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NBA Atlanta Hawks Dwight Howard

Have The Hawks Figured Out How To Stop The Bleeding?

By Frank McLean

This start to the 2016-17 NBA season for the Atlanta Hawks has not been what they envisioned when they got together in the beginning of October for training camp.

They started hot, winning nine of their first 11 games including a four point win over the defending World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Then the wheels fells off, losing 11-of-14, and one of them was a real doozy, a 128-84 thumping by the Raptors in Toronto on December 3rd, the largest margin of victory in Toronto’s franchise history.

However, things have started to get better for the Hawks, three wins and three losses over their last six games. One of those wins was a classic revenge win this past Friday night back in Toronto 125-121 indicating maybe those three wins in 14 games was just a blip. The talent the Hawks have when healthy should not go into such a tail spin.

“We just got to come back tomorrow with the same energy and effort,” Dwight Howard said after the win in Toronto. “Tonight’s over with. If we play with this energy and effort, we should win.”

This year Atlanta features a true all-star center in Dwight Howard who signed as a free agent over the summer with his home town team. He had 27 points and 15 rebounds in the Toronto win for his 17th double-double of the year proving the Hawks now have a legitimate scorer and rebounder in the middle.

Howard’s arrival takes the load off a pair of third year guards in Tim Hardaway Jr. and German import Dennis Schroder who are turning into one of the best young one-two punches in the game.

So how did it all come apart for the Hawks during that 14-game stretch?

“Our season has had up and downs,” said Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer. “We haven’t been good at both ends of the floor. We are moving back in that direction and getting them where they should be, I think that’s the goal to do it for 48 minutes, but there have been some positives recently.”

The Hawks were considered to be one of the teams, the Boston Celtics being the other, that had a shot at knocking the Raptors out of the second spot in the Eastern Conference.

There are currently 10 teams fighting for the last 6 playoff spots in the conference, the Hawks among them, and they are only separated by just four games.

Budenholzer is confident the Hawks will be there.

“It seems like the last couple of years there has been a big bunch of teams and we think we can separate from them. I think it’s important to focus and get better game-to-game. If we are doing that I think we will be in a good spot.”

One other reason the Hawks went on that three and 11 skid was that the schedule maker gave the Hawks an early five game road trip where four of them were on the west coast and yes they lost all four of them.

“When you are on a long road trip like that practice time is hard to come by,” said Hawks three-point specialist Kyle Korver. “We are getting to have practices now.”

If you saw Friday’s game against Toronto you saw the real Hawks team, a team that can shoot 40 or more percent from the floor and can out rebound an opponent on a two-to-one basis on any night.  However, even another Howard double-double with 23 rebounds wasn’t enough for the Hawks to pull out the win over Charlotte on Saturday.

Still, it’s a good bet that the Hawks, if they can stay healthy, will figure it out and be a top four team in the East when the regular season ends.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA Philadelphia 76ers Bryan Colangelo

76ers Would Like Their Process To Be Like The Raptors

After four consecutive trips towards the bottom of the NBA standings by the Philadelphia 76ers, “Trust The Process” could be about all a jaded fan has left to hold onto, but the vibe and the feel surrounding this team is starting to change. They’d like their journey to start resembling that of their division rival Toronto Raptors who similarly spent five seasons in the NBA Lottery before climbing back to respectability in a process of their own.

“(The Raptors) are a really good example. I respect the path they have taken to be in this position and to watch them play in the Eastern Conference Championship last year and be as competitive as they were,” 76ers head coach Brett Brown said. “They are still sort of young and growing. I think it is an excellent example for us. I think Bryan Colangelo deserves a lot of credit for being a significant part of that.”

It had become apparent that numerous top draft picks wasn’t going to be enough to revive the 76ers chances, so in April after some direct interference by the NBA head office, the 76ers went out and hired an executive who had successfully started the process of turning around a losing franchise before. Two-time NBA Executive of the Year Bryan Colangelo.

Colangelo had a long run of success with the Phoenix Suns, although some people might (mistakenly) be giving a lot of that credit to his Dad, but what happened in Toronto is all his doing, the good, the bad, and the rebuild.

Maybe it was luck, the type of luck the 76ers would lovingly embrace, but Colangelo made the off season moves during his first year in Toronto that reversed a four-year slide and immediately made the Raptors a playoff team. Some bad luck, bad coaching moves, an infamous first overall draft pick in Andrea Bargnani and the disastrous free agent signing of Hedo Turkoglu can be blamed for the Raptors quick reversal of fortune, but the 76ers should be secure in knowing Colangelo can identify talent.

The Raptors team that just went to the Eastern Conference Finals has Colangelo’s fingerprints all over it. From current head coach Dwane Casey, to the draft picks of DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, to the trade for Kyle Lowry, the Raptors rebuild might have taken too long for Colangelo to see it through to the end, but the result of the process looks pretty solid.

Success in Toronto probably wouldn’t have happened if incoming president Masai Ujiri hadn’t kept things together and built on what came before him. Ujiri kept the best of what Colangelo was able to do, maintained a strong element of consistency and added to the process rather than changing course.

“I look at this team (Toronto) and they have been able to keep it together,” Brown said. “I think there is a culture of defense. There is a culture of good people and I think those cornerstones are part of most successful teams.”

Toronto showed patience in the face of demands from the fanbase to get better faster and the 76ers are going to face the same challenges going through the development process with their young stars.

“You go from growing to developing to winning is when those guys develop into guys making winning plays,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “Some guys take longer to develop. It takes time. There is no magic wand where you can rush the process. It’s how hard guys work, how hard they commit to the program and Philadelphia is doing it the right way. They are committed to the program. Brett Brown is one of the bright basketball minds in the league as far as teaching, developing, growing.

“(The 76ers) have a course. They are growing. They are sticking to it and we started out here doing that. We flipped it a little bit and made some moves to accelerate the process so to speak.”

Colangelo has already started making moves to reverse his team’s fortunes, but there is no way to force the growth of Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahil Okafor or Nick Stauskas. Rookies Dario Saric and Ben Simmons (once he’s cleared to play) will be behind this group in experience and only time will fix that. Additional trades to bring in veterans to ease the big man logjam are undoubtedly in the 76ers future, but these can’t be forced either. Doing things right takes time.

“But again, there are no set number of years that you can say, (for example) in year two we should be here because you don’t know how fast those players are going to develop,” Casey said. “If you have a philosophy and a belief system that you have that should help you win eventually, you have to stick to it. If you are flip-flopping every year with every number that you read or suggestion you go with, you are not going to be very successful. You can’t just change every day or every week or every month with the wind.”

Despite being an active GM, Colangelo showed a lot of patience during his rebuild of the Raptors and not every move he made worked out. But, if anything, he stuck to his core and kept looking for the right additions. Things didn’t happen overnight and he didn’t get to finish the job, but if the 76ers can follow the same process, there is no reason they can’t end up on the same path as Toronto.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Derrick Rose by Larry Millson

Derrick Rose Is Fixing His Image In New York

Keep your head down, play well and help your team win is the proven formula for fixing a tarnished image in professional sports and Derrick Rose is following this playbook to a “t” in New York.

“I’ve been in the house ever since I’ve got (to New York),” Rose said. “I’m alone. I don’t need to go outside to be around people to have fun. Me having fun is just sitting in the crib watching documentaries or watching TV shows all day and resting.” (Rose is a big Westworld fan.)

It’s been a rough six months for Rose. Traded by the Bulls, the team that drafted him first overall in 2008, to the Knicks in June and then having his private sex life made very public by way of a civil trial, it would have been understandable if Rose was having trouble focusing on basketball this season. It doesn’t matter that last year was his best season since 2010-11 or the civil trial established he did nothing legally wrong, these kind of events hurt a professional athlete’s reputation and would be draining on anyone.

However, Rose has put his mind to his work and it’s showing. He’s having a good season and ESPN has even raised the question about giving Rose an extension as he is a free agent after this season.

While it is way too early for actual extension talks, the “feeling out” process going on between Rose and the Knicks is looking very positive. There’s just lots of time remaining before a call like this needs to be made by either side.

“I am trying to feel everything out,” Rose said. “I am not trying to rush it. I am just trying to win games. It’s different than actually trying to go out there for 25 to 30 (points), you got to figure out how to win as a group first before you start adding personal goals.”

As a .500 team, the Knicks are doing better than some of us expected before the season began and if they (Rose in particular) can stay healthy, there is no reason they can’t be better than this and Rose feels he’s built for the discerning and sometimes hostile crowd at Madison Square Garden.

“I think I’m built for (New York),” Rose said. “The way that I play and how hard I work, I think I’m built for that crowd.”

And Rose is definitely leaving the door open to extend his time in New York.

“In the summer, that’s when I tend to be out a little bit more, but this year I’m just focused on trying to win games and after that see how everything goes and I’ll probably experience the city a little bit more. As of right now, I’m just hooping.”

If his hooping gets the Knicks back into the postseason, the pressure will be on to get his name inked to a new deal to stay in New York and no one will care about the injury woes and publicity blunders of the past. Head down, play well and help your team win is the proven formula to fixing your image and getting that next big contract.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

Special thanks to James Jia for recording the audio

 

 


 

 

NBA Los Angeles Lakers D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle & Jordan Clarkson

Lakers, Knicks, Pelicans And Jazz Are Better Than Their Records

The top teams of last season remain the top teams through the first full month of this year, so after April maybe nothing changes, but last year’s Lottery Teams in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Utah and New York look a lot better and the early signs point to the Lakers, Pelicans, Jazz and Knicks being playoff teams this season.

As of the end of November NBA teams have played 16 to 20 games and the early rust or lack of chemistry has started to fade. The revamped Warriors and the consistent Cavaliers remain the best in the league with the Clippers, Spurs and Raptors not so far behind. These five sit atop their respective conferences and are the only teams in the Association with winning records against opponents with a .500 record or better.

Expanded NBA Standings 11-30-2016

This early in the season the NBA standings can be misleading as teams will not have all faced the same level of competition, so one way to level the playing field is to look at records against opposition that are .500 or better.

The big changes atop the conferences are the better than expected start from the Clippers who aren’t underperforming this year and the modest, but expected, decline by the Thunder sans Kevin Durant. However, the Thunder are just one of two teams with a .500 record against winning clubs, the other team being the surprising Lakers.

Only those wearing purple and gold colored glasses had pegged the Lakers as a playoff team prior to this season and their youth may yet betray them, but the 9th place Lakers (10-10) are 6-6 vs teams with a .500 record or better and the losses that have kept them below the playoff line were against the Mavericks (3-14), Timberwolves (5-13) and the improving Pelicans (7-12).

