MJ: ‘You can’t make the same money playing fewer games’

TweetThis preseason the NBA is experimenting with a shoter 44-minute game between the Celtics and Nets, which had led to some of the league’s superstars — LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki specifically — calling for a shorter season instead. Charlotte Hornets owner and NBA legend Michael Jordan isn’t a fan of the idea, stating that his love of basketball made playing 82 games easy. “I love both of those guys, but as an owner who played the game, I loved playing,” Jordan said during an interview with ESPN. “If I wasn’t playing 82 games, I still would’ve been playing somewhere else because that’s the love for the game I had. As a player, I never thought 82 games was an issue.” “I would never shorten the game by four minutes,” Jordan said, “unless guys were having physical issues. “It’s not like football,” he said. “We don’t really have to worry about concussions and some of the physical damage that football players deal with after they retire. I can understand football players

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Golden State Warriors Can’t Balk on Committing to Klay Thompson Now

The Golden State Warriors have consistently supported two-way star Klay Thompson throughout his race to a maximum contract, but now—mere steps before the finish line—they may be getting cold feet.

Apparently, treating Thompson as an NBA superstar and paying him as such are two different things. With so much energy expended on the former, though, the Dubs have to bite the bullet on the latter.

Frankly, it’s a surprise this message even needs to be delivered. The Warriors had to see this coming after watching Thompson, who has until October 31 to sign an extension that would keep him out of restricted free agency next summer, spend his offseason securing a max-level raise.

His market seemed to be set once Gordon Hayward (four years, $63 million) and Chandler Parsons (three years, $46 million) scored megadeals from the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets, respectively. Thompson was a better scorer (18.4 points per game), shooter (41.7 three-point percentage) and defender than either one last season.

Thompson was also one of 12 players selected to Team USA’s 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup roster, which both Hayward and Parsons tried out for but didn’t make. More than that, though, Thompson was also one of the gold-medal-winning group’s most important players.

“[Thompson] has been, really, as good a player as we’ve had,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told USA Today‘s Sam Amick last month. “He’s consistent. … He’s become our most versatile defender. … He’s had a terrific stay with us.”

Before Thompson even had the chance to raise his profile on the international stage, the Warriors had already lifted it for him.

They were engaged in trade talks for perennial All-Star Kevin Love, but the deal hit a snag due to an “organizational split” on the team’s willingness to part with Thompson, sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne. Love was later sent to the revamped Cleveland Cavaliers in a package that brought back, among others, this year’s No. 1 draft pick, Andrew Wiggins.

Love, for the record, finished the 2013-14 campaign ranked fourth in scoring (26.1), third in rebounding (12.5), third in player efficiency rating (26.9) and third in win shares (14.3). That is the caliber of player the Warriors had a chance of acquiring, and they passed up that opportunity—at least in part—because of Thompson.

While that seems like a firm commitment to Thompson’s future, the team has yet to (literally) put its money where its mouth is. Despite interest from both sides in getting something done, Comcast SportsNet’s Monte Poole reports that contract negotiation talks have stalled:

There has been no movement in recent weeks. As of Thursday morning, the sides remain $2-3 million a year apart, according to NBA sources.

The dithering seems pointless when all parties consistently state their desire for a deal. The Warriors want it. Thompson wants it. His teammates want it. And there is no indication Klay‘s agent, Bill Duffy, has lost the optimism he expressed last month.

If that sounds puzzling, it should.

All previous signs have pointed not only to Thompson inking a max extension but also to the Warriors being the team to cut the check. As Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin observed, there seems to be a disconnect between what has transpired and what is now taking place:

It’s not as if Thompson has done anything to lower his price tag.

He has 45 points in 51 preseason minutes. The three-point cannon responsible for the most perimeter makes in NBA history over the first three seasons of a career (545) has flashed with regularity, as he has connected on six of his eight long-range looks.

Overall, he has converted 57.1 percent of his field-goal attempts. While most of his damage has come from distance—and given his three-point proficiency, why wouldn’t it?—he has also showcased an off-the-dribble attack he has been routinely criticized for not having.

His 25-point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night even drew rave reviews from five-time champion Kobe Bryant, per Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group:

Thompson’s offensive arsenal is deeper than most think, but critics routinely point to the statistical holes in his game.

Last season, his 18.7 passes per game were the fewest among any player to see at least 30 minutes of action a night, per NBA.com’s SportVU player tracking data. His 4.7 rebounding percentage was the second-lowest out of all players 6’7″ or taller with the same workload requirement.

Those sound like critical weaknesses, but these numbers are a bit deceptive.

On the rebounding front, Thompson’s opportunities are limited by his role. The Warriors try to maximize his impact as a floor spacer. Of his 1,357 field-goal attempts last season, over 42 percent came from beyond the arc. Another 34.6 percent came between 10 feet away from the basket and the three-point line.

That positioning doesn’t exactly lend itself to putting in work on the glass, and neither does chasing point guards around the perimeter to keep Stephen Curry fresh at the defensive end.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of players Thompson’s height or taller don’t man the shooting guard position. Among those who do, his rebounding average (3.1) is in the same ballpark as guys like Joe Johnson (3.4) and Kevin Martin (3.0). So, it’s not as if Thompson is missing out on a ton of boards other 2-guards are tracking down.

