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Projecting The NBA East Playoff Seeding

Down to a dozen games to go and only three spots seem to have been settled when it comes to playoff seeding. Cavs, Celtics and Hawks appear to have locked in their current postseason rank and everyone else with a chance is still battling for position.

The Cavaliers only have a game and a half lead over the Celtics for first and ESPN projects they’ll finish two games ahead at the end of the regular season. Unless coach Lue goes a little overboard on this “rest” concept, only road games in San Antonio and Boston should really present a test to the team everyone has pegged as returning to defend their NBA title. Of course they’ll likely punt a few games unless Boston is really pushing them.

And Boston’s relatively easy schedule just might give them that opportunity to push the Cavs all the way to the end of the regular season. If it wasn’t for those recent unexpected losses to the Suns, Nuggets and 76ers, the ESPN prediction of a 7-4 run to the finish would look unreasonably conservative.

The Wizards will be doing well to finish out the last 12 games going 6-6. Losers of their last two games, they play 5th place Atlanta and last place Nets before heading out on a brutal five game road trip book-ended by Cleveland and Golden State.  They might need to win out in April to go 6-6. Fortunately it looks like the Hawks are too far back to pass them for 4th.

ESPN has Toronto passing the Wizards for 3rd place and if they win the games they are supposed to, the Raptors will be better than the projected 8-4 over their last 12 games and be ready to pounce on any unexpected major slippage by the Celtics for 2nd.

The real battle for playoff seeding begins at 6th and runs through 10th place. Someone isn’t going to make it who thinks they should.

The Pacers are trying to set some kind of bizarre record for alternating wins and losses (now at 14 games of a loss followed by a win) and if they can keep it up, they should grab one of the three remaining playoff spots. However, they have a tough remaining schedule, so the 5-7 ESPN prediction seems reasonable and could be bad news. A 41-41 record might not be enough for a playoff spot.

Milwaukee is hot and got hot at the right time, but Giannis Antetokoumpo turned an ankle and if he misses the usual two weeks, all bets are off on how the Bucks finish out the regular season. With Antetokoumpo, the ESPN prediction of going 6-7 seems ultra-conservative, without him, it might be generous.

The Pistons are in a tie with the Heat now and forecast to still be tied at the end of the regular season. Detroit needs to make hay from now to the end of March when they have seven winnable games because they aren’t making up any ground in April.

The Heat have won a home-and-home against the Cavs in March and then beat Toronto, but they face a tough schedule to the end of the regular season with Toronto twice more, Boston, Detroit, Washington twice and the Cavs again. They’ll have to perform without their third best scorer in Dion Waiters who might miss the rest of the regular season with an ankle injury.

The Bulls have the schedule to make up ground, but they haven’t been playing well and have lost Wade for the season.

The Hornets have a tough schedule ahead of them and just don’t seem to have anything left in the tank.

Playoff seeding 6th thru 8th is decidedly undecided.

 

 

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 Atlanta Hawks Paul Millsap

Paul Millsap To The Raptors Could Be Next

It could be a franchise changing move if Raptors president Masai Ujiri can find a way to bring the Hawks Paul Millsap to Toronto and there more than a few people out there that believe it’s a real possibility.

It not like the Hawks weren’t considering just such a move this past summer.

The Hawks would be looking for as much as possible in return for the All-Star, but his expiring contract should limit just how far teams will go to get a potential rental. The situation should eliminate any team that doesn’t believe acquiring Millsap will make them a contender this year.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst: “I was talking to an executive just yesterday about a potential Toronto-Atlanta trade and he was like, ‘If they can get two assets out of it, then Atlanta would have done a good job.’ The two assets are Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross. If he were Toronto, he wouldn’t offer more than Patterson and Ross.”

This will continue to be the hot story in the NBA until the Hawks overtly pull Millsap off the market.

 

 

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 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

 

 

 

NBA Atlanta Hawks Paul Millsap

There’s Smoke For A Paul Millsap To The Raptors Trade

Old saying, ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ and there’s a ton of smoke suggesting the Atlanta Hawks will trade All-Star Paul Millsap with the most probable destination being the Toronto Raptors as discussed on ESPN Radio Truehoop Podcast on January 3rd (at about the 28 minute mark).

The discussion opens with the idea Toronto sends Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright for Paul Millsap and Kris Humphries suggesting that trade would give Toronto the advantage over Cleveland in the playoffs.

It was noted that Atlanta has developed a reputation for asking for “the moon and the stars” in trade talks and not getting anything done.

Brian Windhorst: “I was talking to an executive just yesterday about a potential Toronto-Atlanta trade and he was like, ‘If they can get two assets out of it, then Atlanta would have done a good job.’ The two assets are Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross. If he were Toronto, he wouldn’t offer more than Patterson and Ross.”

“There is absolutely a bad taste on the mouth after losing Al Horford for nothing. And that’s something they don’t want to get burned twice.”

Of course nothing precludes the parties from expanding the trade, especially if the Hawks become more future oriented and are looking for pieces to rebuild with rather than maintaining a playoff seed for this season. The Raptors are loaded with young players and draft picks if the Hawks want to head in that direction.

It should also be noted that Raptors president Masai Ujiri has a reputation for being the fleecer rather than the fleeced. It’s the Hawks who are feeling the pressure in this situation and unless they can drum up a number of competing bids for the expiring contract of Millsap, they aren’t going to get “the stars and the moon” and getting burned by another All-Star leaving in free agency for nothing will push them to make a deal happen.

The more solid trade for a Raptors team looking for a clear-cut advantage over the rival Cavaliers would be along the lines of Ross, Sullinger, Wright and a first round draft pick for Millsap. Both Patterson and Sullinger are on expiring deals, so if the Hawks are looking to rebuild, it shouldn’t matter to them, but Patterson is a key defensive cog on Toronto’s second unit. Patterson matters to Toronto.

