TrueHoop: Jason Kidd

Mike Woodson's long goodbye

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
11:03
AM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
Special to ESPN.com
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Mike Woodson Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesOusted New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson never found sustained success in two-plus seasons.
After two and a half tumultuous years, Mike Woodson’s term as New York Knicks head coach came to a close Monday morning. His dismissal ends what was, even by the Knicks’ standards, a strange chapter in recent NBA history.

Woodson’s coaching reputation has swung wildly over the last 26 months. Under Woodson’s direction, the Knicks went 72-34 from when he took over for Mike D’Antoni in March 2012 through the end of the 2012-13 season. It’s not as if Woodson’s name was mud before the Knicks' 100-game hot streak, but his regular-season success in Atlanta -- the team won more games than the year before in five consecutive seasons -- was tainted by Atlanta’s inability to make noise in the playoffs. The Hawks never lost to a lower seed, but they never really looked capable of a deep playoff run, either.

After his time in Atlanta, critics cast Woodson as inflexible and somewhat dreary from a tactical standpoint. Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense repeatedly broke down in the playoffs, and his Hawks never had an effective backup plan.

But after coaching under Mike D’Antoni with the Knicks, Woodson seemed to become a believer in the spread pick-and-roll, and his Knicks rode that action, and a barrage of 3-pointers, to a 54-win season in 2012-13. The conversation around Woodson changed almost overnight: He had won full buy-in from Carmelo Anthony and somehow kept J.R. Smith focused; he modernized his offense and embraced the state of the art in basketball strategy.

The Knicks, for the first time in a long time, exceeded expectations. Was it Woodson? Or were the Knicks just more talented than people realized? Wasn't it Woodson who made Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland useful players?

Before the 2012-13 season, Wages of Wins combination of metrics and analysis predicted the Knicks would be the top seed in the East. The two main reasons were Kidd and Tyson Chandler, the point guard-center battery of the 2011 champion Mavericks. Kidd was old, sure, but he still made his teams better with rebounding, shooting and crisp ball movement. With the Knicks, Kidd’s play became the shared language through which Anthony’s game could communicate with the spread pick-and-roll.

When Kidd retired, the Knicks’ half-court offense descended into Babel. Again, this was partly due to situations outside of Woodson’s control. In the offseason, the Knicks replaced important shooters Novak, Kidd and Copeland with Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani. World Peace was a defensive contributor during a brief period of good health, but otherwise the Knicks essentially scrapped the identity that made them so dangerous -- great ball movement and killer shooting -- in favor of big names.

The same Wages of Wins analysts who picked the Knicks to be very good in 2012-13, then picked the Knicks to finish outside the playoffs, as did the SCHOENE metric developed by ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton.

Whether Woodson ever really believed in the free-wheeling, 3-pointer crazed offense of 2012-13 is an open question. The Knicks abandoned their small-ball strengths at the first sign of trouble in the 2013 playoffs, abdicating their perimeter advantage to wage an unwinnable war inside against the Pacers. And this season, Woodson often professed a desire -- possibly at behest of the front office -- to make the “Big” lineups work, even though playing Bargnani, Anthony and Chandler together had miserable results.

Strategy aside, if you consider the variable roster quality during the last two seasons, it is hard to say whether Woodson is responsible at all for either the good times or the bad ones.

Doubt that those role players the Knicks lost in the offseason really matter enough to so dramatically swing the Knicks' win-loss records? The fact is Carmelo Anthony was actually better this season than he was last season. Logic argues that he wasn't the controlling factor in the Knicks' success.

With Kidd and the shooters gone and Chandler hobbled, the Knicks just didn't have a very good roster -- so they weren't a very good team.

This gets us closer to the truth of Woodson’s value as a coach. Of course his teams in Atlanta got better every year, the roster improved every year, too!

Young stars such as Josh Smith and Al Horford joined the Hawks as rookies and followed a logical trend: They were better at 21 than 20, and better at 24 than 23.

History suggests Woodson does not make his teams better, nor does he really inhibit them. He puts his players in positions to succeed, but he is no Rick Carlisle, masking flaws with smoke and mirrors.

Given the Knicks’ lack of draft picks and tradable assets, the roster probably won't be much stronger next year. If they want a significantly better record, they'll need to find a coach who can win more games than player quality projects.

Woodson will be remembered as a players' coach, one who forged strong bonds with difficult personalities but never found a way to make them much better than they already were.

Jason Collins is ready to play

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23
12:31
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Jason CollinsChris Pizzello/Invision/APJason Collins has stayed busy building a full life for himself. Now he's ready for an NBA opportunity.
At a recent Sunday morning service at his church in Los Angeles, Jason Collins swayed along with his fellow congregants to the gospel rock ballads being performed on stage. The church is a remarkably happy place, with a rustic chic design and Arcade Fire playing before the service out on the lawn, right near the coffee bar. It’s an urban believer’s paradise, and Collins appeared right at home.

Collins was going on his 10th month of basketball unemployment. He didn't receive a training camp invite, and as opening night came and went, then the Jan. 10 date when rosters rid themselves of some guaranteed contracts, the reality began to set in that he might not suit up again in the NBA.

The positive response of a handful of superstars and head coaches back in April, which seem like eons ago now, didn't change the fact that the league’s median opinion on Collins’ sexuality was still suspicious. Over the past decade, league executives have innovated many facets of their decision making, but they’re still conservative men at heart in their steadfast desire to maintain their careers. These days, few are really interested in being Walter O’Malley or Branch Rickey.

[+] EnlargeJason Collins
Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty ImagesComing out has taken Jason Collins to all sorts of new places, including to the White House for dinner.
From the exterior, this was a cruel event, but for Collins it was something else entirely. He took refuge in his workouts each morning, and maintained an in-season regimen of conditioning and nutrition. But far more than that, he built a life for himself. Coming out isn't just a personal proclamation. It’s the moment you start to sculpt an identity as a gay person. In many respects, it’s Year Zero -- and for Collins, Zero was shaping up as an awesome year.

He met the world, established new friendships in different social communities around the country, and started dating. Barack and Michelle Obama reached out and pretty soon, Collins found himself at the State of the Union. From the White House to grassroots organizations, people were honoring Collins for his courage, and that's about as validating as an experience can get as a human being.

Though watching the league from afar wasn’t without frustration, Collins was loving life. As the service ended and the worshipers filed to the exits, Collins greeted a slew of people. The support was clearly both humbling and energizing. Out on the street, Collins caught up with a few friends. He was off to Washington on Monday as a guest at a state dinner for French President Francois Hollande and needed to run some errands before the trip east.

