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Changes to come as Sloan era ends in Utah

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Jerry Sloan is set to resign after 23 years as coach of the Utah Jazz. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

One day after an emotional loss to the Bulls in Utah, Jerry Sloan resigned as Jazz coach, a post he has held since the early part of the 1988-89 season. You’re going to read a lot of well-deserved rhapsodizing — about how Sloan hitchhiked to get to practice as a kid, his fortuitously brief college coaching career at Evansville, his fanatical defense and charge-taking as the NBA’s Original Bull, the 1,221 coaching wins, the way he got 42 wins out of this team in 2003-04, and the stern demand that players fit his system.

Not everyone loves Sloan, and he wasn’t a miracle worker. But this much is true: If you gave him talent — at least average NBA talent — the man would produce a top-10 NBA offense every season. And you knew exactly how he would do it — not with an endless stream of pick-and-rolls (as was the popular conception for a while), but with an intricate system of screens, cuts and motion that was part meticulous planning and part learned improvisation. Everyone was expected to set hard screens, even the star point guards, and everyone was expected to space the floor properly and help teammates get open.

And the result was this: an offense that ranked among the league’s top 10 in points per possession every year from 1991-92 through 2002-03, the final year of the John Stockton-Karl Malone combination that came so close to winning a title twice in the late 1990s. And I don’t feel silly telling you today that those Finals series against Chicago marked one of the rare times in my adult NBA life that I found myself cheering, hard, for one team to win. Or that one of my favorite sports memories was sitting next to my dad on the couch when Stockton made this pass to help Utah clinch Game 4 of the 1997 Finals, and my dad and I looked at each other, mouths agape, not believing that Stock had the you-know-whats to pull that.

Jazz beat reporters are already saying that Sloan may have “lost the team,” and that Deron Williams, who has been piping up this season about fast-breaking more and making trades, was unhappy with the coach and his system, and wanted a change.

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  • Published On 3:50pm, Feb 10, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Thursday, Feb. 10

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    • Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner, Los Angeles Times: “There was another trade rumor involving the Lakers and the Denver Nuggets regarding Carmelo Anthony and a possible four-player deal, but a Lakers official, who declined to talk publicly, steadfastly denied it. It’s a scenario that was circulating in parts of the Lakers’ camp Wednesday: the Lakers trade Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest for forwards Anthony and Al Harrington. But the Lakers official denied it was ever on the table and insisted team executive Jim Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak are on the same page as far as trade opportunities. Coach Phil Jackson chuckled at the rumors in general after the Lakers practiced Wednesday in Boston. They play the Celtics on Thursday. ‘I haven’t even entertained it,’ Jackson said of trading for Anthony. ‘My first thought is why are these [media] people interrupting my life with these kind of rumors.’ Harrington and Artest both have difficult-to-move contracts: Artest has three years and $21.8 million left on his deal, while Harrington has four years and $27.7 million remaining.Harrington and Artest both have difficult-to-move contracts: Artest has three years and $21.8 million left on his deal, while Harrington has four years and $27.7 million remaining.”
    • Chris Dempsey, Denver Post: “Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony said today he would “take a real hard look” at signing a three-year, $65 million contract extension with the Nuggets if he is not dealt by the Feb. 24 trading deadline. The Nuggets have had the contract extension on the table since June. This is the first time since he was offered the contract that Anthony said publicly he might sign it. Talking this morning after the team’s shootaround, Anthony brushed off recent reports that he might be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. ‘I’ve never heard of that. That was a new one,’ Anthony said. ‘It is what it is. Everyday is something different. I guess now is the Lakers. Until I hear something from the people that I’m supposed to hear something from, then I don’t pay no attention to it.’”
    • Jerry Zgoda, Minneapolis Star Tribune: “On the same day Carmelo Anthony said he’d consider signing a contract extension with the Denver Nuggets if they don’t trade him, Timberwolves basketball boss David Kahn called his team’s reported part in a three-way deal with Denver and New York involving Anthony ‘overstated.’ Translated, that means an ESPN report last weekend that the Wolves would send a first-round pick and Corey Brewer to Denver to receive Knicks little-used forward Anthony Randolph and accept Eddy Curry’s huge, expiring contract is too much to give. ‘We were asked if there would be a way to participate in the event the other two teams could reach a deal and there likely could be,’ he said. He also said he doesn’t have any idea whether the Knicks and Nuggets can strike a deal for the All-Star forward, who on Monday told the Denver Post that he’d now “take a real hard look” at signing a three-year, $65 million extension to stay in Denver if he isn’t dealt by the Feb. 24 trade deadline. The Wolves have had interest in Randolph — the 14th pick in the 2008 draft who barely has gotten off the Knicks’ bench this season — since early summer. Long-armed, 6-11 and not yet 22, he fits what Kahn considers a need for a talented, athletic forward/center.”

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  • Published On 8:20am, Feb 10, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Tuesday, Feb. 7

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    • Alan Hahn, Newsday: “The Knicks are mulling a trade that could bring in Aaron Brooks for some needed backcourt help. A source with knowledge of the situation said the Rockets ‘are going to try hard’ to move Brooks before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. A separate source confirmed that the Knicks are interested. The 6-foot guard was suspended by the Rockets for last night’s game against the Nuggets after he walked off the court during a timeout late in Houston’s victory over Memphis on Saturday. Brooks, the NBA ‘s Most Improved Player last season, has been upset with coach Rick Adelman about his playing time, which has been significantly reduced since his return from an early-season ankle injury. The Knicks have spent most of the season scouring the league for a capable backup for Raymond Felton but have yet to find an available player who would be a good fit and wouldn’t cost them an asset they might need to acquire Carmelo Anthony Brooks, 26, is averaging 12.2 points and 4.1 assists per game this season after his career-best 19.6 points and 5.3 assists in 2009-10. The lightning-quick guard, who is a career 37-percent shooter from three-point range, would be a good fit in Mike D’Antoni ‘s pick-and-roll system as long as his ankle, which he injured in the second game of the season, is fully recovered.”
    • Julian Benbow, Boston Globe: “Even when they found out Jermaine O’Neal would be out for six to eight weeks and Shaquille O’Neal would be out through the All-Star Break, the Celtics were ready to plug along with the players they had. But after Marquis Daniels went down yesterday with a bruised spinal cord, leaving his status uncertain for the foreseeable future, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said the team may not have any other choice but to consider a roster move. ‘I think what we have to do really is wait and see with the Marquis situation, how long that will be,’ Rivers said. ‘If that’s long then we have to do something. We have to get another ‘3’ let’s just be serious.’”

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  • Published On 7:42am, Feb 08, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Thursday, Feb. 3

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    • Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports: “One league executive with strong ties to [Donnie] Walsh suggests: ‘If [Larry] Bird doesn’t want to come back in Indiana, don’t be surprised if Donnie ends up back running the team again. [Pacers owner] Herb Simon still loves him, and Donnie isn’t ready to retire yet.’ Even so, Walsh has been there and done that with the Pacers. He came to New York because it was his hometown and a lifelong dream to take a swing at bringing back a title. That hasn’t changed for him, and probably never will.  Before New York’s victory over Detroit on Sunday night, an old Knick, Gerald Wilkins, found Walsh courtside and introduced himself. ‘Thanks for bringing the Knicks back,’ he said.  Walsh shook Wilkins’ hand and sheepishly said, ‘Ah, we aren’t back yet, but we’re getting there.’ Donnie Walsh deserves the chance to finish the job, but this isn’t about what’s best for him. It’s about the New York Knicks and an owner who listens far more to the executive who destroyed the credibility of his franchise than the one who restored it. Come on out, Jim Dolan. If this is a coup to run out Walsh, own up to it, let the man leave with dignity and end this charade.  Even in Dolan’s warped world, one thing has to be true: Donnie Walsh deserves to know his fate before Isiah Thomas.”
    • Mark Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times: “[Ron] Artest was the last Lakers player to leave the training facility Wednesday, hanging around after practice for extra shooting. ‘We’re sticking together,’ he said. ‘We’re moving forward. That’s all that matters.  Obviously, when I was on other teams, I got a lot of touches. I’m playing with the greatest player in the history of the game, and I’m playing with All-Stars. I don’t have a problem with looking bad on the court for the benefit of the team.’ Even if Artest wanted to be traded, it would be difficult to move the 31-year-old. He has three years and $21.8 million remaining on his contract after this season, and his season’s stats aren’t inviting: 8.1 points and 27.8 minutes a game. Both would be career lows if they stayed that way. The Lakers were surprised to hear the report that Artest wanted to wear a different jersey. Neither he nor his agent has requested a trade. ‘You guys know that’s something we don’t put credence in, those [media] reports that have very little to do with what’s really going on,’ [Phil] Jackson said. ‘I think Ron really cares about the team and his performance. … I think that Ron enjoys being in L.A. I think he likes the Lakers and I think he likes the action. I think he likes the attention that we get as a basketball club. I think that feeds into who he is as a person.”  Kobe Bryant didn’t want to comment on the trade story and seemed agitated by it.”
    • Brian T. Smith, Salt Lake Tribune: “Hand specialist Dr. Steve Huish’s evaluation today of Jazz guard Deron Williams’ right wrist and a magnetic imaging exam taken of the wrist confirmed that the All-Star has a strained tendon.  Williams, who is not in uniform for a home game tonight against Houston, remains day-to-day. Treatment of his injury will also remain the same.  Huish has previously evaluated Jazz forward Paul Millsap and ex-Utah guard Kyle Korver.”

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  • Published On 9:30am, Feb 03, 2011
  • Sloan neglects most effective Jazz lineup

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    Though Al Jefferson has taken heat lately, there's one five-man unit with him that has been quite effective in Utah. (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Al Jefferson has taken a beating over the last two days as part of a larger discussion about the regression of Utah’s defense. On Wednesday night, John Krolik (of Cavs The Blog fame) wrote on Pro Basketball Talk that Jefferson’s teams have consistently given up more points per possession with Big Al on the floor versus with him on the bench. And Thursday, ESPN’s John Hollinger declares Jefferson a bad fit in Utah, both because of his defensive limitations and his tendency to stop the ball in the Jazz’s motion offense.

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  • Published On 12:04pm, Jan 27, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Tuesday, Jan. 25

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    Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports: “New Orleans general manager Dell Demps has discussed the framework of a multiyear deal with [David] West’s agents at Octagon, but the Hornets’ hopes of getting him signed prior to the Feb. 24 trade deadline is ‘not likely at all,’ one source close to the talks told Yahoo! Sports. West plans to opt out of the $7.5 million owed him in the final season of a five-year, $45 million contract and expects to command north of $10 million a season on the market, sources said. ‘It’s hard to see an extension happening here,’ one source said.”

    Ken Berger, CBSSports: “Though the Mavs have not yet engaged Denver officials in conversations about Carmelo Anthony, [Mark] Cuban clearly is open to the idea of exploring a rental deal for the three-time All-Star if it makes sense. Unfortunately for him, [Caron] Butler and his expiring contract would’ve been one of the key pieces in a cost-saving Anthony proposal to the Nuggets. But until Anthony has successfully leveraged his way to New York, don’t count the Mavs out of at least exploring a player who could give them so much needed scoring punch.”

    Chris Tomasson, FanHouse: “With expiring contracts of Mike Dunleavy ($10.56 million), T.J. Ford ($8.5 million) and Jeff Foster ($6.66 million), Indiana is finally in position this summer to have oodles of cap room. But [Larry] Bird, the Pacers president, said his preference is to use his assets to swing a deal by the Feb. 24 trade deadline to acquire a key player. ‘I would do that,’ Bird, 54, who is contemplating retiring from the NBA after this season, said in an interview with FanHouse. ‘I’ve got my draft choice (a 2011 first-round pick). The thing I always say is, ‘Do you save it and see what the rules are (under a new collective bargaining agreement) or do you use it?’ But, if get that opportunity, I’m going to use it (by the trade deadline). … Do you wait or do you do it? I’ve made my mind up and I’ve talked to (Pacers owner Herb) Simon about it, and I’ve told him what I want to do, if we can get a good player.’ Bird also said coach Jim O’Brien, despite the Pacers (16-25) having lost 15 of 20 games, will finish out the season and then be evaluated when his contract expires. And, while there have been rumblings Indiana’s top player, forward Danny Granger, could be on the trading block, Bird said his desire is to retain Granger.”

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  • Published On 8:06am, Jan 25, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Wednesday, Jan. 19

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    • Julian Benbow, The Boston Globe: “Jermaine O’Neal went to New York to get a second opinion on his swollen left knee, but because of weather conditions in the Northeast, he hasn’t made it back to Boston to discuss his options with Celtics president Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers.  O’Neal, who has missed 24 games because of issues with his surgically repaired left knee, is considering surgery. The decision hinges on how long the procedure would keep him off the floor and whether he’d be better of playing through the swelling.  Though O’Neal had hoped to have a plan in place, Ainge said he didn’t expect any decisions to be made immediately. ‘Nothing’s going to happen right now,’ Ainge said. ‘Except determining a course of action.’ Ainge said he and Rivers would likely sit down with O’Neal Wednesday to go over the next steps.”
    • Matt Moore, CBSSports: “No, this time it’s Marcus Camby who the Oregonian reports will undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The Blazers soon confirmed the report. A timetable for Camby’s return has not been released yet.  Should the surgery be to remove the meniscus, Camby could be out much longer, but there has been no indication that the surgery is for removal and not repair. Camby’s known as a pretty tough customer so a return ahead of schedule isn’t out of the question, but Camby’s also made noise for several years about heading towards retirement. You have to wonder if he’s getting worn out of these kinds of things. An average return for a meniscus repair is 4-6 weeks.” Read More…

  • Published On 8:47am, Jan 19, 2011
  • The Opening Tip: Thursday, Jan. 13

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    • Ben Golliver, CBSSports: “Midway through the fourth quarter of Wednesday night’s game between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Clippers, Heat forward LeBron James sprained his ankle while driving to the basket.  The injury occurred as James drove past Clippers forward Al-Farouq Aminu. Clippers guard Baron Davis dove down to offer help defense, and James’ left ankle rolled over as he appeared to plant on Davis’ right foot. James lost control of the ball and went hopping on one foot deep into the stands, but then recovered to come hobbling back on the court. He promptly received the ball, and with the shot clock running down, hit a corner three over Aminu off of one foot.  After making the shot, which cut Los Angeles’s lead to 94-92, James hopped to the bench and was attended to by Heat trainers. He re-entered the game and played down the stretch, although he limped at times. After the game, the Los Angeles Times reported that ‘LeBron said he has an x-ray of his ankle and there was no damage.’ The paper also quoted James saying that he is ‘day to day.’ The Heat play the Nuggets in Denver on Thursday night on the second half of a road back-to-back.”
    • Jonathan Abrams, New York Times: “[Amar'e] Stoudemire’s short sequence with reporters involved few answers. ‘I don’t know what’s going on with that,’ Stoudemire said at first.  Asked if he had sent [Carmelo] Anthony messages lately, Stoudemire said, ‘I’ve got so many friends that I talk to throughout the league, but I haven’t really talked to Carmelo at all.’  That prompted a response that he did not need to talk in order to text. ‘Yeah, no, I haven’t talked to him,’ Stoudemire said.  Directly asked if he was denying the report, Stoudemire said: ‘I don’t know what Carmelo is doing. The situation is kind of hard for me to explain. I’m not sure what his camp is thinking, I’m not sure what his thoughts are as far as the situation goes. Hopefully he’ll make the right decision for his family.’ No matter what happens, it is unlikely that text messages between players would generate any action from the league, particularly based on recent events and comments from Commissioner David Stern. Last summer, Stern dismissed concerns that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had colluded to play together in Miami. Although the players spoke to one another before free agency opened, the league did not consider it tampering.” Read More…

  • Published On 8:22am, Jan 13, 2011
  • Monday Musings: Spurs show off elite D

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    This Spurs team isn't shy about agressiving helping on defense, having, so far, forced turnovers on about 14.2 percent of opponent possessions, the 10th-highest mark in the league. (US PRESSWIRE)

    I went into the last week of NBA action with the goal of answering one question: What is wrong with San Antonio’s defense?

    The Spurs have spent basically the entire season in the top 10 in points allowed per possession, but they were showing significant cracks heading into a three-game stretch against the Lakers, Mavericks and Thunder — three of the league’s top 10 offensive teams. In the seven games before that trio of toughies, the Spurs had given up more points per possession than the league average — not their team average, but the higher league average — six times. Opponents were shooting better than 40 percent from deep, putting San Antonio on pace to allow one of the highest three-point shooting marks in league history.

    Sure, the Spurs were 26-4 at that point, sporting the best offense in the league. But there were problems, and I wanted to figure out their origin.

    And then the Spurs shut down all three teams. They held all three to a points-per-possession mark better than the Spurs’ season-long average, and they reduced the Lakers and Thunder into a mess of bricks and turnovers that would have made even the Bucks blush. Those three teams shot a combined 92-of-249 (37 percent) from the floor, and the Lakers and Thunder — two of the league’s best at avoiding turnovers — coughed it up 35 times between them against the Spurs.

    The Mavs were playing without Dirk Nowitzki, so San Antonio’s solid win in Dallas wasn’t a surprise. But in shutting down the Lakers and Thunder at home, the Spurs may have signaled to the league that they can still bring top-shelf defense when they are motivated. And if they really can do that, it would be fair to call San Antonio the clear-cut favorite in the West right now. The Spurs suddenly have a huge lead in the race for home-court advantage, and their two top challengers are dealing with serious injuries (Dallas) and semi-ugly infighting (the Lakers, regressing into 2007-era bickering in the wake of a blowout home loss Sunday against the Grizzlies).

    The way the Spurs defended the West’s elite last week was notable. This was not the staid Spurs defense of the last half-decade. This is a team that helps more aggressively than any Spurs team we’ve seen in a long while. At times, they almost look as if they are over-helping — with a big man running up to contain a dribbler who hasn’t really broken free yet, and as a result leaving an opening somewhere else. But right when I find myself yelling about that overeager initial help — and right when the offensive team is ready to attack that opening — another defender is scrambling into position to cover for his teammate. The Spurs, if you’ll pardon a rare cliché, really are a whirling dervish of rotations and spread-out arms and deflections and wings working their tails off to box out big men for rebounds.

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  • Published On 1:48pm, Jan 03, 2011
  • Court Vision: The latest around the league

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    Tracy McGrady (right) had some vintage moments Wednesday in Toronto. (Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)

    • Dan Feldman of Piston Powered touches on Rip Hamilton’s “mission” and Tracy McGrady’s throw-back performance in Detroit’s victory at Toronto on Wednesday. Whenever an aging guy like McGrady makes a notable play, announcers tend to say something like, “He looked like the old T-Mac right there!” More often than not, they are exaggerating. But at one point in the second quarter, McGrady used a left-handed hesitation dribble to get into the paint and then — so suddenly I rewound the play several times — glided in a flash to the hoop for a lefty layup. He really did look like the old T-Mac, at least on that play. Also, I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating after this game: McGrady is still a wonderful passer.

    • After the game, T-Mac wondered why Toronto fans booed him and claimed he didn’t treat the city the same way Chris Bosh did. Both Bosh and T-Mac can rest assured that neither stands any chance of passing Vince Carter for the title of Most Hated Raptor among Toronto residents.

    • Hayes Davenport of CelticsHub explains how Boston beat Philadelphia in un-Boston-like fashion.

    • Kate Fagan of the Philadelphia Inquirer explores how the Sixers’ late-game offense imploded in Philadelphia-like fashion. Liberty Ballers checks out the shot chart of that implosion and notes that Jrue Holiday sometimes gets marginalized in favor of Lou Williams or Andre Iguodala.

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  • Published On 3:24pm, Dec 23, 2010


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