The Truehoop panel had no trouble coming up with alternative destinations for Millsap, but the most motivated potential trade partner should be the Raptors. Of course, if Atlanta stalls, Ujiri may have other equally interesting options.

 

 

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 OKC Thunder Serge Ibaka

Trade Possibilities To Get The Raptors To The NBA Finals

If you listen to Raptors president Masai Ujiri and head coach Dwane Casey, Toronto has everything they need to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers right now. They don’t need a trade to get to the NBA Finals, but the biggest fly in that ointment (aside from losing to the Cavs three-times already this season) is the fact that this team has three rookies and four more players still on their rookie deals, so when Patrick Patterson went down with a sore knee, Casey has been forced into scramble mode to replace him.

“We’re guessing,” Casey said after the win over the Lakers. “I am telling you right now we’re guessing. We are trying to find that combination.”

Seemingly invisible to the “experts” that follow the NBA is the fact that Patterson is the lynch pin that makes two of the top three best five man units in the NBA work. A fact that isn’t lost on Casey.

“Things that Patrick does well in his offensive approach, in his defensive approach, are huge,” Casey said.

Ujiri will only be able to trade Patterson to upgrade his roster by ripping him from Casey’s cold, dead fingers.

To solve what should be temporary problem, Casey has been trying more minutes for rookie forward Pascal Siakam, playing Lucas Nogueira at power forward despite his young big man still trying to figure out what to do at center, giving DeMarre Carroll a turn at the four and even just flat out going with small ball, but the results have been mixed.

The Raptors might find an in-house solution to Patterson’s absence and in the process prove Ujiri right about this team having all the pieces they need, but it’s more likely Toronto finds out their lack of depth catches up to them a bit and their “solutions” need more seasoning before they are truly ready to take this team to the next level.

Almost forgotten, Toronto does have a potential solution in Jared Sullinger assuming he gets back before the All-Star break and rounds quickly into the rebounding and stretch-four/five big man they thought would be available before breaking his foot in the preseason. But, Sullinger isn’t expected to be the “third star player” many think will be necessary for Toronto to get by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals.

However, the potential for acquiring that “third star” seems to be developing if Ujiri is willing to take the big risks necessary to take his team to the next level this season.

Raptors Trade Bait

Terrence Ross, 5th year, 6’7 wing, 20.8 min., 10.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 41.2% three-point shooter, $10 million salary plus 2 more years

Norman Powell, 2nd year, 6’4 guards/wing, 14.7 min., 6.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 40% three-point shooter, $0.9 million on rookie deal

Ross and Powell are equally deserving and in each others way backing up DeMarre Carroll ($14 million and 2 more years remaining). There just isn’t enough minutes to go around, so Ujiri needs to pick two guys to go forward with. What would make things really interesting is if the Raptors believe they could run with Ross backing up Powell at small forward?

Pascal Siakam, rookie, 6’9 forward, 18.2 min., 33 starts, 5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, $1.2 million on rookie deal

Ujiri hates to part with “his guys,” but Siakam was never supposed to be a starter in Toronto as a rookie.

Jared Sullinger (injured) $5.6 million expiring, Delon Wright (injured) $1.6 million rookie deal, Jakob Poeltl $2.7 million rookie, Fred VanVleet $0.5 million rookie, Bruno Caboclo $1.6 million 3rd year prospect.

Both Sullinger and Wright are expected to return sometime in January.

Lucas Nogueira was going to be the limited minutes reserve center before Sullinger was injured and it’ll be challenging to take away his minutes once Sullinger returns. He’s improved so rapidly this season that he may have become almost unavailable.

As much as Jonas Valanciunas seems to be a somewhat insignificant part of this team’s success during the regular season, that’s only “seems to be.” JV turns into an indispensable monster in the playoffs. If would take a lot to even get a response.

Atlanta Hawks – Paul Millsap, $20 million, 2017-18 P.O. $21.4 million

The Hawks have reason to believe Millsap will opt out at the end of this season and reason to fear he’ll look for better opportunities elsewhere in free agency, but Millsap is the player that makes the Hawks a playoff team this year and that would make it a 10-year continuous stretch run in the postseason. Plus Atlanta ranks in the bottom half of the NBA for attendance despite their long term success, so it isn’t going to be easy to give up Millsap without a significant return.

Toronto would have to send back at least $15 million in salaries to make this trade and it shouldn’t be expected that Atlanta will be easy to deal with. They need a power forward, small forward and/or a guard.

A package of Ross, Sullinger and Wright would be intriguing, assuming Atlanta can be convinced both Sullinger and Wright will be able to play soon. Toronto has the Clippers protected 2017 first round draft pick to use as a sweetener. As much as the Hawks will want a boatload of talent back, the Raptors have to find a way to mitigate the risk that Millsap walks away in July.

The unspoken issue with Millsap is he’ll be 32-years-old in February and looking for a new long term deal worth upwards of $150 million as a free agent in seven months.

Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins, $17 million, 2017-18 $18 million

If you believe the press clippings, everyone wants Cousins, but there are two issues. One, the Kings haven’t shown any interest in trading him and two, he is a potential chemistry disaster anywhere he goes.

The Raptors acquired Patterson from the Kings and if you read between the lines, he hated it there and there was one very big reason for it. Unless Cousins’ teammates from TEAM USA, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, say otherwise, there is little chance the Raptors would even entertain bringing “the best center in the game” to Toronto.

Assuming Lowry and DeRozan give their blessing and the Kings change their mind, the cost is going to be steep. Jonas Valanciunas, Norman Powell, Delon Wright and a couple of first round draft picks for openers.

