The Extra Pass Weekend Roundup: Seven storylines from Week 1 and Sunday recaps

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One week down, 23 more to go. Let’s look at some of the emerging storylines from the first week of the season.

A Sneaky MVP Candidate Emerges

There’s a real struggle to discern what’s real and what isn’t in the early part of the season, and the standings are almost a totem of sorts. If Philadelphia is on top of the Eastern Conference, we probably shouldn’t put too much stock into anything at all.

That being said, it’s still pretty hard to ignore what Kevin Love is doing right now. Through three games, Love has averaged 29.7 points, 14.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 50 percent shooting and an absurd 13 free throw attempts per game.
Small sample size? Sure. But don’t assume Love can’t keep this up. Back in the 2011-12 season, Love averaged 26 and 13 with a significantly worse supporting cast (Michael Beasley!) that didn’t do him many favors.

Now with a better understanding of the nuances of Adelman’s corner system and the benefits of a refined chemistry with Ricky Rubio, Love is finding more breathing room to operate in what has to be the league’s most aesthetically pleasing offense.

Love is looking like prime Chris Webber with range out to the three-point line right now, basically. Webber never finished above fourth in the MVP voting during his dominant run in Sacramento, but don’t underestimate voter boredom. If he can finally stay healthy for a full season, and if Minnesota is as impressive as predictive systems like Kevin Pelton’s SCHOENE has them pegged to be, Love could end up being in the running for an MVP at the end of the year. He was born to play in this offense.

Do we trust Philadelphia?

No. Nope. No.

That doesn’t mean they still won’t be fun, though. Philadelphia’s young guards have done a phenomenal job racing the ball up the floor and as a result, Philly is playing at the league’s fastest pace so far this season.

It’s working right now, but teams are going to start to figure it out. By forfeiting the offensive glass and getting back on defense, opponents will soon force Philadelphia to execute in the halfcourt. From there, it may get a little ugly.

Still, I appreciate the freedom rookie coach Brett Brown has given his players offensively, and the plan from down on high of Sam Presti to boost his players’ individual stats as much as humanly possible to make them more attractive trade piece. It’s working for now, but this offense will stall and sputter sooner rather than later.

Lance Stephenson: Everywhere At Once

Lance Stephenson is quietly one of the most enjoyable players in the league.

It’s fun to imitate Friday Night Lights coaching legend Eric Taylor and say “Lance” with a southern drawl whenever he gets the ball, it’s fun to watch him fly in for crazy offensive rebounds, and it’s super mega extra fun to watch Stephenson streak up the court in what he thinks are “transition opportunities”, which is actually just anytime he gets the ball.

The fun may be over soon, though, as the Pacers are going to have a really hard time keeping Stephenson next year as an unrestricted free agent if they don’t want to dip into the luxury tax (and they don’t). If Eric Bledsoe (who will earn plenty of pub in this space) gets anywhere near a max offer, what kind of deal is Stephenson going to command next year? Small market problems lie ahead, but let’s just enjoy the ride for now.

Anthony Bennett’s Lackluster Start

Can you remember a less anticipated debut for a first pick than Anthony Bennett’s? It was barely on the radar at all, and Bennett did very little to dissuade viewers from tuning out with his performance.

Three games into his rookie campaign, and Bennett still hasn’t made a field goal. In 40 minutes, Bennett has gone 0-for-12 from the field and has a PER of -2.9.

Whether it’s due to his asthma issues or injuries during the offseason, Bennett still looks woefully out of shape, and in some corners of the internet he’s starting to be referred to as a “stretch-marks 4” which is, ya know, a little mean and worrisome all at the same time.

It’s still extremely early, but Bennett could end up being Cavs GM Chris Grant’s waterloo. It was a shaky pick at the time, and
it’s not looking any better right now.

The new Chris Paul

Speaking of small stubborn generals, Chris Paul looks like a completely different player under Doc Rivers in the early going.
Paul typically likes to play extremely slow and really grind out possessions, as evidenced by the pace of those old New Orleans teams and the Clippers’ starters the last few years.

This year, however, the Clippers are flying up and down the court and getting shots early in the clock, which may have a lot to do with Clippers assistant Alvin Gentry as well.

Whoever or whatever the reason is, it’s working brilliantly so far. The Clippers are scoring 115.2 points per 100 possessions, and Paul’s usage rate is up to 27.9 percent compared to his career percentage of 23.8. Many coaches have pined for Paul to be more aggressive looking for his own shot, but Rivers and Gentry may have finally reached him. He’s in fourth quarter mode for all four quarters right now, and that’s a scary proposition for opposing teams.

Paul will need to preserve his energy and turn this thing into a marathon instead of a sprint, but keep an eye on the Clippers’ pace this season. It seems like this is a style of play they’re embracing.

You’re On Notice: Larry Drew

I can’t imagine Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond is all that pleased with head coach Larry Drew right now.

After the Bucks locked up Larry Sanders as a franchise building block, Drew has played Sanders only 17 minutes a night through Milwaukee’s first three games. Zaza Pachulia, a familiar face from Drew’s time in Atlanta, has played 26 minutes a night.

That’s not all. Gary Neal is also playing more minutes (27) than Ersan Ilyasova (22), and Krhis Middleton is playing nearly as much as John Henson. There’s riding the hot hand, and then there’s sitting all your best young players and potential trade assets. If this keeps up, there’s going to be some fireworks in Milwaukee real soon.

