Kevin Love Trade Gives Ricky Rubio Chance to Redefine NBA Career

Kevin Love hasn’t officially escaped the Gopher State, but his move to Cleveland seems far enough along, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, that he could comfortably put down a security deposit on his next home.

With nothing more than a formality—the 30-day waiting period for the ink to dry on top pick Andrew Wiggins’ contract—standing between Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Minnesota Timberwolves are preparing for their new Loveless existence.

It’s hard to give that news a positive spin. The walking double-double fills a stat sheet like few others can (26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists last season), and the Wolves have no one rising through their ranks to replace that production. The win column Love struggled to fill during his six seasons in ‘Sota may get even lighter in the near future.

At the very least, the pressure to perform won’t be nearly as high as it has been in recent years. That’s the silver lining to this story if there is one, and no one should benefit from that more than point guard prodigy Ricky Rubio.

The “prodigy” label feels like an awkward fit for someone who has already spent three seasons in the NBA and 23-plus years on this planet. The fact he was introduced to the basketball world long before his 2011 debut paints him as more of a disappointment than a prospect who hasn’t emptied his upside tank.

Yet it’s hard to say if the real Rubio has ever made it stateside. Sure, the flashy passes and occasionally gaudy assist totals made the trip, but the floor general has never ranked higher than second in command on his roster.

One botched contract negotiation aside, there has never been a question as to the identity of Minnesota’s franchise face.

“Rubio has been following Love’s lead for the last several years,” wrote TrueHoop Network’s Steve McPherson. “No matter David Kahn’s feelings about who is and isn’t a max player on the Wolves, Rubio joined Love’s team, and so his role…was to fall in line behind the veteran leading the team.”

Rubio couldn’t be just another soldier in Love’s army, though. His buzz was far too big for that.

A professional hooper since the age of 14, Rubio needed to be the slick-passing Robin to Love’s Batman; Minnesota’s John Stockton if you will, a guy who made winning plays while Love posted the sexier stats and reaped the rewards those numbers often bring.

In three years together, the partnership never got off the ground.

The Wolves ran up a record of 97-133, each season adding another notch to their now decade-long playoff drought. But the group was more a victim of misfortune than a collection of misfit pieces.

The start of Rubio‘s rookie season was delayed by the NBA lockout, and the end of it was derailed by a torn ACL. He missed 25 games the following year, 39 less than Love, who twice broke his shooting hand.

With Love’s frustration mounting and the clock ticking toward his early termination option, Minnesota’s 2013-14 campaign seemed doomed before it started.

There was tremendous pressure to perform. The Wolves spent their offseason targeting win-now veterans like Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf. It was playoffs or catastrophic, franchise-crippling bust.

Rubio‘s scoring dipped to a career-worst 9.5 points per game. He shot just 38.1 percent from the field, the fourth-lowest mark of any player who logged at least 30 minutes a night.

The Wolves struggled to keep their head above water, which still wouldn’t have been good enough in the overloaded Western Conference. They lost their first 11 games decided by four points or less, and the combination of individual and team struggles weighed heavily on Rubio‘s shoulders.

“I’m going to be honest. I’m not feeling comfortable out there,” Rubio told Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press in January. “I’m not being myself, and the team is noticing.”

He eventually elevated his own game—he averaged 10.7 points on 41.5 percent shooting after the All-Star break, compared to 8.9 on 36.1 before it—but he couldn’t reverse the franchise’s fate. The Wolves finished 40-42, which neither earned them a playoff berth nor satisfied Love.

It’s definitely disappointing, both for Rubio and the Timberwolves as a whole. Love’s production won’t be easily replaced, and a team that has suffered through this amount of losing isn’t exactly warm to the idea of a lengthy rebuild.

Rubio told NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper he doesn’t want Love’s departure to rid this franchise of its expectations to succeed:

Before I came to Minnesota, the season before they won like 17 games. I was a little scared when I went there. I’m coming from Europe, where I was playing in Barcelona. I think we lost six games or seven games in two seasons and every loss was a disaster. I don’t want to go through a process like every win is something special.

