John Wall

Seven players who need to answer doubters, have big years

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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.

Thunder beat Pelicans; teams mourn Ingrid Williams’ death

Russell Westbrook
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Basketball didn’t matter much to Kevin Durant on Thursday night.

Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams’ wife, Ingrid, was involved in a car crash Tuesday night in Oklahoma City and died Wednesday. Monty Williams coached the Pelicans last season before coming to Oklahoma City to help new coach Billy Donovan, so as his two most recent teams met, both played with heavy hearts. A moment of silence was observed before the Thunder’s 121-95 victory.

Durant was distraught earlier in the day while discussing the situation after the team’s shootaround, and he said it remained fresh in his mind after the game.

“We love the game so much, but that’s not really what’s important,” Durant said. “It’s definitely something that we love to do, but relationships, family – those things – that’s what’s most important in life, not the latest trends or the fashion world or all that stuff. It’s cool and all that stuff, but the stuff that lasts forever is relationships, family and love.”

Donovan wasn’t sure how his team would deal with all that happened. Durant scored 23 points, Russell Westbrook had 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, and Serge Ibaka added 18 points.

“I really appreciated all of our guys, the way they all have handled a really difficult situation these past 24 hours and being able to go out and play,” Donovan said.

Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday each scored 23 points for the Pelicans. Davis, who was emotional on Twitter after learning of the death, still was disappointed in the way the Pelicans played.

“We’ve got to go out there and still compete,” he said. “Go out there and play. We had a job to do tonight.”

Oklahoma City has won 14 of 16 heading into the All-Star break to join Golden State and San Antonio as the only teams with at least 40 wins. The Thunder don’t feel much needs to change to compete for the title.

“No switch-up, just enhance and get better at what we do.”

The Thunder led 62-53 at halftime behind 18 points from Westbrook and 17 from Durant.

Westbrook got his 10th assist on Ibaka’s 3-pointer that gave the Thunder a 79-65 lead. He had his ninth rebound with just under 3 minutes to go in the third quarter before heading to the bench for his usual rest and the Thunder ahead 86-68. Oklahoma City led 95-74 at the end of the third quarter.

Oklahoma City’s backups expanded the lead early in the fourth quarter, and Westbrook didn’t return.

“I don’t know what we can take out of it other than we competed like crazy in the first half,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Tried like crazy in the second half, but when they got separation, it was really difficult.”

The Thunder found an escape from pain through playing.

“Basketball, the effect it has, it allows you to forget about things a little bit, and it also brings you together as a group,” Durant said. “Thankful for that.”

 

TIP-INS

Pelicans: Shot 53.5 percent from the field in the first half, but just 43.2 percent for the game. … Were outrebounded 50-31 … Committed just nine turnovers. … Norris Cole scored 15 points.

Thunder: Shot 52.3 percent from the field. … Thunder G Andre Roberson remained out with a right knee sprain. … Anthony Morrow scored 10 points. … Enes Kanter finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

 

Bucks go into All-Star break with 99-92 win over Wizards

MILWAUKEE, WI - FEBRUARY 11: Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives to the hoop for two points during the first quarter against the Washington Wizards at BMO Harris Bradley Center on February 11, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 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 Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Khris Middleton
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 27 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and the Milwaukee Bucks held off the Washington Wizards 99-92 on Thursday night.

Middleton scored 14 points in the final quarter, giving the Wizards trouble off the dribble and from the perimeter.

Washington got within three when John Wall made two free throws with 1:36 left. But Middleton answered again, hitting a jumper in the lane on the next possession before setting up a drive-and-dish to Greg Monroe that gave the Bucks a 97-90 lead with 15 seconds left. Middleton tied a season high with nine assists.

Bradley Beal scored 19 points for the Wizards, and Wall had 15 points and 10 assists.

The Wizards go into the All-Star break 3-7 in their last 10 games.

The Bucks will take a modest but badly-needed two-game winning streak into the break. At 22-32, Milwaukee needs to inch back closer to .500 before it can start thinking about making a run at a second straight playoff appearance.

At least the Bucks gained confidence from the win after the lead see-sawed much of the night against Washington.

Sparked by better defense, the Wizards rallied from an 11-point deficit late in the second quarter to turn it into a tight contest after halftime.

Milwaukee used a 25-5 surge in an eight-minute span to help build a 55-44 lead with 45 seconds left in the second quarter. Jabari Parker scored 12 points during that quarter, when the Bucks made their run using primarily a three-guard lineup that attacked with the ball.

