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AK-47 faces dilemma with overseas deal

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Andrei Kirilenko signed a deal with CSKA Moscow that will allow him to return to the NBA one month after the lockout ends. (Albert Pena/Icon SMI)

Andrei Kirilenko, a free agent who has spent his entire 10-year NBA career with the Utah Jazz, has signed one of the more unusual three-year deals in NBA history with CSKA Moscow, the Russian powerhouse for whom Kirilenko played before decamping to the U.S. The deal gives Kirilenko the right to return to the NBA one month after the lockout ends, a slight tweak on the usual opt-out clause most NBA players have in their overseas deals. But Kirilenko’s deal also gives him a similar out after each of his first two seasons with CSKA, meaning he has negotiated himself a bit of flexibility that most players either don’t have or don’t want.

The decision came down to CSKA and Spartak St. Petersburg, but the deciding the factor was that CSKA plays in the Euroleague, while Spartak plays in a lower division. And his deal is befitting of his status as Russian basketball royalty and of the level of play he showed for Russia in this summer’s EuroBasket tournament. Kirilenko looked like a different player in leading Russia to the bronze in that competition. He was in the conversation with Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Bo McCalleb as the tournament’s top overall player, bringing the sort of all-around wizardry that had been slipping from his NBA game. He ranked eighth overall in Player Efficiency Rating in EuroBasket and cracked the top 20 in offensive rebounding rate, steal percentage and block percentage — classic nutty Kirilenko stat-stuffing. He passed and cut beautifully, as usual, and both Kirilenko and CSKA are right to wonder if he’ll just function better in European ball as he ages.

And Kirilenko is aging. He’ll be nearly 31 when the NBA season starts, if it ever does, and he posted the second-lowest PER of his career last season. He doesn’t block shots like he used to and his long jumper deserted him; Kirilenko hit just 34 percent of his long two-pointers last season, far below both the league’s average (around 40 percent) and Kirilenko’s recent marks (also around 40 percent). That may represent a random statistical blip, but so might his sudden transformation into an above-average three-point shooter. He shot 37 percent from deep last season, heady stuff for a career 31 percent shooter from three. The truth lies somewhere in between.

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  • Published On 11:08am, Oct 04, 2011
  • Positional Quandary: Can Millsap play SF?

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    Paul Millsap is a solid mid-range shooter, but he reaches his limit at about 20 feet from the rim. (Gary A. Vasquez/US PRESSWIRE)

    The news that Utah big man Mehmet Okur signed with Turkish club Turk Telecom Ankara (with an opt-out clause to return to the NBA when the lockout ends) is a reminder of just how many rotation-level big men the Jazz have: Okur, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. That’s five, and you could make the argument that four of them (all but Kanter) deserve starter-level minutes if healthy. And we haven’t even addressed Kyrylo Fesenko and Andrei Kirilenko, both free agents, or Jeremy Evans, whom the Jazz have to hope can swing between both forward positions after mostly playing the power spot in small lineups last season.

    Something is going to have to give here, either via trade or some positional shift. This is why the Jazz experimented toward the end of last season with Millsap at small forward in an ultra-big lineup that included both Jefferson and Favors. Millsap is a good athlete with smart feet, capable of working off the dribble occasionally and finishing drives at the rim with both hands. But he’s 6-foot-8, weighs 250 pounds and just doesn’t seem built to chase small forwards around the perimeter. In a league getting smaller, quicker and more three-happy, is playing Millsap at small forward really workable?

    This is basically a theoretical question, since we don’t have much evidence to work with; the Jazz played with Millsap as the nominal small forward for about 81 minutes last season, excluding lineups that logged three or fewer minutes together. (This leaves just five units.) That sample size tells us nothing, but let’s look at the numbers, via Basketball Value, just for kicks:

    Offense: 167 points on 153 possessions, or 109.1 points per 100 possessions – above Utah’s season average of about 107.6 points per 100 possessions. That scoring rate would have cracked the overall top 10 last season.

    Defense: 168 points allowed on 155 possessions, or 108.4 points allowed per 100 possessions – about a point better than Utah’s stinky season average of 109.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. That represents an improvement, but even this mark would have ranked below the league’s average. Utah had serious defensive issues, regardless of where Millsap plays.

