As Durant steps back, US team is moving forward (Yahoo Sports)

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 1: Kevin Durant #52 of the USA White Team shoots during the USA Basketball Showcase at the Thomas & Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on August 1, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

While Kevin Durant takes a step back, the U.S. Durant stunned the Americans when he decided to withdraw after practicing with the team during its first week of training camp.


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Breaking Down San Antonio Spurs’ Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

Highlighted by budding superstar Kawhi Leonard, small forward is a solid position for the reigning league champion San Antonio Spurs in 2014-15.

Leonard is the unit’s unquestioned star, while Marco Belinelli was technically his backup due to the backcourt rotation in which he played.

NBA journeyman Austin Daye rounds out the incumbents, but the Spurs added a pass-happy piece to the position during the summer.

Reviewing the performance of the aforementioned trio and factoring offseason changes will help decide what changes, if any, San Antonio needs to make for the upcoming campaign.

 

Grading 2013-14 Performance

Leonard missed 14 regular-season games due to a broken finger, but rumor has it he performed pretty well anyway. The third-year forward was recognized as a NBA All-Defensive second team honoree, the first of what figures to be many such awards.

However, Leonard really did improve after fracturing the metacarpal in his right ring finger against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 22.

And of course, Leonard had a spectacular finish and was named the 2014 NBA Finals MVP following three outstanding performances opposite LeBron James.

Belinelli was on fire to start the season, hovering around 47-50 percent from distance and leading the league in that category for a couple months. The Italian sharpshooter cooled off, but he still posted a career-best 43.0 percent mark behind the arc.

During the playoffs, Belinelli reached double digits just twice in 23 appearances compared to 49 such games through the opening 82.

Some call Daye a small forward, some call him a power forward. But whichever side of the fence you’re on, the midseason acquisition played just 115 total minutes for the Spurs, so it’s not a significant debate, regardless.

Looking back over the entire season, though, San Antonio was largely successful at the position because Leonard picked up Belinelli’s slack when it mattered the most.

Overall Grade: A-

 

What Happened This Offseason?

The Spurs did not lose any small forwards, but they added one in UCLA’s Kyle Anderson with the last selection of the first round of the NBA draft.

Granted, Anderson is basically a 6’8″ point forward because of his superior passing ability. He will be utilized in a variety of ways; spelling Leonard, who often chases the league’s best scorers around the court, is an important responsibility.

Bleacher Report’s Garrett Jochnau believes Anderson’s future with the team is very bright, citing his skill set and organizational fit.

And Anderson needs to be ready immediately, because Leonard has an unpleasant injury history. The San Diego State product has missed 58 games throughout his first three years in the league.

Though he may not necessarily be injury-prone, that label is slowly sneaking up on Leonard. No, it’s not a serious cause for concern at this point, but Anderson certainly helps lessen the impact of a potential absence.

 

Looking Ahead to 2014-15, What to Expect

Leonard is entering the final season of his rookie contract, meaning San Antonio is at least in preliminary internal discussions about an extension. The front office has until Oct. 31 to reach an agreement; otherwise the 23-year-old will be a restricted free agent next offseason.

However, the rising star isn’t worried about that. ”I’m just playing,” Leonard said, per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. “The Spurs are a great organization. I’m leaving that to my agent, and I’m sure they’ll come out with a great understanding and a deal. I’m not focused on that at all.”

Belinelli is on the back end of a two-year deal, and Daye‘s contract expires after 2014-15 as well. Ultimately, San Antonio does not need to sign a small forward for its 15th and final roster opening.

As is always the case with Gregg Popovich, playing time will be a fluid situation throughout the entire season. Behind Leonard as the 30-minute-per-night starter, the Spurs’ second unit is a question due to Patty Mills’ shoulder injury and subsequent surgery.

Pop has likely been contemplating ways to replace the team’s 2013-14 breakout performer until his return, and small forward is an important part of that. With that being said, Daye won’t be a major factor and will only receive some scattered minutes.

Cory Joseph can be inserted for Mills, leaving Manu Ginobili and Belinelli in the same roles they occupied last year. This would be a well-rounded group; Joseph provides the defensive spark, Ginobili is the offensive creator and Belinelli shoots threes at a productive rate.