Collins will now board a plane with the Brooklyn Nets to join their drive toward the 2014 postseason. The opportunity comes 10 months after his last one, but the hiatus also unintentionally provided him time necessary to build confidence as an openly gay man, which should only help ease his transition back into life as a professional basketball player. Because no matter how warm the love, life during those first few months out of the closet can be dizzying. Your personal growth spurt occurs at warp speed, and that’s especially true if you’re an American symbol. Through it all, you build up stamina and a sense of self -- the kind of strength a person needs if he encounters conflict, skepticism or abuse.

Collins’ identity and confidence will come in handy because the spotlight is about to turn even brighter. He’ll be moving to a perfect market for his endeavor, but New York is also a media circus. Those executives who cited the media glare as a legitimate deterrent were misguided, but they weren't incorrect about its existence. Collins’ integration into the league will probably be somewhat disruptive. There will likely be awkward and obtrusive moments for some of his teammates. More and more pro athletes are ready to accept a gay teammate, but not every 24-year-old NBA player has the confidence, vocabulary or cultural sensibility to speak confidently about homosexuality.

Collins’ identity and confidence will come in handy because the spotlight is about to turn even brighter.



The morning after Joakim Noah yelled, “F--- you, f----t” at a fan in Miami during the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, the Bulls held their media availability at the team’s hotel. The big names on the roster were each surrounded by a scrum, and Noah's epithet was a hot topic. Luol Deng was asked his impression, and the vet nervously tiptoed through his response as if he was navigating a minefield. Here was a young guy who’d seen a lot in life. He’d crossed cultures, defied probabilities, been under the microscope of one of the nation’s highest-profile college programs and spent his career in a top-three media market. But “f----t,” gays in the locker room and homosexuality in general were entirely different matters.

Three years later, the Nets figure to be a lot more comfortable. Paul Pierce is a former teammate of Collins and was his most vocal supporter in the league on April 29, when Collins came out. Kevin Garnett can be unpredictable, but his obsessive devotion to team chemistry will appeal to his better nature. Jason Kidd, yet another former teammate, was a catalyst in the decision to bring the 35-year-old Collins in. With those three men facilitating the assimilation process in Brooklyn, the rest of the roster should fall in line.

It’s been a rough couple of seasons for the Nets, and despite their recent surge in the Eastern Conference standings, they haven’t done much right since Barclays Center opened. But today, they're the league leaders. In the NBA market most vulnerable to media distractions, they dismissed the media distraction canard. Instead, they’re embracing the idea that change doesn't come without disruption, and that tests of character are worth confronting.

Collins has already passed that test, and as commendable as his announcement was last spring, watching him handle the situation with grace, cultivate a life and identity, maintain his conditioning and serve as an ambassador has been affirming.

Now he gets to compete, which is the whole point.

Orlando Summer League: What to watch

July, 5, 2013
7/05/13
3:48
PM ET
By D.J. Foster
ESPN.com
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Steven Freeman/NBAE/GEtty ImagesMost head coaches let their assistants handle summer league, but Jason Kidd will coach the Nets.


On Sunday, basketball will return in its most unfiltered form. That's right, it's time for summer league in Orlando.

This event has long acted as a fix for NBA junkies, but in an effort to create a little more mass appeal, a champion will be crowned on the final day.

While this may be the only time of year fans can say things like “The Orlando Magic are going to win the championship!” and not get laughed at, the pull of summer league has always been the chance to get a first look at future NBA contributors and stars. With that in mind, here are five things to watch in Orlando:

Victor Oladipo and the Great Point Guard Experiment
Ever since he was selected with the second pick in the draft, there’s been a little ambiguity added to Victor Oladipo’s future. When asked whether Oladipo was a point guard or shooting guard, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan told the Orlando Sentinel, “We see him as a guard.”

It’s all a little odd, mainly because you rarely see teams create combo guards, both in perception and reality. Of course, it’s also interesting because in no way does Oladipo fit the profile of a natural point guard. In three seasons at Indiana, he totaled more turnovers than assists and often looked like he was dribbling one of those super bouncy balls you get for a quarter.

Still, it’s important to remember that disaster is only temporary in summer league. It’s very well possible that Oladipo struggles to run the point and takes his lumps, but it’s more important for Orlando to get a sense of what their prized pick is capable of in different scenarios. There’s no better time than summer league to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

Follow the leader?
If you had to handicap the rookie of the year race, Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke is probably the early front-runner. When talent meets fit and opportunity, good things tend to happen.

It also doesn’t hurt that six of the last eight rookie of the year winners have been ball-dominant guards. Burke should have the rock an awful lot in Utah, and Orlando will offer a sneak peek at how he uses it. Will Burke look to score every night, or will he focus on facilitating?

Maybe the most appealing part of Burke’s game is his ability to do both in the pick-and-roll, and in Orlando, he’ll have a few very intriguing dance partners.

Remember Jeremy Evans? The guy who jumped over a picture of himself dunking? He’ll be there, and so will rookie big man Rudy Gobert, who might be Mark Eaton reincarnated. Gobert’s standing reach and wingspan were the highest ever recorded in draft history, so Burke will be hard-pressed to miss his roll man as long as he throws the ball up really, really high.

Michael Carter-Williams and Holidays
Many rookies will fill the shoes of veterans, but very few will be asked to step in and take over for 23-year-old All-Stars.

That’s what Michael Carter-Williams is faced with in Philadelphia, as he’ll look to become the new franchise point guard in Jrue Holiday’s stead.

Running a team slapped together of players all trying to stand out can be tricky, but luckily for Carter-Williams, he can lean on a summer league veteran by the name of ... Holiday.

That’s right. Even though Jrue is in New Orleans, his older brother Justin will play with Philadelphia’s summer league team and act as Carter-Williams’ sidekick on the wing.

Some fans may be upset about the cold realties of rebuilding and Jrue Holiday being a casualty of it, but here’s the good news: If Justin makes the team this year and chooses the number 11, the old Philly tradition of using duct tape and a permanent marker to keep a jersey relevant can be skipped over for a year. And hey, Will Bynum is still a free agent …

The Heat double-dip
Would summer league technically count as one of the Miami Heat’s seven championships LeBron James promised upon his arrival? No?

Well, give Miami credit for trying, as the Heat will be the only team in the NBA to play in both the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues. The extended look at a few young players like second-round draft pick James Ennis and undrafted guys like Jackie Carmichael and Myck Kabongo could be big for a team that will eventually have to get a little younger. Juwan Howard won’t be around forever – or at least we think he won’t.

New Kidd
After grinding out 82 games a year for 19 seasons, most guys would probably want to take a break from it all. Relax. Maybe go fishing. But after Jason Kidd retired, there was no sleep till Brooklyn.

While other head coaches watch the spectacle from a distance and let their assistants play ringmaster, Kidd will jump right into the fray and coach the Nets in Orlando, using the time as an opportunity to get in all the reps as a head coach that he possibly can.

