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Indiana Pacers Frank Vogel 2016 NBA playoffs

Magic Coach Frank Vogel Faces A Reality Check

By Frank McLean

Serge Ibaka was traded from Orlando to Toronto on Valentine’s Day as the slumping Magic were forced to face a reality check. Even new head coach Frank Vogel couldn’t turn this collection of mismatched talent into a playoff team.

A highly successful and respected head coach, Vogel had an instant impact with the Pacers, turning the team around in the second half of the 2010-11 season and leading them to the postseason, however, his first season with the Magic hasn’t gone so smoothly.

Vogel had landed on his feet with in Orlando after his contract was unexpectedly not renewed by the Indiana Pacers. On May 5th just after the Pacers had lost Game Seven of their first round series with the Toronto Raptors, Pacers President of basketball operations Larry Bird announced they were not going to renew Vogel’s contract saying that the team needed “a new voice to lead the players.”

People around the NBA couldn’t figure this out. In his six years with the Pacers he had 250-181 record taking the team to playoffs in five of those six years and getting to the Eastern Conference Finals twice.

Last year he took a Pacers team with less talent than the Raptors to seven games in the first round of the playoffs almost pulling off the upset. So you figured it was a no brainer that he would bring Vogel back, but Bird decided to make a change.

Talking to Vogel when the Magic were in Toronto recently he told me he had no idea that Bird was not going to bring him back and that he was as surprised as anyone about the decision. But with his track record you knew he would not be out of work long and as it turned out it was less than three weeks.

Vogel has his work cut out for him in Orlando. Currently. they sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference well back of the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and last playoff spot and it was highly unlikely they would make the post-season prior to trading away their best player, starting power forward Serge Ibaka, for the Raptors backup wing Terrence Ross and a draft pick.

In our conversation Vogel told me that it’s not just one thing about the Magic’s game right now that needs fixing.

“It’s a little bit of everything, not good enough offensively, not good on defense. I haven’t been satisfied with our effort on a consistent basis. We don’t have three all-stars on our team and it’s been disappointing and I have challenged our guys to correct it.”

“Effort is not the guys are not trying to make hustle plays. (It’s) losing focus and attention to detail, it’s all those things that I consider effort in my book. They are running hard they are playing hard, (but) you got to be your best every time you step on the floor.”

The first thing the Magic did in the offseason to start correcting their defensive problems was, unfortunately, to trade Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis for Ibaka. A trade that has now netted them just a late first round pick and Ross. Then they signed the Raptors free agent backup center Bismack Biyombo to a four year $70-million deal.

In hindsight, but foreseeable, the moves pushed power forward Aaron Gordon out of position to small forward and left the team light on guards and heavy on big men. Vogel was going to have his work cut out for him trying to win with this roster. At least the acquisition of Ross does help address the need for better guard depth.

From the start, Vogel wanted his team to copy the work ethic on defense that Biyombo brings to the table in his communication skills and commitment and that’s something the Magic can continue to build on.

“It’s part of building that culture. It takes time to establish time to implement those habits”, Vogel said about learning from Biyombo. “To play on the defensive end not just communicate but to commit.”

When you wrap everything up Vogel is trying to do with the Magic what all the other 29-coaches in the NBA are trying to do with their team and that’s make them winners.

“Winning is a competitive response. We have to figure out with this group how to win. We win games and then the next time out we respond with a poor performance and I have challenged them to fix that.”

Regardless of what further changes happen with the Magic, the Pacers loss should still be the Magic’s gain in regards to Vogel. His track record proves that sooner before later, Vogel will straighten out the Magic.

 

   

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.

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love

NBA East Opens Up: Surgery For Love, Ibaka To Raptors

Never say the NBA season is a forgone conclusion. Big changes can happen and in an instant what seemed like a sure thing can be thrown into doubt. The certainty of the Cleveland Cavaliers defense of their title in the NBA Finals took a massive hit as Kevin Love underwent knee surgery just as the Toronto Raptors filled their gapping hole at power forward by trading for “Air Congo” Serge Ibaka.

Cavaliers forward and 2017 NBA All-Star Kevin Love underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee this morning at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. His return to play is estimated at approximately six weeks.

“I would love to be able to tell you that he’ll miss three games and be back,” general manager David Griffin told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “But I can’t right now because we don’t know.”

“Always concerned when guys are going down,” Lue told the Cleveland Plain Dealer about Love. “And we’re already limited as it is. Definitely concerned.”

– NBA News

The Toronto Raptors issued a similar statement last year about DeMarre Carroll. Carroll did return in time for the postseason, but it wasn’t until December of this year that his knee fully healed. There are no certainties when a player goes under the knife.

Love is averaging 20 points and 11.1 rebounds for the Cavs.

The Raptors have played the Cavaliers close over the past two seasons, losing 4-2 in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year and losing their three regular season games to the Cavs this season by an average of 3.6 points, 110.3-106.7. Love torching the Raptors for 21.7 points and 12.3 rebounds. His production isn’t going to be easy to replace.

The Raptors, currently mired in a 4-10 slump that can be traced to injuries to DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson, will get a big boost from the acquisition of Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was leading the Orlando Magic with 846 points, 83 made three-point field goals, a 54.7 eFG% and 90 blocks and will slide seamlessly into a starting power forward spot in the Raptors rotation that head coach Dwane Casey hasn’t found anyone to fill on an effective basis.

DeRozan is back and playing well and Patterson is day-to-day. The Raptors lost backup wing Terrence Ross in the trade for Ibaka, but sophomore Norman Powell is ready to step in to fill that role and many who follow the team believe Powell should have been ahead of Ross in the rotation already.

If the Raptors can stay healthy, the addition of Ibaka should give pause to anyone thinking the Cavaliers march to the NBA Finals is still a sure thing. The Celtics, Wizards and Hawks should also believe their chances of representing the East in the NBA Finals just took a big leap forward as well.

Things just got interesting again in the East.

 

 

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 L.A. Clippers Paul Pierce remembering the Boston Celtics

Paul Pierce’s Last Hurrah In Boston Goes According To Script

By Frank McLean

Paul Pierce’s last hurrah on the court in Boston couldn’t have gone any better. It was like it went according to script, a special moment in a special career.

“It was really cool,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said pregame in Toronto. “I don’t know what it meant to me, but that was as neat of a thing as I have been involved with that’s not playoffs. It was a fanbased, the way they received Paul was unbelievable.

“If you were a Boston fan yesterday you had one helluva day. The Celtics won, Paul Pierce makes the last shot and then New England wins (the Super Bowl). They had a good day yesterday.

“I look back on (the last play and) everyone got it. End of a game guys usually come down and jack shots, the game was over, but Austin (Rivers) came down, he knew to give it to Paul. Isaiah (Thomas) was guarding Paul, he knew to back up and give him a shot. It was like everyone kind of got it which is rare. Usually there’s that one guy with the ego that ruins the moment and it was funny, everyone got it. That was really nice.

“It was great to see what it’s like when you win something and do something in one city which I think more players should do more of. It’s really cool.

“I was a baseball White Socks fan and I stapled Dick Allen and George on the wall and they stayed there for years. They never left. Now you need Velcro.”

Excuse me a second if I sound like an old fart who thinks that things were better when he was younger than they are nowadays. I don’t think that way, but when it comes to professional sports in general I will make the argument it was better in the old days.

When I was a kid your sports heroes stayed with one team their whole career. If you were fan of a certain team like the Boston Celtics the Larry Bird’s the John Havlachek’s stayed with their team for their whole career. You just knew that when each season started your star guy was going to be in the lineup.

Paul Pierce who was drafted with the 10th pick overall in the 1998 draft never got to stay his whole career in Boston. He lasted 15-years with the green and white but then spent a year in Brooklyn and another year in Washington before playing the last two years with his old Celtics coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers where he is going to hang it up after a stellar 19-year career at the end of the season.

On Sunday Pierce played his last game at TD Bank Garden where along with Rivers as coach he won his only NBA championship in 2008.

His best days are behind him. He has only got into 13-games this year averaging just four points and one rebound a game, but that didn’t matter to the Garden faithful who brought him to tears chanting “we want Paul” and his nickname “the truth”.

Rivers made the class move of putting Pierce in the starting lineup playing the first five minutes of the game. But with the fans still chanting for Pierce, Rivers put him back out there for the last 20-seconds of the game where took a pass from Doc’s kid Austin and hit a 28-foot three-pointer for the only points he would score in a game which the Clippers lost 107-102.

It was kind of like another Boston great Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at bat in Fenway Park, but the difference here is Pierce was playing for the opposition.

“It’s a tough situation. You’ve been sitting for like the last two hours and then I had to come in there and get a shot,” Pierce said afterward. “But I’m glad I ended it that way. It was a lot of emotion running through. My teammates kind of felt it too. I’m glad I was able to cap it off, my last game in the Garden. At least I can just say I put one last bucket in at the end of the game.”

“I never felt anything like this,” Pierce added. “I truly appreciate my time here. I truly appreciate tonight. Fans really showered me with a lot of love. It was just — you really don’t know what you meant to a team while you’re playing, and you really don’t get a chance to really reflect on it while you’re playing.”

When asked about putting Pierce back into the game Rivers said, “I’m no dummy.

“So once I thought the game was in hand to Boston, we put him back in. And him making that shot just, that’s just, I don’t know what the heck that is.  That’s that only happens like here, or, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know who can sit that long and walk in on the floor and make a shot.”

Monday night the Clippers make their only appearance in Toronto this year and Pierce will not be hearing any cheers. It’s more likely he’ll be booed by the Raptors faithful.

In the 2013-14 playoffs in Brooklyn and the 2014-15 postseason in Washington he was the main factor why the Raptors were upset in the first round. His buzzer beating shots and his trash talking made him public enemy number one in the 416.

But when I think of Paul Pierce I think of him as a Celtic, not a Net, not a Wizard and not a Clipper. Too bad he never got a chance to play his whole career in Boston, but he did get a proper send off by the fans that a future Celtic hall of famer is deserved.

You see sports was better when we were kids.

 

 

  

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 Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love and LeBron James

Cavs Kevin Love Isn’t Going Anywhere

By Frank McLean

Kevin Love is not going anywhere. If you don’t believe me listen to the guy who is listed as a player but acts like the real General Manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James.

As if to make a point, Marc Berman in the New York Post reported after the Cavaliers beat the New York Knicks 111-104 right in Madison Square Garden,

James said, “Kevin is here for a reason. We know why he is here. We know what he is capable of.”

James set Love up with the game winning three point field goal with 44-seconds left in the fourth quarter.

It’s the worst kept secret around NBA circles that the Knicks are looking to move Carmelo Anthony even though he does have a no trade contract.

Reports recently said that the Knicks offered Anthony to the Cavaliers in exchange for Love and well as you can expect the Cavaliers supposedly said no.

The Cavaliers are in a bit of a slump right now. They started the season going 23-6 in their first 29-games, but since then and counting last night’s win they have gone just 11-9.

A few weeks back James went public demanding that the Cavaliers find him a playmaker to get him the ball seeing that the Golden State Warriors went out and improved their roster by getting Kevin Durant in the off season.

After the game Saturday night Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue reassured everyone that Love isn’t going anywhere.

“Just because teams ask about you doesn’t mean you’re getting traded. Right now we have who we have and not looking to move one of our guys right now.”

But what does Kevin Love think about all this talk about him heading for Broadway? It always seems that since he came to Cleveland in a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves he is always being mentioned in a possible trade.

“Comes with the territory,” Love said late last week in an interview with long time basketball writer Fred Kerber of the New York Post.  “When that stuff comes along, I’ve done a lot better job of letting things just kind of roll off of me. I think it’d helped me out on the court as well.”

Love is averaging a double-double 19.9-points and 11-rebounds a game while battling spasms.

“It’s good to be wanted”, Love joked.

“I predicted that. I said it doesn’t matter if I have an All-Star year, one side or the other, it’s always going to be there.”

February 23rd can’t come soon enough for Love who I’m sure will be checking his messages every couple of hours just to make sure he isn’t leaving the Queen City of Ohio.

Nobody wants to be traded. The feeling that no one wants you any more stinks. The positive that somebody wants you helps you get over being traded for somebody else.

Love is still an important cog in the Cleveland Cavaliers offense, he helps make LeBron James go and it was evident in Saturday night’s win over the Knicks where he scored 23-points and grabbed 16-rebounds.

It seems that the Knicks can ask and ask all they want, but if LeBron James and Tyronn Lue have anything to say they still have a lot of Love for Kevin Love.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

L

The Magic Is Back With The Lakers

By Frank McLean

I’ve written many times about how the New York Knicks, one of the NBA’s marquee franchises, is a complete mess thanks to an owner who has no idea of what he is doing.

On the west coast another marquee franchise the Los Angeles Lakers have slumped into a poorly run lottery team since the passing of their owner Jerry Buss.

When the elder Buss passed away in 2013 the team was left in the hands of his two children, daughter Jeanie who would look after the business end of the operation and his son Jim who would take care of the basketball end of things.

Jeanie has done well keeping the business end of the operations going fine as the team is still a powerful brand regardless that it doesn’t show up in their win-loss record.

But the win-loss record is the problem and that’s where Jim comes in. The team stinks and instead of acting like an owner and hiring people who know what they are doing, he is running the show and has run the team into the ground.

Look at last season. Instead of trying to make the team better, it was all about the Kobe Bryant retirement tour and the celebration of a guy who’s best days were behind him.

He also began a feud with one of the all-time greats in the history of the Lakers history, Magic Johnson.

Johnson, who had a small ownership piece of the Lakers, became critical of the way Jim Buss was running the team. He didn’t like the hiring of Mike D’Antoni as coach in 2012. He thought they should have brought back Phil Jackson. He was also irked that they didn’t sign any high profile players.

“I’m going to say it again: I love Jim Buss. He should just be the owner, like his dad was just the owner,” Johnson said in an article in December 2015. “Let’s go back with facts, so I can back this up with facts: 27 wins a couple years ago (2013-14), 21 wins last year (2014-15). Three summers now, we haven’t signed anybody. I am backing this up with facts. We haven’t signed any superstar. We’ve had cap space. We had cap space last summer. We’re going to have more this summer.”

Jim Buss fired back in a USA today feature.

“Magic Johnson going nuts on me? It’s like, ‘Really, dude? My dad made you a billionaire almost. Really? Where are you coming from?”

Johnson left the organization becoming a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and becoming a face of their ownership group.

That all changed on Thursday as Jeanie Buss brought back Johnson to be an advisor to her in all areas of business and basketball.

“We are thrilled and honored to add Magic’s expertise and abilities, and I look forward to working alongside him,” Jeanie Buss said about the hiring in a Lakers press release.

“Everyone knows my love for the Lakers,” Johnson said. “Over the years, I have considered other management opportunities, however my devotion to the game and Los Angeles make the Lakers my first and only choice. I will do everything in my power to help return the Lakers to their rightful place among the elite teams of the NBA.”

Ever since the death of the elder Buss there has been a power struggle between the siblings.

Jim Buss said in 2014 that if the Lakers are not a championship team by the summer of 2017 he would step down. A championship is not going to happen this year, the Lakers are second last in the Western Conference and will be a lottery team.

The Johnson hiring by Jeanie is a step in the right direction. It looks like she is slowly taking over the full operation of the team and she did say last year that she expects her brother to fulfill his promise – at that time.

“Jim is calling the shots,” Johnson said, via the Orange County Register‘s Mark Medina. “I want him to understand I’m just here to lend advice. I’m not here to be anything but just give you some basketball knowledge.”

For now, Johnson will be able to help greatly as an advisor and will be show those in charge of the team how a championship team is run. He should know, he was there in their glory days. It’s a no brainer.

The NBA is poorer when its marquee franchises like the Lakers, Knicks are suffering.

The Jeanie and Jim power struggle was like one of those 1980’s prime time soap operas Dallas or in this case Dynasty. It’s going to take a while for the Lakers to be a contender again. The hiring of Johnson and Jim Buss eventually stepping aside is just a start.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony

Knicks Can’t Polish Up The Decline Of Carmelo Anthony

Anyone want an aging former superstar? The rumors about the Knicks shopping Carmelo Anthony hard are coming fast and furious. but with each reported fantasy trade the anticipated return is dropping as Phil Jackson can’t polish up the the nearly straight-line decline of the once formidable forward. It’s hard to make any deal when you don’t have faith in what you are selling.

Don’t be fooled by his 22.7 points per game this season. Anthony signed his new four year deal coming off of seasons of 28.7 points in 2012-13, 27.4 points in 2013-14 and 24.2 points in a knee injury shortened 2014-15. Apparently the NBA head coaches aren’t fooled. Anthony is about to miss the NBA All-Star Game for the first time in a decade, and his recent sore knee is nothing to be concerned about (sarcasm) as reported by Stefan Bondy of the NY Daily News at the start of the month, just ask him.

“I was contemplating if I was going to give it a go, give it a shot,” Anthony said. “Then the more that I played, the sorer it got.”

Anthony wasn’t concerned about missing Monday’s home game against Magic.

“No, I don’t think it’s that serious,” he said. “I think it’s just the fact that it happened (Friday night), and I tried to go out there and play on (Saturday). I don’t think it’ll be an issue.”

Assuming away potential knee problems in a soon-to-be 33-year-old player (good luck with that Phil), the biggest problem the Knicks face in shipping Anthony out of town on a rail is he has a no trade clause and has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to go. Then there’s his massive $24.5 million salary escalating over the next two seasons to $27.9 million when Anthony could opt out (he won’t) and a 15 percent trade kicker just to make the numbers even worse.

It’s hard not to compare the Anthony situation to what happened recently between the Celtics and the Nets when Brooklyn went all-in for a couple of aging former superstars, gave away a boatload of talent and futures, and sent their team into the abyss for a brief shinning moment in the second round of the postseason. No one would do that again so soon after that lesson?

The signs of a player in decline are everywhere. He’s playing the fewest minutes per game of his career (33.6) and this will be the third straight year of decline. His offensive rebounding has almost fallen completely off the map at under 1 per game, again for the first time in his career and less than half of what it was four years ago. His ability to grab any rebounds was never all that great and has fallen to 129th among NBA forwards. Of course, his scoring has also dropped since signing that new contract as well.

If Anthony can stay on the court and the team that takes him doesn’t give up too much, preferably including contracts they’d like to dump to make the trade math work, then sure, Anthony could help the right team in the right situation this year. But does an aging offensive-minded player owed +$54 million over the next two seasons after this one sound like a bargain just waiting to be picked up?

Is there an NBA GM desperate enough to try saving their job by sending actual difference-making talent back to New York in return for a couple of seasons of Anthony or will Jackson allow his New York legacy to be that of the guy who sent Anthony packing for some role players and a bag of magic beans (a.k.a. salary cap relief)?

 

 

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

 

 

NBA San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs Plan On Interrupting Cavs Vs Warriors Part Three

By Frank McLean

It’s not a secret that NBA fans and those in the management offices at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut want a Cleveland Cavaliers versus Golden State Warriors for a third year in this year’s NBA Finals.

With both teams being the winner of one of each of the last two finals you can imagine the ratings bonanza the rubber match would be for the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports”.

Well don’t tell that to San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich.

Making their annual visit to Toronto this week Popovich said he’s not ready to concede to the Warriors the Western Conference title for a third straight year regardless if they have added some guy named Kevin Durant.

