NBA Season Preview: Indiana Pacers

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Last season: The Pacers made moves to become a top-tier team in the East and they worked out. Roy Hibbert and Paul George both took some big steps forward, while David West added the consistent scorer they were looking for and George Hill provided balance with Darren Collison, though the two didn’t work well together.

The playoffs were kind of a proving grounds: Could this team, as constructed, compete? The answer was yes, to a point. The Pacers managed, in part on the back of the injury to Chris Bosh, to go up 2-1 over the Heat. They had them right where they wanted them.

Then LeBron James and Dwyane Wade took over and that was that. But the Pacers learned a lot, and established themselves last year. The question is if they can take that to the next level this year.

Key Departures: The Pacers traded Darren Collison to the Mavericks in a suprise move. Collison had been the better guard offensively than George Hill. But attempts to play the two together drew disappoinging results. With Collison headed for a big extension and Hill locked up at five-years, $40 million, it made sense to move Collison, but there may be a drag on the Pacers’ offense if Hill can’t become more of a playmaker and distributor.

Dahntay Jones was underused in Indiana and was sent off as a tag-along in the Collison trade. The Pacers also elected to let A.J. Price go, a pretty surprising move considering Lance Stephenson’s boneheadedness and Price’s underrated production in limited minutes.

Key Additions: Miles Plumlee, anyone? No? No? OK, then.

The Pacers traded Collison and Jones for Ian Mahinmi, a center who saw time behind Brendan Haywood as backup center in the Mavs’ championshp run and who actually played a big part in those Finals. Mahinmi gives the Pacers another true big to throw at Miami, and a better replacement center for Roy Hibbert, something crucial when the big guy gets in foul trouble.

They brought in D.J. Augustin on a cheap deal, getting a starting point guard (yes, it was the Bobcats) for a discount. Augustin will provide more of a pure-shooter point gaurd and can work with the second unit to help bridge the gap. Augustin’s also not a bad defender.

Gerald Green showed that he’s learned how to play last year and had a fantastic half-season with the Nets. The Pacers added him and he gives them an athletic three to bring off the bench, something that was missing last year. They have a fast, sleek second unit now, the opposite of last year’s reserve crew.

Three keys to the Pacers season:
1) Finding something that works offensively. The Pacers are yet another East team with a terrific defense and a horrid offense. They’re also yet another team with a lot of versatile, young talent and no superstar. Danny Granger keeps regressing in a distressing manner, Paul George is still a complimentary player, and David West is no longer at an age or health to carry a team. They need to find something consistent to turn to offensively they can rely on, and that may wind up having to be Hibbert. That idea is met with a lot of chair-squirming across the league.

2) George Hill has to figure out who he is. He was a jack of all trades in San Antonio and did a little of that last year. But the Pacers need him to be excellent in some regard. It can be defense, it can be off the dribble scoring, it can be perimeter shooting, but he’s going to have to give them consistent, excellent play in some regard. They need something to spark them and Hill may have to be it. They’ve committed to Hill as “the guy” at point guard. He has to play like it.

3) Let the big dogs eat. David West is a cold blooded assassin. Roy Hibbert had several games last year that he absolutely dominated the opponent. Too bad no one saw them. They have Mahinmi for depth, a more veteran Tyler Hansbrough, they’ve got some muscle. The Pacers are one of the few teams in the East with legit size. They need to rely on that and not be a team of perimeter wing jump shooters. They’ve got to create more efficient offense, and they’re without a real playmaker. So that means high-percentage buckets close to the rim. The bigs have to get possessions.

How it likely works out: This is the second best team in the East going into the season. Not Boston with its new bench or the Nets with their deficit-buster payroll or the Knicks with their drama. It’s quiet, consistent Indiana, and there is no reason going into the season that they shouldn’t make the Eastern Conference Finals. They landed third last season and wound up with the unfortunate second-round match-up with Miami. They need to get the second seed, make the ECF, then see what they can do against a tired Miami team. No more growth. No more development. The Pacers have arrived. Sink or swim time.

Prediction: 56-26. There’s no reason the Pacers can’t play at a higher level with a more versatile roster and less of a dropoff on the bench. Superstars may dominate the postseason, but great team defense and size advantages help you win any ballgame. The Pacers should be the No.2 team in the East.

Report: Jason Kidd holding off on Cal job until Lakers decide on Luke Walton

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The Los Angeles Lakers could be headed toward a departure with their head coach in Luke Walton. The Lakers will miss the playoffs yet again, this time coming up short despite adding LeBron James over the summer.

James has reportedly wanted Walton out for some time, and when the season ends many are expecting to see the two sides part ways. The list of potential coaching candidates for Los Angeles appear to be a group of also-rans, potential LeBron favorites who no self-respecting basketball decision-maker would want in charge of a championship-hopeful franchise.

One of those potential head coaching candidates is Jason Kidd, who was fired by the Milwaukee Bucks in January of 2018. We have seen rumors of Kidd being on the list of candidates for the Lakers job for some time, but now it appears that Kidd is basing his decision-making on the availability of the Los Angeles job.

Via Twitter:

Kidd holding out on making an employment decision until the Lakers decide what to do with Walton makes sense. That L.A. would be interested in Kidd to lead their group is another thing altogether.