Plus, the Warriors ranked ninth in rebounding percentage last season (51.1). They were eighth (51.3) the year before. With Andrew Bogut (10.0 rebounds) and David Lee (9.3) manning the middle, Golden State isn’t exactly hurting on the glass.

As for Thompson’s paltry passing numbers, those can largely be dismissed by the way he has been utilized in this offense.

Last season, no one attempted more catch-and-shoot jumpers per game than Thompson (7.6), via SportVU. Only former MVP Dirk Nowitzki averaged more catch-and-shoot makes (3.5 to 3.4). Considering Thompson knocked down those shots at a 44.7 percent clip (44.2 percent from three), the Warriors don’t have a lot of motivation to move him away from that play type.

Thompson could stand to tighten his handles and improve his dribble-penetration game, but even that isn’t a major concern in today’s NBA.

With the movement of Spurs Basketball sweeping through the league (as it should) the need for shooting guards playing off the bounce, one-on-one, a la Allen Iverson is much more of a lessening need than is the high IQ ball movement and extremely efficient shooting ability,” wrote HoopsHype’s David Nurse.

Thompson can be both a specialist and a star. There is plenty to be said for maximizing one’s strengths, especially when those strengths grade out as elite.

Not every player is going to have a perfectly well-rounded game. Most of them don’t, in fact.

Golden State hasn’t asked Thompson to step outside of his lane; the masses have mistakenly made that request. As Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver wrote, Thompson has excelled in the exact areas the Warriors need him most:

Even if his off-the-dribble game is limited and he doesn’t really get to the line that often, Thompson’s spot-up shooting and his ability to create good looks with his off-ball movement are more than enough to make him a deadly secondary threat alongside Curry. The widespread credit he has received recently for his effort level and fundamentals on defense is deserved, and he cleanly fits the prototype of what a shooting guard should be.

In other words, Thompson is about to get paid—both for what he does and what he means to this team.

The Warriors have to know this, and truth be told, they probably do. It’s hard to blame them for trying to save a few pennies at the negotiating table, and it still seems likely he will remain a part of their long-term plans.

But this situation needs to end with Thompson’s signature on the dotted line. And that means following through with his superstar treatment by putting a max offer on the table.

The Dubs could wait to see if one surfaces next summer and then match it, but that’s only delaying the inevitable. It is definitely coming.

“League sources are adamant in saying Timberwolves boss Flip Saunders was prepared to give Thompson a max deal if Minny were to pry to Klay away from the Warriors as part of a deal for power forward Kevin Love,” Poole reported.

The Wolves wouldn’t be the only ones willing to cross that bridge, either. Not with the salary cap exponentially increasing in the coming seasons thanks to the league’s new $24 billion TV deal.

The Warriors need Thompson, and they haven’t tried to mask that fact.

“We love Klay,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob told Amick. “He is clearly an integral part of our team and our future.”

Thompson, meanwhile, has no worries. He is in a great situation with Golden State, and anything capable of luring him away from the Bay would come with a fat contract attached.

“I don’t think he’s too concerned,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, per Leung. “He knows something really good is going to happen one way or the other.”

For the Warriors, this can only have one solution: paying Thompson what he has earned and continuing their quest toward a world title. Even if they feel the rate is a little steep, they do not want to find out what the alternative would be.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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20 ‘Midnight Madness’ Celebrations We Can’t Wait to See for the 2014-15 Season

In college basketball, the madness isn’t just reserved for March.

Though we’re months away from the NCAA tournament and all its wild and crazy glory, we’re only a few weeks from the start of the 2014-15 season. And to celebrate that upcoming beginning, many Division I programs have special events set up to introduce the new versions of their teams to fans.

Collectively, these events are known as “Midnight Madness” since they were able to happen as soon as the clock turned midnight on Friday, Oct. 3, the official start of preseason practice sessions. However, only a few teams took advantage of that earliest moment to hold their celebrations, and most have festivities planned sometime in the next few weeks.

We’ve found 20 of the best Midnight Madness gatherings planned and put them all together for you to scan in anticipation of what should be another amazing college basketball season.

Begin Slideshow

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Kevin Durant Says He Can’t Palm a Basketball

A height of 6’9″ with a 7’4″ wingspan—add the skills of a shooting guard, and you have Kevin Durant.

The man can cross you up, soar in for a highlight-reel dunk or even knock down an effortless three.

Yes, the reigning MVP can do it all.

Except palm a basketball.

According to Oklahoma City Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry, KD surprisingly cannot grip an NBA basketball with one hand:

Some of you may remember an old photo where Durant is palming two basketballs while wearing a Montrose Christian jersey:

He explains how he was able to accomplish the feat:

So the man can’t palm a basketball, folks.

Something tells me the Thunder can live with that.

[Darnell Mayberry]

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Boston Celtics Can’t Rebuild Without Making Rajon Rondo Trade

After eight seasons with the Boston Celtics, Rajon Rondo‘s days are numbered—or at least they should be.

While the organization has indicated otherwise, its first priority should be parting with the four-time All-Star on its own terms, ideally terms that entail trading for up-and-coming assets.

It’s hard to know what to make of the comments that have emerged from Boston’s front office and others with a stake in Rondo’s relationship with the franchise. Public appearances can be deceiving, particularly when the Celtics may indeed hold out some hope that Rondo will remain a centerpiece and potentially attract premier talent.

By now, however, those hopes should be measured—if not dismissed altogether.

