Potential Big Men the Miami Heat Could Be Targeting This Season

Sure, a Dwyane Wade-less Miami Heat team will struggle to score, defend and win on a nightly basis, but this current lineup has a deeper flaw that’s too big for even “Flash” to handle. Ranked dead last in rebounding (37.4 per game) this season, it’s been Chris Bosh or bust on the boards as the Heat have looked small and inefficient in the frontcourt early on. A large part of that problem rests on injuries and ineptitude at the power forward position, while the remaining chunk of blame goes towards a collection of small forwards and undersized power forwards that are being bullied by bigger studs in the paint. At 6-5 on the year, the Heat either need a 6’10” and up, or a talent that plays like it.
Teams that control the boards usually win in the NBA. As evidenced in the Heat’s mediocre start to the season, that control in the paint isn’t seen on a consistent basis. Perhaps having Josh McRoberts (out with a foot injury) healthy and competitive for this lineup makes this team bigger, b…

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Cavaliers Show Glimpse of Offensive Potential in Record-Setting Win

CLEVELAND — As a player, Dominique Wilkins typically soared high in the air. But when it came to assessing the Cleveland Cavaliers, prior to watching the Atlanta Hawks face them Saturday night, the former Human Highlight Film kept the analysis pretty grounded. 

“People don’t realize, when you have three great players on team, first time all these guys playing together, it takes time,” Wilkins said. “Their tendencies of knowing what each other love to do, is not there yet. Believe me, you’ve the best player in the league, you’ve got three of the best players in the league, they’ll figure it out…. But as fans, you got to be patient. It ain’t gonna happen overnight.”

You wouldn’t have known it on this night, however.  

The Cavaliers put on their most impressive performance of the young season and, in terms of ball sharing and range shooting, one of the more prolific in franchise and NBA history. No team in NBA history had ever made at least nine three-point shots without a miss, until the Cavaliers did that in the first quarter, with three from LeBron James, two from Kevin Love and rising rookie Joe Harris, and one apiece from Dion Waiters and the shot-putting Shawn Marion. No team in Cavaliers history had made more than 17 in a game, until this one sank 19 against Atlanta, led by four apiece from James, Irving and Harris. 

“We felt like we had good energy to start with, they just flat out were shooting the ball real well,” Hawks center Al Horford said, after the 127-94 loss. “They were way better than us tonight.” 

They were way better than they’ve been at any point so far, though there have been signs of such an eruption. The Cavaliers have been increasingly accurate in every outing since the pathetic night in Portland, when they connected at a 36.5 percent rate — to 41.7 percent in the loss at Utah, and then 47.6, 49.4, 50.6 and now 54.4 percent during their four-game winning streak. 

The Hawks had been even hotter coming in, making 51.3 percent and 56.0 percent of their shots in wins against Utah and Miami, respectively, as part of a four-game streak. They had also established themselves as the league’s top assist rate team, buying into Mike Budenholzer’s system like they had last season.

Asked to assess how the Hawks have accomplished that, Cavaliers coach David Blatt put it this way prior to the game:

A lot of times assists have to do with shooting percentages. They got a lot of shotmakers on that team. You’d be hard pressed to find a better shotmaker than Kyle Korver, and his baskets are not coming 1-on-1. They are coming from designed plays. Or fast break, spot up threes that come from a pass. And they do a great job moving the ball. And they’ve got continuity, which not every team enjoys. Which is kind of what I like about our team, in terms of how we’re coming around offensively. Because we didn’t have that kind of continuity, yet here we are, passing the ball and scoring points, and showing good movement of late, which is a very positive thing. 

Then, once the game started, his team out-Hawked the visitors. 

In the loss to Utah on Nov. 5, the Cavaliers had six assists.

“We’ve learned from that,” James said. “We know that, in order to win basketball games, in order for everyone to feel comfortable, we have to share the ball.” 

Saturday, they had five players with at least five. 

Dion Waiters, who had a total of five passes against the Jazz, according to SportVu data, led the team with eight assists Saturday. 

The Cavaliers had 39 in all, on 49 field goals. Seven different players converted at least four shots. 

“A lot of equal opportunity for everybody,” Love said. 

