The Flip Side: There are point guards, there are shooting guards, and then there's Lance Stephenson


Thumbnail image for lstephenson.jpgWednesday’s four-way trade saw just about every team involved walk away a winner. However, the effects of that trade are far more specific than just saying “This team got better,” or “This team accomplished its goals.” In The Flip Side, we’ll look at one player from each of the four teams — the Nets, the Pacers, the Hornets, and the Rockets — and how their career is impacted by the move in both the immediate and distant future.

In a trade that saw a number of moving parts rotate among the four participating teams, the Pacers came out with the most obvious prize. They surrendered rumor mill mainstay Troy Murphy, a useful shooter and rebounder on a sizable expiring deal, and in return received Darren Collison, one of the many standout point guards from last year’s rookie class. Collison did a superb job filling in for Chris Paul last season, and now he’ll have a team to truly call his own, even if it’s a slightly dysfunctional one.

Danny Granger will be thankful. Roy Hibbert’s life just got a whole lot easier, too. In fact, every single Pacer who hopes to score, score, or score this season will benefit from Collison’s presence.

Collison also isn’t T.J. Ford, which is a good thing. He’s going to run the offense, find his teammates, and get better every night, and Indiana will never have to worry about him sulking through another mid-January outing.

Yet it’s somewhat disappointing that we won’t have a proper opportunity to see if Born Ready really was born ready. One of the more interesting subplots coming out of this year’s draft was Jim O’Brien’s decision to transform Lance Stephenson, who up until this point has always been considered a traditional 2, into a point guard. Stephenson probably needed a fresh start after a sub-par year at Cincinnati, but the idea make a floor general out of him is, well, both remarkably odd and absolutely fascinating.

Based on his summer league performance (which is, empirically speaking, a dangerous way to begin a sentence), Stephenson looked very much like a scoring guard who happens to handle the ball. That’s fine. He’s a second rounder finding his way into the league, and is doing so at a new position, no less. It makes sense for Stephenson to do what got him here, even while slotted as a de facto playmaker.

Playing Stephenson at the point was an idea born out of necessity, but that necessity has since been removed. O’Brien seemed hopeful that Stephenson could develop into Indy’s point guard of the future, but the Pacers just nabbed a promising PG via trade. Collison is going to comfortably slide into the role that Stephenson was hoping to one day fill, which could mean the end of the Stephenson point guard experiment all together. If A.J. Price and T.J. Ford are filling in the minutes behind Collison, where does that leave Stephenson?

It’s not easy to say. Collison’s arrival is an undoubtedly good thing for Stephenson’s career overall though, even if it means we have to wait a bit longer to see him thrown into the fire. It’s entirely possible that if Lance were delegated responsibilities that exceeded his fledgling point guard skills, his chances of staying at the position over the long-term would be quashed. Maybe O’Brien would try to shift Stephenson back to the 2 after some early troubles. Maybe Lance’s confidence in his ability to adjust would be shaken. Or maybe Stephenson would simply succumb to one of the many fearsome perils that plague rookie second rounders.

Instead, Stephenson has an incredible luxury: time. Time to learn, time to develop, time to adjust. Hell, time for Lance to prove that he belongs in the NBA at all. He may be a point guard yet if O’Brien wills it so, and while Collison’s arrival in Indiana makes Stephenson’s positional status just a bit more ambiguous, it’s the kind of development that really could do wonders for Stephenson over the long haul. Some rookies burn up the pine, oozing with potential, waiting for a chance to play. Others, like Stephenson, have a lot to gain by operating in the background, even if doing so ruins an interesting case study in positional fluidity.

Draymond Green on Warriors’ 16-0 bid: ‘I think we’ve gotten greedy, but a good greedy’

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Anyone who thought the Golden State Warriors would be content after winning one NBA title was sadly mistaken.

With Stephen Curry hitting 3-pointers at a record-setting pace and the rest of his teammates playing with a high level of intensity and focus, the Warriors have tied the NBA record with 15 straight wins to open the season.

Somehow, they have found a way to improve following a season when they won 67 games and rolled through the playoffs without ever being taken to a seventh game.

