Lakers Land Lin at Perfect Time: What a lot of NBA prospects don’t realize in the pre-draft process is that all of the workouts and interviews they do don’t just impact where they are going to land on draft night. Teams are often doing research and putting together files on players for when they hit free agency or become available in trades years later as well.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ acquisition of Jeremy Lin from the Houston Rockets after the moratorium was lifted is a prime example. The Lakers have had eyes for Lin for years now, trying to sign him before he landed with the Golden State Warriors and also putting in a claim for his rights when he was on waivers afterward, only to see him ultimately land with the New York Knicks where Linsanity was born.
Lin’s career has undergone a string of reality checks since that point. He spent the last two years with the Rockets. He came in as a top target for the Rockets that offseason, but his role decreased with the additions of James Harden and Dwight Howard. Toward the end of his tenure with the team, he was coming off of the bench behind overseas import Patrick Beverley and had his jersey number used during the recruiting pitch for Carmelo Anthony like he wasn’t even on the team anymore.
The Rockets may have fallen out of love with Lin, but the Lakers were eager to take him off of their hands. Having no issue with paying the final year of his contract, which only counts from $8.3 million against the cap but actually costs the team closer to $15 million, the Lakers have finally landed the player they’ve sought after for years. The path that kept Lin away from the Lakers couldn’t have prepared him better for the situation he’s going into with them now.
“I’m a more mature person,” Lin said at his introductory press conference. “That’s one thing I’ve experienced. I’ve gone through the highs and lows of an NBA career in the spotlight. Going through New York has prepared me and given me a different perspective, then going to Houston where things settled down and there wasn’t as much spotlight, now coming to L.A. where there’s a bigger market and spotlight, hopefully I’m able to handle it better each and every year. One of the ways I want to handle it is not letting it affect my play. Now, more than ever, I’ve learned to just play for God and ignore everything on the outside.
“It’s been an up and down year for me. I think when I look back on not just this past year but the past two years I’ve learned and grown a lot as a person, Christian and basketball player. From the minute I stepped into Houston to now, I’m definitely a much more complete player. I’ve learned how to do a lot of things I haven’t had to do before, playing off the ball, cutting, really challenging myself on my weaknesses I’ve tried to improve on.”
Acquiring Lin was clearly a contingency plan for the Lakers, as they went into the offseason with aspirations of luring the top free agents on the market to join forces with Kobe Bryant. However, when they missed out, they quickly went to forming a team of guys like Lin who have been counted out and have something to prove. They put in the winning bid for Carlos Boozer after he was amnestied by the Chicago Bulls and also signed Ed Davis, along with re-signing Jordan Hill, Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson and Ryan Kelly. They may not be the most talented team on paper, but there may not be a team in the league with a bigger chip on their shoulder.
Bryant is determined to finish his career on a high note and shock his doubters one more time. He’s already started reaching out to his new teammates to get them on the same page.
“We’d exchange texts,” Lin said of his communication with Bryant. “I was in Shanghai at the time, we’ve talked a little bit here or there. The one thing he told me is we have a lot of work to do and I think that’s 100 percent accurate. As long as we come in with that mindset of really having to work and earn everything, I think we’ll be okay.
“I think [the chemistry with Kobe] will be great. I’ve had the opportunity to play with a few really great players. I’ll be able to learn a lot from him; he’s been there, done it and won at the highest level. I’m excited to learn from him, to be honest, and see how he approaches things. I’ve made my own structure and rhythm to what my workouts look like for the season, but I’d like to see what his look like as well.”
Lin also mentioned Lakers veteran point guard Steve Nash as someone he is excited to learn from, as he has studied his game in the past and tried to emulate him. He’s even open to the idea of playing behind him or even off of the ball with him in the case that Nash has a resurgent year and is able to contribute more than he has so far in his injury-plagued two-year Laker career.
