Author: Matt Moore

Ty Lawson

A question of point guard extensions starring Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, and Jrue Holiday


October brings with it a rush of NBA news. Training camp starts, teams begin assessing if they need to make a pre-season trade, injuries unfortunately occur, preseason games begin and everyone is in the “best shape of their careers” on teams “ready to compete for a championship.” October is Hopetober for the NBA and outside of the above-mentioned injuries, everything is all rainbows and sunshine. But there’s another element.Extensions on players coming to the end of their rookie deals are due on the 31st, and that means big decisions.

Often times, the extensions will be no-brainers, for the elite of the elite. And some will be no-brainers for those players who have overstayed their welcome. But every year, so many fit into that middle gap. Good enough to not want to lose them, not good enough to want to throw the bank at. It’s a complicated question that involves not only the player’s skill but he situation of the franchise and their future.

Marc Stein of reports Saturday morning on the status of a few key players that fit into this group.


Lawson is probably the clearest cut choice to get done. His only issue has been consistency, and that’s something you can attribute to age and experience. He’s one of the fastest point guards in the league, and showed for the first time last spring in the playoffs that he can take over a big game offensively. His leadership continues to be a question mark for George Karl, but it’s also a work in progress. There’s no skill attribute that would prevent the Nuggets from wanting to give the extension. It will, however, eat up a significant chunk of their cap space. The Nuggets endeavored for two years to produce a roster with cap flexibility while maintaining its talent, but extensions for Danilo Gallinari and new contracts for Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee eat up some of that. The rest will be taken care of by Lawson and Andre Iguoadala with a 2014 player option.

So the Nuggets have to be sure this is the guy they want. He looks the part, but it’s still going to be a gamble, the likely reason he has not been put at the max yet, along with Lawson’s decision to switch agents.

Holiday is an entirely different question. There have been hints in the past that he wants the max. The numbers… they are not good. He’s coming off a year with a TS% of .496 (that sucker needs to be over .500 at the very least). His assist percentage dropped nearly eight points last year. There’s a lot of talk about Evan Turner getting time at point guard or at least point forward. Last year per 36 minutes he produced 14.4. points on 13.7 shots. In a league where offensive efficiency is a must, Holiday was severely lacking in it. He also was the point guard and maestro for one of the worst offenses of a playoff team in the league.

The problem with all that? So was Rajon Rondo. The Celtics were a dreadful offensive team, per 36 minutes Rondo produced 11.6 points on 10.5 shots, had an even worse TS% of .486. Now his assist percentage was one of the best in the league at a startling “you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me” 52.3 percent. But if we’re looking at numbers, Holiday was at least as efficient as Rondo. (The Sixers had a 99 offensive rating – points per 100 possessions- with Holiday on the floor, the Celtics were a better 101 with Rondo, but neither is anything to run and tell that about.)

But you can make the argument for a qualitative if not substantively quantitative difference between Holiday and Rondo. His control and impact over the game is much greater, and his skillset is readily apparent as superior. Still, these are the kinds of things you factor when you decide whether and how to retain Holiday. The Sixers like Holiday, they seem invested in him, but the money is likely a sticking point.

Jennings… who knows. He can look like an All-Star, a world beater, a dominant offensive player one minute and a huge question mark the next. It’s an ever-evolving question, and part of a much bigger question. Unlike Denver and Philadelphia, the Bucks could be facing significant upheaval next summer with both John Hammond and Scott Skiles working out with a net, effectively. Do you give big money to a largely inefficient player who at times is dazzling and who constantly says he both wants an extension and thinks it would be great to play in New York, something he’s harped on since he was a draft prospect? The Bucks could be facing one of three scenarios: Jennings thrives, becomes an All-Star and the center of their future success as he embraces the Bucks as his team with his maturity, Jennings continues to vacillate between brilliance and dreadful, forever giving management and analysts headaches only doing it for big money, or Jennings manages to become the star he’s shown flashes of, only to pull a modern-superstar trick of demanding out once he’s gotten his money.

There may not be a way to win that conversation.

So all three teams have decisions to make and not much time to make them. But the choices will have a huge impact on not only the players’ seasons, but the future of the franchises.

