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NBA Houston Rockets James Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook

Harden Or Westbrook Cause Co-MVP Is A Cop Out

By Lindsay Dunn

In NBA history there has never been co-MVPs and the Houston Rockets James Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook shouldn’t be the first.

Almost a year to the date of his last NBA game Kobe Bryant is making headlines again. When asked about the current MVP race in the NBA Bryant said, “We might see our first co-MVPs this year.”

Or not. Maybe we should start handing out “Participation Awards” too! Co-MVP is a cop out.

This isn’t a conversation that just started this year because the ‘Black Mamba’ said it on ESPN Sunday. This is a conversation that has been going on for years. In 2015 it was debated that James Harden and Steph Curry should get co-MVP honours. In 2010 fans argued that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James should share the award. It’s not a new conversation and it’s not a debate that will end this year.

Co-MVP’s are not new in the professional sports world either. In 2004 Peyton Manning and Steve McNair shared the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award. Both of their teams finished with the same record and each player individually had impressive seasons. Three times in NFL history there has been a tie for MVP.

It’s not unheard of for an NBA award to go to two athletes either. The Rookie of the Year Award has been shared more than once. In 1995 a baby faced Grant Hill and Jason Kidd shared the trophy. In 2000 Elton Brand and Steve Francis shared the award and in 1971 Dave Cowens and Geoff Petrie split the honors.

However, that was for the easily bruised egos of some rookies. This year it’s two former veteran teammates seeing their names being thrown back and forth for the big prize. They know the game and can live with the results.

“I just play, man,” Westbrook told the Houston Chronicle when asked about the MVP race. “I go out and play every night and play at a high level like I do every single night and try to help us win. I’ve been knowing James since he was little, and we both grew up in California. Being here, it’s a blessing to be able to have people you grow up with in the NBA. It’s something you don’t take for granted and friendships are something I don’t take for granted. James is a good friend of mine, and I am a good friend of his. Obviously, I know he’s playing well and his team is doing well, but I know he competes every game.”

Here is a look at their numbers after 73 games played:

FG%: Westbrook 42.3%, Harden 44.8%
3PT%: Westbrook 33.4%, Harden 35.2%
FT%: Westbrook 84%, Harden 84.8%
REB: Westbrook 10.5, Harden 8.0
AST: Westbrook 10.4, Harden 11.3
TO: Westbrook 5.3, Harden 5.8
PTS: Westbrook 31.4, Harden 29.4
Triple Doubles: Westbrook 37, Harden 19

Westbrook (#1 overall) and Harden (#2 overall) are one-two in the NBA scoring race and an off the charts triple-double feast. Harden leads the NBA in assists with Westbrook in third. The are also both also destroying the NBA turnover records (oops). Harden leading the charge with 428, Westbrook trailing with 392. The next careless leader this year is John Wall, almost 100 turnovers behind Westbrook with 296. Harden overtaking George McGinnis’ 1974-75 single season ABA record of 422 turnovers.

A big difference in the two players claim on the MVP title is their team’s overall performance. Harden has helped the third place Rockets to 51 wins so far while Westbrook’s sixth place Thunder lags far behind with 42 wins.

There are clear differences in each player’s game, leadership and team, so it shouldn’t be any more difficult than in past seasons to pick a winner.

With Westbrook and Harden dominating the headlines on an almost daily basis with highlight reel worthy performances, it’s easy to forget that at 32-years-old LeBron James may be having the best statistical season of his career. Kawhi Leonard is enjoying an outstanding season offensively and defensively on a much better team. Then, least we forget, 2015 and 2016 MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors, they own the Thunder and Rockets.

There are no rules for this award and the case for sharing it isn’t any more compelling than it has been in the past. This isn’t “Little League”, there is only room for one MVP.

 

 

Lindsay DunnLindsay Dunn has been a TV sports and entertainment reporter for the past decade. She is currently based in Toronto and covers the local scene including the Toronto Raptors and Raptors 905. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayDunnTV

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Crash And Burn On A Back-To-Back Again

The Toronto Raptors must believe the NBA schedule makers like to engage in some kind of sick humor, there have been some brutally tough back-to-back sets for Toronto in the first half of the season. Cavs on the road followed by the Warriors at home in November being the best-worst example.

Then Sunday’s game against the Rockets marked the shortest turnaround time between games for the Raptors this season at 22 hours. Toronto played at 8 pm ET game in Chicago on Saturday and then tipped off at 6 pm ET at home the next night. The Raptors lost in overtime to the Bulls and then faded in the fourth quarter against the Rockets to lose both ends of a back-to-back for the fourth time this season.

No team likes to use the schedule as an excuse and back-to-backs were not an issue for the Raptors last season, finishing with a record of 20-14, but this year hasn’t gone so well and at 6-8, most of their losses this season have come as a result of these challenging sets.

It’s not the “ordinary” back-to-backs that are hurting the team. The Raptors have won both ends of Hornets/Knicks, Lakers/Hawks and Timberwolves/Celtics. It’s the combination of games against elite teams and/or the teams that have historically given the Raptors trouble where disaster has struck.

Toronto has lost both ends of the back-to-backs against @Cavs/Dubs, @Kings/@Clippers, @Dubs/@Suns, and @Bulls/Rockets.

The NBA may as well just given the Raptors a couple of nights off and the Ls with the Cavs and Warriors on a back-to-back – thanks for nothing. The loss to the Kings in Sacramento was the infamous time running out despite time still on the clock game as Terrence Ross hits the game-tying buzzer-beater that wasn’t. Losing the next night in L.A. to a very good Clippers team wasn’t a surprise after that. Playing a second back-to-back set that includes the high-scoring, high-tempo Warriors before January is just cruel. Then there’s the Bulls, who Toronto had lost nine games in a row to heading into that game. Putting the high-scoring Rockets as their next opponent 22 hours later virtually guaranteed the Raptors were going to run out of gas.

The Rockets were “just” the fourth team currently ranked in the NBA’s top-10 for win percentage the Raptors have faced on the second night of a back-to-back with the opponent resting the night before – Golden State, L.A. Clippers, Boston and Houston. The Raptors will potentially face this same situation with the Bulls again before the NBA All-Star Break February 14-15 when they play in Chicago, then home to take on Charlotte in Toronto 22 hours later.

Maybe head coach Dwane Casey could’ve squeezed out a couple more wins by punting the fourth quarters of the games against the Cavs or Dubs in the first game of those back-to-back sets, but he would have been giving up the measuring stick against the competition that really matters in May and June. And even after the toughest schedule in the NBA’s Eastern Conference according to ESPN, the Raptors still hold down second place at 24-13.

 

 

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 Tim Duncan

Ranking the NBA Western Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

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

1. Golden State Warriors

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

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

2. San Antonio Spurs

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

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

3. Los Angeles Clippers

Key Addition- Brandon Bass
Key Loss- Jeff Green

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

4. Portland Trail Blazers

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

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

5. Utah Jazz

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

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

6. Memphis Grizzlies

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

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

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

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

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

8. Houston Rockets

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

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

9. Dallas Mavericks

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

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

10. Denver Nuggets

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

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

BTW- Will Barton is extremely fun to watch.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

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

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

12. Sacramento Kings

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

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

13. Phoenix Suns

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

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

14. New Orleans Pelicans

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

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

15. Los Angeles Lakers

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

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

 

 

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

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

Featured image courtesy of Vernon Chang @MoVernie

 

 

 


 

NBA Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

NBA Western Conference’s Best Starting Lineups 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

In the Western Conference this year we all know what the Golden State Warriors have done with their signing of Kevin Durant to the already dangerous team they had in place. But the real question is who is after them in the best starting 5’s list? Well here are my opinions

1. Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia

Reason – Is there a real reason why they wouldn’t be number 1? I’m going to give one reason why, 4 of the top 20 players in the entire league are in this starting 5.

