Are the Brooklyn Nets contenders now? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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Thanks to a blockbuster trade with Boston, next season the Brooklyn Nets will start Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez. They will bring Jason Terry off the bench. They will start five former All-Stars and bring a former Sixth Man of the Year off the bench.

So can we say now the Brooklyn Nets are NBA title contenders?

Well… let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Remember how a year ago we all looked at the Los Angeles Lakers on paper — Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash — and penciled them into the NBA Finals? I’m not saying the Nets are going to self-destruct in dramatic fashion like L.A., I’m saying don’t assume everything will go smoothly.

Brooklyn should be a better team, a more dangerous playoff team, but a lot of things have to go right for them to knock Miami off it’s three-time defending Eastern Conference champions perch. Their margin for error is small.

What are the Nets’ issues?

• Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are getting older. And it shows. Don’t confuse 2013-14 Kevin Garnett with 2008 Kevin Garnett. Last season at age 36 Garnett appeared in 68 games and saw dips in efficiency, shooting percentage, and a little on the defensive end. That trend continued in the playoffs. Make no mistake, KG is still good and an upgrade at the four for Brooklyn, but he is 37 now and we can expect his game to erode further. Look at it this way — Garnett looked to wear down trying to stop Tyson Chander in the playoffs. Can he reverse that now as he is one year older?

Similar questions can be asked of Paul Pierce as he is now 36 — he averaged 18.6 points a game last year but his shooting percentage the last two seasons (43.6 percent last year) tailed off from the Boston title years. Again, he is still good and an upgrade, but he will regress some next season. And how will his legs be after an 82-game schedule?

• Can Deron Williams be the Utah Deron Williams again? His last two seasons in Brooklyn D-Will has been good, but he hasn’t been playing at the level we saw him at in Utah. He is still the best player on this team and the guy with the ball in his hands most of the time, he has to be elite. He has to be the guy we compared to Chris Paul, not the guy of the last few years.

• Do they have enough depth for the regular season? Brooklyn has an impressive starting five, but things drop off after that. Jason Terry is a former Sixth Man of the Year but he was unimpressive in Boston and will be age 36 next season. Reggie Evans stays but he will play a limited role on a good team. MarShon Brooks is now gone and part of that deal with Boston. (he wasn’t at first) so he is out. Andray Blatch is a free agent and the buzz around the league is he could bolt. Coach Jason Kidd has to keep the minutes for KG and Pierce and Terry in check this season and still get wins.

• Jason Kidd has to be the coach they think he can be. Kidd’s basketball IQ isn’t in question, but knowing what to do on the court and being able to transfer that knowledge to young players without his gifts is another. First year coaches in this situation can have a rough learning curve (Mark Jackson wasn’t an instant success in Golden State) and the window in Brooklyn with this roster is small. (The Nets did just hire Lawrence Frank to be Kidd’s lead assistant, which should help.)

Make no mistake, I still like this trade for the Nets. For one, they got rid of the horrible Gerald Wallace contract and unloaded Kris Humphries in the process. They had a terrible set of contracts on this team and they got out from under a lot of them and will have more flexibility after this season when Pierce’s deal expires (and Garnett likely retires next summer or in two summers).

Plus Brooklyn did get better on the court. The Nets can now be in the conversation with the Indiana Pacers (who get Danny Granger back) and the Chicago Bulls (who get Derrick Rose back) as to who has a shot to beat the Miami Heat.

But for Brooklyn to reach that NBA Finals goal a whole bunch of things need to go just right. And I am not sold at all that is how the season will unfold.

Eric Gordon says Rockets are ‘not using some guys the right way’

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The Houston Rockets aren’t who we thought they were. The team that gave the Golden State Warriors a run for their money in the Western Conference Finals last season have looked unsteady to open the year, and despite jettisoning Carmelo Anthony, have not returned to their former glory.

While this has much to do with overall team construction, individual players in Houston have struggled as well. Do-it-all wing Eric Gordon has had a down year, with just about all of his advanced statistics taking a significant drop. Most important has been his 3-point shooting, which is down five percent year-over-year. Even when Gordon has performed well, it’s not always translated to wins for Houston.

The talk around the Rockets has been about their stars struggling, but so too has their lack of comparative bench depth hamstrung them. Gordon’s solid performances lacking an impact on the win-loss column is illustrative of that.

For his part, Gordon says that he’s still not having fun on the floor in Houston, and that he feels the team’s meager roster isn’t being used properly.

Via The Athletic:

“I’m just not having fun man,” Gordon told The Athletic. “I’m just not. This sucks. Even the times where I have good games. We’re just not using some guys the right way. Are we gonna make the right sacrifices? Do we have the right attitude?

“Last year was the best year I’ve ever had being a part of a team,” he added. “We just never had a bad moment. If we ever had a bad game as a team, you knew the next game we would blow somebody out. It didn’t matter who it was.”