“If you ask any player, they’ll believe they’re capable of starting,” Lin said. “If there’s anything I’ve learned this year it’s not about who starts, it’s more about who finishes and how you play with the time you’re given. That’s probably one of the biggest things I’ve learned this past year. I believe I can start for a NBA team and help that team win. As a competitor I would obviously love to, but that’s not me coming in and saying I need this or that. I just want to be a part of the team.
“My approach won’t change. I think my approach shouldn’t ever change. It should just be to be on attack mode all the time because that’s who I am as a player. Regardless of his health or anyone else’s health, I’m going to be on the attack. One thing I thought worked good in Houston was when I played with Pat Beverley. I’d like to play with Steve Nash… I think that’d be really fun.”
The decision on how playing time is split up and what combinations are used will eventually be made by whoever the Lakers tap as their next head coach. They are currently the only team in the NBA without a coach in place. They made it clear from the start that they were going to take their time and used their head coaching vacancy as a part of their recruiting efforts for free agents like Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Chris Bosh among others. Now, even without any star’s voice other than Bryant’s to really take into consideration, they continue to take their time and be methodical with their process.
Longtime Laker Byron Scott, who has been a head coach with the Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Pelicans and Cleveland Cavaliers, has been the perceived favorite for some time and recently had another interview with the team. However, the fact that they have yet to hire him has created speculation that they may be going in another direction.
With training camp still a couple of months away and no other team looking for a coach, the Lakers could really drag this thing out another couple of weeks and re-evaluate candidates they previously ruled out now that they know what their roster looks like. The team is basically set, outside of perhaps a couple signings for the veteran’s minimum.
No matter who gets put in charge on the sidelines, the timing couldn’t be better for Lin to finally land on the Lakers after multiple failed attempts to acquire him. He’s basically auditioning again, which may not be ideal for him at this stage of his career, but he’s doing so for a team that has wanted him for years and has nothing prohibiting them from keeping him long-term should he flourish like they’re hoping he will. He’s going to have every opportunity to showcase his full repertoire in this contract year and doesn’t have overwhelming expectations for the first time since the Linsanity storm.
“To be honest I have the least amount of pressure, feel the least amount of pressure than I ever have,” Lin said. “I’m trying not to let my situation as a player dictate my play. I know what I want to accomplish as a player and how I want to play. As long as I do that, I can hold my head high.”
Cavaliers Sign Wiggins, Harris: The Cleveland Cavaliers have signed their 2014 NBA Draft picks, Andrew Wiggins and Joe Harris, to contracts, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin announced today from Cleveland Clinic Courts. Per league policy, terms of the contracts were not released.
Wiggins was the first overall pick in the June draft. An early entry candidate from Kansas University, Wiggins, 19, was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year and First-Team All-League in his only year at Kansas. In 35 contests with the Jayhawks last year, the 6’8, 194-pound guard averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.0 block in 32.8 minutes per game. In four games during the 2014 NBA Summer League, Wiggins averaged a team-high 15.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks in 29.9 minutes per game.
Harris was selected 33rd overall after playing four years at Virginia where he was named Second Team All-ACC as a senior and First Team All-ACC as a junior. The 6’6, 225-pound guard averaged 12.6 points and 3.8 rebounds in 30.3 minutes for his career at Virginia (135 games). In four games during the 2014 NBA Summer League, Harris averaged 7.8 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 24.6 minutes per game.
Once rookies are officially signed like Wiggins and Harris now are, they cannot be traded for 30 days. Wiggins has been at the center of trade rumors involving Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love. His signing does not mean that trade talks are off, in fact it makes a trade easier to consummate as he goes from not counting for anything financially as an unsigned rookie to now $5.5 million. A trade involving Wiggins could still be agreed to in principle, just not made official until August 24 at the earliest. The Cavaliers, at the urging of LeBron James, are hot in pursuit of Love and may have to part with Wiggins in order to land him. However, the Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors are also firmly in the mix with offers that are comparable to what Cleveland can give.
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.