A guide for which teams to watch

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Our ideas of fun may be completely different. Personally, I like to pretend I’m playing Supermarket Sweep in the grocery store, but you may like going out on “dates” or “talking to actual people.”

With that said, I can’t in good faith tell you which teams will be fun this year. That’s a decision for you to make, based on your own tastes. What I can do, though, is provide this helpful guide that relates real life activities to watching NBA basketball in an effort to guide you towards some of the more intriguing teams and away from the Bobcats. Far, far away from the Bobcats. To the list:

If you like going out clubbing, you should watch the:

Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets

Entertainment! Egos! Alpha dogs galore! These four teams are the equivalent of going out clubbing – no matter what happens, you’re probably not going to end up bored. Just how crazy are the Lakers? A guy who changed his name to Metta World Peace is now a third-string ego behind Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. Miami, meanwhile, is defending their title and rolling with a former enemy (Ray Allen) for added fireworks. The Knicks ran Jeremy Lin out of town for Raymond Felton, which couldn’t possibly create any resentment in the Garden, right? Deron Williams may have the quietest wingman in the game next to him (Joe Johnson), but he’s ready to make a lot of noise and try to take New York’s spotlight from Carmelo Anthony. First man to play defense probably wins.

If you like being a parent, you should watch the:

New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets, Portland Trailblazers, Detroit Pistons

You can’t truly comprehend the joys of being a parent until you are one (or so I’ve heard), but these teams offer up all the fun with less of the sleep deprivation. Watching a player slowly figure the league out is one of the more rewarding fan experiences, so having the chance to watch New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis grow into a superstar game by game should be a treat. The Rockets have plenty of exciting rookies as well, but the big draw should be the Jeremy Lin/James Harden backcourt learning to play together. Portland will hand the keys to rookie Damian Lillard in hopes of developing the league’s latest and greatest point guard, while Pistons big man Andre Drummond provides some much needed sizzle to Greg Monroe’s steak. There will be some screaming here from both the kids and the adults, but it’s supposed to all be worth it in the end.

If you like solving puzzles, you should watch the:

Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs

Do you like to solve puzzles and make every piece fit? So do these teams. The Spurs seem to be able to find a home for every piece, don’t they? Two of their biggest additions last year were an overweight guy on the Bobcats (Boris Diaw) and a player more renowned for his dancing on the sideline (Danny Green) than anything else, and it worked out pretty darn well. The Jazz and the Hawks did a good job of following suit, bringing in players this offseason that fit their exact needs. They may not have the frame the Spurs do, but watching a team built with a vision get rewarded with success is just like putting in that last piece of the puzzle.

If you like crashing parties, you should watch the:

Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers

So what if they’re not invited? While no one really expects the Nuggets and Pacers to truly contend for the title, it would be pretty aesthetically pleasing if they did. The Nuggets play one of the most entertaining styles of basketball on the planet, and with Andre Iguodala on board, they should wreak even more havoc in transition than usual. Indiana is easy to forget about — until Paul George or Gerald Green tear down the rim with something nasty. They may not be on the invitation list, but you’ll be glad they came.

If you like getting into bar fights, you should watch the:

Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers

The Celtics and the Clippers are the bro in the $120 t-shirt with skulls plastered all over it. Whether it’s Kevin Garnett stirring up trouble with tiny European players or Blake Griffin uncomfortably staring down a referee for about three minutes too long, the Clippers and Celtics are two of the most hated teams in the league – and they love it. They see it as playing mind games; everyone else just sees it as being obnoxious.

If you like going to bed early and sleeping in late, you should watch the:

Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks

In need of a good night’s sleep? How about two months worth? The Bulls can still have success without Derrick Rose for most of the early season, but even the staunchest supporter of defensive play couldn’t recommend watching them on a nightly basis. The Wolves won’t have Ricky Rubio or Kevin Love for the start of the season either, the Wizards will be hopeless without John Wall, and the Mavericks may struggle to break 80 points a game without Dirk Nowitzki. Turn on that soothing league pass music and set your alarm for 2013 if you’re going to watch these teams.

