Three Stars: We are all witnesses

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What a night. We saw Utah and Toronto battle it out in a triple-overtime slugfest high on theatrics. We saw the Pistons put a scare into the Thunder before collapsing, and the Bulls make things interesting against the Celtics. There were a lot of memorable moments from tonight’s games, but like anyone who has stood in front of the Men in Black flashy forget thingy (that’s real, right?), we’ll probably only remember one part of it. Onward, to the Three Stars of the Night.

Third Star: Rajon Rondo – 20 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds, 5 steals

Rondo ended up one Ricky Davis rebound short of a triple-double — an impressive feat given the circumstances. Although Chicago has probably taken a step backwards defensively, they’re undoubtedly still a team who can really put a damper on your halfcourt stuff. That wasn’t a problem at all for Rondo, who seemed to be an extension of Doc Rivers more than ever out on the floor, following the gameplan perfectly. Rondo got Garnett involved early, pushed the pace when needed, and gashed the Bulls defense with crafty fakes and euro-steps to the tin. Rondo has shouldered a great deal of the blame for Boston’s lackluster offense over the years, but tonight he was the number one scoring option against one of the league’s best defenses, and he came up roses (sorry, Bulls fans).

Second Star: Brandon Jennings – 33 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 turnover

This was just pure speed. When Jennings can establish his 3-point shot as a threat like he did in the first half against the Sixers, there aren’t many guys quick enough to hang with him on a pump-and-go. With that quick first step and left-handed wizardry, Jennings blew by Philly’s guards and finished at the rim against a toothless frontcourt with relative ease. There were questions about how Jennings and Monta Ellis would co-exist going into this year, but Scott Skiles deserves a ton of credit for getting his team to buy in to sharing the ball. Although Jennings and Ellis both jacked up a few quick shots on occasion, they didn’t spend the entire game dribbling the air out of the ball like both were prone to doing in the past. Is Jennings worth the contract coming his way eventually? Probably not, but it’s nights like these that spark the imagination to what he could become. If he ever starts consistently taking good shots (Jennings’ career True Shooting Percentage is 49.3, one of the worst of all starting point guards) he’ll start being a serious problem for opposing teams more consistently than just this.

First Star: LeBron James – 38 Points, 10 Rebounds, 6 assists, 0 turnovers

I distinctly remember playing basketball with my dad when I was younger, and how he’d let me make a few buckets and hang around so I’d gain some confidence before destroying me and restoring order to the universe. And honestly? That’s the same feeling I got watching LeBron James in the second half of this game against the Rockets. LeBron had just 6 points at the break, but erupted for 32 in the second half, never even bothering to turn it over once. LeBron was in total “no-fair” mode tonight, making 3-pointers (5-for-8) and controlling the second half completely. Although Houston had their chance with a wide open 3-point attempt for Jeremy Lin that hit nothing but net (in the bad, little kid in the driveway sense), it just felt like LeBron James was winning this game without a doubt. It’s funny how quickly perception changes when you actually see someone do it on the highest level, and you have to consider that LeBron’s disposition towards the end of games may be a little different now that he’s seen himself do it. I suppose seeing truly is believing, and after watching how easy LeBron made the go-ahead layup, it’s pretty safe to say that we were all witnesses tonight. Again.

Jimmy Butler leaves game with apparently serious right knee injury

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The Basketball Gods have not been appeased, and apparently have dealt the NBA another serious injury to a star player.

Jimmy Butler — Minnesota’s leader, an All-Star, and a guy having a fringe of the MVP ballot NBA season — went down grabbing his knee on this play against the Rockets Friday night.

Butler reportedly said “it’s torn” while being helped off the court.

After the game, Tom Thibodeau said it was a right knee injury that would be re-evaluated with an MRI tomorrow.

This is a non-contact injury that has the appearance of an ACL tear (hope that is not the case). Butler had ripped an offensive rebound away from Nene and was making a move to go back up when he went to the ground grabbing his knee.

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game. He was selected an All-Star but chose to sit out that game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, has a reputation for running players into exhaustion with heavy use (ask Joakim Noah) and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other elite programs trying to keep players fresh.

This is troubling for a Timberwolves team looking to end an 11-year playoff drought — Minnesota is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. While tied for the three seed going into Friday night, Minnesota is just four games from falling out of the playoffs in a competitive West.

