Connect with us


NBA AM: How Far? Depends On How Healthy

With NBA training camps just around the corner a few team’s seasons hang on the health of key guys with recent major injuries….

Steve Kyler



If Healthy…:  The biggest qualifier in any prediction in sports usually starts with the phrase “If healthy…” There are several players entering the 2014-2015 NBA season with that phrase tattooed to their resume and some of them will play huge roles in their team’s success or ultimate failure. Here are a few worth talking about:

Derrick Rose – Chicago Bulls

An ACL tear and a meniscus surgery later, Derrick Rose has missed most of the last two seasons, leading most to label the Bull’s franchise player to be injury prone.

The truth about Rose is that he and the Bulls took the most conservative rehab path possible. It cost him more games than anyone would have liked, but both surgeries were done with the future in mind. Rose is 836 days removed from his ACL surgery and 274 days removed from his meniscus surgery, so the rehab and recovery window is more than complete.

That however doesn’t remove the cloud of doubt hanging over the Bulls franchise or Rose himself. Rose has looked incredible in Team USA play, but even the National team is taking a deliberate and measured approach with Rose, trying to insure that he is ready for the World Cup games in Spain.

If the Bulls have to play things the same way, the Bulls may run into some issues.

Until Rose proves he is completely healthy and can handle a full NBA workload there will be doubt and with the Central Division now significantly better with a much improved Cleveland Cavaliers team, the Bulls won’t have much margin for error and they will absolutely need a healthy Rose to win the Division.

Kobe Bryant – LA Lakers

Laker star Kobe Bryant turned 36 last Saturday. He is entering the first year of his two-year contract extension that will pay him $23.5 million and $25 million next season.

The Lakers need Kobe to rebound from not only his Achilles injury, which he played six games on last season, but his fractured lateral tibial plateau that cost him the rest of the season as well.

The Lakers have fielded much of the same squad as last year, with a few interesting additions, but if the Lakers are going to make any noise this year they need Kobe to be on the floor to look something like Kobe is supposed to look.

If Kobe plays the “in and out of the lineup” game because of nagging injuries, not only will the Lakers season likely be lost, but that final contract year may become a huge deterrent in free agency. The Lakers need Bryant to look good for a number of reasons; some of those are about this season, some are about the future.

Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder

Thunder star Russell Westbrook missed 36 games last season trying to recover from knee issues that haunted him for the last season and a half. Fortunately for the Thunder guard Reggie Jackson stepped up admirably and the Thunder ended the season with the second best record in the West, just three games out of the first chair.

As the clock ticks down on the eventual free agency of Thunder star Kevin Durant, the Thunder need Westbrook on the floor and need to get back to the NBA Finals.

Injury created opportunity last season and that may open the door for Westbrook and Jackson to play together, which is a far more potent and efficient look for the Thunder. The problem becomes if Westbrook’s knee starts acting up.

The Thunder stayed above the waterline without Westbrook, but given how many teams in the West improved this offseason, spotting the competition 36 games may not work out as well as it did a season ago. For the Thunder to get where they want to be Westbrook has to stay healthy.

Al Horford – Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks did the improbable last year, making the postseason without the services of arguably their best all-around player in Al Horford. Horford missed 53 games last season to a torn pectoral muscle. Prior to that injury Horford was putting up monster numbers for the Hawks and was arguably one of the more productive players in the East.

As his injury created opportunity, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver all rose to the challenge. With Horford expected back and healthy, the Hawks could be significantly better this season than they were last year.

The problem is Horford has had some nagging injuries over the last three seasons that make him far from reliable.

For the Hawks to improve on last year, they will need Horford to be Horford and stay healthy. That is far from a given and could be the biggest question lingering around the Hawks when camp opens.

Chris Paul – LA Clippers

The LA Clippers have two lingering issues: The first is forward Blake Griffin and the status of his back. It was reported that Griffin left Team USA to a back issue that was later classified as a fractured vertebrae. Griffin later clarified that it’s wasn’t anything serious and he was taking it cautiously.

The other is point guard Chris Paul. Arguably one of the best players in the NBA, Paul has a history of missing games. Last year Paul missed 20 games, the season before that he missed 12 games.

The Clipper were able to lean on backup guard Darren Collison last year who played really well without Paul as Griffin and Collison really picked up the slack.

With Collision now in Sacramento, the Clippers backup is Jordan Farmar.

The Clippers ended the season with 57 wins and the Pacific Division title, however if Paul misses a sizable chunk of games, it’s hard to imagine that in an improved Western Conference that the Clippers end up with the third seed without Paul on the floor.

Durability has been Paul’s biggest weakness. As much as other have improved around him, the Clippers need Paul on the floor. Spotting the competition 20 games is the easiest way to lose home court and that is absolutely something the Clippers will be focusing on in their quest to get to the NBA Finals.

Marc Gasol – Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies had two major issues last year: The first being some systemic revolt as veteran Grizzlies players pushed back on changes from first year head coach Dave Joerger. Eventually they found a balance and started to progress, but the second issue absolutely killed them in the end and that was losing big man Marc Gasol for 23 games to a pretty nasty MCL sprain.

Without Gasol in the lineup the Grizzlies really struggled; fortunately they were able to stay in the hunt winning their final five games and securing the seventh seed in the west.

If Gasol misses time again, things could get problematic for the Grizzlies as many of the teams the Grizz were able to pass up last season got markedly better in the off-season.

Another worry for the Grizzlies is that Gasol is playing for the Spanish National team, who is hosting the FIBA World Cup in Spain. Assuming that tournament goes the distance for Spain, Gasol could be playing high level basketball well into mid-September, meaning he’ll have extra wear to worry and fatigue to worry about coming into training camp.

The Pelicans’ Starters

The New Orleans Pelicans were decimated by injuries last season. Anthony Davis missed 15 games, Ryan Anderson missed 60 games. Jrue Holiday missed 48 games. Tyreke Evans missed ten games and Eric Gordon missed 18 games. The most durable Pelican last season was Al-Farouq Aminu and he’s in Dallas now.

The Pelicans really believed they had the make up last season to contend for a playoff spot, and without all the injuries they might have achieved that.

As they enter the 2014-2015 NBA season, injuries are the Pelicans biggest hurdle. If the Pelicans starters can play 80 games, they may have a chance to make some noise, but if the injury bug continues to plague them, they don’t have enough to spot teams in the West and that’s exactly what they did a season ago.

A Couple Of Things You May have Missed:  Throughout the offseason, Basketball Insiders spends a lot of time with players away from the game, whether at training sites or offseason tournaments.

Here are some of the NBA guys we caught up with at Adidas Nations earlier this month:

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.


1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Indiana confirms addition of Emmitt Holt | Hatching News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

Continue Reading

The Strictly Speaking Podcast


Trending Now