Author: Kurt Helin

Mikhail Prokhorov Introductory Press Conference

Nets ownership denies sale of team “imminent,” which is what you expect them to say


It’s the old “where there’s smoke there’s fire” idea.

There were reports last year the Nets were up for sale. There were reports late last summer that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was in some kind of talks with the Guggenheim Group (which owns the Los Angeles Dodgers). For the past year Nets minority owner Bruce Ratner has been looking to sell his 20 percent of the franchise. None of that worked out.

So now there are the latest reports that Prokhorov has put the team up for sale, something first by Bloomberg. Among others Howard Beck of Bleacher Report confirms that news.

However, the Nets owners are trying to throw some water on that fire. Here is what they told Chris Broussard of ESPN.

ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard reported that Nets CEO Brett Yormark, general manager Billy King and executive VP and chief communications officer Barry Baum all denied Bloomberg’s initial report.

“As we have said for many months, ownership is always open to listening to offers — that’s just good business,” a spokesperson for Prokhorov said in a statement. “There is nothing imminent in terms of a sale of any stake in the team.”

Imminent? No. But if you are trying to sell something and get as much money as you can for it — and apparently the stumbles of the Russian economy have hit Prokhorov hard so he could use the cash — then you don’t look eager to sell. That’s what is going on here. Just try to look patient, get together enough interested parties to start a bidding war, and stand back.

This sale is just the team — Prokhorov is not selling his 45 percent stake in the Barclay’s Center itself nor his interest in the surrounding Pacific Park development. This isn’t a real estate deal, this is just the basketball team.

Which, because it’s in New York, will draw some big offers. Like north of $1 billion offers. And watch, there will be a line of people looking to bid.

Report: Denver Nuggets nearing deal to send Nate Robinson back to Boston for Jameer Nelson

Nate Robinson

Nate Robinson played 81 games for the Celtics in 2010 and 2011, having some big playoff moments along side Glen Davis — Shrek and Donkey — and becoming a fan favorite. Which happens everywhere he lands.

It’s just not the same with the coaches, so Robinson lands a lot of places.

Robinson appears to be on the move again, soon heading back to Boston from Denver, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports, with Adrian Wojnarowski adding details..

There has to be a pick going to Boston as well — and Celtics GM Danny Ainge is collecting those — because Jameer Nelson is a better player than Robinson.

The Celtics may buy Robinson out, Sam Amick of the USA Today reports.

Robinson, at age 30 and coming off an ACL injury last year, has struggled this season in Denver. He is playing barely 14 minutes a game and is shooting just 34.9 percent. He was an energetic scorer off the bench but there are questions about if the ACL injury took away the athletic edge he needed. He’s never brought much defense to the table.

Jameer Nelson was a solid pick-and-roll point guard who also is struggling this season. He started the season with the Mavericks but was sent to Boston as part of the Rajon Rondo trade. There he is shooting just 22 percent for Celtics. Denver may feel that a change of scenery will help his play in the short term.

Clearly Denver has decided that they are not making the playoffs out West and it’s time to switch up this roster — Timofey Mozgov is now in Cleveland, Wilson Chandler is getting shopped, and now Robinson is on his way out the door. The Nuggets are going into rebuild mode.

Which is where the Celtics already are, but apparently they’d consider one more go around with Robinson.

Rumor: Kings looking to make minor deal, Ramon Sessions available

Milwaukee Bucks v Sacramento Kings

Ramon Sessions has long been a solid reserve point guard — aggressive coming off the pick-and-roll, he knows how to get to the line and is a solid floor general. However, this year in Sacramento he has taken a step back — he is shooting just 35.3 percent, he’s getting to the line less often, and his PER has dropped to 9.6 (the kind of number that suggests he should be in the D-League).

So the Kings are testing the trade market for Sessions.

That’s the word from Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.

Sessions has missed the last nine games with a back issue (it will be 10 Tuesday night), he’s going to have to prove he is healthy and can still play before any team is going to express interest.

The Clippers have not been in love with the production of Jordan Farmar backing up Chris Paul. The question is would a change of setting be the answer to Session’s woes? Also, Sessions does not bring any defense to the Clippers bench. The Clippers are likely more focused on fixing their issues at the three.

As for the Kings, this kind of move is fine but they clearly have bigger questions to answer. Like who is the coach next season? And what kind of team are they trying to build, anyway?

Kevin Garnett suspended one game, Dwight Howard fined $15,000 for altercation Monday

Houston Rockets v Brooklyn Nets

It was pretty obvious this was coming.

An incident that escalated fast enough to impress Ron Burgundy — which was capped by Kevin Garnett head butting Dwight Howard — has led to the league suspending Garnett one game and fining Howard, the league announced on Tuesday.

Garnett will serve his suspension Wednesday when the Nets face the Grizzlies.

