Suns Overcoming Contract Issues
By Bill Ingram
The Phoenix Suns were not supposed to be in the playoff discussion this season. Period. They were not supposed to be anywhere close to good enough to compete in the brutally tough Western Conference. Even when they were very good early on, the general feeling was that sooner or later they would come down to earth and be the rebuilding, mediocre team that most believed they would be. However, that wasn’t the case, and even though last night’s crushing, last-second loss in Dallas puts the Suns’ postseason bid in serious jeopardy, they have been an impressive team from start to finish this season.
Serge Ibaka To Win Defensive Player Of The Year?
By Susan Bible
Serge Ibaka, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s shot-blocking luminary, may collect the league’s prestigious Defensive Player of the Year award in the next few weeks. While critics and fans alike have taken note of Ibaka’s increasing offensive contributions this season, his already-impressive defensive prowess has markedly improved as well.
He tops the league in Defensive Impact (statistics measuring defense, considering blocks, steals and defending the basket); players defended by Ibaka are shooting just 44.2 percent at the rim this year. Plus, he leads the league in total blocks (209). Ibaka is averaging 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds compared to 13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds last year. He’s logging increased numbers in assists, steals, field goals and even three-pointers. He ties teammate Kevin Durant in double-doubles (27) despite averaging about six minutes less in playing time.
Ibaka provided a remarkably straightforward and simple answer when asked to explain what in particular has led to his improved season.
Who Are The Next Wave Of GMs?
By Steve Kyler
As the NBA season comes to a close on Wednesday a number of coaches and executives will likely be let go, especially personalities on teams that failed to meet expectations. Last season saw 13 coaching changes and eight front office hires. There won’t be nearly as many open front office jobs, but it looks like three or four opportunities could surface. Last week we took a look at some of those jobs and worked through a list of possible candidates.
Like most lists, the feedback from around the league offered up several more names to consider, so here is the second wave of ‘likely to get interviewed’ front office candidates.
Joakim Noah’s Hair Isn’t Going Anywhere
By Jessica Camerato
The hair isn’t going anywhere. At least, that’s the plan.
Joakim Noah’s locks have been part of his M.O. for as long as he can remember. They became a conversation topic in the NBA on Draft Night 2007 when an image of his curls pouring out from underneath his Chicago Bulls hat stole the show.
The dominating big man has no intention of cutting his hair anytime soon.
“The only time I would cut my hair is if something really, really – if somebody that I loved like passed or something like that, then that’s the only time I would cut my hair,” Noah said. “[It would be symbolic] just because we shared a lot of experiences or something together. If something like that was ever to happen, that’s when I would cut my hair. But I’m not planning on cutting my hair right now.”
NBA Power Rankings: Playoff Payoff
By Moke Hamilton
With another NBA season drawing to a close, Basketball Insiders brings you its final Power Rankings heading into the postseason.
It has been a long and winding road for all 30 of the league’s franchises with some monumental disappointments—the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves lead the way here—as well as some astonishing surprises – the Phoenix Suns and Charlotte Bobcats, please take a bow.
But as the regular season is set to end on Wednesday night, there are still some matters to be determined. In the Eastern Conference, the Miami HEAT and Indiana Pacers are still vying for the top seed. The magic number for the Pacers is one entering Monday night, and we are inclined to believe that the HEAT would not necessarily mind ending up second. It would help them avoid the Brooklyn Nets in the second round—much to our chagrin.
Analyzing Jabari Parker’s Decision
By Yannis Koutroupis
Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker is expected to announce tomorrow whether he is going to enter the 2014 NBA Draft. He’s meeting with Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski today to help finalize his decision. Typically there’s very little suspense for a prospect ranked as high as Parker, who is still in the mix to be the top overall selection. The smart financial choice is always to leave when your stock is that hot. However, from the day that Parker committed to Duke he always left open the possibility of staying for his sophomore season.
Coach K has clearly been operating under the assumption that Parker would be gone as he is fully equipped to field a contender next year with or without him. He currently has the top-ranked 2014 recruiting class, which consists of a dominant low-post presence in Jahlil Okafor, a true playmaker in Tyus Jones and incredibly skilled and athletic swingmen in Grayson Allen and Justice Winslow. Okafor happens to be a close friend of Parker; the appeal of playing with him and the rest of this incredibly talented class is among the reasons why he’s given staying as much thought as he has.