Summer league is often used as a development tool for players and referees, but for the first time in a long time, we'll get a view of how a high-profile coach might roam the sidelines. Will he stomp his feet at shooters like Vinny Del Negro? Will he use a timeout during the first possession of the game like Jacque Vaughn? Is he a guy who likes to stay seated like Phil Jackson, or is he a nervous towel-biter like Jerry Tarkanian? NBA fans go to know Kidd over nearly two decades, and now they'll get to do it again.


Who fits next to Dwight Howard?
The purpose of summer league isn't always to find the best players, but rather to find the best fit. A guy can score 35 points a night (like Josh Selby did in Las Vegas last year), but if he doesn't show that he can slide into a role at the NBA level, the points end up being just as important as they are on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

The objective for the members of Houston's summer league team changed drastically once Dwight Howard decided to become a Rocket. Demonstrating slash-and-kick skills is no longer as important as delivering a solid post entry pass or defending well on the perimeter to insure that Howard doesn't have to be relied on as a one-man defense like he was in Los Angeles.

Returning frontcourt players Greg Smith and Terrence Jones could stand to show off a little range and high-post passing skills, while dynamite guard Patrick Beverley could endear himself to his coaching staff by suffocating ballhandlers. Rookies guards like Isaiah Canaan, B.J. Young and Vander Blue need to show they can consistently knock down the open 3-pointers Howard will undoubtedly create.

For contenders like Miami, Oklahoma City, Indiana and Brooklyn, the objective during the six days in Orlando was always to find a complementary piece to a championship puzzle. With Dwight now on board, the same is true for Houston.

Kidd made his point after 19 NBA seasons

June, 3, 2013
6/03/13
5:23
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Jerome Miron/US PresswireJason Kidd won his only NBA title with the Mavericks in 2011.
Just two days after the No. 3 pick in the 1994 NBA draft -- Grant Hill -- announced his retirement, the player chosen one spot ahead of him also decided to call it quits.

Forty-year-old Jason Kidd, who was co-Rookie of the Year in the 1994-95 season with Hill, leaves the NBA after a 19-year career that included 10 All-Star selections, three NBA Finals appearances and one NBA title with the Dallas Mavericks.

He played in the postseason in 17 consecutive seasons from 1997 to 2013. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the third-longest streak in NBA history behind Karl Malone and John Stockton, who both were in the playoffs in 19 straight years.

Kidd’s legacy will be as one of the best passing point guards of all time, leading the NBA in assists per game five times and ranking second in NBA history in assists behind only Hall of Famer Stockton.

He also had significant range, ranking third on the all-time career 3-point field goal list behind Ray Allen and Reggie Miller. His 114 3-pointers made this season with the New York Knicks were the most by any player in his age 39 season or older.

Kidd was also a triple-double machine, recording at least one in 17 straight seasons from his rookie year through the 2010-11 season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the longest such streak in NBA history, four more than Magic Johnson.

One of the more underrated strengths of Kidd’s game was his defense. Kidd was an All-Defensive first team selection four times and his 2,684 steals are second on the all-time list behind Stockton (3,265).

Defensive win shares is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense. According to Basketball-Reference.com, his 75.1 defensive win shares ranks first all-time among guards and 11th best for all players.

Kidd was not a flashy scorer or a lights-out shooter, but leaves the game as not only one of the best point guards of all time, but also a surefire Hall of Fame player.

Efficiency lacking during recent Knicks skid

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
12:52
PM ET
By Rachel Stern, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesJason Kidd and the Knicks are scratching their heads after losing four of their last five games.
On February 2, the New York Knicks were in a virtual tie with the Miami Heat atop the Eastern Conference standings with a 30-15 record. What a difference a few weeks make.

Since then, the Knicks have gone 3-5 and lost four of their last five games. They have dropped to third place in the East, trailing the Pacers by one game and the Heat by seven games.

So what has gone wrong in the Big Apple?

INNEFFICIENT OFFENSE
For starters, the Knicks’ offense has been less efficient. It was averaging 109.0 points per 100 possessions through the first 45 games this season, but, since then, is scoring just 104.2 points per 100 possessions.

One reason why the Knicks’ offense has struggled is that they aren’t scoring as efficiently on catch-and-shoot opportunities. During their first 45 games, the Knicks ran catch-and-shoot plays 33 percent the time on offense and scored 1.14 points per play. Since then, the Knicks are spending about the same amount of time in this play type, but scoring only 0.94 points per play.

The drop in production could be due to the fact that teams are guarding the Knicks in this play type more often. The Knicks were unguarded on catch-and-shoot plays 62 percent of the time in their first 45 games but have been unguarded only 57 percent of the time since.

LIVE BY THE THREE…
No team relies on the three-ball more than the Knicks, and it has not been falling like it used to. They lead the league in percentage of points from three-point field goals this season at 32.5 percent. However, over the last eight games, that percentage has dropped about five percentage points.

The breaking point has been 35 percent. On the season, the Knicks are 27-7 when they shoot 35 percent or higher from three-point range as a team, compared to 6-13 when they shoot below 35 percent.

No player represents their struggles more than veteran point guard Jason Kidd. Through February 2, Kidd shot 40.4 percent from three-point range. That percentage has plummeted over the last eight games, as he is shooting just 15.2 percent during that span.

STOUDEMIRE’S STRUGGLES
Though Amar'e Stoudemire has looked increasingly effective on the offensive end since returning from his knee injury, he has hurt the Knicks defensively. Over the last eight games, the Knicks have allowed 115.8 points per 100 possessions with Stoudemire on the floor, compared to just 99.3 points per 100 possessions when he is on the bench.

That on-court defensive efficiency of 115.8 would be the most points per 100 possessions allowed by any team this season. His off-court efficiency (99.3) would put the Knicks among the league’s five best.

This trend does not bode well for the Knicks, as they get set to welcome the Golden State Warriors to town Wednesday night (8 ET on ESPN). The Warriors’ high-powered offense averages 104.1 points per 100 possessions this season, good enough for ninth in the league.

The book on Rick Carlisle

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
11:11
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Rick Carlisle
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesRick Carlisle: The pragmatist

Name: Rick Carlisle

Birthdate: October 27, 1959

Is he an emotional leader or a tactician?
A tactician. Carlisle inspires his team and staff with his deep knowledge of the game, not an emotional appeal. They know he’s passionate about winning and losing, but that’s conveyed through his intelligence and command, not huddle histrionics or heartfelt one-on-ones with players or coaches. Those who’ve worked with him, as well as colleagues around the league, marvel at Carlisle’s ability to manage the last five minutes of a basketball game.

Is he intense or a go along-get along type?
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the NBA who would characterize Carlisle as lighthearted. He’s very intense, but he also knows how to corral that sharpness and doesn’t coach angry.

