Author: Rob Mahoney

Patrick Ewing Jr.

Hornets sign Patrick Ewing Jr. to a 10-day contract


David West’s season is over, and thus, the Hornets’ season is over. New Orleans will still likely hold onto their playoff spot (though with West sidelined, a tough schedule ahead, and Houston on a roll, maybe we shouldn’t even take that much for granted), but even the slim chance the Hornets had to make it out of the first round has been entirely erased.

Yet the Hornets will still do what they can to finish out the season to their best of their collective ability. Jason Smith and Carl Landry will come into more minutes, and will need to produce more for the team to stay afloat. Chris Paul will have to fight through more defensive pressure than ever. And Dell Demps has already made a small move to fill West’s roster spot by signing D-Leaguer Patrick Ewing Jr. to a 10-day contract, according to Marc Stein of

Ewing isn’t tailor-made to fill West’s shoes; positionally, he just doesn’t provide the same fit, and it’s unlikely that he’ll actually log any time at power forward. He’s actually a much more natural backup for Trevor Ariza, and unfortunately, he’s a bit too much like Trevor Ariza, only without the same defensive pedigree. Ewing shares in Ariza’s love for the ill-advised jumper, and though his physical gifts are considerable, he struggles to maintain offensive efficiency as a result of that poor decision-making. Still, Ewing is worth a look, even if he isn’t necessarily the best D-League prospect available. The production (Ewing has averaged 19.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game for the Sioux Falls Skyforced) and athleticism are there, but it remains to be seen if Ewing can understand his role on the pro level.

Ilgauskas still recovering from infection, gauging progress on day-to-day basis

Washington Wizards v Miami Heat
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Zydrunas Ilgauskas has missed six straight games with a foot injury, albeit one quite different than the myriad of foot ailments that have hindered him throughout his career. A wound to Ilgauskas’ foot — some reports claim that he stepped on a nail, while others cite a mere blister — opened up an opportunity for infection, and he was rushed to the hospital before Miami’s game against Memphis on March 12th.

Ilgauskas discussed his infection in further detail with Brian Windhorst of’s Heat Index, and though the infection gave Ilgauskas a bit of a scare, he seems to be on his way toward a full recovery:

What followed were a scary couple of days when Ilgauskas learned he had a type of strep infection and perhaps even the dangerous and antibiotic-resistant strain known as MRSA. He said he and the team have not been able to determine the source of the infection.

“I can deal with broken bones but when something from inside attacks you, I’ve never had that before,” Ilgauskas said after taking part in shootaround with the Heat on Friday morning. “I had so many antibiotics in my system it was hard to tell what it was. Yeah, it scared me. Thankfully we caught it at the right time and we were able to keep it under control.”

Ilgauskas was in the hospital for three days and later had to receive follow-up IV treatments at home to rid the bacteria from his system. He also said he had an important MRI that looked at some hardware in his foot, which was part of a complex procedure to rebuild his foot that saved his career 10 years ago.

“You don’t want bacteria to get on the screws in there,” Ilgauskas said. “Luckily that wasn’t the case.”

If any player deserves to be healthy through the twilight of his career, it’s Z, and yet random health concerns and nagging injuries just seem to follow him around. The Heat obviously stand to benefit from a healthy Ilgauskas, too; I’m sure Jamaal Magloire is thankful for being able to play a bit in Ilgauskas’ stead, but his inclusion in the rotation is unquestionably temporary. Keep popping those antibiotics, Z. Your team needs you.

Jermaine O’Neal set to return by the end of the month


Kendrick Perkins is gone, but the sky isn’t falling for Boston’s defense. Even with only one true center (if Nenad Krstic even qualifies) in the rotation, the Celtics have posted two fantastic defensive performances in a row, holding both the Grizzlies and the Knicks to under 97 points per 100 possessions. That’s a remarkable level of defensive dominance, and while the Celtics haven’t fared so well on the other side of the ball, those struggles are far too complex to be attributed to Perkins’ absence.

However, if there’s one enduring concern about Boston’s ability to execute defensively, it’s that the size just isn’t there on the front line. That’s about to change; Shaquille O’Neal is expected to return to the court by April 1st, and according to a report from the Boston Herald, Jermaine O’Neal is on a similar timeline (via CelticsHub):

Jermaine O’Neal’s recovery from knee surgery has taken a big step, according to Danny Ainge. The Celtics’ president of basketball operations watched his recuperating center work out in Chicago this morning, and later said that O’Neal’s return to the team appears to be on schedule. “It could be next week, which is about what we hoped for – the end of the month,” said Ainge. “He looks good. I watched him go through his workouts.”

The most encouraging news, according to Ainge, is that O’Neal has been able to work out for approximately three weeks without swelling. In addition to working out with a trainer, the center has been playing 1-ob-1 basketball. “That’s always the challenge,” said Ainge. “He’s been working out for that long without swelling, which is a big consideration.”

O’Neal also lost approximately 12 pounds during his rehabilitation.

That last note is important. O’Neal hasn’t exactly been the most mobile big around over his last two seasons, and a slighter frame should help his ability to rotate and, more importantly, stay healthy.

It should be interesting to see what exactly becomes of Krstic upon the return of both O’Neals. Jermaine O’Neal wasn’t logging serious minutes even when healthy, but he’s a better defender than Krstic and a comparable mid-range shooter. Assuming Shaq eventually slides into a starting role and plays around 20 minutes a night (his season average), and that Glen Davis gets some run at the 5, there likely won’t be room in the rotation for both O’Neal and Krstic to play regular minutes. O’Neal’s health and rust could end up which player functions as the primary back-up at center, but regardless, his return to the active roster gives Doc Rivers another strong interior defender to throw at any opposing big who gives the Celtics trouble.

Caron Butler still working toward a comeback this season

Caron Butler
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A ruptured patellar tendon is a particularly troublesome injury for anyone who makes a living with their legs, but Caron Butler apparently isn’t all that impressed with the injury’s potential. After initially being ruled out for the remainder of this season, Butler has been rehabbing relentlessly in an effort to rejoin the Mavs at some point later in the season. What initially began as a pipe dream is becoming a real possibility. Here’s the latest update on Butler’s status, via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:

Mavericks forward Caron Butler was projected to miss the rest of the season after rupturing his right patellar tendon on Jan. 1, but Butler now says doctors have told him he “has a shot” at returning in the playoffs. “Trust me, I’m busting my ass to get out there,” Butler told Yahoo! Sports. “I’m not on vacation right now. I’m working hard to get out there.”

Butler’s comeback attempt isn’t exactly breaking news, but the fact that team doctors haven’t deemed his efforts futile is significant. A potential return likely wouldn’t come until the playoffs are already in progress — a scenario which presents its own set of problems — but it says a lot about Butler and his relationship with his Maverick teammates that he’s working so relentlessly when a return to the court is anything but certain. In his short time in Dallas, Butler has become a fully integrated part of the Mavericks organization, so much so that it’s actually hard to see Dallas letting him walk in the off-season.

His rehab would seem to confirm that notion; while Butler’s improved health would certainly help him independently as an unrestricted free agent, his claims to want to get back on the court to help his teammates don’t seem like mere lip service. Butler generally understands how to work the media game, but his commitment to returning to the court, rapport with his teammates, and clear value to the Mavs give his claims a certain sincerity. It remains to be seen whether Butler will actually be able to play this season (and even then, whether he’ll be able to help), but his rehabbing efforts alone speaks to his relationship with his current team.

Appreciating Ryan Anderson and in turn, Stan Van Gundy

Ryan Anderson

Lost in the Rashard Lewis-Gilbert Arenas shuffle was an interesting development: Ryan Anderson, a young player (though one not exactly exploding with potential) still on his rookie deal, had a ready-made offensive game that could essentially make Lewis replaceable. Anderson isn’t capable of matching all of Lewis’ strengths — he still has a ways to go as a post-up option, for example — but combined with Brandon Bass, the forward pairing can accomplish most of what Lewis was able to provide for a sliver of the price.

Zach McCann of the Orlando Sentinel took a look at some of Anderson’s per-minute and per-possession numbers, and his relative standing among his positional peers may surprise you.

Offensively, Anderson is a strong contributor. He won’t often be confused for a shot-creating star, but he’s a very solid complementary player who understands how to capitalize off of Dwight Howard’s presence. The stretch 4 template doesn’t usually come with strong rebounding skills, but Anderson also holds his own in that regard. There’s still a healthy separation in rebounding rate between Anderson and the elite rebounders at his position, but he’s competent enough — even with Howard gobbling up every rebound in sight — in that regard to dodge any serious concern.

Yet Anderson still doesn’t always get considerable playing time, and thus lacks the means with which to turn those strong per-minute numbers into equally strong per-game ones. As for the reason why, McCann is again on the case:

Obviously, numbers aren’t the be-all, end-all for determining how productive a player is. In fact, when these numbers were presented to Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, he sort of shrugged his shoulders.

“On all the statistical stuff he’s been our second-best player pretty much the entire year,” Van Gundy said. “He and Brandon [Bass], neither one of them, numbers will never be the problem.”

These numbers, of course, don’t factor in defense (other than blocks, an unreliable statistic in determining a good defender), and that’s a primary area where Anderson must improve. Anderson grasps what the Magic want out of him on defense, but he’s sometimes not quick enough on rotations and prone to youthful mistakes such as dumb fouls or jumping out too quickly on pick and rolls. That’s where Van Gundy wants to see improvement, and he isn’t interested as much in Anderson’s PER or true shooting percentage.

If he were playing for any number of other NBA coaches, Anderson would likely go about his hot-shooting business undisturbed. Defense would likely be emphasized in practice and in games, but Stan Van Gundy is among the few who will repeatedly make the decision to bench productive players on the basis of defense alone. As good as Anderson is, this is the right play for the Magic and Van Gundy’s system; if Anderson can’t or won’t defend, then SVG should endeavor to find a player who will.

Dwight Howard is the only standout defender on Orlando’s roster, regardless of what you may have been told about Earl Clark. That means that everyone else has to fall in line with the scheme, or else one of the top defenses in the league will collapse with the individual limitations of its component parts. There can be so few compromises, if only because the system already has to make up for the relative weaknesses of Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, and a handful of others.

Anderson — and the same is true of Brandon Bass — needs to improve defensively if he’s to fully replace Lewis on his own rather than filling in for 20-minute bursts. More playing time may have been gifted him in other systems, but SVG knows no charity in his rotation, and every minute will need to be earned with defensive execution.