Acquiring Cousins is the ultimate high risk high return move and if, stress if, the Kings make him available, there will be significant competition.

 Orlando Magic – Serge Ibaka $12.3 million

The Magic traded a pretty good scoring guard to get the pending free agent Ibaka and as of now, they could really use a wing that can score from the outside in the worst way. A backup point guard with a future that could set up their bigs would be very useful too.

Orlando should be motivated to do something. In 12th place, but only 1.5 games out of 8th, the season seems salvageable and on the brink of collapse at the same time. It should be safe to assume that no playoffs equals no chance of re-signing Ibaka.

Ross and Siakam and/or Wright for Ibaka and Mario Hezonja would help to re-balance both teams rosters. The Magic should be able to squeeze a draft pick out of Toronto as well.

Orlando Magic – Nikola Vucevic $11.8 million, plus two years averaging $12.5 million

A starter sent to the bench, Vucevic was a significant double-double machine before this season when the Magic screwed up their big man rotation. He’s not seen as a star, but he averaged 18.7 points and 9.9 rebounds over the past two seasons. As a center with some stretch-five potential (30 percent from three on 0.8 attempts this year), the 26-year-old should draw interest for his current and longer term potential.

Ross and Siakam for Vucevic and Hezonja would re-balance both teams rosters. Not nearly as exciting as acquiring Ibaka for Toronto, but cheaper, more practical and less risky going forward.

Philadelphia 76ers – Nerlens Noel $4.4 million, 2017-17 Q.O. $5.8 million

The 76ers are motivated, but the market is soft for this oft-injured young big man who has fallen out of a terrible 76ers rotation.

Noel could be an impact player right away, despite some obvious concerns. He can block shots, rebound and finish at the rim, if he can learn to accept coaching and accept a role that’s likely less than he wants and less than it will be in a few years, then he’s a guy worth taking a risk on. Noel’s image problem is likely as much a creation of his untenable situation as anything he’s done.

The hard part is figuring out if he moves the needle and who the Raptors would be willing to give up to get him?

Patience

There’s still seven weeks until the NBA trade deadline and the Raptors have yet to see what Sullinger can bring to the table. If he can get in game-shape fast enough, he might just sell Ujiri on standing pat. Toronto’s rebounding and starting unit concerns this season should end with Sullinger’s return.

Then there’s the list of teams in the East who will have to decide soon if they are contenders or pretenders and what to do about it. Players who are not on anyone’s radar at the beginning of January could be hot topics in a couple of weeks.

If Ujiri makes a move now, it has to be for a player he would want no matter what shakes out later on and the move that seems to have the highest probability of happening that could actually move the needle for Toronto is to make a hard push for Ibaka.

 

 

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 Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Go For First Place In The East Vs The Hawks

The surging (5-0) Toronto Raptors can claim a share of the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a win over the slumping (0-5) Atlanta Hawks at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.

The Raptors improved to 13-6 on the season with an easy wire-to-wire 113-80 win over the Lakers at home on Friday night to move to within a half game of the Cavaliers who lost their third game in a row as they fell 111-105 to the Bulls in Chicago. Toronto now plays the rare at home back-to-back tonight and the biggest concern may be to not look past the Hawks to the rematch against Cleveland on Monday.

Atlanta started out the season at 10-5, but a left hip injury to All-Star Paul Millsap in Utah has sent a team that was already starting to slide into a tailspin. Millsap played through the pain in losses to the Jazz, Lakers and Warriors, but he was finally sat down in the Hawks last two games and he isn’t expected to play against Toronto.

On Friday night the Hawks were crushed 121-85 by the Pistons and have now lost eight of their last nine games. They have been outscored by their opponents 104.4 – 92.7 over this stretch, however, the Raptors need to be cautious as this team started the season at 9-2 and dominated their opposition 107.8 – 98.2 including big wins in Cleveland (110-106) and against the Bulls (115-107).

The Raptors, in contrast, have been red hot over their past five games, dominating their opponents 115 – 96.2 as their offense has been firing on all cylinders led by All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry who is averaging 22.6 points and shooting 62.9 percent from three-point range over that span.

DeMar DeRozan who was leading the NBA in scoring until recently has retouched reality during the winning streak averaging just 20.8 points over the past five games, however, even he is hitting on 44.4 percent of his three-point attempts and contributing 6 boards and 6 dimes per game as defenses have decided to get the ball out of his hands at any cost. That cost has been letting Lowry and the rest of the Raptors three-point threats see a lot of open looks and they’ve been sinking them at a 50 percent clip, so eventually opponents may decide it’s better to let DeRozan shoot again.

Head coach Dwane Casey continues to preach defense, but after giving up an average of 105.5 points per game prior to the winning streak, his charges have kept their opponents below that in each of the past five games. The result may still not be up to Casey’s standards (it never is), but at least the trend is finally in the right direction.

The Raptors have lost both ends of their two previous back-to-back sets this season, so they shouldn’t be overconfident.

If Toronto can claim this winnable game against the Hawks, they’ll improve to 14-6 and sit in a virtual tie with the idle 13-5 Cavaliers. Cleveland has already defeated Toronto at the Q and at the ACC this season, so expect the Raptors to be motivated on Monday.

Note: The Toronto Raptors are in the midst of a six game homestand and the ACC has been sold out for 101 consecutive games including the regular season and the playoffs.  The streak began Nov. 11, 2014 vs Orlando and is the longest in franchise history.

 

 

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 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.

 

 

 


 

NBA Indiana pacers Boston Celtics Portland Trail Blazers Evan Turner

NBA Free Agency Deals – They Must Be Mad List

Salaries of NBA players in free agency were going to go up this summer. We knew this. The Salary Cap rose by over $20 million, so teams had more money to spend and the current collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners splits revenues about 50/50.