In contrast to the Lakers, the Grizzlies and the Trail Blazers are above the playoff line thanks to a very soft schedule and going 8-2 against sub .500 teams.

The oft injured Pelicans dug themselves a deep hole to start the season by going 0-8, but they’ve started digging themselves out by starting to win against .500 or better teams. They’ll need to stop losing to the sub .500 crowd (1-5) like the recent loss to the Mavericks, but this team should soon be a lot better than their 7-12 record.

The Knicks currently reside in 9th place in the East, right where some of us thought they’d end up, but they’ve had a tough schedule to start the season and going 6-8 versus teams that are .500 or better and 3-1 against sub .500 clubs suggests this is a playoff team if injuries don’t derail them.

The NBA is just starting to round the quarter pole of the season, so a lot of things can still happen to improve or decimate a team’s fortunes, but the early trends suggest that while the top of the league may be stagnant, there could be big changes to the rest of the playoff picture before this is over.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic

Is It Time For The Magic To Trade Nikola Vucevic?

The Orlando Magic are facing a big man dilemma of their own making that has had many people wondering if it was time time to trade their productive center Nikola Vucevic while his value was still high.

The Magic’s first big move this summer was a trade for Serge Ibaka. Then they signed Jeff Green for one-year and $15 million and finally they added Bismack Biyombo for four-years and $72 million. They also signed their 2016 second round pick, center Stephen Zimmerman, to a three-year partially guaranteed deal and the obvious question became, how was new head coach Frank Vogel supposed to make this work and what about the high-flying third-year forward Aaron Gordon?

The now 6 win 11 loss Magic have lived up to the preseason concerns. They are 26th in scoring at 92.1 points per game and middle of the pack defensively allowing 98.9 points. Sure an injury to Jodie Meeks took away some of Vogel’s scoring punch, but this is a team that’s dead last in three-point shooting effectiveness at 31.4 percent and painfully dead last at shooting from two-point range as well. If Vogel can’t find someone who can score, the Magic will be out of the playoff race before Christmas.

Apparently no one told the Magic that Vucevic and Ibaka both like to take the majority of their shots in the midrange and both players have seen their shooting percentages drop this year. They are also playing fewer minutes than they are used to as Vogel has to find time for his $72 million backup center Biyombo (5.1 points and 7.9 rebounds is about the same as in Toronto). Green has been stinking things up as well, shooting 32.8 percent.

It wouldn’t be fair to lay all of the Magic’s problems at the feet of these big men, the team isn’t getting a lot out of Elfrid Payton (11 points), Aaron Gordon playing out of position at small forward shooting 37.6 percent, D.J. Augustin (41 percent), or C.J. Watson (21.9 percent). Even leading scorer Evan Fournier (17.6 points) is shooting just 42.5 percent from the field. When the offensively challenged Biyombo has your team’s second best shooting percentage (46), something needs to change.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Vogel shook up his starting lineup and it equally shouldn’t have been a surprise when it didn’t matter as reported by SB Nation’s Zach Oliver.

“Every time you make the changes guys are out there with different teammates and the chemistry gets altered a bit. So, sometimes you make a change to plug one hole and you create another hole by doing so,” said Vogel.

“We’re 30th in offense; I want to explore some new combinations in the same nine guys being in the rotation.”

That new combination saw Vucevic bumped from the starting lineup for the first time this season and as the big man who has had to sacrifice the most as the result of the Magic’s changes, he wasn’t happy.

“I spoke to Frank [Vogel] about it last night, and obviously I wasn’t happy with the decision they made,” said Vucevic. “I didn’t think that there was a reason for me to go to the bench, but it’s coaches decision. All I can do is control what I can control, which is when I’m on the court, play to the best of my ability and help the team win. Stay professional and whatever is going on, I’ll keep giving my best and give them my full effort.”

Both Ibaka and Green can leave as free agents after this season and if the Magic want to keep either of them they need to turn things around and fast. Even in a season where his scoring is down from 18.2 points last season to just 12.1 points this year, Vucevic is likely Magic general manager Rob Hennigan’s best trade asset as a double-double big man with two more seasons after this one at just $12.5 million per year.

Orlando has enjoyed a soft schedule to-date with 12 of their 17 games played against sub-.500 teams, so it’s hard to see how the Magic can turn around this season without making some changes. Hennigan needs to give Vogel a chance to fix his big man rotation and find a guard and/or a wing that can make shots.

Coming out of USC, Draft Express saw the young 7-footer with inside and outside potential playing at either the power forward or center spot. So, what can Hennigan get to fix his rotation for Vucevic?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

 

New York Knicks Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis

Knicks Walt Frazier Talks Rose, Noah, Melo And Porzingis

By Frank McLean

Not long ago the Knicks were in Toronto for the first of their two visits this season to the Air Canada Centre and Pro Bball Report had a chance to sit down with former Knicks player Walt “Clyde” Frasier who for the last 25 years has been either the team’s radio or television color commentator and talk about the moves Knicks president Phil Jackson has made and the team’s start to the season.

Jackson remade the Knicks roster in the summer with one specific goal in mind and that’s make the playoffs come hell or high water.

The first big move Jackson made was raiding the Chicago Bulls of two of their stars from the last few seasons, trading for guard Derrick Rose and signing as a free agent center Joakim Noah to take the offensive load off forward Carmelo Anthony and improve the overall team defense.

“It was a great coup by Phil Jackson to bring these guys in,” Frazier said. “No one saw it coming. Rose will really help us, last year we were last in hoops transition. He gives us that type of quickness.

“In Noah he’s like Tyson Chandler who we had a few years ago. He was a former defensive player of the year and he plays that game.”

Frazier also loved another free agent signing guard Courtney Lee.

“He can play without the ball and gives you lots of energy because you have to be able to defend yourself”.

Even with the changes Frazier says 13-year veteran Carmelo Anthony is still ‘the man’ on Broadway.

“Melo is still one of the most lethal guys in the league in isolation,” Frazier said. “He has provided more leadership this year and he has taken more responsibility trying to galvanize the team.”

The man who is expected to become ‘the man’ sooner or later and likely sooner with the Knicks is second year center Kristaps Porzingis.

Porzingis started off slow this season, but he is getting 30-minutes a night laying time and averaging close to 19-points a game.  Frazier says he is on the “threshold of greatness.”

“He’s very precious,” Frazier said. “He came in a 20-year old, speaks fluent English. Says all the right things and wants to be good. His family is here, his older brother and his mother and he loves his mother’s cooking. He is going to be a force and going to be a superstar.”

“He’s not showtime,” Frazier added. “He is team oriented and a very conservative kid. When you talk to him he is aware of being on the biggest stage. It requires a lot of tenacity to play in the NBA.”

Since the loss in Toronto, Porzingis has averaged over 24 points per game, shot over 50 percent from the field, grabbed 8.8 rebounds, a steal and a block and has looked like a force on the court already. No waiting required.

One thing that Frazier is disappointed about is the play of the Knicks bench. Last year it was a strength and this year it’s a weakness.

Of course the biggest change Jackson made was behind the bench, where he fired Derek Fisher midway through last season. He then made assistant Kurt Rambis head man for the rest of the season, but decided to bring in former Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek to take over the club and hand Rambis the title of Associate Head Coach.

Frazier called Hornacek laid back, something that doesn’t usually work in the mega fishbowl that is New York City.

“He’s laidback,” Frazier said. “Now that can be a problem in New York. He is unflappable and he does not get excited, does not yell at the players. The guys respect him and they will perform for him because they respect him.”

The Knicks have gone three seasons without making the playoffs and going four years in a row will get a lot of people fired Frazier said. And it’s not just the owner of Madison Square Garden Jams Dolan who is getting impatient, so are the fans.

“The natives are getting restless,” Frazier said about the Knicks fans who have not had a championship team to cheer for since 1973.

When the Knicks left Toronto with a loss they were 3-6. Since then they are 5-1 improving to 8-7, beating the Mavs, Pistons, Hawks, Blazers and Hornets, so the ‘natives’ should be pretty happy.

However, there is still a lot of basketball left to be played. Many of the changes to this year’s roster are veterans who have been injured at one time or another and it will be interesting to see if these guys can stay healthy. But the real hope could be with Porzingis.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 


NBA D-League Long Island Nets Egidijus Mockevicius of Lithuania

Lithuania Produces Another Center To Watch Egidijus Mockevicius

For a very small Country Lithuania produces more than it’s share of professional basketball talent and yet another center to watch is the undrafted senior from Evansville Egidijus Mockevicius now affiliated with the Brooklyn Nets.

The 6’10 Mockevicious led the NCAA in rebounding at 14 boards per game last season and according to Josh Riddell of Draft Express,

Egidijus Mockevicius had his most productive statistical year as a senior by averaging 19.5 points and 17.6 rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted. The Evansville center has been one of the best Missouri Valley Conference players over the past few seasons, being named to the All-Conference 1st Team for the past two seasons and the All-Conference Defensive Team for the past three.

Mockevicius ranks among the most dominant defensive rebounders in college basketball history, easily finishing #1 in the nation in that category. He’s committed to tracking down every loose ball, running straight to the front of the rim after every shot and tracking down balls outside his area.

Mockevicius played in Mississauga recently with the Long Island Nets and he made an impression despite his team getting blown out 117-83 by the Raptors 905.

As advertised the big Lithuanian isn’t exceptionally athletic or fast, but he ran the floor well and somehow seemed to get to where he needed to be when he needed to get there. Not surprisingly he led his team with 8 boards in just 23 minutes of action to go with 12 points on 6-10 shooting. He stood out as a contributor with his hustle.

Mockevicius is what’s called an Affiliate player in the ever evolving NBA Development League. The Brooklyn Nets approached his agent after the draft and brought him in for a workout in May. Then a stint in Summer League and an invite to training camp with some burn in a preseason game before getting him to agree to play with the Long Island Nets. A series of moves which may turn into the two-way contracts envisioned in the revised NBA CBA expected to kick in next season.

“I am Affiliated right now with (the Brooklyn Nets), but hopefully one day I’ll get called up,” Mockevicius told Pro Bball Report. “That’s what I an trying to work on.

“I’ve been at Summer League with them, so I’ve been with them for quite some time now.”

Through four games with the Long Island Nets, Mockevicius has averaged 13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 1.5 blocks in 23.9 minutes, showing he can produce in a fast paced league that isn’t often kind to more traditional centers. However, the big man is trying to avoid the traditional center label. He wants to show he’s a lot more versatile than that.

