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BLOGTABLE: Which West teams will make the playoffs in 17-18?

NBA.com blogtable Who are your picks for the eight teams that will make the playoffs in the West? +++ Steve Aschburner: Golden State Warriors Houston Rockets Oklahoma City Thunder San Antonio Spurs Portland Trail Blazers Minnesota Timberwolves Denver Nuggets Utah Jazz Nope, I still can’t see anyone catching or toppling the Warriors, though the arms race out West has made the Rockets and the Thunder must-see TV, and the bottom four spots have six teams legitimately trying to squeeze in. Shaun Powell: Golden State Warriors Oklahoma City Thunder Houston Rockets San Antonio Spurs Minnesota Timberwolves Portland Trail Blazers Denver Nuggets LA Clippers The weird teams are the Clippers and Grizzlies. Both are in transition and appear weaker than the last five years when they were playoff fixtures. They'll flip a coin for the eighth spot. The real intrigue lies with the Spurs and whether they're still a top-three team in the West, especially after a flat and inactive off-season while others fortified themselves. John Schuhmann: Tier 1: Golden State Warriors Tier 2: Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs Seeds 5-8: Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz over LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans. The Clips, Grizzlies and Pelicans have a chance, but it's hard, at this point, to believe in LA's durability (Danilo Gallinari is already hurt), Memphis' talent beyond Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, and New Orleans' offense on the perimeter. Sekou Smith: Golden State Warriors San Antonio Spurs Houston Rockets Oklahoma City Thunder Portland Trail Blazers Minnesota Timberwolves Denver Nuggets LA Clippers The mighty Warriors continue their dominance in a retooled Western Conference with San Antonio, Houston, Oklahoma City, Portland, Minnesota, Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers filling out the playoff field. With apologies to LaVar Ball, I don't see the Los Angeles Lakers having the tools to make good on that playoff prediction. There is too much ground to make up and not enough playoff-ready players in the fold. I love the energy, enthusiasm and the youth movement that is already in motion. But I need to see them in action before I buy a ticket for that bandwagon. The Nuggets are my Western Conference surprise team. The addition of Paul Millsap changes things dramatically for a team that I thought was on the cusp last season. He and Nikola Jokic could be a major problem for opposing teams on a nightly basis. Add a solid supporting cast and you have the makings of a nightmare squad to deal with for a higher seed in the first round of the playoffs. It pains me, by the way, to look at my list and realize Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and the New Orleans Pelicans didn't make the cut......»»

Category: sportsSource: abscbn abscbnOct 19th, 2017

BLOGTABLE: Bigger loss - Cousins or Roberson?

NBA.com blogtable Fast-forward to the postseason. Which absence will weigh more heavily: The Thunder without Andre Roberson, or the Pelicans without DeMarcus Cousins? * * * David Aldridge: Oh, Pels without Boogie, no question. He and Anthony Davis were so good together, and he took so much pressure off of AD by playing center. If New Orleans does finish off the deal for Mirotic, that helps some, but the Pelicans are still diminished greatly without Cousins. Roberson being out impacts OKC defensively, no doubt. His presence allows Russell Westbrook and Paul George to be so much more aggressive defensively and on the weak side. But the Thunder can still win at a high clip without him. New Orleans can’t without Cousins. Steve Aschburner: The Thunder will miss their guy more. I’m basing that on their loftier ambitions and upside, pre-Roberson injury, than the Pelicans had with Cousins. New Orleans has wanted to reach the playoffs and, with their All-Star bigs, mess with top seeds Golden State or Houston in a contrast of styles. But Oklahoma City has wanted to go after the Warriors or Rockets for real and seemed to be coalescing into a group that maybe, perhaps, might have pulled off a spring special. Losing their defensive catalyst hurts mightily, by all the numbers and by any eye test. Now Paul George most notably has to handle a bigger defensive load and there’s not enough manpower there, I fear, to counter the West’s big-gun firepower. Trey Kerby: It’s impossible to say now if the Pelicans would have been able to pull a first-round upset against any of the teams they might face in the playoffs, but New Orleans would have no doubt been a trendy upset pick when postseason prediction time comes. But without Boogie, not so much. He is too important to the Pelicans as a creator (second on the Pelicans in assists per game) and a shooter (leading the Pelicans in 3s made per game) to paper over his loss, not to mention his more standard huge guy contributions as the best big man in the game. Losing your starting center is bad, but it’s even worse when he’s also one of your best perimeter players. Tas Melas: I’m not sure the Pelicans get there so I’ll pick OKC. Paul George now has to guard the other team’s best offensive player and shed the habit of jumping passing lanes for steals. More onus on 'Melo defensively. 'Melo might even play some three if Patrick Patterson gets minutes. Billy Donovan has to settle on a new rotation which will always score, but, added defensive responsibilities will hurt that end, too. Shaun Powell: Well, I'm not convinced the Pelicans will definitely make the postseason without DeMarcus Cousins. But I'll play along: Provided they do, then Andre Roberson's absence will hurt OKC more. That's because, even with Cousins, the Pelicans' playoff run was destined to be a short one, given that they would likely see Golden State or Houston in the first round. Meanwhile, OKC was playing its best ball when Roberson got hurt and looked to rise as high as No. 3 in the standings (and still might). Projection: His absence will cost them in the second round when they'll need defense. John Schuhmann: Can I fast-forward to next week to see if either team makes a trade? It's hard to see the Pels winning a playoff series with or without Cousins. But if the ninth-place Clippers didn't just trade their best player, I might have picked New Orleans to miss the playoffs after the Cousins injury, so in that regard, it weighs heavily. (The Jazz have just beat two of the best teams in the league and have an easier schedule than New Orleans going forward, but it's tough to see Utah making up a five-game deficit.) Given their talent, Oklahoma City remains dangerous, though Roberson's value shouldn't be understated. Not only were their defensive numbers much better with Roberson on the floor, but no offense has depended more on points off turnovers and second chance points more than that of the Thunder, and Roberson's absence affects both of those numbers too. If OKC doesn't replace Roberson at the deadline, it's much tougher to pick them to beat one of the top four teams in the West than it would be if he was healthy. Sekou Smith: In the postseason, provided both teams make it there, the absence of DeMarcus Cousins looms much larger. The Pelicans were so dependent on Cousins and what he brings as a scorer, rebounder and playmaker that his absence could very well cost them a spot in the Western Conference playoff chase. As critical as Roberson is to the Thunder's defensive bottom line, the blow of not having him in a postseason series is offset by a player, in Paul George, who is more than capable of picking up the slack as your main perimeter defender. There is no one on the roster or in the city of New Orleans capable of doing what DeMarcus Cousins did for Alvin Gentry's crew......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsFeb 1st, 2018

BLOGTABLE: What are you looking forward to in 2018?

NBA.com blogtable What one thing are you most eager to see in 2018? * * * Steve Aschburner: More competitive playoff series than we got a year ago and, most of all, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers really being pushed to the wall in at least one round each. I think last year’s hunger for The Rubber-Match Finals made us accept without too much grumbling the relative breezes both Golden State and Cleveland had through the April and May portions of the postseason. But seeing some new blood, however unlikely, would be fine, maybe even welcome, this time around. That requires some fine team on either side -- Toronto, Washington, Boston out East, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City to the West -- mustering a serious challenge. And, allowing for an injury or suspension or whatever, maybe pulling off something more notable than that. We can always find context and storylines for The Finals, if we get a bit of freshness dialed in. Shaun Powell: I'm eager to see the playoffs and if someone can come along and disrupt another Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers matchup in June. Because nobody is creating much doubt as of yet. The team that's coming the closest is the Houston Rockets but they have three people who have underperformed in the playoffs: Mike D'Antoni, Chris Paul and James Harden. There's always the San Antonio Spurs, yet they seem a star shy. And in the East, the Boston Celtics of 2019 stand a better chance and the rest ... meh. Which means, I'm most eager to see Warriors-Cavs in June. John Schuhmann: I want to see what will happen with the Thunder, both on and off the floor. Can they continue to make progress offensively and if they do, will that encourage Sam Presti to keep the group together through the trade deadline? Or will the threat of Paul George leaving in free agency (and the long odds at beating the Warriors) force Presti to see what he can get for George by Feb. 8? Is it a guarantee that Carmelo Anthony will decline his early termination option this summer and stay under contract for another year? Do other stars want to play with Russell Westbrook? Sekou Smith: As much fun as the trade deadline can be in a given year, I have to admit that the free agent summer has me daydreaming about the chaos that a couple of moves could cause. Of course, LeBron James could turn the basketball world upside down if he were to decide to take his talents elsewhere (I'm not suggesting he should or I even think he will, I'm only thinking about the seismic activity it would cause). What happens with Paul George is also another potential game-changer for several teams around the league. That said, it's the great unknown that most intrigues me about 2018. None of us saw the Kyrie Irving trade request coming or the Chris Paul-to-Houston move coming. Things like the Draft and trade deadline offer a season of speculation that usually centers on name players we know will be involved in the process. It's the moves we don't see coming, the things we cannot forecast, that produce the best drama......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 4th, 2018

BLOGTABLE: Which West teams will make the playoffs in 17-18?

