Author: Kurt Helin

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Lakers

PBT Extra preview: Lakers, Celtics big name teams headed to lottery


While the talk of the lottery is often the tanking in Philadelphia, there are some traditional, power franchises in the NBA headed there this season. That is what Jenna Corrado and I discuss in the latest edition of PBT Extra.

Kobe Bryant is still going to put up numbers (not efficient ones, but numbers) however the Lakers terrible defense this season will keep them out of the playoffs and throw them in the lottery.

Is Rajon Rondo long for Boston?

And Minnesota is going to be a lot of fun to watch this season, but they are not going to be good.

Could lottery reform be bad for small market teams? Sam Presti argues yes.

Grant Gilbert

The NBA league office loves to point out that the final four teams standing in the NBA last season were smaller markets — San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Indiana and Miami (remember Miami is the nation’s 16th largest television market, behind places like Minneapolis and Phoenix).

Notice how those teams got their stars: The Spurs drafted Tim Duncan and Tony Parker; the Thunder drafted Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook; the Pacers drafted Paul George and Roy Hibbert; and while the Heat got LeBron James via free agency he’s not coming there (and Miami doesn’t win its 2006 title) if the franchise doesn’t draft Dwyane Wade.

Which brings up an interesting discussion going on in NBA front offices right now: Does changing the lottery odds to punish tanking teams such as the Sixers — a reform expected to be voted in on Wednesday — hurt small market teams?

Behind closed doors Thunder GM Sam Presti is making exactly that case, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Presti declined comment to Yahoo Sports, but his case, laid out to others, is this: The big-market teams badly want this change because it’ll give them one more advantage over small markets in securing top talent. Big-market teams have an advantage signing superstar free agents, an advantage trading for them because those players are far more apt to agree to sign a contract extension. And, now, the big market teams will get better access to top players higher in the draft.

As one GM sympathetic to Presti’s concerns – and employed by an owner who has decided to vote for the new system – told Yahoo: “Everyone is too focused on Philly, on one team in one situation. The only chance for a lot of teams to ever get a transformational player is through the draft, and eventually we are all going to be in the lottery, in that spot. The teams that’ll drop from two to eight, or three to nine – that’s just going to take the air out of those fan bases and franchises. They’ll get little, if any chance, to improve.

“We are going to see more big-market teams who just missed the playoffs jump up and get a great young player at the top of the draft. And people are going to go “What the [expletive] just happened?”

Presti is the success story of making a team bad to get good. He took over a struggling Sonics team and with top four picks in consecutive years got Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. There was certainly good scouting and some luck involved, but Presti played the system and as Seattle moved to Oklahoma City they had a powerhouse.

What Philadelphia did is model that, but take it to the next level — if you’re going to be bad, be very bad. For years. That has led to discussions of tanking in the media and among fans, and with that frustrations among owners at the system. But is throwing out the system really going to solve the problem?

Under the current system, if you have the worst record you have a 25 percent chance at the top pick and can’t fall lower than fourth, and if you are the second or third worst your odds are significantly higher than others down the board. In the new, likely to be approved draft lottery system the four teams with the worst records all have a 12 percent chance at the first pick, fifth is at 11.5 percent, then six at 10 percent, and teams farther down the board have better odds. The team with the worst record could fall to seventh. What that is designed to do is encourage teams not to be Philadelphia bad because you don’t gain any real advantage.

However, the flip side of that is some team that is not that bad (and maybe from a bigger market) can fly up the board more easily.

The nature of basketball as a sport is that if you have the best player you are far more likely win. This is true at every level.

In the NBA, if you don’t have at least one, maybe two of the 10 (give or take) true elite players in the league at the time you are not winning a title. History shows it. The Spurs have Duncan and Parker. The Heat had LeBron James. The Lakers had Kobe Bryant (and before him Magic Johnson and his super team). The Celtics had Kevin Garnett (and before him Larry Bird’s super team). The Bulls had Michael Jordan.