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  • Published On 12:16pm, Sep 20, 2011
  • Remember that trade everyone criticized?

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    The Mavs engineered a complicated trade with Devin Harris (then to the Nets) for Jason Kidd in February 2008. (US-Presswire;Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

    The Dallas Mavericks are weird championship contenders. Their best isolation scorer, off the dribble or in the post, is a 7-foot German dude for whom there is really no NBA precedent. They have one point guard-type player who can create in the paint consistently off the pick-and-roll (J.J. Barea), and his sub-6-foot status makes him a defensive liability whom the Mavs have to be very careful about playing for extended minutes. Their starting point guard is a spot-up shooter who still somehow manages nine assists per 36 minutes.

    Their best little guy scorer (Jason Terry) comes off the bench, rarely gets deep in the lane on pick-and-rolls and is often the target of opposing offenses even though he works hard on defense.

    This is a strange team with all sorts of obvious personnel limitations, but it works — on both ends. The Mavs’ offense is torching everyone, and the defense has held steady in the playoffs against three of the league’s top-10 offenses — at least two of which would seem primed to exploit Dallas’ smallish backcourt.

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  • Published On 11:28am, May 24, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Friday, March 25

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    • John Canzano, The Oregonian: “Consider that the Blazers did not extend [Greg] Oden’s contract. He became the first No. 1 overall NBA pick since Kwame Brown to not receive that extension. As a result, the Blazers have the period from the day after the last game of this year’s NBA Finals to June 30 to make a one-year qualifying offer of $8.8 million to Oden. If the Blazers make this offer, Oden becomes a restricted free agent this summer. He may field offers from other NBA teams, but the Blazers would have the right to match any offer and keep him. If the Blazers don’t make a qualifying offer before June 30, Oden would simply become an unrestricted free agent. He’s free to leave. And that’s that. The Blazers maintain that they’ll probably make that qualifying offer, as long as Oden’s rehabilitation is progressing — as they say it is. And they’d be wise to do so. But further, they’d be wise to attempt to turn the one-year deal into a multiyear contract, tacking on two or three seasons to Oden’s deal. Yes — keep Oden. Don’t build the future around him, but view him as a start-up project that might just develop someday. The Blazers have invested too much to give up totally on him. I fear Oden’s not as happy in Portland as he’ll publicly say. That a one-year deal in a potentially locked out NBA season would be a waste. And the last thing this franchise can withstand is having Oden get healthy, come back in 2011-12 and end up in, say, a Bulls uniform, winning titles in the most productive years of his career. Not talking about operating from a position of fear and fret here. Just pointing out that the shrewd business move isn’t to cut bait on a guy who hasn’t paid off on the Blazers’ initial investment but still has value on the open market.
    • Jimmy Smith, New Orleans Times-Picayune: The New Orleans Hornets gutted out a 121-117 overtime victory against the Utah Jazz on Thursday night, but in the process may have lost power forward David West for an extended period of time with a left knee injury. West sustained what is being termed as “left knee trauma” on a driving slam dunk with 22.5 seconds to go in regulation. X-rays were negative, but an MRI – a much more revealing diagnostic procedure – is scheduled for today in Phoenix, where the Hornets play the Suns tonight. West was laid out on a training table in the dressing room in obvious pain, his knee encased in ice and his face covered by a towel. A large immobilizing splint and a pair of crutches were brought into the locker room. West stayed on the table for more than 30 minutes was the room was opened to the media, then managed, with the aid of the crutches, to get to the shower. He put no weight on the leg at all. As he was dressing, West said through a team spokesman he was in too much pain to speak to a reporter. “We’re all praying it’s not as bad as it looks,” said one Hornets player in the subdued dressing room.
    • Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times: Abdul-Jabbar became the special assistant coach in charge of mentoring Bynum when the Lakers drafted a gangly 17-year-old kid in 2005. “I’ve been waiting for him to do just what he’s been doing,” Abdul-Jabbar said Thursday. “I watched the San Antonio game and it seemed to me at that point he had it figured out, how to help this team. When he plays like that, all over the boards and blocking shots and changing shots, it makes it very easy for this team to win.” Abdul-Jabbar stepped back from his Lakers coaching duties in November 2009 when he was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that produces cancerous blood cells. He used to consult with Bynum at home games and practices, sometimes going to Bynum’s home for extra video study and discussions about basketball history. Now it’s easy to sense the feeling of pride from the player who scored 38,387 career points. “He changes the game,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “When the other team can’t get easy shots around the basket, or second shots, that’s a negative for them. And when he’s getting our team second shots with offensive rebounds, that’s a positive for us.

