Kurt Helin

Cam Newton

Cam Newton adds LeBron James tribute to his touchdown celebration

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Cam Newton’s going to score some touchdowns this season for the Carolina Panthers (he had five last season). And when he did he’s always pulled that Superman celebration out, pretending to rip off his suit to expose the “S”.

Now he’s added the LeBron James high knee-hand pump to the celebration as a tribute to LBJ. And LeBron noticed.

Hat tip Mr. Football Lang Whitaker at NBA.com’s Hangtime Blog.

LaMarcus Aldridge says he’s not trying to fill Tim Duncan’s shoes

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers
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There is not going to be another Tim Duncan. Ever. That high-IQ, fundamentally sound game with sustained success throughout his career, the five rings, the two MVPs, the three Finals MVPs, the lifting of one small market franchise up to the summit of the game and keeping it there for 15 years, it’s an incredible legacy.

Nobody understands there is not going to be another Duncan like LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge had his pick of NBA landing spots chose the Spurs, but he wants people to know that stepping into Duncan’s shoes was not in his plans — in part because Duncan is still in those shoes. He talked with Sam Amick of the USA Today about whether he was worried about Duncan’s shadow.

“No, because I’m not trying to be Tim Duncan. I’m not trying to fill his shoes. No one is going to fill his shoes. First of all, he started there and he ended there. I’m not doing that. I didn’t start there. There’s no pressure, because I didn’t start there and I’m not trying to be him. My game is totally different than his.

“I never had any issues with it. I think the media blew it up more, like I’m trying to fill his spot and take his role. I was like, ‘No, I’m trying to be me.’ I feel like me being there with Pop in the system with the guys, I should be ok. That was what I was weighing: Go to Phoenix, be the face and the guy, or go to San Antonio and probably win sooner and be more blended in. That was my issue. And I was like, ‘If y’all want me to come here and average 12 or 13 points, that’s not who I am. I like scoring.’ They were like, ‘No, we want you to play in the system, but you scoring is needed here.’ Once I heard that, I was fine.”

It will be interesting to see how Aldridge’s need for touches and points plays out in the more team-first culture Duncan and Gregg Popovich have built. They do need his scoring, but it’s also about the threat of Aldridge’s scoring that opens up shots for everyone. He has to buy into that team concept for it all to work (and I expect he will).

With that, Aldridge’s scoring may take a slight dip — he will command double teams in the post (and at the elbow, and a lot of other places) and when he passes out of that the Spurs will whip the ball to an open shooter. He’s not just getting a re-post.

What Aldridge brings is an upgrade of Tiago Splitter, a player who can protect the paint and play good defense, and then on the other end scores inside and opens everything up. Aldridge can also pick-and-pop with Tony Parker (and Manu Ginobili). He can knock down midrange fadeaways. There are a lot of options.

And they all work because Aldridge is Aldridge and not Duncan.

 

Hornets make $52 million bet on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with four-year contract extension

Charlotte Hornets v Chicago Bulls
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If all you know of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is his broken jumper, you have not been watching closely enough. First off, Mike Price helped improve that jumper, and he shot 50 percent last season between 10 and 16 feet (that’s not to say the jumper is good, just not painful-to-watch wretched anymore). More than that, MKG brings relentless energy, fantastic defense, and his offense is improving leading to him scoring 10.9 points a game last season. There have been real strides of development, signs of leadership, and he is still just 21 years old.

With all that potential, and in this financial market, the Charlotte Hornets made a good bet on him.

The two sides reached terms on four-year, $52 million contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The agreement will be finalized this week with a news conference to follow, league sources said…. Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, has developed into a cornerstone player for the Hornets at small forward. With the extension, the Hornets and Kidd-Gilchrist will avoid him becoming a restricted free agent next summer.

He is a cornerstone of what they are building— the Hornets were 6-20 when he was out last season injured because they cannot replace what he brings. If you can get a key starter in this market for $13 million a year, that is a good deal in the current NBA economy. Let alone one who is young and on the rise.

Kidd-Gilchrist is the best Hornet defender, drawing the toughest perimeter assignment nightly. Now with him and just-signed Nicolas Batum, Charlotte should be an improved defensive team for Steve Clifford.

But more than that, it’s the constant motor that makes him both fun to watch and a key to Charlotte’s success — when a guy working that hard is on the court, everyone else steps up around him.

This is a bet by the Hornets on MKG’s offense, which is still a liability because of his jumper. That said, with his improved jumper he was more confident last season, more aggressive and attacking (he drew fouls at a good clip). If he keeps taking strides on that end of the court, the Hornets become far more dangerous.

Consider this is a fair deal for both sides. MKG gets some security and a healthy pay raise (starting in 2017, he has one more season on his rookie deal). The Hornets lock up a guy who can be a cornerstone part of what they are building.

 

Blake Griffin says depth will make Clippers better, especially come playoffs

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Two
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Doc Rivers the GM tied the hands of Doc Rivers the coach last season — their lack of depth caught up with the Clippers. Players emptied their tanks into beating the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, then got up 3-1 on the Rockets with a big lead in the second half of Game 5 — then just ran out of gas. Houston played better and played desperate, but the Clippers had energy left to match them.

This summer Doc the GM did well. The Clippers added Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, Pablo Prigioni, Cole Aldrich and others who can take some pressure off a Clipper starting five that played 972 minutes more than any other Clippers lineup last season.

Blake Griffin, for one, is pumped that he will get to sit more. He told Rowan Cavner of the Clippers’ official site why it matters.

“It’ll help a lot,” Griffin said. “My third season in the league when we had that unbelievable bench, I think I dropped to like 32 minutes a game in the regular season…You definitely feel fresher toward the end, but you have to find that right balance of not holding back too much, being able to give everything. Having an elite bench is going to help us tremendously, especially come playoff time.”

Last season Griffin averaged 35.2 minutes a game to lead the Clippers, while (because they didn’t miss much time due to injuries) Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan were both in the top seven in the league in total minutes played. In his third season, Griffin did play “just” 32.5 minutes a night, the lowest in his career.

As Griffin notes, for the Clippers it is all about being right come the playoffs.

Doc Rivers is not afraid to rest players, and now he can do it and still win, still get a high seed. Do that and the Clippers are serious title contenders.

The challenge is there are at least four other teams in the West alone that can make that claim.

Phil Jackson is optimistic about Knicks coming season, except the start

Phil Jackson
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The 2015-16 Knicks will be better than last season’s version.

Which is admittedly a pretty low bar to clear, but there are reasons to be optimistic. Carmelo Anthony should be healthy. The additions of players such as Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo will help now, the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis brings hope for the future.

Just maybe not the start of the season. Phil Jackson is a little concerned about how everything meshes to open the season, he told Charlie Rosen in the last of the Phil Files posts at ESPN.

“We have a number of new players, so they may struggle early as they learn how to play with each other,” he says. “Where we end up as the season progresses is an unknown, but we have improved our roster and have a chance to be a good team.”

Define good. Does Jackson mean good as in better than last season? Then sure. Good as in a playoff team? That’s not an easy road for the Knicks — it would take a 21-game improvement in the win column to reach last season’s eight seed, and the Knicks likely need to do better than that. That said, it’s not impossible. Good as in a .500 team? That would take a 24-game improvement, and while that does happen it is also rare (and usually involves bringing in an elite player). Don’t bet the rent is what I’m saying.

However, Jackson is optimistic, and he lavishes praise on his new players in speaking to Rosen. Look at what he said about Afflalo.

“Some NBA watchers have questioned whether or not Arron has anything left as he nears his 30th birthday, but I’m positive that he does. He has a gym in his Las Vegas home and he works out religiously. Actually, he’s such a hard-worker that he holds his teammates accountable if they try to cut corners in any way. I look for Arron to be a leader on this team. He wanted us and we wanted him, so Arron and the Knicks is a very good match.”

I’ll buy that, I think Afflalo is a bit underrated. Of course, when Jackson heaps praise on the signing of SashaVujacic, you know he’s spinning.

“Except for a 10-day contract with the Clippers in 2014, Sasha hasn’t played in the NBA for four years, but at age 31 he still has plenty of game. He’s a classic streak-shooter who, when he’s zeroed in, can totally change a game in three minutes. He’ll be a significant force for us coming off the bench.”

Vujacic does know the triangle offense. So there’s that. But when a guy’s out of the league through his prime and you bring him back after that… it’s not traditionally a recipe for success.