Brandon Bass' polite, tasteful frustration

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This past off-season, Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith wanted it all. He wanted a talented, versatile swingman to work the offense in place of Hedo Turkoglu, so he traded for Vince Carter. He wanted another big, sweet-shooting forward to plug in at the 4, so he demanded the inclusion of Ryan Anderson in the Carter deal. He wanted depth, toughness, and shooting on the wing, so he signed Matt Barnes. He wanted to fortify the back-up point guard position, so he signed Jason Williams. And he wanted to match the Dallas’ Mavericks offer sheet to then-restricted free agent Marcin Gortat while simultaneously wooing the Mavs’ Brandon Bass for the mid-level exception, so he did that too.

All a pretty decent plan, and a flurry of activity that most fans could only dream coming from their team’s GM.

Despite the kid-in-the-candy-store look of Smith’s approach, there was calculation there. He picked his targets, went after them strategically, and assembled one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the league. But among all of those moves, Smith made one pretty sizable misstep; how would the newly signed Brandon Bass find minutes in a front court featuring Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard, Gortat, and Anderson? You don’t willingly pay $4 million a year for bench filler, which is essentially what Bass has become. Brandon has played in just 30 of Orlando’s 53 games, with many of those opportunities coming due to injuries in the rotation.

Smith could have picked between Bass and Gortat, and everything would’ve been peachy. But Otis Smith is finding out the hard way that you can’t have your talented, young big man cake and eat it — …okay it’s an imperfect metaphor, but you see what I’m getting at.

To Bass’ credit, he hasn’t made much of a ruckus. There could be some brooding and resentment behind the scenes, but any confrontations have stayed well within the confines of the locker room, despite there being plenty of media interest in Brandon’s growing frustration.

That is, until now. And even then, the message conveyed by Bass through his agent is hardly one of rage or bitterness; this is just a guy looking for a place to play basketball, and if he can’t do that with regularity in Orlando, he’d like to be relocated somewhere else. Please and thank you. From Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:

Bass, admittedly frustrated and disappointed, was asked if he still wanted to be in Orlando. “Do I want to stay here? If they feel like I can help them, sooner than later, I’d love to stay here. If something changes. … If they say I can’t help the team and they don’t want me here … then maybe I have to do what’s best for myself,” said Bass, who also was courted last summer by Charlotte, Detroit, Chicago and Portland, among others. “I signed here because I wanted to win championships. I took less dollars because I wanted to win. But it eats at me, because I can’t contribute to the team.”

[Brandon Bass’ agent, Tony] Dutt said he plans on speaking with Magic General Manager Otis Smith sometime during the upcoming all-star break to get a feel for Bass’ future in Orlando. Dutt is not actively seeking a trade for Bass, 24. He said it could be “premature” to demand that Bass be moved, considering Bass’ role could change. Dutt said that Smith says that there’s still a place for Bass — and Smith told the Sentinel as much on Thursday. “I like Brandon. He’ll get his opportunity,” Smith said.

But Dutt is still baffled by how little Bass has played. “The consensus is that they see a role for him. Maybe it’s just taken longer for that to happen. But to bring him in and not play him. … It doesn’t make any sense,” Dutt said.

Despite the inconsistent play of the Magic this season, Bass has refused to make demands or give ultimatums. That may not be to his immediate benefit (it’s unlikely he’ll be moved before the trade deadline), but it certainly is to the team as a whole. 2009-’10 may end up being a regrettable season for Bass, but at least he hasn’t taken the Magic down with him.

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.