A market like Milwaukee (reportedly now against the reform, with OKC and Philly) or Minnesota or Oklahoma City or Orlando or a number of others are not going to get one of those star players to come there as a free agent. Well, unless they already have one in house. One they drafted. Does LeBron return to Cleveland without Kyrie Irving having been drafted there?

NBA owners can be very short sighted, thinking about how any move impacts them now not down the line — particularly true with franchise values way up like they are now, so the owners know if they cash out they are going to make a boatload of profit. The flood of cash from the new television deal makes that even more true — why worry about the long term if you don’t plan to be in for it?

With that, lottery reform will pass. Easily.

Then watch after the draft lottery next year when a team like the Lakers, Celtics or Knicks jumps way up the board so they can draft a young star and some smaller market owners cry it’s unfair (or rigged).

Kevin Durant on return: “I’m not going to rush it all”

2014 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day

Kevin Durant literally rolled up to his press conference Tuesday morning to talk about his foot surgery — he was in a scooter.

“I feel like Nick Saban, just rolling around on my scooter court to court,” Durant said of his role with the Thunder right now during the press conference broadcast on NBA TV.

That’s all he can do. The reigning MVP, the best pure scorer in the game and the heart of the title contending Oklahoma City Thunder had surgery on the Jones fracture — a fracture of the fifth metatarsal above the little toe on the outside on his left foot — and officially he is going to be re-evaluated in six weeks (around Thanksgiving).

The reality talking to people who have had that surgery is it takes longer than that to get back, especially getting back to game shape. Combine that with the Thunder’s organizational desire to not push their stars to return too quickly (remember Russell Westbrook’s knee surgery recoveries) and you have to think it could be closer to Christmas before Durant returns. He’s down with that. Here was his response when asked if he could come back sooner.

“Nah, I’m not going to rush it all. That’s one thing I’m not going to do,” Durant said.

There was no new information or updated timetables from the press conference (the NBA requires players out for an extended period to meet with the media at least once, this was Durant fulfilling that obligation). Durant was Durant and isn’t the guy to say anything inflammatory in this setting.

Most of the talk of the presser was about how the Thunder will do without Durant. He will miss at least the first 16 games of the regular season, likely more than that. The Thunder are certainly still a good team, a playoff team without Durant but the question is how many additional games do they drop and how does that impact their seeding come playoff time.

The attention will focus on Russell Westbrook, the All-Star point guard for the Thunder, who will have the ball in his hands and is who he is because he is an aggressive playmaker.

“Just stay who you are,” Durant said he told Westbrook. “You don’t have to change what you do.”

Durant echoed what a lot of people around the Thunder have said — this can become an advantage down the line. If teammates are given chances they normally don’t get and step up, if the team comes together, it will be that much better when Durant does return.

“It’s a win-win, I’m learning a lot while I’m out and my teammates are getting opportunities,” Durant said.

We’ll see how he feels about it come December. But for now Durant is saying all the right things. As per usual.

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 preview: Dallas Mavericks

'Nowitzki. Der Perfekte Wurf' Premiere In Cologne

Last season: Dallas was one of the surprise teams in the league last year. A lot of people (myself included) questioned how Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki would pair, particularly with Jose Calderon at the point. Turns out very well — Ellis and Nowitzki made a killer pick-and-pop tandem. And the Mavs could shoot — as a team they hit 38.4 percent from three (second best in the league behind the Spurs). That led to the third best offense in the league pushed them to 49 wins and the playoffs (despite a 22nd ranked defense). Once again in the playoffs the Mavs were written off as just a warmup round for the Spurs, but instead Dallas pushed them to seven games, trying to trap and be more aggressive on defense (Spurs players said at the Finals what Dallas did helped prepare them for Miami’s style). Basically all season long Dallas exceeded expectations… except for Mark Cuban’s, of course.

Signature highlight from last season: Dallas came closer than anyone else to knocking off the Spurs in the playoffs, in part because Vince Carter was clutch in Game 3.