“You do the best you can to take advantage of whatever weaknesses or strengths they might have. You have to go against their weaknesses, try to figure out what their strengths are and take’em away,” Popovich said about taking on the Warriors. “And that’s what this is all about. So the challenge is what makes it exciting. If you’re of the mindset that where you say what’s the point, then you’re in the wrong business.”

So Popovich is not going to sit down and kiss the Warriors championship rings and why should he?

Since he took the job in 1999 the Spurs have won five NBA championships, averaged 55-wins per season and are on pace for a second straight year of 65-wins.

When you see Popovich as a grumpy old coach in a wrinkled sports coat and khaki pants when he is interviewed on television, in most part it’s an act. When you ask him thoughtful questions he will give you thoughtful answers.

He is also humble.

His peers in the NBA, and that include Raptors coach Dwane Casey, feel that Popovich is not just the best coach in the NBA, but all of sports.

Popovich’s stock answer when you say this to him is that he had Tim Duncan for a long time and that made him look good. Popovich knows that if you don’t have good players a coach is not going to look smart. That’s something every coach I have ever come across well tell you, if you don’t have the horses, you aren’t going to win.

His theory of coaching a game is pretty simple and it explains how he lasted almost 20-years in the same job.

“The game starts and you play the game, you do your best. You make adjustments, make substitutions, get certain groups on the court, call timeouts, yell and scream and beg and love and be crazy and then you win or you lose and then what happens? You go to dinner. Sometimes the best part of the evening.”

He also had high praise for Dwane Casey who each year on the job has gotten his team to win more games than the previous year. Raptors fans may not want to hear this, especially with the club on a five game losing skid and social media is calling for his head as a result.

“It is difficult (to do that),” Popovich said. “You’ll see people have two good seasons or one, it goes down for two or three and then maybe it comes up a little bit and then the owner fires him. That seems to be the deal. But to sustain it and to sustain it and do better every year is a difficult thing. And what Casey’s done here is implemented a culture and a system. It doesn’t happen immediately, but as you all know by now, they’ve bought in, everybody knows what the deal is. He’s going to be consistent, he’s going to be demanding, he’s going to be fair.”

It’s too bad Popovich and the Spurs only come to Toronto once a year. Like I said, when you get Popovich engaged, he is one of the best quote machines in the league.

And as far as I’m concerned he is one of the best coaches in all of sports. The only person who comes close to him is in the NFL and that’s Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots who has won four Super Bowls in six appearances and is heading for his seventh appearance in the big one during his tenure there.

I’m sure the Warriors wish they only had to deal with Popovich and the Spurs once a year.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah

The Clock Is Ticking On Phil Jackson’s Time In New York

By Frank McLean

Phil Jackson has to be hoping that this week is better than last week. Heck it couldn’t get any worse and you have to wonder with Jackson’s invisible act, if maybe the clock is ticking on him staying on as the New York Knicks President of Basketball.

It started (sort of) when Derrick Rose went AWOL hours before the Knicks were to play the New Orleans Pelicans. The players did not know where Rose was. Coach Jeff Hornacek did not know where he was and neither did the team’s PR staff. Afterward it was learnt he had went home to Chicago to attend a family issue regarding his mother.

There was not a peep from Jackson and you had to feel sorry for Hornacek as he had to address the media as to what happened. He had no answers.

Oh and let’s not forget that the Knicks, supposed to be a playoff team, have just kept losing. Counting the one point loss to Atlanta the Knicks have only celebrated a victory thrice in their last 16-games and have slipped to 19-26 good for 11th-in the East and three games out of the last playoff spot.

The cream came in Toronto when the Knicks were taking a 17-point beatdown by the Raptors where at one point the deficit reached 34-points.

A so called 30-year friend of Jackson, a guy named Charley Rosen wrote a column for FanRagSports.com that Carmelo Anthony’s time in New York is numbered.

Rosen alleged Anthony’s “legs are going, going gone’’ and wrote. “The only sure thing is that Carmelo Anthony has outlived his usefulness in New York. As ever, he’s still a dangerous scorer but resists any offensive game plan that limits his one-on-one adventures.”

Rosen on Monday wrote that he has never talked to Jackson and that his comments are his not Phil’s.

Anthony has a no trade clause in his contract so any trade can’t be made unless he agrees to it and to his credit he has not asked for trade. He’s 32 (until May) and his time to get a shot of winning a championship is running out.

“If that’s the case, if that’s where it’s coming from, that side, I guess it’s a conversation we should have,” Anthony said Sunday. “If they feel my time in New York is over, I guess that’s a conversation we should have.

“Listen, if that’s how they feel, if that’s coming from that side, then that’s what’s coming from that side. I haven’t thought once about that. I hear it, hear all the rhetoric going on out there. I still come to work every day, play and bust my ass and try not to worry about it. ”

Anthony isn’t pouting. The problem with the Knicks, all the dysfunction with this team, points to Jackson.

He is the boss and he has gone into hiding. Yes you see him and General Manager Steve Mills sitting in their seats during games in Madison Square Garden, but he has not spoken public about anything since December.

In that Jackson talked about how Anthony clogs up the flow of his sacred triangle offense.

He should have been the frontman when Rose went missing. He’s the boss, the top man, if one of your employees is missing you have to be the one answering questions. Instead he sends out Hornacek to answer questions. That’s not his responsibility.

The roster is a mess.

Yes they are missing second year center Kristap Porzingis with a sore Achilles periodically, but the Knicks don’t play defense. Joakim Noah all of a sudden can’t score and Rose is upset that the team can’t get it together.

You have to think Jackson’s time with the Knicks has to be coming to an end soon.

The roster is all on him, it’s not working and his insistence on the outdated triangle offense is not helping.

The problem is he really doesn’t know how to be a good manager. There is no communication with the players. Normally management and employees talk all the time because in every business, to be successful, everyone has to be on the same page.

Jackson should have been talking to Anthony on Sunday to say ‘hey I did not make those comments or yah I did I have a problem of the way you play and we need to talk.’

ESPN reported that sometime the two will meet. Sometime is not a day on a calendar.

If Jackson’s head is not in this job he needs to go and the Knicks need to find someone who is familiar with 21st century basketball on how to build a proper roster and run things in a professional manner. And not have your friends act as your unofficial PR guy letting the world know what you think about your team.

It looks like Phil Jackson has lost his employees trust and as a result his time in New York is running out. Perhaps the real question should be, what’s taking so long?

 

 

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 Chicago Bulls Dwyane Wade

Wade And Pachulia Show Why Fans Can’t Be Trusted With The All-Star Vote

The NBA All-Star second update of fan voting for the 2017 All-Star Game has been released showing why, once again, you can get some pretty strange results when a league puts its faith in social media and its fans.