NBA.com blogtable Who are your picks for the eight teams that will make the playoffs in the West? +++ Steve Aschburner: Golden State Warriors Houston Rockets Oklahoma City Thunder San Antonio Spurs Portland Trail Blazers Minnesota Timberwolves Denver Nuggets Utah Jazz Nope, I still can’t see anyone catching or toppling the Warriors, though the arms race out West has made the Rockets and the Thunder must-see TV, and the bottom four spots have six teams legitimately trying to squeeze in. Shaun Powell: Golden State Warriors Oklahoma City Thunder Houston Rockets San Antonio Spurs Minnesota Timberwolves Portland Trail Blazers Denver Nuggets LA Clippers The weird teams are the Clippers and Grizzlies. Both are in transition and appear weaker than the last five years when they were playoff fixtures. They'll flip a coin for the eighth spot. The real intrigue lies with the Spurs and whether they're still a top-three team in the West, especially after a flat and inactive off-season while others fortified themselves. John Schuhmann: Tier 1: Golden State Warriors Tier 2: Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs Seeds 5-8: Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz over LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans. The Clips, Grizzlies and Pelicans have a chance, but it's hard, at this point, to believe in LA's durability (Danilo Gallinari is already hurt), Memphis' talent beyond Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, and New Orleans' offense on the perimeter. Sekou Smith: Golden State Warriors San Antonio Spurs Houston Rockets Oklahoma City Thunder Portland Trail Blazers Minnesota Timberwolves Denver Nuggets LA Clippers The mighty Warriors continue their dominance in a retooled Western Conference with San Antonio, Houston, Oklahoma City, Portland, Minnesota, Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers filling out the playoff field. With apologies to LaVar Ball, I don't see the Los Angeles Lakers having the tools to make good on that playoff prediction. There is too much ground to make up and not enough playoff-ready players in the fold. I love the energy, enthusiasm and the youth movement that is already in motion. But I need to see them in action before I buy a ticket for that bandwagon. The Nuggets are my Western Conference surprise team. The addition of Paul Millsap changes things dramatically for a team that I thought was on the cusp last season. He and Nikola Jokic could be a major problem for opposing teams on a nightly basis. Add a solid supporting cast and you have the makings of a nightmare squad to deal with for a higher seed in the first round of the playoffs. It pains me, by the way, to look at my list and realize Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and the New Orleans Pelicans didn't make the cut......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 19th, 2017

No surprise, the West title still runs through the Warriors

By Tim Reynolds, Associated Press Golden State coach Steve Kerr is a happy man these days. He’s got a new contract. He’s got his son Nick, who was helping out in San Antonio, working in the Warriors’ video room now. He’s leading a team that has won three of the last four NBA championships and is the overwhelming favorite to win it again this season. Staying happy will be the challenge for Kerr and the Warriors this season, when Western Conference rivals resume their attempts to take down the champs. “Our place in the history of the league is pretty secure,” Kerr said. “I don’t think our guys should feel a ton of pressure. I think they should feel the importance of trying to do it again, because this may be the last time we have this current iteration of the Warriors, just given all the free agents and the money crunch and everything else.” LeBron James took his talents to Los Angeles, signing with the Lakers and moving out of the East for the first time in his career. Houston had the NBA’s best regular-season record a year ago and has reigning MVP James Harden. Utah has a budding superstar in Donovan Mitchell, and certainly got the league’s attention with its playoff run last season. But in the West, until further notice, it’s still the Warriors and then everybody else. “It’s a marathon,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “There’s a lot of time between now and April and May and June, but if we go about it the right way to start the season, it can feed on itself in terms of the expectation we have night in, night out.” A look at the West, in predicted order of finish: PLAYOFF BOUND 1. GOLDEN STATE — Warriors aiming for their third consecutive NBA championship, something only the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls franchises have done. 2. UTAH — Donovan Mitchell is a legitimate star, coach Quin Snyder has been underrated for far too long, and the Jazz went 29-6 to finish last season. 3. HOUSTON — The Rockets have the MVP in James Harden, a leader in Chris Paul and added Carmelo Anthony, but expecting another 67-15 season is a lot. 4. L.A. LAKERS — LeBron James is still the best player in the game and shows no signs of slowing down, so doubting his chances seems less than brilliant. 5. OKLAHOMA CITY — This is a sign of how loaded the West remains: The Thunder are really good, and that won’t assure them home-court for Round 1. 6. DENVER — Losing Game 82 last season to Minnesota and missing the playoffs because of that outcome should serve as a massive motivator for Denver. 7. NEW ORLEANS — DeMarcus Cousins is gone, Rajon Rondo is gone, but Anthony Davis is still there and that should be enough for a Pelicans playoff run. 8. SAN ANTONIO — Dejounte Murray’s ACL tear is a disaster, but any team with LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Gregg Popovich still has a lot. IN THE MIX 9. PORTLAND — The West’s No. 3 seed last season, the Blazers were only three games ahead of No. 9 and will face a serious battle in a very loaded West. 10. DALLAS — Luka Doncic is NBA-ready, DeAndre Jordan will make the Mavs better and Dirk Nowitzki deserves to see his franchise trending up again. 11. L.A. CLIPPERS — A possible transitional year for the Clippers, who should be major players in free agency next summer and could add a lottery pick. FACING LONG ODDS 12. MINNESOTA — The Jimmy Butler debacle shows that some big changes in direction are probably going to happen in Minnesota, and sooner than later. 13. PHOENIX — Devin Booker got his max deal and the Suns got No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, but firing GM Ryan McDonough so close to the season was odd. 14. MEMPHIS — Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are savvy vets, but they are going to need a lot of help if Memphis is going to seriously improve this season. 15. SACRAMENTO — Kings had a league-high 44 games last season where they didn’t score 100 points, and a very young team might not change that much. WHAT TO KNOW L.A. BRON: If he has even an average-for-him season, new Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James will rise to No. 4 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list this season. He’s currently No. 7, with No. 6 Dirk Nowitzki, No. 5 Wilt Chamberlain and No. 4 Michael Jordan well within reach. Add 2,000 or so points to James’ total of 31,038, and only No. 3 Kobe Bryant, No. 2 Karl Malone and No. 1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — all former Lakers — would still be ahead of him. STEPH RISING: Speaking of rising up career charts, Golden State’s Stephen Curry could easily be No. 3 on the all-time list for 3-pointers made by the end of this season. Curry has 2,129 3s in 625 career games, a rate of 3.4 made per game. The six players ahead of him — Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Jason Terry, Kyle Korver, Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce — averaged 1.8 made 3s per game. BIG NUMBERS: The only players in the last 30 seasons to average 30 points and eight assists were Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2016-17 and Houston’s James Harden last season. Probably not coincidentally, Westbrook and Harden won MVP awards for those seasons. There are seven active players with at least one MVP award in the NBA right now, and all seven play in the West. GREAT COACHES: San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich enters the season with 1,197 wins, fifth-most in NBA history — 13 behind Pat Riley and 24 behind Jerry Sloan. Meanwhile, Golden State’s Steve Kerr comes into the year with the highest winning percentages during both the regular season (265-63, .808) and the postseason (63-20, .759) in NBA history. Here’s how far ahead Kerr is on the NBA’s all-time regular season winning percentage list: If the Warriors go 24-58 this season, which seems less than likely, he would still be above Phil Jackson for the No. 1 spot. VERSUS EAST: The West beat the East for the ninth consecutive season in head-to-head matchups, winning nearly 53 percent of the cross-conference matchups in the regular season (and 100 percent of them in the NBA Finals). Over the last nine seasons, West teams have beaten East teams nearly 57 percent of the time......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsOct 11th, 2018

Montreal making a (big) move as MLS season winds down

By ANNE M. PETERSON, AP Sports Writer   The North is making noise in the East. And no, it's not Toronto FC. The Montreal Impact are unexpectedly in the MLS playoff picture after a steady climb up the standings. The Impact plummeted to second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference in the 12th week of the season. But they currently sit in sixth — and just above the line for postseason contention. They're five points in front of seventh-place D.C. United, their opponent on Saturday at Audi Field. "I think the confidence in the guys is only growing, and we're really coming together over what we know we're capable of," said forward Quincy Amarikwa, who was acquired in August. After failing to make the playoffs last season — a year after reaching the Eastern Conference finals — the Impact dismissed coach Mauro Biello. Additionally, four players retired, including fan favorite Patrice Bernier and Andres Romero. Laurent Ciman was traded to LAFC. Former Aston Villa manager Remi Garde was hired as head coach and first team director of player personnel to restart the club. The Impact also added central midfielder Saphir Taider, who played for three seasons with Bologna. The results came slowly and the Impact lost 11 of their first 15 games. The team was overly dependent on veteran midfielder Ignacio Piatti. The turnaround has included eight wins and four draws in the last 15 matches, including last week's 1-1 draw against NYCFC that denied New York City a chance to clinch a spot in the playoffs. The team started September with a decisive 3-0 victory at home over the Red Bulls followed by a 4-1 road victory over the Philadelphia Union. Garde, however, spent last week warning that Montreal should not be complacent. "Right now we're getting a lot of praise. Probably too much. Yes, the team has improved a lot this year," Garde said. "But in this league, praise is useless when a couple of bad results can change everything." The Impact have four matches left — two home and two away — to secure their postseason spot. For comparison's sake, Toronto FC won the MLS Cup last season and currently sit in ninth place in the East, out of the current playoff picture. The Vancouver Whitecaps are in the eighth spot in the West, and on Tuesday dismissed coach Carl Robinson.   GAME OF THE WEEK: Kind of a no-brainer, but the top two teams in the East, Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls, meet Sunday at Red Bull Arena. An Atlanta victory would cement the Union's spot in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League. And it's always fun to watch Josef Martinez, who already broken the league's single-season goal record and now has 30 and counting. Atlanta is also closing in on the single-season points record. With 63 points and four games to go, the United are within reach of Toronto FC's record of 69 set last season. The Red Bulls won't have top goal-scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips because of yellow card accumulation.   PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Philadelphia Union forward Jay Simpson earned Player of the Week honors after scoring both goals in Philadelphia's 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City last Sunday. It was Simpson's first start of the season.   ROBINSON OUT: The Whitecaps surprised many with the dismissal of coach Robinson before the season had wrapped up. Vancouver is outside playoff contention with five games left. The move came Tuesday following Sunday's 2-1 loss at home to FC Dallas. The Whitecaps players were told before practice. Kendall Waston told reporters afterward he was unhappy with the decision. "I was thinking five games to go, if it was the right moment. Personally, I don't think it was the right moment, but I'm not in charge of the club. I'm just a player, I'm just an employee," the team captain said. "I don't agree, but it's my personal opinion." Forward Kei Kamara called the decision shocking, adding that players should have won games. "We should feel responsible as players because they gave us the chance to prove them right, day in and day out, and in games," Kamara said. Craig Dalrymple, the technical director of the Whitecaps FC Academy, will serve as interim coach......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsSep 27th, 2018

BLOGTABLE: Team with the biggest turnaround in 2018-19 will be?

