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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
  • Court Vision

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    • Steve Blake and his wife, Kristen, pay $130 per month to sponor a young girl in Rwanda. The Blakes recently traveled to Rwanda to meet the girl and observe life there, and they told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times about their experience.

    A very strange player-versus-coach saga is playing out in the WNBA, and I can’t imagine how much attention this would be getting in the NBA.

    • A look at the locations from which Sacramento’s offense, a bottom-ten outfit last season, gets its shots.

    • Matt Moore, writing at ProBasketballTalk, on the strange brew that is the Kings’ roster.

    • Martell Webster is excited to join the Wizards, and told reporters this week not to pigeonhole him as a spot-up shooter — something the shooting-challenged Wizards desperately need (via Michael Lee of the Washington Post):

    “I wouldn’t call myself a three-point specialist,” Webster said during a conference call. “I’m more of an all-around player, as far as that’s concerned.”

    That kind of hunger is nice to see, provided it doesn’t lead to Webster overstepping his bounds within Washington’s offense. That’s always a tricky balance to strike.

    • Tom Ziller at SB Nation is continuing his countdown of the top 50 free agents who might be available next summer, and with Nos. 11-20, he’s into some heavy hitters — including two high-profile guards coming off rookie contracts and two star Utah big man. Who’s ranked higher: Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson? Tom and I appear to disagree on this one.

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  • Published On 1:32pm, Aug 30, 2012
  • 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
  • Spurs, Thunder, Kings among teams in the West hoping that patience pays off

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    Tim Duncan

    After coming within two games of reaching the NBA Finals, the Spurs kept their options, and their title window open, by bringing back Tim Duncan, even at the age of 36. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    We’ve looked at the offseason’s winners and losers, the teams that have us most intrigued, the landscape in the aftermath of the Dwight Howard trade and the Eastern Conference teams that mostly stood pat. It’s time for the last group of offseason evaluations: the Western Conference teams that, some drama aside, mostly stood in place.

    San Antonio Spurs

    On a very superficial level, it must look like the Spurs are doing what Danny Ainge swore he’d never do in Boston: clinging to an over-30 core past its championship prime instead of “blowing it up” and hitting the reset button. But standing pat by re-signing Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, Danny Green and Patty Mills was the only sensible path for San Antonio this summer, especially because it still leaves them able to work the trade market and carve out max-level cap room over the next two summers if they want.

    Two basic realities likely governed the Spurs’ decision-making this summer:

    • They were very, very close last season. The Thunder swept the last four games of the conference finals, but most of those games were nail-biters, and the Spurs spent the rest of the season as the class of the NBA. This is not a team that flipped a postseason switch or lucked into a conference finals appearance after some injury breaks or a series of unusually favorable matchups. The Spurs were historically great, at least by the numbers, over the last 30 games of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs. It’s not easy to blow up that kind of team, even in a vacuum devoid of cap rules and other variables that exist in real life.

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  • Published On 3:53pm, Aug 14, 2012
  • Terry Stotts talks Blazers, his coaching influences, ‘Donkey Kong’ and more

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    Terry Stotts; Rick Carlisle

    Terry Stotts (left) hopes to brings some of the defensive principles Rick Carlisle has implemented with the Mavericks to his new job as the Blazers’ head coach. (AP)

    When the Trail Blazers hired Terry Stotts as their new coach, the media focus understandably went to his underwhelming (and under-.500) stints as the head man in Atlanta and Milwaukee during the 2000s. But he has been a hoops coaching lifer since 1990, when his first major guru/mentor, George Karl, hired Stotts as an assistant coach on Karl’s Albany Patroons in the CBA — the same team that once boasted Phil Jackson and Bill Musselman as head coaches. Karl took Stotts to the NBA during the 1990s heyday of the SuperSonics and then the Bucks, and Rick Carlisle became a second guru/mentor for Stotts over four seasons — including one glorious title run — with the Mavericks.