2. San Antonio Spurs – Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol

Reason – They lost a lot of defense at the center spot with Tim Duncan retiring, but insert one of the most skilled big men in the league’s history in Gasol. Add him to Aldridge, arguably one of the best two way players in Leonard, the sharp-shooting Green plus the always dangerous Tony Parker and the Spurs are right back in business.

3. Los Angeles Clippers – Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Wesley Johnson, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan

Reason – The number 2 spot was all theirs until the Spurs signed Gasol. Jordan established himself as one of the best in the league last season (1st team All-NBA selection) and his ceiling continues to grow. Paul and Griffin are in contract years, so you already know what kind of years their going to have. Redick has always been so consistent. Now if this team can add a replacement for Johnson, then they could be a serious challenger to be the best unit in the entire NBA.

4. Memphis Grizzlies – Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol

Reason – Parsons brings a very athletic wing to go along with the same 4 guys that have been in Memphis for it seems like forever. He brings a lot of what Rudy Gay would have provided when he was in Memphis. The real question is, can he stay healthy? Two major injuries in the last 2 seasons puts up a serious red flag. Otherwise Memphis hit a home run in the offseason. This unit is really dangerous.

5. Utah Jazz – George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert

Reason – Utah is my pick to be the biggest sleeper in the entire league. Johnson adds another solid shooter and closer to this group. Hill will provide a steady and solid starting point guard until Dante Exum is ready to take the job over and Hayward just fills stats sheets. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert have the potential to be the best power forward-center combination not named Blake and DeAndre in the Western Conference.

6. Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee

Reason – Portland adds Evan Turner’s all-around skill which should allow Lillard and McCollum to have more freedom to play off the ball. Aminu quietly had a solid season and if Plumlee can continue his play that he showed in the playoffs (7.0 ppg 11.8 reb and 4.8 ast) then this ranking might be a bit too low.

7. Houston Rockets – Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela

Reason – This is a typical Mike D’Antoni lineup. Harden, Ariza and Anderson will let it fly from arc, Capela will grab all of the rebounds and Beverley will just be solid but not spectacular. Mind you this isn’t D’Antoni’s Phoenix style 7 seconds or less, but they could score just as many points as them. Look for Harden and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook to fight for the scoring title.

8. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kyle Singler, Ersan Illyasova and Steven Adams

Reason – If it was my choice Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter would be in the starting lineup, but with not having enough quality talent on the bench, you have to spread the wealth. Westbrook with this lineup could still surpass the 18 triple-doubles that he had last season. Adams is turning into a very good center and Roberson has shown signs of improvement each season he’s been in the league. Illyasova and Singler both bring solid outside shooting to this group.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves – Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns

Reason – We all know how special Towns and Wiggins are in the present and in the future. They are going to be dynamic and spectacular. As far as the other 3 guys in the lineup, that remains to be decided. Ricky Rubio has outstanding court vision but he can’t hit a jumpshot. Zach LaVine is talented, but can he play shooting guard? Dieng is a solid interior defender and matches well with Towns, but can he develop an offensive game to match? But we can all agree that this is the team everyone will be watching on NBA League Pass this year.

10. Dallas Mavericks – Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut

Reason – In the game of Father Time vs. All-Time great, Dirk is starting to lose the battle. This could be his last year being a franchise player. Now the real question is can Wesley Matthews regain his 2014-2015 season form in time to help out Dirk. Deron Williams days as being a top level Point Guard are over with and Andrew Bogut has to stay healthy. The big signing of Harrison Barnes leaves one to hope that he lives up to the contract.

11. Denver Nuggets – Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Nikola Jokic

Reason – Solid group of 5. Nothing spectacular and each of them knows their roles and play them very well. Mudiay has the chance to really standout especially if he cuts down on the turnovers. This could be the year in which Gallinari breaks the 20 point per game club.

12. Sacramento Kings – Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein and DeMarcus Cousins

Reason – Cousins is so talented but hopefully that new coach Dave Jorger will get the best out of him and the rest of this group. McLemore needs to find the tools that made him at lottery pick a short time ago. Collison is very underrated at the point guard spot.

13. Phoenix Suns – Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Alex Len and Tyson Chandler

Reason – So many guys not playing should be the real story. Honestly, this lineup might not make it out of November because Devin Booker is ready to breakout and be a star. With Knight and Bledsoe on the roster it’s going to be a real problem getting him minutes right away. Both rookies (Dragon Bender and Marquese Chriss) aren’t ready to be starters, so Alex Len has to play out of position for the time being.

14. New Orleans Pelicans – Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Solomon Hill, Anthony Davis and Omer Asik

Reason – The only reason why this unit isn’t last is because Anthony Davis is one of the top 5 players in the entire league. Ideally, Buddy Hield will join this group and move Evans and Hill into the frontcourt with Davis at Center. New Orleans better find a center quick because Asik is the worst starting center in the entire league.

15. Los Angeles Lakers – D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng, Julius Randle and Timofey Mozgov

Reason – Well, it was a hard decision between spots 12-15 but someone had to be in this place. Russell, Clarkson and Randle will be solid players in this league but Deng is a bit older and is the perfect placeholder until Brandon Ingram explodes on the scene in L.A. But Mozgov better return to form to bring this unit out of last place.

 

 

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

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 



 

NBA Los Angeles Lakers Timofey Mozgov

Buyer’s Remorse Coming Soon After NBA Free Agent Signings

Sure the NBA Salary Cap has gone up by over $20 million and it’s expected to go up by another $20 million over the next five years, but that doesn’t justify some of the contracts being handed out early in free agency this summer. $20 million per year contracts are still going to be about a fifth of your team’s salary cap space, buyer’s remorse is going to be a common theme in the not too distant future.

Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets are hardly going to be alone after this summer as a team that is trying to take a massive risk on completely unproven players. In just the latest of “What were they thinking?” moves by NBA teams with too much money burning a hole in their GM’s pocket, the Nets have given an offer sheet to the Trail Blazers restricted free agent Allan Crabbe at $75 million over four years.

You can be forgiven if your next question is Allen who? The 24-year-old Crabbe has played three NBA seasons, started a career total of 17 games and last year he “broke out” to average 10.3 points and 2.7 rebounds. He can shoot the three-ball and has nice numbers for developing player to come off your bench, but paying $19 million a year for a reserve player you hope is going to turn into a starter doesn’t constitute taking a calculated risk, it’s more like rolling the dice and needing double sixes to win.

This offer sheet appeared just as offers to free agents were starting to look sane again.

The Nets are also reported giving an offer sheet to Miami Heat restricted free agent guard Tyler Johnson at $50 million over four years that is back end loaded at $18.9 million for year three and $19.6 million for year four.

Johnson has only two years in the NBA under his belt and averaged 8.7 points and 3 rebounds in just 36 games played with the Heat last year. Maybe the Nets will get lucky and Miami will match? If not, the Nets could have around $40 million tied up in two unproven young players a couple of years from now. These two guys had better look like All-Stars in the not too distant future.

Washington Wizards

The Wizards are going to pay the soon-to-be 30-year-old center Ian Mahinmi $16 million a season for four years. They do know his career averages are 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds?

Mahinmi did “break out” to average 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds as a full-time starter for the first time in his career with the Pacers last season, but have the Wizards heard that Marreese Speights just signed for the veteran’s minimum?

Houston Rockets

Ryan Anderson was a hot commodity in free agency. The career backup stretch-four has played starter’s minutes when he wasn’t hurt and this suspect defender can fill the net from the outside. However, missing games is the norm for Anderson and the Rockets are betting $80 million over four years he’ll play enough to earn his paycheck.

Anderson has missed 96 games over the last three seasons and he was coming off the bench for the lowly Pelicans – Do the Rockets know something no one else does?

Orlando Magic

The Magic are tried of losing and they wanted to change the culture of their team. Well, Bismack Biyombo will help with that and he’s getting paid up to $18 million a year to make it happen.

Biyombo was really good in home games with the Raptors and filled in nicely when starter Jonas Valanciunas was injured. However, the offensively challenged Biyombo averaged 5.5 points and 8 rebounds. He gives a team rim protection and boards, but that’s a lot of money for a player best suited to split the minutes at center with someone that can score.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers needed veteran help, but their options were limited as few players were willing to take their money, so the made the fading 31-year-old Luol Deng an offer he couldn’t turn down, four years and $72 million.

Deng is a good locker room guy and mentor for a young team that isn’t expected to win, but as this team develops its talent, that deal is going to look very expensive. Deng’s scoring average has dropped for three years in a row as he gets slower and more perimeter oriented.

Piling on the future hit to the Lakers salary cap space is another four year deal that will pay the 30-year-old journeyman center Timofey Mozgov $16 million a season. Do the Lakers know Mozgov career averages are 6.9 points and 5 rebounds and that’s about what they should expect next year?

Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers are a team on the rise and adding a 28-year-old veteran like Evan Turner does make sense, but did they have to pay him $75 million over four years?

A career 10 point 5 rebound 4 assist wing, Turner is versatile and experienced, but the only time he has put up the big numbers that might justify a $19 million a year salary was on a really bad 76ers team. On good teams, he has reverted to the mean or a little less.

Free Agency Is Always A Little Crazy

There are plenty of free agent deals out there besides these that could generate some buyer’s remorse in the not too distant future. However, high profile guys are always going to be paid by some team based on what the CBA permits regardless and it’s getting hard to criticize any $10 million salary in a $94 million salary cap world, but $20 million for a journeyman or a prospect? Can buyer’s remorse be all that far away?

 

 

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 Howard

What No One Is Saying About Free Agent Dwight Howard

By Bill Ingram

How times have changed for Dwight Howard. It wasn’t that long ago that he was believed to be the key to winning an NBA championship. He helped lead the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 and appeared to be headed for superstardom and regular appearances in the NBA’s Big Show. Unfortunately, his career hit a snag (or at least a Brendan Haywood elbow) when a back injury caused him to miss a huge chunk of the 2011-12 season. It turned out to be his final season in Orlando.

The Magic built a beautiful, state-of-the-art arena for him, they fired an outstanding head coach for him, and then, sensing his lack of loyalty, they traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Heralded as the next dominant force in LA, another Shaquille O’Neal to pair with Kobe Bryant, Howard would spend just one season with the Lakers. The pressure of playing in LA and the constant pressure from Bryant to work harder and play better seemed too much for Howard, who managed just 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game in a disappointing season for LA, which ended with a 0-4 sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

Despite his struggles, Howard was the biggest name in free agency during the summer of 2013. He talked to a number of the interested teams, but ultimately chose Houston, where Chandler Parsons and James Harden had been heavily recruiting him for months. The Rockets, too, heralded Howard as the championship harbinger, with fans talking about him as the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon.

Once, again, however, Howard fell short of expectations. It wasn’t entirely his fault, of course, as the Rockets’ dysfunctional front office gave him an unproven head coach in Kevin McHale and shoot-first, shoot-second co-star in James Harden, whose unwillingness to feed Dwight the ball was matched only by his unwillingness to play defense. Howard’s play became every more uninspired, going from 18.3 points per game in his first year to 15.8 in his second and then 13.7 in his third.

So what’s next for Howard? He has the ability to opt out in July, and it’s extremely likely he will do so. Yet no one considers him a top free agent target, with Kevin Durant, LeBron James (also option), Andre Drummond (restricted) and even former Rockets point guard Mike Conley considered to be more desirable. With that in mind, we take a look at the best options for Dwight as he looks to get his career back on track.

1) The Houston Rockets

The first option, of course, is the Rockets, who would like to have him back and can pay him the most money. Mike D’Antoni is now in place as their head coach, and there’s a chance that he could have the same kind of impact on Dwight as he had on Amar’e Stoudemire, who was a force to be reckoned with in D’Antoni’s offense in Phoenix. That’s a stretch, though, as D’Antoni couldn’t squeeze that kind of play out of Dwight when they were both with the Lakers. Of course, there’s still the matter of Harden’s lack of team play, but the bigger issue is at point guard. The Suns had one of the best floor leaders of all time in Steve Nash, and no matter who the Rockets sign or acquire this offseason they will not have a Nash-esque floor leader when the ball goes up on the 2016-17 season. What’s most likely is that Dwight will leave $23.2 million on the table in Houston and take radically less to play elsewhere.

2) The Dallas Mavericks

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was less than impressed when Howard refused to even meet with the Mavs before singing with the Rockets. A strong argument could be made that the Mavs were closer to competing for a championship with Dwight in the mix than Houston was. The aforementioned Parsons has been in Dallas and still recruiting his friend, as he did in Houston three years ago. More importantly, for Dwight to return to prominence he has to change his game and there is no one better equipped to do that than Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle. No coach in the league is as good at analyzing a player’s strengths and weaknesses and using that analysis to maximize their effectiveness. He would ask a lot of Dwight, both on the court, in practice and in the locker room. He would demand that Dwight put himself second, become a good teammate and transform his game to be more than a dunker. He would demand that Dwight play hard on both ends of the court regardless of his touches. He would also make sure Dwight got plenty of touches in the right places. Like Houston, Dallas offers tax incentives that add to their overall attractiveness for a free agent. The Mavs aren’t contenders with Dwight in the mix, but they are far better than the Rockets would be with D2 back in uniform.

3) The New York Knicks

Most recently the Knicks have emerged as strong suitors for Dwight, and they have a solid case to make. Carmelo is still in his prime and one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA. He isn’t quite as inattentive to the defensive end as Harden, and he is a bit more willing to pass than Houston’s black hole. Derrick Rose is not the player he was before the knee injuries, but he is still a very capable floor leader and would make sure Dwight got plenty of looks right at the rim. Kristaps Pozingis had a stellar season and is reminiscent of the power forwards who benefitted from playing alongside Dwight in Orlando. The Knicks can also bring back elite shooter Arron Afflalo, giving Dwight plenty of options on the perimeter and therefore a little space to operate in the paint. Of course, there are issues in New York, too. If Dwight can’t get his attitude right or get his game back, he would struggle under the media scrutiny that comes from playing in the NBA’s largest media market. If Rose continues to struggle, the Knicks can’t just rely on Dwight or Carmelo to carry them. Finally, if Carmelo doesn’t play enough defense or pass enough for Dwight, their locker room will implode. It’s not a perfect fit, but there is interesting potential in New York.

At the end of the day, for Dwight to get his game back on track and return to the ranks of the NBA’s elite, he’s going to have to put his ego aside and start fresh. It’s going to take the right environment, the right coach, the right co-stars for that to happen, and the one place where all of those factors exist is in Dallas. The Mavs have had trouble landing their free agent targets, but there are plenty of reasons why they should land this one. It’s not a championship waiting to happen, but there are enough intangibles to make Dallas worth watching with D12 in the mix.

 

 

Bill IngramVeteran NBA journalist Bill Ingram has 14 years of experience in the public education setting, specializing in behavior management, and 17 years of experience covering the NBA.

(Reposted with permission from More Than Basketball)

 

 

 



 

NBA Houston Rockets Dwight Howard and James Harden

Rockets Are An Uncomfortable Team For Raptors To Play

The tandem of James Harden and Dwight Howard make the Houston Rockets an uncomfortable team to play for the Toronto Raptors and despite the Rockets underachieving season, they defeated the Raptors in Toronto 113-107 a couple of weeks ago.

“It is definitely a tough match-up,” Luis Scola said at shootaround. “This is a team that is uncomfortable for everybody to play. They play very uptempo. They shoot a lot of threes. They got two players that are very different, very special. Harden was an MVP candidate last year. He plays in a very particular way trying to go to the line all the time and very effective in all of the things that he does. Then Howard (is) a big center.”

