ND guard dunks over Purdue 7-footer

The Notre Dame guard threw down a dunk over a much larger Purdue center.

      
 

 

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NBA Rumors: Latest Trade Chatter Around Deron Williams, Lance Stephenson, More

The 2014-15 NBA season has been full of unexpected success and unbridled failure, and the result has been a plethora of rumors regarding potential blockbuster trades involving some of the top names in the sport.

With elite stars like Brooklyn’s Deron Williams, Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson and Detroit’s Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings reportedly on the market, the landscape of the NBA could shift drastically over the coming weeks before the trade deadline.

Here are the latest NBA trade rumors from around the league.

 

Sacramento Kings Kicking the Tires on Deron Williams?

The Sacramento Kings have struggled early in the season, amassing a less-than-impressive 11-15 record, and the team may be looking to make a blockbuster trade to get back into contention in the Western Conference standings.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Sacramento has expressed interest in veteran Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams. With little depth at the position, adding a bona fide star like Williams would be a major upgrade.

Wojnarowski reported the details of the rumored offer:

The talks have centered on sending the Nets point guard Darren Collison and forwards Derrick Williams and Jason Thompson as part of a multi-player package for Williams, league sources said.

Sacramento has significant interest with Williams, but a hurdle to a possible deal is the Kings’ desire to have center Mason Plumlee included into the package, league sources said. Brooklyn has considered Plumlee a significant part of its future core.

In 25 games this season, Williams has been a reliable presence. With an average of 15.6 points, 6.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, the Nets have leaned on Williams to be the steadying force in the lineup.

With a young core of players looking for the veteran leadership to blossom into a perennial postseason contender, Williams’ experience could be exactly what the Kings need to take the next step toward serious contention.

 

Charlotte Pulling Lance Stephenson off the Market for Now?

One of the names that has been drawing the most attention on the trade market is Charlotte Hornets shooting guard Lance Stephenson. Charlotte signed Stephenson to a three-year, $27 million deal, but he has struggled mightily since joining the Hornets.

In 25 games, Stephenson has racked up an average of 10.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, but he has underperformed as compared to last season with the Indiana Pacers (13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 2013).

According to Chris Broussard and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, Stephenson may be off the market, “Underwhelmed by the quality of trade offers they’ve received for Lance Stephenson, the Charlotte Hornets have decided to keep the volatile guard ‘for now,’ according to league sources.”

Another big factor in the decision to take Stephenson off the market could be his groin injury. The report claims that the franchise believes the groin injury could be one of the reasons Stephenson has struggled this season.

The Hornets have struggled overall as well, amassing an 8-19 record.

Charlotte owes it to themselves to try to make the investment in Stephenson pay off. If he continues to struggle before the trade deadline, though, the Hornets must consider trading him away and relieving the franchise of the financial burden of Stephenson’s contract.

 

Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings on the Trade Block

The rebuilding process in Detroit started off much slower than the Pistons expected, and the team currently has a 5-22 record. With postseason hopes dwindling, veterans Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings could find themselves in a new city before the trade deadline.

According to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report. “New Pistons president Stan Van Gundy needs to trade one or both of these guys if he wants to preserve the sanity of new Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. Both are firmly on the block, per rival executives.”

While Smith has remained relatively healthy this season, his numbers have dipped considerably, with the power forward now only averaging 13.1 points and 7.3 rebounds. His assist numbers have increased, though, and teams could be interested in his ability to add depth and talent at PF.

On the other hand, Jennings has seen his numbers dip in almost every major statistical category, averaging 12.8 points, 6.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 24 games. He is still one of the most dangerous point guards in the NBA, but Detroit should be looking to build toward the future.

 

*Stats via NBA.com.

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Paul, Griffin lift Clippers over Bucks 106-102 (Yahoo Sports)

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 20: Jerryd Bayless #19 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives to the basket against the Los Angeles Clippers on December 20, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The schedule maker hasn’t been kind to the Los Angeles Clippers in December. Still, they have found a way to win some narrow victories against tough opponents.


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Should Chicago Bulls Be Confident or Disappointed in Start to Season?

The Chicago Bulls aren’t off to the type of start that many fans and pundits had predicted before the season. Should the team be concerned, or is it too early in the year to worry?