NBA.com blogtable Which team do you predict will have the biggest turnaround in 2018-19? * * * David Aldridge: Memphis. The Grizzlies had a great offseason (as I detailed in my 1-30 summer rankings) and they could easily double their 22 wins from last season. Mike Conley, Jr.'s return is most important of course, but the infusion of both talent and toughness from both the Draft and free agency/trades will revitalize the team just as much. The Grizz no longer will be held hostage by Chandler Parsons' status on a given night; they should be able to go eight deep with ease going forward whether or not he can contribute. Tas Melas: The Grizzlies. They had a very solid under-the-radar offseason, adding Kyle Anderson, Garrett Temple, and Jaren Jackson Jr. But more importantly, they are getting back two of the best at their positions: Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Yes, Gasol was there last season, but he was not himself with all the “T-word” that was going on. And Conley is one of the best guards in the game. The Grizz were 5-2 to start 2017-18 with Conley. Are you seriously bringing up the Grizzlies’ record after seven games?! I gotta remind people of how good their core is after a 22-win season. Before whatever last year was, Memphis made the playoffs seven straight seasons. Shaun Powell: The Memphis Grizzlies, by a hair over the Lakers. How can they not distance themselves from a 22-win season, especially with a healthy Mike Conley and a much better performance from Marc Gasol? And that doesn't mean the Grizzlies will make the playoffs, so let's keep it in the right context. But a leap of 15 or 17 wins sounds reasonable for a team that was a mess a year ago without Conley. John Schuhmann: LeBron James' last two moves produced win increases of 11 games with Miami in 2010-11 and 20 games with Cleveland in 2014-15, but those teams (were in the East and) added additional All-Stars (Chris Bosh and Kevin Love) who fit better with James than any of the other players that the Lakers added this summer. Still, L.A. has a young core that should be improved and is the only team that looks 10 wins better than it was last season. Memphis, with a healthy Mike Conley and the addition of some vets that will defend, has a chance. Sekou Smith: The Lakers.No one signals a shift in a team's fortunes the way LeBron James does. And adding him to the mix in Lakerland means the bottom line in L.A. is at least a double-digit improvement in the win column, if we're going by LeBron's track record when he relocates. The scrutiny on these Lakers should be epic, rivaling the traveling circus that was the Miami Heat in the first year of the "Heatles" (LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) era. Think about the mix of youngsters and veterans the Lakers have put together and tell me they wouldn't make up the cast of the best reality show of all time. The drama should be non-stop and as robust as we've seen in any training camp in years. But if things hold true to the way LeBron has navigated both of his previous relocations, there's at least a 10-game improvement in the win column on the way as well......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsAug 11th, 2018