Joe Johnson wants it made known that he didn’t ask to be traded from Atlanta

Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson was the face of the Hawks for over half-a-decade. He as a six-time All-Star with Atlanta, and in retrospect, took them to a level of respectability that gets overlooked because of how tough his era turned out to be. Now that he’s in Brooklyn, apparently everyone’s asking him why he decided to bail on his team. ESPN New York reports that Johnson’s answer is simple. He didn’t.

“Everybody thinks I made this trade,” the Nets’ shooting guard said. “I had nothing to do with it.

“Every time I run into somebody when I’m in Atlanta, they ask me, ‘Why did you leave?’

I didn’t have nothing to do with it. I’m just glad that I came to a great organization and a team who wants to win.”

via Joe Johnson: I didn’t burn Atlanta – Brooklyn Nets Blog – ESPN New York.

That may be the most amazing thing about how the Nets put together this team. Deron Williams didn’t want a trade to the Nets. But they sold him on Brooklyn. Joe Johnson didn’t want out of Atlanta, but they brought him in and got him to buy in. Gerald Wallace wasn’t shopping for New York real estate, but again, got him to believe in what they’re building. They jerked around Brook Lopez for a year with trade rumors, and he still re-signed with the club.

Say what you want about the luxury tax implications, top level of talent, flexibility and defense of the Nets, but they have managed to convince the players that what they have going on at Barclays is worth being a part, of and they did it before Barclays was even finished getting built.

For Hawks fans, it’s a reminder that Johnson, for all his faults, never demanded top money, he earned it on the free market, and never bailed on the team. It’s for the best that he’s gone, but his time should probably be remembered more fondly than it will be.

Isiah Thomas wants on your television set more than in Madison Square Garden

Isiah Thomas

Isiah Thomas continues to haunt Knicks fans like the ghost of Balkmans past. Meetings with James Dolan, consulting for superstars and their careers, Knicks fans are always looking over their shoulder for the return of the once and future GM. Well maybe now they can rest a little easier. Thomas said in an interview with Fox Sports, transcribed by the New York Post he’d rather be on television than in the front office.

“I’ve auditioned for the job, if they pick me that would be great,” Thomas said. “I would love to be a part of the show and give my thoughts and opinions on championship basketball and NBA basketball and life in general in the NBA.”

Thomas said his “preference” would be to land that job, as opposed to return to the Knicks organization. Dolan requested a lunch with the team’s former president and coach in early September, which set off speculation of a return to the organization. It would be a widely unpopular move considering Thomas’ failures with the organization, but nothing appears to be imminent.

“Jim Dolan and I had lunch as we often do, and we are very good friends, and we talk from time to time,” Thomas said. “I have great relationships with the organization, so I guess there was some speculation as there’s always been about me going back there. And that’s where it’s at.”

via Isiah prefers ESPN job over role with Knicks.

That’s leaving just enough of a window open for a sequel. It’s like that scene after the credits where the monster is still alive.

Thomas on television would be incredible. He’s one of the most personable and likeable people on the surface, that’s what nearly everyone says about him. He has stories and insight for day as not only a Hall of Famer, but an exec and an advisor. It would be must-see television nearly every night. But it comes with it a whole other set of challenges, considering his relative credibility and public favorability. You wouldn’t even have to work him into your existing coverage. Just put him in a room with a mic and a camera and see where things take you.

HT: HoopsHype

NBA Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

Josh Smith

Last season: Just another Hawks season.

That’s the best way to put it after a year where despite losing Al Horford for the vast majority of the season, Atlanta managed to land a top four seed in the East. They had this bizarro season underneath the headline of “Boring.”

They would look awesome one night, as Josh Smith played at an elite level, and the team really gelled for long stretches. But then they would hit national TV and things would happen like the Heat not playing the Big 3 and still beating the Hawks, at home. It was like they were intentionally trying to look horrible at home.

Everyone was tired of the Hawks by season’s end. The inconsistent play, the isolation offense, the general blaise. The fans, the media, no one cared about them. They were supposed to lose in the first round, and they did.

But snuck under the talk of Ray Allen’s injury and Paul Pierce battling an MCL sprain along with a one-game suspension for Rajon Rondo was this: the Hawks played Boston tight. They were in that series, but the emotional lift from losing Rajon Rondo put a fire under the Celtics, and when they come out like that, they’re extremely difficult to beat. Meanhwhile, the Hawks’ bigest advantage against the Celtics was their size… and yet Horford took a few games to get back and then wasn’t 100 percent, and Zaza Pachulia, who always causes the Celtics issues, wasn’t around at all.

