Kurt Helin

Steve Clifford

Hornets’ coach blames self for last season’s issues

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Steve Clifford did what any good coach would do — he fell on the sword for his players.

Last season’s Hornets won 10 fewer games than the season before (and missed the playoffs), mostly because of an offense that got 3.5 points worse per 100 possessions. There were a lot of factors that led to the step back: Al Jefferson‘s conditioning, early defensive struggles, Kemba Walker being injured, Josh McRoberts being gone, Mo Williams missing most of the season, and on down the line.

But when talking to the media in Charlotte Tuesday, Clifford took the blame on himself, reports the Charlotte Observer.

“We’ve got to be more ready to start the year. … Last year I did a poor job of getting the team ready for the season. We were bad (initially) on offense and bad on defense.”

The Hornets want to jump back into the playoff picture and made off-season moves more targeted at the short-term rather than the long-term (such as drafting more-ready Frank Kaminski as opposed to taking the massive package of picks Boston offered for the No. 9 slot because Justise Winslow was still on the board). They added players such as Nicolas Batum, Spencer Hawes, and Jeremy Lin to make them better now.

Despite all that, a lot of the Hornets early success will come down to big man Al Jefferson — is he ready to be an offensive focal point and provide a little more on defense than he did to start last season? Clifford thinks so.

“He lost considerable weight. He’s where he should be.”

The challenge for Clifford is molding a roster where about half of the players are new, and get them to play a more balanced offense that is not too Jefferson-centric. Like every coach, what he wants is more ball movement.

“Hopefully more five-man movement and quick decision-making,” Clifford said of his offensive goals 10 days out from training camp. “If we can combine that with a good post game, … (Jefferson) is by far our best offensive player. He’s 10 years of 19 (points) and 10 (rebounds). But we can’t play where every play is to Al.”

The Hornets should be in the playoff mix in the East. Things need to go right for them — Batum needs to step up with a big season, a little better offense from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wouldn’t hurt, their defense needs to be rock solid — but it could well happen.

Walt Frazier says Wilt Chamberlain is GOAT

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It’s a bit of a bar stool argument; there isn’t only one right answer to “who is the greatest basketball player of all time?” It’s a matter of opinion (well, so long as you don’t say Craig Ehlo). The conventional wisdom right now is Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time (Magic Johnson says he is), but if you want to argue for Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Magic, or a few others you’re not out of line.

Former NBA star and now Knicks’ color analyst Walt Frazier was asked about it on Bleacher Report, and he went another direction:

Wilt Chamberlain.

“If I had to pick a guy it would be Wilt Chamberlain, because if you look at his records, it’s hilarious, nobody will approach any of his records. So he would be my guy. Bill Russell would be behind him. A guy who is always overlooked is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the leading scorer in the history of the game. The skyhook is the most lethal weapon the game has ever seen, but when people talk about the greatest player he’s not even in the top five.”

I agree with Fraizer on the last part — Abdul-Jabbar does get shortchanged in this conversation far too much. Six time champ, six time MVP, his numbers stack up with anyone.

I was on a television show in Los Angeles with the Hall of Fame basketball writer Mark Heisler (formerly of the Los Angeles Times, now blogging for Forbes) and he made a good point: For him, the GOAT conversation has to be broken out into big men and guard/wings. He said their roles and what they provide on the court are so different, it’s not fair to compare the contributions of guys such as Kareem and Jordan. He thought they were separate discussions. I think there’s something to that logic. It’s also hard to compare across eras because there didn’t use to be a three-point shot, and how defenses were called (zone, no zone, hand checking on the perimeter) has changed.

Still, you can make a good case for Chamberlain — for his career he averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds, he was physically far ahead of his time. He was the first big man in the NBA who was a real athlete, and he changed the game.

Tony Parker drops 9-in-a-row on Latvia (VIDEO)

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France is loaded with NBA talent — Boris Diaw, Rudy Gobert, Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier — but Tony Parker is the guy that makes it all work.

And he was making it work against Latvia on Tuesday.

He finished with 18 points to lead France to the quarterfinals win — and that included dropping nine in a row at one point, which you can see above. The French win sets up a rematch with Spain — and the winner gets a ticket for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Expect Parker to step up his game.

By the way, for all the talk of LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan in San Antonio, Parker is just as central to making the Spurs offense work as well.

Report: Cole, Pelicans remain at contract standstill

Golden State Warriors v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Three
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Norris Cole maybe played the best basketball of his NBA career after the All-Star break for New Orleans last season. He averaged 9.9 points and 3.2 assists per contest and played good defense. He was solid in the playoffs against Golden State.

He still sits out there, unsigned. He’s a restricted free agent and the Pelicans offered him a $3 million qualifying offer. No other team has stepped up to give Cole a bigger offer, in part because they all assume the Pelicans would just match.

The two sides remain at a standstill, reports John Reid of the Times-Picayune.

But a source close to Cole said talk pretty much remain at a standstill with training camp only two weeks away from starting at The Greenbrier in West Virginia on Sept. 29…

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said they definitely want Cole back for this upcoming season, but he didn’t have an update on negotiations….

It’s all but apparent that Cole believes his value on the open market is worth more than the Pelicans’ $3 million qualifying offer. But at this point, a majority of teams have already used up most of their cap space.

The Pelicans decided to let the market set the price for Cole, but with other teams just assuming they would be matched none made offers. As Reid notes, the Sixers and Lakers had reported interest in Cole but the teams signed Kendall Marshall and Marcello Huertas, respectively, to fill that role.

In the end, Cole may have to play for the qualifying offer, become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and hope that the combination of his play and the glut of money in the market because of the new television deal gets him the contract he wants. Because that one isn’t coming in the next couple weeks.

Rockets unveil three new alternate uniforms

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Houston is going alternative.

Well, not like Austin. More in a “the Rockets are breaking out alternative uniforms” way. The Rockets brought out some of their big stars to unveil the uniforms at an event Tuesday night. Here’s a look.

The first thing I notice — two-thirds of them have sleeves. As I have stated before, the sleeves don’t bother me personally but I know a lot of fans and some players can’t stand the look.

I’m not the best fashion critic, but everyone is doing the black uniforms now, and this one doesn’t pop for me the way the Suns’ new black alternate did. Honestly, if you can live with the sleeves, I like the silver ones Howard is wearing best. Maybe fans will eat up the Clutch City alternates, I’m less inspired.

Let’s be honest, alternate jerseys are there to move product — it gives fans options when buying a jersey. What ultimately matters is what Rockets fans think, and will they vote with their wallets.