Chicago currently owns a 17-9 record, fourth-best in the Eastern Conference. But after making several offseason moves, a much hotter start was expected.

Four-time All-Star Pau Gasol and scoring point guard Aaron Brooks were signed as free agents. And the rookie combo of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic was picked up as well.

With this newcomer quartet added to holdovers Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, the Bulls instantly morphed into legitimate title contenders.

They were supposed to run away with the conference, especially with the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers needing time to gel.

Sitting at fourth place, though, isn’t inspiring at all. What are some reasons for Chicago’s not-so-spectacular start to the season?

 

Injury Bug Has Bitten Hard

Injuries are clearly the worst part of sports. They can simply destroy teams. Just look at the Indiana Pacers, who went from a title contender to a likely future lottery participant without Paul George.

Chicago has battled injuries quite a bit this season. Rose has missed 10 games, Gibson and McDermott have sat out nine and Noah has missed seven. In addition, Gasol was sidelined for three contests while both Butler and Kirk Hinrich have sat out two.   

The starting five of Rose, Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Gasol and Noah have played together in only eight of the team’s 26 games, posting a 6-2 record.

Maybe the Bulls would own the top record in the East right now if it wasn’t for injuries. It’s not very easy to win games when you’re often missing key players.

Rose, who has dealt with ankle and hamstring injuries this year, caused doubters to say, “Oh no, here we go again” a few times. But fortunately, the former MVP has played in 11 of the last 13 games.

If the dreaded injury bug can stay away from Chicago—especially away from Rose and Noah—there’s no telling what this squad can accomplish.    

 

Where’s the D?  

When you think of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, championship-caliber defense is the first thing that comes to mind.

Since his arrival, the team has never finished a season ranked worse than third in opponents’ points per game. This year, though, they rank 11th, allowing 98.4 points a night.

A season ago, the Bulls gave up at least 100 points on 16 occasions. Opponents have accomplished the feat 11 times already this season.

Even the Philadelphia 76ers dropped 115 on them (November 7), although Chicago managed to win the game. Yes, we’re talking about the same Sixers, who are currently 2-23 and possibly on their way to becoming the worst team in NBA history.  

The Bulls could’ve won their December 6 matchup with the Golden State Warriors, but they just couldn’t stop Draymond Green, who put up 31 points and knocked down seven threes. He was left wide-open throughout the game.     

So what’s up with Chicago’s D? Gibson gave his opinion, via Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:

It’s just new guys…That’s all it is. Most of the guys are coming from teams, they’re not really defensive-minded teams first. So of course it’s going to happen, but that’s just my opinion. That’s what I see on the court. I’ve been here for a while. I know what I’m talking about. Joakim knows what he’s talking about, he was the defensive player of the year, of course he’s going to know what he’s talking about. We’re on the court, though.

Whatever the reason is, the Bulls need to play the kind of defense that we’re all accustomed to seeing.     

 

Confident or Disappointed?

While they may not have the league’s best record, the Bulls should still be confident and not disappointed. There’s so much talent on this team it’s scary.

Heading into the season, they featured a Big Three in Rose, Gasol and Noah. Little did we know that Butler would emerge and make it a Big Four.

Butler is playing out of his mind this year, leading the Bulls in scoring with 21.9 points per contest. Already known for his elite defense, the November Player of the Year has developed into one of the game’s top two-way players.

Meanwhile, Rose has shown flashes of his old self at times. For example, he recorded 31 points during the December 12 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. It was his first 30-point effort since March 2012.

Gasol has proven to be the perfect pickup. The two-time NBA champ is providing scoring, rebounding as well as excellent rim-protection.

And following offseason knee surgery, Noah hasn’t resembled the MVP candidate he was last season. Yet, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year will return to form as the season progresses.

The Bulls also possess a nice bench which includes Gibson, Brooks, Hinrich and Mirotic, who may wind up winning Rookie of the Year honors. 

Plus, the team should be confident after picking up huge wins over the Toronto Raptors, Trail Blazers and more recently, the Memphis Grizzlies (November 19) without Rose and Noah.

There’s no reason for disappointment if you’re a Bulls fan.     
 

All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com and accurate as of December 20.