“It’s a Development League, so you are just trying to develop overall,” Mockevicius said. “You don’t want to (focus) on just one thing. You want to do a bunch of things because if you only do one thing right it might not give you a shot at the highest level, so it’s way more important to be doing a lot of stuff.

“It would not only be rebounding. It’s scoring, being comfortable with the ball making good decisions. That’s how basketball is played, you can’t do only one thing. Especially with how the (NBA) is developing, every big I know has to do a lot of things. Everyone is a good rebounder, everyone is a good passer. The NBA is based on shooting right now, there is a lot of things to improve on to get a shot (a chance).

“In the NBA you can play the four/five, it’s not any different. That’s the thing I am trying to develop right now. Be more like a diverse player. Be able to roll, be able to expand the floor, be able to shoot. You can’t really be just one thing.”

A very good college player, Mockevicius is getting a chance to to develop his game and expand his skill set with the Long Island Nets. It’ll be tougher place to play than in college and not just because the players around him are better, stronger and faster. The D-League plays more small ball and at a faster pace than in the NBA, so the match-ups will push him to figure out how to be effective enough stay on the court in a challenging environment.

If this traditional center can cut it in the D-League, NBA teams will have yet another Lithuanian to keep an eye on.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Atlanta Hawks Al Horford

Celtics Are Now The Worst Rebounding Team In The NBA

It was no secret that the Boston Celtics went from being a poor rebounding team to bad rebounding team this past summer and Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett just re-confirmed the organization was well aware of their situation.

“My biggest concern even before the year started was defensive rebounding,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. “I think that we are a small team and a quick team, and we have to do it collectively. We don’t have one of those guys that gets all the rebounds, and that was our problem last year, and it’s going to be a problem this year, too.”

When Pro Bball Report took a look at what the Celtics had done with their roster, one thing stood out, their rebounding issues were about to get worse.

Jared Sullinger was far and away Boston’s best rebounder and it’s not even close. Last season Sullinger pulled in 27 percent of the available defensive boards while he was on the court and the Celtics needed every one of them. (Last year’s) 26th worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA just took a step back and Horford is not the solution. With Horford replacing Sullinger in the starting lineup, the Celtics could be as much as 2.9 rebounds a game below last year’s pace.

Overall the Celtics had a 20th ranked rebounding differential of -1.1 boards per game last season and Sullinger was both their best offensive rebounder (2.4 rebounds) and defensive rebounder (5.9 rebounds) in just 23.6 minutes per game.

The early returns this season are a pathetic dead last 30th ranked rebounding differential of -8.0 boards per game. Opponents are grabbing more (cringe 1.3 more) offensive rebounds (12.7 vs 11.4) as last year and the Celtics just don’t have the same presence on the glass and are getting 3.5 fewer offensive boards (8.1) themselves. And as Aigne noted, the defensive glass isn’t being looked after either.

After seven games, Boston is only grabbing a league worst 45.3 percent of the available rebounds, a league worst 70.8 percent of the defensive boards and fifth worst 19.2 percent of the offensive rebounds.

Al Horford missing a few games isn’t the answer either. Horford’s rebounding prowess at both ends of the court has been in decline for three straight seasons prior to this one and he wasn’t close to being as effective as Sullinger was on the boards last year. If anything, the earlier estimated 2.9 fewer boards resulting from exchanging Horford for Sullinger might be too optimistic. The Celtics are a small team.

“We knew before the season that we don’t have the great rim protectors and we’re not a great defensive rebounding team,” Aigne said.

When a guard is your team’s best rebounder (Avery Bradley 7.9), you have problems.

There isn’t any reason to panic, however, the Celtics are a team that is still developing players and is far from a finished product. Injuries to Horford (5.3 rebounds per game) and Jae Crowder (6.3 rebounds per game) are distorting the win/loss totals and impacting the defense even if their return isn’t going to save Boston on the glass.

Scoring is up from last year’s 105.7 points per game and recent offensive slippage should reverse once the injured players get back. Now if head coach Brad Stevens can just get his usually tough defense that’s currently giving up a league worst 112.3 points per 100 possessions back on track, the lack of rebounding won’t stand out so much.

“I think that often times you get feeling like you’re a little better than you are,” Ainge said. “And when that happens, no matter how good your team is, you’re going to get humbled if you don’t realize what it takes to win.”

Most coaches in the league will tell you it takes defense and rebounding to win and if you’re doing neither, it’s going to be a long season.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

NBA New York Knicks Derrick Rose

Don’t Be Fooled, The Knicks Are Still Struggling

By Frank McLean

Stop me if you have heard this before. The new NBA season is almost two weeks old and as the saying goes, “some things just stay the same”, the New York Knicks are still struggling.

Friday night the Knicks took a disappointing 1-3 record into Chicago where they took on a Bulls squad who had a 3-1 mark to start the campaign.

What made this a big early season match-up was the return to the Windy City of two former Bulls standouts, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Rose a Chicago native was acquired by trade in the off season where the Knicks parted ways with center Robin Lopez. Noah was signed to a $72 million free agent deal and neither player had been a factor heading into Chicago.

Noah was scoreless in two of the Knicks first four games of the season. He was brought in for defense, but was benched in this past Wednesday’s 19 point home loss to Houston.

Rose coming into Friday night’s game was averaging 15 points a game and shooting 47 per cent from the floor, but the knock against him is that he is not setting up his teammates. He only had 10 assists in their first four games.

“It sucks,” Rose said on Thursday of the 1-3 start. “I’ve been on teams where there’s a culture and we’re trying to build a defensive culture here and it takes time.”

“It’s us coming in with the right intensity and having the will to fight,” Noah contributed. “Obviously we have a lot of work to do. It’s not the end of the world. There’s a lot of talent on the team. We got to stay patient.”

“The defense has been taught and preached,” said Knicks new head coach Jeff Hornacek. “Sometimes it comes down to just taking it upon yourself to stop somebody and not look for help. We just can’t let the guy drive by and have two-step advantage and say: ‘Help me, help me.’ ”

The Knicks are desperate for help. They have given up at least 112 points in each of their three losses.

Hornacek also pointed out to the New York media on Thursday that he is not sure if the team is paying attention to the “scouting reports” they get on their opponents and also questioned their conditioning and if offensively the wrong players are asserting themselves.

Last season’s rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis is having a bit of an early sophomore slump. When opponents put a small line-up on the floor he is having a tough time defending smaller forwards who have quickness and speed.

Porzingis misses Lopez who was able to get the ball to the 7’3 forward. He went scoreless on Wednesday night which had Hornacek scratching his head. Why can’t his teammates get him the ball to exploit his size?

Guard Courtney Lee added his “two cents worth” with an idea as to why their defense stinks. He said it’s because they practice against triangle sets and not the pick-and-roll offenses most other clubs use.

Well you know in any discussion about the New York Knicks sooner or later the dreaded “triangle offense” would be brought out.

Two years ago Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan paid $60 million to Phil Jackson to turn this thing around. However, Jackson won his NBA titles with the Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers as a coach, not the General Manager which is his portfolio in Gotham.

He ran the “triangle offense” as a coach and he insists his coaches run it as well.

It worked for Jackson because he had Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to run it. It’s a scheme that does not seem to fit in 2016 because the game has changed, defenses are more complex.

However, Friday night in Chicago, the Knicks won 117-104 and their record is now 2-3.

Even though they pulled out a win, the Knicks are still 29th in the NBA for defensive efficiency and are giving up a brutal 109 points per game. They are also dead last at grabbing defensive boards pulling in just 70.1 percent of the available defensive rebounds. The median for defensive rebounding in the NBA is currently 77.9 percent. With just an average offense, this isn’t a formula for winning many games.

This team hasn’t made the playoffs in three seasons and Dolan doesn’t like to miss the extra revenue home playoff games at Madison Square Garden brings to his bank account. However, if Hornachek can’t get the Knick to defend, for the fourth straight year the Knicks will look like guaranteed win night when they show up on your schedule.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant

Don’t Panic Over Knicks and Warriors Getting Crushed Opening Night

It’s just one game and we’ve all seen this movie before. A team makes a huge change(s) to their roster in the hopes of getting a lot better and falls flat on their face in the early part of the season. It really is true, team chemistry matters and it can take half a season for a new group of guys to figure out how to play together effectively, so don’t panic if you’re in New York or Golden State – ok, absolutely no one in panicking about the Warriors.

It wasn’t all that long ago that LeBron James in Miami with two other superstars took a while to figure out how to share the rock and it didn’t go any smoother on his return to Cleveland. Unfortunately the same issues can arise whether your team is striving to be a contender, trying make the playoffs or even just be better than last year. Team chemistry takes time to develop and you’re just lucky if it happens faster.

It’s safe to say James is pretty comfortable playing with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love after two trips to the NBA Finals and he coasted to his 43rd career triple-double as the current “Big 3” poured in 71 points in the 117-88 blowout of the Knicks on opening night. This matchup made for great pregame hype, but New York wasn’t ready for this and no one should have been surprised.

Derrick Rose has barely had anytime to practice, let alone build chemistry, with his new team as he was tied up in the ultimate distraction of a sex-based civil trial that would have most normal people curled up in a corner for months afterward. Joakim Noah could be the ultimate player in needing team chemistry to be effective as his 0-6-3 in 20 minutes stat line illustrates. 52 points out of your starting five isn’t going to win many games.

It was never going to be easy for New York to grab a playoff spot this season, but no one should be taking Game One as an indication of what this group can accomplish. They just can’t fall too far off the map in the first couple of months while everyone figures out how to play together. A season opener against the 76ers or Nets would have been a little fairer under the circumstances.

Spurs 129 Warriors 100 isn’t how the new “Big 4” were supposed to open the season at home and the loss wasn’t all on the Big 4 as Curry, Thompson, Green and Durant combined for 82 points. As was “slightly” feared this summer, adding Durant decimated the bench and the Spurs reserves outscored the Warriors backups 54-16. Aldridge and Leonard looked great combining for 61 points, but the big plus/minus numbers in this game belonged to the second unit guys (on both teams). The Spurs Patty Mills was +35 while the Warriors veteran Andre Iguodala was -28. Bench chemistry matter too.

Unlike the situation in New York, the Warriors are going to win a lot of games on pure talent alone while they figure out how to make this new bench mob an effective unit. Absolutely no one will be crying about any early struggles this super team has to go through.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


NBA commissioner Adam Silver

Expanded Rosters Are Coming To The NBA Soon

It looks like the NBA is finally making progress with its’ union on expanding rosters by creating two-way contracts between the NBA and NBA D-League and these changes could come sooner rather than later according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical

Among expected changes in the new CBA, league sources told The Vertical: A significantly higher rookie contract scale and two-way contracts between the NBA and NBA Development League that will add playing jobs for the union.