“Everyone was involved, everyone was in tune with the offense, and that was huge,” said James, who scored 73 points on 29-of-47 shooting in the back-to-back wins against Boston and Atlanta. “And that was huge.” 

It led to some huge numbers. 

“The ball was just moving,” Irving said. “Guys were getting open shots in rhythm. Guys were hitting each other in the shooting pocket. Like I said before, guys were setting great screens as well, and getting each other open.”

Which left James feeling like the Cavaliers are getting closer — at least on one end — to what he wants them to be. 

“Offensively, we are,” James said. “We’re on the right page. Still got a long way to go.”

That’s true, even on a night in which Cleveland could hardly miss from long range. 

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5 Players Miami Heat Are Most Likely to Target in a Potential Trade

At 5-4, the Miami Heat are off to a decent start to the 2014-15 NBA season.

While there is much to be encouraged by—such as the strong play of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade—it’s clear this team needs to improve if it wants to seriously contend in the Eastern Conference.

One way for Miami to improve is to hit the trade market. The Heat aren’t going to pursue a marquee player, with $72 million already on the payroll and a set core of top talent in place.

However, there are smaller deals for this team to consider pursuing. Let’s take a look at five options.

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JR Smith Pulls the Ultimate JR Smith, Bricks Potential Game-Winner off Glass

J.R. Smith arrives in the clutch. Exactly which version of Smith shows up, however, can never be known until it’s way too late.

The New York Knicks shooting guard is a walking roll of the dice, and Knicks fans watched in agony as he dialed up snake eyes in the final moments of Wednesday night’s game against the Orlando Magic.

NextImpulseSports.com’s John Ferensen put together a GIF of Smith’s strong masonry.

With 3.5 seconds left in the game, the Knicks inbounded the ball to Smith, who executed what we can only assume was the exact play coach Derek Fisher drew up: an off-the-dribble three-pointer near the top of the arc. 

Note: This was not the play Fisher drew up.

Nonetheless, Carmelo Anthony approved Smith’s decision as it happened.

Of course, Smith’s shot slapped glass, and the J.R. Smith detractors and disciples immediately went to work.

After the game, Smith went with the Batman defense in explaining his final shot.

“If I forced it to [Anthony], what kind of shot will he really have—a turnaround, fadeaway?” Smith asked, via Marc Berman of the New York Post. “It’s not the best shot we’d want. I don’t think it’s enough time for him to set his feet and do what he wanted to do. I think we went with the best shot and the right shot. I just didn’t make it.”

Anthony said he understands he can’t get the ball every time. 

“[Smith] had an open shot or thought he had an open shot,” Anthony said. “I don’t think I’m going to get it every time.”

Losing to Orlando brings the 2-7 Knicks’ skid to six games. They host the Utah Jazz Friday night.

 

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5 Players OKC Thunder Are Most Likely to Target in a Potential Trade

The silver lining of the injury cloud hanging over the Oklahoma City Thunder is that the role players are getting an opportunity to ply their trade in meaningful NBA minutes against starting-caliber opposition. Not only does this give head coach Scott Brooks the chance to evaluate his depth, but it also raises the trade value of those rotation pieces.

It’s unlikely that OKC pursues a trade this season given the battle awaiting the Thunder as they attempt to claw their way back into the playoffs, the tremendous heart exhibited by this depleted roster and general manager Sam Presti’s tendency to avoid rocking the boat.

But this season is also a perfect reminder that championship windows are fleeting, and there are a few players who could pique OKC’s interest if they were made available.

Similarly, the Thunder have a few pieces of their own that could be moved for the right price. The value of expiring contracts on the trade market has decreased over the last few seasons, but Kendrick Perkins and his $9.7 million contract are coming off the books after this season. It could be a chip that intrigues any teams looking to add frontcourt depth while freeing up cap space for the offseason.

Nick Collison has long been a fan favorite for the franchise and has been an invaluable part of the roster as a glue guy, but his extended three-point range, high basketball IQ and $2.2 million expiring contract make him an enticing option for other teams.