Fantasy Pickup of the Week: Francisco Garcia

I’m incredibly bullish on Garcia, who has always been a good 3 and D guy stuck on teams who couldn’t utilize it properly.

After shooting 13-for-23 in preseason from the behind arc, Garcia has gone 10-for-20 from deep in Houston’s first three games. Three-point shooting is his defined role, so if you need threes with a few blocks and steals smattered in, he’s your man.

Houston is also on a four-game week, and three of those games should be shootouts (Clippers twice, Lakers once). Garcia is available in 98.2 percent of ESPN.com leagues right now. Go get him.

For more fantasy advice and news, make sure you check out Rotoworld.com.
—D.J. Foster

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Pistons 87, Celtics 77: Brandon Jennings made his season debut for the Pistons, and contributed 14 points, four assists, and four steals in 31 minutes off the bench. But it was Detroit’s front line that did the damage, with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond combining for 45 points (on 50 percent shooting), 39 rebounds and five blocked shots. Boston threatened late and was within two points with under two minutes remaining, but a critical turnover by Avery Bradley with about a minute and a half left ended their chances. Rookie Kelly Olynyk was a bright spot for Boston, and finished with a team-high 15 points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench.

Heat 103, Wizards 93: LeBron James wasn’t about to let Miami fall to 1-3 on the season, especially playing at home against the lowly Wizards. James got things started with 14 first quarter points (which included knocking down three from three-point distance), and the Heat lead reached as many as 23 points before the game was finished. John Wall returned to action after being he;d out of practice over the weekend due to back spasms, but finished just 4-12 from the field for 11 points and nine assists, to go along with five turnovers. Nene remained sidelined with a calf issue, and is scheduled for an MRI on Monday to see what the extent of the issue is.

Magic 107, Nets 86: Orlando spoiled Jason Kidd’s head coaching debut, thanks to a balanced all-around effort that saw six players finish in double figures scoring. Brooklyn, meanwhile, got subpar performances from Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett, and didn’t get much help from its bench. The Nets need Williams to play like the All-Star he’s capable of being to both score and get others involved, and when he struggles, the Nets will too. Victor Oladipo was big for the Magic, and had a couple of dazzling highlights on the way to 19 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals in just 21 minutes off the bench.

Thunder 103, Suns 96: Russell Westbrook returned to action for the first time since suffering a knee injury that ended his season in last year’s playoffs. He looked as speedy and explosive as ever, if a bit rusty in terms of his in-game decisions. He finished with 21 points on 5-16 shooting, to go along with four rebounds and seven assists in 33 minutes of action. On the Suns side, Goran Dragic was limited to just 20 minutes due to aggravating a sprained ankle he had suffered previously. But Eric Bledsoe continued his strong start to the season and finished with 26 points and 14 assists (along with eight turnovers) which kept Phoenix in it until the game’s final minutes.

Timberwolves 109, Knicks 100: A 40-19 first quarter lead taken by Minnesota put the Knicks into a hole they were never able to crawl out of, and the Timberwolves moved to 3-0 on the young season. Kevin Love continued his early season dominance for the Timberwolves with 34 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, and Kevin Martin added 30 points of his own on just 12 shots.

Lakers 105, Hawks 103: This was a game where the Lakers had a favorable matchup against a team that would allow them to play fast and loose offensively, so L.A. got the desired result. It didn’t come easy, however, as the Lakers gave back all of a first-half 21-point lead before hanging on late (thanks to a couple of free throws from Pau Gasol) for the victory. Xavier Henry got the start in place of Nick Young, and the move seemed to benefit both players. Henry finished with 18 points in 26 minutes, and Young had his best game as a Laker, contributing 13 points on 5-9 shooting, to go along with four rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes off the bench. Young is now apparently gunning for the Sixth Man of the Year award, which obviously is awesome.

Fergie says she “tried my best” after national anthem blowback

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fergie is apologizing after trying something different with the national anthem at the NBA All-Star Game.

“I’ve always been honored and proud to perform the national anthem and last night I wanted to try something special for the NBA,” the Grammy-winning singer said in a statement Monday. “I’m a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn’t strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best.”

Fergie’s slow, bluesy rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Sunday night wasn’t particularly well received at Staples Center or on social media before the 67th edition of the NBA’s annual showcase.

A low chuckle rumbled through the sold-out arena after she finished the first line of the song with a throaty growl on “the dawn’s early light.”

Fans throughout the star-studded crowd reacted with varying levels of bemusement and enthusiasm while her languid, 2 +-minute version of the song continued. Although Fergie was on pitch, her tempo, musical accompaniment and sexy delivery were not exactly typical for a sporting event or a patriotic song.

Golden State All-Star Draymond Green captured Sunday’s mood – and became an instant GIF – when he was shown open-mouthed on the scoreboard and the television broadcast in apparent confusion over the unique vocal stylings. Green then chuckled to himself after realizing he was on TV.

After a forceful finish, Fergie finally got big cheers when she shouted, “Let’s play some basketball!”

The Black Eyed Peas singer, born Stacy Ann Ferguson, is from nearby Hacienda Heights, California.

Famed basketball commentator Charles Barkley joked that he “needed a cigarette” after Fergie’s performance during the TNT halftime show.

Former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal leaped to Fergie’s defense, saying: “Fergie, I love you. It was different. It was sexy. I liked it. Leave her alone.”

Others on social media weren’t as kind, with criticism of the performance outpacing the positive reviews.

 

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.