Hornets Taking Next Step With Lance Stephenson?
When Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker found out that the Charlotte Hornets had signed Lance Stephenson in July, they couldn’t hide their excitement.
Charlotte won 43 games last year, which was 15 more wins than they had in their previous two seasons combined. Now, they’re hoping that the addition of Stephenson will take them to the next level and allow them to become a contender in the Eastern Conference.
“The thing about Lance is he’s been where were trying to get to; he’s been to the Eastern Conference Finals two years in a row and he knows what it takes,” Jefferson told NBA TV. “When I found out he was coming, I was very excited about that because he could help us get to that next level. I really think that he has been misunderstood. I think that’s the passion that he has for the game; I’d rather a guy have too much passion than not enough passion. Lance is the type of guy that’s going to play hard if he’s down 20 points or up 20 points. That’s the type of guy you want to go to war with every night, that’s the type of guy you want to fight with every night.”
Stephenson was one of the Indiana Pacers’ most important players last year, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 35.2 percent from three-point range – all of which were career-highs. It was a breakout year for Stephenson and he even received All-Star consideration in the first half of the season. At times, his antics seemed to overshadow his production, but there’s no disputing that he was a key contributor for Indiana.
At 24 years old, he still has room to grow as a player and he believes he can take another huge step forward this year in Charlotte. When negotiations with the Pacers stalled over the offseason, he turned to the Hornets and ultimately inked a three-year deal worth $27 million to play in Charlotte.
“I chose Charlotte because the city, the people and the team,” Stephenson told Hornets.com. “I looked at the team and I was like, ‘Man, I could fit right in.’ And at the same time, being under Michael Jordan, who was my idol growing up. When we were having the first meeting, I was just sitting there in total awe like, ‘Am I really talking to Michael Jordan, the guy who I had all over my walls growing up?’ I’m just happy to be here and bring the team back to what it once was.”
Stephenson believes that Charlotte has what it takes to compete at a high level. Last year, the Hornets finished with the sixth-best defense in the NBA, allowing 101.2 points per 100 possessions. Stephenson and his teammates are determined to be an elite defensive team once again.
“I’m very excited just to be able to be playing with these guys while having fun and being able to change the program so we can win,” Stephenson said. “I love winning. I can even tell the media is excited to see how we are going to play this year. We are going to be bringing that defense out. Our defense was close to number one last year so we are going to try to do that again this year and work on our offense.”
Stephenson is ecstatic to play alongside Jefferson, who was one of the best big men in the NBA last season, and Walker, who he has known dating all the way back to their battles against one another in high school.
“I feel like we can help each other out,” Stephenson said of teaming up with Jefferson. “When Big Al is in the post, you might as well just say it’s two points. And with Kemba, I don’t think there has ever been a New York backcourt in the league as dynamic as us. … [Teaming up with Kemba], especially at this level, it’s a dream come true.”
In recent years, Stephenson has become a nightly triple-double threat. His five triple-doubles last season led the NBA, and he says he’ll take the same approach to fill the stat sheet again this year.
“I’ve always liked getting the rebound and pushing the ball just to make something happen,” Stephenson said. “Whatever happens after I grab the rebound and push it up the court is what lets me gets triple-doubles and easy buckets. In high school, I never did the type of stuff I can do now. I really didn’t have an identity coming into the NBA so I had to figure out what I could do to help my team win. Everyone respects my game now so I guess I found my identity and I’ll keep rolling with it.”
Prior to last season, Charlotte was a laughingstock around the NBA with the team’s low point being the 2011-12 season when they won just seven games and posted the worst winning percentage (.106) in NBA history. Now, Stephenson sees that the Hornets are determined to reach their full potential. Making the playoffs is no longer good enough – they want to make some noise in the postseason.
“Everyone was basically working out together about a month before training camp even started, and I can see it in everyone’s eyes that we are ready for this season and everyone feels like we’ve got something to prove,” Stephenson said. “When everyone feels like that, it shows on the floor.”
“You kind of see it happening right before your eyes,” Jefferson said of the team’s progress. “Between the All-Star break last season all the way up to now with the new names coming in, you can just feel the energy in the city now. People are really excited to see Charlotte Hornets basketball start this season. We had a little success last year, but we’re really hungry just to see how far we can go this season with [our] motivation and dedication. We’re determined to just build off of last year.”
The addition of Stephenson will certainly help Charlotte continue their momentum, especially if he can take his game to another level once again this season.
NBA Officially Announces Lucrative New TV Deal
The NBA has expanded its partnerships with Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and The Walt Disney Company through new, nine-year agreements under which ABC, TNT, and ESPN will televise NBA games beginning with the 2016-17 season and running through the 2024-25 season. Reports have indicated that the deal is worth around $24 billion over nine years. For how this will affect the NBA, check out Steve Kyler’s latest article.
Under the agreements, the partners will televise more national regular-season games (ABC/ESPN: 100; Turner: 64) and will continue to do so generally on Wednesdays (ESPN), Thursdays (TNT), Fridays (ESPN), and Sundays (ABC/ESPN). By the end of these new agreements, the NBA’s partnership will reach 41 years with Turner, while the league’s relationship with ABC/ESPN will extend to 23 years. Additionally, NBA TV’s Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Saturday game telecasts will continue to fill out the schedule, ensuring a full week of nationally televised games. The NBA’s 24-hour network will present over 100 regular-season games each year.
The NBA and Turner will also continue their groundbreaking partnership to manage jointly the NBA’s digital assets including NBA TV, NBA.com, NBA Mobile, NBA LEAGUE PASS, and WNBA.com, which Turner operates out of its Atlanta production facility. TNT will also debut the first-ever NBA Awards Show, an annual event which will air at the end of the season, and will have expanded activation opportunities surrounding key NBA pillars such as Opening Night and NBA All-Star Week.
Under the agreement, ESPN will be granted enhanced digital rights to provide NBA content for multiple ESPN platforms, including ESPN.com and WatchESPN. Beginning with the 2016-17 season, for the first time, at least 20 NBA Development League games and NBA Summer League games will be seen on the ESPN television networks.
“The Walt Disney Company and Turner Broadcasting share responsibility for the growing popularity and interest the NBA enjoys, and we are thrilled to extend our partnerships,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “With these new agreements, our fans will continue to benefit from the outstanding NBA coverage and programming provided by ABC, ESPN, TNT, NBA TV and their digital platforms.”
“These nine-year extensions with Disney and Turner recognize the extraordinary value of live premium sports,” Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said. “On behalf of our Media Committee and the other team owners, we thank Disney and Turner for their commitment to the NBA and its fans.”
“This is a significant deal for our company and we are pleased to continue our long-standing partnership with the NBA, its fans, owners and players,” Turner Broadcasting System President David Levy said. “The agreement locks in some of the most valuable, original, premium live sports programming that we’ll continue to monetize across TNT and all other platforms within our extensive portfolio and will help further grow our businesses into the next decade.”
”The NBA has never been more popular globally and it continues to grow under Adam’s leadership,” ESPN President and Disney Media Networks Co-Chairman John Skipper said. “By acquiring significantly more NBA content on both existing and yet-to-be created platforms, we will establish a vibrant year-round relationship with the NBA and bolster what is already the sports industry’s most impressive and impactful collection of media rights.”
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.
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.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
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.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
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 Celtics.com.
“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.