    Stotts talked at length with SI.com about his coaching career, his vision for the Blazers and his general philosophy of coaching. An edited transcript:

    SI.com: You obviously wanted another shot at the big chair, but how tough was it to leave Dallas? Everyone raves about working there, and with Rick Carlisle, Monte Mathis, Dwane Casey, Roland Beech and the other coaching minds there — not to mention Dirk Nowitzki — it must have been a really fulfilling place to be every day.

    Stotts: It’s just a great organization, from top to to bottom. I’ve learned so much from Rick over the last four years. I wouldn’t be the head coach [of the Blazers] if I hadn’t learned from Rick and without his job recommendations. Dirk is a true pro and a great person. It was an unbelievable experience. And I think they’ve reloaded pretty well.

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  • Published On 11:16am, Aug 14, 2012
  • Youngsters shining at summer league

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    Royce White

    Rockets rookie forward Royce White has been turning heads with his elite passing ability. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

    I’ve been in Las Vegas since Monday, watching the youngsters play and chatting up scouts, executives, agents and all the other NBA diehard types. Here are some quick thoughts, informed by those conversations, on the players I’ve seen over the last 72 hours.

    • Royce White, Houston Rockets

    Some summer league teams are random collections of draft picks, fringe players and veterans given a charity invite. Then there are teams like the Rockets, loaded with first-round picks and other guys who should play pivotal roles on next season’s roster. When Houston played Portland on Tuesday night, there were stretches in which all 10 players on the floor had guaranteed roster spots for 2012-13.

    White has created as much buzz as anyone, a credit to his intoxicating passing game from the power forward slot. And it’s addictive. White tossed multiple no-look, underhanded scoop passes at least 20 feet on Houston fast breaks, most of which led to scores or decent looks. White’s passes are productive, and he will enter the league as an elite passing power forward. He can pass from the high or low post, as well as on the move in pick-and-rolls. He sees both simple and complicated passes all over the floor.

    It will be interesting to watch how quickly White can add real substance to the rest of his game. Teams are already playing off him, daring him to shoot jumpers that he is reluctant to take. He also has a Boris Diaw-like tendency to over-pass around the rim and is a low-to-the-ground player that has trouble finishing around the basket at times.

    And he obviously has a lot to prove on defense. He’s stout in the post and generally understands what’s going on, but he’s a bit upright in moving to cut off ball-handlers on the pick-and-roll. White also has had foul issues, racking up a whopping nine in Houston’s last game.

    • Jeremy Lamb, Houston Rockets

    Lamb has been explosive and efficient, though a 6-of-17 outing in Houston’s finale against Chicago on Wednesday dropped him to 35-of-75 (47 percent) from the floor and an underwhelming 8-of-27 from three-point range. But he has managed to earn a decent number of free throws and seems to be looking to score every time he touches the ball — especially in transition. Lamb has also helped himself by hitting the defensive boards fairly well. Executives in attendance are generally very positive about him.

    Lamb already looks comfortable curling around picks for catch-and-shoot and catch-and-drive opportunities, though he’ll need to improve his passing on those plays. He goes through stretches in which he gets a bit carried away, hoisting up contested shots out of pick-and-rolls and forcing runners, attempts he generally won’t be able to take in the NBA. Physical defenders who deny the ball will give him issues when the real games start, and Lamb will have to work to find an efficient role within Houston’s half-court offense. Still, the tools are there.

    Defense will be a struggle, as it is for most young players. Bigger two-guards with post-up skills will be a problem, and Lamb has had issues negotiating off ball screens.

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  • Published On 11:14am, Jul 19, 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
  • Pacers’ decision to retain Roy Hibbert opens door to free agency chess match

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    Roy Hibbert

    After posting career bests in scoring, rebounding, shooting and blocks last season, Roy Hibbert received a $58 million free-agent offer from Portland that the Pacers are expected to match. (AP)

    On Monday came news that the Pacers will match the Blazers’ four-year, $58 million offer sheet for Roy Hibbert, a move that makes sense considering the scarcity of good two-way centers and creates all sorts of possibilities over the first 72 hours of official free agency this week in Portland and Indiana, per Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star.

