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.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.