthen a strength by bringing in Thomas, who’ll be in prove-it mode next season on a short deal with a coach that he knows from their Sacramento days in Mike Malone. Look for Malone to unleash Thomas on second units throughout the West. Porter Jr. was worth a flier at 14; he was the consensus likely first pick in the Draft a year ago, before his back injury took him out of all but a couple of games in his one season at Missouri. Denver can give him the entire year to rehab from two surgeries, the latest last week, and reset his clock for 2019-20. 4. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS 2017-18 RECORD: 58-24; won NBA Finals ADDED: C DeMarcus Cousins (one year, $5.3 million); F Jacob Evans (No. 28 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jonas Jerebko (one year, $2.1 million); G Damion Lee LOST: C JaVale McGee (signed with Lakers); C Zaza Pachulia (signed with Pistons); Head of Physical Performance and Sports Medicine Chelsea Lane (went to Hawks) RETAINED: F Kevin Durant (two years, $61.5 million); F Kevon Looney THE KEY MAN: Brett Yamaguchi, Director of Game Operations/Entertainment, Oracle Arena. One doesn’t envy Yamaguchi, whose tasks will be twofold next season: create lifetime memories for the loudest and most loyal fanbase in the league, as the Warriors play their final season at Oracle Arena (aka Roaracle) -- they’re moving into the Chase Center, their tony new digs across the Bay in downtown San Francisco, come 2019-20. And, provide atmosphere and sizzle that will help coach Steve Kerr keep his veteran core from being bored out of its collective mind during the regular season while it waits for the playoffs and a chance at a three-peat. THE SKINNY: So, sure, the best team in the league adds one of the top two or three big men in the game in Cousins. But that’s the ancillary benefit of having such a dominant organization; everyone wants to figure out a way to get to the Bay. Cousins took less money to do so; now he can take his time rehabbing his torn Achilles tendon. If that means he’s not all the way back until All-Star, who cares? The Warriors will roll Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and Jonas Jerebko out at the five in non-Death lineups until Cousins is ready. Meanwhile, Kerr has to keep his vets, but especially Andre Iguodala and Shawn Livingston, off their feet as much as possible during the regular season so they’ll be good to go from April through June. Losing Iguodala for the bulk of the 2018 Western finals was almost the Warriors’ downfall. 5. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES 2017-18 RECORD: 22-60; missed playoffs ADDED: F Kyle Anderson (four years, $37 million); G Jevon Carter (No. 32 pick, 2018 Draft); F Omri Casspi (one year, $2.3 million); F Jaren Jackson Jr. (No. 4 pick, 2018 Draft); C Dakari Johnson (acquired from Magic); G Garrett Temple (acquired from Kings) LOST: C/F Deyonta Davis (traded to Kings); G Tyreke Evans (signed with Pacers); F Jarell Martin (traded to Magic); G Ben McLemore (traded to Kings) RETAINED: Coach J.B. Bickerstaff THE KEY MAN: G Mike Conley. It’s no secret how vital Conley is to the franchise, so a return to form is vital for the veteran point, who’ll be 31 on opening night and who missed 70 games last season with a heel injury. Next season will be the third of Conley’s five-year, $150 million deal signed in 2016; remember when so many people thought the world would end when a small market like Memphis invested so much in him? Well, Conley has already dropped to fifth in the league in salary among point guards, behind Stephen Curry Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Kyle Lowry. He’ll fall even further down the list next season, when John Wall’s massive extension kicks in, and Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker each get new contracts that could leap his. THE SKINNY: Memphis couldn’t have had a worse 2017-18 if it tried, and the Grizzlies compounded their on-court implosion by not trading Evans when everyone in the league -- seemingly, except for them -- knew he was going to walk in the summer if they didn’t. But, the Grizzlies’ front office recovered in a big way, selling the 18-year-old Jackson that he would fit right in despite not working out for the Grizz before the Draft, then doubling up on “Grit And Grind 2.0” by taking Carter, college basketball’s fiercest on-ball defender, in the second. Ownership was willing to let the front office use the full mid-level exception on Anderson, who isn’t the sexiest pickup to many fans but whose defensive numbers in San Antonio were outstanding. Temple is the ultimate good vet and locker room guy who will get a chance to play for Bickerstaff after the Kings opted to go with their young guys and he was likely out of the rotation. GM Chris Wallace was adamant that the Grizzlies could rebuild again around the aging Conley and Marc Gasol and that they wouldn’t trade Gasol after the latter’s difficult relationship with former coach David Fizdale. They did, and they didn’t. 6. PHOENIX SUNS 2017-18 RECORD: 21-61; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach Igor Kokoskov; F Trevor Ariza (one year, $15 million); F Darrell Arthur (acquired from Nets); C Deandre Ayton (No. 1 pick, 2018 Draft); F Mikal Bridges (No. 10 pick, 2018 Draft); F Richaun Holmes (acquired from 76ers); G George King (No. 59 pick, 2018 Draft); G Elie Okobo (No. 31 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: Former interim coach Jay Triano; F Jared Dudley (traded to Nets); C Alex Len (signed with Hawks); G Elfrid Payton (signed with Pelicans); G Tyler Ulis (waived); F/C Alan Williams (waived) RETAINED: G Devin Booker (contract extension) THE KEY MAN: Ayton. Let’s not bury the lead here: he was the first pick overall for a reason, because he has franchise-turning capability. The Suns don’t need singles or the occasional double any more; they need someone to put them back on the map with big, sweaty, nasty four-baggers, night after night. (cc: mixed metaphor police.) It’s been a minute since Amar’e Stoudemire was at his destructive best, and the list of impactful bigs in franchise history is thin: Connie Hawkins, Alvan Adams, Tom Chambers, Charles Barkley, Stoudemire. Ayton has a chance to be as good as any of them, and better, and he’s a potential stash of Kryptonite down the pike to the Warriors dynasty. THE SKINNY: There’s the makings of a Jazz-like reimaging of the franchise in short order. Kokoskov not only comes from Utah’s staff, but has significant coaching chops outside of Salt Lake City. He’s been coaching since he was 24, and that was 22 years ago. He’s coached both around the world and around the NBA as an assistant and development maven, and he’ll be great at bolstering the confidence of the Suns’ young guys -- including Bridges, a mature and solid rook with collegiate titles from Villianova who’ll be able to grow quietly outside the huge media shadow cast on Ayton. Kokoskov will also make things a lot easier for Devin Booker offensively. But GM Ryan McDonough was also smart enough to surround the kids with some solid vets, starting with Ariza, who will help the Suns again become acquainted with a long-honored NBA concept called “defense.” 7. DALLAS MAVERICKS 2017-18 RECORD: 24-58; missed playoffs ADDED: F Kostas Antetokounmpo (No. 60 pick, 2018 Draft); G Jalen Brunson (No. 33 pick, 2018 Draft); G Luka Doncic (No. 3 pick, 2018 Draft); C DeAndre Jordan (one year, $22 million); C Chinanu Onuaku (acquired from Rockets); F Ray Spalding (No. 56 pick, 2018 Draft); F Ding Yanyuhang; LOST: G Kyle Collinsworth (waived); G Seth Curry (signed with Blazers); G Yogi Ferrell (signed with Kings); F Doug McDermott (signed with Pacers); F Jonathan Motley (traded to Clippers); C Nerlens Noel (signed with Thunder) RETAINED: G/F Wesley Matthews (picked up player option); F Dirk Nowitzki (one year, $5 million) THE KEY MAN: CEO Cynthia Marshall. The former AT&T executive was put in charge after Sports Illustrated’s explosive story last February detailing a toxic workplace for female employees on the team’s business side, with sexual harassment rampant and no relief forthcoming from the supervisors who should have provided it. Marshall has been fast at work changing the business side culture, as separate investigations of who was responsible for allowing the previous environment to fester wind down. After their results are made public, it will be Marshall who will have to both enact their recommendations and sell the public that owner Mark Cuban’s organization has been fumigated for good. THE SKINNY: Dallas is banking that the 19-year-old Doncic is not only the real deal, but that he can come out of the gate in the NBA after starring in Europe and immediately give the Mavs a boost. There’s a large body of work suggesting Doncic will do just that, and accelerate the Mavs’ rebuild. Second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr.’s improvements should also speed up, and Jordan’s presence should start to close the sieve that has plagued Dallas’s defense the last couple of years. Losing both Curry and Ferrell will hurt the Mavs’ guard depth, though, and Brunson won’t be able to work in slowly. 8. INDIANA PACERS 2017-18 RECORD: 48-34; lost in first round ADDED: G/F Tyreke Evans (one year, $12 million); G Aaron Holiday (No. 23 pick, 2018 Draft); F Alize Johnson (No. 50 pick, 2018 Draft); F Doug McDermott; C/F Kyle O'Quinn LOST: C Al Jefferson (waived); G/F Glenn Robinson III (signed with Pistons); G Lance Stephenson (signed with Lakers) RETAINED: G Cory Joseph (picked up player option); F Thaddeus Young (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: Kevin Pritchard, president of basketball operations. He’s been instrumental in putting this team together -- first as Larry Bird’s assistant, but on his own the last year-plus since Bird left. Now Pritchard will have to deal with not just the expectations last season’s surprising turnaround season will create with fans, but with the incessant calls and texts one receives when one has a team in which six players among the team’s core are on one-year deals and free agents next summer. It is extremely difficult for a team so constituted to stay unified and keep pulling on the rope together. Human nature is human nature, and players (and their families, and their agents) need reassurances they’re part of the organization’s future, just like any drone from Sector 7G would. It’s hard to think about sacrificing minutes and shots when almost players are judged by are their numbers. Nate McMillan, meanwhile, is only concerned, as any coach is, with the game in front of him, tonight. Pritchard’s phone will rarely have an hour off next season. THE SKINNY: What does a team that surprised so many last season need? More depth, because there aren’t going to be a lot of nights off going forward. The Pacers filled in nicely with a bunch of under-the-radar players, getting Evans after a bounce-back season in Memphis and O’Quinn after good years in New York. McBuckets is running out of stops to show he can be a key contributor in the NBA, but everything is tailor made for him to succeed here: he’ll have all the space in the world playing alongside Victor Oladipo, Bogdanovic and/or Myles Turner, depending on the lineup. Holiday was very good value at 23 in the first round. And Oladipo is on his grind. The Pacers are as big a threat as anyone to Boston’s assumed ascension in the post-LeBron East. 9. NEW YORK KNICKS 2017-18 RECORD: 29-53; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach David Fizdale; G Mario Hezonja (one year, $6.5 million); G Kevin Knox (No. 9 pick, 2018 Draft); C Mitchell Robinson (No. 36 pick, 2018 Draft); F Noah Vonleh (one year) LOST: Former coach Jeff Hornacek; F Michael Beasley (signed with Lakers); C/F Kyle O'Quinn (signed with Pacers); F Troy Williams (waived) RETAINED: G Ron Baker (picked up player option); F/C Luke Kornet; C Enes Kanter (picked up player option); THE KEY MAN: F Kristaps Porzingis. It’s unlikely Porzingis will play much, if at all, next season, as he rehabs his torn ACL suffered in February. New York will be extremely cautious with a timeline, and in Porzingis’ absence, if more losing brings more figurative ping pong balls the Knicks’ way … well, they won’t complain about that, either. None if it matters if “The Unicorn” doesn’t regain his form, though. So much of the Knicks’ 2018-19 improvement, or regression, will take place off camera. THE SKINNY: Fizdale won’t have a mandate to try and win with a veteran team in his first season in New York, as was the case in his year-plus in Memphis. So he can implement his position-less/fitness regimen with the young Knicks without looking over his shoulder. New York’s planning for 2019, when it hopes to strike in a big way in free agency, but that doesn’t mean next season won’t be important. Knox will have a lot of light on him, especially after playing well during NBA Summer League, but the Knicks truly believe Robinson will make some contributions this season with his significant physical gifts. Both must continue changing the narrative in Gotham that the team’s new braintrust is rebuilding the brand the right way -- slowly, and correctly. Hezonja was a good low-cost flier for New York who’ll give Fizdale some small ball options. Hezonja came on strong the second half of last season for the Magic, who hadn’t picked up his third-year option and were hamstrung in what they could offer him as a result. 10. SAN ANTONIO SPURS 2017-18 RECORD: 47-35; lost in first round ADDED: G Marco Belinelli (two years, $12 million); F Dante Cunningham (one year, $2.5 million); G DeMar DeRozan (acquired from Raptors); C Jakob Poeltl (acquired from Raptors); G Lonnie Walker IV (No. 18 pick, 2018 Draft); F Chimezie Metu (No. 49 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: F Kyle Anderson (signed with Grizzlies); G Danny Green (traded to Raptors); F Kawhi Leonard (traded to Raptors); F Joffrey Lauvergne (signed with Fenerbahce); G Tony Parker (signed with Hornets); G Brandon Paul (waived) RETAINED: C/F Davis Bertans (two years, $14.5 million); G Bryn Forbes (two years, $6 million); F Rudy Gay (one year, $10 million) THE KEY MAN: Coach Gregg Popovich. There is no way to tell, nor is it really anyone’s business, how Pop will cope with the loss of his wife Erin, who died in April during the Spurs’ first-round series with Golden State. But the NBA grind is an unforgiving one, and Popovich is adding Olympic team coach duties to an already taxing schedule. He knows best how he’s doing and you can only hope he listens to himself when or if he needs time away. THE SKINNY: Backed up against it with Leonard’s still-murky insistence for a divorce, the Spurs did as well as could be expected in getting a four-time All-Star who’ll play with a huge chip on his shoulder next season. DeRozan will certainly help San Antonio extinguish the offensive droughts that came when teams loaded up on LaMarcus Aldridge defensively. LA was sensational for long stretches last season, making second team All-NBA for the second time in his career. Belinelli, rookie Walker and Poeltl should lengthen San Antonio’s bench significantly and reduce the Spurs’ dependence on nightly brilliance from 40-year-old Manu Ginobili, if he comes back for a 17th season. Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 8th, 2018

All-Star break works wonders for Blazers, Jazz, Heat

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com The Portland Trail Blazers are doing it again. For the second straight season, the Blazers are the most improved team after the All-Star break. Last year, spurred by the acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic at the trade deadline, the Blazers were 7.8 points per 100 possessions better after the break (plus-5.3) than they were before it (minus-2.5). This year, without a rotation-altering trade, the Blazers have been 9.5 points per 100 possessions better since the break (plus-10.0) than they were before it (plus-0.4). Their 13-game winning streak (which started with their last game before All-Star weekend) came to an end at the hands of James Harden and the Houston Rockets on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time), but prior to that, they were the only undefeated team (12-0) since the break, climbing from seventh place in the West at the break to third place (with a relatively comfortable three-game lead in the loss column over the teams behind them) going into Thursday's (Friday, PHL time) games. Improvement has come on both ends of the floor. The Blazers have been 5.5 points per 100 possessions better offensively and 4.0 points per 100 possessions better defensively since the break. With the league average seeing an increase of 1.3 per 100, that's about even improvement on both ends of the floor. On offense, the Blazers have increased their three-point rate (3PA/FGA) from 31 percent before the All-Star break to 35 percent since, but have seen just a small jump in effective field goal percentage. Improvement has come more from taking better care of the ball and getting to the line more often. Over the last 16 games, Damian Lillard has averaged 9.2 points at the free throw line, 3.4 more than he averaged prior to that (5.8). Lillard has also seen a drop in turnover ratio, from 9.8 per 100 possessions before the break to 7.8 since. That 7.8 is the second lowest (higher than that of only LaMarcus Aldridge) among 14 players with a usage rate of greater than 30 percent since the break. On defense, rebounding has been key. After allowing 12.2 second chance points per game before the break, the Blazers have allowed just 9.5 (second fewest in the league) since. They continue to lead the league in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area and have been at their best defensively with Jusuf Nurkic on the floor. The defensive improvement may be more impressive, given that six of the Blazers' 13 post-break games have been against the league's top-10 offenses, though that includes games against Minnesota without Jimmy Butler and Golden State without Stephen Curry. It should also be noted that nine of the 13 games have been at home. Of course, the Blazers have been better defensively on the road (103.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) than they've been at home (104.6) this season. We'll see how those numbers (and their post-break improvement) hold up when they play seven of nine on the road after hosting the Boston Celtics on Friday (Saturday, PHL time). Does it mean anything? Some teams might want to be playing their best going into the playoffs. But playing better late in the season doesn't necessarily mean anything. In fact, playoff team stats (offensive and defensive efficiency) more strongly correlate with pre-All-Star numbers than with post-All-Star numbers. Over the last 10 full seasons (going back to 2007-08 and skipping 2011-12), the 20 playoff teams that have seen the biggest increase in NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) from before the break to after the break have been more likely to underachieve in the playoffs (losing a series in which they had home-court advantage) than overachieve (winning a series they started on the road). The playoff team of the last 20 years that saw the biggest improvement was the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns, who were 8.2 points per 100 possessions better after the break (plus-11.2) than they were before it (plus-2.9). They reached the conference finals as the 3 seed in the West, but did so with home-court advantage in each of the first two rounds (because the seventh-seeded Spurs beat the second-seeded Mavs in the first round). Four of those 20 most improved teams have lost in the first round with home-court advantage, while the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls (4.5 points per 100 possessions better after the break) lost in the conference finals as the No. 1 seed. The overachievers? The 2008-09 Houston Rockets (5.6 points per 100 possessions better after the break) and 2013-14 Washington Wizards (4.8 better) won first-round series as No. 5 seeds without home-court advantage. And finally, the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers (who were 4.8 points per possessions better after the break) reached The Finals as a No. 2 seed. With that in mind, here are the teams that have been most improved on either end of the floor since the All-Star break this season. Most improved offenses 1. Miami Heat Like the Blazers, the Heat are doing this for the second year in a row. When they went from 11-30 in their first 41 games to 30-11 in their last 41 games last season, it was on offense where they really turned things around. Last year's turnaround came with increases in both three-point percentage and three-point volume (3PA/FGA). This year, the Heat have shot better from beyond the arc since the break, but they've actually taken a lower percentage of their shots from three-point range than they did prior, so their jump in effective field goal percentage isn't huge. They have gone from the bottom 10 to the top 10 in both offensive rebounding percentage and turnover rate. Hassan Whiteside has grabbed 28 offensive boards in just eight post-break games, though he hasn't seen a big increase in offensive rebounding percentage since the break. The team increase has been more about six different guys grabbing at least 13 offensive boards over the 14 games. On the turnover front, James Johnson has seen a big drop in his individual rate, from 13.7 turnovers per 100 possessions before the break to just 7.3 since the break. Goran Dragic has also seen seen a reduction. The drop in turnovers, along with more second chances and an increase in pace, as provided the Heat with almost six additional shots per 48 minutes. The Heat's post-break offense has been at its best (more than 123 points scored per 100 possessions) with Kelly Olynyk on the floor. Both Olynyk (60.7 percent) and James Johnson (60.6 percent) rank in the top 20 in post-break effective field goal percentage among 157 players who have taken at least 100 shots since the break. Tyler Johnson, meanwhile, has seen an effective field goal percentage jump from 50 percent before the break to 58 percent since the break. The Heat have played a fairly average post-break schedule in regard to opposing defenses. They've picked on some bad ones (scoring 128 points per 100 possessions in three games against the Suns, Nuggets and Knicks) and have played ugly against some good ones (like those of the Sixers and Blazers), but have been strong against the defenses in the middle of the pack. Going forward, they'll play just three of their 10 remaining games against top-10 defenses. Two of those are against the eighth-ranked Thunder, and one of those is Friday (Saturday, PHl time). Six of their other seven games are against bottom-10 defenses. 2. L.A. Lakers Rookies and second year players have accounted for 45 percent of the Lakers' minutes this season. That's the third highest rate in the league and the highest among teams that aren't at least 23 games under .500. So, in-season improvement both critical and somewhat expected. Of course, a vet has been a big part of the Lakers' offensive improvement. Brook Lopez has seen the second biggest increase in effective field goal percentage (behind that of Wilson Chandler) among players who took at least 300 shots before the break and have taken at least 100 since the break (see table below). For Lopez, as well as the team as a whole, it's been about the three ball, both in regard to percentage and volume. Before the break, the Lakers ranked 29th in three-point percentage and 22nd in the percentage of their shots that were threes. Since the break: fifth and fourth. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (46.3 percent) ranks seventh in post-break three-point percentage among 98 players with at least 50 attempts. But the biggest key to the Lakers' post-break offense may be a big jump in minutes for Julius Randle. He's actually seen a drop in usage rate and not much of an increase in efficiency, but Randle has gone from averaging less than 25 minutes before the break to 34 since the break. As a result, he's averaged 21.5 points (on 59 percent shooting) over the 13 games. And in that stretch, the Lakers have scored 14.2 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (114.1) than they have with him off the floor (99.9). Most improved defenses 1. Utah Jazz Utah's improvement started with the return of Rudy Gobert from a month-long absence in mid-January. Since his return on Jan. 19 (Jan. 20, PHL time), the Jazz have allowed just 96.2 points per 100 possessions, 6.5 fewer than any other team. Over those nine weeks, the difference between the Jazz and the second-ranked Spurs (102.7) is more than the difference between the Spurs and the 20th-ranked Hawks (109.1). More improvement came with the acquisition of Jae Crowder at the trade deadline. And the Jazz have allowed a paltry 85 points per 100 possessions in 308 minutes with Crowder and Gobert on the floor together, with their opponents shooting just 38 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range. And the Jazz haven't allowed their opponents to do much with all those misses, grabbing 85 percent of available defensive boards (a rate which would lead the league by a wide margin) in those 308 minutes. There is a schedule-related boost here. Since the break, the Jazz have played seven games against the league's bottom-10 offenses (including six against the bottom six) and just three games against the top 10. But in two of those three games (Feb. 27, PHL time vs. Houston and March 12, PHL time at New Orleans), they held their opponent under a point per possession. They've now done that in nine straight games and in 18 of their last 24. Given the state of league-wide offense (this is now the most efficient season in league history), that's pretty remarkable. The Jazz have four games remaining against top-10 offenses, including two against the Warriors. One of those is Sunday at Golden State (next Monday, PHL time). 2. Indiana Pacers The Pacers have improved defensively six of their 14 post-break games having been against teams that rank in the top 11 offensively (the 11th-ranked Wizards have bounced in and out of the top 10). They've gone 3-3, but held those top-11 offenses - Milwaukee (x 2), New Orleans, Washington (x 2) and Toronto - to just 103.4 points per 100 possessions (about four fewer than the league's post-break average) over the six games. The Pacers' post-break defense has been at its best, allowing just 96 points per 100 possessions, with Myles Turner on the floor. Turner has been improved offensively since the break (seeing a sizeable jump in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage), but his defense has been more important. While Turner has made an impact inside, forcing turnovers has been a big part of the Pacers' defensive improvement. They lead the league in opponent turnover rate since the All-Star break, having forced 17.4 per 100 possessions, up from 15.1 (10th) before the break. Victor has been the league leader in steals this season at 2.2 per game, and has seen an increase (from 2.1 to 2.8) since the break, with Thaddeus Young (2.3) joining him in the top four in post-break steals per contest. The Pacers have also rebounded a little better, grabbing 77 percent of available defensive boards (15th in the league) since the break, up from 76 percent (27th) before it. Things haven't gone so well on the other end of the floor. The Pacers have seen the league's biggest drop in offensive efficiency since the break. They ranked sixth offensively (108.5 points scored per 100 possessions) before the break and rank 26th (101.6) since the break. Oladipo (from 59 percent to 46 percent) and Young (from 54 percent to 45 percent) have seen two of the eight biggest drops in effective field goal percentage since the break among 142 players who took at least 300 shots before the break and have taken at least 100 shots since the break. The improved defense will continue to be tested in the next couple of weeks. The Pacers will play six of their next eight games against top-10 offenses. That includes two games against the second-ranked Warriors and two more against the seventh-ranked Clippers. L.A. is in Indiana on Friday (Saturday, PHL time). Most improved shooters Here's a look at the players who have seen the biggest increases in effective field goal percentage since the All-Star break. John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 23rd, 2018