Does he rely on systems, or does he coach ad hoc to his personnel?
Give Carlisle the pieces, and he’ll find something that works. In Detroit and Indiana, Carlisle’s teams were defined by their defense and were all about controlling the possession on offense. He succeeded with both Stackhouse-Atkins and Billups-Hamilton backcourts in Detroit, all four guards decidedly different in styles and strengths. In Indiana, Jermaine O’Neal got the ball on the left block, and Reggie Miller curled off single-singles, stacks and staggered screens. In Dallas, Carlisle went away from play-calling in favor of something that relied on more general principles -- and the instincts of Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki to put those principles into action. To the extent that there’s a commonality over the course of Carlisle's career, it’s “Find the right shot at the right time for the right guy.”

Does he share decision-making with star players, or is he the Decider?
Carlisle is the Decider, but he’s exceptionally good at giving his key players the sense that they own a piece of the enterprise. He takes in a lot of information -- from assistants, star players, owners, numbers guys and trainers -- and that knowledge will often guide his decisions. For instance, things weren’t so rosy in fall 2008 when the Mavericks came out of the gate 2-7. Kidd didn’t want every set being commandeered from the sideline and was pining for more freedom. Carlisle went into the lab with his staff, came up with the "push" offense, which gave Kidd the flexibility he needed, but still generated the right shot at the right time for the right guy. That often amounted to an early jump shot for Nowitzki in a prime spot.

Does he prefer the explosive scorer or the lockdown defender?
Carlisle has always appreciated who’s helping his team on the defensive end of the floor and feels confident he can find good shots for just about anyone -- even a defensive specialist like DeShawn Stevenson. In Indiana, Carlisle found plenty of minutes for Fred Jones, and in Dallas there has almost always been a Corey Brewer, James Singleton or Quinton Ross within close reach if needed for defensive duty. All that said, neither Corliss Williamson nor Jason Terry ever had to worry about losing minutes under Carlisle, who can recognize a well-tuned microwave when he sees one.

Does he prefer a set rotation, or is he more likely to use his personnel situationally?
Carlisle has no problem mixing things up when he identifies an opportunity. When his Pacers team needed to unclog the half court against the Pistons in a grueling conference final in 2004, Carlisle had Austin Croshere make his first start in two seasons to help the spacing. When his Mavericks team needed someone to attack the Heat’s defense off the dribble in the 2011 Finals, Carlisle inserted J.J. Barea into the starting lineup for the final three games of the series en route to an NBA championship. Throughout his tenure in Dallas, if a player has cracked the code in a regular-season game -- say Brandon Bass in a pick-and-roll with Barea -- Carlisle will gladly leave him out there to exploit an opponent’s defensive vulnerability.

Will he trust young players in big spots, or is he more inclined to use his veterans?
Again, Carlisle isn’t prone to personal bias. He wants the guy out there who can help him the most. The situation will dictate the personnel, regardless of a factor like age. In Indiana, the core apart from 38-year-old Reggie Miller was very young, and nobody used more possessions for him during his last season in Detroit than 24-year-old Rip Hamilton. Yet Dallas has largely been a veteran’s shop under Carlisle.

Are there any unique strategies that he particularly likes?
Carlisle might never fashion a trend in the NBA, but he’ll take a current one and perfect it.

The push offense isn’t so much an offensive system as it is solution to a problem. The 2008-09 Mavericks roster featured few players who could break a defense down with penetration and nobody who could be classified as a low-post threat. What Dallas had in spades were one- and two-dribble jump shooters and guys with astronomical basketball I.Q.s and other discernible skills like picking, diving and cutting. So Carlisle, with the aid of then-assistant coach Terry Stotts, devised a strategy to empower the team to find early high-percentage looks against an imbalanced defense.

As a general tactic, this wasn’t new -- several teams had abandoned structure for freedom, Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix squads the best example. But unlike D’Antoni, Carlisle didn’t have a prober like Steve Nash, nor was his group in Dallas as speedy or stretchy. The Mavs couldn’t run and shoot with abandon, but Kidd could orchestrate an aggressive offense that knew how to sniff out those clean, early looks. That often meant getting wings and big men behind plays into random pick-and-rolls, or pinning Nowitzki’s man early, or hitting Terry on the secondary break for a trailing jumper, or finding Josh Howard (later Shawn Marion) underneath a defense that’s collapsed after an early drag screen.

Given his conventional playbook at his previous stops, this shift to a more free-flowing offense seemed like a departure for Carlisle. But in time, we learned that Carlisle didn’t coach a deliberate, half-court game in Detroit and Indiana because he had a predisposition for it. He drew it up that way because his rosters necessitated more structure. When the circumstances in Dallas revealed themselves and he realized Kidd wasn’t Jamaal Tinsley or Anthony Johnson, Carlisle deftly adjusted to the talent around him and created something special.

Defensively, the Mavericks adopted an inventive zone defense strategy devised by Dwane Casey. They were the rare team that was able to effectively zone up after misses, and would actually employ both zone and man-to-man schemes within a single possession.

What were his characteristics as a player?
A plodding but an intensely hard-working shooting guard who was always prepared and stayed in impeccable shape. Curiously, he tallied only 3.5 rebounds per 36 minutes for a total rebounding rate of 5.4 percent -- one of the lowest in history for a guard his size. By all accounts, this wasn’t for a lack of effort, but a lack of hops.

Which coaches did he play for?
Carlisle played for Pine Tree State lifer Skip Chappelle at the University of Maine before transferring to the University of Virginia, where Terry Holland was the head coach. During his three years with the Boston Celtics, Carlisle came off the bench for K.C. Jones. Rick Pitino had Carlisle for a single season in New York. Carlisle finished his career as a player with New Jersey for Bill Fitch, who eventually offered him his first job on an NBA staff.

What is his coaching pedigree?
After being waived by the Nets, Carlisle got his start breaking down film under Fitch. In 1994, Carlisle joined P.J. Carlesimo's staff in Portland, where he worked alongside the legendary Dick Harter, the man responsible for the Bad Boy Pistons’ “Jordan Rules” defensive strategy. Harter had a tremendous influence on Carlisle, who ultimately adopted many of Harter’s principles in Detroit and Indiana -- strong base defense without much switching, few double-teams, help and rotations only when necessary and, above all, physicality. In 1997, Carlisle joined the coaching staff of former teammate Larry Bird in Indiana. Again Carlisle found himself on staff with defensive guru Harter. When Bird left the sideline in 2000, Carlisle was passed over for Isiah Thomas, but was tapped by the Pistons for his first head coaching gig. After two seasons in Detroit, Carlisle moved on to Indiana for four seasons before landing in Dallas in 2008 after a one-year sabbatical.

If basketball didn't exist, what might he be doing?
Working as a clinical psychologist.

Avery Johnson and the expectations game

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
3:28
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Mike Ehrmann/NBAE/Getty ImagesIn 28 games this season, Avery Johnson couldn't point the Nets in the right direction.