Likewise, OKC could look to sell high on Perry Jones III, who has shown flashes of the immense talent that made him one of the most sought-after college recruits in the nation. And then there’s always the possibility that the Thunder try to get some pieces in exchange for Reggie Jackson instead of potentially losing him for nothing in restricted free agency.

It seems unlikely that any of these players could net OKC enough value to prompt a trade, but here are some potential players of interest who could realistically be available around the trade deadline.

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NBA Rumors: Latest Buzz on Potential Roster Moves Around the League

While teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers worry about positioning for the NBA playoffs early in the season, others like the Philadelphia 76ers already have their eyes on next year.

However, there are still some rumors revolving around the 76ers early in the 2014-15 campaign because they are required to actually play the games on the schedule. Playing the games on the schedule actually means fielding a roster, even if it’s not competitive.

With that in mind, here is the latest from Philadelphia, as well as a rumor regarding a former Big Ten superstar.

 

Philadelphia 76ers

Tom Moore of Calkins Media passed along an update on the 76ers’ big-man situation:

Philadelphia sits at 0-7 and is fresh off a blowout loss at the hands of the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night. This team is not built to compete this season and would be better off losing every game for draft purposes.

Still, as mentioned, it has to field a deep enough roster to play actual NBA games.

Considering Henry Sims and Nerlens Noel are the only healthy centers on the roster while Joel Embiid recovers from injury, adding another center would bolster the interior depth. Sure, there may not be a lot available at this point of the season, but even a replacement-level center would help take some mileage off Noel’s legs.

The good news given the current roster situation is that it won’t be particularly difficult to find a player to cut.

Eventually, the 76ers could field a roster led by Michael Carter-Williams, Embiid, Noel and Dario Saric, but this will be yet another lost seasonregardless of whatever big man they pull off the free-agency pile at this point of the year. 

Hopefully, the fanbase has impressive patience.

 

Aaron Craft

Sportando’s Orazio Cauchi noted that former Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft could have a new basketball home rather soon.

“According to several sources, Aaron Craft is the main target at PG position for the Partizan Belgrade. Craft spent the training camp with the Golden State Warriors and he has the chance to play in D-League for the Santa Cruz Warriors,” he wrote.

Craft is best known for his time as a Buckeye, where he reached the Sweet 16 three times, the Elite Eight twice and the Final Four once. He was never much of an offensive threat (8.9 points a game in his four-year career), but he was an absolute defensive wizard at the college level.

Craft won the 2013-14 NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) Defensive Player of the Year and racked up 337 steals in his career, which is the most in the history of the Big Ten.

It is really no wonder that the Partizan Belgrade are interested in landing a perimeter defender who can keep up with almost any ball-handler on the outside and apply full-court pressure when needed. There could also be room for that type of play at the NBA level if Craft was put in the right situation.

He is capable of coming off the bench and speeding up the game for short spurts with pressure defense and forced turnovers.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr seemed to think so when he said the following to NBA TV (h/t Bob Baptist of the Columbus Dispatch) during summer league: “Guy’s a baller. He just plays.” 

It looks like Craft may have to turn more heads than just Kerr’s from abroad now if he ever wants to make it in the NBA.

 

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Knicks Rumors: Phil Jackson and New York Smart to Delay Potential Trades

The New York Knicks are off to a disappointing 2-3 start, but President Phil Jackson and the rest of the front office members are not going to make any knee-jerk reactions when it comes to the roster.

Marc Berman of the New York Post noted why that is the case.

“According to a source,” Berman wrote, “Jackson has no plans to make any deals until Dec. 15—a key NBA date as 2014 free-agent signees and 2014 draft picks are eligible to be traded.”

This patience is smart for a number of reasons, a main one being that the Knicks are trying to rebuild toward the future. The quickest way to do that is by stockpiling young assets, such as those 2014 draft picks who will be eligible for trades on Dec. 15.

That is not to suggest that the Knicks are going to suddenly land an elite youngster to turn around the franchise, but this at least gives them more options in trade discussions. It also opens up the more realistic possibility of exploring trades with veteran pieces for cheap, young players for salary purposes and then eventually using that freed-up money to lure in big-name free agents.

There were rumors regarding J.R. Smith in that same Berman piece.

