Can Steve Nash Still Help the Lakers?
The losses are continuing to pile up for the Los Angeles Lakers at a historic rate. They run one of the most one-dimensional, predictable offenses in the league that is overly reliant on Kobe Bryant, whose shot selection has never been more ill-advised and unfiltered. Defensively, they often play uninspired, having great difficulty containing anyone out on the perimeter.
Despite the change at head coach over the summer from Mike D’Antoni to Byron Scott, these kind of issues have become all too familiar for the Lakers over the last three years. Only, before, they had hope to point to, whether it was the return of Bryant and Steve Nash or the opportunity to make a run at Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in free agency.
Now, the direction of the franchise is as unclear as ever. The Lakers are playing with all their cards with no ace up their sleeve. Bryant is still a beast, but is an inefficient as ever and limited in how far he can carry this supporting cast. Rookie forward Julius Randle came in with a lot of promise, but his career wasn’t even 48 regular season minutes old before it came to a screeching halt for the rest of the year. He’ll basically be a rookie next season, making it hard to label him as the savior.
As they have in the past, the Lakers will continue to go after the best. They’ll use the appeal of the bright lights of Hollywood and max offers as their main selling points, but as they’ve learned in their dealings with Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Anthony and James, those no longer hold the kind of weight that they used to. Bryant has said that he likely won’t play beyond his current contract that expires at the end of the 2015-16 season, which ESPN would have you believe is an advantage, but in today’s day and age where it’s unmistakably clear that a team with just one superstar can’t win it all, it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to help the Lakers’ cause in any way.
What the Lakers are hoping puts them over the top with the free agents they covet the most, specifically Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant who is set to become a free agent in 2016, is the loyalty that they’ve displayed to their stars in the past.
Bryant had yet to play a single game on his surgically repaired Achilles tendon before they offered him a contract that made him the league’s highest paid player for the next two years. While most teams would have dealt Pau Gasol’s expiring contract to avoid the stiffer luxury tax penalties and add an extra draft pick or two, the Lakers kept him in order to show that they weren’t concerned about the cost to keep good players. There probably isn’t a franchise in the league that wouldn’t have stretched Nash’s contract or tried to get him to agree to a reduced buyout at this point, but instead the Lakers are paying his full salary this year and offering a spot with the team in his post-playing career, according to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report. They’re even letting him take as much time away from the team as he wants as he accepts the fact that his playing days are over.
Will any of that matter to Durant in 2016 or Rajon Rondo this offseason? Do they care more about being on a team that can compete for a championship over playing for a franchise with a great history that is loyal to the great players they acquire? Only time will tell, but this has become one of the Lakers’ primary selling points due to the changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement and their foiled plan to transition from the Kobe-Pau era to the Chris Paul-Dwight Howard era like they hoped, and came very close to pulling off.
Quick Hits From Around the League:
- New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon is out indefinitely with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. This comes just as Gordon was starting to play better. Unfortunately for Gordon and the Pelicans, this is all too familiar territory for them. Gordon has suffered one major injury after another since signing a long-term deal with them in 2012. Gordon was averaging 30 minutes a game, which Pelicans head coach Monty Williams will be forced to distribute amongst Austin Rivers, Jimmer Fredette and Russ Smith in his absence. With a lack of depth, particularly in the backcourt, this is going to be a very difficult injury for the Pelicans to deal with. It also makes it to where they cannot afford another injury to a starter, or else they’ll be in serious danger in a Western Conference where every game is vital.
- The Lakers announced today that forward Xavier Henry suffered what they fear is a ruptured Achilles tendon today in practice during a three-on-three drill. The Lakers have been working out multiple players this week, including Tyrus Thomas, Quincy Miller, Gal Mekel and Roscoe Smith for Henry’s spot, as they were already debating cutting him. He has a guaranteed contract for just over $1 million, but has been plagued with injuries ever since he started to breakout early last season. A ruptured Achilles typically requires 8-12 months of recovery time. At 23 years of age, Henry is young enough to recover and work his way back into the league, but it’s going to take a lot of time, dedication and perseverance as this is one of the most devastating injuries a basketball player can suffer. However, he needs to look no further than the 36-year-old Bryant for proof that it is possible to come back from and still play at a high level.
- According to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, the Indiana Pacers have cooled on the possibility of Paul George coming back this season. At 5-8 the Pacers are actually still firmly in the hunt to make the playoffs this season, but even with George working out in a pool and working hard to recover from a devastating broken leg during a Team USA scrimmage this summer, they’re not wanting to push him too soon. The Pacers are somewhat in a state of flux, needing to figure out whether they are going to take the franchise in a different direction upon George’s return, or simply try to make it work with the aging David West and Roy Hibbert as his main support as they did prior to the injury, minus Lance Stephenson of course. Until they figure it out, it’s probably in both parties best interest that he sits back, waits and recovers for the 2015-16 campaign.
- The Philadelphia 76ers are set to add Furkan Aldemir on a two-year fully guaranteed contract. Aldemir was originally drafted late in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, but his draft rights eventually ended up in the hands of the Houston Rockets while Sam Hinkie was still working in their front office. When Hinkie took over the 76ers, he really wanted to bring him over as well and was willing to take on the contract of Royce White, who the Rockets had a lot of problems with, in order to acquire his rights. Trading White became a necessity for the Rockets in order to create salary cap space to sign Dwight Howard. Prior to joining the 76ers, Aldemir was averaging 7.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in the Euroleague.
The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA
The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.
When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.
With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.
One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.
Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.
“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”
Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.
When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.
“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”
He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.
Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.
He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.
“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”
While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.
He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.
It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.
“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”
NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger
Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.
Playing For Something Bigger
The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.
By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.
“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.
“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”
Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.
“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.
“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”
Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.
“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”
With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.
“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”
With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.
If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.
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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed
James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.
Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.
2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.
“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”
Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.
“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”
While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.
“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.
Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.
“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”
Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.
“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.
Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.
“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.
On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.
Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.
“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.
Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.