“We’re trying to win another championship,” forward Draymond Green said. “That’s what we’re fueled by. I think we’ve gotten greedy, but a good greedy. I think it’s way better to be greedy for success than hungover on success. I think we’re on the right end of the spectrum, which is great.”

The Warriors have a chance to break the record they currently share with the 1948-49 Washington Capitols and 1993-94 Houston Rockets when they host the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

After downplaying the chase of the record at the start of the season, Golden State has embraced it.

“Now that we’re here and have tied the record, it’s a huge accomplishment,” Curry said. “You never know if you’ll ever be in this position again. We have a great group and to be able to be in position to do something that hasn’t been done in the history of the NBA with all the great teams and all the great players who have played in this league, that’s special.”

The only team standing in their way is the Lakers, who have the second-worst record in the NBA with just two wins in 13 games.

Lakers coach Byron Scott said the Warriors are the best team he’s seen in a while and star guard Kobe Bryant said stranger things have happened than a team playing as poorly as the Lakers beating one as dominant as the Warriors.

“We might go up there and we might play like gangbusters up there,” Bryant said Sunday in Los Angeles. “You never know.”

The Warriors have gotten to this point with the help of a late game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime in a home win against Brooklyn, a comeback from 23 points down to beat the Los Angeles Clippers and plenty of blowouts.

They have outscored the opposition by 14.4 points per game, the most at this point of the season since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls followed up their record 72-win campaign by outscoring their first 15 opponents by 16.5 points on the way to a 14-1 start the following year.

“They’ve just been consistent,” said LeBron James, who lost to Golden State in the finals last season with Cleveland. “Think the most impressive thing is the way they’ve been playing at a high level for so long. I think it comes with a lot of health. They’ve been healthy. They’ve been the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history and they have great talent. Those guys all play for one common goal and that’s to win and that’s all that matters.”

Golden State has the depth to overcome whatever injuries the Warriors have had. Starting center Andrew Bogut missed six games with a concussion, guard Klay Thompson has been dealing with a stiff back that forced him to miss one game and key reserve guards Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa have also missed time.

Golden State has also done all of this without head coach Steve Kerr, who has been sidelined since training camp because of complications from offseason back surgery.

“It would be more impressive if they were doing all this without Steph,” James said. “Then there would be a conversation to talk about.”

Instead, Curry has been a driving force to the success under interim coach Luke Walton. Curry is on pace for a record-setting 404 3-pointers and his 490 points through 15 games are the eighth most in the league in the past half-century.

Curry and his teammates see no reason to slow down now.

“You want to keep it going and the only way you can do that is by staying sharp, staying focused and bringing effort every night and that’s the mentality that we have,” Curry said. “That’s the reason we’re 15-0. It’s the reason why last year we had a 16-game winning streak. We built up a winning mentality and confidence in each other. We want to bottle that up and ride the wave as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham, Pat Graham and Tom Withers contributed to this report.

Amar’e Stoudemire blames Knicks coaches for not using him, Carmelo Anthony properly together

Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony
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Many Knicks fans thought Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire would lead New York to greatness.

Instead, they won just one playoff series together.

Melo has expressed sadness Stoudemire’s injuries hindered their ability to succeed together.

Stoudemire found a difficult culprit.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Stoudemire said he and Anthony wanted to run more pick-and-rolls in the two-man game but couldn’t get the coaches on board, probably referring to Mike D’Antoni and Mike Woodson.

“I don’t think we had enough opportunities to play together,’’ Stoudemire said in the Heat locker room Monday. “I moved to the bench and [became the] sixth, seventh man. When I was in the game, Melo, he was out of the game and vice versa. When we did play together, we showed some flashes of what we could do on the pick-and-roll.

“I don’t think that pick-and-roll offense between Melo and I was ever taken advantage of, which we could have. The way he shoots the ball, handles the ball from the outside and the way I attack the rim, it could’ve been a pretty good combination. I don’t think the coaching staff at the time really bought into that.’’

Maybe the Knicks’ offense could have been better if they ran more Melo-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls. The combination seems good, though I question whether Melo had the passing ability to really make the play an elite weapon.

But what about defense?