It was the kind of misfortune that creates a facade of failure. The Hawks were better than most people thought they were, but never good enough to matter, still.

Something had to change.

Key Departures: Joe Johnson has been an All-Star six times. Straight. Most people don’t really catch that, but it’s true. And Danny Ferry happily traded him for almost nothing after he took over the team as GM.

Johnson is an elite defender and at times can be a great scorer, but he’s also heavy on the isolation and not as efficient as he once was. Most importantly, the Hawks threw a max contract at him to keep him in 2010 that the Nets will be paying for at roughly the cost of the GDP of a small nation.

Ferry moved Marvin Williams to clear even more space, getting one of the most disappointing draft picks in team history and getting the memory out of people’s minds.

Jerry Stackhouse was let go, and Willie Green released in a sign-and-trade. Jason Collins was a very useful center the past two years but he also was not retained in free agency. Vlad Radmanovic, AKA VladRad, AKA Space Cadet, went to the Bulls.

Key Additions: In return for Johnson, Ferry took Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson, and some filler, most of which has been waived or won’t see much time this season. The idea was clear. Create space from a team with none by any means necessary. Adding Morrow does give them a crack shooter, however.

He traded for Kyle Korver to add yet another shooter to a team that had very little last year and now has a ton.

For Williams, Ferry landed Devin Harris, giving him a capable backup point guard behind Teague, or a replacement if Teague doesn’t make the required leap.

The team signed Anthony Tolliver as a free agent to give them another stretch four and brought in Lou Williams to replace Willie Green.

They drafted John Jenkins who showed a lot of promise in Summer League.

Three keys to the Hawks season:
1) All-The-Time Teague: I’ve started referencing the phrase “Playoff Teague” the past two years because Jeff Teague is an entirely different player when the playoffs begin than during the regular season. He makes bigger shots, plays faster and harder, and blows you away with his athleticism and big-play ability. So why doesn’t he do that throughout the year? Why did he so often lose his job to Kirk Hinrich when Hinrich was healthy?

Teague has to become a consistent star this season, not something that’s easy for point guards in a point-guard dominant league. He has better shooters to drive and kick to, and will have a lot more freedom in the offense now that ISOJoe is working in Brooklyn. But Teague stil has to take every game as crucial and really lead this team. They can’t afford to just care about the big games, because they’re not going to win a lot of them with this crew.

Teague has to convince himself every game is on the big stage.

2) Is Josh Smith ready to be the guy? Josh Smith is in a contract year. He’s been passed over for All-Star spots despite being more than deserving, has been ridiculed for his penchant to take long-twos, and largely overlooked. He’s also played out of his mind the past two seasons.

Without Johnson, this is Josh Smith’s team. Al Horford will play a big role. Jeff Teague will direct the offense. But this is Josh Smith’s team now. He has to be more efficient, take a bigger load, and be willing to act as more of the finisher than set-up guy.

And, as always, stop with the long twos. For the love. The man is dominant in the post. This mid-range tyranny must end.

3) Will Drew open up the offense? He has a lightning-fast point guard who can drive and dish. He’s got a set of dominant post players in Horford and Smith. He’s got shooters galore with Morrow, Korver, and others.

But Larry Drew has stuck to the grind-it-out offense that kept his team mired in the mud. The team has athleticism and skill, and needs ball movement. There are no Kobe Bryants on this team, no LeBron James. But they have speciality players who can play well in their roles. This team may only go as far as Drew lets them. There has to be some imagination and push in the way the offense is set.

What Hawks fans should fear: Smith’s not elite. And without that, this team could fall prey to the “good enough to not be terrible, not good enough to do anything of note.” But then again, that’s where they’ve been for three years, so really what’s the difference?

The Hawks are moving towards an all-out rebuild eventually. This is the year in-between. But if the opportunity to snag a lottery pick comes available, bet that the Hawks will jump on it. Ferry knows he needs a new, legit star. He won’t hesitate to go get it via the draft.

How it likely works out: The Hawks could honestly wind up making the playoffs. They have good skill players, some athleticism, a good to great defensive coach and shooters. But they lack in total star power, we don’t know what Horford will look like after injury, whether Josh Smith will buy in, if Teague will make the leap, if Drew will open the offense up.

The Hawks won’t be terrible, but they may not be good either. This is one where we have to see what happens when you put all the ingredients in the oven.