“One of President Phil Jackson’s big decisions this season is whether to trade J.R. Smith,” Berman noted, “and the club had recent conversations with the Pacers regarding ex-Knick Chris Copeland, according to a league source.”

While Jackson wouldn’t have to wait until Dec. 15 to trade for Copeland, the idea that the team may trade Smith is more important here. The bottom line is that the Knicks are trying to free up cap space, and Smith could be a problem in that regard if he elects to pass on his opt-out clause and postpone his free agency until 2016.

That Smith’s name is even in rumors at this point means the team is interested in switching the roster around, but not until mid-December.

Delaying any hasty trades before that Dec. 15 mark is also important because the team is still gradually becoming accustomed to new coach Derek Fisher and the triangle offense. This will give Jackson more of an opportunity to evaluate his own roster before any trades.

The triangle takes time to fully grasp and understand, but there should at least be some type of progress by Dec. 15.

Jackson will have a better understanding of who fits into the triangle best on the current roster and who looks like a potential long-term asset in the system.

While Carmelo Anthony is certainly not on the trade block, his recent struggles, via Ian Begley of ESPN New York, highlight just how difficult it is to pick up the triangle right away:

If the struggles continue, Jackson may think about changing the supporting cast members in an effort to improve the looks Anthony is getting on a nightly basis. However, a larger sample size is needed before making any type of move based on Anthony’s comfort level and production, which is another reason the patience is important.

The extended time frame will also give players more of a chance to jell with Fisher. Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy discussed Fisher in flattering terms, via Eric Woodyard of MLive.com:

There’s all types of paths to doing it. And I watch Derek’s team play right now and execute the triangle and stuff, and he’s doing a helluva job and that’s what it’s all about. No, I don’t have any problem. I think if you’re an organization you go out and hire the guy you think is best, period. Phil Jackson obviously knows Derek Fisher very well. He knows his basketball beliefs, he’s a guy that’s aligned with his philosophy so I would say probably a very good hire. And I think they’re off to a very good start, playing again very well.

With a coach and foundation like that, it shouldn’t take the players long to learn their expected roles.

Finally, waiting until Dec. 15 means Jackson will know which of the Knicks’ young players is progressing the most and who across the league looks like someone who would work well in the triangle system. Players who are well-suited for the triangle offense could become trade targets, and Jackson has time to evaluate the rest of the league. 

Just like trading on Wall Street, NBA trading is best accomplished if you bring plenty of information to the table. A larger sample size of games will give Jackson a better idea of what he has and what he ultimately needs to build a contender in New York.

 

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It’s time Jennings reaches potential

Stan Van Gundy sees Brandon Jennings as key to a successful season for the Pistons.

      
 

 

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Michigan Basketball: Why Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle Are Potential Breakout Stars

They’re each roughly 6’9″ and 240 pounds. One has an inside game, one has an outside game—and both should be steady contributors to Michigan in 2014-15. 

But don’t ask Wolverines coach John Beilein to pigeonhole either one right now, as redshirt freshman Mark Donnal and true freshman Ricky Doyle have more to offer than what meets the eye:

I need to watch both of them more, but at the end of the preseason here, when we get into November, one will probably have the upper hand on the other, but I can’t make that call yet. We may get situational sometimes, but I wouldn’t discount Mark’s inside game or Ricky’s outside game.

The perception would be that one is one thing and the other is the other thing, but I think both have the ability to play the other’s game, and that’s what we’re working on, so they can be really versatile.

True enough. It’s early (really early), so pegging them into definite roles would be a bit premature. However, there’s no harm in a little projection, as each stands to give Michigan a leg up on the rest of the Big Ten. 

One’s going to have range while the other will live in the paint. Or is that the other way around?

This is a “problem” that any coach would like to have. Once Doyle and Donnal figure out their purpose, Beilein, a professional developer, should have one of best young forward tandems in the Big Ten. 

 

Fresh Frontcourt

This year’s frontcourt is one of Beilein’s youngest since arriving at Michigan. That’s not a bad thing; he knows how to bring out the best in his athletes. They may not take the Big Ten by storm this season, but the combination of Donnal and Doyle should evolve into something special. 

