A Third MVP Candidate Rising?
By Bill Ingram
The NBA’s Most Valuable Player trophy is almost always a topic of protracted discussion among sports fans. Sometimes there is one player who is so dominant that there is little room for discussion, but over the last couple of seasons it has really come down to just two names: Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Miami HEAT forward LeBron James. There is another player, however, who is making an awfully strong case that he should be in that conversation.
Last season, the Houston Rockets made their triumphant return to postseason play, winning 11 more games than they had the previous season due largely to the contributions of trade acquisition James Harden. Harden took the NBA by storm last season, proving himself to be the best shooting guard in the game, but he was not mentioned in the MVP discussion because Durant’s Thunder and James’ HEAT were among the best teams in the NBA. Of course, both Durant and James had All-Star teammates to aid their cause, which was not true of Harden.
It’s Decision Time For Prospects
By Steve Kyler
Playing deep into the NCAA tournament never hurts a prospect’s NBA draft stock, especially if there are looming doubts and questions about that player’s game. For the top of the draft board, however, getting bounced early may be something of a blessing in disguise. While the NBA has set April 27 as the deadline for underclassmen to declare their eligibility for the 2014 NBA Draft, having an early exit also allows for some early decisions.
Last year, a number of the top draft prospects waited until the very last minute to select agents and to get into training programs. A number of them took hits to their draft stock because they were not in premiere shape when the draft combine rolled around and were not necessarily ready for the scrutiny that a tight draft race includes.
With most of the top names projected to be in the 2014 NBA Draft class already out of the tournament, they can now shift to decision time. Here is what we know today:
How to Fix the Detroit Pistons
By Joel Brigham
The easiest way for the Detroit Pistons to fix the mess they’ve made for themselves would be to somehow get a hold of a Delorean with a flux capacitor installed, then drive it 88 MPH until it flashed into early July of 2013 so someone could keep them from paying out $54 million to Josh Smith.
Doing so would solve the team’s biggest problem, which is figuring out what to do with Greg Monroe, a restricted free agent this summer. Had the team never signed Smith, they could have awarded Monroe with an extension months ago and moved forward with a plan to build the team around him and burgeoning perennial All-Star Andre Drummond, but that might not be an option anymore.
NBA Power Rankings: Brooklyn Brawlers
By Moke Hamilton
After 21 weeks and with April around the corner, we are now officially at that point of the NBA season where every single game could make a monumental difference.
Despite winning eight games in a row, with Sunday night’s home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the New York Knicks have seen their playoff hopes take a tremendous blow.
With the recent struggles of both the Miami HEAT and Indiana Pacers, the HEAT have been unable to close the gap on Paul George’s team, but the two teams are set to meet on Wednesday night in the first of their final two battles of the regular season (the second is in a few weeks). Still, it looks quite simple: if they split those games, the Pacers will earn home court advantage, but if the HEAT sweep those two, it is them who will enter the playoffs as the number one seed.
Out West, a late surge by the Phoenix Suns has seen them close the gap on the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies for one of the two final playoff spots out West, and with the teams still having games coming up against one another, it is impossible to know which of those three teams will be sitting at home once the postseason begins. But one of them will.
Spurs Showing Zero Signs Of Slippage
By Lang Greene
The San Antonio Spurs have entered every season for the last five years with questions on how long the franchise can remain among the league’s elite. On paper, the question is a legitimate one. Future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan (37) continues to age, former Sixth Man of the Year Manu Ginobili (36) is nowhere near the caliber of player he was during his prime years and the team routinely adds new role players, expected to play pivotal roles, to the roster each summer.
San Antonio was literally less than 30 seconds away from adding another Larry O’Brien trophy to their mantle last season before succumbing to the Miami HEAT in the Finals. Despite the sour taste still lingering from last season’s finish, the Spurs (54-16) have successfully rebounded and are currently in possession of the league’s best record with roughly three weeks remaining in the regular season.
