First Cup: Friday

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
By Nick Borges
  • Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon-Journal: If any other general manager had made so many questionable decisions with free agents and high draft choices, even in bad draft prospect years, he might have been gone long before this. A fourth overall pick who was shooting with the wrong hand? A first-rounder who’s incompatible with the previous first-rounder? Another top pick whose early play made some long for the 7-footer who could spend his rookie year on injured reserve? But in letting go of General Manager Chris Grant on Thursday, owner Dan Gilbert continued the missteps that have kept the Cavs in the league’s basement since LeBron James departed in the summer of 2010. Gilbert said he wanted “an environmental and cultural change,” but he fired the GM rather than coach Mike Brown. Perhaps Gilbert is blaming Grant for drafting too many divas, but it is up to the coach to mold those divas into a team. Gilbert, who built the Cavs’ practice palace in Independence, has as much to do with the environment and the culture as Grant. More than anything, Gilbert’s timing is off. If he had lost faith in Grant’s skills as a talent evaluator and in his rebuilding plan, he should have dumped him with coach Byron Scott last April.
  • Jim Ingraham of The News-Herald: Eighteen of the Cavs’ 33 losses have been by 11 or more points. Among those, they have lost games by 16, 17 (twice), 19, 23, 29, 30, 31, and 44 points. In other words, they have been blown out in more than half their losses. They have given up 100 or more points in 11 of their last 14 games, while giving up 30 points in 19 of 56 quarters (34 percent). The offense? Mostly it’s five guys selfishly playing one-on-one. Worst of all, there’s the stench of we-don’t-care rising from the Cavs’ roster. The players don’t play together at either end of the floor, and in many games they don’t even try. They don’t compete, which is unprofessional of them, embarrassing to their team and insulting to their fans. That’s not the owner’s fault. That’s not the general manager’s fault or the coach’s fault. That’s all on the players. When all else fails, pride should matter. With the Cavs right now all else has failed, and pride is nowhere in sight.
  • Brendan Savage of The tension between Detroit Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks and Will Bynum might not be over. Cheeks and the veteran point guard had a confrontation on the sidelines during Wednesday's 112-98 loss in Orlando after Cheeks removed Bynum with 8:52 left in the second quarter. ... "It was in the heat of the moment," said Bynum, who was the last player off the practice floor. "I care. It's hard for me to sit back and act like I don't care because I do. All I'm really concerned with is winning. If I see something that's not right, sometimes in the heat of the moment you kind of say something. "I don't regret it. I regret the fact that maybe I was a bit too passionate about it. But other than that, I don't." Will Bynum approach Cheeks? "Nope." Does he think they'll speak? "Nah." ... When the line of questioning went back to the incident with Bynum, Cheeks appeared a bit irritated and asked a reporter if he was defending Bynum. "If I'm going to have a conversation with Will, if I have a problem with Will, he and I will probably have a conversation at some point," Cheeks said. "I will say this again: Through my years – coaching, playing – starters usually have a bit more stretch. They do. That's probably not going to change. That's it. I don't know any other way to say it."
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Charlotte Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker has a message to those fans who think losing games to improve draft position is this team’s best route: Forget it. “That’s ridiculous, as far as us tanking and getting a high draft pick,” Walker said following practice Thursday. “I don’t think we need any more (high) draft picks at this point.” The idea has become a frequent debate on sports-talk radio and the Internet. The 2014 NBA draft is potentially quite strong. The Bobcats could have as many as three first-round picks – theirs and those of the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers. They could also lose their pick to the Chicago Bulls (as part of the Tyrus Thomas trade) if it’s outside the top 10. They get the Pistons’ pick only if it’s outside the top eight. The Blazers’ pick figures to be late in the first round. The Bobcats are coming off a surprising 3-1 West Coast trip and have the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, two games ahead of the Detroit Pistons. So do the 22-28 Bobcats belong in the playoffs? “I think so,” said Walker.