Talent is a salve that has often pushed teams passed their failings, and this offseason for the Lakers will be a big-time test of that medicine. Los Angeles is not a well-run franchise, and the fact that they have expected anything different from their results speaks to the dissonance between their ability to make basketball decisions outside of branding.

But if they can add one or two big stars in free agency this summer, they might have enough talent on the roster to overcome the inherent issues with having LeBron run the team by proxy. It’s hard to have any faith in the Lakers to make the right decision at this juncture, and considering Kidd for the most important head coaching position in the NBA is par for the course.

Caris LeVert thinks Nets could land Kevin Durant

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Nobody is quite sure where Kevin Durant will play basketball next season. Many are expecting him to leave the friendly confines of the Golden State Warriors and strike it out on his own if they win the championship again this season.

The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers have all been mentioned so far. The Brooklyn Nets also seem like a potential suitor, and they will have significant cap space before needing to re-sign some of their current players.

Could Durant be interested in heading to New York toward a better run organization than the Knicks? At least one Nets player thinks so. Speaking to the New York Post, Caris LeVert said that he felt Brooklyn had all of the things needed to attract a superstar like Durant.

Via New York Post:

It’s pretty cool,” LeVert said before the Nets eliminated the Lakers from playoff contention with a 111-106 win. “It speaks to not only what we’ve done this season as a team, but to what D’Angelo has done on the court and also being a leader off the court that guys like Kevin Durant want to be close to him and a part of what he’s doing.

“I don’t think superstars, especially Kevin, want to be the one who has to carry the whole team, the full load on his own. He’s in his 30s now, so he definitely wants to go to a team that has a good core, has a good culture, has good guys on the team, and we fit all those categories.”

“[Russell’s] played at an All-Star level. Everybody wants to play with a great point guard, a great floor general, and he’s put himself in that conversation for sure. That lessens the load for a guy like Kevin Durant or another superstar who wants to come play with us. They don’t want to be the only one on the team, so that’s very attractive that D’Angelo has elevated himself to that level to play with.”

What Durant is thinking is anyone’s guess, and what he wants at this juncture is sort of up in the air. I think many of us are getting caught up in that idea of him needing to continue to win championships. That’s probably backed by the rumor that Durant wants to be seen as the best player of his generation.

But if Durant came away from Golden State having won three championships, and with a clear Hall of Fame resume, couldn’t he go somewhere for the final stage of his career simply for the money, the fame, and the branding? The Knicks would be a horrible basketball decision, but Brooklyn wouldn’t be a bad idea. Both would work for the latter strategy for Durant.

The Warriors star is hard to predict, and there’s no use trying to. But at this point, it appears that players are starting to make their overtures to attract one of the best players in the NBA.

Derrick Rose has surgery to remove elbow bone chips

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota Timberwolves guard Derrick Rose has undergone arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow.

The Timberwolves announced Saturday that Rose had the procedure done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The Wolves previously said Rose was unlikely to play again this season. They’re already eliminated from playoff contention.

Rose signed a one-year contract after joining the Wolves for the final few weeks of last season and their playoff series. When healthy, Rose has largely flourished, often playing off the ball instead of his natural point guard position. He averaged 18.0 points and 27.3 minutes in 51 games, his second-highest scoring mark since he tore his left ACL in 2012.

Rose missed 16 games earlier in the season for a variety of lower-body injuries.

More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Frustrated over Celtics collapse, Kyrie Irving questions defensive plan on Kemba Walker

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Charlotte closed Saturday game on a 30-5 run, much of it fueled by Kemba Walker who had 18 of those points and was 4-of-6 from three. It was a punch-to-the-gut loss for the Celtics that was reminiscent of the low point of the season, the back-to-back blown leads against the two teams from Los Angeles.

After the game, Kyrie Irving was frustrated and had words about the young players on the team and Brad Stevens defensive choices. Via A. Sherrod Blakely at NBC Sports Boston.

“Judge us when we have our full lineup,” Irving said [Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Gordon Hayward were out]. “But obviously when we come out and play like this with a bunch of young guys down the stretch, figuring things out … things are bound to happen but there’s no excuses….

“It’s one-on-one,” Irving said. “Down the stretch, I try to come in and help as much as possible. We should have probably trapped him more like every other team does in the league but we didn’t. He torches us every time we play them so it’s no surprise.”

What does the team talk about after a game like this?

“Being more mature down the stretch,” Irving said.

Of course, this is going to fuel the “is Kyrie happy?” and “is he going to leave this summer?” talk, but doing any of that before seeing what taste the playoffs leave in his mouth is premature.

Irving is right to be frustrated, however. With everyone. Here we are entering late March and we’re still asking “when are the Celtics going to get it together?” Most teams do trap/double/blitz Walker because he’s a one-man show and the theory is to let anyone else beat you. Walker did get some of those late 18 on catch-and-shoots working off the ball, but the critical ones late he was one-on-one with the ball in his hands — and he’s an All-Star, maybe All-NBA level player, he’s hard to stop.

Overlooked in this, the Celtics shot 2-of-19 in the final 8 minutes of the loss. It’s not just defense that blows a lead, it’s not scoring. Irving was 1-of-5 overall and 0-of-4 from three during the Hornets run. There is plenty of blame to go around.

The question is can the Celtics get on the same page and fix it before the playoffs?