It’s about time too. MLB and the NHL have long histories of committing to young players and even journeyman via two-way contracts that allow professional athletes in these sports to develop playing in a minor league system. It permits those recently drafted and sometimes undrafted prospects to play big minutes without having to learn on the job at the expense of the major league franchise. It also gives teams somewhere to stash a potential injury reserve veteran without taking up a roster spot, although it’s not clear if the NBA has this concept in mind just yet.

The cure for all labor/management issues is a boatload of money and the NBA is literally swimming in cash these days, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the NBA and its’ union are having very favorable talks regarding changes to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Both sides would have to be flat out stupid to slow down this gravy train.

The NBA and NBPA each have until Dec. 15 to exercise an opt-out clause of the current 10-year deal that was reached in 2011, but sources on both sides believe that a new deal will be in place prior to that date.

Some of those “minor” issues likely entail a slightly bigger share of the much larger revenue pie for the union now that any NBA team not making money has run out of excuses and higher dollar amounts on exceptions (MLE, BAE) that more closely fit the spirit of these tools when they were originally negotiated. A Mid Level Exception in the $8-10 million range would make a lot more sense in the new Salary Cap reality.

This is the moment in time to ask players to share the expanding revenue pie with the larger rosters two-way contracts will create and help drive the expansion of the NBA Development League.

Every player in the NBA saw just how much salaries are set to blow up under the current CBA. It shouldn’t be too hard to get agreement on sharing the wealth by expanding the size of the union’s membership. Basically, book it, the NBA is about to have a minor league system that fans can watch and know the best players on their affiliated team belong to their franchise. A real NBA Development League, it’s about time.

 

Note: A couple of other changes that we would like to see are a return to the sign-and-trade and extend-and-trade rules of the prior CBA so teams could regain the possibility of getting something in return when one of their big name free agents signs/ intends to sign with another team. For example: when free agent Chris Bosh left the Toronto Raptors in the lurch to join Miami, the Raptors got a trade exception and two first round draft picks back. But, when Kevin Durant deserted OKC this summer, the Thunder got a big fat nothing and had no chance of getting anything from the Warriors. It just seems likely KD would have ensured the Warriors would have been pressed into sending the Thunder a draft pick or something if it made sense under the CBA.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 



 

 

NBA playoffs Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James - Kyrie Irving - Kevin Love

Who Has The Star Power In The NBA East?

The NBA is a star driven league and the teams with the biggest stars seem to inevitably make it into the playoffs and the best on to the NBA Finals. However, no star is big enough to do it on their own, they need help on the level of the top 100 NBA players as described by SI.com’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney. SI might not be 100 percent right on their selections, but be assured, if a team doesn’t have more than it’s share of talent from this list, their playoff aspirations could be in trouble.

Eastern Conference teams with significant top 100 depth are:

Cleveland Cavaliers (5 players on SI’s top 100)

Assuming a deal eventually gets done with J.R. Smith (96th), the Cavs have SI’s number one ranked player in the NBA, LeBron James backed up by Kyrie Irving (25), Kevin Love (30) and Tristan Thompson (52). This returning starting five averaged an impressive 81.1 points and 31.1 rebounds.

Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that James gets to play with this much depth until one checks out the Warriors who have four players ranked in the top 20.

Boston Celtics (5 players on SI’s top 100)

The free agent acquisition of Al Horford (18th) gives the Celtics a top 20 player to play with Isaiah Thomas (45), Jae Crowder (53), Avery Bradley (72) and Amir Johnson (86). However, this likely starting five only averaged 74.1 points and 24.7 rebounds combined last year. The Celtics might just miss last season’s number 4 scorer and SI snub ranked in the “next 25” Evan Turner. Horford replaces Boston’s top rebounder and fifth leading scorer Jared Sullinger who signed with Toronto.

Orlando Magic (5 players on SI’s top 100)

It may come as a surprise, but the Magic really are a better and deeper team than last year’s 35 win squad, albeit with perhaps more depth at the 4/5 than usual? The acquisition of Serge Ibaka (42) fits in nicely with the smash-mouth style of new head coach Frank Vogel as does free agent Bismack Biyombo (91). They join Nikola Vucevic (75), Evan Fournier (95) and Aaron Gordon (99). A starting five Elfrid Payton, Fournier, Gordon, Ibaka and Vucevic averaged 65.5 points and 28.1 rebounds combined last year.

Orlando could be a playoff team, but with no star in the top 40, depth can only carry a team so far.

Toronto Raptors (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Raptors top ranked players all played on last year’s 56 win team led by Kyle Lowry (14), DeMar DeRozan (46), Jonas Valanciunas (62) and DeMarre Carroll (73). SI snub Cory Joseph just missing the cut. Toronto’s starting lineup will include Sullinger from the Celtics replacing the 36-year-old Luis Scola. This anticipated starting lineup averaged a Cavaliers-like 78.8 points and 31.3 rebounds combined. Lowry is ranked as the third best player in the East and should be expected to carry his team far again this season.

Charlotte Hornets (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Hornets live or die on the back of Kemba Walker (33), but he has help from Nicolas Batum (43), Marvin Williams (65) and Cody Zeller (94). Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist made the next 25 snub list despite only playing 7 regular season games last year. These five players averaged 68.9 points and 29.5 rebounds combined.

Washington Wizards (4 players on SI’s top 100)

No one ever said the Wizards didn’t have talent. John Wall (17), Marcan Gortat (55), Bradley Beal (58) and Ian Mahinmi (76) all make SI’s top 100. The presumed starting lineup includes Otto Porter and Markieff Morris with 74.5 points and 29.3 boards combined.

Atlanta Hawks (4 players on SI’s top 100)

This team doesn’t feel like a playoff contender, but Paul Millsap (15), Dwight Howard (34), Kyle Korver (70) and Kent Bazemore (90) indicate there’s still something here. Dennis Schroder takes over from Jeff Teague to lead this group at point guard, their combined averages were 62.6 points and 31.8 rebounds.

In a 30 team league, a middle of the pack team should have at least three players from SI’s list and five Eastern Conference teams do.  Teams hitting this mark include:

Chicago Bulls feature Jimmy Butler (16), Dwyane Wade (32) and Robin Lopez (82) plus three more in the next 25, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Rajon Rondo, so maybe they are better than average?

Indiana Pacers feature the resurgent Paul George (9), Jeff Teague (57) and Thaddeus Young (66) plus two snubs in Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson. George is ranked as the second best player in the East, so expect the Pacers to be in the middle of the playoff pack rather than the middle of the conference.

Milwaukee Bucks have Kris Middleton (39), Giannis Antetokounmpo (48), Greg Monroe (63) plus Jabari Parker in the next 25. (Note: Middleton is expected to miss the next 6 months due to injury)

Detroit Pistons rely on Andre Drummond (29), Reggie Jackson (54) and Tobias Harris (77). Head coach Stan Van Gundy might be the real star in Detroit.

In theory Miami had Hassan Whiteside (35), Goran Dragic (61) and Chris Bosh (37), however, Bosh failed his preseason physical so maybe the Heat can stop pretending they can even be an average team this season?

The star power in the East suggests Cleveland remains unchallenged with Toronto, Boston and possibly Indiana fighting it out for next best. However, the depleted Hawks with four players in the top 100 may not be as badly off as anticipated if they can find the chemistry needed to keep their 9-year postseason run alive.

It should be noted that the Knicks are one of just three Eastern Conference teams to have less than three players on SI’s top 100 list as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah fell into the snubbed category. The East and the West each have 50 players in SI’s top 100.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

NBA Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins

Vlade Divac Still Has Time To Blow Up The Sacramento Kings

Sacramento proves the point that insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result each time. The Kings haven’t been a .500 club in a decade of futility and even superstar DeMarcus Cousins hasn’t been able to change that. However, general manager Vlade Divac may still have time to blow up this mess and start over as his team moves into Golden 1 Center and offer the Kings long suffering fans at least some glimmer of hope for the future.

“General manager Vlade Divac should have gutted the roster during the offseason, dangling Cousins as a tantalizing trade asset,” writes Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee. “Starting over isn’t a bad thing, especially given the circumstances. Season tickets are sold out. Golden 1 Center soon will be christened. The fans are worn out and eager for change.

“Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead of recognizing that fans are more excited about the building than the on-court product, principal owner Vivek Ranadive made it very clear he wants his two best players on the court, at least for the start of the inaugural season in the arena.”

DeMarcus Cousins is recognized as a franchise-changing type player, it just isn’t happening in Sacramento. While he fits in smoothly on a team of players and coaches he respects when playing for Team USA in the summers, on the sad-sack Kings with a revolving coach’s door, virtually no stability and little hope of winning, he’s been less than a solid citizen. The scary thing for team ownership has to be what Cousins would do in a winning environment with solid ownership, management, coaching and a couple of stars to play with.

There is possibly no bigger indictment of the Kings as an organization than when Rudy Gay made it known he wasn’t going to pick up his player option for 2017-18 in the hopes Divac would hurry up and trade him before the season started. Gay is the team’s second best player averaging 17.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in what Voisin accurately described as a “miserable” season.

Gay isn’t happy and why would he be? The 30-year-old combo forward could be an impact player on a contender, but instead he sees himself wasting another one of his prime years playing for a dysfunctional lottery team.

The Kings were rumored to be trying to move Gay this summer, but nothing happened despite his reasonable $13.3 million salary. The only explanation is Divac’s (or Ranadive) expectations were way too high. Gay isn’t going to return a younger version of himself with similar stats. This is going to be something of a fire sale for prospects, but with the Kings history, starting a genuine rebuild isn’t just not a bad idea – it’s the only idea.

Cousins on the other hand would return players and picks that would unquestionably help the Kings down the road if not immediately. A player that put up 26.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks – even on a bad team – is going to command a lot of interest and major league return. Especially since Cousins is under contract for $17 million this season and $18 million next year.

It might be embarrassing to tank when heading into a new building, but this is the year to do it. The Kings owe their 2017 first round draft pick to Chicago if it falls outside the top 10, otherwise the Bulls get a second round pick instead. The 76ers can swap first round picks with Sacramento in 2017 if it’s in the top 10, but somehow swapping picks with Philly just doesn’t feel like that big of a risk.

If Divac shopped Cousins, he should be able to land a young rising star and a couple of first round draft picks – if not more. This wouldn’t be a fire sale and the Kings GM wouldn’t have to show up to his new arena wearing a paper bag over his head afterwards.