DA s 2018 NBA Offseason Rankings: The Bottom 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 Bottom 10 * * * 21. DETROIT PISTONS 2017-18 RECORD: 39-43; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach Dwane Casey; New executive Ed Stefanski; G Bruce Brown (No. 42 pick, 2018 Draft); G Jose Calderon (one year, $2.3 million); C Zaza Pachulia (one year, $2.3 million); G/F Glenn Robinson III (two years, $8.3 million); G Khyri Thomas (No. 38 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: Former coach Stan Van Gundy; G Dwight Buycks (waived); F/C Eric Moreland (waived); F Anthony Tolliver (signed with Wolves) RETAINED: None THE KEY MAN: F Blake Griffin. And he will be for some time. The Pistons need him to be his former All-Star self again, able to take slower defender to the basket, able to stretch the floor if he plays the five in small-ball lineups. They need him to be a playmaker, to get Reggie Jackson more looks off the ball and Andre Drummond some high-low lobs at the rim. They need him to sell tickets at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit’s revitalized downtown -- a building that seems to be more for the NHL’s Red Wings than the NBA’s Pistons. And they need Griffin to be an anchor that draws players to the Motor City during the life of his extension. THE SKINNY: Owner Tom Gores agonized over firing Van Gundy, but he finally did so, and was fortunate that Casey was available and willing to step right back into the fray after being cashiered in Toronto. Casey will be quite in his element building a defense around Drummond, but, like Van Gundy, Casey will need Jackson to stay healthy; he’s missed a combined 67 games the last two seasons. Detroit did well for not having a first-round pick to come out of the Draft with two solid guard prospects deep in the second in Thomas and Brown. However, the new coaching staff will have to get more out of the team’s last three first-rounders: Stanley Johnson (2015), Henry Ellenson (2016) and Luke Kennard (2017). 22. BOSTON CELTICS 2017-18 RECORD: 55-27; lost in Eastern Conference finals ADDED: G Brad Wanamaker (one year, $838,000); C Robert Williams (No. 27 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G Shane Larkin (signed to play in Turkey); F Abdel Nader (traded to Thunder) RETAINED: C Aron Baynes (two years, $10.6 million); F Jabari Bird (two years, $3 million), G Marcus Smart (four years, $52 million) THE KEY MAN: F Gordon Hayward. All indications are he’s well on his way back from that horrific injury he suffered on opening night last season. He can do so many great things in coach Brad Stevens’ system, and if he’s 100 percent by the playoffs, Boston may well be the one team that can match up, player for player, with Golden State in a Finals meeting. (Remember this when people inevitably say I ranked the Celtics 23rd in offseason moves.) THE SKINNY: Boston got its biggest work done after Smart couldn’t loosen up an offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings or Dallas Mavericks, and eventually worked out a deal for less than he sought to return. Smart’s deal puts Boston in the tax for the foreseeable future, but the Celtics knew that was the next step in keeping a Finals-capable core group together. With Kyrie Irving and Hayward expected back on line Stevens can throw so many different lineups out there, all committed to stifling opponent movement with long, switching defenders led by Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Williams was worth an end of the first flier, though he didn’t get off to a great start. If he gets a good wake-up alarm on his phone, he has a chance to be the Celtics’ center of the future. 23. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS 2017-18 RECORD: 52-30; lost in Eastern Conference semifinals ADDED: F Wilson Chandler (acquired from Nuggets); F/C Mike Muscala (acquired from Hawks); G Zhaire Smith (No. 16 pick, 2018 Draft); G Landry Shamet (No. 26 pick, 2018 Draft); G Shake Milton (No. 54 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: Former GM Bryan Colangelo (resigned); F Justin Anderson (traded to Hawks); G Marco Belinelli (signed with Spurs); F/C Richaun Holmes (traded to Suns); F Ersan Ilyasova (signed with Bucks); G/F Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (traded to Thunder) RETAINED: C/F Amir Johnson (one year, $1.5 million); G T.J. McConnell (picked up team option); G J.J. Redick (one year, $12.2 million) THE KEY MAN: G Markelle Fultz. His rookie year laid waste by a combination of injury and the yips -- which the Sixers have finally copted to -- Fultz is reportedly rebuilding his shot successfully under the learned eye of development coach Drew Hansen. If that carries over to the fall, Fultz will get a true opportunity (he had some cameos late in his rookie season) to show a skeptical Philly fan base he was worth the top pick in 2017, and worth Philly trading up to get him. He definitely could fill a need with the 76ers for a second playmaker to go with and occasionally in place of reigning Kia Rookie of the Year winner Ben Simmons. But if Fultz has another setback, physically or otherwise, it will be hard for him to stick much longer in Philly -- not a town known for patient reflection with regard to its sports teams. THE SKINNY: Coach Brett Brown was quite clear when he said the Sixers were hunting for a superstar this summer with the cap space they’d assiduously cleared the last couple of years. But the summer has come and gone and there’s no LeBron, no Kawhi, no trade, at least not yet, for Jimmy Butler or anyone else at that level. Belinelli and Ilyasova both played huge roles for Philly in the playoffs; maybe Fultz (see above) takes on some of that role, and Chandler will help. But this doesn’t feel like a successful offseason for one of the real risers in the East. 24. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS 2017-18 RECORD: 49-33; lost in first round ADDED: G Seth Curry (one year, $2.7 million); G Nik Stauskas (one year, $1.6 million); G Anfernee Simons (No. 24 pick, 2018 Draft); G Gary Trent Jr. (No. 37 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G/F Pat Connaughton (signed with Bucks); F/C Ed Davis (signed with Nets); G Shabazz Napier (signed with Nets); C Georgios Papagiannis (waived) RETAINED: C Jusuf Nurkic (four years, $48 million) THE KEY MAN: Assistant coaches David Vanterpool, Nate Tibbets, Dale Osbourne, Jim Moran, John McCullough and Jonathan Yim. With the Blazers mostly landlocked the next two seasons -- they’re currently above the projected luxury tax line both for next season and 2019-20 -- there aren’t likely going to be many significant roster changes for a while. And in the West, especially, standing pat is often falling behind. It will thus fall to Portland’s excellent staff behind coach Terry Stotts to maximize the production of the current group. They can point with some pride to success stories like Will Barton and Allen Crabbe, now in Denver and Brooklyn, respectively, along with Maurice Harkless and Al-Faroqu Aminu. For Portland to take another step up, they’ll have to coach up someone like 2017 first-rounder Zach Collins or this year’s first-rounder, Simons. They must have them exceed expectations to become a third legit star behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. THE SKINNY: Lillard insists the rumblings heard in some quarters that he’s unhappy in Portland aren’t true, and the franchise better hope he’s being honest. The decisions the Blazers made in 2016 continue to lock them in place; if they catch a favorable first-round matchup (a grumbling Rockets team in 2014; an injury-strafed Clippers squad in 2016), they can advance a round. But last year’s 4-0 sweep by the New Orleans Pelicans had to give everyone pause. How does Portland respond mentally? Re-upping Big Nurk in the middle on a very reasonable deal -- $12 million for a starting center was the going rate five years ago, when the Wolves gave Nikola Pekovic a five-year, $60 million contract -- was necessary. But losing Davis, a locker room and fan favorite for superior work ethic, will hurt, even though Collins should sop up a lot of those minutes. 25. ORLANDO MAGIC 2017-18 RECORD: 25-57; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach Steve Clifford; C Mohamed Bamba (No. 6 pick, 2018 Draft); G Isaiah Briscoe (three years, $3.9 million); F Melvin Frazier (No. 35 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jerian Grant (acquired from Bulls); F Justin Jackson (No. 43 pick, 2018 Draft); F Jarrell Martin (acquired from Grizzlies); C Timofey Mozgov (acquired from Hornets) LOST: C Bismack Biyombo (traded to Hornets); G Mario Hezonja (signed with Knicks); C Dakari Johnson (traded to Grizzlies); G Shelvin Mack (waived); G Rodney Purvis (traded to Thunder) RETAINED: F Aaron Gordon (four years, $82 million) THE KEY MAN: G D.J. Augustin. A vet’s vet, he’s played 10 years in the league and started 226 games for eight teams, including 56 over the last two for the Magic. He’ll enter this season as the unquestioned starter at the point with Elfrid Payton in New Orleans and Orlando still looking to solve its long-term search for a point guard. It’s Augustin’s turn. THE SKINNY: At some point, Orlando’s yearly gambles on size and potential will pay off. Bamba could be the goods; he’s got a demeanor and toughness that should keep him together while he learns the craft at the pro level. But -- again -- it will take some time for Bamba, like 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Isaac, and Gordon, in whom Orlando invested a sizeable sum in July, to flourish. And Magic fans rightly can ask exactly how long they’re to remain patient. Clifford is supposed to improve the defense, but so was Frank Vogel … and so was Scott Skiles … and so was Jacque Vaughn. 26. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS 2017-18 RECORD: 48-34; lost in Western Conference semifinals ADDED: G Tony Carr (No. 51 pick, 2018 Draft); G Elfrid Payton (one year, $3 million); F Julius Randle (two years, $17 million) LOST: C DeMarcus Cousins (signed with Warriors); G Rajon Rondo (signed with Lakers) RETAINED: G Ian Clark (one year, $1.7 million); F Nikola Mirotic (picked up player option) THE KEY MAN: Owner Gayle Benson. Mrs. Benson took control of the team after the death of her husband, Tom, last March. She displayed great grace in the days and weeks after Tom Benson’s death, making it clear at the time she had no interest in selling the team and would continue to make outlays to keep the team competitive. The Pels didn’t blink last summer giving Jrue Holiday $126 million, and that will have to remain the case going forward if New Orleans is to repeat its surprising run to the Western Conference semifinals last spring. THE SKINNY: Can’t lose your starting point guard and your starting All-Star center in one offseason -- no matter what the circumstances -- and come out of it with high offseason marks. And especially when Rondo seemed like the perfect fit for the team. Mirotic mentioned during the Warriors series how good Rondo was at picking him up and connecting him quickly with the team after he was traded to New Orleans from Chicago. And, yes, coach Alvin Gentry mentioned he may have exchanged cusses with Rondo every now and again, too. Life in RondoWorld. The path forward is narrower, but not impassible; Randle can be tantalizing at times, maddening at others, but he could plug-and-play at the four, and he can take some of the playmaking burden off of Holiday. But big minutes on the ball for Holiday again is not what New Orleans had in mind. Payton is going to have to perform immediately. And losing “Boogie” Cousins is a big minus. It’s not what the Pelicans gave up to get him. It’s the fit and flow he had with Anthony Davis before the injury, and what the promise of a return this season could have meant toward carrying the momentum of last year forward. 27. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES 2017-18 RECORD: 47-35; lost in first round ADDED: F Anthony Tolliver (one year, $5.7 million); G Josh Okogie (No. 20 pick, 2018 Draft); F Keita Bates-Diop (No. 48 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: C Cole Aldrich (waived); F Nemanja Bjelica (signed with Kings) RETAINED: G Derrick Rose (one year, $1.5 million) THE KEY MAN: Vikings QB Kirk Cousins. He signed for big, big money by NFL standards (three years, $84 million), and the Vikings have Super Bowl aspirations. So all the light will be on the Vikes most of the fall and winter in Minneapolis, keeping it off of the still-young Wolves, who won’t be able to sneak up on anyone after breaking their long postseason drought. THE SKINNY: The Wolves should be positioned to build on their playoff run, especially if Butler can get through a full season healthy and Karl-Anthony Towns adds consistency to his prodigious talents. But they didn’t do much in the offseason, and the team that they beat out on the last day of the regular season, Denver, looks to be much improved. Tolliver should help the Wolves’ depth; they essentially traded him for Bjelica, and he shot slightly better on 3-poiners last season than Belly. Plus, they don’t come better as a guy than Tolliver and he can help Minnesota in the locker room. The issue of Butler’s contract isn’t going away; there will be a reckoning at some point, and he’ll have a lot more options next summer than free agents had this summer. Until then, coach Tom Thibodeau has pretty much the same team that he has to cajole better defense out of next season (22nd in Defensive Rating; 17th in points allowed). 28. CHARLOTTE HORNETS 2017-18 RECORD: 36-46; missed playoffs ADDED: Coach James Borrego; GM Mitch Kupchack; C Bismack Biyombo (acquired from Magic); F Miles Bridges (No. 12 pick, 2018 Draft); G Devonte' Graham (No. 34 pick, 2018 Draft); F Arnoldas Kulboka (No. 55 pick, 2018 Draft); ; G Tony Parker (two years, $10.2 milliion) LOST: G Michael Carter-Williams (signed with Rockets); C Dwight Howard (traded to Nets); C Timofey Mozgov (traded to Magic); G Julyan Stone (traded to Bulls) RETAINED: None THE KEY MAN: C Cody Zeller. It’s a guess -- Borrego could opt for Frank Kaminsky III -- but Zeller would seem to be the replacement at center for Dwight Howard, who wound up in Washington after the Hornets traded him to the Nets. Zeller started 58 games two years ago and was very good in screen and rolls with Kemba Walker. Zeller only played in 33 games last season because of a left knee injury; if he returns to form, the Hornets could pick up offensively and actually have a little more diversity at that end than last season. THE SKINNY: Team owner Michael Jordan cleaned house after a disappointing 2017-18, bringing another Tar Heel back home in the veteran Kupchak. Kupchak dispatched Howard and then got Mozgov’s guaranteed 2019-20 season off his books to take back Biyombo, who’d left Toronto two years ago for $72 million from the Magic and who’s got a player option for 2019-20. Well before then, the Hornets are going to have to decide what to do with Walker, who’ll be one of the top free agents available next summer if Charlotte can’t get him re-signed or extended. The Hornets were 8.8 points worse when the two-time All-Star was off the court rather than on. Nicolas Batum has to make a return to the all-around talent that enticed Charlotte to trade for him and give him a $120 million extension; he averaged just 11.6 points per game last year, his lowest in three years. Howard’s presence in the paint may have clogged things up some, but that’s no longer the case. 29. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS 2017-18 RECORD: 50-32; lost in The Finals ADDED: F Channing Frye (one year, $2.3 million); G Collin Sexton (No. 8 pick, 2018 Draft) LOST: G Jose Calderon (signed with Pistons); F Jeff Green (signed with Wizards); F LeBron James (signed with Lakers); C Kendrick Perkins (waived); F Okaro White (waived) RETAINED: F Kevin Love (contract extension) THE KEY MAN: GM Koby Altman. Altman has a blank slate now after trying to steer a championship-contending ship that had been stripped of a few propeller blades in the last 13 months. With James gone, as well as former GM David Griffin, the 35-year-old Altman has team owner Dan Gilbert’s charge to rebuild the Cavs without taking them down to the studs (as the Cavs did after James first departure in 2010). Altman’s next task after working out Kevin Love’s $130 million extension is clearing the roster of all the veterans brought in the last three years mainly because of their ability to play off of James. THE SKINNY: There weren’t any widespread jersey burnings this time in the Land. James left for L.A. with relative good will from his hometown, having delivered the championship it had waited 52 years for in 2016. Truly, the Cavs’ rebuild started the minute Kyrie Irving demanded a trade; last season seemed more rearguard action than an attack at another title. Extending Love through 2023 with no outs -- keeping him locked with rookie Sexton through the latter’s last controllable season before hitting unrestricted free agency -- gives Cleveland a base upon which to build. Cap room will follow in 2019, but next season will be difficult; Sexton has a lot of toughness and potential, but rookie point guards tend to get their lunch handed to them. 30. MIAMI HEAT 2017-18 RECORD: 44-38; lost in first round ADDED: None LOST: None RETAINED: G Wayne Ellington (one year, $6.2 million); F/G Derrick Jones Jr. THE KEY MAN: G Josh Richardson. Like many of his teammates, Richardson got an extension a couple of years ago -- four years and $42 million. Last season, he was (again) a solid two-way player for Miami -- almost 13 points per game, 84.5 percent from the line, 37.8 percent on 3-pointers. But if the Heat is going to shake out of the middle lane in which it currently seems stuck, Richardson will have to expand. Miami’s current roster makes it complicated; Pat Riley thinks Richardson’s probably more of a two, but he plays mostly three for coach Erik Spoelstra because Miami’s best lineups were small ball ones. Another offseason at P3 in California will help Richardson continue his development. THE SKINNY: No, Heat people: I don’t hate your team. But when you have no Draft picks, and you have no cap space, and thus you literally could do nothing in the offseason, and basically did nothing in the offseason, and your biggest, most newsy event was whether your 36-year-old future Hall of Fame guard will come back for one more season or play over in China … well, what am I supposed to do with that information? Rank you first? The question is, how much better is your team now than it was at the end of last season? It’s essentially the same team; other than the likes of Richardson (see above) or Justise Winslow, it’s not like there’s a great step up expected from Hassan Whiteside or Goran Dragic, is there? The Heat is not any better than last season. It isn’t any worse. It just … is. So, 30. 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