It’s hard to imagine the Wolves not taking a step back without Love. They did as well as they could have with a superstar essentially forcing his own exit, but their haul still features only a raw Andrew Wiggins, a protected 2015 first-round pick and the uncomfortably large gap between Anthony Bennett’s ceiling and his basement.

Yet a few extra losses shouldn’t scare Rubio away. Not when his environment is changing to one much more conducive to individual growth.

The win-or-lose-Love days are over. This is Rubio‘s team to lead, potentially at a top-dollar price:

Wiggins is just the latest in a long line of top-tier athletes surrounding Rubio, ideal receivers for such a crafty gunslinger.

He’s a showman who doesn’t let his dazzling displays tread too deeply into reckless waters. There is nothing wrong with flair when it’s accompanied by function, and he is nothing less than a master mixologist when blending the two.

This should be a fun team to watch and an even more enjoyable one to lead.

For the first time in his career, Rubio should have the chance to do just that. He didn’t exactly hurt for touches last season (only John Wall had more total assists), but he never had complete control of the offense. Of the 22 players to average at least six assists last season, only Kendall Marshall (16.3) had a smaller usage percentage than Rubio (16.4).

Finding offensive chances won’t be an issue going forward. With an intriguing group of complementary pieces around him, numbers should come in equal abundance.

This is a reset button for Rubio and a unique one at that, as Vice Sports’ Ian Levy observed:

Rubio has an opportunity that is rarely afforded to young players who were drafted high and have fallen short. He has three years of experience under his belt, hasn’t had to move cities, and still gets the opportunity to be part of an organization whose status quo and goals for the future are suddenly a perfect match for his own. Make layups, make jumpshots, make his teammates better in an offense which functions effectively, regardless of the score or the time remaining in the game; focus on process until the product arrives.

This is the NBA start that Rubio never had. This is his team now, and one that will move as quickly or slowly as he can handle.

It’s a far different challenge from the one he’s been given to date, but the light at the end of this tunnel should shine brighter than any he’s ever seen.

 

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

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Los Angeles Lakers: A chance at the “ultimate” three

Pandemonium has officially hit the NBA with Lebron James’ decision to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat. The front offices of all 32 NBA teams are driving themselves insane trying to figure out how to lure the King out of South Beach and lead them to an NBA championship. The July 1st free agency period with future Hall of Fame franchise players Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Lebron and the deepest draft in a decade make for an exciting summer.
Realistically, half of the NBA teams are either too cash-strapped, can’t offer a major market, or don’t have the high profile talent to pull off what Pat Riley and the Heat did four years ago. The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the fringe teams that have the ability to offer Lebron the package of money, a major market city with global marketing potential, but lacks the talent (other than Kobe) that will be needed to get Lebron to travel west.  Unfortunately, and it pains me even more to say, the crosstown rival Clippers are in a better position currently

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Report: Clippers Believe They Have ‘Real Chance’ of Signing Paul Pierce

Could Paul Pierce be headed for a reunion with Doc Rivers after a one-year hiatus in Brooklyn? 

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Los Angeles Clippers are now of the belief that they have a shot at signing Pierce following Jason Kidd’s departure: 

All this comes after Stein reported back in May that Pierce would be interested in linking up with the Clippers, although that option came with a caveat regarding Kevin Garnett‘s future at the time: 

If KG decides to play on, those who know him well say Pierce’s incentive to stay in Brooklyn naturally spikes. If Garnett decides it’s time to stop, Pierce is bound to be intrigued even more by the scenario that is said to be on his radar already: Reuniting with Doc Rivers in Clipperland in what would also be a homecoming for the Los Angeles native. 

Following a rather underwhelming inaugural season with the Brooklyn Nets that saw Pierce average a career-worst 13.5 points on 45.1 percent shooting from the field, a change of scenery would make sense for the unrestricted free agent. 

And given the organizational uncertainty that’s enveloped the Nets following Kidd’s transition to the Milwaukee Bucks, finding comfort in Rivers’ system out in his native Los Angeles would seem to be a natural for a veteran searching to maximize his remaining years in the Association. 

Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale relayed a similar sentiment after the Nets were ousted from the playoffs: 

“Going on 37, Pierce, as he showed at times against the Heat, can still play. He won’t want to waste what he has left playing for lottery-bound squads or fringe-playoff clubs.”

