John Wall

Seven players who need to answer doubters, have big years


It’s time gentlemen.

Step up or be swept to the side.

There are a lot of players in the NBA who need to answer questions we have about them, but maybe none more than the seven below. These are players who either need to show how good they are to get paid next summer; or they just got the big payday and now need to prove they can live up to it.

These are guys who need to answer the doubters and prove their worth. Seven guys with a lot on the line this season.

1) John Wall (Washington Wizards): When the Wizards drafted Wall No. 1 overall they thought they were getting a franchise anchor, a guy you can build a contender around. But it hasn’t been that way — he was solid as a rookie and good in his sophomore campaign — he scored 16.3 points per game and added 8 assists per contest — but his game hasn’t developed like it needed to. The big issue is he has no jump shot you have to respect— he took 4.4 shots a game from 16 feet out to the arc last season and hit 29 percent of them. He’s not a real threat from three. You go under the pick on him.

Next summer Wall can get an extension to his rookie contract and the Wizards will have to decide what to do.

Wall is going to miss the first month of the season (until around Thanksgiving) due to a stress fracture in his patella. That will give the Wizards pause come next summer. When Wall does return he needs to show he can both play fast and under control, show he has a jump shot opponents have to respect, and show that he can lead. The time for excuses is over — the Wizards have cleaned up the locker room culture and brought in veteran professionals like Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. It’s on Wall now to show what he can do.

2) Al Jefferson (Utah Jazz): How much would you pay to have Al Jefferson to be your center? That’s the question before NBA GMs next summer when Jefferson becomes a free agent — how he plays this season will impact how many zeroes are on future checks. And likely where he plays. Jefferson is solid offensively — you get him the ball on the block and he’s going to score about two thirds of the time, plus he shot 40 percent outside 10 feet last season so you have to respect the shot. He’s not going to draw fouls. He can defend the post pretty well but get him out in the pick-and-roll and he gets destroyed. If he improves that P&R defense his value goes up, and he is just 27. There’s a lot to like and he’s going to get paid. The question is how much? And by whom? Is Utah really going to spend on him?

3) O.J. Mayo (Dallas Mavericks): In Memphis, Mayo could never find a fit with the Grizzlies’ big front line and Rudy Gay. They tried him as a starter, sixth man, lots of roles but nothing clicked. Memphis actually let Mayo walk without getting anything for him (which was a mistake). Mayo’s agent’s phone was not ringing all that often, so Mayo took a contract with a Dallas Mavericks team that needs scoring. Mayo is going to get the chance to work off the ball and show he can catch-and-shoot when Darren Collison has the rock. He’s going to get to run some pick and rolls with Dirk Nowitizki. If he proves he can score and fit in then Mayo can turn down the $4.2 million option he has with Dallas next season and get a bigger payday. But he’s going to have to prove he deserves it.

4) Brook Lopez (Brooklyn Nets): Brook Lopez, max contract. In a summer where a few contracts had you shaking your head, this one was one of the biggies. The Nets got out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes to keep Lopez and max him out. And on offense he’s worth it — Lopez is a gifted scorer who averaged 20.4 points a game two seasons ago. But he lost last season to a case of mono then a foot injury. But the bigger issue is he is not a good rebounder or defender at all. Fellow front line guy Kris Humphries can cover his rebounding woes, but the Nets need him to be a force in the paint on defense to make any real waves this season. Lopez got the max deal, now can he just make the Nets and their fans not regret it.

5) Eric Gordon (New Orleans Hornets): Here’s a guy who has to redeem himself more to his own fan base than anybody else. All New Orleans fans have heard is how he is arguably the best young two guard in the game and how he and Anthony Davis can form the foundation of a contender down the line.

All they’ve seen is a guy injured all but nine games of last season and then all of this preseason. They’ve seen a guy who signed a max offer sheet from Phoenix last summer then publically begged the Hornets not to it. They did anyway. Gordon needs to get on the court and win over the New Orleans fans, because so far he has not come close to living up to the hype since he went East in the Chris Paul trade.

6) Jeff Green (Boston Celtics): It is great to see Jeff Green back on the court. After missing a year due to heart surgery, I think everyone around the league is all happy to see him back and playing again. That doesn’t mean any of us understand the four-year, $36 million contract the Celtics gave him this summer. That was a huge commitment to a guy who didn’t merit it from his play in Oklahoma City (where his numbers were average and his defense unimpressive). For a guy coming off heart surgery.

But Boston is using Green more at the three (he was an undersized four a lot for OKC) and they are going with smaller lineups. In the preseason it seems to have worked — Green has been very impressive and able to show off his athleticism. But that’s the preseason, where you play against makeshift lineups and usually not the other team’s top talent. Green needs to have big a big year and earn a salary nearly double the average NBA player if Boston is going to be a top three seed in the East and threat to Miami. Green will be key for them this season. And the three after that.

7) Tyreke Evans (Sacramento Kings): There are not enough Jägermeister shots in all of Sacramento to get GM Geoff Petrie drunk enough to offer Evans a contract extension in the next week — Evans is going to be a restricted free agent next summer. And how he plays this season will determine how much he gets paid and where he plays next year.

Evans was a rookie of the year averaging 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game, but his game stalled after that. Part of that was injuries, but a bigger part was him never developing a reliable jump shot. As a rookie he slashed to the rim with the best of them, but as his jump shot weakness was game planned for his driving angles disappeared and so did his efficiency. This season Evans must show he can work off the ball, that he has a jump shot and that his game is more than just being a slasher from the wing. Do that and he gets paid (maybe by the Kings, who would still like to pair him with DeMarcus Cousins). Do that and he can start to become the guy we all thought he would be after his rookie season. Don’t and he will not like his options next summer.

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson on Jeremy Lin’s new responsibility: ‘You’re the Eli Manning’

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles up the court during first half of the preseason game against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on October 13, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Jeremy Lin was briefly the biggest thing in the Big Apple, maybe in all of basketball, the last time he played in New York.

Linsanity didn’t last long and neither did Lin’s time as a starting point guard. He mostly came off the bench while playing for three teams over the last three seasons, but now he’s getting another shot.

The Brooklyn Nets are giving Lin the keys to their team and believe he’s ready to run it.

“He came off the bench in Charlotte last year and did a heck of a job, but this is a little different deal now,” new coach Kenny Atkinson said. “You’re kind of the quarterback. You’re the Eli Manning, those guys, so there’s a different level of responsibility.”

The Nets better hope Lin is ready for it, because there isn’t much talent around him.

They begin their fifth season in Brooklyn absent the high-priced star power they lined the roster with in their early years after moving from New Jersey. All-Stars such as Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have given way to the likes of Trevor Booker, Justin Hamilton, Randy Foye, Luis Scola, Joe Harris and former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, players signed this summer by general manager Sean Marks.

Marks also tabbed Atkinson to be the coach, and together they are talking about building for the long term. That may be a better solution, though it means the Nets won’t win much now.

But Lin brings some buzz from fans who remember his captivating stretch with the Knicks in 2012. The NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese decent started all 82 games for Houston the next season, but lost his job the following one and remained a backup as he moved to the Lakers and the Hornets, where he played behind Kemba Walker last season.

The Harvard product was mainly a pick-and-roll guard when he burst on the scene five seasons ago, without much else to go to when teams took away his drives to the basket. He believes he returns with a more well-rounded game, with Atkinson urging him to trust a jump shot that wasn’t previously part of his arsenal.

“Now if guys are forcing me left, I can go left,” Lin said. “If guys want me to shoot, I’m not saying I’ll make it every night, but I’ll gladly shoot them. I’ll gladly shoot open ones if they give them to me.”

Here are some other things to watch with the Nets:

BAD BROOKLYN: At 21-61, the Nets missed the playoffs last season for the first time since moving to Brooklyn in 2012. They may not be any better this season.

ATKINSON AT HOME: A respected assistant with the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, Atkinson comes back home for his first NBA head coaching job. The Northport, New York, native will be coaching not far from the courts where he grew up playing.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Brook Lopez averaged 20.6 points as the Nets’ top player last season but has been quiet in exhibition play, creating some questions about the 7-foot center’s fit in Atkinson’s system, which will be predicated on quick ball and player movement of the successful Hawks teams of the last few years.

BOGIE BALL: Bojan Bogdanovic returns from a strong summer to an unclear fall. The top scorer in the Olympics while leading Croatia to a surprising quarterfinal spot hasn’t even been starting in the preseason after averaging 11.2 points and starting about half the games last season.

GROW UP FAST: The lack of veteran stars should mean plenty of opportunities for second-year players Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough, and eventually rookie Caris LeVert, who is still recovering from a left foot injury that cut short the first-round pick’s final season at Michigan.

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LeBron James calls Cavaliers ‘still pretty much uptight,’ Kevin Love describes increased comfort

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: Kevin Love #0, LeBron James #23 and Kyrie Irving #2 during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND — LeBron James took one last look over his shoulder at the scoreboard in Oracle Arena just to be sure.

It was all so surreal, unimaginable.

When James eyes saw only zeroes on the clock, he threw his arms around Kevin Love and time seemed to stand still. Game 7 of the NBA Finals was over as was a comeback for the ages. Golden State’s one-year reign and dream season ended and so did Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought.

James delivered on his personal pledge to bring home a title in June. And although it’s one he can never duplicate personally or for a fan base that had its heart broken and healed by him, the Cavaliers superstar and his teammates aren’t resting, getting comfortable or complacent. They want more.

“We’re still pretty much uptight,” James said. “We’re not satisfied with what we did.”

A three-time champion, and at 31 still the most complete player on the planet, James, who has acknowledged wanting to chase down Michael Jordan and his six league crowns, will again lead a Cleveland team expected to win the Eastern Conference and make a third straight finals trip. There doesn’t appear to be much in their way.

Cleveland’s Big 3 – James, Love and Kyrie Irving – have finally meshed after two turbulent, strange seasons when the trio of All-Stars were often disconnected. But whatever kept them from uniting seems to be resolved and they’re determined to add to their legacy.

“The mindset of this team is a lot different than maybe the first couple years,” said Love, whose odd relationship with James and Cleveland fans is finally in a good place. “From the onset you come in every year and want to compete for a championship, but we feel like we know exactly what we want to get done. I think just from a comfort standpoint it’s pretty different. We are a ways ahead of where we were the first two years.”

That’s one of the things often overlooked about the Cavs – their core is only entering its third year together. And, this is the first one where they’ve been at full strength from the start and guided by a coach they adore.

Tyronn Lue’s promotion after David Blatt was fired in January transformed the Cavs. Lue earned their respect by holding all of them – even James – accountable and making them understand nothing would be gained without sacrifice.

They rallied from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Warriors, and with a title, Lue expects his team to play with more freedom.

“Once you get the monkey off your back and you’re crowned champions, you’re at the top of the mountain, I think it’s a lot easier,” said Lue, who on a championship in 2001 with the Lakers. “Now you can exhale and play the way you’re capable of playing.”

Now, as the first Cleveland team since 1964 to defend a title, here are some other things to watch with the Cavs:

BANNER NIGHT: The Cavs will receive their diamond-studded championship rings before hosting the New York Knicks on Oct. 25. A banner will be unveiled in Quicken Loans Arena on what promises to be an emotional night in the city as the Indians will open the World Series next door at Progressive Field.

“It’s great times for all of us,” said James, who has been attending baseball playoff games with his teammates. “Not only the people playing, but everyone that lives around the area. They deserve it.”

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: James, who has been to six straight finals, knows what it takes win back-to-back championships after doing it in Miami.

“Don’t become complacent,” he said. “Our GM has put together a great team, our owners have done what they needed to do. For us, it’s up to us to continue to work our coaching staff’s system and just play our game.”

SWISH ON BOARD: Cleveland was delayed in having all its pieces in place during training camp until last week when shooting guard J.R. Smith signed a four-year, $57 million contract.

Smith, who made a franchise record 204 3-pointers last year, spreads the floor for James and he’s one of Cleveland’s best defenders. With his tattoos and carefree spirit, Smith has also become an unlikely fan favorite in Cleveland, a 180-degree turn from his time in New York.

GOLDEN DATE: Put another circle around Dec. 25 on your calendar. For the second straight year, the Cavaliers and Warriors will exchange elbows rather than presents on Christmas. This will be their first matchup since last season’s epic Game 7 and first since Kevin Durant took his talents to the Bay Area.

NEW FACES: The Cavs let free agents Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov go and replaced them with Mike Dunleavy and Chris “Birdman” Andersen, a pair of proven veterans who blend in and give Lue more depth.

LaMarcus Aldridge says he’s happy with Spurs, doesn’t buy into trade rumors

LaMarcus Aldridge
AP Photo/Darren Abate

The Spurs reportedly could trade LaMarcus Aldridge amidst his unhappiness with taking a backseat to Kawhi Leonard.

They deny holding trade talks about Aldridge, but even if they haven’t, that means little. If the bigger concerns about Aldridge’s fit and happiness in San Antonio are rooted in reality, a deal could come together in due time. I doubt the Spurs are rushing to trade him at the first sign of trouble.

For his part, Aldridge denies trouble, initial or otherwise.

Aldridge on The Jim Rome Show, as transcribed by Jeff Garcia of News 4 San Antonio:

“I didn’t buy into it. I haven’t heard anything about it. I talked to Pop (head coach Gregg Popovich) daily and he’s always telling me that I’m doing great,” Aldridge said. “Trying to be a more of a leader. He’s put me in positions where I can be more of a leader. As long as the guys here aren’t saying bad things to me. All my teammates have said nothing but great things to me.”

“Yeah for sure I am (happy in San Antonio). We made history last year. They’ve incorporated me into the family. Try to make me one of the big pieces.”

“I’m winning. Of course I’m happy. That’s why I don’t buy into the rumors. I feel like I do my job here and I feel like I’ve done everything that they’ve asked. That’s why I haven’t bought into the rumors.”

If Aldridge is unhappy to the point he’d prefer to leave San Antonio, the Spurs will know that. What he says publicly probably won’t sway their opinion nearly as much as his behind-the-scenes actions and attitudes.

San Antonio could also trade Aldridge without him inviting it. The initial report about the Spurs possibly trading him came from a different source than the one about him being unhappy. There could be truth in one and not the other. If Aldridge believes San Antonio will keep him, that’s prerogative. He wouldn’t be the first player to mis-evaluate his team’s loyalty to him – or he could be spot on.

Really, Aldridge didn’t reveal much that we can accept with certainty – except that if there is turmoil, it’s no so great that he’s unwilling to put on a happy face. That counts for something.

JaVale McGee apparently makes Warriors regular-season roster

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 15:  JaVale McGee #1 of the Golden State Warriors brings the ball up the court against the Los Angeles Lakers during their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on October 15, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Golden State won 112-107. 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 Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Steve Kerr warned us, but it’s still difficult to digest.

The NBA’s best team will have the league’s most foolhardy player.

Yes, the Warriors are apparently keeping JaVale McGee.

Golden State waived its other three players without guaranteed salaries today: Elliot Williams, Phil Pressey and Cameron Jones. That drops the Warriors’ roster, including McGee, to 15, the regular-season limit. Unless Golden State prefers to open the season with a vacancy, McGee made the team.

McGee earned the job with a strong preseason. No Warriors match his rim protection, giving him clear value in certain matchups

Zaza Pachulia remains Golden State’s starting center, and Draymond Green will play plenty at the position. But I wouldn’t be surprised if McGee outperforms an aging Anderson Varejao (whose primary skill is flopping) and a rookie Damian Jones (who’s recovering from injury) to become a rotation regular.

McGee also has potential to add comic relief to what’s already a tremendous viewing experience.