Danny Granger does shooting drills, targets early February return

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While Danny Granger has been sidelined with a knee injury all season, the Indiana Pacers have been forced to find a new identity (or at least clarify the one they have). They’ve evolved into the best defensive team in the league and they have found enough points most nights — Paul George has taken a step forward as the offensive catalyst while David West has played well.

Indiana has evolved into a better team, one that should be able to almost seamlessly slide Granger back into the fold, improve the offense and suddenly look like the second best team in the East.

When does that happen? There were some good signs this week, tweets Mike Wells of the Indy Star.

At 24-16 the Pacers have the third best record in the East. That despite scoring just 98 points per 100 possessions, 29th in the NBA. Think about that for a second — the second worst offense in the Association and their defense has them 8 games over .500.

They could use the guy that gave them 18.7 points a game last season and was their leading scorer in the playoffs. Granger gives the Pacers a guy who can create his own shot on the perimeter and that will be huge. He gives them an option late in the clock when nothing seems to be working to get a better look — plus he will draw defenders and create improved looks for others.

If the Pacers offense comes up to just the league average, that would give them 4 more points per 100 possessions. Their point differential — points scored vs. points allowed per 100 possessions — would jump to fifth best in the NBA, better than everyone in the East save Miami.

They have the length and the defensive discipline to give Miami as much trouble in the playoffs as anyone in the East, if they can just get their offense clicking. Maybe starting in early February.

Did Lakers help keep LeBron James in Cleveland with trade?

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When the trade went down between the Lakers and Cavaliers before the deadline — sending Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland in exchange for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye plus Cleveland’s 2018 first-round draft pick (top-five protected) — it caught the NBA by surprise.

The first reaction for a lot of people to the deal? This opens up as much as $70 million in cap space for the Lakers this summer (depending on other moves with players such as Julius Randle). Los Angeles could sign two max players — LeBron James and Paul George. Why would Cleveland help Los Angeles open up room to steal LeBron.

The Cavaliers didn’t see it that way — they knew they had to make a major shakeup or LeBron was gone. At that point, does it matter where? So in a series of moves, Cleveland GM Koby Altman radically remade the roster around LeBron. The goal was to energize them back into being the team to beat in the East, and from there make it hard for him to leave as a free agent. Since the trades, the Cavaliers are 2-0 and LeBron has clearly been reinvigorated, plus they will add Kevin Love back in a few weeks.

Altman’s plan seems to be working, one executive told Mark Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays in Cleveland now,” one high-ranking Eastern Conference team executive said. “The Cavaliers put a really good team around him. The Cavaliers have made it really tough for him to decide to leave Cleveland again. The Lakers might have helped them keep LeBron.”

I had heard from sources for a while LeBron to the Lakers was not likely (Paul George is another story, that door remains open). As Spears notes, the Lakers did not have an All-Star in Sunday’s game. Even if LeBron and PG13 went to Los Angeles, that team was third or fourth best in the West next season. LeBron is in full on legacy mode and wants to win rings. Los Angeles is not the place to do it.

Houston is interesting (and it’s still a team I hear some execs think has a real shot), but the gutting or role players on that roster to make it work would be a concern. Maybe a dark horse such as Philadelphia can emerge. However, if LeBron can lead this newly-energized Cavaliers team to the Finals again (his eighth consecutive trip there), they get a high draft pick with the Brooklyn pick, then LeBron gets a commitment from Altman and owner Dan Gilbert to keep spending and being aggressive, where is he going to be closer to a title than at home?

Lou Williams trolls Jimmy Butler for resting during All-Star Game

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Jimmy Butler was in Los Angeles and enjoying his well-earned All-Star slot on Team Stephen.

Well, except for the actual playing basketball part. Butler did not set foot on the court during the All-Star Game at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

Lou Williams, the Clippers’ guard who likely would have been near the front of the line for an open All-Star roster spot in the West (likely second in the queue behind Chris Paul), but instead took part in the Saturday Skills Competition then had Sunday off, trolled Butler for it on Twitter.

This seems more good natured than genuinely bitter.

Williams will roll with it, but his point’s a valid one — if you’re an All-Star, at least play a little and give the people what they want. Get out there for five minutes or whatever. LaMarcus Aldridge only played four minutes, no big deal.

If you’re not going to use the roster spot, give it up to someone who will.

Report: Raptors won’t sign Vince Carter if he gets bought out

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Of returning to the Raptors, Vince Carter said, “It’ll happen one day.” It sounds as if the Kings would buy him out if he wants.

Will he end the season with Toronto?

Josh Lewenberg of TSN 1050:

After speaking with a few team sources, I can confirm that they’ve had internal dialogue and debate about the idea of bringing Vince Carter back. It’s something that they wanted to do over the summer. That’s why they made him an offer, something that I’ve reported in the past. And it’s also something that they’d be open to in the future, perhaps next year in some capacity. But they’ve decided now is not the right time. And I think the consensus seems to be there’s so much going on right now, and they want this season to be about this team, their accomplishments and their playoff push and not the sideshow that I think would come with a Vince Carter return.

The Raptors (41-16) are on pace for their best record ever. They’re excelling offensively and defensively. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are spearheading a more dynamic offense that spurs hope for more playoff success.

Toronto is probably correct to save the Carter reunion for another year – though it depends who else is available. That 15th roster spot could be useful. If Carter is the best player who’d sign, the Raptors should sign him and deal with the hoopla.

But it’s not clear whom they could get or whether they could even get Carter. He hasn’t sounded like someone who’d forgo guaranteed salary to play for the minimum.

Tiago Splitter announces retirement

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Tiago Splitter was so effective in his role for the Spurs during their playoff run to the 2014 title – 19.1 PER, .239 win shares per 48 minutes, +7.5 box plus-minus. It gets forgotten, because he twice lost his starting job that postseason.

Limited by a late start in the NBA and injuries, Splitter’s prime was short and ill-timed. He was a traditional center just as those were going out of style.

But for moments in the right matchups, he provided a major boost to a championship team. That was the peak of a seven-year NBA career.

HoopsHype:

Tiago Splitter announced his retirement at the age of 33 in an interview with SporTV.

Splitter just couldn’t get healthy. He missed 150 games over the last three years with the Spurs, Hawks and 76ers.

Drafted No. 28 in 2007, Splitter remained overseas for a few years and built hype and intrigue. He signed with San Antonio and started alongside Tim Duncan for a couple years. The Spurs later dumped him on Atlanta to clear space for LaMarcus Aldridge – a sign of Splitter’s success. He earned about $47 million in his NBA career.