The Bulls Dwyane Wade, 19th in Eastern Conference scoring at 18.7 points per game on a 9th place team, leads the Raptors DeMar DeRozan, 1st in Eastern Conference scoring at 28.2 points per game on a 2nd place team, by over 60,000 votes on January 12th. Maybe fans think they’re voting for the Wade of 2008-09 when he led the East in scoring or the Wade on those Heat teams that went to the NBA Finals in recent years? They must be confused. There are a lot of guards better than the 35-year-old that Wade is now. Isaiah Thomas, tied for the lead in scoring with DeRozan, is over 110,000 votes behind the former star. Why not just put M.J. on the ballot if voting for nostalgia is the way to go?

It’s great to get behind “your guy,” but Zaza Pachulia is averaging 5.5 points in 18.4 minutes on the Warriors and by rights, shouldn’t even show up in the top-10. Zaza has 823,376 votes and leads an actual star center, Marc Gasol, by over 650,000 votes. This isn’t funny.

All-Star Voting as of January 12th

Wade’s lead over DeRozan is not insurmountable, if the Raptors fans make a concerted effort. They managed to overcome a deficit of about twice that size to get Kyle Lowry voted in last year.

It seems very unlikely Pachulia will finish out of the top three in fan voting for the Western Conference frontcourt. It will be up to the players and the media panel, who combined hold 50 percent of the vote this year, to make sure an actual star player represents the West in the starting unit.

 

 

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 Cavs LeBron James

There’s Some Whine And Gold From Cavs LeBron James

Every NBA player tries to sell they’ve been fouled on every play and conversely no one seems to believe they’ve ever fouled anybody, but usually the constant complaining about calls stays on the court as it’s universally acknowledged the NBA game is very hard to officiate with all of the overt acting going on. But, not this time, there was some classic whine and gold as LeBron James felt the need to complain about not getting enough calls going his way after the Cavs had a couple of tough road games in the West.

ESPN’s Dave Menamin reports,

James is actually 10th in the league in free throw attempts per game. James also averages more minutes than everyone above him in the top 10.

Much of James’ detest comes from the fact that the vast majority of his shots come from within the paint … he feels contact is ignored.

“Yeah, I got fouled,” James said after the game, when asked about his outburst in Salt Lake City.

“It is, it is. It is. But I know what the main thing is — the main thing is to win — but it is. It is. It is.”

James is hard to officiate for a few reasons. One, he is bigger and stronger than some of today’s centers. Two, he’ll play like a guard, a wing or a power forward in the same sequence, so he isn’t doing what other players do and that makes it hard to anticipate plays for the referees. And three, he gets treated like a superstar at the defensive end so his opponents have a right to complain about getting frequently whacked by James with no call.

Funny, you never hear James talk about what he gets away with and it’s a lot. James, the ever active and very physical defender, fouls at the unbelievably low rate of just 2.1 fouls per 100 possessions. Only the Lakers Luol Deng and Lou Williams foul less (2.0). James gets the “kid-glove” treatment from the referees on defense like no one else does, so maybe he should be expecting the referees are getting an earful every night about calling the game the same way at both ends?

It’s not like James is getting no calls. He is 15th in the NBA for fouls drawn per 100 possessions at 7.2. The leaders being Joel Embiid (12.9), DeMarcus Cousins (12), Anthony Davis (10), Isaiah Thomas (9.9) and Russell Westbrook (9.3). All of these players play a very different style of game from James.

James isn’t a post-up player like Embiid (6 post touches per game). James (2.3 post touches) makes his living starting on the perimeter and is one of the game’s best facilitators, so like the seemingly numerous guards who get to the line more often, James is better known for his drives. But James doesn’t drive to the basket as often as you (he?) thinks.

Top five in drives to the basket include Thomas (13.5), Westbrook (11.6) and Harden (11.3). James (9.5) is way back at 16th and he should know, no one gets a call on every drive even when there is some contact.

So, no one should pretend James spends the same amount of time fighting for space as the league’s centers and power forwards under the basket where claw marks on your arms and shoulders after games is the norm. He’s far too valuable getting other players easy buckets to be “wasting” energy in those battles, so he shouldn’t be expecting to get the calls other big men draw over the course of a game either.

You don’t get a call every time you are whacked fighting in the paint with another big man. The game has never been called that way and the NBA isn’t about to change that for James. Big men are expected to man up and expect physical contact under the basket without complaining.

James mini-rant was pure gold and he probably did it in the hope he’d get some more calls on this road trip. It doesn’t always work and it shouldn’t, but history shows us that sometimes it does and that only encourages more whine and gold from the league’s stars.

Maybe he’d be happier getting called for all those whack-down “great” defensive plays and drawing more fouls at the other end? Probably not.

 

 

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 Atlanta Hawks Dwight Howard

Celtics Must Pursue Dwight Howard If They Want To Contend

The Boston Celtics have been accumulating prime assets in order to acquire another star so they can compete with the Cavaliers in the East and with the Hawks seemingly in full rebuild mode, they must strike while the iron is hot and pursue Dwight Howard now.

“That’s a tricky question to answer,” Howard said about the Hawks apparent change in direction. “It’s basketball. It’s a serious business. You never know what can happen, with any team. You never know. I mean, I didn’t expect this to happen, but like I said, you never know.” – Brian Windhorst ESPN Senior Writer

When the Boston Celtics acquired the Atlanta Hawks free agent Al Horford this past summer, president basketball operations Danny Ainge knew his team was still one piece away from really being a contender this season. He also knew the Celtics would be a terrible rebounding team just like Atlanta had been with Horford at center and eventually it was an area he would have to address.

Howard is the answer to Ainge’s problem, this is after all what the Hawks had planned for this summer before Horford jumped ship. It was Millsap who was supposed to be traded to make room for a Horford/Howard pairing that would allow Horford to slide over to his natural power forward spot and solve the Hawks rebounding problems. There is no shame in stealing another GM’s good idea and Ainge should be all over this.

As much as it will hurt in Atlanta to see Horford and Howard playing together on another team, Boston simply has too much to offer for Hawks president of basketball operations and head coach Mike Budenholzer to walk away from.

Ainge could offer Amir Johnson (expiring), 2016 third overall draft pick Jaylen Brown, 2015 16th pick overall Terry Rozier plus the Nets first round draft in pick either 2017 or 2018. Try walking away from that?

While Howard’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years, his production over the last season and a half has been at a difference-making level, 13.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1.5 blocks. He is the second best rebounder in the NBA this season (24.5 percent of available rebounds) just behind Andre Drummond (24.7) and no disrespect to Drummond, but Howard is the better player.