It’s also worth noting that the Clippers aren’t alone in their pursuit of Pierce. 

According to Stein, several other noteworthy contenders are putting out feelers as the 36-year-old hits the open market: 

“I still think I have something to give a team,” Pierce said following the Nets’ dismissal from the postseason, according to the New York Post’s Tim Bontemps. In addition, Pierce told reporters that he has a year or two left, “at most,” per Bontemps

If we’re to take Pierce at his word, a move to the Clippers would be the most logical one out there. 

Not only does Pierce have an intimate familiarity with Rivers’ scheme from their days in Boston, but L.A. is looking for immediate help on the wing, according to ESPN L.A.’s Arash Markazi

With a starting role feasibly up for grabs, it would behoove Pierce to try and cap his career with a Larry O’Brien trophy or two, even if it comes at a reduced price. 

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Undrafted NBA Free Agents 2014: Prospects with Best Chance to Earn a Roster Spot

Naturally, 2014′s deep NBA draft class yielded a deep undrafted free-agent pool.

But despite the unusual amount of notable names, very few will still actually make a roster that isn’t in the D-League or Europe next season.

Here are some, if not all of those very few.

 

PG/SG DeAndre Kane, Los Angeles Lakers

Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy reported that Kane will play for the Lakers this summer.

Kane is older than John Wall. At 25 years old, only a handful of prospects in the entire class were more pro-ready than Kane. His lack of upside cost him getting drafted, but it won’t stop him from earning a roster spot.

Kane averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game at Iowa State this year. He’d struggle to find a home at point guard in Los Angeles with Steve Nash, Kendall Marshall and Jordan Clarkson in the mix. But the 6’4″, 200-pounder’s ability to play shooting guard on a team without one besides Kobe Bryant will be what keeps him around. 

 

PF Khem Birch, Washington Wizards

The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Matt Youmans reported that Birch will join the Wizards’ summer league team.

Birch, a former ESPN five-star high school basketball recruit, couldn’t have found a more perfect team to compete for a spot on. Washington is extremely thin in its frontcourt. Marcin Gortat, Trevor Booker, Al Harrington and Drew Gooden could all be on their way out of the nation’s capital via free agency. The Wizards have roster spots available down low and Birch is talented enough to demand one.

His junior year at UNLV, the 6’9″, 209-pounder averaged 11.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. ESPN’s Chad Ford (subscription needed) reported Birch looked good in workouts with ninth overall pick Noah Vonleh prior to the draft. Birch is raw offensively, but he could make an instant impact defensively. 

 

PG Deonte Burton, Washington Wizards

Youmans reported that Burton will also join the Wizards. But he could’ve picked a better fit.

Washington only played four guards in the postseason—John Wall, Bradley Beal, Andre Miller and Garrett Temple. Only Temple is a free agent. And as a 2, he’s likely to be replaced by a 2, as opposed a 1, which would give the Wizards three 1′s.

The Los Angeles Times’ Eric Pincus also reported that Washington sold Clarkson, the 46th overall pick, to the Lakers for cash. This shows a lack of desire to add another point guard. 

But even if Burton is ultimately cut by the Wizards, he’ll find another home elsewhere. He’s an elite athlete and filled up the stat sheet last season at Nevada, averaging 20.1 points, 4.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. At 23 years old and having played four years of college basketball, he also has the Kane-syndrome—no upside, but he is ready to compete.

 

David Daniels is a columnist at Bleacher Report. He tweets, too.

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College Basketball Coaches with Best Chance to Win Their 1st Title in 2014-15

Fresh off a surprise national title run by Kevin Ollie’s UConn Huskies, college basketball could easily see a second straight newcomer join the ranks of championship-winning coaches. Although the usual suspects, such as Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari, will have a lot to say about which team cuts down the nets next March, an exceptionally deep crop of coaching commoners are clamoring at the gates this season.

One such hopeful is Arizona head man Sean Miller. In just five years in Tucson, Miller has gone a long way toward bringing back the glory of the Lute Olsen years, but Wildcats fans won’t be ready to put him on the same kind of pedestal until he delivers the program’s second national title.