Speculation about Rondo’s future with the team was renewed in August thanks to an online segment from ESPN’s Around the Horn (h/t CBSSports.com’s James Herbert) in which Boston-based scribe Jackie MacMullan disclosed Rondo’s disaffection, saying, “He’s told them [the Celtics] he wants out. And no one believes me, but that’s the truth.”

That suggestion was subsequently refuted in multiple corners.

The Boston Herald‘s Mark Murphy tweeted, “Spokeswoman for Rajon Rondo’s agent, Bill Duffy, said both men deny that Celtics guard has demanded a trade.”

And while CSNNE.com’s A. Sherrod Blakely rejected the notion of an imminent split, he did report, “Multiple league and team sources agree the most likely scenario has Rondo beginning the season in Boston. Then, depending on how the team does, both sides will mutually agree to either ride it out or part ways sooner rather than later.”

Unsurprisingly, team president Danny Ainge has been confronted with a steady dose of questions about his star point guard’s fate.

Most recently, he told the media, “We expect Rajon to be in Boston for the long term.”

Just days earlier, he offered a more pensive response that at least theoretically left the door open to trading the 28-year-old.

The truthful answer is I really don’t know,” Ainge told reporters when asked about the possibility of dealing Rondo. “I have no intention. I’m not trying to trade Rondo, but because he’s a free agent this summer, he assured me that he wants to stay in Boston. We’d love to keep him in Boston.”

“The possibility of a trade is not out of the question,” Ainge added. “Nobody is untradeable, but I don’t see that happening.”

Owner Wyc Grousbeck sounded similar in tone.

Absolutely it’s my goal to keep Rondo here,” Grousbeck said to the press“We all want that, and I actually honestly think—he should speak for himself—I think Rajon wants to stay and would be very happy to stay. We’ll see how the season goes and how the negotiations go, but he’s proud to be a Celtic, I know that, and he’s proud to win that ring, and he deserved it.”

So it’s not clear to what extent the organization has entertained the notion of dealing Rondo, and it’s even less clear whether he wants to stick around.

But aHerbert put it, “Regardless of what Rondo has or hasn’t expressed to Celtics management, trade rumors are bound to persist throughout this coming season if he’s not moved beforehand.” 

If Celtics fans are lucky, there will be something to those rumors.

The worst-case scenario would be losing Rondo for nothing next summer when he’s due to become an unrestricted free agent. Were there particularly good reason to believe the eight-year veteran was intent on remaining in Boston, one could argue Ainge and Co. should roll the dice and maintain the status quo

Unfortunately, there have been few indications Rondo is committed to staying.

It’s true that the Celtics can offer him more money than alternative suitors, and it’s also true Rondo himself has grown accustomed to life in Boston.

“I’m pretty comfortable,” Rondo told reporters in June. “I have a beautiful home here. I love it here. I have a great neighbor, the best neighbor in the world. I don’t want to leave. It’s just part of the process that I’ll talk about once the season’s over. As of now I’m a Celtic.”

That said, even “the best neighbor in the world” won’t change the fact this franchise is nowhere close to reclaiming its championship form. If Rondo’s principally interested in winning, that may weigh more heavily on him than any interest in comfort, loyalty and money alike.

Back in January, ESPN Insider Chris Broussard (subscription required) suggested that while Rondo wasn’t yet committed to leaving Boston, he had no interest in discussing an extension with Ainge.

“It didn’t even get to the numbers stage,” Broussard wrote. “Rondo is looking forward to becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in the summer of 2015.”

That’s not necessarily a bad sign for the Celtics. Rondo can earn more money by re-signing as a free agent than he would via extension. Simple economics dictate that he wait this out and cash in when the time is right.

But nor is there any guarantee Rondo will elect to take the money when potentially faced with the allure of pastures even greener than his jerseyand the cash that could come with them.

Losing Rondo via free agency would deal a serious blow to the organization’s attempts to extricate itself from a rebuilding process it’s undergone since the departures of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in 2013.

On paper, rookie point guard Marcus Smart—taken with the No. 6 overall pick this summer—is poised to replace Rondo and potentially become a star in his own right given time. The problem is that Rondo is the only Celtic with the kind of pedigree that might convince other elite free agents to join the program.

Boston’s only acceptable outcomes are either keeping Rondo around long-term or trading him for assets that would further the rebuilding process.

Given the risk he’ll leave during free agency, the trade route increasingly appears to be the only option that makes viable sense.

It might even be for the best.

At best, the current mix of talent could make a run at a No. 8 seed in a relatively weak Eastern Conference. That kind of middling ceiling would come at the expense of prime draft position and undermine the organization’s ability to build upon its stockpile of solid prospects.

Take a close look at the Celtics’ roster.

Outside of Jeff Green (age 28), Brandon Bass (29) and Marcus Thornton (27), the rest of the rotation is primarily 25 and under. The youth movement includes Smart, fellow rookie James Young, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller and most recently Evan Turner.

That creates something of a timing issue for Ainge. By the time younger assets reach their prime years, Rondo may be well past his. The smart move seems to be going all in on the future, adding as many assets as possible to an already impressive list.

Assets that very well might be acquired in exchange for Rondo.

What kind of haul could the organization expect? Probably one that’s more modest than those sought thus far.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported back in February that pre-deadline talks between the Celtics and Houston Rockets fell apart because of Boston’s insistence that Chandler Parsons be included in a deal for Rondo.

