With upwards of $30 million in likely cap space this summer, the Lakers are going to make a hard push to bring in a star in free agency. As they always do. They made pitches to LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony last summer, and they’ll be in the mix for the big names this summer. As they always are.
The Lakers are not in the market for a guy who can make the team better; they need a bona fide star, the kind of player they thought they were getting when they traded for Dwight Howard in 2012. The Howard deal flopped, though, and the Lakers have been rudderless since. It could be Bryant’s final season, and the franchise does not want to send him off with yet another rebuilding year, though that might be in the best long-term interest of the team. Assuming the Lakers stay in win-soon mode, it is a safe bet that they will go hard after the two top point guards on the market, with Bryant’s pal Rajon Rondo at the head of the list and Goran Dragic behind him.
It’s not news that Rondo and Dragic are going to be the Lakers’ primary targets this summer. That much as been clear for a while. What’s interesting is that Rondo is at the top of their list. Maybe that’s because of his relationship with Kobe, or maybe it’s because he’s more attainable. Rondo has been an awkward fit in Dallas so far, and it’s a lot more likely that he leaves the Mavericks than that Dragic leaves the Heat. But we’ll find out.
Heat’s Shabazz Napier out for season after sports hernia surgery
Shabazz Napier’s up-and-down rookie season has come to an end.
The rookie point guard who appeared in 51 games, but had seen few minutes as of late, is out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia, the team announced Wednesday.
Napier, the Heat’s first round pick last draft, averaged 5.1 points, 2.5 assists, 2.2 rebounds a game this season. He was given a larger role backing up Goran Dragic after the trade deadline, but quickly fell out of favor and had appeared once in the Heat’s last dozen games (he battled what was termed a hip injury in that time as well).
Napier was the Heat’s first round pick — remember he is the guy LeBron James said he wanted. So they got him. And LeBron left anyway.
Injuries have decimated the Heat this season. Their max contract player Chris Bosh is out for the season. Thier biggest free agent acquisition Josh McRoberts is out for the season. And now their first-round draft pick.
Miami is battling to hold on to one of the final two playoff slots in the East, it is the current seven seed but is just one game up on the nine seed. The loss of Napier will not impact that push much at all. However, down the line he could develop into a point guard that would fit in a quality rotation.
Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: Dwyane Wade is going to will Heat into playoffs
1) Dwyane Wade drops 40, is going to will Heat into playoffs. With just a couple weeks left in the NBA season, Miami may not yet be a lock to make the playoffs. However, they now have a two-game cushion over the nine seed Boston Celtics, and it feels like Miami is going to find its way into the dance as the seven seed (and almost certainly face Cleveland in the first round). All thanks to Dwyane Wade. He’s been on fire of late and dropped 40 on the Pistons Sunday in a game that continued Miami’s trend of players dropping like flies. Chris Bosh is out for the season recovering from blood clots in his lungs. Hassan Whiteside and Chris Andersen were already out injured for the night. Then Luol Deng suffered a contusion his knee and left not to return after halftime. With all that Wade had to take charge, and he did — 40 points on 14-for-27 from the floor and 12-for-13 from the free throw line. Wade did it without hitting a three. He was getting to the rim like a younger Wade, making shots in the paint, plus going 6-of-12 from the midrange.
2) The Rockets never win pretty, but they do win and are now the second seed in the West. Much like how James Harden racks up his points, how the Rockets keep racking up wins is not aesthetically pleasing. It just works. It worked Sunday as the Rockets held on to beat the Wizards 99-91, which combined with Memphis’ loss puts Houston into the two seed out west. This time it wasn’t all James Harden, rather it was Josh Smith putting up points to open the game, it was Pablo Prigioni controlling the game in the fourth quarter. The Wizards are a floundering team right now, and the Rockets did let them hang around. But anytime the Wizards seemed to get close, Houston went on a little run. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to pick up their 50th win and get the two seed (at least for a day).
3) Oklahoma City beat Phoenix and all but clinched a playoff spot. The sun set on the Phoenix’s playoff chances Sunday — with their loss to Oklahoma City the Suns are four games back with eight to play. (The Pelicans are 2.5 games back.) Mathematically everything is possible, realistically the Thunder are going to get the eight seed in the West. Sunday’s game had the feel of a playoff game. Phoenix was desperate to get the win, hit everything early; Markieff Morris had 16 first quarter points and the Suns led by 20 in the second quarter. Then the Thunder run started. There was a 17-4 run in the second quarter, then another 17-7 one in the third and we had a ballgame. The 13-0 OKC run in the fourth was pretty much the end of it. Russell Westbrook led the way, of course, dropping 33.