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  • Published On 9:26am, Mar 25, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Friday, March 18

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    • Mark Medina, Los Angeles Times: If there was any such exercise that’s the equivalent of throwing red meat to the masses to devour, this would be the perfect item. Sure, there are plenty of Laker stories that cause division and uprising. There’s an Andrew Bynum injury, questioning of Kobe Bryant’s shot selection, debating the Lakers’ all-time greatest players, Luke Walton’s contract and any praise for the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat. But this one surpasses them all — questioning the Lakers’ fanhood. The latest issue of GQ Magazine ranks the top 15 worst sports fans in the country and to no one’s surprise, Lakers fans are on that list. … “I think they’re accustomed to success,” [Phil] Jackson said in amusement about the rankings. “That’s kind of a natural reaction when you have a lot of success. People enjoy the show rather than feeling they have to encourage the team in an element of fanatacism.” But by no means are Lakers fans simply star-gazers [OK, GQ put it a little less delicately]. That’s all part of the show of course. There’s no atmosphere that can duplicate Laker games, where you’ll see Jeanie Buss allowing Justin Bieber to wear Jackson’s championship ring, Ron Artest chatting up Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg courtside about a possible collaboration and Dustin Hoffman appearing in every Kiss Cam segment. But to pin Laker fans as mindless celebrity-crazed socialites is simply wrong on every level.
    • Matt Steinmetz, CSNBayArea.com: When Warriors owner Joe Lacob says publicly at the end of the season he’s not bringing back Keith Smart as coach — which seems very much a foregone conclusion at this point — he’ll certainly have some reasons. Right at the top of the list will be Smart’s relationship with second-year point guard Stephen Curry. There is no feud, no profanity-laced shouting matches or even any dislike, really. There’s not even really a “problem.” But something’s amiss between the two. If you’ve been watching the Warriors all season long you’ve seen it. To say Smart has had Curry on a shorter leash than Don Nelson did a year ago would be an understatement. You’d have to be watching a different game to not notice all those times Smart showed his frustration after a Curry mistake or misplay, which was typically followed with Acie Law at the scorer’s table.

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  • Published On 9:43am, Mar 18, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Friday, March 11

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    • Sam Amick, NBA Confidential: “Carmelo Anthony joined Amar’e Stoudemire in New York, of course, with eight months of maneuverings mercifully ending with the nine-player trade with Denver that made Madison Square Garden his new home on Feb. 22. But a Monday visit from Utah brought with it a retroactive hypothetical, as Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor made Knicks president Donnie Walsh aware for the first time that it could have been Deron Wiliams wearing the Knicks jersey and not Anthony if those days and dealings had gone differently. As O’Connor told Walsh approximately an hour before the game and would later repeat in an interview with NBA Confidential, he targeted the Nets’ and Knicks’ assets and decided to play the waiting game. Somebody would lose in the Anthony sweepstakes, and that team would immediately hear from O’Connor to discuss a marvelous Plan B. New Jersey played that role in the end, jumping at the chance to give the Jazz the same package they’d presented to the Nuggets in order to land Williams after Anthony went to New York and signed a three-year, $65 million extension.
      O’Connor said other teams had inquired about the All-Star point guard in the days leading up to the deal, but not the Knicks or the Nets. New Jersey general manager Billy King said the possibility was first raised after Anthony was traded. … While Walsh is certainly thrilled to land Anthony, he admitted the notion of landing Wililams would have been appealing had he known he was on the market. Asked if things might have turned out differently if he was privy to that information, Walsh said with a shrug when asked by NBA Confidential, ‘it might have.’”
    • Jonathan Feigen, Houston Chronicle: “Rockets center Yao Ming can’t know whether he will play again, but he is certain he’s not ready for his career to be over yet. Facing the possibility that his inability to play without injury would end his career or prompt him to choose to retire, Yao said for the first time since his injury he hopes to come back from the stress fracture that ended his season in November. ‘I’ll try continuing,’ Yao said Thursday. ‘A lot will depend on this foot.’ Asked if he believes he will play again, he said, ‘That’s the direction.’ In the final season of his contract, Yao added he hopes to be back with the Rockets.” Read More…

