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The short list of potential one-team stars

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Dirk Nowitzki says he will play two more seasons before re-evaluating his career. (Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Dirk Nowitzki broke a bit of news over the weekend by tweeting during a Q-and-A with followers that he will play two more seasons and decide after that whether he wants to continue his NBA career. This isn’t all that surprising because his contract runs for two more seasons, after which Nowitzki will be at an age where even stars generally leave the game.

Nowitzki turned 34 in July, so he’ll be that age next season and 35 for the 2013-14 season. Since the institution of the three-point line, only 11 players 34 or older (as defined by their age on Feb. 1) and 6-foot-10 or taller have logged at least 1,500 minutes and posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 20.0 — a general approximation for an All-Star — in any season, according to Basketball-Reference. Those 11 players pulled the trick a combined 23 times, with three players — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon — combining for 12. Players 36 or older under that Feb. 1 definition accounted for just eight of those 23 seasons, with the above-mentioned trio hitting the minutes/PER double six times in 36-plus seasons.

Nowitzki, of course, can remain a very productive sub-20.0 PER player, as most of the players on this list — and many others — have done before. And as by far the best perimeter shooter in this group, Nowitzki has a chance to age in a different way, especially if the Mavericks can continue supplying him with skillful pick-and-roll partners and legitimate centers to ease his burden on defense. Nowitzki has already increased his three-point attempts in each of the last two seasons as part of a team-wide evolution in Dallas that could also help prolong his career.

But the painful thought of Nowitzki’s career ever ending naturally leads to another thought: Will he finish it in Dallas? And how many legendary players still have a shot at playing with only one team?

By my count, there are seven Hall of Fame locks or players approaching that category who have a chance at wearing only one NBA uniform. They are:

Nowitzki: Given Nowitzki’s love of Dallas and that the Mavericks have $0 in guaranteed money on the books beyond the 2013-14 season, it seems likely that he would return on a cheap deal if he decides to play past that 2013-14 season. There certainly aren’t any cap obstacles in the way, even if the Mavs manage to sign a max-level free agent next summer. If they don’t, Nowitzki will have to look around the league and see who can offer him a chance at another title, how much they can offer and whether he’d like to change teams.

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  • Published On 1:53pm, Aug 27, 2012
  • Offseason has left number of potential contenders at risk of disappointment

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    Taj Gibson

    With Omer Asik now a member of the Rockets, Taj Gibson (above) likely will assume a bigger role in helping the Bulls defend the paint. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

    We covered free agency’s winners on Thursday, and next week, we’ll touch on the most intriguing team offseasons and teams that mostly stood pat. Today: the teams that have left us concerned.

    Chicago Bulls

    I covered the state of the Bulls last week after center Omer Asik’s departure for Houston, so I won’t belabor things too much here. The Bulls have replaced four bench players — Asik, swingman Kyle Korver and guards Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson — who would have been due about $17.6 million next season with five due a combined $8.5 million. Only one of those players, guard Kirk Hinrich, has a contract that runs beyond next season, but the $4.1 million that he will earn in 2013-14 jeopardizes Chicago’s ability to use the full mid-level exception again next offseason.

    Chicago now has about $71 million committed for 2013-14, factoring in the minimum $1 million guaranteed on shooting guard Richard Hamilton’s deal and power forward Taj Gibson’s cap hold. Gibson, of course, is even more critical now that Asik is gone, especially given that center Joakim Noah and/or power forward Carlos Boozer seems to suffer a 20-game injury every season. Gibson will be 28 next July, much older than a typical player coming off a rookie deal, but he’ll have suitors around the league and he’s firmly in Chicago’s core, especially if this team will seriously consider using the amnesty provision on Boozer at some point.

