Ray Allen

Who are the key role players on contending teams?


In the NBA, you win with star players (except if you’re the 2004 Pistons, the exception to every championship rule). They’re the guys you lean on in the closing minutes of tight games. The guys that can affect a game with their sheer talent and turn what looks to be a sure loss into a win.

But, even the most star studded teams need contributions from role players to reach the mountain top. The Derek Fisher’s. The Robert Horry’s. These players may not get the headlines day in and day out, but when looking at the rosters of title winning teams their names stand out. Without them, some of the brightest stars the game has seen might have a few less pieces of jewelry on their fingers.

This year’s title contenders are no different. They all have at least one key role player that will be depended on to be a difference maker this season. Who are they? Let’s explore…

Ray Allen, Miami Heat
Allen is used to playoff pressure cooker. He’s been around the block multiple times throughout his career and has stuck the dagger into opponents in the biggest games imaginable. When the moment is the biggest, you know what you’re going to get from Ray. He’s going to stroke that sweet jumper of his and opposing fans are going to hold their breath when the shot is in the air.

But Ray comes to Heat no longer one of his team’s best players. Once part of Boston’s big three, he joins a new triumvirate that’s not only already formed but has already tasted championship glory. With this group he’ll be asked to play a supporting role in limited minutes and excel while doing it.

And, for the first time in his career, there are questions as to whether he’s up to the task. How will he perform coming off the bench for the first prolonged stretch of his distinguished career? Is his defense up to a high enough standard to close games on a team that is already so good on the wing? After a somewhat disappointing playoffs last season, how many more jumpers do his legs have in them?

Knowing Allen’s history, he’ll prove any doubters wrong and hit a few more big shots for the Heat this season. But if Allen falters or if he can not approach his normal standard it will have a big affect on the Heat. Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, and Shane Battier will need to play heavier minutes than planned. And for a team that’s coming of two straight Final’s runs it would be nice if Allen could soak up some minutes to keep those guys fresher throughout the marathon that is an NBA season.

Antawn Jamison, The Los Angeles Lakers
Jamison is the epitome of the accomplished veteran at the end of his career chasing a ring. He’s been a top scorer in the league and his team’s go-to guy. He’s gone to all-star games and won awards. What he hasn’t done is taste that champagne after his team wins its last game of the season. This is why he came to the Lakers.

The question is, however, does Jamison have enough left in the tank to be a key contributor on a title winning team? After 14 seasons of going being a featured player, it’s more than a fair question. And, so far this preseason, he’s not yet looked like the difference maker off the bench that the Lakers need him to be. His jumper has been erratic and the in-between game that’s been a staple of his success throughout his career has been more miss than hit. And there are, of course, still the long standing issues of his defense and rebounding. Those aren’t exactly the qualities the Lakers signed him for.

No, Jamison will need to hit shots and do so at a consistent enough rate to give space to the front court partner he’s flanking. Be it Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard, Jamison must be seen as a threat to the defense to help give them the room they need to operate in the post. To say nothing of the room created to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash on the perimeter. His scoring punch and the ripple effect it will have are tantamount to this Laker team.

Jamison has never had a role this important for a team this good. If he can play well, the Lakers are one major step closer to solidifying their bench and shoring up a major weakness from last season. If he’s not, they’ll have an even greater chance of being exposed even with the start power at the top of the roster.

Eric Maynor, The Oklahoma City Thunder
There may not be a more unheralded player that’s returning from injury in the entire league than Eric Maynor. Guys like Derrick Rose and Ricky Rubio are franchise altering talents, but it’s Maynor that plays on one of the clearly elite teams and can literally mean the difference between the Thunder advancing to the Finals or not; between winning a title or not.

No, he’s not one of the Thunder’s big three superstars. But Maynor is one of the league’s best (if not the best) back up point guards. And for a team that had to rely on Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher to back up Russell Westbrook last season, that’s a huge difference. Especially for a team that was so close to winning the title.

Maynor not only offers the Thunder a scoring threat off the bench but also a floor general that can run the team should Westbrook falter. Before he tore his ACL, Scott Brooks could turn to Maynor at any time to settle his team down, get them into their sets, and get the team going in the right direction. That type of luxury is so valuable to a team that, even with all its talent, can still be prone to lapses of judgment and too many unproductive possessions.

Maynor also offers them lineup flexibility, giving them a key contributor to any small-ball lineup Brooks wants to deploy. For example, a grouping of Maynor, Westbrook, Harden, Durant, and Ibaka gives the Thunder a unit that can match up with the position-less Heat lineup that gave them so many issues in the Finals. There’s no hiding defenders against a lineup like that.

Word is that Maynor is fully recovered from his knee injury and should be ready to return to the form he showed before he got hurt. If that’s the case, one of the best teams in the league just added another fantastic young talent to flank their already stacked core. If he’s not, the Thunder will once again be stuck playing below replacement level players behind Westbrook.

Jeff Green, The Boston Celtics
Green is one of the most uniquely positioned role players in the league.

First, he’s coming back from missing an entire season due to having heart surgery. Second, he signed one of the more “wait, he got how much?” contracts this past free agency period. And third, he’s coming back to a Celtics team that has made itself over with smart signings and a solid draft to the point that they’re thinking their window isn’t quite yet closed yet.

How Green performs in the middle of all this remains to be seen. As a tweener forward, he’ll be asked to play in both big and small lineups and use his versatility on both sides of the ball. There will be times that he’ll have to chase small forwards around the perimeter on defense and then attack them in the paint on offense. The next night he may be spacing the floor on offense while playing on the back line of the C’s vaunted defense directing traffic while he hedges and recovers on a pick and roll.

Green has never proven that he’s been up to such responsibilities and that’s one of the reasons the Thunder were okay trading him away for Kendrick Perkins. Yes, his versatility was nice but at some point he needed to show that he could to deliver at a high enough level in those areas rather than just being good at them. With the Thunder, he never did get that done.

Will that change with these Celtics? Will coming off the bench help his game? Will playing with a point guard savant like Rajon Rondo (rather than the more shot happy Westbrook) help him find his stride on offense? Will learning at the altar of Kevin Garnett help him with his defense?

The Celtics can only hope that the answers to those questions are in the affirmative. They’ve invested a fair amount of time and money into Green and for them to be as good as they hope to be, they’ll need him to live up to his lottery talent.

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

Draymond Green
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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.