  • Published On 8:34am, Mar 11, 2011
  • Playoff race heats up for bottom of West

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    There are lots of compelling storylines to sort out over the last quarter of the season, but perhaps the most interesting of them is the seven-team race for the final four spots in the Western Conference playoffs.

    Five games separate the seven teams in the loss column, and even the teams at the bottom of the ladder – Phoenix, Utah and Houston — have a chance to sneak in if a few variables flip their way. Four of the seven teams are missing a key rotation player right now; two had franchise stars traded away in February; another has suffered more knee injuries than an entire division should have to endure; and one has Tony Allen, emerging as perhaps the most entertaining/frightening/possibly insane player in the league.

    Every night from now on will include a game with potential playoff implications, including Tuesday’s monster matchup between the Suns and Rockets in Phoenix.

    Here’s a look at the seven teams in contention:

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  • Published On 3:28pm, Mar 08, 2011
  • Nets score with stunning deal for Williams

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    Deron Williams is headed to New Jersey in a shocking trade. (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Let’s start with this: Holy cow.

    The Nets, according to multiple reports (and confirmed by SI.com’s Chris Mannix), have agreed to acquire Deron Williams from Utah for rookie Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and two first-round picks. If the Nets are confident that Williams will pick up his 2012-13 player option and then agree to an extension — and the team may not have made this deal otherwise — then they have just pulled off the deal of the trade deadline. For a package of lesser value than the one they were reportedly open to sending the Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony, they are getting a better player.

    This is, frankly, an astounding deal. There was not a whisper of this at All-Star weekend, at least not one that I heard, and it will do nothing to quell rumors that Williams ran Jerry Sloan off the sidelines in Utah. Forget that. It almost doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Jazz, whether because of Sloan’s abrupt departure or because they are not confident Williams would re-sign there, have dealt a 26-year-old, all-world point guard to the Nets and probably surrendered their 2011 season, boosting the playoff hopes for the Grizzlies, Suns, Blazers, Hornets and Nuggets.

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  • Published On 11:52am, Feb 23, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Tuesday, Feb. 15