These moves should have been entertained in August, but apparently someone in the Kings organization still wasn’t ready to accept the mess that’s been created. However, there is still time to make changes. No one except Cousins is going to bring back a surefire return that can be sold to the fans as good for now and the long term, but if they use the time between now and the trade deadline effectively, there will be teams that need the pieces the Kings can offer and Divac should be able to get useful, if less than equal, value back – even for Gay. If Cousins is gone, the Kings don’t really have to worry about winning too many games and losing their opportunity to tank for a top draft pick in the meantime.

I’m sure Divac would love to hear about trade proposals for Cousins and/or Gay from the fans of every other team in the NBA?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 



 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Experts Rank The 2016-17 NBA East

It seems like months since an NBA team has made a move that wasn’t anticipated or mattered, so how the NBA East was ranked really shouldn’t have changed much since the end of July when ESPN forecast the standings for 2016-17. Recently Basketball Insiders Joel Brigham and Steve Kyler threw caution to the wind and talked thru their ranking of the Eastern Conference and Pro Bball Report has come to its own conclusions about where this season is headed.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers, last year 57-25

ESPN – Cavaliers
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Cavaliers
Pro Bball Report – Cavaliers

Even with the Cavs three-point leader J.R. Smith still unsigned for 2016-17, any team LeBron James is on remains the undisputed favorite in the East. Besides, no one believes the 31-year-old Smith really has any other option but to re-sign with the Cavaliers.

2. Toronto Raptors, last year 56-26

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Raptors
Pro Bball Report – Raptors

Don’t undersell a 56 win season. ESPN tends to overestimate the impact of the loss of backup (stress backup) center Bismack Biyombo on Toronto who Kyler suggests might have the worst hands in basketball and ESPN ignores the challenge Boston will face with the loss of their best rebounder in Jared Sullinger to Toronto. The Celtics may have picked up a few wins with the veteran savvy of All-Star Al Horford, but a really bad rebounding team got worse this summer. Boston is still going to struggle getting the ball back after playing their brand of stellar defense again this season.

3. Boston Celtics, last year 48-34

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Pacers
Pro Bball Report – Celtics

Kyler likes the Celtics here, disagreeing with his senior writer on this pick as he is not sold on the Pacers coaching change and he’s got a point, Frank Vogel is a superior coach. However, everyone seems to agree that the top four teams in the East are the Cavs, Raptors, Celtics and Pacers. It’s easy to like the Celtics here.

4. Indiana Pacers, last year 45-37

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Celtics
Pro Bball Report – Pacers

After watching Paul George in the first round of the playoffs, it’s easy to say the Pacers are back and they have a superstar that can carry the team. The Jeff Teague for George Hill move is likely a wash, but acquiring Thaddeus Young is an upgrade and if Al Jefferson can get his game back on track, the Pacers will be one of the tougher teams in the East. Replacing Frank Vogel with Nate McMillan remains a head scratcher?

5. Detroit Pistons, last year 44-38

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bulls
Pro Bball Report – Pistons

Basketball Insiders seems to think that as many as 12 teams in the East could have 40 or more wins in 2016-17, although a couple of teams are likely to fall short of expectations. Like last season when 10 teams had 40+ win records, the battle for the last four playoff spots is going to be fierce. The Pistons are building from a solid base with a fiery head coach known for getting the most out of his guys (at least for a few years). All the rest have issues to overcome and the Pistons continuity should give them the edge.

6. Chicago Bulls, last year 42-40

ESPN – Hawks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Wizards
Pro Bball Report – Bulls

ESPN hangs their hat on the acquisition of Dwight Howard to save the Hawks, but that’s not a limb everyone is going to be willing to climb out on. In Chicago the combination of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade should be enough to get the Bulls back in the postseason picture and it’s hard jumping on a Wizards revival bandwagon before seeing them play a game.

7. Charlotte Hornets, last year 48-34

ESPN – Hornets
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Knicks
Pro Bball Report – Hornets

Yes the Hornets lost Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee, but this team lives and dies on the play of Kemba Walker and as long as he returns 100 percent from his August knee surgery, the Hornets should be back in the mix for a playoff spot. Kyler’s assertion that this team can’t put together back-to-back winning seasons notwithstanding. Unfortunately, the popular Knicks are a team built to break their fans’ hearts.

8. Orlando Magic, last year 35-47

ESPN – Wizards
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Detroit
Pro Bball Report – Magic

Kyler acknowledges the Magic, among others, can win 40 games, although it will likely take 44 wins again this season to make the playoffs in the East. The Magic have issues to overcome, but talent isn’t one of them. This team will rise or falter on new head coach Frank Vogel’s ability to get the most out of what he’s got and just in case you haven’t been paying attention, betting against Vogel hasn’t been a good idea.

9. New York Knicks, last year 32-50

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Magic
Pro Bball Report – Knicks

On paper the Knicks should be fifth in the East like Kyler suggested, unfortunately at this point in their careers some of the Knicks best players have joints that seem to be made of paper. If Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah can stay on the court, the Knicks can stay in the playoff picture and be a threat in the postseason. Based on recent Knicks luck, that’s a lot to ask for.

10. Washington Wizards, last year 41-41

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bucks
Pro Bball Report – Wizards

A lot of people want the Wizards to figure it out. Wall and Beal are an exciting pair when they are healthy and don’t appear to hate each other (ok, hate is a little strong, but there are issues here). The Wizards are just one year away from a 46 win season, but that feels like ancient history now and if things aren’t going well by Christmas, changes will need to be made. Maybe Scott Brooks can save this motley crew, but we’re not convinced.

11. Atlanta Hawks, last year 48-34

ESPN – Bucks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hornets
Pro Bball Report – Hawks

Two seasons ago the Hawks were a 60 win team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but since then DeMarre Carroll, Jeff Teague and Al Horford have moved/been moved on and Kyle Korver has had his 35th birthday. The Hawks are good enough to win 40 games, but that record will still end a nine year run as an Eastern Conference playoff team. There’s no love for the Hawks chances from Basketball Insiders. ESPN putting the Hawks in sixth feels like a lot of wishful thinking.

12. Milwaukee Bucks, last year 33-49

ESPN – Heat
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hawks
Pro Bball Report – Bucks

The Bucks appear to have improved somewhat from last season, but so much of their success will hinge on the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker and getting a collection of talent that doesn’t quite seem to fit to play better.

13. Miami Heat, last year 48-34

ESPN – Magic
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Heat
Pro Bball Report – Heat

The Heat’s Big Three are no more. LeBron James left for Cleveland last year. Wade bolted for Chicago this summer and Chris Bosh may or may not ever play again. Add to this to the loss of Luol Deng and Joe Johnson and the Heat are rebuilding – whether they admit to it or not. The only real question outstanding is if Miami is willing to move out the 30-year-old veteran Goran Dragic for young players and a draft pick or do they stay the course and hope for better than the rationally expected outcome?

14. Philadelphia 76ers, last year 10-72

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – 76ers
Pro Bball Report – 76ers

A very young and inexperienced roster of top NBA draft picks with veterans Sergio Rodriguez, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson providing some badly needed leadership that should enable this team to double last year’s win total.

15. Brooklyn Nets, last year 21-61

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Nets
Pro Bball Report – Nets

It wasn’t easy to field a team that was worse than last year’s Nets, but with a little work (salary dump), the Nets made it happen. And the Celtics can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn in June and own the Nets 2018 first round pick. This is what basketball purgatory looks like.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks Larry Sanders

Is Larry Sanders The Answer At Backup Center?

Larry Sanders led the NBA in block percentage in the 2012-13 season with the Bucks, swatting away 7.6 percent of opponent two-point field goal attempts while he was on the court. He also pulled in over a quarter of all the defensive rebounds. The future looked very bright for the then 24-year-old center. So how did he end up in the summer of 2016 rumor mill as a potential backup center?

Sanders was waived by Milwaukee on February 21, 2015 after deciding to walk away from basketball and a big chunk of his recently signed $44 million contract, however, he didn’t leave empty handed. The Bucks used the stretch provision and will be paying Sanders $2.2 million per year thru 2021-22.

After his big season in 2012-13, things started going wrong. Sanders only played in 23 games the next year as an eye injury that required orbital bone surgery ended his season and the thumb he injured in a bar fight also had to be surgically repaired. Plus, a five game suspension for his third time violating the league’s marijuana policy put him at odds with the organization as detailed by Rotoworld.

He got into 27 games in 2014-15 before a string of missed games due to “illness” preceded his departure. Sanders recently talked about his decision in an extensive interview with Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders.

I got to the point where I realized that the NBA is a machine. It’s going to keep running, with or without you. If it can keep running without Allen Iverson – Allen Iverson! – then it’s definitely not worried about me. I knew that, and I also knew they really didn’t have the time to get to know me, to understand me and who I am. And look, I totally understand that. I get that. But I just felt like I had to put myself in a better position in life, to feel more fulfilled. At the end of the day, I’m left with myself, my loved ones and the life I made. I wanted to be someone who was proud of their story. It was always about staying true to myself. I didn’t want to lose myself and who I was for anything. No amount of money. Nothing.”

Sanders will be 28-years-old in November and the reason he still gets talked about is the 6’11 center with the 7’6 wingspan could have been/ was about to become? the Eastern Conference equivalent of DeAndre Jordan, a double-double shot blocking machine. If only he could get back on track. At the same age in the same 2012-13 season, Sanders looked like a better player than Jordan.

He told Kennedy that he’s ready to come back to the NBA.

I feel like I’m in a much better place right now and I’m equipped to be able to put myself in that situation again.

Stepping out of the NBA schedule and doing that was good for me, I’m very happy now.

I could see myself coming back to the NBA

Crank up the rumor mill, most of the teams in the NBA could use a defensive center that can protect the rim and rebound, however, Jordan doesn’t appear to be willing to just tryout for an NBA team to prove he’s ready to come back. He wants some kind of guaranteed deal with a spot in the rotation.

There’s the rub. Sanders’ name has been associated with several teams this summer and apparently passed over. Nearly two years away from the game will do that. Organizations have a right to be cautious. Sanders didn’t exit the NBA under the best of circumstances and there is no real way to know if he’s physically ready to play an NBA season until you can get him in a gym for a few weeks and preferably see him play at least a handful of preseason games. He isn’t an undrafted 20 something rookie a team can invest in developing. Sanders is either an NBA player or he isn’t.

