Author: Kurt Helin

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers

PBT’s Top 10 Stories of 2014, No. 4: For first time Lakers, Knicks, Celtics all miss playoffs

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In 2014 three of the NBA’s most storied franchises — the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks, with their combined 37 NBA titles — all missed the playoffs.

That was the first time in NBA history that at least one of those three teams was not in the postseason.

If you want to write that off as just a statistical fluke, you could. But you’d be wrong.

This is exactly what the NBA owners wanted.

It’s what they fought for in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

Those three major market teams having to do a slow rebuild and not just being able to reload with free agents was the goal of the league and mid-to-small market owners in the last negotiations. They wanted to flatten out the talent pool, to try and have more parity. Here is NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaking to GQ:

“From a league-office standpoint, the ideal league would be for all thirty teams to compete based on the skill of their management and players, as opposed to one team paying more to get better talent.”

We can debate whether the NBA can really ever have NFL style parity (it can’t) or if not having a super-team is really good for the league (I don’t think it is, personally). But those were the express goals of some owners. Part of this was a direct reaction to LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining Dwyane Wade to form a “super-team” in Miami. This new CBA put in a luxury tax with more severe penalties and limits on spending for teams over the cap and tax lines, steps that would make it hard to put enough quality players around multiple stars, or keep the team together. It ultimately worked in breaking up Miami.

All that made things more difficult for the big markets — they still have advantages, but the CBA and the changing media landscape have diluted them.

There has been a sense among some parts of the fan bases in Los Angeles and New York (less so with Boston) that they can just go out and get free agents like it was 1995. This new CBA makes that harder. Kevin Love is a fantastic example. As he and his agent worked to force his exit from Minnesota, he could have tried to get to (or waited to be a free agent and chosen) the Lakers or the Knicks. He would have been the face of those franchises. Instead he forced his way to Cleveland, a much smaller market where he would be the third most popular player. Why? Because the things Love wants off the court — endorsements, opportunities — come with exposure, and exposure means winning, going deep in the playoffs (and playing next to LeBron). Social media helps democratize the exposure of players as well, somewhat lessening the draw of big markets.

The Lakers, Knicks and Celtics will all turn it around at some point. The process is just going to be more like every other team now — hoarding cap space, acquiring assets, turning those into the players they need, plus getting a little bit of luck. It’s an adjustment.

It’s also what the owners wanted.

And they are going to get it again in 2015 as all three of those franchises will be home again for the postseason.

Andrew Wiggins touches sky on alley-oop (VIDEO)

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins’ athleticism was never in question.

There’s a lot of work to do on the skill and polish side — work he seems to be putting in, he’s improving — but the guy can get up and finish. Here Mo Williams throws a ridiculously high alley-oop pass and Wiggins just goes and gets it.

Utah won the game behind 26 points from Gordon Hayward, and Shabazz Muhammad dropped 30 for the Timberwolves as part of his impressive comeback year. But when Wiggins is on the court you can’t take your eyes off him. And he’s putting up numbers, too. He had 21 on Tuesday night.

PBT’s Tuesday night NBA Winners/Losers: Kobe drops triple double, has Lakers offense clicking

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets

Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while figuring out what happened to the Mayans

source:  Kobe Bryant. The Lakers are evolving. Or, maybe more accurately, Kobe Bryant is evolving this season, is dragging Byron Scott into that light, and the Lakers are better for it. As Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding put so well, at the start of the season the Laker offense was a shrine to Kobe. He was asked to do everything, to do anything he wanted, and he can’t carry a team like that anymore. That offense made the Lakers defendable. But after a few games off to rest, Kobe has come back as a much more of a facilitator, a guy really leading the team and making them more difficult to defend because he trusts his other options — and that has made him a more efficient scorer. That is why the Lakers beat the Nuggets Tuesday night behind 23 points (on 6-of-11 shooting), 11 assists and 10 rebounds from Kobe. Sure, there were nine turnovers from Kobe. Sure, the Lakers are still a wretched defensive team. But when Kobe plays like this and other guys hit shots (Ronnie Price had 18, Carlos Boozer 19) they can win some games. Certainly enough games to make Suns fans happy.

source:  Jodie Meeks and Detroit Pistons. Note to teams playing Detroit — do not leave Jodie Meeks alone at the arc. Do not help off him. In the Pistons’ win over the Magic Tuesday Meeks had 34 points shooting 11-for-16 overall and a ridiculous 9-for-11from three. Thing is he was 9-of-10 on uncontested looks, he’s just too hot a shooter right now to leave open. This is three wins in a row for the Pistons — yes, all since Josh Smith was waived — and it wasn’t all Meeks. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 22 rebounds as he just owned the paint. Oh, and he did this:

source:  Mike Conley. He was simply the best player on the court as the Grizzlies beat the Spurs Tuesday. He owned this game from the start, with 16 points in the first quarter as the Grizzlies built a double-digit lead. Bottom line is that as nice as Corey Joseph and Patty Mills are backup points in the Spurs system, they are not Tony Parker — Conley realized early he could dominate and control this game and he did, finishing with 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. He is the most underrated point guard in the game today.