Stein similarly indicated during the summer of 2013 that discussions between the Celtics and Dallas Mavericks were something of a nonstarter on account of Boston’s demands for franchise face Dirk Nowitzki.

It’s unlikely that Ainge will get his hands on an established star—or even someone on the verge of becoming one.

That doesn’t make the trade route any less essential, though. The opportunity to land any assets—including draft picks—remains far more attractive than the prospect of Rondo walking out the door as a free agent. 

While the Celtics are undoubtedly well aware of all this, reasons for patience abound.

Pushing a decision closer to February’s trade deadline may allow for the development of a more robust trade market. Would-be buyers often become more desperate as a season goes on. As needs become clearer (or, perhaps, exacerbated on account of injuries), willingness to sacrifice up-and-coming talent typically increases.

More importantly, the Celtics could use another couple of months to audition a healthier Rondo.

He only played in 30 games last season after recovering from surgery on his right knee. While his subsequent production—11.7 points and 9.8 assists per contest—was solid, Rondo made a career-low 40.3 percent of his field-goal attempts. 

Though most onlookers probably understand that result to be a consequence of rust, seeing Rondo regain his rhythm would likely alleviate any lingering concerns—thereby increasing his value and Boston’s chances of coming away with some legitimate talent (or the draft rights thereto).

This isn’t a question of whether the Celtics should keep Rondo. It’s a question of whether they can afford to lose him without getting anything in return.

In turn, the coming months are no time to get sentimental. The Boston Celtics’ long-term future demands otherwise.

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Where Does OKC Thunder Turn If Scott Brooks Can’t Get Job Done This Season?

If the Oklahoma City Thunder decide that head coach Scott Brooks isn’t the man who can lead them to a championship, who should they look to replace him with?

Since taking over as head coach during the 2008-09 season, Brooks has compiled a regular-season record of 293-170 (63.3 percent). In the playoffs, his mark is 39-34 (53.4 percent). He’s finished under .500 once and has led the Thunder to the postseason every year for the past five seasons. He’s been to the Western Conference Finals twice, including a trip to the Finals during the 2011-12 season.  

Despite all of that, Brooks is one of a handful of coaches that are on the hot seat this season, according to BasketballInsiders.com’s Steve Kyler:

There is no question that the Thunder are on the clock, especially with star forward Kevin Durant inching closer to free agency in the summer of 2016. The Thunder have preached a message of continuity and instituted a strong development program, and that has paid dividends in OKC, but failing to reach the NBA Finals again before Durant’s free agency could spell disaster for the Thunder as the outside voices creep into the discussion and try to lure Durant out of OKC.

If Brooks were to get fired, Oklahoma City would become arguably the most attractive coaching destination in the league. With Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and a slew of young prospects, the right guy could turn the Thunder into a dynasty. However, if things don’t work out with Brooks, what should general manager Sam Presti look for in his next coach?

While the current coaching fad has been to hire players fresh out of retirement or the next hot assistant, the Thunder need someone a bit more seasoned. He should have considerable postseason experience and be able to bring the best out of this talented roster. Most importantly, he should be someone respected enough to keep Durant and Westbrook from considering playing elsewhere when their contracts are up. 

Here are a few candidates that would fit those requirements.

 

Mark Jackson

Prior to Mark Jackson’s arrival as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors in 2011, the team had made the postseason just once during the previous 17 seasons. In three years, Jackson led the W’s to the playoffs twice.

During the last two seasons, the Warriors were a combined 98-66. Jackson helped transform them from an NBA laughingstock to an exciting young squad that was solid at both ends of the court. Jackson’s teams were in the top 12 of both offensive and defensive ratings the past two seasons. 

Still, those numbers couldn’t spare Jackson from the firing squad this past season. According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Jackson’s dismissal was less about the team’s inability to make deep postseason runs and more about personal conflicts:

Jackson clashed constantly with management and struggled to manage his coaching staff during his Warriors tenure. Jackson’s lack of interest in game preparation and reluctance to practice despite a mostly young and gifted roster played a part in management’s reluctance to commit long term to him, league sources said.

While Jackson’s personality and lax practice habits are certainly red flags, the hope here is that Jackson would learn from his mistakes in his second coaching stint. As much as he battled with the front office and his fellow assistants, his players seemed to adore him.

Point guard Stephen Curry, during a promotional event for the upcoming NBA 2K15 video game, called Jackson’s firing “hard to deal with.”

As an NBA point guard for 17 years, Jackson’s vast experience would come in handy developing one of the league’s most explosive floor generals, Russell Westbrook. His commitment to excellence on offense and defense would be great for a team with the NBA’s best scorer in Kevin Durant and one of its best shot-blockers in Serge Ibaka

Jackson’s coaching legacy shouldn’t end with the fatal flaws he made with Golden State. Very few young coaches hit the ground running the minute they are handed a clipboard. Doc Rivers had to fail with the Orlando Magic before becoming an NBA champion with the Boston Celtics.

However, Jackson’s ability to take the Thunder to a higher level would be dependent on him raising his game as well. Unlike in Golden State, he would be inheriting a team with a mandate to win now. The feuding with coaches and sub-par training habits aren’t going to fly in Oklahoma City.  

He would need to bring his uptempo style to a team that was built to run. With a stronger commitment to the game, Jackson could find redemption on his way to an NBA championship.