There are still some obvious situations where Sanders could prove himself. In Toronto, the Raptors lost defensive center Bismack Biyombo to free agency and Sanders could actually be an upgrade. The only issue is, Toronto, like most NBA teams, already has potential solutions on the roster to cover off the loss. Sanders would have to prove himself a better option than Jared Sullinger and Lucas Nogueira, plus rookies Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam. The 2012-13 version of Sanders wins the minutes at backup center, the 2013-14 or 2014-15 version likely gets the thanks, but no thanks.

At this late date, things aren’t likely to be any easier anywhere else. If Sanders wants back in the NBA, he’s going to be competing for more than a spot in a rotation, he’ll have to fight for a spot on a roster. Opportunities exist and some kind of partial guarantee could be out there, but after how things went in Milwaukee, asking for a guaranteed contract and a promise of playing time may not be the best way to get an NBA GM to believe he’s ready to come back.

 

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Is The NBA East Waiting On LeBron James To Get Old?

Father-time remains undefeated and in the NBA East that may be the only thing that can stop the reign of King James. Soon to be 32-years-old, LeBron has taken his team to the NBA Finals six times in a row and he is the overwhelming favorite to carry his Cleveland Cavaliers there again this season. With many of the Cavs so called rivals choosing to hold onto draft picks and young developing talent, no Eastern Conference team even looks like they have made a serious attempt to dethrone the King this summer. Almost everyone in the East seems to be waiting on James to get old and/or injured for now.

The Cavs aren’t going to make it easy to compete either. They’ll be a luxury tax team again this this season – expected to be the only tax team in the East. The sole remaining outstanding question is how deep into the tax will re-signing J.R. Smith push them? Can Smith extract the $15 million per year out of Cleveland he’s looking for before training camp opens? The Cavs aren’t losing to anyone because of money.

While there were a number of outlandish contracts handed out this summer and a lot of good players got paid, there were some cheap head scratching deals done by players that would have helped any Eastern Conference team that actually thought they had a shot this season and some veterans who could help a team’s depth that are still available, such as:

David Lee – 2 years, $3.1 million, Spurs
Zaza Pachulia – 1 year, $2.9 million, Warriors
Marreese Speights – 2 years, $2.8 million, Clippers
Brandon Bass – 1 year, $1.5 million, Clippers
Terrence Jones – 1 year, $980,000, Pelicans

Still available:
Lance Stephenson
Norris Cole
Tyler Hansbrough
Josh Smith
Jason Thompson

There are a lot more names that could be added to either list who would be better than just about anyone’s 11-15th player.

Toronto Raptors

The 56 win second place Toronto Raptors seemed to be in the best position to make a bold move by cashing in their two first round draft picks and some young talent to go for it in the upcoming season, but the mantra in Toronto continues to be “we’re not a finished product.” That Toronto isn’t a finished product is true, but with two returning All-Star guards, a breakout playoff performance by center Jonas Valanciunas before he got hurt and the anticipated return of a healthy ‘3-and-d’ stopper in DeMarre Carroll, president and general manager Masai Ujiri didn’t seem to even try to fill out his roster with veterans like the Cavs have done. After deeming other teams trade demands were too high, he ignored the numerous playoff proven veterans that were available on the cheap and in the East, he wasn’t alone.

With 8/10ths of last season’s rotation returning, the Raptors will be a 50+ win team again this season with a shot a first in the Conference, but they know the Cavaliers don’t really care about that and with good reason. It’s hard to identify any possibly available player or combination of players that would tip the scales in Toronto’s favor in a seven game series with the Cavs especially without Ujiri giving up the best of his young talent. So the Raptors doubled down on developing talent and kept their youth and their picks and signed four prospects to training camp invites to see if they could find another player to develop.

Boston Celtics

If the 48 win Celtics could have found a way to add another star player after picking up Al Horford in free agency, then maybe, just maybe, they’d be considered a threat to the King. The Celtics had more draft picks than any team could possibly add in one season, so when the trade market wasn’t any friendlier to them than it was to Toronto, they went about stashing what they could in Europe and jumping back on the player development bandwagon.

Boston should be a 50+ win team this year and challenge Toronto’s claim on the Atlantic Division , but with so many young players deserving and needing playing time to develop, it’ll be another interesting season for head coach Brad Stevens as he tries to balance between winning now and finding out what he’s got for a couple of years down the road when the James led Cavs might finally be gettable.

Indiana Pacers

Then there’s the Pacers. Indiana is betting on the resurgence of superstar Paul George to carry a veteran laden team to the next level. Respected head coach Frank Vogel was replaced by Nate McMillan and the team waived good-bye to Ty Lawson, Solomon Hill and Ian Mahinmi. George Hill was traded for Jeff Teague, they traded a draft pick for Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson was picked up in free agency. Where Toronto and Boston brought back essentially the same rotation with tweaks they hope will fit in seamlessly for the better and are loaded with young prospects, Indiana used a wrecking ball and added veterans.

The Pacers won 45 games last year and should, if everything comes together as hoped, be better this year and no one can say they are waiting for James to get old. On the other hand, no one seems to believe the changes will put Indiana ahead of Boston or Toronto either.

Myles Turner is a player to watch for the future, but after that, the Pacers are a win now team that aren’t being given much of a chance of advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs.

Realistically, the East is treading water waiting on King James to let them back in the game. Not that anyone would (should) admit to that, but waiting on LeBron to get old isn’t such a bad idea. He’ll be 33-years-old in another year.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA OKC Thunder Serge Ibaka

The NBA East Will Be Better Than The West This Year

Teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference have made big improvements this summer, often at the expense of teams in the West writes Matt Howell, guest contributor at Full Court Press Radio

The Western Conference has also dominated the Eastern Conference in head to head matchups over the last four years. According to Cleveland.com, over the last four seasons, the Western Conference is a combined 282 games over .500 against the Eastern Conference teams. However, the margin has gotten much smaller, as the West was only 14 games over .500 against the Eastern Conference in the 2015-2016 season. The Western Conference also featured 11 of the 15 players selected on the NBA’s All NBA teams.

After a wild first month in the NBA off-season, has there been a shift in power in the conferences?

The team that made the most significant move was the Golden State Warriors. They signed the top free agent of 2016 in Kevin Durant. That move made Golden State the odds on favorites to win the NBA championship in 2017. What that move also did was weaken one of the top three teams in the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder went from being the Warriors top contender, to a team that will be fighting for a playoff spot. Other big moves that have affected the landscape of the Western conference consisted of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan retiring, Dwight Howard leaving Houston for Atlanta, Rajon Rondo leaving Sacramento for Chicago, Serge Ibaka traded to Orlando, among many others. continue reading

The NBA East is poised to take another step up in competitiveness. The eighth place team in the East (Pistons) finished with as many wins (44) as the fifth place team in the West (Trail Blazers) and the eight place Rockets only reached the .500 mark with a three game winning streak to finish out the regular season. Non-playoff teams in the East like the Bulls, Magic and Knicks made improvements that should only increase the win totals for their conference.

In the West, the rich got richer as the Spurs added Pau Gasol to offset their losses, so Golden State and San Antonio should be expected to lead the NBA in wins again next season, but after those two teams, look for the East to make up ground quickly on their Western Conference counterparts in 2016-17.

 

Matt Howell writes for NBAlead.com and is a guest contributor at FULL COURT PRESS RADIO. Check out more from Matt here.

 

 

 


 

NBA San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan

Ranking the NBA Western Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

The Western Conference went through a season in 2015-2016 where they had one team break the all-time wins record with 73. Another team won 67 games and two more teams had over 50, but none of those teams brought home the Larry O’Brien trophy. So with the defending conference champion Golden State Warriors adding some guy named Kevin Durant. Can anyone in the West keep up with them?

1. Golden State Warriors

Key Additions- Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia and David West
Key Losses- Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and Andrew Bogut

Outlook – Let’s be honest here, the Warriors could have re-signed everyone and still would have been in this spot. They won 73 games and finished one game short of winning their 2nd consecutive championship. So what do they do? They go out and add one of the top 5 players in the NBA in Kevin Durant to a team that has the 2 time MVP in Stephen Curry and All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The real question is, can they find the same type of chemistry on this roster that they had last year?

2. San Antonio Spurs

Key Addition: Pau Gasol
Key Losses: Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw

Outlook – Well it had to happen eventually, Tim Duncan retired this summer after a stellar career in San Antonio. I’m not going to take up this entire space by talking about his career, but even though he didn’t have his best season ever, you have to mention how big of a loss it will be. Not to mention they lost Boris Diaw’s versatility as well. So how does R.C Buford and the front office fix that problem? You go out and sign future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol to replace Timmy. Problem solved, now can Golden State stop the best frontline in the NBA in Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kwahi Leonard? One can only hope that we get this matchup in the Western Conference Finals.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

Key Addition- Brandon Bass
Key Loss- Jeff Green

Outlook – The Clippers get this spot by default. Oklahoma City lost Durant and no one else in the West behind them made a splash to pass them for this spot. They made some questionable contract choices (Austin Rivers), but they brought back Jamal Crawford and brought in guys like Bass, Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights for depth. The real question is with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul being potential free agents next summer, can they make a deal for one of them and still remain a top player in the West? Decisions, Decisions, Decisions in Los Angeles.

4. Portland Trail Blazers

Key Additions- Festus Ezeli and Evan Turner
Key Loss- Gerald Henderson

Outlook – Portland did a lot of re-signing of their main core guys like C.J.McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless to extensions over the last few weeks. Then they brought in swingman Evan Turner and big man Festus Ezeli to a team that has Damian Lillard leading the way. Portland surprised a lot of people last year (Including this writer right here) and made the 2nd round of the playoffs. They will not be surprising this year, but one can only wonder if can they be even better than they were last year? Head coach Terry Stotts will have this team at peak form come playoff time.