Or, Pop could slide Ginobili to point guard and use Belinelli and Anderson at the 2 and 3, essentially interchangeably. Defense might be a struggle since Belinelli and the rookie are below average on that end, but using Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter would help offset the weakness.

From an offensive standpoint, though, the trio could form one of the league’s best reserve units. San Antonio is known for its rapid offensive movement, and Anderson fits in seamlessly.

It wouldn’t be surprising to watch Popovich employ a few more strategies at the beginning of the year to find the most effective or efficient backcourt, whichever the mastermind prefers on a given night.

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David Lee or Draymond Green: Who Should Be the Warriors’ Starting Power Forward?

As the Golden State Warriors roll closer to the start of training camp, a big question still remains with the new coach Steve Kerr’s offense, will David Lee or Draymond Green get the nod as the starting power forward?

The players play two contrasting styles: Lee is more an offensive juggernaut, while Green is the get-in-your-face, workmanlike player who can guard every position.  The decision will be a tough one to make, but let’s break down both of the players’ strengths and weaknesses before suggesting a game plan.

 

David Lee

David Lee has been known to put up big numbers throughout his career, but until 2012-13, the numbers were relatively meaningless, since he never made the playoffs.  Lee normally finishes with a double-double on most nights, and his season averages mostly prove the same (18.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG).

In 2012-13, Lee led the league in double-doubles (56), but this past season, Lee was only above average.  He finished further down the ladder in 17th place with only 34. 

Offense is in the forefront with Lee, since that is his best skill.  He is an adept passer, can hit mid-range jumpers and can score with either his left or right hand.

However, Lee is often criticized for his defense and his salary.  One is a killer on the micro level; the other hurts the Warriors on a macro level.

His defense has been an albatross, as Lee is mostly left behind when he encounters quick feet or dazzling moves.  He has tried to improve his limited skill set, and the effort is there, but the results are not always pleasing.

According to Bruce Jenkins from the San Francisco Chronicle, the pressure is on for Lee:

Lee will occasionally make a brilliant play on defense, but the normal result of an above-average play against him is a foul on Lee.  Lee averaged three fouls per game on the season, as he ranked tied for 21st overall and fifth for his position. 

As for Lee’s contract, he is crippling the Dubs from improving into a team that has NBA championship aspirations.  He makes $15 million this season and $15.5 million next season.

The one benefit that Golden State has going forward is that Lee will be a free agent in 2015-16, so he will be an expiring contract during next year’s free-agency period.

Kerr has to weigh the effect of Lee losing value if he sits Lee versus the overall effort he can provide on the court.  Lee needs to improve his range, as Kerr is looking for a stretch-4, and Lee did not impress based on his results last season.
 

Draymond Green

Green is a hard worker who is defensively instinctive and is not afraid of anyone, including LeBron James.

Green has improved significantly from his rookie year to his second year in the league.  He has looked a lot calmer with the ball and hasn’t been afraid to hit key shots at crucial times in the game.

Coach Kerr should like the fact that Green can stretch the floor more than Lee, as Green is known for hitting a clutch three-pointer more often than not.  The only problem is that Green is smaller than the average power forward, as he measures up at 6’7”.

Green also has a problem, because he really is just a forward or a tweener.  When the Warriors go small, he can easily play the power forward position, but with his size, Green is logically a small forward.

So, Green masquerades as a power forward and has a significantly deeper range than the starter at the 4 position.  Green shot 33.3 percent in 165 attempts from behind the arc last season.

As Green states in an interview with Dime Magazine, he will be looking to solidify that range in order to truly be a stretch-4.

However, Green’s focus is not entirely on the offensive end.  His line from last season was 6.2 PPG and 5.0 RPG in almost 22 minutes.

Green had a 97.7 defensive rating for this past season, ranking him fifth-best in the league.  It doesn’t matter where Green lines up, as he makes a significant impact on both sides of the court.