The buzzards had been circling in Brooklyn over Avery Johnson for the better part of two weeks. After finishing November at 11-4, the team has dropped to 14-14 and sits at .500 in an Eastern Conference where any team worth its salt should be winning more than it's losing. Not satisfied with their level of saltiness and with the losses piling up, the Nets dismissed head coach Avery Johnson on Thursday, with P.J. Carlesimo serving as head coach in an interim capacity.

Public expressions of discontent are among the surest signs of trouble for a head coach, and those voices had grown increasingly audible in recent days. Less than half an hour after the Nets' dispiriting loss to Boston on Christmas Day, Brett Yormark tweeted, "Nets fans deserved better today. The entire organization needs to work harder to find the solution. We will get there."

Late Wednesday night in Milwaukee, where Brooklyn, without Deron Williams, looked terrible in a 108-93 loss to the Bucks, Gerald Wallace let loose: "It seems like guys are content with the situation that we are in, and I'm f------ pissed off about us losing, especially losing the way we are losing."

While Yormack's remarks were general, and Wallace's were targeted at teammates, point guard Deron Williams was more explicit 10 days ago when he cited what he saw as flaws in the Nets' offensive schemes as the major symptom. Williams waxed nostalgic for Jerry Sloan's flex system, praising the constant motion that facilitated an easy offensive flow, a direct jab at Johnson (and one laced with irony given Williams' grouchiness in Salt Lake City). Meanwhile, Knicks guard Jason Kidd -- not exactly Avery Johnson's biggest champion in Dallas -- challenged Williams' premise: "I don’t think it has anything to do with the coach ... I think it’s just a matter of getting comfortable making shots."

Almost every NBA team has a degree of internal rivalries and grumbling. But the Nets aren't your average NBA team in your average NBA market with an average set of expectations. In New York, the light bulbs flash brighter, the microphones are larger, the media pricklier and the fans are always restless.

That's all true whether or not a franchise is coasting or, in the case of the Nets, has drawn up some of the most aggressive designs for organizational renovation the NBA has ever seen. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov has no qualms about the Nets sitting in tax territory for the immediate future. They handed both Deron Williams and Brook Lopez the max, absorbed Joe Johnson's enormous contract and shelled out big money for Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries.

Big payroll aside, the optics -- and Oculus -- loom large. The Nets play in the most ambitious arena built in North America in decades, a building into which Prokhorov invested heavily. And they also have a formidable measuring stick across the East River in Manhattan. Although the Nets weren't exactly looking to take a large bite of the Knicks' market share so much as expand the base of NBA fanhood in the city, the Knicks' rosy success so far has cast an imposing shadow. Had the Knicks fallen flat, both teams could've bunked together in New York Fan and Media Jail. Instead, the Nets have the entire joint to themselves (though they share a wall with New York's pro football teams).

How much of this is Avery Johnson's fault? That depends on how much you believe player performance is dependent on coaching. If you're Avery Johnson's son, an admittedly partial source, the onus falls on the players. Soon after the firing was announced Thursday, the younger Johnson tweeted, "I'm sorry are best players couldn't make open shots. Yeah that's my dads fault totally..."

The kid has a point. Is it Johnson's fault Deron Williams has missed 166 shots outside the paint this season for a ghastly effective field goal percentage of 41 percent from that range? Is it on Johnson that Williams, while not altogether wrong about the contours of the offense, couldn't do what max point guards do -- wield his exceptional individual talent to make the system work?

In recent days, Johnson has ripped several pages from the Utah playbook, installing some tried-and-true flex actions -- baseline screens for cutters who move directly into the next off-ball screen. The results were mixed, but for all the talk about an underachieving offense -- and the Nets have most certainly failed to maximize their assets on that end of the floor -- the team has lost a lot of basketball games in December because it fields the NBA's 10th-worst defense.

When Johnson was in Dallas coaching the elite Mavericks teams of the mid-2000s, "42" was one of his mantras, as in success for his team would be measured in large part by the defense's ability to hold the opposition to a field goal percentage of less than 42 percent. Only a handful of teams are able to accomplish that more times than not, but the Nets are rarely one of them.

It's difficult to assess to what extent Johnson's coverages are at fault. Lopez's skills as a pick-and-roll defender are remedial (his Synergy stats indicate proficiency, but they don't account for demands Lopez places on baseline and top-side rotators). Johnson's menu of options at power forward don't leave him much to work with. Wallace is active, while Johnson has size, but Williams has never demonstrated the instincts or commitment of a quality defender on the ball (though he'll body up in the post).

Schemes and strategies aside, the assignment of blame is one of the trickier exercises in pro sports, because everyone orders the list of NBA coaching responsibilities. Some NBA players want a guy who they can trust, others don't care so long as they get minutes, while others simply just want a friendly workplace where the boss isn't up in their face all day long.

For management and ownership, those aforementioned expectations are everything, especially this season in Brooklyn. Putting an inferior product on the floor, getting embarrassed on national television, crossfire in the tabloids -- it just can't happen. And from the perspective of most owners and managers, maintaining morale ranks just behind winning as the top deliverable for an NBA coach.

Intelligent people can disagree about whether the Nets spent their money well, or whether general manager Billy King has good taste in basketball players, or whether Williams is a coach-killer, or whether it's the coach's job to horse-whisper a temperamental floor general just as the player has the responsibility to do what he can with the coach's system.

But Prokhorov isn't going anywhere, and King has furnished the roster with enough paper tigers to deflect blame (for the time being) and the contracts on the team's books aren't very movable.

That left one remaining party, the guy sitting in the first chair on the bench -- the loneliest seat in basketball.

 

How worried should Miami be about its D?

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
12:32
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

Christopher Trotman/NBAE/Getty Images
There was a little too much of this on Thursday night for the Heat's beleaguered defense.

Chris Bosh says it’s the frenetic pace. LeBron James says it’s about communication. Shane Battier says it’s all in the head. Erik Spoelstra says it’s execution.

However you diagnose the Miami Heat’s defensive meltdown against the New York Knicks and the champs’ general listlessness all season, they’re a disaster on that end of the floor.

There are no shortage of explanations, but Miami’s woes are especially bizarre because, with the exception of Ray Allen, the personnel is largely the same as last year’s championship team, which ranked No. 4 overall in defensive efficiency. Theoretically, most of the principles are the same, but somewhere between application and result, the defense is drifting off-course.

Occasionally when you look at a colossally bad defensive performance, a single, obvious flaw reveals itself. What’s notable about Thursday night’s train wreck is how diverse the lapses were.

The switch-outs that guided the Heat to success in the 2012 playoffs allowed Miami to respond quickly to opponent’s actions. Against the Knicks, those switches created confusion both at the point of attack and in the back-side rotation. The Heat have a lot of guys who can defend bigs, smalls and space, but right now that flexibility isn't producing results.

For the most part, the Heat got back in transition promptly on Thursday night, but virtually every Miami defender would backpedal to the middle of the floor to stop the ball with no one splaying out to the wings where the Knicks had been spotting up and blistering opponents all season.

On those rare occasions when the Heat accounted for perimeter shooters while Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler ran a high pick-and-roll, there was nobody to bump (or “chuck”) Chandler off his course to the rim.

And the rotations behind the Heat’s traps of Felton (a questionable strategy in itself) made the Heat appear like a bunch of second-year players straight off the bus from their first training camp. When the Knicks have long-range threats like J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and Jason Kidd spread along the perimeter, it’s unconscionable to have a third guy drifting away from one of those shooters toward a trapped Felton at 27 feet, leaving the two remaining defenders to account for Chandler diving toward the rim along with three shooters primed for a catch-and-shoot.

James isn’t himself without blame. He’s an all-powerful defensive god when his antenna is up and he’s reading every movement, potential action and passing lane on the floor. When James is locked in, there isn’t a defender in the league who makes smarter risk-reward decisions like when to shoot the gap on a post feed and when to stay home; when to zone up on the two guys he’s covering on the weak side, and when to call, say, Mario Chalmers to fill his spot so he can meet a driver at the rim.

One of the great pleasures of Heat basketball is observing James play half-court defense in a big game. Try it sometime -- instead of watching the ball, focus solely on what James is doing. But had you done that last night, you wouldn’t have caught a glimpse of that sharpness. James was working -- primarily because he spent a ton of time on the ball -- but those secondary decisions weren’t made with a lot of precision. Even on a bad night, James is still a plus-defender. But if you’re looking for a reason why a No. 4-ranked defense falls to No. 23, decision-making by principal defenders is a contributing factor because, tempting as it might be, you can’t blame Allen for everything.

It’s an empirical fact that the Heat are playing horrific defense, but we’re also pretty certain they feature the personnel to play elite defense. There's actual evidence of this somewhere in a glass case inside AmericanAirlines Arena. So how manageable are these issues? Are they merely coasting rather than playing on a string, which is how the Heat characterize their defensive proficiency when everyone is where they’re supposed to be and all five guys moves as one unit in the half court? Would a healthy Battier and a few more minutes of Joel Anthony do the trick?

This time last season, the defense wasn’t exactly locking opponents down. The Heat weren’t running shooters off the 3-point line and they were gambling more loosely than Floyd Mayweather. Miami took some lumps early but privately understood that Spoelstra was engaged in some experimentation. The Heat were trying to figure out if they could morph a fairly conventional scheme into one that could maximize speed and instincts without sacrificing the integrity of the entire defense. It took a while, but the strategy bore a Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Is that what’s going on here in the early going? Is an outing like Thursday night just a symptom of a team that’s futzing around in the laboratory trying to come up with new solutions?

Chalking up bad defense to systematic failures (Defenders aren’t pushing guards down on the pick-and-roll; Nobody is sinking to the level of the ball when it goes inside; etc.) is usually more satisfying than attributing them to generalities like energy motivation, but there’s something that rings true in the postgame statements from James and Bosh about the Heat’s lack of urgency. The game tape looks like a snuff film, but even watching all the Heat’s tactical errors on defense, you find yourself saying, “They know better than this.”

The knowing part is simple, as are the basic adjustments required to fix what’s broken. This isn’t about buying into a system -- that sale was made a year ago. It’s not about hiding older, poorer defenders, abandoning a pick-and-roll coverage that isn’t working or modulating the pace.

This new project is about fully appreciating that immortality doesn’t exist in sports. You never know demise until it’s too late.

Knicks take advantage of flaw in Heat's D

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
1:33
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman & Nate Jones
ESPN Stats & Information
If "live by the three, die by the three" is the New York Knicks mantra, they're doing plenty of living against the Miami Heat.

The Knicks shot 18-of-44 on 3-point attempts against the Heat on Thursday after shooting 19-of-36 on 3-pointers against Miami earlier this season. The Knicks are the first team in NBA history to make at least 18 3-pointers in consecutive games against an opponent, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Perhaps the Knicks know by now that the Heat have trouble defending their outside jumpers. They've only made at least 18 3-pointers twice this season, and both of those games were against the Heat.

The Knicks rely on jump shots more than any other NBA team this season. They score 47 points per game on jumpers, representing 46 percent of their points.

The Knicks have done a tremendous job passing the ball and finding open shooters on the perimeter. They've scored more points off catch-and-shoot jumpers this season than any other team (525). And 149 of their 188 catch-and-shoot jumpers are 3-pointers. On Thursday, they scored 32 catch-and-shoot points, including 10 of their 18 3-pointers.

Not only have they attempted the most catch-and-shoot jump shots this season, but they're also shooting them at the highest effective field-goal percentage (57).

Plain and simple, the Knicks are deadly from the perimeter and they have lots of shooters. Steve Novak, Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace all rank in the top 100 of the league this season in catch-and-shoot points.

Novak is tied for second with 119 catch-and-shoot points, which accounts for all but 20 of his points this season. All but one of Novak's catch-and-shoot jumpers are 3-pointers. He has only dribbled the ball on one of his 40 3-pointers this season.

Novak took advantage with 18 points against the Heat, one off his season high. He has scored at least 17 four times this season, and two of those games came against Miami.

Clearly, the Knicks are a dangerous outside shooting team. So it makes sense that when they meet one of the worst teams at defending perimeter jumpers, they'd have an advantage.

The Heat tend to leave shooters open. They've allowed the fourth-most unguarded catch-and-shoot jump shots this season. They're only contesting 31 percent of their opponents' catch-and-shoot jumpers, the fifth-lowest percentage in the league.

Overall, the Heat are allowing the fourth-highest effective field-goal percentage on jump shots (48).

It seems as though the Heat are daring teams to shoot 3-pointers. They're allowing more than 25 3-point attempts per game this season, the most in the league.

With that philosophy, it's no coincidence that the Knicks -- a prolific shooting team -- have the Heat's number.

Thursday's 20-point loss was the Heat's worst home loss with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all playing together.

Knicks success stems from 3-point range

December, 6, 2012
12/06/12
11:31
AM ET
By Ernest Tolden, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com

Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireJason Kidd leads the league this season in 3-point field goal percentage (51.1).
The New York Knicks visit the Miami Heat tonight in a meeting of the two best records in the Eastern Conference. The Heat have revenge on the mind, as the Knicks served them with their worst loss of the season, a 20-point defeat in early November.

In five home meetings last season (two regular season, three postseason), however, the Heat had no trouble against New York, winning by an average of 15.8 points.

Tonight will feature a matchup of two of the most efficient offenses in the NBA this season. The Knicks are tied for first in the NBA averaging 110.9 points per 100 possessions, while the Heat are third averaging 110.1.

The Knicks (13-4) are off to their best 17-game start since beginning the 1995-96 season 13-4. A significant reason behind their success has stemmed from long-distance. The Knicks average an NBA-high 11.8 three-point field goals made this season, and New York has relied on long-distance buckets, as 34.4 percent of their total points have come from three-point field goals, by far the most in the NBA.

No other team has more than 26.5 percent.

A significant contributor from long range has been Jason Kidd, who leads the NBA this season in 3-point field goal percentage (51.1).

Much of the turnaround in New York is thanks to Mike Woodson. Since he took over as Knicks head coach, the team is 31-10 in regular-season games, and only the Spurs have recorded a higher win percentage over that span.

James Continues to Power Heat

LeBron James has recorded at least 20 points in 16 consecutive games to start the season, the longest streak in his career. According to Elias, James is just the third different player since the 2000-01 season with a streak that long to start a season. What's more, James has eight games this season with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, two more than any other player.

James has helped power an offense that ranks first in field goal percentage (49.3), second in three-point shooting (41.3) and second in scoring offense (104.4 PPG).

Despite their success on offense, however, the Heat have taken a step back defensively this season.

Miami ranks 20th in defensive efficiency allowing 103.2 points per 100 possessions, a category that the Heat ranked among the top five in during each of the first two seasons of their "Big 3" era.

Lillard is valuable asset for Blazers

December, 1, 2012
12/01/12
6:11
PM ET
By Kenton Wong
ESPN Stats & Information
Archive
Russ Isabella/US PresswireDamian Lillard is one of the early favorites for Rookie of the Year.
Damian Lillard came out of a school not known for basketball greatness in Weber State. Prior to Lillard, no player out of Weber had ever averaged over 6.5 PPG or 1.7 APG in their NBA career. Lillard, through 16 games, is averaging 18.4 PPG and 5.9 APG for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Although Lillard will almost assuredly be the best player ever to come out of Weber State, he should be setting his career goals to the heights of other great point guards to come out of his hometown: Oakland, California.

Oakland's finest

Lillard starred at Oakland High School a couple of decades after two Bay Area legends patrolled high-school courts: Jason Kidd at Saint Joseph of Notre Dame HS in Alameda and Gary Payton at Skyline HS in Oakland. Lillard actually started high school at Kidd’s alma mater before transferring.

So far in his career, Lillard has proven to be a better scorer than either Payton or Kidd were as rookies – averaging nearly 10 more points per game 16 games into his career.

Pure shooter

A big reason for Lillard’s success has been his outside shot. He’s shooting 51 percent from 15-24 feet and 37 percent from outside of 25 feet – both above the league average this season.

Last season for Weber State, Lillard did a lot of his damage on 3-pointers, making nearly three per game while shooting 41 percent from that range. The adjustment to the NBA 3-point line hasn’t hurt his production from deep much. He’s making two-and-a-half 3-pointers per game and connecting on 40 percent of them.

Good value

The Trail Blazers average 102 points per 100 possessions with Lillard on the court as opposed to 97 per 100 possessions without him.

Lillard has already established himself as one of the most valuable point guards in the league this season. In terms of the ‘Value Added’ metric, Lillard is one of the top 10 most valuable point guards in the league this season.

Value Added is the estimated number of points a player adds to a team’s season total above what a 'replacement player' (for instance, the 12th man on the roster) would produce.

If Lillard continues this pace as an impressive scoring point guard, he’ll quickly join the conversation as one of the top young floor generals in the league. Mike Conley is the only point guard averaging at least 15 points and five assists per game with a higher 3-point percentage this season than Lillard.

It’s been a while since Portland has had a point guard like Lillard. The last time a Trail Blazer averaged 15 points and five assists while shooting 40 percent from 3-point land? Terry Porter in 1992-93.

ESPN Stats & Information

Knicks working their strengths

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
2:29
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
New York Knicks
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesHave Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks cracked the code?

The Olympics are an interesting laboratory for the NBA's best players. International basketball long ago embraced small-ball systems, and the composition of the U.S. roster this summer invited the Americans to follow suit once again.

For Carmelo Anthony, this meant playing the power forward spot, a decision that everyone in the known universe not named Carmelo Anthony has been prescribing as a way to advance his stagnant career.

Anthony had been reluctant. In his defense, it's not as if he's the first small forward to resist change. It took LeBron James eight years to buy in, and Rudy Gay is still skittish about sliding over to the 4 when Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol takes a seat.

This season with the Knicks, Anthony has logged exactly one of his 226 minutes as a small forward. One minute! You can barely heat a Pop-Tart in one minute.

Anthony's other 225 minutes have been at power forward. What has this done for his individual numbers?

Not much. He's logging a Player Efficiency Rating of 21.08, virtually identical to last season and his lowest mark since his sophomore season in the NBA.

But what are his team's efficiency numbers offensively? 111.6 -- tops in the league. You can go inside the numbers with Bradford Doolittle here.

Anthony's move to power forward has allowed Mike Woodson to get more efficient lineups and players on the floor. J.R. Smith's playing time is up seven minutes from last season, and he is rewarding the Knicks with a PER of 23.38. A leaner Raymond Felton can play alongside Jason Kidd in the backcourt -- both are shooting extremely well from the outside -- and Felton's numbers have improved.

Anthony's adjustment to the 4 gets defensive ace and off-ball maven Ronnie Brewer substantial playing time. The four most common lineups with Brewer are defensive juggernauts. Nobody in the NBA who has played more minutes and posted a better defensive rating. Brewer is also posting tremendous numbers on the offensive end. As one of the premier cutters in the game, he has introduced an element of deception and motion to a Knicks offense that was stuck in the mud last season.

On Thursday night, the Knicks roared back to beat the Spurs in San Antonio. After the game, Spurs swingman Stephen Jackson had this to say:
I think last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots. This year he’s trusting his teammates, and it’s shown out there, especially tonight. It’s amazing how they went from two guys shooting all the balls to a team that everybody has confidence in everybody else.

"On offense, they are playing together, and guys are accepting roles around their strengths," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

It's important to note that Anthony had a poor statistical night in San Antonio. He scored nine points, shot 3-for-12 from the field and went to the line for only four attempts in 41 minutes -- though he did collect 12 rebounds.

But let's focus on Jackson's comment. "Last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots." Know how many times Anthony took 12 shots or fewer when he played 30 minutes or more in 2011-12? Twice.

Phenomenons like these always remind me of something legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons said a few years ago. Back when sabermetricians identified on-base percentage as one of the most undervalued statistics in baseball, there was a tendency among a small slice of devoted statheads to treat players who didn't draw walks as terminal cases.

Gammons, who was by no means dismissive of analytics, was quick to point out that strike-zone judgment could be learned. If a major league player identified that as a weaker element of his game, he could teach himself the skill. He might never lead the league in walks, but he could become a measurably more valuable batter.

