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Rudy Gay, John Wall and other players already on notice for 2012-13 season

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It could be a make-or-break year for Rudy Gay in Memphis. (Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The offseason and trade deadline are good times to find players who are newly on notice — ones thrust into larger roles or facing increased pressure because of contract realities or a new roster context. Below is a look at players who fit the bill now. I’ve tried my best to de-emphasize guys entering the fourth years of their rookie contracts because they are the most obvious candidates, striving for extensions or fat new contracts in free agency. Also, I’ve already taken detailed looks at four such players — Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, DeMar DeRozan and Stephen Curry – so there’s little need to repeat what has been said. In a broader sense, young players are always  “on notice” to show the expected refinements that come with age. The goal here is to spotlight some cases that are more interesting, for whatever reason.

Already Got Paid

Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies. The notion that Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay don’t mix well is a myth; Memphis played significantly better when the two were on the court together, per NBA.com. But Gay’s development as a defender, passer and pick-and-roll creator flatlined last season as he recovered from shoulder surgery, and his uneven performance against the Clippers in the playoffs was one of many small factors that added up to a seven-game loss for the Grizzlies. In a reloaded Western Conference, the Grizz have jumped over the luxury tax to see if this core, fully healthy, can emerge as a true title contender. If it can’t, the team figures to make a cost-cutting move. That won’t necessarily mean moving Gay and his rapidly increasing contract, but the 26-year-old small forward’s play will be huge determining factor in the path this franchise charts.

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  • Published On 2:26pm, Sep 11, 2012
  • Offseason evaluations: Assessing the Raptors, Bucks, Cavs, Bobcats, Pistons

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    Toronto regrouped to acquire Kyle Lowry (left) after striking out on Steve Nash. (Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

    I’ve named the offseason’s winners, teams that left me a bit confused or concerned and the seven most intriguing clubs. Now I’m on to the rest: teams that mostly stood pat or left me without a hot or cold reaction to their July moves. Today: five teams in the Eastern Conference.

    Toronto Raptors

    If there’s a team from this group that belongs on the “intriguing” list, it’s probably Toronto, which landed its franchise point guard in a fascinating trade with the Rockets after improving from cover-your-eyes awful to league average on defense in coach Dwane Casey’s first year. Kyle Lowry will serve as the team’s major free-agent prize because the Raptors reserved their rather significant cap space for a two-pronged pursuit of Steve Nash, a strategy that included both a sizable offer to the two-time MVP and a crazy offer sheet to Landry Fields designed to block the Knicks from a sign-and-trade deal for Nash.

    Fields will make just shy of $6.5 million annually over the next three seasons, a drastic overpay for a wing who shot 25.6 percent from three-point range last season and struggles to defend quick shooting guards. Fields will likely begin the season as the starting small forward for a team that had one of the NBA’s worst wing rotations in 2011-12, when the likes of Rasual Butler and a slightly out-of-position James Johnson mostly started there. The 24-year-old Fields will represent an upgrade if he can shoot a league-average mark from deep, and his cutting game generally functioned much better before the Knicks dealt for Carmelo Anthony, the sort of dominant, ball-stopping scorer not present in Toronto. And it’s not as if Toronto missed an obvious gem in free agency; the small-forward market was top-heavy, with the prime options being either restricted (Nicolas Batum) or aging/potentially overpriced (Gerald Wallace, Andrei Kirilenko), and the Raptors used the draft to find a potential replacement (Terrence Ross) for DeMar DeRozan at shooting guard.

    The Fields deal will hurt the Raptors’ flexibility, but not fatally. Toronto is set to have about $11.5 million in cap space next summer before factoring in DeRozan’s $8.4 million cap hold. DeRozan’s future is one of the interesting questions that Toronto faces. Ditto for the frontcourt, where the anticipated debut of Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas will make for a crowd of players who all want minutes. Andrea Bargnani is obviously a heavy-minutes starter, and he played the best ball of his career early last season before suffering a series of nagging leg injuries. The Raptors, who had the second-worst offense last season, actually scored at a league-average rate when Bargnani was around to spread the floor.

