Five things I’m thankful for in the NBA today

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I’m thankful for a lot of things today.

I’m thankful for a job that lets me watch as much basketball as I want. I’m thankful to live in a country where this is possible (and I’m thankful for the people who defend it). I’m thankful for a family that is the best part of my life and is understanding about the crazy hours that can come with my job and passion. I’m thankful for a really good Pad Thai. I’m thankful for all of you readers and commenters who make this site both fun and entertaining.

But this is an NBA blog, so I should be thankful for some NBA things, too. Here are five.

• Watching Chris Paul be a floor general. For me it’s not about the assists, it’s not about the midrange jumpers or the crossovers, it’s the way CP3 orchestrates the offense that is a thing of beauty. He is a maestro. This year Doc Rivers has CP3 making his decisions quicker, earlier in the shot clock rather than just surveying everything, and it has taken Paul’s game and the Clippers’ offense to another offensive level. He’s playing chess when most point guards are playing Hungry Hungry Hippos. It is just a joy to watch as a basketball fan.

• Kevin Love outlet passes to Corey Brewer. This was a masterful pairing by Flip Saunders — take the king of the outlet pass in Love and pair him with the NBA’s leak-out king in Brewer and you end up with some touchdown passes. It’s a threat every game and you anticipate it every time Love comes down and starts scanning up court. A full season of this is just a beautiful thing.

• The NBA twitter community. No pro sport has taken to twitter the way the NBA has — not only are all the best media members (and myself) active on twitter there is fun interaction with a massive fan base. Every night during games it’s like a huge live chat with updates, analysis, jokes and endless commentary. It makes game nights so much more entertaining.

• Watching Anthony Davis blossom into a superstar before our eyes. So often hyped players come into the league with the tag “they just need a couple of years to develop” but they never do. Maybe it’s because the player was overhyped, maybe because they didn’t work hard enough to reach their potential. Anthony Davis is neither of those — he had a good rookie season but one that was almost subtle. He is athletic and long but his game is about being smart on the court. This season he has shown marked improvement in his faceup game, his awareness on defense, and with that has started to come a confidence that he is the Pelican’s best player and can take over games… when his guards remember to get him the ball. Davis is second in the league in PER right now (behind LeBron James) and he is still just scratching the surface of how good he can be. This is going to be a fun ride.

• NBA Summer League. It’s not about getting to spend a week in Las Vegas — my in-laws live in Las Vegas, my entire family including my elementary school age daughters come out for the week. Trust me, if you ever want to suck the fun out of Vegas, marry somebody from there. But what I love is he basketball, raw and flawed though it is, and the sense of this as a convention for all things NBA. The superstars are not there (unless it’s before their rookie year, or they are in street clothes watching), but mostly it’s guys fighting to get noticed and get a spot on the end of an NBA bench. Or, more likely, get noticed by a European scout and get a job getting paid to play the game. It’s a big job interview and it has all pressure that can come with that. Plus everyone is there — GMs, coaches, agents, media (including bloggers), die-hard fans — in a setting where mixing and mingling is part of the course. Put it all together and you have a great experience, if not always great basketball.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.