 

Jeff Van Gundy

Jeff Van Gundy hasn’t manned an NBA sideline since the 2006-07 season with the Houston Rockets, but his name seems to pop up every year when there’s a coaching vacancy. Earlier this offseason, his name was linked to the Memphis Grizzlies, per ESPN’s Marc Stein.  

Van Gundy has spent the last seven years as an analyst for ESPN. Even in the booth, Van Gundy’s love for the game shows through in his opinionated style. Every time he’s on the mic, you get the feeling that he wants to come back to coaching.

Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy, in a May appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, suggested that his brother is waiting for a good spot to come along: 

“I was only going to take a great job and I think Jeff’s the same way. If the right situation came around, where he really felt aligned with ownership, I think he would do it.” 

The chance to take over one of the NBA’s elite sure seems like the “right situation.” He would take over a group with far more talent than any of his teams with the Rockets or the New York Knicks. During his 11 years coaching both squads, Van Gundy missed the playoffs just twice. 

During the 1998-99 season, he famously led the eighth-seeded Knicks to the NBA Finals, where they lost to Tim Duncan’s Spurs in five games. He has a career record of 430-318 in the regular season (57.5 percent) and 44-44 in the playoffs (50 percent). 

Van Gundy would be an intriguing choice for the Thunder. Throughout his career, his forte has been a commitment to defense and preparation. His teams in New York and Houston didn’t rate very high offensively though. 

It would be interesting to see what Van Gundy could bring out of Durant and Westbrook defensively. Together, they could carry an offense with their ability to score from anywhere. Imagine how great both would be if Van Gundy could sharpen their skills on the other end of the court as well. 

Van Gundy also built his teams around strong big men, which was a testament to his defensive approach. He had Patrick Ewing and Marcus Camby on the Knicks. On the Rockets, he had Yao Ming. In Oklahoma City, he’d have to build around wing players like he did with Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston in New York. 

What truly makes Van Gundy a solid candidate is the reputation he built with those he coached in the past. His former players talk about him with the utmost respect and have fond memories of their time together (h/t Moke Hamilton of BasketballInsiders.com). 

I loved playing for him. There was no situation that I have faced in a game that I wasn’t prepared for,” said Shane Battier, who played under JVG in Houston. “Our teams were always prepared, always played hard and if you wanted a winning culture, he was your guy.”

Hamilton also added this:

That’s a sentiment that all of Van Gundy’s former players would agree with, even those who he had a tough time motivating, including, at times, the aforementioned (Tracy) McGrady. The same can be said about Steve Francis. Francis and Van Gundy had a major falling out in Houston immediately prior to Francis’ trade to the Orlando Magic back in June 2004, but Francis is on record as saying that he never doubted that the changes that Van Gundy requested of him were all done in the name of winning.

After a long time away from coaching, the key to Van Gundy’s success in today’s NBA will be his ability to adapt. In Oklahoma City, he’d have the best one-two punch in basketball in Durant and Westbrook, as well as the big man he typically covets in Ibaka

Together, the mixture of Van Gundy’s defensive teachings and the bevy of scorers on the roster should combine for one of the most balanced teams in the league. 

 

George Karl

If Brooks’ job were to become available, the search for the Thunder’s new leader should begin and end with George Karl. During his last 21 seasons as a head coach, Karl’s teams have never finished below .500. The last time he had a losing season was when he coached the Golden State Warriors…during the 1987-88 season.  

When we last saw Karl, he was leading the Denver Nuggets to a franchise-best 57 wins en route to earning the 2012-13 NBA Coach of the Year award. Despite that, the team still fired Karl after the season because of a contract dispute.

Karl has the sixth-most wins of any coach in NBA history with 1,131 wins. His career winning percentage is 59.9 percent. If there’s a knock on Karl’s illustrious career, it’s that his playoff record is 80-105 (43.5 percent). 

Still, throughout his career, Karl has been the brains behind some fantastic teams. He coached the Seattle SuperSonics from 1991-1998 with Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton leading the way. During the 1995-96 season, Karl led the Sonics to the NBA Finals before falling to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in six games. 

From there, he coached the Milwaukee Bucks for five seasons, molding such rising talents as Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson. He was one win away from his second Finals appearance in 2000-01, when he lost the Eastern Conference Finals to Allen Iverson‘s Philadelphia 76ers in seven games.

The last nine years of Karl’s coaching career came in Denver. During his tenure, he presided over the likes of Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson and other young stars. For the most part, those Nuggets teams struggled to get out of the first round. The lone exception came in 2008-09, when the team made the Western Conference Finals and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.

After a year away from the game, Karl is interested in returning to coaching, per ESPN.com.

I’d be interested in the right coaching opportunity, but I respect the coaching profession too much to become a distraction to the process,” Karl said. “I would love the opportunity to probably talk to people, when they think I’m a person they should be talking to.”

Karl is 63 years old and not far removed from a battle with cancer. While his desire to coach again is understandable, there’s the issue of: for how long? His time with the Nuggets was the longest he’s ever spent with any one team and, at this point in his career, he’s more of a short-term fix than a long-term solution.

Still, with his history of winning and guiding young players, he’d be the perfect coaching upgrade for the Thunder. Even if Oklahoma City only got a handful of seasons out of Karl, they could feel safe knowing they have a respected veteran with a long track record of success at the helm.

