And at long last, the NBA goes to sleep for a month

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The lockout had a lot of effects. One beat writer told me last week that because of the frequency of the games, stacked on top of each other, it didn’t feel like a 66-game season, but a 120-game season. Then there were the playoffs, with back-to-backs in the second round. The conference finals whizzing by every other day, then the Finals, jammed in. As soon as they were done, a week, and then the draft, just like that. A mad scramble to get our bearings around the rookie class. Two days later, free agency started, and one of the wildest periods in NBA history began. While that was going on, not after, during, Team USA began its march towards gold.

The NBA, like the NFL, is evolving towards a 365-day story. But now, mercifully, for the players, coaches, managers, and yeah, the keyboard fanatics among us, there’s a break.

The NBA goes into hibernation officially Sunday night, not to resume until media day and preseason in September. It’s a time to reflect on everything that’s gone on, and what’s to come.

The Heat won the title, validating the super-team model. Oddly enough, what became the difference in a team that failed to convert on its starpower was not the collective force, but the overwhelming brilliance of the best player in basketball, LeBron James. Yes, Wade and Bosh were huge reasons why they were there. But what LeBron James pulled together in that final month of play? Astonishing. Boston remains both headed towards the grave and firmly clenching the ground above, refusing to go down. Oklahoma City’s future is bright, still. But the “they’re still young” will only last so long before the money or the frustration gets them, whichever comes first. The Spurs are either the best sub-elite team in the history of the NBA or the worst powerhouse, and it’s impossible to tell which.

The Bobcats are terrible.

Then the draft, and Anthony Davis brings hope to New Orleans. A team that was supposed to be awful for so long, who made such a big mistake in the Clippers trade, now looks to be back in playoff contention within three seasons. Davis will remake them, and his experience and showing with Team USA proves he’s already on the path. The Wizards got their shooter, the Pacers took another white guy, and the Bobcats went with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who will be a big part of their future and a player the fans will love.

The Bobcats are still terrible.

Free agency kicked off the most insane period many have ever seen. Deron chose Brooklyn, the money, and Joe Johnson over Cuban, Dirk, and Dallas. The Nets proved that Mikhail Prokhorov may have 99 problems but a luxury tax ain’t one. The Hawks blew themselves up. The Knicks were going to get Steve Nash, so the Raptors overpaid Landry Fields to block that, then neither the Knicks nor the Raptors got Steve Nash, and the Lakers walked away with him, in a move that just feels… wrong. So Jason Kidd went to the Knicks to back up Jeremy Lin, right? Only… not. Houston gets him, and no one understands what happens there but for some reason it’s Melo’s fault. Lin and Asik and 1900 combo forwards make up Houston’r roster. Ray Allen “betrayed” the Celtics before they could trade or bury him, while JET went to Boston. Raymond Felton’s a Knick again, Goran Dragic is a Sun again, and Camby is a Knick again. We’re somehow going backwards in time.

Michael Beasley’s a Sun and I’m not sure what that’s about.

The Suns tried and missed for Eric Gordon, the Hornets landed Ryan Anderson. The Magic let Anderson walk, but re-signed Jameer Nelson, and we really don’t know what that’s about.

The Nets deal for Dwight Howard fell apart. Nine times. Like Edward Rooney says, niiine. Times.

And then Dwight went to the Lakers. The best center in the league, joining a team with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Gasol, who two years ago was considered the best big man in the league, is now the fourth option on a team. It would be disgusting in terms of its overt opulence if we hadn’t become so used to seeing it from the Lakers. The Dwightmare is over, Orlando is in ruins, and Bynum’s a Sixer? Seriously?

And guess what. The Bobcats, despite getting Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon, are still terrible.

Then Team USA. An epic, historic performance against Nigeria. A tough one against Lithuania. A statement made against Argentina, and a thriller against the Spanish who gave them the fight everyone thought they would. But in the end? Gold. LeBron, Kobe, Durant, Anthony, Chandler, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, all added to their legacies. Coach K walks away a winner.

Now the GM’s are all headed for vacations. Players are enjoying their money and time.The media is settling into a time to remember who these strange people they live with that are supposedly called “families” are. It’s a time for rest, to try and get used to this new universe where LeBron’s a champion, Dwight’s a Laker, and the Sixers might be relevant.

The 2012-2013 season will be 82 games. There will be no lockout. There will be no disappointed press conferences. No hijacking, no accusations, no “enormous consequences.” We get basketball in the fall, after this brief respite. It will be thrilling, more exciting than ever, even if the gap between the haves and have nots has never been greater. 2012-2013 is something to look forward to. We’ll enjoy the time, and still bring you stories and analysis every day at PBT, as we move ever closer to October 30th and the tip of Boston and Miami.

Enjoy this time, get acquainted with this new universe, get excited for what’s to come. A lot’s happened in the last few months, and it will still take some time to take it all in. But there’s so much to be excited about, because no matter what, in 79 days, the 2012-2013 season tips off, and it will be rocking.

But the Bobcats will still be terrible. (But maybe not as terrible, if Gordon gets his shot back and MKG surprises offensively, and they can… see? Here we go again…)

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.