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:
Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance
Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.
Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.
The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.
As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.
For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.
“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”
Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.
He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.
The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.
“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”
Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.
He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.
“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”
Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.
Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.
If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.
For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.
“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.