    The Bulls can shave $1 million off that $71.1 million number by dumping Hamilton between now and then, a move they’ll likely explore midseason if they’re sputtering because it would get them under the tax. But the league’s new rules prohibit teams from using the full mid-level exception and spending past a line $4 million above the tax threshold in the same season. If the Bulls bring back Gibson at market value, they’ll likely have to rely on the lesser mini mid-level exception to add a much-needed veteran piece. That’s a problem, particularly because Watson could have duplicated much of Hinrich’s production on a cheaper expiring deal. There would seem to have been a way to mix one or two holdovers with the new bench players, though that might have left the team a bit shallow and a tad more expensive.

    There are some serviceable bench players among Chicago’s new crew, but the Bulls would have taken a significant step back even if point guard Derrick Rose and small forward Luol Deng were healthy.

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  • Published On 2:18pm, Aug 03, 2012
  • Pluses and minuses of Clippers moves

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    Guard Jamal Crawford (center) shot only 38.4 percent last season. (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

    It’s a testament to just how difficult team-building in the NBA is that, over the course of the last week, the Clippers traded for Lamar Odom and signed two wing players but still feel thin. The two wing players, of course, are guards Chauncey Billups and Jamal Crawford. The Clippers used their Bird Rights to reach a one-year, $4.3 million deal with Billups, and agreed to a four-year contract with Crawford, who will receive the full mid-level exception starting at $5 million a season. The latter is an extravagant contract for a 32-year-old, offense-first (and perhaps offense-only) player who shot 38 percent last season — but one that will reportedly be only partially guaranteed in the third and fourth seasons.

    The two should be very useful for this particular team, but with 22-year-old guard Eric Bledsoe deserving more minutes, it’s sort of striking that the Clippers have spent their biggest chip — the mid-level- exception — to sign two wing players without finding a real defender at shooting guard or any plausible backup for Caron Butler at small forward. Odom gives them a backup big man whom opposing teams will actually have to pay attention to, but the Clippers still need at least one — and probably two — other backup bigs worthy of playing time. Remember: Despite his huge paycheck, the Clippers did not trust center DeAndre Jordan enough to play him for significant minutes in the fourth quarter of almost their entire playoff run. Instead, they opted for either Reggie Evans (likely headed to Brooklyn in a sign-and-trade deal on July 11) or Kenyon Martin for defensive purposes. Neither warranted any attention from defenses when L.A. had the ball. Jordan must progress in order for the Clippers to do the same.

    Odom is a good defender when he’s engaged, but he wasn’t engaged in Dallas last season (to be generous). And the Billups/Crawford pairing obviously doesn’t represent an upgrade on defense, the Clippers’ weak link.

    Los Angeles still has the biannual exception and the veteran’s minimum at its disposal, and it will presumably use them to fill out the roster. Free agents Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus and Marquis Daniels could all potentially be had for the minimum, though the price for Barnes might be higher. Danny Green is also out there, and the Spurs used him as a small forward at times.  The Clippers could also slot Ryan Gomes back into the rotation as a hybrid forward capable of spelling Butler and then use Bird Rights to bring back small forward Bobby Simmons or shooting guard Randy Foye.

    But even then, the general point holds: After three splashy moves, the Clippers look much like the Clippers of last season: thin on the wing, vulnerable to strong and/or quick shooting guards and reliant on internal improvements from Blake Griffin and Jordan to bolster a defense that ranked 18th in points allowed per possession. Improvements should come in increments as Griffin and Jordan gain more experience learning the complexities of big-man NBA defense and furthering their chemistry together on that end.

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  • Published On 2:00pm, Jul 06, 2012
  • Potential Lamar Odom trade could benefit Mavericks, Clippers, Lakers

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    Lamar Odom had the worst year of his career last season in Dallas. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    Last year was a difficult one in Lamar Odom’s personal life, and he was awful on the court for a Dallas team creative enough to use him in a variety of ways in lineups of all shapes and sizes. His shot fell apart from everywhere on the floor, including at the rim, where Odom lacked that extra bit of explosion required to finish over and through NBA-level defenders. He shot just 52.9 percent at the basket, a tick below Jared Jeffries and one of the half-dozen worst marks among all NBA power forwards. His rebounding fell off, he looked out of shape and the Mavericks played worse with Odom on the floor — once unthinkable for one of the league’s annual plus/minus leaders — until they finally told him to go away.