Most of the deals agreed to only look expensive when compared to past seasons, so don’t get your shorts in a knot over most of those big contracts being handed out, that’s just the new reality. They’ll be even bigger next summer.

However, that doesn’t mean every deal made was a good deal. This summer is no different than past summers in that respect. Some teams just can’t stop themselves.

New deals on the “What were they thinking – they must be mad” list include:

Los Angeles Lakers
Luol Deng 4-years $72 million
Timofey Mozgov 4-years $64 million
Jordan Clarkson 4-years $50 million

The Lakers headed into free agency suggesting they’d be prudent and cautious, then Mitch Kupchak lost his mind. So much for protecting salary cap space for next year’s really impressive crop of big name free agents.

Luol Deng at 31-years-old is in obvious decline. He’ll give you what he’s got and he’ll be a good veteran, but at $18 million per season …. really?

Do the Lakers know Timofey Mosgov is a career 6.9 point 5 rebound center?

The Jordan Clarkson deal is steep, but it’s for your own young player putting up good stats on a bad team, so you have to hope the GM knows what he’s doing in this case. (Not feeling all that confident right about now.)

Utah Jazz Joe Johnson 2-years $22 million

The 35-year-old Johnson’s stats have been in steady decline for 4 straight seasons – even taking that slightly better 24 game stint in Miami into account. He’s probably a nice steadying influence on a young team, but get used to the 40 percent shooting he was putting up for the Nets as that’s his reality and it’ll continue to get worse.

New Orleans Pelicans Solomon Hill 4-years $48 million

Hill averaged 4.2 points and 2.8 rebounds with the Pacers last season and the only saving grace to this contract is Hill’s age. Hopefully he’ll get better – a lot better.

Portland Trail Blazers Evan Turner 4-years $75 million

So the list of top flight free agents wasn’t all that long this year, but that’s no reason to spend $19 million per season on a 10 point 5 rebound 4 assist guard like Evan Turner. This veteran will help Portland, he’s not a bad player or an unknown quantity, but he’s not a front line starter either and he’s getting paid like one.

Orlando Magic D.J. Augustin 4-years $29 million

$7 million per season isn’t big money under the new salary cap, but it’s money that should still get you a solid rotation player – a sure thing and D.J. Augustin is anything but a sure thing. Augustin’s impact on NBA rosters has been up and down like a toilet seat. Solid in Charlotte, awful in Indiana, nice in Chicago, Toronto cut him, okay in OKC, nice in Denver, couldn’t shoot again in his second stint in OKC. The Magic had better hope he’s a fit in Orlando because he’s theirs for the next 4 years.

The Tempting to Dump On Them List

New York Knicks Joakim Noah 4-years $72 million

If Joakim Noah is physically okay, no one will be laughing at the Knicks for this deal. If they got it wrong again? Everyone will be – “I told you so!”

Atlanta Hawks Kent Bazemore 4-years $70 million

$17.5 million per season just seems like a lot for a solid “3-and-D” wing who’s just okay at shooting the long ball and his three-point shooting percentages have been dipping in each of the past two seasons. Is betting on a 27-year-old to take their game up another notch reasonable?

Memphis Grizzlies Chandler Parsons 4-years $95 million

The Mavericks felt a little burned after giving Parsons a max deal to steal him away from Houston two years ago. Will The Grizzlies feel the same way two years from now?

Conley, DeRozan, Drummond, Beal, Batum, Whiteside, and Fournier grab headlines because of the massive size of their pending new contracts, but these players were always going to get paid based on what the CBA permitted. The numbers are big, but no one should have been surprised.

If your team didn’t make a list, don’t worry. It’s still early in the process. However, the longer things go, the more likely any deal that gets signed will look like a good deal – for the team.

 

 

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

 

 

 


 

Paul Millsap - cropped

Raptors Looking To Nab The Hawks Paul Millsap?

It’s possible the Atlanta Hawks will be going into full rebuild mode after trading starting point guard Jeff Teague for the 12th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. If that happens, the Toronto Raptors are almost certain to inquire about Paul Millsap and his $20 million likely expiring (2017-18 player option) contract.

The speculation about Atlanta’s possible rebuild comes largely from Al Horford and Kent Bazemore’s pending unrestricted free agency. If these two players leave without compensation, the Hawks will be a Lottery Team next season even with Millsap.

However, by moving out Teague, the Hawks could have well over $40 million in salary cap space and it’s been suggested they are trying to create more space (or more incentive for Horford to re-sign?) by using their first round draft picks as bait.

So, the Hawks rebuild is on hold for now, but it’s been setup so it could happen if (the Hawks believe) Horford moves on to greener pastures in July. At that point, look to the Raptors to ramp up their interest in Millsap depending on what president and general manager Masai Ujiri has already committed his resources to. The draft and free agency can’t take a back seat to trades that may or may not happen.

There is going to be a lot of speculation and actual player movement around this year’s NBA Draft.

 

 

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 Paul Millsap & Jeff Teague

Atlanta Hawks Are Hot Heading Into The Playoffs

By Frank McLean

Heading into the playoffs the Atlanta Hawks are one the NBA’s hottest teams.

After the Hawks 95-87 win over the Toronto Raptors at home Thursday night, Atlanta is now 16-5 in their last 21 games and with the playoffs starting a week from now, you would have to say they are peaking at the right time.

During that 21 game stretch two of the Hawks losses were in Toronto, but also included in that group of games was a west coast trip in which they went 3-1 with the only loss coming in overtime against the Golden State Warriors.

Hawks guard Kyle Korver says that trip was the beginning of the club starting to peak at the right time in the schedule.

“It’s all about peaking at the right time,” Korver said. “There were a lot of positives that came out of that west coast trip. We had a chance to make it a great trip even with the overtime loss with the Warriors We just have to keep on plugging.”