4) Brook Lopez had a 30 point, 11 rebound game to put Nets back in playoffs (for a day). If the playoffs started today, we would have to suffer through a round with the Brooklyn Nets in it. Sorry. At least they will get swept by the Hawks. But as bad as the Nets are they are too much for the Lakers right now. Brook Lopez has again become the focal point of the Nets’ offense, averaging 28.8 points per game over the last six, and that may be enough to keep them ahead of Boston. Or not. I’m not going to try to predict the teams stumbling to the finish line in the East.
5) San Antonio beat Memphis as these teams continue to trend in opposite directions. The Spurs have won three in a row, seven of their last 10, Tony Parker is getting in the lane, Tiago Splitter is making plays, and the Spurs are getting some big games from Kawhi Leonard. Sunday Leonard had 15 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 6-of-7 in that final frame, to lead the Spurs to a 103-89 win over the Grizzlies. The Spurs are healthy again and look like a team that nobody’s going to want to face come the playoffs. A team that could come out of the West. Meanwhile, Memphis has lost three in a row. Granted, to the Warriors, Cavaliers, and Spurs, so it’s hard to read too much into that (if they lose to the Kings in their next game…). Still, if the Grizzlies are going to be title contenders, these are the kinds of games you’d think they would win some of.
High praise: Bob Cousy says Hassan Whiteside reminds him of Bill Russell
Bill Russell remains the gold standard of defensive big men more than 40 years after he retired. He anchored the Celtics defense and won 11 rings and 6 MVP awards doing it, a guy who patrolled and controlled the paint.
Today’s NBA is a very different place. But former Russell teammate and NBA Hall of Famer Bob Cousy thinks he may have found the second coming of Russell:
“I have never said this in the 40 years since I retired,” Cousy said in a recent telephone interview, “but he is the first big guy, not (Patrick) Ewing, (Hakeem) Olajuwon, Shaq (O’Neal), who reminds me defensively and on the boards of Russell. He runs the floor well, he has excellent timing, he blocks shots and keeps them in play the way Russell did.”
“That’s a great honor,” Whiteside said before the Celtics hosted Miami Wednesday. “Everybody knows that Bill Russell is probably one of the best shot blockers that ever lived. That’s really a big honor that he thinks of me that way.”
That is crazy high praise. It strikes me as too generous, but I’m not Bob Cousy, Hall of Fame point guard and teammate of Russell. He knows what he sees.
Whiteside’s defense has been a perfect fit for what Miami needed. Chris Bosh is a better defender than most casual fans give him credit for, but his strength is on the pick-and-roll out on the perimeter. He is not a traditional rim-protecting shot blocker.
Whiteside filled that role (and it worked pretty well until Bosh went down for the season with blood clots in his lungs).
The question about Whiteside around the NBA was never his raw talent, but rather could he keep focused and his head in the game. There have been ugly lapses. But the Heat are going to bet this summer that their strong, veteran locker room — and the fact that if he blows this chance he may not get another — will keep Whiteside in line. Miami will try to retain the free agent (although he will get other calls as well). Whiteside is going to get paid.
That happens when you’re compared to Bill Russell.
Not only that, he has improved in each category from before the trade to after more than the other players.
Win shares per 48 minutes:
These aren’t hollow numbers, either. Dragic’s teammates rave about how he helps them.
“He’s easy to play with from the standpoint of he’s going to attack,” Wade said. “He’s always on attack, so the defense – he’s going to get in the paint and finish, or he’s going to create a lot of traffic, and he’s going to be able to kick it out to you and you’ll have open space.”
So, why has Dragic surged more than his traded peers?
Dragic also feels a sense of responsibility joining a team that reached four straight NBA Finals and won two of them. Though he lived his lifelong dream of leading a team with the Suns last season, he’s happy to defer to Wade at times now.
“That’s a team sacrifice,” Dragic said. “When they won a championship when LeBron was here and those guys, they have to make a sacrifice.”