New era, new challenges emerge for Warriors

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst "It’s the lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself. He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest." -- Muhammad Ali Ali defended his heavyweight championship 20 times, during two eras: when he was young and unstoppable, after beating Sonny Liston in Miami in 1964, and when he was old and vulnerable, after beating George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. He was the fastest heavyweight ever in the first era; he was smart and could take a punch in the second. A generation later, the Golden State Warriors are defending their NBA title for a second time, in three years. But they, too, are doing so in two eras. In 2014, no one had seen anything like what Golden State did on a basketball court, and how Stephen Curry’s and Klay Thompson’s shooting range changed the geometry of NBA defenses. They stretched to the breaking point trying to get out to Curry and Thompson. They couldn’t figure out how to handle the Warriors’ five-man switching defenses. They couldn’t stand up under Golden State’s withering pace. There is no need to hold a telethon yet for the Warriors, three years later. They are 49-14 today, with four All-Stars among their five starters, including Kia MVP candidate Kevin Durant, in the prime of his career, who wasn’t there when the Warriors first beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 Finals. They are still first in the league in Offensive Rating, first in True Shooting Percentage, first in Effective Field Goal Percentage. They still are unsolvable to most opponents. But maybe not all, not anymore. The margin of separation between Golden State and the rest of the league is still there, most of the time. But there are tiny signs of slippage. Tiny. You recall what Warriors assistant coach Bruce Frasier said in the preseason, when no one is injured and everyone thinks they’re going 82-0. “Teams are starting to figure us out a little bit,” he said then. “We’re talented, so that sometimes overrides strategy. But I feel like teams are figuring certain things out to do to counter what they’ve seen. Year one, it was really hard, because it was all new. The pieces have changed a little bit, but I feel like our challenge will be to see if we can layer on some of the offense, our fluid movement, and counters, and change things up, and execute better. Defense is always big, too, so I wouldn’t go into the complacent (problem). I think it’s going to be more execution, and how smart can we really be, and can we keep that energy up through this year?” In each of their previous three seasons, the Warriors led the league in margin of victory -- 10.1 points in 2014-15, 10.8 points in 2015-16 and 11.6 points last season. This year, though, they’ve fallen to third, behind the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors -- and their win margin is down to 8.5 points per game. Two years ago, the Warriors were fourth in the league in Defensive Rating (100.9). Last season, Golden State was second (101.1). This season, the Warriors are fifth, at 103.4. In 2014-15, they were 14th in the league in points allowed in the paint; this year, they’re 24th (to be fair, they were 23rd last year, when they won it all anyway). Are they bored? Tired? Aging? Is their bench inconsistency this year the result of vets saving themselves for the playoffs, or guys just getting old? And will it matter against anyone other than Houston? “Once you start getting a little older, it’s harder and harder,” guard Shaun Livingston said last week. “We definitely need the youth, we definitely need the health. We’ve got to be healthy. We’ve got to be healthy. Sometimes you see teams that maybe are over the hill -- they have the experience, but maybe not (the ability). It’s human nature. Obviously, I don’t think we’re there yet. We’ve got guys that are still in their prime. It’s mental now.” In the Jean-Pierre Coopman phase of their latest title defense (oh, how one misses spectacles like Ali fighting Coopman, the “Lion of Flanders” -- with Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier on the call!), the Warriors came to Washington last week. There was no White House visit on the docket, only time with D.C. area kids and a trip to the African-American History Museum, with owner Joe Lacob and GM Bob Myers on the trip as well. They have been in the public eye for five years now, back to Mark Jackson’s last season as coach, when the Splash Brothers exploded into the national consciousness. That’s a long time for one NBA team to have all that light and heat on it. For a minute, the Warriors tried to convince themselves that there was a backlash building against them nationally, that people had grown tired of their 3-pointers and video game point totals. It was, of course, a ridiculous posit -- Golden State and its players are more popular than ever, the love for Curry such that he felt perfectly comfortable posting a photo of the glass table he accidentally smashed in his hotel room on Instagram, any criticism surely to be muted amid America’s love for the two-time MVP.   when you feel like you’re on the @pgatour so you gotta get some swings going in the hotel room 😂😂😂 #idiot A post shared by Wardell Curry (@stephencurry30) on Mar 1, 2018 at 1:33pm PST “There was a little guy who was probably eight years old, and he came up and introduced himself,” Steve Kerr said. “His name was Ryan, and I’m talking to him, and he goes ’oh, my God, there’s Quinn Cook!’ And he ran over to Quinn Cook. Not Steph, not me -- he loved Quinn Cook. That was cool.” Throughout the Warriors’ run, they’ve faced down different challengers in the Western Conference -- the first iteration of the Rockets with Harden, a hybrid inside-out attack where Houston unhappily and unsuccessfully tried to meld Harden and Dwight Howard in the post. The Durant/Russell Westbrook one-two combo in Oklahoma City. The Spurs, morphing from the Tim Duncan/Tony Parker-led team to the Kawhi Leonard-dominant one. The “Lob City” Clippers, followed by the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin halfcourt version. But this season’s Rockets, with Paul at the point, may be the most unique and dangerous threat to the Warriors. They are much more than a team that just rains 3-pointers on you -- though they most certainly do that, and do it historically well. They’re also an outstanding defensive team, with the additions of P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute giving them a grit they haven’t had in past seasons to pair with the shot blocking and rim presence of Clint Capela. The numbers are stark: Houston is 32-1 this season when Paul, Harden and Capela all play, including two wins over the Warriors The Rockets have no obvious weakness. They have no fear of Golden State, either, having won two of the three meetings with the Warriors this season. It’s not just that they’re good, it’s how they’re good that makes them look like the greatest challenge yet to Golden State’s hegemony in the West. “I mean, yes, because they do it a different way, I guess,” Curry said last week. “They adopted the power of the three ball and try to use it as a main weapon, and obviously with James and CP together. Honestly, we know that they’re playing well. We’re chasing that number one seed and keeping tabs on how they’re playing and whatnot. But at the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of time left before we have to face them again. We know they’re serious. But so are we.” The Warriors have had to deal with great adversity during their run, to be sure. The biggest challenge came about this time last year, when a collision between teammates -- Zaza Pachulia and Durant, in D.C., ironically -- culminated in a Grade 2 MCL sprain and bone bruise for Durant, taking him out of the lineup at the worst possible part of the season. Golden State had just ripped off wins in 23 of its previous 27 games since a lamentable Christmas Day loss to the Cavs. Curry had started to figure out how to play with KD, and vice versa. They were in the middle of a brutal stretch of seven road games in eight overall, with the one brief return home to play the Celtics. When Durant went down, the initial fear was that he’d torn his ACL and would be out for the season. The Warriors’ locker room was funeral after the Wizards game. “Obviously, we were trying to figure out if he was like ’done-done’ for the year, or whether or not there was going to be a chance he’d return,” forward David West said. “We were, at the time he got hurt, we were just starting to figure out the sort of roles, everybody was getting comfortable with roles. We basically had to reset., change some of the functions we were doing. We lost a few games  trying to literaly just figure out and recalibrate and re-balance. That was one of those periods where we were just looking at each other, trying to start this thing -- we lost this huge, huge piece.” Yet the Warriors figured it out on the fly. And how they responded then provides a big clue to how they might respond to the challenge the Rockets present to them now. “It took us, I think we needed to get home before we were able to stablize,” Kerr said. “I want to say we lost three of the last four on the trip or something  (they did lose three of four, but one of the three losses was at Oracle in that one home game with the Celtics). We got home and righted the ship and got going. But sometimes (an injury is) a galvanizing force when a guy gets hurt, and you have to do certain things. Like, for us, when Kevin got hurt, we talked about it and we said we have to be the best defensive team in the league. We don’t have that luxury of throwing the ball to Kevin and saying ’get us 30 points tonight.'” During that stretch without Durant (March 2, 2017 to April 5, 2017), who returned just before the start of the playoffs, the Warriors led the league in the league in Defensive Rating (100.0, just head of San Antonio’s 100.2), first in opponent field goal percentage (.429), tied for second in opponent 3-point percentage (.316) and fourth in opponent points allowed per game (100.9). And once Durant returned for good, the Warriors again flexed. They tore through the West, winning all but one game en route to a third straight NBA Finals. And they took the Cavaliers apart in five games for their second title in three years. “You could see Draymond, Klay, Andre, Shaun, those guys, even Loon (Kevin Looney), were like, ’we didn’t have KD last year,’ ” West said. “For someone like myself, I just followed their lead. Klay got a little more aggressive. Draymond sort of settled everybody defensively. And we started winning.” That muscle memory will come in handy this year. Durant and Curry have missed time with injuries, and Golden State hasn’t figured out things at center just yet. (Would it shock me if rookie Jordan Bell played a big role there down the stretch? No, it would not.) But the Warriors still are smoking people in the second halves of games; per teamrankings.com, the Warriors lead the lead in third-quarter scoring margin at 5.3 points per game, more than double the margin of the second-place Denver Nuggets. Whether it’s adjustments or something else (“mainly, fiery halftime speeches, Knute Rockne style,” Kerr opines), they have again put a lot of opponents away with 12 minutes to spare. Since the All-Star break, they’re fourth in the league in opponent field goal percentage (.433) and Defensive Rating (100.3). “This year, obviously, knock on wood, we want to stay healthy,” Curry said. “We want to continue to push in the right direction. Every year’s different. That’s the fun part about this league. No matter how much success you’ve had and what your expectations are, it’s a different journey every year. We’re right in the middle of that right now. We have an amazing record, considering how we’ve played. I think we’d all say we haven’t lived up to our own expectations. That’s okay. We have an opportunity to build the right habits and the right momentum going into the playoffs this year and do it, all 15 guys.” Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMar 6th, 2018

How will the Spurs meld Aldridge, Leonard?

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com A top-three team in the Western Conference is ready to get its best player back from injury. He's someone who, last season, made first-team All-NBA, had a seat at the MVP roundtable and nearly chopped down the champion Golden State Warriors in a playoff game (before being chopped down himself). And this will be good for the San Antonio Spurs, most would agree. What’s less certain is what Kawhi Leonard’s return from an achy quadricep means for LaMarcus Aldridge, who looks comfortable playing the lead right now without his co-star, yet squirmed to find peace when he had to ride shotgun. The Spurs star could make his season debut on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) against the Mavericks. The Spurs’ season rides on a happy balance between the two and a way to once again lurk as the team that gives the Warriors a severe case of the creeps, more than any other in the West. Despite all the fuss made over Chris Paul joining James Harden in Houston, and the star-infused Thunder in Oklahoma City, it’s the same-old Spurs who spooked Golden State in Game 1 before losing the Western Conference finals. They were also the last non-Warriors team to reach the NBA Finals. And look who’s sitting a bounce pass from the top of the West, despite missing Kawhi all season? That opening playoff game last May against Golden State was a flash point for San Antonio. The series of events that followed managed to put Leonard in a bad place physically, saw Aldridge melt epically the rest of that series and generate trade talk in the off-season, forced a major sit-down/showdown between coach Gregg Popovich and Aldridge and then, out of seemingly nowhere and somewhat surprisingly, a peaceful resolution was reached and wins followed. “As you can see, based on the evidence,” said Aldridge the other day, “everything’s good.” Yes, it appears so. With Kawhi out of the lineup, the Spurs are doing what they usually do, using disciplined basketball to stamp themselves as a contender. Some nights, Aldridge has been a force, ripping double-doubles and looming large in close games. The ball is finding him in a greedy groove; Aldridge is taking almost 17 1/2 shots a game and the Spurs’ No. 2 shooter, Rudy Gay, is getting nine. As a result, his scoring average is up from a year ago, from 17.3 points per game to 22.6 ppg, matching his best production during his peak with the Portland Trail Blazers. Now in his third season with the Spurs, Aldridge has never felt this frisky and once again is leaning on his money maker: the floating 18-foot jumper. Most important, the Spurs are winning because of him, and Popovich is gloating over him. “Are you kidding?” Popovich said. “We’d be in the toilet if it wasn’t for L.A. He’s been a complete basketball player at both ends of the floor, great rebounding, defensively, running the floor, scoring. What’s really been great is his leadership. And him bringing it every night.” It’s a short sample size after 25 games, but Popovich and the Spurs are cautiously encouraged by this. The Spurs veered from their usual draft-and-develop ways when they signed Aldridge to a big free-agent contract three summers ago. Because of that, Aldridge was considered an outsider, someone who wasn’t a true Spur, but who was needed by a team that craved proven talent to remain a contender in the post-Tim Duncan era. But it’s been a learning process for Aldridge, Popovich and the Spurs. He came from the Blazers anxious to break free of a team that began to orbit around Damian Lillard, but wouldn’t you know it, Leonard turned into a superstar almost overnight after Aldridge arrived. The timing was good for the Spurs ... and awkward for Aldridge, who was forced to adjust his game with prodding from Popovich. Aldridge bit his tongue last season when he averaged his lowest point total since his rookie season. When Leonard suffered his ankle sprain against the Warriors, Aldridge suddenly had the burden of carrying the load, and he failed spectacularly for the rest of that series. He averaged just 11.3 points in the final three games and became low hanging fruit for critics. Popovich was asked the other day if Aldridge had to atone for that this season and the coach came to his player’s defense. “I don’t know if the word ‘atone’ is accurate,” Popovich said. “If your leading scorer and also your point guard (Tony Parker, who was also out against the Warriors) isn’t there, then it falls on someone else. If you take away the two top players from any playoff team, it’s probably going to be tough to move on. I don’t think he has anything to atone for.” Still, something wasn’t right; anyone could see that. Aldridge requested a summertime meeting with Popovich and came with demands. On the surface, that might seem a risky strategy, given the coach’s credentials vs. someone without a single title, and Aldridge knew he was walking on eggshells. “I didn’t know how it would go because he’s Gregg Popovich. I didn’t know how he’d take me saying things. I didn’t know what to expect, with me coming at a person a different way but I was very honest and I think he could tell this was maybe different from what he was used to. But I was not disrespectful. I was trying to express how I was feeling and he was very receptive to it. We kept talking and things got better. I was pleasantly surprised.” For anyone who thought one of the game’s greatest coaches didn’t have a humble side, guess again. Popovich said: “We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense. “We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.” Every star player’s ego needs a degree of pampering, and Popovich did admit that dealing with Aldridge was different than any player he’s ever had, yet says there’s a reason for that. “When guys like Kawhi and Tony Parker and others came to me, they were young kids. When a guy’s been in a league nine years and is used to doing something and I try to take it away, that’s not right. That wasn’t very wise on my part.” Popovich didn’t pull rank in the meeting with Aldridge and if anything, he put his ego in check, something you see from coaches who haven’t accomplished one-fourth of what he’s done. But Pop has never strayed from the first rule in coaching players, especially the good ones: Keep them happy by any means necessary. “You gotta look at things and make it better as a coach,” he said. “It’s your responsibility. This was mostly me.” Here’s Aldridge this season so far: Back-to-back 33- and-41-point games a few weeks ago, sharper court awareness, better rebounding and passing than a year ago. Aldridge: “I was frustrated. I just wanted to help more and I think he understood that. Now I feel as confident as I was in Portland. I’m definitely being myself and playing my game and not overthinking and not worried about what’s going to happen if I don’t play well. I’m not a face-up guy. I like to have my back to the basket more. Pop’s given me the freedom to be myself again and that has shown itself on the court.” The issue, both say, wasn’t necessary the number of shots, though that was certainly one of the issues. It also was about the spot on the floor, when those shots needed to be taken. Aldridge said he has no problem with Leonard as the core -- he called Kawhi “our main guy” -- but wanted the same amount of comforts within the system. “He’s a go-to guy also,” said Aldridge. “The plan is to have him be the guy he is, and I be who I am now.” And there’s the key word: now. Leonard was bothered by the quad all last season and it didn’t respond quickly to offseason treatment. But now he’s nearly 100 percent and hopes a quick return to the level of last season when he jacked his scoring and finished third in the MVP voting, one spot ahead of LeBron James. Count Parker among the teammates who’ve said the obvious about Aldridge and how the power forward, in Leonard’s absence, has looked All-Star quality. “Everything’s going through him right now and he’s doing a better job knowing when to score and when to pass,” Parker said, “along with reading double teams and playing good defense.” But then Parker, the most senior Spur after Manu Ginobili, stressed that everyone, including Aldridge, must sacrifice for Leonard and not vice-versa, for the sake of the system and ultimately, wins. “When you play for the Spurs you don’t get a lot of big stats,” Parker said. “Now that Kawhi is out, he obviously has the ball more and he’s going to shoot more shots.” Then he added the kicker: “When Kawhi comes back we will share” -- Parker said while smiling -- “like we always do here.” Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsDec 9th, 2017