Over his career Harden has averaged 24.3 points, 6.2 assists and gotten to the free throw line 10.3 times against Toronto. He is as dangerous an offensive player as the Raptors are likely to see. All Howard has done to Toronto in 12 seasons is average 21.1 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. The big center may not be as dominant as he once was, but he can still cause a lot of problems in the paint.

In their last meeting Harden went off for 40 points, 14 assists and took 19 free throws. Howard got his Raptors average 21 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks.

“(Harden) also had 14 assists (last time). You can’t let him have both,” head coach Dwane Casey said at shootaround. “(It’s) one or the other. He’s going to score. He is one of the top scorers in the the league, but you can’t let him have his points and then set people up for lob dunks – they had six lob dunks – lose people in transition, he found those, so that’s what you can’t do is give him both and that’s what we got to eliminate is one or the other. Either take him out totally or make sure we stay at home with the other shooters and scorers and not let him have 14 assists.

“The key is containing the ball, staying matched up in transition. A lot of their threes came in transition, so by halfcourt you got to know who you are guarding.”

The Rockets were 13-29 from three-point range in Toronto and that is taking “uncomfortable” to an unacceptable level.

Houston is on a three-game losing streak having dropped games to the Hawks, Thunder and Jazz and have split their last 10 games 5-5 to allow Utah to tie them for the last playoff spot in the West.

The Raptors are in a battle for first in the East, trailing the Cavaliers by just one game in the loss column.

Defense, or more accurately a complete lack of defensive focus is Houston’s problem. They are the fourth highest scoring team in the Association at 105.9 points per game. Unfortunately, they are the 28th ranked team in opponent’s scoring, giving up 106.8 points. The Raptors will be able to get anything they want at the offensive end of the court. All Toronto should have to do is hold the Rockets to their season average in scoring and the Raptors should walk out of the Toyota Center with a victory.

 

 

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 Howard and James Harden

Houston Rockets Haven’t Thrown In The Towel Yet

By Frank McLean

This is not what the Houston Rockets had in mind when the regular season started way back around the end of October.

Coming off a playoff run that saw the Rockets make it all the way to the Western Conference Final against the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors, great things were expected for 2015-16.

But things fell off the rails fast.

They started the season 4-7 and as a result they fired head coach Kevin McHale only to replace him with his assistant JB Bickerstaff.

Forward Donatas Motiejunas missed the first 20 games with lower back pain and then he missed another 15 games in January with the same back problem. Observers of the Rockets will tell you his absence hurt the team during the first half of the season.

One other thing that put the Rockets behind the eight ball was a trade with the Denver Nuggets in the summer where the Rockets gave up four players and a 2016 lottery protected pick and cash for Ty Lawson and Denver’s second round pick in 2017.

Lawson didn’t fit in with the Rockets who ended up placing him on waivers in March.

Sunday night when the Rockets visited Toronto and came back from a 10 point half time deficit, you saw a Rockets team that is not ready to throw in the towel. They are hell bent to make it to the playoffs and make a decent run.

History shows that teams with a low seeding can win a championship in the NBA, the Rockets won a Larry O’Brien trophy as a sixth seed once.

“You got to get hot at the right time,” said Rockets forward Corey Brewer. “I played in Dallas and we won a championship as a seventh seed. It’s all about getting hot at the right time. Now we got to start playing our best basketball. It hasn’t been the year we wanted to have but we still can get there.”

JB Bickerstaff told his team after the All-Star break that it was a new season and a fresh start. After Sunday’s win in Toronto they are 4-4 since the break and are sitting at 31-32 in the eighth and last playoff spot in the West, a game and a half up on a tough Utah Jazz squad.

“There is a lot of games left,” Bickerstaff said. “We have got to take advantage of opportunities. We can’t keep letting opportunities slip past us.

“Every game is a new challenge. Utah is a good team and they are capable of running off a few games in a row so if we can put a string of wins together we can hang on to the eighth spot that’s our focus right now.”

One thing that Bickerstaff will tell you is that they have beaten some of the best teams in the NBA. You can add Toronto to list of wins against the LA Clippers, Oklahoma City, Portland and San Antonio. The Rockets believe they can compete with the best. Coming into Toronto and rubbing out an 18 point deficit in the fourth quarter against a team that had won 12 straight in their home court shows that.

“20 games here and it’s all about the wins,” Rockets guard James Harden said after the Toronto win.

“One game at a time,” said center Dwight Howard. “One step at a time and go from there. Be consistent with our effort. Play consistently and string some wins together.”

What made the win so special for the Rockets was that they didn’t get into their Toronto hotel room until four am. They had lost a tough one in Chicago the night before 108-100 and this was just another set of an NBA high 22 back-to-back games they have on their schedule.

They found a way down 10 points at half time and snuck out with a six point win.

If they hang on to the eighth spot, their opponent in the first round of the playoffs will be either Golden State or San Antonio, but with all that has happened this season don’t tell these Rockets they can’t win in the playoffs. From the way they are playing right now, they are not ready to throw in the towel yet.

 

 

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 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 Houston Rockets Dwight Howard

NBA Trade Deadline Teams Motivated By Money

With about 30 games left in the NBA’s regular season, teams know who they are and their realistic chances of making noise in the postseason, bearing a major trade deadline addition. 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. It really has to be worth it if your team is about to be hit with the Repeater Tax which comes into effect if your team has been a tax payer in three of the past four seasons.

Per Basketball Insiders, currently there are eight teams that will be subject to the luxury tax if they don’t do anything about it: Bulls, Cavaliers, Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Heat, Thunder, and Spurs.

  1. Bulls over $4.3 million, potential tax $6.5 million
  2. Cavs over $24.5 million, potential tax $62 million
  3. Warriors $10.7 million, potential tax $18 million
  4. Rockets $3.5 million, potential tax $5.3 million
  5. Clippers $10.8 million, potential tax $18.3 million
  6. Heat $5.5 million, potential tax $8.4 million
  7. Thunder $12.4 million, potential tax $22.3 million
  8. Spurs $1.7 million, potential tax $2.5 million

(Shamsports.com provides a complete history of luxury tax payments)

It’s likely safe to assume the Cavs, Warriors, Thunder and Spurs are reasonably happy paying the tax. They’re in it to win it and if they make a trade, it will either be a fringe player to save a little tax or a genuine basketball move. Money will not be a major factor for any these teams at the trade deadline.

However, the Bulls, Rockets, Clippers and Heat are all in the thick of the rumor mill and as potential tax payers, it makes sense. Significantly underachieving, these teams are motivated by money.

The Bulls season has been hit hard by injuries, but somehow it seems like injuries have been just a contributing factor. Chicago paid the tax in 2013, but that’s it, a one-time only deal and paying the tax for the hope of clinging to a playoff spot is hard to imagine. The Bulls will be motivated to cut their luxury tax exposure by the trade deadline.

A bad start, a coaching change and sitting in 9th place at the All-Star break isn’t where the Rockets imagined they’d be. Inconsistent and just barely a tax team, those Dwight Howard is available rumors make a lot of sense – both team and money-wise.

Looking at the Clippers who have been tax payers the past two seasons and suddenly those Blake Griffin trade rumors don’t seem so far fetched, especially when one considers this team has been a lot better playing small ball (like almost everyone else) than bully ball with two big men on the court. The Clippers are a distant fourth best in the West and have to be thinking about how they can rise up the ranks. Saving some luxury tax dollars in the process would be sweet.

Is there any team that gets more hype than the Heat for such average results? Paying the tax for an NBA Finals team is easy, but forking over an extra $8 million in tax for a middling playoff team doesn’t fit with this organization’s history. Miami is in the thick of the rumors and they should be. It’s either get a lot better or cut salary. Standing pat at the trade deadline makes no sense.