Herein, a closer look at Miller and his imposing 2014-15 squad, along with the rest of the half-dozen coaches in the best position to become first-time national champs next year.

Begin Slideshow

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James McAdoo Deserves Chance at NBA Dream After Going Undrafted

There’s a lesson to be learned for all college underclassmen looking to declare for the NBA draft early. Making it to the NBA is difficult, and the road is not as easily paved as some highly touted college prospects might think.

James Michael McAdoo of North Carolina learned that lesson the hard way.

McAdoo came to the Tar Heels as an emerging star with hopes of being a lottery pick in the NBA draft after his career in Chapel Hill. Those ambitions fell well short on Thursday night, as the two-time second-team All-ACC player fell out of both rounds and is now simply looking to crack a roster.

Bret Strelow of the Fayetteville Observer offered his advice to any players hoping to avoid McAdoo‘s path:

So maybe that’s the next option for McAdoo. If he doesn’t make an NBA roster after this summer, maybe he just packs it up and looks to play overseas.

Before he makes any brash decisions, he might want to consider a list of players who also went undrafted and went on to have successful careers in the NBA. Names like Bruce Bowen, John Starks and even Avery Johnson rose to stardom in the league thanks to hard work and dedication.

Will he ever find that same rise to the NBA as very few before him have? Maybe, but before he can ever reach that level, NBA consultant Chris Ekstrand breaks down where McAdoo needs to improve, per Ed Miller of The Virginian-Pilot:

“There’s talent there, there’s the ability to achieve at the highest levels, at least of college basketball,” Ekstrand said. “Why he didn’t do that consistently is sort of an open question.”

Chris Moore of the ACC Sports Journal and Brooke Pryor of Carolina Blue Magazine, two writers who followed McAdoo throughout his tenure in Chapel Hill, provide their thoughts on the former Tar Heel:

Maybe it was the timing of his decision—would he have been selected last season? Or perhaps it was the fact that he still needed to prove more to have his name called in the draft.

Following his freshman year, there were still talks about untapped talent that scouts hadn’t seen from McAdoo and what he could eventually be at the next level. But with McAdoo staying at UNC for another season, those questions were still being asked as he failed to shine for the Heels.

The 21-year-old noted the change between his first season and when he decided to leave UNC, via Aaron Dodson of the Daily Tar Heel:

After my freshman year and I was like, ‘Dang, I’m good enough to play in the NBA.’ Then these last two years to now, I’m really having to fight my way into the league. But I got two more years of my education, and I’m that much closer to getting my degree. I’m married and have no regrets about my time there.

At the end of the day, we’re here now. We’re in the present and I’m still living my dream.

What McAdoo has to do now is prove himself through the summer league and potentially D-League. Talent can only get a player so far, but he has enough to turn some heads in the next several months and eventually win scouts over.

Simply put, McAdoo has shown the ability to crack an NBA roster, but fell short during his collegiate career. Despite averaging over 14 points and 6.8 rebounds per game during his final two seasons with the Heels, he ultimately didn’t show enough to convince NBA scouts that he was worthy of a draft pick.

Whatever it was, McAdoo is now simply left searching for a team after leaving UNC early. For the rest of college basketball players planning to do the same, consider this a lesson learned.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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ACC jumps at chance to bring tournament to Brooklyn

“Our teams want to be in New York,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said.

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Cal Poly ready to take puncher’s chance against Wichita State

“They play angry. For us to have a chance, we’ve got to be furious,” Joe Callero said.

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If your school beat Duke at home, there’s a really good chance fans stormed the court

31 courts stormed in 11 seasons.

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Why Steve Nash Is Expected to Get One Last Chance to Salvage LA Lakers Career

LOS ANGELES — It’ll sound like a fairy tale to Los Angeles Lakers fans who’ve known only frustration as he nears his end, but once upon a time, Steve Nash was a young man.

Perhaps thinking of him that way instead of trying to explain all the tedious hours of workouts and treatments he’s doing in hopes of extending his career will help convey just how much Nash just loves to play.

And the fact is, as of this time, that Nash will get one last chance to play next season with the Lakers, who are not planning a free-agent spending spree this summer and are therefore thinking it does not make sense to use the stretch provision to waive Nash.