    But the season is over, and the Clippers are reportedly showing interest in dealing for Odom, who will turn 33 in the first week of the 2012-13 regular season. The talks are centering on guard Mo Williams and may involve the Lakers as a third-team facilitator via the trade exception from the deal that sent an unhappy Odom to Dallas in December, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

    The basic structure of the deal would involve the Mavericks trading Odom to the Clippers, who would send Williams (who will make $8.5 million next season in the final year of his contract) to the Lakers for salary-matching purposes. That makes some degree of sense for all three teams, though the Clippers may demand a sweetener for helping the Mavs shed all of Odom’s 2012-13 salary of $8.2 million, and it’s unclear how hungry the Lakers are to add a fairly sizable contract that will count double because of luxury-tax penalties. The Mavs are already out a future first-round pick via the original Odom deal, so it will be difficult for Dallas to supply a sweetener because the league prohibits teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive years.

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  • Published On 11:26am, Jun 27, 2012
  • With Neil Olshey in Portland, pressure on Vinny Del Negro in Los Angeles

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    Neil Olshey

    Neil Olshey helped bring respectability to the Clippers with his trade for Chris Paul. (Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

    In the collective rush to mock everything Clippers, the NBA world is turning former Clips’ GM (and now Portland GM) Neil Olshey into R.C. Buford and Vinny Del Negro into a dunce whose best coaching skill is screaming at opposing shooters.

    Neither caricature is quite true, but even so, if an impartial NBA observer had to chose one of those two for a key position within their franchise, a huge majority at this point would choose Olshey. The Clippers, somehow, have ended up with Del Negro, having exercised their (cheap) option on him for next season, and lost Olshey to the Blazers. That news broke on Monday, about 72 hours after the Clippers released an announcement about a tentative agreement to grant Olshey a long-term contract. It was an open secret that Olshey, once an aspiring actor, had been working under perhaps the very worst GM contract in the league, and this week it came out that Olshey was earning about $250,000 per year on a month-to-month deal. The Clippers were reportedly prepared to match Portland’s offer (the terms of which are yet unknown), but Olshey, for whatever reason, decided that he’d prefer to work for an oligarch with a record of discarding GMs hastily rather than return to Donald Sterling’s empire.

    And so the guy who helped orchestrate the Chris Paul trade and did a lot to turn around the image of the Clippers among agents and other powerful sorts is now gone.

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  • Published On 2:45pm, Jun 05, 2012
  • Spurs schooling Clippers’ young big men

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    The Spurs-Clippers series has been a story of stability for one team and 180-degree change for another.

    San Antonio is doing to Los Angeles what it has done to the entire league since the halfway point of the regular season. The Spurs are 27-2 in their last 29 games (including 6-0 in the playoffs), with one loss coming when Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan all sat. Going into the playoffs, they had outscored their last 30 opponents by about 16 points per 100 possessions, nearly double the NBA’s best overall rate, behind a league-best offense and a surging defense playing at a top-five level.

    So, yeah: More of the same for them.

    The Clippers, meanwhile, have gone from a seven-game series against a team (Memphis) that attempted the third-fewest three-pointers in the league to an ongoing massacre against a Spurs team that nearly cracked 40 percent from deep in a poor-shooting lockout season and spaces the floor better than anyone. The Clippers showed real grit and improvement on defense in the first round against the Grizzlies. Their bench players, especially guard Eric Bledsoe and forwards Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans, made a huge difference defensively, and Blake Griffin flashed some pretty zippy rotations amid general up-and-down play.

    But the court against the Grizzlies was cramped. The Clippers could go under high screens for Mike Conley and Rudy Gay. They could play off Tony Allen or Quincy Pondexter on the wing, allowing for more help inside. And though Grizzlies big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are beasts, there isn’t a huge amount of space between them in the offense. Los Angeles players didn’t have all that much distance to cover, or that many complex decisions to make, against a so-so Grizzlies offense.

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  • Published On 1:39pm, May 18, 2012
  • Biggest question for Spurs in Round 2

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    Spurs coach Gregg Popovich probably won’t make Tim Duncan defend Blake Griffin full-time. (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images)

    We’ve already got a bang-up preview of the Spurs-Clippers series that begins tonight, and I’ve already given my quick-hitting prediction: Spurs in five. That prediction is based on the idea that the Clippers’ defense, merely average in the regular season, won’t be able to limit the Spurs’ league-best offense enough to win four times in seven tries. The Spurs lit up the Clippers in three regular-season games, scoring nearly 113 points per 100 possessions — about 4.5 points better than San Antonio’s overall mark — and shooting 44 percent from three-point range on nearly 25 attempts per game.

    The Clippers struggled to defend the three all season, and their big men are shaky against the pick-and-roll — a deadly combination of flaws against a San Antonio team that, unlike the Grizzlies, does not offer a poor shooter or two off of which the Clippers can help.

    That said, the Spurs’ status as big favorites here come with a few caveats:

    • The Clippers scored 107.2 points per 100 possessions against the Spurs, a mark that would have nearly led the league, and they would have taken two of three meetings with San Antonio if not for a semi-miraculous Gary Neal game-tying three-pointer. The Spurs, surprisingly, ranked as one of the league’s worst teams at defending the pick-and-roll, per Synergy Sports. They ranked dead last in points allowed per possession on pick-and-rolls in which the ball-handler finished the play, and the Clippers have a pretty decent point guard–provided Chris Paul’s groin allows him to be something close to the usual Chris Paul. For the season, about 15.9 percent of San Antonio possessions ended via a pick-and-roll ball-handler finishing the play, the largest figure for any playoff team, per Synergy.

    That probably says at least a little bit about how the Spurs prioritize defending various shot types over others, but it also suggests Paul could feast on open mid-range shots and driving lanes.

    • The Clippers’ defense improved as the season went on and played well against the Grizzlies in the first round. That is partly due to a few bench players (Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Eric Bledsoe) combining for more minutes, but Blake Griffin’s rotations were also a bit zippier during some of the higher-leverage moments of the Memphis series.

    • The Clippers’ other huge defensive weakness — a tendency to foul everything in sight — is not something the Spurs are especially good at exploiting. San Antonio ranked a bit below average in earning free throws, though we might see Evans knock Tony Parker beyond mid-court with a hip-check on a pick-and-roll at some point in this series. Read More…


  • Published On 3:17pm, May 15, 2012
  • How Memphis imposed its will on L.A.

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    It can be frustrating sometimes when fans and media give into easy narratives in explaining what happens in a complicated game involving 10 players interacting at a fast pace over 180 possessions. And then there are times when one team really does “impose its will” and its physicality on an opponent. The Grizzlies’ season-saving 92-80 win in Game 5 was one of those times, especially during the first quarter, when they ran up a big lead they would never surrender, despite the late-game scoring hiccups that are coming to define this series.

    Don’t get me wrong: Lots of things contributed to this Memphis win — some fun Xs-and-Os designed to get the ball inside, the brief appearance of 2011 Zach Randolph, stifling perimeter defense that shut off the Clippers’ pick-and-roll attack and late-game injuries to the Clippers’ star players. But at a basic level, the Grizzlies committed themselves to outworking L.A. inside. Randolph fought harder against Reggie Evans’ fronting defense, and the Memphis bigs ran the floor hard, got into Blake Griffin’s chest early and overpowered him in the post.

    Let’s look at some of the ways this happened:

    More screening action

    One way to beat a fronting defense and generally open lanes  for entry passes is to get big guys moving around screens in the half-court offense. Here is the first Memphis possession of the game:

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  • Published On 1:34pm, May 10, 2012
  • Greg Stiemsma: Latest NBA shover

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    Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins wouldn’t be human if he weren’t frustrated, his team having blown a massive lead in Game 1 of their series with the Clippers and lost two other very winnable games in crunch time. He accused the Clippers of “flopping,” and then on Wednesday, he described Clippers’ strong man Reggie Evans like this, per Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer:

    “His impact has been pushing, grabbing and throwing people out of the way.”