The Rockets are 11-14 and have the second-worst record in the Western Conference. There’s many months left in the season, and there’s plenty of time to rebound. But unless Houston can get their internal struggles figured out — or trade for an impact player — it seems possible they finish the year scraping for a playoff spot or missing the postseason altogether.

Watch LeBron James give game-worn shoes to emotional Grizzlies equipment manager

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Brian’e Miller is an assistant equipment manager for the Memphis Grizzlies. A longtime LeBron James fan, Miller wears The King’s signature shoes during each workday, a particularly fun pastime when the Los Angeles Lakers come to town as they did on Saturday night.

James and Co. took care of the Grizzlies, 111-88, but the shoe habits of the 23-year-old Miller were not lost on LeBron. During the game, video was captured from the stands of James giving Miller his game-worn shoes. Miller, naturally emotional about the interaction, gave James a hug and could be seen pushing back tears.

It was touching to see.

Via Twitter:

Miller told the Commercial Appeal that she had been a fan of LeBron for years.

“It’s emotional because so many years I’ve been idolizing him,” said Miller. “He has so many fans. That’s the thing. I’m not a fan just when LeBron comes. I’m a fan when he’s not looking, so it was just really cool to see him appreciate me.”

One of the things that has let the NBA become the league of LeBron is just how accessible he’s seemed over his tenure. While some players don’t have the personality or the temperament to be a global star, James has that “it” quality, particularly after his first championship with the Miami Heat.

That’s why when video was captured of James giving his game-worn shoes to Miller on Saturday, it felt wholly in-character.

James was asked about the interaction after the game, and he responded by saying that he had noticed Miller’s dedication to his shoe line for a while.

Via Twitter:

It’s easy to feel cynical when it comes to sports, especially in the face of the overcommercialisation of pro athletes. Hell, this story is about giving and receiving shoes. But the connection Miller felt to James, and that he decided to respond and recognize that is a human thing more than anything. Good for him.

Matthew Dellavedova receives standing ovation in return to Cleveland (VIDEO)

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CLEVELAND (AP) Matthew Dellavedova‘s return to his first NBA home is off to a good start before playing in a game.

Dellavedova, dressed in street clothes, was greeted by security guards and arena employees, and received a standing ovation from the crowd when he returned to Cleveland on Saturday night.

“I appreciate the love from everyone,” he said. “It makes me feel very welcome.”

 

Cleveland acquired Dellavedova in a three-team trade Friday with the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards. He began his career with the Cavaliers in 2014 and was a key member of the 2016 title team before he signed with the Bucks later that summer.

Dellavedova watched Saturday night’s game against the Wizards from the bench. The Cavaliers showed a video of him playing in the Finals from the championship season, which led to a long ovation from the crowd.

Known to Cleveland fans as “Delly,” Dellavedova became an instant hit with Quicken Loans Arena crowds, who immediately liked his gritty style of play. The trade received positive reaction from fans on social media.

“It makes me feel great,” he said. “My time here was really special and I loved every minute of it. It makes me excited to get back out there and play for everyone in this city because it’s a special place.”

Dellavedova could play Monday when Cleveland is in Milwaukee, where he learned of the trade.

“Obviously you don’t expect to pick and move, but it’s the NBA so it could always happen,” he said. “If it was going to be anywhere I’m definitely glad it’s here where I’m comfortable with familiar faces and a lot of friends. ”

The 28-year-old Dellavedova averaged 1.7 points and 2.4 assists in 12 games with Milwaukee.

Cleveland is 5-20 and rebuilding following LeBron James‘ departure last summer. The Cavaliers also received forward John Henson and 2021 first- and second-round picks from Milwaukee, and a 2022 second-rounder from Washington.

Henson also arrived in town Saturday and quickly learned how popular Dellavedova is, calling his teammate a “folk hero” in Cleveland.

“I’ll just be in Delly’s shadow,” Henson said. “Don’t forget about me.”

Cavaliers coach Larry Drew believes Dellavedova will help the development of rookie point guard Collin Sexton.

“It will be really, really good for Collin,” Drew said. “Delly is one of those guys when you watch him play, he doesn’t woo you the way he plays, he just gets the job done.”

The Cavs sent guard George Hill and a 2021 second-round selection to the Bucks, and forward Sam Dekker to the Wizards. Milwaukee also got forward Jason Smith from Washington.

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

Chris Paul politely tries to get reporter off the court before game starts (VIDEO)

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Dallas Mavericks’ sideline reporter Dana Larson was where she felt she was supposed to be: On the sidelines.

However, with the game about start, Chris Paul was trying — politely — to urge her to step off the court.

The best part of this video may be what’s happening in the background.

First, watch DeAndre Jordan doing a pirouette for some reason as he steps onto the court.

Then at the end, there’s James Harden, bouncing back-and-forth like a boxer waiting in the corner for the bell to ring. Or a jogger at the corner waiting for the light to turn so he can keep running.

If you thought the pregame for Dallas vs. Houston was fun, you should check out the final three minutes of the game.