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Pistons must avoid quick fixes for lost season

Any deal Detroit makes must be done with an eye toward season and beyond.

      
 

 

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No. 4 Louisville tops WKU

The Cardinals won 76-67 in a game that involved a number of technical fouls.

      
 

 

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Felix scores 17, No. 9 Texas tops Long Beach State (Yahoo Sports)

Texas center Cameron Ridley (55) dunks during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Long Beach State, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — When January arrives, so should Isaiah Taylor, the Texas point guard who is recovering from a broken left wrist.


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Ohio State Basketball: Buckeyes’ Defense Must Improve After Loss to UNC

Columbus, we have a problem.

The Ohio State basketball team is 0-2 against NCAA tournament-quality competition and 9-0 against cupcakes. There will be far fewer cupcakes during conference play (regardless of how many losses to NJIT, Texas Southern and Eastern Michigan the Big Ten suffers), so something had better change.

That something needs to be the defense.

To be fair, Ohio State’s offensive effort was nothing to write home about in Saturday’s 82-74 loss to North Carolina. D’Angelo Russell, who is the Buckeyes’ most talented player on the roster, finished 4-for-17 from the field and forced the issue far too often. What’s more, big guys Amir Williams and Trey McDonald combined for a whopping four points and six fouls.

However, the defense was the biggest problem in the game and the most concerning thing moving forward because there will be some nights when the shots just don’t fall. The defense is more of a fundamental issue that could rear its ugly head throughout the season.

The zone defense was not just vulnerable against North Carolina, it was downright incompetent.

It seemed like the only time the Tar Heels didn’t get a wide-open shot or layup was when they made an unforced error like simply dropping a pass out of bounds. North Carolina also missed 12 of its 33 free throws and a number of layups, otherwise Ohio State’s performance would have looked even worse.

The zone appeared much better against the Campbells and High Points of the world than the North Carolinas or Louisvilles. The Tar Heels had formidable ball-handlers who were easily able to move the ball through the initial three-quarter-court pressure, be it through quick crossover dribbles or rapid ball movement. Anytime Marcus Paige pushed the tempo, Ohio State couldn’t even get the zone set up.

There were a number of occasions when North Carolina’s offense even beat the Buckeyes downcourt after a made basket, which is inexcusable.

Any team like North Carolina with a solid backcourt that can move the ball from one side of the court to the other with crisp passes will be able to get any open shot it wants against this zone if there is no improvement on Ohio State’s end. The corner three is open on almost every possession, but that wasn’t even the biggest problem for Ohio State Saturday.

Rather, the Tar Heels simply snuck somebody behind Williams or McDonald on the baseline for easy five-footers on plenty of possessions. The fact that North Carolina was able to do that multiple times is a testament to the lack of defensive awareness and athleticism among Williams and McDonald, which continues to be a source of frustration for Ohio State fans.

A lack of skill is one thing, but a lack of effort from Williams is another, as Dave Biddle of Bucknuts.com noted during the game:

Speaking of issues down low, Ohio State’s problems on the defensive boards are a natural byproduct of the zone.

North Carolina ended up with a monumental 18 offensive rebounds, which helped set the tone for the outcome from the opening minutes. The Buckeyes also gave up 18 offensive rebounds to Louisville in their first loss, so this is not a new problem against quality competition.

When Ohio State plays a zone instead of man-to-man, there are guys simply roaming around when the shot goes up instead of actually boxing out. That makes defensive rebounding a game of luck where everyone hopes the ball bounces their way instead of toward the opponent.

One has to wonder why Anthony Lee hasn’t gotten more playing time considering the struggles fans saw from Williams and McDonald on the boards and on defense in general during the losses to Louisville and North Carolina. Lee was a walking double-double at Temple, and the Buckeyes aren’t exactly bringing Tim Duncan and David Robinson to the table down low.

It is easy to get caught up in the 9-2 record and national ranking for Ohio State, but that is more a result of the ridiculously easy schedule the Buckeyes have played thus far.

The Buckeyes are going to overwhelm most of the cupcakes they play from an athletic standpoint alone, but the defense was exposed in their two games of note. Ohio State was down by double digits before some fans even reached their seats in both losses and it took scramble efforts to make the final scores respectable.

