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NBA AM: Bobcats Aren’t Laughingstock Anymore

After serving as the NBA’s laughingstock the Charlotte Bobcats, led by Al Jefferson, are on the rise with room still to grow

Lang Greene

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Bobcats Aren’t Laughingstocks Anymore

Not long ago the Charlotte Bobcats were the recurring butts of daily NBA jokes for their futility. The criticisms, in most cases were warranted, as the team won a combined 28 games during the 2012 and 2013 campaigns. Entering the 2014 season there wasn’t much expected from the franchise, other than another appearance in the annual draft lottery.

But last summer the Bobcats made two moves which didn’t get much mainstream publicity but ultimately paid immediate dividends in the franchise’s efforts to change their culture.

First, the hiring of longtime assistant coach Steve Clifford has seemingly put an end to the revolving door of sideline generals in Charlotte. Clifford  spent last summer working tirelessly implementing his system and securing the all important buy-in from his roster. From rookies to veterans through the halls of the team’s front office, support for Clifford has remained high.

Secondly, the Bobcats opened their wallet and signed free agent big man Al Jefferson to a lucrative three-year $40.5 million deal, finally giving the team an established low post presence to pair with emerging guard Kemba Walker.

The 29 year old Jefferson is averaging 21.5 points and 10.4 rebounds on 51 percent shooting from the field on the season.  But his play after the All-Star break, pushing the Bobcats into playoff contention has been remarkable. Since the mid-season classic Jefferson is averaging 24.5 points on 53 percent shooting.

After winning just 28 games combined the past two campaigns the Bobcats have surged past those results this season with 36 victories already on the mantle.

Jefferson’s recent play earned him Eastern Conference Player of the Month for March after leading the Bobcats to a 9-7 record. Charlotte (36-38) is currently seventh in the Eastern Conference standings and have a slight chance to catch the sixth place Washington Wizards before season’s end.

While the Bobcats’ first round playoff matchup will be a tilt versus either Indiana or Miami as huge underdogs, the fact remains the franchise turned the corner much quicker than most forecasted and the team still has room to grow into even more success.

Currently the franchise has just $41 million in guaranteed salaries on the books for next season. This will allow the franchise to be active on the free agency front or the flexibility to acquire salary via trade for additional assets.

However the rest of the season shakes out the Bobcats have already clinched the second best record in franchise history and in all likelihood the team’s second playoff appearance.

The future is much brighter in Charlotte moving forward, but can they make the necessary moves this summer to climb the Eastern Conference’s ladder even further?

Dwyane Wade Talks Free Agency, Future of Big Three in Miami

The partnership of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James has produced three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and back-to-back titles. Safe to say the experiment has worked tremendously for the Miami HEAT. However, there is an old adage which says all good things must eventually come to an end.

This summer could potentially be the beginning of the end for the union with all members of the trio containing the options to test the free agency market.

Bosh and James are in their respective primes, while there are legitimate questions regarding Wade’s health, specifically his knees, over the long term.

With such a huge free agency decision coming, Wade maintains the trio will come together as a unit to make a decision about their future with the HEAT.

“I’m at a position where I don’t really have to worry about it,” Wade said as part of an upcoming issue of ESPN the Magazine. “I’ve been with the same organization for now 11 years. We’ve won multiple championships, so it’s no reason where I need to think about that yet. I’m not at a point where we are a bad team and I need to think about the future so right now I’m really focused on just enjoying this team, enjoying our quest to try to ‘Three-peat.’ And when the season is over, and whatever happens, then I will sit down and I will sit down with Chris and I will sit down with Bron and I will sit down and make the best decision for myself and my family.”

Wade is averaging 19.2 points per game on the season which is the lowest since his rookie campaign (16.2) in 2004. However the veteran guard is playing strong basketball after the All-Star break averaging 20.3 points on 54 percent shooting.

Wade is on the books for $20.1 million for the 2015 campaign. If Wade chooses to opt-in this summer, he would also have a player option after next season where he could also opt for free agency.

Warriors Players Rallying Around Head Coach Mark Jackson

The Golden State Warriors are on pace for their first 50 win season since the 1993-94 campaign but there are lingering rumors in play which imply head coach Mark Jackson’s job security is decreasing.

On the surface things are looking up for the Golden State franchise. The team’s financial value continues to rise, point guard Stephen Curry finally reached All-Star Status and is an emerging star and the club is on the verge of consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1991 and 1992.

Currently the Warriors are sixth in the Western Conference but are just two and a half games ahead of the ninth place Dallas Mavericks. But the biggest drama surrounding the club these days is the future of Jackson with the franchise amid rumors he’s lost control in the locker room.

Two-time All-Star forward David Lee says those reports are laughable in nature. Lee maintains the Warriors players fully support Jackson and that the team’s chemistry remains solid overall.

“We have one of the best locker rooms, in my opinion, in the whole league,” Lee told Sam Amick of USA Today Sports. “I’ve been on teams that had awful chemistry and the coaching staff is constantly arguing with players and vice versa, and there has been none of that here. The word ‘dysfunction’ (which has been used in the media to describe the Warriors) is one that we’ve been laughing about, almost making a joke out of it, like are you serious?

“We trust Coach Jackson. We trust each other as teammates. There’s not a whole lot else you can worry about. Our chemistry is great. I think that we have a chance to do special things this year, so I’m just not going to let this bother me. We believe in Coach.”

Making the playoffs isn’t a foregone conclusion for Golden State but the team is positioned strongly to outlast the rest of the field. Six of the team’s remaining eight games are versus teams below .500 with Denver (2), Los Angeles (Lakers), Minnesota, Sacramento and Utah on the docket.

Six Things You Need To Read – Here are some hot topics you need to read (or watch) this morning:

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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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.

Dennis Chambers

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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.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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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

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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