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  • Published On 2:24pm, Aug 09, 2012
  • Around the NBA: Wolves flood the wing

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    Nicolas Batum is set for a big payday from either Minnesota or Portland. (Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Some thoughts on the latest moves around the league (and a quick word about Greg Oden) …

    Minnesota uses the amnesty provision on Darko Milicic, signs Nicolas Batum to four-year, $46.5 million offer sheet.

    I’m late on this, since former Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley agreed to terms with the Suns more than a week ago, but let’s pour one out for the Beasley/Milicic two-man game. This was perhaps the most unwatchable two-man game in recent NBA history, a staple of former Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis’ triangle offense that Rick Adelman quickly de-emphasized after taking over last season.

    Alas: As ESPN.com’s John Hollinger has pointed out, the use of the amnesty provision on Milicic does not clear enough cap space for the Wolves to execute every move to which they have potentially committed themselves. That holds even if the Wolves follow the amnesty trigger by buying out Martell Webster and Brad Miller for the minimum amounts that their respective contracts allow. Minnesota has now promised nearly $12 million annually to Batum, $5 million next year to guard Brandon Roy and an unknown amount for Russian combo guard Alexey Shved. Even assuming a very conservative figure for Shved, an accomplished international player, all of these moves would put the team at least $4 million or $5 million above the cap, meaning another cost-cutting transaction would have to come if Portland lets Batum walk to Minnesota.

    Speaking of which: Once Batum’s offer sheet is delivered to the league office, NBA rules prohibit the restricted free agent’s involvement in a sign-and-trade. Minnesota and Portland had discussed  a sign-and-trade armistice that might have included draft picks and the participation of Chicago, which would have dealt Kyle Korver and his non-guaranteed deal to the Trail Blazers. Those talks are dead now, provided the offer sheet has been submitted to the league.

    I’ve written at length about Minnesota’s lack of production on the wing last season, but, holy cow, have the Wolves gone all-out to address that problem in free agency. They started by dealing the 18th pick in last month’s draft to Houston for Chase Budinger and have followed that by agreeing to deals with Roy, Shved and now Batum. That’s four potential new wing players. If they land all of them, Adelman will have some major minutes juggling to do and the Wolves will have spent their way (for now) close to the projected 2013-14 cap, affecting their ability to upgrade via free agency next summer. That doesn’t even take into account center Nikola Pekovic’s cap hold, but the Wolves could cut money a year from now by making the second season of Roy’s deal a team option and parting ways with a few non-performers, including swingman Wes Johnson, the No. 4 pick in the 2010 draft.

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  • Published On 7:23pm, Jul 12, 2012
  • Knicks switch themselves into oblivion

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    It was written on the white board in the Bobcats’ locker room before Wednesday’s game against the Knicks in New York: “They will switch a lot. Attack mismatches.”

    And boy, did the Knicks switch a lot — and in all kinds of different ways. Let’s take a look at the photo evidence from the Knicks’ 118-110 loss.

    Switch No. 1: Covering for Amar’e Stoudemire on the pick-and-roll

    Stoudemire has never been a good defender, especially in space, and he returned Wednesday night after a two-game absence because of a sprained ankle. The Bobcats attacked him relentlessly on pick-and-roll plays, confident he wouldn’t have the mobility to jump out, cut off Charlotte’s point guards and then return to find his man rolling in the paint.

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  • Published On 12:33pm, Jan 05, 2012
  • Paul Silas talks Bobcats’ offense, Kemba Walker’s weakness, much more

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    Coach Paul Silas said rookie Kemba Walker struggles most with penetrating to the hoop and finishing. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

    NEW YORK — The Bobcats entered Madison Square Garden Wednesday night with a 1-4 record,  sporting one of the league’s worst offenses and one of the league’s worst defenses. A couple of hours before that offense torched the Knicks, Charlotte head coach Paul Silas sat down with me and chatted about the challenges of finding practice time, Kemba Walker’s early season struggles and how angry he was when Boris Diaw and DeSagana Diop showed up to camp out of shape.

    SI.com: Have you guys had a practice yet?

