Five players that need a change of scenery

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Breakups are never fun, but sometimes it just has to be done. Maybe there’s someone new, or things have become stale, or both parties just need to go a different direction. The following is a list of five talented players who could really use the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech from their current teams.

Kevin Martin, SG, Houston Rockets

There was a time when Martin and the Rockets were absolutely perfect for each other. Martin was really the poster boy for “Moreyball” —  he was awkward as could be, but he put up incredible stats. However, after multiple failed (or vetoed) attempts to acquire a superstar, the Rockets have shifted young and are perhaps finally breaking bad — accepting short-term failure for potential long-term gains.

But where does that leave poor Kevin Martin? Although he has played the majority of his career on losing teams (475 regular season games played, but only 6 playoff game appearances) the 28-year-old shooting guard incorporates a style that requires the games to mean something. Despite his slender frame and injury history, Martin led the NBA in made free throws in 2010-2011, and has finished in the top 10 of that category four times in his career. After a huge drop-off in that department last season, it’s clear that Martin could stand to play meaningful basketball again. That’s probably not happening in Houston. As he recently said himself, the Rockets just don’t have a chance to compete with the Thunder and Lakers any longer.

Martin is on a 12.9 million dollar deal that expires this season. He can’t afford to have his minutes jerked around like Kevin McHale did last year. Don’t be surprised if a contender takes a chance on one of the most efficient scorers the league has to offer — so long as he’s healthy.

J.J. Redick, SG, Orlando Magic

The Dwight Howard saga affected a lot of people, but J.J. Redick may have been hurt the most. Not only does Redick lose the post presence that freed him up for his outside sharpshooting, but he also has to fight for minutes with the “big haul” from the trade: shooting guard Arron Afflalo. You can actually make the argument that Redick is a better offensive player than Afflalo, and at least last season, he may have been the better defender as well. Afflalo is a nice player, but there was a Trevor Ariza quality to his play last year, as his defensive performance dipped dramatically (Synergy Sports ranked him the worst wing defender in basketball) as he focused more on expanding his offensive game.

Nevertheless, Orlando has little choice but to give Afflalo the majority of the minutes at the 2 to keep the egg off their face, and that means there is a prime opportunity for a team to swoop in and steal Redick, who is a knockdown 3-point shooter (40% career) who takes nothing off the table. You’d be hard pressed to find a contender that couldn’t use a sure thing like Redick — and because he’s on an expiring contract, Orlando might be wise to see what they can get in return before he leaves town.

Jose Calderon, PG, Toronto Raptors

There’s a clear movement taking place in Toronto. The Raptors want to get younger, and they want to get better defensively. Kyle Lowry starting over Jose Calderon accomplishes both of those things, but that doesn’t mean Calderon can’t be a starting point guard in the league anymore. Calderon is really a coach’s best friend — he gets his teams into their sets, he hardly ever turns over the ball or makes careless mistakes, and he’s an incredible free throw shooter. Calderon could provide plenty of stability to a team that really sticks to their stuff in the halfcourt (think Utah or New Orleans) so long as they’re willing to forfeit a few points on the other end. Calderon is still a swinging door defensively, but point guard is the position where you can most afford a bad defender.

Another player on a big deal that expires after this season, Calderon will probably head the list of available point guard options on the market come trade deadline season.

Ekpe Udoh, C, Milwaukee Bucks

Finally, someone on this list who plays a little defense! Udoh is an incredibly flawed big man that can’t score in the paint or rebound, but pair him with a specific type of frontcourt player (think along the lines of Blake Griffin or Paul Millsap) and Udoh’s rim protection (4th in block percentage last year), pick-and-roll defense, and stretchiness out to 15-feet make him well worth the playing time. The Bucks were much better defensively last season with Udoh on the floor, but they threw another log in the frontcourt jam when they drafted John Henson — another shot blocking specialist. With Ersan Illyasova, Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders and Henson all needing minutes at either the 4 or the 5, Udoh could be left scrapping for leftovers.

With big time decisions on tap for Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis (and Beno Udrih’s contract expiring), Milwaukee might want to sell Udoh’s late bloomer appeal for a viable backcourt option.

DeJuan Blair, PF, San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs were the only team with the chutzpah not to pass on the ACL-less DeJuan Blair in the 2009 NBA Draft, and Blair immediately rewarded the Spurs by posting the league’s best offensive rebounding percentage in 2010-11. Even though Blair is a solid contributor during the regular season, where Gregg Popovich distributes minutes like he’s dealing cards in a poker card game, that all quickly comes to a halt during playoff time. More than ever before, the Spurs are relying on spacing and stretching the floor — which is the main reason why Boris Diaw leapfrogged the other bigs on the roster. With Diaw, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter all commanding time in the frontcourt, there just doesn’t seem to be any room for Blair, despite his impressive 17.5 career PER.

Although the league is trending away from throwback power forwards who gobble up rebounds and score in the paint, Blair could still carry a second unit with his energy and post scoring. Like Martin and Calderon, Blair can’t defend a lick, but it would be a crime to see a young rebounding machine yet again relegated to the end of the bench when the games begin to really matter.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.