Rondo Injury Creates Opportunity for Smart
By Jesse Blancarte
On Friday, the Boston Celtics suffered a major setback as Rajon Rondo underwent surgery to repair his broken left hand (a left metacarpal fracture), which will keep him out of action for 6-8 weeks. While the situation is unfortunate for both Rondo and the Celtics, there may be a silver lining as Rondo’s absence opens up a big opportunity for rookie point guard Marcus Smart to step in and gain valuable experience.
The Celtics drafted Smart, who played two seasons at Oklahoma State, with the sixth overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft. In a draft class that is loaded with NBA talent, Smart stands out as being one of the most NBA-ready players. Smart spent two seasons in college, whereas other top rookies like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, and Aaron Gordon only played one season of college basketball. In his second season at Oklahoma State, Smart increased his scoring from 15.4 points per game to 18, slightly increased his assist average, cut down on turnovers and got to the free throw line more often. Smart also learned a hard lesson when he lost his temper and confronted a Texas Tech fan who made offensive comments to him during a game. Smart was suspended for three games and learned that no matter what fans say, it’s never appropriate to confront them in the stands and make physical contact with them.
Iman Shumpert Odd Man Out In New York?
By Lang Greene
Iman Shumpert’s name floated in trade rumors for the majority of the 2014 campaign leading some to doubt whether the talented guard was part of the New York Knicks’ long term strategy. But that was under the old regime. Newly crowned president of basketball operations Phil Jackson hasn’t furthered those rumors since taking the helm and for now Shumpert appears safe heading into training camp.
But is Shumpert truly safe?
Shumpert, the No. 17 overall of the 2011 draft, is entering the final season on his rookie scale contract. The Knicks have until October 31 to sign Shumpert to an extension or opt to wait and let the market set his value in restricted free agency next summer (assuming a qualifying offer is made, which is certain in this scenario). New York could also to reopen trade discussions involving Shumpert who has developed into one of the league’s better young perimeter defenders.
Can the Chicago Bulls Beat the Cleveland Cavaliers?
By Joel Brigham
It’s easy to forget, since it feels like eons ago, but there was a time in the recent past where the Chicago Bulls looked close to being the kind of team that could compete for a championship. Obviously, Derrick Rose’s knee injuries the last two years derailed any progress they had made toward that end, but with him healthy again and a summer free agency season that brought in more than enough talent to put them back on the radar, it’s time to take Chicago seriously again.
How seriously we take them, though, depends entirely on how quickly the Cleveland Cavaliers become the Eastern Conference juggernaut they appear destined to be.
The good news is that the Bulls really are championship contenders this season, even if Cleveland ends up as good as we think they’ll be. Despite all the talent on that Cavaliers roster, nobody should be fitting them for rings just yet. There are potential weaknesses there, just as there are some ways in which Chicago could ultimately prove to be the better team.
Rondo Clears Up Trampoline-Gate Rumors
By Jessica Camerato
Rumors about Rajon Rondo began bouncing off the wall upon being spotted at a trampoline park prior to news of his hand injury.
The Boston Celtics captain underwent surgery for a left metacarpal fracture on Friday. On Monday he cleared up trampoline-gate during Media Day, explaining he suffered the injury in his shower.
“Usually how certain falls happen, you slip,” Rondo said with his left arm in a sling. “I slipped and tried to catch my hand. It wasn’t like a banana slip. Actually, I almost caught myself, landed on my knuckle in the windowsill in my home.”
Who’s the Best Team in the Atlantic?
By Moke Hamilton
Word has it that this past offseason, the suits at the NBA’s League Office put serious consideration into changing the name of the Atlantic Division.
The “Titanic Division,” it was thought, would have been a more appropriate name, considering the depths to which the division sank last season. In case you’ve forgotten, the Titanic Division was the only one in the entire league to be conquered by a team winning less than 50 games.
For the Toronto Raptors, their 48-34 record was enough to get it done.
Now, entering this season, they are poised to follow up the franchise’s best-ever regular season with another run toward the top of the Titanic Division, though both Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams may have a thing or two to say about it.
Understanding When You Can Win
By Steve Kyler
In life we often talk about being in the right place at the right time. Success usually happens when those two thing converge. In pro sports, especially in the NBA, that idea is truer than some want to admit.
For teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, they have a real chance at something special. There are six or seven teams this season that have a real shot at getting to the NBA Finals and winning the 2014-15 NBA Championship. This is their window.
Understanding and planning for your window is becoming more and more prevalent in the NBA. The days of assembling the best team you can and taking a run at seeing how it works out is being replaced with mindful and strategic rebuilds.
Is This Monroe’s Last Year in Detroit?
By Alex Kennedy
Media day is usually a time for players and fans to get excited about their NBA team and feel optimistic about the upcoming campaign. Most players are loose and happy since the start of the season is almost here.
However, Detroit Pistons big man Greg Monroe was probably dreading media day since he didn’t have a particularly good offseason. Not only did free agency not go the way Monroe had hoped, he had some off-court trouble and rumors of discord between him and teammates surfaced.
The 24-year-old spent most of media day discussing his free agency experience, which ended with him turning down a four-year offer from Detroit and signing their one-year qualifying offer. By taking this route, Monroe will make $5.47 million this year and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He also has the right to veto any trade involving him during the 2014-15 season.
The Phoenix Suns’ Path to Contention
By Nate Duncan
The Phoenix Suns have been the NBA’s most newsworthy franchise over the last week, re-signing Eric Bledsoe to a five-year pact worth $70 million and inking brothers Markieff and Marcus Morris to four-year rookie extensions that kick in for the 2015-16 season. The Morris deals are solid; locking up a starting power forward (as Markieff projects to be) for only $8 million a year in a rising cap climate is solid value, while Marcus could also prove worth his contract even while acknowledging he might have been slightly overpaid to mollify Markieff.
Now that more of Phoenix’s core is locked in, what can we expect going forward? The backcourt of Goran Dragic and Bledsoe projects to be one of the NBA’s best. While Dragic is likely to decline after an age-27 season in which he far exceeded his performance to date, Bledsoe should counteract that with continued improvement. Adding Isaiah Thomas should allow Phoenix to keep its foot on the gas at all times with two scoring ballhandlers always in the game. The Suns appear poised to build on last year’s eighth-ranked offense.
Reggie Jackson Determined To Join Thunder’s Starting Lineup
By Susan Bible
There are very few, if any, surprises revealed by players or coaches during Media Day, an annual event held by each NBA team just prior to the start of training camp. These question-and-answer sessions typically involve banal talk of what the players did during the offseason, what they expect for the coming season and impressions of incoming players. While these and related topics were indeed discussed at the various teams’ sessions, something rare happened this year at the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Media Day when guard Reggie Jackson took the microphone.
Jackson became emotional when describing why he will not be satisfied until he locks down a regular starting role. He made his desire known during exit interviews last season when he simply disclosed he would like a starting role. His statement garnered attention back then; fast forward four months, and Jackson has now elevated his stance to a proclamation.
Can the Orlando Magic Really Compete?
By Cody Taylor
When the Orlando Magic decided that it was time to trade away franchise center Dwight Howard two summers ago, it meant the team would be rebuilding for the next several seasons. Many thought at the time that the Magic didn’t quite receive enough compensation in return for a player that had won three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards. A lot of fans weren’t quite ready to see the team compete for lottery picks after coming off of several seasons of 50+ win seasons and a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals.
The Magic were left in a position like the Minnesota Timberwolves faced this past summer with Kevin Love: do you trade away one of the best players in franchise history or do you keep him and risk losing him for nothing? When teams are in a position like that with no leverage, they often don’t come out on top, but it’s quite possible that the Orlando Magic did just that. That idea is especially surprising considering the fact that the team acquired all younger players that had yet to prove themselves at the time.
Changes Coming for Brooklyn Nets?
By Yannis Koutroupis
Three months ago Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that Brooklyn Nets controlling owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who also owns a sizable portion of the Barclays Center, was exploring the market to see what he could get for his $223 million purchase made back in 2010.
Since taking over the Nets four years ago, Prokhorov has been one of the most active and visible owners in the NBA. He’s made it clear that he’s willing to spend whatever it takes to field a contending team, although he’s come up short so far.
However, as much as he’s adapted to the NBA lifestyle, Prokhorov is still a business man at heart. He didn’t become a billionaire by passing up on good deals, and right now it’s feasible that he could get at least 10 times his investment, if not significantly more. The Los Angeles Clippers’ recent $2.2 billion price tag makes the prospect of selling more enticing than ever to all NBA owners, not just Prokhorov. Due to the privacy of these kind of negotiations and Prokhorov not wanting to seem like he has one foot out the door, Wojnarowski’s report was denied.
NBA Training Camp Questions: Atlantic Division
By Tommy Beer
Basketball Insiders has looked at some of the most pressing training camp questions in the Northwest, Southwest, Central, Pacific, Southeast divisions as the 2014-15 NBA season approaches. Today we tackle the Atlantic Division:
NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise
The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.
He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.
He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.
Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.
The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.
“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.
“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.
So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.
As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.
In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.
But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.
So is Porzingis.
Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.
In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.
Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.
And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.
“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.
“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”
Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.
Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.
The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.
So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.
Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.
If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.
So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.
Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.
To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.
When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.
He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.
And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.
With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word.
It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.
For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.
In this town, that’s more than half the battle.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”