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

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

SUPER 8: Inside the Asia League s grand basketball plans for the region

MACAU --- The Summer Super 8 is just the beginning. The Asia League may only have eight teams, including two Pinoy teams, in its tournaments now with the Super 8, but the FIBA-recognized offseason competition platform for club basketball is targeting bigger and better things. All for the continued development of basketball, particularly in this part of Asia. Matt Beyer, CEO of the Asia League, noticed a couple of years back that there's pretty much no international club-to-club basketball competitions in Asia so he made some things happen. While football has tournaments like the UEFA Champions League, basketball has no such thing. There's the FIBA Champions Cup, but that includes all of Asia. What the Asia League tries to focus on is the East Asia and Southeast Asian territory, where top teams from China, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines can go after each other in high-level tournaments. "I just think there's a huge lack in international club-to-club basketball competition in Asia," Beyer said. "And if you look at China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Chinese Taipei, if you add the population of these geographies, it's over 2 billion people. So there's a lot of fans but no high level club-to-club competition. That's the reason this was created," he added. For Beyer, Macau seems to be the perfect setting to stage such tournaments and for the Summer Super 8, he's looking at it as something that could become Asia's version of the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League. Asia League has eight teams competing for the Super 8 this year with two teams each from China, Korea, and the Philippines plus one each from Japan and Taipei. Next year, the Super 8 may no longer be as the plan is to have 16 teams see action. "What we're aiming for is to become the East Asian version of the Las Vegas summer league," Beyer said. "Our July events, we will expand the scale of the teams. The eight teams this year, I wanna have 16 next year and that means more PBA teams if that's logistically possible," he added. Speaking of the PBA, the Asia League is aggressive is trying to work with getting Filipino teams to its events. Why? Pinoy teams attract crowds and they generally perform well with these kind of tournaments. For the ongoing Super 8, both NLEX and Blackwater ended up with identical 2-1 records. The Road Warriors are in the semifinals and the Elite missed the playoffs by one basket and ended up with an inferior quotient. And despite group play being played on weekdays, a decent Filipino crowd have showed up to watch the action at the East Asian Games Dome. "We started the dialogue with the PBA and Commissioner Willie (Marcial)," Beyer said. "We're trying to coordinate being able to make things work with the schedule and have teams released for the tournaments or just fit into the windows where they're available. I think we can work it out long term and I think this is good for the PBA and to the teams to play against different types of teams for a technical perspective and it should help to get the news out about PBA teams in other markets," he added. Aside from the Super 8 this year, the Asia League also has the Terrific 12 coming up in September. More than the number of teams involved, that tournament should be fiercer with club teams being allowed to have imports. Beyer ideally wants to have the PBA participate in that as well but with the Governors' Cup ongoing at that time, it might be difficult at least for this year. Still, the Asia League wants Pinoy teams, but not just any Pinoy teams. That's why Alab Pilipinas has been in consideration to compete in September though it's yet to be seen if Jimmy Alapag's crew can join. Ultimately, Beyer's goal is to have the Asia League be a hub for teams across Asia to compete with one another in such a way that their own mother leagues aren't being disrupted. The Asia League wants its July event to be the premier offseason joust. "The ideal situation that I look at is the July event be the summer league and expand it to 32 teams in three years. And that becomes the premier offseason forum just like the Las Vegas summer league is in the West," Beyers said. "September, we can't expand it above 12, that might be a little too big but let's see how it goes. That's gonna be the biggest preseason party for teams. We're gonna have the best rosters, tons of media, and broadcast on over 30 platforms all over the world," he added. That seems grand enough for the Asia League but there's more. Soon enough, full integration is going to be Beyer's target. "What we want starting the 2019-2020 season is to have integration into the seasons. What I look at is a pilot project where we take teams that are on the region and put them into two small groups that play home and way through the season, maybe one game per month to start," Beyer said. "And then we do a Final Four event, probably here in Macau to start. And then maybe that Final Four event can be like Euroleague Final Four before it moves around the region at an annual basis. That would be what I like to see. That would require a deep partnership with FIBA and the associations like the PBA," he added. Ultimately, the Asia League would like to stay true its mission to raise the standard of basketball in the region through greater collaboration with different leagues. It helps that for the current Super 8, teams are in it to win it and are taking things seriously. There should be more to come. "This isn't a one off tournament. We want to have a series of events. FIBA's mandate is a little different than ours but I think the goal is the same, we want to develop basketball and make the level of competition better in the region," Beyers said.   --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @paullintag8.....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 21st, 2018

Golden State Warriors not just good, they re lucky too

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com LAS VEGAS -- In this town, fates and fortunes can turn drastically any day, hour or minute. A flip of the card, pull of the switch or roll of the dice can make or break souls. Which brings us to NBA Summer League, the Golden State Warriors and the field. The league is holding its annual gathering of executives, coaches and player hopefuls here, and 29 of the 30 NBA teams are wondering about their chances this upcoming season and why the Warriors are the Chosen Ones. Meanwhile, the Warriors, winners of three of the last four championships, are no doubt doing some head-scratching about how a key injury is once again helping their cause and making them stronger. This is about luck, then, and why those chasing the Warriors can’t seem to get a break, and how the Warriors managed to make themselves both good and lucky. There is considerable buzz among the basketball throng in Vegas regarding the Warriors, who are less than a month removed from a convincing sweep of LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals and how they won twice this summer: championship and then free agency. The collective moan from the rest of the NBA seems to say: What the hell? DeMarcus Cousins agreed to a one-year deal with the Warriors for the NBA equivalent of loose change in a sofa: $5.3 million. Just like that, the Warriors added a dominant and versatile center, maybe the best in the game, which made coach Steve Kerr wisecrack about how the Warriors “needed another All-Star.” This was made possible because of a quirky circumstance that caused Cousins a lot of pain, which translated into plenty of gain for Golden State. When Cousins tore his Achilles last spring with the Pelicans, his market value in free agency fell to the floor right along with him. Suddenly, the rest of the league, including the Pelicans, became wary about investing heavily in a hulking center who most certainly would need most of the 2018-19 season to rehab, without any guarantee Cousins would return to form once medically cleared to play. Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.6 blocks last season, perhaps the best of his career. He turns 28 in late August. Had he avoided injury, he would’ve been far too expensive for the Warriors to afford. They’re well over the luxury tax and are limited to exceptions, which allow them to sign players but only on the cheap. A healthy Cousins was destined to command in excess of $20 million a season, more had he stayed with the Pelicans. “If he’s healthy, he’s the best player at his position in the league,” said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry. Well, when free agency opened, Cousins’ phone didn’t ring, and you probably know the story by now: He personally called the Warriors and signed up on the spot. His reasoning: If my only choice in this league is a short-term deal, might as well be with the team in the midst of a dynasty. The Warriors understandably were shocked, but why would they be? This isn’t the first time an injury went their way. Steph Curry’s chronic ankle sprains once threatened his career. He underwent surgery in the summer of 2011 and played only 26 games the next season. At that time, Curry was a good player, but far from the superstar who’d win a pair of MVPs and destroy three-point shooting records. So the Warriors were understandably worried, especially once Curry was due a contract extension. The two sides made a compromise that protected both parties: Four years, $44 million. The risk the Warriors took is Curry would continue having ankle issues and never see a full season. Curry’s risk: He’d remain healthy and see his production swell and spend most of that contract as a bargain. A bargain, for sure: At the end of that deal, Curry was the fourth-highest-paid player. On his own team. The upside for the Warriors and Curry: That contract helped them extend Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala and more importantly, add Kevin Durant. When you’re good and lucky -- remember, the Warriors won their first title over the Cavs when Cleveland was largely without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and beat the Rockets last spring after Chris Paul suffered a series-ending hamstring injury -- then you get plenty of rings. The beauty of the Cousins situation is the Warriors don’t need him during the regular season. This was mentioned more than a few times by rival general managers and coaches in Vegas. Cousins’ rehab is expected to require another five or six months -- full recovery form Achilles surgery is usually a year -- yet there’s no rush. Golden State won 73 games a few years ago without him and won 58 games last season on cruise control. They can wait until next spring, where Cousins could return, say, in March and use the final few weeks as a warm-up for the playoffs. After using the likes of the plodding Zaza Pachulia and quirky JaVale McGee in the middle, the Warriors are legit at center. Cousins fits the Warriors’ style because he can shoot 3s and is a willing and efficient passer from the high and low post. “That’s really an area where they’ve struggled and been inconsistent,” said Gentry, a former Warriors assistant coach before taking the top job in New Orleans. “It’s going to be a position where they make an upgrade." Meanwhile, Houston lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, a pair of athletic swingmen, this summer from free agency and therefore aren’t a better team on paper than last season, although the Rockets might soon add Carmelo Anthony, for whatever that’s worth. The Lakers welcome LeBron, but they didn’t get Paul George, who stayed in Oklahoma City, and the idea of trading for Kawhi Leonard this season remains a fantasy, at least for now. Which means the Warriors are once again the odds on favorites across town in the Vegas casinos to sip champagne next June. “Hey, that’s the NBA,” said Gentry with a shrug. “It’s supposed to be that way. You’re supposed to put out the best team you can. It’s up to the rest of us to catch them. They’ve put together a great team, drafted great, and guys in free agency wanted to come there. That’s what it’s all about. We have to pick up our game, it’s not that they should say, 'Oh we’re too good, let’s give away players.’ We all have to find a way to catch them, not them coming back to us.” Damian Lillard, the star guard for the Trail Blazers, spoke for the field when he said: “It's just going to get tougher and tougher. It is what it's always been, but just a little tougher. But you know what? Once the season starts, we gotta go. Nobody’s got time to be out there, not having fun and being stressed and all that BS. We gotta find to make it happen.” Twenty-nine teams, and especially the contenders in the West, are at a disadvantage regarding the Warriors because of a lack of All-Stars; not only do the Warriors now have five, but they’re all in their prime years. It’s one thing to try to be as good as the Warriors. Nowadays, you must rise to their level of luck as well. 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 NewsJul 12th, 2018