  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: The Magic have a chance to win more games than last season, which sounds like a good thing. Except that, as we know, the 2014 draft class includes some studs at the top of the lottery. Only the biggest losers can get in line for a shot at them. The Magic finished with the NBA’s worst record last season at 20-62, and wound up with the No. 2 pick (Victor Oladipo). The Magic won their 14th game of 2013-14 on Wednesday night, beating the Detroit Pistons 112-98 at Amway Center. They have the NBA's second-worst record at 14-37. There are 31 games left – and here’s the situation: Twenty of those remaining games are against opponents in the wretched Eastern Conference, including two against the Milwaukee Bucks, who have the league’s worst record by a mile. Seven games of the Magic's games are against teams – Milwaukee (twice), Philadelphia (twice), Cleveland, Utah and the Lakers – who all appear to be in tank mode. Orlando is now 11-21 against the East. It could get interesting, especially down the stretch, where the tanking tactics might be comical. Can you call entire teams for flopping? The Magic, as currently constructed, could win 10 or so more games against such pitiful competition. Will around 25 wins still get you a good enough seat at the lottery table? Sounds insane to ask, I know. But this is the climate created by college stars Joel Imbiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
  • Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune: New Orleans Pelicans second-year guard Austin Rivers has been around the game of basketball and NBA for nearly his entire life. His father Doc Rivers played 14 years in the NBA and was an All-Star in 1988. Doc Rivers also has been an NBA head coach for 15 years, serving as the All-Star Game coach twice. But next week when the NBA All-Star game comes to New 0rleans, it'll mark only the second time that Austin Rivers will have attended the league's All-Star showcase. The other time was in 2008 when his father coached the Eastern Conference All-Stars in New Orleans. Although Austin Rivers won't be playing, he'll have a vital role. He'll serve, along with Pelicans forward Anthony Davis and guard Tyreke Evans, as an ambassador for the NBA Jam Session. And he is looking forward to the experience.
  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: For nearly 30 minutes after the team's practice yesterday, Nerlens Noel put on an impressive display of moves close to the basket under the guidance of assistant coaches Greg Foster and Billy Lange. The workout mostly consisted of baby hooks from each hand after quick moves across the lane. Noel also caught passes on the wing and made quick, one-dribble moves to the basket, mostly finishing with dunks where his head was close to the rim. His surgically repaired left knee seemed very sound for the workout and his excitement couldn't be denied. "You can see, even though it's just sort of shadow boxing, you can't help to see how quick he jumps, his athleticism, his length," said coach Brett Brown. ... Brown said that the next steps are to get Noel to play with others and, of course, against others. That's when he will have to make unscripted cuts that will be the true test of how strong his knee is.
  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: Damian Lillard will be a busy man during All-Star Weekend. The NBA on Thursday confirmed that the Trail Blazers’ point guard will become the first person in NBA history to participate in all five All-Star events, as he will defend his championship in the Skills Challenge and take part in the Slam Dunk Contest and Three-Point Contest, in addition to playing in the Rising Stars Challenge and All-Star Game. The events will take place in New Orleans from Feb. 14-16. ... But some have questioned his participation in the Dunk Contest, in part because he’s only dunked eight times this season, but also because he has a surplus of obligations during All-Star Weekend — a time when most NBA players are recuperating and relaxing. But, during a brief interview session with a small group of reporters in Indianapolis on Thursday night, last season's unanimous NBA Rookie of the Year dismissed those concerns and expressed excitement about his historic opportunity, representing the Trail Blazers, expanding his brand and more. No Blazers player has ever won the Three-Point or Dunk Contest.
  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Back in November, we took a look at the NBA's new SportVu cameras and what kind of data they were spewing out about the Thunder. But that was six games into the season. Now we're more than halfway done — 51 games in — with a far bigger sample size from these innovative trackers. ... Stat: Kevin Durant has traveled 124.9 miles on the court this season, fourth most in the NBA. Explanation: More than anything, this number speaks to his consistent defensive effort and expanding all-around game. With such a scoring burden, he's always traveled plenty on the offensive end. But now, more and more, he's taking the challenge of guarding premier scorers on the other team. And within that, he's shown an ability to chase them around the court, running through screens and contesting shots. The three ahead of Durant on this list: Nicholas Batum (128.6) Klay Thompson (127.6) and Monta Ellis (127.2).
  • Michael Rand of the Star Tribune: Four Harvard statistics gurus will present a paper later this month at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on a new basketball statistic called Expected Possession Value. One of the authors, Kirk Goldsberry, wrote about it on Basically, EPV seeks to quantify every movement of every player in every situation on the court — pass, dribble, fake, shot, you name it. The amount of data is somewhere between fascinating and terrifying, as is the potential use of the results. ... Players are measured using EPV Added — the number of points they add per game by being themselves instead of an average NBA player. This takes into account every action he performs with the ball. There were 327 players last season who had the requisite number of “qualifying possessions” to be charted. Chris Paul was No. 1, at plus-3.48 points. The player with the worst EPVA of those 327 was Ricky Rubio, at minus-3.33. The player with the second-worst EPVA was Kevin Love, at minus-2.38. Now: Other players we consider to be very good — Russell Westbrook and Paul George among them — were also in the bottom 10. And let’s remember that Love had an injury-marred season and is almost certainly much better in terms of EPVA this year. As for Ricky? Love’s poor season hurt him, too, but mostly it was his shooting.



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