One potential problem that could arise is Karl’s desire to play more proven players over developing young talent. He was criticized by the front office during his final season in Denver for not playing the team’s younger players, which was a claim he disputed in an interview with The Denver Post‘s Benjamin Hochman following Karl’s firing.   

We won 57 games and are in a great place. Continuity, consistency, togetherness all are so much more valuable than what they have on their priority list of playing JaVale McGee or the young players. And first of all, it shouldn’t be that I didn’t play young players. It’s I didn’t play young players enough, because we played a lot of young players—Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, Evan Fournier at the end of the year, Ty Lawson. And, I never had a meeting where there was disappointment, in that part of it, voiced to me. I heard through whispers. I’m sorry that 57 wins doesn’t make you happy.

Regardless of which side you believe, Karl’s hesitance to play someone like McGee shouldn’t tarnish his record with young players, nor should it give the Thunder a reason to steer clear of him. Karl’s time developing legendary talents like Payton, Allen and Anthony should speak for itself. 

If Karl is ready to come back and Oklahoma City has a spot for him, he should be the Thunder’s guy. 

As for Brooks, this is a make-or-break season for him. His reluctance for change as well as his commitment to declining veterans such as Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha have been his downfall in the past. 

The Thunder have a roster capable of winning a championship. Durant and Westbrook are top 10 players. Ibaka continues to get better. Reggie Jackson is playing for a new contract. The team has depth now with Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb and Anthony Morrow. There are no more excuses. 

The clock is ticking for Brooks. With plenty of qualified candidates ready to take his spot, he will either adapt or become a casualty. 

(All statistics courtesy of BasketballReference.com, unless noted otherwise. 

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Los Angeles Lakers Can’t Afford to Make Ed Davis the Odd Man out

Someone is going to be disappointed on the Los Angeles Lakers frontcourt.

With the athletic Ed Davis, the scrappy Jordan Hill, the seasoned Carlos Boozer, the bruising building block Julius Randle, the sharp-shooting Ryan Kelly and the sideline-celebrating Robert Sacre all hungry for playing time, someone is going to be left starving.

The Lakers cannot let that someone be Davis, the 25-year-old who has often appeared an opportunity away from breaking through since being selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.

With intriguing physical tools (6’10″ with a 7’0″ wingspan, via DraftExpress) and promising small-scale production (career 11.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes), he looks like a potential building block for a franchise in need of young talent.

The fact that he came by way of a clearance-rate, two-year, $2 million deal (player option for the second) solidified his standing as one of the summer’s best signings:

“Ed is a versatile, young frontcourt player who, if he continues to work hard, will be a valuable contributor,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a team release. “We look forward to him furthering his development with the Lakers and are excited by what we think he can offer our team.”

Judging by the executive’s words, the Lakers will not—and certainly should not—earmark major minutes for the former lottery pick. As promising as his past appears, his resume reads free of any guarantees.

Davis needs to earn his spot, and the Lakers must figure out why he hasn’t before.

“A guy that talented—who can score at the basket, rebound outside his area and turn away shots effectively—shouldn’t have spent his career looking for a way to crack a rotation,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes. “Make no mistake, there’s some mystery surrounding Davis.”

Davis is something of an oxymoron: a multimillionaire professional athlete who can’t quite seem to catch a break. He’s fortunate enough to live out his dream, only that dream life hasn’t really started yet.

He made 65 appearances for the Toronto Raptors as a rookie in 2010-11, averaging respectable per-game marks of 7.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and one block in 24.6 minutes a night. Throw in a stellar 57.6 field-goal percentage and above-average 15.8 player efficiency rating, and he seemed on the fast track to something quite solid or perhaps even special.

But his numbers haven’t moved a lot since, and the changes that have taken place haven’t always been positive.

Whether struggling to progress on the Raptors’ second team or getting buried behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with the Memphis Grizzlies, Davis has had a hard time finding the momentum needed to spring his career forward.

While his decrease in minutes shouldn’t be completely overlooked, the important thing for his new team is that he has retained his efficiency through his ups and downs.

Over the last two seasons, he is one of only seven players to average at least 13 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting at least 53 percent from the field. Davis’ 17.1 PER during that stretch ranks ahead of two players on that list, including Marcin Gortat (16.7), who signed a five-year, $60 million pact to stick with the Washington Wizards this summer.

Given Davis’ age (25), athleticism, upside and track record, there are reasons to believe in his chance at upward mobilityif the Lakers give him the type of opportunity he’s never had before.

He seems to think that vacancy exists, and he even cited it during an interview with Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy as one of the biggest things that led him to L.A.:

I just wanted to find the perfect situation for this upcoming season and for the future. I didn’t want to take a deal just because it was more money and it might look better – I really wanted to go somewhere that had a need for me and wanted me rather than just joining a team to fill out the roster. For me, it was really just waiting it out and seeing which team had the most interest and seeing where I could go to really help the team and get a chance to play.

They just told me that the opportunity is going to be there. They weren’t going to promise me anything or any type of minutes, but all you can ask for as a player is a fair opportunity to be able to go out there and compete for a job and minutes, either as a starter or off the bench. I felt that of all the teams that had interest in me, this would be the best fit for me.

Whether Davis will get that fair chance he’s after remains to be seen.

New Lakers coach Byron Scott told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News he already has ideas for four of his five starters: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Boozer and Hill.

The only job currently up for grabs is small forward, where Wesley Johnson, Nick Young and Xavier Henry will likely lock horns for the final spot during camp.