Lillard dismisses talk of unhappiness with Blazers

NBA.com staff report Only five months ago, Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard was telling reporters he wanted to someday be known as 'the best Trail Blazer ever.' That statement came just about two years after he talked of being a part of an the Blazers' organization for his entire career. Yet, this summer, a report surfaced that the Los Angeles Lakers might try to trade for Lillard. Lillard himself, though, isn't having such talk and made sure to discourage any notion he is unhappy in Portland. While he was indeed disappointed to see Ed Davis leave via free agency (he signed with the Brooklyn Nets this summer), Lillard is overall pleased with the Blazers and the direction of the team. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more: "I'm not unhappy," Lillard said Sunday. "I love where I live. I love the organization. I love our coaching staff. I love where I am." Lillard spoke to reporters after watching the Blazers' NBA Summer League game in Las Vegas, where he has been working out in preparation for a USA Basketball minicamp, and addressed a wide range of topics, including Davis' free agent exodus, the Blazers' offseason moves and the loaded Western Conference. He admitted to being upset the Blazers let Davis go. Not only did Davis want to stay in Portland, but Lillard had lobbied for it to happen, saying he hoped the respected and hard-working veteran big man would become Portland's version of Miami's Udonis Haslem. But shortly after free agency opened, Davis agreed to a 1-year, $4.4 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets, prompting Lillard to tweet a broken heart emoji. ... "I loved Ed," Lillard said. "One of my best friend's in the league (and) favorite teammates I've played with. To lose him, that's a loss for our team. Bazz played big minutes for us. Pat played big minutes for us. So we lose three rotation players that gave us a lot, that contributed to our season last year." ... At this point, Lillard said, he's accepted the obvious: The Blazers' finances and Portland's reputation among NBA players were to blame for the relative quiet offseason and his path to the playoffs will only be more challenging next season. "It's going to be a battle," Lillard said. "The way I see it, you're going to have the Golden State's, the Rockets. We were the third best team in the West and every other team behind us, they brought their guys back. So they're going to be one more year experienced together, probably going to be a little bit better. Teams like Denver, Utah and Minnesota, all those teams are going to be improved. So, us, we can't look at free agency and who we didn't get and (say) we didn't make this trade and all that stuff. Once the season starts, we've got to go. And we've got to do what we've got to do ... we've just got to find a way to make it happen." In 2017-18, Portland made it to the playoffs for the fifth straight year after finishing the season 49-33 and winning the Northwest Division title for the seventh time in franchise history. The Blazers were boosted by a 13-game winning streak that started with a victory over the Golden State Warriors just before the All-Star break, and secured the third seed in the Western Conference. The team’s streak matched the franchise record. Lillard drove the team’s success during that span. In March he averaged 27.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.5 assists. He also set a franchise record by making 64 straight free throws. He was named the West’s player of the week twice. And, at season's end, he was named All-NBA first team for the first time in his career. Aside from sharing his thoughts on the Blazers' offseason and his happiness with being in Portland, Lillard also recently commented about the WNBA -- specifically how much the league's players are paid. In an interview at Saturday's (Sunday, PHL time) Connecticut Sun vs. Las Vegas Aces game, Lillard spoke with HerHoopStats on Twitter about WNBA wages: .@dame_lillard on the @WNBA: “They deserve a lot more respect. They deserve to make a lot more money than they do. I think it’s time people start recognizing that they are professional athletes and they should be treated like it and their league should be elevated...” pic.twitter.com/QHgst1dSjI — Her Hoop Stats (@herhoopstats) July 8, 2018 In addition, Toronto Raptors star guard DeMar DeRozan spoke out about WNBA wages, too, in an interview with HerHoopStats: .@DeMar_DeRozan: “Women’s game in general is awesome. I think they deserve way more recognition than what they’re getting and tonight’s game is a great example of that. The excitement, how hard they play...” @WNBA #wnba #WatchMeWork pic.twitter.com/rtkxCtkKGO — Her Hoop Stats (@herhoopstats) July 8, 2018 Information from The Associated Press was used in this report......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 9th, 2018

BLOGTABLE: Time to change All-Star fan voting?

NBA.com blogtable The All-Star game abandoned the East-West format last season and had captains pick teams regardless of conference. Isn’t it time to do the same thing on the All-Star ballot? Have fans vote for the 10 best players, period? * * * Steve Aschburner: No, see, we need to maintain the conference setup on the ballot to exert pressure on the players and their agents to stem the “westward ho!” flow of talent ... nah, kidding. The fuzzy concept of missing out on an All-Star berth obviously hasn’t deterred anyone from crowding into the West. So yes, it’s appropriate for the ballot to sync up with how the All-Star squads are deployed and treat the talent pool of the entire NBA as one big playground. (BTW, we’re overdue for the all-NBA selection process to sync up with the All-Star ballot and allow voters to choose “frontcourt” and “backcourt” honorees, or just go position-less entirely with top five, top 10, top 15). Shaun Powell: Love the idea, just wish it wasn't a reaction from the imbalance of stars in the West. That said, the All-Star Game is all about entertainment and the fans, as it should be, so you give them what they want. The All-NBA teams are for the players. John Schuhmann: My plan: The fans vote for five players from the East and five players from the West. The coaches then select another five from the East and five from the West, and then six more players from any conference. You would have two 13-man rosters (I have no idea why they haven't been expanded yet) with at least 10 players from each conference, but you could have as many as 16 from either. Sekou Smith: It's time for change. The conference designations for All-Star weekend don't change the fact that the bulk of the league's biggest stars now call the Western Conference home. As long we have the player-draft format, it simply doesn't matter. Might as well let the fans vote for the top 10 and then let the coaches select the reserves, regardless of conference affiliation, and make sure we get the best of the very best on the big stage for the league's mid-season showcase......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJul 5th, 2018

BLOGTABLE: Predictions for Warriors-Cavaliers IV

NBA.com blogtable Cavs or Warriors?  Who wins this series and in how many games? * * * Steve Aschburner: This was a no-brainer for me, if only because I didn’t have to think about it here. I went on the record in our Finals preview with my pick and can’t very well change now without seeming more like a politician than a prognosticator. I’m seeing Warriors in five games, in basically a repeat of last June’s outcome. To me, the relative gap between Golden State and Cleveland hasn’t changed, having four All-Stars is better than two, and too many Cavaliers will be dipping their toes into Finals water for the first time. Shaun Powell: The Cavs only took one game from the Warriors last year with Kyrie Irving. Now there's no Irving, so ... Let's give LeBron a little more respect this year and say he's good for a game without Kyrie. Same result, though. Warriors in five. John Schuhmann: Calling Warriors in 5 (again) is too easy and should be forbidden to make these prediction things interesting. So... Warriors in 4. They're the better team on both ends of the floor, they've had the best defense in the playoffs (with multiple guys who can make things as tough as possible on LeBron James), and they'll have a much easier time offensively against the Cleveland defense than they did against that of the Rockets. I've been wrong before and Warriors in 5 is probably the best way to go, but what's the fun in that? Sekou Smith: Warriors in five. I know, I know, I'm not exactly living on the edge with this pick. But I see no pathway for the Cavaliers to pull off this upset, not even with LeBron playing at his zenith at 33 and 15 years into his career. There is not enough help, healthy or otherwise, on hand to assist LeBron with the heavy lifting against a team like the Warriors. That said, I'm going to enjoy every single dramatic moment of this series. Because I expect the competition to be fierce, when possible. And when you have two teams that know each other as well as these guys do, there has to be a little extra juice in play for both sides......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 31st, 2018

Legacies at stake for Rockets, Warriors in Game 7

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com HOUSTON — So much riding on one game, which goes beyond which team reaches The Finals and which one reaches for the golf clubs. Reputations and images and legacies also can and will be determined in this winner-take-all battle between the Warriors and Rockets. Such is the way of professional sports and instant analysis and fortunes, both teams and players and coaches. That said, here’s what’s on the line for the main figures in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals: * James Harden. He can make a solid case for being the second-best player in the NBA over the past three seasons, having finished top three in Kia MVP voting twice and will perhaps take home the award this season. But LeBron James went to The Finals three times in that span and won once. Harden, on the other hand, doesn’t know what June basketball feels like since he joined the Rockets. He’ll have his best chance Monday (Tuesday, PHL time). He’ll be on his court, playing before his crowd, 48 minutes away from facing LeBron and the Cavaliers for a championship. If he loses against the Warriors, then Harden will keep the crown as Best Active Player Without A Championship, which isn’t an honor he embraces. With the possibility of playing this game without Chris Paul, Harden might need to explode for 40 points or more. And that still might not be enough. He’s still in his prime, but reaching The Finals, much less winning, isn’t guaranteed to happen. Remember how Oklahoma City was “destined” to return to The Finals when Harden played there? * Kevin Durant. His championship demons were destroyed last summer when he joined a loaded team and did exactly what everyone expected. Yet Durant didn’t sign up for a one-and-done. The only way to justify leaving OKC is by winning multiple titles. His performance in this series has gone hot and cold. This isn’t the same Durant who tore through everyone last spring and summer; he seems bewildered at times by the Houston defense. If he comes up flat and the Warriors lose, the sensitive Durant might want to stay off social media. * Chris Paul. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said what everyone feels about Paul and his hamstring injury: It stinks. Paul deserves so much more, especially after such a solid run through the playoffs in every round, including outplaying Steph Curry until the injury. Paul never reached the conference finals until now and at 33 is running out of chances to play for the championship. He’ll become an instant hero in Houston if he pulls a Willis Reed and inspires the Rockets in Game 7, then again if he beats his pal LeBron in The Finals. If not? Then he’ll wonder why the Basketball Gods are against him. * Steph Curry. A fourth straight trip to The Finals would make Curry the LeBron of the West. He shook himself free from a shooting slump to recover nicely in this series and save the Warriors from elimination in six games. * Mike D’Antoni. Validation would come finally for D’Antoni should he mastermind a victory over the four All-Star Warriors, especially so should he do it without Paul in Game 7. D’Antoni heard too often about how his offenses weren’t built to last in the postseason but nobody’s saying that now. Anyway, the Rockets employ a far different system than the one he used in Phoenix. Translated: Give him credit for adjusting and cooking up an offense to suit the talents of his players and not vice versa. Also, with the help of lead assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, the Rockets’ defense is causing plenty of issues for the Warriors this series. Overall, D’Antoni has pushed all the right buttons. * Steve Kerr. Has he already done enough for induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach just off two championships alone? If not, then a fourth straight trip to The Finals might be the trick. But Kerr hasn’t always convinced his players to remain calm in fourth quarters. Why did the Warriors’ offense suffer costly breakdowns in Games 4 and 5? Yes, Houston’s defense rose up, but adjustments by Golden State were slow to come, if at all. * Andre Iguodala. He isn’t expected to play Game 7 and if the Warriors advance, you wonder if he’ll be ready for another shot at LeBron. The Warriors gave him a nice contract extension here in his twilight because of what he means to them in spring and summer. They could use his on-court leadership. * Draymond Green. The Warriors are still looking for a breakout game in this series from their emotional leader. It’s not that Green has been a ghost; rather, he just hasn’t stood out in the small lineup or made his presence known in a big way, other than with the referees (as usual). It would help if Green began hitting those open three-pointers the Rockets are generously giving him. * Daryl Morey. Often celebrated as one of the top general managers in the game, Morey built this Rockets team with beating the Warriors in mind. He traded for Paul and signed P.J. Tucker last summer, and those two have repaid that faith with solid playoff performances. How many more times must Morey tweak the Rockets here in the Harden era before Houston finally strikes gold. For his sake, hopefully, this was the final time. But again, much depends on Paul’s hamstring. Sometimes, the fate of your team is beyond your control. Sometimes, you need luck. * Houston. This city endured a deadly flood, then lifted itself with the help of ordinary citizens and a handful of local athletes and celebrities, then celebrated its first World Series triumph courtesy of the Astros. For the last several months, therefore, Houston has been in the headlines, and would like to add another late Monday night (Tuesday, PHL time). 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 NewsMay 28th, 2018