Meanwhile Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who is part of the Greg Popovich coaching tree and like Popovich does not get wrapped up about peaking at the right time talk puts this all in perspective.

“We have to keep playing well,” Budenholzer said when the Hawks were in Toronto. “There are some details offensively and defensively that we need to keep getting better on.

“As soon as you start thinking about it (peaking at the right time), you can’t. You need to just go out and do it every night on the court. It’s more important than worrying about how you are playing.”

Budenholzer went on to say that he feels that in the end it’s always the best team that wins in the playoffs.

“One of the great things about the playoffs at the end of it the best team wins. When you get to the playoffs there are some teams that are pretty equal. They are deep balanced and very close and who can execute and get things done. That can make the difference and that’s part of the playoffs, in seven games usually the best team wins.”

Last season the Hawks surprised everyone with a 60-win season and first place in the Eastern Conference.

They were knocked out of the playoffs in the conference finals by the team all the pundits had finishing first, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Hawks currently sit at 47 wins and with three games left against Boston, Cleveland and Washington, if they run the table they can join Toronto and Cleveland as a 50-win team.

Right now a Atlanta vs Toronto playoff series could happen in the second round and if that happens it would be interesting to see who is the best team in a seven game set? However, Toronto did win the regular season series 3-1.

One thing for sure the Hawks are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time and look like they could be a problem to whoever their opponent will be in the playoffs.

 

 

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 Atlanta Hawks Al Horford

Atlanta Has A Hold On Hawks Al Horford

The Atlanta Hawks drafted Al Horford third overall in 2007 and a team that hadn’t been in the playoffs since the turn of the century hasn’t missed the postseason since then. The big power forward/center has been an All-Star four times and knows how fortunate he’s been. Atlanta has a hold on Horford that isn’t going to be easy for other NBA franchises to break when he becomes a free agent this summer.

“I’ve been very fortunate because some guys, they never get to be part of a playoff team, they never get to experience it,” Horford told Pro Bball Report. “I think the older you get, the more you realize that it’s just not given, it’s actually a big deal. I like the team that we have. I feel that we can do some special things. I am just glad we have the opportunity to be in the playoffs this year.”

Horford turns 30 in June and has spent all of his nine NBA seasons with the Hawks, something that is becoming more of a rarity with each passing year. Staying that long with one team in one city allows a player to put down roots and become part of a community. Stability, especially with a well run successful organization is a comfortable place to be.

“For me it brings a lot of stability,” Horford said. “My family, most of them live in Atlanta. We have kind of made our niche there. There have been some coaching changes and things like that, but just the fact that you are in the same city and same organization, its been nice to see the Hawks organization grow to a better place and our fans starting to rally more and more around us, so it’s been really nice.”

Horford was joined by Jeff Teague two years later when the point guard was drafted 19th overall by the Hawks in 2009 and having long term teammates only strengthens the bond to a franchise. It helps an organization be successful.

“I think so,” Horford said. “It gives stability. I feel like you have guys that can teach the guys that are coming in or at least show them what to expect. It brings a lot of stability into a locker room.”

After nine years, it’s like Horford has become a fixture in the Hawks organization. He knows everybody and everybody knows him. It seemed strange to see his name being bandied about as a trade target at the NBA trade deadline because of his pending unrestricted free agent status this July. Horford hasn’t given the impression he wants to leave Atlanta.

“I know everybody, the front office, coaches, ball boys. I am just very familiar with everyone,” Horford said. “I’ve just been really lucky and it’s something I don’t take it for granted. I am very grateful.”

“(Free agency) is one of those things that a person has to feel comfortable and at peace with whatever decision they make. There are going to be great opportunities with all the (league) revenues going up. At the end of the day, especially for guys that have been on multiple teams and have seen how different it can be and maybe not be part of a playoff team every year, I feel that guys will be willing to sacrifice, but it all depends on the individual. It really depends on where you are at financially, how do you feel about the team you are with?”

At this point it seems like only the Hawks themselves could make Horford feel like he’d want a change this July, but there won’t be a lack of other suitors. Horford’s services will be in high demand as a reliable, no-nonsense All-Star who could be the missing piece on a contending team or the missing piece on a team just outside of the playoff picture.

However, Horford is comfortable in Atlanta. The city and the franchise has a hold on their All-Star. This pending free agent doesn’t sound like a player looking for the exits.

 

 

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 Kyle Korver by Lindsay Dunn

At 35, Hawks Kyle Korver Is Playing His Best Basketball

Some things get better with age, but some things don’t and basketball players aren’t supposed to improve into their mid-thirties. Just don’t tell the Hawks Kyle Korver, he turned a page when he was traded to Atlanta for cash at age 31 and just kept getting better. In a week from now on March 17, Korver turns 35 and he may be playing his best ball ever right now.

A prolific and outstanding three-point shooter over his 13 NBA seasons, Korver raised his three-point average from the superior 43.5 percent he shot in his last season with the Bulls to 45.7 percent in his first year with the Hawks and he wasn’t done there. The next year he led the NBA at 47.2 percent and upped it again the season he turned 34-years-old to 49.2 percent to lead the league again.

This year injuries kept him from his usual summer conditioning program and he started the season shooting only a typically acceptable 37 percent from deep for the first three months, but he got back on track in February at 42.3 percent and has been on fire from three-point range so far in March at 52.2 percent.

“I think (Korver’s) just getting more comfortable,” Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “When you miss a summer of training the way he trains and the amount of time and effort he puts into his body, I think that may have had something to do with it. You just got to get your legs. He’s big on his strength and all those things. So, when I think he’s playing well he’s got great legs, great strength and I think that transfers to his shot.”