Green has a very high basketball IQ and succeeds with positioning, anticipation and the desire to outduel his opponent.  He is ready to battle it out in preseason and the regular season to get a starting gig.

 

Coach Steve Kerr’s Preliminary Thoughts

In a July 11 interview with KNBR 680 and as reported by the San Jose Mercury News’ Diamond Leung, Coach Kerr said that Lee looks like he will be starting:

I love David Lee, and I think he’s going to be our starter, and he’s going to score a lot and be our slasher and our interior scorer. But we need to complement that with some perimeter shooting from that spot, too.

The Mercury’s Leung further noted that Kerr, on August 7, stated Lee was in a very stable position going forward:

Klay Thompson and David Lee, who were players in trade talks involving Love, were named by Kerr as having “automatic” starting spots along with Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut when a boy at the Warriors Basketball Camp at Tice Valley Community Gym asked the coach about the lineup.

Based on the preceding information, Kerr will look to have Lee as the starter going into the season.  However, Green should not look at the comments as a defeat, but as an opportunity to get quality playing time moving forward.

In the same interview with KNBR 680 and as reported by the Mercury’s Diamond Leung, Coach Kerr spoke about how he may use Green as a stretch-4.

You saw Draymond make five threes in Game 7 (of the playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers), which is one of the reasons why the Warriors almost won that game. We need some shooting out of that position.

Green is more adept at shooting from the perimeter, and he can prove his skills to Kerr in camp and on the floor during the season.

 

The Best-Case Scenario

David Lee looks to be the starter going into the season, but he should consider the starting job in name only.  Lee will not be used in the key moments of the fourth quarter, and he probably will not be used when the Warriors need to spread the floor.

Lee primarily has the job, because he is one of co-owner Joe Lacob’s favorite players, he was the first real free agent to come aboard for the new ownership, and he puts up significant numbers.

Oh yeah, it doesn’t look good for the pocket book if Green is starting with a salary under $1 million over Lee and his $15 million annual salary.

Green will have a pivotal role on this team going forward, as he will be used in a variety of capacities.  Coach Kerr will rely on him to stretch the floor and will play him when he needs the team to get physical.

Early analysis from CBSSports.com on Green states that he is the “best forward prospect over Harrison Barnes.”  Green needs to use this momentum to his advantage and assimilate into Coach Kerr’s new system.

If Green can successfully master the system, he can increase his playing time whether at the small or power forward position.

As for Lee, he is getting closer to the end of his contract, and at age 31, he is probably in the final stage of the most productive years of his career.  In order to secure another substantial contract in Oakland or somewhere else, he needs to show his value this season.

Lee will get the starting gig, but Green will have the biggest impact of the two.  Green will be on the court in the final minutes and anywhere else Coach Kerr needs a stopper.

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Cavaliers bring on ex-All-Star forward

Marion chose the Cavs instead of the Pacers, Heat and Clippers

      
 

 

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USA Basketball moves forward after George injury

Even after George injury, no second thoughts about World Cup for USA Basketball players

      
 

 

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Trevor Ariza Rumors: Latest Buzz, Speculation Surrounding Free-Agent Forward

Fresh off of arguably the best season of his 10-year NBA career, Trevor Ariza is attracting lots of interest. Before his expected flirtation around the Association, though, he’ll meet with current Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman. 

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has the news: 

Ariza was vital in helping Washington to its best season in nearly a decade. In 77 games, he averaged 14.4 points, a career-high 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per contest. He also established himself as one of the best shooters in the league, knocking down 2.3 treys a game at a career-best 40.7 percent. 

Once regarded as a defensive specialist, he has developed into an all-around stud. When he was on the court last year, the Wizards averaged 104.8 points per possession and allowed just 101.2, per NBA.com. When he went to the bench, those numbers went to 99.9 and 104.9, respectively. That’s a massive net difference of 8.5 points per 100 possessions.

He certainly made life easier for point guard John Wall, who told the Washington Post‘s Michael Lee he wants Ariza back: 

In a free-agent class that features names like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Luol Deng, it might have been conceivable that Ariza could fly under the radar or be had at a bargain, but he is clearly a very hot commodity after such a standout campaign. 

