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.”
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
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.
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.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
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