Wednesday, April 17, 2013
First Cup: Wednesday
By Nick Borges
- Tony Bizjak, Dale Kasler and Ryan Lillis of The Sacramento Bee: The uncertainty over the future of the Sacramento Kings will linger at least into next week. Just as Mayor Kevin Johnson announced on Tuesday that a local investor group was finally ready to present its formal bid to buy the team, league officials in New York revealed they have scrubbed plans to vote this week on a competing offer to move the team to Seattle. An NBA spokesman declined to offer a reason. League Commissioner David Stern two weeks ago said a postponement was possible due to what he called the complicated and unprecedented situation the league faces. The NBA has never before had to decide between two cities competing hard and well for the same team, Stern said. Both have well-financed groups eager to buy the team from the Maloof family, the team's current owner, and both cities assure the NBA they can build gleaming state-of-the art arenas in the next few years.
- Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Having Chauncey Billups back in the starting lineup for the Clippers on Tuesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers meant a lot to the team in many ways. Billups brings the Clippers championship experience. He won a title with the Detroit Pistons over the Lakers in 2004, when Billups was named the Finals most valuable player. "He's a little bit older now," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said about the 36-year-old Billups. "He's missed most of last season and a lot of this season, so that's not as easy to do. We still expect a lot from him with his leadership. He can make shots, obviously. He's another guy that can make plays." Billups had missed the last eight games with a strained right groin. He has played in just 21 games this season and is expected to play in a back-to-back game Wednesday night in Sacramento. Del Negro said the plan is to play Billups about 20 minutes per game.
- Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: The photo, like so many others from Monday’s explosions, had gone viral. A young woman, her body mostly obscured by a distraught man and an EMT, lay face down on the blood-splattered Boylston Street sidewalk. Avery Bradley spotted the photo online and immediately posted it to his Twitter account with a simple hashtag — #sad. “It just caught my eye,” the Celtics guard said before yesterday’s practice. “All I could think was that this is crazy, to think that people go to an event like this to run. That’s what they train for all year. And for people to lose arms and legs, that’s just crazy.” So Bradley did what so many others could only do. He asked for help from a greater power. “All you can do is pray for their families. I definitely did yesterday,” he said. “I feel bad, and if there’s any way I can help, I will want to help. . . . It could happen anywhere. But to see it happen there or anywhere at all is just crazy.” The Celtics took the practice floor in a relieved state yesterday, most glad last night’s game against Indiana was canceled.
- Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: With a $100 million payroll, four future Hall of Famers and a storied championship history, it's come to this. The Lakers' season finale Wednesdaytonight against the Houston Rockets could decide whether they perhaps salvage an otherwise disastrous season or miss the playoffs for only the third time in the team's history. Few would have guessed this scenario. Plenty envisioned the Lakers waltzing into the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. Many wondered if anyone could stop a star-studded lineup that featured Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Never shy to boast, Lakers forward Metta World Peace predicted the team would surpass the NBA's regular-season record (72-10) set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team. "I thought we'd be at a different point right now," World Peace said. "But that's all right." Instead, the Lakers (44-37) enter Wednesdaytonight's game against the Houston Rockets (45-36) at Staples Center with a possible must-win situation. The Lakers are a pure lock for the playoffs if they win, earning a seventh seed and playing the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. A Lakers' loss coupled with a Utah loss against Memphis would leave the Lakers in the eighth spot against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
- Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune: Wishing and hoping and thinking and — oh, right — playing. With apologies to Dusty Springfield, nothing else remains for the Utah Jazz. Their season may conclude with a loss to the Grizzlies here Wednesday, it may end with a Lakers win over the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles or it may be extended into a most unlikely postseason. If the Jazz can beat the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum, they will turn into Rockets fans, hoping Houston, trying to avoid falling into the eighth seed, can beat the Lakers in a game that fittingly, cruelly, doesn’t begin until after the Jazz and Grizzlies end on national TV. The Jazz, who won the season series against L.A., would be even with the Lakers and into the playoffs. "I guess I need to try to get in touch with Kevin McHale," Al Jefferson said of his former Minnesota coach, now with the Rockets, "and tell him to handle that for me. Give me a late birthday present."
- Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: As another Toronto Raptors season crawls to its conclusion, a franchise teetering on irrelevance has a series of enormous decisions to make. There may not be any one right answer for Tom Anselmi and the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, but there is almost certainly a wrong one. The decisions, as they seemingly do at the end of every Raptors season, revolve around the general manager, Bryan Colangelo, and the coach, Dwane Casey. Colangelo has an option year remaining on his contract. Casey has one year left on his deal. And the team is forever paddling in circles, creating the occasional wave, but ending up nowhere in the end. The decision for Anselmi and the board isn’t in any way obvious, with the largest issue being the relationship between Colangelo and Casey. Colangelo did his best to distance himself from his coach early in the season and there has been all kind of internal speculation that the two can’t possibly work together again. That determination may wind up saving his job or costing him the position.
- Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Hawks had a chance to control their playoff seed. Not anymore. A poor effort against the Raptors, one in which the Hawks went to their bench early and often, resulted in a 113-96 loss Tuesday night in a nationally televised game at Philips Arena. The Hawks played without Al Horford and just a half with Josh Smith in a game they trailed by as many as 23 points. Smith played 13 minutes and received treatment on his knees at the intermission. He banged a knee in the first half and did not immediately come back to the bench after halftime but later returned with both knees wrapped in ice. Regulars Jeff Teague (19 minutes), Kyle Korver (18) and Devin Harris (17) played less than a half. … The Hawks can clinch the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, and a first-round playoff against the Nets, with a victory at the Knicks and a Bulls loss at home against the Wizards Wednesday. The Bulls will claim the fifth spot with a victory or if both teams lose Wednesday. The Hawks would finish sixth and get a first-round matchup with the Pacers. The Hawks have split the season series with both the Nets and Pacers this season.
- John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Thunder three-time All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook has never missed a game in the NBA and has the league's longest active streak at 393 consecutive games played. OKC (60-21) closes out the regular season at 7 p.m. Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks (37-44) at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but Thunder coach Scott Brooks wouldn't share his starting lineup after Tuesday's practice. Westbrook playfully was asked if there would be a fist fight if Brooks asked him to sit out the finale. “No, no, no. There won't be a fist fight,” Westbrook said with a smile, “but he won't ask me (to do) that.”
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: With all the twists and turns during the 2012-13 regular season, it was only fitting that the Spurs gave us one more on Tuesday, signing Tracy McGrady to fill to roster vacated after the unceremonious whacking of Stephen Jackson. It is the seventh NBA stop for the former franchise player, and eighth as a professional including his recent stint in the Chinese league. He dominated with Qingdao Double Star Eagles, averaging 25 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists — the type of numbers he put up as a seven-time All-Star before injuries sapped his athleticism. McGrady won’t find it nearly so easy back in the NBA, where he averaged 5.3 points last season with Atlanta. There’s some speculation that McGrady’s addition had been the end goal all along. But at this point, the most likely explanation is probably the simplest: The Spurs excised what they viewed to be a cancer, and they needed a warm body to help pick up the slack on a Spurs bench that suddenly isn’t so deep. That means chewing up whatever time is available behind starting small forward Kawhi Leonard. And from what Gregg Popovich has said recently, there won’t be much. Leonard, he said, could earn up to 40 minutes a night, leaving precious little for a floor-bound ex-star.
- K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Keeping Noah and Gibson healthy is critical during the postseason. The Bulls took Tuesday off, and both players continued treatment on their respective lingering injuries, plantar fasciitis for Noah and a sprained MCL for Gibson. Coach Tom Thibodeau said "it's a possibility" the players will be on minutes limits to start the playoffs, which affects his rotation. "You don't know what the minutes are going to be, so that's another huge factor," Thibodeau said. "We have to get that sorted out in a very short amount of time. "The question is: Are we going to be sharp? You're talking about playoff basketball, where the intensity level is very high and it's the same opponent over and over. Most of the time, games are decided by one or two possessions. So how you matchup with people is critical. A bad matchup for a minute in the playoffs, that's 10 points. We have to be right and ready."
- Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News: O.J. Mayo owes an apology to his teammates in general and Vince Carter in particular. In the least, Mayo owes them maximum effort in Wednesday’s season finale against New Orleans. Why Mayo, in coach Rick Carlisle’s opinion, “didn’t compete” during his 28 minutes on the court against Memphis on Monday, is the latest baffler in Mayo’s mystifying late-season swoon. In fact, Mayo’s lack of production and Carlisle’s now-obvious frustration level seemingly increase the likelihood that Wednesday’s game will be his last in a Mavericks uniform. Of course, this could be the finale for some or all of the nine Mavericks who are in the final year of their contract or, as in Mayo’s case, have optional deals for 2013-14. Mayo holds his option, meaning it’s up to him whether to stay at a $4.2 million salary or declare for free agency.
- Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic: Luis Scola and Goran Dragic were asked whether they would recommend interim head coach Lindsey Hunter returning next season. Both players punted the topic. “That’s a tough question,” Dragic said. “ ... I’m here to play basketball. It’s not my decision to make.” Dragic did say he liked Hunter’s approach to practice. “Alvin (Gentry) was a great coach for the veteran players; he knows when to give them a day off, but for our team we have a young team and we really need to practice hard every day,” Dragic said. “When he (Hunter) took over the team I think we maybe had one or two days off. I think it should be like that.” Scola said he thought Hunter did “a great job. Circumstances were bad and he did as good as he could. But I don’t make those decisions. I’m just a player.” Would a third coach in less than a year be unsettling for the team? “I think it would be a sign of things being bad,” Scola said. “But things are bad.” Suns owner Robert Sarver declined comment when asked about Hunter’s future, and Hunter said no time has been set for a postseason meeting with either General Manager Lance Blanks or President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby.
- David Mayo of MLive.com: One day after Pistons owner Tom Gores bluntly said he wasn't satisfied with on-court performance -- Gores also praised basketball operations, which supports the notion that team president Joe Dumars' job is safe -- Frank said he and his coaching staff want another year to right the ship. Frank noted that the Pistons are ahead of schedule in terms of their financial flexibility this summer because of the Ben Gordon and Tayshaun Prince salary-purging trades within the last year, and said he wants to remain head coach of a franchise in "prime position" to make major moves. "Obviously, you want to be a part of it, because that's why you went through the bleeding," Frank said. "I know, without a doubt, we all want to be back. But at the same time, that's not our decision. "But do I want to be back? Of course, because this is what you signed up for. You want to be part of reshaping the franchise and getting it back to where it was.
- Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: With a 20-61 record entering the season finale against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bobcats might end up with the NBA’s worst record for a second straight season. Charlotte will have a high draft pick and as much as $21 million in room under the salary cap this summer. Owner Michael Jordan and the front office face some big decisions between now and the start of training camp in October. Do they bring back the coaching staff? Which of their free agents do they re-sign? Do they cut ties with power forward Tyrus Thomas? Even what should they call themselves going forward? Coach Mike Dunlap: Winning one out of every four games isn’t the ideal NBA coaching debut, but the Bobcats’ record is about what was predicted at the season’s outset. When Jordan was asked at a season-ticketholder event about Dunlap, the owner said all his major employees’ performances would be reviewed after the season. To Dunlap’s credit, he’s had an impact in player development, the priority he was given when hired. Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and Byron Mullens all improved. But Dunlap has had some rocky moments in his interaction with players, particularly veterans.
- Tery Pluto of The Plain Dealer: Kyrie Irving can be great. That's right, the Cavaliers point guard can be great. But he's not there. Not yet. Great players defend. Great players help their team win. Great players find a way to stay on the court for most games. It will be up to Byron Scott or whomever coaches the Cavs to deliver that message next season. At times, Scott has tried. He has pulled Irving from games for a lack of defense. He has talked about Irving's disdain for defense. He consistently compares Irving to Chris Paul, adding that Paul is superior defensively. It's no secret that Irving is a soft defender. That's true of many young players, who believe all that matters is the points next to their name in the box score. The fact the team has yet to come close to the playoffs with him should point out that Irving still has a lot of work to do. … There are times when rolls his eyes or shakes his head in disgust when a teammate makes a poor play. It's kid stuff, but he should know better. None of this is to say Irving is a bad guy or a lousy teammate. But he has some maturing to do, and the Cavs must demand that he do it.
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger wants to return to the team next season if an agreement can be reached this summer, but as with any contractual agreement, there’s a bit of fine print. That is, if Rick Adelman returns to coach. Adelman is the reason the Wolves traded the 18th overall pick in last summer’s draft to Houston, where Adelman coached Budinger for three seasons before the pair was reunited in Minnesota. He’s also the reason a California kid wants to remain on the frozen tundra when he becomes an unrestricted free agent free to sign with any team this summer. “I would like to come back,” he said. “I like the organization. I like the staff. I love Adelman.” He saved the most important part for last there. “That’s a big part of it,” he said about the coach who taught a second-round draft pick in 2009 the NBA game. “Our relationship, he knows how I play. I work well in his system. It’s [Adelman’s decision] going to weigh big.”