    The Hibbert decision marks Indiana’s second free agency splurge of the month, with the Pacers already having agreed to a five-year, $40 million contract with George Hill. And depending on how Indiana chooses to time these transactions after league business resumes on July 11, the Pacers may yet be a major player for another mid-tier free agent — perhaps a shooting guard such as O.J. Mayo or Lou Williams, or a power forward (Carl Landry?) who could help fill Indiana’s thin big man rotation.

    The timing is everything. The Pacers have 72 hours after midnight on July 11 to match Hibbert’s offer sheet. They could, in theory, wait that long, or longer, to make Hill’s deal official. During that waiting period, Hibbert and Hill would count for only about $10.3 million combined on Indiana’s cap sheet via charges, called cap holds, linked to their old salaries. Add those charges to the Pacers’ committed salary, and Indiana could have about $10 million in cap space to use over those hours — assuming the Pacers renounce their rights to Leandro Barbosa. If they’re nervous about Hill drawing interest elsewhere, they could make that contract official fast and still have about $6.5 million in cap space to use before matching on Hibbert. That number could jump a little bit if Dahntay Jones officially signs his player option right away. There’s also the possibility, reported first by David Aldridge of NBA.com, that Indiana negotiates an identical contract to the one Portland offered rather than forcing Hibbert to sign the offer sheet from Portland and then matching that offer sheet.

    This may not amount to anything for the Pacers, of course. There are lots of moving parts, several other teams who can influence all these moving parts and no guarantee of finding anyone for that cap space. They may also just choose to lock up their own guys immediately and move along. It’s just a reminder that the Pacers are lean enough to maintain some flexibility while still retaining two core players. Heck, the Hill and Hibbert deals combined give Indiana only about $41 million in committed salary for 2013-14, raising the possibility of near-max level cap room again next summer — though cap holds for David West, Tyler Hansbrough and Darren Collison will eat up all that cap space at first.

    Still, Indiana can overpay Hibbert just a bit without compromising its future, especially since none of the above West/Hansbrough/Collison trio are guaranteed core spots in that future.

    Hibbert, of course, is the centerpiece of the team’s future at this point. He probably isn’t quite worth a near-max deal in cold calculating terms, but he’s a center who helps on both sides of the ball and doesn’t actively hurt his team in any way. Those are rare commodities, and they get compensated as such. The Pacers in the regular-season were a borderline elite team with Hibbert on the floor and a break-even one with him on the bench, and in the playoffs, the gap widened to the point of absurdity. Read More…


  • Published On 5:36pm, Jul 09, 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
  • The Blazers tank, the Rockets go big, the Lakers say goodbye

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    The Trail Blazers sent Marcus Camby (pictured) to Houston after shipping swingman Gerald Wallace to the Nets. (Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

    The Blazers have given up on the season, having now traded two starters in the span of a few hours for precisely zero players who will provide much help this season. In their latest move, Portland traded Marcus Camby to the Rockets for Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn and a future second-round pick.

    This is all fine, Portland jokes aside. Camby and his $11 million expiring deal weren’t part of the long-term plan — a plan that got a boost Thursday, when the Blazers acquired a 2012 first-round pick from the Nets that will be theirs unless it falls within the top three of the draft. With Portland clearly surrendering, it’s possible the Blazers will now have two 2012 lottery picks to add to a decent collection of assets going forward: a franchise big in LaMarcus Aldridge, two solid wings in Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum (a restricted free agent this summer), an intriguing young guard in Elliot Williams and near max-level cap space to use this summer or beyond.

    Thabeet and Flynn will be unrestricted free agents after this season, and so the most likely outcome is Portland dumping both after getting a free 20-game look at two unfortunate lottery busts. Perhaps one of them will show some spunk over those 20 games; the Blazers certainly have openings at center and point guard, where Raymond Felton remains, despite Portland’s best efforts to dump him after a miserable 40-plus games in the PDX.

    FULL LIST OF COMPLETED DEADLINE DEALS

    As for Houston, this is a sound move, if not the splashy one the Rockets have been dying to make for years. Thabeet and Flynn have very little value around the league at this point, and the Rockets have managed to turn them into a second legitimate center to use when Samuel Dalembert is on the bench. Read More…


  • Published On 3:42pm, Mar 15, 2012


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