Los Angeles Lakers’ Best Coaching Options
By Jabari Davis
Following a 2012-13 season full of turmoil, in-fighting and injuries, the Los Angeles Lakers were more than due for a bit of a reprieve heading into this season. Needless to say, while most of the drama was kept to a minimum, a 55-loss season (worst in the history of the organization) isn’t going to leave anyone involved with the purple and gold feeling warm and fuzzy inside. In failing to qualify for the postseason, the 2013-14 roster becomes just the sixth team to do so in the franchise’s 66-year history. Even through what may seem to be the darkest of times for such a heralded franchise, that bit of perspective is necessary at this point.
Will The Clippers Finally Emerge?
By Lang Greene
Since All-Star point guard Chris Paul arrived in Los Angeles the Clippers have steadily moved up the Western Conference standings and are seemingly inching closer and closer into title contention. However, NBA history is littered with a plethora of teams who were at one point on the cusp of a championship breakthrough that never materialized. The Clippers don’t want their name added to this list and have done everything possible to fully join the league’s elite.
Last summer the team hired Doc Rivers as their senior vice president of basketball operations and head coach. Once thought to be frugal, the team has undoubtedly opened up its wallet with two max contracts on the books and a payroll exceeding $72 million this season. Lastly, as a style point, the team took the bold move to cover up the Lakers’ title banners in Staples Center on game days in order to plot their own destiny.
Brightest Future in the NBA’s Pacific Division?
By Jesse Blancarte
The Pacific Division has been dominated by the Los Angeles Lakers for a long time. The Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns have also experienced sustained periods of success over the last decade. But now it is the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors who lead the Pacific, which goes to show that nothing lasts forever, even when it comes to the Lakers and Clippers.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at each of these teams and assess who has the brightest future.
Oladipo Making Huge Strides
By Alex Kennedy
Victor Oladipo can’t believe his first NBA season is already coming to an end. Eighty-two games is a lot, but it flies by during a player’s rookie campaign as they’re adjusting to a new league and lifestyle.
“It’s crazy, seems like yesterday I was in the NCAA Tournament, about to play at home in front of my family and friends in the Sweet 16,” Oladipo told Basketball Insiders. “Now, I’m in the NBA. Time really does fly. We definitely can’t take every day for granted.”
The Orlando Magic guard has had an eventful year. Not only did he face NBA competition for the first time, he had to transition to a new position since the Magic have him spending a lot of time at point guard, a position he had never played prior to this year. Until this year, Oladipo had always been a shooting guard. It’s the position he played growing up and throughout his three-year collegiate career at Indiana. Now, he’s being asked to play the role of floor general for Orlando, starting at point guard in half of the Magic’s games and backing up veteran Jameer Nelson in the other half.
Full 2014-15 NBA Cap Space Projections
By Eric Pincus
The 2013-14 NBA Regular Season has finally come to a come to a close.
Sixteen teams will compete for a title while 14 look forward to the May 20 NBA Draft lottery — well at least the franchises that didn’t trade away their first-round pick.
Looking ahead to the 2014 offseason, a number of teams project to have cap room. In a six part series, projections were made for each team, division by division (Southeast, Southwest,Atlantic, Pacific and Central and Northwest).
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.
Player and team options, non-guaranteed contracts and the draft lottery could shift the numbers dramatically, but the 30 NBA franchises fall into just a few tiers:
Nike Hoop Summit Team USA Report
By Nate Duncan
The United States Junior Select team took a two-game losing streak against the World Select Team into Saturday’s Nike Hoop Summit, a game that annually pits the best of the American senior high school class against the some of the best players 19-and-under from the rest of the world. It is the premier scouting event of the high school All-Star circuit because the coaches and players actually try to win. The World team began practicing in Portland on Monday, while a smarting USA basketball* brought in its players a day earlier than normal, beginning practices Wednesday before staging two-a-days Thursday and Friday.
Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics
Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.
Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.
Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.
Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.
“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”
The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.
“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.
“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”
Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.
“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”
The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.
“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”
Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.
“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.
“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”
Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.
“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”
While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.
“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”
Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.
Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.
Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.
“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.
“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”
You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.
Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.
“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?
“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”
Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.
“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”
NBA AM: Dwight Howard’s Quest For Redemption Begins
Dwight Howard says he has been unfairly blamed for previous shortcomings. In Charlotte, he gets a chance to prove it.
Prior to the start of training camp for the Charlotte Hornets, newly-acquired center Dwight Howard made an appearance at a charitable event for the Boys and Girls Club at a local elementary school. At that event, Howard laid out the stakes for his first season in Charlotte.
