A question of point guard extensions starring Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, and Jrue Holiday

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October brings with it a rush of NBA news. Training camp starts, teams begin assessing if they need to make a pre-season trade, injuries unfortunately occur, preseason games begin and everyone is in the “best shape of their careers” on teams “ready to compete for a championship.” October is Hopetober for the NBA and outside of the above-mentioned injuries, everything is all rainbows and sunshine. But there’s another element.Extensions on players coming to the end of their rookie deals are due on the 31st, and that means big decisions.

Often times, the extensions will be no-brainers, for the elite of the elite. And some will be no-brainers for those players who have overstayed their welcome. But every year, so many fit into that middle gap. Good enough to not want to lose them, not good enough to want to throw the bank at. It’s a complicated question that involves not only the player’s skill but he situation of the franchise and their future.

Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports Saturday morning on the status of a few key players that fit into this group.

 

Lawson is probably the clearest cut choice to get done. His only issue has been consistency, and that’s something you can attribute to age and experience. He’s one of the fastest point guards in the league, and showed for the first time last spring in the playoffs that he can take over a big game offensively. His leadership continues to be a question mark for George Karl, but it’s also a work in progress. There’s no skill attribute that would prevent the Nuggets from wanting to give the extension. It will, however, eat up a significant chunk of their cap space. The Nuggets endeavored for two years to produce a roster with cap flexibility while maintaining its talent, but extensions for Danilo Gallinari and new contracts for Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee eat up some of that. The rest will be taken care of by Lawson and Andre Iguoadala with a 2014 player option.

So the Nuggets have to be sure this is the guy they want. He looks the part, but it’s still going to be a gamble, the likely reason he has not been put at the max yet, along with Lawson’s decision to switch agents.

Holiday is an entirely different question. There have been hints in the past that he wants the max. The numbers… they are not good. He’s coming off a year with a TS% of .496 (that sucker needs to be over .500 at the very least). His assist percentage dropped nearly eight points last year. There’s a lot of talk about Evan Turner getting time at point guard or at least point forward. Last year per 36 minutes he produced 14.4. points on 13.7 shots. In a league where offensive efficiency is a must, Holiday was severely lacking in it. He also was the point guard and maestro for one of the worst offenses of a playoff team in the league.

The problem with all that? So was Rajon Rondo. The Celtics were a dreadful offensive team, per 36 minutes Rondo produced 11.6 points on 10.5 shots, had an even worse TS% of .486. Now his assist percentage was one of the best in the league at a startling “you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me” 52.3 percent. But if we’re looking at numbers, Holiday was at least as efficient as Rondo. (The Sixers had a 99 offensive rating – points per 100 possessions- with Holiday on the floor, the Celtics were a better 101 with Rondo, but neither is anything to run and tell that about.)

But you can make the argument for a qualitative if not substantively quantitative difference between Holiday and Rondo. His control and impact over the game is much greater, and his skillset is readily apparent as superior. Still, these are the kinds of things you factor when you decide whether and how to retain Holiday. The Sixers like Holiday, they seem invested in him, but the money is likely a sticking point.

Jennings… who knows. He can look like an All-Star, a world beater, a dominant offensive player one minute and a huge question mark the next. It’s an ever-evolving question, and part of a much bigger question. Unlike Denver and Philadelphia, the Bucks could be facing significant upheaval next summer with both John Hammond and Scott Skiles working out with a net, effectively. Do you give big money to a largely inefficient player who at times is dazzling and who constantly says he both wants an extension and thinks it would be great to play in New York, something he’s harped on since he was a draft prospect? The Bucks could be facing one of three scenarios: Jennings thrives, becomes an All-Star and the center of their future success as he embraces the Bucks as his team with his maturity, Jennings continues to vacillate between brilliance and dreadful, forever giving management and analysts headaches only doing it for big money, or Jennings manages to become the star he’s shown flashes of, only to pull a modern-superstar trick of demanding out once he’s gotten his money.

There may not be a way to win that conversation.

So all three teams have decisions to make and not much time to make them. But the choices will have a huge impact on not only the players’ seasons, but the future of the franchises.

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.

How do you like “The Process” now? Sixers eliminate Heat, advance to second round

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It felt inevitable.

Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.

Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.

No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.

Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.

In the third quarter, it all changed.

Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.

With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).

They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.

This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.

“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”

They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.

They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.

However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”

But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.

It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.

Sixers players douse Brett Brown, present him with bell after closing Heat (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on. Let’s just try to process that for a moment.

After beating the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, 104-91, this iteration of the Sixers experienced their first playoff series win together. It was also the first series win for coach Brett Brown as the man in charge of an NBA team.

As such, players gathered in the locker room after the win to hear Brown speak about the win, and about how the team had more to give and to learn as they moved forward together in the playoffs.

When Brown concluded his speech, he tried to hand off the victory bell to JJ Redick. As soon as Redick received it, he bestowed the honor of the bell right back upon Brown.

That’s when teammates showered Brown with whatever they had nearby, and Brown rung the bell.

Man, what a moment.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.