    Silas: We have. I just made us practice. We took one day off and then we had a couple of practices, including one that probably should have been a day off. But we need it. We have a lot of young players and a lot of guys that haven’t played together, and we’ve got to get our offensive and defensive situation right. It’s been very tough for us.

    SI.com: Give me one specific Xs-and-Os thing you’ve really stressed in that limited practice time, whether it’s pick-and-roll coverage, an offensive set you want to run, some nugget like that.

    Silas: On pick-and-roll coverage, we send all pick-and-rolls down from the side. We call that “blue.” When a pick-and-roll is up top, we send it to the left on every one that we can. We call that “weak.” And the big man [guarding the screener], he has to show, and he has to get back. If his man pops, the guy on the weak side, he takes him, and then we rotate. It’s been OK, but we haven’t gotten it right yet, you know. Sometimes the big man stays back too far — he doesn’t come out far enough, and the guard can go over the pick and turn the corner, and go inside, and then we have problems. It’s been a struggle, but we will get there.

    SI.com: Why try to force every high pick-and-roll to the left? Read More…


  • Published On 11:32am, Jan 05, 2012
  • Warriors give Kwame Brown big money

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    Kwame Brown, whom Michael Jordan infamously selected with the top pick in the 2001 draft, agreed to a one-year, $7 million deal with the Warriors. (AP)

    Golden State’s one-year, $7 million deal for big man Kwame Brown, the Michael Jordan-era punchline, isn’t so bad independent of context. Brown was reasonably productive last season in Charlotte, in part because he posted an acceptable turnover rate so out of whack with his slippery-handed career norms that he likely can’t approach it again. Brown is a sturdy post defender and decent rebounder, and on offense he’ll show flashes of the explosion that made him the No. 1 overall pick of the 2001 draft. A team that needs post defense and clearly has no faith in Andris Biedrins can overpay Brown a bit for one season, develop Ekpe Udoh and let Brown walk in the summer.

    Not much harm, not much foul.

    But the context is troubling. Golden State used its one-time-only amnesty provision to cut Charlie Bell’s $4 million expiring contract and free up the space to sign center DeAndre Jordan to a four-year, $43 million offer sheet. The Clippers matched that offer Monday night to keep Jordan, as most of the league expected they would. The Warriors thus blew their one shot at amnesty while Biedrins remains on the books for $9 million in each of the next three seasons for a team that just gave him a pretty glaring no-confidence vote.

    The other bonus of using the amnesty now on Bell rather than later on Biedrins is that it opened up more cap space. After cutting Bell and renouncing Reggie Williams, the Warriors had about $10 million in cap space, once you figure in deals for their second-round picks (Charles Jenkins and Jeremy Tyler) and charges tied to empty roster spots. You can do something with $10 million in cap space, even if you can’t sign Nene outright: You can sign a decent player, use the space later to acquire an asset in a salary-dumping trade or land a big name in a sign-and-trade transaction without adding too much salary.

    The Warriors took that cap space and used $7 million of it on Kwame Brown. They’ve got a small amount left, but that sliver doesn’t bring the same kind flexibility as a vacant $10 million space. They could have retained amnesty by either keeping Bell or buying him out, and then offered Brown a deal in the range of $5 million to $6 million, using their remaining cap space. Read More…


  • Published On 1:59pm, Dec 13, 2011
  • Report: MJ fined $100K for lockout comments

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    Selective enforcement is a bad thing, whether you’re talking about alleged superstar calls or the rule that says Dwight Howard has 10 seconds to get on with it and shoot that free throw. So it’s reassuring to hear that lockout gag rules apply equally to Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, who was fined $100,000 for violating the league’s ban on discussing individual players and collective bargaining issues during the lockout, according to ESPN’s Chris Broussard. The NBA confirmed to The Associated Press that Jordan was fined but would not comment on the total.