From a Celtics standpoint, Howard’s contract should be taken as a positive as well. At $23.2 million this year and $47.3 million over the next two seasons, Ainge will have locked down his center at about 2/3rds of next summer’s maximum contract and it’s a deal he will escape from before Howard turns 35-years-old.

An opportunity to fill the Celtics greatest position of need might not come again. Ainge needs to jump on this opportunity fast before either someone else does or Budenholzer gets cold feet about the price he’ll pay this year for the rebuild he has just embarked 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 Atanta Hawks Kyle Korver

Atlanta Hawks Crossing The Road To Rebuilding

We’re only barely into 2017 and the Atlanta Hawks will probably need the rest of the month to blow this whole thing up, but they are already crossing the road towards rebuilding despite still having a very real shot at winning the Southeast Division this season (for now).

The Hawks are at a crossroads of their own making. The core of this team is old, over half of this roster will be free agents in July and no one gives them a ghost of a chance of getting by the second round of the playoffs as constructed in a best case scenario. So, Kyle Korver is gone, Paul Millsap is expected to follow and things shouldn’t stop there.

This year’s starters Millsap, Korver and Dwight Howard are in their thirties as is sixth man Thabo Sefolosha and backup Kris Humphries. Millsap (PO), Korver, Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway Jr. (RFA) will be free agents along with Tiago Splitter, Humphries, and Mike Scott.

Sure the Hawks could have pointed to about $40 million in salary cap space next summer, but cap holds would have used up all of that and more and the Hawks are more worried about losing what they have for nothing than fantasizing about which free agents from other teams might be tempted to join them.

Another summer of losing their best player was (is still) definitely on the table and finding a replacement in free agency that would let them tread water again next year will be difficult to say the least.

So it appears that first round draft picks are the currency that will extract the Hawks veterans and in today’s NBA with exploding salaries, players coming in on rookie deals are the one class of asset management still has solid cost controls on.

To saddle the Hawks future with doom and gloom, however, would be a mistake. Dennis Schroder (23), Kent Bazemore (27) and Tim Hardaway (24) give them the start of a solid young core to build around and it should be possible to expand this group with players in their early to mid-twenties using their prime veteran players as trade bait. A complete tear down and rebuild from the ground up shouldn’t be necessary.

Millsap makes $20 million, so most teams will have to find at least $15 million worth of player contracts to send back and even if the Hawks get a decent first round draft pick in the deal, they aren’t going to accept players with deals extending past this season they wouldn’t be willing to keep on the roster. They should get at least one or two young players worth keeping.

While it might be hard to discern what the Hawks could get for their other players on expiring deals, they do have another impact player in Dwight Howard ($23 million, plus two more seasons totaling $47.3 million) who could take a contending team to the next level. Don’t laugh, Howard is averaging 14 points on 8.7 shots, 13.1 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.4 blocks in under 30 minutes. 7th in the NBA with 22 double-doubles and his salary is only about 2/3rds of next summer’s maximum so it isn’t as exorbitant as it sounds.

The Hawks may have “brought Howard home,” but things change and if the Hawks are willing to trade Millsap to get younger and acquire picks, they may as well start shopping the 31-year-old Howard as well. Korver is just the guy who got this party started.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Chicago Bulls Rajon Rondo

The Cavaliers Should Trade For The Bulls Rajon Rondo

One teams’ trash can be another team’s need and about the only thing the Cavaliers need is a backup point guard, so if the Bulls are fed up with Rajon Rondo, the Cavs should be making a phone call.

It’s beyond clear the Bulls think they made a huge mistake by signing Rondo in the off season. The only good news is they can opt out of the deal before next summer and limit the damages, but it would be even better if they find some poor sucker – er other team – to give them something, anything back in return.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert seems to be the most willing of anyone in the NBA to take on reclamation projects if they advance his team’s chances at a championship and he’s spent the money to prove it.

Cleveland isn’t worried about making it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. They are only slightly concerned the Toronto Raptors pull off some miraculous trade that would actually have them worried about getting back to the NBA Finals. But, and it is a big but, with Kyrie Irving being backed up by Kay Felder (you’re excused for not knowing who that is?) and only Kay Felder, nabbing a reliable veteran point guard that could actually run the show when their real floor general LeBron James takes a rest would be more than just a little nice. Especially when it comes to boosting their regular season record and when they have to face the juggernaut that will come out of the West.

Sure Rondo has a history since leaving Boston of being more than just a little challenging to manage, but if he won’t toe the company line for James, he may as well hang up his sneakers. The Cavs are playing for Championships and Rondo could be a key cog in accomplishing that if he gets with the program – and the Cavs find a way to get him to Cleveland.

Somehow Rondo managed to talk the Bulls into paying him $14 million this season, so he doesn’t fit into one of the Cavs trade exceptions and Cleveland would have to send back nearly $12 million in salary to make the trade math work.

So, a trade isn’t going to be easy to do. Rondo’s value, other than maybe to Cleveland, isn’t that high, so the Bulls can’t expect to get a player back who’s a slam dunk and the Cavs aren’t that motivated to get a point guard to get fleeced.

However, Iman Shumpert makes almost $10 million a year and has shown himself to be a useful defensive guard. Add in Mo Williams $2 million expiring deal and the trade math works. The Bulls couldn’t realistically hope to do better and Shumpert could actually help them.

What the Bulls do at this point is anyone’s guess? Maybe management decides it’s head coach Fred Hoiberg that needs to go instead? But if Rondo is going to be riding the pine for $14 million this season, it behooves them to at least try to get something of value for that 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.

 

 

 

 

NBA East

Playoff Contenders And Pretenders In The NBA East

As NBA teams prepare for New Year’s celebrations, their coaches and general managers have to start facing up to some tough realities. Are they playoff contenders or pretenders in the East? Is it time to tank for the best possible NBA Draft Lottery ticket or go all in for one of the readily available last four playoff spots?

Currently there are eight teams fighting for the last four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference: Hawks, Wizards, Knicks, Bulls, Bucks, Pacers, Magic and Pistons and the 12th place Pistons are only three games back of the fifth place Hawks. Whoever can get and keep their act together over the final 40-odd games left in the season is in.

Just for perspective, ESPN Eastern Conference predictions have the Hornets, Celtics, Raptors and Cavaliers at better than 95 percent certainty of making the postseason. Although only the Raptors and Cavs are given any chance at advancing to the NBA Finals. Miami, Brooklyn and Philadelphia are already relegated to just playing out the string. ESPN also provides Strength of Schedule and the usual standings details to help round out where the teams in the East stand.