Melo and Stoudemire were a dreadful defensive combination, especially as power forward and center – their best offensive positions. Does Stoudemire have any ideas how New York could have defended better with those two on the court? Perhaps, the Knicks could have scored enough on Melo-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls to offset any defensive shortcomings, but that would have been a mighty tall task.

In four of the five seasons Melo and Stoudemire played together, the Knicks were both outscored when those two shared the court and played worse with those two on than off. The only exception was last season, which featured the smallest sample before Melo got hurt and Stoudemire took a buyout.

This was a partnership that looked better on paper than in reality.

Stoudemire’s injuries played the foremost role in holding it back. Coaching might have also contributed, but it’s difficult to believe D’Antoni or Woodson prevented the pairing from becoming special.

Kobe Bryant names his four closest teammates

LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 15:  Caron Butler #1 holds back teammate Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers after Bryant received a technical foul during the game against the Utah Jazz on February 15, 2005 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant‘s relationship with his teammates through the years has largely been defined through Derek Fisher.

Kobe called Fisher his favorite teammate, but Fisher once said he’d never been to Kobe’s home.

That’s Kobe, whose greatness always made him seem removed from/above the fray.

Kobe addressed a slightly different question in the foreword to Caron Butler‘s autobiography, “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA.”

Kobe on Butler:

It’s very rare for me to open up to somebody like that, but I just had a connection with him. He’s one of my favorite teammates.

When that happens, it makes the season better. It doesn’t always happen. It’s not something that I need to happen, but there are certain players that I just automatically get along with. You gravitate to each other because you eye to eye on things and you get along extremely well. And Caron was one of those players.

There aren’t many like that. There’s Caron, there’s Pau, there’s D. Fish, and Ronnie Turiaf. That’s four guys in a twenty-year career.

I just found that an interesting look into the psyche of one of the greatest players of the generation.

Kobe has spoken extremely positively of Pau Gasol. The Lakers star has never hidden his fondness for Butler, Fisher and Turiaf, either. Those four have exhibited professionalism amid any difficult circumstances. That’s where I’d start with a common denominator, and it makes sense Kobe would appreciate that.

It’s also unsurprising Kobe has trusted so few teammates enough to develop a tight connection. He seems intensely private (really, intensely everything).

Kobe also seems very secure in how he operates. As he wrote, these types of close relationships aren’t necessary to him if they don’t come about naturally.

He’s sure not forcing them in his later years.

Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich rip referees-union statement on Mike Budenholzer

Sean Corbin, Rick Carlisle
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Mike Budenholzer fell on his sword after the National Basketball Referees Association criticized the Hawks coach’s light penalty for bumping a referee.

But two of Budenholzer’s peers are being more aggressive about the referees-union statement, which was attributed to NBRA General Counsel Lee Seham.

NBA Coaches Association president and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, via ESPN:

“The NBA Coaches Association greatly values our working relationship with the league office and our officials,” NBA Coaches Association president Rick Carlisle, coach of the Dallas Mavericks, said in a statement. “For the record, our association would NEVER lobby for the suspension of an official for a situation like this one that has been thoroughly reviewed by the NBA and clearly determined to be incidental in nature. We view the unwarranted and reckless verbal attacks by Referee Union general counsel as grandstanding in nature, and beneath the dignity of the highly regarded group whose interests he claims to represent. The best interests of our great league lie far above what appears to be an obvious cheap and misguided attempt for a blast of short-term Twitter fame.”

Popovich, via Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News:

“I think it’s just a case of an anonymous suit trying to gain 15 minutes of stardom more than anything. It’s comical…A lot of people trying to get famous on Twitter. And I guess this particular suit is one of them.”

This seems like a coordinated attack, with both coaches strangely citing Twitter fame. If Seeham is trying to make a name for himself, I don’t see how he’s doing it more on Twitter than anywhere else.

Regardless of Seham’s motives, I don’t find his point so egregious. Referees should be like the third rail – never touched. Budenholzer deserved a one-game suspension.

That said, the statement contained plenty of grandstanding. No coach or player is more likely to physically harm a referee because Budenholzer wasn’t suspended.