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.
Emeka Okafor Impacting 2018 Western Conference Playoff Race
Sidelined for several years with a neck injury, Emeka Okafor is back in the NBA and helping the Pelicans fight for a playoff seed.
When DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon, most people in and around the league assumed the New Orleans Pelicans would eventually fall out of the Western Conference Playoff race. It was a fair assumption. In 48 games this season, Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 47 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Anthony Davis and the Pelicans had other plans. Davis put the team on his shoulders, played at an elite level and, arguably, has forced his way into the MVP race. Behind Davis’ efforts, the Pelicans are currently 39-29, have won 7 of their last 10 games and hold the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
While Davis has been carrying the team since the loss of Cousins, he has received significant help from his teammates, including Emeka Okafor.
More recent NBA fans may be less familiar with Okafor since he has been out of the league since the end of the 2012-13 season. For context, in Okafor’s last season, David Lee led the league in double-doubles, Luol Deng led the league in minutes per game and Joakim Noah made the NBA All-Defensive First Team. However, Okafor entered the NBA with a lot of excited and expectations. He was drafted second overall, right behind Dwight Howard. Okafor played in 9 relatively successful NBA seasons until being sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.
Okafor was medically cleared to play in May of last year and played in five preseason games with the Philadelphia 76ers but was ultimately waived in October, prior to the start of the regular season. However, with the injury to Cousins, the Pelicans were in need of help at the center position and signed Okafor to a 10-day contract. Okafor earned a second 10-day contract and ultimately landed a contract for the rest of this season.
Okafor has played in 14 games so far for the Pelicans has is receiving limited playing time thus far. Despite the lack of playing time, Okafor is making his presence felt when he is on the court. Known as a defensive specialist, Okafor has provided some much needed rim protection and has rebounded effectively as well.
He has been [helpful] since the day he got here,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said about Okafor after New Orleans’ recent victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. “I think his rim protection has been great. But, he’s capable of making a little jump shot and you can see that today. But just having him in there, his presence there has been great.”
Okafor has never been known as an elite offensive player, but he did average 15.1 points per game in his rookie season and has shown glimpses of an improved jump shot in his limited run with the Pelicans.
“You know, I’m happy it’s falling,” Okafor said after he helped seal the victory over the Clippers. “Kept in my back pocket. I was invoked to use it, so figured I’d dust it off and show it.”
Okafor was then asked if he has any other moves in his back pocket that he hasn’t displayed so far this season.
“A little bit. I don’t want to give it all,” Okafor told Basketball Insiders. “There’s a couple shots still. But we’ll see what opportunities unveil themselves coming forward.”
Okafor will never have the elite offensive skill set that Cousins has but his overall contributions have had a positive impact for a New Orleans squad that was desperate for additional production after Cousin’s Achilles tear.
“It’s impossible to replace a guy that was playing at an MVP level,” Gentry said recently. “For us, Emeka’s giving us something that we desperately missed with Cousins. The same thing with Niko. Niko’s given us something as far as spacing the floor. Between those guys, they’ve done the best they could to fill in for that. But we didn’t expect anyone to fill in and replace what Cousins was doing for us.”
Okafor is currently averaging 6.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. While his averages don’t jump off the page, it should be noted that his per minute production is surprisingly impressive. Per 36 minutes, Okafor is averaging 13.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Those numbers are nearly identical to his averages from the 2012-13 season, though he is averaging twice as many blocks (up from 1.4).
The Pelicans have exceeded expectations and currently are ahead of teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers in the extremely tight Western Conference Playoff race. Okafor is doing more than could have reasonably been expected when he first signed with the Pelicans, though he would be the first person to pass the credit toward Anthony Davis.
When asked about Davis’ recent play, Okafor enthusiastically heaped praise toward his superstar teammate.
“It’s to the point where it’s like, ‘Alright, he has 40 doesn’t he?’ It’s impressive,” Okafor said about Davis. But it’s becoming so commonplace now.
He’s just an impressive individual. He gives it all. He’s relentless. And then off the court too, he’s a very, very nice kid. He really takes the leadership role seriously. I’m even more impressed with that part.”
There is still plenty of regular season basketball to be played and even a two-game losing streak can drastic consequences. But the Pelicans have proved to be very resilient and Okafor is confident in the team’s potential and outlook.
“I think we’re all hitting a good grove here and we’re playing very good basketball, said Okafor.”
Whether the Pelicans make the playoffs or not, it’s great to see Okafor back in the NBA and playing meaningful minutes for a team in the playoff race.
NBA Daily: Nothing’s Promised, Not Even For The Warriors
The Warriors are wounded, and with Chris Paul, the Rockets may be equipped to take advantage.
The Warriors are wounded, and for those that thought their waltzing into a four consecutive NBA Finals was a given, the Houston Rockets may have other ideas. Especially when one considers that the beloved Dubs are trying to buck history.