Money isn’t the only factor in trade deadline deals, but it would be foolish to assume that it isn’t a factor and luxury taxes aren’t the only motivating factor when it comes to money either. Creating salary cap space for next summer matters too. However, since the new CBA came into effect, those expiring contracts that can create salary cap space haven’t been worth much.

Almost to the point in the cycle where changes to the CBA are inevitable and general managers still seem to be working through the impact of all the changes from last time. However, money remains a constant and paying extra without results has never been popular.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

HOU_McHale_Kevin

So You Want To Coach In The NBA?

By Frank McLean

So you want to be a head coach in the NBA?

Ok who had Kevin McHale in their pool of first coach to be fired in the NBA? The general thought around the league’s insiders and pundits had George Karl of the Sacramento Kings being the first bench boss to get his pink slip during the season. I mean when your star player DeMarcus Cousins hates you and your general manager comes in the locker room and polls the players asking “Should I fire the coach?” Well that’s usually a sign you should update your resume.

On Wednesday morning, the Houston Rockets after a 4-7 start fired McHale. He is the same Kevin McHale who last spring took the Rockets to the Western Conference final for the first time since 1997. He is the same Kevin McHale who 10 and a half months ago was given a 3-year contract extension.

It’s not like McHale struggled during his time in Houston. After his five years in there, he leaves with a 193-130 won-loss record and made a struggling franchise into a consistent playoff performer. It’s not like the guy can’t coach.

Heck when he signed his contract extension ownership was quoted as saying “he knows how to win championships”.

The mystery is why the team got off to such a poor start after coming ever so close to going to the NBA Finals. The Rockets opened the season with three straight losses, then won four in a row and had lost four straight when McHale was let go Wednesday morning.

Pretty much everyone returned from last year’s team. They added point guard Ty Lawson, but the team has not really gelled causing McHale to complain about the effort of the team and its sloppy play. He was really upset about those issues after a blowout loss to the Celtics that came after the Rockets blew a 15-point lead early in the game. After that game you could hear the frustration in McHale’s voice.

“At times, I wouldn’t say full effort all the time, no,” McHale said. “Things aren’t going our way and we hang our head. We haven’t put together really good basketball all year long.”

Back in May during the playoffs his players were raving about him like this quote from James Harden.

“I felt like I was talking to an actual player,” Harden said. “Obviously he’s won championships so he knows what he’s talking about. So my ears are just locked in and focused in on what he’s saying.”

During my time covering the NHL there was saying about hard assed coaches like the late Pat Burns.  “Five year contract, three year act”.  McHale may be in that group. He is gruff in his message and when you are winning everything is ok, but when you are losing and losing early in a season and after five years, well, your players start tuning you out and in a star driven league like the NBA when your stars tune you out you are done.

McHale was replaced on an interim basis by J.B. Bickertaff. If that surname sounds familiar it is, he is the son of long time NBA coach and front office executive Bernie.

Bickerstaff didn’t have to wait long to coach his first game. Wednesday night the Rockets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 108-103 in overtime. Oh and the Rocket star players, you ask what their number were in that game?

James Harden scored 45 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds and 5 steals becoming the first player in NBA history to post those numbers in a single game since steals became an official stat in 1973-74. Take that Kevin McHale.

You knew a good team like the Rockets would snap out of their losing streak. The bet in sport is you always bet a team in their first game after they fire their coach because the usually win.

It will be interesting to see how long the honeymoon lasts with Bickerstaff and for that matter will the Rockets hire a big time coach to finish out the season.

So I will ask the question again. You still want to be a head coach in the NBA?

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran 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.

 

 

 

Lucas Nogueira head shot closeup

Lucas Nogueira Swats Away Rockets As Raptors Win Again

Raptors center Lucas Nogueira swatted away four shot attempts and ripped down a game-high 13 rebounds as Toronto overcame a 10 point first quarter deficit caused by 11 early turnovers and then a Rockets push in the dying minutes of the game to come away with the 95-87 win. Houston pulled to within two points with just under two minutes left in the contest, but could not complete the comeback.

Delon Wright missed the game with a sore hamstring and it showed early on as the Raptors were beyond sloppy and it seemed like everyone was turning the ball over without Toronto’s starting point guard to steady the ship. The Rockets climbed into a 24-14 lead off of their 8 first quarter steals, however, the Raptors found their poise and sparkling defense to vault back into the lead during the second quarter.

It was Team Canada’s Philip Scrubb who lead the second quarter scoring for Toronto with 7 of his 10 points on the night as the Raptors went 12 players deep into their roster in order to turn this game around and take a 41-36 lead into the half.

The Raptors powered out to an 18 point lead on a 15-2 run to open the third quarter, starting point guard Gary Talton finally finding his composure and scoring 6 quick points. Talton finished the game with 13 points and 6 rebounds, but only 1 assist to 2 turnovers. Team Canada center Jordan Bachynski scored 5 of his 9 points and grabbed 3 of his 5 boards in the third.

It was at this point Glen Rice took over for Houston and almost led his team all the way back. Rice scored 22 of his 28 points after Toronto was up by 18. Rice finished shooting 7-18 from the field and 11-11 from the charity stripe.

Once again it was Norman Powell who led the Raptors in scoring with 19 points on 7-11 shooting to go with 5 rebounds, a steal and 2 blocked shots. Powell has owned Summer League through the first three games. He’s been spectacular on offense and defense.

Bruno Caboclo’s offense slipped again, this time shooting just 1-8 from three-point range and scoring only 7 points. However, he did get 5 boards, a steal and a block.

Toronto owned the glass in this contest out-rebounding Houston 52-34 and once again their defensive focus was in full effect as the Rockets shot just 33.8 percent from the field. The Raptors Summer League team mirroring what Toronto hopes to be able to do once the real season starts in October.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Luis Scola faces leftLuis Scola Is Ready To Chase A Ring With The Raptors

“I wanted to win,” Scola said. “I wanted to find a place where I could win and be a part of the team, be important. I was trying to get options to see how close to a ring could I get, but I was also trying to be part of a team.”

 

 

Brewer Prigioni Smith

Rockets Show How It’s Done, Gambled On Veterans And Won

Maybe Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey got lucky or maybe he just made the best of his opportunities, but underrated and overlooked Houston is in the Western Conference Finals and there is no way they could have gotten here without this season’s additions.

It’s no secret that veteran players win in the NBA. A team isn’t going to win without talent, but experience matters and Morey showed everyone how it’s done. He gambled on some veterans and won in a very tough Western Conference.

Houston Chronicle quoted Trevor Ariza after the game seven win over the Clippers:

“The bench is something that is one of our strengths,” forward Trevor Ariza said. “Josh (Smith) was huge for us during the year. Corey (Brewer) is huge for us. Pablo (Prigioni), everybody.”

It started in the summer when Morey got lucky as he swung and missed on free agent Chris Bosh. Where would the Rockets be now if Morey had succeeded?

Morey filled a huge hole (he created) at small forward after Chandler Parsons got a max deal from the Mavericks by acquiring the 29-year-old 11-year veteran Trevor Ariza in July. Ariza started all 82 games during the regular season playing big minutes and continues to fill a key role in the playoffs. However, the playoff saving moves came later.

Morey traded for the 37-year-old 16-year veteran Jason Terry in September, signed the 29-year-old 11-year veteran Josh Smith after the Pistons waived him in December, traded for the 29-year-old 8-year veteran Corey Brewer in December, and traded for the 38-year-old FIBA star and Knicks veteran in his third NBA season Pablo Prigioni in February. Now that’s a lot of veteran talent.

With Donatas Motiejunas going down for the season with a back injury and Patrick Beverley tearing ligaments in his left wrist in March, if Morey hadn’t bolstered his roster with these veterans, the playoff run would have been over before it began.

Terry, who only started in 18 games during the regular season, has started in all 12 postseason games and is averaging 27.6 minutes and 9.2 points.

Brewer has come off the bench to average 25.5 minutes and 12.4 points in the playoffs.