2017-18 NBA season preview roundup

We're just hours away from tipping off the start of the 2017-18 NBA season. That means it's time to get caught up on your favorite team, their player movement, and their storylines entering this new campaign. Check out what you missed below: Opening day rosters Viewing guide for Oct. 18-23, 2017 Top opening day storylines 5 reasons why the Golden State Warriors will repeat 5 reasons why the Golden State Warriors won't repeat +++ Eastern Conference capsule previews “In a watered down East, Celtics-Cavs is the best thing going”   Atlantic Division Offseason moves Boston Celtics 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Offseason overhaul complete, new era begins for Celtics” Toronto Raptors 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Raptors hope offensive evolution pays off in playoffs” New York Knicks 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Anthony, Jackson gone, but Knicks’ losing likely to continue” Philadelphia 76ers 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “76ers put trust in oft-injured Embiid as franchise player” Brooklyn Nets 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Nets see potential for improvement behind bolstered roster” Central Division Offseason moves Cleveland Cavaliers 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “James returns, Cavaliers debut new 3-MVP starting lineup” Milwaukee Bucks 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Kidd looks to get young Bucks back up to speed quickly” Indiana Pacers 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Pacers change directions, making Turner, Oladipo new leaders” Chicago Bulls 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Bulls go all in on rebuild, gear up for run at high pick” Detroit Pistons 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Drummond under pressure as Pistons try to rebound” Southeast Division Offseason moves Washington Wizards 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Not since ’79: Wall, Beal eye 50 wins, East finals for Wiz” Atlanta Hawks 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Atlanta Hawks begin a long, painful rebuilding process” Miami Heat 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Heat are deep, and hoping that means they’ll contend in East” Charlotte Hornets 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Howard-Clifford reunion may determine Hornets’ success” Orlando Magic 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Magic seek better results, more wins with mostly same roster” Western Conference capsule previews “Surprise! Golden State is the team to beat out West, again” Northwest Division Offseason moves Utah Jazz 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Jazz hope Hood can pick up scoring slack after Hayward exit" Oklahoma City Thunder 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Thunder add reinforcements for MVP Westbrook" Portland Trail Blazers 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Jusuf Nurkic wants Blazers to channel Pistons of days past" Denver Nuggets 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Leaner Nikola Jokic eager to lead Nuggets back to playoffs" Minnesota Timberwolves 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Now or never for the Minnesota Timberwolves" Pacific Division Offseason moves Golden State Warriors 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Kerr pushes Warriors to keep joy, chase repeat championship" LA Clippers 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “With Paul gone, Clippers very much Blake Griffin’s team" Sacramento Kings 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “New-look, youthful Kings try to gain ground in tough West" LA Lakers 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Ball prepared to shine in spotlight with rebuilding Lakers" Phoenix Suns 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “In their 50th season, Suns patient in developing young team" Southwest Division Offseason moves San Antonio Spurs 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Aldridge still trying to find his place with Spurs" Houston Rockets 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Rockets add All-Star Paul as they look to take next step" Memphis Grizzlies 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “New-look Grizzlies leaning heavily on Parsons in new era" New Orleans Pelicans 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Pelicans’ Davis, Cousins embracing throw-back lineup" Dallas Mavericks 1 Team, 1 Stat preview “Mavs take tempered expectations into Nowitzki’s 20th season".....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 17th, 2017

Aldridge still trying to find his place with Spurs

em>By Raul Dominguez, Associated Press /em> SAN ANTONIO (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge admitted to feeling some frustration following an offseason filled with trade rumors. They troubled him enough to do something he hadn’t really done before. The 6’11” forward reached out to coach Gregg Popovich for a serious talk about his place on the team as it continues its transition, slowly but surely, away from the Tim Duncan/Big Three era. “The relationship has always been great, it’s no issue,” Aldridge said. “It’s just that I’m trying how to mesh who I was to who I am now and trying to get more out of me in the system.” The success of those talks could go a long way in determining if the Spurs can keep their place among the top teams in the rugged Western Conference. San Antonio essentially stood pat in the offseason, adding Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne while losing Jonathon Simmons and David Lee. The Spurs will again rely on veterans like Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol while anticipating improvement from younger players like Dejounte Murray, Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes. Entering his 12th NBA season, Aldridge has averaged 18.0 and 17.3 points in two seasons with San Antonio. Those are respectable numbers, but not for a four-time All-Star with Portland who became the biggest free agent signing in Spurs history. “It was a probably a little bit of frustration at one point on my end because I felt like I wasn’t really fitting into the system as well as I could and I wasn’t helping to the level I felt like I could,” Aldridge said. The frustration grew in the postseason, which ended with a sweep by Golden State in the conference finals. Aldridge averaged 15.5 points against the Warriors, but only 11.3 points in the final three games after the Spurs lost Leonard to an ankle injury in Game 1. While fans and Aldridge himself are demanding more, Popovich and his teammates simply want more of the same. “I feel like he played well for us last year,” said Leonard, who sat out the entire preseason as a precaution to protect his right quadriceps. “Come in and be a presence on both ends of the floor be aggressive.” Aldridge said he is healthy after missing two games in early March due to a minor heart arrhythmia and playing with tendinitis throughout the season. He has looked comfortable and happy in the preseason, averaging 16.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists in four games while taking on a greater leadership role. “Now we’ve got to help [Aldridge] out a little bit more so he’s comfortable in his own space offensively,” Popovich said. “I haven’t done a very good job with that [in the past].” Some other things to watch from the Spurs early this season: strong>PROMISING PARKER: /strong> Parker’s rapid recovery from a ruptured quadriceps tendon has astounded doctors, the Spurs and even himself. San Antonio’s veteran point guard plans to return by mid- to late-November, which is two to four months sooner than initially expected. Parker could not move for three weeks after suffering the injury May 4 against Houston in the second round of the playoffs. The 35-year-old had to re-learn how to walk and was told he might not be able to bend his knee as he had before. Parker is cleared for all activities, but was held out of full-contact practices. strong>MURRAY’S GROWTH: /strong>Murray is expected to start at point guard while Parker completes his injury rehabilitation. The second-year player out of Washington has averaged 9.3 points and a team-high 3.8 assists in the preseason. The 6’5” guard averaged 3.4 points and 1.3 assists in limited minutes last season. “I’m very optimistic about his future,” Ginobili said. “He’s going to be a great player, a potential All-Star, [but] you don’t know if it’s going to happen now or in five years. It depends a lot him, but he’s a very talented kid.” strong>MANU RETURNS: /strong> Ginobili returns for his 16th season after nearly retiring in the offseason. Admitting it was a “close call,” Ginobili opted to return to the only NBA team he has played for. Ginobili averaged 7.5 points last season, the lowest of his career, but enjoyed one of his most injury-free seasons. “I still had the appreciation for the game, I still enjoy being here every day,” Ginobili said. “Incredible organization and a place where I feel respected and listened to and appreciated and I appreciate it, too.” strong>YOUTH MOVEMENT: /strong> The Spurs are expected to rely more on their youth than in previous seasons. Second-year players Murray, Bertans and Forbes and rookies Derrick White and Brandon Paul are embracing that opportunity, even impressing San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. strong>ONE PLAYER, MULTIPLE ROLES: /strong> Gay joined San Antonio after playing the past four seasons in Sacramento. After missing the final two months of last season following surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, the 12-year veteran has participated fully during the preseason. At 6-foot-8, Gay is expected to play multiple positions in the frontcourt in a role similar to the one filled by Boris Diaw. “It was a do or die point in my career,” Gay said. “I wanted to be with an organization that is known for winning and can help me raise my game to another level. So, I mean, where else do you go?” .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 12th, 2017

Old School Power Rankings 2018-19: Preseason

By Scott Wraight, NBA.com As the old cliche states: The more things change, the more they stay the same. He may have changed duds and locale, but LeBron James remains the King when it comes to our Old School Power Rankings. Can anyone snatch his throne or will we witness our first back-to-back OSPR champion? Since the last time we saw you, some big names have joined the 32-and-over club: George Hill, Goran Dragic, Al Horford, Rudy Gay and Wes Matthews. And Lou Williams will throw his hat onto the court later this month. Here's a quick look at all the OSPR champs: Pau Gasol (2015-16), Dwyane Wade (2016-17), LeBron James (2017-18). Also, we're trying something new this season. If you have something to say (clean version, please) about these rankings, send over an e-mail. If it's solid, we may include it in the next rankings. Just make sure to include your first name and city. - Notes: Preseason statistics are through games of October 11 - Any player who turns 32 during regular season can be added to rankings. - Check out previous rankings +++ 1. LeBron James (33), Los Angeles Lakers Ranking at end of '17-18: 1 Last season stats: 27.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 9.1 apg It's hard to fathom James slowing down now that he's in Hollywood. Heck, the bright lights might even mean another gear. We'll go out on a fat limb and say someone will have to have an extra special season to overthrow him. And if the preseason is any indication (I know, I know), James is ready -- averaging 13.8 points in 15.8 minutes on 60 percent shooting from the field. 2. Chris Paul (33), Houston Rockets Ranking at end of '17-18: 4 Last season stats: 18.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 7.9 apg How will Paul's numbers carry over this season with the addition of volume-shooter Carmelo Anthony? Dare we say he goes for less than 16 points for the first time since 2010-11? The other big question that seems to follow Paul every season is whether he can stay healthy. The gritty All-Star point guard has failed to play 70 games in each of the past two seasons. 3. LaMarcus Aldridge (33), San Antonio Spurs Ranking at end of '17-18: 2 Last season stats: 23.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.0 apg Tony Parker is gone. Manu Ginobili retired. Lonnie Walker IV, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White are injured. So ... Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan will be doing some heavy lifting at the start of the season. And based on what the big man did last season (averaging more than 23 points for the first time since '14-15), he'll be up for the challenge. 4. Marc Gasol (33), Memphis Grizzlies Ranking at end of '17-18: 6 Last season stats: 17.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 4.2 apg After averaging 19.5 points two seasons ago, Gasol took a couple big steps back, slipping to 17.2. One huge reason for that was the absence of stud point guard Mike Conley, who missed all but 12 games last season. A healthy Conley should mean an energized and engaged Gasol, and a likely return to 19 points per game. 5. Dwight Howard (32), Washington Wizards Ranking at end of '17-18: 3 Last season stats: 16.6 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 1.3 apg Howard hasn't played in any preseason games, dealing with a piriformis injury that may or may not linger into the start of the regular season. That said, Howard proved to be reliable last season, playing in 81 games while averaging more than 12 rebounds for a second straight season. With Bradley Beal and John Wall around, Howard's scoring will likely slip from last year's 16.6. 6. Al Horford (32), Boston Celtics Ranking at end of '17-18: NA Last season stats: 12.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 4.7 apg Horford's scoring has gone down in each of the last three seasons (15.2 in '15-16, 14.0 in '16-17 and 12.9 last season), and that should continue to be the case as both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward enter the season healthy. As long as Boston's talented unit stays healthy, we're likely looking at 11 and seven from Horford this season. 7.  Paul Millsap (33), Denver Nuggets Ranking at end of '17-18: 7 Last season stats: 14.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.8 apg Millsap's first season in Denver didn't go according to plan, as he missed 44 games with a wrist injury. With the wealth of young talent surrounding him, Millsap may not average more than 14 this season. But he should be able to chip in solid production on the boards, some steals and blocks and knock down a fair share of 3-pointers. 8.  Kyle Lowry (32), Toronto Raptors Ranking at end of '17-18: Just missed Last season stats: 16.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 6.9 apg With his longtime buddy DeMar DeRozan shipped out to San Antonio, will Lowry quickly find chemistry with new stud Kawhi Leonard? Whether or not that happens will have a huge impact on the Raptors' season -- and Lowry's stats. After averaging 21 or more points in the previous two seasons, Lowry slipped to 16.2 last year. We expect that to ascend to about 18 per game. 9.  Goran Dragic (32), Miami Heat Ranking at end of '17-18: NA Last season stats: 17.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.8 apg It's hard to believe Dragic is on this list, considering he still looks like a baby-faced 25-year-old. But aging hasn't slowed the Slovenian guard, who has averaged better than 17 points in each of the last two seasons. Judging by four preseason games in which he averaged 12.3 points and 46.2 FG% in 20.6 minutes, he's ready to roll. 10. J.J. Redick (34), Philadelphia 76ers Ranking at end of '17-18: 5 Last season stats: 17.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.0 apg Talking about preseason games, Redick has been dialed in, averaging 15.8 points, 58.8 FG% and 56.5 3PT% in 21 minutes. With the 76ers' abundance of young talent ready to take another step, it'll be interesting to see if Redick can repeat his offensive surge from last year in which he averaged a career-best 17.1. Just missed the cut: Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay Will turn 32 this season: Lou Williams (Oct. 27), Ian Mahinmi (Nov. 5) The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 14th, 2018

Here s why Chris Webber should be in the Hall of Fame

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst C-Webb needs to be in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. My Turner colleague Chris Webber has always brought out polarizing opinions -- first as a player, and now as a broadcaster. And I’m not objective when it comes to him, either. I love the guy. He’s a true student of the game, not afraid to speak his mind on and off the court, and is someone whose love for the game knows no equal. It’s just a matter of time before he gets his chance to run a team, either in the front office or as a part-owner. But it will and should happen. And, after his impactful career as a player, he should be enshrined in Springfield. Everyone’s criteria for the Hall is different. To me, getting in the Hall as a player requires a yes answer to two questions: 1) were you among the very best at your position for a substantial period of time during your career, and 2) did your presence and/or play change the game in a meaningful way while you played? (This is why a guy like Sixers guard Andrew Toney, in my view, is HOF-worthy, even though “The Boston Strangler” played from 1980-88 and was limited significantly by injury in two of those seasons.) Webber is a “yes” to both of those questions. In the NBA, Webber was a five-time All-Star, four times with the Kings, and was Rookie of the Year in 1993. He was first- or second-team All NBA four times. His career PER of 20.9 is the highest of any non-retired and Hall of Fame eligible player that isn’t currently in the Hall. (Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett each have higher PERs than Webber, and each is an obvious HOF lock, but they aren’t Hall of Fame eligible until 2020.) Webber’s career PER is better than those of Hall of Famers including Allen Iverson, Bob McAdoo, Ed McCauley, George McGinnis, Billy Cunningham, Steve Nash, David Thompson, Connie Hawkins, Alex English, Walt Bellamy, Cliff Hagan and many others. Yet in his fifth year of eligibility, Webber was again passed over by the Hall of Fame voters this year. That needs to change. His impact on the game, from high school to being a member of the “Fab Five” at Michigan in college and during his 15 NBA seasons, is undeniable. The Hall encompasses all of a person’s basketball achievements, and Webber’s career is Hall-worthy. At Country Day High School in Michigan, he led his team to three state championships, averaging 29 points and 13 rebounds per game his senior season, when he was a consensus national player of the year. He then decided to cap an incredible recruiting class, which had three of the top 10 players in the country, among a group of freshmen that came to be known as “The Fab Five.” (Also on that Michigan team was a junior guard who averaged 2.9 points per game, who had no future as pro player, but who carved out a place for himself nonetheless in the NBA -- Rob Pelinka, who became a high-powered agent representing the likes of Kobe Bryant before becoming the Lakers’ General Manager in 2017.) “The Fab Five”, like it or not -- and, I liked it very much -- changed basketball forever. And Webber was the lynchpin of those Michigan teams that reached consecutive NCAA championship games in 1992 and ‘93. Across the board, the Fab Five had long-lasting impact. Aesthetically, they were vanguards, wearing long, loooong shorts that became all the rage throughout basketball.  And while trash talking has been at the heart of hoops for generations, Michigan raised it to a team-wide art form. It drove traditionalists crazy, while kids watching at home loved it. They were the accelerant to the “one-and-done” era, even though none of them left Michigan after their freshman season. But seeing five freshmen start games and play the lion’s share of minutes rippled throughout the college game. Going forward, teams didn’t just recruit blue-chippers, they put them on the floor immediately. What John Calipari does annually at Kentucky now is but the logical conclusion to what Michigan started, and every Power 5 team in college basketball has had to follow suit or get left behind. Of course, “The Fab Five” era wound up being star-crossed. I’m well aware of the penalties assessed to the Michigan program because of the money that Ed Martin gave to players, including Webber. The university vacated the ‘92-93 season, including all of its NCAA Tournament games that year, and took down the banners commemorating “The Fab Five” and their two Final Four runs. (Michigan also vacated all of its games from 1995-96 because of Martin’s associations with other players on teams during those seasons, and its ‘93, ‘96 and ‘98 NCAA Tournament appearances, as well as its ‘97 NIT title and ‘98 Big 10 Tournament championship.) It’s obvious to me that if not for his involvement with Martin, Webber would have been on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team, which won the gold medal in Australia, as well -- another potential feather in his cap that would bolster his Hall of Fame credentials. I will say, as delicately as I can, that there are coaches and players in the Hall that have been accused of doing some of the very things that got Michigan and Webber in so much trouble. That, in and of itself, should not be disqualifying. Webber’s NBA career also did not include a championship. But he was just as impactful on the pro game. Beginning in Golden State and Washington, C-Webb was a category all his own -- a big man with catcher’s mitts for hands who could pulverize in transition, yet was also an incredibly deft passer, both from the post or out front. As a rookie, Webber elevated Golden State from a 34-48 record in 1992-93 to 50-32 the next season. Traded to Washington after that one season with the Warriors, having conflicted mightily with Coach Don Nelson, Webber helped get the then-Bullets to the postseason for the first time in nine years. Once there, the Bullets went toe-to-toe with the defending-champion Bulls in a tough, three-game first-round series in ’97. But it wasn’t until Webber was sent to what was then the equivalent of Siberia in the NBA -- Sacramento -- that his game reached full flower. Playing with another excellent passing big man in Vlade Divac, and a flashy savant of a point guard in Jason Williams, Webber and the Kings were the vanguard of the modern NBA game, coming to fruition years before the Suns’ Seven Seconds or Less attack led by one of last week’s Hall of Fame inductees, Steve Nash. The Kings moved the ball with flair and purpose. The Warriors have changed the game forever by stretching the floor to the breaking point for opposing defenses with their 3-point proficiency, but even they didn’t have what Sacramento possessed -- two bigs who could initiate and finish from anywhere inside the 3-point line. No one could do what the Kings could do, and with Webber, Sacramento changed almost overnight from perennial joke to perennial championship contender. The Kings made the playoffs six straight seasons, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2002 before losing in controversial fashion to the Lakers in seven games. Webber’s knee injury during the Kings’ semifinal playoff series with Dallas in 2003 marked the beginning of the end for him and the Kings. If he hadn’t gotten hurt, Sacramento probably would have beaten the Mavericks and played San Antonio in the West finals. And while San Antonio would have been favored in that series, the Kings would have had a chance, with the winner facing the Nets in The Finals that year. And a championship would also have made C-Webb’s pro career look much different. But, that didn’t happen. It doesn’t matter, though. Webb’s career stands on its own merits. At all levels, he has had impact and changed the game, and he deserves to have his moment in the sun in Springfield. Sometimes it takes players of merit a little longer, for various reasons -- think Spencer Haywood, or, this year, Mo Cheeks. Chris Webber is a Hall of Famer, and it isn’t a close call. Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 11th, 2018