Steph Curry has ankle problems, Klay has a fractured thumb and Kevin Durant—the most recent of the team’s lynchpins to find himself on the disabled list—has a rib injury.
Sure, the Dubs might shake off their injuries and find themselves at or near 100 percent once the playoffs begin, but seldom do teams in the NBA get healthier as the year progresses.
Winning in the NBA is difficult. In order to take all the marbles, teams need a bunch of different ingredients, chief among them are good fortune and health. And in many ways, the two are entwined.
Simply put: the human body isn’t built to play as often and as hard as NBA players do. Those that we recognize as being among the greatest ever—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among them—had one thing in common. They were all exceptionally durable.
Over the years, we’ve seen attrition and fragility cost the likes of Anfernee Hardaway, Yao Ming and Derrick Rose what seemed to be careers full of accolades and accomplishments. And the simple truth is that you never know which player, players or teams will be next to be undercut by injuries and progressive fatigue.
Just to keep things in perspective, the Warriors are attempting to become just the fifth team since 1970 to win at least three NBA championships in a four-year span.
The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 1985, 1987 and 1988 before Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls completed their three-peat from 1991-93. The Bulls would again do the same between 1996 and 1998, and Shaquille O’Neal and his Los Angeles Lakers accomplished the same from 2000 to 2002.
There are reasons why so few teams have been able to win as frequently as the Lakers and Bulls have, and health is certainly one of them. That’s especially interesting to note considering the fact that the Warriors may have been champions in 2016 had they had their team at full strength. Mind you, both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala were severely limited in their abilities, while Andrew Bogut missed the fateful and decisive Game 6 and Game 7 of those Finals with injuries to his left leg.
At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game. The best teams are often able to overcome them, while the luckiest teams often don’t have to deal with them. To this point, the Warriors have been both the best and incredibly lucky, but at a certain point, the sheer volume of basketball games is likely to have an adverse effect on at least a few members of the team.
We may be seeing that now.
En route to winning the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors turned in a playoff record of 16-5. In 2016, they were 15-9 and in 2017, they were 16-1. In total, the 62 playoff games would have worn a bit of tread off of their collective tires, just as their 73-9 regular season record may have. In becoming a historically great team, the Warriors have expending the energy necessary of a team wishing to remain a contender, and that’s not easy.
As an aside, those that understand the difficulty in competing at a high level every single night are the ones who rightfully give LeBron James the respect he’s due for even having the opportunity to play into June eight consecutive years. Win or lose, in terms of consistent effort and constant production, James has shown as things we’ve never seen before.
Today, it’s fair to wonder whether the Warriors have that same capability.
We’ll find out in short order.
* * * * * *
As the Houston Rockets appear headed toward ending the Warriors’ regular season reign atop the Western Conference, there’s something awfully coincidental about the fact that the team seems to have taken the next step after the addition of Chris Paul.
Paul knows a thing or two about attrition and how unlucky bouts with injuries at inopportune times can cost a team everything. As much as anything else, it probably has something to do with why Paul continues to believe in the ability of the Rockets to achieve immortality.
On the first night of the regular season, mind you, in one horrific moment, Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics reminded us that on any given play, the outlook of an entire season—and perhaps, even a career—can change.
A twisted knee here, a sprained ankle there, and who knows?
With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Warriors—the team that everyone knew would win the Western Conference again this season—has some concerns. Their primary weapons are hurting, their chances of securing home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs are all but nil and their road to the Finals may end up being more difficult than they could have possibly imagined.
If the season ended today and the seeds held, the Warriors would draw the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round before squaring off against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
Of all teams, the Spurs are probably the last team the Warriors would want to see in the playoffs, much less the first round. While the outcome of that series would be determined by the health of Kawhi Leonard, there’s no doubt that Gregg Popovich would at least be able to effectively game plan for Golden State.
While the Blazers might not provide incredible resistance to the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder will enter play on March 18 just two games behind the Blazers for the third seed out West. With the two teams squaring off against one another on March 25, it’s possible for Russell Westbrook and his crew having the opportunity to square off against the Dubs in the playoffs.
For Golden State, their path to the Finals having to go through San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston would absolutely be a worst case scenario. The only thing that could make it even more terrible for Steve Kerr would be having to do it with a platoon that was less than 100 percent.
Funny. In yet another season where everyone thought that it was the Warriors and everyone else, there are quite a few questions facing the defending champs heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
Indeed, the Warriors are wounded. And whether they can be nursed back up to full strength is perhaps the most interesting thing to watch as the calendar turns to April and playoff basketball draws nearer.
NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode
With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.
After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.
Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.
First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.
Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.
In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.
Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?
Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.
The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.
Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.
“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”
That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.
Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.
After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.
At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.
The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.
In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.
An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.
It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.
Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.
Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.
Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.