Smith is averaging 22.6 minutes, 12.9 points and 5.8 rebounds in the playoffs and has started in three games.

Prigioni is averaging 19.9 minutes, 3.8 points and is leading the Rockets in steals per minute played.

All of these acquisitions were solid moves by Morey at the time and the Rockets GM only really invested a handful of future second round draft picks to get these players plus the aging Prigioni is only guaranteed $290,000 next year. However, the gamble comes next season as Brewer, Smith and Terry are all unrestricted free agents this summer and they have become a big part of the Rockets success. Morey will have to find a way to keep what he found this year together or get lucky enough to repeat the process again next year.

Morey knows it is all about winning in the NBA. He has two cornerstone players in James Harden and Dwight Howard and it is his job to give them a chance to win. Each season is a unique opportunity for a championship and nothing is promised to any team or any player in the future. When your team is good enough to have a chance, it’s up to the GM to do whatever it takes to make winning possible.

Morey showed everyone how it’s done. He gambled on some veterans he may not be able to hang onto next season for a chance to win now and it worked. He got his team to the Western Conference Finals and earned his guys a real shot at a championship and that’s all any fan base or ownership group could ask for.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

DeRozan and Harden

The Raptors Are Finding Their Winning Form Again

By Frank McLean

For one night anyways they looked like the old Toronto Raptors. They played some decent defense and DeMar DeRozan got his shooting stroke back in an exciting 99-96 win over the Houston Rockets at the Air Canada Center Monday night.

The significance of the win is that it is Toronto’s first win over a +.500 team since they beat the Atlanta Hawks in February and it’s the last time they will see a team with a +.500 record for the rest of the regular season.

Raptors Head coach Dwayne Casey was happy in his post game comments using that F word again to describe the Raptors defensive game.

“I thought the entire team was ready and more focused,’’ Casey said. “We had a good defensive practice (on Sunday). Again, our whole theme from here on out, not only this game but Wednesday night (vs the Timberwolves) and the rest of the way is going to be defense. But the fun part of this game was watching a couple of childhood friends go mano a mano against each other. DeRozan and James Harden.”

DeRozan had a career night scoring a career high 42 points, tying a career high 11 rebounds and if he hadn’t missed on a couple of free throws he might have had a chance at 50. But let’s not get too carried away with the criticism, he did hit on 12 of 17 from the charity stripe. He was aggressive driving to the hoop and was drawing fouls which when he does that he is one of the most dangerous guards in the game.

Harden was no slouch either. He scored 31 points and grabbed 12 boards leading an undermanned Rockets squad which dressed just 10 players and rested Dwight Howard as he slowly gets back from a knee injury for the playoffs. But that battle with Harden was the fun part and with the crowd really getting in to it, the game took on a playoff like atmosphere.

With time running out in the fourth quarter and Raptors up by one DeRozan was looking to ice the game and his buddy Harden was guarding him. He dribbled to his left and hit jumper from 18 feet to make it 99-96. The Rockets Trevor Ariza missed on desperation three pointer and that was the game.

“Tough shot. Tough shot. Contested shot,” Harden said. “He had it going. When you got it going like that, those shots are going to fall. In this league, when you get a good rhythm, get a good feel, any player can get it going. A fine example was tonight.”

Kind words from a friend.

“It’s definitely cool because we have been playing against each other since we were kids,’’ DeRozan said. “He’s one of my close friends in the league to this day. I’m close with his family and he’s close with my family, so it’s always cool knowing we can cherish this 20 years, 30 years from now.”

But the most important thing was the win a team win and DeRozan did not forget that.

“I just want to go out there and win,’’ DeRozan said. “The crowd was into it and the last time we played these guys they got us pretty good. We are really just trying to go out there and be ourselves and understand that we can use these next few games to get ready for the playoffs.”

Getting ready playoffs is theme now for the remaining 8 games of the regular season and none of them is against teams with a +.500 record.

Using Monday night’s game as an example if they keep playing like this and the old Raptors comeback maybe these guys can attain their next goal and win a best of seven series in the playoffs.
 

 
Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran 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.

 

 

 

Casey Media Day 2

Inconsistency Hurts The Toronto Raptors

By Frank McLean

After Friday night’s big 105-80 win in Atlanta, Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey was hopeful that effort would carry over 24-hours later in Houston against the Rockets. However, inconsistency reared its ugly head and the Raptors lost 98-76.

If you want to get into Casey’s doghouse, not being ready to play when its time to start the game will do it. The Raptors coach was not a happy man postgame.

“When you don’t come out in this league ready to play mentally and physically, I don’t care who you are, you are going to get your behind handed to you,” Casey said. “Tonight we didn’t come out with the right mind set. They were the hungrier team. They did all the hard and grimy things that we did Friday in Atlanta.”

Casey summed up Saturday night’s game in a nutshell, the Raptors were not physical. When they have trouble shooting from the floor, they have to play hard physical defense or they don’t have a chance to win.

On Friday night, Lou Williams and DeMar DeRozan were the only Raptors to have any luck shooting the ball, but that hard grimy defense Casey loves won the game. They took the paint away from Jeff Teague and Hawks All-Star guard makes his living using his speed on drives to the hoop.

The Raptors defense also shut down one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters in Kyle Korver. Every time Korver let one go from behind the arc, there was a Raptor flying in his face. Saturday night, the Raptors did none of that.

It was not like the game was a lost cause. The Rockets were not that good either. They only had a 40-36 lead at halftime, but came to life in the second half behind James Harden’s 16 points. He only had a measly 4 points in the first half, all from the free throw line. The Rockets also got help from their bench as Corey Brewer gave his team a spark by leading the Rockets with 25 points on 12-for-19 shooting from the field.

The other thing missing from this game for the Raptors was Lou Williams. Sweet Lou turned his ankle in the third quarter the previous night and wasn’t available.

When the Raptors have needed some help and a kick in the collective butt this season, Williams has been the man. Coming off the bench he has averaged 24.5 minutes and 15.4 points per game, making him a top contender for the NBA’s sixth man of the year award. The Raptors are 11-1 when he leads the team in scoring. If that isn’t a good enough reason to put him in consideration for the sixth man honors, what would be?

So it’s off to New Orleans Monday night and Dallas on Tuesday for another back-to-back on the road.

The Raptors get a break Monday as the Pelicans will not have the services of Anthony Davis. Davis re injured his right shoulder Saturday against the Miami Heat. New Orleans is 2-5 this year without him in the lineup, but that didn’t seem to matter on January 18th in Toronto when Davis didn’t play with a groin injury and they snuck out of town with a 95-93 win.

It won’t matter who is wearing Pelicans or Mavericks uniforms the next two nights if the Raptors don’t do the “hard grimy things on defense” their coach expects. Without the needed defensive effort, the Raptors could easily end up with a 1-3 road trip.

 

 

Veteran 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.

 

 

 

Teague Harden Nowitzki

Raptors Resolve To be Severely Tested After The Break

The 36-17 Toronto Raptors hold down second place in the Eastern Conference, leading the Chicago Bulls by 2.5 games, but you’d hardly know it from the buzz around the NBA and their resolve to hold onto that spot is about to be severely tested. Toronto starts a four-games-in-five-nights series on the road against teams with a combined winning percentage of 66 percent and they kick things off against the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.

It might seem strange, but the Raptors could actually be looking forward to the trip.

“I think we do better on the road honestly,” DeMar DeRozan said. “Me and Kyle (Lowry) was talking about that one day. We feel that we are the underdogs again when we are on the road. We just feel that everybody is against us and we thrive off that pressure. It’s just us when we go out there. It’s 15 guys and the coaches against everybody in the arena.”

The Raptors get slagged for building up their record against bad teams and playing in the relatively weak Eastern Conference, but everything isn’t as it appears or maybe those disparaging the team’s record are just lazy?