Thompson, Warriors force inevitable Game 7

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com OAKLAND, Calif. -- The final game of the Western Conference season will tip on the last Monday in May (Tuesday, PHL time) at the Toyota Center in Houston, as it should. This is the route the GPS mapped out back in October and never had any reason to recalculate from since. Warriors at Rockets in a winner-take-all. Never in doubt, no? A pair of championship-quality teams will go 48 minutes and the previous six games in this series tells us to expect a tense jump ball-to-buzzer affair. With or without Chris Paul. Paul’s inflamed right hamstring is a significant flaw, no question, yet the Rockets do have home-court advantage and will hear a crazed crowd trying to fill the void with noise if as expected Paul misses a second straight game. The Rockets didn’t have their point guard and spiritual leader Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) and still sent an early chill through the defending champions on enemy soil, going up 17 after the first quarter and 10 at halftime. Oracle Arena and the Warriors were confused. Then Game 6 flipped suddenly and drastically in the second half, as the Warriors rolled to a 115-86 victory. and here we are. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: “We got what we want, a seventh game on our home court, now it’s up to us to go get it.” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said: “I feel like we’re the best team in the world.” The Rockets constructed this team specifically to challenge and beat the Warriors. Meanwhile, the Warriors paced themselves through the regular season partly to conserve their attention and energy for Houston, which has Golden State’s attention like no team before in the West playoffs. Both are causing each other irritating problems. The Rockets’ defense with its switching and hand-in-the-face pressure is forcing Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry to work hard for their shots. The Warriors’ ability to thrive even if not all four of their All-Stars are clicking is testing Houston’s limits; such was the case in Game 6 when Thompson, the No. 3 Guy, broke loose for 35 points with nine threes. That’s what makes the Warriors tough to erase: They don’t need to be perfect, and good for them, because they haven’t been in this series, with the exception of their 41-point victory in Game 3. About Thompson: He was locked in, emotionally and physically, popping off screens, catching and shooting, creating space to get good looks and punching the air after big three's. The energy and the shots saved the Warriors from a lackluster and potentially deadly start. Thompson stayed in rhythm most of the night while Curry (29 points) and Durant (23) went through off-and-on cold stretches and afterward joked how he was “born” for this. “Man, that felt good, to be honest,” Thompson said. “I just wanted to play with as much passion as I could. I probably sounded more vocal than I am.” There was a natural link to the last time Thompson was this splashy in a Game 6 elimination game, two summers ago when he dropped 41 on Oklahoma City to trigger a comeback from 3-1 down. Durant was on the wrong side of that performance. “Please don’t go there,” begged Durant, bowing his head. “Next question.” Mindful of what happened right after that series -- the Warriors would blow a 3-1 lead of their own to Cleveland -- Curry said: “I think we both blocked that whole year out of our memory.” Actually, that volcanic performance by Thompson helped convince Durant to leave Oklahoma City, which led to last year’s championship and helped build a solid case for the Warriors to repeat next month. Thompson’s latest piece of work helped awaken the Warriors from being trapped in an extended state of stun, courtesy of how fierce the Rockets came at them right from the start. The Houston lead grew to double digits within minutes and stayed that way through the break. This was further evidence that the Rockets, in this game and actually for the series so far, refuse to concede anything and believe this West title is realistic even with Paul’s status uncertain. “I saw a lot of things that I liked,” said D’Antoni, “and I think we’re in a good position.” Eric Gordon, a strong candidate to win the Kia NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, started in place of Paul and was a concern for the Warriors, drilling deep shots and scoring 19 points. Also, Harden rediscovered his own touch from that distance; he’d missed 22 straight threes in this series but made four and scored 32 points. Houston missed Paul’s composure and steady point guard hand, which could be expected. The Rockets had 22 turnovers, with the Harden-Gordon backcourt combining for 14. The other issue for the Rockets was depth. With Gordon in the starting lineup, D’Antoni was forced to give minutes to Luc Mbah a Moute, still struggling after hurting his shoulder just prior to the playoffs. He wasn’t a factor and neither was the bench. Assuming Paul sits another game, the Rockets will undoubtedly need major scoring and playmaking from Harden, solid shotgun work from Gordon and at least two members of the support group -- Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela -- to break loose in order to make Game 7 interesting. Remember, the Rockets have now gone four straight games without breaking 100 points, and Harden appeared beaten in the fourth quarter Saturday where he went scoreless. The Warriors are also dealing with a missing part, with Andre Iguodala’s inactive streak now at three. They’re crossing fingers whenever Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or Nick Young are pressed to play more than 15 minutes. None of them have distinguished themselves since Iguodala suffered a bone bruise on his left knee in Game 3. So that’s the tale of the tape. Between now and tipoff, the Rockets’ therapy staff will work on Paul’s hamstring, hoping for some intervention from the Medical Gods. In the perfect basketball world, Paul and Iguodala would be fit to play; why should the finish of this series be deprived of them, of less than what it should be? Last fall, before training camp, Paul, Harden and Tucker vacationed in the Bahamas for one last moment of chill before preparations for a season of big expectations. Obviously, they talked shop. They set goals and their sights on the Warriors. Tucker asked Paul and Harden: Imagine if we get them on our court for a Game 7. They all nodded and agreed it would be a logical scenario to launch themselves into the NBA Finals. “Obviously we hope to have our starting point guard back,” Tucker said. “If not, we need to be ready.” The Warriors held no such pre-camp huddle -- champions have what others want -- yet knew that once the Rockets added Paul, Houston would be their toughest test since Durant signed up. Warriors vs. Rockets in a single-game elimination is the proper stage, then, to determine who reps the West in the NBA Finals. D’Antoni said: “It should be a great game.” Curry: “It should be fun. This is what you play for, to be in a situation where you’re one win away from going to The Finals. You’ve got to want it.” Truthfully, neither team would rather be in a winner-take-all. Sweeping would be vastly preferred. But the other part about what Curry said is definitely true: Who wants it? 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 NewsMay 27th, 2018

Boston bound: LeBron pushes Cavs to Game 7 vs. Celtics

By Tom Withers, Associated Press CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James chose Boston as the place he'll play next. Game 7 is on. And any talk about James' future is on hold. Delivering another performance for the ages, James scored 46 points and preserved his reign atop the Eastern Conference for at least one more game as the Cleveland Cavaliers shook off losing All-Star Kevin Love with a head injury and beat the Celtics 109-99 on Friday night (Saturday, PHL time) to force a decisive climax to this back-and-forth series. James, playing in perhaps his final game for the Cavs in Cleveland, added 11 rebounds and nine assists while playing all but two minutes — to avoid elimination and delay any decisions about where he'll continue his remarkable career next season. "Greatness," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "Championship pedigree. Giving it his all. We needed that, especially when Kevin went down. We had to play 'Bron as many minutes as he had to. He delivered. He was up for the challenge. He carried us home as usual." The king is not dead, and he still has a chance to make his eighth straight NBA Finals. This series, in which home court has meant everything, will have a fitting conclusion Sunday (Monday, PHL time) at TD Garden, where the Celtics are 10-0 this postseason. "It's a Game 7," James said. "It's something that you wish you had when you're done playing, but more than that, it's just basketball for me. I know what I'm capable of doing, and I'm going to trust everything I put into it." George Hill added 20 points, and Jeff Green 14 for the Cavs, who lost Love in the first quarter after he banged heads with Boston rookie Jayson Tatum. Terry Rozier paced the Celtics — now 1-6 on the road — with 28 points, and Jaylen Brown had 27. The Celtics were still within seven in the final three minutes before James made consecutive three-pointers, punctuating the second by pounding his chest with both fists and screaming along with 20,562 others. "The love of the game," James said, explaining his reaction. "It's a feeling you can't explain." Just for good measure, he added a three-point play and then was taken out of the game to a rousing ovation and chants of "Cavs in 7!" Boston's improbable run through the postseason without injured stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will now take the Celtics back home, where they play with more intensity, togetherness and before fans hungry to see an 18th title banner raised to their arena's rafters. "It's not going to be pretty," Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. "We've got to come out ready to get our nose bloody and our mouth bloody. We've got to come out ready to fight. You've got to find a way, whatever it takes." Love went out with a head injury in the first quarter, forcing Lue to juggle his rotations and keep James on the floor longer than he wanted to. The three-time champion played the first 35 minutes without a break and then endured the final eight while nursing a right leg. James didn't know until after the game that teammate Larry Nance Jr. had banged into him. "I felt some pain throughout my entire right side of my ankle into my leg," he said. "I was just hoping for the best, obviously, because I've seen so many different injuries, and watching basketball with that type of injury, someone fall into one's leg standing straight up. Luckily, I was able to finish the game." Hill, who came over in a deadline trade, has been awed by what James has done in this postseason. "I've been in the league for some years and ran across him on the other side and really hated his guts," said Hill, who was on Indiana teams eliminated by James. "But to have him on our side, it kind of lets me take a deep breath of fresh air. It's just something that you really can't explain what he's doing night in, night out. It's just something special." "I thought the best was when he always put us out. But to actually see it when he's on your team, I can't even put it into words." The real possibility that James was playing his last game in Cleveland hung over the game — and this city — in the hours leading to tip-off. Everyone had an opinion on what James will do next and that discussion filled the sports talk radio airwaves, bars and barber shops. The 33-year-old has said several times since coming home in 2014 that he wants to retire with the Cavaliers, but fans are uneasy because he can opt out of his $35.6 million contract this summer and test free agency. And, of course, he left in 2010. James has said he'll sit down after the season ends to decide next move, and he's already being courted in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York where fans can only dream of him joining their rosters. For now, he's only going to Boston. NO LOVE The game began ominously for the Cavs as Love was forced to leave following his violent collision with Tatum. Love and Tatum were away from the ball and didn't see each other until it was too late. They banged heads and both immediately dropped to the floor with Love raising his left arm as if to signal he needed help. As Love stayed down, the Cavs huddled around him. He was helped off and walked to the bench unsteadily before heading to the locker room for further treatment and evaluation. His status for Game 7 is uncertain. THE OTHER SIDE Tatum stayed in following his nasty collision with Love. The rookie passed the concussion testing that he was given on the bench. "I didn't see him coming, it was bad," Tatum said. "I have a knot on the back of my head and he didn't return. I wish the best for Kevin Love because he's a great player and it's been a long season." PREGAME MEAL Hill said he's played well after eating tacos with barbacoa and guacamole before games. "I'm for sure going to find a Chipotle in Boston, I'll tell you that," he said. TIP-INS Celtics: Own a 37-0 record when leading a series 2-0. ... Dropped to 1-4 in Game 6s over the last four postseasons. ... Coach Brad Stevens praised James for his consistency, and ability to exceed expectations. "Nobody else has what he has on his shoulders playing the game," he said. "I think that the way in which he's done that and all of the years now that he's made The Finals and gone deep into the playoffs, it's unbelievable." Cavaliers: Improved to 6-2 in elimination game since 2015. James has scored at least 40 in five of those wins. ... James' teams are 5-2 in Game 7s. ... This was the seventh 40-point game for James this postseason. Michael Jordan also had seven, one off Jerry West's record set in 1965. ... James passed Karl Malone (2,062) for sixth place on the career postseason rebounds list......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 26th, 2018

BLOGTABLE: Will LeBron win a 24th straight East series?