    That’s an oversimplification, of course. Evans has been playing some spirited and effective post defense, and his ability to front the Grizzlies’ post players has made entering the ball a tough task for Memphis’ perimeter guys. He is a dynamite offensive rebounder, even without any subtle cheating. But Hollins is right to suggest Evans is throwing some well-timed shoves into his game, and if the referees aren’t going to call all of them, why wouldn’t he? He  wiped out Zach Randolph with one-handed hook of Randolph’s upper body to snag an offensive rebound in overtime of the Clippers’ Game 4 victory, and we caught him red-handed shoving Marreese Speights out of the way as Speights tried to set a pick for Mike Conley in Game 3.

    These are blatantly obvious fouls that somehow go uncalled in an era when point guards can’t lay a hand on their opposite number during dribble drives. And it’s not all that unusual for officials to let pass such contact among big men or at least executed by one. Kevin Garnett is the master at adding a little extra oomph to every one of his interactions with an opposing point guard, and Kendrick Perkins in the Thunder’s opening round series created a driving lane for Russell Westbrook by simply shoving Ian Mahinmi out of the way, in full view of everyone watching the game. Utah’s Paul Millsap is another guy who will occasionally disrupt an opposing pick-and-roll by pushing the screener in the back and nudging him out of position to set a screen.

    I’m going to keep singling these out when I notice them, or when alert readers flag them. My interest does not stem from some moral outrage or a vendetta against any particular player. Basketball is and should be a physical game, especially on the block, and part of being good at basketball is being able to withstand physical play. It’s more that I think the shoves are funny. They are just so obvious, out there in open space along the perimeter, blatant uncalled fouls that have a real impact on whether a team scores on a particular possession. I find it curious big men are so easily able to get away with them.

    To wit: Step right up, Greg Stiemsma! Here’s Boston’s backup center laying a nice one on poor old Erick Dampier Tuesday night in Atlanta’s thrilling Game 5 win:

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  • Published On 2:43pm, May 09, 2012
  • While Blake Griffin grows up for Clips, Grizzlies need more from Rudy Gay

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    Battling the Grizzlies’ rugged front line, Blake Griffin had 30 points and seven assists in the Clippers’ victory in Game 4. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

    With about 5:40 left and the Clippers leading the Grizzlies by seven points in Game 4 on Monday, Memphis forwards Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph ran a pick-and-roll on the right side of the floor. The pick held up Gay’s defender, Nick Young, forcing Randolph’s man, Kenyon Martin, to slide onto Gay and chase him above the three-point line. Randolph rolled wide open into his sweet spot on the right wing. Randolph’s partner in bruising dominance, Marc Gasol, flashed toward the foul line, putting Gasol’s defender, Blake Griffin, in a terrible position, stuck as the only defender left to monitor two very good, very large players.

    Gay took one lefty dribble backward, and with his momentum still moving him slightly toward mid-court, he threw a long bounce pass toward Randolph. The pass was a beat late, thrown with too little pace, and it bounced high off the ground. The play unfolded slowly enough for Griffin, an allegedly poor defender, to read it, dart over to Randolph, slice in front him and steal the ball.

    On the ensuing possession, the Clippers went to Griffin on the left block against Randolph, hoping Griffin could use his allegedly unrefined post game to create offense while Chris Paul continued an extended stint on the bench. Griffin turned to face Randolph, brought the ball down to his knee level and faked a lefty drive to the baseline. Randolph leaned that way, and Griffin exploded back to his right and dribbled into the foul line area, drawing Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley off Mo Williams at the top of the three-point arc for some crisis management. Griffin flicked a pass to Williams for a three-pointer, dishing the last of his seven assists (to go with 30 points) during an important stretch in which the Clippers built a lead, on Griffin’s back, as Paul rested up for his late-game heroics.

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  • Published On 2:16pm, May 08, 2012


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