Howard was fined $15,000 for what the league called “pushing Garnett in the neck area.”

Howard and Garnett have a history of little incidents going back to when Howard’s Magic and Garnett’s Celtics were two of the top teams in the East. With Monday night’s incident there were words where after the play when Howard pushed KG away and said “Get the —- off me” and KG responded by throwing the ball. Howard turned and said “What ya gonna do?” and that’s when the head butt comes.

This was the right call by the league in both cases. KG had to sit for that one.

Lillard, Aldridge are nice, but Portland’s improved defense makes them contender

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers

LOS ANGELES — When people think of why Portland is a dangerous team in the Western Conference, some obvious reasons leap out at you.

“They’ve got a great point guard, a great power forward, great role players, they are very unselfish, they space the floor and make you work on defense,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said recently.

And he’s right — Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are one of the better one-two punches in the league. The Blazers have a team of solid NBA veterans who buy into the system and with that they have the eighth-ranked offense in the NBA. On offense the Blazers are a sexy team to watch — especially when Lillard takes over a game late with his explosive drives and long-range threes.

But that’s not the end of the floor that makes them contenders.

Two seasons ago, the Portland Trail Blazers finished the season 26th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Last season the Blazers made strides up the Western Conference ladder in large part because their defense improved, up to 16th in the NBA.

This season they are third in the NBA so far, allowing just 98.7 points per 100 possessions.

The Traill Blazers have become a good defensive team. And that makes them a serious contender in the loaded Western Conference.

“I think it’s been a two-year process,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said of the effort to remake the defense. “I thought what we did last year going from 26 to, whatever it was, 16, it was conservative (philosophy). It wasn’t anything revolutionary.

“Some of it was personnel, obviously, but some of it was we changed our focus, we didn’t extend. My first year we got out and showed on pick-and-rolls, we tried to be athletic. We are much more conservative in our approach to the pick-and-roll. I thought we made good progress last year and this year the focus was on not allowing as many shots at the rim while still taking away the three. Our weak side needed to be better, and I think our defensive rebounding has been better both years.”

Part of it was personnel. The Blazers have Wesley Matthews out on the perimeter as a physical and tough defender, plus they have the length of Nicolas Batum. Most important was the addition last season of the intelligent paint defense of Robin Lopez (who is currently out with broken hand until around the All-Star break). Then it became a culture — Lillard has a bad defensive reputation but he puts in the effort (Lillard’s size can hurt him defensively and he can get rubbed of his man on a screen a little too easily, but he’s game on that end).

The Blazers system isn’t rocket science — they want to take away the most efficient shots on the court, particularly threes, and force teams more into the midrange.

“Their system defensively is to make sure you don’t get threes,” the Lakers’ Scott said. “They do a hell of a job just running you off the threes, they want you to take twos. They’re one of the best in the league at doing that.”

This season teams average 17.5 three point attempts a game against Portland, second fewest in the league, and they shoot just 28.7 percent on those, the lowest percentage in the league. More specifically, teams shoot a league low 30.4 percent on corner threes against the Blazers — that’s the efficient spot that the Spurs and other teams target. Above the break teams are shooting just 28.4 percent from three against the Blazers, also a league low.

That’s a step forward, last season the Blazers were 11th in opponent three point percentage. Two seasons ago when the Blazers used Aldridge’s athleticism to show out on picks they did a good job at the arc but it left the paint exposed and they paid that price. Now, they have Lopez and a new defensive philosophy.

This season Blazers’ opponents are getting shots in close — Portland is allowing 28.6 shots in the restricted area a game on average, top 10 in the league — but they aren’t making them, hitting just 57.9 percent, sixth lowest percentage allowed in the league.

With the size of Aldridge and Lopez in the paint, the Blazers pick-and-roll defense has the big stay back and take away the penetration of the guard coming off the screen. Then, if said ball handler has three-point range, the Blazers’ guard usually tries to fight over the pick and take away the deep ball. Again the goal is simple — force the other team into the midrange for their shot. It’s something they are doing well this season.

“We played back last year too, but I think our weak side has gotten better,” Aldridge said. “I think just having a couple years in this system of guys just learning where to be has been great for us, too.”

Stotts likes what he sees so far, but he also knows it’s January — if the Blazers are playing in late April exactly the way they are playing now it will not be good enough. It’s about the process of improving.

“I send out quotes to our guys every day and the last two or three have been about the process,” Stotts said. “It’s not result oriented. I think that’s one thing we’ve done a good job at is staying in the moment and doing the things that are fundamental to us within the foundation of what we’ve created defensively, and trusting ourselves offensively. I think we all realize that we’re not even halfway through the season and it’s all those things that are going to pay dividends in May and June.”

May and June are when teams that advance to the second round of the playoffs and beyond are still playing. That’s where Portland sees itself — to a man every player on this roster believes they can contend for a title.

With this defense, they are right.