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Middle 10

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst Wonder what the rental market is like in San Luis Obispo, Calif. San Luis Obispo is, give or take a few miles, one of the closest cities that is near the midway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given the events of the NBA’s offseason, it’s not hare to imagine national reporters are going to be spending a lot of time in California next season, bouncing back and forth between the Bay and L.A. Catch LeBron James and the Lakers on Wednesday and then, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the Warriors on Thursday. The Western Conference only got stronger and deeper with James leaving Cleveland for a second time, this time to go to the Lakers. Add four of the top five Draft picks -- including No. 1 overall selection Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns), No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III (Sacramento Kings) and international phenom Luka Doncic (No. 3 pick, acquired by Dallas Mavericks) -- going to Western Conference teams, and the talent disparity between conferences only seems greater. But did Eastern Conference teams take advantage of Cleveland deflating to make their teams better? And how effective were West teams in making their teams better prepared to at least compete with the Warriors? That’s where this year’s Offseason Rankings come in -- big, bold, definitive. You love them, if the amount of hate tweets and e-mails I get after they’re published are any indication. Every year, we rank how all 30 teams have done since the end of their respective seasons. We look at everything -- how they drafted, what trades they made, what players they signed in free agency, and for how much -- or if they didn’t participate in free agency much at all. We look at if they’ve changed coaches, executives, owners, or if they’re moving into a new building that can generate big revenues. And you have to decide which ones you liked the most. Here's what these rankings ARE NOT: A predicted order of finish for next season. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) I do not expect the Suns, for example, to have a better record than the Celtics, just because they had a better summer. It is not a ranking of the teams in order from 1 through 30 right now; I do not believe the Mavericks are now a better team than Rockets. This is just one person’s opinion about offseason moves -- offseason moves only. Is your team better now than it was before? - If your team is ranked in the top 10, it doesn't mean I love your team.       - If your team is ranked in the bottom 10, it doesn't mean I hate your team. It's an opinion that seeks to answer a question: is the team better now than at the end of last season? The ranking reflects the belief on whether, and how much, that is so. (I liked certain guys who were in the Draft more than others, so if your team took them, I probably weighed it more positively. Doesn't mean I'm right.) What plays into the rankings: - This isn’t science. It’s an educated guess, weighing the impact both of the Draft and free agency, but also assessing whether teams got value in their free-agent signings. Overpaying the right player is as much a sin as signing the wrong player. A good new coach can coax some more wins out of a roster. But if a team’s players don’t believe in the system their team uses, the best Xs and Os on earth don’t matter.       - Teams that are rebuilding obviously have different priorities than teams making a championship push. That's factored in. So Chicago, for example, gets credit for adding young, affordable players as it stockpiles its talent -- but that talent has to fit together, as Wendell Carter Jr. does with Lauri Markannen. And a team like the Warriors that shows it’s willing to go deep into the luxury tax -- which most teams try to avoid -- in order to keep winning has to be commended, and its rankings reflect that commendation.       - Continuity matters here as well. The most successful teams usually not only identify a core group of players, they keep them together for a while, finding that sweet spot: everyone doesn’t get a max contract, but most get paid well enough to keep the train moving down the tracks. That reflects both good roster construction and good financial management -- and, again, is rewarded. The explosion in the cap means everyone has to spend; keeping your powder dry for another day doesn’t have as much cache as it used to. But you still have to manage your money wisely. Salary numbers, with a couple of exceptions, come from Basketball Insiders, whose Eric Pincus does the best job of anyone in the game of keeping track of all the moving financial parts, quickly and accurately -- which is why we use him at NBA TV during the Draft and free agency to tell us what the hell this all means. The Middle 10 * * * 11. TORONTO RAPTORS 2017-18 RECORD: 59-23; lost in Eastern Conference semifinals ADDED: Coach Nick Nurse; G Danny Green (acquired from Spurs); F Kawhi Leonard (acquired from Spurs) LOST: Former coach Dwane Casey; G DeMar DeRozan (traded to Spurs); F Alfonzo McKinnie (waived); C Jakob Poeltl (traded to Spurs) RETAINED: G Fred VanVleet (two years, $18.1 million) THE KEY MAN: Nurse. The former Raps assistant has extensive G League head coaching experience. But the NBA isn’t just about a coach’s Xs and Os acumen. We know Nurse can do that. But an NBA coach has to have command presence in a locker room not only full of millionaires, but full of Alpha males who have their own very strong opinions on how they should be used and how their teammates should help them. Nurse will have to show he can put his own stamp on a team that will have some new faces while still having extremely high expectations. THE SKINNY: You may well think Toronto should be higher, based on Leonard’s standing as a top-five player in the league when fully healthy. No matter what you think of DeRozan, a four-time All-Star, no one can realistically say he’s better than “The Klaw” when both are 100 percent. But, of course, we don’t know if Leonard’s 100 percent. And, trading DeRozan, who’d been the franchise’s biggest advocate during his nine seasons there -- and who had led the team to its greatest extended run of success ever -- is not a transaction without consequence for the Raptors. He helped get the best out of Kyle Lowry. He could help recruit free agents. And, the circumstances of his departure have not helped the franchise’s reputation. Still, this is a talent-based league, and Leonard has it. His and Green’s presence on the perimeter gives Toronto the chance to be a switching defensive monster -- and will help the Raptors be able to match up better with the likes of the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers in a late-May playoff matchup, as long as the Raptors’ young core in which it believes so strongly continues to play as well in reserve as it did last season. 12. MILWAUKEE BUCKS 2017-18 RECORD: 44-38; lost in first round ADDED: Coach Mike Budenholzer; G Donte DiVincenzo (No. 17 pick, 2018 Draft); G Trevon Duval; F Ersan Ilyasova (three years, $21 million); C Brook Lopez (one year, $3.32 million); F Pat Connaughton (two years, $3.2 million); LOST: Former interim coach Joe Prunty; G Brandon Jennings (waived); F Jabari Parker (signed with Bulls) RETAINED: None THE KEY MAN: G Eric Bledsoe. His departure from Phoenix early last season was messy. But once he got to Brewtown, Bledsoe solidified the Bucks at the point, averaging 17.8 points and 5.1 assists per game in 71 starts. At 28, Bledsoe faces the last year of his contract and will have to show a new coach he’s capable of running things long-term and playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo through the meat of his prime. THE SKINNY: Budenholzer’s arrival should coincide with an improvement in the Bucks’ defense, something that former coach Jason Kidd could never quite accomplish. Ilaysova’s return for a second tour in Milwaukee should help, with his celebrated charge-taking skill and Lopez’s still-substantial size a double-boon to Milwaukee’s interior D as the Bucks were bottom 10 last season in points allowed in the paint (47.4 per game). If the paint becomes a little tougher to traverse, the Bucks should finally able to use their substantial length on the wing to get back to create deflections and turnovers, and get out in transition, where Antetokounmpo and Friends do their best work and their most damage to the opposition. They’ll do so 41 nights a year for the next couple of decades in the 17,500-seat Fiserv Forum, the Bucks’ new arena that will open in early September with a concert and should pump new revenues into the Bucks’ bloodstream, giving them more financial wherewithal to keep “The Greek Freak” surrounded with high-quality talent. 13. UTAH JAZZ 2017-18 RECORD: 48-34; lost in Western Conference semifinals ADDED: G Grayson Allen (No. 21 pick, 2018 Draft); G Jarius Lyles; G Naz Mitrou-Long LOST: F Jonas Jerebko (waived) RETAINED: G Dante Exum (three years, $33 million); F/C Derrick Favors (two years, $37.6 million), G Raul Neto (two years, $4.4 million); F Georges Niang (three years, $4.9 million) THE KEY MAN: C Rudy Gobert. He’s a monster presence, the hub of the Jazz’s defensive wheel and the reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year. And he has to take a step back in Utah next season for the Jazz to take the next step forward. He has to understand what Utah has in Donovan Mitchell and let that kid eat. Nobody in the league can do what Gobert does defensively. So embrace that and concentrate on that -- take the Draymond Green attitude about being the “defensive guy” on a great team (not that Jazz fans want you to do anything that Green does). Gobert’s handsomely paid and the DPOY award found him in Salt Lake City; there’s no small-market bias at work here. So let Mitchell and Joe Ingles carry the shooting/scoring load, let Ricky Rubio orchestrate, and snuff out opponent dreams at the other end, night after night. It’s what you were born to do. THE SKINNY: My God, Mitchell had a great rookie season. And Utah brought most of the band back from last season to provide advice and consent for him again, re-signing Favors, Exum and Neto each on very reasonable contracts. Doing so leaves Utah over the cap, still comfortably under the tax, and with nothing on the books that should raise an eyebrow financially. (Utah’s front office should handle my checking account for a while.) Anyway, no reason to expect any backsliding next season with the crew returning, though coach Quin Snyder will surely miss the counsel of his longtime friend Igor Kokoskov, off to run the Suns. 14. ATLANTA HAWKS 2017-18 RECORD: 24-58; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach Lloyd Pierce; F Justin Anderson (acquired from 76ers); G Kevin Huerter (No. 19 pick, 2018 Draft); C Alex Len (two years, $8.5 million); G Jeremy Lin (acquired from Nets); F Omari Spellman (No. 30 pick, 2018 Draft); G Trae Young (No. 5 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: Former coach Mike Budenholzer; G Antonius Cleveland (waived); G Damion Lee (signed with Warriors); F/C Mike Muscala (traded to 76ers); G Dennis Schröder (traded to Thunder); G Isaiah Taylor (waived) RETAINED: C Dewayne Dedmon (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: GM Travis Schlenk. The second-year executive will be judged on how well Atlanta uses its trove of Draft picks -- three firsts this year, three firsts next year, two firsts in 2022 -- the next few years. And, ultimately, the Hawks will live or die by whether Young or Luka Doncic becomes the bigger NBA producer. Schlenk’s chances of completing the rebuild may well ride on that. THE SKINNY: The Hawks’ roster teardown is nearing completion, but the renovated Philips Arena will come online faster than the team, which now needs Young to live up to all the hype after his one season at Oklahoma. He has incredible range and great potential, but he’ll be challenged every night to stay in front of the legion of great points in this league. Pierce, the former Sixers’ assistant, is going to have a very tough time melding all the newcomers with the small core of players who survived, including John Collins, Kent Bazemore, DeAndre' Bembry and Taurean Prince. 15. LA CLIPPERS 2017-18 RECORD: 42-40; missed playoffs ADDED: C Marcin Gortat (acquired from Wizards); G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (No. 11 pick, 2018 Draft); F Johnathan Motley (acquired from Mavericks); F Mike Scott (one year, $4.3 million); F Luc Mbah a Moute (one year, $4.3 million), G Jerome Robinson (No. 13 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G Austin Rivers (traded to Wizards); C DeAndre Jordan (signed with Mavs); G C.J. Williams (waived) RETAINED: G Avery Bradley (two years, $24.9  million); C Montrezl Harrell (two years, $12 million); G Wesley Johnson (picked up player option); G Milos Teodosic (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: F Tobias Harris. He was the key tangible piece of the Blake Griffin trade last season (the intangible being the unprotected first from Detroit in the deal that eventually became Gilgeous-Alexander after a Draft night trade with Charlotte). And Harris played quite well in his 32 games with the Clips, averaging 19.3 points and six rebounds per game. Those numbers could each well go up in a contract year and with few others outside of Lou Williams on the roster that can go get their own buckets. THE SKINNY: Amazing, but true: the Clipper player with the longest current tenure is … Wesley Johnson, who came aboard in 2015. “Lob City” is in the history books and change will be the norm here for a while, including next summer, when the Clippers expect to be a free-agent destination. The Clips did what they could with that not-insignificant restriction, but the best stuff was in the Draft, winding up with a potential long-term point in Gilgeous-Alexander and a two in Robinson that rocketed up the pre-Draft charts. Bradley’s on a very team-friendly and controllable contract, as is Patrick Beverley, whose modest 2018-19 salary isn’t guaranteed until January. Those two and Mbah a Moute can give coach Doc Rivers hope that he can get some stops on the perimeter, because while Gortat is still willing defensively and still takes a bunch of charges, he is not Jordan when it comes to rim protection. 16. BROOKLYN NETS 2017-18 RECORD: 28-54; missed playoffs ADDED: F/C Ed Davis (one year, $4.4 million); F Jared Dudley (acquired from Suns); F Kenneth Faried (acquired from Nuggets); G/F Treveon Graham (two years); F Rodions Kurucs (No. 40, 2018 Draft); F Dzanan Musa (No. 29 pick, 2018 Draft); G Shabazz Napier (two years, $3.7 million) LOST: F Darrell Arthur (traded to Suns); F Dante Cunningham (signed with Spurs); C Dwight Howard (waived); G Jeremy Lin (traded to Hawks); C Timofey Mozgov (traded to Hornets); G Nik Stauskas (signed with Blazers); G Isaiah Whitehead (traded to Nuggets) RETAINED: G Joe Harris (two years, $16 million) THE KEY MAN: Co-owner Joseph Tsai. The Alibaba executive and billionaire has 49 percent of the team, and can buy majority control from Mikhail Prokhorov by 2021. Until then, they’ll run the team jointly, so no matter Prokhorov’s ups and downs, Brooklyn’s financial spigot should never run dry. Tsai reportedly has designs on expanding the Nets’ brand further in China, just as Prokhorov believed the Nets had global reach. They didn’t, at least not the post-KG and Pierce squads. THE SKINNY: If you love Ed Davis like smart people who know basketball do, Brooklyn makes the top half by bringing the ex-Blazer in on a short deal. If he plays great, he’ll cost the Nets a pretty penny in 2019, but Brooklyn has to take chances on guys who can outperform their contracts. The only thing the Nets couldn’t do was take on more ’19 salary when they’ll be in line to potentially add two max players. Won’t be easy to lure the elites, but Brooklyn also has accumulated enough assets to be able to make uneven trades for salaries if need be. In the interim comes next season, with coach Kenny Atkinson needing to continue to develop diamonds in the rough like Graham, who Cleveland wanted and who will help the Nets at multiple positions. 17. CHICAGO BULLS 2017-18 RECORD: 27-55; missed playoffs ADDED: G Antonius Cleveland; C Wendell Carter Jr. (No. 7 pick, 2018 Draft); F Chandler Hutchison (No. 22 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jabari Parker (two years, $40 million) LOST: F Jerian Grant (traded to Magic); G Sean Kilpatrick (waived); G Julyan Stone (waived); F Noah Vonleh (signed with Knicks); G Paul Zipser (waived) RETAINED: G Antonio Blakeney; G Zach LaVine (matched four year, $78 million offers sheet from Kings) THE KEY MAN: G Kris Dunn. As the 24-year-old will be every season he’s in Chicago. The Jimmy Butler trade in 2017 yielded the pick that became Lauri Markannen, and he’s also a key piece to the Bulls’ future. But Chicago won’t ever get elevation again if Dunn doesn’t become an elite point guard in a league full of them. He showed signs last season that he could be just that, most notably a December in which Dunn averaged 14.9 points and eight assists, and the Bulls went 10-6. But a concussion in January derailed Dunn’s progress and his production fell sharply the rest of the season. THE SKINNY: Can Parker play the three, as the Bulls insist he can? There isn’t a ton of evidence suggesting so, and Parker’s hypothesis that he isn’t getting paid to play defense does not provide much comfort. But the Bulls will try him there alongside Markannen and rookie Carter Jr. in what would be a huge frontcourt. Almost $20 million annually for LaVine going forward is also a stretch, but less of one if LaVine comes all the way back from his 2017 ACL tear with a full training camp and season. Carter may be more important to the Bulls’ hoped-for resurgence than Parker and LaVine; the Duke big man has that much potential. 18. WASHINGTON WIZARDS 2017-18 RECORD: 43-39; lost in first round ADDED: C Thomas Bryant; G Troy Brown (No. 15 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jeff Green (one year, $2.5 million); C Dwight Howard (two years, $11 million); G Austin Rivers (acquired from Clippers); G Issuf Sanon (No. 44 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: C Marcin Gortat (traded to Clippers); F Mike Scott (signed with Clippers) RETAINED: G Jodie Meeks (picked up player option); C Jason Smith (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: Coach Scott Brooks. Entering his third season in Washington, Brooks keeps saying he wants the Wizards to defend and play fast. But he has to follow that up with action, especially when and if John Wall doesn’t provide the on-ball defense Washington needs to have any chance to unleash a still-potent fast break. Wall is 27 and, if healthy, in his prime. The team takes almost all of its cues from him; when he’s locked in, the Wizards can compete with anyone. But when he’s indifferent, so are they -- as evidenced by their horrible record against bad teams. Brooks has to demand Wall’s best, or be ready to limit his minutes. THE SKINNY: NBA protocol almost demands you hate the pickup of Howard, such is his current perceived valued among many after multiple stops the last few seasons. The guess here is that Howard won’t hijack the Wizards’ locker room, as he had been accused of while in with the Houston Rockets and Charlotte Hornets, especially. Howard’s skill set can help Washington, which fell off defensively last season. But there’s also not much sense he’ll be a significant pick-me-up in D.C., either. He can’t stretch the floor and he’s not especially potent finishing in pick and roll, either. But the Wizards should at least be deeper off the bench with Green, who played well for the Cavs last season, and Rivers, who gives Washington legit guard depth along with Tomas Satoransky. 19. SACRAMENTO KINGS 2017-18 RECORD: 27-55; missed playoffs ADDED: F Nemanja Bjelica (three years, $20.4 million); C Marvin Bagley III (No. 2 pick, 2018 Draft); G Yogi Ferrell (two years, $4.1 million); G Ben McLemore (acquired from Kings); F Deyonta Davis (acquired from Grizzlies) LOST: G Garrett Temple (traded to Grizzlies) RETAINED: G Iman Shumpert (picked up player option); C Kosta Koufos (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: F Harry Giles. The Kings traded for the one-and-done forward on Draft night 2017 and redshirted him, feeling he needed a year to fully recover from the multiple knee surgeries he’d undergone the last three years. Those surgeries stopped his top-five Draft potential in its tracks, before and after a year at Duke. But Giles is back on the floor, having flashed his skills during NBA Summer League, as Sacramento gushed about his progress. If the 20-year-old is ready to roll come October, he could be an enormous boost. He’ll have to at least become a contributor, lest folks remind the Kings they passed on the likes of Kyle Kuzma and O.G Anunoby to trade for his rights. THE SKINNY: Bagley III has superstar potential, and he better become one, or the Doncic Stans among the Kings’ fan base will have aneurysms. The Kings were all over everyone, seemingly, this summer, dropping sheets on Zach LaVine, almost doing the same with Marcus Smart and Jabari Parker, and going after unrestricted free agent Mario Hezonja. All well and good, and getting Bjelica out from under Philly and prying Ferrell from Dallas were decent late July pickups. But it will be Bagley III who’ll be under the microscope. His skill sets are prodigious and he’s been working out feverishly all summer. And he wants to make a mark in restoring the Kings to where they were on the floor during the Webber Years. He worked out for them. He’s enthusiastic about them. That counts for something. 20. HOUSTON ROCKETS 2017-18 RECORD: 65-17; lost in Western Conference finals ADDED: G Michael Carter-Williams (one year, $1.5 million); G De'Anthony Melton (No. 46 pick, 2018 Draft); F Vincent Edwards (No. 52 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: F Trevor Ariza (signed with Suns); Luc Mbah a Moute (signed with LA Clippers); C Chinanu Onuaku (traded to Mavs) RETAINED: C Clint Capela (five years, $90 million); G/F Gerald Green (one year, $2.3 million); G Aaron Jackson (picked up team option); G Chris Paul (four years, $159 million) THE KEY MAN: Jason Biles, Joe Rogowski, Keith Jones and Javair Gillett -- the Rockets’ athletic trainers, sports performance and rehab staff. Their only mission next season, should they decide to accept it, is to get Paul through an 82-game regular season and a two-month playoff slog without breaking or pulling anything of importance that keeps him out of key games. Of course, should any of the staff be unsuccessful, the Morey will disavow any knowledge of their employment. Good luck, men. THE SKINNY: We have not yet included Carmelo Anthony, who will be signing in Houston any minute now. When he’s officially on the roster, he’ll certainly help, and we all saw that even Houston can go through extended scoring droughts in the playoffs. Having Anthony around should alleviate that. The Rockets may have had the best signing of the summer, keeping the 24-year-old Capela locked up long-term for $18 million per -- incredible value these days, given the way salaries are skyrocketing. But that was mitigated by the losses of Ariza and Mbah a Moute, who were crucial to the switching defense Houston employed and perfected by the playoffs, which threw sand in the gears of the Warriors’ impenetrable offense and would likely have propelled the Rockets to The Finals if Paul hadn’t gotten hurt in Game 5. Ennis and Carter-Williams will help some in that regard, but they don’t have the resume of Mbah a Moute and Ariza -- which means they sometimes won’t get the benefit of the doubt from refs that the old heads do. Houston’s still the clear number two to Golden State in the West, but the gap between the Rockets and the best of the rest has closed. Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 8th, 2018

Blockbuster trade not what Kawhi, DeRozan hoped for

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst Kawhi Leonard’s turbulent last days with the San Antonio Spurs ended Wednesday morning (late Wednesday, PHL time) with a trade that neither major party involved in the deal liked. The Spurs traded Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-Star, along with veteran guard Danny Green, to the Toronto Raptors for four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, second-year big man Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 first-round Draft pick, which is protected from 1-20 next year. In doing so, San Antonio ended a relationship with the player that was poised to be the Spurs’ next lynchpin, but who had grown disenchanted with the franchise and wanted out. Leonard wanted to be traded to Los Angeles, closer to his hometown of Moreno Valley, Calif. He preferred the Lakers, and made that known in June, but was not averse to playing with the LA Clippers. However, the Spurs were adamant that they would not trade him to a Western Conference team, even though there was a strong likelihood that he would only stay with any team that traded for him until next year. That is when he would likely opt out of his contract, become a free agent and go to Los Angeles. Even though the 27-year-old Leonard told the Raptors in conversations between Toronto and his camp over the last week that he did not want to go there, the Raptors were willing to take the chance, anyway. DeRozan sought assurances from the Raptors that he wasn’t being moved in recent days. Both he and his representatives met with Raptors officials during NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, according to a source, at which time Toronto insisted that it wasn’t going to trade him. Now, DeRozan feels “lied to,” the source said, and, while having no personal grudges with the Spurs, is extremely upset at the deal. Meanwhile, @DeMar_DeRozan not backing off of claim he was lied to by Toronto regarding a potential trade, per source. Extremely upset. — David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 18, 2018 Leonard also is not happy at going to Toronto, for several reasons, including the higher taxation rate in Canada than in Texas, which has no state income tax. Leonard’s camp had informed the Spurs he didn’t want to go there, but the Spurs made no promises either way. San Antonio had had significant discussions with the Philadelphia 76ers -- a team Leonard would have given a fair shake at convincing him to stay had it been able to make a deal with San Antonio. But the 76ers were unwilling to include guard Markelle Fultz, the former first pick overall in the 2017 Draft, or forward Dario Saric in any package proposals for Leonard. Leonard only played in nine games last season, citing an injured quad muscle that did not respond to treatment. But privately, Leonard was unhappy with what he thought was bad advice from the Spurs’ medical staff, and sought advice from his own group of doctors, removing himself from San Antonio to continue treatments in New York as the regular season ended and playoffs began. The Spurs did not push Leonard during his rehab, and referred questions about his status during their first-round series with the Golden State Warriors to his camp. Leonard’s uncle has acted as his agent for the last couple of years. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich informed Leonard’s camp of the trade early Wednesday (Wednesday, PHL time) in what was deemed a “cordial” conversation, according to a source. However, given the trade, Leonard is now contemplating not taking part in next week’s USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas. A final decision has not yet been made. For his part, the 28-year-old DeRozan let his feelings be known in an Instagram post early Wednesday (Wednesday, PHL time), saying in part, “Ain’t no loyalty in this game” after being dealt from the only team he’s played for in nine NBA seasons, and for whom he has been nothing but a first-class ambassador. The Raptors took DeRozan with the ninth pick in the 2009 Draft, during which time DeRozan became the franchise’s leader in several categories, including games, points and minutes played. He grew as the franchise did, helping lead it to the most successful period in its history alongside his close friend and All-Star teammate, Kyle Lowry. The backcourt did ads together, took vacations together with family and led Toronto to franchise records for wins, reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2016. At every turn, DeRozan expressed happiness at playing for and living in Toronto, even as he had to make several cross-country trips last season to be with his ailing father in Los Angeles. DeRozan remade his game as part of the “culture reset” demanded by general manager Masai Ujiri after Toronto was beaten in the playoffs by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in 2017 -- a familiar outcome, as James and Cleveland beat the Raptors in three straight postseasons. DeRozan relied less on isolation sets than he had in years past, trying to move more without the ball and give it up so others could be more involved. Toronto won a franchise-best 59 regular season games last season and was the top seed in the Eastern Conference. However, Toronto suffered another playoff loss to Cleveland, this time a 4-0 sweep. It was especially galling considering the Cavaliers had been extended to a seventh game in their first-round series with Indiana, yet still managed to rally from a double-digit deficit to shock the Raptors in Game 1 in Toronto. The Cavs then cruised the rest of the way in the series. Ujiri fired coach Dwane Casey afterward, ultimately picking assistant coach Nick Nurse as Casey’s successor. But the reset of the team wasn’t complete. The Raptors believe strongly in their young core group of players, all of whom have been developed by Toronto the last few seasons -- guards Fred Van Vleet and Delon Wright, forward O.G. Anunoby and big man Pascal Siakham. Toronto initially opted to keep its existing vets around the kids, giving DeRozan a five-year, $138 million extension in 2016, then giving Lowry and forward Serge Ibaka extensions last summer – Lowry got a three-year, $100 million deal and Ibaka got a three-year, $65 million deal. However, after the latest playoff debacle, the Raptors let it be known around the Draft that none of their players were untouchable. If Toronto can get Leonard on board, the Raptors would have a potentially dynamic defensive group on the wings, with Leonard and Anunoby capable of guarding multiple positions. Ibaka isn’t the defender he was in Oklahoma City, where he was first team all-Defensive three years in a row, but he’s still a plus defender at his position. The 31-year-old Green is entering the final year of his contract. Long considered one of the best two-way guards in the game, Green was outstanding in the Spurs’ seven-game loss to the Heat in the 2013 Finals, making 27 3-pointers in the series en route to setting a Finals record. Poeltl, 22, was taken ninth overall by Toronto in the 2016 Draft. He worked his way quickly into the Raptors’ rotation, averaging 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds last season. Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 19th, 2018

Making sense of Cousins move to the Warriors

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst This was, originally, a Twitter thread. And then, I thought: well, that’s stupid. It’s a column. Write it. But, do it in Twitter form ... ‘cause that’s what the millennials like! So, here goes: - In free agency, multiple things that seem contradictory can be true. In the case of @boogiecousins (DeMarcus Cousins), did he not get a single offer from any of the other 29 teams (including @PelicansNBA) before he made a deal w/the @warriors on Monday? Long thread, including speculation, follows. - The answer could be yes & no. (Before I go further: I am not in any way questioning either Cousins -- I respect Boogie & we've always been cool -- or my dude @MarcJSpearsESPN (Marc J. Spears), one of the best journos in the game. Don't @ me later saying I did, 'cause I'm telling you I'm not.) - So, how? First, remember: everyone in the NBA had to wait on what @KingJames decided before most teams could proceed with their free agency plans; there is a ripple effect created by what superstar players w/choices like James and @Yg_Trece (Paul George) decide to do. - There are/were numerous free agents on the "next" level below guys like James, @KDTrey5 (Kevin Durant) and George, who have/had to see where the guys on the top level go before deciding on the teams they sign with, which in turn impacts players on the next level below them, and on and on. - Those decisions also impact teams. After the top FAs commit, others often find themselves scrambling to make a deal -- and after a few days out in the cold, they're often willing to sign for less than for what they initially were asking. And many teams wait for such bargains. - Second: this doesn't include other factors like the ongoing Kawhi Leonard/San Antonio Spurs situation, which directly impacts the offseason decisions of a contending team like Philly, for example -- and, obviously, San Antonio. Bottom line for all, though: it's LeBron first, then everyone else. - If James had picked @sixers or @cavs, for example, L.A.'s money commitments/roster construction for 2018-19 would obviously be different. (Most people thought James would go to L.A.; I get that. But his reps did take a meeting with the Sixers Sunday. People do change their minds.) - Anyway: the likelihood is teams told Cousins they had to wait. Or, 'all we have is the mid-level (whichever version of the mid-level exception they had available depending on space) & it's all we have until we know what the Lakers do.' Are those "offers?" Everyone seeks ambiguity in July. - So: when Cousins' reps sought concrete offers, those teams that were interested -- given that Boogie is still rehabbing -- likely said: 'we have to wait.' And even though LBJ likes Boogie's game immensely & the Lakers wanted him, I'm guessing they still were working on a number. - The Lakers cleared cap room Monday by renouncing Julius Randle and could have stretched Luol Deng to make more. But, they didn't. Maybe Cousins didn't want to wait; maybe the Lakers wanted max flexibility for '19. Whatever the reason, they didn't commit to one another when they had a chance. - What about the Pelicans? A league source says New Orleans did make a two-year offer to Cousins after he suffered his season-ending Achilles' injury -- but the offer came at the end of the Pels' season, not this past weekend. (Don't know specifics on the offer, like options, etc.) - Cousins' camp said he wanted to test the market and see what else was out there. Which was/is understandable. The Pels, not wanting to negotiate against themselves (not that they had a choice, given that Cousins was/is a UFA), didn't change their offer. - My guess: Pels' offer was lower than what an All-Star like Boogie would get or accept under normal conditions. But New Orleans wouldn't spend big $ on him for '18-19 if he was going to miss a lot of time. Golden State can wait 2-3 months for Cousins & still be a top team in the West; New Orleans can't. - So, you could say the Pelicans made him an offer (at the end of the season, but not after July 1) or didn't make him any offer at all (once free agency actually started). Both are true -- depending on your point of view. Which doesn't make anyone outside The Town happy, I know. - The ironic thing, given all the caterwauling about how unfair both life and the NBA’s rules are that allowed the Dubs to swoop in and give Cousins their taxpayer mid-level, is that we’re almost certain to repeat this drama a year from now—with a much larger pool of teams involved. - Assuming Golden State indeed is giving Cousins a one-year deal, he would be a “Non Bird” free agent for the Dubs in 2019, meaning the most the Warriors could offer him is a deal starting at 120 percent of his 2018-19 salary—about $6.36 million for 2019-20, based on the $5.3 million he’ll earn this coming season—with 4.5 percent raises annually for up to four years. - My back of the envelope math says that’s around four years, $27 million. No chance Cousins signs up for that, no matter how well things go next season. This is a one-year rental. - If Cousins gets back healthy and plays well for the Dubs, there will a lot of potential suitors lining up in 2019, many more of whom will have more cap room next summer than they do now. If he eventually helps Golden State to a ThreePeat, all to the good for the Dubs. But he’ll be back on the market in a year, looking for a nine-figure max deal. - So, stop whining, everybody. Every one of your teams could have signed Boogie, and they didn’t. Just like every one of your teams could have drafted Draymond Green in the first round of the 2012 Draft (and that includes the teams that didn’t have first-rounders that year; if you wanted him bad enough, you should have traded back into the round). - There’s a reason Boogie called the Warriors first and offered himself for the mid-level, just as there was a reason Kevin Durant turned down Brad Stevens and Riles and Doc Rivers and went to Golden State two years ago. - Get to work. Now get off my lawn. Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 4th, 2018

Report: Gregg Popovich meets with Kawhi Leonard

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met with Kawhi Leonard in San Diego on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) in the hopes of repairing the franchise's fractured relationship with their disgruntled star, Yahoo! Sports reported. NBA.com's David Aldridge confirmed the report. Source confirms reports that Gregg Popovich met in San Diego tonight with Kawhi Leonard. First direct communication between the two since Leonard’s trade demand Friday. — David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) June 20, 2018 ESPN initially reported that Popovich was flying to California to meet with Leonard before Thursday's (Friday, PHL time) Draft before amending its report to indicate the meeting had taken place on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). Leonard played just nine games in a bizarre season in which he fell out with the Spurs. Despite being cleared to return by the Spurs -- notoriously cautious with injuries -- Leonard continued to rehab and seek outside opinions. The saga reached its apex last week as multiple outlets reported that Leonard had indicated to the Spurs that he prefers to be traded rather than continue playing for the team that traded for him during the 2011 draft and hoped to build around him in the wake of Tim Duncan's retirement in 2016. Leonard is reportedly angry with the Spurs for mishandling the injury. In particular, ESPN reported that Leonard is "irate" over public comments from Popovich and teammate Tony Parker as his absence wore on. Leonard, a two-time All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 16.2 points in those nine appearances as the Spurs failed to win 50 or more games for the first time since the abbreviated 1998-99 season. It was a disappointing follow-up to his career season in 2016-17, in which he averaged 25.5 points to establish himself as arguably the best two-way player in the NBA. Leonard is under contract for two more seasons but can exercise a player option to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. According to ESPN, Leonard will let teams interested in trading for him that he intends to play in Los Angeles, preferably for the Lakers, when he becomes a free agent......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 20th, 2018

LeBron s free agency decision could swing NBA s balance of power

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com CLEVELAND -- These combo coronation-funerals can be tricky. Imagine the crowning of a new monarch where the royal subjects couldn’t stop chattering about the freshly deposed or deceased predecessor. Where the traditional cry of continuity and succession, “The king is dead! Long live the king!” got flipped, with what was overshadowing what is. That’s pretty much how it went Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) at Quicken Loans Arena, with the Golden State Warriors’ latest NBA championship having to share the stage with speculation, instantly revved up, about LeBron James and the choice he’ll soon make about his next employer. The Warriors are the kings, claiming pro basketball’s throne yet again by completing a sweep of James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 Finals. But of course, James is the King, and as so many of us learned in sophomore English – thanks, CliffsNotes! – “Uneasy lies the head (of those who fret and obsess about the future whereabouts of the NBA superstar) that wears a crown.” Long live the kings! The King is ... gone? There was so much energy before, during and after Game 4 Friday (Saturday, PHL time) poured into the last game/next game conjecture about James, the Cavaliers and seismic shifts in the league’s 2018-19 landscape that even the player’s surprise reveal near the end of the night – a bruised and bandaged right hand – couldn’t derail it. Turns out, as James ‘fessed up, the sore shooting paw was an injury he had been playing with ever since Game 1 in Oakland eight days earlier. He had “self-inflicted” it in a fit of pique when he smacked a whiteboard in the visitors’ dressing room at Oracle Arena after Cleveland’s overtime loss in the series-setter, an outcome driven at least in part by some teammates’ mistakes and an arcane wrinkle in the NBA’s replay rules regarding block/charge fouls. Despite the hordes of media people chronicling every waking detail of the Finals, James had kept the injury on the down-low (along with the possibility that J.R. Smith’s nickname amongst his Cavs teammates might be “whiteboard”). The cameras zoomed in and clicked in a paparazzi frenzy of motor drives every time James raised the hand, wrapped in black tape, above the table during his postgame podium remarks. Whether a legit Page-2-the-rest-of-the-story factor in the championship series or a too-late alibi, the contused hand wound up as a sidebar to where James plans to be using it when training camps open in a few months. As of Friday (Saturday, PHL time), it had been 95 months since “The Decision,” the 2010 announcement that James made in a tone-deaf vanity TV production that he was taking his talents from Cleveland to South Beach. Nearly 47 months had passed since he broke the news of his return in a Sports Illustrated ghost-written essay, envisioning much of what actually has unfolded in the four years since. Now savvy insiders and casual observers alike presume James will be on the move again, pushed to leave the franchise he has defined in an urgent search for more and better talent with which he can compete. As in, y’know, some horses, some horses, his kingdom for some horses. James’ free-agency process next month (he can opt out of a $35.6 million deal in the final season of his current contract) is expected to dictate the market of player movement this summer like an oversized domino. It easily could swing the balance of power, if not quite at Golden State’s lofty level then immediately below it. The monster he helped create Dr. Frankenstein eventually was done in by his macabre creation, and it can similarly be argued that James has no one but himself to blame for the predicament in which he again finds himself. He set in motion the machinery of the super team, after all, when he chose to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami eight years ago. Oh sure, the Boston Celtics in 2007-08 got there first by luring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce, but that was about knitting together three stars, all age 30 or older, for what would be their last best chance to win in an extremely limited run. That group won one title, went to two Finals in three seasons and was done, Allen leaving to join James & Co. with the Heat while Garnett and Pierce morphed into trade chips for Boston POBO Danny Ainge. When James, Wade and Bosh teamed up, they were in their basketball primes and their initial giddy boasts of “not four, not five, not six” championships turned off fans league-wide as much for its portent as its pretension. That crew went 4-for-4 in Finals, winning two rings before James, nudged by staleness and chafing as well as his grand plan for northeast Ohio, went home. From there, a line can be drawn through the ill-conceived 2012-13 L.A. Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol all the way to this season’s Houston Rockets of James Harden and Chris Paul and the talent-gorged Golden State roster. James was the centerpiece as Cleveland replicated the Big Three concept around him with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, two younger, playoff-stymied All-Stars. The new-look Cavaliers went to the Finals in their first season together and clambered atop the basketball world to win the franchise’s first NBA title by the end of the second, becoming the first team in league history to do so after digging a 1-3 hole in the best-of-seven series. In that moment, regardless of the two Finals trips that followed, James’ bill was stamped: Paid In Full. Misguided fans might burn his jersey if he leaves again, but James burned the mortgage after that Game 7 in Oakland in 2016 as far as any remaining obligation to fulfill. “I came back because I felt like I had some unfinished business,” he said after elimination Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “To be able to be a part of a championship team two years ago with the team that we had and in the fashion that we had is something I will always remember. Honestly, I think we'll all remember that. It ended a drought for Cleveland of 50-plus years, so I think we'll all remember that in sports history.” James added: “When you have a goal and you're able to accomplish that goal, it actually – for me personally – made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships. And I still want to be in championship mode. I think I've shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode.” In other words, James intends to sustain his high level of performance. He expects to win. And he presumably will do whatever – and go wherever – is necessary to achieve that. There’s no perfect fit So what does that mean for the NBA’s best player (never mind what the annual MVP balloting says in any given season)? It means this: compromise. There is no ideal situation, certainly no easy answer to the guesswork surrounding James’ looming free agency. He could transform any of the 30 teams, but not without some trade-offs for him, for them or for both. Most of them won’t be in play. Teams in markets such as Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Portland, Sacramento, the Twin Cities and so on can’t scratch James’ itches for either championship-worthy depth chart or spotlight. New York and Chicago, among the biggies, are out of synch with his timeline. Toronto? No way James is resettling his brand north of the border, and given his stated desire for teammates who have not just sufficient basketball skills but also mental toughness, well, the Raptors teams he and the Cavs have dominated do not qualify. The Boston club that stretched Cleveland to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals is built for the long haul and would have to surrender much of that to adjust to James’ career calendar. There’s a little Kyrie problem lurking there and, truth be told, the Celtics look to be on their way and are doing just fine without the 33-year-old heading, one of these years, toward decline. At some point in each of the 2018 Finals’ final three days, James spoke admiringly of the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs title teams that blocked his path whether in Miami or Cleveland. He was at it again even as the Warriors were dousing the opponent’s locker room at The Q with Moet champagne. “I made the move in 2010 to be able to play with talented players, cerebral players that you could see things that happen before they happened on the floor,” James said. “When you feel like you're really good at your craft, I think it's always great to be able to be around other great minds as well and other great ballplayers. “That's never changed. Even when I came here in '14, I wanted to try to surround myself and surround this franchise with great minds and guys that actually think outside the box of the game and not just go out and play it.” Where might James find that now or recruit that swiftly? Hard to say. There are asterisks and “buts” everywhere: * If he were to sign with the Houston Rockets, James would be hitching his star to Chris Paul, a buddy with an injury history that’s about the mirror opposite of his own. He would be teaming up with an elite coach in Mike D’Antoni, something he’s never had (though Miami’s Erik Spoelstra was just young and unproven, on his way to big things). But it also would require another big ask of James Harden, who had to adapt last summer to Paul’s arrival and need for the ball. * If James chooses the Lakers, he has the chance to hit reset with the league’s glitziest franchise, in a market that can meet his every off-court wish and where he and his family already own one or more ultra-comfortable homes. The Lakers have young talent to help James transition into a lower-usage veteran’s role, favored status as a destination team for other top free agents and the salary-cap space to get it done this summer with the likes of Paul George or his pal Paul. But that roster might not be capable of insta-contending, which could burn a season or two when James’ clock most definitely is clicking. * If it’s San Antonio, James could link up with the elite coach in Gregg Popovich, where the winning culture is in the DNA rather than some acquired taste. The Spurs have talent, particularly if Kawhi Leonard finds happiness again there. But they might not have enough to rattle the Warriors’ cage. And for all their professed admiration, James and Popovich might both fare better by keeping their relationship long-distance vs. the 82-game grind. * If it’s Golden State? Perish the thought. The NBA might have to board up itself if competitive balance were capsized to that extent. And as Draymond Green shrewdly noted on Thursday (Friday, PHL time), if James climbed aboard, it likely would require him and several other Golden State teammates to be dispatched to parts unknown. * If James prefers to stay East, where the winning comes easier, he could pick Philadelphia. The Sixers have two foundational young stars at positions that matter most, center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons. But Simmons is a non-shooter at the moment, the antithesis of what makes a great complementary LeBron teammate. As for Embiid, James never has had to play off of and service a top center. And Philly might feel like a basketball-only move, with the hungriest and most demanding of any new fan base he would embrace. * If it’s Miami – wait, could it be Miami? Could he go second-home again? The Heat always strive to be competitive and offer a talent base deep enough for the East and lots of familiarity. But they also have players such as Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters whose mental approaches don’t seem to fit the model James was cooing about in Golden State and with the Tim Duncan-era Spurs. * That brings us to Cleveland, where it’s possible James might choose to remain. Staying with the Cavaliers, after leading them to four Finals and that heady 2016 title, would be the easiest choice as far as pressure to win. He owes these fans nothing anymore – in fact, had the bargain been offered to them in 2010 (“LeBron will leave and win elsewhere for four years, but will come back and deliver a championship and four Finals trips”), most would have grabbed it. Here, James and the fans who have watched him even through the interruption develop from ridiculously touted high schooler to one of the world’s most famous athletes could grow older together. Then he could partner up and buy the team from owner Dan Gilbert for a long-term future. Certainly, staying has a certain place in his and the rest of the James clan’s hearts. “The one thing that I've always done is considered, obviously, my family,” he said at series end Friday (Saturday, PHL time). “Understanding especially where my boys are at this point in their age. They were a lot younger the last time I made a decision like this four years ago. I've got a teenage boy, a pre-teen and a little girl that wasn't around as well. So sitting down and considering everything, my family is a huge part of whatever I'll decide to do in my career, and it will continue to be that.” It’s worth noting that as James contemplates his options as a modern pursuer of championship excellence, the prospect of him moving again qualifies at some level as a failure. Not just by the support system in Cleveland, where he and Gilbert have their friction and James gets snidely mentioned as the team’s unofficial GM and head coach, but by him too. He’s the one who went off to seek his “college education” in south Florida in what it takes to win, whether on the court, in the front office or in and around the seams 365 days a year, straight out of the Pat Riley handbook. The teams about which James talks so glowingly in Oakland now and in San Antonio then have cultures he covets, stability up and down the flowchart he craves. In Cleveland, for a variety of reasons, his team has been incapable of establishing and maintaining that to a lasting degree. He is part of that missed opportunity and he has to own it, no matter if he goes or stays. James is inseparable from the dynamic of the Cavaliers’ ever-changing and often melodramatic roster maneuvers. Spending big, swapping out draft picks to import current stars and supporting players, and overvaluing secondary guys like Smith and Tristan Thompson are risks the Warriors and the Spurs largely avoided thanks to shrew drafting and laudable continuity. The Cavs’ scrap heap, by contrast, is high with traded picks, scuttled plans, panic deals, short-term patches and folks such as former coach David Blatt and former GM David Griffin. And maybe James could have nurtured a little better relationship with All-Star point guard and 2016 title sidekick Kyrie Irving, enough to have kept Irving from bailing on them all with his trade demand last summer. Now he’s on the verge of casting about again, prioritizing what matters most for however long he continues to play. James is more at peace with it than he was before, particularly in 2010, and surely can enjoy the leverage he wields and the riches it delivers. But there is a burden there as well, one that could be seen as completing a circle. So many of the NBA’s greatest stars have been stuck playing and living in the Age of LeBron, right? Their paths to the Finals blocked, on one whole side of the league, by him and his? Well, LeBron James is stuck now in the Era of the Warriors, freshly swept and anxious to close the gap. What goes around comes around, though the key more pressing of the big W’s now is, where? Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJun 11th, 2018

The 10 most intriguing free agents of summer 2018

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com The summer of 2018 promises to change the landscape of the NBA. It starts with the best player in the world having the ability to choose his next team, but it continues with good teams in Minnesota, Portland and Washington that might feel the need to shake things up, as well as a situation to monitor in San Antonio. The trade market can be unpredictable. It wasn't until late July last year that we learned that Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland, and it wasn't until late August when he was dealt to the Boston Celtics, who finished the summer with only four players remaining from the team that reached the conference finals. The free agent market is a little more predictable, in that there are only so many teams with the available cap space to sign a premium free agent outright. Most of the big contracts signed in 2016 (when almost every team had cap space) are still on the books and a lot of teams just don't have much flexibility. LOOK: NBA.com Free Agent Tracker But the trade market and the free agent market are tied together. In 2014, the Cavs created the space to sign LeBron James by trading Jarrett Jack and Tyler Zeller. And after signing James, they traded for Kevin Love. With that in mind, the players listed below aren't the 10 best free agents (or potential free agents). They're the 10 most interesting in regard to where they're going and what kind of contract they get. For players to be on this list, there needs to be some intrigue regarding their (and/or their team's) decision this summer. Kevin Durant is the second best player in the NBA and has a player option on his contract, but there appears to be little chance that he's leaving the Golden State Warriors. Re-signing with Houston is probably Chris Paul's best path to another year of contention. It's hard to see Clint Capela or Jusuf Nurkic (both restricted as well) going anywhere. The same goes (to a lesser degree) for Aaron Gordon and Fred VanVleet. There's intrigue in the terms under which Nikola Jokic is in Denver next season - either with the Nuggets exercising a $1.6 million team option or declining it, making him a restricted free agent, and signing him to a new deal - but we can be sure that he will be in Denver next season. The market for centers seems particularly small, taking away some of the intrigue with DeAndre Jordan and Brook Lopez. 1. LeBron James, F, Cleveland (Player option) At 33-years-old and in his 15th season, James remains the best player in the world. Would he leave Cleveland a second time? This is clearly the worst team he's been on since the first time he left the Cavs, and there are teams out there who can give him a better secondary playmaker to take some of the offensive load off his shoulders. Whatever team he's on next season is a contender and if if it's a different team than the one he's on now, it would be fascinating to see what happens with Love. Number to know: James' true shooting percentage of 62.1 percent this season was the third highest mark of his career. 2. Paul George, F, Oklahoma City (Player option) In trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana last summer, the Thunder knew that they might have George for just one season. There's been speculation about his next destination since he arrived in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder season (which ended in the first round of the playoffs) has to be seen as a disappointment. George's free agency is tied to what happens in San Antonio with Kawhi Leonard, who is eligible for a max contract extension this summer. If that extension doesn't happen (either because the Spurs don't offer it or because Leonard doesn't accept it), Leonard will become a trade target for teams that are also in the market for George. And there are a couple of teams that have the ability to bring two of the George/James/Leonard trio together. Number to know: George ranked second in the league in steals (2.0 per game) and tied for the league in deflections (3.9 per game). 3. DeMarcus Cousins, C, New Orleans Just when the Pelicans were hitting their stride with Cousins and Anthony Davis together, Cousins tore his Achilles. And then the Pelicans hit their stride without Cousins, winning 20 of their last 28 games in the regular season and sweeping the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs. If the Pelicans were to lose Cousins, they don't have the cap space to replace him. But there's obviously risk in giving him a big contract coming off an Achilles tear, and the the Pels' two bigs aren't a perfect fit together. As part of their February trade with Chicago, the Pelicans exercised the team option on Nikola Mirotic's contract for next season. So Mirotic is there as Davis' power forward complement for at least another year. Number to know: Cousins accounted for 47 percent of the fouls that the Pelicans drew while he was on the floor. That was the highest rate among 275 players who played at least 1,000 minutes this season. 4. Julius Randle, F, L.A. Lakers (Restricted) Randle is still just 23-years-old and developed into a pretty efficient scorer in the final year of his rookie deal. Among 126 players with at least 500 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, he saw the fifth biggest increase in true shooting percentage (from 54 percent to 61 percent). But the Lakers' have their eyes on bigger names and might have to renounce their rights to the restricted free agent to clear as much cap space as possible. Number to know: Randle ranked fifth with 802 total points scored in the restricted area this season. 5. Marcus Smart, G, Boston (Restricted) Marcus Smart is intriguing more for what his departure would mean for the team he's leaving than for any other team he might join. And it's quite possible that he doesn't have the same value outside of Boston. Putting value on a bad shooter who makes "winning plays" is difficult in the first place. What happens with Smart affects how the Celtics deal with Terry Rozier, who will be a restricted free agent next year and would draw more interest from other teams as a starting point guard (if the Celtics don't give him an extension this summer). It's hard to imagine the Celtics keeping both behind Kyrie Irving long term, but the decision could be delayed a year if Smart were to accept the one-year qualifying offer. Number to know: Smart is one of six players who averaged at least 20 minutes in 40 or more games and with their teams allowing less than a point per possession with them on the floor. 6. J.J. Redick, G, Philadelphia The Sixers are another team that will be big-name shopping in July, which affects the status of Redick, who was signed to a one-year $23 million deal last summer. The Sixers don't have his bird rights, but wouldn't have to pay nearly that much (per year) on a long-term deal. Redick is a terrific complementary player on offense (an aggressive shooter who draws the defense's attention with relentless movement), but can be targeted on the other end of the floor, as was the case in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston. Number to know: Redick shot 45.9 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, the fourth best mark among 101 players who attempted at least 200. 7. Derrick Favors, F, Utah There were times this season when the frontline duo of Favors and Rudy Gobert wasn't working out, and Utah had some success with smaller, more versatile players at the four. But overall, the Jazz outscored their opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions with the two bigs on the floor together, and having both gives them a rim-protecting center on the floor at all times. Utah could create cap space and go free agent shopping, but that would require them to renounce their rights to Favors and Dante Exum. Number to know: Among 160 players with at least 400 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, Favors saw the third biggest increase in effective shooting percentage (from 49 percent to 57 percent). 8. Isaiah Thomas, G, L.A. Lakers Thomas' stock fell precipitously from being a top-five MVP vote-getter last season to being a liability in Cleveland upon returning from his hip injury, and then requiring surgery in March. Still, the Lakers' offense was pretty efficient (scoring 110 points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor and the last time he was healthy, he had a historically good season. There are teams (Orlando and Phoenix, especially) in need of a starting point guard, but Thomas may have to settle for a short-term deal and a bench role in order to restore his value around the league. Number to know: Among 160 players with at least 400 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, Thomas saw the biggest drop in both in effective shooting percentage (from 55 percent to 44 percent) and true shooting percentage (from 63 percent to 51 percent). 9. Dwyane Wade, G, Miami No, Wade is not one of the 10 best free agents out there. But he's a future Hall of Famer who has said that Miami is the only team he'll play for going forward. We saw in Game 2 of the first round against Philadelphia that he can win a game for you on any given night. But over a full season, he'd be a much better fit with the Heat (who have a handful of versatile non-shooters) if he had, at some point, developed a three-point shot. That he hasn't increases the chances that his career is over. Number to know: Wade had an effective field goal percentage of 36.8 percent from outside the paint, the second worst mark among 207 players who attempted at least 200 total shots from the outside. 10. Jabari Parker, F, Milwaukee (Restricted) Parker should look much better in the fall than he did in playing just 38 games (including playoffs) after returning from a second ACL tear in his left knee. He has issues to fix on both ends of the floor and isn't an ideal complement to Giannis Antetokounmpo in that neither shoots very well from the perimeter. Parker still has top-two-pick talent, but injury issues and defense issues make him a fascinating case in restricted free agency for a team that's looking to take a step forward with an MVP candidate and a new coach. Number to know: In the playoffs, the Bucks' offense was more than 14 points per 100 possessions better with Parker off the floor (scoring 114.9 per 100) than it was with him on the floor (100.6). John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 30th, 2018

Brighter days seem to be in store for Knicks, new coach Fizdale

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst There was only one job that made sense for David Fizdale. Despite all the openings for which he interviewed, his pedigree and background -- and, let’s be honest, ambition -- made one gig stand out above the others. And it’s the one he got, with the New York Knicks. New York agreed to a four-year deal with Fizdale last week, a correct pairing of young coach and franchise that is trying to build back up the right way, with an emphasis on defense and conditioning that is right up Fizdale’s alley. No matter the occasional oddity created by working for Jim Dolan, he is an owner who has been willing to spend money when asked, and his team is in the top media market on earth. When you win there, they have parades for you in the Canyon of Heroes, and you almost always wind up in your particular sport’s Hall of Fame. You can’t not take the shot. The Knicks believe they’re in a place where the things Fizdale did in Miami and what he took to Memphis -- his philosophy of culture-building, team-building, discipline and how he connects to players -- were a good fit for where they are as a franchise. Among the 11 candidates the Knicks interviewed for the job, several had more head coaching experience than Fizdale -- whose tenure in Memphis lasted exactly 101 regular season games and six playoff games. But Fizdale checked the most boxes, and at 43, the Knicks are betting he has a lot of growing and improving to do, just as the team does. The Knicks, of course, looked into just why the Grizzlies fired Fizdale so abruptly last season, after just 19 games. Team president Steve Mills and General Manager Scott Perry didn’t just get started in the league last week; they know a lot of people. The chatter around the league was that Memphis chose star center Marc Gasol over Fizdale after the two clashed during the coach’s season-plus there. As I wrote just after Fizdale was fired, the deterioration in their relationship reached the point of no return when Fizdale went after Gasol hard in a film session, basically dismissing the importance of Gasol’s accomplishments overseas, including as a member of the Spanish national team. That that rankled Gasol to no end should have been no surprise to anyone paying attention. The Spanish team’s international triumphs are a point of considerable and understandable pride for both Marc Gasol and his brother, Pau. They helped lead Spain to the greatest era of basketball accomplishment in that country’s history, including a 2006 gold medal at what was then called the FIBA World Championships. Fizdale tried to fix things with Gasol, even flying to Europe after the season to try and make it right. But Gasol was close with majority owner Robert Pera; Fizdale wasn’t. That closed off a potential area of outreach between the two. Gasol had no interest in rapprochement, a stance that Grizzlies players made clear to Fizdale throughout the season. (Caught most in the middle, per league sources, was Grizzlies veteran point guard Mike Conley, Jr., who did and does have strong relationships with both men.) But, importantly, in his discussions with the Knicks, Fizdale took responsibility for his failures with Gasol. He didn’t blame Gasol or anyone else. As one of his chief calling cards is connecting with players, and not finding common ground with Gasol was an L he has to take. “He knew where he messed up and what he’d try to let it never happen again,” said a source who’s spoken with Fizdale since his firing. But, equally importantly, just because Fizdale couldn’t make it work with Gasol doesn’t mean he’s doomed to a similar outcome with All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis. The 22-year-old’s relationship with the Knicks has been scrutinized within an inch of its life the last couple of years. The toxicity level reached under former president Phil Jackson has abated some, but Porzingis and the team still have some navigation to do -- a trip that is blurred as Porzingis continues rehabbing and recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in February. (Porzingis’s brother, Janis, who serves as his agent, politely declined comment on the Fizdale hire via text Saturday, though the Knicks were in contact with Janis Porzingis during the coaching search.) Porzingis’s injury keeps the Knicks in flux, a position it seems they’ve been in most years since the Nixon administration. He is a potential superstar -- “potential” is used quite deliberately here, as “The Unicorn’s” stans on social media have made a very talented offensive player into something that he is not, at least not yet -- a transcendent player. But, assuming Porzingis ultimately makes a full and healthy return, New York has a terrific building block around which to build. And, they have a chance to really get in the game in the summer of 2019. First, they’ll have to resolve Joakim Noah’s status -- he has two years and roughly $38 million left on his current deal. It’s likely the Knicks will stretch him and the only question is whether that happens before or after next season. If it’s the former, the Knicks can spread the remainder of his salary across five seasons; if the latter, three seasons. Nothing is certain, but it would be surprising to see Noah still in New York by the start of camp. Why saddle a new coach with an old problem? That would leave the Knicks with more flexibility going into ’19, which is when Perry has said he’d like New York to be ready to pounce in free agency -- and when the likes of Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard (player option) and Jimmy Butler (player option) can be free agents. But until that bridge year, Fizdale will have to max out the existing roster. Charitably, there’s not a lot there at present that’s proven and has led to much winning anywhere. The Knicks will need to be lucky in next week’s Lottery -- preferably, getting a high enough pick to land one of the elite big men that should be among the top four or five picks in the Draft. If that doesn’t happen, the hope in New York is that until the roster improves, Fizdale can develop the talents of the Knicks’ trio of guards -- Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay and Tim Hardaway, Jr. -- in which New York has invested Draft and literal treasure the last couple of seasons. (It will help that Fizdale’s relationship with Hardaway, Jr., goes back to when the latter was a kid and his father, the master of the killer crossover, worked in the Heat organization after Tim Hardaway Sr.’s playing days ended.) The additional hope is that Fizdale will get Ntilikina in elite shape while honing his competitive edge, and that a full season under Fizdale will let the Knicks know once and for all if Mudiay can be a significant contributor. Fizdale will also have to adjust his nomenclature. Last week’s story in the New York Daily News correctly identified Fizdale’s consistent referencing “the Miami Way” as shorthand for how he wanted to do things in Memphis alienated Grizzlies people who were -- again, justifiably -- proud of the “Grit-n’Grind” era that produced seven straight playoff appearances before this season’s 22-60 crater. And, he’ll have to be prepared to be, perhaps, the biggest face of the franchise, in a city whose media is dogged and nonplussed and will often go off cockeyed in a crazy, incorrect direction. But its influence should never be underestimated. Fizdale is from Los Angeles, and he has a great way with most. And it didn’t hurt him to work some for ESPN while he was between jobs. But he’ll have to learn the media landscape in New York quickly -- who to befriend, who to be wary of, who he can trust and who he cannot. (Also: I’m sure the Knicks pointed out to him that while he had several causes which were near and dear to him in Memphis, from advocating the removal of Confederate statues in the city to lending his name to other civic causes, he needs to win games in Gotham first.) At base, the Knicks will want to see players throughout the roster held accountable, and charged to compete on a nightly basis. There was not enough of either last season under coach Jeff Hornacek -- who, in fairness, didn’t have all that much time to put his stamp on what was a poor roster. Fizdale will get more time. The Knicks’ roster will look a lot different in two years than it does now. Fizdale will have to be a lot different coach than he was in Memphis, as well. Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 8th, 2018