According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Arash Markazi, two of the league’s best teams are potential suitors: 

In addition to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers, Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears cited a source saying the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns will also be in the mix. 

Things are going to get interesting, and a bidding war could potentially drive Ariza’s price up. Either way, Wittman, who is also concentrating on bringing back Marcin Gortat, has his work cut out for him. 

If Ariza continues to build off of last year’s tremendous campaign, though, the work will be worth it. 

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Chandler Parsons Rumors: Latest Buzz and Speculation Surrounding Star Forward

The Houston Rockets allowing Chandler Parsons to hit restricted free agency this summer was seen in some circles as a savvy move that allows them to control the process. That process might wind up costing them. 

Parsons is said to have multiple suitors waiting in the wings, most notably the Lakers, Timberwolves, Bulls and Mavericks, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports. Spears notes that the Parsons market will largely be decided with what happens with Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony—and to a certain extent Warriors guard Klay Thompson.

The same teams expected to pursue Anthony, who will be testing free agency for the first time in his career, will push for Parsons if their pitch fails. Because Parsons is a restricted free agent, interest in him league-wide will be dictated by the market. Restricted free agents often go one of two ways, garnering an instant overpay or sitting and waiting for a high-salary offer while the unrestricted shuffling commences.

Houston can match any offer sheet Parsons signs with another franchise. The team is largely expected to do so, and part of its plan in declining Parsons’ option for next season is to keep him and sign another star player long-term.

The Rockets are attempting to clear near-max room to make a run at a high-profile name to pair with James Harden and Dwight Howard. Trading Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans was the first step in that plan, and moving Jeremy Lin’s contract would get the team in serious contention for a star. If they are able to sign a veteran, the Rockets can then go over the salary cap to match an offer sheet for Parsons—provided the moves happen in the correct order.

But Parsons might not be incentivized to help management out. A second-round pick in 2011, the former Florida standout has been one of the league’s biggest bargains throughout his career.

He made less than a million dollars this past season, one in which he averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. Only seven NBA players matched or eclipsed those totals last season, per Basketball-Reference. Factoring in Parsons’ three-point shooting—he’s a career 37 percent shooter from distance—and it’s fair to say he’s among the league’s best offensive small forwards.

Because of his relatively paltry contract, Parsons might emphasize financial stability over helping the Rockets structure their roster the way they want. He told Spears that while he never created a fuss behind-the-scenes about his salary, Parsons knew he was worth more.

“When I got drafted in the second round, I signed the four-year deal and everyone has to go through their rookie scale,” Parsons said. “It was all part of the process. I obviously thought I deserved more. But I never was bitter or jealous of anyone making more than me. I was just fortunate enough to do this for a living.”

If Houston gets a serious challenger before it expected, it will be interesting to see how the situation is handled. Landing three stars has always been a part of the long-term plan. Parsons is a fine player, but also a defensive minus and someone who is on the next tier down from All-Star consideration. Paying him eight figures per season is fine if Parsons is the fourth star; doing so if he’s third in command might limit the Rockets’ ceiling.

As Nate Jones points out, merely re-signing Parsons is a “worst” possible outcome for Houston:

Morey, ever the opportunist, knows what he’s getting himself into. The July moratorium period in this way might be a godsend. Teams and players can begin negotiating deals on July 1, but they cannot be completed until the NBA re-opens for business on July 10. That means Morey would have until July 13 to match any deal Parsons signs on the first “official” day of free agency.

He’ll have to move quickly, but the NBA calendar allows the Rockets boss time to execute his plan. Parsons, meanwhile, will be out on the market hoping to extract every possible dime as he prepares for his first big-money professional contract.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Bucks sign forward Wright to 10-day contract (Yahoo Sports)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks have signed free-agent forward Chris Wright to a 10-day contract.

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Kings recall forward Royce White from Reno (Yahoo Sports)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Sacramento Kings recalled forward Royce White on Thursday from the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League.

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Georgetown forward Nate Lubick has eclectic musical taste

Senior Nate Lubick has an ear for Johnny Coltrane, The Beatles and John Mayer

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