Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP

Aaron Gordon trying to make jump from great dunker to great player

4 Comments

Two Aaron Gordon stories:

1. The first comes from Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson, who played with and against Gordon growing up in California. They were AAU teammates when Gordon attempted a 360 windmill dunk but over-jumped it, spun too far around and missed the slam with his arm at a crooked angle.

“I was puzzled, like, ‘Why didn’t you just lay it up?'” Johnson said. “That’s just the way he is. He’s competitive. Every time he goes out, he wants to prove that he’s one of the guys. And that’s why I think he’ll be successful in the league, because he’s going to work hard, and he’s obsessed with being great.”

2. The other comes directly from Gordon. After his captivating performance in the dunk contest, he missed a couple layups in the Magic’s next practice.

“Everyone looked at me like, why aren’t you dunking it?” Gordon said. “I kind of looked at myself like, why am I not dunking it?”

————————————–

Gordon smiled wide and nodded confidently, lifting his built arms up and down to urge the crowd to get louder. I’m not sure it could’ve. Led by a group of delirious All-Stars in the front row, everyone was going wild.

All for Gordon.

For a moment on All-Star Saturday Night, Gordon might have been the NBA’s most popular player. Though he’d eventually lose in a second extra round to Zach LaVine, Gordon’s under-the-legs dunk after grabbing the ball from the Magic’s mascot highlighted the dunk contest and pushed Gordon onto the national stage.

But, for the all the popularity he gained that night, Gordon is still just a role player averaging 9.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on a bad team. As the dunk contest showed, he has potential to do so much more.

His great challenge is finding a balance between unleashing and harnessing his athleticism.

“I have a lot of tools in my bag,” Gordon said. “I just want to polish them.”

The Magic appear more committed than ever to helping Gordon do just that. The No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft, Gordon moved into the starting lineup late last January. A few weeks later, Orlando traded two others who were taking minutes at power forward, Tobias Harris and Channing Frye. Combined with his dunk-contest showing, it’s been a whirlwind for Gordon.

“That’s what makes the NBA so much fun,” Gordon said. “It’s always new for me, and I think it always be. That’s what’s exciting about life, not knowing and then embracing the challenge head on.”

The dunk contest often includes up-and-coming players, and Gordon fits the profile. He could follow a well-worn path of players who participated in a dunk contest then reached their first All-Star game in a future season:

Yet, there’s a major disconnect between Gordon’s potential and production.

With his athleticism, Gordon could terrorize opponents defensively, clean up on the glass and hammer dunk after dunk. At times, he does. But it’s definitely not a regular occurrence yet.

Here’s how Gordon ranks in a few key stats that he could theoretically dominate, ties represented by the range of tied players. Among 281 regulars this season (minimum: 40 games and 15 minutes per game), Gordon’s ranks:

  • Block percentage: 62-64
  • Steal percentage: 112-136
  • Offensive rebound percentage: 44
  • Defensive rebound percentage: 45-46
  • Field-goal percentage at rim: 73

Gordon has been tremendous one game, dismal the next. He’s too often passive, floating on the perimeter offensively or guarding conservatively defensively. The result is middling total production.

“He’s too good of an athlete,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said. “And he and I talk about it all the time, and he readily admits he’s still getting used to the pace of the season and back-to-backs. There’s all kinds of stuff going on.”

Skiles even said it could take Gordon “a handful of years” to develop proper consistency.

Thankfully for Gordon, time is on his side.

Just 20, the second-year pro is younger than most 2015 first-round picks. He’s still the 17th-youngest player to play in the NBA this season. Here are the league’s 30 youngest players – rookies in blue, second-year players in silver and a third-year player (Giannis Antetokounmpo) in black:

image

The only second-year player younger than Gordon is Bruno Caboclo, and the Raptors barely use him. Heck, the other four second-year players who are still 20 – Noah Vonleh, James Young, Damien Inglis and Caboclo – have combined to play fewer minutes this season than Gordon.

Gordon could use the experience.

He missed 32 games as a rookie with a foot fracture, and a fractured jaw slowed him during the offseason.

“You’re very lucky if life goes according to your own plan,” Gordon said. “Obviously, my rookie wasn’t how I wanted it to go, but it was exactly what I needed.

“I got to see the game from a different perspective. I understand more now how to take care of your body, how to work smarter as opposed to harder.”

Gordon comes across as incredibly level-headed, a trait that has helped him after the dunk contest. He says people tell him every day that he should’ve won the dunk contest, but he leaves it at: “It could’ve went either way.”

“It’s cool, because I got called the people’s champion,” Gordon said. “It was a little controversy over the dunk contest. It’s alright. Nobody lost.”