Draw of another title lights postseason path of Warriors

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst One of the Golden State Warriors’ people, walking out of Smoothie King Center Sunday (Monday, PHL time), summarized the team’s season so far in detailing Kevin Durant’s 38-point performance against the Pelicans in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. “Sometimes, people forget,” he said, a wry smile on his face -- and, yes, they do. With all that has gone on around the league this season, the Warriors’ storyline hasn’t been quite as eyeballed nationally this season compared with previous years. (Not that they should care. It’s just an observation.) The Cleveland Cavaliers blew things up last summer and reformed in the fall, blew it up again in the winter and reformed again in the spring. The Boston Celtics are displaying amazing resilience through seemingly devastating injuries to put themselves on the brink of another conference finals. The Philadelphia 76ers have their Fun Bunch. There was Paul George’s trade to Oklahoma City (and all that entailed, now and later) and the Toronto Raptors’ dramatic and successful changes throughout the year. And, at the forefront, there was the Houston Rockets’ rise as a legit and serious challenger to the Warriors in the Western Conference. During the regular season, the Warriors’ energy and productivity dropped off ever so slightly, like the planet killer in “The Doomsday Machine,” one of the all-time best original “Star Trek” episodes, after the doomed Commodore Decker drove a Shuttlecraft right down its throat. (Of course, Captain Kirk figured out to destroy it. Dude, come on. This is James Tiberius Kirk we’re talking about.) And at the end of the regular season, they were hit with a series of body shot injuries: Stephen Curry’s MCL strain, Durant’s ribs, Klay Thompson’s thumb injury, Draymond Green’s hip, and on and on. Those all sapped their continuity and made them look mortal down the stretch of the 2017-18 season, and the Warriors went 7-10 as the season waned. But, after dispatching the Kawhi Leonard-less Spurs in five games in the first round, and taking a 3-1 lead on the Pelicans now, they’re again on the precipice of the Western Conference finals. A date with Houston is looming and a chance at a third title in four seasons is still on their racket. “I think as the playoffs go on, every series requires a different intensity level,” Green said last week. “I think we met that standard that it takes to win playoff games at the level we’re at right now, which is the second round. It’s not our first rodeo. We’ve been here a lot of times and we know what it takes.” Steve Kerr rolled the “Hamptons Five” lineup out Sunday (Monday, PHL time), the Lineup Formally Known as Death -- Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Green and Durant. It’s been their trump card for almost two years, the lineup that can’t be solved by the opposition, even as it’s chipped away at most of Golden State’s other conventional units. Durant went for 38, and the Warriors rolled to a 118-92 win and a 3-1 series lead. They didn’t use it much this season -- that quintet only played 127 minutes together this season, after logging 224 minutes last season -- because of all the injuries, because they tried to limit their biggest players’ minutes and because using Iguodala as a starter thins out Golden State’s bench. The Warriors’ most frequently used five-man unit this season featured Zaza Pachulia at center; among five-man units leaguewide that played 200 minutes or more together this season, per NBA.com/Stats, that quintet was third in the league in Offensive Rating, at 118.6. But Pachulia hasn’t played a minute in the playoffs, and if the Rockets are the Warriors’ next opponent, he may not play much then, either, against Clint Capela. Kerr often points out that the Warriors have six centers on the current roster, and most of them have gotten at least a little run at various points. But after JaVale McGee was ineffective in Game 3 against New Orleans Friday (Saturday, PHL time), Kerr pulled his trump card. It’s still a game-changer, and when a season comes down to a best-of-seven series, one game can be the difference. “We all bring the best of each other,” Curry said of the Hamptons unit. “We increase the pace of the game, but the versatility [is] at the defensive end -- Andre, Draymond, KD shoring up the paint, switching a lot of the screens and the action from the offense and Klay doing what he does on the perimeter. I think the biggest thing offensively is that we’re all playmakers, try to look for the best shot, stay within ourselves and just make the right play.” Going back to the old playlist may give the Warriors comfort in what has been another drama-filled season, with the contretemps about being disinvited from the White House by President Trump in September getting things off to a rollicking start. But the end of the season was what raised eyebrows around the league. Curry’s absence down the stretch combined with a teamwide ennui -- “I really don’t like talking about it,” Thompson said -- that gave potential playoff opponents hope they might be able to catch Golden State napping. The Warriors’ boredom showed up most at the defensive end. After being in the top seven in both unadjusted and adjusted Defensive Rating in each of the last four seasons -- including first in the league in both categories in the first championship season of 2014-15 -- Golden State fell to 11th and 12th, respectively, in the regular season. They came out of the All-Star break focused -- they were fifth in the league in Defensive Rating on March 1. But all the injuries blunted their momentum, and the scariest of all -- a serious injury to second-year guard Patrick McCaw in Sacramento March 31 (April 1, PHL time) -- shook the team more than people on the outside realized. “Throughout that time, we had spurts,” Durant said. “We played a great OKC team. We went in there and won. Then we lost to Indiana by 20, and then it’s like, when you’re riding just on emotion a lot, you tend to go up and down. It’s like a roller coaster. I think that’s what it was. We had those spurts where we played well and played a focused game, but then Patty goes out, boom, and there was just so much that went on with that. Then Steph goes out with a freak injury. So much went on with that. I think we were just so up and down emotionally it kind of blinded us from our goal, which was to be good every single night as basketball players.” McCaw’s injury -- a bone bruise suffered when he fell after a dunk attempt against the Kings, which required him to be carried off the court in Sacramento on a stretcher -- hit everyone hard. “When Pat got injured, I think that took a little bit out of us,” Durant said. “It took a little bit out of Steve as well. You could just feel it, when Steph went out, then I went out, then Draymond, then Klay. Our emotions were so up and down. When your emotions are, you have too many emotions in the game of basketball, it can kind of blind you from what you really have to do. This is a technical game. So when you put too many emotions into it, it kind of took us away from what we wanted to do.” McCaw, who played in 57 games this season, was not only a part of Kerr’s rotation. He is also a well-liked person who was getting better on the floor. He was re-evaluated last week and will be checked out again in a month. Though he’s been traveling with the team during the playoffs, his season is almost certainly over. And as his injury came during the Warriors’ many injuries down the stretch, its chilling effect was multiplied. “It definitely got to everybody,” Green said. “Kind of the uncertainty of not knowing what’s going on with him. The rotations. Everybody’s like, ahh, kind of tiptoeing around, trying to make sure you get to the playoffs healthy. A lot of that makes a difference. I mean, that’s our brother. To see him down like that, not be able to walk off the court under his own power, him not being around us for two or three weeks, it was kind of like the unknown. It sucked. And I think it definitely had an effect on everything.” But Durant doesn’t like the metaphor of the proverbial switch being turned on at playoff time explaining the team’s improvement the last couple of weeks. “I don’t like when you call it a switch,” he said. “Because guys come in and get extra work in every single day. They work on their bodies every day, they get treatment. You come in here any time, you see guys in here working on their games. I think when you say ‘a switch turned on,’ if guys went cold turkey on everything as professionals during the season, and just tried to pick it up in the playoffs, I think that’s turning on a switch. Mentally, focus-wise, game plan-wise, I think you can turn on a switch, because you can lock in on an opponent, you know their tendencies, you can just focus in on one group of players instead of one day it’s San Antonio, the next day it’s Phoenix, next day it’s Sacramento. You’re going so up and down. If that makes sense. “So I think everybody’s putting in that work individually all year, and as a team, you know, stuff has to come together. We have to focus in on what we need to do, game plan wise, tendency wise, just try to take away things. I think that’s where you kind of turn it up just a bit.” Golden State has performed in fits and starts in the first two rounds. The Spurs didn’t have enough firepower to be a serious threat, but they played hard and were increasingly effectively on defense as the series went on. The Warriors didn’t really have an answer for LaMarcus Aldridge after Game 1. New Orleans had, until Sunday (Monday, PHL time), been more and more successful at making the Warriors shoot contested shots. That certainly gibes with Curry’s return after five weeks. He’s healthy, but rusty. After his adrenaline-filled return last Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) in Game 2 against the Pelicans, he made just 14-of-33 from the floor in the two games in New Orleans. There was talk afterward about breakthroughs for Curry cardiovascularly. The next few games will tell whether Curry is truly recovered and ready to be two-time Kia MVP Steph … or will he just be on the floor (as he was for long and important stretches in the 2016 playoffs after returning from a Grade 1 knee sprain). The Warriors still made The Finals, but Curry wasn’t Curry against Cleveland, and everyone, starting and ending with LeBron James, knew it. No one in NBA history has changed the geometry of basketball more than Curry, and when he’s on the floor, the ball starts flying around. “Our formula is simple: if we out-pass people, we win,” Warriors forward David West said. “Ball movement. With guys going in and out of the lineup, it causes moments where guys try to carry the load, maybe try to shoulder the load individually. But the strength of the group is the group.” But the Warriors can still throw so many different things and people at you. Iguodala shot a career-worst 28.2 percent on three-pointers in the regular season. He’s at 39.3 percent in the 2018 playoffs. Does anyone doubt he was biding his time until the postseason? No one wearing an NBA uniform is in better shape than the 34-year-old Iguodala, no one is smarter about the game or matchups, and no one is a prouder, fiercer competitor. The 2015 Finals MVP brings his bag of intangibles with him on the road even more than at home, as he did Sunday. In that game, he was making life miserable for the Pelicans’ Nikola Mirotic, creating deflections, making the right reads and impacting the game despite scoring just six points. Kerr likened him to Scottie Pippen after Game 4, but Iggy wasn’t buying it -- “Steve just does that to make sure I don’t get mad ‘cause I don’t shots,” Iguodala quipped. He may be right. But Iguodala and Green have a mind meld defensively that’s at the heart of the Hamptons’ effectiveness. “Andre and I, we’re usually on the same page,” Green said. “Two guys who really think the game, especially on that side of the ball. Sometimes we can talk things out and it works perfect and not say a word, and know what each other’s going to do. It definitely helps our team out defensively kind of having two coaches out there on the floor on that side of the ball.” Whether it’s switching to guard each other’s man, running at an open shooter to close before the ball gets there with the other man rotating, they know what the other guy is going to do. And that second or so the Warriors save defensively keeps them from being broken down. “How fast can you make that decision?,” Green says. “How demonstrative are you going to be about that decision? Are you going to second guess that decision? That’s usually when it doesn’t work; if you’re going to go, just go. That’s kind of the motto that Andre and I go by. If you’re going to go, just go; everybody else fall in line and rotate, and we’ll work it out from there.” And while Green and Rajon Rondo have been exchanging pleasantries throughout this series, Green didn’t pick up his first postseason technical foul until Sunday (Monday, PHL time). He’s been under control, coming up to the edge without going over. Someone without access to the internet asked Kerr if he’d ever played with anyone who instigated or tried to get under the skin of opponents. It’s a testament to Kerr’s comic timing that he actually did wait a beat before answering. “I did play with Dennis Rodman,” he said. Never be fooled by Kerr’s overall pleasant disposition and quick-with-a-quip acuity, though. He is a fierce competitor that wants to win big, the same as his current point guard, who is similarly underrated on the competition scale. Kerr has seven rings as a player and coach, and it’s not a coincidence he’s frequently been around teams that got it done in June. But the Warriors are playing for even bigger stakes than just winning the 2018 title. Legacies are created this time of year. A third title in four seasons, with four straight Finals appearances, would put Golden State in very rarified air in the modern game. San Antonio won three titles from 2002-07. But the Spurs, famously, never have won back-to-back titles. The Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal-led Lakers, which won three straight from 2000-02, are the closest modern-day team to pulling off what the Warriors are trying to accomplish. Before then, you’re talking about the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, with six titles in eight seasons -- the two non-title seasons coinciding with Jordan’s sojourn to the minor leagues of baseball. Moreover, the Warriors are the hub around which the modern NBA now spins. And that is an even bigger legacy. Almost everyone (hi, Thibs!) tries to play the way Golden State does now -- the quick hitters, ball movement, pace. Teams do it in different ways. The 76ers look very different than the Warriors, with Joel Embiid their centerpiece of operations, and with 6'10" Ben Simmons taking up so much space with the ball in the halfcourt. The Rockets look different still as there’s not a ton of ball movement. There’s just an unending series of screen and rolls with Chris Paul and James Harden with the rock, looking for the inevitable open man in the corner or way, way behind the three-point line. A lot of things have happened the last 15 years to lead us where we are now. The league changed almost all the rules regarding zone defense, and got rid of almost all defensive contact on the perimeter. Rockets GM Daryl Morey and others led the burgeoning analytics movement, which championed shooting more and more three-pointers as a primary means of scoring, not as a novelty. Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns went with Amar’e Stoudemire at center, surrounding him with four smalls that could all shoot it from deep, and scoring came out of its coma leaguewide. Kerr and Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry have always been quick to credit D’Antoni’s influence on the modern game, starting in Phoenix and working through his current team in Houston. “He’s the guy that just eliminated the center position -- let’s just go small and fast and shoot more threes,” Kerr said of D’Antoni. “I was inspired by Mike, but I was also inspired by Pop (the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich) and Phil Jackson in terms of basic ball movement, screening. But pace is the name of the game these days, and people go about it in different ways. Ironically, Mike’s team (in Houston) is the slowest team in the league now. I didn’t see that coming.” But no one has put all of it together -- pace, small ball, shooting and defense -- like the Warriors have the last four seasons. The Rockets are the closest thing we’ve seen to Golden State, and they’re hungry, and they’re coming. And the Warriors and Rockets are just a win apiece away from seeing the clash of the Western Conference titans. They are in the middle of it, so they can’t stop and think about what it all means. We get that. But everyone wants to put a marker out there that’s hard to catch. LeBron is chasing a ghost. The Warriors have already made their mark on the game. They’re almost in position to do more. History is forever. “It’s important, because it’s what’s right in front of us,” Curry said Sunday. “We don’t think about the historical context of anything. For us, we have an amazing group of guys, amazing coaches sitting behind us. We’re appreciating the moment. That’s really all it is. You have tunnel vision for Game 5 at home, then a new series, hopefully (after that). The historic context doesn’t really seep into the locker room when it comes to what that means. It’s just about this year.” Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 8th, 2018

The curse of the Western Conference '4 seed

Here's a reminder for the Western Conference teams next season when they start jockeying for playoff seeding: Avoid the fourth seed at all costs. Sure you'll get home court advantage against the fifth seed, but that hasn't meant anything since the 2012 Playoffs. For the past seven years, all fourth seeds have lost to the fifth seeds, with the latest victims being the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were ousted in six games by the Utah Jazz. Is it sheer coincidence? A hardwood hex? A sign of parity? We'll run through the aforementioned seven series and let you decide for yourself. 2012 Playoffs - #5 LA Clippers (40-26) defeat #4 Memphis Grizzlies (41-25) in seven games The setup: It feels appropriate that this "curse" began during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. The Clippers were in year one of Lob City, having acquired Chris Paul during the offseason, while the Grizzlies were looking to build on their epic #8 vs #1 upset of the San Antonio Spurs from the previous postseason. What happened: The Grizzlies began this series in the worst possible way. In game one, they led by as much as 27 points, and were up 95-71 with 9:13 left to play. But then Nick Young happened. Swaggy P came off the Clippers bench and buried three straight triples, helping LA win game one, and build a 3-1 series lead. The Grizzlies won the next two though, sending things back to Bluff City for a game seven. Ultimately though, home court didn't help, as the Clippers broke the game wide open in the fourth, outscoring the Grizzlies 27-16, for an 82-72 victory. "That guy was on the team?": Reggie Evan led the Clippers in rebounding with 8.7 a night, while Gilbert Arenas played in six out of the seven games, totaling 23 minutes and four points for the Grizzlies. What next?: The Spurs swept the Clippers in the semis. 2013 Playoffs - #5 Memphis Grizzlies (56-26) defeat #4 LA Clippers (56-26) in six games The setup: The Clippers won their division for the VERY FIRST TIME in franchise history, while the Grizzlies were in full Grit 'N Grind mode, with Marc Gasol winning Defensive Player of the Year that season. What happened: Things started off well, with the Clippers winning the first two games in LA. However, the Grizzlies stood firm at home, knotting the series at 2-all. Things turned dire for LAC when star forward Blake Griffin suffered an ankle sprain during practice, limiting him to just 19:34 minutes in game five, which they lost. With their season on the line in the City of Angels for game six, Griffin could only play 13:56, and not even a career postseason-best 30 points by Matt Barnes could save the Clips. To add insult to injury, Chris Paul was ejected with 2:29 left, before the game ended with a 118-105 score. "That guy was on the team?": Tayshaun Prince was Memphis' starting small forward, while Grant Hill and Lamar Odom, both with the Clips, played their last NBA seasons. What next?: The Grizzlies dispatched the OKC Thunder in five games in the conference finals, before losing to the Spurs via a sweep in the West Finals. 2014 Playoffs - #5 Portland Trail Blazers (54-28) defeat #4 Houston Rockets (54-28) in six games The setup: The Houston Rockets added Dwight Howard to a roster that already had James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Chandler Parsons, making them one of the top teams in the West. The Portland Trail Blazers meanwhile built on Damian Lillard's 2013 Rookie of the Year campaign and snapped a two-year postseason drought. What happened: While things were tightly contested, three of the first four games went to overtime, the Blazers seemingly had the Rockets' number, winning two of those OT games, en route to a 3-1 series lead. The Rockets managed to stave off elimination at home in game five, but in game six, Lillard truly made a name for himself, by canning a series-winning shot, allowing Rip City to advance for the first time in 14 years. "That guy was on the team?": Mo Williams was Portland's sixth man (8.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.8 apg), while Omer Asik teamed up with Howard in the Houston frontcourt. What next?: The Blazers managed to take one game from the Spurs, before bowing out in the conference semifinals. 2015 Playoffs - #5 Memphis Grizzlies (55-27) defeat #4 Portland Trail Blazers (51-31) in five games The setup: The Blazers won the Northwest Division, but the next two teams in the standings, the Grizzlies and the Spurs, both had notched 55 wins, four more than them. Portland's main problem though was swingman Wesley Matthews tearing an achilles tendon early in March, a season-ending injury. What happened: Portland struggled to find someone who could take the starting SG spot on their roster with Matthews out, cycling through CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, and Arron Afflalo. That trio, as starters, combined to shoot 4-of-22 for 10 points over five games, allowing the Memphis D to concentrate on Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Grizzlies won the first three games, before picking up the clincher in game five, despite starting point guard Mike Conley suffering a facial fracture in game three and missing the rest of the series. "That guy was on the team?": Nick Calathes wound up assuming the point guard duties for the Grizzlies, in what turned out to be his final NBA stint (he went back to playing in Greece after the season). What next?: The Grizzlies lost in six games in the next round to the Golden State Warriors, after the Dubs made their famous adjustment to use Andrew Bogut to guard Tony Allen. 2016 Playoffs - #5 Portland Trail Blazers (44-38) defeat #4 LA Clippers (53-29) in six games The setup: The LA Clippers came really close to losing center DeAndre Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks in the offseason, but you all know what happened instead. As for the Portland Trail Blazers, the team rebuilt after losing LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum, among others, pairing Lillard with Most Improved Player winner CJ McCollum in the backcourt. What happened: The Paul-Griffin-Jordan trio looked splendid early on, going up 2-0 after games in LA. The Blazers struck back and won game three, but then disaster waylaid LA in game four, with BOTH Paul (broken hand) and Griffin (quad) exiting the game and the series. That paved the way for the Blazers to complete their run and advance. "That guy was on the team?": It was Chris Kaman's final NBA season, and he spent it as a locker room guy for the Blazers. It was also Clippers guard Pablo Prigioni's last stint in the NBA (not counting several preseason games with the Rockets the next season, before he got cut and returned to Europe). What next?: The Blazers advanced to the West semis, where they lost in five games to the Warriors, despite Stephen Curry missing the first three matches. 2017 Playoffs - #5 Utah Jazz (51-31) defeat #4 LA Clippers (51-31) in seven games The setup: It was a battle between two teams looking to go far in the postseason in the hopes of enticing their future free agents to re-up. For the Jazz, Gordon Hayward was the player in question, while for the Clippers, both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin had the ability to depart in the offseason. What happened: Iso-Joe Johnson did Iso-Joe things, stealing game one for the Jazz on the Clippers' home court. Undeterred, the Clippers proceeded to win the next two, for a 2-1 advantage, but game three turned out to be costly. The team the next day announced that Blake Griffin was out for the rest of the season due to a toe injury. Still, things went to a game seven, in LA, but the Clippers did not have the firepower to win out, and the Jazz were able to get the victory and advance. What next?: The Jazz got swept by the Warriors in the West semis. And ironically, both Hayward and Paul wound up departing their respective teams. In addition, Griffin did sign an extension with the Clippers, but they wound up trading him mid-way through the 2017-18 campaign. 2018 Playoffs - #5 Utah Jazz (48-34) defeat #4 Oklahoma City Thunder (48-34) in six games The setup: The Jazz equaled their postseason rank from last season, thanks to the brilliance of rookie Donovan Mitchell, while the Thunder formed a "Big Three" comprising Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. What happened: Paul George sizzled for 36 points to help the Thunder win game one, but Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell teamed up to help the Jazz win the next three. On the brink of elimination, Russell Westbrook led a dominant third quarter effort in OKC to force a game six, but in Salt Lake City, the Jazz managed to hold on, and earn the series victory. What next?: The Jazz will now test themselves against the top-seeded Houston Rockets. Should be a good one. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or ABS-CBN Sports......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 29th, 2018