Michigan’s team trip to Italy yielded great results. Caris LeVert regained health, nearing 100 percent recovery from surgery on his right foot, while Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin also made strides in the right direction. 

But those guys are guards. Well, LeVert can play forward, but let’s keep it simple…

What about the true power forwards/centers? Mitch McGary is gone. So is Jordan Morgan, whose experience and knowledge will be difficult to replace.

As mentioned, the frontcourt is young. But Beilein isn’t complaining about that. Instead, he enjoys watching it grow. 

“Both Ricky and Mark have had interesting games,” Beilein said, per Jake Lourim of The Michigan Daily, UM’s student media source. “One time, Ricky didn’t get a rebound (in Italy) and then Mark all of a sudden had a double-double. Both of them are making really good progress. We’d like to see more, but I like what I’ve seen.”

Bacari Alexander, Beilein’s top assistant, recently discussed the potential of a Doyle/Donnal frontcourt during an interview with Sam Webb on WTKA 1050 (via Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press).

Doyle is “thunder,” and Donnal is “lightning,” he says.

There’s early signs of the potential of all three of our bigs, if you talk about Max Bielfeldt, as well, who’s coming back from a hip procedure. Being able to knock down 15-to-17-foot jumpers. Where that becomes important on the court is when teams are trying to use their defensive big to sag off and disrupt cutting action and things of that nature.

If you can develop those guys to a level where they keep defenses honest with the ability to do that, which all three of the players have shown early on, it give us a different dimension. It gives us an opportunity to explore some different things.

Lots of coach talk. That’s what they do. Everything is technical, tactical and precise (foggy). Allow for a loose translation: These two can ball, and Michigan can’t wait to see what they can do.

There. That sounds better, doesn’t it? 

 

The Scoop on Doyle

A few months ago, Doyle seemed all but destined for a redshirt. He was too raw. At the time, a year of learning from the bench and not on the court seemed like a smart move—and according to Matt Herting, who coached Doyle at Ft. Myers Bishop Verot, that probably wouldn’t have mattered. 

“His thinking was, he committed to play basketball at Michigan, so he’s going to do everything he can to play basketball at Michigan,” Herting, who saw “50-50″ odds of Doyle redshirting, told MLive’s Brendan F. Quinn in June. “If coming up early is going to give him the best chance to play, then he might as well. I think it was a no-brainer for he and his family.”

According to 247Sports, Doyle was the No. 50-ranked power forward and No. 203-ranked overall prospect of 2014.

 

The Deal on Donnal

Donnal was the No. 18-ranked power forward and No. 86-ranked overall prospect of 2013. He ended up wearing red for his first year of college.

So he’s a higher-ranked guy who ended up taking a seat on the bench? But this year, a lower-ranked guy is primed for immediate action? And they’re interchangeable and play in similar fashions? 

Yes.

But personnel played a factor for Donnal, who, unlike Doyle, joined a team with established forwards. Now that he has a year of experience on his resume, he’s ready for action. In a sense, that was the best thing for him, as the Wolverines did fine without him. 

That was Beilein’s developmental touch at work. With Doyle and Donnal ready to pounce, Beilein’s in line to compete for a Big Ten title and extended run through March. 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Opening quote from John Beilein was obtained via press release from the Michigan athletic department.

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5 Potential Problems with Boston Celtics’ Rebuild

In case you haven’t heard, the Boston Celtics are in the process of rebuilding their ballclub. Of course, rebuilding is not everyone’s favorite decision, especially for a franchise that has won 17 NBA championships, but sometimes, circumstances make it absolutely unavoidable.

Thus far, the makeover has gone smoothly. General manager Danny Ainge has been able to cut ties with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, accumulate a wealth of draft picks and make good use of them and hire a head coach in Brad Stevens who seems like a perfect fit for the current situation.

That being said, nothing is ever 100 percent flawless, meaning that, somewhere along the line, something could go awry for Boston. Perhaps not enough to derail the rebuild completely, but at least enough to cause some bumps along the way.

Ainge has probably envisioned these potential issues already and has prepared appropriately for them, but sometimes, even the most thorough preparations cannot remedy problems right away.

Hopefully for the C’s, they don’t come across any of these hiccups.

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