5. Utah Jazz

Key Additions- George Hill and Joe Johnson
Key Loss- Trevor Booker

Outlook – Yes, finally, the Jazz will make it back into the playoffs and this time they are dangerous. Joe Johnson provides a late game closer to go along with Gordon Hayward. Veteran point guard George Hill, allows Dante Exum to ease back into the NBA after missing last year with an ACL injury. The Jazz have so much young talent on this team and a top 7 Head Coach in Quinn Snyder, this is the year that all of the stars align in Utah. I didn’t even mention yet that they have Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in the frontcourt.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Key Addition- Chandler Parsons
Key Losses- Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson

Outlook – The big story in Memphis was the re-signing of Conley to the richest contract in the league’s history. The number is still mind-blowing at this point, but now it’s time for him to earn it. Last season it seemed like every key player in Memphis was hurt as some point. They are finally healthy, All-Star Marc Gasol, Conley and newly added Chandler Parsons will help new Head Coach David Fizdale ease his transition to the main spot in Beale Street. Gone are the days of Grit and Grind in Memphis, but this team won’t be an easy out come playoff time.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions- Victor Oladipo and Ersan Illysova
Key Losses- Kevin Durant, Dion Waiters, Serge Ibaka and Randy Foye

Outlook – As much as I don’t want to put them here, the Thunder still have Russell Westbrook (For Now). As long as he’s still in Oklahoma, the Thunder are a playoff team. Westbrook should have an MVP season and if you think 18 triple doubles were something, wait until this year. Now they have some BIG questions: Can Steven Adams can continue the play from his playoff run last year? Can Victor Oladipo be the 2nd scoring option and be light years better than Dion Waiters? Most importantly, can Enes Kanter live up to the contract that he signed last season? If the Thunder can answer yes to all of these questions, then they will be back in the Playoffs. If they can’t, the Russell Westbrook trade rumors will be at the highest level possible.

8. Houston Rockets

Key Additions- Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Nene
Key Losses- Dwight Howard and Terrance Jones

Outlook – Well this should be one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA. New Head coach Mike D’Antoni has the perfect superstar to be the focal point of his team in James Harden. This team is loaded with shooters and athletic guys. The reason why the Rockets can’t be a contender is because Harden isn’t the best and most willing defender in the NBA and that could be a serious problems on that side of the ball. But the Good News is that Clint Capella will be in the top 10 in rebounding this season and with Harden, Anderson, Gordon and Trevor Ariza, the Rockets will lead the NBA in 3 pointers made as a team.

9. Dallas Mavericks

Key Additions- Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut
Key Losses- Chandler Parsons, David Lee and Zaza Pachulia

Outlook – Mark Cuban strikes out again this summer on attracting a major free agent to pair with Dirk Nowitzki, but he took Harrison Barnes away from Golden State. If Barnes can live up to his potential, the Mavericks could be on to something special. But what should scare Mavericks fans is that Barnes did go missing for major stretches over the past 2 seasons. But now that he doesn’t have to be in most cases a 4th option on offense, this could be the year the “Black Falcon” can finally soar. This will be the team that gets in the playoffs if Oklahoma City decides to trade Westbrook or if Houston can’t outscore teams or any of the previous teams on the list has a major injury. It would be nice to have Dirk have one more deep playoff run.

10. Denver Nuggets

Key Additions- None
Key Losses- D.J. Augustin

Outlook- Denver really didn’t do anything this summer besides re-signing Darrell Arthur, Mike Miller and drafting combo Guard Jamal Murray in the NBA Draft. The Nuggets are one of those teams that when you look at the roster, you see a lot of solid NBA players, but there isn’t one of them currently that screams out superstar. That’s why the Nuggets can’t break into the playoff list as of now. Now if they send a few of those solid pieces (Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and one of the 3 big men they have) for a player like Russell Westbrook or Blake Griffin, then we can talk about meaningful games in April and May.

BTW- Will Barton is extremely fun to watch.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Addtions- Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich
Key Losses- Tayshaun Prince

Outlook – This is the most exciting team in the NBA, point-blank. Not Golden State, not Houston and not even Cleveland. Minnesota is the place if you need to watch only one team all of next season. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are the franchise building blocks and rookie Kris Dunn could make the Wolves become the 1st team in the NBA’s history to have 3 consecutive Rookie Of The Year winners. No team has a better core under the age of 25 (Wiggins, Towns, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Dunn, Ricky Rubio and Georgi Dieng), than Minnesota. But that is also the reason why I can’t put them in the playoffs just yet. Even though Tom Thibodeau is the brand new head coach and he’s the best defensive coach in the league, it’s going to take one more year before these Pups become Wolves and cause serious damage in the NBA.

12. Sacramento Kings

Key Additions- Aaron Afflalo and Matt Barnes
Key Losses- Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Quincy Acy

Outlook – The good news is that the Kings have one of the Top 6 players in the entire league in DeMarcus Cousins and he looks slimmer and in great shape playing for Team USA. After that, there isn’t much good news. The bad news is that there isn’t much around Cousins in Sacramento. Rumors are that Rudy Gay wants out and the only solid player they have returning is Darren Collison. They didn’t help themselves in the Draft and Kings fans are still waiting on Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore to finally live up to their potential. Adding Afflalo and Barnes will provide veteran help and fill the shooting guard and small forward spots, but without a direction for this roster, new coach Dave Joerger will be in for a long year.

13. Phoenix Suns

Key Additions- Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley
Key Losses- Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic

Outlook – Phoenix has a bunch of players at the same positions and it’s going to be interesting to watch Head coach Earl Watson try to put it all together. They ended up with two top 8 picks in the NBA Draft, but they drafted two guys that play the same position in Dragon Bender and Marquese Chriss. Then they drafted Tyler Ulis making the Suns the only team in the NBA with five or more backcourt players from the same college (Kentucky). They have breakout superstar candidates in Devin Booker and Alex Len as the building blocks of a very good team. Now if they could move either Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight to get that wing player they need, could they jump back into the playoffs? Knight and T.J Warren for Rudy Gay sounds really nice doesn’t it?

14. New Orleans Pelicans

Key Additions- Langston Galloway, Solomon Hill and E’Twan Moore
Key Losses- Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and James Ennis

Outlook- Normally I would say that a team has an idea and an identity of how they are going be shaped and I don’t really know what the Pelicans are doing? They lost sharpshooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to Houston and replaced them with Hill, Galloway and Moore for about the same amount of money. I’m not sure if that is considered an upgrade or even a swap of similar talent. From the looks of things, unless Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and rookie Buddy Hield can put up All-Star numbers, whatever superstar Anthony Davis does will be for nothing. This could be the worst team in the Western Conference, but Davis alone puts them one spot up from the bottom.

15. Los Angeles Lakers

Key Additions- Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov
Key Losses- Kobe Bryant, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert

Outlook – The Lakers are going to be better than last year which is a good thing. D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson form a solid 1-2 punch in the backcourt and Julius Randle was a double-double machine last year. They drafted Brandon Ingram with the 2nd overall pick in the NBA Draft and he has all the makings of a franchise player in the next season or two. Now they went out and overspent on Mozgov in hopes that he will return to the 2015 playoff form that he had with the Cavaliers. They are adding pieces and at least they aren’t Brooklyn Nets bad. The good news is the young talent will have a great teacher in new Head coach Luke Walton. Now if they can just not give away all their pieces for Russell Westbrook, then the future will be bright in the City of Angels, but it’s going to take some time.

 

 

Danny Thompson Full Court Press Radio hostDanny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist for FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

Featured image courtesy of Vernon Chang @MoVernie

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

Ranking The NBA Eastern Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers ended up defeating the Golden State Warriors bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the Eastern Conference, but the major question is what did the other 14 teams in the East do to keep the Cavs from repeating? Here’s an early season preview on each of the teams.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Additions- Mike Dunleavy Jr and Chris Anderson
Key Loss- Matthew Dellavadova

Outlook – LeBron James just re-signed and although J.R Smith hasn’t (he will), the Cavaliers are the defending NBA Champions with no major losses from last year’s team. Kyrie Irving has turned into a superstar point guard and could be best point guard not named Paul, Westbrook or Curry in the NBA. Dunleavy Jr. brings a solid 3-point marksman off the bench. Now the real question is will Kevin Love still be on this roster on opening night? If he is, then they should repeat with no problems.


2. Toronto Raptors

Key Addition- Jared Sullinger
Key Losses- Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola

Outlook – Toronto entered Free Agency with one major agenda and that was re-signing DeMar DeRozan as soon as possible. Well the Compton, California native didn’t entertain the chance to going back home and signed a huge contract to stay in Toronto. Playoff hero Bismack Biyombo got a huge payday from the Orlando Magic and the team lost a few spare pieces off a team that won 56 games and took the Cavaliers to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. So why do they stay at number 2? Well Jonas Valenciunas and DeMarre Carroll are both healthy and they added former Celtic Jared Sullinger to help in the forward rotation. Besides you have Kyle Lowry and DeRozan as your starting backcourt. There’s no need to go any further.

3. Boston Celtics

Key Addition- Al Horford
Key Losses- Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger

Outlook – Boston didn’t get Kevin Durant, but they got former Hawks All-Star Al Horford to come play in Beantown. The 31-year-old Horford, brings an interior presence, a solid team defender and inside/outside threat from the post. Armed with so many young players, they let Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger go in free agency, but 1st round pick Jaylen Brown should ease some of the load and remember the Celtics still have 1st time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and All-NBA Defensive wizard Avery Bradley as your lead guard rotation. One can only wonder when will Danny Ainge pull the trigger on a big trade for one more big fish to chase Cleveland and Toronto in the East.

4. Indiana Pacers

Key Addtions- Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson
Key Losses- George Hill, Jordan Hill and Ian Mahinmi

Outlook – No team was more active in the early part of summer than the Indiana Pacers. They made Draft day deals for Teague and Young and during the free agency period and added Al Jefferson from Charlotte. With the additions Teague and Young, the Pacers potentially the best starting 5 in the Eastern Conference. Jefferson brings one of the best low post games to the bench while they still have All-Star Paul George, the always dangerous Monta Ellis and the improving 2nd year stud Miles Turner. Remember CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey will lead the bench unit along with Jefferson. The major questions is how will new head coach Nate McMillan turn this group into a Eastern Conference contender.

5. Atlanta Hawks

Key Additions- Dwight Howard and Jarrett Jack
Key Losses- Al Horford and Jeff Teague

Outlook – I know when you look at this your wondering why are the Hawks rated this high? Well, adding Howard is going to be bigger than most think. Howard, in this writers opinion, will turn back into the Orlando Howard. Yes he’s a bit older and a lot of his athleticism is gone, that doesn’t mean Howard can’t go back to 18 points, 12 rebounds and at least 2 blocks a game. Howard spending more time in the post will allow Paul Millsap to be able to have more space on the floor on the offensive side. Resigning Kent Bazemore was critical to this team upcoming success especially if one of the draft picks Taurean Prince or DeAndre Bembry can step into the starting Small Forward spot and allow Kyle Korver to come off the bench. But the evolution of Dennis Schroder into an upper ensulion Point Guard is the key for the Hawks to stay in this spot.