That would put Davis on the pine before he’s even had a chance to fight for a starting gig:

Davis’ fate should not be predetermined.

Not for a team coming off an abysmal 27-win season. Not to make room an aging Boozer, coming off the least efficient season of his 12-year career (14.4 PER), or a “prospect” like the 27-year-old Hill, whose resume has as many question marks as Davis’.

And certainly not with Scott declaring at his introductory press conference that “The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team.”

Davis has a history of being a deterrent. He has a higher career block percentage (3.6) and lower career defensive rating (104) than Hill (3.1 and 107, respectively).

Boozer made the Chicago Bulls defense three points worse per 100 possessions when he was on the floor (99.2) than when he was off it (96.2), a staggering statistic considering Boozer spent 71.7 percent of his minutes alongside the Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah.

If the Lakers want defense, then Davis deserves a look.

According to 82games.com, he held opposing 4s (13.8) and 5s (14.8) to below-average PERs last season. Considering the Lakers finished the campaign 25th in field-goal percentage allowed, 28th in defensive efficiency and 30th in rebounding percentage, they need help all over that end of the floor.

Davis could provide a lift at the opposite side as well.

There’s a chance his offensive game is limited, but even that is hard to tell due to his small sample size.

What can be gleaned from his stat sheet, though, is that he stays within himself (career 54.2 field-goal percentage) and does damage as a pick-and-roll screener. His 1.26 points per possession on those plays was the sixth-best in the business, via Synergy Sports (subscription required).

All of his production seems, at worst, sustainable in an expanded role. There’s always the chance his numbers could improve with more playing time as well.

The Lakers need to find out exactly what they found in the NBA bargain bin this offseason: a cheap part-time contributor, a steady force for a reserve role or perhaps a pivotal piece of their rebuilding project.

That doesn’t mean he should be handed a starting spot, but he shouldn’t enter camp with a cap on his role, either. He deserves a chance to showcase his ability, and the Lakers stand to gain as much as him if he maximizes his potential.

Boozer’s best days are behind him, Hill’s might have a short shelf life and Randle’s could be a couple of years down the road. Davis has a shot to be the bridge that brings everything together, and the Lakers have little to lose by seeing if he’s up for the challenge.

There won’t be enough minutes to keep every Lakers big man happy, but the only thing dictating Davis’ floor time should be his performance. If he’s hurting for action again, he should have only himself to blame.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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5 NBA Players Who Are Demanding Checks Their Production Can’t Cash

It’s never a bad way to do business, hitting the negotiation table and asking for as much as one could possibly get.

Of course, securing a significant raise and actually earning that money are two different things. There’s a decent chance the five players on this list will secure beaucoup bucks in their next deal but far slimmer hopes of them actually living up to the deal.

Teams won’t be paying these players for what they have done, they will try to compensate them for what they will do going forward. It’s an inexact science, one that could lead to bargains (Stephen Curry, $44 million for four years), rip-offs (Roy Hibbert, $58 million for four years) or anything in between.

Given the shelf life of professional athletes, it’s hard to fault them for attempting to maximize their earnings potential. But those massive checks will come with similar-sized expectations these five will struggle to ever fill.

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If San Antonio Spurs Can’t Save Michael Beasley’s NBA Career, Then No One Can

Stranger things have happened. That’s what we’re told, anyway.

Every now and then you come across something that makes you wonder if that’s in fact the case.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports, “Free-agent forward Michael Beasley is working out for the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs at the franchise’s practice facility this week, league sources told Yahoo Sports.”

That’s right. The franchise known for pursuing highly professional talent whose DNA is ready-made for head coach Gregg Popovich’s no-nonsense culture has apparently turned its attention to a guy with one of the league’s more checkered pasts.

The Spurs have proven very adept at discovering diamonds in the rough, but that rarely involves an outright reclamation project.

As Wojnarowski notes, “Off-the-court issues have contributed to NBA teams’ reluctance to sign Beasley, but there’s still a belief he can be an effective scorer.”

In all fairness, Beasley’s latest stint with the Miami Heat last season appeared to be relatively free of drama.

That hardly means it was a success, though.

The six-year veteran averaged career lows of 7.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in just 15.1 minutes per contest. The only saving grace was his making 49.9 percent of his field-goal attempts, a career high and encouraging sign of improved shot selection.

Some of the downturn should be attributed to the fact that Beasley suddenly found himself playing for a title contender. Playing time and touches were bound to be limited from the outset, especially with a four-time MVP and established veterans like Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis manning the forward positions.

The more troubling takeaway from the Miami chapter has less to do with numbers and more to do with hearsay.

The organization that selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2008 began its Beasley reunion with the best of intentions and a heavy dose of cautious optimism.

As NBCSports.com’s Brett Pollakoff observed, “The franchise was hopeful that the familiarity there, along with the strong locker-room presence that the championship team possessed would be enough to help him turn things around.”

An incident-free year later, it was the 25-year-old’s performance on the court that left doubts—doubts that were acute enough for the Heat to quickly shut down any talk of a 2014-15 encore.

The Miami Herald‘s Barry Jackson wrote in August, “A person with direct knowledge cited several reasons for the Heat’s lack of interest: inconsistency, lack of trust in his defense (and ability to execute the Heat’s defensive system), and maturity/focus issues, which are still a concern even though he improved somewhat in that regard last season.”

