Future Looks Bright in Sacramento
By Bill Ingram
The Sacramento Kings have been one of the more perplexing teams in the NBA in recent years. Since the decline of the core group that made them contenders in the early 2000s, the Kings have been through enough head coaches to populate an entire division and wasted enough draft picks to give Kings fans nightmares thinking about what might have been. Now, however, the Kings believe they are headed in the right direction. Mike Malone is at the helm of the team and he feels he has some important pieces in place to think about winning long-term.
Thibodeau: Noah Deserves MVP Consideration
By Jessica Camerato
It’s easy to point to players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the Most Valuable Player debate. They are the faces of elite teams, ones that have been dominating all season.
Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, though, has a different take on the MVP race. The Bulls have not had an easy ride. It has been rocked by the season-ending injury of Derrick Rose and the dramatic trade of Luol Deng. But they still find themselves at 40-32 and the reputation as a team few want to face in the playoffs.
Thibodeau credits this success to their intense man in the middle, Joakim Noah.
Fixing the Philadelphia 76ers
By Joel Brigham
Whatever Egyptian pharaoh first decided to undergo the construction of the pyramids must have understood the importance of patience in developing what must have then seemed like a borderline impossible task. Imhotep, the ancient architect commissioned to build the first of the great pyramids, likely laid out his plans in front of him, admitted to himself that the task at hand would be unbearably daunting, but knew that if he pulled it all off, the pain and suffering of those that helped build the things would all be worth it.
Whatever patience Imhotep and the pharaohs may have had to exercise, Philadelphia 76ers fans should probably count on doubling it. The road ahead for this massive rebuilding project is long and arduous, no doubt about it, and people who root for the Sixers should probably count on at least a few more years of mediocrity. It won’t ever be as bad as it was this season, when the team tied the NBA record for consecutive losses with 26 in a row, but it will most certainly be slow.
Nowitzki Should Weigh Free Agency Options
By Alex Kennedy
As the 2013-14 NBA season comes to a close, some players and teams are starting to look ahead to July, when free agency begins. While there has been plenty of discussion about players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and what they might do this summer, there is one impending free agent who hasn’t been talked about very much.
The 35-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and while it has been assumed that he will finish his career with the Dallas Mavericks, there’s no guarantee that will happen. After all, the Mavericks may miss the postseason for the second consecutive year and, as currently constructed, are far from a contender in the Western Conference. As of right now, Dallas is 44-30, which puts them in eighth place by a half game in the competitive conference.
Will Nowitzki re-sign with the Mavericks or will he sign with a contender?
NBA Power Rankings: Battles Abound
By Moke Hamilton
After 22 weeks of NBA action, the playoffs are on the horizon, but more than in recent years past, injuries and attrition have begun to dominate the conversation leading into April.
From Dwight Howard to LaMarcus Aldridge to Andre Iguodala to Russell Westbrook in the West to Kevin Garnett and Dwyane Wade in the East, there are quite a few key cogs on contenders that are trying to nurse themselves back to 100 percent in pursuit of the Larry O’Brien trophy.
That is the major story heading into April—at least at the top of the respective conferences.
The Indiana Pacers Might Be Toast
By Lang Greene
For most of the season the Indiana Pacers have led the Eastern Conference, seemingly in control of their quest to secure home court advantage throughout the (East) playoffs. However, the Pacers’ goal may be one that is ultimately unfulfilled as the Miami HEAT finally pushed past them in the standings on Monday night.
After a 33-7 start to the campaign, the Pacers have gone 19-16. Indiana’s struggles have continued down the stretch, compiling a woeful 8-10 record in March. While the HEAT are the new leaders of the East, they haven’t exactly been the pillars of consistency, compiling slightly above average 10-8 record during March.
Fixing the Milwaukee Bucks
By John Zitzler
The 2013-14 season may hasn’t gone how the Milwaukee Bucks had hoped, but the season full of losses might have been exactly what the team needed. Unlike the Philadelphia Sixers, the Bucks went into this year hoping to fight for one of the final playoff seeds in the weak Eastern Conference. They brought in veteran players such as O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal, Caron Butler, Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia and Luke Ridnour to help bring stability and leadership to an otherwise young group, with aspirations of a surprising season.