The Lakers would rather be done with the entirety of Nash’s $9.7 million salary next season if they’re not planning on spending much next season, as opposed to stretching that money across the next three seasons if they waive him and suffer future burdens.

That decision by the Lakers would give Nash one last season to get his body as right as possible, control the nerve-root irritation sapping his back and legs and try to go out on something close to his terms.

“Yeah,” Nash said Tuesday night about the Lakers letting him play it out next season. “It sounds like it.”

If the Lakers change their mind and waive Nash, he intends to retire: “That would be it,” he said. “I’ll either be back here or I’ll be done.”

If he is granted this reprieve, though…

“It means that anything is still possible,” Nash said.

Right there, that’s him. That’s the little boy who still kicks and jumps and dreams deep inside this 40-year-old shell of an MVP.

No one gets to be 14 going on 40 or vice versa, but this pure spirit of perseverance—or simple hardheadedness—is nothing new for Nash.

When he was barely a teen, Nash decided on his own that it was time for him to play again. He got some contraband scissors to cut off the cast from his broken arm. He enlisted buddy Adam Miller to help pull the cast off, a scene that was akin to a wrestling title match: the two boys versus the cast.

They got it off. And Nash played in his night-league basketball game that night.

If you Lakers fans are appalled at the lengths Nash is going to in order to keep playing now, you have no idea how Nash’s mom felt that night.

Nash is well beyond assuming anything with how his body heals now, and he was still cautious when discussing what he acknowledged looks to be one good tiding coming his way if the Lakers don’t cut him.

He did allow himself to smile about it.

“If I can get healthy and come back,” he said, “it’d be great.”

For the Lakers’ purposes, Nash being able to contribute next season would lessen the bust of his acquisition only slightly. The losing hedges with Dwight Howard and Nash are severely limiting the Lakers’ rebuilding options now, and as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said last month, the one thing the franchise cannot afford is to gamble again and lose.

To Kupchak, paying maximum dollars to star players who the Lakers are not certain can deliver championship performances would be bad business—and is, in fact, exactly what has happened in New York with the Knicks struggling despite having Carmelo Anthony.

So don’t expect to see Anthony or Chris Bosh—if he opts out of his Miami Heat contract—getting epic offers from the Lakers.

Everything goes out the window if LeBron James opts out of his Heat contract and is interested in the Lakers this summer, but otherwise the Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and maybe James.

Next season’s Lakers roster could look a lot like this season’s—presumably with Bryant healthy and Pau Gasol gone. The Lakers appreciate they need to maintain some continuity to improve next season, and few of the current players have proved themselves conclusively to deserve big paydays from other clubs.

The Lakers can, and look as if they should, lock up athletic newcomer Kent Bazemore by making him a qualifying offer of $1.1 million for next season, turning him into a restricted free agent. The only other players the Lakers already control and can keep for sure, if they so desire, are Bryant, Nash, Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre and Kendall Marshall.

Everyone else can be free, including Jordan Farmar.

Effective Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Farmar is likely to get the nod from Mike D’Antoni as the Lakers’ starting point guard the rest of the season, and there’s a much greater chance Farmar does well and heads into next season as a Lakers lynchpin than Nash makes it back on the court this season.

There’s no way for the Lakers to count on Nash giving anyone anything. However, if Nash is staying on the roster next season, then at least he still has a chance.

“I’ll give it my best effort,” he said, “and hopefully put this behind me.”

If only because the alternative is so inglorious—the Lakers waiving him via that stretch provision this offseason, ending Nash’s career against his will—this might be the best break Nash has gotten since joining the Lakers in 2012.

Nash still wants to stay on, and now the Lakers want him to stay on—albeit for somewhat backward reasons. They’re on the same page. Sort of.

“We’ll see,” Nash said in conclusion. “We’ll see personally; we’ll see what happens with the club.”

And with those words, the little boy withdrew again.

He has valid reason to doubt he’ll be allowed to come out and play again. With or without a cast, he has learned he had better protect himself.

No, Nash isn’t going from 40 to a fearless 14 again.

No one ever does.

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