And again, don’t discount the possibility of a midseason tank job. Ferry knows the long-term game here.

Prediction: 43-39, they’ll be right there for the eighth seed. Atlanta has a good set of players but not enough to be in the elite category. A long losing streak could be followed by a long winning streak, and much will depend on the health of their shooters. But Drew coaches defense so well, and Teague-Smith-Horford is enough to carry them to at least .500.

The Inbounds: Chris Bosh and being what you’re not your way

Chris Bosh

Chris Bosh has accepted that he has to play center for the Miami Heat. He doesn’t want to, it’s not what he has preferred, not from the moment he signed up for the Triad in South Beach. He likes his finesse game, feels that he’s better as a four, likes the freedom of power forward, and generally has turned his nose up at the idea of being the center. But last year, the Heat won the title with Bosh at center. Kind of.

Bosh played what you would call center because he was the fifth player on the floor and the tallest. He was the primary defender on the biggest player, and his game focused more on inside play. At the same time, though, Bosh was nailing threes and being used as the outlet valve on the drive-and-kick. Bosh tried to bulk up this summer, and then eventually abandoned that plan, and slimmed down even more. The compromise is clear. He’ll play center, but he’ll play it his way.

Bosh wants to be faster than the opposing center, and that’s something that he can rely on the rest of the offense to justify. The Heat rely on team defense to create turnovers and stops, then translate those to transition opportunities using their freakish athleticism. So though Bosh will be matched up against the biggest opponent a lot of the time, he’ll have help from swiping guards and forwards, and as we saw last season, LeBron James will even take some of the work, as he guarded Dwight Howard for stretches. Bosh gets the best of both worlds. He gets to get the pressure of playing five off his back while still essentially playing the four.

That’s kind of the secret to the Heat. Smallball is playing players smaller than traditionally accepted at various positions. What the Heat do is remove the five entirely. They don’t have a shot-blocker/rim-protector (who can catch, hi there Joel Anthony), so they just eliminated it. Their positional flexibility and athletic superiority gifts them the luxury of simply scrapping the positions all together. Their small forward plays point-center and their shooting guard plays point-forward. Their power forward plays power forward and calls it center, and their point guard plays shooting guard.

Say hello my old friend Mr. McCraig, with a leg for an arm, and an arm for a leg!”

Bosh gets to shoot threes, run the floor, play in the pick-and-pop. His compromise is crashing the glass and finishing on putbacks. Bosh’s struggles in out-boxing bigger opponents isn’t a major concern here, because the Heat are going to shoot a high percentage anyway. And his length makes up for his lack of bulk.

That may be what speaks the most to the changes in the NBA. It’s not about size, it’s not about bulk, it’s all about length. Anthony Davis is rail thin and will still be effective. Bosh is scrawny-strong, and can just reach over guys to finish plays. It’s maximizing the resources you have instead of trying to translate a player’s skill into a body type where his skills may not be so comfortable.

At its core, the combination of James, Wade , and Bosh was never perfect. You look at the new-look Lakers, and dynamic distributing point guard with efficient shooting stroke, plus high-usage sh0t-making shooting guard with exceptional skill plus dominant center with hyper-athleticism makes sense. That’s a combination that intuitively makes sense. Distributor plus scorer plus finisher. Passer plus shooter plus rebounder. That’s before you add Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, but the effect is the same. The Heat, on the other hand, had a creating, scoring, all-around small forward, a scoring, gambling shooting guard, and a finesse power forward. The fit’s not obvious.

But the Heat made it work by having a translation of their skills. There’s not a lot of sacrifice that goes on with the stars in Miami, outside of Wade learning to play without the ball more. Bosh is doing what he’s always done, just in different times and in a different flow. The sacrifice comes at the defensive end and in pursuit of the team concept, which is strong and well-executed.

This may not be a career year for Bosh, and in truth, joining Miami hurt his personal star power more than anything. He’s the Ned of the 3 Amigos, the George Harrison to James and Wade’s John and Paul. But it affords him continued success, a smaller role in a bigger position, and the ability to win consistently. He’ll be as big a part of the Heat’s success as he’s ever been, and will continue to fit better into the offense. You can call him center, but he’s not genuinely a center. He’s just Chris Bosh, just as no position fits James. That may be the most impressive thing about the Heat. They never fit their guys into new roles, they just created a different team around individual identities.

And they’re still winning, like a Bosh.