With effective guards who can either gradually or quickly advance the ball past the initial pressure, opponents are only a well-timed pass or two away from a two-on-one situation along the baseline against Ohio State’s zone defense. That leads to either a wide open look from the corner for three or a fairly simple look from mid-range or closer.

Perhaps Thad Matta is afraid to play man-to-man without Aaron Craft spearheading the efforts up top or the freshmen aren’t ready for it yet, but the zone fans saw Saturday is not nearly effective enough to challenge Wisconsin in the Big Ten. It must improve if a conference title is still in the cards this season.

Ohio State’s saving grace may be the fact that the rest of the conference outside of Wisconsin, Maryland and perhaps Illinois looks overrated at this point. That is especially the case for the two teams in Michigan.

It takes a program like Syracuse years to establish an effective and swarming zone defense. Matta and the Buckeyes think they can change defenses on a year-to-year basis and learn the zone on the fly against a Charmin-soft (hat-tip to Kobe Bryant) nonconference schedule. 

The lack of experience shows against formidable opponents.

 

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Adam Silver Rejects Idea That NBA Players Lose on Purpose

Though the notion of “tanking” has become a fixture of the NBA lexicon, league commissioner Adam Silver believes the conventional narrative is misguided.

“I absolutely don’t think any team is trying to lose,” he told ESPN’s Andy Katz in a recent Outside the Lines interview (via ESPN.com).

Skeptics may discount the assessment as spin, but Silver isn’t blind to case studies such as the now notoriously bad Philadelphia 76ers. From his perspective, criticisms of front-office strategies are often overly simplistic.

“No player is going out there to lose,” Silver added. “In terms of management, I think there’s an absolute legitimate rebuilding process that goes on. It’s so hard to win in this league, and it’s so complex.

“I think what’s happened in the case of Philadelphia—their strategy has been reduced into a tweet. This notion ‘be bad to be good.’ … When it gets reduced into a headline, I understand the reaction.”

One suspects that Silver also understands the frustrations of fans whose teams remain indefinitely noncompetitive. Patience may be a virtue in the business, but it can be a hard sell to ticket holders. 

Paradoxically, of course, rebuilding is all about pleasing those ticket holders. Sometimes it just takes a few years.

Without a painful commitment to starting from scratch, however, it becomes difficult to acquire (and afford) multiple franchise players during the prime of their careers. Given the importance of building upon a foundation of talented young assets, many franchises have to start from the bottom in a bid for prime draft positions.

Though Silver is probably correct that teams aren’t deliberately trying to lose games, it’s much harder to deny that some general managers (including Philadelphia’s Sam Hinkie) are at the very least comfortable with the idea that their teams are going to lose a lot of contests in the short term. The 76ers were 19-63 last season and are off to a 2-23 start this time around. 

In response to Silver’s comments, CBSSports.com’s Zach Harper wrote:

The players and coaches on the Sixers are trying everything they can to secure wins on a nightly basis. The issue isn’t with effort or intent of the players and coaches involved; the issue is with the intent of Sixers’ management.

Hinkie and Co. have had their opportunities to add skilled veterans via trade or free agency, but they understandably prefer to create ample playing time for youngsters such as Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Tony Wroten Jr. It’s probably a sensible approach, but it’s also a very deliberate one.

It’s not like the losing season that ensues is a complete accident.

The league’s board of governors took up a vote in October to reform the draft system, eyeing an arrangement that might remove some of the incentives for an organization to tank. That referendum fell six votes short, leaving solutions to the tanking issue an open question. Similar proposals may be revisited, but there doesn’t appear to be much consensus about the way forward.

And if you ask Adam Silver, the status quo really isn’t that bad.

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Rajon Rondo makes debut with Mavericks (Video)

On Saturday, Rajon Rondo made his debut for the Dallas Mavericks after the big trade from the Boston Celtics just a few days ago. Rondo scored 6 points, dished out 9 assists, grabbed 7 rebounds and added 2 steals in 34 minutes as the Mavs beat the San Antonio Spurs 99-93.Based on the video highlights, Rondo seems to be in a pretty good rhythm with his new teammates already, and that should only get better as the season moves along.Video via NBA.
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