“This [is an] opportunity for myself to really get back everything that I would say has been taken away,” said Howard, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
In an August interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Howard seemed to imply that the primary thing that had been taken from him was a major role in the offense of teams he’s played with since he left Orlando, noting that his shot attempts had decreased from double digits to about six per game in Atlanta.
“I think it’s all opportunity, the system,” Howard told Wojnarowski. “I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”
Earlier this week, Hornets GM Rich Cho told NBA.com that Charlotte was the right place to give Howard that opportunity because of his relationship with coach Steve Clifford, who coached Howard as an assistant at two previous stops.
“With the relationship that Cliff has with Dwight, I know ‘Cliff is going to get the best out of him like he has done with past players,” said Cho. The Charlotte GM also went into detail about how the trade for Howard fit the goals the organization set for the offseason.
“When we entered the offseason, there were a number of things we wanted to accomplish,” said Cho. “One was, we wanted to get a rim protector and some shot blocking. Two, we wanted to add some more physicality. And three, we wanted to add a lot more depth overall and improve our bench play.
“So with Dwight, I think we’ve added all those things. He’s a great rim protector and shot blocker. He’s averaged a double-double every year he’s been in the league. It adds a lot of physicality with him going to the starting lineup and moving Cody [Zeller] into a backup role. It also increases our overall depth.”
Controversy has followed Howard after every NBA stop, and his brief stint with the Hawks was no different. ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on a podcast that he was told that a former teammate of Howard celebrated when informed he had been traded to Charlotte. If Lowe’s story is true, it only shows how divided and factional Atlanta’s locker room was last season. Several of Howard’s younger Hawks teammates took to Twitter to refute Lowe’s account, and Howard was voted Best Teammate by Hawks players in the NBA Players Association’s 2017 Players Voice Awards.
— NBPA (@TheNBPA) August 18, 2017
With so many contradictory accounts, it’s understandable why Howard sees a fresh start with the Hornets as an opportunity to counter the narratives that have followed him from stop to stop.
“Throughout all the mess that has happened the last couple of years, this is a great opportunity for me to prove to myself that I know exactly who I am — to just shut people’s mouths,” Howard told Wojnarowski.
With that goal in mind, Howard’s quest for redemption got off to a rocky start in Detroit in Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the Pistons. Howard came close to the double-digit shot attempts he craves, hitting five of nine for 10 points and 15 rebounds. Only Kemba Walker (13) and Jeremy Lamb (10) shot the ball more for Charlotte. But Detroit’s Tobias Harris erupted for 27 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists to help the Pistons open the new Little Caesars Arena with a win.
“We’re going to get it right,” Howard said after the loss. “We’ve just got to stay together, stay focused and get Game 2.”
Awaiting the Hornets in that second game for tonight’s home opener are the same Atlanta Hawks that cut him loose after just one season. In addition to trading Howard, Atlanta allowed All-Star forward Paul Millsap to depart to the Denver Nuggets as a free agent. The Hawks appear to be rebuilding, but Atlanta didn’t look like a team aiming for lottery balls in Dallas Wednesday as the team won its season opener. Point guard Dennis Schroder led the team with 28 points and seven assists while rookie John Collins scored 14 with five rebounds off the bench — the highest-scoring debut by a Hawks rookie since Rumeal Robinson in 1990 — including several thunderous dunks.
In the preseason, Collins addressed the low external expectations for the young Hawks.
“It’s on us to do what we need to do to get these wins,” said Collins. “The chemistry’s great. I’m not really too worried about it.”
While chemistry could help the young Hawks exceed expectations, it will play a key role in Howard’s quest to prove that he was not the root of all the ailments of his past teams. Zeller had a breakout season for the Hornets before the Howard trade moved him to the bench. With Cho declaring that Howard addressed most of the team’s offseason goals, Charlotte should be much closer to a finished product than the retooling Hawks.
Howard is in the best possible position to succeed, with a coach that believes in him and the central offensive role he says he’s been denied in the past. Howard has stated his case, and now it’s up to him to prove it on the court.
Philadelphia 76ers and Joel Embiid Are Trying To Run Into The Playoffs
The Sixers are going to get out and run. If they want to make the playoffs, Joel Embiid will have to start catching up.
“We were up on the NBA champions 19 to zero,” Brett Brown said as he recalled his first game as the Philadelphia 76ers head coach back in 2013.
Brown continued his recollection of the events that night, Oct. 30 to be exact, of how a ragtag roster upended LeBron James and the Miami Heat on opening night.