If you like listening to music that everyone else has “probably never heard of”, you should watch the:

Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors

Hey, if this band just had a better sound system and the instruments were in tune and the songwriting was better and the drummer wasn’t out all the time — they’d be really good!  The Warriors and the Raptors need everything to break their way to nab a playoff spot. That’s counting on Andrew Bogut, Steph Curry, and Andrea Bargnani all being healthy for a full slate. That probably won’t happen, but if it does, you’re not going to like them anymore, anyway. That’s how that works, right?

If you like going to the gym, you should watch the:

Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies

Grit and grind. If your fun comes from tireless self-improvement, like it does for Kevin Durant, you’re a lucky individual. One thing you know about the Grizzlies and Thunder – they’ll work hard every single game. You probably won’t find two teams that give more consistent effort, which is nice if you’re opposed to wasting nights watching bad basketball.

If you like playing video games all night, you should watch the:

Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers

You probably won’t have a horrible time or a fantastic time playing video games, and you probably won’t remember many details of what happened the next day. Watching the Cavs, Bucks and 76ers is sort of unremarkable in the same way.  You just sort of do it until you’re done. You don’t get the peaks, but you won’t suffer through the valleys, either. As a bonus, Kyrie Irving, Monta Ellis and Jrue Holiday are really fun to play with in NBA2k13, so there’s that.

If you like rubber necking in traffic during your drive home, you should watch the:

Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats, Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns

You don’t really want to look at what happened in the accident on the side of the road, but you can’t help it. You slow down. There are cars, just like you expected. One of them is dented. You drive by and say, “That sucks”. That’s pretty much what the Magic, Bobcats, Kings and Suns have in store for you this season. You’ll stop in and look, expecting something exciting, and then you’ll leave and say, “That sucks.” Proceed with caution.

Clippers executive Jerry West raves about Warriors’ Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green

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A former great player who’s now an executive for a Los Angeles NBA team praised an opposing player.

The last time this happened, Lakers president Magic Johnson got fined for tampering with the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.

How will Jerry West fare with these comments about Warriors stars Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green?

West, via the TK Show:

Kevin Durant, I don’t know. Obviously, he’s one of my favorite players I’ve ever watched play. His size, the efficiency that he plays the game is scary. And then you have Steph over there, your little, your next-door-neighbor kid. Let’s go play with him. And then you get out there, and then you find out, oh my god, this guy’s a killer. But pretty unique with that. And the complementary players, in their own right, they’re great. There’s Klay Thompson. He just goes and plays and never seeks any credit. He just plays and really competitive. Draymond, the guy that drives the horse. They’ve got some really unique players up there, and it’s still fun for me to watch. I watch them play. I root for them, because I know some of the players.

As a reminder, here’s what Johnson said about Antetokounmpo. Nick Friedell of ESPN:

As Johnson watches from afar, he can’t help but see and enjoy the parallels between his game and that of the Bucks big man.

“Oh yeah,” Johnson told ESPN recently. “With his ball-handling skills and his passing ability. He plays above the rim I never could do that. But in his understanding of the game, his basketball IQ, his creativity of shots for his teammates. That’s where we [have the] same thing. Can bring it down, make a pass, make a play. I’m just happy he’s starting in the All-Star game because he deserves that. And he’s going to be like an MVP, a champion, this dude he’s going to put Milwaukee on the map. And I think he’s going to bring them a championship one day.”

Two key differences between West and Johnson:

West didn’t help get his team fined for tampering last summer. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said there’s no clear line for tampering, but that the Lakers face a higher bar due their previous violations.

Johnson didn’t previously work for Milwaukee. West worked in Golden State’s front office while those players were there and knows them personally.

But Silver also provided a rough outline of when tampering will be enforced when addressing Johnson’s latest fine:

“It’s one thing when you’re asking a coach a question about an opposing team right after a game. It’s another issue when a general manager or president of basketball sort of gratuitously issues a statement that is complimentary of a star player on another team.

“In essence, what we’ve said to him, and it’s a clear message to other team executives, is that stop talking about star players on other teams. There are plenty of other issues they can address. And there is sensitivity around it throughout the league.”

Given that line, I don’t know how West avoid a fine – which is a shame.

What he said is harmless. No player is going to join another team due to benign compliments from an opposing executive.

It’s also a disservice to fans and West himself if he’s discouraged from speaking publicly about current players. The all-time great has valuable perspective, and he shouldn’t be silenced just because he works for an NBA team. His entire interview with Tim Kawakami of The Athletic is interesting. Everybody would lose if West turns down interviews in fear of a fine.

Meanwhile, more meaningful tampering – making plans on future contracts – is rampant. But that’s difficult to curb. So, the NBA enforces silly stuff like this.

The NBA never should have fined Johnson for the Antetokounmpo comments. It just opens too many cans of worms in a fight not worth fighting. Seriously, what’s the point?

If I were the Lakers, I’d be bothered if West skates free on this. But if I were West, I’d also resent a fine.

The league has backed itself into a dumb corner.

C.J. McCollum on how Portland’s defense, and his, became respectable

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LOS ANGELES — Portland’s much-maligned defense has been one of quieter turn-around stories of this NBA season.  It went from bottom 10 the past two seasons — and the reason the team has stalled out in the playoffs — to being 11th in the league this season, 2.8 per 100 possessions better than the season before.

Change doesn’t just happen. It started with work last June and July in the gym and has continued into the film room during the season. 

And it started with Portland’s leaders C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard.

The two elite guards were tired of hearing about their sub-par defense, so they prioritized defensive drills every off-season workout to get better on that end. They focused on their film study to how to get more stops. They made defense a priority and started to better use their experience in the league on that end.

“We work a lot with our strength and conditioning staff, we work with our assistant coaches on breaking down film, figuring out ways to find better angles, figuring out ways to move through screens better,” McCollum told NBC Sports of his improved defense. “But I think defensively understanding offenses a little better helps you be in better positions, understanding schemes, tendencies for certain players allows you to become a better defender. A lot of it is this is the NBA, guys are good and they’re going to score, you just have to make it as difficult as possible. Any advantages you can have make it a little bit easier.”

McCollum has been better this year. While all the defensive analytics metrics are flawed, McCollum’s defensive rating is 2.2 per 100 better than last season. Opponents are shooting 41.2 percent against him this season, down from last season by more than a percentage point. McCollum has become a solid defender, which is a step up, and with Jusuf Nurkic more of his mistakes can be erased.

For McCollum and Portland, the improvement is in part about continuity. One of the strengths of the Blazers is they have kept their core together for years and kept coach Terry Stotts on the sidelines. It leads to a familiarity both with each other and the opponents they face.

“We’ve had the same guys, same staff, the schemes have been the same, our approach has been the same, just our practices have been a little bit different in terms of concepts and what we’re trying to accomplish throughout the season,” McCollum said. “Our shell has been great, a top 10 team defensively (they are currently 11th after a rough stretch before the All-Star break). Obviously, there will be slippage at times, you’re going to give up points here or there, but we’ve been pretty consistent.”

“I just think our shell has been tighter, making them skip the ball across the court a lot of times, and picking it up if they try to hit the roll man or penetrate, making them have to work a little more in the halfcourt and prevent second-chance points.”

McCollum could have easily been an All-Star — the fifth-year guard out of Lehigh University is averaging 21.7 points per game and shooting 42.1 percent from three — but instead was in Los Angeles for the weekend with Verizon Up, the company’s reward program for its mobile customers available through the My Verizon app (of which McCollum said he’s a member). The program offers the chance to redeem points for a lot of experiences, such as being close to Justin Timberlake for a concert. At All-Star weekend members could get premium access to all of the weekend’s events, including the Verizon Up Member’s Lounge – a space to relax, eat and drink, and meet NBA players.

NBA players were looking to relax last weekend, too. McCollum said at this point in the season players (and coaches, and referees, basically everyone) needs the mental and physical break of a few days off. Portland returns to action tonight (Friday) against red-hot Utah, and the Blazers could use the win — they are the current seven seed in the West, but just 1.5 games up on missing the playoffs completely (and just two games up on the Jazz). On the other hand, Portland is just 2.5 games out of the three seed in the bunched up West.

“We go into every game thinking it’s crucial, every game we got to perform, you got to not lose at home, you got to not lose to teams under .500,” McCollum said of the team down the stretch run. “One bad week could have you at 10th, 11th place, one good week could have you at four or five.

“There comes a time (late in the season) when there’s a drop-off. Some teams are going to be a little more inconsistent down the stretch, but you just got to rise above.”

Portland leans on Lillard and McCollum not to let the team be inconsistent down the stretch. Those two have evolved into one of the most dangerous backcourts in the NBA.