NBA.com blogtable LeBron James has won 23 consecutive Eastern Conference playoffs series. Is there any reason at all to think it won't be 24? * * * David Aldridge: Two words: Brad Stevens. He's the best chance the Celtics (I am assuming Boston doesn't blow its 3-1 lead over Philadelphia) have against Cleveland; his ability to take whatever players are in front of them and make them a cohesive unit is amazing. And his roster this year is better equipped to compete with James's Cavaliers than last year's, even with all the current injuries that have taken out Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Terry Rozier has been a revelation at point guard in the playoffs and he'll cause the Cavs problems; his matchup with George Hill will be a huge factor in the series. If the Celtics can get Jaylen Brown through the rest of the Sixers' series without him aggravating his hamstring, three potential days off before the conference finals could be big. I just think Boston is much more dynamic offensively this year than at this time last year, when Isaiah Thomas was hobbling. Having said all that, seeing J.R. Smith and George Hill show signs of life in the Toronto series and seeing Kevin Love really get rolling the last three games against the Raptors means James should have enough help to make it 24 out of 24. Steve Aschburner: Not anymore. There were reasons he might not have won No. 22: the Cavaliers weren’t playing well as the regular season ended and the Indiana Pacers came into the first round with no fear, no intimidation and both the game plan and the personnel to give Cleveland fits. James & Co. survived, but that series – the fatigue of it, the lack of preparation for their next opponent – became the reason they would fall in No. 23. Didn’t happen. Not even close. The Cavs have plugged leaks and polished their act into something close to Finals-worthy, and that will continue against either of the two, young, vulnerable teams on the other side of the East bracket. Shaun Powell: It'll be a surprise if he doesn't win 24. This isn't to take away from the gutsy Celtics or upstart Sixers, whomever will be standing in LeBron James' way next. But this might be the weakest Eastern playoff field LeBron has ever seen, given that he went through (a) the post-Paul George Indiana Pacers and (b) the mentally-flawed Toronto Raptors and will then see (c) the Celtics without Kyrie Irving or the Sixers will a bunch of kids. Also, the Cavs are finally hitting their stride right about now. John Schuhmann: There are certainly reasons to believe that Boston has a chance. (With apologies to Philadelphia, I'm assuming the Sixers don't make history by coming back from a 3-0 deficit.) The Celtics had the No. 1 defense in the league and have the size on the perimeter to defend LeBron James and stay at home on the Cavs' shooters a lot better than Toronto did. The Celtics have been the better, more consistent and more resilient team than the Cavs (who have won just two playoff games by more than four points), and Al Horford has been the second best player in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They will be able to take advantage of some matchups on their end of the floor, though they might not have the overall firepower to keep up with the Cavs if James' teammates can provide some support. And of course, it remains difficult to pick against James before he reaches The Finals. Sekou Smith: There's no reason to believe in anything other than the power of LeBron. He's shown us enough the past 15 years -- and the last eight in particular -- that when it comes to the race for the Eastern Conference title, he's the one thing we can count on. Boston and Philadelphia pose much different problems for the Cavaliers compared to the Toronto Raptors, so LeBron and Co. shouldn't go into this next round overconfident. But they should be secure in the fact that the one, true difference-maker in this whole thing still resides in northeast Ohio. Until that changes, it's wise to bet on LeBron......»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsMay 10th, 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

Donovan Mitchell hits his own postseason bump

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com SALT LAKE CITY -- He saved one of his best performances for the morning of a playoff game, when Donovan Mitchell once again showed the poise and maturity that’s taken him places where few rookies in history have earned the right to travel. Hours after Ben Simmons, the unapologetic and self-proclaimed best rookie in the NBA, laid an egg against the Celtics by scoring one measly point and instantly became a social media punch-line, Mitchell refused to pile on his rival. This took guts, especially after Simmons dismissed any comparisons between himself and Mitchell weeks ago, but Mitchell went high road and had a veteran’s response anyway: “The biggest thing that people don’t understand is that every player has that night. You look at LeBron against the Mavs in the Finals … there was one year when I was watching Harden in a playoff game against the Warriors and he had like 10 turnovers. So it happens to everybody.” Yes, to everybody … and how prophetic, even to Mitchell, who rose to stardom by chopping down Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the first round, only to come close to pulling a Simmons in Game 3 of the Jazz-Rockets series Friday night (Saturday, PHL time). “I didn’t really do much as a whole,” he said. He struggled. He wasn’t a factor. This wasn’t the rookie who pulled the Jazz to the playoffs by commanding double teams and dunking with force and dropping shots from deep. This was different. This was … one of those games Mitchell spoke about. He missed 10 of his first 11 shots. His 10 points were his lowest for a game since Feb. 7 (Feb. 8, PHL time) when he scored seven against the Grizzlies. “I had terrible shots,” he said. “I don’t know how many shots I missed, but the shots I missed were terrible shots that weren’t good looks. I can’t do that.” Therefore, there were two factors which made for a strange and non-typical night for the Jazz. His disappearance, along with Utah’s No. 1-rated defense coughing up 39 points in the first quarter, gave the Rockets a breezy 113-92 victory and a 2-1 series lead. The Rockets finally broke 110 points for the first time this series, no major surprise given James Harden and Chris Paul and their three-point mentality. That’s too much fire to keep contained for very long. And whenever the Rockets break loose as they did, it puts massive pressure on the Jazz to keep up, which they couldn’t, if only because they’re not built for engaging in a scoring contest with most teams, let alone the Rockets. It’s the surest way to a quick basketball death. “For us,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder, “the margin for error is not so great when you play a team [like Houston].” Just as alarming is Mitchell’s slow fade this series. He’s shooting 33 percent overall and 24 percent from deep, and this is sudden and unexpected, even against the No. 1 seed in the West. Maybe not for most rookies. But Mitchell raised the bar for himself after a strong regular season and a ballistic effort against Oklahoma City where he averaged 28.5 points and 7.2 rebounds and never once looked overmatched or uncomfortable in his first taste of the playoffs and high stakes. And isn’t that the ultimate sign of respect for a player, when a poor game, or a small string of them, are met with a surprise reaction? Mitchell has made himself into that special player already. He’s the rare dunk contest winner who’s just as dangerous from deep, a one-two combo that won over his Jazz teammates quickly and made him the club’s No. 1 option almost from the jump. Mitchell’s money move is a rapid burst off the dribble into the lane, where he’ll then execute a smooth spin move garnished with a gentle finger roll for the basket. OKC still has flesh wounds from that move. He delivered constantly in the final few months when the Jazz became one of the top three teams in the NBA, at least record-wise, and soared up the West standings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the only rookies to hit 200 points faster in the playoffs than Mitchell, who did so in eight games. But those shots haven’t fallen with regularity here in the second round, and this was punctuated in Game 3. Either the Rockets have wised up -- which usually happens when a team sees the same player every other night in a playoff series -- or the rookie wall is playing a cruel trick on Mitchell by rising up in May. Snyder is betting on the former: “They shaded Donovan to his left hand and he has to adjust to that, and I think he can.” Mitchell doesn’t really have a choice if the Jazz plan to extend this series. There’s nobody riding shotgun on Utah that frightens anyone; Joe Ingles dropped 27 on Houston in Game 2 but followed up with six. Other than Mitchell, there’s no consistency, nobody who’s a big threat, and when others turn chilly, Mitchell is often forced to press, which he did Friday (Saturday, PHL time). Chris Paul said: “We just tried to make it tough on him. Donovan’s been great all year but Trevor [Ariza] is good defensively and Clint [Capela] is challenging him at the rim. He’s a tough cover and it’s hard to stop him with one person. Guys have to do it collectively. We try to make him feel crowded.” Which means the Rockets will take their chances on Ingles and Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert beating them, a wise strategy. Mitchell’s load is heavier than most rookies, even more burdensome than Simmons’ in Philly from a scoring standpoint. Simmons has Joel Embiid and JJ Redick. Mitchell must be the lead singer for Utah, or else. Those are the odds, anyway, and the Rockets exploited that Friday. “I think the biggest thing is, my mindset has always been the aggressor,” Mitchell said. “Now they’re playing me in a certain way where I’ve got to make certain passes that I just didn’t make the entire game. That will be what I’ll take away the most. It’s like I would’ve been better off not showing up, and that’s what I did. I didn’t show up for my teammates. I’ll fix it.” That’s some pretty strong accountability there. However, Mitchell can’t do it all against a team like Houston, even though he’s done exactly that up to this point of the season. He may not be a “rookie” anymore, or play like one, but he’s human. Much like Simmons and everyone else. Here’s more of what Mitchell said about Simmons: "It just so happens that it happened to him, and I expect him to respond back. He’s a good player. Good players respond back, and it's all about the response. It's a testament to his character. But it happens. He can't play great every night. It's not as easy as some people think.” No, it isn’t, and the league’s showpiece rookies discovered the hard way, on back-to-back nights, here in the playoffs where rookies don’t normally shine or at least for long before they’re figured out. Yet, as Mitchell said: It’s all about the response. Game 4 is Sunday (Monday, PHL time), a day for atonement. 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 NewsMay 5th, 2018