Toronto, at 14-12, is one of just six teams in the NBA with a winning record against other winning teams. The others being Atlanta (19-7), Chicago (15-11), Golden State (17-7), Memphis (17-11) and Houston (15-14). The Raptors are 8-6 against the six winning teams in the East and 5-5 against the top eight in the West. Toronto has held their own against the best in the NBA this season. They have also been almost as good away (15-8) as at home (21-9) with big road victories over Cleveland, Atlanta, the Clippers, Bucks and Wizards.

This upcoming four game road trip could be described as at another level, however.

Friday in Atlanta against the 43-11 Hawks represents a test of Toronto’s early season dominance of the East’s best team. Toronto holds a 2-1 series advantage and beat the Hawks in Atlanta 126-115 on November 26, but lost the last match in Toronto 110-89. A win in Atlanta now would go a long ways to establishing the Raptors as a Conference Finals contender.

Where Atlanta plays the team game, to beat Houston on Saturday will require the Raptors to somehow, someway slow down the Association’s leading scorer James Harden. The Rockets and Raptors have identical 36-17 records and they both own winning records against other winning teams. This should be a close game.

After a day off, Toronto visits the 27-26 New Orleans Pelicans. Losers of four of their past five games prior to All-Star weekend including three-in-a-row to Chicago, Utah and Indiana, the Pelicans are at risk of sliding even further back into the NBA’s Draft Lottery (which probably isn’t a bad thing). This should be the easiest game of the four (with some trepidation.) Ryan Anderson (sore elbow) and Anthony Davis (sore shoulder) were still as questionable after the break and Jrue Holiday (right leg) is out indefinitely. The Pelicans season is about to go down under the weight of injuries once again.

The Raptors finish off the road trip in Dallas against the 36-20 Mavericks with Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo back in the lineup and newly acquired Amar’e Stoudemire expected to come off the bench. Dallas, for all of their firepower (106 points per game), has a losing record against winning teams and is obviously searching for the tweak that will make them a serious threat in the playoffs. It shouldn’t take long to find out if Stoudemire is that tweak.

As long as the Raptors manage a 2-2 split or better, the trailing Bulls, Wizards and Cavs will not be able to catch them during the road trip and an even split would represent a solid result for Toronto. However, of the four teams they are facing, only Atlanta has the better record and in the Raptors two previous sets of four-games-in-five nights, they have collected seven wins to just one loss.

Playing back-to-back games has been a Raptors strength this season. They have played 11 of the 19 back-to-back series the NBA schedule has laid out before them and have collected an impressive 18 wins in those 22 games. These next two back-to-back sets are going to severely test that record.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Casey close up Media Day looking downRaptors Coach Casey Reminds Doubters He’s Been Here Before

“I’ve been there before, winning 60 games, winning a championship. I know what it takes. I know a lot of people don’t believe it, but I do and probably a lot of people in here don’t believe it, but I do. I promise you,” Casey said.

 

 

Raptors bench 1 by Paul Saini FYLMMHow Tough Are The Toronto Raptors?

The Raptors have played 11 of the 19 back-to-back series the NBA schedule has laid out before them and have collected an impressive 18 wins in those 22 games. In the withering four games in five nights sets, Toronto has seven wins in eight games including the back-to-back overtime wins over the Nets and Wizards on the road last weekend.

 

 

Detroit Pistons Media Day

Who Wants The Pistons Josh Smith?

The Detroit Pistons have requested waivers on forward Josh Smith and will eat the balance of his $54 million contract rather than give away draft picks and take back players they would rather not have. It is commendable of Head Coach, President and chief bottle-washer Stan Van Gundy to admit that a very expensive player simply isn’t working out with his team and risk paying a very athletic forward to help out some other team. So who wants Smith?

Sacramento Kings 12-15

The obvious first choice is the Sacramento Kings who may have been the only team that Van Gundy was able to generate any trade interest in his rather expensive forward.

The Kings have looked like a potential playoff team in the West when DeMarcus Cousins has been in the lineup and adding a talented player like Smith would seem to be the type of move that could tip the scales in their favor. From the outside looking in, the only fly in that ointment could be Rudy Gay. How many tweener forwards that like to drive and aren’t known as effective floor spreaders can a team put on the court at the same time without clogging up the paint?

The Kings don’t need Smith’s rebounding and definitely can’t afford his three-point shooting, but they could use his help defense to boost their weak steal and block numbers.

The Kings probably don’t make the playoffs this year in a very competitive Western Conference without a significant addition, so they should be willing to give Smith a chance to be the guy that gets them over the hump.

With the Pistons paying out the balance of his contract, Smith should be willing to take the NBA veteran’s minimum over the next couple of years, but if he wants more cash, there are teams out there that can offer more. The Hawks, Bucks, Magic, 76ers, Suns and Jazz all have salary cap space available according to Basketball Insiders. The Celtics, Rockets, Thunder, Spurs and Raptors have their Bi-Annual Exception available and at least a dozen teams still have some usable portion of their Mid-Level Exception left. However, Smith will be in the favored position every NBA veteran seems to love – the ability to join a true contender without having to worry about getting paid.

The bigger question every contender will be asking is, will Smith be willing to accept the role his new head coach assigns him? There should be no doubt Smith could help a lot of teams, but it could be by coming off the bench or playing significantly reduced minutes from what he has been used to.

Smith has been to the playoffs six times and if that’s enough, he has lots of viable options and he can likely have a lot bigger say in how he is used, but if he wants to join a conference contender, his options suddenly get a lot tighter and the Kings really shouldn’t be on that list.

Houston Rockets 19-7

The Rockets could use help at small forward, but Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones have been great at power forward, so Houston doesn’t need help with their bigs. There may be mutual interest, but Smith probably doesn’t make them better and past history says playing Smith at small forward is inviting disaster.

Dallas Mavericks 20-8

After trading for Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks suddenly have an obvious depth issue at power forward and a win-it-all-now mentality. If Smith wants his shot at an NBA title, he’ll be hard pressed to find a better situation than backing up Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas on the NBA’s highest scoring team. Add in Dallas having about $2.5 million in salary cap space and this looks like an easy deal for both sides.

Portland Trail Blazers 22-6

Another top Western Conference team with depth issues at power forward is Portland. The light-hitting Thomas Robinson is backing up LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trail Blazers could really use a backup to reduce their star player’s minutes and provide some security in case Aldridge misses a few games here and there. Sitting at second place in the West, it shouldn’t take much to convince Smith that Portland is for real.

Los Angeles Clippers 19-8

If any team in the West could use a jolt to the system it is the disappointing Clippers. A team loaded with talent that has underperformed expectations and backup power forward is the obvious weak link in the chain. The Clippers would have to cut someone – say goodbye to Hedo Turkoglu or Glen Davis ( or Jared Cunningham’s salary isn’t guaranteed) – and add to their luxury tax bill, but they need Smith – maybe more than he needs them.

Toronto Raptors 22-6

The Toronto Raptors find themselves unexpectedly in first place and leading the Eastern Conference by two games over Atlanta and Washington. The only knock on the East’s highest scoring team has been in their decidedly average ability to grab rebounds and protect the rim – something Smith excels at.

The Raptors are a collection of players where team chemistry has made the total significantly better than the expected sum of their parts and any tinkering might upset the balance, so President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri won’t face any criticism if he passes on Smith. However, if Smith were to buy into the concept of putting winning ahead of personal playing time and stats, he could be the missing piece the Raptors need to come out of the East this season.

If Smith wants a bigger payday and/or lots of playing time, he should check out the Lakers, Knicks, HEAT, or any number of other teams he could likely talk his way onto without too much difficulty. A player like Smith on a cheap contract will be too hard for most general managers to pass up.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Bryant and Howard

Lakers Entertaining Kobe Bryant Asks Why So Sensitive?