“We do a good job of balancing each other out, of figuring out when to attack and when to pass off to the next guy,” McCollum said of him and Lillard. “I think it just comes with continuing to develop a relationship off the court where you have more trust, where you figure out how to communicate more effectively.

“A lot of it is non-verbal stuff on the court because it’s too loud and you can’t hear, or you just notice something and you look to see if he noticed it too then you just kind of play off of that.  A lot of times you learn on the fly. You get in a situation, you see certain things, and five games later it might be the same thing happening again and you kind of look like ‘you remember this?’ And you just kind of figure it out.”

Other team’s game plan against Portland is generally clear — get the ball out of Lillard and McCollum’s hands. Don’t let them get hot and beat us. Just good luck pulling that off, it’s not easy. Also, the improved play of Shabazz Napier has helped, giving Portland another shot creator off the bench.

“He’s been great, really shooting the ball well from the field, a good plus/minus… it helps when you have other guys out there who can handle the ball and create,” McCollum said.

But in the end, Portland’s playoff dreams will rise and fall with McCollum and Lillard, and that improved defense. McCollum and Lillard will get buckets. Will the Blazers get stops?

That’s where the offseason work, the continuity, and the experience all need to come together for Portland.

“(The improved defense) comes with experience, playing in big games, playing in certain environments where you get a better understanding of the play calling,” McCollum said. “We’ve played the Warriors like 16 times the last two years, so you start to understand certain tendencies (the Trail Blazers beat the Warriors just before the All-Star break). You know what guys like to do, certain plays they do out of timeouts, and just different options throughout the game, and as you play in the league more you play against certain players more and you get to figure out their tendencies and what they like to do in certain situations.”

Stephen Curry, Danilo Gallinari trade halfcourt buzzer-beaters (video)

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Warriors star Stephen Curry drained a halfcourt shot to end the first quarter. Not to be outdone, Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari hit a halfcourt shot to end the second quarter.

I’m just marveling how much less of a heave Curry’s shot was, even if it was slightly closer. His range is incredible.

Golden State won, 134-127, behind 44 points from Curry.

Report: Markelle Fultz, Kyle Kuzma among NBA players who received agency money while in school

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Details are emerging in the FBI’s probe into college basketball – specifically how former NBA agent Andy Miller distributed money (through college coaches) to players, i.e., potential clients.

Pat Forde and Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports:

An ASM balance sheet in the hands of federal investigators shows accounts through Dec. 31, 2015, with the subheading, “Loan to Players.” It listed several who were in high school or college as receiving four-figure and five-figure payments from ASM Sports. Among the largest listed loans:

  • Dennis Smith, who would go on to play at North Carolina State in 2016-17, received $43,500 according to the documents. Another document headed “Pina,” for ASM agent Stephen Pina, says Smith received a total of $73,500 in loans, and includes notes about “options to recoup the money” when Smith did not sign with ASM.
  • Isaiah Whitehead, at the time a freshman at Seton Hall, received $26,136 according to the documents. The “Pina” document says Whitehead received $37,657 and was “setting up payment plan.” Whitehead signed with ASM but later left the agency for Roc Nation.
  • Tim Quarterman, at the time a junior at LSU, received at least $16,000 according to the balance sheet.
  • Diamond Stone, at the time a freshman at Maryland, received $14,303 according to the documents.
  • A listing that refers to “BAM” for $12,000 is later identified in the documents as Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, who would go on to play at Kentucky in 2016-17. He did not sign with ASM. There’s a later reference to Adebayo that says he received $36,500. “Bad loan,” reads the document.
  • Markelle Fultz, who would go on to play at Washington and become the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, received $10,000 according to the documents. He did not sign with ASM.

Former Utah star Kyle Kuzma received at least $9,500 while in school, according to the documents.

Former Wichita State player Fred VanVleet. Documents show he received at least $1,000.

Apples Jones, the mother of former Kansas player Josh Jackson, received $2,700 according to documents.

Images attached to the article also show more NBA players, dating quite far back.

My simple reaction: Good for these players. They have a marketable skill, and they deserved to be compensated by the open market for it. It’s a shame the NCAA’s cartel system prevented that.

As Kevin Pelton of ESPN put so well: