NBA season preview: New Orleans Hornets

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Last Season: The player the franchise had built itself around, Chris Paul, decided he wanted out before last season began. He did so in a far less-aggravating way than his superstar counterparts (we’re looking at you, Mr. Anthony and Mr. Howard), but he did it just the same. Since the key piece the Hornets received in the deal, Eric Gordon, only appeared in nine games for them before going down with injury, that helped the team to finish dead last in the Western Conference standings.

Lottery luck was on their side, however, as the Hornets were rewarded for their dismal season by receiving the number one overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, despite the fact that they didn’t end the season with the league’s worst record.

Key Departures: Big men Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman, and Carl Landry.  Point guard Jarrett Jack, who only led the team in scoring once Gordon went down, though he did appear in just 45 games.

Key Additions: The number one overall pick in the draft, Anthony Davis. Ryan Anderson, a solid offensive threat, was brought in from Orlando. Robin Lopez was traded for, after the Suns decided they had spent enough time trying to develop him into a legit NBA center.

Three keys to the Hornets season: 

1) Developing Davis: By all accounts, Anthony Davis should provide an immediate impact in his rookie season, especially on the defensive end of the floor. The rebounding and shot-blocking ability should be present from Day One. But offensively, it’s not a stretch to use the word “raw” in describing where Davis is in the development process. Turning him into at least a competent player on the offensive end of the floor should be the team’s goal in his rookie season, while enjoying the production he should provide immediately on D at the same time.

2) And your point guard is … Greivis Vasquez? Looks like it, at least initially. Vasquez was surprisingly serviceable in the role for the Hornets last season, posting averages of 12.4 points and 7.6 assists in almost 26 minutes per game. But he’s hardly considered a speedy initiator of the offense with a basketball IQ beyond reproach, so we’ll see how that works out. Vasquez to this point has seemed like someone who would come in and not totally ruin things for you off the bench, rather than a player who you’d want running your team for extended periods. But hey — we’re rebuilding here, right? Beyond that, rookie Austin Rivers may see some time there (even though he’s really a two), and Eric Gordon-if-he-can-stay-healthy can play with the ball in his hands, as well.

3) Eric Gordon, Superstar: Gordon was supposed to be a legitimate trade piece in return for Chris Paul; he’s someone who by almost all accounts is one of the league’s top two-guards. The good news is he’s getting close to returning to action, and is even pushing to be ready on opening night. But when he returns isn’t necessarily all that important; what the team needs from him is superstar production, considering the max contract it gave him in the offseason. Four years and almost $60M is a ton to invest, so no matter how Davis turns out, the team will be in a tough spot from a salary cap standpoint in the future if Gordon doesn’t turn out to be the real deal once he’s back from injury.

What Hornets fans should fear: In the first year of a full-fledged rebuilding situation, patience is the key for Hornets fans. If by the end of the season the development isn’t there, the team doesn’t turn into a cohesive unit, or Davis or Gordon aren’t playing to their expected levels of production, then go ahead and panic. But for now, enjoy the young team that’s been put together and hope they provide some entertainment and show some signs as the season progresses.

Prediction: A second straight year near the bottom of the Western Conference standings seems likely, though there are a few other teams that New Orleans may be able to leapfrog if things go as planned. But playoffs? Yeah, no.

John Wall scores 40, dishes 14 assists as Wizards drub Lakers

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WASHINGTON (AP) Amid all of his team’s losses and infighting and roster flux, John Wall showed just how well he’s capable of playing, producing 40 points and 14 assists to lead the Washington Wizards past a sluggish LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, 128-110 Sunday night.

A day after he and Lonzo Ball each registered a triple-double in a win at Charlotte, James was limited to a season-low 13 points, along with six rebounds and three assists, while making just five of 16 shots. The four-time NBA MVP sat out the fourth quarter.

The Wizards emphatically ended a four-game losing streak, going up by as many as 18 in the first quarter and 27 in the third.

They took full advantage of an opponent playing on a second consecutive night, although James and the Lakers had been 5-1 in the second half of back-to-back sets this season.

The Lakers opened Sunday’s game by going 5 for 19, 0 for 8 on 3s. Washington, meanwhile, made its first five shots and 13 of its first 18, taking a 26-8 lead on Wall’s layup.

Wall’s play was often spectacular, including one no-look, through-the-legs pass to Sam Dekker for an easy bucket.

The All-Star point guard ended the first half with a step-back baseline rainbow jumper over 7-foot-1 center Tyson Chandler to make it 71-51. Wall turned and slapped palms with a couple of front-row folks, then spread his arms wide and basked in the ovation.

By then, Wall already had 28 points, outscoring LA’s five starters – James, Ball, Chandler, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart – by six.

Recently acquired reserve forward Dekker scored a season-high 20 for Washington, including a buzzer-beating bank shot at the end of the third quarter that put the hosts ahead 99-76.

Washington’s Bradley Beal added 25 points and 12 rebounds.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a season-high 25 points for the Lakers, 15 in the second quarter.

Washington was without starting center Dwight Howard, who had back surgery, and injured starting forward Otto Porter Jr., while a pair of players – Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers – were unavailable because they are on their way out of town via a trade that is still not officially complete.

“We’re playing against one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said before tipoff, “and we definitely are undermanned.”

Didn’t matter on this night.

TIP-INS

Lakers: C JaVale McGee missed the game with flu-like symptoms. … A pair of sneakers James wore during a game at the Wizards a year ago Monday – one black, one white, with the word “equality” in capital gold letters on the back of each – was recently placed on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. … Ball finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Wizards: The deal bringing Trevor Ariza to Washington from the Phoenix Suns is still not official, so Oubre and Rivers were listed as inactive Sunday because of “trade pending.” … Markieff Morris left at halftime because of a neck strain. … Porter missed his third game in a row with a bruised knee. … Jeff Green started in Porter’s place and scored 20 points.

UP NEXT:

Lakers: At Brooklyn on Tuesday to close a four-game road trip.

Wizards: At Atlanta on Tuesday.

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

Paul George asked Billy Donovan not to run plays for him last year

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Oklahoma City Thunder are top-heavy team. Outside of their top three or four players, the Thunder aren’t very deep, and if any either Russell Westbrook or Paul George are out for any length of time, they are in serious trouble.

This season the Thunder are a surprising 18-10, good enough for third in the Western Conference at the time of publication. It’s been a bit of an adjustment for Paul George since coming to Oklahoma City last season exchange for Victor Oladipo, and according to a recent feature at ESPN George asked his coach for one specific thing.

This may seem strange, but George reportedly wanted coach Billy Donovan to stop running plays for him.

Despite Donovan having watched hours of game film on George to see where he could get him the ball where he’s most successful, that kind of careful planning didn’t fit how George likes to attack the game.

Via ESPN:

“At times he’s like, ‘Stop — just let me get it,'” Donovan said. “I had to learn him. I can watch things on film and say, ‘Oh, that’s a good play and he made that shot, let’s run that,’ but there’s a lot more to it than that.”

“I’ve always been a guy to just let the game come to me. Just play the game,” George said. “If it’s a shot for me, if I can make a play, create for someone else, I’ll do that. A lot of times you run a play, everybody’s watching, everybody’s locked in, everybody’s pulling over and it just makes the game tougher for me.

“I like it when I can kind of manipulate and be on attack mode where they don’t know what to do, as opposed to a play other teams [can] scout.”

Basketball is a team sport and it’s not just about the guys who are on the court. No doubt it was difficult for Donovan to give up some of the play-calling he specifically designed for George, but apparently it was the best thing for the team.

Report: Sixers want first rounder, have shot down multiple trades for Markelle Fultz

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What’s going on with Markelle Fultz? That’s the question everyone wants to know not only in the Philadelphia 76ers organization, but around the NBA.

The former No. 1 overall pick has struggled with his shot the last two seasons, and his recent diagnosis of the thoracic outlet syndrome isn’t the end of the story. Teams have reportedly been asking around about Fultz, and there have even been some denials about which teams are interested in the young guard.

This week Candace Buckner published an excellent profile of Fultz and some potential issues caused for him by an over-domineering inner circle. That profile also had sourced information from Buckner saying that the Sixers continue to field trade calls from interested parties for Fultz.

Via Washington Post:

While the Sixers pledge to support their player in his recovery process and are believed to have a relationship with Brothers and Fultz’s inner circle, the organization has been protective in its own way. According to people in the league, the Sixers have rejected multiple trade offers for Fultz. It’s not just that Philadelphia remains hopeful of getting Fultz on track to be a star in Philadelphia — much like prior top picks Ben Simmons and Embiid, who both missed their rookie seasons because of injuries. The Sixers have not received trade offers with what they believe to be equal value, a telling sign that indicates how other teams in the league view Fultz and the rocky start to his career.

If you are a fan looking in from the outside, this tells you two things. First, that no matter how much a player appears to be damaged goods, NBA GMs will do their due diligence and make a call to see if they can nab a player on the cheap.

Second, it lets you know that Fultz’s value right now is only at that “first call” level. Fultz showed a lot of promise during one season with the University of Washington, and that’s enough for Philadelphia to hold out on trading him for spare parts at this juncture. When we start getting word of teams sending actual, meaningful offers, that might give us a sort of triangulated idea of his stock around the league (and perhaps his recovery).

The Sixers’ asking price, for the moment, remains high. According to Philly.com’s Keith Pompey, 76ers brass are looking for a first round pick as part of the exchange in any Fultz deal. What that translates to is, Philadelphia isn’t ready to deal just yet.

Via Philly.com:

The ownership group also isn’t in total agreement with what do with Fultz, according to league sources.

A league source said the Sixers don’t want to part ways with Fultz unless a first-round pick is packaged in a deal for him. And they’re not talking about a late first-rounder, either.

League executives believe the Sixers will settle for less as it gets closer to the Feb. 7 trade deadline, because there really isn’t a trade market for Fultz right now. There’s too much skepticism surrounding his shooting woes and his shoulder issues.

Fultz is due $9.7 million next season but then has a player option for 2020-21 of $12.2 million. Since the Sixers still have time, we might be hanging around for a while to see Fultz in any other jersey outside of Philly.

What was Klay Thompson trying to say during this interview?

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In-game interviews are both an interesting layer of texture that adds depth to a TV broadcast and perhaps a distracting commitment for those playing or coaching in an NBA game.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when things like this happen.

As the Golden State Warriors took on the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, Klay Thompson was pulled aside for an in-game interview with our friends over at NBC Sports Bay Area. Thompson was asked a question by Kerith Burke about ball movement leading to 3-pointers. Thompson was apparently in need of some sports drink because his answer was a little loopy.

Here’s what Thompson said in response to Burke:

“It’s great on both si— uh. It’s great, both of them are great. And we’re getting out and pushing them on the pace. That’s when we’re at our best.”

I’m not sure what I can parse from that. Maybe you can do better?

Thompson had 27 points, nine rebounds, and three assists in the win over the Kings, 130-125.