While there are rising concerns about whether Duncan will honor the last year of his current deal next season, the Spurs are once again firmly entrenched in the role of a contender heading down the stretch.
Five College Coaches on NBA Radar
By Yannis Koutroupis
As the field of competitors for the 2014 National Championship has shrunk down to 16, the college basketball coaching carousel is moving at a dizzying pace. With over 300 Division I men’s basketball programs throughout the country, there’s always a ton of movement throughout the coaching ranks year in and year out.
Everyone longs to be in a position like Duke’s Mike Kryzyewski. Throughout his tenure he’s had numerous of other job offers, but he built the Blue Devils program into one of the premier positions in the country. No one, not even the Los Angeles Lakers, could make him a good enough offer to leave what he has.
Typically, though, when NBA teams come calling, they get their guy. We saw it last season with Butler and Brad Stevens. Stevens was working his way toward sainthood at Butler, but the Boston Celtics were able to pry him away to be their head coach.
We’re at the time of year where successful college coaches’ stocks are rising while struggling NBA head coaches’ seats are heating up. With that in mind, we take a look at the five college basketball coaches who appear to be gaining the most attention from the big league:
The Unintended Consequences of the 2011 CBA
By Nate Duncan
The 2011 NBA lockout was universally hailed as an unmitigated win for the owners. They forced significant concessions from the players, reducing their percentage of Basketball Related Income from 57 percent to 50 while winning on so-called system issues as well. The players received almost no concessions in exchange. The system changes the owners fought so hard for were theoretically designed to level the competitive playing field between big and small markets while allowing teams to keep their superstars.
The only certain thing in such complex negotiations is that some unintended consequences will arise. Even the best of forecasters with carte blanche to design a system may struggle to anticipate the effects or regulation. When such regulations are the result of compromise or negotiation, they grow even more unpredictable. As a result, the 2011 CBA has resulted in some trends that may well have surprised its framers.
Aldridge Rushes Return As Blazers Struggle
By Alex Kennedy
After an incredible start to the season that saw the Portland Trail Blazers exceed all expectations, the team has dropped nine of their last 13 games and slipped to the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
While other West contenders such as the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets have played some of their best basketball in recent weeks and seem poised to enter the postseason with momentum, Portland has struggled mightily. Making the playoffs seemed inevitable weeks ago, but now the Blazers are just two and a half games ahead of the ninth-seeded Phoenix Suns.
Fixing The Sacramento Kings
By Jabari Davis
When asked to complete a preview and ultimate prediction article for the 2013-14 Sacramento Kings a win range somewhere in the area of 30-33 was settled upon if memory serves correctly. A five game improvement upon the 28-54 results from just a season before may sound like relatively modest expectations, but we also wanted to be fair to first-year head coach Mike Malone as he installed what they can only hope is a new sense of direction for the organization. However, he now has a year under his belt and expectations are only going to increase moving forward. Here’s our take on how they can meet, and potentially exceed them.
The Agony of an NBA Mistake
By Travis Heath
“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” – John Wooden
There is a certain exhilaration that goes with being right about a player you have scouted. I got that feeling when I wrote about Damian Lillard after I had scouted him in person a couple of times and said that he should be a top-two pick in the draft and would one day be an NBA All-Star. Longtime NBA folks I worked with scoffed at this notion and insisted that it was silly to make such an assessment given the level of his competition in the Big Sky Conference.
I was right.
No Role Too Small for Murry Chasing a Dream
By Jessica Camerato
Scroll down the New York Knicks roster and Toure’ Murry’s name is toward the bottom of the stats. Minutes: 6.9, points: 2.4, games played: 45, starts: 0. He’s logged a total of 10 minutes this month on a team that is currently out of the playoff standings, yet the 24-year-old rookie has an overwhelmingly optimistic outlook on his first season in the league.
“Everybody’s dream is to get to the NBA,” Murry told Basketball Insiders. “It just makes me feel great to say I play in the NBA and (my family and peers are) basically living their dream through me.”
He plays for those who supported him along the way and continue to each game in the pros. He also takes the court for those who always believed he could make it, but never had the chance to see him realize his goals
2014 Cap Space Projections – Pacific Division
By Eric Pincus
The 2013-14 regular season is starting to wind down, with 18-19 teams still seriously in the playoff hunt. Others are “fighting” for the best possible position in May’s NBA Draft Lottery.
The league’s early projections for next year’s salary cap is $62.9 million, up from this year’s $58.7 million. The luxury tax threshold is also expected to climb to approximately $75.7 million from $71.7 million.
In the fourth part of this series, where do the five teams in the Pacific Division stand this offseason?
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.
Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”
Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.
The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.
Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.
With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.
One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.
“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”
Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.
“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”
In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.
“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”
Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.
While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.
Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.
“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”
The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.
Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.
“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”
Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.
NBA Daily: The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. is an elite prospect, but questions surrounding his back will determine his landing spot in the NBA.
The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
While some of the highly thought of college players have made their intentions on declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft known, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr still hasn’t made his proclamation. Most people in NBA circles believe he’ll be in the 2018 NBA Draft class—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think he’s in.
Back in November, the Missouri staff was somewhat vague and guarded about Porter’s condition until it was announced that he’d have back surgery on a couple of problematic discs in the lumbar area of his spine. The procedure is called a microdiscectomy and by all accounts was a success.
Porter missed virtually all of his college season but opted to play in the post-season for Missouri, who got eliminated fairly quickly.
There were certainly a lot of ugly things about Porter’s game. He looked out of shape, and certainly wasn’t the overwhelming dominating force he’d been in high school. Some executives applauded his decision to play, even though he wasn’t at a 100 percent. Some pointed to that fact that too many college players play it safe and that’s not always viewed positively. Almost no one Basketball Insiders spoke with was holding the less than stellar outing against him. In fact, most had far more positive things to say than negative. There was one resounding theme from the NBA executives who spoke about this situation—none of it matters until they see his medical.
Assuming Porter does as expected and hires an agent and enters the draft, the next challenge he’ll face is how open he wants to be to teams looking at drafting him.
In recent years, NBA teams have not shied away from using high draft picks on injured or recently injured players. Once a team can get a sense of how the player is recovering, they can make a value judgment.
Agents often use this information and access to the player to help steer their client to the situation they deem most favorable. While fans and outsiders often get caught up in the pick number a player ultimately lands at, more and more agents are concerned with fit, especially for a player that may need time to get back to 100 percent.
Most agents would want to steer their client to a team with favorable medical staff, a team with a proven track record of patience or more importantly, a team with the best chance at a long and fruitful career.
This won’t be good news for some team that could end up in the top 10, as it’s more likely that Porter isn’t made available to everyone. NBA executives will tell you, they can certainly draft him if they wanted to, but most teams won’t draft a player if their medical staff doesn’t sign off, and without information and access how can they do that?
There is a significant financial difference in going third in the draft ($5.47 million) and 10th ($2.964 million) – but several agents commented that the short-term money shouldn’t drive the long-term decision, especially if the player isn’t 100 percent. The fit and situation typically trump everything in these situations.
Another concept to consider is while Porter did play, there are questions about whether he’ll host a pro-day, take part in private team workouts or simply let his body of work drive his draft value.
Almost no one who spoke about this situation believed Porter would take part in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, as he’d have to subject himself to the medical testing that’s part of that event.
The common perception on Porter is he’s a top-five talent, although it seems more likely that his camp is going to try and work the process to ensure he lands in a favorable situation. That could mean he falls out of top-five selections, simply because he and his agents choose to.
There is still a lot that needs to play out for Porter, including his announcement that he will enter the draft. But given where things stand with him, it’s more likely than not he’s coming into the draft, and it’s more likely than not he’ll have a lot of questions NBA teams will want to understand before his real draft position is clear.
The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago this year and is scheduled for May 15th. The annual Draft Combine, also in Chicago, gets underway on May 16th.
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