“We won three in a row,” Brown said. “I felt we surprised ourselves and the league. We were in great shape. We were in great cardio shape, we ran.”
Despite a three-game winning streak to start that season, Brown’s Sixers would end the year with just 19 victories. But the head coach kept his team in shape and running, all the way to being the fastest paced team in the league that season.
Present day, nearly four years after the events of Brown’s first night manning the sidelines for Philadelphia, and much has changed with the team. There are new faces, a new attitude, and certain expectations that are developing within the walls of the Sixers’ training facility.
But on the court, not much is changing.
“I feel like that part of it, and the base of it, this year is far superior because of the pieces,” Brown said referring to his offense. “We’ve had however many years to try to have our system in place and coach the coaches. I think from a ‘how do we do things’ perspective, we’re far advanced than that timeframe.”
As Brown kicked off his fifth season at the helm of the Sixers on Wednesday night in the nation’s capital against the Washington Wizards, his team’s play embodied the notion of being superior to years past.
Despite a 120-115 loss to arguably the second best team in the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia flashed the promise of the new pieces the team’s head coach boasted about. Making his NBA debut as a 6-foot-10 point guard, Ben Simmons quickly asserted himself in the game and displayed his affinity for grabbing a rebound and beginning a fast break—just as his coach preached.
Against the Wizards, a team with a point guard in John Wall who is known for running himself, the Sixers outscored Washington in fast break points, handily. Although Philadelphia forced just 10 turnovers, they managed to score 23 points off of their opponent’s mistakes. On top of that, they pushed the paced and outscored Washington 19-4 in fast break points.
Things aren’t perfect for the team, however. Regardless of their superiority in comparison to the team and personnel four years ago, the Sixers still feature a rookie point guard in Simmons, as well as another in Markelle Fultz. Youth leads to mistakes. Whether directly caused by the newcomers or not, a bit of sloppiness led to 17 turnovers by Philadelphia on Wednesday night’s opener.
“I still want to have Ben play with a higher pace,” Brown said. “I want to act responsibly at the end of the break where we can be a little more organized, a little bit more disciplined at the end of a break. But putting up 115 points, and I don’t think we played that well offensively, 13 turnovers in the second half, four or five to start the third period. We have the answers to the test. When people say what’s it going to take for you to get into the playoffs, it’s Joel Embiid’s health and we gotta care way better for the ball.”
The biggest question mark for this Sixers team is obviously Embiid’s health. Starting the season on a minutes restriction, Embiid logged just 27 minutes. Still, that was more time than either Embiid for Brown expected.
During the early stages of this season, Embiid’s minutes will be dictated primarily on the big man’s conditioning. For a team that likes to get out and run the way the Sixers do, that could present a few bumps in the road from the get-go in getting Embiid adjusted to the pace of their game.
Monitoring Embiid’s minutes intelligently and effectively is always at the forefront of Brown’s mind, though. Just like the pace of his team’s play.
“I sat down with the sports science people this morning, and they’re very thoughtful with how they come up with this decision in relation to the loading,” Brown said in reference to Embiid’s minutes. “You can judge the loading scientifically in blocks. There was only one section of his loading, his chunk of minutes, that they deemed to be in the high area. It was torrid pace up and down. The other times he came in he played at a reasonable pace.”
Should the Sixers find themselves in a run-and-gun game, be it by their own doing or their opponent’s, Brown thinks Embiid’s minutes could see a drop off from the opening night number in those instances.
“We’ve done two things,” Brown said. “We still have his health at the forefront, and selfishly for me, and the team, and Jo, you’re able to get maybe eight more minutes than you thought you were gonna get from him.”
While the Sixers look to progress through the season, so will Embiid and his minutes total. Brown isn’t going to change the principles of his offense, with Simmons at the helm he’ll look to enhance the pace at an even higher rate. For the 7-foot-2 center, getting back into game shape so he can consistently run with his team is the most important thing for Philadelphia at the moment.
“It was all on me,” Embiid said about his minutes total. “The way I looked, if I wasn’t tired I was going to play. It’s just about the way I feel. If I look tired, they’re gonna take me out. If I don’t look tired, I’m gonna stay in and keep playing. I thought yesterday I was fine. There was a couple stretches that I was a little bit tired, but it’s all about pacing myself.”
As Brown mentioned, Embiid is Philadelphia’s answer to the playoff questions. For the 76ers, and Embiid himself, pacing will become the staple of their study guide over the course of this season.