“(Korver) is a guy you have to pay attention to because he’s smart,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s one of the best in the league at getting open. You got to stay on high alert.

“Everybody talks about Steph Curry’s range, this guys range is off the charts also.”

What often gets overlooked because of his offense is that since his arrival in Atlanta, Korver’s defense has gotten a lot better. Often picked on by opposing wings and guards looking to get him on an island earlier in his career, Korver has really stepped up his defensive presence. He’s a lot harder to score on now.

“He’s not only improved offensively but at the defensive end,” Korver’s All-Star teammate Al Horford told Pro Bball Report. “I feel that is probably where his biggest improvement is. He helps rebounding the ball a lot. I feel those are areas that really go unnoticed when you talk about Kyle.

NBA Atlanta Hawks Al Horford

“He is a much better defensive player and here we help each other and he’s usually doing a lot of the helping. He doesn’t need to be helped much anymore.”

But how does an established 10-plus year NBA veteran improve his game pretty dramatically and keep improving it to age 35?

“Two things,” Horford said. “One has to do with Kyle’s work ethic and will to keep improving as a player and the other I feel it has to do with him having coaches that really give him the freedom to move around on offense and having the freedom to shoot threes and just play has helped him.

“He’s just a very smart player and takes care of his body real well and he just figures out ways to be efficient. ”

“I think it’s a credit to the work he puts in,” Budenholzer said. “Whether it be training with his body in the summer or the amount of time he puts in before and after practice, film study. I think he really believes that you can get better every day and your age doesn’t necessarily dictate that you can’t improve and grow your game. He’s bought into player development. He’s just a heck of a worker, a heck of a player.”

There is another, less popular explanation. The NBA is often described as a young man’s game where speed and athleticism are praised and the basketball I.Q. and skills that come with longevity are not always valued as highly. Korver is one of the exceptions to the rule.

“The game slow(ed) down for him,” Casey explained. “You get smarter (with age). That’s something that is overlooked in this game is how smart guys become and just know angles, time score situations. Game really really slows down for them and I think it makes it easier for a great shooter like that.”

“He understands the game,” Raptors 35-year-old veteran forward Luis Scola said. “He seems to be a very smart player, so he understands what the game is about. He has found a way to (adjust) his game to what’s best in today’s NBA and he got a little lucky – lucky is a bad word because it seems to take some of the credit from him, but the league became crazy about three-point shooting within the last three or four years.

Toronto Raptors Luis Scola

“It’s an obsession, everybody wants three-point shooters and being such a good three-point shooter  he found a way to play being a shooter. A lot of shooters, they don’t get their own shots, (but) he finds a way to get his own shots and in today’s NBA that’s just a huge thing. The game went in his direction and he took it to the next level.”

One of the reasons the NBA often is a young man’s game is the speed and athleticism that gives players a natural advantage declines with age. For most, those gifts don’t last. It’s the veterans that take care of their bodies and rely on their skills and smarts like Korver who can survive, thrive and even improve well into their thirties.

 

 

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 Paul Millsap & Jeff Teague

It’s Just The Calm Before The NBA Trade Deadline Storm

Unlike the NHL trade deadline which is typically a day long snooze-fest of calm, in the NBA, a storm is the norm and this year won’t be any different. Huge names like Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Al Horford, Blake Griffin and Carmelo Anthony are swirling in the trade winds and it won’t surprise anyone if a truly big name player changes teams by Thursday at 3 pm.

Plus, there are a boatload of very good NBA players who will be waiting on a trade deadline phone call as well. A sample of the names being tossed around includes:

  1. Hawks Jeff Teague, Thabo Sefolsha, and everyone else in Atlanta,
  2. Nets Thad Young and unlikely but possible Brook Lopez,
  3. Hornets Nicolas Batum and Al Jefferson,
  4. Bulls Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol,
  5. Cavaliers Timofey Mosgov,
  6. Nuggets Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried,
  7. Rockets Ty Lawson,
  8. Pacers George Hill,
  9. Clippers Lance Stephenson,
  10. Lakers Brandon Bass and just about everyone else,
  11. Grizzlies have already traded Courtney Lee,
  12. Heat Chris Anderson traded, Hassan Whiteside available,  plus someone else to get below the luxury tax line
  13. Bucks Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams,
  14. Timberwolves Kevin Martin, plus someone please take Nikola Pekovic
  15. Pelicans Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson,
  16. Knicks Jose Calderon,
  17. Magic already dumped Tobias Harris’ contract, Channing Frye is still in play,
  18. Suns Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker,
  19. Kings Rudy Gay, Kosta Koufas, Ben McLemore  and more,
  20. Spurs Danny Green (those rumors have to be some kind of joke?),
  21. Raptors Patrick Patterson,
  22. Jazz Trey Burke

It’s getting hard to keep up and it’s about to get worse. Most of the names being bandied about will never come close to being traded, but as past deadlines prove, more than enough big deals will happen to keep trade deadline day very interesting indeed.

Interesting deals that happened last year,

  1. Nets trade Kevin Garnett for Thaddeus Young
  2. Nuggets traded Arron Afflalo and JaVale McGee and got Will Barton
  3. Pistons in a multi-team multi-player deal turned Kyle Singler into Reggie Jackson
  4. Heat in a multi-player deal traded two first-round picks for Goran Dragic
  5. Bucks traded Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee.
  6. Thunder turned Reggie Jackson into Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler

It was a wild and woolly NBA trade deadline last year. It’s is going to be just as exciting this time around.

 

 

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 Houston Rockets Dwight HowardNBA Trade Deadline Teams Motivated By Money

For teams that are underachieving, deals motivated by money become a very real possibility. The luxury tax provisions of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement are enough to give any general manager reason to pause. It has to be worth it to pay the tax.