It’s a wise assessment.

LaVine took the hardware, but Gordon gained so much. The spotlight is on him now, road fans cheering when he’s introduced as a starter. Expectations are already soaring for next year’s dunk contest.

Will Gordon’s production match his dunking by then? Odds are against it, but maybe by the following year or the year after. Gordon’s youth works in his favor, as does Orlando’s commitment to developing him.

“We’ll stick with him,” Skiles said. “We think he’s getting better all the time”

Chris Paul says he wants to play at least 20 seasons

Thunder star Chris Paul
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

CHICAGO – Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta was bellyaching about Chris Paul‘s contract (three years, $124,076,442 remaining). Houston traded two first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps just to go from Paul to Russell Westbrook. The Thunder appeared to prioritize the picks far more than Paul, whom they were reportedly willing to flip to his preferred destination.

A few months later, Paul was making big plays and berating officials in the All-Star game.

It’s quite the resurgence for the 34-year-old who’d missed the last three All-Star games.

Here are the oldest players ever to make an All-Star team after not being an All-Star the prior three seasons:

Chris Paul

Of the players older than Paul on that list, Dirk Nowitzki was placed into the All-Star game by the commissioner, and Michael Jordan came out of retirement after missing three seasons. Only Johnny Green kept grinding before breaking back through.

Feeling revitalized, Paul – in his 15th season – doesn’t sound anywhere near retirement.

“Especially the way that my body feels now, I definitely probably at least want to play at least 20 years,” Paul said.

That’s ambitious. Just seven players have played at least 20 NBA seasons:

  • Vince Carter (22)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (21)
  • Kevin Garnett (21)
  • Kevin Willis (21)
  • Robert Parish (21)
  • Kobe Bryant (20)
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (20)

So much can go wrong this late into a player’s career.

But by raising his game, Paul gives himself more runway to decline and remain a viable NBA player. He at least has a chance, which is far more than most players can say at his age.

Kevin Garnett says first choice for 2007 trade was Kobe Bryant and Lakers

Celtics great Kevin Garnett and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kevin Garnett didn’t have a no-trade clause when the Timberwolves were shopping him in 2007. But because he could either sign an extension with his new team or opt out in 2008, Garnett had massive leverage over where he went. Effectively, he could swing whether it was worth a team’s while to deal for him.

Four primary suitors emerged: Celtics, Lakers, Suns and Warriors.

Garnett’s initial top choice? Joining Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.

Garnett on All The Smoke:

I’m just being honest with everybody. I wanted to link with Kobe.

Kobe and I had a different connect. When Kobe-Shaq went on their little thing, a lot of people went with Shaq. A lot of people didn’t even f— with Kob. You know, Kob, whatever. One of the very few to just stay with him. I was a neutral guy, anyway. I show everybody love.

I tried to link with him, and I couldn’t get him on the line.

Garnett was working out at the time with Tyronn Lue, who was close with Bryant and encouraged Garnett to call back. Garnett did, but Bryant still didn’t return the call.

This only reinforces the notation that Bryant cost the Lakers stars. As singularly great as he was, Bryant just wasn’t about recruiting.

Bryant and Garnett would have been a fascinating pairing. They definitely had the talent to compete. Maybe the two notoriously intense stars would have meshed over a shared approach. Or maybe they would’ve driven each other crazy, a lack of balance between them.

The Lakers even had a trade framework in place involving Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

But Bryant’s unavailability created an opening for Boston.

Garnett:

Danny Ainge flew in, and he just got right to it and showed the vision, the vision he was seeing. You ever have somebody talk to you and as they’re talking to you, you can see what they’re seeing, so much that you’re not even looking at them no more but you see it? That’s how he was painting it. And he was a Picasso. And this is Danny Ainge’s greatness, in him being able to lure you in, his charming ass. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t even know he was finessing me.

Garnett told the Celtics to keep Rajon Rondo, who was apparently initially part of the package going to Minnesota. They did, and it worked out extremely well. Boston won the 2008 title – over Bryant’s Lakers. (The Lakers won the next two championships, including over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.)

What about Phoenix, which – featuring Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion – was the best of the four teams at the time?

Garnett:

I actually called Steve Nash just as a courtesy, and I guess the call he hit me back with was, “Yo, if you come down here, we need you to take a major pay cut.” And I was like, “OK, if I come down there, I’m playing with you and Amar’e right?” He’s like, “Yeah, I think they’re going to give Amar’e up for you and Shawn.” And I said, “So, who is it going to be? Just me and you?”

As for Golden State, which – featuring All The Smoke hosts Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes – had just pulled a historic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks:

I was seeing how y’all was, but I needed a superstar.

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald
Leave a comment

There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.