Pretty much as everyone expected, the Lakers were blown out by 18 points in their home opener, but that doesn’t mean there was nothing to see. In the fourth quarter Kobe Bryant sticks his nose into Dwight Howard’s face as the big man tried to clear space with his elbows to make a clean pass and the fans got a bit of excitement in a game that was never in doubt.

Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan quoted Bryant as saying,

“I think it’s fantastic,” Bryant said. “Elbows are part of the game. Trash-talking is part of the game. I don’t know where the NBA became so sensitive.”

Bryant knew exactly what Howard was doing, Howard knew exactly where Bryant’s nose was and neither player was in any more danger from the physical play than they were from the trash-talking afterwards. The referees gave Bryant a foul, Howard a flagrant one and each player a technical – no biggie, but Bryant was right, when did the NBA become so sensitive?

After 18 seasons, Bryant probably knows the answer, it was always sensitive on the court in the heat of the moment, but afterwards and especially in this case, what occurred was mostly just entertaining.

Los Angeles Lakers Media DayThe real event to be sensitive about was Lakers Julius Randle broken right leg in what looked like a fairly typical collision that could put the rookie out of action for the rest of the season. That was very real. What Bryant and Howard were doing was just two veterans that know each other well horsing around with zero future implications.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Teague Lowry Valanciunas HorfordRaptors Pregame Bullets Podcast – Vs Hawks 10-29-2014

Video podcast – The Atlanta Hawks visit Toronto to open the Raptors 20th NBA season on Wednesday night. The Hawks owing the longest consecutive streak in the postseason among Eastern Conference teams at 7 years and the Atlantic Division winning Raptors hoping to build on last season’s unexpected success.

 

 

 

Harden and Lillard

Ranking The Middle Of The NBA Western Conference Pack

The West remains a tough place to be an okay team with flaws heading into the 2014-15 season. There is no easy route to the playoffs and a supposedly good team is likely to be on the outside looking in again this year.

The biggest impact will come from teams that missed the playoffs last year getting better and winning more games. Unless some significant upgrades have been made over the summer, most of playoff teams in the West will win fewer games and at least a couple of them are going to be severely disappointed.

As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.
 

Ranking The Middle

 

6. Portland Trail Blazers – Projected 50-32, last season 54-28
POR Batum and Lillard
Portland exceeded expectations last season and have staked a claim on a playoff spot for the foreseeable future. However, this team is built around their starting five playing huge minutes with little to no room for anything to go wrong.

The additions of Chris Kaman and Steve Blake should permit the Trail Blazers to maintain last season’s success, but that won’t be enough to win as many games as last year.
 

7. Memphis Grizzlies – Projected 49-33, last season 50-32

MEM Carter and Randolph

It took awhile for the Grizzlies to adjust to new Head Coach Dave Joerger last season, but eventually they became the same tough-minded defensive team that Lionel Hollins ran.

Vince Carter is an upgrade over Mike Miller and will give Memphis an offensive boost off the bench, but no one should be expecting any surprises from this group. The team isn’t build for the long term, but the Grizzlies should be able to hold their own in the West once again and be a tough out in the playoffs.
 

The Fight For Eighth

 

8. Denver Nuggets – Projected 46-36, last season, 36-46
Arron Afflalo Orlando Magic Media Day
After a record setting 57-win season in 2012-13, the Denver Nuggets were a franchise in disarray last year. The 2013 NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri left town to join the Toronto Raptors. The 2013 NBA Coach of Year George Karl was fired. Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer left in free agency. Danilo Gallinari missed the entire season. JaVale McGee only played 5 games and the Nuggets were hit by bad news all year.

This is Head Coach Brian Shaw’s second kick at the can and he should have all of his injured players back. Plus the addition of Arron Afflalo is a big boost to this lineup. Ty Lawson, Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov is a very solid starting five and if everyone can stay healthy, a bench featuring Danilo Gallinari, McGee, J.J. Hickson and Randy Foye – who can all start if necessary – will make the Nuggets a tough team to play.

The battle for the final playoff spot in the West is going to be brutal once again. Any one of Houston, Phoenix or New Orleans has a solid shot of making the postseason. An injury here or there and everything changes.
 
9. Houston Rockets – Projected 46-36, last season 54-28
HOU Howard and Harden
The Rockets bet it all on acquiring a big name free agent to play with Dwight Howard and James Harden and when the smoke cleared, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin were gone and all Head Coach Kevin McHale had to replace them was Trevor Ariza.

The Rockets have a great one-two punch in Harden and Howard, but they are almost punchless after that. Joey Dorsey is a nice guy that can rebound as an undersized third string center, but isn’t much of a replacement for Asik. Lin and Parsons were the Rockets third scoring options and saved numerous games last season. There are no obvious replacements for what they brought on this roster.

Maybe someone steps up to fill the craters left by the Rockets loses, but at this point, it looks like there could be no joy in Houston this season.
 
10. Phoenix Suns – Projected 45-37, last season 48-34
Eric Bledsoe Phoenix Suns Media Day
The Phoenix Suns were a run-you-out-of-the-gym team last season and assuming some kind of a deal to bring back Eric Bledsoe gets done eventually, they’ll be just as dangerous and just as much fun to watch.

Unfortunately, in the tough and improving middle section of the Western Conference, holding steady means losing ground and the loss of free agent Channing Frye didn’t help the Suns prospects.
 

Risks and Obstacles

 
Anyone in the middle of the pack could be a playoff team in the West if the breaks go their way and the Rockets, Suns and Pelicans should all believe that last spot belongs to them. However, the risks in this group of teams are substantial. Players returning from injury, significant roster changes and noses out-of-joint after a rough summer will make claiming one of the final spots an adventure this season.
 

Who do you think takes 6, 7and 8 in the NBA Western Conference and makes the playoffs? Will one of these teams give up and embrace tanking? Can any of these teams crack the top five in the West? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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.

 

 

Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Western Conference Teams.
Clippers, Thunder, Spurs, Warriors and Mavericks

 

Phoenix Suns Media Day

Suns Goran Dragic Leads Slovenia Past Unbeaten Lithuania

The Phoenix Suns starting point guard Goran Dragic led Slovenia past this summer’s unbeaten Lithuania 74-72 in a game that came down to big plays and mistakes at the end. This was the second meeting of these two teams in a week and in Lithuania’s 80-76 win on Monday, Slovenia gave Goran Dragic the day off to rest and this time, the Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas didn’t play for Lithuania.

On Monday, Slovenia got off to 44-36 halftime lead, but Valanciunas and the FIBA veteran Paulius Jankunas wrested control back in the second half to steal the victory. Dragic wasn’t missed as much as might have been expected as everyone on Slovenia shared the ball and they had 5 more assists than Lithuania. The veteran Miha Zupan led Slovenia with 18 points on 4-5 shooting from three-point range. Valanciunas and Jankunas had 14 points each.

On Saturday, Lithuania got off to another slow start, trailing 42-35 at the half, however, this time they didn’t have the firepower to get all the way back. Veteran wing Domen Lorbek led Slovenia with 18 points and Dragic and 10 points and 4 assists. Mantas Kalnietis, Darjušas Lavrinovičius, and the Rockets Donatas Motiejunas had 15 points each for Lithuania.

Playing catch-up all day, Kalnietis scored a layup with 2.5 minutes left to pull Lithuania to within three points and on the next play, he drilled the three-pointer to tie the game at 71. Lithuania had their chances to take the lead, but Dragic picked off a bad pass from Motiejunas and fed Klobucar for the game-winning three-point basket with 55 seconds left.

With 40 seconds to go, Kalnietis went to line for two shots on what would have been an and-one opportunity in the NBA and split a pair and then Motiejunas missed the potential game-tying layup with 6 seconds remaining to end the game.

Slovenia and Lithuania will meet again in Group D at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. If you suspect their respective head coaches have held something back during the past two meetings, you would be on solid ground.
Lithuania v Slovenia 08-23-14

Lithuania plays in their final friendly match on Tuesday against Croatia.

 

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.