Amir Johnson; Mirza Teletovic; Alan Anderson

Paul Pierce’s move to power forward adds twist to his career, Brooklyn Nets’ season

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BOSTON – On Paul Pierce’s first defensive possession as the Brooklyn Nets’ full-time starting power forward, Serge Ibaka backed him down on the block. Pierce bodied Ibaka, keeping him out of the paint, and Ibaka threw the ball away.

On the Oklahoma City Thunder’s next possession, Ibaka posted up Pierce again. Pierce hardly yielded an inch as Ibaka settled for a turnaround jumper. Airball.

“He’s always telling us how he can lock everybody up that tries to post him up,” Nets center Mason Plumlee said with a laugh. “He’s done that, pretty much.”

Pierce – the NBA’s shortest and maybe most surprising – starting power forward certainly doesn’t lack the confidence to excel in his new position.

Nor the ability defend post-ups.

He’s held opponents to 35.3 percent shooting and forced a turnover on 25.9 percent of post-up plays finished against him, according to MySynergySports. Overall, he’s allowed .64 points per post-up – 16th best in the entire NBA.

A small forward his entire career, Pierce was always crafty and strong enough to handle players his size. But his ability to routinely defend the post-ups of bigger players, often through sheer physicality, has been impressive.

In every other way, though, Pierce hardly looks the part of a power forward – beginning with his 6-foot-7 frame, shortest among the NBA’s 30 starters at the position. Even in era of small ball, Pierce at power forward adds a little wonkiness on both sides of the court.

But wonkiness seems to be exactly what Pierce, who’s reinventing himself at age 36, and the Nets need.

Brooklyn started the season 10-21, but once Brook Lopez suffered a season-ending foot injury, Jason Kidd turned to small ball and turned his team’s fortunes. Since the change, conveniently timed with the flip of the calendar from 2013 to 2014, the Nets have gone 20-9.

Of teams’ most-used lineups, the Nets’ – Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett – has been the NBA’s second best with a net rating +15.9 (offensive rating: 103.9/defensive rating: 88.1).

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But Brooklyn’s most-used lineup has played fewer minutes (122 all season) than any other team’s most-used, so sample-size caveats apply.

Still, with with Garnett out injured and Plumlee replacing him as a starter, that lineup has been even better (116.8/86.1/+30.7). Though in just 59 minutes sample-size issues are even more relevant, it seems as long as the Nets go small, they can’t help but stumble into a productive lineup.

For Pierce, whose career appeared to be wilting just a few months ago, the results have been nearly as dramatic.

The slippage began to show during the Celtics’ first-round loss to the Knicks last season. In that series, Pierce posted negative win shares, shooting 37 percent from the field and 27 percent on 3s and turning the ball over more than five times per game.

His first couple months with Brooklyn didn’t go much better, as he posted a PER of 13.6 in 2013. That would have been first below-average PER of Pierce’s career. At 36 and on an expiring contract, he appeared nearing retirement.

By moving to power forward, though, Pierce has increased his season PER to 16.1. That would still be a career low, but it’s solidly above average and ranks fifth on a playoff team.

Careers have been extended – or ended – on less.

Despite all his progress as a quirky small-ball four, the position carries dangers. Whenever Brooklyn’s center gets pulled away from the basket, to defend a pick-and-roll or otherwise, Pierce is often left as the last line of defense near the basket.

In the third quarter of Pierce’s re-return to Boston on Friday, Celtics center-of-the-moment Kris Humphries drove past Plumlee on the perimeter. Pierce slide over and took a charge – and a Humphries elbow deep into his right shoulder.

Pierce immediately went to the bench and sat, grabbing his shoulder and wincing.

Even when Pierce succeeds as a backline defender – a difficult assignment for him – he exposes an area of his body that has bothered him for years.

“Whenever I get hit in that shoulder, just I guess the constant years of banging – especially now that I’m playing the four,” Pierce said.

But Pierce – unlike his partner in crime, Garnett, who openly hates shifting to center – seems to be in no hurry to change the small-ball lineups that feature him at power forward.

“That’s our style. It’s no secret. We’re a small team,” Pierce said. “We don’t rebound well. We force turnovers. We shoot 3s.”

Pierce certainly does his part to contribute to those trends.

  • His total-rebounding percentage (10.0) ranks in the bottom five of starting power forwards. Only Shane Battier, Wesley Johnson, Josh McRoberts and Thaddeus Young are lower.
  • Pierce’s steal rate (2.0) is his highest since 2004-05. He excels at jumping in front of passes to power forwards whom other bigs typically couldn’t get around quickly enough.
  • Pierce has taken 39.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, easily a career high. Because he’s tangling for defensive rebounds more and isn’t as exactly as quick as he once was, Pierce, shooting 35.2 percent from beyond the arc, is one of NBA’s more dangerous trailers.

Can Pierce keep this up? Has becoming a power forward saved his career?

“It’s not about being a four,” Kidd said. “He’s a basketball player. So, he’s out there taking advantage of maybe a bigger guy. But his basketball IQ is extremely high, so he knows how to play no matter what position he’s in.”

Grizzlies sign Toney Douglas for remainder of season

Memphis Grizzlies' Toney Douglas (16) defends Brooklyn Nets' Isaiah Whitehead (15) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) The Memphis Grizzlies have signed guard Toney Douglas for the remainder of the season

Douglas, 30, has played 14 games for the Grizzlies this season. The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 5.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 17.2 minutes.

Douglas originally signed with the Grizzlies as a free agent Dec. 5 but was waived Dec. 15. He signed consecutive 10-day contracts with Memphis on Jan. 31 and Feb. 9.

The former first-round draft pick from Florida State has played 384 career regular-season games with the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans and Grizzlies.

Breaking down NBA trade deadline winners, losers: Good week for Pelicans, Raptors

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Drama, there was plenty of that. Rumors? Check. Hype? An overdose of it.

But actual trades, there were not a lot of those at the NBA trade deadline, like most years. And also like most years, there were few real game changers — while a big name or two changed teams, did anyone move into contention? Not sold that happened.

Still, there were winners and losers. And it’s time to break them all down.

Here are my top three winners and losers.

WINNERS:

New Orleans Pelicans. A small market team that fell into one franchise cornerstone star fell into another one Sunday because the Sacramento Kings wanted to move DeMarcus Cousins fast, before the owner changed his mind again, and said team seems to have a difficult-to-explain fascination with Buddy Hield. Now with Cousins and Anthony Davis, the Pelicans have potentially the best frontcourt in the NBA. (I say potentially because we need to see them actually play for a while before making declarations.)

There’s still work to do in New Orleans — re-sign Jrue Holiday this summer, get more shooting, find a wing defender —  but this team is in position to make a playoff push this season, then be much more of a threat next season. The hardest part of assembling a great team is getting the superstars because there is a limited supply. The Pelicans have two of them. Now we see what they do with it, but this is great news for a small market team that can struggle to get attention in football country. People will be watching now.

Toronto Raptors. Heading into the run-up to the trade deadline, their weak spot was the four, plus they needed to get more defense.

Then over the course of a week, the Raptors added Serge Ibaka and on deadline day P.J. Tucker in a fantastic trade. While Boston can sit back with those two Brooklyn picks and say the future is a few years from now, the Raptors can’t — their window is now. Ibaka isn’t the All-Star, borderline Defensive Player of the Year anymore, he doesn’t move like that guy now, but he’s still a huge upgrade over what they had. Tucker is the kind of physical defender Toronto needs in the postseason. I’m not sold the Raptors stand a chance against a healthy Cavaliers team, but their moves may have moved them back up to being the second best team in the East — now they need to make up the two games on the Wizards and move back up to the three seed in the East. They don’t want to be the four seed and get Cleveland in the second round.

Dallas Mavericks. They have been looking for their next Tyson Chandler for a while. They thought they had that and more a couple of years ago before DeAndre Jordan had a change of heart. Now they got their guyNerlens Noel. He could be an anchor for a decade, and the Mavs gave up only Justin Anderson (a potentially nice “3&D” player), Andrew Bogut (who the Sixers will waive), and what was billed as a first-round pick but is top 18 protected this year so it will revert to two second rounders.

There are reasons for concern for Dallas — Noel has a worrying injury history, a limited offensive game (but he stays in his lane), and the fact he’s likely going to get  a contract in the $100 million range this summer — but it was still a smart roll of the dice for Cuban’s team. Noel could be the center of the future, paired with Harrison Barnes for years as they Mavs rebuild in a post-Dirk era.

Honorable mention: Houston Rockets, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel.

LOSERS:

DeMarcus Cousins. There are 30 million reasons Cousins ends up on this side of the list. There may well be positives for him — he got out of dysfunctional Sacramento, he gets to play with a star in Anthony Davis, he can reset the narrative on his career — but he still lost out on $30 million because he will not get the designated player contract. It’s through no fault of his own, and his agent tried to prevent the move, but in the end Cousins lost out on a lot of cash when he got traded.

Sacramento Kings. Like everything with Sacramento, the trade of Cousins just didn’t feel thought out. In the least. It’s not moving on from Cousins that I’m questioning — that is a defendable action both in terms of on-court results and upcoming costs — but the execution of it. Forget that going back as far as couple years ago before the 2015 draft there were much better offers available — the Lakers offered both their first round picks, which became D'Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr., plus other parts — even now there were other teams that wanted in on the bidding and were never called. They were settled on Buddy Heild, who they like more than anyone else in the league, and wanted to move quickly before owner Vivek Ranadive changed his mind again. Maybe the Pelicans’ offer was the best one on the table right now, but better run franchises find ways to get more out of big deals because they don’t feel rushed.

Philadelphia 76ers. GM Bryan Colangelo misread the market on big men, and it hurt the Sixers come the trade deadline. He had the chance to move Jahlil Okafor — the guy the Sixers preferred to move at the deadline — for better offers last summer. Same with Noel. But Colangelo waited too long to make his move, waiting for a better offer (and to see if Noel and Joel Embiid could play together), to the point that he had to trade Noel and get back just a couple of second round picks and a potential 3&D wing who couldn’t get into Rick Carlisle’s rotation in Dallas.

Bottom line, Philly traded their better availble big man for too little, and still have the guy they didn’t want on their roster. That’s not a good day.

Honorable mention: New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers (two teams that stood pat because they couldn’t make the move they needed — which is better than bad move, but not good).

Mike Budenholzer says Ersan Ilyasova will be good fit for Hawks

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 06:  Kelly Olynyk #41 of the Boston Celtics defends Ersan Ilyasova #23 of the Detroit Pistons during the first quarter at TD Garden on January 6, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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ATLANTA (AP) Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer says newly acquired power forward Ersan Ilyasova was targeted as a player he saw as a good fit on Atlanta’s front line.

The 6-foot-10 Ilyasova gives Atlanta a “stretch forward” who can make 3-pointers while playing behind All-Star Paul Millsap.

“To get somebody that we really targeted and wanted, we feel really good about that,” Budenholzer said Thursday.

Budenholzer said matching center Dwight Howard‘s inside game with Ilyasova “who can stretch and hit the 3s, that is a good pairing.”

Ilyasova is expected to join the team before the team plays Miami on Friday night.

Ilyasova was acquired from Philadelphia on Wednesday night. The 76ers obtained injured center Tiago Splitter and a protected second-round draft pick from Atlanta, and have the right to swap another 2017 second-round pick with the Hawks.

Ilyasova, from Eskisehir, Turkey, has averaged 14.8 points while starting in 40 of 53 games this season.

“He’s somebody that for some time all of us in the front office … we all kind of watched and wanted him to be a part of the team,” Budenholzer said. “I think he’s a smart player, a competitive guy. He does a lot of little things. He has an edge to him. Obviously he can shoot.”

The Hawks hope Ilyasova, 29, adds scoring punch as they attempt to improve their playoff position. They are fifth in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind Toronto.

“He can help our team a lot,” Millsap said. “We can help ourselves a lot too. With both of those, I think we can move up to 2. I think we’ve got a chance. We’ve got enough games to do it.”

Hawks guard Kent Bazemore said Ilyasova is “one of the best shooters in the game, I think, as far as playing the stretch 4 position.”

“If there’s one thing this team needs, I think, is a little more shooting and he can bring just that,” Bazemore said.

The Hawks cleared a roster spot before Thursday’s trade deadline by sending forward Mike Scott to the Phoenix Suns for cash.

Scott averaged 7.1 points over five seasons with Atlanta but had seen a diminished role this season. He was averaging a career-low 2.5 points in only 18 games this season and was sent to the NBA Development League on three assignments.

Charles Oakley plans to attend Knicks game in Cleveland

FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2011 photo, then-Charlotte Bobcats assistant coach and former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley directs players in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Charlotte, N.C.  Oakley was forcefully removed from his seats at Madison Square Garden and arrested after an altercation near team owner James Dolan. Oakley shoved security guards before they pulled him away from his seat behind the baseline during the first quarter of the Knicks' 119-115 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, Feb. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Charles Oakley might not be welcome at Knicks games in New York.

Knicks games in Cleveland? I suspect he’ll get a different reception.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

Charles Oakley plans to attend New York’s road game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, the former Knicks player told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

Oakley, a Cleveland native, has grown close with the Cavaliers. LeBron James particularly backed Oakley in his dispute with Knicks owner Jim Dolan.

To be clear, Oakley’s feud is more with Dolan than the Knicks, Oakley’s former team. So, assuming Dolan doesn’t attend tonight’s game, this won’t into the fireworks we saw at the last Knicks game Oakley attended.

It’ll just be a chance for more people outside Dolan’s payroll to embrace Oakley.