 

 

NBA Atlanta Hawks Al Horford

Atlanta Hawks Al Horford On Raptors, Celtics Radar

The Atlanta Hawks three-time All-Star power forward/center Al Horford is in the final year of a deal that pays him $12 million this season and for the first time in his nine year NBA career there are reasons to believe he might want out of town at the end of the season. Opportunities to pick up a player of his caliber don’t go unnoticed and there is rampant speculation that the Celtics, Raptors, Lakers and other teams would love to get their hands on him – if not now by way of trade, then in the summer by way of unrestricted free agency.

No one really knows what’s going on at the brain trust running the Hawks and as Basketball Insiders Steve Kyler points out, this team doesn’t leak information.

From an information standpoint, the Hawks run one of the tightest ships in the business in terms of keeping things in-house so there are very few leaks.

The problem in Atlanta is the Hawks have taken a big step backwards this season after unexpectedly moving up to first place in the Eastern Conference a year ago. The team lost DeMarre Carroll to free agency, a noticeably different Kyle Korver is about to turn 35, Thabo Sefolosha will be 32 soon, and there’s a point guard controversy. It’s not all bad, but they are in a virtual four-way tie for third in the East five games back of second place Toronto and they can’t seem to find any momentum heading into the All-Star break.

Kyler confirms,

“I think Atlanta is at a crossroads. This isn’t the team that was winning the Eastern Conference last year. They’ve got pending free agent Al Horford. They got to make a decision. What is this team going to look like going forward and if you’re not there, you don’t believe you are going to contend, not only for the Eastern Conference, but for the Championship, you have to start looking and I think that’s really where the Atlanta Hawks are.

“They really seem like a team that’s trying to find an identity and some of that identity may come in trade.”

If they stand pat, Atlanta is a solid playoff team again this year, but they aren’t a contender and there could be virtually no one left from this roster in 2017-18 when almost all of the rest of the players can opt for free agency. It could be a very tall order to convince Horford that the Hawks have a bright future this summer.

The Celtics are rumored to be interested in every former or current All-Star that might be available at the trade deadline and they have the assets to get a deal done. Multiple first round draft picks over the next three years, more second round picks than any one team could possibly use, a surplus of high potential young talent and a dire need for a veteran star player to lead them.

The gem of Boston’s trade assets is the Brooklyn Nets 2016 unprotected first round draft pick, but no one believes the Celtics will ever give up that chip. Still, if the Hawks want to rebuild through the draft, Boston is a team to talk to.

Ever tight-lipped at the management level, Toronto should have the most interest in Horford, but the only real indication that president and general manager Masai Ujiri is lurking has been an admission not doing a deadline deal last year was a mistake and acknowledging the team has too many draft picks over the next two years.

Reuniting the All-Star big man with Carroll could make the Raptors an improved version of last year’s 60-win Hawks. Toronto already has two All-Star guards and Horford can play in his natural position at power forward with Jonas Valanciunas manning center.

The Raptors have multiple first round draft picks they could throw into a deal – not quite of the same quality Boston can muster, but pretty good. They could also include some of their recent draft picks who are primarily playing in the NBA D-League this season if the Hawks are looking to rebuild.

The issue for any team thinking about trading for Horford is this could become a short term rental and keeping the big man will take a near max contract next season. While Boston is likely to have plenty of salary cap space, the Raptors would have to dive into luxury tax territory to retain both DeMar DeRozan (player option) and Horford. The organization is plenty rich enough to entertain going into the tax, but hasn’t historically done anything to put winning ahead of profits.

Unlike a lot of other potential suitors for Horford’s services, both Boston and Toronto should be able to convince him their organizations are on an upswing towards contention, the Raptors possibly getting there this season if they can swing a deal for the veteran star big man at the trade deadline.

Like every trade rumor being tossed around at this time of year, there’s a good chance nothing happens or something completely unexpected happens.

The Hawks have been to the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons and if they do nothing, it’ll be nine. Atlanta is leading the Southwest Division and trading away a star player at the deadline will put a return to the postseason at risk. That can paralyze a management team into inaction, just like what happened in Toronto when All-Star Chris Bosh was about to become a free agent in 2010.

However, the Hawks really are at a crossroads and this is a situation worth watching closely over the next couple of weeks.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

ATL_Sefolosha_Thabo

Justice For Hawks Thabo Sefolosha

Thabo Sefolosha missed the the entire Atlanta Hawks NBA playoff run when the New York police broke his leg after an incident outside a Manhattan nightclub in April. Somehow it was Sefolosha who was charged with three misdemeanor counts despite descriptions in the media that seemed to confirm it was the police who got out of control.

The Hawks player finally got some measure of justice when a jury of three men and three women confirmed his innocence as reported by Danny Knobler in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Hawks player Thabo Sefolosha was acquitted on all charges Friday, after a weeklong trial stemming from an April incident outside a Manhattan nightclub.

Sefolosha wiped away tears of relief as he listened to the verdict.

“I’m thankful to the American justice system,” Sefolosha said. “Justice was made today.”

 

There was no indication whether or not Sefolosha will file a civil lawsuit against the police.

 

 

 

James Thompson

No Love, No Irving, No Problem For Cavs LeBron James

Down 0-1 at home, the Atlanta Hawks had their chance to hit back in the Eastern Conference Finals. The offensive threat from Kevin Love had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by a separated shoulder and when Kyrie Irving sat out Game Two of the ECF with knee tendinitis, two of the Cavs top three scorers in the regular season were missing.

Unfortunately, the Cavaliers missing offense proved to be no problem as the Hawks couldn’t get anything going themselves and LeBron James put up 30 points, 9 rebounds and 11 assists to carry his team to the easy 94-82 victory. The final score flattered the disheartened home side, now down 0-2 heading to Cleveland for games three and four.