NBA East

The teams, their opponents, the fans or anyone else for that matter is under no obligation to just accept ESPN’s predictions. These eight teams are so close that the right move could solidify, boost or reverse (if the tank is in) the fortunes of any one of them.

Atlanta Hawks – ESPN 6th

The Hawks have made the postseason in each of the past nine seasons and if any organization has shown they can pull out the stops necessary to get back there again, this is it.

This team is full value for their .500 record. They have shown an ability to beat anyone, like the Raptors and Cavs and then lose to anyone as they did to the Timberwolves and Magic recently.

With fully half of this roster expected to hit free agency in July, one might expect the Hawks to do the rational move and cash in a high value player who will be tough to keep for a very mediocre team to get future assets, but pending free agents haven’t produced much in trade talks in recent years and it’ll be easier to just try to ride this group to a 10th in a row postseason appearance.

At this point, it wouldn’t be safe to go against the ESPN prediction.

Washington Wizards – ESPN 9th

The Wizards have reversed a terrible start to the season, but they did it playing a somewhat soft schedule that included a couple of wins over the Nets in December.

The best arguments for not just blowing up this roster are the two wins over Milwaukee and the wins over Charlotte and Detroit this month, all of whom ESPN has finishing ahead of Washington.

The Wizards financially committed to winning this season and should be actively looking for trades over the next six weeks to upgrade their roster, especially that terrible 29th ranked (worse than the Nets) bench. It wouldn’t take much to keep them solidly in the playoff picture.

If the Wizards don’t make a move, ESPN has got this prediction right.

New York Knicks – ESPN 10th

Will the Knicks break the hearts of their long suffering fans once again? Probably and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s challenging to project any team giving up nearly 108 points per game making the playoffs.

They are getting outscored by their opponents by the second biggest margin in this group of eight teams. They can’t beat good teams and the much anticipated string of injuries to this rather brittle roster has yet to really happen.

It’s easy to see the Knicks trying to turn draft picks into players that could help now and it might work – for this season, but hasn’t this organization had it’s fill of being taken advantage of by other teams for possible short term gain?

The Knicks making the postseason would be a real “feel good” story. However, the competition for one of those spots might just be too tough unless a few of their competitors decide to tank.

Chicago Bulls – ESPN 8th

Underachievers sums up the Bulls season and it might just cost head coach Fred Hoiberg his job, but if that happens, just throw out the ESPN prediction of 8th place. This team would be headed back to the Lottery and looking to retool for next year.

The Bulls have enjoyed the easiest schedule in the NBA and they are blowing it. Worse, they don’t seem to know why things aren’t going better and can benching Rajon Rondo in the second half of games really be the answer? Throw out the all the fancy ESPN stats on this one, since beating the Cavs on December 2nd, they’ve lost to every team that matters to go 5-10.

If any team needs to make a deal, the Bulls are it and they have assets other teams should be interested in. Assuming management can keep its focus, but this is one team that seems destined to return to the Lottery.

Milwaukee Bucks – ESPN 5th

A young Bucks team hasn’t fared so well thru a rough patch in the schedule, but they still hold the largest points differential of the teams in the group while playing the second toughest schedule. A 7-8 December includes losses to the Spurs, Raptors and Cavs twice.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are the present and the future of this team and any tinkering with this roster has to take these two future (all?)-stars into account. Plus Kris Middleton could return from his hamstring injury after the All-Star break, so the pressure is off in terms of needing to add another impact player.

Sorry Greg Monroe, but the Bucks aren’t under any pressure to move you, but if any team has a point guard they’d like to swap for a big man?

This team is going to the postseason.

Indiana Pacers – ESPN 11th

Tied with Chicago for the easiest schedule in the NBA, a team featuring Paul George should be competing with Toronto for second place in the East instead of owning a spot in the Lottery. There were consequences to shaking up the roster and firing the head coach after what should have been considered a successful season last year.

A team that used to be known for playing big is getting crushed on the glass to the tune of almost 12 offensive rebounds given up and a rebounding differential approaching 5. Add that to the third worst bench in the NBA and what’s become a middle of the road starting group, and even a superstar isn’t going to save you.

A trade for a shooting guard that could score would help as would a big that could rebound, but the Pacers don’t have a lot to offer in return. Unfortunately, ESPN’s prediction of 11th place is looking to be rock solid.

Orlando Magic – ESPN 12th

Apparently someone forgot to mention that the NBA is a guard driven league these days?

The Magic have trouble scoring, they aren’t much of a three-point threat and they could use upgrades at both guard spots. Other than that, this team could be really good. Maybe a trade would help?

Bringing in Serge Ibaka on an expiring deal without the guard play necessary to get the most out of him could easily turn this into a terrible trade for the Magic when he walks away in free agency in July. So sooner rather than later, the Magic have to either trade Ibaka to get something back or trade someone else to get the help needed to turn this sinking Titanic around in hopes of convincing Ibaka to re-sign.

Either way, go with the ESPN prediction. The Magic’s plan for this season didn’t work.

Detroit Pistons – ESPN 7th

Stan Van Gundy is a really good coach, but even he seems flustered by the play of this group. Although, playing the second toughest schedule in the NBA could do that to a team expected to finish somewhere between 5th and 8th before the season began.

The Pistons have played 20 games against teams with a .500 record or better. The Bulls have only played 12, the Wizards 13, and the Hawks and Pacers 14. Van Gundy has his excuse for being in 12th place at 15-20 on the season (not that he’s using it.)

A middle of the road group of starters is supported by the East’s 4th best bench, so slipping into a playoff spot is well within reach and Van Gundy isn’t above rolling the dice on a trade. Although, all the Pistons may need to do is to wait on the schedule to turn in their favor and they’ll meet or exceed ESPN’s prediction.

In Summary,

Contenders: Hawks, Bucks, Pistons

Pretenders: Knicks, Pacers, Magic

Let’s Make A Deal: Wizards, Bulls

 

Who do you think can grab one of the final four playoff spots in the East?

Which teams pull the trigger on a deal – to make it? – or tank?

 

 

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 Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

2017 NBA Eastern Conference All-Star Voting Guide

Voting for the NBA All-Star starters has changed for 2017, the fan vote only counts for 50 percent with the players and a media panel accounting for the other half. However, that’s still a huge fan impact that a player who can’t attract fan support isn’t likely to overcome, so the following is a guide to what happened in 2016 and who is deserving this year.

Complaints about who gets the nod as an All-Star starter aren’t likely to diminish under the new system this year either. As usual, there are more than five players in a conference worthy of starting.

Here are the top fan vote-getters from a year ago (via Basketball-Reference.com).

Guards

 

Forwards

In 2016, Dwyane Wade was second in scoring among the East’s shooting guards at 19 points per game, trailing DeMar DeRozan (23.5). Kyle Lowry was second in scoring among point guards at 21.2 points per game trailing Isaiah Thomas (22.2), so the fans didn’t do a bad job here.

Lebron James led the East in scoring (25.3), Paul George was second among the forwards (23.1), and Carmelo Anthony was third among forwards (21.8). In fact, the fans voted in four of the Eastern Conference’s top six scorers in 2016, so there shouldn’t have been that much of a push to change the system for selecting All-Star starters based on last year’s results in the East. Besides, it’s on the coaches to pick up the obvious snubs when selecting the All-Star reserves (Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan).

This year scoring is up and scoring will remain a strong indicator of who gets voted/selected/picked to be an NBA All-Star and the names doing well in the East may seem rather familiar. (Stats as of December 26th, 2016 from ESPN.com)

Point Guards

Shooting Guards

Small Forwards

Power Forwards

Centers

Note that rebounding is given greater prominence with the centers and Boston’s Al Horford with 15.7 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.1 blocks doesn’t fit in easily with the power forwards or the centers (right where he’s been his whole career.)

The voting is for two guards and three forwards/centers.

Starting Guards

It’s completely possible fans continue for vote for the memories of Wade (2016 East’s leading guard vote-getter) even though there should be half-a-dozen players ahead of him this year. It shouldn’t even come as a shock if Wade still gets the respect of the players and media based on his career despite playing on what’s currently a sub-.500 team.

DeRozan leads the East in scoring on the second place team in the conference, so he should get voted in. However, in Toronto the consensus remains that Lowry is the team’s best player and he’ll likely lead the pair in fan votes.

If winning is taken into account, there is a widening gap between Cleveland, Toronto and the rest of the East. A three-way battle between DeRozan, Lowry and Kyrie Irving to start at guard should be in the cards, the on-going strong name-recognition of Wade notwithstanding.

Look for Isaiah Thomas to garner more fan votes than last year and it’s about time Kemba Walker got a little more recognition. Jimmy Butler, fourth in fan voting as a guard in 2016, plays for those same sub.-500 Bulls as Wade and that isn’t going to help his stock improve from last year (at guard or forward).

Starting Forwards/Centers

Last year only LeBron James of the first place Cavaliers earned the support of the fans, but it would be a surprise if Kevin Love doesn’t see a significant surge in fan support this time around and get voted in as well.

There may be only one spot that is really up for grabs among the forwards and centers and it should be hotly contested.

Carmelo Anthony, voted in last year, is usually a sure-thing with the fans, but this year his teammate ‘The Unicorn’ Kristaps Porzingis is more popular and should easily draw greater fan support. Porzingis trailed Anthony by less than a 100,000 votes in 2016. The obvious media favorite and rising star Giannis Antetokounmpo could challenge Porzingis for a starting role, if only he played for a team more fans followed.

Paul George, second in frontcourt votes last year, has the talent to be a starter, but his team is flirting with the Lottery and his scoring is down 1.7 points from last season. There’s no buzz around George this year and that is going to make votes harder to get with new fresh faces coming onto the scene.

Ever since centers got lumped in with the forwards, this position has gotten shafted in All-Star voting and that isn’t likely to change this year.

Fan voting updates will be shared by the NBA on Thursday, January 5th and Thursday, January 12th and these updates matter. If a popular player is close to being voted in, their team’s fanbase is easily motivated to get behind their guy and push him over the top.

It also doesn’t hurt if a player and his team can get hot at the right time. Fans don’t like to vote for losers, this is no time to go cold.

Voting is easy. NBA fans may submit one full ballot each day through Twitter, Facebook, NBA.com, the NBA App and Google Search, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.  All current NBA players are eligible. Voting ends on Monday, January 16th at 11:59 p.m. E.T.

 

 

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 Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

2017 NBA All-Star Voting Starts Christmas Day #NBAVOTE

NBA fans can start voting on Christmas Day for their favorite NBA players to start in the All-Star Game to be held Sunday, Feb. 19th, 2017 at the Smoothie King Center, home of the New Orleans Pelicans.

NBA fans may submit one full ballot each day through Twitter, Facebook, NBA.com, the NBA App and Google Search, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.  All current NBA players will be available for selection.

NBA All-Star Voting tips off at 11 a.m. E.T. on Sunday, December 25th

Voting ends on Monday, January 16th at 11:59 p.m. E.T.

How to vote:

  • Twitter: Tweet, retweet or reply with an NBA player’s first and last name or Twitter handle, along with the hashtag #NBAVOTE.  Each Tweet may include only one player’s name or handle.  Fans may vote for 10 unique players each day throughout the NBA All-Star voting period.
  • Facebook: Post the player’s first and last name along with the hashtag #NBAVOTE on your personal Facebook account, or comment on another’s Facebook post.   Each post may include only one player’s name.  Fans may post votes for 10 unique players per day throughout the voting period.
  • NBA.com voting page at NBA.com/vote: Fill out one full ballot per day (per day is defined as once every 24 hours) on NBA.com/vote from a desktop or mobile browser.  Fans can select up to two guards and three frontcourt players from each conference when choosing starters.
  • NBA App: Access the ballot and vote through the app, which is available on Android and iOS.  Fans can fill out one full ballot per day, and select up to two guards and three frontcourt players from each conference when choosing starters.
  • Google Search: Search “NBA Vote All-Star” or “NBA Vote Team Name” (ex: NBA Vote Celtics), and use respective voting cards to select teams and then players.  Fans may submit votes for 10 unique players per day throughout the voting period.

Fan voting updates will be shared on Thursday, January 5th and Thursday, January 12th.

For the first time ever, NBA players and basketball media will join fans in selecting the starters. Fans will account for 50 percent of the vote, while all current players and a panel of basketball media will account for 25 percent each. Players and media will be able to complete one full ballot, featuring three frontcourt players and two guards from both the Eastern and Western Conference.  Players may vote for their teammates or themselves.

The 2017 All-Star Starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, January 19th during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. E.T. immediately prior to the TNT doubleheader featuring the Washington Wizards at the New York Knicks (8 p.m. ET) and the Minnesota Timberwolves at the LA Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET).

The Eastern Conference and Western Conference All-Star reserves, as selected by NBA head coaches, will be announced the following week on Thursday, January 26th.

The voting period is SHORT and starts when many people are thinking about the HOLIDAYS, so follow the rules, vote early and often, and vote on as many eligible platforms as you can. Your favorite players All-Star chances still rest largely in your hands.

Read the NBA official release here

 

 

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 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.