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    • Jason Jones, Sacramento Bee: “The Kings announced Monday they would ‘impose an appropriate fine’ on rookie center DeMarcus Cousins for his role in a postgame altercation with teammate Donté Greene. That amount is one game’s pay, approximately $41,000 of his nearly $3.4 million salary. … Saturday’s altercation was the fourth major incident involving Cousins since he was drafted fifth overall last June after his freshman season at Kentucky. … Saturday’s quarrel hasn’t soured the Kings on Cousins’ future with them. Though teams have inquired about trading for Cousins given the incidents, the team has no intention of dealing him.”
    • Frank Isola, New York Daily News: “Carmelo Anthony could have been a Knick Monday if only team president Donnie Walsh were willing to meet Denver’s trade demands, which one team official classified as ‘steep.’ According to a team source close to the negotiations, “there is a deal to be made” but whether Anthony joins forces with Amar’e Stoudemire in New York between Tuesday and the Feb. 24 trade deadline likely comes down to the Nuggets either lowering their asking price or the Knicks turning over their roster to acquire one of the NBA’s top players. The Nuggets, according to a source, are asking for three starters – including Danilo Gallinari and Raymond Felton – plus Eddy Curry’s expiring contract and at least one first-round pick. In that proposed deal, Anthony and veteran point guard Chauncey Billups would be coming to the Knicks. It is believed that Walsh and Mike D’Antoni feel the team would be giving up too much. Garden chairman James Dolan has had direct involvement in the negotiations and may ultimately overrule his basketball staff. … The Nuggets are focusing on two teams – the Knicks and Chicago Bulls — because Anthony is willing to sign a contract extension with those clubs. Houston and Dallas remain outside possibilities while the Nets are the wild card.”
    • Peter Vecsey, New York Post: “Mercifully, this chapter shall come to a close in no later than nine shopping days. Either way, it says here, Carmelo Anthony gets left locally on the stoop of either the Nets or the Knicks. Contrary to what anonymous team officials allegedly are telling reporters, Anthony definitely will not be employed by the Nuggets after the Feb. 24 trade deadline. True, players can be dealt any time once their team’s season ends, but pitting the Knicks and Nets against each other in a bidding war will never be more advantageous than it is now. The closer Anthony gets to free agency, the less leverage, if any at all, the Nuggets own.  Don’t believe for a second owner Josh Kroenke will take a chance on Anthony reconsidering the $65 million extension if he’s still a member of the Nuggets after the deadline, as he recently indicated. If Anthony were serious about re-upping for an additional three seasons, a commitment needed to be made long before trade negotiations went as far as they have. So, which suitor is it going to be, Knicks or Nets? I’m not even sure his employer or Anthony’s tattoo artist knows for sure.”

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  • Published On 9:19am, Feb 15, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Friday, Feb. 11

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    • Brian T. Smith, Salt Lake Tribune: “As the one Jazz player besides [Raja] Bell with a strong public voice, [Deron] Williams made numerous critical comments throughout the season, complaining about everything from [Jerry] Sloan’s lack of flexibility to a new cast of teammates that were united in the locker room but clearly failed to mesh on the court. Meanwhile, a Jazz team that started 15-5 and moved to 24-13 spiraled downward, bottoming out in mid-January with an 0-4 East Coast road trip. It was at this point that other Jazz players, besides Williams, began questioning the direction of the team and Sloan’s coaching decisions. Williams wanted change — more autonomy, control and freedom for himself and his fellow Jazzmen. But the highly competitive guard also simply wanted to win. The balance — coupled with the similarity in Williams’ and Sloan’s unrelenting nature — was sometimes volatile. Williams respected Sloan and the longtime coach often offered high praise for his All-NBA guard. But the like-minded duo also battled. Williams and Sloan engaged in at least three heated arguments this season, sources said. … [W]ith Williams — the face of the franchise who can become a free agent after the 2011-12 season — alternating between criticism and vows of silence, Sloan’s already dimming energy for the game began to flame out.”
    • Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports: “[Jerry Sloan] never changed, but everything else did. As much as this was a blessing for him, it was a curse too. ‘The player isn’t always wrong,’ one respected GM said Thursday.  No one wants to hear that with Sloan, one of the greatest ever, but no one thinks stars are dying to play for him anymore. Everyone respects, admires Sloan, and has a hard time thinking about an NBA without him. Yet, it is hard to coach without a partnership with your best players, and Sloan hasn’t had that in a long, long time. Everyone can make [Deron] Williams the scapegoat because of some ideal that Sloan represents — and he does represent the best ideals of basketball.  Yet, this is an unmerciful sport where talent trumps everything, where the best players always beat the best coaches. He’s lost most of his star players, and eventually Williams will leave the Jazz in 2012 the way small-market stars are leaving everywhere else. They’ve been a model franchise, disciplined in drafts and trades, but they’re no longer a contender. This ate at Williams, and it made for a combustible environment in Salt Lake City. ‘People need to leave D-Will the [expletive] alone on this,’ Kobe Bryant told Yahoo! Sports on Thursday night. Bryant and Williams have competed in the Western Conference for years and won an Olympic gold medal together for USA Basketball at the 2008 Beijing Games. ‘Leave him alone. He doesn’t deserve to be at the front of this. … Enjoy the 23 great years that Jerry Sloan gave them, but don’t put this on Deron Williams.’”

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  • Published On 8:50am, Feb 11, 2011


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