6. New York Knicks

Key Additions- Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee
Key Losses- Langston Galloway, Aaron Affalo, Robin Lopez and Derrick Williams

Outlook – New York made some major splashes and took some major risks in the process. By adding Rose and Noah from Chicago they are taking a big risk with guys with no good great injury histories. Noah has had one season since 2009-2010 of playing at least 70 games and we already know about Rose’s history. Bringing in Lee adds another solid role player who knows his role and plays it very well. If the Knicks starting 5 can at least by 65 games together, this ranking might be a bit too low.

7. Charlotte Hornets

Key Additions- Roy Hibbert, Ramon Sessions and Marco Bellini
Key Losses- Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee

Outlook – Charlotte did lose a lot this summer from a team that was one game away from being in the 2nd round of the Playoffs. So after losing 3 key members off last season’s team, how can they stay in the playoffs? Getting a full season from defensive wizard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the 1st reason. With MKG and Nicolas Batum manning the wings it allows for Kemba Walker to play the passing lanes, which creates more steals. Adding Roy Hibbert at center is a massive upgrade on the defensive side of the floor because Jefferson couldn’t really guard anyone in the post. The main problem once again is can this team score enough points to win. For Charlotte to take that step forward, it’s going to have to be a team effort and they have enough guys who can do that. Watch for Walker to be an All-Star this year.

8. Chicago Bulls

Key Additions- Dwayne Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez
Key Losses- Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose

Outlook – The Bulls didn’t make the playoffs last year and they lost Pau Gasol among other players, but this team will end up outlasting Detroit to make the final spot in the playoffs. Any time you have All-Stars in Wade and Jimmy Butler it’s kind of hard to leave them out of the playoffs. Wade has something to prove as he was passed over for a major contract this summer. Now they are issues everywhere when it comes to the roster and the style of play that 2nd year Head Coach Fred Hoiberg wants to play. He wants to be a perimeter oriented team, well with Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo you won’t get that at all. None of the 3 of them are close to being 3 point threats. Good news for Bulls fans is with the losses of Gasol and Noah, the #FreeBobbyPortis movement can finally see the light.

9. Detroit Pistons

Key Additons- Jon Leuer, Ish Smith and Boban Marjanovic
Key Losses- Steve Blake and Anthony Tolliver

Outlook – Detroit made the playoffs last year and this unit is still young so they miss the playoffs for what reason? Well, Chicago added Dwayne Wade, New York has a better starting 5 and Atlanta and Charlotte are just better teams currently. Someone had to miss the playoffs. The Pistons can easily make the playoffs if Stanley Johnson and Kentanvous Caldwell-Pope can exceed expectations. What Detroit really needs is that star that can take games over in the 4th quarter. Andre Drummond is a free throw liability and Reggie Jackson is not a closer.

10. Orlando Magic

Key Additions- Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green
Key Losses- Victor Oladipo, Ersan Illavsova and Dewayne Dedmon

Outlook – Orlando made some interesting moves this summer to say the least. Good news is that they have the best shot blocking duo in the NBA, added a new Head Coach in Frank Vogel and they created a buzz in Orlando. Now here is the bad news, they don’t have a go-to-scorer, they have forced the potential face of franchise in Aaron Gordon to play out of position at Small Forward to get him playing time and have a serious issue when it comes to outside shooting. They added Jodie Meeks from Detroit, but he’s still hurt currently. Evan Fournier and Augustin are solid from behind the arc, but that’s really it. 2nd year Guard Mario Hezonja better make a tremendous leap or it’s going to be a long year in Orlando. To be honest, I’m not sold on the Biyombo signing, he’s needed but not at over $17 million per season.

11. Washington Wizards

Key Additions- Ian Mahinmi and Andrew Nicholson
Key Losses- Ramon Sessions, Nene, Gary Neal and Jared Dudley

Outlook – Washington has been going through the injury bug for years, especially with newly paid Bradley Beal. If All-Star Point Guard John Wall could finally get his main guys healthy long enough, this team has enough talent to potentially breakthrough and make the playoffs. New coach Scott Brooks is very good at getting the most out of his teams and if gets this unit in the playoffs, then he should be a serious candidate for Coach of the Year. If Beal and others can’t stay healthy, Wizards fans will be looking forward to next years draft.

12. Milwaukee Bucks

Key Additions- Matthew Dellavadova and Mirza Teletovic
Key Losses- Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo and Grievis Vasquez

Outlook – For a team that has one of the best groups of talent in the NBA and were in the playoffs 2 years ago, to be out of the playoffs for potentially a 2nd season in a row is head scratching. Lets be honest, the major hole on this roster was at point guard going into the summer. They went out and drafted Thon Maker (a 7’0 power forward/center) in the lottery, let Bayless and Vasquez go to other teams and went out and overpaid for Dellavadova from Cleveland. They would be better, if Michael Carter-Willams played with a pulse or the team could acquire a point guard for out of place Big Man Greg Monroe. Otherwise it could be a wasted year for young studs Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton in Milwaukee.

13. Miami Heat

Key Additions- Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams and Wayne Ellington
Key Losses- Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson

Outlook – It could be a long year in South Beach in 2016-2017 for Heat fans. They have lost the face of the franchise in Wade, key veterans in Deng and Johnson and they still don’t know about the health of Chris Bosh. This spells a recipe for disaster for head coach Eric Spolstra and company. On a positive note, this youth movement will allow Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson to grow as the leaders with Hassan Whiteside anchoring the low post.

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Key Additions- Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson
Key Loss- Ish Smith

Outlook – For the 1st Time in years the Philadelpha 76ers aren’t the worst team in the NBA. They added Ben Simmons, Saric and Joel Embiid to the front court that already has Nerlens Noel and Jahil Okafor in the rotation. Now if they can either be bad for one more year and draft a guard of the future or deal a big man or two to get an established one, then we are talking something special in Philly. Simmons alone is one of the few players worth getting NBA League Pass for in the upcoming season.

15. Brooklyn Nets

Key Additions- Jeremy Lin, Grievis Vasquez and Luis Scola
Key Losses- Jarrett Jack, Thaddeus Young and Wayne Ellington

Outlook – It could get really ugly in Brooklyn this year. I mean REALLY UGLY. They tried and failed in free agency, offering contracts to Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe only to have them matched by their teams. Their previous 1st round pick went to Boston and their upcoming pick will in most cases head right back to Boston as well. Unless the Brook-Lin connection is the basketball version of wrestling’s Rock and Sock Connection, they will not get out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference.

 

 

Danny Thompson Full Court Press Radio hostDanny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist for FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and JR Smith

Few Options Left For Cavs Free Agent J.R. Smith – But Not None

The Luxury Tax challenged Cleveland Cavaliers left sharp-shooter J.R. Smith hanging out in the breeze until practically every other option was gone last summer and despite General Manager David Griffin assertion that, “I think the good news is J.R. wants to be here and we want J.R. back,” they are doing it again.

The Cavs cheaped out on Smith last summer when they got him back for just $5 million, but the soon-to-be 31-year-old has his ring now and this is his last chance a big NBA contract. It’s no wonder the multi-year deal at $10 million per season as reported by Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler hasn’t gotten it done.

League sources said that Smith and his camp were not overly concerned about reaching a deal, with a belief that the Cavs have put a multi-year offer in the $10 million per year neighborhood on the table weeks ago. They added that Smith and his advisors have been looking for a slightly bigger offer and that waiting things out was simply about leverage and trying to get a slightly better deal.

Like last year, the issue in Cleveland is with LeBron James new deal, they are already into Luxury Tax territory and signing Smith to a $10-15 million per season deal is going to cost near double that.

If Smith is going to get something close to market value for a veteran three-point shooter with a career average over 42 percent from beyond the arc, he needs to find someone willing to offer more. The bigger issue is his agent has to convince the handful of teams with sufficient salary cap space to make an offer that they aren’t just being used as leverage. Smith has to at least look like he’s willing to jump off the Championship bandwagon to get the payday that will make his career.

It shouldn’t be that hard. Smith’s career earning are “just” $45.5 million. He should at least double that with his next contract.

Possible Destinations

Brooklyn Nets estimated cap space $18.5 million

The Nets need to win games, if for nothing less than to stop Boston from getting another top five lottery pick from them. Boston can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn next June and Boston outright owns the Nets 2018 pick.

Adding a veteran to this thin team would help them win a few more games. Offer J.R. something close to $18 million for one year and watch the Cavs choke on it.

Denver Nuggets estimated cap space $18.4 million

Denver is a team that should be looking to the future and handing the starting shooting guard spot to the 21-year-old Gary Harris, but if they have playoff aspirations/fantasies for this season, then J.R. would take their veteran talent level up a notch.

Minnesota Timberwolves estimated salary cap space $13.3 million

The Timberwolves should believe they are close to being a playoff team. Maybe they are not quite there yet, but their young talent is poised to take another step and a veteran from an NBA Championship team who could play significant minutes off the bench might just be the stabilizing factor that puts them over the top.

Wait – was that J.R. Smith and stabilizing factor used in the same sentence? The Cavs J.R. has not been the Knicks J.R. and he’s over 30-years-old now. If J.R. wants to help a young up-and-coming team get over the hump and play with some very talented future stars … the Cavs might just buy this move and match what the T-wolves could pay before discussions get too serious.

Philadelphia 76ers estimated cap space $30 million

Sure the 76ers could pay J.R. more money than he could turn down, but he wouldn’t be happy here very long and this doesn’t look remotely like a fit.

Phoenix Suns estimated cap space $15 million

The Suns underperformed – again, and their talent level suggests that despite the vast array of very confusing moves by the head office, this team should win a lot more than 23 games.

There would be an issue about where exactly J.R. would fit in this team’s rotation, not that such issues seem to have been much of a deterrent to acquiring players in the recent past.

Utah Jazz estimated cap space $12.5 million

With the additions of George Hill and Joe Johnson, this 40 win team is going to be fighting for a playoff spot. J.R. Smith would almost certainly put them in the postseason picture and make an already dangerous looking group that much more ready to challenge the “big boys” in the West.

The Cavs wouldn’t want to lose J.R. to a 4-year $50 million offer, but if they let things play out to save a few bucks off the Luxury Tax bill, it’s a realistic possibility the Jazz could sell the veteran three-point shooter that he’s wanted in Utah.

As LeBron James said when he announced his new deal, “Let’s get J.R. done. It’s that time.”

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Ball On My Mind is holding a Hold Your Own Showcase & Create Your Own Mixtape Event August 26 – 28, 2016 for high school age basketball players in the greater Toronto area with Chris Hemphill, scout with NC Preps in association with Rivals.com (One of the largest American Scouting Services in the US).
Spaces are limited. Registrations after August 12th will be accepted based on availability.