However, it didn’t take long to see that even with the team’s offseason additions, they weren’t going to win many games. The Bucks rolled into the All-Star break with a paltry record of 9-43. It was evident to even the most optimistic fan that despite being in the very down Eastern Conference, this season was not going to end with a playoff berth.
“Tanking” Just Isn’t a Big Deal
By Nate Duncan
One cannot turn a page on the basketball internet this season without encountering a discussion of “tanking.” The implication is that the league has a massive problem with teams intentionally losing games to better their draft picks. It is totally understandable that these pieces proliferate; they are funny.* Moreover, it is fun to try to come up with solutions to this theoretical problem. It is quite amusing to overstate the problem–until the dialogue begins to potentially effect real change that could remove hope from downtrodden teams.
2014 Cap Space Projections – Central Division
By Eric Pincus
Eight teams have officially clinched playoff berths as the 2013-14 regular season winds down.
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 fifth part of a series, where do the five teams in the Central Division stand this offseason?
Fixing the Cleveland Cavaliers
By Jesse Blancarte
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ recent history can be divided into two periods: life-with-LeBron and life-after-LeBron.
The life-after-LeBron period has been somewhat of a roller coaster. The Cavaliers managed to swing a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers that netted them a 2011 first-round draft pick that became Kyrie Irving. This was the high point on the Cavs’ rollercoaster ride. However, it didn’t last long.
The Cavs then drafted Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick in 2011 and Dion Waiters with the fourth pick in 2012. Though Thompson and Waiters are talented players, the Cavs passed on players like Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas and Klay Thompson to pick them. Then, after winning the 2013 lottery, the Cavs selected Anthony Bennett. The choice was so surprising, it caused ESPN’s Bill Simmons to emphatically say “whoa” during coverage of the draft.
Phil Jackson Seeing Potential in Knicks
By Yannis Koutroupis
New York Knicks president Phil Jackson has officially been on the job for less than a month, but things are already turning around in the Big Apple. They’re winners of three straight games, and seven of their last 10; if the season were to end today, they’d be in the playoffs.
Now Jackson probably deserves the least amount of credit for the turnaround of anyone currently involved in the Knicks organization. It’s not like he’s come in and made radical changes or been really hands on with the day-to-day operations. He’s simply in observing mode right now, but he does see potential even in this year’s team. When asked if he believes the team is capable of making some noise in the playoffs, Jackson said yes due to the team’s balanced attack.
The True Cost of Guaranteed Contracts in the NBA
By Tommy Beer
It’s been quite an eventful offseason for the National Football League. America’s most popular sport has captivated the interest of its fans even during the many months when their teams never step foot on the field.
Much of this offseason’s intrigue has centered on a dynamic free agency period, which has increased in intensity as a result of so many of the league’s star players being released from their current contracts. NFL teams can simply and easily part ways with virtually any player if they so choose. If they feel a player is no longer worthy of his contract (be it big or small) for whatever reason (performance on the field or attitude issues in the locker room), the lack of guaranteed contracts in the NFL allows general managers to pink slip even the highest paid players. If the team’s management feels it is in the best interest of the organization to cut loose a productive, but overpaid player, they have that option.
Fixing the Orlando Magic
By Cody Taylor
It was only a few years ago that the Orlando Magic were a contender and one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Those were the days when Dwight Howard was liked in Orlando, Hedo Turkoglu was playing at the peak of his career and Rashard Lewis was in Central Florida rather than South Florida.
Now, the state of the Magic is much different compared to then, as relationships have soured and Howard has gone through a blockbuster trade and a summer of free agency to land in Houston.
That blockbuster trade the Magic made nearly two years ago saw them acquire young players such as Nikola Vucevic and Maurice Harkless, while also bringing in a proven scorer in Arron Afflalo. The trade also brought in a total of five draft picks, including a potential lottery pick from either the Denver Nuggets or New York Knicks, and allowed the Magic to dump several bad contracts.
Orlando has gone 41-117 since trading Howard, so that begs the question: how can the Magic be fixed? Here are several steps for Orlando to right the ship:
GMs On The Hot Seat?
By Steve Kyler
Last summer there were six new general manager named in the NBA, one of the largest shifts in leadership the league has seen in some time. While there will likely be some significant moves made among NBA front office this summer, the number of open jobs won’t be nearly what it was a year ago.
Here are some of the jobs that could come open, and some of the names that might fill them:
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.