The Pau Gasol Gamble
By Moke Hamilton
In the most Tim Duncan way possible, the greatest power forward of all-time left the game the same exact way he survived within it. Unassuming, unpretentious, meekly and quietly, Tim Duncan’s announcement was delivered via email (just like I had predicted). There would be no season-long retirement tour, no gifts from past competitors and no public softening of the competitive spirit and fire that had many believing that the Spurs would somehow find a way to win the 2016 NBA Finals.
With Duncan stepping out of the picture, all eyes in San Antonio immediately turn to the man who has been employed as his replacement—Pau Gasol.
What’s In A Name?
By Joel Brigham
About 10 years ago, Utah Jazz ownership was forced to shop around the naming rights to their arena when Delta Airlines opted not to renew their deal with the team due to bankruptcy. What they landed on was EnergySolutions Arena, a name that came courtesy of a locally-based company that disposes of low-level nuclear waste – and that right there is everything that’s wrong with how sporting venues are named these days.
The Jazz have spent nine of the last 10 seasons playing in a building named after an organization that cleans up industrial sludge. But around this time last fall, they were gifted a re-brand. The only problem is the new name rolls off the tongue about as easily as sand: Vivint Smart Home Arena.
While not the most ridiculous sounding arena name in the league (Hello, Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix), names like EnergySolutions Arena and Vivint Smart Home Arena show just how silly things have gotten in the world of naming professional sports venues.
Players Poised to Return from Injury
By Cody Taylor
With the Olympic games officially in the rear-view mirror, things will largely slow down (at least in regards to the NBA). Players will continue their offseason training and then head back to their respective NBA teams toward the latter half of September.
By now, players have had the better part of the offseason to take some time off and recharge their bodies. All of the little nicks and bruises suffered last season have likely healed and most guys are closer to 100 percent.
As we look ahead to next season, several players will be returning from injuries that sidelined them for a significant amount of time. Here’s a look at several players who are poised to return to full strength next season:
Houston Goes as Far as Harden Takes Them
By Oliver Maroney
The Houston Rockets had a relatively disappointing 2015-16 season. Coming off of a trip to the Western Conference Finals, the team entered the year with very high expectations. But Houston got off to a slow start right away, dropping seven of their first 11 games. This resulted in head coach Kevin McHale being fired, which was just the beginning of a somewhat tumultuous campaign.
Fair or not, a lot of criticism and negative attention was directed at James Harden since he’s the team’s go-to player. However, there was plenty of blame to go around for the Rockets’ struggles. Injuries and egos played a big part in last season’s underwhelming results. Dwight Howard later admitted he was unhappy, Ty Lawson struggled to return to form so he was waived 53 games into the season and key contributors like Patrick Beverley, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas missed a combined 88 games due to injuries.
All things considered, it’s pretty impressive that Houston was even able to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. After losing 4-1 in the first round against the Golden State Warriors, Houston decided to make some big changes. These moves included hiring head coach Mike D’Antoni, signing Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson and giving Harden a four-year maximum contract extension. It’s clear that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is shaping their team around Harden and D’Antoni moving forward.
A Lot Of Talk, Not Much Substance
By Steve Kyler
In the NBA, they say you never say never because even the most ardent “no” can turn into a “yes” if the situation is right. That’s true in almost every facet of the game, from drafting and signing a player to hiring and firing a coach and, of course, deciding when to trade a player.
There are a few names that keep popping up in offseason rumors and while it’s always fun to speculate, there are some players who simply are not going anywhere (at least not yet).
Potential Position Logjams to Watch
By Jabari Davis
The start of the 2016-17 NBA is just 63 days away, and today we’ll look at some of the rotations that could face roster redundancy issues unless changes are made at some point. As a result of the draft and transactions made by the front office, each of these teams could wind up with the somewhat enviable “problem” of having too much talent at a given position.
Here are some of the rosters with a potential logjam:
Potential Trade Situations to Watch in 2016-17
By Lang Greene
These are the dog days of the NBA summer. Free agency money has dried up, rosters are essentially locked in headed to training camp and there is little to no activity on the trade front. Most executives won’t make a deal until after getting a firsthand view of how their rebuilt rosters look in action.
This is why the vast majority of NBA trade activity occurs deeper into the regular season. Executives are content at this stage of the process to see if their retooling efforts from the summer play out. It also gives them a chance to evaluate other situations around the league that may not be working out and formulate a more strategic approach to obtaining talent.
But even though all is quiet on the trade front headed into the season, this doesn’t mean there aren’t multiple potential trade scenarios worth keeping track of over the next few months.
$19.5 Million in Cash Swapped in 2015-16
By Eric Pincus
Prior to the NBA’s 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams could send up to $3 million in cash out in trade multiple times a season.
To level the playing field, limiting higher-budget franchises, teams are separately capped in the amount of money they can both send out and receive over the course of a season (from July 1 to June 30). Last year’s limit was $3.4 million; the maximum for the 2016-17 season is $3.5 million.
Teams include cash in trades for a variety of reasons, including purchasing draft picks, avoiding luxury taxes (by moving off unwanted contracts) or facilitating a deal that simply needs a little extra push.
Collectively, teams swapped $19,489,635 through the 2015-16 season (July 1 through June 30). That’s a $2 million increase over the $17,428,653 traded during the 2014-15 season.
E’Twaun Moore On Why He Joined Pelicans
By Alex Kennedy
When the NBA’s free agency period opened, E’Twaun Moore was one of the first players to find a new home. After a successful 2015-16 season with the Chicago Bulls, Moore agreed to terms with the New Orleans Pelicans on a four-year deal worth $34 million deal on July 1.
This is an excellent deal for Moore, who played for three teams in five NBA seasons and earned less than $1 million in four of those campaigns. Now, he’ll get a nice raise and have real security for the first time since entering the league.
Moore earned his payday by playing very well in Chicago. Last season with the Bulls, the combo guard averaged 7.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 21.4 minutes per game, while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from three-point range. In 22 starts (including some out of position as a forward), his averages increased to 12 points, three assists and three rebounds, while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from three.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN