NBA

MORNING SHOOTAROUND — DEC. 5

December 5, 2013  ·  7:23AM

VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook tunes out praise, criticism | Cuban glad Mavs aren’t ‘stuck’ like Nets | Docs able to preserve Rose’s meniscus | Jazz get good look at their young duo

No. 1: Westbrook tunes out criticism (and praise) of his game — When Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook went down with a knee injury during Game 2 of the first round of last season’s playoffs against Houston, the Thunder’s hopes for a Finals run left, too. Although OKC managed to oust the Rockets in the first round, they were defeated in the West semifinals by Memphis. Before Westbrook’s injury, though, many in the media had criticized Westbrook for his (pick one or many) shot selection, turnovers, refusal to cede control to Kevin Durant and more. In a great interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Westbrook explains how neither that criticism nor the praise he’s getting now as many see how valuable to OKC, has affected him:

For Russell Westbrook to admit he likes being appreciated by the basketball world that once simultaneously loved and loathed him, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard would have to confess to caring about all the endless criticism that used to come his way.

Post-injury, after the long-overdue realization that his strengths far outweighed his weaknesses and with the Thunder (13-3 entering Wednesday night’s game at the Portland Trail Blazers) looking like a title contender again, he was the guy who could wear a tutu on the court and still command respect from all corners.

Pre-injury, he was seen by some as the guy who shot too much and shared too little — of both the ball and of himself. He didn’t help his cause with the news media, often clenching his teeth and oozing impatience during interviews and — intentional or not — feeding into his devil-may-care persona that came in such stark contrast to fellow Thunder star Kevin Durant.

From being a late-bloomer at Leuzinger High School in Los Angeles County to a bona fide NBA star, Westbrook’s days of dealing with doubters may finally be behind him. As for getting him to admit that the change in tone warms his ice-cold veins? That’s another story altogether.

“The outside voices, and those people, kind of look at (me) in a different way, in a different view, but it all depends on who’s saying it, to tell you the truth,” Westbrook told USA TODAY Sports. “If it’s my teammates, and my teammates appreciate (his play), then I’m good. Everybody else? I don’t really care about. It doesn’t matter if they appreciate what I do or not. I’m not playing for them.”

His smile isn’t as much of a stranger as it was before, even if it’s clear his competitive fire still burns much hotter than most. Case in point came Tuesday night, when he was too filled with frustration to conduct this interview after the Thunder barely survived against the Sacramento Kings, but — in a move that may not have happened in years past — agreed to chat by phone a day later when those pistons that drive him had finally cooled. Little by little, it seems, he’s letting the outside world in.

“It’s just getting older, man; just getting older,” Westbrook said of the maturation process. “That’s just part of it. Getting older you learn more, you see more, you know who’s who. You know who’s what.”

Asked if he was finally letting his guard down after all these years, Westbrook chuckled and said, “Nah. My guard is just how I was brought up. That’s the only way I know. That’s what got me to this point, to where I am now. If that comes down, I’ll be in trouble.”

“(The criticism) was always something that I never really paid attention to personally, because those (people) weren’t playing with me,” Westbrook said. “My teammates weren’t ever complaining about anything I was doing, so I never really worried about it. Obviously it looked different to different people. Everybody wants me to play a certain way and all that, and they think it’d be best if we play this way and we win.

“But it’s more than just shots, or how many shots I shot and if I shot more (than others). That ain’t the whole game. There’s a lot of other things that go on in the game that you help your team out with.”

***

No. 2: Cuban glad Mavs aren’t ‘stuck’ like Nets are — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has taken a lot of flak from his team’s fans (and some NBA pundits at large) for how what he chose to do with the team after it won the championship in 2011. In case you forgot, Cuban let the starting center of that squad,Tyson Chandler, bolt for New York, and last season, went with many one-year contract players on his roster to maintain cap flexibility. While doing so hasn’t netted Cuban and the Mavs the big free-agent fish (like Dwight Howard or Deron Williams) that they hoped for, the Mavs are remaining as a playoff team while also keeping their cap situation fluid for the future. Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com caught up with Cuban on Wednesday night to gauge his thoughts on his roster and more:

Mark Cuban’s greatest fear for the Dallas Mavericks is playing out in Brooklyn.The Mavs owner was heavily criticized for stripping down his 2011 championship roster after the ensuing NBA lockout, opting to create space under the salary cap by not making competitive bids for several key players once they became free agents. His concern was that the franchise would deteriorate into an expensive team that wasn’t good enough to contend and didn’t have any realistic avenues to improve under the new collective bargaining agreement.

That appears to be the scenario for the Brooklyn Nets, who have stumbled to a 5-13 start despite a veteran-loaded roster with a bloated payroll that will cost owner Mikhail Prokhorov $190 million including the luxury tax this season.

“That’s exactly right,” Cuban said Wednesday night. “You get stuck. That’s exactly what I thought. … That was definitely a fear.”

Cuban had paid the luxury tax every season of its existence until 2011-12. The new CBA includes much harsher luxury tax penalties, which escalate for repeater taxpaying teams and at an incremental rate based on how much teams are over the limit.

However, it’s not necessarily the money that concerned Cuban. Rather, it’s the difficulty of improving a roster as a team paying the luxury tax under the current set of rules that led him to bid farewell to key championship pieces such as Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and current Nets guard Jason Terry.

“Those two go hand in hand,” Cuban said. “If we were [a team full of 25-year-olds], the massive luxury tax bill is nothing. But when you know as you get older, you get stuck. … It’s not just that you’re stuck for a week or a half a season, you’re stuck. Now that the rules got even more stringent, you’re even more stuck.”

The Nets did manage to make bold moves last summer, acquiring 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 36-year-old Paul Pierce and 36-year old Terry in a trade with the Boston Celtics. Their contracts are worth a combined $33.4 million plus luxury-tax penalties this season. Garnett and Terry are signed through next season.

“There was a reason they were trying to get rid of them,” Cuban said of those contracts.

That trade created a lot of positive publicity for the Nets at the time, but it hasn’t panned out so far. The production of Pierce (12.4 points per game), Garnett (6.5) and Terry (5.3) has dropped off dramatically from last season in Boston, much less the prime of their careers. Now, the Nets are in the news for the wrong reasons.

“It was almost like the Lakers, right?” Cuban said, referring to last season’s heavily hyped Los Angeles team after its summer acquisitions of Howard and Steve Nash. “It was just preordained, a super team, and it’s just tough. We went into last season thinking the Lakers [would be great]. The discussion was, would they win 70 games? Super teams are tough, particularly as guys get older. Again, they could still turn it all around. It’s just not easy.”

Asked if he had any advice for Prokhorov, Cuban cracked, “Drink more? I don’t know.”

***

No. 3: Report: Doctors able to preserve all of Rose’s meniscus — The season for the Chicago Bulls and their fans took a decided turn on Nov. 22 in Portland when Derrick Rose suffered a torn medial meniscus and subsequently was lost for the season. Some good news for Bulls fans, though, comes courtesy of BleacherReport.com’s Ric Bucher, who reports that doctors were able to keep all of Rose’s meniscus during the surgery:

One small bit of good news on Bulls point guard Derrick Rose: Apparently, the surgeon was able to preserve “100 percent” of the torn meniscus in his right knee, according to a source. He will miss the remainder of the season, but retaining the meniscus offers a much better chance that he can avoid the kind of chronic knee issues that Dwyane Wade and Tim Hardaway Sr. endured after having their meniscus removed.

***

No. 4: Jazz finally get a glimpse of what Kanter, Favors can do together — When the Utah Jazz decided to forgo re-signing veterans Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson in the offseason, it was clear they were turning the low-post keys to the offense over to youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Throughout most of the season, though, the duo has failed to perform well together in the same game, but that wasn’t the case last night against the Pacers. Trevor Phibbs of the Deseret News writes on how the Favors-Kanter matchup gave Utah fans a glimpse of what they’ve long been waiting for:

In Wednesday’s 95-86 loss against Indiana, however, the Jazz witnessed the potential they’ve expected from their two young post players.

For only the third time this season, and the first time against a quality opponent, Favors and Kanter both reached the double-figure plateau in points and rebounds. Favors finished with a game-high 22 points and 13 rebounds, his eighth double-double, while Kanter added 20 points and 10 boards, his fourth double-double.

“There were some things there that you can grow from,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. “You look at numbers and they’re a great game, but there’s still some improvement. We’ll break it down and we were glad to see them give us the effort (we) were looking for.”

“Obviously we can pull either one of them away from the basket with D-Fav hitting that jump shot more consistently now,” said Jazz rookie point guard Trey Burke, who finished with a career-high nine assists. “It’s really a matter of continuing to find out the best way we play with them out there on the court. I wouldn’t want to say experiment, but we really are. We’re trying to see the areas we’re best at.”

Kanter returned to the starting lineup in Marvin Williams‘ absence after coming off the bench for several games. He played a team-high 39 minutes.

“I’m just a player and I’m just doing my job,” Kanter said. “It don’t matter if it comes from the bench or the starting five, in the end you play for the Jazz. That’s fine for me.”

There were several bright moments, including Favors’ successful and-one with 3:22 left in the fourth quarter in response to a jumper by Indiana’s David West, but there were also moments for growth. Kanter missed several squared-away hook shots, and Favors mistakenly finished softly on a blocked layup after failing to recognizing Hibbert’s presence.

“Nobody likes to lose, but at the same time that was one of the best teams in the NBA,” Favors said. “We learned a lot tonight mentally and physically.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rockets center Dwight Howard was none too pleased with the team’s loss to the Suns last night … Former Kings center Keon Clark has been sentenced to eight years in prison … Rookie Otto Porter Jr. is close to making his debut with the Wizards … Pistons center Andre Drummondmakes some history in Detroit’s win over Milwaukee …

ICYMI Of The Night: The Pistons are just a game shy of .500 and have become a pretty exciting team to catch on League Pass, as this Brandon Jennings-to-Andre Drummond sequence illustrates …

VIDEO: Brandon Jennings finds Andre Drummond on the break with the nifty dish

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HOWARD SAYS ROCKETS LACKING EFFORT

December 5, 2013  ·  12:50AM

VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks about the Rockets’ loss to the Suns

HOUSTON — From the moment the Rockets hit the free agent jackpot with Dwight Howard last summer and put him in the lineup with James Harden, there were always going to be questions about how they would put it all together and how long it might take.

Those questions were not supposed to be about how hard they would try.

“[Expletive] effort out there on defense and on offense,” said Howard. “The ball stuck … We didn’t move it and we can’t win that way.”

Bumps in the road over the course of the long regular season are to be expected, but the Rockets have now run head-long into a boulder of indifference as a 97-88 home loss to the Suns Wednesday nightcame on the heels of a virtual no-show trip to Utah on Monday.

“It had nothing to do with us missing shots,” Howard said. “They just played harder than us…It had nothing to do with the offensive game. They just played hard.

“We know what we [have to] do. It’s gotta be important for guys to come out and play the same way every night.”

The Rockets were shorthanded without Chandler Parsons (sore back), Jeremy Lin (sprained right knee),Omer Asik (right thigh contusion) and Greg Smith (sprained right knee). But neither Howard or coachKevin McHale, who kept the locker room closed for 20 minutes after the game, would accept that out.

“You still have to play,” McHale said. “I don’t care who’s not there. You just [have to] go play and we didn’t play the right way.

“We didn’t move the ball. We didn’t move our bodies. They got up on us and started denying passes. We didn’t go backdoor. We didn’t drive all the scenes. When we did drive, we took wild shots…We did not play very good and that’s the bottom line.”

VIDEO:Coach Kevin McHale discusses the Rockets’ loss to Phoenix

The team’s leading scorer Harden shot just 3-for-17, including 0-for-10 from behind the 3-point line and bailed out early from the locker room after speaking only to team employees.

The Rockets were uninspired from the opening tip and never seemed able — or willing — to match the Suns energy or aggression and it was the fact that it was a virtual repeat of nonchalance that carried over from the loss to the Jazz that bothered Howard, who scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.

“We can’t give away games like this,” Howard said. “It will come back and bite us later on in the season. So we got to learn no matter how many guys we got out there, short-handed and all, we got to play the same way — play hard and play aggressive.

“It’s just [has to] be in you. You can’t coach it. You can’t draw up plays or anything like that. You just gotta have it.”

Howard would not reveal what the obviously distressed McHale told the team.

“We keep that between us,” said the All-Star center. “We know what we got to do. We don’t do it, we’re [going to] continue to lose.

“We got to learn when we’re down. We got to learn how to play when we got big leads. It’s something that we got to learn how to do. We got to get a good shot every time. Coming down and shooting quick shots is not always good, especially when you’re down. That gives a team like Phoenix an opportunity to run. That’s what they want to do. We played right into their hands tonight.”

It is only the second time this season that the Rockets have lost back-to-back games and, at 13-7, they are still the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. So it was less a blaring alarm bell than a humming undercurrent reminder that a wannabe playoff contender needs more than summertime signings and headlines to turn into the real thing.

“It happens,” Howard said. “I told you guys a couple weeks ago the season is up and down. You go on runs. You have those games where you miss and you lose a couple of games. But the biggest thing is coming back the next game with a better effort and if not, then we got to take an ‘L’ for us to learn.”

VIDEO: Houston’s Dwight Howard fights through the defense for the jam

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HANG TIME PODCAST (EPISODE 140) FEATURING BREVIN KNIGHT AND TERRY STOTTS

December 4, 2013  ·  8:17PM

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Seventeen games. That’s all it took for the first true sign of panic to show in Brooklyn. Nets coach Jason Kidd“reassigned” Lawrence Frank from his position as his top assistant and now we move on to Phase 2 of whatever this science project that things have turned into for one half of the league’s New York component.

The Knicks, enduring monumental struggles of their own, could be next. They’ve lost nine straight games and there are rumors swirling aboutMike Woodson‘s job security. Beat Brooklyn Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, TNT) or else …

We’re only a little over a month into the 2013-14 season and already there are alarms going off in the Eastern Conference, where the peace sign represents the numbers of teams (Indiana and Miami) clear and free of the .500 mark on the young season. And that’s exactly where we come in on Episode 140 of the Hang Time Podcast.

Before catching up with Brevin Knight about the Memphis Grizzlies and Terry Stotts (culled from the Dec. 2 episode of The Beat on NBA TV) about the Portland Trail Blazers, Western Conference teams that are thriving here of late, we spend some time trying to figure out how these teams have gotten into the respective messes they currently inhabit. What does any of this have to do with Kobe Bryant‘s looming comeback (as early Friday night in Sacramento potentially)?

Let’s just say it’s all a bit complicated!

So go ahead and check out all we have to offer — Sounds of the Game, this week’s installment of Braggin’ Rights (did someone say undefeated?), Rick Fox‘s spirited cover of Michael Jackson‘s “Man In The Mirror“ and so much more — on Episode 140 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Brevin Knight and Terry Stotts:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast,co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance manRick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunesclick here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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LONG WAIT PAYS OFF FOR BLEDSOE, SUNS

December 4, 2013  ·  5:45PM

VIDEO: Bledsoe sinks the shot and is fouled

HANG TIME WEST – He learned a lot about patience. There’s that. Eric Bledsoe was a point guard on the team that had the best point guard in the league, Chris Paul, and so it seemed like forever to get his chance away from the Clippers and the commanding CP3 presence.

When the opportunity did come, though, and especially when Bledsoe instantly capitalized, he realized what else he learned. How to rely on more than elite athleticism. How to run an offense. How to slow the game down in his mind to find openings in the defense. Even, as it turned out in addressing a shortcoming from the Los Angeles days, how to be more consistent.

The strange-but-true contradiction is that Bledsoe is already a dependable starter with the Suns specifically because he had never really been a starter before. There were the 25 chances as a rookie, before Paul arrived to tilt the balance of power in the Western Conference and certainly in L.A., but all of 13 the next two seasons while working backup shifts. Having to wait matters.

“It definitely helps me out now because a lot of guys who get to start real early, it’ll take them a while,” Bledsoe said. “Some of them will blossom in a certain time. But for me, I think I was in a better situation learning.”

The result is Bledsoe at the forefront of the Suns going from a wave of preseason predictions as the worst team in the Western Conference amid major reconstruction to the actual of the 9-9 record. He is breaking down defenses to get to the rim and average a team-leading 18.8 points along with 5.8 assists while shooting 49 percent in 33.4 minutes, after 19.6 minutes as a Clipper. That’s impressive.

The Suns say he is better at this stage than they expected. That’s telling.

“I think so,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “The one big thing is the scoring…. When we first got him, we saw that he can really see the floor well. Like every young player, he’s going to have times when he looks brilliant out there and then other times maybe he misses guys or forces something. But overall, I think he’s probably better than what we anticipated. It’s always hard to expect a guy that is a bench guy on another team all of the sudden to come in and average 20 points and six or seven assists, whatever he’s doing. So that’s obviously a surprise that he’s doing that well.”

It helped that Bledsoe was able to cushion himself for the departure from Los Angeles. Enjoying his time with the Clippers but wanting to play more, he knew his out-bound ticket was being prepared as soon as management had the certainty of Paul re-signing. It’s just that Bledsoe didn’t see Phoenix coming. He kept hearing Orlando and Boston as destinations, and then it turned out he was headed for the Suns with the unique plan of starting him alongside another point guard, Goran Dragic.

That has been part of the unexpectedly good start, that Bledsoe not only charged out of the blocks like someone with years of experience in the new role but that he and Dragic have worked well together. They don’t force defenses to defend the three, but this works for now, with Phoenix still full of options moving forward and obviously not needing to cement any lineup.

This is Bledsoe proving what he always thought possible.

“Most definitely,” he said. “People really didn’t know that I can play the point. They thought I was a two-guard who wanted to shoot the ball every time. Now, you can just tell I’ll do everything to win the game. Rebound, passing, everything. It definitely came out.”

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TIMBERWOLVES’ HISTORY, A TALE OF 5 KEVINS

December 4, 2013  ·  3:44PM

VIDEOMinnesota history, in five guys named Kevin

– San Antonio vs. Minnesota, in Mexico City, Wednesday night (9:30 ET) on NBA TV –

Surnames are for plaques and record books. Nicknames are for broadcasters. But first names are for the fans, in a familiarity bred across years.

You can rough out a pretty rich history of the NBA sticking entirely to some of the greatest players’ first, or given, names: Wilt. Oscar. Elgin. Willis. Julius. Kareem. Moses. Larry. Earvin. Dominique. Charles. Isiah. Michael. Karl. Shaquille. Kobe. LeBron. Carmelo. Amar’e. Dwyane. Dwight.

It helps when the name is exotic, the game is transcendent or, ideally, both. But that’s not always necessary. Consider the Minnesota Timberwolves, where a pretty strong timeline can be drawn entirely through a handful of fellows named, simply, Kevin.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that moniker. A noble line of Kevins has populated the league , fromDuckworth, Grevey and Johnson to Porter, Willis and Loughery, not to mention Restani, Kunnert, Edwards and Ollie. There’s a star player in Oklahoma City well on his way to appropriating the name entirely, making Kevin his own the way Kleenex glommed onto facial tissue.

But what are the odds that one franchise could largely trace its heritage across a quarter century through that name? Take Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with a pebble-grained twist, and you have Five Degrees of Kevin, Minnesota style:

KEVIN HARLAN

Harlan (right) with Garnett, 2004

Kevin Harlan (right) with Kevin Garnett, 2004
(David Sherman/NBAE)

The challenge for any expansion team is to make games entertaining even when the team isn’t. Entering the league in 1989 with the Orlando Magic, the Wolves didn’t always manage that (the NBA home-attendance record they set and still hold was based on novelty and the expansive Metrodome seating capacity that first season). But the team’s radio broadcasts were something special, thanks to a 28-year-old “voice of” in his first big-time gig.

Kevin Harlan was one part play-by-play announcer, two parts carnival barker in the Timberwolves’ early, raggedy days. He embraced the role.

“The success of the team in those early years was almost secondary to selling the NBA, selling Michael Jordan, selling the Celtics, selling the return of the league to the Twin Cities,” Harlan said recently by phone, on the road again for a Thursday night TNT doubleheader. “After awhile, it wasn’t the new flashy car anymore. Now the car had some miles on it and it was still getting the same [poor] gas mileage. They had some pretty dark days in there.”

Harlan, son of former Green Bay Packers president Bob Harlan and a one-time airline pilot wannabe, logged his miles for nine seasons as the Wolves’ radio (and occasionally TV) announcer. Strapped with a sputtering basketball operation that lost 60 games or more in five of its first six seasons, Harlan, game host Tom Hanneman, sidekicks such as Quinn Buckner and Trent Tucker opted for irreverence over irrelevance.

They cracked wise on the air, concocted timeout and halftime video bits, conspired to drop “words of the night” into broadcasts for their own amusement, turned the team mascot Crunch into a cult hero and put Twin Cities notables such as music producer Jimmy (Jam) Harris and wrestler-turned-politician Jesse Ventura in guest headsets. When local legend Kevin McHale came aboard after his Boston Celtics career, the antics – and the basketball insight – jumped considerably.

Kevin No. 1, meet Kevin No. 2.

“We knew the team rarely was going to win, and it was on the personality of the broadcasters we had. Certainly McHale,” Harlan said. “He was the kerosene on the fire. He was funny, yet biting and honest – he had everything. He was incredibly insightful and he had the name.

“He really did not care what anybody thought. The league would call our front office and complain about what Kevin was saying, whether he was getting on an official or making fun of a player. It wasn’t like a college frat party, but we knew the address.”

Harlan stuck around long enough to see McHale promoted into the front office and Minnesota make the first two of eight straight playoff appearances. As the team improved, the broadcasts added heft, but Harlan’s personality never waned. He literally would rise out of his courtside chair on some calls. Some of his catchphrases – “No regard for human life!” – linger 15 years after he left for greener network pastures.

“I don’t know if there’s anyone who has the passion, and is so upbeat, as he is every day,” said Flip Saunders, arguably – with owner Glen Taylor – one of the two most important people in franchise historynot named Kevin. “Even when they were getting their [butts] kicked here, it was going to be ‘better the next day.’ He’s always been extremely positive in what he’s done and that’s why he’s one of the best in the world.”

Harlan would growl J.R. Rider‘s name. He’d lose it sometimes on Tom “Googly-oogly-otta, baby!” But the one that stuck best was hanging “The Big Ticket” on Kevin Garnett.

“Always electrifying,” Garnett said of Harlan the other day. “No matter what he’s going through, it always seems like he’s in the same playful mood. Refreshing is the word I would use. Not only great to work with but great to be around. A true sense of a friend and a breath of fresh air.”

So you’re good with the “Ticket” thing?

“Absolutely. It’s who I am.”

KEVIN McHALE

Kevin McHale, 2009

Kevin McHale, 2009 (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

The second-most famous son of Hibbing, Minn. – Bob Dylan, after all, calls it his hometown – wanted little more after his Hall of Fame NBA career with the Celtics than to come home, hunt, golf and keep a hand in basketball. A native of the state’s Iron Range and a Big Ten star at the University of Minnesota, McHale initially worked with Wolves big men and soon took a seat next to Harlan.

The team’s worst nights, when the two would largely ignore the game and banter on air between fistfuls of popcorn, often were the best, too.

Then the Wolves nearly got sold to New Orleans in the spring of 1994. Taylor, a billionaire businessman from Mankato, Minn., swooped in to rescue the franchise and persuaded McHale to take the title of assistant GM to Jack McCloskey. By May 1995, he was vice president of basketball operations. For most of the next 15 years, he was the organization’s primary decision-maker on personnel matters

McHale’s first move was a masterstroke. He and Saunders, holding the fifth pick in the 1995 Draft, attended the invitation-only workout of a Chicago high school player trying to become the first preps-to-pros success in 20 years. McHale went for the kid named Garnett.

He courted savvy vets such as Terry Porter and Sam Mitchell, added to the locker room by subtracting trolls such as Rider and Christian Laettner and, in his second draft at-bat, made the right move again by trading Ray Allen‘s rights for point guard Stephon Marbury. For two seasons, Marbury and Garnett were a budding Stockton & Malone or Payton & Kemp.

“I came to Minnesota out of respect to Kevin McHale,” said Porter, now a Wolves assistant on Rick Adelman’s staff. “He was trying to start something and he just gave me the plan: ‘We’ve got some young talent but they don’t know how to win yet.’ He’d been part of a championship pedigree and I’d been a part of really good teams, so a lot of stuff he talked about was changing the culture here.”

With McHale upstairs and former college teammate Saunders on the sideline, Minnesota made eight playoff appearances in eight years and reached the Western Conference finals in 2004 when they gambled by adding mercenaries Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell.

Seven of the postseason trips were one-and-done cameos. The Marbury move backfired and so did other drafts (Ndudi Ebi, Rashad McCants), trades (Ricky Davis, Marko Jaric) and signings (Troy Hudson, Michael Olowokandi, Mike James). What McHale got in return for Garnett in 2007 (Al Jefferson and Celtics discards) got portrayed by some as a sweetheart deal for old Boston pal Danny Ainge. And don’t forget the Joe Smith fiasco, in which McHale at least fell on his sword for the franchise in a 1999 salary-cap violation that cost the Wolves three forfeited first-round picks in four years.

Twice McHale took his turn in the coaching tank, replacing Saunders in February 2005 and Randy Wittmanin December 2008. He went a combined 39-55 but showed real enthusiasm for working with players and real acumen for exploiting mismatches and playing to his talent.

Most who knew him as a player and an exec never figured him as an NBA head coach, but he liked it enough to snag, in 20-11, the job vacated by Adelman in Houston. Heading into Wednesday’s schedule, McHale’s Rockets had gone 92-75 and 13-6 this season. They went to the playoffs last spring, while Minnesota’s drought has reached nine years.

“You’ve got to find your team’s strengths, you’ve got to go to that, and I think he’s done that very well,” Adelman said.

McHale’s tenure as Wolves VP has been polished up a bit lately, too. Four seasons of David Kahn in that role – Kahn dumped him as coach in June 2009 – made McHale, in numerous ways, look good. Two of Minnesota’s three core players, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, were acquired by McHale (and were underappreciated by Kahn because of it).

“What can I say about Kev?” Love said. “Mac’s the best. He’s a lot of fun on and off the court. Guy who always kept it light, always kept it interesting. I still look at him as one of my mentors.”

McHale’s best move, of course, remains his first.

KEVIN GARNETT

Rookie Kevin Garnett, 1995

Rookie Kevin Garnett, 1995 (Dale Tait/NBAE)

He’s got a glare most often seen in the moments before a prizefight’s opening bell. Lately, he’s been glowering in a widely circulated headphones commercial, shutting out a world where loudmouths and loyalty do not mix.

Hard to believe, then, that when Garnett arrived on the NBA scene in the fall of 1995, he was a hoops version of Ernie Banks. Or Magic Johnson 2.0. His game didn’t click for half a season, but his personality was a plus from the start for a team that had relied too long on its narrator.

“I had a couple years with Garnett and for whatever reason, we just connected,” Harlan said. “He brought such hope, and with hope comes enthusiasm, and that certainly came out in the broadcast. You knew this kid was going to be something and that Kevin and Flip had a handle on things and it was an ascending situation.”

The joy of basketball was evident in Garnett’s smile, in his words, in the spring in his coltish game.

“I think when he first came in, he was just so happy where he was in life,” Harlan said. “He was on an NBA floor with Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan. It was fun for all the right reasons.

“Once he began to win, I think he looked around the league at other people who won and he saw serious people. He saw Jordan, he saw serious-minded people who felt every night was a war.”

Some would say Garnett felt pressure living up to the $126 million extension he leveraged after just two seasons (and from the blame it got for triggering the 1998-99 lockout). Others saw frustration from all those first-round exits and McHale’s inability to put a supporting cast around him like Tim Duncan had in San Antonio.

While his demeanor changed, Garnett’s game abided. He strung together 20-10-5 seasons, six of them from 1999 to 2005, while earning one MVP (2004) and arguably meriting another (2003).

Garnett logged crazy minutes and played hard at both ends. As the disappointments mounted in the team’s post-playoffs, too-many-coaches-and-teammates period, he kept media and fans at arm’s length and started checking out of bad seasons early, some minor ailment cutting short his last two Wolves seasons.

He fought the trade to Boston almost to the end, his sense of loyalty out of sync with the business of sports and even his own best interest. What he wound up with was an instant living-well-is-the-best-revenge tale, winning his long-sought championship in his first season out of Minnesota.

Garnett, 37, now is in Brooklyn in what has been a miserable six weeks. He remains the greatest player in Timberwolves history.

“I’ve never been around anyone who has the passion that he has to play,” said Saunders, back now as Wolves president of basketball operations. “He’s such a perfectionist … he’s one of the few guys you can put into a locker room and he’ll change the whole culture of a team.”

In Brooklyn’s recent visit to Target Center, Garnett and Love battled all night, the former Wolf picking up a technical for whacking at the current Wolf’s arm. Love’s team won and he posted the better stats line, but he said afterward he was happy not to catch Garnett (who had dominated their matchup two years earlier) in his prime.

“Garnett is another guy I grew up watching,” Love said. “Obviously I tried to emulate him but being 7-foot-1, as big as he is, that’s definitely tough to do. He’s a Hall of Fame player who, as far as effort goes and passion for the game, a lot of people should look up to.

“When he really locks in on defense, there are very few who can match that. Most of the time, he’s going to play better defense than you’re going to play offense. He’s that good.”

The fellow speaking, if you’re counting, was Kevin No. 4.

KEVIN LOVE

Kevin Love, 2008

Kevin Love, 2008 (David Sherman/NBAE)

People might forget that Love broke the news of McHale’s ouster on Twitter back in June 2009. “Today is a sad day…” the young forward Tweeted, fresh off his rookie season.

He and the man who dumped McHale never saw eye-to-eye on much after that. When Love’s $61 million contract extension in January 2012 was capped at four years, rather than the five for which he was eligible, what was left of a smoldering bridge between Kahn and Love was ablaze again.

Then there was Kahn’s – and to be fair, others’ – assessment that, if Minnesota were going to become a legit title contender, Love would need to be the team’s second- or third-best player. Even if that was meant to highlight the Wolves’ need for a go-to shot creator, it seemed to patronize his spectacular abilities as a scorer and rebounder, along with his burgeoning 3-point game.

Love, for his part, found the backhanded compliment within.

“Have they not looked at the guys who are the third-best player on championship teams?” he said. “OK, that’s Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, perennial All-Stars. You look at Boston [recently], that’s Ray Allen and Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. And what, [All-Star point guard Rajon] Rondo‘s the fourth link?

“I think that’s overrated. To win at a high level, especially to compete for a conference title or an NBA title, of course you have to have great players. Right now, we have to be more of a Dallas from 2011, a team where it all comes together. But I do look at myself as the leader of the team. I like having that on my shoulders. It’s something I always wanted. But now I think we have the personnel to really make some noise.”

Love twice has been an NBA All-Star. He earned an Olympic gold medal in London in 2012 and he’s been in the early-season conversation among MVP possibilities (23.7 ppg, 13.6 rpg). But the opt-out in his contract after next season already has rumors circulating and Minnesota fans fearing the worst. Every national media mention is vetted for signs that Love will be looking to play elsewhere in 2015.

But Saunders isn’t Kahn. And he isn’t worried.

“Kevin is extremely vested in where we’re at,” he said. “He’s one of the top five or 10 players in the NBA, and the most important thing is to have your best player committed to what you’re trying to do. I’d say that us being able to [achieve] that is as important as anything, since I came in here.”

An inveterate schmoozer, Saunders has sought out Love’s advice on matters big and small, shared plans about arena renovations and a proposed downtown practice facility and picked up a bunch of lunch tabs between the two. He likes the Wolves chances of building around Love, even as the team’s first-best player.

“Two years, in the NBA, is an eternity,” Saunders said. “All we can do is put our organization in a position where free agents are attracted here, by the personnel you have and the facilities you have. And you have relationships.”

After Love’s injury-marred 2012-13 season, Adelman has challenged him to boost his assists totals, perhaps not to Garnett levels but beyond the 1.9 he averaged through five seasons.

“He’s giving up the ball,” the Wolves coach said. “I think he’s matured as a player. Two years ago, he was scoring big and rebounding big. But we need him to do everything. We need him to pass the ball and be a facilitator too, and we need a consistent effort defensively. So I think he’s changed a lot. Probably being hurt last year gave him some drive this year.”

A foe-turned-teammate has noticed.

“You see the work that he puts in and just his feel for the game,” shooting guard Kevin Martin said. “He puts up scoring numbers that I haven’t seen since Kevin Durant. And rebound numbers? I’ve never seen a guy rebound like that.”

Don’t get confused here. Durant plays for the Thunder. Martin is the Wolves’ Kevin No. 5.

KEVIN MARTIN

Kevin Martin, 2013

Kevin Martin, 2013 (Jordan Johnson/NBAE)

The Timberwolves’ history, as far as free agency, generally has been what the team could do for the player rather than the other way around. Saddled with the league’s, er, most challenging climate and the lack of any championship tradition, Minnesota often has missed out on top talent and overpaid (in years or dollars) what players it has signed.

That’s why Martin’s decision to join up on a four-year, $27.8 million deal was so significant last July. The 30-year-old guard is a professional shooter with 3-point range and a career 17.8 scoring average through his first eight NBA seasons. He had been swapped a year earlier by Houston in theJames Harden trade, fitting a little awkwardly into what had been Harden’s instant-offense role off the OKC bench.

For a Wolves team that had leaned on the likes of Wes Johnson, Alexey Shved andMalcolm Lee at shooting guard, Martin was a serious upgrade. A franchise once so barren that it touted its play-by-play man now could surgically add a key basketball piece.

“I wanted to bring in players that were gonna make Love, Rubio and Pekovic better, not players that those guys would make better,” Saunders said. “The way Kevin [Martin] plays, he was going to make those guys better.”

At 23.2 points nightly, while hitting 44.1 percent of his 3-point attempts, Martin is producing at a level unseen since his final year in Sacramento (2008-09). It helps that he’s back with the coach who had him, both with the Kings and the Rockets.

Said Adelman of Martin: “He went through the year last year where he was more of a role player. I think he feels better about his situation [now]. He’s getting opportunities that he didn’t have because of [Russell] Westbrook and Durant there, and I think he’s enjoying it, being a starter again and having responsibility on his shoulders.”

Love called Martin an “easy fit” in personality and in game.

“It feels like it’s been a perfect fit for me since Day 1,” Martin said. “That’s why I decided to come here. Just playing in the system and playing with K.Love, seeing his game grow, which I knew it would.

“With Kevin and Ricky and big Pek coming along, and coach Adelman – that’s another big reason – it’s a more interesting team now. Bringing in a guy like Flip who has won at the highest levels. It’s a great place.”

Not always. But not bad if your name is Kevin.

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DURANT TO 60 MINUTES: TIRED OF SETTLING

December 4, 2013  ·  3:10PM

In the college football race for the BCS national championship game, Ohio State and Auburn are in a war of words and a wrestling match for the spot behind Florida State.

But Kevin Durant is fed up with being No. 2 behind LeBron James.

It’s a sentiment that the Thunder All-Star has expressed before, but discusses his feelings of discontent again in an interview with James Brown on “60 Minutes Sports,” scheduled to air tonight (10 ET) on Showtime.

“…People would just always say that it’s cool, you’re top three, that’s cool. It’s alright to be a top-three player in the world. There’s billions of people in this world. You can be top three, that’s pretty cool…I mean…I’m just tired of settling for that, tired of saying that, tired of hearing it.”

The feature story includes an interview with Durant’s mother, the one responsible for instilling his work ethic and good guy image that keeps his ego in check and has made him beloved throughout the NBA and in Oklahoma City particularly.

There is never a peep out of Durant that indicates the least bit of unhappiness with the Thunder or the small market of OKC and he is, after all, signed through the 2015-16 season.

These are no ominous rumblings of a star player looking down the line for a free-agent way out or a shortcut to the top of a mountain. It’s just a guy who is not afraid to say that he won’t truly be happy until he sheds the amiable runner-up image and become No. 1.

VIDEO: Kevin Durant has put up some impressive stats in the season’s first month

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DOC, CP3 PRAISE HAWKS’ TEAGUE

December 4, 2013  ·  1:21PM


VIDEO: Hawks point guard Jeff Teague is off to a fantastic start this season

ATLANTA – Chris Paul is used to showing up at arenas on the road and dealing with the challenge of being the measuring stick for opposing point guards. It’s been that way for some time for the Los Angeles Clippers’ star.

That said, it’s always a special challenge facing his good friend, protegé and fellow Wake Forest alum,Jeff Teague. Teague’s splendid work this season has helped propel the Atlanta Hawks into the top half of the playoff chase in the Eastern Conference up to this point at least.

Tonight’s Clippers-Hawks matchup at Philips Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) provides one of two regular-season opportunities for Teague to see where he stands.

Paul has always been in a different point-guard stratosphere, but might Teague be closing that gap, albeit slightly, this season? Both Paul and Clippers coach Doc Rivers , who acknowledged the challenge both players will face tonight after the Clippers’ Wednesday morning shootaround, believe so.

“Guarding Chris Paul every night is going to be very hard, as is guarding Jeff Teague every night,” Rivers said. “They’re a little bit different in what they do and the way they play. And Teague, over the last two years, I don’t know of any guard that has improved more. I mean, he’s really become a heck of a basketball player.”

Teague is shattering his career numbers of 9.5 points and 4.3 assists this season with career-bests in points (17.4), assists (8.1) and rebounds (2.8). He is also a legitimate contender for one of the guard spots on the Eastern Conference All-Star team this season, thanks to a door being opened by injuries to other stars along with his improved play.

“Man, [he has improved] a lot,” Paul said. “I think JT is so much more aggressive now than he ever was. And that comes with confidence, which he should have. The team made some moves and freed him up to play with the freedom so he knows he’s the guy. And he’s been hooping all season long.”

We’ll see if he can keep it up tonight, at Paul’s expense.

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BLOGTABLE: LESSONS FROM PORTLAND-INDY

December 4, 2013  ·  11:05AM

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Big Apple busts | First off your bench | Blazers-Pacers


VIDEOBlazers topple Pacers in an early-season East vs. West showdown

Portland-Indiana on Monday. What’d that tell you about the Blazers? About the Pacers?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The game Monday told me I need to start staying up later more often for post-prime-time viewing of the Blazers on League Pass (though my alibi is iron-clad on this one, having sat through three overtimes at United Center Monday). It tells me I literally dare not sleep on Portland anymore. But it also tells me coach Terry Stotts was right in dismissing any notion of “statement game” in December. The Pacers arrived and left with the league’s best record, are several years beyond Portland in their life cycle as a contender and remain the more serious threat for May and June. Finally, it tells me I’ll want to be in Indianapolis on Feb. 7 when the Blazers show up there too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It told me the Blazers could stand up in the face of Indiana’s physical, rugged defensive game. It told me the Pacers were on the hind end of a back-to-back went the distance before losing a scorecard decision.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: First about the Pacers: A complete ball club, team-oriented, unselfish, defensive-minded. They’ve got a bona fide superstar on the wing, a very good big man in the middle, steady point guard play and now reserves that fit all the aforementioned descriptions. As for the Blazers, what a young core they’ve got being led by a mature, level-headed All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge. With a bright coach, the addition of guard Mo Williams popping off the bench and that hostile homecourt edge, watch out. Portland very quickly has emerged as one of the most fun teams in the league to watch.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt didn’t tell me anything about the Pacers. A road loss on the second night of a back-to-back against a team playing well is nothing set against what had come the previous four weeks. Indy proved itself to be a serious threat in the East last season and is doing the same this season. But it was telling for Portland. While this has been a playoff team from opening night, wins like Monday can’t help but build confidence. Beating arguably the best team in the league after trailing the first three quarters and shooting 47 percent and scoring 106 points on that defense is a real benchmark about where the Trail Blazers are in December.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comIt told me that the Blazers’ offense is legit. It was a fast-paced game, but they scored 106 points against the No. 1 defense in the league on the second night of a back-to-back. They’re a jump-shooting team, but that’s OK, because they can really shoot and Terry Stotts has them doing some cool stuff offensively. It also told me that Paul George is a top-five player. He was already a top-10 defender before this season and he has made such a leap offensively that he brings more to the table – when you consider both ends of the floor – than anybody but LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He’s in the 3-4-5 mix with Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThat Monday night showdown in Portland between the Trail Blazers and Pacers was an absolute showcase of two up-and-coming teams (“young” is probably no longer an appropriate term for either bunch) that have all the ingredients you need for contender. The Blazers snuck up on all of usNeil Olshey has put together a balanced group that has star power (Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge) and quality role players (Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, etc.) that fit together perfectly. Terry Stotts has done a fine job managing the process for all involved. I picked the Pacers to be the Miami Heat’s biggest hurdle this season after watching them push the Heat to the brink in the Eastern Conference finals last season. They are, as they say, exactly who I thought they were. Paul George is a superstar in training and his supporting cast (yes, supporting cast) is as solid as it gets. The other thing I love about the Pacers is they embrace every challenge the way they did Monday night’s game. They don’t run from a good showdown. That’s a great quality to have in a contender. It reminds me of the way Oklahoma City played on their way up. Statement games early in the NBA season are often rendered useless by All-Star Weekend. Injuries and other circumstances tend to have that effect on these things. But I have a feeling that showcase Monday night will be referred to again, perhaps for both teams, at some point down the line.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I came away thinking that as great as Indiana has been this season, they could still use one more piece — a perimeter player, ideally. I could see them using a veteran guard who can control the flow of a game and really control an offense. I’m not sure who that player should be, but I just got an incomplete feeling watching them play. As for Portland, my main question is one civic leaders there have talked about for a while: sustainability. Can the Blazers keep up their terrific outside shooting all season? And, more importantly, can they continue to capture the heart and hustle they showed against Indiana?

Davide Chinellato, NBA ItaliaThat game said that both teams are for real. I had no doubt about the Pacers, the best team in the league right now, but the Blazers proved once again they are among of the elite in the West. I still think they’re not deep enough to make a long run in the postseason, but their starting five is playing amazing basketball right now and they’ve earned the right to dream.

Xinbin Yang, NBA China: When Aldridge got a solid paint-zone partner, he really performed like Dirk three years ago. With Robin Lopez in the post, Aldridge has had to play five fewer minutes a game this year, and it’s liberated his offensive talent. The Blazers’ starting lineup was one of 5 the league’s best 5-man groups last season — it’s not shocking that they become much better, when they added so many weapons on the bench. George, in such a short time, has become a superstar talent. We know that. Going forward, the Pacers may need to explore sending George Hill to the bench, with his low efficiency. To me, Watson seems more suitable for the lineup of George-Hibbert-West-Lance.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA GermanyThe Blazers are for real, it seems. After they’ve upgraded their bench I wondered why most experts didn’t even see them making the playoffs. So far they’ve shown an improved defense, most notably Damian Lillard. Their offense has always been good. With the deeper roster they can now overcome weak games from one or a couple of their starters, the can play different styles and they have two legit stars in Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. It might be too much to declare them contenders, but the Blazers can scare lots of teams. The Pacers, on the other hand, are still the best team in the East.

VIDEOThe Starters: Portland is for real

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BLOGTABLE: FALLING STARS IN NEW YORK

December 4, 2013  ·  11:05AM

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Big Apple busts | First off your bench | Blazers-Pacers


Carmelo Anthony vs. Deron Williams in 2010

Happier times: Western Conference playoffs, 2010, Denver vs. Utah (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Which Big Apple star has fallen furthest: Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) or Deron Williams (Nets)? Who’s most likely to get back up first?

Deron Williams, Nov. 2013

Deron Williams, Nov. 2013 (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Williams. To me, Anthony is one of the true constants of the NBA, a shooter/scorer who, since he arrived, has been treated – and sees himself – a notch above his true star standing in the league’s galaxy. Last possession, close game, he’s at or near the top of a very short list in whose hands I’d want the basketball for my team. But day in, day out, he’s not a tent pole guy in the wayLeBron JamesKobe Bryant or Kevin Durant is. Never was, probably never will be because it’s generally about Melo first, team second. But Williams actually has underperformed his reputation the last couple of years. His assists have dipped, he’s hurt lately, there are a couple of fallen coaches on his resume and no one defends anymore the selection order of top point guards (coughChris Paul) in the 2005 Draft. That said, I’d happily welcome back the 2007-10 version of Williams.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Carmelo’s scoring average is down 2 1/2 points, his shooting percentage .26 from last season, slightly down. And he has no help.Williams has fallen off the edge of the Earth and he’s supposed to be leader of the Nets. D-Will is just lucky he’s not living back in Mother Russia with oligarch owner Mikhail Prokorov or he might have already been shipped out to a work camp in Siberia. Carmelo is still an A-lister who can score with the best in the game. Williams looks like a guy who has lost interest.I’m with Carmelo to recover first all the way here.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comDeron Williams is so low at the moment he makes the New York subway look like Chicago’s ‘L.’ His fragile ankles make Steph Curry‘s look like a couple of boulders. Williams has played in just nine games (avg. 24.1 mpg) as the Nets’ most critical player has been a total non-factor. As for ‘Melo, I cringed when he proclaimed his intention to head into free agency when he should have been prodding his teammates to climb aboard his shoulders for the championship ride of their lives. His shooting has been erratic, but he’s still scoring (26.3 ppg) while also averaging a tick under 10 boards a game and getting to the free-throw line (Houston loss game excluded), which tells me he’s engaged. So let Melo get Tyson Chandler back and maybe things settle down. D-Will? I don’t know how he gets it going if he can’t get on the floor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBiggest fall: Deron Williams, and it’s not close. This is the pretty much the same Carmelo Anthony as always, so he’s the first to get back to the former level. But D-Will is on a fast down escalator. The Nets offense. His health. His uninspiring play. Williams has a lot of ground to make up.

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Williams is injured, so it’s two different situations (like Big Apples and Oranges). At some point, Anthony will find some sort of offensive rhythm and start shooting better. And that could happen at any time. Williams’ return to form seems more long-term, because he re-sprained his ankle in the first game when he tried to return a couple of weeks ago, and it will take him time to get back into shape and have the acceleration and explosion he needs to be a top-flight point guard.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is a completely unfair question to Carmelo, whose game has not fallen off. In fact, he’s averaging a career-best 9.9 rebounds and playing a gut-busting 40 minutes every night on a team that is performing miserably. But he’s doing what he’s always done in terms of scoring the ball and giving the effort he’s always given. Deron Williams, on the other hand, has not been in elite point guard form for quite some time. Even last season, when his numbers were fine, he wasn’t really in the conversation of the best of the best at his position. He’s been passed up by the likes of Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and others since we used to argue about who was the better point guard between he and CP3. Knocked off that path in his final days in Utah, D-Will has battled one thing or another since moving on to New Jersey and now, Brooklyn. The fact that the point guard crop in the league has gotten deeper and even more dynamic and talented in the past three or four seasons,I’m not sure he’ll ever legitimately get back into that top tier conversation.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: New York is such a fickle town — they love you or they hate you. There is zero middle ground. And while Melo has been the target of plenty of ire the last few months, it’s almost like, at least they’re thinking about him. Deron, on the other hand, hasn’t been held to anywhere near the same level of scrutiny as Melo. I don’t know if that’s a comment on the franchises or the players, but that’s the way it is. It’s going to be a long road back for Williams to be the player he was before, a longer journey than Melo has in front of him, but Deron’s able to work off-Broadway, which lessens the spotlight a bit.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: Kind of unfair to say D-Will has fallen off, he’s injured. I suspect he gets back to his former level as soon as he gets 100% healthy. ‘Melo, on the other hand, may be victim of a poor fit with the pieces around him. Without Tyson Chandler, the Knicks’ D is a mess, and their offense has been stagnant and lacking in creativity. Carmelo has turned the ball over often and shot poorly, but the team around him has made it difficult for him as well. I think he can get better once Chandler is back andMike Woodson can get back to finding his ideal rotation.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: ‘Melo is having the worst shooting year of his career, but he’s still second in the league in points per game and posting up big numbers in rebounds. So I go with Deron Williams here. He’s had too many injuries, and he’s not even close to the player he was last year … who wasn’t very close to the D-Will he was with Utah. I bet on ‘Melo as the first to get back of his normal level: His shooting woes will end when the Knicks, as a team, get back on track.

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BLOGTABLE: THE SUPER-EST SUB

December 4, 2013  ·  11:05AM

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Big Apple busts | First off your bench | Blazers-Pacers


Ray Allen of the Miami Heat

Ray Allen of the Miami Heat (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

You have a solid, balanced starting five. Who is the one reserve you want first off your bench?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comJamal Crawford. Isaiah Thomas is bringing scoring so far off Sacramento’s bench but I’d like a bigger sample size and, speaking of size, a bigger player (he’s 5-foot-9). I’m assuming Ryan Anderson will be racking up starts in Anthony Davis‘ broken-hand absence in New Orleans. I’m partial to game-changing big men off the bench, such as Denver’s Timofey Mozgov and Chicago’s Taj Gibson. But of the 100 or so true “super subs” (at least a dozen appearances, four starts or fewer) so far this season, Crawford remains the gold standard. At 16.0 ppg, 38,6 3FG% and 26.9 mpg, this is his side of the street – other guys are just working it.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You said I already have a solid, balanced starting five. So I’ll take Ryan Anderson off the bench filling up the hoop with all those 3s. That’s a valuable wild card.

Jamal Crawford

Jamal Crawford
(Noah Graham/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comJamal Crawford. Instant offense. The guy averages 16.0 ppg in 26.9 mpg. He’s devastating beyond the arc, can break ankles and can dish it, too. What else is there?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: If I don’t have any obvious glaring holes in the opening lineup that create an obvious need – scoring, rebounding, playmaking, etc. – I want someone who can play multiple positions. To be able to plug my top reserve into two spots, depending what is needed at the moment, is an obvious advantage. Wanting versatility and someone who can make a quick impact brings me to Jamal Crawford. A former starter at the point, a former starter at shooting guard, a current scoring threat.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Ideally, I’d like a guy who can shoot and play defense. But I can’t find a bench guy out there who does both at an above-average level. So give me Ryan Anderson, an elite shooter who will complement the playmakers in my starting lineup. He’s not a good defender, but he can rebound. Depending on the exact makeup of my starting lineup, I’d also consider Omer Asik for rim protection.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comWow. Great question. And with the entire league to choose from, that would require me to know exactly what my starting five looked like and what sort of reserve help I needed (scorer/floor spacer, defender/rim protector, rebounding specialist, etc.). Whoever the guy is, I need him to be a game changer who has the experience and savvy to aid my team in whatever capacity is asked of him. I need a guy like Ray Allenwho even at this stage of his career can still work at a high level and in clutch situations (see his work in The Finals last season). If my starting five is as solid and balanced as described, I’d have the luxury of deploying a specialist and floor spacer like Allen into my lineup as a sixth man without worry that he’s not a great defender and doesn’t have the greatest size or range to work at several different positions. But I’d take solace in the fact that he’s arguably the greatest shooter the game has seen and has championship pedigree oozing out of his pores. There are plenty of guys who are younger and could probably do more on both ends. But when I needed that clutch corner 3, well …

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog:  Elton Brand. I know he’s kind of toiling in obscurity with the Hawks this season, but whenever I see the Hawks play I’m struck by Brand’s versatility and professionalism. It’s hard enough to find quality bigs in the NBA, but to have a guy who can play the 4 or 5, who is smart enough to be physical without immediately fouling out, is a bit of a luxury. Also, Brand would be fun to have around just to explain technology to him.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: That seems opportunistic since I just posted a Sixth Man of the Year ranking on NBA Brasil! Still, even though I have Isaiah Thomas as the best reserve so far and Manu Ginobili isn’t even in the top 10 for this season, I’m always picking Ginobili when you ask me this question. Ginobili was a borderline franchise player when he got to the NBA, and even as he’s gotten older and injuries have slowed him, he still has such a great basketball IQ that he makes the game easier for everybody. He’s not as fast as he used to be, but still hustles on defense and gives you his best. And even though he looked like he was done for much of last season’s playoffs, he’s been pretty good so far this season with the Spurs.

Akshay Manwani, NBA IndiaI think Jamal Crawford deserved to win the Sixth Man Award last year and he sure is a contender this season as well. I know there is a lot of buzz about Nick Young, Mo Williams, Nate Robinson, but Crawford is averaging 16.0 PPG while playing on a Clippers team that has scorers all-round. Crawford is my man.

Aldo Aviñante, NBA PhilippinesI like the way Taj Gibson has been playing for the Bulls lately. He is a really solid big man off the bench. He defends well, grabs boards and scores in an efficient manner. He knows his role and plays within his limitations. But Jeremy Lin when healthy is a great option as a sixth man because he can really run a team on offense — if he can improve on his defense he will be the

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