This wasn’t the way things were supposed to go. The Hawks handled the Cavs during the regular season, taking three of four contests, averaging 109 points on 43 made field goals and shooting over 52 percent from the field.

In the playoffs, however, Cleveland has significantly tightened down on defense, holding the stunned Hawks to just 85.5 points on 9.5 fewer made field goals and 42.9 percent shooting. It’s not like the Hawks aren’t taking shots (just 4 fewer per game), they just aren’t making them. One look at Head coach Mike Budenholzer in the post game pressers and it’s obvious the Hawks have no answers for what’s being done to them.

However, there remains a lot of talk about how James is getting his teammates involved at the offensive end of the court as described by Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports after game two.

“LeBron, he sees things ahead of time,” Cavs head coach David Blatt said. “Whether it’s knowing the play that we’re running and understanding where guys are going to be or whether he’s taken very quick mental pictures of where the defense is or where there’s just understanding by his feel for how defenses play him, who’s going to be open where when he makes a move to the baseline or to the middle, or whether it’s the fact that he has terrific court vision and he uses his size so well to see over guys.

“Probably more than anything else, it’s the fact that he’s willing to pass the ball and that he believes in his teammates, and they feel that, they sense that, and that makes them more efficient and effective shooters.”

Mid-season additions Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith appear to be two of the biggest beneficiaries of James’ generosity and the two former Knicks should now have Phil Jackson on their permanent Christmas card list for getting them out of the disaster that is New York and to what looks to be a sure-fire spot in the NBA Finals.

However, while their is a lot of truth to Blatt’s comments about James’ impact, the Cavs are not winning this series with offense. Shumpert and Smith might feel good about their offensive contributions, but they really aren’t doing anything they weren’t doing before. They are just doing it on a better team – albeit a team that is better because James is leading it.

As a team the Cavs are dominating defensively and the (unlikely?) player who has stepped up to assume an impact role has been Tristan Thompson. Thompson is averaging 13 boards and two blocks against the Hawks in the playoffs to lead his team on the glass at both ends of the court. All that great defense wouldn’t count for anything if the Cavaliers didn’t get the ball back, but they are, to the tune of a +10 rebounding differential. No wonder the Hawks are in disarray.

All this really shouldn’t surprise anyone. James led teams have always won with defense – no matter what high-powered offensive players he was paired up with. No offensive help, no problem, James has helped the Cavs be effective in similar situations before.

 

 

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.

 

 

Ennis Joseph ThompsonIs It Time For The Toronto Raptors To Acquire A Canadian Player?

The Cavs failed to sign Thompson to an extension last fall and the 2011 fourth overall pick has developed into a rebounding machine – especially at the offensive end of the court. Thompson has shown he can be a solid double-double power forward as a starter and an out of his area rebounder – two things the Raptors desperately need.

 

 

 

DeRozan and Pierce

Raptors To Face Wizards As Hawks Punt Game To Bulls

Don’t say no one saw this coming. The Toronto Raptors easily defeated the Hornets 92-87 to claim a franchise record 49th win and the Atlanta Hawks punted an 18 point lead in the third quarter to lose to the Bulls 91-85. The gift from the visitors gave Chicago third place in the Eastern Conference and means the first place Hawks avoid a likely second round matchup with the Bulls. Instead, the Hawks will get the winner between the fourth place Raptors and the fifth place Wizards in the second round.

The Hawks must have decided they wanted to play Toronto in the second round instead of Chicago as seldom used John Jenkins, Elton Brand and Austin Daye played the entire fourth quarter combining to go 0-8 from the field and scoring just 1 point. Reserves Mike Muscala and Shelvin Mack soaked up most of the remaining minutes and shot 4-10 to put up 9 points in a 13 point quarter. With this unit on the floor to close out the game, the Hawks went over 4 minutes without scoring a point to give up the lead and then only managed to score 7 points over the final 5 minutes of the game. The Bulls scored 21 points over the final 12 minutes to pull out the win.

It’s not like the Hawks were forced to go deep into their bench. No starter played more than 27.2 minutes and none in the fourth quarter. Al Horford had 14 points and 7 rebounds shooting 7-10 from the field in 22 minutes. Jeff Teague shot 5-11 for 10 points in 22.7 minutes and Dennis Schroder had come off the bench to score 21 points in 16.7 minutes, but he was quickly sat down in the fourth quarter after hitting an early three-ball. The Hawks got what they wanted in this game in every sense of the word – Practice, rest and no possibility of seeing the Bulls again before the Eastern Conference Finals.

In Toronto the Raptors lead by as many as 17 points and never really lost control of this contest from the tip. Head coach Dwane Casey stuck with a tight nine man rotation, only giving Lou Williams the night off to rest. Kyle Lowry worked on his long ball and defense, finding the range from beyond the arc six times as he scored a game high 26 points. Jonas Valanciunas practiced his post moves on Bismack Biyombo and scored 18 points on 9-11 shooting. The Raptors got in the work they needed at both ends of the court in preparation for the postseason.

Prior to the game, there was a story that the fifth place Wizards Paul Pierce had said the Raptors don’t have ‘it’ which created a lot of interest from the Raptors players. At the end of the Raptors-Hornets game, the Bulls were still playing and DeMar DeRozan suggested Pierce had better hope for the right outcome or he’d find out what the ‘it’ is.

“Paul Pierce, he always got to say something,” DeRozan said. “He said something last year. He just got to say something. Just let him talk. I could care less what he says. He just better to hope that Chicago – however it has to work – win or something so he won’t see what the it is.”

The Raptors played against Pierce (with the Nets) last year in the first round of the playoffs. There is nothing like a genuine rivalry between players to spice up a playoff series and we have the Hawks to thank for making it happen.

 

 
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.