Key player changes: Dallas shook up the roster this off-season. I think they got better but there are a lot of changes, which leads to questions. Gone are guys who played key minutes last season: Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Samuel Dalembert and Shane Larkin (Dalembert, Larkin and Calderon were traded to New York).

In their place come Tyson Chandler (from that trade with the Knicks), Chandler Parsons, Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton, also Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson.

Also key, Dirk Nowitzki re-signed for 3 years, $25 million — about the most team-friendly deal of any superstar. That signing cleared the way for the Chandler Parsons free agent signing.

Keys to the Mavericks season:

Can Tyson Chandler lift this defense up to top half of the league at least? Dallas doesn’t win the 2011 NBA title without Tyson Chandler playing elite defense in the paint as a rim protector. Last season the Mavericks had Dalembert in the paint and the 22nd best defense in the NBA. Chandler is going to be expected to clean up a lot of messes and improve that number. The question is can he still — last season he lacked the same quickness and fluidity on defense, but remember he missed the start of the season with a fractured fibula. Is he all the way back now? He also seemed to check out mentally in New York, I’d expect him to be more focused now (he’s fantastic at talking and quarterbacking a defense). Of course, Chandler in the paint can’t be the only defensive improvement, Dallas is going to have to show improved perimeter defense as well. The backcourt of Jameer Nelson and Monta Ellis are not exactly stoppers, but Parsons will help, he’s solid out on the wing. Dallas doesn’t need to be the 2004 Pistons, but they need to at least be in the top half of the league and more ideally the top 10 to really reach their goals. They have a lot of work to do on that end of the court.

Can Chandler Parsons be worth everything he just got paid? It’s easy to see on paper how Parsons can thrive offensively in Dallas — he stays on the weak side while the Ellis/Nowitzki pick-and-roll happens on the other side of the floor. Parsons can cut to the basket, get a pass and finish at the rim or he can space the floor where he is dangerous both on the catch-and-shoot and off the bounce. At age 25 Parsons has gotten paid like a top option player in the NBA, he has the talent to do it, but now he’s going to have to show it on the court. Nightly.

Who will step up off the bench? Last season the Mavericks had a quality bench — Vince Carter got votes for sixth man of the year, they had DeJuan Blair and others that contributed solid play. This season the bench looks consists of Devin Harris, Doran Lamb, Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson (plus Brandan Wright up front). And Felton, I guess. Dallas should have a strong starting five but they are going to need quality bench production and that means some of those guys are going to have to step up their game.

Why you should watch the Mavericks: The easy answer here is Dirk Nowitzki — the best shooting big man in the history of the game, a guy with one of the iconic shots in the history of the game (that one-legged fade-away). He is worth the price of admission. Frankly, with all the offensive weapons this season the Mavericks are going to be fun. But if you’re a basketball junkie, you should tune in to see the adjustments and plays from coach Rick Carlisle — he’s as good an Xs and Os coach as there is in the league. He constantly puts guys in great positions to take advantage of their skill set.

Prediction: 53-29, and I think they have a real shot at being a little better and getting the four seed and home court in the first round of the playoffs. This is a better Mavericks team than a year ago. Around the Mavs they seem to think they have another contender on their hands (I’m looking at you, Cuban), I don’t see that. But this team is in the second tier in the West and making the second round of the playoffs is a real possibility. However that’s as far as it goes.

Derrick Rose looks like old self, scores 30 on Cavaliers (VIDEO)

Derrick Rose, Marvin Williams

We hadn’t seen that Derrick Rose in Spain with Team USA at the World Cup. Or through the start of the preseason.

But explosive, vintage Derrick Rose showed up on Monday night when the Bulls took on the Cavaliers in an exhibition game (in Columbus at Ohio State). Rose was twisting Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in knots, getting into the lane and knocking down 4-of-5 from three. He finished with 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting on the night. But really you need to watch the video to see the explosive, attacking, finishing at the rim Rose again.

Even LeBron James noticed. So did Cavaliers coach David Blatt, both as reported by Chris Haynes of the Plain Dealer.