Middleton made the clutch plays in the end to spark the win.

TIP-INS

Washington: Wall had his 30th double-double of the season. … The Wizards went 0 of 10 from the field with three turnovers during the Bucks’ second-quarter run.

Milwaukee: Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry is taking part in the All-Star celebrity game Friday in Toronto. Asked before the game if the boss was ready, coach Jason Kidd said with a straight face: “That’s a very good question. We’ll see if he needs the asthma inhaler.” … O.J. Mayo was assessed a flagrant foul after Washington’s Otto Porter Jr. fell hard to the floor on a layup attempt with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

 

Report: Some Warriors executives believe Golden State will sign Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant (35) loses the ball next to Golden State Warriors' Marreese Speights during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors won 116-108. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)
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An NBA general manager reportedly believes Kevin Durant will sign with the Warriors.

That general manager, unless it was Bob Myers in the first place, has company.

Chris Broussard of ESPN on Durant:

There are people in Golden State that think they’re getting him.

People in management, and I think some players, too.

Blind optimism? Definitely possible.

Echo-chamber participation? Totally conceivable.

Genuine insight? Also believable.

It’s that last possibility that makes this so intriguing. Durant has reportedly researched the Bay Area, and why shouldn’t that include back-channel talks between his people and the Warriors? Golden State definitely could have legitimate reason to believe Durant is coming.

One reason this is so important: The Warriors don’t have enough cap space to re-sign Durant. What lengths they’ll travel to clear it depends on their perceived odds of signing him.

Whether or not Golden State actually gets Durant – count me in the camp that believes he hasn’t made a decision – this belief he’ll sign with the Warriors could definitely influence the rest of their offseason and maybe even smaller moves before the trade deadline.

Shaq, Yao, Iverson look to take next step to Hall of Fame

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 25:  Yao Ming #11 of the Houston Rockets posts up Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers on December 25, 2003 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Rockets won 99-87.  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)
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TORONTO (AP) Shaquille O’Neal should be a lock. Yao Ming and Allen Iverson could join him.

Two larger-than-life big men and one of basketball’s most exciting little guys highlight the list of players, coaches and contributors who are eligible for induction this year into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

O’Neal and Iverson must get past an extra step by first being chosen as finalists Friday at a press conference during the NBA’s All-Star weekend festivities. If they do, they would then require 18 votes from the 24-member Honors Committee, as do all nominees from the North American and Women’s Committees.

But Yao was nominated by the Hall’s International Committee, recognized as much for his impact in the growth of basketball in his native China as his play in the NBA. That committee elects players directly to the Hall.

The class of 2016 will be unveiled April 4 in Houston on the day of the NCAA championship game, and the enshrinement ceremony is set for Sept. 9 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

O’Neal, Yao and Iverson earned a chance to be a part of it after a recent rule change that made players eligible for nomination after four full seasons of retirement. Previously, they had to wait five years, which meant they were actually six years removed from their playing days by the time they could take their place in the birthplace of basketball.

O’Neal won four NBA championships, an MVP award and is in the league’s top 10 in career scoring. Iverson, just 6-feet tall, won four scoring titles and was the league’s MVP in 2001, when his 48-performance for Philadelphia in Game 1 of the NBA Finals handed O’Neal’s Lakers their only loss of the most dominant postseason in NBA history.

Yao doesn’t have as impressive a resume, his career cut short by multiple foot injuries. But the 7-foot-6 center lasted long enough to make an enormous impact on and off the court after being selected No. 1 overall in 2002.

A look at some others who could be Springfield-bound in September:

JERRY KRAUSE: On the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Bulls compiling the best record in NBA history, perhaps it’s time to honor the executive who was one of the architects of the six-time champions?

TOM IZZO: The way he consistently gets his Michigan State teams to peak in March, don’t be surprised if he’s got a game to coach in Houston when the class he should be in appears during Final Four weekend.

SHERYL SWOOPES: The first player signed by the WNBA went on to win three MVP awards and four championships in the league, but it was her 47-point performance in leading Texas Tech to the 1993 NCAA championship that many think of first when talking about one of the greats of women’s basketball.

MARV ALBERT: Already a Hall of Famer as a broadcaster, Albert, like Krause, is now nominated by the Contributor Committee that directly elects to the Hall. Should he be honored again? As Albert might exclaim while calling a game, “YES!!”

DARELL GARRETSON: He officiated more than 2,000 games in the NBA and spent 17 years as the league’s chief of officiating. There aren’t many easy calls for referees, but this seems an easy call about one.