Jimmy Butler to Lou Williams on All-Star snub: put up $100K for 1-on-1 game

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Jimmy Butler earned his spot on the All-Star team — he’s had an All-NBA, bottom of the MVP ballot level season. He deserved the trip to Los Angeles.

But when he got there, Butler didn’t play in the All-Star Game itself, saying he needed to rest. That frustrated a few All-Star snubs, and Lou Williams called him out on it.

Butler fired back before the Timberwolves took on the Houston Rockets.

“My thing is this, to Lou or anyone else who thinks they’re an All-Star, with all due respect, LeBron and them got $100,000 for winning, so if you got $100k to put up, you guard me I guard you, I’ gonna show you why. All this talk, put $100,000 up and I’ll show you why and where I’m at.” (That may have been paraphrased)

Butler earned his spot, he deserved to be there. He can do as he sees fit.

But if you’re not going to roll out there for even five minutes (LaMarcus Aldridge played four and nobody is saying anything to him), then give the spot up to someone else. You don’t need the $100K that badly.

Kevin Durant no fan of one-and-done, says he would have come straight to NBA

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With the money funneled to future NBA players through agents in the spotlight thanks to a FBI investigation (one that doesn’t even get into the money from boosters and shoe companies), the one-and-done rule the NBA has for players sending them to college for a semester of cakewalk classes one year has come back in the spotlight.

The league and players’ union are discussing changing the rule — with some input from the NCAA. If they want Kevin Durant‘s advice, scrap the whole thing — he would have come straight to the NBA if he could have.

“You want these players to go out there and play on the biggest stage. The Final Four is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, in sports, and they don’t get a dime for it. I don’t think it’s right

“If they want to come out of high school, it should be on them. You know what I mean? You can’t control everything. So if they feel as though they’re ready, that’s on them. They want to make a decision on their life, that’s on them. If they don’t get drafted, it’s on them. You can try to control it, but you’re still not really doing anything.”

Would Durant have come out from high school rather than spend a season at Texas?

“Yeah, probably. I needed the money.”

The NBA is discussing changes, and they want to see the recommendations from Condoleezza Rice’s NCAA commission. But the league’s owners are not all on the same page.

“In terms of the NBA, we’re conflicted, to be honest…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said All-Star weekend. “And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there? And there is also recognition that for some of these elite players, there is no question that they can perform in the NBA at 18 years old.”

There seems to be some momentum toward a “baseball rule” compromise — players can come to the NBA straight out of high school, but if they go to college they have to stay for at least two years. Unlike the last time high schoolers were rushing into the NBA, most teams are far better prepared to develop young players and be patient with them. There will still be busts — there are even with guys who spent years in college — but teams are in better positions to make it work.

The other thing I would want to see: If a player signs with an agent out of high school, does not get drafted, give him the chance to go to college still. Some young men are going to get terrible advice (from family, AAU coaches, friends, a whole lot of people) and they deserve a chance to choose a better path.

Report: Hawks near buyout with Ersan Ilyasova; Bucks, Raptors interested

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This is about as big a surprise as my wife crying during “This Is Us,” but it sounds like it’s about to go down.

The Hawks and Ersan Ilyasova are close to a buyout, reports Michael Cunningham at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Hawks and forward Ersan Ilyasova tentatively agreed to a buyout of the remainder of his contract, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. Once Ilyasova accepts a buyout and clears waivers, as expected, he will be free to sign with any other team for the rest of the season.

Ilyasova’s contract expires at the end of the season and he is eligible to become a free agent in the summer. Earlier this month, Ilyasova invoked his right to reject the trade offers the Hawks presented to him.

Where might he land on the buyout market?

A lot of teams could use a 6’10” guy who can space the floor as a shooter. Ilyasova signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Hawks this season. He’s averaged 10.9 points per game, shooting 35.9 percent from three this season, and missed some time with a shoulder injury.

Ilyasova is solid as a spot-up guy but is more dangerous as a screen setter where he can pop out and space the floor, or roll and use his size inside. He’s also good at cutting and working off the ball, plus will get a team a few offensive rebounds. He’s not a game changer, but in certain matchups, he could help teams a lot.