source:  Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers. When it rains it pours. Consider this a reminder Cavaliers fans that Kevin Love has missed 125 games to injury over the course of his career (much of that for a broken hand and other, unrelated issues) and he was to be expected to miss a few here. Hopefully this back issue is not serious, but it comes at a rough time for the Cavs. There’s plenty of pressure and turmoil around the Cavaliers, there are questions about chemistry and they just need some wins. But it’s hard to get those when LeBron James sits out injured and Love has to leave the game. Kyrie Irving went Uncle Drew (35 points) but it’s not enough. It’s not like the Cavaliers can fall back on their defense to get them through this rough patch.

source:  Atlanta Hawks. We need to put them here because this wasn’t all about the Cavaliers losing — Atlanta won that game. The Hawks are very good and they did this one without Al Horford. Jeff Teague and Paul Milsap were destroying that Cavs defense with the pick-and-roll, Teague had 23 points and Milsap 26. Atlanta has won 16 of 18 and Mike Budenholzer has this team playing like one that is not going to fold in the playoffs (as has been the Hawks history).

source:  Brook Lopez. If you’re showcasing him for a trade — and of the big three the Nets are trying to move he is the most likely to go — this was a good way to do it. Lopez had a big night against the Bulls’ big front line, shooting 6-of-8 inside eight feet of the rim but also hitting 6-of-11 from the midrange. The Nets picked up a nice win to snap the Bulls win streak and Lopez along with Joe Johnson keyed that.

UPDATE: Hornets’ Al Jefferson out at least month with groin strain

Al Jefferson

UPDATE 10:31 pm: The Hornets made the early reports on Al Jefferson official — and said it was worse than coach Steve Clifford was letting on earlier in the day.

Charlotte Hornets center Al Jefferson has been diagnosed with a strain of an adductor muscle in his left groin. Jefferson, who underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) earlier today, is expected to miss a minimum of four weeks.

If the Hornets had plans of making a run to get into the playoff picture in the East, this makes that unlikely. The Hornets run their offense through Jefferson and this puts a big load on Kemba Walker and others.

5:15 pm. Al Jefferson has been the anchor in the middle for the Hornets. Even in this down year for them he is averaging 18 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, with a PER of 19.7 (the kind of numbers that gets you All-Star consideration). His game has taken a step back this season (there are a lot of issues in Charlotte right now), but he’s still the fulcrum of their offense and all they do.

Except they are going to have to do it without him for a while.

Jefferson has a groin strain that will sideline him for some time, reports Rick Bonnell at the Charlotte Observer.

Jefferson left Monday’s home game against the Milwaukee Bucks with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter after aggravating a groin strain. Jefferson did not return to the overtime loss and could not practice Tuesday.

Jefferson is definitely out for Wednesday’s road game against the Houston Rockets. Coach Steve Clifford doesn’t anticipate a quick comeback from Jefferson.

“Í don’t know how long, but it’s going to be more than one or two games,” Clifford said following practice Tuesday. “They’re still trying to figure it out, but this is not one or two days.”

Groin strains can be tricky, players think the injury is healed when it has yet to fully do so and they aggravate it. The Hornets wisely are being cautious.
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With Jefferson out the Hornets will start Bismack Biyombo at the five, but really they will lean heavily on Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson to create shots for everyone.

Rumor: Utah’s Alec Burks could be out a while, maybe the season

Utah Jazz v Sacramento Kings
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LOS ANGELES — When asked Monday night if there was an update on starting guard Alec Burks and his injured shoulder, Jazz head coach Quin Synder was vague.

“Nothing solid. It’s kind of been the same situation for a little while where they’re taking a look at him and just going to make sure everything is perfect, and if he needs more time…” and his answer trailed off.

But that answer may belie for serious concerns, according to a tweet from Marc Stein of ESPN.

Burks started 27 games for the Jazz averaging 13.9 points a game and being a real threat from three (shooting better than 38 percent from beyond the arc). The Jazz are trying to see how he fits with Trey Burke and the promising Dante Exum in the backcourt of the future in Utah. Or, they could use him as a trade asset — the Jazz have acquired a lot of interesting assets in recent years but are approaching the time they need to turn them into something more. Not yet, this team should get a chance to develop, but the time is coming.

But you can’t do much with Burks if he is still out. Hopefully this is not something that serious.