Five Things to Watch in East
By Bill Ingram
For much of the 2013-14 NBA campaign, the Eastern Conference has served as little more than comic relief for the Western Conference. A date with any East team other than the Indiana Pacers and the Miami HEAT has basically been a chance to rest starters and get ready for the next West opponent. However, as the stretch run approaches, the East has seen some storylines develop that should prove interesting as the run-up to the playoffs ensues.
The Path to the Top Pick
By Joel Brigham
While two-thirds of the league’s teams battle for playoff positioning now that there’s only a quarter of a season left on the schedule, the remaining handful of teams are doing battle for a different kind of postseason success: winning the draft lottery.
Obviously the teams with the worst records end up with the most ping pong balls, but with so many teams tanking away, who will get those ping pong balls? Here’s a look at the worst teams’ remaining schedules, particularly as they relate to May’s lottery:
Dwyane Wade Talks Free Agency
By Yannis Koutroupis
At 32 years of age, Miami HEAT guard Dwyane Wade is likely going to get his last big money contract this offseason – assuming that he exercises his early termination option to become an unrestricted free agent. Miami is the only organization he knows; they drafted him in 2003 and since then he’s helped guide them to three championships and counting. He has close relationships with head coach Erik Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley, who will head up negotiations, making it very unlikely that he goes anywhere this summer.
Fraschilla Compares Exum To Young Jordan
By Jabari Davis
Australian NBA prospect Dante Exum has already caused a great deal of debate among analysts and fans, and he hasn’t even set foot on the court for a pre-draft workout yet. Just as there are plenty of believers in the somewhat limited (but highly impressive) footage and statistics we have available on Exum, there are many who believe we need to see the 18-year-old phenom against stronger competition before determining whether he is worthy of a top five pick in the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft.
Highly regarded former college basketball coach and current ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla is one of the few who has seen Exum play against stronger competition on more than one occasion. Fraschilla offered his views on the 6’6 guard during a recent interview with 710 ESPNLA’s John Ireland.
“He reminds me of a young, 1982 circa North Carolina Michael Jordan,” Fraschilla said of Exum. “He’s not going to be as great, obviously, unless I’m wrong… but he kind of reminds you of a young colt that’s just about to run his first claimer race, and you’re looking at him (thinking), ‘This guy could win the Kentucky Derby someday.’”
NBA Power Rankings: Contenders Abound
By Moke Hamilton
This season, across the NBA, free agency seemed to come a bit earlier than expected. With the Los Angeles Clippers emerging as the clear midseason winner, it is them and the Oklahoma City Thunder that may have done the most to improve their odds of rising to the top of the Western Conference. Still, it is those pesky San Antonio Spurs that simply know their identity and play basketball their way. And with the returns of Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker to the lineup, the Spurs are longing to return to the NBA Finals to right last year’s wrong.
But, if Glen Davis and Danny Granger have anything to say about it, they will each suit up for Doc Rivers and alongside Chris Paul to help the Clippers valiantly re-rise to the top of the West.
Houston (Rockets) we (may) have a problem… Or two.
Dragic, Suns Somehow Emerge as Elite
By Alex Kennedy
Goran Dragic may look like someone you’d play against at your local YMCA, shrugging his shoulders after making jaw-dropping shots and smiling up and down the court, but don’t let his boyish looks fool you. This season, Dragic has shown that he’s one of the most fearless players in the NBA. He attacks every opponent and refuses to back down from any defense. He may wear a goofy grin on his face, but he’s capable of destroying your favorite team.
The 27-year-old, who just became a full-time starter last year, has quietly emerged as one of the league’s most productive players this season. He’s turning heads with the Phoenix Suns and filling the stat sheet every night. Dragic is currently averaging 20.6 points, 6.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals. He’s shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from three-point range.
2014 Cap Space Projections – Southeast Division
By Eric Pincus
Now that the February NBA trade deadline has elapsed, the time for team building shifts to the offseason.
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.
While teams can look to make trades around the June NBA Draft, based on the existing rosters, a number of teams project to have cap room this summer.
Sixers’ Young Faces Uncertain Future
By Lang Greene
The Philadelphia 76ers are in the beginning stages of a projected long term rebuilding project. While the club has secured a solid building block in rookie guard Michael Carter-Williams, the team’s front office still has lots of work to do this offseason.
One of the Sixers’ most attractive assets around the league is forward Thaddeus Young. The seventh year wing is averaging a career-high in points (17.5) and steals (2.2) this season. Approaching the trade deadline last month, Young’s name was prominent in the rumors along with Evan Turner and Spender Hawes.
Hawes and Turner were shipped to Cleveland and Indiana, respectively, at the deadline leaving Young as the as the last man standing from the team’s once promising past.
Paul George Wants to be Mentored by LeBron James
By Jessica Camerato
In order for Paul George to be the best, he not only wants to beat the best – he wants to learn from him, too.
They are two of the league’s most talented on the court: the king of the NBA versus the rising star, reigning MVP against future contender. There is no doubt George views LeBron James as fierce competition as they battle for the Eastern Conference. One day, though, he’d also like to call him his mentor.
The Dwight Howard Effect
By Steve Kyler
Fans of the LA Lakers likely won’t agree with the impact a player like Dwight Howard has on a team, mainly because their experience with the 6’10 big man was far from an ideal romance. A shotgun wedding is a more fitting description, one that ended in heart break and venom.
In Houston, however, the story has been very different. Howard, who is healthy for the first time in a while, is again on a team with young players he can relate and connect wit. He is having a solid year professionally, while his team is having success on the court sitting at 42-19 on the season and just four games out of the top spot in the West with 21 games remaining on the season.
Howard’s impact on the Rockets would seem fairly obvious, but when you talk to players that were on the Rockets’ team last year about what’s changed so much in just one season they all seem to answer the question the same way – “Dwight”.
The Top 10 Players in the NBA
By Nate Duncan
The explosion in NBA media over the past 15 years has certainly been a good thing (when something results in me having a job, I tend to like it). The increased coverage and analysis has largely led to more NBA fans becoming much more informed, but has its downsides as well. One of these is the need to react nearly instantly to any good performance. This year, analysts and fans have repeatedly broken out their jump to conclusions mats to proclaim a great upheaval in the hierarchy of NBA players based on a good month of games.
Whether it’s Kevin Durant sewing up the MVP in January or Paul George as an MVP candidate in November, these judgments have largely proved to be premature. This trend has reached its zenith in the last week as Joakim Noah has been anointed a top-five MVP candidate.
I am from Chicago and love Noah’s game, but I do not think he is even a top-10 player, much less top-five. I decried this development on Twitter, and in response was asked who I would rank above him in the top 10.
NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future
Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.
On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.
Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.
Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with athe season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.
“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”
Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.
“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”
Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.
“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.
While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.
“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.
Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.
There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.
“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”
Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.
“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”
Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.
“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.
Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.
“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.
When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.
Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers
Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.
The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.
The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.
With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.
Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:
“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.
“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.
“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”
There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.
Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.
Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.
Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.
LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.
“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.
“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”
The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.
NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start
Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.
There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.
“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”
Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.
“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”
That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.
“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”
As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.
“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”
Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.
“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”
He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.
“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”
The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.
“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”
That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.
“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”
Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.
“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”
He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.
Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.