Anthony has never been one to draw walks, so to speak, and he probably hasn't been called coachable in years. But what if he can teach himself how to take pitches? What if he can, at 28, pick up the nuances that allow scorers to make their teammates and themselves more efficient?

An inside look at the 2012-13 schedule

July, 26, 2012
7/26/12
10:55
PM ET
By Micah Adams & Gregg Found
ESPN Stats & Info
No lockout means a return to normalcy in this year's schedule, where each team visits each city at least once and no team has to play a back-to-back-to-back. Last season, there were 40 back-to-back-to-backs.

Also this year, the regular season will start almost two months earlier (October 30) and will end nine days earlier (April 17) than last season.

SCHEDULE TIDBITS
• NBA Finals rematches: Christmas Day in Miami, Valentine's Day in Oklahoma City.

• Eastern Conference Finals rematches: October 30 in Miami, January 27 in Boston, March 18 in Boston, April 12 in Miami.

• Western Conference Finals rematches: November 1 in San Antonio, December 17 in Oklahoma City, March 11 in San Antonio, April 4 in Oklahoma City.

• Check out the notable "return" games this season in the chart at right, including Carmelo Anthony making his first trip to Denver this year. Because of the lockout-adjusted schedule, the Knicks did not play at the Nuggets last season.

• Teams appearing the most frequently on ESPN networks: Los Angeles Lakers (16), Miami Heat (15), Oklahoma City Thunder (15), New York Knicks (15), Los Angeles Clippers (14), Chicago Bulls (12), Boston Celtics (11).

DEFENDING THEIR TITLE
• The Heat and Celtics will play each other on Opening Night, October 30 in Miami. Not only will it be Ray Allen's first game against his most mates, LeBron James is 0-3 vs Celtics in season-openers (0-1 with the Heat in 2010, 0-2 with the Cavaliers in 2008 and 2009).

• Based on last season’s records, the toughest months of the season schedule-wise for the Heat will be the start of their season in October-November. But they'll follow that with their easiest month in December. And that includes a Christmas Day showdown with the Thunder.

• It hasn’t been easy for teams to defend their title recently. There’s been only one repeat champion in the last 10 years (Lakers 2009 and 2010). The last two teams defending their titles were bounced in the 1st Round (2012 Mavericks) and Conference Semifinals (2011 Lakers). The last time the Heat defended their title, in the 2006-07 season, they were dealt injuries to Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal and knocked out in the 1st Round.

Jeremy Lin's contract in perspective

July, 18, 2012
7/18/12
4:30
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Is three years and $25 million too much to pay Jeremy Lin?

If he's a starting-quality guard, that rate seems to be about average. Below is a sample of what starting point guards earn in the NBA. Where does Jeremy Lin, with a contract averaging 8.4 million a year, fit in?
  • Chris Paul, $17.79 million
  • Deron Williams, avg $20 million
  • Derrick Rose, $15.5 million
  • Russell Westbrook, $12.9 million
  • Tony Parker, $12.5 million
  • Rajon Rondo, $11 million
  • Jose Calderon, $10.5 million
  • Steve Nash, $9 million
  • Rodney Stuckey, $8.5 million
  • Goran Dragic, $8.5 million
  • Devin Harris, $8.5 million
  • George Hill, $8 million
  • Mike Conley, $7.3 million
  • Kyle Lowry, $5.8 million
  • Jarrett Jack, $5.4 million
  • Andre Miller, $5 million
  • Luke Ridnour, $4 million
  • Ray Felton, $3.3 million

At 23 and still improving, it’s fair to say that he Lin's potential is worth more than the likes of Jarrett Jack and Andre Miller -- two steady, helpful veterans with no upside. In his 26 game stint as a starter he posted a better PER than George Hill, Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic and Rajon Rondo.

PER is just a baseline statistic. Still, it’s a good indicator that Lin can play. But let’s say that Lin doesn’t produce like he did when Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire were injured and thus left him with bountiful opportunities to find shots for himself and others. Even if he settles into being a solid starting point guard for the next few years -- remember he’s younger and has had less time to develop in the NBA than Conley, Dragic and Hill -- that would be good value.

The only players who produced like Lin last season and make less than the Rockets were willing to pay Lin were all either on rookie scale contracts or named Kyle Lowry. And Lowry is due for a raise.

When it comes to useful starting point guards you didn't draft, it’s almost impossible to find one that will be cheaper than the price the Rockets set for Lin. Because they are capped out, the Knicks can't acquire another point guard through free agency at Lin's cost, and they also lack a first-round draft pick in 2013. So it's not a choice between Lin and another $8 million per year point guard, it's between Lin and whatever they can shoehorn into Kidd or Felton's $3 million salary spot, sign on a minimum deal, or trade for.

Long story short: Instead of paying Lin the going rate for a starting point guard, the Knicks ended up signing Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd, two players who ranked at the bottom of starting point guards in the NBA, for nearly equivalent cost next season.

All but three point guards (Lowry, Jarrett Jack and Jordan Farmar) with a PER above league average (15.0) make $8 million or more.

This is a simple fact of the NBA marketplace.

Pacers' starting five is punishing the Heat

May, 18, 2012
5/18/12
1:32
PM ET
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN.com
Archive

Michael Hickey/US PresswireThe Pacers starting five has given LeBron James and the Heat fits in the first three games.
The longer the Indiana Pacers can keep their starting five on the court, the better chance they have to eliminate the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Indiana’s starting five of Paul George, Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West has been the most successful five-man lineup in this year’s postseason. It has a better plus-minus, has scored more points and has a better rebounding margin than any other five-man lineup in the playoffs.

In eight postseason games, Indiana's starting five has outscored its opponents by 79 points and outrebounded them by 68.

During the regular season, George, Granger, Hibbert, Hill and West started just eight games together, and the Pacers were 7-1 in those games. They played just 229 minutes together and outscored their opponents by 72 points.

In the playoffs, they’ve already played together for 176 minutes, and the formula continues to be successful.

This postseason, Indiana’s starting five:

• Has more than double the second-chance points (70) of any other five-man lineup. (Second are the Lakers and Magic with 30.)

• Leads all lineups in points in the paint (152) and points off turnovers (58).

• Has outscored its opponents by 56 points in the paint (152-96), has 30 more second-chance points (74-44) and 18 more fast-break points (42-24).

When George, Granger, Hibbert, Hill and West were on the court in Game 3, they outscored the Heat 68-40.

The starting five shot 52 percent from the field (including 6-of-10 on 3-pointers) and outrebounded the Heat 32-15. That lineup held the Heat to 33 percent shooting from the field and 1-of-10 on 3-point attempts. They also outscored the Heat 13-0 on second-chance points.

Every other Pacers lineup was outscored by nine.

Since the 2008 playoffs, only four lineups have finished with a plus-minus that’s been as good as Indiana’s +79. Three of those teams reached the NBA Finals and two won the NBA championship, including the Mavericks’ lineup last year of Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

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