Spurs, Heat looking for bounce-back efforts in Game 2

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra have copious amounts of championship jewelry in their possessions, and their teams committing to the level of defense necessary to win in the postseason is a major reason why that’s the case. Vastly improved defense will be what both coaches demand — or at least hope for — on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs just didn’t have enough answers for Golden State in Game 1 of their Western Conference series, and Spoelstra’s Miami Heat offered Philadelphia absolutely no resistance in a second-half meltdown that opened their Eastern Conference series. The Warriors and 76ers are both looking to take 2-0 leads when those matchups resume on their respective home floors. “We understand that we are not favorites,” San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili said. “We are underdogs. We talked about it, and to get a win here, we’ve got to overachieve. We’ve got to do better than we think we can do, even. So we’ll fight as hard as we can in Game 2.” That will have to be a mantra for both the Spurs and the Heat. The Spurs allowed Golden State to shoot 54 percent in what became a 113-92 playoff-opening win for the defending NBA champions. Game 1 in Philadelphia was even more one-sided, as the 76ers closed the game on a 74-40 run in what ended up as a 130-103 rout — the most points that any Heat team has allowed in any postseason game. “We have to learn from it,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. “It’s a seven-game series. They beat our butt in the first one. But at the end of the day, they’re up 1-0 no matter which way they did it. We definitely have to make adjustments. We can’t go into the game saying, ‘Oh, they’re not going to make those shots again.’” ___ A look at Monday night’s (Tuesday, PHL time) matchups: HEAT AT 76ERS, Philadelphia leads 1-0. Game 2, 8 p.m., (8am, PHL time). Need to know: Philadelphia has now won 17 consecutive games, as well as 24 of its last 25 at home (not counting a “home” loss in London to Boston), and is coming off its fourth outing of 130 points or more this season. “If that’s the way it’s going to be, then we’ve got to conquer it,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve got to find a way.” Keep an eye on: Miami will have to change how it attacks screens and gets out on Philadelphia’s shooters, but that’s obviously easier said than done. Philadelphia will be brimming with confidence, and rightly so. 76ers coach Brett Brown knows the Heat will make adjustments, and it’ll be incumbent on him to react on the fly in Game 2. Injury update: 76ers star center Joel Embiid was released from the NBA’s concussion protocol Sunday (Monday, PHL time), but he will not play in Game 2. He’s recovering from surgery to repair an orbital fracture. For Miami, point guard Goran Dragic played Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) through a sore right knee that has dogged him for a couple weeks. Pressure is on: It was just one game, but Miami knows it can’t have a combined 13-for-40 shooting effort from its starting lineup again, or see Hassan Whiteside — the $23 million center — be a complete non-factor while playing only 12 minutes. ___ SPURS AT WARRIORS, Golden State leads 1-0. Game 2, 10:30 p.m., (10:30am, PHL time). Need to know: When Golden State senses a chance to grab command, it usually pounces — as evidenced by how the Warriors are 8-0 in their last eight Game 2s. The Spurs have never dropped six consecutive postseason games under Popovich, though that streak will likely be seriously tested unless San Antonio comes up with some very different ideas very quickly. Keep an eye on: San Antonio likely needs to get LaMarcus Aldridge going very early, to see if he can get in the rhythm that avoided him in Game 1. For Golden State, Klay Thompson bided his time in Game 1 and wound up shooting 11 for 13 — playing a brilliant game, getting teammates open with hard cuts in the early going before the ball found him. Injury update: Warriors star Stephen Curry and Spurs star Kawhi Leonard both remain out, but there’s no new major issues for either team. Pressure is on: Oddly, it’s probably more on the Warriors than the Spurs. Golden State lost 10 of its final 17 regular-season games, and doesn’t want to see this series open with a split that will see the return of “what’s wrong with the Warriors?” questions......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 16th, 2018

Warriors re-introduce themselves in rout of Spurs

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com OAKLAND, CALIF. — It is generally accepted that the Warriors will perspire some, feel a degree of burn in their lungs, receive an urgency slap in the face and get pushed toward the edge of their defending championship throne once they play a team from Texas. Just not this team from Texas. No, not the Spurs, at least that’s what the hunch and the outset of this first-round playoff series says. Common sense, too, wants to chime in and declare the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard are just standing in the way, albeit proudly, of the Warriors’ path to greater things in the post-season. And so, the long and antsy wait for the anticipated and projected Warriors vs. Houston Rockets showdown in the West began in earnest Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) when the Warriors breezed from jump ball to buzzer against San Antonio, and also torpedoed the notion that they’re somehow vulnerable (at least for now). The playoff tipoff was all about the Warriors re-establishing their muscle flex and their defense and most importantly, their aura, even with Steph Curry still out and ailing, because the rest of the NBA was watching. That’s what a 113-92 wipeout Game 1 win at Oracle Arena accomplished, if nothing else. The combination of the Spurs being overmatched and the Warriors needing to put on a more menacing face than what they showed the last month of the regular season delivered the predictable result: A smackdown. Or, as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich put it: “Got our ass kicked.” Too much Kevin Durant, the sneaky elevation of Andre Iguodala to the starting point guard spot, a JaVale McGee sighting and Klay Thompson getting swishy was exactly what the Warriors needed and received. Seriously, though: Anything less would’ve been a big surprise. The Warriors couldn’t afford to stay locked into the season-ending fog that turned coach Steve Kerr’s hair a lighter shade of gray and created the perception of a fat, too-satisfied winner of two championships in three years. Most likely, they were merely victims of human nature: While going 7-10 down the stretch, the Warriors simply grew bored with the meaningless late season, especially once Curry hurt his knee on March 23 (Mar. 24, PHL time). Seriously, what was left to accomplish, other than to stay healthy? This team was created and molded for the sole purpose of winning in June, not for placing importance on, say, drop-kicking the Sacramento Kings on April Fools. “We’re a championship ballclub and we know what it takes to win this time of year,” said Draymond Green, applying the perspective. “You heard, 'The Warriors lost it, they’re not together, they’re not the same team without Steph, blase, blase, blase, blah blah blah.' Well, we know what we’re capable of. There have been series where we’ve won without Kevin, without myself, without our head coach. A lot of people forgot.” In case you’re one of the people Draymond was referring to, here’s a refresher course, courtesy of Game 1: Durant is very long and tough to defend, Thompson usually doesn’t miss when he has three feet of separation from his defender, Iggy always earns his fat paycheck in springtime, and as for McGee? “He’s very tall,” said Kerr. Actually, Kerr wasn’t purposely trying to troll his starting center, just stating the obvious when it comes to defending Spurs leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge. McGee brings four more inches and therefore made it tough for Aldridge, who managed only 14 points and was mainly a ghost. With Aldridge on lockdown, the Warriors’ D had accomplished its main mission, because the Spurs lack a secondary source of punch. What, is Rudy Gay going to turn back the clock? Manu Ginobili? Tony Parker? Because that’s what needs to happen for San Antonio. Without it, well, unfortunately for the Spurs, Kawhi isn’t limping through that door. What irritated Kerr was how the Warriors dialed down their defensive intensity in the weeks leading into the playoffs. They spotted 126 points each to the Pelicans and Pacers, and in the season finale did a complete no-show, getting spanked by 40 courtesy of Utah. Remember, the Warriors constantly ranked among the better defensive teams during their multiple runs to the NBA Finals. As coaches tend to do in these matters, Kerr jeopardized his vocal chords a few times while trying to get the message across in the disinterested locker room. But deep down, did anyone buy the notion of the Warriors suddenly forgetting how to play defense? With the second-best record in the West secured, and first place conceded to Houston, weren’t they just tapping their toes until the first round? Is that such a crime? Wouldn’t that be understandable, and wise on some levels, given the risk of something bad happening to a hamstring? Anyway, Kerr barely uncrossed his legs on the bench Saturday (Sunday, PHL time); no need to scold a team that held the Spurs to 40 percent shooting and claimed the rebounding edge by 21 and never felt threatened. “We finally got back to defending,” said Kerr. He made sure of that, by inserting Iguodala, his best all-around defender, into the starting lineup and also using McGee extensively instead of Zaza Pachulia. Iggy spread his limbs all over the floor, guarding bigs and smalls, switching on the screen and generally being a pest to the other team, as he generally is this time of year. “I just wanted to put our best defensive lineup on the floor from the beginning,” he explained. “The last month or so our defense had been subpar. You can’t win in this league unless you defend. You could feel the intensity right from the start. We set a good tone.” To be fair, the awakening of the Warriors’ defense will receive a more accurate measure if and when they advance beyond the Spurs and face, for example, the Blazers with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and of course the turbocharged Rockets with James Harden and Chris Paul and all those three-point slingers. But until then, wrapping up the Spurs will serve as necessary preparation. Less worry was the Warriors on the other end of the floor, where Durant assumed the lead and took 17 shots, scoring 24 points. More efficient was Thompson, who missed only twice in 13 shots and finished with 27 points. All of this was necessary with Curry not expected back for the first round; he just received the green light to press the accelerator during rehab and begin lateral movements. If the Warriors, a top-10 team in both offensive and defensive efficiency, continue to get this kind of killer balance, there’ll be some long nights upcoming for the Spurs and a quick series as well. “We were not as ready to face a team like them,” said Ginobili. “They were much better than us. Klay got away from us many times. Overall, they were so much better in every aspect that we had no shot. We’ve got to regroup, feel hurt and desperate, got to be smarter … We understand we’re not favorites. We’re underdogs. To get a win here we’ve got to overachieve. We got to do better than we can.” It’s too bad that the Kawhi Situation continues to follow the Spurs like a dark cloud. He remains stymied by a quad injury that apparently hasn’t healed enough for his liking. The Spurs with Kawhi and the Warriors without Curry would tip the scales in this series toward being somewhat level, or at least invite some suspense. Without Kawhi, the Spurs are shooting spitballs at a tank. Guts and hard work and good coaching can only go so far against the suddenly-refocused and playoff-locked Warriors. So, yes, the Warriors set out to re-introduce themselves and did so Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). “We want to make a statement in Game 2 as well,” said Thompson. “We hobbled to the playoffs but we know how good we are and what it takes in the post season to win. When our intensity and focus are high, we’re tough to beat.” Well, tough for one team in Texas. We’ll see about the other soon enough. Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 15th, 2018

MVP Ladder: No topping Harden in award chase

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com Stump speeches aren’t necessary. Not when your campaign drives itself on performance alone, when you elevate the conversation with each and every outing, the way James Harden did from the opening tip of this regular season until the final buzzer. So if it seems like Harden has skillfully avoided getting caught up in this reporter-crafted Kia MVP pickles that often drive the rest of our NBA dialogue on a daily basis, it’s by design. Besides, who needs to dive in on the debate when you have unsolicited celebrity endorsements from the likes of Kobe Bryant, who made clear to USA Today Sports that Harden’s time is now. “It’s got to be James,” Bryant said. “I really don’t understand the debate about picking somebody else. I don’t get it. Like, what the hell does this guy have to do? I mean for the last three years, the guy has been absolutely lights out, and now you still want to sit here and debate who should be MVP when he leads the league in scoring (30.4 points per game), his assists numbers (8.8 apg) are off the charts, they have the best record in the league (65-16). “If he doesn’t win MVP this year, what the hell is he supposed to do to win MVP, average 40 [points], 15 [assists] and 15 [rebounds]? I mean, come on now. Enough is enough.” After coming up short twice in the past three seasons, Harden is poised to capture the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. It is something he felt he earned last season, when his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, Russell Westbrook, used a triple-double season to claim the hardware. Stephen Curry won the award in 2015 and 2016, his star rising in concert with the Golden State Warriors' surge from lottery team, to contender to championship-winner in two of the last three seasons. While Curry claimed those awards, Harden won MVP honors in a vote of his peers at the NBPA’s first Players Awards in July 2015. There will be no dispute this time around. There is no other narrative that trumps Harden’s.   No other player's performance rises above what he’s done for the Rockets this season, the first with he and fellow superstar point guard  Chris Paul sharing the leadership load of the league’s best team. Not even four-time Kia MVP LeBron James, who turned in one of the finest seasons of his 15 year career in Cleveland, could catch Harden on the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder or in the minds of most voters. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni coached Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and two-time Kia MVP Steve Nash. Yet it was Harden who received D'Anton's greatest compliment after a win in Portland last month when called Harden the “best offensive player I’ve ever seen.” “He’s a hell of a player, first off,” D’Antoni told USA Today Sports when asked to explain his declaration. “It’s a combination of everything. There are other players who might be better at this, or a little bit better at that. But when you put everything together, and the way he passes, the way he sees teammates, the way he can lob, the way he can fight through a foul. I mean even on an off night, he’s probably getting 30, 40 points, and I mean efficiently. And he doesn’t even have anything going. But he’s so efficient, and he gets other guys involved.” If the strength of Harden’s MVP case this season was just his own individual offensive brilliance, he’d still have a rock-solid case. He did record the first 60-point triple-double in NBA history this season and won the scoring title a season after leading the league in assists. But, as D’Antoni noted, Harden's ability to raise the level of play from teammates like Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and others is what stands out. “I don't think there's a player that's had to create as much as I've had to in these last three years," Harden said in a GQ profile that came out this week. "I don't know if there's a guy in NBA history.” That comment can be interpreted in a number of ways, and it’s sure to spark yet another debate as the conversation continues deep into this postseason about who is most deserving of Kia MVP honors. But we’re done here. “It’s James Harden, no doubt about it,” a Western Conference executive told me when asked if there was any dispute about this season’s most valuable player. “Harden in a landslide.” * * * The top five in the Final Edition of the 2017-18 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder: 1. James Harden, Houston Rockets Last week: No. 1 2017-18 season stats: 30.4 points, 8.8 assists, 5.4 rebounds Harden declared early on that this was the Rockets’ season. He felt they finally had the pieces to challenge the Golden State Warriors for the top spot in the Western Conference standings, and, therefore, the entire league. He served notice on opening night, when he and the Rockets spoiled the Warriors' championship banner and rings celebration at Oracle Arena by claiming a win. Harden’s 27 points, 11 assists and six rebounds was the opening salvo in what turned into the best season in Rockets history. Harden’s ability to blend his point guard responsibilities with his role as the most lethal scorer in the league fueled one brilliant performance after another. As well, Harden also silenced the critics who suggested he and Paul would not be able to play well off of each other. The Rockets enter the postseason with the No. 1 overall seed and with all the confidence needed for a championship run. 2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers Last week: No. 2 2017-18 season stats: 27.5 points, 9.1 assists, 8.6 rebounds LeBron put the final touches on his outstanding 15th NBA regular season by capturing Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for March/April, the fourth time this season he took those honors (October/November, December and February). In addition to the parade of milestones LeBron reached this season, he also piled up a career-high 18 triple-doubles, led the Cavaliers through a tumultuous year that ended with 50 or more wins for the fourth straight season. He shot better than 54 percent from the floor (.542) and also had his best shooting from beyond the 3-point line (.367) since returning to Cleveland from Miami before the 2014-15 season. The true test of his super powers, though, will be on display in this postseason. The Cavaliers finished as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference but go into the playoffs as the favorite, in the eyes of most, to survive the gauntlet due in large part to LeBron’s work the past seven seasons guiding his teams to The Finals. 3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans Last week: No. 3 2017-18 season stats: 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks Davis turned it on when the Pelicans needed it most, after DeMarcus Cousins went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. He powered the Pelicans with 50 double-doubles, one triple-double and, when the Pelicans needed grind their way into the postseason as 2017-18 waned, he picked his game up even more. He averaged 29 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, 2.4 assists and 2.2 blocks during the Pelicans’ season-ending five-game win streak that helped them secure the No. 6 seed. That sealed up Davis' second career playoff run and he’s still looking for his first playoff win. His ability to carry the load for the Pelicans the way he did, though, is easily the most impressive part of his season. There was no guarantee the Pelicans would make the playoffs in a rugged Western Conference even with Cousins healthy. To do it without him speaks volumes about the impact Davis had on his team. 4. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers Last week: No. 4 2017-18 season stats: 26.9 points, 6.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds Lillard has done what few thought possible after the Portland team he joined as a rookie was taken apart and rebuilt around him. The catalyst for a Blazers team that finished third in the West, Lillard forced his way onto that short list of names in the best-point-guard-in-the-game discussion. He lacks the championship and/or Kia MVP hardware guys like Curry, Kyrie Irving and Westbrook all have. But his body of work as the face of Portland's franchise makes it difficult to leave him out of the discussion. The Blazers wouldn't have come anywhere close to that No. 3 seed without Lillard going nuclear in February (31.4 points, six assists and nearly five rebounds in 10 games). This has been a transformative year on and off the court for Lillard, who is not only had a career-best season, but also celebrated the birth of his son late last month. 5. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors Last week: No. 5 2017-18 season stats: 26.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists Durant followed up his 2017 Finals MVP honors with a steady season, by his lofty standard, but not one that pushed him closer to the top of this list. His understanding of the way the regular season connects to the postseason no doubt played a role in the way he paced himself. That’s not to say that Durant didn't have an outstanding regular season, because he did. But just like James and to an extent his All-Star teammate, Curry, Durant’s seasons are now measured against the high standard he’s set in past ones. He actually averaged more points and assists this season compared to his first with the Warriors. And he set a career-high with 1.8 blocks per game, showing off his improved awareness and effectiveness on defense. With Curry out for the first round of the playoffs due to injury, Durant will get a chance to remind the San Antonio Spurs and the rest of the league just how dangerous he can be with everything on the line. The next five 6. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder 7. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors 8. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors 9. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks 10. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers And five more: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs; Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets; Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers; Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsApr 14th, 2018