Worse yet, the Beasley experiment apparently failed to impress LeBron James.

“NBA sources said James was not pleased with Beasley’s focus, and he lost the confidence of coach Erik Spoelstra shortly into the season,” wrote The Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn in June. “In one sequence that typified his career, Beasley swooped in for a tip-dunk in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. On the Spurs’ next possession, Beasley got lost on a pick-and-roll, allowing Diaw an open three-pointer, which of course he swished.”

Others in the locker room approached the issue with equal doses of diplomacy and realism.

“I’ve always been on Beas as far as being a two-way player,” Chris Bosh explained to NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan during the Finals. “He needs to play defense and offense. It’s something you’re really not taught early on in your career. But I think for him, just with his athleticism and strength, he can be a phenomenal two-way player.”

“He’s grown quite a bit, and he can use all these lessons he’s gathering to really help him in the future,” Bosh added.

It doesn’t require much speculation to surmise the Spurs might help Beasley grow even more. This is a team that made things work with the enigmatic Stephen Jackson (during two separate stints, no less). It’s a team that gave Boris Diaw a second chance after he was waived in 2012 by the Charlotte Bobcats—then the worst club in the league.

If extending Beasley’s NBA career is just a matter of eliciting more inspired defense and improved focus, Popovich and Co. are almost certainly up to the challenge.

The organization doesn’t demand perfection. It just needs buy-in.

But while few may doubt San Antonio’s ability to make the most of Beasley, its willingness to do so is another story. Early reactions to the scenario have accordingly expressed a predictable measure of shock and awe.

CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore argues, “On the surface, the Spurs seem like the exact opposite kind of place for Beasley. They don’t allow nonsense, they don’t allow hijinx, they don’t allow drama.”

NBCSports.com’s Kurt Helin similarly writes, “Beasley is not exactly known for selflessness. Or playing within a system. Or focus. Or attention to detail. Or being a solid citizen in the locker room. Or anything else that has made the Spurs the Spurs.”

In short, San Antonio’s interest in Beasley is nothing short of paradoxical. It’s precisely the kind of counterintuitive, outside-the-box thinking that speaks to the organization’s most ineffable qualities. Just when we think we know what makes the Spurs tick, they go and do something that couldn’t seem more out of character.

Beasley’s biggest challenge may be shaking a reputation that’s undergone judgment in the court of public opinion.

As Caplan notes, “He’s had multiple run-ins with the law for marijuana possession, various driving violations (which one stop included possession of a loaded gun) and in May 2013, toward the end of his one tumultuous season with the Phoenix Suns, police investigated an alleged sexual assault.” 

It’s not a Spurs-like track record, but perhaps it’s unfair to define Beasley’s off-court life by some combination of accusations and youthful indiscretion. 

If there’s an NBA culture that can turn those kinds of optics around, it’s the one in San Antonio.

That said, the Spurs still appear to be exploring their options. 

Salient variables include what becomes of free-agent center Aron Baynes and whether the club will get a shot at signing Mexican big man Gustavo Ayon. The organization only has one roster spot remaining open, so there’s no guarantee there will be room for Beasley.

Meanwhile, Beasley himself may simply be trying to build a more robust market for his services. Any link to the Spurs could theoretically help in that regard.

Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy reported via Twitter in July, “Several teams have expressed interest in free agent Michael Beasley. Teams like the efficiency and maturity he showed last season in Miami.”

To date, however, that interest hasn’t been very visible.

USA Today‘s Sam Amick reported in August that the Los Angeles Lakers recently watched Beasley work out for a second time, fueling some speculation that general manager Mitch Kupchak could add some upside to a rotation that’s already undergone fairly significant change this summer. 

At the moment, there’s no bidding war for Beasley’s services. No job offers from a league that’s principally concerned with what guys like Beasley have done for it lately.

The former highly touted Kansas State product had his most productive season with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2010-11, averaging a career-high 19.2 points per contest and starting all 73 games in which he played.

After a far more muted second campaign with the Timberwolves, Phoenix rolled the dice in 2012 only to watch Beasley’s production and efficiency further decline.

So to some extent, the question teams like San Antonio are trying to answer is which Beasley will show up for the 2014-15 season. Should the Spurs go in a different direction (for whatever reason), Beasley’s options will be limited—perhaps nonexistent. 

And if this unlikely marriage does come together, the results are anyone’s guess. At best, Beasley could carve a niche in the rotation behind forward Kawhi Leonard, perhaps spending a few extra minutes at the 4 when Popovich elects to go small. Beasley’s versatility could be his calling card on a team that’s valued similar qualities in Diaw and others.

Should life with the Spurs flame out prematurely, Beasley’s next job search would be the hardest one yet. He desperately needs a vote of confidence from a credible source, and anything less could already doom his fledgling attempts at a return to form.

By now, Beasley’s still-legitimate potential has been offset by enough disappointment to keep most teams at bay.

What better time to remember that the San Antonio Spurs aren’t most teams?

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Rockets’ James Harden Can’t Do the ‘Carlton Dance’

Houston Rockets star James Harden is really good at basketball, but he’s apparently not a very good dancer.

While hanging out with Alfonso Ribeiro, the actor who played Carlton in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, the two did the “Carlton Dance”. Unfortunately, Harden struggled trying to do the dance.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, here is the original “Carlton Dance”.

[Instagram, h/t Black Sports Online]

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