    The league had no choice but to fine Jordan over comments he made to the Herald Sun in Australia last month. (Side note: Some athlete types are still surprised that folks in America can find and read international news sources.) Jordan gave his views on Andrew Bogut’s game and went into detail about why he is a “hawk” when it comes to the collective bargaining talks and the push among small-market owners for increased revenue sharing:

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  • Published On 3:23pm, Sep 12, 2011
  • Kings are biggest losers in three-team trade

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    John Salmons is on the move again, this time to Sacramento. (Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE)

    Draft day has been heavy on rumors and light on action so far, but now we have a three-team deal involving the Bucks, Kings and Bobcats. The particulars:

    • The Kings traded the No. 7 pick to Charlotte and sent Beno Udrih to Milwaukee. Sacramento received the No. 10 pick from the Bucks and (gulp) John Salmons.

    • The Bobcats snagged that No. 7 pick to go with the ninth pick they already own. To do so, they acquired Corey Maggette from the Bucks and sent Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston to Milwaukee.

    • If you got all that, you know Milwaukee dealt Maggette (to Charlotte), Salmons and the No. 10 pick (both to the Kings) for Jackson, Udrih, Livingston and the No. 19 pick.

    Whew.

    Let’s start here: If the Kings don’t have a second trade lined up for later Thursday, they have done something very puzzling here. They have voluntarily moved down three spots for the privilege of taking on Salmons, who is owed $24.16 million guaranteed over the next three seasons — and another $1 million for the season after that, just for kicks. Udrih is the only current player the Kings sent away in this deal; he is on the books for $14.3 million over the next two seasons.

    In other words, the Kings took on an extra $11 million in payroll, dropped three spots in the draft and acquired a 31-year-old swingman who was one of the very worst heavy-minutes offensive players last season. In Salmons’ defense, he was banged up from the start, and he’s a much better scorer than he showed last season. He also fills a need in Sacramento because he can swing between shooting guard and small forward.

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  • Published On 5:51pm, Jun 23, 2011
  • Hawks gamble with Crawford guarding Rose

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    Jamal Crawford isn't known for defense, but he was nonetheless guarding MVP Derrick Rose in Game 2 on Wednesday. (AP)

    The Hawks are in a tight spot without Kirk Hinrich, who was set to be their primary defender against Derrick Rose in their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Bulls. I knew Atlanta coach Larry Drew was going to have to try some interesting things, but I never expected to see Jamal Crawford guard Rose — by choice! — for long stretches.

    Crawford is not exactly known for his defense, as Atlanta has given up significantly more points per possession with him on the floor in each of the last two seasons. To put him on the league’s MVP is either a sign of lunacy, a strategy designed to tempt Rose into hijacking Chicago’s offense, an act of total desperation or a gamble that Rose’s sore left ankle will keep him from eating Crawford alive. Or perhaps it is some combination of all of these things. 

    The other options include Joe Johnson (not quick enough, too much responsibility on the other end), an occasional zone (Atlanta played a few possessions in Game 2) and Jeff Teague (who’s getting the bulk of Rose duty). 

    And yet, Crawford defended Rose on 17 of Chicago’s half-court possessions Wednesday, or about 20 percent of Chicago’s total trips down the floor. That is not a token number; that is a significant chunk of game time. 

    So I decided to re-watch all 17 of those possessions to see how Crawford and Atlanta managed. Nearly all of them came with Kyle Korver on the floor, and that’s not a coincidence; the Hawks do not believe Crawford is qualified to chase Korver and navigate screens, and so when Korver enters the game, they shift Teague onto Korver and Crawford onto Rose. Otherwise, Crawford typically guards Keith Bogans or Ronnie Brewer. 

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  • Published On 4:22pm, May 05, 2011
  • Don’t blame Henderson for Howard’s tech

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    It happened again Wednesday: A player (Gerald Henderson) made a show out of counting out the seconds as Dwight Howard went about his interminable free-throw routine, essentially forcing an NBA official to enforce the 10-second rule and take away the free-throw attempt. Howard was disgusted, and he tossed the ball toward the corner of the baseline, earning his 18th technical foul of the season — and a likely suspension for Orlando’s game against the Bulls on Sunday.

    UPDATE: The league announced Thursday evening that Howard was given a one-game suspension and will miss Sunday’s game.

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  • Published On 11:10am, Apr 07, 2011


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