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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 9/21

Basketball Insiders looks back at some articles from last week in case you missed them the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin



Players Won’t Sign With Hawks After Controversy?

By Jesse Blancarte

It has been a rough week for the Atlanta Hawks, who are currently shrouded in a controversy that has captured the collective attention of NBA fans and the media. For anyone who has not been keeping track of the situation in Atlanta this last week, here is a quick recap:

On September 7, the NBA announced that majority Hawks owner Bruce Levenson would sell his stake in the team after it was discovered that in 2012 Levenson authored an insensitive email regarding African-American Hawks fans, theorizing, among other things, that “the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base.” It initially seemed like the NBA had masterfully handled the situation by dealing with Levenson behind closed doors and convincing him to sell his interest in the Hawks, rather than fighting in court the way Donald Sterling did earlier this offseason. But then Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported that in June, Hawks general manager Danny Ferry made racially-charged comments about then free agent Luol Deng during a conference call with top ranking Hawks officials and owners, which prompted the Hawk’s internal investigation that uncovered Levenson’s email. Wojnarowski subsequently released a partial transcript of the conference call that included some of Ferry’s inflammatory statements about Deng, such as “he’s not perfect, he’s got some African in him” and comparing Deng to a store owner who sells counterfeit goods. Ferry claimed that he was reading from a scouting report on Deng, and that the controversial words were not his own. In response, Deng released a statement regarding Ferry’s inappropriate comments, expressing his disappointment and reaffirming his pride in his African heritage.

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No Match For Team USA

By Steve Kyler

Back in July when Team USA opened training camp in Las Vegas, many of the NBA’s elite players either bowed out or left camp early. There was this belief that maybe this year’s team wouldn’t have the star power to compete and that despite having the deepest pool of talent to choose from in basketball, there were doubters. Those doubters got louder when Indiana Pacers forward Paul George went down to a gruesome injury and Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant abruptly pulled out, once the team arrived in Chicago.

Where would the scoring come from? Who would play small forward?

This year’s squad got challenged a little in the opening games. They let some teams hang around a little. Their focus was lacking at times and then the games that mattered started to be played.

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Rubio, Wolves Moving on Without Love

By Alex Kennedy

The Minnesota Timberwolves will enter the 2014-15 season with many new faces after the team traded Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers and added players like Thaddeus Young, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Zach LaVine, Mo Williams and Glen Robinson III among others. While the Wolves experienced a lot of turnover, the man getting those players the ball will be the same.

Ricky Rubio is excited to play with his new teammates in Minnesota and even though he would’ve liked to see things work out with Love, he is moving forward with the players who are around him and who actually want to be there.

In an interview with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Rubio admitted that he didn’t talk to Love and try to persuade him to stay because he felt the star power forward had already made up his mind.


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Major Role Waiting For Garnett

By Yannis Koutroupis

When Kevin Garnett is inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a first balloter, his 2013-14 campaign with the Brooklyn Nets is not going to be mentioned among his career highlights. It was the actually the worst year of his career, even worse than his rookie campaign 19 years ago when he made the jump straight from high school and was playing against grown men as a skinny, 18-year-old with so much to learn about the game of basketball and being a professional.

Obviously, it didn’t take long as from his sophomore year on, he went on to be a premiere player at his position and one of the faces of the NBA.

However, now as a 38-year-old veteran who is perhaps only one more season away from retirement, he finds his productivity free-falling in a steep, downhill fashion similar to that of former greats Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon before they made their decisions to retire. The six points and six rebounds he averaged a game were the lowest in his career. And, they came just a year after the Boston Celtics, the franchise he helped bring back to prominence and won a championship for, decided to trade him to the aforementioned Nets despite multiple public statements from Garnett about how content he was finishing his career there.

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Players Potentially On The Move

By Lang Greene

Yesterday, in this space, Steve Kyler provided the scoop on the players from the 2011 NBA Draft class who are eligible to receive early contract extensions.  Teams have until October 31 to negotiate a new deal or can opt to let the market set the players value in free agency next summer.

Today we’ll look at some early logjams in the backcourt around the league which could lead to some early deals during the early portion of the season. It’s never too early to talk potential roster movement.

Here are some situations to keep an eye on heading into training camp:

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When Will Bledsoe Get Signed?

By Joel Brigham

In just under two weeks, training camps will get under way for NBA teams, yet Phoenix Suns restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe still does not have a contract.

The stalemate between Bledsoe and the Suns has been well-documented over the last several months, mostly because there’s plenty of coverage for a story that runs from start of the July through the end of September. It still essentially boils down to the fact that Bledsoe feels as though he’s worth a max contract, which in this case would be worth $84 million over five years. Phoenix, unfortunately for Bledsoe, has never offered more than $48 million over four years, leaving quite an impressive gap between what the player thinks he’s owed and what the team thinks he’s worth.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."


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Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance

Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.

David Yapkowitz



Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.

The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.

As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.

For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.

“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”

Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.

He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.

The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.

“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”

Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.

He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.

“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”

Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.

Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.

If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.

For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.

“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”

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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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